Chapter 12: Hidden

Chapter 12: Hidden

                Xander came awake abruptly and he lay in the bed, frozen, searching for what had roused him. 

                *Bed's empty...Spike was IN bed - Spike?  Love, where -*   He sent his awareness out along the link, searching.  And Spike - wasn't there.   Well, he was there, but it was that strange, fuzzy blank that was him when he was -

                *Forgetting.  Spike's forgetting.  Fuck, where IS he?*   Xander scrambled out of bed and into his robe - went rapidly and silently down the hall.  Sleep-thoughts from Oz, silence from Dawn's room where Tara lay.  He caught the faint glow of light from the corner of his eye and was going down the stairs before he made the conscious decision.  At the foot of the stairs he stopped dead and stared.

                Spike was sitting at the desk - his desk.  The one Xander had secretly made for him, and given to him at Solstice.  Sitting with his hair sleep-tousled, paper spread before him.  His brocade robe wrapped tightly around him, a candelabrum of candles burning at the corner.  The glasses - the prop ones he'd used to 'dress up' for his bet with Dawn - were clutched in his right hand, and he leaned on it, staring down.  His left hand held a pen and he was writing rapidly, his lips moving a little.   He looked -

                *Looks like when he was human.  Like his own memory in his head of himself.  Like William.  Harris, what's going on?  We can't have this - fragmentation.*

                *He's not fragmented, for fuck's sake -*     "Taisbean," he whispered, because he had to know, and maybe that would help.   And Spike was there, shining like fire and sunlight together.  The demon and the human soul more closely entwined than they ever had been - one entity.  But the sparks were duller - blacker - and there were shadows like dapples all through the pale-gold of the soul's bodies.  Through Spike's head, and Xander felt his stomach knot in dread and horror.  The shadows were faint, but they were there.  Xander took a moment to take a deep breath - another.  His heart was pounding and he felt...ill.  He wiped his hands on his robe and walked slowly over to the vampire, who glanced up at him, flash of confused blue.

                "Spike?  What're you doing, love?  Don't you want to come to bed?"

                "I really just need to get this down, before I forget," Spike replied, and Xander blinked.  Perfect diction - like Giles.  And no recognition.  Xander swallowed heavily, his fear ratcheting up a notch.

                "Spike?  What are you writing?  Can you tell me?"

                "Oh, I -"   Eyes up again, so confused, and Spike smiled at him, tiny little nervous smile.  "I really have a terrible head for this sort of thing.  I forget much too easily.  All my tutors have said so.  So I thought - I'll write it all down and then..."  Another nervous smile and he pushed his hand back through his hair - winced when the glasses tangled in it.  He pulled them free and put them down.  "And you know, these are not - correct.  Someone is playing a joke on me, I really do -"   Spike stopped, staring at his hand, which had a cut across the top courtesy of that night's patrol and a fresh coat of black polish on the nails.  And a ring he'd recently acquired, a silver band with a Grecian-looking 'X' design all around it.  He looked up sharply at Xander.  And the link snapped open wide, a torrent of confusion and fear and anger - desperation.

                "Why am I...?  Xander?"   Spike's face was a mask of bewilderment and the link surged with fear - with black, skittering things of thoughts that Spike shoved hard away.  Xander crouched down beside him, his hands on thigh and shoulder, helping Spike push the confusion away, anchoring him with:

                *Safe, you're safe, I'm here - you're home and I came looking for you, you were writing - Spike, my Spike, I'm here, you're safe - Family, family, pack - safe!*   There was a noise on the stairs and:

                *Pack! Pack protect pack, pack - SpikeXanSpike safe safe*  Sleep muddled thought from Oz and then the werewolf was there as well, crouching next to Xander, hand on Xander's back - on Spike's - and Spike was slipping out of the chair and down onto the floor with them, reaching out and getting Xander's hand and Oz's in a bone-crushing grip.

                "Xander - Xander I was - I couldn't remember and I was - gonna write it down and - and he remembered, but I didn't want - Xander, I can't remember!"  Spike was shivering hard and Xander pulled him close, getting Spike's robe-tie loose and his own in quick movements so they could touch skin to skin.  Oz got behind, adding his own heat to Spike's back, pulling the edges of Xander's robe around Spike's back as far as he could.  Hugging as hard as Xander was, and rubbing his nose into the short hairs at the nape of Spike's neck.  His own soul glowing an ashy-rose, the wolf a specter inside it, all lunar-white and black.  Sparks of silver and fire-red, of black and green. 

                *Pack protect pack love you love you,* from Oz, and *Love you LOVE you, mine, my own, safe here, always,* from Xander, fierce and loud, straight at Spike.

                "What were you trying to remember, love?  Tell me and I'll help you," Xander murmured, his own face in the opposite side of Spike's neck, and Spike shuddered, panting.

                "Was - was thinking about the first Christmas I had with Dru and the Angelus and all...  And I c-couldn't remember it -"

                "Shhh, it's okay.  I can remember it.  I've got it.  Here - here, love -"   Xander thought hard, dredging up Spike's earliest memories as a vampire and the scene came to him, finally.

               

                Crowded London streets, bustle of parties and theatricals and weddings at every turn.  Good food being cooked, and Wassail; the scents spilling out of every home, thick as cream in the cold, damp air.  The people - out and about, so warm and so wonderful, full of life and wine.  Snow like black icing over everything, filthy with street-muck but still white and pretty here and there and William, standing under a gas light, flakes falling into his open, upturned mouth - into his eyes.  And he can see - he can see the snow falling down from miles above and it's like looking up at the stars only they're moving and whirling and dancing.  And he laughs, catching Dru around the waist.

                "Is this what it's like, Dru?  Is this what you see?  The stars all dancing and the world turning like a top?"  And Dru is laughing too, kissing him with her cold, apple-cider mouth, her fingers in his like frozen twigs, her hair satin and spice under his palm and Angelus calls impatiently, lifting Darla up into a hansom, smiling even though he's trying to be stern...*

 

                "There love, see?  I've got it all, I remember, and now you remember, right?"  Xander combed his fingers through and through Spike's hair - felt Spike's arms tighten around him and then relax marginally.

                "Yeah, I...  We went to see a play and - there was this little girl selling posies outside, Angelus bought some for Dru and Darla and then Dru wanted to take the girl home, give her a happy Christmas..."  The rest of that memory was sharp and clear; the table heaped with meat and pies and sweets, the girl drowsy and smiling and incredulous at her luck, and her blood like pale rose wine on Spike's tongue...

                Xander hugged Spike hard and then slowly sat back - pulled Spike's robe shut, to keep him warm.

                "You all right now?" he asked, and Spike sat back on his heels and tugged Oz around to where he could see him.

                "Yeah, I'm...  We've got to fix this, Xan.  This is - bad."

                "I know.  We'll - we'll go talk to Giles... Damnit!"

                "Yeah," Oz said, and they huddled there for a moment in silence.  Tomorrow, Giles and Ethan were going with Wesley back to L.A.  Holtz was dead, the crisis was over, and Angel was missing his son.  And Wesley thought he might have a book or two that would help Ethan, so they had decided on a little trip.  Everyone was gathering to see them off around noon from the shop.

                "Well, we'll - get there a little early and maybe - mention it, and they can think about it on their trip.  Maybe Wesley will have some ideas."

                "Yeah.  Maybe."  Spike sighed and scrubbed his hands back through his hair - looked at them both and the link was thick with anger and agitation.  Spike - hated being vulnerable.  Hated doing this to his family.

                *You're not DOING anything to us, Spike, we're fine - it's FINE.*

                *I can't protect you if I'm goin' round the bend now can I?  Can't do a damn thing if I'm - if I'm off in the damn corner or -*  A flurry of images - Dru at her absolute worst, when it took the combined efforts of Darla and Angelus to hold her down so Spike could force laudanum down her throat.  Tara, mindlessly rocking and crying, yelling at Willow and hiding from all of them those awful weeks when she'd lost her mind to Glory.

                "It's not like that, Spike!  God, it's - you're not crazy, you're not gonna go crazy, you just - there's some damage, you know?  That's all.  And we can fix it.  It's just - aftermath. "   Xander pulled him close again, wanting to protect him from his fear - wanting to fix it, and Spike laughed shortly, snuggling close - pulling Oz into the embrace and just leaning there with them, breathing in long breaths, calming himself.

                *Family.  We're here, all of us...  Safe now.  Got to - figure this out and then we'll be fine...  Fuckin' Hellmouth -*

                *I know, love, I know - I talked to Manny.  He's talking to his son - Seattle could be sooner than we think.*

                *Lots of woods up there,* Oz thought, and there was something there - something to do with Derio, and running under the moon, under a thick canopy of leaves and stars and Xander jerked away a little, staring at Oz.

                "Oz?  Jesus, are you - is he...?"

                "He wants to be the wolf too, love?" Spike breathed, *shock awe love you love you* in the link, and Oz ducked his head - looked back up at them, smiling a little.

                "He talks about it. He...says he doesn't feel like it would...hurt him.  He says...  I dunno.  We talk about it."

                "God, Oz...  That's...   Is it - do you want to?"

                Oz shrugged, *pack love you safe forever*.   "I don't - know.  I could, if he really wanted me to.  I just - have to know that he does..."  Spike leaned over and kissed him, soft and sweet, and Oz sighed and leaned into him - into Xander.  He smelled of incense and lemon and blood, just faintly - smelled of sweat and earth and magic and Xander had to kiss him too, smiling.

                "Whatever you decide, whatever you want - just...ask, just - you know -"   *Love you LOVE you, family always always.*

                "I know," Oz said, and they stayed like that for a minute or so, until Spike shivered all over and Xander stifled a yawn.

                "Time for bed then, my loves.  Nearly dawn," Spike murmured, and he rose fluidly, pulling the others up, and they made their way upstairs.  As they came to the head of the steps Tara poked her head out of the bedroom, looking muzzily at them.  She was soft greens and browns and golds, sparks like fireflies all around her, a shadowy figure of a woman inside and behind her that was, Xander thought, her mother.  Or the memory of her mother, that guided and helped her, and kept her safe.  Tara's own soul always looked - serene. 

                "All right?" she whispered, and Oz touched her cheek, going on to his own room.

                "We're fine.  Tell you in the morning," he said, and she nodded.  She looked over at Spike and Xander, head a little to one side.

                "Fine.  Swear it, Glinda.  Go on back to bed?"

                "Okay.  Tomorrow, boys," she said, best mother-hen voice and they all chuckled softly.  Oz opened his door and slipped inside, a sleepy query from Derio audible to all, and Tara ducked back, shutting her own door.  Xander pulled Spike closer to him, wanting Spike to lean on him, wanting to do something...

                "Love you, Xander."

                "Love you too..."  Xander whispered, and they shed robes and climbed into bed.  Spike curled himself around Xander, holding him tight enough to almost hurt, face in Xander's neck and breathing him in, tasting him with tiny, damp kisses to his neck - to the scar.

                "Love - want you in me, Xander, want you to...fuck me and show me... us, show me..."   *My soul, show me what I am, make me real.*

                "You're real, love, you're so real and you're here and you're -"  *Safe and mine, mine always, my vampire, love you forever, love you -*  Xander turned so he was on top, covering Spike, kissing him and touching him, making him feel every part of his body, making him know he was there and it was all real.  The slow slide of his body into Spike's was shivery delight, and Xander moved with deliberation, making all his moves at half-speed, making it last.  The seeing made a glow of gold and crimson and pale topaz all around them - made Spike into some sort of ethereal creature - angel, demon, it didn't matter - he was beautiful, he was shimmering with light and with shadow, with his love and his happiness and Xander fed it through the link, opened wide to it and made Spike see and never once let his gaze leave Spike's.  They'd both have bruises in the morning, from being held so tightly, but they didn't care - welcomed the pain as another part of reality - welcomed the bruises as proof.  So they wouldn't forget.

 

                They left for the shop around eleven, Xander yawning every other minute, Oz looking dazed.  The spill-over in the link had kept him and Derio up as well, although Xander didn't think the werewolf minded too much.  Spike was already at the shop, having gone via Sunnydale Below, and Derio leaned sleepily on Oz's shoulder, his fiddle-case in one hand, his other twined with Oz's.

                *Another wolf in the family.  That would be - would Derio be part of the link, then?  Would it work that way?*

                *Dunno, love.  Have to think about that.  Oh, buggering hell!*

                *What is it?*

                *Fucking bastards...*

                *Spike?*   Xander made a turn and pulled into a parking lot.  He was going to run into the grocery store and get some sort of breakfast-type things.  Pastries.  Fruit.  Juice.  Tara had had an early class and had left twenty dollars and a note - "Nothing left for breakfast here - we need to go shopping!  Maybe bring some stuff by the Magic Box - we can have a little brunch?  No Pop-Tarts for me, please!"   Xander would do his best to accommodate the health-minded witch but this grocery made its own éclairs and tarts and he wasn't going have a melon-cup for his breakfast.

                *Watcher and the other Watcher and the mage went for coffee and something - some 'essential travel' item.*   Spike's mental tone took on a pompous sort of 'Giles' sound, and Xander sniggered to himself, avoiding the narrow-eyed glance the stock-boy was giving him.

                *So?  You can snoop around in Giles' office and stuff.*

                *They left Connor here!  The bastards.*   An image of the sleeping baby made Xander laugh again, and he hastily stifled it.

                *He's asleep!  You'll be fine.  He's your - nephew, after all.  Or is he your half-brother?  What IS he?*

                *He's the unluckiest bloody kid in the universe.  I don't know what he is.  He'd better STAY asleep,* Spike grumbled, and Xander sent him a mental pet, stepping up to the counter in his turn at the bakery.

                Halfway to the shop and Xander and Oz both stiffened in startlement at a blast of irritation and - could it be fear? - through the link.

                *Spike!  Fuck's sake -!*

                *Sodding HELL, Xan, I dropped something an' he woke up!  He's screaming like a banshee!  Get here quick!*

                *I'll be there in - ten minutes, love -* Xander couldn't suppress the amusement in this thoughts - couldn't stop the laughter as Oz relayed the problem to Derio, and the irritation from Spike jumped up a notch.

                *Ten minutes!  Christ -*

                *Pick him up and rock him,* Oz thought, and the thought that came back was incendiary.  Abruptly, Spike shut the link down.

                "Oh crap.  Well - he'll be all right.  And if Conner really does cry for ten minutes...  It won't hurt him."  Oz just smiled, thinking of his own nephew and the babysitting he'd done once, long ago.  The nephew who'd bit him and turned him into a werewolf.  There was a moment's uneasy speculation.

                "Hey, Xander, if you go left here and then - well, go faster, we'll get there a little quicker."

                "Right," Xander said.    Derio fumbled his seat-belt on and Oz had a death-grip on the breakfast.

                When they screeched to a stop outside the Magic Box, Giles, Ethan and Wesley were all about a half-block away, walking leisurely towards the shop, Giles with a holder full of cups in his hands.  They saw Xander, Oz and Derio piling out of the truck and immediately started walking fast - Wesley actually breaking into a trot.

                "What is it?  Did Spike -"

                "Spike didn't do anything.  It's just - Connor was crying and -"

                *You lot shut it.  He's quiet now and if you wake him I won't be best pleased,* Spike said, the link suddenly there again, and Xander held up a hand.

                "Wait - it's okay.  Spike said to be quiet."

                "I really do wish you'd tell me more about this link, Xander -" Wesley started, and Xander grinned at Oz and they all filed into the shop.   Spike was sitting on the loft stairs, his legs together and Connor lying on his back along Spike's thighs, his head at Spike's knees.  The vampire was slowly swinging his legs back and forth, one hand splayed carefully on the baby's belly, the other holding a book.  He was reading, in a soft and steady, rumbling voice, and Connor was making small, sleepy noises like a drowsy kitten.

                "The boy's eyes grew bright.  "Bull Run, ask him Bull Run..."

                "I was there." Softly.

                "What about Shiloh?"

                "There's never been a year in my life I haven't thought, what a lovely name and what a shame to see it only on battle records."

                "Shiloh, then.  Fort Sumter?"

                "I saw the first puffs of powder smoke."  A dreaming voice.  "So many things come back, oh, so many things.  I remember songs.  'All's quiet along the Potomac tonight, where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming; their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon, or the light of the watchfires, are gleaming.'  Remember, remember..."  Spike's eyes came up from the page to Xander's, storm-murk blue, the link troubled but quiet.

                "Oh, well - that's -" Wesley sank down onto a chair by the round table, his eyes on Connor.

                "That's bloody typical, reading to a child about battles..." Giles grumbled, but he moved almost silently over to the counter, putting the tray of coffee-cups down.  Ethan made a face after him, smiling.

                "Don't pretend you didn't thrill to the gore of Charlemagne and King Arthur yourself, Ripper," he chuckled, and Giles shot him an amused glance, lifting cup-lids to check what was inside.

                "Why can't they mark these things?" he muttered, and Ethan went to help.

                "Do you think I can pick him up?" Oz asked, and Spike looked down at the baby, tipping his head to one side a little.

                "Probably.   Give it a go, then."  He shut the book - something he'd been reading on and off - and tucked it into a duster pocket while Oz crossed to him and set the bags of breakfast food down - carefully scooped Connor up.  The baby yawned hugely, his eyes drifting shut, and Oz sat down carefully next to Wesley.  Derio moved next to him, leaning on the table and smiling down at the pudgy face.

                "How'd you like playing daddy?" Xander asked, sitting down in front of Spike and leaning back.  Spike's thighs fell open and he leaned forward, his forearms loosely crossed over Xander's collarbones.

                "I'll play daddy with you, love," Spike said, nibbling at Xander's jaw, sending something truly pornographic through the link and Xander flushed, hardening in his jeans and trying not to just turn around and jump Spike right there.

                "Fuck.  Spike, you...are so evil," he whispered, and Spike kissed him, slow and thorough.  It did not help.

                They eventually moved to the training room, where Xander and Derio and Ethan spread out breakfast food and coffee on an old library table and started eating - Xander mostly éclairs, Derio mostly fruit, and Spike making leering suggestions about both.  Wesley had Connor in his car-seat and was idly rocking it with his foot, sipping coffee and trying not to smear powdered sugar on a copy of some book or other that Giles was showing him.  The door-bell jangled and Giles glanced up.

                "That would be Buffy, I suppose," he said, and jerked in startlement when Spike leapt to his feet, game face and growling.

                "No, it's bloody well not."

                "Angel?" Wesley said, spitting sugar.  "Gunn?"

                "Wesley, you are in so much trouble," Cordelia said, somewhere behind the two hulking men in the doorway.   Xander couldn't help it, he laughed.

                "Well, this is in no way...awkward," Wesley said, getting to his feet and looking around helplessly for somewhere to put his coffee and cake.

                "Wesley -"   The man who was apparently Gunn; a tall, broad black man with a shaven head stalked across the room, frowning.  Straight for Wesley.

                "Gunn, we -"

                "He's been working up a head of steam the whole trip," Cordelia said, coming around Angel finally.  A bulging baby bag hung from her shoulder.

                "But - we worked all this out on the phone..." Wesley said, eyeing Gunn with misgiving and Xander could have sworn this Gunn growled.

                "He decided to be pissed instead," Angel said.  He looked uneasily at Spike and then at Gunn, who was a foot from Wesley.  Then he looked at Connor and his whole face lit up in a smile, and he went forward, kneeling down beside the car seat.  Xander blinked, amazed at what the smile did to Angel.

                *Never saw THAT before.*

                *Too happy to be brooding, usually.*   Spike let the demon go and leaned back on the exercise horse, watching Wesley and Gunn.

                "Don't ever do anything like this again," Gunn barked, and then he grabbed Wesley and pulled him into a kiss that was broken only by Dawn squealing from the back doorway.

                "Oh my god!"

                "Old home week," Cordelia said, smiling.

                "Bit!  You're supposed to be in school!" 

                "Teacher's day, Spike, we got off early.  Buffy and Willow are gonna be here in about ten minutes.  Who is that?"   Xander thought fast.

                "Wes?  Uh - Wes - Gunn?  Hey?"  Gunn pulled away from Wes long enough to whip his head around and glare at Xander and the hyena growled.  "Hey!  Uh - I'm Xander.  Right over there - see that?  Stairway to the roof.  Nice and private.  Wanna - show Wes the roof?"  Gunn opened his mouth - looked at the sea of faces that were staring at him.  Looked at Dawn and winced.

                "Right.  Roof.  Let's go."  He wheeled Wesley around and frog-marched him to the door and through it, but Xander saw the smile on Wesley's sugar-flecked mouth.

                "Okay, and - Connor's sleeping so maybe the reunion should be up front?" Xander made a shooing motion at Dawn and she bounced over to Cordelia.

                "My god!  I love your hair!  Are those Prada?  Tell me all about L.A.!"  Oz was gathering food, and Derio was, and Giles, and they all slipped away to the front of the room as Angel leaned over Connor's car seat and gently lifted his son out.

                "Little man," he crooned, cradling the sleeping baby close, and Xander put his hand over Spike's mouth and dragged him to the basement steps.

                "We're just gonna go down here for - a few minutes -"   Spike grabbed his arm and yanked and Xander just managed to slam the door shut behind them.

 

 

                "We should go up," Xander murmured, kissing Spike's neck, licking away the trace of blood there.

                "Mmmmm..."  Spike's fangs were still in Xander's throat - he was still sipping miniscule amounts of blood from him and Xander shivered and sighed, leaning into Spike's chest, clenching his body around Spike's cock.

                *Tara's here,* from Oz, amusement and fondness, and Xander sighed.

                "They'll wanna go, love..."

                *Let them go.  Don't care.  They can all bloody go,*   Spike thrust up ever so slightly, holding Xander down, and Xander shifted, gasping.

                "Love, please - I need..."

                "'Course you do, love.  Like you in my lap like this..." Spike whispered, going back to his leisurely sucking, the link dark and throbbing with images.

                *That is so wrong, Spike.  Daddy?  Just wrong.*

                *Tell your cock that,* Spike thought, amused and breathless and starting to pant, just a little, and Xander let his head fall forward onto Spike's neck - let the link and the dual physical sensations wash over him - fill him - make him moan and shiver.   Spike flexed upward; harder, faster, and a moment later he was trembling, his jaws locked down hard on Xander's throat, his body arching into orgasm.

                *Love you love you, fucking god that's lovely...*

                "Spike," Xander whispered, breathless, and Spike's fingers eased up from their pinching grasp on Xander's cock.  A moment later Xander was lying over a pile of boxes and Spike's mouth was on him, sucking hard, and he bit the fingers that Spike pushed into his mouth, crying out softly as Spike swallowed him down.

                "F-fuck -" Xander gasped, and Spike leaned over him and kissed him, salt and blood and musk.

                "Nice and neat, that way," Spike said, grinning, and he stood up, stretching hard.

                "Not that neat.  I think I left a roll of paper towels down here -"   Xander sat up slowly as Spike rooted around, finally tossing him a roll of towels and then his jeans.

                "Best get dressed, love - want to say goodbye, don't you?"

                "Oh, fuck off," Xander had to grin as he pulled his underwear and jeans on - as they both found their shirts and stamped their boots on.   They clattered up the stairs and at the top Spike grabbed Xander around the waist and gave him one last, spine-melting kiss.

                *Love you always, mine always always.*

                *Always yours, love you...* 

                *Sodding Angel -*

                "Ah - he's all wrapped up in Connor, you know?  Don't worry about him," Xander whispered, and opened the door.

                Everyone was there; Tara was alternating finishing off the last of the strawberries and talking softly to Willow, who looked radiantly happy.  Giles was patting his pockets, looking distracted, and Ethan was watching with amusement as Dawn went through a small photo-album.  Buffy was sitting next to Angel, talking quietly while Angel rocked the baby. It had taken longer than anyone could have guessed to get rid of Holtz, and now Buffy and Angel were making new plans for a visit - sometime after Anya's wedding, probably.

                "Xander!  These pictures are so cute!  Connor looks like Superman in this one 'cause Angel's invisible -"  Dawn waved the album and Xander came over to the girls, watching out of the corner of his eye as Spike stalked around the edges of the room and settled half-way up the loft stairs, searching for his cigarettes.

                "Here, let me look.  You - you look great, Cordy," Xander said, glancing at the pictures.  Cordelia did look good, and she projected an air of confidence - of businesslike intelligence - that had been missing from the more brittle and secretly insecure 'Queen C.'

                "Thanks, Xan.  So - you and Spike.  I just had to see it to believe it."

                "Yeah.  It's...the best thing that ever happened to me, Cordy.  It's - been amazing."  Cordelia looked at him, her head a little to one side, and then she smiled that million-dollar smile.

                "Yeah.  I can tell.  You look - great.  Even with the long hair, you look - just...great."  Xander smiled back - looked down at another picture of Connor, nodding his head to Dawn's excited chatter.

                "Well - we'll be back some time on Monday, Tara.  I trust you and Willow and - and Dawn will keep things going smoothly?"

                "Don't worry Giles - we'll be fine!" Willow said, patting Tara's hand gently, and Tara smiled at her.

                "I h-have the number for the H-hyperion, Giles, but we won't n-need anything," Tara said.  Anya and Drake were at some sort of weekend retreat, a 'relationship building' thing that Anya had read about.  Something she thought they should do before the wedding.  Drake had confided to Spike and Xander during a patrol that he was going because the place was a spa and he could lie in hot mud or bubbling springs all weekend and have sex, because Anya was sure that sex in new places was the way to marital bliss.

                "Works for me," Drake had said happily, tweezering a strand of demon gut off of Spike's shoulder and studying it intently under his flashlight beam.

                "Right, so - we're off, then.  Don't hesitate to call if you -"

                "Leave it, Ripper.  They'll be fine," Ethan laughed, tugging Giles' arm and Giles smiled sheepishly, gathering up a jacket from the counter.

                A few minutes slow exodus and then the cars were driving away; Giles and Ethan in the convertible, Angel's crew in an SUV whose windows were so darkly tinted Xander was surprised it was legal.  A brief honk of the SUV's horn and they were gone.  Everyone but Spike stood on the sidewalk just outside the shop.

                "Well - that's that, then," Buffy said, looking around with a bit of a deflated air.  "I guess I'm gonna go home.  Stuff to do like - laundry, and dishes..."  Buffy looked bummed out and Tara gave her a brief hug.

                "Willow and Dawn are having a movie night tonight, why not meet me and we'll have d-dinner?"

                "Hey!  That'd be great.  Thanks, Tara!"  Buffy grinned and then spun on one foot to stare at Dawn.

"You.  Be good.  Help them, don't break anything, don't mouth off to any customers, and don't read the books!"  Dawn rolled her eyes.

                "Buffy - I'm almost sixteen.  I think I'll be safe at the Magic Box with Tara and Willow.  Geez."  Dawn flounced back inside, crossing over to Spike.  He was still sprawled on the steps and he leaned forward, saying something to her.

                "I'll be in around four, okay?" Oz said, and Tara nodded as he and Derio wandered off down the street.  Derio was trying some solo things, and he'd go play in the park, just practicing and fooling around, sometimes with Oz playing his guitar.  They'd made thirty-seven dollars one day last week, totally unintentionally.

                Xander followed the girls back into the shop and Spike shot him a leering grin.

                "I think we'll just go home.  I've got a piece I'm working on -" Xander said, and Tara nodded and smiled, reaching for the phone that was already ringing.           

                *Woodcarving?  Can think of a better way to spend a day off, love,* Spike thought, easing down off the stairs and gliding towards him.

                *Had some other kind of...artwork in mind.  That whole Daddy thing - that was wrong.  And bad.  And you need punished for making me think it.*

                *And for making you get off to it,* Spike added, getting around behind him and sliding his hands over Xander's belly.

                *That too.  So - get home, get naked, get out - oh - some rope and...*

                *And let the artist work,* Spike sighed happily, nibbling on the claim scar, and then he was gone, down the stairs and out into Sunnydale Below.  Xander waved distractedly at the girls and headed for his truck, hoping he could concentrate well enough to stop at every stop sign.

 

 

                "Xander?  Xander - Oz - are you guys home?"  Xander jerked awake, lifting his head with a snap from Spike's chest.  Spike was scrambling off the bed, growling, and Xander followed him, stumbling over a coil of discarded rope.

                "Hey!  I need help!"  It was Buffy and Xander grabbed his robe, yanking it on.  Spike didn't bother - was already out the bedroom door and pounding down the stairs.

                "Slayer - what the hell?"

                "It's Dawn and Willow - they should have been home ages ago but they're not and I can't find them and -"

                "What in hell is the Bit doing out with -"

                "Spike!  Don't."  Xander caught himself on the newel post, staring at Buffy who was oblivious to the naked vampire not three feet from her.  A vampire criss-crossed with mostly-healed cuts.  "Buffy - just, go slow."  Buffy took a deep breath - nodded, shutting her eyes for a moment.

                 "Okay.  Dawn and Willow were going to a movie tonight.  And they left around six.  And - the movie was supposed to be over right around nine.  But they're not home.  It's almost one, and they're not home, and nobody's called!  Tara and I - she went to Giles...   We saw Oz and Derio, out at - at the Bronze and I asked them to look.  I think -" Buffy stopped, biting her lip.

                "What, Buff?"

                "That Amy?  The rat?  She was in the house today.  I had to run out and get some laundry soap and when I got back she was - snooping around.  Trying to find spell components, or that's what she told me.  She said - she and Willow had been going to this guy, called Rack?  Spike - do you know him?"

                "Yeah.  He - buys and sells magic.  You can't get addicted to magic but you can get addicted to what he does.  He - gives you a rush and he takes some of your energy."

                *God - why would Willow DO that?*

                *She thinks it's makin' her stronger.  It's just - opening her up to the dark side of things.*   Spike turned and put his fist through the wall, and then he looked at Buffy, game-face.

                "If Red took Dawn there - I'll kill her, Slayer."  He spun on his heel and pelted upstairs, and Xander held out a hand, stopping Buffy from whatever she was going to say.

                "I know.  Don't.  Let me get dressed and we'll go.  Do you know where this Rack - is?"

                "No - Amy said his place is hidden - it moves around.  He gives you a key.  Willow had the key they were using."

                "Fuck."  Xander turned and ran as well, and they were dressed and gone in minutes. 

 

                "It could be any bloody where, that's the point," Spike snapped, and Buffy opened her mouth to say something back and then stopped.

                "God, just - is there anything?  Anything at all?"

                "No," Spike said shortly, and then relented, seeing Buffy's eyes widen and then sparkle, filling with tears.  "Listen - Oz says nothing - he's coming back up, gonna try near the docks.  Xander says -"

                *Nothing.  There's nothing.  Is there anybody we could ask?*

                *That Amy bint might talk if I put the screws to her,* Spike thought, and he felt the hesitation in the link - felt Xander weighing that option, and Oz.

                *Only if we have to.  I'm gonna come back around to where you are,* Xander thought, and Spike nodded absently.

                "Xander's coming back this way.  Let's -"   They both stopped, listening, as not-too-distant car-tires squealed sharply, someone braking or turning too fast.  A moment later there was a scream.

                "Dawn!"  Buffy took off running and Spike loped after her, game-face, scenting the wind.

                *Xan, she's here!  We're -going towards that bridge -*   Spike sent the image to Xander and Oz - scented magic on the night air, and blood, and demon.   Something that should not be in Sunnydale, despite the presence of the Hellmouth.

                *Dawn's blood, fucking HELL-*

                *Just find her!  I'm coming -*

                *Coming,* from Oz, getting stronger.   And Spike ran.

 

                Dawn was crawling, screaming, kicking ineffectually at the demon that was crouching over her, grinning.  Buffy didn't hesitate - she plowed into it, rolling with it over and over and Spike swooped down on Dawn, gathering her up out of the dirt.

                "Dawnie - Niblet, it's all right, I'm here -"   Dawn whimpered, flinching, and Spike pulled back a little, looking at her.  There were claw marks over her cheek - blood down her face from a gash on her forehead.  And she was holding her left arm awkwardly.

                "What hurts, love?  Tell me what hurts."

                "Spike!  S-spike...god...m-my head hurts and my - my arm, I can't m-move my fingers -"   Spike shushed her, pulling her close. 

                "Just let me look, poppet, shhh..."  He ghosted his fingers over her forearm, feeling the muscles as tight as wire, vamping for a moment to use every sense he had.  "Think it's broken, love.  Now you come here -"   Spike led her over to a haphazard pile of boxes and broken pallets and made her sit.  "You rest here a minute, I'm gonna check on big sis, all right?  Xander and the wolf are coming, they're nearly here, all right?"

                "Oh-ohkay Spike, okay," Dawn whispered, and she was white as paper, shivering.

                *Damnit, she's going into shock, Xan -?*

                *Almost there, hang on -*   Spike slipped off his duster and snugged it around Dawn's trembling shoulders and glanced over at the Slayer, who was advancing on the demon.  The demon wailed - choked - went up in a blast of smoke and sparks and Spike growled.

                "Witch," he hissed, spotting Willow leaning against a pillar, blood on her face, residual magic crackling over her hands.  He pounced, flattening her to the pillar, threading his fingers through her hair and jerking her head around so she could see Dawn.

                "Slayer!  See to your sister, she's hurt," he barked, and Buffy hesitated for a moment and then went to Dawn.  Willow bucked under him, panting.

                "Spike - let me g-go, leave me -"

                "Do you see what you did?  She's hurt, witch!  She's broken and she's bleeding and it's because of you.  It's because of your fucking magic.  Because you're too fucking weak to say no.  You took her to Rack."    Willow gasped, and Spike let his fangs trail over her throat - let his face press into the side of hers, so she'd know.

                *Know how she's gonna die.   Her fucking blood might poison me or it might get me off but I'm gonna TASTE it -*

                "Spike!  Don't!"  Xander was there, suddenly, the truck crooked in the street and the door hanging open and Spike wasn't even sure when he'd pulled up.  He could taste blood in his mouth and he realized he'd scraped Willow's neck - cut it just a little with a fang.  Her blood was hot and alive and rank with blackness and twisted desire and Spike wanted it.

                "Dawn's hurt, Xander!  She needs the hospital and this -"   Spike shook Willow like a rag-doll and she wailed, flailing.  "This needs dealt with."

                "Spike - you're not gonna kill her.  C'mon - let's take Dawn to the hospital - she's what counts right now.  Spike?"  Xander was walking to him, his hand out, and Spike felt, for just one moment, that it didn't matter.  That he would take the witch's blood and let it go through him like toxic fire.  That he would make Xander not care, somehow - that he would gather his family and leave this place and never once look back.  He could see it unfold in his mind, every step.

                *Spike, please don't.  Please, please don't.*

                "Xan?  Did you see what - she did?"  That disconnected feeling was back - that sense of things in the darkness, and abruptly Spike let Willow go - shoved her violently away and in two strides was on Xander, pulling him close, wrapping his arms around heat and solidity and *Love you love you - come on, let's take care of Dawn, let's get her to the hospital-*

                *Won't hurt you, pet, won't, I won't -*

                "I know you won't, love," Xander whispered, urging him to walk, and they went over to Dawn and Buffy.  Behind them, Willow choked, crying, and Spike pushed the demon away, not wanting to scare Dawn any more.

                "I think - she has a broken arm, she needs to go to the Emergency Room.  Xander, can you -"

                "Yeah Buffy, we'll take you.  Oz and Derio are just -"   Xander waved a hand and Spike listened, hearing Oz's van less than a block away.  "They can take Willow home, and get Tara."  Acknowledgment of that in the link from Oz - anger and sorrow and disgust - left-over fear.

                "C'mon, Niblet, let's get you up," Spike said, wearily disengaging from Xander and holding out his hand - lifting Dawn to her feet.  She clutched the edge of his duster in her hand, and her eyes looked bruised and sunken - her teeth were chattering.  They turned to walk to Xander's truck and Willow was there, crying so hard she was coughing, holding her side.

                "Dawn!  Dawnie, please - I'm so sorry, I'm so, so sorry!"

                "Too late for that, witch," Spike hissed, and the urge to just end it - end her and end her threat was so strong Xander grabbed his arm - squeezed as hard as he could.

                "Get Dawn in the truck.  There's Oz.  Go, Spike!  Please, love -"   Spike blinked and looked at Xander, and the link was thick with rage and sorrow and bewilderment - with a hurt so vast his own eyes prickled for a moment.

                *Her tally is so high she can only pay in blood, pet - she can only pay in fuckin' blood.*   He put his arm around Dawn and walked her to the truck - got her in and got the seatbelt on her, and a moment later Buffy was sliding in from the other side, a smear of dirt and tears on her cheek.  Willow was climbing shakily into the van, and Oz was saying something to Xander, and Spike...was tired.  Tired and heartsick and done with it all.

                *Meet you at the hospital, love.  Get her there fast.*

                 *Spike?  Wait - please don't -*

                *Have to, love - have to.*   Spike let the demon out, scenting blood and rage and tears, and he turned and ran, hunting in the purest form of the word.  Looking for blood to spill because his anger and his sorrow were too strong to contain - too much - and if he couldn't be the demon for at least a little while he felt that he would fly into pieces.

                *Out of control - you're out of control.*

                * NEED it.  Won't stop.*   The demon wouldn't take anymore restraint and Spike didn't care what he killed tonight.  He shut the link down hard, knowing he couldn't let Xander feel what he was going to do.

                *Keep away from them - keep away from the family - get this OUT and then...*   Spike ran, and the demon roared.

 

                It was nearly dawn when he got home - near enough that he jogged the last few blocks, eyes nervously on the horizon.  And Xander and Oz in the link, angry at him.  He eased into the house, knowing Tara was asleep upstairs, and Derio was, and Xander and Oz were both in the kitchen, drinking hot tea and being...angry.  His duster was lying across the couch, and he caught a faint whiff of Dawn's blood still on it.  The radio was playing softly, and he just leaned in the kitchen doorway, watching them.

               

                ”You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss

                A sigh is just a sigh...The fundamental things apply

                As time goes by..." 

 

                Louis's voice, strong and rasping and warm, and Spike slid down the jamb, letting his legs just go. 

                "Sorry," he whispered, and there was nothing - just silence.  And then Xander was getting up and coming over to him - was sitting down and wrestling him half onto his lap.  And Oz was there, getting between him and the wall, leaning heavily on him and making that wolf-noise, that hmmph down in his chest that mean amusement or irritation.  That meant -

                "Don't do that.  Don't run away.  Don't - push me out, love.  Don't push us out.  It doesn't work that way," Xander said, his voice fierce and hoarse and Spike just burrowed into him - hid his face in the fleecy softness of a well-washed flannel shirt.  Oz's hand was on his belly and he pulled it up - got one of Xander's hands and just held them, all together.

                *Was gonna hurt you - was gonna KILL her...everything we wanted to do would have hurt you and we...had to get out of there.*

                "I know.  But you don't do that.  You wouldn't ever hurt me, love."  Xander's voice held conviction - the link did, and Spike shuddered.

                *Don't know that.*

                "He does.  I do.  You can't hide your heart from us, Spike."  Oz laid his cheek on Spike's bowed neck and sighed.  "You think you're the only one that gets scared, and mad and - a little crazy?  We all were, tonight."

                *Not the same, not the same,* Spike thought frantically, the disconnected feelings, the forgetting all there in the link.

                "Still you.  Still Spike.  Love - just don't run away.  Trust us.  We can fix anything if you trust us."  *Please, love?  Please say you do...so fuckin' scared...*   He had been scared, and Oz had been - scared under the anger, and lost - adrift without him.

                *We're three.  A triangle, a tripod.  Take out one side and it all falls apart, Spike.  You can't do that to us.  Trust us.*

                *Wolf - Xan, love...sorry...so sorry...  I do.  I trust you.  Love you love you love you...* despairingly, and Xander hugged him hard - Oz did.

                *MY Spike.  My own, my love.  Always, always...*

                *Pack, mine, family, LOVE you, always...*

 

                "It's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory,

                A case of do or die...  The world will always welcome lovers

                As time goes by..."

 

_________________________

The quote is from Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury

As Time Goes By - Louis Armstrong