Chapter 20: Games
"Man, I hope Spike and Angel aren't gonna fight," Xander muttered, helping Oz shove twisted newspaper into the pile of stuff they were going to burn. The feeling coming from Spike was uneasy and prickly - a little hostile.
"Yeah, don't need that," Oz agreed. He surveyed the pile and nodded his approval - turned with a smile as Derio came out of the house with a box of long fireplace matches. Oz made a small motion with his hand and Xander moved back - watched him light the newspaper. After a minute, when all the paper was ablaze, Oz leaned over the edge of the cistern to blow on the small flames. They flattened and sprang back, making a fluttering noise, and Xander concentrated on Spike. He could scent the blood with him - scent the fight. He felt it in his own body when Spike pounced on the man and drank him down. He lowered his head, trembling a little with reaction at the tingling rush of it. He could almost taste it in his mouth - fear and anger in equal parts, spice of alcohol and heat. A soft gasp at the sudden and nauseating feeling of floating - of disconnection.
*What -* from Derio, head to one side and his hand gripping the cistern-edge tight, his eyes losing focus. The link shifted - flared and then warped as something seemed to - scramble it. Xander lifted his head, a chill creeping over him and his eyes fluttering closed. Trying to sort the sudden, bewildering barrage of images and emotions. Oz growled softly, shifting, orienting himself towards wherever Spike was.
*What the fuck?* The sense of something looming - calling - waiting to devour suddenly intensified beyond all proportion and the link went haywire, mental static shot through with memories that, Xander realized, weren't right. Not all of them.
*Oh god, he's - fuck, something's triggered it - he's forgetting -* Derio was growling as well, halfway to wolf already and Oz was trembling - Xander was. He felt as if he were being thrust into a violent windstorm; the link was noise, was anger and fear and longing, and he thought for one long moment that he was going to fall, balance deserting him, vision going to a black-edged tunnel. And Spike wasn't answering - wasn't even acknowledging them. He put his hand down on the edge of the cistern to steady himself and the fire, burning high, singed his knuckles. He didn't even care.
"Xander? What's -" Tara was in the doorway, hugging herself, looking troubled and Xander blinked at her, shaking his head.
"I don't know. Something's - happened, something -" The link flared suddenly, the demon overwhelming all, *darklife chaos malice olderthan* and then it was gone - Spike was gone as suddenly and completely as a TV that had been turned off, leaving only a low, grating hum. A little thread of glowing phosphor - cathode tube cooling down - was the only thing telling him Spike was alive. Xander swayed, feeling that as a physical blow.
"Oh - god!" The looming - the devouring presence was still there - was oppressive and massive and somehow gloating and Xander felt sweat break out over his body and face - felt the hyena surge up and out. And he let it come; opened wide to it and knew his eyes were alive with that eerie glow - knew the change in his aura had slammed into Tara like a wave when she gasped and staggered back a step. He was dimly aware of Oz and Derio stripping as fast as they could, changing before their clothes were half off, *danger danger not pack not pack notpack* pouring off them.
"Xander -" Tara took one step towards him and then stopped, and he unclenched his fists - fought the hyena back far enough to uncurl the snarl that was twisting his mouth - stealing his voice.
"Go slow - what do I need to do?" she said, and Xander shook his head hard, sucking in a deep breath and feeling Oz press into his thigh on one side, Derio on the other. Heat and solid muscle and his hands were on their powerful shoulders, fingers sinking into the fur.
"Get - Giles and Ethan. Ward the house - do it now, Tara, do - whatever you have to do. S-something's coming and Spike - Spike -" He struggled to stay still - to listen - but he only got that feeling of a storm coming. Some rapidly approaching thing that was suffocating him - making him want to fight - to scream. The ragged bit of fire-fly glow from Spike was still there, flickering; sending jumbled emotions and glimpses of the past too quickly to see or understand.
"Get everything - locked down."
"I will. Xander - go find him." Xander nodded jerkily and lurched forward, the dual control of his body switching suddenly so that he stalked into the house and Buffy leapt to her feet, her face pale.
"Xander - Oz? What -"
"Something's happened - something's coming. Spike -"
"Where is he? Is Angel -?"
"We have to go!" Xander strode over to a chest shoved up against the wall and pulled out two longish knives, shoving them into the waist of his jeans. He snagged a short-handled ax and turned - tossed it to Buffy. "Tara - has the house. We've got to go now." Her face went set and hard, and he knew she understood.
"Faith!" Buffy yelled, hefting the axe. "You're in charge here - Tara knows - guard the girls!"
"You got it, B," from somewhere on the stairs and Faith's footsteps, pounding down. That little tingling pulse that said Slayer was like a knife-point in the back of his head and Xander shivered all over, wanting out of there, needing to get clear of it.
"But what on earth -" Giles, coming in from the kitchen with a comet's tail of Potentials and Xander snarled, patience gone, temper and the hyena taking complete control.
"Shit! His eyes -" Molly backpedaled when Xander glared at her then he turned and ran; out the door, across the courtyard, up the steps; Oz and Derio leaping ahead, Buffy right behind and the night like the wing of a raven, folding over them and taking them in.
Halfway to - wherever they were going - Angel suddenly pelted out of the blackness, two bags slung over his shoulders, game-faced and growling.
"Can you find him?" he shouted, and Oz let forth a string of yelping howls that Derio took up a moment later. Xander opened his mouth on a full-throated shriek and they wheeled like a flock of birds, darting down an alley, Angel falling in behind. It was here, here, here, like a hooked line dragging them in, the oppressive want and the tiny glowing spark of *darklife pack family* that was all that told them Spike was still alive - still conscious.
*Fucking school, it's the SCHOOL, what the fuck - Spike, Spike, SPIKE!*
*Protect, protect - god, HURTS -* Wolf-Derio whined, running beside him, and it did hurt. The buzz that was the Hellmouth was stronger here by a hundred times or more and it made Xander feel as if ants were crawling all over him - crawling and biting. The string of beads he wore burned against his chest.
*It's worse, it's stronger - fuck!* A sudden, blood-curdling bolt, and Xander stumbled and almost fell - wrenched himself up and ran on, hearing Angel roar behind him.
"What the fuck was that!"
"Hellmouth! Open or - run, damnit!" They pounded down the sidewalk and then they were on campus and Xander snuffed the air, tasting for Spike and finding only earth and human-smell, overpowering.
*Alarm? Pack, find him, find him...* from Oz. There was a light in the school where light shouldn't be, and the door yielded to Xander's shove. *Not locked - Spike - SPIKE! We're coming, hold fast hold fast hold fast -* Oz and Derio skidded on the linoleum, claws scrabbling for purchase and Xander ran, feeling the tug in the link getting stronger, the stuttering images and emotions starting to overwhelm him. He careened around a corner and almost ran full tilt into a door. 'Basement Access' on a red sign and a wooden wedge shoved under the edge of it, holding it open.
"Fuck - down here -"
"Like with the eggs -" Buffy said, panting, and Xander remembered. That seal was down there - the Hellmouth's front door and that - was where Spike was.
*Fuck, fuck, FUCK, it called him here - Spike! Protect protect protect -* He practically flew down the stairs - around a landing and down again and then they were running along a labyrinth of corridors. Stuff - was everywhere - old desks and file cabinets and piles of broken chairs and tables. Over all was that 'basement' smell of must and earth and water, stale air and dust. And a faint, lingering scorched smell that reminded him of the day they'd blown the school up. And *Blood, that's blood - fuck - SPIKE!* Oz whined, panting, running just ahead, Derio on his heels. Angel's shoes thundered on the dirty concrete and Buffy's boot-heels made sharp crack crack sounds. And something else. Spike. Shouting.
"I did not! I wouldn't do that! Doesn't matter, doesn't matter -" His voice abruptly cut off and Xander pushed himself, extra burst of speed, his lungs burning. A corner, then a doorway and Oz was through, and Derio, *Careful, jump!* then he was, stumbling and nearly falling over a body lying aslant the door. Dirt was mounded up around the edges of the room and the seal lay exposed - bloody. Spike was against the far wall, crouched down over another body, head in hands.
*Blood - Jesus, on him, his hands - the SEAL, god -* Then they were across the room, they were around Spike, the wolves pushing up against him and Xander crouching down - reaching for him.
"Spike - hey, Spike - you okay? Are you hurt?" Spike flinched and looked up at him. Eyes wide, blood smeared on his mouth - his cheek - his hair, from where his hands had clutched and raked the strands into disarray.
"You're not dead," he hissed, and then the link surged - opened wide and Xander almost screamed. Spike did, his fingers clawing at his head and Xander lunged and grabbed him, pulling him up and away from the body that lay at his feet, holding him tight. The seal was closed but the nerve-wracking hum from it still shivered through the air and Xander could feel a headache building behind his eyes.
*I'm here, I'm here, you're safe - pack is safe - Spike, love, you're safe, safe...*
*Pack pack pack safe, love you...* Derio and Oz pressed into Spike's legs, heat and solidity and Spike was shuddering, panting.
*I saw her, saw her - she told me - Xander, she said you were DEAD, she said - I killed you, killed... She SHOWED me - Xander, Xander -* Spike was incoherent - terrified - and Xander mindlessly soothed and whispered and held him, doing his best to shunt the battering emotions away from Derio and Oz - trying to let them just go through him and drain away. Images - Dru, and Darla, and Angelus, dressed like a movie extra and Xander couldn't tell if they were old memories or new.
Buffy and Angel were still by the door, helping the man there sit up. Youngish black man, suit and tie and a bloody bruise on his jaw. Oz nuzzled into Spike's side and then went to investigate the body that was sprawled over the seal.
*Gonna change,* he thought, brief flicker of modesty with Buffy there, and then he changed and crouched naked over the blond corpse - turned it gently onto its back. The throat was gone.
"It's - Andrew," Oz said softly, and Buffy looked up, grimacing at the blood and cartilage and muscle showing raw and dirt-flecked under the slack, pale face.
"He and that - other boy were down here -" The black man coughed, holding his ribs, and Buffy helped him to stand. Angel stalked over to Xander and Spike, his face set and furious.
"You killed him, Spike!"
"Fuck off, Angel!" Xander glared at Angel over Spike's shoulder and Derio pushed forcefully between Angel and Spike, hackles raised, growling.
"Xander, you can't seriously be okay with -"
"Shut the fuck up," Xander snapped, bending a little to listen to Spike who was muttering something into Xander's neck.
"Spike? What'd you say, love? Tell me again."
"I didn't - I don't - you said no killing and I don't, I hardly ever do, I - he was - there was blood on the s-seal, blood all - down his arm and that - that -" Spike twisted suddenly and stared at the seal - at Oz, who was changing back. "Of course they know! I don't -"
"Spike?" Xander took Spike's face gently in his palms, turning his head. "We know what, love?"
Spike just stared at him for a moment and then he suddenly shivered all over and the link rapidly settled, going from chaotic flood to normal in seconds.
"Xander? What are - fuck, it was opening -" Spike whipped around to stare at the seal again - lifted his hands to scrub them back through his hair and checked when he saw the blood. "What the fuck is going on?"
"That's what I'd like to know. We need to get out of here. Is - that guy dead, too?" Buffy was looking at the third body, the one Spike had been crouched over.
*Oz, is he-?*
*Alive - hurt. His blood on the seal.*
"He's alive, Buffy. He may need a doctor." Buffy crossed over to where the third body lay and crouched down, gently turning the boy and jumping back a little when he groaned.
"It's Johnathan! Angel - help me -" Angel glared at Spike for a moment and then walked over to Buffy. Between them they hoisted the limp body up. Johnathan's head lolled and he whimpered faintly, his black shirt shiny with blood.
"What - should we do with -" The black man gestured hesitantly at Andrew and Buffy shook her head.
*We'll bury him. Get out of here.* Oz straddled the body and took a mouthful of the black turtleneck Andrew had been wearing between his jaws - lifted him up and began to drag the body away, wolf with prey and Xander saw Buffy go pale.
"Oz and Derio can - bury him. He's been missing for months and there was never... No Missing Persons. We can't stop to deal with him," Xander said, gently as he could, and Buffy gulped and nodded. "Buffy - who is -" Xander gestured at the black man, who looked...oddly calm, for being in the midst of blood and chaos.
"I'm - I'm Robin Wood. I'm the principal at Sunnydale High. And I know Ms. Summers - she's pretty infamous around here." Robin brushed half-heartedly at his suit and looked narrowly at Spike. "When I came in here, he was - raving. Had that blond boy by the neck. He - he killed him. I tried to stop him - I think he cracked my ribs. You do know he's a vampire?"
"'Course we know," Xander snapped, ice forming in the pit of his stomach and he felt a shiver go through Spike.
"Had to - had to, Xan, he was - it was opening and she said - said I'd done it, said I'd hurt that - that boy but I know, I know, I - had to stop him -" Spike vamped suddenly, growling, lunging forward towards nothing at all. "Get out! Get out - filthy bitch! Angelus, rein her in or I fuckin' swear -" Xander wrapped his arms around Spike, holding him as tightly as he could, pulling him back from his invisible antagonist. The Hellmouth energy thrummed over their nerves, like being next to a huge, poorly-tuned engine and he couldn't sort it from Spike, from Buffy, from Oz and Derio, who were going rapidly away with the corpse, relieved to be going but *Keep him safe - love you, Spike, love you, pack, pack.*
"We have to get out of here. Buffy - come on -" Buffy nodded and she and Angel started maneuvering the boy out of the room, his limp body slung between them. Johnathan moaned again, his eyes fluttering.
"I think he needs a doctor," Buffy said, and Robin started patting at himself.
"I've got my cell - I'll call 911 and - and then I'm going to want an explanation for - all of this," he said, eyeing Spike - and Angel - and the seal with a tight-lipped expression.
"Yeah, we'll call you, let's get going." Buffy and Angel hauled Johnathan out, Robin following behind, and Xander slowly let Spike go - turned him so he could see Spike's face.
"Love, you all right? What happened?" He let his fingers brush over the dried blood on Spike's cheek and Spike shuddered, closing his eyes and leaning into Xander - leaning his forehead on Xander's and taking a long, hard breath.
"I don't - know, Xan, I - Angel and me, we were - on the docks. And these men - fighting... And I stopped them and I had one...drank from him..." He stopped and Xander slid his hands down Spike's shoulders - slipped them in under the duster and rubbed gentle, soothing circles on Spike's back.
"Yeah. I felt that. Then - you were talking to Angel and...?"
"Was tellin' him - stop being so daft, stop fighting the demon and...try to live with it... He was - he... I forgot, Xander! I thought - we were hunting, I thought we'd go and get...D-dru and Darla and... And I was gonna - show them this, it... Said you were here, said... we'd be family and I forgot, I just - I thought - Angelus had come back and I wanted you, wanted him, wanted -" Spike wrenched away - drove his fist hard into the cinder-block wall and stood there, head down, blood oozing from under his knuckles. Xander hesitantly touched his shoulder, squeezing gently through the scarred leather.
*Spike, love - it's all right -*
"No it's not! It's not all right!" Spike whipped around, demon to the fore. "I forgot us! Forgot the claim... Xander, I would have - If I'd kept forgetting I would have tried to turn you! Anything to keep you..." Spike's hand, shaking and blood-stained, lifted to cradle Xander's cheek, and Xander felt the sizzle of pain in the link from the broken fingers.
"But you didn't forget me -" he whispered, and Spike shook his head slowly.
"No... Something said - you were mine, had to be...mine. Said I wanted you and needed you and... I did. But - I would have taken you, love, not asked you..." *Forgive me, Xander, please, so sorry, so sorry...*
*Spike - no - nothing to forgive, please, love -* Xander pulled Spike into his arms and just held him, murmuring to him, rubbing slowly over his back, doing his best to comfort - to reassure. The link was full of images - of emotions - and Xander saw that it was true. Spike would have taken him, made him over. Would have tried. And Xander...wasn't sure he cared, deep down.
*Anything, my love, my own...* But he didn't share that with Spike. Not...now. *I'm not helpless, love, and Oz and Derio are here - we'd have stopped you, if we'd had to. You'd never hurt me, Spike, never hurt me... Love you, vampire-mine, love you so much.*
*Scared. Xander, I'm scared, please don't - don't let me...* Spike was breathing in jerky pants into Xander's neck, wetting the skin there and Xander knew he was fighting tears - fighting and losing.
*Won't. I won't. You're safe, love, safe - promise. Love you...*
*Love you, keep you safe, pack, pack...* Distant but coming closer, Oz and Derio doing their best to reassure as well, and Xander finally pulled back a little - got Spike turned toward the doorway.
"Come on, love, we need to get back to the house. Faith's there, and Tara, but..."
"Yeah. Okay." Spike sniffed and wiped at his eyes - took out a cigarette and lit it - stared for a moment at the blood on his hand. They picked their way around the room, being careful not to stumble over the mounded earth, and then went out and up, as fast as they could. They met Oz and Derio near the front doors and watched from the shadows as an ambulance loaded Johnathan up and took him away. Angel faded out of the darkness when they did, the bags still over his shoulders and Spike laughed weakly.
"Kept the skag then, Angel? Good on you," he chuckled, and Angel glowered at him.
"I want to know just what in hell is going on -" he started, but Derio growled at him, and Buffy put her hand on his arm.
"Let's get back home first, okay, Angel? I don't like leaving everybody alone for so long." Angel looked at her and sighed, nodding.
"Yeah, okay. Let's go."
*Meet you there,* Oz thought, and he and Derio loped away, disappearing into the darkness.
The Crawford Street house was in chaos and Xander just shut his eyes for a minute, willing his headache to go away. But it didn't, and he sighed and stared at the milling Potentials - at the wounded ones, lying on the floor. Several of the girls were crying and Vi was hysterical. Faith - bloody but upright - was snapping orders, and Tara, Giles and Ethan looked as if they were recovering from something bad. A ward was up and it sizzled over their skin as they crossed the threshold. Angel flinched from it, looking around, and Buffy rubbed the back of her neck. She had a streak of blood on her arm.
"Glinda - Niblet?" Spike called, darting forward, and Tara put up her hand - smiled weakly as Spike crouched down next to her. A thin trickle of blood was coming down from her nose and Spike looked around for something to wipe it away. Xander's breath ooofed out of him as Dawn flung herself at him and he picked his way across the floor to Tara as well, hugging Dawn close. Oz and Derio were in the garden, hunting the grounds for -
"Bringers. It was those - Bringers. You guys booked and - bam - they were on us. Didn't even have time for the mojo to go up." Faith wiped her hair back from her face and hauled an extra-large sized First Aid kit closer to her and started cleaning a gash in the leg of one of the girls. It was the Chinese one, and she said something faintly, looking the other way. Dawn hugged Xander one more time and then slipped away, moving to take the girl's hand. She said something haltingly to her and the Chinese Potential nodded, eyes closed.
*Our girl gets smarter every day,* Spike thought, pride and worry mingling in that thought and Xander had to smile. He knelt down next to Spike, rubbing Tara's knee softly.
"How many were there? What happened?" Buffy moved to help Faith and Angel slung the bags to the floor - looked around.
"There's another kit in the kitchen, Angel," Buffy said, her tone implying quite clearly that she expected him to go and get it and get busy. Angel stared at her for a moment and then went, glaring. Spike chuckled softly, holding both of Tara's hands in his.
"You all right, pet? You look knackered."
"I'm - I'm fine. We had to put the ward up f-fast. I've never done one without - preparing. Ethan - sh-showed me how and then we m-made it. It was - hard." Tara looked up gratefully as Rona brought her a wad of paper towels. She wiped at her nose and looked over at Giles and Ethan, both of whom were slumped against the wall, pale and exhausted looking. Ethan had a nose-bleed as well.
"Fuck - shouldn't have left, shouldn't have gone out at all, damnit," Spike muttered, and *My fault, my fault, put them all in danger, FAMILY first, never should have -*
*Stop it, Spike! It's not your fault. It's the First and you know it. They'd have attacked no matter what. It's not your FAULT, Spike.* Spike looked at Xander for a moment, and Xander could see the grief and guilt and self-loathing in his eyes, and then Spike was closing the link, turning back to Tara and Xander wanted to kick and scream. This had to be fixed. They had to find a way.
"Please don’t shut me out, Spike," Xander whispered, and Spike's shoulders slumped. He nodded and let his control of the link ease, and Xander hated the sorrow and desperation and fear that flooded out to him. Tara looked unhappy - it was clear she could sense something - and she put her hand out and gently petted Spike's hair for a moment.
*Clear - all clear out here. Nothing,* from Oz, and a minute later the two of them came inside, human again and dressed, shivering under the ward. They both came immediately over, Derio trailing a hand over Spike's shoulder as he settled on the couch next to Tara, Oz crouching down and smiling up at her - leaning into Spike a little, *Love you love you pack,* softly in the link.
"There was only - ten? Only ten. We got four of 'em - they're over there." Faith jerked her chin towards the stairs and for the first time Xander noticed the bodies, stacked haphazardly. Beings dressed in black, their eyes - gone. He shivered and squeezed Tara's knee - looked over at Oz.
*Fire still going?* he asked, and Oz nodded.
*When they're asleep,* Oz thought, and Xander agreed.
"When they got the wards up, it - hurt them, I guess. The ones still standing ran and we finished off the ones too hurt to get out. Giles can swing a sword like you wouldn't believe." Faith sent a grin over her shoulder at the Watcher and Xander heard Ethan chuckle softly. "Our girls did good, B." Faith finished off the bandage on Chao-ahn and sat back on her heels, looking tired.
"Yeah, they did. Okay..." Buffy stood up, looking around the room at the Potentials. They looked back, and Xander thought that maybe they were - straighter, now. A little more confident.
"You guys did do good, and - well, I'm proud of you. Why don't you go upstairs, get cleaned up and get to bed. We've got a lot of stuff to do tomorrow.
"What happened with you tonight?" It was Kennedy, sporting a black eye and a badly scraped shoulder, and Buffy sighed and shook her head.
"In the morning, Kennedy. Come on - all of you - upstairs." Kennedy grumbled and the other girls didn't look happy, but they eventually trailed away upstairs, avoiding the pile of Bringer corpses. Angel, who'd done a little bandaging himself, was wiping his hands on some spare gauze.
"I kind of want to know what happened tonight too," he said, eyes on Spike's face, and Spike snarled at him. Xander put a hand on Spike's shoulder.
"Buffy can tell you, Angel. We're gonna get rid of the bodies." Angel eyed him - nodded stiffly and strode to the courtyard. Buffy sighed again and looked over at Xander and Spike.
"You want me to tell him about...the forgetting?"
"If you can," Xander said softly, and she nodded, frowning, and turned and followed Angel out.
*Wanker. He needs to go.*
*Yeah. C'mon - you okay to do this?* Spike pushed himself to his feet - patted Tara's shoulder. She smiled at him and stood herself, stiff.
"I'm going to make some tea, something...calming. I think we could all use it," she said quietly. She went over to Giles and Ethan and got them up, Ethan swaying a little and leaning heavily on Giles.
"I'll - take tea out to Buffy. She may need some help...explaining," Giles said, his voice hoarse and tired, and Tara patted his arm and led the way to the kitchen. Dawn had found Sinclair and was cuddling him on the other couch, watching everyone scatter.
"Hey, Spike - can I have the last of your Jaffa Cakes?"
"'Course you can, Bit." Spike smiled, going over to stroke a hand over her hair and give Sinclair's head a quick rub. She grinned at him and went into the kitchen. Xander pushed his hands through his hair - looked over to Oz and Derio.
"Let's get this over with, then," he said. Spike pulled his duster off and flung it over the couch - went with Xander to the Bringer corpses and the four of them hauled them out into the courtyard where the fire in the cistern was burning hot and bright.
As the bodies slowly dissolved to ash and grease and bits of charred bone, they sat against the wall, watching. Derio and Oz were leaning together, Derio humming softly under his breath, Oz's fingers restlessly twisting in his dreads. Xander leaned against the wall, Spike between his legs, cuddling him close. Spike had his head on Xander's shoulder - his arms crossed over Xander's.
*We'll fix this, Spike. Whatever it is, we'll fix it. Promise.*
*Love you, Xander. Love you...*
*Love you too, vampire-mine....always.* Xander rested his cheek on Spike's temple and pulled him closer, and hoped, quietly and secretly down in the bottom of his heart, that they could fix whatever was wrong.
*Please - anything. I'll give anything - do anything. Just - anyone that can, anyone that will... Help us...*