rngrdead (rngrdead) wrote in bloodclaim,
rngrdead
rngrdead
bloodclaim

The Stray # 35

Title: The Stray
Pairing: S/X
Rating: NC/17
Warnings: Will appear on chapters if needed – some M/M relations
Summary: Spike survived the Black Thorn but only because one of the Senior Partners had heard Illyria refer to him as suitable for her pet and decided to amuse themselves with devastating results

Previous Parts here


PART 35

Spike’s joy in greeting his latest offspring was obvious even to Gracie. There was something about the dog that she just could not put a finger on, but watching him as he groomed the mother of his latest litter then made each small body welcome was quite moving.

She then watched with incredulous surprise as his two children nuzzled and then lay beside the four little bodies, lending their warmth to the newborns with no apparent objection from Chloe whilst their parents ‘caught up’.

Gracie adjourned to the study of the house and went online, determined to research wolf behaviour and families, as that was all she could put the affectionate behaviour down to.

By the time Xander came home the Battle Brand had slept, but then spent several hours devising the attack plan for the following day. Without knowing Xander’s teams’ exact plans, but trusting the former Scoobie’s instincts, Connor had developed a method of pushing the self-proclaimed the ‘Master of Calgary (and surrounds)’ close to the surface the following evening – with the help of the dogs of course.

Xander arrived as expected just after six in the evening with his set of parameters and timing, and there was little to discuss. The Brand was the unique product of two of the deadliest vampires in history, a childhood in Quortoth, and the guardian of the Deeper Well. The timing was locked in and nothing was left to chance, but Xander appreciated the consultation and final discussion before the late morning assault. He had told Jerry of Spike’s new offspring, thereby giving him three hours of absence from the building site the following day.

As the sun set, the three dogs took their change.

Xander sat with the three and Connor and repeated the planned timing of the shift of heavy equipment the following morning.

Connor was at his best, the strategy was made clear and even Spike was impressed by the deadly precision. They would strike just after sunup as the cranes were moving overhead. The Brand would set the charge via timer already in place and drive the ‘court’ from the underground lair. The dogs would be ready, Spike quietly going over the plans again with his children before they had a nervous sleep prior to the attack.

Xander insisted on being involved, and after some consultation with the Brand, it was agreed. He would take point on the only exit and dust any minions who happened to escape.

On the day it was almost too easy.

Andrew, in his self centred ‘magnificence’, was mid speech regards their taking over control, relinquishing their Wolfram and Hart ties and extending the court to the whole of Canada ‘and surrounds’. As soon as the blast and confusion of the dust in the lair, however, he was more than willing to screech “Head for the tunnels”, relinquishing his minions in favour of self preservation as the blast threw a hole in their underground haven.

At the last minute the ‘Master of Calgary and Surrounds’ took off at a sprint and met his ignominious end as he faced Spike, in dog form, at the end of the tunnel. The dog tore out his throat and literally removed his head resulting in a rain of dust.

In retrospect, Spike was unimpressed by the demise of Andrew but extremely proud that his daughter and son had despatched three minions each. Connor was deadly and efficient, seven falling to him with an ease that spelt of a great deal of experience. Xander took three attempting to escape the final shake down while Spike dusted four more after Andrew. It was a dusty end by all accounts, but one that had the dogs panting and very pleased with themselves.

Connor was still brushing himself down as they all rejoined Xander outside. “I believe there may be five or so that have hidden in the tunnels. Allow Spike and myself a half hour or so. It is best we clear the entire court.”

Xander nodded and led Poppie and Luka back to the car while Connor and Spike moved silently back into the tunnels.

For an adrenalin pumped Spike, the thrill of the hunt was familiar, even if he was in dog form. His sensitive nose quickly located three of the minions, a rather pathetic gathering at the back of the rubble from the blast. It was ridiculously easy to dust them. The final two had found their way into the main sewer but were found with relative ease by Connor, and despite a show of aggression, went the way of their ‘leader’- dust.

The homecoming was as triumphant as it was worrying. Connor would return to his duties as Brand within two days but still had a serious conversation to have with not only Poppie to whom he was drawn, but also to her father Spike, his brother of sorts, and her owner, Xander. Yet the one thing he had learned in his time in the Well was patience and timing.

Xander returned to work at midday, effectively covering his clandestine movements with brief news (and true) of Chloe’s latest litter. One of the crane drivers asked for Gracie’s contact regards purchasing a pup of Spike’s line and all continued as normal. But at Xander’s home it could not have been farther from the truth.

Gracie came to give the dogs a run and welcomed Connor along as passenger, but there was a certain tension that even the gentle musher felt but could not quite put a finger on.

The run was a welcome distraction after the excitement of the morning, Gracie impressed by Connor’s quiet adoration of Chloe’s pups upon their return, and Chloe unusually calm as he picked up the youngest female and sitting beside the normally nervous mother, cradled her in his arms flanked by Poppie and further back, Luka.

Gracie busied herself obtaining iced tea then sat in the enclosure while Chloe communed with her daughter and son and fed all but one of the new ones.

Gracie could not hold her tongue as she handed him the cool drink, “I’ve never seen her react like that to a stranger, do you have dogs at home?”

Connor kept his voice low as he nodded to the kind musher, “No, but I know what it means to have family lost and found.”

Gracie didn’t want to press the point, but wondered what such a handsome young man had gone through to make such a comment. “So you are William’s…”

“William and I have the same Sire but he died some years ago. My mother died having me. I was adopted out after a fashion, but we found each other eventually, pity it was a little too late. I’m glad to have reconnected with William regardless of circumstance, and of course Xander and family.”

The use of the word ‘sire’ was an odd one, but Gracie assumed it was much to do with the presence of the dogs and the siring of Chloe’s new litter.

“I can’t imagine what that would be like… Well I’m glad you’re here now – even for a short time… Oh and look she’s licking your hand!” Indeed the tiny pup had picked up on Connor’s mild distress at divulging some of his past and chose that moment to instinctively begin laving his hand and chewing on his forefinger with sharp little teeth.

Connor smiled, caressed the baby soft fur once more and returned her to her mother to suckle.

Gracie grinned, “Xander would love that little one, she’s smart and feisty – just the type of dog he seems to prefer. Do you know if he’s planning on taking one of this current litter?”

The Brand was compelled to speak the truth, “Indeed it is my understanding – and she seems a fine choice.”

Gracie was reassured and again at ease with her enigmatic friend, encouraged by the obvious adoration of Poppie from Chloe’s first litter as the dog lay at his feet and looked up with expectation and hope. Gracie shook herself from her reverie as a familiar beep from Xander’s RV announced his arrival to pick up the dogs.

They discussed his acquiring of yet another of Chloe’s pups before a brief farewell and promise to ‘run’ again on the morrow.

Spike, Poppie and Luka settled on the back seat while Xander conveyed the ‘fallout’ from their early morning adventures.

“I spoke to Willow. Seems we’ve done what’s needed and Spike’s identity is still covered as far as Wolfram and Hart are concerned – though we do still need to talk to Willow again this evening.”

“The only risk would have been my involvement, though I believe that W&H would have been more concerned regards Andrew’s self promotion and pomposity. His last few blatant statements of ‘supremacy’, rising beyond the need for alliances and the like would not have gone unnoticed. With Mr Giles in my place there is still a protective magical presence in the Deeper Well. I suspect the Wolf, Ram and Hart may even have missed the switch.”

Xander took his eyes from the road for a moment, “They would know otherwise?”

“One of their own will no doubt have reported the event but I doubt there was any accurate details conveyed. The whole scheme to eliminate you may have been known but it was Andrew's idea not theirs. The Wolf, the Ram and the Hart are as much about balance as the Powers. There will always be enough earthly mahem and corruption to satisfy their tastes on our insignificant planet. ”

Xander slowed the car and parked at the side of the next street from their house, “Do we need to… I don't know, cover up anything?”

“All W&H will know is that an unfortunate earth movement caused the demise of their rather troublesome ‘plant’ of a Master vampire and his court. It will be but a trifle in the larger picture of their plans and may indeed serve their purposes. An upstart like that can draw undue attention to their activities and is best despatched. You will have no further trouble – at least for a while. There is no Hell Mouth here – it is those they would most rather utilise if possible. I believe the new one in Kabul is the latest to arise,”

Xander thought on the information for a moment, then reengaged the engine and drove home at speed.

It was late afternoon. Xander unloaded the dogs, unlocked the front then back doors and led Connor into the kitchen for a well earned cup of home brewed beer (courtesy of Tim at work).

Xander made his way around the house feeding the dogs and opening windows to let the late afternoon breeze through while Connor turned his glass and sipped occasionally.

Eventually the two men faced each other just as sundown approached.

Xander felt like the older brother (and potential father in law), regardless that he had no idea how old Connor really was. It was Xander’s turn to stare into the glass of amber fluid, “I… I’m not really sure how to start this conversation…”

Connor looked equally uncomfortable but managed, “Neither do I… but it must be had. I’ve never felt this for another being before… And as you probably know, my first encounter with love of sorts was an unmittigated disaster driven by a being with the Earth in her sights and causing the death of your first girlfriend - Cordelia Chase.”

Xander processed the information slowly. He knew Cordelia had died after a long coma courtesy of a conversation with Spike and some sketchy details from Willow, but had no idea of the full circumstances of her coming to that end. Connor noted the confusion and sadness.

"She was a hero to the end Xander. I too loved her."

Xander saw the raw hurt in the eyes of a man younger than he and remembered all the others he had lost Jesse, Anya, countless High School friends, young Slayers, his parents, even Spike. The hurt never really went away, though it mellowed with time.

And for the first time since they met Xander saw the young wounded, vulnerable boy of Angel and Darla’s making. A boy thrust into horrendous experiences and multiple worlds he had no control over, much less understood. Yet here was an individual who had stepped up to the plate again and again regardless – much as Xander had – and now was condemned, or blessed with the task he seemed so well suited… The Guardian of the Deeper Well. Yet there was still more. Xander knew loneliness, he knew abandonment and being 'screwed over' by whatever deity or life could fling at him; he knew loves and losses; the presence of the 'other' in one's life and warmed even more to the individual in front of him.

"What is it you really want to ask?"

"I... I would ask that you allow me to court Poppie, to take her as my consort. She would be timeless as such but also able to bear children which I know she would like. Sadly it cannot be in her current state. If we partner for all time then she will take on her human form, no longer able to change of a day time."

Xander pondered the point as he refilled the kettle, aware that Spike had padded into the house in anticipation of the change at sundown.

Connor turned the near empty cup in his hand slowly, eyes down. "I believe she has feelings for me too."

A baritone voice from the door of the kitchen interjected. Spike was standing shirtless, hands in pockets, "Is she the one d'ya reckon?"

Connor turned to the voice and simply answered, "Truth is all I can speak, but for you it's in the blood." And bared his neck.

Spike's face changed and with vampiric speed and accuracy he took of his relative's willingly offered blood.

Connor groaned a little as but two long drafts were followed by gentle laving and a kiss to the forehead. "Rest is up to her mate, and Xan o' course. But you have my blessing, and I am sure were your father here he too would rejoice." A wrist was opened and taken by the Brand.

A quiet "Thank you" from Connor was all that was heard for many minutes as Xander processed what had just taken place. Apparently the courting rituals of humans did not necessarily apply when it came to vampires, though the words may have been similar.

Xander finally cleared his throat, "Don't you think the decision should ultimately be Poppie's."

The changed Poppie arrived at the door just as the conversation finished, hair pulled back, feet bare, tight sweater and low slung jeans in place. She gave a rather embarrassed smile to the three men obviously discussing her future before requesting a private audience with Connor.

Connor obliged with a fleeting look to the father, Spike, and the 'Master', Xander, that drove his sincerity home.

Spike was the one to smile at her, look from Xander to Connor then answer, "The moon is out sweetheart, you might like to sit outside for a bit. Need to check on your little brother then Master and I have some unfinished business with Mistress Willow to attend to."

Xander shot a quizzical look to Spike but took the hint, "Yes, yes of course. Connor, I presume you don't mind."

Connor was already on his feet by the time the sentence was out and offered his hand to Poppie as he moved and politely, if a little shyly led her outside to sit on the back porch.

Spike meanwhile stood and silently indicated to Xander that he did indeed intend to contact Willow. As soon as they were logged on and the Skype call began to ping Mistress Willow, Xander could no longer contain his silence. "You are serious about the Willow thing?"

"Need to give the kids some time. But also need to ask the witch if it's all seeing's as there's never really been a 'wife and mother' in the Well. Implications and the like. She's ours and not to be hurt, sure to agree?"

Xander's "Oh... um... right" said it all.

Connor pulled Poppie down to sitting on the edge of the decking. The moon was indeed at her full glory, casting long eerie shadows over the back yard. After a long, almost awkward silence, Connor cleared his throat. Still holding her hand he turned his pale blue eyes to capture her gaze. "I guess you know what I want to ask?"

Poppie had been fiddling with the hem of her shirt with her free hand but stilled and answered an almost inaudible, "I was... I was... um... Just that... I thought we had a kind of connection and I know you are going home in less than two days and I wanted to know... because I..." In an embarrassed move, that of a star struck teenager rather than the glorious twenty something, she pulled her hand from his and pulled her knees to her chest, barely managing to perch on the edge of the deck via her human heels.

"I... I *really* more than like you... and I've never really felt like this before and... I wish... Could you, I mean...?"

Connor finished her sentence, "Love you? I am compelled to say the truth. And yes in truth I too feel the same, though you must realize the implications. But what is it you most want to ask?"

Poppie looked down at her hands for a moment, and belatedly Connor realized that there were tears dropping. "I... I want to have a litter... um... sorry... children... I know that sounds silly but... as it is I can't, and I don't want you to think that I am just..." She paused for a moment and regained composure, "I don't want you to think that my want for pups in any way is my only attraction to you... because I am... that is..."

Connor silenced her with a gentle kiss and caress through her long locks before resting his forehead against hers and quietly admitting his own attraction, "I too feel it and you can have children with me, though they will be of the human variety. For you it will mean a permanent change and far longer pregnancy, I'm sorry but that will be your fate. If you are with me you will no longer have your canine time. You need to decide if human and me are what you want." It was Connor's turn to look vulnerable as he quietly stroked the long hair of his (hopefully) life partner before whispering, "Do you need time to think about it?"

When no answer was forthcoming, Connor shifted a little and made to stand but was staid by a quiet hand and a single word, "No."

Connor lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it with sincerity and the aim of reassuring the girl, but kept his silence to give her the chance to speak further.

"Papa has explained to us who you are and what you must do... and Mistress Willow says that she will educate me... and any children at the coven, but is this... me... family... what you want?"

Connor kissed the hand again and replied with a simple, "Yes."

They sat in silence again for some time before a rather timid question from Poppie, "Is it cold in the Well? Because my feet get cold without fur and..."

Connor moved to lift her chin so their eyes met before replying, "It is always the same temperature in the Well, but if you are cold I will put thick skins around you and help you through." As though to illustrate a point Connor shook off his leather jerkin, removed his shirt and wrapped it around Poppie's chilled feet.

As he sat up again she gently and with some wonder, touched his unmarked, muscular chest. "Thank you... I..." Before she finished the thought her mouth was claimed by the softest of kisses that soon became more. Poppie had imagined what it was like to feel aroused before but nothing prepared her for the flush of heat that seemed to take her with that kiss. Her nether regions pulsed and felt full and wet, her heart began to race and she suddenly understood the human female feeling of arousal.

Connor pulled her closer, wrapped one arm around her waist and caressed her hair with the other deepening the kiss. Poppie reciprocated then pulled back a little embarrassed.

"I... Do you want this? I mean is it OK?"

"You are the an exquisite beauty Poppie, and yes this is OK, and yes I want... you... for all time. And you know I must speak the truth."

"Yes... Papa explained that part." Poppie looked directly into Connor's eyes with her next statement, "I want a litter... um... children. I think I need that... and I well... are you OK if we could have... you know...?"

"It is also what I would wish... with you. And yes we can have children but are you ready to become only human form, no longer able to change?"

Poppie fell silent thinking long and hard. Relinquishing her dog form was almost like denying her birthright, her family, her identity... but at the same time she was already not all dog and it would allow her family and she would always have Master and Papa and Mama and... though so far away. She finally settled on "May I visit... you know from time to time?"

Connor's compulsion answer the truth to a question dictated, "Of course, though it may only be occasionally as you will be the Mistress of the Well and so not completely human but nevertheless bound by its rules."

Though still in a gentle embrace Poppie considered her options while staring at the full moon and odd shadows it made in the garden. Dog by day, human by night... or something else that allowed a human form, children and a partner who was (well it seemed) kind, compassionate and very loving toward her. And a relative of Papa and Master's! It was all too confusing.

"You need time, I realize that but... I have only ever felt such attraction to another once before. You are the one Poppie but if it is all too much I won't press the matter and we can remain friends for all time." Connor eased them down until they were lying on the porch and let his hand drift to her inner thigh a little and simply rub the jeans gently as they kissed again. He knew her arousal, could smell it but knew better than to take it too far without her approval and more particularly their full commitment to each other. Accutely aware also that she was a virgin and a changeling and coupling would change her status forever and she needed to understand that.

The caressing and kissing lasted many long minutes until Poppie broke the silence, "What of Luka?"

"It is his destiny to follow your father. He will be turned in due course and at his own request. He will remain a changeling, but also be able to sire children should he wish, just as your father has."

Poppie simply answered, "Oh..." but felt no real jealousy. Luka would have pups and a vampire's life by night. It would be enough. She only hoped he found a loving partner as she had.

Connor was a little surprised as Poppie appeared to shift gears, sat up, pulling him up in the process and announced, "Then I say yes, let this be done and I will remain you mistress/consort/whatever until the end of our days. Call Mistress Willow and make the arrangements - I can hardly spend six months in UK quarantine as part dog part human!"

The two eventually returned to the loungeroom hand in hand. Luka was asleep on the couch. Poppie could have sworn she could see his lanky teenager boy's body emerging by the day, but he had such a blissful look on his face in slumber and she noted that father was stroking his pretty dark blonde locks rhythmically just as he did a semi awake Xander.

Father smiled to her and whispered, "All well pet?"

"Yes father... but can we wait until morning for the [yawn] debrief?"

"Of course luv. You need a sleepy time top up?" Spike waved his wrist and noted the rather shy shake of the head as Connor left her at her bedroom door. "No I'll be fine."

Then all went quiet in the house, evening only punctuated by Spike carrying an exhausted Xander to their regular bedroom after covering Luka with a soft throw rug.

The new day brought the change and much to be done, not least of which was a visit to Chloe and the new pups. They were all nuzzled in turn and Xander, having taken a few hours off work explained the dilemma. Gracie was amazed that he would 'give away' Poppie, but had seen the kind relative and knew he was one to deal with older dogs. She gave Connor the full low down on Poppie's history, temperament and anything else she could think of. Also stressing that Poppie was the perfect age to breed should he be so inclined, though her register of European breeders seemed a little 'thin'.

Connor put her at ease with a blindingly handsome smile and admission that 'what would be will be."

For his part Xander again chose a little girl to not so much fill Poppie's place but to honour her, it was the same little feisty pup that had snuggled with Connor the previous day. Maisie had light markings and piercing blue eyes along with expressions that could already be seen to mean mischief and/or undying love. The smallest of Chloe's latest litter, she was an obvious choice. Still three weeks out to her final vaccinations, the little one would remain with mother for some time yet, but Xander, Spike and Connor felt her strength even now. Spike resolved to speak to Black Feather as soon as the little girl was 'home'. With the threat of the Calgary 'and surrounds' Master now abated it was just possible she would not have to undergo the changes of her father or brother and sister... It was a worry for another day.

Connor's needs - and Poppie's for that matter - were swiftly dealt with. There was trepidation on the part of the father and master, but the bond was already obvious to any with the ability to detect a magical signature. A formal ceremony was communed for the following evening, the tickets passports etc to Europe hurriedly finalized (courtesy of some of Willow's 'contacts') and Mistress Blackfeather contacted - thrilled to preside over the proceedings.

For the unusual and sudden marriage ceremony of the two, Xander had dug deep... As Poppie spent her last day in dog form running with Gracie's team, two matching rings were purchased by Xander with Spike's approval from the most exclusive jewelers in Calgary. They were perfectly shaped (brilliant cut) sapphires with tiny diamonds trailing along the band in either direction, a small one for Poppie and larger fit for Connor.

Spike spent the day with his daughter, aware that her decision was final and that this would be the last time she would experience her birth form. He worried for her, nuzzled and licked her throughout the day in a way that had Gracie a little puzzled. She had been invited to the partnering ceremony of William's niece and Connor and had also been told that Poppie (the neice's namesake - and how ironic was that!) would be departing for England with Connor.

Just after sundown Mistress Blackfeather presided as Spike led his daughter clad only in an long white shirt (one of Xander's) into the humble lounge room of Xander's Calgary home. Connor was similarly clad and waiting already kneeling with Xander in the pentagram of magical dust. As soon as the two joined their respective partners holding hands tight, the Mistress began to chant in the 'old' language. Poppie would now, like her partner, be in human form and 'timeless' until the demise of the Brand. Mistress Blackfeather walked widdershins around the four kneeling as she chanted and was pleased to see the pentagram glow then apparently disappear in a shower of bright sparkles, much to Luka's apparent delight.

The more casual yet hurried 'human' arrangements had meant that only immediate family and friends were present for a more standard civil ceremony. Guests included Jerry, Connie and the boys, David and Chris, and of course the lovely Gracie, Richard and Mike and Greta Woolnough (Gracie's parents), flanked by Chloe and small puppies (at Poppie's request) and added to as Willow and the coven on the other side of the world watched them via video conference.

Fairly standard nuptuals and exchanging of rings were delivered with such adoration that even Jerry had a tear in his eye. The two were so obviously in love that all present sent wishes to which ever deity it was that they worshiped that the two might be blessed with long life and happiness. If only they knew the origins of the two, it would have been wished tenfold.

Connor lifted the veil of his beautiful wife, the same veil that had married Jerry's wife and her mother before her. It had been a loaned gift unbidden and one that had Xander hug the lovely Carrie shortly before proceedings. This was a 'pay it on' moment. Xander's neice had found her match as had he all those years ago... as had her mother before her and his father for that matter... it was only fair.

The kiss following the declaration of 'man and wife' was long and true, the promise eternal... noone in the room other than immediate family knew how final this decision was.

Xander invited all present outside into the moonlit garden - all taking a drink of choice from the table as they alighted the patio but Connor could not help himself. He picked up his beautiful new wife and carried her from the lounge, down the steps of the deck and into the garden and proceded to kiss her with all present as witness then turned slowly and with tears tracking down simply stated, "This is the love of my life. I can ask for no more but that we might one day be blessed with children... Poppie... completes me. And to my darling... I am yours always and in all ways. If I disappoint or distress you then all here present shall protect and guide you. Our children will be beautiful just as those around you bless the world with their presence... I... Oh... I'm sorry... Xander?"

It was intepreted as a call for the father of the bride, or the uncle. Xander stepped up and pulled Spike with him. "We, William and I, could not be prouder on this day. Yours and our beautiful Poppie are now all time partners in William's family and by association, mine. And thank you *all* for celebrating this momentous event with us and let us all toast the happy couple."

A hearty "To the happy couple" was followed by much celebration, though 'William' was careful to sort some sleeping arrangements for Chloe and the pups before the night wore too thin. Gracie again touched by his concern, her frown not leaving before she had to ask... "So you..."

"Love huskies... yeah... Truth be known one in another life." His wicked blue eyed wink left her utterly enamoured but also wondering. William was something out of the ordinary... but then again so was Alexander... and what was she really thinking. Any pup that found their way to this household was indeed a lucky one. And who was she to question... she had only just found love and... and... and... She rejoined the revellers happy in the knowledge that her dear Chloe and pups were resting happily in the laundry on a plushy mat.

Carrie had cornered Poppie as Connor was drawn into a conversation with Mike, Xander and Gracie's beau Richard.

"So you are heading home again so soon... What a shame - we've hardly gotten to know you!"

Poppie still had three years plus of memories of 'knowing' Jerry and his family, but could hardly admit that so took strength from the smile across the way from her father and simply stated, "Yes, the decision does seem quite sudden, but I'm sure we will be back sometime. We have family here. It only seems natural that we would want to return. And aren't your boys a delight! Connor and I both want to start a family, but my uncle is a bit of a stickler for the old rules... you know..." It was a statement she was glad father had insist she rehearse as it seemed to placate any doubt and prevent further questions. As an after thought she took the veil from her hair and folded it ever so gently adding, "I do so appreciate the loan of your veil. I am sure it has good tidings attached to it. Thank you."

Carrie was about to refuse as Poppie handed it to her but the "I think your boys will have someone in their future who needs it too" had the kind woman shedding a tear and touched by the girl's genuine thanks.

At the end of a very long night, pups, dogs, wives, children and partners were all ushered out and finally on their way home, and Poppie and Connor were sitting rather exhausted on the lounge hand in hand. And for the first time since all the festivities, Poppie was able to talk to her partner and her father in private as Spike squatted in front of his beautiful daughter.

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