Chapter 29: Descent

Chapter 29: Descent

                *Three days, he said three days, how can it be three days?  Don't waste it, don't waste it...*  Xander was trying not to sleep - was contemplating if maybe a wet finger-tip full of that grey-white powder, still hidden in the attic, would keep him awake.  He'd never done a drug like that but fuck it, if it would work -

                "No, love, put you right out," Spike said softly, and his hand swept up and back, up and back, slow caress that had gone on for ever and Xander wondered if maybe Spike could wear his skin away in three days.   Jack gone three hours and the Potentials all tiptoeing around; being told, being told to shut up, and get on with their day. 

                *Get on with it, just get through it...*   But Xander kept remembering, and it fucking hurt.

 

                "It is Yule in three days - Solstice.  The longest night.  That is when the tithe is given - that is when you must go down into the Hellmouth itself and defeat the First and its army.   At dawn of the longest night, you must be there, and the first rays of the new sun will be your weapon."  Jack sounds eerily like Giles, standing beside the fireplace and lecturing them and Xander felt hysterical laughter bubbling up - threatening to spill over and if it did, oh god, if it DID, he might be screaming instead of laughing - might ALREADY be screaming.  Spike's arms come around him; bands of iron and the scent of cloves and spice and lemon.  Comforting even as they tremble around him because that same hysteria is in Spike - that same impulse to just RUN, run, run, and never come back.  Oz there, wolf-chant his anchor as he struggles for his own control, hand in the small of Xander's back.  Derio running the beads around his neck through his fingers like a rosary and clutching Spike's hand so hard it actually HURT, unable to get a single word past clenched teeth. 

                "Three days?" Tara whispers, and her voice is thick and throaty and oddly beautiful, rough with tears.   Giles and Ethan are arguing something in the corner, faces hard and tense but Ethan's hand on Giles' forearm, Giles' foot nudging into Ethan's.   Buffy is standing with Angel, both of them looking lost, both of them looking...like just people, tired and sad, and Xander feels a moment's affection for Angel, for him finally being on Spike's side.  But...three days, three days, three days swamps it and he just can't shake that loop in his head.

 

 

 

                "Love, please don't, please don't..."  Spike pushed himself up on one elbow and got Xander on his back, looking into that so-sad gaze, that scarred and beautiful face.  *My scar.  I should carry that scar and EVERY scar...*

                "No, Spike.  No.  My scars.  Don't - don't do that.  You've got enough of your own."

                "Don't have any scars, pet, but the one she gave me," Spike said, fleeting image of the Chinese Slayer and her sword, arcing through the air.  Xander reached up and touched it - traced his eyebrow and then his cheekbone - down to his jaw and the edge of his bottom lip.

                "You've got scars, Spike.  On your heart...on your soul...  I can see them...feel them...I'd take them for you..."  Xander tipped his chin up and Spike dipped down, slow, slow kiss.

                *What fools we are, love...wanting to be hurt for the other...*

                *What love is, vampire-mine.  What it's always been.*

                *I don't want you to hurt, love -*

                "Then stay, please stay, please..."  Xander's voice caught and shattered and Spike pulled him close again, every inch touching that could, Xander's mouth under his warm and salt-sticky with tears.

                *Oh god I want to, I want to, love, but you felt it, you know...same as I do, same as the wolves do...  Fuck, even the Irish bastard knows, this time...*   Spike felt Xander's heart beating against his own chest - felt the pulse of it as if it were his own.  Felt the anger that threatened to spiral out of control from moment to moment because Xander did know, he did know, but he was going to fight it with every breath and every drop of blood in him.

                *Love me, Spike, just love me, hold me, don't let go, don't let go -*

 

 

                "We should go hunt," Xander said, sometime in the first night, when the house was finally quiet again.   The Potentials had woken none the wiser from their charmed sleep but Faith, apparently, had crouched at the top of the stairs and heard it all - who knew Sidhe magic didn't work on Slayers? - and now she was sparring with Buffy, looking like she wanted to kill something.  Looking like Xander felt, and the demon surged up in Spike, wanting that.   They'd hidden out in the bedroom all day, locked together and trying to come to some peace.   Now there was one, a fragile sort of hold that Spike was doing his best to maintain and that Xander wanted to smash into a thousand pieces.  He didn't want to accept, but everyone was fraying apart under the stress and he was keeping himself calm with only a monumental effort of will.  A hunt was just what he needed - what they needed.

                 Giles and Ethan were in the kitchen; late night pot of tea, phone calls to the various Pembrokes and a pregnancy update from Anya, who was practically a walking encyclopedia of baby 'facts'.  Tara and Dawn were in the garden, because Dawn had taken the news hard and had a sort of tantrum and now, ashamed, she was trying to do one of Tara's grounding routines.  Trying to act the adult she insisted she was.  Her hurt had been like a knife, in the link.

                "Yeah, hunt.  Kick some ass," Faith said, getting up off her own from a solidly-delivered roundhouse kick and shooting a glare at Buffy.

                "You two think you can keep up with us?" Spike said, flash of fangs.  Oz and Derio were coming in from the library, shedding shoes and shirts, eyes already flashing black.

                *Hunt, run, hunt, us, our, family pack pack pack,* the need and the savage urge like a bolt of blood and fire through all of them.

                "Just you wait and see," Buffy said, tremulous smile, and it was a moment's thought in the link and then a stop and turn and run.  It took Buffy and Faith five blocks to catch up.  Oz and Derio had settled into that half-stage between man and wolf, loping in an easy and ground-consuming stride.  Xander felt the same rhythm settle into his bones, and he let the hyena up and out, catching lime and sweat and patchouli, White Diamonds and leather smell from the Slayers.  The more familiar musk of the wolves was there, and the spice and blood of the demon.  The city itself smelled different.  So many Sunnydale residents were gone - and so many demons had moved in - that the smell of magic and otherness was always in the air.  They roamed over the old places - over the cemeteries familiar from years of patrol, the streets from childhood.  They investigated Spike's crypt, which was empty for once, and trotted past the house on Revello, which was dark and abandoned, a forlorn 'For Sale' sign in the yard like so many other houses.  Xander's old house was dark, too, and he felt a momentary pang.  His parents were gone - for good and all - but *pack pack love you,* and *family, Xan, always...* chased away any longing he might feel.  He hadn't spoken to them since he'd moved out.

                *And found you, love.  Found my one and always.*

                *Sheer bloody luck, eh pet?  My own...*

 

                The Alibi bar was the same, and a group of six or seven vamps were loitering outside, laughing and talking.  Posturing.   The link bristled with challenge - the pack regarded the whole city as their own, anymore - and they plunged into the group, ringing howls of challenge and excitement echoing off the walls.  Of course they drew attention, and a dozen or more demons joined the vamps before the fight was over.     Buffy panted, leaning against a wall, and Faith was bent over, hands on thighs.

                "Damn, you boys play rough," she said, grinning up through strands of sweaty hair, and Spike tapped two cigarettes out of his pack and lit them - handed one to Faith with a flourish.

                "Rough as you like, pet," he purred, and Faith laughed.

                "I'll bet," she said, going to lean by Buffy, drawing in smoke with a pleased little smile. 

                Buffy waved a hand in front of her face but didn't move.  "You guys are like - like watching something on the Discovery Channel.   Just - scary."

                "We're a Discovery Channel Special," Oz said, and they all laughed.  But the moment was broken, and the restlessness was still in them - was still stirring their blood.

                *Need to go, need to run, pack, family, run...*   Derio and Xander both, and Oz yipped in quiet agreement.

                "We'll go it alone from here, ladies," Spike said, flicking his butt away and vamping, scenting the night air.

                "Be safe," Buffy said quietly, and Xander nodded.  He turned his back and pulled the patch off - stuffed it in his pocket.  He didn't want that there.  Just wanted to be himself, nothing hidden, nothing held back.  Spike's hand reached out and fleetingly touched his cheek on the bad side, and then they were running again, harder than before.  Running like they had on the mountain - running as a pack, with the wolves shifted all the way and Spike letting the demon have full rein.  They ran through Breakers Woods and along the river - ran up to Kingman's Bluff and then to the beach, loping through the waves.     They followed the coast up to their old house - abandoned now, like so many others - and went inside.  Sand gritted under foot, and a window was broken, but upstairs was the bedstead and old mattress that they'd left behind as too worn out and they lay down on it.  Tangle of limbs and hands and mouths; mapping known flesh and discovering new.  The link open wide and wider until there was no distinguishing one from the other and all sensation was shared sensation, and sliding into this body was sliding into all of them.    Surrounded by the scents of the sea and the sand, the eucalyptus tree by the back door and old candle wax.  Surrounded by their own scents; old and faded but still there, and this was home, this was discovery, this was the blood and tears spilled that had started everything - the claiming that had gathered in Oz and the long days and nights that had made Derio a part of them, as well. 

                Xander had Spike's hand in his, clenched tight, palm to palm.  Had Oz's mouth under his and Derio's knee in his thigh - heaving press of ribs to his arm and it was good, it was right and it was all he wanted, forever. 

                *I'd make a wish right now, if I thought anyone was listening.*

                *So would I, love,* Spike thought, his fingers clutching hard.  *Hold fast, Xander...hold fast...*

 

 

                The second day was as strange as the first - as unsettling - and Xander felt dizzy from lack of sleep, but he didn't care.  Spike had hunted on the way home, glutting himself so he could share sips of blood with Xander - help him stay awake.  Every time the sizzling draught of blood filled his mouth it was like the first time - breath-taking and heart-pounding, and Xander felt fear wash over him, again and again.

                *Jack said they had magic - Jack said...us being apart...it'd be okay even with the claim but...  HOW?  Seven fucking years, Spike, seven years, what if you're sick?  What if -*

                *No, love.  He said he could, he told the truth.  Promised we'd be all right and he has to keep that promise, doesn't he?  They've got magic that...that's nothing like we know.  You'll be all right, pet.*

                *Not me I'm worried about and you KNOW it.  Fuck, fuck, hate this, I hate this so much...*   Spike just held him, kissed him - made him eat the sandwich Dawn had constructed and delivered, teary-eyed but calm.   Oz and Derio wandered in, joining them on the bed, touching where they could and just sinking into the link; sharing memories and stories, sharing their past since the link and sharing the parts that had been separate.  Scenes of Derio's life in Puerto Rico before his family had moved to California; Oz's trip to Tibet and Spike's first glimpse of New York from the bow of a ship, Dru on his arm and whole of the New World like a giant toy-box open before him.  Xander's memories were bitter-sweet, tinged with fading grief for Jesse and still-hurtful glimpses of the old Willow from childhood.  But it was good, to do that - to revisit fond memories and to learn new ones.  It was calming and comforting and it soothed hearts seemingly too broken to carry on.

                They went downstairs later for more food and to find Tara and Dawn and came in on an excited discussion.  All the Potentials were in the living-room, crowding around the scythe Buffy had taken from Caleb.  Faith and Buffy were sitting on the couch nearest the fireplace looking amused and a little troubled and Tara and Giles and Ethan were scribbling notes and talking in urgent voices.  Dawn and Johnathan were half-heartedly sparring in the foyer, swinging blunt practice swords.  The four of them wandered over, settling on the floor, Spike nearest the fire that someone was always stoking.

                "What's the up, Buff?" Xander said, raising a small smile and Buffy grinned back.

                "Oh, Willow called!  She and Giles have been keeping in touch and he told her about the scythe-thing and she had this idea - it's really neat.  Tara's going to do this spell, it's going to take the Slayer power and give it to all the Potentials!"

                "Wow - all?  So there'll be - eighteen new Slayers?  At the same time?"

                "Yeah.  Boggles the mind, doesn't it?" Faith lit a cigarette - offered one to Spike, who took it with a smirk.

                "Sounds like a nightmare, if you ask me."

                "Nobody did," Buffy snarked, flash of her old fire and Spike blew smoke at her, grinning.

                "Willow had it made up originally to - uh - 'wake up' all the Potentials all over the world, but Tara thought that might not be a good idea."  Dawn bounced over and snuggled down between Spike and Oz, leaning into the vampire and smiling when he put his arm around her.  "Oh, and Willow says hello and she misses everybody," Dawn added.  *Happy family happy,* from her, heartbreaking and pure.  Spike huffed smoke above her head, his opinion of Willow clear in the link.  Xander just poked him a little, resigned to it now, and a little sad that his own reaction was less then enthusiastic.

                "She's going to do the spell tomorrow before - before the fight," Buffy said, losing a little of her enthusiasm, and Xander sighed, his own mood - so briefly lightened - plummeting as well.

                "Yeah.  I'm - gonna get something to eat," he said abruptly, pushing himself up and walking fast to the kitchen.  Trying to get there before he lost control.

                *Hate this, HATE THIS.  Can't be real, god, please, make it not REAL...*    Xander leaned into the wall, forehead on his arm, struggling with the link and his own emotions.  Trying to be calm for the rest, trying to be halfway sane.  He'd asked Jack, before he left, if he could go as well - be part of the tithe, be with Spike.  Jack had reached out to him, squeezing his shoulder gently with his long fingers.

                "I'm sorry, Xander.  You would die there.   You cannot."    Xander was willing to test that - willing to pit himself against any hell and any devils who reigned there.  But - *My death is his death and what if I DID die?  Couldn't do that to him, couldn't...god...doesn't feel like I can live anyway - god, god, can't be real, this is just a...*

                *Nightmare, love,* and Spike was slipping his arms around him - turning him and holding him so gently - kissing him with the lightest of touches and Xander shivered, holding Spike hard.

                *Fucking nightmare...make me real, Spike, please?  Make me real...  Make me real like you did before, make me real with your mouth and your cock and your love and your soul, Spike, please, see me and make me real and wake me up...*

                "C'mon, Xan, come upstairs," Spike whispered, and they crossed the too-quiet living room and climbed the stairs, comfort in the link and then quiet as the wolves gave them what privacy they could.

 

                *You are, you are, you are...my own, my love, mine, mine, mine...always, love, always...hearthfire and builder and the one that SEES, love...brother and lover and artist...laughter and all things good, all things good...  I see you, love, I see your soul, I see my knight in patchwork armor and love, love, we will survive this, we will survive this and then we will have the long ages of the earth, my love, my own, we will have all of time...forever and a day, my love, my Xan, Xander, Alexander, protector, strong right arm, saved me, saved me, love me...mine, always, forever, mine, mine, mine...*     Spike thought that Xander would shatter beneath him, he was trembling so hard.   Fingers and hands and arms and legs wrapped around him tight enough to make him glad he didn't need to draw breath.  Mouth on his - on his face, on his throat over the scar and Spike moaned and bore down, pressing harder into Xander's body - pressing deeper and moving slower, slower.  *Draw it out, make it last, make it last forever...*

                "Spike, Spike..."   *God, love you, LOVE you, want you so much ,wanted you so much, so fuckin' beautiful, Spike, so beautiful, so perfect...you make me safe, you make me happy, god, so happy...never let you go, never leave you, always mine, always, vampire-mine, poet and hero and my best friend and my true love and my...my...mine...you give me, love, everything...everything...*    "Taisbean," Xander whispered, and the link flooded with the image; with Spike's soul glowing as white as a star and the demon a pure, clear tongue of golden flame.   The gold and red and black sparks shivered, shimmered - whirled around Spike in a frenetic dance.  The demon was folded tightly around the soul, and the soul...the face of William Sinclair...was like the face of a saint - of a god.   Agony and ecstasy and sorrow...too much to bear and Xander was crying under him.  Silent, shuddering sobs and Spike stopped moving, stopped thinking - just looked down at him and Xander pulled him closer - tried to.

                "Please, Spike d-don't stop, don't...please just...it's okay, it's okay, please -"   *Please...have to see you, have to remember...remember...remember...god, how can I live, how can I do this without you, Spike, Spike, you're the only thing...only thing...*

                *No, love.  You're stronger than that - you're so fuckin' BRAVE, love, so  brave -*  Spike slowly, slowly moved again, sinking into the heat and lush, silken grip of Xander's body - tasting his flesh and his tears and his mouth - tasting his blood in tiny sips from the scar.   Xander's voice, whispering in his ear, making him shiver.

                "You...are inside me...in me...my heart, my...soul...every day...waiting for you...wanting you...never let you go again, Spike, never, not for anything.  Fuckin' world can go to hell next time - go to hell this time, god, Spike..."  Xander sank his teeth into Spike's neck, gasping out a wordless cry of pleasure as his body clenched tight around him.

                *Ohh...love you, love you, love you...*   Spike shivered into his own orgasm, biting deeper than before - re-claiming what was his, and the link flared, almost too much in that shared, looping feedback of sensation and emotion.  They were both gasping - shaking - crying, now, and Spike just held on tight, face buried in the warm and sweet-musk-salt of Xander's neck.    "Love you," he whispered, and Xander just clung to him, *hold fast, hold fast, hold fast...*  

               

                 

                Hours later they went downstairs again, unable to bear being alone - wanting the wolves and Dawn and Tara.   Wanting family for as long as they could and feeling the sadness in the link - desperate to do something -.anything - to ease it.   Giles and Ethan were preparing the last few things needed for the Slayer-spell, and Tara was sitting in the plum-dark twilight of the garden, just breathing - preparing herself.  Oz and Derio had gotten a fire going in the cistern and she was lit by the glow - soft, ruddy light making her hair spun gold and her tired, unhappy face almost serene.  Spike stood in the doorway for a long moment before going quietly out to her and settling at her feet - leaning against her knees and closing his eyes.  After a moment her hand came down and slowly, slowly, stroked his hair.   Hesitantly at first, Tara spoke to him - told him a story about Tam-Lin, and the Faery Queen. And how Fair Jenet rescued her love from the jealous Mab.  Soft voice and soft touch and a story spun out of firelight and darkness and Spike buried his face in her lap and cried, because it was like his mother, it was like Dru, it was like late nights with Xander, telling him stories of Shakespeare and Angelus, both full of comedy and tragedy and blood. 

                *Brother, sweet, sorrow, love you love you,* from her - overwhelming anger and despair and Spike shivered in the aftermath - lifted his head and looked at her, and the wet tracks that crossed her cheeks.  

                "Don't let him be alone.  Tara - please don't let him be alone."

                "I promise I won't," she whispered, her thumb gently wiping his face, her mouth quivering and smiling and trying to be brave.

                "Knew I could count on you, Glinda..."  Spike closed his eyes, and let her go back to her slow petting, and after a while Xander came out and settled with him, wrapping him in warmth and the sweet scent of clean wood and rosemary.  Slowly, the rest of pack joined them and they sat in silence for almost an hour, just leaning together - listening to the link.  The moon - waning crescent - finally cleared the trees and shone down into the garden and then the rest of the house came out, Buffy carrying the scythe.

                "Tara - it's time," Giles said softly, and she stirred and nodded - bent down and kissed Spike's cheek.  Her hair fell around them, a tent of saffron and bronze, and her scent of rue and thyme, wormwood and sweet bay.

                "I love you, Spike. Love you," she whispered and he clutched her hands fiercely in his for one long moment, and then let her go. 

                "Love you too, witchling..." he murmured after her, and she smiled at him.

 

                The scythe lay on the ground and the Potentials gathered in a compact arc around it, each touching it with a fingertip.  Tara sat cross-legged on the opposite side, and Buffy and Faith knelt at either shoulder.  Tara's voice was whisper-soft as she began the spell and it rose slowly, gradually building until her final words rang across the garden, sharp and strident with command.  The scythe was glowing brighter and brighter with each word, and as Tara intoned the final syllables it flashed sun-bright, a shock-wave of light and magic like the leading edge of an explosion.  The Potentials cried out, rocked backwards - some sprawling onto the ground.  Buffy and Faith were both pushed away and Tara - glowed.  For one moment it was as if her bones were alight, and the light from within lit her to a dazzling brilliance.  Then it was gone as abruptly as it had come and she slumped a little, panting - grinning.

                "That was - amazing," she murmured, and Buffy struggled up to her knees, one hand on Tara's shoulder. 

                "Are you all right?  Did it work?"

                "It did somethin'," Faith said, shaking her head.  Kennedy was staggering to her feet - flexing her hands - and she took a deep breath and whooped.

                "Oh yeah it worked!  Oh - my - god!  Spike!  Hit me!"

                "With pleasure," Spike drawled, stepping forward and a moment later Kennedy was sprawling in the leaves.

                "That - almost didn't hurt!  That was awesome!  Do it again!"  She bounced to her feet, grinning, and behind her the other Potentials were grinning - bouncing as well.   They looked - different.  More confident.  And the Slayer-vibe was near overwhelming.  Tara was laughing softly.

                "You okay, Tara?" Oz asked, skirting the Potentials to get closer to her, holding out a hand.  She took it and was pulled to her feet, swaying just a little.

                "Oh, I'm - that was a rush.  Wow."  She took a deep breath, shaking her hands out, and Spike could have sworn he saw little sparks of residual energy spattering from her fingertips like water drops.

                "C'mon!  I wanna test this!"  Kennedy was dancing around Spike and Xander, fists up and a look of manic glee on her face.

                "No time for that, now," said a quiet voice, and Spike jerked around, growling. 

                "Scavenger.  What are you doing here?"  Everyone turned towards the pooka, who leaned casually in the doorway, ragged jeans and an old dress-shirt open over his bare chest.

                "Came to tell you some things Jack didn't.  Some things about tomorrow."  There was a muttering of confused, angry voices, and Spike strode towards the pooka - got up close, letting the demon out.

                "What things?"  He could feel Xander at his back - the wolves to either side - and the Slayer-vibe like the whine of an industrial turbine, shivering through his bones.  *Hope* in the link from all of them, because he might tell them...something else.

                "Like the Hellmouth being destroyed means - so will the town.  You must all be ready to leave when the amulet does its magic.  There will be - nothing left."  Scavenger looked pleased at this, and Spike felt pleased - was, in fact, manically pleased at the idea of this mis-begotten town becoming - nothing.

                "You mean - the whole town?" Buffy asked, and Scavenger grinned at her.

                "The whole town and then some.  Better run far, run fast."

                "We need - cars.  Or trucks - something..."  Johnathan mumbled, and Giles stepped up as well, frowning.

                "Yes, we do - vehicles big enough for everyone and...clothes...supplies...  Girls!  Girls, listen -" Giles issued swift commands to go upstairs and pack - everything they wanted to bring with them, one bag each.  The Potentials - still high from their empowering - darted past the pooka and the knot the family made and raced upstairs, bouncing and chattering, leaping four steps at a time, laughing aloud.

                "Damn.  They're on magic crack.  I'm gonna go supervise.  And I won't have to pull my punches anymore," Faith said.  She sauntered after them, and Spike pulled out a cigarette, watching Scavenger.

                "Why didn't Jack tell us that?"

                "Oh, Jack."  Scavenger laughed.  "He's too busy anticipating the Seelie Court taking him back.  He cares little for what becomes of the demon killers."

                "Does he care what becomes of the demons?" Xander grated, his anger flaring in the link, and Scavenger laughed again. 

                "He only cares about one demon, Al-ex-an-der.  That's why I'm here.  I'll get you down there, and see that you get out safe."

                "I don't need protection -" Xander snapped, and Spike put his hand out, touching his arm.

                "Love - you don't.  But you'll go with him, and you'll let him help, yeah?  You have to be here when...when I'm through, Xander."  Ripple of negation - of anger - at that thought, and the too-familiar rush of sorrow.  Xander glared at Scavenger for a moment and then deflated, slumping dejectedly against Spike, slipping an arm around his waist.

                "Of course I'll be here...  I'll...let him help."

                *Thank you, love,* Spike thought, kissing his temple, and Xander nodded miserably, silent.

                "My blood will open the seal - open the Hellmouth."  Scavenger's look faded from amusement to solemnity, and his eyes sparked red, glinting madly.   "The army of the First will be there, just below.  You'll have to battle your way in - and stave them off until the sun clears the horizon.  Only when the sun is free of the earth will the power of the amulet be free.  And then..."

                "And then what, pooka?" Giles asked, and the pooka looked up at him, his face wiped clean of all emotion.

                "And then they will burn.  And then you - all of you - must run."  They were all silent after that, thinking, until Giles stirred, clearing his throat. 

                "Buffy - I know you had plans to include Robin in this final battle.  Call him, please, and tell him he needs to pack his things.  And tell him to meet us here in an hour, we're going shopping."

                Buffy stared at Giles, her hand held poised and motionless over her cell-phone.  "It takes the end of the world for you to get on the shopping train. If I'd have known..."  Giles smiled at her and she smiled back - hit the speed-dial. 

                "What kind of sh-shopping, Mr. Giles?" Johnathan asked quietly, and Giles turned toward him, a contemplative look on his face.

                "We need...buses?  Vans?  I'm not sure.  There are very few people here I would trust driving a vehicle of any sort, and we must think of possible injuries..."

                "Perhaps caravans?  Is there a sales lot?" Ethan murmured, and they both went inside in search of the Yellow Pages.  Johnathan hesitated and then followed, muttering to himself.

                "I've had my license for four years, I can be trusted..."  Buffy was across the garden, speaking softly into her phone and the pooka looked at the family, head to one side and his eyes glowing now like twin scarlet candles.

                "You did a powerful magic here tonight, chovexani.  It shook the roots of the trees."

                "It did no harm.  It was - consenting."

                "Aye, all consenting as the Sun King went, to make the fields rich with his blood. Some will die, you know."

                "Some always die," Tara said softly, and put a comforting arm around Dawn, who was shivering.

                "Some do, aye."  Scavenger looked at Dawn for a long moment, only looking away when Derio snarled softly.  "Oh, no fear, shifter.  She's grown into her soul like a rose to the vine, all blown petals and thorns.  She's one of you, now."  There was an instant's shock and fear through the link, and then anger, and Spike stepped up closer to the pooka - close enough to be swamped in his scent of smoldering fire and earth, water and grass and old, old stone.

                "Don't speak of her," Spike said, very low, and Scavenger widened his eyes at him.

                "Shall I not?  Well, if you say."  Fast, feral grin, and a toss of his head, and Spike growled.    "We've six hours, my doves.  Six hours.  Surely there are better things to be doing then jousting with me?"

                *Six hours, six...no...* and Spike turned and pulled Xander close - held him tight.

                "Yeah. Lot of better things.  We - Glinda, we're going to go up."

                "Dawn and I have to pack," Tara said, nodding and Spike could still see the magic she'd done thrumming through her, making her voice in the link louder and clearer then ever before.  *Love you all, protect you, sorrow sorrow sorrow.*

                "How come the wards didn't do their Vesuvius act?" Derio asked, and Scavenger laughed shortly.

                "I'm not Jack.  He's all jackdaw vanity and self-importance.  I'm...more tricksy."     

                "You're a guest here," Tara said sharply, and Scavenger bowed.

                "'Deed I am, chovexani.  I do remember."  Tara frowned at him - put her hand out suddenly.

                "Xander - do you have that little knife?"  Xander lifted his head from Spike's shoulder - blinked at her in surprise for a moment.

                "Uh - yeah, Tara."  He bent down and pulled the leaf-shaped knife from his boot, the one Spike had convinced him to practice with and carry at all times.  The one Spike had re-taught him to use after...Caleb.  Hilt-less throwing knife, the tang and blade all darkened metal, the edge silver-bright and razor sharp.  Tara took it and weighed it in her hand - looked at Scavenger and they all felt the thrum of her power.

                "Pooka - I want your oath.  I want your oath that Spike...will return to us, unharmed, at the end of seven years and a day.  Return to us as he left us.  You know better than us what's going to happen, and we have to know."   Scavenger was scowling now, and he opened his mouth to reply but Tara held up hand - held the knife out.  "Touch iron and swear, Scavenger."   He went very still, then reached slowly out and closed his hand around the blade of the knife.  His hand was shaking - his arm - and a thin, white smoke rose up from his clenched fist. 

                "I swear by iron and the earth it was born from," he grated out, and he looked - different. He looked...darker, smaller, twisted somehow, and Dawn stepped back, gasping sharply.  Oz caught her hand and held it, and then Scavenger jerked away, flashing to the homeless man, his hand cradled against his chest.

                "You're tricksy too, Lady," he said, his voice shaking and his eyes flat black, and Tara handed the knife back to Xander, looking a little guilty.

                "Let me see," she said, and Scavenger held out his hand.  The shape of the blade was branded there; raw, bloody and burned, and the blood-scent was the sea - salt and copper and hidden, damp green.  Spike wanted to taste it, and they wolves whined softly, stirred as well.

                "Come on and let me...let me give you something for it.  Thank you, for that," Tara added, gesturing for the pooka to walk to the kitchen, and Scavenger grinned, his eyes sparking bright again.

                "As you wish, Lady.  I am not...your enemy."

                "No.  You're not," Tara said, and they went to the kitchen, taking Dawn.  Spike snagged Xander back close - held a hand out to Oz.

                *Six hours, my loves.  We've things to do.* 

 

 

                In the end Giles and Ethan found three RV's and loaded the meager possessions of the Potentials onto two.  Of the rest of them, Buffy and Dawn had the most and spent the remaining time winnowing their belongings down to the things they couldn't possibly live without - mostly pictures and a few keepsakes.  Larger items - some antiques they'd inherited from their grandmother - had been shipped a month or more ago to the new Headquarters in England, mostly at Giles insistence. He'd wanted the girls to move there, after the First.   Buffy, who'd been fighting it halfheartedly, was now resigned - even a little excited, something she was feeling bad about.  Xander watched the last-minute preparations - watched Oz carry the hold-all of heroin over to Ethan and murmur to him, and Ethan nod slowly and take it, heading out to the RV's with a little frown on his face.  Spike knew someone in L.A. - a cousin of a cousin of Clem's, actually, who would pay top dollar for that.  Xander had felt a moment's pang, but Spike had said it would mostly go to the demon world, where it was prized but not nearly as harmful as it was to humans, and Xander just...didn't care.  It didn't matter, anymore.  Spike was behind him, holding him close, and Oz came up on the stairs and settled with Derio one step down.

                *You promise me, wolfling - both of you,* Spike thought, fifth time in as many minutes, and Oz just nodded, turning and reaching up - touching Spike's arm where it curved around Xander's chest.

                *Promised you, Spike.  We will,* Derio replied, and his fingers wandered up to the fresh bite-mark on his throat.  Flash of that in the link, of Derio on his knees and Spike behind him, in him, slow loving that was as precious as it was heartbreaking.  Spike trying to imprint every moment - every touch.   Bulwark of memory against the coming darkness and they would deny him nothing, now.   Oz lying, panting, bitten as well and exhausted but doing the same - storing up each touch and look and scent.  Xander had simply knelt behind Spike, as close as he could because he couldn't bear to lose the touch of skin-on-skin, no matter what.

                *Keep me warm, that will.  Keep me happy,* Spike thought, but his arms were clenched so tight around Xander it would have hurt a normal human, and the *fear, sorrow, sorrow* was never far away.  Eventually, everyone was ready and the household was slowly gathered in the living room, and Spike sighed.

                *Time to go, my loves.  Time to...go.*   They stood up slowly and went down, and Spike took the amulet from where it had been laying on the mantel and put it on.  It rested large and ugly and...sinister to Xander; gaudy against Spike's black t-shirt.

                *Look a right git, with this on.  Look like some Liz Taylor wannabe.*   Xander smiled tiredly at that, but it hurt - felt like little hooks, yanking at his mouth, so he stopped.

                "Everyone is clear on the plan, yes?" Giles said, and even though there was a soft chorus of 'yes' from the Potentials and nods from the rest, he went over it again.  "Robin, Johnathan, and Tara will be driving.  We will park one block from the school and all of us will walk to the campus.  Scavenger has said he will be opening the seal, and the Hellmouth."  Everyone looked at the pooka who was leaning casually next to the fireplace, his shirt still flapping open around him but a long and ornate silver knife now hanging in a sheath at this side.

                "When he does, Buffy and her group will go down with - with Spike and Xander.  The rest of us will stay in the school itself, to keep any Turok-han from escaping the campus.  When - when the amulet is...activated and Buffy and her group...return to us, we leave.  Scavenger...will see to the rest."

                *It sounds worse every time.  Spike, Spike please -*

                *No, love.  No.  We can't.  I love you...love you...*   Everyone stood silently for a moment, and then Kennedy stirred and came forward slowly until she was standing in front of Spike.

                "Spike, I..."   She closed her mouth - shook her head - reached out and touched the amulet.  "Good luck, okay?  Good luck." Spike looked taken aback, but then he grinned, all fangs and glowing eyes, and Kennedy grinned back.

                "Remember to duck," Spike said, and Kennedy nodded and turned sharply - walked out.  One by one, the rest of the Potentials did the same; touched the amulet and wished Spike good luck.  The last girl, Amanda, gave him a tentative hug and fled, tears in her eyes.  Johnathan touched Dawn's shoulder and smiled at her - walked over to Spike as well, and touched the gem.

                "Be careful, Spike," he said, and Spike reached out and snatched him close by his shirt-front.

                "I imagine the Niblet'll still be a blushing virgin when I come back," he hissed, and Johnathan blanched.

                "Of - of - of c-course she w-will, of course!" Johnathan squeaked, and Spike gave him a shake, and let him go.

                "That's what I thought."  Spike patted his cheek.  "You drive careful, Brainiac."

                "Uh - yeah. Yeah.  I - will."  Johnathan smoothed his shirt and then nodded and darted out of the house.

                *Still evil,* Xander thought, rubbing a hand up his back, and Spike tested the tip of one fang with his tongue - let the demon-face go.

                *Always evil, love.*     Spike looked up at where Robin was standing in the doorway.   The man stared at him for a moment and then nodded once, and turned and left.  *Guess I got his seal of approval.  Wanker.*

                *We'll keep him in line,* Oz thought, the wolf rankled at Robin's continued hostility, the man trying to be forgiving.  Faith pushed away from her spot near the stairs and walked over slowly - reached and touched the amulet as well.

                "Guess you're the good guy, this time.  Pretty trippy, Spike."

                "From this side, too," Spike said, and Faith nodded - punched his shoulder lightly.

                "Five by five, Spike," she murmured, and turned and walked out fast, nodding to Giles, who looked anxious, and Ethan.  Ethan urged Giles forward, arm around his waist, and grinned at Spike, fox-face merry but his hands shaking.

                "You're a creature of chaos, Spike...  Janus protect you."

                "Mage," Spike said, slight inclination of his head, and then a head-tilted look at Giles, who was looking at his feet.  "You got something to say, Watcher?"  Giles started and blinked up at him.

                "I - I have...learned - so much from you.  And this - "   Giles made a helpless gesture towards the amulet, frowning.  "This - thing, that you're doing.  This act of -"

                "Don't get soppy, now.  Doesn't suit you." 

                "This selfless act...humbles us all.  Good luck...William."   The demon flashed out for an instant and then was gone and Spike lifted his chin.

                "Thank you, Rupert," he said quietly, and the two older men gathered up a last bag and walked out, holding on to each other.

                "God, this sucks."  Dawn pulled away from Buffy and flung herself on Spike, hugging him around the neck and wrapping her long legs around his thighs, squeezing him hard.  "It's like you're never coming back and you are!"  Her voice choked on a sob and she shuddered.   "You are - you promised and I - I hate feeling like this!  Spike -"   Spike hugged her back, stroking her hair - taking a long, long breath and then carefully setting her down and prying her off.   He wiped the tears off her cheeks and pushed her hair out of her face - picked up his duster from where she'd dropped it on the floor.

                "I did promise, and I am coming back - never lie to you, Bit.  You hold on to my coat for Xander now, yeah?  Get it out of this hell-hole.  You know I'll be wanting that."  Spike gazed at her, his hand cupping her cheek.  "Counting on you, Dawn.  Family, yeah?"

                "F-family, I know..."  Dawn sniffed, straightening her shoulders and hugging the bundle of leather close to her.  She smiled shakily at Buffy, who came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder.

                "Go on out to the RV, okay?" Buffy said softly, and Dawn nodded.

                "Yeah.  Love you, Spike," Dawn said.  She hesitated and then touched the amulet with a small frown.  "G-good luck."

                "Love you, too, Niblet.  Be safe."  Dawn nodded, gulping, and then turned and ran and they could all hear her crying.

                "God - she's right.  This sucks."  Buffy wiped at her eyes - shifted the scythe to her other hand.  "You...are the strangest vampire I've ever met.  And...the only one I...I trust like...family.  Thank you, Spike."  Buffy put her hand flat on the amulet for a moment, and then let it drop.

                "Watch out for my boy down there, Buffy."

                "Yeah.  Yeah, I will," Buffy said softly.  She smiled wanly at Xander and then walked quickly out, and there was only Tara left, looking lost and lonely.  She wrapped her arms around Spike and hugged him hard, shuddering, and when she pulled back Spike bent and kissed her, soft and light.  Her mouth trembled under his and then she caught the back of his neck with her hand and kissed back.  Pulled away, finally, and rested her forehead on his.

                "Goddess go with you, Spike.  Love you," she whispered, and he nodded, eyes closed, struggling for control.

                "Love you, Tara."  Tara kissed his cheek, fast, and then turned and ran and the house - felt utterly empty.   The link was raw with pain, and they all just stood there for a moment, huddled together and hurting - hating the finality of it all, hating the hurt but feeling a moment's happiness for the love that Spike...

                *Deserved.  Deserve it all but don't deserve THIS...  Spike...Spike...*   Scavenger startled them all when he spoke.

                "Time to go, my doves.  You must have this."  He reached into the air and pulled out a cloth-wrapped package and opened it to reveal a small, flat cake.  It was honey-gold, with an uneven, dark-red stain over the middle of it.  He broke it carefully, one piece larger than the other.

                "That's Jack's blood," Spike said, hugging Xander to his side, and Scavenger nodded.

                "Aye.  It's to keep you well, when you're apart.  To stop the claim from killing you.  Hurry, now - dawn's coming on fast as Phoebus can whip his chariot aloft."  Scavenger held the cake out and Xander stared at it - reached out finally - slowly - and took the smaller piece.  Spike did the same and they lifted them to their mouths and ate.  Smoke and honey and salt-iron tang - sweet and sour and then...nothing at all.  Xander shuddered, feeling like he'd swallowed poison, and Scavenger tossed the cloth aside.  Oz and Derio were shedding the sweats that was all they'd put on and shifting, wolf-chant and wolf-thought in the link.

                *Family.  Love.  Always, always...run, run, run.*

                *Is it already dawn, Spike?  Is there a poem for going away?  Is there anything...?*  Xander thought, blackness like a tide welling up in him and Spike tipped his head back and roared - grief and love and hate and sorrow - fear all surging through him and all of them.

                *There's only fare-thee-well, my love,* Spike thought, and unbidden, words came to him - words that Xander caught out of memory and said softly with him.

                "Look, love, what envious streaks do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.  Night's candles are burn out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.  I must be gone and live, or stay and die..."

                "It's now, love - it's now..." Spike whispered, his voice cracking and his hand like a vise around Xander's and they ran - up and out and into the palely grey-green morning, the wolves coursing silently beside them.  There was a humph of breath and the pooka was there, running with them, his hooves striking the road in a shower of sparks, his head lifting to trumpet a ringing challenge to the deserted city.    The RV's had gone on ahead and they ran to the sound of their own heart-beats and the drum of the pooka's hooves - to the wolf-chant and the dawn-chorus that sounded out from every bush and tree.  It felt like the last morning of the world, and Xander ran blinded by tears, his only anchor Spike's hand his voice in the link.

                *Love you, now and always, love you, love you, love you...*

 

 

                The school looked - wrong.  It looked as if it were warping down in on itself and the energy of the Hellmouth was screaming into the air, invisible poison that made them all cringe.  The Potentials and the Slayers - everyone - was waiting as they arrived and Scavenger shifted blindingly fast, naked man in moments and his eyes gleaming blood-red.

                "No time for anything but to go, now," he panted, and Spike turned to where Derio and Oz were shifting as well - grabbed Oz and pulled him close and kissed him, hard and deep.

                *Wolf, wolfling, god - please keep him safe - keep yourself safe - need you, need you -*

                *Promise, Spike, I will - I will -*

                "Oz - love you, Oz, love you -"   Spike didn't let him go - pulled Derio to him and kissed him as well and Derio was shuddering - crying.

                *Love you, fiddler, oh GOD - be safe, be HERE, please - please -*

                *Know I will.  Don't take it off, Spike - don't EVER -*

                "Won't - won't - love you, Derio -"   Spike hugged them fiercely, his face sheened with tears and then he turned and grabbed Xander's hand and they ran again, Scavenger behind them and Buffy and her group of twelve Potentials.  The wolves howled - desperate longing - and the demon roared reply - the hyena did, and then they only ran.  

                The seal had been uncovered again and Scavenger snatched the silver dagger out of nothingness and sliced across his palm - held it over the seal.  His blood hissed as it fell and the seal moved - twisted - irised open, revealing stairs lit by a distant fire.

                *Oh fucking HELL, oh god, god - Spike -*

                *It's NOW, love - please - please -*    Spike was terrified - the demon was, and the human.  The demon wanted to run, wanted to take Xander and get out and Spike fought it grimly and plunged down the stairs, the amulet clutched in his hand.  Xander followed, not letting go, and the pooka leaped past them, snarling something, looking mad and strange in the flickering glow.

                "Oh - my god -" Buffy breathed, as they came to a wide ledge and looked down.  An army was below them - a hundred-thousand, a million strong, or more.  Turok-Han, a seething black mass that stretched on and on and they lifted their heads and howled.  And then - the fight was on.

 

                The scythe sang as it winnowed the ancient vampires, and the Potentials whirled and kicked and beheaded with swords blessed by Giles and baptized in holy water.  Standing by the stairs, Xander did his best to protect Spike, who was frozen in the grip of the amulet's power.  Something was happening, but what, he wasn't sure.  The amulet was glowing - a shifting, murky light - and Spike was shaking.

                 *What is it?  What is it?* Xander asked, slashing and stabbing and seeing two, three, five Turok-Han slip past and up the stairs.  *Oz!  Some are coming!  Be ready*

                *Ready!* faintly, and Spike shot an agonized look at Xander.

                *Don't know!  Don't know, it's - it feels - horrible.*   Whatever it was, was in the link - stabbing flashes of something - some magic that seemed to twist Spike's very bones - made his head sing.  Xander shook his own head, dizzy, and lunged at another Turok-Han.  The pooka was killing bare-handed, snapping necks and ripping off heads and snarling, and the Turok-Han were giving him a wide berth.

                "Xander!  Xander - the sun!" Spike yelled, and Xander turned in dismay.  Oz and Derio could see it - Spike could feel it and suddenly the amulet flared, white-hot light that seared Xander's eye and blinded him for a moment.  There was a hideous wailing all around and when he could see again Xander saw the Turok-Han falling away from Spike, shrieking.  Burning.

                *Oh, fuck - this is -this is it, this is - Spike!  Spike - god -*   The link was open wide, the images flowing both ways and the pain, and Scavenger was screaming at Buffy, telling her to get outNow!  The remaining Potentials - Xander thought maybe eight - ran past, up the stairs, and Buffy ran with them - looked back for one moment, agony and tears on her face, blood across her body and spattered up her arms.

                "All for nothing," someone said, and Xander turned to see Jesse standing there, smiling a leering sort of smile.

                "All for you, you fuck.  You're dead!"  Xander watched the First swell and simmer and scream and turned away, not caring.  The amulet was dazzling-bright, rays of light shooting out of it and the cavern they stood in began to shake - began to collapse, the Turok-Han still fighting and still burning.  And Spike - Spike was burning and Xander leaped towards him in horror, only to have Jack stop him - Jack come between them.

                "He's with me now - we have to go!"  Jack pointed frantically behind him and Xander turned and saw - something.  A hole - a pit - greenish-yellow, lifeless light, shadowless nothing and he shoved Jack away and grabbed Spike's hand, wincing as the fire burned him.

                "Spike!  Come on -"

                "He can't!" Jack shouted, dodging a chunk of falling rock and Spike's eyes were wide - the link was screaming - and he looked at Xander and tried to smile.

                "Run, love.  Please, please - just run - run -"   *Get OUT, love, you've got to, got to live, got to wait for me, please wait for me - Xander, PLEASE, can't stop now, can't, can't -*

                *Love you - love you -*   "Vampire-mine, love you forever, wait for you forever -"  Xander put his hands on Spike's face and kissed him, the fire searing in his lungs and prickling along his body and Scavenger was yanking him away, hauling him away and their hands - slipped apart.

                Then he was running again - always running and the pooka was hauling him up the last stair and then shifting, changing - knocking into him, one foreleg curling under and his shoulder dipping down.  Xander stared for a moment and then scrambled up on the broad, warm back - sank his fists in to the mane that was like raveled silk and the pooka leaped, flying, running - pounding up and out of the school.  The ground was shaking - the school was collapsing, the air was full of the shrieking of tortured metal and the deep, groaning sound of the earth tearing itself apart.  A shower of glass rained over them and Xander felt it cut him but it was nothing, nothing to what Spike was feeling and Xander screamed for him.

                *Spike!  Spike - please, take it off, take it off -*

                *Almost done, it's almost gone, I can see it, I can - FUCK, Xander - the sun, the sun -*  The link was white with Spike's vision - white with the sun he hadn't seen in over a century and it dazzled and burned and tore at him.  Xander could feel Jack's hands on Spike's shoulders, pulling him away - toward the doorway into that hell and the pooka's hooves churned, spurning the cracking, shifting earth and carrying them away, away, away.   From Oz and Derio he saw the rest - all safe but the four who'd died in the pit, the RV's driving frantically out - nearly past the city limit, engines screaming.  Dawn huddled over the wadded duster, Faith bandaging a wounded Potential.

                *Spike - they're safe, they're safe - we're out - Spike - I love you, I love you, always, forever - Spike!*   The pain of the burning abruptly ceased and Xander knew they were into that hell, now - knew Spike was beyond his reach even if he turned back right now.  The pooka ran, and leaped, and suddenly they were on the highway past town and the pooka was skidding and stopping and turning - the RV's were there, crooked across the road and the doors opening, everyone spilling out.  Oz and Derio leaping out, racing towards them.  Xander slid clumsily off the pooka's back and felt him changing somewhere behind him but his eye - his focus - was on Sunnydale.  It was - a pit - a crater - a collapsing heap of debris and churned earth and rising dust, and the edge of the destruction raced towards them and then faltered - stalled - stopped.   They stood on the edge, and the roar of destruction continued as the center fell further and further away.

                *It's cold, it's cold - god - that hurt - Xander, I love-*    And the link went dead.                  

 

 

____________________

Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet, Act III, scene v