Chapter 21: News

Chapter 21: News

                Xander stumbled downstairs around eleven o'clock the next day, yawning, squinting against the sun that was coming in through the kitchen windows.  He looked blearily around and finally found a clean mug, and poured himself some coffee.  It was stone-cold, so he stuck the cup in the microwave and turned to find some breakfast - and nearly jumped out of his skin when he found Faith standing right behind him.

                "Fuck -"   He pushed down the hyena's instinctive response - *not pack!* and crossed his arms over his chest, hating to be defensive.  But the unpleasant Slayer tingle was worse, now that there were so many, and Faith's in particular was harsher than Buffy - less controlled.

                "Sorry, man, didn't mean to -"  Faith made a sort of 'backing off' gesture, hands up and open, literally taking a step back, and Xander sighed and forced himself to relax.

                "You startled me.  And I can - feel you.  It's...  It's uncomfortable."

                "Feel me?  Like - how?"  Faith leaned back against the counter behind her, pulling cigarettes and lighter out of her jeans - although how they fit in that skin-tight denim, Xander wasn't really sure.

                "Like - a kind of buzzing in the back of my head.  Listen, Faith, I'm just - getting some breakfast and -"

                "Hey, Xander, I just -"   Faith looked intently at the tip of her cigarette for a minute and then looked up at him.  She looked - serious, and a little angry, and Xander just didn't want to talk about it.  "I just - I wanted to say I'm sorry, okay?  I was - really shitty to you before and...  I wanted you to know...  I didn't say anything but I was really glad you tried to...well, tried to be my friend, you know?  I just...was in a really bad place."  She took a huge drag on the cigarette and for a moment Xander flashed on Spike, and how he distracted himself from unpleasant things, and he sighed.

                "Faith - look.  That...was a long time ago, okay?  I mean, yeah, it sucked and I was pissed about it for a long time.  But now -"   Xander made a gesture, indicating the house; the Potentials, whom he could hear out in the garden - the situation, really, with a spread of his fingers.  "Now is - really bad, you know?  And...that's just...done.  It's over.  I'm...I don't care, anymore.  You're here, helping us - Wes says you're okay, and Tara does, so - I trust you.  Just - stay away from Spike, okay?  'Cause he...doesn't."

                "Feeling's mutual," Faith muttered, and then she shook her head.  "I get - what he's doing.  Kind of.  You two - Wes kind of explained, and Fred did, a little...  You know her and your witch are kinda...diggin' each other?"  The microwave dinged and Xander turned and got his coffee, cradling the warm cup in his hands.

                "Yeah," he said, chuckling, and Faith relaxed a tiny bit, smiling at him.  *She's really pretty when she smiles.  Fuck.  Can't wait for this whole mess to be over.  Really wasn't up to confronting the woman who...well...* 

                "Fred just wouldn't shut up about her - 'Tara' this and 'Tara' that and - it was kinda cute, in a really annoying sorta way."  Faith finished her cigarette and moved to the sink, dousing it and tossing the butt into the trash.   *Pack pack pack*, getting stronger, and then Derio padded in, pajama pants and the string of red and black beads and nothing else.  He blinked sleepily at Faith, a little flare of alarm in the link, and then he went for the coffee as well.  While the microwave ran he leaned next to Xander, shoulder and hip brushing, and Xander sighed and leaned back, letting his cheek rest on Derio's head a little, his dreads rough and thick with the scent of wolf and citrus and woodsmoke.   Faith watched them, a considering look on her face.

                "Wes said something...  You guys are - really close, huh?"

                "Pack," Derio said, and Xander could feel the wolf surge in him a little.

                "Pack?  Oh, yeah - you're a wolf, too...  But - Spike's not.  He's not -"

                "He's pack," Derio said, and he turned and got his coffee and stalked out, his eyes flaring black.  Xander grinned a little, moving over to the table to get sugar.  *Pack pack...don't like her!* in the link as Derio went back upstairs.

                "Freaky shit, Xander.  Why'd you want to link up with a vamp and a werewolf?  I thought girls did it for you.  Humans, at least."

                "You count yourself in that class still?" Xander said softly, and Faith blanched.

                "Yeah - more than that guy - a lot more than Spike.  Doesn't make much sense."

                "Doesn't have to, Faith.  It is what it is.  I suggest you keep your opinions...to yourself."  Xander sugared his coffee and stirred it, angry jabs of the spoon.  He tossed the spoon in the sink and turned to glare at Faith.   "Last time you saw Spike he still had that fucking - thing - in his head.  He doesn't anymore, and he'd rack up his third Slayer in a heartbeat.  Don't push it."   When Faith's eyes widened Xander knew the hyena had flared to the surface and he grinned at her - threat display and warning and promise - and brushed past, going back upstairs.

 

                Spike was still asleep - uneasy and fretful, but not aware - and Xander had chanced leaving him with Oz for a few minutes.  He'd been hungry, but now he wasn't, and he pushed his sweats off and climbed back into the bed.  They'd bought two dozen of those tall, self-inflating air-mattresses and until last night, Oz and Derio had shared one in the corner, and Xander and Spike another near the door.  Last night they'd all curled up together in the corner bed, dragging all the blankets and pillows over and they'd stayed in a warm knot all night, Spike in the middle.  Now Xander leaned on one elbow and sipped his coffee - watched Oz take a sip of Derio's and then lay back down, his hand on Spike's shoulder.  Their radio was on, playing softly, and Xander tried to relax and let the tension ease out of him - tried to put away the fear from the night before, and all his dread and worry about the future.  The link was edgy; the wolves and the hyena still in 'fight/flight' mode, but it was family and love and warm more than anything, and Xander felt calm stealing over him.  The rich voice of the woman on the radio, singing about love, lulled him into a half-asleep state, and he drifted there, the cup in his hand tilting and tilting.

 

 

                "We lived our little drama...we kissed in a field of white...
And stars fell on Alabama last night...
I can't forget the glamour...your eyes held a tender light...
And stars fell on Alabama last night...

 

 

                Xander jerked, startled, as Derio eased the coffee cup out of his hand and leaned off the edge of the bed, setting it on the floor.

                "Thanks, Derio..." he murmured, and snuggled back down, wrapping himself around Spike who burrowed back into him, sighing.  They'd stayed up until nearly dawn, making sure every recognizable bit of the Bringers were burned to ash, Oz even raking through the coals to make sure.  At some point Tara had come outside and tossed a handful of herbs on the fire - to keep restless spirits from rising, she'd said - and she'd stayed to talk to Spike about what happened when he forgot, clarifying things in her mind.

                "I think that the spell that Wu-Willow used to get my...sanity back from G-glory will work on you, Spike.  With a little ch-change.  We d-don't have Glory to tap so we'll ha-have to get your right memories from Xander."

                Spike had protested, but Tara had calmed him, explaining.  Telling him that they wouldn't be stripping the memories away from Xander, but making a copy to fill the holes that Glory had left and that the First seemed to be able to fill with its own manufactured memories.  Spike had been unhappy - still shaken and keyed up - but he trusted Tara - they all did.  She'd gone to find Giles and Ethan and talk about it with them, and as far as Xander knew they were still at it.  He'd heard muted conversation from the big room they'd made into a make-shift library as he'd come upstairs.   *They'll figure it out...they'll find a way...  Spike, love you...*   Oz was singing softly with the radio and Derio joined him, their voices blending neatly.

 

 

                "I never planned in my imagination...a situation so heavenly...
                A fairy land where no one else could enter...and in the center, just you and me, dear..."

 

 

                Angel had come outside at one point, as well - wandered into the garden and stood there, watching the fire.  Or rather, pretending to.  Actually, he was watching Spike and Xander, Oz and Derio - watching and wondering because eventually he came over and crouched down, suffering in silence the automatic growl that Derio couldn't repress and the sneer that curled Spike's lip.

               

                "What do you want, Angel?"  Xander asked, never once letting his hand stop its slow stroking of Spike's shoulder and arm and chest.

                "I - down on the docks..."  Angel ducked his head and scrubbed at his eyes - looked off to one side for a moment and Xander saw, in the reflected light of the fire, the human face of a young man made immortal... made to bear the burden of guilt for a century or more...made to kill his maker.  There were small lines at the corners of his eyes, and a bone-deep exhaustion that made the dark eyes stark and hollow.  Something of Xander's pity got through to Spike, who shook his head slowly and heaved a sigh.

                "What about the docks, Angel?  You havin' guilt now, for tasting the blood?   For lettin' me get off scot-free?"  Angel had frowned and then sighed himself - shook his head.

                "No.  For once...I don't feel guilty about anything.  You're right, Spike.  I think...maybe you are stronger."  Shocked silence from Spike - shock all through the link and Xander hugged him close.  Spike recovered fast, though.

                "Course I'm right.  Nothing good ever came from denying what you ARE, Angel."  Spike's voice was soft, and it took on a faintly mocking tone that even without the link Xander could tell was a tease.  "Look at all the trouble you caused, denying your own all these years."  A brief glance at Spike from under his brows and Angel looked away again, but his mouth was curled up a bit at the corner - just a bit.

                "If you'd said...  If you'd told us, mate...  Dru'd have you no matter what, you know that.  She's crazy for you even when you try to burn her up.  We'd have figured something out."

                "You'd have hated me, just like -"

                "What, like Darla?  Bitch was always a bit too high and mighty for my tastes.  And you forget I've GOT a soul, Angel - didn't know about it, but...  It's made things different.  It would have made - everything different, if you'd have just...trusted us."  Spike fell silent, and Angel stared off into the darkness for a long, long moment.  The link - was calm.  At peace even, and Xander could feel some long-held tension relaxing, deep in Spike.  Something denied finally breathing free.

                "We weren't always like this, Angel.  Family - is in the blood.  Can't deny it - it just hurts.  Leave go, why don't you?"  Spike's voice was so very soft, and Angel stood abruptly - paced to the edge of the cistern and stood there.  They pretended not to see him wipe his eyes and Angel pretended he hadn't done it.  After a moment he turned around and leaned on the edge and something seemed to have loosened in HIM, as well.

                "Family...  I finally have one again and - and it might -"   He cut himself off, his mouth a thin, tight line of pain and Oz stirred, *family pack* faintly in the link.

                "Is something wrong with Connor, Angel?" he asked, and Angel laughed softly.

                "No, nothing's wrong with Connor.  Connor is...amazing.  He's so amazing...  No, it's - Cordelia."

                "What's wrong with Cordelia?" Xander asked, and Angel told them.  Visions, the Powers - her pain.  And how it was getting worse.  And the CAT-scan that showed bleeding - that showed damage that couldn't be repaired - that couldn't be stopped. 

                "I can't - lose her...Connor can't," Angel whispered, his back to them again, his hands tight on the edge of the cistern.  Wes was working on it - they were all doing what they could - but there was nothing.

                "Talk to Giles, Angel - talk to Ethan and Tara, they can -"

                "No."  Angel straightened abruptly from his slump, turning around.  He smoothed his hands down the front of his jacket and put his shoulders back.  Steeling himself, it seemed.  "No, I'm not - there's too much going on here.  The First - needs to be dealt with before anything else.  And Wes is smart.  He'll come up with something."  Angel slumped again - looked at the sky.  "I need to get back.  I need to - I'll tell Cordy you were thinking of her, Xander.   She...still thinks of you sometimes.  You were her first real love, you know?"            

               

                *Can't believe he said that,* Xander thought drowsily, and there was quiet laughter from Oz.

                *Maybe being a dad makes you less...selfish,* Oz thought.

                *Maybe...*   Angel had left after that - had crouched down one last time and reached hesitantly to touch Spike's cheek.  "Take care of your family," and Spike had pushed into his touch for one moment and then nodded, and Angel had gone.   And they'd sat for another hour or so, just thinking - drifting - remembering. 

               

                "My heart beat like a hammer...my arms wound around you tight...
And stars fell on Alabama last night..."

 

 

 

 

                Three days and Tara and Giles and Ethan were still tweaking the spell.   And Xander wanted to put his fist through the wall because Spike was worse - was worse every day.   The Potentials didn't help - their combined noise and peculiar energy signal had set Spike off more than once, and Xander would find himself dragging Spike off of them, just barely keeping the vampire from snapping necks.  Or having to hunt for him, when the link suddenly went strange and static-laden and Spike would find a corner - a bolt hole - and just hunker down, trying to out-talk or out-scream the voices that battered at him - the memories that threatened his equilibrium and confused him into frenzy - or catatonia.   Today was bad, and it was barely past five in the afternoon.    Spike was in the front room, curtains drawn and a fire burning in the hearth.  He'd tried to burn his journals but Xander had stopped him - sent them off with Oz to a hiding place because he was sure Spike would want them when all this was done.  At the moment he had two spiral notebooks he'd taken from Dawn, and he'd torn out most of the paper - torn the pages into smaller pieces and was writing on them.  Writing his memories but they kept changing - from minute to minute, even - and he was getting frantic.  Every time a memory changed, Spike would write it down again, and he was surrounded by a patchwork of torn, smeared paper.  Muttering under his breath, his right hand knotted in his hair, his left clutching a pen.  Xander was watching him, sitting on the hearth, casually between Spike and the fire, but his heart was pounding.  Spike's hand twisted in his hair and he scribbled something, then he looked up at Xander, his expression bewildered.

                "It's no good, you know - if you keep changing it I'll never get done.  Never get done..."  He looked back down at the papers - scrabbled in a drift of them and pulled out a crumpled piece, lips moving as he read over it.  Xander realized he hadn't actually been looking at him - he'd been looking behind him - beyond him - at some ghost.

                *Spike?  Spike, I'm right here, love -*   Xander thought, and Spike flinched.  His whole body arched away from Xander and his hand clenched down over his ear, fingertips digging into his scalp, his eyes wide and fearful.

                "Get out of my head, get out of my head, get out of my HEAD!"  He screamed the last, launching himself at Xander, knocking him back into the stones of the hearth.   "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"  Spike's hands dug into Xander's shoulders, and his knee was pressed into Xander's hip - into his thigh, holding him down.  "Fucking chip in my head, cracked me open like a fucking egg, put your needles and your fire and your fingers in me, in me - did you think I wouldn't remember -!"  Spike shook him, hard, and Xander scrabbled at him, trying to push him back, the heat of the fire painful all along his right side, the rough stones tearing his back. 

                *Oz!  Help me -*   "Spike - it's okay, it's okay, there's nothing in your head, Jack fixed it, remember?  Jack fixed it -"   Pounding footsteps and then Oz was crouching down a few feet away, panting.

                "Spike?  Hey, man - you wanna let him up?"

                "What do you want?" Spike let Xander go, but he hadn't, it seemed, heard Oz - he was backing into a corner, his fists over his ears, hunching in on himself with every step until his back hit a wall and he slid down it.

                "No, nonono.  I didn't kill her, she isn't dead, and he's not dead - they're not -"

                "Spike!  Spike, please - "   Xander pushed himself to his feet, holding his hands out to Spike, willing him to come back.   Out of the corner of his eye Xander could see Potentials gathering *like fuckin' vultures!* and he was desperate to wake Spike up - get him up and out of there, back to their room.

                "It doesn't matter, doesn't matter - family, family's here, you're not family, I know you -"   Spike leaped upright, snarling, and then he saw the Potentials and checked, staring.  Looked sideways at Xander, holding very, very still.

                *Xander.  What are we doing here?  Angelus is here.  This was stupid, we need to GO.  He'll hurt you love, he will, he will -*   Spike sidled towards Xander, and Xander held his hand out.  Spike took it - squeezed it hard enough to hurt.

                "It's all gone to bits and bobs, love - it's all - so much chaff."  He gestured at the papers scattered on the floor; turned to Xander with a look of utter desperation.  "Help me find it, please love?  Help me?" he begged.  Xander felt fury and desperation boiling off of Oz - felt it rising in his own body, enough to make him breathless for a moment.

                *Calm, calm - have to be calm -*   Oz didn't look calm, and Xander nodded helplessly - wished the Potentials would go away

                "Of course I'll help, love - what are you trying to find?  Tell me and I'll help."

                "When we danced, Xander, when we - you saw me - you wanted me...."  Spike crouched down, sifting through the papers, his eyes streaming tears now, but he didn't seem to notice them.  "I remember...I see it...  I want the words back, Xan, I want - want the song back...  She said it didn't happen but I'm sure I didn't make it up...  You're alive, aren't you?  Aren't you alive?" 

                "Course I am - Spike - look at me."  Xander put his fingers gently under Spike's chin - turned his head until he was looking straight at him.  "I'm alive, love - I'm here no matter what.  Oz is here, too."  Spike's eyes flicked, glancing at Oz, then back to Xander.

                "It's all here, it's all here, I just have to find it -"  Spike scrabbled desperately through the bits of paper and Xander started to help him - just picking pieces up randomly and looking at them, because he had no idea if Spike had written anything down about that night. 

                *Oz - god - what are we gonna do, it's worse, it's so much worse -*

                *Gonna be okay - we'll FIX it, Xander, we will...love you...love you.*   Oz was pushing more of the papers towards Spike, his hands shaking.  The sound of an engine outside and the slam of a door and Derio was standing in the doorway, dumping a box of mail to the floor and crossing the room in long, rapid strides.

                *What happened - protect protect -* 

                *It's all right, it's - it's the same,* Xander thought, and Derio slumped onto the hearth, watching Spike - pushing *love family love love* with every breath and Spike glanced up at him and smiled.

                "Gonna pay the piper, yeah?  You can pipe them back to hell, don't you think wolfling?"

                "Who, Spike? Pipe...who?"  Derio sometimes played a little pennywhistle, and he'd been teaching Dawn some simple tunes.

                "All those - girls.  All those - bitches."  Spike's voice dropped to a hiss and he moved, faster than any of them could react.  Had Xander off his feet, in a choke-hold.  His back against the wall and Xander could feel him - feel the change in the link and felt the ridges of the demon's face against his cheek.

                "You think I didn't see them?  Waiting?  Not going to touch me, not going to touch what's mine.  You should be mine, love, should be mine -"   Spike nuzzled into Xander's neck - bit down on the claim-scar, drawing tiny beads of blood.

                "I am yours, Spike - yours already.  Can't you feel it?  Can't you -"   *I'm here, love!  I'm here - inside you.  All yours.*

                 "No."  Spike snarled, and his arms tightened around Xander, cutting off his breath for a moment.  "Just another fuckin' trick - only one way to make you mine for sure, love.  Won't hurt, promise it won't hurt..."

                "Spike - please -"   Xander couldn't move - couldn't breathe.  He didn't know what to do.  Spike could bite him - could drain him.  Spike could - would - and he...didn't care.  Didn't care.  But he was very, very sure that Spike would regret it - would hate it.  If only because he wasn't asking, he was taking.  *Spike - Spike, please -*   But the link is a void now, only Oz's and Derio's fear and helplessness.

                Spike's fangs were in his throat - Oz and Derio were launching themselves, changing before his eyes and Xander felt the silver-needle penetration and then - Spike was screaming, he was holding his head in both hands and Xander was dropping with him to the floor, grabbing him tight and Oz piled on - Derio did - trying to sooth Spike as he writhed, *agony* in the link like nothing they'd ever felt.

                "Spike - what -tell me what's happening!  Shhhhh, shhhhh....it's all right, please, please -"

                "Xan - Xander -"   *Don't let me, don't let me hurt you, please - chains, drugs, something, I can't STOP it, Xander - wolfling, please -*   Spike was crying - clinging to them - and the Potentials were everywhere and Giles and Tara were rushing in, and Buffy and then Faith and oh god, too many people, too many.

                *Derio, where's that bag, where's that junk Angel left -*  The duffle of money had just the day before paid for new tires on Anya's car - she was the official 'chauffer' for the mansion -  and another half-dozen air mattresses - and it was tucked safely away into a hidey-hole Spike had used when he'd lived there before.  The drugs - were elsewhere - but Derio knew where and he trotted out of the room - brought them in while the crowd of girls milled and asked too many questions and the link was overwhelmed with the misery and terror that had swamped Spike.

                Derio put the duffle down - opened it and looked helplessly at the jumble of plastic and tape-wrapped bundles inside.

                "I don't - know what to do with it," he said, and Xander could only shake his head. Oz looked worried, thoughtful, but it was Ethan who pushed forward, frowning, a small surge of his signature chaos washing over them.

                "So the plan, I take it, is to dope him unconscious?"

                "It's all I can think of," Xander mumbled, and Spike burrowed into his chest - clutched at Oz and Derio, desperate to have them close.

                "I can - help you," Ethan said after a moment, worrying his lip between his teeth.

                "Please -" Xander said.

 

                It didn't take long.  A lighter and a spoon and a hypodermic from a bee-sting kit, and Xander watched, narrow-eyed, as Ethan tapped the syringe gently, getting a bubble to move to the top. 

                "Will this do it, Spike?" he asked, holding the thing up and Spike eyed the three inches of fluid in the hypo.

                "Yeah," he rasped, his voice gone.  "That'll knock me out for - ten or more hours.  Do it, yeah?"

                *Love you....  Are you sure?  Spike -*

                *Have to. I almost...   Xander, it would KILL Oz and Derio if I tried to turn them.  The wolf and the demon can't live in the same body.  We HAVE to.  Just until - until Glinda finds the cure.*

                *Love you, love you!*

                *Family, love you, pack, pack, pack...*   Derio was crying, silent tears tracking his cheeks, and Oz held him close.  Both of them had a death-grip on Spike - hand and wrist, tangling with Xander and as close as they could get to him.

                *Love you both...family, my family, Xan...*   Ethan was carefully scouting for vein and Spike snarled, vamping.

                "Put it in my fuckin' neck, mage.  Best place for it."  Ethan winced but he did it - slid the little needle in and depressed the plunger and it was only minutes - less than five - and Spike was slumping in Xander's arms.  The sudden and incredible burst of pleasure through the link faded to nothing as he slipped into unconsciousness.   Xander held him close - buried his face in Spike's shoulder for a moment, crying silently.  He looked up at the sea of faces; at Ethan methodically cleaning the hypo and putting it all away - at the Potentials staring and Buffy looking so, so somber, and Dawn crying into Sinclair's fur.  Tara was the only one to move - to push forward and join them, her cool energy washing over them, more and more tangible every day.

                "Xander - it's going to be o-okay.  We figured it out.   The ss-spell.  We can fix it." 

 

 

                They decided to do the spell as soon as Spike was awake, which would be around three or four in the morning.  Xander wasn't sure about it - he couldn't imagine that the lingering traces of drug in Spike's system would help the spell work better - but Giles reassured him again and again that vampiric metabolism being what it was, once Spike actually woke up, he'd be back to normal in no time.   The vampire lay unmoving and Xander lay with him, craving the physical contact.  The drug seemed to flatten Spike out in the link, so that all that was left was a strange sort of remote humming.  There were bursts of emotion from time to time, as if Spike was dreaming, and occasional images as well, but they were scattershot and dim.  It took all of Xander's concentration to catch those stray images, and he was pretty sure Oz and Derio didn't catch them at all.  He was glad, though - they weren't all...nice.

                Sometime around nine o'clock Xander had been persuaded to take a break, and he wandered downstairs looking for something to drink.  Everyone, it seemed, was in the main room having sandwiches and soup, talking quietly.  Anya was there, and Drake, and when Xander got to the foot of the stairs Dawn squealed, bouncing to her feet and jogging over to him.  Sinclair complained loudly from her arms and Dawn let the Siamese down to the floor.  He stalked off, looking offended.

                "Xander!  Is Spike okay? Is he still - asleep?"

                "Yeah.  He's fine, Dawn.  He'll be fine."

                "Yeah..."   *Brother love love family* in the link from her, and Xander put his arm around her and hugged her.  "Hey!  Anya has some news!"  Dawn was bouncing again, trusting that he was right, and Xander dredged up a smile for the newly-blonde ex-demon who was cuddled up on the couch with Drake, Potentials on the floor all around her like a Queen and her court.

                "News, huh?  What's the news, Anya?  Something good, I hope."

                "Well, we certainly think so.  And of course, it's the sort of news that requires a party!  With presents!"

                "Yeah?"

                "Oh, yes."  Anya smiled at Drake, who smiled back and curled his hand around hers on his thigh.  "I'm going to reproduce, Xander!"  At Xander's blank look, Anya frowned a little.  "Spawn?  Breed?  Uh - replicate?"

                "We're having a baby," Drake said, rolling his eyes, and Xander blinked.

                "You - are?  Wow!  Uh - congratulations!"    *Jesus!  A baby!* he thought, and heard a mental chuckle from Oz. 

                *Been known to happen, to married people.*

                *But - so soon!  I mean - Jesus!*

                *All of Drake's family must have inspired her,* Derio thought, and Xander had to agree.  Anya had been impressed with Drake's enormous family - with great-grand this and that living side by side with second and third generation nieces, cousins, grandchildren.  She'd said how wonderful it must be, to have so many people to count on. 

                *Pack,* Oz added, and Xander nodded to himself. 

                "You don't seem very excited for us," Anya said, pouting a little, and Xander had to smile.  He stepped over some Potentials and a begging Miss Kitty and bent down to give Anya a kiss on the cheek.

                "Course I'm excited, Anya!  I was just - a little surprised.  I didn't know you were gonna have kids so soon."

                "The sooner the better, Xander.  I'm a healthy woman but my biological clock is in an irrevocable countdown to old age, sterility, and brittle bones!  No time to waste!  Besides -"   Anya looked over at Drake and smiled, her love for him so plain on her face - so achingly there.   "Drake is very good with children and we'll be traveling for years, showing it off to the family." 

                "Oh, that's so romantic -" one of the Potentials sighed, and immediately a chorus of voices joined in, talking about babies, plans - families.  Xander squeezed Drake's shoulder, smiling at him, and made his way into the kitchen.  Soup in a big pot on the stove, sandwich things on the counter and he assembled a hasty meal and sat down to eat it.  Sinclair came in and jumped up on the windowsill nearby, watching him.  He could hear Giles, Ethan and Tara somewhere close, talking.

                *Gonna be okay, gonna be okay,* he thought, desperate for it to be over.  He almost wished he was on patrol with Faith and Buffy - anything to break the tension.  But he couldn't have left the house - left Spike - if he'd tried.  He ate, and went back upstairs, and waited.

 

                "The spell really packed a p-punch when Willow used it," Tara said, so they'd dragged all the exercise mats from the Magic Box into the center of the 'library' room and laid Spike down on them - arranged themselves next to him.  Tara had to be able to touch them both, so she was sitting cross-legged by Spike's shoulders and Xander was next to her.  He held Spike's hand tightly in his, waiting.  The vampire wasn't fully awake yet; he was talking to himself in a slurred mumble, twitching uncomfortably.  Giles and Ethan were finishing drawing a circle around them in colored chalk on the stone floor - a circle to keep everything Tara was doing in, and anything else out.  Buffy and Faith and Dawn were sitting at the edge of the room, silent, and Oz and Derio were just on the other side of the circle.  Derio was fighting the tension - fighting the change - and Oz was trying to calm him down, the wolf-mantra a low hum in the link.

                "Now, when he's awake we'll say the word, and the circle will be closed.   Then Tara, you may begin."  Giles stood up slowly, his hand pressed to the small of his back, and Ethan stepped up close to him, his slim hand going out to rub slowly over the sore muscles.  Giles blinked and sighed in pleasure. 

                Spike moved on the mats - twisted this way and that and suddenly his eyes snapped open and he was staring straight at Xander.  Demon's eyes, and nothing in them Xander could recognize.

                "Spike?  Hey - you awake?  Gonna do something here -"   Xander squeezed his hand and Spike pushed himself upright, grimacing.  The link was confusion, chaotic and unfocused.

                "Carpenter..." Spike mumbled, staring narrow-eyed at him and Xander felt himself go cold.  "Carpenter on your cross - you always gonna martyr yourself for those that don't give a fuck, carpenter?  Die for the world and they won't even remember your name..."  Spike pulled his hand free of Xander's - looked around and then winced, clutching his head.

                "Fuck...fuck -"   *Xan?  What are we doing?  What -why is everybody here?*   Xander shivered, hating the shifts of perception and emotion that were dredging up all his old insecurities.  That were making him think and re-think his reasons for being there, because nothing they did seemed to have any effect at all on the First - but It was taking them to pieces.

                *Spell, love - remember?  Spell to fix the forgetting.  Tara's going to do it.*   Spike looked at Tara - reached out and touched her cheek.

                "You're not dead then, love?  Dreamed you were dead..." 

                Tara smiled softly at him.  "No, I'm not dead, Spike.  Are you ready?"  Spike had smiled back; now the smile faded and he looked around, bewildered.   His gaze settled on Xander and he reached out and took his hand again, squeezing hard.

                "Is it - it won't hurt him, will it? I don't want to hurt him..."

                "No - it won't hurt."  Tara nodded to Ethan, and he and Giles both bent and touched a small stone that finished the circle.

                "Totus", they breathed, and a sudden, shivery veil seemed to come up between them and the rest of the room.  Xander flinched a little; the magic was strong and felt like dust in his nose - sand in his hair - poison ivy.

                *That's fuckin' horrible.  Xan - love...so sorry-*

                *DON'T, Spike.  None of this is your fault.  NONE of it.  Hear me?  Love you - LOVE you, vampire-mine.*

                *Love you too...my own, my always...*   Xander's hand was almost crushed in the grip Spike had on it, but he didn't care.  Tara was taking a long, slow breath.  She put the fingertips of her left hand on Spike's temple, and her right on Xander's, and smiled at them.  Then she closed her eyes. 

                "Repleo," on a sigh.  And then Xander thought - "Tara was wrong", because it did hurt.

 

 

                "Xander?  Love - wake up for me.  Xan, c'mon - c'mon, pet, wake up..."  Soft voice, soft hand on his cheek patting gently and Xander forced his eyes open.  They felt gritty and swollen, and the light was too bright.  He blinked and squinted, groaning a little, and felt a cool hand touch his forehead. 

                "Spike?"  *Ow, damn.*

                "Throat hurt?  Here, love -"   Something pressing against his lips, cool and smooth and liquid and he opened his mouth and drank. 

                *Oooh...*   Spice and iron and tingling, bubbling magic, and Xander closed his eyes and drank Spike's blood, feeling it go through him like wildfire.   *Oh - Spike - you all right?  Did it work?  What happened?*   Spike's other hand stroked his hair and Xander gradually realized he was lying on his back, his head in Spike's lap.  He opened his eyes and Spike lifted his wrist away from Xander's mouth - licked the bit of blood that was still there, smiling.

                "It worked, love.  Worked a treat."  Spike's eyes were so very blue - so vividly alive and full of love and happiness that Xander couldn't help himself - he reached up and pulled Spike down and kissed him, lingering over the taste of Spike's blood, and the taste of Spike; cream and cloves, as addictive as ever - as wonderful.  A gentle clearing of a throat finally made him stop and Xander let Spike ease him upright, grinning sheepishly at Giles who was looking the other way and at Ethan, who wasn't.  He leaned there, Spike's arms around him, feeling the rising flush of the blood going through him. In another minute or so he'd want to jump up - go out patrolling or -

                *Or?  I can think of better things to do with all that energy, pet.  Lay you down and make you scream for it...*   Xander shivered happily, turning his head to nuzzle Spike's cheek.  He saw Oz and Derio a few feet away and Tara leaning between them.  She looked -

                *Is Tara all right?  Is she hurt?*

                *Fine, she's fine, love,* Spike thought, hugging him close.

                *Xander!  Love you, love you -*   Oz, smiling over at him and holding Tara up, and Derio grinning, almost laughing.

                *Love you too!  Familia, mi familia...*

                "Oh!"  Tara looked dazedly over at them, her expression delighted and amazed.  "I didn't know - that's what it's like..."   She seemed to realize something then and blushed a brilliant scarlet and Spike laughed, the vibrations rippling through Xander.  The link - felt so good.  It felt alive - whole -full, and Xander laughed too.

                *What is she talking about?*

                *She got the memories, too. I think - she'll forget in time.  But for right now, they're all there.*

                *She did?  Oh...  OH!  Oh, god...*  

                *Family, love - you'll live.*

                *May never be able to look her in the face again,* Xander thought, and he twisted so he could get Spike tight into his arms and just hold on, face in Spike's neck, chest to chest, hugging as hard as he could and feeling Spike hugging him back, kissing his hair and neck and cheek, laughing again in sheer delight.  And it just felt so good.

 

 

______________________

Stars Fell on Alabama - Billie Holiday
Totus - Complete
Repleo - Replenish