Chapter 22: Allies
"Tell me - what you see. Tell me - make me real, Spike - m-make me real."
"I'll make you real... I see you - demonslayer...builder... knight in patchwork armor... oohhh...You are... lover...brother...strong right arm...you are... s-sunlight... hearth fire... oh gods."
Spike arched and swayed over him, his eyes golden and glowing in the dim lemon light of the dawn. His gaze never left Xander's. Their hands were locked together, fingers entwined above Xander's head. Lifting and sinking down, slow, slow climb to the peak - to the climax - and then he would still, and wait, kissing and whispering - remembering.
"What are you doing to me, love, what..."
"Knowing you. Learning you." *loving, loving you...want every inch of you*
"Still do," Xander murmured, kissing Spike's face, the so-familiar planes of the demon; kissing his arms where they rested just above his shoulders. Kissing his mouth and not caring if the fangs drew pin-pricks of blood. "Still do, always will, love you - ahh - Spike...love you, love you..."
"My knight, my love...my always..." Spike kissed back just the same, on every bit of skin he could reach, and Xander just wanted to crush him closer - feel every inch - never stop feeling it. Two weeks since the spell and Spike still needed to remember, and Xander still needed to know he was there, and that all was well.
*God, love you so fucking much...never want you not there, love, never want you gone from me...*
*Xander...Xander...always my own... Always always always...*
"Always, vampire-mine... You make me - gods - you make me real, make me -"
"Make you mine," Spike whispered, and his fangs sank slowly into Xander's throat as his body sank slowly down, one more time. Xander arched in blind, silent ecstasy, his own teeth clamping down and the blood was *cool spice darklife magic* dancing over his tongue, making the link sing, making his body writhe and shudder for long ,long minutes. The cool striping of Spike's semen across his chest made him shiver and Spike collapsed over him, burying his face in the crook of Xander's neck. Slow trail of his tongue over the scar, hands still locked together and Xander's fingers rubbing over Spike's.
"Never get tired of this...of you..." Xander whispered, and Spike kissed his way up to Xander's mouth and then kissed his mouth, slow and sweet and his heart on his lips like always. Glorying in what they had - in how they'd gotten there. Remembering because he could.
"...It's not just because of that. Every time they do something like that - every hypocritical, petty thing - puts its mark on them. They're staining themselves - making themselves less. And for what? So they can lord it over one vampire who can't hurt them. It's - degrading, to both of you. And I won't put up with it any more."
"My knight in patchwork armor..."
Xander had to smile at that memory, and how angry he'd been - how terrified of the Scoobies discovering their secret. And how little he cared, any more, what anyone thought.
*Wouldn't give this up for anything in the world,* he thought, and Spike eased himself up and off of Xander - settled into a tight clinch, sighing in contentment and letting the purr grumble rustily up out of his chest. *Who'd give up their own giant kitty-cat?* Xander giggled softly at the blast of mental denial from Spike.
*M'growling. Real soft. I keep telling you... Vampires are not cats and we do not purr.*
*But you still look fabulous in a collar,* Xander replied, and groaned softly as Spike's mental gears slipped and he sent a flood of highly erotic images, mostly starring Xander.
*No better than you do, pet... Wear it for me on patrol some time - wear it in the house...?*
*Christ -* Xander shifted and arched a little, his cock responding to that suggestion quite happily. *Wearin' me out, vampire-mine.*
*Love to, pet. Have. Will...* But Spike just settled a little closer and kissed his neck, soft and slow, and Xander knew that if anything was going to happen it was going to take a while. Spike was in that sort of mood.
*Love that mood,* he thought fondly, and Spike petted him through the link. *Oh, yeah...love it.*
When they managed to make it out of bed sometime around three, Oz and Derio were still a tangled lump in their own bed, and the house was still and shuttered - quiet like it almost never was at that time of day. The Bringers - the First - had been quiet too, and Buffy and Faith were both spoiling for a fight. They trained the Potentials hard every day - took them on patrols in groups and Sunnydale hadn't ever been quite so demon-free. Of course, that was also because a lot of demons were leaving Sunnydale - and a lot of humans as well. Something had finally gotten through the collective blind eye most of Sunnydale turned to things of a supernatural origin, and there were 'For Sale' and 'Going out of Business' signs all over the town. It was kind of creepy, and it made them all a little edgy.
Giles and Ethan hadn't found anything new on the First either, and Tara reported no news from the L.A. gang in her nightly online chats with Fred. That was a source of quiet amusement and hope for their pack - Tara seemed truly taken with Fred, and glowed with humor and good spirits after every talk. They all hoped she'd found someone - a friend or a lover, they didn't care.
"Wonder where everybody is?" Xander asked, shuffling into the kitchen with Spike attached, limpet-like, to his back, pale arms around his ribs and his mouth gently worrying the claim scar.
*Don't care. First got 'em,* Spike thought, and he made no effort to dodge the half-hearted slap Xander aimed at his ass.
"Stop that." Xander pulled open the 'fridge and peered inside. "Mmm...leftover lasagna. Want some?"
"Too much garlic, not enough pesto," Spike grumbled, finally letting go and moving over to the stove. He shook the kettle and went to the sink to fill it, and fifteen minutes later they were both at the table, Xander scarfing lasagna and Spike drinking his doctored tea. Sinclair and Miss Kitty were both sitting bolt upright on the floor between them, looking upwards expectantly at Xander.
"Don't even think it," Xander told them, mock-glaring. "You're both getting spoiled rotten and I'm not sharing my food with you." Spike snorted in amusement and pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket, lighting up with a sigh. There was the slap of footsteps and Dawn appeared, four large books piled in her arms. She squeaked in surprise and dropped the books on the table.
"Hey! You guys are up!" She went around behind Spike towards the 'fridge, patting him on the shoulder in passing and Xander smirked at the look on Spike's face, that was a mixture of annoyance and fondness.
*Startin' to act like I'm some kinda house pet,* Spike grumped. *Need to take her out on patrol tonight, let her get a couple bruises - see a little action.*
*Put the fear of the Big Bad back into her?* Xander was trying not to grin around his mouthful of food and Spike shot him a narrow-eyed look. Dawn messily scooped out lasagna onto a plate and shoved it in the microwave, licking her fingers.
*Bit needs to be reminded that there's nasties out there - they're not all like her puppies upstairs* Xander glanced over at Dawn, who was heating up her own plateful of food. Then he deliberately remembered several instances of Spike helping Dawn - in particular, Spike helping her with her English - reading out loud to her, snuggled on the couch in Xander's flannel shirt.
*'Cause you're not at all...fluffy or cute.*
*You're just BEGGIN' for a spanking...* Spike thought, looking up at Xander through his lashes and Xander didn't believe it was possible but his cock stirred in his jeans.
"So - where is everybody, Dawn?" he asked, loftily ignoring Spike's molasses-dark, too-knowing chuckle.
"Oh! Don't you know? No, you guys were...uh...sleeping." Dawn gave them an eye-roll and something too close to a knowing leer and Xander shot Spike an exasperated look. Spike did his best to look innocent, but sitting there with a tea-cup and a half-empty bottle of whiskey, his cigarette smoke curling around his white-blonde, spiked head, he looked anything but.
"Johnathan called - that guy Andrew almost killed? He was getting out of the hospital this morning and the ambulance brought somebody in. A Potential." Dawn got her plate out of the microwave and grabbed a soda - settled opposite Xander and Spike, pushing her stack of books aside. "He said she was hurt pretty badly but she was talking and he heard her say to contact Buffy Summers." Dawn stabbed at her lasagna, looking anxious. She'd been visiting Johnathan in the hospital ever since he'd been hurt, and had gotten to like him quite a bit.
"So - did the hospital call here?" Xander finished the last of his own food and pushed his plate away, and Spike lit a second cigarette, making room for Sinclair on his lap. The cat sniffed at Spike's tea and then started kneading, purring loudly enough to make the three of them smile. Miss Kitty came around the table and fixed her gaze on Dawn, instead.
"No - the cell phones aren't listed and we had the old number turned off when we moved here. He called and said he was going to stick around the hospital and - and see what happened. She had to go into surgery - I don't know if she's out or not." Dawn ate a forkful of lasagna and Spike looked over at Xander.
*Guess the First isn't gonna be quiet forever, after all.*
*Guess not...* "So - is Buffy at the hospital?"
"Everybody is! Well, not Faith - she went to talk to some guys she knows down at the docks - that's where they found her. She took some of the girls with her. And Giles and Ethan went to some bookstore up in Santa Barbara, they got a lead on something, they think." Dawn gulped her soda - wiped her mouth on a paper towel. "I think some of the girls were gonna - you know - ditch. They wanted to get some down-time."
"Huh." Spike crushed out his cigarette and scrubbed his fingers through Sinclair's fur, then stood up, putting the cat on the floor. "As long as they keep their wits about 'em." *Goin' to find Glinda,* he thought, and Xander nodded.
"I think I need some more lasagna," Xander said to nobody in particular and got up, heading for the fridge. *Good. Don't - freak her out, okay? It's probably nothing.*
*I wouldn't hurt her for the world, pet. You know that.*
*I know that.* Xander grinned over at Spike, who grinned back and sauntered out.
The mansion was mostly dim - shutters and curtains almost permanently closed so Spike didn't have to dodge sunbeams. Kennedy had made it a practice to leave key ones open, trying to trap him, but he'd ambushed her on patrol three nights ago and wore her out in the name of 'training', and she'd left off. Spike smirked to himself. She was fun to go after, mostly because she didn't seem to ever misplace her snotty 'I am Slayer, bow down' attitude. He was enjoying punching a few holes in her façade. He closed his eyes for a moment, orienting himself and then moved toward the back of the house, to the room they'd set up as a library. Delivery trucks arrived almost daily with books from the old Watchers Headquarters - the Pembrokes were making great headway there, and their skills as archeologists were coming in more than handy when it came to rescuing half-torched books and other, less identifiable paraphernalia from the ruins.
He could feel Tara back there - had felt her more and more, since they'd come back. Her growing finesse with magic and her growing confidence seemed to feed the subtle aura that surrounded her, and her essential 'pack-ness' made her easy to tune into. Spike could feel warmth from her - joy - a rock-solid, root-deep serenity that was the core of the blonde witch. Unshakeable and capable of carrying a load that seemed impossibly heavy. *Don't want you to labor under a burden though, Glinda. Talk to me now...*
Since the spell - there was something else. A hesitation in her, and a withdrawal. Whenever Spike got too close he could feel a flinch, even if outwardly she didn't show a thing. And it...hurt. He had to know what was wrong. Spike walked quietly into the library, where Tara was reading intently something on the laptop they'd bought. The heroin money had been a godsend, since nobody had a job anymore, and Giles was still wading through red tape to get the greater part of the Council funds released to him. The heroin itself was safely stashed away, a hedge against future need. Something most of the household was ignorant of.
"Hey, Glinda," Spike said, and she turned to look at him, blinking in a dazed fashion for a moment, her mind obviously focused on what she'd been reading. Then she saw him, and a hesitant smile crossed her lips. But she -flinched. Spike throttled down the anxiety he felt and dropped down cross-legged at her feet.
"Hey, S-Spike," she said softly.
"Glinda... You have to tell me..." Spike stopped and took a deep breath. "Tell me what's the matter, pet? You're - scared of me. Why are you scared of me?" Tara opened her mouth and then closed it - looked down at her hands that were twisting together in her lap.
"I - I'm n-not sca-scared of you, Spike -"
"Love, please - I can feel you - pulling back from me..." Tara shot him a wet, wide-eyed look and then nodded, letting her hair fall forward to hide her face.
"It's - it's my problem, Spike. I'm d-doing my be-best..." Spike reached out slowly and touched her hand and she froze for a moment and then slid her fingers into his, squeezing tight.
"It's the memories, Spike. They're - taking a l-long time to go away and... And I've seen...so much... So many th-things that hap-happened and..."
"Things I did, pet? Is that it?" Spike waited for her reply, his stomach twisting into a painful knot.
"Yeah...." Tara sighed, her shoulders slumping. But then she sat up immediately, dashing her free hand across her face. "It's stupid, Spike. I know that - that you've changed. I know - I remember - how you feel about Xander and - and Oz and D-derio. About Dawn..."
"And you, too. Don't forget you," Spike murmured, and Tara flashed a shaky smile at him.
"And me. I don't want to - remember the past but sometimes it just..." She trailed away, shaking her head helplessly, and Spike leaned slowly forward until his forehead was resting on her knee.
"Glinda - please don't...please don't pull away from me. You're family, pet, you're - part of me. Part of us. I can't - can't lose you -"
"No! No...shhhh...." Tara's body was stiff with tension and then Spike felt her hand rest lightly on his bowed head - slowly and hesitantly stroke his hair. "I won't leave you. I promise. What I've felt is s-so amazing... I don't - understand it all. Just - let me... I just need a little time, Spike. Please?" Her voice was thick with sorrow and Spike rubbed his head slowly back and forth on her skirt-draped knee.
"Please, Tara - please don't... I would never, ever hurt you. Never hurt the family. You know that, right? You know that?" He looked up at her, feeling soft encouragement from Xander, and Tara smiled at him - a crooked and sad smile, but a smile.
"I know you wouldn't. I know... I'm working on it, Spike, I promise. I'm - I've been t-talking to..." She stopped, blushing, and Spike smiled a little.
"Talkin' to your sweetheart?" he said softly, and Tara's blush deepened, but she squeezed his hand a little tighter in hers.
"She's - Fred's not... I mean, sh-she... I've been talking to her about - all of this. She...she has some good...ideas. I'll work it out, Spike. I really will. I - I know what you are, inside." She reached and touched his chest, and her fingers seemed to send a tiny sizzle of electricity through him - a tiny jolt of summer-scented lightning. "I know what's in here - demon, and a soul. And...you never had anybody care about the soul before. Not until Xander. It's - changed you."
"Can't help bein' changed when somebody loves you like that," Spike whispered, and Tara leaned forward and rested her cheek on his for a moment - kissed him fleetingly, smelling of mint and marjoram and dill - of magic.
"I know. And you have. In a lot of ways. I promise...we're still f-family, Spike."
"All I needed to hear, love. Couldn't let you go if I tried, you know?" Spike reached and tucked her silky hair back behind her ear - let his fingers rest for a moment on the warm swell of her cheek. The demon shifted inside, wanting more and better confirmation of *family ours pack*. But Spike - couldn't appease it that way.
"You - do you be-believe me, Spike?" Tara asked, frowning just a little, and Spike snatched his hand back, knowing that he'd given something away in that touch.
"I - know you won't leave, Glinda. It's the demon in me, is all. It wants -"
"Something else." Tara's eyes had a shuttered look to them, as if she was going deep inside herself for something, and Spike wanted to shake her - call her back. Her fingers were tight in his, not letting him retreat. "I - know..." She looked at him, and suddenly her power was there - was all around him. Warm and rich as mulled wine, complex as the branching pattern of veins on a leaf and as solid and simple as the taproot that anchors the tree. Power that thrummed like a hive of bees, drowsy and somehow furry and lethal if stirred.
"Spike? Will you... Sh-show me it, Spike. Show me the demon." Her eyes were on his like searchlights - like suns. Blinding him a bit, making him suck in a hard breath. He knew Xander was coming, striding through the house, Dawn right behind. He could feel Oz and Derio waking, agitated, and the change coming over them as they shook free of the bedding and bounded out of the room - down the stairs. But Tara -compelled him. Called the demon forth and he shivered, a growl coming up in his chest and shattering the thrumming air. The demon rose - and pushed - wanting more, wanting to be out. Heeding the call that was the witch's power and Spike let it have its will. For once and all, let it have full rein. He felt the shift in bone and muscle, his face rearranging to the demon's features. But this time it happened all over and he knew his spine was sharper - more ridged. Knew the joints of body were more angled, and his hands longer - his nails more like claws. The demon manifesting itself as it never did. It never had the need, but this time - it was Tara that called it. Siren-song of *love family please let me see mine ours yours.* He heard the stifled gasp from Dawn - the amazement and fascination from Xander. Claws scrabbled on stone and the wolves were there, stalking stiff-legged up to them.
*What's she doing? Spike - you...* from Oz, wonder and trust in the link, and: *Pack pack pack,* from Derio, shivers of delight as Tara's aura surrounded them. As Xander got closer - as Dawn did - Tara's power enfolded them as well and suddenly Dawn was in the link like she never had been before and *fear surprise awe oh my god, my god, this is family, this is what it means!* Tara looked up at them - at Xander hovering over Spike's shoulder, his arm around Dawn. At the wolves who'd book-ended themselves on either side of her, muzzles resting on her thighs.
"This is what it means," she said softly, and her hand went out again, to gently touch Spike's face - touch the demon. And she deliberately pressed the pad of her thumb against one razor-sharp fang. The merest drop of blood hit Spike's tongue and he felt his eyes fluttering closed - felt the growl becoming a groan as *mother sister darklight she she she* coursed through the link. Tara's blood was sunlight and spring-water and the sour-sweet of sorrel. Wild strawberries and silver and earth and the taste of it - the essence of it went out to all of them. Dawn was panting softly, and Xander's hand had locked down on Spike's shoulder, hard enough to hurt. The wolves lifted their muzzles, howling out an exultant song and the demon roared.
*Oh - god - she's so beautiful...* Xander thought, and Spike could feel the tears on Xander's face as if they were his own.
"To me," Tara whispered, and her power withdrew, curling back on itself like an ocean wave, coiling and twisting and winding back down, through her and back to the earth and then they were sitting there, and Xander had gone down on his knees next to Spike, and Dawn was hugging Tara and the wolves were pressing close, whining. The demon retreated, satisfied and purring with satisfaction.
*Family pack ours mine always always always,* in the link from all of them. *Family brother sister love,* from Dawn and *family* faint and soft from Tara. Spike laughed, hugging Xander hard. Family, and she was right; he was changed.
"So what's the up, Buffy? How's the girl?" The living room was full of Potentials - all 23 of them - and Spike and Xander had retreated to the stairs in an effort to put some distance between themselves and the jangle of the Slayer-buzz. It wasn't really working. Oz and Derio were higher still on the stairs, just as tense. It seemed to get worse when the Potentials were agitated, like they were now. It was going on nine o'clock, and they'd all been waiting for Giles and Ethan to arrive so Buffy could tell them the news. The waiting had been hard and everyone was on edge. Johnathan sat on the edge of the big leather couch, still pale-looking and as nervous as the rest of them.
"Shannon - she..." Buffy was standing in the middle of the room, and she looked...small. There were circles under her eyes, and she was twisting a piece of paper in her hands, crumpling it and uncrumpling it. "She's dead. She was really hurt -" There was a hiss of shock and fear from the Potentials - Buffy apparently hadn't told them anything. Faith, her arms tightly crossed over her chest, looked up sharply.
"Everybody shut up. This is important," she said, and her voice was sharp as a knife. Buffy looked over at her and Faith nodded once, biting her lip.
*Fuck. Dead? Something new or part of the First? Christ, what next?* Xander felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Spike reached out and put his hand on Xander's knee, rubbing gently.
*We'll figure it out, love. We'll fix it. You'll see.*
"She - was killed by a man who calls himself Caleb. She was running from Bringers, and he picked her up... Than he told her - that he had a message for - for me." Buffy was pacing in little circles now and she pushed her hand back through her hair, grimacing. "He told her - he has something of mine. We don't know what he has - if he really has anything. But - we're gonna find out who this guy is, and what he wants. We're gonna get whatever he has and he's gonna pay for killing one of ours." Buffy stared out over the crowd of girls - looked at Dawn, who was sitting close to Tara, and looked at Giles and Ethan, who looked back, grim-faced. Buffy looked exhausted and Xander wondered if she was sleeping. She never seemed to, and the bones of her face seemed to be pushing up too close to her skin, making her skull stand out too clearly.
*She's burning herself out. Got to get her to rest...*
*Good luck with that,* Spike thought, lighting up and holding the cigarette away, out of Xander's face. He was right - Buffy seemed to be wound tighter with each passing day and the lull in First activity hadn't made much difference.
"Johnathan - is going to help us. He said that - the girl had a mark burned into her neck. Caleb - did it. So he's going to help us find the mark and maybe - find this guy. So - everybody help him out." Buffy walked over to Giles and handed him the crumpled paper, and he smoothed it out, looking it over. "She said he was dressed like a - priest. Black suit and collar. So - be on the lookout, okay?" Buffy looked around at them all and the silence seemed to oppress her - the weight of their gaze seemed to be too much. "He just stabbed her, and pushed her out of his truck. So - be careful. Once we find out who he is - he's gonna be history." A couple of the Potentials raised a cheer at that, and then they all did, whooping loudly. Xander felt Oz's knee in his back, and Derio's hand was on Spike's shoulder, and they didn't join in the cheer. The First - had a new ally.