Chapter 30: Falling

Chapter 30: Falling

                Barstow had been crawling with soldiers - Army, Marines, and geek-types from some NASA project, and Spike had had a hard time keeping himself inconspicuously human while looking for a car.  They found one vehicle easily, but in the end he'd quietly snapped the neck of a belligerent Marine and he and Xander had driven back to the others in two SUV things, leaving Ben's hot-wired sedan in a back alley.  Big enough, once you laid the seats down, to construct a pallet for the Watcher and to hold everyone else.  The killing was a steady ache in the link that Spike chose to ignore.  Too little time and his nerves so close to the breaking point he simply couldn't deal with the White Knight.  Xander touched his cheek - looked at him, wide eyed, as they loaded the Watcher and got the rest settled, and if it wasn't forgiveness it was something like acceptance.  Acknowledgment of the situation, and a resolve to deal with it later. 

                Xander drove the Watcher, the Slayer and demon-girl in his vehicle, and Spike got the witches and the wolf and the baggage.  They drove hard, into the west, and Red managed a sort of 'don't notice me' spell on them, so the any lurking Highway Patrol would ignore them.

                Sunnydale was locked down - seemingly dead - and they got Giles to the hospital fast, Spike and Xander carrying him in and surrendering him to bustling nurses and one tired-looking doctor.  While Xander filled out paperwork with Willow's help, Spike called Clem and got a cousin to come get the SUVs.  It wouldn't do anyone any good to have the stolen vehicle of a dead soldier sitting outside their house.    Giles, it seemed, would be at the hospital for several hours - probably past dawn.  Xander brought the news out to the others with a worried frown drawing his brows together.

                "We can't just sit out here," Willow said, her arm tight around Tara's shoulders.  "I have to get a book - I have to be someplace quiet so I can - can help Buffy - so we can get Dawnie back."  Xander crouched down by them, drawing the rest in close.  The rest minus the Slayer, who simply stared, unmoving.

                "Listen - why not just go to Buffy's house?  Everybody has extra clothes in their packs, right?  We can all get cleaned up and get something to eat while you do your witchy thing.  Sound all right?"

                "I'm all for a shower and a meal," Anya said, nodding, and Willow drew in a deep breath - nodded as well.

                "All right, Xander.  That sounds - sounds like a plan."  She raised a faint smile, and Xander smiled back.

                "Wolf, you can drive 'em, right?"  Spike asked, and Oz looked up at him, concern in his eyes.

                "Yeah."  *Where -?*

                "I know a bloke - bookish - I think he might know a thing or two about our little problem.  Me an' Xan, we'll go suss him out, yeah?"  *Keep Glinda safe.*    Oz nodded slowly - took a hard breath and reached out to run his hand down Spike's arm - touch Xander's shoulder. 

                *Careful.  Love you.*

                *Love you,* from himself and Xander, no separating the thoughts, and Oz collected the girls, shepherding them out the ER doors and into the loaner.  Xander watched them go - watched Spike slip something into his pocket from a cart and then they were out the door, walking down the sidewalk. 

                *Love -*

                "I know."  Xander sighed - reached to lace his fingers with Spike's, the warm and callused hand feeling so good in his own - solid and right.

                "Nature of the beast, love," Spike said softly, and Xander squeezed his hand just a little.

                "I know that too.  I'm - can't I just be...unhappy with it?"

                "Not if it means you're unhappy with me."   Xander nodded - walked on for a minute in silence, eluding Spike even in the link.  Spike groped for cigarettes - remembered he had none and cursed softly.  Lights up ahead showed a Quickie-Mart, and he headed towards it gratefully.  They went inside and Spike told the clerk what brand, and Xander leaned on him and sighed.


                *I know, love.  All over soon.*

                *That sounds so final.*

                *Final for HER.  We'll come out all right.*

                "How do you know that?" Xander whispered, his mouth against Spike's neck, and Spike shivered - snatched the cigarettes from the gawping clerk and tossed a twenty at him.

                "Mind on your work, git," he snapped, and the clerk glared at him.  "I know that 'cause you're the good guys, love.  White Hats n'all.  Good guys always win.  Said it yourself." 

                "Do we?"  Xander asked, and Spike knew it was exhaustion, worry - the long, strange day and night, that made Xander sound so...small.

                *Always, love.*   Spike caught Xander's chin in his fingers - gave him a slow and gentle kiss.  Something tight in his belly unwound as Xander leaned into him - slid hot hands under the duster and around his waist.  The clerk made a squeaking sort of noise and Spike ended the kiss with a delicate nibble on Xander's lower lip - turned to the clerk with his best 'Why don't I just kill you now?' look.

                "Where's my change, you tosser?" he growled, and the clerk shoved some money across the counter - mumbled something under his breath.

                "I heard that, you fuck -"   Spike was ready to snap another neck but Xander grabbed the bills and coins and him and yanked him away, glaring daggers over his shoulder at the clerk, who winced away.

                "Not now, not him, not here, okay?  Better things - well, more important things to do.  Okay?"  Xander hustled him out onto the sidewalk and Spike abruptly shoved him into a wall - full-body contact and delicious grind of hips and Xander lost his breath for a minute.  Coins hit the ground and rolled away, unnoticed.

                "Always something better to do, yeah," Spike breathed, and Xander melted into him, fingers digging into Spike's back and his teeth meeting with a jolt of delicious pain through the skin of Spike's throat.

                *Stop it Spike,* and a warning shake of the head, and Spike breathed in sharply - thrust hard into Xander's hip, feeling rigid flesh digging into his own thigh.

                *Oh but you want it...*  and Xander bit again, tongue lapping at blood that was welling up, nails making trails of fire down Spike's back.  Spike had his own hands on Xander's buttocks, pulling him closer, kneading taut flesh.

                *Don't have - fuck - time - Spike!*  Xander arched fiercely against him as he twisted his own head around and sank fangs into Xander's throat, high up.  They were both making inarticulate noises around the flesh in their mouths - they were both thrusting and writhing against each other in a sort of mindless frenzy, nerves stretched to the breaking point and this, this closeness the only cure Spike could think of.  Suddenly Xander was fumbling urgently at his jeans - at Spike's - and Spike was pushing Xander's t-shirt up out of the way - wrenching at his own and then Xander's hand was on him, hot and tight, his cock right there, slick glide of pre-come, burning like a brand.  Spike added his own hand - felt the link open wide and felt the double sensation of warm and cool all down the length of his body.  He sank his fangs a little deeper - pulled against Xander's hold on him and felt the blunt human teeth tear his flesh a little, exquisite torture.  The came together, gasping, and Xander finally opened his jaws - sucked gently on the wound he'd made before letting his head fall back with a little thump on the bricks behind him.  Spike did the same; gently disengaging his fangs and cleaning the wound - letting his human self slip back.   Suprisingly, the mess was minimal and Spike very deliberately pulled their hands up to his lips - took wet, fragrant flesh into his mouth and sucked.  Xander watched him, his mouth red and slightly open, his eyes half-shut but shining green in the sodium glare of the Quickie-Mart signs. 

                *Fuckin' hot, you make me crazy, LOVE you,* and Spike grinned at him.

                "Yeah.  Forgive me, love?"

                "Nature of the beast, Spike, like you said."  *Love the beast, AM the beast, want this OVER, Spike.*

                "Me too.  Let's go."  They tidied themselves away, and Spike opened a pack and took out a cigarette - lit it and deliberately blew the smoke at the plate-glass window three feet away, and the astonished, beet-red face of the Quickie-Mart clerk.


                Xander hadn't heard of this 'Doc' before, but Spike seemed to think he'd be of some help.  Their more-than-make-out session up against the wall outside the Mart had left him feeling oddly energized, and he bounced down the sidewalk next to Spike, pushing all thoughts of apocalypses, Hellgods, and a dead soldier out of his head. 

                *Deal or lose,* his soldier had muttered.  The hyena was utterly uncaring *kill or be killed* and all of them had taken comfort in the blood that sparked on his tongue - sent a surge of fire through his body.  *I'm in love with the William the Bloody,* an odd little refrain in his mind.

                "Post-orgasmic endorphins," Spike muttered, pulling him down off the bumper of a parked car, and Xander laughed out loud.

                "Probably.  But I'm tired of being scared.  This is almost over, and we're gonna win.  I say so."  Xander knew it sounded childish but he was tired of being scared - was tired of feeling like he was in perpetual flight mode, and now was time for fight.  Spike just grinned at him, demon's eyes and smoke curling up from between his lips, and when they arrived at Doc's small house, Spike knocked sharply.

                "It's always open!" a voice called.   They went inside, to a room lined with books and what was obviously magical paraphernalia.  There was a fire burning in a fireplace and the room was oppressively hot.   A small, grey-haired man sat at a table, a thick book open before him, a spiral notebook and pen under his hand.  He barely glanced up.

                "Can I get you boys some cocoa?"

                "Maybe some other time, mate," Spike said, and Doc looked up sharply.

                "Oh!  It's you!  Time-bomb go well, then?"  Spike smiled a tight and malicious smile at the man.

                "Worked a treat."

                "Oh, good, good."  The little man got up and came out from behind his desk.  He was wrapped in a thread-bare old robe, and had worn slippers on his feet and gold-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.  "A tricky spell, that.  Very inventive.  I'm only glad it worked out to your satisfaction."  He stood there, beaming, and Spike ground his cigarette out on his boot-heel.  Xander just looked around, taking in all the oddments and curios. 

                *Giles would love this place.*

                *Doubt it.*   "Yeah, it was fuckin' brilliant, Doc, but we're here on other business tonight."

                "Yes?  Well, always happy to help - what can I do for you boys?"  Spike drew his flask out from an inner pocket - took a long swig and offered it to Doc, who made a prissy little move of his hand in rejection.

                "There's a Hellgod loose in Sunnydale just lately.  Sucks out your mind if you get too close - wants to get a Key and get home.  You know anything?"

                "Hellgod!  Oh my.  Oh, can only be asking about Glorificus.  She's - she's big time, fellas.  Real big time.  I'm only a small-time guy, myself."  The man moved nervously around the room, touching a book here, a statuette there, and Xander watched him, ready for...anything, really.

                "Small-time, maybe, but I know you've got your fingers in all sorts of pies."  Spike drew slowly on a fresh smoke, watching the man through half-shut eyes.

                "Oh, me?  No, no...  Glorificus is - bad, fellas.  She's real bad.  Best advice?  Get out of town - just as far as you can.  That's what I'd do if - if I had anything to do with her."  He ended his jittery wanderings near a small table, and his hand went out to stroke a small, lacquered box.

                "Doc - she's found her Key.  She'll use it and she'll tear the universe apart when she does.  Everybody go poof, you savvy?"  The man gave a nervous little smile - touched the box again and then jumped slightly when he noticed Xander staring at him.  Spike was getting angry - a twitchy, vicious feeling in the link, and Xander wondered what the old guy was up to.  He was acting...odd.

                "Oh, well...  In that case, maybe you should..."   Doc tapped his mouth with a finger - looked up at Spike with a small smirk.  "I know a fella, who knows a fella in China - you could go there -"

                "China?"  Xander turned to Spike, shaking his head.  "Is he kidding?  We don't have time for China!"   *Spike, what the hell?*

                *Patience, pet,* in the link but the surge of cold rage was anything but. 

                 "You're lying, Doc," Spike said softly, and Doc shot a startled look at him - narrowed his eyes and smiled a tight little smile.

                "You think so, vampire?"  Xander felt his heart start to pound at the sly, malevolent look on the old man's face.  Then Doc moved - was across the room and picking up a sword - lunging at Spike's throat with it.  Spike dodged - spun - kicked the sword out of Doc's hands and aimed a ferocious punch at him.  Doc evaded, barely, and Xander went for the sword, grabbing it up and turning in time to see Doc snatching the lacquer box and throwing it into his fireplace. 

                "Her day is coming, boys!" he shouted, and Spike leaped at him - backhanded him away from the fireplace and dragged the box out of the flames, cursing.   Xander raised the sword and Doc opened his mouth.  A thick, black length shot out - *That's his tongue?  Oh fuck, his tongue!* and slapped wetly into Xander's chest, slamming him back into the wall. 

                 "Oh, are you gonna see something when she rises!"  Doc chortled.  Spike dove for Doc's legs and brought him down hard, pinning him.

                *Sword!*   Xander turned the sword and brought it down, hard and fast, straight through Doc's chest.  Bluish-black blood shot up, spattering his jeans, and Xander backed off, a disgusted look on his face.

                "Fuck, Spike.  What in hell -"

                "I guess this Hellgod's got followers all over.  Least we got what he was trying to destroy."  Spike stood up slowly and retrieved the box.  It was slightly scorched but otherwise fine.

                "What is it?"

                "Something worth dying for, I guess.  Let's get outta here, yeah?"



                The house on Revello drive was dark when they got back, and Xander had a strange sense of déjà vu as they came up the walk.  Oz was sitting in the porch swing again, waiting for them, broadcasting pack in a low monotone that drew them in as surely as a hook and line.  They settled on either side of the werewolf, Xander letting out a great sigh of relief and Spike dropping his arm around Oz's thin shoulders.  The sky was lightening along the horizon, and the waking-up noises of birds and households seemed out of place - too normal.  

                "All in bed then, wolf?" Spike asked softly, and Oz nodded and leaned into him.  Xander scooted a little closer and Oz twisted slightly, putting his calves across Xander's thighs.  Xander rested his hands on Oz's shins, unconsciously rubbing up and down.

                "Willow - did this spell.  Went into Buffy's head with her."

                *In the Slayer's head.  Christ.*

                "Did it work?" Xander asked.  Oz nodded again, eyes fluttering closed and then open as he fought to stay awake.

                "Yeah.  Buffy woke up finally and they all cried on each other and then they went to bed.  Buffy wanted - "   Oz broke off in a huge yawn and Xander yawned right along with him.   "Man!  Tired.  Buffy wanted to go to the hospital but we talked her out of it.  I called - Giles is going to leave in the morning."  Oz yawned again and closed his eyes - snuggled a little into Spike's shoulder. 

                *Another sleep-over at the Slayer's house.  My reputation is dirt.*   Xander laughed at Spike softly.

                *What other vamp in history has been invited into the Slayer's house?*   Spike seemed to consider that - caught himself in a long blink.

                "Bed, loves, don't you think?  You talk to Derio, wolfling?"

                "Mmmm?  Yeah.  He's all right.  Gonna see me tomorrow."  Oz made a half-hearted effort to sit up and Spike pushed him a little.  Xander got his arm around Oz's waist and all three staggered upright and made their way into the house.  Blankets and pillows had been stacked on the couch and they made a haphazard pallet on the floor.  Spike made a last prowl of the house while Xander and Oz used the bathroom, then he slung his duster over a chair and they curled up in the blankets. 

                *Nest,* very faintly from the demon, and the wolf had never stopped his pack, and Xander spared a last thought towards the coming fight, and then let it all go.  Family, and for the moment they were all safe.


                Exhaustion kept everyone asleep until past noon, and only Giles coming quietly into the house woke Xander and Oz.  Spike opened one eye and looked blearily at the Watcher, then rolled over and was asleep again.  Xander kissed him swiftly on the temple and then got to his feet, stretching and yawning, feeling Oz do the same.  Giles stood looking at them for a moment, then shook his head, a small smile on his face.

                "What's up, Giles?"

                "Oh, well, nothing much except that you three resemble a heap of puppies.  Or perhaps - kindergarteners."  Giles' smile was a little wider, and Xander had to grin back.

                "Didn't go to kindergarten," Spike mumbled.

                "Poor you.  No eating of paste and no nap-time."

                "Never getting to be milk monitor!"  Oz said, wide-eyed, and Spike finally lifted his head, looking like a dazed lion with his hair every which way and his eyes golden in the dimness of the living room.

                "What in bloody hell are you talking about?" he grumbled, and Oz laughed and stumbled off to the bathroom, scrubbing his hands through his hair and wincing at tangles.

                "Just reliving the golden days of our youth," Xander said, and followed Giles into the kitchen, where the older man sat heavily on a stool.  "How did you get here?  You should have called -"

                "I took a taxi, and that's all right.  I knew that all of you needed to rest."  Giles leaned his elbows on the countertop and Xander had never seen him look so old - so worn.

                "Giles?  How - are you okay?"

                "Not according to the doctor, who wanted me to stay for a few more days.  But I'm - all right.  Willow did a small spell last night, to help slow the bleeding and it seems to have - acted as a catalyst.  I'm healing much faster than I would have thought."

                "Not that bloody fast, though."   Spike shuffled into the kitchen in socked feet and looked blearily around.  "Don't they have a bloody kettle?"

                "Please god, I really would like some tea," Giles muttered, and Xander looked around.

                "Guess not.  Pot'll do, though."  He got one down out of a cabinet and filled it with water - got it on the stove and heating.  Oz came into the kitchen just then, and Xander hurried to the bathroom.   He could faintly hear noise from upstairs and guessed that one if not all of the girls were up.  When he got back to the kitchen Spike and Giles were arguing about whether or not Spike could smoke in the house.  Spike ended the argument by lighting up and pointedly blowing smoke at the older man and Xander moved hastily to intervene.

                "Here - Spike - just stay over here where the fan is, okay?"  *Please, love.*   Xander turned the vent fan on under the hood of the stove and Spike settled with ill grace against the counter there, flicking ash irritably into the sink.

                "We got something last night, Giles - might help."  Xander retrieved Doc's box from the living room and handed it to Giles, who gingerly opened it.  They all leaned in for a closer look.  A collection of scrolls were packed into the box, and Giles unrolled one carefully and studied it for a moment.

                  "This is...this is incredible, this is some sort of...prophecy or - or bible of Glorificus...  Oh yes, this should tell us exactly when she will make her move - it may even tell us how to stop her!"  Giles bent over the scrolls, muttering to himself, patting at his pockets and coming up with a pen but no paper.  Oz handed him the notepad that was by the phone and they all watched in silence for a long moment as Giles slipped into 'Watcher' mode and began to scribble notes.  The water finally boiled and Spike made tea, shoving a cup at Giles and drinking his own in a few gulps, grumbling under his breath about having to drink Lipton tea-bag tea.   Xander made coffee and Oz scrounged out frozen waffles, bacon, and bread, and by the time Willow and Tara joined them they had breakfast well under way.

                "Giles!"  Willow cried happily, and bounced over the older man.  She hugged him, knocking his glasses a little askew and Giles rescued them, a bemused but pleased expression on his face. 

                "Are you all right?  How do you feel?  I can't believe the doctors let you go - you must be all right if they let you go - oh, Giles, I'm so happy to see you!"  Willow hugged him again and Tara gave her an odd look - moved over to where Oz was sitting at the counter and began to brush her hand down his arm, where glittery paint made a faded design down the long sleeve of his t-shirt.

                "Sparkly spark, dancing in the dark..." she whispered, smiling. 

                "Thank you, Willow, yes - uh - I am happy to be here as well.   I'm fine, really.  That spell you did yesterday - helped very much."  Giles set Willow back half a step and gathered up pen and notes again, a flimsy shield against emotion.  Spike snorted softly, making a second cup of tea.

                "Oh, I'm so glad!  So - what's that?  Did you find something?  Is it about Glory?"  Willow leaned on the island next to Giles, taking up a scroll and studying it, and Giles took it gently out of her hand.

                "Yes, it's about Glory.  Spike and Xander got it last night.  And as soon as I can get to the Magic Box and get - oh - Watson's 'Languages of the Nether Plains', and perhaps... Barlowe's 'Guide', we'll know much more about her."  At the mention of Spike's name, Willow grimaced, glancing at him, and the vampire shot her a hard look.

                "That's wonderful!  And - I've been doing some research into - into the mind thing.  I think - I think I found something that can bring T-tara back."  They all looked at her in pleased surprise, and Oz smiled when Tara took the offered piece of bacon from him and began to slowly eat it.

                "That's wonderful, Willow.  I knew you could find a way."  Giles smiled over at her and she smiled back - sent another look of distaste at Spike, who was spreading a large dollop of jelly on a piece of toast and cursing when some of it dripped on his hand.  Xander caught the look - moved to distract her.

                "Willow - we heard you went into Buffy's head last night - got her to...come back.  What happened?"

                "Yeah, please tell us what it's like in there, Red.  Great echoing rooms full of not much, or is it more like a really bad episode of  'Dark Shadows'?"


                "NO!  It wasn't like that at all!  It was like - it was - was none of your business, Spike!  I'm not going to tell you anything about Buffy's -"

                "About my self-pity?"  Buffy stood at the kitchen doorway, looking fragile and still tired, her eyes dark-circled.

                "Buffy!  There wasn't any self-pity -"

                "Sure there was, Willow.  'Boo hoo, my life is hard'."  Buffy mocked herself softly, and Spike snorted, making a clattering with his knife as he dropped it into the sink and rinsed the jelly off his hand.

                "Figured as much," he muttered, and Xander grabbed his arm suddenly and pulled him bodily out of the kitchen, aware that Oz was coming after them, aware that Buffy had sat down across from Giles, smiling softly at the older man - aware that Tara was cringing away from the ill-will that was almost palpable between Willow and the vampire.  He got Spike out into the living room and got up right in his face, feeling an unexpected surge of anger.

                "Spike, what the fuck!  The last thing we need right now is - is -" 

                "What you're doing."  Oz perched on the arm of the couch, looking at Spike with a small frown, and Spike bared his teeth in a strange sort of half snarl.  There wasn't any threat to it; it seemed more like a nervous tic.  *Protect,* in the link, insistent and frantic.

                "I want us out of here," Spike said, his voice low and harsh and biting, and Xander flinched back just a little.

                "We talked about this, Spike.  We can't leave.  We can't - abandon them.   I thought you...agreed."

                "Agreed to what?  To letting you die?  Letting the wolfling die?  I won't, Xander, I won't -"   Spike turned abruptly away from him and pushed his fist hard into the wall.  Leaned his forehead against it and stood there, rigid and trembling and breathing in jerky pants and Xander shared a look of mingled fear and confusion with Oz.  He moved slowly over to Spike. 

                "Love -"   *Tell tell TELL*   "Please talk to me, love, please tell me what's wrong.  You can try to hide things from me but I won't let you, Spike."  Oz was on his feet now, moving slowly closer, and Xander reached out and put his hand on Spike's back - slid it around and tugged gently, turning him.  Spike sighed hugely and let himself be moved - let Xander gather him close and hold him. 

                "Just tell me - tell us."

                *Pack tell pack love you.*

                "It', I -"   There was fear in the link, and Xander was confused - was almost afraid himself.

                "When Glory - showed up...when Glinda-witch lost it...  I could...feel something.  Xander, I -"  Spike finally let go - let his rigid and expert control over the link go, and Xander felt what he'd been hiding - what had strung his nerves so tight and made him lash out.  Flashes, little flashes of darkness, of things, scuttling in the shadows, of despair and terror and the greedy, devouring want that had been Glory when she'd pushed her fingers - her powers - into his head.   Disconnection - hopelessness - being lost, and knowing you'd never find your way back...  Xander shivered and pulled Spike closer - felt Oz come up close and add his heat and strength to the embrace.

                "What is that?  Is that what Tara -" Oz whispered, horror in his voice, and Spike clutched tight at them, shuddering.

                "When she tried to take my mind - she left something, or she - she broke something - I don't know!  But I feel - I'm afraid I'm gonna lose it around her - around Glinda.  I can't - control it and I'm -"   *Scared, scared - gonna hurt somebody, won't hurt YOU, won't let it be you, me -*   Spike's fingers were like iron, digging into Xander's back - Oz's shoulder - and Xander ran his own hands up and down Spike's back, pressing and kneading and making him feel, making him know he was there, and not lost, and that they weren't letting go.  Pushing everything he had into the link, forcing it open wide and feeling Oz do the same.  Feeling the fierce protective urge of the hyena and the wolf both surge up and make them all huddle closer.

                "Spike - you should have said - you don't have to do this stuff by yourself, Spike!"

                *Pack leader - keep you safe.*   Spike thought, and Oz made wolfish growl down in chest.

                "Not by yourself, Spike, damnit."  Oz gave Spike a little shake and the vampire pulled back from the both of them a little, demon's eyes, and frustration in the link.

                "If I can't keep it together around her - or around Glinda for fuck's sake, how much help am I going to be?  I can take anything she can throw at us but I can't - "   *Can't take that, can't stand that -* That had a different sort of feel to it, and Xander closed his eyes and turned that over and over for a moment.  It was - the human part of Spike, that was so profoundly afraid.  The demon only wanted to kill Glory - kill anything that threatened its family - and it had no fear except the fear of not winning.    But the human part...   The human part remembered.  Remembered the utter confusion and helplessness of the first weeks of the demon's possession.  Remembered Drusilla, and how very badly her madness could take her, sometimes. 

                "You're not - you're not going crazy, Spike.  You're not.  It's just - an echo, like you said.  You're just remembering.   We'll talk to Giles -"

                "NO."  Spike pulled away for one moment and Oz yanked him closer - Xander did - keeping him right there.

                "We need to talk about it, Spike!  Whatever she did to Tara she did to you too.  She didn't finish with you - she couldn't - but she tried.  And if Willow can figure out something to - to get Tara back, then maybe we can use it on you.   There's a fix and we'll find it and don't you dare try to tell me no!"  Xander was aware of his voice rising and he hastily brought it under control but he really was angry.  Angry that Spike had tried to hide this - had tried to keep it from them.

                *LOVE YOU, love you - don't you believe me?  Trust me, love, please -*

                "Xan -"   *Always trust you!*   Spike hung his head for a moment, and then looked up at Xander - at Oz - his expression troubled.  "I'm supposed to take care of you, love.  Not supposed to fall apart 'cause some fuckin' hell-spawned bint took a poke at my head.  A hundred years with Dru should'a made me...used to it, at least."  Cascade of images, of Drusilla, who had powers that Spike did not have - who could charm a Slayer to her death and make Giles see the murdered woman he had loved, and Xander shivered.  There was more than one way to force obedience.  Darla had used her razor tongue and her cold hearted-ness, and Angelus his vicious rages and mind games.  But Dru had used silken threads of misdirection and fancy, confusion and forgetfulness, and even though Spike had loved her hopelessly he had resented her ability to make him act against his will - to make him forget his will altogether.   

                "You don't get used to being - coerced, Spike.  You're not crazy.  You kept it together fine when Glory grabbed Dawn - I mean, you were trying to tear her head off!  We'll figure it out - we'll fix it.  Promise, okay?"  *Promise love, promise - take care of you, love you...*

                *Protect pack always.*   Spike looked at them both, gold-glimmering eyes finally fading to blue, and he nodded slowly.

                "Just - keep an eye out on me, right?  Just to - Xander, please."  Spike held up a hand, stopping Xander's immediate protest.  "Just watch me, okay?  I - have to know I can trust you to notice if I'm - not all there."  Xander rubbed his eyes - looked over at Oz who was looking serious and troubled.  Oz nodded, and Xander sighed.

                "Okay.  Yeah.  We can do that.  You just make sure you stop trying to hide things, okay?  That doesn't help.  Okay?  Don't shut us out."

                "Promise."  *Promise you both.*  


                "Is everything - all right?"  Giles stood in the kitchen doorway, the singed lacquered box under his arm, his notes in his hand. 

                "Yeah - it's all good, Giles.  We just - well, we need to talk about something."  Giles looked concerned - came over to where they stood, and regarded them.

                "In all the excitement, I never got a chance to - to thank you all for helping me.  For - getting me out of the caravan and - well, everything, really."  Xander felt a quick, astonished wave of laughter through the link, and then nothing, and he hugged Spike a little tighter.

                "No problem, Giles.  Anytime you get speared by a knight on horseback - we're there for you."  Xander couldn't help but grin at Giles look of exasperation, and then Spike did laugh aloud, suddenly and completely relaxing under Xander's arm.

                "Bet that hurt to say," Spike said, but he was smiling, and Giles shook his head ruefully.

                "Well, it is something I never thought I'd be saying to a vampire - and certainly not William the Bloody.  But that aside - I am grateful.  I also need a lift to the Magic Box.  My car is still there."

                "Oh - hey, I've still got the loaner -"   Oz motioned towards the street and the battered LTD Clem's cousin had found for them, and Giles nodded.

                "We really should all go - there's a lot of work to be done with these scrolls, and I would feel safer there, where we have more weapons and more - resources."

                "My - my mom's car is still here, Giles.  We can all fit that way.  Are you up to driving, or -?"  Buffy and Willow had come out of the kitchen in time to hear, and Giles nodded gratefully.

                "How about I drive one car and Oz takes the other?  G-man probably shouldn't be doing that just yet," Xander said, and Giles sighed.

                "As much as I hate to admit it, you're right, Xander.  Driving would be very uncomfortable."

                "Okay - so - let's get our stuff together."  Xander looked around the room - looked up at the ceiling.  "Maybe somebody should wake up Anya?"


                Spike paced the length of the training room for what seemed like the millionth time.  All day, they'd been at the Magic Box.  Researching.  Fretting.  Getting on each other's nerves.  Wolfling had taken a break a few hours earlier and gone across town to see Derio.  The slow welling of grief and fear and love in the link had driven Xander and Spike into a dark corner themselves, and they'd simply stood there, arms around each other and eyes closed, trying to find a little peace.  All the waiting - was driving Spike crazy. Finally he gave up and took off his duster - squared up in front of the heavy bag and began to pummel it into submission.  He could hear the conversation in the other room; Watcher going on about the scrolls they'd found, demon-girl trying to rally everyone, Xander and the wolf taking turns looking up stuff and keeping Glinda occupied, and Red talking about a spell she was sure would bring her girl's mind back.  Spike listened to Xander creep up on that topic - broach the problem with the Watcher and Red and deliberately tuned out when the conversation got heated.

                *Don't care what he says, Red isn't happy to help at all...  In fact, I think she'd like to see me out of the picture altogether, even knowing what she knows about the claim...  Wonder what makes her so...angry?  Can't be the whole kidnap thing still - that's ages ago...*   Spike stopped punching for a minute, thinking about that, but it seemed like a dream, that time, and he couldn't imagine the witch still being that upset over it.  *Got her wolf away from the soldier-boys, even if he's not hers anymore... Did our best to help Glinda-witch...*   Spike did a spinning kick, sending the heavy bag flying back, the chain creaking ominously.  *Don't care what she thinks.  So long as she doesn’t make my boy upset, she can hate me all she likes.*   Spike landed another series of rapid blows and spun around, tense, when the back door creaked open.  Buffy stood there, staring at him.

                "Slayer - out for a little stroll?"

                "Yeah.  Just trying to - clear my head.  Staked a vamp back there -" she gestured towards the alley behind her and let the door slam shut.  "Just like the old days - stupid fledge, screaming victim..."

                "Huh.  You'd think they'd know here, of all places, was off limits.  Guess I need to teach a few more lessons to the locals."

                "That how it works?"  Buffy didn't seem to want an answer - she drifted over to the weights and touched them lightly - looked over at Spike.

                "Usually...  What's up, Slayer?"

                "Oh, I -"   Buffy stopped - looked down and brushed dust off her shirt, frowning.  "I'm just wishing...things were that simple again."  Spike laughed, shaking his head.

                "Simple?  When was this gig ever simple for you?  You died, girl, and came back not a vamp - I'd say that should've been your first indication that things were never gonna be simple, here."  Buffy had automatically scowled at him when he laughed, but by the time he was done her expression had lightened and she walked over to him, tossing the stake she carried down on the mats.

                "You're right.  It never has been simple.  Not really.  But I could really use some simple, you know?"  Buffy planted her feet wide - put up her hands in a stance and Spike felt his eyes go wide for a moment, and then he was grinning - moving fluidly into position in front of her.

                "You want simple, Slayer - you got it." 

                "Spike, why -"   Buffy pushed her hands back through her hair, looking for one moment like she just might fly apart.  "I'm just a person - just a girl.  Trying to save my sister's life.  Can you for once - just once - call me by my name?"  Spike stared at her, momentarily coming out of his own stance.  Saw her exhaustion, and her barely-leashed despair, and her fear.  Saw it all crushing down on her like granite blocks.  And for one moment, he wavered.

                "No, Slayer," he said softly, and Buffy flinched.  "That's what you are.  However hard it is - it's   you.   Now isn't the time to forget that.  Or to try and hide from it."  They stared at each other for a long moment, and Spike saw with satisfaction that Buffy lifted her chin - gave him a look of pure, deadly intent.   Then she launched herself at him, punch and kick and leap and turn, and Spike laughed aloud.  He hadn't fought anything - anyone - as strong or as fast as the Slayer in a good long while, and it felt wonderful to really stretch - to use all his agility and cunning, all his strength and speed.  They fought back and forth over the training room floor, neither giving an inch, forcing the other to push and push and push some more.   After a good twenty minutes they were both sporting bruises - both blooded - and they'd drawn an audience.  Xander and Oz stood in the doorway watching them, grinning like fools.   In all that time, Spike had only pulled one move - Buffy had hit a slick spot on the board floor and wobbled, and Spike had come as close as a heartbeat to slicing his nails - and the next two inches of his fingers - straight into her throat.  He'd managed to pull back at the last second, and then Buffy had launched herself again.  He didn't know how long it would have gone on, but suddenly Anya was there with Giles - and the 'bot - and they both stopped in sheer surprise.

                "Giles!  What in the world -"   Buffy stood there, panting, staring at the 'bot, and Spike wandered over to his duster for a smoke.  Xander slipped further into the room, coming around to meet him, his eyes shining. 

                "You guys were great - that was really cool," he said, leaning on the horse, and *Fuckin' sexy, you know that?  When you do that...* in the link, scattered images and a wave of pure need that made Spike take in a hard, sharp breath.

                "Anya actually had a - a rather clever idea, Buffy.  She went down to the basement to find the Dagon Sphere - you remember?  And the 'bot was down there.  I think she's really hit on something -" Buffy sent a grin over her shoulder at Spike and walked over to Giles, listening, wiping her hand back through her hair.

                "So what's demon-girl thinking?"

                "Oh - using the 'bot for bait.   Willow spent some time while we were - while you were hurt taking out a lot of Warren's programming and putting in her own.  And that Dagon Sphere may well drain Glory of a lot of her power.  Plus, don't forget, the hammer of Olaf the Troll.  That should dent her a little."  Spike raised an eyebrow, impressed.

                "Probably should - demon-girl's outdone herself."

                "Oh, there's more," Oz said, getting a soda out of the 'fridge in the kitchenette.  He held one up, an eyebrow cocked, and Spike nodded.  Oz tossed him one - got another for himself.  Xander shook his head no. 

                "Yeah - Giles found out a couple of things.  He wanted us all to hear."

                "Right, then."  Spike opened the soda - some sort of off-brand, green can and greenish drink - and downed about half of it, grimacing.  They all walked up to the front and settled around the table.  Giles was looking through his notes, and when they sat down he cleared his throat and stood, looking very much the librarian.

                *Loves to lecture, don't he?*

                *Hush and listen or you'll get in trouble.*   Spike leered over at Xander and made an exaggerated 'ow' face when Xander kicked at him under the table.  Giles cleared his throat.

                "If we're all focusing, then?  Right.  Looking through the scrolls, I've pinpointed the exact time that Glory has to open the portal in order to return home.  She must do the - the ritual at the precise moment that Pluto -"

                "Giles - please, just - go with the basics, okay?"  Buffy asked, and Giles blinked - took his glasses off and swiped at them, and then settled them back on his face.

                 "Yes, yes of course.  At five-forty a.m. - this morning - is when she must open the portal."

                "Fuck.  That's dawn," Spike said, thinking furiously, and Giles nodded.

                "Yes, it is, so you particularly, Spike, are going to have to keep an eye on the sun and - and have some sort of backup plan.  Now.  The ritual itself entails...well...  The ritual is -"

                "It's fatal, isn't it.  Fatal to Dawn."  Buffy's voice was far away - cold - and everyone looked at her for a long moment.  Spike couldn't detect fear in her scent - could read almost nothing but the clean sweat smell from their sparring, and her soap and shampoo. 

                *Hope she's not fadin' out again...*   The Watcher shuffled his notes - finally leaned his hands on the table, his head hanging down between his shoulders.

                "Yes, Buffy - the ritual is fatal.  It says 'The blood flows - the gates will open.  The gates close when it flows no more.'  Essentially, the ritual is over when Dawn...dies."

                "Fuck," softly from the wolf, and beside him Xander tiredly rubbed his eyes. 

                 "Why does it always have to be blood?" he murmured, and Spike reached out and took his hand and held it tightly in his own.

                 "It's always blood, love.  It's why we need it...  It - makes you warm.  Makes you hard.  Makes you other than dead."   *The blood is the life is the magic, pet.  Always.*    "Of course it's her blood."

                "Okay, so - all we have to do is just - just keep Glory from doing the ritual, right?"  Buffy sent a pleading look at Giles.   "We keep her from getting any - any blood, and then - it's over and -" 

                "There is - another way of interpreting that passage," Giles said softly, and Buffy stopped, staring at him.

                "Don't, Giles."  The Watcher looked up at her, his hands in fists, now, on the table, and his eyes had a hard, desperate light in them.  Xander's hand clenched down tight in Spike's.

                "I - Buffy, I must.  'It flows no more' also means -"

                "Giles, we are not talking about this!"

                "Yes we bloody well are!"  They all jumped in startlement as Giles' voice was raised in a shout - as he pushed away from the table and thumped it, once, with a closed fist.  *Darkman* shivered through the link.  Something in the air around the Watcher - nearly invisible wisps of power, and Spike fought the demon's automatic snarl.   "If she starts the ritual - if we're too late - we must -"

                "Don't tell me to kill my sister, Giles."  Buffy's voice was like ice, and Giles flinched from that, but his mouth was set, and he walked around the table - stood there next to Buffy and looked at her, forcing her to meet his eyes. 

                *Watcher's got the right of it.  Fuck.*

                *NO!  No way can we - we can't do that, Spike.*

                "It may be the only way, Buffy."

                "NO.  I will not kill Dawn, Giles.  But I will kill anyone who tries to hurt her.  The monks made her from me, Giles - I can feel it, when I hold her...she's part of me, and I won't - I can't let anything happen to her."  

                "Buffy - if Glory begins the ritual we will all die.  Even Dawn." 

                "I know, Giles.  But the last thing she'll see is me protecting her.  Not - not killing her.  I mean it, Giles.  Don't - don't make me have to stop you."   Giles' shoulders slumped, and he nodded finally, and walked back to his place at the table. 

                "The only other thing we know is that Glory was put into a human - an infant boy - in an attempt to contain her.  Obviously, that isn't working anymore -"

                "But she was least for a little while.  Giles, what happens to Glory if Ben - dies?"  Xander's fingers were like steel bands around Spike's as he asked his question, and the vampire felt the tremors running through Xander.

                *Love - what...?*

                "If the vessel dies, then - then Glory...dies as well."  Giles looked hard at Xander, his eyebrows drawn down in speculation.  "Xander, what are you -"

                "If we kill Ben, it's over.  That's - that would work, right, Giles?"   *Oh fuck.  I just - said we should kill a man...*   Xander shivered all over, and Spike edged closer to him, shoulder to shoulder.

                "But Ben's human, Xander.  And he - he was so nice to - to all of us.  We can't kill him."  Willow stroked Tara's arm as she spoke, and Tara twisted fretfully away from her.

                "I have places to be!  Places to be..."  She subsided, shivering, and Spike took a deep breath.

                "What's the chances of takin' Ben out then, Watcher?" 

                "Spike!   We don't kill humans!"  Spike shot Buffy a look, that made her take a step back.

                "You don't, but I do.  And I'd take him out in a heartbeat, Slayer."

                "It's the logical thing to do," Anya said from her perch on the staircase.  Oz was nodding slowly, but he looked... 

                *Can't let them think about this.  THEY can't do it - but I bloody well can.* 

                "But he's innocent!  He - he didn't choose to have Glory put inside him -"   Spike bent that same look on Willow and she quailed - groped for Tara's hand.

                "Who's more innocent, eh Red?  Ben or Dawn?  If savin' the world - savin' the Bit - means takin' him out, I'll do it.  Wouldn't hesitate for a second."  Willow's look was fierce and hateful, and Spike grinned at her, fangs showing.  "You think I'd stop at takin' out a thousand humans - let alone one - to keep my family safe?  Think again."

                "I really don't believe that - that Ben will be allowed to surface again, this close to the ritual.  I'm sure that this is all academic."  Giles rubbed his forehead and looked at his watch.  "We have - six hours.  I suggest in that time that we - try to rest, try to eat.  Prepare ourselves.  Willow, there are a few things I want to go over with you about that spell you're going to use for - for Tara."  Willow nodded and got up, shooting a last angry look at Spike.   She moved with Giles over to the display counter.  The 'bot was behind the counter, standing in something that looked like parade rest, and Giles looked at it distastefully before bending over a sheaf of papers with Willow. Anya came slowly down the stairs and stopped next to Oz.

                "Anybody hungry?  Is that - is that a proper response to all this - terror?"  Anya was white, and Oz stood up and put his arm around her, hugging her gently.

                "It's as 'proper' a response as any other, Anya.  You wanna go see if Giles has anything in the back?"  Anya nodded, hugging Oz back, and they walked away, *love you* like a whisper in the air.  Xander watched them go - leaned hard into Spike and put his head down on Spike's shoulder.

                "I don't think I can just kill somebody - just, in cold blood like that...somebody that I know..." he murmured.  Spike shifted and got his arm around Xander's shoulders - curved his other hand up and around and began to slowly stroke Xander's hair, slipping his fingers through and through the rough silk of it.

                "You don't have to, love.  I'll do it, no worries.  I won't -"   *Won't let you do that, love.  Won't.  You OR the wolf - you won't go near him.*

                "Does that make me a coward, Spike?"  Xander whispered, and Spike hugged him hard.

                "No love - makes you you.  White Knight, always and forever."


                Spike spun on one foot - lashed out with a clawed hand and his straight-razor, and an acolyte went down, gagging on its own blood.  Something plowed into his back and he shook it off and turned - punched the snarling fledge so hard its forehead dented in.  Glory had recruited a lot of demons for her final hurrah, and the space around the jury-rigged tower where the ritual was to take place boiled with whirling, flailing bodies.  Oz was in the thick of it with Spike, half wolf, drenched in gore.  Xander was taking out the crazies - all the people Glory had mind-sucked over the months she'd been in Sunnydale.  He was coshing them on the head, one after another, trying for unconscious instead of dead.  There was a faint hope that they'd return to normal once Glory was out of the picture.  The 'bot and Buffy were prowling together, trying to find Glory in the mess.  Willow and Tara were with them, waiting to use the witch's spell.

                "You stay close to them, Spike.  If Willow can touch them - she can get Tara back.  If you're there - maybe you can...get in on it, you know?  Or Willow can do it twice -"   Xander had been so anxious - so earnest - but Spike knew Willow wouldn't do the spell for him.  He had decided that he wouldn't worry about it.  If she got Glinda back, and they killed Glory, he was pretty sure everything would go back to normal.  Or close enough as made no difference.  If neither of those things wouldn't matter.  So Spike lost himself in the fight - in the dance - and barely noticed when a flash of light, sparking between Willow, Tara, and Glory signaled the spell going into effect.  Then the Slayer and the 'bot were on Glory, beating her back, making her bleed, and Spike gave a roar of triumph.

                *That took somethin' outta the bitch!*

                *Go Wills!  Fuck - there's so MANY.*   Xander knocked another crazy to the ground - ducked a pouncing fledge and brought his stake down into its back.  He grinned over at Spike through a momentary window of calm and then darted away, back to his task.  The Watcher and Anya were up on top of a pile of construction materials with crossbows, sending bolt after bolt into the massed ranks at the foot of the tower stairs.   Spike leaped on the back of an acolyte - slit its throat and scrambled forward, gaining the stairs and heaving bodies over the side.  He lost the straight-razor in the thick folds of skin on a Nyrn and resorted to simply shredding whatever flesh he encountered.  A few crazies fell to his methodical attack, but he ignored them.  Finally, he was free - moving - going up, heading to the top of the tower and the Bit.  He could see her vaguely, a shape against the dark navy of the pre-dawn sky.  He had caught her voice once or twice, screaming for Buffy.  Now he ran, bounding up tilting stairs and hastily rigged ramps, skidding on warped boards and almost tripping over a chain-fall that was lying across the path. 

                *Pet - almost to the top - almost have her!*   Spike glanced behind him once - saw the 'bot flying apart, smashed, and Glory running towards the tower, Buffy hard on her heels.

                *Fuck - bitch knows it's almost time...*   An inarticulate surge of bloodlust through the link and Spike knew Oz was launching himself at Glory - felt the werewolf's teeth meet in divine flesh and actually do damage.   And then pain as Glory kicked him away.


                *All right!  She's coming!*   Spike redoubled his efforts - gained the top and stopped short.  Dawn was there, tied at the end of a platform like a pier, jutting out into nothingness.  And standing before her - standing much, much too close -.

                "Should'a stayed dead, mate," Spike snarled, advancing on Doc.    Doc turned from Dawn and there was a knife in his hand, streaked red.   *Blood!  Oh FUCK there's blood, he cut her -*   Spike roared, and leapt, crashing into Doc, ignoring the knife driving into him, ignoring Dawn's shriek of terror.  They fell to the metal grating of the platform, and Spike dug his knees into Doc's stomach. 

                "You're on the wrong side, vampire!" Doc wheezed, writhing like a snake, and Spike dug his fingers into muscle and bone - ripped - and Doc's collarbones came out through his skin.  Spike dug in again, crack of bone, wrenching Doc's ribcage open.  The old demon's face was an agonized mask, and Spike reached into his chest and tore out his heart in a gout of blood.

                "Stay dead this time, fucker," he growled, and hurled the heart away from him.  Doc's body convulsed in its death-throes, and Spike staggered to his feet and kicked it away, over the edge.  He didn't even bother to watch it fall.  He stumbled along the platform to Dawn, ignoring the burn of his own wounds.  Dawn was hanging from twists of steel cable, crying, bleeding, dressed in a ridiculous gown of velvet and gold tissue.  Spike scrubbed his hands on his thighs in an effort to get some of Doc's blood off them and then he attacked the cables, twisting and yanking until the strands frayed and parted and finally fell away.

                Dawn collapsed on him, grabbing tight, and he hissed in pain and made his way to the back of the platform, away from the edge.

                *Got her - got the Bit - she's safe!*

                *Glory's down - Buffy's on her way up to you - Oh, god, Giles -*   Xander cut himself off and Spike looked over the edge, searching vainly.  He couldn't see anything - anyone - and he slowly sank down to his knees, cradling Dawn close.

                "Shhh, poppet, shhhh, I've got you - I've got you.  You're safe, Bit, you're safe, and big sis is on her way, and the hell bitch is gone, little one, she's gone and it's all over...shhhh..."  Spike rocked the hysterical girl, smoothing her hair over and over.   He could still feel Xander - shock rapidly subsiding, exhaustion taking over.  Nothing coherent from the wolf - he was taking out the last of Glory's recruits, who seemed to be doing their best to flee now that their leader was gone.   He could hear, faintly, the ring of metal underfoot as Buffy *please let that be the Slayer!* raced upwards towards him.  He lifted one hand to wipe his face and saw the blood - smelled it - and knew it was Dawn's. 

                *Still bleeding - damn - don't have any bandages, need to - get her down...*   He pulled Dawn closer, steeling himself to rise.  Doc had gotten in a number of hits - four or five, he couldn't tell.  Deep punctures that went through his vitals and seemed to have severed - something.  He felt weak, and cursed silently.  *Damnit - Xan, love - need help up here...*

                *Coming -* from Xander, and something from Oz - acknowledgement and agreement.  He flinched when Buffy's hand came down on his shoulder.

                "Dawn!  Oh - Dawn -"   Buffy fell to her knees beside them and Dawn flung herself on her sister, hiccupping sobs and babbling something, her hand pressed tight to her belly.  Blood seeped through her fingers, and Spike reached out and touched Buffy's shoulder.

                "Slayer - we gotta get her down.  She's still - "   Spike stopped talking, his eye caught by something, and Buffy turned her head, following his gaze.  Light, out beyond the edge of the platform.  Light that was moving - seething - and Spike felt a clutch of unaccustomed fear as he realized what it was.

                "Oh fuck.  That's the portal, Slayer - we've got to move - now!  Got to get her fixed up - stop the -the blood..."  Spike lurched to his feet, swaying, and Buffy rose also, pulling Dawn up with her.

                "Doc - demon - he got up here - we have to go, Slayer!"   Spike patted at himself helplessly, cursing.  He'd left his duster behind, with its many pockets and useful detritus, and now he didn't even have a rag he could use to bandage Dawn.  His own shirt was a total loss, shredded in the fighting, wet with gore, and he stared at Buffy as she smoothed back Dawn's hair - wiped the tears off her sister's cheeks with shaking, bloodied hands.

                "I - I know what to do, Spike.  Dawn - listen to me -"  Buffy leaned close, whispering, and Spike caught some of what she was saying, even though there was a peculiar roaring in his ears.  He was feeling a bit - cold - and he hugged himself, wincing, willing Xander and Oz to get up to the top.

                *Spike - you all right?*  Xander, somewhere below, running up towards him, and Spike could feel the frantic pound of his heart - the pain in his legs and side as he pushed himself faster.  Prickles of pain over his body, where he'd been hurt.  The same for Oz, who was bounding upwards a minute below Xander, growling, still mostly the wolf.

                *All right.  Tired.  The portal's...* 

                "Buffy - no!"  Spike's head jerked up at Dawn's cry of agonized denial, and he saw her hanging onto Buffy's arms, crying again or still crying, still bleeding.

                "Dawn - the hardest thing in this world is to live in it.  Be brave, Dawnie.  Live."  Buffy was crying too, but smiling, and Spike just looked at her - looked over at the portal which had stretched wider, lightning arcing out from it and slamming to the ground somewhere.  Something - winged - soared out and darted away, and Spike took a staggering step towards the girls.

                "Slayer - we've got to go -"

                "Spike - listen to me.  You'll take care of Dawn still, right?  You'll protect her no matter what?"  Spike squinted at Buffy - realized with a sudden twist of fear that the light from the portal was there but that the light there, on Buffy's face was the sun, glowing through the haze of early-morning clouds.   Coming up, and he had no shelter in sight.

                *Fucking idiot.* 

                "Spike!  You'll keep her safe - promise me you'll keep her safe!"  Buffy had grabbed his shoulder - was shaking him - and Spike reached out and took her arm.

                "Yeah, I'll - I'll do it, Slayer.  I'll keep her safe as houses."  Buffy's face twisted in anguish - cleared as she lifted her gory hand from Dawn's belly - shoved it in Spike's face suddenly, smearing the blood over his lips.  Spike licked them automatically, not even thinking about it.  And gasped as Dawn's blood shot through him like acid and fire - like arsenic sugar.  He recoiled, shocked, and Buffy grabbed his shoulder again, painfully hard.

                "She's part of you now, Spike - right?  Part of - of your family, your pack."  Buffy's voice was so calm - so serene - and Spike could only nod at her, dazed.  Dawn's blood worked through him, and he felt a surge of energy, strong as life.  It made him dizzy - made his vision go black at the edges.

                "You'll take care of her," Buffy insisted, and Spike reached out and gently pushed back a strand of Buffy's hair - caressed her cheek for one moment with his thumb.

                "'Til the end of the world, Buffy.  I promise you."  Tears shimmered in Buffy's eyes for a moment, and then she blinked and turned to Dawn - kissed her and smiled into her eyes.

                "Live for me, Dawn.  I will always love you."   Dawn clutched at her sister, her lips whispering no, no, no, over and over.  Dimly, Spike could hear Xander and the wolf somewhere just below - nearly there.  He could feel the sun coming stronger through the clouds, a prickle of fire over his skin.  He watched, with a peculiar sensation of something tearing right through him, as Buffy turned and ran and leaped, falling into the portal with the light of the sun gilding her hair - the light of the portal haloing her in white-blue sparks.

                "An angel, falling like a star from heaven...  Don't be sorry for that angel..."   Dru's words came back to him, as Buffy fell - echoed in his head and he knew Xander and Oz heard the echo - knew they saw, finally, and their agonized denial pounded through him.  He lifted his face to the sky and roared - dirge of rage and pain, for his family, for Dawn - for his dearest enemy.  He felt his legs give out, and he fell painfully to the grating underfoot.  Dawn collapsed beside him, and he gathered her in close, shaking, barely noticing Xander and Oz arriving at the platform's edge.  A blanket was thrown around him, muffling him from the sun, from the last scattering of silvery sparks as the portal winked out of existence.  And Buffy kept falling.  Spike made sure Dawn didn't see - made sure Xander and Oz focused on him for that one moment by trying to stand and having them both grab at him - help him up.  Xander's face was wet with tears, streaked with blood.  Oz was shivering from the pain of his own wounds and abruptly went to the wolf, lifting his muzzle and letting out loss and grief in a low, moaning howl.   In the utter silence of the moment - of the dawn - he heard her body hit, somewhere below.  He pulled Dawn in closer - lifted his eyes to Xander's.

                *Oh my love, my own...* 

                "C'mon, Bit - let's go home, all right?  Let's go home."





"Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars and say: 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'  Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot, but he'll remember...

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...  For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother..."






Shakespeare - Henry V, Act IV, Scene III