The trip to L.A. was completed mostly in a comfortable silence. Xander drove with one elbow propped on the window, letting his hand ride the currents of air like the wing of an airplane. The night breeze flowed over his skin and raised the fine hairs on his arm. Spike sprawled in the passenger seat, rousing himself only to switch CDs or run a teasing finger over Xander's bare knee. The Clash. The Jam. The Clash again and they were there.
Greetings were exchanged, drinks were sipped, dinner was served, and small talk was talked. Silence descended and a complicated series of meaningful looks darted around the table. Spike to Xander; Angel to Buffy; Xander to Angel; Spike to Buffy. The two couples split and mixed, and with a minimum of fuss the two vampires retreated to Angel's study, leaving the humans at the kitchen table.
"I need to know about Claiming," Xander blurted out.
"I know I wasn't ever much for learning the Lore..." Spike's voice trailed off and he studied the scuffed toes of his boots.
"Um," Buffy said, blushing. "It was...well, it was intense."
Angel's smile was gentle, as was his touch on Spike's arm. "Sit down, I'll get us a whiskey."
"I mean, I don't know if Spike..."
"...even wants to, but he's said a couple of things...Xan likes to mull things over, you know? He's not as impulsive as he used to be."
"...but I think he's considering it. I know I am."
Buffy laid her hand on Xander's arm. "Well," she said, "one of you is going to have to bring it up."
"I know, I know. But what if I'm wrong?" Spike's blue eyes were anguished as he sipped his drink.
"He won't refuse you. He loves you." Angel leaned forward and clasped the back of the other vampire's neck with one large hand.
"So you approve?" Xander's eyes were bright with a film of tears.
"Oh, God, yes Xan - Spike and I settled our differences eons ago. Besides, you're talking about joining my family now. You're the one I have to approve of."
"So, you'll be my - what - mother in law? Grandmother in law?" It was hard to say whose smile was wider.
"Let's just call it family, OK?" Buffy said.
"Take this." Angel handed Spike a small, leather-bound book. "It'll tell you what you need to know. The gist of it is the usual - sex, blood, ritual words. You can make up your own if you want."
Spike took the book and slipped it into his pocket. "Did you and Buffy plan..."
"God, no! It was very heat-of-the-momenty! That's why it took us so long to get married - we were all wacky." Buffy grinned and flushed at the same time. "The claiming just sort of happened. I mean, he'd marked me back in high school, but the actual Claiming - you know, the mutualness - just happened."
"We didn't mean to, but I'm glad we did," Angel smiled, remembering his and Buffy's thrilling, unexpected joining and the spontaneous declarations that had bound them. "You're right to think it through, though - smarter."
"Ooooh - do you think you guys will get married? Or have a commitment thingy? And rings, maybe?" Buffy was giddy at the idea of shopping.
"I don't know," Xander said, and she could hear the relief in his voice; his fears eased, if not put to rest.
Spike and Angel entered the kitchen, laughing quietly. Xander stood and crossed the room, sliding an arm around Spike's waist.
"You ready?" he asked. "It's getting late."
Spike leaned against his partner and smiled at his grand-sire as Angel pulled Buffy to him, resting his chin on top of her head.
"See you guys next time," he said, nodding to Angel.
Buffy and Xander shared a smile, and the two men left.
The trip back to Sunnydale was completed mostly in silence. The Claiming...was not.