Gray


by
Litgal



Part Sixteen

Xander’s arm itched and he studied the streets around them. Spike reached over and casually caught Xander’s cuff and gave it a tug.

“Try to avoid ripping your skin off.”

“Way to give me a creepy mental image,” Xander complained, but he stopped scratching. If being around demons always felt like this, Xander was going to be in serious demon-avoidage. Wait. Spike never gave him the heebie jeebies, and he was a demon. “Are we trying to find this guy or run away from him?” Xander whispered.

“Never leave an enemy at your back, luv, especially if you don’t know how strong they might be. It’s best to face ‘em.”

“And if they’re stronger than you?”

Spike turned and gave a wicked grin. “Strength isn’t everything. You have to be quicker, smarter, and more determined to live.”

“Right, because that’s worked out great for me in the past,” Xander said sarcastically.

“Considering that you’re still alive, and bugger stronger than you aren’t, it has worked out. Now shut your gob and focus.”

“Focus, right,” Xander agreed. The streets were full of desperate people and the insubstantial ghosts they dragged with them. If Xander had ever needed proof that teenage boys were ruled by their dicks, he would have it now. At least half the laughing young men who passed them dragged along half-formed images of scantily dressed women.

Right in the middle of the street, Xander stopped. “Spike, do you smell chocolate?” Xander asked.

Spike frowned and sniffed the air. “No.”

Xander turned in a circle as he tried to figure out where it was coming from.

“Are you sure you’re not imagining things?” Spike asked, but Xander ignored him as he darted between the cars and crossed the road so he could go east.

“Oi! Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Spike called. Then he was there, in front of Xander. He had his hand around Xander’s wrist, and he was holding tightly enough that the bones ground together. Xander tilted his head.

“Bloody hell, not here, ya moron.” Spike gave him a hard jerk to get him into an alley, and Xander prepared himself for more of the manhandling and potential bondage, but then the smell of chocolate damn near overwhelmed him.

“It’s here,” Xander whispered, and suddenly Spike let go. Xander blinked as he watched a woman in a business suit pick her way down the alley, carefully detouring around bags of trash.

Spike moved forward, keeping himself between her and Xander. “Right then, you have a problem?” Spike demanded, and from the tone, he had his vampire face out.

The woman stopped. Her short brown hair was perfectly trimmed to fall just below her jawline and her suit didn’t have a wrinkle in it. She looked Spike up and down before giving him a bored look that worried Xander a little. “You’re an inferior excuse for a monster.”

“I’m a demon, luv.”

“Demon? You, tortured in hell? I don’t think so.” She had the nerve to actually laugh at Spike. “And what are you protecting? What new abomination has escaped Purgatory now?”

Usually by this point, Xander would have been backing away and trying his best to hide in Spike’s shadow; however, Xander could feel a cold fury pressing up through his chest until he couldn’t breathe.

“Bloody hell,” Spike breathed, and Xander looked over to find Spike staring at him, his human face showing. “Mate, don’t even think about it.”

It didn’t make sense of Spike to be talking to him. That thing in the alley was the one who needed to think twice. Xander scented the air.

“Bloody… Harris, let’s calm down, right then?” Spike had on his talk-down-the-crazy voice, like he used with Dru, but that fact seemed too unimportant to take note of. All he cared about was the monster in the alley. It was pathetic. Disgusting. And it carried so much life force that Xander’s stomach rumbled in hunger. It was like looking at one of those chocolate fountains at a wedding, and Xander just wanted to stick his head in and drink it all down.

“Enough,” Spike snapped, and he grabbed Xander’s wrist, and for a second, Xander was stunned out of his hunger, out of his disgust and his fury and everything else. For one second, he was Xander Harris, and then the monster leaped at them, her mouth opening and opening and opening until Xander recognized the creature from Purgatory. It was one of those black smoke things. She reached for Spike, and Xander snatched Spike out of her way, tossing him backward before throwing himself into the fight.

He caught her arm, and her body twisted before her shark teeth blindly reached for him, but he shoved a thumb into the underside of her chin. His thumb broke skin, sinking into her flesh, and she screamed, but Xander couldn’t reach that rich life force that flowed under her skin. He stretched, feeling for the key, searching for some weakness. He could sense all that power and his hunger was becoming a living beast that ripped at him.

Hands caught him and pulled him backward, and Xander lost his grip on the monster. He flew back and he and Spike landed in a tangle of sharp elbows and bruised knees. The woman stumbled and had to catch herself on a trash bin, clinging to it as blood ran down her neck. Her human face was back in place, but it didn’t matter, Xander had her scent.

She turned and ran down the alley, her high heels clicking against the concrete. Blind and deaf to everything else, Xander leaped after her.

Their chase led through alleys and up fire escapes, across the roofs of buildings and down drain pipes. She did everything to lose him, but Xander charged ahead, gaining on her inch by slow inch. He could feel his reserves start to ebb, but all he needed was to catch her, and she would be his meal, Xander could feel it.

She staggered to a stop behind a restaurant and turned to face him, her mouth opening again, the tongue probing out into the night.

Xander slowed and then stopped a few feet from her. He couldn’t afford stupidity around her kind. He could feel the strength, older than even Eve, perhaps. But corrupt. Wrong. Disgusting. They were not part of the balance. Xander spoke the first words to come to mind. “You’re weak,” he accused the creature.

That shocked her enough that her human face returned. She snarled at him. “Humans are weak. You’re weak. This world was ours, and it will be again.”

“No. It won’t. Humans create, and yeah they destroy, too. But they can make art and buildings that reach to the sky and music, and all you do is consume,” Xander said. That’s what was wrong with them. They were creatures with only one ability. They had no balance. “You’re weak. You know only the strength of hunger, and that makes you disgusting.”

She looked down on him. “You talking monkey.”

Xander roared, and her teeth came out, and they threw themselves toward each other. Some little part of Xander whispered that Spike was going to kill him for going head to head with a creature he couldn’t even identify, but he didn’t care. He wanted her. He wanted all that power flowing under her skin.

She threw him toward the restaurant, but Xander grabbed her shoulder so that she followed, and they slammed into the brick together. Unfortunately, the brick yielded. With a shower of mortar dust and red brick pieces, they landed in the kitchen. Humans scrambled away, yelling and cursing, but Xander kept his hold on the monster in front of him.

She tried to back away, and he could smell the fear now. She had expected to eat him, but he was going to turn the tables. They slammed into one wall and then another, neither able to overpower the other. When her mouth came open again, Xander grabbed that long snake tongue of hers in one hand and punched the bottom of her jaw with his other. Her mouth slammed shut, biting off her own tongue. She screamed in pain, and suddenly all her power lay right on the surface of her skin.

He reached out, and the power flowed into him, filling him, pouring over him and drowning him in the scent of warm chocolate and the feeling of contentment. The monster writhed and twisted, the human form lost as limbs folded in on themselves and then the whole twisted, mangled body and sharp-toothed mouth went out like a popped balloon with a little puff and a few lingering wisps of black smoke.

It was as clean as dusting a vampire… cleaner because she didn’t even leave behind vampire dust. Sated and full, Xander lay back in the twisted wreckage of a pot shelf and let the power sink into him and flow under his skin. This is what it felt like to be full, to feel right in his own skin. He let his eyes fall closed as he wallowed in the simple joy of being filled up to the brim with goodness. Well, not goodness exactly, but it sure felt good.

“Freeze! Police! Put your hands up and do not make any sudden moves.”

Xander’s eyes popped open, and he looked to see uniformed officers pointing guns at him. Oh shit. Xander blinked, lost for a second as he tried to decide what to do, but a lifetime of watching television had taught him that there really was only one answer.

He put his hands up. “I’m unarmed,” he said in his own defense. Xander looked around at the huge hole in the wall and the wrecked kitchen. A stove had been shoved out of place and a refrigerator lay on its side. Aw shit. This was Buffy burning down the gym full of vampires bad, and Xander couldn’t even claim to be underage.

Xander kept his mouth shut through the reading of the rights and as the police frisked him and cuffed him, after a whole lot of discussion of the leather restraints and why exactly Xander didn’t have the keys. Honestly, he kept expecting Spike to show up and do something that would magically make the whole mess go away, but the police put him in the back of one of the cars, and there was not a Spike in sight.

Amazingly enough, he kept his mouth shut as they reached the station and had another round of conversations about why Xander didn’t have a key to the ankle and wrist restraints.

“Give the kid a break, Tanner, he doesn’t have the keys.”

“We’re going to have a hell of a time cutting them off,” the man behind the desk complained bitterly. He gave Xander a dirty look, like it was his fault. Xander was the guy with his hands flat on the desk waiting to get strip searched or something, so he wasn’t sure why he was getting blamed.

“Then get bolt cutters and stop complaining,” the other officer suggested. He stood with his foot on the inside of Xander’s instep and one hand on Xander’s wrist, making sure he didn’t move. Which funny enough, Xander wasn’t planning on moving. He had kind of blacked out a bit during the fight, and the last thing he needed was to have another mental brownout and wake up to finding a bunch of cops dead. Cops were good guys. Usually. This Tanner was a bit of an ass as he huffed and stormed away.

“You need to call your friend?” The officer holding him asked.

“Need? Yes. Want? No,” Xander confessed.

The officer looked at him with this intense look, and he did have a pretty good stare on him. “He’s going to be pissed, huh?”

“Oh, pissed doesn’t cover it.”

“Will he be angry enough to pose a danger?”

“What?” Xander instinctively tried to turn, but the officer’s grip on his wrist stopped him, and Xander forced his body to relax. “Spike is going to be pissed the way parentals are pissed with lots of ‘I told you’ and ‘If God gave you a brain, why can’t you use it?’ but with more British.” Xander watched Tanner come back out of an office with large bolt cutters. “He’s not dangerous to me, just my butt if he finds out I got arrested.”

The guy behind him chuckled. “Maybe you need your butt bruised for tearing a place up that bad. But honestly, this will go a lot better if you give the names of the other people involved.”

“That’d be awesome if I knew any of them,” Xander said. Everyone seemed to assume that a whole gang had attacked the kitchen, and Xander wasn’t disagreeing. That made more sense than two monsters fighting.

“We’ll get you booked in and then you can all your Spike and explain,” the officer offered, and Xander could tell that he even meant it kindly. However, watching Tanner take bolt cutters to the leather and steel cuffs, Xander cringed. Maybe he’d postpone on the calling of Spike because a bruised butt was going to be the least of his problems.

Part Seventeen

Despite a serious attack of the cowardly, Xander called Spike as soon as they offered him a phone call, and was treated to a round of British cursing that could have stripped paint. What with the ‘bloodies’ and the ‘fucks’ and the ‘bollocks’ and the ‘wankstains,’ Xander got the impression that Spike was a little not happy. However, since Xander hadn’t been able to call until after sunup, there wasn’t much he could do either. Except swear. A lot. Creatively even.

And after that, Xander went back and sat in a hard orange chair and tried to make himself disappear. Considering that Xander had blown up schools and towns and construction sites and a bunch of other shit, considering that he’d stolen army weapons and set off weapons inside city limits and beheaded more demons than he could keep track of and buried more than that, he should have expected an arrest eventually. But he hadn’t.

He also hadn’t expected that getting arrested would be so boring. Xander tucked his chin close to his chest and tried to snooze, but the staff had but loose chains on him, and they bugged him more than all Spike’s bondage equipment put together. Worse, Xander was afraid of snapping the chain. He had no idea why he thought he was in danger of doing that, but he did. Maybe it was all the power from the monster flowing under his skin, but Xander had the feeling that one wrong move and he was going to send shiny silver links flying everywhere, and wouldn’t that be fun to explain.

“Harris!” a voice called. Xander was drifting in and out of awareness, just on the edge of sleep and the voice called again, closer. “Alexander Harris.”

Xander’s head snapped up. “Me! That’s me.” Xander tried to put his hand up, and felt the resistance of the chain, and the slow yield as metal started to buckle. He put his hand back down.

“This way.”

“Am I out of here, like getting bail?” Xander asked as he stood. He looked down, but other than a few warped links in the chain that led from his wrist to the waist chain, there wasn’t any real damage.

“You haven’t had a bail hearing.”

“So, no bail?”

The officer gave Xander a weary look, and Xander wondered where the older guy was. For a cop, he’d been pretty comforting.

“Hey, this is my first time. I’m an arrest virgin here, so I don’t know how the system works.”

The officer grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up toward the booking desk. “Normally you go in front of a judge and the judge sets bail. You then come back here and either someone bails you out or we process you into the longer term cells and find you some prison clothes.”

“Okay, that sounds less than fun.” Xander really didn’t think a long-term cell was an option for him. “And you said normally, which implies that something isn’t normal, which does not greatly surprise me. I’m not good at normal.”

“You have a visitor.”

Xander blinked. If Spike had to brave the sun with a blanket he was going to be in the worst mood ever. “Yippee,” Xander said weakly. The cop gave him an odd look, but then Xander was getting shoved into a small room with a table. He stopped when he saw the other person.

“Willow.”

She stood up, and it was Willow. It was Willow in one of those tailored suits that women wore when they were going on television or arguing a court case. But still, it was Willow.

“Xander.” She breathed the word and then started blinking, and tears were a real possibility. “We’ll be fine,” she said to the officer, clearly dismissing him, and surprisingly, he backed out and closed the door. That left Xander, shackled and in the company of quantum-mirror Willow. Given how his meeting with Quantum-Giles had gone, he wasn’t sure that was a good idea.

But then she turned that soft expression on him, and Xander could feel his worries fade. This was Willow, maybe not his Willow, but Willow. She came around the table, took one look at him, and then caught him in the most awkward hug ever. With his wrists in shackles, he could only stand there as she tried to get her arms around him. “Xander. You giant butt head,” she finally announced and when she stepped back, she punched him in the arm. This might be Willow, but her punch had a little more fire than he’d expected.

“What?”

“What? You’re asking me what?” She punched him again in the same spot, and it actually stung. “You’re not dead!”

“And this upsets you?”

She put her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes. “What upsets me, you giant poop face, is that you didn’t tell me you weren’t dead.” This time she poked him in the chest with a very sharp finger.

“Hey, I’m not dead,” Xander announced with mock enthusiasm. She rolled her eyes at him, and this felt so right. “You found be because I hacked your accounts, right?” Xander asked.

“You what? You hacked my accounts?” And that was angry Willow.

“Never mind. I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s the lack of sleep. It’s making me punch drunk and now I’m saying things that don’t even make sense to me. I would never hack your accounts. I couldn’t. Me and hacking. Not buds.” Xander smiled even wider, and slowly her anger faded and she ended up shaking her head.

“‘No’ probably would have worked better,” she said with a fond tone in her voice.

“Um… no?”

Weirdly, she stepped forward and hugged him again, this time harder. “Oh Xander. I’ve missed you. Why did I have to find out from your parents that you aren’t dead?” She stepped back and gave him her best conspiratorial look. “If I were you, don’t go near your parents right now.”

“They drank up all the insurance money, didn’t they?”

“Totally.”

Xander sighed. “Yeah, I could have guessed that.”

Willow gave him one more punch pretty much out of nowhere and then fixed him with her resolve-face. “Okay, mister. Now that I’m done hitting you, tell me why you didn’t call me.”

“Long, long, long, long story.” Xander moved to the table so he could sit on the edge.

“Uh huh.” She gave him a little ‘keep going’ gesture.

“And I thought you were in England at college or something.”

“Oh. I was. I finished early, and I got a job,” Willow said, and she had that catch in her voice like she was trying hard to avoid saying more. “But I want to know everything about this long, long story of yours.”

“Um, I’m not talking about it here.” Xander poked at thumb toward the camera in the corner of the room.

A frown flickered over her face. “Xander?”

“That’s me. Xander Harris, teller of tales impossible to believe.”

“Impossible to believe?” Willow echoed his words suspiciously. Yep, she knew something was up with him, but Xander wasn’t sure how much he could share or should share, and right now if Spike were here he’d be very happy to let Spike handle the whole mess.

“And not saying those stories in front of a camera would be the best way to avoid any long-term commitments or even forty-eight hour holds, if you know what I mean.” Xander added when Willow didn’t exactly look like she was ready to let the matter drop.

“Right.” Willow drew that word out.

Blinking, Xander slipped into his visions. Willow was there, her long red hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. Xander frowned. She had an odd expression on her face, a determination that Xander normally saw when she’d mastered a really tough spell, only this wasn’t his Willow.

“So, what have you been up to? Changing the world? Making your parents proud?” Xander asked, hoping to see that vision clearer. It had started to form, but when he mentioned parents, shadow Willow scattered, replaced by two very unhappy parentals.

“Making your parents unhappy with your grand life plans?” Xander guessed. Immediately the vision snapped into focus, and Willow stood on a stage in a uniform accepting a badge.

“Holy shit! You’re a cop?” The words slid right out of his mouth before he could edit himself or even think about the fact that talking about visions was on the slightly stupid side.

Willow’s eyes got huge. “Shhhh,” she said in that same tone of voice she’d used in eighth grade when she’d try to hush him and Jesse when they’d be talking about Cordelia and she was coming down the hall. Xander slapped a hand over his mouth. Well, he tried only to get pulled short by the chains. One of the links opened enough to leave a gap between the metal ends, and Xander let his hands fall to his sides.

“Sorry.”

“Geez, Xander.” She leaned close and whispered. “Stay here and don’t say anything. I’m going to make a few calls and try and get you out.”

“Right, shut up and sit still. I can do that.” Hopefully. Well, unless there was another mouth-demon attack, and how likely was it that he would have two of those in a day? Xander groaned as he realized that he’d just cursed himself. However, Willow was already gone, and Xander couldn’t have really explained his fears to her anyway.

Willow. A cop. Yeah, his Willow was into saving the world and she was the first to get out there and protect and serve, but not officially. The idea of Willow getting a paycheck for being Willow was… freaky. It was like Giles. There were parts of his Giles in there, but it wasn’t the same. But it wasn’t like they were in opposite land, either. Star Trek definitely got the whole alternate universes thing wrong.

Xander squirmed as he got himself up onto the table and started swinging his legs. What would he be like, if he was this universe’s Xander and he’d never had Giles to do the fathering, and of course if he hadn’t been killed in some earthquake, what would he be like?

He couldn’t be too different. Willow still recognized him. She hadn’t accused him of being a pod person or anything. Xander slowed his breathing and checked out the ghosts that occasionally floated through the edges of the room. So far, this was the most boring place in all of Chicago. Xander supposed that most doers of evil—or of good—avoided getting arrested.

It only took about half an hour, and the officer came back. “It looks like it’s your lucky day. Someone paid for the damages and the restaurant isn’t pressing charges.”

“Hey, go me,” Xander said, but his stomach was suddenly uneasy. Willow paid for the damages? He’d worked construction. He knew how much it cost to repair a load bearing brick wall, and it wasn’t pretty. Unless this Willow had won the lottery, someone she worked for had paid the bill, and that meant Xander now owed some law enforcement agency a whole lot of cash. Spike was going to kill him so dead that no one would find his dismembered body parts for the next century.

Still, there wasn’t much he could do that wouldn’t make an even bigger scene, so he smiled and went along as the booking desk filed their paperwork and then presented Xander with a pile of cut up leather cuffs and locks. Willow’s eyes got all big, and Xander shoved the pile back toward the officer. “You can throw those away,” he said. He wasn’t sure if they had some rule about that, so he quickly turned his back. “Ready? ‘Cause I seem to be a free man,” he said with a bright smile.

Willow hooked her arm around his. “I have missed that smile,” she said as she escorted him out into the sun. She led them to a bench under a wide tree, and Xander sat in the dappled shade with Willow’s hand in his.

“Okay, mister. That is your bad news face. Spit it out.”

Xander laughed. Clearly some things were pretty much the same in this world. And actually, that made it worse because Xander did not want to hurt her feelings. He looked down at where their fingers intertwined.

“Um, that’s a little hard.”

“Try,” she said in a softer voice.

“Is that Willow my friend or Willow the cop asking?” Xander asked.

She looked at him with those wide eyes of hers. In any universe his Willow as still his Willow. “Xander, this is me. I’ve spent years thinking my best friend is dead, and now you’re here. I think you owe me an explanation.”

“This is going to be pretty unbelievable,” he warned her.

“Trust me, I’m better with unbelievable than you might think.”

Xander slowed his breathing and watched while Willow’s specters started appearing. She was in a computer lab that looked more scifi than reality. “What if I brought up alternate realities?” he asked. The specters all shifted, and this time Xander could see four or five definite alienish devices. And Willow was trying to figure out which of them would have brought him to this reality. Okay, she was way off base going for freaky technology instead of demon, but his Willow was still right in the X-files trenches.

“Oh my god. You’re Scully. You’ve gone all Dana Scully in this universe,” Xander blurted.

“Shut up.” Willow slapped him on the arm.

“You are,” Xander said, but now he was talking in a whisper.

“Hey, I’m big with believing you. I’m weirded out, but I’m not unbelieving,” Willow whispered back.

“Exactly because you’ve gone X-files. You even have the red hair, but Scully is way scarier looking than you. I mean, I’m not sure how you pull off the whole intimidation by badge thing.”

“I don’t. Covert, Xander. As in stop talking about it,” Willow punched him again, but at least it was on the other arm.

“Right.” Xander couldn’t stop grinning. Willow was doing the X-files thing, and there wasn’t a better woman in the world for figuring out all the weird. “I can’t believe you’re Scully. So, where’s Mulder?”

Willow put her hands on her hips, and Xander shut up. He knew too far when he saw it, and she’d been pushed too far. “First, I’m the one who does believe,” Willow pointed out.

“So you’re Mulder? You look more like—”

She poked him in the stomach, which was pretty effective at making him shut up. “I’m not either. I am, however, annoyed. And we need to go somewhere quiet to talk.”

Xander’s stomach did a flip. “Um, Willow, I love you, but I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why?” She tilted her head at him, and he swallowed down a big lump of want-need. Yeah, Spike was doing his own version of warm and fuzzy, but it wasn’t the same as having Willow hugs or curling up on the couch while Buffy critiqued some kung-fu movie. Buffy was very critical when it came to fictional ass kicking.

“You’re not my Willow,” Xander said softly.

She frowned. “The alternative reality… you mean, you’re not from this reality?”

Xander nodded. He could see the moment when her face just sort of crumpled. At first he was confused, and then he realized that she thought he’d just found his way home. Her Xander was still dead, and he was the interloper. “I’m really sorry,” he offered, and suddenly all her emotion vanished under this mask that his own Willow wouldn’t be able to manage in a million years.

“So, you’re another Xander.”

“Sort of stuck here while my Willow tries to figure out the whole mess,” Xander agreed. He stopped when a man in a baseball cap came strolling up dangerously close. He had dark good looks and sunglasses, but there was something in his gait that screamed predator. Xander shifted on the bench, uncomfortable with this guy’s attitude. He stopped a few feet away and eyed Xander with an almost amused expression.

“Rosenberg,” he said.

“Hey. I told you he wasn’t… well, you know.” Willow turned to Xander. “Xander, this is Major Dorsey.”

“Major… as in military or just the opposite of minor because you really don’t look minor.” Xander could feel panic crawl up the base of his throat. Oh god. Willow was military. And Spike was going to kill him, bring him back, kill him again and then bathe in his guts. How did he always land in the middle of trouble?

Part Eighteen

“You’re military?” Xander hissed at Willow.

“What? Me? No. I’m sort of military adjacent.”

“I can see I make you uncomfortable, Mr. Harris. That’s not my intention.” Major Dorsey held his hands out to the sides like that made him look one inch less intimidating. The guy was huge. His muscles had muscles, and it didn’t take a genius to spot the shoulder holster under his jacket. Nothing was going to make him look anything less than scary as hell. “We do have some experience with dimensional travelers.”

“Oh yeah, leave it to Willow to land in the weird,” Xander said softly.

Major Dorsey gave her an amused look. “Ms. Rosenberg is very capable of landing in trouble in any universe, I take it?”

Xander snorted.

“Hey!” Willow complained, but she kept her hands to herself. His Willow would have hit him. This Willow would have hit her Xander. But now there was a distance between them.

“Mr. Harris, I understand you have no reason to trust me, but I’m asking that you trust Ms. Rosenberg. We need to talk, and it shouldn’t be on the streets.”

“And yet we have that whole I have no reason to trust the military thing going on,” Xander pointed out. He knew what the military had done to Spike, and now that he was on the other side of the demony fence, he was way less okay with it.

Dorsey and Willow traded meaningful looks, and Xander tried really hard to not ache at one more piece of evidence that this wasn’t his Willow.

“Look, maybe I should just make myself scarce, you know, until my Willow can get this fixed.”

“How can another Willow fix this without access to…” Willow blushed, and Major Dorsey moved so that he was standing at her back. “access to stuff,” she finished lamely.

“Smooth, Will,” Xander said. “But my Willow will fix this with her witchly powers of witchiness.”

“Witch?” Willow blurted the word out so loud that it started a bird in the tree over them. “Oy gevalt. I can’t be a witch. I’m Jewish.” She leaned closer. “I would not sell my soul for power.”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Xander immediately agreed. “All Willows in all worlds would be saying no to the selling of souls, well, except for that vampire Willow we ran into, but vamp Willow definitely didn’t have a soul to sell. Why would you think that?”

“But…” Willow looked up at Dorsey, but he seemed more interested in watching their perimeter. Oh yeah, this guy was all military. Xander’s arm hairs felt like going to attention. Willow sighed. “A witch is someone who has dabbled in the dark arts, and that means demons and deals.”

“Or it’s someone who has tapped into the whole mother Earth goddess religions and white magic and who then feels a need to add a whole bunch of lectures on the evils of stereotyping ancient religions and pagan beliefs to her set of lectures on misogyny and the evils of assuming that Santa visits every house.”

“He has your number, Rosenberg,” Dorsey said with some amusement.

“Oh, shut up.”

Dorsey smirked at her before turning his attention to Xander, “So, the magic isn’t exclusively evil in your world?”

Xander shook his head. “Only about seventy percent evil. I mean, it’s easy to go evil if you’re on the power path, but plenty don’t.” Xander tried really, really hard to not look at Willow at that exact time. Nope, he was not getting into discussions of Warren. Nope. Not going there.

“And you’ve had some problems with the military,” Dorsey guessed. He held up his hand before Xander could say anything. “And you don’t have to tell me, but I’ll tell you right now that my only goal here is to protect my favorite geek. She’s a valued team member, and I would happily gut you if you threatened her for one second. However, unless you plan to threaten her, I don’t have an agenda. There’s no law against getting caught outside your home dimension.”

“That would be an awkward law to get past the Congress,” Xander agreed, “but I know this is really doing weird things to you guys to see me being not being dead, and I’m sorry,” Xander said as he studied Willow. She chewed on her lower lip. “Giles was hugely with the not amused, and I don’t think I’m going much better with you.”

“Giles?” Willow frowned.

“Oh god. You never… I mean… I…” Xander stopped. Without Buffy around to bring them together, there was no reason for Willow to ever meet Giles, but he’d been such a big part of their lives that Xander couldn’t quite think about Willow without Giles. When her own parents were doing the crushing her in guilt thing, Giles had made her feel better. He’d taught her things that made her feel special.

“Is this is a love interest?” Dorsey asked with a teasing look down at Willow.

“What? No! Oh my god, no. Ick. Giles is more… parental,” Xander said. “Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say this because this isn’t my world and Spike is definitely going to give me all kinds of crap about sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong, but Rupert Giles was our expert in all things that went bump in the night. He has books on books on books about demons, and in my world, he worked with the slayer, the one girl in all the world with the powers to kick demon ass while still complaining about her inability to find a cute pair of shoes she could afford on her allowance.”

“Allowance?” Dorsey urged Willow closer to Xander and sat on the bench. Clearly the rule about not talking about confidential stuff in public only applied to their secrets.

“Um, the slayer would get her power at fifteen, and after that it was a game of balancing the whole secret identity with the need to no get kicked out of high school,” Xander admitted.

“Oy,” Willow breathed softly. Dorsey’s dark hands flexed like he wanted to grab someone and choke them.

“Yeah, Riley had that reaction when he found out, too,” Xander said, “so it must be a soldier thing, but Willow and me were just there. And yeah, fighting demons at fifteen isn’t exactly great, but it’s not like we didn’t win our fights. And here, you guys have those Winchester boys, and they were fighting demons when they were like… I don’t know, six or seven? They were way younger than us.”

“I fought demons when I was fifteen?” Willow asked, her voice getting all shaky.

Dorsey reached out and rested his large hand on her knee. “You aren’t getting near a demon fight without me and the guys with fully automatic weapons and hex bags being there with you.”

Willow swallowed and nodded. “I guess I shouldn’t be all that shocked. We know that alternate dimensions have some resonance with each other, so if I’m part of the fight here, it makes sense to be part of the fight there,” Willow said. “What about Jesse?”

She asked it with such an innocent, open air that it took Xander a second to really register what she’d asked, and then it took several more seconds to realize that big old stones had just dropped into his belly.

“It looks like you lost your friend. I am sorry,” Dorsey offered.

“Jesse?” Willow asked. “Jesse’s dead? I can’t imagine growing up without the three of us.”

Xander tried hard to shove all those old memories back in their box, but now that she’s said his name, specters of Jesse rose up from the pavement. The Jesse in his graduation cap pressed up against vamp Jesse, his face twisted with malicious glee the way it had been two seconds before Xander had staked him.

“A vampire…” Xander stopped. Before he could say anything else, Willow reached out and grabbed his hands and held on tightly.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, and his Willow had never said that. His Willow had been in so much pain that she’d rushed past all the grieving. And even though he didn’t doubt that she’d cried at home, there was some little part of him that had always wanted to hear that. He pulled one of his hands free and wiped away the tears.

“I had to…” Xander stopped and took a breath, and all the specters scattered to the wind. “I had to dust him.”

“Oh Xander.” Willow still had one of his hands and she held it tightly. She might not be his Willow, but she had a heart just as big. And he didn’t want any Willow in danger if he could protect her. And yes, the idea of him protecting her was pretty amusing because Willow in any universe was a scary thing.

“But Rupert Giles, who on paper looks like a stuffy old English guy… or not so old English guy,” Xander added as he realized that Giles and Dorsey were about the same age, “is this total genius with all things that go bump in the night. I tracked him down the second I got here because I was a little weirded out, and in this universe, he’s an expert and a hunter and a little terrifying. But I know it’s still Giles down under all the gruff, so he’ll do anything to save the world. Anything,” Xander said. Willow was still giving him tragic face, but Dorsey nodded.

“Rupert Giles of England. We will look for him to see if he wants an alliance.”

“You may want to avoid mentioning me,” Xander said.

“Oh?” Dorsey gave him a one eyebrow up look. Other than the fact that Dorsey was huge and clearly military and black, Xander would have said he looked exactly like Spike.

“When I went missing, my Willow sent backup through until she could figure out how to undo what someone else did, and my backup is of the less than human variety.”

Willow jerked her hand back. “A demon?”

“As in a human that’s been to hell? God no,” Xander said. “The only person I know who’s gone to any hell dimension is Angel, and he deserved to go. If Willow had sent him through, I would have been greatly tempted to shove a piece of wood in him, even if is an ally at least fifty percent of the time.” Xander made a face. While hating Angel with a passionate fury was a little childish, he was willing to sacrifice his maturity for a good cause. “The whole humans selling their souls thing is not nearly as common in my world, and most of what we call demons, you call monsters.”

“So a monster is your backup,” Dorsey checked. He had a good poker face going, but then so did Willow.

Xander shrugged. “Hey, not all monsters are all that monstrous. Clem’s people… his people’s demon name is unpronounceable even for Giles, so I have no hope. But other than his bad habit of eating kittens and getting Willow’s PETA speech, he doesn’t do anything evil.”

“And he feeds on…” Dorsey let his voice trail off, but it was pretty clear that he thought the only answer would be humans. Xander flashed on his own meal of giant-mouthed demon-monster thingy. Yeah, not all monsters liked human flesh.

“Embarrassment,” Xander said, “which is why he was best friends with me, and then he went off and was Harmony’s best assistant.”

“Harmony Kendall?” Willow asked. Her eyebrows went all the way up.

“Yep, only vampire Harmony Kendall. Sometimes she still does evil stuff, but honestly, she’s no more evil than she was as a human. But anyway, Harmony is such a…” Xander waved his hand to show how impossible it was to explain Harmony. “Between the people who are embarrassed for her as she makes a fool out of herself with that show of hers and the men who humiliate themselves trying to get in her bed, Clem is very well fed.”

Dorsey leaned closer. “She’s a vampire with a show?”

“Well, sort of. It’s this whole internet show, and most people think it’s cheesy vampire pseudo-porn. Not that I’ve watched.” Xander felt his face warm up. “I’ve never. I mean, it’s Harmony, so I wouldn’t.” Xander groaned and let his head drop into his hands. “In my defense, it started as a morbid curiosity thing,” he said, his voice muffled in his hands. He rolled his head to one side, and Willow’s mouth was open in an “o” and Dorsey looked more than a little amused. “I’m in hell,” Xander whispered.

“Xander Harris. You watched Harmony do porn?”

“I watched Harmony try to do pseudo porn,” Xander corrected her before sitting back up. “And as far as monsters go, Harmony is more the sort to call one of those celebrity shows and try and spread rumors about someone having a pedophilia habit than the type to end the world. And Clem is harmless. And the Oden Tal are actually way more on the side of good than anything else, although they do get really cranky and burn people to death when backed into corners.”

“So monsters are good?” Willow asked. Her voice had gone all hard and brittle and hugely disbelieving.

Xander shook his head. “They aren’t good or bad, and more often than not, they’re hungry, and trying to play nice with a hungry rabid wolf would be way smarter. But some are really, really evil. Lots of kind of evil, and most are generally just interested in getting a meal, and we happen to be the easiest food source. And yes, I know your world is different because you have, I don’t know, weird good versus evil issues. Our world is a little more about grays. And then sometimes you have monsters that are actually good and care about honor and justice and upholding the family name. Groo is scary honorable, way more than me. He’d cut his own arm off before he’d run away from a fight screaming like a little girl, and me… yeah, both arms still attached.”

“Rosenberg?” Dorsey asked.

Willow was shaking her head. “It’s not possible. I mean, if there were any, wouldn’t we have met them?”

“Any what?” Xander asked.

“Non-evil monsters,” Willow snapped at him. Okay, Quantum-Willow was cranky.

“Actually, the non-evil sort usually do their best to make sure no one ever meets them. When Spike was evil, he was all ‘bloody look at me be bloody,’” Xander said in a fake British accent that would get him killed if Spike ever heard it. “But after he fought to earn his soul back, he was not really big on letting anyone know who he was. He’s pretty low-key now.”

“Your backup used to be evil?” Dorsey checked.

“Oh yeah. He once hit me over the head with a microscope and kidnapped Willow to make her do a love spell because his vampire girlfriend fell out of love with him after a hundred years. It makes Romeo and Juliet look a little pathetic.”

“And he’s your backup?” Willow’s face scrunched up. “And just for the record, I don’t do spells, and if he tried to kidnap me, he would end up a very dead monster.”

“For the record,” Xander said, “he died saving the world, and he doesn’t kidnap people anymore. Usually. And when he does, it’s because that’s the right thing to do. Since he earned his soul back, he’s done more to make the world safe than anyone, except for maybe you and Buffy.”

“Buffy?” Dorsey jumped on the name. Xander had the feeling there was a tape recorder somewhere.

“She was the slayer, but I checked, and there’s nothing to say slayer, so she’s just one more young woman shopping for expensive shoes,” Xander said apologetically. “I wish I could help with that, but if you hook up with Giles, he’ll have all sorts of neat tricks.”

Xander frowned as something skittered across his skin. He looked around.

“Problem?” Dorsey immediately stood, and Xander was more than a little creeped out that Willow reached under her jacket, revealing a shoulder holster of her own.

“Um, less creepy crawly than the big old mouth demon, but someone’s here.” Xander stood and turned in a slow circle.

“Psychic?” Dorsey asked.

“It looks like,” Willow agreed. “Xander always was the one who seemed to know when the bullies were coming or how to avoid the teachers. Jesse and I called him Radar, like Radar from MASH, you know?”

Xander stopped. His Willow had never done that, but then this wasn’t his world.

“Okay, then the other question is what mouth demon are you talking about?”

“The woman whose whole head opened into a mouth, and there was this tongue, and she…” Xander stopped. Okay, how did you explain to people who hated monsters that you were an alpha monster?

“That’s what was in the restaurant?” Willow asked in a horrified voice.

“That’s why you went for a kitchen, for the cleaners,” Dorsey said, and he gave Xander a very approving look. “I wouldn’t recommend taking on a Leviathan alone, but I’m impressed that you survived long enough for rescue to come.”

Xander opened his mouth and then closed it again. There was just not a good way out of this.

Turning toward a limestone building, Xander started walking. “Trouble?” Dorsey asked as he fell in behind Xander with Willow next to him.

“You could say that, mate,” Spike said as he stepped into the shadowed archway. “Harris, I’m going to chain you to a soddin’ bed until you learn to keep out of trouble.”

Part Nineteen

“Oh boy, considering I got kidnapped out of my dimension while sleeping in my own bed, staying out of trouble is harder than it looks.” Xander tried giving Spike a smile, but it definitely wasn’t working.

Dorsey moved to the right, and Willow to the left. Oh this was not good. Xander moved so that he was standing next to Spike and facing off against Willow. “Hey, guess who I ran into, Spike,” Xander said as brightly as he could to make up for all the dark emotions he could feel roiling under the surface. Yep, Spike and military—not a good mix.

“You must be Spike. I’m Major Dorsey, US Air Force.”

“Bully for you, mate. Now shove off.”

Dorsey and Willow traded looks.

“Oh bloody hell. Look Red, I know you don’t know me from Adam, but I’m not here to cause you and yours any trouble. However, I’m not a fan of the boys in green, so get your pet soldier out of here before we have an accident.” Spike talked to Willow as he poked his thumb in Dorsey’s direction.

“You want me to send him away?” Willow looked absolutely alarmed, so Xander was guessing she’d never had to step up and take charge in this world.

Spike hooked a thumb in his belt and looked her up and down for a second. Slowly, he grinned. “Nice cover, luv. I do appreciate the wide-eyed look, but you have steel under all the camouflage, and you always have. Now, the boy gave you the hint about Rupert being in the know. Take that and sod off.”

“Uf. You aren’t that nice,” Willow complained.

“Rosenberg, let’s move out,” Major Dorsey suggested. He had his hand on the butt of his gun now, but Xander was more worried about the big ball of sun in the sky. If these guys knew Spike was a vampire… actually if they knew he was a vampire, they would assume the sun would only be uncomfortable and that a stake to the heart wouldn’t work. However, they’d probably try to behead him.

“Xander, are you safe with him?” Willow asked without showing any interest in leaving.

“Totally,” Xander nodded. “Well, mostly. He’s going to completely kick my ass and make me miserable about the whole getting arrested thing.”

“And then some, pet. Hell, Rupert is in town, so I have the feeling that you’ve set off all sorts of alarms by getting your name put in the system.”

“Giles is here?” Xander wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

Spike nodded. “Trolling downtown looking for the lair.”

“Which is fairly rude. I mean, we could have a nice four-star hotel for all he knows.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Stop giving them information, ya nit,” Spike said with a jerk of his head toward Dorsey. Xander looked over at the soldier in confusion.

“You have given us a lot of intel,” Dorsey agreed. “We need to investigate the possibility of non-hostile… monsters, although the commanding officers may be less than enthusiastic about that thought. There’s someone named Buffy and a soldier named Riley who were both significant fighters for your side in your own universe. There are alternative magical sources other than demonic, and Rosenberg has an aptitude for them, although given your response when talking about power corrupting, something there worries you, so she must have had a rough patch.”

“If I started using magic at fifteen, I’d be more shocked at not having a rough patch,” Willow said. “I had my teen angst issues.”

Xander shook his head. “Your girlfriend was killed right in front of you. This guy… he wanted Buffy dead, and Tara was just there, and her blood… it splattered.” Xander stopped and frowned. That was a day he didn’t want to relive, but he couldn’t let Willow think that something like teenage angst could have driven her to evil. “But you turned away from hate and came back to us.”

Willow took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay, but I am not lesbian. I truly am Jewish, which I might have mentioned once or twice, so no girlfriend and no collateral damage. I’m truly sorry for your Willow.”

Spike answered when Xander couldn’t get the words out. “She’s strong. She’s survived everything the world threw at her and then some. But you aren’t her. I can’t say I want anything to do with you.”

He turned to Dorsey. “And you can take that information and do what you like, but you leave the boy alone. Clear?” Spike let yellow bleed into his eyes, and Dorsey held up one hand in a placating gesture.

“You have a right to protect your geek, and I’ll just worry about protecting mine. I do plan on following up on those leads unless you have a good reason I shouldn’t.”

“Piss in a windstorm for all I care,” Spike offered.

Dorsey nodded again. “Then let me just give you some numbers. If you want them, fine. If you throw them away, fine. But I do understand from certain mission reports others have turned in that travelling dimension poses special problems, and I will do my best to help as long as helping does not compromise our position or put Rosenberg on the spot.” Moving slowly, Dorsey pulled a card out of his inside jacket pocket. “The numbers are private.”

Spike looked at the outstretched card like it was infected with the plague or something, and Xander darted forward and grabbed it. “Thanks,” he said softly. “He really isn’t that bad when he isn’t scared shitless about whether we’re going to get buried under some military complex, stuck in an all-white cell with scientists that poke and—” Xander had a lot more to offer, but Spike reached out, caught him by the back of the shirt, and yanked him back.

“You’re a menace, Harris. I should hand you over so you go mucking up their plans instead of mine.”

“But then you wouldn’t have… yeah, I’m done,” Xander quickly said when he saw the thunderous look on Spike’s face.

Dorsey laughed. “He sounds like Rosenberg.”

“They babble the same,” Spike agreed before he ran his tongue along the inside of his lip. This was bordering-on-violence Spike, and maybe Dorsey knew it because he started backing away.

“Come on, Rosie. You can tell me a whole bunch of stories about your Xander as we catch a ride back to Colorado.”

“But.” She stopped and made a little frustrated noise that Xander knew so well.

“Bye, Willow,” he said softly. He could see how close she was to crying, but it wasn’t for him. It was for her Xander. And her Xander lay at the bottom of a deep crevasse opened by an apocalyptic earthquake.

“Bye, Xander,” she finally said as she started backing away. Xander watched as they headed down the street. After a half-block or so, Dorsey moved closer and put a hand on her back, and she leaned closer. They were teammates, partners. She looked to him when she needed to cuddle on the couch and watch Bollywood movies.

As soon as they were gone, he turned to Spike. “I can explain.”

“Save it, Harris.”

“No really. I mean, yeah, I was totally wrong, but I found out about leviathans, and they actually aren’t very large fish.”

Spike grabbed him by the shirtfront and slammed him back into the wall hard enough that Xander’s teeth clattered together. “Save it. I don’t want to hear one thing out of you until we get back to the lair. Got it?” His eyes were totally yellow, and the ridge on his nose almost rippled as it appeared, vanished, and reappeared.

Xander nodded. Okay, clearly Spike had reached his breaking point. Xander kept his mouth closed and silently vowed to just keep his head down and take whatever punishment Spike doled out. The specters rose, and Xander watched as the fanged four walked down the street. Darla was in a long red dress with fancy trim, her hair up in an old-fashioned style that most women would never wear outside their wedding day. Angel had long hair and a dark suit with a long coat, but Spike… he looked absolutely gleeful as he leaped over a dead body and caught Drusilla around the waist and swung her around. His dark brown coat and light shirt were splattered with blood.

Xander could almost feel Spike’s glee—his power—his absolute belief that he was strong enough to do anything, and that gave him the right to do everything. Right, Xander was definitely getting the point, even if Spike wasn’t saying anything.

After growling at Xander for a second, Spike turned and stalked off. Xander followed behind, much of his earlier joy drained out. The specter of pre-soul Spike danced with Drusilla in their wake as they headed for a sewer entrance.

Part Twenty

Xander’s knees hurt, but something told him that he wasn’t in any real danger as he went on hour four of kneeling on the concrete floor. If he were still human, he definitely would have been crippled, maybe permamently. However, Xander was starting to think that he would never be human again.

Spike stopped pacing and grabbed another cigarette and lit it. He seemed to be alternating between quiet cursing and furious pacing/smoking. Xander flexed his fingers and pulled on the rope just hard enough to feel the strands go tight around his wrists, and that then pulled the rope tight around his angles. Yep, Spike had taken the threat of hog tying him and had made it less of a threat and more of a reality, but Xander wasn’t all that shocked.

China-era Spike still danced around the room, but he’d been joined by cross-burned into his chest post-soul Spike. Subtlety wasn’t one of Spike’s great talents.

“If you ever do that again,” Spike finally snarled, and considering they were the first words Spike had said in four hours, Xander nodded. He was willing to agree with anything at this point. “You didn’t know what you were up against. You didn’t know how to kill it, and you just bloody rushed in there like a fool.”

China-Spike leaped into the air.

“I know,” Xander said softly.

“You have no idea what your powers are. You didn’t even soddin’ look to see if you were making a spectacle out of yourself. There were entirely too many humans on that street, and you had to go and make that soddin’ leap.”

“What leap?” Xander asked.

Spike dropped his cigarette on the floor and stomped on it before giving Xander a blistering glare. “What leap?” he demanded, his voice dangerously slow. “What leap? You soddin’ little pillock. You leaped over the fucking cars on the road and landed on the far side before chasing that monster through the alley.”

“I did?” Xander could feel a growing sense of horror and panic. “I front of everyone?” That was so not good. That was as not-good as having glowy eyes. Shit.

Spike dropped down onto an overturned box. “You prat. You didn’t know? Bloody hell.” He suddenly looked very, very tired.

“I smelled chocolate, and I couldn't resist,” Xander said in his own defense. He got a yellow-eyed glare in return. “Really, really good chocolate. It was irresistible.”

“Well you’d better start resisting,” Spike said wearily.

"That or avoid hunters," Xander summed it up. If he couldn't hide, he was going to end up fighting way too much, and since he actually liked hunters, he really didn't want to do that.

Xander wondered what would happen if he ran into Sam and Dean Winchester. And actually, Xander wanted to run into them, but more on a fellow-fighters-of-evil basis than a monster of the week. However, if he showed up glowy eyed and jumping over cars, one of the Winchesters was going to try and kill him for sure.

For a long time, the room was silent, and Xander fidgeted on the cold floor.

Eventually Spike stood and went back to pacing. With every turn, he walked right through gleeful China-Spike, but on about his fourth pass, Angelus appeared next to spectral Spike, leather pants, whip and all. Xander quickly started breathing. He really didn't want to know what Angelusy thoughts Spike had rolling around in his head.

"From the fact that you were around to get arrested and the other git wasn’t, I assume you won," Spike said slowly. He turned and gave Xander a cold glare.

“I kinda ate her,” Xander agreed, “which would be disgusting only by eating I mean I absorbed all her energy until she went poof and vanished in black smoke.”

Spike moved so fast that Xander didn't actually see him move. He just suddenly had Spike right there in his face. “You enjoy that?” Anger rolled off Spike's skin, and Xander's breath caught in his chest. He wanted to lie, he really did. However, Spike deserved better.

Xander sighed. “Too much,” he agreed. “It was like Halloween and stuffing my face with way too much sugar, but loving it anyway.”

The fury under Spike's skin faded and he took a step back. He seemed to take a second to regroup, and then he sighed. “I suppose I couldn’t keep you from figuring it out eventually.”

“Figuring what out?” Xander asked.

Spike gave him a wry smile. “How good it feels to feed from someone. Animals won’t fill that need after you’ve fed for real, not completely.”

Xander felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach. The air just left his body. Spike thought he was going to go feeding on random people, and Xander couldn't decide if that was offensive or just really sad. Did Spike think he was weak or was his own need for human blood so strong that he really couldn't imagine Xander feeling any other way? "I'm not looking to go out and eat the locals." Xander kept his voice soft and cautious.

"You sure about that, Harris?" Spike demanded.

"Totally and completely," Xander said firmly. "I know I was way off base going after the leviathan demon. I really get that Spike, and you have every reason to be slightly totally and completely pissed, but people? Not so much with the smelling like chocolate. They don't smell like food. I don't need to feed on random people, or even specific people. This is me saying no to any and all eating of people."

Spike looked down at him, and Xander didn't need the visions to feel the disbelief.

"Honest," Xander promised. "I wasn't tempted to eat any of the cops, not even the real jerks. I did, however, bend a few of their chains. Luckily, none of them noticed."

Spike snorted. "You say that now," he said, and he wasn't even pretending to believe him.

"I say that always."

For a second, Spike pressed his lips together, and Xander suspected that if he sought out his visions right now, Angelus and that whip of his would be right in his face. It took some time before Spike seemed to get control of his temper. "Harris, you're playing with fire."

"Played. I played with fire, and actually that's oddly accurate because as a kid I kind of did play with fire, but in this case, I'm saying that the fire was less firelike and more just really hot." Xander gave Spike his best smile.

Spike whirled away and started pacing again. "You're a bloody fool, and you don't know how deep you're in."

Xander sighed. He couldn't exactly deny it, because he did know the ice was pretty thin under him. "Maybe," he said slowly. The fact was that he didn't feel any more in danger now than he had two days ago. He was still just as disgusted when Spike wallowed in the memory of the orphanage.

"No maybe, Harris. You are. And is you're too bloody young to know you're in trouble. You're not getting yourself killed on my watch."

That was a strange proclamation of not-hatred, but Xander figured that Spike was more likely to cut off his own leg that come any closer to saying anything mushier. Xander opened his mouth to say something equally not-mushily nice, but Spike had turned his back and stalked off to the other room. Great. Xander sighed as he squirmed. Spike's attitude was about as frustrating and annoying as Clem's cooking, but he's come to another universe just to back Xander up, so yelling seemed a little rude.

Not that Xander had a problem with rude.

Usually.

He sighed again. Before he could make any stupid decisions, Spike was back, and holding something. At first Xander thought Spike had more cuffs. At this point he'd welcome cuffs because they were a whole lot more comfortable than rope. Never before had Xander had such an opportunity to consider how scratchy and uncomfortable rope could be.

However, Xander then got a good look at what Spike had in hand, and it was not a cuff. Oh, it was the same leather, the same metal reinforcement, and even the same lock. But the thing in Spike's had was way too big to fit around a wrist.

"Crap," Xander said.

"You brought this on yourself," Spike snapped, but he also stopped. Mixed message much?

"I'm not saying I didn't. I get it Spike. I was stupid. I was flaming piles of stupid on huge mounds of idiot. I shouldn't have gone after the leviathan. I shouldn't have jumped over the cars or talked to the military, although that last one may actually turn out not so bad." Xander looked up hopefully, but Spike did not seem amused. "That was more of a general, generic 'crap,'" Xander explained. "That's my 'oh god there's a pop quiz' crap or a 'holy flaming crap Spike is putting a collar on me 'crap.'"

"There are days I wonder who taught you English," Spike complained, but complaining about the lack of speaking skills was almost friendly territory with them. It was familiar territory, anyway. The less familiar part was Spike walking up to him and fitting the collar around his neck. Xander swallowed, and the feel of the padded leather pressing against the front of his neck made the him aware of every twitch.

"You're thinking of killing my English teachers, aren't you?" Xander asked. Spike clicked the lock in place, and Xander stretched his neck. The muscles on the side didn't have as much room as they needed, and stretching made the collar press into his skin.

"Just making sure they never teach anyone else again. Death would be optional."

"Good to know," Xander said. Truth was that his English teachers probably deserved flowers and condolences more than death. After all, Spike only had to listen to him. Those women had been forced to grade his essays. Maybe. Xander suspected that some just gave him a D on everything he wrote so he'd pass and never darken their classroom door again.

"So... um... are you calm enough to listen now?" Xander asked.

Spike's mouth almost dropped open. "You're asking if I'm bloody calm?"

"Hey, it's been hours, and you hog tied me and now you collared me, and face it, you always get calmer when you get to really put me in my place, and I am feeling very in my place."

Spike snorted.

"See, that's your 'I'm feeling more relaxed' snort."

Spike narrowed his eyes. "I'm thinking about gagging you."

"Well, yeah. You're also probably thinking of chaining me to a wall. But listen, these people are sort of apocalypse heavy." Xander paused as he tried to figure out how to say the next part.

"Don't say it," Spike warned.

"But we know that Willow is working for someone that knows about dimensions and demons, and Giles knows all about the demons. And they aren't working together. Think how much better they could be doing if they were working together."

"No."

"You don't know what I'm going to say."

"I don't soddin' care. The answer is no." Spike walked over and locked a chain onto the collar and wrapped the free end around his hand. "You're going to say on a leash until you get control of yourself, clear?"

"But we have to go out and--"

"No, we bloody well don't, and if we do, we'll tell people you're my gay bottom boy, got it?" Spike wrapped the chain around his hand several more times until the chain was taut and Xander could feel the pull.

"Got it," he agreed. "But if we could offer them--"

"No."

"Just a few hints about--"

"No."

"It might--"

"No," Spike about shouted. He also gave the leash a hard tug that almost pulled Xander forward, which would have been really bad with this hands tied behind his back.

Xander took a deep breath and looked up at Spike's clear blue eyes. "It's the right thing to do, he said softly. It was. These people may not be his, and the world wasn't exactly their world, but fighting bad guys wasn't a part-time job.

Xander blinked, and checked the specters. William had returned with his notebook and glasses, and a whole bunch of new victims lay scattered across the floor. Well, they weren't new new because from the clothes, some were from the last century, but Xander hadn't seen any of these before. He definitely would have noticed the pile of nuns with mangled limbs and mouths that still worked to say their rosaries. Actually, that was the single most disturbing image Xander had every seen.

"Um, Spike, what's up with the nuns, and please tell me that wasn't you who did that."

"That's the ponce's game, the nuns," Spike said, and Xander didn't have to ask which ponce. Angel. Or Angelus. Xander still wasn't convinced those were actually two separate people.

"Way creepy, and way to creep me out thinking about them."

Spike snorted, but he also loosened his hold on the chain, so Xander wasn't sure what sort of message he was sending. "I never tried to stop him," Spike said slowly, and if Xander hadn't been tied hand and foot, he would have thrown a fist up into the air and done a Snoopy dance of victory. Maybe some of that showed on his face because Spike glared and tightened his hold on the chain. "But if we try to help these morons, we it my way."

"Yep, totally," Xander agreed.

"No running off into some battle half-cocked."

"Absolutely."

"No trusting gits when you don't actually know them."

"Got it."

Spike actually snarled at that, but Xander was agreeing with him. He was totally and completely agreeing with all Spike's conditions. "Those make sense," Xander said. They did.

"I'm reminding you of that when you ignore everything I said and go running off like the bloody moron you are." Spike sounded grumpy, but he walked around Xander and started cutting rope.

Xander winced. Okay, the only thing worse than getting tied up was getting cut loose. Every joint seemed to creak and his limbs were pretty much on fire with pins and needles. "Ow."

"This is nothing compared to what I'll do if you ignore me again," Spike warned, and then he used the collar and chain to jerk Xander to his feet.




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