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Adventures in Dimension Hopping

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"Is everyone ready?"

"You know…I've changed my mind. There's plenty of folks on this little expedition already and…"

"Shut up, Lorne."

"Hopefully the van will keep us all together. It would be rather a poor start to our expedition if we all get flung in different directions." Harry mused.

"So long as we don't end up fused together on the other side, it should work." Wesley offered.

"That's a possibility? No one mentioned that was a possibility." Gunn complained, reaching for the door.

"Give that here." Darla huffed, grabbing the book to begin reading.

"Krv Drpglr pwlz chkwrt strplmt dwghzn prqlrzn lffrmtplzt!"

A glowy, wavering portal began to open up in front of them.

"Hold on!" Angel called and floored it.

 

They landed with a bump and skidded to a halt, everyone screaming. Darla and Angel, who were in the front seat, both threw their arms over their faces and tried to scramble into the back, where Spike was already trying to crawl away from the window.

"Um, guys? You're not on fire." Harry pointed out.

"Did you put sun protection on us?"

"No. In retrospect, we probably should have. We didn't think to do so since it was dark when we left." Tom apologized.

"So…why are we not on fire?" Angel wondered.

"Different metaphysical rules, maybe?"

Lorne, who was looking ill now that he was in his homeworld, climbed shakily from the rear of the van.

"Who has the book? I guess we should head back here to leave again, since this is where the portal opens."

"I had it in my hand when we went through, but it's gone now." Darla replied.

"How are we supposed to leave again?"

"Maybe you dropped it."

They searched the van, peering under seats and feeling around, but there was no sign of it.

"If the purpose of the book was to open portals to this place, there's no point in it being here. It might have remained behind so it can continue to exercise its function. We'll just have to find another way. We know such ways exist, as at least two portals that we know of opened from here to L.A.--one dropped Lorne through, the other the drokken beast. We just need to find what those ways are."

"We should hide this." Lorne pointed to the van. "We don't have cars in these parts…or, you know, roads."

"No problem." Tom offered, before shrinking the van and dumping it in his pocket.

"Neat trick."

"It has its uses."

"So…if you were Drusilla, where would you be?" Cordelia asked.

"Your Drusilla is a seer…there's a couple of possibilities. None of them are particularly good." Lorne warned.

"Tell me." Angel growled.

"She might have been captured and collared. Cows aren't allowed to walk around free."

"You just started and I already don't like what I'm hearing." Gunn growled.

"Or, if anyone realized she was a seer, she might be in the hands of the Brotherhood of Trombli. There's a prophecy, you see."

"I hate prophecies." Angel, Tom and Harry all said together.

"That a person with the 'curse' would come and com-shuk with the groosalug, who then would become king."

"Okay…what the hell does that mean?"

"Com-shuk is a mating ritual. Groosalug means undefeated champion."

"Well, that doesn't sound so bad, you know, under the right circumstances." Darla opined.

"The reason for this is that the Groosalug will take her visions. If she survives, she'll probably be killed afterwards. I doubt the Brotherhood took it at all well that their prophesied one, with a connection to the powers, is a cow." Lorne disagreed.

"I'm liking that damned word less and less the more you say it." Gunn growled.

"There's a reason I didn't want to come back here! I hate this place. The day that portal opened up and dumped me in L.A. was the happiest day of my life." Lorne protested.

"Lorne. Come take a look at this."

Lorned glanced over at Harry and Tom, who were crouched down, looking at a map that had etched itself in the dirt at their feet.

"Do you know where this is?" Harry pointed.

"Where are we in relation?"

"Here."

Lorne took a careful look around and then at the map.

"That would be the palace. Looks like the Brotherhood's got your girl."

"Hey…that girl from your vision. What was her name again?" Tom asked.

"Winifred Burkle."

Tom waved his wand over the map they'd made and another dot appeared equidistant between themselves and Drusilla.

"Split up?" Wesley suggested.

"Might be for the best. There are a lot of us." Lorne agreed.

"Why don't you three and Lorne go get Drusilla. We'll look for Winifred Burkle."

"Be careful. You'll end up dead or collared if you're not." Lorne warned.

Harry just smiled and shook his head. "I'd worry about anyone who tried, not about us."

 

After walking for about a half hour or so, they began to see signs of civilization. The dirt road, thatched houses, and haze of smoke over the village brought back old memories for Angel--his home in Ireland back in the day hadn't been too far off this place. They began to hear indignant muttering at 'a herd of cows' wandering down the street like people, uncollared and uncontained. They also heard a few mutters about Lorne--betrayer, traitor, deserter. Lorne likely heard them as well, but he stared straight ahead and kept walking; only the tension in his back and shoulders gave away how unhappy he was to be there.

"Krevalorneswath of the Deathwok Clan. You have returned." A large, grumpy looking demon of the same sort as Lorne announced, before looking him up and down in contempt. "You return wearing strange clothes and keeping company with cows. You compound your crimes and your betrayals."

"I'm a man on a mission, cupcake." Lorne tittered nervously. "Off to the palace to see the Princess, don't you know. These are her family. I'm here to be their guide."

"These cows have no collars!"

"Sends a mixed message, don't you think? Royal family in chains?"

The large demon gestured and they found themselves surrounded on all sides by grim demons.

"Take them to the Brotherhood. Let them deal with them."

Darla gave the demons a haughty stare from where she stood safely ensconced between Angel and Spike. One of the demons moved to grab Spike, but his hand shot out and grasped the reaching arm and give it a quick twist. The rest of the demons halted warily at the demon's scream. They'd never heard of such a strong cow before. Angel glowered at the demons nearest to him with the promise of death in his eyes. The demons backed off and just provided escort, though it burned them to allow cows even that much leeway. It burned even more when they set off, and the cows simply sauntered along as though they were important people, and they themselves their lackeys. It was small consolation that the Brotherhood would likely behead them for their insolence.

Lorne relaxed just a bit. The first hurdle was passed. If they could keep it up, they might all even get out alive.

After another long walk they at last came to the palace--a sizeable stone edifice, much different from the rural cottages that seemed to dominate the rest of the landscape. Large demons with swords guarded the entrance and were posted at intervals throughout the rest of the building. They were led down a long hallway, and passed over to some of the hulking guardsmen, who sneered at them before prodding them along. They were finally shown into a large hall, filled with demons, some in armor, some in robes, some in plain clothing that seemed to indicate servants of some sort.

At the focus of the hall, upon a high dais, in a throne, was Drusilla. She was dressed in a skimpy bikini with skirt combo, slit high on each side, reminiscent of Princess Leia--not that Spike ever watched Star Wars or anything--and wearing a crown.

"Princess. Prisoners to see you. What would you have us do with them?"

"Off with their heads!"

Around the room, swords were drawn and the armored warriors began to advance.

"Dru, pet, that's not very nice. You could at least offer us hospitality before bringing on the fun and games."

"No, I can't. I'm a wicked princess."

"That you are luv, that you are…but if you cut off our heads there won't be any more games to play."

"Miss Edith agrees. Release them."

"Fine old bird, Miss Edith. You should always listen to her, pet."

 

"Are we close yet?"

"Just about. She should be somewhere up ahead."

"REBEL COW! Seize her!"

"Uh…did the rest of you hear that?"

"Yeah."

They scrambled to the tree line and peered out to see a dirty, collared human fleeing before several armed demons. One of them threw something at her and it wrapped around her legs tripping her to the ground and sending her tumbling. When she was down another pointed a device at her and pressed the button. She didn't react.

"It is as we thought. This cow has done something to her collar."

They surrounded the girl and one aimed a kick at her.

"I've seen about enough, I think." Wesley remarked as he hefted his sword.

"Right there with you." Gunn growled.

The two of them burst from the treeline, each bellowing a war cry. The noise attracted more demons, who came running. Tom and Harry split up and went wide to get behind the new demons that were approaching and began laying them low from a distance. Wesley and Gunn worked to drive back the demons surrounding the girl, while Cordelia went in to grab her and get her away.

They got the demons there, but they could hear more coming, attracted by the sound of battle. Deciding to retreat for the moment, they dashed back into the trees, and ended up following the girl they rescued, who darted ahead, beckoning. She led them on a roundabout route, through water and across rocks, before doubling back and coming at last to a cave.

Once they were all inside, the girl began to fidget and twist her hands.

"You need to be careful. You don't have collars. You're supposed to have collars. Cows do. We're all cows. I didn't used to be a cow, but I am now. I don't like it much."

"Winifred Burkle."

The girl shook her head once and backed away from them, spooked.

"No. That's not me. I dream about her sometimes. She lived someplace else. Before here. But nothing was before here. I've always been here. I wish she was me. They were nice dreams. TACOS. I like tacos…at least I think I would if I'd ever had such a thing, but if I've always been here being a bad cow, then I never did. No. No.No." Growing more and more agitated, the girl scuttled to the wall of the cave and began writing on it, her tolerance for communication obviously at an end.

Cordelia looked stricken, and they could all see she wondered why the poor girl had been left here so long to suffer as she had. She glanced helplessly at Wes, who had been studying the writings on the wall. It looked like equations, mixed with the odd writings from the portal book they'd used.

 

"Leave us." Drusilla commanded.

She really had taken to the whole being queen of the sodding demons right quick, she had. Of course, years of him telling her she was his dark princess had probably made the role seem natural.

"Princess…surely you do not mean for us to leave you with the prisoners?"

"They're my family. Run along, or Miss Edith will become cross."

"I'd do what she says, mate. You don't want to see Miss Edith in a sulk. It's never pretty." Spike agreed cheerfully.

The robed monks looked irate, but they left them alone with only a bit of grumbling. One of the monks turned back before exiting.

"Word has been sent to the scum-pits of Ur. The Groosalug comes."

Drusilla simply waved a languid hand his way, but otherwise paid him no attention, something which obviously irked the demon, given the hateful look he cast her way before shutting the door behind him.

Drusilla rose from her throne, resplendent in her finery, like a savage pagan goddess of old. Her change of species had robbed her of none of her grace; she still moved like a snake, all sinuous movement that could turn deadly in an instant. If not for the heartbeat and the faint tinge of pink in her porcelain skin, he'd have thought her unchanged.
She kept her eyes on him as she undulated down the steps, every movement giving a flash of pale leg. She was barefoot, arrayed in jewels at ankle and wrist.

He had wondered if she would lose any of her power over him now that no blood tie existed between them. She hadn't. Regardless of what Angel might think, her power over him was always so much more than simple blood, though that had always been a big part of it. No, he had loved her--mad, bad, and dangerous to know, innocent and childlike, temptress and destroyer--he had loved every broken part of her for as long as she'd let him, and part of him probably always would. When she held out a hand to him as she descended, he could no more have resisted her pull than the ocean the pull of the moon.

He kissed the delicate hand placed in his, marveling slightly at its unaccustomed warmth, and stood quiescent as she drew closer and ran her fingertips lightly down his cheek, while peering into his eyes.

"Still my Spike, but you're all agleam. My dark prince has become a lord of light." she whispered.

Her eyes fluttered and she swayed, her gaze becoming unfocused.

"So many paths…they twist and wind together and I can't see where they all lead, but there's fire and battles and glory there…pain and sorrow too. It burns…It burns…wicked spark. So cruel to your poor mummy…burning it all away." she whispered.

Her gaze sharpened and his unbeating heart fluttered just a bit. He had always lived for these moments--when her gaze was clear and the madness had retreated just a bit. During those moments, he knew her whole attention was on him and no one else. She'd had far more of such moments once Angelus had left the picture, and few after he'd returned for a short time.

"You were supposed to be mine forever."

"Was. Am. Always."

"No. You don't love your princess anymore."

"Oh, Dru, love, no. You threw me away…more than once, but I don't stop loving people once I start. I don't know how."

"Lies."

"I'm a sodding bad liar love, ask anyone."

"Am I still in your heart? Will I always be?"

“Should God create another Eve, and I, another Rib afford, yet loss of thee, would never from my heart; No, no, I feel The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh, Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy state, mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.”

Drusilla smiled and sighed as she leaned in. Spike met her halfway and their lips brushed briefly in a chaste kiss . They leaned their foreheads together and stood silently for a moment together.

"Will you still love me when I'm no longer wicked?"

"Planning a change of state, luv?"

"The stars told me I had a new knight. He would take away my wickedness and make me all brand new again. The stars are full of tricks though, my Spike. If he becomes wicked, he'll shrivel away like dust and ashes, and live in chains, then naughty priests will gobble princess up."

"Why does your knight shrivel up, luv?"

"Can't be a knight and a princess both. Not allowed. His blood will gobble my wickedness, and my wickedness will gobble him up. Make him a princess in chains…but Princess can't be a knight, only a cow, and cows get eaten."

"It's a good thing I'm here then, isn't it love? I might be a knight errant these days, but I'll always come when my lady calls."

 

"Dru." Angel called, feeling just a bit irked at having been so far ignored.

Spike's hand tightened on hers as her eyes filmed over with their usual madness and she turned from him, seeking her maker. Spike let her go. He knew how utterly pointless it was to fight against his pull--he'd learned that lesson the hard way. Angelus had broken her and made himself the center of her universe. He had once thought he could fight that--and to some extent he could. She loved him, those part of her that were able, but he always had and always would come in second to her precious Daddy.

She was human now--that meant she could change and grow in a way that demons just didn't--growth and change for them was always slow, always painful, and usually accompanied by great trauma besides. The core of her madness was her visions. As a human girl she'd been feared, resented and blamed for the catastrophes she'd foretold. She had tried in vain to warn her family of the creature that was stalking them. One by one they'd fallen, and those left had feared and resented and blamed her even more as their numbers dwindled. Angelus had capped it off with telling her, in the guise of a priest in the confessional, that she was a wicked devil child and was indeed making all the bad things happen.

He wasn't too keen on her com-shukking with any groosalug…but if that's what it would take to give her a chance to be free and heal, he'd help them right along. Although…by the sound of it, the poor shmuck would lose his strength and become a prisoner and pawn of the nasty little monks hereabouts. That didn't seem to be quite fair…though if it was the only way for Dru to be free, he was all for it. His blood would gobble the wickedness, would it? It seemed, even if you weren't a vampire, it was still all about the blood, wasn't it?

He flicked a glance and saw Angelus and Darla were busy petting and cooing at Dru. Angelus was rubbing his paws all over the hand he'd been holding but a moment ago.

He'd deny it, but he knew full well he was trying to overpower his scent with his own. He'd always been a greedy pillock, Angelus was--didn't like anyone else playing with his toys. He was no different now, no matter what he was calling himself these days, telling him he couldn't 'keep' Dru, like she was naught but a dolly to be passed hand to hand and stuck on a shelf for all time. Bastard.

 

They all turned as three booming knocks sounded on the doors to the throne room. The doors opened and a large demon strode through.

"The Groosalug comes."

He stepped aside and revealed a muscle-bound human looking bloke, with startling sapphire blue eyes. He was part demon, he could smell it…in fact, he smelled a bit like Cheerleader. He was quite a strapping fellow, looked a bit like Angel in a general sort of way--same general type anyway, though he sported long flowing locks that tumbled over his shoulders.

Lorne gave fellow a finger wave. Darla and Dru both looked him up and down and then grinned at one another. Angel bristled and stared baleful death…not that the meathead seemed to notice--muscle-bound demon he might be, but a bloody boy scout nonetheless.

Yeah.
New plan.

It seemed he was a greedy bastard himself. He wasn't sure he'd be able to just stand idly by while the meathead had a go or three with Dru…didn't want to kill him either. By the look and sound of it, he seemed to be a true-blue hero type with a tragic past. He'd never done anything to him, and he was supposed to be turning a new leaf these days… Of course, letting him get on with com-shukking his princess was going to be bad for him in the long run too, wasn't it? Seemed a shame to leave him to be stripped of his strength and made a prisoner. Had he read Dru right? He thought so, but one could never tell with her. Full of tricks, that one.

He risked a glance at Dru who grinned her wicked grin at him, before drifting closer to the Groosalug.

Eh, the hell with it. He usually had the most success when he winged it. If it didn't work, he could still say he tried, right?

He sauntered closer as though getting ready to introduce himself. His princess kept the bloke's attention by swaying and speaking to him in a lilting voice--it wasn't quite thrall, but it did sort of dull the senses and make you calm.
Had to strike quick, and get away.
He waited for his moment and moved.

 

In the blink of an eye, he was behind the Groosalug, had his arms pinned in an 'x' across his chest, and bit down.

Something was wrong….but he couldn't lose focus…Dru was depending on him. Gobble down a few deep mouthfuls, not too much, careful, careful.
Slobber over the wound to help it seal.
Dru, his darling, helped out by hopping on his back and holding on tight. Time to run.
Drop the Groosalug, run like hell before Angelus got all bent out of shape and tried to stake him.
Bust the doors…damn, reduced to kindling…
bat aside the guards and the damned monks that wanted his princess dead.
It would never happen, not on his watch.
Roar and growl to let them know this.
Feels good. Do it again.
Uh-oh, grandpa and little sis are charging after them and shouting. Run like the wind!

Through it all, Drusilla held on tight and laughed gleefully in his ear, cheering him on as he bowled over another group of monks. He got outside, leapt for the surrounding wall and over it, then ran full out to the nearest woods. Needed to find a safe place and see if his plan worked.

It was so hard to think…

Dru tugged on his horns to turn him down a barely there path… Wait, horns?

He chanced a quick glance down at his hands and flexed the scaled, leathery hands with their long wicked claws.

It seemed sunlight and reflections weren't the only wonky things in this world. Don't worry about it now…keep running.
Dru tugged again and led them to a small hidden cave.
She hopped off his back and dropped to the ground to scurry inside. He was bigger as he was. He needed to change back.
It was so hard to think...to remember who and what he was…
Dru peeked out, leaned forward and ran a hand gently down his face, while staring into his eyes. Just like that it all melted away, and he was human-faced again.
Dru smiled at him and scurried back inside, beckoning. He could hear Angel and the others running, yelling and searching in the distance, but they were safe enough for the moment. He crawled inside, laid his duster on the ground. He and Dru stared at one another in the gloom, and fell together onto it in a tangle of limbs.

If his princess needs to be com-shukked good and proper to be well, he'd bloody well be the one to do it. He just hoped it worked.

 

"Um…where is everyone? The place looks kind of deserted."

"It is."

"It is? Isn't this where Angel and the others were supposed to be headed?"

"Yeah…I think something went wrong. I can hear fighting in the distance. Let's just try to find those books I saw in my vision so we can go home. We'll try to find the others afterwards." Cordelia decided.

"Alright. Let's go. We should split up. We'll cover more ground that way."

"No, let's stick together. I don't want to be caught on my own if any soldiers show up."

"Alone is bad. Bad things happen here." Winifred Burkle agreed.

"Accio books."

"Huh?"

"I'm going to take a quick look around." Tom said casually, before ducking out of sight.

They could hear thumping and then three large books came sailing into view. Harry caught them and stowed them away.

"Okay…we've got the books. What about the rest of my vision? All the humans on this world are going to get their heads blown off…well, not us and Fred, but the rest of them."

"Well…we've still got a bit of time. I can see if I can find a master control or something and tweak it. It's a control device, so they'd want to keep the failsafe close to hand, right? It would be the best defense, really--make it so no one in their right mind would ever consider trying to breach this place for fear of getting their head blown up, and they need never fear the humans revolting and trying to overthrow them in the first place. If they're angry and suicidal enough to try anyway, well, they're easily dealt with." Harry mused.

"Where'd your friend go anyway?" Gunn asked suspiciously as Harry began scanning and heading deeper into the palace.

"To look around, see if there's anything else of interest worth taking. Huh. There's something this way. Come on."

"He's robbing the place?"

"Of course he is. It makes good tactics, when you think about it. Anything you take you deny to your enemies. It only makes sense."

Gunn eyed him a moment, and then began scanning the rooms as they wandered with an eye to getting useful stuff for himself as well.

Harry at last led them to a long room and to one wall. "Found it. Give me a few to tweak it. Look around nearby, there might be other things of interest." he told the rest of them absently. Gunn, Wesley and Fred weren't listening--they had spotted a table laden with food nearby and were guzzling it down as quickly as they could.

Tom found them while Harry was still messing with the failsafe. He grabbed something to eat and then came by to have a look. He scanned Harry's work and then slanted a glance at him.

"Remind me never to get on your bad side."

"Like it?"

"Quite. It has a certain flair."

"What did you do?" Wesley wondered.

"Tweaked the system. If one of those Brotherhood fellows tries to kill all the humans, it will remove the collars from all the humans necks, put them on the monks and blow them up instead. Murder-suicide made easy."

"You're a scary dude." Gunn said with horrified awe.

"I try."

"I guess we're done here. " Tom decided, before casting another locator spell.

"Hmm…Spike and Drusilla are in the woods somewhere thataway. Lorne, Angel and Darla are together elsewhere."

"Well, let's round them up and say goodbye to this place."

 

Angel stomped into yet another clearing and sniffed the air.

"I can't really smell anything. We'll never find them at his rate."

He gritted his teeth and began kicking the nearest tree, then snarled, broke off a branch and drew a knife from his pocket to begin hacking at the end to make a large stake.

"I never should have trusted him. He's a mad dog, same as always. Dru's probably dead right now. Well, no more. He had his chance, he blew it. I'll put him down as soon as I find him."

"Um, Angelcakes, don't you think you're going a bit overboard there?"

"Yeah, seriously. Why are you suddenly in such a lather to kill Spike?"

"You saw what he did! He bit the Groosalug! He turned into a monster and went on a rampage! He killed Dru!"

"He took the monks by surprise and got Dru away so she couldn't be killed, kept the Groosalug from losing his strength and kept the monks from getting Dru's visions."

"What do you mean he kept me from losing my strength?" the Groosalug asked curiously.

"Dru had a vision. If you had com-shukked her and gotten her visions, she would have been killed, and you would have lost your strength and become a prisoner to the monks. He bit you to steal a bit of your vision-stealing power." Lorne explained.

"What the hell are you two talking about? Spike went nuts and ran amok!' Angel objected.

"He followed the plan your girl gave him, pudding."

"What plan? There was no plan!"

"She told him when they were talking, remember?" Lorne reminded him.

"She was babbling. I tend to tune her out…it makes soothing background noise."

"She told him about her vision and gave him something to work with to prevent it."

"And seriously, you think he killed her? He had to be talked into torturing her, even when he had no soul. What makes you think he's going to kill her now that he has it?" Darla scoffed.

"Spike's obsessed with her, he always has been."

"Um, he loves her, sugar cakes. She loves him too and trusts him implicitly. I doubt she'd have hopped on his back like that if she didn't." Lorne disagreed.

"Dru's insane."

"So…they were trying to trick me, not honor me for being undefeated champion of this world?" Groosalug said sadly.

"Pretty much. Sorry."

Groosalug frowned and sat down on a nearby stump to ponder this.

"So even now, when I have worked hard for many years to prove my worth, they still scorn me for my cow blood?"

"Human, sweetie. Human. It's nothing to be ashamed of, really. We started out human, and became something else along the way." Darla explained.

"Monsters. We're all monsters."

"Demons, darling, demons."

Angel grimaced. Darla sighed and then vamped out. Angel blanched in horror and stumbled back from her. Darla looked somewhat similar to how Spike had looked earlier--scaled, leathery skin, horns. She was colored differently--dusky rose instead of blue, and her horns were smaller and more delicate looking; she also didn't have as many. She had long wicked claws and still looked dangerous though.

Demon Darla cocked her head at him and growled inquiringly, before moving closer to sniff at him. A deep rumbling purr began vibrating in her chest as she rubbed up against him.

Angel gasped and shoved her away from him. Darla rocked back on her heels and then growled in anger, lashing out and catching him on the chest and arm with her claws and leaving several deep furrows behind. She scented the wind and then took off at a fast lope into the distance, in the opposite direction than they'd been searching.

"Oh…god…she's going back to town to eat all the humans!"

"Town's that way, sugar. I think she left to find the rest of your little pack since you rejected her."

Angel's eyes flashed in fury. Darla was his and it was time she damn well remembered that. He could feel the change coming over him and tried desperately to push it back, but it swamped over him in spite of his best efforts. When his full demon emerged, he sniffed at Lorne and ignored him, then at the Groosalug, who was still bleeding slightly and wrinkled his nose at the smell of his blood, before growling and sniffing at the wound some more. He then cast around, sniffing the air and growled again, before taking off in hot pursuit of Darla.

Lorne sunk down onto the tree trunk beside Groosalug and tried to stop shaking. This was bad. This was really bad. Vampires on Pylea turned into mindless, slavering monsters, and now all three of them were in demon form. If they came across any of the others, they'd try to eat them…and the others would kill them before they realized who it was.

"We need to find the others I arrived here with and warn them to stay away."

Groo pushed himself to his feet, ready to be of service. "Very well. Let us find your companions. It seems there will be no princess and no com-shuk for me this day. It's a pity. I was quite looking forward to it."

"I'll just bet you were, cupcake. I'll just bet you were."

 

They headed back towards the town. They were nearly to the edge of the forest when Groosalug held up his hand and listened.

"A strange and smelly beast comes this way."

"No. Not a beast. It's a carriage…a wagon sort of. Those are the companions I told you about." Lorne explained, before running out, waving his arms overhead to signal them. The van came to a halt nearby.

"Oh, Amigos, you don't want to go any further. All our little vampire friends went full demon and ran off. You don't want to get near any of them in that state. They're mindless beasts. They'll attack you and gobble you all right up given half a chance!"

Everyone climbed out of the van for a bit to stretch their legs and confer. Cordelia and Groosalug caught sight of one another and froze. One could almost hear the movie-soundtrack music rise as their eyes met. There was even a portentous wind that whipped by to fetchingly ruffle their clothes and hair as they stood caught in one another's gaze.

Gunn looked from one to the other, shook his head and moved around them to talk to the others.

"Great. What do we do now? We can't exactly go back to town, there's a revolution in progress!"

At the talk of revolution, Groo managed to tear his gaze away from Cordelia, though it looked like it was rather difficult.

"There is?"

"All the cows rebels have decide to revolt."

"Chances are the Brotherhood of Trimbly will be defunct before too long."

"This is terrible. I must go and help my people!"

"Which ones?" Tom wondered. "By the look of you the demons and the humans on this world are both your people."

"Hey, what happened with the com-shuk anyway? Does Drusilla still have her visions?"

"Ix nay on the omshuck-cay. Cheekbones ran off with the fair princess after biting our friend here."

"He's gone evil? Damn it, just once can't a souled vampire stay good all the time?" Gunn complained.

"Drusilla had a vision." Lorne explained the conversation she and Spike had. "So he was actually trying to help them both. He caught everyone but her by surprise and so got away clean."

"Hey, you were supposed to be king when all this business was done, right?" Cordelia asked.

"Yes, though according to the cursed one it was all a trick."

"Doesn't matter, really. Everyone is expecting you to be king. Maybe you should try to get things settled down and have a peace summit between the humans and the others, outlaw slavery, that sort of thing."

"I have not the blessing of the powers that be."

"Eh. Close enough. If that Brotherhood has been in charge all this time, there's going to be a power vacuum when the fighting dies down. Better an honorable warrior with ties to both peoples than another dictator with a love of slavery."

Groosalug gazed into the distance, lost in thought and eventually nodded.

"If the Powers saw fit to end the Brotherhood's plans, then perhaps it is my destiny to rule without benefit of guidance?"

"Could be. Whether it is or not, someone needs to take things in hand."

"Very well. I will go and champion both peoples and sue for peace and a new age of brotherhood for all." he decided.

The setting double suns shone down on him for a moment, illuminating him and edging him in gold, while another portentous wind sent his long hair streaming behind him.
Cordelia swooned, Fred blinked at him myopically and sighed. Even Lorne fanned himself a bit.

Groo strode off, and Cordelia watched him go with stars in her eyes.

"Oh, I am so coming back here some day. A hottie like that shouldn't go to waste."

"Why don't we regroup where the portal let us out. Hopefully Spike and the others will snap out of their demon forms and come looking for us before too long. We'll wait a bit and if they haven't shown up we'll go look for them again."

"I do need time to study the books we acquired to search for the portal spell." Wesley offered.

"There you go. Sounds like a plan."

 

Spike and Drusilla ducked back into the cave after watching Darla and Angelus for a while. Darla had shown up first, crawled in between them and mewled unhappily. Angelus showed up a few minutes later, growling, pissed off and ready to pounce. Darla had gone from sad kitten to ferocious lioness in an instant and had leapt at him, sending the two of them tumbling end over end out of the cave. She'd then proceeded to smack him around and claw at him for the next quarter of an hour, while he growled and mewled at her and tried to nuzzle at her. When he was good and chastised their play had changed and gone from smackdown to wild animal kingdom: mating season. They were still out there now, going at it like rabbits…or horny lizards, really.

Spike chortled a bit at his little joke, and settled back down beside Dru, content to just enjoy this interlude before they parted again.

"What are you going to do now, luv?"

"I don't know, my Spike. I don't know."

"Shh, shh, pet. Don't worry about it now. You have a lifetime to decide, yeah?"

"Only one lifetime. I'll grow old and die and all of you will continue on without me."

"Yeah. That's the price of being human."

"I don't want to be alone again…but I don't want to be wicked anymore either."

"You don't need to decide right now. Take a year, get yourself better, mourn your dead and think on what you want. Enjoy being human for a bit. You might decide you like it. Remember, pet, you won't be alone. Angelus and Darla are right there in L.A. He owes you at least that much, to take care of you and see you have what you need."

"Why can't you stay? We can be a family again."

"Simple, luv. Angelus doesn't want me there. He was already making noises about me overstaying my welcome before we came here, and warned me off you. I've no doubt he was off sharpening up a stake for yours truly the moment I ran off with you. I don't know why, but it seems he hates me anymore, souled or unsouled. I'm not sure why. He doesn't seem to hate either of you. I should have expected it, really. We seemed to be getting on fine there for a bit, but he told me outright he despised me for having no soul. Getting one doesn't seem to have made any difference in things."

"Daddy is greedy. Everything he sees belongs to him, but you never did. Wouldn't stay put, wouldn't stay down, growled back you did. He doesn't like it. If you just let him have you he'd be happy."

"No thanks, luv. As you know all too well, Angelus tends to break his toys and then gets bored with them. I like myself unbroken."

"Can't I come with you?"

It hurt, those words, so innocently spoken. For a hundred and twenty years he'd have done most anything to have her choose him over the great poof, just once. Why did it only come when it was already too late for them? She was still his dark princess though, whatever form she took, and he still loved her even if it was now all tied up with guilt and a bit of self-loathing.

"You can if you want to, though I don't know if you'll find Sunnyhell much to your liking these days. If you don't, well, it's not like I'll be far away. Gonna get myself a phone and a computer when I get back. You can give me a call whenever, get Percy or Cheerleader to set up e-mail for you if you want to write instead. You and Darla can visit when it gets to be too much and we'll all have a grand old time for a few days or weeks till you're both ready to go back."

A shadow blocking the entrance to their little cave lair drew both their attention.

Tom crouched down and peeked inside, the tip of his wand casting light where he pointed it.

"Ah, there you are. Good to see you alive well, aunt Dru. We were all quite upset when we thought you'd been dusted."

"You’re a sweet little dragon. I almost wish I still had fangs so I could gobble you up."

Tom just smirked wryly. "Are you both ready to go? Darla and Angel seem to have snapped out of their demon transformation, unfortunately their clothes don't seem to have survived."

"Where are they now?"

"Asleep in the field over there. I brought the cabin with me, so I can take you all in one trip once you're inside."

"Alright, we'll be just a mo."

Tom nodded and withdrew.

When they exited the cave, they found Darla and Angel headed their way. Darla looked cheerful and at ease, even wearing what was likely one of Harry's robes, slightly scuffed and bruised and with leaves in her knotted hair. Angel, the big lug, was lumbering along, wearing what was probably one of Tom's robes--it was long enough, but not quite broad enough in the arms or chest. He was bruised, scratched and disheveled as well and seemed to be torn between feeling pleased and brooding. Nothing new there then.

He sneered reflexively at Angel when he bristled upon seeing the two of them wandering towards the log cabin hand in hand, tightened his hold on Dru and drug her along. Maybe he should pack her up and take her to Sunnydale with him, in spite of his misgivings and Peaches' objections. It had never set well with him, leaving Dru in the hands of the man that had tortured her into madness, no matter her protests to the contrary. It sat even less comfortably now that she was human and breakable in a way she hadn't be the last hundred and sixty years. It probably wouldn't be good for Dru's happiness or mental health, not that anyone else seemed to agree with him. Par for the course, that.

"Where's everyone else?" Angel asked upon entering the cabin.

"They're with the van back at the spot we came in. Wesley's studying some books we grabbed that should have a way back in them. Harry's doing a quick flyby so he can get pictures of the revolution."

"Revolution?"

"I'm sure the others will be happy to tell you all about it once we're all reconvened. Oh, and Lorne went off to say goodbye to his mother and such. He really didn't want to, but Cordelia urged him to find closure, so he went. Apparently a friend of his back in L.A. told him much the same. Cordelia went with him to meet the 'relatives'. I'm sure they'll be thrilled." he added, voice dry.

 

"AHHHHHHHHH!"

"My club!"

"Home sweet home."

"Not real, not real, not real…"

"Yay! Can we do it again, daddy?"

"Ugh. Note to self. Portals to other worlds…bad idea."

"I don't know…the light effects and the images of time and space warping around us as we passed were sort of interesting. It wasn't half so exciting when we came to this world…well, except for nearly falling into the hellmouth and having to fight its pull as soon as we arrived."

Everyone tumbled out of the van in various states of shakiness. Lorne stumbled through his club, where they'd arrived and nearly wept at the damage their sudden entrance had caused.
He calmed down considerably when Tom just shrunk the van to get it out of the way, and Harry started putting the place to rights with a few flicks of his wand.

Spike casually separated from Angel's group and lit up a cigarette to give himself something to do with his hands. He'd told Peaches he would get out of town as soon as Dru was rescued and he knew she'd be safe. Looked like it was time to make good on that. He saw Curly eyeing him curiously for a moment, and then flick his eyes to the others. When he looked back, he gave him a very slight nod to show he understood.

Stormcloud finished the repairs, and patted Lorne on the shoulder absently when he tearfully thanked him for not just leaving everything wreaked. Peaches probably would have. Greenbean was lucky they were along or he'd be out a mountain of dosh trying to fix his place up again. He'd probably never blame Peaches for it, and continue being his biggest fan. That seemed to be the old man's lot in life--make messes, leave others to clean them up, get praised for it. Getting out of town and away from all the baggage that came from his 'family' was sounding better all the time.

He caught Stormcloud's eye. He cocked his head slightly, pursed his lips, slanted an unobtrusive glance at Angel's group, looked back at him and nodded. Soul or not, there was still a very large part of him that wished he could have made them both vampires and kept them. Happily, there was a larger part that liked them as they were and didn't want to spoil them or lose the things he was trying to keep. Having to stake his mum had haunted him for years afterwards. He really didn't want to go through that again.

"Well…I'd like to say it was fun, but it really wasn't. Next time you want to go on a revolutionary jaunt to another world, just bring me back a postcard, alright?" Lorne sighed before ushering them to the door so he could lock up and go home.

 

The little mouse girl they'd rescued--Fred--freaked out a bit upon getting outside. Looked like Peaches and company were going to have their hands full for the foreseeable future; he just hope Brood boy managed to help them some and didn't break them in the process. Oh well, wasn't his problem, was it? Wore out his welcome, simply by existing. Sod this. He needed to get out of stinking L.A. before he turned as broody as the great wanker. It was still early evening. He hoped the boys didn't mind taking the long way back to Sunnyhell. He could use a nice stint on the open road to clear his head.

Curly hugged each of the girls goodbye and followed Peaches and the others down the block a bit to an open spot, and resized the van when they got outside. The others moved towards it, except for Darla, Dru and the Cheerleader. The mouse gave him a timid wave and scurried after them to hop in the van--seemed to feel safer inside; prolly reminder 'er of her cave. Stormcloud got his hugs in, kissed each of the girls' cheeks and followed Curly.

Drusilla gave him a mournful look, kissed him gently and squeezed his hand before following him. Darla took her place.

"You'd think after all this time you boys could stop fighting."

Spike just shrugged one shoulder and said nothing and then pulled her closer for a hug. He had missed Darla, though he liked this new, softer version better. Old Darla and he hadn't really become good friends until after the great poof was gone--version 2.0 seemed willing, even eager to be friends, even with him back. Good to know the whole family didn't hate him.
Brooding again. Damn.

Hopefully there'd be demons or a riot or something interesting between here and Sunnyhell to keep his mind off things.

"You can call or write. You can visit. I won't be that far away."

Darla squeezed him and headed towards the van as well, while Cordelia moved to take her place. He was a bit surprised that cheerleader had joined in, but only a bit. She fancied herself a bit of ol' Spike, he could tell.

"You said only so long as I was the only female in residence."

"Lied. I did try to tell you I wasn't the great enticement you seemed to think I was. He's got them both now, just like he likes it. Time to make myself scarce."

"Stupid vampire crap."

She won a smile from him, and managed to raise his spirits. He liked her; she was a feisty one. He gave her a squeeze when she hugged him; her smile told him she got the message.

The boys had the DeSoto out and resized and were in it waiting for him. They were surprisingly good at reading him. He found he didn't mind it, as thus far they'd never used it against him--that definitely made a difference.

"See you around, cheerleader."

"Cordelia."

"Cheerleader. I don't do names if I can help it. Your annoyance brings me joy."

"Jerk."

"Ta, luv."

He wrapped the 'big bad' around him like a shroud, swaggered to the car and took off with a roar and a squeal of tires and never looked back.

 

Gunn and Wesley watched the DeSoto tear off with Spike and the two wizards, and both sighed and spread out a bit on the seat.

"Good of them to unload a second transport. It was rather crowded in here."

"Don't know why he didn't do that in the first place instead of crowding up the van." Angel muttered as Cordelia climbed in and shut the side door, after settling in next to Drusilla.

He glanced up at the rearview mirror and caught sight of Dru and Cordy both glaring at him. He turned to Darla, hoping she could enlighten him, but she was glaring at him as well. Now feeling quite out of his depth, he turned his eyes back to the road and pulled out into traffic--though he did so carefully and with an eye to safety and traffic laws, unlike Spike, who even with a soul was reckless and a criminal to boot.

"Oh! Tacos! We should get some. Do they have a drive thru?" Cordelia spoke up suddenly.

"Tacos?" Fred repeated nervously. "I like tacos. Just a dream though. Not real. Cow. Monsters caught me. Probably dead. No tacos if your dead."

Angel pulled over into the drive thru without further prompting and ordered a bunch to go. None of them had eaten in a while. He had blood back at the hotel, but the humans wouldn't want any. Darla would. Spike too. Damn. He was going to have to get in more. Maybe he could convince Spike's rich fake nephews to pitch in. At least Dru didn't need blood anymore, and Cordy just dribbled a bit on her food now and again. She didn't seem dependent on it, which was good, or it would start being damned expensive to feed everyone. Maybe he could convince the fake nephews to pitch in and then subtly remind Spike he was going to head back to Sunnydale soon. With luck, he'd head out before all the blood was gone and save him some expense. Yeah, that would work. He should have enough to cover all of them for the moment. He'd make a run tomorrow night, or have Cordy do it in the morning.

They pulled into the Hyperion and he looked around, surprised that Spike and the boys hadn't beaten them back with the way he'd taken off. He'd probably stopped for beer or something, though why he'd want it when there was perfectly good Irish whiskey at the hotel he didn't know. Of course, Spike drank like a fish. It was probably just as well he was getting beer, or he'd likely have no whiskey left by the time he left. He flopped down on the couch and spread out, happy to be home again.

"Home again, and all of us here and in one piece. Things worked out well, didn't they?"

Cordelia huffed and crossed her arms. "Stupid vampire crap."

"That's not vampire crap, dear, that's just Angelus." Darla corrected. Drusilla nodded in agreement.

Cordelia huffed again and sauntered off to go grab glasses for the drinks.

Angel eyed the women warily, wondering what sort of bee had gotten in their bonnets, but Darla followed Cordelia, likely to get herself some blood, and Dru got distracted by the tacos that were being unloaded. Being Dru, she dropped to the ground and crawled towards the coffee table and pretended she was stalking prey and giggled when she managed to snatch one away before Gunn had a chance to grab it. He just eyed her warily, gave Wesley a 'what the hell?' look and reached for a different taco. Fred snatched another and scurried off behind the couch to crouch down and eat hers. Drusilla, feeling playful, crawled to where she was hiding, carrying her taco in her mouth, and then curled up beside her to eat.

"Tastes like a taco. Is it a taco?" Fred was muttering under her breath.

"Mine tastes like wishes and moonbeams." Drusilla confided.

"Must be the hot sauce."

"It's the sour cream. It squooshes in my mouth and makes my tummy sing." she crunched down on the taco then with noticeable enjoyment.

"Funny little shell. It crunches like giant bread."

"Made from ground up bones. Jack climbed the beanstalk."

"Right, pet!" she congratulated her. "And after tricking the mean giant he climbed away down and went home again…or did I get the story wrong? Maybe he stayed and kept his castle."

"Probably did. Full of monsters. No beanstalk."

"There most certainly was a beanstalk."

Fred opened her mouth to argue, growing agitated. She wasn't used to interacting with people anymore. Drusilla cooed at her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders and petted her hair.

"There, there, luv. Don't fret none. It's alright if you're all twisted 'round. You'll find the beanstalk soon enough. Would you like me to sing you a lullabye?"

"Yes please. I remember someone doing that, in the before that wasn't before."

"My mummy used to sing me lullabies. Daddy gobbled her up though, so she doesn't sing anymore. I still remember though."

She began singing an old song and petting at Fred's hair. Fred relaxed into her side and thought about what a nice dream it was…unless she was dead, in which case, it wasn't nearly as bad as she'd thought it would be.

On the other side of the couch, the others exchanged an uncomfortable glance with one another, before slanting a look at Angel, who was brooding and avoiding everyone's gaze. He cast a hopeful look at the door, wishing Spike and the boys would get back soon. Everyone would stop staring at him if Spike was yammering on like he tended to do. He never thought he'd welcome it.

 

"Huh, well…that's not something you see every day."

"What's that then?"

"Soldiers fighting demons in the parking lot of a motel."

Spike and Tom both craned their heads to take a look.

"Bloody Initiative. I just got rid of my chip--I'm not going anywhere near that."

"Wasn't going to suggest it. I wonder who will win? The two groups seem to be pretty evenly matched at the moment."

"I dunno. Soldier boys have some fancy toys, but the demons will be aiming to kill and watching each other's backs. Demons hate the Initiative. Too many know of friends, acquaintances or enemies that got laid low by them and crippled, or turned into parts. There's a dozen besides me that are chipped back in Sunnyhell. They've mostly stayed off everyone's radar so far because none of them were hostile to humans. I say were, because several of them are now feeling rather hostile, given what happened. Stupid wankers."

"Would they be a danger to the community at large if they were freed?"

"That bunch? No. Peaceful sorts the lot of them. The dangerous ones were all used for parts, so there was none of them but me that escaped."

"Maybe we should do something about them before we leave town. Bad enough to do something like that to demons who are a danger to the community, it's worse when they're harmless."

"You were both happy enough to leave it in me."

"You expressed a desire to eat us on several occasions, and pouted when we asked you not to. Simple good sense. I accept that predators are predators--it's how you're made to operate; it doesn't mean I'm willing to stick my head in the lion's mouth, so to speak."

"Fair enough."

"Oh! Pull in over there. They've got a photo center. You said you wanted copies of some of the vacation photos, right?"

"So I did. Should pick up some beer while we're here. Oh, and looky there, a Red Cross station. Wonder if they've got blood stores there? I'm running a bit low."

"Wow. Lots to do. I guess we should split up."

 

"I can't believe it's still so quiet around here." Willow chirped happily as she sipped her drink. "How long has it been since we've made it out to the Bronze as a group twice in one week?"

"Not since high school, at least. We had our priorities in line, once upon a time." Xander agreed.

"I think this break has really been good for Buffy. She's smiling more, she's dancing. I haven't seen her this relaxed in a long time." Tara noted.

"That's true, isn't it? Even when Riley…"

"Yeah. Looking back, he wasn't quite as good for her as we'd all hoped, was he? I mean, what with the lying and the vamp-hos and the macho crap…plus, he never really hung out with us very much when it was fun time, even if he was there a lot for slay-time. Yeah, once in a while…we all went to the beach that time…but mostly not so much. He was never really one of us, was he?"

"No. I guess he really wasn't. I'd had high hopes for having another guy in the mix, but we never really hung out or did any guy stuff. I've done more guy stuff with Spike, and how sad is that?"

"Pretty sad."

"Hey, what's Anya doing?"

"Looks like she's chatting up guys."

"Wait…that's Jonathan."

"Who's the guy with him?"

"Friend of his, I guess. I wonder what they're talking about? They seem pretty happy."

"I haven't the foggiest."

"Maybe she's recruiting them." Tara suggested.

"Recruiting?"

"For the second string Scooby gang she's been talking about. Jonathan is good with magic, right? He might be sort of handy to have around."

"But that's what we're there for!" Willow protested.

"It's not a contest…and you do more than magic. You're good with computers and research too."

"Still…private club here!"

"It shouldn't be. It's not a club, it's about saving lives and saving the world, right?"

"Even so. We've been doing it just fine without their help all this time."

"Yeah. Our exclusive club won't be nearly as cool if Jonathan's a part of it." Xander agreed.

Tara sighed. "Not a contest." she repeated. "Wanna dance?" she added to Willow, hoping to defuse an argument. Willow looked a bit pouty, but she nodded and followed her to the floor.

 

Xander watched them go and then turned his attention back to Jonathan and his friend.
On the one hand, it would mean more guys around.
On the other hand, it would lower their collective cool factor.
He was one of the cool, special people now. Sort of. All his friends were girls, but hey! Saved the world a lot.

Jonathan and his buddy were the losers. They were the guys that got beat up. They were bottom of the totem pole, social suicide to admit to knowing them, not good enough to breathe the same air as the popular kids... And until Buffy came along, he and Willow were just like them--teased, dismissed, beaten up, sneered at and told they were losers.

Once Buffy came to town, that all had changed. Changed so much, that Queen C, most popular girl in Sunnydale, top of the pecking order for as long as either of them could remember, had wanted to join their club, because they were now the coolest, most exclusive clique in Sunny D.

He still felt like that guy…the geek, the uncool… If Buffy had never come to town, he'd probably be over there with them, hanging out and being a loser.
He took a deep pull on his beer and thought about that for a bit.

He'd never gotten on well with Angel--he'd had Buffy, which he'd hated, he lurked and stared through him when he made jokes and looked at him like he wasn't worth his time.
He was an evil vampire guy, cut from the same cloth as the guys who used to beat him up in high school. They'd had nothing in common, he'd very obviously not wanted to be his friend in any way, shape or form, and had only been marginally civil so as not to get on Buffy's bad side.

Riley was generally nicer and friendlier about it, but he was pretty much the same way. They were the guys who had always been popular, always had the girls lining up, always been the star. Neither one of them could fathom what it was like to be on the opposite side of the equation. They'd both been happy enough to spend time with Buffy--but she'd been the trendy, popular girl at her old high school, before getting a calling to battle evil. The rest of them, not so much.

And somewhere along the line, he'd become just as bad, hadn't he?

The geeks, the losers, the unpopular kids--that had been him and Willow, once upon a time. Still was, more often than he'd like, outside of their little Scoobie Gang.

He finished his beer and rose from his seat, to approach where Anya was still chatting with Jonathan and his friend.

If nothing else, they would probably get his jokes. Even if he didn't want to admit to it, they were his brothers beneath the skin, weren't they?

"Oh, Xander. You remember Jonathan? And this is Andrew."

"Hello, amigos. Tell me…if a caveman and an astronaut got into a fight, who would win?"

"Do the astronauts have weapons?"

Xander smiled and pulled up a seat. "No."

 

The Welcome to Sunnydale sign fell over with a crash.

"Home sweet home."

"Is there a reason you drove into the sign?"

"Well, it's tradition, innit? Public service, really, make the government wankers earn their pay and all that."

"Works for me."

"I really need to go check on my crypt, get the rest of my stuff. Damn. I'll probably have to clear out a whole nest of stupid fledglings. They better not have taken anything I left behind…everything I can't or won't do without was in the trunk of me car--it's why I was so upset when Dru stole it, you know, beyond the obvious reasons. Everything else is in the crypt. I made it secure as I could, but no one needs an invite to come into my place. It's a nice crypt--roomy, with a touch of class, you know? There was lots of folks wanted it. I guess if I'm going to be living at the bloody mansion I might as well let word spread…though I don't want it to spread too far. I don't have a lot of friends among the nasties in this town these days. Maybe I'll give Clem the heads up."

"That was your wrinkly friend?"

"Yeah, him. He wants to move out. Mum's been on his case a bit about him spreading his wings and leaving the nest and all."

"Is he one of the chipped demons?"

"Yeah."

"We should try to get that taken care of before we leave."

"I'm sure they'd appreciate it." Spike replied, after battling down his initial urge to beg them to stay with him and never leave, ever.

"I'd like to stick around longer than a few more days…but I'd also like to graduate sometime in the next century. We can come back to visit, you know."

"I didn't say a thing. Hmm…looks like Slayer's mum is awake. I wonder if her pop ever made it back from Egypt? I suppose we could stop by and say hi…it's not that late. We can give her the artsy stuff we decided not to keep from that wanker's house while we're here. She did say to bring you by to the gallery sometime. She wanted to meet you two."

"We don't want to impose."

"If it looks like we are we'll just say our hellos, hand over the stuff and leave. I don't want to be a bother to her. I like Joyce. She's good people."

"This is the woman that clocked you in the head with an axe the first time you met, right?"

"Yeah." Spike agreed reminiscently with the faintest hint of a grin in his voice. " A mum like that is worth 'er weight in gold. Fierce. Primal. Protecting her cub from the big nasty, not afraid if she lives or dies. Yeah. She's a keeper, that one."

 

They grabbed a couple of the art pieces to show Joyce and headed up to the front porch. After Spike knocked a few moments passed and then the door was opened by a familiar man.

"Oh, hello. So you did make it back in one piece. Good. We were wondering about that."

"Hank? Who is it?"

"Um…that friend of Buffy's. I'm sorry, what was your name again?"

Joyce peeked around from behind Hank's shoulder.

"Oh, Spike. You're back from your vacation? Oh, and these must be your nephews. It's so nice to meet you both. Hank, don't just leave them standing out there. Come in." Tom and Harry both eyed him from the corner of their eyes as he grinned like an abashed schoolboy for a moment, before remembering himself and wrapping his 'big bad' persona around him like a shield. It didn't come off quite the same given how he was dressed--one really needed the duster and the stompy boots to properly pull it off.

"Goodness. That's a new look for you. I like it. Of course, I like your usual look too." Joyce admitted with a grin.

Spike looked down at himself and smiled sheepishly, looking slightly embarrassed.

"I didn't pick this out. Darla and Cordelia did. I tried to tell them it wasn't really my style, but they're a couple of ladies used to getting their way. Nearly stripped me in the middle of the bloody store, they did."

"It looks very nice."

They all settled in the living room, Joyce smiling in welcome, Hank eyeing all of them like they were an interesting puzzle.
Spike noted Joyce was wearing a wig and smelled faintly of medicine.

"I take it you went to the hospital?"

She patted her wig self-consciously and tried to smile.

"I was in the hospital for an operation. Brain tumor. The doctors said it was early enough. I should thank you, really. I'd been getting headaches on and off--something I don't normally do, and yet I was ignoring them. If you hadn't of urged me to go see someone about them… I had an episode of sorts. I already had my surgery lined up. I hadn't told Buffy yet. I really scared her. For a second, I didn't know who she was or where I was or how I got there. Frankly, I kind of scared me too."

"But you're alright now? It's been taken care of?"

"So they say. I'm feeling more like myself these days and so far no more headaches. Seems like a good sign."

"I'm really glad to hear that." Spike said sincerely. Joyce smiled at him.

"So. You've all been on vacation, huh? Where all did you go?" Hank wondered.

"Where didn't we go would be a better question. We started off in L.A. with the family reunion. Oh, wait, we've got photos. I've got a few of Dru."

"Drusilla? Oh good. I always wondered what she looked like. So…I hear she's human now?"

"Yeah. Bit a mohra demon after having a vision. Apparently their blood does that. I'd never even heard of such a thing before. They're quite rare, apparently. Ah, here we go."

"Oh! She's really quite lovely. You two look sweet together."

"Yeah, I guess we do. We always seemed to fit. Even now, when we're quits and have been for a while. We were together a long time. Some of that still lingers in spite of everything."

Hank and Joyce briefly looked at one another, smiled slightly and turned back.

"Yeah, we get that."

 

"Are you sure we should be doing this? I mean, won't your friend get mad?"

"He's not my friend…he's just a guy I know that I occasionally play pool with and run from cops with…forget you heard the last part. I just happened to be at the chop shop when it was raided. I didn't do anything wrong. Those cars weren't even stolen, they were just gathered up." Xander looked at the two boys, shook his head and sighed. "Shutting up now."

"Wow. You lead such an exciting life."

"They kind of have a point. It seems rude, you know, just going in someone else's place and hanging out." Tara pointed out.

"It's not like he'll ever find out, and anyway he owes me. He was the roommate from hell. He always talked through all my favorite shows, left blood-crusted mugs lying all over and ate all my snack food!"

"Um…blood crusted?" Jonathan asked nervously.

"Oh, that. It's no biggie. He's a vampire."

"Uh…"

"No, it's okay. He's a good vampire…well, not really good, but only just sorta naughty these days and not so much with the big scary evil. He had a chip in his head that wouldn't let him bite people."

"So…he can't eat us if he finds out we were here? That's good." Andrew tittered nervously.

"Well…he doesn't have the chip anymore. I'm not real sure of the details, but he traded it in for a soul and gave the chip to this other vamp he knows so she can try not eating people. It's this whole thing. The whole family is nuts."

"She's a big ho-bag, and she doesn't want to be good, she wants to get smoochies from my soul mate!"

"Um, Buffy? Wasn't she with him for like, a really long time?"

"A hundred and fifty years." Anya agreed.

"And um, so…maybe she sort of has dibs? You know…in a manner of speaking?" Willow said hesitantly.

"No! There are no dibs!"

"There might sort of be dibs."

"No. End of subject."

"Can we just go watch the damned movie already?" Jonathan wondered.

"Yeah, come on. " Xander led the way into the mansion and then into the living room. Jonathan and Andrew both squealed in delight at the big screen tv that dominated one wall.

"Oh, wow…Mark Wahlberg is going to be practically life size!" Andrew swooned.

"So will the killer apes." Jonathan pointed out.

"This is true…but still…Mark Wahlberg." Buffy agreed.

"I wonder if Deadboy Jr. has any beer left?"

"Or snacks. I'm a little hungry." Tara wondered.

"Me too, actually." Willow agreed.

Jonathan got the movie prepped while Xander, Willow and Tara went in search of food and drinks.

"This place is really cool…kind of bare though."

"It was just redecorated before he left on vacation. He hasn't really had a chance to put in any personal touches." Anya explained.

"That's a good thing. Spike's idea of ambiance is coffins, skulls and chains…and candles. He likes candles. I think he steals them from churches. It's always the big beeswax ones that smell like church. He's such a criminal." Buffy scoffed.

"Actually he steals them from demons attempting rituals. Now, granted, they probably stole them from a church…"

"What demons? What rituals?"

"The ones he's been taking care of." Anya sighed.

"Yeah, right. If he'd been off doing stuff like that, he would have come around to brag about it."

"He did. To me. I told him I wanted first dibs on any magical paraphernalia he came across. He doesn't like magic, so he agreed readily enough. The Magic Box buys select items and he has money for blood and other things. Why do you think he hasn't been bothering Giles as much? He still needs to eat, that need didn't just go away just because everyone was getting annoyed at his constant presence. I suppose it's lucky he's resourceful or he'd have died a slow, painful death under your care, and as a mummy. That's a terrible way for a vampire to go, and once it reaches a certain point they really can't come back from it, even if they have a chance to feed regularly again."

"Um, hello? Vampire slayer, not vampire rescue hotline! I allowed him to live, that was plenty magnanimous enough!"

"I suppose, but still, taking someone into your protection implies a certain level of upkeep. You all expect him to be on board to help out whenever you go bother him about it, but scoff at his need to eat regularly at the same time. He can't stay in fighting trim and actually be useful if he's hungry all the time."

"We have beer and snacks!" Xander announced.

"And juice boxes if anyone wants to go the non-alcoholic route." Tara added.

Jonathan started up the movie and then shrieked when the sound boomed out around them.

"Whoa! Too loud." Xander winced.

"Surround sound? Awesome!" Andrew cheered.

"Why the hell does evil dead have such nice stuff? I don’t have nice stuff and I work for a living!"

"You don't have two wizard nephews."

"They're not actually his nephews, remember?"

"Sure they are. They decided it was true, that's good enough for me."

"But they're not actually…"

"Vampire families are made not born. He claimed them, they're his. That's how it works with them." Anya noted.

Andrew suddenly squeaked and choked on his juice box, and Jonathan paled and his eyes widened in panic.

"Um…guys?"

"Is there anything other than grape juice? I don't like grape juice."

"Guys?"

"Is there anything else to eat besides this stuff?"

"GUYS!"

"WHAT?" the rest shouted back.

Andrew and Jonathan, whose eyes were riveted on the doorway just pointed. The rest turned their heads and screamed. It was Joyce, flanked by Hank and Giles. They looked bizarrely cozy and threesome-y…they were also vampires, and had their fangs out.

"Buffy, good news! Your father and I have gotten back together…and Mr. Giles has decided to join us. Come here so I can make you part of the family. We'll all be together forever. Doesn't that sound nice?"

As one the Scoobies all screamed in horror.

The three vampires popped and revealed Spike, Harry and Tom. Spike and Harry were laughing uproariously. Tom was snapping pictures of everyone.

"Ha! You should have seen the looks on your faces!"

"You bastard!"
"You are so dead!"
"I thought you had a soul!"

"Funny, I thought the same about you lot, and yet look what we have here--breaking and entering, robbery… I'd never bloody well hear the end of it if I pulled something like this while one of you was out of town. You deserved it."

"It was Xander's idea!" Jonathan pointed.
"Yeah. We even asked if you'd be mad." Andrew agreed.

"Oh really? Goodness Whelp, you're really getting into the whole life of crime, aren't you?"

"What the hell are you talking about, evil dead?" Xander spluttered.

"We stopped by to visit Guido on our way back from L.A. He had a really interesting story to tell about Tony."

Xander's eyes widened in panic and he slanted a look at Buffy who was looking confused and pissed off.

"What the hell are you babbling about, Spike? Who the hell is Tony?" she demanded.

"Wait…do you mean Tony's Parts and Repair? That was you? Wow." Andrew said with shocked awe.

"Tony's Parts and Repair? You mean that place that…burned down…a few weeks ago…XANDER!"

"He had it coming!"

"He's human!"

"Evil! He was an evil human!"

"That's what the police are for!"

"He had them on his payroll! He was using you as a heavy so he could be a criminal! Guido's got fourteen children!"

"I can't believe you!"

 

As the original Scoobies all began arguing, and Tara tried to intervene and make them stop, Spike, Tom and Harry moved into the room to grab drinks and snacks and settle into their seats.

"So, what are we watching anyway?"

"Planet of the Apes with Mark Wahlberg."

"Yeah? I'd been meaning to see that."

"We were talking about who would win if a caveman and an astronaut fought"

"Caveman."

"In the scenario that was presented, that would be entirely possible. Jonathan suggested this movie might help settle the issue."

"Yeah? Alright then. Primal warriors for the win."

Andrew burst into nervous laughter. His cheeks were slightly flushed and he hadn't taken his eyes off Spike since he'd entered the room. Spike caught his eye and raised an eyebrow. Andrew jumped and hurriedly turned to face the television when he realized he'd been caught staring.
Spike stifled a sigh and leaned back to concentrate on the movie.

That boy, Andrew or whatever he said his name was--it was like looking in a really pathetic mirror of himself 120 years ago. The kid was all soft underbelly, heart on his sleeve, practically begging to be hurt. He hadn't yet learned that there were nasties out there that would look at him and see 'willing victim' written all over him--folks that would hurt him and hurt him just because they could, play on the worshipful affection he handed over so readily, and laugh when he came back for more. And if he wasn't just the most pathetic sod ever--there was a part of him that saw all that in him and wanted to be the one to hurt him, and another that wanted to shield the little blighter from it as much as he could. He knew from painful experience what was in store for that kid if he didn't learn to hide his vulnerabilities from the monsters out there.

He hated this. What had he been thinking? He'd rid himself of all his pathetic William-y baggage and become the man he wanted to be--dangerous, someone to be reckoned with--and yet here he was, once again being consumed by all he'd left behind. He couldn't even blame anyone--he'd done this to himself. He could have done quite a lot of damage, even with the chip. He'd given up on trying far too quickly. It wasn't like he hadn't met obstacles before. He'd traded in his chip for a bloody soul and look at him now--Peaches 2.0, brooding and thinking about protecting soft, weepy little brats from the big bad world. He was pathetic.

He slid down slightly in his seat and stared sightlessly at the telly.

"You're brooding." Stormcloud whispered so only he would hear.

"I'm entitled."

"What happened to 'primal warriors for the win'?"

"Not feeling too primal at the mo'. Sorry."

"Don't let yourself lose it. Remember, primal astronauts beat everybody."

"Don't feel much like a bloody astronaut either."

"It's early days yet. Once you find your center again you'll be alright."

Spike downed the rest of his beer and said nothing.

 

He tried to focus on the movie, but he became aware of whispering, just on the edge of hearing. He looked around, but the Scoobies had finished their argument and retaken seats, and the others were watching the movie. He relaxed and tried to let his senses sharpen a bit so he could make out whatever it was he was hearing--if there were yet more folks breaking in to his bloody home tonight, he wanted some forewarning. All at once he was hit with a flurry of images, and the whispering sharpened into words.

"BLOODY HELL."

He felt a pang for his poor, lost Dru--even knowing he was taking her visions, actually having one had still taken him by surprise and he was a bit thrown by the whole thing. How frightening must it have been for her as a young human girl, trying so hard to warn the world of what was to come?

He came back to himself and found some of the others were looking at him oddly. They must have thought he was commenting on the movie, but there wasn't much going on at the moment, hence the odd looks.

"Slayer. We need to head downtown. A pack of dogs or something is going to go tearing through there and cause a bunch of traffic accidents. About twenty five people are going to die if they're not stopped."

"Uh-huh. And you know this how?"

"He's a seer now." Tom explained.

"What the hell? Is there a seers-are-us outlet in L.A. or what?" Xander demanded.

"Cordelia got her visions from a half-demon named Doyle just before he died. He passed them on to her so Angel wouldn't lose his link to the Powers. Spike has Aunt Dru's visions."

"Drusilla's dead? Nice. Couldn't have happened to a nicer lunatic ho-bag." Buffy chirped cheerfully.

"Fuck you, Slayer." Spike growled, his eyes flashing gold, at the same time Tom and Harry both glared at her hatefully.

"Wow. You really are a bitch, aren't you?" Harry laughed in disbelief. "Where's the fucking compassion? I thought you were supposed to be a champion?"

"Excuse me? How dare you? Who the hell are you to come into my town and criticize me?"

"A human being. That should be enough. Merlin, woman. Do you have any idea what was done to her?"

"Angel said he did stuff to her while he was evil." she shrugged indifferently.

"He killed her entire extended family--parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it. One by one. She had the sight, so she saw it happen twice--once in her visions, and once when they found the bodies. She spent months trying to warn them what was coming, but they were a devoutly religious, superstitious bunch, and they blamed her for it. Angelus pretended to be a priest in the confessional when she went there to confess and beg for help. He told her she was a devil child who was indeed making it all happen, and that God hated her. After her family was gone, her neighbors, her parish priest--anyone she could conceivably go to for help or comfort-- she fled to a convent in the hopes that God would save her and wash away her sins. She had a brief reprieve, but on the night she was set to take her final vows, Angelus came and slaughtered all the nuns and painted the church with their blood. As a finishing act, he raped her on the ground in front of the altar and positioned her in such a way that she could stare at the cross and see that God wasn't coming to save her--he wasn't even looking at her. When her mind finally broke under the strain, he made her a vampire so that her suffering would never end. She's mad. She's been mad since that night, and being what she was she could never recover. No matter what evils she might have committed in her unlife, she's not responsible for any of it. She's human now, and seized on the chance to rid herself of the visions that have caused her nothing but pain her whole life. Somewhere in the broken shards of her mind the young girl who loved her family, loved God and wanted nothing more than to be good and pure is still there, and she wants to be free. Her visions formed the cornerstone of her madness. She has a chance now to get better someday--though whether she actually will is another story. What kind of person are you that you can have infinite compassion for the guy who did it to her and none for her?"

A painful awkward silence was left behind.

"Um, hey! Rampaging dogs, people dying, much badness afoot. Shouldn't we you know, go do the saveage thing?" Willow spoke up in a tiny voice.

"I'll grab the van." Tom offered, heading out.

"Van? We have a van now?" Xander demanded.

"I have a van. Get moving."

"We'll need weapons."

"Closet by the door. Take your bloody pick."

 

"Whoah. Extended cab twelve passenger van. Nice. Who'd you steal it from, dead boy?"

"Didn't steal it, Whelp." Spike growled, before prowling around to the driver's seat. Buffy glared at Andrew who was trying to get in the front passenger seat, before claiming it for herself. The rest piled in to the back, Tom and Harry claiming the first row, much to the chagrin of those remaining.

"You want us t-to fight a bunch of wild dogs? They might be rabid…and even if they aren't they have teeth and claws and stuff. I'm not sure I can do this." Andrew whimpered from the back seat.

"If you don't think you can fight the dogs, don't. You'll just get in the way if you're panicked. Try to clear the area, keep people from running in front of cars…call an ambulance if there are any crashes. Do either of you know first aid?" Spike asked.

"No." Jonathan answered glumly.

"That's fine. If anyone does crash, let them know help is on the way, talk to them to try keeping them alert, find out what, if anything hurts, keep them calm and don't let them move around too much. When the ambulance gets there, tell them what the people said about where they're hurt--just a list, no need for a speech, and then get out of their way. The rest of us will be there too, so don't worry." Xander assured them.

Spike pulled in to the area he saw in his vision and parked. The rest of them climbed out as well and looked around for some sign of catastrophe.

"Are you sure you had a vision and weren't just hallucinating?" Buffy asked archly, still stung by the smackdown earlier at the mansion.

"I'm sure. Quiet. I'm trying to listen."

"The mall's right there. Maybe they're in there?" Jonathan suggested.

"It would explain there being confusion enough to cause so many crashes." Anya concurred.

"I think you're both right. I just heard screaming."

"Let's go then."

Their progress towards the mall was hindered by a sudden mass exodus of screaming people. Tara nudged Jonathan and Andrew and urged them to spread out to keep the panicked people from running into traffic.

"Side entrance!" Buffy urged, before taking off at a run. Those who hadn't broken off to do crowd control followed her.

There were more people fleeing out the side entrance, but Spike marched forward shouting "Animal control! Get out of the way! Move aside! Let us through!"

Between his barked orders and his and Buffy's super strength, the group managed to push through to the center of the mall. Inside, all was chaos--screaming people running every which way, large dogs with rows of sharp teeth running and slavering and savaging anyone in reach. Here and there they could see dead people, missing limbs and bleeding out.

Willow and Xander whimpered and hefted their axes a bit higher.

Tom nudged Xander and Harry pulled Willow along with him. "Just stay close. I'll immobilize, you stab. Let's go."

"Hear that? We're doing the same. Come on."

Buffy and Spike had already ran out onto the floor, dodging screaming people and fallen bodies. Buffy hefted her battle axe and went to work. She glanced over to see how Spike was doing without a weapon--there hadn't been any left in his closet by the time the rest of them had grabbed stuff--but she saw him pull a gold rod from inside his duster, twist the end. A long sharp point shot out of the end. He twirled the thing and stabbed the closest dog--hell hound, actually--and ran it through, before moving on to the next. Buffy ignored him and focused on her own battles.

 

The last hellhound dropped with a meaty thunk to the floor and the previously full mall became eerily silent. Buffy straightened and flicked her eyes over the others. Willow and Xander were huddled together in the center of the room, looking sick at all the carnage. The two stupid wizards were walking among the bodies, flicking their wands around. They both hurried towards one of the bodies and dropped down next to the person and began medical treatment. Only one left alive. Not good odds. They might have save twenty five from car accidents if the others had done their jobs, but there was at least a dozen dead people lying around. Not exactly a perfect victory. There was so much blood… One would never think a human body could hold so much--there was buckets of the stuff, puddles and splashes and splatters galore. There was a foul smell in the air and the mangled remains, and dismembered parts were making her feel lightheaded. Her stomach churned in disgust when she noted there was a faint gleam of gold in Spike's blue eyes.

"You've seen Angel react similarly to blood and you always felt sympathy. Spike hasn't had his soul very long. Maybe you should give him a break?"

She wavered for a moment and then hardened her heart against any such thing. Spike was no Angel. Angel was good, a hero. Spike was just an annoyance with a defective soul. It had to be, right? He was no different, beyond being a bit quieter than usual… of course, he'd been quieter than usual last time he was in town too, and that was before the soul. Forcibly she pushed the whole train of thought out of her head.

"Come on. We should get going before the cops or anyone gets here."

"We should alert any ambulances that come by that there are people in here still alive."

"People? As in more than one?"

"Three to be exact. They'll suffer some lasting damage, but they should live now that we've patched them up. The ones that survived were mauled, the ones that died lost limbs, had their throats ripped out or were eviscerated and bled out. They were already dead when we got here most likely."

"We should head out the side. I see flashing lights."

"Let's go then."

They hurried outside, and the whole group breathed deeply of the night air, trying to clear away the scents of blood, gore and death that clung to all of them.
Headlights flicked at them as they exited. Anya had moved the van to the parking lot out back when the authorities started showing up. Tom and Harry helped everyone clean up and tidied the weapons before they were stowed in back. The weary group started back towards the mansion.

"They were hell hounds. I've seen them before." Buffy spoke up as they got back on the road.

"Hell hounds? Wow…I wonder if my brother is back in town?"

The others turned to look at Andrew, who shrunk under everyone's regard.

"Tucker is your brother? The psycho that set hell hounds loose on the school prom?"

"Um, yeah. That was him. He couldn't get a date and wanted vengeance or something. I tried telling him if he'd just try being nicer…" he trailed off miserably.

"That was the second time he put you in the hospital, wasn't it?" Jonathan muttered bitterly.

"He just doesn't know his own strength…and he gets mad sometimes. I'm sure he didn't mean it."

"Just like he never meant all the bruises you were always getting too? Your brother is a creep."

Andrew didn't answer, he just hunkered down in his seat and stared out the window.

"So what…Tucker's around and he's now pissy about people shopping?"

"I don't know. I didn't know he was back. He left town after the whole thing with the prom. I haven't seen him since then."

Spike pulled the van up outside a pizza place that was still open. "How many of us are there?"

"Um…ten."

"Alright. Who's hungry?"

"ME!" Everyone answered together.

"Three pizzas sound about right?"

"Yeah. That should be good."

"Preferences?"

"Get one half pepperoni, one ham and pineapple"

"I don't like ham and pineapple"

"So don't eat it. One onion, green pepper and sausage."

"Don't forget diet coke."

"Regular coke."

"Sprite."

"No, Mountain Dew. It's the drink of the gods."

Spike sighed and glowered at all of them and stalked into the pizza parlor to place the order.

"You know…I'm kind of digging Spike with a soul. Angel never treated us to pizza."

"Angel also never called everyone names or used stupid British swear words at us."

"He also never offered to fix my car or played pool with me. Plus, I have a feeling that, if I was with Angel when the chop shop got raided, he would have left me there."

"He would not!"

"Yeah, right. You know how I met Spike the first time? It was during parent-teacher night. Angel grabbed me in a headlock and drug me inside to offer me up to Spike to eat."

"He did not!"

"He did so. He offered for them to share me, but Spike punched him and said Angel was his Yoda and called him uncle Tom."

"Seems sort of ironic in retrospect." Tara giggled.

"Best not tell him that. He gets all growly when people compare him to Angel."

"Who's Angel?"

"That would be the other vampire with a soul. He lives in L.A. now with Cordelia."

"Cordelia's dating a vampire?"

"No. Cordelia is a seer now and gets visions of people in trouble that Angel goes out and helps."

"Seriously?"

"She's changed a lot since high school."

Spike came back, hopped in the van and pulled out.

"Hey! Where's our pizza?"

"It's going to be delivered when it's finished, you nit."

"How long is that going to be?"

"I dunno, half hour, hour? However long it takes to make it. What are you asking me for? I'm a vampire, remember? Shouldn't you human kiddies know this sort of thing?"

"You eat food!"

"Spicy buffalo wings, blooming onions, English brekkies made by Stormcloud, Thai and Indian food, 'cause it's spicy, breakfast cereals--but only Wheetabix, shredded wheat and stuff like that, because the sugary crap you people eat all tends to dissolve into mush as soon as it hits the blood and it's disgusting. Red's cookies too…when she lets me have one." he ticked off on his fingers. "Little marshmallows in hot chocolate. That's about it…oh wait…I had a lot of stuff in France. I like French cooking; they don't overcook the meat. Harm liked that one too."

"Harm?"

"He used to date Harmony." Willow explained.

"Harmony?! Harmony Kendall!?"

"She's a vampire now."

"We ran into 'er and Sam while we were doing our Whirlwind cultural tour of France. We'd split up earlier 'cause she wanted to shopping. We went to some little place in the artists' district, drank a whole lot of wine and then went to the Moulin Rouge to take in a show, took one of the boat tours of Paris. It's quite a sight these days, everything covered in lights when you're drifting down the river. Of course, Paris was always alive at night, full of light, but not like it is now. Like fairyland. Dru would love it."

"It sounds lovely. I wish I could see it." Tara commented.

"You can. We took lots of pictures."

"You have vacation photos?"

"Tons. We can show you when we get back to the house. We might as well. We don't want to start up the movie again, it'll just get interrupted when the food arrives."

 

When they got back to the mansion, most of them headed back to the living room, whereas the two wizards disappeared elsewhere.
"Where'd they'd go? I thought we were going to see vacation pictures."

"Stormcloud needs to get his computer. He put together a slide show. I've got some prints too, but they were mostly intended for framing, except for the ones I was going to send copies of to the girls. You're all in luck, he took more when we was off rescuing Dru, so you'll all get to see Pylea, and the other bird we rescued while we was there. 'er name's Fred--Winifred Burkle. She was a physics student at UCLA, got sucked into a portal or sommat, got enslaved and told she was a cow, escaped and lived in a cave for five years. She's near batty as Dru is, though I think once she understands again that the life she remembers from before was real and not a hallucination to escape the horrors of her present life, she'll be fine."

"I see. You seem to have a crazy chick magnet thing going on…most people, they go through their whole lives without meeting many crazies…you seem to trip over them."

"It's a gift." Spike remarked dryly.

Jonathan suddenly shrieked, sending everyone jumping from their seats.

"What? Vampires? Demons?"

"That stuff…it just…appeared." Jonathan pointed.

There was a pile of miscellaneous things in a neat pile in the corner of the room that had indeed just appeared.

"Oh, that's some stuff we got during our trip. I guess Stormcloud's getting antsy to start decorating or something." Spike wandered to the door and peeked out into the nearby rooms, then returned, nodding.

"There's a lot of stuff, and he has it slated for the different rooms. I guess he figured he'd clear out the stuff while he was fetching 'is computer or something. The cabin was getting a bit packed."

The boys showed up a few minutes later, and Harry busied himself hooking the computer up to the television. The food arrived while he was setting up.

 

Everyone had a mouthful of pizza when the first photo came up and froze. It was a big group of blood-splattered demons, with their arms around each other, surrounded by piles of dismembered bodies, all of them hefting large, dangerous looking weapons.

"Oh, don't worry. They're actors. The bodies are zombies made from already dead people. We went to one of their shows while we were in L.A. They're called the Dire Warriors. They were quite good. That fellow in the center there could make a stone weep. I was quite impressed with the lot of them. That guy on the end? He played Odin. He was the ultimate villain of the piece. It ends with all of them in hell, but it was a surprisingly uplifting ending nonetheless." Harry explained.

"Yeah, we were real lucky to get to see it. They only perform it every sixty years or so 'cause it takes so long to make all the zombies they need for the battle scenes." Tom agreed.

"Sixty years to make zombies?"

"Well, it shows a thousand years of vengeance, doesn't it? You need a lot of zombies for that. I saw it performed once, oh, about five hundred years ago, in Norway. It really is a memorable piece. Odin keeps trying to have it shut down, because he feels it portrays him in a bad light, but the actors are all under Loki's protection, so they've been able to continue. It's a good thing, too. The state of the arts would be the poorer for its loss." Anya commented thoughtfully. "Wait a minute…how did you two get in? You're human!"

"Oh. We just did this."

There was a ringing silence as the two wizards changed into their animagus forms and then back. Harry saw that Willow, Jonathan and Andrew all looked to be eating their hearts out.

"Ah. That would explain it."

"Wow. So you can just turn into stuff whenever the heck you like on top of everything else you can do?"

"I can turn into that. It's my animagus form. And I can do it whenever I like now…before that, it took me a year of work to make it happen, and that was with getting pointers from my godfather and my transfiguration teacher. Tom, the smug bastard, got it sooner and without help."

"Your transfiguration teacher?"

"Professor McGonagall."

"O. M. G." Andrew said in awe. "You're Harry Potter! Wow. I can't believe I'm hanging out with the Harry Potter."

"A Harry Potter. My life was a lot different from those books. In fact…hang on a sec. He tapped at the computer a bit and a new photo appeared on the screen. It was Harry standing with another Harry--though the second was a few inches shorter, a lot thinner, though the Harry there was hardly heavy, had paler skin, dark circles under his eyes and looked rather waifish and woebegone.

"This guy here, those books showed his life up until the summer between third and fourth year. We ended up in his world by accident when we were trying to get back to our own and intervened. What that means is there's at least one other out there who's actually gotten stuck with the crap life depicted in those books, and all because he never escaped Dumbledore's thumb. Merlin, I hate that guy."

"You hate him? How about me? Without you escaping his influence, I end up a flayed baby gasping for air and suffering eternally with no hope of reprieve."

Andrew squeaked like a small mouse that had just been spotted by a hawk and then giggled nervously as he stared at him.

"S-s-so w-w-what s-s-should we call you, Mr. he-who-should-not-be-named sir?"

"Tom is fine."

"Oh. So…um…you, uh, got over all that?"

"I had help." Tom smirked, tilting his head towards Harry.

Harry queued up the slide show again. The next photo showed Darla, Drusilla, Harmony and Yuki on the stage at Caritas, singing 'We are Family'--Darla singing lead while the rest did backup. The next showed the girls and Lorne doing a Spice Girls number together. They had all jokingly referred to him as 'Scary Spice' for the rest of the evening…though they all thought Yuki was a better fit. She had a bit of an anger problem, that one. The next showed Sam--he'd chosen to do the Frank Sinatra rendition of 'French Foreign Legion' after his chat with Spike. He'd sounded pretty good too.

"Scary vampires do karaoke night. Now I've seen it all."

The next couple were of all of them dancing in different combinations--they'd all danced with each of the girls at least once. Harry had gotten stuck talking to and dancing with Yuki more than once. It hadn't been very much fun, what with her going on and on about how she was going to drink all his blood and eviscerate him once out of the sanctuary for being human scum. In the end he'd felt a bit sorry for her. She was obviously trying too hard to hide how conflicted she was. It seemed to be a theme with that particular family of vampires.

After that was a group shot of all of them.

"W-wait! Angel was at this reunion? With all the evil, unsoulled, unchipped vampires, including one who used to be a slayer and he just let them all go?"

"Oh, no, he wasn't there. That's just an illusion. They all thought it was a shame that he wasn't there to be in the picture when the chances of everyone being together like that again were pretty slim--especially as Spike and Yuki were going to fight as soon as the party was over and one of them was going to die. I just made a shadow clone that looked like him so he could be in the group photo."

"He does a surprisingly good impersonation of him." Spike agreed.

The next photos were of Spike and Yuki fighting, and Sam lopping the head off an ugly demon while Yuki was trapped under a wrecking ball and being fed off by Spike in the background.

"You bit her! You're so disgusting!"

"I had to. The bint did a real number on me. I'd 'ave been weeks recovering if I hadn't!" Spike protested. "She was wicked strong, that one, and I was a bit worried she was gonna get out from under the wrecking ball, to be honest. Taking 'er blood strengthened me, weakened her. Besides, her whole plan was to first take out me to avenge the annoying one, and then head here to resurrect the Master. I never ended up looking like that fighting you, so really, I did you a hell of a favor."

Buffy lapsed into uncharacteristic silence, remembering her nightmares about the master and about becoming a vampire--a slayer-turned-vampire who wanted to resurrect the Master was a nightmare scenario she could do without.

"Thanks."

Spike eyed her suspiciously for a bit and then subsided. "You're welcome." he replied gruffly.

More photos followed--Paris by night, all of them including Sam and Harmony dressed up and kicking up their heels. Spike and the Pope, Spike still in his bishop's outfit and holding up the proclamation stating he'd won Vatican City while a large group of Catholic clergy stood around looking befuddled. Shots of Rome, one of Spike, Angel and a slimy chaos demon posed with the dead body of a weedy, pimply looking demon.

"That's the bloody Immortal, can you believe it? Bloody ponce."

"Who's the slimy guy?"

"Dru's ex, strangely enough. He was being held prisoner 'cause he tried getting the Immortal for violating his new girlfriend and her whole family. We set him free and he helped out. "

"Angel was in Rome?"

"No, it's another shadow clone."

"Knew he'd be pissy if he wasn't in on the whole taking down the Immortal to avenge Dru and Darla, so we put 'im in the picture. Of course, Peaches being Peaches, he keeps trying to take credit for all of it even though he wasn't even there. Bastard."

Photos of Greece, several of the nagas.

"They're the ones responsible for the freak storm in L.A. Turns out Wolfram and Hart sent an assassin team to teleport into their lair. They followed the spell back and unleashed a storm to punish those that did it. It's okay though, last we heard they sent a group out to propitiate them and they got a sanctuary spell out of it, along with some other stuff they wanted. I wonder if they're going to reopen the Oracle at Delphi now. They stopped it because humans kept attacking them when they didn't like what their futures held."

Photos of Egypt followed--pyramids and tombs, the banks of the Nile, the city of Cairo by night, the three of them in desert wear atop camels, Harry battling Anck-su-namun, Spike vs. the Scorpion King, the photo of Spike and Hank that had been sent to Willow.

Africa was next--tree-climbing lions and gorillas, several types of monkeys, chimpanzees and elephants, several small villages, a car race, Spike and Darla hand in hand, limned by moonlight and looking oddly zen-like and at peace, the two of them and a creepy demon with glowing eyes.

"Oh, Lloyd! He looks great." Anya commented.

"This would be the soul-mojo demon shaman?" Xander asked.

"Yup, that's him. His trials are really a bitch. Darla was real glad she didn't opt to try once she got a look at me when I was done. She figured if it was that hard for me, she'd have been dust right quick."

Some shots of the hotel in L.A. were next--Wesley, Cordelia, Gunn and Angel, Angel and Darla, Wesley and Spike, both wearing glasses and reading large books.

"YOU STILL WEAR GLASSES!" the Scoobies all shouted in glee.

Spike scowled at all of them and slumped down in his seat. "Only to read, and not always then. We were trying to figure out how to rescue Dru. I didn't want to screw up just 'cause I couldn't see what I was reading."

"Is there something wrong with needing glasses?" Harry asked, his voice cool.

The Scoobies all turned a sheepish glance on Harry and shook their heads.

"No. Not at all. Glasses are cool."

"Hey, why do you need glasses anyway? With all the stuff you can do, can't you just, you know, fix them?"

"Well, no, because there isn't anything wrong with my eyes. I have goblin heritage and I have eyes like them--I have excellent night vision, I can spot movement, I can differentiate small changes in an underground tunnel, that sort of thing. All the goblins that do paperwork need glasses. There's filters on the glass to cut down on certain frequencies of light and a bit of magnification to help us focus on and read text. There's nothing to fix, because nothing is broken."

"Oh."

The slideshow continued--Fred and her cave, the palace and village, Drusilla in her princess outfit, demons and humans battling in the streets, the Groosalug in the square calling for order, a pink and blue demon battling in a field, and then nuzzling each other.

Spike laughed out loud. "You got pictures of them like that? Brilliant."

"Who like what?"

"That's Angel and Darla. Pylea's weird. Sunlight doesn't hurt, you have a reflection, but when you try to go fangy you end up like that."

"So…that's what you guys really look like?"

"I guess. I had thought we'd all end up looking like bat-face eventually, but as you can see, he had a really long way to go, even with all the mojo he did to speed up the process. You can see there and there where the bat-face came from, but there was a lot more to come. Since the demon was in control, 'e was little more than an animal. I went full demon too, to rescue Dru, and even concentrating as hard as I could to remember I needed to get us away to protect 'er, it was hard, real hard to think, and the longer it went on the harder it was to remember myself at all. Of the three of us, Darla had the most control. She couldn't talk or anything, but she seemed to have the most sense of self. Of course, she's both a lot older than us and doesn't have a soul to muck up the works. If I live to be a few thousand years old I might look like that someday, but no sooner. Sorta neat though, innit?"

"A few thousand years? Really?"

"Yeah. Not many make it that far. It takes us a really, really long time to 'grow up' so to speak. At a hundred and twenty I'd probably be classed as a bloody embryo when it comes right down to it."

"Did they give each other orgasms while they were like that?"

"Psh. What do you think?"

"Hmm… I wonder if they'll be able to reproduce because of it? Vampires who fully transform gain the ability to have children if they can find another like themselves. Like you said, it really happens very rarely, but there have been times. If I'm not mistaken, two of the current demon species on earth are the result of such matings. I don't know if this transformation is enough to count though."

"Huh. That'd be something wouldn't it? If I'd a known, I might've given it a go in my demon form. Of course, it's probably better I didn't. Dru's still crazy. She can't be trusted with pets, so she certainly can't be expected to take care of a baby. Too bad. I wonder if Darla and Peaches will end up expecting? I guess we'll all hear one way or another in a few months."

Buffy, who had been scarily silent for the last few minutes, abruptly rose from her seat and shambled from the room, blank-faced and moving like a zombie. Everyone froze, then Willow cursed and hurried after her, looking worried. Tara, and Xander were right behind her.

"Um…what's with her?" Andrew asked timidly.

"She and Angel used to date, even though as a vampire slayer it was her duty to kill him, not date him. They had this whole angsty, star-crossed lovers thing going on for a while, then they slept together, he lost his soul and went evil, spent months stalking her and her friends, and being a big jerk while doing so, then he tried to suck the world into hell. Buffy stopped him, by sending him into the hell portal he opened. Sadly, he had his soul back by that point. He came back from hell a few months later and they tried to get back together, but the whole no sex thing got to be a bit much, so he went to L.A. to be a vampire detective and help hopeless or something. He got back together with his old girlfriend Darla after she was resurrected by a demonic law firm. She's having a bit of trouble dealing is all. I suppose she's now wondering whether her whole soul mate scenario was just her being pathetic, because she was only ever a replacement for Darla" Anya explained.

"Short answer yes, long answer, no." Spike interjected.

"as well as having to confront the fact that the guy she gave her virginity to was not a big hunky slab of Irish beefcake, but a blue demon with horns." she continued.

"Again too simple. He's a vampire, which means he's both. Duh. Anyway, I don't know what she's getting so bent out of shape about. I mean, hey, she was able to look at this" There was a crackle as his game face came forth "and think it was sexy, and seriously? Usually only other vampires think that."

"not to mention the idea that her beefcake-y former honey and his former-now-current honey might be having a baby, while she, the human one, has found that normal life has so far escaped her grasp."

"It's a lot to take in, I guess, but seriously, if she wants to get knocked up she should at least wait till the other bird gets out of prison. It's not like the nasties are gonna stop trying to bring on the apocalypse just cause she got swollen ankles and is the size of a house."

"Well, I know that and you know that, but Buffy, well, she seems to have difficulty with absorbing these sorts of lessons." Anya sighed, before grabbing some more pizza.

"To be fair, it's easier to see if you're outside the situation."

"Well, yes, I suppose that's true. Even so, they broke up almost two years ago. She's dated other people since then, one of them seriously. She needs to let go and move on and stop pining for the perfect love that, honestly? Wasn't so perfect from where I'm standing."

"Yeah, seriously. I mean, come on, I've managed to move on from Dru, and we were together a hundred and twenty years!"

"Really? You've managed to move on?"

"Yeah. Weird, huh? I'm not even sure exactly when it happened. Now, granted, a part of me will always care about her, I'll always help her if she needs it, but, yeah. She asked if she could come back with me, you know. I said sure, because hey, Dru, right? I didn't think it was a good idea though and I told her as much, so she stayed in L.A. with Angelus and Darla. Truthfully, I'm not sure that's really a good idea either, but I figure Angelus owes it to her to try to make things right for her, and Percy, Cheerleader and Charlie-boy should keep him in line enough that he doesn't go messing with her head again. That's what I hope, anyway. Nah…Cheerleader and the others will get her out if it looks like he's losing his mind or going evil. Regardless, it's out of my hands now. More folks around to help up there. If she'd come here, Slayer and your boy would've been taking pot-shots at her and I wasn't having that."

While they were talking a few more photos flickered by: one of the entire Whirlwind, reunited for the first time since Angel had gotten his soul, one of Cordelia arguing with a large, green, bearded demon, while Lorne stood between them, holding them apart and looking panicked, and other demons of the same kind looked on, one of the whole group that had gone to Pylea and the two they'd rescued, posed in front of the van they'd taken, one of the Initiative battling demons at the Best Western, taken from the car, and finally one of Spike, Guido, his wife and fourteen children.

"That's where we were just before we got back to town. I spotted him walking down the street on our way back from L.A. He's got new digs, seems to be doing fine. I gave him a couple of cars I came into possession of on our travels. That was real nice what you and the Whelp did for him."

"Xander's idea, if you can believe it. I was really proud of him."

"Me too. If I'd a known meeting Guido would have such a positive effect on the boy, I'd a taken him with me long since."

"The others still aren't back, so I guess we shouldn't start the movie up. Does anyone want to help me decorate?"

"Oh! I will!" Andrew volunteered. "I was saying how bare the place was when we first got here."

"Great. I guess we should start in here."

 

They had gotten the living room, dining room and billiards room done by the time the others returned, though Buffy wasn't with them.

"We're gonna take off. Sorry about the movie, guys. Maybe another time?"

"Oh, sure. The rental is for a week."

"Great. Come on, Ahn. Let's head out."

"Oh, fine. Goodnight everyone."

"We're gonna go too. Good night." Willow apologized.

"Slayer ran off?"

"Yeah. She was all depressy-angsty Buffy. She wasn't in the mood to hang out and watch movies anymore."

"Her loss. I dunno why she lets him have that much power over her even now. Guess he succeeded more'n I realized when 'e was running amok before. Dru did say he wanted to hurt Slayer like he'd hurt her, and we all know how Dru turned out…and he did it without even offing anyone she really cared about."

Willow looked slightly ill, waved awkwardly and hurried out. Tara waved and hurriedly followed her.

"So…it's just you that lives here, and you two while you're visiting?"

"Yeah. When I lived here before it was me, Angelus, Dru and a half dozen minions, and we only used the downstairs. The rest of the place was filled with leaves and cobwebs and we mostly stayed out of it. Too many windows. Stormcloud here went on a cleaning kick and fixed the place up after I moved back. I was in a crypt over in Restfield Cemetary until just a few weeks ago."

"Can I live here?" Andrew asked hopefully.

"Uh…"

"I won't take up much room, really. I'm still living with my parents and they've been kind of making noises about me moving out…and if my brother is back in town I don't really want to end up in the hospital again…not that I would, since I'm sure he didn't really mean it and it was probably an accident…"

"Sure, fine. Go ahead. Might be useful, really. If you're here, this place'll have a threshold, and no random vampires can just wander inside. I don't use the upstairs really. You'll have to chip in for food, help with the chores, and there'll be house rules as soon as I figure out what they are. Just go pick out a room or something, and stay out of the downstairs and we'll be fine."

"Can I live here too?" Jonathan wondered.

Spike sighed again and nodded, waving them both off. "Sure, why not. We'll start a bloody fraternity. Just call us Delta Tau Chi."

"Toga! Toga! Toga!" Andrew chanted while bouncing on his toes. "I love Animal House…although, if we're going to be a fraternity, I think tri-Lambda is the way to go. They partied hard, and kept their g.p.a's up."

Spike glowered at him. "We're not naming ourselves for a bunch of nerds. Big bad, here."

Andrew ignored his spluttering, and fixed him with a disturbingly dewy-eyed stare. "Wow. We are so in synch. It's like a Vulcan mind-meld…without the melding…or the Vulcans."

"Who are the Tri-Lambdas?" Tom asked curiously.

"Fictional fraternity of nerds that get revenge on their oppressors."

"That doesn't sound so bad to me. Smart guys that get pushed around, refuse to stay down and get their vengeance on. Primal astronauts, remember? Sounds fitting--we've all been those guys who got pushed around at some point, we're all also very smart. Sounds like a good fit to me."

"Exactly! Tri-Lambda for the win!"

"Do you have a car? 'Cause…I don't know how I'm going to move my stuff." Jonathan interjected.

"Oh, hold on. We've still got a couple of SUVs. You can collapse the rear seat, so they'll work better than the big van we were in earlier. You'll find them in the garage, just let me unshrink them first."

"Wow. This is the greatest night ever."

"Wait till you lose your virginity."

 

Hank and Joyce watched as Buffy paced and ranted. They'd both been rather alarmed when she'd returned from her night out with her friends looking so woebegone. It had taken a bit of prodding, but she finally began telling them about her evening.

"…and now they're back together, even though she doesn't have a soul and is still evil and they might be having an evil demon baby together!"

She finally wound down from her rant and collapsed on the nearby chair, looking exhausted and miserable. Hank sighed, rubbed his head and cast a look at Joyce, who shrugged and smiled with wry understanding. She knew exactly how he felt. She'd been in the know for a few years now and she still had trouble sometimes. It certainly wasn't the life she'd imagined for her sweet baby girl when they'd brought her home from the hospital--but it was her life, whether they liked it or not.

"So…this Angel…what kind of name is that anyway? I thought he was Irish or something? Who names their son "Angel"?"

"It was Angelus when he was evil. He shortened it after he got his soul back. I don't know what his name was when he was human. I never thought to ask. I like it." she added defiantly.

"Yeah, this Angel…how old were you when you started dating him?"

"I met him when I was fifteen."

"And how old was he…before he became a vampire or whatever."

"He was twenty six when he died."

"When he died. That just sounds so wrong…wait, twenty-six? And you were fifteen? Bastard. Maybe I should go see this guy, introduce him to my favorite golf club…"

"DAD!"

"Father's prerogative, sweetie." Hank replied, voice hard. "Twenty-six, and he was chasing after you when you were fifteen. Jesus…and that's without counting whatever years have passed since then. Sweetheart, I don’t' say this to be cruel…but a guy that age, chasing after a girl your age, they're not looking for a soul mate, they're looking for a toy."

"It wasn't like that!"

"Really? Then tell me what it was like. What did you two do together on an average day?"

"He would show up and tell me about stuff that was going on, hellmouthy stuff, I mean. He'd help me patrol sometimes. I used to visit him at his apartment. He spent a lot of time alone, brooding about his evil past. I would try to cheer him up. He was always so…" she trailed off, sighing dreamily "So smart, so sophisticated, so mysterious… He read philosophy…in French" she added pointedly "and he practices tai chi, sword fighting…"

"Quite a fellow, I'm sure. What's his favorite color?"

"Um…well…he wears a lot of black…and dark jewel tones…so…black, I guess?"

"What's Willow's favorite color?" Joyce asked.

"Pink, Lavender."

"Xander?"

"Yellow."

"Mr. Giles?"

"Green."

"Spike?"

"Red. Wow…I hadn't realized I even knew that."

"This Angel's hobbies…"

"Just Angel, dad." Buffy huffed. "Um…well…Oh! Drawing. He likes to draw."

"Okay. So he has hobbies."

"One hobby. That and brooding, I guess."

"Sounds like a fun fellow. Favorite food?"

"He doesn't eat. People food I mean…just blood. Pig's blood, because he's good now."

"Yeah." Hank grimaced. "Sense of humor?"

"Not so I ever noticed. He was always very serious, very mature and focused."

"Goody for him. What did you two talk about? I doubt you had much in common."

"All sorts of things…his evil past and how remorseful he was, patrols, upcoming evil, sometimes he'd try to explain the stuff he was reading, but I didn't usually understand it…" she trailed off, shook her head and faced her parents once more. "We talked about lots of stuff."

"What did you fight about?"

"We didn't really...except about the fact that we couldn't be together, and that wasn't really arguing, it was just badness."

"Uh huh. Cryptic and mysterious, always sitting around being tragic and sophisticated, and you never fought." Hank sighed again, looking a bit ill. "Honey, that doesn't sound like a relationship, it sounds like a predator setting the stage to turn the head of a young, inexperienced girl."

"I'm telling you, it wasn't like that! We were in love!"

"I'm not doubting the validity of your feelings, honey. He was your first serious boyfriend, right? I'm sure you felt very strongly about him…but it seems like there was lots of bits of fairytale fluff, not a lot of substance."

"There was substance! We were all about the substance!"

"He ever hang out with you and your friends?"

"Well, no. It was usually just us, except when he'd come by to help out."

"So, every time you saw him, he was brooding, reading French philosophy, or being Mr. Kung-fu…probably with his shirt off, am I right?"

The flush on Buffy's cheeks was answer enough.

"So, you never walked in on him watching mindless television?"

"Angel doesn't watch television…or listen to music."

" Never told stupid stories to gross each other out? Never told jokes or horsed around? Never walked in on him doing anything embarrassing like dancing around his apartment singing?"

"I couldn't imagine him ever doing anything like that."

" Does the guy have super senses?"

"Yeah. Strong, fast, good hearing, good sense of smell."

"So he always knew when you were coming and had a chance to set the stage, so to speak."

"I think they have to concentrate on it to use it, otherwise I doubt Spike would've been painting his nails, watching Dawson's creek, or dancing around singing to the Ramones when I'd come into his crypt." Buffy snorted.

"A guy sitting around brooding would be more likely to hear you coming." Joyce pointed out. "Tell me Buffy…if he were to show up at the door right now, no more curse, no more bar to your relationship…how do you picture things going?"

"Like they did before."

"So…serious all the time, him brooding, or telling you about stuff you don't understand or aren't interested in, just the two of you--no hanging out with your friends, no television, no radio."

"Well…no…that's…" Buffy trailed off. She couldn't actually picture Angel there in the house with her, doing normal everyday stuff. Angel washing dishes? Watching t.v. together late at night? Hanging out at the Bronze? They'd never had any of that, and she couldn't even picture it.
"It probably wouldn't be like that. He was different, last time he was here. Weird."

"How do you mean?"

"Well…okay…he and Spike went out to get alcohol, which was weird already--Spike drinks like a fish given the opportunity, Angel, I've never seen him drink anything but blood, not even a Shirley Temple the few times he was lurking around the Bronze. When they came back, we heard them arguing, like loud, you know, screaming at each other out in the street. We could hear them from inside. When we went out to investigate, thinking something was wrong, they acted all shifty and avoidy and Angel was all like 'Oh, it's no big, just theoretical, don't worry about it'. Naturally, I wasn't having that, and I demanded answers. They were arguing about who would win if a caveman and an astronaut got into a fight! I mean, have you ever heard anything so stupid?"

"Did the astronauts have weapons?"

"DAD! Geez, you're as bad as the rest of them. Half the group spent the night arguing about it… And Angel was right there with them, and he and Spike were all banter-y, and downing shots and… It was weird."

"Him acting like a normal person is weird, and makes you uncomfortable."

"NO. It's just…he just… He was always a normal person, just a serious, sophisticated person, not a drunken Xander in leather. EW."

Hank and Joyce watched as several expressions flitted across her face and then exchanged a look. They seemed to have gotten through to her--pushing further might actually hurt the progress they'd made.

"Coffee?"

"Sounds great…but let me do it. After that scare earlier…"

"Scare? What scare? No one said anything about a scare. What was it? Demons? Zombies?"

"Aneurysm. The start of one, anyway. Spike heard something wonky in the blood flow or something…I'm not actually too clear on that part. He asked his nephews to take a look. They fixed an aneurysm that was in the process of forming. I'm going to head back to the doctor's tomorrow to see if there's anything else I need to worry about. They said everything checked out, but while magic might be all very well and good, I really would prefer a second opinion from a trained medical professional, though to be fair they suggested as much as well."

"It's a good thing they were here. It could have been fatal. That's if they were telling the truth."

"Given the looks on all their faces, I believe them. I wish I didn't, really."

"None of them said anything."

"They probably didn't want to worry you. It's nothing. It's all taken care of." Joyce assured her, before she and Hank headed to the kitchen.
Buffy slumped back in her seat and wondered if it was some kind of sign. Riley had been kidnapped and thought dead for a few days, and she'd spent that whole time obsessing over Angel. Her mom had nearly died tonight, had been suffering from a brain tumor before that, and she hadn't noticed, because she'd been obsessing over Angel…. Who had moved on, or backwards, depending on how you looked at it, and who may or may not be expecting a child…demon baby thing…in the coming months…or days. How long did it take a demon baby thing to gestate anyway? Would it be blue? Or would it just look like a regular vamp but tiny?

She pictured a chubby baby wrapped in blankets, with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth and bumpies and shuddered.

"Wait a second…Spike was hanging out here? With my parents? What gives?"

 

When Spike wandered upstairs that afternoon, he found the mansion transformed from minimalist with antique furniture to geek paradise. There were now several large bookcases in the living room, filled end to end with DVD box sets --sci-fi and anime mostly with a smattering of other genres. There were Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and other action figures lovingly displayed wherever there was room for them. There were computers and robots and gadgets and magical paraphernalia. There were books as well--magic, sci-fi, tomes in dead languages, demon languages and Klingon, fantasy, mythology, fairy tales, history, computer programming and "The Art of" books for several sci-fi and fantasy series. Doctor Who was playing on the telly, while the boys--all four of them, laid around on the couches, reading, eating, watching the show, or in Andrew's case, painting a Tri-Lambda sign to hang by the front door.

"Hi! We're all moved in. The kitchen is stocked too. I got some blood from the butcher's while I was out. Pig and cow…I wasn't sure if it made a difference. We were talking earlier about doing culinary experiments, but you'd have to agree, since you'd have to drink the stuff. Do you think apple juice would taste good in pig's blood since apple sauce tastes good on pig's meat or would it just curdle it and make it icky? Oh, and also, we need a motto. I was thinking 'sit vis nobiscum'."

"NO." Tom, Harry and Jonathan all answered together without looking up from what they were doing.

"None of us are Jedi, remember?"

"How about semper ubi sub ubi" Jonathan snickered.

"Won't work. I go commando." Spike disagreed.

Andrew squeaked, and then coughed to cover it up.

"How about…"

"Oh…hey guys. I wasn't expecting to see you both…here. Wow. What happened to this place?" Xander greeted everyone cheerfully.

"Harris. Don't you people ever knock?"

"I did. No one answered. So, what'ya doin?"

"Coming up with a latin motto for the house."

"The entries so far are "may the force be with you" and "always wear underwear"

"How about sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc"

"Ah yes, a classic." Jonathan nodded.

"That's from the Addams family, right? You trying to get me staked, Harris?"

"Huh?"

"We gladly feast on those who would subdue us. Think about it."

"Ah, yeah. Probably not a good motto for the home of a vampire. I don't know what you're worried about though. Buffy doesn't know Latin."

"Old Rupert does."

"How about…hmmm...Utinam barbari saptium proprium tuum invadant." Spike suggested with a smirk.

Everyone but Xander snickered. Xander looked around at the rest and frowned.

"Okay…translation for those of us not fluent in Latin?"

"May barbarians invade your personal space."

"I like it."

"You two have any suggestions?"

Tom smirked at everyone. "Vah! Denuone Latine loquebar? Me ineptum. Interdum modo elabitur"

Harry snickered and kicked him lightly in the side. "You are such an ass."

Xander sighed.

"He said 'oh, was I speaking latin again, silly me, sometimes it just slips out."

"Wow. I feel so inadequate right now."

"Isn't that normal for you?"

"So not helping."

"I wouldn't, really. Tom and I had it zapped into our brains by magic. Spike went to school at a time where it was a standard part of the curriculum. Jonathan and Andrew are just special like that, I guess."

"Alright, Stormcloud, what's your suggestion?"

"Do you want something silly or a real suggestion?"

"Try a real one. Be unique."

"Mine was a real suggestion." Andrew complained.

"No." the rest replied in unison.

"Okay…how about Viam aut inveniam aut faciam."

"Hannibal, right? Yeah, I like that one."

"I'll either find a way or make one." Tom answered before Xander could ask.

"I like that one too. It's a good motto, but if you really want to up the geek factor, maybe you should make it something like lupDujHomwlj luteb gharghmey"

"Bloody hell, Harris, you dying or something?"

"You speak Klingon." Andrew and Jonathan gushed in unison.

"What's it mean?"

"Um…my ship is full of eels."

"Yeah, that's a right useful motto."

"It's no worse than 'may barbarians invade your personal space!'"

"If you go for Klingon, shouldn't it be the Klingon motto? Today is a good day to die?"

"I vote no. We're on the hellmouth. Saying stuff like that tends to be a bad idea."

"I guess put it to a vote? I vote for my suggestion."

"I still want may the force be with you."

"I don't speak bloody Klingon, so I'm voting with Stormcloud."

"I rather liked 'always wear underwear, myself'. You have to admit it would be amusing to see people's faces as they read it, ."

"You know what? It really would. I vote for that one too."

"It was my suggestion, so I vote for it too."

"I'm voting with Spike. He's scarier than either of you."

"That means a tie. Someone's going to have to change their vote."

"Hey, I'll just call Ahn. She can be tie-breaker. Hang on a sec."

Xander dug out a phone from his pocked and dialed the Magic Box, then put it on speaker so everyone could hear.

"Hello, Magic Box, can I help you?"

"Ahn, great. We're trying to decide between two latin mottos, and we've got a tie. You get to be tie breaker."

"Alright…let's hear them."

"The first one is 'always wear underwear', though in Latin, obviously. The second is 'I'll either find a way, or make one."

"The second. The first is a stupid motto. Myself, I always go commando. Was there anything else?"

"Wow. Your girlfriend is the most awesome girl ever."

"No, Ahn. Thanks for your help, but for future reference, remember our talk about not over-sharing?"

"Stupid human rules." They heard her mutter before hanging up.

"Wait, Anya is a demon or something?"

"Used to be. Vengeance demon. Her specialty was cursing men who upset their girlfriends. It sometimes amazes me that I sleep at night."

"Just take it as props. You must be a really awesome boyfriend if you got her over that."

"I never thought of it that way." Xander admitted, before puffing up his chest a bit. "The Xan man rocks."

"Is something burning?"

Andrew jumped to his feet with a shriek and scurried from the room. "My cookies!"