Chapter 6: Trouble

Chapter 6: Trouble

                Driving back through Sunnydale they were all silent; Willow was huddled in the back of the van with Tara and Spike was cross-legged on the floor between the two front seats, his right hand in Xander's and his left on Oz's thigh.  Buffy was in the link - images and emotion - and Xander turned to Spike after a moment, a frown on his face.

                "Remember when Drusilla came to visit?  And she said -"   *Angel falling like a star from heaven...don't be sorry for that golden angel...*

                *Slayer, you think?*

                "I don't - what if she was talking about Buffy?  Do you think - what do you think it means?"  Xander was fitting his hand palm to palm with Spike's - was tracing lightly over the skin of the vampire's knuckles and the back of his hand and Spike leaned his head into Xander's hip.

                "She might have been.  Might have been talkin' about something that already happened, too, or hasn't happened yet or that never will happen.  Dru's got the Sight but it's not - 20/20, Xander."

                "It sounds like - if it were Buffy -"   *Happier being dead,* Oz said, and the three of them exchanged glances.

                "You couldn't be...  I mean, being dead is..."

                "Not so bad, love," Spike said softly, and Xander smiled down at him, squeezing his hand.

                "Not quite the same.  Willow thinks she was in - hell.  Do you think - she remembers?  Angel remembered."  Soft snort of derision from Spike at that, and Xander picked a little at the nail-polish on Spike's thumb.

                "Here now, pet, you're gonna ruin my manicure.  I dunno 'bout Angel, but wherever the Slayer was, she'll tell us about it when she's good and ready."

                *Think she ever will be?*   Oz asked, and the vacant look - the lost air - came through the link, making them fall silent.

                "She was in hell.  She'll be better now," Willow said softly from the back of the van, and Spike turned his head to look at her, his eyes golden in the gloom.

                "I wouldn't be so certain, witch.  You've no idea where she's been.  And you'd no business doing what you did."  Willow's eyes were hard - fierce - and Xander felt a cold chill down his back.

                *She's so certain...  HOW is she so certain when she couldn't even know -*

                "What was I supposed to do, Spike?  Leave her there?  Leave her dead?  None of you even seem to - to care that she died like that - that she died at all!"

                "Willow, you know that's not true!"

                "Isn't it, Xander?"  Willow crawled forward on her knees a few feet, evading Tara's reach for her arm.  "She died and we b-buried her and then it was like - like nothing ever happened!  You took over patrolling and - and took over Dawn -"

                "Don't you drag the Bit into this, Red.  She's nothing to do with this," Spike said, twisting around to face Willow.   *Anger* was surging in the link - anger and sorrow and fear, and Xander battered at it with *calm, calm*, knowing that the subsonic hum of power that was Willow was teasing out the worst in all three of them.

                "Willow - why?   I just want to know why you didn't trust us.  Why you had to do this - in secret."  Willow's gaze switched from Spike to Xander and her face softened a little - took on a pleading look that Xander knew intimately.

                "Xander, I didn't want to but...  For a long time I didn't even think I could do it, and I didn't want to upset anybody - I didn't want to upset Dawn.  I thought it would be better if I just did the research and - and got everything together first -"

                "But then you should have told us, Willow," Xander said softly, and Willow bit her lip - looked away.

                "I wanted to.  I - I just -"

                "You didn't want to tell anyone, Red," Spike said suddenly, cutting her off and leaning towards her - making her flinch back.  "You knew if you told the Watcher or your girl there or Xander or even the Bit they'd tell you no.  They'd tell you to stop and consider and you...didn't want to do that."

                "That's not true, Spike -"

                "Course it is."  Spike leaned back up - pulled out a cigarette and lit it and regarded Willow through the smoke.  There was something like disgust coming from him in the link, and Xander put his hand out, tentatively - touched Spike's shoulder. 

                *Oh, Spike...please don't...*

                "You wanted to show off your power and you didn't give a bloody damn for the consequences.  And there are always consequences, witch.  Every bit of magic you do has a consequence and this kind..."  Spike took a long drag and blew the smoke straight at her, his eyes gleaming gold and his lips curled back in a snarl.  "This kind could hurt all of us."  Willow's magic - or the presence of it - flared sharply, and a sourceless wind sprang up, fanning her hair.  Behind her Tara was wide-eyed, shaking her head.

                "That's not true, Spike, I would never hurt Xander or Oz or - or Tara!  You don't know what you're talking about!" 

                *Spike, stop!  We can't fight about this now -*

                "Gonna use that magic on me, Red?  Gonna hurt me?"

                "You deserve it.  You're killing people!"  Willow's face was white as paper and she twitched when Tara's hand came down on her shoulder - twitched and slid out from under it.

                *Protect protect, not pack!* from the wolf, avoid and attack in the same breath.

                "Forgetting something, witch.  Forgetting that my hurt is Xander's hurt.  Gonna hurt him, too?"  Willow stared at Spike, wide-eyed, and then her gaze went to Xander and he felt his heart sink.  Because for a moment there was calculation there.  As if she was weighing the hurt she could cause, and finding the...consequences...acceptable.

                "Willow!" Tara cried, her eyes shimmering with tears, and Willow started to turn, to say something, and Oz suddenly slammed on the brakes.  They all rocked with it, Willow falling on her side and Xander putting out his hand to keep himself from going headlong into the dash.  Ahead about two car-lengths was Giles' car, also stopped.  About a block further on Xander could see fire, moving figures, and -

                *There's the 'bot!  Fuck - Buffy!*   Buffy was climbing out of Giles' car.

 

                *What in hell is she doing?*    Spike sprinted up the street after Buffy, Xander and Oz beside him.  Tara was behind the wheel of the van, ready to drive away if things got ugly.  Up ahead he could see the Hellions and the 'bot.  They seemed to have chained the 'bot's arms and legs to various bikes and were even now preparing to quarter the ragged figure.  Half the 'bots hair was missing and her clothing was torn and dirty.  Wires were exposed along her abdomen and chest, and one arm was askew, as if it had been dislocated.

                "Buffy!  Stop!" Xander yelled, and Buffy looked over her shoulder at him, her mouth a little open, her eyes wild.

                "That's me!  I have to...   Help me stop them, Xander!  Help me -"   Buffy turned back to the Hellions, running faster now, and Spike cursed.

                *Bloody stupid notion.  Got to get the Bit out of here...*

                *Get the Hellions out of here - let them know the Slayer is back,*   Oz, practical as always and Spike sent him a flashing grin.

                *Good idea, wolf!*   "Oi!  Slayer!" Spike shouted, and the Hellions jerked in surprise, looking wildly around.  They saw Buffy and one stepped up, sneering.

                "Take the ringer out, boys!  Then we'll take out the other one and the Hellmouth'll belong to us!"

                *Idiot* Xander thought, and he was grinning now - like Spike was, like Oz and Spike saw the hyena come out in the blink of an eye - saw the glow come up in Xander's eyes and he laughed aloud.  Oz was shifting, half-way to the wolf and he let out a yipping howl of excitement.  Too much tension - too much emotion - and this would make a fine release.  Spike let out the demon and roared, and the Hellions holding the chains to the 'bot kicked their bikes into gear, going hard in four different directions.  The 'bot flew apart with a pop of bluish lighting and Buffy screamed.

                "No!"  Then she flung herself forward, straight into the leader and he went down under her headlong assault.  Spike dove in happily, snapping necks and ripping out throats - breaking a leg here or a skull there.  The demons seemed disconcerted by a second Slayer - by a Slayer with demonic cohorts and they couldn't get themselves organized fast enough to make a decent defense.  The leader was down, writhing, and Buffy was spinning and kicking, her matted hair flying out around her but Spike could sense the weakness in her.  Could smell it.  She wasn't up to this, not yet.

                *Slayer needs help.  We need to leave some alive so they can spread the word,* he thought, and Xander and Oz moved immediately to her side.  Spike pounced on the leader and dragged him upright - threw him into the sadly diminished number of his fellow Hellions.  Buffy backed off, standing in front of Xander and Oz and panting a little, wobbly.

                "Slayer's here, boys - and she's not giving this town up.  Best go now, before she has your heads on a pike at the city limits."

                "Who the fuck are you, vampire?   Since when does the Slayer have a vamp or any other demon fighting for her?"

                "Since William the Bloody became Master here, that's when." Xander was grinning - shaking blood off his hands and the Hellion stared at him - squinted suddenly at Spike and then at Oz.

                "Werewolf, vampire...and whatever the fuck you are...  Fuck!"

                "I heard'a them," another demon muttered, and the leader glared at him - looked back at Buffy.

                "Slayer -" he hissed.   Buffy bent down, snatching something off the street and throwing, one smooth motion.  The knife she had scooped up thudded solidly in to the leader's head, between his eyes and he fell backwards in slow motion and lay, twitching, on the asphalt.

                "Get the hell out of my town," Buffy rasped, and the remaining Hellions scrambled for their bikes.  In minutes they were gone, the roar of their bikes diminishing rapidly and Oz couldn't help sending a ringing howl after them.  Buffy looked over at him - watched as he shifted back to his human self and a small smile turned up the corners of her mouth.

                "You guys - you really kick ass," she whispered, her voice mostly gone, and they stared at her. 

                *Never thought I'd see the day -* Spike thought, and then he was laughing, and Xander and Oz were, too.

                "God, Buffy - are you okay?  We really need to get home," Xander said, going forward and slipping his arm around the Slayer's shoulders.

                "I - guess I am.  I'm so tired...  Were you tired, Spike?"

                "Tired when, pet?" Spike asked, fishing out his flask. 

                "When you - after you...dug your way out."  Spike stopped, the flask half-way to his mouth, and looked at her. 

                *Oh Buffy,* from Xander, soft and so sad.

                *Be all right, love.*

                "Yeah, Slayer, I was tired.  And hungry."  He flashed a fangy grin and her and took a long pull of the whisky.  After a moments hesitation he held it out to her.  Buffy tipped her head to one side, that little smile still there, just curling her mouth up.  She reached out with her poor, torn hand and took the flask - took a drink.

                "Blaaaah!  Oh, god - that's awful!" she squeaked.  Spike just grinned, taking the flask back.

                "You're right about that, Buff.  That stuff could strip paint."  Xander hugged her a little closer and there was a little thread of happiness in the link - a blossom of hope.

                "Oi!  Finest kind, this.  You just don't have any appreciation."  Spike put the flask away and snaked an arm around Xander's waist, pulling him close.  He could feel Buffy's heat, just there on the other side, and then Oz slipped up, putting his arm around Buffy too, his hand just brushing Spike's where it rested on Xander's ribs.

                "I'm with Xander.  I say you can never go wrong with fruit."

                "Fruit in drinks is for girls and poufters," Spike declared, and Xander giggled.

                "Which am I, then?" he said, and Buffy actually laughed.

                "Is everything all right?!"  It was Giles, halfway down the block to them, looking at the sprawled corpses of demons.

                "It's fine, Giles!  We're coming!"  Xander tugged a little, slipping his hand into Spike's back pocket and the four of them walked down the street, grinning inanely.

                *And we're a fine lot of fools, aren't we.  This night is madder than that one,* Spike thought, seeing the tower and the portal again, and Xander bumped his hip a little, smiling over at him.

                "This is how it's supposed to be, Spike.  The white hats win, and walk away smiling."

                "Yeah," Buffy said, looking at Spike too, and Oz made that wolfish little whuff down in his chest, agreement and laughter in one.

                "You lot - almost make me wanna trade in my Evil Undead membership card," Spike said, and that made Buffy giggle all the way back to Giles' car.

 

                As they went up the walk to the house Buffy seemed confused, and she finally turned to Xander, frowning.

                "Xander, I don't - this isn't the house you lived in before, is it?"

                "Oh!  That's right, you -   No, this is a different house, Buffy.  After - you died, we moved here.  We needed someplace that had more bedrooms, so Dawn could have her own room."  Xander stepped around her and unlocked the front door and held it open for everyone to file in.  Giles went first, supporting a dazed Ethan, then Tara and Willow, both looking troubled.  Oz and Dawn came next, and then Spike, who winked at Xander and took a quick little breath as he breached the wards.

                *Hate those bloody things.*

                "Does Dawn live here?" Buffy asked, completely confused, and Xander ushered her in, smiling.

                "No, she just stays here a lot.  She rides the bus over after school and Spike helps her do her homework."  A snort of amusement from Spike, and a giggle from Dawn.  "Well, okay, that would be a lie.  He pretends to help her do her homework.  Mostly he teachers her how to play poker.  Or if Oz is home he's been showing her how to make stir-fry and stuff."  Buffy smiled briefly at that.  Her own kitchen skills were hit or miss, Xander remembered.  "Then when I get home we usually have dinner and head over to the Magic Box so Dawn can go home with Tara or Willow - they moved into your house.   Or we stay here and Dawn sleeps over."  Buffy looked lost again - a little freaked out - and Xander put his arm around her shoulders, hugging her lightly.

                "None of us wanted her to be alone, Buffy.  And we love her.  She's...part of our family too, you know?  She even stayed with Giles once or twice - got some Beginners Latin in."  Buffy just stared at him, then looked around the small living room, her eyes suspiciously bright.  Oz was moving from place to place, lighting the candles they still preferred over electric bulbs.  Ethan and Giles were at the kitchen table and Spike was assembling tea-things, grumbling about being the Watcher's batman.  Tara and Willow were on the couch, curled together, and Dawn was hovering, watching her sister.

                *Batman?* Xander asked, brief image of Spike in tights and something crashed to the counter top in the kitchen.

                *Bloody hell!  NO.  Batman - bloody servant.  'Do be so kind as to make some tea, Spike, I'm not familiar with your kitchen'...*   Xander bit the inside of his lip to keep from laughing.

                "Buffy?   Do you - do you wanna come have some tea or - or maybe hot chocolate?  Spike makes really good hot chocolate."   Dawn looked encouragingly at her sister, who hesitated.

                "Joyce's recipe," Spike said, grinning at Dawn, and Dawn smiled back - moved a few steps closer to Buffy.

                "It's the only thing he makes besides tea," Dawn whispered, "so say yes."

                "Heard that, Bit," Spike mumbled, but he got a pot out of the cupboard and poured in some milk.

                "Umm.  Sh-sure.  Hot chocolate would be - Anya!"

                "Huh? Hot chocolate would be Anya?"  Xander stared at her, confused himself, now.

                "Where's Anya?  She's not here.  Did she - Xander, did she make it?"

                "What?  Oh!  Yeah, she made it, she was fine.  A little cut up.  She's with her boyfriend, Drake."

                "He of the endless orgasms," Willow muttered and Tara giggled into her shoulder.

                "Oh, that's - that's good."  Buffy seemed to waver for a moment and Xander took her arm.

                "C'mon and sit down, Buff.  Have some hot chocolate and then you can get a bath, huh?  And Dawn has some clothes here; you can change into something clean."  Buffy looked down at her smudged and bloody clothes - pushed a lock of filthy hair out of her face and grimaced.

                "Yeah.  That's - that's a good idea."  They went into the kitchen and settled into chairs, Buffy setting Mr. Gordo next to the three large candles-in-jars that were in the middle of the table..  Dawn fetched the extra two chairs from the back porch and Oz finished lighting candles and jumped up to sit on the kitchen counter next to the stove.  Spike leaned next to him and the low, contented hum of *pack* made Xander sigh in relief as he settled into the chair next to Giles, letting go of tensions he hadn't realized were there.

                *Safe at home.  God.  Everything about tonight was - fuckin' crazy - but I'm so glad to be here.  Glad everybody is here.*

                *Love you, pet.* 

                *Love you...* Xander thought, including Oz, and the werewolf smiled over at him - helped himself to a square of dark chocolate from the package Spike had opened.  Spike whacked the back of his hand but also leaned hard into his side, and Xander sighed again, just happy.

 

                "Giles?  Is that - Ethan Rayne?"  Buffy was staring at the thin Englishman with equal parts confusion and horror on her face and Giles looked up at her and leaned his elbows on the table.

                "Yes, it is Buffy.  And really, it's a very long story -"

                "Just sitting here, waiting on my hot chocolate," Buffy said, raising her eyebrows at him, and Giles smiled at her.

                "Yes, you are, aren't you?  Well, to be - succinct, when I...  When I sent Ethan off with the Initiative, they...moved him to a new facility, down in Brazil.  And..."

                "And they tried to discover what makes a Chaos Mage tick," Ethan said, his head jerking up on his neck as if a switch had suddenly been thrown.  His dark, sunken eyes roved over Buffy and he made a curious little gesture with his hand.   Spike, Xander noticed, flinched from it a little as did Tara, who was standing in the doorway to the kitchen.

                *What, love?*

                *'Nother bloody ward.  Mage is superstitious, what a surprise.  Against - the unhappy dead.*

                *But she's NOT dead -*

                *Yeah, well.  He's not takin' any chances, is he?*   Xander frowned, not really liking that.  Buffy meanwhile was staring at Ethan - really looking at him - and there was dawning comprehension on her face.

                "Are you saying - they hurt you?  But, you're human!" 

                "So were the witches the Church burned.  Humanity is never a 'Get out of jail free' card," Ethan said, smirking just a little.  His lean face was so gaunt it hurt to look at, and Xander wondered what else was wrong, besides exhaustion and starvation.  He seemed -

                 *His magics wonky.  I think - they messed up his connections, so to speak.*

                 *How do you know that, Spike?*

                *The way he feels,*   Spike thought, and Xander thought of the wrongness that seeped from the man, and nodded to himself.  Maybe it hurt, to be like that.

                "He was tortured, Buffy," Giles said softly.    "Experimented on.  Much like your Riley."  Buffy flinched a little at that, and Giles pursed his lips but plowed on.  "When the facility in Brazil was destroyed, Ethan managed to make his way here.  He's only been here a short time, and he's still very ill.  He's staying with me."  Giles looked slightly defiant, slightly sad, and Buffy just stared at him for a moment.  Spike had lit a cigarette and was stirring the chocolate, a subdued sort of laughter in the link.   Laughter mostly at the look on Buffy's face..

                *Stop that.  He DID try to kill us all.*

                *Oh, that's his job though, innit?  Just like mine*   Flash of fangs over his shoulder and Xander just grinned at him.

                "What happened down in Brazil?  Destroyed how?"  Buffy asked, and Giles looked at Xander - glanced at Spike and took off his glasses, feeling in a pocket for his handkerchief.

                "Well, there were -"

                "It was your vampire, there.  He was instrumental in bringing all the little tin soldiers toppling down."  Ethan shot a look of wolfish glee at Spike, who raised an eyebrow at him.

                "What?  Okay - first?  He's not my vampire -"

                "Got that bloody right," Spike grumbled, and Buffy rolled her eyes.

                "So not complaining.  And second?   We're sliding into bizzaro-land, here.  How did Spike get down to Brazil and take out the Initiative."

                "Called in a favor or two, Slayer.  T'wasn't hard."

                *Can we please not brag about this?*

                *Was a good job, pet - nothing to be ashamed of.*

                *Don't play the fool,* from Oz, who was staring at Dawn.  The younger girl looked rather shocked and the look she turned on Spike was confused and a little afraid.

                "Spike, did you really -"

                "I did really, Bit.  And I'd do it again.  Those wankers were puttin' everybody in danger, messin' with things they didn't know how to handle.  Just ask the Watcher there, or your sis.  They were heading for something nasty."   Spike turned his back on the group abruptly, stirring the mixture in the pot, and Oz reached out and rubbed his hand slowly up Spike's arm and shoulder to his neck - kneaded the tense muscles there.

                *Fuckin' mage should learn to keep his mouth shut.*

                *Dawn understands,* Oz thought, and Spike flicked a glance at him.

                *Don't want her to have to,* he thought back, and Xander understood that, but...

                *Can't keep her in the dark forever.  Better she knows things - she'll be safer in the long run.*

They all agreed on that, but none of them wanted to be the one to introduce Dawn to the grimmer realities of life on the Hellmouth.  Well, the grimmer realities she hadn't been forced to live through, that is.

                "He's right, you know," Ethan said, sitting up a little straighter and running his hand back through his hair, vain attempt to make it lie down.   "They were mixing magic and science - or trying to.  They were...upsetting the balance.  We're all very lucky the bad thing that happened happened to them, and not...  Well, I can't say us since I was there.  Let's just say the world is a bit better off without them."  Ethan was serious now, looking straight at Buffy and not smiling at all, and Buffy slowly nodded.

                "Giles - said something about that, the last time you were in Sunnydale.  He said you'd warned him...  Well I'm - I'm glad you got out."

                "No you're not," Ethan said softly, and his hand reached out and touched Giles' hand, and their fingers twined together.  "But I am."  Buffy looked at their hands with narrowed eyes and then looked around.  Tara had come over and sat down in the last free chair and Willow leaned behind her, toying with Tara's long blonde hair and not looking at anyone.

                "Okay.  Has everyone become gay since I died?  What's up with that?"  Giles just gaped at her, blushing, and Ethan laughed outright, leaning back in his chair and tugging Giles' hand down onto his thigh.  Spike appeared over her shoulder, fists sprouting mugs of hot chocolate.

                "Only common sense, Slayer.  Who'd know better about what to do with you than another bird?"

                "Spike!  Gross.   Can't you say 'woman' or maybe just 'girl'?  Now I'm gonna have visions of chickens!"  Dawn looked outraged and Buffy just stared at her - started making these strange sort of snorting noises.  While everyone looked on in confusion she finally slumped down over the table and laughed.  It was a little hysterical but it was a good sound, and Spike and Oz distributed cups and mugs until everyone had something hot to drink.  Ethan, Giles and Spike all took slugs of whiskey in their tea.  Buffy sat up finally, wiping her eyes, and she sipped her chocolate between tremors of silent laughter.

                "I have - a lot of questions and..."  Buffy looked around at all of them, her fingers creeping out to touch Mr. Gordo.  "I'm not...really sure I'm awake, or...something.  I just want to get clean and go to sleep and talk about all this -" she waved her hand around her, encompassing them all.  "Talk about this in the morning.  Okay?"

                "Of course," Giles murmured, and he suddenly reached across the table and clasped her hand in his, squeezing gently.  "I'm so very - very glad you're back, Buffy," he said softly, and Buffy's calm mask cracked for a moment, showing raw emotion that she instantly shut down.

                "I'm s-sorry, Giles, I -"

                "No, don't finish that.  You've no apologies to make."  Giles smiled gently at her and she nodded hesitantly, wiping her hand over her eyes.  Oz had leaned down to murmur something in Dawn's ear and she nodded, standing up.

                "C'mon Buffy, I'll show you the bathroom and my room - it's so cool, they let me paint it whatever color I wanted!"  Buffy sniffed and then smiled at her sister, standing also and tucking Mr. Gordo under her arm.

                "Oh, boy.  Why do I think I'm gonna be sleeping in a room with orange walls and green carpet?"

                "Buffy!  I was five when I wanted that!  I've got much better taste now.  And no carpet, but the rug is purple..."  Dawn led her away upstairs and a sort of tension seemed to slip out of all of them and Giles sighed and slumped back into his chair, glancing at his watch.

                "Good Lord, it's nearly three!  We really must -"   The rest of his words were lost in a jaw-cracking yawn.

                *Shouldn't split up just yet,* Spike thought, and Xander glanced at him and nodded.

                "Giles, you and Ethan should stay here tonight.  We don't think it's a good idea to split up until daylight."

                "Oh, no, we really -"

                "Ripper," Ethan said, putting his hand on Giles' shoulder.  "Listen to them.   They're right.  Things are still...unsettled."  Ethan flicked his fingers out, and the wards shivered, prickle of static across all of their nerves.  There was pressure, from the outside still - the Hellmouth uneasy as if the very fabric of it had been strained - frayed.

                *Has, in a way.  Who knows what Red pulled loose when she yanked the Slayer back home?  We'll be patching things for months.*   Giles had turned to look at Ethan and they stared at each other silently for a moment, and then Giles nodded.

                "All right, then.   We'll - we can camp down here -"

                "No, Giles.  You can sleep up in our room.  We still have the fold-out couch, me and Spike and Oz can all fit in it.  Tara and Willow can have Oz's room," Xander said, confirmation and approval flickering in the link, and Giles looked faintly surprised and then grateful.

                "Ah, well...  Thank you, then.  That would be - just fine."

                "I'll get some clean sheets," Xander mused, standing up and gathering cups and Oz joined him.  Spike was leaning against the counter, smoking, and Tara got up as well, handing her cup to Oz with a small smile.

                "Thanks, guys.  I th-think I could sleep for a week."  She turned to Willow and reached for her hand, then frowned.  "What is it, sweetie?"  Willow looked up from picking at the hem of her shirt, frowning a little.

                "Oh, it's just...  Buffy didn't seem very happy.  To be back, I mean.  To be out of hell."

                "She's just tired, sweetie, she'll - she'll be better t-tomorrow."

                "Or she won't," Spike said, and Willow frowned at him.

                "It's not like I expect you to care, but she's back!  I mean, there should be a little celebration or something, not all this - doom and gloom!"

                "You mean a little celebration of you?" Spike sneered, and Willow's eyes went wide and then narrow.

                *Fuck, thought we could get to sleep without this -*

                *Rubs me the wrong way, love, sorry,* Spike thought, but he wasn't sorry and Xander knew it.  Oz just shrugged, *pack* and *tired*, and Xander felt the same.

                "Well, okay, yeah!  I mean, that was some pretty advanced magic and - and I pulled it off!  Without any help!  I kinda think maybe somebody should say 'congratulations'!"

                "That is not the word I would choose," Giles said, his eyes glinting with anger.  He pushed to his feet abruptly and leaned on the table, staring at Willow.  "The power you used is primal, Willow - power that very few have the ability - or the sheer bloody audacity to meddle with!  Don't you see, you stupid girl, you're lucky to be alive!"  Giles shouted the last and Willow gasped in surprise - recoiled from him.  And then she leaned forward as well, anger vibrating through her.

                "But I did it, Giles!  I did what nobody else could!  I am powerful, and maybe - maybe you don't want to mess with me!"

                "Willow," Tara said, and there was - something - in the blonde witch's voice - a whip-crack of power that made them all flinch.  Ethan raised his head like a dog scenting prey, grinning.

                "Root and vine, little witchling - even you don't want to cross that line."

                "What -"

                "Mr. R-rayne, don't," Tara said.  She reached out and took Willow's hand.  "We're going upstairs.  Ju-Giles, I'm sorry.  We'll t-talk in the morning, okay?"

                "Yes, I think that would be best," Giles said shortly, then he sighed and took his glasses off - rubbed his forehead and stood there a moment, head down.

                "Willow - I didn't mean to shout at you.  But you cannot - cannot dismiss this lightly.  There will be consequences."

                "We'll deal with them, Giles.  Buffy's back now and - and everything'll be fine.  You'll see."  Giles just shook his head, looking too tired to even speak anymore, and Willow and Tara said their goodnights, going away upstairs.  Oz followed, calling softly up after them that he'd be up in a minute with clean sheets.

                "Yeah, clean sheets all around.  And no alarm clocks!" Xander said, yawning hard.

                "Yes, you're right.  I - I appreciate - everything you've done tonight, Xander - the three of you.  I -"

                "Sure, Giles.   No problem.  And - Willow - she...  She didn't mean that.  You know that, right?"  Xander still felt the tremor of barely-contained magics vibrating through the room - knew Spike and Oz did, as well.  It made him want to bristle up and snarl, but he shoved the hyena away, determined to smooth things over.

                "She is, for all her power, just an amateur, Xander. And an arrogant one at that.  I - my teaching -"

                "You can't stop that sort of thing Rupert - you of all people should know that."  Ethan pushed himself to his feet and tentatively wound his arm around Giles' waist.  After a moment Giles returned the gesture and Ethan sighed softly, leaning into him.  "She'll go on her merry way and she'll learn, eventually.  Or die.  You can only put the knowledge in front of her - you can't make her mind it."

                "She keeps on not minding it and she'll know what it's like to piss off a Master.  She does anything that threatens my family again and I won't hesitate," Spike said, and his calm, quiet voice held absolute conviction.   There was a moment of silence and then Giles nodded.

                "If she continues like she is, she may not survive long enough for you to extract your vengeance, Spike."  Giles shook his head - turned and briefly rested his mouth on Ethan's temple - the first real sign of true affection he'd shown in front of them, and somehow that made Xander feel like Giles finally, truly trusted them all.

                "Go to bed, Giles.  We'll fix this tomorrow.  Or, get started on fixing it.  C'mon, I'll get your bed made up."  Giles nodded and they went away upstairs, Oz getting clean sheets for Tara and Willow and sorting out a t-shirt and boxers to sleep in.  Xander did the same, and he paused outside of Dawn's door, listening.  But there was nothing except maybe a faint snore, and he smiled to himself and went downstairs again.   Spike had piled all the cups in a haphazard fashion in the sink and pulled the sofa-bed out, and was sitting moodily on the foot of it, his flask in his hand.  He tipped it up, emptying it, and looked up when Xander and Oz came in.

                "Need to go out, love."  *Hungry, angry.*

                *Yeah...*  Xander slumped down next to him and nuzzled into his shoulder - turned his face up for a kiss and was rewarded with a slow, deep exploration of his mouth, tasting whiskey and smoke and Spike, *love you love you* curling through the link like a warm breeze.

                *Be careful, love.*

                *Always.*   Spike stood up, picking up his duster and shrugging it on, then standing for a minute, his hand cupping Xander's cheek.

                "You all right?" Xander asked softly, and Spike nodded.

                "Course I am, love.  Just - anxious, is all.  Too much power flyin' about tonight.  Makes me -" Spike shivered, and Xander nodded.

                "Yeah.  Makes me wanna fight something," Oz said softly, and Spike grinned - reached over and pulled Oz into a hug, ruffling his hair up and kissing the werewolf on the temple.

                "Wanna come run with me, wolf?"  Oz hugged him back - looked towards the door with a considering expression, biting his lip.  And then he sighed and shook his head, pulling away and flopping down next to Xander.

                "Can't.  Well, shouldn't.  I've got to work tomorrow and get over to see Derio first thing..." 

                "Yeah.  You two sleep, then - I'll be quiet, coming in."

                "No you won't," Xander muttered, but he was smiling and Spike grinned back at him - slipped out the door and into the night.  Oz and Xander shuffled under the covers, Xander stretching hard and relaxing with a soft groan, his back sore from the tensions of the day and long-ignored bruises from the fight earlier suddenly perking up and starting to ache.

                "Christ.  I'm so tired...  You okay, Oz?"

                "Yeah."  Oz turned in the bed, curling up and pressing his back to Xander's side.  "Just - gonna be weird, these next few weeks, don't you think?"

                "Yeah, weird.  Well -" Xander yawned and turned as well, Oz solid and warm behind him, the rest of the bed empty, waiting for Spike.  "Weird is our middle name, huh?  We'll be fine."  *Love you.*

                *Love you too.*

                *Love you both and John Boy too, now get some bloody SLEEP!*   Smiling, Xander closed his eyes.er's cheek. ting w