Chapter 10: Lessons

Chapter 10: Lessons

††††††††††††††† "It was the forty-fathom slumber that clears the soul and eye and heart, and sends you to breakfast ravening.† They emptied a big tin dish of juicy fragments of fish - the blood ends the cook had collected overnight.† They cleaned up the plates and pans of the elder mess, who were out fishing, sliced pork for the midday meal, swabbed down the foc'sle, filled the lamps, drew coal and water for the cook, and investigated the fore hold, where the boat's stores were stacked.† It was another perfect day - soft, mild, and clear; and Harvey breathed to the very bottom of his lungs."

 

††††††††††††††† Tara was talking softly on the phone, and Xander and Oz were at the kitchen counter, slicing up onions and peppers and spinach.† Derio was trying out a lasagna recipe and he'd dragooned them into chopping duty.† Spike had got out of it by volunteering to help Dawn with her homework.† She had some sort of summer cold and had gotten a sick day - and proposed to spend it watching TV since her head 'hurt too much' to read.† Spike had sorted through her backpack, found her book report homework and the book, and was now cozily on the couch with tea and his 'private' reserve of Jaffa Cakes, making Dawn take notes as he read aloud.

††††††††††††††† *I should take a picture.† The evil undead reading to a little girl and sharing cake.*

††††††††††††††† *Bugger off.† Just helping the Bit.*† †Spike shot them both a look.††† Xander grinned over at Oz, who grinned back.

††††††††††††††† *And he's wearing YOUR purple flannel shirt and it's about three sizes too big so he's all - floppy and cuddly looking.*

††††††††††††††† *Just 'cause it smells good -*

††††††††††††††† *And he didn't fix his hair!† It's all curly and loose and fluffy - he looks about fifteen!*

††††††††††††††† *And your lumberjack socks!*

††††††††††††††† *Awwww!*

††††††††††††††† *Awwww!*

††††††††††††††† "You two had bloody well better stop that right now!" Spike yelled.† He glared at them over the long kitchen counter that separated the two rooms and scrunched down further into the couch, tucking his feet under the throw Dawn had over her legs.† She jerked, her head bobbing up and her eyes going wide.

††††††††††††††† "Right, stop that!† Who said that now?"

††††††††††††††† "Bit, were you sleeping?"† Spike looked shocked and Xander couldn't help the snorting laughter that had him doubled over the counter.† Oz was holding half an onion and a knife out in front of him, his eyes pouring with tears, giggling uncontrollably.† Derio wiped Oz's face with a paper towel.

††††††††††††††† "Are you guys making fun of Spike?" he whispered in Oz's ear, and Oz turned his head just enough to get a kiss.

††††††††††††††† "Course not," Oz whispered back, grinning.† Xander straightened and resumed chopping, and Spike glared at Dawn - at Xander and Oz - at the book.† Then he took a deep breath and went back to reading.

 

††††††††††††††† "When dad kerflummoxes that way," said Dan in a whisper, "he's doin' some high-line thinkin' fer all hands.† I'll lay my wage an' share we'll make berth soon.† Dad he knows the cod, an' the fleet they know dad knows.† See 'em comin' up one by one, lookin' fer nothin' in particular, o' course, but scrowgin' on us all the time?"

 

††††††††††††††† "I have to go, Willow.†† I - I'm glad you fixed Amy, but...† We'll talk l-later.† Bye."† Tara turned off the phone - got up slowly and went to hang it up.† She looked upset and Xander watched her as she washed her hands and found a knife - started chopping spinach.

††††††††††††††† "All right, Tara?" Xander asked, and she gave him a haunted look from behind her hair.

††††††††††††††† "Willow fixed Amy-the-rat.† She's a p-person now.† And I'm glad Amy's - back to being human but..."

††††††††††††††† "But Willow promised," Xander said sadly, and Tara nodded.† Two weeks since the memory spell and Willow had promised no more magic.†

††††††††††††††† "She didn't even....t-try, I don't think.† She said she had this idea and -"†† Tara chopped in silence for a moment and then stopped, her shoulders slumping.

††††††††††††††† "What am I gonna do, Xander?" she said softly, and Xander was pretty sure she was crying.

 

††††††††††††††† "So Disko Troop thought of recent weather, and gales, currents, food supplies, and other domestic arrangements, from the point of view of a twenty-pound cod; was in fact, for an hour, a cod himself, and looked remarkably like one.† Then he removed the pipe from his teeth."

 

††††††††††††††† "Tara -"†† Xander stopped chopping peppers and wiped his hands on a paper towel - put his arm around Tara's shoulders.† She sniffed and rubbed her arm across her face - started chopping again in a determined, jerky fashion.† "I think - she's just so confused right now...† Giles is working on getting her into that coven in England - getting her some help...† This...addiction...they'll know how to fix it."

††††††††††††††† *Can't be addicted to magic, love - it's not like that.*†† Spike's gaze caught his above the edge of the book and Xander slowly nodded.† Willow said it was an addiction - that she craved it.† Giles - disagreed.

††††††††††††††† *How do you know?† I mean, couldn't she -*

††††††††††††††† *Don't know for sure...*†† Spike stopped reading - reached out to get his cup and take a long drink of tea.† Dawn blinked at him and held up her pencil, proving she was awake.† *Something Dru told me once...† If you can do magic, it's part of you - you can't...it's not something you can have and not have, like a cigarette - it's always there.† It's - what you do with it, how you use it...*†† Spike trailed off uncertainly and the link was filled for a moment with pictures of Dru - unconnected, random, murky.† *I don't...remember.*†† Xander frowned at that and slowly went back to chopping.† The little stumbles of memory were getting worse.

††††††††††††††† *Be all right,* softly from Oz, and Xander nodded, trying not to slice his fingers off.

††††††††††††††† "It'll be okay, Tara," Xander said finally, and the blonde woman glanced at him, smiling softly.† "We'll figure this out."

††††††††††††††† "Sorry.† I don't mean to be all - m-moody."

††††††††††††††† "You're entitled," Derio said, coming to scoop her spinach into a pot and Tara smiled at him, too.† It was fun, having her there, despite the reason why.† She had classes at odd hours and odd days, so you never knew when she'd show up.† She talked about the professors and the other students with a dry, unexpected wit that made them all laugh.† She had discovered a shared interest in cooking with Oz and Derio - and a shared interest in more basic, passive magics with Dawn.† Spike - she treated like a trusted older brother and they'd had one or two late nights, drinking tea and talking.† It made Xander feel even safer - even more content - then before.

††††††††††††††† *Family is getting bigger.† I love it.*

††††††††††††††† *Enough for an actual pack,* softly from Oz, and Xander had to smile at that.†† At the thought of them all living *nesting* *denning* in their house - as a family that didn't go away or break your heart.

††††††††††††††† Tara had moved some pots of herbs onto the back porch and Dawn had graciously allowed her to take over her room a bit, and movie nights and dinner times were more crowded, now.† Derio was coming around more often too.† He felt too restless at home, he said, with aunts and cousins in and out all day long.†† He wanted to be with Oz and if nobody minded, he'd do just that.† Nobody did.

 

††††††††††††††† "Now you look somethin' like," said Dan.† "Hurry!"

††††††††††††††† "Keep nigh an' handy," said Troop, "an' don't go visitin' raound the fleet.† Ef any one asks you what I'm cal'latin to do, speak the truth an' say ye don't know."

††††††††††††††† A little red dory, labelled "Hattie S.," lay astern of the schooner.† Dan hauled in the painter, and dropped lightly on to the bottom boards, while Harvey tumbled clumsily after."

 

††††††††††††††† *Get Tara settled - get Red bundled off...we can make our own plans to go,* Spike thought, and Xander heard the wistful note that was in that suggestion.† Spike still wanted to go, to leave the Hellmouth.† Xander did, too - but he felt like he couldn't, with everything so up in the air.† They'd agreed to make plans, but nothing fixed just yet.

††††††††††††††† *Just a little more time, love.† We'll do it, I promise.† Love you.*

††††††††††††††† *Love you.† Want you safe,* Spike added, and Xander couldn't argue with that.

 

†††††††††††††††

††††††††††††††† "And the wackiness just keeps happening," Buffy said grumpily, tossing a paper down onto the table at the Magic Box.† The headline said something about a diamond and a 'freeze ray' and while Oz read through it Buffy shed her jacket and hat and stomped over to the counter.† She joined Anya in flipping through Bride magazines.

††††††††††††††† "It's those guys - that Warren guy....the little evil threesome.† I mean, who else would come up with something lame like a freeze ray."† Buffy continued to mutter under her breath and Xander had to admit that the Threesome *or whatever - god, NOT an image I want to contemplate* were pretty annoying.† They apparently were spending a lot of time calling up various demons and getting them to steal things or fight other demons, and the whole non-human community was getting pretty tired of it.† They'd actually approached Buffy - at Willy's, neutral ground - and through Spike, who didn't know whether to be annoyed or flattered.† Asked her to get them.† Buffy had promised to try, and had gratefully listened to every last scrap of information the different demons had.† But the geek trio was amazingly sneaky, and so far they didn't have anything.

††††††††††††††† "So, did they kill the security guard?† I mean - frozen, that's kinda extreme," Xander said, looking at the newspaper over Oz's shoulder.

††††††††††††††† "No - he seems to be okay.†† Which is too bad 'cause that'd give me an excuse to go all - Terminator on their asses."† Buffy pushed the magazine away with a sigh and started an aimless walk around the Magic Box, poking at things and making Anya stare at her, narrow-eyed, as she moved the merchandise around infinitesimally. "Where's Spike?"

††††††††††††††† "Hunting," Xander answered automatically, and then looked up guiltily at the hiss of indrawn breath.† "He's not killing anyone, Buffy.† Swear."

††††††††††††††† "Better not be," Buffy grumbled, but she sighed again, and Oz looked at her, head a little to one side.

††††††††††††††† "You okay, Buffy?"† The slayer poked distractedly at a cluster of chicken feet and then flopped down into a chair.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah.† Kinda.† I'm just...† There's this woman from Social Services coming over."

††††††††††††††† "There is?"

††††††††††††††† "What?† Why?"† Oz and Xander both spoke at the same time and Oz pulled his feet up onto the chair seat, frowning over his knees.† Xander sat down in one of the other chairs, frowning as well.† Dawn had been acting out a bit - skipping some classes, getting 'fresh' with the teachers - not doing her homework.†† Why was anybody's guess, although Spike was happy to blame it on Janice and brought up the Halloween debacle fairly often as proof.† Dawn just rolled her eyes and snapped back about pots and kettles and then Spike would yell and Dawn would shriek.† It was like Jerry Springer only no nudity, thank god, or chairs being thrown.

††††††††††††††† "So - when is she coming by?† And why?" Xander asked, and Buffy leaned her elbows up on the table.

††††††††††††††† "It's 'cause Dawn's been goofing off in school.† And apparently she told the school counselor some stuff.† And - I dunno.† I missed a meeting, but there were these vamps..."† Buffy shook her head.† "I've got a good job, thanks to you, and Dawn has a house and - and tons of people who love her!† I don't understand what more they want!"† Buffy looked frustrated and close to tears and Xander reached out and touched her hand.

††††††††††††††† "What is it, Buffy?† I mean - Child Welfare around here is a joke.† I should know.† What's the problem?"

††††††††††††††† "Oh - just...† This woman at the office.† She said - if Dawn doesn't start...behaving...they might take her away.† Send her to live with Dad."† Buffy's lip trembled and she jerked in startlement as Oz growled, wolfing for a moment.

††††††††††††††† "Over my fucking dead body," Xander snapped, and he wanted to growl too.† "What the hell - is your dad tired of paying child support or something?† Why would anybody think he's the right person to take care of Dawn?† He didn't even come to - to the funeral!"† Buffy winced at that and Xander bit his lip, instantly sorry.† When Hank Summers hadn't shown up to see Joyce laid to rest, the three of them had privately vowed to never let the man have any say in Buffy's life again.† Or Dawn's.

††††††††††††††† "Geez, guys.† It's...he is her dad," Buffy said slowly, looking a little bewildered, and Oz took a deep breath, hugging his legs tightly.

††††††††††††††† "It's just - Dawn's part of the pa- part of the family, Buffy," Oz said softly, and Xander nodded.

††††††††††††††† "Family.† You mean pack.† You almost said pack.† She's part of...this...whatever."† Buffy made vague motions towards Xander and Oz, frowning a little.

††††††††††††††† †*Well, won't lie to her about it.*

††††††††††††††† *Can't hurt, as Spike says.† Want me to tell her?*†† Oz looked considering - nodded, finally.

††††††††††††††† *Still closer friends than me, so yeah.*

††††††††††††††† "Okay...† Remember up on the tower, Buffy?† When you - when you gave some of Dawn's blood to Spike?"

††††††††††††††† "Yeeah..." Buffy said slowly.† "I just - I hoped he'd just...†† I thought it was kinda ritual-y.† That he'd...kind of adopt her or something.† I just wanted her to be safe," Buffy whispered the last, and Xander smiled at her.

††††††††††††††† "It's okay.† It worked.† It's just - there's all this magic, in blood...† And it worked really well.† You know how I can hear Spike and Oz - and they can hear me?† How we all know what the other is thinking and feeling?"† Buffy nodded, wide-eyed and Xander smiled at her, trying to be reassuring.

††††††††††††††† "Well, the thing is...after that we could hear Dawn.† It was good!" Xander said hastily, as Buffy scowled, opening her mouth to say - something.† "Wait, okay?† It was good.† She had a lot of...nightmares, at first, and - she stayed with us and we knew what she needed, you know?† We could help her.† It faded after a week or so.† Now we can only hear her when she's in the same room, and it's just - basic stuff.† Strong emotions.† Helps us know when she's lying."† Xander grinned and Buffy stared at him a minute, and then she grinned back.

††††††††††††††† "So that's how Spike - !† Oh, wow, that's...kinda creepy.† But good!† You're right.† It's good.† Does she know?"†

††††††††††††††† "We never told her.† Didn't seem like a good idea."†† Buffy nodded - thought for a second and then a look came over her face.† "She can't hear you guys, can she?"

††††††††††††††† "No.† Not at all.† She didn't - she never got any of Spike's blood, so - it's only one way."

††††††††††††††† "Thank god.† I mean, you guys - not exactly discreet...† Anya told me about The Roof."†† Buffy giggled, and Xander put his head down on the table.† "No teenager needs that in their head."

††††††††††††††† "I'm never going up there again," Xander mumbled, ignoring Oz's snickering.

††††††††††††††† "So, anyway," Buffy said, heaving a huge sigh, "this woman is going to come by and - inspect - and they don't say when or anything and I might not even be home or - or what if I'm all covered in demon goo or something?† What if I forgot to do the dishes?"† Xander lifted his head and pushed his fingers back through his hair.

††††††††††††††† "They don't take kids away 'cause there's some dishes in the sink," Oz said calmly, and Buffy shook her head.

††††††††††††††† "But what if there's a lot?† And - and Willow is there -what if they think I'm in a gay relationship?† The government hates that!† And -"

††††††††††††††† "Buffy -" Oz said, and he leaned forward, putting his hand on top of hers.† "It's going to be okay.† You've got a good job - insurance, even!† You've got friends who are willing to help any time.† And you know the government will love Giles.† And - even if they don't like something, they won't just snatch Dawn."

††††††††††††††† "Yeah, he's right," Xander said, and Buffy looked from Oz to him, her expression eloquently pleading for comfort.

††††††††††††††† "I mean - they came to my house a couple of times, but I never got - taken.†† They just...don't care that much."† Xander couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice and Buffy winced slightly.

††††††††††††††† "Oh, Xan, Iím sorry.† I'm being such a - drama queen.† I know you guys'll do anything...† Dawn really loves you, you know?"† She looked at him - looked at Oz, her face softening into a relaxed, slightly bewildered smile.† "Even Spike - or maybe, especially Spike.† She just...† She loves you guys and loves being part of your...family.†† I never really..."† Buffy stopped, and wiped distractedly at her eyes, blinking.† "I never really said thanks for - everything you guys did while I was dead.† It was wonderful and - I can't ever repay you."

††††††††††††††† "Buff - come on.† Repay?† There's - we'd have done it no matter what."

††††††††††††††† "'Cause of the blood," Buffy said quietly, and Oz shook his head.

††††††††††††††† "No.† I mean, yeah, that made it stronger but - she was f - she was pack long before that."† Oz said it calmly but Xander could feel his anxiety in the link and there was an echo from Spike, who'd been eavesdropping the whole time - who was just down the street, now.

††††††††††††††† *She won't care.† She - understands.*†† Xander was sure of it, and the anxious feeling lessened a bit.

††††††††††††††† "She was?† My bratty little screechy little sister?"† Buffy said it with a smile but there was something - else - there.

††††††††††††††† "You're part of our family too, Buffy," Xander said.† "Not quite the same, but - you know we'd do anything for you."

††††††††††††††† "I know," Buffy said quietly.†

††††††††††††††† "Enough of this."† It was Spike, coming in the back door, cigarette pluming smoke and blood down the side of his duster and Anya put up a hand, having been engrossed in her Bride magazine the whole time.

††††††††††††††† "Don't get blood on anything, Spike," she said, and Spike grinned at her.

††††††††††††††† "Too much wallowing.† Everything'll be fine, Slayer, you'll see.† Won't let anybody take the Bit."† He swirled the duster off and draped it over the stairs - came over to Xander's chair, *Scoot up* in the link.† He swung his leg over the back of the chair and dropped down behind Xander, putting an arm around his waist and snuggling his face into Xander's hair for a moment.† Xander leaned back into him, smiling.

††††††††††††††† "I can't believe I'm saying this but...† I believe you, Spike.† Must be the apocalypse when a Slayer trusts a vampire more than...just about anybody else."

††††††††††††††† "Nah, no apocalypse," Spike said, his voice a little muffled.† Xander shivered pleasantly at the lips and tongue-tip that were just brushing the nape of his neck.† "Just you finally using your brains, 'stead of your fists."† He grinned over at her and reached out with his other hand, to rub once gently down Oz's arm, *love safe family* in the link.

††††††††††††††† Buffy rolled her eyes.† "Like you'd know anything about that.† Fine.† I'm going to just - just try not to wig about it.† Tomorrow - I'm going to get my hair cut."† She lifted her hair up over her head, letting it fall through her fingers and Anya perked up, coming out from behind the counter and looking interested for the first time all night.

††††††††††††††† "You are?† Really?† Do you have a style picked out?† Maybe you should look through some magazines and see what you'd like.† I know the stylist downtown, he's just so good -"

††††††††††††††† *God - let me up!† Don't want to be dragged into a hairstyle discussion!*† Xander struggled a little against Spike's hold - mostly he just rocked back, grinding his ass into Spike a little, twisting, and Spike's teeth bit down on his neck, making him shiver.

††††††††††††††† *Fuck yeah.† We're done here, anyway.*†† Oz was already standing up and grabbing his jacket, feeling for his keys.† Derio had had a rehearsal tonight - well, more of a 'band talk'.† A couple of the band members were starting to want to move on - do other things, and they had to figure out the band's future.† He was coming by later.

††††††††††††††† *You hurt, Spike?† What was all that blood?* Oz added, sniffing pointedly towards the vampire and Spike grinned, standing up and pulling Xander with him.

††††††††††††††† *Not hurt.† Just found a fledge who had a little fight in him - took my time.*†† The cascade of images made Xander shiver, just a little.† And not because they were gruesome, but because of the rush of gleeful pleasure and arousal that they had sparked in Spike, and that he was pouring through the link.† Spike grabbed his duster and carefully folded the blood to the inside - hung it over his arm.

††††††††††††††† †"'Night, Buffy!† 'Night, Anya!"† Xander called, and got a double hand-flip from the two.† They went out the back to where Oz had his van parked.

††††††††††††††† †"So - anybody up for a little more patrol?"† Spike asked, snaking one arm around Oz's waist and the other around Xander, pulling them both close.† The link was alive with energy, arousal, bloodlust, and Xander felt the hyena stirring - let it surface and voiced a low, chuckling sort of growl.

††††††††††††††† "Count me in," he said, and Oz yipped, black-eyed and grinning.

††††††††††††††† "That's my boys," Spike murmured, gold-gleaming eyes sparking in the dimness.† He put his duster in the back of the van and then they were running, the link thick with excitement, into another Hellmouth night.

 

††††††††††††††† "Bloody...sodding...buggering...fucking phone, where the hell is it..."† Spike scrabbled through the detritus that littered the bedside table - a newspaper, a couple of empty soda cans, lube, the handcuffs, the clock-radio whose radio still worked but whose alarm he had broken, the clock-radio whose alarm still worked but whose radio Xander had broken, a shirt, for fuck's sake, but no phone.† He hung half off the bed, eyes closed, listening.†

††††††††††††††† *Under the bed?† How in hell -*†† He reached as far as he could and snagged it - hauled himself back up and flopped down on his back, fumbling blindly for the button.† He wouldn't normally touch the phone but this many rings meant someone was calling twice in a row, neatly circumnavigating the voicemail.† So it could be an emergency.

††††††††††††††† *And if it's not I'm gonna kick somebody's arse.*†† "Fucking what?" he growled, and heard a sharp intake of breath on the line.† Then:

††††††††††††††† "S-spike?"

††††††††††††††† *Oh BLOODY HELL!† Red.*

††††††††††††††† "What the fuck do you want, witch," he snapped, his hand tightening down dangerously hard on the handset.† The plastic creaked and he forced himself to relax a little.

††††††††††††††† "I - is...†† No, okay.† Listen, Spike.† Those guys - Warren and his friends, they've been screwing around again and they made some sort of - ray.† And now Buffy's invisible and I'm trying to figure out how to undo it before something awful happens."

††††††††††††††† "Yeah, so?† I don't give a fuck 'bout that."† Another intake of breath, sharp and startled and Spike grinned to himself.† *You'll figure it out eventually, Red - I'm not your friend.*

††††††††††††††† "You - you just..."† Another few breaths and a nervous cough.† "I'm calling to tell you that Dawn is going to come over after school.† Buffy doesnít want her around in case - in case we have to go find these guys or something.† So just - just be ready for her."

††††††††††††††† "Yeah, no problem," Spike said and punched the off button.† *Bloody Threesome.† Christ.*†† Spike pushed the phone under his pillow - grabbed Xander's pillow and curled himself around it.† The working clock said one-seventeen, so he let his eyes drift shut, snuggling down.† *Bit's got a key, and it's daylight.† She'll be safe comin' up the walk and I'll know she's here.*†† He was asleep again in moments.

 

††††††††††††††† Waking up the second time was just as annoying, only this time it was Dawn pounding up the stairs, singing along with her Discman to some awful pop tune.† Her voice was fine, but the lyrics were dreadful pap.

††††††††††††††† *God.† And I thought MY poetry was awful.† How in hell do they even get record deals?*†† Spike rolled onto his back, groaning, and Dawn stopped outside the door.

††††††††††††††† "Spike!† Are you up?† Are you dressed?"

††††††††††††††† "I'm up now, Bit!† But you know I'm not dressed - in bed, aren't I?"† He grinned, waiting.

††††††††††††††† "TMI, Spike!† I'm gonna get something to eat.† Want something to eat?"

††††††††††††††† "Sure, Niblet.† Be down in a minute."†† She stomped off, singing again, and Spike winced - got up and stretched hard.† He took a fast shower, more to wake up than to get clean, and rubbed his hair with a towel but left the gel out.† Xander liked it this way, soft and a little curly, and he'd be home soon...† Spike felt for him in the link and got a distracted internal pet, Xander's focus being mostly on a blueprint or an invoice - something work related and complicated.† Oz was, apparently, playing his guitar at the shop, singing softly with Giles.† Spike got the impression that they were taking a break, and a brief impression of Ethan practicing his meditation on the exercise mats came through.† Satisfied that his family was fine, Spike pulled on some jeans and then looked around for a shirt.† The two he picked up were stained, one with blood and one with -

††††††††††††††† *Lube.† And come.† Jesus.† Why is it MY shirts are always the ones used for clean-up?* Grimacing, he tossed the shirt aside.† There were some clean ones down in the laundry room he was pretty sure, so he padded out of the room and downstairs, wondering why Dawn had stopped singing.† When he got to the bottom of the steps he saw why.† Sitting bolt-upright and uncomfortable on the couch was Dawn, and across from her in the newer recliner was...

††††††††††††††† *Well fuck,* Spike thought, staring at the folder the woman held in her hands - the one stamped Child Welfare Services.† *This won't be pretty.*†† He fought the desire to simply vamp out and pounce on the woman - drain her and toss her in the river.† *Government employees get killed all the time.† Everybody wants 'em dead - who'd care?*† But Dawn looked anxious - looked a little ill, in fact, and the anxiety rolling off her was intense.† He sighed internally - ran a hand back through his hair.

††††††††††††††† "Uh.† Hello.† Haven't had a chance to bring the clean clothes upstairs yet," he said, smiling something as close to his real smile as he could.† The woman was eyeing him with what looked like disapproval and he swung around the newel post and walked swiftly back to the laundry room and snatched the first t-shirt he saw.† It was white - one of Xander's - and a little baggy but that was probably better than skin-tight black.† He looked down at his bare feet and then shrugged.† Nothing to be done - his boots were in the utility sink, covered in muck.† Dawn's anxiety nattered at him and he walked back to the living room, wishing he could get a quick drink.†††††

††††††††††††††† "He - he's here when I come home from school - he h-helps me do my homework and - and we make dinner together -"† Dawn was talking too fast, her face stiff and uncertain and Spike put his hand gently on her shoulder, squeezing just a little.† Then, with an internal shudder, he dredged up William.

††††††††††††††† "I'm William Sinclair, Miss -?"

††††††††††††††† "Oh! Mrs.† I'm Mrs. Kroger," the woman smiled uncertainly and Spike smiled back - moved forward to take her hand.† He squeezed gently, leaning forward the tiniest bit in an imitation of a bow.

††††††††††††††† "Mrs. Kroger.† I never would have guessed.† Such a pleasure to meet you.† Can I get you anything?† Coffee?"

††††††††††††††† "I - uh - no.† No, Mr. Sinclair -"

††††††††††††††† "Call me Will, Mrs. Kroger, please," Spike said, and sat down on the couch next to Dawn.† Dawn was goggling at him and *laughter shock laughter* was in the link.

††††††††††††††† "Will.† Yes."† Mrs. Kroger seemed flustered and she looked down blankly at the folder in her hands for a moment.† "Now then.† Dawn was just telling me that you live here?† And who are you, exactly?† As pertains to Dawn?"

††††††††††††††† "Well, I feel like a big brother," Spike said, patting Dawn on the knee, smiling hard.†† Dawn looked down at his hand and then made a muffled noise, burying her face in her hands.† "Bless you, Dawn.† Hay fever, you know," Spike continued smoothly, feeling Dawn tremble with fiercely repressed laughter.† "I'm just an old friend of the family, really.† We met through Mr. Rupert Giles?† He was the librarian at Sunnydale High school and became close to Dawn's mother and older sister.†† Both of us being British, we banded together somewhat."† Spike smiled again and Dawn snuffled into her hands.†

††††††††††††††† "Go and get a tissue, Dawn," Spike said, and Dawn shot him a look, scrambling up off the couch and heading towards the bathroom, *laughter* still in the link.

††††††††††††††† "Yes, I see that Mr. Giles is listed as one of our contacts in case of emergency.† You are, also, as well as a - Alexander Harris?† Is he here?"

††††††††††††††† "No, he's working.† Alves and Son?† He's a foreman there."††† *Just answer her questions, don't volunteer anything.*†† He could feel Oz in the link, *question*, and he answered him fast.† There was a moments pause, then *question* again, and Spike knew what he was asking.

††††††††††††††† *Nah - be all right.† I'll be fine,* he thought, and Oz backed off.† Xander was still vague - caught up in his work - and Spike did his best to keep the link calm.

††††††††††††††† "I see.† There are - several other people here as well - Dawn has an impressive number of contacts."† Mrs. Kroger rattled her papers and Spike nodded.† *Who bloody else?† Not demon-girl, I hope...*

††††††††††††††† "She has a lot of people who love her, Mrs. Kroger," Spike said smoothly, and the woman looked blankly at him, as if not quite believing him.

††††††††††††††† "Yes.† I see that a...Daniel Osbourne also resides here?† Is he here?"†

††††††††††††††† "No.† He works downtown.† It's just me right now.† Is that a problem?"† He let a slight frown cross his face - leaned forward, projecting as much sincerity as he could.† Mrs. Kroger smelled of hairspray and patchouli.

††††††††††††††† "Oh, no, mister...† Will.† I just like to meet as many people as I can.† So what do you do?"† Spike stared at her, his mind utterly blank.

††††††††††††††† "He's in a band," Dawn said brightly, startling them both, and Spike turned to look at her, making a face where Mrs. Kroger couldn't see.† Dawn grinned and came to sit down next to him again, her face pink but the laughter under control, apparently.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah, a band.† They play all over the place - they're getting real famous!"† Mrs. Kroger nodded, making a note, and Spike gritted his teeth.

††††††††††††††† "Well, not terribly famous.† But you have to do something.† I'm - going back to school in the spring."†† *Heard the Slayer and Glinda talk about it enough, I can do school-talk...*

††††††††††††††† "Oh?† Well that's good.† School is very important."† Mrs. Kroger looked ready to pounce and Spike quickly out-flanked her.

††††††††††††††† "It is important, Mrs. Kroger - very important.† We've all been very - upset about the liberties Dawn has taken in school.† But I can assure you - she's back on track now.† Aren't you, Bit?"† Dawn scowled at him, then turned a sweet smile on the woman.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah.† I -uh - there was...my mom, and...that really upset me.† And my dad - he just...isn't around.† Sometimes it's hard to concentrate on stuff like math when - when you feel all alone." Dawn said, and Spike wanted to roll his eyes.† He settled for another knee-pat instead, and Mrs. Kroger nodded slowly.

††††††††††††††† *Christ, Niblet, law it on with a trowel!† Just - promise you'll be good so we can throw this bint out!*

††††††††††††††† "I understand that losing your mother was hard, Dawn, but that was - some time ago.† Don't you think that -?"

††††††††††††††† "It wasn't even a year ago -" Spike interrupted, his voice dropping to a growl as *anger sorrow* flowed out from Dawn.

††††††††††††††† "Losing a parent affects everyone d-differently," a voice said, and they looked up in startlement, seeing Tara standing in the doorway, clutching her backpack.† "I lost my mother - years ago.† It s-still hurts me.† I'm Tara Mm-maclay."† Tara came forward, her hand out, and Mrs. Kroger got to her feet.† She shook hands, then looked down at her folder.

††††††††††††††† "Maclay?† I donít' see your name here."†

††††††††††††††† "Oh, no.† You don't.† I'm just staying here temporarily.† I - was in a b-bad situation with a roommate who was - out of control.† Xander and S - everyone are l-letting me stay here until I can find something of m-my own."

††††††††††††††† "Oh, I see."† Mrs. Kroger sat down again, making more notes, and Tara made a wide-eyed face at Spike and Dawn, and then moved around to sit in the other recliner, the one they'd moved over from the old house.

††††††††††††††† "So you live here - and Mr. Osbourne, Mr. Harris, Mr. Sinclair...† That seems like a lot of people for this house!† Must be pretty crowded."† She looked around her, and Spike fought the demon, wanting her out.† *Protect pack protect family* thrumming in the link and Xander was aware, now, and telling him *calm* and Oz the same.† He breathed deeply and smiled some more, wondering if it looked as awful as it felt.

††††††††††††††† "Dawn has her own room upstairs, Mrs. Kroger," Spike said quietly, and she looked sharply at him.

††††††††††††††† "Does she now? I'd like to see it, please.† Dawn, if you'd be so kind?"† She stood up and Dawn shot a worried glance at them both.† Spike nodded, trying to look relaxed.

††††††††††††††† "I donít think I le-ft a mess, Dawn - go ahead," Tara said, standing up as well.† "Dawn's letting me use her r-room while I'm - in transition," Tara added, smiling, and Mrs. Kroger made a note and followed Dawn upstairs.† When they heard Dawn's door open, Spike jumped up and vamped, growling.

††††††††††††††† "Bloody hell!† That woman -"†††† *Gotta do this right, gotta be calm, Bit's fine, she's fine...*† The demon was raging - was terrified and Spike couldn't figure out why.† They had a handle on this!† But the demon was incoherent -confused and angry, and he felt his control slipping.† Felt his hold on things rippling out of place, becoming unsteady.

††††††††††††††† Tara shushed him.† "She's just d-doing her job.† You're doing great, Spike, r-really."

††††††††††††††† "Hate this," Spike muttered, pacing.† He ran his hand back through his hair and wondered if he dared smoke a cigarette.† *Protect protect protect...not pack...dark in here...don't trust them, don't - see them - who's here...?* ††He felt - wrong.† He felt lost.† Tara was saying something and he couldn't hear her and he shook his head helplessly.†† The demon howled, and Spike struggled for control.† *Dawn's here, she's safe, we're - fuck, fuck, fuck, where IS she, where's - Xander, can't - why can't I hear Dawn, why can't I hear Tara?† Family, should hear the family -*

††††††††††††††† *Calm calm - love, what is it, what is it?* from Xander, insistent, and he shut his eyes, breathing in ragged pants.

††††††††††††††† *Tell me - can't...see...safe? Is it safe?† Xan - where -*†† The phone rang, startling him, and Tara went to pick it up, looking frightened.† A moment later she came over to Spike, holding it out.

††††††††††††††† "Spike?† It's Xander.† Talk to him."† Spike took the phone, his hand shaking hard.

††††††††††††††† "Xan?"

††††††††††††††† "Spike - it's okay.†† What's - what's going on?† Just - calm down, love, please.† It's safe."

††††††††††††††† "I can't - think.† There's - something..."† He couldn't remember, suddenly, where everyone was - couldn't remember if the Slayer was there or dead - if Dawn was dead or if he'd saved her and he groped through the sudden fog in his mind - felt Tara's hand on his arm, guiding him into the kitchen and getting him to sit down.

††††††††††††††† "Spike, it's okay.† I'm coming home.† Oz is.† Just - hold on, okay?† You have to just - calm down. Dawn's safe, Tara's there - it's okay."†

††††††††††††††† "What is this?" Spike whispered, shaking hard. He put his head down on the table, his fingernails digging into the wood, the phone creaking in his other hand as he all but crushed it.† "What is this?† What - Xan - it's all....come loose, it's -"

††††††††††††††† "It's okay, it's okay!"†† *Calm calm, love you!† Look - it's all fine, it's all good...*† Images in the link that Xander was pouring out to him - Buffy alive, all of them together, Dawn safe - and Spike latched onto them fiercely, forcing himself to calm down, forcing himself to see.

††††††††††††††† *What the fuck is this?† I'm not - it's like that fuckin' bitch is in my head, it's like that ward-magic the mage does, it's...*

††††††††††††††† *Hold fast, Spike.† Right?† Hold fast, I'm coming, I'm coming,*

††††††††††††††† *Pack pack pack* from Oz, closer and closer and suddenly the back door - specially rigged - flew open and the wolf bounded in, moving fast.†† He was across the room and against Spike; hot, panting breath and heaving ribs, russet fur warm from the sun and Spike slid off the chair and folded himself around Oz, burying his face in the fur that smelled of *cinnamon, magic, almonds, family family*†

††††††††††††††† *Safe, we're safe, I'm here, hold on - hold on...*†† And Spike did.†

 

 

††††††††††††††† "What did she do to me, love?" Spike asked softly, and Xander shifted a little, pulling him closer.† They were on the couch and Spike was between Xander's legs, leaning back against his chest.† Oz was there as well, Spike's legs in his lap, his fingers gently rubbing ankle-bones and shins, cupping his toes.† Tara and Dawn were on the floor, within reach, and Spike kept putting his hand out, touching Dawn's hair or Tara's shoulder.† Xander hugged him closer - buried his face in Spike's neck for a moment.

††††††††††††††† *Love you love you.*†† "I don't know, Spike.† I don't know.† But we'll fix it.† I mean - Willow got Tara back so we can - we can find a way to fix whatever Glory did.† Promise, love."† Spike was just - numb, in the link - *family family pack safe here here here*†† Desperate for confirmation and they were trying - were staying close, touching him - trying to ground him.† Xander kept his own terror locked down tight.

††††††††††††††† *What if that fuckin' chip did some damage, anyway, and then Glory just - made it worse?† What if - fuck - what if it CAN'T be fixed?† God...love you, love you, safe now...*

††††††††††††††† "Spike?† I still - get nightmares.† I ssometimes just - lose it for a second.† I d-don't think -†† I th-think it's just...the aftermath.† I think you'll g-get better."† Tara looked scared and a little guilty, and Spike turned wide eyes on her, touching her cheek.

††††††††††††††† "Glinda, you should have said, you - are you okay, pet?† You -"

††††††††††††††† †"Yeah, I'm - f-fine, I'm just saying it's -†† What she did was p-pretty extreme, it's n-not something you can j-just...shrug off."

††††††††††††††† "You should have told us, Tara," Oz said softly, smiling at her.† "We want to help - with anything, you know?"

††††††††††††††† "Yeah, I know," Tara whispered, looking down, and Dawn took her hand.† There was the roar of an engine and the screech of tires, and running feet.† Oz looked sharply at the door, tense, and Derio burst through, wild-eyed.† Something - changed - something seemed to charge the air, and Xander felt Spike relax in his arms that little bit more.† Felt himself relax, and felt the wave of relief from Oz, and something like it from Dawn.†

††††††††††††††† *God, this is getting so - weird...*

††††††††††††††† "Dios mio, Oz, Que paso?!† Ta bien?"†† Derio stopped - took a huge breath - walked fast over to Oz and kissed him hard.† Then he turned to Spike, Oz's hand tight in his, and finally spoke in English.† "Spike, you okay?† I got this - this horrible feeling -"†† He shuddered all over and Spike smiled at him, leaning forward to gently rub his shoulder.

††††††††††††††† "I'm - okay now.† Let - let Oz or...Xander tell you.† I'm just...tired..."† Spike slid down a little, burrowing into Xander's arms, and Xander hugged him close, kissing his hair, his forehead.

††††††††††††††† *Family's all here, pack's all here, we're safe, safe...* he thought, and Spike sighed and closed his eyes.

 

 

 

_____________________

Rudyard Kipling - Captains Courageous, chapt. 3

Dios mio, Oz, Que paso?! - My God, Oz, what the Hell is going on?

Ta bien? - Are you all right?

 

Thank you, Jillapet, for translating!