Chapter 15: Breathe

Chapter 15: Breathe

                It was raining and Spike lay in bed, curled close to Xander, just watching him and thinking.  Remembering.    He'd been doing that a lot - doing it like an exercise, like Oz sitting and saying his Tibetan mantra that made the wolf a part of him and not a savage interloper.    Remembering that evening in early March, when the whole gang of them had driven down to L.A. to the airport.  Seeing Giles and Ethan and Willow off.   To Devon, the coven, and whatever help they could offer.


                 Ethan is still frail from his encounter with Willow - still a magical negative, as far as Spike can tell, which is a relief and disconcerting all at the same time.  He doesn't look at her, and Spike doesn't blame him.  Willow is - the same. Hair cut a little shorter, eyes still holding that wounded, waif-like 'I'm so sorry' look.  The look that won't go away and that means less than nothing, now, because she can say 'I'm sorry' until her heart stops beating and it won't change what she did.  Giles and Buffy talk quietly, Buffy with unshed tears shimmering in her eyes, Giles with the stiff-shouldered, head-down posture he adopts when emotions are too near the surface.   When the flight is called and they gather their things - prepare to go - Ethan looks dumbfounded to find Dawn hugging him - and then Oz, and Xander.  He just stands there, looking at them, and his clever fox's face is for once devoid of all malice and mischief and instead looks rather like Scrooge when he wakes to find it's still Christmas Day.  Giles is also pulled into hard, trembling hugs and Buffy finally breaks down, sobbing into his handkerchief, her make-up running and her eyes impossibly wide.  She looks all of 13 and Giles can't say a word - kisses her forehead softly and walks briskly away, Ethan's hand tight in his.  Willow lingers, accepting their stiff hugs - accepting the little planner that Anya gives her that has her schedule of payments.  Willow's in serious debt to demon-girl over the shop and Anya has the look of a pit bull when she explains the payments and the interest owed.  Willow just looks bewildered - scoops up her bag and waves forlornly and stumbles away down the concourse. 

                It's a relief to see her go; for the family most of all but even for Buffy and Dawn, who spent the last three weeks consoling her and helping her pack.   Buffy had just the day before removed the sling she'd been wearing for three weeks, pronouncing herself healed and ready for patrol.  Tara still moves gingerly, her cracked ribs sore, the muscles all along that side stiff and achy.  She's taken to doing yoga with Dawn every day in an effort to get limber again and she and Giles cooked up a salve that works wonders.  Xander has used it, too, and has healed as quickly as Buffy.  But he still rubs his arm from time to time, as if the pain lingers.  Rubbed it at the airport, watching his oldest friend walk away, and Spike and Oz and Derio crowd close, soothing the last of the hurt away, making sure he knows how much he is loved.  Tara...takes a deep breath and whispers 'Goodbye, Willow,' and Spike hears the finality in that, and hugs Glinda-witch close.



                Spike reached out and traced the scar on Xander's bicep.  A palely pinkish spot on his honey-brown arm, the tissue twisted and a little raised.   Mostly circular in the front, but larger and star-shaped in the back, where the bullet had torn out.  It hadn't had much time or room to fragment or the exit wound would have been bigger - the injury worse.    It hurt, to see that.  It felt like failure to touch that scar and Spike touched it one more time to remind himself - to remember

                *So sorry, my love...  So very, very sorry.*   Xander stirred, sighing, and Spike pulled his hand back - watched Xander's head turn on the pillow, watched his hand reach out, searching.  It found Spike's hip and gripped there, and then Xander was still, and Spike blinked, fighting tears.

                *Still trusts us.  See how he trusts us?  Touches us and that makes him calm...  Never break that trust.*

                *Family always MINE.*   The demon had never quite recovered from that day - had never quite relaxed again, and the trouble Spike had with forgetting didn't help.  But things were getting better, if slowly.   Spike reached out again - junkie to drug - and ran his fingers through Xander's hair.  Scent of sandalwood and cedar, the ocean and the sap-heavy pines that grew in the near-by park.  A long night of patrol, working out tensions and nerves.  Tomorrow - today, really, since Spike could feel the sun clearing a rain-shrouded horizon - they were heading out to the forest and...something new.   Spike squirmed a little closer, resting his cheek on Xander's chest, inching his leg up and over.  Remembering something else, now - reaching for each detail.


                Since the shooting Buffy has worked inside at Alves and Son - has started doing inventory and billing and customer service.  Learning to use the computer Manny has, graduating up a couple more dollars in pay and being excited over going to work in heels and kicky skirts instead of worn dungarees and a hard-hat.   But even the pay raise and one less person in the house has not been enough and Buffy has them all gathered in the halfway repaired Magic Box to listen as she tearfully tells them it's time.  Time to sell the house on Revello and find something cheaper - smaller- maybe newer, so she won't ever have to face the nightmare of 'full copper re-pipe' again. Probably just a rental, since she's sure her credit is nil.   Dawn is sulking, not talking, her eyes red, and Tara hugs Buffy gently and tries to make a move sound exciting: a new place for old, loved things and a chance for a killer yard-sale!  It's Anya who really saves the moment - Anya who whips out a newspaper and a pen and starts showing Buffy all kinds of real estate listings.   Tells her in mind-numbing detail about points and balloon payments and closing costs and then mentions in a off-hand way that she has, in her spare time, gotten a realtors license and could she be Buffy's agent?   And how buying is better than renting and Buffy can get First Time Home Owners assistance from the government.  She promises she won't screw her on the commission.  Buffy just stares at her, and then starts laughing, which sets Xander off and then Tara, and in the end it becomes almost a party atmosphere, with Dawn chiming in about what she wants in a new place (her own bathroom) and what she doesn't want (a creepy basement).  

                After a long talk with Manny, the old demon shows the girls three houses his company owns - older but refurbished, and all the pipes guaranteed.  The prices - suspiciously low.  The sale goes smoothly and Anya throws a little 'closing day' party at the flat she and Drake live in.    They spend three days moving Buffy and Dawn - and Tara - into the new house. 

                "A girl's house and a boy's house.  What are we, Catholic?" Dawn mumbles, but Tara wants to come back - to help Buffy and be with Dawn and the pack lets her go.  The new house IS smaller, and Dawn doesn't get her own bathroom, but like all Manny's houses it has graceful details along window and door frames, a mind-boggling number of doors and - special treat - a fireplace.  And a view of the sea, which Tara appreciates and Dawn envisions as a place to host parties.  They make almost two thousand dollars at their yard sale, and with it they buy cell-phones for everyone. 

                "We need to be able to keep in touch," Buffy says, handing them out.   Spike snorts and tucks his away, dismissing it, but a week later he's making a deal with Dawn to show him how to decipher the damn thing and retrieve the twenty-seven text messages Dawn has sent him.  Anything to make the damn thing stop making NOISE.    His next poker night he deliberately wins and loses until he's seen every kitten every demon has, and brings home a graceful seal-point Siamese for Dawn.

                "Miss Kitty needs a friend when we're all out of the house," Dawn says, arms crossed and lip pouting out, daring Buffy to say no.  To Spike's horror and Xander's endless amusement, she names the creature Sinclair. 

                "Because he looks like you, Spike," Dawn says, holding the wriggling scrap of cream and sable up for Spike's inspection.  "Look at his blue eyes!  And the fangs!"  The kitten bats at Spike's face and he hisses at it - gets a hiss in return and Dawn points triumphantly at the needle-sharp teeth.  Miss Kitty takes her time warming up.


                Spike smiled to himself, thinking of his namesake stalking Tara's swishing skirt-hems and rabbit-kicking Mr. Gordo, and Xander moved again, his hand coming up to rest on Spike's back and pet there for a moment before going limp once more.   Spike contemplated the fine hairs that grew down the center of Xander's chest and thought about the past spring.  So much change - so many things. 

                The Watcher and company off to Blighty the first week of March, the old house on Revello sold and the new house occupied in the last week of April.  And then, one week into May they had their own announcement.  A place opening up, a chance to go, and Xander looked at Buffy with hope and sorrow and pleading as he told them they were leaving - going to Seattle.  That had been days and days of 'talks' and shouting and fights - a night's worth of patrol wherein Buffy detailed every single thing Spike had ever done to screw them over and everything Xander had done to help her and told him, her voice cracking, that if Xander wasn't happy - if he wasn't deliriously overjoyed, she was going to come up there and move him back herself.  And kick Spike's ass.  Spike had listened in silence and promised utter contentment and had seen blame in the Slayer's eyes - had seen accusation and 'You're the reason he's leaving everything, leaving home, leaving US!'   He silently accepted it, but felt no guilt, and no remorse.  The Hellmouth was a sink - was a lodestone for more than demons, and Spike couldn't tolerate the thought of his family living there - dying there - if they didn't have to.  He schemed to have Dawn come for the summer - tried to cajole Tara into coming along.  But Tara had finally and tearfully said no - said she had to stay and keep Dawn safe and Buffy sane.

                Dawn at least had come, to spend a month with them in their house right off the Duwamish Waterway.  Rough neighborhood, but that only made the patrols they'd never given up on more exciting, since sometimes they fought a demon and sometimes they stopped the sort of mindless violence that made newspaper headlines.   Dawn had kept up her training and came out with them a couple of times, actually staking her first vampire with only a little help.  She spent her days with Derio and Oz at Pike Place Market or the Junction, wandering around the shops and watching the Sound ebb and flow - listening to Derio play his fiddle.  Oz was working at a club doing sound stuff again, and Derio still did his computer thing, something Spike had never quite figured out but did bring in fairly regular paychecks.  

                 Dawn had stayed at home with Spike a lot, as well; watching movies and teaching him about the computer Xander had bought so they could email every day or chat late at night.  Nearly complete, the family - nearly perfect and Spike had ached for Tara and spoilt Dawn horribly.    Seeing her off at the airport had been hard - the demon had screamed for him to just take her and keep her and make the family whole, but Spike had let her go - watched her hug them all and sniffle a little and march onto the plane with her chin up and shoulders straight, wishing there was some other way.  And now it was almost the end of September and things had settled into a routine - into life again, without the endless interruptions of Hellmouth origin, and Spike desperately wanted this to be good - wanted it to be right.

                Spike sighed and closed his eyes - listened to the rain falling, steady and soft; listened to the distant sounds of barges and transport ships nosing into port with the occasional blast of an air-horn or a more prosaic bell.  Guilt twisted in him - guilt and unease and the sense of having failed again, somehow - somewhere.  News from Sunnydale said nothing had happened - was happening - but still...  


                Driving north finally, most of their things in a rented truck with Xander's truck on a trailer behind.  A Clem-cousin is driving the DeSoto up and they follow Oz's van, silent.  Xander suddenly shivers - looks over his shoulder and then looks at Spike, eyes wide.

                "God!  It's been so long since I left, I forgot...  You really - feel it, when you're away from it.  You feel -"

                "Lighter," Spike says, and Xander nods, frowning. 

                "Yeah...lighter and...  Like I can really hear - can really see.  God, it's WEIRD."  Xander reaches for Spike's hand and holds it tightly but he's smiling, and the link is full of happiness.  Oz sends the same back and Derio says the Knowing...just stretched itself a bit further.  So it's good. 



                But now Spike wondered if he really had got it right, and he sighed again, pressing in close to Xander's warmth, listening to the heartbeat that was steady and strong and solid - unstoppable, if he had anything to say about it. 

                "What's wrong, love?" Xander asked softly, and Spike smiled, not moving.

                "You're getting good at that, pet.  I didn't even know."

                "It's a good trick," Xander said, and he slid his hands around Spike, pulling him closer and petting in earnest now - long, heavy strokes of his hands that pushed muscles around and made his skin tingle and Spike sighed in pleasure this time.

                "Now tell me what's wrong?  I can feel you...fretting."  Spike laughed, hearing his word from Xander's mouth.

                "I'm not...well, I am.  Just...wondering..."  Spike couldn't say it, couldn't really think it, but Xander knew, anyway.

                "Wondering if this is right.  I know.  It's - weird, not being in Sunnydale.  But it's better.  You're better.  That's all I care about..."

                "Don't tell me lies, love," Spike said softly, and Xander's hands stopped for one moment and then resumed their movements, the friction making Spike warm.

                "I'm not lying.  I wanted you better, and you are.  You're more important than the Hellmouth, Spike...fuck, you're more important than the world, as far as I'm concerned.  If something big comes up, Buffy can call Giles - or Angel - she doesn't need us like I need you."   That internal pet, then - Xander pushing love and want and need and *family pack us mine always* through the link like sunshine and Spike had to smile again, half-drunk from it all.  And still...guilty.

                "But we're not all here, love.  And I know you miss them..."

                "So do you, Spike.  But we do what we have to do.  We'll go visit sometime...we'll have Dawn back, and we'll make Tara come...  Fuck, we'll make Buffy come - show these northern vamps what the Slayer's all about."  Spike laughed, and Xander hugged him - sighed a little himself and squirmed, getting Spike exactly where he wanted him.

                *Love you forever, vampire-mine.  Things change, it's*

                *I'm afraid that...*

                "That what, Spike?" Xander asked, threading his fingers slowly through Spike's hair, and Spike opened his eyes - looked at the window where the curtain belled and swung in the breeze, letting in scarves of rain-scented air.

                "That you...resent..."  Xander's finger on his lips stopped him, and he waited, almost trembling.

                "Love - you didn't force me.  You asked me.  And I made up my mind, and Oz and Derio did...  We came along because we wanted to."  Xander's hand slipped under his chin - lifted his face so he could see the dark, concerned eyes.  "Want this, want you...  Trust me to make up my own mind, okay?"  Xander leaned a little and kissed him - sweet and mint and warm - and Spike kissed back - curled up and around and got both arms around him and just pulled Xander close, kissing and kissing until his mouth felt bruised.

                *Trust you love, always trust own, family, always always, always...* 



                "So, we ready?"  Xander stood nervously bouncing on the balls of his feet, watching as Spike dragged on his duster and loaded the pockets with sundries.  Oz walked by carrying a sleeping bag and he reached out and rubbed Xander's back for a moment, grinning.

                *You okay?*

                *Fuck, yeah, I just -*   "Just feel like...don't wanna screw anything up," Xander mumbled, and Oz dropped the sleeping bag and pulled him into a hard hug.

                "You can't screw it up, Xander.  It's okay, man - just, you know?  Just be calm."

                "Be me, yeah.  Jesus, that's usually the problem -"

                "Xander."  Derio stomped over to him and Oz, frowning.  "Stop that, hermano.   You know it's not true."  Xander laughed, a little shakily, and pulled Derio in for a hug as well.

                "Sorry, sorry," he mumbled, and then Spike was there, displacing Oz just a little, running lips and the tip of his tongue over the claim-scar and making Xander shiver and smile.

                "Just be calm, love.   It'll be fine."  *Love you.  Can't mess this up.  Gonna be brilliant, love...*

                "Yeah, okay...fuck, guys, I'm sorry, I just -"  Xander kissed whatever bits of the three of them he could reach and they all pulled back a little, disengaging but still touching, letting *pack family us always* surge through him and through the link.  "I just want this to work.  And I don't want anything to happen and I can't make my brain stop thinking about it."

                "I could make your brain stop," Spike murmured, shuttered gaze and half smile and *What's your pleasure, love; collar, rope, sit on my lap...*

                "Oh fuck.  You do that and this really won't work!"  Xander had to grin and Spike did, and the mood lightened - lifted.  Xander gave Derio an extra little squeeze and turned away, gathering the last item he needed.  Spike did the same, and Derio shouldered a duffle.  They'd be gone for four days - camping, which was something Xander equated with a tent made from a quilt in Jesse's back yard, flashlights and Oreo cookies and Willow sneaking over to sit, round-eyed, as Xander and Jesse both tried to tell the scariest story. 

                *And it sucks that that still hurts to think about.*   Because it did hurt to think about Jesse - still hurt, always hurt - and it hurt to think about Willow.  They had gotten an email from her, telling them she was settling in, learning things.  But that was all.  Xander had sent a desultory reply but...his heart hadn't been in it.  He felt like...he was in mourning, and trying to talk to what was left of his best friend just made him tired, and angry.  *And it HURTS.  Fuck.*

                *Don't think about it, love, don't.  Please?*   Xander nodded distractedly - looked up and caught Spike's eye where he was waiting by the door and smiled, just a little.  Spike was more than happy to never contemplate Willow again - had dismissed her from his life and his future without a second thought.  And Xander knew Spike wanted him to do the same but...

                *Just hard, Spike.  It's okay.  Love you.*

                *Love you too, pet.*   Spike sighed, holding open the door, and Xander hoisted his toolbox where he kept his wood-carving stuff and went out to the van.  He thought maybe he'd have a chance to work on some little things while they were out in the middle of nowhere.

                *City boy,* Oz thought, internal laugh, and Xander grinned to himself.   There wasn't actually that much in the van - there was more wood than supplies, which made Xander a little nervous again.  He'd never done this kind of thing for real, like Oz had - driving and camping across the country and then halfway across the world, living on stuff he could cook over a fire and bartering his possessions away one by one for essentials like gas and water.

                *Just for four days, love.  I'll keep you warm...keep you fed...* 

                *And again with the x-rated.  I'm starting to think camping is gonna be like a long weekend in Vegas.*   Spike laughed from somewhere in the front of the van, messing with a portfolio full of CD's.  It was just past nine in the morning and the sky was darkly blue-grey, overcast enough for Spike to safely be out without cover.   Xander slung his tool-box up into the van and wedged it securely between a cooler and a milk-crate that held a couple of lanterns and jugs of oil for them, a few coils of muddy rope, a short-handled shovel and several pots nested together.   Derio came out of the house with two jugs of water and Oz came out right after him, locking the door. 

                "And we're off," he said, *pack love you happening happening stay close.*  

                *Close as you like,* Spike thought, coming around to the back and brushing his fingers lightly through Oz's hair.  They all settled into the van: Oz driving, Derio doing DJ duty, and Spike and Xander in the back, manning the map.  They were heading for Mt. Rainier and the over 200,000 acres of forest and solitude that surrounded it.  National park, full of rabbits and bears and trees, full of glacier-melt streams and snow and silence.  Privacy, for Derio to change for the first time.



                It was only about two hours, to get to the park gates.  Whatever fees or notices were required Oz had already dealt with, and they drove through and then upwards, slowly.  Xander knelt between the two front seats just staring.  The forest on either side was thick and green - dark, in the greenish murk of the storm-light - shining-wet with rain.  There were patches of snow in the deepest shadows and birds everywhere.  Oz rolled his window down and the sharp, cold air came in like wine, thick with the scents of wet earth and wood, wet vegetation mouldering into compost and autumn-turned leaves smelling like baked bread and cinnamon and old books.  Xander just shut his eyes and let the hyena out, closer to the surface than it had been in long time - since Toth's stick had sheared him from it and set it free.   The scents and sounds coming in the window were intoxicating and he just hovered there, breathing in deep, slow breaths.  He started in surprise when Spike crawled up behind him and got an arm around his waist, holding him close.

                *It's beautiful...god...  This place is...*

                *Perfect,* Oz thought, and Xander agreed.  Their campsite was half an hour up the mountain and they only saw three other cars as they drove the twisting road up and up.  A strong breeze was blowing and occasionally rain would fall, gusting through the open window and spattering them all only to taper off and stop again.  The campsite was deserted. 

                Setting up camp was easy, since they planned to sleep in the van.  Oz had a tarp and two tall poles and he and Derio set up a sort of awning over the back of the van so they could cook and sit and stay mostly dry.  The wood was off-loaded - Spike did it in three overloaded trips - and the Sterno cooker and cooler were placed to one side.  There was a brick-lined pit with a grate over it and Oz set about making a fire.  Xander watched him for a few moments and then wandered away, towards the water he could hear on the other side of a thin belt of trees.  He pushed through springy, rain-drenched pines and stopped, grinning.  A small creek rushed past at his feet, crystalline water pouring over pebbles and larger rocks and one blackened length of tree-trunk, half sunk in the water and covered on one side with pale green fungus.  From here the view was clear and he could see the hoary, eroded cone of the mountain, white with ice and half-sunk in clouds and mist.   He breathed, and felt the champagne air to the very bottom of his lungs.

                *All right, pet?*   Spike slid out of the trees, smiling at him, and Xander nodded.

                *It's amazing.  I've never - been anywhere.  Never seen a mountain like this or...*

                *Want to take you everywhere, love - want to take you over the whole world.*  Spike wrapped his arms around Xander and leaned against him, hand sliding up under the denim jacket and flannel shirt - finding the edge of his thermal and then his t-shirt and burrowing under.

                *Too many layers,* Spike thought, with a mental laugh, and Xander shivered as the vampire's cold hands stroked up and down his back.

                *Just enough, and it'll be colder tonight.  Aren't you freezing?*

                *Not with you to snog.*   Spike pulled him closer and found Xander's mouth and they stood pressed together for a very long time, kissing slowly.     After awhile they separated, and Xander leaned his forehead onto Spike's, one hand idly tracing patterns over the black thermal shirt Oz had talked him into wearing.

                *When do you think it'll start working??*

                *Dunno.  It HAS been, a little bit...  Have you felt it?*

                *Maybe...  It'll be weird, having somebody else to talk to like this. But good.   Do you think it'll freak him out?*

                *Dunno.  Don't think so.  He almost does it already, with the wolf...*  Spike lifted his head and Xander looked at him - looked into his eyes, that were calm and so vividly blue - at the small, real smile that made Xander's heart skip a beat and made his breath catch.

                *That for me?*

                *Always for you, my one, my own, my only...*  They kissed until they heard Oz saying something about food, and then they went back to the camp, and Oz started showing Xander how to cook over an open fire.


                Around five they had everything in place and it was dark already, the setting sun only a streak of deep scarlet for a moment along the high ridges of the mountain before the clouds swallowed it for good.  The fire was burning steadily, several big logs laying half in and half out of the pit, ready to be pushed in further as they burned away.  The inside of the van was lined with sleeping bags, blankets, quilts and pillows - a den for later.   Spike had crawled in to nap for a couple of hours and now he was crawling back out, hair tousled up and his eyes half-shut and almost violet in the dimness.   Oz had made coffee and they sat on camp stools drinking it in silence while Derio played something on his fiddle - sang softly, and Xander closed his eyes and just listened.


                "I was born in a forked-tongue story...raised up by merchants and drug store liars...
Now I walk on the paths of foot in ice, one in fire...
I see the mountain...the mountain comes to me...I see the mountain...and that is all I see...
Some poor prophet comes, some find solace...some lay him down in a junkyard bay...
Some will chase us and some will call us...gone, gone, gone in a day...
Gone to the mountain...the mountain comes to me...I see the mountain...and that is all I see...
Miller take me and miller grind me...scatter my bones on the wild green tide...
Maybe some roving bird will find me...over the water we'll ride..."


                Xander was doing his own remembering - fretting, as Spike would say, but he wanted this to work, so he went back over things obsessively - particularly what they'd done a week ago, in preparation for this.  Sitting in the living room, the old fold-out couch open so they could all sprawl on it in a comfortable tangle, watching movies and talking.  Then the last movie was over and everyone was just comfortably relaxed in the warm, quiet house.  Waiting.


                *Your boy ready, wolfling?  Does he know?  Does he consent?*  The vaguely formal words from Spike makes Xander sit up a little and Oz lifts his head and runs his hands back through his hair.  He has, for some reason known only to himself and possibly Derio, re-dyed it just the day before in a half-dozen shades of fire.  Now in the saffron glow from a dozen candles his hair is static flame, tufted upright in locks of scarlet and dull gold, wheat and rust, amber and bronze and snow.  Oz looks at Derio, a small tilt of his head, and then at Spike.

                *He knows.  He consents.*

                *Has to say it, love,* Spike thinks, settling cross-legged, wearing Xander's ratty Sunnydale Swim Team sweats and nothing else.

                "Derio, mi's time," Oz says softly, and Derio stares at him for one long moment and then he's sitting up too - scooting nearer to Oz and they're in a sort of circle now, facing each other.

                "Do you want it?  Do you want - us?" Xander says, low and a little hesitant, and Derio nods - swallows and takes Oz's hand tightly in his.

                "I - I want it.  I want - all of it.  Familia..."   Oz smiles at him and Spike does and Xander just feels a wave of relief.

                "Oz told me - how it was?  But I wanted to ask..."  Derio stopped and looked down - looked back up, nervously twisting the tip of a dreadlock in his fingers.  "I wanted to ask - no acero.  No i-iron."  His nerves are making his accent more pronounced and Xander thinks for just a moment how much he loves to listen to Derio speak - how his native tongue creeps in and makes simple English sound so pretty.

                *Pretty words, pretty boy...* Spike thinks, and he looks at Xander and smiles - looks back at Derio.

                "What do you mean?"

                "I just - don’t want any knives, yes?  Just - would you - usar sus dientes, no mas..."

                "Teeth, pet?  Want me to bite you?"  Derio shivers all over, his eyes closing for a moment and his hand is clutched so tightly around Oz's that his knuckles are white. 

                "Si, si, por favor mi hermano, por favor..."

                "Hush, pet, it's all right..."  Spike's eyes are gold, now - the link is thrumming with want and lust and happiness - with love and wonder.  "That's all right - I can do that."  Derio nods - opens his eyes again and looks at Spike, smiling.  Then he turns to Oz and kisses him, sweet and slow and *love, love him, want him, pack pack pack* from the wolf.

                *Love you, love him...* Xander thinks, and Spike - reassuring the wolf that Derio is welcome - that he's WANTED.  They end the kiss reluctantly and Derio ducks his head and pulls up the edge of his t-shirt - lifts it off and tosses it aside.  He's slim and brown and sleek as a mink and on his left shoulder, close to his throat is a mark - a bite.  Oz's bite, two days old, healing fast.  The bite that will bring him over, the next full moon, into the world of the wolf.   He has a string of beads around his neck, looping down to his belly, red and black.  He lifts the beads, slipping them through his fingers and Xander is reminded of the old woman that lived next door when he was a kid, who would sit on her porch and pray over her rosary, glossy-dark beads looping  endlessly through her fingers.

                "Legba Ati-Bon, open the way.  Dios travesia, protect us, guide us..." he whispers, and then he looks shyly up at them, smiling.

                "Can I - give you a gift?  Before we -"

                "Of course, love," Spike murmurs, and Xander nods.

                "Sure, Derio.  But - I don't have -"   Derio laughs, stopping him.

                "I just wanted to - bring something to this -" Derio says, and Xander shakes his head.

                "You only need you, Derio," he says, and Derio's smile is wide and happy - a little shaky at the edges.

                "I...oh, I..."  He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and then leans over a little, reaching out to the small table by the arm of the couch.  It's been made into a small shrine and he's had set up there for a day, with candles and incense and a pack of Spike's smokes and a shot-glass off whiskey on it -  a small statue of a wolf that Xander carved and a sheet of music that Oz wrote.  Derio's fiddle is there as well, and he touches it fleetingly as he picks up something - three strands of beads in rich, shining colors.  He holds them for a moment in his hand.

                "These are just - because I want you to be protected my way, too," he says, and Oz rubs his knee, squeezing a little.  Derio separates out a strand of beads and goes up on his knees - crawls the few feet to Spike and loops it over his head.  The beads are very small, strung in a repeating pattern of three black and three green.

                "Ogoun is your protector - he who metes out life and death - he who clears the way when Papa Legba has found it.  Ogoun, protect him."  Derio kisses Spike lightly on the mouth and then sinks back - moves so that he's in front of Xander and Xander watches him, feeling as if something is building around them - feeling a low and subtle tingle that he associates with magic - a sort of pressure.  Derio untangles a strand of white beads and lowers them over Xander's head and Xander shivers, his skin rising in gooseflesh.  The pressure - the tingling - is stronger.

                "Obatala is your protector - he who creates, he who metes out justice with compassion.   Obatala, protect him," Derio breathes, and he leans forward and kisses Xander - faint taste of pepper and honey, scent of lime and warm earth.    Derio moves to Oz now, and slips the last strand over the werewolf's head; pale yellow and rich amber-gold.

                "Oshun is your protector.  Goddess of the waters, and so of blood - of the heart.  She who makes beauty with her voice, her hands, her body.  Oshun, protect him."  His kiss for Oz is only a little bit longer and Derio settles back into his place and takes a long breath - puts his hand to his heart.

                "He who finds the way," he says, and then he points to Spike, Xander, and Oz in turn.  "He who makes the way safe, he who sees the truth, she who makes us joyful.  As above, so below."  As he says the final word there is a strange, singing sort of noise - a whisper-rush of air that swirls through the room and makes them all shiver, flattening the candle-flames.  The pressure is for one long moment unbearable - frightening - and then it's gone and Xander is panting, staring at Derio and feeling his heart pound in his chest like a drum.

                "God, Derio -"

                "It's all right -" Derio says, and Xander laughs. 

                "All right?  It's - fuck, it's - amazing."  He lifts the beads in his hand and they seem to almost burn, and he laughs again.  Oz is grinning, and Spike leans up on his knees and pulls Derio close - kisses him with on hand gently cupping his cheek.

                "Thank you, pet," he says, soft, and Derio's eyes are shining like stars.

                "I just seemed like I would be taking -"

                "No, you're giving," Oz says, and Xander nods.  Spike is still leaning close to Derio and he runs his finger down Derio's neck, making the man shiver.

                 "Are you ready to give again then?" Spike says, and Derio nods - reaches blindly and takes Oz's hand in his.  Spike pulls Derio close again - lets the demon out and for a moment Derio just stares at him - puts up one hand and traces his fingers lightly over the ridged brow.  Xander and Oz feel the surge in the link - the shuddering twist of pleasure and desire, and then Spike bends his head and kisses Derio's throat on the opposite side of Oz's bite.  Opens his mouth and sinks in his fangs and Derio makes a small, breathy sound - a whimper of pleasure and pain and Spike drinks for a moment and then backs away, licking his lips, his eyes gone heavy-lidded.  Blood wells up and trails away, down to Derio's collarbone.  Oz flicks a glance at Xander and Xander moves forward and licks, lapping at the blood and sucking for a moment at the wound.  Derio's blood is like his kiss - pepper and honey and earth and iron, and Xander shudders.  The link is thick with WANT, now - thick with desire and with *pack ours family ours ours.*  

                Oz is panting a little now and he moves swiftly to the bite - licks the blood from Derio's chest and from his shoulder - cleans the bite and drinks what blood will come out and then he's kissing Derio.  His hands sink into the bead-strung dreads, his mouth is hungry and demanding and Derio's fist twists in his shirt, pulling him closer.

                Spike pulls Xander to him and yanks his shirt off - catches his mouth in a hard kiss and then slides his mouth down, to lick at the claim scar and send juddering bolts of heat through him.

                *Open the scar, love, make it bleed* Spike thinks, and when his fangs sink into his throat Xander hisses, going from half-hard and pleasantly wanting to immediate, burning lust.  He snaps his jaws shut over Spike's scar, feeling the static-shock spark of demon's blood over his tongue and then Oz is there, hand on Spike's shoulder and Derio is bending over him, hot mouth on his throat, tongue slick and probing and throat working as he takes in Xander's blood - Spike's.  He is flushed - dazed - and when Spike opens the old, old mark on Oz's throat he moans, a deep and urgent sound.

                "Mi amor, mi amor..." Derio gasps, and then he's drinking, writhing, and Spike pushes Xander down, kissing him with sharp teeth and invading tongue, his hands pushing Xander's sweat pants down and away, kicking at his own as Xander does the same.   They are thrusting, twisting; trying for maximum contact and Xander lets his thighs fall open - squeezes Spike's ribs between them and pulls him closer still, fingers sunk deep into the flexing muscle of Spike's back and ass, head thrown back as Spike's mouth worries over the scar.  Oz and Derio are twined together, the same urgent movement, the same groaning sighs and Xander reaches out and find's Derio's hand - laces their fingers together, palm to palm.  Holds tight, pushing *love you want you family ours always always* into the link as hard as he can, hoping Derio might hear it - feel it -something.  The tingling pressure of Derio's magic comes back - grows stronger - and the hyena snaps and bites, claws and writhes and WANTS, and the demon's growl becomes a roar of possession and triumph.  Oz has shifted, just a little - black eyes staring into Derio's and the wolf opens his mouth and sings out love and joy and completion - PACK.   The rising power crests and breaks like a wave in the sea, flurry of fading wisps like dissolving foam and they ride the ebb of it down and down into sleep.  When they wake hours later, a tangle of limbs and salt-sweat and heat, they can all feel the difference.



                Xander looked up suddenly, aware that the music had stopped and found Spike staring at him from under half-closed lids, his mouth in a lazy smile.  Oz was flushed, leaning on Derio, and Derio was staring at him, open-mouthed.

                "Were you - Dios mio, Xander, I felt - is that the link?  Were you thinking about...that night?"

                 "Uh...yes?  Sorry, I -"

                "Nothin' to be sorry for, love," Spike said, and *Fucking want you,* making Xander take in a sharp breath.

                "You really felt - something?  Felt it?"

                "Fuck, I - yeah, felt something, all right," Derio said, half-laughing, and Oz let his hand rest high on Derio's thigh.

                "Moon's gonna be up in hour.  Should get ready," he said, and Derio blinked and looked at him - seemed to gather himself together.

                "Yeah, yeah okay, lobo."  Derio began to put his fiddle away and Spike got up and stretched - came to stand behind Xander and started  combing his fingers through Xander's hair, tugging and gently scratching and Xander leaned back against his legs, *love you so nervous?*

                *A little, I suppose,* Spike answered.  Xander half-closed his eyes and Spike caressed his cheek and lips - went back to his hair, calming them both with that familiar touch.  Oz was moving around the camp, doing small things like lighting a lantern and hanging it carefully from a hook in the van and shutting the doors.

                *Keep out the damp and make it a little warm in there,* he thought when Spike sent a question through the link.  Time seemed to pass in a convoluted fashion - slowly and then quickly and then slowly again and Derio and Oz took off their clothes and put them in the van - huddled close to the fire, a blanket wrapped around them.  Waiting again.  Derio was saying Oz's mantra under his breath, slowly and carefully, keeping his breathing even.  His fingers were locked in the beads he still wore and for the first time Oz was wearing something too - the strand of beads Derio had given him that night.  The strand was long enough Xander doubted it would break during the change.  His own strand was under his layers of clothing, a faint whisper of power singing through him whenever Xander really thought about it.  Spike wore his as well.  Suddenly Oz became as still as stone, and Derio's voice faltered and died away.  Oz twisted his head around, looking up into the blank sky, and even though he couldn't see it he could feel the moon, and that feeling shot through the link.  Rumbling static that was sensation and sound too deep to hear with your ears.  It made Xander's bones shake and behind him Spike was growling out a sing-song groan.  

                "Oz?" Derio whispered, and his eyes were black.

                "Say it, now, Derio, look at me -" Oz said, his hands on Derio's shoulders and Derio nodded.  His lips moved, saying the mantra, and the change...happened.  But slowly - as slowly as Derio said the words and Xander watched, fascinated, as Derio's body twisted - extended - warped into the wolf-shape that they knew so well.  Oz changed too, but much faster, and they were standing there, motionless.  Derio lifted his head, scenting the air - swinging the narrow muzzle around until it pointed at Spike and Xander.  His eyes caught and reflected the fire-light and Xander could see the red and black beads glinting in the deep brown fur.  And other things - the tiny bells, the beads and wire and trinkets he had woven into his dreads.  All there, in the thick ruff that fell around his shoulders and neck.  Oz was scenting as well and he went to a tree a few paces away - reared up and clawed the bark, then dropped back down, scratching the earth.

                *Keep the bears away,* he thought. 

                *Bears?  Fuck...  God, Oz - he's...look at him.  He's -*

                *Beautiful.  Derio -*   Spike was pushing - pushing *pack love you family beautiful* hard through the link and Derio-wolf paced closer, a thin whine escaping his throat.  He snuffled along Xander's thigh - pushed his nose into Xander's hand and then came closer - reared up as Oz had done and put his forepaws on Spike's shoulders.

                *Pack.*   Faint.  But it was there and Spike laughed. 

                *Yes!  Pack, pack, family - love you!  Oz - love you...*  Spike put his hands out and ruffled the thick, dark fur and Derio whined again - lifted his muzzle and let out a short howl.

                *Pack...night...cold good prey run run run RUN love...*    Something seemed to break and then Derio's awareness was flooding them.  The scents and sounds of the night doubled - tripled - and Xander gasped.  The hyena shot to the surface and let out a shriek of pure joy and Derio snarled for a moment and then howled - long, quavering cry that Oz joined in on a moment later.  Derio dropped back to all fours and trotted to Oz, nuzzling into his side, tail whipping furiously.

                *Pack run hunt blood run run HUNT*   The demon roared to life, and Xander pushed himself to his feet - turned around to see Spike pulling off his duster - his own clothes. 

                *Hunt pack family hunt,* from the hyena, urging him on and Xander struggled with the laces of his boots - flung his clothing down as the wolves leapt away, careening into the trees.  Spike turned golden-glowing eyes on him and grinned, then he grabbed Xander's hand and they ran

                The air was cold and sharp, knifing into Xander's lungs.  The patches of snow were like fire under his feet and branches whipped over his skin, stinging him.  But it was good - it was right.  Something startled in the brush ahead and the wolves yipped excitement, the link just mindless hunt and run, the rumbling static-roar of the moon like a heartbeat underneath it all.

                Hunting in cities was relatively new, to the demon; it flooded the link with feelings -with memories - race-memories older than time of hunts that were exactly like this.  Tracking prey through forest and across plain; running, and finding and drinking blood hot and spiced with fear, with adrenalin, with life.  The demon roared, dodging trees, and the hyena called again and again, keeping the pack together.  Xander felt his human self - slipping back.  Not running away, and not being locked out, just...letting go.  Letting the hyena take over so that the woods were in sharp relief, everything seeming to glow just faintly with reflected light from the distant cities and filtered light from the moon.  The clouds were moving fast overhead and the occasional break in them was like a halogen spot, shining down.  Spike was like a flare of white fire in his vision, moving as if his joints were liquid mercury.

                Scents - of earth and water, tree and stone.  Scent of the demon, which was a burning, sweet smell of magic and age and old, old blood.  Wolf-scent, which was a sharp, thick musk, Oz's earthier, Derio's more citrus.  Even his own body had a scent, of salt and blood and something honey-sweet, and Xander drew in great lungfuls of the air and let it swirl in his mouth - let it inform him and guide him. 


                As they ran, small animals started out of the brush around them, skittering away until they finally broke out of the trees and were running across a grassy meadow, the wind in their faces.  A scent - hot and rank and thick - blew straight at them and *prey prey blood hunt* was in the link, from all of them.  The clouds thinned a little and Xander could see deer - a herd, heads down and grazing.  As they got closer the deer shifted - heads came up sharply, ears turning and tuning.  Oz made a low sound - a 'go' sort of sound and he and Derio launched themselves flat out.  The deer bolted, panicked and running in seconds flat and then Oz was leaping, paws extended, jaws closing down on the haunch of a fleeing doe, and Derio was leaping for the throat.  The deer stumbled and slewed sideways - scrabbled at the earth desperately with her hooves.            

                Spike and Xander were a few paces behind and Spike put on an extra burst of speed and hit the deer solidly in the ribs, his hand crooked like a talon and shredding into the soft underbelly.  Blood-scent hit the air, thick and hot, and the deer was down, on her side, legs kicking.  Derio let go of the neck and howled, a wild ululation that sent shivers down Xander's back.  Spike pounced on the throat of the deer and sank his fangs in, the taste of the blood exploding through the link and Xander wanted it.  Oz was ripping the belly open, and Derio was worrying at the flank and Xander pushed between them  The hyena knew what to do - where to grab - and he went armpit deep in the cavity of the body, searching. 

                *Pack is strong...blood and bones...*  The hyena yipped in triumph as Xander's hands found his prize - the liver, hot and blood-rich and melting on his tongue, settling in his stomach like a burning coal.   Derio sniffed and then tore a piece away, bolting it and Oz pushed in for his own share, bloody to the eyes.  Spike tore away from the throat, blood down the front of his body and roared, that booming, ferocious cry that echoed and re-echoed off the flanks of the mountain.  Something replied - a grumbling, coughing sound that Oz identified as *bear*.

                The body of the deer steamed in the cold air - the blood and the bones under his hands felt good - felt right...  The hyena was almost in a frenzy of ecstasy, extending itself as far as it could, feeling and seeing in ways Xander almost never let it.  His heart was pounding, solid and fast and strong, his chest dragging in huge gulps of air and he was hard, so fucking hard it almost hurt.  He wanted to shred the deer - wanted to roll in it, in the blood, wanted to burrow into the earth and take his pack with him and live in this moment forever.


                *This this blood and running, sweat and spit and marrow, full belly, hard cock, this this...*   Spike slithered off the carcass, side-stepping Derio who was shaking his head and shoulders, the hide between his teeth slowly peeling back off of raw muscle.   Spike yanked Xander into a hard embrace, his mouth moving in sharp bites over Xander's neck and shoulders - over his chest.  Xander sank his fingers into Spike's ass and ground them together, sizzling shock when their cocks rubbed and Spike pushed his hand between Xander's legs, breeching him with blood-slick fingers.

                *Fuck, fuck, Spike - pack, pack leader YOURS, mine, mine now...*  Coherency was fragmenting and Xander dragged Spike down to the grass - wormed his way onto his stomach and spread his knees wide, bracing his elbows on the ground, inhaling the sharp spice of the crushed blades and the rich soup of the earth-smell underneath.

                When Spike slammed into him, no preparation and almost no warning, he lifted his head and screamed and it was so fucking good.  Oz and Derio were snapping and snarling, shifting back off the full change and rolling onto the grass as well, clutching and biting, *mine yours pack mine* mindlessly in the link from Oz, nothing but pure want from Derio.

                Xander pushed back hard into Spike - arched his throat and begged for the bite he knew was coming, his own hand tight around his cock but *love this love you yours yours yours TAKE it, pack Spike fuck fuck fuck.*   He knew, dimly, he'd be sore and maybe sorry in the daylight, but right now he never wanted this to end.

                *Mine,* the demon growled, and the fangs were needles of silver that sent a wave of fire through him and he howled to the sky.  This was belonging, this was pack, and if it never happened again he would never, ever forget.






Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer - The Mountain

hermano - brother

familia - family

acero - iron

usar sus dientes, no mas - only use your teeth

me amor - my love

lobo - wolf