Gray


by
Litgal



Part Twenty-One

So, Xander decides to broker a meeting between Spike and the government that needs their intel.  Nothing could go wrong there... right?



"I bloody hate this," Spike complained, but he kept walking down the street. Xander pressed close, anxious to hide the chain leash from as many people as possible. He really thought that Spike would reconsider the leash. After all, it made them very conspicuous, and Spike hated conspicuous. Unfortunately, pointing that out had led to discussions of how much more conspicuous they would be if Spike hogtied Xander and hauled him around in a little red wagon. Xander wasn't willing to test Spike’s patience and see if that was an exaggeration.

He reached the park and stopped. In their own world, parks were either full of screaming kids and skateboarders, or they were full of homeless people and people buying drugs. This park was full of nothing, nothing, and more nothing. Well, it had grass and an old swing set that looked like a great setting for a horror movie, but Xander had noticed that this world had a whole lot of potential horror scenes. Between the peeling paint and the cheesy wallpapers in every hotel, Xander was starting to think the good taste gene had died out of the human genome.

"There they are," Xander said, pointing at Willow and Dorsey.

"Not blind, am I?" Spike snapped.

Xander decided that discretion was the better part of something, and he kept his mouth closed. Dorsey walked slightly ahead of Willow, even though Xander could see her barely controlled energy.

"So, Spike," Dorsey said when they were close. "Meeting in the middle of the night in the middle of a public park. You take paranoia to whole new levels."

Spike flipped two fingers up into the air.

Dorsey laughed.

"Xander!" Willow said cheerfully, but then her smile slowly faded. "Xander, are you okay?" she asked as she came around to stand next to Dorsey.

"Yeah, sure." Xander pressed closer to Spike's back and did his best to hide the chain. Of course that didn't hide the collar, and Willow's eyes seem to find and stare at that thick leather. Score one for Spike's overprotective, obsessive nature. "Really, I'm good. He's just a little cranky about me running off and chasing a monster when we didn't... Yeah. I'm fine," Xander finished. Nice, he'd about outed himself as a monster, which would be so very bad. This wasn't his Willow. Heck, his Willow wasn't thrilled with the whole alpha thing.

Dorsey put a hand on Willow's shoulder. "It's not like we haven't had one or two discussions about putting you on a leash, Rosie. You do get yourself in trouble."

"No I don't," she complained softly, and in a voice that made it really clear that she knew she was lying.

"Hey, I'm not saying 'no' to Spike, so really, it's okay," Xander said. He knew Willow and she was not going to drop this until she knew that all was right with the world. "You don't need to worry about me, not unless I let my stupidity get ahead of my common sense, and I do that on a fairly regular basis."

"So, Spike is in control?" Dorsey checked.

"Only totally and completely," Xander quickly agreed. "And that's fair because Spike is not only stronger but way older. Way, way, way older."

"Oh, how old?" Dorsey asked, his voice suddenly not nearly as casual. Willow's eyes were still focused on Xander's collar.

"Old enough to have been killing when you were still in nappies," Spike said. Yep, that would be Spike's version of subtlety. Xander really wished he could see Spike's face so he knew whether this was normal sort of Spike posturing or actual anger.

Dorsey nodded. "And were you always the sort of monster who tries to protect the world?" Dorsey didn't even try and hide his disbelief.

"Our general isn't really much with believing that monsters can be good," Willow added apologetically. "Not that we're saying you're evil or anything. Because we wouldn't say that."

"Actually, the general did say Spike was probably evil," Dorsey said with a shrug. "Sorry."

"No worries, mate. Most monsters you'll ever meet are evil. I was myself for more years than not," Spike said. "Few monsters care one bit about humans or their problems. Most would just as soon humans died off and left the planet to them."

"Actually, I think most would rather eat humans... or watch human television. A lot are pretty obsessed with television," Xander pointed out. Spike glared at him.

"This isn't a joke, Harris," Spike said firmly.

Xander suddenly realized that he could use his visions to try and figure out what Spike was feeling. He focused and slowed his breathing until the ghosts all started forming out of the mist. William appeared first, his notebook in hand. Okay, good. So Spike was more curious than anything else. The lack of Angelus was even better.

However, Xander also noticed a man with greying hair and a gun slung over his shoulder who stood just behind Dorsey. He rested one arm on the gun and glared at all of them. Okay, someone was thinking about a really cranky soldier-guy. Even creepier, a ghost Xander appeared. Willow was clearly thinking about her Xander--a slightly pudgier version of him with an equally ugly wardrobe. Why had he ever thought that plaids and stripes looked good together? And seriously, had the other him never heard of Clearasil? Xander was less than impressed.

"Xander!" A jerk at his neck broke him out of his reveries.

"What?"

"So, psychic?" Dorsey asked as he eyed Xander.

"Me? No," Xander said slowly. He wasn't sure what he was. He looked at Spike.

"We're not talking about him," Spike said with a growl. "I'm here because he feels like he has to help you seeing as how this Red looks like his. I don't bloody like it, so keep your questions to yourself or I'll rip your gonads off and make ya eat them."

From Dorsey's response, Xander was guessing that gonads were something that he didn't want ripped off. Yep, it was time to get control over this conversation before Spike threatened them out of listening.

"And let's not start trying to kill each other," Xander said firmly. He wasn't entirely sure what they others had said while he was spacing, so he went back to the last bit of conversation he had paid attention to. "Spike does have a history as a bad guy. He never wanted to end the world, but he was kind of okay with killing. However, he switched sides."

"Because?" Dorsey asked his voice sharp. The ghost soldier with gray hair brought his weapon up and moved a step closer. Xander made a mental note to avoid Dorsey's friends.

"I fell in love, didn't I?" Spike said.

Willow's eyes went right to Xander.

"With Buffy!" Xander blurted out. "He fell in love with Buffy, who is a girl and not me." Xander backed up until he ran out of room on the leash.

Spike just snorted.

"And that's because she is way stronger and faster than me, or at least she is in my universe, because Spike is not attracted to weak, and actually, that seems to be pretty universal in the non-human crowd."

Spike interrupted before Xander's case of verbal diarrhea could go any farther. "Not really, luv. Plenty of 'em like to keep humans as pets or farm animals, and they aren't particular about how strong the human is."

"Not helping, Spike," Xander complained, but oddly, the gray-haired ghost seemed to stand down some. Willow’s friends seemed a little short on the sanity.

"I'm not going to make them think that monsters are safe to muck around with," Spike said firmly. "Most of 'em will gut you as soon as look at you, not because they're evil but because you aren't the same species. They don't have any more qualms with killing humans than a human might have with killing a cow."

"Hey, I wouldn't kill a cow," Willow protested.

"And plenty of monsters feel the same," Spike said, his voice softer. "But they aren't safe, and most monsters that like humans do their best to stay clear in order to avoid conflict."

"That sounds almost reasonable," Dorsey said, thoughtfully, "but more importantly, you said you had information for us."

Xander poked Spike in the back. Spike turned and gave Xander a dirty look. However, before Spike could start talking, Dorsey jumped in.

"For example, what sort of monster are you and are there more of you?"

Because Spike was looking at him, Xander watched his eyes yellow, and then Spike turned toward the others. Willow gasped and took a fast step backward and Dorsey moved to a spot right in front of her. They moved together so smoothly that Xander definitely got the idea that they had worked together for a while.

"We haven't seen any more of Spike's type of not-human," Xander said quickly before Spike could go and call himself a vampire. He wasn't a vampire--not their kind of vampire--and Xander really didn't want them to know that.

"How long have you been here?" Willow asked. "Have you seen a lot of monsters from this dimension?"

"Um, one," Xander admitted. "But we read those books about the Winchesters."

"Books?" Willow asked. “Research books?”

Xander blushed. “Um, sort of,” he hedged. “The guy who wrote them made them into these cheesy paperbacks, but Giles' father said that the books about Sam and Dean Winchesters are real, so that means that all the monsters they fought are actually real."

Dorsey nodded. "Okay, let’s go over to the table and sit down so we can talk about all this."

"Let's just make it fast," Spike complained as he started moving toward the empty picnic tables. Since he was on a leash, Xander didn’t have a whole lot of choice about following. A dark van pulled up and Spike stopped and tugged on the leash to keep Xander close. Xander was really starting to hate the whole being leashed thing.

"What the bloody hell is he doing here?"

"Xander said he would be an ally," Dorsey said, and that was the point when Xander recognized the van. Giles. Psuedo-father figure Giles. Weird Quantum-mirror Giles. Giles who he had escaped from. Shit shit shit.

"He might be your ally. I doubt if he's interested in making friends with us.” Spike started backing away.

"More like making enemies with us," Xander agreed. He didn’t even try to slow Spike’s retreat.

Dorsey moved closer to the SUV. "We already agreed with him that there would not be any violence. This is about sharing resources and getting to know each other.”

“You share with each other, then,” Spike said. He whirled around, and Xander scrambled out of the way. However, two strides into a stylish retreat, Spike stopped. Xander ran right into his back, and with his hands resting on Spike’s shoulder blades, he could feel the vibrations of Spike’s growl.

“We just want to talk,” Dorsey said in a calming voice. However, it didn’t do much to calm Spike.

“Move ‘em, mate.” Spike’s warning made the hair on Xander’s arms stand up. He slowed his breathing and watched ghosts appear. Dozens and dozens, all hiding in the shadows at the far side of the park under the trees. Shadows waited in the parking lot and along the road. Soldier shadows, and a few decapitated bodies that were definitely less than real. Real decapitations came with a lot more screaming and flailing.

“Spike,” Xander said softly.

“I see ‘em.” Spike turned to face off against Dorsey and Willow and now Giles and Giles’ stepfather. Xander frowned. Had he ever known the guy’s name or was he just blanking out due to the blind panic?

“I see you got them here,” Giles said with a very not friendly look in Xander’s direction. “How did you get out of the warehouse?”

“Mostly by following Spike,” Xander said, and Giles’ unhappy look turned in that direction. That was fine. Spike handled unhappy better than he did.

“Rupert, let’s hear them out,” his father advised.

“Yes, let’s listen to the monsters.”

Dorsey cleared his throat. “I understand your concern.”

“No, I really doubt you do,” Giles said, cutting the guy off with the sort of cold disdain Xander knew all too well. Giles was the best pseudo-father in the world, but when he didn’t like you, he was a little scary. “The government is rather incompetent Johnny-come-lately to this affair, and you are far more likely to bollocks it all up than provide any sort of useful support.”

“Arrogant in any universe, aren’t you?” Spike asked, and Xander held his breath as the cranky levels rose.

“Hey, let’s all just listen to each other,” Willow interjected. “When people listen to each other, they can make healthy compromises.”

“With a demon,” Giles said, and his own father didn’t seem to be disagreeing. “They are dangerous.”

“So am I,” Dorsey pointed out. “But right now, I have as much reason to believe them as I do you. More, in fact. They took on a leviathan. I haven’t seen anything from you but attitude.”

Giles’ father stepped forward. “I can assure you that we have handled far more for far longer, and I’ve gotten attitude from men tougher than you and all your men put together. The only reason for a demon to try and negotiate with the government is to cause some sort of trouble.”

Willow jumped in. “This is not listening. We are all talking about our own assumptions without listening to each other. That is not a helpful strategy here.”

“I’m negotiating with them because you lot can’t keep your own apocalypse in line,” Spike said with a nasty smile, and this whole thing was circling the drain fast. Worse, Xander didn’t know how to stop it. “But if you lot don’t want our help, we’ll be perfectly happy to bugger off and let you get on with sending your world to hell.”

“Um, not so happy about that, Spike. I like the world unhellish.”

“Not our world, not our soddin’ problem.” With a snarl in the general direction of Dorsey and Giles, Spike headed for the street. There were the fewest ghosts waiting there, but it meant that they had to move dangerously close to Giles and his father. Both men retreated, hands reaching for weapons, but Spike moved so fast he was past them before they reacted. And that left his back to two enemies. Actually, it left Xander’s back to the enemy since the leash forced him to trail behind.

For a few seconds, Xander thought the bluff might work. He really did. But then two men stepped out from behind the van and brought weapons up. Xander didn’t have any time to react before he was flying sideways, thrown free of the line of fire by Spike. Unfortunately, Spike didn’t get out of the way of the spray of bullets.

Someone shouted, and soldiers tumbled out of the trees, but Spike was already up and snapping the neck of one of the machine gun guys. That seemed to make him a target as soldiers fired at him, blue energy dancing in the air. Xander watched while Spike’s whole body seized up, and then he crumpled to the ground.

“Spike!” Xander leapt up from the ground and charged toward Spike, panic clawing at his guts. The blue energy fired again, and Xander didn’t have time to duck. It hit him like running into an electric fence, and for a second, he was surrounded by blue, but then the energy faded and Xander reached Spike. He was still in one piece and unbreathing, and Xander had to assume he was okay. The blue energy hit him again, and Xander twitched and flailed as it coursed through him. Worse, he could see some of the energy transfer into Spike, making his body dance in uncoordinated jerks.

Xander didn’t actually make many choices after that. He felt the rage, the hot fury, claw his way out of his chest. He didn’t remember moving, but then he had both hands around the neck of the soldier who’d fired. Energy flowed into him, sour and bitter, but Xander didn’t care about the taste. He only cared about his anger. Spike was hurt.

Blue energy slammed into him again, and he dropped the soldier and jumped toward the two new men. His muscles shook from the force of the energy, but he grabbed the two and threw them as hard as he could before jumping into the air to avoid another energy discharge. He landed right behind Dorsey, and the soldier seemed to turn in slow motion, his weapon slowly swinging around in an arc.

Xander grabbed Dorsey by the neck and felt the energy begin to flow. He didn’t have the same bitter to him as the other soldier, but there was a strong sour in with the sweet, and Xander’s hungry rose up to feast as it hadn’t with the other man. Dorsey dropped his gun, his head falling back as though it was too heavy for his neck to hold it up. Xander could feel that fire of life grow dim until it was little more than a glowing ember as Dorsey’s knees buckled. With his hand still around Dorsey’s neck, Xander sank to the ground with him, that sweet-sour energy filling his every sense. But something nagged at him, tugging him back to the world.

“Xander. Xander, please don’t!”

He blinked and Willow was there, clinging to his arm as soldiers pointed weapons and screamed orders and didn’t fire because Dorsey and Willow were in danger.

“Xander, don’t do this,” she begged, her green eyes wide with fear and hope and that same Willow-determination that had sent her into every demon fight in town since she’d been fifteen years old. “Please.”

The last ember start to fade as Dorsey stopped breathing and his heart stuttered. Horror wrapped around Xander’s soul as he realized he was killing a man who truly was trying to save his world. And yeah, he’d been stupid, but if stupidity were a capital crime, Xander would have died years ago. Guilt pressed up against the base of his throat, and it tasted like bile. Xander didn’t want Dorsey dead. He didn’t.

His palm started to tingle, and Xander could feel the ember of life pulse to life for a second. Focusing, Xander pushed. He pushed against the guilt and the hunger and the sheer horror of having nearly murdered someone, and he could feel Dorsey’s body start to warm, the fire weak but growing.

“Major? Oh please be okay,” Willow sobbed as Dorsey started to cough. Xander let go of the man’s neck, and blue energy seemed to hit him from every side. Xander’s body jerked, but he couldn’t push through the pain now. His body stiffened and then the darkness hit him like a brick wall, and Xander should know. He’d been hit by more than one brick wall in his life.

Part Twenty-Two

Xander woke up unhappy. Under other circumstances, his first complaint would have been the heavy steel restrains around his wrists or the way his shoulders ached from having his arms behind his back too long. But today, Xander decided his biggest complaint was the dull gray cinderblock walls and bars. Yep. Prison cell. Even worse, Spike was nowhere in sight.

Xander groaned and rolled onto his side. “Ow ow ow.” That hurt. Xander got himself upright and realized that he was definitely not in a jail cell built for a human. No toilet, no sink, no nothing, or lots of nothing, depending on how you looked at it.

“Hey,” Xander said to the guard who stood with his back to the bar. The jackass didn’t even twitch. “Hey, I’m awake here. Would you like to tell someone that?” Nothing.

With a sigh, Xander leaned back against the cold concrete wall. He hated the government.

Xander took a few deep breaths and braced himself for whatever might come—tortured demons, werewolves taken apart at the joints, hellmouthy type fun. Instead he saw only the faintest of ghosts. A blonde woman with eyes that glowed slowly paced and a guy who looked a little like a middle-aged He-man stood looking indignant. But both were faded imitations of visions, and Xander could tell they were attached to the cell and not any people by the solid edges. People’s thoughts tended to get all fuzzy around the edge and then dissolve into some other thought.

Like the guard. He was totally thinking about having sex with his very beautiful girlfriend, but the edges of his girlfriend kept fading out so that the woman looked more and more like Kirstie Alley from her Cheers days.

“Seriously, I do not need to see your Kirstie Alley fantasies. Besides, your girlfriend is way cuter.”

That finally caught the guard’s attention. He whirled around with murder in his eye, and all Xander could do was flatten himself against the far wall of his cell.

“At ease, airman.” Dorsey walked in.

“But sir…”

“Hey, the general told you to avoid thinking classified thoughts. I think he pretty much assumed that’s where your mind would go,” Dorsey said. “It’s okay. Step out and catch a breath of fresh air. You and your Kirstie Alley fantasies have five minutes to then get back here.”

“Yes, sir,” the man agreed before leaving.

Dorsey leaned against the far wall and looked at Xander. “So,” he said slowly, “I hear you almost killed me.”

“So,” Xander shot back, “I hear you attacked to people who’d agreed to meet under a truce.”

Dorsey flinched. “Actually, it was Giles’ guys who opened fire. Our people just came in when the free-for-all started.”

“Oh, well then, that makes everything okay.” Xander pulled against the hard steel around his wrists.

“We arrested the two who brought guns to the park. They’re being charged with federal firearms violations, public display, endangerment, and generally pissing off the general, and the general does not like being pissed off. Or poked. Or told to play nice.” Dorsey shrugged.

“And Giles?” Right now, Xander wanted Giles in the cell next to him. He would say he wanted Giles in his cell so he could bawl the man out, but Giles still kinda scared him.

“We didn’t have a reason to hold him.”

“And you do have a reason to hold us?” Xander pushed himself up onto his feet, and Dorsey took a fast step back. “Where’s Spike? Is he okay?”

“You know things are different with you and Spike.”

“Because we’re monsters?” Xander demanded. “Hey, newsflash. Neither of us actually asked to be monsters. Both of us just had the bad luck to run into scary and slightly less than sane women. I was saving the world way before I got monsterfied, and I’m trying to do the same thing now, and Spike closed a hellmouth and stopped a whole Armageddon on his own, even after he’d joined the legions of the unbreathing.”

“In your universe,” Dorsey said.

“Yes, in our universe. We haven’t actually been in this universe very long, and right now I’m kinda thinking I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to. You don’t have the welcome mat out.” Xander’s voice was rising into girly-pitch land, but he couldn’t get himself to stop and breathe.

Dorsey nodded. “If I could help you leave this reality, I would.”

“Right.” Xander dropped down onto the narrow cot. “You’d just escort us home and wish us luck. I’m not actually as stupid as I look.” Xander frowned. That hadn’t come out the way he meant it.

“I never thought that. I came to that meeting honestly hoping to work things out, and while clearly this is not a best-case scenario, I do still hope we can talk.”

“Then give me Spike back,” Xander said. He had to clamp down on all the panic and fear that rose just at Spike’s name. What if they’d dusted Spike? What if he was really seriously hurt and they wouldn’t give him blood? Xander tasted the metallic bile rising in his throat.

“He’s two cells over, Xander. He took fewer hits than you did, and he woke up several hours ago.” Dorsey smiled. “He’s giving the guys down there whole new lessons in British profanity. They’ve had to look a few things up.”

“Then let me see him.” Xander stood again, hope rising.

Dorsey shook his head. “You’re in isolation because… because of the mind reading tricks.”

“I’ve read Spike’s mind already. It’s less fun than you might think,” Xander pointed out. Right now, he was expecting lot and lots of Angelus and whips and reckless young Spike with blood, blood, and more blood. Wait, why was he asking to share space with Spike again.

“The general wants you in isolation,” Dorsey said almost apologetically. However, Willow would like to see you.

Xander stopped breathing. Willow. He so could not deal with Willow right now. Dorsey was a stranger, so he could kind of understand the whole betrayal thing, but Willow… they were friends. Willow knew the other him, was best friends with other-him, and she still helped put him in a jail cell.

Xander had all kinds of things to say about Willow visiting, but he couldn’t get his tongue untangled long enough to say any of them. Dorsey took a step back, and the nameless guard returned, this time with Willow right behind. She had on a black t-shirt and army style pants with her red hair pulled up in a high pony-tail, and maybe that made it easier because she didn’t look like his Willow anymore.

“I’ll give you guys a few minutes,” Dorsey said. “Airman.” Clearly the two of them shared some sort of military hive brain because the nameless guard answered, “Yes, sir,” like he knew what Dorsey meant.

Once Dorsey was gone, Willow took a step forward and then stopped. “Xander,” she said in that tragic voice of hers, the one that normally came with baked goods and apologies.

Xander shook his head. “You aren't Willow. At least you aren’t any Willow that I want to know.”

She flinched. “I know you're mad right now, but see this from our side.”

“I know that my Willow would never have done this to me. I know that when Oz got werewolfified, my Willow didn't turn him over to the government. In fact, when the government kidnapped him and threatened to torture him, she saved him. She went up against the whole government to help her friend, and because it was the right thing to do.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I understand you're more the Nazi version of Willow with the hating of people because of who they are,” Xander snapped.

“Xander!" Willow's eyes went all big and her hands came up to her mouth. Guilt crawled up Xander's throat, but he refused to back down. So instead he turned his head so he faced the gray wall. This was so very bad. From now on, he was going to listen to anything Spike said, especially if Spike said it was a bad idea to get mixed up with anti-demon government forces. Yeah, that one seemed pretty obvious in retrospect. Willow’s breath came in little wet gasps, and Xander pulled his legs up under him and stared at the corner of his cell by the head of his cot. What an interesting corner. It had two walls and a place where to wall met and grout.

"Talk to me. What you did out there..." Willow sounded so wounded.

"If a vamp bit you, it wouldn't be your choice to be a vampire," Xander said softly. He was about to add that it would be her choice about whether or not to be evil, but actually, most demons didn't really get a choice, not the ones that took over human bodies, anyway. Vampires and werewolves pretty much killed people.

Only Oz didn't... not anymore. He'd done the whole zen thing and stopped being evil. And even before the soul, Spike had been evil light. And Xander didn't think he was evil. Did a person know if they'd turned evil?

“Xander,” Willow said softly. “I know you’re in there somewhere, but you’ve been turned, and we’ve seen what happens to people who get turned, and I don’t blame you for that.”

“But you’ll lock me up for it,” Xander finished for her.

“You haven’t asked about the people you hurt. I know Xander Harris, and he would never hurt anyone.”

Xander looked over his shoulder. “You never knew Xander Harris because the only reason he didn’t hurt anyone was because he was never strong enough. He wanted to punch every bully that ever called you a name. He wanted to dropkick Cordelia Chase off the top of the tallest building on campus because she made you feel like less of a person just by picking on your clothes, clothes which were just fine for someone who wasn’t trying to impress the entire football team. He wanted to wait until Larry had him on his knees and then punch that bully so hard in the balls that he coughed up blood. Xander Harris wanted to hurt a lot of people.”

Xander took a deep breath. “But having more power means you have to stop wanting to hurt people, even people who attack you. So no, I don’t care about those men because I tried my best to not hurt them, but they attacked me and they hurt me. If you think I’m going to let that happen, they you don’t know human nature very well.”

Xander watched Willow fight with her emotions. He took deep breaths because right now he didn’t want to know what she was thinking. He didn’t want to sympathize with her. He wanted to be angry because she never had seen him, not her-Xander and not the him who was here now.

“When they take me out to murder me, don’t lie to yourself Willow. You just helped kill Xander Harris. Right now you’re helping them kill me, and that’s after I’ve spent most of my life protecting the world from monsters. The only human I ever killed was keeping the teeth of the women he murdered as a souvenir so he could jerk off at night. That’s how far people have to go to get me into a killing mood, but your friends here, they aren’t going to take that much, are they? They don’t need any excuse at all.”

“Xander,” she whispered, tears finally slipping free.

Xander couldn’t take it. He turned away and pulled his knees up so he could bury his face in them. With his hands cuffed, it was the only way he could hide away from all this wrong.

“Xander, look at me,” Willow begged, but he tilted his head so she could only see the back of him. She wasn’t his Willow. She’d never cried on his shoulder or held his hand when he’d been hurting and didn’t want to tell anyone because he was afraid of getting called a wuss. She hadn’t gotten drunk with him as they toasted to lost lovers after Sunnydale fell into a hole. This wasn’t his Willow.

Closing his eyes, he kept telling himself that until her soft pleas vanished and he was alone again.

Part Twenty-Three

Bored, Xander had started stretching with his visions, seeing out any sign of life. Dorsey had claimed Spike was near, but either Xander’s visions didn’t reach two cells over or he’d lied. Xander wasn’t exactly big on the trust right now. However, oddly, Xander found he could reach out in one direction. It was like some magnet kept pulling him downward. Sometimes he felt the pull right under him, and sometimes off to one side, and once… thank god only once… the pull had gone up and up and up so far that he felt like he might get sick as something inside him stretched and stretched.

But that sense of pull was back in place below Xander somewhere. He let himself drift toward it.

Xander watched through someone else's eyes as a group gathered around a long table. Willow sat near, and Xander's stomach lurched as the world sudden swung around to the right even though Xander hadn't moved. At least he didn't mean to move. He ended up jerking and his head thunked against the cinderblock.

"Ow," he complained softly. The guard at the door didn't even move.

After a heavy sigh, Xander slowed his breathing and focused on that room. Either he'd developed a new skill or his imagination was working overtime. The gray-haired scary soldier who had appeared in Xander's visions earlier sat at the end of a long table.

"Feel free to start explaining," the grey-haired guy said.

"When the two subjects attempted to leave the area, I attempted to verbally engage them. At that point, Mr. Giles and Mr. Simons both objected to the two non-humans leaving the area." Xander had the odd feeling of movement... like he was talking, only it was dream talking. Yep, his sanity was totally in doubt at this point.

"So, our bright, shiny new human allies tried to kill two monsters who gave us good intel. Sweet." The gray haired guy leaned back in his chair and rubbed a hand over his face. "You know, when I said I didn't trust this Harris guy, I didn't actually mean you should try to kill him."

"Yes, sir," Xander replied in that dream state.

Willow spoke up, and Xander had another of those dizzying moments where the point of view swung around wildly. "Xander wasn't trying to hurt any of us. He stopped when I asked him to. I still don't believe he's a bad guy."

"Did you see the same thing I did on the surveillance video, because if that was Harris not trying to kill you, I really don't want to see what this guy can do if he puts his mind to it."

"But he wasn't putting his mind to it," Willow said.

Xander could feel emotions floating to the top--an intense desire to believe Willow, hard and jagged doubts, and a hot fear that made his gut ache, a growing feeling of helplessness, the sense of someone’s hand pinning him like a bug on the ground. Since Willow still seemed to be on team Xander, even after he’d verbally flayed her, Xander pushed aside the other emotions and focused on that trust in Willow. Willow was always right--or right often enough that she was worth believing. Xander could feel the subtle shift in emotions, and his stomach started to settle.

"They didn't seem to target individuals," the dream Xander said.

"That's not exactly what I saw," the grey haired man said. He turned his chair, and Xander curled his hands into fists as he had another moment of vertigo. The lights dimmed, and Xander watched the screen as he and Spike walked up to Dorsey and Willow. They’d had video cameras going. He mentally added "sneaky" to the list in his head that already included "manipulative," "evil," "backstabby" and "assholish." Yep, he had all kinds of words for these people.

Xander watched as they all shared some small talk before Spike started leading him toward the camera. Looking at it from the outside, the leash was more than a little obvious. Yeah, Xander was looking a little like the family dog as Spike strode toward Giles and his adoptive father. Both fell back, but Giles’ father reached for his pocket.

Xander knew what happened next, but watching it from the outside made a whole lot more sense than being in the middle of the flailing. Two men came out from behind the van. Both wore camouflage like army guys, and they raised big old machine guns and opened fire. Xander watched as Spike threw him to the side, taking most of the bullets right in the side. He was up in an instant. He grabbed one of the guys and snapped his neck cleanly before leaping to the top of the van and reaching for the other.

This was about where Xander's own memories turned into strobe light-ish visions of fists and flashes of light and random mayhem. Watching from the outside made it easier to follow the action. Light flashed, and an unfamiliar word flashed into Xander's mind--zat. It was an alien energy weapon. Xander should probably be more weirded out at the idea of aliens, but somehow it was all so very normal.

Xander watched Spike whirl around and then collapsed with a snarl.

Xander turned so fast that the chain twirled around him. Giles was running toward him, and Xander watched as his eyes and hair turned red. He opened his mouth in some sort of soundless shout, and Giles brought up his weapon. Men were running out of the woods. These guys were all in black with the alien guns. Okay, so maybe Dorsey had told the truth about not opening fire because one of the alien weapons caught Giles’ father in the back and he fell to the ground.

Xander watched as his body leapt up into the air, and not in any sort of human way. Holy shit. Xander could feel someone else echo his own shock as his leap left Giles firing at the air. He couldn't move fast enough, and Xander landed right behind him, grabbing Giles' arm and flinging him to the side. Oh yeah. If Xander had seen someone else doing that, he definitely would have been thinking demon. He would have been thinking really bad demon--like call Buffy in the middle of the night and get her on scene type demon.

The one remaining guy in fatigues from team Giles raised his weapon, and Xander moved so fast that the film blurred. In a blink, he was in front of the guy, and then Xander hit him with the flat of a hand against his chest. The man flew back with such force that his gun flew into the air. And then the soldiers started firing.

Xander watched himself turn, and on the video he could see the moment when he realized that the soldiers were over Spike. And holy shit, those were vampire teeth. He had grown vampire teeth. He'd grown vampire teeth on steroids, and he charged at the soldiers.

The video was pretty damning as Xander tossed several soldiers to the side. One fell to the ground, and Xander knelt over him. Xander's palms itched as he remembered feeding. Dorsey appeared them, firing his weapon right at Xander. Instead of dropping dead like a good little human, Xander snarled, and then leaped at Dorsey. He grabbed him by the shirt and pushing him onto his back before he started feeding. Anyone who looked at the tape was definitely going to come to the conclusion that Xander was feeding.

Then Xander watched as Willow appeared on the video. Her mouth opened in a silent plea, and Xander watched as his head came up. The emotion in his own face made his heart ache. He'd nearly killed Willow's friend.

Another energy blast flashed across the screen, and Xander watched himself stand up and look around for the source. The soldier was too close, and Xander casually grabbed him and threw him at least twenty feet into the air. He landed in a crumpled tangle of limbs. Another blast hit him, followed by a third and fourth, and then Xander watched himself finally collapse into an inelegant heap. After that, Dorsey was up and yelling, and soldiers rushed around the park. Xander didn't want to watch this, but he couldn't turn away. He physically couldn't get himself to stop looking at the images. Holy crapola he’d done some damage. Buffy was so kicking his ass if she ever saw this, and now that he was all demonified, she really might make that literal ass kicking.

Willow spoke. "Is Benjamin okay?"

The gray-haired guy shrugged. "He's better than Cooper. Frasier seems to think that Harris was feeding off him, and he's going to take a long time for him to recover. You're lucky, Dorsey. That could be you in the infirmary."

Xander sucked in a breath as he realized whose eyes he was seeing through.

"Yes, sir," Dorsey said. He nodded, and Xander swallowed the bile that threatened to come up as the vertigo got worse.

"But Xander stopped the second I asked him to," Willow pointed out.

Grey-haired guy rolled his eyes. That seemed a little mean. "Rosenberg, you yourself said that in his universe, you're into magic. You and Harris might be on the same side in his world, but I'm not convinced that's the right side."

"You think I'd be evil?" Willow sounded horrified.

"Rosenberg, I think you'd terrifying bad guy. I really don't want to even think about it too much. What information do we have on these Winchesters? Keep in mind, if you tell me that these books are true, I'm making someone do the research on The Simpsons."

Dorsey laughed. "Sir, I think we can safely say that Springfield isn't real, but Rosenberg has some interesting background."

"If by interesting, you mean terrifying," Willow said, "then they're interesting. I've been able to confirm most of events from the first six books using police reports and news stories, and I don’t have one piece of evidence to contradict the account. The descriptions of monsters, the places, the people, the deaths… they’re all accurate."

"So, we have two civilians who fighting with no backup and who are targeted by the law more often than not. Great," gray-haired man said wearily. "I'm too old for this crap. So, do we know where these guys are now?"

Willow scrunched up her nose. "It's hard to track them down. I can give you snapshots of where they’ve been, mostly based on how much chaos they leave behind, but trying to find them right now is kinda hard.”

“It’s the whole running from the law gig,” Dorsey said. He rested a comforting hand on her arm. “You’ll find them, Rosie.”

Xander felt his heart stop. Literally. He’d stretched out so far that for a few seconds, his heartbeat went the way of his breathing. It was a very disconcerting feeling, and he focused on forcing the muscle to start beating again. It meant that he lost a little of the conversation. By the time he refocused, they military folk were talking about gaining intelligence about other universes while Willow had on her tragic eyes.

Xander wasn't an expert on military-speak, but he was pretty sure they were talking about torturing him and Spike for information, which would not be good. Besides, Spike had been through all kinds of Angelus torture, so the US military probably wasn't going to be big with the impressing.

Knowledge floated into Xander's awareness. Psyops. Building trust with the captor. Subterfuge. Xander caught a passing thought that darted through Dorsey's mind as quick as a paper airplane, but he caught that sucker and held on. He clung to that idea, fluttering it to catch Dorsey's attention. It was the guy's own thought, after all.

Dorsey cleared his throat as Willow and gray-haired guy talked about potential ways to test Xander's energy absorbing skills. She might not be happy, but she wasn't digging in her heels and refusing to test on her best friend, either. Traitor. Xander was really starting to get emotional whiplash dealing with Willow.

“He’s not your friend. In fact, we have some pretty good evidence that he’s one of the most dangerous monsters we’ve come up against on our own planet,” the gray-haired guy pointed out when Willow finally mentioned ethics.

“He didn’t kill anyone.”

“Yet,” the leader added. “He didn’t kill anyone yet, which is not the same as he won’t kill anyone, and can we please try to find a way of controlling him before he takes it in his head to do some killing? I can’t be the only one just a little bit uncomfortable with how he threw soldiers around like dolls and brushed off multiple hits with the zat.” The guy held up two fingers to show just how little that “little bit” was. He then spread those fingers out to get bigger and bigger.

"What about putting the two subjects together?" Dorsey asked.

"Major?" Gray haired guy seemed unimpressed, but now that Dorsey had said the words, Xander could feel him throw everything into convincing the general that it was the right call. That was funny considering Xander had needed to really push to get the damn words to even come out of Dorsey’s mouth.

"We know that Spike was attempting to exert control over Xander, and he was more than a little angry that Xander ran off to fight a leviathan on his own."

"Okay, I might like this kid a little," gray-haired guy said, "but I don't see how letting these two sit in the same room helps us."

Dorsey shrugged, and Xander could feel the ghost of that gesture in his own shoulder. "Spike was quick to demand answers when he caught up with Xander at the jail. Maybe he'll get answers where we couldn't."

"Take the soft approach," gray haired guy said thoughtfully.

"Yes sir. If they turn out to be allies, the soft approach would keep us from burning any bridges."

"And if they're hostile?"

"Considering that Harris took four simultaneous shots with a zat before he went down, I don't think that we're going to get information out of him without some serious persuasion," Dorsey said. When he looked over, Willow looked nearly nauseous. Xander was feeling the same. Serous persuasion did not sound fun.

"Okay, we can try that," gray-haired man said. "However," he quickly added, "try and keep in mind that these two are monsters." He looked right at Willow, and she ducked her head. "Dorsey, take lead and if this looks like it's going to blow up in our faces, shut it down."

"Yes, sir," Dorsey agreed, and Xander could feel Dorsey's emotions start to settle. He was definitely uneasy. Xander started breathing faster, struggling to break away from Dorsey's thoughts. He felt something in his gut stretch like a rubber band, and Xander almost stopped. He feared having that rubber band snap and give him a mental lashing. However, he didn't want to live in Dorsey's brain forever. He kept pulling, his breaths coming in pained little gasps as his own view of the cell overlaid the vision. And then he was back in his own head.

The world spun a little, and Xander pressed his shoulder into the cold concrete so he didn't fall off the bunk.

"Hey, I'm kinda hungry. Is there any chance of some food?" Xander asked the guard.

Unsurprisingly, the man didn't even twitch.

Xander sighed. Squirming around to try and get more comfortable, Xander watched the various ghosts wander through the room. Willow had fallen headfirst into the weird, which shouldn't be surprising given that she was pretty much weird central in his world too. Still, he didn’t know how to forgive her for putting him on the wrong side of the bars. Worse, he didn’t know what was going on with Dorsey, but he was starting to develop one or two very not good theories.

Part Twenty-Four

Xander tilted his head to the side to watch Dorsey walk in. He opened his mouth to ask where Spike was, and then closed it again. Maybe he shouldn’t go letting the military people know that he was big with the eavesdropping. So instead he asked, “Do you plan on ever feeding me? Maybe starving me to death is giving you a few chuckles.”

Xander watched as Dorsey flinched. “I suppose that depends on what you eat. We’re out of virgins.” Dorsey drew himself up and crossed his arms. He was a scary looking man when he put his mind to it, and Xander could feel him strengthen his resolve. He wanted to keep a professional distance from Xander.

“I was kinda hoping for burgers and fries,” Xander said, and he felt a big chunk of Dorsey’s resolve crumble. He wanted to see Xander as a monster, but he couldn’t quite do it. “But maybe lots and lots of burgers and fries because I’m really, really hungry,” Xander added.

Dorsey looked at the guard. “Head down to the mess and grab a half dozen burgers and as many fries as you can get the cook to let you have.”

“Yes, sir.” With that, he vanished out the door, taking his very dirty fantasies with him. Apparently he had more than one that featured the gray-haired leader, whose name was O’Neill, and some blond archeologist. Some very male blond archeologist. The guy had some dirty, wrong thoughts.

“Are you going to unchain me so I can eat them?” Xander asked, raising his arms away from his back.

Dorsey took a step closer. “Truthfully, I’d like to, but I think you know that’s not going to happen. I have one of the best trained units in the entire military, and you threw my guys around like puppies.”

“That doesn’t say much for military training in this universe,” Xander answered.

Dorsey let his head fall forward for a second, and Xander could taste the distress. The guy wanted to help him. Hell, he was starting to feel like a bully for not helping. Xander glimpsed a hint of the past, a skinny black kid alone in an almost all-white school in Colorado. His single father had always pushed Dorsey to win by being better than everyone else, which hadn’t been great on the making friends front. Dorsey really hated bullies.

“I never wanted to hurt anyone,” Xander said softly. “Spike is huge about the whole with great power comes great responsibility, not that he’ll admit to quoting Spiderman. Those guys attacked us.”

“And you didn’t stop after they went down.”

“Hey. Wait. Spike broke that one guy’s neck,” Xander said, “but you said that you arrested them.” For a half-second, Xander didn’t understand, but then the words drifted into his mind. “You have a sarcophagus. Hey, that’s totally cheating. And it means we didn’t hurt anyone. Much. Permanently.”

“Yes, you did. Corporal Benjamin has already maxed out the allowed time in a twelve month period, which is why he’s on rotation here on earth, and the sarcophagus can’t cure Cooper, who you seemed to drain of energy. Both are still in the infirmary, and I have a dozen more men nursing bumps, scrapes, and wounded egos.”

“Oh. That.” Xander cringed. “Sorry. I get a little…”

“Homicidal?” Dorsey offered. Xander could feel Dorsey’s mental defenses begin to rebuild.

“Panicky,” Xander corrected him, and big cracks appeared in those newly rebuilt defenses. Dorsey hadn’t expected that. “I mean, I only got whammied a couple of weeks ago, and my first stop was to run straight to Giles for help, and that worked out about as well as you’d think. Spike had to rescue me.” Xander sighed. “In my universe, Giles is pretty much the closest thing Willow and I have to a parental unit. Her parents are so busy trying to make her be perfect Willow that they pretty much don’t see the real her, and my parents love vodka way more than me. As a kid, I would call home to let them know I’d be late from school because we were researching another end of the world, and I’d have to give them my name because they were too plastered to recognize my voice.”

Xander rested his cheek against his knee. “I didn’t even think about the possibility that Giles would go all Rambo on me. And even if he is kind of a wanker in this world, he’s still a really awesome hunter, and he’s the smartest man you’ll ever meet. He saved the world with one hand tied behind his back. And I really don’t want to have anything to do with him because I’ve had enough parental rejection already in my life, but I don’t think you should shut him out just because he was a giant idiot this time.”

Dorsey took a step backwards, and Xander thought he was going to leave. He couldn’t really come up with the energy to care, either. Instead Dorsey reached out into the hallway and grabbed a folding chair before bringing it in and sitting it in front of the bars of Xander’s cell.

“How did you get turned?”

Xander smiled, even if it wasn’t funny. “Me and women, not a good mix. Actually, Spike and women and Angel and women and just about everyone I know and women. Either there are a lot of demon women out there making childer or men are just pretty stupid and vulnerable the second someone waves boobs at us.”

Dorsey smiled. “I think it’s probably both. Demons? So, are you a demon rather than a monster?”

“The way you say demon? Nope. Not a chance. Who is stupid enough to sell his soul? Seriously? How far back on the short bus of life do you have to be to make that choice, and I’m including Dean Winchester here. I mean, I love Dean in the books, but saving his brother from heaven by selling himself out to hell? Not the smartest move in all creation. Loyal, but not smart. Spike would have kicked his ass up between his ears.” Xander snorted, and he noticed that Dorsey was trying to control a grin again. Xander felt a warm rush of affection for Dorsey, and the man’s head came up. For a second, they stared at each other. It took some time before Dorsey shook his head and the spell broke.

“What do you mean by demon then?”

“Um, powerful but not so much with the human-type creatures that got kicked out of our dimension, although apparently there’s some debate on that. Some people think that the big, all-powerful old ones got bored and moved on, and the kinda big and almost all-powerful old ones were the ones to get banished. Now humans mostly share the dimension with the ‘not so big but dreaming of power’ kinda scary demons and the not scary at all ones.”

“So, demons aren’t a problem for you?”

Xander awkwardly shrugged. “They can be when they start dreaming of badness or trying to bring the real big-bads back. Angelus is less than world-endingly bad, but he tried to use this world swallowing demon to dump the whole planet into hell. Not cool.”

“Where did he get a world swallowing demon?”

“Some museum,” Xander said with another shrug. “Giles figured out what was what.”

“What about the demon who turned you?”

Xander glanced up at the camera. They were totally recording all this, but it wasn’t like they were bad guys. Annoying guys, misguided guys, and really kind of assholish guys, but not bad guys. “She’s one of your monsters. I have no idea how, but she dragged me through some sort of portal and whammied me. Spike was not amused when he figured out I wasn’t exactly human anymore.”

“Why?”

Scratching his chin by dragging it across his knee, Xander thought about that. “Part of it is that he knows our friends won’t like it, but I think a bigger part is that he’s afraid I’m going to get out of control and he’ll have to be the one to bring me back in line, which explains why he is so very much about keeping me in line in the first place.”

“He’s afraid you’re going to kill people.”

Xander nodded. “He’s afraid I’m going to take the first bully I meet and break him into little pieces. I’ve spent a lot of time getting bullied, and Spike was sort of the same back about a hundred and fifty years ago. He seems to think that people who’ve been bullied don’t always handle power real well. And he thinks I’m going to spend the next several decades regretting it if I do lose control the way he did when he was young.”

Dorsey sighed, and Xander could taste the regret. “We want to bring Spike in here, but you’ve scared a lot of people. You really need to prove that you’re not the bad guy here.”

“You’re the ones who started shooting at me.”

“Actually, Mr. Giles’ group did that. You just had the nerve to not get your ass kicked when a dozen very well trained marines tried to kick your ass. Marines don’t actually like that,” Dorsey’s chuckle was almost friendly, and Xander could tell that it was equal parts psyops and a desire to gain information mixed with actual regret that he was causing harm.

Xander sighed. As far as he was concerned, they were bullies too, but saying that now might not be the best idea. Besides, they were bullying people to try and save the world, which wasn’t the same as Cordelia making unfortunately accurate comparisons between Willow and Big Bird. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing that I wouldn’t do if I had been compromised and placed in quarantine. Follow orders, Xander. We’re going to order you to the back of the cell, order you to face the wall and then go to your knees. Then we’ll order you to cross your ankles so it’s harder for you to get up. The soldiers will wait to see that you’re staying where you’re told, and then the guard will bring in Spike. One wrong move, and they will open fire with the zats that took you out last time, and Xander, you need to understand the danger with those weapons. With a normal human, one hit stuns, two kills, and three disrupts the molecular bonds holding atoms together so completely that the person vanishes.”

“It… what?” Xander’s voice squeaked.

“Clearly you have a lot more energy holding you together than the average human, but we would like to avoid finding the line between stunning you and making all your atoms fly apart.”

Xander’s guts turned to stone.

“Hey, are you okay?” Dorsey stood up.

“No, not nearly okay. You could have killed me.” Xander felt suddenly cold.

“You were trying to kill me at that point, if you remember.”

“Well then, don’t knock Spike out. He’s really good at getting me to back off, but seriously, you risked pulling all my atoms apart. That’s… uncool,” Xander finally finished. Yes, that was completely the wrong word, but he didn’t have a good word to describe the deep wrongness of pulling people’s atoms apart.

Xander could feel Dorsey’s deep distress, but he hid it well, gazing at Xander silently with his dark eyes.

“Hugely uncool,” Xander added. “World-sized levels of uncool.”

“I’ll have someone bring Spike in,” Dorsey said, and then he retreated. Fast. Xander let his own awareness wander out with Dorsey. The man was upset by how much he liked Xander. Xander focused on sorting through Dorsey’s feelings. He really hated bullies. He hated aliens that bullied planets, and he hated demons that bullied people who felt helpless enough to think their soul was a small price to pay for a little power. Okay, Xander was fully behind that belief, not that he’d met any bullying aliens.

He was also afraid for his people, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that Xander was dangerous. Xander tried to soothe that fear. No, he couldn’t convince anyone that he was a safe, fluffy bunny, but he could honestly say that he didn’t mean to hurt people who didn’t really, really deserve to be hurt. Xander focused on that, and he felt Dorsey’s beliefs start to shift. He started thinking of Xander like one of the raw recruits who were more likely to fall on their mates than help them over the wall in the obstacle course.

Xander could handle that. He was a little graceless, so having Dorsey think so wasn’t such a big deal. However, he carefully guarded his own guilt and certain knowledge that he was going to hell. Screwing with someone’s head was so very much of the not good. However, they needed an ally in here, and Dorsey had gotten volunteered. As another less than voluntary volunteer, Xander felt bad, but life sucked like a really sucky thing.

“General,” Dorsey said, stopping short in the hall. The gray haired man leaned against a wall, and Xander felt a flash of panic, and then a quick echo of confusion as Dorsey tried to figure out why the general would cause such alarm.

He sucked at this. He really did. Taking deep breaths, Xander tried to calm himself and Dorsey’s emotions settled down into a general sense of wrong at having imprisoned people he’d promised to meet under a truce.

“So, the kid doesn’t look much like any monster we’ve seen,” the general observed casually, but Dorsey wasn’t fooled. O’Neill… General O’Neill never did casual. He only feigned it before blowing someone up. But he didn’t blow up many people anymore. Xander pushed into that memory until he found the memory of a vetala targeting Daniel. The general had hunted four of the monsters to their lair—two adults and two young learning to kill. Daniel had come out with little more than feeding scars, but the general had hit a wall hard enough to knock out a few teeth and permanently damage one of his aging knees.

“No, sir,” Dorsey agreed.

“He’s right about women. Danny always falls for the ones who look helpless.”

“Harris doesn’t look helpless, sir,” Dorsey pointed out.

“Just a little young. Was the doc able to figure out if he is as young as he seems?”

“He has the same DNA as the Alexander Harris of this universe, so he probably is twenty-five.”

“Unless he’s some sort of shifter who used that DNA to build a body or the result of one the Asgards’ damn experiments.”

“True,” Dorsey agreed, and Xander felt the frustration of being caught in the battle between the Asgard and the Goa’uld. Worse, if either side won, Earth would be in serious trouble. The Asgard considered humans gene carriers for their own species and thought of humans as a lesser race who owed them allegiance and obedience after centuries of protection and guidance. The Goa’uld considered them hosts. Xander shivered in horror. That was so not good. Add in demons, and these people had a war on three fronts.

“You’ve looked him in the eye, do you still hold that your first assessment was true?”

Dorsey took a deep breath and mentally reviewed the report he’d first turned in. From the first meeting, Dorsey had known there was something wrong, but he’d assessed Xander and Spike as more likely to be allies than enemies.

“Yes, sir. Harris is honest about his own faults, and he sounds more like some new recruit who doesn’t know how to use his weapons than a seasoned fighter.”

O’Neill nodded. “It would explain why he didn’t finish taking the rest of you out and escaping. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t change his mind and slaughter all of us. Keep Hathor in mind, Major.”

“Yes, sir.”

O’Neill started to turn.

“One more woman who used her wiles to try and turn the rest of us into monsters,” Dorsey observed.

O’Neill laughed. “It’s a good thing we have women on base or we’d all be screwed, Major. Personally oversee the transfer of the other one.”

“Spike, sir. Yes, sir.” Dorsey agreed. Xander had to stifle a flash of joy at the idea of seeing Spike. Actually, he was just thrilled to have evidence that Spike was alive. Maybe he and Spike hadn’t always been buds, but Spike had come for him and put up with a lot more crap than most friends would have. Robin would have shoved a suitcase at Xander and told him to hit the road two days after the rescue.

Right. He’d get Spike and then… then he really hoped that Spike had a plan. And he really hoped that Spike wasn’t too cranky about the fact that Xander had either made a minion or a childe.

Part Twenty-Five

“You hungry?” Xander asked Spike.

“Could use a little snack,” Spike agreed. After almost three weeks, they’d reached a strange sort of routine. The guard outside the cell turned on the television. Someone brought Xander a huge tray of food. Xander ate everything, with Spike stealing some of the good bits. Then after a while, Spike would sit close, and Xander would tilt his head and let Spike feed.

Spike’s teeth had just slipped into him, and Xander was squirming with entirely inappropriate feelings of lust, when every alarm in the building seemed to go off at once.

“Bloody hell, give a bloke some warning,” Spike complained. The guard didn’t react. Xander had even mooned the guy at one point, but that just led to truly disturbing fantasies and Xander and Spike and some random soldier dude, and why did everyone in the universe assume that Xander would be the butt boy?

When the alarm kept going and going, Xander could feel the anxiety levels rise. Ghost thoughts of invasion and false gods and little gray guys on power trips all drifted through the room. Spike tightened an arm around Xander and whispered in his ear. “What’s got their panties in a twist?”

“Invasion,” Xander answered. He reached out for Dorsey, but a wall of emotion slapped him back. “Oh, this is not a drill,” Xander said as images of mechanical bug-like things filled his head. “Okay, this is worse than seeing your thoughts, Spike. Bugs. Metal bugs with long legs and some seriously weird weapons.”

The guard whirled around and gave Xander a very unhappy look, but then his radio came on, and an unfamiliar voice started ordering the military guys to hold certain areas. With an almost apologetic look, he answered his radio and then headed out the main door, locking it behind him. The lock gave a heavy thunk as it closed, not that it mattered because Spike and Xander were still behind bars.

Spike waited a half second before leaping to his feet and rubbing his hands gleefully. “About soddin’ time. These wankers are too fucking fond of their security. Right then, break the bars while they’re distracted.” Spike looked over at Xander as if he’d just said something perfectly reasonable—which he hadn’t.

“Break the… what? Spike, have you found a stash of the really good booze somewhere that you’re not sharing?”

“For the love of…” Spike pressed his lips together tightly for a second, and then took a deep breath. “Listen ya wanker,” he started, “you’re an alph, and that means power and a lot of it. I can taste it every time I feed. I’ve avoided taking too much of that power so that when we got a chance, you’d have the strength to open the soddin’ cell door.” Spike’s voice had started to rise, but now he stopped and made a really strange face, one that made Xander a little bit worried because it looked a lot like his ‘I’m about to kill someone’ face. “Either you get that cell door open or you’re going to be stuck in here with one seriously brassed off vampire,” Spike warned.

“Hey, I think I’m going to try the door,” Xander said weakly as he got up from the cot. Turning his back on Spike, he put his hands on the heavy bars and started pushing. Color him unsurprised that the metal didn’t so much as bend.

“Move,” Spike shouted, danger in his tone of voice as he shoved at Xander’s back, and Xander surged forward at the same time he tried to spin around to meet whatever danger made Spike use that tone of voice. Pushing and turning at the same time led to falling and Xander found himself on the floor, one ankle still caught in the mangled bars.

Spike looked down and gave a quick laugh. “You should see your face.”

Xander looked around at the torn metal hinges and the door hanging from the frame. “Okay, that’s a little freaky.”

“You’re an alph, a regular demonic ox. Now get over here and break this door.”

After pulling his book out of the wrecked cell door, Xander stood up and eyed the door. It didn’t look as strong as the cell door. He took a running start and put his shoulder into it. The door broke out of the frame and hit the far side of the hallway. Xander slid to the floor, and the door fell on him.

Spike came and lifted the door off as Xander crawled out from under it. “Ow,” he complained as Spike helped him up. “Is that solid steel?”

“Pretty close,” Spike agreed. That’s probably why the hinges gave instead of the door breaking. Now let’s find a way up and out,” Spike said, turning to look down each direction of hallway before picking one. Xander was almost sure that Spike was walking in random directions, but since he didn’t have any better suggestions, he followed. They ducked into a side hall when a number of soldiers rushed past, and Spike managed to find a door labeled “Stairs.”

“Whoa, bugs,” Xander warned, grabbing Spike’s hand before he could turn the knob.

“Cockroaches?”

“Techie versions of horror movie superbugs.”

Spike sighed. “Great. Well, if it’s bugs or living our lives in a cage, I know which one I’d prefer,” Spike said, and he reached for the knob again, but Xander caught his arm and held it as he slowed his breathing and reached out for Dorsey. He found the man firing a machine gun at one of the bugs. It was a scout bug. He looked over his shoulder to where Willow knelt next to an open panel where she worked on rewiring something he didn’t understand. “Rosie?” he asked.

“Working on it,” she said, her voice snippy, but then he didn’t have time to worry because more bugs came down the hall and he opened fire, targeting the center mass that floated between long, delicate looking legs that weren’t delicate as much as they were strong enough and sharp enough to plunge through a man’s guts.

“Destroy the control…” Xander held out his hands to show the shape of a small dodgeball like thing. “The control thingy in the center, and we have to go up three levels.”

“We’re going up more levels than that,” Spike said as he looked around. He eyed a pipe on the wall for a second before he reached over and ripped it off the wall, jerking at it to force the metal to break. The wires insides were pulled out, and a few sparks flew, but Spike ignored that, swinging his new weapon a few times before going back to the door.

“Willow and Dorsey—”

“Don’t care.”

“They’re cut off.”

“Bully for them,” Spike said as he pulled the door to the stairs open fast and fell back, his weapon up. Xander held his breath, but nothing was in the stairwell. Spike gave him a weary look and then headed up the stairs, leaving Xander to scramble after him.

“I only saw bugs in the stairwells, not this part of the stairwell. There are a lot of stairs around here,” Xander hissed. Spike kept going up and up, but Xander stopped at the door to level 13. Willow was here. Xander could tell. Well, actually he couldn’t tell about Willow as much as he could about Dorsey, but Willow was with Dorsey, so… Xander pushed the door open and stepped out.

Behind him, Spike cursed, but Xander was a little too busy taking care of a scary-ass bug. The round ball-like control floated in the middle of ten or twelve curved legs, each leg looking way too much like a blade for comfort. The creature, machine, cyborg thing came right at Xander. The legs rose from the control center up several feet and then curved down to the ground where they ended in sharp tips instead of feet. At the top where the leg bent, the whole thing was about five feet tall.

Xander took one look at it and froze. A leg came up, poised to strike, and Spike came through the door swinging just as Xander brought his hands up to defend himself. And using hands against giant alien blade legs was not his best plan. Spike’s first swing knocked two legs out from under the spider, but it simply leaned back on the other legs. The control center… that’s what had to get destroyed. Xander leaped up, determined to reach that center and rip it to shreds.

Unfortunately, he hit the ceiling and came crashing back down onto the floor.

“Oh for—” Spike swung at another leg.

“Sorry.” Xander got back up and then threw himself backwards to avoid a leg that was aimed right at his stomach. “Hey!” Xander grabbed the leg above the sharp foot and gave it his hardest pull. The whole thing started tilting toward him, and Xander’s eyes got big as the rest of the legs all started flying at him as the creature trying to catch itself.

Luckily, that left an opening, and Spike leaped in and brought the pipe down on the round center. All the legs seemed to slap inward, and Xander could see the bug trying to curl in on itself and protect the center. “Oh no you don’t.” Xander held the leg he already had in one hand and reached out to grab a second leg. Bracing himself he held the two legs, opening a hole in the creature’s defenses, which gave Spike the chance to beat it to death. And boy did Spike beat it. Gleefully. Brutally. And he kept beating it until every leg lay flat on the ground and little pieces of electronics and metal were scattered across the floor. Finally he brought the end of the pipe down on the cracked housing and used it like a pry bar to split the control center in half.

“Um, Spike?”

“Wot?” Spike snapped.

“You’re scaring me.”

“Not enough if you’re still bloody running off without permission,” Spike said, and Xander got pinned in that yellow eyed glare. “First, she’s not your bloody best friend. Your best friend is in another soddin’ universe. Second, how the bloody fuck do you know where she is?”

“Um…” Xander cleared his throat. “I…”

“Spit it out.” Spike ripped the pipe out of the ruins of the alien tech, and Xander knew Spike well enough to know that he was having fantasies about sticking it through Xander’s foot.

“I accidentally turned Dorsey. I think. Probably. I can tell where he is, and I can hear his thoughts and I’m pretty sure that while I can’t plant ideas in his head, I can push him to do something if he has even a little inkling of an idea on his own.”

Spike’s mouth just about fell open, and his vampire ridges vanished.

“It wasn’t on purpose,” Xander defended himself. “I was draining him, and I didn’t mean to, and then I pushed my energy back into him because I felt his spark dying, and I’m not helping myself here, am I?” Xander asked.

“No.”

“Good to know.”

For long seconds, they stared at each other.

“Well? Where are they?” Spike demanded.

Xander looked in both directions before he pointed to one. “Um, that way.”

“Come on then,” Spike said as he headed that way. From the way he was swinging the pipe, Xander thought he probably wanted to run into more alien bugs. Yep, Spike was unhappy.




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