Chapter 11: Enemies

Chapter 11: Enemies

                Spike was walking down by the river.  Just strolling, really.  Remembering. 

                *THERE was where wolfling was, and HERE was where we went into the river, and there....fuck, there was where we fucked and it was bloody good...*  He'd been doing this every night for nearly two weeks.  Remembering.   Because - whatever happened at the house - whatever that fit was - it would not happen again.  It had scared him, that slip.   He'd had fuzzy moments, since Glory.  A minute here or there when he just wasn't sure what was going on.  But they'd been fleeting - easily put aside.  That had been horrible.  He'd knelt there on the kitchen floor for twenty minutes, give or take.  Holding desperately to Oz, sliding in and out of knowing like a needle through cloth - sometimes on the right side, sometimes not.  The woman from the state had been ushered out, and Spike knew Tara had pushed her just the tiniest bit - told her that everything was fine in just that way so the woman walked out without asking after Mr. Sinclair.  He'd felt that, that push - it had shivered over him and made him keen in terror - it had twisted him inside out for a minute or more and thank god, thank god - Xander had come in the door then, Xander had added himself to the link and to him - physically holding him, stroking work-rough hands over and over his arms and neck and hair - had lifted him and carried him to the couch while Oz darted into the back for clothes.

                That was what had brought him back - Oz and Xander piling on, physically anchoring him and then Dawn, holding his hand in a death-grip, and Tara the same.  Solid presence, holding him against the swell and toss of whatever dark sea he was lost in, the link thick with them - with love and reassurance and *pack family safe, safe, safe.* 

                *Fucking Hellgod.*  He fumed quietly, smoking, standing and looking at the glinting surface of the river - at the far shore where willows and cottonwood dipped down towards the water.  Even without his vamp-face on, he could see the bare limbs swaying and threshing in the breeze.  *Glinda can help - she knows...  And the Watcher.*   He shook his head, thinking of Tara.  She'd been so upset, the next day, guilty over the push she'd aimed at Mrs. Kroger.  Second and third-guessing herself and her anger with Willow.   They'd talked about it, and she'd finally let it go, but vowed quietly to never, ever do it again.  Spike wanted to tell Tara that she could do ten times the magic Red did and never do the harm, because Tara thought things through, and she listened.   She was a sea-anchor - a tap root that went deep - and she would have to truly want to hurt someone for her magics to be bad.

                A report from Dawn - that Willow had gone out with Amy and spent all night doing magics all over town, had made her sink a little deeper into her sadness - but firm her resolve to not go back until Willow managed to stop.   Privately, Spike didn't think she'd ever get the chance to go back, and he was glad.  Willow - had hurt Tara enough, and he wouldn't let his pack be touched again.

                Finishing his cigarette, Spike flicked it away and started walking again.  In three weeks, it would be Christmas.  This year the same as the last, with only the Slayer's house being decorated, and the rest of them planning their holiday around what Dawn might like.   Tara had told her all about the Solstice - told her they'd stay up all night with a fire on the beach and sing King Lugh back up into the sky - send the Lord of Misrule back to sleep. 

                *And then the New Year and then it's two years I've had my love and we're still here in this misbegotten hole.  We've got to get OUT of here...it's not safe...*   Spike shook his head.  He wasn't going to think about that, not right now.  Not out here in the dark, when his family was so far away.  He felt for Xander and Oz and smiled to himself.  Xander was at home, on the back porch, braving the few bugs drawn to the porch light to finish the gift he was making for Buffy.  A beautifully carved chest, lined with cedar, ornamented with brass.  He was making things for everyone - useful things, practical things.  But everything was decorated in high relief and low; carved with birds and flowers, animals and stars and leafing vines.  He spent hours rubbing the wood smooth, and working oil into it to make it glow - polishing and perfecting and Spike felt a swelling of pride every time he saw the beautiful things his Xander made.

                *A handsome man and a goodly man and a man of talent and skill...*   He grinned to himself.  Xander made him think in poet's words, and that was...

                *A wonder.  You're a wonder, my love.*   Warmth, all through the link and Xander right there, practically inside him.

                *I'm not any more special than you are.  I love you...my Spike, my own...*

                *Love, you've no idea...*   Spike had to close his eyes, almost reeling from the flood of love and warmth and want that Xander sent - pack and family.  From Oz came much the same - contentment and love and connection and he sent it all back as hard as he could.  Oz was out as well; it was the full moon, and he didn't have to change but he always felt restless, and Derio had encouraged him - told him it was natural for the wolf to want to be out and that he should go.   The night was overcast - rain imminent - but the moon still called him.  Spike had felt it, through the link - a wordless, skirling song that Oz wanted to dance to - howl to - hunt to.   Oz was somewhere...south, loping through a neighborhood, tailing a small demon that seemed to prey on household pets.  A hunt that would settle him and send him home relaxed.   Spike smiled, sliding into the images the wolfling was sending for just one moment and he practically jumped out of his skin as a ripple of - something - washed over him.  He froze, concentrating. He could hear a fight - flesh against flesh and a cry - and felt a familiar itching at the back of his skull.

                *Slayer?  What the hell - she's not dusting a vamp -*   He looked up, searching the top of the bluff.  There was a cemetery half a mile away, but the riverbank here was all trees - a thin tongue of forest that the city hadn't cleared yet for more graves.  The land sloped rather sharply up, and Spike could only see tree-tops and tufts of dead grass.

                *Spike?  What is it?*

                *Don't know, love, it's -*   There was a sudden thudding flurry and Spike whirled around - watched a body flop and tumble its way to the bottom of the steep incline.  There was a crashing, and a moment later Buffy was stumbling down the hill, tripping and skidding and catching wildly at winter-bare branches.

                "Oh my god - oh, my god -"   She was mumbling to herself and Spike strode towards her, watching as she frantically turned the body over, feeling for a pulse.

                "Slayer?  What -"

                "Ahh!  Oh - god, Spike!"  Buffy leapt half-way to her feet, startled, and then slumped back down, her eyes huge and bewildered looking under the knitted cap she wore.  "I think - I killed her.  She's dead and I killed her!"  Buffy's voice was rising - getting a little hysterical - and Spike moved swiftly - knelt down beside the body.  A college-age girl, definitely dead.  Spike took a deep breath - reached out and carefully felt the body, testing.

                *Jesus - Spike, what in hell?*

                *Something's not right...*

                *Question* from Oz, faint but steady, and Spike shook his head.

                *Don't know - hang on...*   "Slayer - calm down.  She's hours dead.  Already going into rigor.  And I can smell -"   Spike stopped talking because Buffy looked like she might be sick.  She stared at him, shivering.

                "What - what do you mean?  How can she - she was screaming, she was being attacked and -" Spike lifted his head suddenly, scenting - listening.  He put his finger up to his lips, and then in one swift, near-silent move he was on his feet and running.  He saw the figure - the spy - dart out from behind a tree and make a run for it, struggling clumsily through the underbrush.  He accelerated and pounced, bringing the fleeing figure down and rolling once, twice.  He pinned its arms to the dirt - got one knee sharply into a heaving abdomen and looked down in disbelief at the face of the dead girl.

 

                *I'm still confused,* Xander thought, and got back the mental equivalent of a snort.

                *So am I.  But we'll have this sorted soon.*   Xander did a rolling stop through a deserted intersection and then accelerated up the street, heading for Giles' house.  It had started to rain and the windshield wipers were a slow and steady counterpoint to the wilder beating of his heart.  Spike and Buffy were almost at the older man's house; Spike carrying the body, Buffy carrying the - body - which wasn't dead.   Oz was nearly there as well, streaking across town, demon prey forgotten.  Xander had a bundle of clothes for him in a bag that Tara was holding in her lap.

                "So this is what it's like to really be a S-scooby," she said, grinning at him.  "Called out in the middle of the night to bring c-clothes for naked werewolves."  Xander grinned back, nodding.

                "Oh yeah.  At least it's not a naked vampire.  I wouldn't mind, but I don't think Buffy or Giles would appreciate it.  And calling Giles at ten o'clock at night to tell him Spike and Buffy are bringing bodies to his house?  Not so much fun."  Derio they'd left behind, asleep in Oz's bed.  He had an early morning, and didn't feel quite as comfortable around Ethan as Oz did.

                *Their magics don't get along,* Oz had said, meaning that whatever gifts Derio had - the Knowing, he called it - jangled rather badly with Ethan's perpetual, chaotic seepage. 

                Xander made the last turn, pulling into the parking lot and there was a thump behind him.  He glanced in his rear-view mirror and saw Oz in the truck-bed, panting, mouth wide in a wolfish grin.

                *Pack,* the ever-present hum that identified Oz more than anything, and Xander braked to a slow stop and they got out.  Oz leapt lightly down, pushing his nose under Tara's hand, leaning into her legs for a moment.

                *Spike's just at the door-*

                *What in BLOODY HELL-*

                *Crap - what now?*   "Gotta hurry," Xander said.  He grabbed Tara's hand and they ran up the sidewalk and down the stairs, the rain falling harder now, pattering on car-roofs and the sidewalk, bringing a strong ozone smell to the air, and the rich scent of wet earth and leaves.  Oz bounded ahead, his wet fur clumping in spikes.  Giles' door was open, and Buffy was inside - Spike in the doorway itself, body slung over his shoulder.  Voices were being raised, and:

                *Angelus DARLA what the FUCK* from Spike, all-over shiver of familiarity and dislike.

                *Darla?  What - Spike, is Giles all right?   What's going on?*    They got up to the doorway themselves and Giles was standing there, looking harried.  Ethan was at the breakfast bar, perched on a stool and looking gleefully amused.  And there was a stranger - a man - worn jeans and work-shirt, scruffy beard, dark hair, glasses.  He was holding something.

                "What is it?" Tara whispered, and Xander shook his head.

                "I don't - know.  Something strange is going on.  Spike - come on, we're getting wet."

                "Watcher, what the fuck is going on?  Where's the bitch?  Where's Angel?"  Spike was as tense as a bow-string, vamped and growling and Oz was trying to push past him into the apartment, growling a little himself.  Spike's hair was wet - raindrops were spangling on his eyelashes and beading on the shoulders of his coat.

                *Fuck.  So beautiful...I just want to BE with him.  I'm so sick of all this damn Hellmouth crap...* For the first time, Xander truly felt he could simply walk away from Sunnydale and never come back.  The rush of pleased surprise from Spike made him smile.

                "Spike, if you would come in I could explain - there's really no need for everyone to be standing on my doorstep, getting soaked!  Especially -"   Giles lowered his voice, taking a step closer, "since you are carrying a body.  Now get in here." 

                *Angel's not here.  Go in!*   Oz was frustrated and he grabbed the edge of Spike's duster in his teeth and pulled.

                "Oi!  Wolf - you'll tear it!   And how do you know..."  Another growl from Oz and Spike hissed in frustration.   "Fine, then.  I'm comin' in.  But if the bastard and the bitch are here, somebody's going to be bloody sorry!"  Spike finally stomped in and Xander and Tara exchanged looks of bewilderment and followed.  Buffy had put her own body - a blond-haired girl - on Giles' couch, and Spike took the person he was carrying and laid her out on the floor.  They were identical.  Giles shut the door, locking it, and Ethan got up from the stool, eyeing the figure on the couch.

                "That's a - glamour.  An illusion of some sort."  He went over to the unconscious girl and put his fingertips on her forehead.  "Let go, let go," he murmured, and the figure rippled - reformed.  It was a boy, slight and dark-haired, pale.  A bruise on his jaw and a trickle of blood coming from his nose.

                "Hey!  I know him!" Buffy was staring at the boy.  Tara handed the bag of clothes over to Oz and he trotted away down the hall, bag swinging from his jaws, going to the downstairs bathroom.  Spike was glaring at the stranger, who was staring at him with wide, frightened eyes.

                "Rupert, you never said - William the Bloody?  In your home?  I thought -" the man shook his head, cuddling his bundle closer.  "Good Lord, man!"

                "Wesley?" Xander asked, incredulous, sudden recognition flooding him.  He sent it through the link, fast, telling Oz and Spike.  *He's a Watcher!  They sent him for Buffy when Giles got kicked out - he's ...really changed.  What's he doing HERE?*

                "Yes, I'm - Xander?  Xander Harris?  Good Lord."  Wesley looked at him in shock and Xander had to grin.

                "Wesley?"  Buffy gaped at the man - shook her head in disbelief.   "Okay - what is going on?  I thought I was in the middle of something weird...  Giles?  Wanna explain?"

                "Not really," Giles said, sitting down heavily on a stool and Ethan went over to him, settling beside him and putting one hand lightly on his shoulder, rubbing.

                "It's all right, love," he murmured, and Giles gave him a tired smile, patting his hand.

                "Please - if everyone will sit down - Tara, good heavens, I didn't see you - please, sit down..."  Buffy and Tara took the couch on either side of the unconscious boy.  Xander went to where Spike was standing and tugged his hand - got him to sit on the floor facing Giles.  Wesley took the armchair, fussing over his blanket-wrapped bundle, and a moment later Oz came out from the bathroom, dressed and carrying towels.  He handed them out to Spike and Buffy and Tara.  His own hair was sticking up in the exact damp tufts the wolf's had been, and Xander had to suppress the sudden laugh that came with the mental image of Oz doing a full-body shake, spraying water everywhere.

                *Did that in the bathroom,* Oz thought, grinning.

                *How come I don't get a towel?*

                *You have to share with Spike.  And Giles is out of towels.*   Quick image of the bathroom - muddy paw prints and water spattered everywhere, and Xander snorted into his fist, trying not to laugh aloud.

                "Oz?" Wesley murmured, and Oz nodded at him and sat on the other side of Spike.  They unconsciously leaned together, touching where they could, and Wesley stared at them for one moment, wide-eyed, and then turned his head to Giles as well.  Spike scrubbed fiercely at his hair and then dropped the towel on Xander's head.  Xander gratefully wiped his own face off and rubbed at his hair, squeezing the ends so it wouldn't drip all down his damp shoulders.  He glanced sidelong at the vampire's wildly spiked hair, wishing he could run his fingers through it.  But that didn't seem quite appropriate, just then.

                "Right - all settled then?  To begin - You all seem to remember Wesley - Wesley Wyndam-Price, Tara, also an...an ex-member of the Council and former Watcher for Buffy." 

                "She had two?" Tara asked, and Xander had to grin.  A year ago, Tara wouldn't have said a word.

                "Yes, she has and - it's a very long story.  We'll discuss it later, if you don't mind.  This is Tara Maclay, Wesley.  She's - she is also a witch."

                "I see.  Pleased to meet you, Ms Maclay," Wesley said, smiling faintly.

                "T-tara, please, M-mr -"

                "Oh, you must call me Wesley - we're all on a first-name basis here, I'm sure," Wesley said, and Tara smiled, ducking her head.  Xander couldn't believe his eyes - or his ears.  Wesley was - totally different, even to the way he held himself, and spoke.

                *Wonder what the hell's happened to him?  He's -*

                *Not quite the total prat he was?  Wonder why in HELL he's here, and why he just reeks of the poof?*   Spike slipped his pack of cigarettes out and lit up, totally ignoring Giles' glare.

                "Glad we're all so comfy and friendly-like, but I want to know what the hell is going on, and why it involves Darla and her bloody Irish get."  Spike was staring hard at Wesley, who looked over at Giles.  Giles sighed and nodded.

                "The reason you're confused is because - because of this."  Wesley leaned forward, pulling the blanket aside from the bundle in his arms.  A baby's face was revealed, relaxed in sleep.  There was a long moment of silence, and then Buffy leaned forward, smiling.

                "A baby?  How does a baby have anything to do with - anything?  Is it a boy or a girl?  It's so cute!"  Buffy was inching closer and Wesley smiled back, turning the baby a little so she could see better.

                "It's a boy - his name is Connor and - he's Angel's son.  Angel and Darla's...child."  This time the silence lasted for a full minute, and Buffy just blinked at the infant, then looked up at Giles.             

                "Am I on drugs?  Is this whole evening courtesy of Demerol and in a few minutes I'm going to wake up in the hospital with a broken leg or something?"

                *Oh man, this CANNOT be good,* Xander thought, and Oz silently agreed.  A rising tide of irritation was coming from Spike - irritation and anger, and Xander hoped for calm, sent it urgently through the link.

                "Vampires can't have babies," Spike said, and his glare was gold-tinged and murderous.  "What in hell are you playing at, Watcher?"

                "Ex-watcher, actually," Wesley said mildly, settling back in the chair.  He held the baby comfortably, obviously at ease with his role of care-giver.  "As a rule, you're right; a vampire cannot impregnate anyone or become impregnated.  However - there is a law firm in Los Angeles, called Wolfram and Hart.  They used some...very dark magics to bring Darla back to life.  As a human.  They then somehow convinced Drusilla to turn her into a vampire.  And then - Angel and Darla...  Anyway, Connor was the result.  We still don't actually know - how."  Wesley flicked a glance at Buffy at this.  She was sitting on the edge of the couch, looking lost and a little hurt.  Tara looked as confused as Xander felt, but the glance she sent Buffy's way was full of compassion.

                *Damn, bet Buffy's hurting...*

                *She'd never have been able to do that with him, anyway - why should she care?* Spike asked grumpily.  He took a long drag of his cigarette and plumed the smoke upwards, staring at the ceiling. 

                "Darla - killed herself so Connor could be born."

                "First time that bitch has ever done something I liked," Spike muttered, and Wesley glanced at him.

                "Yes, well - she was very...different, when she was pregnant.  It was interesting."  He paused for a moment, smoothing the blanket over the baby's chest.

                "Angel loves his child.  Very much.  But there is a - a prophecy.  It says...the father will kill the son.  I brought Connor here in the hopes that - that I've somehow translated it incorrectly or - or that it's wrong.  If Angel were to harm Connor in any way...  It would kill him."  They were all silent again, considering that, and then the unconscious boy in the couch jerked - coughed - and sat up.

                "Where - oh my god!  The Slayer!"  He tried to leap to his feet but tripped himself and fell back, flailing.  Tara flinched away from him and Buffy reached over and grabbed a handful of his shirt - jerked him upright.

                "Okay - I know you!  Johnathan!  You were up in the tower, with the gun!  And - you gave me the umbrella at Prom!  So what are you doing running around in the woods looking like a dead girl?"            Johnathan blinked at her - swallowed audibly.  He looked a little frantically around the room but everyone was staring stonily back at him, and he put a hand up.

                "Now - just wait, okay?  I can - I can explain everything.  It's all - it's all Warren's fault!"

                "Warren?  That wanker in the van?  The one who made the robot?"

                "Huh?  Yeah - in the van.  He - he made this - cerebral dampener.  It - it makes you do whatever we - whatever he tells you to."

                "Just tell me how you killed this girl." Buffy gave Johnathan a shake, gesturing with her free hand and he looked wildly from her to the body on the floor.

                "I didn't kill her!  It was Warren!  He hit her!  He - he enslaved her and -"

                "Shut. Up."  Buffy leaned in close to the boy and he tried to lean back, sweating and gasping.

                "Why did he kill her, and why didn't you stop him."

                "He - look, Katrina was his ex - he didn't tell us she was his ex!  We just wanted a girl, you know?  And - and he got her and he was getting all stalker-y with her and then the dampener stopped working and - and she kicked us and she knocked Andrew down and ran..."  Johnathan wiped at his eyes - looked pleadingly around the room.  Spike blew a stream of smoke towards him and he coughed weakly.

                "Hey, I've got asthma!  Don't -"

                "Finish your story, you pathetic little git," Spike snarled, vamping, and Johnathan let out a little shriek.

                "Oh my god!  It is you - it's -"   Spike growled again and he swallowed heavily.  "Okay, okay.  She started to leave - she was getting away and Warren hit her with a bottle of champagne and she fell down..."  Johnathan's voice suddenly dropped to a whisper, and his shoulders slumped.  "And she was dead.  Warren said - said we'd fix it so B-buffy would get the blame."

                "You're out of your minds," Xander said, and there was a murmur of agreement from Oz - from Tara.  Giles looked as if Ripper was struggling to be free and Buffy was just staring, openmouthed.  Wesley looked disturbed, and cuddled Connor closer to his chest.

                "I can't believe you three - freaks - would kill someone and - and - try to frame me for murder!  I have a little sister, you know!  I - I keep your asses safe from the Hellmouth!" 

                "We - we didn't - Warren killed her!  I s-said we should call the police -" 

                "And yet - you ended up in the woods, disguised as a dead girl, watching the Slayer think she'd killed someone."  Spike uncoiled gracefully and stalked over to the couch - leaned one hand on the back, his vamp-face inches from Johnathan's.  "You have fucked up, you miserable little tosser.  How are you gonna fix it?"  Johnathan's face was white - utterly bloodless - and his mouth opened and closed soundlessly for several moments.  Buffy let go of his shirt and he shrank as far away from Spike as he could.

                "I - I - I'm gonna - call the police?"

                "Wrong." Spike reached out and tapped him on the side of the head.  "Try again, braniac."

                "I - I'm going to tell you - e-everything about Warren and - and Andrew and...what we've been doing?"

                "Good boy," Spike said, and patted Johnathan's cheek hard enough to make his head snap to the side.  He pushed away from the couch and strolled over to the kitchen.  "Fancy a shot, Rupert?" he asked, and Giles sighed.

                "I'm going to make some tea, actually -"   Spike opened the cabinet - a different one from the last time - and pulled out a new bottle.  "But please, go ahead and drink my alcohol, I don't need it, I'm sure," Giles grumbled, getting up and shouldering past Spike to the sink.

                "Ta, mate," Spike said, and cracked the seal.

                *Stop that, evil undead,*   Xander thought, getting up as well.  *Good job with the kid, though.* 

                *Look at him, love - the Niblet could intimidate him.*

                *Dawn's pretty scary, actually,* Oz thought, and Xander grinned.  He looked over at Johnathan, who had his head in his hands and was leaning with his elbows on his knees, shoulders shaking.

                *God, this is - pathetic.  But maybe we can get them to quit with their idiocy now.*   He went over to the chair where Wesley was sitting and crouched down next to him.

                "So - Wesley.  You - what, work with Angel now?"  Wesley looked down at him, his blue eyes mild behind his glasses.  There were some scars on his knuckles - a small one under his chin - and he just seemed - so much more confident.  Relaxed, and capable.  It was - a good look on him.

                 *You lustin' for the watcher-boy?* Spike asked, amused, and Xander suppressed a laugh.

                *Nah.  He's just - I think he's happy, now.  It's...nice.   He wasn't a bad guy, just - new, you know?  We really gave him a hard time.*

                *If he's workin' for Angel, he probably looks back with longing.*   "That right, Watcher, you working for Angel now?" Spike called, and came over to stand behind the man.

                "Ex, I said." Wesley looked over his shoulder at Spike, frowning just a little.  Then he looked back at Xander.  "Yes, I'm working for Angel.  We - we do a lot of good.  Help people."

                "Who's we? Buffy asked, and Wesley looked up at her and smiled softly. 

                "Well, your old friend Cordelia, for one.  And a woman named Winifred Burkle - we call her Fred.  And Charles Gunn." 

                "Yeah - Cordy...  We knew she was there...  Is she - doing all right?" Xander asked.

                "Quite well, actually.  She - she's the conduit for visions, now.  From the Powers that Be.  She sees bad things happening, and tells us and we -"   Wesley made a little gesture with his hand, smiling.  "We go stop it."

                "Really?  Visions?"  Xander mulled this over.  It was hard to imagine Queen C having visions - working for the greater good - but apparently she did.  And the warmth and affection in Wesley's voice when he spoke of her made it clear that she was in good hands.

                "Yes, she -" a soft burring interrupted him, and Wesley dug into his pocket and pulled out a cell-phone.  "Excuse me, Xander.  Hello?  Gunn, I - Oh..."  A long pause and Wesley's eyes went wide, and then he slumped in relief.  "Oh, thank god.  What are you...yes...   But don't you think...  Yes, yes, all right.  Are you sure?    Yes - second shelf behind my desk, it's green with a yellow silk ribbon marker.  Yes.  I - I hope Angel understands...  Thank you, Charles...yes, love, see you soon - take care."  Wesley clicked the phone shut and then just sat for a moment, and Xander could see he was shivering slightly.

                "Good news, I hope?" Giles asked softly, and Wesley took a deep breath - lifted his head, smiling.

                "Yes - very good news.  One of Holtz's soldiers - a woman named Justine - decided to turn traitor.  She told us that the prophecy is a false one.  That a demon - a demon that can move between dimensions as well as time - changed some things so that..."  Wesley took another deep breath and ran one finger lightly along the sleeping baby's cheek.  "It's all right, now.  We know - what's happening.  This Holtz is someone from Angel's - well, Angelus' - past.  He wants revenge.  They're going to find him - stop him."  Wesley seemed on the verge of some emotion and Xander stood and moved away, giving him some privacy.  Spike had gone back to sit next to Oz and now he took another long drink from the bottle he had found and looked speculatively over at the ex-watcher.

                "So - you and this Gunn, eh?" he said, and Wesley blushed bright red as every eye in the room suddenly fastened on him with curiosity.

                *Spike - good god.  We don't care about his sex-life.  Do we?*

                *Well, no.  But it's more fun to talk about than some bloke Angelus managed to piss off.*

                *Why don't we question Johnathan instead?  He needs to tell us lots more about him and the Threesome.*   A snort of laughter from Spike and a nod, and Xander looked over at the boy, who was trying hard not to look at the dead girl on the floor.  Tara had, sometime in the last few minutes, gotten a tartan throw off of Giles' couch and draped it over her.

                "So - Johnathan.  First question - where's your secret lair?"

 

                "Well, the lair is empty." Buffy said, coming in Giles' door, her shoulders sagging in disappointment.  Spike slipped in behind her, equally put out but for different reasons.  Buffy had been hoping to find Warren and pin Katrina's murder on him.  Spike had just been hoping for some hunting.  They'd left the body there anyway, carefully laying her out as Johnathan had described.  Then they'd called the police and complained about screaming - things being broken - and left a door invitingly open.  With luck, Katrina would be discovered soon.

                "I can't believe they left me -" Johnathan mumbled, and Spike reached over and whacked the back of his head.

                "Shut it, you.  If I hear that pathetic whine out of your mouth one more time I'm gonna -"

                "Please, Spike." Giles held up a hand wearily and Spike subsided, glaring at the boy who cringed away and went to slump on the couch.  Tara and Oz had gone home - Xander had gone by to check on Dawn and Willow, and do a slow drive through Sunnydale, just in case.  Spike could hear him in the link, tired and frustrated.  He hadn't found anything either. Wesley was upstairs with Connor, and the combined scents of his former companions was thick throughout the apartment. 

                *Drivin' me out of my mind,* he thought.  *I need to get out of here.*

                *Meet me up the street then, love, and we'll go home.  Nearly dawn, anyway.*   Spike nodded to himself and looked over at Giles.

                "So, what are we gonna do with the Mini-me, then?"  Giles stared at him, confused.

                "The what?  Really, Spike, for a Victorian man you use the oddest terms -"

                "Watcher.  Not a man, and not a Victorian anymore.   What are we gonna do with the boy?"

                "Ah - ummm...  I - don't really know.  I can't keep him in the bath," with a quick glance at Spike, "and with Wesley and the baby here I really don't have much space at all."  Giles made a small gesture to his sitting room, where Ethan was curled into a sleeping bag on the floor, dead asleep.

                "Yeah - you don't.  We're pretty much out of room, too.  Guess he's yours, Slayer."

                "Huh?"  Buffy had been sitting at the breakfast bar, head on hands, zoning out with her eyes half-shut.

                "The boy - you're gonna take him home and keep him.  See he doesn't do anything stupid."

                "What?  But - but I don't -"

                "You've got the room, Watcher's got the chains - it'll be fine."

                "Chains?"  Johnathan popped up off the couch and stumbled over the edge of a rug - caught himself against the Watcher's desk.  "You can't just - lock me up!  I'm not an -an animal!  I have rights!  I -I should get a phone call and - and a lawyer -"

                "This isn't Law and Order, you pillock.  You three have been causing havoc and threatening the Slayer's family."  Spike stalked towards the boy who paled, hunching away.  "You're lucky she doesn't just hand you over to me.  You'll go with her, you'll behave, and you'll keep your hands, eyes, and thoughts off Slayer's little sis.  Understood?"  Spike stood inches from the boy, vamped and snarling, smelling his utter terror.

                "Y-y-yes, sir, yes I'll - won't even look, I'll - I'll -"

                "Good boy," Spike smirked, patting the rounded, tear-stained cheek and the boy all but fell over trying to get away.

                "Really, Spike, is it utterly necessary -"

                "Goes faster this way, don't you think?  Xander's waiting on me - I'm off home.  Don't call."  Spike whirled around and strode out, pulling the door to behind him and lighting up as he jogged up the steps and across the parking lot, the rain still falling in slanting lines, cool on his face.  Xander's truck was idling at the end of the block and he slid into the seat - cuddled close and got a long, sweet kiss from the human.

                *Always taste so good, always smell so good, love.*  Xander's fingers curled into his hair and pulled him a little closer, and he sighed happily as Spike let the purr rumble up to audibility.

                *You do too, Spike...god...want you...*   Spike let his mouth trail down, kissing over Xander's jaw and then throat and he felt him yawn.

                "You're so tired, love.   Let's go home and get you in bed."

                "But I want to feel you, Spike - want you in me..."  Xander protested, and then yawned again, and Spike chuckled into his neck.

                "Here's what we'll do, love.  We'll get home and take a shower, right?  Get all warm and clean.  And then we'll slip into bed..."  Spike got his hand under the edge of Xander's shirt and stroked the lean belly and ribs - let his fingers dip down under the waist of Xander's jeans and Xander sighed softly.  "And I'll slip into you, love...  And you can just sleep, love, just drift away and I'll stay in you all night, all morning..."  Xander shuddered, breathing in sharply, and his eyes flashed green at Spike, wide and wicked.

                "You can do that, Spike?"

                *Course I can,* Spike thought, kissing Xander's throat again - rasping his tongue over the scar so that Xander twisted, his hips rocking up into Spike's hand.

                *God...fuck yeah.  Let's go.*  Spike smiled, and settled himself so that he was touching all of Xander that he could, and they drove through the darkness, the rain ticking and sliding over the glass.

 

                Two days later Buffy came into the Magic Box, looking pissed off.

                "Well, Johnathan's gone.  The little bastard."  Xander looked up in surprise at her tone - at bastard, because Buffy rarely said anything like that.

                "Gone how?  What happened?"

                "His little rat-fink friends came for him.  They had some demon - I think that Andrew can call them or something.  Anyway, I was fighting it off and they got him loose - took off."

                "Jesus.  You okay?  Is Dawn -?"

                "She wasn't home."  Buffy slumped down into a chair, watching Xander listlessly as he put the last touch on a bookshelf for Giles.  Xander watcher her out of the corner of his eye as he swept up sawdust and tidied - moved the empty shelf into position under the loft staircase.  She took a sharp breath, suddenly, and her eyes closed.

                "Buffy - you all right?" he asked, and Buffy looked up at him and there was something...shining...  Something so tangible...  It was as if -

                "I'm - fine.  I just...  Sometimes?  When I feel really...lost...it's like...  There's a tug.  A kind of little - pull.  To get my attention, maybe?  And it feels like...  It feels like mom is kissing me again, like she did when I was...in heaven."  Buffy's fingers had been resting lightly on her sternum, where Xander had seen that insubstantial rope of mist and witch-fire stretching away to nothing.

                *The tether. Is that what it really is?  She's still - connected - to heaven?*   The thought shook him, and he went slowly over to a chair and sank down.   Buffy watched him, smiling just a little, her eyes glimmering.

                "Do you think - it might be?" she asked, and Xander couldn't help it - he laughed.

                "Buffy - considering it's you?  I'm sure it is."  He just grinned at her then, because she looked happy, and that was nice.  She grinned back.

                "I can't believe it's going to be Christmas so soon...  Do you think...  Could you guys take Dawn for - for the day after and...up until New Years, maybe?"  Xander widened his eyes in surprise at her. 

                "You planning on a vacation?"  Buffy looked anxious for a moment and then sighed, looking down.

                "Okay...  You can tell me I'm being an idiot all you want...  But Angel calls Wesley every day - like, five times a day!   Checking on Conner.  And - and sometimes we talk.  And...  They'll have this Holtz guy out of the picture by Christmas.  Half of his people are gone or - well, Angels says sent back, and I'm not sure what that means but...  Anyway, he wants me to come down to L.A.  He wants...  Wants me to spend some time with him and Conner."  Buffy looked - well, Xander couldn't really tell how Buffy looked.  Eager?  Happy?  Nauseous?  She was poking at a book, turning the pages, fiddling with the ribbon marker and Xander reached out and touched her hand.

                "Hey - whatever you want to do is fine, Buff.  You know that.  I'm not gonna - not gonna tell you you're crazy or anything.  You know - well...  You know I don't like Angel but that's kinda my problem."  Buffy nodded, still staring at the book.  She sighed a little, making a face.

                "I really think - I don't think I can ever feel about him like I did, you know?  And I'm pretty sure it's the same for him.  But it's like - we've been through the same things and - shared so much...  And I don't have to put up a front with him, you know?"  Xander nodded silently, wincing a little.  Willow - still prodded at Buffy to 'get happy'.  Still wanted to act as if what she'd done meant nothing at all.  Oh, she said she was sorry - had baked cookies and gotten all sniffley, even.  But her eyes told a different story - her eyes said 'praise me, see me, thank me, love me', and though they were all willing to do some of those things, they weren't willing to do all of them, and Willow...just couldn't grasp that.  She was spending more and more time with Amy, and Dawn said she was doing - a lot of magic.  Said she acted weird sometimes, like she was drunk. But she didn't smell like alcohol.  It was making them all nervous, and Giles had stepped up his plans to get her to England - to the coven that he said could help. 

                "Buffy...  I think it's great.  If Angel - if you can talk to him and feel...  I dunno - happy, or - or at least, not unhappy, then - that's great.  I think you should do it.  And yeah, we'll keep Dawn, you know we will." 

                Buffy looked up at him finally, and the troubled look on her face melted into a huge smile - a Buffy-smile from years ago, when the world hadn't been so hard, and so cold, and the death and despair and just plain ugliness of her life hadn't mounted up as high as the sky.  Xander smiled back, and they both jumped up at Giles plaintive call for help and went to help the older man with the stack of books he was struggling with.  They shelved cracked volumes of demon lore and esoteric magic until twilight, when Spike cat-prowled in, looking for a kiss and something to kill.  And Buffy just laughed, and invited them out on patrol.