Chapter 2: Gift

Chapter 2: Gift

                A curl of silvery wood rolled itself away from the tip of Xander's knife, and he ended the groove with a little twist, cutting the curl off.  It fell to the porch floor among other curls - among larger chips and bits - and Xander pushed his hand back through his hair and started again, another groove just off of the first.  Slow and steady, and another curl dropped.  He sat back, surveying his work - wiped at his sweat-damp forehead.  More concentration than heat, really; the porch was heavily shaded and caught a steady ocean breeze.  But these cuts were critical, and Xander felt that at any moment his hand would slip and it would all be ruined.  He stretched his neck a little, rubbed his hands on his thighs and bent to his work again.

                They'd been in the new house a little over two months.  Another house that Manny owned; built right after the war apparently, but still very much like the old one.  Only this house had a second storey with three bedrooms and a small bathroom, and a covered porch that ran around two sides of the house.  The best feature was an unfinished cellar with access to Sunnydale Below.  Spike had taken a one minute tour and announced it was the place while Willow and Tara were still looking over the kitchen and Anya was testing the plumbing by flushing the toilets and turning on the faucets.

                Ultimately, though, the three of them had decided, in a swift, silent exchange, that this would work.  Since Buffy had died....  Xander stopped and shook his head, thinking about that.

                *That's always going to be where our history ends and begins.  There's always going to be Before Buffy Died and After Buffy Died.  Especially for Dawn...*   Xander sighed and looked at his work - reached out and ran a hand over the log of driftwood.  The ashy silver color was soothing, and the wood itself was smooth as silk.   The shape had been suggestive enough that the moment Xander had seen it, he'd known what he would carve.  Two earlier carvings - or attempts - were down on the beach in the pile of firewood they'd amassed.  This one, though - he wanted to be different.  Hoped would be different.

                *Pet?*

                *Side porch.*   Xander bent over the log and started another groove.

                *What're you doing?*   Even in the link Spike sounded muzzy and half asleep, and Xander grinned.

                *Fooling myself.*

                "Don't say that."  Spike came out onto the porch and crouched down beside Xander, leaning lightly on his thigh.  Xander glanced over at the naked vampire and grinned a little harder.

                "Everybody's gonna be here soon, you know?"

                "Yeah?"  Supremely indifferent, Spike waited until the latest curl of wood fell, and then he leaned his full weight into Xander's thigh and side, nuzzling at his ribs and tracing a teasing path with his tongue.

                *Taste gooood, pet.*

                *Feels...good...stop, now!  I have to finish this.  Do you think...*

                "I think it's just fine, love."  Spike reached out to take the hand that had fallen laxly between Xander's knees.  He pressed his lips to Xander's open palm and kissed - folded Xander's fingers around the kiss.  "Don't fret.  She'll see it for what it is."

                "What is it?  I don't want her to - I don't want her to be sad again, Spike."  Xander turned to face the vampire finally, and Spike crowded close to him, gathering both of Xander's hands into his and kissing the work-roughened knuckles.  He gazed up at Xander, utterly serious, and Xander gazed back, feeling the first real stirrings of misgiving. 

                He'd seen this wood on the beach below their house.  A sturdy chunk of driftwood, almost four feet long.  A moment's effort had righted it, and its shape - a gentle, arching bow - had immediately suggested a winged figure to him.   He'd seen it entire in one glance and known what he wanted to do.  Bring the form out of the wood, and put it as a marker on Buffy's grave.  Because to him, the figure was Buffy; leaping away from them all, into the ether and into death.  Forever caught in that one, perfect moment between flying and falling when it seemed that gravity would reverse itself and she would soar.

                "She may be sad, love - but it won't last.  Bit knows you - she'll see it."   Spike's look was so grave that Xander had to smile, and he leaned forward and caught Spike's mouth in a long, gentle kiss.

                "You're right.  It'll be okay."  Xander glanced to his right, down the long corridor of shaded porch that ran the entire length of the southern wall.  It curved around the back of the house as well, but the west side wasn't as shaded as the south or east, and the sky still glowed blue between the tree branches.    "It's what - another hour until sunset?"

                "Something like," Spike answered.  He got up and paced around the carving, examining it critically, and Xander watched him.  The first week After Buffy Died had been the hardest, and Spike had taken the brunt of it.

 

                "No, no, NO!  Don't leave me!  Please, don't leave me alone!"  Shrill scream, *Fear hurt fear FEAR,* in the link, enough to bring the hyena roaring to the surface, and Spike was there, gathering Dawn into his arms and shushing her, holding her - soothing her nightmare away only to have it come back again in a half an hour - an hour.  Staying with Dawn all night, pacing half the day, too afraid to leave her and too on edge to hunt.  Closing the link down to almost nothing to spare Xander and Oz, but Xander had sat in the living room chair every night, watching them, doing what he could.  Refusing to leave Spike to deal with it alone.  Oz there too, silent and hurting, his control over the wolf fraying with each nerve-scraping night.  Like the hyena it wanted to FIGHT, but there was nothing TO fight, and the two patrols they'd gone on had been - savage.

               

 

                Spike looked fine - the gaunt, harried look was gone, and he seemed his old self, most days. But sometimes there were breaks in the link - moments of blankness or confusion that Xander couldn't pin down or even explain - just feel.  Spike didn't so much ignore them as seem to not notice them, but they made Xander nervous.  Spike's anxiety about what Glory had done kept coming back to him, but he couldn't bring himself to say anything when nothing really seemed to be wrong.    Spike had been right about the link with Dawn, though - it had faded to almost nothing, and they now needed to be close to Dawn - ten feet or less - to feel her.  The magic, Spike said, that made the link in the first place had forged the bond, but without regular doses of blood - or the slightest bit of Spike's blood - it simply became a sort of heightened empathy.   That had been a guilty relief, to feel Dawn slipping out and away.   The raw edges of sorrow and guilt were too hard to stitch back into any semblance of a whole when her all-consuming grief had been unraveling it daily.

                Dawn seemed better now, too - more her old self, if a little quieter.  The 'bot did patrol and made appearances now and again, and Dawn seemed to take it in stride.  Willow had programmed away Warren's taint - something like a cross between a Stepford wife and a spinster aunt; all eager-to-please snuggle-bunny one minute and conservative school-marm the next.  Warren had issues, it seemed.

                Spike ran his hand down the curved flank of the carving - skipped his fingers over the feathers carved in high relief.  Xander had done random feathers - random features - so that some of the figure was unbroken sweeps of smooth, long lines, and other parts were carefully detailed, catching the light just so and making eye and mouth, hand and sweep of hair and the extended tips of two wings look as realistic as possible. 

                *How long?*

                "Mmmm...half an hour?  I just want to finish this here -"   Xander touched the rippled edge of the base of the figure.  It had somehow acquired what looked like waves beneath the elongated, nearly featureless feet, and he wanted to add a few more shadows. 

                "I think I'll go up and draw a bath, then."  Spike stepped around the figure and slid weightlessly down onto Xander's lap - kissed him with utmost concentration; hands twined in Xander's hair, back arching and his hips moving in a slow, slow roll.  Xander's heart skipped up fast to a rabbity pounding and he had to pull back finally, gasping in a hard breath and laughing a little.

                "Fuck, Spike, you..."   *Make me crazy, wanting you - needing you.*

                *How it should be.  You're fuckin' gorgeous...taste so good...come upstairs, love...*

                "Ten minutes - fifteen, tops.  I swear."  Spike nipped at Xander's lower lip - nuzzled into the crook of his neck for a moment and then he was up and off, walking inside with that loose-hipped strut that made Xander feel a little light-headed.  He watched appreciatively until Spike was out of sight, then he turned back to his work.  After a bit Xander could hear music - a mixed CD of stuff one of Derio's bandmates had made for Spike - and the vampire was singing in his head.

                "I'm hurtin', I'm wantin'

                I'm achin' for another go.

                You're squirmin' wet, baby

                Nothin' bad comin' very slow

                And it's burnin' holes in me..."

 

                Not five minutes later Oz and Derio arrived, piling bags of supplies onto the kitchen table and talking about the beach - a fire.  Making plans.  It was Dawn's birthday, and they were going to cook hot dogs and marshmallows and sit on the beach, a family only party at Dawn's insistence.    At the moment she was out with Tara, Willow, Anya and Janice having a 'Ladies Day' at some salon or spa or something.  Xander wasn't sure, but he knew it involved seaweed and wax and mud and lattes, for god's sake.    Oz came out onto the porch after a moment and unconsciously echoed Spike, crouching down next to Xander and studying the figure.

                "Hey, Oz."

                "Hey." 

                *All right?*

                *Sure.  The 'bot wants to come to the party.*

                "What the fuck for?"  Xander said it a little too sharply but Oz only raised an eyebrow and slowly shook his head.

                "It's really got the 'I am the big sister' thing down."   *Its place and all.  Very insistent.*   

                "Damn."  Xander put down the knife and rooted out a piece of sandpaper from his kit - carefully smoothed away a rough edge.  "I guess we - we can send it on patrol.  Maybe it'll forget."

                "Yeah."  Oz reached out and ran his fingers over the hand of the figure.  "This looks great, Xander."

                "Thanks."  Xander gave a final rub with the sandpaper and sat back, looking critically.  "I guess most people who do stuff like this always feel like - it's never really done.  But I guess - I'd better say it is done or I'll still be cutting on it come Christmas."

                *It's done.  Falling angel - I think she'll like it, Xan.*

                *Thanks, Oz.  Love you.*   Oz smiled up at him, his hair freshly violet in honor of the day, his eyes vivid green in the golden light of the setting sun.  He looked - so happy, and Xander reached out and rubbed his shoulder, smiling back.  Happy for him. 

                "Hope you got a ton of stuff - Spike's never had S'mores and I get the feeling he's gonna like 'em."

                "Got enough for an army.  Derio has some peculiar ideas about what you cook over a bonfire."

                "Hey!"  Derio yelled from the kitchen.  "Nothing peculiar about wanting to make kebabs!"

                "Yeah, but - eggplant and breadfruit and coconut?  You're a freak."

                "You like me that way.  Damn - that's just...estupendo, Xander - muy hermoso."  Derio stood in the kitchen doorway, gazing out at the figure, and Xander felt himself blushing a little - but straightening up and smiling, too. 

                "Thanks, man.  I - I'm really happy with it.  Most of the time."

                "You should be."  Derio stepped out onto the porch and spent a couple of minutes examining the carving with Oz, and Xander finally felt his worries about the piece slipping away.  Spike was right - Dawn knew him, and she would see - what he meant.  See the love and not the loss.

                "I'm gonna say it's done," Xander said finally, and Oz helped him lift it and move it over to the top corner of the porch, out of harm's way and not immediately noticeable.  Xander draped an old sheet over it and then grabbed the broom, sweeping the wood chips and other detritus into a pile.

                "Leave that, Xander.  If we put that all in a bucket with a little fuel oil or something it'll make a good starter for the fire." 

                "Sure, Oz."  Xander propped the broom in the corner and closed up the tool-box where he kept his wood-caring stuff.  Nothing too fancy or even professional, but over the months he'd assembled an eclectic mix of chisels and knives and other things that seemed to work.  He shoved the box up against the house and picked up his shirt from the back of the chair.

                "I'm gonna go - up -" he started, and Oz grinned at him.

                "Yeah - noticed that," Oz said, smirking, and Xander laughed.  The link was thick with formless, horny impulses and the occasional X-rated image and Oz leaned against Derio and slipped his hands around the other man's waist as Xander ducked inside.  He grabbed a couple of bottles of beer and trotted upstairs, Spike's *hurry up, pet, wanna taste you...* in his head and The Damned in his ears.

                "We made it on a Ballroom Blitz

                I took his arms and kissed his lips

                He looked at me with such a smile my face turned red

                We booked a room into the Ritz

                Ooooohh

                He gives me head..."

               

                "That a request?  Or you offering?" Xander tossed his shirt into the laundry basket and skimmed out of his jeans.  Spike was up to his nose in water, his hands lazily stroking over his body.

                "That's a promise, but I won't stop you from doing - anything."  Spike's eyes were half-lidded, shimmering gold behind his lashes and Xander felt that look go straight through him, ending in a coil of heat in his cock.  He put the beers on the ledge over the tub and stepped into the water.  The bathroom was fragrant with bath-oil and a couple of candles; hazy with steam, gilded with diffused sunlight.

                "Wait -"   Spike sat up fast and grabbed Xander's arms.  "Don't go under - just kneel here.

Wanna -"   He leaned forward and ran his tongue slowly from Xander's ribs to this collarbone, and Xander shivered, closing his eyes.

                *Taste so good, pet, love it when you're hot and sweating and all...woodsy.*  Xander snorted laughter but it trailed off to a moan as Spike grazed lips, then tongue, then teeth over his nipples and then up to his throat.  He nipped at the scar there and Xander writhed, sucking in a hard breath. He had his hands on Spike's hips and he squeezed, pulling the vampire closer.  Spike resisted - bent a little and began to lick his way across pectorals, ribs and belly, leaving little beads of blood where his fangs snagged on skin.  Xander ran his hands up Spike's torso, rubbing his thumbs over Spike's nipples - scratching at them - then moving higher and sinking his fingers into Spike's hair, tugging him closer.  Spike licked wide stripes up his body, sucking on the blood, clutching Xander's buttocks in his hands and kneading the muscles.  Then he dipped down, half under the water, and fastened his mouth around Xander's cock.

                *Oh - fuck - Spike!*   Nip with the fangs, then cool lap of tongue and Spike's fingers prying between Xander's buttocks, the oil in the water easing the way.  Xander put his hands on the edges of the tub, clutching fiercely as Spike licked and sucked and gently, gently bit.  As his fingers wormed their way into Xander's body and stroked him from the inside-out.  Xander's legs were trembling, his lungs were hitching and catching on every breath, and if he arched his head back any harder he thought he might just snap his neck. 

                *That's good, that's - right - god! - there - love, love you, Spike...*   Xander groaned aloud as the orgasm pulled his body tight and sizzled through his belly and cock like cool sparks.  He couldn’t stop the frantic thrusting of his hips - forward into cool moisture, backwards onto twisting, teasing, clever fingers.  When it was over Spike slid up Xander's body and kissed him, pushing the demon away so he could do it hard, and deep as he liked.  Then he settled back on his knees and pulled Xander over him.

                "Ready, yeah?  Let me in, pet -"   Xander put his forearms on Spike's shoulders and let the vampire guide him - groaned again as Spike's cock pushed at him and then eased inside.

                *Ready, ready, just - *

                *Hold on to me -*   Spike lifted his hips and pulled and Xander slid down, fast and hard and burn, delicious flare that settled immediately to a too-good ache.  Spike hissed, his fingers clutching Xander hard, and he lifted and yanked down, setting up a fast, hard rhythm that jolted little bolts of pleasure through Xander's body, reviving his erection.  

                *Want it deeper - Spike, want it -*   Spike rose up suddenly, tipping Xander back and he grabbed the tub edges again - let Spike hoist him up and get his legs up over Spike's shoulders and then the vampire was pounding in; grumbling moan deep in his chest,  fingernails leaving half-moon cuts.  Xander let his head fall back, half-submerged, letting Spike's strength hold him up, opening himself as wide as he could, arching his back and begging for it, loving it.

                *Look like - perfect, like - fuckin' lovely, love you like this, Xander, mine mine MINE!*

                *Fuck yes yours -*   Spike snarled and darted forward,  one hand in the small of Xander's back and the other gripping his neck, lifting it and Xander tipped his chin up,  gasping, pushing back.  Sudden fever-hot prickle of fangs and then that ache, that fire-edged razor that skittered down every nerve ending and made him arch up convulsively, desperately.  He could feel Spike inside him, pulse of seed and flesh, and Spike's hand was suddenly on his face - his mouth - awkward push and Xander sank his teeth into the meaty pad of Spike's palm and keened, his body stuttering into orgasm again as the pepper-salt-fire of inhuman blood filled his mouth.

                Spike's frantic thrusting gradually eased and then stopped, and he moved his hand away - lifted Xander up and maneuvered him so they were lying together.  Xander nibbled gently on the scar on Spike's neck and then kissed him.  Sighed in utter contentment. 

                *Love you love you,* mindless chant that was reflected right back.  Somewhere downstairs there was a creaking noise - a muffled yelp - and Spike and Xander both grinned at the image that flared in the link.  Derio, Oz's hands in his dreads and -   The image cut off abruptly, laughter in the link, and Xander worked his hands under Spike and scratched gently at the small of his back.

                "Don't wanna get up now.  Don't wanna move for hours."

                "All right love.  We'll just lie here and prune.  We'll look ever so special at the Bit's party."

                "Spiiike!  Damnit."  Xander lifted his head and shot an evil a glare at the vampire as his post-coital brain was able to manufacture.  "Why'd you have to fuck me half unconscious?"

                "'Cause I can?  'Cause you wanted me too?"

                "Right both times," Xander sighed, and levered himself shakily upright - reached for the soap.  "Gotta be fresh and unsullied when the girls get here.  Wouldn't want them thinking -"

                "Oh please."  Spike rolled his eyes, snatching the soap and rubbing it briskly over Xander's chest.  "They do know we fuck at every opportunity and believe you me, if you think Glinda-witch and Red haven't entertained a few...dirty thoughts from time to time, you're barmy."

                "Wha-?  No, I will not go there.  So not going there.  Willow is practically my sister.  And Tara is - shy and unspoiled.  She'd never -"

                "Love, that girl's wicked as the day is long."  Spike grinned, splashing soap off of him, and Xander had to grin back.  Downstairs all was quiet and the link projected a low, sated buzz.   It was infinitely tempting to slip into it and just drowse, but Xander wet his hair under the water and reached for the shampoo instead.

                "I am not thinking in any way that's remotely sexual about Tara and Willow.  Can't make me."  Xander stuck out his tongue and Spike lunged for it, growling.

                "How 'bout demon-girl?"  Xander submerged himself again, scrubbing at shampoo, and felt Spike sluicing water over his back.

                *Anya?  Anya...*   A brief image - the three of them doing something - athletic.   There was a ripple of shocked laughter from Oz and another growl from Spike, who snatched him up out of the water.

                "You're wicked, pet.  Taught you well, I have."  He had an insufferably smug look on his face and Xander flicked suds at him, struggling to his feet and snatching his towel.

                "You have corrupted me something awful.  Whatever shall I do?"  Xander simpered and clambered over the tub edge onto the bathmat.

                *Wash my hair?*

                *Evil undead, HA!*   Xander wrapped the towel around his waist and poured out shampoo - bent to scrub Spike's hair, scratching his scalp and teasing the longish strands into soapy spikes. 

                *Oh!  That's cute -*   Xander fed the image into the link and there was a burst of raucous laughter from downstairs.  Spike plunged his head under, swishing it violently to rinse out the soap.  Foamy water surged up over the edge of the tub and splashed everywhere, soaking the bathmat.

                *You pillock.*

                "I am not cleaning this up, Spike.  You git."

                *Maybe 'You wanker' would have been the better word choice.*   Spike surfaced and splashed the last of the soap off his chest, blinking cartoonishly as water dripped into his eyes.  Xander leaned forward and kissed him fast and then skipped away, grabbing his toothbrush.

                "Learned from the best.  Hurry up, evil undead.  We gotta get dressed."

                "Should'a fucked you unconscious," Spike mumbled, and pulled the plug on the tub.

 

 

                They got downstairs without too much more delay and Oz and Xander started sorting things into coolers and bags.  The radio was on, playing a selection of 'Golden Oldies.'  Spike sat on the kitchen counter smoking and contemplating Derio's dreads.  He fingered them while Derio tuned his fiddle.

                "You need some bones in here.  That would be neat," Spike mused, shaking a dread so that the cluster of tiny brass bells on it jingled.

                "What sort of bones?  I'm thinkin' chicken bones would be a big stray-cat magnet."  Derio plucked a string and twisted the tuning key a little, frowning absently.

                "No, no soddin' chicken bones.  Finger bones would be best.  They're small and light and make a nice clicking sound."  Derio looked over at Spike and shook his head. 

                *Stop that, evil undead,* from Xander, and Spike blew smoke at him, grinning.  Oz was smiling.

                "S'true."

                "I'm sure.  But.  I don't know anybody whose fingers I want to chop off, currently.  That Riley guy is dead, right?"  Spike stubbed his cigarette out.

                "As a doornail, mate."  He picked up another dread, examining the beads that were strung along it.

                "Right.  Well, until I find some other pendeja that I want to maim for life, I think I'll remain bone-free."  Spike shrugged and did a last brush of his fingers through Derio's hair - jumped down off the counter and rummaged out a whiskey bottle.

                "Better tuck this in somewhere, pet."  He held the bottle out to Xander who grabbed his wrist and pulled him close.

                "Behave, vampire-mine.  No getting drunk at Dawn's party."

                "Not enough in there to get me drunk," Spike scoffed, shaking the half-empty bottle and leaning on Xander, running his free hand up his back and through the glossy-brown hair.

                "Mmmm...right."  Xander swayed against him for a moment and then pulled away, smiling.  "Gotta get this stuff down to the beach."

                "Sun's not quite down -"   Spike maneuvered for a kiss and Xander melted into him - pulled back a second time.

                "Spike -"

                "I'll carry all of it down in ten more minutes.  Gimmie ten minutes, pet..."  Spike fell to kissing again, swaying slightly to the music on the radio and he barely noticed Oz and Derio leaving, carrying some of the bags, *start the fire* faintly in the link.  Xander was warm and solid in his arms - in the link.  Everything he was, distilled down to sweet and love and *mine yours always*    Xander settled his arms around Spike's waist and leaned his head on Spike's shoulder and Spike shut his eyes and held him close, fingers tangled in the long hair, his other hand a little awkward in the small of Xander's back, still clutching the bottle.

                The music changed - segued into Glen Miller and that song, the one that had played so long ago - over a year.  The first time they'd really kissed...the first time it had actually meant something.  Spike sank into the memory, reliving the despair and the loneliness - reliving the rush of incredulous joy.  Xander was right there, adding his own side to it, his own feelings of want and fear and budding love.  In all the mess with Glory - with Joyce - they'd never really done anything to mark the year turning over, and now Xander showed Spike a flurry of images and emotions - showed him his soul and his demon and himself and made it clear, so very clear, that he had never been happier - never been more content.

                *Year and a half.  Feels like forever - like a day.  Love you, love you.*

                *Love you too, Spike.  My own, my vampire, MINE for always.*

                *Yeah...yours...always...*   Xander lifted his head and Spike kissed him.  Soft, and easy and all-consuming - everything he loved about Xander and about them swirling through the link.  His heart right there, on his lips and in the hands that cradled his love closer still.  Neither of them noticed the bottle sliding and thunking to the floor, neither of them noticed the front door opening and the girls coming in.  The music buoyed them up and up, and the kiss did and Spike never wanted it to end.

                It did though of course, when *sweet hot brother* hit the link and they both were instantly aware of Dawn.   Spike couldn't help the grin that stretched his mouth and the kiss ended on a soft laugh.

                "Is this part of the party, then?" Anya asked, and Willow rolled her eyes.

                "Not until Dawn is twenty-one," she snapped, and then slapped her hand to her mouth, her eyes going wide.   "I did not say that out loud!"

                "You did though!  And I have witnesses to prove it!"  Dawn bounced gleefully, poking Willow until the witch flailed at her hands.

                "Stop that, Dawn.  We'll just - we'll just talk about it later.  Right.  Party?"

                "Party, Willow.  Oz and Derio went down to start the fire, and we have some stuff that needs to go down -"   Laughing, Xander made a gesture towards the remaining bags of supplies, somewhat hampered by the fact that Spike still had his arms wrapped around him.

                "I just spent over one hundred dollars on manicures which nobody is going to ruin by doing manual labor!"  Anya glared at Tara, who had already stepped forward to grab a bag.  Tara hesitated, glancing at her hands.

                "But, Anya -"

                "No!  Don't. Touch. Anything."  She looked over at Spike and Spike lifted an eyebrow at her.

                "We have a vampire and some sort of super-boy here -"

                "Super-boy?" Spike sniggered, and Xander whapped him.

                "Yes, well, he's not normal, is he?  You two can carry stuff.  Dawn is the Birthday Girl.  No labor for her."

                "Yeah, I'm the Birthday Girl!"  Dawn preened, fanning her freshly done nails languidly in front of her face and Spike stepped away from Xander, advancing on her.  Cued by a fast explanation in the link, and he smirked.

                "Isn't there some Yankee custom about - spankings?" Spike asked, and Dawn gaped at him for a moment before squeaking and jumping behind Tara.         

                "No!  I mean, yes, but - I'm too old for that"

                "Never too old, Dawnie!" Xander said gleefully, advancing from the other side and Dawn shrieked and darted towards the living room.  Spike pounced and scooped her up - whirled her around and around until she was beating on his shoulders with her fists.

                "Spike!  I'm gonna hurl!  Put me down!"  Spike put her down immediately and took a step back.

                "Don't do that, Bit -"   Spike hated being around humans that were throwing up.  It made him -

                *Queasy?  You get queasy?  HA!  SO not the evil undead!*

                *You'd get queasy too if you could hear it and smell it like I can,* Spike grumped, and reached out to steady Dawn as she staggered a little, dizzy. 

                *Love family,* from Dawn, faint but there, and Spike froze for one second and then pulled Dawn close and hugged her.

                "Many happy returns of the day, Bit."

                "Thanks, Spike."  Dawn stood up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek and then she slipped away, back to the kitchen were Tara was poking through bags and Willow was getting a drink.  Anya was fiddling with a disposable camera and Spike realized she'd been taking pictures.

                *Oh great.*

                *Gonna get me copies - lots and lots - giant size!*   Xander grinned at him from the kitchen doorway and Spike chose to ignore him - stalked past and grabbed his cigarettes.

                "Time to go down to the fire, eh?" he said, just as Oz and Derio came back in.

                "Yeah, time...but...  Dawn - I - I have a present for you but I couldn't wrap it or anything...  You'll have to get it now."   Xander's voice was shaky but Dawn didn't seem to notice.   She grinned and bounced a little.

                "Cool!  Can't wrap it, that means it's a - what - a car?  A motorcycle?"

                "You wish!  You're not even sixteen."  Xander went over to her and took her hand, leading her to the porch door.  Oz and Derio stepped back outside and everyone else followed the pair out.

                "So?  I can get a learners permit now!"

                "Over my dead body," Spike mumbled, and Tara sent him a flashing smile.  They were all on the porch now, and Xander went over to the statue - took the edge of the sheet in his hand and fiddled with it for a moment.  The link was full of his unease - anticipation and nerves and a little fear.

                "I hope - I hope that...  I really just wanted to -"   *Spike!  Help!*

                *S'all right, love.  Just get it over.  You'll see.*   Xander nodded and pulled the sheet off, and there was a long, long silence.

                *Hurt,* in the link, sharp and hard and Xander flinched, eyes miserable, but then *beautiful beautiful lonely love family,* and Dawn was hugging Xander, whispering into his neck.

                "I love it, it's Buffy, it's Buffy, right?  It's so beautiful, Xander, I love it, thank you..."

                *Told you.*

                *Yeah.  Thank god.*

                "Yeah, it's Buffy.  I know - you really wanted something for - a marker or something..."  Xander trailed off helplessly as Willow came up and hugged him as well.

                "It's wonderful," Willow said, and Xander patted her back.

                "It really is, Xander.  You're s-so tal-ented."

                "Thanks, Tara.  Thanks, guys."  Xander sniffed, and Spike just leaned on the doorjamb, smiling fondly at him.  Anya was inspecting the figure closely and Spike could practically see dollar signs in her eyes.

                *You are talented, you know.  And...love you.*

                *Love you too.*   Xander sniffed again - gave Willow and Dawn a last squeeze and set them back a little.  "Party time, okay?  I'm glad you like it, Dawn, I really am.  But let's go get sick on S'mores and hot dogs, okay?"  Dawn sniffed too - wiped her eyes and grinned.

                "Yeah, okay.  And we'll all go skinny-dipping!  Like witches do!  I've always wanted to do that."  Tara blushed, hiding a smile in her hair and Willow sniggered softly.  Oz and Derio squeezed past Spike and gathered up the rest of the bags and Spike sniffed appreciatively at the faint odor of woodsmoke and sea that clung to them.

                "What?  Dawn!  Have you no shame?"  Xander grinned at her and they moved away, off the porch, heading for the beach.  Everyone trailed behind, except for Spike, who stood smoking and looking at the figure.

                *Coming, love?*

                *Just gonna wait for the Watcher.*

                *Oh - all right.*   They ambled across the back lawn, silhouetted against a deep-plum sky.  The first stars of the evening were faint pin-pricks and the new moon had just cleared the roof of the house.  Spike reached inside the doorway and flicked off the porch-light, relaxing into the warm dark.

                *Family keeps growing.  Have to keep alert - can't let them come to any harm.*    The demon surfaced briefly, scenting the air, reassuring itself that all was well. 

                *Protect.  Protect ALL*

                "Yeah, no worries there, mate."  Spike walked down off the porch and circled the house, the grass cool under his bare feet.  There were headlights coming down the street and Spike watched them - after a moment he identified the Watcher's Crisis-mobile.  He smirked a little, watching it.  As Giles pulled up to the curb and turned the engine off, Spike felt an insistent tickle of something.  He froze, listening, feeling - and then Giles was climbing out of the car, looking uneasy, and the passenger door was opening.  The demon snarled, and Spike let it come, his body tense.  The figure in the car hesitated and then stood slowly, and Spike felt his human self come back in utter shock.

                "Bloody fucking hell!  Angel?"

 

 

                *I'll kill Red for this,* Spike thought, stopping the DeSoto with a jerk.  He got out of the car and stomped around to Angel's side - yanked the door open and bodily hauled the other vampire out.  Angel was drunk, and stank vaguely of something...  Spike couldn't tell what, but it was pissing him off and setting the demon on edge.

                "What're we doin' here? This isn'a...graveyard."  Angel blinked, bewildered, at the trees and the rutted track that led upwards and Spike wanted to smack him. 

                "She's not in a graveyard, you git.  Word gets out the Hellmouth is unprotected, what'll you think happens?"  Angel looked at him and then around one more time.

                "Somthin' bad?"

                "Yeah - somethin' bad.  C'mon.  Maybe the walk'll sober you up."  They went up the trail, Angel slithering and slipping in his city-shoes, catching his jacket on bushes and brambles.  Spike cursed the entire way, keeping his voice low but making sure Angel heard every epithet he could think of.

                *Great lumbering bastard.  If he'd actually given a shite he'd have come 'round long before this.*   Spike whirled abruptly on the path, glaring at Angel. 

                "Where the hell have you been anyway, you toff?  You stink of something."   Angel stopped and regarded Spike, panting a little.  *Christ he's drunk!  Never does that, otherwise.*

                "We - we were inna - nother' dimension.  'Nother place.  I could - could be in the sun, there..."  Spike stared at him. 

                "Yeah?  So why'd you come back?"

                "Oh -"   Angel waved his arm vaguely, reeling off-balance just a little.  "They were gonna kill me. Kill...us."

                "Figures.  Everywhere you go, mate."  Spike turned around and resumed walking, and in a few more minutes they came out into the open.  The grave had sunk slightly, but the pansies and sweet woodruff planted on it covered that, as did the three-foot yew that Tara had put near the head.   Spike made a 'go ahead' gesture at Angel and after a moment the other stumbled forward.  He stood for a moment at the foot of the grave and then sank down.  His shoulders hunched, and he seemed to shrink in on himself, shuddering.  After a moment the strangled sounds coming from him made sense and Spike stared at the bowed shoulders.

                *Daft bastard is actually crying!  He'll never forget I saw this - if he actually remembers any of it come the dawn.*   Spike shook his head and began a slow pacing around the perimeter of the clearing.  He knew Angel really had loved the Slayer, but as far as Spike was concerned, he got no sympathy.  When you loved someone you didn't just abandon them.  Not if you really cared.  He'd never have left Dru if she hadn't told him to go - told him he couldn't make her happy anymore.  And she'd only come back to him because of Angel, so there was no blame there for turning her away that last time.  But the Slayer...  Xander had told him, what he'd seen in her soul.  That she still loved the Irish git.  That she was just too afraid and too hurt to try again, but that she'd never stopped wanting him.  And Angel had just tripped off to LaLa land and never even had the decency to try and make it work.  Spike snorted, laughing at himself.

                *And I'm not biased, oh no.  But he thinks this will somehow...make up for it?  It just adds another stroke of the flogger - another act of penance.  If he couldn't wallow in misery he'd probably lay down and die.* 

                He could very faintly feel Xander in the link - feel the warmth of being in the midst of everyone - feel the happiness.  He resented every second Angel was making him miss that - missing his family, the bastard, and missing the Bit's party.  He hoped Xander had been able to explain it well enough so Niblet wouldn't be mad at him.

                *Hurry up, you cunt,* Spike thought furiously, and stalked over to Angel, demon to the fore and snarling.

                "Get up, Angel.  We're leaving."  Angel shuddered, head in hands, and Spike poked him with the toe of his boot.  "You can do this in the car, although I'd rather you didn't.  Or on the way back to L.A.  But now it's time to go.  Bit's expecting me."  Angel raised his head finally, and the pallid glow of the moon caught the tear-tracks on his face and turned them silver - showed his eyes like pits, sunk into his head.

                "God - Spike - is there no pity in ya?  No - compassion?"           

                "Not for you, Angel.  You had time to fix things with the Slayer if you wanted but you didn't.  Cry 'til you drown the world and she won't be comin' back.  Too late for pity, and compassion's wasted on you."  Angel's eyes were wide and his mouth worked, as if he would speak or spit or scream, and Spike glared back at him, knowing there was nothing in his demons-face that belied his words.

                "She said - I was hurtin' her, Spike.  Hurtin' her an' - I couldn't...see her suffer.  Do ya understand, boy?  I couldn'a..."  Something in the link - something for just a moment; a pang of loss and sorrow, and Spike sighed heavily - bent down and hauled Angel to his feet.

                "So you left and hurt her that way instead.  Say goodbye, Angel.  She's for the worms two months and more, and that's an end of it."  Angel stared down at him - scrubbed his face and pushed his hands back through his hair.  Spike wanted to laugh at the wild disorder of the stiff strands but for once he didn't.

                "Let me...jus' say..."  Angel took a hard breath and looked down at the grave again, and Spike walked a few steps away, giving him the illusion of privacy.  Angel's words were slurred with drink, but his voice cracked with the emotion behind them, and Spike silently conceded that what Angel was feeling was genuine.

                 *Doesn't matter, though.  Her dyin' still broke all their hearts, and he's lucky it's just him and me.  If he'd have tried to see the Bit...*

                "I'm sorry, Buffy - so sorry, sweet lass...  If I could'a changed ev'rythin' - I'd do it fer ya, sweetheart.  Fergi' me, Buffy."   Angel took another breath and then he turned around and walked away, heading back towards the trail and the car, and Spike followed him, both silent. 

                As they drove through Sunnydale Angel slumped in his seat, barely aware.  Pulling up to the house he lifted his head and stared through the window - turned to face Spike.

                "My car - s'at Giles' house."

                "The walk'll do you good, Angel.  Get out."  Spike got out of the car and walked around it - watched Angel lever himself out of the seat and stand there.  Faintly, they could both hear Derio's fiddle, and laughter, and the pop and hiss of the fire.

                "My family's waiting for me, Angel.  Go on back, now.  Don't come here anymore."

                "Spike -"   Angel lifted a hand towards him and then let it fall limply to his side, and he nodded.  Spike spun on his heel and strode away, heading towards the beach, and warmth, and family, his family.  He brushed Angel out of his mind and leaped lightly down the sloping cliff-face, seeing Xander's face turn towards him, and Oz.  Seeing anxiety melt to happiness and welcome, and he caught Xander's hand and pulled him into a kiss.

                Later, when the moon was setting and everyone was quiet around the fire - talking softly and listening to Derio play a low, slow tune...Spike felt the static-shock frission of another vampire's presence.  But he didn't look around for Angel, and after a while it was gone.

 

 

 

 

_________________________

Alice Cooper - Blue Turk

The Damned - Jet Boy, Jet Girl

estupendo - amazing

muy hermoso - very beautiful

pendeja - asshole