Chapter 27: Healing

Chapter 27: Healing

Spike dreamed. Or, he hoped he dreamed. Angelus was there, doing something to Dru and making her scream, and he couldn't get loose - couldn't get to her. And soldiers - soldiers were there, looming over him, discussing... A white-coated doctor pushed through them and nodded, listening to their murmurs and when she turned to face him her features rippled - the Mad Professor, Buffy - Darla. Spike struggled to get free - what the hell was holding him? - and Xander was there, whispering to him. Vampire Xander, with Dru's thin hand in his hair and he felt cold seeing that. *No no NO, why did she do that - when - XANDER!* Oz there too, half wolf and a thick collar around his neck, chain snaking away to Angelus' hand and Spike roared, launching himself at the bastard. Something struck his face - hurt - and he recoiled, staring. Xander - the real Xander - pale and wild-eyed, holding his shoulders in a crushing grip. His body ached - his head was splitting, and Spike moaned, writhing.

*Spike, Spike - you're safe now, Spike - love you - please, you're safe, please calm down, you're safe, safe.*

*Home safe pack.* Oz on his other side, his Oz, green eyes so tired.

"C'mon Spike - here - drink. You'll get better faster. Please." Xander's arm against his mouth, scent of blood and he bites and drinks and drinks; blood sweet and hot, full of love, of need... He snarls when Xander is wrenched away from him.

"Oz, damnit -"

"You think I'm going to let him hurt you? What the fuck do you think he'd do if I did? It's enough, Xander." Oz does something, his eyes flaring black, and then it's his arm, his blood; earth and almonds and Spike drinks that too - falls back on the bed and just breathes - pulling unneeded air into his lungs as the nauseating pain slowly ebbs from his skull.

*All right love? Spike, please - you all right?*

*Hurts...Xander, hurts...* Warmth all along his right side - his left - two heartbeats lulling him, and Spike sinks back and the dreams are there, waiting for him.



Xander stood by the bed, watching Spike. The vampire turned restlessly, his eyes moving beneath closed lids. His wounds - the broken bones - were healed. There were only a few faint scars to show where Glory had split skin and muscle with sharp nails and punishing blows. Spike could just be asleep, except for the link. Worse than Dru's spell, the link roiled with nightmares - with pain - and it was like a lure, like a siren-song. Xander wanted to crawl into the bed beside Spike and hold him, soothe him - sink into the dreams with him until they were both dust, or Spike woke.


But he couldn't. Or, rather - he wasn't allowed - and for a moment Xander felt a flare of resentment, almost anger. Spike needed him; he should be there with him, in whatever twilight he lingered in.

*Shouldn't be in there alone.* Xander wavered - reached out his hand, leaning forward. He could just sit here, on the edge of the bed -

"Xander!" He flinched, startled, and looked over at the door. Oz stood there, watching him. Jerked his head once, summons, and Xander reluctantly pulled back and stepped away from the bed. The link was an ache - a droning, mind-numbing buzz like a giant hive. The nightmares shot through and through it, crackles of pain and images Xander tried to forget as soon as he saw them. The first day, he'd tried to block it out - shut the link down - but he'd felt so lost, then. Felt as if he'd deliberately deafened and blinded himself, and he couldn't do it. After that he'd spent - two days? - in bed with Spike. Holding him, and trying to calm him, trying to wake him. Getting blood into him, but not enough. Oz had hauled him out and forced him to eat - made him go outside and sit on the porch in the sun for an hour. Oz almost invisible in the link, closing it down so completely Xander wasn't always sure he was even there. Shutting it down so he could function, so he could force Xander to, and it was taking its toll. They were both pale - they both had dark shadows under their eyes, and were thinner then they had been. Oz was edgy - twitchy - and except for Xander's name he'd stopped talking altogether. Xander had lost all track of time, had no idea what day it was - just barely knew it was twilight by the low, violet light that glowed around the blinds. He thought it had been a week, since Glory. He felt like he'd been beaten, too. Everything hurt, and he couldn't tell if that was Spike or him, anymore. Couldn't tell if the nightmares where Spike's or his own. *God, has to stop, has to STOP - Spike, wake up, wake up, wake up...*

A rumbling growl, full of frustration and pain, and Oz's hand on his arm, wrenching him up from where he'd gone to his knees by the bed. Dragging him out of the room and all but hurling him into a chair in the kitchen. Oz slammed cupboard doors and drawers - put a bowl of soup on the table in front of Xander and a spoon. Xander looked at it and sighed - turned his head away and Oz snarled; slammed his fist down on the table hard enough to make the spoon jump - to spill a little soup over. His message clear. Eat. Xander wanted to cry, wanted to scream, but he picked up the spoon instead - ate a mouthful. Quick stroke of Oz's fingers through his hair and the werewolf went back to what he did most of the day: pacing. He looked ragged - as ragged as Xander felt - and Xander tried to send some comfort, something. But the link was closed to that too, and Oz just paced, biting his lip. Stalking between Xander and the bedroom because he wasn't letting Xander back in there until the soup was gone. Didn't need words to make that obvious, and Xander bent to the task of eating.

Rustle of pencil on paper and Xander glanced over at Derio, sitting opposite him. He was the only person Xander would let into the house. *Because Oz needs him.* He had a sheaf of papers spread out before him; notes on a song he was writing. He picked his fiddle up out of its case and tuned it for a moment - stroked the bow over the strings and began to play. It was low and slow and soft - it was nearly a lullaby - and it washed over Xander like warm water. It calmed Oz enough for him to sit down finally, one knee pressed tight into Derio's thigh, head bowed. Xander wondered, fleetingly, how it was Derio fit, so well. At the house every day, playing his fiddle or Oz's guitar. Singing softly in that hoarse voice. Or turning on the radio, helping to cook. Talking for Oz and talking for Xander, even - talking or singing or making a clatter with pots and dishes. Making a cocoon of sound to drown out the pained silence that had fallen over the house. It helped, more than Xander could say.

Xander ate, head bowed. Finished the soup and pushed the bowl away and just lay his head down on the table. He was so tired - and it wasn't just his body, but his head. Numb and confused and aching for Spike, and he didn't know how much longer he could do this. The fiddle-music washed in and out of him, low and steady as the sea, and Xander drifted.

"Ey Vato," someone said, soft voice rusty from dis-use, and Xander sat bolt upright, startled out of a half doze. "That's nice."


*Xan love...* Xander stood up slowly, feeling like a clock-work toy whose gears had had sand thrown in them. Spike was in the doorway to the bedroom, leaning on the doorjamb. He'd put on his brocade robe and tied it, and he was...

*Thin, love, you're so thin...god, you love you* Xander finally felt something like mobility return to him and he was across the kitchen floor and his arms around Spike, holding the too-thin body close to him, putting his face into Spike's hair and neck and just breathing, just feeling him. That hideous pain finally gone. Spike hugged him back hard - not as hard as he should be able to, but just to have him there was enough and the rest could be fixed.

Derio was still playing, and Oz was motionless beside him, but he was smiling - blinking hard. Xander kissed Spike's neck and jaw - kissed his mouth, slow and gentle until Spike finally pulled away and looked at him, a little bewildered.

"I'm not gonna break, pet. Why all the -" He touched Xander's cheek, and Xander realized he'd been crying.

"Days, Spike, it's been - I don't even know..." Xander coughed, his voice rough. "You - it's been days since Glory and - and you were -" He couldn't finish that - pulled Spike into another hug, holding him tight. *Never leave me.*

"Eight days," quietly, from Derio, and Xander pulled back and sent a quick smile over his shoulder to the other man.

"Eight days?" Spike leaned his head on Xander's shoulder, arms loosely around his waist. "No bloody wonder I feel like I could eat half the Bronze." He shifted and looked at Xander again, his eyes anxious.

"What happened? Did that bitch catch me again? I thought - we got out..." He trailed off uncertainly and Xander turned them both - tugged at him a little and led him over to the table. Spike sank down into Xander's chair and Xander pulled the last chair over close - sat down as well and put his arm over Spike's shoulders. Spike leaned into him and sighed. Derio let the music fade softly to silence and started putting his fiddle away, looking serious.

"Real nice, Derio."

"Thanks Spike." Spike looked over at Oz, who was sitting with his head buried in his hands, his shoulders hunched.

"You okay, wolfling?" Oz's head came up and he shot a wild look at Spike - eyes red-rimmed and wet. He was up and around the table in a heartbeat, crouching down beside the chair and putting his hands on Spike's thigh. They were trembling, just a little, and Spike leaned down and kissed the top of his head.

"Jesus, Spike..." Oz whispered, and his voice was a cracked thread of sound.

*God, Oz, are you back? Oz -* And Oz just there in the link, like a light coming on - like something breaking but it wasn't pain, it was the sweet flood that comes with the bite into an apple.

*Pack pack Spike love you both.* He put his head down on Spike's thigh and for a few minutes they all were just silent, the link thick with happiness, contentment - love. Spike ran his fingers gently through and through Oz's hair. Oz wiped his eyes and leaned back, finally - went back to his chair. Derio reached out and took his hand and twined their fingers together, smiling softly.

"Tell me what's been goin' on, Xander."

"Well - we came and got you - you remember that?" *Love you love you love you.*

*Love you.* "Yeah... I was in the elevator and - you were there and the Slayer...wolfling... The Watcher was there?"

"Yup. He's a damn good shot with that crossbow. We got you out. Oz brought the van and we got you here. I - I sent Willow and Tara down to Willy's to get you blood." Spike goggled at him, and then he laughed a little breathlessly.

"You what? Red an' - an' Glinda down at Willy's? Getting blood?"

"Oh yeah," Xander grinned at Spike - at the familiar expression of amusement and love - and his heart felt like it might just pound right out of his chest. "Willy knows about them, you know. You really think he's gonna refuse two powerful witches? Especially when I called him and told him to expect them."

"You're barmy, pet." Spike said, but there was obvious pride in his voice, and he leaned over and kissed Xander for a moment, then snuggled back into him again, sighing happily. *Love you pet, smart boy, my boy.* "So - what? I've been just layin' there for a week?"

"You don't remember?" Xander's could feel Spike stiffen under his arm, and he hugged him closer.

"I - I was...havin' really bad dreams. I thought - it was just the one night. Eight days. I reckon it was that mind-suck thing."

"What?" Xander couldn't help it, he jerked sharply and Spike sat up, frowning a little.

*Pack safe now,* from Oz, even though he looked as disturbed as Xander felt. Derio was frowning, too.

"Mind...oh fuck. She did. I - kinda forgot. It hurt so much when she did that I kinda..." Xander shook his head.

"Yeah, she did that - or, she tried to. One of those little goons of hers, it told her she couldn't do that to a vampire but she tried anyway. It fuckin' hurt. Hurt her too, I guess - I remember her screaming..." Spike shuddered and pushed his hand back through his hair - grimaced at the feel of it, the tangles.

"Christ, pet, I need a bath." Xander laughed - he couldn't help it - and he couldn't help that he sounded a little hysterical, and he couldn't help that he couldn't stop right away. Manny had let him off work, and Oz had stayed home so they could sit what felt like a death-watch over Spike. Derio had been there so much Xander was wondering if he actually had a job. And Oz had stopped talking and Xander had just...stopped. And Spike wanted a bath. Suddenly the world was right again - was solidly back on its axis and spinning at the right speed, instead of careening wildly through darkness and cold. Xander hugged Spike hard and kissed him again.

"Course you do. C'mon and have your bath and we'll go and - you can get fed." Spike looked at him at that, surprise in the link, surprise and puzzlement.

*Love? You know -*

*I know. Don't care anymore. Can't be without you, won't leave you for a minute, don't CARE anymore, my Spike, my VAMPIRE, fuckin' Big Bad and love you love you love you* Spike's robe soaked up tears pretty well, and Derio and Oz found something interesting on the TV. Xander just sobbed - release of unbearable tensions and fear, and Spike held him hard - whispered to him, kissed his hair and his temples and rocked him slowly, slowly. After that, Xander was ready for a bath, too.

They got back in just past midnight, and Xander was feeling - pretty strange. He really hadn't let Spike out of his sight, and he'd never seen Spike hunt before, or feed. And Spike was right - it didn't hurt, and he'd only killed one. Sick old man whose heart couldn't take it and who wanted it, anyway, or so Spike said and so the link said, too. Vampire senses reading illness and despair and Spike the lion in the field, culling. Xander felt -

*Jealous? You're jealous, pet.*

*I'm not! Fuck, AM, course I am. You...* Xander paused at the front door, looking at Spike who was on the top step of the porch. A Spike who looked as if he hadn't spent a day in bed, much less eight. He was sleek and practically glowing with blood and health and Xander reveled in it. "I didn't realize it was so...intimate, I guess. I thought - hunt - you know? More 'grrrr' and less..."

"'Allo ducks, wot 'ave we 'ere'?" Spike said, accent like some old movie and Xander grinned for moment.

"Yeah. Better this way. I mean, no trail of bodies or anything but..." *MINE, you're mine, always mine, ONLY mine, beautiful, fuckin' beautiful.* Spike laughed softly, moving up close to him, slipping his hands around Xander's waist and up under his t-shirt, tugging him close.

"Course I am, love. All yours. Wanna claim me? Wanna bite me, love, wanna fuck me and take me and make me scream your name, love? Wanna...?" Spike nibbled along his neck and jaw - reached his mouth and settled in for a long kiss, his tongue strong and cool and demanding - devouring. Blood and lemon drops and cigarettes. His hands pulled Xander close - pressed them together all along their length and held Xander immobile and helpless and Xander was trembling - gasping. He clawed Spike's t-shirt free of his jeans and ran his hands up and down Spike's back, relearning and rediscovering the silken skin, the sharp curve of muscle, the ridge of bone. The screen door groaned alarmingly as Xander fell back against it, bringing Spike with him and he didn't care if they woke Oz up, or Derio. Didn't care if the neighbors were watching. He just wanted in, wanted Spike, wanted to prove to himself - to all his selves - that Spike was alive and whole and his, oh his.

*Fuck, Spike, want you, want you, NEED you, Spike - love you oh god Spike never leave me...* Spike pulled back half an inch, his eyes golden and gleaming.

"Inside," he grated, and Xander fumbled with the screen door - fumbled with his key - pushed the door open and glanced around. A lamp was on, but the rest of the house was dark, and as Spike turned the lock Xander saw a piece of paper taped to the TV screen. In Oz's slanting writing it said W/D - with Derio - and Xander grinned.

"Thank bloody gods. Gonna make you scream, pet." Spike flung his duster over the couch - reached out and grabbed Xander's face and dove back into kissing him, walking him backwards. As they walked Xander fought to get their shirts off - finally just shredded them, lust and need making him frantic. In the bedroom Spike pushed him back until he felt the bed against his legs and then abruptly let him go - turned him.

*Want you want you...* Spike undid button and zipper - pushed Xander's jeans down and then did the same to his own. He leaned and wrenched open the bedside table and snatched the lube out. Xander leaned his knees into the bed - put his hands on the mattress and braced himself, panting already, so hard it hurt and pre-come leaking cool and steady from his cock.

"Hurry, Spike, don't need it -"

"Shhh, love. Almost there..." Spike's hands were cool and deft, the preparation cursory. A moment later he was positioning himself - pushing in with one hard thrust that went to the hilt and Xander didn't so much scream as howl, the hyena roaring to the surface and wanting. Wanting proof of life - proof of existence and of Spike; same old fear, same old pain. Spike knew it was there, lurking, and he knew how to let it out - like drawing a splinter, only he used his body; used his teeth and his nails and his cock to open old wounds and make them bleed - make them heal. Xander loved each stinging scratch and throbbing bite because it meant he was there and Spike was and Glory didn't win and the Initiative didn't and his fucking parents didn't... Spike came too soon for Xander, and they took a minute to wrench off boots and jeans and then Xander was pressing Spike down hard into the mattress - pushing his legs up and leaning in and slamming in, more proof in the arch of Spike's throat and the clutch of his body - in the blood that Xander drew with hard, nipping bites and the growling sounds of pure pleasure that Xander pounded out of him. Letting that week of ache and helplessness spill through the link, letting it go in an overload of scent, touch, taste, feel - Spike was there, and Xander was giddy with it.

In the aftermath Xander felt utterly spent - wrung out and weak as a newborn, but light, too. Like a feather, lying on the bed, anchored by Spike's arms around him - by Spike's mouth on his.

*Love you love you love you* whispered with each heartbeat; the link so open they might as well be one person.

"You think I'm some kind of...? Is it normal, to want somebody this much?" Xander asked, more to himself than Spike.

"Normal for me," Spike said, hand lazily stroking the small of Xander's back.

"Normal 'cause...the demon is like that, or 'cause you are like that?" Xander wiggled around until he could prop his chin on Spike's chest and Spike put his arm behind his head, looking down at Xander.

"Don't know. The demon just wants, and it takes and haves until...until it doesn't want, anymore." *Always want you.* "I - we..." Spike stopped, and Xander could see something in his eyes, flickering. Flash of something, a long-buried memory, and Xander closed his own eyes for a moment - relived a party, and a girl, and a moment of indescribable pain and loss.

"Guess it's me, too," Spike said softly, and Xander reached up and ran gentle fingers over his face.

"So - it's okay, for me to want you this much? 'Cause sometimes..." Xander's turn to be quiet, to remember wanting so much and so desperately. Wanting love and family and somebody to know him, to want him. "I mean - seems like...I should be..."

"What, tougher? A manly man who never needs nothin' and nobody?" Spike sounded disgusted - very possibly hurt - and Xander shook his head, looking at him.

"No. Just - I wonder if..."

"What, love?" Spike's fingers combed back through Xander's hair, and Xander nuzzled into that most-loved touch.

"Just - if it's too much, sometimes. I fell apart when that Toth - when I couldn't hear the...voices in my head for god's sake... Fell apart this week, too. Am I just...too...needy?" *Too broken.* Spike startled Xander by laughing - bouncing his chin off Spike's chest with the force of his mirth.

"Christ, love - I'd chain you to the bed if I could - I'd take you away and lock you in a tower if I had one! Never let you out of my sight. I never spent a day apart from Dru for a hundred years, love, or near enough - that needy enough for you?" Spike turned them suddenly - flipped Xander on his back and held him close - put his forehead to Xander's and kissed his face with tiny, fluttering kisses.

"You can't want me too much Xander - can't need me too much. I'll take everything you've got and beg for more, love. Can't break me with need, love - can't wear me out with want. Everything you do - everything you say - it just feeds my addiction, love. Feeds me. I only want all of you and everything and what you are forever and a day, love." *Not broken. Different. Strong. Perfect match - just what I need, MY boy, my own, always.* Xander just stared up at him, and felt the truth of it through the link; Spike inside him and around him, sweet as honey, soft as down. Felt the truth of it in the touches Spike lay gently on him - in the love that made Spike's eyes like stars.

*Oh god.*

"Some of it was the link, you know. Making it...worse." Spike gazed down at him, his fingers in Xander's hair and his eyes so serious. *Better now, love? My poor boy, so tired...*

"Yeah... I didn't know it'd be so..." Xander stopped - pushed it away. He didn't want to dwell on that pain that still echoed, just a little. "So if I tell you that's your lot in life now, to have me on your shoulder at every possible moment, you're not gonna wig, huh?"

"Can you quit your job? Stay home all day?" Xander laughed this time, and then Spike did, and they lay in comfortable silence after that, basking in the nearness of the other - the scent and taste and feel.

*Mine, saved you - did it just right.* That made Spike lift his head again and look down at Xander, puzzled.

"Who's that, then?"

"That', but mostly it's the soldier. He's - feeling better, now. He got to take control for a while there - figured out where you were."

"Knew you could," Spike said, in the link and aloud and the unwavering strength of his belief was heady, heady stuff. Xander reveled in it, even as his breathing slowed, and Spike's eyes fluttered shut, and they slept.

Something different, the next day - something... Spike felt it in Xander's touch - in him, in the link. Belief, maybe. Rest. Xander knew, finally, down in his soul. Knew it was real, and for always. Dru's visit had done most of it. *Chose me* in the link but so soft Spike was sure Xander had never meant for him to hear. *Can't do without you* there as well - such profound relief when he'd stood in the bedroom doorway and Xander had turned to see him. Spike wasn't hurt by this - didn't mind that it had taken such extreme things - such pain - for Xander to finally let go his deepest fears. It was a good feeling, this. Xander utterly his now in a way that he hadn't quite been before. And this knowledge - not new, just finally, finally cemented - put a shine in his eyes and a quiet confidence in his movements. Wholly Spike's, now, and wholly his own, and even Oz noticed it, coming in that afternoon from work; watching Xander who was cutting up tomatoes for dinner and singing quietly along with the radio.

"Something's different," Oz said, looking at Spike. Spike nodded - wondered what to say.

*Knows,* Oz thought, conveying more than just that word in the link, and Spike could only look at him - look and smile a little, at the things the wolfling saw.

*Owe you. You kept him - here... You were so strong...* Oz shook his head, frowning just a little.

*Pack. Always.* After a moment Oz smiled back - got up to help and trailed his fingers along Spike's shoulders - bumped Xander a little with his hip, getting out another knife and reaching for his own tomato. Xander grinned over at him, still singing, and Oz joined him a moment later. Spike smoked and watched them and hummed to himself.

"Money, get back. I'm all right Jack,

Get your hands off my stack.

Money, it's a hit. Don't give me that

Do goody good bullshit.

I'm in the high-fidelity first-class traveling set

And I think I need a Lear jet..."

"Talked with Derio last night," Oz said suddenly, and Xander looked over at him - dumped a cut-up tomato into a bowl for salad - Oz's influence, all the veggies. Spike wasn't sure about them, even if it was fun to embarrass Xander in the grocery by making suggestive remarks about cucumbers and squash.

"Yeah?" *Trouble?*

"Nah. He was just a little...freaked out. The link - we'd talked about it some, but..." Oz stopped and pondered, and Spike felt a little tension coiling up in him. "This whole week - he was kinda scared. Didn't really understand why -" Oz stopped again, and the link was flooded with a little hurt, a little fear. With images, and Derio's serious face. "Had to tell him - everything. About the Initiative and about... what happened. Us." Oz picked up a piece of tomato and ate it - looked over at Xander and then at Spike, who were both tense.

"And? Christ, wolfling, what?" *Hurt you? Wolf, love you.*

*Love you, Oz. Tell us.* Oz smiled a little - a private, a secret sort of smile. Let one tiny image slip through the link, and Spike blinked at the jolt of arousal that hit him - his own, and Xander's, and Oz.

"He's all right. We are. He - understood." *Knows everything. Love you both.*

"Thank god." Xander grinned at Oz - nudged him with an elbow, and Oz just ducked his head and grinned down at the tomatoes - reached for a pepper and started chopping it. "Tell him how much he helped, okay, Oz? Tell him I said thanks." Oz nodded, and Xander went back to his vegetables.

The phone rang and Xander and Oz both held up knives and vegetable-smeared hands and Spike grimaced and got up. He hated phones - noisy, intrusive things always interrupting at the wrong soddin' moment, always bringing bad news or trouble or some bloody fool selling something and he'd managed to talk Xander out of a cell phone twice.

*Didn't actually talk. Just distracted him with my mouth until he forgot he wanted one.* Spike smirked to himself and picked up the phone as if it were a poisonous snake.

"'Lo?" he asked cautiously, and frowned at Anya's rapid, panicky question. *Trouble, always trouble.*

"Nope - sorry. Haven't heard from Glinda all day. Why - What?" All chopping ceased, and Spike felt Xander and Oz looking at him.

"Fuck - yeah - right there." He slammed the phone down - shot information through the link rapid-fire as he strode into the bedroom for his boots.

*Glory acolyte, shop, Glory thinks Glinda is the Key - Red and Slayer looking -* Xander was right behind him, shoving bare feet into his work-boots and grabbing one of the axes they'd brought home from the shop.

"Why would she think Tara -?"

"Who fuckin' knows? One'a those little trolls of hers is at the shop - Watcher got it to talk but I'll bet it'll talk more." Spike didn't even bother to keep the demon at bay and he snatched his duster and a blanket and all but ran for the door, the others behind him. Late afternoon sunlight slanting blood-red across the yard, almost intolerably bright to demon eyes, and he ran for the DeSoto, blanket in place, not noticing the slight burn he got on his wrist. Xander and Oz crowded into the front seat and he turned the key - engine revving and Motorhead blasting out at them, Lemmy advising him to 'put the bite on the son of a bitch' - a sentiment Spike wholly agreed with but he snapped the stereo off as he reversed out of the driveway. *Not the time.*

Driving, pushing the DeSoto to top speed where he could, the pounding human heartbeats next to him injecting a further note of urgency that made Spike snarl.

"Red and her were gonna do this fair thing, this -"

"Yeah - near the river - west of campus," Oz said, and Spike nodded.

"She went to look." *Wanna-?*

*Drop us, yeah.* "You'll -"

"Magic Box." Spike glanced over at Xander - felt a warm hand on his thigh. *Love you CAREFUL be careful, damnit, wolfling be CAREFUL. Glinda...*

"Yeah," Oz said, *Protect pack,* and Spike took a hard right and saw people - booths - World's Culture Fair banner and he hit the brakes.

"Right. Go. *Love you!* Get her and get out!" Quick, hot brush of lips along his cheekbone and they were gone and he was gunning the engine again, making a u-turn and speeding back towards the Magic Box; four minutes and he'd be there.

*Sick of this, sick of this bitch fuckin' with Xan's - with MY - family. Better not have killed that little bastard, Watcher, I wanna make it SCREAM.*

Through the front windows of the Magic Box, Anya was pacing fretfully, eyeing with loathing the scabby acolyte tied to a chair. The Watcher was leaning on the display counter, looking more Ripper than usual. As Spike pelted in under the blanket they both jumped, and Spike smelled the little jolt of fear from them when they saw his face.

"Spike! Where are -"

"Xander an' the wolf are at the fair-thing, helping Red. They'll find her if she's there. Where's the Slayer? And Niblet?"

"Buffy went to check on campus - Dawn is with Clem." Giles' voice was thick with tension. Spike tossed the blanket down on the lighted table - circled the acolyte who cringed, wild-eyed.

"I serve G-Glorificus and any harm you do to me will be v-v-visited upon you ten-fold!"

"You think?" Spike asked, leaning down into the acolyte's face, baring his fangs. "I think that if she can't actually find enough of you to figure out if you're one of hers or the dog's fuckin' dinner, there won't be much bloody retribution happening. What'd it tell you, Watcher?" Giles looked at the acolyte, his eyes steely behind his glasses.

"Only that Glory thought Tara was the key. Because she's the newest one among us."

"Huh. That's not much." Spike took his duster off and folded it - draped it carefully over a chair-back. Making a bit of a show. He looked around the room - flexed his hands, making the knuckles crack.

"Be a shame to get - bits - all over the things in here. An' - blood's hard to get out, no matter what you do. Wha'dya think, Watcher?"

"I think I have a spell. A variant on a containment spell. Should work a treat." The acolyte looked wildly from Spike to Giles and back - looked at Anya, who was all cool interest.

"You will l-learn nothing! Glorificus -" Spike backhanded him, and the acolyte had blood down its chin - tongue bitten badly.

"I don't wanna hear that name right now. Ready with the spell, Watcher?" Spike grabbed the back of the chair and tipped it - dragged the acolyte back to the training room. Giles followed, hastily grabbing chalk and some herbs. Anya stood in the doorway, arms crossed.

"I'll just stay here. I've got a good view and I can hear the phone. Do you need any knives, or pliers, or matches?"

"Think we're well set up, ducks, thanks." Spike drew his knife from his boot - tapped it against his lower lip thoughtfully and circled the acolyte as Giles did the spell.

"That's all right then," he said softly as Giles finished, and bent to his work.


Running, trying very, very hard not to knock people aside. The hyena pushing his senses to the limit and the soldier quartering and dismissing sections of the grounds with swift, hard glances. Oz beside him, eyes black, trying to keep the wolf at bay. Scenting for Willow and Tara and following the scent through the crowd like a rope of twisted green and red. Fury pounding through the link from Spike, and abruptly something else - gleeful satisfaction and an almost mindless bloodlust. Xander knew the acolyte was getting something very nasty done to it, and he hoped it had something more to tell them then what they already knew. Oz growled, swinging his head abruptly over to the left and then he darted away, *follow follow follow* in the link. Xander ran after him - dodged a juggler and nearly tripped over a baby-stroller and then he saw them. Willow and Tara, cuddling close on a park bench. Willow had Tara's head on her shoulder, and Tara was holding her hand awkwardly - bleeding.

*Light witch HURT.*

*She found her she found her thank god,* as they ran up to the bench - skidded to a stop, panting. Willow looked up at them, her eyes streaming tears, her mouth working in silent, anguished sobs. Tara didn't move, and then she did - looked at Oz and at Xander, utterly blank.

"There's no way out, when you're blind," Tara said solemnly, and Willow shook, gasping.

"Wills? Oh fuck, Wills, what - what happened?" Xander crouched down by Willow's knees, grabbing her wrist and squeezing. Willow took in a hard, moaning kind of breath.

"I was too late! I was t-too late, Xander I was - I was too laa-aaate." She started to sob brokenly, curling into Tara who looked serenely out at the crowds. Oz sat heavily on the bench beside Tara, biting his lip, and Xander bowed his head for a moment, fighting rage - fighting tears. Tara moved in Willow's tight grip - flinched and made a gasping sound of pain when her bloody hand bumped Willow's arm.

"Wills? What happened to her hand? We - she needs to go to the hospital, Willow."

*Spike! Have to go to the hospital. Tara - she got Tara...* Rage, from Spike, strong enough to make he and Oz both flinch, and then silence as Spike abruptly shut the link down to almost nothing. Xander was pretty sure the acolyte was dead. And Spike was on his way.

"Willow - Spike's coming. He's gonna bring the car and we'll get Tara to the hospital. Willow? You've got to - get it together, Willow. Tara needs you to be calm, okay? You have to talk to the doctors for her." Xander put his hand on Willow's shoulder - shook her, just a little, and Willow gasped and coughed. Sat up finally, and wiped at her face, sniffing. Oz stood up and darted off, coming back a minute later with a stack of paper napkins. Willow took them gratefully and blew her nose - wiped her eyes again.

"Okay. Okay, Xander, okay. I'm - I'll be okay. Thanks, Oz. Oh god, Xander -" Willow closed her eyes - groped blindly and gripped Xander's hand tightly for a moment.

"It'll be okay, Willow, it will." Xander stood up, looking around warily at the fair grounds. The sun was mostly down - lights were coming on all over the booths and exhibits, but it was still dark - still shadowy and full of places to lurk - to hide.

*Gotta get out of here, Harris. She might come back -*

*Yeah. Right. Gotta go.*

"Willow, come on, we're gonna walk back up to the street so we can meet Spike, okay?" Willow looked at him for a moment then nodded - wiped her eyes one more time and put on a variant of her 'resolve' face that looked like it might crack at any moment.

*Trying so hard,* from Oz, full of grief, and Xander pushed himself to his feet - held his hand out. "C'mon, Wills." Willow took his hand - stood up and then helped Tara up, being careful of her hand. Tara flinched anyway and ducked her head - twisted her good hand in the hem of her shirt and shuffled obediently along beside Willow as they started to walk towards the street. Oz hovered at Tara's side, not quite touching her.

*Pack,* soft and so sad in the link.

"What - what happened, Wills?" Xander asked quietly, and Willow sniffed ferociously and gave a sort of barking laugh.

"We - we had a fight. I was feeling all - second-best and I said - I said some s-stuff, and she - she left, said she'd just come down here... And then, that little demon, at the shop - it said it was there to watch us while Glory got her key..." Willow hugged Tara a little closer, guiding her around a knot of boisterous students and Tara smiled at her - looked up at the sky.

"Too late now, cat's out of the box. Should have killed it," Tara said, and Willow gulped.

"She - Glory did that - that thing to her - took her mind... Xander, what am I gonna do?" Willow's voice cracked on the last and Xander put his arm around her shoulder.

"We'll fix it Willow - we will. We'll figure it out. Tara's going to be okay. She'll be okay." He thought for a moment about mentioning Spike - that she'd done that to him, too, but -

*Don't* and he looked over at Oz - nodded. It really wasn't the same. They were at the street now, and Xander could hear the DeSoto roaring towards them, and they kept walking, trying to cut the distance. The car skidded around a corner and came to a screeching halt, and Spike was half out of the door, looking at them across the roof.

"C'mon - get in!" he called, and Oz trotted forward to open the back door for Willow and Tara. As they approached, Tara recoiled, looking into the dark interior with trepidation.

"Oh no, no, no - too dark. They can find you in the dark," she whimpered, and Spike did something - made the dome light come on. Xander hadn't even realized it worked.

"It's all right, pet. Not dark now. Bundle her in Red, that hand looks like it hurts." *Fuckin' bitch is gonna PAY...Glinda...*

Willow shot a grateful look at Spike and coaxed Tara into the back seat. Oz climbed in after her and pulled the door shut as Xander got into the front.

*Not too fast - don't scare her,* Xander thought, and Spike looked over his shoulder at the girls.

"Ready then?"

"We're ready, Spike. I guess you're - all right now, huh?" Willow was holding Tara close and Tara had closed her eyes.

"Right as rain, witchling." Spike put the DeSoto into gear and they drove to the hospital at an amazingly sedate pace - but still faster than Xander would have dared drive. Giles and Anya were waiting at the desk, Giles with a clipboard half filled out, Anya looking grim. Willow gulped and steeled herself, and led Tara down the white, antiseptic corridor to the waiting doctor.

It turned out Glinda-witch's hand was broken - six bones - and Spike watched Xander and Oz try to keep Willow calm - try to comfort her. Hovering over Tara as much as Willow did.

*Pack pack pack,* in the link, the wolf and they hyena both angry and hyper-protective. Red was over her first shock, and Spike could see the fury building in her - fury that threatened to spill over onto a hapless orderly who told her that Tara had to spend the night in a ward - 'observation, just a precaution'. But the scent of anger and magic rose around Willow like a hot, stinging cloud and Spike wondered what she was gonna do with all that. He wanted to get Xander and Oz away - that much thwarted fury was never a safe thing - but he knew they'd be there as long as Willow was. And Tara - huddled on the gurney, smelling of fear and her eyes looking into some dark place only she could see. The demon wanted to get her away, only seeing the threat of out-of-control magics, uncaring of the link between the two witches. Buffy arrived, hollow-eyed and grim, out of breath. Giles tried to distract himself by asking Spike how he was - what had happened exactly, over the past week, but Spike wasn't in the mood to share. He growled and lit a cigarette, ignoring the baleful looks Giles shot him, ignoring the tentative 'excuse me' some little nothing of a nurse aimed at him. A bigger, less tentative orderly curtly told him there was 'no smoking' in the hospital and Spike snarled and flicked his cigarette into the man's chest, at the end of his patience. Before the orderly could quite recover from his shock Xander was there, apologizing, telling him that Spike's 'sister' was hurt and Spike was just a little out of it and he was so sorry. Spike just turned and put his boot through the cinderblock wall and then stood there, shivering, as Xander leaned into him, blanketing him and putting his arms around him, holding him close.

*What is it? What's wrong?*

*Red's gonna fuckin' blow - gotta get out of here - Glinda's makin' me -* Spike could barely form a coherent thought. Every time Tara said something - whimpered in fear - some part of his week's worth of nightmares would come back to him. Glory's voice in his head 'small and scared and dirty and when it finds you it's gonna PUNISH you and you can't get OUT' and even though he knew it was just - echoes, bad dreams - it twisted at something in him and he was pretty sure he couldn't stand to be there and hear Tara go through it much longer.

*Love, it's all right, you're safe, safe...Spike, I'm here -* Spike turned around and pulled Xander to him - breathed deeply of his scent and felt his solid muscle and heat like a balm.

*All right. Love you. We should go - get the Bit.*

"Yeah -" Xander jerked around in startlement at voices raised in argument - Willow and Buffy, face to face, both furious.

"When will it be the right time, Buffy? When you say so? I can't just -"

"You have to Willow! We can't go running over there, we can't just take her on like this!"

"I didn't ask you to come along!"

"Stop it!" Oz stood between them, looking as if he was going to wolf out at any moment. *Not pack* making his rigid posture and clenched fists more a warning then any sign of restraint. Spike glanced at Xander, whose shocked expression was rapidly changing to one of worry. Anya, coming back from a vending-machine run, stood frozen in the doorway, her arms full of chips and soda, her expression one of annoyed bafflement. Spike hoped she wouldn't say anything just then - Red was at the limit of her control.

"You aren't going anywhere, Willow. You can't. It doesn't matter how angry you are - if you had the power to kill Glory we'd have asked you to do it months ago." Oz's voice was low and measured but it shook with emotion. "Tara needs you - she needs you alive and not in the same fuckin' mental ward and not in the morgue!" Willow gaped at Oz and Buffy scowled, opening her mouth and the werewolf shot her a look, silent snarl, and she snapped her mouth shut.

"Sometimes they let people spend the night, Willow - let's go find out if you can stay with Tara, okay? Getting killed by Glory isn't going to help Tara, and it isn't going to help us." Willow just stared at Oz - stared and blinked and then suddenly she broke down, whooping sobs that violently shook her whole frame and Oz was holding her, shushing her, and Buffy turned away, shoulders slumped. Anya smiled at her and held out a soda, and Buffy waved it away.

"I had no idea Oz could actually talk that much," Giles murmured. Spike shot him a withering look.

"Me and Xander are gonna go get the Niblet - keep her safe. All right?" *Out of here - need us, wolf?*

*Safe. Dawn. Love you*

*Big bad wolf.* with a mental snicker, and Oz bared his teeth in a mock growl at Spike, rubbing Willow's back.

"C'mon love, let's go get the Niblet - Clem's probably got her so stuffed with chips she can't move."

"Okay. Yeah, okay, Spike." Xander stood for another minute, just watching Willow and Oz, then he turned away and smiled a little at Buffy.

"We'll keep Dawn tonight, Buffy. Willow might - might want you to stay here."

"Thanks, Xander. I'm gonna - help Giles. Do some research. There has to be a way - some way to get Tara - back."

"Sure." Xander hugged her briefly - sketched a brief wave at Giles, who nodded in return.

"Soda, Xander?" Anya asked brightly, sidling up to him. When she was close, she lowered her voice. "Is there going to be a fight? Is Oz going to bite someone?"

"No, they're okay now, Anya. It's just stress, you know? Thanks." Xander, for lack of anything better to do, took a soda and Anya grinned at him - turned and marched towards Giles with a determined look on her face, chip-bags rustling.

Spike slung his arm around Xander's waist and got him going down the corridor, hugging him close.

"She'll be all right, love."

"You're all right, aren't you? What - happened back there?" Spike shook his head, not wanting to think about it.

"I dunno. Just - an echo, I guess. Still kinda...remembering the dreams, you know? It's nothing."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure." *Safe love. No harm. Love you.*

*Love you.*



It was late - past three - and Xander was trying to sleep, but he was restless, and Spike wasn't in the bed.



Xander got up and pulled on his robe - padded softly into the kitchen and leaned in the doorway. Dawn was in the fold-out bed, sitting hunched against Spike, the covers pulled up to her chin. Spike had his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle, his robe snugged tight. His arm was around Dawn's shoulders - her head on his chest. She was crying - talking - and Xander closed his eyes and listened - felt her tears and how her body trembled through the link.

"What am I, Spike? Everyone around me is being - being h-hurt and dying because of me. I must be this h-horrible, evil thing, just a thing -" Her voice caught and broke and Spike hugged her close, smoothing his hand over and over her hair.

"No, no. You're not a bloody thing, you're Dawn Summers, you're the Slayer's little sister. There's not a drop of evil in you, pet." Dawn took in a hard, shuddering breath, wiping her eyes.

"How do you know, S-spike? How can anybody n-know? If Glory gets her hands on me - I'll kill everything - I'll kill everyone -"

"That's utter nonsense, poppet. I know 'cause I'm evil." Dawn jerked, and Spike patted her arm. "All right, all right, used to be evil, all right?" *I can be good for the Niblet.*

*Course you can. Bad for ME.*

"And Xander's seen you, Bit - he knows what you are." Dawn sat up - sniffed, and pushed her hair back.

"What do you mean?"

"You know Xander can see - things. See your soul, Bit. He can see mine - he saw yours."

"He did? I - I have a soul?" Spike hugged Dawn hard, and Xander felt that lance of pity and sorrow and fierce protectiveness.

"Of course you do. He saw it, pet. Told me all about it - told me how beautiful it is - you are. How much love there is in you, and goodness. Doesn't matter what Glory wants to do with you - you are good." Spike caught Dawn's chin in his fingers - turned her face up, so she could see him. *See the truth.* "You are good, and sweet and beautiful, and none of this - none of this is your fault. Blame the bloody monks if you have to blame anybody, but don't you ever think it's your fault, Bit, and don't you ever think any of us think that, either." Xander saw Dawn through the link - her eyes huge and wet and hopeful, her chin trembling in Spike's gentle grip and her hands clenched tight on the edge of the sheet.

"I want it to be over, Spike! I just want it to be ooover." She broke down into harsh, gasping sobs and Spike just pulled her close - held her and rocked her and told her it was all right, 'going to be all right'. There was nothing else to do. Xander stood in the doorway until she fell asleep, and watched the faint, frail green of the false dawn slowly illuminate the two figures on the bed. He quietly closed the curtains, and went to sleep himself.





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