disclaimer in part 1


Rites of Spring
By Matt
-----

May Day

Questions

"Do you have your answers?"

Buffy looked toward the spot on the ground where her men were still sleeping. Without her to cuddle up to, they had both uncurled and sprawled, taking up as much ground as their massive bodies would allow. She looked at them, and her heart swelled until she thought it would burst. Surely no one heart could be so full and survive.

"Some of them," She answered softly.

He nodded (though she didnít see it, her eyes still resting on Angel and Riley) and started to play again. "We know Weíve asked a lot of you and your family," he said. "Your lives are filled with almost constant violence and danger, and youíve all sacrificed so much of the lives you could have had to keep up the fight. Itís not fair. But it is necessary, so We do Our best to fit in a few extra blessings where we can."

"Blessings like two men of my very own?" Buffy asked wryly.

"Who love you more than their own life and flesh," he answered.

"I know," she said softly.

"Do you know how frustrating it is to give someone a blessing and then watch them be ashamed of it?" He complained, crossing his arms and resting them on the guitar as he fixed her with a look of exasperation. "The one blessing we canít promise any of you is long life, so you donít have time to fit things into safe, comfortable patterns, or to worry what other people think."

"Hey, we didnít know that you sent this to us," Buffy defended herself. "We thought we were just messed up. Every religious book on this planet says that you wouldnít approve."

He snorted. It sounded more like a buck than a man. "Those books were written by men, not Us. Mortals arenít perfect, and the priests and kings who wrote those books arenít any closer to perfect than anyone else. How do you know that their judgments on life are any better than yours?"

Buffy had never thought of that. She stared up at him, dumbfounded.

"Create your own rules for living, Buffy." He said. "Donít regret anything, and donít worry about what anyone else thinks. Trust meóI can see your heart, and I know that youíll come to the right answers more often than most."

He glanced up at the fading stars, sighed, and put the guitar down. "I need to go soon," he said.

"Wait," she said. "Please. I have just two more questions. Is it okayÖ?"

"If you accept that some answers might be ĎI canít tell you while youíre still aliveí," He replied.

She nodded. "Okay."

"Right. Fire away, then."

"Okay. First question: why us? I mean, lots of people, better people than us, go through life and sometimes those lives are really short and miserable and they never get to meet you face to face like this. Why do we get so much attention?"

He sighed and looked over her shoulder, out into the world. "Because you deserve to," he said. "So do they, but the Lower Beings have never broken the rules for them, as they have for you. So we canít either." Then a sharp-toothed grin crossed his face. "Besides. Do you remember what the Metatron told Cordelia? How the Deep Lords only break the rules when they see a chance for a knockout punch?"

She nodded.

His grin grew broader and more predatory. "We like knockout punches, too. Thatís one of the things I canít tell you about, so donít ask me. Youíll find out soon enough. Next question?"

Buffy paused, chewing on her lip. Heíd been very kind and polite, but every second she was in his presence, she could feel unimaginable power. Just beneath the surface. It was like talking to an earthquake. She had the feeling that the question she wanted to ask was too bold, and she didnít want to end up dodging lightning bolts.

Besides, something in her heart said, the absolute last thing in the universe I want to do is make him unhappy with me, even if he doesnít do anything.

But she had to know. Or at least ask:

"This isnít the real you, is it?"

The question didnít seem to bother him. He just shook his head. "I took this form to make you comfortable," he said. "After all, itís just a manóor a giantówith antlers. Youíve seen stranger."

"Much," she agreed.

"You couldnít survive contact with my true form," he said. "Nothing mortal can. Just the spirit. If I said one word in my true voice, in my true language, your ears would be blasted deaf. If you caught even a glimpse of my true face, your eyes would be seared blind. Not that youíd care."

"In fact, Iíd be happy, right?" She guessed. "Because Iíd have heard and seen the most beautiful things possible."

"Stop that," he scolded. "If you want to worship me, go wake your men up."

"Sorry."

"Donít worry about it. The point is, if I manifested fully, even for a moment, it would kill you. That fragile mortal body of yours would burn right away. I donít want that to happen. Thus: this form." He glanced up at the sky, then stood up. "I really need to go now," he said.

Buffy rose to her feet as well, feeling a moment of deep sadness. She didnít want him to ever leave. Then she glanced up at the sky, and her sadness was replaced by fear as she saw that it was turning pink. "Dawn!" she cried, starting toward her sleeping mates. "I need to get Angel under cover."

"Relax," he said, catching her by the shoulder. "For the rest of today, as long as the world is under my influence, heís a son of the Sun again."

"A blessing?" She asked, looking back at him.

He shrugged. "A little gift. Let him sleep. I only have a few more moments before I must return my attention to the rest of the world, but before I do that, I have one last gift to give you."

She turned back to listen.

He told her what his final gift was. As he did so, tears of pure joy started down her face. When he was finished, she threw her arms around him, no longer afraid that he would mind. He hugged her back with a gentle smile, and then he was gone.

 

A New Dawning

 

Willow, Oz, and Tara had fallen asleep curled up together like a litter of puppies.

Oz woke up slowly, deliberately keeping his eyes closed so he could open his other senses to the morning. Of course, the smell of sex and the sound of his companionsí breathing drowned out nearly everything else. But there was still the smell of desert flowers on the breeze.

His hand was resting on a leg. He began to stroke it absently. He felt the soft hair and knew that it wasnít Willowís the very moment before Willow said something. "Wrong leg, Oz," she teased.

"Only if she says so," Oz said, not opening his eyes.

"I donít mind," Tara said, "If you donít mind that I donít shave. I mean, I know a lot of guys doó"

"Soft," Was all Oz said in reply.

He could hear the smile in Taraís voice. "Iím glad that you find my legs comfy."

"Hmph. When do I get my turn?" Willow demanded.

Oz opened his eyes at last. Willow was sitting up, her arms folded over her bare chest, a blatantly fake petulant look on her face. "Boyfriend-stealing tramp," she muttered toward Tara, struggling to keep her face straight.

Tara looked at Oz. "Nobodyís ever called me that before."

"First time for everything," he shrugged.

"Should I be hurt?" Tara asked.

"Nah. I think sheís just feeling left out."

"Hey! Excuse me! Sitting right here!"

Ozís grin turned predatory. "Still, I think she should be punished for her rudeness."

To his surprise, Taraís answering grin matched his. "I think I know just the thing."

They turned those grins on Willow and she began to scoot away on her behind saying "Oh, no. Oh, no you donító" But it was too late.

A moment later, the tickling began.

*

Angel, awakened by Willowís squeals, opened his eyes on a world that was much brighter than he was used to. For a long moment, he just lay there, waiting to really wake up.

It didnít happen.

"Sunlight," he said.

Riley sat up beside him. "Looks like," he agreed.

"Why am I not on fire?" Angel asked, still not quite daring to move, irrationally afraid that the sun might notice him again if he did

"Search me," Riley shrugged, starting to look around. "Where didóoh, there you are."

"Morning," Buffy greeted them, sitting down on the grass in front of them and folding her legs. Her skin glistened with moisture and her hair was wet.

"Did you find a stream?" Riley asked.

"Right on the other side of the gap," she said.

"Oh, good." He started to rise to his feet.

"Wait, donít go just yet," she said, catching his arm. Agreeably, he sat back down. Both of them stared at Angel, who was still hugging the ground. "You donít have to worry about the Sun," she said at last.

"Does that mean you know whatís going on?" He said.

"Gift from Cernunnos. Youíre covered for the rest of the day."

"Oh. Good." He said nervously as he sat up. Once upright, he looked down at himself, checking for smoke. Finding none, he relaxed with a sigh. Then he grinned. "Think we could go to a beach later?" he asked.

"I was going to suggest that myself," Buffy smiled. Then she turned serious. "But first, we have to talk."

She looked back and forth between her men with a stern sense of purpose that made them both sit straighter. "So." She said. "Weíre really doing this."

Angel took a deep breath, purely for the sake of bracing himself. "We really are," he said.

Riley nodded in agreement.

"No oneís looking at the harsh light of day and wants to blame it on the spell?" She pressed.

"It wasnít the spell," Riley said, with Angel nodding in agreement this time. Then he grinned. "We can do it again later if you want proof."

Angelís nodding became much more fervent.

Buffy cracked her first smile of the morning. "Maybe after Iíve recovered a bit," she said. Then her grin faded. "This isnít going to be easy," she said. "There are still some issues we need to work out."

"Transportation, living issuesÖ" Angel supplied.

"I still have to go to college," Buffy said.

"And Iím needed in LAÖ" Angel added bleakly.

Riley rolled his eyes. He could already see what his role in this triad was going to be: keep the other two from falling into clinical depression. They spent more time borrowing trouble than anyone heíd ever known. He supposed that some pessimism was understandable when theyíd been submerged in misery for so long. They just had to learn how to stop wallowing.

"Youíre both bracing yourselves for a goodbye and a long separation that just isnít necessary," he pointed out. They both looked at him, startled. Hey, if he couldnít figure out something that obvious, he would burn that B.S. in Psychology that was hanging on his mamaís wall.

"Thereís all sorts of wonderful communications devices these days," he said to Angel. "óAnd LA is only two, three hours away," he said to Buffy. "Have you never heard of weekends?"

That brought them both up short. Always before, obstacles in their path had been insurmountableómost notably the Curse. But theseÖthese were human problems. Normal problems. Problems that people handled all the time. Stretched before them were weeks on the phone and the internet, eagerly looking forward to the weekend together, not months of longing.

"Thereís only one issue Iím worried about right now," Riley continued.

"Whatís that?"

"How in hell am I going to explain to my parents that Iím bringing home a nice girlóand her nice husband?"

The rest of the dell was treated to the silver sound of Buffyís laughter, accompanied by the exquisitely rare baritone boom of Angelís.

*

"Xander?"

"Hmmm?"

"Iím aroused again."

"Anya, you are the only woman Iíve ever even heard of that gets a morning hard-on."

"Are you complaining?"

"Congratulating."

"Oh." Pause. "Arenít you going to do anything about it?"

"Last night notwithstanding, having sex in front of everyone isnít really my thing. Can you wait until we get home?"

"I can wait until we get in the car."

"Good enough."

*

Cordelia woke up to the feeling of something squirming beneath her, and found herself somewhat disoriented.

A cool breeze informed her that, while she was fully dressed from the waist up, she was completely naked from the waist down. Not even a sock.

Unusual sensation.

She was straddling someone, also naked below the waist, and sheíd apparently fallen asleep resting her head on his chest.

Odd. Not entirely unbelievable, but odd. She hadnít had much sex lately, and her high school experiences had allowed no time for sleep, taking place as they did in cars and evenings when all of the adults were out of the house.

She blinked her eyes open, and found herself staring out sideways at a grassy field enclosed by rocks.

"Cordelia?"

Oh. Right.

"Iím sorry," Wesley apologized. "I didnít mean to wake you, but Iím just tryingÖthe SunÖ"

"Itís okay," she said, sitting up and moving her head so that her shadow fell on his face rather than the bright morning sun.

"Ah. Thank you." His eyes, which had been squinting the moment before, blinked open. Yep. Still just as pretty as last night. "Good morning."

"Good morning."

Pause.

"So." He said.

"So." She agreed, folding her arms across her chest.

"Are you feeling anyÖregretsÖthis morning?" He asked anxiously.

She thought for a moment, cataloguing what she was feeling. Sticky. Sweaty. Achy in several odd places from sleeping in such an unusual position. ButÖ

"Not a one," she reported, shaking her head. He smiled up at her in relief and she smiled back, settling back onto her haunches.

Pause.

"So," she said, looking down at him seriously.

"Yes?"

"Did last night mean anything?" She asked. "Or were we just two friends under the influence of a sex god, and weíre going to leave it at that?"

Wesley blushedó

Had sex in front of everybody last night, blushing to talk about it this morning. Weird.

--but managed to keep himself from stammering when he answered. "It was that, of course," he said. "But it wasnít just that. At least not for me. I daresay it meant something." Then his face took on the same utterly lost look as Giles in front of a computer. "But Iím damned if I can say what."

She smiled down at him, and he was astonished. Heíd seen her smile in many different shades of humor, happiness, and sarcasm, but heíd never seen her smile gently.

"Well, letís talk about it some more, then," she said. "See if we can figure it out."

"What a fine idea," he agreed.

*

Rupert Giles opened his eyes and looked straight into the clear, piercing blue eyes of a Summers woman.

It was a pleasant experience, but rather disconcerting, somewhat like waking up to find your pet lioness on the bed with you. You know that sheís friendly, but you arenít nearly so certain that sheís tame.

"Is this going to get weird again?" she asked bluntly, cutting off his ĎGood morningí. Ah. So that was where Buffy got it.

"I wasnít planning for it to, no," he answered mildly.

"Good," she said, sitting up. "Because this was your last chance."

She couldnít keep the edges of a smile from the corners of her mouth, and it betrayed the severity of her words.

"Iíd best make the most of it, then," he deadpanned. "Perhaps when the others go home, we could go to Las Vegas? Iím sure there must be something tasteful there."

Her eyes flew wide, but she kept her own voice level. "Donít be so sure about that. A tasteful wedding chapel in Vegas is like a safe graveyard in Sunnydale."

"Oh, dear."

"Iíd rather have the family there anyway," she continued, indicating the rest of the group with a wave over her shoulder. "Donít worry. Iím used to putting together events at my art gallery. I can set up something small and quiet in a couple weeks."

"Oh." He smiled. "Thatís good, then."

*

Someone was shaking Gunnís shoulder.

"Hey, wake up. Itís morning. Everybody else is already awake."

Gunn didnít want to wake up. Whatever he was resting on was much softer and more comfortable that the floor of the squatter, and the cool breeze blowing over him was so much better than the oppressive, sweaty heat he was used to.

"Címon. Wake up, big guy."

Smiling, he opened his eyes on a sideways view of Faith, who was sitting up beside him. "Big guy. Two very good words to hear on the morning after."

She grinned lewdly down at him. "Your reputation as a stud is safe. And believe me when I say I have some pretty big yardsticks to measure it against."

"Thatís good to know," he said, sitting up. "Is there any breakfast?"

"I donít think so, unless they gave up on trying to wake us and ate it all. You sleep like a rock."

"Survival trait," he shrugged. "Catch the Zís whenever you can, especially when you know youíre safe. Never know when you might need Ďem."

"Slayers are wired a little different," she replied. "We donít need much sleep, and wake up pretty much instantly."

"Sounds useful," he said.

"It is." She paused a moment, regarding him throughtfully. "You know, actually, I did sleep pretty soundly last night."

"Tired?" He smirked.

She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Maybe a little."

"Ouch."

She didnít even grin to acknowledge the hit. She was saying somethingóshe couldnít believe she was saying it. Leaving herself this wide open. Last night was one thingóitís easier and safer to open your legs than your heart. But she had to tell him.

"Or maybe Ďcause I knew I was safe."

Gunnís bantering grin softened, and he reached out and took her hand. "Good."

They sat like that for a moment, still and silent. Then Faith climbed to her feet. "Youíll never believe what woke me up," she said.

Cozy moments werenít really their style.

"What?" He asked, getting to his own feet. "I didnít do anything embarrassing, did I?"

"Angel was laughing."

Gunn cleaned out an ear with a finger. "Iím sorry, I couldíve sworn I heard you say that Angel was laughing."

"I did."

"Naw, canít be. You must have dreamed it."

"Nope. Woke all the way up, and he was still laughing. Heard him clear across the circle. Kept going foró"

"Okay, now I know youíre shitting me."

"I know Iíve shit bigger than you."

"Good comeback for someone whoís tripping out of her skull. ĎAngel laughingí my assÖ"

Still bantering, they left the circle, headed for the stream that Buffy had discovered.

*

Still sore from their night on the ground (not to mention the activities of that night), everyone washed up in the stream that Buffy had found, then dressed.

There was no breakfast to be had, so everyone gathered what they had brought and headed for the cars.

Hungry and sore, they were still happier than they could ever remember being.

*

"Hey, Red," Faith said, pulling up beside the hacker and her lovers on the trail. "I got a question for you."

"Ask," Willow said. "Maybe I haveó" she hoped to teach a bit of proper grammar by emphasized example. "An answer for you."

"You and Lobo there erased my records, right?"

"Right."

"Does that mean Iím nobody now? Or am I somebody new?"

"Oh, didnít I tell you?" Willow said, just a touch smugly. "You are now Faith Giles."

If Willow was hoping for a moment of stunned silence, she was disappointed. Faith just grinned. "Cool. Thanks, Red. Hey, G!" She called up the trail to Giles, who was chivalrously helping Joyce down a steep spot that she didnít actually need help with. "Did you hear that? Iím your daughter now."

Giles quirked and eyebrow, then turned to Joyce. "Did you hear that, darling? Weíve had an eighteen year old."

"Ouch."

"Wait a second, wait a second," Buffy interrupted. "We?"

"Oh, didnít we mention that?" Giles said, starting to puff up. He quirked a glance at Joyce who just smiled indulgently, then finished puffing up. "Joyce and I are affianced."

Angel, Wesley, Willow, and Tara all made noises of surprise, then their faces began to light up.

Ozís expression resembled mild surprise for a moment, after which he smiled mellowly.

Riley, Buffy, and Cordelia looked somewhat confused, as if they were pretty sure what the word meant, but not sure enough to be certain how to react.

Faith, Gunn, Xander, and Anya just stared blankly.

Giles opened his mouth to give a language lesson to the stragglers, but Joyce decided to have mercy and interrupted him. "Weíre getting married as soon as I can get the gallery ready for it."

Several minutes of hugging, back-pounding, hand-shaking, joyous squeals, and stunned "Ohmygods" from Buffy later, the group started to move down the trail again. Grinning, Faith joined her new parents.

"Congratulations, dad. A wife and a daughter in the same day. Not many guys work that fast. Think you can handle us both?" she challenged.

"Can I handle Joyce?" He asked. He glanced at his bride-to-be and saw a challenge in her eyes as well. "I can only do my best. But as for youó" He grinned wickedly. "Do you remember what I said in the fight in the warehouse? When I saved you from that demon?"

"Yeah, you said ĎNo proper hooligan goes toÖí " she stopped short, her eyes going wide. "Hooligan?" She stared at him in astonishment. "You?"

He nodded.

"You a JD? No fucking way."

"Trust me on this one," Joyce said, sighing at some memory.

Giles blushed. "Yes, or, if you choose not to, I can show you the pictures when we get home."

The banter continued down the trail, and Joyce had just gotten around to informing Faith that she would get her GED and finish her education (Buffy warned the younger Slayer against struggling and Gunn was all for it: "Itís a hard old world, and you take every advantage you can get. We can do the weekend thing like Buffy and Angel.") when Oz suddenly froze in the middle of the trail.

"What is it, Lassie?" Xander asked, coming up behind the werewolf. "Is Timmy in trouble?"

"No," Oz answered, still standing stiff, his nose held high and his ears perked. "Spike."

The rest of the group stopped in their tracks and fell silent. Angel took a few steps forward, his own head raised into the wind. "Heís right," he said. "Itís Spike."

"It canít be," Willow said. "He was warnedÖhis worst fearÖ"

"Itís Spike," Buffy reminded her.

"And heís whimpering," Oz added.

They took off down the trail at a run, the more athletic among them leaping from rock to rock or taking the trail in great, leaping bounds.

Moments later, the parking area where they had left their cars came into view, and their fears were confirmed: Spikeís DeSoto was in among them.

"Idiot," Buffy muttered as she, Angel, Faith, and Oz picked up the pace

*

"Spike?" Buffy called as she slowly opened the car door, being very careful that he wasnít leaning against it. She didnít want to dump him out into the sunlight. "Spike, we know youíre in there."

She opened the door to find Spike curled into the fetal position against the far door, shivering.

Spike?" She asked. "Are you okay? What happened?"

"Spike?" His head snapped up out of his fetal tuck, his eyes huge and wild with fear. And there was something else wrong with themÖ

"Who is Spike?" He demanded. "My name is William. Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you people? Why am I wearing these strange clothes?"

"Somethingís wrong," Angel said as he leaned against the car and peered into the darkness inside.

"You think?" Faith said.

"No, I mean itís more than that. Iím not feeling his demon through the Sire/Childe link. Heís silent inside."

"But his heart isnít beating, either," Oz reported after cocking his ear for a moment. "Heís still a vampire."

"Why does the sun burn me? Why am I trapped in this strangeÖstructure? Please, you have to help me!"

"Itís okay," Buffy said, crawling across the seat toward him. "Youíre going to be all right. Why donít you tell meó"

Spikeís eyes suddenly fixed on her, as if heíd found something to anchor himself in the midst of his confusion. "My god," he said. "Youíre wearing trousers."

Outside, Angelís eyes went wide.

She stopped in mid-crawl, staring at him. "Uh, yeah. Is that a problem?"

Apparently it was.

"Not just bloomers but trousers," Spike gasped. "Are you some kind of madwoman, dressing like a man?"

Fortunately for Spike, Angel called in before Buffy could deliver the answer she had in mind. "Buffy, come out. Weíd better wait for Tara."

Buffy climbed out of the car in a huff. "Okay, what was that all about?" She demanded. "You seem to have a clue, so give."

"Spikeís greatest fear," Angel said, turning to meet the rest of the group as they started to arrive.

"And whatís that?" She said. "Donít you even think about going back to Cryptic Guy on me."

"Becoming like me," he said. Then he raised his voice to hail the new arrivals. "Spikeís got his soul back, and the shock has given him amnesia," he announced.

"My name is William!" The voice inside the car protested.

Angel ignored him and continued to explain to the gathering circle of Scoobies. "Denial, guilt, whateveróheís blocked out the last hundred years. He still thinks heís in the 1880ís." He turned to Tara. "Youíre the only one whoís dressed even a little like something heís prepared to deal with. Why donít you go in and see if you can talk him down. Youíre going to look half-naked to him, though, so be ready for some weird reactions."

"Okay," she nodded, then climbed into the car.

"All of the men are going to look like giant thugs to him," Angel explained to the rest of the group. "And all of the other women are wearing pants."

"Is it that big a deal?" Buffy asked, still a bit put off by the vehemence of Spikeís reaction.

"It was in 1882."

*

"The Broken One," Giles muttered.

"Whatís that, Rupert?" Joyce asked.

"Oh? This fulfills a prophecy, or almost," He explained. "Thereís one more left, and I think I know who it is. Iíll have to talk to Angel."

"But not today," she said. "Weíve been through so much already, and this is Angelís one day in the sun. No more prophecies. Letís, for once, just have some damn peace."

Giles nodded. "Not today," he agreed.

*

Tara emerged from the car. "Iíve got him calmed down," she sighed. "He started to remember while I was in there, and he cried himself almost to sleep. Poor thing."

"Letís get him to Sunnydale, get him someplace dark, get him some pig blood, and let him sleep it off." Angel said. Then he sighed. "I was really hoping to do more with today."

"What are you talking about?" Buffy said.

"Iíd rather not chain him down. That would just scare him more. But that means that someone strong enough to keep him from staking himself will have to keep a suicide watch. I have to be there, since Iím the only one whoís ever been through this before. Iíll have to talk him through it."

The rest of the group looked rather disappointed. Except for Buffy. Buffy looked like she was building up to an eruption.

"What if we put him to sleep?" Tara offered.

"What?" Angel asked.

Willow took Taraís hand and grinned at her. "We can make sure that Spike doesnít wake up until at least midnight," she said confidently.

"Good," Buffy said, speaking very deliberately and evenly. "Why donít you do that?"

"Are you sure thatís a good idea?" Angel asked as the witches started chanting. "Spikeó"

"Came here even though a prophecy told him not to," Cordelia interrupted. "I say, whatever happened to him is his own lookout."

"Testify," Gunn agreed.

"But now that he has his soul, heís not Spike anymore," Angel protested.

"All the more reason to let him sleep," Buffy insisted. "It can only help. You can talk to him tonight."

Angel still looked undecided, until Riley took him by the shoulder. "Itís really all you can do for him, Big Man," he counseled.

Angel considered it for a moment longer, then nodded.

They all paused for a moment, listening to Willow and Tara finish their spell and pondering the plight of the worldís second vampire with a soul. Then Wesley spoke up:

"What does anyone propose we do until tonight?" He asked.

"Beach?" Angel offered hopefully.

"Beach," Buffy said forcefully.

"Beach," Oz nodded in agreement.

From that, the chant grew: "Beach, beach, beach, beach, BEACH!"

Still chanting, the worldís defenders piled into their vehicles, turned their radios up, and roared off into their day in the sun.

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