Chapter 13: Fallout

Chapter 13: Fallout

††††††††††††††† "What could possibly be taking them so long?"† Anya paced back and forth in front of the Magic Box counter, looking anxiously towards the training room door.† Giles, who was leafing through a large supplies catalogue, glanced up at her.

††††††††††††††† "It hasn't been that long, has it?† Oh! Eye of Lepus!† You told me they didn't sell this!"

††††††††††††††† "It's rabbits' eyes, Giles!† Do you really think I'm going to have those in the shop?† Have them - looking at me, every day?† Not on your Nellie, buster."†† Giles shot Anya an annoyed look and folded the corner of the catalogue down.† Beside him, Ethan distractedly lifted a cup of tea and sipped at it, grimacing at the heat.† He was reading a particularly old-looking book and little flakes of the binding came off on the counter-top every time he touched it.

††††††††††††††† Xander grinned, leaning back against Spike.† They were waiting for the girls to come out and model the bridesmaid's dresses.††† They'd been back and forth with alterations and now, two days before the wedding, they were ready.

††††††††††††††† "Oh, for hell's sake!" Anya muttered.† Oz was re-arranging some stock and he patted her arm as he walked by.

††††††††††††††† "Just relax, Anya.† They haven't ever been bridesmaids before - they're excited."† Xander could hear Spike making a groaning sort of noise down in his chest and Oz shot him a look.

††††††††††††††† *You don't know what she's like when she's nervous.† Anything to calm her down.*

††††††††††††††† *Let's call Drake and tell him she needs an emergency shag, then,*†† Spike thought, and Xander giggled.

††††††††††††††† *He'd do it, too!† At least Anya got somebody as - enthusiastic - about sex as she is.*

††††††††††††††† *You're enthusiastic, pet.*†† Spike combed his fingers gently through Xander's hair and Xander sighed happily.

††††††††††††††† *Sure.† But at least I don't talk about it - to everyone - all the time.*

††††††††††††††† *You could if you wanted.*

††††††††††††††† *No!† Some stuff is just for me,* Xander thought, and he squeezed Spike's calf.† Spike hmmm'd to himself, pleased.

††††††††††††††† "Finally!" Anya exclaimed as the training-room door creaked open and the girls filed out, rustling and...

††††††††††††††† *Glowing?† Are they glowing?*†† Xander stared, feeling his mouth drop open.

††††††††††††††† *My eyes!*†† Oz ducked behind a bookshelf and Xander and Spike could both hear him snorting quietly.† Spike was shaking with silent, suppressed laughter.† Silent because the look on Dawn's face threatened instant death.

††††††††††††††† "Oh!"† Anya stood in an attitude of utter shock, her hands over her mouth.† Giles glanced up at the sound - glanced at the girls - and then stared.

††††††††††††††† "Oh dear Lord," he muttered.† Ethan's cup clattered loudly into its saucer and he abruptly scooped it up and did a fast march into the office.† Suspicious strangling noises began to drift out.

††††††††††††††† "Look at you!"† Anya advanced on the girls, her face slack with disbelief.† "You.† Look.† Beautiful!† Absolutely beautiful!† Don't they look incredible?"† She turned to Xander and Spike, and Xander sat up straight, closing his mouth.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah, don't we look beautiful," Dawn said, glaring, and Xander grinned at her.

††††††††††††††† "Oh, yeah, you guys look - totally - amazing.† I mean - wow!† I would never have - would never have -"

††††††††††††††† "Never have imagined how much chartreuse does for your complexion, Slayer," Spike said, his voice completely serious and now it was Buffy's turn to glare.† Giles made a noise like a suppressed sneeze and dropped his catalogue.

††††††††††††††† "I think I'd better check on Ethan," he muttered, and bolted for the office as well.

††††††††††††††† "Spike!† They're not chartreuse, they're -"†† Anya seems to be groping for the right word and Oz finally stumbled out from behind the bookshelf, his eyes suspiciously wet.

††††††††††††††† "They're a kind of peacock color," he said, and Anya shook her head.

††††††††††††††† "No, no - the dressmaker said - emerald?† Jade?† Anyway, not chartreuse.† And they're just perfect!† Totally perfect!"† She went up to the girls and pulled them into a sort of five-way hug.† The layers of taffeta ruffles rustled alarmingly.† Dawn made a gruesome face over Anya's shoulder and Spike snorted out loud.

††††††††††††††† *What was demon-girl thinking?*

††††††††††††††† *I kinda doubt she WAS thinking.† She's been -*

††††††††††††††† *A raging lunatic,* Oz thought, coming over and sitting down next to Xander.† Xander scooted over a little and they both leaned back on Spike's legs.

††††††††††††††† *She's been asking me about seating charts and a set list for days - she keeps changing her mind!† And Drake just nods and says 'whatever you want, honey'.*†† Oz closed his eyes and sighed as Spike's fingers rubbed his neck and petted through his hair.

††††††††††††††† *Poor wolf.† Better you than me.*

††††††††††††††† *Jerk.*††† Xander and Spike watched as Anya made the girls twirl around and around - as she quizzed them about their hair and makeup and reminded them that Halfrek - her demon friend - would be her maid of honor.

††††††††††††††† "So - Xander - you have a suit, right?" Anya asked, turning around suddenly and pinning Xander with a steely look.† The girls fled back to the training room to change and Xander shook his head.

††††††††††††††† "Suit?† Uh - no?† I don't need a suit; I'm not in the wedding, Anya."

††††††††††††††† "Well, no, but you're going to be there and you can't wear your usual."† She gave his work-uniform - dirty jeans, t-shirt, ragged flannel - a scornful once-over.

††††††††††††††† "I won't wear work-clothes to your wedding, Anya, I promise," Xander smiled at her and she just shook her head, stomping off into the training room, muttering.

††††††††††††††† "Told me I couldn't wear my coat," Spike said, sounding amused, and Xander tipped his head back to look at him.

††††††††††††††† "Really?"

††††††††††††††† "She told me I had to dye my hair in a complementary color," Oz said.† Spike was still rubbing his neck and he was limp and relaxed.† His hair was currently a strange sort of purplish-red.

††††††††††††††† "Complementary to what?† Those dresses?† Nothin' complements those tragedies," Spike leaned down and kissed the end of Oz's nose and the werewolf blinked up at him, smiling.† He groaned and hauled himself upright.

††††††††††††††† "Two more hours, then I'm home," he said, and went back to work.†

††††††††††††††† "Is it safe?"† Giles poked his head around the door and he and Ethan eased back over to the counter.† "My god.† I thought my cousin Taffy's wedding was awful, but at least she only dressed her entourage in sky-blue sailor suits!"

††††††††††††††† "Taffy?" Xander asked, standing up and pulling Spike up with him.

††††††††††††††† "Oh, family nick-name, you know -"†† Giles waved his hand vaguely and Xander just shook his head.

††††††††††††††† †"Well, we're gonna go patrol, see what there is to kill.† With so many of Anya's - family - here, things are a little..."

††††††††††††††† "Twitchy," Spike finished.† Giles opened his mouth to say something but the front bell jangled wildly as someone all but fell through the door.† A young man, his clothes dirty and torn, his face bruised and bloodied, staggered inside and nearly fell down the steps.

††††††††††††††† "Help me!† Please, can you help me?† They're gonna kill me -"

††††††††††††††† "Johnathan?"† Xander darted forward just in time to catch him as he passed out.

 

 

††††††††††††††† "Nezzla demons?† You must be mad," Giles muttered, and Johnathan just looked at him.

††††††††††††††† "So - tonight's the night, he's gonna go all - Superman and rob this bank?"† Buffy was pacing, still in her bridesmaid dress.† The others were perched here and there around the room, listening to Johnathan's story.† His lip was split, and one eye was swollen shut.† The way he was moving, Xander was pretty sure he had some cracked ribs, too.† His 'friend' Warren had worked him over.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah.† And those orbs - he's really, really strong now.† He - he's just gone crazy - crazier.† He decided I was a spy for you, you know?† 'Cause you had me in your house for those two days..."† Johnathan's voice trailed into silence and he sniffed - shifted uncomfortably on his chair.† "I thought he was my friend...I thought they both were.† But they're - they want to kill you, Buffy."† Johnathan cringed a little when he said that, and Dawn glared at him.

††††††††††††††† "They won't get the chance," Buffy snapped.† She looked down at herself.† "I'm gonna go change.† Dawn, you need to go -"

††††††††††††††† "To our house," Xander said, and Buffy looked at him, hesitating.† Then she nodded and spun around, walking rapidly to the back.

††††††††††††††† "Let me and the Slayer take him on, love," Spike said, sliding his hand over Xander's belly and pulling him into a close hug.† Johnathan stared for a second and then blushed, looking away.

††††††††††††††† "You think?" Xander asked, and Spike kissed the side of his neck.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah.† You and the wolf keep an eye on the rest of the family, keep 'em safe.† No telling what this bastard might do."

††††††††††††††† "Yeah."†† Xander sighed - turned his head a little and kissed Spike on the cheek.† "Yeah, okay.† Willow, you want me to take you home?"

††††††††††††††† "Uh - no, I promised Anya I'd help her tonight - last minute wedding -things.† Rehearsal dinner and all that."†† Willow didn't look too happy, but Anya smiled at her and hugged her around the shoulders.

††††††††††††††† "That's right.† We have to double-check the seating chart and - oh! - one of Drake's aunts and her kids are going to be at the airport in an hour, we have to go meet them.† Come on, Willow - lots to do!"† Anya bounced over to the counter for her purse and Willow made a sad face - smiled shyly over at Tara.

††††††††††††††† "It was good to see you, Tara.† I guess I'll - I'll see you at the rehearsal tomorrow?"

††††††††††††††† "Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow, Willow.† It'll b-be fun."† Tara smiled softly and Willow beamed - waved at everyone else as Anya grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the shop, chattering about the wedding.† Drake's family had been arriving from all over the world for three days.† His family, it turned out, was huge, with four brothers, two sisters and innumerable cousins, as well as aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles, second and third cousins, and two sets of grandparents.† It boggled the mind and they'd had to rent out a bigger space for the rehearsal dinner since everyone was going to be there.†† Anya was past nervous and now moved in a perpetual state of hair-trigger hysteria.

††††††††††††††† *Man, I'll be SO glad when this wedding is over,* Oz thought.† He'd borne the brunt of Anya's nerves, being at the shop with her, and it had taxed even his remarkable calm.

††††††††††††††† *Me too, really.† Everything seems so...unsettled.*† Xander leaned back comfortably in Spike's embrace, watching Johnathan sneak glances at them - watching him shrink down on himself a little more.

††††††††††††††† *Why don't I take him home?† Keep an eye on him?*

††††††††††††††† *Sure.† Can't do YOU any harm and I wanna know he's under lock and key.† Can just shove him down cellar,* Spike thought, and Xander grinned up at him.

††††††††††††††† "That's not nice, love."

††††††††††††††† "Not nice, am I?† And you love it."† Spike vamped - kissed him carefully, just nipping his lip a tiny bit.† Xander felt the shudder that went through Spike at the taste of his blood and he closed his eyes.

††††††††††††††† *Go get those bastards and come home, love.† Need you.*

††††††††††††††† *Need you too.† Watch yourself, pet.† Don't let Pinky over there do anything stupid.*

††††††††††††††† *Nah - he's too freaked.† Think he's got some cracked ribs - if he does anything too stupid I'll just poke him.*

††††††††††††††† Buffy came out of the training room pulling on her coat and stopped for a moment to talk to Dawn, who had been sitting with Tara.

††††††††††††††† "Okay - I'm ready to kick some ass.† Let's go, Spike."

††††††††††††††† "See you soon, love," Spike said, giving Xander a fast, final kiss and he and Buffy were gone.† Giles was locking up the office and tidying the counter and Ethan wandered over, shrugging on a sweater.

††††††††††††††† "Would you like us to come over for a while, Xander?† Make sure of the wards?"

††††††††††††††† "Oh, I think they're all right, Ethan.† Thanks though.† Did Wesley have anything new for you?"† Since the whole incident with Connor and their trip to L.A., Wesley had been in contact with Giles and Ethan almost every day with suggestions and tips.† So far they'd only made minimal headway.

††††††††††††††† "No, I'm afraid not.† Seems junior hasn't anymore leads than we do.† I imagine it's back to the Mother land for us, and soon."† Ethan looked - strained - and Xander frowned at him a little.

††††††††††††††† "Is something - wrong?" he asked quietly.

††††††††††††††† "Oh, no - no..."† Ethan looked over at Tara and Dawn for a moment - flicked a glance at Oz, who was going up to the loft with a book.† "I'm just...it's the Hellmouth.† It constantly - weakens me.† It has its own...influence - its own aura.† Iím sure your little kitchen-witch knows all about it."† He smiled at Tara, and Xander didn't even take offense for her at the title.†† Ethan had a very healthy respect for Tara's power and had made it quite clear that she was out of bounds as far as he was concerned.

††††††††††††††† "Anyway, it makes it - difficult.† I think a break from it, and the efforts of this coven - might just make me...more my old self."† Ethan grinned then - an expression every bit as wicked and gleeful as anything Spike could produce and Xander felt a tiny shudder go through him.†

††††††††††††††† "Just keep clear of Spike if you get back to your old self too much.† He doesn't have much patience and your...aura kinda bugs him."

††††††††††††††† "Oh I know that, dear boy," Ethan said, chuckling.† "Quite frankly, his devotion to you makes you the bigger threat.† You must have some powerful enchantment working for you, to have William the Bloody at your beck and call."

††††††††††††††† "Nothing as mysterious as all that," Xander said slowly, not liking that for some reason.

††††††††††††††† "Tell me what it was you did - that day here at the shop?† You said...taisbean.† It was...I felt something...very old.† Very strong.† And not - right."

††††††††††††††† "What do you mean, not right?" Xander asked.† He didn't mind telling the story about Jack, but Ethan was - being a little creepy.

††††††††††††††† "Oh - just..."† Ethan shuddered, his expressive face showing confusion, a little fear, and intense curiosity.†† "It wasn't your power, per se - it was borrowed, I could tell...† But it was you, as well.† Oh, I can't explain this!"† Ethan raked his hand back through his hair and watched Oz come back down the stairs and go into the training room.† Giles followed him, asking about something and Dawn was showing Tara a schoolbook.† Johnathan was watching him and Ethan and Xander frowned at him a little.† He looked hastily away, feigning interest in Dawn's homework.

††††††††††††††† "Do you know about - the Sidhe, Ethan?"

††††††††††††††† "Do I -?† Yes, I do."

††††††††††††††† "Ask Giles, tonight.† He'll tell you."

††††††††††††††† "I will indeed," Ethan said, and suddenly he smiled, and his dark eyes twinkled.† "It's all right, dear boy.† I'm not trying to discover your secrets.† I just - want to know.† Curiosity killed the cat, they say, and I suppose I've lost three or so lives to it already."

††††††††††††††† "That's what Willow says, too - she just wants to know.† But I don't think she has nine lives," Xander said slowly, eyeing Ethan with suspicion.

††††††††††††††† "Your little Willow...she needs nipped in the bud, and soon.† I know what she wants - she wants to know and she wants to do.† Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to want to wait.† Not that I did."† Ethan sighed, his smile a little rueful, now.† "I did some unholy damage to myself when I was younger - to my soul.† As did we all.† I may never recover from it.† She's still untouched, mostly - she's got a chance.† I'm no - Pollyanna.† But she trifles with things even I never dared touch and - I like living in this world."† At Xander's stricken look, Ethan's expression softened, and he reached out hesitantly and patted Xander's shoulder.

††††††††††††††† "Don't worry.† Ripper can fix it, you know - him and his coven.† He won't let her fall from grace.† He knows how hard it is to climb back up, just as I do."† The glitter in Ethan's eyes wasn't tears - it was mirth.† He had admitted to incredible, dangerous, stupid things.† But he had never regretted living, and he was happy to go through his life like a super-ball, bouncing from here to there at a whim.† His time on the Hellmouth - with the Initiative, too - had made him a bit more cautious, but no less alive.† Xander admired that in the man even if his love of chaos made Xander wary.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah - I think she'll be okay..."† Xander hesitated, and then he smiled.† Ethan, in his own way, was being comforting.† "Thanks, Ethan.† I guess we'll see you tomorrow."

††††††††††††††† "Goodnight then," Ethan said, and he looked up as Giles came over.

††††††††††††††† "Ready to go?† Oz is going to close for me.† And I'm in the mood for a dinner I don't have to cook - sound good, Ethan?"

††††††††††††††† "Sounds lovely, Ripper." Ethan grinned that Cheshire-cat grin and Giles grinned back and they went out.† Xander wandered over to the girls.

††††††††††††††† "So - ladies.† I do believe there's a pizza calling our names!† Care to go home and keep it company?"

††††††††††††††† "Yes!"† Dawn bounced a little and started gathering books, stuffing them in her backpack while Tara did the same at a slightly less manic pace.

††††††††††††††† "Actually there's some soup Derio and I made in the 'fridge and some bread from the co-op - I think that would taste better than pizza."† Dawn and Xander exchanged looks but they knew it was hopeless - Tara had an iron will and she thought that 'the boys' fed Dawn too much junk food.

††††††††††††††† "I bow to your superiority, oh magical Witch of the Kitchen," Xander said, laughing and giving Tara a bow and she smiled at him and linked her arm through Dawn's.

††††††††††††††† "As it should be," she murmured and Dawn whooped laughter.

††††††††††††††† "See you later, Oz!" Dawn yelled, and Oz popped his head up from behind the counter.

††††††††††††††† "See you guys."† *Be careful.† Call if -*

††††††††††††††† *I will.† Love you.*††† "Come on, Johnathan, we're going!" They went out into the twilight, heading home.

 

††††††††††††††† "So he just - flew away?† With a jetpack?"† Xander couldn't help smiling in disbelief and Buffy shook her head, smiling back.

††††††††††††††† "Yeah.† A jetpack.† And he left Andrew behind, crying his head off.† The cops took him.† Warren was pretty freaked out when I - smashed his orbs."† Spike laughed and Buffy blushed, flicking some of her punch at him.† "Stop that!† There's just no good way to say it."

††††††††††††††† "Got that right," Spike smirked.† "But it finished his little power trip."† He leaned back in his chair, idly toying with a cigarette, watching with wary eyes the crowd that milled all around.† The wedding rehearsal had gone off without a hitch, and so had the dinner after.† But Drake's family was not only huge, they knew - everything.† All night various cousins had been coming up, begging Spike to show them his 'real' face and he'd finally snapped and done it, to a round of disconcerting applause.† Now he was sulking and letting Xander tell the cousins - who ranged in age from 2 to 19 - to go away.† Dawn was in the center of a knot of more cousins, basking in the attention as they asked her question after question about life on the Hellmouth.† She was the expert, for once, and loving it.† Especially since tall, dark-haired, and attractive seemed to be the norm for Drake's family.

††††††††††††††† Giles and Ethan were in the center of an equally excited but more subdued group of older aunts, uncles, the grandparents and the parents as they talked about the Watchers' Council and its role in preserving the 'cultural heritage' of non-humans.† Giles was hotly defending the killing of demons and Drake's father, grandfather, great-aunt Mabel and assorted older cousins were arguing that it was the same approach used by 'European invaders' the world over to decimate native life.† Drake's family, by and large, were archeologists - the Indiana Jones family! Willow called them - and had documented historical atrocities for years. That demons didn't qualify as 'native', at least by Council standards, seemed to be a moot point to them and there was already talk about some of the younger cousins training to be Watchers and bringing the Council 'into the 21st Century'.†

††††††††††††††† Anya and Drake were oblivious to the whole debate; swaying dreamily on the small dance-floor to something slow and forties, gazes and hands locked together.

††††††††††††††† *Huh.† Who'd have thought - a Vengeance Demon finds love.*†† Oz watched the two with a small smile, leaning back against Derio and idly stroking his fingers over Derio's encircling arms.

††††††††††††††† *Yeah.† It's nice.† I hope Drake really GETS what that means.*

††††††††††††††† *I think I made it pretty clear.*†† Spike could smirk mentally, which was unfair as far as Xander was concerned.

††††††††††††††† *Oh, probably.† He was actually looking a little green, which I didn't think was possible.*†† Xander watched the two moving slowly around and around and sighed, just a little.

††††††††††††††† *Care to dance, love?*††† Spike looked at Xander with a small, sweet smile and Xander felt his heart pound just a little faster.

††††††††††††††† "Love to," he murmured, and they both got up and moved out onto the floor.† The lights were dimmer here and there were green and gold balloons drifting lazily in a slight breeze from the air ducts.† Spike pulled him close and settled his head on Xander's shoulder, arms around his ribs and his hands slowly stroking up and down.† Xander did the same, wrapping himself around Spike and getting lost in the music and the sensation - in the warm wave of *love you love you mine yours* from Spike.

††††††††††††††† *Love you, vampire-mine.† Always love you.*

††††††††††††††† *Love you...† Pet - do you want this?† What demon-girl is doing, I mean.*†† Xander pulled back minutely, looking with surprise at Spike, who looked back steadily.† After a moment he leaned his head back down on Spike's, the soft hair smelling of ginger and smoke and citrus.

††††††††††††††† *I...no.† I never really thought about it but...† What we are - what we have - is MORE than marriage.† I don't need any...ceremony.† Did you -?*

††††††††††††††† *Nah.† But you seemed...felt like you were sad, love.†† Felt...*

††††††††††††††† *I guess I am, a little.† Manny called this morning, said - anytime we want to go, Seattle's ready.† We can just - go.*†† Spike froze in his arms and than hugged him tight, and Xander could feel the joy and the excitement rising in him.

††††††††††††††† †*That's good news, love!† Don't be sad.*

††††††††††††††† *I just...don't think Tara will come.† And I'm going to miss her - miss Buffy and Giles...and fuck, miss Dawn so much...and there's never been a time when Willow wasn't just...down the street from me, you know?*

††††††††††††††† *I know, love.*† Spike kissed slowly up Xander's throat and then lay soft kisses all over his face, ending at his mouth and taking his time.† Xander just held on and let him do it - let himself sink into the love and the want and the need.† He hated the thought of leaving part of the family behind.† Hated that he felt as if he were abandoning Buffy and Dawn.† But they had to go, before things got worse.† Had to get out and figure out how to make Spike better, because the Hellmouth - seemed determined to suck them in, and Xander couldn't let that happen, no matter what.

††††††††††††††† *God, love you, LOVE you...† You know it'll be fine.† We'll go and we'll do what we have to do and...Seattle's not too far away and it'll be summer soon, Dawn can come stay and...Tara would probably visit too...† God...is this right?† Are we just - running away?*†† Spike's kiss faltered for a moment and then he pulled away and gazed at Xander, his hands lightly on Xander's shoulders, fingertips stroking the ends of his hair.

††††††††††††††† "No love.† Not running away.† The Slayer doesn't need us, not really.† We just take the edge off, but - half the demons here are just trying to live, they don't bother her.† And this business with the Threesome - it's made 'em all a little more willing to stand up and fight."† Spike kissed him again, gentle as before, and Xander realized they were barely moving - that they must look a little odd to everyone.† But he really didn't care.

††††††††††††††† "I just want this to be...over, Spike.† I want whatever happened you to be fixed.† I hate seeing you hurt...† And I'd go - anywhere - if that's what it took.† Go to the fucking moon."† Spike laughed softly, hugging him close.

††††††††††††††† *Maybe we will, love.† Go to the moon.† They did it once, didn't they?† In a hundred years...who knows?*

††††††††††††††† *You think?*†† Xander was distracted for a moment by the thought - the idea that Star Trek could become a reality and that he could see it.† See it with Spike.† "There's no sun in space.† You'd be safe."† Spike laughed again and spun him around.

††††††††††††††† *You're such a geek.† Love you, geek-boy.† Take you to the moon - wherever you wanna go.† It'll be all right, love.*

††††††††††††††† *Yeah.† Yeah, I know.† Love you, vampire-mine.*

 

††††††††††††††† The wedding was set for sunset and Spike and Xander slept in - the whole house did - since the rehearsal dinner had run very late, with the older crowd getting a little drunk and the younger ones running wild.† When Spike woke up it was to Xander humming something slightly off-key and an aroma of cherries and chocolate in the air.† Spike stretched and turned over and stared.† Xander was lying on his back, and there were little chocolates in a heart-shape on his chest.† He was nibbling on one contemplatively and a drop of red syrup lay like blood in the corner of his mouth.† His cock was hard and damp, tight against his belly.† Spike breathed in deeply, scenting sweet and spice and arousal, and felt his own cock rising and filling.

††††††††††††††† "Xan, love?† What are you doing?"

††††††††††††††† "These are kind of like - like biting into a person, huh?† Yummy on the outside, red and squishy inside?"† Xander grinned at him and Spike grinned back, confused but delighted.

††††††††††††††† "If you say so, love, though I'd rather bite you than chocolate any day."† Spike moved carefully until he was lying between Xander's thighs, the hot flesh of his erection pressed to Spike's belly.† Spike's own cock brushed teasingly at Xander's balls and the curve of his ass, and he wriggled a little.

††††††††††††††† "It's Valentine's Day, Spike.† Gotta have chocolate and hearts.† So - here you go."† Xander lifted his arms and crossed his hands behind his head and Spike laughed softly - bent his head to slowly lick and nibble at the chocolate that made the point of the heart.† Licking and nibbling at the skin beneath it, as well.† Xander was right, chocolate-covered cherries were a little like people, but Spike was right, too - he preferred Xander.† It was satisfyingly sweet and messy sex and they both laughed until their stomachs hurt when Buffy stormed upstairs to make them get up and stared for one long moment at the smeary bed and the sticky lovers.† Then she wheeled and darted back down the hall, threatening them both with something awful - she'd ask Dawn for ideas! - if they didn't get going now.

††††††††††††††† "That dress looks no better in the day," Spike said, and hauled Xander along to the bath.

 

††††††††††††††† The wedding had been over for two days and they were still eating left-over wedding food and cake.† Spike wrinkled his nose at the cake and sighed.† He'd agreed to help the Slayer go over her house with a fine-toothed comb.† Johnathan had told them that Warren had planted cameras outside the house and inside, and to Buffy's horror Johnathan had admitted that he'd seen everyone in the house in their underwear.† Xander had about strangled the boy and for once Spike found himself on the calmer end of things, telling Xander he had to wait, that they still needed Johnathan - still needed information.† It had been a close thing.

††††††††††††††† They'd been all over the second floor and found two tiny cameras which Buffy had torn out in disgust.† Now they were taking a break.† Tara and Dawn were upstairs going through some of Tara's things that she hadn't moved yet, and Willow was downstairs with him and the Slayer, chattering about classes and generally getting on Spike's nerves.† She pointedly did things without magic and mentioned more than once how hard giving it up had been and Spike was about to snap.

††††††††††††††† *Calm, love, please?† I'll be there in a few.*

††††††††††††††† *Thank gods.† I'm not going to forgive and forget and it's obvious that's what she wants.*

††††††††††††††† *Just - don't say anything.† She really is doing better, so just...have a smoke?*†† Spike chuckled to himself and then frowned when Willow gave him an odd look.

††††††††††††††† "Talkin' to Xan," he said shortly, and then it was her turn to frown.

††††††††††††††† "I don't know why Xander wants to have -" Willow started, and Spike shot to his feet, his patience at an end.

††††††††††††††† "Leave it, Red!† Don't start with me today."† Willow's mouth opened and closed for a minute and then she scowled, and Buffy heaved a heavy sigh.

††††††††††††††† "Can you two stop that?† It's like Divorce Court in here.†† Let's just finish up and find the rest of the cameras.† I can't believe that freak saw us..."† Buffy shuddered and Spike growled.† He agreed with the Slayer on that, at least.† When he found Warren, the little bastard was gonna lose his eyes for looking at the Niblet like that.† And that Andrew - he was going to suffer as well.

††††††††††††††† "Freak is right.† Let's go," Spike said, pushing away from the kitchen counter and stalking into the living room.† He looked around, wondering what piece of bric-a-brac or family photo had been tainted with a little spying eye.† He heard the rumble of Xander's truck and a minute later the door opened and Xander walked in, smiling as soon as he saw Spike.† It was like a ray of pure heat.

††††††††††††††† *Love you.*†† Spike moved immediately to hug him, breathing deeply the mingled smells of clean wood and varnish, sweat and coffee and sweet.† *Smell so good...just want to eat you...*†† Xander hugged him back and laughed softly - claimed his mouth in a hard, hungry kiss.

††††††††††††††† *I like that.† Nibble, nibble, nibble...*†† He nipped at Spike's mouth and then pulled back, still grinning.† "Hey, there was some guy outside - was there a delivery?† He was just going around the side of the house.

††††††††††††††† "No guy," Buffy said, coming into the living room, a small china figure in her hands.† Willow bent to peer out the window and then Spike snarled because Warren was standing there in the kitchen door way.

††††††††††††††† "You think you can just - ruin my life and get away with it?!" he shouted, and he pointed - no, he lifted a gun and Spike roared, diving for him.† The gun exploded and something hit Spike hard, spinning him around, making him stumble.† Willow shrieked and he could smell blood - too much blood.†† The gun fired again and Xander was shouting something and Spike dragged himself up in time to hear running footsteps - see Dawn and Tara pelt down the stairs.† The booming roar of the gun seemed to echo and roll, not stopping, deafening him.† Then Tara was falling, red blooming across her chest and Dawn was screaming and he turned to find Warren, to kill him and he was gone.† A haze of smoke and the stink of cordite filled the air and Spike staggered upright and ran, through the kitchen to the door, stopping in fury and agony when sunlight seared across his face and chest.

††††††††††††††† "Spike!† Don't -"†† Xander snatched him back, reeling, and Spike stared for one moment at the blood on his boy's arm - on his chest.

††††††††††††††† "Xander - fuck - are you -"†† *No, no - love, no -*

††††††††††††††† "I'm okay, I'm - fuck - where's the phone, Buffy and Tara - f-fuck -"† Xander's legs went out from under him and Spike saw the phone on the kitchen island - snatched it up and dialed.† He dropped to the floor next to Xander, pulling him half onto his lap, holding him tight.

††††††††††††††† *Coming coming coming!† Who's hurt!*†† Oz, getting louder, frantic, and Spike didn't know what to tell him, could barely think what to do when the operator's voice came on the line.

††††††††††††††† "Shot.† Three people have been shot," he said, and *I don't know, don't know, Xan's shot, Tara, the Slayer, oh fuck, maybe Dawn, maybe Willow I don't KNOW -*† †††The operator was saying something - 'ambulances on the way' and Spike let the phone drop from nerveless fingers.† He looked down and realized he had been shot - that his rib was broken and that the blood down his belly and thighs was his own.

††††††††††††††† "Spike?† Spike!"† Dawn was screaming - running into the kitchen and Spike heaved himself and Xander upright.

††††††††††††††† "Bit - it's all right, I called - they're coming -"

††††††††††††††† *Spike!† Xander!*†† The front door slammed open, cracking into the wall and *Pack pack pack*.†

††††††††††††††† "Oz is here, Bit, let's -"

††††††††††††††† "Fuck, I can w-walk, I'm - I can walk, Spike -"††† *All right, I'm all right, just my arm...*† Xander staggered and Spike held him, wincing in pain.† The three of them went as quickly as they could out into the living room.† Oz was crouched over Tara, his fingers on her throat, and Dawn flung herself down beside Buffy, wailing.† Blood was bubbling up out of the Slayer's mouth and she was pale, so pale.†

††††††††††††††† "Jesus - where's - where's Willow?† Is she - ?"

††††††††††††††† "She was outside - she was running - she looked like...she had blood on her..."† Oz stroked the hair back from Tara's face and her eyes fluttered open - tracked dazedly.

††††††††††††††† "Hurts," she mumbled, and Oz shushed her, stroking her arm.

††††††††††††††† "It's okay - help is coming.† Is Buffy -?"

††††††††††††††† Spike was on his knees beside the Slayer.† The bullet had gone in high, missing her heart but shattering her collar-bone and Dawn was sobbing hoarsely into Buffy's hair, a death-grip on her hand.† He could hear the faint whistle of escaping air and knew her lung was nicked - was leaking air and maybe sucking up blood and where was the fucking ambulance!

††††††††††††††† "Buffy, don't die, don't die!† I can't take it, I can't take any more -"

††††††††††††††† "Shhhh, Dawn - it's okay, it's - gonna be okay."† Xander sprawled awkwardly, trying to hold Dawn.† His left arm was bleeding and Spike could see the black edges where gunpowder had burned his shirt.††

††††††††††††††† "Wolf, how's the witchling?† What happened?"

††††††††††††††† "I don't know - it's low down - her ribs - I can't tell!"† Oz's eyes were full of pain - of fear, and his blood-slick hands were pressed to Tara's side, high under her breast.

††††††††††††††† *Be all right, be all right, fuck...fuck...it was that Warren, it was -*

††††††††††††††† "Where the fuck did Red go?" Spike growled, yanking a throw off of the couch and covering Buffy.† She was going into shock and he could do nothing at all.† He strode to the hall closet and found a blanket for Tara, covering her carefully and cupping her cheek in his hand.† She was blinking, tears coursing silently down her face, and he tried to wipe them away but stopped when he saw he was smearing blood on her.†† Spike looked helplessly - furiously - around the room.

††††††††††††††† "Sh-she said she was gonna kill him.† She said she was gonna get - enough p-power to send him to h-hell," Dawn stuttered, shivering in Xander's arms, and Spike looked at her - nodded, finally, and sagged in relief to hear the approaching sirens.

††††††††††††††† *Fuck, Red - hope you do.† Hope you do.*

†††††††††††††††

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