Hero Chapter 6

Hero Chapter 6 (6/8)

"Spike!† Get in here!"† Harsh, panicked whisper and Will was ducking into the office, almost stumbling when the door swung shut and it was completely black.† He froze, his hands outstretched.

"Xander?† I need some light."

"No you don't.† Jesus, Spike!† What were you thinking?† That's Maggie Walsh out there!"† Will oriented himself toward Xander's voice and moved carefully, his fingertips finding a desk and then a chair arm, and he crouched down.

"Xander?"

"Shh.† She'll hear you!† She wants you back, you know.† Don't you remember when Riley shot that homing beacon into your shoulder?"† Xander's voice was low and hurried and shaky, and Will rubbed his hand back through his hair, sighing just a little.

"Xan, honey - it's Will.† Remember?† Not Spike.† Professor Walsh isn't looking for me unless she wants to buy a book or something.† I'm Will."† There was a long silence and an indrawn, slightly wheezy breath, and then a light clicked on and Will squinted, putting up his hand.† After a moment his eyes adjusted and there was Xander, crammed into the knee-hole under the desk, a torch cupped in his hands and his eyes wide and a little scared, his knees drawn up to his chest.

"S -ss -"

"No, Will.† No scar, see?† Spike is the dream, love."† Xander blinked once and then twice - rubbed his fist over his eyes as if he was just waking up and Will pushed the chair to the side and settled down cross-legged beside him.

"You awake, Xander?"† Another long moment of silence and then Xander was looking around - looking at him, and Will let out a relieved breath as that wide, happy smile turned up the corners of Xander's mouth.

"Hey, Will.† I - yeah, I kinda...† That was old, that one."

"What do you mean?"† Will reached over and stroked the long hair back out of Xander's face - touched his cheek for a moment with his thumb, just gentle.† Three weeks out of the hospital and Xander was still thin - still weak in the chest; still weak period, and Will wants to just curl up with him at home - wrap him in fleecy blankets and feed him beef broth and chicken soup and strawberry milkshakes, which was his special treat as a child, sick in bed.

But Xander won't stay home - won't let Will coddle him, and so Will takes him to rehearsals and to work here at the campus bookstore - takes him shopping in the daytime and out to the park and the beach so Xander can see him in the sun - can see his fair English complexion burn a bit and peel and look utterly human and nothing like a vampire.† Sometimes it works really well.† Sometimes it doesn't.

"I mean," Xander said, after a moment of just leaning into Will's touch.† "I mean - I've seen that before - Maggie and...Riley and all that.† That happened...a while ago.† I don't know why Iím seeing it again.† It's...weird.† It's changing, too."

"Is it?† How is it changing?"† Will asked, and Xander scooted a little closer to him, coming out from under the desk a little and settling his drawn-up legs down cross-legged, his knee just bumping Will's knee.

"Last time - last time you came to Giles house and - we almost didn't help you.† This time, it was like...† Everyone was really worried.† We helped you right away and then...† You came home with me."† He was fiddling with a loose thread on the hem of one of the ratty flannels he refused to give up, and Will put his hand out and stilled the restless fingers before Xander ripped it.

"So - it's changing.† Do you think - do you think you're...influencing it?"† Xander looked up, his fingers warm and solid in Will's hand, and Will squeezed, just a little - wanted to lean in and kiss him but sometimes that wasn't a good idea.

"It's like - when I first came here?† You were the enemy.† I mean, you - Spike -tried to kill us all a bunch of times...† But you - you're not him and...† I think, maybe..."† Xander stopped talking and frowned, and Will squeezed his hand again - dared to lift it and press it gently to his mouth.†

"Oh," Xander said, so soft, and he looked up at Will from under his eyelashes.† "Do that again," Xander whispered, and Will did.† The younger man was smiling now, and Will smiled back - leaned forward and very carefully kissed his forehead.† Xander shivered just a little, and then he looked up at Will, his eyes sparkling.

"I think - 'cause we're - friends here - It's helping the other me be friends with Spike."

"Wait - what other you?"† Will scooted a little closer himself, getting one of Xander's knees up on his crossed ankles a little, feeling the heat of Xander's leg on his shins.

"See, I think -" Xander tipped his head to one side, considering.† "Not gonna - think I'm nuts, are you?" he said, and Will chuckled.

"No, love.† Not gonna think you're nuts."† Xander grinned back, new joke, and Will felt the tension in his shoulders ease just a little.

Xander had told him, that first week in the hospital, that since magic was real where he came from, he figured something magical had happened - had sent him across dimensions to this place, where things were almost, but not quite the same.† He remembered there was a girl - a new girl, very strange and kind of...awkward.† And something about wishes - something about his best friend being dead, and then not.† And that's when it happened, and everything changed, and he woke up in a strange bed with a strange man telling him it was time to get up, go to school.†† But even as he'd walked the familiar halls things had overlapped.† Like echoes, he'd said, and he's see things that weren't there - hear things that had never been said.† It had just - overwhelmed him, and he'd run away - try to find the familiar - and had gotten lost in dreams for days on end until he didn't know what was real and what wasn't.† He'd clung to the dreams because he was so lonely and so homesick - so scared.† Told himself that the dreams were real and the other wasn't until he'd convinced himself so completely that the dreams had simply taken over.†† It had just been....so easy.

"I think the me that was here is back - where I'm supposed to be. I think....he's changing thing because he's a different person.†† And I think....he dreams about me, and what I'm doing, and sometimes - what you and Giles and everybody does...it...makes him see things differently."† Xander was searching Will's face anxiously as he spoke.† Searching for -

*For what - for disbelief?† For laughter?† I'd never do that to you, love,* Will thought.† Xander had been given an anti-psychotic the first week in the hospital, and it had been horrible.† He'd barely been able to think - to remember his own name, much less if he was talking to Will or Spike.† Giles had finally stopped the pills, and Xander had confided his theory to Will, and Will...

He believed him in a strange sort of way.† He really did - or he wanted to believe him, because...he wanted Xander to be whole.† Didn't want him to be...truly, truly mad.† And a tiny part of him wanted it all to be true - magic and monsters, other worlds.† Childhood fantasies become real.

*And childhood nightmares,* he reminded himself.

When he really talked about it with Xander, the younger man seemed more and more in this world, and less in the dream world.† As if facing it - bring it all out in the open - was making their world real.† And that was good, as far as Will was concerned - that was great.† So he was helping Xander research things - helping him to figure out dimensional travel and magic, even if the books at hand were nothing like what Xander remembered.† Even his dad had pitched in, seeing that Xander was connecting more and more when they supported him in his search.† It was - working, Will thought.† It was really helping.

Most of the time.† And then Xander would have a lapse - slip into that other place for a while.† But Will had gotten adept at getting him back out.†† Dr. Wes - didn't approve, but his dad supported him, and Xander was getting better, he was sure of it.

"Maybe you're right, love.† Maybe you're really helping him - cope with all the vampires and the demons in that place."†† Will smiled at Xander, who returned the smile but then looked down, sober again.

"I hope so," Xander said softly, and Will wanted to crush him close in a hug and never let go.† "Things can be - pretty awful, there.† I hope...he's happy.†† I guess if he's got you, he's happy."† Xander looked up again, and his eyes were so dark - so full of some emotion.† "Like I've got you, right Will?† 'Cause...I do, don't I?"

"Course you do, love, course you do - 'til you're bloody sick of me!"† This time Will did hug him, hard and long, and Xander clung to him - pushed his face into Will's neck and shuddered a little - took some hard breaths like he might be trying not to cry.

"Don't know what I'd do without you, Will.† I just - don't," he murmured, and Will kissed his temple - rubbed his hands hard up and down Xander's back and up through his hair, just trying to make sure Xander knew he was here - that this was real, and not a dream.

"Iím the one needs you, love.† Need you to keep me alert, yeah?† Keep me thinkin', keep me goin'.† Otherwise I'd just be on the couch with Oz and Devon, smokin' until my brain turned to mush."† Xander giggled at that and the gloomy air lightened.† Will gave Xander one last squeeze - kissed his cheek, so close to the smiling mouth, and then pushed himself to his feet, holding on to Xander's hand.

"Come on and get up, love.† Come see the professor. She's really nice."† Xander let himself be pulled to his feet - hesitated a long moment and then nodded, following Will out of the office and out of the employees only area of the bookstore.†

Professor Walsh was standing there, talking to a hulking young man with a sort of military air about him - brush-cut hair and wide shoulders, stiffly upright, and Will approached tentatively, hoping this probably-football player wouldn't be a total jerk and make some nasty comment about the fact that he was holding Xander's hand.† The other employee - an Asian girl whose college experience seemed to consist mostly of drinking and sleeping around - was sitting behind the counter, a bored and vacant expression on her face.† As they walked over, the professor saw him and smiled.

"Will!† I was just trying to find out about my books for the next semester but - uh - your co-worker there is a little confused about it, so I was waiting for you."† She sounded just a little irritated and Will didn't blame her - it wasn't rocket science to check the invoices.

"Sure, Professor, I can find that out in just a minute.† Have you met Xander?† This is Xander Harris, he's - a friend of the family."† The professor took in their linked hands in one glance and smiled at Xander.

"No, I guess not.† Nice to meet you, Mr. Harris."† She held out her hand but Xander didn't take it and Will turned a little, looking at him.† He was staring, white-faced, at nothing at all and Will pulled him close, instantly nervous.

"Xander?† Hey, you okay, mate?† Xan?"

"This is a really bad idea.† Spike, we should - we really should - Ss-spike - oh fuck no - Spike!"† Xander's voice went from a shaky whisper to a scream and suddenly he was on the floor, his hands clutching his face, his body writhing in agony or terror, Will couldn't tell.† He was shouting - incomprehensible words and sounds, frantic and desperate.† Dimly Will heard Professor Walsh saying something - the beeping of her phone - but he was on the floor with Xander, wrestling him into a tight hold, trying to calm him down.† The big guy who'd been talking to the professor dropped down across from him.

"Is he epileptic?† Is he on drugs?" the man asked, and Will just shook his head, wincing as Xander flailed and caught the side of his jaw with a fist.

"Here -"†† The man got one of Xander's arms in his hands and held it - half lay on his legs so he couldn't kick.† Xander suddenly went rigid and made a low, tearing sound, a sort of groan and Will clutched him tighter.

"Xander - what is it?† Are you hurt? †Does something hurt?† Love, please -"

"Get me out of here, S- Will, please, get me out of here," Xander begged, his voice rough, his face pressed into Will's chest, his free hand clenched tight in Will's t-shirt.† Will got one hand free and forced Xander to look up at him, and he was crying, his eyes closed tight, absolutely white.† "Please, W-will, please, please..."

"Can you get up, love?" Will asked softly, and Xander nodded.† Will looked over at the other man who had relaxed his hold a little but was still pinning Xander down.† "It's okay, uh -"

"Riley," the other said quietly, and Xander shuddered.

"Riley.† It's okay, I'm gonna take him home."† Riley looked a little skeptical but he nodded - rolled off and up and got one big hand under Xander's shoulder - helped Will get him to his feet.† Xander just folded into Will, clinging so tightly Will wasn't sure he could walk, much less navigate them across campus and town.

"Xander, c'mon pet, you've gotta let go a little.† I'll take you home but I can't walk, love.† Come on, it's all right, I've got you, love, I've got you..."† Will rubbed his back - dug his fingers into the rigid muscles of Xander's neck, hummed into his hear, Scarborough Fair, and slowly Xander relaxed his grip.† After a few minutes he finally calmed enough to open his eyes, and he looked around himself, taking deep shaky breaths.† His fingers were still twisted tightly into Will's shirt, his eyes still running with unacknowledged tears.

"That was really b-bad, Will...† God, that was..."†† Xander's breath hiccupped and he shut his eyes again for a moment then looked at Will again - reached and touched Will's jaw.† There was probably a red mark there, because it still stung.† "I'm s-sorry, I didn't - didn't mean -"

"It's okay, love, it's nothing.† We'll figure it out, right?† Nothing to be sorry for, it's okay."† Xander nodded, looking miserable, and then his eyes flickered to something behind Will and he stiffened.† Will turned his head a little and saw Professor Walsh standing there, a small frown on her face.

"I called your father, Will.† He said he'd come right over - he wasn't in a class, so..."

"Oh.† Thanks, professor."† Will thought fast.† Home - was just too far away.†† "Listen, could you - could you just tell him that we're gonna go sit by the fountain?† He can - find us there, okay?† We need to get out of here."

"Sure, Will, I can do that.† Is there - can I do anything for you?† Do you need some help?"† Will smiled at her just a little - hugged Xander close.† The younger man was shivering, still breathing hard.

"No, its fine, we're - we're figuring this stuff out.† We'll be okay.† Thank you.† Thanks, Riley," Will added, and the other man nodded silently.† Slowly, Will and Xander went out of the bookstore and across the common, down a little grassy slope to a medium-sized white concrete fountain.† It was always shady here, and the water arched and fell and arched and fell in a hypnotic, soothing rhythm that they both enjoyed.† Will guided Xander down onto a seat at the edge of the bowl and they both just sat there for a few minutes, Xander snugged tight into Will's arms, his breathing slowing and calming, his shivers easing off.† A fine mist blew from the arcs of water and it felt good, cool and pleasant on their necks and faces.† Will rubbed Xander's neck - his back - ran his fingers gently through and through the tangled hair.† Eventually Xander sighed and straightened up - wiped impatiently at his face.

"Better now, love?" Will asked softly, and Xander nodded - sniffed.

"Sorry," he said in a small voice, and Will bumped him with his elbow - kissed his cheek, trying not to scream in frustration.

"Don't apologize, Xander!† You didn't do anything wrong.† I'm not mad, okay?† I'm - I'm a little freaked out, and...† What happened?† Can you tell me?"† Xander smiled when Will kissed him but hung his head, the smile fading at the question.

"I - Professor Walsh was still kind of...scaring me.† And then - Riley -"†† Xander shuddered, rubbing his arms.† "Riley was - one of the soldiers - he helped grab you - Spike, he grabbed Spike, let him - get experimented on...† He put Oz in there!† They hurt him, too - tortured him -"†† Xander stopped and Will hugged him close again.† Of all the things in Xander's 'other' world, Will found the Initiative - the experiments and the soldiers - the worst...† The most inhuman and frightening.† He hated to think that Xander had dreamed something like that.

"Okay, so, you were a little freaked.† That's okay.† But what - it was like...you were in pain."

"Things...were jumpy. †I was remembering - them - and how scared w- they all were, with the soldiers and stuff running around...† And then - it was later, it was...now?"† Xander pulled away - looked searchingly into Will's face, as confused-looking as Will felt.

"It's like - I was right there, in whatever is - is happening to the other me.† He - we were...they - God!"† Xander stopped and took a breath - shook his head as if to clear it.† "They were fighting these...things.† They didn't have eyes - they were horrible.† And this man...† He was like - dressed like a priest.† He g-grabbed me and he - he -"†† Xander's left hand went up to his face, cupping his eye.

"What, love?† What happened to him - to the other one?"† Xander gasped in a sharp, wheezing breath and then looked at Will, his hand dropping away, both eyes wide and horrified.

"He gouged out m- his eye, Will.† Pushed his thumb into it and g-gouged it out.† Gouged it out..."

"Oh god," Will felt sick, and he reached behind and dipped his hand into the cold fountain water - ran his dripping hand over his neck and face.† Xander huddled down, hugging himself, and Will swallowed and swallowed until the urge to vomit went away.

"God, okay.† That's - Christ, that's - horrible.† But...† You're okay, right love?† You're - I mean, you're eye is okay..."† Xander nodded, but his hand crept up to his face again, touching his eyelid.

"Yeah.† I'm okay.† And - it was really - cool, 'cause you - you saved me."

"I saved -?† You mean - Spike did?"† Xander frowned - blinked.

"Yeah, I mean - Spike.† He - he jumped on that guy, that priest.† He was screaming - c-cursing like a sailor."† A shaky, hoarse laugh, and Xander sat up again, more composed.

"He killed him.† Snapped his neck and - and tore his heart out.† Y- he was all - bloody...† He did it for me.† He killed that guy and he - helped me out of there and...† He did it for me."† And Xander was smiling.