Chapter 34: Relearning

Chapter 34: Relearning

"Course you came back. I never - Spike, god, missed you, missed you..." Xander felt Spike's arms come up around him, too weak and too slow and not right and he kissed gently over Spike's thin face - kissed lips that were chapped and rough. He glared up at the Queen, heedless of the power that was around her like a swarm of glittering bees.

"What did you do to him? Jack said he wouldn't be hurt - you lied, you all lied -"

"No, Jack did not lie," the Queen said, making a gesture with her hand and a slim brown horse stepped forward, and Jack was astride it, his coat of flowers and leaves glowing with eldritch fire.

"Yes he did," Xander growled, and Spike curled closer to him, shivering. "Fuck you all. I'm going home, and Spike's coming with me."

"I think not," the Queen said, and suddenly the wolves were there, growling - manes bristling and teeth gleaming like ice in the wisp-light of the Court.

*Run if you have to - we'll hold them. Tara's got a spell - Dawn brought the sword - we can hold them,* Oz thought, and Xander nodded silently - looked down at Spike.

"Love - can you get up? We're -" *Going home, love, going home oh GOD, Spike, love you, missed you so much, so much -*

*I can - get up. Xander - you're so thin, love, you - fuck, so beautiful, missed you missed you -* Xander crushed Spike to him for a moment, aware of Scavenger moving up the bank, getting between them and the Queen - aware of a sudden silence as he helped Spike to his feet and got the duster on him properly, arms through the sleeves and middle button fastened.

"You've no right to be here," a voice said - male voice and it was another Sidhe, pale and kingly looking, astride a coal-black horse. He was very close to the Queen and he had a long, silver sword in his hand.

*King. Her king,* faintly from Spike, and Xander edged between them, his jeans sticking to his legs and his hair dripping onto his shoulders - cold, and feeling Spike shivering under his arm. He looked where the king was looking.

*Jesus! MORE of them? Who the fuck -* "Scavenger - who are these people?" Scavenger was clothed again - brocade and silk, nothing like what he'd worn at the mansion and he turned and made a deep bow to the ranks of riders that were coming up behind.

"It is the She. The Queen of Air and Darkness, Alex-an-der." His eyes were flame, and Xander shuddered. The new Queen was dressed all in silver-shot black, with black hair like a waterfall down her back and over the horses' back - nearly to the ground. A crown of glowing silver sparks hovered over her hair and forehead, seemingly attached to nothing at all, like a collection of tame fireflies.

"I've every right," she said, her voice cold and steely. "Pacts have been broken and things have been - overturned. Someone has told lies, and now I've come to collect my own." She looked for one long moment at Spike and Xander - at the wolves - glanced across to Tara and Dawn who were standing shoulder to shoulder. "Mortals dragged into our private affairs. I like this not at all."

"They're not mortals," and that was Jack, nudging his horse forward and Xander growled - and Spike did, and the wolves both sent up wailing snarls of warning - of bloodlust.

*Pack pack protect* from them both - from the hyena - and *rage* from the demon, white-hot.

"Well, they are not ordinary, but they are not of the Courts, nor yet of our kind." Her gaze turned to Xander, pinning him there with eyes that were like a starfield - black and spangled and infinite.

"Promises were broken. You are owned a debt."

"I don't want anything to do with you. Leave us alone," Xander growled, hugging Spike close.

"Be that as it may -" The dark Queen made a gesture and Scavenger walked over - held out a slim twig of wood to Tara. "This will call us, and that will cancel our debt." Tara hesitantly took the wood - nodded jerkily in surprise as Scavenger bowed low to her. The dark Queen looked at her paler counterpart and the pale Queen made a still little gesture. Another Sidhe - as pale, but dressed all in green - dismounted and walked to Dawn - offered a small mote of light that seemed to be a crystal. Dawn looked at Tara, who nodded, and took the shard carefully. It glowed faintly in her palm.

"And that will cancel the Seelie Court, as well. Do not use them lightly. Go home, children. Go home and be well." The dark Queen drew herself up, shooting a look at Jack that would have made lesser men slink away. Then she turned her attention to the pale Queen. "Now - we've matters to settle. Will it be war, my sister, or will it be parley?"

*Out of here - get you home - Spike -*

*Oh, missed you, missed you, love you, Xander, love you so much -* They turned away from the deadly quiet, chillingly polite conversation the two Queens were having and picked their way down and down, through the crisp winter bracken and grass to the van. It was still running, the doors hanging open.

"Spike?" Dawn asked softly and the link opened wide, suddenly - the wolves changing and grabbing Spike at the same moment, Dawn pushing in and Tara; everyone trying for touch - for some connection - and Xander held on tight, watching Spike reach for Dawn's hand - stroke Tara's cheek - pull the wolves into a crushing embrace. Incoherence - a jumble in the link of emotion and *love* and *pack* and *always.*

*Brother,* from Dawn, and a heart-pounding joy, and the same from Tara - warmth and affection and stunned happiness that was overwhelming. It took long, long minutes for them to finally calm down - to slowly back off Spike who was shaking hard, *cold* and exhaustion. Oz and Derio were dressing fast and Dawn crawled into the van, unfolding the old quilts Oz kept there, making a nest of them for Spike and Xander. Oz climbed in - cranked the heat up high and Xander and Spike curled down into the quilts, holding on tight. Dawn sat beside them, her hand on Spike's shoulder and Tara did the same, unable to resist reaching out and touching Spike's hair - his cheek - again and again. Xander just pushed his face into Spike's neck and breathed, holding back tears that felt too hysterical.

*If I let go now I'll just... I'll cry all the way home. Spike, Spike, vampire-mine, oh GOD, love, love you...*

*Thought about you every day. Xander, love, mine... Everybody all right? Is everybody - Tara's back? What did Angel do? Oh fuck, missed you, love you - don't let go, love, don't let go...has to be real...*

*Real, it's real, god - have to pry me off with a crowbar. Tara's home for good, we're all home, family now, Spike, all the family -* Spike's hands were ice-cold, creeping under Xander's shirt and finding his ribs - curling around his back and stroking his spine and Xander was doing the same. Opening the duster and pulling Spike's naked body tight against him, sharing the warmth Spike wanted so desperately. It seemed to take forever to get home. Forever, and no time at all.



"Spike? Hey, Spike, you hungry?" Spike twitched just a little - turned in the bed and smiled sleepily up at Xander, who was sitting on the edge of the mattress, a tray in his hands that he was putting carefully on the chair next to the bed. Spike could smell tomato soup and grilled cheese and blood. "You awake, love?" Xander asked, turning back to him and running his fingers gently through Spike's hair. Spike pushed into his touch - scooted over and got an arm over Xander's thighs and snuggled into him - into the scent of clean wood and honey-sweet, woodsmoke and rue.

"You've been helping Tara," he mumbled, letting his eyes fall shut again and Xander was stroking his back now, pushing the hair out of his way so he could feel skin - hair he hadn't bothered to cut, yet. Just...too tired. And...something else. Nagging doubt that made him hesitate, again and again.

*Skin and bones, damnit. Still too skinny, love. C'mon and sit up and eat, okay?*

*Only if you do, too,* Spike thought, and Xander tugged gently at his hair.

"I will, you will, we'll both take a nap. Okay?"

"Okay." Spike sighed and loosened his hold on Xander's legs - sat up slowly and let Xander fuss a wedge of pillows behind him and hitch the covers up higher. Then Xander was stripping off sweats and flannel and t-shirt and getting into the bed with Spike - scooting over carefully with the tray and settling it on his own lap. Two sandwiches, two bowls of soup, huge mug of warm blood.

"Can't eat all that," Spike muttered, feeling a little panicky, and Xander just looked at him.

"Yes you can. It'll be okay, love." Spike nodded - reached out for a sandwich and tore off a corner - dipped it in the blood and ate, slowly. His hands shook, and his stomach clenched uncomfortably. Human blood was what he needed, but he'd gone so long without it - surviving on dilute demon blood and the strange magic of the hell he'd been in. The blood Xander was getting him was It made him feel sick, although not as bad now, five days home, as those first couple of days when he'd barely been able to keep it down. He wondered what in hell was going on - what this new thing was. And Xander wouldn't eat if he didn't and Xander was too damn thin... That was almost unbearable.

*Bastards. Hate this...* The claim-illness had kicked in with a vengeance around year four, and Spike had been reduced to being carried from place to place - lord to lord. . They hadn't much cared. They'd just wanted what was in his head... He flinched and sent his thoughts firmly elsewhere, shutting the link down to almost nothing. He felt the surge of panic from Xander and closed his eyes, concentrating.

*Sorry, sorry love, I - I can't -*

*Spike, it's okay. Please? Please don't. I can't stand for you to shut me out. Please, please, love...* The same plea, the same desperation, and Spike leaned his head on Xander's shoulder and just rested there a moment, sniffing a little when Xander's arm slipped around him and hugged him close.

"Don't want to, love, but... It hurts. It hurts to...think about it and I don't - don't want you to hurt." *Don't want to be WRONG, can't be wrong, can't do that, can't can't can't -* Spike stopped that thought before it hit the link - clamped down hard on the fear that surged through him every minute - every hour. Fear and despair.

"It hurts when you go away, Spike," Xander said, his voice so very soft but broken, a little - rough with emotion that he was trying to suppress. "It hurts more than - than anything. Please don't, Spike." Xander's cheek was on his head - his hand gently stroking Spike's shoulder and Spike nodded, wishing they could just curl and sleep. Sleep, and dream, and...

*No - no more sleeping until you eat.* Derio, downstairs with Tara and Dawn, sending a surge of anger and anguish through the link. Anger not at Spike, but anger all the same and Spike flinched from it.

*Trying, wolf, I'm...trying.*

*I know. Sorry. Worried about you... Want...* Derio let that thought trail away, but Spike knew what he wanted - what he wished. Wished he could fix things.

*Just time, love. Time is all will fix this.* Spike shuddered at the feel of them in his head - at the intimate, longed-for wash of love and possessiveness, joy and pain.

*Yeah.* The wolf didn't believe that anymore than Xander did. They were all uneasy with his desertion in the link but Spike...didn't know what else to do. He wasn't sure, and that was all that had kept him...sane, there.

*Let Xander in, damnit. You think you'll scare him off - hurt him more than he hurt while you were gone? Let him in.* Oz, down in the yard, burning wood-scraps and yard waste - wearing himself out with work around the house and on his van. Angry, like Derio was, and afraid. Which made Spike feel that much worse.

*I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I'm hurting you...*

*It's okay -*

*No it's not, Xander. It's not.* Oz shut down, only a thread of upset coming from him, and they heard the back door open and shut - Derio going outside to be with him. After a moment they could hear water running, and knew Tara and Dawn were cleaning up.

*Sorry,* Spike thought - whispered, in his head, because he hated this - hated it so much, but he didn't know - he just didn't know what to do.

"God - Spike, please don't - apologize! I - I shouldn't push you, I know that..." Xander fiddled with his spoon, his arm tight around Spike's shoulder. "I just - I can feel it, Spike! I can feel how much you...hurt and I...I have to fix it, I have to - make you feel try..." He dropped the spoon into the soup and twisted just enough to hug Spike with both arms, lips on his forehead and in his hair and Spike hugged back hard, hating how thin Xander felt - how worn he looked. Hating that the family was on eggshells, and all because of him.

*I'd let you fix it if you could, love. I would. I... Just let me...try, for a little longer, yeah? Try to...fix it myself. Let me work it out.*

*A LITTLE. Just a little, Spike. Can't DO this...*

"I know, love. C'mon, now - bite for bite, yeah? Before it gets cold." Spike sat up, grateful for the electric blanket that radiated sun-hot warmth. He took the cup of blood from Xander and drank it, fast as he could. It choked him - made his stomach roll uneasily and made him lightheaded for a minute. But then he swallowed, hard, and set his mind to ignoring it, and took a plate with a sandwich on it. Xander was slowly eating soup, slumped tiredly back against the headboard.

"You left this downstairs, Xander." Tara at the door, a bottle of juice and a beer in her hands and Spike smiled at her, feeling a little better.

"Oh - yeah, I did." Xander smiled too - took his juice and held the tray steady while Tara settled lightly on the edge of the bed. Rue and lavender and dragon's blood, sweet scents that made Spike feel safe - made him sure he was home. Tara squeezed his knee a little under the covers - reached out to stroke the long lock of hair that lay over his shoulder.

"Buffy's jealous. She said it's not fair for the evil undead to have such perfect curls."

"She'd look like Shirley Temple in curls like this - she doesn't want that." Spike looked down at the long hair - shivered a little and pushed it back over his shoulder, and took the bottle of beer from Tara. "Needs cutting, that."

"Whenever you like, okay?" Tara watched him for a moment, head a little to one side, and then she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "I'm so glad you're home," she whispered, and Spike caught at her as she leaned back and pulled her into a hug.

"Me too, Glinda." The door bumped open and Sinclair wandered in, nose twitching. He jumped up onto the bed and crept up between Spike and Xander - started his patented head-bump/full-body-rub that meant 'aren't I adorable and don't you want to feed me that?'

"Go away, miserable creature. You don't like tomato soup," Spike said, rubbing him behind the ears and stroking the long, cream-colored back. Sinclair 'brrruped' at him, bird-noise of pleasure and edged a little closer to the tray.

*Home, this is home, home...*


Spike woke abruptly, lifting his head and looking sharply around. He was downstairs on the fold-out couch - the whole family was, actually, in a cozy dog-pile. Fell asleep watching a movie and here it was just dawn, and no one had stirred. Spike looked cautiously around himself, cataloging the things that were the same...and the things that were different.

*There's my desk, right, and my journals, and there's Dawn's desk, and her b-books, that's new, that wasn't there... Same fold-out couch, fuckin' thing hurts everybody's back, don't know why we keep it... Sinclair, he's here but - Miss Kitty WASN'T, she wasn't and...Glinda was with that other girl, she wasn't here...* Spike wormed his way silently out of the clutch of heat and flesh, eyes warily on the wolves - on Xander. Waiting. But they slept on, and he untwisted the flannel pants and t-shirt he had on - pulled the sleeves of the over-large hoodie back down past his wrists a little. He was so damn cold, all the time... the warmth never lasted.

*Need to eat, that's why, need to go hunting, get the real stuff...* He waited, but nothing happened and he padded over the house, looking - checking. First upstairs, looking into the three new rooms - looking at the new bits and pieces that were in the old rooms. Feeling a chill when he wasn't sure what really was new and what was old. Running his fingers down the line of postcards in the mirror in his and Xander's room but not daring to turn them over. *Might be right, might not, might...* He went back downstairs, standing for a long time in the still-room, breathing in the heady mix of herbs - of the family. They all gravitated here, to watch Tara work and to get their hands soaked with good scents. Even the cats seemed to like it, although so far they had ignored the catnip growing near the windows. After a while, slowly, he walked out of that room and into the studio. He couldn't bring himself to go past the door for a long moment, and then he did and just stood there, looking. Watching the dust-sheeted statues, wondering if they would move - turn - touch him. He couldn't stand it if they did. He hadn't looked under the sheets yet - had pleaded illness and exhaustion even when he felt the hurt that caused....Xander. Today - today he would.

Cautiously, he went to the first one on his left and eased the sheet back - stepped hastily away once it was uncovered. But nothing happened - it didn't move, and he was left staring at...himself. Staring at William, surrounded by books and papers. William whose chest had a burned-out hole in it, and in the elaborate glass heart. Ruby-red, edged with gilt, sparkling with rhinestones. A gaudy, Las Vegas sort of heart and Spike had to laugh - laugh in a slightly hysterical way, staring at that.

*Is that what Dru saw? Burning baby fish and the heart of a fool. Is it what Xander sees? Never know...* Sunlight was streaming in the studio windows, the frail yellow a watercolor. *It's...been nice. It's been TOO nice. Too perfect. Can't stand the wait. Want it to be OVER.* "Hear that, you wankers? I'm too tired to do this. Gonna wake up, now." Spike went slowly to the square of light on the floor. *Won't even be warm. Bastards. Can't even give me that, can you? Can't even give me any heat that lasts...* He felt a twist of utter despair, but he ignored it - took a breath - and stepped into the sun.

"Spike!" Spike winced as he was tackled to the floor, Xander rolling him away from the sunlight and he could only lie there and stare up at Xander's terrified - furious face.

"It - that hurt. It burned," he muttered, staring down at his arms, which were still smoking slightly.

"Of course it hurt! What the fuck are you doing?" Xander shouted, shaking him, and Spike heard the double thump of the wolves coming off the bed; sleepy 'what?' from Tara and *Pack - Xander - what?* from Oz or Derio, he couldn't be sure.

*Hurt, it hurt, never hurt before, it just - I would just wake UP... Oh god, oh FUCK, gotta try -* Spike wiggled a foot - inched it into the pool of light. The sun warmed, then stung, then burned - smoke wisped up from his toes and then flame and he was laughing as Xander yelled again - whipped around and smothered the flames in the flannel shirt he was wearing. The wolves ran in, dazed and snarling, and Tara and Dawn gazed in shock from the doorway. Xander took two fist-fuls of the hoodie and dragged Spike bodily away - sat down with a thump and pulled him close, tears streaking down from his eye, and from the empty socket.

"What the fuck are you doing? Jesus Christ, Spike!" *Trying to KILL yourself? What the HELL?*

"No, love, no, no - god - it hurt, it burned - fuck - Xander - help me, get a knife, get - get one of your knives -"

"Spike, tell me what's going on!" Xander was pale as paper - shaking like a leaf - and Spike yanked him close and hugged him, the floor cold under him, the sweet, clean smell of wood thick in his nostrils.

"Love, it hurt, and it's not - it didn't before and I - I think I'm home, I think I'm home, Xander, god - please get me a knife, please, please -" Spike knew he was babbling - hell, ranting - knew he sounded crazy. But it had hurt, that sunlight - hurt and burned and done what it was supposed to do, and it hadn't done that - *Seven years, seven fucking years and today it HURTS!* Oz was rifling through a tool-box and snatched something up with a small sound of triumph. He hurried over with a longish knife, the blade's edge glittering like diamonds. He went to his knees beside Spike and Xander, offering, and Derio was there, and Dawn and Tara were crowding close as well, fear and the beginning of excitement on their faces. Spike took a handful of hair - held the knife above it for a long moment and then he hacked at it, ruthlessly chopping, hair catching and pulling but falling away under the blade until he had more than a foot of darkly-brown, spiraled hair in his hand. He sat there, trembling. Holding the length of hair and the knife, waiting.

"Okay, you cut your hair. You - are you okay? Spike, I don't get it." Xander was rubbing Spike's shoulder, visibly trying to keep himself calm.

"It's staying cut," Spike said, staring at the hair. He could sense the confusion around him, and Dawn knelt down next to him, looking seriously at him.

"That's what hair does, Spike. What's the deal?

"The deal, Niblet - the deal is..." Spike caught a hard breath - felt the tears coming and blinked them back, or tried to. "The deal is I'm home, I'm...fucking home, I'm....really here..." He laughed then, a little wildly maybe, but he couldn't help it. He held the knife out in a wobbling hand. "Cut it off - cut it all off! Dawnie, please - wolfling - cut it off! He laughed again, almost sobbing, and watched Dawn reach and hesitantly take the knife from his hand - move behind him. He grabbed Xander and pulled him into another hug, burying his face in Xander's neck, kissing and kissing him - kissing the scar and then - biting, just a gentle nip. Enough to draw blood and Xander shivered in his arms and Spike laughed, just laughed, because the blood was right. It was hot and right and wonderful; spiced with Xander's love and with his desire - underlying hint of the wolves and the salt-musk of the hyena. Hot, human, his, his love, his own, his claimed and Spike laughed and cried and held his boy - felt Dawn sawing at the hair and felt his neck finally free of it - felt the shorter, rough strands ruffle up under Derio's hand - felt Tara rubbing his back.

*Home, home, oh god, I'm home, I am...*


"What did they do, Spike?" Xander asked, his chest to Spike's back and his arms firmly around Spike's ribs. Back on the sofa-bed and everyone gathered as close as they could.

"They.... They can't feel there. They're dead and - emotionless and...cold. Frozen. God, it was so cold there..." Spike shuddered, snuggling closer to Xander and Tara made a small sound of distress, tucking the throw up tighter around Spike's ribs. "Thank you, love..." Spike smiled at her and then leaned his head back on Xander's shoulder, letting his eyes fall shut.

"They don't feel, and they...wanted to. And they could...make the link work. Kind of. They could - feel it. And I think...they could let me feel you, sometimes. But I only...." Spike stopped and took a deep, hard breath, feeling shaky. "I sad you were. I felt...the p-pain and the fear and... God, Xander, love, I'm so sorry, so sorry -" *Never meant to hurt you like that, NEVER wanted that... Wolfling,, so sorry -*

"Shut up, Spike. Stop it." Xander's voice was choked with tears and he put his face down into Spike's neck, shuddering. "You - we know why you did it. We're okay, we're... God, love you, Spike, love you no matter what." *No matter what, no matter WHAT, god! Vampire-mine, always, always...*

*Love you, love you, Spike...*

*Pack. Pack you...* Spike just sat there for a long moment, basking in it - in the link, the love, the warmth. In the *brother joy brother always* from Dawn and the more tangible *love you love you brother* from Tara.

"They wanted to feel. They pretend to live. And they...they did it through me. But - it wasn't enough after a while. It wasn't...strong enough. They went over everything again and again and...they changed things." Xander's lips were warm and wet on his cheek and he turned into the caress - felt Dawn's hand slip into his and smiled weakly.

"They wanted the strongest emotions they could get. Love, but hate, too. Joy, and despair. Madness... Xander, I -"

"Tell us, love. Tell us - show us. Let us in and - and we'll make it better. We will."

"Hurts, Xan..." Spike whispered, but he let the link open wide, and poured it all out. Dimly felt Tara's hand on him, and knew she was feeling it too - maybe even seeing it - and a sharp gasp from Dawn told him that Tara's magic was making it real for her, as well.

*Sorry, sorry...oh god...* Seven years, and in seven years he'd seen Xander die, over and over. At the hands of demons, his friends - Glory. Killed him himself, in the throes of madness brought on by the First. Or failed to stop Caleb and a blind Xander was shuffled away by the Council - marginalized and loathing him. Oz dying, or trapped forever by the Initiative - mindless slave or eviscerated guinea-pig. Derio's magic somehow not fitting with the wolf-magic and Derio dying, as well... All of them, again and again. And Spike had come home - so many times. Home to a family that had fractured and scattered - home to a Xander that had taken a new lover, or a Xander that simply didn't want him anymore. Wolves who had abandoned humanity and didn't know him. Tara dead, or Dawn - dead, gone, suffering - hating him, and the Lords of Hell - their magic made it real, every time. Made it as real as acid and razors - as holy-water. So real that he'd sure he'd been home, every time. Had been sure his time was up and this was...reality.

Seven years of guilt and rejection, death and loneliness, failure and despair. Seven years of near-madness and Spike never knew. Was always fooled, by the clever Lords - by their magic that clouded his mind and the illness that dulled his senses. Fooled and returned, nothing changed, to start all over again.

"But it hurt. My foot still hurts. And my fucking hair - staying short..."

*You're home, you are! You really are, god - Spike -* Pain in the link, but it was easing, and the more he poured out the lighter he felt. Spike held onto this family - held on tight for fear he'd float away as seven years of misery bled out, and seven years of pain was washed away with compassionate tears and soothing voices and arms and hands that held him tight - held him fast.