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Xandercles the Mighty

Chapter Text

 

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Prologue


Xander swung his axe, and the snarling red demon jumped back, out of range of his weapon. As soon as the axe passed, it darted back in, raking its sharp claws across Xander’s midsection. Xander glanced down in shock when he realized his borrowed chainmail shirt had protected him from harm.

“Cool!”

He smashed his elbow into the Plautect demon’s face, and it staggered back a couple of steps, which put it far enough away that he could swing the axe in its direction in a rather awkward backhanded strike. It didn’t do much damage, but it put him back in the right position to swing the axe around again, this time slicing deep into the demon’s neck. It gurgled at him for a second or two, then collapsed to the ground, nearly taking Xander’s axe with it, but finally he was able to jerk his weapon free.

Since it looked like he was out of demons for the moment, he glanced behind him at Willow, Tara and Anya. The witches stood with hands clasped, chanting steadily, while Anya pulled strange and smelly powders and liquids out of a bag on the floor and mixed them in a bowl, checking a list as she listened to the chanting. Giles was on the other side of them, sword drawn, but since the rest of the Plautects were focusing their attention on Buffy and Spike, it looked like they had a little breathing space.

“Are you all right, Xander?” Giles’ voice was strained and Xander took a closer look at him, worried that maybe he’d been hurt.

“Yeah, I’m good, G-Man, how about you?”

“I’d ask you not to call me that, but I’m sure it would do no good. I’m fine, if slightly winded.”

The chanting behind them grew in volume, and suddenly, Xander felt a huge, invisible force rush past, headed right for the fighting where Buffy and Spike swirled and kicked and sliced their swords right through the dark red skin of the demons. Xander knew how tough that skin was to penetrate, so he was duly impressed. But even more impressive was the blast that blew the demons into little pieces, spattering both Buffy and Spike with their pale pink blood.

“Woo hoo!” shouted Xander, “Way to go, witchy women!”

Willow and Tara slumped up against the wall behind them, gasping for breath. With all the fighters gone, Spike and Buffy blinked at each other for a long second before noticing that the sorcerer the Plautects had been protecting was making a run for it, a large beaker clutched tightly in one hand.

“Buffy!” Giles cried, “Don’t let him get away!”

He was headed for the doorway about twenty feet from Xander’s position, and Xander took off running, thinking he could block the way and hopefully distract the guy long enough for Buffy to get there and finish him off. Xander stood in the doorway, brandishing his axe, and the sorcerer stopped short, his eyes going wide when he saw the chainmail shirt Xander wore.

He glanced over his shoulder at Buffy and Spike who were fast closing in on him, then swerved, putting his back against the wall, Xander on one side and Buffy and Spike on the other. He held the beaker in front of him, chanting quickly in some tongue-twisting language that Giles was probably fluent in. The green liquid inside the beaker started to glow and sparks flew out of it as it hissed and bubbled, like it was full of Fourth of July sparklers.

The beaker made him nervous and Xander wanted to back away, but he knew if he did, the sorcerer could get past him and out the door. That wasn’t going to happen – the bastard had already sacrificed five children in the last week, there was no way he was getting out of here alive if Xander could help it. So he gripped his axe handle tighter, and clenched his jaw, hoping that between Willow, Tara, Buffy and Spike, they could bring him down without Xander having to pay for stealing the guy’s chainmail shirt.

Besides, he wasn’t even using it; it was just hanging in the guy’s laboratory when they snuck in. How was Xander supposed to know that once he put it on, it wouldn’t come back off again? The sorcerer kept chanting, pointing his finger at Buffy and Spike who’d separated, so they now surrounded the sorcerer on three sides, although none of them really wanted to get too close to him at the moment.

Xander adjusted his grip on the axe, unfortunately attracting the attention of the sorcerer. He froze, not happy about the look in the guy’s beady eyes, and Buffy took the opportunity to jump him, Spike only a few seconds behind her as they tackled him to the ground. The sorcerer threw his arms wide as they hit him, the beaker flying out of his hand and tumbling through the air, directly at Xander. Instinctively, Xander lifted his arm to block the beaker, but the liquid was airborne by then. He closed his eyes as the first drops hit his face, sizzling like a shock of electricity over his skin.

He could hear the struggle going on to his left, as Buffy and Spike subdued the sorcerer, the sound of the witches chanting in the background humming in his ears. He was afraid to wipe his face, he could feel the liquid soaking into his skin, popping and fizzing. It didn’t hurt, which was good, but he wasn’t sure what he should do.

“Don’t kill him, Buffy!” Giles shouted, just as Xander heard the loud cracking of bones.

“Oops. Why not? Wasn’t that the idea?”

Buffy was obviously upset, and Xander was a little confused himself. That had been the plan. But then, that was before Xander had gotten attached to the guy’s chainmail or vice versa; and before the guy had thrown an entire beaker of sparkly crap all over Xander’s face. It occurred to him that they now had no way of finding out what this stuff was.

Oh, fuck.

Xander reached for his face, but someone grabbed his hand.

“Don’t touch it, mate. Let the Watcher look at it first.”

“Oh, goddess!”

Willow’s cry was high-pitched and shaky. Xander automatically wanted to tell her everything was fine, except that the fizzing and buzzing that he could feel boiling under his skin made him think it might not be.

“Xander, are you okay?”

Willow sounded tearful, but Xander refused to think about why that might be. Nope, not thinking at all.

“Don’t speak, Xander.” Giles ordered. “Simply nod or shake your head. Did the liquid get into your mouth?”

Xander pressed his lips together, shaking his head vigorously. That seemed like a good thing to him, and he was hanging onto every good thing that came his way.

“Good, good.” Giles sounded relieved. “What about your eyes?”

He shook his head again.

“Excellent.”

Giles immediately started ordering people around. He was good at that, especially in a crisis. “Anya, break out the first aid kit. Willow, soak this handkerchief in one of those bottles of water. Buffy, you and Spike keep watch, in case there are more demons in the house. Tara, see if you can get some of this liquid in a container of some sort – we might need samples. But don’t get it on your skin, is that clear?”

“Ye-yes, Mr. Giles.”

He could hear everyone scrambling off to their prospective tasks, and Xander relaxed slightly. It didn’t matter if there was something green and sparkly clinging to his face. The Scoobies were on the job. They’d take care of everything.

He hoped.

 



Chapter One

Spike came down from the attic shaking his head.

“All clear, Slayer.”

He had no idea why they were still here. If the slain Plautect sorcerer had been dimension hopping, then he probably had friends who knew how to do the same. They were vulnerable while they stayed in his lair. The Slayer seemed to feel the same way, her shoulders were tense, her eyes sharp, darting from place to place, as if she expected a trap around every corner. They headed down to the ground floor, walking cautiously, despite the fact that they were fairly certain by now that they were alone in the building.

“I’ll see if I can’t hurry them up. Stay here, and keep watch. We’ll be up soon, then we can get out of here.”

She headed back down the basement stairs, and Spike prowled the main rooms of the first floor, his senses alert to the smallest details. It was a big place. Not as large as Angelus’ monstrosity on Crawford street, but bigger than the sorcerer had needed, since most of the second floor and the attic had been unused for years, if the collection of dust covering every surface was any indication.

There were odd looking figurines and knick knacks all over the place, and Spike was tempted to lift a few – they looked expensive, he could easily get a quick bob or two for them, if he took them to the right people. But after what happened to Harris down in the laboratory, he was nervous of touching anything. The last thing he needed was to be stuck to some piece of arcane jewelry that gave no indication of its purpose.

Well, alright, armor was armor, wasn’t it?   But that didn’t explain why it seemed to be permanently attached to its current wearer. The mail had been splendidly displayed; the golden-copper color of the finely rendered links contrasted beautifully against the black velvet of the dresser’s dummy the piece had been draped over.   It was a work of art. Built like a half-sleeved shirt, the hem of the closely knit links fell a few inches past the waist. It was shorter than most of the mail hauberks Spike remembered studying as a boy, pouring over the words and illustrations as he got lost in the stories of the heroic medieval knights.

Spike’s eyes had been drawn to the shirt as soon as he stepped into the room. He’d concentrated on his job, though, and turned back to give the all clear into the room. It was obviously part of the sorcerer’s laboratories, if the vials and beakers, and strange magical implements were any indication. He and the Slayer had carefully approached the only door leading out of the room, Spike warning her that he heard at least three heartbeats on the other side.

He’d turned back to the room in time to see Harris smoothing the golden-copper links down over his chest with a look of awe. Spike had sped over, stopping Giles from giving them away by reprimanding the boy aloud. When the Watcher ordered him to take it off in a terse whisper, Xander looked as if he were coming out of a dream, blinking down at the armor shirt as if he had no idea where it came from. He’d gripped the hem to remove it, but try as he might, neither he nor Giles could get the damned thing to come off. It was as if it had melded right onto his body, his obscenely colored t-shirt barely showing through the tight links.

There hadn’t been time to deal with the issue properly. Plautect were known far and wide for their knowledge of magic and the arcane arts, and this one had already proved himself to be devious as well as dangerous. Their only chance of success was to strike before he was aware of their presence.   Having clashed with him once already, they knew that he relied on his magical defenses, and had little, if any, skill at hand to hand combat. So the plan was to let him get comfortable, thinking he was safe behind his minions. Once they were taken out of the equation, the sorcerer would fall to the Slayer and Spike.

Despite the complications, their plan had worked. What they hadn’t planned on, however, was the goop the damned bastard had managed to get all over Harris’ face. Spike ground his teeth, uncomfortable with the feelings raging through him. He thought he’d managed to keep his emotions separate from the gang of do-gooders he found himself temporarily allied with. But somehow they’d managed to sneak past his defenses, and against all common sense, he had become attached.

He blamed himself for what happened tonight. He should have been faster, should have stopped the bastard from throwing that shite in Harris’ face. He should have done <i>better</i>. And now, one of his was hurt. They were his – all of them. Spike’s demon had accepted them into its clan, and now he’d failed to keep his own safe. He heard footsteps on the stairs, and sighed, relieved that they were finally going to get the hell out of there. Shoving his thoughts back, he concentrated on making sure he didn’t let them down again.

Harris managed to get from the car to the Watcher’s flat on his own two feet, shaky and somewhat unsteady, but moving under his own power. His face was covered with faint green splotches, but at least the dark green blisters Spike had seen bubbling up on the boy’s face were gone. That was a relief. They’d looked pretty nasty at the time.

They’d all trouped inside, dropping weapons and bags of supplies where they stood, most of them far too tired to do more than collapse onto the furniture. Giles struggled with making tea until Demon Girl quietly took over for him and Giles slumped down onto a stool at the bar that separated the kitchen from the living room and watched her work. He kept up the questions, though, and they finally got the lowdown on the mail shirt.

“I honestly don’t remember putting it on, Giles.”

Xander sounded utterly drained, and who could blame him? He’d been hit by interdimensional magic twice in the course of twenty minutes – that had to be a record of some sort, even for this bunch.

“I saw it as soon as I walked into the room. I wasn’t going to touch it, I swear, but it was so beautiful.” Even now, he couldn’t stop stroking the coppery metal links, as if it were a pet that begged for attention. “It was as if… As if it was calling to me. I could <i>hear</i> it saying my name.” He shook his head to clear it. “The next thing I knew, you were telling me to take it off.”

Anya handed Giles a cuppa and crossed over to the chair Xander was collapsed into.

“Is that copper? That seems like much too soft a metal to make a mail shirt out of, don’t you think?” She ran her fingers over Xander’s shoulder, then pulled back with a frown. “That’s odd. It’s awfully warm. Should it be that warm to the touch?”

Spike came over and tried to slide his fingers under the hem of the sleeve, to get a feel for the metal, but try as he might, his fingers kept slipping off to the side, and he couldn’t get a solid grip on it.

“There’s something odd about it, all right. It’s almost as if it’s <i>alive</i> or something.”

There was a gasp from Giles, and he jumped off the stool, stumbling a few steps before he got his footing back. He crossed to one of the many shelves Harris had built for him in the last year to hold the huge boxes of books the Watcher had pilfered from the school library right before they’d blown it sky high. He mumbled to himself as he scanned the spines of book after book, searching for something. Finally, he found the one he was looking for and sat back down at his stool, flipping rapidly through the pages.

“I’m afraid I’m not an expert at Plautectian, it’s rather a rare language to come across in this dimension, but fortunately, the last owner of this book was a watcher who specialized in rare languages, and many pages of the text have his notations in the margins.

“As a child, I was fascinated by knights and their armor, and when I came across this illustration, I was shocked by the similarities to the ‘ring maille’ of the Middle Ages.” He stopped searching, his fingers tapping on the page. “Ah! It’s shorter than a haubergeon, but the build is very similar.” Giles crossed over to Xander, putting the book on the arm of his chair.

Xander stroked the page, the way he’d been stroking the hem of his new shirt of armor. “Wow, Giles. Except for the color, this looks exactly like mine.”

Spike got close enough to see, and nodded his agreement. Too short for most Medieval armor, except maybe the waist-length coats popular at the time.   “Looks almost like a byrnie, doesn’t it? Except for the color, of course.”

Giles glanced up at him in surprise. “Ah. Of course. There was a revival of all things Medieval during the Victorian era, wasn’t there? It’s easy to forget that, despite your crass nature, you were once a Victorian.”

Spike frowned at him with narrowed eyes. “No need to call names, ‘Ripper’.”

His eyes were drawn back to the page. The book was old, and musty, and the pages seemed to be made of some kind of thinly stretched leather rather than paper, but the illustration was quite detailed, and despite the faded condition, the matte black of the mail shirt seemed to suck up the color from the surrounding page, leaving it pale and fragile looking. He was suddenly quite jealous of the man wearing the armor, and only barely managed stop himself from growling at Giles as he took the book away.

“Yes, here’s what I was looking for.” Buffy scooted over, giving Giles room, and he perched on the edge of the couch as he read. “The shirts are considered living armor, and are said to be very stubborn as to who they allow to wear them. They choose their partners carefully, searching for heroes they can aid in their struggles.”

“Heroes?” Xander laughed. “Heroes?” He glanced down at his chest, his fingers tapping at the coppery links covering it. “Hey, buddy! You picked the wrong person. The hero is over there!” He pointed at the Slayer, who shook her head and grinned at him.

“Thanks, Xander, but I think I’ll pass on the chainmail fashion accessory.” She shrugged. “It wouldn’t fit me, anyway. It’s skintight on you, but it would hang off me and get in my way.”

“Actually, Buffy, the mail fits itself to the form of whomever it chooses. If it were attracted to you, it would fit you like a second skin.”

Harris grinned. “Oh yeah. That, I’d like to see!” He glanced back down at his chest. “You sure about this, buddy? Buffy’s got curves you’d love to hug, I can promise you that.”

“Ewwww. That’s just creepy. No, you get to keep the armor with a mind of its own.” She got up and crossed to the refrigerator, grabbing a bottle of water. Xander struggled out of his chair and followed her.

“But Buff, I’m not a hero. I’m the guy that holds the hero’s books while she slays the bad guys, remember? I’m not the one who saves the day, I’m the one who saves collector’s plates based on scifi shows.” He turned back to Giles, since Buffy seemed to be ignoring his pleas. “Giles, we’ve got to fix this. I can’t be a hero. I’m <i>not</i> a hero.”

Giles walked back to his stool and picked up his lukewarm cup of tea, sipping it with a frown. “From the description in this book, it’s fairly clear that the shirt seems to have chosen you for a reason, Xander.”

Willow roused herself enough to come to sit on a stool next to him. “But isn’t that thing bad? I mean, we found it in the home of a sorcerer who was sacrificing children. That suggests badness to me.”

“I’m not so sure of that, Willow. The sorcerer might have owned it, but I didn’t get the idea that he wore it. Perhaps he bought or stole it, and was trying to find a way to make it accept him.” Giles tapped on the book he still held in his hand. “We’ll need to research it further, but from what I understood from this book, the shirts are only attracted to…” he scanned the page to find his place before reading aloud, “’true heroes with pure hearts’.”

“That’s not me, Giles!” He was beginning to panic, but the Watcher plowed through his objections.

“You may not have a Slayer’s agility or strength, but you’ve fought at her side for many years now, and as the book implies, your heart is pure.”

Spike snorted at that, earning himself a frown from Red. “I’ve seen his porn collection, mate, I wouldn’t say that.”

“Spike!” He laughed at both the witch and the whelp, their mutual cries of shock and dismay music to his ears. He smirked. He was still evil, no matter whose company he was currently being seen in.

“Do shut up, Spike. Xander, your heart <i>is</i> pure, no matter your private habits. I see no reason why you should not be selected as a hero; you’ve proved yourself many times over.”

“But Giles, I fall over my feet on a regular basis. I have no fighting skills. I have no skills whatsoever!”

“You’re quite good in bed, Xander. You gave me many excellent orgasms before we decided we made better friends than lovers.” Anya’s honest praise had Spike staring at Harris in speculation. With one thousand years of experience, if Demon Girl said he was good in bed, Spike believed her.

Anya noticed that Giles was frowning at her, and her eyes widened as she realized what she’d said. “Not to say that you’re not good in bed, Rupert! I’m perfectly happy with the many and varied orgasms that an experienced older man like yourself has to offer.”

The Watcher’s little children all managed to ewwww at the same moment, and Rupert’s face turned four shades of red. Spike laughed. It was times like this that he enjoyed being afflicted with this little band of do-gooders. They were all so uptight about the oddest things. It was quite enjoyable watching them flail and panic.

Xander shook his head, as if trying hard to clear it of the image of his former girlfriend and his father figure in bed together. “The point is, I’m not a hero. Do I have super hearing? No. Super sight? No. Super smell? Don’t answer that. Do I have super anything? No! I’m not hero potential, folks. I’m just normal old Xander!” He stepped up to the fridge, pulling the door open.

With a crack and the groan of over-stressed metal giving way, the refrigerator door pulled away from its hinges. It hung easily from Xander’s hand by its crushed handle as he gaped at the door in shock.

Spike laughed at the incredulous looks on everyone’s faces. “I guess that’s a yes on the super strength, then, wouldn’t you say, Harris?”

 

Chapter Text

Stumbling into his bedroom, Xander collapsed on the edge of the bed. It had been a hell of a long day. He was glad it was Friday, they had the rest of the weekend to figure a way out of this whole hero deal. Giles seemed to think the mail shirt had the right idea, but Xander knew it was wrong – he was no hero. They’d figure it out sooner or later; hopefully before they counted on him for something he couldn’t deliver.

Toeing off his sneakers and socks, he kicked his jeans over toward the pile of dirty laundry, jerking in surprise when they hit the wall with a loud thud. Oops. He stared down at the shirt of mail. He had a feeling he’d be sleeping in it if he didn’t come up with an answer soon. He stumbled to the bathroom and stared in the mirror at the absurd picture he presented in his Scooby Doo “Ruh-Roh” boxers and a bright green Seven of Nine t-shirt almost totally obscured by the mail shirt that gleamed golden-copper under the bathroom light.

It was all he could do to fight the urge to run his hands over the smooth copper links. He refused to accept the feeling deep inside him that told him this was right – the shirt belonged here, on him. He wanted it more than he could express, but his mind told him that if he kept it, he’d only fuck up. He refused to let someone else suffer because they believed him to be the hero he knew he could never be.

He’d love to be the hero, the person that everyone looked up to. It hurt to admit it, but he knew he wasn’t hero potential. Best he get rid of the thing before everyone else realized it, too. He’d just ignore it tonight, and let the smart guys figure out how to fix him tomorrow. If he didn’t look at the shirt, maybe he could forget he was even wearing it. That’s it. He’d just ignore all the weird stuff until it went away.

“Nothing strange going on here,” he told his reflection. “Just normal old Xander doing his normal old nightly Xander stuff.”

Turning on the faucet, he held his toothbrush under the water, trying to get lost in his ordinary day to day tasks. It was hard when he had to be careful not to break the handle as he turned on the water, but he was good at ignoring the weirdness, he could deal with this, he knew he could.

Maybe he should bring muffins to tomorrow morning’s research session. Muffins were a real treat, and they were good for dessert come lunch time, too. Yeah, good idea. He’d go to the bakery up the street, they had muffins and even cream horns. Ohhh, cream horns! He loved cream horns. He’d get a bunch of those, they always went fast. No wonder; they were like Twinkies, only with flakey crust instead of spongy cake. Mmmm…cream horns.

He grabbed the tube of toothpaste, and unscrewed the lid, setting it down on the edge of the sink. He aimed the mouth of the tube at his toothbrush and watched with dismay as ropes of white toothpaste shot out over the sink, the mirror, the wall, and when he jerked back in surprise, the last of the tube shot all the way over into the toilet. Good thing the lid was up, he thought grimly, setting his paste-free toothbrush back into its holder before grabbing a sponge from under the sink to begin cleaning up his mess.

He wasn’t feeling quite as positive an hour later when he still hadn’t figured out how to get out of the mail shirt. Giles had suggested that there might be some sort of catchphrase or ‘magic word’ needed to remove it, and had offered him about a dozen or so to try when he wasn’t quite as tense and upset over being permanently attached to a chainmail shirt. He thought attitude might make a difference, so Giles had suggested relaxing around the house, maybe lounging around in front of the TV before he got ready for bed.

After a half hour of being all casual and as relaxed as possible under the circumstances, Xander had tried the “magic phrases,” thankful that Giles had been considerate enough to write them out phonetically for him, since most of them weren’t in English. They hadn’t done a thing, so in frustration he tried a few of his own. Bibbedy-bobbedy-boo hadn’t gotten him anywhere. Neither had Open Sesame, Abracadabra or even Alakazam! Neither had flying into a rage and trying to rip the damn shirt off with his bare hands and his super strength.

It had felt good at the moment, but had done nothing but leave him with a Dr Pepper stain on the carpet, broken drywall, and a dining room chair that was damaged beyond all hope of repair. Fortunately he hadn’t actually liked those chairs in the first place. Anya had picked them out, and he’d been unable to come up with a valid reason they didn’t work for him, so she’d gotten what she wanted. Now that she was gone, maybe he could manage to destroy them all one at a time, then go out and buy something he actually liked to replace them. Hey, if he was going to have super strength, he ought to get something good out of it.

The Super Fit had pretty much worn him out, so he lay there on his bed, staring at the ceiling while he contemplated his situation. He could exhaust himself fighting against this thing, or he could pretend to deal with it and get over it. Maybe he could fool the mail into thinking he was okay with being a hero?

Nah, he had a feeling it knew what he was thinking, which was not a comforting thought. Maybe not his exact thoughts, but at least his emotions. He wasn’t sure he could change his emotions, it was hard to fake those, but maybe he could share the way he felt with it, and it would understand, at least a little bit of what he was going through.

The problem was, he wasn’t really sure he understood his emotions himself. He was terrified at the thought of being responsible for the lives of others. He could seldom keep himself out of trouble, how the hell was he supposed to save others when he couldn’t even save himself? If he accepted the fact that he was a hero, and then his actions caused harm, or god forbid, the death of another person, how could he forgive himself for what he’d done? He was always willing to try and do his best, but he knew perfectly well that his best was really not all that good.

He realized he was petting the shirt again, the links warm and comforting under his fingertips as he lazily ran his hand up and down his chest. It reminded him of his grandmother’s cat. He’d been an old cat when Xander had been a boy, and he’d liked nothing better than sitting in the sun and being stroked by a loving hand. He smiled at the memory – he wondered if mail could purr?

“You like being petted, don’t you, buddy? Feels good, doesn’t it?” He knew it had to be his imagination, but he could swear he felt the mail’s agreement slide under his skin like an internal stroke. Like the mail was petting Xander back. Huh.

He knew he was reaching for this one, but he thought it was worth a shot. “You know, if you and I could reach an understanding on this whole letting me decide when to wear you thing, I’d probably be willing to pet you more often.” There was that internal petting sensation again, even stronger this time. What the hell, it couldn’t hurt. “So you let me take you off now, and I’ll put you back on tomorrow, before I leave the house. What do you say, Buddy?”

Xander felt the click in his head, and suddenly the whole shirt relaxed around him. It still felt rather form-fitting, but he knew without thinking about it too hard that he would be able to take it off now. He sighed a breath of relief.

“Thanks, Buddy.”

Of course, it still took him a while to get the damned thing off. He now understood why knights in armor had squires to help them dress. Xander found himself bent over in half, wiggling out of the mail a little at a time, wishing he had someone who could hold onto the sleeves and pull while he moved backwards out of the shirt. Finally he was out, and if he’d had enough energy, he probably would have jumped up and down in joy. Instead he whispered a heartfelt, “Yes!” and after arranging the mail carefully on the back of an armchair, he fell into bed, too tired to even turn off the light.

Chapter Text

By the time the sun had set and Spike reached the Watcher’s flat, the place was in a shambles. There was a broken stool up against a wall, and the couch was tilting to one side, forcing everyone who sat on it into adjusting themselves so they didn’t lean to the left. A toolbox was sitting in front of the table, tools spilling onto the floor, and there were books spread on every surface, among a litter of cups, napkins and boxes of donuts.

Obviously the others had been there most of the day; their enthusiasm for finding a resolution for the shirt of mail problem seemingly worn down to a nubbin. Harris had found a way to take the shirt off, and could now loosen the links with just a thought. That was helpful, but they’d been unable to get the shirt to adjust to anyone else – it hung comically off the slayer and the two witches, and before she left for her seminar on ‘Turning Your Career in Real Estate into a Goldmine,’ Anya had refused to let Rupert even try it on. No one had suggested Spike try it, and he thought that was just as well. Although he was tempted, simply out of curiosity, he was sure it wouldn’t like someone as inherently evil as a vampire, even a chipped one.

Tara said it had an aura even when Harris wasn’t wearing it, but when he was wearing it, their auras blended together, which she found to be an awe inspiring sight. Harris didn’t leave the shirt off for long, especially after Giles took to it with a pair of bolt cutters. Spike thought it was a fair test. It looked like soft copper, so it made sense to see exactly how strong it actually was. The tempered steel of the cutters didn’t make so much as a dent in the metal, so it was clear that whatever it was, it was much tougher than it looked.

They were arguing over the bolt cutter incident when Spike got there, so he had a ringside seat for that bit of fun. Harris was hugging the mail to him, muttering to it as he stroked the metal, promising that he’d never let Rupert near it again. But obviously the mail wasn’t as sore about the testing as Harris was. It seemed to think that bolt cutters were a proper test of its strength, and Harris finally admitted that it was proud of the results.

That was when Spike realized that whether or not Harris was aware of it, the shirt was staying with him. He’d forged a bond with it, and had even given it a name, although Spike had to admit if he were naming a noble piece of armor such a magical shirt of mail, he’d have given it a more imposing name than Buddy. Spike was aware that was probably due to the Victorian Spike fought to bury on a daily basis, so he refused to contemplate it more closely.

He found himself in the kitchen, examining the refrigerator, from which the sadly abused door now hung crookedly, reattached with heavy wire and copious amounts of duct tape. There were two large coolers on the floor, but neither held anything that a vampire would consider drinking, so he unpeeled the tape from the door far enough to pull out a carton of pig’s blood.

Filling up a novelty mug, Spike popped it into the microwave. The handle of the door was a bit crumpled, but the seal was still intact and the microwave seemed to work fine, so he left it to its job while he examined the overflowing rubbish bin. At least two broken glasses, a cracked plastic cup, and two bent forks sat on top of the shattered remains of the Watcher’s favorite tea pot.

Spike smirked; Xander’s work here was nearly done. He hadn’t broken the Watcher’s spirit yet, but if Spike knew Rupert, and after being forced to live with the man for some time he thought he did, it wouldn’t take long now for the Watcher to cross that line. Spike snickered at the sight of the splintered remains of a kitchen chair propped up in the corner of the room, pulled his repast out of the microwave, and headed back into the living room where all the fun was obviously to be had.

The Slayer was disagreeing with her Watcher over which was their most pressing concern at the moment. He felt it was important to go back to the Plautect’s laboratory to see if there were any clues as to what the green liquid was that had splashed all over Harris’ face. The Slayer and the red witch were of the opinion that the main danger to Harris was his sudden attachment to his new chainmail fashion accessory. Xander didn’t seem to think the mail was any sort of danger for him, but had no interest in going back to the laboratory, and Spike could see his point there.

Tara was trying to make peace between them all and had decided it was a good time to have dinner, so she headed off to the kitchen to dig out the lunchmeats Spike had found in one of the coolers, declaring that they should all put aside their disagreements for the moment and eat instead. Spike sat at the bar, watching Glinda set up their dinner, pulling out potato salad and sandwich rolls and condiments of all sorts, lining them up on the counter between herself and Spike.

“So what do you think, Glinda? Is that mail shirt a danger to the boy?” Spike had a good deal of respect for the witch. She was quiet and unassuming, but she had a solid head on her shoulders, and she tended to have a common sense approach to situations that Spike quite admired.

Tara shook her head. “I don’t think so.” She bit her lip before continuing, as if she wasn’t sure she wanted to say any more. Spike arched one eyebrow in her direction, urging her to continue. “W-willow thinks the shirt is dangerous, but I’m p-pretty sure it’s not. It’s very p-protective of Xander already, and their auras complement each other beautifully.”

“So the Watcher’s right, then? It’s alive?”

“Oh, yes. But I’m quh-quite sure it intends no harm to Xander or anyone else here.”

“Positive about that, are you?” Spike didn’t get any sense that it might want to cause him harm, but he wasn’t one of the good guys, and it might pick up on that somehow.

Tara smiled at him serenely. “You don’t m-mean any harm to Xander, do you, Spike?”

That question took him aback. His first honest answer would have been: not at the moment, anyway. He didn’t think that would go over well, and besides, why would an evil creature like himself want to be honest? The whelp really wasn’t much to worry about. He had a nasty tongue from time to time, but then so did Spike. It was almost fun sparing with him – his irreverent humor made Spike laugh. Besides, they were all his, now, and he doubted very much he would find it in him to hurt the boy, even if he could.

“’Course not, Glinda.”

She nodded, as if that was the answer she’d expected all along.

“Then I can’t imagine the mail having any interest in harming you.”

She walked back out to the group, who were still arguing about the shirt, and announced that they should all come eat dinner. She didn’t say it very loudly, but everyone got the hint, and shuffled over toward the sandwich fixings laid out on the bar. Spike got up and moved over to his usual spot on the stairs, grabbing a bag of crisps on the way. He liked the saltiness, it made the pig’s blood a bit more palatable, and they had a nice crunch to them. They’d keep him entertained while everyone ate.

He didn’t really need any distractions, however. The first thing Red did was ask Xander to open a jar of pickles, and before he knew it, there was the crack of glass and the crumple of metal accompanied by the sharp smell of brine.

“That is enough!”

Ah. There it was. Rupert’s last straw.

“Jeez, I’m sorry, Giles! I didn’t mean…”

"Xander,” the Watcher said quietly, “go outside."

"But--!"

"Now!” Giles’ temper started to flare. “And just stand there. Don't touch anything, don't sit, don't walk, don't move. Just stand there. Is that understood?"

The Watcher was so close to ranting that Spike wanted Harris to protest again, just to see Rupert let the Ripper loose. Unfortunately, Harris hung his head, grabbed his plate of sandwiches and headed out the door, grabbing a soda on the way.

“Giles…” Red spoke softly, but it was obvious she thought the Watcher had overreacted.

“I don’t want to discuss it, Willow.”

“But it’s not his fault!” Red was determined to defend Harris at whatever cost.

“Look at my home!” Rupert’s temper was obviously shot. “The-the-the sofa is ruined, the ice box is ruined, the microwave is ruined, the stool is ruined, the kitchen chair is ruined, the door knob into the loo is ruined, as is the handle of the wash basin!” His voice had started out low, but slowly grew, and by the time he was through, he was yelling. “Yes, I know these powers are not his fault, but at the moment, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he cannot destroy any more of my home if he is no longer inside it!”

Willow looked at the door, as if she wanted to go check on Xander, but Tara pulled her over to a stool, and urged Red to tuck into the plate Tara had made for her. Willow reluctantly started to eat.

The scent of brine was overwhelming. The Slayer was valiantly wiping it up with paper towels, and Glinda brought out a bucket with soapy water to clear away the stickiness. Still, the smell was too strong for Spike, and he pulled out a cigarette hoping to cover it up. He stopped with the flame a few inches from the cig, the Watcher’s finger pointing at him, shaking with his anger.

“Don’t you even think of lighting that thing in my flat.”

“Thought I’d be doing you a favor, Rupert, covering up the scent of all that brine, but if that’s the way you feel about it, I can take it outside.” He finished off his blood, and dropped the mug on the counter as he left. He stopped just outside the door, lit up, and blew the smoke back into the room before he slammed the door shut.

“Bleeding wanker.”

At the top of the stairs, Harris was standing in the middle of the courtyard, his plate of food abandoned on a half wall, staring up at the sky. It was a clear night, and the stars were a brilliant canopy above them. Spike took a big drag off his cigarette and blew the smoke into the air above Harris, obscuring his view.

“Thanks, Spike. I was just thinking that if I could actually see the stars, there must be something wrong. I feel so much better now.”

“No problem, mate. Having spent a hundred years with a woman who spoke to celestial bodies on a daily basis, I can guarantee you that they have nothing to say to you that you’d want to hear.” He sat down on the low brick wall next to Harris’ plate of food.

Harris shrugged and sat down on the other side of the plate, grabbing a sandwich. He took a big bite, and had barely begun to chew before he spoke again.

“I always wanted to be the outdoorsy type, you know? A trailblazer like Daniel Boone or Lewis and Clarke. But I could never remember the names of all the constellations, and I always got dizzy when I stared up for too long. So I knew I’d never be able to find my way anywhere by studying the stars.”

He took another bite out of his sandwich and chewed vigorously. Spike shook his head and took another puff off his cigarette. Obviously Harris wasn’t too upset by Giles’ outburst. But then he’d been dealing with the man for years. He was probably used to them by now.

“So you decided not to be a hero, simply because you got a bit dizzy when you looked up for too long?”

“No, I never wanted to be a hero.” Harris stared up at the sky again, sighing heavily. “I can’t be a hero, Spike. I’m too afraid to be a hero. Heroes aren’t afraid.”

Spike laughed at that. “What the hell are you on about? Heroes aren’t afraid? Where’d you get that rot from? One of those stupid comic books of yours?”

“Well, yeah.” Harris stared at him in surprise. “If you’re a hero, you go in and battle the bad guys, and you always win. I’m not a hero. I’m afraid of everything and I seldom, if ever, win.”

“What a load of crap. Heroes can be afraid. Think about it, mate. If you’re not afraid, how can you be courageous?”

“What do you mean? If you’re courageous, you’re not afraid of anything.”

Spike shook his head to try and clear it. Obviously, Harris was more delusional than he’d thought.

“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard you say.” Spike got up and started pacing, wanting very badly to get this point across, although he wasn’t sure why it was so important. It just was. “If you’re not afraid of anything, facing the bad guys isn’t being courageous at all. Being courageous is going in there and fighting even when you’re scared stiff.”

“It is?”

“Hell yeah.” He poked Harris in the chest to emphasize his point. “It’s only real bravery if you’re facing something that frightens you, but you’re willing to fight it anyway, no matter how frightened you are. “

“Huh. I never thought of it that way.”

“Is that what’s been holding you up? Making you think you can’t be a hero?”

“Well, yeah. How can I be a hero if I fall flat on my face?” The way he said it, made it clear that he honestly believed that heroes never failed at anything.

“I doubt there’s a hero out there that hasn’t landed face down in the mud at one point or another. Besides, how will you know if you are or not if you aren’t even willing to try? You’ll never know if you could have been a hero if you refuse to even try.”

Xander stared at Spike, his eyes wide with surprise. This was obviously not something he’d ever thought of. It made perfect sense to Spike, but then Harris sometimes lacked a bit of common sense. Maybe he just needed someone to push him in the right direction.

Harris jumped up, grabbed his plate and headed down the stairs to the watcher’s flat. “Thanks, Spike.” He turned around, and grinned at Spike. “I never thought I’d say this, but that was very profound.” He disappeared down the steps with more bounce in his walk than he’d had all evening.

“Oh, bloody hell.” Spike rolled his eyes, crushing his cigarette under his heel. He’d just given uplifting advice to a fledgling hero. What the hell was he thinking? He shook his head and started back down to the Watcher’s flat.

“Oh, how the mighty have fallen.”

Chapter Text

“So you’ve still got nothing?” Buffy asked dejectedly.

Buffy carefully wiped her sword clean before putting it away in the weapons chest, then closed the lid, sitting on it exhaustedly. She and Spike were back from patrol, and their news had been disheartening. The Plautect sorcerer’s lair had been crawling with demons. There was no way they could get in to try and figure out what that sorcerer had brewed up. At least not without a major battle, and they weren’t ready for that at the moment. Buffy had clearly been counting on the research crew to give her some good news, but there wasn’t much to report.

Xander sighed. He couldn’t help but be discouraged. Despite his new attachment to Buddy, he really didn’t want to be a hero. His talk with Spike the night before had made a difference in his understanding of the word, but still, the whole concept of people counting on him for anything more important than ordering pizza gave him the wiggins. Besides, he may never recover from the shock of Spike giving him a pep talk. That had been bizarre on so many levels.

“I wouldn’t say that, precisely, Buffy. We simply haven’t learned as much as we would have liked.” Giles was being extra stuffy, which usually meant he had no clue what was going on, he just wasn’t willing to admit it yet.

From his seat on the stairs where he sat cleaning his axe, Spike snorted. “In other words, you’ve got nothing.”

Giles glared at him. “We’ve learned a good deal about the mail shirts. We know, for instance, that the demons who built them instilled in them a near human intelligence. They are sentient beings that are capable of seeing into the hearts of those they choose for companions, and recognizing their potential. I doubt very much it was an accident that Xander happened across this particular piece of mail; several books have mentioned that they tend to find a way into the lives of those meant to wear them.”

“Which is why I don’t understand why he lured me in, instead of Buffy. He found his way to Sunnydale, it just makes sense that he came here looking for the Slayer.” Xander could feel Buddy’s disagreement; he knew the mail had come looking for him. That didn’t mean he had to like it. He reached under his t-shirt surreptitiously, stroking his fingers across the cool links over his stomach in apology for doubting Buddy. Xander shook his head; even he knew how crazy that sounded.

“Maybe he’s only attracted to men,” Spike smirked.

“So it’s a gay mystical shirt of armor?”

“Well that would be pretty sexist.” Willow totally ignored Buffy’s comment, which was just as well in Xander’s opinion. “There are lots of women warriors in the world, even if you don’t include Slayers.”

“Yes.” Giles agreed. “There have been references to a number of women who’ve worn the mail, and for that matter, a number of demons whose sex was either indeterminate or of a gender that defies human perceptions of male and female. I doubt very much it preferred Xander over Buffy based on his sex.”

“I don’t understand why you doubt yourself so, Xander,” Anya proclaimed loudly. “You may not be as graceful as Buffy, but that doesn’t mean a thing. You’re a good man, and you put your heart and soul into demon fighting, the same way you do everything. You need to accept the fact that you’re worthy of being a hero and move on.”

Xander smiled faintly at her, “Thanks, An.”

One thing Xander had always appreciated about Anya was her ability to cut to the chase, and state what she thought. It made him feel good to know she believed in him. But then, she always had. After he’d lost his first construction job over the Chumash-inflicted diseases last Thanksgiving, she hadn’t let him get lost in low paying, nothing jobs. She’d found another construction job for him, and insisted he interview for it. She’d even promised him it had very little to do with how he looked in a hard hat.

She’d taken charge of his finances and had him moved out of his parent’s basement only a couple of months after he got the new job. It wasn’t a huge apartment or anything, but it was plenty big enough for Xander. It looked darn good for a bachelor pad. He counted himself lucky that Anya had helped him choose the furniture before she fell for Giles’ guitar playing at The Expresso Pump and she and Xander broke up. He bravely forced down a shudder, doing his best to repress all thought of that horrid, horrid day. If he hadn’t already been old enough to be considered an adult, seeing Giles being all suave and sexy and…musical would have definitely stunted his growth.

When she and Giles had first hooked up, Anya came by and talked to Xander about it, to make sure he knew before they told anyone else. It still threw him some days, knowing that his ex and the closest thing he had to a real father figure were doing the nasty. But all Xander had to do was watch the two of them together to know that she was happy – much happier than he could have ever made her. The two balanced each other somehow, and the way she looked at Giles some days made him wish he had someone he could feel that way about - someone he could trust that implicitly.

"I think sometimes we do underestimate you, Xander.” Willow looked as if she was uncomfortable agreeing with Anya on anything. “Maybe there really is a hero buried in there somewhere."

Xander took a moment to puzzle the positive out of that statement. “Gee, Willow, I appreciate your belief in me, but I’m really not hero potential. You’ve seen me fight.”

Buffy nodded. “He does have a point, there.”

“Buffy! He does not!”

“I’m not saying that he should throw the mail away or anything, but I spar with him, remember? He stumbles all over himself, and falls down even when I haven’t hit him or anything. He’s just – you know – kind of clumsy.” Buffy cringed as she looked over at Xander, her apologetic shrug annoying him even as he grabbed on to her comments to strengthen his argument.

“Exactly! What kind of hero would I be if I kept tripping over the rescuees?”

“Well, you’ll need training, of course. I think we, collectively, have enough experience in that area to handle your needs. As a Watcher, I have been trained extensively in many different forms of combat…”

“Right,” Spike laughed, as he laid his axe on the stairs next to him and stretched out his legs. “You’ve definitely excelled in your ability to recover from head-trauma.”

“Shut up, Spike. It’s not his job to actually deal with the demons. That’s my job. All he’s supposed to do is teach me how.” Buffy crossed to the bar and squeezed Xander’s shoulder comfortingly. “I’m sure that between the two of us, we can turn you into a fighter eventually. But I thought Giles said you were going to wait on the training until we knew if the Superman strength was going to stick around, or if it was only temporary. Without the cape and tights, hopefully. Sorry, Xan, but I don’t think you’d look good in tights.”

Xander had to agree. Anya looked at him contemplatively, but he warned her off with a shake of his head. Thank goodness she hadn’t gotten that idea when they were still together.

“The training will come in handy even if his strength does return to normal,” Giles pointed out. “However, I think my time is better spent in research at the moment. We need to be sure we have as much knowledge as possible before we take any risks.”

Spike shook his head as he strolled into the kitchen to root through the newly repaired refrigerator. “In the meantime, whelp, I guess you’ll just have to keep stumbling along as usual.” He pulled out a packet of blood, preparing his meal as he grinned at Xander. “I’m sure the Watcher’s home can survive another week or two of Hurricane Xander.”

“Watch it, Fangless.” Xander frowned angrily. “It could be you I break next.”

“Hey!” Willow stepped up to Xander’s defense. “He’s learning how to control his new abilities. He hasn’t broken anything since this morning.”

Xander cringed. “Oh. About that…”

Spike reached down, grabbing the broken cabinet door Xander had propped up against the back of the bar earlier, showing it off like the host of a game show. Xander had the sudden, strong urge to wipe the smarmy smile off Spike’s face with his fist, but he knew it wouldn’t help, no matter how good it might make him feel at the moment. In the back of his mind, Xander noted that his emotions seemed more volatile in the last few days, and wondered if that could be a side effect of either the potion or the shirt of mail.

“I’ll have to fix that one later, G-Man. I used the last of the wood putty yesterday.”

“Oh, Xander.” Giles sighed heavily.

Anya tutted over the damage. “You’re going to have to do something, Giles. At this rate, there won’t be anything left of your apartment by the time I move in.”

“You’re moving in with Giles?” Buffy asked, shocked. “You’ve only been dating two months!”

Anya tipped her head in that way she had - the way that Xander still thought was cute, even after she’d dumped him for Giles.

“Well, he hasn’t asked me, yet, but I’m sure he will at some point. And I’d like there to be an apartment left to move into when that point comes.”

“Perhaps we should start you on a few basic exercises that might help you deal more gently with your surroundings.”

Xander admired Giles’ technique. He’d never managed to ignore Anya’s comments so deftly.

“There are several methods of yoga and T'ai Chi Ch'uan that will serve our purposes, I believe.”

“Tai chi?” Buffy asked. “The martial art Tai chi? Don’t you think you should start him off on something a little simpler?”

Xander tended to agree, but he grinned anyway, imagining himself as a martial artist – a master of the art of defeating his foes with only his hands and feet. Ooohhh.

“Tai chi? Is that like karate? I think I’d fall over if I stood on one leg for too long, but I can wax a car.” The Karate Kid had played a large part in his childhood. He’d always dreamed of being like the Kid - the underdog who triumphs over the bullies in the end.

Giles watched Xander in confusion as he practiced his wipe on, wipe off moves. “I beg your pardon?”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry about him, Giles; he just wants to be Ralph Macchio when he grows up.”

“Is he a martial artist? I’m afraid I don’t keep up with these things.” Giles hurried on to reassure Buffy. “I don’t intend to teach Xander any offensive moves for some time yet…”

Xander stopped mid-wipe. “Damn.”

“…but the solo form of T’ai chi ch’uan has long been recognized as an excellent aide in training students to become more attuned to their bodies – improving ones sense of balance and coordination, retraining posture and increasing flexibility. I dare say it will help Xander to deal with his new strength, and hopefully prove advantageous in keeping what is left of my home in one piece.”

“So no Karate Kid?” Xander tried to hide his disappointment.

“Luckily for the rest of us, it looks like the Watcher has other plans, Ralph,” Spike drawled.

Xander suddenly regretted mentioning The Karate Kid. Spike didn’t need any help making fun of Xander; he managed to do that quite well on his own.

“Although if you insist, I’m sure Rupert’s new flash convertible could use a good wax and buff.”

Actually, Xander wasn't surprised he'd gotten a new car. He'd often wondered how Giles’ old Citroën had managed to make it to the gas station and back, but he refused to be the one to bring that up.

“Thanks, Spike, but I’ve had plenty of rotten jobs in my day; no need to add car wash attendant to the list.”

“Speaking of jobs, Xander, w-what are you going to do about work tomorrow?” Tara had been so quiet tonight that he’d almost forgotten she was there. As usual, though, she asked the tough questions.

“That’s right!” Willow squeezed Tara’s hand. “You can’t go knocking people off girders and hammering nails all the way through 2x4s and stuff. People will notice.”

Xander laughed at the image she presented. “Don’t worry; I called my boss this morning. I have the week off. Yet another tragic death in the family. As usual, Hellmouth blindness works in my favor – he didn’t ask too many questions.”

Xander didn’t have any more vacation days accumulated, but he’d been saving some money, hoping to find himself a better car, or maybe a truck. He’d have to dip into his savings a bit to cover his rent. Hopefully they could clear this up in a week; that was all the downtime he could afford.

“Then perhaps you should come over tomorrow morning, and we’ll begin training immediately.”

“Sounds good to me, G-Man.”

Giles sighed, but otherwise ignored the nickname. “Good. We’ll meet up with the rest of you for research tomorrow night then.”

Spike headed for the door, Buffy not too far behind him, but Willow was deep in conversation with Tara, so Xander made his way over to the couch, careful not to touch anything. He was constantly paranoid, now – almost too afraid to breathe for fear of wreaking havoc with the lightest puff of air. He’d spent most of the night on his stool at the bar, sitting on his hands to avoid waving them as he talked.

It hadn’t helped. He’d still managed to rip the door right off the hinges of one of the cabinets under the bar. He knew that was where Giles kept the napkins, and the holder was empty. It was a simple thing, but he’d forgotten for one moment that nothing was simple for him anymore, and bam! Oh, look, a new project for Super Handyman Xan. It was his new Superhero power: supplying himself with jobs to keep him busy as he single-handedly destroyed Giles’ apartment. At this rate, he’d never be bored again.

Willow and Tara looked up at his approach. “Hey, witchy women, it looks like we’re getting the old heave ho. Can I offer you two a ride home?”

“Oh! Sure. That would be great, wouldn’t it, Tara?” Willow began pulling her things together as Tara nodded, her serene smile making him feel a bit better about how the night had gone.

Anya made shooing motions with her hands. “Yes, please do go. I haven’t had any orgasms in close to twenty-four hours, and it’s wearing on my self control.”

Buffy groaned. “Oh, god. I so didn’t need to hear that.”

“Anya, how many times must I ask you to please refrain from discussing our private life in front of others?”

Willow and Tara giggled as they joined Buffy at the door. Xander chuckled - he knew that one was never going to sink in. “You’re going to have to get used to it, Giles. Some things never change, and Anya’s amazing ability to embarrass everyone in the room in less than 0.1 seconds is one of them.”

He clapped Giles on the shoulder in a show of manly solidarity, and watched in horror as Giles turned a neat somersault, flipping over the back of the sofa. He landed heavily on top of the coffee table, which collapsed under his sudden weight, shattering into pieces.

In the sudden silence, Giles’ long, wavering moan could be clearly heard, right before Anya’s loud pronouncement. “Oh, Xander, how could you? At this rate, I’ll never get any orgasms tonight!”

Chapter Text

Spike examined the space they’d cleared. The year before, the Slayer had salvaged exercise mats from the damaged high school, and now they covered the floor of his crypt three deep. He had a feeling it still wasn’t going to be enough to keep him from suffering a blinding headache for most of the night, but the packets of human blood Harris had managed to locate at short notice would go a long way towards improving his turn-around time. Human blood would work wonders on the chip-induced headaches he expected to deal with every time he knocked the git onto his arse.

Unfortunately, the Slayer had an ‘errand’ to run, and wouldn’t be here for hours, so Spike was stuck teaching the budding hero-in-training until the Slayer arrived and could take over the brunt of the work. Too bad the chip didn’t seem to understand the difference between pain that worked toward the ultimate good, and just plain…pain. The first item on the agenda tonight would have to be discovering how much damage that mail shirt could absorb before Spike got an excruciating jolt of his own pain.

Damn the Watcher for being so bleeding frail. If Xander had flipped the Slayer tip over tail like that, she’d have been up in seconds, ready for another try. But Giles just lay there moaning in agony, complaining about his back, his ribs and his broken table and generally acting like a spoilt child. He’d come away from hospital with only a slight concussion and a few cracked ribs - not a single one broken. His faint “I’m afraid you’ll have to train with Xander tomorrow in my stead, Spike, I surely won’t be able to do so myself,” practically oozing with insincerity. If he thought for a second that Rupert had it in him to manage the gift of precognition, he’d have accused the Watcher of planning the whole event.

Perhaps it served him right for standing there laughing like a loon while the Slayer and her crew of do-gooders gasped in shock at their fallen comrade. He should have high-tailed it out of there before the Watcher had a chance to drag him farther into this whole mess, but the look of outrage on Demon Girl’s face had done him in. Dear god, he hadn’t laughed that hard in ages; definitely since before the Initiative and that thrice-damned bloody chip. It had felt wonderful, freeing - almost worth the trouble of training a fledgling hero in the art of staying alive long enough to do some good.

Simply remembering the looks on everyone’s faces was enough to make him smile. Well, while he was suffering through this whole disaster, at least he’d have that priceless image to fall back on. He crossed over to the small cooler full of human blood they’d brought with them when they unloaded all the mats this afternoon. Xander would be here soon, it couldn’t hurt to fortify himself against the coming tide of pain. His new trainee had even brought a small microwave to heat it. Rather thoughtful of him, although those words would never pass Spike’s lips. He had a reputation to uphold, after all.

He forced himself to stop after one bag despite the temptation – human blood was such a rare treat for him. He could seldom afford more than a glass at Willy’s even before he got banned; these days he had to travel far to find a sympathetic supplier, even when he had the dosh to pay for it. But he knew he’d regret it later if he drank it all before they started training. He set his mug down as he heard the noisy footsteps of his victim/trainee advancing on his crypt.

He met Xander at the door. He’d learned the hard way that none of them ever seemed to respect his home, tramping in without even knocking. If he got there before Xander, he could play the gracious host and welcome Xander in. Maybe he’d get the hint. Maybe not. But it was worth a try.

A couple of hours later, both Xander and Spike were sprawled flat out on the mats. Spike’s head hurt like hell, but he’d taken chances to see how far he could go, and was much more inclined to think he might be able to train Xander after all. As long as he aimed at the chainmail, Xander felt no pain at all unless the force of Spike’s blow knocked him off his feet into something hard, like a stone wall. For that matter, even the places that weren’t covered by chainmail were capable of taking a harder hit than Spike had expected. He thought that was the result of the strengthening spell, but not being an expert at mojo, it was possible it could be a side effect of the spell the chainmail carried.

Xander said ‘Buddy’ had let him know it was mostly the strengthening spell, but Spike wasn’t sure how much he trusted a piece of sentient chainmail to know what it was talking about. Buddy made him nervous. But for some reason, he didn’t doubt that the mail had picked the right person when he found Xander. The boy was faithful and true hearted, and willing to fight for what he thought right.

Even Angelus thought as much. He’d growled and shouted and raged for hours after the boy had faced him down the night he’d gone to kill Buffy in the hospital. Angelus always had been a coward. He’d waited until the Slayer was weak and unable to defend herself properly to deal her the final blow, but Xander had faced Angelus down and protected his ‘lady fair.’ A white knight, Angelus had called him, and Spike supposed it was true; even a knight’s armor had recognized him.

Spike’s inner Victorian was insanely jealous of Xander, and in love with the entire idea of a knight in armor fighting for what he believed in, but Spike kept that hidden as best he could. It wouldn’t do for Xander to discover his weak spots. He had to admit, he had begun to develop a grudging respect for the berk in the last few days. He’d been whammied by mojo and seduced by a piece of mystical chainmail armor and he still managed to keep his sense of humor. Although Spike was beginning to wonder if that humor was a shield he wore to distract others from seeing the real Xander. Well, Spike wasn’t that easy to fool. He’d keep a close eye on the boy. Someone needed to.

He realized that Xander had been talking for some time now, his monologue filled with wars and battles, heroes and Greek gods and the sons of gods, the cruelty of Ares and the heroics of Hercules. Spike was pleasantly surprised.

“I have to admit, I’m amazed. I didn’t realize you knew anything about the classical gods and heroes.”

“Sure. Ares and Hercules have fought each other in the Marvel Universe for something like thirty years, now. They’ve got history.”

“Marvel? You mean comic books? Bloody hell. I should have known it.” The git was hopeless.

He got up and grabbed another bag of blood. “One more bag to fortify what’s left of my brain, and we’ll move on, Hercules.”

Xander ignored the nickname, leaning up on his elbows to watch as Spike prepared his blood. “Does this mean that I get to learn something besides how to fall?”

“Which is a crucial piece of instruction.”

Spike refused to let the boy push him; if they moved at the rate Xander wanted, he’d already be using heavy weaponry, and the first time he came up against an opponent with more brains than brawn, the lunkhead would end up in a pine box - which neither the Slayer nor the Watcher would take well. If Spike wanted to stay in one piece, rather than a small pile of dust at the Slayer’s feet, he’d have to find a way to slow the boy down.

“I know you want to be out there, dusting fledges and defeating the bad guys, and if it were up to me, I’d say go for it; just let me get the popcorn ready, so I don’t miss the part where the first demon with a little more fighting skills than your normal fledge slaughters you. But I’d rather the Slayer not turn me to dust anytime soon, so this is the way it has to be. If you want to learn the good stuff, you have to get there in small steps.”

Spike set his empty mug down on the microwave and leaned against the wall. “Look, mate, you’re doing well. You’re learning rapidly, and you’re a hell of a lot more coordinated than you were a mere two weeks ago.”

Xander sighed heavily. “You think so? How can you tell? All I’ve done for the last two hours is let you hit and kick me, and fall down – a lot.”

“C’mon, mate. You know better than that. It’s not that you fall down, it’s the fact that you’re getting back up again.” He hated that he had to play the cheerleader. It wasn’t a role he felt at all comfortable in, and for some reason, Xander’s moods seemed to swing dramatically these days. He seemed to need much more support than in the past.

“I throw you against the mat; you roll over and get back on your feet in seconds. Do you think you could have done that two weeks ago?” Spike shook his head. “You’re moving faster and reacting quicker than you ever have. At this rate, it’s gonna be no time before you’re challenging the Slayer.”

“Riiiight.”

Spike rolled his eyes at Xander’s sarcastic response. “I didn’t say you’d win, you berk. But at least you’ll make her sweat before she takes you down.”

That got a chuckle out of the boy at least.

“It just seems like I’m moving so slowly.” He sat up, shrugging helplessly. “I’ve suddenly got this power and who knows how long it’s going to last. I want to do something with it. I want to help. And right now, all I can do is acrobatics. It will come in real handy if we’re attacked by a band of roving Circe de Soleil demons, but what are the chances of my saving anyone’s life by being able to roll between them and the charging hordes of vampires?”

“Lovely image aside, that’s not likely to come in handy, true. But you’ll be able to get back up again when the bad guys knock you down, and you’ll come up ready to attack, or at least defend yourself, which is a damn sight better than what you were doing this time last week.” He obviously wasn’t getting through, so he tried a different tack.

“Look, I know it’s not what you want, but it’s better than what you were going to get from the Watcher. He’d have you balancing on one leg like a stork and contemplating your navel while you move through countless repetitions of the same dozen poses. At least with me, you’ll learn what you need to survive. You give me two weeks, and I’ll have you out there staking fledges with the best of ‘em.”

“Yeah, but who knows if I’ll even have this strength in two weeks?”

“So? These are things you need to know anyway. When I first figured out that the Watcher hadn’t trained any of you in even the most rudimentary of self-defense skills before handing you stakes and shoving you out the door, I was – well, to be honest, I was appalled. It was an insult to me, and to demons everywhere, that the Watcher didn’t even feel the need to train you.”

“Hey, we had training.”

“You did.” Spike sneered at him.

“Giles made it perfectly clear which end of the stake goes into the heart. Valuable information, there.”

Spike shook his head. “I don’t know how the hell any of you lot survived as long as you have.”

“Maybe we’re just lucky.”

“Well, now you’ll have more than luck. You’ll have the fighting skills you need to live up to the name of Champion.”

“Yeah, right.” Xander shrugged his shoulders, staring down at the mats.

“You still don’t think you’re the champion your mail shirt was looking for, do you?”

“Maybe when he got here, he realized Buffy didn’t need him after all, so he looked around, and decided that I was the one who was most likely to need him. I mean, Willow and Tara are witches, and Giles is – Giles. They don’t need him. But there’s nothing special about me. I could use some protection.”

Spike stood there, stunned. “You really think a mystical piece of armor that’s been protecting and aiding heroes for centuries, would suddenly just…settle…for someone who didn’t meet his standards? Bloody hell. Maybe you don’t deserve him after all.”

“I don’t know why he chose me, Spike. I really don’t. I’m not a hero. Not a Champion. I’m just a guy with a hell of a lot more questions than answers.”

“And you think that the good guys have all the answers?”

“Don’t they?”

“Of course not. But they believe in what’s right, and that makes the difference.”

“It does?”

“Of course it does.”

“But I’m not perfect, Spike. I can’t be a knight in armor. I make mistakes. A lot.”

“Nobody’s perfect, you nob.” Spike couldn’t believe the shite Xander was dealing him. He found himself pacing, unable to stand still. “Look at the Knights of the Round Table – King Arthur’s ideal society. None of them were perfect – well, with the possible exception of Galahad. They were all having affairs and had dozens of illegitimate children; the stories are full of incest and cruelty and betrayal. But even so, they did so much more good than evil. You’ve got a chance to make something of yourself. You need to stop doubting yourself and putting yourself down.” He pointed his finger at Xander. “You need to be what you have the potential to be.”

Xander stared at Spike in shock and dawning realization. “You’re an idealist.”

“Am not.” Spike retorted, greatly offended by the very thought.

“Are to!”

“You take that back, or I’ll feed you those words one at a time.”

“You don’t scare me.”

Spike let his game face slip out, eyes glowing and fangs bared. “I should.”

Xander’s eyes widened slightly in surprise. “Okay, maybe a little bit, you do. But you have to admit, you have pretty high ideals for an evil creature of the night.”

“Shut up," Spike growled. He never should have mentioned King Arthur - his childhood heroes always tended to bring out the Victorian in him. He needed to take control of the situation before he lost any more of the brat’s respect. He couldn't afford to lose any more; he had little enough left as it was. He advanced slowly on Xander, licking his fangs, a cruel smile on his lips. "Time for me to throw you around some more, so get up. Now.”

“Damn. Okay, I take it back. You’re a mean, cruel bastard, who hates me with a passion.”

Spike nodded in satisfaction. “That’s more like it.”

The training seemed to go better after that; at least for a while. Spike kept him working on defensive moves, but he introduced a few blocks and sweeps that made the bloke feel better, since he was no longer falling down over and over. Spike still knocked him about, or tripped him from time to time, to make sure he didn’t forget what he’d already learned, but he mixed it in with the new moves, to keep him alert.

Spike watched him carefully, though, once the frown of concentration Xander had started with slowly turned into one of annoyance. Spike was playing with him, staying out of his reach, moving quickly in and out to keep him off balance and see if he could think quickly enough to keep up with a vampire who knew what he was doing. Spike could see the frustration starting to build, and was about to change tactics to allow him a chance to recoup his self esteem when suddenly Xander’s whole body jerked erratically.

“Ow!” He spun around in a circle, as if looking for a hidden opponent. “What the hell was that?”

Spike stared at him in surprise. “What the hell was what?”

“I just…I got shocked. It hurt. It just came out of the blue. What the hell?”

“Shocked? As in electricity?”

“Yeah, like the biggest static electricity shock ever made.”

“You need to take a break?” Spike frowned at him, uncertain of what to do.

“I don’t think so. Now that it’s over, I’m fine.” Xander looked around him again, as if he might find the culprit hiding behind a sepulture.

“How long did it last?”

“Just a second. But it hurt!”

Spike shrugged. “You ready to go on?”

“I guess.” He frowned, heavily as he thought it over. “No. I don’t want to do this anymore.” The git suddenly sounded like a grade schooler throwing a tantrum. “I’m tired and I hurt all over. I don’t know why I’m even doing this. I’m not a hero. I’m nobody special. I’m nobody at all.” His eyes widened dramatically as he gasped. “Ouch! Shit! What the hell is that?”

“I didn’t see anything. Nothing happened.” Spike scoffed at his dramatic reaction to absolutely nothing.

“It did! I was standing here, talking to you and all of a sudden – bam! Like a bolt of electricity right through my body. Hurt like hell.”

Spike smirked at him, “It’s about time someone else got shocked for a change. It probably isn’t nearly as devastating as a shock from the chip, since you seem to be still standing, but it’s a nice thought.”

Xander stared at him balefully. “Shut up, Spike.” He shrugged. “It’s gone now.”

“You need a break, then?”

“I…I guess not. Let’s just get this over, so I can go home and get some rest.”

“Concentrate this time, then, alright?”

“Yeah, yeah….concentrate.” He rolled his eyes. “Like any of this is ever going to do me any good. I’m not ever going to be a hero. I’m just not the hero type.”

This time, Spike thought he felt a charge himself. Not a shock, but the faint current of magic flowing through the air that he often got when Dru worked on a spell. It definitely had a more solid impact on Xander, as his eyes widened comically, his body jerking in a series of random moves, as if he was being struck over and over again.

“Oh, shit, shit shit!!!”

When it was over, he panted, hands on knees, gasping for air.

“What is going on?” He looked up at Spike, his words sharp with anger. “You’re doing this, aren’t you, Spike? You’ve got one of those tasers hooked up somehow – right through the floor, here.” He got down on his hands and knees, digging between the mats, searching. “Where is it?”

“What the hell are you doing, you dolt?” Spike got it, now. The little boy hero was tired, and needed some kind of excuse to stop. “Stop playing around and get back to work.”

“No…no, this is all your fault, somehow.” He pointed a finger at Spike. “You’re shocking me. Why the hell would you do that?”

Spike could see the anger on Xander’s flushed face, and felt a slight shiver of unease. Xander was strong these days, and his emotions seemed to be running high. If he lost control, Spike’s only defense would be to flee, and that option set off a deep resentment in his gut. Xander had no right to make him feel this way, in his own home, no less.

“I’m not shocking you.”

“Well, something is!” Xander stomped over to Spike, fire in his eyes, but Spike stood his ground. He wasn’t about to show his back to a foe.

“Every time we start up again, I get shocked.” He poked his finger at Spike’s chest. “If you’re not doing it, who is?”

Spike shoved his hand aside indignantly. “I don’t know. But it's not me. I’ve got a chip, remember?” He thought quickly, trying to come up with a way to distract Xander from his anger. “Let’s try it again. Maybe we can suss it out if we do everything that’s been leading up to the problem. Okay?”

Xander’s eyes bored into his, as if searching for the truth. Finally he nodded, some of his anger fading. “Yeah, alright. We can do that.”

“Ready?”

“Okay.” Xander shook his head like a waterlogged dog, obviously trying to shake off the anger and distress in order to come at this problem logically. “Let’s do it.”

Spike tried a couple of the moves they’d been working on earlier, but every time he got close, Xander jumped back, out of his way. “Stop being so jumpy. I can’t get near you. How am I supposed to hit you, if you keep jerking away from me like that?”

“Like this is going to help anyway, Spike.” He walked away and stood facing the wall, banging his head against it rhythmically. “There’s no sense in my even being here. I’ll never be as fast as you, or as strong as… Ouch!!!” Xander spun around again, his eyes wide and startled. Finally, his focus returned to Spike. “That’s it.” He stormed in Spike’s direction. “That’s the last time you do that to me, Spike. How the hell are you doing it?”

Spike held him away with one hand against his chest. “It’s not me!” There was an idea forming in Spike’s head that despite his common sense was refusing to go away.

“Of course it’s you. It has to be you if it’s not me!”

“No, I think it is you. Or, maybe Buddy?”

Xander gasped in surprise, glancing down at his chest as he stumbled several steps back. “Oh my god! Buddy just did that thing he does, the one that means yes. Yes to what? It’s Buddy?” He looked down at the t-shirt he was wearing over his mail shirt, pulling the collar away so he could look down at the copper-hued links that covered his chest. “Why are you doing this to me! What the hell did I do to you?”

“I get it.” Spike had to give it to Buddy, it was an ingenious idea.

Xander looked up at Spike in confusion.

“You do? What? What did I do?”

“What’s the last thing you remember doing before you got shocked?”

That stopped Xander for a second. “Which time?”

“Any of them.”

“What? We were sparing, right?”

“Well, I was trying to get you to. You were complaining. Telling me you couldn’t do it. You weren’t hero potential.” Xander looked up at him in surprise. “You were putting yourself down.”

“So?” He shrugged. “It’s not like I really mean it.”

Spike raised his eyebrow. “Don’t you?”

“Well. Not really? I mean…” He stopped, puzzled, and chewed on his lip. “Okay. Maybe I do.”

“Maybe Buddy doesn’t think you should do it anymore,” Spike said. “Maybe Buddy’s as tired of hearing you put yourself down as I am.”

“No.” Xander shook his head in denial.

“Ask him.”

Xander paused, looking down at his shirt. He turned slightly away from Spike, stepping a few more feet away before slipping his hand under the fabric and caressing the mail links over his stomach. Spike thought it a strangely intimate thing to do, and it sent a small jolt of arousal through him. He quickly brushed the idea away – he had no need for that kind of complication right now.

“Buddy?” Xander paused, his head bowed as he obviously communed with his mail. His head popped up, and he looked back at Spike. “Damn.”

Spike smirked at him. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

Xander frowned at Spike’s attitude. “Shut up.”

“And why should I?” Spike asked airily.

“Cause I’m gonna kick your smug, little ass if you don’t, that’s why.” He started a slow saunter across the mats that Spike was impressed with, despite himself.

“You can try,” he taunted Xander arrogantly.

“No. I’m not gonna try. I’m gonna do it. Now one more time. Let’s go.”

Spike laughed at Xander’s change in attitude, and started circling him again, moving in and out fast, aiming small strikes at his arms and legs, and an occasional chest or shoulder hit. Xander was doing better this time around, blocking more hits than he was letting through, not letting Spike get the better of him. He was finally getting in the swing of things.

Xander’s block turned into a strike that swung Spike around enough that his follow through sweep turned into a kick aimed at Spike’s ass.

“Bloody hell!” he shouted, trying hard to reign in his temper at getting caught off guard. It had been a good solid hit, and as much as Spike regretted it, it deserved a bit of praise.

“Not bad, Hercules! Not bad. But you won’t catch me sleeping again.”

“I don’t expect to, Spike.” The look in his eyes was wild, equal parts of confidence and shock, and his wide grin was contagious. “What would be the fun in that?”

Spike went at him again, moving faster and more aggressively, and was pleased when Xander was able to keep up. It was surprising what a bit of self confidence could do. He’d have to remember that. The blighter’s moods were becoming more and more mercurial, shifting from angry and vengeful to deep depression to buoyant and confident in just a few minutes time. Spike resolved to speak to Rupert about it. It was something that should be watched.

Xander got in a solid hit on Spike’s shoulder, and Spike shook his head to clear it. He needed to concentrate on Xander for now. He could worry about the rest later.

Chapter Text

Xander threw one last kick in Spike’s direction and watched with satisfaction as it connected solidly with his knee. Spike growled as he went down, rolling smoothly out of the way with a grace that Xander had come to admire more and more in the last few days. It wasn’t as effortless as Spike made it look – having spent the last four days practicing the move, he ought to know. Spike was incredibly skilled in combat. He’d always known that, but now he understood exactly how much training and work had gone into that skill, and his respect for Spike had grown immensely. The fact that Spike thought Xander was doing well was a constant source of amazement. He was aware that Spike was going easy on him, but Xander’s confidence was growing with each day Spike spent training him.

Fighting came to Xander a lot easier than any of them had expected. It seemed the fizzy green goop the Plautect sorcerer had thrown on him a week ago had done more than just give him super strength; he was fighting at a skill level that was far beyond what a beginner should be capable of. The current theory was that the sorcerer was hoping to use the goop on himself, to give him the strength and fighting ability to beat both Buffy and Spike. Fortunately for them, the Plautect hadn’t had a chance to use it before they got to him. Giles said he had a feeling it was meant to be drunk, and being human instead of demon, that probably would have killed Xander, so it was a good thing he’d only gotten a partial dose.

Buffy had been leaving the majority of Xander’s training to Spike, who was thrilled to take advantage of the chance to beat up on a human again. And he could beat up on Xander, if he was careful enough; something Spike cheerfully pointed out on a regular basis. No matter how sore and exhausted Xander was by the time he went to bed, he was always pain free when he woke up again. His bruises went away overnight. Even the couple of times he’d done some fairly serious damage to one body part or the other - banging his arm against a sarcophagus or knocking his head up against the stone wall of Spike’s crypt - the injury was totally gone by the next day. Buddy had made it clear that he wasn’t responsible for Xander’s new healing abilities. That meant the potion had to be to blame, which was kind of disturbing. He’d rather trust Buddy with his health than some potion accidentally splashed in his face by a demon sorcerer.

He was a bit disappointed not to get the chance to spar with the Buffster on a regular basis. Some fantasies never faded. No matter how far the two had traveled in their friendship over the years, seeing Buffy all hot and sweaty after a good workout was still close to the top of Xander’s list of favorite things. But Buffy was spending most of her time patrolling, despite it being summer, which was usually a slow time for the demon population of Sunnydale. Giles thought that the presence of so many Plautect demons might be stirring the Hellmouth up, keeping the demons who lived here year round anxious and edgy. It looked like this sorcerer might have had more friends than they’d bargained for. The Plautects hadn’t messed with Buffy, yet, though, so hopefully they didn’t realize that the Scoobies were the ones who’d kicked his sorcerous butt.

Giles had been right; the training had done wonders for his coordination. Xander hadn’t broken a thing in two days. Well, aside from another of his dining room chairs. He’d had some sort of temper tantrum, which had greatly surprised him – he never lost his temper like that. Fortunately, he’d been alone in his apartment when it happened, and he’d been close enough to the dining room to grab a chair and start smashing it into the carpeted floor. He’d had to do some repair work on the carpet and the floor underneath after, but it had been worth it. Stomping that chair into tiny little chair pieces had given him a chance to get all that anger out without destroying anything important.

Stress relief, Spike had called it. He’d said he had to do the same from time to time – his demon demanded it. Spike recognized Xander’s occasional rages as similar to what the demon required from Spike sometimes – especially since the chip. He was no longer top of the food chain, and his lack of control threw his demon into occasional furies that were awesome to behold. At least according to Spike. Xander was glad he hadn’t been around for them, especially if they were anything like his own. The fact that his rages and mood swings were similar to Spike’s worried Xander. He was beginning to get used to his new strength and the coordination that came with it, not to mention his amazing new ability to heal overnight, but he wondered how much farther this potion was going to take him. Would he still be Xander when this was all over?

A sharp rap to the head brought his attention back to Spike. He stood directly in front of Xander with his arms crossed, frowning like a schoolmarm with a ruler, ready to rap his knuckles.

“You’d be dead right now, if I didn’t have a chip.” Spike’s eyes practically sparked with his anger. “You can’t let your focus slip like that, you berk. The bad guys aren’t likely to give you time to come out of your daydreams and start fighting again. They’ll take advantage of your distraction and your head will be rolling on the ground before you have a chance to get back in the game.”

Xander cringed with embarrassment. Spike was taking his role as fight instructor seriously. Like he’d take it as a personal strike against himself if Xander screwed up and got himself killed. He wanted to reassure Spike that he was perfectly capable of screwing up without assistance from anyone, but he’d learned the hard way that Spike reacted badly to Xander’s self-doubts and criticisms. It was okay for Spike to pick on him, but it wasn’t okay for Xander to think poorly of himself. Buddy liked that about Spike, and Xander had noticed the beginnings of a sense of respect from Buddy for Spike’s training and his stubborn insistence that Xander not put himself down. Buddy had found an ally in his fight against Xander’s self-doubt.

Xander shook his head to clear it, doing his best to pull his scattered thoughts back into some semblance of order. “Sorry. It won’t happen again.” He shook himself like a dog coming out of water, his whole body participating in the movement. He’d found it woke him up when he was starting to fatigue. It usually made Spike laugh, but it worked for Xander, so he kept it.

“Let’s do this,” he said determinedly.

Spike arched one elegant brow, then cracked his neck – one way and then the other – before nodding, a smirk on his handsome face. Out of nowhere, he launched himself. Xander was used to his blitzkrieg attacks by now, but he still felt that moment of pure, white-hot panic when Spike threw himself into motion and Xander realized it was aimed at him. Fortunately, his body knew what to do: his movements were instinctual as he blocked and parried, searching for an opening, a moment when he could strike back. Xander felt all the random thoughts that usually crowded his brain falling away, leaving him to concentrate on the way Spike moved, and the things Xander could do to combat him. He slipped unconsciously into that groove, the one that let his body flow – one movement falling fluidly into the next. His entire focus was set firmly on Spike - determined not to slip up again.


Xander was fading, his muscles trembling and fatigued. He’d fought either Spike or Buffy back to back for hours, and he was exhausted. Giles was testing his stamina and Xander thought he’d held up well. He had no idea how long he’d sparred with one or the other, but he was feeling a bit frustrated at this point. With Buffy and Spike tag-teaming him, he hadn’t had a break in far, far too long.

What irritated Xander the most was that Giles wasn’t even paying attention anymore. At first, he’d sat carefully on Spike’s old, busted armchair, watching intently, and even taking notes, but that had been hours ago. Lately, he’d been talking quietly to Anya, and earlier he’d had a long conversation with Willow and Tara – leaning over one of the stone sarcophagi, their heads bent over some dusty tome.

He wasn’t sure why everyone had felt the need to attend the test, but he got the idea they were all a bit tired of research. They hadn’t found out anything new about the chainmail shirts since early in the week, so by Wednesday they’d moved their efforts over to the Plautect demons and the forms of sorcery they used – with a strong emphasis on potions. The witches and Anya had brought books with them to Spike’s crypt, and they sat on a mat pulled over to the side, watching Xander and reading. It had been fun at first, hearing the cheers and gasps as Xander showed off his new skills; a boost to his self-esteem to see how impressed they were with his new fighting abilities.

But by now, they were all absorbed in their books, and they’d been getting up and wandering around, talking and laughing and there’d even been some smooching going on in the corner, when Willow and Tara thought no one was looking. It was very distracting, and Xander knew that’s why Spike had suggested they come along – he hadn’t really had much in the way of distractions this week. It had been just the two of them, and the random voices in Xander’s head – the ones that told him there were other, more interesting things to be doing on a Friday night than their own version of a Fight Club marathon.

He’d rather they didn’t pay attention to him right now, anyway. Weak and tired Xander was someone they already knew well; he didn’t need to share that with any of them. But here they were, glancing sidelong at the sideshow freak, with his super powers of boredom and inadequacy. Buddy growled at him – a warning that he recognized from his experiences this last week as the preface to more static shocks, and Xander realized he was slipping into what he called Zeppo mode. He visibly shook himself and wearily forced his focus back onto Spike, silently promising Buddy that he would behave.

Spike delivered a series of punishing blows to his side and ribs and Xander was thankful that he couldn’t feel the full impact thanks to Buddy. Spike drove him backwards several steps and he stumbled on one move, almost going down. He recovered enough to block the next three strikes, but the last one got through his defenses and the solid hit to his shoulder spun him around.

Staggering, he blinked to clear the sweat out of his eyes as he fought to focus on Buffy, who had appeared out of nowhere. He didn’t even see the fist aimed at his jaw, but he felt it, and saw the starburst of sparks that spanned out in every direction as he went down, flat on his back. He lifted his head, his shaky arms forcing his shoulders up a few inches before they gave way and he flopped back to the mats. This time, he didn’t even think about getting up again. He lay there panting, eyes closed, as his head spun slowly, sinking into the warm petting sensation that was Buddy’s version of ‘good job!’ There were loud, annoying noises in the background, and when he concentrated on them, they resolved themselves into the voices of Willow and Buffy.

“But that’s not fair! You double-teamed him!” Xander’s faint smile at Willow’s instant defense of him was difficult to maintain so he let it go. His jaw hurt like hell.

“You think the bad guys will care about fair? It’s the real world out there, Willow.”

He’d agree with Buffy if he could, but since he wasn’t capable of movement right now, he simply nodded inside his own head.

“The Slayer had been creeping up on him for close to two minutes, Red. He’d have been dead long ago if she’d been a demon. That’s a lesson he needs to learn.”

Two minutes? That’s a lifetime when you’re in the middle of a fight. He hoped Giles didn’t count that against him, after all, he was mostly unconscious before she’d shown up, so it shouldn’t count, right?

“Don’t worry, Will, he’ll be fine. He’s got that whole Superman healing thing going on, right? He’ll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by this time tomorrow.” There was a pause, and then Buffy continued. “Does anyone else think that that’s a rather disturbing image?”

“Oh, yes.” Anya answered. “I’m very disturbed.”

“There, there, dear. Just think of something else for a while.”

Giles didn’t really seem to have a good grip on the comforting Anya thing, yet. She needed a hug, Xander could tell. When he could move again, he’d take the time to explain to Giles about An’s fluffy bunny phobia. He moaned softly as he tried to open his eyes. It didn’t work, so he tried again, but there was a hand on his jaw, fortunately on the side that Buffy hadn’t hit.

“Stay still for a minute, Xander, Buffy hit you pretty hard.” Willow’s voice was full of resentment.

“Here, give him some of this water.” He could always count on Anya to think of the practical things. “And use this towel on his face – he looks all sweaty and…disheveled. Reminds me of how he looks after a night of extensive love making.”

“Well that’s…good to know.”

He couldn’t help but laugh at the dismay in Buffy’s voice. His laughter quickly turned into a pained yelp, but the cool, wet towel on his face eased his pain. He finally forced his eyes open to Willow’s concerned face. “Thanks, Wills.” Tara poured water over more paper towels and Willow took them, wiping his brow and face while she gently held the others on his jaw, her eyes full of pain on his behalf.

“Don’t worry, Willow,” his voice was rough, but he managed to get the words out. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine! They’ve been pounding on you for hours now. Look at you, you’re not fine.” She pressed gently on his jaw, and he winced.

“Ow, careful!”

Buffy got behind him, lifting his shoulders up a bit, and Tara held the half-full bottle of water up, helping him drink. It felt really, really good going down, and he finished off the bottle before Buffy lowered him back to the mat.

“Thank you. Big, big thanks.” He had to take a breath before he could continue. “Okay, so maybe I’m not fine at the moment, Wills, but I will be. Honest.”

“You did extremely well, Xander. You’re handling your new abilities with great dexterity. Well done.”

Xander grinned carefully, that was high praise for Giles. “Thanks, G-Man! Does this mean I can go on patrol, now? I’m ready, I know I am.”

“You still have a lot to learn.” Spike spoke up from his spot against the wall, arms crossed as he stared the bunch of them gathered around Xander. “The slayer cold-cocked you and you had absolutely no idea she was there.”

“But he’s been fighting for hours, with only a few short breaks for water. It shouldn’t count!”

Buffy sighed. “Demons don’t care about fair, Willow. He’s not ready to be on his own, yet.”

“Agreed. But with Buffy and Spike to watch his back, I think he’ll be fine, as long as he’s careful.” Giles’ cautious approval was music to his ears. Xander knew he’d be fine – he had super powers, after all.

“Woo hoo!” He raised one fist in a weak and shaky victory sign. “I get to patrol! Watch out bad guys, here I come!” He gave in to his muscles’ feeble trembling and dropped his arm heavily back to his side. “…tomorrow.”

Giles nodded. “Yes, I don’t believe you’re in any shape to patrol this evening. I must admit, Xander, your stamina is amazing.”

“I told you so, Rupert…”

Giles interrupted Anya with a frown before she could finish her sentence. “As I said, tomorrow you should patrol. Tonight, go home and relax. Soak in a hot tub if you have one, if not, a long hot shower would be a good substitute. You don’t want those tired muscles to cramp.”

“Okay, Giles. I can do that.” He struggled to his feet with the help of Willow and Buffy, staggering as they led him over to Spike’s lone chair. He dropped into the armchair with a gasp of relief. “I could use a good massage. Any volunteers?” He looked hopefully at the women in the room, employing his best puppy dog eyes to full effect. Unfortunately they all laughed at him except Anya, who was quickly hustled away by Giles.

“Hey, don’t trainers usually offer their clients massages after a big fight?” Buffy asked, grinning in Spike’s direction.

Spike snorted. “Not bloody likely.” He glanced at Xander. “If you’d like me to beat on you some more, Herc, I’d be glad to oblige, but I don’t do massages unless I’m getting paid for them.” He smiled sexily at Buffy, Tara and Willow, and all three of them blinked at him for a long moment, obviously lost in the possibilities.

Buffy shook her head, as if to clear it. “Yeah, well, we’re all poor college students…”

“Who said anything about money, pet?” Spike purred, “I’m sure we could arrange something.”

Buffy recovered more quickly this time, rolling her eyes. “Forget it, Spike.” She changed the subject. “Are you capable of giving Wills and Tara a ride home, Xander?”

Xander pulled himself out of the images flashing rapidly through his mind –wet, slippery, naked witchy women, a sleek blond slayer and a pale, compact but well-muscled vampire. Maybe he needed a cold shower, instead of a hot one. He had to clear his throat before he could speak.

“Yeah, sure. I can do that. If my wet noodle-like legs will hold me up, that is.” He shrugged. “If not, they can drive me home, and I can pick up my car tomorrow. But before we leave,” he turned to Spike, “I need some help getting Buddy off. It’s hard enough getting him off by myself on a normal night, but tonight…”

He paused, staring around him in confusion at the blushing, giggling witches and Spike, whose usual smirk had twisted up into a full-fledged evil grin.

“What?”

“So that’s why you and Buddy get along so well!” Buffy was laughing so hard she snorted.

“And all this time we thought you were j-just friends!” That set them all off again, snickering and giggling. Xander stared in shock. He was having trouble believing that quiet, shy Tara had said that.

He played along, tossing his wet hair back out of his eyes dramatically. “Ours is a complex and passionate relationship; one you’ll never truly be able to understand.”

He had a sudden vision of himself wearing nothing but Buddy as he frolicked intimately with the wet, slippery bodies of Willow, Tara, Buffy and Spike. He did a mental double take. Yeah, that was definitely Spike. He was obviously spending far too much time with the blond menace.

Chapter Text

“What if I don't want to go on any heroic journeys?”

The tone of Xander's voice was a mix of panic and pout, and Spike couldn't tell which amused him more. The last few days of teaching Xander how to fight had revealed an inner strength that, despite himself, Spike had admired. Tonight, though, he was well on his way back to being the childish boy Spike had always considered him.

Spike hadn’t been at the Watcher’s five minutes before Xander showed up. Herc Junior had swaggered into the room, struck a grandiose pose, loudly announced that there was a hero in the house, and that he was giving away coupons for free damsel-in-distress rescues with every purchase of a full-sized dragon slaying. That had the whole bunch of them tittering and acting silly, which was obviously what he’d had in mind. Even the Watcher had snickered softly, hiding behind the cover of his cup of tea.

The mood changed rapidly, though, when they began to discuss a book that had arrived earlier that day. A friend of Rupert's from the Watcher's Council had sent it, and it held a good deal of information on the mail shirts. They now knew what dimension they came from, a fair amount about what kind of magic went into the making of them, and a good deal of information on a handful of humans and demons who had worn them in the past.

Of course, some of that last information could be considered hearsay, and some sounded like pure legend, but they were pretty sure they’d been able to sort the substance from the myth. What they’d found had been quite illuminating. For instance, the shirts were called ‘The Companions’ by their makers. Buddy was able to confirm this, in that way he had that Xander could only describe as an internal 'petting' sensation that was half warmth running through his body and half mental agreement.

Giles had been thrilled to discover that most of the facts from the book were right on target. As a matter of fact, Buddy had recognized the book and had practically jumped up and down when he saw it, according to Xander. Spike had asked what that felt like, but Xander had declined to answer. Seeing how red in the face he’d got, Spike was determined to bring it up again at some point, just to see him blush.

The demons that created the shirts were from the Falenge dimension. Spike had heard of them, but never met any; they were very reclusive, and seldom traveled out of their own dimension. He’d heard they were well known as a peaceable people who believed strongly in right over might. It made sense then, that they’d created The Companions through a mix of sorcery and technical skill to aid those who were destined to be heroes.

“How can you be destined to be a hero? Doesn’t that take away from the whole idea of free will?” Xander’s voice was kind of shaky at this point. Spike got the idea he’d been thinking about it a lot recently. “Don’t I get to have some say in this?”

Buffy laughed a little bitterly. “Welcome to the club.”

“Well, yeah, but you’re the one girl in all the world.” He paused for a second, shrugging his shoulders. “Okay, maybe two, but one is evil, so she doesn’t really count.” Buffy laughed, but Xander didn’t let that stop him. “I mean, there’s proof out there that you’re the one girl – prophesies and legends and diaries and… stuff. I’m not that special.” He cringed slightly, and Spike wondered if Buddy was sending Xander another reminder about what happened when he badmouthed himself.

“How do you know that there aren’t prophesies out there about you?” Anya pointed out. “Just because we haven’t seen them yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.” She frowned thoughtfully. “We may already have seen them, but we didn’t realize they were about you.”

“It’s just not right. Any of it.” Willow interrupted. “If there were prophesies about Xander, then that would mean that the chainmail is a force for good. Just because one book says it is, doesn’t mean it’s true. How do we know this whole book isn’t a lie? It was written by a demon, after all.”

Rupert sighed heavily, taking his glasses off and massaging his temples. Spike tended to agree with his frustration. Red just couldn’t seem to accept the fact that Buddy was not a malevolent creature, no matter what evidence they turned up to the contrary. Anya reached over, grabbed the Watcher’s handkerchief out of his pocket, handing it to him with a cheery smile. He blinked at her in surprise, but took it with a nod of thanks, putting it to use on the glasses already in his hand.

“You know,” Anya stared at Red with distaste, as if she were an insect that had crawled onto her favorite blouse. “One of these days you’re going to have to get over this complex of yours.”

Spike perked up some, Demon Girl didn’t pull her punches, that was one of the things Spike liked about her. This was likely to get interesting.

“Not all demons are evil; Giles has explained that to you more than once. Whether you like it or not, Xander is a hero, and your continued denial of the facts is making it hard for anyone to take you seriously. Maybe as a child he needed you to protect him, but he’s grown up now, and he doesn’t need you anymore.”

Red stood up fast, anger practically sparking over her in her fury. Glinda grabbed her hand and pulled, trying to get her to sit back down, but she broke away, crossing her arms over her chest. “What do you care, anyway? You’re with Giles now. Is that what this is all about? You want him back now that you think he’s a hero? He’s not yours to push around anymore!”

“He’s not yours, either.” Anya answered calmly. “He was my first friend, and I’ll always be grateful for that. But he’s more than merely my friend. I think it’s wonderful that others are finally realizing his potential. I say it’s about time.”

The whelp had followed the conversation quietly from his spot at the bar, and Spike could tell he wasn’t comfortable with how the discussion was going. He smiled at Demon Girl. “Thanks, Ahn.” He looked at Willow, biting his lip, but he seemed very determined to get whatever it was on his mind out. “Willow, I’m not certain about this whole destiny thing, either.”

Willow glanced over at Anya triumphantly before turning back to Xander, drawing a breath to speak. He kept talking, though, not letting her get a word out.

“That doesn’t mean that what Anya’s saying doesn’t have some truth to it. This last week Buddy’s been pointing it out to me every time I start to think bad about myself. I had no idea how many times a day I put myself down. I may complain about all this from time to time, but the truth is, if Buddy thinks I’m worth all this effort, I think I owe it to myself to try.”

He glanced over at Spike with a subtle grin. “How will I ever know if I could be a hero, if I don’t at least try?”

Spike sniffed, stretching himself out on the stairs, acknowledging Xander’s recognition of Spike’s brilliant insight with a small nod. Good for him; learning from his betters.

Red looked like she was about to lose her best friend, and who knows, if she didn’t get this right, maybe she was.

“I just want to keep you safe,” she said in that little girl voice of hers.

Xander shrugged. “Well, unfortunately, growing up isn’t always very safe, especially on the Hellmouth. But I have to do it at some point. I’d make a really annoying kindergartener at my age.” He grinned to take some of the sting out of what he was trying to say.

Red didn’t look very convinced, and Spike heaved a heavy sigh. This could take all night at this rate, and they still had to patrol. He decided the best move was to cut to the chase. If Demon Girl could do it, so could he. It would be a lot easier for Herc if Red were focused on Spike. With a start, Spike realized what he was doing. He was spending far too much time around the good guys if he was thinking of the best way to end the drama, rather than prolonging it so he could enjoy every agonizing minute.

“In other words, Red, butt out.” He stood up, shrugging on his coat. “Let the boy get on with his life and make his own mistakes.”

“Spike!” Damn, he’d only got a response from three of the participants of this evening’s round of torture, also known as a ‘Scooby Meeting.’ He must be losing his touch.

“What? We’ve got graveyards to patrol, people. If I sit here all night listening to you idiots sort out your feelings, I'll still be waiting for patrol when the sun rises. I have no interest in spending even another hour in this hovel, let alone another entire day."

The automatic scowl that earned him from Herc was perfunctory at best. Obviously he understood what Spike was trying to do, and wasn’t willing to call him on it in front of the others.

Willow scowled at him darkly, then her expression cleared and she turned to the watcher smiling sweetly. “Giles, what was that you said earlier about the hero and his Companion?” She asked innocently. “They always travel with a helper, right?”

Giles placed the glasses he’d spent a good five minutes polishing back on his nose, glancing down at the Falenge text on his lap. “Yes, that’s right, Willow. It’s traditional for a hero to travel with an attendant. They help him with his day to day, mundane tasks, to free him up for the more arduous duties required of a hero.”

“An attendant?” Xander seemed a little confused.

Spike, on the other hand, was beginning to get an of idea where Red was headed with this, and he was not happy at all with the fact that her smile promised revenge and was aimed right at Spike.

Xander’s face lit up. “Like a sidekick, maybe? Sorta like Batman and Robin, or Captain Kirk and Spock?”

Spike bridled at the idea of being anyone’s sidekick. He was the big bad, and he didn’t play second fiddle to anyone. It was a good thing he’d claimed this motley crew for his own because otherwise, Glinda would be looking for her lover’s eyes in nearest dustbin. He may not be able to do anything himself, but he still had a few friends left in this town.

“An aide, or assistant, who could do the menial tasks considered below a knight or nobleman. They were often called squires. They cooked and cleaned, set out the knight’s clothing for him, as well as helped him with his armor. The heavy metal plating and chainmail were awkward for a single person to don or take off.”

The look on the Watcher’s face was plain evil, and even Xander laughed as he finally caught on.

“Like the bleached menace helps me with Buddy!” He stuck his nose in the air and spoke in an absolutely terrible imitation of an English accent, “I say, my good man, help me with my armor, would you? And then get dinner started, I’m starving.” A grin split his annoyingly handsome face as the whole bunch of them started giggling. Spike growled at them all. He was no one’s second best.

He pointed a finger at Willow. “I’ll get you for this, Red. And don’t you forget it.”

“He’s right about one thing, though,” the Slayer said, managing to get her mirth under control. “It’s getting late. It’s time for patrol.”

Xander jumped up, grinning widely. “Finally!” He headed toward the door, turning back at the last second and striking a pose. “Have no fear, Xandercles is here!”

Chapter Text

The whelp was exceptionally annoying tonight. He bounced back and forth between Spike and the Slayer, announcing his availability to crush the forces of evil in a voice loud enough to scare away any self-respecting demons before Spike or the Slayer could even spot them. Fortunately for Spike, the Hellmouth was like catnip to most demons; they lost their sense of self-preservation and threw themselves against the closest opposing force like moths to a flame. Not even Hercules Junior’s ravings could dampen their enthusiasm for a fight for long. Which was a damn good thing, because Spike needed to pound something into the ground, and unfortunately, the Slayer would probably object if he chose Xander, so they drew the short straw.

The main problem was getting close enough to a vampire to stake him. He had to use all the supernatural speed available to him to get to an opponent quickly enough to confront it before Xander stepped in and dusted it. And the quality of demons out tonight was abysmal. So far, they’d seen barely a handful of fledges with the stink of their graves still clinging to their clothes – ravenously hungry and not a speck of common sense or fighting ability between them. Every one Xander took down elevated his mood that much higher, and Spike wasn’t sure how much more he could take before he put the boy in his place.

Having talked himself round into at least partly believing in his hero status back at the Watcher’s, Herc was now headed in the other direction. Spike recognized the signs – the boy was beginning to believe himself invulnerable. He was taking chances he shouldn’t, leaving himself open for the first real threat to gut him and leave him bleeding out on the grave of someone’s dearly departed mother. He needed to get knocked down a few steps before that happened, because despite his annoyance at the great twit, he was still part of Spike’s clan, and he couldn’t bear to see the suffering it would cause the rest should Xander come to harm.

Besides, he’d grown fond of the idiot of late – a few days of intensive training could do that to you; and he had no interest in seeing the berk dead. He’d miss his irreverent humor and snarky backtalk, if nothing else. It would also be a black mark against his training, and Spike had worked damn hard to get the bastard this far, he’d be damned if he’d let Xander destroy all his good work now. That decided, the next time Xander bounced his direction, Spike took a quick look around, to make sure they were at least momentarily pest free, then stuck out his foot, and brought the fool tumbling to the ground.

“Hey!” At least Xander had the good sense to roll back onto his feet again, coming up stake in hand, a tombstone at his back, ready for his opponent's next move.

“What the hell was that for, Fangless?” He straightened up, dusting off his jeans with a scowl at Spike. He pointed a finger at the Slayer who was having trouble keeping the smile off her face. “None of that, Missy! Not funny!”

“Yeah, Hercules,” Buffy laughed. “It really was.”

Spike hadn’t expected any support from the Slayer for his actions, but he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised. She’d been as annoyed by the boy’s hyperactivity as Spike had, scowling and grumbling under her breath about beginner’s luck. He hadn’t thought that meant she would confront him about it, but obviously Spike had been wrong about that.

“You’ve been on some kind of crazy high since we started patrol.” She put a hand on his arm. “I know this whole thing is kind of new and exciting, but you’ve got to calm down, Xander. You’re taking chances you shouldn’t, and the only reason you haven’t gotten hurt yet is because we haven’t run into anything more threatening than a newly turned fledge.”

“Exactly. I didn’t spend all week teaching you how to fight, just to see you go down to the first idiot who can get in a lucky strike.” Spike was working up a head of steam, and he fought to put a lid on it – blowing up at the boy wouldn’t help, but he wasn’t sure how to get through to him.

“I can’t help it if I’m in a good mood.” Xander was sullen now, arms crossed over his stomach, the copper-gold of his Companion shining out from under his shirt where it was rucked up under his arm. “Why are you ganging up on me? Even Buddy is yelling at me tonight. I just want to have some fun!” He turned away, kicking the gravestone behind him then wincing when it fell backwards, tilting at a good forty-five degree angle, a testament to his new strength.

“Everything this last week has been so intense – I feel totally overwhelmed by it all. I just need some release. Is that so much to ask?”

“No.” The Slayer crossed over to him, wrapping her arm around his waist and giving him a sideways hug. “It’s not. But this is not the place to let it all out. You’ve been lucky so far, Xander. But that kind of luck can change without a moment’s notice.”

She pulled back from him, grabbing his hands, and squeezing them. “Just keep it together until patrol is over, then we can grab Willow and Tara and hit the Bronze. You can flail all over the dance floor, and I won’t even complain if you take out a few dancers.” She shrugged when Xander looked at her with surprise. “Accidentally, of course. It can get a little crowded in there sometimes, right?”

Herc Junior gave her another hug, holding on tightly for a moment before letting go. “Thanks for understanding, Buff. I’ll try to behave myself, okay?”

“Good.” She gave him a smile and an easy, playful clip to the chin.

His head swung around like she’d slammed him the way she had the night before, and he yelped playfully. “Hey, watch it! That right hook is deadly! And I should know.”

Buffy gave him a shove. “Oh, you!”

They started walking, and Spike joined them, watching carefully for any more of Herc’s mood swings. He still hadn’t had a chance to speak to the watcher about them.

Xander glanced over at Spike, sheepishly. “Thanks for not pounding me into the pavement, man. I know you hate it when I get all hyper.”

“It was a close call.” Spike lit up a cigarette and blew the smoke into the air above them. “Did you say that tin can of yours was giving you shite, too?”

Xander frowned at him, but didn’t try and correct him. “Yeah, I was getting definite disapproval from Buddy.” He kept going before Spike had a chance to ask how disapproval registered on chainmail. “I was trying to figure out how to pull myself back right before you tripped me. I got the feeling I was due for a shock any minute.”

“That’s so weird.” The Slayer crinkled her nose up at Xander as she spoke, which was just wrong in Spike’s books. Someone as dangerous as the Slayer shouldn’t be allowed to be cute. Well, what others call cute, that is. Didn’t do a thing for him, he reminded himself grumpily.

“It’s like he’s trying to turn you into a robot, and make you do his will, or something. Doesn’t that worry you?”

“No!” Xander shook his head. “It’s nothing like that. He’s just helping me train. He reminds me of Spike, actually.”

“What?” Spike was not happy with that comparison.

“That sounds awful!” The Slayer laughed.

“No, really. It’s true.” Xander eyed Spike warily, as if afraid he might attack. Spike admitted to himself that he just might if the berk said what Spike thought he was about to say.

“He gets grumpy with me if I don’t want to go to Spike’s and get beat on all night, ‘cause he thinks I need the practice. And when my mind wanders during training, he occasionally gives me a jolt to get me back on track. He gets ticked off if I beat up on myself when I’m in a bad mood, and if I refuse to listen to Spike’s motivational speeches, he gives me a shock.”

Spike growled. “I don’t give motivational speeches!”

The Slayer looked over at Xander in surprise. “Spike gives you speeches?”

“Oh, yeah!”

Xander skipped around and over to the other side of the Slayer, keeping her between himself and Spike. Coward. The bastard was going to regret this.

“I wouldn’t say another word, if I were you, twerp.”

The little arsehole grinned at Buffy. “You should hear him, he’s very inspiring.”

Spike let the demon out, and stepped in front of the slayer, bringing them both to a halt. “That’s it, you little piece of shite.”

Xander let out a small squeaking noise and jumped behind the Slayer, which was fairly humorous, since she was a good foot or so smaller than he was. Spike laughed, stalking around the side, making the twerp turn her as he circled, to keep her in front of him. She was watching Spike carefully, but he had a feeling she knew this was just a game. Well, mostly. He had no right to tell the Slayer things Spike had said in a moment of weakness.

“Hiding behind a woman’s skirts are you?” Spike sneered. He’d teach this little ingrate to squeal on him.

“Hey!” She held up her hands. “Leave me out of this one, Obi Wan. This is between you and Skywalker. I’m stepping out of it right now.”

She shrugged off Xander’s clutching hands and walked away, leaning up against a tree to watch the fun. The look on the whelp’s face was comical.

“But…but…”

Spike grinned at him through his fangs. “Now, what was that you said?”

Xander gave no indication that he was going to run, but Spike had a feeling he might, so when he took off towards the closest mausoleum, Spike was right behind him. He took Xander down with a flying leap, and they rolled over a few times, scrabbling for the upper hand. Spike was playing with him; if he’d wanted this to end immediately, he could have, but as long as he wasn’t telling tales out of school to the Slayer, Spike had no real need to enforce his dominance. He could use the exercise. After all, he hadn’t had a chance to do as much as stake a single fledge all night.

Spike pinned Xander’s shoulders to the ground, but was unprepared for the way he bucked, throwing Spike off. He thought he heard the Slayer scream his name as he rolled across the grass, and landed on his back, staring up into the startled green eyes of a Plautect demon. He raised his sword in a two handed grip, and Spike rolled out of the way with a curse, the demon’s sword plunging into the ground where he’d just been, missing Spike by a fraction of a second.

He jumped to his feet, no chance to look behind him, to see where the others were before the Plautect was on him. Spike ducked the swing intended to take his head off, and slipped under the guy’s guard, punching him hard enough in the abdomen to double him over. He slipped back out the other side, and got the bastard in the kidneys, or whatever was in that spot in a Plautect. Whatever it was he hit, it hurt, because the demon went down on both knees, dropping his sword. Spike scooped it up and brought it back down in a wide swing, decapitating the bastard like he’d tried to do to Spike.

He turned a quick circle, trying to sort out foe from friend as quickly as possible. He found the Slayer, who was fighting one Plautect hand to hand, a sword buried point first in the ground a good yard away from where the two were grappling. He didn’t see Xander, but had no further time to look – two more Plautect were on him, and he went to work – sword flashing as his body danced between the two, keeping them both focused on him, hoping that Xander was safe, wherever he was.

He and Xander had done nothing more than hand to hand and stake work all week; he had no doubt that Herc would be way out of his depths with a sword pointed at him. That wouldn’t stop him from doing his best to try and kill the demon behind it, but those tough red hides would be too much for any stake. Spike had spent hours training the art of staying out of the way into Xander’s skull, he’d damned well better be putting those skills to good use.

There was a moment of mixed signals, when one Plautect ducked when he should have dodged to the side and the other had to pull up short to avoid taking off his fellow demon’s arm. Having led the two into that position in the first place, it would have been a shame if Spike missed the opportunity, so he stabbed one through the abdomen, cutting his spine in two and leaving him writhing on the ground, incapacitated. Then he stabbed the other through the heart while he stood there gaping at his friend.

That settled, Spike took another look around. The Slayer was taking on two at once, but she’d obviously already finished off the first one she’d engaged, his body lay crumpled to the ground some feet away, and she was wielding his sword with her usual competence. She’d be fine.

Xander was not faring as well. He’d obviously managed to take one down; the stake between the eyes was a nice touch. However, he was in combat with another Plautect, hefting the heavy sword clumsily, barely managing to stay a fraction of a second ahead of being dismembered. Spike headed their direction, but the demon saw him coming, and chose that moment to put an end to his current match, in order to prepare for Spike.

Xander never had a chance. Fortunately, his opponent went for a cut across the belly, hoping to disembowel Xander with one swipe. The sword plowed into the chainmail, knocking Xander to the side, sparks flying from the sword as metal hit metal with strength of the blow. Spike felt his face change, his vision narrowing down until all he could see was the demon who’d dared to touch what didn’t belong to him. With a shout he was on the Plautect, raining down blow after blow on the bastard as he struggled to keep up with Spike’s moves. Spike took him out with the same move he’d tried on Xander.

He left the Plautect writhing on the ground, his intestines spilling out onto the grass as he vainly tried to hold them in with shaking hands. Turning his back, Spike crossed to Xander, who sat there staring at the demon, shocky and pale. Spike gave him a hand up, and he took it, still gasping for breath as he focused on Buffy who walked up to them, limping slightly.

“You okay, Buff?”

She grinned at him, nodding. “Yeah, it’s just a flesh wound,” she said, mocking Xander’s usual poor imitation of Monty Python. “I’ll be fine.”

“What about you?” She motioned to his shirt, which hung down, a huge rip across it where the sword had hit the chainmail and sliced across his belly.

He nodded. “Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Buddy saved me, yet again.” He rubbed across his stomach, stroking the mail and grinned shakily, his eyes drawn back to the demon who’d managed to pull himself across the ground a few feet toward a tombstone, his bloody entrails dragging through the grass behind him. Xander looked up at Spike, his pupils blown wide – he was obviously in shock. They should probably get him inside as soon as possible.

“If it weren’t for Buddy and you, that would be me.”

Spike glanced back at the Plautect. He’d almost bled out, his pink, frothy blood spread over the ground around him. He crossed over and grabbed the demon’s head, snapping his neck before dropping it back to the ground.

Xander cringed at the sound, closing his eyes briefly. “It’s a lot easier when they go poof.”

The Slayer nodded, then went to him, wrapping one arm around his waist. Spike knew this wasn’t the closest Herc had ever been to death, but in the heat of battle, it was easy to ignore the realities of it all. The whelp had gotten a good dose of reality tonight, and it wasn’t sitting well. Spike felt a twinge of regret that it was necessary, but it was better he get this over with. It happened to everyone; eventually they dealt with it and moved on. He knew Xander would do the same.

Spike surveyed the area. Seven dead – the scavengers would have their hands full tonight. It was probably best they head out before the smell of blood and gore attracted unwanted attention. “We should head back to the Watcher’s, he’ll want to know that we ran into more Plautect.”

“He’ll flay us alive for heading out without more than stakes tonight,” the Slayer said. “What were we thinking?”

“That’s probably my fault.” Xander sighed. “I was in such a hurry to get out here and do some damage. I didn’t think about the Plautect at all.”

“None of us did, Xander, it wasn’t just you.” The Slayer took one last look around the area. “Let’s get back to Giles’ apartment.”

“Buffy. Do you mind if I go home?” Xander shrugged his shoulders. “I just want to get a shower and go to bed.”

She looked at him solemnly for a moment, then nodded her head. “You’re okay, aren’t you, Xander?”

He smiled at her, giving her a quick hug. “I’m fine. Really. I’m just exhausted all of a sudden. Do you mind?”

“No, that’s fine.” She glanced at Spike. “Can you go with him? Make sure he gets home alright?”

It was sign of Xander’s exhaustion than his reply to that was merely a subdued, “Hey!”

Spike nodded. He wouldn’t have left the boy alone like this, anyway. He’d make sure he was tucked up in bed before he left. “I’ll take care of him, Slayer.”

She nodded. “Thanks, Spike.” She headed out, glancing back once, to wave at the whelp.

“C’mon, Herc. Let’s get you home, shall we?”

Xander nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

They walked towards Xander’s flat, the silence heavy between them. Spike knew Xander wanted to say something; he started and stopped half a dozen times, glancing over at Spike again and again.

They were almost to his flat before Xander finally broke down. “Does it get any easier?”

“Does what?”

“Seeing the death and the dying. That demon I killed - you should have seen him. He knew he had me. He had a long-ass sword, and I had a one foot wooden stake. He got cocky, and played around with me, laughing at me as I ducked and rolled and did everything you taught me. He could have killed me any time. But he was having too much fun, and he slipped up and let me under his guard, and I – I shoved that stake right between his eyes.

“It wasn’t neat, though. Not a clean death like a vampire’s. Brains and blood and I got stabbed in the hand with a piece of his skull. I broke his skull open. I can’t believe I did that.” He glanced over at Spike, blushing. “I have to confess. I was aiming at his eye. I missed. What if I hadn’t gotten through his skull? I guess it must be pretty weak there, if I could poke a stake right through it like that. But what if I’d failed? Buddy can’t stop me from getting beheaded, or getting a stake between my eyes. It could have been me, Spike. My brains leaking out of the hole in my head or my guts spilling all over the ground.”

Spike had no idea what to say in answer to all that. But he felt the need to say something. “It’s not pretty. Death is very seldom pretty. And violent death never is. I know this isn’t going to help you right now, but you get used to it after a while.”

“I hope not.” Xander spoke fervently.

“No?”

“I don’t think I want to get used to death. I hope it always hurts. Because if I forget that death is messy, I’ll start taking life for granted, and I don’t think that’s a good thing, do you?” He watched Spike closely, obviously expecting an answer.

Spike was stumped. “I - I don’t know.”

Xander frowned down at the sidewalk. “Once, when I was little, my mom decided we should go to church.” Xander laughed - a bitter sound that had little to do with humor or good spirits. “She went through these phases. Trying to be a normal mom. They never lasted long. But this time, she took me to Sunday school, and they sat us all in a circle and told us a story about a man who was jealous of his brother, so he killed him. I got the point of the story, even though I was only seven. They weren’t trying to be very subtle. If every life is precious, then killing someone is a sin because it goes against God’s sacred law.

“But I always thought that didn’t mean demons. Because demons are bad, and killing them saves lives, and therefore should be a good thing, right?”

Spike didn’t say anything to that. He could argue, but he had a feeling Xander was about to get there without him.

“I watched that Plautect struggling over the ground, dragging his insides along with him, and all I could think of was how hard he was trying to stay alive, despite the fact that there really wasn’t much chance he was going to survive. I’m not saying you didn’t do the right thing killing him, because he would have killed me in a heartbeat. But maybe I need to rethink this whole hero thing. Maybe I need to decide if I can be the one that does the killing, ‘cause right now, I’m not so sure I can.”

They walked the rest of the way to Xander’s apartment in silence, and Spike followed him up the stairs, determined to not let Xander shake him off. He didn’t like this mood, but he wasn’t sure what he should do about it. Xander invited him in, and Spike stepped inside, wandering about as Xander headed for the refrigerator and a couple of beers. He handed one to Spike, refusing to meet his eye, which set off Spike’s alarms.

“Can I ask a favor, Spike?”

“You can ask.” In this mood, Spike wasn’t about to agree to anything without hearing it first.

“Do you mind…would you stay here, tonight?”

Spike was surprised at that, but decided the best way to handle it was to ignore the elephant in the room and take the side path. “You got cable, right? And more beer?” At Xander’s nod, Spike shrugged casually. “Yeah, alright. I guess I can deal with that. I could do with a hot shower, too.”

Xander’s mood lightened right before his eyes. Yeah, it looked like he’d made the right choice. The whelp rolled his eyes, sliding into their usual roles with very little effort. “Oh yes. Please, feel free to use my home as if it was your own.” He headed down the hall that obviously led to the bedroom and bath. “I get first dibbs on the bathroom, though. I remember what you were like when you stayed with me last time.”

Spike looked around a bit, checking out the drapes, and thinking he’d probably need blankets to hang over them for in the morning. He’d worry about that before the whelp went to bed. He settled down on the couch with the remote in one hand and a beer in the other. This would work. He could keep an eye on Xander in comfort – it was much better than standing outside his apartment all night wondering if the berk was alright. Not like he would do something like that, anyway. Of course he wouldn’t. What self-respecting demon would? He turned on the TV and started flipping channels. Cable! A fellow could get used to this.

Chapter Text

Xander gasped as he fought his way back to consciousness, his heart pounding in his chest. He knew it had only been a dream, but he felt the need to check, reaching down to his stomach and feeling the warm – intact – skin. He breathed a sigh of relief, telling himself what a fool he was, that he wasn't the one who'd ended up with his insides falling out, but his pulse didn't begin to slow until he’d double checked. His first thought had been that it felt strange not to feel metal links instead of skin. It was crazy, but he could swear that he felt Buddy's calming influence even now, but Buddy was lying across the back of the armchair, where Spike had laid him when he’d helped Xander out of the mail shirt last night.

Oh, shit. Spike was in the living room. He couldn't hear the TV playing, so hopefully Spike was asleep. It was early for a vampire, it wasn't even three yet, but Spike and he had been compromising on their training times – he stayed up late and Spike got up early, and they'd found a schedule that had worked for them both. If Xander was lucky, Spike had slept through the whole embarrassing thing, despite his heightened sense of hearing. Xander flinched as he got another flash of his gruesome nightmare. Some heroic figure he made. What kind of hero had nightmares?

Well, maybe they did. Spike was always telling him that heroes were normal people caught in extraordinary circumstances, so maybe they did have nightmares. Especially after nights like last night. He shuddered as the image of the Plautect demon dragging himself across the ground, entrails clutched in one bleeding hand forced its way into his mind again. He was never going to forget that image. Then, again, if he decided to stick with the hero gig, maybe he shouldn't. Maybe he needed to remember exactly how horrific death really was, no matter who it was that was dying.

He didn't know why this particular death had hit him so hard, he'd seen death before. He'd seen it over and over again for the last four years, and they hadn't all been vamps that dusted and left nothing behind but grit under your shoes. He'd spent a lot of time on clean-up detail; tossing bodies in dumpsters, shoving them under bushes and dumping them into sewers. It was easier when they died in graveyards. They'd realized early on that the scavengers would carry off the majority of what was left behind as long as their blood wasn't toxic or anything. There were a few demons that even the bottom feeders avoided.

Since he usually carried an axe when they were out for serious trouble, Xander had long since learned to stay well clear of the ones that had reactions to metals. Iron was a major culprit – it caused a very small but extremely vocal number of demons to melt down into goo right before your eyes. Both iron and silver would make a double handful of demon species explode gruesomely and very messily, even when the iron was mixed with carbon the way it was in steel. Fortunately, exploding demons were in the minority.

Most demons that left a body behind died the same way most other creatures did – with lots of blood and noise and thrashing around. The ones who looked like humans were the ones that had always disturbed Xander most. When a demon's only physical difference from a human was the color of its skin or a horn or two, pulling its body into the bushes of the local park was kind of on the creepy side, in a 'there's-a-serial-killer-on-the-loose-and-it-might-just-be-me' kind of way.

During their troubles with the Initiative, the Scoobies had felt the need to sit down with Giles one day, and talk it all out. Well, they tried to, anyway. Too many questions had been left unsettled; there were no easy answers. Xander understood the strategy behind the Watcher’s rule of not telling their Slayers about good demons. For the most part, the demons she came face to face with were out to do someone harm - most good demons stayed as far away from Slayers as possible. A Slayer’s life span was so short to begin with - introducing the concept of good and evil as it related to the demon population was likely to have her hesitating at the wrong moment. Before you knew it she’d be dead, and they’d be starting all over with a new Slayer.

Buffy couldn’t afford to hesitate; it could be the last mistake she ever made. But at the same time, killing innocent creatures that never intended to harm anyone wasn’t right, either. Giles had admitted that some demons were born with souls, and hadn’t that been a kick in the pants? It blurred the lines for all of them – despite Giles’ insistence on the tried and true policy of fight first, ask questions later. If Xander kept the hero gig, he’d have to make some decisions about how to determine who was good and who wasn’t, and he didn’t really have a clue as to where to begin.

His first reaction was to stick with the rules that had led the Slayers for centuries, but then, those rules had been laid down by the Watcher’s Council, which he had very little respect for at this point. Xander already knew that his main priority would be to humans, and surprisingly enough, Buddy didn’t seem to have a problem with that. The book Giles had been reading yesterday had made it clear that the one strict rule those who wore the armor were expected to live by was to harm no innocent, something Xander had no problem with at all. The only difficulty was figuring out who was innocent and who was not. Unfortunately, just because someone had a soul, didn’t mean they were good, and that included humans.

If he could be a hero here in Sunnydale, he’d be more comfortable with the whole idea. He could help Buffy fight apocalypses, and battle demons and warlocks that wanted to open the Hellmouth like the idiots they obviously were. He’d love to be able to free Buffy up to attend college and not have to worry so much about slaying. And he’d have Willow and Tara on the witchy front and Giles and Anya on the research end, keeping track of prophesies and stuff. He could even keep his job, and keep the heroing for after sunset and weekends.

According to the book, though, those who wore The Companions always went on heroic journeys, slaying dragons and fighting evil sorcerers and despotic rulers. How was he supposed to know who to help? Was he supposed to go somewhere in particular, or just wander around randomly helping kittens out of trees and little boys who fell down wells? It seemed like the hero always came across some important task, and when they finished it, they went home, but what would be considered important enough to qualify? Who decided? Would Buddy tell him when his journey began and when it was over?

And he’d be alone. All the time he’d been fighting on the Hellmouth, he’d never fought alone. Even when he’d faced Jack O’Toole and his bomb down in the high school basement, he’d still been part of the team. Everyone had done their part that night – he’d gotten Jack to disarm the bomb while the rest of them were fighting the Sisterhood of the Jhe. They’d each had a task to do, and together they’d saved the day. If he went on a journey, the only company he’d have would be Buddy. Which was not to be frowned upon. Buddy was a formidable ally, as well as a friend. But still, Buddy was a shirt.

Xander was not a loner; he needed someone he could talk to, someone he could trust. As much as he was fighting the instincts that told him he was nobody, he didn’t think he could handle this on his own. He needed help, and the only one he was allowed to take with him was a squire. He grinned as he thought of the way everyone had joked yesterday, calling Spike his servant and generally pissing the vampire off. If he could take Spike with him, that wouldn’t be so bad. Spike wasn’t necessarily the best at planning, or at least with carrying through with his plans, but Spike could kick ass like – like a demon. If he had Spike with him, he’d at least know someone had his back.

He wondered when he’d started thinking of Spike as someone he could trust. But he did. Spike was fun to hang around with, and he even laughed at Xander’s jokes. If he could convince Spike that he’d like to go wandering around the country with Xander, that would be perfect, no matter how unlikely it was to happen.

The sharp buzz of his cell phone startled Xander out of his rambling thoughts. He found his phone on the floor, wrapped up in his pants pocket, and scrambled to get to it before his voicemail took over.

He recognized the number. “Hey Buffy, what can I do ya for?”

“Where are you, Xander?” That was her Pissed Off Slayer’s Voice – patent pending. “I’ve just left Spike’s crypt – he’s not there. I thought you two would be training today.”

“Nope. Not yet, anyway. I was just about to grab some breakfast and ask the peroxide wonder vamp if he wanted to get in some Xander-bashing before we headed over to Giles’ tonight.”

“Spike is at your apartment?”

Xander laughed at Buffy’s scandalized tone. “Yeah, he’s here. He helped me out last night, Buff, so I offered him the dubious privilege of sleeping on my lumpy couch.” Xander slumped down onto the edge of his bed, yawning. “At least I think he’s still here, I haven’t been out of the bedroom, yet.”

“It’s two forty-five in the afternoon, Xander!”

“Hey,” he defended himself, “if you’d been living on vampire time all week, you’d just be getting up now, too.”

“Well we need you over here as soon as possible. Can you give Spike a ride over in the trunk of your car? We need you both. It looks like the Plautects are gone and Giles wants to take advantage of the fact to check out the sorcerer’s lab and see if we can figure out anything about that green crap he threw all over you.”

“Yeah, alright.” His stomach growled loudly, and he realized there were some things that needed taking care of soon, like a trip to the bathroom. “Let me wake up and grab some breakfast and we’ll be right over. Okay?”

Spike wandered into the doorway of Xander’s bedroom, sleepy-eyed and blinking, his hair sticking up all over the place, jeans hanging low on his hips. Xander almost missed Buffy’s words as he took in the disturbingly sensual image.

“Well, hurry up. This might be the break we’ve been looking for. Hopefully we can sort this all out, and get you back to normal again. See you there.”

The line went dead with a click, and Xander put the phone down on the bed with a frown.

“What the hell does she mean by that? ‘Back to normal again’?” Spike’s eyes were flashing between gold and blue; obviously he was as unhappy about Buffy’s remark as Xander was. “Does she think you’ll go back to being the same old Xander you used to be?”

Spike was working up a full head of steam, pacing across the floor, kicking Xander’s dirty clothes out of his way as he went. “Even if you do lose your strength, you’ll never be the same as you were before. What about the chainmail? Does she think you’ll just toss it in the nearest dustbin and call it a day? You’ve been Chosen! This isn’t just the prize in a bloody Cracker Jack box!”

“Spike…” Xander didn’t get the chance to finish his sentence; Spike kept talking right over him.

“Just because she’s the bloody Slayer doesn’t mean she gets to dismiss you like that. She’s not the only one who has a calling, here. You and that piece of mail there have bonded, you can’t just toss it away as if it doesn’t matter.”

“Spike!”

This time he got Spike’s attention. He stopped pacing and turned to face Xander. “What?”

“Thanks.” Spike blinked at him in surprise, and Xander continued.

“For defending me, I mean. I’m glad you heard that, because I was wondering if I should be upset or not.” He shrugged. “I’ve been debating the whole hero bit, but to hear her dismiss it like that really bothered me, and made me realize something.”

“Yeah?”

“I want to do this. I want to keep training with you, even if they take away my strength. I won’t be as good as I am now, but still, I think it’s worth it, don’t you?”

Spike frowned at Xander, crossing to him as he spoke. “You may not be as strong physically, but you’ll still be a bloody hero.” He poked a finger into Xander’s chest, angrily, emphasizing each word. “Don’t doubt that.”

Xander was shocked speechless at the strength of Spike’s emotions.

“Besides, even if they do find the dope on that green stuff, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to reverse it. And if they figure out how to, you don't have to let them, do you? You could say no. You could keep the strength if you wanted.”

The idea surprised Xander. He really hadn’t considered that. Simply because they figured out what it was and how it worked didn’t mean he had to agree to let them try and counteract the spell. He could stay strong if he wanted to. If the spell lasted, that is.

“Yeah, well, we don’t even know if the spell will last. What if it’s only good for a week or something? I could lose it all tomorrow.”

“Oh, right. Hadn’t thought of that.”

“Anyway. We still need to try and figure out what it is. If it’s what’s causing my emotions to fly all over the place, then we may have to get rid of it, anyway.”

It suddenly occurred to Xander that his mood swings might have been to blame for his reaction to last night. Running the scene through his mind still caused him mental anguish, but it wasn’t as overwhelming as it had been.

In the end, he knew that no matter what happened, it wouldn’t change his decision. Whether he got to keep his strength or not, he was staying in the hero business.


Xander took a deep breath, fighting to keep himself as calm as possible. When he was nervous, his emotions were all over the place, and he couldn’t afford to have another wild mood swing right now. He loosened his grip on his favorite axe. Spike had explained more than once that if he gripped the handle of his weapon too tightly, his fingers would go numb and he’d lose whatever advantage the weapon gave him. Of course when Spike said it, there were a lot more bloodys and wankers involved, but Xander was pretty sure he’d gotten the gist of it.

He didn’t like being separated from everyone else – it was making him nervous. He understood the reasoning, though. Three entrances to the labs, three people guarding them, while the others went through the books and grabbed everything that might have the info they were looking for. At his back was the lab they had hid in while they were getting ready to attack the sorcerer in his main lab the last time they were here. There was only one door in, which Xander was currently guarding, and one door out, which led into the main lab. Spike and Buffy had the other two entrances.

He looked around uncomfortably, unsettled by something he couldn’t explain. He was still unhappy over the confrontation earlier this evening, when he’d explained to Buffy that if he had a choice, he’d keep the strength he’d gotten from the Plautect sorcerer’s spell. That hadn’t gone over too well, although Giles seemed unsurprised, and supported Xander’s right to make his own decisions regarding both the superhero strength and Buddy’s assistance.

Giles’ unwavering support had been a great relief. His only concerns were that they find a way to neutralize the mood swings and that they made sure there were no other side effects. Spike had accused both Buffy and Willow of being jealous of Xander’s new ‘attributes’, but Xander totally disagreed with that. Buffy had all the super strength she needed, and super healing, too. Willow had the witchy thing going, she didn’t need super strength at all. Whatever it was that they were upset about, they both needed to get over it and stop treating him like he was made of glass.

He kept getting the feeling he was being watched; a crawling sensation in the middle of his back, just beyond where his fingers could reach. Turning around, he stared into the lab – the one he’d found Buddy in. He didn’t see anything unusual, but it was the laboratory of a demon sorcerer – how would he know if it was unusual or not? As far as he could remember, it looked exactly the same as it had when he’d first found Buddy hanging on the dresser’s dummy in the far corner of the large room. There was nothing there now. He turned back to the corridor he was supposed to be guarding.

Buddy had been pretty quiet tonight; he hadn’t reacted to the argument with Buffy and Willow, and surprisingly, hadn’t given any indication that he realized they were in the home of the one who’d owned Buddy before Xander had found him. Xander didn’t really like that term. How could someone own a creature that had a near human intelligence? That was like slavery. Buddy didn’t belong to anyone. He had Chosen Xander to be his partner for a while, but that was all. When Xander died, Buddy would move on and find a new hero, maybe even someone who deserved the title.

He smiled to himself when Buddy popped up to remind Xander what happened when he put himself down like that. There he was. Xander gave Buddy a mental hug, which was a lot easier to do than it was to explain. He had a feeling Buddy knew he’d been manipulated into reacting to Xander’s thoughts, but he got the idea the mail didn’t mind all that much. He sank back below the level of Xander’s conscious thoughts again, leaving nothing but the low-level hum of energy that indicated his presence. Xander felt better for having had contact with him – this place was creeping him out.

They hadn’t found a single demon since they got here. Not that they’d expected to – Willow and Tara had cast their little witchy hearts out to ensure that not only were there no Plautect in the house, but none could get in, either. Of course, they’d still set up a guard – you could never be too careful. Besides, it wasn’t like either Buffy or Xander could help Giles and the others look for information on the green gunk. Xander had his suspicions about Spike’s ability to do research. He got the idea that Spike didn’t want them to know exactly how much education he actually had. Not that Xander blamed him. Most nights, he’d rather have a stake poked through his forehead than to read one more boring, old book.

Giles had located a Plautectian primer and they’d gone over the terms that seemed most likely to have something to do with their search, but despite all the upgrades Xander had gotten recently, the ability to learn new languages had not been one of them. They were better off if he stayed out of the way. That was in no way to be construed as an insult to his intelligence, Xander assured Buddy. He didn’t have an ear for languages, or the affinity for staying awake faced with page after page of boring text. He’d leave that to the scholars. Just point him in the direction of the nearest scuffle and he’d be happy.

He shrugged his shoulders self-consciously, trying to dislodge the insistent feeling that there was something behind him. He turned around for what seemed like the fiftieth time in the last ten minutes. There was something there, he could feel it. He could almost feel music or laughter or something, right below the range of his hearing. He wasn’t sure how he knew it, but he knew it was important.

Taking one last glance down the corridor in both directions, Xander stepped into the room. He looked through the connecting door into the main lab, where Giles and the others were busy pouring over books and papers, trying to discern what could possibly have been involved in the spell that created that green gunk. Occasionally, they would add a book or stack of papers to the collection he could see growing in the large box on the floor. They all seemed quite engrossed in their tasks.

He couldn’t see the door Buffy was guarding, but he could see Spike’s. His back turned to the room, Spike leaned casually in the doorway, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. After spending the last week fighting with him, Xander could tell that he was focused on his job, despite his seemingly careless attitude. He could see the tension in Spike’s shoulders, the stillness of his body declaring his readiness for combat. The almost-sound grew louder and more insistent and Xander turned back to the room he’d been guarding, narrowing his eyes as he tried to figure out what was making that noise.

He wandered the room, slowly. If someone had been watching they might have thought his steps aimless, but he had a target, and before long, he’d figured out where he was going. The corner where Buddy had been hanging on the dresser’s dummy was dimmer than the rest of the room, as if the light wasn’t strong enough to penetrate that far. That was odd; he distinctly remembered that corner being well lit when he first saw Buddy hanging there gleaming copper-gold against the black velvet of the dummy. He narrowed his eyes, trying to focus on the mist that seemed to be seeping up out of the floor in the dim recess before him. Something was there, he could almost see it – something important.

He didn’t remember stepping forward, but suddenly he was surrounded by mist, and the dresser’s dummy was behind him. It was with a sense of resigned déjà-vu that he heard his name shouted in warning – this had definitely happened before. He turned to the voice in time to see Spike charging in his direction, coat flying out behind him as he ran. It was too late to warn him, Spike was already caught up in the force that had pulled Xander into the mist. Spike pinwheeled backwards, an astonished look on his face as he fought to avoid the collision that they both knew was inevitable.

Spike hit Xander hard, his momentum impossible to avoid, and the two tumbled over each other, the white mist whirling around them like a twister that sucked them up, and around, and away. As Xander spun, he saw glimpses of the others: Buffy running in their direction, Giles and Anya staring in shock from the doorway, Willow and Tara clasping hands and chanting. The room was full of noise – white noise like waterfalls or rainstorms, cascading and thundering.

The last things he saw were Spike’s eyes, filled with shock and dismay. Then the white swirled up between them and everything disappeared.

Chapter Text

Spike came back to consciousness by degrees. His first recognition was of warmth. His face and chest were warm, but his back and legs were cold, like he was lying on a warm pillow. A warm, rather lumpy pillow. Then he noticed the noises: a loud, human heartbeat, and the myriad strange sounds that made up the human digestive tract and lungs. The gurgling and wheezing were accompanied by movement, which he realized he'd been feeling for some time now: the gentle rise and fall of the human chest at rest. These things were odd enough in themselves to set off his mental alarms, but Spike was used to waking up in strange places under unusual circumstances, and had developed a routine for moments such as these.

Careful not to move and alert anyone who might be watching that he was awake, Spike focused on his surroundings, hoping to hear a clue that would help him suss out where he was, and if anyone else were in the immediate vicinity. He seemed to be in a large room, but after a few minutes of careful observation, he was fairly certain he was alone with a sleeping human. There were no soft, pillowy breasts under his head, so that meant a human male, which was a bit unusual for Spike, although not entirely out of the realm of possibility. But he didn’t remember chatting up any humans recently, so what the hell was he doing sleeping on this one's chest? Right. Time to move this investigation into the next phase: figuring out where the bleeding hell he was and what the bloody fuck he was doing here.

Now that he was fairly sure he was in no immediate danger, there was no more reason to play possum. He opened his eyes. At first, all he could see was darkness, then a dim light became visible, showing nothing but a blank wall. Well that wasn't helpful at all. Slowly he raised his head and took a sniff of the air. A number of old, dusty scents assailed him, overlaid with the faint scent of corruption, as if something organic had decayed years ago.

But the strongest and most recent scent was that of a human who smelled remarkably like Xander Harris. Spike sat up suddenly as everything came back to him in a rush. They’d gone back to the Plautect sorcerer’s lair and Spike had heard something odd as he stood guard on one of the entrances to the sorcerer's lab, distracting him from his task. Finally, he'd deserted his post to cross the room, drawn to the strange keening noise coming from the lab Xander was guarding.

He'd walked in only to find the berk stepping into the corner behind the dresser's dummy that Buddy had been found on, walking into a strange mist that seemed to seep up from the cement floor, swirling around him like a whirlpool. Spike had called out his name, running after the pillock to drag him back out of the mist, but before he realized it, Spike was pulled in as well.

Despite fighting with all his supernatural strength, he’d been sucked into the vortex of mist, crashing into Xander and sending the two of them spinning around each other arse over tits as lights sparked and whirled. The last thing he remembered was grabbing onto Xander as he’d tumbled by and holding on tightly, afraid that they’d lose each other in the mist as the sound of rushing water roared past them.

There was no vortex now, though. The only sounds he could make out were those of Xander, and the occasional skritching of a rodent in the walls, which begged the question: where the bloody hell were the others? Had they left the two of them here caught in their own personal tornado and gone home for tea? Spike had no doubt that they’d leave him behind given half the chance, but there was absolutely no way they’d take off without one of their own. Yet here Xander lay, and not a bloody Scooby in sight. For that matter, there was almost nothing in sight.

There was barely enough light for a vampire to make out his surroundings, so he searched through Xander’s jacket for the torch Spike had seen him throw in his pocket before they left the Watcher’s flat. They’d been lucky, the electricity had still been on when they’d got to the Plautect’s lair and they hadn’t needed it after all. It might do to have a light source available when he woke sleeping beauty, though. As Spike found the torch, Xander took a deep breath, gasping as he came to, his hand clamping down hard on Spike’s wrist. His eyes were wide open, but he wasn’t focusing on Spike. Obviously there wasn’t enough light for a human to make out who had his hand in Xander’s pocket.

“It’s me, Herc. It’s Spike.”

“Spike? Where are we? Why’s it so dark? And why is your hand in my pocket?”

“I was reaching for your torch. I usually have a lighter touch when lifting things from pockets, but I thought you were still asleep. Mind giving me my hand back?”

“Oh! Sorry.” Xander let go of Spike’s wrist, and he drew out the torch.

“Watch your eyes.” He clicked on the light as Xander sat up blinking.

“Where are we?”

“Still in the sorcerer’s lair as far as I can tell.”

Spike shone the torch around, taking in the corner where they sat; the tables and counters strewn with the type of lab equipment an alchemist would use, everything covered in a heavy layer of dust. He handed the torch to Xander, then stood up, crossing to the door between their lab and the next to click on the overhead lights at the switch. Nothing happened.

“Well, hell.” He stood there frowning into the other lab, which showed no evidence of their earlier search, his thumb rubbing the dust from the switch off his fingers absently. He was missing something, but he couldn’t sort it all out in his head just yet.

“Where the hell is everyone? They didn’t leave us here, did they?” Xander stood up, brushing dust off his arse, the light flashing back and forth across the floor as he did so.

It hit Spike suddenly what he’d been missing and he spoke quickly to stop Xander from taking a step across the floor – the very dusty floor. “Wait! Don’t move.”

Xander shone the light at Spike, making him squint. “Why not?” He moved the light down, lighting the floor in front of him. “Is there a trap or something?”

“No.” Spike shook his head, approaching cautiously. “I think you already set off the trap.”

“Oh, sure, blame me.” Xander frowned at him. “There’s nothing here but dust, Fangless.”

“Exactly.” Spike spoke clearly, as if to a child. “And how many sets of footprints do you see in the dust?”

“What?” He took a closer look at the floor, where the only footprints to be seen were Spike’s, heading away from their corner. The dust was thick, and easy to scuff, and there were no footprints leading into the corner where they’d awoken. None at all.

“Holy hound dogs, Batman!” Xander shone the light around his own feet, and back to where they’d lain. There were no footprints there either. “It’s like something just dropped us here, right out of the air.” He pointed the torch up, but there was nothing there except cobwebs, and even more dust.

“Exactly. Something is definitely wrong here, Harris.”

“You think?!”

Xander started to pace, kicking up the dust as he went. “This is not of the good. This is so very not of the good!”

Spike had a theory about what had happened, but this didn’t seem like the right time to mention that Plautect were by nature extremely good at creating dimensional portals. Harris was too close to panicking already. Thinking fast, Spike sought something that might distract him.

“What about the chainmail?”

“Buddy? What about him?” Xander came to a halt, his hand landing on his chest as he stroked the mail through his t-shirt, his eyes unfocused as he concentrated. “He’s telling me not to panic. Well, not in so many words, but that’s what he means, anyway.”

“So he’s definitely still responding to you?” Spike approached warily, not wanting to set him off again.

“Yeah, he’s here. He’s fine. He doesn’t seem very upset. But then, it probably takes a lot to faze a piece of ancient, supernatural battle armor. I mean, he’s pretty much been through it all at this point, I’d think.”

Spike finally sorted out one thing that had been bothering him since he’d first looked around. “What happened to that dresser’s dummy? The one the armor was on when you found him. Wasn’t that here earlier?”

Xander looked surprised, then turned around to check out their corner, as if he could have somehow missed it. “Huh. That’s odd.”

They searched the room. The only unusual thing they found was the evidence of someone else who’d been there recently, disturbing the dust at the other end of the room, near the door. There were two distinct sets of footprints, one heavy, as if from a boot, and one from a smaller and thinner shoe. They hadn’t gone far into the room, only to a counter filled with arcane equipment. They found a stand there, bolted to the wall, that had held something long and thin, but there was no way of knowing what. Obviously the two had found what they came for, since they’d gone no farther into the room. But it alerted Spike to the thought that they might at some point have company if they stayed here too long.

At least the distraction had done some good; Xander had calmed down, and was acting much clearer-headed.

“Okay, when in doubt, head for the guy with the books.”

Spike agreed. “The Watcher.”

“Yeah. Giles will know what’s going on, right?”

Xander sounded in need of reassurance, and Spike wished he could offer it, but he wasn’t feeling all that positive at the moment, himself.

“I bloody well hope so.”

“Well, at least he’ll have an idea of where to start to figure it out.” Xander stepped out into the hallway that led to the stairs out of the basement, turning back to Spike as he spoke. “He’d better. It’s his job, after all. He’s the figurer-outer.”

Spike sighed. This bunch constantly amazed him with their ability to mangle the English language. Fortunately, they also usually managed to come out on top of whatever situation they found themselves in, so if he stuck with Xander, they both might just make it through this mess alive.

He clapped Xander on the shoulder. “C’mon, Hercules. Let’s go find the Watcher.”

Chapter Text

Xander was having some serious wiggins. The Plautect's lair was far out on Crawford Street, past even old mayor Wilkins' house, so it took a few minutes to get into a more highly populated area of town. Strangely enough, there were a lot of people on the streets of Sunnydale for as late in the evening as it was. Spike was acting really twitchy, but Xander didn't feel comfortable asking him what was up, especially after the first couple of people they met nodded their heads in his direction, murmuring “Master Spike” in a very polite tone of voice.

Spike had told Xander just last week that he wasn't welcome in Willy's anymore, now that he was working for Buffy, so it surprised Xander that Spike was getting so much respect from random demons on the street. He assumed they were demons, anyway. If they weren't, they knew Spike was a demon, and that meant they were at the very least demon-friendly. Buddy seemed to think they were demons, too, 'cause he was giving off the same kind of creepy vibe he usually gave Xander around vamps other than Spike. Then there were the three people on the other side of the street, laughing and carrying on an animated conversation – all three of them in gameface.

Xander automatically reached for the stake tucked into the back of his jeans, but Spike stopped him, shaking his head and trying to communicate something with his eyes that Xander translated as 'trust me.' He reminded himself that as strange as it may seem, Spike had proved himself trustworthy, so he dropped his hand, and raised one eyebrow as if to say 'if you get me killed, I'm not going to be happy about it.' Spike grinned at him, winked, then took off again, walking about one foot ahead of Xander. After trying to catch up with him for a couple of blocks, Xander finally figured out that Spike was intentionally staying ahead of him, and quit trying to walk even with him. He'd play along for now, but if Spike expected Xander to be all bowing and scraping guy, then he'd have a big pile of disappointment with his dinner, 'cause Xander didn't play that game for anybody.

As they climbed the stairs to the courtyard outside Giles' apartment, Spike looked up in surprise and took off running. Xander followed, hearing the familiar sounds of fighting as he got closer to the top. Giles was wielding a sword with his usual skill, keeping two game-faced vamps at bay. Spike was clearly in control of his fight, keeping three opponents busy. He had two vamps and some tall, wiry demon with a fringe of yellow, spiky hair around his head spinning round in circles trying to keep up with him.

Another vamp was slowly sneaking around behind Giles, and it was obvious that the two facing Giles were crowding him back in her direction. None of them had noticed Xander yet, so he slipped behind one of the low walls that dotted the courtyard and tackled the ambush vamp from the rear. She turned at the last moment, and Xander's stake missed its mark, grazing the vamp's arm instead. Xander was used to fledges right out of the grave, weak and blood-blind, anxious to feed. It was obvious that Ambush Vamp was older and knew what she was doing, so he concentrated on her, hoping the others could handle themselves, because he could tell he had his hands full with this one.

The fight ranged back and forth, with Ambush Vamp having the upper hand first, and then Xander. She was obviously more experienced than he was, and she pressed her advantages, kicks and hits striking fast, one after the other. Xander, on the other hand, had been training with a master of dirty tricks, and he used every one he could think of to get her off-balance and give him any advantage. Finally, he got the chance he'd been looking for, and he crumbled around her kick, letting her think she'd taken him out with it. She swooped in for the kill, and he struck, his stake piercing her heart and leaving her shocked face outlined in dust for a brief second before she blew apart.

He jumped to his feet, brushing her dust off his clothes, turning rapidly when he was warned from within to danger behind him. With Buddy's warning ringing in his mind, Xander swept his foot out, bringing down his adversary, sight unseen. He brought his stake down, pulling back at the last second when he realized that he'd almost staked Giles. Xander stumbled backwards, and Giles scrambled to his feet, thrusting a large gold cross at him, his face twisted with anger.

“Hey!” Xander grabbed the cross out of Giles' hand. “What the hell, Giles?”

Giles gasped as Xander poked him in the chest with the cross. “Not a vampire, here! You just saw me in the sunlight yesterday, G-Man. When have I had time to get vamped?”

To his right, Xander heard Spike's shout. “Behind you!”

He dropped the cross as he turned, switching the stake to his right hand, expecting to come up against another vamp. He stepped back in surprise, giving his attacker the opportunity she needed to send her stake directly to his heart. He fell against the wall behind him as Spike cried out his name. Grabbing her wrist, Xander pulled the gnarled wood out of his t-shirt, revealing the broken tip of her stake.

“What is up with you people?” he shouted angrily. Thank goodness for Buddy, or he'd be dead right now. Speaking of dead, he turned to the Slayer who was examining her favorite stake in shock.

“Aren't you supposed to be dead?”

Kendra stared at him, her dark eyes wide with confusion. “No, but you are!”

Chapter Text

Spike concentrated on his opponent, struggling to keep up with its lightning-fast moves. The two vamps who'd been with the demon were already dead, but that had taken some time, since Spike had been forced to split his attention three ways. What a Laumear was doing fighting on the same side as vampires was a question Spike couldn't even begin to ponder; it had taken all his efforts to keep himself in one piece. Fortunately for Spike, the Laumear was much more interested in the dark Slayer than it was in him. Its eyes kept sliding over to her for brief glimpses, and it was constantly trying to lead Spike into a position where it could watch them both at the same time.

Now that it was just the Laumear and himself, Spike should be able to center his full efforts on killing this demon and getting back to Xander. But therein lay the problem: Spike was just as unfocused on this fight as was the Laumear. He was constantly shifting his attention between the demon and Xander. Spike needed to trust Xander to keep himself safe from the vamp he was fighting, and force his attention back to his own opponent. That thought gave him the idea he needed to finish off this fight. He let himself be directed into position by the Laumear, and when its attention shifted over his shoulder to the Slayer, Spike stumbled, as if he'd tripped over his own feet.

The Laumear's attention wavered, and it sent its sword Spike's direction in an awkward, sideways slice that was intended to take off Spike's head. It glanced back at the Slayer, thinking it had managed to rid itself of its vampire opponent. That was when Spike twisted away, using all his strength to send his borrowed axe all the way through the Laumear's left heart, severing its spine. The demon fell with a scream, waving its sword haphazardly in Spike's direction as Spike pulled his axe free from its chest. He chopped off its head with one stroke, the axe striking the cement below and cracking off a chunk from the strength of Spike's blow. He kicked the head as it rolled in his direction, teeth snapping at his boot, the yellow fringe of hair matted with blood.

“Serves you right for not realizing who the real danger was, you arsewipe.”

Avoiding the still flailing sword arm, Spike sent the axe back down, this time lodging it firmly in the Laumear's second heart, and with both hearts out of commission the demon finally ceased its struggles, its arms flopping to the ground, the sword clattering loudly to the concrete. Spike didn't even pause to clean his weapon on its shirt, turning quickly to check on Xander, even as he called himself an idiot for his concern.

Xander was poking a huge gold cross at Giles' chest, complaining about something or other, while the dark Slayer aimed a stake at his back.

“Behind you!”

Spike ran, his axe rising automatically, despite the fact that he'd never make it in time to stop her. At least she'd know the mistake she'd made, just before Spike killed her and the chip demolished what was left of his brain.

“Spike, no!”

When Xander jumped in front of the Slayer, Spike pulled back, his shock splashing through him like ice water as he realized his mistake. Of course Xander was still alive – he had Buddy in his corner, didn't he?

“Bloody fucking hell, Xander!” Spike shouted with relief. “I thought you were dead!”

He barely had time to get the words out before the dark Slayer was shoving Xander aside and attacking him – or trying to. Xander latched onto her waist, and held her back as best he could. She struggled a step or two, fighting with him, but despite her attempt to stake him just seconds ago, she seemed strangely unwilling to actually hurt Xander now. Spike danced back from her stake, the gnarled wood coming too close, even with Xander holding her back. The broken tip didn't matter, she could easily get the wood into his heart if she used her full strength.

Xander was yelling at her to stop, and she was struggling with him, trying to get him to let go. If it weren't for the Watcher coming up behind Xander, sword raised, he would have laughed at the humor of it all. Instead he ducked around the two, pushing Giles up hard against the wall, knocking the sword out of his hand before the chip kicked in. Spike went down into a crouch, crying out from the pain the chip sent ripping through his head. He held onto his axe grimly and blindly searched for the sword, hoping to keep it out of the Watcher's hands.

“Spike!”

Suddenly, Xander was there, standing in front of him defensively. Spike blindly thrust the handle of his axe into Xander's hand, and he took it, holding the other two at bay.

“Now listen to me! Please!” Despite the plea, Xander's voice was strong and determined. “Obviously, we're not where we're supposed to be. We mean you no harm, so please – give us a chance to sort this out. We can explain everything – right, Spike? We can, can't we?”

“You're not a vampire, but you protect one, and expect him to speak for you. What are you then? His servant?” The dark Slayer's strongly accented voice was heavy with disgust, but at least she wasn't attacking them. Yet. Spike didn't know how long that would last. Their hope would lie in the Watcher. If they could make him understand what had happened, he would keep her from trying to kill them.

“They call them Renfields, Kendra. He's obviously been thralled – brainwashed into believing his master's lies.”

Or maybe not. Giles' loathing was pretty apparent. It was obviously not going to be easy to talk sense into either of them. The blinding pain in his head was starting to abate, so he cracked his eyes open, focusing on the ground in front of him. The sword was only a few feet from his reach. The Slayer was out of range of Xander's axe, but she had a sword, as well as her stake, and she was paying close attention to them both. The Watcher was behind her, to her right. They were both focusing on Xander, but the Slayer was keeping her eye on Spike as well.

“Ewwwww.” Xander's response to being thralled was typical. If his head didn't hurt so much, Spike would have rolled his eyes.

He slapped Xander's leg, as much to let him know he was recovering as in response to his comment. “Nothing wrong with being a servant. Especially when you have a master as good looking and all around spectacular as I am.”

“But I'm not your servant. I'm nobodies servant. So stop thinking it right now – all of you.”

Spike wanted badly to grab that sword, but since both his opponents were human, it wouldn't do him any good, so he gave it up as a loss. He stood slowly, telegraphing his moves so the Slayer would know what he was doing. She watched him warily, but didn't react otherwise.

“You all right, Spike?” Xander asked as Spike pulled himself up, holding onto Xander's arm to keep himself steady.

“Just peachy, mate.”

Xander nodded, but didn't relax – he wasn't happy with the situation, but then neither was Spike.

Spike turned to Giles. “Look, Watcher. We're not from this dimension.” That got their attention.

“Yeah? Why the hell didn't you tell me that an hour ago, Spike?” Xander was definitely frustrated by Spike's silence on the subject. “It would have made things much simpler.”

“You worked it out on your own, didn't you?” Spike shrugged. “I wasn't sure at first, but since the Plautect are dimension hoppers it made sense. You must have set off a trap when you stepped behind Buddy's dummy back at the lair, and when I tried to pull you out, I got carried along with you. Neither of us is magic-savy, Watcher, we're going to need help getting back again.”

“Why in the world would I help you with anything?” Giles asked, disgust and revulsion dripping off every word.

“Giles...” Spike couldn't see Xander's face, but he could hear the hurt in his voice.

“Forget about me.” Spike was getting a little frustrated with this closed-minded attitude of Giles'. “I'm incidental in this. It's Xander you need to help.”

“Xander is dead.” Spoken with such finality, the words cut right through Spike. Xander sagged, his axe dropping as he took that hit directly to his heart. Spike put his hand on Xander's shoulder, knowing he couldn't do anything to lessen the sorrow, but wishing he could.

“Giles!” There were tears in the dark Slayer's eyes, and she turned away from them, to focus on her Watcher. If they wanted to attack, now would be the time to do so, but Spike knew that Xander wouldn't do it, and he couldn't, so the opportunity slipped away from them.

“He is not Xander, Kendra.” Giles' face was closed off, as hard as stone. “You need to remember that, and do your duty.”

“No.” She dropped the point of her sword to the ground, in obvious rebellion. Spike got the idea from her stiff back and Giles' shocked face, that her refusal was unexpected. “I don't care if he's not my Xander. He's still Xander, and I won't hurt him.”

“He's protecting the very vampire who killed Buffy!” Giles shouted.

The shock of that knocked Xander back a step, and Spike grabbed both arms to keep him steady. Spike felt as if he were reeling as well. There was a burst of pride at the thought that this version of himself had actually achieved his hat trick, but at the same time, he felt the stiffness in Xander's shoulders and realized exactly how hard that would hit the boy. He stifled his ego and bit his lip to avoid saying something he'd regret Xander hearing.

“Are we to believe he's suddenly got a soul as well?” Giles was on a tear now, his voice shaking with his anger and resentment. “That he's seeking redemption? Trying to atone for his wrongs?”

“I am nothing like that wanker Angelus!” Spike forced himself to stop. He just couldn't keep his mouth shut, could he?

Xander hissed at him. “You're not helping, Spike.”

“I don't know, Giles!” Kendra stepped up to her Watcher, taking his hand in hers. “But in remembrance of our Xander, the least we can do is try.”

Giles sighed, and from the look on his face, he was yielding to her argument. “All right. We'll hear them out.” Both Xander and Kendra relaxed at that, but Giles continued. “I won't allow that thing in my home.” It was obvious that Spike was the 'thing' in question.

“Oi!” Spike defended himself. Xander turned to him and slapped his arm, rolling his eyes.

“Come inside,” Giles told her, “while I prepare the barricade spell.”

It may have sounded like a suggestion, but Spike got the idea it was an order. A look passed between Giles and his Slayer that Spike didn't understand, and she nodded her head, following Giles down the stairs to his flat. The way she kept glancing back at Xander had him wondering what had transpired between the two in this dimension, but he set that aside for now. He had a feeling he'd find out soon enough.

Chapter Text

Xander watched carefully as Giles performed the ritual that 'cleansed' the main courtyard of Giles' apartment complex for his spell. From what he said, Giles had to renew the spell on a weekly basis, but the magic shop had been out of one essential ingredient earlier this week, so the spell had been delayed by a day. He'd been on his way home with the necessary herb tonight when he'd been attacked. Since it was very unlikely to have been a random act, considering the demons that had worked together on the ambush, it was obvious that they tested Giles' wards on a regular basis.

Xander liked the idea of protecting Giles' apartment from evil; he wondered why they'd never thought of it in his world. But then, Spike wasn't Master of the Hellmouth in their world. According to Kendra, Spike had been organizing the Sunnydale demons, forcing them to ally with his Court or risk destruction at his hands. The Court was large enough to enforce his demands, and bloodthirsty enough to do so in ways that discouraged resistance in even the strongest and most headstrong demons. So despite their natural distaste at working with vampires, most of the demons on the Hellmouth had already come under Spike's dominion.

Xander's Spike had crowed at that news, thrilled to hear what an impression his counterpart had made. Fortunately, he'd had the good sense to wait until Giles and Kendra were on the opposite side of the courtyard to do so. He had admitted to Xander that he had no idea what this universe's Spike was planning.

“What the bloody hell is he thinking, forging a confederation of demons? That's not at all the way of a vampire, especially not this vampire.” He thumped his chest in emphasis. “He's got to have some kind of plan in mind, I just can't imagine what it could possibly be.”

“Well, at least with you here, they stand a fighting chance of figuring it out before it's too late. I mean, no one is more likely to understand Spike than Spike.”

Spike stared at Xander incredulously. “You want me to rat on myself, Herc?”

Xander shrugged, “Well it's not like you owe him anything. What do you care if his plan works or not?”

“I'm just hoping to get close enough to get in on a little of the glory. I mean what does he have that I don't have? I could be Master of the Hellmouth if it weren't for this damned chip...”

“And I for one am grateful that you're not.” Xander interrupted. “It would make it difficult to explain to others why you're my friend.”

The look on Spike's face was classic. It took all Xander's efforts to avoid grinning like a loon. Giles had once used the term 'gobsmacked' and despite his efforts at describing the word to them all, Xander had never totally gotten it. Now he did. He just wasn't sure why Spike was so surprised at his admission. They'd been growing closer for a while now; there was nothing like a good bout of intensive physical training-slash-torture, to bring friends together. Despite his shock, Spike didn't seem upset at Xander's declaration, which was good. The last thing he needed tonight was to be told he wasn't worthy of Spike's friendship. He wasn't sure his ego could take the blow.

Spike recovered his self-composure faster than Xander did. He struck a casual pose, blowing the smoke from his cigarette over Xander's head. “Yeah, well, it's not like this is my quest, anyway. You're the hero. I'm just along for the ride.”

Xander sat down hard on the edge of one of the fountains, his knees giving out from under him with absolutely no warning.

“What do you mean by that?” That high, squeaky voice hadn't been his, had it? Okay, maybe. Just a little. But then those were squeak worthy words. Actually, he was pretty sure he'd managed at least one squeak. Otherwise, why would Spike have stared at him for a long moment, before responding?

“You didn't honestly think this trip was an accident, did you? That text from Giles' friend made it quite clear that heroes go on quests.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no...” Xander could feel his head shaking in denial, could hear his words – but it was like someone else was in control. Buddy was doing that internal petting thing that he did when his human had finally figured out something important and with every word of Spike's he felt the door between himself and his denial getting closer and closer to shutting.

“It's in the handbook, mate.” Spike squeezed his shoulder in sympathy. “You're here to slay the dragon and rescue the damsel in distress. Might as well get used to it.”

Spike clapped him on the back before he left Xander, as Giles and Kendra headed their way to bless the closest entrance to the courtyard. Spike stalked off to the opposite set of stairs, staring out into the night, a plume of smoke rising over his head as he flicked what was left of his cigarette out over the stairs, the cherry sparking as it flew. Xander looked away, focusing on Giles and Kendra, fiercely ignoring Spike's pronouncement – pushing it into the back of his mind where it could be dealt with later. He had other things to deal with now, such as a bitter, angry Giles, and a vampire that had no way of protecting himself from humans.

Giles' spell was supposed to create a barrier to “hostile forces” that would make it impossible for them to enter the protected area. Xander had objected to the word hostile – thinking perhaps Giles intended to use magic to “accidentally” rid himself of Spike, but Giles had assured him that the spell was white magic, and would cause no harm to anyone – human or demon. As long as Spike intended no one in the courtyard harm, the spell would have no affect on him. And if he did intend harm, it would merely force him to leave, by means of making it too uncomfortable for him to stay.

He wasn't sure how it could do that, but Spike had assured him such spells did exist. Xander had crossed his arms as he watched Giles spatter a few drops of oil on the corner of the steps on the far side of the courtyard.

“White magic. Go figure.”

As angry and disillusioned as this version of Giles was, it seemed strange for him to be using white magic, but Spike had agreed that the ritual with the oil was very similar to white magic he'd come across in the past.

“Just feels like white magic, Herc,” he shrugged. “Don't know how to describe it to you. Just aren't any words a human would understand. But as much as I don't trust old grouchy over there, I'm pretty sure he's on the up and up with this one.”

He'd gone back to pacing the corners of the courtyard, then – avoiding Kendra, who was doing the same, both of them glancing over in Xander's direction on a regular basis. The constant attention made Xander nervous, like maybe he'd forgotten to wear his pants or something. He checked his fly again – nope, still zipped. Maybe he should check in with Buddy, again. While Buddy had agreed with Spike that the ritual Giles was performing meant no harm to any of them, it couldn't hurt to double check, right?

Besides, with Giles acting so harsh and distant, he needed all the reassurance he could get. The look of hatred on Giles' face had been hard to take, even if it had been aimed more at Spike than himself. Xander was defending Spike, so that hatred was his by association, and it hurt. Giles had never been Spike's biggest supporter or anything, but Xander had never seen him so unreasonable and closed-off. He couldn't imagine what it had taken to drive Giles that far.

Kendra kept herself between Spike and Giles as he crossed to each of the entrances, keeping her Watcher safe, but she still found time to glance over at Xander again and again, her eyes flickering in his direction hesitantly before focusing on Giles or Spike once more. It reminded Xander of the way Kendra acted when she'd first shown up back in Xander's dimension. She'd been so awkward around him, stumbling over her words, afraid to even lift her eyes to his face. Xander had been smitten by her downcast eyes and the way she'd blushed when he'd spoken more than a word to her.

If he hadn't, insanely enough, just then found himself involved with Cordelia, he might have asked Kendra out. But there was no way he would subject her to Cordelia's anger – he liked her too much for that. Besides, she'd gone back to Jamaica soon after, and he hadn't seen her again until Angelus had threatened to open Acathla and her Watcher had sent her back to Sunnydale, this time to her death. His stomach clenched at the pain that thought caused. He already knew Buffy was dead in this dimension, the thought of losing another friend made his heart ache.

Maybe that was why Giles was being such a bastard? He'd lost one Slayer. He couldn't bear the thought of losing a second, so he was hardening his heart, falling back on his strict training as a Watcher in an effort to keep her safe. But that wasn't what kept Buffy alive for so long. He needed to give Kendra love and affection, not rules and regulations. Those had never helped the Watchers before, and Xander was pretty sure they wouldn't help this time, either.

Giles stepped into the center of the courtyard, his Slayer taking her place at his side. Buddy was sending calming, serene impulses his way, but still his heart beat loudly in his chest. Spike caught his eye as he closed in on the three. It said something about his lack of trust in Giles when a vampire trusted his magic more than Xander did.

“Right. Let's get this over with then, shall we?” Spike cracked his neck left and right, his hands loose at his sides. He was obviously ready for whatever happened.

Giles spoke three words in Latin, and a strong, warm force pushed itself right through them, outward from their group, moving rapidly to the edges of the courtyard. Giles' eyes were focused on Spike, and the cold smile on his face when Spike shuddered like a dog left out in a hard rain had Xander touching the handle of the knife in his back pocket, unsure what he was about to do, but ready to do something.

Spike took a deep breath, and his eyes sparkled with excitement as he shouted, “What a rush!”

Xander had to hide his laughter at the shocked look on Giles' face when Spike grinned wild-eyed, looking around at the others, who were all staring at him by this point.

“What?”

Giles uttered a curse suitable more to Spike than to a Watcher, and Xander couldn't hold in his laughter anymore. Spike had passed Giles' test, much to the watcher's dismay.

“You're alright?” Xander asked, almost giddy with relief. “No irresistible impulses to be someplace other than here?”

Spike sniffed. “Normally, I'd rather be in any of the major hell dimensions than to spend time chatting with a Watcher and his Slayer. Just seems unnatural not to be at odds with a bunch of goody two-shoes like you lot. But since I don't intend to go slaughtering any of you, I can't imagine why a spell like this would want me gone.”

“Bloody hell.” Giles headed for the stairs to his apartment without looking back.

“Oi! Don't we have talking to do?” Spike called after him.

Xander could hear Giles' noisy sigh from the top of the stairs. “Come on down, all of you. We can talk down here. But first, I need a drink.”

“I'll join you in that drink, Rupert.” Spike called as he headed down the stairs. “And don't forget, I know where you keep the good stuff.”

Kendra practically ran down the stairs after Spike, determined to keep an eye on the vampire. Xander followed at a more sedate pace. He wasn't looking forward to this conversation. He had too much on his mind already, he wasn't sure how much more he could take in before his head just exploded from the pressure of it all. At least if his head exploded, he'd be saved from making a fool of himself as he tried to save a damsel that was in a lot less distress than he was. Right on cue, Buddy shook his finger at Xander, reminding him not to put himself down.

“Gimme a break, Buddy,” he grumbled. “It's been a rough day.”

Chapter Text

“Dr Pepper! Thanks.” Xander took the soda from Kendra, smiling as she blushed at him before retreating back into Giles' flat. Spike watched her carefully. He didn't like that look on her face. The dark Slayer was attracted to his boy, and that just wouldn't do. Not that he cared who Xander made time with - of course not - but they needed to stay focused on getting Xander's task done and getting back home. There was no time for dalliances. They had work to do.

The Slayer came back out with a card table, which she set up close to the fountain. The Watcher had made it clear that Spike was not welcome inside, so they were making themselves at home in the small courtyard outside the Watcher's flat. That was fine with Spike, as long as Rupert shared the good scotch. Herc looked disappointed that Giles didn't trust his word enough to let them both in, but Spike didn't blame the man for not allowing a vampire in his home. Under similar circumstances Spike would do the same.

The third time she came out, the Slayer had a couple of dining room chairs in her hands. Rupert followed behind her with his everyday tea set, a couple of tumblers, and a bottle of scotch on a tray.

“Now you're cooking.” Spike grabbed one of the chairs and turned it around, straddling it, leaning on the back. He grabbed the scotch and poured a couple of healthy tots for the two of them.

Giles sighed as he poured himself a cup of tea. “Yes, of course, Spike. Help yourself.”

His sarcasm was not lost on Spike, but it was ignored. “Oh, please, Rupert,” Spike complained. “It's not every night you start out in one dimension and end up in another. Deserves a shot or two, don't you think?” He waited impatiently for the watcher to finish making his cuppa before handing him a glass.

“Ta.” He saluted Giles and savored the liquor as it rolled across his tongue. The Watcher'd brought out the good stuff, so Spike was determined not to waste it by tossing it back. Still, it was gone far sooner than he could have wished.

Herc sat down next to him on the edge of the fountain and addressed the dark Slayer, who hovered over her Watcher's shoulder. “I never could get Giles to buy Dr Pepper. How'd you manage?”

She picked up her own bottle, and fiddled with the label, shrugging and blushing yet again.

“It's the only thing she'll drink.” Giles frowned at her and then ordered, “Sit down, Kendra. We should be safe here.”

She nodded, and sat on the edge of the fountain, which left her far too close to Xander for Spike's taste. He regretted taking the other chair, but it was too late, now. He bit the inside of his lip to avoid growling at her. Not like she was doing anything but sitting too close to his boy. He grabbed the scotch and poured another healthy dollop.

“Right. Let's get down to business then, shall we?”

Giles perked up at that. “Yes, please. How exactly did you manage to end up here in our dimension?”

“We were at one of those big houses out on Crawford Street, up past Angelus' old place. You know where I'm talking about?”

Kendra looked up surprised. “We don't go out there. It's far too dangerous. Even with two Slayers.”

That attracted Spike's attention. “Did you say two Slayers?”

“But I thought Buffy was dead.” Xander's voice shook as he said his friend's name, and Spike laid a hand on his arm to steady him.

“Yes, she is.” The watcher's voice was bitter. “But Faith is not.”

“Faith?” Xander squeaked. “She's here?” He looked around, wild-eyed, as if afraid she'd pop out from behind the fountain at any moment.

“Wait. Is this the one that went darkside on you?” Spike asked. Well, this was getting interesting. “The one that tried to strangle you after she took your cherry?” Spike had heard all sorts of fascinating stories about that little hellion.

“She did what?!”

Rupert seemed pretty upset at that, but his surprise was nothing compared to the hurt in Kendra's eyes. She jumped to her feet, backing away in shock, her soda bottle rolling away across the courtyard tiles and under the table. Spike stopped it with his boot, his eyes focused on the Slayer. There was definitely something odd going on here.

“Are you saying Faith went dark in your world?” Giles demanded of Spike.

“Don't ask me, mate, I wasn't around at the time. But I've heard the tales.”

“Xander?” The watcher sounded a lot like the teacher he was supposed to have been when that bunch were all in high school and Herc jumped, setting his bottle of soda on the table as he cleared his throat.

“Yeah. Faith showed up at the beginning of Senior year. She seemed okay, but kinda wild, you know? Then she killed this guy named Finch when she and Buffy were out on patrol one night. It was an accident, but she was afraid she'd get sent to prison or something, so she got Buffy to help her cover it up. Then she tried to frame Buffy for the deed, but you didn't believe her.”

“Xander grinned lopsidedly and shrugged. “I mean, my Giles didn't believe her, anyway.”

“Of course not.” Giles defended her. “Buffy would never do any such thing.”

Spike noticed the way the dark Slayer's shoulder's stiffened as Giles jumped to Buffy's defense. It was the most animated he'd been since they'd first run up against each other tonight. He wondered how long Giles had been waving his first Slayer's perfection in his second Slayer's face.

“She ended up working for the mayor.” Xander grabbed his soda and took a big drink.

“The mayor?” Kendra asked, sitting back down on the fountain's edge. “She helped him ascend?”

“Well, she wasn't actually there for the ascension, because she poisoned Angel to keep Buffy distracted, then she jumped off a balcony, landed on a truck, and ended up in a coma...” His voice died out as he looked back and forth between Kendra and Giles, both of whom were wide-eyed with surprise at his words. “Didn't happen quite that way here, I take it.”

“No. Not quite that way.” Giles answered, wryly. “For one, Buffy...” He closed his eyes briefly, as if it hurt to say. “Buffy died at the end of her Junior year.”

“Junior year?” Xander asked. “You mean Acathla won? No, wait. That couldn't have happened. I mean, this world may be crazy compared to ours, but there's no open portal sucking us into a hell dimension, so Acathla didn't happen, right?”

“No.” The dark Slayer spoke up, shaking her head. “Buffy pushed Angelus into Acathla's maw, closing the portal only seconds before Drusilla put Buffy under her thrall.”

Spike felt a shock at the Slayer's words, as if he'd been plunged into ice water. “Drusilla thralled Buffy? But I thought you said this world's Spike took her out.”

“Yes, that's right.” The Slayer waved her hand gracefully back and forth, and Spike recognized the way Dru's hand always moved when she did her mojo. “Buffy stood there, her body swaying with Drusilla's movements, then Spike stepped between the two and pulled Buffy to him.” She dropped her hand, her eyes filled with regret. “He drained her and dropped her body to the floor.”

Spike jumped to his feet, kicking his chair across the courtyard. “Bloody hell, no!” The Slayer jumped to her feet, stepping between Spike and her Watcher, but he had no interest in either of them. “That can't be right!” he shouted.

“Whoa, Spike.” Xander stepped up to Spike, and put a hand on his chest. “What the hell? Your 'grrr' is showing, man. Put it away.”

It took a moment, but Spike finally realized Xander meant he'd slipped into game face. He forced himself to calm, shaking his head to rid himself of his true face. “Sorry, Herc. Didn't mean to get all riled up like that.”

He found his chair, checking it out as he brought it back to the table. “Nothing broken, Watcher. No harm done.”

Xander followed him back, sitting down on the fountain again and reaching for his soda as Spike reached for something stronger. He poured himself a large helping, then noticing that Rupert's glass was empty, poured him a good sized helping as well.

Giles nodded to his Slayer, and she sat next to Xander again. Spike resolved not to let that bother him, and concentrated on the more important issue as he saw it.

“You're telling me that your world's Spike killed his third Slayer while she was under another vamp's thrall?” There, he'd managed to get that out without growling or shouting. He was rather proud of that accomplishment. He took another drink.

The dark Slayer nodded firmly. “I saw it myself from across the room. I tried to reach her, but there were still three vampires between us, and I could not help both her and Xander, who was trying to protect an injured Giles from yet another vampire.”

“We'll not discuss that now.” Giles spoke angrily. The Slayer nodded, ducking her head as the watcher grabbed his glass and slammed back his scotch.

Spike smiled, shaking his head. “Rupert, you old dog. Let me pour you another.” He poured them both a drink. They both had much to deal with. The Watcher thought his life a poor exchange for Buffy's, and Spike had to deal with the fact that his counterpart in this universe was a bleeding coward. He'd been so pleased that the bastard was the Master of the Hellmouth, feared far and wide, and now it turned out he was a coward and a cheat. As Herc would say, that just sucked.

“Where's Willow?” Xander's voice broke the silence that had descended over the group.

Giles' heavy sigh wasn't a good sign. “Ah, Willow.” He shook his head sadly. “There was a girl, a werewolf who was attracted to Oz.”

“Veruca? Yeah, I remember her. Willow said she was trying to seduce Oz away from her.”

“Did she?” Spike asked.

“Nah.” Herc frowned. “Well, yeah, actually she did. But in the end, Oz had to kill her to save Willow's life.”

“Ah.” The Watcher sighed again.

“Giles?” Xander's voice was shaky, and Spike understood why. He'd had too many hard blows already today, one more might put him over the edge.

“Oz did finally kill Veruca, but he was too late to save Willow's life.”

“Oh, no. Not my Wills.” Xander's shoulder's slumped. The Slayer looked like she wanted to wrap him up in her arms, but she held back, so Spike decided not to growl at her after all. Instead he put a sympathetic hand on Xander's shoulder, and squeezed gently. He'd had his own harsh blows tonight; he understood what Xander was going through. He thought hard to come up with a change of topic.

“How’d you get the third Slayer, then?” Spike finally asked. “Didn’t the Slayer line transfer to this one here after Herc brought Buffy back to life?”

“Yes, it did. However when Kendra returned to Jamacia, she landed in hospital after failing to get out of a collapsing building. She died on the operating table, but was revived after only a moment or two.”

“Wow. You Slayer’s live hard, huh?” Xander offered her a crooked smile and she smiled back shyly and shrugged her shoulders, looking down at her shoes.

“Where’s Faith?” Kendra bit her lip, as if she was afraid of the answer.

“In the Clink, from what I hear.”

Xander agreed. “Yeah, she’s in prison, now.”

“But if Buffy is still alive in your dimension,” Giles asked, “do you now have three Slayers at once?”

Xander cringed. “Oh. Um…no. Just the two.”

Spike could tell Herc was worried about breaking the news to Kendra, so Spike did it for him. “Sorry, Slayer.”

She blanched, her face lined in shock.

“My Dru, she thralled you when she captured the Watcher at the library. Slit your throat, she did.”

Kendra's hand flew up to her throat, her eyes wide.

“Spike!” Xander kicked Spike under the table.

“Oi! What was that for?”

“You don't have to sound so proud.”

“What? It was her first Slayer! Worth celebrating, in my book.”

“Well, not here, it's not.” Giles sat down on the fountain and took Kendra's hand, the first real expression of concern he'd shown for the dark Slayer since they'd met. “Are you all right, Kendra?”

She straightened her back, nodding her head. “Yes, sir. I'll be fine, thank you.”

Giles smiled at her. “Yes, I know you will.”

“So what about me?” Xander asked.

Spike shook his head. “I think we've had enough news for one night, don't you, Herc? Maybe we can meet up again tomorrow, and the Watcher can start work on how to get us back home again.”

“Although I hate to agree with Spike, I must admit we've had a remarkably full day already.” Giles stood, crossing back to his chair to pick up his glass. “Perhaps it would be better to continue this tomorrow.”

“Uh uh.” Xander crossed his arms, putting on his most stubborn face. “I'm not going anywhere until I know.” He stood up and started pacing. “I'm dead, aren't I? What happened? Did I get eaten by a vampire? Pulled apart by a Fyarl? Skewered by a Polgara? What?”

“It was the Mayor!” Kendra cried out. “He killed you when he ascended!” Tears ran down her cheeks. “I couldn't save you. I'm sorry. I tried, but I couldn't save you.” Spike was truly surprised at her outburst. Despite her argument with Giles earlier, she'd remained in control and remarkably calm all evening. To see this emotional side of her was something he hadn't expected. She turned to Giles, and he nodded to his flat, urging her to go inside.

“Go on, dear. I'll be fine. Nothing can happen with the ward in place.”

She turned and ran, the door slamming behind her. Spike could hear her heart-felt sobs, and it only confirmed what he'd already suspected.

“What...what just happened?” Poor Herc. He had no idea what he'd stirred up. Giles finished off his glass and poured himself another. Spike thought it rather selfish of him not to offer Spike one, so he helped himself while the Watcher drank.

Giles set his glass down, and turned to face Herc, sorrow and regret showing in his eyes. “The two of you were in love, Xander, and she watched you die.”

Xander fell into Spike's chair, as if he was a puppet whose strings had been cut. “Well, damn.”

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

Spike breathed a sigh of relief once they got out of the worst of the demon-held territory, although that was a fuzzy distinction in this town. Most of his and Xander's Sunnydale was safe enough during the day, as long as you stayed clear of the cemeteries and the underground tunnels that crisscrossed the entire town, built specifically for demons by the mayor back when the town was first founded. But at night, Sunnydale could be dangerous, even on the major streets and especially in hotspots like the Bronze and the Espresso Pump.

This version of Sunnyhell kept him constantly on alert, his senses tingling with the awareness of demons everywhere they went. No wonder they kept two Slayers here most of the year. He wondered if he'd get to meet this Faith character tonight, he was looking forward to getting a chance to size her up. He'd have to be careful, though; it wouldn't do to alienate their only possible allies in this world. Every time he thought of her, he had to fight back a growl. The way she'd treated Xander made Spike's teeth itch with the need to rip her heart out and present it to Herc on a platter. Only the fact that Xander would be appalled by the gesture kept Spike from making plans.

Xander was much more animated tonight, paying attention to the new route Spike had picked out, and watching the shadows for danger. There weren't a lot of humans out, even this close to sunset, but not a lot of demons either, now that they'd gotten away from demon central – Angelus' old digs. Just like Spike to plant himself in the old seat of power, proving that he had the wrinklies to hold it when Angelus had failed. He'd heard the talk, though – Spike had put in tunnels connecting the place to the already existing underground system. Spike approved. He laughed to himself. He was going to get a complex, thinking about himself as two separate entities. He'd have to come up with a name for the blighter that was shorter than 'that cowardly, bleeding, bastard of an imposter.'

“What's so funny?”

Spike shook his head. “Nothing, really. Just figuring out what to call the coward wearing my name around here, so I don't get whiplash trying to separate him and me.”

“Good point. How about Spike 0.2?” Spike favored Xander with his best 'you have got to be kidding me' glare. “No good, huh? Okay, what about Master Spike?" His expressive face transformed into a sour look - as if he'd bitten into a lemon. "No, nevermind. I have no interest in calling him Master.”

“Bleeding right!” Spike exclaimed. Spike's demon considered Xander and everyone else in that crew as his. There was no way he could deal with Xander calling someone else Master. Even if it was another version of himself.

Spike shook his head as the berk started bouncing all over the sidewalk. ”Oh, oh! I know! The Spikester!”

He had to laugh at that one. “No matter how much I hate the tosser, I refuse to call any version of myself something that undignified. Besides, I wouldn't be caught dead saying that, no matter who it was aimed at.” He muttered, “Bleeding tosser.”

Xander just laughed, “Oh, hey! That's a good one. You can call him Spike the Tosser. Or just The Tosser for short.”

“It just doesn't sound right coming out of your mouth.” Spike tried for a North American accent, stretching out the r as long as he could. “Tosserrrr.”

Xander cringed. “Sorry, Spike, but your American accent is as bad as my British one. I think we should both avoid that.”

“Oi!' He only protested for forms sake. He knew his American accent needed work, but he couldn't let that slight get by without some sort of objection.

“Trust me on this one, Spike. It's bad.” He went back to bouncing again. “What about Lord Spike?”

“What?” Spike stopped walking, brought up short by the surge of anger he felt inside. What the hell was this idiot trying to prove? He already had Spike's demon in an uproar over calling anyone but him Master. The git was walking a thin line here.

“Well, yeah,” Xander went on to explain, totally ignoring Spike's irritation. “He thinks he's in charge of this hellmouth. He even has all the other demons in town fighting for him. He's like Ming the Merciless, the evil overlord of Mongo! Killing off all the demons who oppose him, creating order out of discord and chaos. Ming is like Flash Gordon's fiercest enemy, and they're always trying to kill each other. So if he's an evil overlord...”

“I am not calling that jumped-up, arrogant tosser Lord anything.” He started walking again, not wanting this trip to take any longer than it already was. Taking this roundabout route to the Watcher's was really eating up their time, but they couldn't afford to run into any more of Spike's minions, so it had to be done.

“Yeah, I got the idea that he thinks a lot of himself.” Xander glanced sideways at Spike with a grin. “He's not a thing like the Spike I know...”

Spike snorted. “I'm the Slayer of Slayers, and don't you forget it! I fought hard, and both my Slayers were worthy of my challenge. Me and Niki, we fought each other back and forth across New York City for months before I took her down.” He ran a hand down the collar of the duster he'd taken from her, caressing the cool leather as he would a lover. “We were well matched, and I respected her dedication and her fierce pride. She earned my respect. That's why I didn't drain her. She earned the right to keep her little kid from seeing that. She deserved the best I could give her. That puffed-up wanker they call “Master Spike,' he never earned anything. He's nothing to me.”

There was silence for a while, and that suited Spike fine. It was amazing how quickly his admiration for the Spike who'd killed three Slayers had become disgust for the liar who would take a Slayer while she couldn't defend herself, and still have the nerve to call himself a Master. The bitter hatred roiled in his stomach and soured the pig's blood he'd drunk this afternoon when he woke up.

They'd picked out adjoining rooms on the first floor the night before, but when he'd woken, Xander wasn't anywhere around. He'd panicked slightly, until he heard the sound of metal on metal outside, and the protesting screech of rusty iron turning in ways it hadn't in years. When the water started running sluggishly through the house's pipes, he'd smiled. Nothing like having your own handyman to fix up whatever dump you chose to hole up in. The water had been muddy, and red with flakes of rust, but they'd let it run for a while, and before they left, it was clear enough to wash up with, and to run the W.C., which was Herc's main interest. No more stumbling to a tree in the middle of the night to piss.

Herc had been bouncing off the walls all afternoon. After last night's moody introspection, Spike was glad to see it, but he knew it wasn't a good sign. It looked like the mood swings had followed him, even across dimensions. Spike'd have to keep an eye on them – maybe bring them up to the Watcher, if they were here long enough. They had a lot to talk about tonight, and Spike wasn't looking forward to discussing Xander's secrets out in the open, as they had last night. Maybe a bouncy, energetic Xander could talk Rupert into letting them in his flat. It wasn't likely, but he could always hope.

“A jumped-up, puffed-up arrogant wanker. That's what we'll call him. We can call him Puffy for short.”

“What?” It took Spike a moment to realize that Herc was still on their last conversation.

“Puffy. I like that. Has a certain ring to it.” Xander was grinning like a loon, and Spike snorted.

“Sounds a bit much like Buffy to me.”

“Well, yeah. That way we can remind ourselves what kind of a coward he is, every time we say his name.”

That just might work. “Right. Puffy it is, then,” Spike agreed. “But I reserve the right to change my mind, if it starts to wear on me too much.”

“Yeah, yeah...you're never satisfied.” Xander complained with a grin. “Work my fingers to the bone, and still you want more.”

“You'll come to realize, Herc, that I always want more.” He pulled a smoke out of his rapidly diminishing pack, and lit it before he continued. “How much money you got on you?”

Xander shrugged. “About twenty dollars. I was thinking I might ask Giles if he needs any repair work done around the apartment or anything. I can always go looking for odd jobs, but we should probably keep our heads down as much as possible. At this rate, it won't be long before we run out of food and blood. Plus, we only have one set of clothes, each. We're going to stink, soon.”

“Speak for yourself.” Spike said haughtily, making Xander grin. “I've got a bit more dosh than you. Not much. We'll need a way to keep food and blood fresh - maybe a generator we can hook up to the fridge. But that's gonna cost money. Before you start looking for legitimate work that might put you in the public eye, we should ask the Watcher if he's got any charms or whatnot that can tell if something has magical impressions on it. There's a lot of shite at the lair that we might get a pretty penny for, if we were to sell it. But I'm not touching anything until we've checked it for mojo. Dossing in a sorcerer's lair can be dangerous, if you don't know what's magicked and what's not.”

Xander looked spooked. “What if the spell last night screwed with something? I didn't even think of that, Spike.”

“I did,” Spike said. “While you were moving chairs back to Giles' flat I asked him. He said if we were lucky, a protection spell like that one would supplement whatever protective spells were already on the place, no matter what kind of magic the original sorcerer had used.”

If we were lucky?” Herc asked, his voice rising in alarm. “And if we weren't?”

“If we weren't, it wouldn't do anything at all.” Spike shrugged. He'd had a feeling Xander would get a bee in his bonnet over that one, that's why he hadn't mentioned it to him.

“Why didn't you tell me?”

“White magic works on intent, Herc. If you were convinced the spell wouldn't have any effect, it might not have, simply because you thought it wouldn't. And you were already nervous about it. So I figured it was best not to mention it until after the fact.” He didn't like defending his decisions, but he could see Herc wasn't happy. Finally he relented and pressed the point. “Besides, you did it just right. We both felt it, didn't we? So there was nothing to worry about, was there?”

Xander turned away from Spike, frowning heavily. Spike felt like he'd done something wrong, but he didn't think he'd do anything differently if he were to do it again. It was the right call, he was sure of that. He didn't like the look on Xander's face, though. They'd got along incredibly well since he'd taken on training Xander. He hated to lose that sense of trust.

“Look, Spike.” Xander turned, stopping Spike on the empty sidewalk. They were in the suburbs, and the streets were quiet, a dog barking in the distance, and someone's mother calling them in for dinner the only sounds to be heard. “I see your point about the spell, but if we're going to be working together, we have to agree not to keep secrets. It's my life on the line, here, too. I need to know all the facts. If I can't trust you to give them to me, then I might as well stay with Giles.”

Part of Spike wanted that, wanted to protect Xander, and keep him as far from harm as possible. But who would have Xander's back if he wasn't around? They couldn't count on this universe's Giles to have Xander's best interests at heart, and the dark slayer was too far under his control to rely on. Besides, who was to say Xander would be able to complete his quest if Spike kept trying to shelter him? No, Spike would have to put his trust in Xander.

He nodded. “Alright, Herc. No more secrets.”

Xander nodded. “Okay, then.” His solemn mood disappeared in a flash, and he bounced on his toes, his eyes alight with mischief. “Hey, Spike. You think we can convince Giles to order pizza? My stomach is growling like crazy already, and I figure if he's just feeding one Slayer, instead of a Slayer and her whole set of Scoobies, he has to have saved up some money, don't you think?”

“Are you kidding, Herc? Rupert's from money, I'm sure of it. He's been unemployed for over a year, and has he ever wanted for anything in all that time? It's got to be coming from somewhere, right?”

They set off down the street again, Spike stepping lively to keep up with the hyper hero speeding down the block in quest of a good pizza.

“Oh, wow. I never thought of that! Giles is rich! This is so cool! Maybe we can get him to order in some blood for you. And french fries. I want fries. And chocolate ice cream for desert. I'm starving!”

Bloody hell, that boy was out of control. He was looking forward to letting Xander loose on the Watcher. That's what the berk got for not trusting a fine, upstanding gent like Spike. Maybe if Rupert begged hard enough, he'd take Herc outside for some sparing later. They hadn't trained in a couple of days, that ought to siphon off some of that energy of his. Depended on how nicely the Watcher begged, though. Spike grinned. After all, he was an evil bastard, now wasn't he?

Chapter Text

“Hey Kendra! How's it going?”

Xander realized he was bouncing on his toes again, and made a conscious effort to calm himself down. Spike had already smacked him down over that twice on the walk over, but he couldn't help it if he was in such a good mood. It was definitely better than last night's 'slit a wrist' mood. He'd moped all the way to the lair. The protection spell had energized him for a while, but that rush had deserted him after about fifteen minutes, and he'd barely had the energy to finish his sandwich and sort out a bed for the night. The bare mattress had been dusty as hell, but Spike had helped him flip it over, and he'd crashed before he could even say goodnight.

He'd woken up this afternoon in a great mood, though. Even having to pee behind a tree hadn't dampened his enthusiasm. And seeing Kendra jump up as they arrived, happy to see them, just made his day. Well, she was happy to see Xander, at least. He ignored the frown she aimed at Spike. That's the way everyone acted when they first met Spike. Sooner or later she'd realize he wasn't the bastard everyone assumed he was. Okay, maybe he was a bastard, but he could be funny when he wanted to, you could trust him to keep a level head when things went pear-shaped, and he could kick ass like nobody's business. She'd come around sooner or later.

“Hey, are we setting up out here in the courtyard again?” Xander asked, rubbing his ass. “Cause I have to tell you, the edge of that fountain is uncomfortable! I want a real chair tonight.”

She grinned at him bashfully. “No. We're going inside.” She turned to Spike, and Xander blinked in surprise as she straightened, her stance hardening as she turned into The Slayer right before his eyes. “I will be watching you, vampire. At the first hint of duplicity, you will be nothing but dust on my Watcher's carpet. Is that clear?”

Spike nodded solemnly, taking her threat seriously. “Perfectly.”

She tilted her head in his direction, then gestured them to go before her, and Xander bounced on his toes again. Spike was trying super hard not to be obnoxious, so go Spike!

“Cool!” Xander headed inside, opening the door without knocking before realizing he should probably have been politer, but hey, it was Giles' apartment, they never knocked, it hadn't even occurred to him to do so until he remembered this wasn't his Giles. Speaking of - Giles was in his tiny little kitchen making tea, and Xander crossed to the bar that separated the living room from the kitchen. “Hey, what's up, G-man?”

The look on Giles' face was funny, but it hurt at the same time. He probably hadn't had anyone call him G-man for a whole year now, and he looked like he was torn between yelling at Xander not to call him that, and getting all misty-eyed. In Xander's experience, a misty-eyed Englishman was an embarrassed Englishman, and so he did the only thing he could think of to give Giles a second to recover. He grabbed a couple of cookies off the plate Giles was busy filling.

“Oh, Jaffa Cakes! These are great! Spongy and orangy and chocolaty all at once.” He turned to Spike, who had walked up next to him and was eying Giles with a smirk. “You English-types are so weird.” That got Spike's attention. “These are cookies, not cakes. Can't you get anything right?”

Spike swiped one right out of Xander's hand. “The language was ours before you lot could even speak more than a few grunts. If we say they're cakes, they're cakes.”

He got the idea that Spike had let himself be distracted from Giles' mistiness, but that was fine. He was more than likely going to go out of his way to not annoy them too much today, simply because he and Xander were going to need their help getting back home. But then, that never stopped Spike before, so maybe he had an ulterior motive. He'd have to keep his eyes open for any sneakiness on Spike's part. Like that would be any different from any other time Spike was around? Maybe not. But still. He'd be vigilant. If he could remember, that was. He'd been kind of flighty tonight, with his thoughts popping back and forth all over the place, so his ability to keep track of things was pretty hit or miss.

“Oh, yes, please, Xander, help yourself to a biscuit.” Giles introduced a third name into the mock argument with a smile, and Xander laughed.

“You English guys with your biscuits and scones and cakes. I don't care what you say: cookies are cookies, and I hope you've got more than cookies in mind for tonight, Giles, 'cause I'm starving. I mean,” he took another bite but kept talking right through it, “I'm a growing boy, you know? And now that I'm a hero and all, I have to keep up my strength, right?”

He finished off his cookie and looked for more, but Giles had the plate in his hands and was carrying it over toward the coffee table. He followed the plate the way he used to when he and Jessie and Willow were kids and Willow's mom had made them sit at the table before they could eat her fresh baked chocolate-chip cookies. Mmmm...he wondered if Giles had any chocolate-chip cookies?

“What do you mean, Xander?”

Giles set the plate down, and Xander plopped down onto the sofa directly in front of it, grabbing another cookie. “Hey, you've got chocolate-chip, just what I was thinking of!” They were still good, even if they weren't homemade.

Kendra set the tea tray down on the table, and Xander thought she was going to sit down next to him, but then Spike slid onto the couch beside him and reached for another Jaffa Cake, and she sat down on the armchair to the side, instead.

“What do you mean, Xander, about being a hero now?” Giles seemed a little annoyed, but then, he usually sounded that way when Xander was around.

“I'm all super-powered up, Giles. Didn't we mention that yesterday?” He could have sworn they'd said something about it.

“No. I'm quite certain I would have remembered something like that, Xander. What exactly does 'all super-powered up' mean?”

Spike chuckled, and Xander grinned at him. He had a feeling he was being laughed at, but he didn't care, he was in too good of a mood. “Well, this sorcerer threw this sparkly, green gunk on me and gave me super-strength, and I found Buddy, and he's like my super-armor Companion. Spike thinks this trip is my Hero's Quest, but I don't know what I'm supposed to be questing for, and if I'm supposed to save the heroine from the dragon then they chose the wrong heroine, because Kendra already kicks butt and takes names. I can't imagine what she needs me for. I mean, I saw her and Buffy sparring, and they could both take me down any day of the mmmmmph.”

Spike's hand was suddenly covering his mouth, and he figured that meant he was supposed to stop talking now. So he did. He held up his hands in surrender, and mimed turning a key in a lock next to his mouth. Giles was staring at him in shock, and so was Kendra, so maybe he should have broken the news more subtly, but hey, he couldn't help it if he was in a super-hyper mood. Super-hyper – the thought made him want to giggle, but as a super-man, he ought to be too dignified for that, so he fought back the impulse.

“Right. Maybe we should start at the beginning.”

Spike pulled his hand away, and Xander risked a quiet “Sorry.”

Spike gave him the evil eyebrow of doom, and Xander zipped his mouth closed and sat back, letting Spike know it was all his show. Spike leaned forward and made himself a 'cuppa', as he always called it, while he spoke.

“We took on this Plautect sorcerer a week ago who was sacrificing kids for some reason or other. While we were trying to sneak up on him in his lair, the whelp here spotted this chainmail shirt. He said he was drawn to it, like it was calling him or something, and he was wearing it before he even knew it. The problem was once he had it on, he couldn't get it back off again.”

Giles glanced reproachfully at Xander when Spike got to the part about Buddy not coming back off again. Xander sighed, because he hated that look on Giles' face; the look that said that Giles expected nothing more than for Xander to screw up royally.

Xander looked over at Kendra and she smiled at him, a sad smile that said she understood, and he realized that she probably did understand. She knew him – or at least this world's Xander, pretty well, and okay, so maybe that meant that this world's Xander had been pretty much of a screw up, too, but at least he wasn't alone. He grinned at her, his mood buoyed by her support, and she blushed at him, ducking her head.

He'd sort of expected Buddy to shake his fist at Xander over calling himself a screw up, but what he was feeling was more like embarrassment. Come to think of it, it was Buddy's fault, with the whole calling his name and making him put Buddy on, so he wasn't likely to blame that on Xander, now was he? Oh, he now had blackmail material for the next time Buddy shook his finger at Xander!

“The shirt wasn't doing the berk harm from what anyone could see,” Spike continued, “and time was short, so we left it on him and went ahead and crashed the Plautect's party. They're pretty sure the sorcerer was trying to chant up some sort of strengthening potion so he could fight me and the Slayer as equals, but before he could drink it, the witches killed off all his minions and he had to run. Me and the Slayer tackled him, and the green, fizzy shite landed all over Xander here and soaked into his skin before they could get it off him.”

Both Giles and Kendra were hanging on Spike's every word by now, so when he stopped, casually picking up his cup of tea, they both frowned as they realized he wasn't going to say anything else. Xander rolled his eyes. Dramatic much?

“But...what happened?” Kendra broke the silence.

Spike smirked as he set his cup down. Xander got the idea he hadn't planned on finishing the tale until someone asked. “Well, now he's strong as a bull, and he heals like a vamp. He's still learning how to deal with his strength, but I've been training him for a week now, and he's learning faster than any human I've ever seen.”

“Extraordinary.” Giles poured a cup, offered it to Kendra, then offered one to Xander.

Xander beamed at him. “Thanks, G-man!”

Giles sighed as he poured his own tea. “Xander,” he said absentmindedly, “How many times do I have to ask you not to call me that?” He totally ignored Kendra, who was giggling at him. “And what about this chainmail shirt? Are you wearing it now?”

“Who, Buddy?” He rubbed his hand over his stomach, a casual gesture he didn't realize he was doing until it was done. “Oh, yeah, he doesn't like it if I leave the house without him.”

“He?” Giles' eyes were alight with curiosity now. Xander sighed. They'd already been through this once.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Spike complained. “Not again.” He pointed his finger at Giles. “Whatever you do, don't go near him with bolt-cutters. Hercules, here, will not be amused.”

“What?” Giles sputtered. “Why I'd never do anything of the sort.”

Xander couldn't help but laugh at that.

“Think twice before you speak, Rupert,” Spike warned. “There's one of you in our dimension as well, you know. We know what you're capable of.”

Giles looked like he was about to argue with Spike, but thought better of it, turning to Xander. “You're wearing the shirt, I take it?”

“You called it 'he.' It has a personality?” Kendra chimed in.

Xander tried to answer both questions at once, nodding in both directions and feeling like a loon, as Spike would say. “Oh, I can take him off now. But he doesn't like me going outside without him. His name is Buddy,” he told Kendra, “and he's got more than a personality. Giles says he's got a 'near human intelligence.' He's very protective of me. He doesn't like it if I pick on myself, either, so I have to remember to be positive around him, or he'll remind me.”

“May I see this shirt?”

“Oh, sure!” Xander hopped to his feet, pulling off his shirt and throwing it at the couch behind him. He grinned when it hit Spike directly in the chest.

“Oi, watch it!”

Xander scooted around the coffee table to show off Buddy. He flexed his muscles so they could see the way the copper-gold links shimmered in the light. Kendra took a deep breath, and he grinned at her. Buddy was awfully pretty for a guy. Xander could feel his amusement at that thought, and he noticed that Buddy didn't disagree. How about that – his Companion was vain. He sniggered at that thought – Buddy was a vain chain - mail.

Both Kendra and Giles were circling him, reaching out and touching Buddy's links, trying to get their fingers underneath and failing, of course. Only Xander could convince Buddy to loosen up.

“And you say the shirt is aware?”

“Oh, yeah,” Xander nodded at Giles.

“According to the research, the people who made the shirt were peaceable sorts who enchanted them to give them sentience. The shirts search out Heroes of 'pure heart' and become their Companions – that's spelled with a capital C, of course.”

Spike had stretched out, one arm slung over the back of the couch and his feet up on the end of the coffee table. He was acting all smug and superior, but then it probably wasn't often that he got to tell a Watcher-type like Giles what was what. Since Xander readily admitted that he often turned off his ears while Giles was talking, Spike was, at the moment, the expert on the subject. Trust him to make the most of it.

Giles was staring at Spike – okay, maybe he was staring right through Spike, because he didn't even mention Spike's muddy boots on his coffee table. “This is sounding very familiar. Do you remember the name of the demons responsible for the shirts?”

“Demons?” Kendra didn't seem to like that idea.

“Yeah, but they're good demons,” Xander rushed to defend them.

“The Falenge, I believe. I'd heard of them, but never seen any. Kind of a quiet people, from what I hear, but dimension hoppers, like the Plautect. We figured that's how the sorcerer found the shirt. He was obviously studying it. We're pretty sure he couldn't get it to work for him, since it was sitting on a dresser's dummy in his lab. Should have seen the look on his face when he saw Herc wearing the thing.”

“It was pretty funny,” Xander laughed, “in a heart-pounding, oh-my-god-this-sorcerer-is-going-to-kill-me-for-stealing-his-chainmail kind of way.”

Spike shrugged. “I laughed.”

“You would. You weren't wearing his shirt!”

“This does sound familiar, Giles,” Kendra said. “Maybe we read about it in the Dimensional Compendium?”

Giles agreed. “Or perhaps Newleuig's 'Dimensional Journeys'.”

Kendra nodded. “The latter volumes, of course, when he's describing some of the more peaceable dimensions he visited during his travels.”

“Wow, Kendra. Way to show up the rest of the class.” Xander had almost forgotten exactly how much of the Watcher's lore Kendra had studied in her childhood. He guessed if you were raised by your Watcher, you learned a lot about slaying. But remembering his first introduction to her, and her awkward, stumbling reactions to talking to a boy, he guessed maybe training that intensive had its downsides.

Giles and Kendra were busy snatching volumes off various shelves and thumbing through them before shaking their heads, putting them back and grabbing different ones, so Xander snagged his shirt and pulled it back on.

Spike was practically pouting. “What? The show's over? It was just getting interesting!”

“Ha, ha.” Xander kicked Spike's boots off the coffee table, since Giles was too busy being research-guy to notice. Those feet were far too close to what was left of the cookies. Spike reached over and grabbed the last two Jaffa Cakes before Xander could get to them.

“Hey!”

Spike smirked at him.

“Here we are!” Giles crowed. Kendra crowded up close to read over his shoulder.

“But this doesn't make any sense, Giles!”

“No, it doesn't.”

He glanced back at Xander and Spike, who were sitting side by side again on the couch while Xander tried to figure out a way to snatch one of those cookies. Spike didn't need two of them, after all.

“Are you sure your Watcher said the Falenge?”

Spike bristled. “Not my Watcher! But that's the name, alright. Like I said, I'd heard of them before. Peace-loving sorts that don't get out of their own dimension that much. I'm surprised you're not finding anything on them.”

“Oh, we found them.” Kendra frowned at Spike. “But your information doesn't match up with ours.”

“Yes. It seems that they don't make armor.” Giles stared at the two of them, as if he could read the answer he was looking for on their faces. “They make sentient swords.”

“Whoa, nelly!” Xander jumped in his seat as a sudden burst of excitement rushed through his body, leaving him flushed and panting. Everyone stared at him in shock, and he shrugged his shoulders self-consciously. “Sorry. I just got a massive hit of agreement from Buddy.”

“Oh, really?” Giles was definitely interested, but fortunately, was too polite to ask what that meant.

Spike, as usual, had no truck with politeness. Laughing at Xander's embarrassment, he leaned in close, his eyes sparkling with amusement. “So tell me, Herc. Exactly what does that feel like?”

Xander blushed and squirmed away from him. “None of your business, Mr. Busy Body.”

Kendra laughed out loud, a bark of pure pleasure, which she promptly hid by slapping her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide with surprise at her slip.

Giles frowned at her in surprise, and turned back to Xander. “So your shirt agrees that the Falenge make swords, not armor shirts?”

“In this dimension, they do.” Xander assured him. He hoped Giles wouldn't ask much more, but he doubted that was likely.

“Exactly how do you know that from one 'hit' of agreement? How exactly does he communicate with you?”

Xander sighed. He should have placed a bet on Giles not being able to stop asking questions. He'd be richer now, instead of just frustrated. “No, he doesn't speak in words at all.” He paused, trying to sort it out in his head, but it wasn't easy for him to understand, let alone describe to someone else.

“It's like he sends me impressions. They aren't like pictures or anything, more like feelings. Disappointment, excitement, concern, pride, joy – but it's not that simple, either. Sorry, Giles – I don't know how to describe it, but I can tell when I've got it right. The Falenge make swords in this dimension, but in mine...” he included Spike with a nod of his head, “...ours, they make chainmail shirts.”

“So that's your Quest, then?” Spike asked him. “You're here to find your sword-slash-Companion?”

“But he already has a Companion.” protested Kendra.

Xander shrugged. “That part is kind of fuzzy. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'll find a sword here, but I'm not sure if that's all there is to my Quest.” He bit his lip, trying to sort out the mess of feelings, not sure if they were his, or his Companion's. It felt good to have some sort of direction, though, so he decided to focus on that, and worry about the rest later.

“Well, it's a start, anyroad.” Spike suddenly threw up his hands. “Ah, bloody hell!”

“What?”

“That means I have to teach you how to use a sword. I'll be lucky if you don't cut your arm off. Or mine!”

Just the thought of a sword made Xander nervous. He'd never done well with any of the bladed weapons, except maybe an axe. He liked axes.

Giles nodded. “I have a few practice swords you could borrow. Is there plenty of room for sparring in the place you're staying?”

“Yeah, it's big enough, but it's a long walk there and back, and dangerous, too.” Spike noted. “We could use a vehicle.”

“Well, you're not getting mine.” Giles retorted, snippily.

“That pitiful excuse for a car? Not likely. If we had some sort of charm or enchanted gadget that could tell if something had dangerous magicks on it, we could probably afford our own.”

Xander was shocked by that statement. “We could?”

“There's a good chance the ones who lived at the lair left with no notice; there are closets filled with dusty clothes, and food that rotted to solid lumps years ago in the kitchens. I found a couple of safes last night that I could get into if I knew whether they had curses or spells or whatnot on them.”

“You know how to break into safes?” Xander didn't know why he was surprised at that. He wondered if he could get Spike to teach him how. Not that he'd use the knowledge for nefarious purposes or anything, but it would be cool to know how.

“They may be empty.” Giles pointed out. “There's no way of telling, at this point, if the previous tenants had enough warning to take their valuables with them.”

“Still worth trying, as long as I knew I was safe from magical explosions and the like. Even if they are empty, we could probably get a pretty penny for some of the nicknacks lying around. Enough, at least, to feed Hercules, so he wouldn't need to scarf down all your cakes.”

“You're hungry?” Kendra jumped on that. “Giles!”

Giles sighed heavily. “Why don't you order a pizza or two, Kendra. I'm sure we could all eat something.”

“And blood! Spike needs blood, too!” Xander was quick to mention. He didn't want them forgetting about Spike.

Giles looked like he'd just swallowed a bug. It was hard for Xander not to laugh, but he held his breath instead, biting his lip to keep from saying anything that would piss Giles off. He tried the puppy-dog eyes, but he was right, their effect on Giles was minimal; he merely cocked one eyebrow at Xander. Kendra didn't seem too happy, either, but she didn't say anything, merely stood there with her arms crossed over her chest, so Xander decided not to push it.

Finally, Giles capitulated, folding down into his chair with a sigh. “Perhaps you could go by the butcher's while we're waiting for pizza, Spike. There are several shops that stay open late, I believe.”

“Yeah, alright.” Spike winked at Xander, giving lie to his reluctant tone.

“But you'll need to find a way to supply your own blood in the future.” Giles had his glasses in his hand, so he probably didn't see Spike's subtle grin.

“There's a magic shop in town that should have the tools you'll need to divine the presence of a spell. The young woman who works in the afternoons has been particularly helpful in the past. I would suggest that you get there when she's about, she's much more knowledgeable than the rather useless owner.”

“I guess that will be me, then, huh? Seeing as Spike can't get around in the day and all.” Xander followed Giles back to his desk, snatching one of Spike's forgotten Cakes right out of his hand as he passed by.

“Oi! I was going to eat that!”

“I left you one.” Xander teased as he bit into his pilfered cookie. “If you're a good little vampire, maybe Giles will give you more for dessert.”

Spike stood and sauntered over to the desk. “Oh, don't worry, pet. I can be very, very good if the price is right.”

Xander found himself staring at Spike, unable to take his eyes off the vampire as he licked melted chocolate from the Jaffa Cakes off one fingertip. It was a disturbing sight, but he couldn't pull his eyes away until he heard Giles clearing his throat. Glancing over, he realized that he hadn't been the only one spellbound by the sight. Giles' face was all flushed and Kendra stood next to the desk, the forgotten phone dangling from her hand. Xander felt an unexplainable twinge deep in his stomach. He didn't like the way either of them were looking at Spike.

Giles recovered first, handing a couple of folded bills to Spike, who tucked them into his jeans without even checking them. “That should be enough for your blood.” He turned to Xander. “While he's gone, I'd like to ask you a few more questions about this 'quest' of yours.”

Damn. He'd hoped the Q & A session was over for the night. “But I was going to go with Spike...”

“No worries, Herc.” Spike interrupted. “I'll be back in a tick.” Spike winked at Kendra, who gasped in surprise, and was out the door before Xander could come up with a good excuse to go with him. That vampire really was evil.

Chapter Text

Xander paused outside the Magic Box, looking in through the window. He'd been inside a few times with Willow, looking for herbs and crystals and whatever other kind of magical paraphernalia she needed at the time, but he didn't remember that much about it. He'd liked this place better than that magic shop she'd dragged him to in high school – what was it called? Dragon's Cove, or something like that. He was pretty sure that one had closed after Angelus killed the proprietor, way back when. Or was that Dru? Like it mattered. One insane vampire was much like the other, in Xander's book.

It seemed strange to him that this shop was still around after so many owners had died, but that hadn't really seemed to slow prospective buyers down. Someone always seemed willing to buy it, as soon as the old owner dropped dead. He wondered if the guy behind the register was the most recent owner – the guy Giles had warned him about. Xander was supposed to find the girl who worked here in the afternoons, but all he could see was that guy ringing up a sale to a rather elderly woman with blueish gray hair. What was up with that hair color? He never understood how little, old ladies got blue hair.

Whatever. He had a job to do, despite the fact that he'd rather stand here and enjoy the afternoon sun. He didn't get out in the sun as much these days, what with the whole vampire schedule he'd been keeping for the last week or two. The heat felt good. And since he wasn't bouncing maniacally, the way he'd done all yesterday, he could actually enjoy the day.

Those mood swings worried him, although he tried to hide it. Giles had suggested that they might be caused by a chemical imbalance, due to the fact that the Plautect sorcerer's potion had been intended for a demon, not a human. He had promised to look into it for Xander. Now that he knew what kind of demon it was intended for, there might be a way to balance out Xander's hormones and stop the wild fluctuations in his moods.

Poor Spike had been ready to club him into unconsciousness by the time they got back to the lair last night. He'd sparred with both Spike and Kendra yesterday, but even that hadn't been enough to wear him down. He'd impressed Giles, though, and that was always an exciting thing to do. It didn't happen that often, but yesterday, he had definitely been pleasantly surprised by Xander's fighting ability. And Kendra had loosened up enough to jokingly call him Hercules, which had both Spike and Xander laughing out loud.

He wished he could see Spike and Kendra spar, but without the potion and Buddy to keep the damage minimal, Spike would suffer blinding headaches every time he hit her, so that wasn't likely to happen. It cheered Xander to think that maybe Giles was losing that stick up his ass. He'd been shocked at the strength of Spike's pain when he'd accidentally knocked Xander over a planter and into a wall. Buddy hadn't been able to help shield him from the blow, and it had hurt enough for the chip to kick in hard. He thought that maybe Giles hadn't really believed in Spike's chip before that, but the way Spike had curled in on himself, the agony of the chip bringing tears to his eyes as he fought not to cry out, had made a profound impact on Giles.

Hopefully, now Giles would feel less uncomfortable about having Spike in his home. He'd had a lot of questions about the Initiative after that. He'd even suggested that Kendra ask around about soldiers or unusual happenings underground at UC Sunnydale while she was out on patrol. It did seem strange that there had been no indication at all of a military presence in this world, when it had played such a large part in Xander and Spike's universe this last year. Maybe he'd have an opportunity to ask here at the Magic Box, since he was here, anyway.

He held the door open for the little, old lady with blue hair, who sniffed condescendingly in his direction as she left. Well that was rude! He'd done his best to clean up before he left, but he was sure that after three days wearing them, his clothes weren't the freshest. He needed to get a shower hooked up to hot water soon, too. He didn't think he could handle a cold shower. Maybe he could get Giles to volunteer his. Although, since Kendra now lived in Giles' guestroom, she might object. Not likely, though – he really was getting ripe. If he was going to continue hanging out at Giles' apartment, they might gladly offer him a shower.

Too bad he wasn't any good at the spell casting thing – he was sure he could find a spell to keep him clean here. Xander looked around at the shelves of books and figurines and bottles of pre-made potions, displays of crystals and rocks and glass sculptures, and odd, unusually shaped boxes with strange labels. He felt totally out of place here, but the scent of patchouli incense helped a little, it reminded him of Willow. He missed her a lot. It would have been nice if she had survived in this strange new version of Sunnydale. It would have made it easier being stuck here.

“Can I help you find something?” The voice was soft and hesitant, but Xander recognized it instantly. He turned quickly to face her, her name springing to his lips in surprise.

“Tara!”

Her large, beautiful eyes opened wide in shock and she took a step back from him, stumbling in her haste. “D-d-do I know you?”

Xander did his best to school his surprise, but it was difficult to get rid of the broad smile that had lit his face as soon as he heard her voice. “I'm sorry! I didn't mean to freak you out. I just – I mean...well, I thought...” He shook his head to clear it. “I mean Giles said to find the girl who works here in the afternoons, and I guessed that was you since you asked if you could help me, and...” He rambled to a stop, not sure if there was anything he could say to make this okay.

“Y-y-you mean Mr. Giles? He said to look for me?” She was looking calmer now, so that was a good thing. Xander was pretty sure that shocking the crap out of her was not a good introduction.

“Yeah. Giles said that I should look for you, 'cause the guy who owns the shop...”

“Is Mr. Bogarty, who's standing right behind you!” She exclaimed loudly, interrupting what could have been a major faux pas on Xander's part. Xander spun around to face Mr. Bogarty, who was a weaselly looking guy in his sixties, with a funny-looking half-ring of hair around his head like a friar or priest or something, and beady, little eyes.

“Mr. Bogarty, this is...” Tara paused, and Xander jumped in.

“Xander Harris. Nice to meet you, Mr. Bogarty.” He shook the man's slightly clammy hand. “I was just telling your employee what a great shop you have.” Xander said, turning to face Tara, so Mr. Bogarty couldn't see him wiping his hand on his thigh. “A friend of mine sent me here, he said you probably had just what I was looking for and I think he's going to be right – you have a great selection.”

Mr. Bogarty smiled, baring all his teeth in the process. “Good. Thank you, I'm glad you think so.” He suddenly switched his focus, his smile disappearing as he dismissed Xander in less than a blink. “Tara, I have a customer here who has questions about Skunk Cabbage root, and since you're so knowledgeable about the herbs and potions, I thought perhaps you could help her and I could take care of Mr....” he fumbled about for the name he'd just been given, and Tara helpfully supplied it.

“Harris. Yes, sir.” She gave Xander an apologetic smile and stepped over to the herbal section where the woman in question snagged her arm and started asking questions in a rapid-fire manner.

Mr. Bogarty smiled again, and Xander decided his teeth were too even and perfect to be real. They had to be dentures. “Now, Mr. Harris, what can I help you with?”

Fifteen minutes later, Xander announced that he needed time to decide what he wanted from the options presented to him, and left an annoyed Mr. Bogarty in the charms and prepared spells aisle while he wandered over to have a seat at the table in the middle of the floor. He set his basket down, and took out the various items Mr. Bogarty had stuck in it, arranging them on the table, determined that he wasn't making a decision until Tara could give him her opinion. That might take a while, but he would wait. He could hear her still talking to that same woman, in the aisle behind him.

“What about Guduchi ? I was told that a tincture of that would be a good blood purifier.”

“Yes, it is. But you have to be careful with it. It's a strange and bitter herb, and can be toxic if taken in the wrong dosage.”

He closed his eyes, listening to Tara's soft voice as she explained the uses of various herbs. Willow had told him that she was very knowledgeable about such things, but he'd never really thought that much about it. He'd taken them both for granted back home. They knew more about magic and herbs than he knew about everything he'd studied back in high school, all together . And they considered themselves amateurs – students with a long way, and years to go, before they could call themselves professionals. He missed them both. Wills had been his best friend for a long time, but Tara had slipped in almost unnoticed, making herself indispensable to him while his back was turned.

Willow had always seemed like a bright, flickering flame, but Tara shone with a golden glow that calmed and quieted like the steadiest of candles, calling you home. That was the problem, though. He wasn't sure he knew where home was, it felt so very far away. He told himself to stop being a baby, he and Spike had a job to do here, and when they were through, they would find a way home. He could feel Buddy's agreement. Buddy didn't have a single doubt that they'd get back to their own world. But he'd never been this far away from home, and he hadn't even left Sunnydale.

“Lost.” Xander opened his eyes, turning his head to see Tara seated beside him, her arms leaning on the tabletop as she smiled at him, sadly. “You're very far from home.”

“I am!” he replied, surprised. “How did you know?”

“I can see it in your aura.” She blushed, her head falling forward until her face was covered by the fall of her hair. “Sorry. I know I shouldn't l-l-look without asking; a person's aura is a very p-private thing, but some things come through to me w-without my even trying.”

“That's right. I forgot that you – I mean, I forget about auras sometimes.” He kept slipping around Tara. It was easy for him to forget that she didn't know him in this dimension. He searched to come up with something to distract her. “Crazy things, auras. You never know what they'll show you, do you?”

“Don't w-w-worry.” She raised her head, looking him in the eye. “I won't look.”

“It's okay. Really.” He paused, hesitating to say it, but despite the fact that he'd never met this version of her, he felt like her knew her, anyway. “I trust you.”

“You know me, don't you?” she asked quietly.

He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He had no idea what to say.

“I thought you did, from the v-very beginning. I just can't tell how.”

Xander laughed. “I'm having trouble with that one myself.”

She smiled at him. “You'll figure it out,” she said shyly. “I trust you, too.”

“Yeah?” He grinned at her. “Well, when I do figure it out, you'll be the first to know.”

“Good, because I can't wait to find out.” She brushed her hands on her skirt, and picked up one of the talismans Xander had spread out across the table. “Now, let's see what Mr. Bogarty picked out for you.”

When he left the store, Xander practically hopped down the street, and this time his good mood didn't come from some strange chemical imbalance. He'd just spent an hour with one of his favorite witchy women, and Tara's gentle charm had gone a long way toward calming down his panic at this whole, weird ride. Between the two of them, he and Spike could do this. They could conquer this dimension – save the princess, find the sword and slay the dragon. And maybe, if they were lucky, they could leave this place a bit better off, when they went home.

Chapter Text

“So, anything new on the Initiative front?” Xander sat down next to Kendra on the edge of a fountain, looking around at the courtyard they'd fought in just days ago.

He wasn't sure why talking to Kendra felt so awkward, but it probably had something to do with his concern about upsetting her over the loss of her Xander. His looking, and more than likely acting, exactly like her lost love had to be hard on her. He wasn't sure what he should do about that, though. Ignoring it wouldn't help any, but neither would trying to be all understanding and sympathetic guy.

He'd never been in her position. He'd never lost someone he loved to a terrible tragedy. Well, that wasn't true. He'd lost Jessie, and that had been a hard loss to bear. But he'd never looked just like the lover of someone who'd lost that someone in a tragedy, so he had absolutely no clues how to behave around her. The only thing he could think of was to simply be himself. It was the only thing he really knew how to do anyway, so he figured that was his best bet.

“Nothing.” Kendra shook her head, her small, gold hoop earrings gleaming softly in the pale light of the moon. “I've asked everywhere I can think of going, without Faith's backup. There are a few rumors of demons fighting soldiers, but they all lead back to Spike, and I can't get anyone to say anything more. I'd go to Willy's if I could, but Giles says...”

She shrugged. Her soft, lilting accent made him want to smile, but he worried about her words. 'Giles says.' That phrase came out of her mouth altogether too often, in his opinion.

“I don't think they know anything more.” Kendra went on. “They're simple snitches and homeless people who live on the edges of society and are aware of the darker side of Sunnydale. None of them would know much about Spike. He cuts a wide swath through town every time he comes through, but he's secretive, despite all his flash and bravado. He's different from your Spike.”

This was the most he'd gotten her to say since he'd gotten here, but then, it was the first time he'd been alone with her since then. Being around Giles seemed to suck all the energy and excitement right out of Kendra. She smiled and occasionally talked, especially about her schooling and her calling, but she seemed subdued and always deferred to Giles. She never talked back, or offered a different opinion on anything when Giles was around. He doubted very much that this world's Xander had let her hide herself this way. Maybe that was what he needed to do. Draw her out, let her personality shine through and help her be her own self. Her own slayer self.

Like Buffy. Or no, not like Buffy. Kendra wasn't Buffy, and he didn't want her to try to be something she wasn't. Someone she wasn't. But at the same time, she didn't need to be a Giles clone, either. He wondered if she'd been this way with her first Watcher. Xander had asked what happened to him, and he was glad Kendra'd been out of the room at the time. Sam Zabuto had saved Kendra's life by jumping between Kendra and Drusilla, as the vampire was thralling her. She slit the throat of Zabuto instead of Kendra, and she'd left Kendra crumpled on the floor next to the body of her Watcher.

Could Xander say, just this once, that the Hellmouth had taken a big, stinky, old dump on this girl? He'd always thought he had the worst luck in the world, but he had nothing on Kendra. The Watcher who'd raised her had died to save her life. She'd watched as Buffy died, unable to stop Spike from draining her. Then she'd watched her own boyfriend die, crushed by a giant snake! Okay, maybe Slayers were usually surrounded by pain and death, but jeez! This girl had suffered more tragedy in one year's time than most people did in their entire lives.

He wanted to swaddle her in bubble wrap, and make sure nothing bad happened to her ever again. But he couldn't do that. She was a Slayer. She had a sacred duty, and there was no way she'd allow others to protect her from that. He got the idea that maybe all Giles' distance from Kendra, and the way he pushed her and expected nothing but perfection from her, was Giles' very Watchery way of trying to wrap her in cotton. He was doing what he thought she needed. After all, his last Slayer had died, so giving Buffy the room to be herself had obviously failed as a strategy. Maybe he thought that following the Watcher's Code was going to make it easier for this one to survive. But it had never worked well in the past.

Xander's Buffy had defied every Watcher's Rule, and as a veteran of four years on the Hellmouth, she'd lived longer than almost any other Slayer ever. Xander knew she'd gotten things right, and he was determined to make sure that Kendra had the same advantages as Buffy before he left this world, even if he had to go behind Giles' back to give them to her.

That brought something to mind. “Where is Faith, by the way?”

“Faith?”

She looked at Xander in surprise, as if she was uncomfortable with the question. Then he remembered Spike's little declaration about Xander and Faith's one night stand. Right. No wonder why she was uncomfortable.

“She's in Canada. Toronto. There was a prophesy...”

Xander rolled his eyes. “There's always a prophesy.”

Kendra laughed, which was what he'd been aiming for, so that was of the good.

“So does she do all the Slayerly traveling jobs, or do you get off the Hellmouth from time to time, too?”

“I go, sometimes.” Kendra shrugged. “It depends on who is best suited for the job at hand.”

“What, Faith does all the breaking and entering, black ops, and rowdy crowd control-type stuff?” It was hard not to be a little bitter, but he tried to hide it as best he could. Faith had done a real number on his self-esteem, and it hadn't been easy getting over that.

Fortunately, a stint in Anya's bed had made a big difference. Yeah, she'd been as direct and demanding as Faith, but she'd also been willing to give him a chance to learn, and prove that he was more than a 'seven minute wonder,' as Faith had put it. And Anya'd never tried to choke him, or push him out of bed. Well, except if he was late for work. She had a very strong work ethic. Or was that a very strong sense of greed? After dating Anya for six months, he sometimes had trouble keeping those two apart.

“Don't judge her. This Faith is not like the one in your universe.” Kendra admonished him. “She came to the Hellmouth as a troubled girl, but she's grown into her duties as a Slayer, and has fought hard to become the best she is capable of.”

Xander was surprised by her adamant defense of Faith. From Giles' comments, he'd gotten the idea that the two didn't get along. “You two are friends?”

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, offering him a sly smile. “You won't be telling that to Giles, now will you?”

Xander grinned at his first glimpse of a Kendra that was willing to break a few rules. “Not a word of it!”

Kendra nodded her approval. “Both Mr. Wyndam-Pryce and Mr. Giles encourage the two of us to not socialize. They think we should keep a distance between us, to help us grow as Slayers, independent of the other.” She sighed. “I think they worry that we'd be devastated over the loss of a friend, if one or the other of us should fall. But I think no matter how devastating the blow, the sweetness of our remembered friendship will help soften it.”

Xander nodded, remembering his own lost friendships. It was easy to get lost in the pain, but the memories of what you'd shared helped you bear the loss. He shook himself out of the melancholy mood that thought brought with it. “So has she shown you how to hot-wire a car, yet? I always wanted to learn how to do that.”

Kendra arched one shapely eyebrow. “Maybe. And perhaps I already knew.”

He grinned at her. “Oh. You're a wild one, aren't you?”

She laughed at him, raising her head high. “I have hidden depths.”

“I bet you do.”

Kendra sighed. “I wish I could learn more to help you with your quest.”

“Yeah, well, that's okay. It's not like this whole Hero gig comes with an instruction manual, or anything. That would come in handy. Something like the Slayer's Handbook, maybe.”

Kendra shook her head. “I studied the Slayer's Handbook until I had it memorized. But when I became a Slayer, one of the first things I realized was that the Handbook wasn't written by a Slayer. There is much crucial information missing, and many important things were glossed over, or hidden and left for you to sort out on your own.”

“Huh. It's not like Slayers have a lot of time to mess with that crap. What they need is the facts laid out in front of them. Maybe you should write a guide to the Handbook or something. 'How to be a Slayer in Ten Easy Lessons'.” He glanced over, a grin on his face. “What do you think? Great title, huh?”

She shrugged at him, glancing at her watch. “It has potential.” She stood, reaching out a hand to Xander. “We should get moving if we are to meet Spike at the rendezvous.”

He grabbed her hand, and let her pull him up. “Oh, 'the rendezvous'. That sounds so much more exciting than the shipping yards.” He paused, then took the jump. It couldn't hurt to try, right? “You know,” he said casually. “We're going to be in that part of town, anyway. We could make a swing over toward Willy's Bar while we're there. Willy's a good source of information. If anyone knows about the Initiative, Willy would.” He glanced over at her, sharing a small, secret smile. “Giles need never know.”

Kendra laughed, shaking her head as she followed him down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. “Oh, temptation! Faith would be very proud of you, right now.”

“Well, there's a sound you don't hear every day.” Spike stepped from between two cars, stopping on the sidewalk fifty feet away from Xander. “A Slayer laughing.”

“Hey, Spike! I thought we were meeting you at 'the rendezvous',” Xander exclaimed. “What happened? Everything all right?”

“Everything's fine, mate.” Spike took a puff off his cigarette, flicking the butt into the street. “We'll go together, then, shall we?”

“Xander.”

He turned to see that Kendra hadn't followed him. She was standing in front of the steps, her eyes flicking between Xander and Spike.

“May I speak with you, please?”

Her words alerted him to trouble, just as Buddy's internal alarm system went off; a shrill warning in his head that danger was closer than he realized. “Sure.” He took two steps back toward Kendra before she began to run in his direction with a look of determination, a stake in her hand.

When Xander glanced behind him, Spike was much closer than before, and wearing his game face. Xander stumbled, realizing that there was no time for Kendra to get to him before Spike would be on him. He turned, pulled out his stake, and braced himself for a fight he could never win. He might be able to slow Spike down long enough for Kendra to get to him, though. That was about his only chance of getting out of this alive.

Suddenly, a black blur shot out from between two buildings and collided with Spike, sending him rolling across the sidewalk and onto the street. Kendra shoved Xander behind her, yelling at him to get up the stairs and into the protected courtyard, but he couldn't do that. Not with two Spikes struggling on the road, snarling and shouting and wrestling for control. Xander had to help his Spike – but first he had to figure out which Spike was his.

Chapter Text

The two vampires wrestled on the road, rolling in and out of the light from the streetlamps; dark and light, and dark again. Panic hit Xander like a punch to the gut when he realized that he couldn't tell them apart. He quickly checked with Buddy, but Buddy hadn't been able to tell friend from foe either, until he felt the malevolence pouring out of Spike as he came up behind Xander in full game face. So Xander stood by helplessly, paralyzed by the fear of hurting the wrong vampire. They snarled and snapped at each other angrily, before one was able to gain the advantage and started slamming the other's head down onto the asphalt, over and over again.

Kendra looked back at Xander. “Which one is which?”

She cringed at the solid crack that sounded like a bone breaking, but neither of them could tell what had made it, or which one had screamed as it happened.

“I was hoping you might be able to tell me,” Xander confessed. “You knew something was wrong before I did.”

He wanted to simply trust his Spike to win the fight, but he knew that the other Spike was probably better fed and healthier than his. Spike had admitted just yesterday that living off pig's blood left him weak, sluggish, and slow to heal. He needed the whole, human blood Xander had found for him the week before, to fight off the worst of the headaches he got from the chip firing during training.

He'd been back on pig's blood since they got here. Neither of them had the money to buy human, not until they sold some of the trinkets they'd unearthed at the lair. That's why Spike had been out this evening, selling off some of the spelled baubles to a collector he knew down near the docks that specialized in that kind of thing.

The Spike on bottom managed to heave the other one off, blood dripping down the back of his head where it had been slammed repeatedly against the asphalt. He straddled the other one and delivered four or five harsh left-handed blows directly to the face, before glancing up briefly at Xander and Kendra.

“Some help would come in handy here, people!”

The other Spike took advantage of his distraction, and pushed him far enough away that he could get one booted foot between them, shoving Spike off to fall onto his back. The Spike recently on bottom lunged at the other, falling flat to the asphalt when that Spike rolled away. He didn't get far enough, though. The other Spike grabbed one arm, hanging on tightly, and before Xander knew it, the two Spikes were rolling around again.

Kendra was staring at the fight with shocked amazement and what looked like undisguised glee. Well, hey. It probably wasn't often she had this kind of entertainment. 'You get your kicks where you can,' Spike had told him earlier in the week when Xander had complained about Spike's daydream of a smack-down, drag-out catfight between Kendra and Faith. Xander smiled grimly. Did someone say karma?

Both Spikes looked exactly the same; the same black jeans and t-shirt, the same bleached blond hair, combat boots and long, black leather duster. One now had blood dripping down the back of his head, and the other had a broken nose, but both of those had happened since the fight began, so either of the two could be Xander's Spike. He was afraid to distract them for fear of endangering his Spike even more, so he just stood there, stake clenched in his fist, praying that his Spike would give Xander a signal, some kind of sign that he was the right one.

He was leaning towards the one with blood in his hair being his Spike; he was definitely getting the worst of the fight, indicating that perhaps he hadn't been feeding as well. He was also the one who had asked them for back up; back up Xander felt too uncomfortable to give, not knowing how much this universe's Spike knew about Xander, or the local Slayers.

Bloody Headed Spike tossed Broke Nose headfirst into the side of a car parked on the other side of the street, and his hard head burst through the fiberglass with a grunt and a loud, crackling crunch.

“Fucking cheap American cars!” Bloody Head complained. He turned back to the two watching the fight. “Why are you just standing there, Harris?”

Xander took a step forward. “How do I know you're my Spike?”

“You can't tell us apart?” His voice was equal parts hurt and disgust at that revelation. His duplicate pulled his head out of the side of the car with a growl, and Spike pointed at him. “Look at that hair!”

Broke Nose Spike stopped his charge to smooth down his hair where the fiberglass had rucked it up. “What's wrong with my hair?”

“You're all...puffed up!” Spike complained.

“I am not!” Spike smoothed his hair back again. “It looks better than yours, all slicked back against your skull like that. You look like a right prat.”

I do?” his opposite responded, “You look like a reject from an Eighties hair band! You do know you're only supposed to use a small amount of that mousse at one time, don't you?”

“As if I'd be seen dead with mousse in my hair!” Xander saw nothing but a blur, but suddenly Broke Nose was right there, grabbing Bloody Headed Spike and tossing him over the hood of the car, onto the sidewalk on the other side. He jumped over the hood after Spike, disappearing behind the car. Xander stepped into the road to follow him, almost positive that Bloody Headed Spike was his. Kendra grabbed his arm.

“Are you sure you know what you're doing, Xander?”

He paused for a second, then shrugged. “No. But I can't sit here and do nothing. Spike needs me.”

“Wait!” Xander stopped to hear her out. “Think of something he'd know, that this universe's Spike wouldn't.”

“What? I should just proclaim a halt to the fight for a little Q & A?”

She raised one elegant eyebrow. “If they can stop to discuss hair styles, they can stop for a simple question.”

She had a point. “Okay. Help me get them apart, and I'll ask my question.”

She nodded. They started across the street toward the sounds of grunts and groans, punches and ripping cloth, and shouts of indignation over hair care products.

Suddenly, Bloody Headed Spike popped up and stood there, staring at them wide-eyed with surprise, as they came to a halt in the middle of the road. His shirt was ripped off one shoulder, his duster slipping down his arm, and he seemed dazed, swaying gently from side to side. Xander's jaw dropped at the sight he made; the pale skin revealed beneath the black t-shirt bore a painful-looking scratch that dripped blood in a line down over one nipple. Xander couldn't stop staring.

“Xander!” Kendra prompted. “Ask your question!”

He shook his head to clear it. Oh, right. “Who is Willow's girl?” he asked carefully, worried that in his damaged state, Spike might misunderstand the question.

Spike blinked, focusing on Xander. “Who, you mean Glinda?” He opened his mouth to say something else, but a bloody hand appeared, grabbing his belt, and Spike dropped behind the car again with a shout.

“That's him,” Xander shouted. “We have to help him!”

He ran around the bumper to find Broke Nose straddling Spike, pounding into his face the way Spike had done to him earlier. “I. Do. Not. Wear. Mousse!!!” he shouted, emphasizing each word with another fistful of outrage.

He saw Xander coming, with Kendra behind him, and he jumped up, backing off rapidly, despite a severe limp. He flipped open an ugly looking straight razor, his eyes flickering from Xander to Kendra as the razor wove through the air in front of him.

Spike raised his broken and bloody head an inch or two off the ground, pointing a wavering finger at Broke Nose, his voice as scratchy as rust. “I thought I lost that razor in Prague. You've had it all this time,” he accused the other Spike.

Xander realized his Spike wasn't quite tracking reality at the moment, and concentrated on Broke Nose who was still waving his razor about. As long as Spike didn't try to get the razor from his double, Xander needed to worry about the one with the weapon first.

Broke Nose laughed scornfully. “I bloody hated Prague. That's no place for my beautiful dark pearl. I dragged her out of there on our second night. Never looked back.”

Spike dropped his head back to the sidewalk with a thump. “That's the smartest move you ever made.”

It looked like an impasse to Xander, Spike was too wounded to fight, but Kendra and Xander were fresh and ready to rumble. Of course, the local Spike probably didn't realize Xander had super-powered enhancements, but still, he was an unknown quantity. Xander's Spike had really worked him over; he was holding himself up by one foot, the other barely touching the ground. There was obviously something wrong with it. His face was a mess of cuts and bruises, and blood still flowed sluggishly from his nose.

Kendra stepped up beside Xander, and Broke Nose sneered at her. “Never thought I'd see the day some miserable imposter with my face would be working on the same side as a Slayer.”

Spike's body tensed, his face slipping into the vampire's sharper planes, his eyes glaring balefully at Broke Nose. “You don't know me. At least I'm not a coward.”

Broke Nose Spike shook his head. “It's no shame to back away from a draw. You come visit me sometime when you don't have your entourage with you, and you'll see how the Master of the Hellmouth treats impostors.”

With that, he spun away on his good foot, loosing cool points for limping, but still cutting a dramatic figure in the light, dark, light of the streetlamps before he cut between two buildings and disappeared.

Xander knelt down next to Spike, and started cataloging his wounds, to make sure he wouldn't poke anything vital when Xander moved him.

“Oh, Spike.”

He briefly patted the shoulder with the scratch on it, feeling miserable over not being able to help Spike during the fight. Especially since the damn thing started because Spike was defending Xander.

“Don't give me that shite, mate. Just get me inside the courtyard for a while so I'm safe from the other nasties tonight, and bring me a couple of pints of Porky Pig. I'll be fine before the sun rises. We'll get home and I'll rest up a couple of days. You'll see.”

“You'll need human for these wounds, Spike.”

“Yeah, well that would be nice and all, but I'm not sure I got enough for those baubles to set me up for the good stuff. It's gonna be expensive since we can't get it from Willy's without Puffy hearing about it.”

He grinned up at Xander, putting pressure his damaged jaw. “Ow. That name worked out just right, didn't it, Herc? Puffy. Perfect choice, given the disaster that is his hair.”

Kendra had been pacing the area, making sure they were safe, but at his words she stopped, shaking her head, although her eyes still scanned the dark outside the streetlights for danger.

“I don't understand your insistence that this dimension's Spike has unusual hair. Until your injuries marked you, I couldn't tell the two of you apart.”

“Except for the hair, of course.” Spike insisted.

“No, Spike. I have to agree with Kendra. Your hair looks just like his hair. Exactly like his hair.”

“You're blind, then.” Spike scoffed.

“Not last time I checked.” Spike opened his mouth to respond, but Xander talked right over him. The last thing Xander needed to hear was more stupid British insults that would make him roll his eyes. “Okay, Spike, I'm going to move you now. It looks like you got off without any major broken bones, but let me know if I hurt you too much so I can put you down, okay?”

Spike raised one bloody hand and shakily patted Xander on the arm. “Yeah, Herc, let's do it.”

Kendra hurried ahead of them to check the street before they crossed, and Spike groaned as Xander picked him up, but otherwise he seemed to be doing okay.

“I got him pretty good, didn't I?” Spike bit his lip, his eyes flashing gold, and Xander slowed down, holding him as carefully as he could.

“Hell yeah. You did good. He definitely limped off the playing field.”

“Damn right, he did.” Spike said, self-satisfaction coloring his words.

“Yes, but you need to be carried off that same field, don't you?” Kendra's voice teased Spike from the darkness between streetlights.

“Under the circumstances, I did just fine for myself.” Spike insisted.

“Of course you did.” Kendra was waiting at the curb with a smile, and watched carefully as they negotiated it. “I just wish I had a mirror that could show you your face.”

“That bad, mate?” Spike asked, looking up at Xander for confirmation.

Xander nodded. “You remember those spotty demons we killed last year? The ones that looked like someone had vomited up a stained-glass window all over them?”

“The Murrini?” Spike asked as Xander started up the stairs, jogging Spike's bruises enough that he had to catch the breath he didn't need. Xander slowed down even more.

“I don't really look like them, do I, Herc?”

“Spike.” Xander shook his head mournfully, whistling long and low. “If you could only see.”

Kendra's laughter echoed up the stairs behind them, giving their game away.

“Oi! I thought you were supposed to be the good guys!”

Chapter Text

“Don't set him down there!” Giles snapped.

As Xander turned to the watcher, Spike felt his arm slip down to hover above the coffee table. It wasn't worth the effort to pull it back up, so he left it where it dangled.

“Where did you have in mind?” Xander sounded a mite snippy, and inwardly Spike cheered him on; the rest of him was far too exhausted.

“I think the bathtub would be...”

“Not playin' your bath-time bondage games, wanker.” Spike warned Giles, fighting his head's inclination to wobble as he struggled to keep the Watcher in focus.

“Why I-I-I... Whatever are you talking about?” Giles blustered.

Spike smirked at him. Rupert feigned innocence rather well for a man whose apartment came equipped with its own set of iron manacles.

Xander backed up a step in alarm. “You're not chaining Spike in the bathtub.” Herc's outrage on his behalf touched Spike and he decided the boy was worth the effort after all. He pulled his hand up and shakily patted Xander on the chest, leaving a smeared bloody palm print behind.

Kendra's giggle broke the shocked silence that declaration had produced and the Watcher shook his head as if to clear it.

“I can't imagine why you would even think such a thing,” he protested stuffily. “I-I merely meant that the bathroom is perhaps more suitable than the sofa for someone in his condition. He's going to need extensive first aide.”

“I'll get the kit out.” Kendra stepped around her Watcher and headed down the hall to the W.C.

“Don't forget the suture kit,” Giles called after her.

“Okay, the bathroom works,” Xander reluctantly agreed, “as long as you don't try anything kinky. We could use the running water.”

Xander started down the hall, and Spike moaned as Herc adjusted his grip on Spike's body.

“Sorry. Despite my new Super-Strongman strength, Spike, you still weigh a ton. It's a good thing I'm setting you down soon, 'cause I'm about to drop you on your head, and wouldn't that spoil the Super-Suave hero look I'm grooming.”

“Don't worry, Herc, your secret's safe with me.”

Xander had to turn sideways to get them both into the bathroom, and in the end, the tub did turn out the best place. The other options were the loo or the floor, so even Spike voted for the tub. He wasn't sure he could stay vertical sitting on the toilet seat.

He murmured “Home, Sweet Tub,” as Xander set him down. Both Kendra and Giles stared at him curiously, but he had no energy to explain.

Herc, on the other hand, chuckled. “Fond memories?”

“Not bloody likely, mate. Promised myself I'd never see this view again, yet here I am.”

“Don't worry, we'll have you out in no time.” Herc paused as he looked Spike over. “God, Spike. You look like shit.”

He laughed, despite the pain it prompted in his face. “Thanks so much. I feel like an old, dilapidated house waiting for a strong wind.”

“Well, I must admit, you look even worse.” Giles replied from the sink where he was fussing with the water, and Spike managed to raise the proper two fingers in a salute.

Rupert brought over the suture kit, and a bucket of warm water with several flannels floating in it. He knelt behind Spike's head. “This is likely to hurt.”

Spike tried to wave him off. “Just get me some blood. That'll fix me right up.”

“Well, it may be a while before Xander is able to procure that for you. In the meantime, you'll continue to lose blood from this wound if I don't do something with it.”

“I'll get the blood.” Kendra volunteered.

Giles' head popped up, and he spoke with disapproval. “You'll do no such thing.”

“Why not?” Xander asked. “I can't promise anything, but there's a good chance my supplier from home'll be available in this universe. He's totally human. He works nights at the hospital, and I have his number in my wallet.”

“All the more reason for you to go,” Giles argued. “If you know the man already...”

“Yeah, but I went to high school with him. He thinks I'm dead here.”

“Who is it?” The slayer's question was unexpected.

“Josh Norris. I've known him since first grade.”

“Short and skinny, with glasses? Played French horn in the band?”

Xander was surprised. “How did you... Oh, yeah. You were there, weren't you? I keep forgetting that.”

“I remember him.” She smiled. “When we handed out weapons, he asked for a light saber.”

“That's him.” Xander laughed. “I finally convinced him to settle for a sword and a stake.”

The Slayer nodded. “He was in my section, defending the rear. He was very proud to have dusted two vamps on his own. I'll find him if he's there.”

“I'm not sure I approve of a Slayer procuring blood for a vampire...” Giles said stiffly.

“Or a Watcher caring for his wounds?” Kendra interrupted.

The cloth currently cleaning blood off the back of Spike's head paused, and if Spike had been breathing, he would have held his breath. The lady had balls. Reminded Spike of that Blaxploitation star from the seventies; Dru had been obsessed with turning Pam Grier for years after that. Kendra looked defiant, a look he'd only seen on her once before when she'd insisted they give Xander the benefit of the doubt and listen to his story.

“He received these wounds saving Xander's life, Giles,” she said softly. “He deserves our help.”

He heard the flannel splash into the bucket, and Spike expected retaliation on the Watcher's part. He was quite surprised when he heard a set of keys jangling. “I suppose you'll be wanting to borrow the car?”

Kendra's face split into a wide grin as she caught the thrown keys. “I'll be back soon.”

She hesitated at the bathroom door, and Giles answered her unspoken question. “I'd say no less than six bags. Double that if you can; they'll freeze if he doesn't need them. And yes, you may use the card, but get cash at an ATM first, I'm fairly certain he won't accept Mastercard.”

Xander smiled at Giles gratefully, and followed the Slayer into the front room, filling her in on where she'd most likely find the bloke and how much dosh to take. Giles didn't speak, but he resumed his ministrations to Spike's head. Spike held his peace as well. If the Watcher was willing to pay for his blood, who was he to protest? Besides, he was too knackered for a fight.

By the time Rupert had finished with Spike's head and the slice across his stomach that had also needed stitches, Xander had cleaned and patched up most of his other wounds. The hardest part for Herc had been snapping two fingers on Spike's left hand back into place, but he'd persevered. They'd had to cut Spike's shirt off in order to get to his banged up ribs and the gouges Puffy Spike's nails had left on his back, and the cut across his lower stomach had bled rather heavily all over his jeans.

Rupert reluctantly admitted he might have something Spike could use as replacement clothing. Spike made sure to announce that he'd rather go naked than wear tweed as the Watcher left in search of suitable apparel.

Xander was quiet as he finished cleaning up the blood Spike seemed to be covered with. Spike couldn't help much, his hands were too shaky, and he was afraid he'd be fit for nothing until Foxy Brown got back with the blood. It was so easy to just close his eyes and feel the warm cloth move across his body. Xander's flannel moved carefully over the bloody scratch on his shoulder, then down across his nipple, making him shiver with unexpected pleasure.

Herc gasped and Spike opened his eyes to Xander's flushed face. His eyes roamed over Spike's bare chest, and Spike took a deep breath, scenting the air and almost reeling from the strong hit of male pheromones. Well, well. What have we here?

Xander's hand jerked back from Spike's body, and he dropped the flannel into the bucket on the floor. He looked around himself, as if not certain how he got there, and Spike realized exactly how flustered the boy was. For some strange reason he was reluctant to poke fun at Herc for getting a woody while touching Spike's body. Well it was quite an amazing body, he'd been told. He guessed he couldn't blame Xander for finding it attractive, now could he?

Spike shoved the fact that he had enjoyed the touch far more than he would have expected into the far back of his mind. This was neither the time nor the place. Besides, he didn't get attached to humans, and wasn't going to make an exception for this one. Even if he was an appealing mix of vulnerability and bold strength, with his dark eyes and lovely shaggy hair. Spike shook his head; he'd feel better once he'd fed, and these ridiculous little fantasies of his would fade.

He heard the front door open and Xander took a deep breath, standing up awkwardly. He cleared his throat. “That must be Kendra. I'll go see if she found Josh.” He scurried away, looking more relieved than he had a right to. Spike laughed at his own about face. Did he want the boy attracted to him, or not?

The blood was fresh, and Spike smiled as he felt his bones knitting, the tissue repairing itself and restoring him to his natural vigor. Xander was hovering close, biting his lip and obviously worrying himself sick like a huge nancy boy. After the sixth bag, Spike felt well enough to climb stiffly out of the tub. He sat on the edge, grinning at the relief he saw in Xander's eyes.

“I'm fine now, Herc. You can stop worrying about me, now.” It wasn't quite true, he'd need to finish off those bags before the night was out, but he was well enough to fake it. He plucked at the ruins of his jeans. “Wonder if the Watcher will let me shower before he kicks us out?”

“Good idea. I'll be working on that generator tomorrow, but I can't guarantee that we'll have hot water for another day or two. Giles said he found clothes for you. Which is of the good. I'd hate to give everyone a free show.”

Spike shrugged. “I don't know why not. Might do 'em good.”

Xander sat down next to Spike and picked at the hem of his shirt. “I was so worried, Spike. I'm so sorry I couldn't help you out there.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “You almost dusted, and I was helpless. I'm so sorry.”

“It's not your fault, you know,” Spike frowned. “I managed to get into that position all by myself. You're not responsible for me.”

Xander stood up, and started to pace the small room. “I kind of am. It's my fault we ended up here. If it weren't for me, you'd be back at your crypt watching Passions and drinking Jack Daniels. Not stuck here fighting for me.”

“I'm not fighting for you, Herc. I have my own issues in this world. I owe this bastard, and I'm going to pay him back.”

“He had no right to hurt you like that,” Herc said indignantly.

Spike looked up in surprise. Xander's face was flushed and his eyes were wild and full of rage.

“He had no right,” Herc repeated harshly. “And I couldn't protect you, Spike. It was my fault, and I couldn't protect you!”

Suddenly, Xander struck out, his fist smashing into the bathroom tiles as he shouted in anger. The scent of Xander's blood hit Spike, and he jumped up, pulling Xander's arm back when he would have struck the wall again.

Xander twisted around to face Spike, who was holding on to his arm tightly. He struggled for a moment, but Spike held on grimly, despite his condition. Finally Herc stopped and took a deep breath, collapsing onto the edge of the bathtub.

Spike sat down next to him. “Better, now?”

Xander shrugged sheepishly. “I'm not sure what got into me.”

“I expect it had something to do with that Plautect mojo.”

Xander nodded. “I guess you're right.”

Spike glanced down at the split skin of Xander's knuckles where the blood had run up his hand, toward his wrist.

Impulsively, he glanced up at Xander with a grin. “No sense in wasting it, right?”

Xander gasped as Spike's tongue licked up the blood on his wrist. Spike shivered. It was heady stuff, strong with the flavor of anger, passion and a heavy hit of magic that he bet was the signature of the Plautect's spell. He gently sucked on the bloody knuckles before running his tongue across them to make sure he didn't miss anything.

When he glanced up, Xander was flushed and panting, and the scent of his arousal was strong in the air.

Spike reached down to adjust himself. That had been a foolish move if he was trying to keep his distance from the boy.

Xander stood up, clearing his throat. “I think I'll just go...out there.” He turned and walked shakily out of the room.

Spike shook his head, wondering at his own stupidity. What the hell did he think he was doing?

Chapter Text

Spike sat on the edge of the tub, contemplating his stupidity. The last thing he needed was to get emotional over one of his little... He paused mid-thought, as realized what he was doing. His little family? His clan? Of course he would have feelings for the git. He'd practically adopted the Slayer's whole entourage. They all belonged to him, no matter how much he occasionally regretted it.

Here they were, stranded, just the two of them against an entire dimension. They'd been forced to fight from the moment they arrived, pitting themselves against a formidable enemy, when even their usual allies struggled to merely believe in them, let alone help them in their quest. They didn't even know what their quest truly was, so it was like fighting without sight or hearing. No wonder they'd been drawn to each other. Didn't mean they had to do anything about it. They shouldn't.

Spike had had enough of unrequited love. After a century of Dru pining for her Daddy, he had no interest in getting involved with a man, who less than a year ago, would just as soon stake him as look at him. Yes, he'd changed his tune dramatically in the recent past, but that didn't mean that things would stay that way. Once he got back home and had his little friends around him again, he'd regret what he'd done in the loneliness of a foreign world, and wonder what ever had possessed him to fall for Spike.

He'd come to enjoy Xander's company, as strange as that might seem, and he'd rather keep that than risk the chance of losing it all. They'd both be better off without the added complication of sex muddling a situation that was already horribly convoluted. Spike would have to watch carefully for any signs of sexual attraction on either of their parts, and nip them in the bud as soon as possible. Best to keep this simple: in and out - get what they'd come for and get the hell home.

That resolved, he relaxed as much as possible on the narrow edge of a claw foot bathtub, and worked on regaining his equilibrium. He was still weak, and could use another pint or two of blood, and he would definitely enjoy seeing the Watcher's face as he heated them in the berk's microwave. Besides, it seemed there was a bit of excitement going on in the living room – he heard raised voices. When he focused his attention on it, several of the heartbeats in the room were racing rather strongly, and he thought... Wait – there was an extra heartbeat in the flat. Well, something was surely up – perhaps he should see what was going on.

He struggled up, grabbing for the sink to keep his balance. A bad time for him to be weak and shaky, but it couldn't be helped. Both Herc and Foxy Brown were well able to handle any intruders, but he didn't think that was what was the problem. There'd been no indication of any kind of scuffle; he'd have heard that, no matter how his weakness was playing with his senses. He hadn't even heard the fourth person enter the flat. Human, he thought. Humans had a rather distinctive heartbeat, at least to a vampire's ears.

He walked into the room and found Herc and the Watcher on opposite sides, both scowling heavily. Over the bar, he could see the Slayer at the sink in the kitchen, but no sign of the owner of the fourth heartbeat.

“Oh, hey, Spike!” Herc rushed to his side, acting all solicitous, but awkward at the same time, as if afraid to touch him for fear of breaking him. “Giles has some clean clothes for you, and there are towels in the bathroom.”

“Yes. As much as I never thought I'd say this to a vampire, please, make yourself at home.”

He frowned at the two of them, heading slowly but surely for the swinging door into the little kitchen area, where he was positive that extra heartbeat was coming from. “Are you hiding something from me, Herc? What's going on here?”

“Oh! Nothing. Really. I just had a surprise for you, but I haven't actually got it ready yet, and I wanted to...”

“There's nothing for it. You might as well tell me who it is, I can hear the extra heartbeat, you know.”

He was at the door finally, and he started to push it open, just as someone pushed from the other side. He stepped back, and a woman with light brown hair came through the door, looking back at Kendra, who was talking to her shyly. She smelled familiar; patchouli and herbs and clean, line-dried clothes. Then he heard her voice, and it clicked. A wide smile lit his face as he reached out to touch her shoulder.

“Glinda!”

A strong blast of something hit him in the chest, and he flew backwards through the air – heat and energy crackling all around him as his body hit something, his head smashing hard into it. He couldn't see a thing but a white glow with strange blue and gold sparks running through it; his limbs felt weightless and tingly. He wondered if he was dusting.

He found himself gasping for air that he didn't need, but reluctant to stop. The strange buzzing hum that had overwhelmed his hearing slowly faded, and he began to make out the sounds of shouting and crying. Individual words and phrases ran through his head, but they made no sense.

“...riendly!” “...stop...” “Don't hur...!” “B-b-but he's...pire!” “...down...now...”

With one last push of energy, whatever it was that was holding him disappeared, and he fell. He landed on something sharp and angled, digging lines of pain across his back, the breath pushed out of him with the force of his fall.

Suddenly, he could see again, although his eyes kept crossing, and his head tilted from side to side like one of Dru's dolls. He let his head fall to the hard surface under him – stairs – he'd landed on the stairs up to the Watcher's loft.

He took a deep breath. “Bloody hell, that hurt!”

He'd thought to shout it across the room, but it came out more like a croak. Xander was right there, worry bright in his eyes.

“Spike? Spike are you okay?”

He struggled to focus on Herc. “No, I'm definitely not okay!” he gasped. “What the bloody fuck was that?”

“I-I-I'm so very sorry!” a familiar voice sobbed, and suddenly he remembered.

“Tara? Is that you?” He attempted to lift his head, but only got it upright with help from Xander, which was bleeding embarrassing. She was standing at the foot of the stairs, tears running down her cheeks, and her eyes all puffy from crying. “Don't cry, sweet, you didn't try to kill me, did you?”

She bit her lip, the look on her face a mix of guilt and worry. It seemed she had tried.

“I felt the p-p-presence of a v-vampire, and my protection spell k-k-kicked in automatically.”

“Protection spell?” the Slayer asked.

Tara nodded. “I k-keep it ch-charged whenever I'm out at night. You n-n-never know who you might run into.”

“You come equipped with your own personal booby trap?” Xander asked.

The Slayer nodded. “An excellent idea.”

Spike pointed a shaky finger at her. “Don't even think it, Foxy Brown.”

“I should have th-th-thought to disable it when I c-c-came inside, but I was so nervous. I didn't realize you were a f-friendly vampire!”

Spike frowned. His head throbbed viciously. “M'not friendly.”

Xander slapped a hand over his mouth. “Yes, you are!” He looked at Tara. “He's friendly to us.”

Spike pushed the berk's hand away. “Well,” he admitted grudgingly, “I may like one or two of you lot well enough.”

Tara was looking a bit confused and nervous, as well she should in a room with an unknown vampire. He hurried to assure her. “Don't you worry, Tara, I'd never hurt you. You've been nothing but kind to me.”

From the looks of it, that really didn't help clear things up, but her heartbeat was slowing, so he supposed she felt somewhat less threatened.

“So you know me, t-too? Does everyone here n-n-know me?” She glanced around the room, and Spike had to admit, it was an odd assemblage.

“Spike's the friend I told you about, Tara. The one that came with me from my dimension.”

“I see. So he's not the m-m-Master of our Hellmouth.” She nodded as if it now made sense.

“That wanker? Not bloody likely.” Spike finally remembered what Xander'd said right before he got flung into a wall.

“Wait.” He looked up at Xander, who was still kneeling on the stairs next to him. “You already met her?” he accused. “And you didn't tell me?”

Herc blushed, “I was saving it for a surprise. Only, not this kind of surprise.” He wrapped his arm around Spike's shoulder, offering him support. “Can you sit up? You'll feel better if we get some blood into you.”

“Good idea, Hercules.” With Xander's help, he got to a sitting position.

The Slayer came over. “Let me help.” Tara slipped out of the way and Kendra moved in, getting on Spike's other side. “Do we need to check you for broken bones, first?” she asked, one sharp eyebrow raised in question.

Spike shook his head. “Nah, I'm feeling better already, Foxy. Just get me to the blood and I'll be fine.”

The other eyebrow raised when he nicknamed her, but he ignored it in favor of getting vertical, even if not under his own power. With their help, he got to the armchair next to the couch. Glinda quickly grabbed a purse from the chair, hugging it close as she watched. Chewing her lip, she rummaged in the bag and pulled out a wad of tissue that she used to clean her face. After he was settled, Spike rushed to stop her worrying.

“Don't fret, Glinda, most of this wasn't even you, although that blast packed a punch. I always knew you were a right terror in a fight. You're someone worth reckoning with.”

She blushed, but smiled at him. “Th-th-thank you.”

“He and this world's Spike had a run-in tonight,” Xander told her, “so he was already a mess.”

“He was a mess, too!” Spike objected.

Kendra had gone to the kitchen, and he heard the microwave close as she answered. “That's true. It looked like he had a broken ankle, and his right arm was hanging useless, most likely dislocated. But Xander is right, you got the worst of that battle.” She went on, talking over his protest. “If you're going to be of any use to Xander in his quest, you'll need to start drinking human blood regularly.”

Tara sat on the edge of the hearth, suddenly, as if her knees had given out from under her. She stared at Spike with wide eyes.

Xander rushed to explain. “It's bagged blood, Tara. Don't worry. He doesn't kill humans.”

“Don't worry, my dear, he can't.” The Watcher had been quiet for a while, and of course he chose the worst time to stick his nose back in. “He's effectively neutered.”

“Oi! You take that back! I am not neutered!”

“Well, actually, Spike, you really are,” Xander grinned. “I mean, you can't have kids, no vampire can, right?”

“It's not the same thing, Herc, and you know it.” He scowled at both of them. “I'm perfectly capable in all ways.” In deference to Glinda, he chose to keep the conversation at least somewhat decent, and avoided any lengthy descriptions of his prowess.

“Except when it comes to harming humans.” The Watcher sat in the armchair across from Spike's and smiled at Tara reassuringly. “It seems the military in his dimension put a piece of hardware in his head that makes it extremely painful for him to even think of hurting a human. So you're perfectly safe around him.”

Tara looked torn over that idea, and Spike supposed she was feeling glad that she was safe, but at the same time, thinking that it was unconscionable. Which it was, of course.

“That wouldn't stop him from setting fire to a house, would it? Or hiring someone to kill a human, so he could drink their blood?”

Spike frowned over at the Slayer, who was coming his way with two mugs in her hands. “Thought you were on my side, now, Foxy Brown. Changing your mind, again, are you?”

She shook her head. “No. Despite my Watcher's objections, I believe that you are a faithful friend to Xander, and mean none of us any harm.” She handed him a mug, and set the other on the table next to him. “But that doesn't mean we should forget that you are a vampire, with a vampire's demon inside. Your mind works differently than ours, and we must always take that into consideration.”

Spike was impressed. Not many people had made that connection.

She walked back into the kitchen and, as she spoke, she brought out a half-full glass of water that she handed to Tara with a smile. “I also know that the barrier spell that Giles casts on this apartment complex has never failed us. If you meant harm to anyone in this complex, you wouldn't be here now. You couldn't be – the spell wouldn't let you in.”

“Well, 'course I don't. Got to count on you lot to get us back to our dimension, don't I?”

Tara smiled at Spike, and he drank more blood to cover up his own smile. He was turning into a right old sod. He'd have to do something horrid soon, or his reputation would be shot.

Xander finally sat on the couch, which suited Spike, he was tired of looking over his shoulder to see the berk. “So Tara, you never got to tell me what you wanted.”

“Yes,” Giles interrupted. “What brings you here, and how did you even find Xander?” Rupert turned to Xander, and asked crossly, “Have you been giving out my address?”

Xander shook his head. “Not me.”

“I l-l-looked it up, Mr. ju-Giles.” Tara blushed bright red at being the center of attention, but she seemed to have recovered from her earlier fright. She nervously twisted her tissues in her hands. “I l-looked your name up in the store's credit card records. I'd never do something like that under n-normal circumstances, but I felt it was important to speak to Xander as soon as p-possible.”

“No matter how well prepared you are for danger,” Kendra said, “you still shouldn't have been out alone at this time of night. It's not safe on the streets.”

“You couldn't phone?” That was Rupert's snippy voice. Spike snorted. It seemed the Watcher was not happy to have his perfectly stodgy evening of research disrupted even more than it had already.

“I was not given that choice, Mr. ju-ju-Giles.”

“Choice?” Kendra asked.

“I wuh-was escorted here tonight with messages; one for Xander,” Tara looked at Spike, and he felt his stomach turn over. He had a feeling what she was about to say was very important.

“And now that I know you, I'm fairly certain she gave me a message for you as wuh-well, Spike.”

“Who? No one knows us here but Giles and Kendra!” Xander exclaimed.

“The seeress Drusilla.”

Her words hit Spike as hard as a Slayer's fist, his heart squeezing tight in his chest. He whispered, “My dark pearl.”

From the looks on everyone's faces, Rupert's soft words expressed the opinions of them all. “Oh dear.”

Chapter Text

Drusilla swept into the mansion like a storm. Minions scurried out of her way, while others scrambled to do her bidding, making the mansion hum with activity the way it never did when she was out. The buzz of activity alerted Spike to her presence, and gave him plenty of time to finish off the frat boy he'd been toying with and have the body removed before she got to their quarters. He stepped into the sitting room adjoining their bedroom, and sat sideways on the couch, concealing his healing ankle with a throw blanket. Not that it would fool her, but better to minimize the damage by not flaunting his mistakes.

Picking up the telly remote, he flipped idly through the stations. He'd barely settled on a match of footie, not ManU, but even the Red Devils need a day off from time to time, when Dru arrived. He fought off the surge of emotion he felt every time he saw his dark beauty, and focused on the game, trying to not look too guilty. It was a bit of a toss up as to whether she knew what had happened already. Her gift was a temperamental creature, and you never knew how or when it would show itself. Besides, he hadn't actually broken his promise to her, but he might have accidentally cracked it, so best to avoid the subject until he knew which way the wind blew.

“You're back early, my Spike.” She crossed to him, gliding across the floor, demanding his attention, as always.

He looked up at her with a smile, “Hello, love. How did things go at the magic shop?”

She pouted, slipping into his lap and laying her head on his shoulder. “That awful man was there, simpering and groveling and fawning. It was difficult to avoid disemboweling him, but that always leaves such a mess. Besides, every time I do that, it takes weeks and weeks for the new owner to open the store again, and in the meantime, I'm left scrounging for supplies from that horrid little woman down by the docks.”

Spike sighed, stroking her hair. His sire was clear as a bell tonight. He dreaded the horribly confused days, when she cried for her Daddy and wept, tearing at her hair, but he had to admit, it was easier to appease her when she was befuddled and easily distracted. There was little chance of getting away with buggering her plans all to hell now. He'd be best served by bringing it up himself and dealing with the consequences.

“So that little girl you so like wasn't there?”

“Oh, yes, she was there.” She perked up some, Spike felt a measure of relief. It would be best to tell Dru when she was in a good mood. “What a lovely little tower she is. So strong and steadfast and wise. She stands on the hill and advises the kings, hiding her power under the curtain of her hair. But she can't hide from me. I know her, and I know who she fights for, even before she stands with them.”

“Of course you do, love. That's because you see past their exteriors, don't you? You see right to the heart of things.” He loved that about her. They'd both have been dust a dozen times if she hadn't seen through the lies and reached the heart of the matter. Tonight's exchange with the doppelganger came back to him.

Spike hadn't hated Prague at all. He'd barely had a chance to taste his first local before Dru had bundled them up and taken them away. She'd spoken to the cab driver on the trip to their hotel and after just a few minutes of discussion, she'd insisted that they leave the very next night. That day, she'd tossed and turned in her dreams, and awoke screaming, haunted by images of the two of them dusted by an angry mob who pulled them limb from limb. She'd declared central Europe off limits until the people there drew further apart from their ancient roots, and they'd left for the coast to take the next ship to America.

“I do.” She reached up and kissed his lips, a quick peck before she pulled back, a frown on her face. “I see through you, as well, you know.”

“Me, love?” Well, hell. She wouldn't be happy, but what was done was done, and there wasn't much either of them could do about that. Unfortunately, one power she didn't possess was that of changing the past.

“You tried to bell the kitten before we'd put him in his cage, and now they'll be wise to our designs.” She sat back against the cushions, and Spike grimaced.

“I'm sorry, Precious, I had no intentions of spoiling your game; but the chance arose, and I had to grab it while I could.”

“My Spikey is too impatient for his own good.” She scolded him, tisking like a Head Mistress. “Always leaping before he looks!”

“I thought that if we had the boy, we'd be that much closer to our goal,” he rushed to defend himself. “We could use him to draw in the look-alike. But I had no idea that damned imposter was around. He didn't register on my radar at all, which is going to be a problem.”

Dru ran her hand down his cheek. “Don't worry, dear heart, I've got that one all taken care of. You can't feel him because he's you. I, on the other hand, feel him strongly. I knew he was here before you heard the first rumors, didn't I? But you need to let me take care of things. It's what I do.”

He leaned his face into her hand, closing his eyes. “Yes, I know.”

She seemed to be dealing with his slip up better than expected. His demon muttered inside, demanding that she acknowledge that he was capable of making his own decisions, and he quieted it fretfully. He knew his wicked Goddess was better at planning than he was, but if he wanted to keep his position as Master of the Hellmouth, he couldn't be seen as weaker than Dru. It was a tough and slippery battle he fought daily, struggling to keep Dru happy and still be seen as the strongest vampire in Sunnydale, despite the fact that he submitted to his dark plum on a daily basis.

She stood, reaching out a hand to him, and he took it, letting her draw him to his feet. The ankle held, but he felt a bit wobbly, despite his efforts not to let the weakness show in front of his sire. She smiled at him wickedly, and his cock stiffened in reply. She had him well trained, and in the end, he knew that he'd do exactly as she asked. He always did.

“Now we need to find a suitable punishment for my naughty William. You've been a bad boy, haven't you?”

Spike dropped his eyes submissively, his hunger rising up to the fore and urging him into her arms. Even his demon demanded his obedience – she was his sire, after all. “I'm sorry, love. Please forgive me?”

She laughed as she pulled him into the bedroom, taking care for his weakened ankle. “Oh, no. There will be none of that. Not for a long, long time.”

Spike sighed with relief. His lovely dark gem would take care of all his needs; all he had to do was give her everything he was. In return, she'd give him the world.

Chapter Text

“Drusilla brought you here tonight, Tara?” Xander was shocked. He hadn't really thought that much about Spike's ex; he'd been concentrating on dealing with the Master of the Hellmouth, not his loopy sire. “I'm surprised that she didn’t try and eat you or something.”

“Are you okay, pet? She didn’t hurt you?”

“Oh, no. She was fine. She’s always a little sca-scary, but she’s never tried to hurt me.” She looked surprised that they’d ask. “She tells me wuh-what she needs, and I get it for her.”

Giles looked stunned. “Are you saying that Drusilla does business in the Magic Box on a regular basis?”

Tara smiled that crooked little smile of hers. “Well, she never actually pays for anything, but she c-comes to the store often.”

“Perhaps I should add the Magic Box to my patrol schedule,” Kendra suggested, looking at her Watcher. Giles glared at her angrily, and Xander realized that Kendra was breaking silence by openly admitting that she patrolled.

“Oh, no!” Tara protested. “Please don’t. Mr. Bogarty would never forgive me if you drove her away.” Obviously, Tara already knew she was a Slayer, or at least a demon fighter. “Many different species visit our shop, and he likes to buh-brag that the Seeress of the Hellmouth is our customer. He says it’s good for buh-business.”

“The Seeress of the Hellmouth.” Spike set his empty mug down, grinning. “I bet she loves that title.”

“She does. You can tell by her smile.” She almost looked fond of Drusilla, and Xander found that hard to understand. “Mr. Bogarty follows her around the store, and you can tell she doesn’t like him,but she tolerates him because he’s so proud of her visits.”

“Okay, am I the only one getting the wiggins, here? ‘Cause I’m definitely freaking out.” Xander couldn’t believe how calm Tara was, given the subject matter.

“You should be careful, Glinda. She’s not safe to be around. She may seem sane to you, but she’s mad as a hatter.” Finally, someone else was admitting the truth.

Xander agreed. “One little love spell, and she’ll decide she has to turn you into her kitten.” He looked around at their surprised faces, well, except for Spike. He looked like he’d bitten into a sour grape. “Okay, maybe that’s just me.”

“I will admit, according to…” Giles paused here while he stopped himself from admitting that he’d studied her through the Watcher’s Diaries, “…my research, she is visited by moments of madness. However, you could say the same of any of the Children of Cassandra. Being a seer is fraught with moments of insanity. However, I’ve never heard her described as insane, in all my studies.”

Xander laughed. “You’re joking, right? ‘Cause she’s batty as a belfry. I mean, totally fruit loops.”

“No.” Tara shook her head. “She’s definitely not. I’ve only known her for a year now, but in all that time, she’s never been more than ec-cen-centric.” She smiled shyly. “She likes to call me her Tower, but the roots of my name give her that meaning.” She smiled at Spike, who was staring at her in shock. “You do the same thing. You call me Glinda, from The Wu-wizard of Oz, right? Because I’m a good witch.”

She ducked her head, blushing, and Xander had to laugh. “Well, that’s what I’ve always figured it meant, anyway. He does that with everyone. If I thought he had one, I’d say it was against Spike’s religion to call anyone by their real name.”

Kendra joined in on the laughter. “I wondered about that.” She turned to Spike. “But who is Foxy Brown?”

“What?” Spike seemed distracted, shaking his head as if to clear it. “Pam Grier. From the seventies, pet. She was a looker, but she could kick arse like nobody’s business.”

She looked to Xander for a translation, but he shrugged. He’d seen Kendra on a laptop a few times since he’d been here, he’d remind her to look up the names, later. As Willow often told him, you could find anything on the internet.

“We’ve obviously found another point of difference between our world and your own.” Giles crossed to his desk and pulled out the notebook he’d been keeping since they showed up, flipping through the pages until he found the one he was looking for.

“You’re saying that Dru’s not barmy here? No burning little fishies? No tea parties with her dollies?”

“Burning little fishies?” Giles looked up from his book and blinked at Spike in confusion. “I don’t have firsthand knowledge of her, myself, but Tara’s experience matches what I’ve read in the Watcher’s diaries.” He glanced over to find Kendra staring at him, one eyebrow arched as she acknowledged his slip-up. “Well…” He cleared his throat, focusing on Spike again. “Do you have any idea what happened in your world to cause her madness?”

Xander expected Spike to answer Giles’ question, but he was staring into space, lost in thought. He supposed it was a lot to take in. Spike had been with Drusilla for a hundred years; that was a long time to deal with her insanity. He remembered the frustration, the hopelessness Spike had described feeling when he’d told Xander about her fits, screaming and pulling her hair out and crying endlessly for her Daddy. He couldn’t begin to imagine how hard it would be to find that she was practically a different woman here. A sane woman, or mostly sane, at least.

“Angelus happened,” Xander told Giles. “He drove her crazy before he turned her, from what I understand.”

“Really? How fascinating.”

Giles scribbled in his notebook, and Xander was relieved that he didn’t ask any more questions. Not like Xander could answer them, anyway. He had no idea why Angelus had chosen to drive Drusilla mad, other than the fact that he was on the mad side himself. But then, Spike had told him that he thought being trapped beneath Angel’s soul had driven Angelus ‘round the twist,’ as he’d called it. He may have been a bastard before the soul, but he hadn’t been interested in destroying the world before then. Personally, Xander thought that pretty much every branch on the Aurelius family tree was on the demented side, Spike’s included. How could he love a crazy woman for a hundred years without some of it rubbing off?

He looked back at Spike, who was still lost in imagining a sane Drusilla, if the soft smile playing on his lips was any indication. He felt a twist in his gut at the thought of Spike and Dru together. She’d been his one true love for so long that Spike could probably never love anyone else the way he had her.

“That explains Drusilla’s message to Spike. At least, part of it.”

Xander realized that until Tara had spoken, he’d totally forgotten about her messages.

“You said she had messages for us?”

“Yes. She said no one was allowed to vuh-visit Sunnydale without meeting with the Master of the City, and that it was very rude of the three of you not to come see them first.”

“Are you sure she’s not insane?” Kendra asked, laughingly. “There are only two of them – Xander and Spike.”

Tara looked at Xander, her eyes narrowed. “But when I saw you at the shop…” She stopped suddenly, dropping her eyes. “Sorry. Nuh-nuh-never mind.”

Spike leaned forward in his chair. “You see his little ‘friend’ then, do you, Glinda?”

“Buddy?” Xander hadn’t thought of that, but he supposed it made sense.

“Our Tara, back home. She said she could see your chainmail’s aura,” Spike reminded him.

“You’re right. She could tell he was trustworthy, even when Willow and Buffy were still arguing that he was trying to hurt me.”

“They thought what?” It seemed that thought hadn’t occurred to Giles. “Well, I suppose if they didn’t know his origins…”

“Oh, they knew.” Spike interrupted Giles, indignantly. “They just didn’t want to admit that a piece of armor could see the hero in Xander, when they couldn’t.”

Xander hid his pride with difficulty. It made him feel good to have Spike willing to defend him like that.

“Armor?” Tara seemed confused. Obviously she couldn’t tell what Buddy was, even if she could sense that he was there.

“Long story, love. We’ll tell you all about it when you don’t have messages for us.”

“Right.” She turned to Xander. “She said that the white knight had mislaid his weapon, and that she could help him find it, but he’d have to bring her the black knight in exchange.”

“What?” Xander found himself on his feet, with nowhere to go. He wanted to hunt Drusilla down and…do what? Yell at her? Beat her up? Why? Spike could take care of himself. Besides, from the look on his face, he might not want to. An image of Spike and Drusilla in bed together flashed through his head, and he had to fight down an ugly sneer as that twist of jealousy wound through his gut again. He sat down heavily. He really needed to get himself under control.

Spike smirked at Tara. “She wants me, does she?”

“Well, she can’t have you.” Xander snapped. He shut his mouth with a click of teeth. He hadn’t meant to say that. Spike looked at him curiously. “I mean…you have to come back with me to our world. Who knows what would happen if you stayed here.” Spike smirked at him, wiggling his eyebrows, and Xander realized that with two Spikes, she could have a Drusilla Sandwich, and didn’t that image raise all sorts of horny thoughts in his head. No, wait. He meant horrible thoughts. Horrible, horrible thoughts.

“You don’t belong here.” Xander stumbled over his words. “It - it could be dangerous. For all of us, that is.” He explained, trying to hide the panicked thoughts in his head at the thought of losing Spike.

“I’m not arguing with you, Herc.” Spike looked far too smug to Xander, but everything he’d said so far just made Spike smirk more, so finally he gave up.

“You need to becareful, Spike,” Tara warned him.

“Tara?”

“You shouldn’t trust her.”

“Why shouldn’t he?” Xander was glad Giles had asked the question, because it probably wouldn’t have sounded as casual coming out of his mouth.

She paused, as if trying to find the right way to phrase her thoughts. “She’s not your Drusilla. Just because she has plans that involve you, doesn’t mean she wuh-wants what’s best for you.”

“That’s true.” Kendra said, thoughtfully. “She might consider you disposable, since she has her own Spike, already.”

“Or she might be looking for twice the fun.” Spike had that sexy smirk going again, damn him. “After all, we both have a hundred years worth of knowledge about just what she likes best.”

“And the Master of the Hellmouth has a hundred years worth of knowledge of all your weaknesses, including Drusilla. Don’t forget that.” Kendra pointed out.

Spike frowned at her. “Not saying I’m doing anything with the knowledge, just saying it’s there, is all. Can’t hurt to think it.”

Kendra crossed her arms, and looked over at Xander, who refused to get drawn into that argument. He thought he’d said plenty already. Maybe it was time to change the subject.

“So what did Drusilla have to say to Spike?”

“Oh!” Tara blushed, a deep stain across her cheeks, and even down onto her neck. “I didn’t realize she was talking about th-this Spike, so I dismissed her wuh-words at the time, but she told me that she’d rather play with Spike than she wuh-would any dolls.”

Spike smirked some more, and looked as if he might say something, but Tara continued.

“She t-told me to t-tell him he wuh-wuh-was a naughty boy, and that he needed to come to Muh-mommy so she could spank him for wa-wa-wandering off and guh-getting lost.”

By the time she finished talking, she’d completely hidden her face behind her hair. Xander didn’t remember ever hearing her stutter so badly, but he didn’t blame her. He’d have stuttered too, if he’d had to tell that to Spike. He was blushing almost as strongly as she was, and he hadn’t said a word.

Kendra, on the other hand, was laughing loudly, and Xander couldn’t help but join in. Even Giles was getting a chuckle out of it. Spike didn’t seem at all embarrassed, which took some of the fun out of it for Xander, though.

“Are you a bad boy, Spike?” Kendra teased, wiping tears out of the corners of her eyes.

“Let me get my strength back, love, and you can find out for yourself.” Spike teased Kendra right back, smiling at her with that sexy smile of his.

That tendril of jealously reared its head again, but he forced it back down. It was just his out of control emotions. That would go away when Giles figured out how to stop this hormonal imbalance. He sure hoped it would anyway, ‘cause he was not getting involved with another demon, not even Spike.

Chapter Text

“A Jeep Cherokee?” Xander asked, surprise coloring his words. “G-Man, you own an SUV?”

Spike agreed. A Citroën had been an idiotic choice for a Watcher, and the red convertible he’d brought home just weeks ago probably had less to do with aiding a Slayer with her calling than it did with impressing his new, younger lover. Well, if you could call a millennia old ex-demon young. She was young in this incarnation, anyroad.

Kendra opened the back door for them, and Spike swallowed his growl, ashamed to be seen as weak in front of his natural enemy, despite the fact that he had a truce with this one.

“It took me months to get him to agree with me that a convertible was a terrible idea.” Kendra shook her head, rolling her eyes.

Xander laughed at that as he assisted Spike into the car. “He wanted a red BMW, right?”

Kendra frowned at him. “How did you know?”

“Our Giles just showed up with one last month, after Spike totaled his Gilesmobile running from the Initiative.”

“I did that intentionally, you know.” Spike grouched as he settled into the car. “That Citroën may have been a decent car forty or fifty years ago, but it was well past its prime by the time I put it out of its misery.” That he’d crashed intentionally wasn’t strictly true, but since there’d been no witnesses, he had no problem with adjusting the facts to suit himself.

Giles closed the front passenger door behind Tara. “You totaled my 1963 Citroën?” he asked incredulously.

Spike snorted. “Face it, mate, that thing was an accident waiting to happen.” Kendra closed the door, ending the conversation, but Giles glared at him angrily before walking stiffly around to the driver’s door. He picked up the conversation again as soon as he slid behind the wheel. “I’ll have you know, that car was a classic.”

Xander laughed as he slid in from the other side, crowding Spike’s leg until he gave in and offered Herc a little leg room. He was stuck in the middle, with Foxy Brown on his other side, so Spike supposed he could be magnanimous; after all, Xander’d been quite concerned about Spike’s condition all evening.

“Is that what you call it?” Herc asked. “A classic? It wouldn’t go faster than fifty miles an hour; I call that a safety hazard.”

Tara turned to Herc, as best she could with her seatbelt on. “How do you figure that? I’d think that a car that didn’t go fast would be safer than one that did.”

“Not if you’re on the highway to L.A.” Herc argued. “Anything going less than seventy miles an hour is in danger of becoming a bumper car, only without the extra padding.”

Foxy laughed. “I told him that over and over, but he never listened to me.”

“I did in the end, you must agree.” Giles insisted.

“Only after it died on the highway, and you with no way to contact help.”

Giles sighed as he pulled out into traffic. “Very true. I learned several lessons that day, didn’t I?”

Kendra raised her head, smiling proudly.

“Well?” Herc urged her. “Share with the class!”

“He now carries a cell phone,” she announced.

“Wow! Giles! Way to step into the new millennium.” Xander was obviously impressed. “We still haven’t managed to get our Giles to use one.”

Giles glanced over at Tara, uncomfortably. “Well. I suppose that he wouldn’t find it quite as necessary, with…so many of you around.”

Spike thought it was ridiculous that Giles still wasn’t willing to talk in front of Tara, even after she’d agreed to help Xander and Spike with their upcoming meeting with the Master of the Hellmouth and his Drusilla. He had to know that she was aware of Kendra’s differences. After all, Glinda hadn’t blinked an eye when Kendra’d insisted that they let her come along to protect Tara.

“It’s okay, Mr. Giles. You don’t have to wuh-worry about me. I knew th-that Kendra was one of the slayers as soon as I met her.”

Kendra smiled brightly, ignoring the Watcher’s stammered denials. “How did you know? Does it show in my aura, like Xander’s Buddy?”

Tara nodded at her shyly. “It does; all shot through with bright gold streaks. It’s very pretty. But I might not have understood wha-what it meant, if Drusilla hadn’t told me you would be there tonight.”

Spike barely had time to put his hand up and stop himself from slamming into the seat in front of him as the car jerked to a sudden stop. He managed to get his other arm out to the side, stopping Herc from flying into the front seat, despite the flare of pain it caused him to hold back the weight of a full-grown man.

“Giles!” Kendra grabbed the seat in front of her, even though she had earlier carefully buckled her seatbelt.

“Bloody fucking hell, Watcher! You’ve got wounded back here!” Spike craned his neck around to see if anyone was about to hit them from behind, but fortunately it was late, there was no one on this residential street aside from them.

“Drusilla knew Kendra would be at my apartment tonight?” Giles demanded, oblivious to everything but Tara’s remark.

“She didn’t say her nuh-name, she juh-just tuh-talked about the light and duh-dark slayers, and she said I wuh-would meet the duh-dark slayer tonight.”

“What did she say?” Kendra asked.

“She said th-that there might be two slayers, but th-that they weren’t as duh-different as they seemed. And that I wuh-wouldn’t see the light slayer tonight, b-because she was up north, ruh-riding on a muh-moose, and didn’t have time for me.” She shrugged. “Like I said, she’s ec-c-c-centric.”

Spike frowned, not happy that Giles’ reaction had upset Tara. It was easy to tell when she was nervous; her stutter was much more pronounced.

Foxy burst out in a fit of giggles at the comment about the moose. Giles focused the rearview mirror on her, one eyebrow raised. Seems he was worried she might let something slip about that slutty slayer Faith being up in Canada. The laughter worked, though. Tara smiled back at her, relaxing, and Xander shook his head at them both.

“So Drusilla didn’t say anything specific about them, Tara?” Xander’s voice was calm, just a casual question, that seemed to go a ways toward easing Tara’s nervousness.

“No. I don’t think she wuh-would. Not to me, anyway. She thinks I’m going to wuh-work with the Slayers now. She told me my destiny lies in fuh-fighting the good fuh-fight.”

Kendra beamed her brightest smile at Tara. “That would be wonderful!”

“Now, now, Kendra.” Giles interrupted. “Our life is one of danger and uncertainty; we have no right to ask others to risk their lives in our struggle.”

“I don’t mind, Mr. ju-Giles. I’m not a fighter, but I would be glad to help.”

“That’s very kind of you, Tara, but a Slayer works best in secret, and…”

“Oh, stuff it, Watcher.” Spike interrupted. “She can make up her own mind. Our Tara is proud to belong to the group that makes the world safe for puppies and apple pie. If this one decides she wants to help, the least you can do is to accept graciously and not make a fuss.”

“Giles, our Buffy has lived longer than any other Slayer has ever managed. I know things didn’t happen that way here, but our Giles says that one of Buffy’s main strengths is her willingness to accept the help of others.”

“Even three years is longer than most Slayers live, Giles,” Kendra pointed out. “I want to do my job to the best of my abilities. You did right by Buffy, and I was proud to know her. I wish to follow her example, and I’ll be glad to accept Tara’s help, with or without your approval.”

Tara smiled shyly at her, then glanced at Giles and gasped at the anger in his eyes.

“We’ll discuss this when we get home.” His voice was deceptively mild, but Spike could hear the trembling in it; Giles was near the breaking point.

Kendra held her head high in defiance, and Xander squeezed her hand. She smiled at him and Spike had to restrain himself from growling. Xander should be careful, she might get the wrong idea, and he’d hate to do some damage to the bint, he actually liked her. She was all right, for a Slayer.

“Are we near the park, yet, Watcher?” Spike loved a bit of high drama from time to time, but he was exhausted. His body wouldn’t recover properly until he got the chance to sleep. He was tired of hurting, so he eased the tension a bit by changing the subject. “I thought you said it was nearby.”

Giles cleared his throat. “Yes, it’s just up the street.” He took his foot off the brake, and the car started moving again. Spike grinned as almost everyone in the car gave a collective sigh of relief.

Once they’d parked near Heatherly Park, they sat and discussed the tentative plan they’d worked out at the Watcher’s flat. They would send Dru and Puffy a message arranging to meet them there at the park, near the statue of some idiot on horseback that stood near the front entrance. Why the hell people insisted on sculpting men making fools of themselves on horses, Spike had no idea, but it seemed like every single park in every single town on every bleeding continent Spike had ever been to had a statue of a man on a horse in it.

“There ought to be a law...” Spike mumbled to himself. Of course, with Hercules sitting right next to him, he obviously hadn’t spoken softly enough, as Herc looked over and raised one eyebrow in question. Spike rolled his eyes as Giles expounded on the importance of extreme caution when facing unknown foes.

As if Spike didn’t know Puffy or his dark pearl as well as his own todger. “Ta, much for those words of wisdom, Rupert.”

“Perhaps we should get Spike home soon,” the Slayer said, a subtle smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “He seems to be on the cranky side tonight.”

“Ah. Good idea, Kendra.” The Watcher was extra stuffy for the rest of the evening, dropping Glinda off at her dorm room with a very formal “Good evening, Miss Maclay. So very good to meet you.”

It was obvious that Giles wasn’t too happy that Kendra exchanged numbers with Tara, but he didn’t say anything to Foxy Brown, even after she’d slipped into the front seat, letting Herc slide over and give Spike some room. And if Spike missed the warmth of Xander’s leg pressed up against his own, it was merely a matter of proximity to a hot-blooded human, and had nothing to do with wanting Hercules back by his side.

There hadn’t been any more conversation, the silence dragging on Spike as he struggled to stay awake. He was relieved when they finally reached the lair, and didn’t even fuss when Xander came around to his side of the car, wrapping his arm around Spike’s waist. He fought hard not to show exactly how tired he was, not wanting Foxy to see him that weak.

She dropped the cooler with the rest of the blood packets in it inside the door, and Spike relaxed once the door closed behind her. He let Xander half-carry him to the bedroom, thankful that they’d chosen rooms on the first floor. He would have gratefully passed out as soon as he flopped onto the bed, but Herc insisted on undressing him, which was a fiasco and a half. When he realized that Spike wore nothing under his jeans, he turned bright red, but despite his raised heart rate, Spike was too tired to tease him.

Xander settled him up against half the pillows in the place, and he dozed until he heard Xander’s voice, the scent of blood waking him up enough to drink both mugs dry before insisting that was enough. He wanted to save what was left for tomorrow, and he told Herc so in no uncertain terms when he would have argued with Spike.

“I’ve had plenty of blood, Xan, it’s rest I need now. So stop fussing about like a mother hen, and let me sleep,” he ordered, drowsily.

“Okay, okay. I get the hint.” He pulled the sheets up closer around Spike’s shoulders, and Spike slipped one hand out the side to smack his hands away.

“That’s enough. Go away, now.”

Herc laughed, and skipped back out of reach. “I’m going!” He turned back at the door, still smiling. “I’ll check on you in the morning…”

“No you won’t,” Spike insisted. “I’ll be sound asleep until early evening, and I don’t need your big feet clomping around my door, waking me up every five minutes. If I don’t wake up by nightfall, you can check on me then, but not a moment sooner, understood, Nurse Nightingale?”

Xander rolled his eyes, grinning at his new nickname. “Understood, grouchy guts.” He blew out the candle on Spike’s bedside table. “Good night.”

“Night.” He pulled the blanket over his head, thinking about everything Xander had done for him tonight. He pushed the blanket back down as Xander started to pull the door closed. “Herc!”

Xander pushed the door open, the flickering light from the candle in the hall backlighting his form. “Yeah? You think of something you need?”

“No. ‘M fine. Just wanted to say…thanks.”

Herc grinned at him, and Spike tensed, not wanting a big scene or anything, but warming to his smile, nonetheless.

“You’re welcome.”

Xander pulled the door shut, and Spike sighed with relief. Finally he could rest. He’d deal with the rest of the world tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Xander turned the knob and grinned widely as hot water spurted out of the faucet. He was very proud of the job he’d just accomplished, and couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to take a hot shower. He stepped into the tub and pulled the curtain closed, sighing as the water poured down on him. He’d love to stay in here all day, but he only had about half an hour to spare before he’d have to wake up the vamp, since Xander was sure that Spike wouldn’t be comfortable with Kendra there if he hadn’t had time to wake up and drink some blood first.

Spike hated to be seen as weak - even to his allies. Especially if his ally had the power and skill to be a real challenge to him even when he was at full-strength. So Spike would want to at least be seen as recovering well tonight. That meant plenty of warm blood, heated in a pan on the now working countertop stove, and a nice, hot bath to loosen up his stiff muscles.

Maybe Xander should offer to give him a massage? A vivid image of what Spike had looked like nude ran through his brain, and Xander’s legs swiftly turned to wet noodles. He leaned against the shower tiles as he tried to recover, stiffening his knees to help keep himself vertical – damn rubbery legs. Spike had lived with him for a month last year; he should have remembered that the vampire never wore underwear. Last night, it had been all Xander could do to get those jeans off Spike without revealing his sudden new interest in Spike’s anatomy.

Xander squeezed his eyes shut and thought of the worst things he could imagine – dead puppies and the guts of various demons splattered all over Xander and a good portion of Restfield cemetery last fall when one of the spells Willow had been experimenting with had turned out to be far more powerful than she’d expected. She’d apologized for a month, after they’d both stopped upchucking, that is.

He breathed a sigh of relief as his sneaky hard-on wilted. That was better. There was nothing worse than having a roommate that could smell arousal. He’d learned that lesson the hard way the last time Spike had roomed with him: never jerk off in the shower when you had a vampire living with you. They’d tease you about it incessantly for months afterwards. So obviously a massage was out of the question. Spike would have to settle for a hot bath instead.

He gave his libido a good talking to as he stood under the shower, letting the hot water pound on his shoulders. You are not attracted to vampires, not matter how sexy they may be, he scolded, shaking a metaphorical finger at himself. He’d figured out that he was bi the year before, when he’d spent a month and a half working at the Fabulous Ladies Nightclub in Oxnard. He’d spent far too much time admiring the dancers to consider himself completely straight anymore.

There had been flirting and innuendo, and more touching than was strictly necessary between a dancer and a dishwasher, but nothing had happened – except in his imagination late at night, armed with dirty magazines and a bottle of hand lotion. So if he was appreciative of Spike’s lean frame, firm pecs and thick, uncut cock, that didn’t mean he needed to do anything about it, except buy a new bottle of lotion.

He had a feeling that once they were back home, the attraction would fade, and he wouldn’t be able to bear it if Spike became his old, familiar, hateful self again. Xander didn’t do well with rejection, which was odd considering he was so used to it. He’d have to work hard to hide his attraction, and keep himself under control when his wild emotions were running rampant. Spike would figure it out sooner or later, he wasn’t stupid, even if he couldn’t make a decent plan to save his life, or unlife, as the case may be. Xander was just going to have to be careful.

Xander stuck his head under the hot water, letting the suds from his shampoo rinse away and flow down the drain. He still felt guilty about how they’d obtained the generator and the tankless hot water heater he was using right now. But somehow, he didn’t feel guilty enough to insist that Spike return them to the Home Depot. He and Spike had taken a trip to the closest 24 hour home improvement store, and Xander had compared prices and models and tried to figure out how they could afford a generator that would give them enough electricity for the necessities: the refrigerator, a one burner electric counter-top stove, and a tankless hot water heater for the shower.

He’d made a list of what they’d need, and how much everything would cost, if they bought the cheap stuff. Spike had kept urging him to consider the expensive ones, but Xander had argued that down. They needed the money they had made on the trinkets and stuff they’d found at the lair for food and blood, because who knew how long they’d be here. They could live with the cheap stuff until they finally got back home. He’d even gone through the want ads, to see if anyone had a used generator for sale. No such luck.

Xander had thought that Spike had finally agreed with him, but a couple of days later, there was a brand-new generator – the most expensive one Home Depot had for sale – sitting in the foyer surrounded by stacks of extension cords and all the tools he’d said he’d needed, the best tankless water heater they sold, a double-burner stove-top, and a couple of huge drums of gas to fuel the generator.

Xander stood there gaping, then spent fifteen minutes trying to convince himself he should tell Spike to take it all back where he’d obviously stole it from. But in the end, he decided to not look this particular gift horse in the mouth – they always had the most horrible breath, anyway – it wasn’t worth the trouble, right? Besides, he knew Spike wouldn’t understand.

He’d spent the entire day putting it all together, and it had gone much quicker than he’d expected. By mid afternoon, he was finishing up, and he’d warmed up a can of soup, not interested in putting anything heavy on his stomach, since he and Kendra were going to be sparring later. Then he’d hit the shower, and despite the fact that the water heater would go all night, he realized that he needed to get out soon if he was going to get everything ready for Spike.

So he scurried around, scrubbing the tub, filling it with extremely hot water, heating blood, and generally worrying about how Spike would like what he was doing for him. When he realized what he was doing, he gave himself another good talking to. He was acting like a housewife or something, and that would just not do. It wasn’t like he and Spike were boyfriends or anything. Up until a few months ago, they hadn’t really been friends at all.

But Spike had made this all possible: the hot water and the stovetop were Spike’s doing, and he wanted to thank him. It didn’t have anything to do with Xander’s conflicted feelings for the vampire; it was strictly a chance to thank him for his efforts on behalf of improving their current living situation, as well as a chance to show Spike how much he appreciated his coming to Xander’s rescue yesterday.

It felt like a long time ago that ‘Puffy’ Spike had attacked Xander, but in reality, that had only been yesterday evening. So much had happened since then. Things were starting to move faster, and it felt like they were finally getting somewhere. He hoped so. He was developing a case of homesickness for his own bed and his TV with 200 cable channels, especially his beloved Sci Fi.

He was ready to go home, but first he had to figure out what he had to do to finish his quest. Was it the sword he needed to find? Or maybe he had to ‘save’ the princess, although this princess was damn tough; he couldn’t imagine that she needed him to save her. The world here wasn’t in eminent peril, as far as they were aware, so no apocalyptic events were threatening them. Chances were, Kendra and Giles could handle that on their own anyway, especially now that they had Tara to help.

He shook his head, turning off the burner under the blood he’d been heating. He’d just have to worry about that later. It was time to feed the vampire. The image that brought to mind was intense: Spike in game face, growling at him as he stretched like a panther, dangerous and sleek, prowling the edges of his territory and staring at Xander with baleful eyes.

He shuddered, wondering why he found himself so attracted to that picture. He cleared his mind, pouring the blood into a couple of mugs, focusing on minor details like not spilling blood all over the counter, and not inhaling through his nose, ‘cause there was nothing grosser than the scent of large quantities of warm blood. Ewww. Okay, that would definitely help keep his libido under control. Good.

He set one of the mugs on the table in the hall outside Spike’s door, knocking softly before opening the door wide so he could see where he was going. With dusk on its way, there was very little light in the hallway, so he was mostly guessing where the bed was, but he managed to not spill the blood as he bumped softly into the side of the mattress.

“You’re early.” Spike’s voice was low and scratchy, and sexy as hell, damn him. He so wasn’t helping Xander’s libido behave.

Xander slid his leg up the length of the bed until his shoe hit the bedside table. He set both mugs down so he could dig through his pocket and pulled out his mini maglite.

“Watch your eyes,” he warned Spike before he turned on the flashlight. He’d taken to bringing it with him everywhere he went, these days. Since they lived by candle light, it had saved his shins many times over the last couple of weeks. He found the candle on the table and lit it before sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Yeah, I know it’s not quite sundown,” Xander said as he offered Spike a mug of blood. “But since Kendra will be here in an hour, I figured you’d like to be up and awake when she gets here.”

Spike sat up, the sheets pooling at his waist as he took the mug, sniffing at it. He looked up at Xander in surprise. “It’s warm!”

Xander smiled at him. “You noticed!”

“Course I noticed,” he grouched. “I’ve been living on cold, stale animal blood for too long to not notice warm human when it’s waved in front of my face.” He tipped the mug at him. “Ta.”

Xander watched as Spike quickly gulped it down. He was obviously hungry, and Xander felt very pleased with himself for managing to get the generator up and running in time to wake Spike. “You’re welcome.”

He exchanged the empty mug for the full one, glad to see Spike looking more like himself today. He didn’t seem as gaunt and frail as he had yesterday, and his hands weren’t shaking. It looked like he’d been right about needing rest more than blood last night. It made sense; sleep did wonders for humans, too.

Spike sighed as he set the mug down, leaning back against the headboard. “I take it you got the generator up and running today?”

“I did! It didn’t take nearly as long as I expected it would, which is the main reason I woke you so early. Do you want more blood, or would you rather have a nice hot bath first?”

“A bath?” Was that an eager gleam in Spike’s eye, or just the candlelight? It was hard to tell.

“Yeah, Giles said yesterday that you might appreciate a bath, ‘cause you can sit and soak, and give your sore muscles a chance to recover from all the strain. He gave me some salts to sprinkle in the water, and I’ve already put some in.” He shrugged. “I don’t know if they’ll help or not, but they smell good, anyway.”

“Well, if the bath is already drawn, we can’t waste all that hot water, can we?” Spike threw back the sheets, and Xander jumped up, blushing and hating it that Spike always managed to catch him unawares. He stood up and stretched like a cat, his pale skin gleaming in the candlelight. Then he made his way stiffly to the door. Xander was so pleased to see him moving on his own that he almost forgot for a moment that Spike was buck naked.

“Spike! Clothes!”

Spike laughed over his shoulder, his eyes sparkling as he glanced back at Xander. “Whatever do I need clothes for, Herc? I’d only have to take them off again to get in the tub, wouldn’t I?”

Xander sighed, trying vainly to tear his eyes away from the pale, taut ass on display in front of him. Spike wasn’t helping at all with Xander’s new ‘ignore the sexy vampire resolution.’ Damn him.

Chapter Text


Banner by TheLadyMerlin

Giles wasn’t sure what he expected when he’d insisted on accompanying Kendra to her sparring match with Xander, but this wasn’t it. Far from it. He’d argued with Kendra that morning over her decision to allow Miss Maclay into their small circle. Kendra’d stood fast on her decision, though, and rather than continue the argument, he’d finally tabled it until after they saw how she performed in the upcoming meeting with the Master of the Hellmouth and Drusilla. Miss Maclay’s shy nature could easily prove a problem under stress, and this meeting might prove his point in a way Kendra would understand.

He should have known that she was up to something when she announced that they were going by Miss Maclay’s dorm room to deliver several books of spells to her, since she hadn’t had any luck finding what she’d needed in her own collection. They’d spent some time online this morning, while Giles had thought Kendra had been studying in her room. He’d have to keep an eye on that behavior. When she’d come out of the building with Miss Maclay in tow, it had been difficult for Giles to restrain his temper, but he knew that it was not the time or the place to bring up her duplicity, so he’d put on his best face and greeted Miss Maclay cordially.

Giles had to admit, he’d been impressed with the mansion in which Xander and Spike were squatting. It was large, much more than the two needed, so they’d concentrated their efforts on making just the ground floor habitable. They’d cleared out a banquet hall near the kitchen, and set up several large scoop lights aimed at the ceiling to provide ambient lighting. With the addition of a couch and several comfortable chairs around the edges, the room, with its hardwood floors, made a more than adequate space for sparring and sword practice.

Xander had been very proud of the work he’d done, and he’d taken them on a tour of the rooms they’d cleaned out and repaired for their use. As long as one avoided the long orange extension cords that snaked through the rooms, powered by the large generator sitting in the lobby, then it seemed that Xander and Spike had made themselves a comfortable, if temporary, home – or lair, as they insisted on calling it.

Giles remembered the work Xander had put into repairing the chairs, banisters and walls of the library that had been damaged by slayer strength. It had been handy to have a way to avoid asking the maintenance staff for repairs that would have pointed out the considerable damage the library had suffered in their high school years. Finding out that Xander had become a construction foreman in his universe made perfect sense. It had obviously been a well deserved boost to his confidence, as this Xander was well on his way to becoming a man Giles was proud to know, manic episodes brought on by demonic hormonal imbalances notwithstanding.

Kendra and Xander had spent some time warming up before breaking out the practice swords. It was obvious that Spike had been teaching Xander, he used a hodge-podge of styles both Western and Eastern, and had even introduced Xander to a form of sword and knife fighting that worked well with a stake substituted for the knife. Giles had been quite impressed with Xander’s ability to pick up the new moves Kendra had shown him and incorporate them into his own unique style.

He had known from the moment that Spike had insisted on borrowing Giles’ Chinese jian practice swords as well as the Japanese bokken and several types of one-handed western practice blunts, that Spike had no intention of teaching Xander any one form of sword fighting. He did hope, though, that Xander would take the time to learn more of the forms and traditions behind the styles once they returned to their universe. In the meantime, watching Kendra occasionally struggle to deal with Xander’s abrupt changes from one style to another made him realize that he needed to spend more time teaching her to deal with the unexpected. He had, perhaps, fallen down in that regard.

He sighed heavily as he watched Kendra with Miss Maclay – no, Tara. He had a feeling that there was no getting around the fact that his slayer had found a friend; he might as well get used to it. They sat together on the couch, spell books forgotten on their laps as they giggled like schoolgirls at something Kendra said. He couldn’t hear them from across the room, but their pleasure in each other’s company was evident, even from where he sat.

He supposed they were school girls, weren’t they? Tara was about to start her sophomore year at university, and Kendra was very close to that same age, and studied as hard as any other student. This world’s Xander had been urging Kendra to consider college, but that had ended when he died at graduation and Kendra had renewed her dedication to her duty as a slayer. She’d been hard and closed off after that, and poor Willow had already begun drifting away from their group by the time of her tragic death. It seemed that this Xander’s entrance into their lives had played an important role in her ability to accept the possibility of friendship and fun back into her life.

He watched Kendra throw back her head in a full-throated laugh that brought Xander over to tease them both, as he offered them bottles of Dr. Pepper from the cooler on the floor. Giles smiled fondly. It had been a year since he’d seen Kendra laugh as much as she had in the last several weeks. It made his heart ache to imagine that she might be gone in months, or even weeks.

She was a slayer; that was her destiny. He knew that, but it was possible that he’d been too harsh with her, driving her to perfection, hoping to keep her as long as he could. Perhaps he’d fallen down on more than one account. Buffy had done well in Xander’s world; four years as slayer, and still going strong, with all her friends around her. Kendra was right, even the three years Buffy had lived here was longer than the norm.

Xander had once told Kendra that Giles was old and cranky before his time. Giles knew that was true, and he intended to remain so. But if just a few friends in her life could make Kendra laugh the way he’d seen tonight, he might be able see his way clear to allowing her the occasional association with others in the know. Tara was a powerful witch, and a good source of information on matters supernatural through her work in the Magic Box. She made a powerful ally, and her friendship made Kendra happy.

The Council would not be best pleased with this change in tactics, but then they weren’t here on the hellmouth every day, fighting this fight, and he and his slayer were. Kendra worked hard; she deserved some happiness. Giles realized he was determined to give her the chance to find it, and if the Council raised a fuss then they could stuff it up their arses.

Chapter Text

“Am I too late for the game?”

Spike smirked at the look on Clem’s face. One might think that a demon with as many heavy folds of skin on his face as this one had would be difficult to read, but Clem had always been an open book. That was probably one of the reasons why Spike had taken to him as well as he had. With a vampire’s acute senses, it was easy to read a human, no matter their skill at lying, but unless they had scent glands, or other similar organs, demons were often far more difficult to gauge.

Not Clem. He wore his feelings on his sleeve, as the saying went, and had little interest in trying to deceive. It seldom even occurred to him to try. It was a refreshing change for Spike. Before the chip, he’d never thought to worry about such things, but these days reading humans had become less of a game he pulled out when he fancied a bit of sport with his meals and more of an important tactic for survival. It took a bit of the fun out of interacting with humans. And now that the demon population had turned on him for working with the slayer, it made associating with demons he couldn’t easily read far more dangerous to him than in times past.

Clem, with his simple, guileless honesty gave Spike a chance to relax in ways he seldom could around others, and he’d found himself confiding in the demon more than he’d ever done with anyone before, aside from Joyce. He knew it would be a challenge to win Clem over in this dimension, but he also knew that if any demon could understand what he was going through these days, it would be Clem. But first, he had to convince the bugger to give Spike a chance. And that might be difficult.

“Master Spike!” Clem squeaked, obviously shocked that the Master of the Hellmouth would be standing at his door.

“Couldn’t find any kittens at this hour, but I brought beer.” He strode into the hovel Clem claimed as a home and straight to the shaky table, setting the two twelve packs down with a flourish, sliding the bag on top to the side and out of the way. “I figure a case of beer ought to be enough to convince someone to front me a tabby or two, right?”

“Um…but - That is…” Clem stumbled over his words.

“What’s up, mate? Cat got your tongue?” Spike laughed heartily at his own joke, and slapped Clem on the back. He glanced around at the room, noting the empty chips bags and beer bottles and the empty basket lying on the floor. Good, he’d timed it right, and Clem’s Wednesday night poker party had already broken up. He kept up the charade, clapping his hands together, and rubbing them briskly, as if getting ready for a night of poker fun. “So, where is everybody?”

“I’m sorry, Master Spike, but the game’s over. They’re all gone. I was just cleaning up when you knocked.”

“All gone? Bloody hell!” Spike sat down heavily in one of the rickety chairs pulled around the table. “Here I was looking forward to a night with the boys. And a basket full of kittens, hey Clem?”

He freed a beer from one of the twelve packs and twisted the top off. “Still, no sense letting good beer go to waste.”

Spike held the beer out to Clem, who reluctantly took it from him. He fiddled with the bottle while Spike pulled out another. “Cheers, mate.”

They both drank, and Clem quickly set his down on the table, his hands clamping down on the back of one of the chairs, looking at the front door nervously.

Spike shoved the chair away from the table with his foot, and Clem jumped in surprise. “Have a seat, Clem; you’re getting on my nerves.” He spoke in a no-nonsense tone that was markedly different from the cheerful voice he’d used so far, and Clem reacted to it as expected. He sat suddenly, and grabbed his beer, taking a big gulp before glancing at the door again.

“You expecting someone, Clem?”

“Oh! No. Not me.” He swallowed more beer. “I was just thinking that ummm…maybe I should go find someone to play poker with us, since you were so set on it and all.” He swallowed, his ears wiggling a little as he nodded, warming up to the idea. “You could stay here, and I could find some guys to play poker with, and bring them back here. What do you say?” he asked brightly.

“Right. And would you split the reward money with ‘em, or keep it all for yourself?”

“Reward money?” Clem’s voice was climbing up the register again, a sure sign that he was thinking of doing something stupid. “What reward money?”

“You know.” Spike smiled darkly at Clem. “The reward money for bringing in Master Spike’s ‘imposter’, yeah?”

“Oh, that reward money.” Clem swallowed. “Well, I guess it would depend on whether you were the imposter, or not, wouldn’t it?” He paused, and when Spike said nothing, he continued. “Are you?”

Spike took another drink of his beer. “I’m pretty sure you already know the answer to that question, don’t you, Clem?”

“Yeah, I think I do.” Clem acknowledged. “Master Spike wouldn’t be seen dead – oh, uh, I mean ‘dead-er’ in my humble abode without a really good reason.”

“Which is a real shame, ‘cause you and me are mates back in my world, and you’ve been a good friend.”

“I have?”

Clem’s red, beady little eyes were focused on Spike, now, and he scooted his chair around to face Spike, turning his back to the door in a conscious effort to show Spike that he was no longer thinking of turning Spike in for the money. That was one of the things that amazed Spike about Clem – yeah, he was fascinated by all things human, and loved the commercialized world they lived in, but he was a demon, and he understood the things that made a demon tick. By turning his back on the door, he was not only showing Spike that he had changed his mind about the reward money, but also that he was trusting Spike to watch his back.

“Yeah, we’ve been mates for a while now, you and me,” Spike told him. “I’ve got an open invitation to Wednesday night’s poker game, as well as Friday’s Chip and Dip Fright Nite.”

Clem’s eyes practically popped out of their sockets with surprise. “You come to Chip and Dip Night at my house?”

“Not every night, mind. I’ve got other places to go, things to do. But I drop by from time to time.” He refused to admit that his ‘other things to do’ usually consisted of patrol with the slayer or a couple of her Scoobies. No sense in letting all his secrets out of the bag at once. But if he wanted Clem’s help, he’d have to give him a fair amount of information.

“I just can’t imagine why a Master like you would spend his time with someone like me.” Clem finished off his beer, so Spike freed another bottle and handed it over, and they started another round. “I mean, you can do anything you want, with anyone you want, and you hang out with me?”

Spike shrugged. Clem was right. Before the chip he might have spent an evening playing kitten poker with the guy, if circumstances had ever dictated that they meet. But he’d never have ended up hanging out with the guy.

“Well, things are different in my world, Clem. Very different. And therein lies a story.”

Clem’s ears pricked up before they flopped back down again. “A story!” He hopped up and grabbed a bag of Doritos, pouring them into a bowl that was already sitting on the table. Then he plopped back down on his chair, wiggling around until he was comfortable. He grabbed a Dorito and bit into it, his eyes wide with excitement. “Well? Go on.”

Spike grabbed a handful of Doritos and started to talk.

He hadn’t planned to tell Clem everything, but he was such a good listener; attentive and eager to hear more, asking questions and responding with gasps and sighs and growls in all the right spots. Spike ended up telling him about Dru and being turned, Angelus and Darla, the Scourge and the curse, abandonment and success, two dead slayers and a mob in Prague. Clem knew some of the events, although filtered through the world of a different Spike and Dru. Spike was sure to point out the differences between their world and his.

Clem cheered as Spike restored Dru to health and gasped in horror as the organ collapsed on Spike. Angelus’ return had the gentle demon shivering with fear, and he heartily agreed with Spike that the world they lived in was worth betraying Angelus over. Clem cringed with embarrassment as Spike admitted to losing the Gem of Amara to the Slayer and was horrified by the Initiative and the thought of the hardware inside Spike’s head.

When Spike admitted that without the chip he’d have never experienced the friendship he now enjoyed with Clem, as well as Xander and the rest, Clem reluctantly suggested that perhaps, all things considered, it was possible that the chip might have played an important role in making Spike the person he was today. Spike had to admit that he might be right. Clem was quick to say that if the opportunity ever arose, losing the chip would still be an advantage, but all things being equal, the chip had played a worthwhile part.

They’d been through over half of the beer Spike had brought by the time Spike explained his and Xander’s present predicament, and they were both feeling comfortable, relaxed and stuffed full of snack foods. Clem sympathized with Spike over his dilemma with Dru, and it helped a lot to be able to explain exactly how torn he was over knowing that here his Dark Princess was, for the most part, sane and capable and in control of her mind.

“But see, that’s the problem, isn’t it? I became a Master when Angelus and Darla abandoned us. I had to, ‘cause I had Dru to take care of, and she demanded so much of my time and effort, just to keep her safe from harm. This Spike – Old Puffy – he never did. He’s weak and spineless, and the only reason he’s Master of the Hellmouth is that Dru doesn’t want the title. I only know about Buffy for certain, but I have the feeling Drusilla helped him beat the other two slayers as well.”

“That must be why I’ve never heard your title before – Slayer of Slayers, I mean,” Clem mused. “Because that’s not something he has a right to be proud of, despite the fact that he’s supposedly the only vampire in history to have beaten three.”

“Exactly!” Spike practically crowed his agreement. “He didn’t earn the title, I did.” He sighed heavily, shoulder’s drooping. “If my Dru had been sane and in control, would she have done the same for me?” he asked. “Would I have turned out like him? A fake?”

“More importantly, would you have been strong enough to survive the chip? Would you have had the strength to keep going if you’d never had to face the challenges of taking care of Drusilla?”

Spike was stunned by that question. Just like Clem to dig straight to the heart of things. That’s why Spike liked him so much. He was a hell of a lot smarter than he let on.

Clem opened another bottle of beer and handed it over. “You’ll never know the answer, Spike. But I think that’s okay.” He took a big gulp of his own beer. “You are who you are, and that’s life. Or in your case, that’s unlife.” He laughed at his own joke. “But in the end, you just have to go on and be who you are. You’re a stronger man than ‘Puffy’ and that’s something to be proud of.”

Spike straightened his spine and raised his head high, tilting his beer in salute to Clem. “Cheers, mate. You’re an alright demon. I’m proud to call you my friend.”

Clem beamed a huge smile at Spike. “Wow. I’m Spike’s friend. I never would have ever dreamed of that.” Then Clem, bless his wrinkled, little heart, came right to the point and asked:

“So what can I do to help?”

Spike grinned an evil grin, grabbed the bag that had been sitting on the floor all this time and said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Chapter Text

It was only an hour before dawn, and Spike wasn’t home yet. Xander couldn’t stop pacing. Well, pacing and looking out the window at the sky that was already showing signs of the coming daybreak. Okay, he was also staring at the street outside their gate, as if he could will Spike to show up. He dropped the heavy curtain back down over the window, and went back to pacing.

Xander didn’t know what to do. Spike was barely back to full strength, and now he was out playing keep away with the sun. If anything happened to him, Xander wasn’t sure they had enough money to buy more human blood. They’d used up most of their bankroll buying enough blood to help Spike heal from his fight with Puffy Spike. They were pretty close to broke. That had resulted a long discussion concerning what was considered healthy human food when Kendra and Tara were here last. They’d been appalled by the contents of the kitchen.

Like he was going to buy vegetables when his vampire was wounded, scoffed Xander. Okay, so he didn’t buy vegetables ever. But even if he did, he wasn’t going to worry about that crap when Spike’s body still had holes that hadn’t closed over yet. Of course, a couple of days of lounging around, doing nothing but drinking blood had done wonders for Spike. He’d been champing at the bit, eager to be out and about far before Xander thought he was well enough.

Tara had come over and taken a closer look at the loot they’d found in the lair that Xander and Spike had been uncomfortable dealing with, even after they had the magic revealing/neutralizing trinkets Tara had recommended to Xander. She hadn’t needed much in the way of spells and things while she was upstairs. She’d recognized the magic on most of the objects and had set aside those that would need more work.

But downstairs in the basements, she’d spent a lot of time sorting through the treasure they’d found in various safes and hidey holes, moving slowly to make sure she didn’t miss anything dangerous. She’d used up a lot of sage in her efforts to cleanse the taint of evil out of those levels. But the results had been worth the annoyance to Spike’s delicate nasal passages, and if he could get the fences to agree with his estimates, they might even have enough money for some sort of a vehicle.

A car or truck would be most welcome. They lived at the very edge of town, and spent over an hour walking to Giles’ apartment every day. A car would help Xander feel less isolated, and would definitely boost his spirits. He wasn’t sure if it was his wild emotional swings or just their current circumstances, but he could definitely use some good news, right now.

That was why Spike was out tonight: his fence wouldn’t deal with a human, so Xander had stayed home. He hated thinking that Spike was out there by himself with no backup. Xander’d stayed up late, thinking Spike would show up before he went to sleep, but finally he couldn’t keep his eyes open, and gave in to the call of the bed. He’d woken after just a couple of hours of sleep, surprised at the lateness, or well - earliness of the hour. He didn’t know what had woken him, but he couldn’t go back to sleep. Finally he got up, and that was when he realized there was no Spike in the house.

He had to do something soon. Spike could be lying on the side of the road, wounded and unable to call for help. He could be fighting for his life down at the docks. Maybe Puffy Spike and his minions had tracked him down and were right this minute holding a stake over his heart! He could be tied to the top of the clock tower waiting for dawn to break. Or maybe he’d been fighting with Fyarls who’d used their really gross mucous to turn him into a Spike statue, and when the sun came up, there’d be nothing but a Spike-shaped chunk of hardened mucus with a few ashes in the middle.

Xander’s heart skipped a beat as he remembered the multi-headed hydra-thing they’d dealt with last year. It had clamped its jaws shut on Spike’s thigh, and whipped its head from side to side, ripping a huge chunk of vampire flesh right out of his body. Of course it had spit it right back out again two seconds later. Obviously, vampire flesh wasn’t as tasty as it had thought it would be. That wasn’t the point, though. Spike needed him, and he was standing here doing nothing!

He raced to his bedroom, throwing on whatever clothes he could find in his frenzy. He struggled with the zipper of his jeans, leaving his shirt unbuttoned rather than fighting to try and get the buttons in the stupid holes where they belonged. Panic tore through him. What would happen if he never saw Spike again? There were so many things Xander wanted to say to him. Things he wanted to do with him – to him. Okay, not going there. But still. He needed Spike. All the sources here and at home said he had to have a squire. What would he do if Spike were gone?

His bootlace snapped in his hands, and he pulled off his boots, screaming anxious fury at the ceiling. He had to leave. Now! He looked around the room, dazed, his heart racing, panting heavily. He didn’t have time to find his other boots; he’d just have to go barefoot. What the hell did he need shoes for, anyway?

He grabbed a jacket off the back of his chair, his hands brushing cool links and a rush of calm, relaxing strength flooded through him, bringing Xander’s panicked flight to a halt. He grabbed Buddy with both hands, holding him close against his chest, and let the soothing peace pour over him. He collapsed into the chair. That had been a close call. He’d almost run out into the dark without a weapon, without shoes! These mood swings had to be taken care of soon.

Buddy reminded him that there was still the matter of a missing vampire to deal with. Xander agreed, they needed to find Spike. But they’d do it in a calm, orderly fashion. Now that he was no longer lost in fear flight, he knew exactly where his second pair of boots was, and finished dressing, making sure to include Buddy underneath his buttoned up shirt. He stopped at the weapon’s chest, and pulled out an axe, and after the flash of an image from Buddy, one of the swords they’d found up on the second floor. Giles had practically drooled over them, so they must be good. Add in a couple of stakes in his back pockets and the knife he carried in his boot, and he was ready to go.

Xander opened the front door to find a fight already in progress. Spike was surrounded on all sides by close to a dozen vamps. He was doing his best to keep any of them from closing on him, spinning and kicking and whirling around, brandishing, of all things, a large branch of some sort, still sporting a few leaves that waved proudly in the breeze Spike created. Xander felt a surge of anger flood him, but before it overwhelmed him and he ran blind into the fight, Buddy’s strong presence washed over him again, and together they wrestled that wild deluge of emotion, channeling it to work for him, rather than overwhelm him.

He felt alive – powerful and in control, and he leapt off the stairs and through the open gate, out onto the street. He’d already dusted two vamps before they realized he was there, but then the advantage of surprise was gone. Two vamps charged him at once, and he let them get close enough together that his axe would strike both, then he took one’s head off and did some real damage to the second when she tried to hide behind the first, only to discover that dust didn’t really stop an axe blade very well.

He shouted over the sound of her cry, pulling the blade out of her shoulder as she buckled to her knees.

“Behind you, Spike!”

This particular axe was not designed for throwing, but the distance wasn’t too great, and although he couldn’t get the best aim, he was able to stick the blade far enough into the back of the vamp to distract him from sneaking up on Spike. The vamp stumbled forward with a scream, and Spike whirled in his direction just in time to see Xander pull the sword out of its scabbard and swing it around in an arc, beheading the vamp that had lunged in the direction of the axe.

Xander wasn’t sure if the vamp was looking to protect his friend, Sneaky Vamp, or if he was just aiming for a convenient weapon, but in either case, he was dust before he’d gotten there. Sneaky Vamp landed face first on the street, and Spike threw his branch at the one that was coming up on his left side, did a nicely choreographed leap over Sneaky, landing on his other side in a much better position to grab the axe handle. He pulled the axe out of the vampire’s back, ‘causing him to scream again.

“Thanks, mate.” Spike didn’t stop to chat, swirling off in a swoop of black leather coat in the direction of the vamp he’d thrown the branch at earlier. Buddy warned Xander in time to twist to the side, avoiding the knife of the vamp who’d come up on his right, as Xander took off the head of the vamp he’d put an axe into the shoulder of earlier. She’d struggled back to her feet, but although she didn’t look too dangerous at the moment, he’d thought she’d be even less dangerous if she was dust.

Knife Vamp looked surprised that his sneak attack hadn’t succeeded, but that didn’t stop him for long. He reversed his grip on the knife, and before Xander realized what he was doing, the knife was flying in his direction. Xander didn’t have time to get entirely out of the way, since another vamp had already closed on him from the other direction, distracting him long enough for the blade to get close to Xander’s heart. Fortunately, he had Buddy on his side, and the blade skidded along the chain mail and planted itself in his upper arm. It was painful, making him shout, but didn’t do a lot of damage, since the blade had already lost most of its momentum when it had been deflected by the chain mail. Xander pulled it out of his arm, and let it drop to the street.

Distraction Vamp took advantage of Xander’s wound, and tried to get close enough to plant his fangs in Xander’s jugular, since he was already inside the range of his sword. He grabbed Xander’s sword arm and leaned forward, toward his neck, but Xander gave him the Hardheaded Head Butt of Doom (Patent Pending), and shoved him into the path of Knife Vamp, who had produced another knife and was closing in on Xander from the other side. Distraction Vamp stumbled backwards into Knife Vamp, a look of surprise on his face, and Xander used the momentary lull to step back, which put his sword in range of both vamps.

He stuck the blade through them both, getting Distraction Vamp in the heart, which wouldn’t stop him, of course, but could definitely put him off his game, and since the blade had been aiming up, when it left Distraction Vamp it went right into Knife Vamp’s neck. It didn’t hit anything vital, mores the pity, but it did enough damage to make him break off the fight and retreat. He didn’t get far; Spike’s axe took his head off after he’d stumbled only a step away, the sweep of the blade moving on to take out Distraction Vamp, too.

“Nicely done, Spike.” Xander looked around, but other than a lot of dust, there was no sign that any vampires had ever been there. Aside from Spike, of course, who was bleeding slightly along the hairline, and sporting a couple of bruises that had already started swelling along his jaw. Xander sheathed his sword. Spike glanced up at the sky, which was definitely taking on a brighter hue, and Xander realized exactly how late it was.

“You’re bleeding.” Spike reached for his arm, but Xander grabbed his hand, instead, and started pulling him into the house.

“Yeah, okay, maybe I am, but you’re about to become toast, and that trumps a knife graze any day. Let’s get you inside, and then you can help me fix this up while you tell me what the hell you were doing coming home at this time of the morning!”

“Sorry,” Spike answered, snippily. “Didn’t realize I had a curfew.”

“Well, you do.” Xander didn’t give him any leeway. “It’s called sunrise, mister, and you’re about to miss it!” He shoved Spike in the door, then pushed in after him, slamming the door behind him.

“Oi! Stop manhandling me!” Spike set his axe down against the wall, and crossed his arms, the perfect picture of stubborn.

The adrenaline rush fell from Xander all at once, and he found himself on the verge of crying. Damned evil hormonal surges.

“Sorry, Spike,” he apologized, suddenly exhausted. “I woke up and you weren’t home, and then I had an evil demon panic attack, and there were vamps outside the door, and I just realized they must have been waiting there all night to ambush you, and then you’re all snippy about it and I have a hole in my arm and it hurts.”

Okay, maybe he wasn’t going to cry, but he was definitely pouting. He went to cross his arms, but one of them was bleeding, and he just wasn’t in the mood for this. Besides, that vamp had ruined his jacket, and he’d liked that jacket.

“Dammit, I don’t have enough clothes to go throwing away a perfectly good jacket.”

Spike relented. “C’mon Herc, let’s get you in the loo so we can clean up that cut and see if you need stitches.” He guided Xander in the direction of the bathroom, where they kept the first aid kit. “And don’t worry about the jacket. We’re rich. I’ll buy you another. If you like, I can buy you a dozen, all right?”

“We’re rich? When did that happen?”

“I knew that Plautect sorcerer must have had money shoved away somewhere. I mean, look at this place, it’s huge. Well, it looks like we found it. So it’s all ours now.”

Xander didn’t quite trust the gleam in Spike’s eyes, but he was too tired to deal with that right now, so he shoved that into the back of his mind for later examination, and let Spike lead him into the bathroom, and tend to his arm.

Chapter Text

Xander sat on the bathroom counter watching carefully as Spike fussed over his wounded arm. The cut was longer and deeper than Xander had thought, and Spike had insisted they put a few stitches in it to keep it together while it healed. With Xander’s new superpowers of quick healing it would probably be nothing but a scar in less than a week, but the stitches would help reduce the scarring. So he sat still and watched as Spike stitched him together, biting his lip, ‘cause he may have superpowers of healing, but sticking a needle in the sensitive inside flesh of his arm still hurt.

To distract himself, he watched Spike’s face as he worked. Spike’s pale skin glowed under the candlelight, his eyelashes fine and dark in contrast. That panic attack he’d had earlier had made clear to Xander exactly how much he wanted Spike. Of course, the Plautect’s spell had a lot to do with his revelations, but they weren’t at the root, they just exaggerated what was already there. He wanted Spike, and Xander wasn’t sure how much longer he could hide it from him.

With a snip of the scissors, Spike trimmed off the ends of the last stitch.

“There. All done.”

Spike looked up at Xander, and caught him unawares. From the gasp and the look of surprise on Spike’s face, everything Xander felt had been exposed for Spike to see. He turned away to hide from the intensity in Spike’s eyes, but Spike pulled his face back around.

Xander felt lost inside Spike’s gaze. He was certain Spike felt the same way he did, and he knew that he’d regret it if he didn’t do something, so he mirrored Spike’s move, and put his hand on Spike’s cheek. He slid it around to the back of Spike’s neck, and pulled their faces together until their lips touched. He didn’t press for more, just tried to share the way he felt for Spike, his fingers caressing the fine hairs at the back of his neck.

Spike didn’t respond. He didn’t break away, didn’t try to stop the kiss, but he wasn’t offering more than the minimum to keep the kiss going, his hand cool on Xander’s cheek. It’s hard to keep a kiss exciting without help, so Xander decided that maybe he should cut his losses. Obviously, he’d been mistaken about Spike’s interest.

Regretfully, he started to pull back. Suddenly both of Spike’s hands were holding his head in place, and the kiss went from cool to inferno in mere seconds. The tip of Spike's tongue flicked at Xander's lower lip, urging him to open up, and he did so with a sense of relief. Thank Christ! This is what he wanted. Spike’s tongue explored his mouth, tangling with his, tickling the ridges on the roof of his mouth.

Xander sucked on Spike’s tongue, happily dueling with it, enjoying the sensual duel with which Spike was all too eager to engage. Xander opened his legs so he could pull Spike closer, and wrap his arms more tightly around Spike’s back. Fortunately, Xander had learned how to power breathe when he was on the swim team; it had come in very handy while he was dating Cordelia. But hell, she had nothing on Spike. It was like he never needed a breath at all, the kiss just kept going on and on…

Well, duh. Xander reluctantly broke the kiss, panting for breath and feeling like a fool. Of course Spike didn’t need to breathe. But who the hell cared? That was an impressive kiss.

“Okay, that was pretty damn hot.”

Spike shrugged, but his casual attitude was belied by his dilated pupils and his swollen lips. “Yeah, not bad I guess.”

“You guess?”

Spike shrugged again, and tried to break away, but Xander wrapped his legs around Spike’s thighs to keep him trapped.

“Oh, no you don’t. We’re going to talk about this.”

“This?” Spike raised one eyebrow disdainfully. “You think I’m putting down your kissing ability? Okay, I’ll admit it; it was a pretty damn good kiss for a guy one sixth my age.”

Spike thought he kissed pretty damn good, huh?

“Wait.” It suddenly occurred to Xander that Spike was a sneaky, sneaky man. “You’re just saying that to try and distract me!”

“Who, me?” The wide eyed, innocent boy look worked better when the person you were trying to scam didn’t know you were an evil vampire.

Xander nodded. “Yes, you.”

“Did it work?”

Spike looked so hopeful that Xander hated to disappoint him. “No, it didn’t.”

“Damn.”

“Look, Spike. I’m sorry if you don’t want to discuss this, but I think we really need to. I don’t want it to get in the way down the line, when one of us could get hurt.”

Spike stared at Xander for a moment, and since they were so close, it was hard not to stare back. Xander’s eyes ended up on Spike’s lips, and he really wanted to nibble on that bottom lip just for a moment. Their faces drew closer and closer…

Spike pulled back, biting on the lip Xander wanted. “It’s no good. Standing this close, we’re gonna end up kissing again. Let’s go get a beer and sit in the kitchen, all right?”

Xander nodded. “Right.” Reluctantly, he uncrossed his legs and let Spike go. It seemed like Spike was as reluctant to go as Xander was to let him, and Xander had no idea if that was a good thing, or a bad thing. Finally he gave up trying to figure it out, and he jumped down off the counter and followed Spike into the kitchen.


“The problem, as I see it,” Spike said, waving his half empty bottle of beer, “is that sooner or later, they’re gonna figure out how to get rid of these emotional surges of yours, and your fixation on me is gonna disappear. You’re gonna realize that you don’t want to have anything to do with a vamp like me.”

Xander was shocked. He’d never in his wildest imagination thought that Spike was worried that Xander might dump him.

“I mean, look at me. 100 years with the same partner. I don’t mess around. I mean, sure, we occasionally brought a third into our bed, or a fourth or fifth, whatever the case may be. But it was always me and Dru in the end. Always.”

Xander was so fascinated by the thought of an orgy in Spike and Dru’s bed, that he almost missed what Spike said next.

“You didn’t make it a year before you were cheating on your prom queen with Red. And you and Demon Girl didn’t even last that long before you decided you made better friends than lovers.”

“Are you saying that you don’t trust me enough to date me?” Despite his hurt, he understood Spike’s hesitation. He didn’t really have a great track record.

“If I didn’t trust you to some extent, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. I’d never have followed you into that portal, and you’d have made this trip alone.”

Xander shuddered as the thought of making this journey alone sent a chill through him. He was so glad that Spike was here with him.

Spike lit a cigarette, and blew the smoke at the ceiling. “But trusting you as a friend and a fighting partner is one thing. Trusting you with my heart, well that’s a different matter altogether.”

Xander laughed bitterly. The sting in his eyes had nothing to do with the smoke from Spike’s cigarette, but he pretended it did, blinking and fanning invisible smoke from his face. Well, he’d made his move, and yet again he’d been rejected. He avoided Spike’s eyes as he spoke.

“Yeah, well. We’ll just have to keep it to friends, then. I don’t want to lose our friendship, Spike, it’s too important to me. So we’ll just stay friends, and leave it at that, okay?”

He stood up, and got half way across the room before Spike caught his arm, and turned him around. Xander turned away, knowing that Spike could probably smell the salt from the tears in his eyes, but unwilling to let Spike see him cry. He was losing mega man points here already.

“I need to get some sleep, Spike. Let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay?”

“You’re the one wanted to talk, Herc. I thought you had something to say.”

“Yeah, but my emotions are all over the place, and I’m not sure I can say it without making an even bigger fool of myself.”

“I’m not paying any attention to that. I know these demon hormones are wreaking havoc with your emotions. You go ahead and say what you need to say.”

Xander sighed. Obviously Spike wasn’t going to let this go. He sat back down, and the roll of paper towels that they’d been using for napkins landed on the table in front of him a second later. He grabbed the roll gratefully, wiping his eyes and blowing his nose. He sat there for a minute, trying to organize his thoughts. Spike stubbed his cigarette out in the ash tray and lit another, then grabbed a couple of beers. Xander was relieved that he didn’t try to speak, just sat there rather patiently, surprisingly enough.

Xander unscrewed the cap on his beer and took a drink. The heavy curtains over the kitchen windows let in enough of a glow around the edges to tell that morning was well underway. It was getting later and later every minute he put this off. He could feel the need to get all this emotion out; to let it rush out of him like water from a tap. The problem was, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop once he started. But Spike was insisting, and hell, if he was going to, he needed to just stop stalling and do it. He took a deep breath and started to talk, his eyes on the table in front of him.

“For as long as I remember I’ve never been good enough. My parents told me so every day, so did my teachers. I was in love with Buffy for a long time, but she never looked at me that way. Not once. Cordelia hid me in closets, and laughed at me behind my back; Faith threw me down and fucked me, then pushed me out the door.”

Xander might as well be a puppet with no strings, for all the control he had over the words coming out of his mouth right now. Damned Plautect sorcerer. The words poured out of him; words that he’d never shared with anyone before. But it felt good to let go of them, and he didn’t think he had the energy to try and stop them, anyway. So instead, he relaxed, and just let them flow.

“There were a couple of guys in Oxnard that flirted with me, but nothing ever came of it. After all, who the hell wants to date a dishwasher? I was thrilled when Anya chose me, and we had some great sex. But even I knew that she chose me because I was convenient. There was never any love in our relationship. Well, that’s not true. I still love her. But I was never ‘in love’ with her. Big difference.

“I felt something between us, Spike, and I told myself that I didn’t want it, because it was dangerous loving a demon. I told myself that once we got back, and it was no longer you and me against an entire dimension, that you’d get tired of me and drop me like a hot potato. But deep down inside, I was afraid. Afraid to take the chance and find out that I wasn’t good enough for you, either.

“I had no idea if there was a possibility for something more between us. But I wanted there to be. I know how long you loved Drusilla. I watched the two of you for years, and I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything more than I want what the two of you had. You had a love that lasted more than a lifetime. You’re a very lucky man.

“Earlier, when I was watching you sew up my arm, I could feel your concern for me. I could feel the attraction between us. I still thought it was a bad idea, but I figured that I’d regret it if I never gave it a chance. Maybe all I was looking for was comfort in a foreign land. Maybe what I wanted was for some of that luck of yours to rub off on me. I’m really not sure what I wanted. But I gave it a shot. Obviously, I’m not good enough for you, either.”

Spike looked up from his cigarette at that, and he opened his mouth to speak. Xander didn’t give him a chance to say anything, though. The last thing he needed to hear right now was half-assed platitudes or heart-felt apologies.

“Well, at least we can still be friends, right? And you’re a good friend. I’m glad I’ve still got that.”

Xander got up again, and this time Spike didn’t try to stop him.

“I need some sleep. I’ll see you in the evening.”

Spike spoke softly. “All right, mate. Sleep well.”

“Thanks. You, too.”

Xander wasn’t really sure he’d be able to sleep, what with the many emotional upheavals he’d been through tonight, but Buddy was sending him lots of warm, calming acceptance and care, which was just what he needed. And obviously, emotional spewage was a good remedy for insomnia, because Xander’s head had barely touched the pillow before he was out like a light.

Chapter Text

Spike took another sip of his coffee and told himself that he really needed to leave the room before Xander woke up, but he found it hard to do. He’d been watching Xander for hours now, but at least his mind was in better shape than it had been when he’d quietly crept in not long after Xander had gone to sleep. All he could think of was Xander’s confession this morning, and how awful it had made Spike feel.

The people in his little clan were all important to him, in their own way, but he’d been working closely with Xander for some time now. It wasn’t surprising that he felt closer to Herc than to the others, especially now that they were stranded together in this strange universe. But it wasn’t merely the proximity. He’d come to enjoy Xander’s odd, twisted view of the world; his sense of humor actually reminded Spike of his own. They had fun together, and they worked well together, too.

The physical attraction was undeniable. Those dark eyes and handsome features, plus the physique of a man who works hard at his job: his broad shoulders, strong thighs and sculptured chest made an attractive package. But even without the physical attributes, Xander and Spike seemed to simply fit well together.

But that didn’t mean they were right for each other in terms of a romance. He’d gone over and over all the arguments after he first realized where they were headed. In the end, it all boiled down to Spike’s distrust of Xander’s emotional instability, and Spike’s concern for protecting his own heart. He couldn’t bear being left behind after he’d proclaimed his interest. One hundred years of second best to an absent Daddy, a century of wandering eyes and jealousy; he couldn’t do that again.

When Xander had kissed him in the bathroom, Spike had told himself he wasn’t going to respond. He was going to let Xander realize for himself that it wasn’t working, and they’d blow it off as a failed experiment. But when Xander had started to pull away, Spike couldn’t stop himself from pulling him back and deepening the kiss. It had felt so good, so right. In the back of his mind, all the arguments he’d been giving himself for days ran at full speed, urging him to stop and think about what he was doing, but he hadn’t wanted to quit, and so he hadn’t.

Spike was aware that he was a creature of impulse. He could fight it, and sometimes even wrestle it into submission, but more often than not, he was glad he hadn’t. When the moment came, he regretted not investing in Xander’s kiss, and so he refused to let go, and damned if that hadn’t turned into one fine snog. Herc was a hell of a good kisser. Spike had been ready to just toss his whole plan out the window, take the boy to bed and damn the consequences. Then Xander’d said the magic words that calmed his ardor.

“We need to talk.”

Immediately, all his own arguments rushed back to the front and between those and his need to protect his own easily bruised heart, it seemed like he may have overreacted. He was afraid that Xander was going to change his mind and push him away, and with his own mind full of arguments for doing exactly that same thing, he immediately started building up his defenses. By the time they’d got to the kitchen and each grabbed a beer, Spike had his arguments in place.

They’d barely sat down before Spike went on the offensive, worried that if he didn’t, his libido would speak for him, and they’d end up in a worse mess. Besides, it’s easier to attack than to defend, right? So he swallowed half his beer in one go, and started talking. Even as he spoke, he knew he was saying hurtful things, but he was on a roll, and figured Xander would defend himself, and they’d have a chance to talk it through. But he didn’t. Xander simply stood up and walked away.

Spike had grabbed his arm and forced him to turn around and talk, but the things he said had eaten at Spike, and made him miserable. He had known that Xander hadn’t had the best of luck with love in the past. Xander himself had told Spike about the cheerleader and the love spell that backfired, and he’d heard the Slayer and Red talking about the kiss that had led to her finally dumping him.

He had to admit, he’d always assumed that it was all Xander’s fault. He was clumsy in so many of the social niceties that Spike immediately placed the blame at his feet, especially in the early days of their acquaintance. To hear Xander’s heartfelt descriptions in such straightforward, painful words had shocked Spike. He was aware that there was obviously a fair amount of the Plautect’s spell working on Xander at the time; his obvious depression was painful to watch.

Spike’s immediate knee-jerk reaction, honed to a fine point by a century of caretaking, was to take Xander in his arms and kiss away his pain, the way he’d done so many times with Drusilla. He’d held himself back with a willpower he hadn’t know he possessed, so strong was the urge to comfort the boy. Watching him walk away was one of the hardest things Spike had done in years.

Spike still felt strongly that he needed to take care with his heart; that hadn’t changed. But during the hours he’d spent watching Xander sleep, he’d come to a realization. They were both in search of a love they could trust implicitly. He had no idea if Xander was the one he needed, but his feelings for the boy were strong, and Spike had seen Xander’s heart and his bravery, and he knew Xander was worth the effort.

Perhaps things would change when Xander’s emotions had been tamed and he was back to the closest thing he could call to normal with all that had happened to him and what he’d become. But Spike was willing to say that it was worth the effort, and worth the trials to give each other’s hearts a chance to grow together. They’d have to take it slowly for now, with so much else happening in their lives, but that was best in any event, and Spike thought that might help their relationship in the future, when they’d conquered Xander’s emotional outbursts.

Relationship. It was a frightening word. There were times he hated that chip more than anything in the world. Now should be one of those times. He should never even contemplate a ‘relationship’ with a human. It made his demon rage every time he considered it. But at the same time, Spike knew that Xander accepted his demon, and respected it, and that was another reason to love him.

No, not love. Not yet, anyroad. But perhaps at some point he could. It would be worth the effort to find out, as long as they both agreed they should go slowly and find a mutual respect and trust that would keep both their hearts safe.

He’d been monitoring Xander’s heart rate and breathing all night. It was time he left the room, Xander would wake soon, and Spike didn’t want to alarm him. Xander woke slowly. If Spike wanted a serious talk with him, he’d best wait until after he’d had his first cup of coffee. Spike stood, left the room quietly and headed into the kitchen. He avoided the thin strip of orange sunset that glowed against the cabinets, leaking through from the gap in the blackout curtains, and took his customary seat at the kitchen table.

He heard Xander wake, and followed his progress into the bathroom, where he spent more time than was strictly necessary to relieve himself and brush his teeth. Spike was about convinced that Xander had decided to take a shower by the time he finally stomped back into the bedroom and threw on a pair of sweat pants. Right. Time’s up, Spike told himself. Here he comes. It’s too late to back out now. He was nervous about this, although he told himself he had no reason to be. They both deserved a bit of happiness. If they could find it in each other, why should they be miserable apart?

“Morning.” Spike cringed. He’d sounded far too chipper for an evil fiend of the dark.

Xander stumbled into the kitchen and headed right for the coffee maker Spike had brought home last week. Xander had laughed, but he’d agreed it had been a wise choice when Spike brought out the extra carafe with the red top and declared it: For Blood Only. But right now, the black carafe was on the warmer, and the pot was full. Spike knew his human well.

“Ugh. Not morning,” Xander grumbled. “Don’t care whether you just woke up or not. Morning is at the other end of day.” He grabbed a mug out of the cupboard and poured his coffee in before desecrating it with creamer and sugar. “It’s afternoon.” He sat at the table and stirred as he talked. “Say it with me: af-ter-noon.”

Spike cheerily supplied: “Morning.”

Xander shook his head. “You never get that right.”

Spike sat back with his cup and watched as Xander inhaled. He’d said in the past that the scent of coffee did as much for him as the actual drink. He’d tried to explain how that worked to Spike, who’d claimed a reluctance to believe him, but in all honesty he knew what Xander was saying. That’s how a good cuppa smelled at tea time. It fragranced the air around it, making the whole kitchen smell delicious. Not that he would admit that to Hercules. Spike enjoyed teasing him when he was still too sleepy to realize he was being played.

He was anxious to talk to Xander about his change of heart, but he knew better than to say anything of consequence before Xander had at least one cup of coffee under his belt. Xander kept his head down, like he was unsure of how to deal with Spike today. And Spike didn’t blame him. He’d been a right arse last night, and Spike couldn’t blame Xander at all for wanting to avoid him right now. He wasn’t going to allow that, though. He wanted to get this out in the open and air it before it had time to fester and they got caught up in a cycle of embarrassment and blame.

He noticed that Xander was wearing Buddy over his sleep-creased t-shirt. Thinking back, Spike realized that he’d been wearing the armor while Spike had watched him sleep, which was odd, as he could have sworn Xander usually took him off when he went to bed.

“Did you wear Buddy to bed last night?” Maybe Xander hadn’t had the strength to take him off. It was an awkward maneuver, even without being wounded. “You should have asked me to help…”

Xander looked up, “No, I wanted to wear him.” He cleared his throat. “I needed the comfort last night.”

Spike cringed. Then told himself to get over it. He was an evil demon. If he couldn’t deal with causing even a little discomfort then maybe he should turn in his black hat. Well, at least this made for the perfect opportunity.

“About last night…”

He didn’t get far before Xander raised a hand, interrupting him.

“Wait. Before you say anything, I need to talk.”

“But I…”

“No. Let me talk, Spike. Please. It’s important that you hear this before we say anything else about last night.”

“Fine,” he acquiesced with poor grace. He was eager to share his thoughts, but if Xander had something on his mind, he wouldn’t be concentrating on Spike’s words, so maybe it was best that he get it over with.

Xander finished off his coffee and went over for more, fiddling with the creamer and sugar while Spike waited anxiously. The least he could do was get on with it. Finally, Herc turned around, leaving his coffee on the counter while he started to pace.

“Okay, I need you to not saying anything until I’m finished, all right?” He stood there waiting for Spike to respond, so reluctantly, Spike nodded.

“Go ahead.”

Xander took a deep breath. “Okay.” He took a big gulp of his coffee, then set it back down on the counter.

“I’m pretty sure it was obvious to you that my emotions were totally out of control yesterday.”

Spike opened his mouth to respond, then remembered he wasn’t supposed to talk and shut it, as Xander went on.

“I just want to say that I was way out of line. I verbally spewed all over you, and I’m sure it was the spell, but that doesn’t change what I did and said. Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I think that what you said has merit, and to be honest, now that I’m fairly emotionally ‘normal’ or balanced or whatever, I realize what a mistake it would be for the two of us to become involved. So never mind, and thanks for catching what would probably have been the biggest mistake of both our lives. I like us as friends and fighting partners, and I’m pretty damn sure that’s all we should be, so thanks.”

Spike sat there, his mouth open, totally and completely at a loss as to what to say. Everything he’d planned last night was now dross – a total waste. He found himself reluctant to give up his plans, though. He was still drawn to Xander, no matter that Xander seemed to now think that their attraction was ill advised.

“So…what did you want to say?”

Spike found himself shaking his head. He was going to need time to revise his strategy. He wasn’t going to give the two of them up, though. He just needed a new tactic.

“Never mind, it isn’t important.”

Xander shrugged. “Okay.” He finished off his coffee and set the cup in the sink. “We’re good then?”

Spike blinked at him. “What? Oh. Yeah, sure, mate. We’re good.”

Xander grinned at him, obviously relieved. “Great. I’m going to take a shower.”

Spike watched him leave, his steps spry and jaunty. In a good mood, no doubt, now that he’d made a complete bollix of all Spike’s well thought out plans. He frowned at Xander’s cheery attitude.

“Well, bugger.”

Chapter Text

Clem walked up the street, doing his best to act casual, like he delivered packages to the Master of the Hellmouth on a regular basis. Crawford Street was busy at any time of the day, since Master Spike and Drusilla lived here, but Spike had done some reconnoitering and he said there was less traffic during the early morning hours. So here Clem was, at barely daybreak, when any demon worthy of the name was on his way to bed, delivering Spike’s package to Master Spike. Boy howdy, but he’d be happy when he’d handed this basket off to the minions at the door, and could turn around and get the hell out of here.

He really wasn’t very good with confrontations, and that was obviously what Spike was trying to provoke, so the sooner Clem was gone the better. There were two big Fyarls standing at the door to the mansion, but they were dwarfed by the size of the huge building. Under any other circumstances, he’d love to look around, check the place out, but all he wanted to do right now was get away with his skin in one loose piece.

He’d volunteered to help Spike, because he was in awe of a master vampire who could be friends with someone like Clem. And the story he’d told was incredible. He’d wanted to help; he still did. However, he’d rather do it from farther away from the action, if at all possible. Unfortunately, here he was, getting ready to step into the lion’s den. Well, actually, he’d be dropping off a package at the front door of the den, and walking away as quickly as possible. But that was still closer than he’d ever dreamed of being to this particular lion’s den.

He swallowed, pasted a big smile on his face and stepped up to the Fyarls at the front door.

“Delivery for Master Spike.”

He cringed internally. His voice hadn’t cracked like that since he was a cub. The Fyarls both snarled at him, but he kept smiling. Hopefully they spoke English, he couldn’t speak Fyarl, he didn’t have the larynx for it. He held out the covered basket with its black ribbons and big black velvet bow, but they didn’t take it. Instead they grabbed his arms and pulled him inside the house.

“Whoa! Where are we going, guys?”

The door slammed shut behind them, and the Fyarls fast marched him through a huge white room with statues and odd geometrical designs on the walls. They took him down a long hall to a door that was covered with swirls and odd angles and strange looking creatures carved into the dark wood. The Fyarl on the right knocked on the door, then walked in dragging Clem behind him. The other Fyarl followed, still holding onto his other arm. He had to walk sideways, which was awkward, since he had a basket in his hands.

“Hey, no mishandling the courier! I’m about to drop this, and I’m sure Master Spike would not be happy if his package arrived in pieces.”

He bumped into the one in front, who’d stopped, then the other one caught up, and suddenly he was facing front again. Clem swallowed heavily. He gave the Master and Seeress of the Hellmouth as big a smile as he could and held out the basket.

“Delivery for the Master of the Hellmouth.”

His voice wavered. Facing terror didn’t get any easier, obviously.

The Seeress Drusilla nodded at the Fyarls, “You may leave him here.”

She was staring at Clem, obviously fascinated and he was fascinated right back. She was awfully pretty, for as tight as her skin was attached. He wondered if that odd sparkle was due to being a Seer or if she had something in her eyes. That’s when he remembered what Spike had said about her ability to thrall, and he forced himself to turn away to watch the Fyarls leave the room.

When he turned back, the Seeress was very close, and he concentrated on Master Spike who was frowning heavily at him.

“What type of demon are you?” Drusilla asked.

Clem jumped at her softly spoken words. “Who me? Oh, I’m nothing special. Just your common, ordinary, garden variety demon.”

Drusilla wandered slowly around him, fingering the tip of one ear and making him shiver. He felt like he was under a microscope, the way she stared at him, her brow crinkling in a lovely frown as she concentrated. He tried to think of a way to tell her how much he liked her wrinkles, but he’d learned the hard way that humans didn’t appreciate their wrinkles for some odd reason. Clem knew she wasn’t human, but she had a human’s body, so he decided that discretion was the better part of valor in this case, and chose not to comment. That left him with nothing to say until he felt the basket shift in his hands. Oh, yeah.

“Should I set your package down here?” He motioned to the round table they’d been sitting at when he came in. Spike nodded curtly, and Clem set the basket down awkwardly, jerking in surprise when it hissed at him.

Suddenly the basket had both of their attention, and Clem sighed with relief. “I’ll just be leaving, then, Master Spike.” He tipped his head in Drusilla’s direction, without looking in her eyes. “Seeress.”

She grabbed his hand, pulling him back when he tried to turn to go.

“Oh, no. You’re going nowhere until we’ve had our tea.”

“Tea?” Images of Spike’s Drusilla came to Clem, the tea times of an insane vampire who fed her dollies blood and the internal organs of small children. “Oh, uh… thanks, but I’m not thirsty.”

Drusilla pulled on his hand, and he stumbled forward, unprepared for a vampire’s strength from her small body. Spike pushed a chair out with his foot and Clem fell into it awkwardly.

“When the Mistress of the Hellmouth says stay for tea, that means you stay for tea.”

Master Spike didn’t sound very happy about it, but he arched his eyebrow, obviously waiting for a response from Clem, who jumped to respond.

“Oh! Of course. Sorry, what was I thinking?” He looked over at Drusilla, who was still staring at him. “Thank you. Of course I-I’d love to stay for tea.”

She smiled at him. “Excellent!”

She crossed to the table, and poured tea into the cup that was already set at his place. Obviously, they’d known he was coming, but then, she was a seer, after all. It was kind of difficult to surprise a seer, wasn’t it? Damn. He bet Spike hadn’t taken that into consideration when he’d made this plan. He was still thinking of his own Drusilla, who wasn’t really that coherent at the best of times. He swallowed again, really worried for the first time. This could get sticky.

At least what was coming out of the teapot looked like real tea. Clem took a sniff. “Earl Grey. Nice.”

Master Spike raised his eyebrow again. “You’re a tea drinker, are you? With that American accent of yours, I’d have figured you for a coffee fan.”

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with a good cup of coffee, but my Aunt Lavinia was British, and she taught us all the advantages of a good cuppa.”

Drusilla sat down across from Spike and offered Clem a plate with cookies on it.

“Oh, cookies!” Oops, the British call them biscuits, he told himself. No sense in setting off an “us versus them” discussion when he would be in the minority. “Biscuits, I mean.”

He took a cookie. “Thank you.”

They sat there quietly for a few minutes, drinking their tea. How many demons could say that they’d had tea with the Master of the Hellmouth? If he hadn’t been totally freaked out, he’d probably have enjoyed it more, but with both Master Spike and the Seeress examining him like he was a bug or something, there wasn’t much opportunity to really enjoy himself. He was relieved when the basket sitting across from his chair started to rustle, and both Drusilla and Spike turned to look at it again.

Drusilla stood up and ran her hand down one of the black velvet ribbons, the black cellophane crinkling under her fingers. Suddenly, the cellophane pushed back, and she pulled her hand back, her eyes bright with excitement.

“Shall we open our pressies now?”

Master Spike shrugged, but Clem could tell he was curious. Clem cleared his throat. He hadn’t planned on being in the room when the basket was opened. After what Spike had told him about his and Master Spike’s disagreement during their fight, Master Spike was not going to be as happy about this delivery as Drusilla was.

She split the cellophane with one sharp fingernail and out popped a Siamese kitten. Clem had hunted high and low for a Siamese, so he hoped Drusilla appreciated it. She seemed to.

“Oh, a kitten!” She smiled and scooped him up, cooing at him as she rubbed under his chin.

“He’s adorable.” She looked up at Clem. “Thank you so much.”

Clem shrugged. “I’m just the messenger,” he informed her. “But I’m glad you like him, anyway,” he added shyly.

“I do.”

She set the kitten down on the table, and Spike reached out, scratching him on top of the head. He moved his tea cup and poured a bit of milk into the saucer. The kitten lapped at it while Drusilla drew an envelope out of the basket.

“To the Master of the Hellmouth,” she read.

“I have been reminded that I am remiss in my duties to you. I apologize profusely. I hope you understand my reluctance to meet you at your stronghold; I would like to suggest a more neutral meeting place. I will gladly meet you at midnight, this coming Wednesday, at Heatherly Park, near the statue of Mayor Wilkins the First. I do, of course, claim the traditional immunity for my traveling companion, Xander Harris and his symbiote, both of whom are under my protection.

“In order to maintain the neutrality of our meeting place, I have been offered the help of Ms. Tara Maclay, who has agreed to provide us with assistance in the form of shielding both our groups from any magic of a hostile nature. Our dearest sire Drusilla can attest to Ms. Maclay’s honesty and ability in this matter. Ms. Maclay will be guarded by the Slayer Kendra, who has agreed to take no action during the meeting apart from any defensive measures required with regards to Ms. Maclay’s safety.

“Yours, most cordially,

“Spike”

“He’s bringing the Slayer to a meet with us?” Master Spike asked incredulously.

“Hush, love. The slayer is honorable. If she says she’s there for Tara’s protection only, I’m fine with that.”

“Well, I’m not.” He crossed his arms over his chest with a frown.

Clem studied Master Spike carefully. He sounded like he wanted to pout. He definitely wasn’t challenging Drusilla’s opinion. Clem was surprised to realize that Spike was right; Master Spike did exactly what his sire told him to.

Spike’s name for him popped into Clem’s mind. Puffy Spike. He had to hide his grin. It made it easier to face Master Spike; Clem suddenly wasn’t as frightened of him as he had been. Drusilla still scared him, though. Actually, she scared him even more, now. She was obviously the real power here.

She ripped the cellophane open, tipping the basket over. A dozen different brands of mousse fell out, cans rolling across the table. The kitten jumped and hissed, batting at the clear plastic cap that had come off the top of one can, rolling it around the teapot.

Master Spike stood suddenly, sweeping cans and teacups off the table. He grabbed Clem by the neck of his shirt, pulling him to his feet. Drusilla grabbed her kitten, protecting him from Spike’s wrath. Clem stumbled backwards, trying to find his footing, but Spike had him by the throat, held up against the wall before he had a chance to do more than shout.

“Hey!”

“You think this is funny, do you?”

“No! I didn’t – I mean, why would I?” He struggled to speak, relieved that it had even occurred to him that he shouldn’t know what was inside the package if he was just the courier. “Don’t blame me; I’m just the delivery guy!”

Drusilla laid a hand on Master Spike’s shoulder. “Let him go, dear heart. He’s not the one you want.”

Master Spike growled at him, but let go of his shirt, taking the pressure off his throat but leaving his hand there for a moment longer, a warning Clem was sure, that he needed to watch his step. Then he let go, and Clem slump against the wall while Master Spike turned his anger on the room.

He upturned the table, roaring loudly. Breaking off one of the legs, he used it to beat on the sofa, ripping out the stuffing with fingers turned into claws, his face transformed into the mask of the demon. He demolished the coffee table, breaking it into pieces which he stomped on, grinding the splinters into the carpet.

Clem started slowly easing his way toward the door, trying to look like he wasn’t going anywhere but away from the Master’s wrath. Right before he reached the door, the Seeress intercepted him, pulling him behind her as she crossed to a set of chairs in the corner. Damn, he’d gotten so close. Drusilla sighed and petted her kitten, acting as if she was bored by Spike’s rage, but Clem couldn’t take his eyes away from the temper tantrum the Master of the Hellmouth was having on the other side of the room.

The only time Drusilla even acknowledged what was going on was when Spike turned to strike the piano. She raised her voice to be heard above his, shouting, “Don’t touch it!”

Spike swerved in mid swing, his strike landing on the vase of flowers on the table against the wall, as if that had been his target in the first place. Clem was surprised that Master Spike would have that much control while in such a rage, but obviously, even in the midst of a temper tantrum, Spike listened to Drusilla’s words.

Drusilla smiled at Clem. “Don’t worry, sweetie. Once Spike has worn himself out, we’ll put him to bed. Then you and I can have a long talk.”

Clem swallowed. He didn’t like the sound of that, but it looked like he didn’t really have a choice in the matter. He managed to force a smile onto his face.

“Oh. Um… I can hardly wait!”

Chapter Text

Spike stalked through the park, and Xander couldn’t help but stare. He was all vamp tonight; his gameface to the fore as he searched for undesirables who might be hanging about in the shadowy corners. Kendra walked at his side, and although Xander had patrolled with her several times recently, he was amazed at the difference in her. Tonight he was strongly reminded of that ‘otherness’ that set slayers apart from their fellow humans.

Buffy constantly tried to hide it, wanting to fit in with those around her, and Faith’s easy sexuality had never successfully disguised the predator inside her. He thought that of the three slayers he knew, Kendra wore her difference most comfortably; probably because she’d been raised knowing who and what she was, and no longer needed to struggle with acceptance. Tonight she looked like the demons she fought; her eyes sharp and hard, her movements sure and precise.

Kendra moved with the same easy bearing that Spike exhibited, and Xander’s eyes were naturally drawn to them as they prowled, graceful and deadly, through the park. But his job was to protect Tara, so he tore his eyes away from them and watched as she followed in their wake, crumbling dried leaves on the ground, and chanting as she waved a bundle of herbs that smoldered and smoked. The scent of sage made his nose itch, and eventually he gave in and took his hand off his sword long enough to rub at his nose.

When they reached the gates again, having circled the whole park, they all three watched as Tara performed a spell similar to the one Xander did every week on the lair, but even from fifteen feet away, Xander could feel the growing power of this spell, and his respect for Tara increased even more. Tara had told him that his recent firsthand exposure to magic would heighten his awareness to it, but he was pretty sure what he was feeling was all Tara. Spike was really twitchy, and even Kendra seemed uncomfortable and nervous.

By the time dead leaves and dry grass started spinning around Tara in an invisible whirlwind, her extreme concentration and focus was almost frightening in its intensity. He was suddenly very glad she was on their side. Throwing her head back, she chanted to the stars, her hair whipping around her face, and the hem of her skirt flapping around her calves. She spread out her arms and they seemed to encompass the whole park, power surging away from her and rushing past them to the boundaries she’d set earlier. Then she spoke a few quiet words.

The wind stopped instantly, and Xander gasped as his ears popped with the release of pressure he hadn’t realized had built up around them, unprepared for the abruptness with which the spell ended. Tara’s knees buckled under her, and it was a good thing Kendra was already walking her direction, because she barely caught Tara as she fell. Kendra carried her to a bench close by, and knelt beside her, waiting impatiently as Tara slowly came around, blinking up at them groggily. Kendra helped her sit up, and Xander grabbed a bottle of water out of his bag. Tara took it with a grateful smile.

Spike walked up, nodding in approval. “Good work, Glinda. It’s very strong; I can feel it.” He studied her for a moment, taking in her pale face and shaky hands. “You didn’t push yourself too far, did you?”

“No, don’t wuh-worry, Spike. This is why I wuh-wanted to get here so early. I’ll t-take a nap in the car soon, and eat a granola bar to get my energy buh-back. I’ll be fine by the time Master Spike and Drusilla get here.”

Xander sat down next to her. “That’s not our only concern, Tara. We don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

“Th-thank you, Xander. Th-that’s very sweet of you, but I’ll be fine in an hour. The car is protected by the spell, so I’ll be safe there.”

Kendra laughed. “So that’s why you include the street on this side.”

Tara smiled shyly at her. “Always think ahead. T-that was my grandmother’s motto. She had it carved on her gravestone…” she paused to make sure every eye was on her, “…ten years before she died.”

Xander couldn’t help but laugh. Partly from nerves, but he was also relieved to see how quickly Tara was recovering. She’d been stumbling over her words when she first sat up, but he could tell she was better already. Now they just had to wait a couple of hours before the meet started. Great.

Spike spent a lot of the next several hours talking with Kendra. The two of them discussed styles of sword fighting while Xander listened and tried to figure out what they were talking about. Despite the fact that Spike had been teaching him how to use them, he knew very little about swords beyond what kind of damage they could do. Spike was much more concerned that Xander be able to use a sword than he was that Xander learn the proper techniques and forms. He hadn’t taught Xander anything at all about their history or any theories on their use.

Xander hadn’t realized that Spike knew so much about them until now. They discussed small swords and broadswords, rapiers and sabers, katanas and daos - Xander was completely lost. Kendra had been very impressed with Spike’s ability to combine the various styles that he used, and they’d argued about rules and practices and theories until Xander’d thought his ears were going to bleed.

He’d wanted Kendra to like and trust Spike from the beginning, and now that they were getting along he was unhappy about it. But they were just too friendly, and finally Xander recognized what he was doing. He and Spike had been very close for a while now. He’d had Spike all to himself, and now that Spike was getting friendly with Kendra, he wasn’t spending all his time with Xander, and Xander was jealous. He was feeling left out and neglected.

He couldn’t even go talk with Tara, just to get away for a while, because once she woke up from her nap, she’d started meditating, and she needed her privacy right now. Xander wasn’t going to bother her just because he was acting like a baby. He wished that Giles was there, he would at least have had someone to talk to.

Besides, Giles needed to see for himself how powerful a witch Tara was, so he’d stop fussing over her joining them. But Giles had refused to come tonight. He was still angry with Kendra for insisting that she come along to protect Tara. They’d had a huge fight over it, and Xander got the idea that Giles blamed Xander and Spike for Kendra’s growing resistance to his overbearing tyranny. Well, that was just too bad. Kendra needed to grow, and she’d never do it from Giles’ shadow. Giles would come around eventually.

But the time passed so slowly. If they’d been able to spar, or even play a game of basketball on the court at the other end of the park, it wouldn’t have seemed like such a long wait, but there was no way to know if they needed to conserve their energy or not. If they ended up in a fight, they didn’t want to go into it already worn out. There wasn’t supposed to be any fighting tonight, but Xander was aware of exactly how badly Spike’s plans could go, and this was mostly Spike’s idea.

When Spike had told Xander how he sent the invitation, Xander had rolled his eyes.

“Great idea, Spike. Get the Master of the Hellmouth mad at you before you meet with him. That’s going to help a lot!”

“No, see, it will help in the long run. Drusilla isn’t going to let him kill me, I’m sure of that. She’ll want to keep me around, but Puffy is going to want to get rid of me as soon as possible. I’m pretty sure that I can convince him that he’s better off letting us get our business here done, and then we can move on, and he can have Dru to himself again.”

“You think it’s going to be as easy as that? What if he goes behind her back and gets his minions to kill you?”

“No, he won’t do that.” Spike spoke with a confidence that Xander wasn’t sure he could trust. “He’ll do what Dru says.”

“He’s not you, Spike, you can’t know that.”

“I know. But I’m 99% certain, Herc, and those are damn good odds.”

Xander had agreed to go along with his plan, but there had been complications already. Last night Spike hadn’t come home until close to dawn. He’d been out all night scouring the town for some sign of his friend Clem. He had to be careful who he talked to; with the bounty on his head he was a target, but he was concerned about his friend and refused to stay home. Spike hadn’t said so, but Xander was pretty sure he was worried that delivering Spike’s package had gotten Clem into trouble.

“Heads up, people.”

Spike’s voice cut through Xander’s contemplations and he looked up to see Spike indicating the far end of the park. It was too dark for human eyes, but Kendra nodded at Spike.

“Good luck,” she told them both, then she walked over to Tara, who was getting to her feet.

The two of them crossed to a bench a few yards away, where Tara had set out her supplies earlier. She’d be ready for pretty much anything this way, but far enough away to give them the semblance of privacy.

For once, Xander’s nerves weren’t acting up; he felt alert and on top of things. He didn’t trust the feeling, there must be something wrong. He got a shot of amusement from Buddy, and Xander acknowledged that maybe he simply couldn’t accept that he was actually feeling on top of his game for once. But he trusted Buddy to know, and resolved himself to take advantage of the feeling while he had it. He took his place to the right and slightly behind Spike, since tonight was Spike’s move.

Puffy Spike looked the same as always, and Xander studied his hair, trying to see what Spike saw. He couldn’t tell a bit of difference between the two. It occurred to him that he should have made Spike dress differently or something; if there was a fight he didn’t want to have to worry about telling them apart again.

Drusilla looked the same, as well. She wore the same old-timey clothes as the one in their universe, but her eyes were sharper, and they seemed to bore right into him. Xander remembered Spike’s warnings, and looked away; the last thing he needed was to fall under a thrall.

They’d barely stopped in front of Spike before he went on the offensive. “You have my courier.”

Drusilla smiled at him as if his first words to her hadn’t been angry ones. “William, dearest.”

From her look, Xander thought that perhaps she wanted to come closer, but Spike wasn’t acting very friendly, so she kept her distance. He frowned at her, but Xander noticed that he didn’t dispute her claim over him. Puffy Spike scowled at them both. Smiling graciously, Dru continued as if the atmosphere wasn’t so prickly that even Xander could feel it.

“Thank you for sending Clement to visit us. He has accepted our invitation to stay with us for a few days.”

“Has he, now?” Spike’s smile was brittle. “It’s very unlike him not to be home for poker night. He didn’t even let his friends know he wouldn’t be around.”

Puffy Spike frowned at Spike. “You seem awfully attached to your minions.” He gave Xander a pointed look, and Spike took a step forward, blocking Puffy’s view of Xander. That was just like Spike, to block the line of sight between Xander and the enemy. He scooted to the side, not wanting to distract Spike right now by making too obvious a move.

“Clem is not a minion,” Spike growled at Puffy, “he’s my friend.”

Puffy shrugged dismissively. “Well, if you want to speak to him, you know where to find him.”

“In your stronghold? Not bloody likely.”

Dru stepped between them, as if simply her presence could stop them from fighting. She was right; they both immediately took a step back and disengaged from their argument.

“You’d be perfectly safe with us, Spike. You should know that, love.”

Spike looked away from her, his jaw clenched, and Xander got the impression that it took a lot of effort not to accept her at her word.

“How can I trust you?” His voice was full of pain, bittersweet and regretful. “You’ve put a bounty on my head, and you’re holding my friend hostage. How could I possibly trust you?”

“You can’t trust us?” Puffy Spike asked incredulously. “We followed your directions. We came here without backup. You’re the one who had an armed guard poised at our backs.”

“What the bloody hell are you talking about?” Spike looked like he was ready to jump down Puffy’s throat. “I made it perfectly clear that the Slayer would only be here to protect Tara.”

“The Slayer, yes.” Puffy pulled a mangled crossbow from under his coat, and tossed it down between them. “But there was no mention in your invitation of her Watcher ambushing us before we even reached the rendezvous.”

Xander’s stomach twisted as he recognized the crossbow lying broken on the grass. He’d admired the carvings a few days ago when Giles had proudly shown it to him. It had been a gift from his family when he was chosen as Buffy’s Watcher.

He heard Kendra’s gasp as she came up behind them. “What have you done with Giles?”

Chapter Text

“What the bleeding hell did you think you were doing out there?” Spike was livid. That the Watcher would compromise a meet between Spike and his counterpart didn’t surprise him, but that he’d take a risk that might ruin any chance Xander had at getting back to his own universe did. The fact that he’d risk his own Slayer’s life at the same time had Spike completely floored.

“You risked Xander’s life. You risked Tara’s life. You risked the life of your own Slayer!”

“I’m quite aware of what, what I risked, thank you.” The watcher’s voice shook, and when he took the glass of water from Tara, his hands trembled so badly that he spilt water on the blanket they’d spread over his legs.

It was obvious that no one was particularly happy with him. From the moment they’d arrived to free him from the basketball goal Puffy had handcuffed him to, Giles had kept his back stiff as an arrow and weathered their frosty silence with head held high. Once they’d got back to the Watcher’s flat, Foxy Brown had bandaged his bloody scalp wound, and with Xander’s help, she’d bound his cracked ribs, but she’d done so with quick, jerky moves and hadn’t asked once if she was hurting him, or offered any kind of sympathy for his condition.

“You risked your own life, Giles.” The Slayer’s voice was thick with hurt and angry nerves, her strange Jamaican accent thicker than normal. “You promised me that you’d never do anything to risk your life again. I can’t do this alone.”

“You’re not alone anymore, Kendra. You’ve got friends now.”

Giles’ mouth hardened at Xander’s words. Spike supposed that he probably preferred it when he was all Kendra had, but it was too late to put that particular horse back in the barn. He was going to have to learn to deal with the fact that he was not the only person in her life anymore.

Glenda took the slayer’s hand and pulled her over to a chair where she’d set some of the herbal tea she’d made earlier. Spike had refused when she’d offered some to him; he’d smelled the chamomile and calendula when she’d started brewing and knew the tea was intended to help calm angry tempers. He didn’t think she was any happier with Giles than they were, but he supposed that both Herc and Foxy were less likely to say anything they’d regret if they let the tea do its work.

“Were you really going to ambush them, Giles?”

Poor Herc. He obviously considered that foul play, despite the fact that if Giles had come face to face with them, he’d probably have been dead before Dru had the chance to insist that Puffy spare his life.

“Even at the heights of my, of my agility and strength I wasn’t a match for a Master Vampire, Xander, and I passed those years some time back. If a, a human wishes to come out on top in a fight between a vampire with over a hundred years worth of experience under his belt, he would be best served by taking into account his, his vulnerabilities and limits and planning accordingly. If that means acting duplicitously, well then, that is what he must do. ”

The Watcher paused and took a sip of his water. When no one responded to what he’d said, he continued. “I can’t imagine that the, the Giles in your world never explained that concept to you.”

Herc shook his head. “No, he did. But this is different. My Giles never invited his enemies to a peaceful meeting, then tried to jump them when their backs were turned.”

The Watcher’s jaw clenched, and the straight line of his lips turned pale with the pressure he was exerting. The silence stretched out while they all stared at him, their eyes accusing him of more than they had words for. Eventually, he spoke again.

Your Giles has never lost,” he closed his eyes for a moment before he went on, “never lost his Slayer. He’s never been besieged by a, a, a tyrannical despot and his seer who, who rule the Hellmouth with an iron fist. I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep, to keep my Slayer alive and fighting. If I have to lie, cheat and steal to do so, I, I will.”

“Giles…” The slayer was speechless, her eyes filled with tears.

“You have to keep fighting, I won’t argue that.” Glenda’s arms were crossed as she stood over the watcher, looking like a school mistress about to use the cane on a school boy caught out cheating on a test. “But you have to place limits. There has to be a line you won’t cross, or you’re no better than the monsters you fight.”

She stuck her chin out bravely, though Spike could see the toll this was taking on her in the trembling of her hands before she buried them in the folds of her skirt. “You owe Xander and Spike an apology. No, you owe us all an apology. You put all of our lives in jeopardy tonight, and may have endangered the life of Spike’s friend as well. You… You should be ashamed of yourself.”

The watcher winced, closing his eyes against their hurt and disdain. That was the first sign that he might regret what he’d done. It seemed like Glenda’s words might have got through that thick skull of his.

Glenda looked a little shocked at her own temerity, and quickly retired to the loo. Spike was impressed. He’d been impressed with both the girls tonight. No, make that the women. Even with her watcher in peril, the Slayer had done her best to maintain the neutrality of their meeting place. They’d both shown wisdom beyond their years, and Spike was man enough to admit that he’d think twice before crossing either of them.

Spike crossed to the cabinet where Giles kept his scotch and poured himself a healthy dollop. He stared at the watcher while he drank, daring him to say anything about it, but Giles kept his mouth firmly shut. Finally the watcher looked away, only to sigh at the dejection that showed in the set of Foxy Brown’s drooping shoulders. He’d obviously hurt her deeply, and if he had any balls at all, he’d at least apologize to his Slayer.

Spike asked himself why he cared. He should be thrilled to drive a wedge between any watcher and his slayer, but the pain in Foxy Brown’s eyes made him angry. It was obvious that she cared deeply for the man, and she hated that he was using her as an excuse to break principles that she held dear.

Giles struggled to his feet, clutching his ribs as he fought gravity and his own pain to get vertical. No one rushed to help him. He stepped carefully over to where Spike stood, and poured himself a double scotch, which he drank his way through in short order. Spike was thinking of pouring himself a second when Glenda walked back into the room. Giles stopped her on her way into the kitchen.

“I wanted to tell you,” he raised his head and took in the rest of the room, “I wanted to tell you all... that I’m sorry. I still think that it was a mistake for any of you to be involved in this evening’s meet, but I understand why you felt the need to, despite the fact that no demon, especially a vampire can be trusted to keep their word.”

“I won’t argue with you about most vamps,” Spike said. “I wouldn’t trust most of them any farther than I could throw them. However, there are exceptions. And not all demons have the same lack of scruples that most vamps are prone to, you know.”

“That’s true.” The Slayer wasn’t going to give her Watcher any leeway on this one. “The Redugrun are well known for their honesty and integrity.”

“Yes, but, but we were dealing with vampires. And, and not merely any vampires, but the Master of the Hellmouth and the Seer that has, has turned out to be even more dangerous than the Master. I, I saw the perfect opportunity to eliminate a major threat that has plagued the Hellmouth for years, and I, I felt compelled to take advantage of that opportunity.”

He swallowed the last of his scotch, and set the tumbler down before turning back to the room. “In my, my blind anger over Kendra’s insistence on disobeying a direct order, I failed to, failed to consider the consequences my, my actions might have on the rest of you, and, and for that I am sorry.”

It wasn’t the apology they deserved, but Spike got the idea it was the best they would get. He found himself hoping it was enough for Foxy Brown, since she’d be stuck with the guy long after they’d gone back to their own dimension. He didn’t like that the Watcher had aimed for Dru, but if he had to take out one or the other, she was the most logical choice. Puffy was nothing much without her, and with her out of the way, he’d fade away into obscurity before long.

Fortunately, Puffy was at least good for something; he’d heard the sound of Giles losing the bolt, and pushed Dru to safety. He’d got a bolt in the shoulder for his troubles, but despite the fact that Giles was more than proficient with reloading a crossbow, he hadn’t let the Watcher get off another shot before he was on him, ready to rip out his throat. Dru had stopped him, for some reason. She had something in mind, obviously. They’d have to be careful of that – this Drusilla’s plans could very well be deadly.

They all watched silently as Kendra embraced her Watcher, although Spike would bet that it would be some time before their rift had healed completely. Spike approved of that – she would do well to think twice before accepting him at face value.

By the time Kendra had helped Giles back to the couch, and sat herself next to him, Spike had refilled his glass and taken it to his favorite chair. Glenda leaned forward in her seat, gathering them all in with her look before asking conspiratorially, “Now, how are we going to rescue Spike’s friend, Clement?”

That raised a long and hotly debated discussion that led them round in circles with no answers in sight. The mansion was a fortress guarded by all manner of demons, not all of whom were night dwellers, so there was no great advantage in moving during the day, and since the court housed at least fifty vamps on a regular basis, the night was even more risky.

The watcher’s objections were strong; even if they’d had Faith on hand, there was no way he’d risk Slayers in an attack on the Master of the Hellmouth’s stronghold, especially when the one in need of rescuing was a demon. Xander’s suggestion that they use stealth instead had merit, but there was no chance that Drusilla wouldn’t sense Xander, or at least his armor friend, Buddy. Xander would be a sitting duck, almost as easily recognized as a slayer, who would set off not only the vampire’s senses, but those of the demons around them as well.

Glenda’s idea of using a spell to dampen Buddy’s unusual field had merit, but it seemed that they’d all need them. If she had to juggle shields on them all, it would drain her to such an extent as to make her own magical signature shine like a beacon to someone like Drusilla. They talked it round for hours, with no clear resolution, and finally agreed to meet the next night to continue the discussion, despite Spike’s misgivings that there was no way to use their talents without risking them all with almost no chance of succeeding in their mission.

That was how Spike found himself sneaking off to Crawford Street on his own later that night after Herc was asleep. He’d picked out a couple of bolt holes close to the mansion when he’d staked the place out over the last several weeks. He’d leave at first dusk and come in when the change of shift from daysiders to nightsiders was taking place. He’d spotted several ways in during his reconnaissances, but none that would suit more than one person without being discovered.

He knew Xander would be angry at him for sneaking off without him and going in without backup, but Spike found he wasn’t willing to risk any of them, since Xander would be there in the thick of things if he thought his friends might need his help. Hopefully, he’d be back before Xander and friends could organize themselves to come after him. Once it was a fait accompli, there would be very little Xander could say about it, and Spike would be forgiven -eventually.

Clem was his friend. He had no right to ask the others to help him, especially when his task would be more easily achieved if he was on his own. Clem was a gambler, he’d understand the risks and he’d approve of Spike’s decision to come in on his own. Sometimes you had to fold, and sometimes you needed to double your bet, despite the chance you took. Clem had taken a chance on Spike, and now it was up to Spike to get him back.

Chapter Text

Xander leaned against the shower wall, letting the hot water pound on his shoulders. He hadn’t slept well, tossing and turning all night as he slipped from one bad dream to another. He’d woken half a dozen times, sweaty and confused, overwhelmed by images of Giles crumpled on the ground next to his mangled crossbow, his lifeless fingers clutching a cross he’d never had time to use. The dreams had varied; one time he’d find Giles drained dry, only to discover him risen three days later to attack Kendra, who couldn’t find it in herself to stake her undead Watcher. Another time, Drusilla had thralled Giles, and he’d led them all to their deaths at the hands of Spike and his minions.

Xander had half expected Spike to show up at some point. He always seemed to know when Xander was having a bad night. He’d come and sit in the chair by Xander’s bed, and when Xander woke from his dreams, startled and uneasy, he’d tell Xander about his travels in Egypt, or Central America, or the time he and Dru had spent in China before he’d killed his first slayer. He hadn’t talked about the deaths, or the carnage they’d spread as they traveled, but of the beauty of the pyramids as seen by moonlight, or the dense rainforests of Brazil, teeming with vitality, and of the odd insects they’d seen there that looked like the work of an artist on hallucinogens.

Xander would drift off to the sound of Spike’s low voice, and wake hours later, his head filled with images of the mountains of Nepal, and the busy, dimly lit back streets of Hong Kong. Spike made him want to travel, to experience the world with Spike as his guide. Maybe that was silly, but it was what he wanted. He’d never even made it past Oxnard on his big trip of the U.S. Maybe he could talk Spike into traveling at some point, if he could save up enough money to support them both for a few years. He had no illusions that Spike could cough up enough money to pay his own way, but if Xander offered him a free ride, he might be willing to play tour guide. It made a nice day dream, anyway.

Spike’s door had been closed when he finally gave up on sleep in the early afternoon. He’d probably stayed up late, trying to figure out a way to get into the mansion on Crawford Street. Xander had found a copy of the map he’d left at Giles’ place on the kitchen table; the entrances Spike had marked as the most likely places to get inside circled heavily enough for the pen to tear through the paper. He studied it while he drank his coffee, not coming up with anything new to suggest. Finally, he’d left the map there with the remnants of his toast, a smear of strawberry jelly on the bottom edge of the paper, and headed for the shower.

Spike was right, Drusilla had spared Giles’ life for a reason. She’d taken care of Tara as well, even knowing that Tara could prove a formidable enemy if she joined with Kendra and Giles. And what about Wesley and Faith? Dru had mentioned them to Tara more than once recently. Dru had plans that involved them all, including Buddy. They had to be missing something.

Giles seemed to think that she was just playing with their heads, but Xander wasn’t so sure. Spike agreed with him. This was more than just her usual head games. They’d have to be careful when they confronted her, whether she was mostly sane or not, she was unpredictable, and they would have to step carefully, or she’d catch them in her net. If they only knew what she wanted from them, they’d be in better shape to stop her.

Xander spent about an hour in the gym, working through his paces. He usually liked working on his own. He was able to concentrate on himself, and not have to focus on the outside world – it was like meditating, only with a purpose. He hated meditation; it just seemed pointless to him. But working with a sword, refining his movements, remembering the forms and steps and making them work for him was practical, and it helped him focus. It made him feel accomplished.

Something felt wrong, today, though. Buddy was unsettled, and Xander kept looking over his shoulder for something he knew was there, but couldn’t find. Finally, he gave up, and just walked aimlessly through the ground floor of the lair, letting his mind wander in the hope that whatever it was that was wrong would come to him if he didn’t try to concentrate on it. When he found himself outside Spike’s door for the fourth time in an hour, reaching for the knob, he decided he should probably open the door and see for himself that nothing was wrong with Spike. Once he knew Spike was okay, Xander would let him sleep for a few more hours until they needed to leave for Giles’ apartment.

He turned the knob slowly, not wanting to wake Spike. The mild afternoon sun filtered in through the windows of the rooms down the hall, slowly spreading through Spike’s room, filling it with a faint, watery light. It hit the bottom of his bed first, slowly climbing the mattress, the messy sheets and blankets showing a body sized lump that didn’t move as the light brightened in the room.

Buddy urged him to touch Spike, and despite his reluctance to disturb him, Xander finally gave in and walked quietly to the bed. The closer he got, the worse he felt. A pit was opening up in his stomach, and he knew what he’d find before he even reached out to grab Spike’s foot. He pulled the blanket off the bed, to reveal pillows underneath, in the shape of a body. Spike wasn’t there, he probably hadn’t been all night. Xander sat down on the edge of the bed, worry gnawing at him.

“Well, hell.”


When Xander arrived at Giles’ apartment, Kendra and Tara were sitting at the bar, their heads bent over the papers strewn on the surface. They looked up when Xander came in, and Kendra immediately stood, stepping between Tara and any possible danger.

“Xander! What’s wrong?”

Xander’s eyes searched the room, and he sagged disappointedly, when he didn’t see who he was looking for.

“You haven’t seen Spike, have you?” Xander dropped the heavy duffel bag he was carrying to the floor by Giles’ desk, the weapons inside clanging noisily as they hit the floor.

“The sun is still out. Did he go out again, after I dropped you two off last night?” Kendra asked.

Xander slumped into the chair at Giles’ desk. “I didn’t realize he was gone until he didn’t get up this afternoon. I searched the whole building, top to bottom. He’s not at the lair.”

“Muh-maybe he changed his mind about asking Clem’s poker buddies to help in the rescue, but couldn’t get home before daybreak.” Tara looked doubtful; it was obvious she was reaching for any thread of hope.

Xander shrugged. “I guess it’s possible, but he really didn’t think they’d be of any use.”

Crossing to the desk, Kendra squeezed Xander’s shoulder in sympathy. “You think he’s gone to rescue his friend without us?”

“It would be just like him, wouldn’t it, the stubborn asshole.” Xander got up and started to pace. “I thought we’d talked him out of it, but it looks like he just played along until we all believed he’d changed his mind. He probably left as soon as I fell asleep. He could be captured or even dust, and we’d never know what happened.” He turned to face them, determined. “I won’t leave him there.”

“We know, Xander. Don’t worry,” Tara said, “we’ll help you in whatever way we can.”

Kendra nodded. “We’ll get him back.”

“If he’s even captured,” Tara reminded them. “We don’t know that they have him. Maybe he’s gotten Clem out already, but they’re stuck somewhere until the sun goes down.”

“What about the cell phones you two got to keep track of each other?” Kendra asked.

Xander laughed. “Yeah, I tried that. His is on his charger in his room.”

“Damn.” Kendra slumped down onto her stool at the bar.

“Kendra!” Xander was shocked. He didn’t remember her ever cursing before.

She drew herself up until she was sitting tall, her head held high. “What? I’m nineteen years old. I can curse if I want to.”

Tara giggled at her. “As long as Giles isn’t around.”

“Where is Giles?” Xander asked.

“He took his crossbow to a repair shop this morning. He should be back soon.”

“He’s been there all day?”

“They often work on his weapons while he waits,” Kendra said. “Hopefully, Spike will show up once it gets dark, but just in case, let us show you what Tara and I have been working on.”

Xander walked over and looked down at the countertop. There was a copy of Spike’s sketch of the Crawford Street mansion there, and another similar sketch that looked like someone else had drawn it.

“What I couldn’t say in front of Giles, is that Faith and I have been to Puffy’s mansion several times.”

“What?” With at least fifty vamps living there at any one time, he was surprised that two slayers could get close enough without warning the vampires that a slayer was near.

Kendra smiled at him conspiratorially. “Faith picked up a charm in India last year. It blocks a vamp’s internal recognition of a slayer.”

“You can’t use it all the time,” Tara warned. “If a vampire is exposed to it too often, it stops having any effect on him. That could be very dangerous, because you’d expect it to work, and you wouldn’t know until it was too late that it wasn’t having any effect.”

Kendra nodded. “That’s what Faith said. She only uses it rarely. The last time she was home, we used it to make a sketch of the mansion, and while it’s very similar to Spike’s, there was one significant discrepancy.” She pulled the sketch Xander didn’t recognize over, tapping on one corner that was covered in writing. “I think there’s a better way to get into the mansion than the one Spike has in mind.”

Xander pulled up a stool, and the three started to devise a plan. Half an hour later, Xander was feeling optimistic for the first time since he’d discovered Spike was missing. Kendra had admitted that Faith hadn’t taken the charm with her to Canada. She usually left it in Kendra’s keeping, since she worried about Kendra being stuck here on the Hellmouth without her. That solved the problem of Kendra being able to help without alerting the entire mansion full of demons of her presence. Kendra knew of a place overlooking the courtyard in the rear of the mansion that would be safe enough for Tara to hide in while she kept in touch with them by cell phone, waiting to provide magical backup.

There were still gaps in their knowledge – they had no idea where Spike was being held, if he even was being held, that is. Or where they’d find Clem. They didn’t even know what Clem looked like, except that he had wrinkles like a Shar-pei, and droopy, pointy ears. That wasn’t much to go by. Besides, Spike had a tendency to exaggerate. Clem probably didn’t have nearly as many wrinkles as they were imagining. Xander worried if they’d even recognize him if they saw him. He definitely wasn’t about to go around asking demons if they liked to eat kittens. He hadn’t mentioned that part to Kendra and Tara. He didn’t want to prejudice them against Clem before they even met him.

The knock on the door startled all three of them. He was pretty sure that Kendra and Giles weren’t expecting company. Xander reached for his sword, and Kendra took Mr. Pointy off the table by the door. Tara stood up, holding onto the pendant around her neck. She nodded at the other two that she was ready, and Xander moved to the other side of the door, opposite Kendra. Tara had renewed the protection spell on Giles’ apartment complex herself just two days ago, so there shouldn’t be any way that the person on the other side of the door would want to do them any harm, but still, they thought it best to be cautious.

The knock was louder the second time, and lasted longer. Kendra stepped up to the peephole, but stepped back again shaking her head and shrugging. Then she opened the door. On the other side was a demon, his hand raised to knock. He froze, his beady red eyes as wide in surprise as Xander felt his own must be. The demon's skin was saggy, draped around his face and neck, his arms covered with layers of floppy skin.

He recovered from the shock a lot faster than they did, a bright smile splitting his wrinkled face. His hand opened up into a wave, his fingers tipped with long, brown claws that should have looked dangerous. But even with his sharp, pointy teeth, the wide, innocent grin on his face made Xander feel comfortable enough to drop the point of his sword towards the floor.

“Hi!” the demon said, brightly.

There could be no doubt who this was. Still, all three of them asked at the same time: “Clem?”

"Yep!" he said, cheerfully, waving his fingers at them, his floppy ears wiggling as his head moved from side to side. "That's me!"

Chapter Text

“Hey! You must be Kendra!” Clem said, awed by the fact that he was finally meeting a real live slayer; he’d never expected to get this close to one. “Wow. I’ve heard so much about you!” He stepped forward, across the threshold, his hand extended, and she paused, glancing over to the guy with the sword before she moved her stake to her other hand, and hesitantly shook his hand.

“Hello.”

He could tell she was uncomfortable, but he just blustered his way through. It took time for humans to get used to his appearance, so he always gave them a little grace period before he got annoyed at their hesitance. Her handshake was more than firm, her fingers felt like iron on his.

“Wow. That’s some grip you’ve got!”

She let go abruptly. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“Nah, no worries. You’ve got that Slayer strength thing going for you, right? Besides, I’m a bit flustered, myself. It’s not every day you get to meet one of the two girls in all the world.” He grinned again, then he decided that maybe he shouldn’t be showing his fangs to a Slayer and closed his mouth.

She was gripping her stake awfully tightly. He gave it another look. It was rather strangely carved, twisted and gnarled, the wood smoothed from years of use. It had a long, wicked point. That thing would do some damage whether you were a vampire or not. He swallowed, disturbed by the thought.

“Nice stake.”

“Oh!” She blinked down at it for a second, as if not sure how it got in her hand, then smiled shyly. “It’s my favorite.”

The guy with the sword set it down on a nearby table, and wasn’t that a relief! Clem hated swords. Actually, he hated any kind of weapon, being a pacifist and all, but hey, Hellmouth, right? Sometimes even a face full of tentacles wasn’t enough to defend yourself.

He realized that the guy had to be Xander, so he held out his hand. “You must be Xander. I recognized you right off, from Spike’s description. He was right, you have very expressive eyes!”

Those expressive eyes went wide, and Xander’s jaw dropped, his hand tightening painfully on Clem’s before he let go abruptly. Ow. Clem had forgotten Xander had that super strength thing, too.

“I… I’m not… I mean… He said that?”

“Oh, yeah, he went on and on about how handsome you were. He’s got it bad, man.” Clem paused at the look of surprise on his face. “You didn’t know?” Oops. He hoped he hadn’t screwed things up for Spike.

“Oh, well. That is… We uhhh…maybe?” Xander seemed to be having trouble stringing together an entire sentence.

The Slayer chuckled as she closed the door. “You’ve never said anything, so I didn’t know if we should mention it or not, but I agree. You both have got it bad.”

Xander turned a bright red and stammered some more. It was really cute. Spike had picked himself a good one, Clem could tell.

There was a giggle from over by the kitchen, and Clem saw the young woman standing by a counter top covered in papers. She was pretty, but what set her apart was the energy he could feel surrounding her. He could tell from half a room away that this was a powerful witch.

“They’re right, Xander,” she said softly. “The wuh-way you two look at each other sometimes is so sweet.”

“Hey!” Xander cried out. “We are not sweet! We’re…we’re warriors. Warriors are not sweet!”

“Sure they are.” The witch argued with him, smiling at his discomfort. “Kendra’s a warrior, and she’s very sweet.”

It was Kendra’s turn to blush. Awwww. No wonder Spike liked these people. Clem felt right at home with them already. And it sure didn’t hurt that their embarrassment was so tasty. The witch, who he realized must be Tara, looked down at her shoes and did some blushing of her own.

“Please excuse my manners,” Clem said, walking back to her. She shook his hand without crushing it, he thought happily. Thank goodness not everyone around here had superhuman strength.

“You have got to be Tara.” Clem smiled at her. “I could feel your energies from across the room.”

She looked surprised. “Oh! Do they bother you?”

“Oh, not at all. It’s just a thing,” he rushed to assure her. “You know how it goes. Some demons have x-ray eyes, some have the ability to thrall, and some shoot paralyzing mucus out of their noses. Our thing is auras and yours just shouts powerful witch.”

She blushed again, her hair falling down over her eyes as she ducked her head shyly. “Well, we all have our gifts.”

Clem nodded. “So we do.”

“Where have you been, Clem?” Xander joined them at the counter, followed by Kendra. “Spike said he looked all over for you.”

“Not to mention that Drusilla said you had accepted an invitation to stay with the Master of the Hellmouth.” The Slayer had her hands on her hips in a no-nonsense kind of pose, and Clem saw for the first time the resemblance to Pam Grier that Spike had mentioned.

“Invitation? Is that what she called it?” Clem shook his head. He didn’t know why he was surprised. Drusilla was good at twisting the truth into knots. He’d seen a dozen examples of that, and he’d only been there a few days.

“So she was keeping you there against your will?” Kendra frowned at that.

Clem nodded. “I definitely did not want to be there! If Spike hadn’t asked me to go, I’d never have gotten within a mile of that place.” He hopped up onto one of the stools close by. “Hope you don’t mind, Miss Kendra, but I walked all the way from Crawford Street and boy, do my feet hurt!”

“Oh, certainly. Please, help yourself. Would you like some water, or perhaps tea?” The Slayer walked around the counter into the small kitchen area, and opened the door to the refrigerator.

Clem peered into the fridge as best he could from his side of the counter. “Is that Dr. Pepper I see?”

“Why yes, it is.” She pulled one out and handed it to him with a smile, then while he was opening his and having a good, long drink, she grabbed a bottled water, which she handed to Tara. She passed a Dr. Pepper to Xander and opened another while Xander spoke.

“So you’ve been at the mansion on Crawford Street all this time?”

“Oh, yeah.” Clem watched Tara and Xander get comfy on the other stools, while Kendra leaned on the counter top. “I think I’d still be there if it weren’t for…” he paused while he set down his soda, then made air quotes, “Puffy Spike.” He grinned as they laughed.

“I learned the hard way not to say that in front of him, though. I thought he was going to tear the room apart, the first time it slipped out.”

“You called the Master of the Hellmouth ‘Puffy’?” Tara asked, her eyes going wide. “That doesn’t seem like a very safe thing to do.”

“Don’t I know it!” He looked around sheepishly. “We were playing poker, and I was hoping to throw him off his game. See, I know for a fact that he was listening to my heartbeat to tell if I was bluffing or not. I’ve got darn good hearing myself, but hey – vampire. They’ve got no heartbeat! So I thought I’d even the odds a bit by distracting him, right?”

“What happened?” Xander leaned forward on his stool.

Clem sighed. “He totally destroyed the table where we were sitting. Ripped the leg right off of it and pounded the rest into splinters.” He shook his head sadly. “I had two pairs, queens high. I think I would have beat him, but there was no way to know by the time he got through.” Clem leaned forward conspiratorially. “He’s got a bit of a temper.”

Xander laughed. “So does my Spike.” He blushed again. “I mean our Spike. Our Spike has a – has a bad temper, too. It must run in the family. Or something.”

Both the girls smiled at him. Clem could tell that they knew what was going on, even if Xander and Spike were both still trying to delude themselves.

“That’s not what’s important, right now, though.” Xander changed the subject. “Did our Spike get you out? Have you seen our Spike? Where is he?”

“Oh, right!” He’d gotten so caught up in meeting everyone Spike had told him about that he’d forgotten why he was here.

“They have Spike. Spike took me to see Spike before he set me free. I mean Puffy Spike set me free. After he showed me your Spike. Who they have. He’s chained to a wall down in the basement.”

Xander stood. “We have to get him out.”

“Hey, whoa!” Clem protested. “You’d better think that one through, Mister Hothead, before you go running into a well defended nest of vamps like a wild man. I mean, yeah, I hate to think of him being there, too. But to be honest, I think that’s what they have in mind.”

“What do you mean, Clem?” Kendra asked.

He turned to the Slayer. “I was staying up on the second floor, and Puffy came by a couple of hours ago. He said he was tired of Drusilla sniffing all around me, and he wanted me gone.”

“Sniffing?” Tara was cute when she scrunched up her face like that. He liked the wrinkles around her nose. Too bad she didn’t have more of those.

“Yeah, you know. She was flirting and standing too close, and she was always touching me for some reason or other. I was pretty uncomfortable with it, because she did it when Spike was watching, and I could tell it was pissing him off.” He grimaced. “Oops. Excuse the language, ladies.”

“She was flirting with you?” Xander asked, obviously surprised.

Clem was affronted. Who was he to talk? Xander didn’t have a single wrinkle on his entire face! Yuck!

“What do you mean by that? I’ll have you know I’m a chick magnet. Every time I go to a party the women are all over me.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean it like that. Sorry!” Xander stumbled over his words to apologize. “I just meant… Well, I always thought that the reason the Drusilla on our world was unfaithful to Spike was that she was insane. I didn’t expect this one to do something like that. Especially not in front of Spike.”

Okay. That made sense. Clem knew he was over sensitive about his appearance. His skin didn’t have the lovely, subtle grayish-green tinge so many of his kin had, and he’d been teased unmercifully about it as a kid. He’d tried to let it go, but he was obviously still not over it.

“Oh. Right. I thought about that, too. That was actually the main reason I never took her up on it. Spike can be really cranky, and the last thing I wanted to do was get between him and his lady, you know?”

Xander nodded. “Right. So if he let you go, how do you know that our Spike is there?”

“Puffy took me down to the basement and walked me right past the room they had Spike in. It was out of the way, because we had to double back in the opposite direction to get to the escape hatch to the sewers. I’m positive the only reason he took me that way was to make sure I saw Spike.”

“You’re sure you had to double back?” Kendra asked. “Sometimes old basements can be confusing.”

“Oh, yeah,” Clem said. “We went by the kiln twice. I can’t imagine they’d have two kilns in a place like that.”

“What? They had a kiln?” Xander found that amusing. “So Spike and Dru have a pottery business on the side? I can see it now. Souvenir ashtrays that say, My friends went to the Hellmouth, and all I got was this ‘damned’ ashtray?’”

Kendra rolled her eyes, shaking her head, but Tara laughed. That was good, because Clem hated to be the only one laughing. He’d have to run that idea by his uncle later. There were enough demons who came through Sunnydale just to feel the Hellmouth in their bones. He could sell to the local bars, or maybe set up a small shop down by the docks…

“Kilns can be useful for magic, Xander,” Tara said. “More often than not, it’s sorcerers that use them, but some witches do as well. It might be a leftover from the last tenant, but it’s possible that Drusilla uses it.”

Clem nodded. “My uncle Randolf had one in his back yard, that’s how I recognized it. He’s a potter, not a sorcerer, but this one looked just like his.” He smiled, fondly. “Uncle Randolf used to chase us kids around the yard, threatening to use us to glaze his pots.” He laughed, until he glanced up and realized that Kendra and Xander were staring at him with expressions of shock and dismay. “Ummm. It must be a demon thing.”

Tara smiled at him. “When I was very young, my grandmother used to threaten to toss my brother and I into her cauldron and use us as ingredients in her spells.”

“She did?” Kendra didn’t look too happy about that, but then, Spike had told him that she was raised by watchers. She might seriously think Tara’s grandmother meant to do it.

Tara laughed. “Don’t worry, Kendra. She didn’t even have a caldron.”

Kendra blushed, looking relieved.

Wow, she needed to get out more. Nothing against her watcher or anything, but Clem bet Kendra had never even seen The Simpsons. Looking around the room, he realized there was no TV anywhere. Holy smokes! That meant no Frasier, no Will and Grace, no Law and Order. He gasped as he realized the magnitude of the situation – no Friends! Something had to be done! If the two of them survived this whole mess, he and Tara would get together and make some plans. Kendra needed a life in the worst way.

Clem fought to get his breathing back under control. He forced his attention back to the three humans just as Tara moved a piece of paper around so Clem could see it. It wasn’t the same one Spike had shown him several days ago, but he could tell it was a rough map of the outside of Puffy Spike’s mansion.

Tara handed him a pencil. “Do you think you can show us where they’re keeping Spike?”

Kendra looked at Xander and Tara before turning to Clem. “You may be right, Clem, this might be a trap. But we’re going in, anyway. The more information we have, the better our chances of figuring out a way to get in and out without springing that trap.”

Clem nodded, awed by their bravery and determination. “I didn’t see much, but can give you a map of what I saw of the basement. I saw a lot more of the first and second floors, if that will help. I also know where the guards on those floors are stationed, and when their shifts change.” They seemed surprised. He shrugged. “There was no TV in my room. I was bored.”

Tara laid her hand on Xander’s, and Clem realized there were tears in his eyes, although he was obviously trying to fight them. “We’ll get him back, Xander,” she promised him.

Kendra was out of the kitchen in a flash, and gave him a big hug. Xander held on to her tightly for a minute, then let her go, wiping his eyes. He took a deep, shaky breath, then smiled at them both.

“Thanks, guys.”

Clem blinked a couple of tears out of his eyes as he bent down over the map and started to sketch out what he remembered of the basement. He was glad there was something he could do to help. He wouldn’t be joining them when they went for Spike; his mama didn’t raise no fools. But this? This he could do.

Chapter Text

Xander hated waiting. He agreed with Kendra that they shouldn't leave for Crawford Street until Giles got home, but despite Kendra’s confidence in him, Xander held out little hope that Giles would be willing to join them in their rescue efforts.

They’d asked Clem if he wanted to be their getaway driver, on the off chance that Giles agreed to let them use his car. Clem considered it an honor to be asked, but he swiftly declined. He made it clear that he had no intentions of getting anywhere near Crawford Street, ever again. He wished them the best of luck, but he was a pacifist, and he was extremely squeamish; he’d probably faint at the first sign of blood. Besides, he didn’t deal well with pain.

They got the hint. Xander tried to hide his disappointment. He supposed it was a good thing that Clem understood his weaknesses. It was better than finding out the hard way when their getaway car was missing when they needed it, and they found Clem hiding under his bed.

He’d called himself a coward, but Xander disagreed. It had taken a lot of courage for a timid demon like Clem to show up on the Slayer’s doorstep the way he had. Xander had told him so, but although he’d thanked Xander for his kind words, Clem had assured them he held no delusions as to his own nature.

Tara retired to Kendra’s bedroom, meditating and chanting to prepare herself for the magic they’d need on their rescue. Kendra and Clem were on Kendra’s laptop, tracing down the sewer lines, in case their exit was cut off and they needed an alternate way out of the basement. The two laughed and joked as they worked, and Xander found it strange to think they’d only know each other a few short hours.

According to Puffy Spike, Dru had warded the entrance into the sewers, so that only members of the court could come in, although anyone could leave that way. They didn’t even post guards there, or at least there were none when Puffy had shown Clem the way out. Clem had marked the spot where he’d climbed out of the sewers, but it was too close to the mansion’s main doors for comfort. They were looking for a less obvious place to exit, just in case. They’d leave the car there, since it would be easy to spot anywhere too near the mansion.

Xander knew his constant pacing was annoying Kendra, but he really couldn’t help himself. After the fifth time he interrupted their search to ask her stupid questions, she set him down and gave him the task of sharpening the bladed weapons they’d be taking with them. He was relieved to have something to do, even if it was busywork. Giles and Kendra kept their weapons in good shape, they didn’t really need sharpening, but it kept Xander out of her hair while they worked and relieved her of the temptation of taking him out with a well aimed mouse to the temple.

Buddy had been sending Xander calming vibes all day, but his anxiety had continued to creep up on him as they waited. He was worried that he’d wind up in full-blown panic mode, aided by his out of control emotions. But you couldn’t pace while you sharpened swords. Well, he supposed you could, but Xander liked his fingers and toes right where they were so he didn’t intend to try it.

Once he’d sat for a while and settled down some, Buddy’s vibes finally made a big enough dent in his anxiety that he actually started to relax. It reminded him of how he felt while he was working out; when he focused on himself and the way he moved he developed a feeling of connection between his body and his mind. Only now the connection was with Buddy, and he soaked up the good vibes he was getting, letting them pour through him and revitalize his spirit. Then he sent that good energy back to Buddy again, creating a continuous loop of calm and buoyant strength.

He was sharpening a rather dangerous looking bowie knife; trying to imagine Kendra using that kind of a blade. For once, his imagination failed him. She’d picked the knife out to go into the weapons bag, though, so she must have had it in mind for someone. Xander was so lost in his thoughts that he jumped when the front door opened, and Giles came striding in. Luckily, Xander held onto the knife, but he decided it was time to put the sharp things away for now. He sheathed the bowie, and set it back in the weapons bag, just as Giles spoke.

“Kendra!”

Okay, that was more of a shout than was strictly necessary. Xander looked up to find a loaded crossbow pointed directly at him. He froze; Giles was a damned good shot, no matter how cracked his ribs were. Everyone’s emotions had been on edge for the last several days, and Xander had the strong feeling that Giles would pull the trigger if he found it necessary.

“Xander, get out of the way.”

Giles was using his Teacher’s Voice, which was totally unfair, ‘cause Xander graduated a year ago. Wasn’t there a law about that? There should be. Xander’s automatic first reaction to the power of Teacher Voice was to obey. But then his brain caught up with the rest of his body and reminded him that he’d never listened to his teachers in high school, and there was absolutely no reason for him to start now. Especially now that he knew that Giles’ crossbow was only accidentally aimed at him.

The problem was it was intentionally aimed at Clem, who was sitting directly behind Xander. So he totally disobeyed the Teacher Voice, and stood up, hopefully blocking even more of Clem from Giles’ line of sight. He tried to come up with a witty pun suitable for coming face to face with a loaded crossbow, but Kendra got there before him. Damn her Slayer speed.

“Giles, no!” Xander heard chairs scoot across the floor as Kendra and Clem stood up. “This is Clem, he’s here to help us.”

“Oh, hey. I’d be glad to leave, if that’s what you want, Mr. Giles, sir.”

Xander was impressed. Clem could grovel with a crossbow aimed at him. Xander hadn’t even found his voice, yet.

“You invited a demon into my home.”

Giles’ voice was low and kind of gravelly. Xander flinched. He knew that voice. That was the voice Giles used on Xander when he’d fallen asleep on Oz watch, or spilt nacho cheese on one of Giles’ first edition, only copy in captivity kind of books. That was not Giles’ happy voice.

Your home?”

Ouch. Xander cringed. Kendra had an unhappy voice, too.

“You’ve told me time and again that this was my home, as well. Have you changed your mind?”

“Of course not.” Giles looked surprised that she would even think that. It didn’t soften his angry voice, though. “That does not change the fact that you have invited a demon into our home.”

“Oh, hey. I’m not sure there was any real inviting going on.” Clem jumped in, obviously trying to defray the tension. “I kind of just walked right on in.”

Xander turned his back on Giles, despite the crossbow. He was ninety-nine percent certain that Giles wouldn’t see Xander as a target as long as he wasn’t endangering Giles’ Slayer, and he really needed to find a way to shut Clem up, because his helping was not helping.

“I could have stopped you if I’d wanted to,” Kendra told him.

“No argument there.” Clem’s head bobbed his agreement. “You are the Slayer, after all.”

She gently pushed Clem back, until he sat down in his chair, again. “That’s right. I am the Slayer.” She walked around Clem and the desk to face Giles and his crossbow. “You’re going to have to trust my judgment.”

Giles didn’t look happy about that, but he lowered the crossbow. “I do trust you.” He glanced behind her, his eyes darkening, “It’s the demons in our midst that I’m concerned with. Are you certain that you can trust them? After all, anyone can be misled.”

She smiled sweetly at Giles. “That’s true. But that’s not the case, this time”

Xander would have thought that no one could resist that smile, but half an hour later, he was ready to leave them all behind, and go rescue Spike on his own. Kendra and Giles had been back and forth a dozen times. Tara had given Giles her disappointed look just as often, and how he could face the disappointed look without even flinching, Xander would never understand. They were really killing his Buddy-induced buzz. If they didn’t leave soon, he was going to lose all his good vibes. Finally he channeled his inner drill sergeant and started doing some shouting of his own.

“Everybody shut up!” Everyone in the room turned to look at him. He was surprised that it actually worked, but he didn’t give them any chance to start up again. He had a proclamation to make. “I’m leaving in ten minutes. If you want to come along, get your stuff together, because we’re headed out.”

Giles took a deep breath and Xander could see his arguments forming, so he kept talking. “And if you’re in my way I’m going to bowl you over, so don’t cross me. I have a friend to rescue, ‘cause I know he’d do the same for me.” He stomped right past Giles on his way to the kitchen for one last bottle of water. His mouth was dry, but then it always was before a big fight. He reminded himself to go to the bathroom as soon as it was empty, ‘cause there was nothing worse than needing to pee when you were trying to be stealthy.

“It’s no big shame, you know.”

Was that Clem? He’d thought Clem had left fifteen minutes ago. Xander turned around, wondering who he was talking to. He was pretty sure that Kendra and Tara had headed for the back as soon as he’d made his announcement, and after all the shouting, he was surprised that Clem had the guts to actually say anything to Giles. He hadn’t exactly been all pro-demon tonight, now had he? There Clem was, standing right next to Giles, with an understanding look on his droopy face.

“What?” Giles looked pretty surprised that Clem was talking to him, too.

“Being afraid. There’s nothing wrong with it. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps you alive.”

“I am not afraid,” Giles argued.

Ohhh, pretty defensive there, G-Man. Xander leaned back against the sink and watched the entertainment.

“Sure you are, but then so are Xander, Kendra and Tara. So was I when I was there. It’s a scary place, with lots of mean demons. I'm just saying that everyone has their limits, and you’re better off if you recognize yours.

"Take me for instance: I wouldn’t be of any use if I went - I swing a sword like a girl, and I don’t mean a Slayer. Besides, I don’t deal well with danger; I’d freeze and get somebody killed, or break out in a rash. They’re better off without me.”

“This has nothing to do with my bravery. I, I, I simply refuse to be a part of this – this travesty. Slayers do not rescue vampires, that’s all there is to it.”

Clem shrugged. “Like I said, it’s no shame.”

Giles turned away and started up the stairs. He didn’t stomp, he had cracked ribs to consider, but Xander could tell by the set of his shoulders that he wasn’t happy with Clem’s words. He stopped halfway up the steps and announced: “I am not a coward.”

Clem smiled and nodded. “Of course not.”

Giles leveled the look of doom at him, and usually that could stop a person from fifty feet away, but Clem kept smiling at him, and eventually Giles gave up with an exasperated huff, and continued up the stairs to his loft.

Xander couldn't help but grin. It was hard to get in the last word when the person you were trying to argue with kept agreeing with you. He finished his water, and headed out to the weapons chest for one last look. He didn’t want to leave anything important behind.

“Xander.” Giles’ voice called him from the top of the stairs.

Xander didn’t bother turning around. “Yeah, G-Man, what’s up?”

The automatic sigh made him laugh. Oh, yes. He was Xandercles the Mighty, the bane of Watchers in two different dimensions! He was so busy congratulating himself on his status that he missed what Giles said.

“Huh?” Xander looked up at Giles, who was obviously annoyed by Xander’s inability to stay focused on one thing for more than a few seconds.

“I said, please be sure to include the crossbow bolts.”

“But we aren’t taking the crossbows.”

“Yes, well, I might be of no use in a direct confrontation with my cracked ribs, however I’ll need a weapon if I’m to drive the ‘getaway vehicle,’ now won’t I?”

He didn’t acknowledge Xander’s huge grin, turning away as he continued. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to change my clothes. I seem to remember someone announcing that we had only ten minutes to be ready to leave.”

“Thanks, Giles.”

Xander didn’t expect an answer, he wasn’t even sure Giles heard him, but as he reached into the chest for the bolts, he heard Giles’ soft reply.

“You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

Spike came to by degrees. As per his usual strategy concerning waking in strange places of which he had no recollection, he started with hearing, listening to the sounds around him that might indicate where he’d landed this time. He was in a good sized room with what felt like cold stone underneath his back. When he realized that there were cuffs on his wrists and ankles, it all came back to him with a rush.

He was in the basement of the mansion on Crawford Street. Bloody hell. What a cock up.

He’d barely got inside the place when he was surrounded by minions. He’d put up a decent fight, but there had been too many of them, and the room too small to properly do the damage Spike was usually capable of. So much for his sneak attack. He kept underestimating this Dru’s coherence, and obviously, she’d known he was coming. They’d brought him down to the basement, and he’d been on this stone slab for a while now.

He had no idea how he’d managed to fall so deeply asleep under the circumstances, but the light doze he’d intended had turned into a heavy sleep that left him groggy and fighting for focus. The sound of numerous footsteps in the hallway outside the room alerted him to the possibility of company. He did his best to look intimidating which, under the circumstances, wasn’t much, but was the best he could manage at the moment.

The leader of the minions who’d brought him down to the dungeon earlier walked back into the room. Behind him, a deputy-type minion supervised the entrance of the five or six others who hung back against a wall while the leader approached him.

“Are you going to cooperate if we take the chains off you?” He looked nervous, despite his pompous attitude, and Spike could tell he felt uncomfortable ordering around a vamp who looked and acted just like the Master of the Hellmouth, whom he obviously served.

He’d banked on that reluctance since he got here, counting on it when he asked questions demons had been hesitant to answer, or when they thought twice about allowing him into their bars or restaurants. Spike smirked. He’d keep that in mind for the next time the bastard wasn’t being backed up by half a dozen demons. Coward, he thought contemptuously. If this was the best Puffy had to offer, then Spike had to question how he kept his title.

“Are you going to cooperate?” the berk repeated.

Spike shrugged, not showing the pain he felt from the move. That shoulder had been practically jerked out of its socket during the fight upstairs, and keeping it stretched out the way it was hadn’t helped any.

“Depends on what’s being asked of me, now doesn’t it?”

From the look on the other’s face, Spike wouldn’t be cooperating any time soon. However, that didn’t mean he had to tell that to the berk, now did it?

Spike cracked a truly vicious smile at him. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”

The vamp turned even paler than normal for someone who was already undead, and swallowed nervously. Spike watched him carefully, looking for any possible chance of escape, as unlikely as that might be in a room full of toughs. As soon as the berk reached for the first cuff, key in hand, the deputy-minion barked out two names. A vamp and a Fyarl joined them and grabbed Spike’s arm before it was even freed. Considering the strength of a Fyarl, that seemed to be somewhat overkill, even for a master vampire of his skill and reputation.

Since he’d dusted at least as many vamps as were currently in the room, he supposed it made sense that they were taking no chances. Two more minions were set up on his other arm, and Spike rolled his eyes. The head berk was obviously not comfortable having Spike in the same room, which was humorous, considering the number of minions surrounding them. If this fool was Puffy’s Second in Command, it was no wonder that he needed so many demons merely to keep the peace.

Spike studied the demons as his other arm and both legs were freed, trying to see the reasoning behind the ones they’d brought down with the vamps, but he saw no significant advantages to any of them. At least nothing that was worth the extra hassle of keeping the peace between a Fyarl and a Grappler, or for that matter, a Fyarl and pretty much any demon, including another Fyarl. They were notoriously short tempered creatures.

As soon as the last cuff was unlocked, Spike was unceremoniously hauled to his feet and led to the center of the room. The four who held his arms turned him toward the scraggly collection standing along the wall, and the berk in charge spoke up again.

“Well, come on. We don’t have all day. Who’s first up?”

A particularly ugly and obviously stupid vamp stepped up for the privilege. “He dusted Leon,” he said angrily. He walked closer with what he must have thought were menacing steps. “He needs to pay for that.”

There were murmurs from those behind him, several of whom stepped up behind Stupid, closing in on Spike and the bastards holding him. He was getting a really bad feeling about this, but he’d be damned if he’s stand there and get knocked about without taking his shot.

As soon as Stupid got within range, Spike let the ones holding his arms take his weight and swung both feet up far enough to kick out, shattering Stupid’s jaw. The ones holding Spike jerked him back and forth between them, shouting at him and each other, obviously uncertain as to what to do now.

Stupid fell back into those behind him, and they let him fall, surging forward to take their turn with Spike, punching, kicking, and occasionally, even biting. Eventually they let go of his arms, and he got in a couple of decent strikes, but he was a mess by the time the berk in charge called a halt to the beating. Spike started tilting sideways, one knee buckling under his weight, but the Grappler who’d held him up earlier grabbed his upper arm and Spike stopped listing to one side.

They hung him on the wall facing the door, and left him there, his body sagging down from the manacles, the blood from his nose dripping slowly onto the floor. He was actually rather surprised that he didn’t feel a lot worse than he did. He was sure he looked bad, cuts and bruises, two black eyes, one of which was swollen almost closed, and a bloody and broken nose. But other than the nose, and a few cracked ribs, there were no broken bones. He just felt like shite, even if he had managed to bite the thumb right off the idiot they’d put in charge of gagging him. Served him right for getting careless around Spike, now didn’t it?

He could feel the magic flowing through the manacles holding him to the wall, mojo crawling around his ankles and wrists like ants at a picnic. Dru was fairly sure that as a human Spike’d had very little natural magic of his own. The demon, on the other hand, came with a set of finely-tuned sensors that detected, among other things, the presence of mojo, even in inanimate objects such as the manacles. So he felt the magic, and since he’d been exposed to it for a hundred years, he even recognized Dru’s signature in the mix of energies sparking against his skin.

On Spike’s world, the magic Dru cast had been chaotic and wild, and he’d always assumed that was due to the fact that magic didn’t mix well with dead bodies. It took a strong, willful vampire to make a spell work, and even then they had a habit of misfiring, no matter how talented the caster. But Dru was stubborn and continued to seek out teachers and experiment on her own in whatever school of magic attracted her fancy at the moment. He was fairly sure that all her mentors regretted agreeing to teach her at one point or other.

The results of her efforts often seemed to the outside eye, haphazard, at best. They saw a willful sorceress with very little impulse control and the attention span of a goldfish combining numerous types of often contradictory magic. Not a good mixture, Spike was more than willing to admit. He hated to doubt her, but despite the frequency with which she succeeded in making her magic work, even Spike was often surprised when her plans succeeded.

Spike recognized Dru’s signature in the mojoed chains, but there was a major difference in the feel of the power flowing through them. Where his Dru’s magic had seethed with barely controlled energy, chaotic and wild, it was obvious that this Dru was in much better control of her magic. If she had even half of his Dru’s magical abilities, then she was a force to be reckoned with. That was not at all reassuring, and he wondered again what she had in mind for both him and the others she’d insisted that Puffy not only spare, but actively protect.

He hadn’t been hanging there long when he heard two sets of footsteps in the hall. Spike realized the beating had been a setup when Puffy led Clem right past the open door. The poor sod gasped, his footsteps faltering, but Puffy kept him moving with a hand on his shoulder and a quiet murmur that there was nothing he could do for Spike now, so he needed to just leave, and get out of town as fast as possible.

Spike was certain that Puffy knew he would never do that. Clem would go straight to the Watcher’s – Spike paused and reconsidered. Well, maybe not the Watcher, there were limits to Clem’s bravery. But he’d go to the lair tonight, and tell Xander what he’d seen, and tomorrow, they’d try to storm the mansion. They would, of course, be slaughtered, or worse, captured. Well, all but that arsewipe of a Watcher, who he was sure would never agree to a rescue attempt.

All this, because Spike had been too impatient to wait for backup. If he survived this, he’d never live it down. Xander would make his unlife a living hell. He’d deserve it - that was the worst of it. He’d gone off in a snit, sure that he could do better on his own than they could have done together. If Xander were injured, or worse, killed then he’d bear the guilt of that for years.

Spike found himself resentful of that guilt. He was a master vampire, he shouldn’t be capable of such feelings toward the food. He was though, and there was nothing to be done for it, now. He’d just have to deal with the consequences. If he got out of this mess in one piece, of course.

The berk with the attitude came back through ten minutes later, and Spike was gratified to note that even in his current condition, the minions were careful to stay out of his reach. They pulled him down off the wall and planted him back on his slab, now that he’d proved a pretty bit of bait, dangling just out of the reach of Xander and the Slayer.

He found himself growling, and stopped, worried that the minion who was fighting the buckle of his gag, his trembling fingers fumbling at the sweat-slick leather, might give up and decide to leave it in place. It turned out to be a good thing that he’d calmed down enough to let them get him out of the gag. It might have been cold takeout, but Spike gratefully bit into the bags of human blood they offered him, sighing with relief as he felt his wounds begin to heal almost immediately.

It was only as they left, the berk in charge slipping a large set of keys into his pocket, that Spike realized with a start who he must be. He’d thought that Puffy had sent his Second to take care of Spike, but now it made more sense. The berk with the keys wasn’t Puffy’s Second in Command, he was the bleeding majordomo. Spike burst out laughing, and the minions scurried away, disturbed by his odd behavior.

He woke with a start several hours later, the scent of Dru’s perfume on the air. He thought for a moment that he must have been dreaming her, but no, there she was, standing in the doorway, her sharp eyes cataloguing what was left of his wounds, eyeing him critically as she stepped into the room.

Watching her walk to the slab of rock on which he lay, Spike felt his heart squeeze tight in his chest with longing for his own Dru. There was no mistaking one for the other. This one walked with purpose, direct and intent on her goal, while his Drusilla had drifted almost ethereally through his world, delicate and somewhat intangible, as if her ties to the world were insubstantial and easily broken. Sometimes he had wondered if perhaps she hadn’t really existed on their plane at all, her grasp on the solid, real world he inhabited was so tenuous.

“They didn’t hurt you too badly, did they, my Spike?”

She ran one cool fingertip down the sharp edge of his cheekbone, and he shrugged, uncomfortable to be revealing a weakness in front of her.

“I’ve had worse beat downs from Angelus for finishing off the last of his favorite bottle of scotch.”

She smiled. “Our Angel always did love his scotch.”

She pressed her palm to his cheek, and Spike sighed, unable to stop himself from leaning into her touch. It had been so long since he’d lost his Dru, he ached with the need of her.

“Should I leave the room, then?”

Puffy’s indignant query brought Spike back to himself. He hadn’t even realized the bastard was there. It was damned inconvenient that even his own demon couldn’t recognize the difference between the two, despite the fact that they inhabited two different bodies.

“Tell you what,” Spike said cheerfully. “How about I leave the room instead?”

Dru laughed and spun around in a circle, reminding him so much of his own Drusilla that he thought for a moment that he might cry.

“Oh, no, Spike!” she laughed, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “You can’t leave now. The party has barely begun!”

Chapter Text

Spike arched his back, gasping as a line of bright pain opened across his chest. Drusilla was capable of such exquisite torture. She was always at her best when she was most clearheaded, and his Dru had never been this clearheaded. She pushed Spike back down, her ass pressing against his cock, which was so hard he could barely stand it. Having her there with him again, her slim thighs clamped tight against his ribs, would have been torture even without the wickedly sharp knife she wielded so expertly.

Her skilled hand on the knife laying him open was nothing to the hurt he felt inside. If he had one, he would have said that his soul ached with want. He was insanely jealous of the Spike this Dru called her own, but at the same time, he missed his own Drusilla keenly, a yearning that clenched his heart tighter with every minute that this one touched him, claiming him, if only for a brief time.

If it weren’t for the rational light in her eyes, he could almost imagine this was his Dru. He let his eyes slip closed. He missed Drusilla so much. Another line of fire brought his eyes open again, and when he focused on her she was shaking her head.

“We’ll have none of that. You keep your eyes on me, so you know who holds you in her hand.”

“Sorry about that, love. It’s just that the lines keep crossing in my mind. You’re so different, but at the same time, you’re exactly the same. It’s playing with my head.”

“I know, precious boy.”

She cupped his cheek, and he sighed with longing. Then she bent back to her work, another bright flare of brilliant pain. She moved down and hiked up the bottom of her dress so she could press herself against his cock, rubbing against the bulge in his jeans as she licked up the blood she’d spilt down his chest. She lapped at it like a kitten, delicate little strokes that moved in time with her hips, sending him soaring. He’d been far too long without sex, if she kept this up he’d come before she got his jeans off, and wouldn’t that be a shame.

He desperately sought something to calm his ardor. His usual mental cold shower was an image of Darla after she and Angelus had been going at it for hours. If she still wanted more after Angelus was through with her, he’d shove Spike in her direction to keep her occupied while he nipped out for a bite or two to refortify himself. It gave the phrase ‘sloppy seconds’ a whole new meaning. Spike shuddered at the thought, but unfortunately, his cock was too happy to notice. Damn.

He sent his mind in another direction, hoping for a solution. He wondered where Clem was by now. Had he met up with Xander, yet? If so, it wouldn’t be long before Xander and Kendra showed up here.

There it was. The thought of Xander seeing him writhing against Drusilla was enough to cool him right down. Xander would never understand. He might comprehend the bond between Sire and Childe, and he might even sympathize with the fact that Spike had spent a century worshiping the woman astride him, but it would ruin any chance of Spike’s convincing Xander that Spike cared for him.

He was tempted to take what he could get, since the chances were strong that none of them would survive whatever Dru had planned. He couldn’t count Xander out, though. He’d seen this crew come out scratch free from even more intimidating odds than this dilemma could boast, so he wasn’t giving up on Xander yet.

Dru lifted her head, her forehead creased with a frown. Her lips were smeared with his blood, and when she licked them clean his cock made a valiant effort at reviving, but he was having none of that. She didn’t want him, she wanted her own Spike, and he was just a plaything to pass the time. She’d dust him without a thought when she was tired of him. At some point, she’d expect him to obey her the way Puffy did, and when Spike insisted on having a mind of his own, she’d put him down like a rabid dog.

“No.” She shook her head angrily. “You don’t get to leave me. I’ll have you both.” She grabbed his head in both hands, the knife clattering to the floor as she kissed him. It was a forceful, ruthless kiss, the kind Spike’s Dru was seldom capable of, and he kissed her back in kind, loving the taste of his blood in her mouth. He surrendered to the kiss one last time. Saying goodbye.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?”

Puffy’s outraged voice brought Spike out of the moment and he tried to break away, but she held onto him, refusing to let the kiss end. There wasn’t much he could do about it, under the circumstances, but he let her do all the work, and she plundered his mouth until a sharp, deep pain pierced his shoulder right through bone and sinew, and he shouted his pain into her mouth. The pain morphed into a grinding, tearing torment that he couldn’t escape, bound as he was to the stone slab they lay on.

Dru’s head shot up, and she grabbed Puffy’s hand, keeping him from twisting the knife in Spike’s wound a second time. She sat up, tossing Puffy away from them both with an outraged shout.

He sat on the floor where she’d thrown him, shouting at her. “You’re supposed to be torturing him, Dru, not fucking him!”

Drusilla slid off Spike and walked over to him, a sly smile on her face.

“I can do both at the same time, as you well know.” She held out her hand and he took it sullenly, letting her pull him to his feet.

“But we have questions for him, don’t we? We need to know what he’s doing here, allying himself with the Slayers of all things.” Puffy was like a dog with a bone. He was never going to let that drop.

Dru turned back to study Spike as he lay there, panting through the pain. That fucking hurt!

“I was hoping to catch a few flies with honey, but I suppose we’re going to have to go back to vinegar, now that the mood has been spoiled.”

She didn’t mention his change of heart at the end, but Spike thought that’s what she meant. Of course, Puffy assumed she was talking about his stabbing Spike, and he was content to leave Puffy in the dark about that as long as Dru let him.

She crossed back to the slab and dipped her finger in the blood pooling in Spike’s open wound. She moaned as she sucked the blood off her finger then turned to Puffy. “Taste him, love. He tastes just like you.”

“Yeah?”

Puffy sauntered casually to Spike’s slab, looking him over curiously. He shoved his index and middle fingers into the wound with far more force than necessary, and Spike grimaced, refusing to give him the satisfaction of shouting again. He was going to dust that bastard if it was the last thing he did. Puffy shot Spike the ‘two fingered salute,’ the blood dripping down the back of his hand not spoiling the effect at all. He sucked the blood off his fingers, closing his eyes as he concentrated.

“I can taste you in him.”

Dru nodded. “Yes." She stepped up until she was pressed against Puffy's side. "I never gave him my blood.”

“Not here,” Spike reminded her. “I’ve had plenty of your blood in my world.”

Puffy stuck his fingers back into Spike’s wound, and Spike ground his teeth in his effort to avoid showing Puffy any signs of his pain. This time Puffy used his bloodied fingers to paint Drusilla’s lips and she opened her mouth and sucked in his fingers, moaning. Puffy pushed her up against the side of Spike’s slab, and replaced his fingers with his tongue.

Spike rolled his eyes. He had no interest in seeing the two of them writhing against each other, although he had to admit, except for the ugly hair, it was interesting to see what he and Dru looked like from the outside. If vamps had reflections, he’d have fucked Dru from behind, holding her up against him as they made love facing a mirror. Drusilla could never see what an erotic sight she was when she orgasmed, and that was a real shame.

He was tempted to remind them he was there, because Puffy had his hand under Drusilla’s skirt, and if he wasn’t going to get the chance to enjoy her, Spike had no interest in smelling Dru’s sex in the air. But the longer they spent on each other, the longer they refrained from torturing Spike, so he kept his mouth closed and stared at the ceiling. Fortunately he didn’t need to breathe, so he could avoid the scent of their rutting.

It would have been nice if he hadn't been forced to hear Dru's moans and cries of passion, as well as her declarations that no one could take Puffy's place. You'd think the least they could have done was fuck against a different stone slab. There were two or three free from what he could see. He supposed that the Master of the Hellmouth might have more than a few 'guests' in his dungeon at one time.

It was hard to tell who was enjoying themselves more. Puffy got the chance to rub it in Spike’s face that his Drusilla was still with him, and happy to be in his bed. Drusilla, on the other hand, got the opportunity for a captive audience. If there was one thing she loved, it was knowing that someone was watching her fuck.

Spike blamed that one on her Daddy. He'd relished every opportunity to remind Spike that Dru chose him over Spike. Angelus was always a bit of a braggart. Dru put on quite a show, and Spike had to admit that he watched - a bit. It was probably his last chance to see Dru’s face as she came. It was a lovely sight.

Afterwards Spike relaxed some of his tight control, knowing it couldn't get much worse than that. Then Puffy smeared his wet fingers under Spike’s nose and over his lips. Spike’s automatic reaction was to lick his lips, and he gasped as the taste of the two of them exploded on his tongue. Gasping was a mistake, since their scent was on his face now and he unintentionally sucked in the heavy scent of her sex, overlaid with that of Puffy’s come.

Puffy was watching him closely, so he schooled his face as best he could, struggling with the murderous rage that threatened to break out. Puffy laughed hysterically as Spike fought his anger down, using the skills he'd obtained during his years caring for Dru. The steely control he’d fought so hard for served him well as he waited for Puffy to stop laughing.

Eventually, Puffy sighed and wiped his eyes, his grin dying as he glanced back at Spike. He must not have liked what he saw, for he took a step back before he straightened his shoulders, holding his head high. He smiled smugly, knowing there was nothing Spike could do while chained to that slab.

“You’ll regret that,” Spike said conversationally, as if he said nothing of great import. “I’ll watch you die, and I’ll spit on your ashes.”

If Puffy could have gotten any paler, he probably would have. Dru came between them then, bending over to lick their scent from under Spike’s nose and off his lips.

“We taste delicious spread over his skin, Spike.” She pushed her tongue into his mouth, and he opened to her kiss, knowing what it would do. He was right.

With an outraged roar, Puffy pulled Drusilla away from Spike.

“Can’t you leave him alone for a moment? We have questions, remember?” he shouted indignantly.

Spike chuckled. That sounded familiar. He glanced over at Puffy, who stood, arms crossed over his chest, a full-fledged pout on his lips. “What’s the matter, then? Won’t keep her legs crossed for you? Should have known.”

Drusilla frowned at Spike, but he shrugged. The only thing she could do was torture him, and she planned to do that in any event. Might as well earn it. “I always guessed it was ‘cause she was bonkers, but looks like she’s a rover, no matter what her sanity.” It felt funny commiserating with the bastard, but there was no one who would understand better.

“It’s her ‘Daddy’s’ fault, mate,” Puffy told him. “He gets what he wants, whenever he wants it, right?”

“That’s different,” Spike argued. “Sires can do as they will, nothing you can do about that.”

Dru interrupted their conversation, her voice chilly and clipped. “And since I am your sire, Spike, I will do as I please.”

There was nothing either of them could say to that.

“So where is the old poofter these days? Did they shove his soul back down his throat before they sent him for walkies?”

Puffy looked appalled. “You mean in your world they wrapped that damned ball and chain back around his neck before they sent him to Acathla’s hell dimension?”

“Yeah. He didn’t stay long, though. A century? Or was it five? I can’t remember.” Spike realized that Drusilla was staring at him in horror, her hand over her mouth. He hated that she was so upset about an Angelus from another dimension with two Spikes to choose from right in front of her, but he knew the drill. Daddy always came first.

Spike sighed. He could never stand to see Dru upset. “Don’t worry, pet, he was only there a few months before they got him back.”

“I thought you said five hundred years.” Puffy protested. He was probably thinking along the same lines as Spike. They’d never be anything but second string to Angel.

Spike shrugged as best he could with his arms chained over his head. “Time moves differently there. You know how some of those hell dimensions can wreak havoc on the timeline. Three months in our world, five hundred years in hell. He deserved it for keeping me trapped in that bleeding wheelchair when he could have had me back in fighting form in weeks with regular doses of sire’s blood in my veins.”

Puffy nodded, leaning one hip up against Spike’s slab. “He did that to you, too? Bastard. He destroyed my court. It took me months to get it back up to shape again after all that Acathla shite.”

“Wait a minute." Spike frowned, lifting his head to see Puffy better. "You were in that bleeding wheelchair? Why were you even in that church if you took Drusilla out of Prague before that mob could destroy her health?”

Puffy grabbed the carryall Spike kept his tools in, dropping it on the slab with the jangle of metal against metal. “There was nothing wrong with Dru’s health. We were in that church trying to pry that fucking soul out of Angelus, yet again.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Daddy, daddy, daddy… It’s all got to be about Daddy, doesn’t it? Some things never change.”

Rooting through the carryall, Puffy grunted his agreement. He pulled out several rusty and bloodied railroad spikes, a dissection kit that Spike knew was missing its scalpel, and Spike’s favorite filleting knife before he finally found his old, dented flask. Spike grinned when he saw it. He was very fond of that flask.

Scooping everything else back into the carryall, Puffy unscrewed the lid on the flask and took a good sized belt before he continued the conversation where they'd left off.

“That bitch of a slayer tipped that organ over on me. Broke my spine.”

Spike nodded. “Yeah. Me, too. But I was using Angelus to bring Dru’s health back, after she got near dusted in Prague. She was never the same after that, until we found this spell. Worked a treat, but we had to kidnap Angelus to make it work, and the Slayer crashed the party.”

Puffy took another sip, and started to screw the lid back on. Then he paused, and shrugged his shoulders. He held Spike’s head up and tipped the flask into his mouth. The whiskey burned its way down his throat, and he took as much as Puffy would give him, which was more than he would have expected, under the circumstances. He nodded his thanks as Puffy screwed the lid on, dropping the flask back into the carryall.

“If that little blond slut hadn’t spread her legs for Angelus in the first place, none of that Acathla crap would have happened, and Angelus wouldn’t be in hell right now.”

“What?” Spike surely hadn’t heard that right. “Angelus is still…”

There was a mournful wailing from the corner, and although he couldn’t see her from his slab, Spike recognized the sound of Drusilla in her most tormented moments.

“Hell,” she wailed. “My Angel has been in hell for two years.”

Chapter Text

Spike watched, helplessly, as Puffy soothed Drusilla, who wailed and sobbed as painfully as anything his Dru had ever done. His heart ached with the discovery that this reality's Drusilla was, in her own way, as wounded as his own. Her cries cut right through him, making his dead heart ache the way his shoulder had when Puffy ground that knife into it. It didn't matter that she wasn't his Dru, she was suffering, and it was his job to tend to her when she was like this.

Set up on the far end of the large room was a couch and a bar. Spike rolled his eyes, but secretly admired the setup; it would come in handy for long, extended sessions of torture. Of course he admired it from afar, chained as he was to a slab of rock masquerading as a table. But when Puffy took care to spread a throw from the couch over Dru as she slept, Spike acknowledged, if only to himself, that the mansion was much better appointed for vampires than it had been when Angelus had lived there.

There'd been no sewer access at all, let alone a fortified gate set up to magically allow the court in, and keep enemies out. There were heavy shutters on the huge windows upstairs that were barricaded during the day, and only opened at night to allow the cooler evening air to circulate. And from what he'd heard and seen, the mansion had not only electricity but running water as well. He wondered about cable, then laughed. What was he thinking? Of course Puffy had cable. Wait - if he wanted the best footie matches, he’d get satellite.

Spike had to admire the effort Puffy had put into making his home comfortable. Come to think of it, having a Drusilla with her wits at least mostly intact probably helped a great deal in keeping the place habitable. Spike had gone out of his way to make their living arrangements comfortable for Dru, but with as unstable as she often was, his Dru was, at times, a danger to herself and others. If Spike had to choose between keeping her comfortable or safe, safety always won out.

The easiest solution would be to load up on minions who could help care for her, but that seldom worked well. Dru was at risk from younger, less reliable fledglings, who didn't understand her ways, and distrusted her motives. He couldn't blame them, she had been known to volunteer them to serve as her test subjects when she was experimenting with whatever magic she was currently obsessed with. Those experiments seldom came out in the minion's favor.

And when she was at her worst, having a minion 'baby sit' Dru while Spike took care of business either led to her staking the minion and running away, or worse, the minion getting annoyed by her needs and demands and trying to stake Dru. Fortunately, she was usually well enough to protect herself from fledglings, even in her weakest states, and with the rate at which she got herself and Spike into trouble, it was impossible to keep a minion around long enough to prove his trustworthiness. Spike was forced to keep his households small, which meant less time for business, since he was constantly worried about Dru and her care.

A Dru who was capable of taking care of herself would have made so much difference in their day to day existence. He could have had a court, if he’d wanted one, or at least kept enough minions around to keep them both comfortable. He didn’t mind doing for himself, but it was a mark of a true Master Vampire to have loyal servants he could trust with the day to day dealings. He’d never have found himself in a situation like this, chained in a basement in another dimension, struggling just to keep himself alive. He’d have kept the Hellmouth, because Dru wouldn’t have needed healing and he’d never have let the Slayer cripple him the way she had.

He’d never have let Angelus take his home and his station away from him, so he’d never have been in the awkward position of being forced to make deals with a Slayer. That meant that Dru would never have turned her back on him and there would have been no need to be skulking around the Hellmouth long enough for the damned soldiers to Taser him into unconsciousness. No chip! Need he say any more? All his time as a vampire would have been so different.

Puffy came back with a full bottle of Jack, and Spike’s mouth watered. He could use a nip or two of that – or more. A couple of drinks would at least help dull the pain in his shoulder. He doubted that less than a couple of bottles would get rid of the images of a hundred years with a mostly sane Drusilla that kept flooding his mind.

Puffy pulled out the flask they’d drunk from earlier, and filled it before dropping it and the bag it belonged in back to the floor. He kicked the bag close to Spike’s slab, which was not comforting. Spike knew how much experience he had with the tools of torture in that bag, and he couldn’t manage to fool himself into thinking that this Spike had less. Puffy might be a coward that couldn’t kill a slayer without assistance, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t know how to torture someone chained to a table. After all the practice he’d got in the first twenty years of his life, Angelus would turn over in his… hell dimension, if Puffy couldn’t manage to torture someone who was already chained down.

Puffy swallowed a huge gulp of the Jack Daniels, and Spike inhaled, taking in the sharp aroma of the whiskey. It couldn’t possibly get him drunk, but it smelled better than the scent of Puffy and Dru’s rutting that still hung heavy in the air.

“Thirsty?” Puffy asked after his second large gulp. He held the bottle above Spike’s head, waving it back and forth like a pendulum.

Spike debated whether he should try and be polite in an effort to achieve his goals, but then he realized that Puffy would know what he was doing, and would expect it. He also knew what the real response would be, so Spike decided he might as well go with honesty, since lying to himself wasn’t likely to get him anything but derision.

“That’s a stupid question.”

Puffy just smiled wickedly and started to tip the open bottle in the direction of Spike’s mouth, from about two feet above Spike’s head.

“Oh, you wouldn’t -” Spike protested. He caught himself before he said more. Of course he would.

“Of course I would,” Puffy echoed the voice in Spike’s mind.

Spike sighed, dramatically. “Of course you would.” He frowned at the bottle, which Puffy was moving back and forth as he slowly tipped it. “Don’t waste it, you fool.”

Puffy’s eyebrow cocked, and Spike almost laughed. He’d always wondered why everyone stared at him when he did that. It worked pretty well, he’d have to remember that. It was handy having his own personal vampmirror.

The bottle continued to tip, so Spike rolled his eyes and reluctantly opened his mouth wide. He had no worries about suffocation or anything like that, but getting alcohol up your nose stung, even if you had vampire healing. Puffy poured steadily, and Spike was glad he had no need to breathe, because there were no breaks until about half the bottle was gone.

Spike had swallowed three or four times before it became too awkward, and the burn of the alcohol heated him up from the inside. His mouth was pretty damn full when Puffy finished pouring. He cursed the stupid-haired bastard as he gulped, spilling a bit out of the side of his mouth, to run down into his ears. He got most of it, though. When there was only a double shotglass’ worth left in his mouth, he closed it, savoring the flavor, which he hadn’t had time to do while his mouth had been full to overflowing.

He’d finished the last of it, and his eyes had stopped watering before he realized that Puffy’s smirk was just as obnoxious as he’d always been told. So he took great pride in opening his mouth for another go, and wiping that smirk right of Puffy’s face.

“You’re as bleeding insane as your sire.”

Spike closed his mouth long enough to reply. “Comes with the territory, mate. You are too, I’m sure.”

He got another go with the whiskey for that, but only a couple of fingers worth, this time. Spike let it sit on his tongue for a while before swallowing it, just enjoying the taste. It was probably just as well that there was no more than a mouthful. If Dru was right and Xander and Kendra were on their way, he needed to be able to focus. The whiskey had helped take the sharp edge off the pain of his wound. Any more and he’d risk the chance of not being quick enough to avoid a stake, or missing the vamp with a sword coming up behind him, only realizing he was there just as he removed Spike’s head.

Or worse, he’d be too slow to stop the one trying to kill Xander, and if that happened, he wouldn’t want to return to his own world. Not that he’d want to stay here, either, but Spike wasn’t sure he could handle the world they’d come from without Xander in it. The thought of being anywhere if Xander wasn’t there with him was too hard to imagine, and that fact hit him with the force of a hammer. His feelings for Xander were far stronger than he’d realized.

“Well, fuck.”

Puffy drank steadily from the bottle while Spike had his revelation. When Spike spoke, he took two more gulps, finishing off the whiskey, then sauntered over to Spike’s slab.

“Fuck what, mate? You just realize that you’re sorely out classed in this world? Don’t worry, I won’t draw out your final death for more than a week or two.”

“Out classed?” Spike blurted out. “I’ve killed two slayers." Puffy started to interrupt, but Spike kept going. "By myself. Dru didn’t have to thrall either of them before I could sink my teeth into them. I’m twice the fighter that you are. The only reason you were able to keep up with me the time we rumbled was that I was under a serious handicap. I was at half my normal abilities when we fought. I am five times the vampire you are.”

Spike was shouting by the time he finished. Whiskey always did tend to loosen his tongue. He needed to be more careful or he’d end up a pile of dust before Xander even got here to rescue him.

Puffy smashed the whiskey bottle on the edge of the slab, and brought the sharp, jagged end up to Spike’s neck. It wouldn’t kill him unless he managed to saw Spike’s head off with it, but it would hurt like fuck all, and put a serious cramp in his ability to fight back when the time came.

“You’re lucky that Drusilla wants you alive,” Puffy growled.

Too bad Spike just couldn’t seem to keep his bleeding mouth shut.

“Right. That would be just like you, wouldn’t it? Go ahead, hurt the one whose hands are chained above his head. Oh, wait. Maybe you should ask Drusilla to thrall me, first. I might break right out of these vamp-proof chains, and you’d be completely helpless against someone with a little skill, wouldn’t you? Someone who could actually defend himself.”

Puffy was trembling with rage. Spike was surprised that he’d managed to avoid cutting Spike, as badly as he was shaking. But Drusilla’s orders obviously trumped Puffy’s anger, because he didn’t do more than scrape the jagged edge across Spike’s neck, leaving four or five trails of burning fire behind, traces of whiskey stinging in the open wounds. Spike could tell they were bleeding, he could smell the blood, and see it on the tips of the glass, but the cuts were superficial, and would soon close over.

Puffy stormed away, leaving the broken bottle behind, and set to work demolishing the slab next to Spike’s, breaking the heavy stone into smaller and smaller pieces.

“Oh, right,” Spike called, derisively. “Hurt the nasty chunk of rock, why don’t you? You disgust me. I bet you plucked the wings off flies as a child, didn’t you? Did you pull the legs off ants, as well, just to watch them struggle? Angelus would be so proud of you. He’s just the sort that would praise a man for pulling half a defenseless mouse’s legs off and laugh as it tried to crawl back to its nest.”

With a scream, Puffy was back, the bottle held tightly against Spike’s neck, breaking the skin in several places.

“I am nothing like Angelus,” he growled.

Drusilla was suddenly there, paler than normal, eyes bruised and puffy – neither of them had noticed her arrival. “You will stop this now, both of you.” She held out her hand, and Puffy placed the jagged glass in it, careful to turn it so that the sharp edges didn't touch her skin.

Drusilla tossed it to the floor, where it landed with the rest of the glass from the sound of things. She crossed her arms, frowning heavily. “I can’t leave you two alone for a second, can I?”

Spike felt guilty for waking her up, but he was the one chained to a rock, so he raised his chin defiantly. His words were all he had to defend himself with right now, and he would not be shamed into not using them.

“Daddy only hurt a mouse once.” Drusilla told Spike sternly. “I learned my lesson, and he never again had the need to remind me not to bring mice into the house.”

Spike shook his head sadly. She and his Drusilla were so different in some ways.

“No?” she asked. “The lesson didn’t take with your Drusilla?”

“It required many applications before she learned her lesson,” he told her.

She sighed. “I feel sorry for her. And for you. You went around removing the mice I brought in, didn’t you? Cleaning up all my messes?” She smiled at him sweetly. “You were always my protector.”

“That was me, Drusilla.” Puffy came around Spike’s table, and wrapped her in his arms. “Not him. You need to stop confusing the two of us, because it will hurt all the more when he’s gone.”

She smiled that sneaky smile that meant she was up to something, and Spike got a bad feeling in his gut. It probably had to do with the reason she was bringing them all together, but he wasn’t about to remind them of the fact that Xander and Kendra were coming for him. He realized, with a sense of disgust, that he was the one getting rescued. If Xander called him a damsel in distress, he was going to punch the arsewipe in the face. Then he’d kiss him silly, and they could get the fuck out of this world, because he was sick and tired of this dimension. It was time to go home. It had to be.

Puffy was still placating Dru. “Do we have time for you to lay back down, Pet? I’ll stay with you, then you’ll know that he’s safe from me.”

Drusilla shook her head. “Time is short. If you still have questions, you need to ask them now.” Drusilla stepped to the door, and spoke to someone. They came in, and Spike realized it was the guard they had posted outside his door. He played janitor for Dru, and swept up the broken glass while she and Puffy held each other as they watched.

Spike was still trying to deal with his revelation that Xander had crept into his heart while neither of them had been looking. He’d felt strongly for Xander before, but this seemed different, richer and more powerful than he’d thought. He realized with a start that without the chip he’d never have had the chance to get to know Xander, because Spike never would have put up with him long enough to see past the annoying habits and sharp wit that he used as a shield to protect himself. So all that mourning about lost opportunities and chances for a different path was for nothing. And no matter what Xander said about it, Spike wasn’t giving this up. Now Xander just had to show up and free him, so he could convince Xander of that.

When the guard left, Puffy picked up the knife Dru had thrown earlier, and brought it back to Spike’s table.

“So what’s all this I keep hearing about you and the Slayer searching for those soldier boys we took out.”

Spike was surprised out of his thoughts by that question. “The Initiative was here? What happened to them?”

“I happened to them, idiot. I kicked their green arses out of my town.”

“After I told you where to find them, of course,” Dru pointed out.

Puffy smiled at her, taking her hand and kissing the fingers. “Of course, my love. You’re my guiding light.”

“Oh, please.” Spike and his Dru were never that bad. “But no one ever even heard of them here.” He had a moment of insight. “Does that have something to do with the demon confederacy you made? But the timing seems off.”

“No, you’re right.” Drusilla ran her hand along Puffy’s shoulders as she walked over to where Spike was lying. She got behind him, and ran her fingers through Spike’s hair. “We killed them all, before they had a chance to grow their schemes and plant their silicone in our heads.”

“Silicone? What are you talking about, Dru?”

Damn. He’d hoped they didn’t know about the chip.

Dru turned Spike’s face away from her, so she could examine the back of his head. Spike tried to turn back, worried about what she might do, but she grabbed his head.

“Hold him still, Spike.”

Puffy’s hands clamped onto his head, and Spike got truly worried for the first time.

“What are you looking for?”

Dru placed her hand over the back of Spike’s skull. “It’s in there, I can feel it. A tiny little piece of wire and silicone that stops him from being a true vampire.”

“He’s not a true vampire?”

Spike allowed his face to reform, the ridges and sharp teeth announcing his abilities. “I am a vampire.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Drusilla said distractedly, as she poked at the back of Spike’s skull. “But you can’t harm humans anymore, now can you?”

Spike growled, but refused to say anything, which was obviously all the answer Puffy needed. He pulled back in surprise, letting go of Spike’s head as if he was contagious. “The soldiers did that? So why were you looking for more soldiers, then? I’d think you’d have had enough of them.”

Drusilla let go of his head, and Spike turned back to face the ceiling, protecting the back of his head as best he could. If he thought that Dru could remove it, he’d have been glad to give it a go, but since she had her own Spike, he had a feeling she wouldn’t worry too much about experimenting with a spare. It wouldn’t matter if she turned him into a gibbering idiot; she’d still have her own in reserve.

“I suspect you were hoping that you could find a way to get yours removed, weren’t you?”

Dru ran her hand down Spike’s cheek again, in that much loved gesture, but this time, Spike didn’t feel the comfort that move had always engendered in the past. He regretted the loss, but under the circumstances, he thought it understandable.

“Too bad, mate.” Puffy didn’t sound at all regretful, but then, he’d just found the perfect weapon to use whenever Drusilla’s eye wandered to Spike. “They’re all dead and the whole damn underground warren bombed out of existence and flooded with water to ruin anything that was left. Guess you’re just going to have to live with your handicap.”

He smiled brightly. It was obvious that he was in a much better mood now. Spike didn’t think he was quite that mercurial, but he did tend to lose his temper easily, so who knew?

“Well that explains why you’re keeping company with all those humans, eh?” He shook his head, mocking Spike mournfully. “I’ll bet the demon community sees you as a liability these days, yeah? Was that why your Dru left you? You weren’t enough vamp for her anymore?”

“Dru left me because I betrayed ‘Gelus when he tried to end the world with that big, ugly lump of crap he called Acathla. That was years before the chip.”

Puffy dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “She’s a seer, she knew you were going down, and didn’t want to go down with you.” His eyes lit up with his bright smile. “What about that boy you’ve got a hard-on for. I bet he’s holding out ‘cause he’d rather have a real vamp. I should go visit him some night, don’t you think?”

Spike had barely noticed vamping out, but he snarled, snapping at Puffy’s fingers, which were closer to his head than they would be if he had any brains in that overly-moussed head of his.

He pulled back, skipping out of range, and laughed. “Oh, no, that’s right! Drusilla’s having a party, and inviting all your little friends to join us. I’ll have plenty of time to show ‘Xander’ what a real vamp is all about.”

“You won’t touch him until he’s completed his tasks for me. Is that understood?” Drusilla’s voice was stern, and Spike had no doubt that Puffy would regret it if he touched Xander before she was through with him. He felt his belly twist. Whatever she had planned for Xander, it wouldn’t be good.

Puffy frowned. “Of course, love.” He walked around Spike’s table to take Drusilla’s hands in his. “You know I wouldn’t dream of disturbing your plans.”

He brought one of her delicate hands up to his lips, kissing her palm. She wrapped her hand around his face, stroking his cheek, and Spike could have cried at the look of bliss on Puffy’s face. Now he knew what he looked like at that moment. Minus the stupid hair, of course.

He couldn’t stand to watch them for a moment longer, so he did what he did best, and let his mouth get him into trouble. “Why do you do that to your hair? Make it all pouffy like that?”

Puffy growled at him, and Drusilla let her hand slip off Puffy’s face with a small smile, as if she knew what Spike was doing.

“It’s better than plastering it against your head like that.” Puffy gestured to Spike’s head. “What do you use in your hair? Is that glue? Or maybe shellac?”

Spike ignored him. He knew there was nothing wrong with his hair. “Have you used up all that mousse I sent you, yet? You must own stock in half a dozen companies in order to keep from going broke. Everyone at the Watcher’s flat agrees with me,” he lied blithely. “Your hair is even bigger than that Flock of Seagulls fella, the one with the extra foofy hair. You do know that New Wave went out with the Eighties, right?”

Drusilla wheeled over a rolling table with an impressive array of scalpels and other medical instruments on it. Spike swallowed, heavily. This was going to hurt. But at least he had the peace of mind of knowing that his tools may be rusty and the sets may be missing a few pieces, but he had more skill in his little finger than that pretentious twat had in his entire body.

He looked over at Puffy who was studying the scalpels with a gleam in his eye. Arsehole. “Did I mention what we call you these days?”

“My name is Spike.”

“No, my name is Spike. Your name is Puffy.” He smirked at Puffy, who glared at him angrily. ‘There, you see?’ he thought at the idiot. ‘This is how it’s really done.’

Puffy dropped his scalpel into the tray with the loud clatter of metal against metal.

Dru shook her head at him. “He’s trying to rattle you, love. You won’t do your job as well, if you let him upset you like that.”

“Do your worst, Puffy. I’ll always be a better vampire than you, and no matter how you pretend, you’ll always know that, until your final death.”

“Well at least your final death will be a lot sooner than mine, arsewipe.”

Dru picked up a scalpel fitted with a #15c blade, and Spike’s eyes widened. A #15c was well suited for drawing intricate patterns that required precision. Either she was in the mood to make art, or she planned to use him in a spell that required the proper symbols to be drawn in flesh and blood.

She smiled excitedly at them both. “We have such a pretty canvas to draw on. You’ll make such a festive picture for the party, Spike.”

“I’m glad you think so, love. I live to serve you.” He said that sarcastically, but somewhere deep inside, the words rang true.

Drusilla leaned over and kissed his dry lips briefly. “Yes, you do.”

Chapter Text

Xander was surprised at how easy it was to get into Puffy’s mansion. Giles told them that’s because they were probably walking into a trap. He supposed that was true, but it didn’t change anything. They were just going to have to trust that they could out think Drusilla, and get out before the trap closed. Tara had done a quick healing spell on Giles’ cracked ribs before they dropped her off at her hiding place. She hadn’t been able to do more in the brief time available to her, but Giles had been pleased with the results.

Pleased enough to insist on joining Xander and Kendra in the raid on Puffy’s mansion. Kendra had been thrilled at his change of heart. Xander was torn over telling her that it had been Clem’s words that had turned Giles around. Kendra thought he was doing this for her, and Giles hadn’t corrected her assumptions. Who knew? Maybe he was. Maybe he’d already been contemplating changing his mind, and Clem’s words had simply been the final straw that pushed him in the right direction. In the end it didn’t matter why he was there. The important thing was that he was guarding their rear, while Xander and Buddy led the way, and Kendra kept an eye on the map.

Buddy was their best bet as an early warning system, since he could sense demons from farther away than Kendra, plus, his senses weren’t limited to vamps. Since Spike’s court was full of other demons as well, he was the natural choice. Xander didn’t mention to the others that for some reason, Buddy seemed very distracted tonight. He’d just have to be vigilant in reminding Buddy to be on his toes, and they’d be fine. He wasn’t sure what was up with Buddy, but it felt like something important. Whatever it was, Xander was pretty sure he’d recognize it when he ran into it; he hoped he didn’t hit it too hard.

Xander was kind of distracted, himself. He hated leaving Tara outside without backup. Not that she couldn’t defend herself – Xander’d seen that first hand at Giles’ house when she came very close to dusting Spike the first time she met him. It felt wrong leaving her alone, but Tara had tested Dru’s shields when they got there; if she went inside, Dru would be alerted, and that would defeat the whole point of sneaking in.

He couldn’t help feeling that everyone – Kendra, Tara and Giles – were taking these chances because of him, and he hated the thought that they could be wounded or even killed simply because he’d gotten them all caught up in a fight that wasn’t theirs. Look at Spike. All he’d wanted was to get his chip removed and get the hell out of town, but he’d gotten mixed up in Xander’s troubles and now he was stuck in a dimension where he wasn’t wanted, and couldn’t get back to his own. He was being held by his evil twin or whatever, battered and beaten, simply because he’d gotten caught up in a whirlwind of a dimensional spell that was intended for Xander, not Spike. Even Clem had been held against his will –

Xander gasped as silently as he could when a buzzing shock shot through his body. He stopped, one hand on the closest wall, trying to regain his equilibrium. Ouch. Well, that hadn’t been fun. It was nothing compared to the shocks Buddy had given him when he’d been training, back in his world, but he got the hint. No blaming himself for other people’s decisions, and no letting his mind wander while he was in enemy territory, even if the halls were completely deserted.

“Xander? Are you okay?” Kendra whispered quietly in his ear.

He nodded back to her, and after a deep breath, headed out again. Clem’s directions had been fairly simple to follow, so he didn’t think he needed the confirmation, but he paused and looked back before taking the next corner, just in case. Kendra motioned right, and he moved on. Okay, he’d table the guilt for now. As Spike would say, he could brood like a nancy boy later, when no one’s life was in danger if he wasn’t paying attention. He reminded Buddy that he hadn’t been the only one who was distracted, but he wouldn’t complain. Not too much, anyway.

They were almost there. He hoped Spike would be able to walk, ‘cause Xander could carry him if he had to, but Spike wasn’t especially on the light side. Surprisingly enough, the image of Xander carrying Spike, who was wearing a long, flowing gown and pointy hat, like the ones ladies in the Middle Ages used to wear, came from Buddy, and Xander struggled to contain his laughter. The message was clear. Buddy considered Spike the damsel in distress that Xander needed to rescue as part of his quest. He couldn’t wait to tell Spike that!

Xander was the first one in the door, and he saw the body face down on the rock slab first thing. It was Spike, his hands and feet chained to the corners of the stone table, but that wasn’t what had Xander’s attention. Spike’s back was covered in gold writing; fine, curved lines carved right into his pale flesh. The letters and runes looked familiar, after years of staring at Giles’ books, but try as he might, the words wouldn’t make sense. They were hard to focus on. It was almost like they were moving, crawling over Spike’s back without actually going anywhere.

“Xander! Xander!” He blinked as he was torn away from Spike. Giles was shaking him. “Don’t look at them. You’ll get pulled into the spell, and we don’t have time to sort you out right now.”

“What? Who is it? Xander?” Spike’s voice was shaky, and he sounded confused and disoriented. “Xander, where are you?”

Xander tried to turn back, but Giles held on to him. He knew he could break free if he tried, Giles didn’t have near the strength Xander had these days, but he didn’t want to strain Giles’ ribs.

“Giles! I have to talk to him.” Xander shook his head, trying to clear his mind. He got the idea he’d been staring at Spike’s back for a while.

“Not yet,” Giles told him. “Hang on.”

Kendra came up to the table with a blanket in her hands. She spread it gently over Spike’s back, but she was careful to avoid looking directly at it.

“Xander. I thought I heard Xander.”

He sounded so disappointed. Xander wondered who Spike thought he was talking to. Kendra spoke gently.

“It’s okay, Spike. Xander’s here.”

“You can look, now.” Giles let go of him and walked to the door, his crossbow at the ready, but the hall must have been clear, because he stepped back in, and nodded to Kendra.

Xander looked down and realized why Spike was so confused. He was wearing a blindfold. Xander bent over so he was close to Spike’s head, running his hand over Spike’s hair. “I’m right here, Spike. I’m going to take this off your eyes, now, so keep them closed, okay?”

“Are you okay, mate?”

Xander sighed with relief. He sounded more like Spike again. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m not the one who looks like some crazy woman wrote all over me with a knife. Are you okay?”

Spike snorted. “Of course I’m not okay. A crazy woman wrote all over me - with a scalpel. It hurts, all right?”

Xander couldn’t help but grin. Now that sounded like Spike. He tugged at the knot in the blindfold, but it was pretty tight.

“Just cut it off, Herc,” Spike said impatiently.

“Right.” He fumbled with the knife Spike had given him when they first got to this dimension, a small, sharp blade made for slipping into your boot. “Here we go. Eyes closed?”

“Yeah, do it.”

Xander cut the cloth next to the knot, and the blindfold came loose in his hands. He pulled it off carefully, then gasped in surprise when Spike opened his eyes. They were gold, like the writing carved into Spike’s skin.

Spike rattled the chains on his wrists. “See if you can find the key to these chains around here. I’m tired of being stretched out like a bleeding sacrificial lamb or something.”

“No, there’s no key here.” Kendra said. “Give me a minute; I’ll take care of it.”

“Oh, dear,” Giles said, from directly behind Xander.

“Yeah. What you said.” Xander couldn’t help but stare at Spike’s eyes. The gold looked metallic, and covered the whole eye except for the pupil, which was the normal black. They were shiny, and it was very disconcerting.

Spike lifted his head off the table as best as he could. “What the bleeding hell are you two going on about? Is there something wrong with my eyes?”

Kendra walked over, craning her neck to see around Xander. She gasped. “That’s not right.”

“No,” Giles murmured. “It’s not. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s got something to do with the spell written on his skin. How long ago was that done, Spike? Was it Drusilla?”

“Yeah, it was Dru.” Spike thought for a second. “Hour or two ago, maybe? What’s wrong with my eyes?”

“They’re gold, Spike. Solid, shiny gold. Except for the pupils. Those look normal.”

“Gold?”

“Do your eyes hurt? Are they perhaps more sensitive to light? Do you see things differently? See different colors, perhaps?”

Giles got down on his knees to examine Spike’s eyes more closely, and Xander decided he should get out of the way. Besides, somebody should probably keep an eye on the door, in case someone showed up.

He’d barely begun to move before Spike spoke up, interrupting Giles’ questions. “Where are you going, Herc?” He spoke kind of casually, but Xander could tell he was anxious.

“I just thought I’d check the door, in case someone shows up.”

“There aren’t any guards? There were two guards there last time I noticed.”

“No, there’s no one there now.” Giles spoke distractedly. “But then, if this was a trap, there wouldn’t be, now would there?”

“You came here knowing it was a trap?” That was not Spike’s happy voice.

Xander shrugged, and headed for the door. “What were we supposed to do? Leave you here?”

“Yes.”

Xander snorted. “Not happening.”

He couldn’t hear anything from the doorway, so Xander stuck his head out, and looked around. There was no one there. He went down the hall, and checked at the next juncture, but the place seemed deserted. Then he walked back the way they’d come, but that was quiet too. This was getting a little creepy. Back at the door to the room Spike was in, he could hear Giles still asking questions. Spike was answering, but Xander could tell he was losing his patience. He walked back over; he had a better chance of calming Spike down than either Giles or Kendra.

As he got there, Xander heard the click of a lock opening, and Kendra’s quiet exclamation. He did a double take.

“Is that a lock pick, Kendra?”

Giles looked up sharply, and Kendra tucked her hand behind her, then grabbed the rest of the kit, which had been sitting out on the table top, holding it down by her side.

“Oops,” she said sheepishly.

“Where the hell did that come from?” Giles was not using his happy voice, either.

Spike moaned as he tried to move his arm. “Bloody hell, but that hurts.”

Xander sheathed his sword, and carefully started working the muscles in Spike’s shoulder, mindful of the wounds underneath the blanket. “Is this helping, or hurting?”

“That’s good, just be careful. They stopped bleeding after Dru poured that shite on them, and I’d rather they stayed that way for now.”

Giles examined the contents of the metal table next to Spike’s head, shoving things around with a large knife instead of touching them with his hands. He used the bowie knife Kendra had put in the bag earlier. So that’s why she’d wanted it. She’d known Giles was coming with them long before Giles did.

“What kind of shite?” Giles asked.

“I dunno. Gold shite.” Spike was helpful, as always.

Giles watched Kendra as she moved to Spike’s left hand, but he looked away when she started working on the lock, a sour look on his face.

“Where’d you learn to pick a lock, Foxy Brown?”

Giles’ shoulders stiffened. Xander shook his head. Spike knew just how to turn the knife in the wound. Kendra didn’t seem to mind, though. Now that the cat was out of the bag, she obviously wasn’t shy about sharing.

“Faith taught me. She said I was a natural.”

That got a huff from Giles, and Xander couldn’t help but grin. Giles was learning that his innocent, little Slayer wasn’t as innocent as he thought. He’d survive. Xander’s Giles had learned that lesson fairly early with Buffy. There was no sense in sheltering her, because if you didn’t give her the information she wanted, she’d just go out and get it somewhere else.

Spike hung his arm off the edge of the table with a sigh. “Thanks, mate. That’s much better. I’m gonna need help on this other arm. That one got wrenched all out of shape when I first got here, and it’s been stretched above my head ever since.”

“I saw a refrigerator on the other side of the room,” Kendra said. “You think they might keep blood in it?”

“More than likely. They gave me a couple of bags of human earlier, so I know they keep it handy.”

“I’ll check.” Spike lifted his head to stare at Xander. “I’ll be right back,” Xander assured him.

He headed toward the side of the room Kendra had indicated. There was a couch there, with a coffee table in front of it, an ashtray full of cigarette butts on the surface. A pile of clothes looked like they’d been dumped on the floor in one corner. A couple of wooden chairs sat around a small table, a deck of cards spread out, like someone was in the middle of a game of solitaire. A small cabinet was next to the refrigerator. There were a couple of six packs of one of Spike’s favorite brands of nasty European beer sitting on top, and Xander could see a dozen bottles of liquor through the half-open door underneath, two or three of which were unopened bottles of Jack Daniels.

Looked like the kitchen of every bachelor pad he’d ever seen. It was obviously used while taking a break between torture sessions, although he wasn’t sure why you would want to do that. He guessed it made a gruesome sort of sense; the longer the wait, the more time the imagination had to run wild.

Rooting through the refrigerator, he found a few bags of blood, along with a bunch of American beer and a few bottles of water.

“Score!”

He handed off water to Giles and Kendra, and Spike grabbed a bag of blood, biting into the plastic eagerly. Giles turned away, a sour look on his face, but Xander watched him, fascinated. He liked Spike’s vamp face, as odd as that might seem. It was strange and otherworldly, powerful and dangerous, and juxtaposed against the gentleness that he knew Spike was capable of, it made an odd kind of symmetry. Giles left to check the hall again, and Xander stroked Spike’s ridged forehead while Spike bit into the second bag of blood.

Kendra popped the lock on the second cuff much quicker than the first. “I think I’m getting the hang of it. These locks are tough.”

“You’re doing great, Kendra, you sneaky thing, you.”

She gave him a grin, and started on one of Spike’s ankles. Xander moved around to the other side and set to work on Spike’s shoulder, kneading the muscle carefully, while making sure the blanket didn’t slip and show any of the spell Dru had carved into Spike’s flesh. That odd, disjointed feeling was gone, and he didn’t want it come back. He heard Spike drop the second bag of blood right before he turned his head to the other side, so he could see Xander.

“You all right, Herc?”

Xander smiled at him. “I’m fine. It’s you that should have to answer that one. Are you okay?”

Spike clenched his teeth when Xander hit an especially sore spot, and Xander slowed down. “Sorry. That better?”

“You’re doing fine, mate. We can’t take it too slow, we need to get the hell out of here soon.”

Xander nodded his agreement. “I’m going to move your arm down,” he warned. Spike nodded his understanding, but when Xander moved his arm, he had to clench his teeth. Xander wasn’t sure if he realized he’d moved back into game face. He didn’t change back, so either he was still in pain, or he just hadn’t noticed.

The last two locks went fast; Kendra was a quick study. She went to check on Giles, who was still standing in the doorway, and Xander helped Spike turn over. He looked away, fast. He hadn’t realized that Spike’s front had been carved as well. He grabbed the edges of the blanket blindly, and pulled them shut.

Spike held them together. “I’ve got ‘em.”

Xander couldn’t help the tears that welled up in his eyes. “That looks really painful, Spike.”

He shrugged. “Not so bad. The worst part was that bloody shite she poured over them. That hurt like a bitch, but it stopped the bleeding.”

“I didn’t see a whole lot of it, but it didn’t look like those had healed much, even with the blood.”

Spike shook his head. “They didn’t heal at all. I doubt they will, until the spell’s completed.”

“It’s not completed?” Kendra sounded surprised.

“That makes sense,” Giles responded. “There’s more carving on the front, I take it?”

“Yeah, I didn’t look at it, though.” Xander assured Giles of that.

“Good. None of us should. That includes you, Spike.”

Spike had been peeking under the blanket, and looked up, surprised. “Why not?”

“We have no idea what the spell is for, unless you know something?”

Spike shook his head. “Not a bloody clue.”

Giles nodded. “It would be best if you didn’t accidentally set it running. With as much written word as she’s carved into you, the spell may be activated merely by reading it.”

“I’m going to see if I can find a shirt over there.” Kendra indicated the area with the couch. “I saw a pile of clothing.”

“Good idea, Kendra. I’ll go with you.” He left quickly, looking back at Spike before he did.

Spike followed Giles with his eyes. “What’s got his knickers in a twist? Is it the gold eyes?”

“No.” Xander laughed. “You’ve still got your grrrr on. You probably make him nervous.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Spike switched back to his human face, but Xander shrugged. “I don’t care. You don’t scare me.”

“I don’t?”

Xander smiled. “No, you don’t.” He got right up in Spike’s face. “We don’t have time to do this right, or anything, but I have to tell you this. I’ve changed my mind. About us, I mean.” He was nervous, unsure of what Spike would say, but he needed to say this. He stared into Spike’s eyes, as bravely as he could. “If you still want to, that is. I want to try.”

“You mean, the two of us? I thought you weren’t interested.”

“I was always interested, Spike. I just wasn’t sure it was a good idea. I’m still not. But I don’t care. I want to try anyway.”

Spike shrugged. “Yeah, all right.”

“Show a little enthusiasm, why don’t you?” Spike looked bored. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

Spike grinned at him. “What? Like this?”

He grabbed Xander’s face, pulling him forward, the blanket falling into his lap as they kissed. Xander parted his lips, and Spike’s tongue slipped inside, to play with Xander’s. He teased it, letting his tongue slip around Spike’s, pulling it further into his mouth before finally sucking on it, and making Spike moan. It was the hottest kiss they’d shared, yet, and the last two had been pretty steamy.

Spike spread his thighs, and Xander slipped even closer, their chests pressed tight together as he leaned up against the table. He let his hands slide around to Spike’s back, holding him close. Spike’s hands were squeezing his ass, and Xander rocked his hips, rubbing his cock up against Spike’s, right through their jeans. Spike felt so good in his hands. Xander’s whole body was heating up, he could feel the sweat as it rolled down his spine, his sides, his temples. It felt like Spike was heating up too, Xander could feel the warmth in the palms of his hands.

“Dear God!” Giles’ voice sounded like it was coming from far away. “Stop that at once!”

Xander felt Giles’ hands on his belt, trying to pull them apart. Spike growled, and suddenly it occurred to Xander that Spike was a vampire, and vampires were not supposed to have hot skin. He pulled out of the kiss, and shouted, “Spike! Let go!”

Spike gasped and his glowy gold eyes opened very wide, right before Xander went flying backwards. He landed on something lumpy, in a tangle of limbs. Giles grunted in pain, and Xander scooted to one side, so he could breathe.

“Sorry, sorry! Giles, are you okay?”

Giles lay there for a moment, eyes closed, breathing heavily. “I’ll be fine. Eventually.” He opened his eyes, and blinked before focusing on Xander. “Whatever possessed you to kiss a vampire?”

Kendra giggled, a strange sound coming from a woman as fierce as she could be when she fought. “They’ve been sweet on each other since they got here, Giles. You hadn’t noticed?”

Giles looked at Xander for confirmation, and he blushed.

“It sorta snuck up on us,” he said, sheepishly.

“Well until we find out what this spell is all about, you will keep your distance,” Giles ordered. “His runes were glowing when we got here.”

“Glowing?” He glanced over at Spike out of the corner of his eye, sighing with relief when he realized Spike was wearing a black t-shirt. It must have been in that pile on the floor, it was all wrinkled. “Are you okay, Spike?”

Spike grinned at him. “Just peachy, mate.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at Xander, who blushed again, dropping his face into his hands. He couldn’t believe they’d pawed each other like that in front of Giles. How embarrassing.

Out of the blue, Spike looked around and asked, “Where’s Glenda?”

Chapter Text

They were being herded; at least that’s what it felt like to Spike. They’d headed off towards the exit the others had used to get in, but they couldn’t get the small, servant’s entrance door to open. Spike had touched the doorknob and shook his head; Dru had been there, and set up a mojo lock, a strong one from what he could tell. The Watcher agreed, there was strong magic on the door that was not there when they’d come through earlier, and he couldn’t break it. They decided to try the other exit before getting in touch with Glinda, and asking her to break them out.

So they’d moved on to the underground exit that emptied into the sewers. Clem had told them that it would let anyone out, but only allow members of the court in. Which suited Spike, as he had no interest in coming back once he’d gotten the hell out of this damned place. Unfortunately, that exit had been locked, too, and to make it worse, when they tried to get in touch with Glinda to ask her to blow the locks, their cell phones wouldn’t work.

Foxy Brown thought it was probably due to interference, despite Glinda having boosted their signal magically before they came down to the basement. She suggested they move around some and hope they had better reception elsewhere. They’d tested the phones earlier, from the basement of the Watcher’s flat, and they’d had no problems with reception, so Spike was leaning toward the possibility that the reception problem had more to do with Dru than it did the basement they were calling from. Personally, Spike was hoping they’d find a room with a land line, because if Drusilla could do this to their phones, she could do it to Glinda’s, too, and she’d never notice it had been done, so she wouldn’t think to try and fix it.

They consulted Clem’s sketchy map, and decided to start up front in the main room, as it would probably have the best reception. Spike hadn’t realized the basement was as large as the mansion upstairs; it would be easy to get lost in a place like this, with its dim lighting, dark corridors and shadowy corners. They were lucky Clem had such a good memory. Spike had to admit that Clem had surprised him. He’d gone straight to the Watcher’s flat, despite his fears, and he’d stayed long enough to make a map, and have a heart to heart with the Watcher.

Spike had snickered about that, but promised Xander not to mention it to either the Watcher or Foxy Brown. He’d been surprised to see Rupert there for the rescue, but it made more sense now that he knew that Clem had offered the Watcher his two cent’s worth. The demon was very intuitive, and could get to the heart of a subject after just a few minutes of listening to someone’s problems. Spike ought to know, he’d done it to Spike more than once. It could be a little unnerving to hear the unvarnished truth like that. It’s a good thing that Clem was such an easy guy to get along with; some people would get staked for saying what they thought like that. Kind of reminded Spike of some talk show host - Oprah Winfrey, or maybe that Donahue guy. Not that Spike ever watched those shows or anything, but occasionally the TV was on in the background. What else was there to do while you waited for the sun to go down?

The corridors seemed endless. Spike hoped they weren’t going round in circles, ‘cause he didn’t have the reserves for that. He was feeling all right at the moment, but he was shaky inside, and he wouldn’t be able to keep it from showing for too much longer. He’d prefer to be up there at the front with Xander, but his boy needed to focus, and not be distracted by Spike.

Buddy was taking lead right now, what with his ability to spot demons, and Xander needed to concentrate on their connection. With Kendra in second spot with the map, and the Watcher in the rear, that left Spike in the protected position, and that wasn’t going down well. He hated to be the weak link, but with this spell thing, and his general shakiness, he knew this was where he belonged right now. At least he had a sword, he wouldn’t be completely useless in a fight.

The Slayer was getting tense, even though Spike could see no reason for it, until he realized that she hadn’t checked the map once in the last several minutes. Herc was moving confidently, without slowing down or conferring with anyone, as if he knew exactly where they were headed. Spike caught up with the Slayer, who exchanged an alarmed look with him.

“He’s not consulting the map at all, but he’s making all the right turns. He knows where we’re going.” She looked worried, but not alarmed, at least not yet. “Do you think we need to stop him? If he’s this single minded, he may not react to danger.”

Foxy had a point.

“Maybe we can just remind him to be careful,” Spike suggested. “Make sure he’s aware of his surroundings.”

They caught up with him, and Spike reached for his elbow, but before he even touched Herc, he had a knife at Spike’s neck, his eyes blazing with anger.

“Xander, it’s Spike! Don’t hurt him.” Kendra whispered urgently.

She didn’t try and touch him, which was good, as Spike was in a dangerous position, and didn’t need Herc to be distracted at this point. The Watcher showed up, and tried to talk Xander down as well, but it didn’t seem to be working. Spike had a thought that it might be his gold eyes that were throwing Xander, so he took a chance, and closed them.

“That’s good, Spike. Keep them closed.” The Watcher had sussed out his thinking. “Xander, look at him. That’s Spike. You don’t want to hurt him. He’s on your side.” Rupert sighed melodramatically before he admitted it. “He’s your friend, Xander.”

A second later, Spike felt the blade leave his neck, and he slumped with relief, opening his eyes slowly.

“Are you alright, Spike?” Xander’s voice was thin and reedy.

“Yeah, mate, I’m okay. But you need to slow down, all right? You’re speeding through the halls like nobody’s business, and you’re not stopping for directions, either.”

Xander nodded. “Don’t worry, Buddy’s keeping an eye out. We’re almost there.” With that, he turned and started walking again, slightly slower than before.

They all scrambled to catch up, mumbling under their breaths. At least they didn’t have much farther to go, Spike thought. He clenched his fist tight around the hilt of his sword. He hoped this night was almost over. He wasn’t sure how much farther he could make it.

Xander was right, it took all of a minute for him to stop at an archway that led to an open room. He stepped inside before they could get there to protect him properly. Spike didn’t care if Buddy was watching out for him or not, if they got out of this in one piece, he and Xander were going to have a long talk about the proper procedure for walking around in enemy territory.

When he got to the archway, Kendra was already inside watching Xander who was in the center of the room in front of a wrought iron stand, upon which stood the most beautiful sword Spike had ever seen. It was close to a meter in length, with a fairly broad blade of burnished metal. It looked like carbon steel, but there were copper and gold highlights that made it glow along the center line of the blade, where the ‘fuller’ was engraved with delicate scroll work. It was double-edged, and broad enough to be handy as a slicing and slashing blade, but the narrowness of the point made it appropriate for thrusting as well.

Spike tore his eyes away from the sword to look at Xander, who was smiling like he’d won the lottery, a look of awe on his face. A jolt of jealousy hit Spike, he preferred that he be the only one who could make Xander look like that. But he shoved that selfish thought down, and watched as Xander caressed the copper wrapped pommel as if stroking a pet. He recognized the move from watching Xander with Buddy, but he already knew that this was Xander’s sword.

Xander looked over at the three of them. “Can you hear it? She’s singing to me. She’s so beautiful.” He took the sword down off the rack, holding it in both hands as he listened to music they could never hear.

Spike felt a sense of déjà vu. He’d been in this situation before. At least this time he knew better what was going on. He should have known from the way Xander was behaving – but he hadn’t recognized his actions until it was too late.

“Dru said that Xander needed to wake the sleeper.” Spike was angry with himself for not figuring this out ahead of time. “She’s known all along that Xander was here to find a sword.”

Giles walked up to Xander and admired the sword, without touching it, of course. Even his Watcher’s curiosity wasn’t enough to make him touch a sentient blade without a proper introduction.

“Yes.” Giles spoke distractedly. “What was it that Tara said in that message from Drusilla?”

“She said that the white knight had mislaid his weapon,” Kendra quoted from memory, “and that she could help him find it, but he’d have to bring her the black knight in exchange.”

“Good memory, there, Foxy.” Spike was impressed.

“She has a near photographic memory,” Giles said with pride.

Kendra blushed, and moved around the side, taking the leather scabbard that had been hanging below the sword off its hook. She fitted it onto Xander’s belt, and Spike approved. Well, for the most part. Part of him was overly protective of what his demon considered his property, but he soothed his anger with the knowledge that Kendra had obviously approved of their relationship, earlier tonight. He told himself that they were in enemy territory; they needed to pay attention, because it was obvious that Xander was going to be wrapped up in his own world all night. That was how it had been when he’d acquired Buddy. It had taken him hours to come down off that high.

“What makes you think the sword is female, Xander?”

Giles didn’t change, no matter the dimension. He’d done the same thing after Xander had put on Buddy, back in their world. He just couldn’t help himself. That curiosity was going to kill him one of these days.

“I know they’re sentient creatures, but do you really think they have male and female sexes?”

“Oh, yeah.” Xander nodded. “She’s definitely female. Look how beautiful she is.”

“Did she tell you she was female?”

“No, but Buddy told me she was his sister. I knew it as soon as I saw her, Giles, I could feel it.” He frowned and bit his lip. “I don’t know how to explain it any better than that.”

Spike started looking around the large open room, hoping to find a phone on a wall or table. “Well, I suggest we delay the twenty million questions the Watcher will have for Xander, and look for a phone. We need to call Glinda so we can get the hell out of this place before they find us.”

“It’s too late for that, love.” Drusilla walked down a set of stairs on the far wall of the room. A large number of minions poured into the room from all the entrances around them, and Spike sighed. Well, there went that rescue attempt. At least they’d gotten farther than Spike had in his effort to rescue Clem. He’d be sure and congratulate them at some point, he thought sarcastically.

Spike was surprised that Xander didn’t try anything, what with his new sword and all, but Xander had told him before that Buddy had cautioned him more than once to refrain from jumping in when the odds were definitely against him. He was still listening to Buddy, which was good.

Drusilla’s eyes were focused on Xander’s new friend, and she came as close as Puffy Spike would let her. He could see her hands opening and closing; she wanted to hold the sword, but fortunately, she was holding back.

Xander held the sword up against his chest, his arms wrapped around it protectively. “You can’t have her. She belongs with me and Buddy.”

Spike cringed at that, Drusilla rarely listened when people said no. As a matter of fact, it usually made her work harder to get her way. Strangely enough, his words seemed to be getting through to her, this time.

“I know, I know,” she told Xander. “She’s not for me. But she’s so lovely.” She closed her eyes, swaying softly. “Her song is so perfect. She sings as beautifully as the stars do.”

“You can hear her?”

Dru opened her eyes. “Of course I can, kitten. She’s so happy to finally find you. She’d been stuck in your dusty basement for years when I found her. She was so very lonely.”

“Our basement.” Spike thought back to when they first awoke in the basement of their lair. The Plautect sorcerer hadn’t had a dresser’s dummy, like the one in their world. Instead, he’d had a stand on a table. A stand that looked a lot like the one Xander’s sword had been on when they’d walked into this room. “You mean that sword was in our basement all this time?”

“Well, we found it several years ago, and brought it here, but before that it was in your current dump, yeah.”

“No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make her sing. She’s been so lonely.”

Xander squeezed the sword tighter in his arms, his face leaning against the pommel, reminding Spike of how he used to lean into Dru’s hand. Never again, he thought sadly.

“But now that we’re all here, we can finally find out what you’ve been planning all this time, Dru.” Puffy turned to Dru, excitement written all over his face. “Well? Let’s have it!”

She smiled happily. “Yes, finally, it’s all coming together. I had planned to have the two slayers for this quest, but the kitten will do admirably. He’s got the strength of a slayer, and his lovely friends to protect him on his journey. And I know that he’ll do his duty, they both will, for we’ll be holding the Watcher and Spike here with us until they return.”

Spike could see this one coming from a mile away. “Bloody hell. I am not going to play hostage while Xander is off on some bloody quest. If this is so important, why don’t you go yourself?”

“No, no, no.” Dru shook her head. “I can’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to find my way. They need to have souls in order to find their way back across the barrier. Without a soul, he’s trapped there, he can’t find his way out of Acathla’s hell – not without a guide.”

“Acathla? Acathla?” Puffy shouted.

The minions looked unsettled. They’d obviously seen Puffy in a snit before. Spike watched carefully, wondering if he could take advantage of the confusion if Puffy blew a gasket over this. He caught Xander’s eyes, and gestured to Giles and Kendra with his head. Xander gave them a glance, and they nodded slightly. It looked as if they were all as ready as they could be.

Spike laughed loudly. It couldn’t hurt to help push Puffy over the edge. “You mean you’ve been making plans for all these years to get Angelus out of hell?”

Puffy screamed to the ceiling. “I won’t let you do it! Do you hear me? I won’t have him back in my world!”

Dru backhanded Puffy, and he slammed back into the nearest wall. Spike figured it was now or never, and he burst into action, knocking the two closest minion’s heads together with a resounding crack.

He saw that the others had taken advantage of the distraction as well, and he let loose a shout of satisfaction as he twisted the head off some sniveling little idiot. It was well past time for some action!

Chapter Text

Xander’s new sword sang as he fought Puffy’s minions. He’d probably never tell this to anyone, except maybe Spike, but the song she sang was full of death, and the destruction of Xander’s foes. It was beautiful and flawless just the same. Spike would understand. She’d been trapped in that basement for years, and before that, the Plautect who had held her captive had never understood that she needed the exhilaration of the fight, the struggle of battle, to make her feel alive. Of course she wouldn’t have sung for the sorcerer even if he’d let her get her fill of the fight, because he had never been a hero. He’d been a coward who had tried to run when the soldiers who had fought for him had fallen, and she’d barely spared a thought for him as she’d watched him die.

Xander cringed when she declared the sorcerer a coward, because he knew that he wasn’t brave. He’d never be what she needed, because he was often afraid. Buddy sighed heavily, even as he warned Xander about the demon sneaking up on him from behind. Xander tried a trick he’d been working on with Spike, and sliced his sword at the vamp he was fighting, as if trying to cut off his head, then threw the stake in his left hand while the vamp was occupied with jumping back out of the way of the sword. The stake was a bit wobbly, since he wasn’t as centered as he usually was when he and Spike sparred, but it struck true, and Xander cheered inside, even as he fell to his knees to avoid the axe that sailed over his head from behind.

He jumped up, turned, and came face to face with a Laumear demon like the one Spike had run up against during their first fight on this world. Its fringe of spiky yellow hair made it look somewhat ludicrous, but the deadly sword in its hand reminded him he needed to focus. It circled around to his left, forcing Xander to turn to face it. That put Spike behind Xander, so maybe it wanted to keep both its main threats in its sights. That made sense. Spike had told him that the other one had done the same, trying to keep both Spike and Kendra in its sights at all times.

According to Spike, Laumear demons were on the ‘avoid at all costs’ list, due to their speed and skill with a blade, but he really hadn’t had a choice. Xander could tell it wasn’t taking him seriously. It spent as much time looking over his shoulder at Spike as it did watching him. Obviously a human was no match for a Laumear, so Xander guessed it was a good thing he wasn’t exactly human, these days. It lunged at Xander, and he let its sword graze him across the chest, knowing that Buddy would protect him. Then he took advantage of its closeness and wandering attention to stab it through the left heart with his beautiful new sword.

The sword sang happily as she drew first blood, and Xander had to grin at her enthusiasm. One heart down and one to go. The Laumear cursed at him in its odd, buzzy voice, but Xander was already moving on, trying to find an opening that would get him close enough to its right heart to try for the killing blow, since it was necessary to hit both hearts before the thing would keel over and die. It turned sideways, presenting him with its already wounded flank, then slashed at him in a sequence of quick, deadly sword moves that left Xander gasping for breath, and struggling frantically to keep up.

It was taking him seriously, now. He was glad he’d worn an old shirt that didn’t matter, since this one would be in tatters soon if his opponent kept this up. He was out classed with this guy, and for once, Buddy didn’t get snippy at his admitting he was out-gunned. The Laumear would have killed him twice already if it weren’t for Buddy’s protection, and he’d never have gotten a strike in if he hadn’t come in under its guard like a sneak-thief. Spike had taught him all the nasty moves first, which Xander had thought meant that he wasn’t good enough to be taught the right way, but when he was facing an opponent like this one, he’d be lucky to be alive long enough to try the dirty moves first.

He saw the Laumear glance over Xander’s shoulder, presumably watching Spike, who Buddy told him was still behind him, and slightly to his left. Xander could hear him cursing at someone in British, and felt his heart ease slightly; Spike must have been doing all right, if he had the energy to curse. He’d looked pretty done in when they’d first found him, and they’d only had two bags of blood to feed him, which wasn’t enough to recover from what he’d been through. Helping Spike set his nose had been an experience not to be repeated, if at all possible. He should have thought to bring blood with him, in case Spike couldn’t make it out without help.

Buddy yelled in his mind, and he brought his focus back onto the Laumear, who was trying another of those lightning fast moves, but Xander knew it was coming this time, and didn’t let it faze him as much. He couldn’t keep the demon from drawing blood, though. Xander deflected his strike, but his sword slid along the flat of Xander’s blade, and sliced into the outside of his thigh, leaving a jagged wound three or four inches below his hip bone.

Xander saw red. That was it. This had been his only pair of jeans without holes in them, and now they were trash. He charged the Laumear unexpectedly, while it was still disengaging from its last strike, and shoved it several feet back against the wall. It wasn’t at all good form, from what he knew of it, and the Laumear looked surprised at his behavior. Once he had it there, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with it, anyway, but the Laumear took advantage of their proximity to speak to him in that odd, multi-toned voice.

“I know your master killed my mate. I smelled his blood on the vampire the night he disappeared.”

It pushed Xander back, and he realized the demon had strength as well as speed on its side when it didn’t even have to exert itself to do so.

“When I’m through with you, I’ll kill him next, and I’ll take care to make sure he smells your blood on my hands before he dies.”

He hadn’t realized that the smirk Spike used could look even more obnoxious on another demon than it did on Spike. But just as it did when Spike used it on him, it did nothing but spur Xander on to greater and better feats, to give him the opportunity to wipe that smirk right off its ugly face.

Xander had a moment of brilliance, when everything stood still long enough for him to see in detail exactly what he needed to do.

About a week ago, Xander had woken to find a huge collection of various fruits and vegetables on the kitchen counter. Xander had laughed. If Spike was gonna try to get Xander to eat healthier, he thought as he loaded the toaster with a couple of toaster pastries, he’d have to try harder than that. But when they’d gone in to spar later that morning, those fruits and vegetables had been sitting on the floor of the ballroom they’d converted into a gym. Xander had been totally confused.

They’d proceeded with their regular warm-ups, and no mention of them was made when they began to spar. An hour later, Xander had helped Spike move the mats away, until there had been a wide area of tile floor with no mats on it. Then Spike had spent the next hour throwing fruits and vegetables into the air, while Xander cut them into as many pieces as he could before they hit the ground. He’d spent the entire time covered in sticky juice and slick, elusive seeds, but he’d gotten pretty good at keeping his hands and wrists supple and loose enough to slice a banana into five or six pieces before it hit the floor.

He also got damn good at ducking out of the way of a fresh spray of pineapple juice; that shit stung if it got in your eyes. Spike had shown him how fast a person could move if they were motivated, and nothing motivated Xander like a papaya over his head. They weren’t so bad when you ate them; they tasted pretty sweet, and had a texture sort of like a melon’s. But boy howdy, did those things stink! Sort of like a cross between vomit and week old, sweaty gym socks – there was nothing he hated worse than the smell of a papaya.

The Laumear started to shift his sword to engage Xander in another of those lightning fast moves, but Xander was already moving, and by the time it realized that Xander was going on the offensive, it was too late to back up and get out of his way. Xander envisioned the Lamear’s hand as a papaya, and started slicing and dicing. The sword sang happily as she worked, and Buddy hummed along. Xander couldn’t help but smile at the pleasure they took in their work.

He was a little surprised when his plan succeeded, and almost missed his chance, but as the Laumear dropped its sword and started to turn, protecting its vulnerable right heart, Xander lunged, striking his target head on. As his opponent collapsed, a look of shock on its face, Xander smiled at his sword’s triumphant death song.

“Thanks for challenging Xandercles, Incorporated. Your cooperation was greatly appreciated.” He wiped his blade clean on a piece of the Laumear’s shirt. “I’d ask you to visit again, but you’re dying now, and we have enough stinky stuff hanging around the place already.”

The Laumear blinked at him, and his mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. Where was that smirk of his, now?

“Oh, by the way. That vampire you were talking about? Yes, he did kill your mate, but there’s no way I was going to let you touch him. He’s mine.”

The Laumear’s eyes slipped closed as Xander grinned in amazement. Spike was his. The thought of that made Xander proud.

He turned back to the melee going on behind him. They needed to get this crap over with; Xander could think of a dozen much better things to do with his time, and they all involved one overly bleached, but very kissable vampire. He stepped back into the fray, and began to work his way through the crowd, Buddy and Death Song singing his praises with every step. A guy could get used to this.

Chapter Text

Clem looked behind them nervously, then rushed to catch up with Tara, who hadn’t noticed that he was falling behind. He swallowed heavily as Tara stopped to let a vampire cross in front of her, amazed at how calm she was. Clem knew that she was one of the strongest witches he’d ever met, but there was a difference between knowing and believing, and his nervous stomach hadn’t gotten to the believing stage, yet. He freaked out every time a vampire walked near them, despite the fact that not one of them had paid even the slightest bit of attention to them.

Tara started moving again, and he noticed that her hands were shaking slightly. Clem hoped this spell didn’t take too much out of her, because if it did, they’d be of no help when they finally found Xander and Kendra. A couple of Listers walked past, presumably on their way to the kitchens, since that was the only place Clem had seen them the last time he was here. He’d had no idea they were such good cooks. That meant he and Tara were closer than he’d thought; the entrance to the basement was right past the kitchens.

He couldn’t believe Tara had convinced him to help her find Xander. He’d come back to see if Giles needed help with the getaway car, but no one had been there when he’d found it. He’d almost gone home, but he’d walked all the way back to Puffy Spike’s mansion, the least he could do was check on Tara, and make sure she was all right before he left. She’d been very happy to see him, but when she told him that her cell phone wasn’t working, he’d come close to panicking. He’d refused to go with her into Puffy’s basement, but had agreed to accompany her to the entrance the others had used when they’d snuck in earlier. Then he would go back to the car to wait for the others.

The problem was, the old servant’s entrance had been magically sealed. Tara could tell it had been done by Dru very recently. She’d been afraid that they were trapped inside now, but didn’t want to break the lock just yet, since that would let Dru know she was there. Unfortunately, all the other entrances into the basement had been locked, as well. That’s when Tara came up with the idea to use a concealing spell to walk through the front door, right past the Fyarls on guard, and all the vampires inside, as pretty as you please.

Clem had laughed, quite certain that she was joking. But she hadn’t been joking at all. She didn’t want to do it on her own because the concealing and muffling spells would be far too difficult to handle all at once if she didn’t have someone to help her find her way, and guard her while she worked. She hadn’t asked, just looked at Clem sadly, because her only other choice was to break the seal on the basement doors, and alert Dru to her presence. He didn’t understand why Dru wouldn’t detect the concealing spells, but Tara was confident that she could hide those, and who was he to challenge a witch about her magic?

“It’s all a matter of misdirection,” she’d told him.

So here Clem was, getting ready to go back down into the basement, clutching an axe in his trembling hands. He was terrified that they’d be discovered, and end up hanging on the wall next to Spike, bloody and beaten. The next time Spike asked for a favor, Clem was telling him to do it himself, because it may be a real honor having a friend like Spike, but there was no honor in being dead. Besides, what good was honor, anyway? You couldn’t use it for ante in a game of poker; it wasn’t worth a single kitten. It wouldn’t get you an extra movie at the video store, either, not even one of the really bad black and white horror movies that Spike had told Clem the two of them used to make fun of back on Spike’s world.

That sounded like a lot of fun, he thought regretfully, but the way things were going, there would be no chance to find out. After all, Clem was no prize when it came to fighting, so if they were waiting on him to be just-in-the-nick-of time-rescue-guy, they were in real trouble. Now, Tara, she was worthy of the name nick-of-time rescuer. He liked Tara, even if she was a human. You had to watch out for humans, you could never tell how they’d react to a demon, but she’d been nice to him right from the get-go. So had Xander. And Kendra had defended him to her own Watcher! So he’d stick around to help, just because he liked them. But if he survived this crazy mess, he’d never let them talk him into doing something this stupid again.

Clem was reminded of the time his cousin Randall had talked him into climbing up onto the roof of Uncle Neil’s garage. He knew better than to listen to Randall. Randall was always getting him into trouble. But he’d done it, and they’d played up on the roof for a long time. Then Uncle Neil found their ladder, and when he’d climbed up, Randall and Clem had been playing chicken - seeing who could get closer to the edge. Clem had been winning, his toes wiggling in the air over the gutter.

Uncle Neil had shouted at them, and Clem had slipped and fallen right off the roof. He’d broken his forearm in two places, and had to wear a cast for six weeks. He’d gotten into big trouble listening to Randall. He’d been grounded for a month! So just because you liked someone didn’t mean you should let them talk you into following them into a Master Vampire’s lair. And next time, he’d mean it when he said no.

He put his hand on Tara’s shoulder, pulling her to a stop. She’d been about to walk right past the door to the basement. Now that he was touching her, he could tell she was trembling all over. He ducked his head down close to her ear and whispered very softly.

“This is it.” He held her back when she took a step toward the door. “Are you okay? Do you need some water or something?” He held out a bottle of water, and she took it gratefully.

Clem pulled a bottle out of his other pocket for himself, and gulped it right down. Mind-numbing fear was thirsty work. He’d heard that chocolate was good for the nerves. If that was the case, then he could use about a pound of Hershey’s Kisses right now. Oh, or maybe a bag of those malted milk balls his mom used to buy at Easter, the ones shaped like eggs, with the hard candy shells. Not that his family was the religious type, and besides, Easter was a human holiday. But his mom knew he liked them, so she bought them by the case every spring, so he’d have them all year round. Too bad he hadn’t thought to bring chocolate, too.

He looked around, uncertain whether he should set his empty water bottle down or not. Would it look like the bottle appeared out of nowhere? Or would Tara’s magic make it stay invisible even after they’d moved on? Would that be a drain on her magic? Finally he just put it back in his jacket pocket, where it had come from in the first place. Tara held on to her bottle, tucking it into the bag with her witchcraft supplies, so he supposed he’d done the right thing.

Tara squeezed his hand, and Clem noticed that she wasn’t shaking as much. So maybe the water had helped. Good. She put her ear up next to the door and pressed her palm to the wood, but he guessed she couldn’t hear or feel anything, because she shrugged, and quietly pulled the door open. They crept inside, pulled the door closed behind them, and started down the stairs together.

At first, it sounded like someone was watching gladiator movies with the sound on high, then Clem realized what was going on. He stopped Tara, but he could tell from her wide eyes that she’d figured it out, too. Clem went down a couple more steps, until he could see around the corner into the large room below them. Everyone was there, and they were all fighting.

Giles stood next to a wall, his crossbow shooting bolt after bolt at the bad guys. Spike, Kendra and Xander were surrounded by vampires and other demons, and on the far side, Puffy and Dru stood and watched as their minions fought. Spike was fighting three at once, spinning and kicking and slashing his sword through the bad guy’s bodies, like they were made of air. Clem could see what Spike had meant when he’d said that a good fight was like dancing. He was holding his sword in his right hand, though, and Clem could have sworn Spike was left handed. He saw Spike wince when he had to use his left hand to fend off a Fyarl, and Clem realized that Spike was wounded. Uh oh. That wasn’t good.

Kendra looked fine, she was fighting two vamps at once, and as he watched, she staked one, and Giles got the other with a crossbow bolt. He was a good shot. Kendra was staying close to him. It was obvious they’d fought together for a long time, they made a good team. Xander was just finishing up with a Laumear demon he’d backed up against a wall. The Laumear collapsed, and Xander bent down and wiped his sword off on the dead demon’s clothes. That was when Clem realized that Xander had three auras now. One for himself, one for his friend Buddy, and one for the fiery sword he held in his hand. Oh, she was a beauty!

Tara touched him on the arm, and pulled him back up a few steps to whisper in his ear.

“I need a few minutes for a spell, can you watch, and make sure no one comes up from downstairs?”

Clem nodded, gripping his axe tightly. “But what about from up there?” He motioned to the doorway behind them.

“Don’t worry, I’m taking care of that.”

Clem shrugged. She was the witch; he figured she knew what she was doing. He snuck back down the stairs, careful to stay out of Puffy and Drusilla’s sight. He noticed motion out of the corner of his eye, and looked up to see Tara at the door, her hands pressed against the wood as she said something too soft for him to hear. There was a faint glow around the door, and on top of the door knob. He figured out what she was doing just as the knob fell off, right into Tara’s hands.

He glanced around the corner, but it looked like Dru was too busy watching the fight to notice Tara sealing the door with magic. That’s when he noticed that the good guys were losing. Not because they weren’t as good as the bad guys, but because there were so many more bad guys than good. With Spike wounded, they were under a serious disadvantage. If he was talented with an axe, or weren’t such a coward, he’d charge down those stairs and come to their aid, but he knew his axe wouldn’t make much difference with him at the other end.

He turned back to ask Tara if there was something she could do to help, but just as he looked back, she pointed her finger at a vampire who was about to sneak up on Spike. He was fighting a Grappler demon who was keeping him busy enough that he wouldn’t have time to notice the guy behind him until it was too late.

Tara said one word, “Ignire!” and the vamp went up in a flash of flame and a puff of smoke.

“Wow!”

Clem was impressed. Tara smiled at him, and took aim at another vampire. Sitting, he slipped down a few stairs, to give her plenty of room to aim, and peeked over the rail to see if Dru or Puffy had noticed Tara yet. They didn’t seem to have, but he figured it was only a matter of time, with as much magic as Tara was throwing around. He was surprised it hadn’t happen already. But he’d keep an eye out. This, Clem could do. It made him feel like he was really helping.

Of course, the first time someone came up the stairs after Tara, he would probably change his mind, but until then, he could at least pretend he was brave and courageous, like Xander, or Luke Skywalker. Although he was probably more like Han Solo – kind of a bad guy, who reluctantly did good when he was forced into a corner. Wait - if Xander was Luke, then Spike had to be Solo. Clem popped his head up over the rail again, and checked out the fight. All clear.

Another vamp went up in flames while he watched, and he ducked back down again, grinning. He wouldn’t mess with Tara, even if he was Darth Vader. No, he wasn’t Luke or Han. They were both larger than life, and that was way bigger than him. Clem guessed in the end, he was more of a sidekick kind of guy. Oh! If Spike was Han Solo, that made Clem Chewbacca! He’d always thought Chewie was great, with his sharp teeth, and ear-curdling cry. Chewbacca was someone to be reckoned with. He tried out a Chewie cry, a really soft one. He could use some practice. If they made it out of here alive, he’d have to rent the video and get in some quality Chewbacca time.

He peeked over the rail once again. It looked like Puffy was getting in on the action, now that the minions were thinned out. He was fighting with Xander, their swords flashing in the air. Clem worried about Xander, because Spike had taught Xander a lot about swords in the last few weeks, but Xander had admitted that he knew he still had a lot to learn. Puffy had been sword fighting for a lot longer than Xander had been alive.

He glanced back at the corner Dru had been standing in. She was gone. Uh oh. That wasn’t good. He searched the room, but didn’t see her until he looked at the bottom of the stairs. There she was, staring up at Clem, and she didn’t look happy. Clem swallowed, heavily. Then Dru’s gaze shifted, and he realized that it wasn’t him that Drusilla really wanted. If they were going to win this fight, they needed Tara. She was important, and that made Clem important, too, because he was the only thing between Dru and Tara. He asked himself what Chewbacca would do, but he already knew the answer. Clem stood up, holding his axe in both hands to hide their trembling, and waited for Drusilla to make her move.

Chapter Text

Spike swirled around, his coat flaring out behind him as he turned, and staked the vamp who thought he could sneak up behind him. As if he wouldn’t notice some idiot kicking over a chair in the background as he struggled vainly to be stealthy. If Spike hadn’t slammed a stake thru his heart, he’d tell the vamp to try sneaking up on him again in a few hundred years, when he had some practice under his belt, but since he was currently ashes under Spike’s boots, that wasn’t likely to happen.

He rolled his eyes when he recognized his sarcasm. He’d been hanging out around Herc too much, obviously. The man’s snark was starting to rub off on him. He smiled at that analogy – he’d already spent some very enjoyable time this evening rubbing off against Xander, and he’d be glad for more. He wondered if he could manage that tonight. He’d keep it on the burner for later in the evening. After they’d taken care of this motley assortment of roughs Puffy considered his best people.

At least Spike hoped Puffy wasn’t brazen enough to send in the second string against this crew. A Slayer, a Master Vampire, a Watcher, and a Hero. They were quite a deadly force of nature. Who needs a volcano when you’ve got these four knocking down your door? He laughed as he slashed a wide gash across the chest of the Fyarl that was annoying the hell out of his left flank. He had a silver knife in one of the pockets of his coat. It would take just a moment to find it; he’d hunt for it when he finished off the Grappler that he’d been toying with while he dealt with that last vamp.

The runes engraved across his back and chest burned as he moved. He hoped it was a figurative burn, but he couldn’t stop long enough to check and see. He wasn’t sure he’d try and stop it even if it wasn’t simply a turn of phrase – he was on fire in more than one way right now. Ten minutes ago he’d been dragging himself through these endless hallways, wondering how long he’d last before he collapsed, and now he was worrying that there wouldn’t be enough bad guys to go around.

His sudden burst of energy coincided rather ominously with the activation of the spell Dru was currently casting. He could feel it in his bones, but even more, he could feel it in the skin of his chest and back. He heard her chanting off to his left where she and Puffy watched the action avidly. They forgot to bring popcorn. He thought that rather rude. If the guests were going to be providing the entertainment, the least the hosts of the event could do was bring the refreshments.

There was another vamp behind him. But the Grappler in front of him was taking most of his concentration right now. If he could fight him left-handed, he could get this one out of his way and move on to the next, but he’d had to fend off the Fyarl with his left hand earlier, and it hadn’t dealt with the exertion well. That hole Puffy had poked in his shoulder earlier wasn’t healing as well as it should.

He was laying the blame for that directly at Drusilla’s feet. These runes were definitely not used for healing spells. It was obvious that she expected them to help her in her quest for Angel’s whereabouts, but who knew what she had in mind. Spike was distracted by the sudden disappearance of the vamp that had been waiting for an opportunity to jump him from behind. He took advantage of the fact that the Grappler was also surprised, and used Xander’s sword in a sweeping blow that beheaded the Grappler, his head flying in an arc toward their hosts, as his body dropped unceremoniously. Bodies were like that when they lost their heads.

He took advantage of the lull in the activity around him, and located that silver knife he’d been thinking about earlier. It wasn’t much good against the vamp that charged him from the side, but he spun away, jumping over the gray body of the Grappler, and right into the face of the Fyarl that had been annoying him earlier. Spike left the knife planted in his chest, and jumped away, waving at Foxy Brown as he went. She saluted him with her sword before she put her favorite stake to good use on the vamp she’d been fighting, the woman’s ashes flying apart with the strength of Foxy’s blow.

He saluted the Slayer back with the sword Xander had insisted Spike take when they’d realized how weak he was. Spike had argued that Xander would have better use for it, but Xander had been stubborn, as usual, citing Spike’s chances of actually hurting someone with it compared to his own, and finally Spike had admitted defeat and taken the sword. The whole point had been proven moot when Hercules had led them right to his own personal Excalibur, and Spike had been relieved that Xander was not without weapon.

He hoped Xander would come up with a better name for his new blade than he’d given his armor. Calling that Tin Can Buddy was the biggest mistake Xander had made in his time as a hero. A hero needed heroic accoutrement, and admittedly, Buddy wasn’t the very worst name he could have given it – he hadn’t called it mud, for example - but there had to be more appropriate names. Excalibur – for instance. Now that was a lovely name for a sword.

Spike had worked his way around to where Xander was being hounded by four vamps, and Spike singled one out. After all, he was at loose ends at the moment; the least he could do was help, since he was here. But as he sent the sword in her direction, aiming to take her head off at the neck, she disappeared in a puff of smoke. The sword went sailing through the dust, and he turned in a circle, trying to spot the one taking out the vamps. As much as he liked the fact that they were disappearing, it did disturb him that he had no idea who was doing the zapping, nor where they were hiding themselves. He hoped they were particular about which vamps they sent up in smoke.

His wild swing led him around to the stairs to the left of Dru and Puffy’s vantage point. That was when he saw Clem’s shiny head poking up above the covered rail of the stairs, the top of his bald pate and his beady red eyes all that was visible over the railing. At first, he thought his eyes were deceiving him. Spike had never expected Clem to show his face at a battle like this one. The gentle demon wasn’t cut out for violence. As Clem himself put it, he was a lover, not a fighter.

Spike’s eyes followed the stairs up, searching for any more unusual sighting, and found Tara pointing her finger at another vamp, one that Spike should have noticed was heading his way, but hadn’t. The vamp went up with the same poof he’d seen before, and Glinda winked at him before she started to scan the floor for more trouble.

Spike grinned; it was good to see her. Xander had told him that she’d been back behind the little garden for the whole rescue, but Spike knew he’d spoken to her while he was strapped to that great lump of stone Dru had tortured him on. He’d have to speak to her about it after this was over. Xander swung by him, stopped and grabbed his arms, pulling Spike around. He winced when Xander tugged on his shoulder, and Xander looked at him worriedly.

“Are you okay?”

Spike smiled at the concern in his voice. “Of course, love.” He shrugged, grinning slyly. “It’s only a flesh wound.”

Xander laughed. He bussed Spike quickly on the mouth, then he was off with his pretty new sword. Spike wondered if it was still singing, now that it had been blooded. Probably so. That’s the sort of thing he thought would make a sword happy. He couldn’t blame it, the same sorts of things made him happy, too.

He felt very disconnected from this fight for some reason. He seldom stood around and watched the fight happen without jumping in for some mayhem of his own, but that first rush of energy had died out, and now he was left with a sense of fatigue that left him sluggish and unsure of his own body. Suddenly, he was worried about doing too much moving around for fear that he might fall on his arse, or trip over a body somewhere. He stumbled back a step, and fell against the wall next to Giles, letting it support him for a while.

The burn was getting fierce, and Spike looked over at Dru who was staring at him, her dark eyes burning holes right through him. He glanced up at Glinda, to see if she saw what was going on. She was staring at Dru, her face scrunched up in concentration, her eyes narrowed. Suddenly, he felt a lightening of the pressure on his chest, then Dru looked up in surprise, right into Glinda’s eyes, and the two stared at each other until Spike had to look away from the intensity in their eyes.

Xander had found trouble since the last time Spike saw him. He was face to face with Puffy, and they were pushing at each other like they were wrestling, not sword fighting. Kendra stepped back, bumping into Puffy as she struggled with three at once – two vamps and an M'Fashnik demon were circling her, and he could tell she was struggling. The vamps were above par for the course, and the M'Fashnik was proving more than even normally aggressive.

Giles took out one of the vamps while Spike watched, evening the odds somewhat. He loaded his bow and took aim at the second vamp, just as Spike realized that Dru was headed for the stairs, and Tara. That meant her only protection was a peace loving demon currently struggling with an axe bigger than his head, that he obviously had no idea how to use.

Spike grabbed Giles’ arm, disrupting his aim. Giles wasn’t happy, that much was obvious, but Glinda needed protection, and Clem was not likely to prove up to the task. He pointed out the problem to Giles, who sighed, shot Kendra’s second vamp, leaving her with the M'Fashnik, which Spike thought she’d be fine with, now that the vamps were out of the way. Giles nodded his head in the direction of Dru, pointing out the shaking demon that stood between Dru and Glinda, standing tall, but choking up on that axe so badly that Spike thought he’d never have room enough to swing it without cutting off an appendage or two. Spike must have looked as fagged out as he felt, because Giles didn’t even suggest that Spike take care of it himself.

Instead Spike watched Puffy and Xander face off, and made pointers in his head for the next time he and Herc sparred. If you couldn’t see yourself in the mirrors, this was the next best thing. There were only a few minions left by now. There were halls and doorways everywhere down there, so it made sense that they might wander in and out, so he tried to keep his eyes open for danger, and let Xander and Puffy do their thing. Kendra had the M'Fashnik on the run. He’d almost made it out of the room at one point before she dragged him back in and whaled on him some more. They could take a lot of beating.

He tried to keep just one eye on the staircase, but Xander turned out to have Puffy well in hand, so Spike found his focus shifting. Dru got about half way up the stairs before Giles put a bolt in her shoulder. He should have dusted her – he was that good a shot, but Clem – Spike shook his head – the idiot saw the Watcher taking aim and his eyes went wide, telegraphing the Watcher’s moves to her. Dru turned to see what he was looking at, turning into the bolt, queering Giles’ aim, and the bolt got her in the shoulder, instead of the heart. She fell back against the wall, stumbling down a few steps to the first landing. Gamefaced, she pulled the bolt out and glared at Giles, as if deciding who was the larger threat. The one minion that had stayed with Dru all this time darted up the stairs past her, and grabbed the axe still in Clem’s grip.

The two struggled for the axe. Clem was stronger than the average human, but no match for a determined vamp, so it was surprising that he hung on the way he did. Just when Spike had about decided that maybe he was so scared that he couldn’t let go – and the axe was frozen in his grip, the vamp slipped into gameface and growled, and Clem finally let go. In surprise, the vamp lost his balance and went tumbling down the stairs, and Giles, who must have worried they were too close for him to safely avoid Clem up to that point, finally put a bolt into the vamp’s heart.

Dru ran back up, aiming for Tara, who was looking tired by this point, and eyes wide, Clem stepped directly into her path, all the time looking like he was trying to avoid her, but stepping the wrong direction. Then they stepped the other way, and it was like the classic comedy farce where they couldn’t stay out of each other’s way. Dru raised her hand, and Spike saw the moment Clem realized she was going to try and thrall him. He closed his eyes, and Spike would forever have trouble explaining what happened next.

It was as if Clem’s entire face split open, flesh and bone parting and leaving a gaping hole. Multicolored tentacles of all shapes and sizes appeared in the cavity, even his floppy ears proving to have some sort of webbed structure that seemed oddly like antennae searching for a signal. He’d never seen the like in all his century and a quarter of years, dead and alive. Drusilla took a step backwards in shock, and forgot she was on stairs, tumbling down to the landing once again.

Giles was obviously as stunned as the rest of them, he didn’t even try to use the bolt he’d already loaded into the crossbow, staring in stunned silence at Clem’s drastically changed face. Clem changed back just as abruptly, and Giles was freed from his shock. He shook his head as if to clear it, and took aim at Drusilla, who was just recovering from her fall. She saw him point his weapon, and she leapt down the stairs, backhanding him, and knocking him into the wall. He went down in a crumpled pile, his temple bleeding heavily.

Dru walked right past Giles, and Spike thought she’d pass him, too, and wondered if he could put a stake into her heart if that’s what it took. He didn’t have the chance to find out, as she grabbed Spike as she passed him, backing up to the wall holding Spike in front of her like a shield, a knife poised at his neck in her free hand. He realized he’d forgotten the other half of the room when his new position pointed him at Puffy and Xander.

Puffy was looking a bit worse for the wear, a cut on his chest, and a bad one bleeding all over his right thigh. His lip was split, and a spot the shape of the pommel of Xander’s new sword marked a red print across Puffy’s jaw where they must have got too close for swords and grappled hand to hand for a time. Spike smiled at Herc in approval, and got a quick flash of pride back from him as the adrenaline faded from his system. He looked to be holding his breath for fear of startling Dru while she held Spike hostage. Herc eyed her cautiously as she waited for the eyes of everyone to focus on her.

Into the silence, she spoke slowly and clearly. “Drop your sword, Sir Knight.”

Chapter Text

“Drop your sword, Sir Knight.”

Spike watched carefully as Xander stepped back and put the sword down, scooting it as far away from both Puffy and Dru as possible, then walked away, putting distance between himself and the sword as well. Spike approved. He didn’t like the idea of a sentient sword in either Puffy or Dru’s hands.

“You too, Lady Slayer.” Kendra dropped her sword where she stood, obviously wishing to check on her Watcher, but afraid to draw attention to him.

“That’s more like it.” Dru nodded her approval, her hair brushing the back of Spike’s neck.

“Now, dear heart, come over here by me.”

Spike closed his eyes against the pain of Drusilla using those words for someone other than him. He was her dear heart, no one else. Puffy crossed to her, leaning on the wall next to Dru, keeping his distance from Spike, who showed him a bit of tooth, despite his precarious situation. Puffy stared at his eyes, and Spike remembered for the first time since the fight began that his golden eyes might be seen as startling. He smirked, Puffy growled, and Dru obviously wasn’t impressed with their disagreement.

“Now I expect my boys to play well together once we’re all a family again. Daddy won’t like it if you boys fight all the time,” Dru warned them.

“Like I give a fuck what that wanker likes.” Spike couldn’t help but answer back to that, despite the knife at his throat.

“Now, now.”

The arm across his chest tightened. Good thing he didn’t need to breathe.

“There will be none of that language. Once we have Daddy back, we’ll be one happy family. Daddy, his little girl, and her two lovely boys.”

“You’ve got to be bloody kidding me, Dru,” Puffy whined miserably.

It made Spike want to agree with her, just to piss the arsehole off.

“What do we need that one for? He doesn’t even belong here. He’s just another tool, remember? You said so yourself.”

“I like him, lovely. He’s what you would have been, if I hadn’t been strong enough for you. If you’d had to struggle like he has to hold us together, you’d be my strong Spike. But you always had me there for you, so instead, you’re my sweet William. My lovely boy. You’ll always be special to me, but now I can have you both. And I won’t give you up. Either of you.”

“What makes you think he even wants to stay with you?” Puffy argued. “He’s got his White Knight. He doesn’t need you.”

“No, but he wants me. I can feel it. He’ll give up his boy for me.” She sounded so certain of herself.

Dru stroked the side of Spike’s face, and he saw a future with the three of them, and he hated it. There was no place for Xander in that life.

“Don’t worry, love,” Dru soothed him. “I’m sure we could find a way around that, if you really wanted to keep the White Knight with you.”

Dru was looking into his head again. He hated it when she did that.

“I could make him your brother, if you like. Or perhaps you’d prefer him as a pet? A toy to play with at your leisure? No more of this letting him make the rules – you’d have control. You could have him where ever and whenever you liked. You would like that, wouldn’t you, my boy?”

Spike had thought about it before. He couldn’t deny that. But he wanted Xander of his own free will, not as a toy for Spike’s amusement. And who was to say that he’d get to keep his toy? Angelus had always got a sadistic pleasure in taking his toys away from him. He’d end up fighting over Herc, and losing. He had no doubts that Angelus would win, he had centuries on Spike, and he’d have Dru’s backing, as always. He’d be on the losing end of any disagreement. Back to bottom boy on the totem pole.

He looked into Xander’s eyes, but Xander looked away, as if to hide his disappointment in Spike. Or maybe it was Spike’s eyes; they were disconcerting, from what the Watcher had said. They’d find a way out of this before she sent Hercules into hell to find Angelus. He wasn’t letting Xander go that easily.

He glanced around the room, looking for anything he could use, any advantages he might have missed. The Slayer was focused on her Watcher, who was showing vague signs of consciousness. Clem was watching the action from half way up the stairs, obviously petrified with fear, but still standing. He was proud of Clem for that. Spike hoped he got the chance to tell him so. Glinda was at the top of the stairs, looking pale and shaken. She’d been throwing around a lot of magic; she looked shell shocked, holding onto the railing with both trembling hands.

Drusilla followed Spike’s attention to the witch at the top of the stairs.

“My strong tower has worn herself out, hasn’t she? She needs rest. Clement, please help Tara to a chair, won’t you?”

Clem jumped when Dru mentioned his name, but he was quick enough to run back up the stairs and put a hand under Tara’s elbow, helping her make her shaky way down. He left her at the bottom, and ran to a seating arrangement in the corner with a few chairs still left standing around a small shattered table, the axe still buried in its top.

“I couldn’t feel you, little hill. I was so focused on the battle around me, and the portal spell, that I didn’t feel your magics at all. Clever girl.” Spike was convinced that Dru had plans for Tara down the line. She was so careful of her, even when she knew that Glinda had been fighting against her. She was obviously grooming her for something in the future. He’d have to warn Glinda against that, if they made it out of here alive.

Clem returned with a chair, and she sank into it gratefully, dropping her bag by her feet. Clem stood beside her, near Giles’ crumpled body, twisting his hands fretfully, as if unsure who needed his help more. Glinda coughed, clearing her throat, and Clem leaned down, and spoke quietly.

“Are you thirsty?”

She nodded, “Oh, yes - parched.”

Clem reached into Tara’s bag, and Dru called his name sharply. But his hand came out with a half-empty bottle of water, and Dru nodded, allowing him to open it and hand it to the fainting witch.

“Kick the crossbow away from the Watcher’s hand, if you please. He’s far too good with that for my comfort. Then perhaps you could bring one of those chairs here for my darling Spike.” Drusilla sounded like she was making friends comfortable at a tea party, not standing with a knife at one man’s throat, surrounded by people who wanted her dead.

Puffy must have thought so as well. “Ever the gracious host, my darling.”

His voice was weak. That wound on his thigh was worse than Spike had imagined. He was bleeding all over the floor, and Spike wondered who she had in mind to use to replace that blood. She couldn’t give him the Slayer until she and Xander returned with Angelus. Xander was out for the same reason, she needed them both.

Spike wasn’t an option at the moment, she needed him to keep Xander in line, and her spell was written all over his body, she’d need him there for the spell. If his suspicions were right, Dru had plans for Tara, as well. She wanted someone to mentor. Spike had no touch for magic, and he was sure Puffy carried that same lack of a magic gene. Turning a powerful natural witch like Tara would be perfect for Dru. That left the Watcher as a good candidate for blood bag, but he couldn’t be touched until after Kendra left with Xander, or else who would the Slayer have to come back for?

Sire’s blood would be the most effective, but she couldn’t let Puffy sip on her right now. If she did, she’d run the risk of being too weak to complete the spell Spike felt buzzing through his veins. The sad fact was that she was most likely to spare Clem to feed Puffy, and Spike wondered if there was a way to warn Clem of that fact without doing enough damage that she decided another of the group was an acceptable alternative. Clem came forward timidly, shoving the chair at Puffy without getting any farther in range than he absolutely had to, and Spike realized that Clem had already come to the same conclusions.

Puffy grabbed for the chair, and Clem backed quickly away, knocking into Dru’s arm, jerking the knife across the taut skin of Spike’s neck, an almost painless slice that barely broke the skin. Dru hissed and jerked her hand away to prevent worse damage, her knuckles hitting Clem’s shoulder, and the knife falling from her fingers. Clem grabbed her hand and held on tight as Spike wasted precious seconds in shock at Clem’s duplicity. He was a wicked boy, wasn’t he? Spike fell to the floor, sliding out from under Dru’s arm, and coming up with the knife in his hand. He sliced at her arm, and she let go of Clem, who scrambled to safety over by Glinda.

Puffy was on his feet, roaring his displeasure, and Foxy Brown snatched up her blade and attacked, keeping him on the defensive so he had no time to come to Dru’s aid. Unfortunately, Clem’s scramble to safety had given Dru the chance to dart away, and she grabbed Herc’s arm, swinging him around and reversing their standoff, this time with her sharp claws on the soft skin of Xander’s neck, just above his pulse.

Kendra sliced her sword through the air; pulling a stake out of her waistband so she could use the two-handed method Xander and Spike had been working on. Dru looked over at the Watcher, unsure if she should perhaps use him to keep Kendra in control instead of Xander. But it was too late. While she had been watching Spike and Puffy, Clem had darted after the crossbow, and Giles was sitting up, loading it as he watched the fight.

Dru saw the danger, and moved into the way of the crossbow, blocking Giles’ view of the fight, and protecting Puffy from his bolts. Herc dragged his feet as she moved them into position, and Spike tensed, hoping there would be a chance to try and free him. The lassitude he’d been overcome with earlier slammed into his bones, and this time he recognized the source more quickly. Dru was chanting under her breath, and Xander’s eyes widened as Spike fell back against the wall, exhausted. He saw Xander get the connection between the two.

His lips started moving, and although Spike couldn’t tell what he was saying, it was obviously a song of some sort. His head tilted from side to side, as much as possible with Dru’s clawed fingers pinching his jugular. He was grinning like a loon, his expressive face making Spike smile, in spite of the danger they were surrounded by. Dru was shaking her head, her frown showing her puzzlement and confusion.

Herc, the song bird, looked over at Tara, and started singing loudly enough that Spike could almost recognize the tune, even if the words sounded as if they were in a demon language. That made no sense at all, since Xander had told Spike that he had no language skills at all, and had come within inches of failing conversational French in high school. Herc stared at Tara, worry prominent on his face. Spike could understand why, Tara was shaking in her chair, her pale face lined with pain as she squeezed Clem’s hand in her own, and held onto Giles’ shoulder with the other. She was drawing on their strength, and his admiration of her shot up another notch. Spike felt his lassitude ease, but this time he could see the toll it was taking on Tara.

“Stop it. Stop it, both of you!” Dru shouted.

She shook Xander, and his jaws clacked together as she jerked him back and forth. But whatever he was singing, it was distracting her, and combined with Tara’s efforts, she had stopped chanting.

Spike felt his energy begin to slowly return to him. He took a step closer to Dru, and she scuttled backwards, practically lifting Xander off his feet as she backed herself up against the wall. This gave the Watcher and his crossbow a clearer shot at Puffy, but unfortunately, Tara was draining the strength right out of the two of them, and Giles was in no shape to take more than a shaky aim, which could put his Slayer at as much disadvantage as her opponent.

Luckily, Foxy Brown was tearing Puffy a new arsehole; there was a large slice across his chest, and his right arm hung useless at his side. A deep sword wound seemed to have run him right through on his left side, front to back, and it was obvious that he’d lost a tremendous amount of blood. Spike was pretty sure that the only thing keeping him going at this point was the pure obstinate nature that he knew lurked beneath his own skin. He had no doubt that Puffy had the same.

Drusilla started to wail, a high pitched and piteous sound, wrenching Spike’s heart in two.

“Dru?” Puffy asked hesitantly, as he fended off another strike from the Slayer. He was obviously distracted by her behavior, and the Slayer took advantage of the opportunity and darted in, striking like a snake, her hand in and out of Puffy’s personal space before he had a chance to see what had happened. As she pulled Mr. Pointy back, Puffy gasped at the hole in his chest, and his non-beating heart began to dissolve into ash.

The look of perfect shock on Puffy’s face was almost enough to make Spike laugh, if only Dru’s piteous wail hadn’t reminded him that a now distraught Dru had her fingers perilously close to Xander’s pulse point. She stared at the floor, the ashes still settling to the ground where Puffy’d stood only seconds before. She shook with repressed anger and pain as ash mixed with the blood pooling on the floor.

She screamed her curses to the sky. “You horrid, wicked girl! I’ll split you open, you murderous bitch!”

Kendra was in shock. Well, they all were to an extent. Puffy was dead. So much had changed in just one moment’s time. Spike was feeling completely at sea. He’d watched himself dust, and he’d never be able to describe that feeling to anyone who hadn’t been through it. His stomach was a leaden pit, as the woman he’d loved for a hundred years mourned his loss.

He looked back at the ashes of his body, and remembered that there was something he was supposed to do now, but he couldn’t place what it was.

“Spike?” Foxy’s worried voice finally got through the fog he felt taking over his brain. “Are you all right?”

He blinked at her, it seemed to take forever to focus on her face. “What?”

“She’s calling you.” Kendra looked over at Dru, who was holding Xander tight against her, streaks of blood running down his neck into the collar of Herc’s t-shirt.

Xander was wounded. That was important. But then, so was Drusilla; they’d been together for so long.

“Come to me Spike, my lovely. It will be just the two of us now. Just you and me together, my beautiful boy.”

Spike glanced up at her tear streaked face. He hated to see Drusilla cry. It always cut him up inside. He took a step in her direction, and Xander’s dark eyes opened wide, as he whispered Spike’s name.

“That’s right, dear heart. Come to your mummy, now, like a good boy.”

Her wet face made his dead heart clinch, it was his job to wipe her eyes and treat her right, the way she deserved to be treated.

“I know what you want, my boy. You want your dark plum. Here I am. Come to me.”

He glanced at the boy with the wide brown eyes that could almost rival his Dru’s, and his stomach clenched. There were tears in his downcast eyes, and he knew that Xander expected nothing from him. He understood that Dru had been Spike’s everything for so many years. He understood what it took Spike to bare his soul in a room like this one, and offer his Dru his unbeating heart.

“You want the Drusilla who knows you, knows what you’re capable of. The Dru who sees your potential and your lovely bleeding heart. My William, my Spike. My all. It’s me that you want. I’m what you’ve always wanted, even when you didn’t know I existed. There is no choice but me. No choice.”

Spike was standing in front of her now, his gallant knight clutched in her arm, holding him like a gift. She’d give him Herc if he asked. He knew that. He knew that she was right. There was no choice. None at all. Dru stretched out her hand, and cupped his cheek, in a gesture that spoke of a thousand times over a hundred years, of comfort and pleasure and the glory and release of pain. He closed his eyes, sighing. No, there was no choice. She didn’t belong to him. She never had. And he wouldn’t share her with Angelus. He wouldn’t share her with Xander, either.

He looked into her eyes, sighing her name one last time.

“Dru.”

The stake he put in her heart was painless and swift. She gasped just once, and she was gone.

Spike caught Xander as he fell, steadying him until he stood on his own. There were tears in his eyes, but his tears were for Spike, and he wrapped his arms around Spike, and let him cry until he had no more tears.

Chapter Text

Xander held Spike close, letting the tears run down his own cheeks unchecked. Spike had given up Drusilla. And he’d done it for Xander. He felt unworthy of that kind of gift – what did he have to offer Spike that could compare to 100 years worth of love? Buddy gave him the equivalent of a smack to the head, flooding his mind with images of Xander and Spike laughing together, fighting back to back, teasing Kendra, tending each other’s wounds, kissing – lots of kissing for two men that had only tonight decided to become more than friends.

Whatever it was that he and Spike had, Spike wanted it just as much as Xander did, and that was all that mattered. Besides, he had come to Spike’s rescue, what more could Spike ask for? He grinned evilly as he contemplated the best time to bring that up. Should he wait until they got home, and he got some blood into Spike, or would it be better to jump him while he was still weak and disoriented, so he wouldn’t be able to come up with a good comeback? The opportunities were endless.

Kendra finished bandaging Giles, and as she moved away to see if she could help Clem with Tara, Giles noticed Xander holding Spike, whose sobbing had trailed off, to an occasional hitched sigh. Giles’ eyes narrowed as he took in the two of them, and their close embrace, and his mouth pinched down to a thin line.

Xander felt the usual shame that showed up whenever Giles looked at him like that. It didn’t matter what he’d done, or if he’d done anything wrong at all. It was hardwired into him. But he felt Buddy and Death Song shoring up his usual crumbling pride, reminding him that he had the right to do whatever he wanted. Spike needed him, and Giles had no right to think less of Xander for being there for him.

Xander held his head high, and stared back at Giles, just daring him to say anything. Xander hadn’t jumped into this relationship. He’d thought long and hard about it, and he deserved a chance at happiness, the way anyone else did. Giles could stick his head up his own butt if he wanted, but he wasn’t making Xander feel like he was doing something wrong, when he knew in his heart, that this was the right thing for him. Giles looked away from him then, and Xander sighed in relief. Just because he was willing to stand up for himself, didn’t mean he was looking forward to it. If Giles didn’t push it, he was happy to avoid a confrontation.

Xander hugged Spike tighter, and went back to thinking up ways to work Spike’s new status as Damsel in Distress into the conversation. This was way better than calling him Xander’s squire. He realized that it might be somewhat insensitive to say anything this soon after Spike lost his sire. That was a rather traumatic event for a vamp from what he’d heard. But then, maybe what Spike really needed was a distraction, something else to focus on for a while. This would definitely grab Spike’s attention. Xander was looking forward to the look on his face, already.

Giles used the wall he was leaning against to help him stand, pushing against it to lever himself up off the floor. Xander thought he should probably feel bad about not rushing over there to help, but he had his arms full of weeping vampire at the moment, and he wasn’t about to let go until Spike was ready. Spike shouldn’t have to face them all until he had his shields back up. Xander supposed that sounded kind of geeky, but Spike used his callous nature the way Xander used his jokes, to hide his true face from the world. Spike deserved the chance to pull himself back together again before facing them all.

Especially since Xander was going to put him down soon enough. The words Damsel in Distress kept circling around in his head. He chuckled – he just couldn’t help himself.

“The look on your face bodes ill for someone, Xander. I hesitate to ask exactly who the recipient might be.” Giles spoke softly as he walked past the two of them, as if he didn’t wish to disturb Spike.

Xander grinned widely, but chose not to answer. That ought to keep Giles guessing for a while. He thought he must be wrong about Giles’ motive for speaking softly, because Giles had never avoided a chance to annoy Spike in the past. He watched in surprise as Giles righted, then brought over the chair Puffy had been sitting on, planting it behind Spike.

“Can you ease him down onto this chair?” He kept up the soft voice, and Xander watched in surprise as he put his hands on Spike’s shoulders, patting them awkwardly like he would someone who needed comfort. That couldn’t be right.

“Spike, you need to let go of Xander, and sit down while we ready ourselves to leave.”

Oh, right. Xander realized with a start that this mansion was full of demons that would not be happy with what they’d done. Spike didn’t seem to have heard Giles, and Xander looked nervously up toward the door into the basement. He was surprised that someone hadn’t come down already. It was a busy lair.

Giles’ eyes followed his to the top of the stairs. “As weak as Tara is right now, she has no reserves to shore up the spell she put on that door.” Giles gestured for Xander to try getting Spike to let go, but Xander didn’t want to do that. Spike needed him.

“There’s no telling when the demons above will realize something is wrong, and check the other entrances to the basement. If Dru’s spells broke when she died, they’ll be free to come in and find us here. Even if they can’t get in, they’re likely to set up a guard at the entrances, while they find a witch or sorcerer who can help.”

Spike stirred slightly at that, but Xander wasn’t sure if that was due to the threat of another fight simply to get out of the place, or because Giles mentioned Dru’s dusting. It didn’t work though, Spike tightened his hold on Xander, and Xander went back to rubbing his back in small circles.

Giles sighed in exasperation. “Spike,” he said firmly, “You must let go of Xander so we can bandage his wounds before we leave.”

Spike took in a big breath, and Xander thought he was probably scenting the air. He cringed. He was all sweaty and covered with ichor and blood, some of which was even his own. The worst wound was on the outside of his leg, where the Laumear had got him with that deflected strike. He could feel it throbbing in time with his pulse, but he was pretty sure most of the bleeding had stopped.

Spike pulled back, holding him at arm’s length. “You’re wounded?” He stepped aside, and pulled Xander to the chair, practically throwing him at it. “Sit down.”

“Hey, the chair was for you!” He sat, because he didn’t want to argue with Spike right now. It didn’t have a thing to do with the fact that, now that he was concentrating on it, his leg hurt like a really hurtful thing. Some hero he was. Buddy gave him another mental head slap, and Xander jumped.

Giles, who was bringing over the first aid kit Tara had been carrying in her bag, frowned at him. “I haven’t touched you yet, Xander.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s Buddy. He’s not happy that I keep putting down my hero status, but look at me, I’m covered in my own blood.”

“And does Buffy always come back without a scratch in your world?” Kendra asked indignantly.

Xander jumped. He didn’t know the others could hear him. He took a deep breath when he realized she was right. Buffy had been wounded enough times that they had teased her that if she hadn’t had Slayer healing, she’d be covered in scars.

He shrugged self-consciously. “I guess not.”

“You need to stop comparing yourself with others.”

Kendra’s voice was strong and determined, and Xander realized that this was important to her. She’d been compared to others for her entire life, but it sounded like she was getting a grip on that. Good for her.

“Not that you can’t improve – everyone should push themselves to new heights every day. But don’t hold yourself up to others, Xander. Just do the best you can – that’s all that anyone should ever ask of you.”

Giles had been kneeling by Xander’s wounded thigh, wrapping a cloth around the bandage he held over the wound on Xander’s leg. He stopped, looking over at Kendra, listening intently to her words. When she stopped speaking, he turned back to his task, but nodded his approval.

“Well said, Kendra.” Giles took a deep breath; this was obviously hard for him. “Those are words we should all take to heart.”

When she responded, her voice was soft. “Thank you, Giles.”

Xander couldn’t see her from his chair, since she was behind him, but he thought he could hear her proud smile in her voice.

“Yeah, well that’s all right for you mortals.” Spike sounded bored. “Personally, I already know there’s no one as good as me.”

Clem’s snort of laughter had them all smiling except for Spike, who flashed two fingers, and a bit of fang in Clem’s direction.

Giles’ exasperated sigh made Xander grin, despite the tightness of the wrapping Giles was tying around his leg. He was pretty sure that Giles saw through Spike’s bravado and appreciated the way he had broken the tension. But he played his role, keeping up his part of the balancing act that was at the heart of this group.

Giles tied off the wrap. “This will do until we can get you home.” He gestured at Xander to get up. “Try walking around, and tell me how that feels.”

Xander took a few tentative steps, then, more confidently walked a dozen more. It hurt, but then that happened when someone poked a sword in your leg. He limped back in Giles and Spike’s direction. It took him a moment to realize what was different about Spike. “Hey, the gold in your eyes is fading.”

“Yeah? Makes sense. It was Dru’s spell, and she’s…” He shrugged, not finishing his sentence.

Xander took his hand, squeezing it.

Spike put his hand on his own chest. “The runes are less painful, as well. It looks like it’s all fading away.”

“Will the locks on the doors do the same thing?” Kendra asked.

“Not these, no.” Tara spoke up for the first time, and Xander was relieved to hear that at least her voice was strong. Good. They were going to need to have their weapons drawn. Carrying Tara would slow them down. He listened to Tara explaining the difference between the spell on Spike and the one on the doors, but his mind was elsewhere. Death Song was singing to him.

He walked over to the place he’d set her down earlier, picking her up carefully, and smiling gently at the beautiful song she sang. She was so pleased with their first engagement. Xander wasn’t quite as satisfied, not that he blamed her in any way, but he still had a lot to learn. She and Buddy stroked him simultaneously in that way that they had, showing him that they understood, and would be proud to help him pursue both knowledge and skill.

He thought about that. Kendra had said that there was always room for improvement, and look at how much she already knew. There wasn’t anything wrong with him just because he was still learning. Both Buddy and Death Song recognized his potential. It wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but then few important things were. He’d make them proud, though. He was sure of that.

Spike walked up, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. “You all right, love?”

Xander turned and studied him. Spike looked paler than normal, still somewhat shaky, but he was definitely dealing better. His eyes looked bruised, and Xander hated the hurt he saw there. He had a feeling that once they got home, Spike would fall apart again. He was too stubborn to lose face in front of the others.

Buddy and Death Song did that internal stroking thing again, offering him their support. Xander smiled, comforted. They made him feel like he was complete, now, and that was an amazing feeling. Spike’s eyes were drawn to his new sword, and Xander showed her off, turning her to catch the light.

“Isn’t she amazing, Spike?”

“She’s a beauty,” Spike said reverently.

A sudden impulse struck him, and he asked Death Song if she approved. She did, so Xander held her on the palms of his hands and offered her to Spike, who was shocked.

“I’m no hero, Herc.”

“She knows that. But she can tell that you and I belong together. She calls you my…” He wasn’t sure if he understood what she meant – maybe he was misunderstanding the word she used.

“Your what?” Spike eyed the sword cautiously.

Xander blushed, but decided to say it. What the hell. “My Master.”

Spike nodded seriously. “That’s right. I’m your teacher. The one who trains you. Your guide.”

“Oh!” Xander let out his breath in a whoosh, relieved that she wasn’t expecting him to pretend to be Spike’s love slave or something. It wasn’t like he and Anya hadn’t gotten into some role playing from time to time, but Xander’s sex life was none of Death Song’s business.

“I get it now. That’s not so bad.”

“We’ll just keep that ‘other’ meaning of master in mind for a more private moment, shall we?”

Spike grinned at him, one eyebrow arched, and so sexy that Xander had to fight down a wave of lust. Now was not the time, he told himself. Later. Much later. Xander held Death Song out again, and Spike carefully took her from his hands.

Spike gasped as he slid his hand onto her grip. “I can hear her! Her voice is faint, but I actually hear her,” he said in surprise, his blue eyes open wide. He stroked his hand reverently over her, and started checking things that Xander had no idea about, staring down the length of the blade, and balancing her on the side of one finger.

“She’s perfect, Xander. Her balance, length, weight – everything is perfectly suited to you. Does it work the way it does with Buddy? She naturally fits herself to her Hero?”

Xander nodded. “I guess so. I don’t get how that works.”

Spike shrugged. “Well that’s mojo for you. Don’t even try understanding. You’re better off that way.”

He tilted the sword from side to side, and Xander took the time to admire her from another point of view. Her gold and copper highlights shone around the center groove that ran most of the length of the blade. Fuller, he reminded himself. That’s called the fuller.

“Are these designs just scroll work, or do they mean something?” Spike asked.

“They mean something, but they’re decorative, too. I’m not sure I get it all, but there are runes worked into the design for protection, strength, speed, wisdom, stuff like that.”

Spike looked at him contemplatively. “You’re communicating with her better than you do with Buddy.”

Xander hadn’t realized that, but he supposed it was so. “She’s stronger. I can feel her, even when you’re holding her. I have to be in contact with Buddy before I can tell what he’s thinking. And even then, it’s not as clear as what I get from Death Song.”

“Death Song?” Spike smiled, approvingly. “Now that’s a noble name for a sword. She needs a good oiling. They haven’t treated her the way she deserves. We’ll have to take care of that when we get home.”

“Oh, right. We have to get out of here.” Xander took Death Song back, and slid her into her scabbard, pleased that she and Spike got along so well. Both Buddy and Death Song sent back images and feelings that the closest Xander could come to would translate as ‘family.’ The word wasn’t precise enough, but it worked.

They were in the hallway on their way out before Xander realized that Spike wasn’t with them anymore. He looked around, and saw Spike standing over the spot where Kendra had dusted Puffy. He walked back to Spike, who stood there for a moment, staring down at the mix of blood and ash that was all that was left of his doppelganger. Then he spoke softly.

“I told you that I’d watch you dust and spit in your ashes, you arrogant prick. Who’s laughing now, eh?”

Spike turned his back on Puffy, and they walked out of the room together, leaving nothing behind but ashes.

Chapter Text

“You have a wound in your right calf, as well as your forearm. You should not be driving if you can neither turn the wheel properly, nor apply the gas or the brake without causing yourself pain.” Giles’ snippy voice was no less annoying when spoken in a semi-whisper.

The chances were high that whichever demon Giles was trying to avoid alerting with that half-assed whisper, had good enough hearing that keeping his voice down would do them absolutely no good. Spike considered telling him so, but he couldn’t be arsed. He sighed heavily, and Xander looked over at him worriedly. He hated sewers at the best of times, and now was definitely not the best of times.

“And what about you?” Kendra asked from her position bringing up the rear.

On their six, Xander called it. Herc’s odd, occasional forays into military jargon puzzled Spike, but he’d never asked about it. He’d have to remember to do that.

“You have a head injury,” the Slayer reminded Giles. “You should not be driving until we’ve been able to establish whether or not you have a concussion.”

“I’m very well versed with head injuries, thank you. I would know if I had a concussion, and I am certain that I do not.”

Spike rolled his eyes before he realized that Xander couldn’t see him, so the gesture went unrecognized. He thanked every god in the pantheon that he could see a light up ahead.

“Shut up, both of you.” He hadn’t meant to sound so harsh. Well, maybe he had. They were being extremely annoying. They all splashed to a stop in the cold, ankle deep water. He pulled them all closer so he could speak quietly.

“The manhole cover is fifty feet ahead of us. I don’t hear anything ahead, but just in case, let’s be as quiet as possible, shall we?”

They all nodded in the dim, flickering witch light that was all that Tara could raise at the moment. He squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry, Glinda, we’ll be out of here soon, and you’ll be able to drop that light, all right?”

She nodded, smiling shakily at him. He understood her exhaustion, he felt it himself. If he hadn’t been needed up at the front as Xander’s eyes in this gloom, he’d have gladly joined Tara and Clem in the protected spot in the middle this time. His reserves were definitely running low. Clem put his arm around Tara, and they started off again, much more quietly this time.

In the end, Clem solved the problem of who was driving by stealing the keys right out of Giles’ hand and announcing that since he was the only one without any injuries, he’d be driving the car. Spike couldn’t care less who drove, as long as they got far away from here as soon as possible. They shoved all the weapons in the back, with Tara’s witchy supplies on top. Spike settled into the back seat with Foxy Brown and Herc, who had refused to part with Death Song, although he was willing to take her off his belt for the ride. Glinda sat in front, between the Watcher and Clem. As exhausted as he was, Spike still managed a smirk as the cold water from the sewers leaked out of his shoes to settle in puddles on the SUV's floor. There goes the Watcher's carpeting.

Clem was in a good mood, humming some song under his breath that Spike couldn’t make out even after Xander started humming along. Then Xander started singing these absolutely ridiculous lyrics in some smarmy voice, Clem singing right along with him.

Aww..Star Wars
Nothing but Star Wars
Give me those Star Wars
Don’t let them end

Spike finally recognized the song as the one that Xander had been singing when he was trying to distract Dru from working her portal spell. The thought of Dru about put Spike under, it hit him so hard, but with Foxy and Glinda laughing their arses off at the lyrics it was hard to concentrate properly on his pain.

Oh, Star Wars
If they should bar wars
Please let these Star Wars
Stay

Unfortunately, neither Xander nor Clem could claim to sing even half-way well, so in exchange for the pain in his heart, they offered him a pain in both his ears and his arse.

And hey!
How ‘bout that nutty Star Wars bar
Can you forget all the creatures in there?

Giles tried talking over the two of them, but although they didn’t know the lyrics, both Tara and the Slayer were humming along, and they totally drowned the Watcher out.

And Hey!
Darth Vader in that black and evil mask
Did he scare you as much as he scared me?
Yeow!

By the awkward end of the song, Spike finally got that they were imitating some sleazy entertainer-type, but he had no idea what all that meant, only that it seemed to raise the spirits of everyone in the car, aside from Giles, of course. Well, every cloud has its silver lining, right?

Star Wars
Those here in Bar Wars
My 7th Winter up here!!
Sta-a-a-ar Wars!

“This, I take it, is the song you two were singing in that demon language earlier?” The Watcher’s distaste of the lyrics was as obvious as his curiosity about "that demon language."

“Clem was singing it too?” Spike asked.

Foxy Brown frowned at Giles. “When did they do that?”

“You wouldn’t have noticed, Kendra, you were engaged in a fight to the death with the Master of the Hellmouth.” Giles’ satisfaction with his Slayer’s performance was obvious, but Foxy frowned unhappily.

“I would never have dusted him if not for the wounds Xander gave him earlier.”

The Watcher opened his mouth to disagree, but Herc jumped in, grabbing the Slayer’s hand and squeezing. “I helped, that’s true. But you did a considerable amount of damage on your own. You should be proud of that kill. You earned it.”

Spike wasn’t so sure, but he had no problem letting her take the credit, if Herc wanted her to have it. She had done her share, but Herc had definitely softened him up for her. It was her Hellmouth, though. Spike supposed it was probably for the best that someone who would be here long after he and Herc were gone could claim that they’d killed the Master.

“That was a good piece of work there, Foxy.”

She beamed at them both. “Thank you.”

“Yes. Well done,” Giles agreed. “That double-fisted technique worked very well for you. Perhaps we should teach it to Faith when she and Wesley come back.”

“Yes, I think so,” Kendra agreed. “Faith already does something similar with a knife and a stake, but this technique involves a different range, so the moves are quite different than in knife fighting.”

Foxy was so pleased that Spike hesitated a moment or two before rubbing it in Giles’ face. “I guess we earned our keep with that one, wouldn’t you say, Watcher?”

Spike winked at Foxy as he said it, to take away any sting she might feel from being reminded that the move was not originally her own, but she just grinned wider, as if she knew what he was doing.

“If it weren’t for the two of you, none of us would have been in that situation in the first place,” Giles replied snippily. “I believe that mitigates any gratitude that might be necessary on our part.”

“Ouch!” Clem murmured softly. He hissed and pulled one set of taloned fingers off the wheel for a moment, clawing at the air.

Tara giggled, and nudged him in the ribs. “Now you stop that.”

The Watcher glared daggers at Clem, but didn’t say anything, turning back to the front and crossing his arms over his seat belt.

“I’ve caught you out, you know. I see exactly what you’re trying to do. You’ve been evading my question since the fight first ended, but I see through your distractions, and I won’t be circumvented.”

Spike glanced at both Xander and Foxy, but both of them had the same puzzled look Spike expected was on his own face. Clem pulled up in front of the lair, and put the car in park before turning around to see if the back seat knew more than the front did about what the Watcher was talking about.

“What question was that, Giles?” Xander asked.

Giles sighed heavily, as if greatly put upon. “In what demon language were you singing, Xander, and why do you both know how to sing the same obnoxious song in it?”

Both Xander and Clem burst out laughing at that, and Spike was glad that Clem had already stopped the car, because he was practically doubled over with laughter, his shiny, bald head hitting the steering wheel as his shoulders shook. Xander started singing again, this time in that odd language, and Clem joined in as they all climbed out of the SUV and squelched around to the back, dripping water as they went.

Giles threw up his hands in disgust as they ignored his questions yet again. Kendra pulled their weapons out of Xander’s duffel, and Tara grabbed her mojo bag.

Spike listened carefully as they sang, shaking his head. “I don’t think it is a demon language, Watcher. It’s definitely not one I’ve ever heard.”

The song ended, and Clem let out a strange warbling cry that Spike recognized as the cry of that really tall, furry creature that had hung out with that Solo bloke in the movies. He couldn’t remember the thing’s name, despite how many times Dru had insisted they see them. She loved movie theatres; he’d taken her to all three Star Wars films more than once. He understood there was a new one, but without Dru around, he hadn’t had any interest in seeing it.

The Slayer didn’t have any trouble remembering tall and furry’s name. “Chewbacca!”

Clem grinned at her. “That’s me!”

Xander hefted the weapons bag, and put his hand on Spike’s shoulder. “C’mon, Princess Leia, let’s go home.”

“Oi!” Spike protested. “I am not a princess!” He’d have to hurt Herc for that. The image of Xander over Spike’s knee, his bare bum waving in the air, made Spike smile evilly. That was better. He was so busy imagining that fine arse of Herc’s with Spike’s red hand prints all over it that he stumbled over the curb. Clem grabbed his arm, and helped him up the walk.

“Don’t worry, Spike, I figured you for Han Solo, the loveable rogue.” It was obvious that Clem had put some time into figuring this out.

“You’re starkers. The whole lot of you.” He wondered how many kittens it would take to keep Clem’s trap shut, so Herc would forget all about this princess shite.

Spike forced his heavy feet up the stairs to the front door, relieved that they were finally home. He turned back to see where Xander had taken off to. He and Clem were murmuring softly to each other at the bottom of the steps. Spike leaned against the door frame, not paying a bit of attention to what they were saying. He was too busy trying to stay vertical. He rubbed his shoulder where the dust pile formerly known as Puffy had stabbed him. It still hurt like hell, but he’d survived the day, so he’d had the last laugh, now hadn’t he?

He raised his hand when Foxy and Glinda waved goodbye from the car, and in deference to the fact that the bastard had actually come along on the rescue, Spike held himself back from flashing two fingers at the Watcher.

Finally, Xander clapped Clem on the arm. “Thanks, man.” He sounded weary, but that wasn’t surprising. It was close to dawn; it had been a hell of a long day.

“See ya later, guys!”

Clem headed back to the car, a bounce in his step. Spike realized he needed to say something in response to his heroic efforts tonight, so he called after the big lug. “Good job, Chewy.”

Clem turned and waved back at him, a huge grin splitting his wrinkled face. “Thanks, Spike!” He jumped back in the SUV, and it pulled away.

“C’mon, Spike. Let’s get some blood in you and get you to bed.”

Spike leered as Xander tucked his arm around Spike’s waist, “Is that a proposition, Xander?”

Xander laughed as the two of them dragged their sorry arses into the kitchen. “As if either of us is in any shape to do more than pass out. But I can definitely pencil you in for later in the week…”

Spike barely remembered the blood Xander poured down his throat. He had no idea how many bags he’d emptied. He knew that at one point, Herc pulled some of their emergency supply down from the freezer, but he wasn’t sure how much went in Spike and how much went into the refrigerator for tomorrow. He remembered insisting that Xander eat something when his stomach started growling, and Xander admitted that he’d been too upset yesterday to keep anything down.

The next thing Spike knew he was stripped down and lying in his bed, with Xander tucking the blanket up around him. Herc straightened up and fiddled with the hem of his untucked shirt.

“Ummm…if you need anything, I’ll be right next door,” he said hesitantly.

“You will?” Spike looked at the big, king-sized bed he’d taken for his own. “What’s wrong with in here?”

“Oh. Ummm. Well, I didn’t want to bother you or anything.” Xander bit his lip. “I mean…”

Spike didn’t have the energy for subtle. “Stupid blighter. Get in the bloody bed.”

Xander laughed and started stripping off his clothes. “I’ll never believe that romance is dead as long as you’re around, Spike.”

He was having a tiny flush of energy, even though he knew it wouldn’t last. With all that human blood rushing through his system, the healing process had already started, but his damaged body needed sleep as well, and his limbs felt weighted down with fatigue. However, he thought he might have enough vigor in him for a good snog before he passed out. He watched Xander strip, his clothes falling where he stood except for Death Song and Buddy, who were both carefully laid on the armchair by the door.

Spike laughed as he took in Xander’s superhero festooned boxer shorts. “And you’re worried about my ideas of romance?”

Xander grinned self-consciously. “Hey, I had no idea that by the end of the day I would be climbing into bed with some handsome ‘romantic’.”

Spike huffed. “I’ll show you romance.” He crooked his finger, drawing Xander to him. Xander stood next to the bed, and Spike motioned again. He bent over, bracing his arms on either side of Spike’s face. Spike motioned one more time, and Xander obliged, until his face was just inches from Spike’s.

“Are you ready for romance?” Spike asked. Xander nodded, his face flushed.

Spike looked up into his eyes, and Xander’s breathing came faster as their eyes locked. Spike slid one hand over his shoulder and around the back of his neck, while the other held his upper arm.

“Now get in the bloody bed!” he shouted.

Xander’s eyes grew comically wide when Spike flipped him over onto the middle of the bed, his body bouncing as the breath was driven right out of him. It sounded like Xander was hiccupping, but the grin on his face let Spike know that he was trying to laugh. Unfortunately, with no breath, he couldn’t manage more than a shaking of his shoulders. The laughter in Xander’s eyes was worth the effort, even if it had taken every ounce of energy Spike had left.

Xander rolled on top of Spike, grinning from ear to ear, and kissed him hard and fast before rolling off and wiggling around until he was under the blankets next to Spike. Spike pulled him close, and Xander curled around him, his head on Spike’s shoulder. A face-splitting yawn took him, and Spike smoothed the hair off Xander’s face with his free hand.

“Did I thank you for coming to my rescue, yet?”

Xander shook his head. “You don’t need to. I know you’d have done the same for me.”

“Yes, I would have, but that’s not the point. The question was have I thanked you for coming to my rescue?”

Xander finally caught on. “Why no, Spike, I don’t think you have.”

“I didn’t think so.”

They lay there for a while. Spike was enjoying the warmth that seeped into his body from Xander’s. It felt good on his various aches and bruises. His eyes drifted closed.

“Well?” Xander asked.

Spike forced his mind to focus, but his eyes refused to open. “Well, what, Herc?”

Xander levered himself off Spike’s chest far enough to look into his face. “Are you going to thank me?”

Spike shook his head, and said “No,” in a matter of fact voice.

“You’re not?”

He opened his eyes, so he could look into Xander’s. “I don’t know why you’re surprised. I am evil, after all.”

Xander rolled his eyes before his head dropped down onto Spike’s chest once more. He must have learned that exasperated sigh from the Watcher. Spike grinned, knowing that Xander couldn’t see it from his position on Spike’s chest. After a moment, he spoke again.

“Good night, Xander.”

“Night, Spike.”

The reply was slurred. Xander’d be asleep soon, and so would Spike. He’d take care of the ‘thank you’ he owed Xander when he was up to full strength again. It would be tough coming up with something as special as Xander deserved, but he’d figure out something. Spike had an excellent imagination.

Chapter Text

Xander woke to an empty bed. It was kind of dark, but he was pretty sure it was empty, well, except for him. He scooted over into Spike’s spot, and fumbled for his jeans, which had landed in a pile on the floor earlier this morning. He flicked on his Maglite, and looked around, just in case, but the room was empty. He searched for a clock, but it looked like Mighty Vamp didn’t think he needed to know the time. Or maybe vamps had an internal clock or something. He’d have to ask Spike. If he could find him, that was.

He wasn’t in the bathroom, although the mat was wet and there was a wet towel crumpled on the floor by the door. Xander sighed and put the towel in the hamper. It looked like Mighty Vamps didn’t need clean towels, either. It wasn’t like he was picking up after Spike, or anything. But if he left them on the floor until Spike decided to do his laundry, they’d be all mildewy and sour smelling and he’d end up throwing them out. Okay, so maybe he was the girl in this relationship. He was the one who did the laundry, and the dishes, but that was just in self-defense. He didn’t like bugs crawling around on the counter top, or the table. He had to eat at that table.

He wasn’t doing himself any favors with that train of thought, so he finished up at the toilet, and washed his hands. It was too early for him to be awake, and he didn’t even like to think about words like ‘relationship’ before he had two or three cups of coffee in him. For that matter, he didn’t like thinking about words like ‘relationship’ at all. That was one thing he never got when he was with Anya. Why mess up a good relationship by talking about it? He figured maybe it was a woman thing, and that as a lowly male, he wasn’t allowed to understand the inner workings of a woman’s mind. He was probably better off not trying.

He headed for the kitchen, thinking that maybe Spike needed more blood, and that was why he got up, but as he walked through the hallway, he felt a cool, moist breeze on the back of his neck, and caught the tell-tale scent of cigarette smoke. Following the smoke through the unused dining room, he found Spike leaning up against the doorframe that led out onto the terrace, the glass sliding door open to let the breeze in and the smoke out. The sun was doing a rather half-assed job of shining, the early morning rays slanting weakly down into the yard, leaving the back of the house shrouded in shadows. It felt like rain to Xander.

He walked up behind Spike, and wrapped his arms around his waist, his chin on Spike’s shoulder.

“Kinda early for you yet, ain’t it?” Spike’s rough morning voice scratched pleasantly up his spine. One more thing to love about the guy. Xander was a sucker for a sexy voice.

“Me? This is like the middle of the night to you. It’s only…” He paused. He knew it was still morning, but that didn’t mean much. “What time is it, anyway?”

Spike snorted. “About 10 am.”

“See? It’s way too early for you to be up.”

Spike shrugged. “Woke up hungry.”

“So did you eat already, or should we start nuking the blood supply?”

“I ate. Just having a smoke before I headed back to bed.”

“We’ll need to stock up on the blood soon. We’ve used up a lot of our emergency supply recently.”

Spike took another hit off his cigarette, and flicked the butt out the open door into the back yard, exhaling a plume of smoke up into the morning air. It sparked Xander’s sense memory of a face full of smoke and Spike’s obnoxious laughter mocking Xander for something, anything. Everything.

Suddenly, a piece of the puzzle of Spike’s behavior recently clicked into place. Not just since he and Spike landed here in Kendra’s Hellmouth, which was what Xander’d started labeling their current predicament. No, Spike’s changes went farther back than that. He knew he was right: Spike was looking for somewhere to belong, and he’d chosen the Scoobies. He’d chosen Xander.

He knew if he said it right out, that Spike would deny it, but he felt like he had to say something. Spike needed a chance to talk about it. He’d just dusted the person who’d loved him for a hundred years. You didn’t just get over something like that. He needed a chance to say out loud that he’d given Drusilla up for a chance at a new life - a totally different kind of life.

“You don’t seem to smoke as much these days,” he hinted.

“I don’t?”

“No, you don’t.”

“Huh.” Spike shrugged. “Hadn’t noticed it myself, but I guess you’re probably right. Well, that works out well enough for you lot, then, don’t it? I hear smoke’s not so good for you frail, little human types.”

“What do you care about frail, little humans?” Xander teased.

“Well, I figure if I’m gonna fight with you, it’s better if you’re not hacking up a lung instead of catching the vamp that’s trying to sneak up on me with a stake, right?”

“I see. So you’re keeping your smoke away from our weak, human lungs for purely selfish reasons. Is that it?”

“Well, yeah. Need you lot to watch my back. Nobody else is interested in doing it these days, unless they’re waiting for the opportunity to stab me in it.”

Spike turned around, that sexy-ass smirk of his curling one side of his mouth up. “C’mon. Let’s go back to bed. I was too knackered last night to get the full benefit of having Nurse Xander tuck me in.”

“Nurse?” Xander let himself be distracted. “Don’t you mean Doctor Xander?”

He knew that at some point Spike would need to talk about everything that happened last night. But Xander wasn’t sure he was up to it right then anyway. Besides, he’d been waiting to get Spike in bed, with both of them awake and at least semi-alert, for a while now. No way was he going to let a little ‘relationship talk’ get in the way of good, honest sex.

He grinned back at Spike. “Well what the hell are we waiting for, then?”

XXXXXXXXXX

Xander sat down at the kitchen table, sighing dramatically. From the ballroom they’d transformed into a living room/gym he could hear Clem recounting some crazy story about a weekend he’d spent in Vegas with some cousins of his, and the trouble they’d gotten into when they’d gotten drunk and gone around the hotel flashing everyone in sight. Spike was enjoying the tale too much, in Xander’s opinion. If he wasn’t careful, Xander would find Spike in nothing but his combat boots and an overcoat the next time they left the house.

It had been a funny story, but Xander needed some quiet time. He’d been glad when Clem had shown up to check on Spike, despite the fact that he’d interrupted a very hot make-out session – their second for the day. But that’s all they’d done so far, and Xander was getting frustrated. He understood that Spike was still recovering. He’d done his best to be patient, but he’d kind of hoped for the short visit Clem had promised them when he first showed up. Xander was looking forward to finally getting past second base.

They’d shown Clem around the mansion, and he’d been very impressed. It seemed that Spike had offered the place to Clem once they finally found a way back home. He’d warned Clem to be careful; there were still places that Tara hadn’t cleaned out, especially in the basement. Xander had been hesitant about Clem’s taking over, now that Puffy was gone.

Giles planned to call Wesley and Faith back, since there was no telling who would make a bid for the title of Master of the Hellmouth, now that the area’s big bad had bitten the dust. He thought that if the Slayers moved in and kicked enough butt to clear out the demons that had plagued this corner of Sunnydale for so long, the legitimate owner of the mansion might show up and try to take his home back. Spike had just laughed.

“We are the legitimate owners of the house, Herc. As far as anyone knows, that is. The original owner kicked the bucket. When Tara went through the house and helped us clear out the magicked stuff, I found the deed to the place. I had it modified, using a mate of Clem’s, putting you and me down as the owners. Since we haven’t been paying for utilities and whatnot, I doubt they think there’s anyone living here, but with blackout curtains on all the windows, unless they come inside they’ll never know about the stolen electricity and water. I’ll leave Clem the deed in that safe in the downstairs office, and make sure he has the combination.”

He clapped Clem on the shoulder. “You can do what you want with it, once we’re gone.”

Clem had beamed. Xander didn’t blame him, this was a definite step up in accommodations from Spike’s description of his current home.

Xander’d had high hopes that the visit was winding to a close about the time someone knocked a second time. If it had been anyone but Tara, he’d have been tempted to close the door in their face, but after everything she’d done for them, he couldn’t see it in his heart to get snippy with her, no matter how much he wanted to ask them both to go home. Instead, they’d offered her a towel for her wet hair; there was a storm blowing in tonight.

That was when Clem pulled the video out of his bag. He’d followed that up with the junk food, and Xander had decided he could be pissy later. If someone was going to invade his home, the smartest thing they could do was bring classic Star Wars and junk food. Then Clem had suggested that they play Star Wars as a drinking game, and pulled out the beer. Xander had a fair amount in the fridge already, and Spike had his room temperature bitter eurobeer, that made Xander cringe just thinking about it. And of course, there was enough JD in the house to choke a horse – although he wasn’t sure why anyone would want to. There was definitely enough alcohol to go around.

Xander looked at the refrigerator as if it could spew forth two bottles of cold beer, and set them on the table for him. Then he wouldn’t have to expend all that energy moving all the way across the room. He was just about worn out, through and through.

“I have something for you.”

Xander opened eyes he hadn’t remembered closing, to see Tara holding a small bag in her hands.

“Are you okay, Xander? You look down.”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine,” he reassured her. “I just think I need some more sleep. It’s been a long couple of days.”

Tara nodded. “We should go then.”

“No! Don’t go. I might slip out and take a nap at some point, but I’d like it if you stayed. I like having you around. Besides, if I’m asleep, who will keep Mighty Vamp entertained?”

Tara giggled at Spike’s new nickname. “That’s very sweet of you to say. Thank you.” She set the bag on the table, and reached across to take his hands. “You do need rest; I can see it in your eyes. But I think part of what you’re feeling is due to the hormonal difficulties you’ve been suffering with. That’s why I came by tonight, actually. I have something for you.”

“Oh yeah. You said that earlier. I guess we got distracted.”

Tara held out a small blue bag, with a red drawstring. Inside was the strangest stone Xander had ever seen. It was off-white, or very pale pink, and it was about the size of the end of Xander’s thumb.

For the most part it was highly polished, but one section looked like a piece had broken out, and it was as if someone had dumped loads of little crystals inside. They clung to the inside of the stone, sparkling as the light from the oil lamp hit the tiny, individual crystals. He rubbed the polished sides of the stone, feeling how incredibly smooth they were. It reminded him of a worry stone. Jessie’s grandfather had had one of those – polished to a slick shine from years of handling.

“What is it?” He held it up to the light, and admired the way the tiny crystals inside glittered.

“It’s called a Drusy quartz. The next time you feel those emotions crowding in on you, send all your negative thoughts into the quartz, and the crystals inside will diffuse the bad energy, and send it off in dozens of different directions, safely broken up into tiny pieces.”

Xander knew the look he was shooting at her was skeptical, but he couldn’t help it. He just didn’t get all that new age mumbo jumbo.

Tara just laughed. “You don’t have to believe in it, Xander, just do it. Even if it’s not having any real effect, it may make you feel better thinking that it’s been released from you, and isn’t your problem anymore.”

He shrugged. “Well, I guess it can’t hurt.”

Tara nodded. “The next time I come over, I’ll try and show you a few meditation exercises.” She rushed to add, “They’ll be simple ones, don’t worry. I think if we concentrate on stabilizing your hormones, you’ll be able to control these mood swings eventually. I’m pretty sure they’ll go away on their own, at some point, but this might help in the meantime.”

Xander nodded. “I’m having less of them than I did when I got here, that’s for sure.”

Tara nodded. “They’re less intense, as well, I think.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“This will help. Drusy quartz are often used in Spiritual Healing, so when you feel self-doubt, and worry, think about the crystal in your pocket, and point the negative energy in its direction.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Tara laughed at his dubious expression. “Do you trust me, Xander?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then trust me about this, all right? Just try it.”

“Okay. Thanks, Tara.” There was a loud knock on the door, and Xander rolled his eyes. “Damn. Who could it be this time?”

He walked to the door, and flung it open, knowing it couldn’t be anyone out to cause him harm, because the spell he’d used on the property just a few days ago wouldn’t allow that.

Standing outside the door was Faith. Xander froze in shock. It was raining hard by now, and her hair hung in straggly, matted clumps. She had a big smile on her face, though.

“Boy Toy!” She crossed the threshold, giving Xander an exaggerated and messy kiss on the cheek. Then she slapped him on the shoulder. “Good to see ya, man.”

Kendra followed Faith inside, her eyes sparkling with excitement, and her arms loaded with beer. “Surprise!”

Chapter Text

The knock on the door was soft enough that no one really recognized it at first. On the TV, there was another tremor in the Force. Everyone shouted, ‘Drink!’ and Spike forgot all about the door. He finished off his bottle, and reached for another just as the second knock came, louder than the first.

“Bloody hell.”

No one seemed to be paying a bit of attention to the movie, he had no idea how they knew when to shout ‘drink,’ but obviously they knew if they ignored the knock at the door, eventually someone else would pay for the pizza. The third knock was loud as hell, and Spike sighed and tossed the cap off his beer at Xander to let him know where Spike was headed. Xander nodded, and blew a kiss at Spike without breaking his conversation with Kendra.

Faith hooted from her corner of the other couch, and Spike shook his head, shooting her two fingers. That one was a real corker. He was looking forward to seeing her and Foxy go at it. They’d agreed to come back the next night to do some sparing if Xander accompanied the Slayers on their rounds earlier in the evening. Spike hated not going with them, but he agreed that it would be best for them if he weren’t seen about for a while. The Slayers needed to establish that they were the ones who’d cleaned out the town, and adding an extra Spike back into the equation would complicate things dramatically.

He could smell the pizzas right through the wall, so he threw open the door to reveal a soaking wet delivery boy, the Watcher, and some berk with a back so stiff that he could have been made of wood. Well, there went the evening. He threw three fifties at the pizza boy, who thanked him profusely and practically ran back to his car. Spike shoved the pizzas at the Watcher.

“Here, make yourself useful, why don’t you?”

The glower he got for that was impressive, but Spike needed the free hand to shove his wallet back in his pocket. As long as Giles was willing to hold onto them, he didn’t care what kind of look the wanker gave him. He tipped his bottle up for a drink, then took his time checking out the berk with the stick up his arse.

“You must be the other Watcher.”

“Yes, of course. My apologies. Where were my manners?” Giles asked sarcastically. He nodded at the berk, and then in Spike’s direction, since his hands were full. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce meet William the Bloody.”

Wooden Wesley didn’t seem to know what to do, and he paused halfway between shaking hands and nodding, his language skills escaping him in his flustered state. “I… Well, that is, I mean… William the… the…”

“May I suggest you call him Spike?”

Giles’ calm voice and firm manner should have had some impact on the man, but he just gawked at Giles before turning back and gawking at Spike again.

Spike snorted. “May I suggest you don’t talk to me at all?”

Giles shoved the boxes into Welsley’s arms, which was probably for the best, since that way he had something to do with his fluttery hands.

The Watcher grabbed the receipt taped to the side of the boxes.

“Four pizzas, two orders each of French fries, chicken wings, bread sticks and onion rings.” He glanced at Spike from over the top of his glasses. “I take it the girls are here, then?”

There was a loud, raucous shout of ‘Drink!’ from the other room, and the two Watchers exchanged a meaningful glance.

Giles sighed heavily. “May we come in?”

Spike turned his back on them, leaving Wooden Wesley to carry the pizza, and walked back toward the TV room. “Close the door behind you, please,” he said over his shoulder, “who knows what the cat might drag in.”

He stood in the wide, arched doorway to the ballroom, and stared at the group assembled before him. The two couches were pulled up together, the coffee table in front of them littered with beer bottles, snack food wrappers and empty crisps packages. Xander sat between Kendra and Tara on the far couch, talking animatedly. Faith sat on the far side of Clem, who was in the middle of the second couch. Spike still couldn’t believe how well she was getting on with Clem. They’d been flirting all night, and it was rather disturbing. The large screen TV was pulled up in front of them all, orange extension cords trailing out into the hall.

“Hey, Spike, where’s the pizza?” Xander stood up, but fell back again when he saw the Watchers walk up behind him. “Oh, shit.”

“Hey!” Faith stood up, and crossed over to them. “Wesley! You brought us pizza!” She grabbed the boxes from Woody and everyone scrambled to get the beer and soda bottles off the coffee table so she’d have a place to set them down.

Clem paused the movie, and rubbed his hands together. “Dig in, guys. Get it while it’s hot!”

An hour later, the food was demolished, the movie watched (or talked over), all the introductions had been made, and the excuses given. The Watchers weren’t really surprised that the rain had driven the Slayers inside. They’d even guessed that the two would head to Spike and Xander’s lair, since it was closer to the area they’d been patrolling than either of their homes. What they hadn’t expected was a party. Wesley, in particular, was having trouble dealing with the fact that the two Slayers were partying with demons of two distinct species, a dead man who wasn’t a demon at all, and a powerful witch.

Spike didn’t see the problem, but he supposed they did make an odd group. Not that it mattered, they worked well together, and that was all that counted. Besides, Xander was obviously not dead, even if he did resemble the boy Wesley had watched die over a year ago. The way Spike figured it, the arsehole could go away and take them all with him if he wanted. Except for Xander. But if he was giving up the chance to snog with Xander, the least they could do was be civil.

When Xander and Clem had teased the new Watcher with their odd not-actually-a-demon language, Faith had ended up giving them away. She stuck her head out of the kitchen and asked, “Did I hear someone singing in Klingon?”

Spike laughed at both Watchers as they sputtered embarrassedly, ignoring the fact that he hadn’t known where it came from either. Kendra and Faith recognized it from the Xander they’d gone to high school with, who’d been as much of a scifi geek as Spike’s Xander was. Obviously, there were people even more obsessed than Xander, and they went around translating songs into Klingon, and trading them at Science Fiction conventions, on tape and video, as well as in 'zine' form (whatever the hell that meant.)

Spike was actually surprised that Clem and Xander had never run into each other at one. Clem admitted he started going to the conventions because no one looked at him twice there, except maybe to compliment him on his costume. Xander was in heaven to find another geek with whom to share his love of all things scifi.

“There’s another Con coming up later in the year, you know.”

Clem practically jumped up and down with excitement. “I know! I already have my tickets.”

“I have an extra. I was trying to talk Spike into going, but he just laughed at me and said, ‘over my dead body.’ Like that’s anything special.”

“Oi! I’ll have you know I have an excellent body.” Spike felt the need to remind Xander of that.

“Yeah, but it’s already dead, so what good is a warning like that?”

Spike shot him the bird, and Xander grabbed his fingers, squeezing tight.

“Watch it Hercules, I’m left handed you know. You’ve bruised my delicate little fingers. I may never play piano again.”

Xander laughed, refusing to let go of Spike’s hand. “I’m not that strong, Lefty.”

“Lefty? That the best you can do?” Spike scoffed, playing it up. They hadn’t had time to enjoy each other’s company for too long. It was nice just to muck about, joking with each other. “Lefty is hardly any insult at all. I’ll have you know that Aristotle was a lefty. So were Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci.”

Clem whispered something in Xander’s ear, and Xander smirked at Spike. “I have it on good authority that Ned Flanders is left handed.”

“Here now. No need to get nasty!” Comparing Spike to a fictional arsewipe like that one was hitting below the belt. He didn’t know who to be prouder of, Clem for thinking of the insult, or Xander for that knowing smirk.

At one point, Spike found both Watchers cornering Clem in the kitchen, pestering him about what species he belonged to, and why wouldn’t he show them his ‘other face’, Spike did his best to get them to leave the poor sod alone.

“But you must have some sort of tribal, or perhaps an ethnic name that…”

“Give it a break, Percy. If he wanted to tell you, don’t you think you’d know by now?” Watcher, Jr. drew up to his full height, insulted beyond words, which was exactly what Spike had intended. While Junior sputtered, Spike grabbed a beer out of the fridge for Xander, and a new bottle of JD from under the counter for himself.
“How dare you!”

Spike raised one eyebrow as he sauntered over to where the berk stood, and gave him an insolent once over, bottom to top. “How dare I what, Percy? Ask you to stop annoying my guests inside my own home? I think I dare as much as I like.”

Xander walked in just then, and Spike held out his beer to him. “Thanks, Lefty.” He glanced at Wesley and Spike, who were still face to face, and quite intentionally broke the tension.

“Hey, Giles. Look at this!” He put his thumb to the beer bottle’s cap while he studied the distance, then flipped the cap off, without the use of a bottle opener, sending it flying end over end right into the rubbish bin.

Clem grinned at him. “You’re getting better and better, Xander. I can’t believe Spike just showed you that trick tonight.”

Spike nodded his agreement. “Very impressive.”

He slapped Wesley on the shoulder in a show of mock-friendliness, and grinned evilly as the berk fought down a quite noticeable tremor.

“Xander, weren’t you going to show Rupert and Percy here your new sword?”

From the look on his face, he hadn’t planned on it, but Xander recognized the request as the distraction it was, giving them something new to focus on, so he’d brought both of his pieces of Falenge metalwork out for examination. He’d been very clear that they not touch without permission, and he regretted that both Buddy and Death Song weren’t in the mood for more than the quickest of touches. The Watchers had both been very disappointed that neither of them could hear Death Song even when in contact with her, and quite jealous that both Spike and even Clem could.

Finally, Spike got bored of baiting the new kid, and dragged Clem back to the dining room off the terrace for a smoke that wouldn’t bother Xander’s lungs. It gave him the perfect chance to thank Clem.

“I’m proud that you came back for me, Chewie. And honored. You’re a good friend.”

Clem shuffled his feet and couldn’t meet Spike’s eyes. This kind of emotional shite was obviously as difficult for Clem as it was for Spike. “I didn’t intend to, you know. I left for home before they headed out to Puffy’s mansion.”

“But you came back, didn’t you?”

“Well, yeah. I figured maybe I could help if there were any injuries or anything. I brought water and bandages.”

“Then how did you get into the mansion? The demons just let you through?”

“Nah,” Clem laughed at that. “I’d never have had the guts to try. But when no one was at the car, I went to see if Tara was okay, since I knew where she was hiding. She said that her cell phone was dead, and she wanted to go in and check on everyone. I wasn’t going with her, but it all just sort of happened so quickly that before I knew it, there I was on the stairs, shaking in my boots.”

“But you did good, mate. You stood up to an angry Drusilla, and I can name the people who’ve done that and lived through it on one hand. And that trick you pulled on her! That was pure genius. It took me a moment or two to react, ‘cause I was too much in awe of your duplicity.”

“Really?”

Spike threw his butt out into the rain, listening to it sizzle before it was quenched. “We’ll make a proper evil demon out of you yet.”

Clem grinned widely. “Thanks, Spike. That means a lot coming from you.” He lifted his head to the cloudy sky and warbled his Chewbacca cry to the rain.

Spike laughed, wrapping his arm around Clem’s shoulders. “Come on, Chewie, let’s get back to the party before Xander gets mad at me for leaving him alone with the Watchers.”

Clem nodded. “We did desert him, didn’t we?” He paused, looking puzzled. “Wait. I wanted to ask you, what’s wrong with ‘Percy’? It’s just a nickname, right?”

Spike smirked. “Nah. It means your todger.”

“Your what?” It was obvious that this was slang that Americans weren’t familiar with.

“In England, Percy is slang for a penis.”

Clem’s eyes got comically wide, his mouth falling open.

“So any time he’s bugging you about where you come from, call him Percy. That ought to shut him right up.”

Clem chuckled. “Thanks, Spike.” Clem headed back to the TV area, where Spike saw Tara and the Slayers talking, and Spike went looking for Xander.

When he got back to the kitchen, both Death Song and Buddy were out of sight. Spike wasn’t surprised. Who likes to be stared at and touched by strangers? Xander was at the table, with one Watcher on either side as they talked over, and around him about what kind of spells they should use to treat his hormone imbalances.

The longer they talked, the more Hercules drooped in his chair, weary of all the questions and suppositions. It was obvious he was totally at a loss as to what they intended to do to him, and he was uncomfortable as hell with the thought of them using spells on him.

Spike was thinking of stopping their talk when Tara walked into the room, and listened quietly for a moment. She shook her head, then sat down across from Xander, and spoke directly to him, ignoring the Watchers entirely.

“I thu-think we should start out using the crystal I guh-gave you, Xander. I’ll come by in a few days and we can work on some meditation exercises, and begin a cleansing regimen. Those can work wonders for hormone imbalance. I have several teas that will help.”

By the time she’d gotten to that point, her nervousness about speaking in front of someone new was fading, and she spoke without stuttering, even when the Watchers stopped their conversation and started listening to what she had to say. She smiled at each of them once she had their attention.

“I think you both have good ideas on the subject, however, using witchcraft to force someone’s hormones to change can be very disruptive for the person in question. Xander and I discussed earlier that he seems to be suffering from less symptoms every day. There’s a good chance that if we give these other options a chance to work first, we may not need any of those spells after all.”

Spike came around and sat next to Herc. “The less mojo the better, I say, Glinda. Mojo’s what got us both into this mess in the first place. If we can do without it, I think he’ll be better off.”

Xander nodded his agreement, but squinched his face up as he asked, “Are you sure I need to drink herbal teas? Those things are awful.”

“Yes, well, I agree with you there, Xander,” Giles sympathized, “but if you wish to attempt a natural course of clearing your hormonal imbalances, the herbal teas could prove invaluable.”

“You mentioned a crystal.” Watcher Jr. finally spoke up. “What type did you get, may I ask?”

Percy was being very polite, so Spike stayed quiet, and let them talk, but he was keeping a close eye on that one. If he showed one speck of disrespect for Tara or her powers, he’d find himself on the other side of the front door with a boot print the size of Spike’s foot on his bloody arse.

Xander pulled a blue bag out of his pocket and passed around the hunk of off white stone he pulled out of it. “Tara called it a Drusy quartz.”

Giles barely glanced at it. He kept his eyes on Glinda as Junior rattled on about the stone’s supposed virtues. Spike watched Giles carefully. His face was rather blank, but Spike could tell there was something brewing in his head. Finally he spoke, breaking into Junior’s monologue, speaking right over him.

“Did you get this at the Magic Box, Tara?”

Glinda nodded. “I went by this morning before the shop opened.”

Giles shook his head, sorrowfully. “Are you the one who found the owner, then?”

Everyone looked around at that question. It had a bad sound to it.

“Mr. Bogarty.” Tara nodded, her head down, letting her hair cover her eyes. “Yes, I found him.”

“What happened?” Spike could feel the despair coming off her in waves. “Glinda?”

“Are you all right, Tara? What’s going on?”

“The owner of the Magic Box was killed in his shop last night,” Giles said. “The papers didn’t say how.”

Tara looked up. There were tears in her eyes, but her voice was composed.
“Vampires. It wuh-was vampires. There were several buh-bites. I was quite surprised, because Mr. Bogarty had ku-kept the store longer than any other owner in years. Drusilla always kept truh-trouble away from the shop. She liked him, because he fawned over her, and let her take whatever she wanted.”

“That’s not the only reason demons left the store alone.” Spike paused. It hurt to talk about Dru, but Tara needed to know, especially if she intended to continue working there after the store was reopened. “I’m pretty sure Dru was grooming you.”

“Grooming?” Giles asked sharply. “You mean as in preparation for turning her?”

Tara gasped, she obviously hadn’t expected that.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure she had you in mind as her next childe, Glinda. There’s no other reason I can think of that she’d treat you the way she did.”

“You mean like the way she had Clem get a chair for Tara, and water, even while she was holding you hostage?” Xander asked.

“When did she do that?” Giles looked around the table, puzzled.

“You were passed out at the time, G-Man.”

Spike noted that Watcher, Sr. was too distracted to even note Xander’s use of his least favorite nickname. Watcher, Jr. simply tried to keep up with the conversation, blinking frequently as they changed directions more often than he could keep up with.

Spike could tell this was disturbing to Tara, but he had even more to say.

“Sorry to throw all this at you, Glinda. I just thought you should know, in case Dru mentioned you to other vamps. Someone who wasn’t worried about Dru’s reprisal was at the store last night, and that’s the night you usually work, right?”

Xander had told him earlier today that she’d asked her boss for the night off to help Xander rescue Spike. Glinda turned even paler than she’d already been, as the truth of the danger she was in hit her full force. She clutched at the talisman at her neck. Spike hoped it was one for protection.

“Either Dru sent them to pick you up, or some other vamp is making a play for the title of Master. A talented natural witch like you would be a real boon to a vamp who wanted to rule this town.”

Xander was on his knees beside her chair before the first tears fell. Spike grabbed the paper towels on the counter and joined them on Tara’s other side. Humans got awfully messy when they cried. He’d likely terrified her, but he knew that holding the truth back could get her killed. She was too much like Xander where it counted, though. He was sure she’d be even more upset to realize that she was very likely the reason another person had been killed. They held on to her, and each other, as she cried.

It was practically dawn before Spike and Xander saw the last of them off. They’d offered Glinda a room at the lair, but Giles and Kendra had insisted she stay with them. She promised that she’d call if she needed anything, that was the best they could do for now. Xander wrapped himself around Spike from behind as they waved goodbye to Kendra and Tara, and they both sighed with relief.

“Alone at last,” Xander said, stifling a yawn.

Spike turned around in his grasp, hugging Xander to him.

“C’mon, Hercules. Let’s go to bed.”

They were asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows.

Chapter Text

Spike woke to the scent of warm blood. Cracking his eyes open, the first thing he saw was Xander, waving the mug he had declared The Blood Mug near Spike’s nose. Xander was fresh out of the shower, with only a towel around his waist, and Spike found that even more appealing than the blood, but since Xander was sipping steaming hot coffee out of the mug in his other hand, Spike couldn’t see dragging him down across the bed until after both mugs had been set down.

He was disappointed about the shower. Spike had felt Xander get out of bed earlier, but had figured he’d come back to bed after he’d relieved himself. Spike had planned to suggest a shower for two, but that was no longer an option. Well, he might still be able to work it in; he’d just have to make sure they got good and dirty, first.

“Breakfast in bed, pet?” He stretched, letting the sheet slip down his bare ribs to reveal a slice of hipbone and a hint of the treasure trail that led Xander’s eyes down to what remained hidden.

“Oh, ummm…” Herc brought his focus back up to Spike’s face. “Uh, yeah.”

Herc was blushing, which made it hard for Spike to keep his composure. He was about ready to throw the man down and ravage him, but he thought it might be too soon for something like that. He’d have to work his way up to that scenario, no matter how appealing it might seem at the moment.

“Kendra and Faith are coming over later, so I thought this might be a good time to ummm… You know.”

Who’d have known that a blush could spread so far down a man’s chest like that? Spike smiled his sexiest smile, and egged Xander on. “You know…?”

Herc rolled his eyes and sighed exasperatedly. “You know exactly what I’m talking about, Spike, so stop being so… coy, and drink your blood so we can maybe get a little further than a make-out session before they show up, okay?”

Spike sat up and leaned against the headboard. It would be best to take care of breakfast quickly, if Herc was in the mood. He’d been intentionally taking it slow, letting Xander take the lead to ease him into things, but if Herc was in a hurry for more, Spike was glad to oblige. He couldn’t let an opportunity like this one go, though – he had to poke that sore tooth every chance he got. It was just in his nature.

“I don’t know, Herc. I bet that Faith bint would be glad to watch. We could probably even charge admission.”

Xander shuddered as he handed over Spike’s mug. “No, thank you. I know it wasn’t this Faith that I had sex with, but I have no interest in reliving anything even similar to that disaster.”

Spike eyed Xander as he sat on the edge of the bed and sipped his coffee. “It was that bad an experience?”

“Well, not at the time, I guess. But it was my first time with a girl. I was nervous, she was very controling. Basically, she just threw me down on the bed and hopped on board.”

Spike fought down a growl. He didn’t like to think of anyone mistreating his Herc that way.

“I didn’t last very long, but then she was in a hurry, herself. Then she threw me out, clothes in hand. I had to get dressed in the parking lot.” Xander shook his head, grinning. “It would be a different story, now, I’m sure. After six months with Anya, I know much more about pleasing a woman, and my staying power has increased considerably.”

Spike’s growl almost got away from him, and he suppressed it with difficulty. Fortunately, he caught it early enough that Herc didn’t notice. He’d have to watch that. Some people didn’t like that kind of jealousy.

“But that’s not what I’m interested in these days. She’s hot, don’t get me wrong, but…” Herc shrugged, “I’d rather be with you.”

The blush was darker than ever, and Spike took the credit for that. “Of course you would, Herc.” Spike trailed the fingers of one hand up his own washboard abs, to brush across one nipple, and smiled at the burst of pheromones he was hit with. “Well, drink up, mate, we’ve got better things to do!”

There was a spike of adrenaline in the air, indicating Xander’s nervousness, now that the subject had been officially acknowledged. Spike understood the reasons behind it, but he had no intentions of letting Xander’s first experience with another man go the way his first one with a woman had. He planned for there to be more than just the once, so that meant a different game plan than that Slayer had pulled on Xander.

Xander took a big gulp of his coffee.

“Careful, Herc! Don’t burn that tongue of yours; I’ve got plans for it.”

Xander snorted laughter into his coffee mug. There. Just a word or two from Spike, and the tension was broken. The nervousness started to fade, replaced by the heady aroma of lust. That was much more like it.

Spike finished up his blood first thing, and stole a sip of Xander’s coffee to wash it down with. Nothing like blood breath to kill the mood. The coffee snitching led to a game of push and shove, which escalated into a one-sided pillow fight. Spike considered himself above smacking someone around with a pillow, but he had no problems with dragging the poor fool who wasn’t above it across the bed to be tickled within an inch of his life - or at least his funny bone.

Laughter took care of the last of the nervousness, and with the two of them rolling around on the bed, they quickly progressed to kissing. As soon as Xander was back on his feet, so to speak, and comfortable with a bit of a snog, they began to move in the right direction. Their make-out sessions of the last few days had gradually gotten farther and farther along, and this time it didn’t take long before the two were writhing all over each other, humping and gasping for breath.

That wasn’t where Spike wanted this to go, though. At least, not that quickly, any road. So he pulled back a bit, and slowed things down, kissing and licking Xander’s neck, biting gently with dull, human teeth, and sucking on his Adam's apple. Xander shuddered.

“That really shouldn’t feel as erotic as it does.” Herc swallowed, thrusting his chin up into the air to give Spike more room to work. “I mean, a vampire sucking on my neck ought to cause all kinds of emotions in me, but none of them should be able to be summed up with the words, ‘Oh, yes. More, please?’”

Spike bit him directly over the jugular, exciting a deep, out of control, breath out of him.

“If you know what I mean,” Xander gasped.

Spike thought he might just know, at that. He liked the gasps and wheezes he was already getting, but Spike thought he could do better, so he moved a little lower, and sucked a line of kisses along Xander’s collarbone. When he got his hands in on the action, and thumbed across Xander’s nipples, Spike found his next target. Those were some very sensitive nipples, if the way Xan jumped and cursed was any indication.

Xander tried to pull Spike back up toward his face, whining when Spike proved to be the immovable object that he always claimed he was. “I want to kiss you,” he complained. “Come here.”

Spike shook his head, making the line he was running down the middle of Xander’s chest zigzag. “Oh, no. Not this time. I’ve let you run the show so far, but now it’s my turn to explore, so just lay back and take it, like a good little boy.”

Xander laughed, deep in his chest, and bucked his hips, rubbing his rather significant hard-on against Spike’s stomach. “Who’re you calling ‘little’?”

Spike joined in on the laughter. “Okay, I’ll admit it. There’s not much of anything little in that handsome club of yours. It’s still my turn to enjoy you, the way you’ve enjoyed me for the last several days. So hush, and let me get back to my appreciation of your fine specimen of a body, all right?”

“You’re going drive me crazy, Spike.”

“Good. I’d hate to be the only one in the neighborhood. Now hush.”

And he did. To an extent. As much as anyone could hush with a very determined someone seeking out all his hidden spaces, mapping out all the valleys and plateaus, the cliffs and peaks, and crevices of his body. If that very determined someone was a vampire, with a vampire’s very considerable oral fixation, there was only so much you could do about keeping quiet. Fortunately, all Spike wanted him to stop was his arguing, he had no problem with the variety of other noises Xander was prone to when someone was blowing his mind.

Spike took his time. He sucked on the soft skin in the crease of Xander’s elbows, bit the curve on the arch of his foot, and traced, with his tongue, the treasure trail that led from his navel down into the springy curls at the base of his cock. Of course, he gave the cock itself a miss, skimming along the line between thigh and abdomen, and laughing at the expected curses that move inspired. He kept moving up and down, never sticking with anything predictable, so Herc couldn’t tell where he’d go next, although he couldn’t help but find his way back to Xander’s mouth on a regular basis. The man was a damn good snogger.

Spike spent a lot of time on Xander’s nipples, pinching and sucking and nibbling, and enjoying the way he squirmed and pleaded for a relief Spike had no intention of offering just yet. He was ready to smack Herc’s hand down when he found it headed for that magnificent specimen of a cock, but Herc merely went for the base, holding it tight in an effort to cut off his imminent orgasm. Spike allowed that move, praising him for his foresight, and admiring how sensitive Xander’s nipples were. He added ‘bring Xander to orgasm by merely stimulating his nipples’ to his list of things he wanted to accomplish in the near future.

Herc was an absolute wreck by the time Spike started sucking on his balls, having reluctantly decided that Xander wouldn’t last if he went the route he’d originally intended and added rimming to the mix. He’d just have to add that one to his list, instead. Xander’s stomach was a sticky mess from the constant stream of precome, but that was fine with Spike. He swirled his tongue around in it, licking it up, but allowing the red, almost painful looking cock nothing but a few brief brushes.

Herc’s constant stream of curses and pleading cries were music to Spike’s ears, but it came as a bit of a surprise when he focused on his own need for a moment and realized that he was in almost as bad a shape. Xander smelled so delicious, so needy and hungry for completion that Spike finally relinquished his hold on Xander’s demands for orgasm. He moved up, slowly lowering his body onto Xander’s and let their cocks meet, rubbing against each other and making them both gasp for air.

He flexed his body, and Xander’s hips came up to keep the movement going, writhing against Spike and moaning with relief as his cock finally got some much needed attention. Then Spike took his mouth in a steamy kiss, and Xander wrapped his legs around Spike’s thighs, holding him in place, not giving him a chance to slip away this time. No problem though, Spike was through with his map, he’d tuck it away for next time; for now, he had other things on his mind.

Spike lifted up onto his elbows to get a proper grip and still be able to kiss those swollen lips, and started to grind his hips, working their cocks together as their slick bodies ratcheted the heat up another notch. Even through their joined mouths, Xander made his needs known, moaning and crying as he bucked and gyrated. If Spike had been a mortal, he’d have lost his grip on Xander more than once, and it was yet another reminder of exactly how much strength Xander had these days.

He clutched at Spike’s shoulders, and scratched his nails across Spike’s back, sending deep shudders down his spine. Every time they came up for air, Herc would bite into the muscles of Spike’s shoulder or suck on his neck, and Spike had to admit that he certainly knew how to get a vampire going.

Spike could feel his orgasm rising in him, and from the way Xander was shouting, he was in the same position. Spike spread his knees to get a better grip, forced Xander’s legs farther apart, and strained his muscles for one final effort, pushing them both across the mattress with every thrust. Xander came first, shouting Spike’s name, his head thrown back, eyes closed. He looked good that way, and Spike tacked another item to the bottom of his list: find as many ways as possible to bring that look of total abandon to Xander’s face.

Then it was too late to think of anything except coming, and when Xander scratched his nails up the sensitive skin of Spike’s sides, even that was forgotten in the white-noise rush of one hell of a powerful orgasm.

Spike wasn’t sure how he’d managed to keep up on his elbows and not crush Xander, but his arms were shaking as he slowly listed to one side and flopped onto his back. He lay there listening to Xander’s gasps die down, and when he was breathing close to calmly again, Spike leaned over and kissed Xander one last time, a sweet kiss that he relished just as much as he did all the others combined.

Unfortunately, he knew it would be the last for now, because once Herc knew who was standing in the doorway, breathing just as heavy as he had a few minutes earlier, Spike wasn’t likely to get any more kisses for a while. He was actually surprised they’d got the time for that one last kiss, knowing her.

“Wow.” It was a deep-throated sound and the scent of her arousal was thick in the air.

Xander sat up, wild eyed and panicked, pulling the sheet over him as he shouted. “Faith! What the hell are you doing here?”

He held the sheet clutched against his chest like some heroine in a bodice ripper, not realizing that he was revealing a fair amount down below. Then he looked down and squeaked – squeaked! – dropping the sheet into his lap to cover up what was left of his manly pride.

The Slayer laughed so hard she was crying, but by the time Herc stopped repeating “Get, get! Get – get out!” she was calm enough to speak.

“Hey Hercules, you got nothing to be ashamed of! I can’t believe I didn’t keep you around for more than one ride. The Faith in your world must have been a real idiot to dump you!”

Spike slid off the bed, and used the towel Herc had abandoned some time ago to wipe his stomach and legs dry before tossing the towel to Xander. He pulled a pair of jeans on, and turned back to Herc.

“Go ahead to the shower, pet. I’ll get these bints settled and join you in a mo, right?” Head turned away from Faith, Spike winked, and Herc blushed, yet again. At least he nodded as he did so, which hopefully meant the door would be unlocked when Spike got to the bathroom.

“Oh, hey! Can I come with?” the Slayer asked, with extra emphasis on the come. She twitched her body in a way that Spike might have found appealing if he wasn’t already settled on someone else. He was a one person vamp; he wasn’t likely to stray, especially not for the likes of this one.

He was already shaking his head no when Xander shouted after them, finger pointed at the Slayer in warning, “Don’t you dare touch him!”

Spike turned around, surprised at the way those simple words warmed him up from the inside. It felt good to be on the receiving end of that kind of attention. He smiled at Xander, feeling silly about how pleased those words made him.

The Slayer shook her head sorrowfully as she walked away. “Your loss, guys.”

Xander clambered off the bed, sheet trailing behind him as he walked up to Spike. He smiled his bashful boy smile, then kissed Spike softly on the lips before turning away and scampering off to the bathroom.

Right before he stepped inside, Herc turned back for one more look. “Don’t take too long, okay?”

Spike flashed Xander his sexiest smile, and promised, “Don’t you worry. You can’t get away from me that easy.”

As he closed the door, Spike heard Xander whisper, “I’m counting on it.”

Chapter Text

The first Xander knew of Spike’s presence in the shower was a pair of cool hands sliding around his waist, and a hard cock pushing between his legs as Spike pressed himself against Xander’s ass.

“Spike!” His voice was kind of muffled, but since Xander’s head was under water at the time, he figured that was understandable.

“Good guess, that. But don’t worry; I left the Slayers in the gym with clear orders not to come near the bathroom for at least half an hour.”

Xander snorted, “Yeah, right. Like Faith ever listened to anyone who gave her orders.” With Spike playing with Xander’s nipples with one hand, and exploring his cock and balls with the other, Xander found it difficult to focus on such simple tasks as rinsing the shampoo out of his hair, and carrying on a coherent conversation.

“Ummm… Oh, right. No, chances are, Faith is, uh – outside that door right now…”

Spike chuckled. “Now don’t you worry about that.”

Xander stood up, pushing his wet hair out of his face, and leaned back against Spike’s chest. “Why not?”

“I’ve got Foxy Brown on guard duty. She promised to keep Miss Nosy Parker away from this end of the house.”

Spike kissed the back of Xander’s neck, pressing their bodies tightly together, and Xander shuddered as Spike’s breath chilled the moisture there. Spike’s hard cock slid around Xander’s balls, and their hips rolled with the same rhythm Spike was using on Xander’s cock. Xander started to tell Spike he didn’t trust Faith, even with Kendra watching her, but Spike chose that moment to spin Xander around, and push him against the cool tiles of the shower wall. He attacked Xander’s mouth with another of those breath-stealing kisses that blew his mind, and Xander totally forgot what he wanted to say.

Spike’s hand was back on his cock, and Xander was surprised to note that it hadn’t taken long to get hard again, even after an orgasm as powerful as his last one. Maybe it was because their relationship was so new, or perhaps being a Super Hero came with perks he hadn’t yet discovered. But in the long run what mattered was the hand on his cock, and Spike’s cock rubbing insistently against his hip.

He took his time with the kiss, wrapping his arms around Spike and holding on tight, but eventually, Xander realized there were more important things he could be doing with his hands, so he started to explore. Spike’s nipples weren’t as sensitive as Xander’s were; he needed a heavier touch before he started to react to Xander’s explorations. But once he found the right combination of twisting and tugging, Spike released his mouth in order to let out a round of rather inventive cursing, jerking his hips and gasping for air he didn’t actually need.

Feeling brave and adventurous, Xander slid one hand down until he could feel Spike’s cock where it was pressed up against his hip. Spike’s cursing got heavier, and he pulled back to give Xander more room to play.

“You want to touch me, do you?” Spike asked as Xander ran his fingers over the tip of his cock, pulling the foreskin back from the partially exposed head, so he could explore. It was obviously hard for Spike to keep still, his hips kept pushing his cock into Xander’s hand, and his breathing got heavier, and more ragged as his cock hardened.

“Don’t tease, love,” he whispered into Xander’s ear. “I need…” he gasped, “I need more…”

So that’s what Xander gave him. He grabbed the shaft of Spike’s cock and started to jerk him off, squeezing rhythmically, tighter than he would have grasped his own. But he was obviously on the right track, because Spike seemed to have lost his language, moaning and gasping raggedly. He’d love to take his time and explore Spike’s cock at leisure, but with two Slayers in the house, he felt the need to hurry. Even if they were currently on the other side of the mansion, Xander had no interest in giving either a chance to play the voyeur. Some things were not meant to be shared.

He’d practically forgotten about his own cock until Spike started moving his fist again, squeezing and jerking just as fast as Xander. Then Spike adjusted his stance, so their cocks were right there next to each other, and Spike wrapped his hands around not only both cocks, but Xander’s hand as well. Xander’s knees started to buckle, and he struggled to stay on his feet, biting his lip to keep his moans to himself, just in case Faith managed to give Kendra the slip. He had no intention of giving her another show, but the way Spike’s cock felt, sliding against Xander’s, slick with hot water and precome, made it difficult to keep his cries to himself.

Spike kissed him as their combined hands moved rapidly over their cocks, and Xander discovered that multi-tasking was much easier when he had help. Even so, he finally had to tear his mouth away from Spike’s in order to breathe, and he hardly noticed when his head rapped sharply against the tiles. He was too busy trembling and moaning to pay attention to minor inconveniences like bruised heads and broken skulls. Spike took that bare expanse of throat as an invitation, and started sucking on his neck, and Xander had to laugh at the thought of a vamp with a neck fetish. He wondered if it was possible to be a human with a vamp fetish, ‘cause he had the feeling that he was halfway there, already.

Spike’s hands were moving even faster, now, and Xander felt his orgasm building inside him, tingling as it rushed like wildfire through his body. He couldn’t help himself, his gasps and pleas for more rose in volume the closer he came to completion. He muffled his final shout against Spike’s skin, biting into the curve between shoulder and neck. Spike’s whole body jerked as Xander bit down hard enough to break the skin. Spike shuddered through his orgasm, not even trying to be quiet about it, and Xander would have rolled his eyes at Spike’s refusal to spare Xander even a little embarrassment, if he’d had that much energy to spare.

They held onto each other in an effort to stay vertical instead of sliding down to the bottom of the tub. Xander wasn’t happy at the thought that he’d need to get dressed now, instead of falling back into bed for a post-sex nap. It was damned inconsiderate of Kendra and Faith to not take into consideration his and Spike’s need for lots of hot sex, and plenty of recuperation time. Xander got the idea that Spike agreed, if his heavy sigh was anything to go by. He aimed the shower head in their direction, washing away all signs of their recent activities.

“Come on, Herc. The Watchers will be getting antsy if we stay in here any longer.”

“The Watchers?” Xander asked, outraged that Spike might have “forgotten” to tell him that they had more than just the two Slayers in the house. “And you didn’t think to tell me that Giles and Wesley were here?”

“Oops?” Spike shrugged his shoulders, turned off the water, and stepped out of the shower. “I didn’t want to upset you unduly.”

Xander took the towel Spike threw at him, and started drying off. “Unduly? Try: you didn’t want to tell me, ‘cause you knew I’d never have sex in the shower with Giles in the house.”

Spike nodded. “That might have had something to do with it. Yeah. But at least I told them to stay away from this end of the house, right?”

“Oh yeah, that’s such a relief,” Xander complained. “Now they know exactly what we were doing in the shower. Because before they might have thought we actually needed to take a shower or something, but now they’ll have no doubts that we were having hot naked sex while they sat in our living room!”

Spike shoved Xander up against the back of the door smiling wickedly. “It was hot, wasn’t it?”

Xander licked his lips, and took a deep breath as he thought of the way their bodies seemed to fit together so perfectly. “Oh, yeah. It was definitely hot.”

“Glad you thought so, Xander,” he said, as he closed in for a quick kiss. “I’d hate to be the only one who did.”

They shared another kiss, deeper and hotter this time, and Xander got lost in it for a while, before reluctantly breaking away. If they kept that up, he’d need a third shower before they made it out of the bathroom to find out why they needed two Watchers along for a simple patrol.

Ten minutes later, Xander was even more confused to discover Tara and Clem sitting on their couch, as well. But at least there was coffee. Everything was always easier to understand with coffee. Then Clem told them what he’d discovered this morning, and it all began to make sense.

According to Clem, everyone was talking about the new “Master of the Hellmouth.” Obviously, the other demons had deserted ship when they figured out that Drusilla and Puffy Spike were no longer around, and half of the vamps went with them. That left approximately twenty to twenty-five vamps holed up in the mansion on Crawford Street, under the command of “the vamp with all the keys.” Clem was pretty sure that was the Majordomo, who he’d met when he’d been held captive by Dru and Puffy. Spike agreed with Clem, he’d obviously run up against this guy while he was there, as well.

As much as it was clear that Spike hated to agree with the Watchers, it looked like everyone thought this was the perfect opportunity to get rid of what was left of Puffy’s court, and close down the mansion on Crawford Street for good. Giles and Wesley had spent the afternoon with Tara, working out a series of spells that could be used to hunt down the demons still in the mansion. They’d also researched ways to lock it up tight, once they were sure they’d cleaned out the last of the vamps, to ensure that it could never be used by demons again.

They wanted Xander to join them, and he was happy to be included. The Watchers weren’t at all pleased about Xander inviting Spike along. Kendra and Xander argued that since the vamps would be sealed inside the mansion until they were all dusted, none of them would be able to spread the word about Spike still being alive, or undead, as the case may be. Xander made it clear that if they wanted his help, they’d need to include Spike in the invitation. Giles, in particular, was not happy, and gave Spike more than one nasty death glare, which Spike returned in kind.

Spike made noises about not being interested in helping a bunch of Watchers and Slayers commit “vampicide,” as he called it. But he agreed to go along once Xander spoke to him privately, and admitted that he’d feel more comfortable with Spike watching his back. Xander suspected that Spike had his own reasons for coming along, and was just playing hard to get on principle. He’d keep a close eye on Spike, just in case. He may be in a relationship with him, but that didn’t mean he trusted Spike when Giles and Wesley were involved. For that matter, he wasn’t really sure he trusted Giles and Wesley where Spike was involved, either. He’d have to talk to Kendra, she’d make sure they toed the line.

By then, it was almost nightfall, and everyone scurried around, making last minute preparations before they headed out. As he walked down the hallway toward his bedroom, a hand reached out and snagged Xander’s arm, pulling him into an unused room. Xander laughed as Spike trapped him up against a wall, and kissed him hard.

“I don’t like the way Giles and Wesley have been staring at you, Spike. Maybe you should stay here, instead.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine, mate. They know we’ll be moving along soon, they won’t try anything that would upset Foxy Brown or Glinda. Don’t you worry about me, you just take care of yourself, all right? I’ve got plans for you after this is over, and they don’t include spending all night patching you up, so watch yourself, and listen to Death Song and Buddy, yeah?”

Xander couldn’t help the grin he felt stealing over his face at the evidence of Spike’s concern. “Don’t worry, between you, me and Death Song, those vamps don’t stand a chance.”

Chapter Text

“Come back here, you bloody coward!”

Spike chased the minion down the dark, twisting corridors that plagued the basement of Puffy’s mansion. He wasn’t particularly concerned if he managed to catch her or not. If he didn’t get her, Xander would. Tara and Clem had been through this section already, the big, red dots of chalk on all the doors proclaiming that each room had been cleared and sealed. There hadn’t been a lot of minions down in the basement, and there were only a few corridors left to clear out before they could head upstairs and join in on the real fun.

The sound of a minion imploding as it turns to dust isn’t especially loud. If a vampire’s wasn’t paying attention, he might miss it. But the triumphant chortle that followed could only belong to his Xander. Spike rounded the corner, and his lover’s bright smile came close to blinding him. It was amazing how content Spike was these days, even being trapped in another dimension didn’t faze him, anymore. He had a comfortable lair, friends who not only understood his need for occasional bloody violence, but often even shared it, and best of all, a handsome, extremely athletic, young man in his bed. And truckloads of money, of course. He had that, too. What more could a vamp want?

As Spike walked past, Herc snagged him by the waist, and threw him up against the nearest wall. Spike hid his smirk; in some things, Herc was extremely predictable. They kissed passionately, Xander’s knee slipping between Spike’s thighs as the kiss wound them tighter and tighter together.

The sound of Tara clearing her throat was clear as a bell, but he was too busy to care, as wrapped up as he was in his boy. He’d heard her coming down the hall, along with Clem, but those two could move on to the next aisle without them. He and Xander’d catch up after they’d spent some time in one of these empty rooms.

The cough was a little harder to miss, and he took one hand off Xander’s shapely arse to offer the two of them the bowman’s salute. The two giggled for a moment, after Clem explained it to her, of course.

The next cough was unmistakable, even to Xander, who pulled back, his eyes focusing slowly as he asked, “That is Tara behind us, isn’t it?”

Spike nodded. “Yeah, her and old Chewbacca.”

“How long have they been there? Or, wait. Do I want to know?”

“Probably not.”

“Spike!” Xander said, indignantly.

“What?”

Herc sighed. Spike smiled his sexiest smile at him, but Herc rolled his eyes and turned away, holding his stake in front of his sizable erection in a vain attempt at redirection.

“Um… Hey.”

“Sorry, guys.” Tara didn’t look one bit sorry. “It’s time for the last push. There are only a few doors left, but there are demons behind some of them, so we definitely need you.”

Spike growled softly at her. She arched one eyebrow at him, and he remembered what it was like to be held frozen as he floated six feet off the ground, and felt the need to be nice, as uncomfortable, and against his nature as it might be. “Sorry, love, but things were just warming up, here.”

“Don’t worry, Spike.” Clem patted him on the shoulder. “There will be plenty of minions to fight once you make it upstairs, you’ll like that.”

Spike motioned for Tara to go on ahead with a sweep of his arm, and the group moved forward.

“Let’s hope they’re more of a challenge than the rest have been.”

“From your mouth to God’s ears,” Clem warned.

“Which god?” Tara asked with a teasing smile.

“Or would that be goddess?” Xander couldn’t resist the opportunity to jump in. Spike resolved to pick his words more carefully in future; this lot was barmy, each and every one of them.

It hadn’t taken long to clear out the last of the rabble. They’d discovered why the minions were all gathered in one corner: that was where the vault was located. It’s uncertain if they were trying to break into it, or protect it, but they fought viciously, which was fine with Spike.

It had been a bloody good fight, and Spike had got a chance to watch his boy in action, something he loved to do. Hercules was turning into quite a fierce fighter, and it was all Spike could do to not grab him and throw him down over the closest table, and have him then and there. Unfortunately, Xander would probably have objected to that, so he stepped back into the fight and thought about what would happen once they got back to their lair.

In an effort to avoid jumping Xander, Spike tried to focus his mind on other things. His fingers itched with the need to pit himself against that vault, but if Spike could break it, that meant Puffy probably could too. More likely than not, Dru had used Puffy Spike’s abilities as the base for any spells and traps she’d built around it, which meant he’d need Glinda to neutralize the magic before he tried anything. He’d have to wait until later.

Now that the basement had been cleared out, Spike and Xander were expected upstairs. Tara needed some time to relax and recover some of the energy she’d already expended, before she finished sealing the mansion. So she and Clem picked out a room with a nice, comfy couch in it, and Tara promised to seal the door, locking them in before she lay down. Clem and his axe were probably overkill; an interloper would be hard put to make it through her barriers, let alone face the powerful witch inside once he’d done so. For the most part, Clem’s main job was to make them both feel better.

During the planning stages, Clem had been distressed with their willingness to leave Tara sleeping in a light trance, without backup. Shockingly enough, he volunteered to accompany them to the mansion, helping Glinda while she took care of the doors, sealing up the rooms. He was the official Red Dotter, but his main job was guarding Glinda. She thanked him for his concern, and admitted that she’d feel better knowing he was there. It also meant Spike and Xander had to worry less about her, and could concentrate on driving the vamps out of hiding. It worked out all around, and Spike had pulled Clem aside and praised him for his bravery.

When they got upstairs, Spike wasn’t at all surprised to hear that all they’d run across so far, were vamps. Most other demons were far too smart to stick around once the Master of the Hellmouth was gone. The softer-hearted among the slayers’ group had all expressed concern at the seemingly hard-hearted, methodical manner with which they planned to eradicate the vamps. They quickly came around when confronted with the actual vampires, who had absolutely no remorse or regret at treating humans like cattle. The only reason they hadn’t collected humans for a stable in the past was that Dru had forbidden it. She’d always found stables dirty, and more trouble than they were worth, so Spike had never kept them.

But with Dru gone, they found a large bathroom down near the kitchen with half a dozen humans shoved in it, more than likely the beginnings of a stable. They also found the occasional human, cowering in a closet or hidden away in a bathroom. After they were freed, whichever Watcher was closest took them down to the first floor and settled them in the main kitchen, where the shutters had been opened wide, so the wash of late afternoon sunlight could flood the room. That made both Kendra and Xander feel better.

Spike rolled his eyes. “If you want to be demon hunters, people, you’re going to have to kill a few demons,” he declared. Miss Nosy Parker agreed, but when Spike pointed that out, all Xander did was change the subject.

“Don’t call her that, Spike.”

“Why not? It’s her name. She already answers to it.”

“Answers to it?” Xander echoed. “That makes her sound like she’s a dog. She’s not a dog.”

Down the corridor, Faith closed a closet door and replied with a “Woof, woof!”

“See? She doesn’t have a problem with it, so why should you?”

“I don’t know, it just bothers me.”

Giles joined their conversation. “It bothers you because it reminds you of the fact that Faith watched you copulate.”

Xander closed his eyes and grimaced in consternation. “Yeah, that would be it.”

“Just for a bit.” Spike tried to reassure him. “She hardly saw anything but our last kiss.”

“Which was damned hot.” The Slayer walked out of the last room on the opposite side of the hall. “Hot enough that I’d pay well for the whole show, guys. I mean - big bucks.”

“Shut up, Faith,” Xander said, sheathing his sword so he could cover his face in embarrassment.

“There, you see? Putting her nose in where it doesn’t belong,” Spike pointed out. “Nosy Parker.”

“Vampires,” she exclaimed, rolling her eyes.

“Slayers,” Xander responded, throwing his hands up in the air.

“Vampire,” Giles nodded his head in Spike’s direction.

“Watcher,” Spike replied, surprised that Giles was willing to join in on the playful attitude they’d all been sharing.

“No,” Giles said, raising his crossbow, “I mean the one behind you.”

Spike had time to duck, but he chose not to. He was almost certain Giles wouldn’t take this opportunity to ‘accidentally’ rid himself of Spike. But if he decided to try, no matter how good a shot Giles was, Spike was pretty bloody sure that with his reflexes, he could avoid a permanent death without throwing himself to the floor and destroying his dignity. When you were in the presence of foes, it’s well to remember: it’s all about saving face.

He heard Xander’s gasp as the bolt left the Watcher’s bow, but Spike kept his eyes on the bolt, just in case. It came very close, there was less than an inch of clearance between his arm and the trajectory of the bolt. But that meant it was a good five or six inches from Spike’s heart. He heard the bolt enter the chest of the vamp behind him, and the implosion as the unfortunate vamp turned to dust.

Spike cocked one eye and nodded at the Watcher. “Good shot.”

Rupert tipped his head, acknowledging the compliment. “Thank you.”

“Giles! That was…” Hercules was close to being speechless, proving exactly how badly this had distressed him. “Oh, I – You - I mean… You saved Spike’s life!”

Xander’s bumbling boy exuberance was over the top, but that was his Herc for you. Spike supposed he could understand, after all, the Watcher was Xander’s father figure, and Xander had hated not being able to trust him around Spike.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Xander,” Giles replied. “He’s a vampire, he has no life.”

“Oi! No need to be rude.”

Xander pulled Spike into a hug. “I saw your unlife flash before my eyes.”

Spike hugged him back for a moment, then pulled away, unwilling to make a fuss in front of the Watcher and Nosy Parker, despite the tiny teardrop hanging to one of Xander’s eyelashes. “Don’t worry, I’m fine.” Xander nodded, misty eyed, and hugged him once again.

“Now, c’mon, we’ve just got this one room left, and this floor is clear. Let’s get this over with, shall we? We’ve got better things to do.”

After that incident, it was all over bar the shouting. Well, that and the bloody awful stink.

Xander was the one to find the decomposing body, and he stumbled backwards, choking and gagging. Spike was in the room in a second, and pulled him out of the doorway, slamming the door shut behind them to try and keep as much of the overpowering stink inside as possible. He was glad that he didn’t need to breathe, the odor was repulsive.

They made it as far as the door before Spike went back for the rubbish bin, just in time for Xander to hurl into it. After he’d settled a bit, Spike pulled a bottle of water from his duster, and Herc swished his mouth out a few times before taking a sip or two. He shoved the bin away from him, and Spike took it, setting it down near the door in easy reach, just in case he wasn’t through. Xander leaned up against Spike, and he rubbed his boy’s back in sympathy.

Xander was still a bit pale and shaky when Wesley stopped in front of them. “Is this room clear?”

Spike shook his head, “Nah, not yet.”

“Then why are you sitting down? I need to seal it, we’re running behind. We don’t have time for laying about.”

Spike waved to the door. “Go right ahead. We’ll be right here when you’re done.”

He frowned down at them, pulled his sword, and stepped inside.

“Don’t forget to check the bathroom,” Spike called, cheerfully.

He exchanged a grin with Xander.

“That was mean.” Spike noticed that didn’t stop Xander’s grin.

“I didn’t hear you saying no, now did I?”

“Yeah. He pretty much asked for it. He’s been really…” He stopped, at a loss for a description

“Woody?” Spike offered.

“Woody?”

Spike grinned. “As in, ‘stick up the arse.”

“Oh, yeah.” Xander nodded. “He’s been real woody.”

Kendra came down the stairs, and leaned against the wall opposite them. “Have you seen Wesley?”

“You mean Woody?” Spike asked.

She wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “I thought he was Percy.”

Spike smirked at her. “Well, he’s that, too.” Xander looked at him curiously. He was obviously beginning to get the hang of Spike’s names for others. Many people thought they were chosen at random, but they never were. There was always method to his madness.

“Have you seen him, then?”

Right. He’d forgotten the question. Foxy was looking for the berk. “Oh, yeah, yeah. He’ll be here any minute now.”

“All right.” She sat on the floor and studied Xander for a moment. “Are you okay, Xan? You look pale.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”

Herc smiled at her, and Spike felt a moment’s worth of jealously, but he pushed it back. Xander could have chosen her. They’d been close from the beginning - at first due to her love for his doppelganger, and later, as they relaxed with each other, their friendship had blossomed. But Herc didn’t want Foxy. He wanted Spike. It was a relief, not having to worry about jealousy. Xander wasn’t into those games. That suited Spike just fine.

Inside the bedroom a door slammed. All three of them looked up as Wesley came stumbling into the hall. Spike shoved the bin in his direction, and he grabbed it, turning away as he threw up hard enough to toss most of his internal organs.

Kendra started to get up and go to him, but Spike shook his head, and she slumped back down again, staring at Xander, and maybe figuring out a thing or two.

Eventually the gagging stopped, and Wesley set the bin down. He slid down the wall and joined the rest of them on the floor. He looked over at Spike and Xander, and it was obvious that he knew they’d sent him in, knowing what lay inside.

“I suppose I deserved that.” His voice was kind of scratchy, which wasn’t surprising, considering the amount he’d spewed into the waste bin.

Xander nodded. “You really did.”

“My apologies for assuming laziness, when there was obviously more at work of which I was unaware.”

“Apology accepted,” Xander said. He cocked his head at Spike and waved his water bottle in question.

Spike sighed heavily, but pulled out another bottle, rolling it across the floor to bump into Wesley’s leg.

He looked surprised, but took the water gratefully, drinking half of it before capping it again.

“Thank you both.”

Spike nodded to him, and watched Xander do the same out of the corner of his eye.

Kendra looked into the room curiously.

“What’s in there?”

“Bloody hell, no!” “Don’t even!” “Wait!”

The warnings were all so close together that it wasn’t easy to tell them apart.

Foxy jerked back against the wall. “That bad?”

Wesley shuddered.

“The Bog of Eternal Stench levels of bad,” Xander said.

Spike looked over at him, completely lost. “The what?” He’d never heard of such a place, but he had to agree that the description was apt.

Kendra recognized it, so it was obviously something from his past. “That’s bad.”

“So very. And that doesn’t even include the decomposing body.”

Her eyes opened wide, and she looked at the Watcher.

“Are you all right, Wesley?” Foxy got up, and crossed to him, but he didn’t move, he just stared into space. “Wesley?” She looked over at Spike and Xander. “You’ll have to answer to Faith if you broke her Watcher.”

Spike reached out one leg and kicked Wesley’s highly polished shoe with his boot.

Percy jumped and stared up at Foxy. “What? Did you say something?”

“I was just wondering if you needed a hand up?” She held out her hand, and he took it, and let her pull him to his feet.

“Thank you. Are they done upstairs?”

Foxy nodded. “Just about. What about this floor?”

“Only these four rooms on the end left.” Spike answered for him. He jumped up and reached down a hand to Xander. “How about we take one side and you two the other?”

Kendra nodded. “That sounds just fine.”

Xander took his hand, and Spike pulled him up. “Good. It’s time for us to be home.”

“That it is, love. That it is.” They walked to the rooms on the far side, since Percy and Foxy were headed for the nearer ones. “Damn, we won’t get to the vault tonight. I’ll have to break into it tomorrow, or the next day, when Glinda’s had time to get her strength back.”

As they stepped into the nearest bedroom, Spike heard Wesley say. “Did you... I could have sworn Spike said he wanted to break into a vault.”

Chapter Text

Xander sighed as he shifted position. Again. Opening Puffy’s vault was turning out to be rather anticlimactic. At least for Xander. He’d expected traps and fireworks, spells that led them on a merry chase before they finally got to the good stuff. So far, there’d been nothing more to see than Tara mumbling over a bowl of dried herbs mixed with some kind of powder and a faintly acidic liquid, and one tiny, little poof of smoke.

It would have been nice to have Kendra and Faith around tonight. Not because they needed the extra hands, the entire mansion was closed down and magically locked up tight. Clem and Xander were there for back-up, just in case, but they were pretty damn bored. The truth was, Xander had enjoyed getting to know this new Faith, and he hoped he had more time to talk to her before they went home. He’d learned more about his doppelganger and Kendra from Faith in the few days she’d been back than he’d learned from Kendra and Giles in the whole time they’d spent in this version of Sunnydale.

They’d have invited the Slayers along, but they didn’t want to ask them to lie to their own Watchers, and Giles and Welsey couldn’t know about this trip – not yet anyway. Okay, Spike had no problem asking the Slayers to lie, but Tara and Xander said no. It wasn’t fair to ask them to do that. So they’d all agreed not to tell any of them until after the fact. It was possible that Wesley remembered Spike’s mention of the vault from when they’d been cleaning out the mansion two days back, but Xander was pretty sure that Wesley had forgotten Spike’s slip of the tongue. He wouldn’t be surprised, especially considering the rush of excitement that came directly afterwards.

They’d thought that the excitement was all over, and they’d let their guard fall. That had been a bad mistake. Of course, not everyone thought it was that bad - according to Spike it had been a “bit of all right.” Xander wouldn’t put it quite that way. He’d learned his lesson.

Wesley’s squeal and Kendra’s loud shout of “Let him go!” had alerted Spike and Xander to the problem. They’d just about finished their last room check, and they’d run out to see what all the fuss was about. One vamp had Wesley in a headlock, and another was holding a teenage girl, his fingers poised over her throat the way Dru had held Xander earlier in the week. The girl had bites on her neck, and her arms, and even more showed on her thighs where they disappeared under her short skirt. Her clothes were all wrinkled and torn, and she seemed barely alive, her eyes glazed over and her skin pale from shock. He wondered how long the vamps had been holding her.

It was the classic standoff – the vamps knew they had nowhere to go; it was still light outside, although it wouldn’t be for much longer. That seemed to be their game plan. They’d wait until nightfall, their hostages assuring that they’d be left alone, and then, once it turned dark, the Slayers would step aside and let the vamps leave. Xander knew that wasn’t happening, but he wasn’t sure how they were going to stop it.

What had surprised Xander them all was what Spike had told them Wesley was doing. They’d all stood in the hall, watching the vamps through the open door, just in case. They could see Wesley’s lips moving constantly as they waited for night to fall, but he spoke softly, so no one but Spike could hear what he said. Instead of begging for his own life, which was what Xander had expected under those circumstances, Wesley was urging them to set the girl free, saying that they’d be better off without the need to practically carry her; she would surely slow them down. Besides, Wesley added, being a Watcher, he was a much more important hostage, so she was pretty insignificant in the long run.

Faith was not happy that everyone expected her Watcher to be a coward and beg for release. She told them he was a lot stronger than his outer façade indicated, and Xander had to admit, he was impressed. He was even more impressed when the vamps took his advice and left the girl behind when they finally made their move. Most impressive of all was the way Wesley stumbled over a perfectly smooth rug, and the vamp holding him lost her grip as Wesley slipped free and rolled away to safety.

Spike was on her in a second, tossing the vamp toward Faith, who finished her off, but only after a rousing chorus of “This is. What. You. Get for. Touching. My. Watcher!”

Xander had snatched the second vamp back from the action as soon as the first one dropped Wesley, but Spike spun in and staked the bastard before Xander even had the chance to play. The fight was over almost before it began. Talk about anticlimactic. But still, it had been a nerve wracking experience for Wesley, so it was understandable that he might have forgotten about Spike’s slip of the tongue. And that didn’t even take into account the fact that afterwards they headed back to the lair, and for the rest of the night, everyone insisted on getting Wesley another beer every time they went to the fridge. He was pretty well sloshed by the time they poured him into Giles’ car.

So two days later, it was just the four of them at the vault. With Tara mumbling and stirring, and Spike mumbling and watching her stir as he flexed his fingers to get them warmed up, Xander and Clem were pretty much on their own. Fortunately, Clem brought his cards with him wherever he went, so they settled down in the doorway for a rousing game of Go Fish.

Finally, Tara passed the reins over to Spike, who got down to the serious work of cracking a huge ass safe. Spike may have called it a vault, but no matter what he said, Xander knew it was just an overgrown safe with delusions of grandeur. Tara stayed close, making Spike pause often to ensure he hadn’t tripped any booby traps. Spike snarled and reminded her that he wasn’t a booby, but he stood back and let her do her thing, anyway.

Spike insisted they all step back into the farthest corner before he spun the final wheel and the last bolts slid back into the door. He spun the handle until it clicked into place, and pulled on the door. There was a soft ‘whumping’ noise as the vacuum inside the vault was broken, and a sickly green cloud billowed out of the door. Tara had insisted the breathing members of the group all wear blue face masks around their necks, and she pulled up her mask in alarm. Clem and Xander quickly followed suit as Tara pointed at the cloud and spoke a single word.

“Congelo!”

The cloud slowed down to a crawl, but it kept moving, and it was moving in the direction of the ones in the room who required breath, which was not encouraging. Tara started rooting through her bag of witchy supplies.

“Congeal?” Xander guessed.

She laughed as she rummaged, “It means freeze.”

“Do you know what that thing is, Tara? What can we do to help?”

She shook her head, and Xander realized that she didn’t need to be distracted. He stepped back, hoping she’d remember he was there to help if she needed him. Xander hated to feel useless like this. It reminded him of who he’d been only a few months ago, of the loser who’d grown up in a household of losers, where there was nothing you could do that was right. No matter how hard you tried, nothing was ever good enough.

Any time he found himself feeling helpless, Xander’s mind sent him back to his father’s house. The memory of his father drew him in, right before it buried him, bottles of booze clinking against glasses, and empty TV dinner trays vying for space with the Scratchers scattered over the kitchen table, a grungy penny laying on top in testament to how many scratch tickets you had to buy before you struck it rich. Always one more. He’d grown up surrounded by that kind of helplessness, and it had never sat well.

That was why he’d worked so hard to get out of that house. He’d finally found a good job, and he’d started getting somewhere – making a name for himself, and even promotions! He’d found something he was good at. That was a good feeling, and it offered him a chance to start to forget the past.

Then there was The Accident. That’s the way he thought of it, capitalized. Suddenly, he was good at more than construction. He could help, because he was good at slaying, and wasn’t that a kick in the pants? Lately Xander’d grown used to not only being able to help, but being trusted to do his share to help resolve the problems they ran across. It felt good to be useful, it made him feel like finally, he belonged.

But when the problems were witchcraft related, his muscles, and skill with a sword or stake didn’t have much of an impact. Neither did a smart mouth, or an agile tongue, no matter what Anya said about his skills. He firmly resolved to himself that no matter what they wanted back home, he was never going back to the guy he’d been before. He was through with being helpless.

Buddy urged him to stay calm, and Xander realized that he’d been broadcasting his panic to Buddy and Death Song. He apologized, and he sent back his own reassuring vibes, glad that he had them both with him. Buddy could always make him feel better, and Death Song reminded him that he was strong. He’d never be that loser again.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. Have you, Spike?” Clem didn’t give Spike time to answer, he just kept rattling on, his voice slightly muffled by the blue mask. Even as he talked, his eyes slid back to the cloud, then darted away to look in another direction. Then he did it again. It was like he couldn’t stop staring at the cloud. “I mean, my Aunt Lavinia was a witch, and she never did anything like this. Of course she was a good witch, like Tara, so she wouldn’t be likely to make anything that would harm someone. She didn’t approve of violence.”

Tara found the book she’d been looking for, and started paging though, mumbling as she went. She darted a glance up at the cloud, then looked back again, swallowing heavily. Xander was glad he wasn’t the only one unsettle by that thing. His stomach churned every time he looked at it. There he went again. It looked bigger and bigger every time. Or maybe the room was getting smaller. It was hard to tell.

“Aunt Lavinia wasn’t a Wiccan, that’s a human thing, but she said that they had the right idea. As long as you don’t harm anyone, you should be free to do what you want, right? So I figure…”

Spike’s voice broke through Clem’s ramblings. “Clem! Shut up, and let the lady work.”

“Oh! Right. Good idea.” He mimed zipping his lips up, although he didn’t take off the mask to do so. He gave Spike a big thumbs up. Xander was glad he couldn’t see the big grin he knew was on Clem’s face, because he could tell by the way Clem wiped his face, his eyes darting around the room, that his grin was fake.

Spike tried to scoot around the green cloud without touching it. Unfortunately, the cloud seemed to get faster the closer he got to it.”

“Spike, maybe you’d be better off staying where you are.” Xander would prefer Spike was with him, ‘cause he could really use someone to hold him right about now, but he had the idea that the cloud thought Spike was Puffy Spike, and was programmed or whatever they did to clouds in witchcraft, to ignore him, unless he moved in the wrong direction. Maybe it thought it was protecting him.

“Yeah, figured that one out, mate.” He stepped back to where he’d been before, and the cloud slowed back down, but continued its slow journey toward the three on Xander’s side of the room. It was halfway across the room, now.

There was something about that sickly green color that made Xander nervous. Sweat ran down his skin, sending chills up his spine, he was breathing faster -gasping for air, as if there wasn’t enough oxygen in the room. It was getting harder to breathe.

Clem swallowed heavily. “Now might be a good time to do something, Tara. It’s getting closer.”

“I wonder what would happen if…” Xander stepped off to the right a couple of steps, and the cloud split, and part of it followed Xander, the other two thirds staying with Tara and Clem.

“What the hell are you doing, mate?” Spike was not amused. “Get back over there, next to the witch who knows what she’s doing!”

Spike looked at Tara, nervously. “You do know what you’re doing, right Glinda?”

Tara looked up and nodded. “Yes, I know what I’m doing. I just need another minute.” She reached into her bag again, and grabbed an envelope, spilling the red powder inside it into her palm. Whispering something under her breath, she scattered the powder on the floor in front of the three of them.

Xander stepped back in the direction of Tara and Clem, and the part that had separated earlier swung back to join with the rest of the cloud.

“Okay,” Clem whispered with a shiver. “That’s officially creepy. As creepy as… as…”

Words had obviously failed Clem, but fortunately, that never happened to Xander. “Poltergeist?”

Clem rolled his eyes.

“Okay. Made of sterner stuff, huh?” He wracked his brains for anything appropriate for something this creepy. “The Omen?”

Clem frowned at him, shaking his head.

Okay, time to get down and dirty. “Aliens? Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Night of the Living Dead?” Clem still shook his head. Xander was stunned. He had no idea where to go from here.

Clem looked directly into Xander’s eyes, the fear showing through clearly as he whispered: “Frankenhooker.”

Xander felt his eyes widen as a shudder raced through him, and he couldn’t stop his shout of mindless fear. Clem did the same. Xander realized he really needed to look Clem up when they got home. They were kindred souls.

“You two are bleeding bonkers, you know that?” Spike fussed at them from across the room.

Xander looked over at Spike, and realized that the green cloud between them was only four feet away. There was no place to go. He and Clem were backed up against the wall next to Tara, and he had no idea when that had happened.

He started to ask Tara how she was doing, but she started talking – reading, she was reading out of the book she’d found. Although he knew the words were Latin, he had no idea what they meant, so he totally ignored them to stare at the green cloud that was now only three feet away and…

“Is it me, or is that thing moving faster again?” Clem asked.

“It’s not you.” Now that it was closer, he could see that the green cloud churned, moving sluggishly, as if it was full of oily gunk that roiled malevolently in the center of the cloud. It smelled like dirty, moldy gym socks. It was was totally disgusting – worse even than his room back in the ninth grade. He tried really carefully to not take a deep breath, which wasn’t that hard since he was having trouble taking a breath anyway. He had no way of knowing this for sure, but he had a feeling if that stuff touched them, they would die.

Xander felt a strong, sudden urge to take out Death Song, although there was no way a sword could possibly help in a situation like this. But backed up against the wall as they were, there was nothing left to lose. So, what the hell. He pulled her out carefully, not wanting to get his hand anywhere near the green stuff. Spike looked at him like he was crazy, but then Death Song started to sing, and weird as it seemed, the cloud came to a stop.

As a matter of fact, he wasn’t sure how he knew this, but he got the idea it was thinking of staging a retreat. But then that could have been whatever Tara was saying. There was no way to know, because just as he was considering poking the cloud with Death Song, just a little, of course, Tara raised her voice and shouted.

“Dispello!”

A strong wind suddenly rushed through the room, although the only one who was affected by it was Tara. Her hands were stretched out in front of her, pointed right at the cloud. Her dress clung to her, forced by that wind to mold to her body, and her hair streamed out behind her. She seemed to glow slightly, as she pulled her hands apart, and the cloud, which had not been affected by the wind, quickly dispersed and disappeared. The wind stopped suddenly, and Tara had to hold onto the table in front of her until Clem managed to get a chair under her.

“Wow! Tara, that was great. What a rush!”

It was as if Clem had totally forgotten that there had been mind-numbing terror in the room just a few minutes ago. But then, if they let it, maybe a bit of Clem’s normality would rub off on the rest of them, so he didn’t say anything about it. Xander stroked his hand across Death Song’s blade, in thanks for her intervention, and sheathed her. She was singing proudly, and he and Buddy acknowledged her intuition gladly. Guiltily, he assured her that he hadn’t really been willing to shove her blade in that green gunk, and she accepted his words graciously. Then Spike was standing there right in front of Xander, and he stroked her pommel respectfully, before he grabbed Xander and hugged him tight.

“Well, that was fun!” Xander laughed, unsure if it was from utter relief or hysteria, but he borrowed a bit of Clem’s ignorance is bliss attitude and refused to acknowledge the danger they’d been in.

“Don’t ever do that again. You hear me?”

“What? Use Death Song as a shield against creepy, unknown spells?” Xander asked as he pulled his breathing mask off.

Spike slapped the back of Xander’s head. “You bloody well know what I mean, mate.”

“It was just an experiment. Four steps. I was never farther away from Tara than four steps. I’m fine.” He hugged Spike tightly for a moment, then released him as Clem came up.

He held out a bottle. “Water? I guess I’m the official water guy, now.” He grinned, and Xander laughed as he grabbed a bottle.

“Thanks, Chewie.”

Clem beamed his biggest smile at them, obviously thrilled that someone other than Spike had called him Chewie. He threw his head back and warbled the official Chewbacca cry at the ceiling. Then he held out a bottle to Spike.

“Water?”

“Nah. Thanks mate, but I’m more interested in what’s in that vault that Dru would put so much into guarding it.”

“Oh!” In all the excitement, Xander had practically forgotten what had caused the commotion in the first place.

Tara refused to let anyone get too near until she’d checked it out thoroughly, but eventually she said it was all clear. Spike made them all move out of the way, in case Puffy had put a few more mundane traps of his own in place, but eventually, he pulled the door open, and they all gaped at the neat stacks of money on almost every shelf.

They stared at the money for a while, and finally, Tara said in a small voice, “Spike. You’re rich!”

Spike shook his head. “Not just me. We all are.”

And to think, Xander had thought opening this vault was going to be anticlimactic. His mind was almost totally blank. He wondered if he’d managed to rupture his brain, because he was never without something to say, but right now all his brain could conjure up was, “Wow.”

Chapter Text

“Why, exactly, are we here?”

Wesley stared down his nose at Spike as he spoke. He’d obviously practiced that look for years, staring into his mirror until he got it just right. Didn’t help, though. No matter how much taller the berk was, Spike knew he had the upper hand, so he just smiled widely, showing a bit of fang, and Wesley stepped back behind Giles so fast he stumbled, almost going down. Unfortunately, Foxy Brown was there to right him, grabbing his arm, and pulling him back onto his feet.

Rupert was not impressed by either Wesley or Spike, if his look of disdain was any judge. Arsewipe. Spike was tempted to take his boy and leave, but it was really too late for that. Hercules would never agree at this point. Besides, Spike was looking forward to wiping that smug look off Rupert’s face, once they got inside. He glanced around the courtyard to make sure everyone was there. Clem and Faith were flirting again, and Spike absolutely loved the way that made her Watcher cringe. She was going to lead Percy to an early grave, if he wasn’t careful, and Spike regretted that he probably wouldn’t be around to see it happen. Xander and Glinda were admiring the flowers that followed the winding path to the front door, and that was all of them.

Spike unlocked the door and led them into a large anteroom. He watched closely as they took in everything: the large, wedge-shaped room, a floor and a half tall, with lots of dark wood grains and thin strips of glass framing the door on all sides. It was fairly imposing, and stately, with its tall ceiling and a large brass chandelier hanging overhead. There were two long wings going off at angles, stairs going both down and up on each side, from ground level. He rubbed his hands together briskly, as Xander stepped up beside him, and the rest of the group all turned to them curiously.

“Right then. I refuse to give you a guided tour, but I can point you in the right directions for everything.” He pointed up the stairs to his right. “Upstairs: three bedrooms and two guest rooms, a lounge, and three baths. Downstairs: two bedrooms, three bathrooms, the kitchen, family and game rooms, and one stillroom.” He saw Glinda smile widely at that, and he winked at her before pointing to his left.

“Upstairs: a formal living room, two offices, a study, a bathroom, and a large library.” The Watchers were looking at each other suspiciously by this point, but he ignored them and continued. “Downstairs: an exercise room, a gym, a shower room, two bathrooms, an infirmary/first aid room with a whirlpool, and a steam room.”

Glinda was smiling broadly by this time; Spike and Xander had managed to find what she’d asked for, and more. Faith and Kendra were whispering to each other excitedly while Clem tried to hide his grin behind his hand.

Xander took over, practically bouncing in his excitement. “They had to take out half the walls in the workout level to make the gym, showers and steam room, so there’s still work being done down there, and in the stillroom off the kitchen. They’re also doubling the size of the library, so there will be room for all those dusty, tweedy books. They’ve promised us that everything will be finished in two weeks, so we figured that ought to give you plenty of time to pack.”

There was an excited buzz from the youngsters and Clem, but they calmed right down when Xander started talking again. “We have more to tell you, and we’ll be in the family room when you’re ready to talk about everything, but first, we thought you might want to take a look at your new home.”

The Slayers were off like a shot in the direction of the gym level, whoops of joy echoing back at the rest of them as they took the steps two and three at a time. Tara and Clem headed down towards the kitchen at a much more sedate pace.

Spike could see both Watchers aching to go explore, but Giles had his arms firmly crossed, and it was obvious that they’d feel the need to say something before they accepted what they were being offered.

“I take it,” Giles began, “that Wesley was correct about your discovering a vault in the basement of the mansion on Crawford Street?”

“Hey, good memory, Wesley.” Herc slapped Percy on the shoulder, and Percy stumbled forward a step or two. “Sorry!” Herc apologized. He still forgot his strength occasionally when he was excited. “With the whole hostage situation that happen right afterwards, we weren’t sure you’d remember that.”

“I must admit, it took several days…” Wesley began. He didn’t get far, though, before he was interrupted.

“You must be as insane as your sire to think that the Watcher’s Council would accept a gift from a master vampire…”

Spike interrupted Giles before he got too far along on his tirade. “It’s not yours, you idiot.”

Giles and Wesley both came to an abrupt halt. “What?” Giles asked.

“This house was a gift to Tara, from Xander and myself. She’s allowing you to stay with her, since she feels it’s important that both Slayers have access to as normal a life as possible, as well as the resources they need to complete their duties as Slayers. If you don’t want to stay here, that’s up to you, but both Slayers will always have a home here.”

That took the wind out of their sails, but Giles, of course, had more questions. “How much money did you find? I assume there was more?”

“Tara refused to keep the majority of her share. We hooked her up with a lawyer, and she set up a fund to benefit the victims of violence here in Sunnydale. Clem has agreed to help her dispense the funds as needed.”

“Clem? The demon Clem?” Spike would have taken offense at Giles’ attitude, but he’d become acclimatized to Rupert’s bigotry against non-humans in the last year or so.

Herc nodded, casually ignoring the Watcher’s scathing remarks. “I think that was a wise choice on Tara’s part,” he told Spike.

Spike agreed. “Clem’s got a solid head on his shoulders. They’ll make a good team.”

“And Clem’s portion of the money?” Wesley asked.

Spike shrugged. “He’s got no problem with benefitting from Puffy’s demise. But don’t even think of trying to get his money away from him.” Spike warned them both angrily. “He’s warded six ways to Sunday, and so’s our lair, so even after we leave, there will be no way to get his money away from him.”

“Spike….”

Spike knew Xander wasn’t happy with this subject, but he had told Xander right out front how treacherous the Watcher’s Council could be when it came to demons with money.

“I know how the Council works, they’d steal every penny they could find from the mansion if we hadn’t got there before them, but there’s not a penny left for you to take. My boy here didn’t believe me when I warned him, but I’ve seen the Council at work.”

Giles didn’t seem too upset by the accusation. “How do you think the Council funds their efforts, Xander? There are many potentials out there. Each one needs a Watcher’s protection and training, in case she’s the next Chosen One. That doesn’t come cheap.”

Percy got stiffer and stiffer as Giles spoke, as if every word was shoving that broom farther and farther up his arse. “Do we really need to be discussing Council business with- with- with…”

“Don’t finish that sentence, Wesley.” Xander held a hand up to stop Wesley before it was too late. “I really don’t want to be disappointed that you’re going to get any benefit from my hard work.”

Percy’s eyes were open about as wide as they could get. His jaw flapped, but nothing came out, and Spike considered that an improvement.

“I was feeling pretty charitable towards you two weeks ago, what with your apology in the mansion, and the way you saved that girl’s life and got away from the vamp holding you. You were a hero then, Wesley. Don’t disappoint me now.”

He turned his back, walking away. “I’ll be down here with Tara and Clem, Spike.”

Spike turned to the Watchers, keeping his anger in control as best he could. “Now both of you listen to me. Our lawyers worked damned hard these last two weeks to make sure this money goes to the ones who need it, and not a penny goes to the Council. They’ve made it airtight, and it would take better than you or your masters to break it. Now you can accept that Xander has your best interests at heart, or at least Tara, Kendra and Faith’s interests, or you can do without everything we have to give. That’s up to you. But you two disappoint my boy again, and I’ll find a way to gut you, no matter who I have to pay to do it. Is that clear?”

“I assure you,” Giles said stiffly, “I have no doubt that Xander has the interests of all three girls at heart. He’s a generous boy, he always has been.”

“Then let him know that.” Spike took a deep breath, and moved on. “To sweeten the deal, and to remind you both to behave yourselves, we’ve decided to hand over most of Drusilla’s library to the two of you.”

Both Watcher’s gasped as one. Spike smirked. “I knew that would catch your attention. They belong to Glinda right now, but after a year of your good behavior, she’ll pass them on to you. She says they’ll make an excellent addition to your new library.”

“I… I’m sure they will.” Giles was all breathless, and his pupils were shot, making his eyes darken. “I can hardly wait to see them.”

Spike knew that look. Giles was aroused as hell, just from thinking about Drusilla’s books. And they called Spike twisted?

“You said most of the library?”

“Yeah, Tara destroyed a few of them, and a few more she sent to people she knew, to be disposed of more safely than she could do it here. But most of them are in boxes at the lair, ready to be moved over.”

Giles looked faintly ill at the mention of destroying books, but Spike had understood why she’d done it. There was black magic out there that never should have seen the light of day. Spike had warned Tara to get rid of the worst offenders before the Watcher’s even knew about them, because sometimes the thirst for knowledge overcame the best intentions. She’d taken his warning to heart, and had sent the last of the dangerous ones away just yesterday.

Spike had kept a few books, himself, although they weren’t the dangerous ones. In Dru and Puffy’s sitting room, Spike had found books that he and his Dru had picked up in their years of travel. In Spike’s world, most of them had been destroyed by an insane seeress who could never manage to keep track of things precious to her for any length of time. He’d found books from their time in Amsterdam and Russia, as well as from their visits to Egypt and Africa.

There were also shelves full of memorabilia that he’d hated to leave behind, but there was no way to carry it all with them when they had no idea when or where they’d be when they finally got the chance to go home. He’d regretfully left the most of the fragile ones behind – a scroll from the Dead Sea, a starfish from the Great Barrier Reef, the ear of a bull from a bullfight in Spain, sheet music from a bar in Berlin before the Nazis sent it all to hell. But he’d kept the coins Dru found when they’d explored ruins in Italy, and the black lacquered chopsticks she’d used in China. At least now he had some tangible keepsakes of the love to which he’d finally cut his ties.

Spike headed downstairs in the direction Xander had gone. “I need to check on Herc. He’s probably wondering where I am. He’s so excited to tell Glinda that we bought her The Magic Box.”

“You did what?” Giles’ angry voice echoed in the anteroom. “No wonder the realtor won’t return my calls. I’ve been trying to talk to her for days now, but she’s been avoiding me.”

Spike turned back to them. “You were going to buy it?” It seemed that Xander had been right. It was a good thing he’d talked Spike into signing the papers the day after they found Puffy’s money.

“Well, we were,” Wesley huffed indignantly. “We’ve been talking about it since the owner died.”

Spike laughed at their complaints. “Who knows, maybe Glinda will cut you in. The three of you could be partners. After all, if she’s in college, she’s not going to have time to manage a shop as well.”

The two of them whispered together, discussing their future as they followed Spike down the stairs. Xander was so pleased with how everything here had turned out. This world had seemed so much more dangerous than their own when they’d first arrived. Herc felt like he’d really made a difference here. Spike had reminded him that it wasn’t likely that they’d always stumble across enough money to set up everyone they rescued the way they’d set up these folks. Herc had laughed at that.

“I know, Spike. Chances are ridiculously small that we’d ever run across circumstances like these again. But when we’re struggling, and nothing seems to come out right, it will be nice to remember that at least once the good guys actually got their ‘Happily Ever After’ ending.”

There was nothing he could say to that.

Spike met Xander, Clem and Tara on the stairs. He expected smiles and excitement, but that wasn’t what he got. More like nervousness and worry.

“We have to go home, Spike. Right now.”

“What? What’s wrong?” Spike automatically reached for a stake and his switchblade. He regretted that neither he nor Xander was wearing a sword.

“I don’t know. Buddy is telling me that we have to go back to the lair. He says that Death Song is singing to him. But I can’t tell what it’s about.”

Spike turned around, and headed back up the stairs, shoving the Watchers in front of him.

Tara and Clem ran for the other wing, shouting down the stairs to Kendra and Faith as they went.

Of course, Rupert had questions as he followed behind Xander. “You said Buddy told you? You can’t hear her?”

“Not from this far away, Giles. We haven’t tried to test it or anything, but I can hear her from anywhere in the lair, or even in the yard. Obviously this is too far away.”

Herc had his hand on the doorknob, and as soon as he saw the Slayers come barreling up the stairs, he opened the door and practically flew down the walk to the cars parked in the driveway.

The ride back to the lair was quiet, and tense. Xander was hesitant to talk, hoping he could hear Death Song if he was quiet enough. Halfway back he started to relax a little. He told Spike that he could hear her now through Buddy, if not on his own. She was anxious for them to come home, but he didn’t think there was any danger involved. He couldn’t explain it, though, and he fell silent as Giles drove.

Spike held Xander’s hand, and he got the idea that Xander appreciated him being there, even though there was obviously nothing he could do until he knew what was happening. Giles was driving at a snail’s pace, and finally Spike had to say something. It just wasn’t in him to stay silent.

“You could put your foot down a bit, Watcher.”

“No, Spike, I couldn’t.”

Spike supposed the terse answers must be contagious, since that’s all he could get from Xander, as well. Finally, they arrived, and Xander ran up the walk and into the lair without any precautions at all. Spike’s stomach clenched at that, despite the fact that just the day before Glinda had warded the house, since Clem had agreed to move into the lair before they moved out, in case the Watcher’s Council got greedy. Even so, Spike used a lot more caution in his approach. He’d barely got inside before he found Xander striding down the hall toward him, Death Song in hand.

“We’re going downstairs.”

Xander swept by him and Spike felt a rush of excitement. This could be it. He grabbed a sword, and the two backpacks Xander and he had packed just in case, with all the things they didn’t want to leave behind them when they left this world.

Kendra gasped. “You think…”

Spike shrugged. “I have no clue, but there’s no sense taking chances, right? Torches are in the kitchen, can you grab a few?”

“Torches?” Kendra asked, puzzled.

Clem came out of the kitchen with half a dozen of them, and passed them out. “Flashlights! Here. Take these!”

Xander was waiting by the stairs to the basement with Death Song sheathed, and a torch in his hand. As soon as they arrived he ran down the stairs, his eyes sparkling, and an excited grin on his face. “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

Spike could hear them whispering behind him as they struggled to keep up. Fortunately, most of this lot had been down to the basement at some point or other, out of curiosity, or in Giles’ case, professional interest, so they knew where they were going. Spike didn’t think twice about leaving them in his dust as he ran to keep up with Xander.

They stopped just inside the door and hugged each other with relief. The portal was there, on the other side of the room, waiting for them. Spike dropped his sword and shoved Xander’s pack at him.

“Here. Take this. Put it on.”

They’d put the most important stuff in backpacks, because no matter how it showed up, or whoever made it this time, if the portal was like the one that brought them here, they’d end up spinning around in circles, and they could easily lose a bag that just fit over one shoulder. They both fumbled with the packs, nervous, and rushed. They needed to get over there before the portal disappeared, because they had no idea how long it would last.

Kendra and Faith showed up first.

“Is it the portal?” “Where is it?” The two spoke pretty much simultaneously.

“Yeah, that’s it.” Xander poked his finger at it, as he finished getting the backpack settled. “Right over there.”

The rest of them arrived together, and they all stared at the mist that arose from the floor in the far corner. Tara stepped closer to it, staring curiously at the mist that swirled around, even though there was no breeze.

“That rushing noise? Is that from the portal?”

Spike stepped up, and stopped her from walking any closer. “Watch out, Glinda. It’s not safe. Both Xander and I got pulled into it against our wills the first time we ran up against it.”

Kendra darted in and grabbed Tara’s arm, pulling her back to the rest of the group. “Stay back here with us.”

Tara nodded.

“Come on, then.” Kendra spread her arms wide. “Give us a chance to say goodbye.”

Xander grabbed her before she’d even finished talking. “Take care, Kendra. Thanks for being my friend.”

She hugged him back. “I’m honored to be your friend, Hercules.”

Xander moved on to Tara, pulling her into a hug that lifted her off her feet. “Be careful, Tara.” He whispered into her ear, and Spike had trouble hearing him over the noise of the portal. “And keep a close eye on those Watchers, okay?”

She laughed, “Don’t you worry, Xander, we’ll be fine.”

Spike asked, “You told her about the shop, then, Herc?”

“You left the paperwork sitting on the kitchen counter,” Clem said, “I found it. I didn’t realize it was a secret.”

Spike shook his head, “Not so secret now, then. I think the Watcher’s might want to buy into a partnership, Glinda. Might be worth considering, especially while you’re in college. Put ‘em to work, all right? It’ll be good for them.”

Spike was surprised when Glinda and Foxy Brown pulled him into a group hug. “Here, now! You’re going to ruin my reputation!”

Clem shook his hand. “Too late for that, my friend. Good luck, Han Solo.”

Spike slapped him on the back. “Nah, Nosy Parker over there should be Solo. She’s got that disreputable air to her, don’t you think?”

Faith caught the two of them looking at her, and winked at them, a salacious grin on her face. Clem winked back at her and turned back to Spike. “Good point.”

He stuck out his hand. “Thanks, Spike. For everything.”

“Everything?”

“For introducing me to new friends, for believing in me, for giving me a great new lair to live in. And money! Don’t forget the money. You’ve changed my life, Spike, for the better, and I thank you.”

Spike clapped him on the arm. “You’re a good friend, Chewie.”

Clem warbled his Chewbacca cry just as Xander shook hands with Giles. Spike had no interest in drawn out goodbyes with the Watchers, so he called out, “Come on Hercules, we’ve got to go!”

Xander came running, and the two of them charged into the mist together. Although neither of them had tripped, or even stumbled, they found themselves flipping arse over teakettle, and Spike grabbed Xander’s arm as they crashed into each other, holding on tight. Xander hung on just as tight to Spike as the mist swirled around them, the white-noise roar of rushing water deafening them to everything else. They rolled and tumbled over each other, circling around the center of the maelstrom until Spike could see nothing but white and Xander’s face fading in and out of the mist. Then even Xander was gone. The thunder of cascading water reverberated in Spike’s ears, and then, even the white disappeared.

Chapter Text

“Oh, my aching head.”

Xander moaned as he stretched stiff muscles, wondering what the hell he’d fought last night to make him so sore. He wanted to fluff his decidedly unfluffy pillow, but when his hand touched it, he realized that the reason it was so unfluffy was that it was someone’s arm. He was lying on his left side, so he was facing Spike, who was lying on his right side, although in the dim lighting, it was difficult to know for sure whose face that was. He hoped it was Spike. He couldn’t imagine who else’s arm he’d be sleeping on.

It all came back to him in a rush – showing Tara and the Slayers their new home, the sudden alarm from Buddy that had them all racing to the lair where Death Song sang to Xander, sending them scrambling downstairs to find their portal awaiting them. It all felt like a dream, but here they were, lying on the cold concrete of what looked like the room they’d left last night, except for the dresser’s dummy plopped down in front of them.

Excitement surged through Xander, but he pushed it down. There was an odd unsettled feeling mixed in with the excitement, and Xander wasn’t sure how to deal with the fact that after everything they’d been through, he wasn’t sure he was happy to be back.

“I know you’re awake. Are you going to move, or not?” Spike’s voice had that low, scratchy sound to it – the one he got when he’d just woken up, and hadn’t yet had his usual blood and coffee breakfast.

Xander shivered. He loved Spike’s early afternoon voice. “We’re back. I think.”

“Yeah, looks like it. The dummy is back, anyway.”

“Hey! I resemble that remark.”

Spike’s low chuckle sent a surge of lust through Xander’s body, and he shivered.

“I was talking about the other dummy, dummy.”

Xander sighed. He felt a slight amount of annoyance from Buddy for calling himself a dummy, but it was faint, like he was having even more trouble than Xander kicking off the grogginess of the portal spell.

Spike reached over and ran his fingers through Xander’s hair, and Xander sighed again. “Not in a hurry to go back to how things were, then?”

“Do you think Clem would mind if we went back and moved in with him?”

“I have the feeling your mates here wouldn’t understand why you’d choose some kind of dystopian nightmare of a Hellmouth over your life with them.”

“It’s not so bad anymore. We helped them clear up the worst of the badness. But yeah, I’m sure that wouldn’t go over well here, would it?” Xander shrugged. “I was so excited last night, but now….”

“I know.” Spike sounded resigned, as if he knew the bad was coming, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

Xander pulled Death Song out of her scabbard, with a promise that he’d be back for her soon, and felt a brief spark of contact. It was obvious that she was amused at Xander’s insistence on not leaving her on his belt when he felt up his significant other.

He sat up and took his backpack off, and Spike did the same, stretching his muscles, and drawing Xander’s attention to what he could see of Spike’s sexy body, and relying on his memory to supply the rest.

Xander shivered; just thinking about Spike turned him on. When he got rid of his backpack, Xander climbed over Spike’s body, and pushed him to the floor. Bracing himself on his forearms, he tried to look into Spike’s eyes, but even in the dim lighting, he knew what was going on in Spike’s head. It was the same thing that had gone on in Xander’s head a lot in the last week. But he wasn’t going to let this slip away from him. He needed Spike, and he thought Spike needed him, too. They were good for each other.

“I know it’s going to be awkward for a while, trying to find a new balance between us and them.” He hated to say this, but it needed to be said. “You know that the more unusual we act, the more uncomfortable they’re going to feel.”

“So what are you saying? No touching, no acting like anything changed while we were away?”

“No. I don’t want to go back to the way we were.” He paused; trying to explain what he meant without pissing Spike off was not going to be easy. “I don’t think I could go back to how we were. You’re too important to me now. It would tear me apart to hide you, and pretend you were some dark secret.”

Spike let out a bark of laughter, but Xander pressed on. “We just need to ease them into it. Not just us. Into everything. Because you and me, we’re only one of the many things that have changed enough to send them into some kind of tizzy. Willow will want to cast spells to make sure we’re the right Spike and Xander, Giles will have dozens of lectures and graphs on the dangers of having a vampire for a lover, and Buffy will want to kick both of our asses for freaking Willow and Giles out.

“I just think the slower we go with the letting them know exactly how much has changed, the easier it will be to get through this without everyone panicking. And I hate it when they panic. Panic is definitely not of the good.”

Spike sighed. “Bloody hell. You’re back fifteen minutes and your command of the English language has eroded significantly. You were actually making sense there for a while.”

Xander grinned. “There was no Buffy or Willow, therefore no need to talk in Buffy and Willow speak.”

Spike sighed. “Remind me of why we were so eager to come back here, again?”

Xander laughed. “I was just thinking the same thing myself.”

“Well, if we’re going to be circumspect, I vote we get down and dirty now, so we won’t feel the need to be in each other’s pockets all night.”

Xander paused, and tried to sort that out. The only part he really understood was ‘down and dirty,’ but he thought he got the gist of the idea. Besides, Spike’s hand came up and wrapped around the back of his neck, pulling his head down, and Xander eagerly responded to Spike’s kiss. When Spike let go of him long enough for Xander to get a breath, he made sure Spike knew exactly how much he appreciated Spike’s determination to achieve his goal.

“That’s the best idea you’ve had all day.”

Spike laughed and sat up, holding Xander steady on his lap, his legs straddling Spike’s. “Day’s young, pet.”

Spike’s kisses were sensual and arousing, and it didn’t take long for Xander’s cock to get into the spirit of things. After all, Spike kisses were a relatively new occurrence, and they hadn’t lost that sharp, new excitement that sets you on fire before you even know it’s even happening. Not that there was anything wrong with the kisses of someone you’re well used to appreciating, they just had a different feel to them, and Xander was happy to take advantage of the brand new excitement for as long as it lasted.

He rocked his hips, trying to get a good angle to rub his cock against Spike’s, but he was sitting on his feet with his legs doubled up underneath him, his knees taking the brunt of his weight, pressing into the hard concrete. It was annoying, but not enough to make him break their kisses; Spike’s kisses were enough to make him forget everything else around him.

If he hadn’t had to stop kissing Spike long enough for him to pull Xander’s t-shirt off, he’d never have noticed it happening. He probably would have noticed Buddy going away, since he had to do a bit of wiggling to get Buddy off over his head, but still, Spike was slick. Obviously, Spike wasn’t happy with their positions, either. He pulled back, and murmured.

“Stand up, love. We need to move.”

Xander laughed. “My knees thank you.” He used Spike’s shoulders as leverage to get into a standing position, then offered his hand to Spike, and pulled him to his feet.

“Have we bruised your poor, little knees? Can’t have that.”

“My knees appreciate your sarcasm Spike, really they do.”

Then they were kissing again, and Xander let Spike direct him backwards around the dresser’s dummy until the backs of Xander’s thighs felt a table or counter behind him. He hopped backwards onto it, trusting Spike to know if something was there that he shouldn’t be sitting on. It wasn’t like he could see what was behind him, anyway, in this light. He spread his thighs wide, and pulled Spike’s body up close, so he could feel the strong muscles in his back, and trace the pockets of his well-worn jeans downward until he could cup Spike’s ass. Spike had a really nice ass.

When they broke apart this time, Xander let him know what was on his mind. “You have a really nice ass.”

Spike chuckled. “Well, thank you, love. You have a nice ass yourself. And when I have lots of time and lube handy, I’m going to take advantage of that big bed of yours, and show you just how much I appreciate it. But for now, we probably don’t have as much time as I’d like, and absolutely no lube.”

Xander swallowed. Oh, shit. Yeah, he had to admit that he was curious about two guys fucking, but he was a bit nervous about it would work, so he was okay with putting that one off for now. Spike was working on Xander’s belt buckle, so he leaned back to give him plenty of room. It was odd doing this in such low light. He could see the shape of Spike’s body, but no real details showed through. Xander could see the eerie light of Spike’s night sight glittering in the dark, and it gave him something to focus on.

Spike had Xander’s jeans unzipped by now, and Spike’s hand was inside, working Xander’s cock with the palm of his hand. Oh yeah. Xander decided that he really didn’t need to see right now anyway, so he closed his eyes to avoid the temptation of eye strain, and just enjoyed the sensations. Oh yeah. Those were some pretty powerful sensations.

He leaned forward when Spike put one hand behind his head, pulling him up and into a kiss. Spike’s kisses were fast becoming addictive. All of them. He had a lot of different kinds of kisses, and Xander liked them all: slow and lazy, hard and powerful, rushed and needy, hungry, demanding, achingly soft and delicate, silky smooth. But the best thing about Spike’s kisses was his dedication to his job. When Spike kissed you, he made you feel like you were the most important thing in his world. It was the most incredible feeling ever.

Xander was so lost in Spike’s kisses, that he almost missed the moment that Spike grabbed his thighs and pulled his ass close to the edge of the table. When he pulled Xander’s jeans and underwear down to his knees, leaving Xander bare-assed on the cool table top, Xander pulled back, breaking the kiss.

“Whoa! You have a magic act on the side, don’t you? One of those things where you pull rabbits out of hats, and the tablecloth off the table without moving a single piece of the china?”

Spike just laughed, that dark, wicked chuckle that hardened Xander’s already pretty damn stiff cock to the point of rigidity.

“It’s all done with smoke and mirrors. The only mojo this vamp is capable of is making your cock disappear down my throat. I just thought you should know, love, that I swallow.”

Xander burst out laughing at that, but his laugh disappeared abruptly when Spike took the head of Xander’s cock in his mouth and started sucking.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

Xander grabbed Spike’s head with both hands, not really holding him there, ‘cause he’d learned the badness that resulted when someone did that, the first time Anya had tried giving him head. But Xander had to do something, so he stroked his fingers through Spike’s hair, the stiff, crackly gel so strange under his fingers. But since he’d been using his hands to keep himself propped up on the table top, his torso gave up the ghost and he flopped down onto his back as he gasped heavily.

He was aware that he’d been Anya’s first experience in most of the widely varied forms of sexuality that they’d experimented with, but he’d thought that by the time their six months was over, that Anya’d become rather proficient in many of them. He would have sworn that one of the ones she’d excelled at was fellatio. Boy howdy, was he wrong. Spike, on the other hand, was obviously a connoisseur of the art.

He had Xander begging within minutes, grabbing the edges of the table to try and keep his balance on a perfectly flat surface. Xander’s head reeled, spinning around and making it difficult to speak in more than garbled phrases that were impossible to understand. He realized that Anya had done well for a girl without any experience, but she never stood a chance against a vampire when it came to sucking. Then Spike worked the tip of Xander’s cock down his throat, swallowed rapidly and repeatedly, and Xander fell apart, lights sparking behind his eyelids as he felt himself shatter into a million pieces.

Xander was fairly certain that he hadn’t passed out, but there were a few moments that were extremely hazy. When he finally gathered his wits enough to realize what was happening, Spike was jerking off over his body. He got the idea that Spike liked to do that. There was something very territorial about it, very possessive, but that was okay with Xander. He liked the fact that someone wanted him so much that he wanted to make sure that everyone knew where he belonged.

So Xander didn’t try to stop Spike from jerking off over Xander’s bare body. He didn’t even try to stop him from rubbing his come into Xander’s skin. Then Xander reached down and wiped up the dribble of come that dripped from his own cock - a leftover from Spike’s rather spectacular blowjob. When he rubbed his come into the skin over Spike’s heart, Spike gasped, his eyes bleeding into the glittering light of the vampire that always lurked in Spike’s eyes. Xander almost got ravished all over again, right there in the Plautect sorcerer’s lab. He was actually quite content with getting ravished again, but while he and Spike kissed passionately, the lights suddenly came on.

“Oh. My. God.”

“Xander?”

Spike turned around, his stiff cock hanging out of his jeans for everyone to see. Everyone, in this case, meaning: Giles, Buffy, Willow, and Tara. While they stood there, frozen with shock, Spike snarled in irritation, “What is it with you Slayers! Haven’t any of you ever heard of the concept of knocking?”

Chapter Text

Xander scrambled off the table, stumbling over his pants, which were wrapped around his feet like some kind of loose hobbles. Spike laughed as Xander bent over to straighten them out, his arse sticking up over the top of the table where Spike had recently enjoyed a Xander smorgasbord. But it seemed like the Slayer and the witches were spending all together too much time ogling what they could see of Herc, so Spike reached over and slapped his lily-white arse lightly to let him know how much of himself he was sharing with them all.

Herc squeaked and dropped down, resorting to lying on the dusty lab floor to get his pants on without revealing anymore of himself to his friends. When they lost sight of one of Xander’s finer physical attributes, they moved their attention to Spike, who had no problem whatsoever with nudity. As a matter of fact, if he thought he could get a rise out of it, he’d strip for them right now. But with his cock hanging out of his jeans like this, they’d seen pretty much everything but the money shot, already.

The Slayer frowned at him, pulling her stake out, and brandishing it angrily. “What did you do to Xander?”

He stared belligerently at her, hands on his hips. “I didn’t do anything to Xander that he didn’t bloody well ask for.” He thought for a second, remembering Xander’s voice, crying for more, and he licked his lips, smiling at the memory. “As a matter of fact, he begged me for more, every – single – time.”

He shifted his stance, jutting one hip out provocatively, knowing that his movements brought his still rampant cock into sharp focus. It took more than a few voyeuristic little pissants like these to soften his ardor. He’d always been a bit of an exhibitionist – nothing like a little nudity to shock the hell out of a group of uptight demon hunters.

The Slayer blinked and stumbled over her words. “Uh. But, that’s - I mean…”

“Can I come in now?” an exasperated voice whined from the corridor behind the witches.

Now that he was paying attention to such things, it did seem rather peculiar that both Red and Tara were standing in such a way as to block the entire entrance to the room.

Red shouted, “Oh!” and both witches turned around, so they were facing out into the hallway. He could see a head of brown hair, but they had their hands up, blocking the rest of what he supposed must be a girl’s face, from the voice he’d heard earlier.

“What’s going on? Let me in!”

“No!” the whole bunch of them shouted, practically as one.

“Dawnie, you stay right where you are. We’ll tell you when it’s safe.” The Slayer was obviously torn between getting within slaying distance of Spike and keeping whomever this Dawnie character was from coming into the room.

“Put that thing away immediately, Spike.” The hand without a crossbow in it waved imperiously at his cock. “There’s a child in the hallway.” The Watcher’s voice was full of scorn and disdain, and Spike rolled his eyes at Rupert’s arrogance.

Xander chose that moment to pop up into view. “There is? Where did you get a child?”

“I’m not a child! I’m fourteen!” Her voice was high-pitched, and it made Spike’s ears ache.

“Dawn!” Spike winced. The Slayer’s voice screeched almost as painfully as Dawn’s did.

“If I’m old enough to come out with you at three in the morning to get Xander and Spike, I’m old enough to not be called a child!” He heard the indignant stamp of a foot on the tile floor of the hallway.

The girl’s argument seemed familiar for some reason – almost as if he’d heard it, or bits of it at least, many times before – heard her say it before, which was ridiculous. He was sure he’d remember if he’d met a girl named Dawn since he’d been stuck with the White Hats here in Sunnyhell. Wouldn’t he?

He was distracted from that line of thought by Xander slapping his arm, and gesturing at his cock. Oh, right. Perhaps it would be best to put it away for the moment. He sighed heavily, as if it were a great sacrifice, then began the process of sticking his softening cock back inside his skintight jeans. He liked his jeans tight, but there were times when it could be… awkward.

While he arranged his cock, the Slayer argued with Dawn, and he wondered why could he see the image of long, straight brown hair and big, guileless eyes staring up at him, trustfully, whenever he heard her voice.

“The only reason you’re here is because you threatened to wake up mom if I didn’t let you come along, and she needs her sleep. You had no right to listen in on my private phone calls…”

“How was I supposed to know it was private? It rang, I picked it up, and Willow started shouting, ‘Xander’s back, Xander’s back!’ It was a little hard to miss.” He could see a little more of her, now, as she jumped up and down outside the doorway. She was already taller than both Glinda and Red, and it was only their hands, which they did their best to keep in front of her eyes, that kept her from seeing into the room.

Speaking of which, he had a bone to pick about that very subject. “How the bleedin’ hell did you know we were back?” If Red had put some kind of tracker on Xander, he was not going to be best pleased.

Willow looked around, her eyes lighting up with excitement. “We got a hair off Xander’s pillow to create an alarm that would tell us when he came back. Sorry Xander, but we needed to know when you showed up, and we couldn’t camp out here all the time waiting. I mean it’s been two and a half months…”

“What?”

“It bloody well has not!”

“I don’t care how long it’s been, I just want to say hi to Xander and Spike!”

With Red turned most of the way around talking to Xander, Dawn finally broke through their blockade, but since everyone in the room now had their private bits covered, they didn’t really fight her. She charged around the other side of the long table, circumventing the Slayer, and ran up to Xander, hugging him tight around the middle.

“Dawn, what are you doing? We don’t even know if he’s our Xander, yet.” The Slayer took a couple of steps after her. It was obvious that she was not willing to pull her away from Xander, but still, she got in as close as she could, just in case there was trouble.

When Dawn grabbed him, Xander looked over at Spike with wide eyes, surprised at her behavior, but they both were even more surprised when she turned to Spike and did the same.

“Of course he’s our Xander.” She stood in front of the Slayer, her fists on her hips, and Spike could have sworn that she’d done that before, coming between him and her sister, to keep her from punching Spike in the face. How could he remember something like that? And what the bloody hell was a Slayer doing with a sister in the first place?

Xander smiled at Dawn, putting his arm around her shoulder. “You’re right. We’re your Spike and Xander, Dawnie, and let me tell you, we’re happy to be home. Right, Spike?”

Spike could tell that Xander was encouraging him to simply accept what was happening, and deal with it later, when the Niblet wasn’t around to get hurt by what they had to say. This was all so strange, but he was willing to go along with it for now. He had enough memories of her to make it easy to slide into the deception. They’d pull the Watcher and the Slayer aside later, and clear up this whole mess.

“That’s right, Niblet.” He used the name that had popped into his head a moment ago, and slipped his arm around Dawn’s waist, presenting a united front before the Slayer. “We’re home.”

Tara spoke up for the first time. “Xander, where’s Buddy?”

“Oh!” Xander looked down at his bare chest and blushed bright red, all the way to his navel. He broke away from Dawn, and rushed back behind the dresser’s dummy.

Spike ran after him, panicked. If his dead heart could still beat it would have been going like a trip-hammer. “Xander!”

Fortunately, there was no mist, and no portal, and Spike gasped, grabbing Xander and pulling him tight to his chest. “Don’t do things like that, you great, bloody lummox!”

Xander smacked him on the shoulder, but hugged him back, anyway. “Don’t worry, Spike. Death Song would have warned me if the portal was still active.”

“I don’t care; I don’t want you taking that kind of chance. You’re not going anywhere without me, you hear?”

Xander’s smile was a mile wide, “I hear. Thanks. I don’t want to go anywhere without you, either.”

They were on the verge of a bloody great snog when the Slayer’s voice reminded them they had an audience, and Xander stepped back.

“Where did this sword come from?”

He turned quickly and picked up Death Song before the Slayer could take her in hand.

“She’s mine.” He slid Death Song into her scabbard, avoiding the Slayer’s questing fingers.

“What’s.... There’s something about it.”

“Yeah. There is. I’ll tell you all about her later, okay?”

“Her?” The Slayer raised one eyebrow, obviously intrigued.

“It’s a long story, Buff.” He grabbed Buddy and his shirt off the floor. Spike took the backpacks, and they turned to leave the corner. On the back of the dresser’s dummy was a big note pinned to the black velvet.

“Xander. We’ll be here in fifteen minutes.
Don’t go anywhere!”
- Willow

Spike and Xander burst out laughing.

There was another note on the front of the dummy, and a third taped to the table top on which they’d been fucking just ten minutes ago. They found themselves leaning up against each other, laughing like loons, Herc’s little friends all half-smiling at each other like they weren’t sure if they got the joke.

If he and Herc had been a little less single-minded, they would have found those, or Spike would have in any event, and they’d never have been discovered. But perhaps that was for the best. It solved the problem of them having an extremely uncomfortable conversation. Well, it saved Xander, anyroad. Spike had all along intended to simply sit there and watch the proceedings while they worked the details out between them.

The laughter was good for them both. It might have been tinged with a small bit of hysteria at the thought of what was to come and what they’d been through, but at least they were home, and together, so things were a damn sight better than they could have been. Spike helped Xander settle Buddy, smoothing the links down over Xander’s back. He could practically feel Buddy’s contentment. They’d made it. They’d come back home, against some bloody high odds.

Xander shoved his t-shirt in his pack, and turned just in time for a redheaded cannonball to hit him head on. Xander hugged Willow to him, and Spike could see the tears in Herc’s eyes. He’d told Spike over and over again in the last month how much he missed his Willow. It had nearly done him in to know that she was six feet under in that universe.

Didn’t affect Spike too much one way or another, but he liked the fact that this Tara was obviously happy with her Willow. There were times that the Tara of Kendra’s universe had looked withdrawn and sad, and Spike could tell she was lonely. She’d told Spike once that she didn’t get on with her family. Hopefully, a home full of Slayers and Watchers would help with that. The Slayers would be good for Tara, and Tara would be good for the Watchers. And Clem, well, he’d be good for everybody.

He needed to introduce this universe’s Clem to Xander, and maybe Tara, too. He bet they’d get along just fine. Clem could get in a rut sometimes, and it worried Spike. He’d go over for a night of poker, and Clem would be sitting in front of the boob tube, staring blankly at whatever insipid crap was playing. It was clear he simply hadn’t had the energy to grab the remote and change the bloody channel, and he found himself watching drivel for hour after hour, too lethargic to even care that it was poker night.

He hadn’t figured out yet what was at the root of that, although he suspected that part of it was loneliness, but he’d sort it out in short order with Xander and Tara on his side. Spike shook his head as the Slayer and Red both crowded in around Herc for a group hug. Those three - there was no way to separate them. It would tear Xander apart to try, so Spike wouldn’t even consider it. As long as he didn’t have to be around when they had their hen parties, Spike wouldn’t even complain. Well, not too much.

He saw Tara look over at him, and he winked at her, making her blush and drop her eyes. The one in Kendra’s universe had been stronger, and more independent. This one would do well to get out of Red’s shadow from time to time. He and Xander would have to encourage that. Spike realized what he was doing, and frowned. He had teased Xander for wanting a fairy tale ending for his friends – everyone got what they wanted, or at least what they needed. Xander had worked damn hard to make that happen.

It seemed Spike was just like him. He was trying to take care of his clan, and damn all to hell, if it didn’t turn out that at least some of them were human. But they were special ones, and he’d take care of them as best he could, the same way he’d cared for Dru. It was just in his nature.

The Watcher lowered his crossbow at last, and Spike finally relaxed his guard for the first time since they’d all shown up. “Anya sends her regards, Xander, and informs you that she’ll send you a bill for the rent and upkeep on your apartment, which she took care of while you were away.”

Herc burst out laughing. “That’s Anya. She kept the keys to my apartment all this time?”

“Did you expect any different?” When Xander grinned and shook his head, the Watcher went on. “She has a seminar in the morning, or she’d be here to welcome you. Speaking of, I think perhaps we should all retire; some of us have commitments in the morning. We can meet tomorrow evening at The Magic Box to catch up on what occurred during the time that you’ve been gone.”

“The Magic Box?” Xander’s eyes went to Tara, but it was Giles who responded. “Anya and I bought the store several weeks ago after the last owner passed away.”

“You missed the grand openin…” The last of Dawn’s sentence was swallowed in a huge yawn. “Oh, excuse me!”

“You’re right, Giles,” the Slayer said. “It’s time to go.”

Xander took Spike’s hand as they walked out behind the others. “We just slept for hours; we’ll never get any sleep.”

“Don’t worry, love.” Spike smiled, licking his lips seductively. “I’m sure we’ll think of something to do.”

Xander watched the tip of Spike's tongue, echoing Spike's moves with his own tongue. The two stopped, staring at each other, then Xander jerked to life, pulling Spike along behind him by their joined hands. "Let’s get the hell out of here!"

"Right you are, love,” Spike laughed. “Right you are."

Chapter Text

“She’s a gorgeous weapon,” Giles whispered. “Absolutely stunning.”

Xander turned Death Song in the light, picking up the scrollwork engraved into the fuller that ran down the center of her blade. He basked in her reflected glory as she glowed contentedly, happy that Xander was pleased. Buddy felt it, too. He did that internal petting thing, and they all three lit up at once, listening to Death Song as she hummed. It wasn’t her vibrant battle cry, or her proud victory song, just a simple melody that flowed over their skin and connected them, making it difficult for Xander to keep the sappy grin off his face.

“It’s only a sword,” Buffy grumped, arms crossed over her chest. “I don’t see what the fuss is all about.”

But then, she wouldn’t. She’d been put in her place earlier, when Xander had first introduced them all to Death Song. He’d agreed to set her down so Giles could study the runes carved into her blade. Death Song had said some were for protection, speed, strength and wisdom, and Giles had identified several others from the Falenge texts he’d found that meant strategy, accuracy and success. Xander had warned them all to keep their distance, ‘cause Death Song didn’t like being handled, although she didn’t mind being admired and studied. After close to an hour of Giles’ effusive comments, Buffy had had enough. She’d snatched her up off the table, and Death Song’s reaction had not been pretty.

Buffy hadn’t given Giles any warning what she was up to, and he’d been totally taken by surprise. He’d shouted at her to stop, but she hadn’t listened. Then she’d squeaked as Death Song sent what Buffy described later as a shock of electricity running through her. Xander had nodded, he knew that sensation well. Buffy had dropped the sword, and it was only Spike’s quick, vampire reflexes that had saved her from clattering to the floor. He’d shouted at Buffy, calling her a great, blithering minger, and Xander figured that she’d probably be insulted if she knew what that meant. Xander knew he didn’t. Maybe he’d ask Willow later.

“How come Spike can touch it, but we can’t?” Buffy argued. “That doesn’t really place it in the ‘good’ category, if you ask me. He’s evil, and it likes him, anyway?”

Xander shrugged. “So? Yeah, he’s evil, but I like him, too. That doesn’t make me evil.”

Buffy frowned at him. “It probably doesn’t make you evil. But you’ve been gone for months. How do we know what he’s done to you in all that time?”

“Buffy, don’t.” Willow looked at Xander apologetically. “I thought we talked this through last night. Just because Xander is… is… you know.” She stopped and took a deep breath, her eyes jumping to Spike and skittering away just as fast. “Just because, doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with him. Remember what we were saying? About supporting our friends, even though we don’t like their really bad choices?”

Xander wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel about that rather lukewarm affirmation of friendship. But before he could come up with a response, Willow went on.

“Besides, wasn’t it you that reminded me how Spike was helping Xander with Buddy last night?”

“Oh, right. The way he was smoothing down Buddy’s links across Xander’s back. It reminded me of that whole squire thing!”

Spike stopped what he was doing, and stood perfectly still, all emotion wiped from his face.

“Exactly. If Spike is Xander’s squire, he’d have to be able to touch his sword. That’s part of a squire’s job, right?”

“I am nobody’s squire!” Spike had been remarkably quiet, aside from the minging incident, keeping his promise of letting the three of them work out their problems without his sarcastic comments breaking up their tentative peace. But they’d obviously passed his limits now. They’d made it personal, and he wasn’t about to let that go.

“And evil or not, both Death Song and Buddy trust me around Xander, and that puts me head and shoulders above both of you!”

He sat down on the couch next to Xander, arms crossed, jaw set, head high. Xander couldn’t help but smile. Spike was headed straight for a pout if he wasn’t careful, and Xander knew they’d be all over that if they saw it. He decided this called for a bit of distraction. In a move that he’d never have been able to accomplish just two months ago without broken glassware and mangled furniture, Xander flipped sideways onto Spike, and landed facing him, one knee on either side of his hips.

He leaned over and whispered into Spike’s ear, “I trust you with Xander, too.” Then they were kissing, and they both smiled into the kiss as Buffy and Willow squealed.

Giles sighed as he set his tea down by his chair. “You do realize,” he said, “that you only encourage them when you make a fuss.”

“Is there something wrong with seeing two guys kiss?” Tara’s tone held a bit of steel in it, and Willow cringed and avoided her eyes as she crossed to the armchair they’d been sharing.

“Don’t get mad, Tara.”

Tara wouldn’t be avoided, though. She sat on the arm of the chair, slipping off her shoes before tucking her toes under Willow’s leg. “It’s a simple question.”

Willow screwed up her face. “It might be, but that’s your ‘this is a trick question, so think twice before you answer it’ tone of voice, so I know you’re not happy.”

“It’s not so much the fact that they’re guys, Tara. It’s those two guys.” Buffy came around the couch and plopped down on the other end of the couch from Spike and Xander.

“There’s really nothing wrong with two guys together,” she continued, “and we’re both trying to do the supportive friend gig, honestly we are. It’s just that it keeps taking us by surprise, because we were used to Xander and Spike being enemies. We had just begun to get used to Xander and Spike as friends when they got sucked into another dimension. Then they came back as the Xander and Spike Public Display of Affection Show, and it just doesn’t seem right, somehow.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Anya said from her seat at the desk. “I have a marvelous view from here, and I think it seems absolutely wonderful.”

Xander laughed, partly covering up the grouchy noises his friends were making. “Thank you Anya, I appreciate your support.”

He sat back down on the couch, the way people were meant to sit, but he scooted over so that his leg pressed up next to Spike’s, and he leaned into Spike’s body when he wrapped his arm around Xander’s shoulder.

“Would you like to join us over here, dear?” Giles looked like he was having trouble keeping a straight face. “I believe Xander and Spike are ready to tell us of their adventures.”

“That’s okay, Giles. I’m going to work on the shop’s books. I’ll listen from here, and we can go over it again later, in case I miss anything.” She walked to the chair and handed him a new notebook and several pens. “I know you’ll want to take notes.”

Giles took the supplies, surprised. “Thank you. But I thought you were eager to hear…”

“I was.” She kissed him on the cheek before turning back to her seat. “But Xander told me I’m not even in the story!” she said, plopping down in her chair with a slight pout.

“What?”

“Yeah, it’s true, G-Man,” Xander told him. “Sorry, Ahn. See, I dated Kendra in high school, not Cordelia. When she went back to Jamaica after we saved Angel from that church, she took my address and phone number with her.”

“Xander! You slick dog, you.” Buffy elbowed Xander, and he blushed heavily.

“And there was no chance for he and Red to kiss in that warehouse,” Spike took over the tale, “‘cause in that world, my Dru wasn’t insane, so needless to say, she never left me, and I never kidnapped Xander and Red.”

Xander rolled his eyes at Spike’s arrogance, and Spike winked at him as Anya continued their discussion.

“So there was no wish, and no need for a vengeance demon,” Anya concluded. “That makes sense. But I’m sure it was a much less interesting world without me in it.”

“Yes, it was.” Xander craned his neck around to smile at her, and she settled back down to her paperwork with a smile on her face.

“But what about…”

“Don’t even start it, Watcher.” Spike interrupted Giles. “If we don’t take it from the beginning and go right through, we’ll never get the whole thing done before dawn, and I’ve got plans involving Xander, a bed, and full pump bottle of slick that I intend to get to before the night’s over.”

Xander moaned, slinking down in the couch, and hiding his face in embarrassment, as various groans, ewwwws, grosses and surprisingly enough even some laughter rang out. And the night had just begun.

The mood had darkened by the time the story was over. Xander knew that there would continue to be questions for weeks, and maybe even months, but his throat was raw from all the talking, and if they didn’t take a break soon, his bladder was going to stage a riot.

“Did they ever discover what happened to the Slayer time-line to call Faith, if Kendra was still alive?” Giles looked apologetically at Buffy, who still got a little pale every time she was reminded that she’d died at Drusilla and Spike’s hands in Kendra’s universe.

“It seems that Foxy Brown rescued a bunch of kids out of an abandoned house after she went back to Jamaica.” Spike took over the question, and Xander smiled his thanks. “Some demon cult was gonna sacrifice them to gain power of some sort, and she saved the whole lot of ‘em. Then she brought the burning house down on top of the demons, but she didn’t get out in time. Her Watcher went in and pulled her out, but she died on the operating table. They brought her back again, just a few minutes later. That was when Nosy Parker came into her powers up in Boston.”

“So the Slayer line did, in fact, run though Kendra there as well.” Giles never stopped scribbling as he spoke.

“But it goes through Faith, now,” Xander reminded them.

There were scowls on various faces, and although he’d said this already, he felt it necessary to repeat himself. “Hey, she’s a different person than this Faith. That Faith has done plenty of good since she showed up. Even Wesley turned out to be a decent guy.”

“According to Angel, he’s doing all right in L.A.,” Buffy said. “It sounds like he just needed to get out from under the Council’s influence, and get some experience under his belt.”

Spike laughed. “As Faith’s Watcher, you can bet he’s getting plenty of experience.” Everyone looked a little squicked by that image.

“He doesn’t mean it like that,” Xander rushed to assure them. He looked over at Spike, who was looking very cat-who-ate-the-canary-like. “Tell me you don’t mean it like that. Please?”

Spike sighed. “Spoil all my fun, you will,” he murmured under his breath. “No. Not that. She was definitely getting it from somewhere, but not from either Watcher.”

There was a collective sigh of relief.

“That don’t mean he wasn’t learning anything from her. I saw him picking a lock or two over at the mansion on Crawford Street when we were cleaning it out.”

“Too bad she never taught me to do that. It would definitely come in handy…” Buffy broke off her sentence when she noticed her Watcher’s eyes on her. “…in a completely legitimate and mostly law abiding, demon hunter kind of way.”

“Don’t worry, Slayer.” Spike stood up, and stretched before reaching down a hand to help lever Xander up to a standing position. “I can give you lessons. You don’t need to visit Miss Nosy Parker in the pen to learn how to pick a lock.”

Giles opened his mouth, and Xander had a feeling Buffy was about to get told to not accept any lessons from a vampire, but Tara stepped in with a question of her own.

“Why do you call her Miss Nosy Parker, Spike?”

Tara had grown bolder and bolder the longer they had talked, asking questions and even occasionally challenging statements Xander and Spike had made. Xander thought it was because she could tell they held a high respect for her, and her skills as a witch, and that their friendship was true.

“What did she do to get that nickname?”

Spike aimed his sexiest smile at her. “You sure you really want to know, Glinda?”

Xander knew his face was red. As a matter of fact, he was pretty sure most of his body clear to his waist was flushed, as well. He slapped a hand over Spike’s mouth.

“Let’s not tell that tale, if you don’t mind?” He aimed a firm don’t mess with me if you want to get to use that new pump bottle of lube tonight look at Spike, and then the bastard opened his mouth and licked Xander’s palm, his eyebrows wiggling.

Xander pulled his hand back in shock. “Spike!”

“Let’s just say it was similar to what the bunch of you walked in on yesterday and leave it at that.”

Tara was blushing heavily, as were Buffy and Willow, and maybe even Giles. Anya looked intrigued, and a little disappointed. “No one will tell me what happened. It’s quite cruel of them, I think. I can’t help it that my seminar started early in the morning. I needed my beauty sleep!”

Spike leered at her as he walked toward her desk. “Catch me when our lovers aren’t around, and I’ll tell you all about it, love.”

“The hell you will!” Xander shook his finger at Spike, following him around the couch just in case he tried anything, despite the fact that he knew it was a losing battle. It was his own fault for dating the two bluntest, outspoken and blatantly sexual people in the current Scooby menagerie. He guessed it made sense; they were the two demons in the group. Or ex-demon, in Anya’s case. He’d discovered some time ago that demons saw things differently when it came to sexuality. He should have taken that as a hint to stay far, far away, but when did he ever take the smart way out?

Buffy slipped her arms around Xander’s waist from behind, “You know you’re never going to win, Xander, you might as well give up.”

Willow grabbed him from in front, and he hugged her tight. It had hurt more than he was willing to admit that both of them had been absent from Kendra’s universe.

“God, but I’ve missed you guys! You just don’t know…” He broke off, afraid that if he finished, he’d break into tears.

“I think we do. It was over twice as long for us as it was for you. There were times we despaired of ever getting you back.” Buffy squeezed him tighter and Xander gasped.

“Whoa, Buffy. I may have superhuman strength, but I still need to breathe from time to time!”

She loosened up and scooted around to the front, and with a sigh Xander slid an arm around her, and one around Willow. “I’m so glad to be home. I really enjoyed getting to know Kendra better, and Tara and Clem, but there was a big hole in my heart where the two of you belong.”

“But you aren’t going to stay with us, are you?” Willow asked. “Spike said that the two of you are going to travel.”

“Yeah, we will. But we’ll be back. We figured we could travel for a while, then next year when college starts up again, Spike and I will patrol, and help out during the school year. That way Buffy’ll have more time for studying and being a real college student.”

“You’ll be gone a whole year?” Willow’s eyes were wide and wet, and Xander rushed to assure her.

“We’ll be around for a while. And then we’ll come back for Christmas. I want to go to England and Europe and South America and Africa. Spike’s told me all about those places, but I’ve never been anywhere before, and I want to see it all.

“You’ll have my cell number, and if you guys need help, you call us and we can be here like that!” He snapped his fingers. “And hey! Maybe we can all go on a vacation together next summer.”

When Giles turned to respond to that, Buffy interrupted before he could get a word out.

“A short one! It’s always slower during the summer, and I’d keep a cell phone handy, in case you needed me back here in a hurry. It could work!”

Xander could see the idea bubbling in Anya’s head; he knew the way her mind worked. “Then afterwards, Giles could take Anya on vacation.” She beamed at Xander, and he knew he’d read her right.

“What?” That was Giles’ ‘I’m being railroaded, here, aren’t I?’ voice.

“That’s right!” Buffy jumped in. “You haven’t been on a vacation since you moved here, Giles. You deserve a vacation, too.”

“I’ll have you know I’ve vacationed on the Motherland every summer since I moved here.”

Anya blew that excuse away with a wave of her hand. “England? That wet, stuffy place? I’ve been there, and it’s no place for a vacation.”

“Besides, G-Man, a book gathering expedition is not the same thing as a vacation. You need a real break, like Italy, or maybe Hawaii…” Xander named the first two places Anya had mentioned to him as places worthy of seeing twice, and he knew he’d gotten it right when her eyes lit up.

“Hawaii! Oh, I’ve always wanted to vacation in Hawaii! When I was working there was never enough time to relax and explore.”

“It’s settled, then.” Buffy grabbed Giles in a quick bear hug. “This coming summer we all get vacations!”

“I’m so excited!” Anya bubbled over in her elation. “ I was in Honolulu just a few years ago. I turned a conservationist into one of his own turtles for ignoring his wife in favor of his work. I put him in the Waikiki Aquarium and his wife just loved the irony of a scientist who worked in the wild being trapped in such a tiny aquarium. But I didn’t get a chance to relax on the beach, or even eat in Chinatown before I was called to Germany to deal with a double-dealing boyfriend who was having orgasms with some poor woman’s sister behind her back!”

Xander waited until everyone was talking excitedly, or at least trying to drown out Anya, before he slipped off to sit on the couch, pulling his quartz out of his pocket. He wasn’t having a full-fledged attack, but his emotions were a little on edge. He concentrated on the tiny crystals, sending all his sadness into them and focused on clearing his mind. After a few minutes, someone sat down next to him, and he blinked, looking over at Tara.

He smiled at her. “Hey.” He felt better already.

“Where did you get that, Xander?”

“As a matter of fact, you gave it to me.”

She looked up at him in surprise. “I did?” Then she smiled. “You mean the other me. The one in the universe you were visiting, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. You thought it might help me with my mood swings.”

“And has it helped?” They both looked up at Giles, who was standing over them. He sat on the coffee table and held out his hand. “May I see it?”

“Oh, sure.” Xander handed it to him. “Tara gave it to me. The one in Kendra’s universe.”

“A Drusy quartz, isn’t it?” Giles nodded as he studied it. “The theory goes that you concentrate your negative thoughts into the crystal, and the tiny surfaces diffuse the bad energy into the atmosphere, where they can do no harm.”

“That’s right.” Tara took the crystal when Giles handed it back, examining it closely. “You didn’t answer Mr. Giles’ question. Has it helped?”

Xander shrugged. “I think so. Maybe. It helps me focus on what’s happening, and that makes it easier to for me to realize that it’s more about my screwed up hormones than about me, so whether it’s actually the crystal, or me using the crystal to focus my thoughts, it’s doing something.”

“It seems as if you’re getting a good grip on those out of control hormones. You’re right, Tara. We may not need any of the spells we’ve come up with, after all.”

Tara smiled, and ducked her head, hiding her face. “I wonder if she got this at The Magic Box. There was one there just like it a couple of weeks ago.” She handed the crystal back to Xander. “If she worked there, then that seems the logical place.”

“Yeah, that’s where you got it – or she did. If you need anyone to help with the shop, Giles, you should grab Tara. She was in charge of ordering all the herbs and tinctures at the one in Kendra’s universe.”

“Really?” Giles looked at her appraisingly. “You are rather knowledgeable about such things, aren’t you? Anya mentioned just the other day that she really wasn’t fond of that department. So many different herbs…”

Tara nodded. “Yes, my mother taught me all about them. I couldn’t work full time, but I’ve actually been thinking about looking for a part time job.”

“Splendid!” Giles leaned in and spoke quietly to them both. “Of course, we’ll have to pass it by Anya. She’s rather particular about the people she works with. However, I don’t doubt that she’d love to have a powerful and talented witch on the payroll.”

“Oh!” Tara touched his arm to stop him from standing. “Muh-mr. Giles, just because Ken-kendra’s Tara was powerful, doesn’t mean that I am. Our circumstances are different, and I’m just not that good!”

“Nonsense, Tara. You’re far too modest. I’m sure that you have much potential that you’ve yet to harness. You didn’t have Willow around in Kendra’s world, so you had to stand on your own, and you did wonderfully, there. I’m sure that with encouragement, you’ll blossom here as well.”

“He’s right, Glinda.” Spike leaned over the back of the couch to add his two cents’ worth. “We have faith in you, don’t we Herc?”

Xander nodded. “We do.”

“But you'd best take better care of her than you did in Foxy Brown’s world, Watcher. You were a bit of a pillock over there.”

Giles looked like he’d bitten into a lemon, his face was so sour. “I suppose so, when one’s claim to fame consists of betraying those who counted on him, including his slayer, not to mention saving the lives of two different demons!”

“They were allies, Giles, and we were all lucky to have you around.” Giles frowned at Xander, but his attitude subsided slightly. “I know you’re disappointed in that Giles’ behavior, but in the end, you did the right thing.”

Spike jumped over the back of the couch and landed next to Xander. “And may I say, I’m glad you did.” He looked over at Xander. “Well, love? Time to go? The night’s not getting any younger, and that huge bottle of lube isn’t doing us a bit of good way over there at your apartment.”

“Spike!” Xander buried his head in his hands, as Giles clucked like a hen, and Tara giggled.

Later as they walked home, Xander kicked stones off the sidewalk and stared at Spike’s sullen pout. He’d never admit he was pouting, but that’s definitely what it was. It didn’t matter, though. Xander couldn’t abandon the Scoobies with a new big bad on the prowl.

They had cornered Giles and Buffy on the way out the door, and confronted them about their conflicting memories of Dawn. Buffy had finally broken down and admitted to them about The Beast disguised as a blond wearing a red, designer dress, and the Monk’s dying confession. Xander’s mind had reeled when they’d discovered that Dawn wasn’t a fourteen year old girl after all, but a mystical key that needed to be protected at all costs.

It made their mixed up memories of her make sense, at least. In the last twenty-four hours, the memories the monks planted had started to take over, and Spike and Xander had to concentrate to remember that they hadn’t always known Dawn. By this time tomorrow, they probably wouldn’t even recall the confusion they’d experienced that first night back.

The important thing was that they were needed. Buffy and Giles had asked Xander – asked them both to stay and help them fight her, whatever she was.

“They need me, Spike.”

Spike frowned at him.

“For once they need me. I can’t go away now.”

“They always needed you, love.”

Xander looked at him, confused.

“You may not have had the strength you have now, or the fighting skills, but you were always the heart of this group, and they couldn’t have done the things they’ve accomplished without you.” He sighed, and took Xander’s hand. “I knew from the start that you’d never go as long as there was danger facing the bunch of them. You’ll always be there for them. I guess I was just hoping we’d get some time to ourselves before they tied you up in their needs.”

“We will get that time, Spike. I promise you. It’s just gonna take a while. In the meantime, we can look for the house you want – the one with a huge gym and a big outdoor pool. I’ll sunbathe during the day, and then after patrol, the two of us can lounge in the hot tub all night. That’s what you wanted, right?”

Spike stopped Xander under a street light, and reached his hand around to Xander’s neck, pulling them together. They kissed passionately, and Xander put all his love and trust and hope into that kiss. He was breathing heavily by the time they parted, and Spike’s eyes were sparking yellow in the dark.

“Mmmm…” Spike hummed, his hands running down Xander’s sides. “All that lovely, tanned skin and no tan lines.”

“What? I’m not going to swim in the nude!”

“Sure you are, Herc,” Spike argued. “We’ll make the privacy walls tall enough that no one can see in, and at night, the two of us can swim together.”

“Oh.” Xander had to admit, that might be interesting.

“Think about it, love,” Spike whispered in Xander’s ear. “Slick bodies, sliding up against each other in the dark, lovers with no need to stop for a breath of air slipping down under the water line to explore whatever they might find there…”

“That’s enough! Stop!” Xander needed to call a halt to this before he dragged Spike behind a wall somewhere and ravaged him right then and there.

Spike pulled back far enough to look into Xander’s eyes. “Xander?”

“C’mon, Mighty Vamp! I’ll race you home!”

Xander took off with a whoop of joy, and Spike chased along behind him, laughing into the dark. Who the hell cared what might happen next week or next month? When it happened, they’d deal with it, the way they always did. But right now, Xander had Spike – no, they had each other, and that was all that mattered.

Chapter Text

Clem juggled the bags in his arms, and frowned at the traffic at the intersection. He had no idea what this was all about, but it made him nervous. Spike wanted to meet him at an apartment complex that was notorious for being unfriendly to Demonic Americans. There were sections of town that were better for getting around in, places where it really didn’t matter if you had an extra limb, or scales, or if your skin was on the loose side.

Then there were other areas – streets you didn’t travel in the daylight, and even at night the sidewalks were well lit, and non-humans were rare. If they did venture into those parts of town, they used the back streets, the alleys where the lights flickered and buzzed. They conducted their business furtively, and got the hell out before the cops cruised by. Because the cops in Sunnydale may be blind when it suits them, but when the money’s right, they can do their jobs with more enthusiasm than you might expect.

The Restfield Arms Apartments weren’t in too exclusive a section of town, but they had a bad reputation for being biased towards humans, or at least demons who could pass. They were within blocks of the largest cemetery in town, but if your skin had a green tinge to it, or if your scales were too large to avoid notice, then you might as well keep walking Buster, because you’re wasting your time looking for a place to live here. Clem knew he was lucky in that regard. His loose skin was easy to pass off as a skin condition, and as long as he kept his talons in his pockets, and his fangs safely hidden behind his lips, nobody looked at him more than once or twice. Well, maybe thrice, but who was counting?

So he didn’t have too much problem wandering through the courtyard, admiring the trees, and the gardens, and the well laid out complex – nice pool, and look, a tennis court. He was uncomfortable, though. It just wasn’t his kind of gig. And since Spike’s crypt was two blocks south in the Restfield Cemetery, he kind of wondered what Spike had up his sleeve, insisting that Clem meet him here. He took the stairs two at a time. Not like he was in a hurry to get out or anything; it just didn’t make a lot of sense to stick around where you weren’t welcome. A brisk knock on the door, juggling the bags in his arms as he waited, and he heard voices behind the door. Well, here goes nothing.

Spike’s jovial shout brought a smile to his face. It always amazed Clem that such a deadly vamp, a Master vamp like Spike, could be friends with a guy like Clem. But there it was, clear as day for a demon who read auras as clearly as Clem did. Spike and Clem were buddies. Wow.

The apartment opened up into a great room that encompassed the living room, dining room and kitchen, with comfy seating in one corner right in front of an excellent media center with lots of shelves full of – oh! SciFi videos! Now he knew this apartment didn’t belong to Spike. But he had a feeling he was going to like whoever did live here. Clem was feeling better already.

Spike led him up a couple of steps to the kitchen, and Clem grabbed a beer out of the first bag, before Spike stuck the rest in the fridge. He upended the other bag over the counter, and half a dozen packages of salty snack foods came tumbling out.

“Food of the gods,” he informed Spike.

Spike grinned. “Oh yeah. You and Xan are going to be best buds. I have no idea why I’m even here.”

“Well, somebody has to introduce us.” Clem figured this must be Xan. “But now that Clem’s here, you can hit the road.” He said the words with laughter in his voice, and Clem could tell he didn’t really mean them.

“Oh, I like that.” Spike prowled back to the door Xan had come through. “I’m not good enough for you all the sudden, Xander?”

Xander grinned as Spike wrapped his arms around him, and they stared into each other’s eyes for a moment – just long enough for Clem to see just exactly what they were to each other. His heart almost burst with happiness.

“Spike!” Clem was so overcome with emotion that he had to pause for a moment. Spike and Xander stared at him with concern, but he just brushed their worry away. “Sorry, I just got a little verklempt. I’m – I’m just so happy for you. You finally found your perfect mate!”

They both blinked at him, eyes wide with shock.

Clem kept going, knowing it would be easy to be confused by what he had to say, but needing to get it out all the same. “I know, I know, a human and a vampire – it has to be strange adjusting to it all, but your auras complement each other so well. Auras don’t lie, Spike. You two complete each other.”

By then, both of them were grinning so widely that Clem couldn’t help but laugh at the sappy looks on their faces. He blushed a little when he realized that he’d just blurted all that out in front of a complete stranger, before he’d even been introduced. He strode over, hand held out.

“Hi. I’m Clem.”

Xander took his hand, laughing. “Hi, Clem. I’m astonished, amazed, and a little overwhelmed, but you can call me Xander.”

Four hours later, Clem practically skipped his way through the trees and fountains of the Restfield Arms Apartment Complex, and he couldn’t care less if they stared at him, or even tried to ban him from the grounds. Xander and Spike were looking for another place, anyway. They wouldn’t be here long. And Clem had found a rare and wonderful new friend tonight, someone who understood his love of all things SciFi. Who the hell cared if a couple of humans wrinkled their little noses over his skin. Spike didn’t mind, and neither did Xander.

And they were going to introduce him to Tara, Willow, Dawn, and maybe even The Slayer. Wow. Could his life get any better? Spike had said that Clem could take over possession of his Crypt, and that was a prime piece of real estate in the demon world. He could give up his little hovel. He wouldn’t regret that in the least. He’d always thought that Spike could have done more with that place. The upper floor would be great for entertaining. Think of the parties he could throw!

He could invite his new friends! Well, except for the Slayer. She would probably make the demon half of the party goers too nervous to really enjoy themselves. But that’s okay. He’d see her around at Spike and Xander’s new place.

He couldn’t help but grin. It just seemed so incredible that Spike would fall for a real live Hero – with his own Companions, no less! But then he’d been hanging around with that bunch of goody-two-shoes for a while now. Since the chip. If he had to be stuck with a chip, that was probably the best place for him.

Spike had his moments of evil, he was a vampire after all, but Clem could see the good inside him, too. He was made for greater things than most demons Clem knew. It looked like he’d finally found his path to those things. He’d never tell Spike that. Never in a million years. He may like his skin loose, but he still preferred it attached to the rest of his body. But that was okay. He got the idea that Xander understood.

What a night! He stopped, just outside of the cemetery, still a couple of blocks away from his home. His head was filled with visions from the wonderful story they’d told him tonight. You don’t often see that kind of fairy tale ending these days. But he had a feeling he might see more of it, hanging out with his new friends. They were all heroic in their own way, even Spike. And if a vampire could be a hero, well then, maybe Clem could too.

He raised his head to the sliver of moon high overhead and warbled a Chewbacca cry into the sky. He was answered by a roar from the other side of the cemetery. Oops. Maybe he should move on. He’d have to grow into the role of Chewbacca, despite the fact that Spike had called him Chewie all night. Huh. He had an alias. Now how cool was that?

Chapter Text

Xander was content. As a matter of fact, he was more than content. He couldn’t think of a better word off the top of his head, but he was sure there was one. It didn’t matter, though. The one person he’d ask to come up with it for him was currently sucking on his left nipple, teasing it, nibbling on it, and flicking it with his tongue. It felt absolutely wonderful, and Xander had no intention of stopping Spike to ask him to play thesaurus.

It wasn’t just Spike’s skill with his tongue that made Xander content, although it played a large part in that equation. But it wasn’t everything, and everything was perfect, today. This afternoon, Xander had talked to a real estate agent, who had several suggestions for a house, and he and Spike were going to see them tomorrow night. Clem had come over later, and they’d played Final Fantasy IX all afternoon, and talked like fools about everything and nothing, making plans to go to Loscon 27 together later that month.

Xander and Spike had gone on patrol with Buffy afterwards, and she’d admitted that she hadn’t realized how good it had felt to have the support of those with ‘some kind of power’ beyond that of an average human. When they’d been sucked into another dimension, and she’d had to handle everything on her own again, she’d even missed Spike’s help. She was very grateful that they were both there to help, and that acknowledgement had given Xander a happy boost that had lasted all evening.

Now, it was just Xander and Spike, doing what they do best – loving each other. Spike pinched both nipples one last time before he moved down the center of his chest, and Xander arched into the sensations, moaning his approval. When Spike played with his navel, Xander squirmed. He hated that Spike now knew how ticklish he was there, but when Spike got serious, tongue fucking Xander as his fingernails scratched lightly down Xander’s sides, he forgot all about laughing, and rolled his body in a wave of pleasure.

What was it that Spike had called it? Undulated - that was it. Sexy word for a sexy move. He hadn’t even known his body could do that, until Spike showed him that pleasure had degrees. There was ‘okay’ pleasure, and there was ‘oh, that was nice’ pleasure. There was ‘woah, do that again’ pleasure, and ‘holy, fucking god, I never knew there could be so much pleasure’ pleasure. Spike was an expert on ‘holy, fucking god’ pleasure, and Xander never wanted it to end.

Don’t get him wrong, Xander had done his share to pleasure Spike, too – he wasn’t a selfish lover. But he was an inexperienced one when it came to the man-on-man kind of love, and so he often let Spike take the driver’s seat, at least for the first time or two they tried something new, until he learned the ropes. Take blow-jobs, for instance. The learning curve was a lot higher than he’d expected it to be on blow-jobs, but he was getting there – they both swore by the saying: practice makes perfect. Spike was an excellent role model when it came to anything oral.

And tonight, Spike was in the driver’s seat.

“Remember when you showed up at Puffy’s mansion, and found me and Death Song down in the basement?” Spike had murmured into Xander’s ear.

“Well, yeah. Not like I could forget that. You were gold.” Xander hummed his pleasure at the way Spike’s tongue flicked along the curve of his ear.

“I never did thank you for rescuing me.” Spike nibbled on his ear, and sucked on the lobe.

“I remember. You said you weren’t going to thank me.” Xander tried not to sound too petulant about it, as he leaned his head to the side, giving Spike more room to play.

“I was saving it up, ‘cause I wanted to make it special.”

“Special?” This could be interesting.

“Oh yeah, love. I wanted to make it a memorable experience.”

Spike licked his way down the side of Xander’s neck and sucked at the pulse point rhythmically, following along with the beat of the hot blood flowing through Xander’s veins. Xander had never had a vampire for a lover before. He had no idea exactly how conscious they were of such things. Now that he thought about it, he bet a vampire with a human lover followed the beat of his lover’s heart with an almost single-minded obsession. Instead of freaking him out, Xander realized he kind of liked that idea.

“A memorable experience? I like the sound of that.”

“I thought you might.”

That’s when Spike started on Xander’s nipples. He spent a long time on them, and they were crinkled and sharp by the time he moved on. They pulsed with the beat of his heart, too.

Spike took his time getting below the waist, and by the time he was sucking on the crease between Xander’s thigh and his body, his neglected cock was dripping precome all over his stomach. But that didn’t stop Spike. He slid up to clean up Xander’s belly with his tongue, then headed over to Xander’s other thigh. Eventually, he managed to get to Xander’s balls, and by then, Xander was hearing that pulse in his head, and he wasn’t at all surprised when Spike’s slick fingers slid between his ass cheeks with that same beat.

This part was fairly new. Not that there was any hesitation on Xander’s part; he’d been shown the benefits of his prostate the first time they’d used the pump bottle, days before anything larger than Spike’s fingers got anywhere near his ass. As a matter of fact, Xander had been a little surprised at how careful Spike was with Xander’s body. He’d never in his life have expected Spike to treat him like a valuable gift, but he did, and it emphasized the importance Spike placed on his relationship with Xander. That made him proud, and filled him with joy.

The last two times, well, the only two times they’d had sex – full on, penetrative sex, that is – Spike had prepared him this way: his mouth on Xander’s cock, and his fingers pressing on Xander’s prostate, pulling the first orgasm of the night out of him, turning him mellow, and more receptive to the entrance of Spike’s cock. So he wasn’t really surprised by the blow-job or the fingers in his ass. Not that he was disappointed or anything, because Spike’s blow-jobs were pretty damn spectacular, and his ability to multi-task was freaking amazing as he stimulated Xander’s prostate, sucked/licked/swallowed the head of Xander’s cock, and caressed Xander’s balls all at the same time.

But Spike had said memorable, and even if it was only the third time they’d done this, they still had done this before. But then the pretty damn spectacular part kicked in, and Xander forgot all about looking for memorable, ‘cause he was too busy having his cock, and his mind blown. When he came, he saw stars, and lights flashed behind his eyelids. God, Spike was good at that.

However, for some reason, Spike kept right on going. He kept up the stimulation on Xander’s prostate, making him gasp and shudder, and his eyes roll back into his head. Spike pulled back until Xander’s cock was lying on his tongue, and he softly worked it against the roof of his mouth, rubbing it gently. Spike knew to be careful of Xander’s cock, because they’d discovered that even with his amazing new super power of an incredibly short refractory time, Xander needed a minute or two before he was ready to start round two.

But before long, he was hard again, his stiff cock pumping between Spike’s lips. He wondered if Spike intended to make him come again like this, and what did that mean? Would Spike fuck him tonight or not? Because although he’d been fingering Xander for some time, he hadn’t bothered to stretch him the way he usually did. Maybe he was going to see exactly how many times Xander could come. They hadn’t really tested his new super power perk, so he had no idea how many times he could come in one night. Finally, he gave up on wondering, because he was missing the fun part, and he should never be thinking about anything except pleasure, when his cock was inside Spike’s mouth.

That was when Spike pulled his fingers out, and let go of both Xander’s balls and his prick. Xander blinked, surprised by the sudden end to the stimulation that he’d become used to, the pounding of his heartbeat suddenly once again a singular sound. He felt abandoned. But when he finally focused on Spike, he saw in the slow, sexy smile and the heat in Spike’s eyes that there was definitely more to come.

“Spike?” His voice was scratchy and uncertain, as if he’d been shouting, and okay, maybe he had been. Spike’s blow-jobs were pretty spectacular. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Spike?”

Spike’s smile widened into a rather self-satisfied smirk, the kind of smirk that at another time, Xander would call him on. But he had to admit, that at this point, he got the idea that Spike had earned that look. He just wasn’t sure why. Spike pulled himself up onto his knees and knee-walked up the bed. He ended up straddling Xander’s chest, and Xander rubbed his hands up and down Spike’s powerful thighs. Then Spike pumped slick into his hand, arched his back, and started fingering his own ass. He held out the hand with lube in it.

“Wanna help?”

Xander managed to snap his mouth closed before any flies flew in, and swallowed heavily. Hell yes, he wanted to help. But he hated to look too eager.

“Okay.” He’d tried for blasé, but he thought, from the humor in Spike’s eyes, that he’d failed pitifully. He swallowed again, and reached out his shaking hand to run his first two fingers through the slick in Spike’s palm. He stopped, unsure of what to do next.

Spike’s hard prick was pointing directly at the ceiling, so he had a pretty clear shot, since Spike’s balls were pretty tight, and close to his body, but Xander was hesitant to touch him. Not like it would be the first time he’d had his fingers on Spike’s ass, but it would be the first time he’d aimed at his asshole with slick fingers, and that was a big difference in Xander’s book.

Spike pulled his fingers out of his ass, wiped them off on the sheets, then grabbed Xander’s hand. He thrust his hips forward and pulled Xander’s hand behind his balls.

“What are you waiting for? A map?”

Xander finally got the hint, and slid his fingers along Spike’s crack until he felt the puckered skin of Spike’s asshole. He ran his fingers around and across, teasing as best he could with trembling fingers, but he guessed it worked. Spike’s eyes closed, and he smiled, running his fingers across his chest to pluck at his nipples. Xander wanted to just stop and watch Spike, because he seldom saw this kind of abandon. Spike was all about control, and to see him let loose and just feel the pleasure was a rare gift, and suddenly Xander got it. Yeah, this was a very memorable moment. One he hoped he never forgot.

But he knew that Spike would only allow this for so long, so he worked up his nerve, and slid his fingers inside Spike, humbled at the trust it took to let someone touch you so personally, so intimately. Spike was tight, and he pumped his fingers in and out a few times, while Spike played with his own nipples, his eyes closed and head thrown back in pleasure. Finally Xander curled his fingers back toward himself, and after a few fumbles, found Spike’s prostate.

He hadn’t realized that Spike was breathing until he gasped at the sensations Xander was pulling out of him, and his breathing sped up. His cock jerked, and a dribble of precome slid from the slit. Spike hummed his appreciation, his eyes almost closed, but Xander was pretty sure he knew what Xander was doing when he leaned forward and licked the precome off the tip before it could slide down his cock.

“Yeah, all right, that’s enough.”

Spike’s anxious voice cut through the fog that had hazed his brain, and he looked up into Spike’s eyes, worried that maybe he’d done something wrong. What he saw would have made him laugh if he hadn’t been so horny that he wasn’t sure which end was up, because Spike was close to that same edge. His pale cock was flushed pink, and the foreskin had pulled all the way back from the head, the way it did when he was about as hard as he could get. This show wasn’t going to last much longer.

Xander pulled his fingers out and Spike slid back far enough to roughly grab Xander’s cock and smear it with what was left of the lube on his hand. Then he positioned himself, holding onto Xander’s shaft, and slid down until he was seated firmly on Xander’s groin. Oh, holy fuck. Xander held his breath, praying that he wouldn’t come right then and there, because Spike was so amazingly tight, and he really wasn’t sure he was going to survive this expe