Chapter 24: Losing

Chapter 24: Losing

                A wave of Potentials spilled from the side door of the mansion as they pulled up, and Oz eased into the converted carriage house, not even getting the engine turned off before the doors were being opened.  Amanda and Rona were first in line, tear-streaked and anxious, with the other three of the 'guard' right behind them.

                "Is she okay?  Please, is she - oh god!"  Rona reeled back, covering her mouth with her hand as Spike gently lifted Tara and the duster opened a little, showing a bloodied shoulder.  Tara's face was pale as paper, streaked with blood and dirt.  Ethan crawled weakly out of the van and stumbled straight into Giles' arms, his skin colored a sickly greenish-grey. 

                "Ethan!  What - how is Tara?  What happened?" Giles asked anxiously, slinging his arm around Ethan and all but lifting the slighter man into his arms.

                "Ethan got attacked - one of those Turok-Han bit him.  He needs some juice or something, Giles.  Tara's..."  Xander didn't know what to say about Tara, and he followed Spike towards the connecting door that led to the house proper, wishing he could help.

                "S-spike, wait!"  Ethan was holding out his hand and Spike turned toward him, snarling.

                "She needs help, mage -" 

                "I know!  I know."  Ethan urged Giles forward until they were closer to Spike and Tara.   "She's - it's the earth that helps her.  She needs to be in the garden.  She needs to touch the earth."

                *Fucking hell!  Damnit, Xan - you think?*

                *He's probably right, he and Giles know more about that -*

                "Giles, is that -?"  Xander turned anxiously to Giles, putting out a hand to touch Ethan's shoulder, apology for doubting him.

                "Yes, he's right Xander.  If she's hurt, there is a spell - healing from the Earth.  That's - where her power originates."

                *Take her - take her, love, hurry,* Spike thought, and Xander carefully accepted the limp form of the *lightwitch mother pack pack pack*, wincing when he saw the deep cuts in the shadowy area below the duster's lapel.  Derio limped up to them, whining softly, and Oz knelt down next to him, hugging him around the neck and stroking his fur.

                *We'll be there, take her.  Have to clean these...*   Xander knew what Oz meant - he had to change, and help Derio clean the gashes left by the Turok-han.    Just like their mundane counterparts, the wolves would lick the injuries clean, and their magic would speed the healing faster than any antiseptic.

                *Derio...god -*

                *I'm all right. Go on, we'll be right there.*   Xander nodded and strode away, going through the house rather than around, heading for the garden.   Spike crouched down next to Derio as well, anger and frustration in the link because he couldn't follow Xander out into the sunlight. 

                *Pack...oh Glinda...be well, love...*

                Xander went as fast as he could, the Potentials milling around him like moonlets around a planet, Amanda beside him and Rona crying softly right behind.  Buffy quietly asked Faith to get the First Aid kit and sent Dawn scrambling for a sheet and blanket.  Johnathan was sent off next for juice and a muffin for Ethan and they all arrived in the garden about the same time.  Buffy and Dawn spread the doubled sheet on the ground and Buffy helped Xander to ease Tara down, straightening her limbs and arranging her arms, her face tight with worry.

                "Is she...god, she looks -"   Rona looked utterly spooked and Xander frowned up at her.

                "She's going to be fine.  She lost a lot of blood.  She's just unconscious.  Ethan - what do I do?"

                Ethan had collapsed onto the edge of a concrete planter, gulping orange juice.  He wiped the back of his hand over his mouth and looked up at Giles, nodding once.  "You need to get that coat off of her, and let her hands touch the ground."  Xander nodded and Buffy knelt down, helping him roll Tara from side to side, stripping off Spike's duster.  Dawn was ready with the blanket but they all stared in shock for a moment at the symbols carved so cruelly deep into the palely tawny skin of Tara's chest, ribs and belly.

                *Oh god, oh FUCK, those bastards, gonna PAY for this -*   Xander let the others see, showing them the wounds, and there was a roar of fury from inside the house as the extent of Tara's hurts came clear to Spike.  Xander looked up and saw him in the doorway, demon-faced and teeth bared, *KILL them, kill all of them, no mercy, none left, kill them not pack not pack* sluicing like lava through the link.  Dawn tucked the blanket up around Tara and then Xander and Buffy carefully got Tara's hands out from under it and laid them palm down on the leaf-littered floor of the garden, bunching the sheet out of the way.

                "What - what next?  What do we do?" Xander asked, and he could hear Rona and another one or two potentials crying - could hear whispering.  "Shut up!  She's going to be fine!  Giles - Ethan, what next?"  Ethan held his hand out and let Giles haul him to his feet.  They both came over and knelt on either side of Tara, looking grave.

                "She must do it herself, I'm afraid," Giles said softly.  "We must - wake her up a little."  They all looked down at her unconscious, too-pale features, and Xander felt a wave of helplessness go through him. 

                *Be all right, she'll be all right, she's strong,* from Oz, and he looked up to see both wolves on either side of Spike, leaning into his legs, Spike's hands knotted in their fur.   Just inside the margin of safety, in the shadowy edge of the doorway.

                "Oh!  Here -"   Dawn dove for something in the kit and handed it to Giles - a small vial of something that Giles immediately opened and waved under Tara's nose. 

                *Smelling salts,* Spike supplied as Xander caught a whiff and recoiled.  Buffy was wrinkling her nose as well at the acrid reek.  Tara stirred, turning her head a little, and she coughed weakly.  Giles waved the vial again and her eyes snapped open, pain and fear in wide green eyes.  She coughed again, harder, and moaned in pain.  Giles capped the vial and Xander carefully brushed a strand of hair back from Tara's cheek - smoothed that same cheek with his palm.

                "Tara?  Tara, you're safe - it's Xander and - and Buffy - we've got you, Tara."  She blinked - licked her lips, looking dazedly at the faces that ringed her.

                "E-ethan?" she rasped, and the mage shifted into her view.

                "I'm here, child. We're all here."  Tara managed a tiny sort of smile - grimaced as she tried to move.

                "Don't - Tara, you're really hurt -"

                "The girls -"

                "We're fine, Tara - we...  God, we're so sorry!"  Amanda wiped her eyes, trying not to cry, and Tara slumped back, nodding.

                "Oh-oh-okay, glad..."  Her voice faded to a mumble and her eyes were fluttering, trying to close.

                "Tara - you must not sleep.  You need to heal yourself."  Giles leaned over Tara, gently patting her cheek.   "Can you remember the invocation?  Call to Brigit, Tara..."   Tara blinked again and again - finally nodded faintly.

                "I can - do it, I can..."  Her fingers pushed weakly at the ground, burying the tips a little into the thick loam.

                "Everyone get back - back up," Xander said.  The Potentials stepped away, forming a wide ring, and Buffy stood up and grabbed Dawn's hand, backing away.  Faith picked up the First Aid kit and moved away as well.   Giles helped Ethan up and away but Xander couldn't move - didn't want to move -and he reached out and put his hand lightly on Tara's.

                "Come on, Tara - come on, you can do this."  Tara smiled wanly up at him - closed her eyes, frowning.  Then she began to whisper, soft words in a language Xander wasn't familiar with.  

                *That's Irish.  Brigit's Irish.  She's calling her...*   A touch of awe in Spike's mental voice, and Xander closed his own eyes, listening to the rhythm of the words; the soft, musical sound of the language.  He felt heat and fur and *Derio* and the wolf settled with a pained sigh beside him.   The call went on, lulling and soft, and Xander slipped into a blank place, where Tara's voice was like the wind or the sea, and the sunlight was a cocoon of warmth around him - the earth under his knees the only point of solidity.  A soft gasp from the crowd around them and he opened his eyes.  A delicate light - palely silver-green, dancing like the sun reflecting off water - surrounded Tara.  It seemed to come from the earth and the air and from Tara herself, and it rippled and shivered with every breath - every movement of Tara's lips.  The light was over Derio as well, tipping each hair with a speck of witch-fire and making his eyes spark gold-green.  Xander watched as the tail-end of a cut over Tara's shoulder slowly knit itself together, not noticing he was crying until he felt Derio's muzzle nudging his hand.

                *All right, it's all right...*

                *She's doing it, love...god, look at her -*   Oz made a low, whining sound, happiness and excitement, and the moment went on and on, until finally Tara's voice died away, and her eyes fluttered open again.   The green light seemed to glow that much brighter for a moment, and then it was sucked back and down, flowing into the earth and fading away and Tara pushed herself slowly upright, clutching the blanket.  Xander wiped his face, impatient with tears, but feeling - lighter, somehow.

                "Tara!  God - that was - that was amazing, that was..."   Xander didn't know what to say - reached out hesitantly and Tara folded gratefully into him, shaking.

                *She's fine, she's perfect, she - god -*

                *It's all right love...  Bring her in, please bring her in -*   Spike was desperate to touch her - confirm that she was there, and safe, and healed, and Xander nodded into Tara's shoulder, sniffing.

                "She'll be - very tired," Giles said gently, and Xander looked up to see everyone crowding close, smiling through tears or, like Dawn, bouncing with ill-suppressed glee.

                "Man, I need some powers like that," Faith said, grinning, and Xander had to grin back.

                "Want to go inside, Tara?" Xander asked, and Tara leaned back a little and nodded.  There was still blood and dirt on her skin and she looked down at herself with a grimace.

                "Yeah, I would.  I r-really need a shower."

                "A bath - you'll fall and knock yourself silly," Ethan said, and Tara sighed - nodded reluctantly.

                "I do feel k-kinda - weak."

                "My dear girl - you called Brigit to you, and called her power of healing out of the Earth itself.  It's a wonder you're not comatose."   Giles' voice was full of pride and delight and Xander got his arms under Tara and carefully lifted, Derio bracing him on one side and Faith on the other.  Dawn got the blanket tucked up right, making sure Tara was covered and she rested her head on Xander's shoulder, her arms around his neck.  Xander went carefully inside, the Potentials parting like the red sea - went straight to Spike and Oz.  Derio pushed past, human again, the dirt-streaked sheet around him, healed by the light, also.   He held the sheet just so and Oz changed as well, winding the rest of the sheet hastily around his hips as Xander brought Tara up to them.   Spike just stood there, staring at her, then he reached out and slowly stroked her hair, his face shuttered but the link crowded with joy and awe and the undercurrent of rage that they all shared.  Xander was aware, sort of, of Buffy sending the Potentials away, back to drilling or chores or something - of asking Faith to start a bath in the downstairs tub and shooing Johnathan to the kitchen with Giles and Ethan, telling him Ethan wasn't the only one who needed food.  Then she faded back, and Dawn slipped up close, and they were all there, just there, *sister brother family* faintly from Dawn, *love family* from Tara even fainter - more emotion than clear thought, more a warm breath through their souls than anything else.

                *Safe, pack is safe, family is safe,* the hyena crowed, wanting to roar joy and challenge to the rafters, but Xander shushed it.

                "Thank you f-for coming for m-me..." Tara whispered, pushing a little into Spike's hand, looking at them all with eyes glittering and wet.

                "Always come for you, Glinda.  Never doubt it," Spike murmured, and she nodded, smiling at them.

                "C'mon, you need to get cleaned up," Xander finally said, when he saw Faith wandering back from the bath and Buffy starting to look a little impatient.

                "Wait.  B-buffy?  Tell Giles - I saw d-down past the seal.  I saw..."  Tara stopped and shut her eyes for a moment.  "I saw - thousands of those - those Turok vampires.  Hundreds of th-thousands.  Tell him, okay?"

                "Yeah.  Yeah, I'll tell him.  Right after you get cleaned up and into bed."  Buffy's smile was strained but Tara nodded gratefully, laying her head down and sighing, worn out.  Xander carried her to the bathroom and left her in Buffy and Dawn's gentle hands, and joined his pack on the steps.

                *We can't fight that many,* he thought.  *Not if they're all strong like that...*

                *Won't have to.  We'll figure a way, love.  We WILL.*

                *Maybe if we figure out what this Caleb has...* Oz thought, speculating, and Derio leaned into him and sighed, looking as worn-out as Tara.  *You should sleep, me amor,* Oz chided gently, and Derio closed his eyes.

                *So hungry.  Eat then sleep.  Are we still going tonight?  The winery?*   They all thought about that for a minute, and they all knew what they wanted.  Revenge.

                *We'll go, with or without the Slayer.  Can burn the bloody thing to the ground if nothing else,* Spike concluded, and they all agreed.  Something would be done, one way or the other.          

 

                "Okay, so - what's the signal?" Oz asked, and Buffy looked impatient.

                "Lots of yelling.  Everybody ready?"  There was shuffling and a murmuring and Buffy took it for assent - squared her shoulders and nodded.  "Okay.  Spike.  We're trying to find something that he's got.  Something hidden, maybe.  So we may need to talk to him.  Is this translating into English for you?"

                "Fold, spindle and mutilate, no killing, check," Spike muttered, sucking hard on the last inch of his cigarette, demon-face and all but vibrating with suppressed rage.  Xander felt the same - felt it from Oz and Derio, as well.  A seething cloud of red-tinged fury, boiling up like ants from a nest.  Biting, pinching, urging them all on.  Relentless.  Spike had left his duster - his duster - at the mansion.  Left it folded in Tara's lap with a 'don't let this get lost, eh Glinda?' and a kiss on the cheek.  In the link had been scenes - some memories, some just fantasy - all so gory that it made sense.  Spike didn't want his precious coat covered in...stuff.   *Too much work to clean off THAT much blood,* he'd thought, mind straying to something that had happened in Potsdam in 1889.  It had only stoked their own fire, and Xander had wondered, distantly, when Spike's history had ceased to be an issue for him in any way.  Xander watched as Buffy and about half the Potentials - and Oz and Derio in wolf form - slipped away through the scrubby trees and bushes that crowded the old winery.

                *Gotta stay calm - can't go nuts.  Nobody can get hurt -* Xander thought, edge of rationality threatening to slip away as the hyena bullied itself up and out and the world became curiously flat and almost colorless.

                *Calm, calm...not pack not pack not pack.  Kill what touches mine, kill it,* was the less than rational reply from Derio and Oz, ringing synchronicity in their mental voice.  The demon had long-since lost its ability to form words and the fury and malice spiraling out from it - from Spike - made Xander's breath come hard and fast - made him clench his fists until his nails cut into his palms.  They waited, the Potentials in a huddle stinking of fear and nerves; Spike standing stock-still, a nearly sub-sonic growl rattling up out of his chest.  Faith stood uneasily beside him, dividing her attention between the winery and the vampire.  The link from Oz and Derio showed the colorless world-view of the wolves, moving along at hip-height to the Potentials.   The vegetation thinned and then they were trotting across a packed-earth courtyard, past stacks of cut, dead vines and heaps of fresher earth, the rich fungal scent thick in the air.

                *Digging...under the earth. Digging a lair or a...hiding place...*   Wordless agreement from Oz, and then Buffy was kicking in the doors - leaping into a space lit by dim electric light.  The Potentials flooded in, Oz and Derio bounded forward, down a shallow, short flight of stairs.  They could smell Bringers - a sharp, acid, rot sort of smell, and then black-clad figures boiled out of every space and the fight began.

                "Let's go!" Xander shouted and "Fuck yeah!" from Faith and they ran, Spike like a fire-pale arrow shooting straight ahead, the Potentials crashing heedlessly through the brush.  Xander felt the hyena's voice struggling in his throat and he tipped up his chin and let it out, ringing shriek of challenge and hate.  It was answered by the wolves - by Spike - and beside him a Potential cried out and almost tripped.  He yanked her upright - grinned nastily into her shocked face and flung himself forward, plunging through the doors a second or so behind Spike and into a whirling wind-mill of activity.

                *Some of these girls are going to die,* was Xander's last real thought, and then there was just the satisfying crunch of bone and the wet tearing of flesh.

               

                "Is that it?  Is that all?"  Buffy was panting, standing with legs braced, looking warily around.  Spike felt the demon retreat a bit - looked around himself at the room they'd been fighting in.  It was some sort of cellar - a storage room - with fifty or more huge, wooden vats of wine in rows against the walls.  The thick, ripe smell of the wine was everywhere in the room, as was the smell of freshly turned earth and blood. 

                *Family -* insistent, and Xander was right there.

                *Family, we're here, we're safe -*

                *Pack pack* from Oz and *pack* from Derio.  All accounted for.    Bringer corpses were scattered like jack-straws over the dirt floor, and Spike grinned fiercely at the carnage. 

                *Did good, did good,* he praised, knowing that his pack and the Slayers had accounted for most of the deaths.   There were so many he wondered if that was all of them, if they'd wiped out the nest.  He dragged his hand back through his hair, pushing stray locks off his forehead and grimacing at the stickiness.  He knew he was spattered in blood - he could taste it, and it was sharp with fear and magic.   Everyone else was in a similar state, although Buffy, he noticed, had escaped the worst of it.

                The air seemed to crackle with something - with some further thing yet to happen - and Spike nodded in agreement as Xander and Faith got the Potentials who were still standing busy gathering up the wounded.  He counted eight that were hurt - two badly enough to be unconscious - and three dead.  As he watched the bodies shimmered and disappeared.  Part of the spell Tara had done.    The corpses were tied to the talismans Tara had made, and each talisman would bring its 'owner' straight to it if the 'spark' left it.  Giles' own twist on the spell because he couldn't bear the thought of sending a telegram to someone's family, and giving them nothing to mourn over and bury. 

                *Nasty surprise for them, when those show up,* Spike thought, and felt a moment's pang for Tara, who would be upset.

                "Where is he?  Is he even here?" Buffy asked, watching the last of the injured girls straggle out.  Kennedy, Chao-ahn, Amanda and Rona stood at the top of the steps, waiting.  Rear-guard while the hale helped the injured to the van Johnathan had waiting down the road.

                "You must mean me," a voice said - smooth and amused - and something stirred in the shadows at the far end of the room.  Then he stepped out into the light - Caleb; his priest's costume immaculate, the grin that split his face superior and sharp-edged.  "And you must be the Whore of Babylon - and Mary Magdalene, eh?  Sluts, all."  Caleb stood with his hands loosely at his side, studying Buffy and Faith.  Spike felt the instant urge to kill from the wolves - from Xander - and he himself held back with difficulty, letting Buffy run the show.  Caleb glanced up at the four Potentials near the door, a sneering look of dismissal. 

                "And your little followers - other dirty girls who think they can escape their fate."

                "The only person with a fate here is me," Buffy said, low and measured tones, and Faith bumped her with an elbow.  "Oh, and Faith, too.  And you - you're fated to die.  Now hand over what's mine so we can get on with it."

                "You tell 'em, B," Faith said, chuckling, and Caleb narrowed his eyes at them.

                "You should both be begging my forgiveness.  Not that I'll give you forgiveness.  There's no absolution for the foul creatures that you are.  Polluted with darkness while you pretend to the light."

                "What are you talkin' about?  'Cause tell the truth, I'm kinda bored now," Faith said, and Caleb let out a short bark of laughter.  Spike could feel Oz and Derio slinking around the edges of the room, looking for anything hidden - looking for something because the room seemed to be a dead end.

                *A trap?  Maybe -*   Xander started sorting possibilities in his head, coming down the stairs to stand by Spike, who was a few feet behind the Slayers.

                *If it's a trap we've sprung it - don't think he counted on us killin' off all his little workers.*   There was a muted chirrup from Xander and he snapped open his cell.  Spike could clearly hear Johnathan on the other end, but he was pretty sure no one else could.

                "They're all here - we're going.  Clem's going to wait.  Be careful." 

                "Go," Xander said softly, and shut the phone - put it away.  Johnathan was taking the girls back to the mansion.  The hospital was as abandoned as the rest of the town, and they'd raided it for every conceivable medical supply.   The Watcher, the mage and Glinda had strengthened the wards on the house to near impenetrability, especially for this night.  Just in case.  Knowing the rest were safely out of the way made Spike feel - looser - and he pulled a cigarette from the squashed pack in his back pocket and lit up, blowing a stream of smoke towards Caleb.

                "I'm with you there, Slayer.  Bored." 

                Caleb sauntered a step closer, grinning still.  "Oh, the vampire.  And the one who sees."  He frowned at Xander and Spike stepped in front of him, growling, the demon just there without thought.  "Oh, don't flash your fangs at me, half-breed.  I've seen the true demon, and you - don't measure up."  Caleb turned back to the Slayers and Spike sucked in smoke and watched him, tense.  Ready to leap.

                *Thank god you're nothing like the Turok-han - can't really see me getting' down and dirty with ole' Batface.*

                *What's his game then?  All this talk...wolfling, anything?*

                *Some digging here.  There's something UNDER here - but it's blocked.  These vats -*

                *We'll move 'em once we clear this mess out.  Find his secret.*   Caleb was still prattling on, and Buffy looked annoyed.

                "It's no surprise you consort with this kind of - rabble," he said, waving a dismissive hand at Spike and Xander.  "Considering your beginnings, it's a wonder you don't join them.  I suppose we have those Watchers to thank for that."

                "Look - is there a point to all this?   'Cause I gotta say - not really interested in the Mr. Evil psychobabble.  I just want what's mine."  Buffy looked up as Caleb got a little closer.

                "Oh, that's right.  What's yours."  Caleb laughed.  "Glad you got my message, by the way.  I admit to being a little heavy-handed there.  Touch and go for awhile if you'd get to hear what I told her before she gasped her last.  Sometimes -"   Caleb stopped and gazed beatifically upwards.  "Sometimes the spirit just moves me, you know?"

                "How 'bout havin' this move you?" Faith said and leaped at him, a high, hard kick flashing towards his face.  He took the blow with a rock backwards of his head and then he had Faith by one arm, twisting it up hard behind her back.

                "Little girl, you should know better than to interrupt your elders.  Down on your knees like the little slut you are."  Caleb forced Faith to her knees, his other hand fisted in her hair and yanking her head back hard.   He jerked her arm up higher and Spike heard the crack as something broke and Faith went utterly white.

                "One good twist and there'll be only one again.  What'dya think about that, Slayer?" he purred.

                "No!"  It was Rona, charging clumsily down the stairs and straight at Caleb, a nail-studded baseball bat in her hands.  Caleb half-lifted Faith and threw her, and she crashed into a wall and slid down, limp.

                *Oh fuck!* from Xander, and the wolves bolted forward, heading in.  Spike did the same, watching with fury as Caleb easily avoided the wild blow Rona aimed at him.  He snatched the bat from her and spun it like a majorette - swung - and the nails buried themselves in Rona's skull with a meaty thud.  She fell to her knees and then her back and then Oz and Derio hit him, snarling.  He threw them off, the back of his shirt torn open now, and Spike snarled at the yelps of pain when they smashed into the floor.  Buffy ran forward only to meet Caleb's fist.  She flew backwards into a vat, cracking it, and wine started to seep out, pungent in the close air.  Spike plowed into the quasi-priest, clawing and trying to get in one good  bite to the jugular but Caleb put a fist like a hammer into his gut and then kicked, sending him reeling.  Xander ran forward as well, axe swinging up and then down and Caleb darted away and flung Xander across the room, half up the stairs.  Kennedy, Chao-ahn and Amanda had been frozen at the top of the flight and now they tumbled down over Xander and moved in and Caleb swatted them away, laughing.  Chao-ahn hit the broken vat hard enough to snap her neck and the wine gushed out over her, washing her body to Caleb's feet even as it faded away as Rona's had.

                "Come on - is this all you've got?  Is this really all the Chosen One has to throw at me?  Strumpets and half-breeds and abominations?"  He waded towards Buffy and Faith who were both struggling back to their feet.

                "Buffy!  There's a trap door!" Xander yelled suddenly, and Spike whirled to look - saw that there was, a door set flush into the floor where the broken vat was, half-visible in the splintered wreckage. 

                "Oh, that was supposed to be a secret," Caleb said, and he was frowning now.  "Come out, come out, wherever you are!" he yelled, and the door heaved and opened and Bringers flooded out; five, ten, more.

                *Fuck - too many - wolves are hurt, Faith is -*

                *Get 'em out, love - hurry!* Spike thought, and he threw himself at the Bringers, claws and fangs and bone-cracking blows.

                 "Buffy, let's go!   We gotta go!" Xander shouted.    Spike was aware, through Derio and Oz and Xander himself, of Kennedy grabbing Amanda's hand and yanking her up the stairs - of Buffy pushing Faith that way as well, and Derio limping after her, pain in the link from what might a broken leg.  Oz darted in and swiped at Caleb with his teeth, getting a glancing, painful kick to his ribs in return.

                *Out!  Hurry!*  More Bringers were coming up from below and Spike saw Xander wading in, axe flashing, and Buffy joining him.  Caleb seemed to be thinking, standing there glaring at them.

                "Slayer - get out!  Xan -"   Spike whirled and kicked and killed, and Buffy sprinted for the stairs, Xander going more slowly behind, taking out the Bringers who surged after him.  Spike grabbed another Bringer and wrenched head from neck - spun, kicking, making a clear space so he could follow Xander.  And then he was on his knees, he was howling as white-hot pain lanced through his head and someone was screaming and he staggered to his feet, utterly confused, the pain like fire and acid, ten times worse than the chip ever had been.  Caleb had Xander in his grip - had one hand around his throat and one on his face and the link was agony, was a nauseating, lancing throb.  Spike thought he might vomit - might collapse - but instead he roared and he leaped for Caleb - sank his fangs into the bit of throat visible above the priests' collar and bit.  Caleb reeled backwards, dropping Xander, beating at Spike with his fists.  Spike drank faster then he ever had, feeling the man's heartbeat stutter and lurch and then he was wrenching his fangs free in a gout of arterial blood; taste of rotting tin, belladonna, fire in his mouth.  Xander was on the floor, both hands clutched over his left eye, curled into a shivering knot.  There was blood - so much blood.

                *No, Xan - love, please -*

                *Hurts hurts hurts get me out out Spike!*   Spike staggered and locked his hand around Xander's wrist - hauled him up and then scooped him into his arms, heading for the stairs.

                "Guess he won't s-see so damn much, now," Caleb rasped somewhere behind him and Oz was a blur hurtling past him.  There was a choking gurgle and silence.  Spike half ran up and out, heading for the van, Caleb's blood making him reel.  Power, in that blood, more power than the Slayer in China and he could barely see - couldn't feel his feet or his arms or Xander...

                *Love, love - please - Xander - what did he do, what did he do!*   Stutter of images - Caleb's face, his hand on Xander's throat, throttling him, his other hand covering his face, his eye.  Something hard against his eye, pushing, pushing, oh fuck no, no -

                *Nonono Spike, Spike - help, hurts, it hurts SPIKE!*  Xander was writhing in his arms, moaning in a horrible, guttural tone and Spike staggered into a bush and then a tree, his sight dazzling and darkening and his head singing.  Arms came around him - Oz, naked and blood-streaked and whimpering in pain, his eyes black and wild.

                "Oh god, god, Xander - we're here -"  Oz' hands feverishly stroked over Xander's arm, over his ribs, but Xander was lost, sinking into unconsciousness, blood still seeping down his face and the pain like a spike, like a shard of burning ice all through his head.

                "Xander!"  Spike dropped to his knees, jolting him, making him cry out, bringing him back and Spike did the only thing he knew to do.  He tore his wrist open and pushed it hard against Xander's mouth, willing his boy to drink, willing the magic and the demon's blood and the claim to do something - anything - to help.  "Drink, love, drink it, please, it'll help, please please please -"   Xander choked, coughed, and then he was drinking as fast as he could.  Spike let him - let him drink until his own head cleared, until the dizzying power that had been in Caleb's blood had ebbed enough for him to see - to think straight.    

                They were barely twenty yards from the winery and Spike struggled to his feet again, Oz still there, Oz bracing him and holding on and *fuck hurts breathe* from the wolf, broken ribs stabbing into his muscles.

                 "Wolf - go -"

                "No -come on, Spike!"  Oz gasped, a thin, choked sound of pain rising up and escaping between his teeth.  "Clem's there - hurry - too close."  They half-ran, staggering, a steady moaning whimper from Xander at every jolt and jounce, a tea-kettle hissing from Oz and his fingers hurtfully deep in Spike's arm.  Something crashed in the bushes and Buffy was there, panting, getting her arm around Spike from the other side and half carrying him, struggling over roots and clumps of grass.  The van came into view finally, looming up in the thin moonlight, headlights blazing and Clem behind the wheel, one sagging-skinned arm waving frantically out the window.

                The back doors were open and Buffy and Oz heaved, getting Spike up, Oz crying out.  Spike sank to his knees, pulling Xander close, *hurts hurts hurts Spike please hurts* as Xander gained some awareness.

                "Goin' home, love, we're goin', you'll be fine, you'll be fine, Xan..."    *Be fine, please, fucking hell, my boy, my own, you'll be fine we'll fix it, promise, promise.*  The van lurched into gear and sped away, Buffy hanging half out to slam the doors and then there was only darkness, and pain.