Chapter 35: The End of it All

Chapter 35: The End of it All

                "I never feel a thing is real
                When I'm away from you...
               Out of your embrace
                The world's a temporary parking place..."

 

                Xander shifted, just a little - ran his hand down Spike's ribs and onto his thigh - curled it around, the back of his hand just brushing against the cool weight of Spike's sac.  Spike's head was lying back on Xander's shoulder and Xander was slowly, deliberately licking and kissing every inch of his neck  - making bruises that wouldn't last long enough and making Spike's whole body sing and tingle with every scrape and nip of his teeth.

                "Good...ssso...good..." Spike whispered, and Xander agreed, shifting again and flexing up - driving a little deeper into the clinging, cool embrace of Spike's body. 

                *You taste like spice...like cream and spice...*

                *That's nog, love.  Do I?*  Xander giggled and then bit at the claim mark, closing his eye to the all-over shudder that wracked Spike - that spiraled out through the link. 

                "You do, yeah...so fuckin' good..."

                *Do that again, Xan, do it again -*  Spikes hands were tight on his hips, encouraging more and faster movement but Xander kept it slow and deliberate - doing to Spike what he so often did to Xander.

 

                "Say it's only a paper moon
                Sailing over a cardboard sea...
               But it wouldn't be make-believe
                If you believed in me..."

 

                "Do it all day, Spike," Xander promised, and moved and thrust again, slow easing of his cock in and out.  Spike's thighs trembled against his and his hands gripped harder - loosened - gripped again.  His body clenched tight around Xander and he bucked a little, twisting.

                *Evil, you're the evil one...yeah, that, love...*   Xander pushed Spike's head forward to nibble at the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck where the silk-soft, honey-brown hair lay in wisps and curls.

                *Glad you kept this...*

                *Just for you, love.*   "For you..." Spike murmured, and his hands slipped off Xander's hips and down to the bed.  He put his fists between his knees and leaned forward slowly and Xander let his mouth glide wetly from nape to spine - stopped to make a love-bite between Spike's shoulder-blades.  Spike growled softly - grumble that rattled into the purr and back, vibrating Xander's mouth.

                "Xaaaan-derrrrr..." he groaned, and Xander took Spike's hips in his hands - started to move a little faster and a little harder, jolting Spike up and forward with each thrust.

                *God, you're beautiful...*

 

                "Yes, it's only a canvas sky
               Hanging over a muslin tree...
               But it wouldn't be make-believe
               If you believed in me..."

 

                "Nothin'...on you...yesss..."  Spike shifted again, further up on hands and knees and Xander moved up as well - felt what the change of angle did to Spike and grinned - did it again.   And again, until Spike was past words, past anything, and the link was like a sun; heat and blinding brilliance and fire, that danced along their nerves.  Spike's blood sizzled in Xander's mouth - sparked and smoked with magic and lust and love - and long after they'd both stopped panting and Spike was curled against him, sleepy and content, Xander could taste it - feel it inside.

                *Not ever going to let you go again.  Not...ever.  Don't care if the world ends, don't care about any of it, just want you, you, you...  Vampire-mine, so beautiful...*

                *You'll turn my head, all that sweet-talk.*   Spike lifted his head just a little, looking down at Xander with a blissed-out expression that made Xander smile.  "Gotten good at the pillow-talk, love," Spike murmured, running a slow finger along Xander's jaw - tracing his lips, touching his nose.  Poring over details until Xander wanted to squirm, just a little.

                "Had plenty of practice.  I talked to your coat for a month -"  That memory, in the link, and Spike laughed.  Shaky laugh, but genuine amusement at the picture.  The song on the radio changed - 'Moon River' - and Spike hummed along for a moment.

                "Should I be jealous of my coat, love?  Havin' you when I couldn't?"  Xander's eye went wide at that and he shut the link down hard - reflex he couldn't control and instantly regretted.

                *Oh shit.*

                "Love?  What is it?  Why'd you - do that?"

                "I just - I didn't mean to, I -"  Spike was looking at him, and Xander felt panic rising - felt his mind skittering from thought to thought and story to story but, as usual, coming up empty in the face of Spike's unwavering gaze. 

                "Xander -"

                *Fuck.  Fuck it.  Can't - lie, no matter what...*   "Spike, I - I wanted..."  Xander closed his eye, trying to organize his thoughts and something nosed into the link - Oz, from somewhere downstairs. 

                *Just show him.  He won't care, Xander - it'll be all right.  Just let him know...*

                *God, god...  Yeah, okay...*   "Spike, I - I have to tell you something.  Show you - "   Xander opened his eye and Spike was staring at him, expression of mounting horror on his face and Xander pulled him close, hugging him tight.  "No!  No, it's - damnit, I'm fucking this up so bad.  Spike, just - just..." *Here. I have to show you...this...*    He let the link open wide, showing in a cascade of image and emotion the days after Spike had gone - the months.  Showed his depression and his withdrawal, showed the wolves and the patrols and Dawn - Tara.  Showed, with panic making his heart pound, the nights spent with Oz and Derio.  The intimacy he'd never expected to want or need - not without Spike right there.

                *I'm sorry.  I'm sorry, Spike, I'm sorry...you were being - tortured, you were - GOD, you were in pain and all alone and...  And I just - fuckin' gave in, I -*

                *Xander, stop it!  Stop it, stop it -*   Spike pulled out of his crushing embrace and got up on his elbow again, staring down at Xander wide-eyed.  "You're telling me - that while I was gone - you went to the wolves?"  Xander nodded miserably, not trusting his voice.  Doing his best not to grab Spike and plead with him.  Beg him to understand.  Spike touched Xander's lips again - ran his finger up to the edge of the empty socket and traced the eyebrow that arched over it.

                "You really think...  Xander, you really think I'm - mad at you?"

                "You should be!" Xander nearly yelled - snapped his mouth shut - bit his lip and then continued in a softer voice.  "You should be.  You were alone.  You were - everything was so horrible for you there and I was here.  I was at home, and I h-had the wolves and Dawn and Tara, most of the time, and - and the cats and -"   Spike snorted quiet laughter and Xander wanted to scream.  "Don't!  Don't do that!  I had fucking everything and you had nothing and - and I shouldn't have done it!  Spike, I shouldn't - have done it, it was wrong, it was..."   *so fucking selfish, so....weak -*

                "NO.  No, love."  Spike looked mad now - mad and a little wild-eyed and Xander wanted to curl into a ball and just...hide.   "No hiding, love.  Never.  I'm not mad.  Do you hear me?"

                "You should be.  I am," Xander whispered, and Spike sighed and tucked himself down - got his head under Xander's chin and his arms around him - tangling them together in a knot of flesh. 

                "Oh, love.  I would have done anything to have your year be a happy one.  I don't care, you hear me?"  Spike's fingers rubbed slowly over his shoulder, touching the gun-shot scar and skittering away, flinch of pain in the link.  "I'd have done - anything at all.  If those bloody wolves hadn't made you feel better -"

                "Us 'bloody wolves' did our best," Oz said, standing in the doorway and Spike lifted his head and held out a hand.  Oz crossed to him and twined his fingers with Spike's and the low hum of nearly-undetectable discontent that was both wolves eased off.  They were only truly happy when they were touching Spike.   Xander reached out and put his hand on Oz's knee, blinking.  Trying to accept that Spike really wasn't mad.

                *COURSE I'm not!  I'm not...*   "I can see what you did, wolfling.  Saved my boy - kept him here - owe you both."

                "No you don't," Oz whispered.  He hesitated one long moment and then he curled into Xander, his arm going over Spike's ribs, his other hand finding Xander's and clinging tight.   *Kept him here - couldn't stand to lose him, too - had to have you both -*

                *Spike, I -*

                "Don't apologize again, love," Spike growled, nipping hard enough at Xander's collarbone to make Xander gasp.  "You didn't do anything wrong.  Nothing,   I'm not mad.  It's - "   *Pack.  Family.  How it IS.  Never wanted you to be alone - never wanted that.  You're not a martyr, love, didn't want that...  Wolves kept you safe, they - kept you sane.  Why would I want anything different?  Love you, love you, love you so much...  Nothing changes that, ever.*

                "So not fair!"  Dawn darted in from the doorway, jumping hard onto the bed and cuddling up behind Spike, hugging him.  "Oz said to leave you alone but he's up here in the bed!  If he can I can."

                "Dawn!  I don't have anything on under here!"

                "I'm on top of the covers, Spike!"  Dawn gripped tighter at bicep and shoulder and ducked her face down, obstinately not moving and *brothers want love I will I will.*   Clearer in the link than she ever had been.  A remnant of Tara's magic, maybe.  Or her own mystical origins, lending her an ability she shouldn't have.

                *Not fair, not fair!* from Derio then, faint with distance.  He and Tara were grocery shopping.

                *It's all right.  We'll stay here until you get home,* Xander assured him, finding a lock of Dawn's hair and curling it around his finger.   A bit of his old self - a bit of basement-Xander made him ask, one more time - "Spike - are you - sure- ?"

                "Course I'm sure.  You can feel it, love.  I know you can."

                "TMI, Spike!  God!"  Dawn was fighting laugher and Spike reached around and whapped at her, glancing tap to her thigh.

                "The link, you filthy-minded thing!"

                "I'm not the one who's been in bed for two weeks in a row!"

                "Well, what'd you expect, Bit?  Haven't seen the love of my life for...too long.  Gonna keep him here for a month."

                "That could get really gross," Dawn said, contemplative note in her voice and Xander shut his eye and laughed helplessly, telling Derio what was going on.  *Bring some of those cracker-and-cheese things, we can eat those in bed -*

                "No, you can't.  You're still too thin, Xander, you have to get up and eat real food -"   Oz was scolding, and Dawn was trying to tickle Spike, and Derio and Tara were pushing down the aisles,  gathering the last things they needed, eager to get home.

                *Home, home, this is our home and we're ALL here and I have you again, my own, my love.  I have you again and will never, ever let you go, Spike...*

                *Promise you that, love.  Promise you that on my heart and soul and blood and bones.*   "DAWN!  Leave the bedclothes be!"  Scandalized voice of William and Dawn's incoherent laughter - Oz's yipping growl of amusement.

                *Never want anything but this,* Xander thought, and hugged his family close.

 

                "We're after the same rainbow's end
                Waiting around the bend...
                My Huckleberry friend
                Moon River and me..."

 

 

 

                May was full of wind and storms and long, drowsy days in the studio - nights running the beaches and the woods and the darkest parts of the city.  It was still a thrill to watch Spike fight - to fight beside him - and sometimes Xander just stopped and watched; dusted a vamp or knocked a brawling human unconscious and stared.  But something had changed, in Spike.  A slow change, over the last five months, but a change nevertheless.    His fighting technique was the same - mix of street-brawler and trained fighter - but he was silent now.  He fought with a focused savagery that made Xander shiver, sometimes.  He hunted with the same single-minded intention, weeding out the dregs and taking their life-blood with a sort of manic glee.  More the demon, in those moments, than he had been for a while.  *Darklife olderthan chaos malice*  broadcasting Spike out to anyone with the senses to feel it.

                *What's different?* Xander asked, watching him drive one of his spiral nails straight through a doggish demon's heart and watching it convulse in its death-throes.  *Why are you so...intent?*

                Spike kicked the demon into the gutter - took out a smoke and lit it and then paced slowly away down the street, glancing over at Xander as he fell into step with him.

                *Might not like it,* he thought, and Xander shrugged.

                "Not like I have to."  Spike nodded, his eyes flickering here and there, making sure of every shadow and corner.  Demon's eyes, and the demon's face, and he stopped, finally, and faced Xander.  The smoldering coal of his cigarette lit hellish sparks in his eyes.

                "They dragged out every bit of humanity I still have.  Played me like a harp, love.   Didn't let me change...   I don't..."  Spike stopped and smoked, leaning against the wall behind him with a small sigh.  "I don't want to be human.  I don't want to...be that vulnerable again.  It fucking hurt, Xander."       

                "It's not vulnerable to love, Spike," Xander said softly, and Spike reached out and touched his cheek - ran his fingers back through Xander's hair.

                "No.  The demon never had any trouble loving.   But it's not...pretty, all the time.  It's not hearts and puppies, pet.  I need..."

                "You need to be...a vampire, and not - worry about the human stuff?"  Xander pushed into Spike's hand and Spike tugged at his hair - flicked his cigarette away and pulled Xander close.

                "Yeah.  I need...something..."  Xander crushed Spike to him for a minute, then he leaned back a little and slowly stroked the strange and beautiful features that were the demons.

                "Can I help?" he whispered.

                "Don't want you to see it, love.  You'll be hurt.  Can't do that." 

                "Yeah."  Xander kissed, lightly, at Spike's mouth and his forehead and his cheeks - trailed lips and tongue over his jaw and throat and finally the claim-scar, making Spike shudder.

                "Figure it out, vampire-mine.  Figure out what you need, and then do it.  I'll be here for you, no matter what."  *Always, always, always.  My blood in you and yours in me and nothing can break that, love, nothing on this earth.*

                *Always...*

                Three days later Spike made subdued goodbyes and walked into the night, and didn't come back for a week.  He did his best to keep the link closed, and Xander did, but things crept into Xander's dreams - blood and fire and vicious fighting - grudges and paybacks and hunts that would have made Vlad the Impaler blanch.  Xander kept himself awake all night after the second night, and slept in the day when the link was only the faintest of vibrations along his nerves. 

                When Spike came back he seemed - at peace, and sat for a day writing in his journal.  He'd bleached his hair again - snow white - but left it in a disordered crest of spikes and tufts that were soft to the touch.  Xander missed the silky honey-brown of his 'real' hair, but the *darklife olderthan malice* of the demon seemed to have ebbed, and Spike started talking again on patrol.

                *Might do it again,* he thought, watching Oz make a fire in the back yard, burning the 'mistakes' that Xander had accumulated trying to make a fancy wardrobe for Dawn.

                *If you do, it's all right,* Xander thought back, kissing him, and that satisfied them both.

 

                The end of May - the end of classes - Memorial Day weekend and they weren't planning anything more elaborate than a bar-b-que and movies, mostly to avoid the stuff the rest of the city was planning.  Oz was looking at maps, finding a place on the mountain to camp because they all wanted to do that again, and Dawn was excited to camp 'for real', with tents and backpacks and astronaut food.  Tara had grimaced at the thought and was researching online for ways to cook food over a campfire - wrapped in foil, or soup - anything but 'dehydrated franks'n'beans' she said, shaking her head.  Xander remembered the hot, melting flesh of the deer's liver and doubted he'd be eating any soup.

                Spike came whistling in near midnight, having spent most of his day trolling the Underground, and then hunting down south of the city.  The roar of his DeSoto was sounding a little smoother lately and Xander knew he'd found a mechanic he trusted to take care of his darling.  The man was talking him into replacing the spray-paint on the windows with some sort of special tinted glass and Spike was warming to the idea.  

                "Guess you're all keeping vampire hours now?" Spike asked, looking around the kitchen at the assembled household.  Derio and Oz were making waffles and Dawn was circling them like a starving tiger, plate in hand.

                "I get the first one, Spike," she said in passing, and he reached out and poked her in the ribs then went back to taking his boots off. 

                "It's too hot," Tara said, peering at the waffle iron, furry bunny-slippers that Sinclair had chewed to rags on her feet and her hair done up in two braids.  She looked thirteen.

                "It is not, gatita," Derio said, wielding a fork and a pot-holder.   *Impugning my waffle-making abilities.*    

                *She HAS seen you make French toast,* Xander thought, and Derio rolled his eyes.

                "That was one time.  I was on the phone.  Vampire hours are more convenient," Derio added, smiling over at Spike, who climbed up onto the table and wrapped his legs around Xander, pulling him close for a kiss.  He tasted like blood and smoke and lemon drops, and Xander 'hmmm'd' happily into the kiss.

                *Glad you're home,*

                *Me too,* Spike thought.  Halfway through the waffles a car pulled up outside, and when Tara answered the door with Oz right behind her, it was Cordelia.  Looking exhausted, Connor in her arms and a bag by her feet. 

                "Got room for two more?" she asked.

 

 

                Connor was sticky with syrup and spilled grape juice and Dawn, in a sudden fit of maturity, volunteered to take him upstairs and give him a bath.  He went with her sleepily, staring hard at Spike and whining once for 'Unc' Oz, be the wolf!'  When they could hear him splashing happily upstairs they retreated to the living room, trying to find places to sit without excluding Cordelia but ultimately ending up in a sort of lump on and around the couch.  Oz turned on the little Bose radio they had in there, to a station that played quiet, folksy things.  Cordelia sat in the 'new' recliner, looking at them with a small smile on her face.

                "It's like some kind of hippie thing," she joked, and Tara laughed with her, softly.

                "Kind of.  What's - going on, Cordelia?  Fred emailed me a week ago and said - she was moving back to Texas.  Going back to school there..."

                "Yeah, she is."  Cordelia leaned back in the chair, letting go of a long, shaky sigh.  "Angel talked her into it.  Well, Angel and Gunn and Wes.  It took them weeks, but...  She did it."

                "Why?  I thought - she was doing so much good there -"  Tara looked upset - *pushed her out* in the link, a stab of anger and unease.

                "It's because...  Remember when Angel had that amulet?"  Cordelia took in the winces and the low growl that resulted from that question and nodded, looking sad.  "I know.  I'm - sorry for that.  But - before we came up here there was this firm of lawyers - Wolfram and Hart - remember them?  They brought Darla back."

                "Yeah - I remember," Xander said.  "Did the lawyers have something to do with Fred leaving?"

                "In a round-about way.  They've been trying to get A.I. to join up forever.  They told Angel he'd be the CEO - that he'd have unlimited resources and funds...  He even went on a tour of the place.  It was - pretty impressive."

                "Angelus the CEO of a bunch of lawyers?  That's - daft," Spike muttered, and Xander had to agree - they all did, even Cordelia, who was nodding slowly.

                "Yeah.  We talked about it - you should have seen the stuff they showed Wes...  Anyway, he turned them down and now..."  Cordelia's hands were gripping each other tightly, knuckles white.  She blinked up at the ceiling, her eyes tracking footsteps from the bathroom to the spare bedroom, Connor's giggles making her smile wanly.  "Now that he's pretty much told them he'll never work for them - they've been trying to - kill him."

                "We talked about this," Oz said softly, and Cordelia nodded.

                "Yeah, I know.  Only now - we found out from...from a vision...they're going to open some sort of gate.  They're going to bring - thousands of demons through and - and wipe out Angel Investigations and t-take over L.A."

                "You saw this?"

                "Yeah, Xander."  Cordelia wiped at her eyes and sat up a little, fixing them all with a steely glare.  "I saw it and it's going to be...really ugly.  And the Powers - won't step in, they say that....they showed us what was going to happen and we have to - figure out how to stop it ourselves.  That Angel...has to win it for h-himself -"  Cordelia stopped abruptly and dropped her head into her hands and Tara got up and went to her, kneeling down and stroking her arms, talking quietly.  Xander had a sinking feeling in his gut.

                *Well fuck.  It never fucking ENDS...*

                "Why are you here, cheerleader?" Spike asked, his voice more growl than anything and Xander automatically reached for him, smoothing a hand up and down his back.

                "I...because Angel...  He's going to fight, and he wanted me and Connor safe," she whispered.  A long silence followed, broken by Dawn coming downstairs with Connor in her arms, clean and dressed in brightly-colored 'Oscar the Grouch' pajamas.

                "Time to say goodnight, Connor!" Dawn chirped, pushing wet hair out of her face and letting Connor down.  He ran straight to Oz and Derio, flopping onto their laps.

                "Wolf, the wolf!  Be the wolf!"

                "Not tonight, Connor - it's too late."  Oz hauled him upright and settled him on his knee.   "You have to go to bed."

                "Nooo - won't!" 

                "Don't talk back to Uncle Oz, Connor," Cordelia said.  She got up slowly and went to her bag - gathered a book and a stuffed camel out of it.  "Bedtime, give everybody kisses."  Connor pouted but turned to Oz and Derio finally, giving quick kisses on offered cheeks.  He clambered over them to Tara and gave her a big hug and kiss.

                "Miss you, Aunt Tara," he said, solemn-eyed, and Tara palmed back his thick fall of blond hair.

                "I miss you too, Connor.  I'm glad you came for a visit."  Connor got down and walked slowly over to Xander and Spike, looking nervous.

                *Oh, damn.  No patch.  Probably freaking him out,* Xander thought, ducking his head a little.

                *He'll learn,* Spike thought, shrugging. 

                "I like your Oscar pajamas," Xander said, leaning forward.  "He's my favorite."

                "Mine, too," Connor said.  He looked down at the green puppet on his shirt.  "Da says Unc' Spike and Oscar are the same." 

                "M'not green," Spike snapped, and Connor took a step back.

                "N-no, Da says you're both grouchy."

                *Got you there,* Xander smirked, and smiled at Connor.  "He's right.  Uncle Spike can be pretty grouchy but he's a good guy."  Connor stood there, twisting his pajama-top hem in his fingers.  "You - umm, you don't have to give me a kiss if you don't want to, Connor, it's okay," Xander said, feeling a little sinking feeling.  Spike immediately reached out and pulled Xander close, kissing his 'blind' side.

                *I'll kiss you all you want, love,* soft and warm in the link and Xander rubbed his head for just a moment against Spike's cheek.

                *Thank you, vampire-mine.*  Connor's lip had stuck out a little and now he looked over at Cordelia, who rolled her eyes.

                "I can," he said, and darted in - gave Xander a sloppy kiss and then did the same to Spike - turned and ran to Cordelia and buried his head in her thigh.

                "That was really nice, Connor, thank you.  Good night, everybody."  Cordelia gathered Connor up and slung him on her hip - turned and started walking towards the stairs.  "I'm - I'm just going to get Connor settled in and then have a shower, if that's okay?  I'm - just really tired."

                "Sure, Cordy.  When is this big...thing...going down?"  Cordelia paused at the foot of the stairs and turned back, her eyes bleak.

                "Three days from today," she said softly, and went away upstairs.  Silence followed her, the sounds of an Irish ballad on the radio and then Tara was talking softly to Dawn, explaining, and Dawn was looking more and more horrified.

                *What is it with threes?  Why always - three days?*

                *It's...a special number.  Always has been,* Oz thought, curling close against Derio and twining his fingers in Derio's dreads.

                *It fucking sucks.*

                *Wonder if these Wolfram and Hart bastards are gonna...spread out.  Try and take - more than L.A.*   Spike dug into his jeans-pocket for a cigarette and Xander leaned forward, elbows on knees.

                "Fuck, I hope not..."

                "We have to help!"  Dawn was crying, but her face was set in grim lines, and she sat on the floor in front of the couch and stared at all of them.

                "Bloody hell - we do not!"  Spike was on his feet and pacing, his demon snarling and the link a bitter, determined no that made Xander and the wolves flinch.  Tara put her hand to her head and even Dawn swiveled around, staring at him.

                "We have to.  We have to.  We can't let Wesley and Gunn die!  Or Angel - what'll Cordelia do if Angel dies!  What'll Connor do?"

                "Probably heave a sigh of re-"

                *STOP IT.  You know that's not so.  You KNOW she loves him.  And Connor does.  They'd - they'd be heartbroken.*

                *Don't care, don't care, don't CARE -*

                "Look - look, I have an idea, I know what to do!"  Dawn wiped at her face and then got up and ran to her desk - rifled through two drawers before she pulled out a small box Xander had made for her, carved with stars and moons.  "Look - we can use this - we can call them -"  She hurried back to the couch and crouched down - held up the palely glowing mote of crystal that the queen of the Seelie Court had given her and the link went to ice.

                "I will not have anything to do with them."  Spike's voice was a sibilant growl and the stance he was in was one of attack.  Xander stood up slowly - got between Spike and Dawn and carefully reached for him.  Spike flinched - jerked back and then growled again, a querulous, sing-song noise that made the hyena surface fast - that brought Oz and Derio to their feet.

                "What - what is -?"  Dawn looked stricken and Tara smoothed her hair, staring at Spike.

                *Spike!  Spike, don't.*

                *Will NOT.  Not.  Pack pack pack protect, damnit, protect protect PROTECT!*   He wasn't sensible - wasn't thinking - was letting the demon take over utterly and Xander got up close to him and forced him back, step by step, until Spike was against the wall.  There was panic in his eyes and suddenly he simply grabbed Xander and bit - hard and deep and just held on.  Not drinking - not moving.  Just holding, the growl vibrating through his fangs and into Xander's neck - into his head and his spine and his groin. 

                *Mine, mine, protect mine, pack pack pack!*

                *Okay, it's okay, yours, love, yours...  Spike, please, calm, calm -*

                *Pack is here,* from Oz, and the werewolf came closer and closer and then just leaned into Spike, as close as he could.  Derio was doing the same and for a moment the four of them were just there, the link and the scent of blood and musk and smoke and salt - almonds and lime, cloves and clean wood.

                "Spike, Spike," Xander whispered, frozen in Spike's arms, the fangs delicious lances of hot, stinging pleasure in his throat.  "It's all right, it's all right...shhhhh, shhhhh..."  Gradually Spike eased off - drew slowly away.  He was still the demon - the link was still roiling with agitation - but he was calmer.

                "Sorry, love," he mumbled - reached for Oz and Derio both, brush of knuckles over their cheeks.  "Sorry.  Dawnie, I didn't - didn't mean to scare you," he said a little louder, and Dawn looked up from studying the crystal.

                "It's okay.  But Spike - they owe us - the Queen said so.  Let's - let's just call Scavenger.  He was here the night you - the night Xander got you."  Dawn stood up, and Tara, and they both came over and were added to the huddle.  "He helped Xander - told him what to do - let's just ask.  If they can help - we have to try, Spike.  We can't let Angel die - we can't let Cordelia down like that."  Dawn stared up at Spike, eyes huge and wet, and Spike reached out and rubbed his thumb lightly over her lower lip - cupped her cheek.

                "I - I don't trust them, Bit.  I just - don't."

                "I know.  But - Tara's been doing research and she has some new things - wards - they won't be able to walk in like they could.  And - Scavenger helped before - he was mad at Jack - he was -"

                *Oh god, god, god...*   Spike shut his eyes and pushed his face into Xander's neck and Xander just held onto him.

                "It'll be okay, love.  Promise.  Promise you," he soothed, and Spike just shuddered under his hands.  There was a creak on the stairs and moment later Cordelia was there, gratefully ducking under Tara's out-held arm, her strange, fey eyes glimmering with tears.

                "Thank you - god - thank you..." she whispered.  Outside, the wind picked up and howled, a lost and lonely sort of sound, and the distant bell of a ship in the Duwamish made them all shiver.

 

                "Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
              in the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams:
                the islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered..."

 

 

 

                The house was warded to within an inch of its life when Tara raised the twig of dark wood - really, a finely-carved whistle - to her lips.  She blew, a long note that was delicate and high and sent Sinclair and Miss Kitty running.  Then she whispered 'Scavenger, Scavenger, Scavenger'. 

                "Now what?" Cordelia asked, helping Connor to put together a puzzle.

                "Now we wait.  I don't think he'll come until dusk."  Tara put the whistle carefully away in another small box - one carved with acorns and leaves - and settled down on the floor with Cordy and Connor.  Dawn was online, typing back and forth with Giles, and Oz and Derio were making music in the corner, guitar and fiddle and soft voices, something new of Derio's.

                Xander was sprawled over Spike on the couch, head firmly under Spike's chin and Spike was slowly rubbing his hands up and down Xander's back.

                *Wish we could go...  Let's go somewhere, love.  Let's go to New York, or - or over to Europe or England, yeah?  Let's - travel.*

                *I'd like that,* Xander agreed, sleepy in the late-afternoon warmth and quiet of the house.  Spike hated this part - the waiting part - more than anything.  Hated asking for a favor from a people who drove the demon to a frenzy - who made his human self shrink back in something too much like fear.

                *Not supposed to be like this.  Supposed to be...*  Images from his days with Dru - traveling and stopping on a whim; staying here and there for as long or as short a time as they liked.  Seeking out the mysteries and the mundanities of the world. Ghosts in Edinburgh and a jazz-singer in Paris; treasure and new frocks for Dru and a faster car - spell books bound in human skin and an original edition of The Lord of the Rings, signed by the man himself.  Several lifetimes' worth of laughter and love and fighting and blood - chases and races and pell-mell flights.

                *Just seein' the world - loving each other...  All I want to do with you, love.  With the family.*

                *We'll get there.  We'll do it - we will.  Love you, Spike.  Always.  It's going to be okay.*

 

                Tara was right and an hour after a stormy sunset the wards suddenly sparked to life, flaring witch-fire green and yellow all around.  Connor laughed out loud and ran to touch, and Cordelia snatched him back - joined Dawn on the couch, wide-eyed.  Spike stalked in from the kitchen, a bottle of whiskey in his hand, and went up to the door - opened it and peered out through the screen.  A horse's heavy whuff of breath blasted across him, and then there was a sparkling shimmer and Scavenger stood there, limned in the ward-light, his hair tangled and caught full of weed and leaves, dripping wetly over his chest and arms.  He hugged his arms tight around his ribs and stood there, his eyes sparking ruby-red.

                "It's cold, chovexani - won't you invite me in?"

                "Only if you bind yourself with salt and bread, to bring no harm to this house or those within it," Tara said softly.   Scavenger looked at her, his lips peeling back in a snarl and Spike growled, the wards like ants over his skin and the string of beads burning against his chest.   Scavenger shook his hair back and the air around him rippled and he was dressed.   Ragged jeans and sweater, like before, but barefoot this time and feathers and trinkets in his hair.

                "You have the calling of us, and may choose how to use it.  Bring me the things and I will so swear."  Oz rose from the back of the couch and picked up a small plate - brought it over.  Spike eased the screen door open and Scavenger took the plate - took the slice of bread with the pinch of salt on it and folded it and wolfed it down, his eyes gleaming.

                "You make good bread, lady.  With your own fair hands, you made it.  By bread and salt I do swear, no harm to you or yours, no harm under this roof."

                "Let him in, Spike," Tara said softly, and Spike did, utterly unable to keep the demon submerged and not caring.

                *Better behave.  Better not try one bloody thing -*

                *Calm,* faintly from Oz, who was also twitching restlessly as Scavenger moved inside and his peculiar magical presence washed over them.

                "Back off, damnit," Xander snapped, eye green-glowing and his voice dropping to a growl, and Scavenger took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment.  When he opened them the nerve-tingling sensation was gone, and they all relaxed just a little.

                "So - you've called.  What shall I do?  Take you around the world in a night?  Grant you three wishes?"  His roving eye caught sight of Connor and he smiled.  "I could teach yon boy many a skill, in the mounds."

                "No," Tara said sharply, and Scavenger grinned at her.

                "What then?"

                "Do you have the calling of the Court?  Can you bargain for them?"  Scavenger abruptly sobered and looked away for a moment.

                "I have and I can.  What would you with the Court?"

                "Long story," Spike said, and went to sit with Xander on the back of the couch, taking a long pull of the whiskey while Tara slowly told their story.

 

               

               

                "Are we ready?" Xander looked around the room - at the wolves and Spike and Tara - at Cordelia and Connor and Dawn who were huddling together.

                "Ready as we'll ever be for this kind of nonsense," Spike grumbled.  But he tucked a second knife into his other boot, and the wolves nodded silently.  Outside in the yard - noticeable only by glinting spots of scarlet fire in the dusk - were Scavenger and another pooka, waiting to take them to L.A.  Cordelia hadn't been able to reach Angel and she was on the verge of breaking down.  Dawn was calming herself in the link, holding Cordy's hand so tightly Xander was sure there would be bruises.  

                "Oh - god -"  Dawn let go of Cordy and ran to Spike - hugged him hard and kissed him, then did the same to Xander and the wolves.  "Be careful, damnit!  No - heroics!"

                "Don't fret, love.  Back before breakfast," Spike said, and Dawn smiled crookedly at him and went back to Cordelia. 

                "It's time!" Scavenger called, and Xander grabbed Spike in a hard kiss. 

                *What Dawn said - no fuckin' heroics.*

                *Leave that to Peaches, love,*  Spike thought, grabbing Xander's ass and pulling him close.  They kissed again, and then went out to the waiting pookas.  Scavenger nodded at them, grinning, his white teeth flashing in the ward-light and street-light, his hair whipping in a hard wind.

                "Chovexani, this is Reed.  She will bear you."  The other pooka eyed them from behind an even wilder mat of black hair, thin arms crossed over her small breasts.

                "Thank you," Tara said, and Reed nodded once - shimmered and twisted and changed, and the massive black horse that stood there dipped its shoulder to Tara and snorted.  Derio gave Tara a leg-up, his hands laced around her shin, and Tara settled lightly on the sateen back, her hands clutching deep into the smoky-soft mane, a small backpack over her shoulders.

                "If the wolves run with us, they can pace us.  Stay at my heels, changelings!" Scavenger laughed, then he changed as well, braying a trumpeting challenge to the night and the storm.  Xander climbed on and Spike swung up easily behind him, arms tight around his ribs.  The wolves were shedding their jeans - morphing to the wolf and howling up at the sky, eyes flashing green fire.

                "Let's go!" Xander yelled, and Scavenger reared up - leapt forward with a bunch and push of powerful hindquarters and suddenly they were flying - skimming over the land - over water - over treetops, it seemed, and the bulking mass of black cloud that was moving in from the sea.  They ran south, faster and faster, and Xander tucked down, eye squinted shut - Spike's face in his back and their hands locked together.  The wolves were right there, joyous and fierce, running with the pookas as if they had wings.

                *Lets do this, then - do it right - fists and fangs and make the world know...nothing on this earth touches my family.*

                *I'm in love with William the Bloody and I like it,* Xander replied,

                *Flying flying!* from Tara, delight and awe, and Xander laughed aloud.  L.A. seemed to come too soon.

 

 

                The Wolfram and Hart building was huge - brightly lit - swarming with demons and things darker and less identifiable.  There was a swirling mass of lightning-shot cloud hovering over it, and far, far below Spike could see Angelus, standing with a sword and his stupid hair - standing next to Gunn and Wesley with a look of determination and utter loneliness on his face.  Rain poured down, a stinging veil, and the gutters ran with dirty, trash-speckled water.   Scavenger leapt, forty stories in one stomach-churning go and Xander yelped, clutching at Spike's hands.  The pooka skidded on the tarmac of the street, water splashing up from his hooves.  He threw his head up and bugled a wild neigh, shaking rain off in an all-over move like a dog.  Angel started and spun around - stared, his sword slowly dipping down until the point touched the ground.  The wolves loped forward out of a swirling mist, *Flying!  God, it was wonderful -* in the link.

                "What - what are you - Spike?  Xander - what -" He gaped at them and Spike grinned - slid off the pooka and braced Xander as he did the same.

                "Heard you were havin' a bit of a dust-up, Angelus.  Care for a hand?"  Angel's lips moved soundlessly, and Gunn - limping and with blood down the side of his face - hobbled over to them.  The pooka did a little side-ways dancing move and Gunn froze - then stared in bewilderment as the horse swirled up and away in a fountain of blackness and sparks, revealing after a moment the slight, wickedly grinning form of the pooka.

                "Scavenger?" Angel took his own step forward, staring, swiping at the water in his eyes.   "What the hell is going on, Spike!"  A scream from a demonic throat made them all jerk around and stare, and then Reed was there as well, Tara astride her back, her blonde hair a tangle over her shoulders, her sodden shirt clinging to her.

                "Are we ready?" she asked, and Wesley hurried up beside Gunn, blood washing pinkly from his shirt, his face worn and haggard.

                "Ready for what?  What's going on?"

                "Just a little - debt, bein' paid."  Spike nodded to Tara and she took the crystal shard out of her pocket and breathed over it - hurled it to the ground where it shattered.   Suddenly the sky seemed to split overhead, light pouring out of a fissure in the clouds that was edged in green and yellow, white and scarlet.  And the Seelie Court poured out - ranks and ranks of pale horsemen, stretching as far back as the eye could see.

                *Seraphim and Cherubim - Thrones and Dominions - the assembled Host -*   Spike stared at the them - at the wave of light that was pouring from the sky and glittering off of spear-heads and arrow-points, sword blades and axes  The wolves howled, and a roar went up from the Court.

                *God, it's beautiful, it's -*   Xander had Spike's hand in his, squeezing it tight, and Spike grinned and turned back to Tara, flinging ran out of his eyes with a sideways snap of his head.

                "Let's get the others too, love," he called and she smiled - pulled out the whistle from her other pocket.  She put it to her mouth and blew one long, shrill note that swelled over the hissing rain and the clink and rumble of the advancing horsemen.   The demons caught up the note and howled it back and the ground split; riders surging up like a whale from the depths.  The UnSeelie Court; black horses and riders clad in shimmering mail and dark gems - weapons that gleamed with a poisoned light.

                "What - is it?"  Wesley was clutching at Gunn, and Angel was looking around wildly, and Spike grinned like a madman.  He walked over to a car that was parked to one side and peered inside, then put his fist through the window - fished a CD out of his coat pocket and slid it into the car's player.

                "Glinda!" he called.  "Can you make it work?"  Tara nodded - urged Reed over and leaned down from the high, black back - touched the hood of the car.  Green light arched from finger to finger and then to the car and suddenly the stereo blared to life, music pouring out into the street, louder than the demons and the Seelie and UnSeelie host.

               

                "Welcome to the jungle,
                We got fun'n'games,
               We got everything you want
                Honey we know the names
               We are the people that can find
                Whatever you may need
               If you got the money honey
                We got your disease..."

 

 

                "It's a rescue, Percy!  Come on - we've got things to kill!" Spike shouted gleefully, taking the sword Scavenger drew from the air - seeing Xander do the same.  Reed leapt to a building-roof with Tara, standing beside the Queens and their consorts.   Overhead, something screeched, and they all looked up to see a dragon swooping and diving along the Wolfram and Hart façade.

                "A - rescue?"  Angel stared for one more moment at the Courts, shaking his head in bewilderment.  "Jesus - Spike, I -"

                "C'mon, me old china!  The Princess is safe at home with your boy, time to get to work!"  Spike leapt, demon-faced and roaring, Xander at his side and the wolves going out to flank them.  The Courts were surging forward and Spike saw Gunn and then Wesley climb aboard the broad back of some pale, dappled horse, swords thrust into their hands and armor slung on in haste, magic making the straps and buckles do the work themselves.   Rain gleamed like ice and diamonds and fire on the fantastical armor of the Courts and their weapons - on the tack and equipage of the horses and the banners that snapped and fluttered in the storm-wind.

                *It's like - a fuckin' movie.  We're in the middle of a movie,* Xander thought, pushing his rain-soaked hair off his face and staring, a grin on his face. 

                "I'm going to kill the dragon!" Angel yelled, and Spike laughed, and they plunged into the fray.

 

                "In the jungle
                Welcome to the jungle
                Watch it bring you to your....knees, knees
               I wanna watch you bleed..."

 

 

 

                In the peculiar way of magic, when all was said and done L.A. hadn't seemed to notice the titanic forces that had battled for hours in the streets.  The rain had slacked and finally stopped, and now a dense fog was eddying along the streets, glowing faintly in the impending dawn.  The Wolfram and Hart building was gone - was nothing more than a smoking hole in the ground surrounded by broken asphalt and concrete, rain-water pooling in the low places.  Xander couldn't imagine how that was going to be explained away.  Reed came down from the rooftop, dipping her shoulder so Tara could dismount and then standing there for a moment, staring at them.  With a shake of her head she turned and darted away, shimmering into nothingness.  The Courts had already gone - when the last demon had fallen they had ridden away into smoke and obscurity, rippling away into thin air as if they had never been.  Xander had seen the Queens both raise a hand to them, and then turn and go as well, without a word.

                *Well rid of them,* was Spike's thought, and Xander supposed he was right.

                "God - did we win?  I mean - they're gone, right?"  Xander carefully flexed his hand, trying to ease the cramps out of his fingers.  The sword-hilt had been welded to his hand with blood and sweat and it had taken him five minutes or more to get his fingers to unlock and let go.  The Sidhe blade was propped against a heap of broken concrete now, and he slid slowly down next to it, wincing as broken edges poked him sharply in the back.  Tara found a patch of street that wasn't too muddy and sat down, gazing around her with wide eyes.

                "Think we won," Spike said, flopping down next to Xander, mud and blood spattered all over him - his face smeared with it and his hair glued into a mat with demon gore.  He wiped tiredly at his face and then just lay there.

                *Oz?  You all right?  Derio?*

                *We're here*   The wolves trotted out of the fog, their fur plastered to them, their muzzles wet with blood.  Tara reached into her backpack and pulled out two pair of jeans, holding them while the wolves changed.  Oz and Derio got the jeans on and then stood there, drooping with exhaustion, as filthy as Spike and Xander were.

                "Where's Angel?  And - Wes and Gunn?  Did you see them?"

                "Saw Angel getting that dragon - guess he did kill it."  Oz settled gingerly on a twisted mailbox and Derio slumped next to him, leaning his head on Oz's shoulder. 

                "Is anyone there?" a voice called, sounding distant, and Xander looked around.

                "We're here!  Who's that?"

                "It's Wesley and Gunn!  Are you all right?"  The two men staggered out of the fog, their Sidhe armor smeared and filthy, both looking dazed and utterly spent.

                "We're all right," Spike said.  He was doing a slow search for his cigarettes, and when he finally found them Gunn silently held out his hand.    Spike snorted and tossed him the pack - lit up and then handed over his lighter.  Gunn lit his own smoke and handed everything back, then tiredly wiped his hand back over his head.

                "Are you all right?" Tara asked, eyeing their muddy, bloody selves and looking like she was itching to start wiping faces and checking bones.

                "I think we're fine, actually," Wesley sounded surprised.  He looked down at the intricately wrought breastplate he wore and gave it a tap over his heart.  "I think it's all down to these that we fared so well."

                "Think they'll let us keep these?  Don't even have a dent - not one scratch."

                "They may," Wesley said, his hands starting to work on the buckles and straps.  Gunn stuck the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and helped him, and after a few moments Wesley eased the breastplate off with a sigh of relief, rolling his shoulders and neck. 

                "My turn," Gunn said, and they worked in silence to get Gunn's armor off as well.  When the pieces were propped next to Xander's sword Gunn drew Wesley into his arms and held him for a long moment, big hands smoothing Wesley's back and Wesley murmuring something into Gunn's shoulder, eyes closed.  They both drew apart reluctantly, and Gunn wiped at his face and looked around. 

                "Where's Angel?  Sun'll be up soon, he needs to get undercover - you too, Spike." 

                "Yeah," Spike said, eyes closed, cigarette going to ash between his fingers.  Xander sighed and slowly started levering himself to his feet, every muscle screaming.  During the fight he'd felt - like a superhero.  Now he felt a hundred years old.

                *Hundred's not so old,* Spike thought, opening one eye and peering at him, and Xander grinned and held out his hand.

                "Maybe not for you.  I want a hot bath and my bed.  For a week."

                "Amen to that," Gunn said.  Spike groaned and took Xander's hand, letting himself be pulled up, and the wolves climbed slowly to their feet as well.  Tara stood up and slung her backpack onto her shoulders, the only one of them with any energy at all.

                "I guess we need to find Angel then," she said, looking around in a kind of despair, and they all gazed at the rubble and demon corpses around them.  "What - wh-what's going to happen to all this?  I mean - all this can't just be - l-left here."

                "Maybe they'll burn up when the sun comes up?" Gunn asked hopefully.

                "Some will."  Spike looked around - wrinkled his nose.  "There's gonna be a god's awful stink, otherwise."

                "Oh, dear god, I can't even imagine," Wesley said, his face wrinkled in distaste, and they began to slowly walk down the street, circling chunks of the Wolfram and Hart building, looking for Angel.  The sky was getting lighter, a pale greenish-grey, and the fog was thinning and wisping away as dawn approached.  Xander was getting more and more nervous.

                *We've got to get you inside soon, damnit.  Why the hell isn't he HERE?*

                *Maybe something grabbed him and drug him off,* Spike thought, poking at what looked like half of a safe and pulling something out - dropping it hastily and wiping his hand on his jeans.

                *This is NO place for looting, Spike!*

                *No harm in looking.*

                *There might be!  Just - don't touch anything.*   Spike grinned tiredly at him and they plodded on.

                "Hey!  He's over h-here!" Tara yelled, and Xander and Spike both changed direction, heading towards Tara's voice.   Tara was kneeling behind the crushed body of a car, Angel's head cradled on her knee.  The vampire was covered in mud and blood and what looked like a strip of dragon-hide.  His sword was broken, wedged into the car's hood.   "Is he o-okay?  He's not wa-waking up."  Tara was trying to clean the mud off Angel's face with her fingers and had only succeeded in smearing it around more.

                "Oh, he probably just needs a little blood.  I could use a pint or two, myself," Spike said, dropping down next to them and reaching for Angel.  His hand gripped Angel's shoulder and then he froze, staring.

                "Spike?  Wh-what is it?" Tara whispered.  Spike snatched his hand off Angel, his gaze never leaving Angel's face.

                 "Spike?"

                *What is it?  What's the matter?* 

                *God, I don't - I don't...know, I -*

                "You find Angel?"  Gunn and Wesley came around the back of the car as well and Wesley made a small noise of shock, hurrying forward.

                "Is he all right?"

                "No, there's - something...  Spike, what is it."  Spike looked up at Xander, eyes wide, shaking his head.

                "Glinda - feel his neck - feel - right there."  Spike pointed at the pulse-point on Angel's throat and Tara gave him a confused look but obediently put her fingers on Angel's jugular.  She sat for a long moment and then she looked up at them, and there were tears in her eyes.

                "Tara?"

                "He h-has a pulse!  Xander, he - he has a heartbeat.

                "What?"  Wesley pushed forward, and Gunn did, and Spike climbed to his feet and edged away, bumping into Xander and putting his arms around him.

                *He - really has a heartbeat?*

                *He was WARM...  He - I think he's alive.*   Spike was staring at Angel - at Gunn and Wesley, who were feeling for a pulse and obviously finding it.  The feeling in the link from Spike were a mixture of anger and awe and happiness and Xander hugged him.

                 *You okay?*

                *Me?  I'm...  If he's...not a vamp anymore it's...  It's weird.  Angelus...was always there.  Can't be GONE...*

                *Angel's alive?*  Oz and Derio jogged into view from up the street, half-wolf to better help find Angel and shifting back to human, now.

                *He's - human.  He's got a heartbeat,*   Spike thought.

                "Wow."  Oz peered down at the - man - lying in Tara's lap, and they all looked around in startlement as hoof-beats rang behind them.  It was Scavenger, trotting towards them, Cordelia and Dawn and Connor on his back.

                "Xander!  Are you okay?  Is everybody okay?  Spike?"  Dawn looked like she was about to leap right off Scavenger's back and the pooka stopped and dipped his shoulder down, holding stock-still as Dawn started to slither to the ground.  Spike leaped forward and helped her then held out his hand for Cordelia, bracing her as she slid off awkwardly, holding a squirming Connor tightly.

                "Unc' Spike!  We were running in the clouds!  We were higher than the trees!"  Connor broke free of Cordelia's hold and ran towards the others - stumbled to a halt as he saw Angel.  "Why is Da sleeping on the road?  Unc' Wes, why is Da sleeping in the road?"

                "Oh, no, oh - no - god -"   Cordelia went white, stumbling forward, and Spike got an arm around her.

                "Don't get in a panic now, Princess.  He's - he's not - I mean, he's -"

                "Cordelia -" Wesley said, standing up and holding out his hand.  "Angel is - he's...alive."

                "Of course he's - alive, he's not - dust -"  Cordelia went down on her knees next to Angel and Wesley crouched down next to her, his hand on her shoulder.  Dawn snagged Connor and held him and he struggled, scowling.

                "Want down, Aunt Dawn!"

                "Cordelia..."  Wesley smiled suddenly - a huge smile, his eyes gleaming through the muck and mud on his face, his teeth startlingly white.  "Angel has a heartbeat.  I think - I think it's Shanshu."  Cordelia just stared at him - jumped a little when Angel groaned and started to move.

                "Angel?  Oh, god - Angel?  Are you all right?"  Angel's eyes fluttered, open and shut and finally open, and he peered dazedly upwards for a moment before his gaze settled on Cordelia.

                "Cordy?  What - why are you here?  It's - too dangerous -"

                "The fight's over, man.  We won!"  Gunn was grinning now, too, and he pulled Wesley to his feet and kissed him, hard.  "We won!  We.  Fucking.  WON!"

                "We did?  God - my head hurts."  Angel sat up slowly, Tara and Cordelia helping him.  He smiled briefly at Tara and then hugged Cordelia.  "We really won?"

                "Yeah, beat 'em into the ground.  Literally.  Look around you, Angel," Spike said and Angel did, taking in the smoking ruins and the mess of squashed cars and demon bits.

                "Wow.  Yeah, I guess we did.  Where are - the Sidhe?"

                "Buggered off as soon as the fight was done and good riddance." 

                Angel nodded - grimaced.  "You know...  I don't - feel...right."

                "How do you feel?" Wesley asked, his face alight with curiosity, and Angel clambered slowly to his feet, frowning.  Tara stood up as well, retrieving her backpack and moving to stand next to Oz and Derio, smiling when the werewolves linked their arms around her.

                "I - dunno, I'm kind of...dizzy?  And...my chest hurts.  Did I get hit?"  Angel passed a shaking hand over his chest - looked down at himself in startlement.   "What the -"

                "Angel - Angel, it's - Shanshu.  You're alive - Angel, you're alive!"  Cordelia couldn't hold back - she flung herself on Angel, crying, hugging him, and Angel automatically held her, rubbing her back.  He looked at Wesley, his face alight with fear and hope and shock.

                "Wes?  Is - what's going on?"

                "It's true, Angel!  You have a heartbeat - you're alive."  Wesley's grin was enormous and so was Gunn's and Angel just stared and then slowly started to grin back.  Beside Xander, Connor flailed harder and Dawn put him down.  He ran straight to his parents, clinging to Angel's thigh and Angel gently loosened Cordelia's hold and bent down to pick him up.

                "Da, you okay?  Da - why were you sleeping in the road?  Why is mommy crying?  Da, I rode a horse here, did you see the horse?  He could talk!"  Angel hugged Connor to him, speechless, then looked around.  Scavenger stepped out of the shadows of an awning, ragged clothes and ruby-glowing eyes, and made a small bow.

                "Consider your new...state a parting gift from the Powers.   They have found another to fight for them.  Your visions will come no more," Scavenger added, nodding to Cordelia, and she gasped, covering her mouth with her hand.  "The defeat of Wolfram and Hart will leave a void, and there will be many factions fighting for control of the city.  Best for you all to move on."

                "No.  We don't abandon our post," Wesley said, and Gunn was nodding.  Angel glanced at them and nodded as well.

                "We don't need visions - or a mandate from the Powers - to fight.  There're too many innocents at risk to just - leave."  Scavenger shrugged - looked over at Xander and Spike.  "I'll bear you one last time - take you home.  Are you ready?"

                "Yeah, I - yeah, we are," Xander said, suddenly feeling like he couldn't keep on his feet for one minute longer.  Angel passed Connor over to Cordelia and approached them.

                "I don’t - know what to say.  I can't believe you did this for me.  For us.  Thank you."

                "Thank the Niblet - she's the one insisted," Spike said, frowning a little, and Angel looked over at Dawn, who grinned. 

                "Whoever made it happen - I'm grateful.  I - god.  This is - weird.  It's so - loud."  Angel stood for a moment with his hand to his chest, then he looked at Spike.

                "I guess - I'm not a vampire anymore...  Guess that's the last I'll be seeing of you."  Spike eyed him, then stepped forward and let the demon emerge - took a long sniff at Angel's neck. 

                "I dunno, Angelus - you don't smell half bad.  Might come see you some night."  Spike was grinning, and then Angel was, and suddenly they were hugging, a hard embrace that last for long minutes.  Then Spike backed off and slipped his arm around Xander's waist again, and Angel retreated to Cordelia's side.

                "Come and visit sometime," Xander said.  "You've never seen our house.  You're welcome anytime.  All of you - you're welcome anytime."

                "Thank you, Xander," Wesley said - walked over and held out his hand and shook, one after the other, with Xander and Spike, Oz and Derio.  Tara he hugged, kissing her cheek, and he and Dawn both stood and looked at each other for a moment until Dawn shrugged and hugged the ex-Watcher.  Wesley retreated to Gunn's side and Gunn took his hand.

                "We can always use an extra hand in the demon-fighting business," he said.

                "We're done with that for a while," Xander said, feeling Spike's arm tighten around him.  "And right now - I just want to go home."

                "Me too," Tara said, plucking at her still-wet shirt, and Scavenger, who'd faded back while they talked, emerged again, horse-shape.  A low whicker and another horse trotted out of the shadows - shadows that were uncomfortably sharp-edged as the sun climbed past the horizon and began to creep through the canyons of the city.

                *Definitely time to get out of here,* Xander thought, as he and Spike climbed one last time onto Scavenger's back and Gunn helped Tara and Dawn up onto the other pooka - Reed, Xander was sure.  Oz and Derio changed, making Connor squeal with delight, and Xander raised his hand.

                "Be careful, you guys.  And Angel - remember.  Sunblock is your friend."  He grinned, and Angel laughed, snatching Cordelia and Connor to him and hugging them, spinning them around with a shout of pure joy. 

                "Bye!  We'll call you!"  Dawn yelled, and then Reed began to run, and Scavenger did, pounding over the street and then over air - over nothing.  Moving into pearl-shot blackness as L.A. disappeared behind them.

                *God, going home.  Not gonna be saving the world again anytime soon.*   Spike tightened his arms around Xander and Xander leaned back into him, closing his eye to the stinging wind.

                *Nope.  Just gonna - be together. Travel.  Maybe we'll go see Buffy and Giles.  And Willow.  I miss her.*

                *I know.  Whenever you like, love.  I can find something to do while you two braid hair.*

                *Oh stop.  You've braided plenty of hair in your time.*   Spike growled in Xander's ear and nipped at his throat, and Scavenger bucked under them.

                *Go home, stay home - not worry about anything for a while... Love you so much, vampire-mine...  Love you more than you know.*

                *Do you, now?  Can't be as much as I love you.* 

                *Maybe not.  Always, Spike.  Forever and always.*

                *Forever for sure, my love, my own.  No getting away from me now.*

                *Would never even try,* Xander thought, and Spike's arms were a shield around him - were holding him and holding him up and keeping him safe - keeping him.  Below was the Sound, and then the Duwamish, and *home home*, and their little house had never looked so beautiful - so welcoming.    The mist that the pookas seemed to drag with them shielded Spike from the rising sun and they slithered down and ran for the door, the pookas wheeling and gone, faster than thought.  Once inside they simply stared at one another while the wolves changed and Spike peeled off his filthy coat.  Then they were grabbing on - holding tight - a crush of flesh and bone and *love you, love you*  

                *brother home love*

                *pack pack*

                *This is my life,* Xander thought.  *This is my life and it is...better than I ever thought it could be.*

                *Happy then, love?*  Spike asked, kissing him, and Xander looked at his family - at Tara and Dawn like the sisters he'd secretly wished for; at Derio and Oz who were brothers, lovers - the truest of friends.  And at Spike, whose tired face and sparkling eyes made his heart pound in sheer joy - in a rush of giddy happiness that seemed to make the whole room spin.

                "Happiest I've ever been, Spike.  Happiest I've ever been."

                "That's all right, then," Spike said, and kissed him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It's Only a Paper Moon - Billy Rose

Moon River - Lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Henry Mancini

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot

Welcome to the Jungle - Guns 'n' Roses