Chapter 22: Remembering

Chapter 22: Remembering

Spike stirred in his sleep - moved his head a little, rubbing his cheek against Xander's stomach, and Xander ran his fingers gently through tangled, white-blond hair. Spike settled again, motionless, but Xander continued the gentle caress - meshed his fingers with Spike's where they lay on Xander's thigh. He was supposed to be asleep too, but he couldn't settle. So many things were running through his head - so many memories and moments. Oz had left a CD playing in the living room and the music came through to him softly. The ever-present sea-breeze blew through the window, puffing the curtains out, and the late-afternoon sun was dappled green and gold through the trees. Spike glowed, the diffused light making him otherworldly, all creamy-gold. The inhuman beauty that he wore so easily seemed out of place against the blue and green striped sheets, and Xander smiled fondly down at him from his half-sitting position - blinked at a sudden prickling in his eyes.

*No, don't do that. Think about - something good. Something...happy. Think about anything but...* Xander shut his eyes - pushed his mind away from the misery of the day and cast back. Back to the beginning of October, and that incident with Tara's family.

"...state of shock at flick of switch
(mindless) into the cloudburst overhead
I wanna get my face wet
been buried in the sand for years
(headlong) into the cloudburst naked
there's really no escaping it
there's gonna be a cloudburst here..".

***************************

"But what kind of demon is she?" Anya asked, and Tara's dad looked at her with something like revulsion on his face.

"What kind? What does it matter? Evil is evil. She just has to come home, now, before things - get bad."

"No, I'd like to know what kind as well," Giles said, coming out from behind the counter and sending a rather Ripperish look at the other man. Tara stood miserably, her eyes brimmed with tears.

"There's lots of different kinds of demons," Anya went on, her voice slipping into lecture mode. "Some are evil and some are considered useful members of society." She glanced proudly at the others and continued. "Let's see, there's -" As Anya started rattling off various types of demons, Spike leaned in close to Xander, fingers rubbing in the small of his back.

*Human - all human*

*Yeah* Xander sent Spike a brief image from months' earlier - Tara's soul, gleaming gold and green and blue, and Spike nodded.

"Yeah - tell the Slayer," Spike murmured, then he sauntered over to where Tara and Willow were standing.

"I think I got your number, mate," he said, interrupting Anya and looking narrow-eyed at Mr. Maclay. "You just use this little 'demon' ploy to keep the women-folk in line, don't you? A little lie to make sure they stay where they belong, eh? She's no demon, and I can prove it." Tara and Willow were both staring at him now, and Giles had a gleam of something like amusement in his eyes. Xander touched Buffy's arm - drew her close with a jerk of his head.

"I've seen her - she's all human. Just play along, ok?" Buffy looked at him - opened her mouth - nodded.

"Prove it? There's nothing to prove, I know!" Tara's father sneered. Behind him, Tara's brother and cousin looked incredulous - furious. Spike tapped Tara on the shoulder.

"Sorry 'bout this, Glinda," he said, and drew back and punched her. Then he yelled and grabbed his head in his hands. "Bloody hell that hurts!"

"Ow!" Tara yelped - put her hand to her already-swelling lip. Willow gaped at Spike - blinked - then shot a triumphant look at the father.

"That hurt! Tara, it hurt!"

"Y-yeah it d-d-did! Oh!" Tara stared at Willow - was suddenly grinning, and Giles cleared his throat, fighting a smile himself. Spike moaned and rubbed at his head and Xander made 'awww' noises and pulled him into a one-armed hug.

*Win an Oscar*

*Quiet, you*

"That proves that you're lying. If there were any demon in Tara, it wouldn't have hurt Spike to do that. So I suggest that you leave." Mr. Maclay stared at Giles- at his daughter - and puffed himself up like a toad.

"She belongs with her family, at home and you bunch aren't gonna keep her from us."

"Family?" Buffy looked indignant. "You want to take her home, Mr. Maclay, you go right ahead." Buffy crossed her arms - took on an expression that had sent fledges and Fyarl demons running. "But you'll have to go through me to get her." Tara gasped, and Willow grinned, and Dawn bounced up next to Buffy - copied the stance and the stare so well that Xander had to stifle a giggle.

"Me too."

"If you little girls think -" Mr. Maclay started, and Giles stepped up as well, glasses tucked into his pocket and his eyes absolutely Ripper.

"Not just little girls here, Mr. Maclay," he said, and the other man took a step back.

"We're with Buffy, too," Xander said, stepping up on the other side of Dawn. Spike was at his back - morphed into the demon and snarled - and Tara's brother and cousin jumped and huddled together, round-eyed. The street door opened behind them, the bell jangling.

"And me. Even though being a demon does have its perks," Anya said, hefting a suspiciously new-looking 'antique' dagger she had been marking down to half price.

"What is this!" Mr. Maclay barked, his voice a little strained, and he jumped at the quiet voice at his back.

"Whatever it is, I'm with them, too." Oz, standing in the door, wolf's eyes and a snarl lifting his lip, and Spike laughed - cut it off abruptly as Xander elbowed him. *Headache*

"This is family, Mr. Maclay, and Tara is part of it." Buffy narrowed her eyes. "So I suggest you leave. She's already home." Tara was weeping silently now, clinging to Willow who was stroking her hair and whispering to her. Oz skirted around the Maclays and joined the group, and finally the others broke - turned and began to shuffle out of the store. Tara's cousin turned back, a look of - regret? Or perhaps it was desire - desire to find the strength that Tara had found.

"Are you happy now?" she snapped, and Tara looked at her - looked at Willow, a smile of pure bliss on her face, making her glow. In that moment, despite the tears and the swollen lip, she was the most beautiful woman Xander had ever seen.

"Yes," she said.

Later, when Buffy had taken Dawn home, and Giles and Willow were in a heated discussion about a spell, and Oz - who'd been brought up to speed but was pretending nicely - was making Spike a cup of tea, Tara came over to where Xander and Spike were sitting on the wrought-iron staircase. Spike was leaning back between Xander's legs, getting his temples massaged, taking full advantage of being the 'hurting hero'. Tara had smiled at them, taken the handkerchief full of ice off her lip, and leaned in and kissed Spike softly on the cheek.

 

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*Drama queen* Xander thought, smiling down at Spike, tracing the scarred eyebrow with one finger. Spike's hand tightened on his for a moment - he burrowed a little closer, and one leg edged over Xander's knees. Xander sighed in contentment - listened to the distant rush of the sea and closed his eyes, remembering other things. Remembering the troll, and how it had come rampaging into the Bronze, shouting for ale and banging into Spike, making him scratch the cue ball. Spike had stood up fast, cursing, and glared up at the furious troll.

"Watch yourself, mate!"

"I must have ale! And babies!"

"For babies you need the hospital -" Spike started, and Xander, who had been wondering whether or not to try and get the troll out of the club, yanked on his arm.

"Stop that! No babies!"

"Weeell..." Spike rubbed his chin, tilted his head at the troll. "They do this onion thing here, s'brilliant -"

"You cannot appease me!" The troll shouted, and things went rapidly downhill from there. This time it was Willow and Anya to the rescue, except that they - or maybe Willow - had called the troll in the first place. While Giles gave Willow what Spike referred to as 'a proper dressing-down', Anya reluctantly told them the tale of Olaf, Aud, D'Hoffryn, and how to become a Vengeance Demon in one easy step.

Eyes still closed, Xander smiled, his fingers never leaving off their slow petting of Spike's hair. A ghost of sound - faint, faint purr - rumbled up from the vampire. The troll-incident had been...right after Riley left for good. That was not a happy memory, but mostly because of how much it had hurt Buffy. Xander and Oz had been happy to see the ex-soldier go. So had Spike. He had, in fact, made sure Riley would never come back. Xander frowned - sighed. No point in trying - like it or not, the memory spooled out in his mind, and he was obliged to re-live it. *I don't want to think about this, but I don't want to think about...today, either. Fuck, I just want to forget...everything.*

"Come out of your shell
and look at the sea
it may be just as well
you stayed here with me
private hell at turn of a key
(blindly) into the cloudburst overhead
I wanna get my face wet
been buried in these hands for years..."

**********************************

 

Spike had been acting - odd - for two nights, and the third night, Saturday, Xander and Oz had decided to wait up for him - make him talk. Spike was a little better at manipulating the link then Xander, and much better than Oz, and he'd been hiding something. Xander was prepared to sit on him while Oz played Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart on repeat until he cracked. Xander declined to ask why Oz had a Billy Ray Cyrus CD in his collection, and Oz just grinned and pretended it was Devon's. They sat up watching a frenetic Bollywood movie on TV - Indian woman and men in amazing costumes, leaping and singing and swooning to sitar and skin drums. Oz occasionally pointed out a religious reference that made the plot, to him at least, heretical, and Xander just nodded wisely and watched cleavage and bare chests with equal appreciation. There was popcorn, a leftover mix of mini Halloween candy bars, and Spike's jealously guarded Jaffa Cakes spread out on the foot of the fold-out bed.

Around four a.m. Spike came home, announcing his presence a mile away with the grumbling roar of the DeSoto and something cacophonous and British on the stereo. The link had been full of bloodlust and anticipation and what Xander had come to recognize as satiation. Before-and-after-the-hunt feelings that he didn't think about too closely, most of the time. Tonight, as Spike parked the car and climbed out, aware of them, the link began to close down and Xander sent a *Stop!* before he even thought about it. Spike came in the front door and stood there, eyeing them.

*Tell* Xander thought, watching him, and Spike hesitated - took off his duster and slung it across the back of the battered recliner they'd recently acquired. Flung himself down into the same chair and looked broodingly at the TV for a moment.

"Tell what, pet?"

"C'mon, Spike," Xander said softly.

*No secrets* from the soldier, and:

*Pack* from Oz. Spike scrubbed his hands through his hair, disordering it and making it stick up in all directions.

"Right. I - found out somethin' about G.I. Joe." Spike stopped, looking at them, so serious and sober that Xander felt a little lurch of fear.

*Tell, love.*

"Remember, Xander, I told you people pay to have vamps feed off 'em?"

"Yeah..." Xander said, frowning, and then he and Oz both froze as Spike sent them a flurry of images. A warehouse somewhere near the docks. A room; filthy, dark, crowded. Riley sprawled on a broken-legged couch, a half-dressed vampire woman feeding from his arm, a naked one astride him. Riley's jeans were around his thighs - his free hand was clutched so hard on the second vamps' hips that he had drawn blood. She was moving languidly, obviously impaled on Riley. His mouth was pressed to her breast, and blood was there, streaking down her belly, dripping from his chin. Xander shook his head, as much to purge the image as in disbelief.

"Oh my god. Spike -"

*Sick* from Oz, and Spike looked sharply at him. Oz looked back.

"He's playing a fucking stupid game."

"Got that right, wolf."

"So - how'd you find out?" Xander asked, and Spike looked - embarrassed?

"Well...been going 'round to the Slayer's house every night, haven't I? Her mum's worried, and the Bit's worried... So I go 'round, make sure everything's...ok there." Spike scrubbed at his hair again - made a half-hearted effort to get a cigarette out of the duster and gave up. "And - couple nights ago, I saw that bastard headin' down to the docks. He looked - nervous. So I followed him." They all sat in silence for a moment, then Xander connected the rather blank look on Spike's face with the near-silent link.

"What did you do, Spike?" he asked softly, and Spike was on his feet, snarling, the demon out in seconds and *Rage hate kill it* The demon in the link strong enough to make Oz flicker halfway to the wolf.

"I fixed it, Xander. He could've been turned, any time. And then just waltz in there, Joyce and the Niblet all unsuspecting - I fixed it. Fixed all those bastards." His voice had started off loud but then had sunk away to almost nothing, to a hissing rasp that made the hair stand up on the back of Xander's neck. Beside him Oz shifted, snarling just a little. The link was heading towards incoherency - the images were bloodier and starting to become disconnected. Not Riley and vampire whores, anymore, but other soldiers - another place, and Xander shot to his feet and advanced on Spike - got his arms around him and held him, hard.

"Love, it's all right..." *Safe safe always safe love you* Spike was shivering - breathing hard - and Xander tugged him over to the bed - eased him down. Spike hunched there, leaning into Xander's embrace, one hand creeping out to Oz and clenching down when Oz slipped his now-human hand into Spike's.

"Just - tell us what happened, ok?" Xander smoothed the rumpled hair - kissed Spike's temple, and Spike heaved a sigh, eyes closed, fitting his head into crook of Xander's neck.

"Couple days ago, I found out. So I - went down there later, after he'd gone. Found out how long he'd been doing that. They'd been - givin' him a different one every time. Gettin' him addicted to it but not letting him - form any links. You know how bad he's been looking." Xander nodded, looking over at Oz. Riley had looked bad, lately - a greyish pallor, darkly-ringed eyes - his hands always shaking and his gaze never quite meeting anyone else's. He said it was just nerves - pressure from school. Xander thought about what Spike had just said.

"Wait - explain that to me. What do you mean - a different one every time?"

"Different vamp every time. You know how we - made the link? Shared blood?" Spike rubbed his cheek just little on Xander's shoulder. "They didn't let him take blood from the same vamp twice. That makes him want it, but he never gets what his body's craving. Just more want, never satisfaction. Worse than skag, that. He'd be desperate enough to be to be turned - or just drained dry. They knew who he was." Spike leaned into Xander a little more, and Xander hugged his arms around the vampire - fought a rising sense of horror.

"So he's - addicted. And - dangerous."

*Sick hurt mine KILL it* "Yeah."

*Pack pack pack* from Oz, softly, and his fingers were rubbing gently over Spike's, chaffing them in both of his hands as if the vampire were suffering from cold.

"What - what did you do tonight, Spike?" Spike sighed, and raised his head - looked at Xander for a long moment, and his eyes were ancient, and implacable, and utterly cold.

"Took the Slayer to see him there."

"Oh Christ -" Xander was on his feet before he'd even thought about moving, and Spike just watched him, silent even in the link. "Spike, why - god, why did you do that?"

"He - could've hurt you, love. Or the wolf. Any of you. He needed to be gone."

"But - why take Buffy there? You know how - fuck." *Hurt her* Xander paced to the door and back, scowling.

*Mine protect mine love you MINE* overwhelming and fierce and Xander and Oz both flinched a little.

"Damnit, Xander, you think I give a fuck if the Slayer gets her little heart all bruised over that bastard?" Spike was up as well - up and so close to Xander that they were almost touching the length of their bodies. The demon glared out at him, and Xander stood still, watching. *Family* in the link and not a clue where it was coming from.

"He hurt you - he helped hurt the wolfling, never mind he thought better of it later. He put the Bit and Joyce in danger. And he fuckin' put his hands on me, Xander - he -" Spike's voice choked into silence and the link - full of anger, of hate and of fear - suddenly shattered into jagged shards of pain as Spike flung something at them; something hideous and savage and bloody and Oz was the wolf, furious. Xander reeled back from that freeze-frame of memory, crying out - tried to shut out the rest of the memory that rose, prompted by that image. He felt it - before, after, during - and he knew Oz did too. Felt the backlash as the images -soldiers, doctors, blood, pain - hit the werewolf and Xander tried frantically to shut it down. Then it was gone - done - and Xander stood swaying, his head in his hands. He'd seen those memories before - in nightmares, right after the claim spell. He'd never wanted to see them again. He could hear Oz - a soft whimpering - and Spike panting raggedly somewhere. Xander opened his eyes - took a stumbling step forward and hauled Spike up from where he'd collapsed to his knees.

*Sorry sorry love you sorry oh gods* Spike was on his knees again, elbows on the bed and face buried in his hands. The full change had shredded the worn jeans Oz had been wearing and he fumbled at the sheet - pulled it over himself, up to his waist and hunched there, miserable looking.

*Hurt hurt hurt* from him, and Spike dragged in a hard, shaky breath.

"Wolf - Oz - fuck, I'm sorry, I - didn't want you to see that, I -" Spike's voice was ragged - teary - and Oz leaned forward and rested his forehead on Spike's temple.

*Safe.*

*Sorry love you, Xander, love you so sorry* Xander sagged down on the other side of Spike - reached and began a slow, gentle massage of Spike's neck. They simply rested there for long moments, the link thick with reassurance - with love. Finally Spike shifted - sat slowly back on his heels, taking one of Xander's hands in his, and one of Oz's in the other.

"All right, wolfling?" he asked softly, and Oz wiped at his eyes - nodded. Xander studied their hands, rubbing his thumb over and over Spike's knuckles.

*Spike's hands are so - elegant. Like a painter's hands. And Oz - he's got those calluses from the guitar and those long fingers... My hands look so - common.* Xander took a deep breath and Spike looked up at him, his eyes bluer for being awash in unshed tears, his mouth in a grim line.

"I don't - I donít care about Riley, Spike. He deserves whatever he gets. But - Buffy..."

"I know it hurt her, pet. But what was I supposed to do? She wouldn't have just believed me if I'd told her."

"Maybe. Maybe not. What - what did she do?"

"Started knockin' hell outta the vamps there. Chased the customers off. When I left, her and the farmboy were havin' a knock-down drag-out. The Army wants him back, you know."

"They do?" Xander glanced over at Oz, who shrugged.

"Yeah. He said - they're in town, wantin' him back, an' tonight's the night. He stays or he goes."

"Guess he'll be going, then." Xander muttered. Beside him, Oz shifted a little bit - reached with his free hand and touched Spike's arm.

"What else, Spike? You said you fixed them all." Spike looked at Oz, head to one side a little, and the link was *Not pack never touch you*

"Yeah. I had - well, there's this bloke I know. Demon. And I had him do me up a little...time-bomb. Been waitin' to use it."

*Tell*

"Well...he made a fetch. Like a - ghost. Of one of the soldier-boys." *Dead boy* and Xander shivered. It was Graham that was dead.

"It went to where they were waitin' for him tonight. It was - there's this spell..."

"Just the basics, ok?" Xander whispered, and Spike's hand clenched tight in his.

"It was infected. This spell - it's like a plague. The fetch went in with them - went through them. They've got it now, and they'll spread it. They'll take it back down to Brazil and it'll go through the bastards like wildfire." Glee and hatred and a vicious triumph surged through the link, the demon reveling in malignant satisfaction. Xander closed his eyes for a long moment. He could feel Oz - *Pack* and *Protect* and *GOOD*; the wolf heedless of anything but the enemy eliminated. The hyena howled in savage joy, and the soldier - was just quiet. Glad to have it done.

*But me, what does it mean to ME? Killed them all - killed RILEY.* Xander let what the wolf - the demon - were feeling wash through him. Sampled those emotions - sipped at the brimming cup of bloodlust the hyena was ready to give him at a moment's notice. Waited for revulsion - for hatred - for guilt. Nothing.

"Xander - love -" *please, please* Spike's hands on either side of his face, thumbs slipping over his cheekbones, fingers delicately in his hair.

*Love you* from Oz, strong as he could, to both of them, and:

*Love you both, keep you safe, love you love you* from Spike, softly.

"I - I think... It's done now, right? Spike? Done now with them, with - all of that." Xander opened his eyes to Spike looking anxiously up at him, cool hands slipping down to settle lightly on his shoulders.

"Yeah. Done. Promise." Spike looked over at Oz, put out one hand to brush through darkly amber hair. "Sorry, wolfling. Shouldn't have done that - shouldn't have thrown that at you." Oz pushed into the vampire's touch.

*Pack* "It's ok. You - did what you had to. Had it worse than me. I'm not gonna - hold it against you." Spike smiled at the werewolf - real smile, and Oz ducked his head.

"Xan, love -"

"No, don't. It's like you're - apologizing - for being tortured. You - it's done, and I'm glad, and..." Xander looked at Spike - into eyes full of pain, now - of love and fear.

"I love you, Spike. *love you always* You said you were gonna take them out and you did. You did. I was just... I wish Buffy hadn't gotten hurt. I'm sorry -"

"No, love. You're *laughter hearthfire white knight* too good for this crap. I did - hurt her. And I liked it. But, it's done now, and I won't - won't make it worse. All right, love? I don't want to hurt you - I try not to hurt you -" Xander pulled him close - held him as tightly as he could, wishing he had vampire strength to make Spike feel - make him understand - that he'd never let him go, never give up on him. He could only send his love and his want and his promises through the link, over and over, sending it to Oz as well, doing his best to pull the raveled edges back together. To purge the fear and the sorrow and make them whole again, family again.

 

*********************************

Xander sighed - shifted just a little. The ghostly purr from Spike had stopped - Xander's hand had stopped stroking his hair. He resumed that caress, trying to force his mind into more pleasant channels - more specific memories, but his mind kept skittering away from those things - that person. Kept jumping to other days and events, leaving her a blur. He saw Dawn in his mind again, standing cold and pale and utterly lost, her arm bleeding, her voice deadly calm as she asked them all: "Is this blood? It can't be me...I'm not a key - not a thing." Her impotent rage at all of them - Buffy trying to explain - to soothe - and Dawn running away. Running out into the night and the frantic search for her that ended at the hospital and Glory, Glory there, tossing Buffy and Spike and all of them away from her as if they were made of straw. Only Tara and Willow could do anything, and the teleportation spell had drained Willow badly - hurt her. After that, Dawn had been sullen and weepy by turns, and they'd had several all-night Scooby sessions, trying their best to find something - anything - that would help them. Glory like a malignant shadow over all, her strength and seeming invulnerability making Buffy anxious and angry.

Even Christmas - Joyce and Buffy making pies, Giles going with Xander and Oz to collect a stately spruce, Dawn and Tara hanging tinsel and giggling as Willow lectured about the blatant hypocrisy of the Religious Right co-opting a Pagan ritual for their own... Even that had seemed slightly frenetic. A put-on, as if they were scrambling for normalcy in the face of utter chaos. Which, Xander supposed, they were, in a way. But they'd tried. Dawn had nagged at the three of them to get with the season - to decorate and put up a tree. Had nagged incessantly, in fact, until Spike lost his patience and told her no.

 

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"Leave off, Bit! I haven't done Christmas since I was human, and I'm bloody well not going to start back now!"

"What?" Dawn had gaped at him, sitting on the couch with a manicure set spread out around her, diligently doing her nails and trying to talk Spike into letting her do his. "What do you mean - you went, like, a hundred years without a - a tree or presents or - anything?"

"Dru didn't like Christmas. It reminded her of the sisters. She was gonna be a nun right before Angel got to her, and Christmas made her... Well, let's just say it made her re-live some bad memories." Dawn frowned, carefully laying down a perfect stripe of pale pink lacquer on her index finger.

"Ok, so - what was Christmas like when you were - were human? What did you do?"

"Fuck's sake -"

"Oh, c'mon Spike. Tell her." Xander grinned at him from the kitchen where he was making eggnog - his only concession to the season. Oz was out. Had, in fact, been spending more nights out than not. Spike and Xander suspected...someone.

"Christ! Fine. We didn't have a bloody huge tree like you lot have - we had a nice one that sat up on the table in the front parlor. Mother and I made decorations for it - paper chains and little paper figures - all kinds of things. And candles. And - we put garlands up everywhere, and had carolers at the house, and parties... Someone was always getting married, and there were all kinds of theatricals and things..." Dawn was staring openmouthed at Spike, and Xander just stood in the kitchen, his eyes closed, reliving those memories with Spike. Seeing *Mother Cousin Frieda Uncle Leonard...Father...* Spike stood up abruptly and went to the open window, lighting a cigarette and staring out into the night.

"What - what did you do at the parties?" Dawn asked, subdued, and Spike inhaled - exhaled - turned to look at her, his gaze softening a bit.

"Oh, we - we played Authors and Blind-man's Buff and The Ministers' Cat... and there were crackers to pull, and the Plum pudding, and dancing... And sometimes there were skating parties, and sleighing - when Father was alive." Spike fell silent again, smoking and looking at nothing, the link thick with nostalgia - with a deep, tearing ache whenever Spike though of his long-dead father.

*Love you, don't be sad, not alone* Xander sent softly, and Spike sent him a flashing smile.

*I know. Love you.*

"But - it sounds like - it was really cool. Why don't you want to do that stuff anymore?" Dawn was carefully capping her nail polish, fingers spread wide so she wouldn't smudge her still-wet nails. Spike snorted - pushed away from the wall and stalked back over to the couch, crushing out the cigarette.

"Not the same, is it? It's all so - plastic now. So loud. Everybody runnin' around, buyin' stuff, goin' crazy. And - it's too warm here. Can't have a proper Wassail in all this heat - can't cut your own garlands or you'll get arrested. It's just - not the same." He slumped down in the chair again, looking dissatisfied and a little glum, and Dawn watched him for a minute before wandering into the kitchen.

"Did I make him mad?" she whispered to Xander, and Xander pulled her into a quick hug, stroking her hair.

"Nah. He's just - remembering, you know? All his family's gone, it's kinda...sad, sometimes."

*Not gone. You're family. The best family. Forever.*

*Yeah. Always, love*

"Oh." Dawn looked down at her nails - looked up at Xander, sudden excitement in her face. "I'm going to tell mom she has to invite him to Christmas dinner! She and Buffy were talking about having Mr. Giles over, but I'm going to tell her we have to have a real party - invite everybody! You guys'll come, won't you? Please? We can make Spike tell us how to play those games and - and it'll be great! Please say you'll come, Xander!" Xander looked at her wide, happy eyes - at the pleading expression in them. She wanted to be normal, so badly. To forget about being the Key - to forget about Glory. Xander knew that was why she'd badgered her mom into a huge tree - into traditional cookies and tons of decorations. Knew that was why she was doing this, as well. *Lived on the Hellmouth for four years, knows about demons and vamps and magic and things no little girl should know... But Christmas is still the biggest event of the year.*

*Party with the Slayer* Xander thought, and grinned at the string of curses that came back. But a minute later Spike was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, smiling at Dawn.

"You ask your mum, Niblet, and if she says yes, then - we'll come. All right?" Dawn had shouted and hugged them both, and the party had gone rather well. Only one minor kitchen disaster (Buffy had dropped a pie), and Dawn had persuaded Spike to tell them how to play The Minister's Cat, and they'd all had fun, clapping in time and trying to come up with descriptive words for the minister's cat that started with 'A', then 'B', then 'C'; halfway through the alphabet before Joyce was declared the winner. Spike had actually spent most of his time in the living room corner, sitting cross-legged on the floor and watching the others, an odd little secret smile on his face when no one was looking. That night in bed, he'd hummed Frosty the Snowman under his breath while going down on Xander until Xander had gotten a stitch from laughing, and they'd curled happily around each other in the twilight just before dawn, warm and content, at peace.

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Xander smiled at that memory, but then slowly the smile faded to a frown, and he shook his head, feeling close to tears again. *Trying to remember...and all I can remember is Spike, and me...everybody but... Why can't I think about...her?* He twitched ever so slightly as the front door opened. He could hear Oz coming in - setting something down on the kitchen table, then a long silence.

*Bath?* and Xander sent an ok, watching the bedroom door open and Oz slide in. He looked worn out, and he stood there for a moment just looking at Xander.

"Tried to take a nap, but..." Xander shrugged, and Oz nodded - made a little gesture back towards the kitchen.

"I got those flowers Spike wanted."

"Thanks, Oz." Oz nodded again - smiled softly and ghosted across the room and into the bathroom, quietly shutting the door. Xander sighed - reached down and began to stroke Spike's shoulder, shaking him ever so slightly.

"Spike. Hey, Spike - wake up, love."

"Mmmm?" Spike twitched - curled instinctively closer - and Xander slid down in the bed a bit, so he was even with the vampire. Spike's head ended up on his arm, and after a moment blue eyes opened sleepily, blinking at him.

"We need to get up, love. Get ready." Spike's hand reached out from under the covers and touched Xander's face - traced his eyebrow and cheek, combed back through his hair.

"All right, pet. Want to eat?" Xander grimaced - shook his head.

"I don't - think I could." Spike nodded - stretched upwards a little for a kiss and then pulled Xander close, hugging him.

"I don't want to go."

"I know, pet."

"You'll stay right there with me, right?"

"Course I will, pet. Right there."

"I've been trying to remember...but I just keep thinking about other things. I don't want to forget already - what's wrong with me?"

"Give it time, love. You won't forget, promise." Xander kissed him - wished fiercely that they could just stay home - make love and not think - but there wasn't anymore time. They had to get up, now. Get dressed. Go and meet everyone and spend the next few hours being - strong. Being calm, and quietly willing to do anything, and...brave. Spend the next few hours looking at the shell-shocked faces of Buffy and Dawn, and watching Joyce be laid away into the uneasy rest of a Sunnydale cemetery.

"When I was small I was in love - in love with everything
now there's only you..."

 

 

 

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Thomas Dolby - Cloudburst at Shingle Street