Dogs of War

Xander had never been this scared.  Even the night Buffy had died fighting the Master he'd had an idea in the back of his mind that everything was going to be okay.  And it had been.  But this - this was all wrong - this was all horrible.  He crouched in the far corner of Spike's crypt, listening to helicopters chatter overhead and trucks rumble up and down the roads; to gunfire, and screams, and shouted orders.  The Initiative - had made its move.  And Sunnydale was now under Martial law.

Fourteen days of hiding out and Xander knew it wasn't going to get better.  He'd had to flee the crypt when soldiers had rampaged through the cemetery, looking for demons and vampires.  He'd fled underground and had discovered an amazing labyrinth of tunnels and crawl-spaces and bolt holes.  Fighting was still going on; the demons weren't lying down and taking it, and neither were some humans.  Xander hadn't ever known anybody who'd owned a gun before - now he had three.   He'd also managed to steal some supplies left behind when a couple of soldiers had to make a run for it, and from a truck left unattended for too long.  Now he had a canvas backpack full of MRE's and more cached here and there Below.  He also had a radio that he could listen to.  It was all code - jargon - and his long-dormant soldier was waking up and taking charge.  He'd listen to the communications for hours; puzzling out what they were saying, monitoring what troop movement he could from various hidey-holes until he had a rough idea of schedules and routes - watch-lengths, detail sizes, that sort of thing.  He hadn't seen Buffy - he hadn't seen Willow.  He'd seen Tara, and she'd looked terrified.  Being led into the hospital with a half-dozen other people, in scrubs with her hair pinned up.   Working, that much was obvious, but doing what he had no idea.  He hadn't seen Oz or Spike, either.  He'd seen plenty of vamps and demons being dragged away in chains or unconscious, though.  He hadn't seen any of them coming back out of anywhere.

He thanked god that Giles had got out - was gone to England.  The Council had called him home two days before the siege - some emergency, some prophecy - and he'd reluctantly packed a bag and gone.  Now, Xander was sure the Council had had some advance warning and had pulled Giles out.  He had no idea why they hadn't done the same for Buffy, but he was bitterly sure that they hadn't cared for the 'rogue' Slayer who'd defied them at every turn.  Dawn and Joyce had been on a buying trip to Carmel for Joyce's gallery, and he hoped and prayed that the Council - that Giles - had got them to safety.  That the Slayer's mother hadn't been taken.  And Dawn - she wasn't even fourteen yet.  At night, curled up in a stolen sleeping-bag, his stolen M-16 clutched tight to his chest, he dreamed about them all.

Twenty-two days and he was going to try to talk to Tara.  He knew where she lived; in the school dorms, but a different floor, a new room.  He knew her schedule.  He hoped she would listen - wouldn't tell anyone.  He was so, so afraid.  And so lonely.  He hid at the Cross, where four tunnels met under an old church and listened to the muffled bells chiming the hours - ten and eleven and midnight and one, and then he moved out.

Almost two a.m., and Tara stumbled into her dorm, obviously exhausted.   Xander waited until she was at her door to say anything.  She had a room on the end and the fire door to the stairwell and alcove for the vending machine made a shadowy corner he could hide in.  The vending machine was dark - unplugged.  He waited until she had her key in the lock before he spoke.

"Tara?  Don't look.  Just pretend you're having trouble with your key."  Tara started and then froze, looking frantically around from under lowered lashes.  After a moment she started moving her key again.

"Z-zz...  Xander?  Is that you/"

"Fuck - yeah, it's me.  God, Tara -"   Xander stopped, holding his breath.  He was close to crying - close to losing it.  Tara took a deep breath, her hand shaking.

"Are you ah-all right?  Are you hurt?  Xander, you have t-t-to get in here."

"There's a camera.  It'll turn in a minute - scan the other side of the hall.  Just - go in and leave your door open a little, I'll get in."

"Okay," Tara breathed, and she unlocked her door - moved smoothly inside and pushed the cheap fiberboard almost closed.  Xander watched the camera - when it turned away he moved silently and smoothly, around the corner and through her door.  He shut it behind him and dropped into a crouch in case someone could see through the windows.  Tara stood unmoving at her desk and after a moment, glancing at him, she walked across the room and shut her curtains.  The only light was a small desk-lamp and Xander was sure no one could see a silhouette but he stayed low, just in case - crawled over to the foot of her bed and leaned there, shivering. 

Tara turned around and stared at him and then she dropped down as well and sat opposite him, just looking.  Xander couldn't help it - he reached out and hugged her, desperate for some sort of physical contact after so many days of being completely alone.    She hugged him back hard, and they both started shaking - crying a little.  It took them a few minutes to get themselves under control, and then they told their stories.  Xander told her about hiding out in the cemetery - in Sunnydale Below.  About stealing and sneaking and watching.  Tara told him about being tested - making sure she was completely human and then - since she had been taking some biology and some chemistry - they'd decided she was pre-med and sent her to work in the hospital.  She did little more than clean and help the nurses with meds and food, but she knew things Xander didn't. 

She knew, for instance, that the world outside of Sunnydale thought there had been some sort of biological attack - terrorists.  That the town was being evacuated and then sealed off, like Love Canal or that Time's Beach place in the mid-west.  She knew that the experiments that Dr. Walsh had started were still going on - were common knowledge, now, among the soldiers and support staff.    And she knew they had Buffy and Willow.

"What?  How?  Are - are they okay?" Xander asked, his heart pounding double-time and Tara shook her head, near tears again.

"I hear them talking.  The s-soldiers on guard get bored at night - they pu-play cards, try to - to talk to me.  One of th-them told me he liked being in m-my wing of the hospital better because the R-restricted wing gave him the c-c-creeps.  Witches and f-freaky super-girls in th-there he said.  And m-monsters."

"Fuck..."  Xander put his elbows to his knees and his head down on his crossed forearms, just thinking.  "Do you think - could you work over there?  In that Restricted place?"  Tara looked at him, and Xander realized what he was saying; all at once, realized what he was doing.   Or thinking of doing.   "We have to get them out, Tara.   We have to try.  There has to be - some way -"   Tara put her hand out, touching his arm.

"Okay, Xander.  Okay.  Listen, I can get away pretty easily.  You need to find the t-tunnel that goes under the hospital."  Tara scrambled to her desk and got a notebook - sketched a quick map, explaining as she drew.  The hospital basement was a maze, but if you followed the hallways left, always left and down, you'd come to the incinerator and the boiler rooms.  People who smoked took their breaks there on rainy days, and Tara had interrupted people shooting up, drinking, or having sex.  At that she blushed painfully red and looked away, her hand shaking.

"It's getting bad, Xander.  There are...  People are disappearing.  And - some strange stuff is turning up in the biohazard trash.  Those experiments Professor Walsh was d-doing, they're...they're still happening.  I'm afraid...  Xander, I think B-buffy is in there.  I think -"

"Fuck."  Xander gripped her hand tightly, not wanting to hear it but knowing, knowing what she was saying.  Buffy, somehow held captive - experimented on.  Being hurt, being...killed, maybe.  And that would mean Willow, too.  "Okay - Tara, okay...  I'll be around.  I know your schedule.  We'll figure something out."  Tara looked up at him, her eyes vast and wounded and exhausted, and Xander hugged her close, ruthlessly forcing his own tears back.  When he got back to his bolt-hole sometime near dawn, he buried his face under his stolen pillow and screamed until his throat was raw.

He spent then next two weeks watching, and he saw - many things.  He saw regular Sunnydale citizens being herded aboard trucks like cattle.   He saw fights go down between Initiative soldiers and demons and humans, and sometimes the Initiative won, and sometimes the others did.  He longed to try and contact someone - join up - but his inner soldier had come to full life now, and cautioned him against it.   The Slayer was too big a target - to infamous.  Anyone they joined with would either be too skittish to deal with it, or would want to work it to their own advantage.  Best to stay alone, the soldier advised.  And Xander, his heart aching, his soul withering from loneliness, did.



Sixty-eight days, and that was the day they found Spike, and Xander didn't think he would ever, ever forget it.  It was near dawn and they were hiding in the abandoned office building across from the hospital.  Tara and he had both heard rumors about something big going down - a mixed bunch of demons and humans were planning on storming the hospital, breaking prisoners out.  Xander wasn't sure how it would work, who would win.  But he wanted to be there just in case, with stolen guns and flares and some spells Tara had remembered: confusion and temporary blindness.  Anything to even the odds, and to maybe get a chance at seeing Buffy or Willow, or grabbing them.  There was sewer access in the building they were hiding in and Xander had told Tara that if it got ugly, or too crazy, they'd just run.  They wouldn't risk getting caught, not for any reason.

Tara had agreed; solemn and thin-looking, dressed in jeans and a too-large sweat-shirt, her pale hair caught back in a ponytail.  Xander had on his bits of scrounged and stolen Army uniform, with his too-long hair held back by a strip of leather and his hands so tight on the stock of his M-16 that they ached.   As they waited a truck pulled up - some sort of military transport - and a couple of soldiers hopped down, long cattle-prods in their hands.  They could see the truck was empty.

"Fuck - they're going to load people up in that," Xander whispered, his stomach churning.  If the attack would only start, maybe they could get whoever was being taken away into the Below - save them.  The ER room doors opened - more soldiers coming out - and then a line of...scarecrows.  Skeletons.  Xander felt the urge to vomit surge up in him and he clenched his teeth down tight.  A straggling line of ten or more - humans, from what he could see, dressed in ragged prison overalls.  Pale, too thin, manacled like they were on death row - shackles from ankle to ankle, chain from that to the shackles on the wrists, chain around the waist to keep the hands down and out of play. 

Then Xander blinked and looked closer and realization dawned.  Half the stumbling line was in game-face, and they all had bands of metal around their necks, like collars.  Vampires, oh fuck, and suddenly Tara made a tiny noise.

"Xander, it's Spike, oh god, it's Spike -"   And it was.  Near the end of the line, his finely-boned face smeared with dried blood and shadowed with bruises, shaven-headed and thin as a rail.  But still Spike, who stumbled from a rough shove and whipped around, snarling, game-faced.  The soldier lifted his gun and slammed the butt into Spike's temple and he went down in a graceless heap.

"Aw, man, now we gotta touch it -" a soldier started to say, and then everything exploded.  Or, at least that was how it seemed when Xander thought about it later.  Fire was raining down from the roof-tops - sentient fire that leaped from soldier to soldier, curling around faces and throats.  Demons that were some sort of cross between flying monkey and flying nightmare swooped hard after, dropping what looked like vials of glowing swamp-gas.  The vials burst and a sickly greenish fog began to rise, sending the soldiers reeling and choking.  Other figures began pouring in; more soldiers, responding to the panicked shouts going out over the radios, and more demons; lumbering hulks that reminded Xander of whatever Ethan had turned Giles into, a few months ago.  Sudden, ear-splitting chatter from automatic weapons and Xander saw humans - dressed in ragged clothes, all wearing ski-masks - descend on the ER, pushing through the doors.

"This is too hot for us.  We can't get in the middle of this...but - Tara..."   Xander turned and saw steel in Tara's look..  "Do that confusion spell, okay?  I’m gonna get Spike."  Tara bit her lip - reached into her backpack and pulled out something and nodded once.  She duck-walked with Xander to the door way - touched a pendent of amber and copper around her neck, eyes shut. 

"Close your eyes," she whispered, then she lifted a tiny wooden tube to her mouth and blew, hard.  Dust went over Xander, fine as silt.  He blinked - stifled a cough.  "They'll see an ally - it won't l-last long.  Be c-careful and go fast." 

Xander touched her shoulder and then he was running, dodging, working his way towards the last place he'd seen Spike.  The other vampires had run - a couple had been caught by the fire - and he stumbled over an Initiative soldier and then over one of the flying demons, cooling corpses on the asphalt.

*Where are you, where are you, where ARE you, damnit!*   Xander was getting frantic and then he saw him - orange cover-all shiny with dirt and old blood, torn over the knees and the chest.  Spike's face, bleeding and slack in unconsciousness.  Xander slung his rifle over his shoulder and grabbed Spike's hands - yanked him up and got him over his shoulder, the chain digging into his collar-bone and hurting.  He looked around once and then ran as fast as he could back to the office building and back to Tara, Spike too light and awkward over his shoulder, smelling of chemicals and iron.

He dodged through the doorway and Tara was chanting something - blowing more of that dust, and Xander stumbled and almost fell.  Tara snatched her backpack up from the floor and followed him as he made his way rapidly to the back of the building and down to the basement and then the access that was a grate in the floor.  He climbed carefully, shakily down, easing Spike to the floor at the bottom of the ladder and getting a match out - lighting a candle in a glass jar as Tara all but slid down the ladder, pulling the grate closed behind her.  The candle was another spell, reset by the simple action of lighting it.  It would keep anyone who came looking from looking twice, and Xander carefully put the candle under a little overhang where it burned dimly, a strange sort of reddish flame.  They were doing something to the Hellmouth, Tara had said.  Trying to open it, or seal it or just look at it, and magic was everywhere - was going wild.  She was doing spells that she'd never even thought to try before because the power was there for the taking.  But she was careful - anchoring each spell to a physical thing that could be destroyed or changed if need be.  No free-floating magic that relied on spirits or demons, just solid kitchen magic that packed an impressive, hell-born punch.

 Xander got Spike up again, fireman's lift, and they moved rapidly through the tunnels, going as fast and as far as possible in case the Initiative had some new weapon or way of detecting them.  In case the fight spilled into the Below.   Spike was unmoving - unconscious - until they were about a minute from the place Xander and Tara called the Hall.  Then he began to thrash weakly, making an inarticulate sound down in his throat; a sort of rasping noise that might have been no and might have been a growl.   Xander was tiring fast and he knew if Spike jerked around much more he might fall, or he might drop the vampire.  Tara sprinted ahead, leaving Xander to follow the faint glow of the will-o-the-wisp she had conjured.

"Almost there - it's okay - almost there," Xander chanted, feeling the spring-steel tension in the legs he held under his forearms, hands tightly gripping Spike's calves.   Xander could see light blooming ahead as Tara lit their two Coleman lanterns.  Just as he staggered into the Hall Spike twisted violently, making Xander lose his grip.  One bare foot kicked out, cracking hard into Xander's ribs and he winced - and Spike screamed, arching like a bow, the force of his reaction tumbling him from Xander's shoulder to the stone floor, sending Xander to his knees.  The chains clanked wildly as Spike flailed.  Then he was out again, blood trickling from his nose and his eyes, his skin gone a ghastly sort of greyish white.

*Fuck!  Fucking chip, it's stronger than it was, DAMNIT...*   Xander pushed himself to his feet and then Tara was there, taking Spike's calves.  Xander got him under the arms and they carried him to the table Xander had made out of an old door and two saw-horses.  It was where he ate and cleaned his guns and sorted through his stolen supplies and Tara had hastily cleared it and laid a blanket over the surface.  They stretched Spike out gently and Xander sank down onto two milk crates that were stacked to make a chair, panting. 

"He l-looks terrible," Tara whispered, staring at the vampire, and Xander had to agree.

"Yeah, he looks like shit.  Do you think - can you get blood, Tara?"  Tara looked at him, biting her lip, then she nodded.

"Yeah, I can.  Gimmie - gimmie about an hour, okay?  There's always stuff in the incinerator r-room that they're getting rid of."

"Okay.   Wait!"  Tara had taken three long strides away and now she turned back.  "Help me get these fucking chains off first, okay?  I mean -"   Xander gestured, and they both looked closely at Spike.  .  The cover-alls were filthy, looking like they hadn't been changed or washed in months.  Dirt and old blood streaked them, and other things he couldn't readily identify.  Where the shackles were around wrist and ankle were scars and livid, abraded flesh.  They had obviously been in place as long as the coveralls.  The waist-chain that kept his hands at his waist had rubbed holes in the dirty cloth and the skin Xander could glimpse underneath looked as raw as Spike's wrists.  And the collar.  Metal, snug-fitting, no obvious closure or lock.

"We've got to get this shit off of him, Tara."  Xander still felt ill.   His initial reaction to the straggling line of prisoners - the urge to vomit - was still twisting down in his gut and getting worse every minute he had to look at Spike and imagine...  Xander felt Tara's hand on his shoulder, squeezing hard, and he looked at her.  She was pale, but her mouth was compressed into a hard line, and there was fury in her eyes.

"Yeah.  I can - there's a s-spell.  Unlocking.  Put your g-gun and stuff over there 'cause it might make it come apart or something, I'm not sure."

"Okay."  Xander unburdened himself of the M-16 and side-arm that had become second nature and took his jacket off as well, feeling sweat down the back of his neck and between his shoulder blades, shivery in the cool damp of Below.   He stood next to Tara, watching as she put her fingers around the pendent she wore, humming something under her breath.  She took an old-fashioned skeleton key out of her backpack and mimed unlocking, holding the key over the locks on the chains.  There was a series of clicking noises and then the shackles sprang open with little metallic clinks.  They made short work of them, getting them off of Spike and tossing them aside.  The collar had come open as well, springing apart at the closure over his spine, the hinge over Spike's Adam's apple.   Xander curled his fingers around the softly bristled skull and lifted Spike's head so Tara could remove it.  He felt something under his palm but waited, wanting the collar off first.  Tara took it into her hand and then frowned.  "What is it?"

"It's like it's - s-stuck.  Hang on."  Tara looked closely at the collar and then blanched.  "Hold him still, Xander," she said, her voice shaking.  She took the end of the metal that lay flush against Spike's spine and pulled straight out.  The collar resisted and then pulled away from Spike's neck and four needle-tipped prongs, half an inch long, slid out of his flesh.  Xander swallowed and swallowed again and eased Spike's head back down onto the blanket, staring at the blood oozing out of the puncture marks.  Tara made a face of anguished disgust and threw the collar away from them, sending it clanging and skittering into a stack of boxes.

"Jesus Christ.  Tara, I - just..."  Xander grabbed her hand and held on and she squeezed back, breathing in hitching gasps.   After a moment she took a deep breath and straightened - let go of Xander's hand and wiped her face.

"Okay, b-blood -"

"Tara - there's..."  Xander touched her shoulder and then he carefully reached over and turned Spike's head so they could see - whatever it was - that was on his skull.  They both stared.  It was metal - dully silver - about the size of a quarter.  Smooth edges and a little depression in the flat top with a half ring of metal lying smoothly inside of it.  Like - a little ring, to pull up so...

"Fuck.  You know what that is?  That's like - like some kind of d-door.  Like on a remote so you can change the batteries.  The chip is under there, Tara.  What the fuck -"   Xander felt the nausea surge up in him again - surge and almost break and he turned away, gagging.


"Xander, it has - those are..."  Tara's voice chocked off and he spun around.

"What?  What is it?"

"Those are h-holy symbols.  They're - it's...  It's like having a c-cross there or holy w-water.  To keep his s-sskull from - healing..."  Tara looked as sick as Xander felt and he punched, blindly, into the wall, splitting his knuckles open but welcoming the pain as a distraction to his horror.

"God damnit.  Okay - okay.  We have to get it out.  It's hurting him, isn't it?  That's why - why their hands were shackled to their waists; so they couldn't reach up and -"   Tara was nodding, the steel back in her gaze and Xander took a harsh breath and looked at the thing - reached out and picked up the little half-ring.  It came up easily, like a handle, and he pulled gently.  The metal disk slipped out - half an inch thick, dragging a little skin and blood with it.  He threw it to one side, hearing it clatter away, and looked in revolted fascination at the hole *fucking HOLE, Jesus Christ* in Spike's skull.  At something - bruised and bloody looking, and the glint of more metal.

"Xander?  I think - that's the chip."  Tara was staring as well and she reached a shaky hand up and lifted down a lantern from its hook - held it close to Spike.  It was the chip, and the brain matter around it was dark and too rough-looking.

"What's the matter with him?  Why does it look like that?" Xander whispered.

"I think - it's scar tissue.  Xander - take it out.  Please take it out."  Xander turned to stare at Tara - at her set, furious features and the please in her eyes.  Xander closed his eyes, remembering Spike.  Remembering   Spike helping them.   Spike brain-storming with them about the Initiative and its growing presence - its repeated attempts to disrupt Buffy's duties - even kill her.   Spike enduring torture at the hands of a Hellgod.  Spike almost dying because he'd tackled Glory's minion Doc and rode him three stories down to the ground, enduring half a dozen knife wounds and nearly bleeding out while Buffy got Dawn free of her ropes and got her down off the tower.  Just in time to see Glory wither and die, her time over as surely as the time for the spell was over.   They'd all given him blood that day - straight from the tap, Xander had said, laughing shakily as Spike had stared at him, blue eyes darkened to plum, blood and dirt smeared over his face and his mouth cool and wet on Xander's arm, drinking.  Spike, who still patrolled with them, Spike who'd anonymously gotten money and presents and nurses to the Summers house when Joyce was so sick.  Spike, who just wanted a family - who had said so once, drunk on whiskey and pain the day after his fall, half out of his head and crying, dreaming he'd failed and that Dawn was dead.

*Yeah.  We have to.  But...what if we hurt him more?  What if...  Oh god.*   Xander nodded and crouched down so he could really see.  The chip was small - about the size of a fingernail - and there was a thin, rigid length of wire that extended up from it, looking like a miniature antenna.  Xander reached tentatively for it and grasped it between thumb and forefinger.  His fingers were slippery with blood from his bashed knuckles and he watched as a drop hung and then fell onto the exposed bit of brain.  Watched the blood sink away as if into a sponge.  He pinched the wire hard and tugged, and it slipped free easily.  He stared at it for a moment and the looked at the wound again.  There was something -

"It's like - a socket," Tara said quietly, somewhere over his shoulder, and Xander nodded. 

"Do you think - do we need to get that out, too?" he asked.

"I think - it's probably l-like a plug in a wall.   I think that - unless something goes in there, it's j-just empty."  Xander glanced at her and then motioned her nearer- tilted the lantern a little, looking closely. 

"Tara, what if we're wrong?  We'll never - have a chance to fix it..."  Xander stared for a moment longer and then he dragged the big first aide kit out from under the table - rooted through it for a moment and pulled out the pair of forceps that Tara had brought him.  They were small and slender, pointed on the end.  He'd needed them to get glass and wood splinters out of his hand.  He stared at them for a moment - looked silently at Tara, who finally nodded and held the lantern just so.  Very carefully, Xander reached into the wound and slid one side of the forceps down into the 'socket' part, and the other side between the smooth metal and brain-matter.  He slowly closed the jaws and then slowly, slowly pulled back.  Almost as easily, the second bit slid out, bloody and almost an inch long.  Tara was right; it was like a socket, with a matching 'antenna' at the bottom end.   He dropped it on the table next to the chip and stared hard into the wound, which was filling sluggishly with blood.

"I don't see - anything else.  I think that's all there is."

"I think you're right," Tara said.  Suddenly her hand was coming over Xander's shoulder, to hover over Spike and Xander saw that she had slit her thumb open.  The blood dripped down thickly over the wound and Xander watched Spike's body drink it down.  "I saw - what hap-happened.  I think he'll heal better if we d-do this," she said quietly.  After a minute the blood flow from her thumb started to dry up and Xander followed her lead, cutting shallowly into the ball of his thumb and watching the wound in Spike's brain fill with blood that was slowly absorbed away.  The brain matter already looked less bruised, and the skin around the edges of the hole was looking better.  Spike's head was smeared with blood over old dirt - a nasty mess.  The cut Xander had made stopped bleeding a minute later and Tara helped him to put a gauze patch on Spike's wound and tape it down tight.  Then he got a blanket and covered Spike up, and sat wearily down on the milk crates.

"I'm going to go get blood, and then I'll have to go back to my room.  I'll try to come back tonight, okay?"  Tara's voice was rough from emotion and exhaustion, and Xander felt rough, too.  Felt raw.

"Okay.  Thanks, Tara.  I couldn't have...  Thanks."   He smiled shakily at her and she leaned over and hugged him, tight embrace.

"Yeah...  I'll hurry," she whispered.  She reached into her pocket for the pebble that held the light-spell and breathed over it and it lit up, blue-white glow that would get her safely through the Below.  Xander watched her go and then got himself settled, monitoring Spike.  The vampire hadn't moved - still looked ashen - and Xander heaved himself to his feet and got a bottle of water and a roll of paper towels from his kitchen area.  He washed his own hands and then started to gently wash Spike's face, wincing when Spike's cheek bone moved under his fingers, obviously broken.  As he cleared the dirt and blood away he studied the vampire's face.  Still elegant, even in its gaunt state.  The old scar on his eyebrow looked raw, as if someone had re-opened it, and there were nicks on his scalp where the barber hadn't been careful shaving his hair.  The stubble was maybe an eighth of an inch thick and looked to be a medium brown, but it was hard to tell.  As Xander wet another towel and began to wipe Spike's neck, the vampire's eyes suddenly snapped open and he took a hard, wheezing breath, flinching away from Xander and staring wildly around him.

"Hey!  Hey, it's okay - it's okay!  Spike?  Spike, it's Xander.   It's - you remember?  Xander."  Spike heaved himself upright, scrabbling back until he hit the wall behind him and then he froze, eyes wide and blank - lost.   "Spike!  It's me- It's Xander Harris.  You're safe now - I got you away from the Initiative.  Well, me and Tara did.  We saw you up there -"   Xander gestured upwards and Spike followed the gesture, and then looked back at him, his expression puzzled. 

"You were - up there.  Outside of the hospital.  And then - all hell broke loose.  A bunch of demons and humans attacked and - Tara and I saw you and we grabbed you.  Got you down here.  You're in Sunnydale Below, you know?   The tunnels?  We're pretty close to the clock tower where the Gentlemen were, remember?  I - this is where I've been hiding out."  Spike just stared at him - looked down at himself finally, pushing the blanket away and rubbing tentatively at his wrists.  Then his hands flew to his head and he ripped at the bandage.

"It's okay!  Don't do that, Spike!  We took it out!  Look -"   Xander looked around frantically and saw the metal plug - snatched it up and held it out to Spike.  "See?  We got it out.  It's gone."  Spike's hands relaxed - moved slowly away from his head to his throat, brushing over the raw skin that had been under the collar.

"Yeah, that's gone, it's all gone.  We even...  Here, look."  Xander picked up the pieces of the chip and held them out, his hand shaking just a little.  "We took the chip out, Spike."  Spike just stared at him - stared at the chip and the plug that rested in Xander's palm.  His face twisted and the demon was there, eyes glowing and lips curling back in a snarl.  And he slapped Xander's hand, hard.  Slapped the Initiative hardware out of his hand and then his fingers were closing down on Xander's and he jerked him forward.  He looked at Xander's hand - at the red place where he'd slapped.  He put his fingers on Xander's forearm and deliberately scratched - deep and hard with nails that had grown out long.  Xander winced and hissed and jerked away and Spike's face went abruptly back to human.  He opened his mouth and tipped his head up - silently screamed to the rough stone ceiling, air scraping out of his throat in a shivery hiss.  Then he looked back at Xander - reached out and scratched him again and stared in fascination at the welling blood.  Xander twitched, frowning.

"It's out, Spike!  I'm not lying to you.  It's out, okay?  Wanna stop scratching me, please?  It fucking hurts.  And I'll probably get a fucking infection from your nasty claws."   Xander couldn't help grinning, and Spike was grinning back.  He jerked Xander close again and bent his head - licked the welling blood from Xander's forearm and for the first time Xander noticed how hard Spike was shaking.  He pushed his arm a little closer.

"Go ahead, then.  Tara's coming with blood - she'll be back soon.  Just - be careful."  Spike looked up at him, the same look in his navy-dark eyes as that day at the tower and Xander did the same thing he'd done then - reached out and cupped Spike's cheek, very gently.  And then they waited.



Seventy-two days and Spike looked less like a skeleton and more like heroin-chic.  The bruises were almost gone and his cheekbone had mended.  The raw flesh of ankles, wrists and throat was healing slower, but it was healing.  Xander was pretty sure there would be scars there for a while.  The hole in his head - and Xander had to grit his teeth every time he caught site of that square of gauze - was closing.   He looked better, but still not right.

Xander had stolen jeans from the discount store - it was still open but at irregular hours and he'd just gone in the broken back door and taken what he wanted. Aware, in a skin-crawling sort of way, that there were others there doing the same thing but trying not to see, hoping that would mean he wouldn't be seen.   Boots were harder - they had to fit - but Spike wasn't going anywhere just yet, so Xander left it for the moment.    Spike had already taken Xander's only black t-shirt, and it hung on his too-thin frame but he didn't seem to notice or care.  He sat cross-legged on the table, watching Xander eat, or strip a rifle down and clean it, or eavesdrop on the Initiative radio.  Every now and again he'd reach out and pinch, or pull Xander's hair.  Not hard.  Not mean.  Just - making sure.  Xander bore it with a crooked smile, letting him do it.  Spike still hadn't said anything; Xander wondered if he could.  The damaged brain tissue intruded into his dreams and he started talking just to cover the silence.  He told Spike everything that had happened - everything he'd seen, and done.  Told him all about Tara and what they suspected was happening to Buffy and Willow.  Told him about Giles and Joyce and Dawn and what he hoped had happened.

Spike just listened and watched, wary eyes socketed too deep in his face, the loss of his hair making the curve of skull and cheekbone and jaw more prominent - more elegant.  It made Xander think of the vaulting hollows of Gothic architecture; one of the many books he'd pored over in the library when demons had become too boring and Giles' lectures too convoluted to follow.   When Spike lay down on the table and slept - catnaps all through the day, getting his strength back - Xander couldn't help but reach out and rub his fingertips over the velvet nap of hair and arch of bone.  And Spike twisted a little, sending a screwdriver rolling over the table surface, making the bottle of warm, stolen soda Xander was drinking wobble a little.

Tara brought blood almost every day - brought news, as well.  Xander was too nervous to go Above again so soon, especially since the raid, and told Tara to stay away for a few days.   But she insisted that she was okay - her spells kept her hidden and she was careful.  Besides, Spike needed the blood.   It made Xander's heart pound and his stomach clench up tight when she came ghosting in and then ghosting back out, but he was grateful for her courage and her care.  Spike - offered up a shy and crooked smile and Tara found him books, and another blanket.

Eighty-three days and Spike was restless.  Mostly healed except for the scars, he slipped away one night while Xander was sleeping and came back with blood down his chin and a new pair of boots and Xander knew he'd had a soldier or two.  But he couldn't make himself care and every time he looked at the sunken twist of scar tissue that had been a hole in the back of Spike's skull he could put the soldier's deaths behind him more easily.   After that Spike went out every night, and when Tara brought him more blood he just shook his head, telling her no.  He'd learned some secrets, Xander could tell, about what the soldiers could and couldn't do - some tricks, and some hard-won, first-hand knowledge of their weapons and he was using that knowledge to full effect. 

He still couldn't talk much at all and Xander had noticed that he limped if he had to run or walk too far - that the occasional notes he wrote were difficult to produce.  His once-fluid hand, that had manipulated bottle or cigarette or knife or pen with ease was now crabbed and cramped and not entirely under his control.  It made Spike furious but Xander was pretty sure that would fix itself eventually.   Spike was already making noises - trying to force words out past clenched teeth and tangled tongue.

The ninety-third night he came back early - woke Xander with a hard shake and drug him, stumbling and swearing, out of the dead-end tunnel Xander had claimed as a bedroom.  Spike had claimed it, too; he slept curled into Xander's blankets whenever Xander wasn't in them, and sometimes when he was, and Xander had gotten used to the iron-earth-cinnamon smell that seemed to just be the vampire. 

The lantern was lit in the Hall and someone was standing there - someone Xander knew.  Spike pushed him forward with an impatient snarl and Xander just gaped for a moment.

"Wesley?  Is that - you?"  Buffy's old watcher, looking dapper and too military in an English Army officer's uniform.  Wesley took a step forward, hand out.

"It's me, Alex...  Xander.  William brought me here."  Spike snarled at that - snatched something from the table and shoved it into Wesley's face, and the man recoiled.  It was a big, chisel-ended nail and Xander had to grin.

"He's Spike, not William.  Get it?"  Wesley eyed the nail - it had something on it that might be blood -looked at the scarred, furious creature growling less than a foot from him and nodded, eyes wide.

"I - get it.  Spike brought me here.  I - recognized him from....  Well, from Initiative tapes and...  I had to speak to him.  And to you."  Spike flung the nail, sticking it into the slats of a wooden crate.  His expression said quite clearly that he didn't trust Wesley one bit.  Xander didn't know what to think

"Git," Spike rasped, the word slurred but clear enough and Wesley ducked his head a little and then looked up at Xander with a slight frown on his face.

"I'm - not here as a member of the Initiative, although they believe I am.  They've made me a Lieutenant in a special branch - Occult Liaison, if you can believe it.   They seem to finally realize they've gotten in over their heads."  Wesley looked at Spike and dipped slow fingers into an inner pocket, pulling out a slip of thin paper - something close to tissue.  Something easily destroyed.  "Read this before you say anything to me, please."  He handed it over to Xander who took the tissue carefully - went over to the lantern that Spike had put on the table and tilted the paper to the light.  Spike sidled up close to him, leaning into his side and looking as well and Xander shifted so they could both see.  The handwriting was as familiar as his own - Giles' tiny script that he'd seen a thousand times or more.


"Xander.  Wesley is working for us - for the Council.  He's trying to coordinate a rescue.  You may or may not know that the Initiative has taken Buffy and Willow hostage, as well as a number of others.  We are doing our best to get them out through normal channels but Professor Walsh is stalling.  We - fear for them.  Joyce and Dawn are safe here, in England, as is Oz - he made it out in wolf form three days after the lock down.  We have several operatives in place who have seen and reported your presence as a free agent in the resistance.  We also know that Tara is there, but we have not been able to contact her.  We are uncertain about Spike but assume the worst; our last intelligence concerning him was not hopeful.   Please - do everything you can to assist Wesley - we hope to have our intelligence organised within the next two to three weeks, and will be affecting an attack if at all possible.

To prove that Wesley is to be trusted and that you can be sure this is the real Rupert Giles:  Joyce says to remember the secret ingredient to her hot chocolate is NOT something sweet.   I remind you of a night during that dreadful summer that Buffy was gone when I let you get drunk and you told me that you loved her.  And Dawn begs to add, in case, for Spike to remember the night in his crypt after Glory had hurt him, and how she tried to convince him to run away with her.

Please be careful, and guard yourselves well.  Wesley has things to tell you which will explain our haste.



Xander read the note through twice - finally took a long, long breath that came back out shaky - almost a sob.  He felt Spike's hand on his back, petting him softly for a moment and then he straightened and turned to Wesley, crumpling the tissue.  Spike plucked it out of his hand and fed it into the lantern, watching it burn.

"Okay.  I - believe you.  We believe you."  Spike nodded and leaned back against the table, arms crossed over his chest.  Xander noticed that he had a bruise on his arm and blood down one thigh of his jeans, but he decided to ignore it for the moment.  "So what's going on?  What are you doing?"

Wesley glanced around and then settled gingerly on the crates Spike had flung the nail into.  They were painted olive-drab and were full of ordnance; rocket launchers and rounds for the rifles, C-4 and grenades and even some nerve-gas, or tear-gas.  Something, but Xander hadn't messed with those much.  He's stolen them one at a time from the ammo dump behind the courthouse. 

"We had to infiltrate," Wesley began.   "We had some people here already - the Initiative had been moving in on the Hellmouth for some time and when the Council found out about it, almost a year ago, they began to try to...dissuade your government from interfering here.  Unfortunately, a group of old Englishmen who chase vampires and demons wasn't very well received, as you can imagine."  Wesley smiled thinly and Spike made a sort of snorting noise, agreeing.    "So we did our best.  We planted some Watchers in with the soldiers and the faculty, and have been keeping track of what the Initiative were doing.  That was how we managed to get Giles out in time to avoid the coup."

"What about Buffy?  And Willow?  What about - anybody?  Why didn't you get us all out, if you knew already?"  Xander fought to keep his voice steady but the anger was surging up hard.  He crossed his arms, his fists balled tightly against his ribs, trying not to lose control.

Wesley looked unhappy, but resigned.  "We - couldn't get visas for anyone.  Your government was being obstructive and we feared that if we merely removed Buffy or - anyone - from the city but not the country we would be facing an international incident.  After what happened in New York -"   Wesley made a helpless sort of gesture with his hands and Xander considered that for a moment.  He knew that after the attack in September, things had changed with the Initiative.  Riley had been around less, and tension had been high.  The threat of terrorists had been everywhere.

"New York, in fact, made it easier for them.  They had an excuse, finally, to go into a full state of Martial Law - and to be above suspicion when they did it.  While we were trying to get visas for you and move you out of the country, they were manufacturing all kinds of evidence to show that terrorists were at work here.  Their façade is really quite seamless, it's utterly fascinating -"   Wesley seemed ready to go off into some sort of tangent and Xander brought him sharply back to the subject.

"So, what now?  What's happening that suddenly made this critical?  What's the Initiative planning on doing?"   Wesley shifted on the crates, his fingertips going out to brush the nail Spike had thrown. 

"The Initiative has decided that, via the Hellmouth, they can - obliterate hell dimensions.  And the demons in them.  They are planning to make some sort of controllable - gateway - at the Hellmouth and use it as a - a jumping-off point to exterminate all non-human life that they find."  Spike was growling, an unnervingly deep rumble that made Wesley blink rapidly, nervous.  Xander risked uncurling a hand and reaching to lightly stroke Spike's bicep and the vampire shuddered.  But the growl subsided a bit.

"So the Initiative's gonna go all 'Stargate' on us, huh?  Don't they understand what opening the Hellmouth will do?  Don't they get why Buffy's here?  Aren't you telling them?"  Xander throttled his voice back down from the shout it had risen to and Wesley stood up, pacing in a little, uneven circle.

"Of course we've told them!  We've shown them - done everything we could!  They are stubborn - and fanatical - and Professor Walsh believes that she can..."  Wesley stopped, biting his lip, then he sighed and turned to face Xander - took a step towards him.

"This is going to be very hard to hear, Xander.  Please understand that for the last three months we've been doing out best to derail Walsh's plans.  And trying everything in our power to get Buffy and the others out.  But...  It seems that an all-out assault is the only way we're going to stop them."

"Stop them from making a Hellgate?  Or from - something else?"  The expression on Wesley's face was making Xander nervous and he shifted - felt Spike lean into him a little, comforting weight, and he tried to relax.

"Professor Walsh believes that she can...breed an ultimate soldier.  Like Adam, only one that won't - turn on its creators.  She believes that she can use Buffy's genetic code to -"

"Stop!"  Xander turned away from Wesley, slamming his fists down onto the table behind him, shutting his eyes and trying to shut down his mind.  But he couldn't.  Tara had told him - strange things were turning up in the incinerator room.  Things that looked very much like fetuses.   And he had seen for himself the piles of distorted, unfinished looking demon corpses being hauled away on flatbed trucks to be burned somewhere in the city dump.    The unease - the suspicion - that had been growing about all this was now being confirmed and he didn't want to know - oh god, he didn't want to know.

"Xander - I must tell you.  Walsh is trying to make something to fight anything that gets through the Hellmouth.  Something with enough humanity that it will...fight on their side.  Something with a Slayer's strength and...instincts."

"Oh, god -"   Xander shook his head and Spike's fingers brushed over his knuckles, rapid caress.  Then Spike snarled something unintelligible at Wesley and the man gasped.

"I - alright.  I'll stop.  But they've got Ethan Rayne, Xander.  They've kept the man drugged half out of his mind and are making him construct this - this 'Hellgate'.  They're using Willow, as well.  Drugging her to make her willing." 

"Oh fuck..."  Xander turned around finally, leaning back on the table again - leaning into Spike.  Taking comfort from the only thing he could - the only thing from his old life. 

"I've managed to see what sort of magics they're using - and what sort of spells they're constructing."  Wesley took another step forward, his eyes wide behind his glasses, his face a mask of anger and sorrow.  "They're having them work the problem from two different ends - separately - and while it may look good to the untrained eye...  When those two sets of spells collide, Sunnydale is going to be a hole a kilometer deep and a portal a kilometer high and we able to close it.  They're going to end the world with this, Xander, and we - are doing our best to stop them."

When Wesley had gone it took everything Xander had not to break down into a screaming, wailing tantrum.  He wanted to cry - he wanted to hit something - he wanted to end something and god, god, it was so hard.  He couldn't.  He couldn't.  He had to be quiet, had to stay out of sight.  He couldn't run screaming, shooting, kicking - shredding every person in his path.   Which was what he wanted to do.  He tried to clean his rifle but his hands were shaking so hard he couldn't do it and finally he shoved the whole mess aside and sank his head into his hands - fisted his hair and pulled it and rocked a little, his back so tight with tension it ached.  He almost jumped out of his skin when Spike's hand touched the back of his neck and he whipped around, teeth bared, doing his best to snarl.  Spike was just standing there, jeans and boots and too-large shirt, this smirky little smile on his face and he put his arms up - did that little 'come hither' gesture that  Morpheus had done in The Matrix and Xander felt his lips skin  back from his teeth.  A fight was exactly what he wanted, and he knew he could break himself on the whipcord and bone that was Spike and not have to worry about going too far.

When it was over, and Spike had a black eye and a big bruise on his collarbone and Xander had a split lip and bashed knuckles and aching ribs, Spike pushed him down flat onto his cot and crawled in beside him - fitted himself over and around Xander in the tight space and pushed his face into the sweat-damp hollow of Xander's neck and sighed, content.  Xander wrapped his arms around Spike's ribs and rubbed his chin slowly over the prickly-soft hair on the crown of Spike's head.  He heaved his own sigh, closed his eyes, and slept.



One-hundred and nine days and Xander was in the little alcove that they'd made into a shower; jerry-rigged pipes filching water from the city, very carefully.  Stolen water-heater that didn't use a tank, just heated the water as it came through.  Bottle of gel-soap 'cause a bar was too messy - no shampoo 'cause there wasn't enough room, or time.  Long showers drew notice.  He stripped out of sweat-damp clothes, tossing them aside.  He'd been Above, looking around, pretending to be a part of a press-ganged detail that was checking empty buildings for squatters.  It was warm Above, and sunny, but it had seemed surreal and too bright - too exposed - and Xander had had to force himself to stay up there for five hours, slipping away before they'd all been herded onto a bus.  The soldiers were getting overconfident, at least in the daytime.  There hadn't been any more big raids, and the civilian population that was left had no fight - no desire to be hurt.  They did their tasks and went back home and drew their rations and seemed - to accept.  They were slowly being processed out, and Xander knew they were getting some sort of story - some sort of proof nightly on the one Initiative-controlled TV station that was all that was left broadcasting in Sunnydale.  And the soldiers goofed around more - joked and played poker and listened to music and got friendly with some of the civilians.  Traded cigarettes and candy and condoms for cached alcohol and hand jobs behind the scorched deuce-and-a-half permanently parked outside the defunct Espresso Pump. 

The soldiers were easy to fool, anymore - easy to out-wit or out-talk.  These guys weren't hard-core Initiative; they were just regular Army, most of them under 21 and all of them cocky and uncaring.   The Initiative boys - the special teams that Riley and his crew had run - only came out at night and they were too vicious for Xander to deal with.  But Spike dealt, just fine.

Xander turned the water on - you had to use a wrench, but it was easy - and let the water sluice the sweat and grit off of him; the stink of fear and abandoned buildings and the cafeteria-style stew they'd been dished for lunch.   He got a palmful of soap and scrubbed briskly, head to heels, and as he turned to rinse his back he saw a glimpse of something pale down the tunnel.

*Spike?  Yeah - going to get something to eat, maybe.*   He shrugged and finished rinsing - grabbed the wrench and shut the water off and then dried slowly with a stolen hospital towel.  It was scratchy, and smelled faintly of must and bleach. 

*Need to see if Tara can smuggle these into the laundry - get us some new ones.*  He pulled on a worn pair of camo pants - grimaced in disgust but jeans stood out too much - and was turning to find his socks when Spike - was suddenly there, watching him.

"Jesus, Spike!  Stop my heart, one of these days."  Spike tipped his head a little to one side, his eyes narrow, and then he took two fast strides forward and put his hands on Xander's hips - shoved him back hard into the tunnel wall and followed until Xander was pinned there, Spike pressing against him from the waist down.  Xander put his hands on Spike's biceps, just lightly holding.

"Spike?" Xander asked, and Spike just looked at him.  Spike had nightmares, sometimes - less often when he shared the cot with Xander.  Spike startled easily and lashed out with hard, pin-point punches if you crept up on him or made noise when he wasn't expecting it.  Xander had learned to duck, but he'd also learned that sometimes Spike just needed to touch, and that was all right. But this felt...different.

Spike's hands slid slowly up from Xander's hips, smooth and chill on his water-warmed flesh.  The muscles in his arms flexed under Xander's fingers like snakes under satin and Xander felt a shiver go through him.  Spike pressed his palms lightly over Xander's chest and then slid his hands up further, to curl around Xander's throat.  His fingers wove through the hair at the nape of Xander's neck and he leaned forward until they were forehead to forehead.

"Ss-aaann..." he rasped, closest he could get to Xander's name just yet.  His breath was cool, tinged with smoke and cinnamon.  "Sssaan."

"What?  What is it, Spike?" Xander whispered, because this felt - this was different, this was - intense and nothing like the casual way Spike would lean into him as they listened to the radio - nothing like the petting he would unconsciously do while Xander cleaned some weapon or haltingly wrote down his observations for Wesley.  Spike would sit cross-legged on the table and smoke and card his fingers through Xander's hair and sometimes Xander would just lean there and rest.

"I...n-nee...d..."  Spike's voice was shaking - Spike's hips were moving a little, pressed tight to Xander's, their chests just touching, t-shirt soft as flannel against Xander's bare skin.  Xander could feel what Spike needed - could feel the hard length of the vampire's cock pressed into his thigh and he felt his own body react - felt his own cock filling, responding without conscious thought or effort.  Spike pulled back just a little and his eyes caught the light from the Hall like a cats - his face was tight with strain and frustration as his mouth worked but no words came out.  Then Xander leaned forward and kissed him.

Soft, cool, wet - tasting of cigarettes and cinnamon and blood, teeth small and sharp, tongue clever and slick.  Xander sighed into Spike's mouth and tipped his head a little - let one hand drop to Spike's jean-clad hip and pull him closer.  Spike was shivering under his hands - gasping for breath and then plunging back in, his fingers tight in Xander's hair and these low, soft groans vibrating up out of his chest.

Xander's whole body was leaping - thrumming - sparking to every touch and movement and sound that Spike made and he couldn't get enough breath, enough contact, enough anything.   *God, oh god....*   Xander shifted, opening his thighs, pulling Spike in hard against him and Spike broke away, gasping, his hands slipping free of Xander's hair, his arms winding fiercely around his ribs, almost hurtfully tight.  He was mouthing Xander's neck - his jaw - and Xander got his own fingers up under Spike's t-shirt and scrabbled over that cool-silk flesh, mapping bones and muscle.  His own mouth found the fading scar of the collar on Spike's throat and he kissed and licked and soothed, wishing he could burnish it away with his lips.

Then Spike's mouth was back on his, pushing and licking and tasting and taking and oh fuck, Xander wanted to give in, wanted to give him something - give him everything.

"Xander?  Are you here?"  Wesley's voice and Spike twitched and then he was pulling away, his head on Xander's shoulder and his ribs heaving under Xander's arms - his hips still moving.  Xander rapped his head back against the tunnel wall.

"Bloody fucking hell," he whispered fiercely, and Spike's head came up and he was grinning, his eyes sparkling in the dimness, laughing almost silently.  "Yeah, you think that's funny?"  Xander grabbed two handsful of muscle and thrust hard, once and twice and three times and Spike's head went back and his eyes fluttered.  He made a tiny little mewl of pleasure and Xander nipped hard at the curved length of his throat.

"I'm just getting out of the shower, Wes, be right there!" he yelled.  Spike took a step back - put his hands gently on either side of Xander's face and kissed him on the forehead.

"K-keep," Spike whispered, and then he was gone down the tunnel, opposite direction, and Xander knew he'd come into the Hall from a different tunnel.

*Does that mean - this'll keep?  Or- he'll keep me, or -*    Xander thumped the wall once in frustration and then he shook his head.  Gotta get moving.  Hastily he snatched up a t-shirt and pulled it on - grabbed socks and boots and the camouflage overshirt that said 'Waters' and 'U.S. Army' on it and walked briskly up the tunnel to where Wes was waiting, examining the notes he'd been working on the night before.

"Xander!  Excellent.  I've got wonderful news.  One of our operatives had a break today, and she managed to get a prisoner out.  She's going to be here in -"   Wesley squinted at his watch.  "In ten minutes or less."

Xander's heart leapt in his chest and he stumbled, then sagged down onto the milk crates, dropping his boots.

*Prisoner - Buffy?  Willow?  Oh god -*   Spike suddenly appeared, cat-footed, behind Wesley and snapped his fangs at the man and Wesley squeaked and jumped, frowning.  Spike eased up onto the table and his booted foot brushed Xander's knee, sending a little tingle of sensation shooting up Xander's leg.

"Who - who is it?  How - what -"   Wesley smiled suddenly, his whole face opening up and his eyes sparkling.   He looked - ecstatic.

"I'll explain.  It was chance, pure chance.  Xander - we've got Willow."

Xander felt like he'd been punched - like he'd missed the last step.  Giddy and breathless.  "Oh god!  How?  How did -"

"It's really bloody amazing!"  Wesley looked like he wanted to jump up and down with glee and Xander couldn't keep the huge smile off his own face.   "One of our operatives has been monitoring the progress of the spells.   You'll remember I told you that they've been using drugs to assure Willow's cooperation?"  Xander grimaced - nodded - hating to think of his Wills drugged and helpless.

"Our operative informed us they were moving Willow - new rooms closer to Ethan Rayne.  They've some idea to have them work together, apparently.  She informed us of the move and we were able to launch a small diversion.  The Initiative will have conflicting reports of Willow being taken east and south."  Wesley put his hands together behind his back and paced, grinning.  "Of course, in an hour or so they'll uncover the truth - Willow was actually taken north with a convoy of escapees.  When in reality, she'll be here.  Right under their noses."  Wesley looked so please that Xander hated to say anything, but he had to.

"But - isn't that dangerous?   I mean - couldn't they do a spell and -"

"They can't, actually.  What they've done, with the Hellmouth...  Magic is getting very, very risky here.  Small spells like that have become almost useless - like trying to listen to a radio in the middle of a concert.  Too much - background noise."  Wesley looked at his watch again.

"S-spike, if you - hear anything, please...inform us?  I'm not sure how well Willow is right now.  I know that our operative kept at least one dose of the medication away from her today, perhaps two.  She'll be more clear-headed, but she'll also be suffering the beginnings of withdrawals."    Spike nodded shortly at the Watcher, and then they simply waited, tense and on edge now that the good news was broken.  After what seemed an eternity, Spike suddenly lifted his head and then pointed, and Wesley moved forward briskly, going down a corridor that eventually led to the hospital.  Xander got up to follow and Spike rose, as well - reached out and touched his arm.  Xander stopped - turned to look at him.

"What is it?" he asked, and Spike smiled at him - leaned in close and kissed him, brush of his lips lightly over Xanders.

"Don't...fff-rr-get," he whispered.  Xander let his hand come up, and delicately ran his fingertips along Spike's cheekbone and jaw.

"There's no way, Spike.  No way I could forget."  Spike grinned, and nodded towards the corridor, and they both went to meet Willow.



One-hundred and seventeen days.  Willow was - better.  Whatever drugs they'd been giving her had caused some sort of damage.  Temporary the operative - and Wesley - had assured them.  Temporary but frightening, and Xander had hated to see his Willow sitting blank-eyed at his jerry-rigged table, swaying slightly, humming to herself.  Just gone, and the operative - a short, fierce Latina woman named Alvera - had told them that Willow had deliberately cut herself off - retreated from the horror of her captivity into her own mind, and it would take time for her to come out of that, as well.  Xander understood that, but it made him sad and angry and frightened to actually see it.   On the third day Alvera had left, back to the fight, and Tara had come for good.  She'd held Willow and wept, rocking her, and Willow had smiled a little and looked away, and that was that.  Tara talked to her every day - sang and read and just babbled on about this and that and nothing at all.  Xander actually kind of liked it - it was somehow comforting to hear her.  Spike seemed to like it, too.  He brought books for Tara to read aloud, and he helped her with Willow; holding the thin, pale body when it thrashed in the grip of nightmares, or the lingering throes of withdrawal.  Willow talked now - simple, childish sentences, and endless questions, but she was coming back to them, and that was all that mattered.    The Initiative had cut Willow's hair - easier to deal with, Xander supposed - and she had about two inches of deep-red fluff that stuck up in tufts and cowlicks.  Tara would brush it every night, and Willow would close her eyes and fall asleep.   

Spike's hair had grown out as well - grown long enough to curl wildly all over his head in a honey-brown tangle that reminded Xander of a rumpled hedge-hog.  But it was soft - so very soft.  Xander couldn't resist touching it, and he found himself petting Spike's hair at every opportunity; just running his fingers through and through it, mindless caress.  Spike would lean into him and go bonelessly limp, most of the jangle and tension that he habitually carried going out of him.  In that state he looked about seventeen and Xander found himself wondering what human-Spike had been like.  He never asked, though.        

Wesley made it a point of coming down almost every day - how he got away Xander wasn't sure, but from comments Wes made Xander was pretty sure that the Initiative still thought of it's English liaison as a bit of a joke, and wasn't keeping tabs on him.  Three weeks after Willow had been rescued, he had more news.

"We've settled it.  We're going to come in at first light, two days from now.   We've got two companies of the SAS on their way as we speak.  Four hundred of the finest Special Forces in the world."  Wesley wasn't grinning this time - he was deadly serious.   Tense and thin and he took one of Spike's cigarettes and smoked it, cupping his hand around the cherry and looking as if he hadn't slept in a week. 


"They're going to take out whatever units of the Initiative are left - they're going to secure the labs and the hospital and then...  You're going to have to be very careful, Xander.  We're arranging for a special unit to come to you and get all of you out.  Wil - erhm, Spike?  It's up to you if you - decide to go with them, or not.  They'll be going directly to England."  Wesley had a strange look on his face as he said it - as if he expected Spike to be upset.  Spike just shrugged, cross-legged on the table and his knee lightly pressing into Xander's bicep.  Later though, when they were lying on the cot and Spike's hand was rubbing slowly over Xander's belly, Xander had to ask.

"You gonna come with me?  To England?" Xander whispered, his lips against Spike's hair, and the hand stilled for a moment and then started again, slow caress that dipped lower every other minute or so.

"Want m-me?" Spike breathed, and Xander pulled him over, kissing him hard and running possessive hands under Spike's shirt - rocking his hips up against the denim-clad ones that pressed so urgently down.  They didn't dare sleep nude - didn't dare actually do what they wanted to do, and it was hard.

"Yeah.  Want you.  Come with us, okay?   Come with me."

"Yeah..."  Spike breathed, mouthing Xander's throat and digging his fingers into Xander's back.  Xander wrestled with buttons and zip until they were half-naked, rubbing together, hitching glide of sweat-slick skin.  Biting Spike's lips to keep from crying out, shuddering and arching up and just needing it - needing the skin-on-skin and the weight of the vampire.  Needing the heat of the friction and the tiny, mewling cries that told him Spike needed it just as much as he did.  They writhed together, straining towards the peak, gasping harshly and then the shuddering, frenzied climax that left them both limp and panting.   The tidal scent of it was thick in the air and Spike hooked a ragged t-shirt off of the crate by the cot and cleaned himself up - wiped Xander down as well and followed with kisses and darts of his tongue, arching into Xander's sleepy, lazy petting.  They both zipped and buttoned and curled around each other and it was Tara's insistent, panicked whisper that woke them a few hours later.

"Xander - wake up!  Wake up!"  Tara was crouched just out of arms-reach, the wisp-light dim and eerie in her hand.  Spike startled upright, hissing, and Xander caught at him and held him still.

"What is it?  Tara?"

"Someone's down here!" Tara whispered, and they all froze at the shuffling scrape of feet down the corridor and panting breaths.  Spike was up and off fast, his bare feet silent, his skin catching the bluish glow of the wisp for a moment and then he disappeared into the gloom.  Xander cursed softly, struggling out of the blanket and after him.  There was a growl - a shriek - and a moment's scuffle.  And then -

"Light!" Spike rasped, and Tara was there, blowing gently on the pebble so that the light would flare up brighter.  Xander saw Spike, demon-faced, holding something that cringed away - holding a figure...  Human, female, dark blonde hair.   Xander though his heart had stopped for a moment, and then it pounded so hard he felt dizzy - felt like he might throw up.

"Buffy?" he whispered, and the figure turned to him, a crooked, shaky smile and the wet streaks of tears.  And a body bowed and heavy, rounded with pregnancy.  Nearly to term, but the looks of it.

"Oh, god - Xander?  Xander -"   And she broke down in sobs.


*Jesus - JESUS!  What in hell are we gonna do?  How - she wasn't -*   Xander didn't know what to think - couldn't form a coherent thought let alone sentence, and he helped Buffy down the corridor to the Hall, dazed.  She walked slowly, panting, one hand under her belly and the other gripping Spike's arm bruisingly tight.  They settled her carefully on the stacked crates and she sighed in relief, leaning back against the wall.  Tara brought her a blanket, tucking it around her and Xander got their little Coleman stove lit, starting a pot of coffee.

"Buffy - are you in pain?" Tara asked softly, and Buffy just looked at her for a moment and then laughed softly.

"I'm...  I don't even know how to answer that, Tara," she said finally, her voice cracked and wobbly.  "Physically I'm - I've been better."

"Not right," Spike said, touching her belly, and Buffy flinched a little. 

"No, it's - it's not.  I...wasn't pregnant a month ago."  She stopped and put her hand to her face for a moment - heaved in a hard, wet breath.  When she spoke again her voice was thick with tears and revulsion - trembling with fear.  "It's one of Walsh's - experiments.  It's the - the fifth...time..."  Buffy buried her face in her hands, keening softly in distress and Tara shot one wild, horrified look at Xander and was gathering Buffy into her arms, shushing her and crooning to her, telling her it would be all right. 

Xander didn't realize he was crying - shouting - until Spike stepped between him and the stack of crates, stopping him from punching them again and folding him carefully into his arms.  Then Xander felt the wetness on his face and the rawness of his throat and he held fiercely onto Spike, gasping for breath.  Feeling sixteen again and watching Jesse collapse into dry, lifeless dust.

*Fuck, fuck, what're we gonna do, what?  So fucking...sick, it's...  God, Buffy...*   Xander finally got himself under control - straightened up and wiped his face - sheepishly took the paper towel Spike held out and blew his nose.  Then Spike leaned in and kissed him on the corner of his mouth while his fingers just gently stroked his ribs and Xander heaved a huge, steadying breath.   He caught Spike as he eased away and kissed him back, feeling a curling little spark of heat in his belly at the small, pleased smile that crossed Spike's face.  Then they both turned to face Buffy again.

She was still bent over, with Tara still talking to her, but she seemed to have stopped crying and was just there, bowed over in misery.  Tara plied her with paper towels and a bottle of water and Buffy finally sat back up, her face red and her eyes swollen.

"Sorry - sorry, guys."

"Don't, Buff," Xander said softly, and she sniffed and half-smiled and pushed her hair back.  They hadn't cut her hair at all - in fact it had grown out of any style and was lank and dark, stringing around her face.  Spike lit a cigarette and then crouched down beside Buffy, his face a mask of anger.  He carefully touched her belly again, butterfly-light, and Buffy watched him.

"How - f-five?" he asked finally, and Buffy shuddered.

"I lost them.  M-miscarried.   At first I was - sad, but - I saw the last t-two.  They were...  She's trying to mix human and demon...genes.  It - doesn'"  Buffy took a drink of her water and looked at Tara for a moment - looked at Spike again, her pale face thin and ghostly in the low light, her eyes sunk and dark.  Tara's hand was in hers and Xander saw Tara flinch just a little as Buffy unconsciously squeezed.

"They were - wrong, they were...monsters."  Spike looked up at her and finally nodded - stood fluidly and walked away, easing up onto the table and folding his legs up.  Buffy watched him go and then turned her gaze back to Xander, a tiny smile curling the corner of her mouth.

"I guess - you've got a lot to tell me, huh?" she said, and Xander nodded and sat down at her feet, and told her.



One hundred and eighteen days and Wesley came into the Below wide-eyed and frantic, his jacket unbuttoned and his tie askew.  He careened into the Hall and came to a stop, nearly falling, his wide eyes glued on Buffy, who was sitting and eating some MRE chicken a la King, talking quietly with Tara and fending off Willow's curious hands.   Xander got up from where he'd been sorting his notes, wanting to laugh at the completely shocked expression on Wesley's face.  He could hear Spike in the corridor just behind, switching from 'stalk' to 'strut' as the intruder was revealed.

"Good - god!  How - my god, Buffy!  How did you come here?  They're going mad up there!  What happened?"  Buffy did laugh, small pleased chuckle at Wesley's incomprehension.

"It was just dumb luck, I guess," Buffy said, and told Wesley what she'd told Xander and Spike and Tara.

A seemingly random series of events, but ones that had added up.  Her medication had been messed up for almost a week, and she'd found herself feeling close to full strength for the first time in months.  Then, the orderly who normally took her to exercise and bathe was sick, and had been replaced with a newer, less alert, and smaller one.  And there had been a fire or something.  She's smelled smoke - heard alarms - and just let instinct take over.  She'd knocked the orderly unconscious and taken his key-card and escaped the hospital.  Memories of fights and of Spike's crypt had led her to the Below, and something...had guided her in the right direction.

"Maybe it was Spike.  I could feel - something.  I can feel vamps...  Or maybe it was - a scent.  Coffee or soap...  Something just told me the way to come." 

Wesley just shook his head, his expression still unsettled.  "Well, it's complete chaos up there.  Your escape has them in a panic.  In a little more than twenty-four hours the troops will be here and I think this - demoralization - will work in our favor."  Wesley took of his glasses and rubbed wearily at his eyes - peered near-sightedly at Spike, who had decided to come out of the shadows and had moved to stand next to Xander, leaning into him.   "All of you need to be ultra cautious now.  Just - stay here, and be ready.  I suggest you pack anything you might want to take with you.  Yes, thank you," Wesley added, taking the oil-stained bandana the Willow held out to him.  She patted his arm and then grinned as Tara took her hand. 

"Tara!  Story now?  Please?" she begged, and Tara nodded and smiled, drawing Willow over to the crates, picking up the book they'd been reading and letting Willow pretend to read it to her.  Wesley slowly put his glasses back on, looking sadly after the two of them, and then he went over to Buffy - touched her shoulder with his hand.  "I really am pleased to see you, Buffy.  Giles - will be so happy to know you're all right."

Buffy nodded, looking down at her tin plate of chicken-paste.   "Do you think...  Does he know about - this?" she asked softly, her hand splayed over her belly, and Wesley looked up at the rest of them, quick glance full of sorrow.

"He knows, Buffy.  He's been swearing awful revenge for weeks.  He - he misses you terribly and feels...  Well..."  Wesley pulled back - straightened his tie and smoothed his jacket.  "Well, I'll let you two talk it over, eh?  In a day or two you'll have nothing but time.  Your mother and sister - are so eager to see you." 

Buffy nodded sadly - looked up and smiled shakily at Wes.  "Thanks, Wesley.  I - I'll be glad to see them, too."  Wesley ducked his head, nodding, and then he turned to Spike and Xander.

"Please do be very careful, the both of you.    Don't leave this area until it's time.   When the attack is fully underway, a squad of SAS will come down here to escort you out and yes, we've got sun-proof clothes for you, Spike."  Spike nodded shortly and Xander felt the minute shift of muscle against him that meant he had relaxed.  "They'll expect you to meet them at the Cross at seven bells, all right?"  Xander nodded, figuring times.  Spike leaned over and took the packet of peanut butter that had come in Buffy's MRE and tore it open, sucking it out of the olive-drab plastic with a little grin.  Xander had to admit, Army peanut butter was the best peanut butter he'd ever tasted.

"How will we know - I mean, is there some kind of - code or something?"  Xander felt stupid asking, but if an attack was going on Above, remnants of Initiative soldiers might find there way down to the tunnels.  They weren't unknown to the Army, but they'd deemed them a wash after the first few weeks.  Tara's confusion spells had helped, and for all the Initiative was working with demons and magic-users, they didn't seem eager to use it much for their everyday 'grunt' work.

"Yes, actually."  Wesley pulled another tissue of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Xander.  "That's the - the password, and their response.  If they don't reply correctly, run.  Or - let Spike loose.  But don't approach, and don't let them get their hands on you.    They'll reply with the second line, and be waiting for the third line before they identify themselves.  The man heading up the platoon is a Sergeant Carlyle.  He's a good man - you can trust him."  Wesley pushed on hand back through his hair, looking flustered and a little afraid - looking tired to death.  "Almost there, and then this nightmare can be over - we can all go home."

"I am home, Wesley.  I don't...  I don't know if this is ever going to be over...not for us."  Wesley nodded slowly - buttoned his jacket and brushed at himself, straightening his back and lifting his chin.

"I doubt Sunnydale will be open to - civilians - for a long time, Xander.  I hope that you can find a home somewhere else, when this is all done. I hope all of you can."  He looked around at them one more time and then nodded shortly - turned and strode out.  Xander sighed and unfolded the tissue, squinting in the unsteady light of the lantern.

"Acts of injustice done - between the setting and the rising sun -"

"In h-history lie like bones, e-each wa-one," Spike finished, slurred but recognizable, and Xander flashed a grin at him.

"You can tell Englishmen thought this up.  What the hell is it?"

"Au -den," Spike said, plucking the tissue out of Xander's hand and burning it like he'd done before.  Tara's voice droned on, reading to Willow but watching them, and Buffy had put her fork down and was staring bleakly at Xander.

"Really gonna happen," she whispered, and Xander nodded shortly. 

"I'll get our gear together.  C'mon, Spike."  They both moved away into the darkness of the tunnels.



One-hundred and nineteen days - five a.m. and then six, and Spike's mouth was wet and cool and Christ, fucking perfect on Xander's cock and he bit down hard on his forearm, stifling the moan that welled up.  "So - not the...time - fuck, Spike!"

"Think of...b-better time?" Spike murmured, licking him like a Popsicle and then sucking him in again and Xander got a handful of honey-silk hair and thrust hard.  Spike's fingers were digging into his hips, bruisingly hard, and it felt so fucking good.  A hand on his balls, and then between his thighs - fingertips probing and then pushing in and Xander arched hard, silent; his orgasm a roaring of blood in his ears and spangles in the darkness of the tunnel.   There had been the distant crump of explosions for the last hour, and whatever was happening was under way.  And they still had an hour to go until their rendezvous.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Xander moaned, sagging weakly back against the stone wall and a moment later Spike was plastered against him, mouth on his mouth and the taste of brine and blood.  His hand on Xander's hand, dragging it to his groin.   Spike's jeans were undone and his own cock jutting out and Xander gripped and stroked and pulled - wormed his other hand in to grasp Spike's balls.  Spike's tongue was fucking his mouth, his hands on Xander's ass, down his camo fatigues and gripping tight.

"Sss...san, f-fuck..." Spike hissed, thrusting fiercely into Xander's hands, his teeth clicking off Xander's, his mouth sliding wetly to latch onto Xander's throat, mauling with human teeth and then prickling lightly with vampiric ones and Xander gasped and stroked him harder, hand slippery with pre-come and sweat.   Spike sucked hard at his neck and Xander knew he'd drawn a little blood.  Didn't care, because something like a second orgasm was quaking through him and Spike was coming over his hands, cool and slick and thick, and Xander gasped into his shoulder and wondered how long it would take before he could walk again.

"Christ..." Spike gasped out, slumping heavily onto him.  Xander just hung there, gasping, until Spike straightened up and tugged at his shirt - pulled it off and wiped himself up with it.

"Damnit, why my shirt all the time?" Xander huffed.  And then Spike froze, and he did, because there was a sound...   Rattle of plastic, something quickly hushed and Spike morphed, his eyes gleaming.  He gestured to Xander - hand-sign they'd worked out when he could barely speak and Xander nodded - eased his camo pants closed and silently picked up his rifle - made his way stealthily down the tunnel towards the Hall and the girls.  They were waiting for the SAS to arrive, a state of tense half-sleep that he and Spike had abandoned hours ago.   Xander ducked around the corner and saw Buffy who was sitting up, alert and wary.    He crossed swiftly to her and put his mouth by her ear.

"Company," he breathed, and she nodded, her face tightening in fear and anger.  He held out his hand and helped her climb to her feet - went to Tara and touched her shoulder.  The witch startled awake, silent, and Xander delivered the same message.  Tara nodded as well, pushing the blanket off her shoulders and slipping on her worn sneakers.  Willow was spelled - out - a precaution they'd hotly debated and that Tara, tight-lipped and determined, had done.  Willow chattered every minute of the day, and Buffy and Spike had both insisted that they couldn't risk that - couldn't trust her to keep a promise to not talk, because Willow was still not quite right.   Xander just hated the idea of her being helpless, but when Tara had finally conceded, he'd given in as well.  Now he made sure Willow's jacket was zipped up and her shoes laced tightly and carefully picked her up, cradling her close.  Tara slung a backpack over her shoulder and nodded - ready.  Buffy had a hand-gun - she hadn't done more than dry-fire it, but the steely glint in her eye gave Xander no reason to believe that she wouldn't use it if she had to.  They waited then, utterly silent and Xander flinched hard when Spike suddenly appeared in the tunnel entry.

'Soldier', he signed, and then touched his head, and Xander felt his stomach drop.  Initiative, that meant.   Spike held up two fingers in a warped cross and pointed down another tunnel - one that led in a wandering fashion to the rendezvous under the church.  Xander bit his lip, hesitating - gestured for Spike to come with them, and the vampire slowly shook his head - showed his fangs in an expression of pure hate, and Xander knew that the soldiers were dead.  Just give Spike time.  Xander nodded finally and Spike nodded back, and then he turned and stalked away and Xander shivered at the glimpse he'd had, of the vampire, of the demon - of the Slayer of Slayers, who'd run with three of the most infamous vampires in all history.

*Fuckin' soldiers won't know what hit 'em,* Xander thought, and turned and began the long walk to the Cross.    After a while, faintly, they could hear shouts, and gun-fire ringing off the stone walls.  They walked faster, being as careful as they could in the blue-white glow of the wisp-light Tara had conjured.

They were five minutes from the Cross - maybe less - when Xander heard footsteps behind them - moving fast and near-silent, but still there.  Buffy looked around, wide-eyed, and then they were moving to opposite sides of the tunnel, weapons ready and Xander pushed Willow into Tara's arms.   She doused the faint glow of the wisp-light, clutching the pebble tight in her fist and sinking into the shadows, cuddling Willow close.  The footsteps came nearer - hesitated - and then a hoarse voice whispered out of the darkness:

"Carpenter, Glinda, Red-witch, Slayer."

"Spike!  Report!" Xander hissed, and Spike appeared suddenly, glowing eldritch white-blue as Tara blew gently on the pebble, bringing the wisp-light back.  He leaped on it and closed her fist around it and they were left with an afterimage of his hunched shoulders and blood on his hands.  His eyes glowed, sulphur-gold.

"Too many.  Run - now!"    They ran, Spike carrying Willow and Tara risking the wisp-light so they wouldn't fall - Xander in the rear, alert for sounds of pursuit.  All too soon, he heard them.  It sounded like a dozen men - maybe more - and he caught the crackle of a radio that was hastily silenced.

*Oh fuck, fuck, fuck.  What are we gonna do?  How close is it to seven bells?  Damnit...  Get to the Cross, get into the south corridor.  It opens out and there's all those stalactites.  We can hide in there - confuse them...  There's an alcove on the far wall, Tara can go up there with Willow...*    The soldier in him plotted - planned - and when they arrived at the Cross he could hear the bell tolling above them.  They stopped dead, listening, but the bell only tolled its tune three times, and then stooped.  *Damn.  Fifteen minutes to go until seven.  FUCK.*

Xander touched Spike's arm and motioned and in minutes they had Willow curled into the back of the alcove and Tara in front of her, her face white with fear but set.  She took two twigs from her back-pack and wedged them into cracks opposite each other, then looped a ragged bit of shimmery black cloth between them.

"Stay here.  Spike'll find you," Xander whispered, and Tara nodded and handed over the wisp-light, dampened to a faint, silvery glimmer.

"Obscurus," she whispered, and the alcove shimmered and faded, and they were gone.  If he looked just right, Xander could see the shiver of the cloth, like a veil or a spider web.   But he knew the soldiers wouldn't see anything but more rock and earth.

"Here," he whispered, touching Buffy's arm and getting her up and onto a wide ledge.  Protection of a sort, and a better vantage for her limited weapons skills.  Buffy scrambled up awkwardly, her hand to her stomach, something more than fear in her expression.  "What is it?"

"Hurts," she said shortly, grimacing.  "I think - labor or - another miscarriage."

"Fuck," Spike breathed, still the demon, recoiling slightly from her. 

"Wait for light," Xander said and then the footsteps rang out louder as the soldiers reached the Cross and he and Spike turned and ran, heading deeper into the stone maze and leaving Buffy in the dark.  They slid around a pillar and Xander clawed the backpack off his shoulder, opening it and pulling out a handful of emergency flares.

"Nightvision gear?" he asked, and Spike nodded, watching him.  "Get up high.  Wait until they're in the middle.  Throw these down into them - they'll be blind.  I'm gonna shoot, so - stay out of the way."  Spike grinned, feral and gleeful, and yanked a 9mm hand-gun out of the back of his jeans.  Xander grinned back and shoved the flares at him and then put the pebble into his pocket, dousing the last bit of real light.    "They've got Kevlar.   Heart-shots are useless."

"Yess," from Spike, so soft.  A faint, ambient glow was everywhere here, from tiny cracks and holes high in the ceiling, but it was too dim for any real use.  But it would give just enough power to Army-issue goggles.  Xander steadied his rifle on the stone in front of him and felt Spike moving away - heard the soldiers come into the maze of stone and falter, and then move rapidly on.  Following the slightly phosphorescent trail of paint that Xander had laid down weeks ago, to guide himself through.  In another minute or two they would be in the biggest open space in the maze - a space he and Buffy - and now Spike - were overlooking.  A death-trap, if this worked right.  Xander's hands were sweating on the plastic stock and he wiped them slowly, one by one, on his pant-leg.  Realized, with a small smile, that he hadn't ever put a shirt back on.  *Lets go, motherfuckers.  I'm SO ready to fight.  So, so ready. *

The pop of a radio made him start, and then a voice, low and rapid.  Xander strained to hear, and went cold at the conversation.


"Core-Command to Outpost recon.   Status, over."

"This is Outpost recon, status is grid 119, repeat, grid 119, over."

"Any movement, Outpost?  Over."

"Positive movement, Command, we have hostiles.  Preparing to neutralize, over."

"Neutralize with extreme prejudice, Outpost.  Over."

"...Please repeat, Core-Command?  Over."

"Repeat.  Extreme prejudice.  Operation Hopscotch terminated.  Over."

"Affirmative, Core-Command.  Extreme prejudice.  Over and out."


*SHIT.  That means no survivors.  Where in fuck are the English guys?  C'mon, Spike!  The time is NOW!*  It was almost as if Spike had heard him - or had heard the radio, more probably, because from nowhere came a bundle of flares - at least ten - all alight and burning with an intense, white fire that Xander instinctively shut his eyes against.  He heard the Initiative soldiers cursing - one yelling - and then there was gunfire - rapid and loud, coming from overhead.  *Spike - fuck yeah.* 

Xander opened his eyes and took aim - began to shoot, one bullet at a time.  He knew the soldiers had Kevlar vests so he aimed for knees and thighs and arms, doing his best to wound because he probably couldn't kill.  The knowledge - the instinct - to aim for the head itched in him, but some small part held back.  Not there, yet, despite everything.

He saw flashes on his left, slightly elevated and knew that Buffy was firing as well.  Spike seemed to be ranging all over the cavern and Xander caught a glimpse of him leaping like a goblin from ledge to broken stalactite, grinning insanely, the gun held out in a rock-steady hand, firing repeatedly.

The soldiers started firing back, ducking for cover, scattering into the maze.  Four lay on the stone floor, unmoving, and a fifth was crawling away.  Xander stood halfway up and scuttled to another point of cover, eyes warily on the four soldiers and the three others he could see darting in and out of the shadows.  The flares were still burning brightly and Xander knew the Nightvision gear was useless now in that actinic glare.  A bullet pinged the rock near his head and he ducked and ran, popping off a shot or two over his shoulder and then diving into deeper shadow. 

An unearthly howl reverberated off the maze walls and a soldier cursed very near him, letting off a wild volley of shots.  Xander peeked around a rock and saw a camo-suited body - whipped the rifle up and shot, watching in satisfaction as the man crumpled, screaming, his thigh a bloody mass. 

*Got 'im, damn, fuckin' mess...Jesus, Spike!*  Xander flinched as Spike leaped out of the shadows, the gun in his fist shooting straight into a soldiers face.  The man's face exploded; wet, red ruin and Spike was gone and then Xander heard Buffy scream.

"Shit!  Spike!"  He ran shooting randomly for cover, hoping Spike would stay above or behind him.  He tore around a corner and saw Buffy, half off the ledge, struggling madly against a soldier.  There was blood streaking down her legs and she was kicking and yelling - waving her gun wildly.  She hit the soldier in the side of his head and his helmet came off and skittered away into the darkness.

"Buffy!  Let go!"  Xander yelled, and Buffy dropped straight off the ledge and onto the soldier, who collapsed under her.  Another soldier ran out of a near-by corridor, weapon raised and Xander snapped off a shot, making him dive for cover instead.   Xander ran up and hauled Buffy off and up, spinning her straight into a blood-stained Spike who set her carefully aside and pounced on the soldier.  The report of Spike's gun was muffled as he shoved it into the soldier's mouth and pulled the trigger.   Spike turned and darted away, cackling.

Xander stood for a long moment, staring down at the dead man at his feet - at the brains and blood and bits of skull that had spattered on his shins.  The urge to vomit was strong, but he controlled it - looked for Buffy who had sagged to the ground, hand to her stomach.

"You - you okay, Buff?" he asked, his voice cracking, and Buffy winced and nodded.

"Yeah, I'm - I'm okay.  Get - get going.  Gimme his rifle, okay?  I - mine was out."

"Right."  Xander clamped his jaw shut tight and bent down - disentangled the rifle from the dead arms and handed it to Buffy, who took it with a grimace.


"Hold!  Hold right there!"  A distinctly non-American *Scottish?* voice called out, and there was another burst of gunfire close by, and cursing.  Xander lifted his own rifle again, turning around and saw a man all in black trotting towards him.

*The SAS!  God, please, be the SAS!  Be - Carlyle!*   "Hey!"  Xander yelled, and then he stopped, trying to remember the password.

"Acts of injustice done! a hoarse voice sang out, and it was Spike, somewhere above and behind him, and the black-clad soldier stopped, looking at Xander.

"Between the setting and the rising sun."he said slowly, clearly.

"What the fuck is wrong with you people?"  Another voice and Xander jerked around, staring.  Lit by the flares was another Initiative soldier, who took off his helmet and threw it down.  *Oh fuck ME,* Xander thought.  *Agent Riley fucking Finn*

"You lost, Riley!  Your side lost!  Give up!"

"Give up to you?   To the freaks and the - the monsters?   Over my dead body."  Riley stared at him - at the English soldier, and then he lifted his rifle.  "No.  On second thought, over your dead body." 

"Riley, don't!" Buffy screamed, and Riley flinched, and his rifle fired.  Xander felt fire, blooming all along his side.  He jerked - fell to his knees, hard, and his arms were useless - couldn't hold the rifle.  "No!  Xander!  Tara, help me!"  Buffy was crawling towards him - the black-clad soldier was sprinting - and the last thing Xander saw was Spike, like a white arrow straight into Riley Finn.  They both went down; rolling across the flares and it was dark, so dark.  Xander felt cold stone on the side of his face - felt a hand turning his head - and he looked up into a seamed, sun-darkened face, with faded blue eyes and a scar along the jaw.

"In history lie like bones, each one," he whispered, and then there was nothing at all.



The stones were rough - cold - damp with the rising mist and Xander ran his hands slowly along the massive flank of the trilithon.

*Trilithon.  Giles would be proud.  Well, actually, he would NOT.*   Xander looked around and laughed aloud when he saw his shadow, leaping from the top of one stone giant to the next.  "You are gonna get in so much trouble if Giles finds out you did that!" he called, and Spike turned and leapt gracefully to the ground, his coat flaring up around him like bat's wings, rustling.   Between them, the Initiative and the SAS had managed so much destruction that Spike's treasured coat was gone for good - along with a most of Sunnydale.  But the new one, bought in Tokyo and lined with silk suited him just fine. 

"And who, may I ask, is going to tell Rupert I was playin' leap-frog up there, huh?" 

"Well..."  Xander looked at Spike through his lashes, smiling slyly.  "I might, actually..."

"Oh, might you?"  Spike advanced on Xander, head down, prowling, and Xander felt his heart skip and speed up, pounding in his chest. 

"Yeah, I - I just might.  Unless..."

"Unless...what?"  Spike backed him right into the stone and Xander leaned there, thumbs in the pockets of his jeans, hands casually framing the growing hardness under the zip.

"Unless something really...nice for me.  I might...just forget all about you - defacing a National Treasure."

Spike snorted.  "National Treasure my arse."  He put his hands on either side of Xander's head and leaned into him, rocking grind of hip to hip.  "Now, define...nice," he purred, and his mouth settled over Xander's, slow and leisurely kiss that took Xander's breath away.

"Ohhh, I could do something nice with that talented mouth of yours..." Xander gasped, and Spike grinned and slid like a snake down Xander's body, the coat pooling around him, spill of ink.  The white silk shirt he wore under it glowed in the moon light, as did his punk-spikey, silver-white hair.  His skin was moonlight - cool and perfect and utterly smooth, and Xander gasped softly as deft fingers undid button and zip and tugged his jeans to mid-thigh.

"You mean...something like this?" Spike asked, and his tongue licked a slow trail from hip-bone to navel to hipbone, making Xander shiver.

"Oh - yeah, like -"   Spike nipped at the soft skin under his navel and Xander started to pant, his hands sweeping up Spike's neck to his jaw.  He let his fingertips rest there, feeling the muscles working as Spike licked and nipped and sucked at the sensitive skin along the crease of this thigh - in the hollow of his hip and across his belly.  His tongue lapped softly at the edge of the ragged scar on Xander's left side and Xander shuddered.

Sunnydale - the Initiative - all of it many days and weeks and months gone.  A time of nightmare that Xander looked back on with astonishment and sadness.  All but three of the Initiative soldiers that had chased them underground had died, including Riley Finn.  Spike - had done it; disemboweling the man and winding his entrails around his throat - showing him his death with a flare shoved through his ribs.  The SAS hadn't interfered - Sergeant Carlyle had, in fact, ignored the wet, desperate screams and gotten the rest of them up and out.

Xander had been air-lifted to the hospital in Fort Irwin with Buffy and hadn't woken up for two days.  When he had, the first thing he'd seen had been Spike - still bloody and smudged, lying in an exhausted heap across his legs.  Buffy had been in the chair on the other side of him, no longer pregnant, white and tear-streaked and smiling at him.

Tara and Willow had been flown straight over to England, to the Watcher's Headquarters where a slow course of magic and therapy had finally brought Willow back to herself.  Ethan Rayne, who had been harder to control and therefore had been more thoroughly broken, was still recovering.

"Love, you're not paying the proper attention."  Spike's voice in his ear, and Xander came back to himself with a start, and smiled sadly into the lean and beautiful face that leaned so close to his own.

"I'm sorry, Spike.  Got a little...distracted."

"Remembering, love.   I know."  Spike's fingers stroked the raised, twisted scar that ran from Xander's rib to hip - the wildly ricocheting bullet from Riley's gun had plowed a trench through his flesh eight inches long - and Xander caught his hand and lifted it to his lips, kissing each one slowly, fluttering his tongue over the tips.  Scent of iron and cinnamon, of smoke and leather and earth.  Spike's scent, comforting and intoxicating.

"I was.  I'm sorry.  Make me forget?"  Spike's eyes gleamed in the moonlight and he took Xander's shoulders in his hands - turned him and propelled him backwards until his hips bumped another stone, this one on its side in the dew-wet grass.

"Can.  Will.  Want to," Spike whispered, and he turned Xander around - put his hands on the gritty stone and pulled his hips back.  "Ready for me, love?"

"Always r-ready for you -" Xander husked, and groaned softly as Spike's fingers caressed him - pushed in, two and then three, sliding and twisting.

"Love, god,  Spike's hands slid up under Xander's jacket and sweater, rubbing up his spine and scratching slowly back down as his cock crowded close between Xander's legs, damp tip nudging at his balls and pushing at the underside of Xander's own cock.

"God...oh, that's..."

"Sweet, yeah..."  Spike leaned back, and a moment later he was pushing in, slow and smooth and powerful.  Xander gasped softly, lowering his head, pushing back and going up on his toes - coming back down.  Loving the feel of Spike moving in him, touching everywhere inside.

", love..."  Spike murmured into his neck - into his hair, hands holding his waist and then sliding up under his sweater to rub his chest - to cross over his ribs and pull him up and back, tight against the vampire's body.  Cool silken shirt, hard muscles and the rasp of his jeans against the underside of Xander's buttocks.

Xander leaned his head back against Spike's shoulder, watching the slow skeining of the mist through the stones - the way the moon beams seemed to shift, so slowly; sometimes as thin as smoke, other times looking so solid it seemed you could almost walk on them.  The stones around them loomed blackly, sheltering fingers in a green and cupping hand, and Xander finally closed his eyes and just moved with Spike, letting his own hands roam where they would. 

"Spike...oh, kiss me..." he whispered, and Spike's fingers were on his jaw, gently turning so that their lips could brush and tongues could flicker, tasting.  Spike's cock moved slow and steady, frission of champagne sparkles every time he pressed in, shuddering heat every time he pulled out, and Xander was panting now, clutching Spike's hip in one hand and his neck in the other.  Silken hair under his palm, the curve of Spike's skull and the flex of tendon.  Spike's mouth on his jaw and on the side of his throat, nipping kisses.  His hands on Xander's belly, pressing and rubbing and then dropping down to stroke Xander's own cock, smearing the fluid there and sending shivery little shocks up Xander's spine.  Xander clenched his body tight around Spike and felt the vampire's body tense against his.

"Xan - come on, love...Xan, Xan-der..."  Spike groaned, his thrusts becoming faster, less regular.  Xander's legs were trembling and he was writhing back against Spike.  He leaned over, hands on the stone again, arching his back and Spike thrust harder, panting himself now, fingers tight on Xander's hips.

His orgasm was a stuttering flurry of thrusts, Xander's name a whispered moan and then Spike's hand was on Xander's cock, hard and fast, and Xander arched back, crying out, dimly aware of the pearl-white fluid striping the dark stone.  Spike wrapped his arms tight around him and held him, and gradually his heart slowed, and his breathing evened out.

"Better now, love?" Spike asked, and Xander smiled - turned in his arms and kissed Spike, slow and sweet.

"Better now.  Let's go home, okay?"

" bath," Spike said, and Xander laughed, and kissed him again.  Home was Joyce and Dawn and Oz, the stone house by an old mill pond.  Home was Buffy and Tara and Willow on the weekends, and Giles, laughing around the big, scrubbed-white table in the kitchen.  Home was Spike, rolling over cool and soft in the bed, pulling him close and snuggling deep under flannel and goose-down.  Home...was forever in blue eyes and the scent of cinnamon, and Xander never counted the days.