41 Showdown

Prompt: 102 - Thus spoke Zarathustra

Tuesday 13 August

The church had been empty for years, but no ruling body had come to reclaim the furniture. The stained glass was still in the windows, the statues of the saints in their niches, the pews had not been removed, even altar cloth was there, covered by a cotton sheet. But in spite of that, the place was in a state of severe neglect and disorder: the hymnals once used by the congregation were scattered everywhere, torn and moth eaten tapestries hung on either side of the entrance and lay across the floor, perhaps pulled down by some homeless person seeking material for a nest to sleep in, some of the pews were overturned, others pushed to the side of the space. At least it was dry, there was no smell of mould and decay, apart from in the corner by the organ where a large damp spot showed that the whole of the roof was not sound.

Dru managed to walk to the church, but by the time they reached it her weakness was apparent so Spike eased her down to sit in one of the front pews, while they prepared the scene. Angelus claimed the inherited memory of an altar boy, which made Spike smirk, but saved Spike having to deal with getting the charcoal and Frankincense alight. Xander busied himself placing the thick candles from the box he carried into their cups in the large candelabras to either side of the altar, while Jesse mounted the torches in the brackets set into the walls along the length of the nave. They looked as if they were originally intended to hold flags. Maybe it had been a church with military links, Spike thought.

Once it was all done, Spike opened the notebook into which Ethan had copied the final version of the ritual and checked that the details were all correct, counting them off in his head and nodding with satisfaction. Angelus handed Dru into position in front of the altar. He had to wrap his arm around her waist to help her to stand. Clasping her left hand in his right, he lifted them above his head, holding them there. Xander and Jesse took up position next to the front row of pews to act as witness.

Pulling on his heavy leather gloves, Spike picked up the censer and began to walk up the main aisle, away from the altar, swinging it from side to side to encourage the pungent smoke to belch out into the room. "Eligor," he intoned. "I name thee. Bringer of war, poisoners, pariahs, grand obscenity." He turned on his heel and began to walk back through the smoke to where Angelus and Dru waited.


The dirty cream Citroen drew to an arthritic halt in front of the church and Giles gave the steering wheel a pat, half admonitory, half thanks for having made it. He'd have to take it back to the garage, there was something wrong. He'd had a Citroen before and, in spite of it being French, it had actually performed to perfection, but getting into this one with the aim of getting anywhere, was an act of faith. "Well done, Betsy," he said.

Willow glanced over at him with a tight smile before climbing out, pulling the grip bag from her footwell with her, stepping back and slamming the door. Giles got out too and stood for a moment taking a good look at the church. Twin square towers flanked the west front where a flight of shallow steps led up to the main entrance. The light in the street was sufficient to show that one leaf of the door was cracked and broken. That was where they would enter. No doubt there was a side entrance, through the churchyard gates, but the deep shadows under the trees were not welcoming. Giles knew that was a ridiculous consideration, in view of what they were about to do. The obvious entry might be a trap. Briefly he considered that alternative, but so might the side way, with less chance of an easy escape into the view of human passers by. With one last, almost affectionate, pat to the roof of the car he walked around to Willow's side, taking the bag from her. Together they climbed the steps and when they reached the door he placed the bag down, crouching next to it to open it.

Extracting his best crossbow he placed it down at his side. Pulling out the second, he handed it to Willow. He glanced at his watch. It was a quarter past eleven. "The exact moment of the new moon is 11.34," he observed, "so, hopefully we'll be able to stop them before they can begin." Looking up at Willow he noted the tension in her stance and hesitated. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

She shook her head but her voice was firm. "Oh yes, I'm sure! My friends are dead and those things killed them. I really want to do this!"

"Alright." Giles took a deep breath and pushed open the broken door a crack. There was another beyond the porch which was only slightly ajar. Pressing through the gap, he tiptoed towards it. Looking back at the young woman he added, although they'd gone over it a number of times already, "As soon as I've fired, I'll drop this one," he lifted the cross bow slightly, "then you pass me that one. Okay?"

Willow nodded. "Yes. Then I reload so it's ready for you to fire again. Like a Napoleonic infantry square."

Giles felt his lips twitch but he refrained from pointing out that between the two of them they hardly made up more than a point, let alone a square. He nodded. Turning back to the door and taking another deep breath, he burst through, into the church proper. And came to a shocked halt at the top of the nave. The space was empty, not a pew, not a cross, not a single statue of a saint. Their footsteps echoed hollowly as they walked tentatively forwards. Even the altar was gone.

Beside him he heard Willow sigh. "Oh, darn! I was sure it was this one."


Walking back up the aisle, through the smoke of his previous passing, Spike continued to swing the censer. "Eligor, wretched master of decay, bring your black medicine," he read, from the book held before him in his left hand.

Up in front of the altar Dru seemed to be hovering on the edge of unconsciousness. "Black medicine," she echoed. Angelus adjusted his hold on her waist, pulling her closer to his chest. Her head lolled as if it was only loosely attached to her shoulders, until her forehead came to rest against his breast, then she was still.

Spike climbed the three steps to the chancel, set the censer down on the altar and put the book down next to it. Reciting words memorised earlier, he picked up the Du Lac Cross, peeling away the wrappings. "Come. Restore your most impious, murderous child."

Holding the cross carefully inverted he walked up to Angelus and Dru in time to hear her murmured echo of his last words, muffled though they were by Angelus' body.

Taking the head of the cross in his other hand, he pulled the ends apart, drawing out the dagger and laying the sheath back on the altar. Lifting the dagger high he added the next part of the ritual: the promise, "From the blood of the sire she is risen. From the blood of the sire, she shall rise again."

With one stroke Spike stabbed the blade through Angelus' and Dru's clasped hands. As Angelus gasped and Dru gave a small convulsive twitch, a bright, pink light encompassed them both from elbow to fingertips and Angelus' arm sagged, before jerking up again, rigid above their heads. The intensity of the light grew by pulses, then burst outward in a shockwave across the open space of the nave, before dying back to a glow at the point where the dagger joined them. Angelus' head slumped onto Dru's shoulder and their joined hands fell to rest on Angelus' shoulder, but they remained upright.

"Right, then!" Spike said in a more normal voice, grinning at Xander as he walked towards the steps to join him. "Now we just let them come to a simmering boil, and remove to a low flame."

A sound at the door gave Spike a moment's warning before it burst open and the watcher rushed in, crossbow held up in front of him, the little girl of the week before trailing behind. The sight that greeted him, however, apparently caused him to freeze. His eyes darted from Jesse to Xander to Spike and then behind him to Angelus and Dru. "Oh God!" he gasped.

Jumping down the three steps, Spike laughed. "God has nothing to do with it," he said. "In fact, as Nietzsche said, 'God is dead. And we have killed him.'" He looked around at the mess. "Well, either that or he's gone to visit friends for a while."

Spike's voice seemed to drag the watcher out of his immobility and he raised the crossbow. The little girl crept up close behind, second crossbow clutched to her chest.

Xander and Jesse had turned at the watcher's first words, but they waited to see what Spike intended. The watcher apparently intended war. As he released the trigger, Spike, who had expected to be the target and was ready to jump aside, realised a fraction of a moment too late that the bolt was actually going to pass to his left. With a cry he spun and shoved Xander, sending him staggering. Xander screamed as the bolt lodged in his right shoulder and he half fell over the end of the nearest pew. Spike pulled him back upright, grabbed the shaft below the fletches and tugged it free. Xander gasped again and Spike gave him another shove so he stumbled backwards and sat down hard on the seat of the pew.

Returning his attention to the watcher, Spike saw that he had dropped his crossbow, but had already swapped it for the other. The girl was on her knees, trying to reload the first one. The watcher was raising his new weapon, this time pointing at Jesse. That left Spike free to attack. He leapt forward, just as the second bolt fired and found its home in Jesse's chest. The minion froze, for a second his skeleton flared, then he was nothing more than a slowly settling shower of dust. Again the watcher seemed to have surprised himself and as a result he hesitated to take the crossbow the girl was holding out to him. The shock as Spike collided with him sent them both stumbling. Spike wrenched the crossbow from the watcher's grip and tossed it aside. Grabbing the man by his shoulders Spike pushed him back into the wall, forcing the air from his lungs.

Spike could almost taste the blood, it seemed to buzz with remembered power, although that might have been in his imagination - a result of Ethan's stories. He bent his head towards the watcher's neck. Behind him he was dimly aware of a shout from Xander, but he couldn't spare the attention and his childe should be able to overpower one small girl. Spike leant forward, as the watcher's hands came up in a vain attempt to fend him off.

A blow to the side of his head caused Spike to lose his grip and he fell to the floor. Looking up he saw the girl, Willow, with the second crossbow held like a club. She'd clocked him with the stock. He took all that in in the moment before the watcher fell on him, knees either side of Spike's hips and crossbow bolt raised like a stake. Spike shot out his hand, halting the downward plunge by grabbing the watcher's wrist, but unable for a moment to find the leverage to throw the man from his perch. They seemed to hang frozen, the watcher attempting to force the bolt down to pierce Spike's breast, Spike with his grip on the watcher's wrist holding him off.

Even as his feet scrambled for purchase on the floor, Spike was aware that Xander had finally joined the fray. He had the girl by the neck, against the wall. Although Spike was pleased to note that Xander's voice was calm, he wanted to shout at the boy for allowing himself to be distracted. "Not going to turn you, Wills," Xander said. "I may have been on the slow bus when I was alive, but that's not true anymore. I'm strong now. And smart. You want to know how smart?" He must have tightened his grip because the girl's only answer was a strangled squeal and he didn't wait for a better answer. "I learnt that lesson with Jesse." Xander laughed. "You're going to die," he promised.

It appeared that the watcher had also been half listening, because he suddenly increased his efforts to force the bolt towards Spike, but Spike had finally managed to plant his feet flat on the floor. Offering the watcher his friendliest smile, he asked, "Really think you have me?" He flicked his eyes to the side, towards the two figures up near the altar. "Every moment we stay locked like this, is one moment closer to my Dru being well again. One moment closer to my boy clearing away more of the mess of his human life."

The watcher's eyes widened with shock and his mouth hardened into a straight line as he redoubled his efforts. Spike laughed. Using the leverage his bent legs gave him, he humped his hips off the ground, unbalancing the man astride him. "Didn't know you swung that way, watcher." He smirked. "Oh wait, yes I did, what with your old mate crashing at our place and telling tales out of school."

"Shut up," the watcher gritted out between teeth clenched tight with effort.

Spike let out a theatrical sigh. "Bored now," he announced, giving one more thrust of his hips as he pushed the watcher's arms wide, causing him to overbalance forward onto Spike's chest and lose his grip on the crossbow bolt. Using his legs and shoulders for leverage, Spike arched his back and rolled, so that he was on top and the watcher beneath him. But the watcher was a good scrapper and he swung with the momentum Spike had created, attempting to continue the roll. Spike managed to stop them, before the watcher got into the ascendancy again, but when he tried to pull away the watcher lurched up, looming over him, left hand with his entire weight behind it splayed flat over Spike's chest as his right scrabbled across the floor after the dropped bolt. Spike rolled his head to the side and saw the bolt, just beyond the watcher's fingertips. He waited his moment and when the watcher released some of the pressure behind his left hand, to reach for it, he brought his arms up and shoved at the watcher's waist, sending him flying through the air into the wall next to Xander and Willow, where he stayed, winded and shaking his head to clear it.

Spike rolled on his shoulders, swinging up onto his feet. Xander was looming over the girl who had her back to the wall. At first Spike didn't understand what was holding Xander back, then he saw the crossbow jammed between them, the point of the bolt inches from Xander's heart. The girl had tears in her eyes and she was pleading, "Xander, please! Don't make me do it. I know there's still a part of you in there."

Xander cocked his head. He seemed unconcerned by the danger of his position and Spike made a mental note to have words with him later. "Of course there is, Wills," he agreed. "I'm still your Xander. I'm still me. I can do the snoopy dance, if you like?" he offered. "Would that convince you?" He paused as if thinking. "Or how about this - On my seventh birthday ... I didn't get the toy fire truck I wanted, so you burnt down the house next door for me, so the real fire trucks came, remember that?"

Blinking, Spike considered the girl. If she was capable of that... but she was shaking her head. "I didn't," she whispered. "I didn't do that."

With an internal shrug Spike abandoned the thought that had tickled at his mind. It was time to interfere. His heart was in his mouth as he edged forward. One false move and his childe was dust. The girl was obviously reluctant to fire, but accidents happened so easily. He placed one hand on Xander's shoulder and the movement caught her eye. Spike saw her finger twitch on the trigger even as he yanked Xander back spinning them both, bringing his right leg up at the same time and kicking at the crossbow. The twang of the mechanism was followed immediately by the whistle of the bolt as it skimmed between them, close to Xander's ear, but his boy was safe.

In his new position Spike could see Dru and Angelus. Angelus was struggling to pull the dagger free. Had it been enough time? Spike didn't know. He took a step towards them, still hanging on to Xander, but the watcher had reclaimed his faculties and had grabbed one of the torches from the wall. Advancing on Spike, he swung it from side to side, requiring Spike to jump back to avoid being set alight. He let go of Xander who also scrambled away. The girl stayed where she was. "Giles," she called.

The watcher looked over his shoulder and saw her. He threw his torch at Spike, who ducked. It flew over Spike's head, landing next to a torn hymn book and a length of moth-eaten cloth. Spike saw the first little flame as the tinder caught.

Giles rushed back to the girl, grabbing another torch from the bracket next to her. Turning, he threw that one too. It rolled across the floor and came to rest against a length of torn velvet curtaining. There was a whooshing sound and the velvet went up like it had accelerant on it. The flames spread rapidly to the hymn books and the other rubbish on the floor and in moments it was like a wall between the humans and Spike, who retreated backwards towards the altar and his sire. Above the roar of the flames, he heard the watcher shout that they needed to run but he didn't have time to consider them now. The fire was spreading towards the chancel and Dru seemed to be in a swoon and unable to save herself.

He almost tripped in his headlong rush, but he managed keep his feet under him and ran up the steps to Angelus and Dru. Grabbing Dru's wrist, he pulled the dagger from their joined hands and caught Dru is she collapsed. "Sorry, baby. Gotta go," he gasped, lifting her into his arms.

Angelus fell to his knees, sitting back on his heels and gazing glassily around. Spike searched the room. The fire had caught with a vengeance and was now licking up the walls. Up by the altar they were not only separated from the watcher and the girl, they were also cut off from the only way out. And Xander was trapped by the flames, forced back against the wall, his fledgeling instincts causing him to cower away from fire. As his eyes locked with his childe's terrified gaze Spike was vaguely aware of the watcher shouting to the girl that they needed to get out.

Turning to Angelus, Spike thrust Dru into his arms. "Get up! Take her!" he yelled. "The choir loft." He pointed to the narrow door half hidden in the panelling of the walls to the side of the organ. Waiting only long enough to see Angelus clamber to his feet and be sure he had Dru safe, Spike took five steps to gather speed and leapt over the flames trapping Xander, crashing into the wall at his childe's side. He took Xander's chin in both his hands, forcing his hypnotised gaze away from the roar of the fire. "Listen," he shouted. "You saw me do it. You can do it too. But we have to be quick." A quick glance around offered a possible route. "Come on!"

Xander nodded his understanding and followed Spike along the wall to where one of the misplaced pews stuck out towards the flames, which were lapping at its end. But the wood was old and worn smooth, so it hadn't caught yet. Jumping up on the seat, pulling Xander behind him, Spike pointed. "Follow me," he instructed. "Do what I do." He began to run along the length of the seat. Placing his last footfall on the armrest, he launched himself out over the rapidly spreading fire, coming to a running stop on the other side of the knave. Turning he watched as Xander came flying towards him and stepped aside as the boy landed in a sprawl which turned into a somersault, like a kitten that tries to stop too fast on its front feet.

Hardly waiting for him to get himself up, Spike grabbed Xander's hand in a renewed grip and started running again, tugging Xander back into motion. They headed for the door to the choir loft with the flames licking at their heels. Together they dashed through and slammed it behind them, safe for a moment. Taking a totally necessary breath, Spike pelted up the stairs into the choir loft. Angelus was standing in the middle of the space with Dru still in his arms. Relieved of one worry, Spike spared a moment to look down over the balcony rail. Below them the nave was engulfed in flames. Pulling his eyes away, he checked out the loft, there was no obvious way out. He turned to Angelus and noticed that his gaze was focussed on the big window in the back wall. He caught Spike's eye, a question in his own. Spike nodded his agreement.

Turning to Xander, Spike placed his hands on the boy's shoulders and gave him a little shake. "Follow me," he instructed, "and jump backwards, yeah? Angelus will follow through the gap."

Xander nodded, although Spike doubted he knew what he was agreeing with. He'd see soon enough. Running towards the window, Spike turned at the last moment and crashed backwards through it, twisting in the air to land with a thump on all fours on the ground twenty feet below. A moment later more glass crashed down around him and Xander landed next to him. Angelus followed, still carrying Dru.

Getting up, Spike dusted glass fragments from his clothes. "If this didn't work," he growled. "I'm eating the wizard." He glared at Angelus. "And I don't care what you say."

Looking at the expression on Angelus' face as he gazed down at Dru, Spike wasn't sure he'd heard. But even if he had, he didn't think Angelus would object to the sentiment.

42 Epilogue

Dru had still not regained consciousness as they all trailed back up to the house. Spike had allowed Angelus to continue carrying her while he walked with Xander, his arm securely around his boy's waist. The sky was clear, the stars were bright without a moon to dim them, and he took deep breaths as they walked, enjoying the smell of clean air, with just a hint of soot. Xander appeared unaffected by the night's adventure, unless the extra bounce in his step from the adrenaline hype counted. Spike on the other hand still had some concerns about Dru. He'd seen the spell in operation, but he couldn't feel totally happy until she woke up.

Angelus carried Dru like the precious burden she was, her head resting against his shoulder and every few moments he glanced down at her, his expression soft in a way that Spike had never witnessed before. He seemed to be recovering his strength with each step away from the burnt out wreck behind them. The spell might have knocked him for six for a while, but the effects didn't appear to be long lasting.

Unlocking the front door, Spike pushed it wide and held it open for Angelus to enter. "How you feeling, mate?" he asked. "I mean, did it work?"

Shaking his head slightly, Angelus smiled. "I felt it," he said. "I felt something. Yes, I think it worked."

I spite of Dru's continued unconsciousness and her drawn expression, a small portion of Spike's worry lifted with that reassurance. Leading the way into the living room, he gestured at Ethan, sitting still shacked on the sofa. "Off," he ordered. Ethan hurried to obey, hovering close as Spike waved Angelus forward. "Lay her out there," he said. "I'll get you some blood and you can feed her as soon as she wakes."

In the kitchen the pantry was empty, but there were half a dozen hospital bags in the fridge. Just this once Spike would lower himself to eating old blood. He wasn't leaving the house again tonight. Not until he saw Dru awake and well again. And if that didn't happen... he shoved the thought away. Maybe he'd still eat the wizard.

Pulling a large pan out of the cupboard he half filled it with water and put it on the stove, adding all of the remaining bags of blood. Eating bagged blood was one thing, but he wasn't going to eat it cold. Behind him he could hear whispering and movement coming from the living room but he kept his attention focussed on the water in the pan, checking it with a finger tip at regular intervals. It didn't take long to warm the chill off and it was better to err on the side of caution, to avoid it starting to cook.

It seemed to take forever, but eventually it was ready. Hooking three mugs and the kitchen scissors over his finger tips, he picked up the pan with both hands and pushed through the door into the living room, plonking the lot down on the coffee table. Dru was now stretched out comfortably on the sofa, Angelus perched next to her. Ethan was sitting on the floor, as far from them both as the chain around his ankle allowed, and Xander had flopped down in Dru's chair.

He hauled himself up as Spike returned and knelt down next to the coffee table, straightening the mugs. Looking up at Spike he picked up the scissors. "Shall I?" he asked.

Spike nodded absently, his focus on Dru. "What's taking so long?" he asked. "Why is she still out?" Catching Angelus' eye again, he added, "You sure you felt something?"

Angelus raised an eyebrow. "You did see the light show back there?" he asked. "Yes, something happened. I felt the strength flowing out of me, into her. I'm certain it worked." Leaning forward, he stroked a loose lock of her hair away from her face. His hand looked huge, his fingers like sausages against her delicate beauty. Spike knew that the apparent fragility of her bird-like frame was an illusion, but he'd lived with her illness for so long, it was almost impossible to imagine she could ever again be the fierce, strong willed, invincible sire he had once believed her to be.

Angelus briefly gripped her hands, where they lay loosely clasped below her breasts. "Is that the last of the blood?" he asked.

"Yeah. I reckon we'll be leaving tomorrow. You'll have to sort out your own supply from now on."

Angelus nodded. "I don't think I'll be staying either," he said seriously. "You were right, I haven't a chance of helping the slayer, not with her watcher knowing what I am."

A nudge at his elbow distracted Spike from answering and caused him to look down. Xander was holding a mug up for him to take. Dismissing Angelus' comment as irrelevant, he took the blood, draining it without attention or pleasure, as he sat himself down on the arm of the sofa next to Dru's head and watched her face.

Together they sat vigil over her body. With each passing moment, as she continued to lie motionless and didn't fade to dust, Spike felt himself relax a little more. Half an hour passed, then an hour. Still Dru lay unmoving, but solid, in front of him.

Some small sound made Spike look up and he found Angelus studying him intently. He raised an eyebrow in question and Angelus smirked. "Good moves, in there," he said.

Spike was flabbergasted. Angelus paying him a compliment? Unsolicited? "You too," he acknowledged, grudgingly.

"No, I mean it. You got us all out. I didn't notice the door to the loft." Angelus looked slightly embarrassed and shrugged. "I was still a bit out of it," he explained, in excuse.

Spike decided to go with the flow and enjoy this strange, genial Angelus while he could. "Wish I'd got the watcher though," he admitted. From the corner of his eye he saw the wizard react to that and turned to glance at him. "Yeah, your old mate was there. And he got away." He jerked his head towards Angelus. "He didn't tell you?"

Ethan was sitting cross-legged by the coffee table. "No," he replied drily. "We didn't get that far." Sitting straight, he grinned. "I wish I could have been there."

"Think you could have helped take him down, do you?"

"No. But then, I wouldn't want to. I might have helped distract him though." He gave an impudent smirk. "People like Ripper... they come in useful for all sorts of reasons." There was a hint of a question in his voice when he added, "Rather like me."

Spike grinned back. "Useful, eh? So I should just let you go?"

Angelus cleared his throat. "Spike, you promised."

Waving his hand airily, Spike agreed. "I promise a lotta things."

"But this is one you're going to keep."

Was that a threat? Why was Angelus suddenly so serious? "And why should I?"

"Because he's human." Angelus closed his eyes as he apparently realised that he'd just made a supremely stupid statement. He frowned and tried again, "Because I'm asking you to?"

"And you're asking because he's human?" Spike suggested. Angelus nodded tightly. "No!" Spike stared at Angelus' face, watching it twitch in response to his blunt refusal. "That's not the reason. You want something." He injected a sneer into his voice. "This isn't about your mission. You're in love with the idea of humanity, but you don't give a damn about them individually. There's something more here." He glanced at Xander, who was sitting on the edge of his seat, ready to jump if Spike gave the signal. Turning back to Angelus he stared him down. "If you want me to spare him again, you'll have to come out and give me a very good reason why."

Angelus' face went blank and Spike recognised that expression - he was thinking, trying to work out if he could lie, or whether he'd really have to tell Spike the truth. The fact that he didn't point out that it wasn't Spike who let the wizard go, last time, was itself an indication of how serious he was. Spike waited.

After a pause that seemed to stretch for whole minutes, Angelus sighed. "The other night," he said. "Ethan told us a story about a demon..."

Spike thought back to the evening they spent getting drunk and swapping stories and being a family. "The one in Africa," he agreed.

"Yes, that one..." Angelus stopped abruptly as Dru stirred, her hands twitching before falling still again.

Spike leant forward, gazing down into her face as her eyes opened. He twisted off his perch onto his knees at her side and bent over her. "Hey, baby," he whispered. "How do you feel?"

Slowly Dru sat up, Spike helping her with a hand at her back. She twisted in her seat, placing her feet on the floor and reaching out her hand, ran it gently down his cheek. "Shhh," she murmured. She turned to look up at Angelus and it was only then that Spike realised there were tears in his eyes. Angrily he scrubbed at them. "My Angel," Dru continued, pulling her hand away and offering it to her sire, who took it and held it tenderly. "You saved me." Spike opened his mouth to make some protest, but she turned back to him. "You both saved me. I'm strong again!" Slowly a smile spread across her face. "I'm well! I can feel it, the power, the wonder, the call." She looked around the room, fixing at last on Ethan, who tried to scramble back but was prevented by the chain at his ankle. "And I'm hungry."

Spike was ready to offer the wizard up for her, but Angelus jumped in first, "Drink from me, Dru," he offered. "Come and drink from me." He flicked a glance over at Ethan. "We need him, remember?"

She turned and smiled back at him. "Oh yes, I forgot."

Before Spike could demand an explanation for that statement, Dru had lunged forward into Angelus' lap and her mouth was at his throat. Angelus closed his eyes, a blissful expression on his face, and when he opened them again he was looking straight at Spike. "I thought I had a mission to help the slayer," he said, apropos of nothing. "But I think Whistler talked in riddles and the obvious interpretation was not the true one." He stroked his hand up Dru's back, fisting it in her hair and Spike thought he was going to pull her away, but instead he released his grip and sank back into the seat, petting her head. After a moment he looked up at Spike again. "I can't go on without believing in something. I need that. I need to know that there's something beautiful in the world. I need to know that there is worth in what I'm doing. That I'm doing good."

Puzzled by this sudden burst of confidences, Spike did his best. "So you're an idealist?" he hazarded. "An idealist with a soul?"

Angelus sighed. "William, you're a poet. Don't fuck with me. You were never wrong. Without my soul, I'm a bastard."

Spike grinned at him. "Won't hear me argue with that," he agreed.

Unable to nod with Dru at his neck, Angelus gave a slight smile in acknowledgement. "I was a bastard," he repeated. "I'd never felt love. I didn't believe in it. I didn't even know what it was." His eyes flashed yellow before returning to brown. "But somehow I found it. And it was staring me in the face the whole time." He paused a moment and frowned, apparently trying to find the words to explain his thoughts. "We have eternal life," he continued. "We have to do something with that. We have to do good." He paused again and studied Spike, then he amended his statement, "I have to do something good."

Cautiously, Spike nodded. "And so you are. You have. You've cured Dru. 'Course, you owed us that."

"I owed Dru that."

"'S what I said."

"No, it isn't." Angelus hesitated and his voice was soft when he continued. "Dru and I..." A flicker of dread uncurled at the back of Spike's mind, ready to bloom into full flower and he realised that he didn't want to hear whatever it was Angelus was leading up to, but he couldn't stop him. "I think Whistler showed me the wrong woman," Angelus finished.

Spike stared at his grandsire, but was met by such a steady gaze that he had to look away. Across the coffee table from him, Ethan was watching with an expression of avid curiosity. In Dru's chair Xander looked as alarmed as he was beginning to feel himself. Slowly Xander began to edge forward out of his seat, onto the floor.

Spike looked back at Angelus and Dru just as she pulled away from her feed and sat up. "It's all... wrong!" she moaned, "I can't abide it! The Moon started whispering to me... All sorts of dreadful things. Temptation and truth and sin and guilt. And then she went dark and I knew... psst, psst, psst, psst, psst... He fills my head. I can't hear anything else. He calls me." She twisted around and fixed her mad gaze on Spike, her voice abruptly normal. "I have to go to Africa. Want to come, pet?" she asked.

Behind her Angelus stirred. "No!" he said. Looking over at Spike he added, "You need to go out and prove yourself."

Suddenly angry in his confusion Spike pushed himself to his feet, yelling, "I've been fucking doing that for a hundred years. I don't need to prove myself to anyone!"

Angelus pulled Dru against him and put his arms around her. She wriggled back into his side and settled her hands over his. "You do!" Angelus pronounced. "You may not think you do, but you do. Once you're alone, without your sire... it's different."

Spike refused to recognise the significance of Angelus' wording, concentrating on the petty accusation. "Yeah, like you did? When did you go out on your own? Let me think... Oh yes, that would be a hundred years ago, when you abandoned us!"

Dru smiled at him from Angelus' arms. "My beautiful boy," she whispered, "all grown up. Ready to be a daddy."

"No! Dru! You don't..." Spike couldn't go on. He fell to his knees, a tearing sensation ripping through his chest and he clutched at it. It felt like his heart was breaking. Literally.

Dru sighed. "It's time," she pronounced.

Spike curled forwards, his head bowed over his arms which were clenched at his waist. Dimly he was aware of a scrabbling sound, then strong arms closed around him and he was pulled into a hug and rocked.

Gradually he relaxed into the comfort of the body holding him. The pain of separation faded quickly, as if it had never been, and in it's place he felt... a lightness... like relief and power and... It felt like freedom? He stayed where he was though, unwilling to share the sensation, beyond the arms that held him so tight.

When he eventually raised his head it was to see Xander's concerned face peering down at him. Xander who was wrapped around him, like an octopus. Sitting back on his heels he allowed Xander to squirm around so he was seated on Spike's lap, his face buried in Spike's neck. Spike stroked Xander's hair, offering comfort in return for that which he had just received. He looked around the room. They were alone. "They gone?" he asked.

Muffled as it was in his neck, he had no trouble understanding Xander's reply. "Yeah, they just up and left. Took Ethan with them."

"Supercilious, condescending bastard," Spike growled.

Pulling back, Xander looked up at him. "Who? Ethan?"

"No, Angelus! Bloody coward couldn't hang around long enough to check I was alright."

"Um... Are you alright?" Xander's forehead scrunched again with worry. "What happened?"

Spike grinned. "Never felt better in my whole bloody unlife, pet." He shifted, so he was sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out in front of him, with Xander still on his lap, holding the boy close. "I just got my freedom." He took a deep breath and let it out again. He felt almost giddy, "A hundred and twenty years, and at last, I'm free."

Looking down at Xander, the boy didn't appear much happier. "It looked like it hurt," he ventured, tentatively.

"Yeah, for a moment it did. But then... then..." There were no words to describe the sensation. The night Angelus released him, in China, he'd been too hyped up on slayer blood to recognise it for what it was. But this time... this time he was fully aware and the feeling of release that replaced the pain was something he'd remember and treasure for the rest of his existence.

Xander, however, was apparently not on the same page. He gave Spike's t-shirt a tug, to get his attention. "Promise you'll never do that to me," he begged.

Spike smiled. "I promise not to do it until you're ready," he agreed. Xander looked like he was going to say something else, so Spike got in first. "Fancy a trip to Blighty, pet?" The euphoria coursing through his body causing him to laugh out loud at the expression of confusion on Xander's face. "Britain. England," he clarified. "It's a crowded island, compared to here - twenty percent of the population in two percent of the space. Lots of good hunting grounds and lots of people to go missing without anyone raising the alarm." He studied Xander's face critically. "You could pass for eighteen, now you've fined up a bit, lost that human puppy fat and built up some good muscle." He leant back against the sofa. "But there's still loads of wilderness, if you want to see the stars. Places you can go where you'd think humans had never been. We could have some fun there."

Xander grinned back at him, apparently happy now that he could see his sire really was okay. "I need a new name," he announced.

Spike considered that proposal. "How about Alexander?"

"No!" Xander shook his head. "Xander's parents only called him Alexander when he was in trouble. I don't want the reminder."

"Huh! You're still too attached to the human, pet." He gave Xander a hug. "But I don't mind. I liked the human." Again he studied Xander's face. "But I like you more," he added with another laugh.

Smiling in return, Xander suggested, "How about Nightwing? That's dark and mysterious."

Spike pushed the boy off his lap and got up, stretching his arms above his head and luxuriating in the physical sensation of stretched muscles. "Phhh! Rubbish name!" he said, walking to the door to get his duster from the hall.

Xander scrambled to his feet and followed. "Lex? As in Luthor?"

"Hmm.. Has promise," Spike conceded, opening the front door and stepping out into the night. "Tell you what, why don't we try it for size and see how you go. You'll find your new name by proving yourself. Or you'll find the one you have fits you after all." He looked around as he dug in his pockets, checking that his fags and his car keys were there. At least they hadn't taken the wheels. Turning back to his childe, he held out his hand. "Come on. Either way, I reckon we're going to have some serious fun, finding out."

The End

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End note

Almost from the start of this story, I've played with the idea of ending it with Giles hearing that the slayer and her mother have moved to Cleveland, making this a version of The Wish 'verse

This is how it would have ended, if I'd done it -

Giles and Willow in the library -
Giles - "I just received a letter from the Council. They say that the slayer has moved to Cleveland."
Willow - "She's not coming here?"
Giles - "Apparently not."
Willow - "But... Hellmouth?"
Giles - "It would appear there is also one in Ohio."
Willow - "Oh."
Giles sat down at the table and put his head in his hands.
Willow - "Well, um... we'll just have to do it ourselves." Giles stared at her, surprised by the certainty in her voice. "After all," she added, "we just killed three really old and powerful vampires." Her mouth turned down and her lips quivered slightly. Giles knew she was thinking about her friends. He reached across the table and gave her hand a slight squeeze. Looking up, she gave him a tremulous smile.

I know, they didn't kill them, but there would be no evidence either way, once the fire was put out...

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