"That was most satisfactory."
Blue flowed over the "shell" again, and Illyria flicked her tongue along her teeth and smiled.
"You know, for a dollar more you could have gotten fries and a drink with it," Kay said on the way back. At the Old One's blank look she added, "Joke."
Retracing their steps was proving easier than anticipated; the Possession demon's death seemed to have stabilized the environment somewhat. At a few of the houses people could be seen, disheveled and bloody, but tending to their flower beds and bringing in their laundry as though nothing was out of the ordinary.
"I see no need for redistributing our clothing," Illyria argued. The tail and sleeves of Dilip's shirt flapped around her as she walked, and she frowned at the sorcerer in his undershirt. "This garment is extraneous and ill-fitting."
"Well, Fred's not keen on trotting about in public in her knickers, so be a love and just keep it on 'til we get home, all right?" Spike coaxed reasonably.
"It is confusing.." Illyria wrinkled her brow. "Before, I could affect nothing as a spirit. Now I am able to consume a lesser being."
"Got to want it bad enough," Spike guessed. "Sometimes-"
He remembered Pavayne's world. "-Sometimes reality bends to desire. How'd it taste, by the way?"
They had reached the block where they entered the dimension. Spike went to the lamppost there and examined a point on it about shoulder-height. "It's the right one," he told the others. "I scratched this little zigzag mark on it with my thumbnail before we left. Call me Hansel."
The sorcerer and the seer renewed their hunt for a portal, Dilip muttering magic and Michael peering with his inner eye. As they crossed the third driveway, Michael stopped in his tracks. "Try here," he instructed. Dilip shut his eyes and raised his palms outward with thumbs and forefingers touching, as though he was operating a divining rod. An oval formed in front of him, man-sized, with a surface like liquid glass. The surface began bulging outward in two places.
The places took the shape of claws.
And as Fred gasped and Illyria departed, the claws broke through the surface, and Paloma's head and shoulders popped into view.
Four hours after sunrise, Michael began gathering up the abandoned Wooden People from his windowsills and dropping them into a bucket. "Somewhere in the world a Toys R Us stockboy is probably getting fired right about now."
"Can I have them?" Thu asked, looking into the bucket. "If they come to life I'll give them back."
"How large of you," Michael answered dryly.
He left the slayer to finish collecting the toys and descended the staircase to the first floor of his house - quietly, so as not to disturb the rest of the tribe, most of whom had returned to bed. He discovered Angel on the porch.
"I'm going back," the vampire announced.
Michael crossed the porch, splintered bits of the front door crunching under his feet. He sat down on a faded wicker chair. "To Los Angeles, you mean?"
Angel nodded. "There's people I left there...people I want to make sure are all right. I appreciate your hospitality, but I can't sit still any longer."
"I understand. If it'll make your path lighter, the latest word is that Wolfram & Hart's L.A. branch is gone for good. I saw where Fred had hacked into a satyrs' chat room last night with my computer, and the scuttlebutt is that everything salvageable has been carted off and the building's scheduled for demolition."
"I hope there's some truth to that."
"Are you going alone, or taking one of your team with you?"
"Alone. I don't want to risk anyone but myself." Angel shifted his stance and stared out over the hedge. "I might be bringing someone back to Phoenix...or sending her if I don't make it back myself. She's a lycanthrope - a werewolf. I was taking care of her before, helping her with it. She may be doing okay on her own, but..."
But I miss her.
He looked over at the slight, pale little man with the glasses like Coke bottle bottoms and was suddenly very glad that Michael Wight was on their side. "If she comes without me, could you see that she finds Spike and the others? That she's got a safe place to stay when the moon is full?"
"Of course," Wight nodded, and then flashed Angel a small smile. "From the City of Angels to the City of Rebirth...well, here's to pilgrims and their progress."
One of the house's back bedrooms contained a foldout sleeper sofa. Spike collapsed into it, as weary in mind as in body, and waited for the lethargy to take him under. He heard the door open and close, then felt the mattress sag slightly, as Fred joined him in the bed.
Angel's going back to L.A., to look for Nina," she said quietly.
"That's what he told me just now at the foot of the stairs. He thinks it might be safe enough for him to slip into the city undetected."
"He'd better bloody well hope so!" Spike chewed the news over a moment. "...I reckon he didn't like leaving her high and dry like that; no more nice sturdy cage or anything."
"I think he's lonely for her."
"Could be," Spike conceded, "Suppose even Baron von Broodsabit can only take so much isolation. Maybe he likes her company. 'N I guess shaggin' her can't make him perfectly happy since he'll always be worrying about the Great Perfect Happiness Curse, so that works out nicely."
His hand slid beneath Fred's shirt, but only to wrap his arm around her bare middle. It wasn't sex he was seeking right now, she realized, but simple human contact. To touch at all was a thing to be treasured; even a god-king Old One understood that, and certainly so did a vampire's ghost and a void-trapped human. The reassuring touch of a companion was inestimable. She remembered what she'd witnessed of his Sunnydale memories.
"You shouldn't have been left in that basement," she whispered. "Someone should've come. They should have gotten you out as soon as they found you. I know what it's like to be scared and crazy; no one should be left alone when they're scared." Her words grew increasingly raw and rushed. "I shouldn't have left you alone at Wolfram & Hart all those nights when you were trapped there, and off I went, to some stupid Chinese food party or whatever it was that we thought was so damn important, and I'm so sorry."
Spike came fully awake and stared at Fred in surprise. Her face - fragile, fine-boned face, as delicate in his eyes as a porcelain teacup - was bright with anger and self-recrimination. Not at me, he marveled. For me. Even the rabbity little creature in the church - PyleaFred, he guessed - had stayed by him.
"Christ, Pet, you've done nothing to apologize for! You made the entire thing bearable."
He touched his mouth gently to her cheek, and felt her face relax and soften.
"And you healed my broken heart."
Later, in the quiet of the Happy Trails tourist court, Fred went to Paloma's teepee and removed a sweater box from under the bed. She lifted the lid and placed her palm on the leathery catsuit, the heavy boots. The dormant bits of Old One awoke from their hibernation, liquefied, absorbed into her hand, and disappeared.
"Better." Illyria's low voice spoke aloud as she flexed and relaxed within the shell; began to fall in synch with Fred and her rhythms. Then Illyria withdrew and Fred took control again, smoothly, peacefully. She too spoke aloud.
She tucked the box back under the bed and returned to her cabin and her man and her life.
That same week the Chamber of Commerce replaced the graffiti-damaged "Welcome to Ashcraft" sign with a new, fiberglass model.
Within three hours it was tagged again.
Author's Note: Reentry is my first attempt at fiction writing; I hope you've all enjoyed it, and thank you for your feedback. For anyone interested in more, I've begun posting a sequel called Canis Familiar (still Spike/Fred), which will include the return of Oz, because you just can't keep a good werewolf down.