Credence Chapter 20

Credence Chapter 20

The phone ringing woke Spike and he rolled, groping for it.  Beside him, Xander made a complaining sort of noise and tucked himself into a tighter knot, hand reaching for Spike and bumping his spine - resting there, knuckles pressed into Spike's back.

"What the fuck -" Spike rasped, and coughed - got an elbow under himself and sat up a little.

"It's Tod.  Your friend is here - the werewolf."

"Let him in," Spike said, sitting all the way up - kicking at the covers off his legs and swinging them off the bed. 

"He's got some - friends -"

"Let him in," Spike snapped, and clicked the phone off.  He sat there for a moment, slumped over; slowly scrubbing his hands over his face and back through his hair.  Sun wasn't down yet, but he smelled rain.  *Dark outside.  Wolf, thank god...*   Behind him, Xander stirred more strongly and Spike heard his heart kick up a notch when the elevator whirred to life out in the hall.

"Spike?"

"The wolf's come back, pet - best get dressed."    There was a moment's silence and then Xander was scrambling over the bed, pushing past Spike and heading for the wardrobe Spike had gotten in - half full of Xander's jumble-sale clothes and the wolf's abandoned things.  *Need to get him some new gear.  Something nicer...* Spike thought, ignoring the demon's instant anger at Xander's excitement.  *Jealous as an old fox-hound, aren't you?*   Spike watched Xander dress - jeans and tee and hoodie.  Watched him stand there then, head to one side as he tracked the creaking, grumbling progress of the elevator.  Spike pushed himself to his feet and found his jeans - pulled them on as the elevator ground to a halt.  He found his cigarettes and lit one and leaned on the back of the couch.  The door-latch creaked - moved up - and then the door was sliding back and...Oz.  

Sidling in, the cautious movements of a wary animal.  He was naked - streaked with mud - leaves and tiny twigs tangled in his hair.  Scratches down one thigh, and a bruise high up on his throat.  Bite-mark.  Behind him and around him - pack.  Five wolves slipped in through the door around Oz and the demon surfaced in Spike without a second thought.  Xander took one step back and Spike could see the green glint of the hyena in his eyes.

"Oz?" Xander said softly.  The werewolf rubbed a slow hand up his arm - up further to his throat, ghosting over the bite-mark.  "Oz, are you - hurt?"  Xander took two rapid steps forward and the wolves tensed.  Lips lifted off of ivory fangs and low snarls curled out of five throats - six.  Spike straightened against the couch, growling, and the biggest wolf - silver and black and pewter-grey - snapped in his direction, black eyes glinting, feral and furious. 

*Pack-leader.  But not HERE.  Not in my house.*   Spike stared until the wolf stepped back, the snarls tapering away.   The air was thick with the musk of them; pack and enemy and hunt.

"Xan-der -"   Oz's voice was hoarse and he stopped and swallowed - held out his hand.   "Don't - push.  I'm not hurt."

"You look hurt."  Xander didn't move and Oz finally stepped closer - close enough to touch, but he didn't. 

"I'm not.  I..."  He stopped again, looking at Xander - taking a deep breath, his mouth slightly open and his eyes darkening for a moment.  Then he looked at Spike.

"I'm going with them," Oz said softly, and Xander jerked as if he'd been slapped.  Spike nodded slowly, smoking, watching the biggest wolf as it circled delicately, getting closer to Oz and Xander by increments.

"Oz, you -   What do you mean?  Going where?"  Oz lowered his head and seemed to be lost, for a moment - seemed to be struggling to gather the words he needed and Xander reached out put his hand on Oz's shoulder.   And the silver-black wolf lunged and Spike did, flat dive that slammed him right into fur-covered ribs.  Hard, hard shove, roll and up, crouched and waiting.   The wolf skidded upright and growled and Oz flinched.

"Don't -" he said, and the wolf snapped at Oz - shouldered him aside and stood squarely between Oz and Spike.  

"This is my house, wolf.   Fuckin' manners."  Spike waited, crouched and ready, and the black and silver wolf chuffed down deep in its chest.  Xander was frozen, unmoving - his head down, his eyes fixed on Oz.  He radiated confusion, anger - misery, and Spike spared him a single glance, wishing they weren't doing this.  *No matter what, he's hurt.  You've hurt him, wolf...  And it's gonna be days before he realizes HOW hurt he is.  And you'll be gone...*

The wolf shivered - twisted - changed, in a jarring series of flickering postures that made Spike snarl, jerking back.  One of the other wolves whined and then fell silent.  After a moment a man stood next to Oz, panting.  He was older - mid forties, maybe.  Whipcord muscle over long bones.  Scarred, here and there - bad ones on his thigh and hip.  His hair was past his ribs, black with streaks of silver, matted and thick.  Black nails, muddy feet and hands - wary eyes - cornflower blue with the epicanthal fold of someone of Asian descent.

"This is Amaruq," Oz said, and then stopped again, as if there was nothing more to say.  His own scent was more the wolf then it had ever been - the underlying tones of his humanity thin and faint.  Anxiety, desire - anger, warring in him.  Xander's fists were clenched and Spike sighed - looked around and saw his cigarette smoldering on the floor and picked it up. 

"You're gonna have to talk, wolf.  Xander needs to know."  Oz twitched just a little - nodded then, and held his hand out - ignored the growl that immediately rattled up out of Amaruq's chest when Xander took it, gripping hard.

"He's from up north, Xander - up in Canada - up by the ice."

"Nunavut," Amaruq said, his voice low and rough and accented - nothing Spike recognized.   "Inuit," he added, and Oz nodded. 

"What's that?  What are those places?"  Xander had pulled Oz's hand to his chest - was holding it in both of his, and Oz looked distinctly unhappy with that.  But he didn't move.  The other wolves - the four still in their animal forms - padded back and forth between the door and Amaruq, snapping and snarling, but quietly.

"It's - clans, it's - Inuit -"

"Eskimo," Amaruq said, a sneer in his voice and Xander's eyes flickered to him.

"You're going to - to live with Eskimos?  Oz, what the fuck?"

"It's pack, Xander."  Oz took a step closer - finally reached out and touched Xander - touched his cheek with a mud-smeared hand.  "I need to be the wolf for a while, Xander.  I told you.  He - there's a place.  Near the ice - near Greenland.  It's tribal land - it's - safe.  I can't - hurt anyone, I can - just be what I - am."

"You're Oz, you're my friend!  You're not - you can't go that far away, Oz - you can't."  Xander was shivering, standing there - his eyes pleading and his hands white around Oz's hands - hurting him, Spike was sure.   "How can I - get there, how can -?"

"Not pack," Amaruq snarled, stepping up close and putting out his hand, as if he'd push Xander away and Xander snarled, the hyena up and out, slamming all of them with a wave of that sweet-honey musk that was tinged with acid fury.  Strange enough to make Amaruq jerk back, wide eyed.

"Mine," Xander growled, and Amaruq's eyes were flickering - darkening and lightening as he struggled with the wolf in him.

"Not -" the werewolf began, and Spike stepped forward - stiff-armed Amaruq back hard, growling.  The older were had a strong scent of green - astringent and bitter.

"My house, wolf, my pack.  Back off.  Back off now."  The other wolves were slinking in fast - circling, snarling, and Spike hoped he wouldn't have to fight.  Werewolves were tough, and these were big, and Xander - was right there.  *Won't let him get hurt.*

"Amaruq - please -" Oz said softly, and the werewolf froze for a moment and then backed off, shaking his head.

"We'll go up," he said, and Oz nodded.  He changed - magic scent like burnt toast and marjoram in the air, and five wolves sidled out of the door and gone.  Spike could hear Tod at the elevator, exclaiming in surprise and then the elevator working again, rattle and creak.  Oz - seemed to shake something off then, and he gently pulled Xander into a hug.  Xander clung to him, green-eyed and trembling.  Spike settled against the back of the couch again, smoking the last of his cigarette and crushing it out between his fingers.

"Xander - it's okay, it's okay.  C'mon - calm down," Oz said, rubbing his back - running fingers through his hair, and Xander finally calmed a little, taking a hard breath in a letting it out with a shaky sigh.

"Oz, you can't go away like that," he whispered, and Oz hugged him hard - let go, and took a step back.

"I have to, Xander.  I told you I was going to.  When I - when I was well, I told you I wanted to go north.  Just...be, for a while.  Try to - heal things."

"I know!   I know you said that but...but I'm supposed to come with you, Oz - I can still -"

"No," Oz whispered, and Spike looked away - pushed away from the couch and went to the cabinet - opened it and took out the bottle inside and took a long, long drink.  He didn't want to think about the twist of razor-edged pain that had shot through him at Xander's words.  Didn't want to think about the surge of bile and bitterness that had stung his throat.  The demon was struggling to break free - to wrench Xander away from Oz and prove its claim.  Drive Oz out.  Spike...didn't dare. 

*Mine, he's mine, won't let him go, he's mine - ours - keep him close, keep him safe -*  But Xander was leaning on Oz, face buried in his neck and his fingers clutching at Oz's thin shoulders, stuttering out questions and heartbroken pleas and Spike...couldn't bear to be denied.  Not now - not ever.  He took another, longer drink and shoved the bottle away - slammed the doors to the cabinet and then snarled softly to himself, angry that he'd lost that bit of control.  *Doesn't want to be here,*  whispering in his heart and he closed his eyes - looked for headspace because right now he had to be here - had to be calm.

 

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. 

"Oh, you ca'n't help that," sad the Cat: "we're all mad here.  I'm mad.  You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here." 

Alice didn't think that proved it at all: however, she went on.  "And how do you know that you're mad?"

"To begin with," said the Cat, "A dog's not mad.  You grant that?"

"I suppose so," said Alice. 

"Well, then," the Cat went on, "you see a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased.  Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry.  Therefore, I'm mad."

"I call it purring, not growling," said Alice.

"Call it what you like," said the Cat...

 

*'I'm mad, you're mad...'  Dru loved that part.  I think...one of US is mad...  Probably me.  Already doing mad things for this...this rabbit.  This boy.  MY boy...*

"Oz, please - I can do this."  Xander was wiping at his face - was striding across the floor and pulling open the wardrobe - yanking out clothes and shoving them haphazardly into the duffle he'd pulled from the bottom drawer.  Talking fast and disjointed, as if to be silent were to give in.  Panic in every jerky movement and in the acrid sweat that oiled him.  "I can get a job up there at a - l-lumber camp or something, or - on a fishing ship - I can d-do anything if they'll just show me and I can find us a place, you don't have to l-live with...him...you don't -"

"Xander, you can't -"

"Yes I can, Oz!  Don't -"   Xander stopped for a minute, his fists clenched down tight on the bronze-colored shirt he'd worn to the club.  He stared blindly at it - finally blinked and looked up - looked at Spike.  Spike stared back, knowing that with the demon's features to the fore Xander couldn't read him.  Xander shook his head minutely - pushed the shirt back into the bottom of the wardrobe and grabbed something else - ragged sweater in a muddy sort of blue.  "I can, Oz.  I said I wasn't - leaving you, I said...  I would take care of you and - you said we'd be...okay and we'd - be together.  You said that, Oz!"  Xander's voice rose on the last - cracked - and Oz flinched back from him, eyes black.   Stinking of nerves and anger and confusion - stinking of Amaruq and Spike growled softly.  Oz shot him a narrow-eyed look and then shook his head - turned and started to walk to the door.

"Oz!"  Xander abandoned his packing - darted after the thin, dirty figure, items of clothing dragging behind him, dangling from his fists.  Tripping him, and he skidded and ended on one knee, panting.  "Oz - don't."  His voice cracked again, thick with tears, and Oz stopped and stood for a moment, head down.  Then he turned and walked back slowly, crouching down in front of Xander.  "Please, please, Oz - don't leave, please don't leave," Xander whispered, and Spike roared, making them both flinch.

"Stop it, rabbit!  Can't you smell him?"  Spike advanced on the both of them, furious, stopping within arm's reach.   "He's got that - other all over him.  That Amaruq."  Xander's eyes were wide and wet - still glimmering green and Spike didn't understand how the hyena could be so...wounded.

"I - I know," Xander muttered, and Oz closed his eyes.  "I know.  I don't care.  I don’t - we never did that, anyway, it doesn't matter -"

"It bloody well does," Spike growled, and Oz opened his eyes and reached for Xander - held his face gently in his hands.

"Xander - you can't.  Amaruq is...leader.  You're not wolf - you can't come.  It's not a place for you, up there.  It's...a wolf-place, Xander, it's -"

"Pack," Xander said - venom and heartbreak in that one word and Oz nodded slowly.

"I love you.  You saved me.  You kept me alive - you found Wrxl and...  I love you, Xander.  But I have to go."  Oz drew in a hard, hard breath and his fingers flexed on Xander's face - slid upward slowly, brushing through his hair.   "I'll be gone - for a while.  I'll...  Tell Spike where you are, and I'll find you."  He leaned forward and kissed Xander - slow kiss, gentle - not a lover's kiss, and Xander's fingers dug into Oz's biceps - drew blood on the left one.

"No, no - no.  Oz?  P-please -"   Xander's hands clutched but Oz disentangled himself, gently pushing him away.  Then he stood and looked up for a moment at Spike - backed away, changing as he went until a tall russet wolf stood in the doorway, black eyes wide and dull, mud on his paws.  Oz lifted his head and howled - a ringing, crying sound and Spike could hear the others replying - could hear Tod cursing in the hall, wrenching open the elevator door.  Then Oz was gone, and Xander was slumped there on the floor, shirts and a torn pair of jeans trailing from his hands.  Breathing hard, shaking - smear of mud on his cheek, mixing with tears.

Spike sighed softly - went slowly to his knees next to the boy.  Xander's was just staring at the empty doorway, and Spike listened to the elevator stop - listened to the faint sounds of the wolves as they greeted Oz, and then - nothing at all.  Tod, at least, was smart enough not to come down.

"Rabbit -"

"Don't call me that, don't fuckin' - call me that you bastard."  Xander struggled, trying to get up and getting tangled in a shirt and Spike snatched the clothes away from him - threw them at the wardrobe, angry now.

"I'll call you what I like.  Listen - listen!"  He grabbed Xander's arms and jerked him around, face to face, and Xander snarled, snapping his teeth.  "Xander.  Stop it.  He's gone, now.  He's gone and you're here -"

"NO!"  Xander struggled wildly - wrenched away and stumbled to his feet, awkwardly snagging a lone shirt and all but running back to his wardrobe.  "I'm not here - I won't be.  I'm gonna go - he can't stop me and I can find him.  Not supposed to leave without me -"

"That Amaruq'll kill you," Spike said, watching him.  Not bothering to get up.  Suddenly so very tired.

"No, he won't - I can...  I'll figure something out, I'll talk to him.  I m-made Oz's wolf accept me, I can -"

"Rabbit.  Don't be so bloody stupid," Spike snapped, and Xander froze.   *God DAMNIT, fucking hell - rabbit, c'mon -*    "Xander -"

"No.  No.  You just - shut up, Spike.  Just.  Shut the fuck up."  Xander yanked his coat from a hanger, his hat and gloves spilling from the pocket.  He pulled it on with jerky motions, the collar skewed and half tucked against his neck.  He looked around and saw his boots - shoved his feet into them.  "I'm not going to be here, Spike," he said, and he strode to the door - hovered there for a moment and then was gone, crashing up the fire stairs, running - up and out.

Spike stayed where he was, on his knees, for another hour.

 

 

 

The string of days that followed...were strange ones.  Silent, for the most part, for Spike.  He made a phone call on the third day - on the fourth presented Viv with a lock-box of cash and his resignation.  Close to five-hundred thousand dollars and only the tip of the iceberg of the great mass of treasure he'd found with the Gem of Ammara.  He may have lost that, but he'd secured the rest of the horde - put it aside for a rainy day.  This was sodding Noah's Ark kind of weather.  He also stopped by to see Wrxl.  Mostly to thank the old demon, but also to give him an interesting ring that had come from the hoard.  Wrxl was back to his beakers and his bottles, his herbs and his chemicals, and Spike stood for a moment in the doorway, watching him.  Then he slowly went across the room.  Wrxl measured something into a bubbling liquid and stood back - looked up at Spike, his whiskers flicking forward and back and then settling in a stiff forward display.

"So, Spike - your wolf, he's doing better, then?"

"He's doing well, Wrxl.  Seems he found some other wolves."

Wrxl's whiskers flattened and pushed forward again, and he picked up his cane and hobbled around the table.  "Did he, now?  Well, that's good, isn't it?  He wanted to find more of his own kind, didn't he."

"He did.  But they're from Canada, Wrxl.  A long way from here - up near the ice."  Spike picked up a thin glass syrette - weighed it in his hand and then set it aside.  The bluish liquid inside moved sluggishly.  "I wonder...how did Oz happen to find them?  Or they him?  Seems....a bit dodgy, don't you think?" 

Wrxl regarded him, unblinking - finally sighed and settled onto a tall stool, his cane between his knees.  "I called them, of course.  When I first learned of your wolf, I began to make enquiries.  Then, when it became clear that...his own kind was desired, I sent a message.  Through channels.  They came for him." 

"Is that what you did?" Spike asked, and his voice was cold - was flat in his own ears.  Wrxl stirred on the stool a little and then tapped the cane once, twice on the floor.

"It was for the best, Spike.  Surely you see that.  I did what I was asked to do - I cured his physical malady.  Now he must - cure the rest."

*But what about my boy?  You've ripped his heart out, you old bastard...you and the wolf.*   But Spike didn't say that aloud - simply lay the ring down on the table and walked out.

He found out from Tod's boys the address of the place they'd found Oz and he went there, searching.  But the place had been taken over by junkies and reeked of piss and the chemical miasma of a meth lab and Spike left in disgust, avoiding blood that tainted.  He contemplated throwing a match and burning the place to the ground, but he knew from past experience that the resultant fireball might actually catch him, so he went down to the docks instead, hunting.   The underground picked up on his mood and withdrew, and Spike found himself taking out his frustrations on rough-neck humans and it...didn't satisfy.  He even found a soldier one night, and hunted him to the oubliette, but the satisfaction was fleeting and he found himself irritable afterward - even more on edge.

And then rumor reached him, eighth day of fruitless searching.  Silas Trott, one of his 'death matches', and the not-quite-human who was taking on all comers.  *And that's him.  'Course it is.  Damnit, Xander...*   He contemplated, through the day, just what he would do.  Decided to go and see, and...  *Not pull him out by his ear, like a little brat.  Let him fight.  Let him VENT.  Let him...wear himself out on it.  Tell Silas if any humans end up being killed, he's next.  Won't have my boy shouldering that, too.*

Spike...missed him.  Missed his sullen silences and his big, soft smile and his scent.  Missed him with a knife-edged ache that made him angry.  *Just a silly little rabbit.  Just a boy.  Not...like Dru.  Not like Angelus and Darla...not FAMILY.*   But Spike knew he was lying to himself - or trying to.   Darla was dust and gone, and Angelus was chasing pipe-dreams and redemption in L.A.  Dru...had slipped away, while he'd been a prisoner.  Feeling his pain, no doubt - or bored - or scared.  Gone somewhere south, was what his senses told him, and they'd find each other again.  Some time.  They had until the sun burned out, and made everything into clinkers and ash.  Spike rather thought Dru would like Xander.  She'd...understand.

When the sun went down he had a shower - dressed carefully in new denim and old leather - in cotton and a heavy, thin overshirt of butter-soft suede that clung to him in rich folds, oxblood red.  Smokes and lighter and his straight-razor - didn't need the extra stuff, anymore.  Xander's hat and gloves lay on the coffee table - fallen and forgotten from his coat-pocket and Spike picked them up - inhaled their scent and rubbed on glove along his cheek for a moment.  Then he tucked them into a pocket and strode out.  Heading for the docks - for the sub-basement lair and the fights.  Going to find his boy.

 

 

 

Silas had strung neon rope-light all over the basement - lurid red and blue and gold snakes twining all through exposed girders and dripping pipes.  The concrete floor was stained with old blood and old sweat - rank and thick.  And the crowd was a hectic and hair-triggered mix of demons and vampires and half-humans and humans, all jostling and drinking and smoking and betting.  All on edge - wound tight - ready to come unglued.  As-per-fucking-usual, with Silas - he never seemed to know when enough was enough, and he pushed all-out warfare, sometimes, with the things he pulled. 

A fight was already going on when Spike sauntered into the basement.  He paused on the cracked concrete stair-case, about four risers from the bottom and lit a cigarette, watching.  Two demons - a Fyarl and a kind he didn't know, with a strip of deadly-looking spines down its back - were grappling in the 'ring': layers of worn cardboard, taped down with scuffed silver duct-tape.  There was yellow ichor and blood spattered there already, and Silas - in a shiny brown suit - was narrating the fight from on top of a milk-crate, little wireless mic in his hand and a brace of hulking vamp bodyguards standing right behind him.  The crowd seethed like a pot on a fire.  Not nearly ready to boil over, but so, so primed for it.  Spike smoked, and watched - looked.  And finally - Xander.

*Ah, fuck, rabbit...fuck.*   Xander was standing in a small roped-off area, leaning against the damp, rough concrete of the wall, in nothing but a pair of ragged old blue-jeans that rode low on his hips.  Dark splashes down the front and a vamp hovering over him - carefully stitching a gash in his chest while Xander twitched, pale as milk.  There were deep hollows around his eyes and in his cheeks, and he looked like he'd lost about ten pounds.  Livid bruises all over his torso - split lip, swelling cheek - his hair in strings and his knuckles bloody.

But then he opened his eyes, and they flashed witch-fire green.  Spike wondered how long they hyena had been in control.  A couple days, at least.   He knew the hyena wouldn't take a fall for Silas, and now Oz was gone, it didn't need to.  He smoked - watched the fight - watched Xander, who didn't move from the wall.  Spike was demon-faced - growling softly.  He wanted to grab Xander - drag him out of there, get him home.  Fuck him unconscious and bite him - drink him - feed him his own blood.  The stink of the place was sure to be all over him - that vamp doing the fucking EMT-imitation was touching him, and Spike was gonna rip her head off.

But he waited instead - smoked and glared at anybody who dared brush past to close and watched the fight - watch the spiny demon eventually win.  Its spines could shoot out like a porcupine and apparently were toxic - to the Fyarl, at least - and the more slender spine-demon finally ripped the Fyarl's throat out, letting out a weird, creaking cry.

*Shoots spines and they're poisonous.  Fuck.  Find out what the fuck that is and bloody well keep away from it.*  Spike finally went down the last steps and made his way over to Silas, who was hovering over a flimsy card-table, watching another big vamp pay out winning bets and take more money in on the next fight.  A child's chalkboard - an easel-style thing with a bright alphabet painted around the edge - had the fights and odds written on it, and Spike noted the large 'X' and the long odds - 17 to 1 - and grinned.   Spike reached out and grabbed Silas' arm and pulled him around. 

"Silas.  Rakin' it in, I see."

"Spike!  You - ah - yes.   Overhead is so high for these things - barely breaking even, you know -"  Silas tried to cover his initial nervous start by moving between Spike and the money, smoothing his hands down his shiny, brown lapels and twitching nervously at his blue and yellow striped tie - his matching pocket handkerchief.  He looked, Spike thought, like a shiny brown cockroach and the sweat on his forehead and his glass-slick hair didn't help much.  Spike knew that him being in demon-face made Silas more nervous - the features were hard to read, the eyes less telling.

"Didn't come for a cut, Silas.  Came to ask about your fighter - that human boy.  'X'.   Silas' eyes narrowed, and he patted at his breast-pocket and then extracted a flat, gold case - took out a twiggy-looking cigar and lit it with a slim gold lighter.  Somehow, even those things seemed...insectile...and Spike resisted the urge to just...squish him.  Silas puffed, sending up a cloud of fungus-y smelling smoke and Spike growled softly.  Silas pretended he hadn't heard and blew the smoke the other way.

"That one?   Not human.  Something funny, but not human.  He won't say, and that's fine.  He's going up against...a half-Hixa, next.  Should be a good fight.  You wanna place a bet?  For you - 25 to 1."

"M'not here to bet, Silas."  Spike took a last drag on his cigarette and flicked it away into the crowd, oblivious to where it ended up.  "M'just here to make sure everything's on the up and up.  Makin' sure nobody's tryin' to take advantage of my boy."  Silas froze, his cigar half-way to his mouth.

"Your - boy?  Your...boy.  He said - I mean...  Donna!"  A thin, blonde vampire slipped out of the crowd and bustled up to Silas, clip-board in hand.   He leaned over to her and spoke rapidly, poking the air with the cigar while Donna stared straight at Spike, her golden eyes speculative.  Spike didn't bother to listen - he knew what Silas was asking.  He looked around at the milling, tensed crowd and smirked.  There was a general ebb and drift of spectators toward the 'ring', and Spike knew the fight was starting.   Donna scurried away.

"Just keep in mind, Silas - anything happens to my boy - it'll happen to you, too - only five times over.  Get me?"  Silas glared at him - ducked his head to Donna who had re-appeared out of the crowd, frowning.  Silas paled, looking rather yellow as the blood drained from his face.

"What?  No...  Oh - shit."  He gave Spike a sick look and pushed over to his milk crate - climbed up and clicked his little mic on.  Donna was still staring and Spike snarled at her.  He knew what she'd told Silas: Xander was marked.  Marked as his.  She backed off, head down, and Spike began to push his way through the crowd as well, not being very careful of steel-shod toes or elbows.  Finally he broke through to the front and stood there, arms crossed.  Waiting. 

The Hixa came in first.  Tall and gangling and not passing for human.  A crest of scarlet spines sticking through dirty-blond hair and marching down his back, getting longer and thicker and then tapering off to nothing again at the tailbone.  Long, bare feet with curved claws - claws on the long, webbed hands.   A flat, reptilian face with a dusting of dull-copper scales down the human chest and shoulders.  The Hixa bounced slightly on the balls of his feet, spines lifting and lowering and a very lizard-like tongue flickering out, scenting the air.  Dusky skin streaked with blue and gold highlights from the neon flex, eyes a smoldering coal-red.

Then Xander walked into the ring.  No, Spike thought.  Not walked.  Skulked.  Sidled in, head down, green-gage eyes flashing, mouth set in a sulky, twisted smile.  Streaks of blue in his hair from the neon - dapples of blue and gold over his skin.  In the lurid light Xander looked like the living dead - his skin sheened with sweat and far too pale, and Spike growled in a fury of indecision. 

*Want him OUT of here, damnit - out of this fuckin' place.  Needs taken care of...*   But Xander needed to fight, too.  Needed it, as much as Spike needed him home.  The honey-musk of the hyena overpowered even the dry spice of the agitated Hixa, and Xander stopped dead halfway across the ring - lifted his head and scented the air, mouth open.  Then he gave a low, chuckling laugh - a guttural, eerie sound and the crowd called back approvingly.  The glittering eyes passed over Spike - hesitated - and then were locked on the Hixa and the fight - began.

Apparently, Silas was allowing weapons because Xander stepped right up to the Hixa, grinning, and lashed out with one of his lethally fast, pin-point punches.  Straight into the Hixa's face, and they all heard the crunch of fracturing cartilage.  At the same moment his left hand was going out, swiping low across the belly and the Hixa's skin was parting beneath the push-knife held in Xander's fist.  No viscera or intestines followed, and Spike concluded the Hixa had tougher skin than a human.  The crowd was roaring - stomping - and the shush of bare feet over cardboard was faint - Xander's heartbeat even fainter.  Over all was Silas' chanting voice, narrating the fight - egging the crowd on - the fighters.  *Bread and fucking circuses,*  Spike thought, and shivered.

The Hixa jerked back - circled left and came in fast, swiping with claws and tongue - a clever diversionary move.  Xander evaded - blocked - and swiped the push-knife through the air, catching the tip of the Hixa's tongue.  It made a high-pitched sort of squeaking noise and danced back, blood flowing over its chin.  The crowd shouted its approval.

Xander stalked it around the ring - hit it again and then again with his fist but it danced back too fast for him to connect with the knife.  It spun and kicked, managing to catch Xander's thigh and he jumped back, growling - bleeding from three long scratches, the jeans in rags around his thigh.    Spike growled as well and the Hixa shot him a single glance before crouching down and lunging.  This time Xander dodged completely and brought his elbow down sharply on the Hixa's back.  That seemed to be a vulnerable spot - it wailed and went down; two spines crushed flat midway down its spine.   With a snarl, Xander fell on it, knees in the Hixa's back and his right hand grabbing a handful of hair - yanking the head back high and hard.   His left hand swooped forward and the back of Xander's hand connected with the Hixa's throat - yanked left and this time, skin parted down to tendon and cartilage and a fan of arterial blood sprayed out over the cardboard.  Xander tipped his head back and shrieked - full throated howl of the hyena and the crowed roared back, jostling and jumping - shouting praise and cursing.   Keeping back of the duct-taped limits of the 'ring' with difficulty. 

Xander lowered his head - lowered the body to the floor and crouched over it - reached with the knife and Spike knew what would come next.  The hyena, going for liver and kidneys and heart.  Victory feast.   Spike saw something else, though.  Saw Xander's thighs trembling under him - saw his hand shaking as it poised the knife.  Saw the green luminescence of the hyena go out of Xander's eyes and the human - return.  Exhausted, heart-sick...on the edge. 

*No.  He doesn't fall, out there.  Doesn't lose it now.  They'll tear him to pieces.  Xander, love...time to come home.*   Spike stepped into the ring, walking slowly - hearing the crowd noise ebb and fall off - taper to a hushed and grumbling susurrus.   He walked to Xander and stood there, looking down at him, and after a moment Xander looked up.  Hand flat on the corpse of the Hixa, blood smeared up his left arm and soaking the tattered leg of his jeans.  The dark eyes came up and up until they met Spike's gaze and for a moment there was nothing there at all, and then Xander pushed - stood so, so slowly.  He held out his hand, fingers trembling, and Spike lifted his own.  The push-knife dropped into his palm and Spike shut his fist around it - dropped it into his pocket.  His blood-smeared hand went up again, to touch Xander's cheek and tug him close.  Spike kissed his forehead, tasting blood and sweat and misery.

"Come home now, rabbit," he whispered, and Xander sighed - turned and stepped slowly away, and Spike followed him.  Behind them, the crowd surged forward and the Hixa was dragged away.

Over in the little roped-off staging area, Xander shuffled slowly into his boots and shirt, the same he'd stormed out of the flat in.  They were crumpled and filthy - stank of old sweat and chemicals.  There was a pipe lying on a straight-backed wooden chair and Spike lifted it, the acrid stink of vaporized cocaine in his nostrils.  He dropped the pipe and crushed it, and Xander stood there for a moment - slowly pulled his

pea-coat on.  His red scarf dangled from the pocket and he pulled it out - held it, smoothing it in his hands.

"Won't come clean, if I wear it.  It'll stink of all this forever."  His voice was gone - a ragged thread that hurt to hear, and Spike took the scarf from Xander's hands and wrapped it carefully around his neck.

"I'll buy you new, love.  Or we can get it cleaned.  We'll fix it."  Spike pulled the hat and gloves out of his pocket then - shoved the gloves back away, because Xander's hands were too swollen and sore-looking - too ravaged by fights - to be forced into them.  He smoothed Xander's lank hair back from his forehead and tugged the watch-cap down snugly - buttoned the middle button of the coat.

"Trust me to fix it, love.  All right?"  Xander swayed a little - swayed into Spike and just stood there for a moment.  Then he lifted his head and kissed Spike's mouth - smear of blood and a drop of sweat - roughly chapped, cold.    *Missed you, rabbit.  Oh, I missed you...never let you go again.*

"All right, Spike.  All right," Xander whispered.  And they went home.