~*[+]*~
EPISODE TWELVE
All's well

"S-s-spike!"

The gigantic green demon hissed the greeting, dual tongues vibrating in tandem. He sounded impossibly pleased to see his old friend.

The vampire just looked at him, poker-faced. "Apollyon."

"Oh great, one of Spike's cronies," Cordelia huffed, folding her arms across her chest. "He's got to be evil."

Buffy glowered at her. "I've got my Slayer strength back now," she said. "Want me to test it out on your face?"

Cordy snorted. "As if."

"S-s-slayer!" The Keratos lisped, this second greeting just as enthusiastic as the first. He lumbered toward them, tentacles outstretched.

Buffy and Spike grabbed each other's hands and took a synchronous step backward.

"Hey, back off," Buffy warned, leveling an adamant finger in his direction. "I don't want any more weirdness from you, you... freaky infecto guy."

"Yeah, you wanna probe somebody, try those two." Spike jabbed a thumb at Angel and Cordelia.

"That's a Keratos demon," Wesley blurted suddenly, earning a withering stare from the blonde duo.

"I don't care what it's called," Gunn put in. "All I know is it's one major league ugly and our Dru-girl here won't let me kill it."

"No." Drusilla reached out and pushed the end of his crossbow down, reinforcing her point. "He's got good stories to tell for everyone."

"Is that right?" Spike threw caution to the wind and headed toward the massive creature, Buffy instinctively backing him up. "Another visit from that Herald bint is in the offing, then?"

"Forthwith," Apollyon said. "First other business." He gave them an ingratiating smile, all yellow pointed teeth and lashing tongues. "Gemel are nesting, yes?"

"Nesting no," Spike disputed. "Having a single solitary baby yes. Human-type mammals here, you scaly pillock, we don't lay eggs or have great squirming litters like you do."

"Ugh!" Buffy made a ghastly choking noise. "Did you have to say 'squirming'? That's gross."

Cordelia raised a hand. "I second that grossness and raise you a 'who the hell is he and what is he doing here?'"

"And how did he know they were the Gemel," Angel asked. It was the first thing he'd said since entering the hotel.

"Yeah, how did he know?" Buffy repeated, making it sound as though she was aware of the discrepancy all along.

Spike smiled, impressed by the subterfuge. Maybe some of his skills were wearing off.

The Slayer looked up at him and grinned. "Vice versa," she told him. "You never could lie worth a damn."

Cordelia was getting fed up with the whole situation. "Okay," she said. "Let's get this straight. One: everyone seems to know who Senor Lumpy is except me. And two: I don't really have a 'two' yet, but you guys..." She gestured disgustedly at Buffy and Spike "...Are just wigging me out. I feel like I lost half the conversation somewhere."

Angel couldn't understand why she was being so negative toward them. "Why the sudden hostility, Cor?"

"I don't like her and I don't trust him," she responded tersely. "What's the sudden?"

"Half a mo'," Spike fixed the Keratos with penetrating eyes. "How'd you twig about the Nipper?" He jerked his chin at Lorne. "First Pavarotti over there went all twilight zone and now you. Slayer's not really givin' off a vibe is she? Don't want her becomin' some kind of target."

"Foretold," Apollyon wheezed.

"Again?" Spike was not impressed. He stared belligerently at the Keratos, debating whether or not trying to beat that lizard-like face to a paste would be worth the broken knuckles. He could use a decent spot of violence after that tiresome cross-dimensional trip, it would loosen him up, help alleviate his portal lag.

"Bridge Guardians," the demon continued blithely, unaware of the potential danger he was in. "Gemel. All foretold."

Buffy slumped onto the rounded ottoman seat, defeated by her many repeated appearances as prophecy girl. She gave Spike a weary shake of her head, squelching his desire for amphibicide despite her own leanings in that direction. He sulked like a little boy, pacing back and forth in front of Apollyon and trying to look intimidating. He'd have done a much better job of it without the pouty lip.

"Well," Buffy said, overly bright. "Translation please. Anyone?"

Wesley sank down onto the stairs and began flipping through the Trionic Ledgers. "Some of that sounded oddly familiar. I'm sure I saw something..." Fred perched by his side, reading over his shoulder, and he took a moment to smile at her.

Angel ignored the proceedings and skirted around the edge of the foyer, coming to a halt at the reception desk. He eyed the pair behind it imperiously. "Why aren't you at that temple I sent you to? Dru needs to be working on her meditation exercises."

"She insisted we come back," Gunn said. He thrust his forearm toward Angel, displaying the deep gouges there. Claw marks. "And I do mean insisted."

Angel frowned at his troubled Childe. "Dru, what...?"

"Stories to tell," she repeated earnestly. "The voices were urgent. 'Go home, go home'. Ringing in my ears ... for whom the bell tolls..."

Buffy took this in with great skepticism. "I thought she wasn't crazy anymore."

"Oh, I'm not," Drusilla answered, perfectly calmly. "But I can see how you might think that."

Buffy blinked at her, perplexed, not used to this plain speaking version of Spike's ex. "Uh..."

"Slime Features here still hasn't answered any of us, you know," Spike pointed out, not the slightest bit interested in Drusilla's ramblings. He tucked a cigarette into the corner of his mouth, then paused in the midst of searching for his lighter, struck by the realization that he was doing something wrong. He pulled the smoke back out, his bright blue gaze flitting from it to Buffy and back again.

She folded her arms and watched him, waiting for the backlash.

It didn't come. He just sighed resignedly and put the cigarettes back in his pocket, then ambled over to sit by her side, slinging one arm along the padded bolster behind her shoulders and splaying the fingers of the opposite hand across her flat stomach. The gesture was almost apologetic. She smiled and leant into him, fitting so perfectly it was like she was made to go there. Spike smirked and kissed the top of her head.

Cordelia had been observing their silent interaction and was all set to comment on it when she caught Angel's eye. He gave her an almost imperceptible shake of his head and the acid remark dissolved in her throat.

She scowled at him then. "How did you do that?"

"What? What did I do?" The vampire was honestly unaware of anything untoward.

"Bond," Apollyon supplied, almost shyly.

"They have a bond now?" Buffy was amazed. "Links. Bonds. What is it with you guys and joining stuff together?"

"There's no bond between us," Angel objected. "Not in any weird mystical way, I mean."

He wasn't quite convincing enough for Cordy's liking and she narrowed her eyes at him. "There was that thing," she said thoughtfully. "That thing where you could hear me telling you to change."

Angel looked bewildered. "Huh? When?"

"When you were getting pulped by the Groo-something."

"Gruesome thing," Spike chortled. "Wish I'd thought o' that one." They glared at him and he snorted. "Yeah, yeah. I know. 'Shut up, Spike'." He flicked a perfunctory glance back at Wesley. "You found what you're lookin' for yet, Junior?"

Wes shot him a cutting look. "You can stop calling me that anytime. I assure you I am not related to Mr. Giles in any definition of the word."

"How about by profession?" Buffy asked. "You're related by that."

Spike nodded his agreement.

Wesley sighed. Arguing with them really wasn't worth the effort. "I've discovered several entries regarding the Guardians of the Bridge. All I can ascertain, however, is that it is another title given to the Gemel."

"Apollyon just told us that!" Spike snapped. "You have got to be the most useless git..." He stopped abruptly as Buffy jabbed her elbow into his ribs and directed his attention toward the Keratos demon.

"He's off and running, honey."

The demon's eyes had gone milky white as paper-thin membranes closed over them, his tentacles fanning out from his shoulder-plates so that he began to resemble the satellite dish that Spike had once compared him to. All the while he continued to emit a low resonant hum.

Wesley gaped at him, fascinated. Fred giggled, then clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle the nervous sound. No one was sure whether she was laughing at Wes or the demon or both.

Lorne had the oddest expression on his face, a combination of amazement and horror. The psychic energy in the air, combined with the demon's incessant humming, was creating a kind of feedback. Presently he crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

"It's all too much!" Drusilla cried, sounding quite exhilarated about it. She clutched Gunn's biceps excitedly, her long fingernails making fresh scratches in his skin.

The former gang member shrugged her off and peered at the neat row of bloodied furrows in disgust. "Damn girl, watch them kitty claws." He leant over toward Angel, gesturing at Apollyon. "This ain't gonna get messy is it?"

"Depends on your definition of messy," Angel murmured. "He's got a direct link to the Powers That Be so we're probably going to hear a lot of stuff that we don't really want to know about."

"Ah." Gunn finally dispensed with the crossbow, placing it on the counter-top and settling in to enjoy the show.

Drusilla smiled and rested her head against the powerful muscles of his upper arm, one hand sliding sinuously along his shoulder to caress the nape of his neck.

"Tall tales and true," she proclaimed in a breathy voice. "I only wished it could be so."

Gunn shook his head. "I'm not even gonna ask."

Angel couldn't believe Gunn was letting a vampire touch him. Where had his anti-demon sentiments gone? When had they gotten so close? And why was he suddenly feeling like an over-protective father?

Apollyon's wide mouth opened and everyone unconsciously leant forward, waiting to hear what the Oracle had to say. The voice that emerged from the demon, however, was not the one they were expecting.

"Oh, for the love o' Pete," a light Irish brogue burst out, arguing with someone outside the Keratos' range. "I know how the damn thing works, alright?" There was a muffled tapping noise, like someone testing a microphone. "Is this thing on?"

Cordelia stared at the transformed demon in utter shock. "Doyle?" she whispered incredulously. She turned to Angel, blinking rapidly to hold back threatening tears. "It's not him, is it? It can't be."

The vampire was immediately at her side, pulling her into a supportive embrace. "I think it is. He's with them. Hopefully in a good place."

"I don't know that you'd call it good so much as all right for a 'no drinking in any shape or form' type of place," Doyle's voice responded. "Hey, lookin' swell for a dead man there, Angel. Is that a tan?" He laughed. "They've not worked out how to project both ways yet, so it's too bad ya can't see my handsome mug."

"It's that impertinent little Mick!" Spike exclaimed, finally placing the accent. "What's he doin' on the wire? Where the bleedin' hell's Herald?"

"Whoa there, William," the Irish half-demon interjected. "Not the most patient vamp in the world, are ya?" He began muttering to someone out of their earshot, curses mingling with insults. After a moment, he cleared his throat. "Right. What was I talkin' about again?"

Spike folded his arms across his chest, the picture of self-righteousness. "Bit presumptuous of you, innit, callin' me William? Cautioned your lot about that before."

"Well, I'm not gonna use Spike if that's what you're bellyachin' about," Doyle retorted. "It don't fit with who you are now."

Spike didn't quite know how to take that. He just sat motionless, his mouth doing that flapping landed-fish thing and his forehead all furrowed. Buffy could sense his disconcertment and came to the rescue.

"Nobody here can think of him as anything other than Spike," she said solemnly. "He is Spike. 'Cause no matter what you say, he's always been the same person. And I mean always - whether he was linked to me or not." She shrugged. "I guess we could use 'Liam' as a compromise for now if it makes you Powery people feel more comfortable or something. It's his proper legal name, so he's gotta get used to using it anyhow."

"Ah, right. Liam." The grin was evident in Doyle's tone. "Can't begin to tell ya how sweet the irony that you chose that."

"Don't remind me," Spike muttered, scuffing his boot against the floor and shooting Angel an irritated look from under his lashes.

The older vampire glowered at him. "It's a fine Irish name," he defended. "After my great grand da'."

Spike snorted. "Don't see you usin' it."

"Because that's not who I am. Unlike you, I didn't have my soul for my entire life as a vampire." He shook his head in confusion. Why didn't they know this stuff? Weren't all vamps basically the same? "Its called being turned for a reason. I was turned into something other than I was. Liam died. Darla killed him. Angelus took over after that."

"You make it sound so very cut and dried," Drusilla observed. "It's not. We remain one and the same, but separate." She tipped her head at him appraisingly. "Some are simply more separate than others."

"Well, thanks for clearing that up," Buffy said dryly. "That was a big help."

Dru smiled at her, a genuine friendly smile. "You're welcome."

Buffy shifted to whisper in Spike's ear. She sometimes forgot that it wasn't necessary for her to do it. "How come she was with you for a hundred years and never grasped the concept of sarcasm? You're like, Professor Sarcasm. You should have some of those funny little letters after your name."

"Can't you two drop the Ex-bashing for five minutes and just listen?" Cordelia interrupted. "I wanna catch up with what's happening, and if you gave a flying fig about that kid of yours, you would too." She glanced up at Angel for support, avoiding the twin glares directed her way.

He gave her a half-hearted smile, still preoccupied with the issue of his soul. "I don't get it," he said.

Drusilla sighed, precisely aware of what he was thinking. "I can't put it any plainer than I already did."

"Oh, I can do all the explanations you like," Doyle volunteered cheerfully. "Kinda the raison d'ĂȘtre and all. Firstly, Angel's right. Liam's dead. And even he's got to admit that he wasn't a great loss to the world."

"He wasn't?" Buffy was wide-eyed with curiosity. Angel had never told her anything about himself pre-vamp, post-vamp even. Getting him to open up was like getting blood from a stone, no pun intended, and most of the stuff she did know came from Spike's memory. And she didn't like to look in there a whole lot, 'cause ... ick!

"A soul that belonged to a drunken wastrel wouldn't have been strong enough to combat Angelus," Doyle continued. "So when he was cursed, the Powers saw an opportunity and took it, balancing an agent of evil with an agent of light."

"So, you're saying the soul I have isn't the original model?" Angel was aghast at the idea.

"Shoddy secondhand goods," Spike commented gleefully.

"Not so shoddy," Doyle refuted. "The soul he has now belonged to one of the PTB's greatest Warriors. The soul of an actual angel, if you wanna look at it that way."

The younger vampire was disgusted. "No wonder he got so bloody high and mighty all of a sudden."

"A Warrior," Angel mused, disregarding his Childe entirely. "Herald mentioned something like that before."

"Yeah? Swell. Let's get over it and move on. You know, to me." Cordelia's foot tapped rhythmically with her impatience. "What's this bond deal all about?"

"Cordy me darlin'," Doyle gushed. "Nice outfit you've got there. Really shows off your assets, if ya catch my drift."

She looked down at the revealing Princess costume. She'd forgotten she was still wearing it. A quick peek at the rapt expression on Angel's face told her he hadn't. She resisted the urge to preen.

Doyle sighed wistfully, a completely incongruous sound, coming as it did from a gigantic scaly beast of a demon. "You know I'm damned sorry about lumpin' ya with the vision thing."

She sniffed disdainfully. "No you're not."

He chuckled. "Got that straight. Don't miss 'em in the slightest. Miss you, though."

"Now that part's mutual." She grinned. "So, little Irish man... Angel. Me. Bond. 'Fess up."

There was an uncomfortable pause and when Doyle spoke again, he was oddly hesitant. "There's no easy way to break this..."

Buffy was intrigued. "He's gonna break something," she enthused, edging forward on her seat. "I love when stuff breaks."

Spike rumbled contently low in his throat, one hand absently rubbing the small of her back under her shirt. "Me too."

Cordelia managed to be both indignant and wary simultaneously. "Break what, Doyle? Not exactly inspiring the confidence there."

"Sorry. Ah... Well, you've been ... promoted."

Cordy frowned. "Guessin' that doesn't come with a nifty rise in salary."

"Nah, but the perks are great."

"Perks? There are perks now?" Buffy pouted. "What kind of promotion is this, and why can't I get one?"

Cordelia shot her an incensed look, which was an absolute waste of time, and then focused back on the demon that was channeling her friend's spirit. "I don't wanna be seconding Miss Chirpy-pants over there, but I have to say... just spit it out! God! Build the tension much?"

Angel's hands came up to rest on her shoulders, his thumbs pressing into her nape and the tips of his fingers stroking lightly along her collarbones. It was unclear which of them the contact was intended to pacify, but he didn't appear any happier than she did.

"Brilliant job, mate," Spike noted wryly. "Now they've both gone broody."

"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Doyle muttered.

"Really?" Spike was pleasantly surprised. Nothing he liked better than a spot of angst, so long as it wasn't his. "Neat."

"Cordelia's essence has also been merged with that of a Warrior," Doyle revealed. "So she could be equal to Angel. The thing is, Warrior's aren't human so, ah... she's semi-demon now. Kinda like I was, but without the annoying morphing part."

"I'm..." Cordy trailed off into stunned silence. "Huh?"

"What does that mean?" Angel didn't like where this was heading. He didn't mind that his own soul wasn't human, it actually clarified a few things, but Cordelia had already endured so much because of him. How much more could she take?

"No more mind-numbing, skull-cracking vision pain, for starters," Doyle reported. "She won't age, won't die of mortal causes. And she's quite a bit stronger than she used to be. Don't panic guys, this is a good thing. "

"That last vision," Cordy murmured, thinking back. "That's when you... they did this?"

"No, before that. During the Covenant's tests." Doyle's voice faded momentarily as a burst of static filtered in.

Lorne stirred briefly during the disturbance, and then rolled over onto his back, snoring softly.

"So, what's the bond?" Fred wanted to know, her natural curiosity getting the better of her. "It was the original question, right?"

"One Warrior can always sense the presence of another, their spirit or energy or whatever. It's a finely tuned thing, not psychic exactly, just kinda..." Another deep sigh emerged from the depths of Apollyon's cavernous mouth. "Sorry guys, I can't define it in terms you'd understand."

"Freak-Ass Demon bond?" Gunn suggested blandly. "FAD for short."

"That works." Spike gave him an appreciative grin. "Though, FAD lot of good it does us."

The Slayer peered at him from the corner of her eye, lips twitching with amusement. "You're so completely lame," she said indulgently.

Cordelia stared at them. "So glad you find my sudden demon-ness amusing."

Buffy saluted her. "We aim to please," she said. "And, hey, just getting back to something that's been bothering me for a while; the whole non-human-ness of Angel's soul? That's the reason he didn't get resurrected right? I mean, Giles still had a heartbeat and everything when he was possessed by Spike's demon, so my theory is it's because he stayed all soul-having."

"The Buffy Summers theory regarding the vagaries of souled demons," Wesley mused. "Will wonders never cease?"

"Risking body parts if you keep talkin' about her like that, Junior," Spike warned casually, not even bothering to look over in the former Watcher's direction.

Wesley scoffed. "You speak as though you could..."

"I could," the Slayer said shortly.

Both Brits quickly shut up, not wanting to get on the receiving end of her wrath. Wesley turned his attention back to the volume on his lap, and Spike took a moment to smile at her tone. She sounded like a Mum already. Natural born parent, she was. Made for the job. He, on the other hand...

Buffy didn't notice his sudden melancholy - she was too wrapped up in trying to get an answer to her question. "So? I'm right, right?"

"Not just a pretty face, is she?" Apollyon's reception was definitely cracking up now, and Doyle sounded like he was standing in the rain and yelling at them from the end of a very long tunnel. "The logic's all good, darlin'."

"See?" Buffy punched Spike's thigh. "I told you!" They had obviously argued about this previously.

He lurched sideways, his angular face contorted in pain. "OW! Bloody hell!" he roared. "You been eating your Wheaties or what? You're ten-times stronger all of a sudden."

"I am?" She flexed her hand. "Weird. Maybe it's like extra charged 'cause I haven't used it in a while."

"Or maybe it's got something to do with the Nip."

They turned inquiringly toward Apollyon, but Doyle was otherwise occupied.

"I haven't got a whole heap of time left here, folks, so I'll just tell you about Angel's bonus deal. For bein' such a good boy, our beloved El Somber no longer has to worry about that pesky curse."

"What?" Angel and Cordelia blurted the question as one, then looked everywhere but at each other.

"Hence the happy," Buffy noted, her hand automatically moving to massage Spike's injured leg.

Cordelia made a peculiar gurgling sound, somewhere between rage and utter mortification, and her cheeks were flaming. No one had ever seen her this embarrassed before. "What happy? No one got a happy!"

"The vision," Angel reminded her bemusedly. "The one about our future." Who knew Cordy could get all flustered like that? It made him want to see what else would get under her skin.

"Duh!" Buffy mocked, rolling her eyes. "What did you think I meant?" She froze and whipped her head around to peer intently at Spike. "What's wrong? You're getting all bad moody." A worried expression flitted across her face. "You're not gonna barf again are you?"

He gnawed at his inner cheek, watching the transformed demon with a distracted air. "Nah. Just don't like that they keep skimming over stuff about the Nip," he said. "Supposed to be foretold, in' he? Apollyon was all excited about it. Why aren't the Powers all over us?"

At the mention of his name the Keratos' swayed slightly, his tentacles rippling and fluttering, and for a long agonizing moment the Gemel feared that Oracle had closed and they wouldn't get any answers. Finally Doyle spoke again.

"Yeah, about that," he said hurriedly, almost nervously. "I, uh, can't tell ya much. Bosses orders. All I can say is the babe's rather special and he'll need protectin'. You two are the only ones that can and you'll have to stay strong as a couple to do it. Buffy particularly, which is why she'll have a tad more power 'til he's born."

"Could've warned a bloke," Spike muttered, then remembered that Lorne had said something to the same effect before they'd even left Pylea. Pocket power pack.

He stared at Buffy's hand where it rested on his thigh. She was starting to squeeze harder, and not in a good way. He put his hand over hers, attempting to ease the pressure. "Love?"

She startled. "Oh! Sorry, I... my bad. I'm just..."

"Yeah, I know."

He could feel her fear for the Nip mingling with his own. They hadn't anticipated that this little addition to their family would be anything other than a good. He set his jaw determinedly. And if he had his way, it wouldn't be.

During the awkward pause that followed, they got the impression that Doyle was consulting with someone. The out-of-earshot someone who was making him nervous. "Ah... You'll need to keep a low profile, too," he babbled. "Not let on about the 'special' part of all that. Could lead to all kinds of trouble."

"Oh, not a problem," Spike deadpanned. "A pregnant Slayer on the Hellmouth. Happens all the time. No one'll be any the wiser."

"Right. Good luck." Doyle seemed satisfied, even if nobody else was. "I'll leave ya to sort through the mess, try to make some sense of it."

"You're leaving?" Cordelia took a step toward the swaying Keratos. "You can't leave."

"Not your decision, darlin', and not mine either." Doyle was very sincere in his regret. "All goes well and you'll be hearin' from me again. But, bye for now."

There was a sharp crackle, then a hiss as Apollyon returned to normal, his tongues flicking out directly at Cordelia. She backed away, giving him a revolted look.

"Could you be more repulsive?" Her lips curled down in distaste.

Apollyon tipped his head sideward and peered at her with one curious green eye. If he weren't so hugely reptilian, the movement would almost be bird-like. "S-s-eer!" he warbled. His tentacles flapped at her, reinforcing the whole bird thing.

"You know," Buffy said dryly. "He would be really lost if none of our names started with 'S'."

Spike's mouth tugged up at the corners but didn't make any comment.

"Hey! Lighten up, Brood Boy." Buffy punched him again, though holding back on her full strength this time.

His head shot up anyway, eyes flaring with indignation. "I do not brood!" he protested. "How many times do I -?"

"Gotcha!" She bounced on her seat and pumped a fist in the air. "Hoo-hah! I still got it!"

"Bitch," he said mildly, finally letting the full smile take hold.

Wesley slammed his book shut. "I'm terribly sorry to interrupt your ... ah, moment, but I must say that I cannot translate any more without further research." He cast a shy glance at Fred. "If you would be willing to stay on and aid me..."

"Sure!" Fred blurted, somewhat louder than was necessary. "Oh, sorry. That was a little... I mean, I've got nowhere else to... If it's okay?"

"Plenty of room at the inn," Cordelia stated. She was still distracted by Doyle's 'revelation and departure' routine and didn't realize that she'd automatically spoken on Angel's behalf. "Pylean refugee central here."

Angel grimaced at the reminder. Certain aspects about the other dimension continued to concern him. "Are you sure we did the right thing leaving that Groo guy in charge? He's so... fickle."

"We left Jonah in charge," Wesley corrected. "The Groosalugg is simply a figurehead. He's enough of a balance between human and demon to placate both sides, but I don't think he has the capacity for true leadership."

"Well, color me stunned," Lorne groaned. He rolled over and propped himself up against the newel of the banister leading upstairs. "Actually, color me concussed." He touched his forehead gingerly, then winced. "I think one of my horns is fractured. Didn't anyone catch me?"

His inquiry was met with a round of indifferent shrugs.

"Pardon us if we were otherwise occupied," Spike said sarcastically, gesturing at Apollyon. "With bigger things."

Lorne blinked at him, then over at Angel and Cordelia. Their auras were all over the place, rippling and bending and, in some places, merging together in a psychedelic blur. "It's like a bad acid trip," he muttered, squeezing his eyes shut. When he opened them again, he was looking back at Spike. "Smaller things occupying you as well, sweetcheeks?" He tipped his head meaningfully at Buffy.

She scowled at him. "Don't get cryptic. I hate that."

"We hate that," Spike verified. "Best to get everything out in the open I reckon."

Lorne pursed his lips and shared an enigmatic look with Apollyon. "Lets hope you remember your own advice, shall we?" That earned him scowls from both of them. He merely smiled. "Are you sure you don't want to sing for me?"

"No." Angel was steadfastly adamant. "No singing."

Cordelia cackled gleefully. "Especially from you, Mister Butcher-That-Tune."

Angel looked hurt for a second, before a tentative smile started to creep across his lips. "I love you even when you're bad-mouthing my crooning abilities."

She shrugged. "Crooning, groaning. To-mato, to-mahto."

The vampires smile widened into one of those heart-rending butterfly-inducing grins. "So, we're okay?"

Cordelia moved to wrap her arms around his waist. "We're better than okay. We're all set for the big future happy." She stretched up to give him a quick kiss. "I love you."

Lorne was relieved to see that their disturbed auras had settled down. They were sending warm and gentle vibes now.

"All's well," Drusilla suddenly declared. "And the Oracle departs."

Her meaning came clear when they belatedly realized that Apollyon had disappeared without trace, his stealth remarkable for such a gigantic beast.

"Slippery for a big sucker," Gunn noted.

"I hate when he does that," Buffy lamented, then ruined her pout by yawning. "Still sleepy."

Spike got up and helped her to her feet in a surprisingly gentlemanly manner. "Let's find someplace to bed-down then. Head back to Sunnyhell on the morrow."

Buffy smiled dreamily. "You get all hoity-toity when you're tired, did you know that?" He didn't bother answering, but swept her up in his arms and headed for the stairs. "Oh Rhett," she simpered, batting her lashes at him coquettishly, then burst out laughing. "You are so not Rhett Butler. Did they even have peroxide back then?" She twisted, trying to locate Angel. He'd know.

Spike wagged his eyebrows at her then whirled in a fancy pirouette that made her squeal and clutch at him. He loved it when she was all little girl carefree like this. He didn't see it often enough.

They left the others behind, vanishing from sight as they retreated into the east wing of the hotel, even though their bickering continued to drift down the stairs...

"Don't get used to this, Slayer. 'M not gonna cart you around when you're the incredible Jumbo Mum." The sharply resonant slap of flesh hitting flesh then, "Ow!"

"No fat jokes. Not until I'm actually fat anyway." A thoughtful pause. "You do know that we're never gonna be able to call you Daddy, right? It'll have to be 'Mom' and 'Spike'."

The blonde vampire's irritated retort was punctuated by the sound of a slamming door.

"Oh sod off."

~*[THE END]*~

A/N: Yay! (**does happy dance then collapses with relief**). I was beginning to think I'd never get here. The thing just went off in this whole other direction and all I could do was sit there and yell, "Hey, where are you going? I had a plot worked out, damn it!" Alas, my creation seemed to be deaf as well as having a mind of its own. Ah well, we ended up in the same place eventually. You know, at the end. (I just wanted to say it again! **giggles hysterically**)
Special mention to my loyal readers (Rakel, angelmeg, Cochise112, gyrlfrend, Valkyrie, rubygoddess, StarMouse, et al.) You've not idea how grateful I am you guys stuck around! Hopefully I can entice you to linger longer with the third installment. There should be a new chapter coming soon.
- Dee.