Breaking Free


by
StillRose




Part Forty

Gates’ face hadn’t been a welcome sight for Spike; but not an unexpected one. Spike had sensed a change was up when Graham hadn’t been by to give him a toilet break and Spike had suspected the change wasn’t for the good.

Figured the wanker would be back, Spike had thought when Gates entered the cell. Just please be ‘cuz he can’t get enough of my charm and not ‘cuz Xan has gone and done somethin’ stupid and heroic.

“Miss me?” Spike had said with a grin.

“Like a pimple on my ass,” Gates had sneered before delivering a hard and painful backhand slap across Spike’s face.

Spike had reeled but kept his feet under him.

“Losin’ yer touch, mate,” Spike had grinned.

“Ya Think?” Gates had asked then pressed the button on his wrist device.

Pain had flared down Spike’s spine and branched out to his extremities. Spike’s stomach rebelled and he had fallen to his knees disgorging the last meal Graham had brought him.

“You may be right, Seventeen,” Gates had mused. “Maybe I lost my ‘touch.’ Guess I’ll just have to practice more.”

Once again Gates had activated the chip in Spike’s head. Once again pain sizzled through Spike’s body and once again Spike had fallen unconscious in the clutches of the enemy.


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*


Xander heard his friends approach before the tentative knock on the exam room door. Ready or not, Xander thought, here they come.

“Yeah,” Xander answered.

The door eased open and Willow poked her head inside.

“Tara said you wanted us here with you?” Willow asked softly giving Xander the chance to change his mind.

Xander smiled. I do love you, Wills, he thought. No matter what happens, I will always love you.

“Yeah, Willow,” Xander said. “I do.”

Willow returned Xander’s smile and opened the door wide. She stepped into the small exam room followed by Tara and Buffy.

“Giles!” Xander said as the Watcher started to step through the door after Buffy. The Watcher halted at Xander’s exclamation.

“Xander?” Giles asked a bit perplexed and perhaps abashed. “I thought…I assumed…would you like me to wait in the other room?”

Depends, Giles, Xander thought as he studied the man he’d always considered more of a father than a ‘father figure.’ Are you here because you care or because you need to know if your Donut Boy is now Clue Boy?

“Nah,” Xander said. “Wouldn’t be the ‘Three Musketeers’ without you.”

“I see your math hasn’t improved,” Buffy gently chided while smiling.

“Well, point of fact,” Giles said as he entered the room and closed the door. “Dumas’ Three Musketeers did focus around four main characters.”

“W..what am I?” Tara asked with a smile. “Chopped..li..liver?”

“No,” Willow smiled and moved over to her wife, “you are the radiant Queen who we all worship and adore.” Tara blushed and smiled. Willow leaned in and claimed a warm kiss from her wife.

“How come we never get to make with the adoration?” Xander grinned and asked while the two women kissed.

“’Cuz Willow can hack into any net account and post our most embarrassing vids,” Buffy answered as the married women broke their kiss and faced their friends.

“And…d..don’ you f…forget it,” Tara said.

Xander laughed and the rest of the friends followed suit.

“It’s good to be h…back,” Xander said.

“We missed you,” Willow acknowledged.

“The ‘Dale isn’t the same without you,” Buffy said.

“I think I can convince the Council to reassign you back to Buffy,” Giles said.

“Why?” Xander asked suddenly suspicious.

“Xander?” Buffy asked, confused at the sudden change in Xander’s tone.

“Because it is obvious Buffy and Willow need you,” Giles said as he once again began his customary nervous trick of cleaning his glasses.

“Is that the only reason?” Xander pressed on with the point.

“What other reason could Giles have?” Willow asked.

“Maybe he doesn’t trust me,” Xander answered keeping his eyes focused on the Watcher.

“Xander,” Giles began. “I am sure there are some residual ‘issues’ to be faced after your forced captivity with Bloody’s crew, but I think that only highlights the need for you to be reassigned to Buffy and Willow. Your ‘recovery’ will be greatly benefited by…”

“What if I don’t want to ‘recover?’ ” Xander interrupted.

“Xander?” Willow asked confused.

“Xan?” Buffy echoed Willow’s confusion.

Giles sighed and re-perched his glasses on his nose before he answered Xander. “I am sure things are quite confusing and there is much you are trying to work out, but we can help…”

“Don’t you mean ‘reprogram?’” Xander snapped.

“XANDER!” Buffy and Willow both exclaimed at the same time.

Giles whipped off his glasses and stared at Xander with an icy look Xander had never seen before and definitely didn’t want to see now.

“I learned a lot while I was gone,” Xander said.

“Perhaps we should leave Xander alone and let Tara finish her exam and then we can dec…”

“Decide what’s best for me?” Xander interrupted again. “And while Tara’s examining me what will you be telling the Council, Giles?”

“Xander…” Giles began again.

“Xander!” Buffy interrupted. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you attacking Giles?”

“Because he’s lied to us, Buffy,” Xander answered without taking his eyes off the Watcher.

“Xander!” Willow whispered at the accusation.

“What are you talking about?” Buffy asked loudly.

“Xander, please,” Giles said sharply. “Let Tara finish her exam and…”

“Biogens aren’t what we were told,” Xander said. “They aren’t quite the rogue group that suddenly started a bloodbath for no reason. They were enslaved, beaten, ra….”

“XANDER!” Giles barked.

Xander jumped but didn’t stop. “They were raped! They were used by their masters to play power games and do their dirty work.”

Giles was suddenly across the room and painfully grabbing Xander’s arm.

“You bloody little fool!” Giles hissed. “You don’t know what…”

“Giles?” Buffy asked. “What’s going on? What’s wrong with Xander?”

“Why are you so upset?” Willow asked.

“I know exactly what I am doing,” Xander said as he looked squarely into Giles’ eyes. “Do you?”

“You don’t know anything,” Giles snapped.

“I know you’ve lied to us,” Xander replied.

“Xander,” Buffy interrupted again. “What are you saying? Giles has never lied to us. We’re your friends. Remember? The Biogens are our enemies, not Giles.”

“The Biogens never lied to me,” Xander said still keeping his focus on Giles.

“Yes they did,” Willow said, “if they told you we weren’t still your friends.”

“Oh, Wills,” Xander sighed turning from Giles briefly to look at the redheaded woman. “Spike never said you weren’t my friends.”

“S…Spike?” Tara asked quietly.

“Captain William the Bloody,” Xander answered, “or as Riley likes to call him, Seventeen.”

“Xander,” Giles hissed again. “Stop this. Let Tara examine you. Let…”

“Let you check the Council’s HOPI and make up some cover story about why I need to be locked up?” Xander asked.

“Xander!” Buffy yelled.

“You call Bloody, Spike?” Willow asked.

“W..what’s..H..HOPI?” Tara asked.

“Handbook of Operating Procedures and Initiatives,” Xander answered and focused his gaze back on Giles.

“Is there such a thing?” Buffy asked Giles.

‘I trusted you,” Xander said. “I thought of you like the father I wished I’d had when I finally understood fathers could be something other than drunken, angry, abusive cavemen…”

“Xander,” Giles spoke softly but kept a tight grip on the young Lieutenant.

“But that changed,” Xander pressed onward, “…that changed when I understood that you knew all along the lies strung together to keep this war going to keep people like Jessie getting killed. To put people like Buffy in the line of fir…”

“I would do everything in my power to keep Buffy alive!” Giles snapped.

“Except tell her the truth!” Xander countered.

“What truth, Xander?’ Buffy asked angrily. “I know what I need to know, even if you don’t! You were taken prisoner by Seventeen and his crew! Reports indicated you were abused both physically and sexually and now you are throwing accusations at Giles? Seems to me you are the one hurting and needing to know the truth!”

“Buffy,” Willow stepped in to try to gentle the situation.

“You’ve been brainwashed, Xander!” Buffy said.

“Buffy!” Willow hissed in shock.

“Yeah, I was,” Xander said. “I was brainwashed by the Council!”

The Regent Prime’s inner circle all hissed at once. No matter Xander’s situation, he was bordering on sedition, a very serious crime that the Council wouldn’t let pass lightly.

“I wasn’t sexually abused,” Xander continued. “I was loved!

Willow gasped.

“Spike is my lover,” Xander confessed. “He’s never abused me…well… except to leave me in  Angel’s company for a few days.”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Listen to yourself, Xan.”

“You listen to me,” Xander said. “Angel may be a suffering, overbearing brood who thinks he always knows what’s best and really gets to me on my best days, but he isn’t the mindless torturing and killing bogeyman the Council has made him out to be.”

“How can you say that?” Willow asked.

“T..the v..vids,” Tara said.

“Oh, I know when Angel went by Angelus he was the bogeyman, not the boo-hoo man he is now, but he’s changed…”

“Monsters don’t change,” Buffy interrupted.

“Maybe not if they are left in the hands of the ones who created them,” Xander replied. Giles tightened his grip on Xander’s arm.

“What are you saying?” Buffy asked.

“Xander, don’t,” Giles said quietly.

“Why not, Giles?” Xander asked. “Will the Council order us all taken prisoner and tortured just for knowing the tru…”

“You don’t know anything, boy!” Giles yelled.

“Giles?” Buffy asked.

“Is there some truth to what Xander’s saying?” Willow asked.

“I know what I saw for myself,” Xander said. “I know what Wes told me.”

“Wes!” Giles whispered. “He’s alive?”

“Well…,” Xander paused and tried to block out the memory of Wes’ warm blood spattering on his face. “He was when I left.”

“That traitor!” Buffy spat.

Xander winced. Buff, Xander thought, I wish you could understand.

“I had hoped,” Giles said quietly, “I wasn’t sure. The information was conflicting…and Faith?”

“She’s still ‘Faith,’” Xander answered quietly with a smile.

“The bitch!” Willow hissed. “Did she have a part in doing this to you?”

“Shh…” Tara crooned to her upset mate.

“Faith was my truest friend in ‘enemy’ territory,” Xander snapped in defence of the dark haired Regent. “Jessie would have been proud of her.”

Willow’s face went pale and then flushed. Tara wrapped her arms around her wife.

“Xander,” Giles said almost pleadingly, “Please, sto…”

“I’m not going to lie to my friends,” Xander said, “and I’m not going to betray Spike.”

“You can’t really think you’re in love with that…that thing!” Buffy said.

“I can’t believe you thought you were in love with Riley once,” Xander roared. “Believe me! Riley is much more the soulless monster than Spike could ever be now or then! I’ve never seen Spike take pleasure in anyone else’s pain, but Riley? I swear he gets a chubby from it!”

“XANDER!”

“Spike loved me! He didn’t force himself on me! He listened to me! He protected me! He didn’t lie to me!”

“He’s putting you at risk, now,” Giles said.

“Because I love him?”

“Xander, you’re confused,” Willow said. “Things happen when you're held captive. You begin to identify with your captor...develop feelings that aren’t real…”

“Wills,” Xander said icily, “I would never insult how you feel about Tara by saying it isn’t real. Don’t insult…”

“But how can you think Spi..Seventeen loves you?” Willow asked.

“Biogens don’t feel love!” Buffy yelled.

“They don’t?” Xander said angrily then whipped off his eye patch.

Tara and Willow gasped. Buffy froze. Giles released Xander and stepped away from him.

Xander stared at his friends and for a moment let his eyes shift gold.





Part Forty-One

Buffy quickly recovered from her shock. She charged across the room, slammed Xander into the wall and pressed her right forearm painfully across his throat.

“Who are you?” Buffy snarled. “And what have you done with Xander?”

“Buff…” Xander wheezed. He could barely breathe but he didn’t fight the enraged Regent. “It’s me. It’s Xander.”

“LIAR!” Buffy yelled.

“T..Tara,” Xander gasped and cast his eyes toward the wide-eyed blonde, “bl..blood sample. Take a blood sample…”

“Shut up!” Buffy ordered and pressed her arm more painfully into Xander’s throat cutting off his air supply.

“Buffy,” Tara said quickly as she stepped over to the pair. “I…I can take a b..blood sample. We..can run D..DNA…”

“THIS is NOT Xander,” Buffy growled. “It can’t be! It’s impossible! People just…”

“What…what if it is?” Tara asked quietly.

“Buffy,” Willow’s voice shook as she spoke, “we don’t know that it’s not possible…maybe...”

Buffy eased the pressure on Xander’s throat. Xander gulped a lungful of air.

“If Tara’s results aren’t one hundred percent…”

“I know. The Xander shaped Biogen is dead,” Xander forced past his sore throat.

Tara grabbed a hypodermic and a swab. She quickly, but cautiously, approached Xander and gave him a small smile before gently and efficiently taking the blood sample.

“Tara,” Xander said with a small smile of his own, “you’ll understand if I ask you to do this personally?”

Tara nodded and then moved toward the door. She turned and looked at the group.

“I..I should have the re..results shortly. I’ll compare the sample with w..wh..what I already have on file.”

“If there is some sort of cloning technology involved?” Giles asked.

“The cloning technology w…would be f..far beyond w..what we currently c..can do,” Tara interrupted. “Th..they would have had to h..have planned this y..years ago. Plus there would be some deviation. Cl..clones have genomic flaws. If th…if he is a clone, I’ll kn..know.”

Giles nodded. Tara cast a last supportive look at Willow and then left the room with a small vial of Xander’s blood.


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*


Spike came back from the proverbial land of ‘Nod’ with the customary groan. He blinked his eyes open. He was in another cell against a steel wall. Spike’s hands were bound above his head, his feet were shackled to the floor and Gates was smiling at him.

“Did I miss anything important?” Spike asked in a bored tone.

“Just that I’ve been ordered to ‘soften you up.’” Gates replied and moved closer to Spike. “Seems the Regent wants to interrogate you herself.”

“Ah,” Spike said slyly as he suggestively thrust his hips forward. “So the blonde trollop wants her own ‘one-on-one’ with the big bad.”

Gates slammed a fist into Spike’s abdomen forcing all the air out of the Biogen. Spike coughed and gasped for air.  Gates grabbed Spike’s head and forced him to look up at him.

“I’ve always wondered just how much pain and damage a Biogen could take,” Gates spat. “Guess I’m gonna find out.”

Spike laughed weakly. “All yer gonna find out is how much William the Bloody will take before he gets bored and breaks yer neck, mate.”

Gates slammed Spike’s head back into the wall.

“Think so, eh?” Gates asked.

“I know so,” Spike replied looking Gates directly in the eye. ”So will you, mate. So will you. That’s a promise.”

Gates shook his head, smiled and then rammed his knee into Spike’s groin.

“We’ll just see about that,” Gates whispered as Spike spat bile on to the floor. “I have time before Graham comes down to relieve me.”


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*


“How did this happen?” Willow asked quietly.

“It didn’t!” Buffy insisted.

Xander focused his gaze on the Cybermage.

“It was Caleb…” Xander began.

Willow and Buffy hissed. Giles closed his eyes.

“Caleb! He killed Jesse! He ripped out your eye!” Buffy spat again. “And you want us to believe you really are Xander and are on board the love train with a Biogen?”

“Caleb wasn’t with Spike or Angel!” Xander focused on Buffy. “He was…he was…”

Xander fought the desire to slip into his alternate face. Rage, fear and hurt rushed through him and the memories of Caleb didn’t help.

“He was what?” Willow asked.

“He was rogue,” Xander answered, maintaining his control.

“All Biogens are rogue,” Buffy hissed.

“NO!” Xander argued. “Angel is trying to change things. Caleb wasn’t a part of those changes. He wasn’t only our enemy but Angel’s too.”

“What makes you think that?” Buffy asked.

“Because when he wasn’t stripping the flesh from my back or cooking it with a blowtorch he was asking me questions about you and Spike!” Xander retorted.

“Xander!” Willow gasped and put her hand to her mouth. Buffy stepped back from Xander in shock.

“Caleb tortured you?” Giles asked.

“Leave it to the Watcher to get right to the point,” Xander said and looked at Giles. “Torture I think is a bit mild of a description but yeah, Caleb and I had a ‘talk.’”

“And that’s when…?” Willow started to ask.

“That’s when Spike fought to save my life,” Xander interrupted Willow. “Fr…one of Angel’s people had figured out an experimental procedure to make brand new Biogens out of donated nanites.”

“Fr?” Willow asked as her brow furrowed. “You mean Winifred Burkle? She worked in the science division. She…”

“I meant ‘Fr,’” Xander insisted. Not going to give them any more of the DeSoto crew, Xander thought. If I can’t get Spike and I out of this not going to drag…

“So, withholding information now?” Buffy asked interrupting Xander’s thoughts.

“Buffy,” Xander said. “Don’t ask me to betray one set of friends to keep another.”

“We’re not asking you to betray anyone,” Willow said. “We just want to know what happened.”

“What happened is Caleb hurt me, hurt me bad,” Xander said. “Spike, Angel and Faith came to the rescue. Spike made a Caleb corpse. Then Spike convinced Angel to let them try and help me. Spike gave some of his nanites and from those…”

“They made FrankenXander,” Buffy said.

“Buffy!” Willow exclaimed.

“Until I know this is Xander,” Buffy said and then stepped forward to Xander and painfully poked a finger into his chest, “he’s just another Biogen!”

“And when Tara tells you it’s me?” Xander asked. “What then, Buff?

“She won’t!” Buffy insisted.

“Buffy,” Xander said softly. “It’s me. It’s Xander. I know you still sleep with Mr. Gordo when you’ve had a bad day. I know Willow still blushes at the name of Malcolm Black…”

“XANDER!” Willow cried as she blushed. “We promised to never talk about that again!”

Xander smiled at his best bud and said, “Hey, who hasn’t tried a net romance?”

“Xander!” Willow warned. Xander couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“None of that proves anything!” Buffy insisted. “You could have gotten that information from the real Xander.”

“I am the ‘real Xander’ Buffy,” Xander said and then focused his gaze on the Watcher. “What do you think, Giles?”

“I think this is all going to end very badly,” Giles said quietly.

“Why is that?” Xander asked. “You know you can help me. You can back me up.”

“Back you up?” Buffy asked.  “What, now are you going to tell me Giles is a Biogen?”

“No, but I will tell you Giles knows the truth.”

“The truth?” Willow asked. “What truth do you think Giles knows?”

“The truth, Wills,” Xander answered. “All of it. The truth about the Biogens, the Council and…”

“What happened on Wash?” Buffy snapped. “Are you going to try and convince me that the Biogens didn’t slaughter that colony and Giles can prove it?”

“I don’t know what Giles knows or doesn’t know about Wash, Buff,” Xander said, “but I do know the Biogens didn’t do it.”

Buffy laughed bitterly and then said, “You really are a Biogen. You’re a liar and a killer.”

“I found a button with a silver wolf’s head on it in the hands of one of the victims,” Xander said while trying not to flinch from Buffy’s words. “Raiders slaughtered the Wash colonists.”

“Raiders?’ whispered Willow.

“And why would ‘Raiders’ slaughter a colony?” Buffy asked.

“I don’t know,” Xander said.

“Where’s the button?” Buffy asked.

“I gave it to G…one of the DeSoto’s crew to take back to Angel.”

“Convenient,” Buffy said.

“Angel believed the Council did it,” Xander said. “When I told them the Council wouldn’t slaughter colonists he asked me how I knew and I told him it was because I knew my friends. I told him the Council couldn’t do something like that without you and that you couldn’t be a part of something like that. He took me on my word.”

“Biogens stick together,” Buffy said scrambling for something to say.

“Buffy!” Willow yelled. “Stop it!”

“Wills!” Buffy turned to look at the redheaded woman. “You can’t believe this!”

“He knows about Mr. Gordo…he knows about Mal…me.”

“That doesn’t prove anything! What about all the potshots at Giles?”

“I don’t know!” Willow cried. “But I do know that Giles hasn’t really answered any of Xander’s questions either.”

“You can’t expect him to, Willow! Look at what Xa…he’s accusing Giles of!”

Willow looked at Giles. “Why won’t you answer any of Xander’s questions?”

“Willow,” Giles sighed. “This has already gone too far.”

“What does that mean, Giles?”

“It means we're all in danger now,” Xander said.

“Giles would never hurt us!” Buffy yelled. “Would you?”

Buffy looked to Giles. Giles took off his glasses and began to clean them.

“Buffy,” Giles began, “I…Well it’s not…”

A soft knock on the door interrupted the Watcher. Everyone’s focus shifted to the door as Tara entered and walked over to Willow.

“Tara?” Willow asked as she took her wife’s hand. Tara looked at Willow.

“It…It’s a match. He’s Xander,” Tara said softly. Willow squeezed Tara’s hand tightly.

Buffy paled and backed away from Xander. “No!” she said. “It can’t be.”

“Buff,” Xander said reaching for his friend. Buffy stepped further away from his reach.

“It’s a hu..hundred percent match,” Tara said as she turned to face everyone. “I checked twice. There are no genomic flaws either.”

Buffy turned to her Watcher.

“Giles?”

Giles sighed and put on his glasses.

“Xander,” Giles said softly as he looked at the young man still keeping himself against the wall where Buffy had shoved him. “The last thing in this world I would ever want is for any of you to be hurt.”

“Then tell us the truth,” Xander urged.

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” Giles said.

“I’m asking for you to help me, Giles,” Xander said. “Please.”

“Giles?” Buffy asked again.

Giles moved toward his Regent and placed his hands on her shoulders. He gazed at her troubled face and smiled softly.

“You so remind me of your mother,” Giles said quietly.

“My mother?” Buffy asked.

“She was such a beautiful young woman,” Giles said. “I think I was in love with Joyce the moment I saw her. She was smart, strong and completely independent. It was an honour to be in her inner circle.”

“I don’t understand,” Buffy said.

“I think we were a bad influence on each other,” Giles continued. “I was a bit of a ‘rebel’ in my day and I think that encouraged her. We were both headstrong and we pushed for answers when we both should have just gone along. One day she not only made the mistake of questioning her Watcher outright, she disobeyed her.”

“Giles?” Buffy said with a growing sense of dread and fear. Xander unconsciously moved away from the wall and toward his friend. Giles reached out a hand and brushed a lock of Buffy’s hair back.

“It was many years later before I saw your mother again,” Giles said. “The last time I saw her was just before she died.”

“She died giving birth to me,” Buffy said.

“The Council learned from its mistakes, Buffy,” Giles said. “It lost control of the Biogens. It isn’t going to lose control of its Regents.”

“Giles?”  Willow’s turn to call Giles’ name in confusion.

“Instead of treating Regents like slaves, they treat them like one of their own; like they are on the inside. Instead of trying to suppress or deny Regents’ emotions, they try and manipulate them. The Council pairs Watchers with Regents at an early age so they will bond. Regents trust their Watchers.”

Buffy withdrew from Giles and he let her go.

“But sometimes Regents can’t be controlled and then…” Giles paused and stared at some far point behind Buffy.

“Then what, Giles?” Buffy asked.

“Regents aren’t just born at random. They aren’t all just ‘selected’ at a young age to attend the academy. There’s a reason why Regents never seem to have close ‘families.’ The Council has a lot invested in the genetic manipulation of the Regent lines.”

Giles refocused his gaze on Buffy.

“After you mother was reass…disappeared,“ Giles said, “I worked hard to regain the Council’s trust. I knew it was the only way to find out where Joyce was. I focused everything so I could be a Watcher. I knew that if I could be a Watcher I could find her again.”

“And you did,” Buffy said.

“I did,” Giles replied. “I saw Joyce again when they took you from her and gave you to me. You were to be my Regent. Only when I first held you, Buffy, did I realize the emotional manipulation went both ways.”

“What does that mean?” Xander asked.

“It means I would do anything to protect Buffy,” Giles said with a razor edge to his voice.

“Does that include betraying her?” Xander asked.

“You think you know everything the Council is capable of?” Giles asked.

“I know that when Wesley knew the truth he left. So did Faith,” Xander answered.

“You think it’s that easy? Just pack up Buffy and leave?”

“Hey!” Buffy said weakly. “Still here.”

“I think you could have tried,” Xander said.

“Do you know what would have happened if I’d failed?”

“What would have happened?” Buffy asked. “What happened to my mother?”

Giles looked at Buffy. “When Wes left, I thought about leaving too. I wanted to Buffy, but I couldn’t.”

“Giles, what aren’t you telling me?”

“You are the best Regent the Council has seen,” Giles said. “You are strong, capable, stable and have reigned longer than any other Regent before dying or needing to be ‘retired.’”

“It’s about the gen..genetic lines?” Tara asked. “Isn’t it?”

Giles nodded without looking away from Buffy.

“What does that mean?” Buffy asked, almost dreading the answer.

“Retired or ‘problem’ Regents are moved into the breeding program,” Giles answered softly. “There they are kept for the sole purpose of breeding the next generation of Regents.”

Willow gasped. Buffy hissed and Xander’s eyes turned solid gold.

“That can’t be true!” Buffy cried. “You can’t be a part of something like that!”

“If I failed you,” Giles said, “if I didn’t help you be what the Council wanted they would have re…”

“That’s what they did to my mother?!” Buffy cried.

Giles closed his eyes and nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Buffy asked as she grabbed Giles. “I TRUSTED YOU!”

“I wanted to, Buffy,” Giles said. “But I couldn’t risk it.”

“So Xander’s right? This war…why didn’t you tell me when Faith left? Why didn’t…”

“Buffy,” Giles said softly. “Even when you were young you were the best the Council had seen. They wanted to try again. They wanted a backup in case something happened to you.”

“Backup?” Buffy said.

“The Council tried again,” Giles said.

“But that’s impossible,” Buffy said. “My mother is dead.”

“Your mother died after she gave birth,” Giles said, “but not after your birth.”

Buffy paled.

Giles continued, “You have a sister and if I took you away she would be left…”

“A sister?”

“Buffy,” Willow said and moved forward to wrap her arms around her friend.

“Who?” Buffy snarled.

“Dawn,” Giles said softly.

“Dawn!” Buffy said. “She’s barely able to hold Potential status. She’s more suited to being a Watcher…”

“If she doesn’t make Regent,” Giles said, “she’ll be ‘retired.’”

Buffy paled once again.

“That’s not going to happen,” Willow vowed.

“You’ve been protecting Buffy all this time,” Xander said.

Giles nodded.

“And I’ve…”

“Created quite a problem,” Giles said.

“I have a sister,” Buffy said. “Dawn is my sister.”

“Wh..what are we going to do?” Tara asked.

Giles shook his head. Willow continued holding Buffy.

“Help me rescue Spike,” Xander said. “Leave with us.”

“No,” Buffy said.

“Buffy!” Willow cried.

“I’m not leaving,” Buffy said.

“But the Cou…”

“I’m not letting them hurt Dawn,” Buffy said.

“We..we’ll take her with us,” Tara said.

Buffy looked at Giles and said, “That won’t stop them or this war.”

“We can’t eit…”

“I’m the Regent Prime, Willow,” Buffy said looking at her friend. My job is to protect people and to stop the war. That hasn’t changed.”

“Then what are we going to do?” Willow said.

“I don’t know yet, but somehow we’re going to turn this around. We’re going to work from within. We’re going to find and exploit all the Council weaknesses from the inside,” Buffy said. “And we’re going to protect our own.”

“That will take time,” Xander said.

Buffy turned to look at Xander. Buffy gently untangled herself from Willow and moved to her friend.

“I know,” Buffy said.

“I don’t have that time,” Xander said quietly. “I can’t hide what I’ve become much longer and Spike definitely doesn't have the time.”

Buffy moved forward and hugged Xander fiercely. Xander froze for a moment then returned the hug.

“I’m sorry, Xander,” Buffy said.

“No problem,” Xander said fighting back a tear. “Wouldn’t be your inner circle without all the drama.”

Buffy laughed and looked up into Xander’s face.

“I did miss you,” she said.

Xander smiled. “I missed you too.”

“I can’t run away from this,” Buffy said.

“I know,” Xander said, “but I can’t either. I also can’t leave Spike.”

“Xander, we might be able to cover for you but…”

“No, Willow!” Xander said, turning to look at his friend. “Whatever happens, I’m not leaving Spike.”

“But Xander…” Willow tried again.

“Wills, listen to me,” Xander said. “If you keep Spike locked up, then you lock me up with him. You execute him, you execute me. You vivisect him, you vivis…”

“Xander!’ Buffy and Willow yelled in shock and protest at the same time.

Xander looked at his girls and said quietly, “Help me.”





Part Forty-Two

Xander moved quickly down the hall towards Spike’s cell. There was a confidence in his stride that seemed to belie the unevenness in his walk.

Xander moved as if he were uncomfortable with his own body. The jerky lurching between long to short steps made his gait look almost drunken.

Gates stepped forward as Xander approached.

“Come back for more?” Gates leered.

“Thought Graham was on duty?” Xander replied.

“He will be soon. My watch is about up,” Gates said with a shrug. “Softened Seventeen up a bit. Though if I’d known you were coming, I might have opened him up.”

Xander blanched and said, “Uh…thanks.”

Gates arched an eyebrow and studied Xander. Something seemed to be off.

“You been drinking?”

“N…No!” Xander stuttered. “Just still a little overwhelmed after meeting with the Regent.”

Gates grinned wide and said, “She set you straight then, huh?”

Xander nodded.

“You do have the authority to visit the prisoner?”

Xander nodded again and held out his comm pad. Gates took it and read the orders displayed. He pulled out his own unit and used the net to interface with the central comm. The orders checked out.

“Looks in order,” Gates finally said as he handed Xander back his comm unit.

Gates keyed in the lock sequence and the cell door opened.

“I’ll be here if you need anything,” Gates said.

“Yeah…thanks,” Xander said as he entered the cell. The door slid closed behind him.

Xander looked around the dim room and gasped when he spotted Spike. Spike was hanging limp from the manacles above his head. His face was swollen and discolored from bruising. Blood still seeped from his nose and split lip.

“Goddess!” Xander whispered and rushed forward to the unconscious Biogen.

Spike stirred at the sound of Xander’s voice. What’s the git doing here? Spike thought, as he roused himself from the light sleep he’d succumbed to after Gates had left.

Spike felt Xander’s warm hands gently touch his face.

“P…Harris,” Spike said as he lifted his head and blinked open his swollen eyes to search Xander’s face.

“Seventeen!” Xander said in shock as he stared at Spike’s sapphire blue eyes rimmed in red and purple.

Spike’s eyes narrowed. Something wasn’t right! Xander didn’t smell like Xander. Hell! Spike thought, Xander doesn’t even smell male!

‘Xander’ saw the doubt in Spike’s eyes and quickly, but lightly, slapped Spike’s face.

“Oi!” Spike yelled in mild pain and shock.

“NOT a WORD, Seventeen!” Xander ordered. “Just follow my…orders.”

Spike narrowed his eyes again. For someone who thinks they're in charge, Spike mused, yer heart rate is going awfully fast. Yer not as confident as you want me to believe.

‘Xander’ watched Spike to see if there was a reaction. Spike remained silent but continued to study ‘Xander.’

“The Regent wants to talk with you herself,” Xander said. “I’m here to make sure you’re no threat to her.”

Bloody hell! Spike silently groused. I’m beaten six ways to Sunday, chipped and manacled! What ya think I’m gonna do ta yer precious Regent? Yap her ta death?

Whatever supposed threat Xander thought Spike was, he didn’t say. Instead, ‘Xander’ pulled out his comm unit and moved closer to Spike. Then Xander typed in a few codes to the unit before holding it up to Spike’s manacles. The locks burst open and Spike’s numb arms fell down to his sides. ‘Xander’ bent down and repeated the process on the locks securing the restraints on Spike’s ankles.

The bird’s a Cybermage! Spike thought. Only a Cybermage could pull that trick off with just a ‘comm pad.’

‘Xander’ arched an eyebrow and cleared ‘his’ throat to get Spike’s attention. Spike focused his attention back on his Pet’s borrowed face.

“I’m going to check your chip now. I don’t want to take any chances of a malfunction. You could hurt Bu…the Regent,” Xander said as ‘he’ held the comm pad to Spike’s head next to the chip.

Hurt the Regent? Spike thought. Again just how am I sup…

Pain, blinding, searing and incomprehensible pain exploded in Spike’s head. Spike screamed in anger, rage, fear and roaring agony. The pain was so overwhelming Spike didn’t even realize he’d fallen to his knees.

“Goddess!!!” Xander whispered as ‘he’ dropped down next to Spike.

Oh Goddess! the disguised Willow thought. What have I done? Xander…Seve..Spike…I’m so sorry. Giles told me about the chip but I only had a few moments to actually study the hacked schematics before I had to get out or the security tracers would have caught my peeking and maybe we should have found a ruse for Tara to come along cuz this looks ba…

Willow’s mental babble was interrupted by the cell door opening.

“Sounds like a party in here,” Gates said as he slipped inside.

“P…party?” Willow asked. Her confusion and fear showed clearly on Xander’s halonet generated face.

Gates narrowed his eyes and raised his weapon.

“What are you doing, Lieutenant Harris?” Gates asked. “Why is the prisoner unsecured?”

“N..Nothing,” Willow lied while quickly getting to her feet. “Just… you know…questioning the prisoner.”

“About what? How comfortable his restraints were?” Gates asked as he moved closer to the pair, his weapon still very much at the ready.

“Pl….plans..names…stuff,” Willow stuttered.

“So what activated the chip?” Gates asked while motioning with his wrist where he wore the control device. “I mean a scream like that could only have been produced by the chip…unless you have some hidden talents?”

“Talents!” Willow squeaked as she stepped further away from Gates and Spike. “No. Nothing like that…it was…a glitch…just a...malfunction or som...”

“A glitch, Xander?” Gates asked slipping further into the room with his eyes fixed on Xander. “A glitch has you so nervous? I think you’re holding out on me, buddy. Why don’t you tell me the truth, huh? Maybe I can work something out with Riley on your behalf. C’mon, tell me what set off the chip?”

“I DID!” roared Spike as he suddenly sprang from his crouch and charged.

Gates whipped his weapon around and got off a wild shot before Spike slammed into him. Willow screamed as the two men went down cursing and brawling.

“Gonna rip your throat out Council Boy!” Spike snarled as he shifted into game face and pounded a fist into Gates’ side.

“Yer balls are gonna hang in my room as trophies, Biogen!” Gates grunted and rolled with the punch before trying to knee Spike in the groin. Willow scrambled around the men trying to get Gates’ lost gun. Spike blocked Gates’ knee shot and dove for a hold on Gates’ throat. From the corner of his eye Gates caught Willow making a move for his gun. He ignored Spike to concentrate and scramble his fingers toward his fallen gun.  He felt his fingers wrap around the cool metal just before Willow made her grab.

“Stop or I’ll shoot Xander!” Gates yelled as he trained his gun on Willow.

“Yer nowhere near him, mate!” Spike growled and as he wrapped his hands around Gates’ throat and squeezed. Gates jerked the trigger. Shots fired and ricocheted around the cell. Willow dove to the ground. Gates gurgled and Spike rolled him until he was pinned under Spike.

Spike began jerking up and down on Gates’ neck forcing Gates’ head to slam up and down.

“Been a long time since I found out just how much pain and damage a human can take!” Spike growled as he continued to slam Gates’ head into the floor until Gates’ head looked like some macabre bouncing ball.

“SPIKE! STOP!” Willow cried in horror as blood began spattering from Gates’ broken skull.

“I always keep my promises,” Spike said as he stopped slamming Gates’ busted open head and twisted it around until there was a loud and audible SNAP.

“Oh Goddess!” Willow wept as she stared at the dead man and the fully enraged Biogen. Spike looked at the disguised Cybermage. His face shifted but didn’t look any less threatening spattered in his own and Gates’ blood.

“Is this a rescue or more torture?” Spike asked.

“Re…Rescue,” Willow whispered.

“You the bint W…” Spike began to ask.

“SHUT UP SPIKE!” Willow cried and looked at Spike in terror. Please don’t blow this plan any more than it already has been! Willow thought.

“He’s right, Spike,” Graham’s voice said flatly from behind him. Spike whirled to see Graham standing in the cell doorway with his weapon trained on Spike and ‘Xander’. Spike moved without thinking and placed himself in front of ‘Xander.’

“Security logs are recording everything,” Graham said. “It’ll only be a matter of moments before backup arrives.”

“So then I guess this is war then?” Spike asked as he studied Graham. Graham nodded.

“Nothing means shit? Right Spike?” Graham said. “If you get a chance you’ll still shoot me?”

“Without a doubt,” Spike said.

“No!” Willow cried. “There’s been enough killing!”

“Sorry pea…pet,” Spike said. “Doesn’t work that way.”

Then Spike launched himself into a roll with all the Biogen enhanced speed he possessed. Shots fired close above his head and torso but missed him. Spike grabbed Gates gun and came up firing. Red blossomed in Graham’s side and his gun fell from his hands as he stumbled back and collapsed against the hall wall.

“NOOO,” Willow cried and rushed forward to Graham, but not before Spike reached him.

“N..nice…shot,” Graham grimaced as he held his hands over the bleeding wound in his side.

“Couple of centimeters either way and it’d be fatal,” Spike whispered and pulled Graham’s body into a more comfortable position.

“F..figured Biogens k..knew that kind of th..thing,” Graham grunted.

Bloody softhearted Soldier Boys! Spike thought as he did his best to check the wound and make sure his shot had been true.

“Help will arrive soon,” Willow said in Xander’s voice as she crouched next to Graham on his other side. “Hang on. I promise you’ll get the best care. Please...please just don’t die.”

“N..no intention of d..doing that, s..sir,” Graham said.

Spike leaned over Graham and whispered very quietly into his ear, “Ya ever find yerself in trouble behind enemy lines, ya tell ‘em yer a friend of Spike’s. Got that? Ya tell ‘em yer under Spike’s protection. Understand Soldier Boy?”

Spike pulled away and looked at Graham. Graham returned the gaze and gave a tiny nod. Spike smiled and then looked at the horrified and tear strewn ‘Xander.’

“C’mon Harris, we have ta move,” Spike ordered.

Willow shook herself and refocused on her ‘mission.’ She nodded, got to her feet and began to move down the corridor. Spike followed.


*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*`*


Spike still had Gates’ gun and he held it at the ready. The gun was the only thing keeping him from being completely at the mercy of the bint leading him through twisting corridors, access hatches and a few air ducts.

The bird’s gotta be the Cybermage, Willow, that Xan’s always nattering on about, Spike thought as he followed the fake Xander. Gonna take this to mean he opened his bloody mouth and either this is all gonna end very badly or…

“Do you love him?” Xander’s voice asked as ‘he’ suddenly came to a halt outside another access hatch.

“Wot?” Spike asked. Not a good time for a tea and chat!

“Right here is a dead space,” fake Xander said. “On the other side of the access hatch is the hangar where Xander waits, but before I hack the code and bust open the door I want to know a few things.”

Spike studied the Xander disguised Willow. She looked like a very determined Xander (with an unaccustomed pouting bottom lip).

“Wot things?” Spike said suspiciously.

“Do. You. Love. Him?” Willow said slowly and clearly.

“More’n anything or anyone I’ve loved before, besides Dru,” Spike answered honestly. “And more to the point, I need him more than anyone or anything and that includes Dru.”

Willow searched Spike’s face for deception.

“You hurt him and I swear I’ll hunt you down. I’ll find a way to reprogram your nanites so the pain the chip caused will seem like a walk in the park. I’ll…”

“Yeah…yeah…Red,” Spike said with a smile at the girl’s fierceness, “You’ll conk me on the head with a shovel and grind my bones for yer bread.”

“Ew!” Willow said. “All but the last part. Definitely no bone bread. Eww! You don’t make Xander eat that do you?”

Spike laughed and shook his head. “Red, I can’t make Xander do anything…well… anything he doesn’t really want to do.”

‘Xander’s’ eyes grew wide, he blushed and then he quickly covered his ears, “La...La…La…can’t hear you!”

Spike laughed again. They really didn’t have time for this, but Spike figured it was his only chance to get a moment with the bint his pet considered his best friend.

“Ya done now?” Spike asked as the fake Xander lowered his arms. Xander nodded.

“Look,” Willow said. “As far as security shows, Xander rescued you. Understand?”

Spike nodded.

“On the other side of that door there’s a ship, The Zeppo, waiting. Xander’s already on board waiting for you. Understand Xander’s giving up everything here. As far as the Council’s concerned, Xander will be made a traitor. Buffy and I will have to publicly denounce him. There is no going back.”

“Red, I got it,” Spike said.

“Do you?” Willow said. “Xander’s giving up everything for you, Sev…Spike. Please promise me he won’t regret it. Promise me you’ll take care of him and treat him right. Promise me you love him.”

Spike put both hands on ‘Xander’s’ shoulders. They easily slipped through the halo image and rested on slight shoulders. Spike stared into Xander’s halonet generated eyes.

“I promise,” Spike said, “and I never break my promises.”

Xander nodded then quickly turned away. Spike released his light hold on Willow’s shoulder. Willow held up her comm unit to the access hatch control panel and typed in a few codes.

Several things happened at once. The hatch blew open, red alerts flared throughout the complex and the lights went out on the hangar deck. Willow grabbed Spike’s hand.

The Zeppo!” Willow hissed. “Get us to the The Zeppo.”

Spike’s eyes shifted and the darkness of the hangar suddenly blazed in the low-spectrum infrared. Spike’s eyes shone as they picked up and amplified the tiniest amount of light including the infrared. Spike surged forward and pulled Willow behind him.  Spike quickly and quietly moved between scrambling soldiers and stationary cargo crates and ships. Every now and then he’d stop and Willow’s thin body would bounce into him. He’d quickly put his hand over her mouth to cover the accompanying gasp.

It took Spike longer than he would have liked to cross the hangar, but in a short time they did make it to a small interplanetary ship which was running hot. The words The Zeppo were painted on it and a gangplank was lowered from the side.

Spike led Willow up the plank and then let out a strangled “Arggh!” as he entered the well lit Zeppo.

“Spike!” Xander’s voice cried and firm hands touched Spike’s cheeks. Spike inhaled deeply and smelled his Pet.

“Xan!” Spike whispered and opened his eyes, this time shifting them back to normal so the light wasn’t blindingly painful but was instead, welcome.

Xander smiled at his lover and asked, “Are you all right?”

“Never better,” Spike said and smiled as he took in the sight of the real Xander.

Xander studied Spike in return and then winced as he noted Spike’s injuries. Xander hissed. I’m gonna kill ‘em! Gonna kill ‘em all! he thought.

“Too late, luv,” Spike said as if he could read Xander’s mind. Spike couldn’t, but he could read Xander’s expression. “Gates is dead.”

“Ghods, Spike!” Xander cried and then pulled Spike to him in a strong embrace. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for the beatings, the torture, the ra…”

“Shush!” Spike said fiercely as he returned Xander’s embrace. “I’m alive. Yer alive and we’re getting the bloody hell outta here! That’s all that matters.”

“About that,” Willow said, still in Xander’s voice, “you need to be making with the getting out of here ASAP.”

Spike and Xander separated. Xander looked at the replica of himself.

“Wills,” Xander said and moved toward his alter ego, “can you drop that thing for a minute?”

“Huh? Oh!” Willow said, punched a few codes into her comm unit and then was suddenly herself albeit draped in a thin wire netting.

Xander smiled and then hugged her.

“I’m gonna miss, you,” Xander said choking back tears.

“It won’t be forever,” Willow said keeping back tears of her own. “We’ll find a way to end this war.”

“Sure you won’t c…”

“I can’t leave Buffy,” Willow said. “And you know why she can’t leave.”

Xander nodded and then pulled away from Willow a bit.

“When will we see each other again?” Xander asked.

“I don’t know,” Willow said.  She dug into her pocket and pulled out a yellow crayon then broke it in half. “But in case you ever do need to see me…here.”

Willow held out half the crayon to Xander. Xander laughed and took the crayon.

“You need me, you send that crayon. I’ll come.”

“You get the crayon,” Xander said, “head for Willie’s on Onxard.”

Willow smiled and Spike kept back a growl. Spike didn’t like Willie’s. It brought back memories of seeing Xander helpless and at the mercy of a mob.

“How will we get word to you about…?”

“Children,” Spike interrupted. “If you don’t cut these goodbyes short…there won’t be any.”

“Anyone ever tell you you’re bossy?” Xander asked.

“Only the cheeky git who’s gonna get his arse beat cherry red if he doesn’t make with the sayonaras!”

 “You sure you want to go with him?” Willow asked.

“It’s a dirty job,” Xander said with a smile, “but somebody’s gotta do it.”

Willow laughed and then threw herself into Xander’s arms.

“Buffy’s got all the Regents and Potentials on a ‘training’ exercise. Soon as I type in the code the backup security will malfunction. You’ll be able to get out of the hangar. The remods you and Jesse made to the engines are still intact. You should be able to plot…”

“Wills, we have to say goodbye,” Xander said.

Willow clutched Xander, sniffed and let go.

“Keep your promise!” Willow cried to Spike. Spike nodded.

Then Willow punched in a code into her comm unit. The halonet activated and there was a Council soldier standing on board The Zeppo.Willow punched in another code and the hangar’s alerts cut out. Willow turned and ran down the gangplank.

Xander punched a code into the panel by the hatch. The gangplank began to rise and the doors began to slide shut. Quickly Xander moved past Spike and forward to the tiny bridge. He punched in a few codes on the command console and the engines throbbed fully to life.

“Hang on!”  Xander punched in another series of codes and The Zeppo roared. It surged forward and leapt from the floor as the hangar bay doors swung open for launch. Blue sky was wide open above the tiny ship and it darted forward and upward until soon it was punching through atmosphere and stars swam in front of the bridge display.

“We’re going home, pet?” Spike asked quietly from behind Xander.

Xander nodded, “Yeah, Spike, we’re going home.”




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