This completes the fiction. Thank you to all those who have taken the time to read such a long fic, and huge appreciation to all of you have commented, e-mailed, left me feedback and generally inspired me. And finally I have to thank Stars for her mammoth beta-ing job. You've been an angel, sweetie.

Summary: So the story winds to its conclusion

Warning: Some strong language and slightsuggestion of m/m sex

Pairing: Angel/Spike

Feedback: Please let me know what you think

Disclaimer: Nope, not mine. Joss's, ME's etc.

Part 18

For a moment he lost himself in the kiss. Pretended it was real and they were still the same people they always had been. Angel's hopes soared as Spike responded, and he made the mistake of relaxing his guard, giving Spike a chance to speak.

"Get of me, you bloody fat…."

Well that was easily dealt with.

"No."

Angel was pleased. So far the conversation was going pretty good.

"Whaddya mean no?" Spike lashed out and started to buck him off angrily.

Angel pinned his arms down.

"I mean no, I'm not getting off you. Ever again. You got me so damned mad, but believe me, there's nothing you could do to make me walk away." Since the conversation was going so well, Angel decided to risk more. "Talk to me, Spike."

"I am talking, just that you seemed to have gone deaf. Stop messing around, I mean it. Let. Me. Up."

"No. I won't. I'm not losing you, if I have to chain you up, until you love me again. Until you forgive me."

Spike shook his head. "Nah, crappy plan. Didn't work for me."

Angel was momentarily distracted.

"What are you talking on about? Who did you chain up?"

Unbelievably, he felt more than a little jealous, causing Spike to raise a quizzical eyebrow.

"Dru and Buffy," he admitted.

"Oh God!" He clung tighter to the thin body. "One day you'll tell me how you the hell you got out of that one alive."

Spike couldn't maintain his anger in the wake of such concern. They lay face to face, nose to nose, so close and intimate that it left Spike with nowhere to hide, he felt naked beneath those all-seeing eyes.

"What's happening, Angel? What is this?"

"Sorry. I thought I'd made it clear. I'm not letting you go. I'm going to be here for you Spike. I would have been anyway, I've been searching ever since I saw you…" he held on a little tighter. "But Ghan told me about your soul, and…."

"Ghani told you…!"

"Yeah. I mean, he took his time, and drew out the agony…." Angel considered that encounter for a second. "You know, I think he was judging me… which means he must have decided I deserve you." The thought humbled him and he laid his cheek to Spike's. "Jesus Spike, we're meant to be together! If he's judged it to be then there's nothing we can do, we're written in the stars!"

It's the way things worked, Ghani judged and it happened, Spike couldn't deny it. All their long lives he and Angel had been fighting against fate for every minute they were together, and now it seemed that fate had finally shrugged its shoulders and given up.

Angel kissed him again.

"I'm going to be here for you, Will. I'll help you with your soul. It's not just you any more."

"Yeah? Christ, now I am worried. You can hardly keep hold of your own, and your judgement ain't always up to scratch is it?"

"I guess that's fair, but its different now, what I won't necessarily do for my own sake, I'll do for you. I'm not going to let you down, Spike. I'll advise you and tell you what to do when you're confused, pick you up when you fall, kiss it better when you get hurt."

The words were manna from heaven. The temptation of never being alone…. The temptation of having Angel once more…. And Spike finally stopped fighting. Nonetheless, a small frown marred his brow. It sounded like a good deal, except….

"I dunno, it kind of goes against the grain."

"What does?"

"Me taking your advice. I think I'm pathologically incapable…."

"Bit harsh, Will. Pathological perhaps, but I wouldn't say incapable. You're more than capable."

"Oy! Uh, actually, that was almost a compliment."

"No, it was a compliment, idiot." His voice held a warmth that Spike couldn't help basking in. "And it's not just me. The whole gang believe you can do this. You have to come back. If you don't they'll make my life hell."

"Angel! I only have to lose it once and that's the lot of them writhing on the ground in their own blood."

"Uh huh. So you think you could kill even one of them? I'd forgive you, but you'd never forgive yourself, and I don't even want to think about what Willow would do to you. Shovels would be the least of your worries."

Spike didn't know where to begin addressing this speech.

"You'd forgive me? If I killed them?"

"I believe in you, Spike. You're not going to kill any of them except by terrible accident, and if that ever happens, I'll be here to put you together again."

He wished he had Angel's certainty.

"Uh, so what's this about Red?"

"She's joining the team. Temporarily."

"Is she then? She's a strange one, Angel, walks the edge of the precipice, much as we do. Loyal though. That's one person you need by your side."

"There's only one person I need by my side."

"But you didn't want me. You said it was cus I'm soulless…." Spike pouted.

"I lie, Spike. You know that. The first time I was angry because I thought you'd engineered Angelus' return. The second time I was angry because I thought you'd chosen Mede. I think I get angry too quick, but you know that too. Maybe you can break me of it, given time?"

The appeal in his eyes seemed genuine.

"Is this for real?" Spike asked. "I don't think I'd want to face another day if I awake and find it's just another bloody dream. I don't want to wake up and find I'm beneath you."

"Oh Jesus, Will. I'm sorry for that. I have so much to regret, but those words come top of the list. There is no comparison between us. Selflessness, kindness, love, all come naturally to you. I struggle with a couple of them even when I have a soul. There is no one like you. No one."

Spike closed his eyes.

"You make me believe in myself. Make me want to be good," he whispered.

Angel finally rolled off Spike, stood up and reached out a hand

"Let's go out and see if we can save someone."

"Peaches?"

Only a short time ago Angel had been desperately clinging to the past, but now….

"I know we haven't said everything yet, but Will, you're alive and you're with me, and that's how it's gonna stay…. I guess I'm in a hurry to start our new life. I can't wait, I want to immerse myself in our future right now, do everything right now…."

Spike got to his feet and Angel laughed and hugged him.

"I want to go out and save people with you, I want to hold you, I want to watch TV with you, I want to tease you and you to laugh at me. There's so much to look forward to! Don't you feel it Spike?"

And Spike did. He could feel the burden of life lifting, it suddenly held so much potential. It was heady, more so than any drug he'd ever tried. Somewhere deep inside, new green shoots were springing from old roots, and producing tiny buds, which would one day blossom into something beautiful.

"Yeah, I feel it. It's kind of like I'm a kid, opening my eyes on Christmas day. Everything looks new and full of hope."

It was all anticipation and the promise of snow, and the scent of candles and pine. It was a world that still held a sense of wonder for him.

"It's Christmas Eve tomorrow," Angel smiled.

"Is it? This going between dimensions, I lose all sense of time."

"I'm not surprised," Angel smiled affectionately. "So you wanna patrol?"

Spike gave a grin, and his weariness dropped away as the two of them stepped into the night together.

It was a good night.

They chased down what they took to be a feral vampire only to find themselves in the heart of an ambush. They looked around at the surrounding vamps, then stood back-to-back, and let them come. These unlucky demons had picked the wrong night. Angel and Spike were untouchable; they were flying that night. The fight was a peacock's display for his mate. They flowed with the grace and speed of acrobats, and killed with fluid strength. Surreptitiously they watched each other with admiration. When the last vampire scurried away they began to laugh. Not because it was amusing but out of sheer pleasure at finding their old synchronicity and the joy of being together.

Their laughter chilled the fleeing vampire to his marrow, and the stories he told that night caused at least a dozen more to up sticks and leave town. It was no longer a healthy city to bring up childer.

They burst into the Hyperion, touching, talking, eyes sparkling. Until Spike caught sight of the humans ranged before him. Silently he appealed to Angel for help, despite previous reassurances, he was nervous.

"Hey."

Suddenly Willow was hugging him.

"Don't you ever disappear again, Mister. Next time he's mean to you, you just come and tell me. We'll soon sort him out." She moved her mouth to his ear. "He's missed you so much, Spike," she whispered before stepping away.

"Hey, bloodsucker."

"Gunn. Glad you lived."

"Thanks, me too. I mean glad to see you're alive. Although, I'm glad I lived too," he explained with a laugh.

Willow's eyes widened in pleasure as she recognised a kindred babbler.

Wesley shook his hand.

"Welcome back Spike."

It seemed weirdly formal after all they'd been through, but he said it like he meant it.

"Percy."

Wesley smiled at hearing the old nickname again.

"Spikehun! Oh, nice hair." Spike's hand self consciously flew to his head. Lorne smiled reassuringly. "Shows of those edible cheekbones of yours. Don't stand around like a stranger. Come in. Have a drink, it's your favourite. Well…" he ladled out a cup of liquid dubiously, "I was told it was your favourite."

"You used to steal burba weed from Anya, you said it made the blood taste better," Willow explained. "Lorne wasn't sure how much to put in, and none of us could really test it…."

Spike sipped tentatively, whilst the others waited in anticipation. He just about managed not to gag on it.

"Lorne, that is bloody marvellous! You're a genius, Mate."

They all smiled in relief and gradually began chatting easily. As soon as attention was off him, he emptied it into a potted plant.

They turned to stare at Angel as he snorted in laughter, which then got turned into an unrealistic cough. He faded effortlessly into the background, allowing everyone their moment with Spike, until he jealously decided that they'd taken up enough of his time for one night.

"Ok. It's late, so we'd better…." He gestured to the stairs.

Spike hid a smile, subtle as a brick, as usual.

"We'll catch up tomorrow, yeah? Angel and I got into a scrap with a few vampires, and I'm kind of knackered….

It was like an episode of The Waltons, but they waited until the last goodnight had been thrown out.

"What now."

Angel moved closer.

"You need washing."

"I need a lot of things…."

Spike began to walk up the stairs.

"Thought you said you were knackered…."

"I am, but some parts of me are feeling quite perky."

Angel groaned softly.

"I need to touch you, smell you, taste you, hold you. I want to drown in you."

It felt like stepping back in time.

"Can we forget all the shit, and go back to that night?"

Angel didn't need to ask which one.

"So I'll pretend that I thought you were dead, and you pretend you weren't sure if I really loved you."

"Ok, I guess we can 'pretend' that." Spike quirked an eyebrow and laughed.

Angel grinned back.

"But this time I'll try not to become too happy."

"Not that it matters anymore." Spike said, as he walked with Angel into the bedroom.

"What?" Angel came to a halt.

"You know… your curse? Christ…. They've forgotten to mention it, haven't they?"

"Spike…?"

"The happiness clause, you remember you got Wes researching it? He came up with an answer."

"Okay…. So what do we have to do?"

"You might wanna sit down, Peaches. The answer was that you had to lose your soul and then be cursed by someone with a warped idea of happiness. Cyvus' particular pleasure was draining the life out of children. Painfully. Charming, eh? Somehow I can't see your soul going anywhere soon."

"Jesus…. Jesus, Spike!"

His knees gave out, and he sat heavily on to the bed.

"Yeah. Must be kind of overwhelming, huh?"

"Jesus… I'm free at last."

Spike went cold, remembering his fear that Angel would leave if his curse were lifted. Then he smiled because Angel said he wasn't going anywhere again, and he refused to fall into the old vicious circle of doubt and misery.

"Yeah, you are," he said affectionately.

"I thought I was damned to endless nights watching you leave with people like that girl because you couldn't get what you needed from me…." Moisture beaded at the corner of his eyes. "Ghan told me to ask Wes about your soul. I forgot. In the commotion that followed, I forgot. So that's why you let me go that night?"

"Nah. I didn't bring Angelus back on purpose. Is that what you thought? I couldn't do it to you. But then it happened anyway and I just had to work with the material I had."

"Well you convinced Angelus."

"Don't know how, anyone with half a brain would know I'd never let you go."

"I wanted to forgive you, but now I find you don't need it," Angel said plaintively, pulling a disappointed face.

"Hey, it's ok. I'm sure I'm gonna need plenty of forgiveness in the future, and I'd just as soon be in credit. It's good actually, it means I owe you a bad and evil act," Spike grinned.

The logic of this escaped Angel and he didn't look too happy at the idea of his childe having carte blanche to do God knows what. He had to do some quick thinking.

"You walked into hell to escape me. I think you've used up the credit."

"Well…. It wasn't as simple as that. Your look made me realise that I would gradually deteriorate into the vampire I used to be. Didn't want to be that person, did I? Anyway, Wes had more to lose. One day he'll meet someone else, have little sprogs crawling around his feet, make new friends, save more people. When I weighed it up, it seemed that his life was worth more than mine."

Angel was speechless and merely gazed at him in wonder.

"What? Why yer staring at me, Poof?"

"Have I told you all the reasons I love you? All the ways you're beautiful?"

Spike smiled, his eyes alight.

"Just the once, but it bears repeating."

"Ah, that's the old list. I've got a hundred new ones to add."

"A hundred?" Spike wrinkled his brow in disbelief. "Are you sure?"

"Well no. Could be more…."

"So we repeat that night."

"Yes, but with a different ending."

"Uh huh. What ending have you got in mind?"

"We'll see. I like to be impulsive. But bearing in mind that my soul is secured…."

"Shit, this'll make me sound like a right wanker, but I'm nervous. It's been a nearly two months since I've seen you, and now…."

Angel's mouth quirked with humour.

"Imagine how I feel, it's been over a year for me."

"Doesn't matter though. It's still just you and me." Spike cast his eyes down and then peeked up through his lashes. "I'm dirty, Angel… wash me."

It was a night of rediscovery, and it was a night of firsts.

And it was all beautiful.

It was dizzying, they were free falling through the moment, holding tight to each other, floating gently back to earth.

"After making love, Spike moved to his place on Angel's shoulder and was lulled to sleep by the scent of them both.

Later that morning and there was a banging at the door.

"Get up you lazy things! It's Christmas Eve. Willow's flying out to be with her family, Lorne's mixing eggnog, and we're hitting the mall."

Spike opened an eye and saw Angel gazing back. They smiled at each other.

"You got me pressies then, Peaches?"

"I haven't had a chance. I only found you a few hours ago."

Spike's face fell. "I lost all the stuff you bought me last time. Buried under the Wolfram& Hart rubble I guess."

Angel reached out and stroked his skin, still hardly believing that this was real. That he could just reach out and touch his lover… touch Spike.

"Come on. Let's hit the shops."

"Got no money."

"Course you have. You've got a couple of months pay from Wolfram & Hart stashed away in your bank account."

"Really?" Spike was out of bed in a flash. "Come on, hurry up lazy bones."

Angel threw a pillow at him but Spike dodged and laughed.

The others heard laughter and after a long sojourn, it felt like they were finally home.

oooo

The mall was busy, and they split into pairs for moral support. Angel wasn't happy about letting Spike out of his sight, but accepted that shopping together would kind of take the surprise out of unwrapping presents.

Spike complained continually about the Christmas muzak following them wherever they went. Then he complained about the queues (although he just pushed to the front anyway), the tackiness of the decorations and the false good cheer at the checkout. Yet strangely, it was Gunn who cracked first.

"No more! I can't stand this. Have you finished yet, dude."

"Huh? What's up?"

Gunn hated to admit it. It made him sound girly.

"My damned feet are killing me."

"Okay. One more thing and I'm ready to go. Look you go sit down, grab a coffee, and I'll meet you back here."

That was the best offer Gunn was going to get all day, so he snatched at it eagerly, whilst Spike nervously made his way to a small parlour he knew of.

When they got back, they fell into a flurry of secrecy. Shop wrapped gifts began to appear under the tree, and other presents were squirreled out of sight.

Angel refused to join the wrangle for the one pair of scissors, it was undignified, besides which, Spike was hogging them so he stood no chance. Instead he opened the weapons cabinet and brought out his hand forged, folded steel, Japanese sword. The blade could split a hair. Making sure that Spike was watching, Angel floated a sheet of tissue through the air and neatly cut it in two.

Spike watched the display enviously, glaring contemptuously at his safety scissors. Angel grinned smugly and disappeared with his sword and his bags of presents.

"Wanker," Spike muttered, and eyed his own axe; it was pretty sharp but a bit inaccurate. He'd probably end up chopping off his own hand….

By the late evening everything was piled around the Christmas tree. They surveyed it with satisfaction.

"How about some Christmas spirit?" Lorne suggested, and busied himself pouring healthy measures of eggnog into tall tumblers.

The thick liquid was eye d suspiciously. Until they tasted it. Lorne watched with satisfaction as they knocked it back and begged for more.

"Guaranteed to produce Christmas cheer. Or so I've been told."

It certainly oiled the wheels of conversation, and soon they were all settled and chatting comfortably.

"I didn't know vampires celebrated Christmas," Wesley said.

"Generally we don't, but if it involves presents then Spike celebrates," Angel explained.

"Uh huh. There speaks the Scrooge of Europe."

Angel hid a small smile, instead allowing a stern frown to settle on his face.

"A souled vampire wouldn't call their Sire names."

"What?"

"Well you're trying to be good, so I'm just saying."

Spike stilled and frowned, not wholly convinced.

"Are you sure?"

"Would I lie to you? I'm only telling you this because I said I'd help you. You know, just trying to aid you on your journey…"

"Oy, Percy?" Spike decided to get a second opinion on this point. "What would I do if I was souled d'ya think?"

Angel relaxed, certain that Wesley would back him up.

Wesley sat forward as he seriously considered the question, and then came to a conclusion.

"In my opinion, you'd have laughed at him and told him to stop being such a wanker."

The eggnog had given Wesley the honesty of an inebriate.

"Hah, I knew it! Thanks, mate."

Wesley raised his glass in acknowledgement.

"S'posed to be my bleedin' advisor, my yoda. Abusing your position that's what yer doing!" Spike complained.

"I'm hoping to," Angel admitted.

Spike looked outraged.

"That's it! I'm not doing anything you ask without going through the Watcher first."

"That could make tonight interesting…."

They both eyed Wesley speculatively, but too much Christmas spirit had nudged him from relaxed to sleepy. He had fallen into a pleasant doze and heard nothing.

"Guys? I'm comfortable with you two, just please, treat me like a kid, and don't talk about it in front of me ok?" Gunn asked plaintively.

"Don't worry, you'll get used to the Poof eventually."

Angel didn't even attempt to hide his long suffering sigh at the continued name calling.

"Never mind. It was worth a try." Lorne said sympathetically.

"Come on, Pet, don't take it to heart. You know they're just signs of affection."

He laid a hand on Angel's thigh, which seemed to placate him.

Wesley came around slightly, and drowsily they talked into the night. Talked of the past two years, Wolfram & Hart, the battle and all that had happened since. They shed tears and raised a glass for all those they'd lost, and then raised another for the coming year, laying all that had gone before to rest. They talked of their life now, and the Agency. Wesley was thinking it was time he moved out.

"At first it was hard, and I needed you." He nodded to Angel, Gunn and Lorne. "But I think it's time. I want to thank you all for everything. And I want to thank you Spike, for giving me my life."

"Now don't get all sentimental on me, Percy. Let's just say you owe me one, yeah?"

Wesley nodded, and Spike was feeling rather pleased at all the favours he was storing up. It was always good to have debts to call in.

Lorne thought he might open a new bar, hope winning out over experience. But quite simply he missed the life and needed to get back to it.

"Besides, I can make more contacts if I had a bar, which, you know, is also good for Angel investigations."

"I'll be looking for a place too, perhaps in the new year." Gunn said. "It's not fair on you two, having us hanging around. You need your privacy."

With those words it suddenly occurred to the vampires what this was about… and hell, last night they hadn't even been noisy!

"Don't you worry, Charlie Boy. We quite enjoy having an audience…."

"Spike!"

Gunn covered his ears.

"Not in front of the kid, remember?"

The others smiled and blinked sleepy eyes. One by one they all turned in for the night.

Except for Spike.

"I'm not tired. I've got a gift or two to deliver. Catch you later, yeah?"

Angel frowned and Spike shook his head.

"Trust me?"

"Of course," Angel said immediately, and he meant it.

Using the key that Ghan had left him he opened the door to his world.

It was night time and the two of them were sleeping. He placed the parcels at the side of the bed. Looking at the beautiful man in repose he saw him anew. Someone he'd always taken for granted had turned out to be pivotal in his life. He stroked the tawny skin of his wrist, where his skin had once been tied. He felt sorry for the man. Maybe the baby would be his salvation.

"Thanks Ghan, I do love you, you know."

When he left, Ghani stared blankly at the ceiling. This is why he didn't help all those who cried to him. He became attached to them, healed them, but the paradox was once they were whole they never needed him anymore. Sometimes he felt like giving up. He breathed in the scent of the baby, and decided he'd manage for another eighteen years or so.

He reached down to the gifts Spike had left, picking up a small box. He opened it and pulled out a thin strip of white vampire skin. An invitation to keep in touch? He smiled, tied it around his wrist, and held it to his cheek. The next parcel contained a book of names. On the flyleaf Spike had written in large letters, "Trouble is not a name. Neither is Trub. Choose a new one. Luv me." Ghan began to laugh.

Angel heard the door open.

"Ok?" he asked.

"Yeah. They were sleeping."

"They should come to visit. I mean, once we have Willow back, there's enough power gathered here to protect the baby for a while."

"Thanks, luv. I 'ppreciate it."

The look in Spike's eyes made Angel thankful that he hadn't backed away from the offer. This was the start of their new life. One where they loved without doubt, believed without proof, and trusted without fear.

"I'm sorry, Spike, for all the times I've messed up. Whatever happens, I need you to know that this is real, and this is forever."

"Hey, it's ok. There's no need," Spike replied softly.

"You've been here, in this place all along, just waiting for me to join you. All the times you've returned, because you believed in me…."

"Yeah, and I was right to believe, cus you're standing here with me now."

They finally believed in what they had. It was a bond of steel forged, tested and proved through fire and death. Souled and unsouled, good and evil, they had protected each other.

"Do you want to open one of your presents now?"

Angel opened an eye. "Maybe…."

"I remember how you looked once, when I mentioned piercings."

Now Angel had both eyes open.

"So I got you five gold rings. Christmas, yeah? Well strictly speaking some are bars and they're not all gold… so what do you think, do you wanna unwrap…."

Suddenly Spike was flat on his back with Angel on top. Spike craned his head and flicked a studded tongue over one of Angel's nipples. Angel groaned as it lashed him.

"One," Spike said.

Then his shirt was roughly pulled off; fingers began exploring, and Angel's night vision catching a glint of something on Spike's chest. He put a finger to each one and tugged. This time it was Spike who groaned, and Angel stored the information away for later use.

"Two and three."

His hand moved to the belly button and there he discovered the fourth.

"Spike? Where is the fifth?"

"It's your present, mate. It's up to you to discover it."

Angel's fingers moved to the zip of Spike's jeans. He explored for a while, until…

"Oh…. Oh! Bloody hell! Do that again? Please? Please, sire!"

Yeah, this was the best Christmas ever. A new beginning and a new life, and a world where perfect happiness was allowed. It was all his. And all Angel's hopes and dreams were neatly gift-wrapped in the person of this beautiful man. His childe. His love.

It was a gift that would take forever to explore, but that was ok, because they had eternity.

THE END