Chapter 26: Hurt

Chapter 26: Hurt

Xander woke when Buffy shrieked his name, and he groaned and tried to sit up. Spike seemed dead to the world - fast asleep - and Xander tried to squirm free of his hold.

"Xander! What is going on! Why are you - why is Dawn sleeping with Spike!"

*Oh fuck* "Buffy -"

"She's not sleepin' with me, Slayer, she's sleepin' with the wolfling," Spike growled.

*Spike! Let me go!*

*Don't wanna. Warm.*

*Well fuck... If you let me go I can make her stop shouting.* Spike sighed heavily and let Xander go, and he scrambled out from under the blanket and got up. Spike immediately moved into his spot and pulled the blanket over his head, and Xander surreptitiously kicked him. *Bastard. I'm still tiiired.*

*Make it go 'way.* Spike thought, and Xander ran his hands back through his hair, wincing at tangles. Buffy stood in the doorway of the living room, hands on hips, an outraged expression on her face. Giles stood behind her, a hold-all over his shoulder. They both looked tired and a little sunburned.

"Care to explain, Xander?"

"Maybe keep your voice down, Buffy, Dawn's -"

"Wide awake. Thanks a lot, Buff." Dawn sat up, scowling, and then smiled when she saw the wolf. She hugged him around the neck and started scratching behind his ears and *Likes me best,* smugly from Oz.

*Oh good god.* Xander shook his head in disbelief. "Lemme just get in the bathroom real quick and then we'll talk, okay? Maybe have some coffee?" Xander couldn't keep the plaintive note out of his voice and Buffy finally relaxed a little - let the frown subside. Giles shook his head and moved past her, heading for the kitchen.

"Right. Fine. Dawn, go get dressed. You're in your pyjamas at two in the afternoon with three men!"

"A wolf, a vampire, and Xander, Buffy. None of them count."

"Oh, thanks for that, Dawn," Xander snapped, stumbling towards the bathroom. *Two? It's two?*

"You know what I mean, Xander! Good grief." Dawn jumped up and ran upstairs, slamming her door, and Spike groaned.

"Shut the bloody hell up, people! Creature of the night here, tryin' to get in a decent kip!"

"Shut up, Spike," Buffy said, and stomped into the kitchen. Xander went in the bathroom - winced away from his reflection in the mirror and washed his face, used the toilet. He found himself zoning out on the mutant fish design on Oz's t-shirt that was on the toilet tank and finally nerved himself to leave. Oz trotted in and began a rapid change, reaching for his clothes.

"I'm supposed to be at the Magic Box," he said, and Xander shrugged.

"Anya'll probably understand." Xander said. Anya had hired herself at the Magic Box as 'Head of Acquisitions' and she frowned upon any other employees not being properly punctual. Oz looked at him.

"No she won't," they both said simultaneously, and Xander grinned and went into the kitchen. Giles was slumped on a stool at the island, looking half asleep, and Buffy was making coffee. There was a piece of paper in the middle of the island that said, in Willow's precise script: 'Gone to class, back around three-thirty, don't touch the green stuff in the Tupperware!' Xander sniggered half-heartedly at that.

"So, care to explain - this?" Buffy asked, gesturing towards the living room with the coffee pot. A little water slopped on the floor and she frowned at it.

"If you'll explain what the hell you were doing last night, attacking Spike."

"What?"

"She did what?"

"Giles! You know I didn't attack Spike last night!" Buffy glared at her Watcher and went to pour the water into the coffee maker. Giles ran his hand back over his hair and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes.

"Perhaps you'd better explain, Xander?" Xander climbed up onto a stool of his own and told the story, Oz coming in halfway through and confirming it. When he was done, Buffy and Giles stared at each other.

"Could it - Giles, if I was in a - trance, or something, could I have done some sort of...freaky out-of-body thing?"

"Buffy, I really don't think so." Giles looked baffled, frowning down at the sunflower placemat on the worktop.

"But you - it - whatever, was real. I mean - solid. You know?" Xander said, and Oz nodded.

"Real, but - you smelled off."

"I what?"

"This thing - whatever it was - smelled odd. Like...plastic. Or chemicals. It was weird." Oz wrinkled his nose at the scent-memory.

"Yeah. But - it sounded just like you, mostly. And looked just like you. You - it - dusted a couple of vamps, no problem." Buffy looked from Xander to Giles and then slowly got up and took some cups out of the cupboard.

"I donít like the sound of this," she said, and Giles sighed.

"Nor do I. Perhaps we'd better do some research - see if there's anything about...golems or...simulacrums...something." Buffy poured the coffee and passed mugs out and they drank in silence until Dawn came into the kitchen, dressed and looking irritated.

"So why didn't you come home last night, Buffy? We were all really worried."

"I was in the desert last night, Dawn, talking to the first Slayer. Well, talking at the first Slayer. She just spouted all this mystical cryptic kind of stuff and ignored everything I said."

"But Spike and everybody saw you!"

"It wasn't me." Buffy said, and got up and got a box of cereal out of the cupboard - got a bowl.

"Oh." Dawn stared for a moment then shrugged, obviously happy to let it go. "Well - I called Janice while I was upstairs and she said if I come over right now I can go to the mall with her and her mom. So can I go?" Buffy stared into the 'fridge and Xander saw how tired she looked. How drawn.

*She's...so worn out.* he thought at Oz, and Oz nodded silently.

"Buffy!"

"Huh? Oh - yeah, sure. Mall. Back before dark, okay?"

"Thanks," Dawn said, smiling for the first time, and darted out of the kitchen to the front door. It slammed behind her and a loud groan came from the living room. A moment later Spike shuffled in, the blanket around his shoulders and his eyes squinted half shut. He had his flask in his hand and he opened it and poured a huge measure of whiskey into Xander's coffee - picked up the cup and drained it.

"Christ, do you people never shut up?" He leaned heavily on Xander, eyes closed, and Oz smirked into his cup. Giles did the glasses-polishing thing, which Xander had decided was an attempt to pretend he couldn't see what was right in front of him. Buffy just stared.

"Spike, is that eye-liner?" Xander suppressed a laugh.

"Poor vampire. You wanna go down the basement?" Xander moved Spike between his thighs and pulled him close, arms under the blanket.

"Damp down there." Spike nuzzled his face into Xander's neck, kissing, and Buffy rolled her eyes, pouring milk into her bowl.

"You guys are worse than Willow and Tara. And way worse than Oz and Derio."

"You haven't seen those two backstage at the Bronze," Xander said, and Buffy held up her hand.

"And I don't want to. Single girl here, don't need to be hit over the head with it." There was a small silence after that and Xander felt a little guilty.

*Not your fault, pet.*

"Buffy, I -"

"Xander, please. Don't... Just don't, okay? I'm - fine." She concentrated on pouring out some cereal, and Giles looked sadly at her for a moment before climbing wearily to his feet.

"I really must get home and get cleaned up - get some books. Buffy, you should rest and come down to the Magic Box after closing, see if we've found anything."

"Can I bum a ride, Giles? Iím supposed to be at the shop," Oz said, and Giles nodded.

"Of course, Oz. Gladly. We'll see all of you later." They left, and Buffy stirred her spoon around and around in the cereal then sighed and put the spoon down - leaned her head on her hands.

"So - what did the first Slayer tell you, Buffy? Anything - good?" Xander was slowly working his hands in under Spike's t-shirt.

"Huh." Buffy sat up, making a face. "Mostly just with the mumbo-jumbo. And then she told me..." Buffy trailed off and Spike shifted a little - sighed into Xander's neck.

"What'd she say, Slayer?"

"She said...death is my gift. What the hell is that supposed to mean? I mean, it can't be that I'm the Slayer, 'cause, news flash! I already know that. Stupid mystical guides. Never any help when you really need 'em." Buffy looked down at her bowl - grimaced and got up and dumped her untouched breakfast into the sink.

"I need to get a shower and change. I guess - you guys can hang out here until it's dark." She started to walk out of the kitchen - paused at the door.

"Thanks for taking care of Dawn, guys. And - I - I wouldn't try to kill Spike, Xander. Not anymore." Buffy's gaze was tired - earnest - so lonely, and Xander smiled gently at her.

"Sure Buff. I know. We know. We'll figure this out. No sweat."

"Yeah." Buffy smiled wanly at him and went away upstairs, and Spike finally lifted his head from Xander's shoulder and looked at him.

*Love you love you.*

"Yeah. Let's go get a couple more hours, huh?" Spike smiled at him.

"Brilliant."

************************

By sunset, Spike was more then ready to go patrolling, and he, Xander and Buffy headed towards Sunnydale Memorial in the hopes of finding the other Buffy. Once again the cemetery was eerily deserted, and their Buffy finally gave up in frustration.

"I'm gonna head over to the Magic Box, guys, see if Giles has come up with anything."

"Okay Buff. We'll do one more round, see you there."

"Sure, Xander." Buffy strode off, and Spike sat down on a tombstone, his hands in the pockets of his duster.

"What a bloody boring night."

"Hey, no killing, running, screaming, or bleeding. Pretty good night to me." Xander leaned into Spike and started to kiss his neck, alternating with little bites. "And it's gonna get better," Xander murmured. Spike shivered, taking in a sharp breath and bringing his hands up, pulling Xander closer. Just sinking into the kiss. Warm, wet, tasting of gas-station lemonade and cheap, sweet chocolate. Something rustled in the grass behind him and Spike pulled away - started to turn. A fist rocked his head sideways and Spike snarled, leaping up and pushing Xander back.

*Enemy!* Xander stumbled a step and then went into a fight stance and Spike spun and went for the creature behind him.

*Glory's little trolls!* from Xander, and Spike focused long enough to see their brown robes and scabby, squinty little faces. Then he was fighting; a whirling, kicking dance that was second nature. But there were dozens, as well as some vamps and an assorted demon or two. Glory's recruits. Spike felt a chill come over him - this was wrong, it felt all wrong. Xander was holding his own, but they didn't seem to be attacking so much as -.

*Ambush, pet. Too many. Let's -* And then the other Buffy was there and suddenly Spike was fighting for his freedom if not his life as the other Buffy rained blows down on him and two other vamps and a handful of the little troll-acolytes jumped him at once. Too many, throwing a rope around his neck, one lucky shot around a wrist, a Nyrn latching onto the tail of his duster and pulling him off balance. Xander yelled - dove for him.

*Spike! Get out of here, we've gotta -* And fell.

*Xander! Fuck, XANDER!* The vamp who'd hit him threw the branch he'd swung away and Spike roared, having the satisfaction of seeing utter terror cross the vamp's face as he tried to lunge for him. But there were too many, too much weight, and the rope on his throat was pulling him down, and then another on the other wrist and suddenly he was on his knees - on his back - and the other Buffy swung her fist once, twice - *Third time's the charm.* muzzily, and everything went black.

***************************

Xander tasted...blood. And grass. And his head throbbed, like a dull-bladed knife that stabbed deep with every heartbeat. He tried to lift his head - groaned, and felt something on his back - on his neck.

*Spike! What-*

*Pack. Safe.* It was Oz, warm hands gentle on his shoulders - helping him roll over - and Xander groaned again. The streetlight he could see from his position seemed unnaturally bright and made a sharp spike of pain jab into his eyeballs. He closed his eyes tight.

*Spike!* "Oz - fuck - where's Spike? It was Glory's goons..."

"He's not here, Xander. I can't - feel him. Can you -?" Xander lay very still - reached out in the link, searching. Another stabbing pain made him gasp sharply and stop altogether.

"Damnit, my head, it's...it's messing with the link, I can't - push out very far. Oz - they got Spike, they - there were a bunch of 'em and - some vamps - and that other Buffy -"

"What? The other Buffy?" Buffy's voice and Xander let his eyes come open a tiny bit - saw her and Oz, blurry figures hovering over him.

"Yeah, she - they wanted him, they weren't trying to kill us, they - fuck, help me, Oz." Xander held out his hands and Oz took them - eased him upright. Xander's head seemed to explode with pain, and his stomach roiled - lurched - and he leaned to one side and was sick, clutching his head and gasping for breath afterwards.

"He's got a concussion, he's gotta get to the hospital -" Buffy's voice again, and Xander spat and spat - sat gingerly upright.

"No, Buffy - we gotta find Spike. I dunno why they took him but it can't be good. And I can't - he's alive but I can't - reach him. We've gotta go - get him." His stomach lurched again and he clamped his teeth shut.

"Xander -"

"Please Buffy - I'll be okay."

*Sick* from Oz, but he felt the werewolf's hands under his arms, gently lifting him to his feet. Xander struggled upright, gritting his teeth against the pain and the nausea. Buffy was on his other side in a moment, and he stood swaying between them.

"Let's get to the Magic Box, get you some aspirin at least - something. See what Giles says. He is the in-house expert on head trauma." Xander swallowed - opened his eyes all the way, finally, and took a deep breath - tried a weak smile in Buffy's direction.

"Okay. We'll do that. If it - stops hurting so much I know I can - hear him."

*Heard you. Came fast.* Oz was looking a bit shaky and Xander put his arm over the shorter man's shoulders, leaning on him a bit.

"Thanks Oz." Oz just nodded and they walked slowly out of the cemetery.

***************************

*Xander! Fuck - pet - ANSWER me! Wolf - wolfling!* Spike struggled, cursing, but the chains around his wrists were spelled - weren't ordinary - because he couldn't break them. He could feel Xander - knew he wasn't dead. But he couldnít hear him. Nothing. And Oz - Oz wasn't that strong, in the link, and probably he wouldn't have been able to hear him, anyway. Spike's throat was on fire - the damn rope had been pulled punishingly tight - and it felt like a couple of ribs were badly bruised, maybe broken. *Little bastards got in some licks while I was down. They'll regret that.* He twisted in the chains, looking around him. He was in a posh flat; huge, with heavy draperies, plush sofas and chairs. Clothing, cosmetics, candy boxes and knick-knacks were strewn all over the place, and there was one of the little acolytes - bloody and grinning - hovering in a doorway.

"Ah. You're awake. Now you shall meet Glorificus!" The acolyte scuttled away and Spike wrenched at the chains again - hissed in anger and pain as his sore ribs protested and the chains didn't budge. There was a noise - something hitting a wall? - and the acolyte stumbled back in, more demons coming behind it and - her. Blonde, skinny, haughty; wearing a bored expression and a shimmery red dress. Spike revved up some mental gears and smirked at her.

"If it isn't Glory, goddess of - wait. Goddess of nothing much, right?"

"What is this?" Glory asked, staring at Spike. One of the acolytes bowed low, spreading its hands wide.

"Oh, your most magnificent Magnificence! It's the Key!" Glory stared at the demon and a frown slowly screwed up her features.

"The Key. My Key? You're telling me this is the Key."

"Oh yes, your Deliciousness! We -"

"It's not the Key." Spike jerked ever so slightly in startlement as a dark-haired boy stepped out of the room behind Glory. He was pale and broad, and the other Buffy trailed behind him. He shot Spike a look of loathing and turned to Glory.

"It's not the Key. It's a vampire. It hangs with the Slayer and her gang." Glory looked at the boy - reached out and dug her fingers into his hair, yanking him over so she could talk right into his ear.

"And what do I want with a vampire, Warren! I just want. My. Key!" She shouted the last, and Warren flinched and cringed, trying to pull away.

"Hey, hey! I told them to get it because it is a vampire! Just a soulless, inhuman monster! Do you really think it'd be loyal to the Slayer?" Glory stared at Spike, and he resisted the urge to laugh at her.

*And what's with this 'it' business? Boy's got a problem...*

"Oooh. Good thinking, Warren." Glory let him go - pushed him - and he slammed back into the wall, paler then before. He caught himself and straightened - brushed his shirt down and shot a glare at Spike. Glory walked up closer - walked around Spike once, and he felt her nails on the back of his neck - felt them dig in and tear down, opening his shirt and his skin in five blazing lines of pain that only stopped at his jeans.

"Ow! Stupid bint! Leave off!" Glory came around in front of him - idly licked one bloody nail.

"Hmmmm...you taste funny." Glory looked at him - reached up and did the same thing in the front, shredding his shirt and opening his chest and stomach. Spike reacted on pure instinct. His hands knotted in the chains, his legs came up and he kicked, both feet, as hard as he could. Glory stumbled back, looking stunned and then furious.

"Hey! You don't kick me, you stupid vampire! Those boots are muddy!" and she punched, right into his ribs. He felt those go for sure, breaking like sticks, and he yelled in pain. "And this is a Versace!" Another punch, the other side, and more ribs gone. Spike groaned, coughed - spat, and foamy blood spattered across Glory's dress.

"It's a fuckin' rag now, you cunt." Glory looked down in disgust at her stained dress and then back up at Spike. She put her hands on either side of his face and pulled it down, so they were inches apart.

"You're really, really gonna wish you hadn't done that, vampire." She stared at him - let one hand trail down his chest, digging a little at the deep scratches there. Spike hissed at her, and Glory blinked. "Nothing to see out here... I wonder if there's something interesting inside?" She grinned and dug her nails in, and Spike felt the blood running down his belly and under his jeans.

*Fuck fuck FUCK this is gonna be bad. At least Xander can't feel this...please don't be able to feel this...*

It took far too long before the blackness came back.

************************

*Oooh god it hurts...hurts...please please...help me...* Xander writhed on the couch in the back of the shop, barely aware of Oz's hands on him, holding him down. His head was splitting, and the nausea wouldn't go, and now the link flared and burned with agony. He tried to shield Oz, tried to shut the link down without losing touch with Spike altogether, but the pain was making it hard to think straight and Oz's hands were trembling. There was a white-hot sort of crunch through the link and then nothing at all, and Xander went limp. *Out, he's out...not gone...Spike? No, just...* He carefully opened his eyes - shut them again hard at the dazzle of light from the overhead fixtures.

"Oh - ow -god -"

"Is it Spike? Is something happening?" Giles, his voice sounding strained.

"Yeah, it's -" Oz stopped and rested his head on Xander's shoulder for a moment. *You there?*

*Here...Spike?*

"Glory is - was - torturing Spike," Oz said, and his voice was hoarse. "Xander can...feel it and...I can feel him..." Another pause and then Oz drew away slowly. Xander grabbed blindly at him, catching the werewolf's hand in his and clinging tight.

*Don't leave! I'm... Oz, I...can't...*

*Pack... Won't leave.* Oz squeezed back, his hand warm and solid in Xander's grip, and Xander relaxed just a little. His head was so muzzy - still ringing from the blow, and from the overload of pain. Why couldn't he talk to Spike?

"Oz? Why can't I...I can't talk to Spike, why - is it that...that Toth again? I'm..." He felt the couch move as someone sat on the edge.

"Xander - can you open your eyes? I need to look at your eyes." Giles again, and Xander cracked his lids open the tiniest bit - shut them immediately.

"Hurts, Giles. Too bright."

"Oh - wait. Anya? Would you turn off the lights back here please?" Oz shifted - it felt like he was crouching down at the head of the couch, and Xander felt his own fingers tighten in panic.

*Don't! Oz!*

*Here, I'm here, safe.*

*Harris, get a grip! Gotta stay cool. Let me...*

"Xander, open your eyes now - the light is off." Xander took a deep breath and slowly opened them. He blinked a few times and his eyes gradually focused. Giles was next to him on the edge of the couch, and Oz hunched over near his head, just out of sight. The light from the front of the shop was enough to illuminate them and Giles had a small penlight in his hand.

"I need to look at your eyes, Xander," he said, clicking it on. Even pointing away from him it was too bright and Xander flinched.

"No - don't Giles, don't! It hurts..." Xander struggled against the vertigo that threatened to make him throw up again.

*Can't do this...oh, fuck...*

*Just let ME do it. Harris - LET me...* The soldier, dead calm and collected. Able to think past the pain and Xander just let go and let the soldier take over.

*Oz, listen, he'll know - he can do it...*

"We need something for the pain, Watcher. Something strong."

"What? We? I don't -"

"It's the soldier, Giles. Just - listen to him." Oz's hand a warm weight, and Xander let that hold him there, floating in the red-shot darkness. The concussion was like a jackhammer in his skull, and the back of his head, where he'd been hit felt swollen to twice normal size.

"What do you mean? They're not - separate..."

"Sometimes we are. Just help us. We only need it for a little while. If we can use the link right we'll be able to find him easy. We just need -"

"No! I can't just dose you with any sort of - of drug, Xander! That could be fatal, in your condition. You have to...to rest and Oz -"

"I can't find him, Giles. Iím not strong enough." Oz sounded - so sad, and Xander squeezed his hand hard.

* Oz, it's all right, don't -*

*I know. Love you.*

*What if she...if she does that mind-thing, FUCK -* Xander felt his heart pounding and the soldier moved restlessly in him - pushing for control.

*No time for histrionic, Harris! We need logical steps, here. We need to think clearly.* He was icy calm - very quiet - and Xander took a deep breath, and then another. Forced himself to relax.

"I know the situation is - is bad, Xander, but you must - " Giles stopped and patted his hand. "You must try to stay calm, and let us do what we can. We won't let him die."

"No. We won't. But you have to give us something. We can't function like this. Wolf, help me." Xander, or the soldier - he wasn't even sure now - tried to sit up. Sent the impulse through the link and he felt Oz's hands under his shoulders, very slowly pushing him. As his head got higher then his stomach the nausea swelled up alarmingly and Xander gagged and swallowed several times, trying to force it back.

"Giles, he's gonna be sick, get a -"

"Here, this -" Giles snatched something from the floor and held it up and Xander forced himself upright - leaned forward and frantically grabbed the trash-can Giles was holding, leaning over it. His stomach spasmed and sent up bile, and then nothing at all as he dry-heaved.

*Better out than in,* the soldier muttered, and he moved, dislodging Giles from his perch so Xander could get his feet on the floor. Oz sat next to him, arm over his shoulders, and Xander leaned into him just a bit, taking comfort from the quiet pack that Oz constantly sent. Giles crouched helplessly on the other side, face slightly averted.

*Oh god this is...just...I can't.*

*I CAN! Let me, Harris!* Xander wavered but finally gave way - retreated into that odd, still darkness that had taken him when the soldier first appeared. He'd watched the soldier shoot the transformed trick-or-treaters from that darkness. Watched him take down demons on patrol, sometimes. If he said he could do it, said he could function through the pain, then he could. Xander wondered just how much crazier he could get. The soldier lifted his head - looked squarely at Giles who seemed to see the difference and pulled back, just a little.

"We have to have something, Watcher. There's no other way. We're the only ones who can find him. Harris can't take much more of this." Giles looked at him for a long moment and Xander hoped, rather distantly, that the man could just take this in stride; treat it like just another Hellmouth oddity and help him - them. Giles sighed, finally, and lowered his head, and Xander knew they'd won.

"I - I don't like this, Xander. But - I donít see any other choice. Willow and Tara already tried a locator spell and Glory's - aura, or wards - something - disrupted it. We didn't get anything at all."

*He's not dead, doesn't mean he's dead, FUCK this damn headache -*

*Safe, pack safe, calm.* Oz squeezed his shoulders a little, willing him to calm down.

*He's fine, Harris. We can still feel him - just concentrate. Soon as we get the pain under control, you'll see.*

"Appreciated, Watcher. We - Xander can find him, if we knock the pain out. This will work. We're not human, Watcher. Giles. Not anymore. Not...completely. It won't hurt us as much as you think. She's asking about the key, Giles." Giles looked at him, his expression strained and sad, and Oz's arm over Xander's shoulders tightened for a moment.

"None of us are just plain...normal anymore, Giles. It'll be ok," Oz said softly, and Giles straightened slowly from his crouching position.

"You're right, Oz. You - we - are not. I'll... I'll go and get Tara and get started. It'll take a little time. Xander should try to rest. Just don't let him go to sleep."

"Sure, Giles." Giles walked away, slowly at first and then more briskly, his head coming up determinedly as he visibly set his misgivings aside, and Xander sighed in relief.

*You rest, Harris. I'll keep watch. We'll have him back before dawn.*

*Yeah. Ok. Oz...thanks.* Oz just hugged him a little closer, scent of almonds and wolf, and Xander let himself drift. *Back before dawn.*

**********************

His second coming-to wasn't nearly so nice. The broken ribs grated, and one eye was swollen, his lips split. He thought maybe even his jaw might be cracked, and the ear-drum on the left felt as if it had burst - it hurt with a steady, piercing pain, and sound was muffled on that side. His wrists were raw - one felt broken or dislocated - and he felt the blood down his chest and belly, soaking his jeans. He didn't really want to see what she'd done - glanced down, anyway, to make sure nothing was...exposed. Blood, and the white glint of bone, but -.

*Bloody hell. Gotta learn to keep my mouth shut. At least my innards aren't strung across the room.* Spike intentionally kept still - reached out with the link, feeling for Xander. After a long moment, Xander was suddenly there, his presence a swelling wave of warmth and comfort.

*Xander! Hear me? Love, can you hear me?* Nothing coherent came back, just the steady *sun warm life* that meant he was alive. It seemed to - flicker - for a moment, and then was steady again. *Okay. He can hear me, I bet, but can't answer. Took a damn hard hit to the head, maybe he's just - woozy, or somethin'. Gotta - gotta tell him where I am - show him, somehow -* Spike carefully opened his eyes to slits so he could covertly study the room. He sent the images as clearly as he could - the acolytes milling around; a few cleaning, the others looking through books. That Warren bloke sitting sullenly at a desk, a miniature tool-set spread out before him. And the other Buffy, who was bolt upright in a straight-backed chair, her shirt unbuttoned and a lacy black bra exposed. As Spike watched, Warren reached out and did - something - to the other Buffy's midsection. It swung open and Spike saw wires - cables - parts.

*A fuckin' ROBOT? What the hell! Oh, fuck.* He'd involuntarily made some noise, and one of the acolytes had heard - had got up from scrubbing at a stain on the carpet and scurried into the other room. Spike sighed - winced - and then noticed a curtain was drawn partially back. He stared out the window, trying to see something, anything, that would help Xander find him. He could see - there - the ruins of the old high-school. Just part of them. It looked like maybe the very back part of the old campus. Spike stared harder, frantically sending image and observation as clearly and quickly as he could, feeling that little flicker in the Xander-ness that he was sure meant Xander was hearing him.

"So, back among the living, are we? Well - in a manner of speaking." Glory was suddenly there, in a new dress, her hair combed and her make-up freshened. She smiled at Spike and reached out - patted his head.

"Now listen up, vampire. If you be real, real good, we're gonna give you a treat. Warren says he knows just what you want to give up the Key to me." Warren had gotten up and was standing behind Glory, a weird little smile on his face.

"Warren says you've got a little problem - he says you can't bite people any more." Spike stared at her - choked back his first incredulous instinct to laugh and instead scowled, looking angrily at Warren.

"What does that little bastard know about it?" he spat, and Warren smirked.

"Oh, I know more than most people think. I know all about the Initiative and their little - experiments. I even got a hold of another vamp they implanted. I dug out the chip and figured out how it worked. And I figured out how to modify it - or turn it off." Spike struggled to make his expression believable - he could smell arousal coming off this Warren, and he had a pretty good idea what sort of modifications the little bastard had tried.

*How can he not know...? Fuck it. Idiot.* "What - what happened to that other vamp, then?" Spike asked, making his voice sound hopeful and sneering at once, and Warren smiled.

"Oh, getting the chip out kind of - messed up its head. I used it to test my - work - and then I had to dust it. It was insane." He smirked again, and a fresh wave of pheromones bombarded Spike.

"Fuck that -"

"Now, just hold on. The modifications worked. And so did turning it off. I can do the same to your chip without taking it out. All you have to do -"

"All you have to do is tell me where my Key is, and Warren here fixes you right up." Glory was smiling perkily at him and Warren was smirking, and Spike knew for a fact that if he still had the chip in his head, old Warren would have done something to it, but not turned it off. He stared at the both of them - let himself smile. Pushed it all through the link; any little thing might help.

"Okay - you got me. Fuckin' chip. I'd do anything to get rid of it - get it turned off, whatever. Anything. You let me down, huh? Let me down and get me some blood and I'll tell you whatever you want to know. Promise." Spike looked anxiously back and forth between them and silently vowed to take this Warren kid out, first chance he got. He was creepy.

"Oh, no - that's not how it works. First you tell, then he fixes, then you get loose. Right, Warren?"

"Exactly right, my queen." Warren murmured silkily, and Glory preened.

"Oi! That's a load 'a bollocks, that is! How do I know you'll do anything at all? You let me down - my fuckin' arms are killin' me! You let me down and I'll tell you everything. Fuckin' Slayer - what do I care about her and her stupid Key?"

"No - that's not the deal." Glory stepped up close to Spike - put her fingers lightly on Spike's temples. He snarled silently at her, and she grinned.

"Jinx! Are you sure I can't eat a vampire?"

"Oh yes, your most high Altitudinousness. You really can't," twittered one of the acolytes.

"But I've never tried," Glory said, and pushed a little with her fingertips. Warren was frowning. *Fuck - is this that mind-suck thing? Can't do it to a vampire why? Oh shit -*

"Maybe that isn't the best idea -" Warren started to say, and then Glory really pushed and the pain was incandescent - blinding - a hundred times worse then the chip had ever been and Spike felt his throat tearing as he screamed.

***********************

"Oh - noo! Oz!" Xander pushed his fists hard into his temples as a jolt of agony blazed through him from the link. Xander felt his knees buckling - felt Oz's hands grabbing at his arms, holding him upright. As soon as it had started it was over, and then the link was quiet, just that faint pulse of Spike - *olderthan chaos malice love* the same thing he'd felt in the aftermath of the SuperSlayer spell.

"Xander?" Oz's voice was shaky - he'd felt that too, even though Xander had tried hard to keep it out of the link. Even the soldier was momentarily jolted by the intensity of that pain, and Xander took up the slack.

"Fuck - she did something - we've got to get going." Xander leaned on the display counter, trying to ignore Willow and Tara's fussing. From Oz there was carefully restrained fury and terror, and the werewolf's hands shook where they rested on Xander's shoulders. *Spike, Spike, oh god, oh PLEASE be all right, Spike, love you -*

*No TIME for this, Harris! He gave us what he could - gave us a good look out the window - we've got to USE it now.* Back in command, and Xander straightened under the soldiers whip-crack voice - strode over to the table where Giles was spreading out a map of Sunnydale. He'd had a mouthful of vile-tasting tea - some concoction of Giles and Tara's - and the pain had receded to a low throbbing. But his heart was pounding like a trip-hammer, he was sweating and shaking, and he knew he couldn't hit a barn with an elephant or write his own name legibly just now.

*Wonder what they gave me. Christ...* The edges of things were vibrating and he thought his head might just float off his shoulders. But the pain was gone, and Spike was alive, and he could find him now. He knew he could. He took a deep breath - leaned over the map and let the soldier take over again.

*Spike - we're coming.*

"Right. He showed us the view out the window. We could see a section of the old high-school - this part here." Xander-soldier pointed, and Giles nodded. "We could only see a very small section, however, and the angle was very high - at least six storeys. So - she has to be here, somewhere." Xander fanned his hand over a pricey, residential section of Sunnydale, and Anya pushed in next to him, looking at the map.

"Oh! I'll bet she's right here -" Anya put her finger on the map and tapped. "This building is at least that tall. It's also very pricey. I was looking at a two bedroom there, but it was out of my price range - for now."

"What's the name of the place, Anya?" Buffy asked, and Xander rubbed at his chest, wishing his heart wasn't pounding so hard. It was hard to hear.

"It's called Parkview Place. Not very original, but it does have a pool and -"

"Right, okay. So we know where to look. That's great." The soldier cut in brusquely and Anya frowned a little. "Oz - we need the van. Spike's hurt, we'll need to be able to lay him down. Take Giles' keys and get your van and get it back here. Giles can collect his car later. And he's gonna need blood. Willow, can you give us the phone? You and Tara are going to go to Willy's for us, get him a bunch of blood. Anya - show us what the building looks like inside - where the front doors are, where the elevators and stairs are, is there a guard or a doorman, whatever you can remember. Thanks, Willow." Xander took the phone - looked at the faces that were staring at him in varying degrees of astonishment (Buffy and the witches) satisfaction (Giles and Anya) and pride (Oz).

"C'mon people, move! We're on a deadline!" Everyone stared a moment longer and then they moved, and Xander - the soldier - grinned humorlessly as he dialed Willy's bar.

"What do I do, Xander?" Buffy asked, softly, and Xander smiled a warmer smile at her.

"We need weapons, Buffy, and a First-Aid kit. It's gonna be us, you and Giles. Oz has his own weapons." Oz, who was striding past with Giles' keys in his hand stopped - pivoted on his heel - and came back to Xander. He leaned in and gave him a fast, hard kiss and then was gone, sprinting out the door, *love you love Spike fast PACK* in his wake. Xander closed his eyes for a moment *love you love you* and then lifted the phone to his ear. The soldier hovered, waiting to jump out again when he was needed.

"Willy! This is Xander. You know me... Right, Spike's Xander. Yeah. I need a favor from you..."

*******************

*Third time's the charm...oh wait...deja vu...* Spike could tell he was lying down now - lying on something rather hard - *Floor? No - table* and his arms were being held down. He slowly opened his eyes - stared straight into Warren's smirking face. He looked left, then right. Vamp on the left, gripping his bicep hard enough to bruise. *That's the bastard that done for Xander. Gonna get him.* Acolyte on the right, holding a little more gingerly. As if afraid it'd *hah* hurt him. His head was utter agony - as if his skull was filled with razor-sharp rocks, and his right leg felt like it was on fire. He hissed in pain as Warren bumped it.

"Oh - yeah. You had a little - I dunno - seizure when she did that. Guess they were a little over-zealous when they restrained you. You've been out a while." Warren grinned, and fiddled with something - a bulky hand-held device. Spike looked at it with what he hoped was interest. He was on a coffee table, he realized.

"That gonna - fix me up?" he rasped. His voice was gone - his throat felt like he'd swallowed ground glass. *Xander...still here...love you, pet, please hurry...*

*On our way, on our way, almost there Spike HANG ON!* Xander, back in the link finally, thank fuck and on his way. The relief was dizzying, and Spike started planning how to get the hell out of there. He didn't want Xander or Oz anywhere near Glory.

"Ooooh yeah, fix you right up." Warren said, and started pushing buttons. The thing gave off a low hum, and after a few minutes Warren tossed it aside, seemingly satisfied. He had something else in his hand, though - a smaller device that he held and stroked in such a way that made Spike want to rip his head right off.

"Now you're all - good to go. Shall we try it out?" Warren held up the device - pressed a button. Spike had been waiting for this. As soon as he did Spike moved, sitting up so fast he tumbled the acolyte to the floor and dragged the vamp halfway across his lap. The vamp squeaked, startled, and Warren recoiled, tripping over his feet and falling on his butt. The pain in Spike's head flared to incandescence and he hung grimly onto consciousness, his vision going black and then clearing unevenly, full of spots.

"Hey! That's - that's not supposed to - oh fuck."

"Oh fuck is right, you wanker. And you -" Spike glared down at the vamp that was writhing in his grip. "You hurt Xander. So now - you're gonna pay." Spike changed - lunged - and drank the vamp down. The blood was cool and a little thick but it crackled with magical energy and he felt it roar through him like a train; healing minor injuries, dialing the pain of broken bones and his headache down to acceptable levels. Drained, the vamp abruptly went to dust and Spike flung himself off the table at Warren, catching the boy's ankles and yanking him backwards furiously.

"C'mon, fucker, I need another snack."

"Warren!" It was the Buffy robot, running towards them, and Spike hesitated one moment and then rolled aside, letting Warren go and narrowly missing being kicked in the head. The 'bot launched another attack and he scrabbled away - got between sofa and coffee table and levered himself to his feet. His broken leg wouldn't hold him and he staggered badly - took a hard blow to the ribs and howled in agony and fury.

"Fuck am I tired of being hurt today!" He picked up a table-lamp and swung it with all his might - connected sharply with the 'bot's head. She stumbled - blinked at him - and tiny blue lightning began to flicker over her.

"Wa-ar-arrrren," the bot slurred, jerking, and Spike stumbled away from it - was brought up short by Glory.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't our little traitor. Where the hell do you think you're going, vampire?"

*GOD DAMNIT. Just gotta wait - pet, you close?*

*Close, close -*

*HERE* from Oz, and Spike almost laughed, despite the grinding of bones in his chest - the slick-sticky blood that was gluing the rags of his t-shirt to his skin.

"I'm goin' home, you daft cow. I haven't had that chip in my head for months, and your boy should have known that if he's half as smart as he thinks he is." Spike looked Glory up and down, letting a sneer curl his lip. "And to think we've all been so bloody worried about you. Fuckin' brain-dead fashion victim is what you are. Get your lopsided arse and your Lee Press-Ons outta' my fuckin' way." Glory's eyes were wide as saucers and she surreptitiously ran her hands over her butt, checking it. Then fury sparked in her eyes, and Spike braced himself.

*Here it fuckin' comes - gonna hurt -*

*Spike! We're here, hold on!*

*XANDER - pet, thank god - !* And then Glory kicked him, and he flew backwards, plowing into the door to the hall and crashing out in a hail of splinters and bits of laminate. He thumped painfully into the elevator doors and lay there for a moment, stunned.

*Xander! Comin' down -*

*Inside - we've got you - another minute!*

*Pack safe HURRY* from Oz and Spike laughed weakly - a laugh that turned into a cough. It felt like he was coughing splinters and he reached up and slapped at the call button. The acolytes were streaming out of Glory's apartment as the elevator doors opened and Spike fell backwards - dragged himself by his elbows inside and groaned as his broken leg twisted painfully. He hit the lobby button and slumped against the wall, and the last thing he saw was Warren dragging the 'bot by the arm, heading for the fire stairs, and Glory shrieking and shoving acolytes pell-mell.

 

***********************

 

They were half-way up the first flight of steps when they met the acolytes coming down. Giles had a crossbow, Buffy had her fists. Xander had a sword that was a bit dangerous in such a small space, and Oz was halfway to wolf and snarling like a hellhound. It was hard to fight in the cramped quarters of the stairs and when Spike told Xander he was on his way down they fell back gratefully into the lobby, where Xander could swing the sword and not accidentally hit anybody. The tea had worn off enough for him to focus, and he focused hard. He methodically swung at two, three, four acolytes, decapitating them neatly. Buffy was holding her own - Giles was getting in hit after hit with the crossbow, as precise and efficient as always. Oz - was creating bloody mayhem, but it felt good, in the link, to let some rage out, and the acolytes were starting to waver. Xander felt Spike behind him - slightly above him - and he turned as the elevator doors opened.

*Spike, love, oh FUCK - safe now safe now*

*Safe.* and Spike slumped sideways, out cold. Xander found Buffy in the melee - yelled to get her attention and tossed the sword to her. She caught it neatly and swung it in a wide arc.

"Get him and get out, Xander! We'll hold them here!" Xander was already folding Spike into his arms - picking him up and cradling him close. He could feel the broken bones shifting, and his arms and chest were damp with blood in minutes.

*Oz - let's go, gotta hurry!* Oz whirled - snapped - broke out of the mob and bounded across the lobby, shedding the wolf as he went. He opened the door and Xander edged out carefully. At the van, Oz opened the back door and climbed inside - carefully took Spike's shoulders and helped to maneuver the limp form onto the pallet they'd made in the back. Xander pulled the door half shut behind him - crawled up next to Spike and touched the battered face.

"Fuckin' bitch. Let's go, Oz." Oz nodded - scrambled out the front door and ran back to the building. A moment later the back door opened again and Buffy climbed in, yanking the 'bot along behind her. Xander stared for a long moment - turned to see Giles and Oz in the front and then the van was moving, speeding away, and Xander felt, finally, that he could breathe. Felt the soldier fade back, flushed with success. Everyone was spattered with blood or some other fluid, and Xander wondered a bit hysterically what they would say if the police stopped them.

"Is - is he okay?" Buffy whispered, and Xander ran his fingers gently through the tangled, bloody hair - touched Spike's cheek.

"He's - here. He'll be okay, once he gets some blood. Fucking bitch. If I could just -" Xander felt his throat closing up - clamped his mouth shut and just leaned there, not daring to touch Spike - desperate to touch him.

*Oh love you, love you, got you back, MINE, never let you go, Spike, Spike...*

*Be okay,* from Oz, and Xander took a deep breath.

"Yeah. He's gonna be - gonna be fine." He leaned down and gently kissed Spike's mouth.

"Ewww. That's gross." Xander's head snapped up, and he glared. The bot was looking at him with a strangely blank expression, and Xander looked over at Buffy, who looked mortified.

"Why'd you grab - it?"

"Just thought; the enemy shouldn't have...me. You know? That guy - whoever - he was trying to get out the service entrance and I was gonna grab him but she - it -" Buffy looked momentarily confused, glancing at the 'bot and then back to Xander. "It attacked. Trying to defend him, I guess. But it's kinda screwed up. I hit it and it fell down and he took off." Buffy looked upset and Xander swallowed his anger - nodded.

"Warren says two men -" Buffy reached over and smacked the 'bot and it made a sizzling sound and shut up.

"Yeah. Good thing you grabbed it. It's better if we - dismantle it or - whatever. That guy - what a creep." Xander had related what Warren? had said to Spike as they'd driven over, and they'd all agreed to grab him if they saw him. But the 'bots creator, it seemed, had escaped, and Xander just hoped his pack could find him out and about one night. He wasn't as important as Spike, though.

*Fucking sicko.*

*Safe now. Pack.*

"Safe." Xander touched Spike's bloodied cheek - looked up at Giles. "You guys - did really great, back there. I just - " Xander paused to gulp a little more air. The pain-killing effects of the drug were almost all gone now and his heart was thudding slower and slower - his head felt full of cotton-wool. The pain was coming back, too - licks of fire that got a little higher with every thump thump thump, and Xander swallowed heavily and tried not to think about being sick.

"Xander? You ok?" Buffy's face swam out of the gloom, and Xander blinked at her.

*Xander. Sick?*

"Yeah, I'm - I'm kinda - oh man, that drug is wearing off fast, Giles. Uuhhh....fuck..." Xander heard a peculiar sort of buzzing in his ears - tried to ignore it but it got louder and louder until it was drilling into his head, and he was clutching his skull and panting - collapsing back onto the pallet next to Spike and desperate to be home. The journey passed in a miserable, nauseating haze, and he was barely aware of Buffy doing what she could with the First-Aid kit.

*Home now.* Oz's hand on his wrist, on his head - pine and earth and wolf-smell, *love you* coming unbelievably from Spike, and then Xander slipped gratefully into unconsciousness. They'd made it home, and he was content.