Chapter 19: Loss

Chapter 19: Loss

††††††††††††††† *Just what I need,* Spike thought,*another Slayer that wants to kick my ass.*

††††††††††††††† There was a flare of panic in the link and Spike watched Faith re-orient towards the garden door as Xander, Oz and Derio all came in fast, Oz with something that looked like a machete in his hand and Xander shirtless and lean and looking as lethal as he was, the hyena making his eyes gleam in the slanting golden light of late afternoon.

††††††††††††††† "Wow - welcoming committee," Faith said, shifting on her toes a little, angling back towards Spike as he came slowly down the last few stairs.† She grinned at him and he grinned back, all fangs and demon's eyes because he saw her in the link - in images Xander was shunting away as fast as he could and Spike had the sudden urge to see if Faith still thought asphyxiation was fun.

††††††††††††††† *Don't, don't, don't, she's here for a reason -*

††††††††††††††† *She'll heal,* Spike thought, then hissed as Angelus slammed into the ambient.† Derio was fighting the change, not up to the massive surges of emotion in the link and Oz dropped the knife, turned to him and put his hands on his shoulders - sent the wolf-chant out deliberately loud to all of them.

††††††††††††††† *Calm calm calm, pack is safe...* from Spike and Xander both, focusing on family for a moment while Angel ducked into the building under a silvery camp-blanket, looking rumpled and put out, a bag slung over his shoulder.†† He looked around the room at Faith in 'Slayer' mode, at Xander and Spike in 'protect' mode, and at Oz and Derio locked into the mantra, and heaved a sigh.

††††††††††††††† "Can everybody just - stand down?† We're not here to fight."

††††††††††††††† "We're always here to fight," Spike said, edging around a little and blocking Tara from getting past him.† She poked him in the side and he twitched.

††††††††††††††† "Stop that, Glinda!"

††††††††††††††† "Nobody's going to attack me, Spike - let m-me through!"† Spike saw Xander's stance relax infinitesimally - saw him smile at Tara and he sighed himself and let her pass.† Someone else was coming in and Spike waited, tense.†† But then the complicated scent of DarlaAngelfamily wafted to him and he relaxed as well.† It was the baby - Connor - in the arms of a thin, long-haired woman and Spike knew that Angel wouldn't bring his son into danger.† Connor was fisting a handful of the woman's hair and looking as if he'd just woken up.

††††††††††††††† "Here, I'll -"†† Angel reached for him and Connor smiled, reaching back.† The brown-haired woman pried his hand open and freed her hair, then looked around with a small, nervous smile on her lips.† She was pretty in a doll-like way, with huge eyes and a heart-shaped face and something was coming from Tara - blood-smell of a blush and sudden sweat.

††††††††††††††† *I think this is the mysterious Fred!*

††††††††††††††† *Ooh, I think you're right.*†† Xander turned to Oz and Derio, putting a hand out and touching Derio's back, stroking gently.

††††††††††††††† *I'm all right, I'm - just startled...everything was so STRONG -*

††††††††††††††† *It's okay, it's fine...pack is safe, safe...*

††††††††††††††† "So - we're not gonna throw down?† Damn - I thought the Hellmouth would be more fun than L.A."† Faith seemed to relax suddenly and completely, like a cat that's decided there's no threat.† She sauntered over to the big leather couch Angel had left behind and flopped down, legs sprawled and hands behind her head.

††††††††††††††† "Just keep your distance, Slayer, and we'll be fine."† Spike gave up resisting and went over to his pack, touching them all with light, quick touches.† Anchoring and reassuring and the last of the tension eased off.† Oz nuzzled his cheek against Derio's for a moment - kissed him - and then they turned to face Angel, who was fussing over Connor.†† Tara had disappeared into the next room and now she came back, smiling nervously at Fred and bringing Dawn with her.† Dawn squeaked happily and bounced over to Angel, making a face at Connor and reaching out to tickle the child.

††††††††††††††† "I told B-buffy you were here, she went to get Giles and Ethan," she said, and Fred perked up.

††††††††††††††† "You must be Tara!† Hey!† It's so great to finally meet you!† I mean, not that we haven't met because we've been talking online for months but now we actually get to talk and wow, you're more - I mean, hi, Iím Fred, Winifred, Winifred Burkle."† Fred blushed and advanced on Tara, hand stretched out, and Tara blushed as well - took the offered hand and gave it a quick squeeze.

††††††††††††††† "H-h-hi, Fred, yeah I-I'm Tara."†

††††††††††††††† "You're the witch?" from Faith, appraising stare and Tara blushed again.

††††††††††††††† "Our witch," Spike growled, and Faith grinned at him again.† Tara's blush was epic.

††††††††††††††† "You know, the whole 'witch' thing is really fascinating, I mean, are the spells really drawing on some sort of vast, occult force beyond our knowledge as mere humans or is it really just an intuitive way of manipulating the basic rules of physics and chemistry?† I mean, that's assuming anybody actually could manipulate atoms and molecules at will -"†† Fred stopped abruptly and ducked her head.

††††††††††††††† "Perhaps you'll get a chance to do some...research while you're here," Ethan said, laughing as he and Giles came in from the kitchen, cellar dirt on their hands and Giles with a grey tangle of cobweb in his hair.† Spike could smell the stale earth, old blood, and fungus-sulpher smell of old, worn magic on them. Buffy was right behind them and she stopped in the doorway, looking at Faith, her expression unreadable.

††††††††††††††† "Oh - research?† You mean Tara and I -"†† Fred's eyes got somehow wider and she seemed to lose her voice altogether.

††††††††††††††† "Fred - could you get Connor some water?† Tara knows where everything is."† Angel was sliding the bag off his shoulder and holding it out, showing, Spike thought, an unusual amount of tact.† And brains.

††††††††††††††† *Maybe he just wants to make the babble go away.*

††††††††††††††† *It was pretty interesting babble,* Oz thought, going over to the couch they'd brought from Buffy's house and sinking down, bringing Derio with him.† Fred took the bag - filled with Connor's things, apparently - and Tara led her to the kitchen, smiling behind her hair.† Connor struggled in Angel's arms, chanting.

††††††††††††††† "Down, Da, down, Da, down, Da!" until Angel set him on his feet and let him go.† Connor caught his balance and then began to toddle straight towards Oz, Dawn beside him with her hands outstretched in case he fell.†† Oz sat up and put his hands out as well, smiling.

††††††††††††††† "Well, this is -"†† Giles started, but Faith interrupted him.

††††††††††††††† "You got a problem, B?† 'Cause you're about to have one if you don't stop with the starin'."

††††††††††††††† "No, no problem, Faith.† Just wondering why you're here."† Faith frowned - uncoiled from her sprawl and stalked over to Buffy.

††††††††††††††† *Girlfight!* Spike snickered, and Xander grabbed him around the waist and dragged him towards Oz and Derio.

††††††††††††††† *Don't!† Jesus - now I've got hair-pulling and bikinis in my head!*

††††††††††††††† *Nothing wrong with that, love.*

††††††††††††††† "Everything wrong with it, love.†† Come say hello to your - nephew.† Or whatever."† Spike twitched at that, glaring at Xander.

††††††††††††††† "Not bloody likely," he snapped.

††††††††††††††† "Sorry if I'm a little unclear on where you stand just now," Buffy said, and Faith opened her mouth to retort but was interrupted.

††††††††††††††† "Listen," Angel said, loudly, and everyone turned to look at him except for Connor, who had discovered Derio's dreads and was trying to pull the bells out.† "We've had a really long drive and we're kinda - tired.† And Fred and Faith were saying they were hungry so - could we maybe get some food and - and just everybody sit down?† Talk about all this?"† Angel didn't seem his usual self - seemed off, somehow, more than tired, and Spike cocked his head to the side, watching him.

††††††††††††††† *Something's up with the broody bastard.† Wonder if he'll say?*

††††††††††††††† *You mean, something besides the usual?*† Xander hadn't let go of Spike's waist and now he slipped his other arm around and hugged, chin on Spike's shoulder and his lips pressing into Spike's neck.† Spike relaxed against him, finally letting his demon-face go, watching Angel and the dark Slayer through slitted eyes.†† Faith shrugged and went back to sprawl on the couch again and Buffy moved over to the other couch, still looking pissed.† She had argued against getting the other Slayer out of prison - had argued that they didn't need a murderer on 'The Team'.†† Spike had just looked at her, eyebrow up, and she'd subsided, glaring.

††††††††††††††† "Yes, I think that's an admirable idea, Angel."† Giles bent a little at Ethan's urging and let the mage pick the cobweb out of his hair, grimacing at it.† "I think first, though, Ethan and I really need to get cleaned up.† The cellar here is -"

††††††††††††††† "Disgusting," Ethan finished, brushing his hands together distastefully.†† Angel looked a little apprehensive.

††††††††††††††† "Uh - maybe you guys should just - avoid the cellar," he said, and Spike chuckled.

††††††††††††††† "Too late, Angel.† They've been dismantling Dru's messes for hours already.† And the Potentials have found just about all the...'doll parts' she cached.† And - other things."† Angel looked appalled and then he sighed, his shoulders sinking a little.

††††††††††††††† "Oh.† Sorry about that, Giles," he mumbled.

††††††††††††††† *Oh fuck yeah, something besides the usual.† That should have got more of a rise than that...*†† Flash in the link, of Angel in China when he'd had his soul but hadn't told them.† The same then as now - a tiredness that was more than physical - sadness that wasn't guilt but was something else.† *He's losin' - something.† Resignin' himself to it.† Git.† Why won't he ever fight?*

††††††††††††††† *Guilt, I'd guess,* Oz thought, and Fred and Tara walked back in just then, talking softly. Giles and Ethan strode off in the direction of the downstairs bathroom.† Fred handed a little plastic cup with lions and tigers prancing around on it to Connor.† It had a spout at the top and Spike regarded it curiously.† †††††

††††††††††††††† *Sippy cup,* Derio supplied, with images of his own numerous cousins using them and Spike shook his head.

††††††††††††††† *Humans are strange.† What's wrong with a plain cup?*

††††††††††††††† *That,* Xander thought, laughing as Connor grabbed the cup and immediately turned it upside down.† It didn't spill, of course, and Spike shrugged.

††††††††††††††† *Wasn't allowed to walk around with a cup, anyway.† Food a good idea, pet?*

††††††††††††††† *Very good idea.*

††††††††††††††† "There's about five places that deliver out here," Xander continued aloud.†† "Chinese, pizza, Thai, Mexican, and burgers.† How about we just get some from each?"

††††††††††††††† "Oh!† Mexican!" Fred said, jumping a little, and Tara smiled.

††††††††††††††† "Pizza!" from Dawn, who sat cross-legged on the floor making 'grrrrr' faces at Connor so he'd laugh, which he was doing around the spout of the cup.

††††††††††††††† "Hey!† Xander's getting food!"† It was a Potential - Rona - standing at the head of the stairs and there were appreciative yells from the second storey and a thundering of feet.† The bow-shock of the Slayer energy was big enough to precede them by yards and Angel flashed to game face and swooped down on Connor - picked him up and held him close, fight or flight quivering through him.† Spike could see the tension in him and that was one more piece in the puzzle because Angel - shouldn't be that upset.† Not over a pack of little girls, Slayer-taint or no.† Dawn 'eeped' and scooted closer to the couch, leaning into Oz and Derio's shins and shooting a glare at Angel.

††††††††††††††† "You'll get used to it, Irish," Spike said quietly, voice pitched for Angel's ears and the older vampire looked over at him, his expression a little wild.

††††††††††††††† "Jesus -" he said, and then the Potentials were pouring down the stairs, lugging buckets and mops and rags and bottles of spray-cleaner, combined scents of chemicals and shampoo and girl-sweat and them - the family *blood, Florida Water, Rose oil, blood, Dru Angelus Spike.* ††Angel took a hard, hard breath and lowered his head and Spike felt a moment's empathy.† It was pretty overwhelming, even when you were used to it.† And the memories that came from the stirred-up scents...those were just as hard to deal with.

††††††††††††††† †"Hey - another vampire!"† Kennedy, of course, doing her best to look hard and menacing and Spike didn't even have to try - the demon was right there and he shook Xander off and was on her in three long strides - grabbed her by the scruff.

††††††††††††††† "The only other vampire you can't stake, so fuck right off, Kennedy," he snarled and gave her a shove in the direction of the kitchen.† "You lot get this mess put away and get clean - you stink.† And be respectful.† That's the bloody Angelus and he's had more blood on his hands then you'll ever see in your lifetime."† The Potentials milled uncertainly, exchanging looks, then they flocked kitchen-ward, chattering.†† Spike didn't pull his punches and they'd learned fast in the last two days not to piss him off - and to hop it when he said hop it.†

††††††††††††††† *Oooh, I think you just might have shocked Angel speechless.*†† Xander giggled in the link and it was true, Angel was staring at Spike with his mouth gaping open.† Faith was looking a little surprised herself, but then she shook back her hair and stood up again, walking over to Buffy and holding out her hand.

††††††††††††††† "Listen, B - let's just let all that old stuff go, okay?† Angel said you needed help - that something big was goin' down.†† I'm...not the same as I was."

††††††††††††††† "Pretty close," Buffy said, eyeing her, but she finally reached out and took Faith's hand.† "Okay.† Let's go introduce you to the Potentials.† They need to be whipped into shape and I'll bet you're just the girl to do it."

††††††††††††††† "You know it.† Gimme a whip and see what happens."† Faith's grin was full of innuendo and Buffy made a face, fighting her own smile.

††††††††††††††† "We'll take orders, Xander.† And Drake found something in that room back there -"† Buffy pointed past Spike towards what had probably been servant's† quarters or store rooms - a row of cramped cells with small windows and no decoration.† "You might want to - deal with it."

††††††††††††††† "Sure, Buff," Xander said, ambling over and wrapping his arms around Spike again and Spike just sighed and nodded, tired of the cleaning already - tired of the past being unearthed at every turn.† He'd already smashed the abandoned wheelchair to fragments and it was on the burn-pile outside.

††††††††††††††† *Glad when this is over.† Why doesn't this damn First just show itself so we can fight?† Sick of all this mess.*

††††††††††††††† *Be home soon,* Xander thought, but his confidence in that mantra was wearing thin as Giles and Ethan discovered more and more about the First - and Buffy told about Angel's encounter with it years ago in this same house.

††††††††††††††† *God, want to be home NOW...love you, love you...*†† Spike closed his eyes, oblivious for a moment to the Potentials, to Angel - to everything.† Sinking into the internal, full-body pet that Xander was doing, into the *pack, safe, love you love you* that was coming from Derio and Oz.† Dawn was also *family love brothers,* fuzzy but there and Tara's voice, rising and falling softly as she talked to Fred, was a pleasant, peaceful thing.† *Promise, promise,* Spike thought, although promise what he wasn't at all sure.† He was just - afraid, even though he wouldn't admit it.† He felt as if something was going to swoop out of the sky - or burst up out of the floor - and devour them all.† He pushed those things violently away into the dark - back into the recesses of his mind that still held the Initiative, and other things.† The same place he'd been putting them since he first started loving Xander, and his William voice was right - it was crowded in there, and getting nasty.

††††††††††††††† *Don't care.† It's not going to get free and I'm not going to fail.† Get my family safe out of this, that's all that matters - all that counts.*

††††††††††††††† *Teeth and claws,* from the demon maybe, or William, and he shook his head.

††††††††††††††† *You all right, vampire-mine?* Xander asked, and Spike straightened and turned in Xander's embrace, dredging up a smile.

††††††††††††††† "Never better, love.†† Food, yeah?† And then some talk and we'll have this sorted soon."

††††††††††††††† "Yeah," Xander said softly, and kissed him.

 

 

††††††††††††††† Food went over well.† The Potentials all ate in the living room, cross-legged on the floor, with Connor going from girl to girl, getting hugged, tickled, and fed.† He seemed to prefer the pad Thai noodles and the veggie pizza over all.† Dawn chose to eat with the Potentials so she could tell Angel/Angelus/Faith stories.† Even Miss Kitty and Sinclair - unsettled by the move and the strangers - came out of hiding to beg scraps and Connor paced them around the circle for as long as they would put up with him, grabbing for their tails and saying 'kitty kitty kitty' under his breath.†† Everyone else gathered at the long table in the dining room, passing around plates and keeping the conversation on the casual side.† Angel surprised everyone by taking some egg-drop soup and then looking speculatively at Spike when he refused any of the blood Angel had brought.

††††††††††††††† *Never touching that foul mess again,* Spike thought, shuddering at the aroma of animal blood from Angel's mug.† Derio sniffed and agreed silently that it was bad.† Halfway through the meal, Cecelia Pembroke swept in with the newest Potential - from Australia - and grabbed Anya and Drake for 'family time' at her hotel.† The Potential - Donna - ate three slices of pizza in rapid succession and fell asleep against the couch arm, her shoes still coated in the red dust of home.† Then they talked.

††††††††††††††† "Wes hasn't found anything about the First you don't already know," Angel said, looking tiredly over at Connor and then back to the table.† "We're doing some research, and we're talking to our people but...there's not much out there."

††††††††††††††† "The demon community knows it's coming, though," Buffy said, wiping her hands slowly on a napkin.† "A lot of them are clearing out, and - Sunnydale seems to be waking up to reality.† There are a lot more 'For Sale' signs around than before.† I think people kind of...know."

††††††††††††††† "I wonder how they know?† Is it some sort of race memory thing or is it maybe -"†† Fred started rattling off theories and speculations and Spike shook his head - kissed Xander glancingly on the cheek and stood up.

††††††††††††††† *Gonna have a smoke - go hunt.† Be back in a while, yeah?*

††††††††††††††† *Sure.† We're going to burn that stuff later - we'll be up.*

††††††††††††††† *Love you...*†† Spike pulled his duster on and stalked outside, lighting up and taking a deep breath of mingled air and smoke.† The garden was dull and stark without the flowers Dru had loved, and the little fountain was sluggish - needed cleaning.† The scent of the sea was far off and thin, and he could mostly smell old blood and the rot of things in the cistern.† *Good thing they're burning that tonight.† Can't wait much longer.*†† He pulled out his flask and took a long pull - the last of the Glenfiddich that mage had brought - and was unsurprised when Angel stepped out into the garden after him.† They both stood in silence, Spike smoking and Angel watching him, and Spike finally sighed and offered the flask.† Angel took a long drink and handed it back, and Spike tucked it away.

††††††††††††††† "I'm hunting.† You with?" he asked shortly, and Angel hesitated and then nodded.††

††††††††††††††† Downtown Sunnydale was deserted, even though it was relatively early, and Spike headed for the docks.† There was always something shady going on there, and he didn't think Angel would have too much to complain about if he took down a criminal or two.† They wandered in silence along the creaking piers, the soft slap and gurgle of the sea familiar and calming.† It was almost like the Duwamish near their house in Seattle and for a moment homesickness gripped Spike so hard that the link flared wide; Xander, Oz and Derio all snatched into the feeling and buffeted by it before he could get it under control.

††††††††††††††† *Sorry, sorry my loves, sorry, didn't mean -*

††††††††††††††† *It's all right...all right...I miss it too, love, miss it too...* from Xander, heartbreak in that thought, and: *Pack, pack safe...home soon...* and *love you* from Oz and Derio.

††††††††††††††† "You all right?" Angel asked, staring at him, and Spike shook himself all over and frowned, going for another cigarette.

††††††††††††††† "Just talkin' to my family," he muttered, and Angel nodded slowly.

††††††††††††††† "Do you think what you did...hurt Xander?† Do you think it...tainted him?" Angel's voice was so soft - so bereft of the usual impatience or accusation or sneer that Spike stopped walking and looked at him for a long moment.

††††††††††††††† "I can't touch his soul any more than he can touch mine.† I might be playin' nice an' all but I'm still what I was - nothing's gonna change that.† But I love him and he feels that, every minute.† He knows, and -"

††††††††††††††† "Accepts," Angel murmured, and Spike shook his head impatiently.†

††††††††††††††† "The Slayer 'accepts'.† Xander - knows.† And it doesn't matter.† He loves me no matter what," Spike added, so softly that Angel might not have heard, but he did.

††††††††††††††† "Do you think -" he started, and then paused, scenting the air.† There were people up ahead, and there was blood.† Spike grinned at him and flicked his cigarette away, shifting into game-face and stalk-mode as smooth as glass.†† Three men were attacking a fourth - the fourth was scrabbling for a gun that gleamed dully under the running lights of some ship - and Spike pounced gleefully into the midst of them, dealing out blows that knocked two men cold and broke an arm.† He grabbed the fourth man and shook him.

††††††††††††††† "What're you doin' out here, mate?† Not a good place to be after dark," he growled, and the man writhed in terror.† Angel was in game-face also, his nostrils flaring at the thick scent of blood in the air and Spike snarled a silent laugh.

††††††††††††††† "Take it!† Just take it!† Just - don't kill me, okay?† Please!"

††††††††††††††† "Take what, eh?† What're you offerin'?" Spike asked, and the man kicked his foot out at a duffle that was lying half-zipped near Spike's feet.† Spike poked at it with his toe.

††††††††††††††† "Oi - Irish!† See what's in here."† He saw the man with the broken arm getting dazedly to his feet and he strode over to him, dragging the man in his arms along by the throat.† The broken-arm man cringed away and Spike grabbed his jacket and flung him towards Angel, who straightened up from the duffle and caught him.

††††††††††††††† "It's heroin, Spike.† A lot."

††††††††††††††† "Oooh - got a little horse in the bag an' you wanna trade it for your life?" Spike purred.† The man nodded frantically, twisting in Spike's choke-hold.†

††††††††††††††† "You can have all of it!" he rasped.†† "Worth a quarter-mil!† More!"

††††††††††††††† "Sure it is," Spike said, grinning over at Angel who looked a little confused.† Spike wrenched the man's head over and drank, fast, before Angel had a chance to figure out what he was doing.† When he'd taken enough to incapacitate - but not enough to kill - he let the man fall to the ground, licking his lips.

††††††††††††††† "Spike!† What the fuck -!"† Angel's shock drove his demon away and Spike grinned, knowing there was blood on his fangs.

††††††††††††††† "Said I was hunting, Angel.† You think I live on animal blood - stale human blood fit for the garbage?† I hunt.† I just don't kill 'em - mostly."† Angel just stood staring at him, but Spike knew he could hear the man's heartbeat - knew he was still alive.†† The man with the broken arm was babbling something now, about money and drugs, and Angel came out of his daze and shook him, shutting him up.† Spike picked up the duffle of heroin and zipped it shut - spied another bag half-hidden under a pile of rotting crates and pulled it out.

††††††††††††††† "Oh look - the payoff."† Spike lifted a stack of bills - hundreds - and the man twitched.† "Go on, Angel - you can have a taste.† You used to, you know.† I remember.† Only the murderers and rapists.† He's close enough, don't you think?"†† Spike slung the bag of money down with the drugs and walked over to Angel who looked miserable and furious at the same time.

††††††††††††††† "You've got to be kidding me, Spike!† You - hunt - people.† You drink their blood!† How - how can...† Xander said you have a soul!† Giles did!"

††††††††††††††† "I do have a soul, you wanker!† Not callin' Xan a liar, are you?† Never lost my soul, unlike some.† You think I should be - hidin' in the corner?† Crying for the quick and the dead?"

††††††††††††††† "Humans, Spike!† How can you -"

††††††††††††††† "I'm a vampire, mate, same as you, although you'd like to forget what you are."† Spike turned in a circle, arms outstretched.† He felt a curious sort of buzzing somewhere in the back of his head.† Felt as if he were floating.† Memories of past times - hunts with Angelus, with Dru through the midnight streets - welled up and spilled over, and he was lost to the past.†† "Play-pretend with your humans and hide your face all you like...† Xander knows what I am - they all do."† Spike looked over at Angel, and at the human who was struggling in his grip and he snarled in impatient fury.† Strode over and snatched the broken-armed man out of Angel's lax hold.† He cuffed the man a sharp blow and the human sank to the ground, unconscious.† The link was thrumming with tension and *question question* and Spike soothed his family - shut down, a little, letting them know it was just between him and Angel, for now.† That floating feeling persisted, and Spike felt the demon stir and surge and stretch, reaching for the freedom it had had on the mountain with his family - nostalgic for past times and aching for Angel to just be himself - just this once, just for a little while.† Cast out and denied and all ties severed but it still wanted...would always want.

††††††††††††††† "It's wrong, Spike.† I don't have to -"

††††††††††††††† "But you do, you bloody stupid bastard."† Spike got up in Angel's face, the demon snarling at him and calling Angel's own to the fore, golden eyes and heavy, ridged brow and they glared at each other.† "You fight it every day, Angel - every minute.† You ever think that if you let the demon out a bit more that the bloody Angelus wouldn't be madder than Dru?† It's like askin' a bird not to fly, Angel!"† Spike crouched down suddenly and wiped his finger along the broken-armed man's temple, where blood trickled from the blow he'd dealt.† He stood back up and shoved his hand into Angel's face, watching the struggle - the desperation.

††††††††††††††† "It's what we are, you ponce.† Pretend all day and nothing will change it.† Use it!† Don't imagine you're better for drinkin' that filth you do and sleepin' all night and hiding - everything you are."† Angel seemed frozen, panting lightly, and Spike slowly painted his lips with the blood - put his other hand up and took the back of Angel's neck in a hard grip.† "They can take more than you think, Angel.† They can - accept more than you could ever imagine.† I promised Xander I wouldn't kill 'em.† And mostly I don't, unless they want it.† The sick ones, they've always come to us, haven't they?†† I take those, sometimes, and he knows, and he doesn't mind.† But I don't hide, and I don't try to fool myself.† I'm stronger than you, Angel, because I've never shut the demon out."† Angel's mouth was open and he licked, slowly, at his lips.† Shuddered violently under Spike's hand.

††††††††††††††† "There now," Spike crooned, leaning in to rest his forehead on Angel's - closing his eyes and inhaling the rich, earthy, musky scent that was Angel, Angelus...familiar as his own body and triggering a flood of memories that had been hovering for days, dredged up by the house-cleaning and ready to swamp him - drown him.

††††††††††††††† "Spike - you...† I can't -"

††††††††††††††† "'Course you can.† Angel, Angel....Angelus...† We were good together, yeah?† Were like...one mind.† One body.† I always knew - where you were, when to move.† Always knew you were there, in a fight.† At my back..."† Angel shifted and his hands came up and gripped Spike's shoulders, kneading through his duster and Spike wanted to laugh - wanted to cry.† Images thick and fast and not all of them bad - not all of them full of heartache.

††††††††††††††† "Wanted to share this with another man and you did...shared it all, showed me so much...† Loved you all so much, Angel, wanted you all so much and I - tried so hard..."† Spike heard his voice crack - didn't care.† Oh, he was cold, and he missed Dru, he missed - Xander and their house, and he wanted...† "Why'd you leave us?† Why'd you hate us?"† That memory, hurtful and bitter, made him catch his breath and Angel's hands were stroking his back now, pulling him into an embrace he hadn't felt in a century.† The demon struggled, confused and angry, but Spike - William - just wanted the past to be quiet - wanted to somehow let out the poison of it and *family family family* was dinning in his mind, overriding even the demon's anger at Angel's rejection.† *Did want us, but there was something...something...† Dru would know, Darla...she'll remember.† Mind like a steel trap, that one...have to ask...*

††††††††††††††† "You always loved too much, Spike.† Hurt yourself over and over, loving like that.† I could never love like that...Angelus couldn't..."

††††††††††††††† "He did.† You did.† Before...† Why did you do it, Angel?† You tore Dru to bits, leavin' us like that.† Broke her right down...gutted me..."† Old hurt, old pain - too much - and Spike struggled in Angel's embrace, pulling away and staring at him, knowing there were tears on his face and this once not caring.† He was suffocating in the press of memory and emotion and he closed the link down harder, trying to keep the hurt away - trying to regain some control.† Things were - coming undone.† He felt it - recognized it - but didn't know how to stop it, and awareness dimmed.

††††††††††††††† "Spike?"† Angel's voice, far away, and Spike shook himself and looked around, at docks and sprawled bodies and the thin, curling mist off the sea.

††††††††††††††† "Where's Dru, eh?† Where'd we leave the ladies?† Time to get them and go home..."† There was something - calling.† Something black and huge and older than anything he knew but it whispered promises - whispered family - told him where to go.† Spike reached out for Xander but the link - wasn't there.† Or he couldn't find it, and then he forgot what he was doing and looked at Angel again, who was staring at him.

††††††††††††††† "I know a place; they'll love it, Angelus.† Let's find them, let me show you - you've never seen... come on!† You don't want to miss this -"†† Spike turned and ran, heading towards what he wasn't sure but it wanted, and it showed him things he'd forgotten - things he'd dreamed - and he didn't know the difference, now.† He could hear Angel somewhere behind him and he shouted to the wind - to the sliver of moon and the sound of the tide.

††††††††††††††† "Come on - come on!† Fast as you can!† Can't catch me -"†† He laughed aloud, and the insistent prick of the link only urged him on.† Somewhere was something to explain this, and he was going to find it.† Somewhere was family, and Angel was there, missing link, and now he had the chain and he could pull them all back, make them all his, forever and always.† *Xander, wolflings, Dru...all of them, all of them...† Where's my boy?† It - knows.† It will tell me...tell me...*†† Running towards, and he didn't notice that he was still crying.