No Place Like Home


by
Whichclothes



Part Five

Xander wanted to panic.

He and Spike had been in plenty of tough situations before, but usually together. Now Spike was Christ knew where, having Christ knew what being done to him, and when Xander tried to think of a plan—any plan—to rescue him, all that he could muster was blind, stomach-lurching panic. Spike was mortal here, as vulnerable to injury and death as any lowly human.

Xander punched a stone wall—hard. It hurt like hell, especially since his right arm was the one with the cut on it, but the pain grounded him a little, helped him catch his breath.

He wasn’t going to do Spike any good here. In fact, if he stayed much longer someone was probably going to clue in to the fact that there had been two intruders in the Keep, not just one, and he’d be caught too. He checked his pocket to make sure the fucking rock was still there—and wasn’t he going to find some creative ways to deliver that rock to the demons, if he ever got home again.

Spike knew the magic words to get home as well as Xander did. But the words could only be used once, so if Spike used them and Xander wasn’t right there, reciting them along with him, Xander would be stuck in this universe forever. Not only was Xander confident that Spike would never strand him that way, but Spike didn’t even know that Xander had found the stone and their mission was complete. And Xander sure as hell wasn’t going to go off and leave Spike in this place, no matter what Spike had told him to do. So if either of them were ever going home, Xander needed to find his beloved.I can do this, he told himself. I’ve saved our asses before and I can do it again.

Feeling marginally calmer, he made his way down the steep stairs. He frowned at a few small blood splatters on the floor—Spike’s or a Guard’s, he couldn’t tell. And then his eye caught something else. A folded piece of paper almost hidden under a table near the door. Sure, there were plenty of papers in the laboratory, stacked on shelves and desks and stuffed into drawers, but he was pretty certain the floor had been clear of them. With a tiny but welcome twinge of hope, he walked over and picked the thing up.

It was the map of the Keep.

He unfolded it, wondering whether Spike had dropped it intentionally. Xander walked closer to one of the gaslights that were mounted on the walls and he squinted at the unfamiliar words. He guessed it was too much to hope that there would be a room labeled Prisoners Held Here in nice, plain English.

When all the words remained incomprehensible, Xander decided to use his brain instead. He guessed—well, hoped, anyway—that they hadn’t actually taken Spike out of the building, since the Keep seemed like the most secure place in town to stash someone, as well being the government HQ. So where would be the most logical place to keep a prisoner? Well, Lindsey had spent all those months as their captive, back when everyone had still been pissed at him for cursing Spike, torturing Angel, and nearly killing Xander, and before he’d proven himself a reformed character. And when they kept Lindsey, they’d kept him locked up in the cell conveniently located in the Hyperion’s basement. Xander had never asked Angel exactly why he’d had a cell installed in his hotel to begin with, but it had made sense that if there was going to be a lockup, you’d put it down below, where there were no windows and sounds were muffled. Wasn’t that kind of the idea behind dungeons, too?

Xander looked carefully at the map, and—yes. It was hard to tell where the different parts of the map were meant to be in three-dimensional space, but one part bore the label, Subter. As in subterranean, right? It looked as if there was a stairway at one end, and then a long, narrow corridor with small rooms on either side. Xander couldn’t think of a good reason to have a lot of small rooms in a basement, unless they were meant to hold something specific. Like prisoners.

Okay then, Subter it was. He felt a little better having a goal, but the next question was how to get there without being caught. He could find his way with the map, but he had no way to decipher which parts of the building might be less heavily trafficked. His best bet, he decided, was to wait until nighttime, when there would be fewer people around. That was a risky strategy—all sorts of horrible things could happen to Spike in the meantime—but it seemed wisest.

Xander peeked out the window and estimated the time at two or three in the afternoon. “Shit,” he muttered. He decided to use the time wisely: he prowled around the laboratory, inspecting anything that might potentially be used as a weapon. He ended up with two knives with fancy hilts, one of which he stuck in each of his boots; a sword and scabbard that he buckled around his waist; and a chunk of bronze about the length of a baseball bat but thicker and heavier. He had no clue what it was supposed to be, but he figured it would make a pretty good club. He just had to hope that none of the stuff he’d gathered would turn him into a frog or something.

Feeling slightly better now that he was armed, Xander considered the question of where to hide. Then he remembered that he’d seen a small door in the upstairs room. He climbed the stairs again and found that the door led out onto the roof. There was a small flat space with a low wall around it. If someone found him up there he’d have nowhere to escape—it was a hell of a long way down, with rocks and tossing waves below—but maybe nobody would even realize that the door or his little rooftop aerie existed.

He sat down in one corner, in a spot where he wouldn’t immediately be spotted if someone came through the door, and with nothing else to do, he tried to enjoy the view. It was pretty spectacular, although the Golden Gate looked really odd without the bridge. They probably didn’t even call it the Golden Gate here, he thought. Fortunately for him it was a clear day, and the sun sparkled off the water far below, while gulls wheeled and called, and boats large and small sailed around the bay. The rooftop was a romantic spot really, a beautiful place to cuddle up with your honey and make out. But not so romantic if your honey was being held captive somewhere and you were sick with worry over him.

The sun crawled very slowly across the sky that afternoon. When it finally sank below the horizon, painting the sky vivid oranges and purples, Xander waited a while longer. He hadn’t heard anybody come looking for him in the laboratory, and he hoped that was a good sign. Maybe they still hadn’t caught on that he existed. He stood and stretched his cramped muscles and paced back and forth, partly to reduce nervous energy and partly to ward off the growing chill. A bank of fog slowly rolled in through the Gate, eating the stars as it went like something from a Stephen King novel. The sounds of the city dulled and eventually Xander couldn’t see the water anymore, couldn’t see anything except the stone turrets around him. He felt as if he’d been transported to another universe—again—and this time he was the only being there. It was such a terrible, lonely feeling he almost cried.

Who would have ever guessed that a cocky little vampire would become so important to him? Would become his world. Would mean so much to him that if Spike were lost to him forever, Xander would just throw himself off this roof and into oblivion.

Xander wasn’t normally a praying sort of guy. If he were pressed, he couldn’t have told anyone exactly what he believed in. But he knew there was an afterlife of some kind, because some of his friends had been there, and some remained there. And maybe that meant there was somebody or somebodies in charge, something that would listen to the pleas of a one-eyed sometime carpenter, sometime werewolf. What could it hurt to try, anyway?

In a whisper, Xander said, “Please. Let Spike be okay. Let me not fuck this up. Let us get home safely. Please.” Droplets of moisture formed on his hair and fell onto the stone roof.


~*~*~*~*~


It was very late when Xander ventured out of the laboratory. He crept like a mouse, hugging the walls as he went and frequently referring to the map for guidance. Every now and then he heard footsteps or hushed voices, but he didn’t see anybody and, even better, nobody saw him.

Nobody, that was, until he came to a figure curled up on the floor in a dark corner. The man wore a collar and thin, ragged clothing. The clothing was gray and so were his hair and face, and Xander couldn’t begin to guess his age. Anywhere between thirty and sixty. The man looked up at Xander with wide, startled eyes and didn’t make a sound. Xander looked quickly around—nobody else was nearby. Then, with his heart beating so fast he thought he might collapse on the spot, he held a finger to his lips.

The man stared blankly for several moments. And then the tiniest ghost of a smile twitched at the corners of his lips and he nodded twice. He lay back down again, his head pillowed on one arm, and closed his eyes.

The spot marked Subter wasn’t far from there. A single Guard leaned up against a wooden door with a heavy lock. He was short and muscular and looked very young. He had the same look that Xander must have once had back in school, trying desperately to stay alert and not quite succeeding. A key ring was hanging from a loop at the Guard’s waist.

Xander ducked back around the corner before the Guard saw him, and he considered how he could subdue him quietly. If he’d wanted to, Xander could have thrown one of his knives at the guy, and he probably could have nailed him right in the throat. He’d been practicing the skill quite a bit and had learned to mostly overcome his problems with depth perception. But even in these desperate straits, Xander was very reluctant to kill the man who was, after all, only doing his job. But spending the entire night in the hallway, dithering uselessly, wasn’t a great plan either.

Finally, Xander took a deep breath, set the club down, and pulled the rock out of his pocket. He held it in front of him the way a child might hold an interesting something he’d found and was bringing to his mother. The Guard startled when he saw Xander approaching and put one hand on the hilt of his sword, but didn’t shout for backup.

“Hey,” Xander said mildly, trying to paste on a winning smile. “I found this really cool stone. Would you mind taking a look at it?”

He didn’t know what the Guard thought was going on with the one-eyed crazy guy babbling nonsense. But still the Guard didn’t seem too alarmed—this place really needed to ramp up security, Xander thought. Maybe everyone was so terrified that it never occurred to them to try to do something naughty, and therefore the Guards had grown lax and overconfident. In any case, this guy just stood there, head cocked quizzically, until Xander was within reach. And then, just when Xander could see it dawning on the Guard that maybe calling for help would be a good idea, Xander beaned him with the magic rock. It worked at knocking him out just as well as a regular rock would have. At least the fucking thing was good for something. The Guard crumpled to the floor, a small stream of blood dripping from his forehead.

Xander crammed the rock back into his coat and tugged the keys away from the unconscious Guard. There were only three on the ring—big heavy monsters—and the second one fit the lock. Xander opened the door, dragged the Guard through onto a small landing, and then shut the door again.

He was at the top of a very long, steep stone stairway. Gaslights set in wall sconces flickered fitfully here and there but it was still very dark. There was an odd rushing, pounding noise, and it took Xander a moment to realize it was the sound of water: waves crashing against the Keep’s foundations. Subter might actually be under the sea itself. That wasn’t scary. Nope, not at all.

There wasn’t much Xander could do about the Guard, so he left him at the top of the stairs, hoping that the knock on the head was enough to keep him out for a while. Besides, the door was locked again and Xander had the keys.

It seemed to take a very long time to reach the bottom.

What he found there was just what the map had promised: a long, narrow corridor lined with dozens of identical doors. Most of the doors were open and Xander peeked into the first one. He found a small room with cold stone walls and ceiling and floor, and nothing at all inside except a single light and a pile of tangled white ropes. The next room was the same, as was the next and the next, and Xander was beginning to feel a little desperate when he came to a door that was closed and locked. Luckily, one of his stolen keys fit.

“Oh, fuck,” Xander said when he looked inside this room.

Half a dozen men were crouched on the floor, all squashed together as far from the door as they could get. They were all naked except for collars, and their bodies were as white and hairless as something that lived under a rock, or deep under the sea. They cowered with their arms over their heads, each of them making horrible mewling sounds of fear.

“Hey,” Xander said softly. “It’s all right. Not gonna hurt you.” But of course they didn’t understand him.

Xander remembered what Spike had told him about the frozen prisoners. What had he called it? Stasis. The Chief’s son had unfrozen them before he fled and, God, is this what they were now?

“I’m sorry, guys. I can’t rescue you all, I just can’t.”

The prisoners stared at him, scared and uncomprehending.

Xander swallowed thickly and retreated. He left the door open, though. It was all he could do for them.

The next cell held another six men, all in as bad a shape as the first six, and there were another five in the following cell. But one of these men was lying on his back instead of crouching like the others. That man’s skin was a sickly gray rather than white, and his body was mottled with wounds: circular burns and neat squares of missing skin, the flesh around them oozing and yellow. The worst, though, was a horrible slice that ran down his chest. The flaps of his skin were held closed with clumsy knots of black string, and the entire area was inflamed. That man didn’t seem able to move much; he just fluttered his eyes and moaned weakly.

“Jesus Christ,” Xander swore. And then he moved on.

The next several rooms were open and empty of everything except those white ropes. Then he came to another locked door. His hand felt a little shaky as he unlocked it—he was running out of doors and time, and he was fucking cold, even with the coat on. He wondered how those naked prisoners could survive down here.

The room was occupied. Not by more poor, terrified men but also not by Spike. Instead, an angular, sixtyish man lay wound in ropes as if they were some kind of weird bondage hammock. He wore gray trousers and a long gray robe of embroidered silk. He wasn’t breathing, but Xander had seen plenty of dead people, and he didn’t have that certain…absence that corpses had, as if they were discarded shells.

“Hello, Mr. Wizard,” Xander said quietly. “Can’t say I feel too sorry for you now that I’ve seen those other guys down here. And I don’t know what went on between you and those other guys, the Chief’s son and the slave, but I’m kinda thinking it wasn’t very nice. I hope they have a long, happy life together.”

The enchanted man didn’t respond, of course. With a final shake of his head, Xander left the room. This time he locked the door.

He was almost at the end of the long corridor when he found another closed door. With more silent prayers, he unfastened the lock.

“Oh, God,” he moaned.

Spike was splayed on the floor. They’d stripped away his stolen uniform, leaving him on the damp stone in nothing but a pair of long underwear pants. He lay on his belly, his battered face turned in Xander’s direction. It looked like his hands were now cuffed in front of him and his ankles attached by a short hobble chain. His entire body was mottled by bruises and his hair was matted with dried blood. He looked less alive than the wizard.

“Spike!” Xander cried and ran to his lover’s side. Spike was breathing, but the breaths were shallow and whistling. Busted ribs, maybe even a punctured lung. His skin was clammy and his lips blue with cold. Xander ran a palm gingerly over his shoulders and back. “Spike, God, can you hear me?”

Spike made a faint sound, sort of a whispery groan. Xander wasn’t sure whether it was in response to his question or not. But then Spike moved his head a little and a trickle of dark fluid ran from his slack lips.

“Okay,” Xander said. “We’re gonna get out of here now. We’re gonna go home and then—”

And then two things happened. The first thing was that Xander had a very vivid image of the prisoner down the hall, the one with the terrible wounds on his chest. Xander didn’t know exactly what had been done to him, but it was pretty clear that the man was going to die soon. The people in this place might or might not have been able to heal him, but they weren’t even trying. There had been plenty of times Xander had been certain he was going to die, too—hell, there were even a few times he almost welcomed it, given what seemed to be the alternatives—and he knew how it felt. It wasn’t the being dead itself that had scared him. He’d always figured he’d end up somewhere better, more peaceful, or at the very worst get plopped into a great big nothing. The really horrible part as far as he was concerned was the actual dying part, the idea of moving from one world to the other without a friend or a loved one to see him on his way. It wasn’t logical, maybe, but since when did logic have anything to do with death and fear?

He didn’t know whether the anonymous man down the hall felt the same way. But Xander pictured him dying by inches without even a blanket for comfort, not having seen the sky in Christ knew how long, and Xander’s stomach felt tied up in knots.

That was the first thing that happened—stupid, dangerous feelings of guilt and pity. The second thing was that he heard battering and shouting coming from the top of the stairs.

“Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck….” Xander wasted precious seconds swearing and vacillating. And then, with another curse at his own stubborn idiocy, Xander lifted Spike’s limp body into his arms.

As fast as he could with his burden, Xander ran down the hallway. Towards the yelling, towards the footsteps that were pounding down the stairway. “Sorry, Spike,” he said with breath he really couldn’t spare. “I gotta do this. Couldn’t live with myself otherwise. Just couldn’t.”

When he got to the third door he’d unlocked, his arms were cramped and his lungs burned, the cut he’d received earlier that day was demanding attention, and Spike was just flopping lifelessly in his sweaty grip. The horde was drawing closer—as he ducked into the little cell he saw the first two men arrive at the bottom of the stairs. Guards with guns in their hands and with looks of grim determination.

Xander used his shoulder to slam the door shut. The four men who didn’t appear injured wailed and cowered against the far wall, but the fifth man simply rolled his head in Xander’s direction. His eyes were flat and hopeless. Fists began to hit the door, which had apparently locked when Xander closed it. Sooner or later, one of the Guards was going to come up with the key, Xander knew.

With a grunt, Xander set Spike down as gently as he could, right next to the man with the mutilated chest. Spike just lay there on his back, one hand stretched slightly in Xander’s direction as if for help, gouts of bright blood bubbling from between his lips.

Xander knelt between the two wounded men. He grabbed Spike’s bound wrists in one hand, and the prisoner’s long gray fingers in the other. Then he tried to remember the words that would get them home. Willow had made them both repeat them a bunch of times and then Wes had quizzed them, but Spike had a much better memory for stuff like that.

The noise at the door increased and Xander heard the metallic click of a lock turning. He squeezed his eyes closed, gave a final directionless prayer that he wouldn’t send them to the world without shrimp, and then recited the spell: “Festracami metriculo advenitum sledu op.”

He was just saying the final word when the door flew open.





Part Six

It was a little like trying to stuff three people into a Dodge Viper—an exercise in overcrowding that was a lot more fun when your vampire boyfriend was sitting on your lap than it was when you were dragging two gravely wounded men between dimensions. For what seemed like several years, Xander couldn’t breathe at all, and other people’s knees and elbows were jammed into the most uncomfortable places imaginable.

Then his ears popped as if a sonic boom had happened inside his skull and he collided with something hard. He couldn’t hear anything at all, there was too much movement going on around him for his eye to track, his lungs were busily sucking in oxygen, and the wolf reestablished itself in its familiar place inside him. It was way too much happening all at once and most of him just wanted to black out until the world simplified itself. But still he clung to consciousness because he needed to make sure Spike was safe.

He realized he was still clutching at Spike’s cuffs and the prisoner’s hand, but someone was trying to pry them apart. “No!” he screamed. “You can’t have him!”

But the someone—no, someones—were strong and insistent, and they managed to separate Xander from the others. Still blinded with confusion, Xander clawed frantically and let the wolf spring forward. He changed more quickly than he ever had before and growled and snapped at anything he could reach.

“Goddamn it! Hold him—he’s—shit— Don’t let him bite—ow, goddamn it!!”

It was the taste that finally got to him, the flavor of the blood on his tongue forcing its way through the primal parts of his brain and registering in the more evolved, more human section of the neocortex. The blood tasted like vampire. Not his vampire, but close.

Xander let himself go limp and he blinked up at the bulky figure that was struggling to hold him down. Angel. Angel was wrestling with him. Angel had a pretty good chunk missing from his left shoulder and looked mighty upset.

With a long sigh, Xander reformed his body, feeling his fangs shrink and his muzzle melt away, his tendons and bones and muscles realign themselves. In a moment he was human again and pinned under Angel’s weight.

“Spike!” Xander croaked. “Let me— Oh, God, is he—”

“Stay still!” Angel yelled. “You’ll just be in the way.”

Xander took a few more calming breaths and then, in a voice so tiny even he could barely hear it, asked, “Is he okay?”

Angel released his hands from Xander’s chest but remained straddling his torso. “I think okay’s a little overstating it. But he’s not dust. Kyna’s letting him feed from her wrist right now.” It was a testament to the seriousness of the situation that Angel didn’t sound jealous about that, only worried.

“Are we back home?”

“Yeah. We’re in the Hyperion lobby. But who’s the other guy and what the hell happened to him?”

“Let me up. I won’t interfere.”

“Or bite. You won’t bite anyone, right?”

“No biting.”

Angel looked at his bleeding shoulder and made a face. “You’re lucky it was me. I don’t think anyone else wants to start howling at the moon.”

Dimly, Xander agreed that it was fortunate that he’d chomped on someone with immunity to being werewolfed. God knew he’d bitten Spike plenty of times—nicely, not the savage attack he’d apparently inflicted on Angel—but the undead wouldn’t turn. But none of that was really important at the moment. He’d have bitten everyone in LA if it meant saving Spike.

Angel climbed off him and Xander tried to scramble to his feet. When he got tangled in the remains of his clothing he impatiently pulled off his mangled boots and kicked the pants off. Nudity was also not one of his big issues at the moment. He was vaguely aware that the weapons from the Keep were long gone, maybe zapped away between dimensions.

Several people were crowded around two supine figures. As Angel had said, Kyna had Spike’s head cradled in her lap and was holding her wrist to his mouth. She was frowning with concern, but she also looked a little like someone who was being forced to take some really bitter medicine. Angel had already moved back to her side and he was crouched beside her, watching carefully, probably trying to make sure Spike didn’t drain her. Spike’s eyes were both swollen shut and Xander couldn’t tell whether he was conscious. The only part of him that was moving was his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. His wrists and ankles were still chained.

While the scene around Spike was almost peaceful, a few feet away was all frenzied activity. Giles and Willow and Wes were all kneeling over the prisoner, alternately chanting and exchanging terse commentary, while Lindsey was limping back with a couple of books and what looked to be an entire herb shop clutched in his hands. He handed the stuff to Giles, who passed some of it to Willow and Wes.

Lindsey looked over at Xander. “He needs a hospital, man.”

But Xander shook his head. “Not a good idea. Doctors ask questions.”

“Who is he?”

“I…I don’t really know.”

“But—”

“I’ll explain later.” Giving Angel a glance that said Xander had no intention of going Call of the Wild again, Xander sat beside Spike and stroked a small undamaged part of his arm. And then his overburdened mind caught up with reality. “You’re not a baby!” he said to Angel.

“No. I grew up a few hours ago. We were all hoping that meant you guys would be back soon. What happened?”

“Long story. Later.” Really, the only thing keeping Xander from just collapsing was watching the comforting way his vampire’s chest had begun to rise and fall. Spike always did tend to forget he didn’t need to breathe.

“Fine.” And then Angel tapped Kyna’s shoulder. “He’s had a lot. Let me have a turn.”

She scowled at him. “You’re hurt.”

“Sorry,” Xander mumbled.

“It’s no big deal,” Angel said. “Come on. Sire’s blood is as good as Slayer’s.”

It looked like Kyna was considering arguing, but then she nodded. Spike moaned weakly when she took her arm away, his head lifting slightly like a baby whose bottle had been snatched. But then Angel was biting into his own wrist and settling it against Spike’s open mouth, and Spike’s head fell back onto Kyna’s lap. Xander just kept on petting those few inches of intact skin.

Several feet away, the activity continued. But Willow took a moment to look over at Xander and smile. “We’re doing our best, Xan.”

“I know.”

“Are you all right? You have blood on you.”

“Not mine. Mostly Spike’s and a little bit of Angel.”

She nodded and then bent back over her patient.

But then Kyna put her hand on Xander’s knee. “You’re done in, Xander. Go rest.”

“I’m not leaving Spike.”

“Xander, you’re not—” Angel began, but Kyna shut him up with a punch to his arm—the uninjured one, at least.

After a brief glare at Angel, Kyna smiled at Xander. “As soon as he’s had his fill of my lummox we’ll take you both up to your own bed. We’ve some human blood in our fridge and you can feed it to him yourself. We’ll get those cuffs off him as well.” Xander had never before felt so grateful to her. She gave his knee a slight squeeze and said, “You and your man risked yourselves to sort my problem. Thank you.”

“Hey, it was worth it just to never have to change another diaper.”


~*~*~*~*~


It wasn’t heaven, but it was close enough: his own bed with the fancy sheets that Angel and Kyna bought and Spike stole from them, his own fluffy pillow, and wrapped securely in his arms, his very own vampire.

Spike stirred a little and then sucked sleepily at Xander’s neck.

Xander kissed Spike’s hair, which was still matted with dried blood. “Morning, Fang. How do you feel?”

“Dead.”

“Well, yeah. But dust in the wind dead or mysteriously sexy in a bad boy kind of way dead?”

Spike considered for a moment. “The second one. Mostly.”

Xander kissed him again. “Good.”

“You’re not hurt?”

“Nope. That cut on my arm’s almost gone now that I’m back with the wolfy goodness.”

Spike murmured happily but then drew slightly away. “You’ve the poof’s blood on you.”

“Yeah. I bit him. Kinda tore his shoulder to pieces, actually.”

Spike’s eyebrows drew together in confusion and Xander sighed. “When we arrived back here things were kind of…mixed up for a few minutes. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on or who was there, but I knew you were hurt and he was trying to keep me away from you, so….”

Spike’s teeth were very white when he smiled. “You protected me.”

“Of course I did, dope.”

The smile disappeared from Spike’s face. “Told you to go home, berk.”

“Yeah, like that was gonna happen.”

Spike looked both aggravated and pleased. He settled himself close against Xander again. “I take it if Peaches is back to being extra-large again you found the bloody rock?”

“Yeah. Right before the Guards nabbed you. Man, I have a few choice words to share with the fucking vengeance demons, too.”

“Not a wise lot to make angry, pet.”

“I don’t care. They wouldn’t like me when I’m angry either.”

“Let’s just stay clear of them, all right?”

“Hmm,” Xander grumbled and, for good measure, kissed Spike’s hair again.

He thought that Spike had slipped back into sleep and Xander was about to follow suit when there was a knock at the bedroom door. “Come in,” Xander said.

Giles entered and sat in the chair next to bed, not so much as sniffing at the blatant snuggling. “Are the two of you recovering from your ordeal?” he asked.

“Yeah. A couple of days and a few more gallons of human juice and Spike’ll be back on his feet.”

“And you, Xander?”

“Just tired. And hungry! Do you think someone can round up a couple pounds of tri-tip?”

“I expect we can manage that.”

Xander’s stomach rumbled at the promise. But he felt considerable trepidation when he asked, “How is he?”

That made Spike pull away again. “How is who?”

“Xander brought a guest back as well.”

“Pet?” Spike asked, eyebrows back together.

“He’s a prisoner. I found him in that dungeon place when I went looking for you. I think he must have been one of the guys the Chief’s son freed from that…that….”

“Stasis.”

“Yeah. There were a bunch of them locked up down there, but this guy, he was possibly even in worse shape than you. All these wounds all over him.”

Giles nodded. “He was very close to death. But the infections are under control now and his injuries are mending. He’ll survive. Willow’s working on a spell to remove the collar—it seems to be held together by magic of some sort. He’s even regained consciousness, although he’s rather withdrawn. He won’t respond at all to questions.”

“Probably doesn’t understand a word,” Spike said. “Not to mention that his mind’s likely more bent than poor Dru’s.”

“Perhaps some time will help him. But I should very much like to know who he is and what happened to the three of you.”

Xander yawned. “I know. Just give me a little shut-eye, all right? Then you can feed me and I will regale you with adventurous yarns.”

When Giles had gone, closing the door softly, Spike chuckled. “Finding the stone and rescuing me wasn’t enough for you, love? You had to take half of Praesidium with you?”

“It’s just one guy, Spike. There were others, but….” Xander remembered the other terrified prisoners and shook his head sadly. “I couldn’t. Not enough time, not enough hands.”

“I know. The Guards were right on your arse, yeah? I was a bit aware of what was happening.”

Xander stroked Spike’s back, which was already healing. “And I risked both of our necks for this guy. I’m sorry, but—”

“Don’t apologize. If you didn’t fancy rescuing every poor sod you laid eye on, I’d have been dust in Chicago long ago. Always with the white hat, innit? One of the things I love about you. Foolhardy git who’s all heart. Well, heart and a lovely arse and….” Spike’s voice faded away as he fell back asleep.


~*~*~*~*~


“I have never talked so much all at once in my life,” Xander said tiredly and took a long swallow of Heineken. It had taken him hours to tell the gang everything that had happened in that other world, and Spike had mostly lolled in bed and listened, only interjecting a comment now and then.

“You’re a regular Homer, pet.”

“Simpson?”

Spike threw a pillow at him, but his aim was a little off since he was still healing, and the pillow fell harmlessly to the floor. Xander pointed his bottle in Spike’s direction. “You keep tossing things around and I’m gonna decide you’re done being an invalid, and I’ll stop waiting on you hand and foot.”

“Should wait on me anyway. ’M your alpha.”

You are a high maintenance vamp who could really, really use a bath.”

Spike patted at his hair unhappily. “Yeah, I expect so. Can still smell the reek of that place on me.” Then he perked up. “Will the bath be for two?”

“Could be arranged,” Xander responded, as if he hadn’t been yearning for days and days for a lapful of bubbles and wet vampire.

As he walked towards the bathroom, though, he noticed a pile of fabric on the floor, over near the wall: what was left of his clothing from Praesidium. He walked over and picked up his heavy blue coat. The stone was gone from the pocket. He supposed the vengeance demons had found a way to zap it away as soon as Xander returned to his world. But it wasn’t the stupid rock he was looking for anyway. He checked another pocket and—yes. There it was.

He drew out a folded sheet of paper. He took a moment to smooth it flat atop his dresser. There would still be crease lines, but considering what he’d just been through, he could live with that. He went into the kitchen and fetched a couple of thumbtacks from a drawer. When he came back to the bedroom, he hung the paper on the wall. A frame would be nicer. He’d make one soon.

“What’s that, love?” Spike asked. Xander stepped aside so Spike could see. “Ah. The drawing you found in that bloke’s rooms.”

“Yeah.”

“But it’s only half done.”

“Yeah, I know.” Xander smiled as he looked at the sleepy, handsome vampire in his bed and then the sleepy, handsome man in the drawing. Spike might tease him if he said so out loud, but Xander liked the way the art reminded him of the Chief’s son and the slave. He liked to think the son had risked his life and given up everything out of love for the artist. And he liked to imagine that even now the two of them were off having adventures of their own, happy and free and together. Well, maybe Spike wouldn’t tease after all. He might try to hide it, but Xander knew that under the swagger and the snark, his lover possessed the soul of a true romantic.

 A true romantic who was smelling pretty ripe right now and looked like he’d been dragged through a battlefield twice.

Maybe by tomorrow Spike would be well enough for them to explore that little master/slave scenario that had been running through Xander’s head. With a grin in Spike’s direction and a last glance at the drawing of the Chief’s son, Xander went off to fill the tub.




The End






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