Chapter 28: Flight

Chapter 28: Flight

                "Oohh."  Anya shuddered, and Xander bumped her with his shoulder.

                "What's wrong?"

                "Draft of paralyzing fear."  Anya squinted down the street, looking unhappy.  "I think the whole 'Run away! Run away!' thing is a good idea but..."

                "But it's a little creepy, yeah.  I kinda feel like a sitting duck." Xander put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a brief hug, and she sighed and hugged him back.

                "It's too bad you're gay." 

                "I don't have a problem with it," Xander said, and Anya giggled.

                "Everything will be fine, really."   Giles got up from his perch on a stack of milk crates and shouldered his backpack, looking oddly out of place in the littered back street.  He was in 'stiff upper lip' mode.

                *Think he'll crack?*    From his place beside Tara, Oz looked up and studied Giles for a moment.

                *Take something crazy.*

                "As soon as Buffy and - and Spike arrive, we'll all feel..."  Giles stopped as a huge, battered, and rusting Winnebago screeched to a halt before the group.  A cloud of dust rose up from around it and they all coughed.

                "Feel...oddly worse," Giles said, and Xander had to nod slowly in agreement.

                "You know, I kinda feel the same way," Xander said.  *Spike?  This is the plan?*

                *Blame the Slayer.*    Xander hoisted a bag of weapons and yanked the door open.  A smell - a sort of thick, dusty, musty smell - rolled out and Xander groaned.

                "Should'a nabbed that Porsche I had my eye on - just enough room for us and the Bit," Spike grumbled.  Xander stared for one incredulous moment at him - the vampire was sitting behind the wheel with a pair of enormous black goggles on.  Spike grinned jauntily and Xander had to grin back - turned to help Anya up the steps.

                "And what, Oz in the trunk?" 

                "Room for the wolf if he got all...wolfy."

                "Oh good Lord."  Giles stopped for a moment at the top of the steps - moved hastily when Dawn poked him.  "Spike, you look like a demented Flying Ace."  Spike thought about that for a moment.

                "Just call me the Red Baron,"

                "Oh good Lord," Giles groaned again, and looked around for somewhere to drop his backpack.  Xander grabbed it and stowed it in an empty kitchen cabinet - shoved his own pack next to it and pushed the duffle of weapons up under the sink, out of the way.  There was barely enough room for two people to pass side by side.

                 "Everybody sit down, we've got to get going."   Buffy came out of the back of the vehicle from what was presumably a bedroom.  She had a map in her hand and waved it vaguely in the air. 

                "Where are we going?"  Willow asked.  She settled Tara into the booth seat opposite the kitchenette and slung her backpack down on the table. 

                "Away from Glory, although I would think that the airport would be a better place to start from."  Anya grumbled, settling next to Tara and looking disgustedly at the dusty curtains that had brushed her hair.  Dawn slipped in next to her, looking nervous.

                "Loaded," Oz said, bounding up the steps and tossing a last duffle to the floor. He slammed the door and Spike clapped his hands together loudly, startling Giles.

                "Right.  Everybody hold on."  The gears made an ominous grinding noise as Spike put the Winnebago into drive and revved the engine.  The heap roared away from the curb and everyone grabbed onto whatever they could, fighting for balance.  Xander lurched sideways into Oz and closed his eyes for a moment.

                 *Oh fuck, this is gonna be bad...*

                *Pet?*

                *I don't travel well.*  Xander slid down the wall and put his arms on his knees, willing the tiny little bud of nausea blooming in his belly to wither and die.  The girls swayed together around the table and Giles moved hesitantly up to the front passenger seat and sat down.  The windows were covered in foil, except for a square right over the steering wheel.  That had some sort of dark plastic film taped over it.

                *Why the goggles?*

                *Just in case, pet.*   

                "Where are we going?"  Oz asked, and Buffy rattled her map irritably, clinging to the kitchen counter.

                "We're just - going.   We'll figure it out when we get there."  Oz raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything, and Buffy scowled at him.  "We're going East right now - towards Lancaster."

                "Lancaster?"  Xander pushed himself up and staggered over to Buffy - took the map out of her hand.  "Huh.  Edwards Air Force Base is right here -" he touched the map.  "Maybe we could use that..."

                "Use it how?"  Buffy grabbed at the sink edge as Spike took a hard left.

                "I dunno, just - they've got a lot of stuff there."  Xander looked inward for a moment, thinking, but the soldier didn't know any specifics and muttered something nasty about the Air Force.  "I'll think about it, okay?"

                "Sure."  Buffy sighed and let go of the sink.  "Everybody just...rest, okay?  We're safe while we're moving, and we should just try to..."

                "Rest, yeah."  Willow looked nervously at Buffy, her arm around Tara, holding her against the motion of the vehicle. 

                "I'm doing the best I can," Buffy said softly, and Willow's eyes went wide.

                "I know, Buffy!  Don't you think I know that?  I saw what she did at the dorm.  This is the right thing.  We can't - can't let her near anybody.  She's just - like you said - she's too strong."  Buffy looked away, biting her lip, and Xander reached out and touched her hand.

                "It's okay, Buff.  I think - we all think - this is the best choice."  Buffy looked at him, her eyes dark and liquid - troubled, and too tired.  *So tired.*

                *Do what we can, pet.*

                "I'm supposed to slayI am supposed to be the - the Big Bad."  A soft chuckle from Spike, and Buffy pushed her hands back through her hair.  "I'm the one they run in terror from!  Not the other way around!  This is just -"

                "This is the smartest thing to do, Buffy.  She has a deadline - we're gonna make her miss it, and then - she's screwed.  Nothing she can do after that."

                "Except kill us all," Anya said flatly, and Dawn looked at her, wide-eyed.

                "There is that," Spike said, and put his palm flat on the horn, blaring it at some unseen fellow driver.  "Wrong side of the road, you git!" 

                "Actually, you are on the wrong side of the road," Giles said, peering through a tiny rip in the foil.

                "I'm bigger than him!"

                "That's not how it works, Spike.  For heaven's sake, you've been in this country long enough -" Xander tuned Giles out, smiling, and looked back at Buffy who was staring sightlessly at the map.

                "Buffy - it's gonna be okay.  Really.  Between you and Spike, and Oz too, probably, she won't get near Dawn.  And Willow can always send her to - to Hollywood or somewhere.  East L.A.  We're gonna win this."

                "How do you know that, Xander?  Some special power you haven't told us about?"  Buffy's voice was sharp-edged, almost sarcastic, but her eyes were full of a desperate longing. 

                "No.  I know 'cause - we're the good guys, Buffy.  The good guys always win."

                "Oi!  I'm not good!" 

                "You're our - Doc Holiday.  You might not be good but you'll fight for the good guys."  Oz said.

                *Doc Holiday?*

                *Gunfight at the OK Corral.*

                *A cowboy?*   Spike's mental image was Clint Eastwood and Oz helpfully supplied Val Kilmer, as well.  Spike made a pleased sort of noise. 

                "Gunslinger - I like that," he mused.

                "Right - if everyone has decided what movie character they are?  I’m gonna...go in the back."  Buffy folded the map sloppily and tossed it down - turned and went into the back bedroom.  Everyone sat for a moment in silence.

                "I think maybe resting is a good idea," Xander said, and joined Oz where he was sitting against the wall, halfway between the kitchenette and the driver's seat.

                "I don't think I could rest if I tried," Dawn muttered, and Anya brightened.

                "Oh!  I brought drugs.  And also - Uno.  One of those will make you fall asleep.  And the drugs are legal - we Just Say No, right Dawn?  Most of the time."  She began rooting through her carry-all and Dawn smiled at her, shaking her head.  Tara was swaying with the motion of the vehicle, looking blankly at the far wall.

                "Soon, soon, soon," she murmured, and Willow touched her cheek.

                "What's that, baby?  What'd you say?"

                "Soon-soon.  Stairway to doorway to far away, and it's not like we didn't see that coming.  Not like we didn't see how dirty it all was."  She brushed absently at her shirt and Willow closed her eyes for a moment, her lip trembling.

                *Think that means - anything?*

                *Dunno, pet.  Sounds a bit like Dru...  She KNEW sometimes...even when she didn't...* Xander sighed and leaned his head back, closing his eyes.  He was still feeing nauseated, and the poor condition of the Winnebago's shocks was doing nothing for his head - every jounce and shimmy made the sickness-induced headache he was getting ratchet up another notch.  Oz leaned into his shoulder, comforting warmth.

                *Pack.  Be all right.*

                *Yeah.  Good guys always win.*

 

                Close to three hours later, and they were in the desert somewhere.  Spike had decided around Simi Valley that going to Las Vegas beat Lancaster any day, and had changed routes accordingly.  Now he was curled under his duster next to Xander, sleeping fitfully.   He sighed and shifted - sat up and rubbed his hands over his face - back through his hair.   It was useless - he just couldn't sleep.  He glanced around the vehicle, checking.  Everyone had settled into a sort of trance, battered into numbness by the jouncing of the Winnebago.  Giles was driving and Anya and Dawn were both making intermittent pleas for a rest-stop.  Tara was asleep on Willow's shoulder.   Oz was listening to a CD player - some instrumental tracks Derio had made - and the music filtered faintly through the link.  Spike nudged Xander with his elbow.

                "We there yet?"  Xander blinked and looked over at him.

                "Huh?  Uh - we're just coming up on Barstow." *Winnebago-head.*

                *Stop that.*   "Barstow?  Christ - we should be over the line by now!  If a certain Grandfather would just bloody well step on it!"  Giles sent an irritated glance back over his shoulder.

                "Step on what?  I've driven tricycles with more power!"

                "Christ."  Spike lurched upright and pulled out cigarette and lighter - lit up and inhaled deeply.

He was stiff, and the stale air inside the Winnebago was unpleasant.

                "Do you have to do that here?"  Willow snapped, flapping her hand in front of her face.  Tara woke up with a jerk and looked around.

                "Can't do it outside, Red."  Spike inhaled again and blew the smoke towards Giles, who muttered something under his breath. 

                *Be nice love, please?* Xander stood up and stroked one hand down Spike's arm, and the vampire smiled at him over his shoulder.

                *What'll you give me?*  

                *Anything you want.*  Spike's smile morphed into something predatory and he turned half way towards Xander, running a contemplative eye over him from head to toe.   Xander rolled his eyes, but he was grinning.  Tara wiggled free of Willow's grip and got up on her knees - pushed her good hand through the blinds and pried them open.  A shaft of late-afternoon sun lanced in and fell on Spike's right hand.  He yelped at the sudden, searing pain and jerked away, smoke rising from his skin, and Willow pulled Tara down abruptly.

                "Tara!  No, you can't do that!"  Tara's eyes were wide and she looked from Willow's frustrated face to Spike's grimace of pain and started to cry.

                "Dark, it's all dark, it's daa-aark..." 

                "Oh, honey!"  Willow reached for her and Tara flinched away.  

                "Spike, I'm sorry, she - she didn't know -"

                "S'alright Red, I know."  Spike shook his burned hand and tossed his cigarette into the sink - leaned over the table and touched Tara's face gently.

                "Glinda, don't cry - it's all better now, see?  Not smokin' or anything.   Go ahead and look out the window all you want, sweet - I'll be fine."  Spike wiped tears off her cheek with his thumb - pushed a lock of hair back behind her ear.  Tara sniffled and looked at him - looked at his hand, touching it lightly with her fingertips.

                "There isn't any reason for it, you know - the pain and the screaming.  It's just part of being here,"

she whispered.

                "That so?  Have to go someplace else then," Spike replied softly, and Tara looked back up at him - nodded her head slightly.

                "She - did she understand you?  Did she - ?"  Willow looked incredulous and Spike shrugged, pulling back to lean on the kitchen counter.  Xander leaned next to him, lacing his fingers with Spike's unburnt hand.

                "Dunno.  Maybe."  Anya had pulled a juice box out of her carry-all and was getting the straw in.  Some of the juice squirted on the table and Tara bent over it, watching the reddish-purple beads quiver on the worn Formica.

                "Why do you - Spike, why do you care about Tara at all?"  Willow was looking at Spike as if she thought he might yell at her, and Xander squeezed his hand a little.  Spike looked back at Willow for a moment, and then Tara, and shrugged again.

                "She's -"   He stopped then, uncertain of what to say.

                "She's pack, Willow," Oz said softly, standing up and turning off the CD player, pulling the headphones down.

                "What does that mean, though?"   Oz looked over at Spike and Xander. 

                *You mind?*

                *Go ahead, wolf.*    Xander nodded silently, and Oz stepped over to the table, repeating Spike's gesture and tucking a strand of hair back behind Tara's ear.

                "It means...she fits, Willow.  She..."  Oz stopped.  The link was a moil of confused thoughts.  Spikes own thoughts were muddled.   It was almost impossible to really define why Tara was pack and Willow was not.  She simply was.  She fit, as Oz had said.  She was - easy with them.  Accepted them.   She accepted him.  She'd made Spike feel a part of the group even when the rest of the Scoobies hadn't - and when he hadn't cared to feel that way.   She'd kept silent about him and Xander, and she hadn't felt any animosity towards Oz, when most would have resented or feared an ex-boyfriend, especially one that had meant so much.  She had the ability to make things seem - safe.  Calm.

                "She's the earth, Red, she's..."

                "Mother," Oz murmured.

                "She accepts us," Xander said softly, his hand tight around Spike's, and Spike caught the flash in the red witch's eyes when he said that.  Willow was still uncomfortable around Spike, and lately she'd begun to make pointed comments about how little time Xander spent with the other Scoobies.  The underlying theme being it was Spike who was keeping him away.

                *I DID threaten to put a bottle through her brain, but...I was drunk.  Wouldn't do that now unless she really pissed me off.*

                "I accept you, Xander."

                "I know you do, Wills.  I'm - I can't explain it.  It's just - the way it is."  Willow looked unhappy with that - opened her mouth to say something when Buffy came out of the back room where she'd been - sleeping?  Brooding?   A look of anger on her face.

                "Giles!  Look behind us."  Giles, who had been eavesdropping on the conversation, looked into his side mirror and cursed softly.

                "What is it?"  Xander asked. 

                "The Knights of Byzantium."

                "Bloody hell - how'd they find us?"

                "I don't know, but they just put an arrow through the back wall.  Dawn, get down under the table.  Willow, you better get Tara down there too."  Xander moved to the front and tore the foil away from the passenger window and peered out.

                *How many?*

                *Too many.  Fuck.*

                *We might be faster -*

                * I doubt it.  Duck!*    Spike ducked, instinctive, and saw sunlight cut through the dimness again as Tara pulled the blinds apart.

                "Horsies!" she shouted gleefully.   Willow grabbed her and pulled her down.  Arrows thudded through the walls in rapid succession and Spike threw himself flat, cursing.  *Useless in the damn day - FUCK!*

                *Not useless - sun's almost down anyway -*   Xander crawled back to Spike and pushed his duster over to him and Spike wiggled around getting it on, another layer between his skin and the sun.  Buffy darted up to the front of the vehicle, crouching down next to Giles.

                "Weapons!"  Giles shouted, gunning the engine.  It made an unpleasant sort of whining noise.

                "We're bloody well in one!"  Spike shouted back, even as Xander rolled over and yanked open the cabinet, dragging the weapon-duffle out from under the sink.

                 "Oh, don't hit the horsies!"  Willow called from under the table.  Spike shook his head.

                 "We won't!"  Buffy called back.  Then she leaned in close to Giles and Spike heard her whisper: "Aim for the horsies."  Giles nodded grimly and sent the Winnebago careening to the right.  Oz cursed, wedging himself between Spike and the girls, who had all managed to cram themselves under the table.  Tara was humming to herself, looking at Dawn.

                "Pretty pretty pretty," she sing-songed, and Dawn looked away.  There was a cry of "Come on, men!"  from outside, and then a thud, and Spike looked up.

                "They're on the bloody roof, Slayer!"  Buffy looked up as well - jumped up and came back to them. 

                "Xander - the hatch!  Help me -"   Xander stood up, making a stirrup from his hands for Buffy to step into and then dropped to his knees as a sword plunged through the roof half a foot from his head.

                "Damnit - Xander, come on -"   Buffy looked furious, and Spike figured a little bloody mayhem would go a long way towards settling her nerves.  He only wished he could indulge in some as well.

                 *Fucking sun - CAREFUL, pet!*   Spike stood up next to Xander as he once again bent to hoist Buffy up.    He cocked his head, straining all his senses.  There was Knight, just there - and now there was -

                "Watch it!"  Spike moved on pure instinct - grabbed the blade that punched down through the roof and held on with all his might, ignoring the fiery shock of the steel slicing into his palms and fingers.  Buffy ducked away from the blade, wide-eyed, and threw the hatch open.

                "Hurry up Slayer!"   The Knight was yanking furiously on his trapped weapon and Spike felt it grate along bone.  Then Buffy was up and out and the pressure suddenly eased off altogether as she did something to the Knight.

                "Got 'im Spike, let go!" she yelled, and Spike let loose of the blade with a gasp of pain, dropping to his knees.  He held his hands cupped over his thighs and his palms began to pool with blood.

                *Spike!  Fuck -* 

                "Help the Slayer, pet, I'll be fine -"   Spike jerked his head upwards and Xander hesitated one moment - jumped up onto the table and then swung himself out through the hatch.   The sword was yanked back up out of the roof.  *Careful!  Don't be a bloody hero, love.*

                *Careful,* Xander agreed, and Spike got a brief glimpse of Buffy doing a high kick and sending a Knight flying off the roof.   The bloody sword was clenched in her fist.  Another Knight was clinging to the Winnebago rails, and a third was flinging a grappling hook, preparing to leap from his horse and climb up.  At least two dozen - more - were ranged behind and beside the vehicle, weapons drawn, riding hard.

                "Here, Spike -" Dawn was wiggling out from behind Oz, some sort of towel in her hands.  She yanked at one edge, ripping a long piece free and Spike hesitated for one long moment and then bent to his hands, rapidly drinking the blood that had pooled there.  *No point in wasting it.*   If Dawn noticed she didn't make any sign and she edged closer and held the make-shift bandage out.  Spike held his hand up and let her get to work, keeping an ear cocked to the action outside. 

                Giles was weaving the Winnebago back and forth over the road, and through the link Spike saw Buffy take a kick to the head and go over the side - catch herself at the last minute.  Xander scooped up a dropped sword and aimed a sweeping cut at the Knight who had hit Buffy, sending the blade deep into the man's shin.  The Knight screamed and reeled backwards, and Xander rushed forward and hit him again, sending him off the roof in a flurry of limbs and cloak.  He hit and rolled in the dust and the pursuing Knights frantically tried to avoid the body of their comrade.   Xander dropped to one knee, panting, and Spike saw his bloody hand, scraped raw on chain armor.

                *Dead?*

                *As a doornail, love,* Spike agreed.
                *Good.  Protect pack.*
   Oz glanced up towards the roof, wolf-eyed, and they both jumped when the window over the table shattered and a Knight fell through, axe waving wildly and chipping a huge splinter out of the Formica top.  Oz leaped, half-way to the wolf and a moment later there was a spattering of blood across the wall and the Knight fell back, throat gone.  Oz dropped back down, snarling, and Anya opened her carry-all and pulled out a dispenser of Wet-Wipes.  She waved them at Oz.

                "Want one?"

                "Jus' ge' messy again," Oz growled, and Anya nodded in agreement and put the wipes away.  Dawn finished tying the bandage on Spike's left hand and looked at Oz, her eyes wide.

                 "Doesn't that taste gross?" she whispered.

                "No' rea'y," Oz replied.  They all looked up as Xander dropped back through the hatch onto the table, cursing as he slipped in the blood.

                "I think they've given up.  They lost about six Knights - maybe they'll drop back, try to regroup, and we can outrun them."

                "Is Buffy alright?"  Giles called, looking in the rearview mirror at Xander as he clambered down from the table.

                "She's fine, Giles, just keeping an eye out.  I think maybe -"   There was crash from the front of the Winnebago and Giles cried out.  Spike smelled blood, suddenly - blood he recognized from numerous incidents on patrol and looked up to see the Watcher slumping sideways in his seat.  The front window was shattered and the haft of a spear bobbed through the hole.  The head seemed to be in Giles.

                "Hold on!"  Spike roared, even as Xander flung himself towards Dawn and Oz grabbed Willow and Tara.  Spike tried to spread himself over everyone as Anya braced against the underside of the table and then the world was falling, spinning.   The Winnebago slewed sideways - lost momentum but gained a ferocious wobble - and heeled over into the sand.  Everything slid to a halt with a grinding jerk and Giles made an inarticulate sound of agony.  Spike could hear hoof beats, rapidly retreating, and then running footsteps.  There was a crunch and Giles' door opened and Buffy was peering in, haloed in a dusty shaft of sunlight, her face pale.

                "Giles!"

                "I - I'm...all right..."  Buffy dropped down beside him, her hands going out hesitantly but not quite touching.

                "Not bloody likely," Spike muttered.  He staggered to his feet, dropping down from the cabinet door to stand on the backsplash behind the sink.  Oz grabbed his forearm and hoisted himself up - went rapidly up to the front of the bus. 

                *Keep them away,* in the link and then the wolf was there, leaping up through the open door and out.  Brief image of the sun, a hand-span above the horizon, veiled in hazy clouds.  Then Oz was streaking away, to hary any lingering Knights away from their position.  

                "Xander - help me.  Is everyone all right?" Buffy called.

                "They're all fine, Slayer."  Spike let Xander use his arm for a brace and climb out from the heap of bodies between table and cabinets.  He made his way up the Winnebago toward Buffy as Anya slung her carry-all over her shoulder and shoved Dawn upright. 

                 "Let's go out the hatch," she said, and Dawn looked anxiously at Spike.

                 "It'll be all right, Niblet, wolfling is out there.  Go ahead.  Here -"   He gingerly handed her a backpack and then watched Anya climb out the hatch.  Dawn followed a moment later, and then Willow got Tara on her feet, taking another backpack along with her own.  Spike slung the weapons duffle over by the hatch, wincing as he flexed his hands.

                "Anything in the back we need, Slayer?"  Buffy looked up distractedly from her crouch over the Watcher, a smear of blood on her cheek.

                "What?  Uh - no, it was all - all up here."  Spike grabbed a last pack and tossed it after the duffle -edged forwards, keeping clear of the still-lethal sunlight that was fading through the broken windshield.

                *What's the damage?*

                "I think - you'd know better than me, Spike," Xander said softly, and scooted away a little.  Giles was pale - sweating - and his breathing was shallow.  The spear had come out - fortunately the Knights used a smooth, leaf-shaped blade rather than a gut-destroying barbed one - and the wound was bleeding freely.  Spike leaned in and took a long sniff.  Buffy made a small sound, and Giles hands fluttered at his sides, as if to push him away.

                "Spike, what -"

                "Just - checking.  I don't smell any...well, there's no bowel-smell.  So he probably won't get peritonitis.   Looks like he lucked out."

                "You call this lucky?"  Buffy looked incredulously at Spike, and he frowned at her.

                "Damn lucky, considering he could have taken that spear in his heart, Slayer - or his throat.  He'll survive this - he'd already be dead, otherwise."  Buffy's lower lip trembled, just a little, and she jerked angrily as Xander tried to put his hand on her shoulder.

                 "Buffy -"

                "I - I know, Xander, I..."  Buffy closed her eyes for a brief moment - shook her head.  "There's a First-Aid kit under the seat there.  Would you two - do what you can for Giles?  I'm going to check on everybody - see if there's...  if there's anyplace to go - some sort of shelter.  We can't stay in here."

                "Sure Buff, we can do that."  Xander's voice was soft and Buffy took a long, long breath.

                *She's losin' it.*

                *No.  She'll be okay.  We just have to - be there for her. Okay, Spike?*

                *For you, love...  Whatever you ask.*  Spike couldn't help a slow caress of Xander's wind-knotted hair, and Buffy looked hastily away - stood up and jumped onto the drivers seat and started lifting herself out of the Winnebago.

                "I'll be right back, guys.  Giles - you'll be okay."  Then she was gone, and Xander was rooting out the kit. Giles blinked slowly, shivering a little.

                *He's going into shock, Xan.  We gotta get him out of here.*

                *Yeah.  Help me -*  Xander dug through the First-Aid kit and Spike started helping him pick out the biggest gauze pads, Betadine scrub, rolls of Ace bandages.  It would be makeshift, but if they did it right the Watcher's innards wouldn't be strung over the desert, and the bleeding would be controlled.  As they worked Oz sent images periodically, and Spike watched with impatience as the sun slowly sank.  Once it was safe, he thought he might go hunting.  Xander glanced at him, catching that thought.

                *You and me both, love.*   Outside, Oz howled, and Spike didn't bother to keep the demon at bay anymore.   The Knights were in for a very bad time.

 

                It took the combined efforts of Xander, Spike and Buffy to get Giles out of the Winnebago.  Spike had wrenched the bedroom door off its hinges and tossed it out through the broken windshield and they lashed Giles to it with spare blankets.  Buffy had found an abandoned gas station about a mile away, and they went for it as rapidly as possible.  The Knights were already re-grouping and Oz was circling in closer and closer, unable to keep that many armed horsemen at bay.  Spike had wrapped himself in the last blanket and sprinted for the gas-station and was waiting inside as they arrived.   The building was barely standing, the warped wooden walls and boarded up windows letting in too much sun, and Xander cast around in desperation for a dark corner for Spike, his arms aching from helping Buffy carry Giles. 

                Oz darted in, the last of them, panting and *they're coming!* in the link.   Hoof beats - the jingle and creak of armor - and the Knights were upon them.  Several burning arrows managed to smash through the poorly-boarded windows and imbed themselves in the walls.  Xander and Anya worked to snatch them down and stomp them out, and Willow grabbed Tara and Dawn and shoved them both back into the corner behind the counter they'd laid Giles on.

                "Willow!  Can you do - anything?"  Buffy shouted, struggling with a defunct coffee machine.

                "Almost there!" Willow shouted back, paging desperately through a book.   Spike jumped up from his crouch behind a rusting heater and helped Buffy shove the machine over onto its side, blocking the door they'd come in.   Xander could feel through the link the burning pin-points of pain as sun found exposed skin on Spike.  More Knights arrived, pounding on the windows with axes and swords, and Oz leaped and growled, managing to drive them back momentarily.   But the building was soon surrounded.

                   Suddenly glass shattered, and one of the windows was gone, the remaining shards of glass showering down on Dawn and Tara, the boards snapping under the pressure of armored hands and shoulders.  Dawn screamed, covering her head, flailing at a groping arm and Spike was across the room with a roar, snatching Dawn and Tara and pulling them away.  Turning, he shoved them into Anya and Xander's arms and pounced with a snarl on the Knight that had fallen half into the room.  Spike wrenched off the soldiers' helmet and coif and struck, morphing into the demon and sinking fangs into the exposed throat.  Dawn made a sound - a sort of moan - and Anya pulled her away.  Xander watched for one long moment, the absolute hate and bloodlust in the link almost overwhelming.  Then he turned away, snatching an axe from the open weapons-duffle and smashing it into the boards.  The Knight on the other side jumped back with a curse and then suddenly they all backed off, and Xander looked around in trepidation.  A Knight - helmet-less, in a rich red tunic - stepped into the room.

                "I demand the Key.  Surrender it now and we will let you live."

                "Not bloody likely," Spike snarled, and lunged for the man at the same moment that Buffy did.  Xander grabbed Spike and held him.

                * Wait - wait, love.*

                *KILL IT* from so many sides Xander flinched.  The hyena was as ready to rend and destroy as the demon and the wolf were, but Xander was sure this guy was someone important.

                *Might be someone we could negotiate with!*

                *Listen to Harris!*   Spike subsided, growling, and Buffy stopped several feet from the Knight, staring at him.

                "We won't turn the Key over to you.  We're both trying to defeat Glory - why won't you help us!"

                "The Key must be destroyed - there is no other way."  The Knight raised his sword and took a step forward, going straight for Buffy, and she whirled and kicked, sending him staggering back.  He recovered - lurched forward - and Buffy kicked again, this time hard enough to spin him around.  He stumbled into a steel support pillar, his skull thwacking hollowly.  He fell straight down onto the gritty, oily floor and lay still.

                "Enemies, fly and fall - circling arms, raise a wall!"  Light exploded out from Willow - rushed away from her in an expanding ring.  It rushed through Xander like a wash of heat and pressure and was gone, through the walls and beyond.  There were cries of anger and surprise from the Knights outside, and Anya peered through a hole in a board.

                 "That knocked them down and - it's keeping them back.  What is it?"

                 "It's kind of - kind of a force field."  Willow's voice was hoarse and she moved shakily over to Tara, who was huddled next to Dawn.

                "How long will it hold, Willow?"

                "Half a day, probably."  Willow sat down heavily next to Tara, and Oz trotted over, letting Tara pet him.  Dawn looked over at the dead Knight, and then at the unconscious one, and put her head down in her hands.

                "Okay - okay..."  Buffy ran her hands back through her hair - looked around her with a bewildered air.  "We need - we need to - make sure Giles is okay, and..."  She stopped, and took a couple of steps towards Dawn, looking down at her.

                "Dawn, are you all right?"  Dawn looked up, her eyes red, tears tracking down her face.

                "I - I'm okay, Buffy -"   Buffy hurried forward and knelt down next to her, hugging her close, and Xander glanced over at Spike, who nodded.

                 "Hey Buff, why don't you take a break for a minute and let me and Spike and Oz take care of stuff, okay?  I'll have Spike check on Giles."  Buffy glanced up at him - nodded distractedly - and Xander nodded back.

                *Clothes.*   Oz pulled gently away from Tara and started looking around the room.  Spike bent to the dead Knight and carried him to the door - tossed his body out onto the ground.  Xander spotted the various backpacks where they'd been piled and found Oz's.  He glanced around and saw that there was a second room in the back; no doorway, but it was big enough for a little privacy. 

                *Oz, here-*  He walked back into the room - put the backpack down and went back out, running one hand down Oz's back as they passed each other.

                *Thanks.  Okay?*

                *Yeah - you?*

                *Yeah.*    Spike was hauling the unconscious Knight up and dragging him to the post he'd brained himself on.  He sat him down and pushed his back against the post, then looked at Xander over his shoulder.

                "Find something to tie him with, love?  I don't fancy him bein' free."

                "Yeah."  Xander cast around - finally came up with a length of greasy chain that appeared to have been part of a chain-fall for hoisting engine blocks.  He brought it over and changed places with Spike, holding the Knight's shoulders against the post while Spike knotted the chains around his wrists, opening links and re-attaching them so it was impossible for the Knight to escape.   Xander could feel the pain through the link from Spike's hands, and Spike cursed steadily under his breath.  Finished, they stood up and moved over to Giles, who nodded weakly at them and closed his eyes.  Xander took Spike's hands in his, looking at the creased, blood-stained bandages and streaks of oil and dirt.

                *You need more blood.*

                *Sun's down - I could go get a couple more Knights.*

                *No.*   Oz walked out from the back room, human again, and dropped his pack, and Spike and Xander both looked over at him.

                "Why not, wolfling?"  Oz glanced around at Willow, who was opening a bottle of water for Tara, and Buffy and Dawn, who were whispering together.  Anya had gathered up a spare blanket and was curling herself into a corner.   It looked like she was going to take a nap, and Xander envied her her calm.

                "I think - the more warm bodies between us and Glory the better," Oz said softly.  Xander and Spike looked at each other, and Xander slowly nodded.

                "I think you're right."  Spike sighed and leaned into Xander, closing his eyes.   Xander pulled him closer - reached out to Oz and rubbed his hand slowly across the werewolf's back, the pack feeling thrumming through the link, calming them all, settling them.  It was warmth and safety, and Xander felt the tension of the last few hours ease just a bit.

                "Spike still needs blood, though," Xander said, and Oz nodded - made a motion of his head towards the back.

                *We can do that,* in the link, and Xander nodded back.  Buffy stood up suddenly, and Dawn anxiously watched her stride over to them.

                "Okay - what the hell happened, Spike?"

                "Hmmm?"  Spike looked up at her, eyes half-shut, barely moving from his relaxed pose.  Oz moved in a little closer, protection-impulse in the link.  Spike was injured, and shouldn't be exposed to any threats.

                "You killed that Knight."

                "He was goin' for the Bit.  'Course I bloody well killed him."  There was a startled gasp from Willow, and Xander saw her struggle to her feet behind Buffy.

                "He was a human, Spike!  We're not supposed to kill humans!"

                "Spike killed him?  But - but how?"  Willow asked, breathless and flushed, coming up next to Buffy, and Spike glanced over at her, impatience in the link.

                "The usual fuckin' way, Red.  He'd have killed her if he could, Slayer - I didn't give him the chance.  And I didn't see you askin' the Knights out on the road any questions about their intentions."

                "That was different - I didn't have any choice - I couldn't let them stop us!"   Spike straightened, anger building, and the hyena grumbled restlessly.   *Always excuses*

                *Protect pack, get it away -*

                *Hush, love.*   "Listen, Slayer - these guys may look like the worst sort of Ren-faire wannabe's but they're playin' for keeps.  We're just in the way of their ultimate soddin' goal.  I, for one, don't give a flying fuck about their status as a species."

                "You can't kill them, Spike.  They're human.  If we - if we talk to them -"

                "Forget it, Slayer."  Spike held his hands up, palm out, and Willow looked hastily away from the gory sight.  "I'm not playing white-hat here.   Anybody that threatens the Niblet is dead.  Simple as that."

                *Spike, back off - please love, she's -*

                *Gonna get us all killed, thinkin' like that.*

                *Not pack not pack,* in a grumbling monotone from the hyena and the wolf both ,and Xander felt the tension flood back in, tightening a gut already sore from a day's worth of nerves.

                "Buffy - listen -"

                "How did you kill him, Spike?" Willow interrupted.   "Is - is the chip not working?  Buffy?"

                "No, Willow.  It's not.  Not - for a long time," Buffy said slowly, and Willow gaped at her - looked wide-eyed at Spike.

                "How long?"

                "Since we got the wolfling out, Red.  Since then."  Willow just stared at him - shook her head slowly.

                "Buffy, how can you - how can you trust him?  I mean - Xander, you can't - that spell is - but Buffy, you knew-?"  Buffy sighed, and her shoulders sagged, and suddenly she looked completely defeated - exhausted - barely able to stay upright.

                 "Wills - it's not important.  Just - leave it alone, okay?" Xander said softly, and Willow turned a furious glare on him.  Spike and Oz both shifted to get between them.  Xander took a step forward and then stopped and whirled around as he felt a hand on his back.  Giles' eyes were open - he was, in fact, trying to sit up, and Xander immediately moved to his side and pushed lightly on his shoulder.

                "Lay back Giles, please?  You'll make it bleed again."  Giles slumped back and Buffy was on his other side, Willow beside her.

                "You mustn't - mustn't bicker like this.  You need to - to concentrate on...on a plan, on -"   Giles took a shaky breath and coughed, grimacing, and a bead of blood welled at the corner of this mouth.

                "Fuck -"   Xander looked up at Spike, who shook his head slowly.

                "He needs a doctor, Slayer - we need to get the fuck out of here."

                "I don't think that's gonna happen."  Buffy bit her lip - looked up, as if contemplating the gathered Knights outside the walls.  "If I could get someone to come here...  Do you think they'd let him in?"  Xander glanced at Spike again, who shrugged.

                "They're pretty 'Knights of the Round Table', in a totally...lame way," Xander said.  He noticed soemthing over Buffy's shoulder, and an idea formed.   "But I'll bet they're just full of rules and regulations when it comes to war.   Why don't we ask cool guy over there?"  Buffy and Willow both turned to look at the captive Knight, who was awake and glaring at them.

               

                "So, here goes nothing,"   Buffy mumbled, steeling herself, and she and Spike heaved the coffee machine away from the door - opened it.  As night had fallen the assembled Knights had lit a couple of fires and driven tall torches into the ground at intervals along the edge of the protective bubble.  As Spike and Buffy stepped outside they closed ranks, hefting weapons and grouping opposite them.  Two older men in long robes - clerics - chanted softly, hands out to the barrier.  Xander watched nervously from the doorway, Willow beside him.  Oz was back with the girls and Giles.  Anya was, unbelievably, still asleep and snoring ever so slightly.  Buffy skirted around the dead Knight Spike had killed - put a hand out and stopped him as Spike made a move to kick the body out of his way.  Spike snarled, but stepped over the corpse instead.

                 "Xander - why didn't you tell me?  About Spike."  Willow's voice was low and soft and full of hurt, and Xander sighed and looked over at her.

                "I'm sorry, Willow.  I wanted to, but..."

                "But what, Xander?  We're - we're still friends, aren't we?  I mean - I know we've had our differences, but I thought - after you told us about you and Spike, that we - that we were gonna be back to normal!"  Willow's eyes were wide and wet - her lip trembled - and Xander was once again reminded of a rabbit.  *Happy little rabbit...oh, I wish you could just hop back to your rabbit home and not have to live out here in the world, Willow...  We're never going to be 'normal'...*   Xander put his hand lightly on Willow's shoulder, rubbing.

                "I was just...afraid to tell you, Wills.  I know Spike really scared you, in the past.  I wasn't sure if you'd - if you could trust him.  It just seemed like - the best thing to do would be to wait.  And you'd see - how much he helps us - how much he loves me...  I figured you'd trust him, and then when we told you it - it wouldn't make a difference."  Willow jerked away at that, and Xander let his hand fall to his side.  Her eyes were hard now - narrowing in anger.

                "Of course it makes a difference, Xander!" she hissed.   "I mean - he killed that Knight!  Is he killing other humans, too?  I know you don't - you don't buy blood anymore.  Willy said something when Tara and I went down there that time.  It didn't make any sense then, but now -"   She stopped and shook her head - looked over her shoulder at Giles.

                "I guess Giles knows, too?"

                "Yeah - he and Buffy found out at the same time.  Willow - he's not gonna hurt us.   And he doesn't kill anybody."

                "Yes he does, Xander.  He killed that man - who else, that maybe you don't know about?"  Willow looked truly furious now - was shaking just a little, and Xander took a step back from her, *Not pack not pack* howling out from the hyena, abrupt fear.  "I mean - you say he's got a soul, Xander -"

                "Say he's got one?  Do you think I lied to you about that?"  Xander felt a sudden surge of anger - all of his selves reacting to that with outrage.

                "Xander - we both know how much your family hurt you.  And how much you wanted a family of your own that would...  Don't you think that your - your pack is just kinda - convenient?"  Willow glanced over at Oz, something going across her face - jealousy?  Hurt?  Xander couldn't catalogue it and then it was gone.  "I think you put too much trust in Spike, Xander.  If he's had a soul all this time, why did he keep killing people?  Why didn't he help Angel, fight for the good guys?"  Xander stared at Willow, at an utter loss.

                *Not pack!*

                *She's not one of US Harris.  She doesn't trust us.  We can't rely on her anymore to be on our side.*

                *Stop it!  Yes we can.  Guys, that's WILLOW - she's my...best friend...*   That stopped Xander cold.  Was she his best friend anymore?   A moment's inner examination and Xander knew she wasn't.  Spike - and Oz - had taken over that role.  Filled the hole in his heart that even Willow had never quite fit into, all the way.  And the others' instincts - insistence - that Willow was not pack...   It was true.  He'd tried to ignore it but she wasn't, and never would be, and he didn't know if it was her magic or her stubborn need to see the world just one way, but she was slipping away from him.  Xander felt as if he'd been punched - for a moment he couldn't catch his breath.    He struggled to find something to say that wouldn't come out sounding mean. 

                *Protect pack,* and Oz was there, silent.

                "Willow - you really need to back off," he said, and Willow rounded on him, furious.

                "Stay out of it, Oz!  You're as bad as Xander, trusting a demon - trusting Spike!  He almost killed me!  And Cordy almost died because of him!  Whatever he's doing -"

                "He's helping us, Willow - why can't you see that?  Glory tortured him, and he didn't say a word - didn't tell her anything -"

                "Calm, love.  Not the time.*   Xander took a hard breath - looked over at Oz, who was struggling for control.  All of the reactions to Willow that had got him grabbed by the Initiative in the first place were there, right there, drawing the wolf up and out.   Oz turned abruptly away, and Xander caught a glimpse of black eyes - of Oz's mouth in a silent snarl.

                *Wolf - calm, love - pack is safe, just get away from her.*   Spike was as agitated as Oz, and Xander glanced over at him.  He was watching the Knight that had stepped up to talked to Buffy, but his senses were all trained on them, and what was going on behind him.

                *Calm, yeah.  Calm.  Safe.*   Xander took a hard breath, and looked at Willow, who was staring at him.

                "What are you doing, Xander?  I'm trying to - to talk to you and you're all - in outer space."

                "I'm listening to the voices in my head, Willow.  The ones that tell me they love me, and trust me, and wouldn't hurt me for the world."  Xander moved away from the door, seeing Buffy and Spike coming towards them, negotiations over.   "Now is not the time for this, Willow.  We have more important things to worry about."

                Willow looked at him - slowly shook her head.   "Not the time.  You know, people keep telling me that.  I'm getting kind of sick of hearing it."   She turned sharply away and went back to Tara and Dawn, and Xander shuddered all over - closed his eyes for a moment in relief as Spike's arm slipped around his waist.

                *Love you, pet.  Let it go.*

                *Not pack.  Never will be,* sad and soft from Oz, and Xander shook his head.

                *I don't want it to be like this.  I love her...*

                "They'll let me bring help, if I can reach him."  Buffy came up to them, looking happier than before.   "That guy - Dante - he gave me his 'oath'.  Hopefully we can trust him."

                "His kind usually keep to the letter of the law, Slayer.  Just play by their rules and you can trust them.  Wankers."

                "I just need to call him - I wonder if that pay-phone works?"  Buffy mused.

                "Oh - wait," Oz held up a hand - went over to the heap of packs and picked his up - extracted a cellphone from the depths of it.

                 "Derio made me bring his.  Said if I didn't check in once a day he'd have his gran curse me."  Oz smiled a small, crooked smile, *Miss him* softly in the link.  He handed the phone to Buffy and leaned into Spike as the vampire reached out and put an arm around his shoulders.

                *Be back to him in no time.*

                *Yeah...I know.*   The three of them stood there, pack, watching as Buffy dialed a number.  She looked nervous and shifted from foot to foot as she waited through the ringing. 

                 "Hello - Ben?  It's - it's Buffy..."