Chapter 15: Mercy

Chapter 15: Mercy

*God, I hate this place* Xander shifted uneasily, watching Buffy and Colonel McNamara argue in vicious whispers about the Adam project. Which the Colonel obviously knew nothing about. He also seemed disproportionately horrified by Giles' holdall full of magical supplies. *Jesus. This man is a moron. Who put him in charge?* Giles was looking more pissed off by the moment, and Willow more nervous. Just as Xander was going to say something to her, the power went out. They all froze, and in the bluish-white wash of the emergency lights, the Colonel looked truly spooked. A technician frantically tapped codes into a keypad, finally giving up in frustration and muttering 'we're locked out'. McNamara seemed to finally gather his wits; he snapped orders, shot Buffy a venomous glare and then he and most of his troops were gone. The two soldiers left to guard them looked nervous as hell, and Buffy had them unconscious on the floor in moments. Willow dove for a computer terminal *Thank god for backup generators* and started calling up schematics to the underground warren. Xander felt the sweat collecting along his hairline and trickling down his back, slicking his palms. It was making the stock of his rifle slippery, and he hoped he wouldn't have to actually use it - he might drop it, he was so nervous. *Wish Spike were here. Where...* He sent a questing tendril of thought out along the link, hoping for a response, but Spike was blocking him - or too far away. Somewhere with Adam, getting the Frankentronic creature's "ultimate soddin' plan" going.

"They've got every door locked open - except for the exits..." Willow murmured, frowning. On a security monitor, Xander suddenly realized that the cells the 'hostiles' had been held in were open, and that hell was literally breaking loose in the Pit. Xander nudged Giles, pointing with his chin towards the monitor, and Giles grimaced.

"Found it!" Willow crowed, and in minutes they were moving. Out in the Pit it was chaos - worse then what the monitors had shown by far. The space boiled with demons and soldiers, all of them fighting at a desperate pitch, and something was on fire somewhere, acrid smoke billowing up to the ceiling. Suddenly Xander felt *careful* and he turned and saw Spike vaulting over a railing, bypassing the stairs. The vampire dodged a soldier, snapped the neck of a warty demon and bounded up to the group.

"Got your secret hideaway all picked out then?" he asked, and Xander grinned at him. A soldier let loose a spray of bullets and Buffy tackled Willow to the ground, rolling them both over and over. Xander ducked down as well and watched in amusement as Giles clocked a demon across the face with some item of magical paraphernalia - he was pretty sure it was the magical gourd that had so horrified the Colonel.

"Here!" Buffy yelled, and flung open door 314. They piled in, and Xander and Spike stood for a moment by the door, out of sight to those inside, watching the riot.

"I'll keep you safe, love," Spike whispered, shrugging out of his duster. "You keep that safe for me, right?"

"R-right," Xander stuttered, and suddenly he was being kissed, cool lips and tongue frantically claiming his, and *love you safe mine* Xander put his hand to Spike's neck and pulled him closer, and then they were breaking the kiss, panting, and Xander crushed Spike's duster to him.
"You - you be *safe safe* careful you hear?" A body rocketed past them and then spun around, catching itself up short and it was Oz, halfway to wolf; claws and fangs and sleek russet fur and eyes as black as tar. Oz grinned and yipped a high-pitched howl that Spike answered, that roaring cry that echoed across the Pit and made everyone - everything - pause for a split second.

"Go love, they'll miss you." Spike pushed at Xander, pushing him back through the doorway, and Xander watched as he and Oz plunged into the fray. The first thing Spike took down was a soldier. Spike grabbed - punched - and then the soldier was falling away, chest gaping open, and Spike was hurling the mass of muscle and blood in his hand to the floor, turning to the next live body. *His heart. That was the soldier's heart. Oh fuck.* Xander slammed the door - manhandled a gurney across it and turned to see Willow and Giles kneeling on the floor, hastily setting up the circle, putting spell components in little clumps. Buffy was standing by another door, ready to go.

"What the hell was that sound?" she said, and Xander shrugged.

"There's a lot of big stuff out there. I saw Spike - he's gonna make sure nothing gets in here."

"He'd better. I'm going, Giles."

"Give us five minutes, Buffy, ok?" Willow looked up from a bowl of - something - and Buffy nodded.

"Right. Barricade this when I get in." Then she was gone, slipping away, and Xander pushed a shelving unit back across the door, wedging it as best he could in the narrow space. The hyena longed to join the fight, and Xander tried to soothe it, telling it they'd fight another way. The hyena was not happy. Xander propped his rifle against the wall and settled cross legged on the floor. Willow began to chant while Giles mixed various things, and Xander simply waited, eyes closed, feeling Spike - feeling a gleeful rage, feeling strength that he'd never imagined, and a sort of wicked joy. *No fear. He doesn't feel any fear - at all* Suddenly Xander felt something - else. Warmth and light, silence. The spell. He hastily shut down the link to Spike and concentrated. Something... *girltouch redhair powerpowerpower* surged through him, and hard after that he felt *darkman fatherfighterteacher demonkiller* and shuddered as Giles' power swirled over him. They seemed to float for a long moment, and then the sensation of movement - of light - and suddenly there was Adam, and *Riley - what the hell is he doing here? * another soldier - two white-coated doctors. But they were wrong somehow, all of it was wrong, like looking through the thick end of a glass bottle. And then *Slayer* slammed through him, and that was *eternal* and that was *bloodandbones* and that was *lonelylonelylonely* and Xander felt himself gasping for breath, somewhere far away - gasping and shivering but holding tight. He felt the soldier react - surging up to push knowledge and courage into the vessel, the hand. And the hyena whooped, lending *bloodbloodblood* to the cresting wave of energy and perception. Xander could feel Willow - Giles - beside him, in him, and he could feel the three of them pouring everything they had into Buffy. Things got - bright. Xander could see the magic - lines of force and energy that curdled around the *wrong* that was Adam and the *dead* figures on the floor. Then they were moving and then there was heat and something - a different, rawer power that pulsed with a blinding light in *my their Buffy's* hand. With a look, an easy breath, that spot of sun-bright poison was banished, pushed into a ripple of *otherwhere* and gone. The lump of black and green-red *rot* wrongness that was Adam crumpled and fell away. *We her me* stood for a long moment, seeing the *Riley* soldier, with bright red, glittering life spilling down his chest. And then blackness rushed in and they were back, settling into their bodies with a jolting tingle as if they had fallen from some height. Xander blinked, staring dazedly at Giles - at Willow. They stared back, and then Giles was looking towards the secret room, towards where Buffy was, and Willow was saying Wow and the outer door exploded inwards.

Something was there - *darklife bloodlust* and then it was stumbling, crumpling, and Spike took its place, streaked with blood and ichors, panting, game-face. He was *darklife* as well, but also *olderthan chaos malice lovelovelove* Xander pushed the heels of his hands hard into his eyes and then it was just Spike, and he felt the last bit of the spell wisp away into nothingness as Buffy and Riley heaved open the other door and staggered in. Riley was all bloody down his chest and hands, and Buffy looked like she'd been in a whirlwind. Willow and Giles were struggling up, and Xander did too, holding out his hand to Willow, grinning at her like an idiot and *love you love you safe* coming in hard from Spike. He looked over at the vampire, nodded once, pushing back *love you love you* and Spike grinned and darted out again, into the ringing, blue-washed blackness of the Pit.

"We gotta help - whoever's left out there," Buffy panted, and they gathered themselves; Riley grabbing up Xander's abandoned gun, Giles hastily stuffing components and other detritus into the holdall.

Willow staggered, holding her head, and Xander grabbed her, folding Spike's duster over his arm, holding it close to his body.

"Let's just get the hell out of here. Is there a way to open an exit from here? We can just grab whoever we see on our way out." Xander had no desire to 'muster the troops' or whatever Buffy might have in mind.

"That sounds reasonable," Giles said, and he turned to Riley, who was frowning.

"I don't know about any overrides on the exits - maybe Willow ...?"

"Yeah, I'm - I'm on it, guys. Get me back to that other room, I can do that." Xander got an arm around Willow and they all sidled out into the Pit. It was - horrifying. Blood, body parts, innards - it was a slaughterhouse, and almost impossible to tell the human dead from the demon. Willow gasped, putting a hand over her mouth, and Giles muttered something under his breath that sounded like good lord. The stench was incredible, the noise deafening. Something came at them, yipping, and Xander lunged and knocked Riley's arm aside, batting at the rifle barrel.

"Don't! It's Oz!" Xander yelled, and Riley shot him an incredulous look but pointed the rifle to the floor. Oz circled them, half-human, then more human, panting and wide-eyed, spattered with gore. He hadn't changed fully into the wolf, but his clothes were still torn from the shifts. He hitched unconsciously at jeans that had split along one seam, exposing a pale hip-bone.

"Get up there - second level - there's an entrance. It's where we came in - it's clear, comes out on campus. We blocked it open. Go!" He morphed back, snout and fangs but still on two feet, and pounced on something scaly that was heading for the stairs.

"Oh my god! Oz! Is he gonna be ok?" Willow's eyes were huge in startlement and shock, and Xander pulled her into a stumbling walk.

"Yeah - he'll be fine. He wanted to kick some ass, too. He came in with Spike."

"Where is Spike?" Giles panted, grabbing the rail and beginning to climb the stairs. Xander knew exactly where he was - behind, left - but he made a show of looking around. Saw him, as the vampire leapt onto the back of a Fyarl demon and started twisting it's head off. Xander nudged Giles and pointed.

"Look - he's killing one of your cousins." Giles shot him an irritated look and Xander just grinned. Whatever had caught fire was still burning and the smoke was thicker, tinged with the reek of burning plastics and insulation. It was nauseating. Xander noticed that what was left of the demons and the humans were starting to form ranks and maybe even organize, and he sent *home home home* at Spike, hoping he'd get out before he got recognized. Spike wrenched the demon's head around and looked up at him, then he looked around and dove off to one side. A moment later he and Oz were dodging bodies and knots of battling figures, heading towards them through the smoky murk. The stairs rang as Spike leaped, half the flight in one go. Oz was edging towards more human then wolf and he pushed past, getting up ahead of Buffy and Riley and beckoning them on, showing the way.

"All the bad guys dead, all the good guys unhurt then?" Spike asked, and Xander almost laughed at the sarcasm that dripped from his voice. "I take it the spell worked, Red?" Willow shot an amazed glance at Spike and then a huge smile stretched across her face.

"Oh, it was amazing! It was just - I could feel Xander and Giles right next to me! Well, sort of next to me, sort of inside, only not inside, if you know what I mean and then we were whoosh and then we were Buffy and then..." Willow babbled on, panting, climbing, and Xander grinned at her and dropped back half a step, Spike's hand on the small of his back, just a moment's pressure and *love you love you*

They came out in a wooded area of campus, fairly dark, behind one of the dorms. Willow was still babbling, bouncing, and generally acting as if she'd drunk a triple espresso, and Giles and Buffy were much the same, comparing notes on how the spell had felt and Buffy reassuring Giles that Adam was dead. Xander felt the adrenal-laced tension in his own body - he wanted to run or fight or *fuck* or something, just to get it all out. Behind them something rustled, creaked - something came out of the concealed hatchway they'd just exited and Spike pounced, pulling a draggled, bloodied figure out into the light. The person cringed, raising shaking hands up before his face, a warding gesture that made Spike snarl.

"Lab rat," he said, and shook the figure.

"I remember you," Buffy said, stepping closer, a stake appearing in her hand. "You were with Sunday's gang."

"Please - please help me..." the boy moaned, and Spike laughed.

"You got out - help yourself, wanker." Spike shoved him roughly, and the boy - vampire - stumbled to one knee.

"Please. I can't. They put - put something in m-me, I - it won't let me ch-change. It won't let me change." They all stood there, staring at the boy as he struggled to his feet, hands held out to them in supplication. *weak kill it* was coming from Spike, and the hyena agreed. *Sick ones die*

"What do you mean, you can't change. Do you mean - your demonic aspect?" Giles was looking at the boy with a narrow-eyed, speculative look, and the vampire licked his lips, eyes darting from Giles to Buffy and then to Spike.

"Yeah. My o-other face. If I try to ch-change, it hurts. H-hurts so bad."

"There's your precious Initiative, Riley." Xander muttered, and Riley shot him a dark look. Somewhere behind him, Xander could feel Oz shivering - could hear small whines of anger or distress that the werewolf couldn't contain.

"What do you want," Spike asked, and the boy looked at him, his eyes wide and full of hate and fear and desperation.

"Just - would you...please, would you end it? Just k-kill me. I can't... " His voice broke and he covered his face with his hands, struggling for control.

"Not a problem," Buffy said, stepping up, her arm going up, and Spike rounded on her, snarling.

"Fuck off. You don't end this for him - he's got a right to something better." Buffy's eyes were wide and startled, but she looked from Spike to the shivering boy and backed off, her arm falling down at her side.

"Fine. You do what you want. He's harmless, at least, so it doesn't matter what happens to him. I just want to go home. Come on, Riley." She turned on her heel and walked swiftly away, and Riley was right behind her. Willow clutched Xander's hand in hers, wide-eyed.

"What - what are you gonna do, Spike?" she whispered.

"Help him," Spike said. He looked around at them, grim-faced, and then the demon was there, and he turned back to the boy. * rage* had replaced the feelings of disgust, and Xander shivered. Oz came up on his other side, and Xander reached out and put his hand gently on Oz's shoulder for a moment. Oz glanced at him, then away, back to what Spike was doing.

Spike stepped up to the vampire and pulled him close - murmured something in the boy's ear, so soft, and the other nodded. Then Spike was bending to him and the boy was lifting his chin, eyes closed, and Spike was biting him - drinking him dry. As the vampire's life ran out into Spike's mouth, Xander felt it - a surge of energy and magic, ephemeral and *sorrow fear lost oh lost* that made him gasp in a breath. He realized he'd bitten his lip through and licked it gingerly. Spike lifted his head and let out a keening wail that made all of them shiver, and Willow's hand in Xander's clenched down so tight he flinched. Then suddenly the boy was dust, collapsing in Spike's arms and gone, and Spike was slapping at his clothes, pointedly not looking at any of them.

"I think - I think it's time we went home, don't you, Willow? Tara and - and Anya will be..." Giles' voice was strained, and Xander saw some expression - surprise, maybe - before Giles schooled his features back to neutrality.

"Uh - yeah. Home. That'd be...of the good. I don't think I'm gonna sleep for a week." Willow turned to Xander and gave him a hug, and Xander felt *girltouch redhair* again, her power back to the low and elusive hum he was used to. It had been - amazing, having Willow right there. Almost like when they were just kids, sitting under the covers in Willow's bed with a flashlight, Willow and Xander and Jesse; telling each other their deepest lies and darkest secrets and fondest dreams. Then she was slipping away, and telling Oz goodnight, and Giles was there, the faintest tang of *demonkiller* still coming off him, dark but also somehow glowing at the edges. Just for a moment. And then he was only Giles, pushing his glasses back up and settling the strap of the holdall more comfortably across his shoulder.

"Xander - I would...I would very much like to speak to you about what we did, tonight. We're going to Buffy's house, a kind of...debriefing with popcorn. Are you coming?" Xander looked at him, and felt *want* from Spike, and saw Oz studying his gory hands, so silent all this time, and he shook his head.

"No, I think - I just want to go home, Giles. I'll come around tomorrow after work maybe, ok? I'll call you." Giles just looked at him, his gaze steady and absolutely blank, and then he blinked and glanced at Oz - at Spike.

"All right, Xander. I'll expect to hear from you. Goodnight. Oz." He turned and marched off, Willow trotting along in his wake, and Xander sighed, his shoulders slumping. Spike was suddenly there, pulling him close, burrowing his face into Xander's neck and inhaling, scenting. Xander did the same, unmindful of the gore that streaked Spike's clothes, wanting only this, only Spike, *want you need you* as hard as he could, and Spike's arms tightened around him and cool lips kissed Xander's throat, his jaw.

"Want you too," Spike breathed in his ear, and they stood there for another moment until Xander remembered Oz, and where they were, and reluctantly pulled back.

"Let's go home, ok?" he whispered, and Spike's eyes flashed gold at him, and the vampire nodded, sweeping his duster up from the ground where Xander had unknowingly dropped it. He tossed it over his shoulder and moved around Xander to drop an arm over Oz's shoulders, hugging him close.

"You did good, wolfling. Saw you bring down your share a those bastards. Feelin' all right?" Oz shrugged, eyes intent on the ground, then he looked up at Spike - over at Xander.

"I didn't think I could do it - kill a human. But, being there - it was..." Oz trailed into silence, and Xander and Spike shared a look, and *sorrow* came from Spike.

"You gonna be ok, Oz?" Xander asked softly, and Oz shrugged again. When he spoke his voice was barely above a whisper - choked with emotion.

"I don't think... Not really. Not for a long time - maybe not ever. But...it helped."

*Helped that he killed them. Killed humans - other men. And woman - those doctors. His choice, his...revenge. I would have too, probably - I DID want to be out there. Part of me did.* Xander started walking - they all did, headed towards Lowell house where they'd left their vehicles and snuck into the Initiative.

"You know - the hyena really wanted to be out there with you. It was kinda pissed when I told it no."

"Super-Slayer spell not really enough for it, huh?" Spike asked, and Xander smiled a little.

"It was ok, actually, once we got it going. It was - pretty strange. Feeling those guys - Willow and Giles and then Buffy. I could feel...what I've only seen before. It was...amazing. Kinda scary." They walked in silence for a few more minutes, and then Xander looked over at Spike.

"Do you think - the Initiative is through? I mean, after that, they can't go on, can they?"

"Who knows? Bloody fools. They were stupid enough to do this in the first place... But probably they'll be out of here now. Losses were too high, I imagine - it'll be hard to cover this up. Don't fret, love. I reckon we've seen the last of them." *safe safe now* and Spike's gaze steady and serious. Xander sincerely hoped so. They walked on, Spike's arm cool and possessive around Xander's waist, his other still over Oz's shoulders, holding the shorter man close. Oz's arm had slipped around Spike's waist, below Xander's and Xander noticed that - noticed, and considered it, and decided that it was all right. He didn't feel any jealousy, or uneasiness. It just felt...

*Pack. No harm* the hyena said, and that feeling of being in a den, in a nest, came over him and he nodded to himself. Pack. It was all good.

By the time they got home, the edgy adrenaline rush was fading, and Xander felt as if lead weights had been attached to his limbs. They all wearily walked around to the back of the house, going in the bathroom door so that Oz and Spike could strip and clean up without trailing anything nasty through the house. Xander lit some candles, their soft glow relaxing him further, and went to get clean clothes for the others. He found flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt for Oz, then hesitated over Spike's drawer, wondering what the vampire would want. He heard the shower start, and glanced back toward the bathroom. Spike was standing in the doorway, nude body dappled with blood both human and demon. Even his hair was matted with it, and Xander felt a tugging on his throat as drying matter pulled the skin there - something smeared on him when Spike had kissed him.

"What do you want to wear, Spike? Jeans?"

"Can I - have a pair of your sweats, pet? Want something - "

"Comfy?" Xander grinned, and Spike ducked his head, looking up at him through his lashes and smiling that small, real smile that made Xander want to kiss him into breathing.

"Yeah, comfy." Xander pulled out an old pair of dark grey sweats and one of Spike's t-shirts. He took the pile of clothes into the bathroom, skirting around Spike with an exaggerated 'eewww' face and piling the clothes on the toilet tank.

"There you go." Xander looked at Spike, and Spike looked back, cocking his head to one side, just smiling. *Happy. He looks happy.*

"So - you got 'em, huh? A bunch of those soldiers - the doctors. You get 'em all?"

"All I could find, pet. Got a good number. The wolf got a few. They were as panicky as a virgin on a troop ship - it wasn't too hard."

"So is it...over? Are you done with the Initiative?" Spike's eyebrow went up, and he took a step closer to Xander, glancing over at the steam-fogged cubicle of the shower.

"I dunno, love. If I see any more of them out and about - I imagine I'll do for 'em. But I think they'll be pullin' out now. Doubt I'll get anymore chances. I imagine soldier-boy will tell us what's what, in a day or so."

"Yeah, I imagine." Xander picked up his washcloth and dampened it under the faucet - wiped at the smear of *blood* stuff on his neck and jaw. "Just don't... " Xander tossed the washcloth towards the washing machine, avoiding Spike's gaze.

"Don't what, love?"

"Don't... I'm just worried, is all. I don't want you hurt." Xander finally looked at Spike, frowning a little, and Spike looked back, serious now and *yours* coming softly through the link. "If Riley finds out about what you did, tonight, he could...well, he could try, and even if he didn't hurt you, he'd know... Just, be careful love. All right?" Spike came up close to him - brought his face so close to Xander's, lips just millimeters from Xander's mouth. Xander shivered at the proximity - the cool, smoke-tinged breath that Spike pushed gently across his skin.

"Don't worry 'bout me, love. I'm gonna be careful. You'll see." Spike very gently, very carefully kissed Xander on the lips, not letting any other part of him touch the mortal, and Xander kissed him back - pulled away finally, and smiled into the clear blue eyes that could so easily captivate him.

"Trust you." *love you need you*

"Thank you, pet," Spike murmured, and *love love you mine* Xander looked at Spike for a moment longer, then stepped around him and headed into the bedroom. He took off the soldier gear and put on sweats and a t-shirt, then went into the kitchen and grabbed a soda out of the 'fridge. *so tired* He headed for the living room and collapsed on the couch. He took a long drink, turned the TV on and started flicking through the channels. *Amazing how crappy even this many channels can be* was the last thing that went through his mind, and then he was asleep, drifting down into a strange other place.

His father was trying to kill him. Xander struggled, gasping, trying to fend off the blows - trying to get away. His father was screaming - his eyes were blazing with hate and anger. Xander had never seen him so angry - so out of control. Then suddenly it wasn't his father, it was something - else. Something dark, something *bloodandbones* and he was contorting in agony as the *dark* thing tore into his chest - tore out his heart and he was falling, down his stairs, heading for the concrete at the bottom and blood was arcing away from his body, painting the *dark* thing with slashes of crimson, spattering on the walls. Xander screamed, trying to stop his fall, knowing he was *dead, I'm dead, tore out my heart* but still trying to stop his tumble down splintering wooden risers. *It's gonna hurt, to hit the bottom, oh god it's gonna hurt* Someone was yelling at him.

"Xander - XANDER! Wake up, pet, wake up, wake up." The voice battered at him, too loud, too *fearful* sharp, and he moaned and pushed weakly at whatever it was that was holding him - shaking him.

"Xander! Come on love, wake up now, wake up, just a dream *need you need you come back* Xander gasped in a great, whooping breath, clawing at the arms holding him, desperate for breath, for something to ease the burning *fading* pain in his chest. He opened his eyes, panting, and Oz was there, wide-eyed, holding a towel in one hand, looking utterly freaked. Xander breathed, breathed - realized it was Spike holding him tight against a cool chest, arms wrapped around him, lips in his hair as the vampire crooned into his ear, quiet now, so soft.

"Come on, love, that's it now, you're awake, just a dream, love, wake up now, just a dream, I've got you, pet, I've got you." Spike was rocking him, stroking his sweat-damp hair back from his forehead, and Xander finally relaxed. He blinked and swallowed, then tried to talk. All that came out was a sort of croak, and Oz was up and out of his line of sight, sound of the 'fridge opening and then he was back, a glass of water in his hand, holding it up to Xander's mouth. Xander tried to take it - to do it himself, but his hands were shaking and totally limp, and he surrendered to it and let Oz tilt the glass to his lips and sipped at the cold *wonderful* water. After a minute he was done, and Oz set the glass on the coffee table, smiling just a little, his eyes still wide, his hair damp from the shower.

"You ok, Xander?"

"I - " Xander coughed, swallowed, tried again. "I think so. I - what happened? I fell asleep out here and then...I was...my dad was... " He stopped, the images too clear, too ugly, and Spike hugged him hard, tugging him around so that he could look at Xander. Oz put the towel on the floor, picking up Xander's fallen soda can, mopping spilled soda.

"Just a dream, love. You feel ok?" Spike's eyes were as wide and freaked as Oz's, and Xander felt a little flutter of fear down in his belly.

"I'm fine, I guess. What's the deal? I've had nightmares before - why are you guys all..." Xander waved his hands loosely, trying to explain. "Why are you guys all wigged out?" Spike kissed his forehead, cheek, then lips, quick and soft, his hand trembling on Xander's shoulder. *love you safe safe*

"You were - thrashin' around, pet. Like a seizure. We couldn't wake you up - you were screaming and... It was weird, love. What in bloody hell were you dreaming about?" Xander looked from Spike to Oz, seeing the same fear, the same bewilderment.

"I - dunno. It was... Tara and Willow were there, and....all of you guys were, everybody. It was so strange. Giles was gonna train you to be a Watcher, Spike - you were both wearing these tweed suits - "

"That is scary," Oz said, and he grinned, and Xander couldn't help it, he giggled. Spike frowned at him, but *laughter* was coming through the link, and Xander reached and patted his cheek.

"You look hot in tweed, Spike," he snorted out, and Oz started giggling too, his eyes losing some of the panic and his body losing its bow-string tautness. He swiped at the floor and put the stained towel on the coffee table. Spike glared at the both of them, and then reluctantly he started to smile.

"What else did you dream about? Me in tweed wasn't the worst part."

"It was pretty bad," Xander said, still chuckling, and he rubbed his hand back through his lank hair. "Yuck. I need a shower now, too. Ok. What else. I dreamed about...Principal Snyder. He told me... wow. He told me I was a whipping boy raised by mongrels and set on a sacrificial stone." Xander shivered, remembering that. It was...too close to what he'd always felt, about himself - his family. Tainted blood, never quite good enough, and Spike was pulling him close again, smoothing back his hair and kissing the side of his neck, shushing him. *mine my own WANT you*

"Now, love, that's not so. You know it isn't. He's the one got eaten by the snake-Mayor, right?"

"Yeah. He's dead."

"Never mind him, then. Anything else?" Xander closed his eyes for a minute, then opened them wide as the final images came back to him. "Yeah. I was - back in the basement and my dad came crashing through the door. He was...trying to kill me. Then he did, only it wasn't him, anymore, it was something...else. Something...dark. Blood and bones..." He whispered the last, catching at some memory, and then it was gone and he looked up at Spike - over at Oz.

"That's got to be the weirdest dream I've ever had. And you guys - couldn't wake me up?" Oz shook his head - reached back for the glass of water and offered it to Xander again, who took it himself this time, drinking it eagerly.

"Yeah. Spike was yelling in your ear practically and you were just - out of it. It was freaky." Xander realized suddenly that he was on Spike's lap, tucked up in the corner of the couch and he stretched his legs a bit, settling his head on Spike's shoulder. Oz took the glass back and Xander smiled at him.

"I'm glad I woke up. That...wasn't nice."

"M'glad too, pet," Spike murmured in his ear. *Love you mine never leave me love you*

"Never leave you, Spike," Xander whispered back, and kissed the soft skin just behind the hinge of Spike's jaw, gently. At that moment the phone rang and they all jumped, Spike cursing softly and Oz pushing himself up and going to answer it.

"Hello? Oh hey, Buff... Yeah, he is. You wanna talk to him?" Oz came over and silently handed the phone to Xander who sat up a little bit.

"Buffy?"

"Xander! Are you ok? The weirdest thing happened here - "

"I'm fine, Buffy. By weird, do you mean - some sort of freaky dream?"

"Yeah! You too?"

"Yeah, me too. It was - really strange. Spike and Oz were kinda - wiggin'. They couldn't wake me up."

"It was the first Slayer."

"What?" Xander sat up straighter, glancing at Spike, who was frowning. *He can hear everything she's saying* Xander remembered. *Oz too. No more private phone calls* "What do you mean?"

"The first Slayer. She was - pissed off, or something. That spell we did to take Adam down, it - I dunno what it did. But she wasn't happy. She tried to kill all of us in our dreams. Well, she did kill Willow and Giles - what about you?"

"Yeah, she got me, too. But I'm guessin' you got her?"

"Yeah, I kicked her mud-encrusted, five-thousand-years-in-bed-head butt."

"Cool. Guess I owe you one." Spike bared his teeth at that and Xander caressed his cheek, ginning at him.

"Nah. Just tell me one thing. Did you see this guy with...cheese?" Xander felt a hysterical laugh bubbling up and he snapped his teeth shut for a moment to keep it in.

"Ah, actually...I did. He told me - the cheese would not protect me." There was total silence from Buffy, and then an explosive breath, as if she'd been holding it. Oz was staring at him, hand clamped over his mouth and belly heaving as he tried to stifle laughter.

"Thank god. I thought I was going crazy. Ok. So, you're all right, everything's fine now, right?"

"Yeah, I suppose so. I'm gonna - get a shower, go to bed. I don't suppose she'll be back, huh?"

"I really don't think so. Xander... "

"Yeah?"

"It was - great, tonight. What you did - that spell and everything. I could feel you there - you made me brave." Spike growled, very low, and Xander put his fingers on the vampire's lips, looking at him and thinking *yours yours always*

"It was pretty cool, wasn't it? I'm - glad I could help." There was a moment's silence, and then Xander softly said, "Goodnight, Buffy."

"Goodnight. See you later, ok?"

"Ok." Buffy hung up, and Xander set the phone down on the coffee table. Spike looked - pissed, and Xander took a deep breath and started levering himself up.

"I really need to get a shower, and then I really need to go to bed. Work tomorrow and all."

"Oh yeah - I gotta work tomorrow too," Oz said, with a sort of surprised look on his face, like he'd forgotten all about it.

"You got a job then?" Xander asked, standing all the way up and grabbing Spike's hand, tugging at him. Spike resisted for a moment then came to his feet, still pissed-off looking. *Sulking* the soldier snapped, and Xander almost laughed.

"Yeah, over at that shop - the Magic Box? I figure maybe I could learn a few things, you know - useful sort of Hellmouthy stuff. Plus - employee discount for all your apocalyptic needs." This time Xander did laugh, and started out of the room pulling Spike along behind him.

"Cool. Need me to wake you up?"

"Nah - I've got an alarm. Thanks, though."

"Goodnight, Oz."

" 'Night, Xander. 'Night Spike." Spike rolled his eyes at Oz and Oz just grinned. Xander bent over the candles in the kitchen, blowing them out, then dragged his sulky vampire through to the bedroom, shutting the door quietly. Spike pulled away and slumped on the bed, staring at the floor.

"I'm gonna shower. Wanna join me?" Xander asked. Spike glanced up at him, then away, and the link was dead silent.

"Already showered, " he mumbled, and Xander nodded slowly.

"Ok. I'll just be a couple minutes." He turned and went into the bathroom and took a fast shower and brushed his teeth. Back to the bedroom and Spike already in the bed, curled up tight on the far side, quilt practically over his head. Xander looked at him for a minute, then walked over and sat on his side of the bed. He set his alarm, blew out the candle on the bedside table, and slid under the covers. Spike didn't move, and Xander sighed - shifted over, finally, and wormed his way around the tightly coiled body, settling his chin on Spike's shoulder and covering the vampire's tucked arms with his own.

"Spike," he breathed, and *love you love you* as hard as he could. Spike twitched, then was still again.

"Spike - please. Don't shut me out, love. Please? You're...it's scary, Spike, when I can't hear you." Spike twitched again - uncoiled a little and finally *mine mine mine* came through the link, fragile and almost imperceptible.

"Course I'm yours, love. Course I am. Why would you think I wasn't? Spike?"

"I could hear her, you know. Slayer. Tellin' you how great that spell was. The Scooby Gang to the rescue an' all. Guess you - wanna be mates again, eh? Guess you're...back in the gang again." Spike rubbed his head into the pillow, drawing a deep breath, and Xander tugged at him, making him turn over. He could see just a bit in the dark room - more then he usually could. The barest illumination from a streetlight edged around the top of the curtains, so that he could see Spike's face, but not his expression. He knew Spike could see him much more clearly, though - if he chose to.

"Look at me, Spike. Please? It felt - really good to help them. To actually be of use to them - to the...fight, whatever it is. I liked it. But - I'm not going to abandon you, love. Don't you know that?"

Spike shifted, turning over onto his back and then more, until he was on his side, facing Xander. Xander knew that he'd changed - two glowing gold eyes were suddenly there, staring at him, and Xander reached up and gently stroked Spike's face, feeling the alien contours, catching his fingertip on a razor-edged fang and pricking it just slightly. Spike inhaled, and Xander felt his cool tongue lapping at his finger, taking the drop of blood.

*He's so much OLDER - done so much more...how can he be so - scared? I'm the one that should be scared...* "Spike - I won't ever leave you *never leave mine always mine* Spike shivered, and when he spoke, his voice was thick with emotion - strained and almost inaudible.

" Dru...left. She chose me - chose me. Saw me at my worst and wanted me. Made me hers forever an'...she's gone. And my mum...she denied me, at the end. Didn't...didn't want me. The Family - they never took to me. I didn't care...but... Angelus...everyone leaves, pet. Everyone leaves m-me and...I can't help it if I just - want too much." He stopped, and the eyes winked out - closed. Xander slid his hand around Spike's throat - cupped the nape of his neck in his hand and tugged Spike close, carefully finding the vampire's lips in the dark and kissing him, slow and gentle, mindful of the fangs. Spike was frozen for a moment, and then he began kissing back - the fangs withdrew suddenly, and Xander kissed harder, pushing Spike flat and curling his arms under Spike's shoulders, holding him close, cradling him. He whispered to him as he kissed, whispered and felt, and did his best to reassure this… *This demon. This man. This child. He expects me to LEAVE...and all I can do is hope to be enough. Let me be enough...*

"I love you - love you. Never felt this way about anyone - never want this to end. Love you, you're mine, my Spike and I see you and I choose you, love, I choose you..." Spike was rigid - trembling in his arms, and suddenly he took in a deep, shaking breath and hugged Xander hard, claiming his mouth in frantic, bruising kisses that Xander returned whole-heartedly, pressing every inch of himself to the cool, shivering body beneath him.

"Oh, love you, Xander, love you...sorry, don't be mad..."

"No, love, not mad... " The kiss deepened - slowed - and after a while they were locked together, Spike wrapped around Xander like a second skin, Xander pressed tight to Spike, rocking his hips, as deep inside Spike as he could get, his lips and teeth on the vampire's throat, marking him again and again, Spike crying out as Xander drew blood and then soothed the place with his tongue. Spike shuddered to orgasm, silent again, and then Xander felt the fangs, prickling over his shoulder, teasing, and then sinking in, and he was rigid, gasping, the fire-and-ice of it rolling over him, wringing him dry. They lay together, fingers and lips gently touching and knowing, until they both slipped into dreamless sleep.

Prologue Xander doesn't really remember 'when it changed'