Who Wants to Live Forever


by
Metaforgirl



Part Twenty-Two

Giles was having dinner with Quentin and two other Council members. Riley Finn and the military attaché which had accompanied him had left the residence and were now apparently stationed outside of town, but Giles had not yet been able to go anywhere without Quentin’s supervision. He accepted that he was essentially being held under house arrest. He wondered what would happen if he walked out on the porch without permission.

The dinner was roast beef, overcooked, and a Yorkshire pudding, undercooked. Giles poked at it and wondered if he would be allowed to order pizza. The phone in the hallway and the modem connection in his bedroom had vanished in the night. Spike’s bedroom door was locked. Giles was an independent man, and the enforced constant surveillance was making him cranky and difficult. The books he had brought to study during the trip had been quickly acquired by Quentin. Who pronounced them ‘interesting’ and managed not to return them. Giles was worried, immersed in negative speculation, ill-fed, and bored. It was a terrible combination for him.

Quentin lit another of his hideous cigars and leaned back in his chair, seemingly content. “Rupert? When I visit Colonel Riley tomorrow I will, of course, be pleased if you will join me.”

“It is not considered polite, in this part of this country, to smoke indoors, Quentin,” Rupert replied testily.

“Really?” Quentin puffed thoughtfully. “How inhospitable.” He regarded his cigar calmly. “I will have to apologize to the owners.” He looked at Giles, “And they would be again?”

Giles glared grumpily in front of him. “Dawn Summers, of course, is executor of Buffy’s estate. But Willow has title at this time.”

“Ah, the witch.” Quentin studied Giles. “What an interesting arrangement. Why is she not here, then? She must sleep somewhere? Witches do sleep, do they not?” He smiled at his own joke.

Giles ignored the ridiculous jibe. “She has her own home. She merely holds title here. It is convenient for visitors.” He stopped.

“She must have quite a few visitors,” Quentin speculated, “to keep an entire residence.”

“She is the head of a very large Coven, Quentin. Of course she has visitors.”

“That’s so very strange,” said Quentin. “I was given to understand that witches were essentially non-political. ‘Do what thou wilt’ and all that, you know.”

“Don’t be naïve, Quentin,” Giles said in an extremely irritated voice. He rose to leave. Then he felt it. As if someone had opened every door in the house just before a storm. A warm but clean wave of some force pushed across the room. He felt his heart accelerate and felt pressure on his chest. He sat down carefully and looked at Quentin. The other Watcher appeared not to have noticed. Neither of the other two said anything. Giles took a deep breath. Power spread with a thud to the ends of his hands then gently retracted. He steadied himself and looked towards the windows. “There may be a storm coming,” he said to no one in particular. “I’d like to go outside and be sure that things won’t blow away.”

Quentin glanced at one of the other men, who stood and moved to the door. “Of course, Fletcher here will help you.”

“Thank you,” said Giles. He breathed carefully and moved slowly towards the door. He was thankfully standing in the doorway when the second wave hit and so was able to grab the jamb unnoticed. He turned and looked at Quentin. He felt a little pity for the man. “I’m sure I’ll see you later,” he said.

Quentin nodded and studied something in his hand. Giles left.

He had made it to the front lawn when the next wave hit. Behind him the house groaned. The tree in the front yard seemed to lift upward and the ground swelled as if it were taking a deep breath. Giles sat down hard with the force of it. He clutched his legs and bowed his head to his knees and tried to channel it, tried to flow with it. In all his young years as a Warlock, Giles had only heard stories of Covens calling down power. They were stories they told each other to frighten the young men. Women unleashing the primordial force on the world. The Mother rising. It was mythic. A fable. Giles was terrified.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander had expected to have to do some explaining when the Council members first climbed into the van and saw one of their own lying bound on the floor. They reacted like a flock of nervous chickens, hands fluttering, heads darting about when they saw him. But Xander was very impressed with Maurice. The Watcher managed a sort of dignity. Leaning three quarters of the way up on the wall of the van, in grungy navy blue sweats, his shirt stained with sweat, his mouth still swollen, dirt and beard stubble darkening his face. He nevertheless straightened as best he could and spoke calmly.

“It’s alright, gentlemen. Mr. Harris has, understandably, had some reason to doubt my sincerity.” He glanced slyly at Xander. “I am sure with all of you here, however, he will now feel comfortable allowing me to move around freely.”

“Nice, Maurice,” muttered Xander, busily driving. “Go ahead and cut him loose,” he addressed the men crouching near the Watcher, “but he points another cross-bow at me, that’s it.”

Maurice was released by his friends. He shook his hands to regain the circulation. Bartholomew, who had taken shot-gun next to Xander, turned in his seat.

“I’m sure there is a fascinating story here,” he said dryly, “but for now why don’t you tell me what Rupert Giles has discovered.”

“Quentin Travers has joined with the Initiative,” said Maurice succinctly. “We are fairly certain.”

There was a stunned silence. Then the intellectual machine that was the Council of Watchers kicked in and the men began discussing the situation.

Listening with half a mind, Xander understood that this move by Travers was a sort of philosophical split from the body of the Council. He seemed to be adopting a more aggressive and militaristic policy. Apparently some of the Watchers feared his power hungry grasp might even reach into the realm of humanity.

Xander drove and tried to pay attention, and was able to not worry about Spike for ten minutes at a time. They were half-way to the point where the Coven had decided to meet, when the wave hit Xander. He gasped, fell against the wheel and lost control of the van for a second. Bartholomew grabbed one side of the wheel with both hands and brought them back onto the road as Xander, breathing hard and gaping sightless through the windshield, slammed his foot on the brake. The van jumped and stalled and stopped.

“Fuck, what was that?” Xander asked.

Bartholomew looked at him anxiously. “Are you ill?”

Xander focused on him, surprised. “Didn’t you feel that?”

Bartholomew studied him with those Watchery eyes. “Suppose you describe what you just experienced.” He looked back at the group of men recovering from the sudden stop. “No one else noticed anything?” They shook their heads. He turned back to Xander. “What did you perceive as happening, Mr. Harris?”

Xander blinked and thought. His arms were still shaking, he noted distantly. “It felt like someone opened an oven,” he said after a moment. “Only not so much hot, but big. Powerful,” he realized. “And I still kinda feel it,” he added, looking uncomfortable. “Like I’m swollen with whatever it is.”

Bartholomew looked back at the other Watchers. They all seemed to be thinking something.

“What?” asked Xander irritably. “Now what?”

“Magic,” said Bartholomew. “Probably magic. The Coven.” He looked back at the other men again. Xander had the annoyed feeling that they were having a conversation without him. Bartholomew gave Xander a very Gilesy speculative look. “Usually only those with some magic in them can actually feel power when it is released.” He didn’t ask, just studied Xander.

Maurice cleared his throat. “Mr. Harris has had some interesting experiences of late,” he said carefully. “Perhaps that has made him vulnerable.”

Xander shot Maurice a look in his rear-view mirror. He wasn’t sure what the Watcher was trying to do. The look Maurice gave him seemed to advise caution. Xander quickly decided to take Maurice’s advice. He hedged. “Been around a lotta mojo,” he explained smoothly. “The wedding. And stuff. Slayer stuff,” he said quickly at Bartholomew’s quirked eyebrow.

Bartholomew was distracted, thankfully. “The Slayer? Where is she, now?”

Maurice was still watching Xander in the rear-view mirror, but he answered. “Hopefully she will meet us there.”

And Xander was back to worrying about Spike. He shifted the van into gear and gave it gas. Pulled back out on the road. When the second wave hit, he merely gripped the wheel tighter and clenched his teeth. The chattering Watchers did not even notice. Sitting at the back of the cargo area, watching Xander’s tensed back, Maurice noticed. And thought.


~*~*~*~*~


Brown and the girl had been sitting in the clearing for some time when the flashlights of the Coven began dotting the surrounding darkness. For a second Brown feared he had made a huge mistake, and that the lights were the military, still hunting them. But he heard the chanting, and replaced one worry with another. Witches didn’t make him much more comfortable. Even Willow. The Slayer laid her hand on his shoulder and he felt the tension fall away. He gazed at her in wonderment. How could she do that with just a touch? He saw her face crease in puzzlement.

“Don’t worry,” he reminded her. “They’re white witches. Or witches that don’t do evil. Whatever that is,” he muttered.

The girl raised her little face into the air and concentrated. She almost seemed to sniff. Then she turned to Brown. “Ah’m not worried,” she drawled softly. “Ah know you wouldn’t endanger me.” Her enormous eyes rested easily on his. Long dark lashes lowered and the innocent look became somehow seductive. “You rescued me!” she said slyly, “jest lahk a knight in shinin’ armor.”

Brown almost whimpered. “Yeah,” he managed to croak. He watched the witches approaching. Waited for his head to clear a bit. “How’d you know?” he asked suddenly. “That I was telling the truth?”

The girl tipped her head to the side and studied the lights, the stars. Turned again and studied Brown. “Ah always know,” she said simply. “Ah always have.”

“Is it a Slayer thing?”

“No,” said the girl with quiet conviction. “It’s jest me.”

Willow stepped into the clearing and immediately approached them. She smiled at Brown and handed him her torch. He eyed her satchel suspiciously and avoided contact with it. Willow seemed to be in no hurry. She sat down next to the Slayer and Brown noticed that the girl immediately edged away. He wondered if it was shyness or instinct. Willow probably reeked of Magic right now. Brown wrinkled his nose. He wondered what Willow’s magic would smell like? Cinnamon toast? Strawberry daiquiri?

Willow was looking at him worriedly. “Where are the rest of you?”

Brown grimaced. “Xander and Maurice are bringing the guys,” he said. He paused and bit his lip. “Spike was stopped.”

He and Willow exchanged a miserable look. She sighed. “I’ll tell Xander, if you wish,” she said kindly.

Brown shook his head. “Nope, I gotta do it.” He grit his teeth. “It fucking sucks. I wanna go back for him.”

“Not yet,” Willow said.

“Yeah. I know.” Brown’s head came up and he heard his van, the way a dog hears its master. “But Xan’s gonna go off the minute he finds out.”

“He can’t.”

“Maybe you haven’t seen those two. You aren’t gonna stop him.”

Willow looked troubled. The Slayer cocked her dark head. “Are y’all talkin’ about that vampire?” she asked, looking confused. “The one that helped me?”

Willow nodded, watching her. “He has a soul,” she said, “he helps the good guys.”

The girl regarded her for a long moment. Willow was struck by the depth flowing in those very young eyes. “Ah wondered,” she said slowly. “He doesn’t feel bad. Like the others,” she explained.

Willow raised an interested eyebrow. “He doesn’t feel bad?” She turned towards the girl and gave her her undivided attention. “How does he feel?”

The girl gazed into the distance, contemplated something. She sighed. “Kinda silky,” she said finally.

Willow sat back, surprised.

Brown was pacing, agitated. “They’re coming,” he told Willow, not referring to the Coven, whose members had begun to densely pack the grove. Willow stood. She could see a group of men approaching from the bottom of the hill. Xander’s white jacket stood out. Around her, now, young women were attending to candles. Small pouches in their hands, they were circling the area. She took a deep breath. “We’ll close the circle,” she pronounced, “then we’ll see.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander couldn’t believe how urgently he needed to get up the hill. Despite his absolute conviction that Spike would still be angry with him, he had to see his vampire. He needed him like he sometimes needed a drink. With a single-minded focus that blurred everything around him. He impatiently looked back at the group of men, as they struggled to climb the damp ground. Loafers and business suits did not suit walking through fields in the damp of night. Xander wondered why Watchers dressed so inappropriately.

“C’mon. C’mon,” he hissed. He spun around and raced up the hill. There were over a hundred women, he would guess, in the clearing. He could barely pick out anyone. He felt the throb of whatever that was in him even more strongly and identified this as the source. Like mojo water-retention, he thought to himself. Then he saw Brown. But no Spike. As the young man approached him, Xander kept looking around the clearing. Where was Spike? He looked back at Brown. Something in the man’s face. Xander started to pant. He stopped moving and fought the urge to flee, to run away from whatever Brown carried in his eyes. “No,” said Xander firmly.

Brown stepped up to him and clasped his shoulder. Xander was pulling his head back and looking at him warningly.

“No,” said Xander.

Brown grimaced and forced himself to look Xander in the eye. “Spike was…”

“No,” said Xander in a clear voice. He stepped back from Brown’s grasp and shrugged truth away with little jerks of his shoulders. Stepping backwards. Trying to step back through time. He shook his head and his face became angry. “You’re wrong,” he said, and turned away.

Brown didn’t know what to do. “Xander,” he sighed. “I’ll go back with you when Willow says it’s clear.” Xander looked up.

“Back?”

“Riley.” Brown stopped. “Yeah. It was that Riley guy. He has Spike.”

Xander didn’t know which emotion to experience first. Relief that Spike was not dust. Or terror that while he stood here gaping, Spike might become dust. He spun around and took off so quickly Brown couldn’t react.

Brown opened his mouth, then closed it. He’d never seen Xander run that fast. It was creepy. Almost vampiric. He saw Xander get to the edge of the clearing. Something slowed him. A couple of women’s heads whipped around. Then Xander surged forward and dove into the trees. The air suddenly smelled singed. Many of the women looked up from their tasks, curiously.

“Would you follow him for me?” Willow was standing at his shoulder, gazing into the woods where Xander had disappeared. She turned back to Brown very seriously. “When the circle closes, I can’t protect either of you. But will you go with him anyway?”

Brown nodded. It had never occurred to him not to. “Sure.”

Willow held out three very white, smooth stones, about an inch across each and irregularly shaped, as if by water. “These will modify the effects somewhat,” she explained, pressing the stones into Brown’s hand. He nodded uncomfortably and slipped them into a pocket. “Brown, once the power is released you won’t be able to think clearly without them.”

Brown nodded uneasily, “Yeah, yeah, got it. Just don’t wanna think about it.” He started to trot off, then stopped. “Don’t think I can pop through like Xander just did,” he pointed out matter-of-factly. “Don’t tell me what it is, okay? Just make it go away for a second.” He didn’t watch Willow raise her wand. Just took off in the same direction as Xander and pretended a ribbon of magic didn’t arc over his head as he dove from the grove into the trees.

Maurice and Bartholomew had not yet entered the circle when Maurice saw Xander, and then Brown, running off into the woods. “Just a moment,” he said absently, and walked towards the place they had disappeared. He stood for a minute staring into the black woods full of vampires and other demons. He rubbed his sore wrists. He looked back at the circle, now being defined in preparation for closing everyone in safely. He looked back at the woods. And for the second time in twenty-four hours, Maurice instinctively made a life altering decision. He stepped into the woods, following Brown and Xander.

Willow looked up again. The novice at her shoulder sighed. Mistress was really difficult this evening. Highly distracted and making everything take forever. Willow’s apparently mulish placidity drove the younger witches to distraction under normal circumstances, but this evening she seemed particularly stubborn. Willow gazed off into the distance thoughtfully, and the novice sighed again. Perhaps a bit too loudly, she realized, disturbed when Willow turned back to her with upraised eyebrows.

“Well, Hathi,” she said archly. “What are you waiting for?”

Hathi lowered her eyes and, wisely, did not shake her head. She proceeded with the ritual.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander had the van in gear and was about to pull out onto the road, when Brown banged against the driver’s side door. He gave him a determined look, and Xander rolled the window down a crack. He shook his head.

“I’m goin’,” he said. Eyes already on the road. Pedal foot twitching.

“Yeah. Sure,” said Brown. “But I’m drivin’.” He yanked the door open and hopped up, giving Xander little choice but to move to the passenger side and let him in.

They were rounding a curve, about to leave the area, when Maurice appeared in the road before them, waving his arms. Brown quelled the urge to run over the Watcher and slowed, cruising by him, he rolled his window a crack. “Whachya want?”

“Let me in.”

Brown cursed and made to drive off. Xander stopped him. “Let him in.”

Brown grumbled to himself something about ‘parties’ and ‘fucking bus’ and pulled over long enough for Maurice to jerk open the back door and leap inside. As the van jerked off, and Maurice flew ungently into a pile of maces and other very sharp weapons, the Watcher cursed himself, Brown shook his head darkly and Xander stared straight ahead, every muscle in his body tense.

“Da Three Messkiteers,” moaned Brown sadly and pushed on the gas.


~*~*~*~*~


Later, crouched together on the same cliff he and Spike had surveyed Sunnydale from, Brown waited until Maurice moved off to take a leak.

“Talked to Spike about ya,” he mentioned uncomfortably. He’d thought about it driving here and decided that Xander needed to know what the vampire had said. Just in case. It seemed only right.

Xander looked at him with those intense black eyes he had been wearing all the way here. His cheek twitched a little and pathos swept across his face briefly. “What did he say?” he asked in a whisper.

Brown looked away from the emotion, felt himself flushing. “Said he loved ya.” He glanced quickly at Xander. The man was looking at the ground, his hands were clenched. Brown couldn’t read his expression. “Told me why you were fighting.” Xander turned his face away from Brown. “I think he kinda understood why, finally.” He addressed the back of Xander’s head. “Don’t think he was mad at you.”

“He understood why?” Brown couldn’t see Xander’s face, and the man’s voice was so tight he couldn’t read the emotion.

“Yeah,” he said, “I think he got it. How it couldn’t work. How it was a good idea to quit it.”

Xander didn’t speak. He couldn’t look at Brown. He couldn’t do anything but breathe in and out. So Spike had decided he wanted out. Well, of course he did. He’d had time to think and sort through things and had come to his ever-lucid Spike senses. It was one thing to love a mortal. It was fine to have wild monkey sex with a mortal and hang out. It was quite another thing to tie yourself to one. Especially one as twisted, sick and generally doomed as Xander. He made himself breath in. It hurt. Moving the muscles it required to take breath hurt. He closed his eyes and struggled. Breathed out. Breathed in again. Pain took up residence in every cell of his body and swelled as he breathed. He didn’t even feel the tears on his face. This was right, he told himself. This was the way it had to be. But his body screamed and his heart broke, and when Brown spoke he could barely attend to him.

“Don’t think he’s mad at you anymore,” Brown assured Xander worriedly. “Said he just didn’t wanna hurt you.” He touched Xander’s arm carefully. “You alright now, man?”

Xander managed to nod. “Yeah,” he croaked in a voice that felt black and dry as coal, “thanks for telling me.”

Maurice reappeared, self-consciously rubbing his hands on his slacks and wishing for a men’s room. “Are we ready, gentlemen?”

He noticed Xander’s intense sobriety and Brown’s worry, but then he was feeling on edge himself. He looked down at the dark camp below them. “I can’t believe I’m about to rescue a vampire.”

Brown led as they slipped over the embankment and slid into the dark.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike was no longer Spike. He was either that-which-felt-pain, or that-which-did not-feel-pain. In his vision hovered the face that came with release from pain. He longed for the face. While he was only that-which-felt-pain, some part of his mind reached for the face. Now, in the blue room, the face leaned into his and Spike gratefully looked up into it.

“Change for me,” it demanded. And he tried. He knew what the face demanded, and he wanted to give it, but before he could will himself, there was a cool sensation and he was, once more, that-which-feels-pain.

When he was restored to the blue room, he remembered the command and immediately forced himself into compliance. He was rewarded by a smile from the face and a feeling of pressure, which did not bring the pain, on his thigh.

“Yes,” said the face and this was good. The face told him, this was very good. The pressure on his thighs played at the spot where the cool pain bloomed, but it was not the pain, so was good. The face lowered itself very near him and he felt its breath on his ridged skin.

Riley was so excited he could barely restrain himself. Clenching Spike’s thigh tightly with one fist he lowered his neck slowly to the vampire’s lips. “Bite me,” he whispered.

Then the face was in his mouth and he was that-which-does-not-feel-pain and everything was very good.

Riley groaned into the bite. It was horrible. The tearing and sucking was so painful. It was worse than anything he had experienced in the vamp houses anywhere. It was also intensely sexual. The drawing sensation, the rough tongue on his neck. He could feel Spike’s Adams apple bobbing as he gulped down Riley’s blood and he could hear the wet noise of Spike’s mouth suckling. He grabbed at his dick and squeezed. He was about to come, he knew, when the dizziness began to overwhelm him. With an effort learned from countless experiences, he pulled himself roughly away and stared with horror at the bloody mouth and fangs.

“You fucking animal!” he screamed and touched the taser to Spike’s balls again. Spike arched, blood-filled mouth gaping soundlessly.

And was that-which-feels-pain.


~*~*~*~*~


They were on the outer periphery of the encampment. In almost the exact same spot that he and Spike had entered, Brown scouting carefully for the guards they had evaded the first time, when Xander made a noise way too loud for their situation, stiffened and grabbed Brown with one hand so hard the young man gasped.

“Fuck!” Xander was curling into a ball like he was having a heart attack. “Spike.” He fell to his knees on the ground, Maurice reaching quickly to support him.

Brown crouched beside him, one hand on his back and exchanged looks with Maurice. The talismans Willow had given them seemed to have worked thus far against the effects of the power, so Xander’s reaction was worrying for all three of them. But then, Brown supposed, Xander was more susceptible than they. Maurice looked exhausted and worried but grimly determined. He rubbed Xander’s back until the man had recovered a bit. Xander gasped and looked up at the two with a dazed expression. “I can hear him screaming,” he whined in a breathless whisper. His eyes were wildly scanning the tents. He body kept shuddering in violent tremors. “God. Spike.”

“Shhh.” Brown barely made the sound but his violent gestures spoke volumes. He kind of wished Xander hadn’t become suddenly incapacitated but he had expected something wonky to happen. It always did. Now they had some sort of psychic bloodhound, though, he figured they should take advantage. He lowered himself until his mouth touched Xander’s ear, noting how warm the skin was, and hissed, “find him. We follow.”

Xander gathered himself and shakily rose. He nodded. With a look of intense suffering on his face he began picking his way through the tents.

Maurice kept himself near Xander, in case he had another fit. He was so close; he could smell and feel the other man’s extremity. Xander’s entire body trembled and he was sweating profusely. Maurice could only imagine how sensitive the Coven’s magic working on Spike’s blood, was making Xander to every twitch and bump of the world around them. He thought it must be something like being high on hashish. It must be taking a tremendous effort of will to stay focused. He guessed Xander’s fear for the vampire was giving him the necessary clarity.

Whatever else Maurice thought of Xander’s relationship with Spike, he could not miss the obvious emotional bond the two men had. Maurice knew what it was to feel that bonded to another being, however inappropriate the relationship might be. He still suffered from having lost that being, of having been unable to save her. It thudded at the back of his every waking moment and obsessed his sleeping ones. He was physically weak and ill with the unremitting ache. If he reflected, for even a moment, on what he would have felt just now if he had had a chance to save Brandy, the finality and agony of his own loss suddenly lent urgency to Xander’s fears. Maurice desperately wanted to help.

Xander felt like his body was a giant sack of liquid which he forced step by step to obey him. All around him the world pulsed, and weird noises shuttered around in his head. He could make no sense of it. Through it all he heard the rise and fall of Spike’s agony. The scream was in his rib cage, in his neck. He didn’t hear it he felt it. He heard Maurice behind him, and Brown’s rapid breathing. He heard the drag of their feet on the ground. He felt the soft blue moonlight like pin pricks on his skin. And he felt Spike in pain. It beat through him and saturated everything else.

They squeezed around a group of tents and quite suddenly he knew Spike was present. Within a few feet of him. He lost the sense of his feet and fell back, caught quickly by Maurice. The smaller man huffed with his weight and Xander felt a grimy hand clap over his mouth, catching his involuntary cry. Brown slithered by and spun around to Xander. His face was a question mark. Xander looked forward at the place he believed Spike to be. Brown crept towards the spot. Maurice eased Xander slowly to the ground, and followed Brown.

It was a building, not a tent, “damnit,” thought Brown. He expertly hitched himself up onto a window ledge and tried to see inside. Metal shutters completely blocked his view. He slipped silently back to the ground and began sidling around the corners, looking for an entrance. His hand reached into a pocket and drew forth a wicked, long knife in a leather sheath. Behind him Maurice saw the weapon and hesitated. It was one thing to rescue vampires. It was quite another to murder for them. He padded forward quickly and motioned at Brown to put the knife away. Brown merely gave him an incredulous look and waved him off. There was a sound, apparently from inside the building, and they both froze and plastered themselves to the wall.

Brown and Maurice both heard a muffled scream. Something about an animal. Brown shuddered and saw a door. He looked around quickly and found his lock pick in another pocket. Passing his Bowie knife to a reluctant Maurice, he crouched in front of the door and jiggled the pick expertly in the lock. He bit at his lower lip and pressed his ear to the door. His eyes briefly met Maurice’s and then looked beyond him. Maurice whirled instinctively, still sheathed knife held defensively. Xander approached them, gray and wobbling, but with an intense look of fury on his face. He gently pushed past Maurice and hunched down in front of the door with Brown. As Brown twisted his lock pick gently and lifted his head with a satisfied look, Xander carefully turned the handle and pushed it open a crack.

Maurice unsheathed the knife and weighed it in his hand. He stepped forward very quietly and passed the weapon back to Brown. He reached into a back slung sheath and pulled forth his own small dagger. There was that seemingly endless two seconds before battle, when Maurice could clearly perceive everything around him as if it all had an embossed edge of awareness. Xander opened the door enough to slip inside, his profile in the doorway expressionless but tense. Maurice smelled burning flesh. He glanced in startlement at Brown, who was grim faced, his bright eyes alert. Xander slid forward infinitesimally and then all hell broke lose.

Of course Riley heard them. He was weak with blood loss and insane, but he heard the snick of the handle turning and he heard the door open. He spun angrily to chastise whatever soldier had the idiocy to interrupt him while interrogating a prisoner and saw Xander standing in the doorway. Riley’s hand went to his holster. The other waved the taser threatenly. Xander was breathing hard. He appeared to be unarmed. He was grimy but pale and his eyes were more on the vampire spread out on the table before Riley than on the man himself. Riley sneered with disgust and drew his weapon. He hadn’t released it fully from the holster when Brown came rolling though the door, followed by another man. The door slammed shut, Riley whirled and fired. A knife whipped through the air and a blot of fire in his hips threw Riley to the ground. He raised his weapon again and felt a foot connect with his hand, heard the metal hit the floor and skitter off. There was a ricochet. He opened his mouth to call for help and a hand locked over his face, silencing him.

The fire in Riley’s hip was surging. He dizzily noted that something vital had been hit. Around him voices hissed and whispered urgently. One man’s voice moaned. Good, he thought viciously, I hit one of them. And he lost consciousness.

Maurice lay against the door with his hand clamped over his abdomen. It was not a good wound. Blood was pumping out of it rapidly and he was already having trouble feeling his limbs. Brown was on top of him, furiously pushing down on the wound to stop the bleeding. Maurice suspected it might not be enough. He looked up at the table on which he had spied the naked vampire in that second before Riley’s misfired weapon had caught him in the stomach. Xander was arched over him. He was repeating Spike’s name and a host of other things Maurice could not hear clearly. The Watcher felt himself sliding away, but his mind was working clearly. He looked up at Brown. The young man looked sick with apprehension, but still wired on adrenalin. “Get them out of here,” Maurice managed to articulate in a low voice. Brown’s eyes held his. Agonized. Maurice tried to take a breath. Found it very difficult. He no longer felt blood draining from him but he also no longer felt his legs. He looked at Brown, who was trembling before him. Nineteen and he had just assaulted a man with a lethal weapon. Maurice struggled and managed to take in enough air to speak. “Leave the knife,” he whispered, and passed out.

Brown’s fingers touched the pulse still throbbing, albeit weakly, in Maurice’s neck and fought off his emotions, trying to think. He had hated this man so much in the past year, and now the asshole was offering to take the fall for him. Behind him Xander was babbling like a lunatic and Spike was beginning to regain consciousness. Brown could hear his moans and Xander’s exclamations. The fired shots should have brought men in a second. Brown imagined that the building must have been soundproofed, or they would have had soldiers here already. Still, it couldn’t be long before someone came by. He clenched his teeth, lightly stroked Maurice’s face. “Okay, you bastard,” he growled miserably. “I’ll give ya this one.” He stood and drew the sheath out of Maurice’s hand, shoved it into one of the man’s pockets. Plucked the Watcher’s dagger off the floor and left his knife laying where it had fallen near Riley. He turned to Xander and Spike.

Xander was trying to draw Spike’s body into his own. He could barely stand to look at the damage below the vampire’s waist. A series of deep burns ran up the inside of one thigh and his genitals were blistered and red. Under similar circumstances, Xander would have blocked his awareness of Spike’s injuries until a more convenient moment. With his enhanced sensitivity and sense of smell, however, he was almost overwhelmed by the pain.

Spike was that-which-does-not-feel-pain. Which was good. The face in the blue room was gone and another face had replaced it. A nauseating awareness hung on the edge of things for him as the face became familiar. Spike felt the man hugging at his over-sensitized skin and willed his body to resist, but couldn’t move. He heard a sound come from his mouth. The man’s face stared at him in agony. As through a fog of time a name came to him, “Xander?” His lips made the word, though he couldn’t will his lungs to push air through them.

“Oh Christ, I don’t think he can move,” Xander said to Brown.

Brown approached the prone vampire, his eyes wincing away from the sight. “Shit, we’ll have to carry him out.”

Spike felt the hands on him. Felt the cold table slide out from under him. As he was carried into the night, he felt a sharp white light in his neck and lost everything to blackness.




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