orchidluv (orchidluv) wrote in bloodclaim,
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orchidluv
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Nothing the Same, Book 4, Ch. 32

Nothing the Same, Book 4
Chapter:  32/?
Pairing: S/X, established relationship
Rating: PG13 - NC-17  Individual chapters will carry specific warnings.
Feedback & concrit: yes, please
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers:  Primarily season 5, but anything from Season 1 on. 
Summary:  sequel to Nothing the Same , Books 1 - 3
Previous parts here

I posted the first part of this chapter before going on vacation, so the first few pages are a repeat.  They've been tweaked slightly but are essentially the same.  The rest of the chapter is new though.  Thanks for your patience everyone, I can't tell you how much I appreciate the continued interest in this version of the boys.

Chapter 32

“Xander!  Are you alright?”  Tara stepped out from behind the counter, hurrying to meet him as he entered the magic shop.

“I’m fine,” he told her, puzzled by her reaction.  It wasn’t like he’d told anyone where he was going.  “Where’s…?”

“Your neck’s bleeding,” she interrupted. 

“Oh, that.”  Xander put a hand to his neck and felt the stickiness of dried blood.  Jeez, you’d think one of the Knights would have mentioned that he should wash up before eating dinner.  “It’s nothing.  A… misunderstanding.”

“Well, that misunderstanding looks an awful lot like someone tried to slit your throat,” she told him, firmly steering him towards the back.  “Come on, we’ve got a first aid kit in the office.”

He went willingly, hoping to get cleaned up before anyone else saw him.  The last thing he needed was for Spike to find out one of the Knights had tried to stab him.  Spike didn’t have a real live and let live attitude towards people who threatened him and Xander didn’t want him destroying the fragile truce with crazy vengeance schemes.  Ok, truce was probably a strong word for what he had achieved tonight, but any cooperation would come to a screeching halt if Spike started slaughtering the Knights in revenge for a minor cut.

There was a small mirror that Buffy had put up for fixing her makeup after working out and Xander grimaced as he saw his reflection.  The knife had left a nasty cut running just below the line of his jaw and it had bled worse than he’d realized, leaving a dark red trail down his throat and discoloring the neck of his t-shirt.  A hand appeared next to his face and he jumped, then gratefully took the damp cloth from Tara, using it to gingerly clean the dried blood off.

The wound itself wasn’t deep, except at one end where the Knight had dug the tip of the knife into his neck.  Other than that, the blade had just left a shallow cut, which had bled fairly heavily but wasn’t something he’d need much more than a band aid for. 

He was trying to decide whether a band aid would make things look better or worse, when Tara took the decision out of his hands, taping a square gauze bandage over the worst of the damage.  She gave him a stern look when he opened his mouth to protest and he subsided meekly.

“Where is everyone?” he asked, peeling his shirt off and taking it to the bathroom sink.  He ran cold water over the bloody patch on the fabric and grabbed a bar of soap.  Tara followed him, watching as he scrubbed at the stain.

“Willow’s downstairs with the robot.  I may start treating it as a rival if she keeps spending so much time with it,” she told him, and he glanced up at her in the mirror, seeing her impish smile reflected back at him.  “Giles drove Buffy to the hospital to pick up Dawn.  She’s fine,” she said quickly, seeing the alarm in his face.  “Ben called.  Dawn was in the psych ward talking to the Byzantium Knight.”

“What?”  Xander dropped the shirt and swung around to face her.

“Apparently, she wanted to ask him some questions about who she is.”  Tara shook her head, though her eyes were understanding.  “She thought that the mental patients might be able to tell her something since they seem to know there’s something different about her.”

“Which is a really good reason to stay away from them,” Xander said in exasperation.  “Kinda missed the point about them being crazy, didn’t she?” he added more gently.  Like Tara, he could understand Dawn’s need to know more about what she was.  He shut the water off and inspected the shirt.  Most of the blood had washed clean and he tugged the damp shirt back on over his head.

“Oh crap!” he exclaimed as a sudden thought struck him.  He yanked the damp fabric into place and stepped past Tara out of the bathroom, fishing his cell phone out of his pocket and dialing Buffy’s number.  He waited impatiently for the call to be answered, but the phone just kept ringing.  “Damn it.  She’s not picking up”  When the outgoing message ended, he said:  “Buffy, a couple of Knights are coming to the hospital to pick up their friend.  You guys might want to clear out before they get there.”

Tara was watching him as he flipped the phone closed.  “How do you know that the Knights are going to the hospital?”

“I talked to their General tonight.”  He shrugged at her wide-eyed stare.  “He was willing to tell me what they knew about Glory - some of which is possibly helpful - but they won’t back off about the Key.  That’s their priority, not Glory, and that isn’t going to change.”

“You talked to the Knights?”

He hadn’t heard the bell over the door ring, and Xander turned in surprise to see Buffy, Dawn and Giles standing behind him.  Buffy was scowling at him, arms folded over her chest.  “I thought we agreed that the Knights were the enemy.”

“No, we just agreed they weren’t allies.  It’s not quite the same thing.”

Xander darted a quick glance at Dawn, who looked sullen, in the way she got when Buffy had been lecturing her.  Finding out she was the Key hadn’t changed the fact that Dawn resented it when Buffy yelled at her for something.  Even when it was something that could have been dangerous. 

“Xander, you better have one hell of a good reason for talking to those people, because I am really not in the mood for dealing with any more idiotic stunts tonight.”

Dawn’s lips tightened and she whirled away, flinging herself down into a chair at the research table, her folded arms and furious scowl a dead ringer for her sister’s.

“How about intel on Glory?  That good enough for you?”

“You’ve learned something new?” Giles asked eagerly.

They all settled down at the table, listening as Xander filled them in on what the Knights had told him. 

Willow, whom Tara had called up from the basement to hear his story, interrupted as Xander repeated what the General had said about Glory being imprisoned inside a human male.  “Wait, that doesn’t make sense.  I thought you all believed that Glory was in a woman’s body?”

Xander shrugged.  “According to the General, it’s a guy.  He said that when Glory escapes from her prison, we’re seeing a hint of her true nature.  The good news is, she’s apparently only able to escape for short periods of time, which is why she goes AWOL between sightings.  She’s back to being some anonymous guy who probably doesn’t know he’s got a hellgod hidden inside him.”

Willow still looked puzzled.  “What was the bit about Glory being forced to live and someday die, trapped in the body of a mortal?”  She looked at Giles, “I thought Glory had been around forever?”

“According to the Book of Tarnis, she was cast out of her own dimension millennia ago,” Giles confirmed. 

“So, does that mean that the human she’s imprisoned inside is re-born over and over, or that Glory was somehow sent to our time?” Willow asked, looking confused.

“Who knows?”  Giles frowned.  “Since the Knights know the host body is male, and yet say they have never been able to ascertain the identity of the man, that would suggest that the prison changes every generation - the old host dies, and a new one is born.”

“B-but wouldn’t that kind of movement from body to body leave an energy trail?” Tara asked hesitantly.  “I would think that could be traced magically, if-if that was the case.”

“Good point,” Giles admitted.  “But I don’t understand how Glory’s… essence can have been trapped inside a single human if she’s been in this dimension for as long as the books say she has.”  He glanced around the circle at their attentive faces.  “A suitably inconspicuous host thousands of years ago might very well stick out like the proverbial sore thumb in the modern world.”

“This is all really great theoretical stuff,” Xander said, lying through his teeth diplomatically, “but it doesn’t really matter how or when she got stuck inside her current host, or if she used to be in someone else.  Right now, we only have to deal with the one guy.  If we can figure out who it is, we’ve got our answer against Glory.”

“What do you mean, ‘we’ve got our answer’?” Buffy asked.  “How does it help to identify the host?”

“The Knights said that, if we kill the human host, Glory dies too,” Xander said bluntly.

“You can’t mean that,” Willow said faintly, looking sick.  “We can’t kill a human being.”

Buffy shook her head.  “No, we can’t.  That’s not how we…”

Xander cut her off, his voice hard.  “Buffy, if you finish that sentence, I will never speak to you again.  We’ve already done that exact same thing, in case you’re forgetting.”

Willow stared at him, then her eyes swung to Buffy, her face going white.  “You killed someone?”

“No, we haven’t,” Buffy said crossly.  “Xander, what are you talking about?”

“We all agreed to kill Glory’s minion in cold blood,” Xander reminded her, his eyes holding Buffy’s, the guilt that still burned inside him at what they’d done flaring into white-hot anger.  “Yeah, he was working for Glory, but he was tied to a chair and completely helpless and we all agreed to first torture and then murder him.  So I don’t want to hear another word about how we’re too good to kill humans, because we’re already murderers.  We killed a sentient being who was completely helpless and at our non-existent mercy.  And if you tell me that it’s different because he was a demon and not human, then you’re going to have to explain to me the difference between him and someone you like, like Mr. Olsen or Sergeant Morgan.  Because if they’re on your ok to kill list just because they’re demons, then you’d better tell them that.”

There was a long silence and Buffy’s eyes fell.  Willow looked stunned, Tara and Dawn looked uncomfortable and guilty, and Giles… Giles was as expressionless as if he’d been carved from stone.

“Xander’s right,” he said quietly.  “To prevent the destruction of this world, I am prepared to do whatever I have to.  As much as I would wish it otherwise, if killing the host body is the only way to prevent Glory from tearing down the dimensional walls and destroying this world, then we may have to do just that.”  He looked around at all of them.  “Even if that host is an innocent.”

Xander got to his feet, feeling a thousand years old, and hating himself for losing it and saying all that in front of Dawn.  She was smart, she’d know they’d done it to keep her safe and she didn’t need that burden on top of what she was already dealing with.  It had been their decision, theirs were the bloody hands, not Dawn’s.  He hesitated, looking over at Dawn’s bowed head, but sighed and decided to finish what he needed to say anyway.  Dawn should know, especially if she was going to be doing crazy things like visiting the mental ward to find out more about herself.

“The Knights aren’t going to stop looking for the Key, even if we find a way to stop Glory permanently.  They’re obsessed with the Key and think destroying it is the only way to prevent its power from being misused - by Glory or someone else.”  From somewhere, he dredged up a smile for Dawn who’d raised her head and was looking at him with wide, frightened eyes.  “It’s not an emergency, I just mean that we’re going to have to deal with them at some point.  So we need to come up with a plan that covers the Knights.”

“Kill ‘em all works for me,” Spike suggested. 

Surprised, Xander twisted around to see Spike standing at the door.  Spike’s eyes flared yellow as they fastened on his neck and Xander only barely managed to stop his instinctive move to hide the bandage, despite the uselessness of any attempt to do so.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Xander’s angry tones had been clearly audible from the moment Spike had entered the basement.  He paused for a moment, head cocked, listening as Xander reminded the others in scathing tones about the minion they had killed.  He sighed quietly to himself as he listened.  He hadn’t spoken of it again, but it was obvious that Xander hadn’t put the incident behind him.  Human-like, he was still torturing himself over a worthless minion that was long since rotting in the rubbish heaps at the town dump and who hadn’t been worth a second thought when he’d still been alive.

The raw pain in Xander’s voice urged him forward and he climbed the steps to the main floor on silent feet, grinning now at the shocked silence that followed Rupert’s pronouncement that he would do whatever was necessary.  Slayer should know her Watcher better than that by now.  His grin faded as Xander described the Knight’s obsession with the Key.  Slipping silently into the shop, Spike took in the positions around the table and Dawn’s frightened eyes.  Given the other’s reaction to Xander’s very sensible suggestion that they find and off Glory’s human host, Spike suspected they wouldn’t like his own suggestion that they simply kill the Knights and be done with it.

Didn’t stop him from saying it.

Xander twisted around at the sound of his voice and Spike saw the bandage on his neck for the first time.  Fury rose up in him, killing his amusement at the others’ reaction to his statement.  He knew a knife wound when he saw one and the thread-thin line emerging from the white patch of bandage had been a near-miss.  One that had come perilously close to killing Xander.

He lifted his eyes to meet Xander’s, seeing the barely perceptible motion of his hand as Xander checked his immediate reaction to hide the wound. 

Behind Xander, he saw Buffy shake her head.  “Great plan, Spike.”

“Usually works best,” he pointed out, his gaze never shifting from Xander’s face.

Xander smiled at him.  “Still, we may want to tweak that one a little.”

Spike walked over to join him and ran a gentle finger along his neck, just below the cut.  “What’s this, luv?” he asked quietly, holding back his anger with an effort.

“A misunderstanding,” Xander said, then shrugged at Spike’s lifted eyebrow and added a few more details.  “Over-enthusiastic sentry.  His officer straightened him out.  I’m fine, Spike.”

Long experience with Xander’s recklessness had taught him to listen to what Xander left out as well as to what he actually said.  If Xander had had an encounter with a sentry, he hadn’t gotten the new information about the Knights by chance.  He’d gone to their camp.  Xander had once again deliberately put himself in danger, going to meet with the enemy on his own and without telling Spike.  Probably because he knew bloody well that Spike wouldn’t have let him go.

Spike’s jaw tightened and his hand closed firmly around Xander’s upper arm.  “We need to talk.”  Not waiting for an answer, he tugged Xander away from the group.

“Spike!” Buffy said, “what are you doing?”

“Stay out of it, Slayer,” he snarled.  “This is between me and my Claimed.”  He pulled Xander into the training room, shutting the door firmly on the curious faces of the others.
As the door closed behind them, he released his grip on Xander, folding his arms and staring at his Claimed. 

“Spike, I’m fine.  It wasn’t a big deal.”

“Almost getting your throat cut is a big deal, Xander.”

Xander shook his head.  “That’s not what happened.”  At Spike’s glare, he had the grace to look sheepish.  “Ok, that’s kind of what happened, but…”

“You promised me you would stop risking your life for no good reason,” Spike gritted out.

“I didn’t…”

“You bloody did!  You walked into the enemy camp, alone, and without telling anyone.”  It was a safe bet, that Xander hadn’t told anyone.  None of the others would have let him go into the Knights camp alone either.  “You could have been killed.  You almost were.  You promised you wouldn’t risk your life for no reason like that.”

To Spike’s fury, Xander folded his arms stubbornly.  “It wasn’t like that.  I thought about it for a long time before I acted.  I knew that if I went in unarmed, they wouldn’t view me as a threat.”

“You didn’t know that.  You guessed.  Xander, these aren’t the fucking Waltons.  They aren’t even a modern army.  They’re a bunch of religious fanatics on a mission.  Far as they’re concerned, you work for their mortal enemy.  They know the Slayer’s hiding the Key.  They already tried to kill her once.  The minute you walked into their camp, they could have decided to do what one of them bloody nearly did - regard you as an enemy and chop your head off.  Or they could have taken you prisoner and tried to torture the Key’s location out of you.”

“But it didn’t happen.  One of the sentries got a little overeager, like I said.  His superior chewed him out.”  Xander sighed.  “Spike, I knew if I told you, you’d pitch a fit.  And we needed to know what they knew about Glory.  We’re fighting blind and that’s a hell of a lot more dangerous for all of us than me talking to the Knights.”

Against his will, Spike had to concede that Xander had a point.  The information about Glory’s host was the most promising lead any of them had come up with for how to deal with her.  He wasn’t about to encourage Xander by admitting it though.  “Would have been a lot safer if the Slayer and I had gone with you,” he said.

“Yeah, because you two are known for your diplomatic skills,” Xander said, smiling at him. 

He could hardly argue that.  The Slayer had the diplomatic skills of a herd of stampeding cattle.  “You implyin’ I can’t do subtle?”

“Of course not.”  Xander’s smile morphed into a smirk.  “I would never imply that your idea of subtle is to beat someone up to make sure they got your point.”  He took a step forward.  “I promise, Spike.  I thought this through, and I was right.”  He searched Spike’s eyes earnestly.  “We learned something new about Glory, and we know the Knights are going to be a threat to Dawn.”

Spike shook his head.  “Can’t keep judging situations after the fact, Xander,  Just because you weren’t actually killed, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a better way to handle it.”  He sighed.  “Fucking chainging you to the bed,” he muttered, knowing he was beaten and only somewhat cheered up by Xander sliding his arm around his waist. 

“Sounds like fun,” his boy murmured. 

Spike cocked his eyebrow at him, pulling him a little closer.  “Don’t tempt me.”

Oh, well, he’d always known he was in love with someone with the survival instincts of a depressed lemming.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Need a break?”

As usual, Willow had been downstairs all day, working on the robot while Tara was in classes.  Xander had gotten used to stopping off in the basement of the magic shop first thing to bring her a cup of coffee and give her a chance to stretch and deal with something other than the computer files she’d been obsessing over ever since she successfully downloaded them onto her computer.

Willow lifted her head and looked at him blankly for a moment, then smiled and took her hands off the keyboard.  The rapid clicking of keys that had been the only sound died away and she stretched and shook her shoulders.

“A break would be great,” she admitted.

Xander held out the cup of coffee temptingly.  “One coffee, just the way you like it, but only if you come upstairs to drink it.”

“Deal.”  Willow saved her work, then got to her feet stiffly. 

“How’s it going?”

Her face lit up with excitement, banishing the tiredness from around her eyes.  “I’m really making progress.”  She took the cup of coffee from him and drank thirstily, then obediently followed him up the stairs.  “Warren really was a genius.  There are design features in that robot that outstrip anything currently being developed, and he’s a brilliant programmer.”  At Xander’s amused look, she rolled her eyes.  “Ok, he’s a psychotic, robot-girlfriend building, misogynist loser type of genius, and let’s not even talk about the sex subroutines, because - gross!  And that wasn’t really your question, was it?”

Xander’s grin was out of control.  “Nope.”

“Well, I’ve been able to clean out everything relating to Warren and sex.  And did I mention the gross part?”

“You did,” he assured her.

“I’m not having as much luck reprogramming her to fight.  She’s going to be pretty basic.  Pretty much see Glory, hit Glory, is about as good as she’s ever going to be.”  She sighed, looking discouraged.  “I don’t really know how to program her to do anything sophisticated.”

“If you can program her to hit Glory really hard, and with big heavy objects, that should be good enough.  Willow, nobody expects her to be perfect.  Think of her as an expendable shock troop, something to throw at Glory so the rest of us don’t have to tackle her.”

“I can do that,” Willow said thoughtfully, sitting down at the table.  “Where is everyone?” she asked, looking around at the empty store.

“Giles took off on an errand as soon as I got here.  Everyone else is still at school, and it’s not quite sunset yet.”

Willow took another sip of her coffee.  “Xander, there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.” 

“What’s that?”

“The other day, when you were telling us about the Knight’s?”  Xander nodded and she continued hesitantly.  “The way Spike dragged you out of here…” she hesitated, then continued resolutely.  “I know the two of you came back in and everything seemed fine, but he was obviously angry with you…”

“Willow, Spike didn’t hurt me, if that’s what you’re asking,” he interrupted.

“No, I know he didn’t hurt you physically.  But Xander,” her brow furrowed and she chewed on her lip nervously for a second, “There’s other ways of being abusive.  From an outsider’s perspective, it looked a lot like he was controlling you.”

“He was angry, Willow.  He thought I’d put myself in danger by talking to the Knights.”

“Well he wasn’t wrong about that.”  He pointed an accusing finger at the fading cut on his throat.  “It was a dumb thing to do, Xander.”

“Maybe,” he conceded, “But it worked out ok.  And that’s pretty much what Spike and I hashed out.”  He shook his head, not sure what to think about her concerns.  “Spike doesn’t control me, Willow.  He lets me do things that no other Master Vampire has ever let their Claimed human do.”

His attempt to reassure her was an abysmal failure as her eyes clouded with worry and the beginnings of anger.  “Listen to yourself, Xander.  He ’let’s’ you do things?  He is controlling you.”

“You’re wrong,” he said flatly.  “Spike has given up more for our relationship than you can even imagine.  It’s different with demons, Willow.  They don’t see things the way we do.  Spike’s instincts tell him that I belong to him, that I’m his property, and that I should be with him every minute.  He fights those instincts every day.   And he does because he loves me.”  He stared at her, willing her to understand.  “No other vampire would let their Claimed work, have friends, leave the lair without him.  Spike does all of that and more and you have no idea of how much that means, that Spike is willing to give that to me, because it makes me happy.  If Spike was controlling me, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  I’d be chained to his throne 24-7, by his side where I belong.”

Willow looked shocked, then appalled at his words, but gradually the shock faded and she looked like she was thinking it over.

“I didn’t start dating Spike lightly, Willow.  I knew what I was getting into.  And Spike is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”  He hoped the utter certainty in his words would convince her, because he’d never spoken truer words.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You killed him for me, didn’t you?”

Xander closed his eyes for one second.  He didn’t have any doubt at all what Dawn was talking about and he wished with all his heart he hadn’t opened his big fat mouth the other day.  He wasn’t sure he was ready to deal with this, especially on the heels of his conversation with Willow.  Willow had headed back down to the basement shortly after Dawn arrived, reassured but still doubting.  Xander just hoped that their conversation had cleared the air a bit.  It had surprised and disconcerted him, learning that Willow thought he was a battered spouse - emotionally if not physically, and he hoped she understood things better now.  He was touched by the concern but suspected that it came more from lingering dislike and distrust of Spike, rather than anything else.

He blew out a long breath and turned to face Dawn.  “Yeah, Dawnie,” her told her gently.  “And I do it again in a heartbeat.  If we’d let him go, he would have gone straight back to Glory and that might have led Glory to you.  None of us were willing to risk it.”

Dawn looked away.  “It’s my fault.”

“It was my choice, Dawn.  Not yours, not anyone else’s.  And I’d make that same decision again, for you or anyone else I love.  He chose to work for Glory, and he would have told Glory everything about us, and about you.  We couldn’t let him live or we might all have died.”

Dawn ducked her head and concentrated on her homework, or pretended to and Xander sat down next to her and tried to think of something to say.  Nothing came to him. 

He’d killed a lot of things by now, vampires and zombies and demons of various kinds.  But that was the only time he’d ever killed something helpless, something that wasn’t fighting back and trying to kill him.  It made it different.  He hadn’t lied when he’d told Dawn he would do it again but it was hard.  Knowing that he had that kind of ruthlessness in him.

Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realize how long the silence had lasted or notice how long Dawn had been bent over the same page of her text, face hidden behind her hair until she looked up at him, her eyes troubled.

“You shouldn’t have done it.  I’m not worth it.  I’m nothing.  I’m not even human.”

“Of course you’re human.” he said quickly, snapping out of his own depressed thoughts, shocked at the hollowness of her voice.

“I’m not.  They can see it,” she said painfully.  “At the mental ward.  I freaked out the patients.  They could tell I’m not human.”  She blinked hard against the tears that were threatening. 

He fought back the easy answer, that they were crazy and didn’t count.  “Dawn, the reason we’re all so worried about anyone finding out about you, is because you’re human now.  If you were still the Key, you’d probably be able to take care of yourself.  But the monks did a good job.  You’re human now.  Zits and all.”

That won a fleeting, reluctant smile.  “I so don’t have zits.”

“Maybe not this week…”  He put his arm around her and she leaned against his shoulder, looking lost and so young and fragile it broke his heart.  “I don’t care what you are, Dawn.  The Key, or just Dawn, Joyce’s younger daughter and all-around brat, I still love you.”  He pressed a kiss into the top of her head and she smiled again and this time it lasted a little longer.  “And remember, Spike isn’t human.  Mr. Olsen isn’t human.  Sergeant Morgan isn’t human.  If you’re a little more than just human, I’d say you’re in pretty good company.”

“Maybe,” she said, not sounding particularly convinced.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The phone rang and he reluctantly left Dawn’s side to answer it, hoping he’d eased her mind a little.  She still had issues on issues about being the Key, but hopefully, she’d have years and years ahead for them to remind her that she was Dawn, and human, and loved.

“Magic Box,” he said into the phone, waiving at Tara as she stepped into the shop.  She gave him a smile and a waive back as she stepped inside, Spike on her heels.  Behind them, Xander saw that the sun was well and truly down, twilight fading into true dark.  He’d been sitting with his arm around Dawn, her head on his shoulder for longer than he’d realized.

“Xander?”

“Hi, Mr. Olsen, what’s up?”

“I’m wondering if we could set up a formal strategy meeting between our two groups.” Mr. Olsen sounded cautious, choosing his words carefully, almost as if he was trying to convey some message without actually saying it.  “Perhaps Master Spike and yourself, as well as the Slayer and her Watcher, with an equal number from our group.”

Xander was silent for a minute, trying to figure out what Mr. Olsen wasn’t saying.  He watched as Spike settled down beside Dawn and she smiled at him, looking as if she hadn’t just been agonizing over her position in the world.  Tara had already disappeared down the stairs to the basement, and Xander turned his attention back to the phone.

“I’m sure that would be fine,” he answered slowly.  “When would you like to meet?”

“Tomorrow evening?  Perhaps 7:00, if that’s convenient?”

Xander agreed and Mr. Olsen asked if his house would be suitable.  “The room where we met before defeating the Initiative together,” he suggested.  “Perhaps it will bring us a similar outcome.”

Hanging up slowly, Xander was still puzzling over Mr. Olsen’s odd formality and wondering if he’d been trying to convey a message of some kind.  And why he hadn’t just come out and said it, if he’d had one.

The sound of someone racing up the stairs from the basement, brought him swinging around to face them, his hand reaching for the weapons stored under the counter as the feet stumbled and clattered on the stairs in panicked haste.

Tara tripped and nearly fell as she reached the top, and Xander leapt forward to meet her as her hands clung to the wall to keep herself upright.  Her face was white and her hands were shaking as she gasped out:  “Willow’s gone.”


TBC


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