Chapter 25: Winning

Chapter 25: Winning

                The wards sparked like a firework as they stumbled through them and Spike staggered a last few steps and was on his knees again, Xander cradled close to him and Oz folding up beside him, so much pain in the link he could barely think straight.  Oz struggled to shut it down - Derio, across the room with a bandage tight around his leg was doing the same, wide-eyed and blood-spattered.  But Xander -

                *Love, stay awake, stay HERE, you can't sleep now, Xan, please -*

                *HURTS hurts hurts, make it stop make it stop make it stop stop stop -* 

                "What do you need, what happened?"  Johnathan, crouching down beside him, streaked with blood, heart pounding but doing his best.

                "Something for the pain - bandages - fuck, I don't - I don't know -"   Spike felt lost - felt utterly helpless.  He made things break and bleed, he didn't fix them, and he had no idea what to do.  Johnathan scrambled to his feet, quick pat of his hand on Spike's shoulder.

                "Be right back," he said, trotting away, and Derio was talking urgently to a tear-streaked Potential who nodded and fled upstairs.  Buffy was across the room, saying something to Giles who was strapping up Faith's arm and he looked over at them, concern on his face.  

                *Don't know what to do, what to do -*   Something flickered in his memory - some momentary image and he seized on it - drew it out.  Knowledge crashed through him as the soldier woke up and he closed his eyes and remembered.   Johnathan came back, spilling sealed packages and boxes of supplies from a basket.    Hospital gear that they'd scrounged when they'd realized just how much had been left behind.  

                *C'mon, tell me what to do - show me - come ON!*

                *Hurts, oh fuck - hurts...hurts...  Need to clean the - wound, need - bandage, need -*   Images, information, procedures cascaded through his mind and Spike scanned the pile of supplies - looked at Johnathan's weary, dirty face.

                "I need gauze, I need - saline, and some kind of - morphine, something, I -"   *Wolf, can you hold him?  Can you -*

                *I'm here,* from Derio as he hobbled to them, wrapped in a towel.  He got down on the floor, his injured leg stuck out to the side and took Xander's limp weight into his lap, cradling his head against his shoulder.  Oz was breathing in short, painful hitches, hunched and unmoving and Spike spared him a second's agonized look and then reached for the supplies.  But his hands - his hands were filthy; covered in blood, in bits, in dirt, and he wanted to howl his frustration.

                "Here - just -"   Johnathan had towels and he folded one on the floor - cracked open a plastic bottle of alcohol and held it out.  "Wash, here -"   Spike stuck his hands out and Johnathan poured and he scrubbed hard, *hurts hurts god, sorry, Spike - hurts hurts hurts,* mindless drone that made tears blur Spike's vision. 

                *Love, don't be sorry, not your fault, I'm here, almost done, gonna fix it, love please, you'll be all right -*     He felt something wet on his face and he ducked away, snarling.  It was Dawn, a wet towel in her hands, and she bit her lip.

                "Bit - it's okay - sorry, didn't know -"

                "Just wanted to get the blood off, you don't want any to get on - on Xander -"   Dawn scuttled away, tears on her face, but Spike couldn't spare another thought for her - could barely think at all.  A steady moaning noise - endless and ragged - was coming from Xander and Spike wanted to stop it, oh god, he wanted it to end.  After a minute his hands were better and he took the latex gloves Johnathan offered, pulling them on.

                "I need - a pot, a bowl - something -"   Spike leaned over, getting a tall bottle of sterile saline and opening it - shredding open packages of gauze.  The Potential was back, dumping a blanket on Oz and nodding frantically at Johnathan's hurried words, darting off to the kitchen.  Spike opened the saline and wet the gauze - hovered over Xander, biting his lip.

                *Let me see, love, let me see - got to move your hands -*

                *Hurts!  Spike - please, please, please -*

                *I know!  Shhhh...*    "Shhh, love - I'll fix it, I will, but I have to - to see what's there, please move your hands, love -"   The guttural moan went on and on and Xander was rigid with pain; his skin sheened with sweat, his heart-beat too slow and his breathing erratic.  Shock was the word and Spike looked frantically around. 

                "I need something for pain, damnit, didn't you steal any fuckin' pain meds?" he snapped and Johnathan scrabbled in the basket - came up with a vial and a syringe and then looked over towards a knot of people - Giles, Ethan and several Potentials.

                "Mr. Rayne!  I need your help now!"

                "Coming -"   The mage pushed himself to his feet and hurried over and Johnathan held up the vial and syringe.  Ethan knelt down and felt after Xander's pulse - looked at Spike.

                "This could be dangerous -"

                "He's gotta have it - I've got to see -"    Spike wanted to shake the man and after a moment Ethan uncapped the syringe and drew a tiny measure of liquid into it.   Johnathan swiped at Xander's arm with a piece of alcohol-soaked gauze and Ethan carefully injected the drug and then waited, his fingers on Xander's throat, his gaze turning inward as he concentrated.  Spike heard Xander's heartbeat steady - heard it drop a little lower and then settle into a rhythm and Xander let out a long, long sigh. 

                *Thank you, thank you, better, Spike, you there? Better, better -*

                *I'm here, love,*   Spike thought but Xander was silent now, unconscious, and Spike took a deep breath.  With the pain and the awful, awful moaning finally gone he could think, and he ordered his thoughts, remembering as hard as he could - picking apart the soldier's knowledge and seeing what he had to do.  The Potential - *Kennedy, that's Kennedy* came back just then with a big pot from the kitchen and Spike took it with a single, lingering glance.

                "Wolf, we have to - to hold him on his side so I can wash the blood off and see - see what's under there."  Derio nodded, shifting, and pain flared in the link.  He hastily shut it down but not before Ethan saw him flinch.

                "Let me do this - Derio, you're hurt, let me- "  Derio snarled, the wolf flashing up in his eyes but then he reluctantly nodded, easing Xander over so Ethan could take him.  Xander's hands fell away from his face and Spike stared at the mess of blood that was there - blood and tissue and Xander's eye-lid, horribly not right.

                *Fuckin' get it done, don't THINK, just -*

                *Be all right, be all right, fuck -so much blood -*   Oz shifted, making room for Derio and looking ill, and Spike took another hard breath.

                "Hold him so I can - can get this on his face -"  He wetted a handful of gauze and then carefully, carefully poured more saline over Xander's face, watching Ethan snatch more gauze to cover Xander's nose, watching the blood sluice away into the pot, so much blood and bits of tissue; dirt from the winery floor.  He wiped and poured and wiped and poured until the pot was halfway full and then he steeled himself and carefully, carefully peeled the eyelid back.  Ruin gaped up at him - welling blood and emptiness and he froze for a moment, shaking.

                *No, no, NO, not my boy, not -*

                *Clean it out, just - see what's there -*  Oz was holding Derio's hand so hard Spike felt it in the link and Buffy was there suddenly, crouching down and looking at Xander, her face white and set.

                "Is - is it - god - is there -"

                "Don't - know, I don't - fuck - I need more of this -"  Spike tossed the empty saline bottle aside and Buffy snatched a full one up - cracked the seal and opened it and Spike carefully, carefully poured a thin stream of the fluid into the damaged socket. 

                "Johnathan, I need that light -"   A shifting, and then Buffy had a penlight in her hand and was shining it into Xander's face and they all saw it.  Saw the empty socket, and the pulped bits of flesh that were washing out with the saline and Spike knew, he knew.  Ethan drew in a hard breath but kept his hold gentle - tipped Xander's head a little more so the saline wouldn't wash over his face.

                *Gone, fucking gone, it's - oh fuck, there's -*

                *Sure, be SURE, so much blood -*  Derio's voice in the link was frantic and shaky and Spike closed his eyes - opened them and poured and wiped and washed - gingerly inserted a twist of gauze that came out bloody but the socket was clean, now.  Blood seeped slowly from the damaged tissue but there was nothing - there.

                *NO, oh love - fuck - what do I...*   Spike braced his elbows on his knees, his hands shaking, sorting the memories.    "Is there - is there Betadine?  Red - liquid, not soap -" he asked, his voice hoarse and hurting in his throat and Johnathan pawed through the supplies - came up with another bottle.  He read the label swiftly and then opened it, handing it over.  Spike soaked more gauze and then carefully, carefully packed the wound, pressing lightly until the horrible, empty socket was filled in with the red-stained cloth.  He stripped off the fouled gloves and carefully positioned Xander's eyelid - took a fresh gauze pad from Buffy and laid it over Xander's face.  Johnathan had more bandaging and slowly, slowly, Spike wound it around Xander's head, gentle tug and twist, making it secure, not too tight.    When it was done it was neat and smooth and utterly awful, and he motioned for Ethan to let Xander go.  The mage carefully shifted Xander over so that he rested in Spike's arms again and Spike curled down over his boy and wept.  He felt Oz leaning on him - Derio - felt their pain as the link shuddered open and they tried to comfort him - comfort each other.  Xander slept on, free of the pain, and Spike simply held him.  He was sure that his heart, dead as it might be, was breaking.

 

               

                *Moving, he's waking up, it hurts, my fault, my fault, should never have come back, don't, love, I'll do that -*  Routine, now - the careful, careful lifting of his boy - the twice-daily changes of bandages and gauze packing, the bathing with warmed water and a washcloth.  Coaxing him to eat, monitoring the link so he'd get another dose of the pain-meds now because Xander was trying to tough it out, trying to wake up and endure it so he could...

                 *I'm useless like this, Spike, PLEASE, let me get up, let me go downstairs and help with SOMETHING!*

                "No!"    *No, love, you're HURT.  You just stay here, let me take care of you...  It's only been three days, love, it's...  MY fault, my fault, you just stay right here, we're all taking a break...*   Which wasn't a lie.  Giles and Ethan were grimly executing the task of getting the dead Potentials back home.  Drake and Anya were helping - were getting family members to escort the bodies and to explain, and there was a constant flow of people in and out of the house.  The wounded had been taken to Tara and she had exhausted herself with the healing spell.  Enough to speed everyone along, but not enough to fix it all right away.  Spike had carried Xander's limp form to her, out to the garden where she was sitting and healing Faith's arm.  Instead of weeks in a cast Faith would be mended in days and Spike had laid Xander down so, so gently, and looked desperately at Tara, surrounded by the scents of jasmine and damp earth, blood and clove-scented candles and lemonade.

 

               

                "Oh - no...  Spike?"

                "Please, Glinda...please, can you -"  Spike shudders, ignoring the tears that just will not STOP, ignoring the aches of his own hurt body, and the blood that's stiffening - stinking - in his clothes and hair.  So focused on Xander he can barely think straight and Tara puts her hands on him and he jerks away, startled.  Fighting the flood of energy and well-being that surges from her hands to him, healing his magic-driven body instantly.

                "NO, don't waste that on me, give it to Xander!  He needs it more, damnit!"

                "I know, Spike, I'm doing it," Tara says softly, and Spike sees that Xander is shrouded in that silvery green, dancing light and he slumps, watching, hoping - BEGGING the universe to let it work, let it work, let it work.

                "Will he -?"   But he can't say it - can barely think it - and Tara touches Xander's face - the bandage - so gently.

                 "It's gone, isn't it?  Caleb - took it," she says, and Spike nods, gasping after breath he doesn't need, aching so deeply in his chest that he wonders if it's his soul, crying.

                "This magic only does what...what his body does naturally, Spike.  Makes it go a l-lot faster, but it won't...  His body CAN'T grow an eye back.  This won't - do th-that.  I'm sorry, Spike, I'm so sorry..."  TARA is crying now and he can feel misery and pain and helpless rage from the wolves and he just can't STAND it anymore, he just CAN'T and he curls himself around Xander, trapped in this nightmare.  His throat is raw and his body aches and all he can think is that he should have been watching, taking care, looking OUT...  That he never should have brought his family back here, that he never should have let Xander within a hundred miles of the Hellmouth and the Slayer ever, ever again.  He doesn't know what to do with the fury and the hurt and the horror that are welling and breaking in him like a tide of black, shattered glass and he screams to the sky - to the earth.  Xander's body under him, Xander's  heartbeat in his head and the scent of his blood and his skin surrounding him and Spike has never felt so desolate - so utterly, utterly alone.  It's an hour before he can get himself together and get Xander upstairs and into bed.  Two hours later he's getting water and the pills Giles found and he's giving Xander his first dose and smoothing his sweat-limp hair and doing whatever he can to make it all right.

 

 

                "Spike, damnit - let me up!"  Xander looked angry, but his limbs were shaking and the pain was still there, underlying everything he did, and Spike gently pressed him back - curled up with him in the bed, tugging the covers over them both.

                "You're not ready, love.  You're still hurt and you can't do anything when you're this hurt.  We're all just... resting.  I promise you, okay?"   Xander looked at him - single dark eye mazed with the drug and with confusion, and his hand went up to his face - to the thick bandage.

                 "Tell me what - happened," he said and Spike cringed.  He'd told him - over and over - but the drug and the shock kept making him forget.

                *My fault, my fault, oh love, I don't want to do this to you again, please please...*   "It was Caleb.  Do you remember him?"  Hesitant nod and Spike bit his lip - cuddled Xander closer, feeling the wolves coming up from downstairs.

                *Love you, love you, be all right, we're coming -*  

                "He - grabbed you, he - he was stronger than me, love, and stronger than the Slayer -"   *No excuse, doesn’t mean a thing, still should have STOPPED him...*   "And he - he hurt you, love.  He - pushed his...he took your eye, love,"   Spike's voice had dropped to a whisper and he felt the shock of what he said go through Xander - felt him put his hand up again, and felt him shiver.

                 "So it's - there's nothing there?   My eye is -"

                *Sorry, so sorry, my fault, love...  God, I'm so sorry -*

                "Stop it, Spike, stop it -" from Derio as the wolves come in the door and headed straight for them, tucking up on the bed like they've done every time - surrounding him and Xander both with warmth and love and *family pack nest.*

                "Don't do that, Spike.   Hey, Xan," Oz said, small smile, and Xander reached out and took his offered hand - took Derio's, and leaned back heavily into Spike.

                "I'm...blind, then.  I mean - I just..."  Xander was pushing fear and loss down so hard that the link almost closed and they all worked to gently soothe him - to pry the link wide and comfort him.  A half-hour later he was asleep again, tears tracking just one side of his face and the morphine haze making the link surreal with dream-images.   Oz scrubbed his hands back through his hair, looking so tired.  Spike ached for him - for Derio, who'd gone silent and furious, as desperate as Spike.

                "Spike - they've been talking.  Tara has an idea.  To get him - to get Caleb.  And that - Wood, that principal?  He's got something, too - he's going to be coming here in an hour."  Oz's eyes looked bruised and Spike nodded silently, gently stroking his fingers through and through Xander's hair.

                Oz's own hand was on Spike's knee, rubbing slowly.  "Come out with me, Spike.  Me and Derio.   Come hunt.  You're getting thin."

                "Can't, love -"   The denial was automatic but the wolf flared up in Oz's eyes - in the link - and Oz was snarling at him.

                 "Can.  Don't do this, Spike."   *Pack must be strong, pack leader must be STRONG.*   The wolf wouldn't take this - wouldn't stand for it.  Won't let Spike just bury Xander and himself up here and exist.  Spike knew the hyena wouldn't allow that, either, but the demon - the demon just wanted to *protect protect family mate mine mine MINE!*

                "I know, Spike.  I know."  Oz sighed - leaned forward far enough to rest his forehead gently against Spike's.   "But you have to take care of yourself, you know you do.  Don't..."

                "Don't make it worse," Derio said, his fingers curling into Spike's.  He crowded in next to Spike and Oz as close as he could - touched as much as he could - shivering and desperate for the family to be whole.  "It'll hurt him, when he's better, if you're all...starved.  Don't do that to him."  Spike took a hard breath, *love you love you so much, love you all* and finally, reluctantly, nodded.  Derio hugged him and went to get Tara, returning with her and Dawn.  As they left, Sinclair slinked into the room, jumping up on the bed and curling into Xander's belly, and Spike felt that Xander would be all right, for a little while.

 

 

                The hunting felt good.   There were still humans left in Sunnydale - a lot, really.  But they were the ones who hadn't had as much to do with the day-to-day running of the place, and Spike knew that a number of them had moved in as the legitimate residents had moved out.  It made for a very strange atmosphere, and the Bronze was, for once, not crowded with kids but with outsiders and on-the-fringe types and junkies, and Spike drank his fill and more.  Then they roved over three cemeteries, taking out a few Bringers, getting into a tussle with a small, scruffy pack of werecoyotes who'd moved in from somewhere near Oakland.  They wanted to make the Hellmouth their new base, but Oz convinced them otherwise.  It was strange to see someone else who could shift halfway to their were-shape, and they spent a little while just talking after the threats and the snarling were done.   The Oakland pack revealed ties to the American Indian community and a spell that gave them control over their form.  They compared the wolf-chant to their Lakota spell and parted on friendly terms, satisfied. 

                Spike was feeling - settled, finally.  Feeling a little more clear-headed, since Xander's pain and his drug-induced confusion wasn't right there, in his head.  Oz told him about Robin Wood - that his mother had been a Slayer and that he had some artifact of the Slayer line that he'd hidden for years.  Something that Buffy and Giles had examined, and gotten some sort of information from.  

                "They've got an idea of what Caleb might be hiding," Oz said, walking between Spike and Derio, contemplating a small stone that he turned again and again in his fingers.

                "What do they think, then?"  Spike asked, patting his duster over for cigarettes and lighting one up with a sigh of pleasure.

                "Some sort of weapon.   Something made just for the Slayer."  Oz sped up a little and got ahead of Spike- hopped up onto a tomb and sat there, his heels drumming faintly on the cracked granite.  The link was uneasy - was too closed - and Spike just looked at Oz - looked at Derio, who had joined him on the tomb.

                "Sooo...what's goin' on, exactly, pet?  You're not sayin' something." 

                Oz sighed and tossed the stone away - looked up at Spike.  "You're right.  They wanted you out of the house while Wood was there."  Spike took a long drag and waited and Oz sighed again, the link still uneasy.

                "You remember the Slayer in New York?"  When Spike nodded, Oz continued.  "You remember she had a kid?"  Spike had to think about that for a minute.  Remembered, just vaguely, a small form in the darkness - soaked to the skin and sitting small and quiet as a mouse while he and the Slayer danced in the rain.

                "Yeah.  Didn't think about it much...  Thought about grabbin' him, you know -"   Spike made a gesture, his intent in the link - *hostage, leverage, whatever I might need,* and Oz nodded. 

                "He - recognized you.  Got pretty worked up about it, from what Buffy says.  Threatened you, I guess."  Spike snorted softly, grinning at the memories.

                "She was a bit of all right, that one.  She danced the dance...made it so pretty...  So, what - they thought he might come gunnin' for me?  I can take care of myself, pet."  Oz shrugged, slipping his arm around Derio and resting his head on the other's shoulder.

                "I know.  Just - he had something of hers - some artifact.  Wouldn't show it unless..."  The argument - which had happened sometime on the second day, when Spike had been oblivious upstairs with Xander - played out in the link and Spike had to laugh.

                "He can keep his precious 'artifact'...  I've no interest in it."  The idea that Spike might, for some reason, swoop down and steal or destroy the thing was just too funny, and Spike felt a little better for the unintentional entertainment.  The link was still tense, though - Derio in particular seemed upset about something and Spike watched him pluck nervously at the seam of his jeans.

                "What else then, eh?  Somethin' else here besides keepin' me from offending the principal."

                "They've worked out what they're going to do about Caleb," Oz said softly.  "They're going to do it tomorrow - right after first light."  Spike just stared at him for a moment - turned his back and smoked until his cigarette was gone.

                 "Why would they do that, then?  I want to gut that bastard -"   Oz hadn't killed him - he'd shown Spike that in the link.  Even half-drained by a vampire, Caleb hadn't - wouldn't - die.

                "I know you do.  But you can't go, Spike.  This is on us.  Xander needs you safe."  Spike started to say something and Oz held up a hand, so serious, so not-Oz that Spike just shut up, *My fault, god, protect family...*  

                Oz shook his head, frowning a little.   "Just...deal, man, because I can't fight about this, okay?  I can't."  The exhaustion they were all feeling broke through and the link flared with it - with the soft *please* from Oz and the *pack, protect, love you* from Derio.   Spike closed his eyes for a moment - reached for Xander and felt only the drug-induced sleep; inarticulate dreams.  He opened them again and walked to the tomb - leaned there between the wolves,  taking comfort in touch and heat and two sets of arms winding around him and holding him close - keeping him there and grounded and sane.

                "I won't fight you, love.  I won't.  Tell me everything, okay?   Tell me about Wood and his mum - about this weapon - all of it."  Oz nodded into Spike's shoulder - kissed his neck and pressed his cheek into Spike's for a moment.  Derio laced their hands together, thumb stroking over Spike's knuckles, pulling him close while Oz told him everything.

 

 

               

                Spike leaned against the headboard, pillows stuffed behind him and the blankets pulled up snugly.  Xander lay between his legs, head pillowed on Spike's shoulder, hands interlaced with Spike's and crossed comfortably on Xander's belly.  The heat and weight felt good - the scent was home; honey-sweet, salt, clean sweat, the musk of the hyena.    Xander was on the edge of needing more pills - his head hurt with a dull, stabbing throb with every heartbeat.  But they were enduring it, because Oz and Derio, Giles, Tara, and Buffy were at the winery, taking care of Caleb.  The link was thick with images - snatches of conversation - emotion.  Spike and Xander both lay with eyes closed, focusing on the act of retribution that was playing out miles away.

 

               

"There's Bringers in there, but I don't think they come out in the light much," Oz says to Buffy, and she nods, her eyes scanning the building, the scrubby bushes and trees that surround it, the littered courtyard.  Restless movements that are not echoed in her body, which stands still and relaxed - ready.  Tara and Giles are together on a small rise about thirty feet from the winery, and they are chanting.  They are calling on the earth, they are calling root and vine to them.  Calling power older than the First, maybe. 

 

 

                "These old men - Shadow men - they created the First Slayer.  Chose a girl and forced a bit of demon into her.  Made her more than she was so she could fight the enemy."  Oz sits cross-legged on the tomb, telling Spike what they saw - what the shadow-play told them, and what Buffy saw in her journey to the past.  "They made her, and forced her to fight, and they made sure what she was passed on when she died.  They became the Watchers."  Spike lights another cigarette and has to shake his head at that, because it's the basis for everything the Watchers have ever done; that arrogance, that selfishness and that near-sightedness that has brought about their undoing, thousands of years later.

                 "Sounds like the Council we all know and love," he mutters, and Derio shivers, remembering through them Glory, and what the Council tried to do.

 

 

                As the chant grows in intensity - in volume - the silvery boards of the winery building begin to shake - to creak and groan as an intangible force tightens its grip.  As they watch, the building begins to rise up.  Up and up on a bubble of earth, like some sort of boat on a black sea.  Giles and Tara are frozen, hands tightly clasped, voices demanding - cajoling - summoning.  The shiver of magic - of power so deeply

rooted in the bones of the earth - hits Oz and Derio like a silent, leaden wave.  In a moment they are deaf and dumb, pressed close to the earth, the air like syrup in their lungs.  On the bed, Spike and Xander shiver and gasp, held as well.

 

 

                "So the old men made her, and these women - Guardians - they...remembered.  And they made a weapon that killed the last true demon on Earth."  Oz tilts his head a little, picturing it in his mind - sharing the shadow-play that had danced across the walls of the mansion and held the Potentials and Faith spellbound.   Buffy's return from INSIDE the play - from the past - had ended it, and she had told them the rest.  Told them of the Guardians and told them that this weapon could be the thing to turn the tide.  All their hopes...rested on it.

 

 

                As the bubble of earth grows, it GROANS - it heaves and writhes and suddenly bursts, sending the walls of the winery tumbling down and spewing out Bringers and an immense, half-hewn stone.  And Caleb.  The Bringers fight to flee - to attack - but the earth churns and swirls - sucks them back.  Caleb - who is pale and hunched in pain, his priest's costume tattered - struggles to the edge of the whirlpool of earth, his eyes lit with a zealot's unquenchable fire.  The stone turns and tilts and they ALL see it - a double-ended weapon, stake and blade and long, carved haft, and Buffy leaps down into the maelstrom - rides suddenly-docile heaves of the dirt to the stone.  She reaches out - hesitates - then grasps the haft and PULLS.  Still held immobile by the force of the magic, Oz and Derio feel the wave of secondary power that flows back from that act.  Like Arthur freeing Excalibur, Buffy has set something in motion that they may never see the end of.  But it's done, and she turns to Caleb with the weapon - the scythe - held easily in her hands.

                "You've lost, Caleb.  Time to pay for what you've done."

                Caleb's look is demonic - frenzied - and his eyes are utterly black.  "Don't fool yourself, girl.  The power that's massing against you is a hundred-thousand times stronger than anything you can conjure with your witch and your Watcher.  A million times stronger than the pitiful handful of dirty little girls you've managed to save."

                "I wouldn't count on that," Buffy says, in a tone of utter conviction.  Then she's stepping lightly over the earth that flattens at her feet - obedient servant to the magic-user's will.  Caleb, still half-mired, sneers at her and then his sneer freezes - flinches - and is gone as Buffy brings the scythe down and around in one perfect, deadly move.   His head lifts cleanly from his neck, spinning and falling, rolling across the earth.  Buffy steps up, out of ground zero and the earth begins to heave again - to churn and stir itself like a giant cauldron.  The Bringers that have floundered and faltered are now sucked under, as Caleb is, as the rock and the ruins of the winery and the torn-up bushes are.   All of it, pushed and pulled and folded back under - pushed down hard and fast and then the earth settles.  Like a pond, the magic ripples out to the edges and then the surface is still, and the chant ends.  Giles and Tara are sweat-streaked, pale, gasping for breath.  They fold slowly to their knees, clinging to each other.   As the magic ends the pressure is gone, and Oz and Derio move to help them.  Of the winery - of all of it - nothing is left but a huge circle of roughly tumbled earth.  And Buffy lifts the scythe to the sky - to the sun.  Her lips say 'thank you', and the gleam of triumph makes her eyes sparkle.  She SHINES, and the palpable sensation of joy - and hope - is like a kiss.

 

 

                "Buffy thinks the weapon can change everything.  She thinks - it's the answer.  I guess we'll find out."  Oz finishes his story - looks up from Derio's hands, that are clasped in his.  Spike regards them both, quiet in the link for the first time in days.  Only what he IS - *chaos malice olderthan love love love* going out to the wolves.  Then Xander flares in the link - waking and wanting and wondering, reaching out for Spike - for the wolves - and the moment is over.

 

                "I think she's right, love," Spike says softly, stroking his hand over Xander's belly - pulling him close and pressing his face into Xander's neck.  Tasting the sweet-spice of Xander's skin and relaxing, just for a moment.

                *I think so too.  Love you, Spike.  Love you so much...never leave me...* Xander thinks, and for a moment the pain is lost in the tide of emotion that fills the link.  Hope...joy.  Warm as the sun.