"Oh God, it's Gunn." Xander grabbed Spike's arm hard enough that the vampire growled softly.
"Oi, watch the leather." He knew that Spike recognized the hanging prisoner because his eyes never left the injured man. Obviously Spike hadn't forgotten their last meeting, but Xander wasn't about to let one little homicidal vampire stop him from helping Gunn. He started forward, but Spike's hand snagged him and pulled him back.
"I'm helping Gunn," Xander gave a good impression of a snarl as he tried to pull free, but when his various tugs didn't help, he had to admit defeat and allow Spike to pull him back to the vampire's side where Spike's arms wrapped around Xander's waist.
"We had this discussion this mornin' pet. Your life is worth just as much and if ya go around riskin' yourself, I really will put bloody stripes on your back and chain you in the lair," Spike hissed into his ear, and Xander didn't doubt the veracity of the statement for one minute.
"I can't walk away," he whispered back, desperate and afraid Spike would make him leave, and Gunn clearly couldn't save himself because he hadn't even raised his head at the noise.
"Soddin' white hats, always think they have to save the bloody world. Some days I think you and Peaches deserve each other," Spike sighed into his ear even as his eyes darted around the room. Minions still crouched on the floor toward the corners, and Ajani randomly walked from group to group, sometimes staking and sometimes biting into necks and sometimes running a hand through some fledge's hair.
"No one's eatin' him right now, pet. We wait."
"Just tell Ajani to hand him over."
"Said we wait, pet. I'm not tryin' to get your mate killed, but I’m about to put a bloody leash around your neck." He looked into Spike's eyes and saw that he had exceeded any patience the vampire may have once possessed. Dropping his gaze and biting his lip to keep from saying something stupid, he followed as Spike walked closer to Gunn.
Xander watched vampire after vampire walked past Gunn, ignoring the suffering human, for which he was uniquely grateful. As he followed Spike over towards Ajani, he lived in fear that one of the vampires would grab Gunn and finish draining him, or even worse, turn him. Xander looked toward Ajani who had settled into a chair and prayed that the young master had enough minions to keep him happy because he couldn’t live with himself if he allowed Gunn to get vamped. Ajani now sat in a relatively decent armchair, obviously the nicest in the basement, and Spike walked over and perched on the edge of an old oak table.
He nearly jumped at the sound of Spike’s soft growl, and when he turned from Gunn’s half-naked form to Spike, he could see the aggravation in the vampire’s eyes. Spike’s eyes darted toward the floor and then to the room of vampires, but he simply gave Spike his best confused look, not hard considering his confusion.
Spike’s hand darted out and snagged his shirt, pulling him closer and, he finally figured out, pushing him down. Dropping to his knees as he had at the demon bars, Xander tried to play the part of the good little pet without staring at Gunn. Nearly 40 minions clustered in small groups, several near Ajani’s chair, and Xander knew that even Spike couldn’t fight his way through this crowd.
“Massah Spike,” Ajani called, but Spike continued lighting his cigarette without acknowledging the call. He took a couple of deep pulls on the cigarette and released a cloud of smoke before responding.
“I owes ya, Massah Spike. Me court, it’ll always be open to ya.” Xander watched the minions shift uncomfortably at that news. Several pairs of eyes turned to consider them, and Xander dropped his gaze to the floor to avoid accidentally triggering some fight in the increasingly tense atmosphere.
“No problem, mate,” Spike said, and Xander glanced up to see minion eyes bounce from Spike to Ajani. “Just need one favor.” Spike stopped to continue pulling on his cigarette, seemingly unconcerned by the minions that now shifted nervously and the gold tint in Ajani’s eyes. Spike continued to smoke for several minutes as the tension built.
“The human there, he thinks my pet owes him somethin’. Challenged me in front of my sire before runnin’ out like a coward.” Xander felt cold fear flowing down his back as Spike nodded toward Gunn. Oh god, please don’t let Spike kill Gunn. Xander glanced toward the motionless man. Glancing back, he could see both Ajani and Spike watching Gunn with undisguised disgust.
“I’s happy to give him to ya,” Ajani waved a hand, and two minions moved in on Gunn, freeing his hands and allowing his body to fall to the ground.
“Oi, don’t want him dead before I can kill him,” Spike complained, and the minions picked Gunn up more carefully and brought him over to Spike, laying him out so that his bruised body rested inches away from Spike’s foot. Xander struggled not to reach out and check for a pulse because the body lay motionless and he couldn’t even be sure Gunn was breathing.
“Dat all, Massah Spike?” He spared Ajani a glance and he could see the vampire leaning forward in his chair, his eyes flashing gold and his body poised for a fight.
“Yeah, mate. Mind the warnin’ about my sire, though. He’s a wanker who’ll stake ya as soon as look at ya.” Spike reached down and pulled Gunn’s arm, dragging the body high enough for Spike to tuck an arm around Gunn’s waist so that Gunn’s head dangled near the floor and his feet drug along the concrete. Xander stood behind Spike, wanting to reach out for Gunn but not wanting to risk the man’s life.
He honestly thought Spike was saving Gunn, but he couldn’t be sure, and he didn’t want to anger Spike by showing too much concern for his former friend. So he simply followed as Spike walked up the stairs, Gunn’s head perilously close to each step as Spike climbed. On the street, Spike tossed his cigarette and got a shoulder under Gunn’s arm.
“Oi, not carryin’ the wanker alone here.” Xander quickly slipped under Gunn’s other arm and followed Spike’s nodded directions as they walked down the street toward the abandoned basement the crew called home.
“Um, Spike?” he finally worked up the nerve to ask, “Is he going to…. Is he dying?”
“Bloody hell no. Never did have the luck that soddin’ Irish bastard always seemed to have. Only luck I ever get’s the bad kind, innit?” Spike cursed. He wasn’t quite sure how to answer that so he stayed uncharacteristically silent until he noticed where Spike led them.
“How do you know where the guys hang out, Spike?”
“He hurt ya, pet. Hurt ya and would a killed ya if he’d had half a chance.”
“Gunn wouldn’t…” he saw the look in Spike’s eye and stopped. “Okay, he might have, but only in a really not thinking straight in the heat of the moment and thinking I was a demon kinda way.”
“Wouldn’t make ya less dead, pet.”
“And how does this explain your ability to navigate down here?” Xander suspected he knew where this led, but he really wanted to be wrong. He’d never wanted to be wrong so much in his life.
“The lot of them are lucky to be alive. The pillocks don’t cover their trails.”
“And were you planning on doing anything other than looking?” Xander shifted as he redistributed Gunn’s weight so he could walk more easily. Luckily in this neighborhood the sight of two men carrying home a drunken friend didn’t even cause turned heads.
“Might a been, but the pouf’s been down here, talkin’ to them and lookin’ out for them.”
“Whoa, Luther and crew talking to a vampire? Okay, that’s just a little surprising as in waking up to find the Carolina Panthers winning the Superbowl kinda way."
Gunn groaned and that ended the conversation. Of course, Spike’s constant and steady growls mixed with occasional curse words also tended to impair the conversation. Xander resolved to look up dangleberries, wassock, pilchard, and nit. Arsewipe and tosser he could pretty well figure out without a dictionary. Yeah, Spike obviously didn’t like saving Gunn and he could only hope that didn’t reflect on Spike’s desire to kill Gunn. He was suddenly discovering the benefits of unemployment; maybe his vampire needed a little vampire sitting.
“That’s it,” Xander said as he nodded toward the familiar building. Why he didn’t know because Spike obviously already knew which building already. Spike stopped across the street, and Xander had to stop or risk dropping Gunn who now made small groans on a semi-regular basis. As they stood looking at the building, he found himself wondering just how they could manage this. After Spike’s confession about the whole spying on the crew thing, he certainly didn’t want to offer Spike an invitation, but he couldn’t carry Gunn by himself.
“Go on then, get a couple of ‘em to do the carryin’.” Xander felt Gunn’s body pulled away from him as Spike took the weight and freed him to go get help. He looked at Spike, his face totally blank as if he hadn’t been cursing up a storm earlier. From his comparison of Gunn’s whole crew to dangleberries on Angel’s arse, he had to guess that the vampire didn’t like any of them, but here he was helping one, hopefully. He didn’t *think* Spike would take the opportunity to finish Gunn off, but he had to admit it as a possibility. On the other hand, they couldn’t leave Gunn here and they had to get back to the lair soon, so waiting was out. Right, facing the guys alone was the plan then. He took one step and Spike’s voice stopped him.
“They lay one finger on ya, and the lot of ‘em’s dead, make sure they know that, pet,” Spike commented casually as if he hadn’t just threatened murder. He nodded to Spike and then ducked between cars as he dashed for the familiar entrance.
The basement hadn’t changed, he noticed as he walked in the door. Guys who’d obviously just returned from hunting repaired weapons while others stretched out on thin bunks. Casey’s Playstation buddy was Lou this time, and Luther stood staring at something pinned to the wall. He wasn’t sure how to announce his presence when a voice solved his dilemma.
“Look who the cat drug in,” Luis called out, and Xander forced a smile on his face, a smile that faltered when Luther spun, crossbow in hand.
“Whoa, ya know most people just make excuses to get rid of company,” Xander tried joking as he held up his hands, but he noticed that Luther didn’t move the crossbow and now the other guys were silent, watching the scene. Gilly took one step forward as if to defend Xander before she stepped back and stood next to Gwen.
“Heard ya changed sides. Always were a demon magnet, so we shoulda figured you’d end up a demon,” Luther snapped.
“Hey, no more demon now than the day I dropped that plate of pizza on your favorite shirt, and I’m thinking I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that when you’re all Rambo-guy with the weapons.” Xander shuffled back, his hands still held up in surrender. He never expected them to welcome him back, but he honestly hadn’t expected violence. He wondered for a minute if Spike could hear; if so, some of the crew might end up as walking to-go meals.
“What you want?” Luther demanded.
“We were out and about and ran into Gunn hanging around, thought we might bring him home.” Xander quipped, starting to truly panic at the expression of disgust and hatred in Luther’s eyes.
“Where is he?”
“Outside with Spike,” Xander answered, and then Luther closed the distance before he had time to react, Luther’s large hand pinning him against the door as the point of the crossbow dug into his stomach.
“This ‘we’ wouldn’t be the vampire you’re hanging with now, would it?” Luther’s voice dropped into a near whisper, and Xander found himself shivering at the sound.
“He got Gunn out of a lair. He’s guar…” Xander would have said more, but he found himself bodily thrown into the room, Casey and Lou catching him inches before he stepped on the Playstation. “Hey!”
“Shut up,” Luther said as he gestured for the others to grab weapons. Xander tried to step forward, but a hand landed on his arm and he turned to see Casey holding him even while the man refused to meet his eyes. “Come on then,” Luther demanded, and Xander felt himself pushed forward, not a single member of the crew objecting when the shove from either Casey or Lou sent him off balance and struggling not to fall.
When the group reached the street, Xander almost fainted with relief to see that Gunn now stood beside Spike, the fingers of one dark hand tangled in the chain link fence and the other hand gripping the vampire’s arm. Spike, as usual, simply looked bored as if nothing in the world was important enough to bother him.
“Gunn, you alright?” Luther called without crossing the street, and Gunn nodded shakily. Luther motioned for the crew to follow, but Spike’s voice interrupted him.
“Ya don’t need more than two wankers to help him; leave the rest over there,” he ordered with a flash of gold in his eyes.
Luther took a deep breath as if to argue, but Gunn raised a hand and gave the signal for two members to move forward. Luther let out his breath in an exaggerated sigh and touched Lou on the shoulder. Xander found himself pushed forward as Lou grabbed his arm and ‘escorted’ him across the street. He tried not to show the pain he felt that they wouldn’t even listen to him; he didn’t want Spike to come back and kill them all, so he steeled himself and pretended that it didn’t matter that the guys he had grown to see as some sort of family were using him as a hostage.
As they crossed the street, Xander could see the fatigue in Gunn’s face, and the guys must have seen it—either that or they saw the blood, torn clothes and bruises because Lou’s hand tightened until Xander had to intentionally ignore the pain, and Luther’s hand gripped his shoulder.
“Let Xander go; he and Spike saved me,” Gunn ordered as soon as they crossed.
“Don’t look too saved to me,” Luther pointed out.
“Yeah, well my boy and I gotta have a little talk.” Xander walked over, and Gunn leaned against him heavily, still obviously having trouble walking. “We’re just gonna go down to Culligan’s,” Gunn announced, and Xander found himself helping Gunn stumble down the dirty sidewalk to the stairs Gunn had mentioned. There he helped Gunn sit. Looking back, he could see Spike leaning against the fence in a pose that suggested to prey that he didn’t have a care in the world and suggested to Xander that the vampire was inches away from eating someone. Luther and Lou had taken classic attack positions relative to Spike, but he knew they didn’t have a chance if it actually came to a fight.
“Ya know, we probably shouldn’t leave the sheep guarding the wolf very long. Not healthy for sheep,” Xander pointed out.
“Is that what we are now? Sheep?” Gunn snapped, and Xander could see Spike’s eyes suddenly meet his. Obviously Spike heard that and the odds of getting away without mayhem had dropped. He turned to look at Gunn.
“I was joking, Gunn. You know the old saying about foxes and henhouses and sheep and wolves, although now that I’m thinking about it, the fox was guarding the henhouse and the wolves weren’t guarding anything. They were just doing the whole kinky species cross dressing with the sheep’s clothing so I guess I shouldn’t have used sheep.”
“God, it still sounds so much like you,” Gunn’s voice sounded suddenly tired.
“It is me.”
“That’s what Alonna said. She wanted me back in her family.” Xander fell silent, waiting for Gunn to continue, but he didn’t.
“You mean after she…” he let his voice trail off. Alonna’s death still hurt him, and he knew Gunn had to be destroyed over it.
“Got vamped? Yeah.”
“If she was vamped, that wasn’t her. You know that.” Xander now sat down on the cold concrete, trying to offer some comfort to the man who Xander had seen as an older brother.
“And you? How are you any different, man?”
“I always had this demon, well not ‘always’ as in always, but always since I knew you. The whole blood mixing with the blood—it gives me a touch of something not human, but it doesn’t change who I am.”
“Right. Sounds a lot like Alonna’s line.”
“Did you talk to Angel? Didn’t he explain the difference?”
“Yeah, can’t believe I’m takin’ a vamp’s word for anything, but the problem is that Angel says you aren’t like any pet he’s ever seen. He doesn’t know what you are.” Gunn gave a dry laugh, and Xander could hear a pain that he had never known in Gunn before. The man who had always laughed off everything now had a laugh that screamed in pain.
“Great, one more reason to stake Angel,” he quipped.
“What? Cause he don’t lie about what you’ve become?” Xander looked over in surprise at the sudden defensiveness in Gunn’s voice.
“No, because he won’t stop calling me weird, and coming from a vampire with a soul, that’s pretty pot calling the kettle blackish.”
“So your vampire,” Gunn nodded toward Spike who’s stance had relaxed quite a bit in the last minute or so. “Any soul there?”
“Spike? Hell no.”
“So he’s evil, and you’re hanging with him. You can see why I might question your humanity.” Gunn leaned back against the step, but Xander suspected it had nothing to do with Gunn trusting him and something to do with Gunn being so weak he couldn’t sit up well.
“He’s not evil.” Xander paused, unsure how to explain himself. “He’s…morally ambigious.”
“Meaning he’ll eat you without thinking twice, but he also has another side, a side he shows when we’re alone.” Oh god, when had he turned into a girl that he could say a sappy line like that and actually mean it?
“So, it don’t matter who dies as long as you’re getting your end off?”
“Whoa, okay, can we please never say it like that again, and no, I’m not okay with random death and Girl Scout snacks when the snacks are actually the girls.” Xander rushed to explain. “Spike doesn’t do that when we’re together, and I’m the first to admit he might if I’m not around, but doesn’t that suggest it might be better for me to stay with him. You know, saving innocents by putting Spike on a Xander-approved diet?”
“You’re okay with him killing *some* people then.”
“Oh boy, so didn’t intend on going there with you.”
“Well you have now, so you better start talking, boy.” Xander thought about that line for a long time. Gunn had always told him what to do, and Xander had never challenged him. Gunn called him “boy” and “my boy” when Gunn was only a year older, yet Xander had never challenged it. Was he just really pathetic or could he blame this willingness to get pushed around on his guest? Either way, he wouldn’t get pushed around any more.
“No, I don’t have to start talking. I don’t answer to you Gunn, and I don’t think I ever will again. I don’t want us to be enemies, but maybe I’m figuring out that we can’t be friends.” Gunn took a sharp breath, and Xander braced himself for the explosion
“Damn it. You and him, this ain’t right,” Gunn shouted.
“It feels right to me.” That stopped the conversation cold, and they sat there watching old cars go by on the road. Finally Gunn sighed.
“And what does the Magic 8 ball say?” Gunn asked in reference to a game they used to play. They would sit on the stoop, watch some woman walk by and then ask the Magic 8 ball about some sexual act. Would the red-haired woman in the mini-skirt give Xander a blow job? Outlook not so good. Would the short Hispanic woman ride Gunn like a pony? Try again later. Xander looked at Gunn, the tired eyes and the slumped shoulders, much of it from sheer blood loss. He looked over at Luther and Lou still threatening Spike, who now looked mildly amused. The vampire kept shifting slightly, causing the two humans to constantly readjust their own stances. He’d get tired of that game soon, Xander knew. He looked at the faces on the far side of the street, most of them closed to him, showing masks of anger or distrust.
“The magic eight ball says, ‘Definitely yes’.” Xander said softly, “and I never contradict precognizant plastic.”
“If you ever want to come back…” Gunn left the statement unfinished, but Xander knew what he would have to give up to earn the right to start over with Gunn, the right to go back to the beginning and fight for every inch of respect in the group. He also knew he couldn’t ever do it. He offered Gunn another option.
“Not enemies?” he asked.
“I can deal with that,” Gunn replied and he held out his hand. Xander grabbed Gunn’s forearm, and Gunn clasped his in return. They sat there on the stoop, and Xander knew they were saying goodbye. Without another word, he stood and started walking away from Gunn and Luther and Lou, sure that one person behind him would follow. In less than a block, a familiar arm slipped around his waist.
“Ya alright, pet?”
“No.” Xander tried not to cry as he walked away from every person who’d ever ditched class with him or covered for him on a test or protected his back in a vamp fight or commiserated with him after a break up. When his mother had been so lost in the divorce that she talked to her lawyer more than her son, those people had given him a place to go and now every single one of them had turned away from him. “Spike, make the pain go away,” he whispered hoarsely.
“Let’s get home, and I’ll do that,” Spike promised.
“Just promise me this doesn’t involve killing.” Xander had to ask, he knew Spike’s version of comfort well enough to be suspicious.
“If it’d make ya feel better, I’d torture and kill every one a them pillocks with rusty roofing nails, but seein’ as how that’d probably just make ya nuttier than Dru, we’ll skip the murder and vengeance, and I’ll just make ya forget they ever existed.” Xander didn’t know if Spike truly had the power do make that happen, but he allowed himself to close his eyes against the threatening tears, and he followed Spike’s lead.
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