An Unlikely Hero
"Come on. We could sneak past the vamps," Dawnie whined. Xander gritted his teeth and tried to not explode. He was just as worried as she was, but disobeying Spike and trying to sneak past Dalton… so not his version of a good idea.
"Xaaander. Buffy must be in real trouble. I mean, Spike's going to help her… she needs every hand she can get, and we have hands." Dawn held her two hands up to illustrate her point.
"Dawn. No." Xander crossed his arms and tried his best stern look. He could feel it evaporate as her eyes glittered with the threat of tears.
"Xander is right. You cannot leave," a voice backed Xander up. Xander looked over at Dalton who stood near the top of the stairs that led into what Xander jokingly called the 'human' tower of their new lair.
"Spike and Buffy need help," Dawn threw herself forward as though she were about to throw her arms around Dalton and give the vampire her best pout. Xander tensed. However, at the last minute, Dawn stopped so that she stood in front of Dalton giving her the pout without the hug. Yeah, Dalton was big with the control, but Xander wouldn't go so far as to hug her.
"Master Spike is strong enough to kill the challenger," Dalton almost growled. Xander stepped forward just as Dawn backed up.
"Master Spike is definitely strong enough, and he's way more clever than any stupid hellgod with stupid ideas of ending the world. I mean, whoever heard of destroying a whole world just because you're having a bad day? Well, Angelus tried, but Angelus isn't on the sane side of the family." While Dalton looked at him like he had lost his mind, Xander pulled Dawn back to his side. "She's just worried, and it's a human thing to want to get involved when we're worried," he tried to explain.
Dalton cocked her head. "Perhaps I should chain you."
"What? No!" Dawn almost yelped.
"If you want," Xander said as submissively as he could when he saw another vampire peer at him from halfway up the stairs. Yep, with minions in the room, it was time for his best vamp behavior.
"Xander!" Dawn shrieked.
"Dalton is the master when Master Spike is away," Xander said quietly, practically begging Dawn to understand. They were in a vampire lair, and vampire rules were pretty clear about who was in charge of who.
"Bring two ankle chains," Dalton ordered the minion at the door. Dawn tensed, ready to make a run for it, and Xander grabbed her in a half hug, one arm locked around her waist and the other grabbing her wrist.
"You would not escape," Dalton said coldly.
"Not with the trying. Honestly, we're not trying," Xander promised as he pulled Dawn closer to his side. Dalton stepped closer.
"My sire's pet has great value, and he ordered me to protect you," Dalton reached up and touched Dawn's cheek. While Dawn just looked angry, Xander could feel the first traces of panic crawl through his stomach. "However, I am in charge of the lair, and I will not allow you to do something as foolish as attempt an escape. You will wait for Master Spike to return."
Dalton turned her back before Dawn whispered her answer. "And what if he doesn't?" The words were no more than a breath, but Dalton turned, her eyes yellow.
"My sire is too old and too strong to be easily defeated. But if he is defeated, then you will belong to me, and escape is still forbidden," she calmly announced. Xander could feel Dawn go stiff in his embrace, but then the minion was back, long chains in hand.
"May we stay in the same room?" Xander asked, his eyes on the floor in front of Dalton as he tried his best to appeal to her vamp instincts. He was submissive; she didn't need to make him submit to prove a point. Dawn tried pulling away, and Xander could feel her desperate anger, but they couldn't piss Dalton off because getting chained up in separate bedrooms wouldn't really make anyone happy.
Dalton didn't answer as she bent down in front of them. Xander watched as Dawn tried to dance backwards away from Dalton's hands, but Xander held her in place and Dalton locked the chain around her ankle. When Dalton reached for him, Xander held his leg out. "Chain them in Master Spike's quarters," she ordered the minion as she turned back to the stairs. The minion cringed away from her and gathered up the ends of the two long chains, following as Xander led Dawn into the bedroom Spike had claimed for their own. Xander tried really hard not to think of dogs on leashes, but from the way Dawn glared at him, she was thinking of it enough for both of them.
At least Dawn waited until the minion was gone before turning to Xander and punching him in the arm with a little more strength than he expected in a friendly punch. "Now we can't go after Spike."
"Oh trust me, we were so not going after Spike, anyway," Xander said as he got up off the bed and moved to the chair nearest the TV stand. The chain dragged across the floor.
"Xander, how can you not care?"
Flinching away from the accusation in her eyes, Xander struggled to find the words to explain the reality of his life to someone who hadn't lived it. "I tried to get Spike to let us come," he finally argued.
"Well, duh. I heard that. But you just gave up and let Dalton chain us." Dawn gave an angry pull at the chain that now tethered her to the wall near the bathroom door.
"I couldn't stop Dalton from chaining us up," Xander pointed out. "If I had a shot at convincing her, I would have gone for it. But since I didn't have a chance in hell, I gave up before I could piss her off."
"You gave up too soon," Dawn accused him.
"Maybe," Xander said slowly. "But with vampires, you have to pick your battles. You can't go reminding them that you want something different than they want or they'll just try to make you want what they want, and that's just not fun," Xander said softly, remembering another human he'd seen kneeling next to another vampire. Xander didn't know whether the other vampire had less patience than Spike or whether the man had just taken longer to give up, but what Xander had seen… it had made him physically sick.
"Is Spike like that?"
Xander sighed at her shocked question. "Kinda," he admitted. "If I let him have his way all the time, then he does things to make me happy. But if I fight him…." Xander thought back to those early days, back when Spike still had the chip and Xander had thought of their games as something he controlled, as a way to get himself the pain he wanted without any danger. He'd been an idiot. "When I fight him, he still has to push until I give in," Xander shrugged.
"Hey," Xander interrupted her, "it works for us. I like giving him the control, and he takes care of me."
"Then what Buffy said… she was right?" Dawn wrapped her fist around the chain and looked at him with pity.
"Do I want to know what Buffy said?" he asked wearily.
"She said that this isn't healthy, that Spike hurt you until you just gave up and that now you aren't the Xander we remember. But you act like the Xander I remember… or you did until Spike took off and left us here. Now you're not Xander at all."
"Hey, I'm still very Xander, thank you very much. I spend lot of time doing Xander stuff."
"Like what?" Dawn challenged him.
"I play video games and read comic books," Xander pointed out as he gestured toward the TV stand with the game console on the shelf underneath. Dawn didn't look convinced. "Look, I still save people from vampires and say stupid crap and do lots of Xanderlike things," he tried again.
"You save people? Really?" Dawn's voice sounded so small; Xander didn't like it.
"I save people all the time. Spike will zero in on someone, and I swoop in and distract him with—" Xander stopped as he considered just how he distracted Spike. Definitely TMI.
"You were going to say something grodey, weren't you?" Dawn's face relaxed just a little.
"Um, yeah, kinda," Xander shrugged. "But the fact is that Spike doesn't usually kill his prey anymore, so I'm counting several hundred girls saved, although if he were draining them, he probably wouldn't have to bite so many, so maybe just a couple hundred girls saved."
"But you won't let me go after him to help him?" she asked, the pout back on her face.
"Dawnie, we'd never get out of the building, and when we got caught, Dalton would do something you really don't want her to do."
"Spike told her to be nice." Dawn threw herself back on the huge bed and stared up at the ceiling. "I just wanted to help them."
"I do, too," Xander confessed. "But getting caught going against Spike's orders would lead to badness. Dalton would have to punish us, and with vampires, the punishment never ends until you give up."
Dawn rolled to the side and looked at him with suspicion.
"It's like as long as you're struggling, you're fighting them, even if you're struggling just because it hurts. You have to just go limp, accept everything, and Dawnie, you can't do that. If Dalton punished you, I don't know that she could stop until you passed out."
"Okay, that's disturbing." Dawn went back to studying the ceiling.
"Dinosaur-sized disturbing," Xander agreed. "Which is why there will be no pissing off of Dalton. Nope. Play nice with the vampires."
"And what if Spike doesn't come back?" Dawn asked softly without taking her eyes from the ceiling. Xander sat silent and considered that for a second.
"I don't know," he finally answered. "But the no pissing off Dalton rule will still be in effect."
"I hate this."
"Me too, Dawnie, but the minute Spike ordered us to stay here, he took away our chance to help. Besides, we'd just distract him. He took lots of minions, so between Spike and Buffy, they'll stop Glory, promise." Xander said the words with as much conviction as he could put into them, and he could only pray that he wasn't lying. Dawn didn't answer as she stared at the ceiling.
The next night, Xander found himself sitting between Dawn and Dalton in the back of Spike's van heading for somewhere. Xander could only hope they were heading for Spike because the other option was that Dalton was moving lairs because Spike was dead. His stomach curled into knots.
"Where are we going?" Dawn demanded for the twentieth or thirtieth time. And again, Dalton was with the ignoring.
"We're nearly there," the minion driving announced. Xander could hear the minions behind him shifting around on their seat.
"There where?" Dawn tried again.
"Dawnie," Xander said softly, reaching out to take her hand, but she jerked it away from him.
"I want to know."
"I know you do. I do too."
"So make her tell us!" Dawn crossed her arms and glared across Xander to Dalton.
"Dawnie," Xander sighed.
"Fine. You won't ask her. Well, I still want to know where we're going."
Xander glanced over and Dalton was looking at them like she might consider a minion two seconds before she staked it. Maybe one second. The van pulled to the side of the road and stopped.
"Are they here?" Dalton asked without breaking eye contact with Dawn.
"Yes, Dalton," the minion said in an even more respectful tone than normal. Yep, everyone in the van except Dawn seemed to know that Dalton was nearing the end of her patience.
"You would make an exceptionally poor pet," Dalton announced firmly. "We should both be grateful that my sire was victorious."
"Master won." Xander breathed the words, his guts going from big, ugly knots to soup as tears prickled his eyes.
"Master won," Dalton agreed before she opened the door and got out of the van. Xander hesitated, not sure if he was invited to follow or not, but then Dalton gestured. Xander slid out, Dawn right behind him.
"Willow." Xander smiled, but Willow wasn't smiling back. Under the light of the streetlamp, her face looked yellowed, and her eyes were swollen. "Tara?" Xander asked, but the second witch just held Willow's arm, her eyes on the sidewalk.
"Where's Buffy?" Dawn asked. Willow clutched Tara's gray sweater in her fist as her face collapsed in sorrow.
"Oh god, no." Xander felt the words slip past his lips even though his brain had frozen, refusing to process reality.
"No." Dawn said quietly and then her voice got louder. "No. No, she's not dead." No one answered her. With fury in her face, Dawn turned to Xander, her hands curled into fists. "It's your fault. You wouldn't let me come help her. I could have helped her." Dawn flew forward, pounding Xander's chest with her fists just once before Dalton vamped out and grabbed her wrists.
"Take her," Dalton ordered as she pushed Dawn toward Willow and Tara. They grabbed her, pulling her into the middle of their hug as Dalton pushed Xander back toward the van.
"Wait. Leave Xander here," Willow called out.
"He's not yours, witch," Dalton answered tersely before she herded Xander back into the seat he had just left. She got in and they started driving again.
"She's really dead?" Xander asked as he stared at the metal rivets that made a seam in the side of the van. He couldn't make himself understand the words. He couldn't imagine a world without her smile, her quips as she did a backwards kick, her complaints about math and French class.
"She died in battle."
Xander couldn't think of anything to say. He felt shredded as he stared at nothing.
"My sire warned me that human reactions to death were unreasonable. Do you plan to be unreasonable?" she asked.
Xander's mind slipped into gear. He didn't know how to be Xander and deal with a world without Buffy, but he knew how to be a pet: he'd been asked a question and he needed to answer. He shook his head. "I loved Buffy, but we weren't really family for a while," he said, and for the first time he regretted it. He knew slayers had a short life, why hadn't he made up with her? Why hadn't he told Spike that he just needed to make real peace with her before she went and sacrificed herself in some fight? Why had he just assumed that she would always defy the odds?
"So, if Master Spike had died, you would have been unreasonable?" Dalton asked as the van took a corner.
He thought about that one for just a second before nodding. "Yeah."
"Would you have blamed me the way the girl blamed you?"
"Oh yeah. I would have been big with the blame. Possibly even big with the hitting," Xander admitted as he chewed his lip and glanced over. Dalton was looking at him with one eyebrow up; she was spending way too much time with Spike.
"I would have punished you," she pointed out. Xander nodded.
"You would have had to because human grief isn't anything like rational thought. Dawn loves me, but she couldn't stop herself from blaming me."
"And will she forgive you later?" Dalton asked as the van rolled to a stop.
"I think so… I hope so."
Dalton sat and looked at Xander for a long moment. "Master Spike is waiting for you inside," she commented as she slid the van door open and got out. Xander followed her into the night. There weren't any streetlights here, so the neighborhood was dark… and a little creepy. At one point, this was probably a middle-class area, but now the lawns were overgrown with weeds, and the house they had parked in front of had its windows broken out and boards nailed over the holes. But even with the darkness and the boarded windows and the general creepiness, this place still didn't seem right for a vampire lair. It was all gingerbready with fish-scale siding and fancy scrolling bits on the roof for god's sake.
Xander looked at Dalton, but she just gestured toward the front door before getting back into the van. Okay, Spike had obviously lost his mind to pick this place, but if he wanted a place no one would find him, this was as good as any because no way would a…
Xander stopped mid-thought. There wasn't a slayer left in town to look for him. Xander felt his throat tighten as he headed up the sidewalk and through the door which creaked painfully on rusted hinges. Inside, a camping lantern sat on a wide banister, casting just enough light to see the peeling floral wallpaper.
"Master?" he called into the dark. Something heavy dragged across a wooden floor.
"Hide the mice," Spike's voice hissed. Xander seriously hoped that was some sort of code word because he didn't have any mice to hide.
"Spike?" he tried again. This time, the vampire appeared in an archway, hanging on to both sides as he swayed unsteadily. For a second, Xander was stuck to the floor, too shocked to move. One side of Spike's face was a mass of black bruise, and dried blood had dried and caked down his side, leaving marks that looked suspiciously like something had ripped his ribcage open. "You need blood," Xander said as he finally found his voice and rushed forward.
"Too much blood. What are you doing here?" Spike blinked and seemed almost rational for a second.
"Dalton brought me, Master," Xander answered as he got his shoulder under Spike's arm and looked around desperately for anywhere that Spike could sit. The house seemed pretty empty, so Xander pulled him toward the stairs before Spike fell over.
"Dalton. You still have that portal?" Spike demanded, flashing into gameface, which looked even more terrifying than usual. With the bruising and the blood, it looked like a Halloween mask.
"You lose that portal and I'll bloody rip the skin from ya before I turn ya to dust," Spike snarled, his eyes darting around the room.
"Portal, yep, got a portal right here," Xander quickly agreed as he helped Spike down onto the stairs. Spike gripped the railing so tight that the wood groaned.
"Right. Things get dodgy, you get them out."
"Get them out, got it," Xander agreed as he pulled his shirt off. Spitting onto a corner, he started working the blood away from Spike's side. It looked like the skin had closed over, but it was still purpled and swollen under the skin. Spike hissed.
"Fail me and I'll bloody make ya wish ya were never turned. You get Xand and the bit away, you got it?"
"Got it," Xander agreed with a sinking feeling. Spike had gone into this thinking he was going to lose, and the big old fibber had totally lied. Stupid lying vampire.
"Be just like the old courts, having pets. But you lose 'em and ya'll find yourself starvin' in some dimension without walkin' happy meals wanderin' by every two minutes."
"Okay, as disturbing as this is, I'm thinking that's your idea of a backup plan, and can I say your backup plan sucks. I don't want Dalton. I want you." Xander muttered the words as he worked another section clean. For a second, Spike was silent, swaying lightly and blinking.
"Can't let Dalton know, though. Angelus knows, and that's bad enough. Tosser," Spike said as he lay back on the stairs and closed his eyes.
"Yep, Angelus the Tosser, that's his official name. Well, that and Angelus the Poof or Peaches."
"Peaches," Spike gave a strangled laugh.
"What have you been drinking?" Xander asked. A strong arm grabbed him by the waist and pulled him down onto Spike, making Spike hiss in pain.
"God's blood," he whispered in a conspiratorial tone before laughing again. "Just don't tell Xander."
"Right, Xander will never know you're drunk off your ass. Spike, you need blood. Let me go get Dalton," Xander begged as he tried to pull away. Spike's hand tightened around him.
"Don't bloody care if Xander knows I’m pissed. He's seen me pissed plenty."
"That I have," Xander agreed, although he'd never actually seen Spike this drunk before.
"Just don't tell 'em that I bloody love him," Spike said before his head flopped back onto the stairs with a heavy thunk.
Xander stopped breathing for a second. "He already knows," he said as he stroked Spike's arm.
"Wouldn't go into battle with a soddin' god for the slayer, that's for sure. Boy's got knackers. Went up against Angelus for me, which is about as even a fight as me going up against a god."
Yeah, Xander had known that Spike loved him, but hearing him say it made his heart ache in an unfamiliar way. "I can't believe you went up against Glory just for me." Xander stared at Spike until his eyes fluttered open and looked at him.
"Who the bloody hell are you?" Spike asked, yellow bleeding into the blue.
"Nobody. Officially no one," Xander hurried to say. "You were just talking about Xander."
For a second, Spike looked confused and then he nodded amiably and let his head thunk back against the stairs. "Too much blood. Burns like fire in my veins. Can't even bloody heal properly."
"Maybe you should get the blood out of you, then," Xander suggested with more than a little panic, but Spike shook his head.
"Blood's power. Slayer died givin' me a chance ta get my fangs in her. Soddin' good death." Spike slurred the words. "Woulda liked ta face her, but it'd upset my Xander."
"Yeah, it would," Xander said as he started to put the pieces together. "What about the minions? Couldn't they distract her?" he asked. Why did Buffy think she had to sacrifice herself, not that Xander wanted it the other way around, either, but why did anyone have to die? Well, minions could die. Spike had said often enough that minions were cannon fodder, and Xander really was okay with them dying, but not Buffy. Not Buffy and not Spike.
Spike snorted. "Minions lasted about five minutes. Wankers. Slayer was a right treat, though. Didn't even flinch away from death. But the bitch-god didn't expect her to have a Master Vampire backin' her up. Gave us an edge."
Xander could feel the tears he had fought against slide down his face as he realized what had happened. Too tired to care about anything else, he lay his head down on Spike's shoulder and tried to ignore the scent of copper-blood that made him want to sneeze. For long minutes, they lay there on the stairs as the camp lantern flickered.
"Just get Xander and the bit clear. I'll follow if it goes tits over arse," Spike muttered. His hand found Xander's hair and started stroking it. "Won't lose him. Don't care if it makes me a tosser, I love the clod."
Xander lay still and let his tears run over his nose and drip onto Spike's chest as he slowly nodded. "Dawn and Xander are safe," he promised.
"Won't bloody forgive me if I don't at least try ta save the world. Bit'll never forgive me for letting her sis get killed. Xander'd better though. I'll put the boy in the cage until he forgives me. Tried my best," Spike was barely muttering the words through cracked lips.
"You don't need the cage. Xander forgives you," Xander promised as he planted a soft kiss on Spike's chest. "Xander knows you did everything you could. And you saved the world. Of course Xander is in love with a hero like you."
"Soddin' embarrassing saving the world."
"Well, as one of the saved, thank you," Xander said as he stroked Spike's chest, feeling the swelling and the flakes of blood crumbling under his fingers.
"Tired," Spike slurred as he squirmed on the step. Xander sat up and pulled on Spike until he got half turned around, his upper body lying in Xander's lap.
"Sleep," Xander whispered.
"Gotta watch for danger."
"Sleep," Xander repeated softly. "I'll watch out for you." Xander let his arm brush over Spike's cheek. The vampire's eyes twitched so that Xander saw a flash of blue, and then they fell closed. Xander sat on the stairs in the dark petting Spike until long after beams of light strained at every crack in every boarded-up window. They'd be okay. One way or another, they'd all be okay.
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