Chapter 14: Rage

Chapter 14: Rage

                Spike ran, darting through Sunnydale Below like a fish through black water.   He could feel the blood on his shirt, cold and sticky - he could hear Xander in his head.

                *Hurts, hurts, fuck - are they all right?   Is Tara all right?  Won't tell me...   Taking too long - FUCK, needle - Spike...*    Spike snarled, running faster.  He had to get to the hospital before the ambulances - had to get some damn blood.  Xander had panicked at the thought of the EMT's seeing him and trying to help him - trying to get his vitals - and he'd picked up a piece of broken glass off the floor and cut his arm, holding it out.

                "Drink it, Spike, damnit!  They're gonna give me blood anyway and you can't be bleeding when they get here!   Just do it, fucking do it -"   tears in his eyes and his other arm tight around Dawn and Spike had drunk, shaking, taking in fear and despair and pain with every mouthful.  He'd pulled away as soon as he could and then Oz was calling him, urging him to hurry.  Pulling his shirt down away from his neck and telling him to drink, NOW, Xander was right, just DO it and he had.  Knowing puncture marks from his fangs would be too much to try and explain away but hating that Xander was hurt more, now, blood pulsing sluggishly over his hand and dripping onto the living room carpet.

                But it wasn't enough, for the kind of damage that gun had caused.  He'd stopped bleeding - he'd been able to pass the mess off as Buffy's blood, Tara's, Xander's, and they'd let it go.  He'd called the Watcher and told him to get to the hospital - called Derio, who'd been on his way anyway, his knowing telling him something was wrong, just like before.    The EMT's had been quick, efficient, and practiced and Buffy had been whisked away first, a tube down her throat and IV's already in place.  Her lips tinged blue and the broken ends of her collarbone a dull ivory gleam against the scarlet of her blood.  

                "Collapsed lung," the EMT muttered, and Dawn had fought to get in the ambulance, going white and furious and the man had taken pity on her and let her in.  Tara in the next one, oxygen mask on her face, IV for her as well, her side spattered with blood to the hip and her breath hitching in pain, erratic.  Broken ribs, furrowed flesh, and Xander had climbed in with her, a wad of gauze held to his arm, his pale face alarming them all.  In the flurry of departures Derio had arrived in his little Honda, cursing in Spanish under his breath and pulling a gore-flecked Oz to him for a hard kiss.  Spike had slipped out and into the nearest sewer entrance - half a block away and thank fuck the sun was going down, the street was shady.   And now he dodged and ducked his way through the murk, nearly there, listening to Xander worry, to Oz trying to be calm.  The smell of death and blood and chemicals increased and Spike was under the hospital and finding an opening - climbing up and out into the dank sub-cellars that housed the boilers and generators and decades of abandoned, obsolete equipment.  He headed straight for the incinerator - where Xander had taken him so long ago, to buy him human blood and tell him, obliquely, that he cared.   As usual there was blood there, stacked in Styrofoam coolers, waiting for disposal.  Spike tore into them, drinking rapidly, ignoring the staleness, simply gorging himself so that his rib would heal and he could safely sit amongst the nurses and doctors without drawing unwanted attention.

                *Here, we're here, thank god.  Spike?  Oz and Derio are right behind us, there's Buffy - ow!  Damn, Dawn is -*

                *I'm here, love, be right up, hold on -*  Spike drained a last bag and flung it into the incinerator and then he was going up and up, finding his way easily through the labyrinth of corridors.  He could smell his family - could smell their blood - and he fought the demon back and down.  Let his soul soothe it and shush it and make it stop because the demon was close to losing it right there.  He finally found the right door and pushed through - felt his knees go weak with relief as he saw Oz and Derio and Dawn, huddled into plastic chairs in the chaotic ER.  He strode across to them, ignoring the shocked looks his appearance was getting.

                *Wolf, I'm here, I'm here.  Where's Xan, where -*

                *Stitches, he's okay I guess, family only back there...  Spike, fuck pack pack pack.*   The wolf was desperate to be free and Oz was fighting it for all he was worth.  Spike took a last few steps and then collapsed to his knees, pulling Oz into a hard embrace.   A moment later he could feel Dawn's hand on his shoulder and he freed an arm to include her, *fear sorrow no no no* in the link from her.   Dawn shuddered against him, crying softly, and Spike pushed his face into Oz's neck for a moment, just breathing, and then he looked up - reached out and snagged Derio in as well, *family family pack need you,* the demon doing its best to include him.

                A hesitant cough made Spike look up, snarling, and the Watcher held his hand up, standing there looking pale and lost.

                "Giles, Buffy was -"   Dawn buried her face in Spike's shoulder again and Giles' mouth compressed to a thin, hard line.

                "Yes, yes I know, do you know - anything?"  Spike stood up slowly, transferring Dawn to Oz, letting his fingers linger for a moment on Oz's shoulder, Derio's hand.  He jerked his chin up, indicating over there, and he and Giles walked to the other side of the waiting room where Ethan stood, looking ill and uncomfortable and distinctly nervous.

                "Slayer's bad.  Lung collapsed, broken bone -"   Spike indicated his collarbone and Giles' mouth opened and then snapped shut again.  "Tara, she was shot in the ribs - don't know how bad, she was awake...  Xander..."  Spike blinked - took a hard breath, calming himself, calming the demon.  "Got hit in the arm.  Not too bad.  They're all - back there somewhere."  He indicated the trauma rooms that lined one hallway.    "Won't let us back."  He dug out his cigarettes and lighter - lit up and inhaled hard.  His hand was shaking - was smeared with blood - and Giles stared at the dried-black streaks for a moment, silent.  Ethan reached out and put his hand gently on Giles' shoulder and Giles blinked - looked around at him and smiled faintly.

                "Yes, well - I...  I am listed as next-of-kin on Buffy's paperwork so I'll - I'll go and see what's happening and - see if they'll tell me about - about the others."

                "You do that, Watcher.  Oz said - Red ran out of the house.  Talking about power - talking about sending that Warren bastard to hell.  She's not here, Rupert."  Giles' eyes went wide and Ethan scowled.  He stepped up a little closer, and his pallor had taken on a tinge of green.

                "Ripper-love, this place - is making me ill.  Why don't I go to the shop, see if - if I can find out what she's up to?"  He tried to sound off-hand but his voice was shaking and when a doctor in a white coat walked by, brushing his arm accidentally, he flinched hard away and shut his eyes.  Spike could hear his heart - could see the sweat sheening his skin.  Ethan's magic - his self - that was under fragile control at best had gotten loose and the seething wrongness of it made the demon snarl - made it want to bite and tear.  That in itself told Spike how close to the edge Ethan was, here, because just lately he'd gotten very good at controlling the residual magics that crackled around him.

                *Calm, calm, calm,* from Oz, and *It's okay, it's okay, ouch, fuck -* from Xander.

                *Man's gonna lose it.  Send him off, Ripper, we don't need his chaos here, anyway.*

                "I think - that would be best, Ethan, thank you," Giles said softly.  He leaned over and kissed the mage - cupped his cheek for a moment and then Ethan was turning and striding rapidly out, his face grim, his hands in fists.  Giles watched him go for a moment and then turned back to Spike, who was intent on inhaling the last inch of his cigarette.

                "I'll go see what I can find out.  I'll be back soon."

                "Right," Spike muttered, and Giles walked over to the admitting desk, dredging up a faint smile for the harried-looking woman working there.  Spike finished his cigarette and pinched it out - shoved the butt into his pocket.  He went back over to the others and settled down in a chair, hands deep in his pockets.  Waiting, and he hated that.

                *Xander, love - you all right?*

                *I'm okay, I’m just...   They're working on Buffy...fuck...*   A brief flash of the Slayer, naked on white sheets with a towel over her hips, blood like a shawl over her shoulder and chest, dripping on the floor.  Machines, noise, a swarm of scrub-suited men and woman buzzing around her with gloved hands and masks.  There was a flinch in the link - Oz - and Spike felt blindly for his hand and squeezed it.

                *Slayer constitution, love, she'll be all right.  Can you see Glinda?*

                *A little - she's not - not as hurt as Buffy, but -*  A similar scene, a little more subdued, Tara wincing and talking to a doctor, hands and drapes and machinery around her like bizarre apostles.   Xander was in the middle room, and no-one had thought to shut the blinds over the big windows that flanked him.

                *God, I hate this.  Wish I could leave...*  Xander was keeping calm by the thinnest of margins and Spike shut his eyes and concentrated, sending as much calm - as much love and reassurance - as he could muster.  He wished they could just go home, too, but he knew they couldn't - knew they'd be here for hours, or days, and Xander had to calm down.  The human was faint from blood loss - from the after-effects of the adrenalin surge - and feeling nauseated.  The smells and sounds weren't helping and Oz was suddenly there, singing something into the link. Low, wordless hum, part of the chant he used to keep the wolf at bay and Spike let it wash over him and calm him - opened wide to it and just waited, eyes shut.  It was all they could do.

                A half-hour later Spike surreptitiously pulled his t-shirt off his ribs and grimaced as the dried blood unstuck from the raw, new skin of the gun-shot wound.   Beside him Oz twitched and glanced over - put out a hand and let it rest on Spike's knee.  Spike took it and squeezed, grateful.  Dawn was sitting huddled into his other side and he stroked her shoulder over and over, unconsciously humming Oz's wolf-chant under his breath.  

                Derio pushed in through the doors at the end of the hall, soda cans and cookies in his arms and he sat on the magazine-strewn table in front of them, putting the packages down.

                "Hey, Dawn - why don't you try and have some of this?  Make you feel a little more steady, huh gatito?"  Dawn's hands, curled over the hard plastic of the chair arm, were shaking, shaking, shaking, and Spike nudged her a little, making her sit up fractionally.

                "Have a bite, poppet.  We'll be here a while yet - don’t want to fall out before you get to see big sis, do you?"  Dawn's eyes - dark and wet and bloodshot - gazed up at him blankly and then she blinked and shifted - put one foot tentatively on the floor and leaned forward.  Derio opened a soda for her and held it out - opened a miniature pack of cookies and she took one, nibbling slowly, sipping in miniscule mouthfuls.    Sugar and carbohydrates, natural tranquilizers so maybe she could relax a little - maybe wake up.  The link from her was numb - whisper-faint and full of utter despair.   He could feel Xander, who was finally getting stitches - who was tranked up on Demerol or something so that his thoughts were skittery and strange.  

                *Loud, that was loud, makes my head - Spike?  You there?  It's this what it's like when - Spike?  Where's Oz?  Why can't you...  Spike?  I can't see you, I - need to...*

                *Love, love, I'm right here, I'm just waiting for you.  Get you all fixed up right and then I'll be there, love, just -*

                *Spike?  Fuckin' cold, I...*   Spike stood with a snarl, taking three fast steps towards the hallway and the trauma rooms before Oz's hands were on his arm - around his waist.  Oz got in front of him and stopped him - held him tight and flooded his senses with *Pack pack stay here pack love you stay here stay here safe, he's safe, pack pack pack.*   Scent of earth and pine, scent of blood, fucking blood.  Xander's and Tara's and Buffy's blood all mingled and Spike stared down at the werewolf, shuddering.

                "Don't, Spike.  Come sit back down, okay?"  Soft voice, pleading eyes, and Spike slumped a little and pulled Oz close - hugged him, his face pressed into the prickly-soft hair, his body pressed against the small bones and warm flesh.  Oz's hands rubbed up and down his back, slow caress and Spike finally sighed and backed off a little - let Oz turn him and tug him back to the chairs where Dawn was eating like a little zombie mouse and Derio was tight-lipped and furious - as scared and as angry and as helpless as they were.  Derio watched Dawn for a moment and then turned to Spike, a small frown on his face.

                "Where's that Johnathan?" he asked softly, and Spike had to think about that.

                "No idea, mate."

                "He's at the shop today," Oz said, elbows on knees, looking utterly worn.  He lifted his head and looked at them, his eyes dark-circled.  "He was going to do some inventory.   I think he's trying to get us to....keep him.  Make himself useful."

                "Never happen," Spike muttered, tipping his head back to stare blindly at the ceiling.

                Giles had disappeared into the warren of rooms somewhere beyond the waiting area and no one would talk to them.  Spike was ready to get up and start shouting - or smashing - something, when he felt Oz stiffen beside him and looked around for whatever new threat had arrived.

                *Ah, bloody hell, the filth.  Just what we need.*    Two Sunnydale police officers stood at the admitting desk, flashing badges and asking questions, and the duty-nurse pointed over at their group.  Spike felt the growl rumbling up out of his chest and beside him Oz took a long, slow breath.

                *CALM!  Calm down.  I'll talk, I'll tell them what they need to know.  Don't do anything, Spike,* Oz thought, his hand tight in Spike's, his wolf-scent getting stronger as his own control slipped for a split-second.

                *Do my best.  Keep it simple, wolf.*   The officers walked over and stood there for a moment, just staring.  Spike knew what they saw - three blood-soaked people, pale, shaken, and about done-in, and Derio who was bristling like a pissed-off cat the longer the stare went on.

                "Hello.  I'm Detective Eric Watson," the first one said, a tall, thin man with salt-and-pepper hair and glasses.    "This is my partner, Ron Moore."  Detective Moore was also tall, but built like a bull with a fringe of gingery hair around his head and a nose askew from being broken.  They both wore crumpled, dark-colored suits and stank, to Spike, of stale sweat and cigarette smoke, grease and blood and chemicals.    "You were involved in a shooting today?  Care to tell us what happened?"  Watson pushed his glasses up, blinking at them.

                "Victims of a shooting," Derio muttered, and Watson glanced at him. 

                "Your name, sir?"  Moore pulled out a little notebook and flipped it open - got a pen and sat heavily on the low table across from them.  Dawn stared blankly and lifted a cookie to her mouth, eating it slowly.        

                "Desiderio Padovani.  I wasn't there when it happened," he said shortly, and Oz reached over and grabbed his hand, pulling it into his lap and lacing their fingers together.  The detective's eyes flickered at that but he said nothing.  Spike pulled out his cigarettes again and lit one, desperate for something to distract him.

                "You can't smoke in here," Moore said, pointing over his shoulder at a red 'No Smoking Allowed' sign and Spike took a long drag and blew the smoke in his face, feeling that utter stillness that came over him when he was on the verge of mayhem.

                "Piss. Off," Spike growled, and Watson reached for his cigarette, scowling.  Spike felt the demon rising, and Oz did, because he intercepted Watson's hand, stopping him cold and obviously surprising the man with his strength.

                "He'll put it out.  It's been a rough day, okay?"  Watson withdrew his hand slowly and Oz looked over at Spike, tipping his head a little.

                *Put it out, okay?  We'll do this and they'll go.* 

                "Yeah, all right," Spike grumbled, taking a last hard hit and then grinding the smoke out on his heel.  He shoved the butt into his pocket and glared at the officers, who stared back.

                "Now," Watson said, settling his tie and taking a deep breath, "why don't you tell me -?"

                "Xander."   Spike was up and out of his chair, knocking into Watson and ignoring his yelp of surprise.  Xander stood unsteadily in the hall, his arm bandaged and up in a sling, his face shockingly pale despite a transfusion.  There were still smudges of blood down his cheek and on both hands, and his jeans were stained with dark spots and streaks.  His shirt was gone and he had a scrub-shirt on, the sleeve split so his bandaged upper arm would fit through.    Spike just grabbed him and held on, face buried in his neck and arms tight around him, hugging him from the side a little so he wouldn't crush Xander's hurt arm.

                 *Bloody hell, about time, you all right, love?  You look knackered, gotta get you home and in bed, love, god, love you love you love you...*   Spike knew he was babbling - didn't care.  Just wanted his boy, just wanted Xander; smell of wood and spice and sunshine, smell of home.  Xander's right arm was tight around him, and his lips were against Spike's neck, moving as he murmured softly. 

                "Love you, it's all right, hush, love, I'm all right, love you, love you...."   *Love you love you pack pack pack.*

                 "Christ."  Spike pulled back finally - pushed his hand back through Xander's hair, feeling the stiff strands where blood and sweat had dried, matting it.  Xander wobbled a little and Spike held him, frowning.

                "You guys okay?  Did Giles find out anything?" Xander asked, and Spike shook his head.

                "We're fine.  Nothing yet, he's still back there.  Ethan went to try and track Willow - she's out hunting Warren."  Xander's eyes went wide and then he looked over Spike's shoulder.

                "Fuck.  The cops.  Never around when you need them..."  He sighed deeply, and Spike ghosted light little kisses over his cheeks and lips.

                "Yeah.  Gotta tell 'em what's what and then they'll go.  You up to it, love?"

                "Yeah.  You stay right with me," Xander murmured, and Spike kissed him again, slow kiss on the mouth, and they finally turned and went slowly back over to the chairs.

                "Xander?" Dawn said, staring at him, and Xander sank down in a crouch in front of her, ignoring the detectives.

                "I'm right here, Dawnie.  You okay?"

                "Where's Buffy?  Is she okay?  Nobody'll tell me -"   Dawn blinked, and tears streamed down her face unnoticed.  Spike crouched down as well, wiping the tears off her face with his thumb.

                "She's fine, Dawn, just fine.  She's hurt so they have to help her, and it takes a while is all.  She'll be just fine, okay?  Promise."   Pain in the link, and fear - flashes of Buffy being wheeled away, and Spike wanted to put his fist through the wall - through something, because there was too much pain, too much despair, and Oz and Xander and Dawn were drowning in it.

                *Hold it together, damnit, just -*

                "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we really do need to ask some questions," Watson said, sounding anything but sorry, and Spike was standing fast, feeling his lips going back, feeling his hands spread and stiffen in anticipation of - something.  Of tearing the man's heart out and shoving it down his partner's throat.

                "Spike!"  Xander shoved bodily into him - Oz did from the other side, just crowding him, distracting him, sending so hard through the link he cringed, just a little.  The detectives were looking irritated and ready to blow - Dawn was sending nothing but fear through the link and Spike shut his eyes and just let them do it - let them soothe the demon, smooth his rough edges down - let the soul take control so thoroughly that for a moment Spike felt dizzy.  Then he opened his eyes again and looked at Xander.  Exhaustion, fear, grief, and a desperate pleading in his boy's eyes.

                "I’m sorry, love.  So sorry.  Be all right now, yeah?  I'll just -"   Spike sank down slowly into the chair that was behind him and Xander came around and sat next to him, hand tight in his.  Dawn on the other side, and then Oz was sitting as well, and Derio, all of them shaking with reaction - desperate to get this over with.  The detectives exchanged looks - cleared throats.  Started with the questions.



                "I really don't know," Xander said, for about the third time, and he could feel the hyena pushing, pushing.  He was so tired and his arm felt as if it were on fire, pulsing flame with every heartbeat.  His head was pounding, he was hungry and nauseated at the same time, and Dawn looked ready to collapse.  Spike was shredding his way through his fourth magazine, his teeth gritted so hard Xander could feel the ache in the link and Oz was starting to get snappish.  Even Derio seemed to be hanging by a thread, and he kept turning and looking over his shoulder as if expecting someone to walk up and touch him - or hit him.

                "Does this Warren have any friends in town?  A place he could stay?" Watson asked, and Xander should his head.

                "The only friend I know about is Andrew, and he's in jail right here in Sunnydale.  Why don't you go ask him -"   Watson's phone beeped suddenly and he held up hand and flipped it open - stood up and moved a few paces away.  Xander felt Spike stiffen beside him and he knew Spike could hear what was being said.  Xander could hear the other voice, as well, but he couldn't make out individual words over all the other noise - over his own heartbeat.

                "Gotta go," Watson said shortly, and Moore stood up, shutting his little notebook and stuffing it away in a pocket.  "If you hear anything, give me a call, all right?  We'll be in touch."  Watson held out a business card and after a moment Xander took it, nodding.  The two men hurried away and Xander slumped back in the chair, his back screaming in protest.

                "Fuck," he muttered, and Spike's hand slid over his lower back, rubbing gently.  "What was that about?"

                "Seems someone is at the jail.  Seems someone is busting the place up."  Spike looked grimly pleased and it took Xander a moment to figure out what he meant.

                "Oh, fuck.  Willow?  Is it - do you think it's Willow?"

                "Something is going on," Derio hissed, leaning over Oz and looking a little spooked.  "It all feels - it feels wrong.  If Willow is looking for power, she's found it, and she's using it."  Derio's knowing was something like a spider-web:  it stretched far, but Derio only got the distant vibration of actions and reactions - enough to tell him things were happening, not enough to tell him exactly what, or where.  Although it had gotten fairly accurate if the 'something' involved any member of his adopted family.

                "Jesus.  What in hell are we gonna do?"

                "Nothing," Spike said, and his eyes were gleaming gold, looking surreal in the flat fluorescent light.  "Let her have her power, and let her have her revenge.  He needs seeing to, anyway."

                "But - if she's at the jail she's - she must be going after Andrew.  And he didn't shoot anybody..."  Xander felt fear - a cold, skittering sensation - washing over him.  Willow had pushed limits before.  And now - fueled by anger - who knew what she would do? 

                *What if she can't stop?  What if she hurts innocent people?  We have to -*

                *Don't have to do anything, love.*   Spike looked grimly satisfied at the idea of Willow extracting revenge, but Xander could feel the demon, and it wanted to join in - it wanted to urge Willow to a rampage and cut a swath through the milling cattle of Sunnydale.   Whatever Willow was doing - it was broadcasting far and wide, and Xander could feel it through the demon - through Oz, and it was slowly but surely putting them all on edge.

                *Don't, Spike!  You can't - do that.  WE can't.  We have to make sure Tara and Dawn are all right - we have to make sure BUFFY is -*

                "Protect them," Spike muttered, and the demon meant 'take out all enemies, no mercy'. 

                "Fuck," Xander didn't know what to do - felt relief as Giles came down the hallway finally, looking rumpled and tired, frowning.

                "Giles - thank god - what's going on?"  They all stood up, even Dawn, clustering around the older man and Giles rubbed wearily at his forehead.

                "It's all good news - it's good news, Dawn.  Buffy had to have surgery.  The - the bullet hit her lung and she was having trouble breathing...  They had to repair the damage and - and fix her collarbone, it was badly shattered...  She's in recovery right now, she's still asleep.  We can - see her in a little while."  Dawn gave a sort of breathless 'ooh!' and darted forward to cling to Giles, hugging him hard.  Giles slowly put his arms around her and held her, and then looked wearily up at them again.

                "Tara is fine, she's....  The bullet cracked two ribs and then traveled...she was standing just right and - it went around her ribcage, along the - bone.  Very painful and - a lot of muscle and tissue damage but she's - she's fine.  She was in surgery, as well, but...   She's asleep, now - they've got her on a rather high dose of pain medication."  Giles rubbed his forehead again and sighed.

                "The police said that no one could go back into the - house for a few days, so..."

                "Dawn can stay with us, Giles, no problem.  She's even got clothes there.  How long...will Buffy be here?"  Xander reached out and patted Giles' shoulder and the Watcher smiled briefly at him.  Spike shifted restlessly and Xander leaned into him, making the vampire concentrate on him - trying to keep him there - keep him calm.  He could sense it was a losing battle.

                "I think - Buffy will be here for a week, at least.  Maybe longer.  Her Slayer constitution will make any stay shorter, but...she'll need time to recover.  She's going to be just fine."  Giles said the last to Dawn, who nodded into his arm, still hugging him.

                "Thanks, Giles," Oz said softly, and Giles nodded. 

                "I think it would be best if we all went home and - got clean.  Changed."  Giles was looking rather pointedly at Spike and Xander, and Xander nodded.  He could smell the blood, even dry, and it was contributing in no small part to his continuing nausea.  "And then we can come back here and - and be here when Buffy and Tara wake up."  Giles ran a slow hand down Dawn's back - gently got her to let go of him.

                "Will you be all right, Dawn, going home with Xander and - and Spike?  You need to change out of those clothes before you can see Buffy."

                "Yeah, I'm fine - I'll be fine."  Dawn wiped her eyes and forced a smile and Xander hugged his arm around her shoulders.

                "We'll take care of her, Giles.  Okay."  He looked around at his family and could see they were all as ready to leave as he was.   "Let's just go."  Giles nodded, sighing a little. 

                "I'm going to go by the shop, see if Ethan knows anything, or if Willow has turned up.  I'll...I'll see you all later."  Xander smiled faintly, hugging Dawn close, and they all turned and walked out of the ER.  Oz's van was off to one side and he plucked the parking ticket off the windshield with a bit of a snarl, shoving it into his pocket.  Xander helped Dawn up into the back of the van and climbed in after her, Spike steadying him as he stumbled a little, off-balance. 

                The drive home seemed to take forever and Xander leaned back against Spike and closed his eyes - wished that he could just sleep for a day or so.  Just let it all go.  But Dawn was trying her best to carry on a conversation with Oz and Derio, and he could still feel the tension that was zinging through Spike and making the vampire shiver all over, like he had a fever.  Xander sighed and sat up a little.

                "We can get something delivered when we get home - try to eat."

                "Yeah, I - I'm kinda hungry," Dawn said, eyes downcast as if she shouldn't be, and Spike finally broke out of his reverie, slipping an arm around Xander's waist.

                "Course you are, Bit.   Nothing wrong with that."  Dawn's face, intermittently lit by streetlights looked relieved and she smiled, just a little   *When did it get dark?  God, how long were we there?*   .

                They ordered Chinese while Dawn took a shower, and Spike paced around the house.  Something was pinging through the link - something was happening, in Sunnydale, and Xander was sure it was Willow.  Was afraid it was Willow.  Derio was restless and nervous and when Dawn came downstairs in fresh jeans and a sweater Oz snagged his boyfriend's arm and hustled him upstairs.

                *Sorry, gotta get him calm, we'll go fast,* in the link, Oz getting Derio under the hot water and letting him scrub at dried blood.

                *It's okay.  Don't worry about it.*   Xander picked at some soup - ate a few noodles - watched Spike smoke one cigarette after another.  Watched him drink longer and longer swallows from a bottle and felt the unease - the prickling of *rage hate want want want* that the demon seemed to be channeling from somewhere get stronger and stronger.  When the phone rang they all jumped, and Xander went to answer it as Derio and Oz thumped down the stairs.


                "Xander, it's Giles.  Willow - well, she was here.  She apparently got Andrew out of the jail and then she -"   Giles paused, and Xander felt a lurch of fear.

                "What, Giles?"    Oz and Spike watched him, tense, listening.   Oz muttered something to Derio, who nodded slowly.

                "She stole power - she's drained several books of - of everything.  She - tried to take energy from Ethan but his power...  Well, it doesn't work that way.  She's hurt him." 

                "Damnit!  Fuck, Giles, I -"   Xander shut his eyes for a moment - gasped in surprise at the touch of fingers on his neck and then sighed as Spike wound his arms around him.  "Do you need help?  Do you -"

                "No, I... "   There was a murmur - probably Ethan - and then Giles was back on the line.  "Yes.  Could you ask Oz - to please meet us here at the shop?  We need his help to find Willow.  And - and Spike as well.  The coven - sent me...something.  But it's going to take - a little time to work.   We need to - to find her.  We need to try and stop her.  Or at least, distract her."  Oz's eyes were black, and *pack protect not pack not pack* was in the link, the wolf ready to fight Willow - to do whatever it had to.  The demon was incoherent - was *rage hate end it end it* and Xander wanted to cry.

                "I'll - yeah, we...  They're on their way, Giles."  Xander hung up abruptly and turned, grabbing Spike's arms in a hard grip, his wound screaming in pain that made Spike and Oz both flinch.  "Giles needs your help, Spike, and so does Willow and I know - I know you don't - care.  I know you're fine with her - killing Warren.  But if she does, Spike - if she does she'll never - get over it.  She'll never - recover."  He stared at Spike - stared at him and opened the link wide, letting everything he felt for Willow flood the link.  All his love and pride, all his awe and fear, all his anger and all his forgiveness.  The demon fought it - surged wildly and Spike snarled, game-faced and furious.  He wrenched away and a bolt of pain sizzled through Xander's arm.  He gasped, cradling his arm to his side and the demon gave a mournful wail.

                 *Sorry sorry protect not pack not not not.* 

                "Spike!  I know.  I know.  But please, please - for me, please, don't - try not to let this.  Please."   *Don't want to lose her.  She's done so much but she's still...Willow.  Still...part of me.*   Dawn was frozen at the table, terrified, and Oz was shifting over, becoming more the wolf.  He leaned up and kissed Derio - stalked slowly to Xander and Spike and forced his way between them, growling at them both.

                *Go, let's go, safe safe, keep her safe, protect, let's GO!*   Spike blinked and seemed to come back to himself, and he kissed Xander hard.

                "Do my best, love.  Do my best, promise.  Love you.  Stay here, stay safe -"

                "Yeah, I will.  Fuck, Spike - Oz, please help her."  Oz nodded - rubbed his cheek along Xander's and then he turned and darted out of the kitchen - out of the house - Spike on his heels.  They ran, and Xander slumped down next to Dawn, trying to smile.  Dawn took a sip of her juice and then put her hand out.  Xander took it - watched as she did the same to Derio and pulled the other man close.

                "We have to stay here and be strong for Buffy and for Tara.  Willow's going to be all right and - and we'll go to the hospital in a while and see Buffy, okay?  And we'll be fine."  Dawn looked anxiously at Xander - at Derio, and they both nodded, dredging up smiles.  But the air seemed to burn, and Xander followed Spike and Oz through the link - felt the shifting lines and wells of power that made up the Hellmouth grow agitated and erratic.  Willow was stirring a seething pot, and it was very, very close to boiling over.  Xander hoped Giles could somehow put out the fire.  He glanced at the kitchen clock and winced.  Not even nine.  *God, could this day be any longer?  Spike - you...*



                Running through the night with Oz - with the Hellmouth lit up and pulsing like a neon heart - and Spike roared out fury and glee to the night sky, the link to Xander closed to the merest thread.  Oz grimly fought the full change, but he could feel the magic as well - could feel the warping of energies all around them and control was becoming less and less of a priority.  It was a threat, this surge of energy - a threat and a challenge and the demon wanted it.  Months of frustration were coming to a head and Spike wondered if he'd even bother trying, with Willow. Or if he'd just fling himself in head-long, and take out her and Warren at the same time.  Beside him Oz growled, snapping at him, pushing hard into his shoulder as they ran, knocking him off balance a little.

                *Protect her, protect!  For the pack, pack, pack...*

                *She's the threat.  SHE'S the danger.  NOT pack, kill it kill It KILL IT.*   Oz snarled and his teeth snapped inches from Spike's face, and Spike just laughed. 

                "Don't tell me you don't want to end this, wolf - don't tell me you don't want them all safe!"

                *Break his heart,* Oz thought, furious and panting, shivering all over.  *He'll hate us, Spike.*

                *Can't hate us.  Won't.  We can fix it.*

                 "No!"  Oz leapt forward and got directly in Spike's path - slammed into him, full-body hit, taking him to the ground.  Half wolf or more, his eyes black, black claws sunk deep into Spike's arms, pinning him there.  "No fix.  No kill.  Hear me?"  Oz forced the words through the wolf's jaws and Spike hissed at him, the demon all but taking over.  He pushed - rolled - flung Oz off of him and then crouched there, his fingers sunk to the second knuckle in the dirt.

                "If she hurts him she's dead, wolf." 

                "Yeah."  Oz rolled to his feet - padded over and held his hand out, and after a moment Spike took it - let Oz pull him up. 

                "Hold fas'," Oz said, around wolf-fangs and wolf-muzzle.  Around wolf desires.  Fighting the curdling wrongness of the night.  Something - twisted - something seemed to break and build at the same moment - bubbles rising up and up from an underground trap, breaking and forming endlessly as they went.  Power, surging into the Hellmouth.

                *Oh fuck, that's her, she's got something, she's -*

                *Love you love him, pack FAMILY hold fast, Spike, keep it together, can't let this happen, hear me?  Can't let this happen.  She could kill us so be CAREFUL.*   Spike stared at him - closed his eyes for a moment when Oz's clawed hand touched lightly at the demon's features - caressing.   Lover's touch, brother's touch.

                *Careful,* Spike thought finally, shivering, and Oz nodded.  Then they both turned and ran for the shop.


                The Magic Box was all but destroyed; the loft crumpled down onto the main floor, the display cabinets and shelves crushed and broken.  Giles was sitting in the midst of it all, unnaturally pale, blood on his face and hair - on his clothes.  Ethan lay on the floor beside him, stretched out like an effigy on top of a tomb, dusted white with plaster and red with blood.    Spike could feel nothing at all from him and he crouched down beside the mage, listening.  Faint heart-beat, like a wren's wings, fluttering, fluttering; his breathing a faint susurrus.  Giles looked -.

                *Is he even in there?  Christ, what did that cunt do?*

                "Watcher!  Where is she?  Where'd she go?"  Giles looked up at him, blinking - lifted a shaking hand and wiped at the blood that was trickling down his cheek.

                "She - the - the coven.  In Devon.  They extended their powers to me.  And...she took it."

                "She's got more power?   Whose bloody stupid idea was that?"  There was a small crash and Oz appeared from around the corner of a bookcase, snarling.

                *She's got most of the magic that was here.  She's like a fucking reactor.*  The Hellmouth was vibrating like a beaten drum and Spike knew that no matter what Willow did, every demon for miles was feeling it - and was gonna try - something.  She was a candle to a hundred-thousand moths and whatever damage she did, they would double.

                "She's got Andrew, and Johnathan.  And - Warren.  She had something...she was pulling him in.  She's going to - burn out, Spike.  She's going to burn herself with the power she has.  Too much, and the wrong kind, besides."

                "What do you mean, the wrong kind?"  Giles looked dazedly around him and then he looked at Ethan - put his hand out and stoked the man's cheek.  Ethan's eyelids flickered and his heartbeat sped a little.

                "Earth magic.  Root magic.  The oldest magic there is.  What she's used to - what she took from here..."  Giles made a sort of wave with his hand around the shop.    "This is borrowed stuff.  Made stuff.  Calling up spirits and demons, using talismans and rituals imbued with the power of gods...  That's all a pale copy of the magic that holds the earth to the sun.  Holds the air to the earth.  She's never tapped that magic, and she can't control it."  Giles took a deep breath - coughed, holding his side.  "She doesn't know how to use it, and it doesn't like being...manhandled.  She thought she just got my power, but it was a - puzzle-box, with the coven's power inside.  And - you felt it.  She's opened it."

                *Fuckin' Pandora's Box.  Where's Hope, I wonder?*    "Gonna kill her, then?" Spike asked.  Oz came to stand behind him, legs against his back, and Spike reached out and touched Giles' shoulder - shook him a little.  "Is it going to kill her, Watcher?"  Giles looked at him, his eyes mild and dazed behind his dust-flecked glasses.

                "It may very well, Spike.  I don't know.  But if it doesn't burn her out soon, she's going to kill all of us."

                Spike looked at him - looked up at Oz, and they both moved at the same moment.  Heading out, into the night again, following the path that Willow had left.  Poison smoke from a psychic burning and it was choking them both.


                *Where in fuck is she going?* Spike thought, and Oz leaped a downed tree, panting.  Willow's back trail was as easy to follow as the path of a tornado; furrowed dirt, shattered trees, rocks pulverized to dust.  A few houses and streets had also suffered, and cars had been tossed like tin toys.  The skirl of chaotic magic was a bee-hive buzz, maddening and inescapable.   Spike wanted to find the source and make it stop, preferably with blood and cracked bones.

                *Kingman's Bluff is the only thing up here...* Oz thought, bewildered, and they ran on.  Spike could feel Xander in the link, trying to get his attention; an insistent, warm push that nearly overrode the mind-numbing static that was Willow.

                *Talk to him,* Oz thought, sending him a look and Spike finally let Xander back in.

                *Spike, you fuck.  I called Giles - he said there's an old temple up there - some old cult...they were gonna destroy the world but an earthquake got 'em and now...Willow's going to finish it.*   There was panic in his mental voice - panic and bewilderment and an constant undercurrent of grief that his friend, his Willow - could be so utterly out of control.

                *You told him where she was,* Spike accused Oz, and the werewolf yipped in exasperation.

                *Yeah.  Deserves to know.  Protect pack, Spike!  We're not killing anybody tonight.*   Spike snarled at that - jerked in surprise at a sudden flash from Xander.  His truck, skidding around a corner, Dawn sliding into him and hurting his bandaged arm, Derio cursing and wrestling with the stick-shift.

                *What in bloody hell do you think you're doing!*   Spike stopped dead, turning furiously in a circle, trying to pinpoint the direction Xander was coming from.

                *I'm coming to help, damnit!  You don't care about Willow, and Oz...has too much baggage.  I'm still her FRIEND, Spike, still her friend and I have to help her if I can...*   Another flash - a parking lot, concrete steps, and Spike roared, furious.

                *Getting ahead of us, getting there alone -*  He didn't remember starting to run, but he was - running flat out, the air whistling past and Oz full wolf now, a streak of blackness in the moonless night.

                 *Xander, you bastard, you can't be up there alone!  If she hurts you -*

                * you.  It'll be all right.*   The top of the bluff was in sight and Spike re-doubled his efforts until he was practically flying, skimming over the ground, his newly healed rib protesting in dull stabs.  They reached the top of the bluff, skidding and scrabbling in rocky brush and Willow was there, the black heart of a nimbus of sickly green energy floating several feet off the ground.   Some sort of spire - church-spire - stuck drunkenly up out of the ground, the churned and broken earth around it stinking of old death.  Bits of bone gleamed there, and rusted metal, and a woman's figure graced the spire.  Some dark goddess, some witch, forever frozen in a lurid dance.  Above it was a red mass - a squirming lump of flesh and blood, skinless and dripping.  Its mouth was sewn shut - its eyes bulged in agony and Spike knew it was Warren.  Willow was sending a stream of twisted light into the statue, and Spike was sure the figure was moving - was coming to life.

                Uncaring, he leapt straight as an arrow at Willow.  They connected with a hissing of magic - a boom of energies and Spike stared into her face, his hands like claws on her arms.  She was bloodlessly white, veined in black.  Black hair, black lips, and her eyes the whiteless, lifeless black of a shark.

                "Come to drink my blood, Spike?" she crooned, her voice layered and echoing and too loud, and Spike fought the urge to do so - to simply sink his fangs in and suck her power down his throat.

                "Think I wouldn't witch?   That'd be the fuckin' meal of a lifetime.  More kick than any Slayer."  She grinned at him, a death's head parody of her former self.

                "Riley sure liked being bitten.  Maybe I'll like it, too.  Wanna try?   If it's real nice, I won't kill you.  I'll keep you - make you my pet."  She lifted her chin, baring her throat.  Spike felt as if he were suffocating - felt the same mindless, claustrophobic fear he'd felt waking in his coffin.  Willow's magic was winding around him, tighter and tighter, making him groan.  Making him shatter and he felt himself unwinding - felt the damage Glory had done multiplying in him - breeding faster than any virus. 

                *God, what is she DOING!  Spike!  Oh, fuck that's Warren, Jesus, how could she -*   Xander's voice, and Spike struggled, terrified Willow would do something to Xander while he hung, helpless.

                "Willow!"  The witch's eyes widened in shock and she snarled - flung Spike aside and he crashed to the ground, gagging.  Oz was there, pushing at him - morphing enough to have hands and yanking him up and away.   That feeling of coming to pieces stopped abruptly and Spike crouched in the scrubby grass, panting.  Xander was standing beside the spire - was staring at Willow, hand on knee, panting.    His sling was askew and Spike could feel the pain of his wound - could feel despair and terror and stubborn determination.

                *Love - careful - god, WHY!?*

                *She's my friend.  She's my oldest family.  I owe her.*   Willow floated down towards Xander - stopped when her feet lightly touched the cracked earth and rocks that surrounded the spire.

                "You!  Betrayer.  Do you think you can stop me?  Think I care about you?  Think I'll just - fold up, give in - 'cause you tell me to?  Be the good little girl and follow orders?"  She lifted her hand and shot a bold of pure energy at Xander and he reeled backwards, striking the spire and grimacing in pain.

                "Willow - no matter what's happened - you're still my friend.  My oldest family!"

                "But you've got your new family now, Xander," she hissed, and the magic crackled around her, lifting her hair, painting her with a deathbed pallor.

                "That doesn't change anything.  I still love you, Willow!"

                "Oh, you love me.  And that's going to make it all better?  I can feel it, Xander!  Whatever - Giles had, what I took - I can feel the whole world and do you know what I feel?   Pain!"  She flung another bolt at him, sending him stumbling back a pace, but the maelstrom of light and energy around her was flickering now, unsteady.

                *What is it?  What's - happening?* Spike asked Oz, and the werewolf shook his head.

                *Giles said she would burn out - maybe she is.  But Xander's...*

                *Stopping her.  Fuck...*   He wanted desperately to rush in again but sensed that he shouldn't - that her rage was dying as surely as her power was, and that it was because of Xander.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement and he realized Johnathan was there, crawling weakly towards a sprawled figure - towards Andrew.  They were both bloody, but alive.

                "Everybody feels pain, Willow!  Everybody.  But that doesn't mean you just - give up!  There's still love, Willow.  I love you - no matter what."

                "Oh, am I supposed to just - get all weepy?  Fall at your feet?"  Willow flung both hands out, but the magic was thin, now - fuzzy and almost colorless, and Xander didn't even stumble.  Willow looked shocked - a little frightened - and her eyes darted around, as if she were coming awake - seeing where she was.

                "No.  You're supposed to remember that you're not alone.  Tara's alive, Willow!  She's waiting for you - she's hurt, and she needs you.  And Buffy - Dawn...  Do you really want to just - end it for them?  They love you - they need you.  I need you, Willow.  I need a witchy woman in my life."  Xander walked forward slowly and Willow was gasping now - shaking.  She was slowly fading back to herself as the power drained away, and the oppressive hum of magic was fading fast.  Age was overtaking the spire and the statue and it was cracking - falling.  The lump of meat that was Warren was barely twitching, and Spike could hear his heart stuttering and failing. 

                "Willow, please - I love you, and I'd do anything to make this better.  I'd do anything..."  Xander stopped right in front of her and Willow looked up at him, her chest heaving, tears streaking down her cheeks.  She looked around her again - looked up at the sky, taking a hard, gasping breath.

                "I'm so scared, Xander!  Nothing's the same, nothing's right anymore!  I don't know - who I am anymore.  I just wanted everyone to be - to be happy, I just wanted things to be like they were!"  She crumpled to her knees, sobbing for real, now and Xander went down beside her and gathered her in close, whispering to her.

                "Willow, it's okay.  We can fix it, we can.  I love you, it's okay, Wills, shhh..."  The magic was utterly gone now, as if it had never been, and the temple spire abruptly went to dust, shattering into nothing.  Warren's body flopped obscenely to the ground and his heart faltered and stopped altogether.  Spike felt his legs wobbling under him and they gave out finally, and he sat down hard.  Oz was behind him, pressed tight, arms around his chest and Spike held on, watching Xander comfort his oldest friend - watching him tell her lies and promises and weave a pretty story for her.  Because he could feel the link, and he could feel the bond those two had shared was severed for all time now. 

                *All she wanted was revenge.  Didn't think of Tara, or Buffy...didn't think of anyone but herself...  God, how could she do this...*   Rage and grief and Spike couldn't think of a thing to say.  He watched, uncaring, as Johnathan hauled Andrew to his feet and they both stumbled away - probably gone for good.  He watched Derio and Dawn come up over the edge of the bluff and stare for a moment, then they both sprinted to where Spike and Oz sat.  Spike wearily shrugged out of his duster and gave it to Oz, who pulled it on gratefully and then hugged Derio to him.  Dawn sat down next to Spike and just stared at him.

                "This is just too crazy," she said softly, and Spike nodded.

                "You all right, Bit?"

                "I'm fine.  I want to see Buffy.  You okay?"  Dawn was calm - was different - and Spike suspected that this day - these things - had forced her to grow up just a bit more.  Had forced some realities on her that she would never be able to forget.

                "I'm fine, Dawn.  Shouldn't have come up here, you know."  Dawn shrugged, looking over at Willow and Xander.

                "Well, Derio didn't know how to drive a stick and so I came along as back-up."  Spike stared at her and she grinned suddenly, and he had to laugh.  Just hug her and laugh until his sides hurt, because that made as much sense as anything else had that night, and he had never been so tired in his life.





gatito = kitten