Kin of the Soul


31. Chapter 31

Angel pulled Xander to the couch and handed over the remote control. Any time Angel not only volunteered to watch television but also volunteered to let Xander pick the show, Xander knew he was totally freaking out. Then again, Harmony as a vamp was slightly freak-worthy. Considering the number of times Xander had freaked and forced Angel to do the male-bonding thing, turn about was pretty fairplayish.

"I can dust her," Angel blurted out in the middle of Xander flipping between wrestling and some cooking show.

"You... what? Why?"

Angel looked at Xander with a frown. "You're upset. If we need help, we can hire someone. Spike and I planned to deal with Magnus Hainsley, a necromancer that U'talaba told us about. He's digging up the bodies of the wealthy and then using them to manipulate their families, and digging up attractive people to sell to demons to help them manifest in this dimension."

Xander shivered in horror. "Can I just say 'ew' here? Although, I suppose doing creepy things with a dead person is less creepy than doing that to a live one." Xander seriously needed to stop watching the news because the freaky, creepy things humans did was just as bad as anything demons could cook up. "So, rich bad guy?" Xander asked. "And you're going after him for the money?"

Angel's frown deepened. Yep, scratch the surface and Angel's guilt showed up right on time.

"Which is fair if the bad guy is bad enough that you would go after him even without the money," Xander hurried to add. "But I'm still not seeing what that has to do with killing Harmony. Or rekilling her. I actually got her killed already." Xander stopped. He really wished he could ignore that little truth, but he couldn't. Harmony had followed him into battle against the mayor, so if she was walking around undead, he had his own guilt to deal with. Angel reached out and caught Xander's hand.

"She chose to fight. That wasn't your fault."

"Hey, if you get to keep all your irrational guilt, so do I," Xander said. But he squeezed Angel's hand back. His head—and Riley and Graham and Buffy and Angel—had all told him that it wasn't his fault, but that didn't really help his heart. He had no idea how guys like Riley and Graham did it because he would never go into the military where he had to face life and death stuff every day... not that Buffy had ever been giving a choice. Buffy or Faith. And truthfully, Harmony hadn't really had a choice either because she'd always been a follower—someone who tried to impress people and get praise and if showing school spirit meant picking up a stake and fighting monsters, she'd do it without even thinking about the whole possibly dying part. She'd be crushed by getting left out, which in her mind was probably way worse than being dead.

"But seriously, Angel, I'm not really big on staking Harmony—not unless you think she's some sort of super secret agent uber-vamp planning to kill us all in our sleep."

The look Angel gave him made it pretty clear he didn't buy that, which meant that Xander's whole theory of vamps was pretty much blown because he'd never really thought of a vampire turning out pretty much harmless. Angel pulled Xander closer and slipped an arm around his shoulders. "I've seen it before—vampires who just didn't have any dark tendencies before they were turned. It's rare, but it happens." A quick twist of Angel's mouth also suggested that he was remembering someone other than Harmony. "But that doesn't mean she's harmless. She will try to eat you if she's hungry."

"She may try to eat random guy off the street, but not even Harmony is dumb enough to try and eat me," Xander pointed out.

"So you aren't worried about having her around? Scared?" Angel asked with such earnestness that Xander was almost offended.

"Hey, I’m not exactly chopped liver." Xander jabbed Angel with an elbow. "I can take out a fledge. What is up with you assuming I'm freaking over having a fledge in the house? I mean, yeah, I'm freaking over Harmony being here, but I'm not freaking about fledges in general."

"You smell distressed."

"And again with the vampy weirdness. Have I not pointed out that the sniffing is oddly inappropriate?"

"A few hundred times," Angel admitted. However, he wasn't promising to avoid any future sniffing.

"Yeah, well your sniffer may sniff good, but your logic circuits are all wonky. I am not afraid of Harmony. I'm distressed over this stuff with Cordelia and money and thinking maybe I've been spending way too much of it."

"You've done a wonderful job with the hotel."

"I've done a spectacular job," Xander corrected him, "but that is not to say that I've been careful with the money. But then, I didn't know we should be careful with the money—which was slightly stupid of me, but then...." Xander shrugged. He wasn't known for being good at picking things up on his own, not unless it included power tools and wood. "So I'm oddly okay with having Harmony around, but I'm not at all happy about being unlooplike on the money front. Did you plan to tell me we were in trouble?"

"Cordelia just worries."

"Well, duh. Geez, Angel. Her dad totally ruined her life by losing all their money. I think she's going to have issues over you losing all our money... or me spending all our money because I'm starting to think that I might have helped on the whole losing of the money front."

"It's not your fault," Angel hurried to reassure him.

"No, it's yours," Xander said. Angel sat up, clearly surprised at that. Then again, Xander was usually more for reassuring Angel, but this time, Angel had really stuck his foot in a big pile of steaming stupid. "You should have told me. I was spending money like we had huge piles of treasure, mostly because I thought we had big piles of treasure. And Cordelia should not have to worry about things like mortgages by herself. Not when money stresses her out so much. Angel, if Spike hadn't been paying for her apartment, what do you think she would have been using for money?"

Angel opened his mouth, but then closed it again without answering.

"Exactly. And Cordelia without money would not have been good. I mean, some of us have been raised from birth on poverty. I know how to shop at Goodwill and work crap jobs. Cordelia—not so much. Money is going to make her cranky. Or, more to the point, the lack of money is going to make her cranky. It will make her cranky and unCordeliaish, and as much as I sometimes wish she would pull her claws back a little bit, I don't actually want her to change."

"Not having money would change her?" Angel frowned. Clearly they had entered new territory. Then again, Liam had died before he had to worry about bills and mortgages--assuming they had mortgages in the 1700's.

"In ways I don't want to think about," Xander agreed. "I have no idea whether she'd turn all shrewish and criminal or if she'd be all insecure, but she'd be unCordeliaish. And if she's afraid the rest of us are going to put her in the poorhouse, bad things are going to happen."

Angel slowly nodded, like he was still trying to process that one. "Should I worry about money more?"

"Definitely. I think we all need to be worrying about money more. So, if we're taking in permanent residents, I'm just as happy to have someone around to wash the sheets. I'm just worried that all our sheets are going to be pink or get shrunk or shredded or something. I'm not really thinking of Harmony as the best choice of maids."

"She'll do what she's told unless she wants Spike to deal with her," Angel said firmly. And that was where Xander just didn't want to go. Yeah, Harmony was officially all vamp now, which put her under vamp rules, and vamp rules included blood and beatings--even when the vamps liked each other--but Xander was not going to let his brain go there. Nope. He was pretending than any hole in the hallway drywall came from a spontaneous attack of air pressure, not Spike putting Harmony's head through it.

Angel tilted his head in confusion, but before he could say anything, someone knocked on the door. Without waiting for an answer, the door cracked open a little.

"Is anyone available?" Graham called out without looking in. Xander felt his face heat up as he realized that Graham had assumed they'd come up for some sex.

"Really, we shouldn't bother them," Wesley protested softly.

"Come in," Angel said after giving an annoyed sigh. Xander figured they were all pretty lucky that Angel wasn't Angelus because the family could be a little annoying, and annoying Angelus was never wise. Xander tried to put a little distance between himself and Angel, just enough to stop the sex rumors, but Angel tightened his hold, tugging Xander closer until they were pretty much plastered up against one another. Giving up, Xander just leaned into Angel and let the big dork make his possessive claim.

"I don't want to disturb you," Graham started as he came around the door.

"Truly, that would not be my goal on my first day of employment." Wesley agreed, but he trailed in behind Graham clutching a newspaper. "I'm sure this can wait."

"I'm more sure it can't." Graham reached out for the paper, and Wesley reluctantly surrendered it.

"Just to make it clear, I am in no way making any sort of accusation. I am simply noting a pattern of interest," Wesley added as Graham opened the paper and held it out. Angel finally let go of Xander in order to reach out for it.

"You want us to see the sale at Bloomingdale's? I'm not THAT gay," Xander protested as he read over Angel's shoulder. He was gay, yeah, but he had his manly limits.

"The murder," Graham said, pointing to a picture near the bottom of the page. A woman's smiling picture didn't match the story, which described a woman who'd been murdered and a cross carved into her cheek by a serial killer the police were calling "The Pope."

"Vaguely insulting to Catholic people," Xander said. "And cryptically disturbing in a creepy serial kind of way." He looked over at Angel, but for a dead guy, Angel had done a good job of losing what little color he normally had in his face.

Wesley scrunched his face up oddly. "I never would have mentioned it, except that I kept dossiers on all those whom the counsel deemed a threat to the slayers."

"Which included me," Angel said flatly. Clearly, Xander was missing something. He looked at Angel for some sort of explanation, but Angel was just staring at the newspaper with his best guilt-ridden face going.

"You know I'll follow your lead here, but do you have any idea what we're looking at?" Graham asked.

"Hey, I have an idea. It's called explaining to the Xander what's going on." Xander poked Angel in the side, and Angel started like he hadn't realized Xander was still sitting there or something.

"It's what I used to do," Angel said quietly. "I've been dreaming. I thought the demon was just...." Angel stopped.

"Dreaming as in?" Xander prompted him.

"I dreamed I did this. I dreamed that I was feeding on her blood, that I was feeding on her fear." Angel pushed the paper toward Xander.

"Oh dear." Wesley started backing toward the door, but Graham just looked confused.

"But weren't you here with Xander?"

"That's a hell yes on the air-tight alibi," Xander agreed. "Angel, I know you like to feel guilty for things that you have no control over like the ozone and Cordelia, but you did not kill this woman."

"Yes, I did."

"Unless you can split yourself in—"

"I made the vampire who did this," Angel said, cutting Xander off mid-reassuring comment.

"Whoa? Drusilla is in town? Considering that she hates me, I think I'll be carrying extra holy water."

But Angel was already shaking his head. "Not Drusilla. Penn." Angel got up and was moving toward the door so fast that Graham nearly stumbled getting out of his way and Wesley fell back against the wall with a distressed little noise.

"Angel?" Xander called, but Angel didn't even stop. "Damn it," Xander cursed softly before he ran after him.

Angel was already going through the weapons cabinet when Xander got to the main floor. Cordelia and Harmony were watching with a sort of worried confusion, but Faith was just sprawled on the couch with her knife and a demon-killing expression.

"We have a job, boss-man?" Faith asked. Angel stopped, a sword in hand.

"Who's Penn?" Xander asked.

"Why the fuck are you asking after that wanker?" Spike demanded, and that was not a happy look.

It was Graham who answered. "I'm not sure, but I think Angel suspects Penn is in town."

"Bloody fucking hell. If you bring that hairy-arsed nancy-boy back here, I'm not playing second fiddle. He can bloody well take his place under me." Spike took a step forward, his body tense like he was ready to jump Penn right now.

"We're bringing him back here?" Xander wasn't sure how he felt about that because, in general, he disapproved of serial killing. And yet he had slept with two of the most famous serial killers in vamp history, which said something about his moral flexibility.

"I don't know." Angel shoved his sword into its sheath and started for the door.

"Whoa, hey, wait up," Xander said, hurrying after him. If Angel was off making the big moral choices, no way was Xander letting him go on his own. Angel's moral compass was a little rusty, and when he went listening to his own brain, stupid shit tended to fall out.

Angel stopped at the door. "You are not coming with me."

"Try and stop me."

Angel clenched his jaw, and Xander had the feeling that the vampy parts of Angel were all ready to chain Xander to the nearest surface.

"Okay, so you can totally stop me," Xander admitted. When faced with vampy insecurities, confrontation was not exactly the smart approach. He'd figured that out after Spike had sat on him about a million times. "And I know you could stop me with without lifting more than one finger, but we're supposed to be equals and you said all that stuff about being m'fhear—about us really being fond of each other, but if you make me stay behind, that's more about pushing me around and making me feel unwanted. So, before you get your vampy strength going, you need to figure out if this is a fight worth winning."

For a second, Xander thought he'd lost and Angel was about to ask Spike to hold him back or something. But then Angel's shoulders slumped.

"Faith, watch his back," Angel said.

"Hold on, Peaches," Spike interrupted. "Soldier boy's about as good as Faith, so take him."

Xander looked around, confused, but most everyone else looked about as confused as he was, including Faith and Angel.

"I can cover him," Graham said. "We should probably leave some fighters here anyway. If he's been in town long enough to kill three people, then he's heard about you and he probably knows where to find you."

"See, boy's got a point," Spike said. He walked over and stood next to Faith.

"I'm five-by-five either way, boss-man," Faith offered.

"Can I go? Maybe Penn will pair up with me," Harmony said with a whole lot more cheerfulness than Xander normally associated with a vampire.

"Graham, watch his back or...." Angel didn't finish that. He just turned around and stormed out of the hotel.

"And fun times were had by all," Xander said sarcastically. Graham gave him a half-nod before they both went after Angel. Given a chance, the big goober would probably take off in the car and leave them behind.

Angel was already behind the wheel, gripping it so tightly that Xander feared for the plastic. "So, where are we going because driving around the city doesn't seem like the brightest of plans." Xander went to get in the backseat, but Graham caught him by the arm, stopping him and getting in the backseat himself.

"I can feel where he is," Angel said, his voice sharp.

"Well that's a weird and oddly useful skill you've picked up. Back in Sunnydale when Spike first showed up, you didn't have tracking radar for Drusilla, and she was yours, right?" Xander grabbed at the dashboard as Angel took a corner so fast that Xander's life flashed in front of his face.

"I wasn't feeding well, I wasn't training. I had denied so much of my demon that I couldn't feel my own childer." Angel was still sounding on the way side of cranky.

"Can all vampires do that?" Graham asked. For a second, Angel didn't answer, and Xander exchanged a worried look with Graham. Angel was famous for freaking out, but this was a little much, even for him.

"Master vampires can," Angel finally answered. "But only with the ones they invested time in and exchanged blood multiple times."

"So Penn was a favorite?" Xander grimaced. Okay, any vamp who had been a favorite of Angelus had issues on his issues, so this was sounding unsmartlike. In fact, he was thinking that they should steer clear of Penn rather than give him an invite to Sunday dinner. If Penn was anything like Angelus had been, the humans would end up dinner. Xander wasn't worried for himself, but he glanced back toward Graham. The man had been training and could officially kick Xander's ass at this point, but no human had good odds going up against a century old vamp.

Angel didn't answer, but he mashed his foot down on the accelerator. If they didn't all die in a fiery crash, Xander was going to have to torture some information out of Angel, but right now, a change of topic seemed in order.

"Graham, any idea what the weirdness is with Spike and Faith?"

Surprisingly, it was Angel who answered. "Spike tells her how I humiliated and tortured him and how he still wanted my approval."

Xander could only blink in shock. "What? Why?"

"I overheard them. Spike wasn't saying anything that wasn't true. I did torture him. I didn't like that Drusilla chose to turn him, but once he was turned, I loved torturing him because he was the sort of man my father would have wanted as a son—obedient, respectful... smart." Angel took another corner at death-defying speeds. This time, even Graham grabbed for a handhold before he could get thrown around.

"Actually, I think they were talking about Faith's father," Graham said. "She's trying to let go of her anger and guilt and really deal with the issue. She spents a lot of time on the phone with Blair, but Spike..."

"Can relate to being tortured," Angel finished.

"He can relate to loving someone even though they hurt you," Graham corrected him. "I can't really understand what Faith went through, and Blair can listen, but he can't relate any more than I can. Spike has turned out to be a good friend."

"And I am really hoping you mean a non-orgasm friend because a Cordelia-Faith smackdown would probably take out the entire hotel and half a city block." More than that, Xander just hated the idea of the two women fighting. "I mean, Spike and Angel are sort of a separate issue what with the..."

"Sire bond," Angel offered.

"Which is unlike a relationship bond, but if Spike and Faith were having relationship bonding of the orgasmic nature, that would be world-ending bad."

"No, no orgasms," Graham agreed. "I actually think that's why Spike wanted to talk to her without me around."

"To have orgasms? Because we're back to bad."

"No, to talk about orgasms," Graham corrected him. "Faith backhanded Harmony hard enough to put her over a desk just because she asked if she could sleep with me. As a vamp, Harmony could smell that I haven't been with anyone for quite a while, and from her perspective, it was a logical question."

Angel interrupted, his voice colored with Irish. "No, it wasn't. She'll learn to respect that humans make their own choices in our clan or I'll teach her that lesson myself." Yep, Angel had on the cranky pants tonight.

"Fair enough," Graham agreed. He'd learned even faster than Xander that it really didn't work to try and argue with vampires. They just sat on you when they didn't get their way. "I suspect that Spike is going to tell Faith that if she feels strong enough to defend me from Harmony, she should just claim me herself. This is really an odd reversal of the gender roles, and I'm just glad that I have a healthy ego and lots of opportunities to kill monsters or I really would be developing a complex over this." Graham gave Xander a crooked smile and a shrug.

"If you want, you can borrow my power tools if you ever need to feel more manly," Xander offered.

"Thanks. Right now, I'm wondering how you two would feel if Faith and I did want to start a physical relationship."

"Hey, I assumed you already had one, so count me in the 'totally okay with it' column," Xander offered.

"Hurt her and I'll drain ye and leave yer body for scavengers."

Xander stared at Angel in horror. Okay, that was not even sounding like his joking voice. That sounded downright homicidally creepy. Normally that voice only came out when someone mentioned Jenny Giles.

"Understood," Graham answered calmly. "I suspect you'd have to fight Spike and Cordelia for any bloody remains you wanted to dispose of, though."

"I probably would," Angel agreed as he pulled into the parking lot of an old-fashioned hotel. "He's here."

Xander looked up and wondered what exactly they were doing. "And is this good?" he asked.

Angel stared straight forward. "He's clan," Angel said slowly. Xander cringed at that tone of voice because he completely understood. Xander's father was family, and Xander would never do anything to hurt him, even though the man was a total waste of human flesh. Maybe he had more in common with Faith than he thought—not that his father's negligence was anywhere near the level of her father's totally deservingness of death.

"Are we gathering intel or do we have an objective?" Graham asked from the back.

For a second, Angel continued to sit and stare at the hotel. "We gather intel," Angel finally said before getting out. Xander hurried to follow, Graham at his side. Angel had his dark avenger look on as he strode up the front, his coat billowing around him. Not even stopping at the desk, Angel went right to the stairs.

"Sir, sir!" the front desk staff called after them.

"We have our room number, thank you," Graham called over his shoulder before both Xander and Graham had to break into a trot to keep up. The finally reached the fifth floor, and Xander could feel his side cramp up. He definitely needed to train more. Construction was helping him with strength, but if he had to run for his life, he was woefully out of shape. Angel, of course, didn't have a hair out of place as he stood in front of a hotel room. He didn't knock. He simply stood outside the door staring at it. Right about the time Xander was going to open his mouth to ask what Angel was doing, the door flew open and a young man was standing there.

"Angelus! My God! It's been a lifetime!" Joy lit the man's face as he leaned in to slap Angel on his arms in an odd sort of greeting.

"It seems even longer than that," Angel agreed.

"We were supposed to meet in Italy, remember?" So this was Penn. He was attractive in an Oz sort of way with the spiky hair and the laid-back vibe. After seeing Drusilla and Spike, this was not what Xander had expected from another of Angel's childer.

"I remember."

"Well, I waited. Hell, I waited until the 19th century. I never heard a word about you until I heard you set up a formal court in L.A. I never thought that would be your style, old man. So, are these your own personal Renfields?" Penn looked over and gave Xander and Graham such an unapologetically sexual exam with his eyes that Xander was shocked into silence. Graham stepped forward and pulled a stake out of his pocket.

"Wow, you let them—" Penn didn't get any farther. Angel grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him back into the room. Graham hurried after them, and Xander was one step behind him. Inside, he found Angel pinning Penn up against the wall.

"You dunna talk to them without permission, boy. Understand?"

Penn brought a leg up and slammed it into Angel's groin. Xander ached in sympathy, but Angel just stretched his neck first one way and then the other like a runner stretching before a race. "Seems like William kicks harder than you do these days." Angel leaned in and sniffed Penn's neck, trapping him until Xander could see Penn sag in Angel's grasp. Clearly Penn was so out of his league with Angel.

"Yeah, I understand," Penn finally agreed. Angel smiled and slowly backed away.

"So, you've come to my town, which presents me with a problem," Angel said.

"Look, I know I should have come and paid respects to you first, but give me a little time, and I'll bring you a proper tribute in nuns. I know how you always liked them." Penn tilted his head as if he was sharing a secret with Angel, and Xander was starting to officially not like this guy.

Angel backed away until he stood right in front of Xander and Graham. "So, Xander, Graham, this is Penn. I created him in 1786."

"You turned me in 1786, you created me over the years that followed. You taught me everything I needed to know," Penn said, his head ducked low in submission. "I should have come to you, but I didn't want to come to you with nothing. I wanted to show you that I have become the great vampire you always said you could see in me." Penn moved over to the wall of his hotel room where dozens of newspaper clipping covered the wall. "The whole city fears me," he said, ghosting his hand over the wall and the articles all neatly pinned in place. Xander could see a few headlines, and they were not the sort of articles that Xander would brag about. Then again, Xander wasn't a soulless serial killer. Penn was.

"So, Xander, what do you think of the oldest of my childer?" Angel asked.

"He's... um... well—" Xander stopped, and Penn turned to snarl at him, yellow eyes glowing in the dim light.

"He is the only reason I haven't staked you, Penn," Angel warned.

"Me?" Xander looked at Angel in confusion because there's no way Xander said anything to side with the serial killer who thought grabbing up a bunch of nuns would be a nice 'I just came to town' gift.

Angel tilted his head. "You always give clan a second chance when you allow others to die."

"What?" Xander could hear his voice squeak, and Graham was looking at him with these big worry-eyes, like his psychology brain was going overtime and planning impromptu therapy sessions, which Xander totally did not need. He knew when he needed therapy, and he was not therapy-needing right now. "I never let people die," Xander protested.

"Why are you asking him for anything? He is human," Penn spat out, using the word human like a curse word.

"You let the human in the auction die," Angel said to Xander with undisguised confusion, completely ignoring Penn.

"Which one? Because I am voting 'no' to letting people die."

"The young man who wanted the mummy."

"Oh." Xander cringed as he remembered the guy. "Okay, but he was sort of bringing his own death on. I mean, when you go running at death squealing with girly joy, you kinda get what you're asking for."

"You let him die because he squealed?" Angel tilted his head as he clearly struggled to understand that rule.

Xander closed his eyes and shook his head as he realized what Angel had thought. "You thought I let him die because he wasn't clan." It was a very vampy way of looking at things.

"Well... yes," Angel said. "You accepted Spike and you let the man in the auction run to his death."

Xander walked to the bed and sat down as he realized just how far off the moral deep end Angel had just fallen. "Newsflash, Angel. People who only save family and let everyone else die... they're pretty much evil. Not slaying evil, but the sort of evil you don't sit down and have lunch and lemonade with."


"I let the guy at the auction die because he didn't want to be saved. He was running right for evil with a big old smile on his face. It's like the suckhouses. If we went in there and staked all the vamps, those humans would be going out the next night looking for new vamps." Angel was still looking confused. "Maybe it's more like my father," Xander tried again. "He would totally take my help if by help I meant money. But he isn't really asking for help, and I can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. So, I just don't talk to him. But Spike came to us for help. He wanted to be part of the family, and he changed to make himself fit into our lives. Even Harmony came asking for help and offering to try and change. It's the whole wanting to change versus wanting to live in evil."

"It's like Gunn," Graham said softly, stepping closer.

"The guy you and Faith have been training?" Xander asked.

Graham nodded. "He's busting his ass to do the right thing, so Faith and I spend a lot of time training his crew. Maybe other people are out there dying because we don't always finish the entire patrol, but the right thing is to help people who really want to be helped. They do. Besides, if Gunn and Alonna and Joey and the others can learn to take care of themselves, then we can hold that neighborhood. We have to choose where we can maximize our impact."

"Do the most good with the little time we actually have," Xander summarized.

"It's a solid military tactic."

"And that's way less morally creepy than just helping family, which sounds a lot like just helping yourself."

"Angelus? What are they going on about?" Penn demanded. Xander looked up in time to see Penn outlined in dust before his figure exploded and tiny bits of ash floated to the floor.

"They're just explaining where I misunderstood something important," Angel told the small pile of ash left on the floor.

"Okay, that was unexpected and yet anticlimactic."

"I have to say, I expected more fight out of a 200 year old vampire," Graham agreed.

"He always was too predictable," Angel said without any hint of sorrow at having just dusted his kid. "I'm surprised he lived this long. And he never would have asked for help or tried to change. He liked the world of hatred I showed him too much. That's why I chose him, so I wouldn't be alone in my hatred for the world." Angel reached out a hand toward Xander. When Xander put his own hand in Angel's, Angel pulled him up and slipped an arm around his shoulders before guiding him toward the exit. "Let's go home."



32. Chapter 32

Angel watched as Wesley slowly blushed until he looked like he might catch fire, even without Jheira using her sexual heat on him.

"Yes, well, just doing my job." Wesley stammered the words out, and Angel could tell that more than one of the women from Oden Tal were taken with him. Then again, after surviving slavery and a government that would turn them into slaves and sexual submissives by physically removing their will, the women had good cause to be attracted to a man who didn't want to dominate them.

"Your job will save many of my people," Jheira told him, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek. Wesley's face brightened even more.

"Sometimes the intel is more important that the frontline battle," Graham agreed with her.

"Battle's more fun, though," Faith added, leaning into his side. From the smell, Graham was not only satisfying her but also making her happy. Angel was grateful for that. Hopefully Graham would continue to be good for her because a break up would not be comfortable in the middle of the clan, not that he was worried. Graham had clearly waited until Faith was ready to have a relationship that was healthy. Xander leaned into Angel, and Angel was temporarily distracted from clan business by the smell of an excited and sweaty Xander. The battle with the Vigories had been short and brutal—at least for the Vigories—but Xander had actually made his first kill in weeks.

"Hey, I think the ability to control that portal so the Vigories can't follow is very much of the good. That was a seriously good job, Wesley," Xander offered.

"Yes, well, it was an impressive bit of synthesis between Sumerian and Vo'tak incantations, if I do say so myself." Wesley smiled at the group, and then nearly died of blushing when Jheira smiled back. The man might not be a fighter. In fact, Angel had nearly broken Wesley's neck himself after Wesley had accidentally tripped Xander during the battle, but he was finding his own way.

"You have all earned our gratitude. Your people have great hearts."

"Yep, that's us, all heartlike." Xander smiled and slipped an arm around Angel's waist.

"And feel free to show us your gratitude in any way you would care to, but gemstones are always a welcome tribute," Cordelia answered. Angel sighed. Luckily, Jheira was far more understanding, perhaps because she was a leader who had to care for the practical details for her people. Angel was starting to understand that having Spike to enforce demonic etiquette and Cordelia to manage money made his life infinitely easier.

"I have asked one of my sisters to bring a piece of jewelry I inherited from my family. I would be grateful if you would accept it as a proper tribute."

Cordelia gave Jheira a nod that suggested that she was happy. "And if you ever need a place to hide, just let us know and we'll get the fourth floor cleared out for you."

"I will keep your clan in mind. I hope we will continue to be allies for many years."

Harmony opened her mouth to make some comment that would probably end the alliance on the spot, but Spike walked by and pinched her arm in passing before moving to Cordelia's side.

"Ow!" Harmony loudly complained, rubbing her arm.

"I hope we meet again soon," Jhiera offered.

"Next time, just try to avoid assuming I'm one of the bad guys," Angel suggested. While he could understand her suspicion, he did not appreciate the way she'd attacked when he and Spike had gotten too close to the place where the portal was about to deliver one of the Oden Tal women. If he'd been human, the spear through the stomach would have been a problem.

Jhiera looked away, clearly chastised. That was all Angel had wanted—proof that the woman would be a little more careful about who might get caught in the middle of her war. Of course, Wesley's incantations would make that much easier since they would have a lot more control over the portal's location and who could follow. The Vigories were going to find their females much harder to track.

"Your point is well taken. Not all males are our enemies."

"Not even most," Xander added. "Lots don't even know who you are, but if you go stabbing everyone first, that makes it hard to find friends." Xander's fingers drifted over to the place where the spear had gone into Angel's stomach. The scar had lasted less than a day, but Angel was more than happy to be skewered if it meant getting such attention from Xander.

"Wise words," Jhiera agreed. "You have the gratitude of my people." With that, she gave Angel a nod of respect and she headed for the doors.

"I like them. They didn't slime anything," Harmony said cheerfully. Spike threw her a look, and she rolled her eyes. Clearly, she wasn't too intimidated, and that might be dangerous in other circumstances. Right now, they were all tired and Angel knew he was too pleased about how things had turned out to get too upset, even with Harmony's vapid observations.

"Don't you have some work?" Spike asked.

"Nope. All the sheets are washed and dried and folded and the floors polished and I got the crusted slime off the bathtub in 308. Demon strength is handy with housework." Harmony looked around at the rest of them. Angel sighed, and he figured in about two seconds, their happy little family was going to explode into violence as Spike taught her a few manners and Xander got upset about Spike's methods.

"Hey, Harmony, how about I show you how to clean the weapons?" Graham asked, neatly heading off the potential problem.

"Okay!" Harmony chirped the word out. Clearly, the demon had absorbed the girl's personality.

"You want to come with?" Graham asked Faith, slipping a hand around her waist and pulling her in for a quick kiss.

"Nope." Faith patted his shoulder. "You're on your own. I'm going to go take a long, hot bath in my oversized garden tub. Just me, myself, and I." Faith wiggled to make it perfectly clear what Graham could be doing if he followed her. But then she laughed. "You can join me after you've shown Harm all the joys of the proper cleaning of crossbow tillers."

"Can I join you, too?" Harmony asked with a bright smile. Angel felt a wave of shock at that. He wasn't sure if his demonic half was stunned that a minion would be so forward or that his human half was stunned over her casual request for homosexual sex. He and Xander had fumbled and struggled through that issue, and Harmony just stood with a hopeful expression as Faith stared at her.

"Bloody—" Spike muttered, but Faith spoke up before he could finish the thought, which was probably good because the thought was sure to be followed with a fist to the face.

"I appreciate the interest, but not this time," Faith said carefully. Now Graham looked like he was mere seconds from laughing.

"You guys have fun, but I am tired and dirty, and I have my own oversized bath waiting for me," Xander said. He moved toward the stairs, tugging at Angel to pull him along. Angel resisted for one second, watching with amusement as Xander figured out that he couldn't move Angel. Xander stopped and raised an eyebrow at Angel, waiting for him. Angel smiled and reached out to catch Xander by the back of the neck to pull him in for a kiss.

"Get a room," Faith advised them as she passed on the way toward the stairs.

"Yes, well, I have some translations..." Wesley coughed. Angel didn't stop kissing Xander until he'd heard Wesley hurry out of the room. Then Angel finally released Xander. Xander's lips were swollen and red from the kiss, and his eyes were half closed in pleasure. The scents drifting up were enough to make any demon mad with lust.

"Don't think it." Cordelia's voice was sharp and Angel looked over to find Spike watching with a thoughtful expression.


"You can just stop thinking about it." Cordelia put her hands on her hips.

"Wasn't thinking of leaving you out, luv," Spike offered, ducking his head and moving closer to her. Cordelia didn't pull away, and Spike slipped his hands onto her hips and leaned in to rest his head against hers. "Would never want anyone more than I want you," he promised. Angel watched them with amusement. How many times had he seen Spike use that same gesture with Dru? But with Dru, her eyes would always seek Angelus. Sooner or later, she would push Spike aside even though he would have walked into the sun to make her happy. But now, Cordelia didn't have eyes for anyone but Spike. She had a sharp tongue, but under all that, she was as sentimental as William ever had been. They were a good pairing. However, Angel was still happy they couldn't procreate.

"Come on," Graham headed for the weapons cabinet. "You have to oil the wood to make sure it doesn't crack when those two go pulling on it with super strength."

"I miss sex," Harmony complained softly as she followed him.

"Hey, I've gone years between lovers, so I don't even want to hear it," Graham said.

"Okay, seriously, I want a bath," Xander whispered as he leaned his body into Angel's. This time he didn't try to pull Angel away, instead he just blinked up with pleading eyes.

"You do smell bad," Angel teased. Xander hit him in the stomach. "Come on," Angel said, as he captured the offending hand and led Xander up toward their room. Angel could smell the desire on Xander's skin, mingling with the sweat and the blood of their vanquished enemies. It was intoxicating.

"You did well, a m'fhear."

"I kicked demon ass," Xander agreed. "It's a little weird being so much better than someone else."

"Wesley," Angel said without emotion.

"Hey, he did good with the research and the magic and the book-type stuff."

"He tripped you."

"Okay, not be logical or anything, but I used to trip you lots. Spike once sat on me and threatened to shave my head if I didn't stop tripping him." Angel frowned as he remembered that night. It seemed so long ago. Back then, he had struggled with his relationship with Xander. Was he father figure or a friend. He had nearly driven himself mad trying to get Xander to eat vegetables after Blair had said that good parents made their children eat vegetables. Actually, he'd been able to get Faith to follow the rules, but Xander always seemed to make his own rules.

Right outside the door to their suite, Angel pulled Xander close and kissed those swollen lips again. Xander's body radiated heat like the sun, and Angel slipped his hands under the shirt, seeking that warmth. When Angel finally pulled back to allow Xander to breathe, he just sighed happily and rested his head against Angel's chest. "If we do this here, Graham is going to get an eyeful," Xander warned, but Angel also noticed he didn't try to move Angel.

"He doesn't get to see you," Angel said as he pushed Xander through the door to their suite.

"Good, because that whole thing with keeping it inside the clan? Not really for me. I prefer to keep it just for you."

"Not even Spike?" Angel asked, honestly curious. As long as he controlled the pairing, it would be normal for him to share his lover with other masters in the court.

"Not even Spike." Xander agreed. "He got all weird when I accidently implied that he wasn't as good as you in bed."

"You told him that?" Angel pulled back and studied Xander. He'd seen some of Xander's coupling with Spike, and he knew that Spike had explored sexual variations Angelus had never bothered with. More than that, Spike had experimented with pleasuring humans even before Angel had been cursed with his soul. While Angel had just tried to get his end off, Spike had been fascinated with forcing the human to come. Angelus had thought young William was finally learning the value of humiliation as a form of torture, but now Angel suspected that he might have discovered that the desire lent its own flavor to the blood. Either way, if Xander had said that Spike had more skill, Angel could not have faulted him.

Xander reached up and traced a finger along Angel's jaw. "I totally told him that because it's true. I never felt as happy with him as I do with you. Ever. Not even in the ballpark. Not even in the parking lot of the ballpark. And I really think it sorta hurt his feelings because he swore some when I said a little more of that than I meant to."

Angel felt an unfamiliar pressure in his chest as he realized Xander was telling him the truth. "M'fhear," He whispered before he kicked their door closed and slipped his hand inside Xander's shirt again. His lover was wearing entirely too many clothes, so he solved that by pulling the last two buttons free so the shirt could fall to the ground.

Now he could breathe in Xander's musk. Their room always smelled of desire and satisfaction, but it was always sweetest when it came from the source. He licked the curve of Xander's neck, and Xander tilted his head submissively. For a moment, he sucked the sensitive skin, feeling Xander squirm as his desire rose. Xander's heartbeat became the drum that measured time as fangs pressed into the flesh. If he bit too hard, his front teeth would rip and scar the skin, and he would never allow that. He would never mark his boy. No whip or scar would ever mar the perfect tan canvass.

"I love you," Xander vowed while his lover drank the blood offered up to him with such devotion.


Lorne walked into the lobby of the Hyperion hotel. Xander had really done a fabulous job restoring the old girl's former glamour. If sales went well the next quarter at Caritas, he was definitely going to see if he could borrow the boy for some remodeling over at his place. He could just imagine a 1920's art deco feel around the karaoke stage. Spike and Cordelia were at the front desk and Merl was just coming down the stairs from the guest rooms.

"Good evening gents and one very special lady," Lorne greeted everyone. Spike was watching him suspiciously, but then the job of a good enforcer was to be suspicious.

"Lorne!" Merl called out, hurrying down the rest of the stairs.

"Oh, you are looking better already," Lorne greeted him. "I told you those sewers are not good for your health. So, how do you like the quarters?"

"The room is great, and they have a basement full of mice, just like you said. The vampires are a little cranky." Merl wrinkled his nose to show his dislike for creatures that couldn't show a few good manners. That was one of the things Lorne appreciated about Merl—there weren't many demons who had a good sense of manners. God knows his own family thought manners meant you introduced yourself before you ate someone for dinner.

"The vampires aren't here to play nice," Spike said in a voice that made him sound fairly cranky. Merl just rolled his eyes, so Lorne was guessing Spike's bark was worse than his bite—at least with residents. The whole demonic community was still reeling over their attack on Hainsley. The man had been decapitated before he even knew he had intruders in the house, and vampires who would go after necromancers were either insane or so incredible good they didn't have to fear anyone. Most of the demonic community was still trying to figure out which one these two were. Either way, no one was interested in challenging them. Some of the big name players had already moved out of town.

"Harmony is nice. I like her," Merl told Spike as he passed him in the lobby.

"Harmony?" Now that was a name Lorne could appreciate. He wondered if her voice lived up to her melodious name.

"She'd bloody well better be nice if she knows what's good for her unlife." Spike had been leaning against the counter while Cordelia typed, but now he pushed himself off and strolled into the middle of the lobby with a swagger Lorne usually only saw in old Westerns when the hero and the villain were about to shoot each other. Merl just shook his head and disappeared through a door that led into a dark hallway.

"Well, Sweetcheeks," Lorne said. He tried hard not to smile as Spike's eyes narrowed in warning. "I just thought I would drop by with a little message from the Furies." Immediately all the posturing vanished, and Spike's attention was totally focused on Lorne. It was a disconcerting feeling, having all of Spike's attention that way. "Now don't get yourself in a twist. Apparently, someone has cast a little bit of a good luck spell on the hotel, something that would make everything here just a little brighter and happier. The Furies didn't catch it right away because they were shielding from the more dastardly sorts of magic. Anyway, they wanted me to ask your fearless leader if he wants this new spell blocked."

Spike looked over his should at Cordelia. "This some tribute from a guest?"

"Not that anyone told me about. Kelis just keeps sending enné since he heard it made Xander so happy. Telis'a is the only other demon who owes us tribute right now, and we aren't going to get a penny out of her until you beat it out of her."

Spike shrugged. "That's the nature of a T'sist demon. I'll put her on the list for a little reminder about the need to show respect. Could it be that family of things that slimed the stairs?"

"The Ut? No, we're still in the middle of this entire ritual with apologies and antapologies and carefully worded threats. As much work as everyone put into getting those stairs done, I'm not going to call it quits on that ceremony for at least two more weeks. Those slimy little things are going to pay for all that carpet cleaning." Cordelia crossed her arms, and it occurred to Lorne that he truly wouldn't want to cross that woman any more than he'd want to cross Spike. Hell, he'd try to hire her away from Angel, only he was afraid he'd end up someone's dinner if he tried.

Spike frowned. "Don't really like the thought of someone casting spells. Have 'em block the spell until we can figure out who's throwing the mojo around," Spike said.

"You got it. Anything for my favorite entrepreneurs." If Angel were around, Lorne wouldn't mind catching up, but Spike was not the sort of vampire he really wanted to spend a whole lot of time around, so it was time for an exit, stage left.

Lorne had passed the first double doors and they were almost shut when the sound of footsteps through the lobby and someone whistling happily drifted out after him. Images crashed through Lorne's mind: death and burning, the sun being swallowed by darkness and a dragon flying against the moon, a young man with a sword in his hand, and people called him death. He was the bringer of death and death was a mercy in a world turned hell. And Angel stood, silent and bleeding and watching death with a fondness that Lorne didn't understand until after the whistling had stopped and the vision drifted away like smoke blown by a gentle breeze. The images still clung to him, and Lorne found he had fallen to his knees. Struggling back up to his feet, he looked in through the window back into the hotel. Angel was gone; the door to the kitchen was just falling shut leaving Spike and Cordelia, once again, alone in the lobby.

A little part of Lorne wanted to just stay out of it. He could use the information to get out while the getting was still good. There were plenty of other dimensions to set up in. But he didn't like the other dimensions as much, and humans were such wonderfully entertaining creatures. Mind made up, Lorne walked back into the lobby and wiggled a finger to summon Spike. Spike did not look amused at the gesture, but he did cross the lobby.

"Angel's soul is gone. That was Angelus," Lorne whispered when Spike was close enough. Spike's eyes widened, but before he could say anything, Lorne turned and hurried out. Even if he didn't move to another dimension, it was time to vacation in one.



33. Chapter 33

"Oh, hello." Father Peter sounded confused when he opened the door to find them standing on his church steps.

"We need a place to use, and we were hoping to borrow the church," Xander said with his best charming smile. It wasn't easy when he was totally and completely freaking out. Spike hadn't done more than hiss the word "Angelus" before throwing pants at him and all but dragging him out of the hotel. Actually, Spike had dragged everyone out, so Xander could only hope that meant Angel had gone out. Or Angelus had gone out. And Xander was totally NOT going to think about what kind of chore Angelus might need to run.

"The church?" Now Father Peter sounded more confused.

"They want to borrow the church. I feel all icky here," Harmony complained softly. "I want to go home." Spike glared over and he might have hit her, only he had one hand on Cordelia's back, and with the other, he was still clutching Wesley's arm. Wesley had stopped protesting and just sort of gone along with the semi-kidnapping as Spike hurried him out of the hotel.

"You'll feel more icky if you get eviscerated by Angelus," Xander pointed out. Harmony got a pouting expression on her face, but she didn't disagree with that.

"Angelus?" Father Peter frowned.

"Bloody hell, either step aside so we can come inside or just shut the fucking door so we can go somewhere else," Spike snapped.

"No, of course I wouldn't shut the door. Come in." Father Peter stepped back to allow them into the church. Xander hurried in. When he held the door open for Faith, he exchanged a worried look with Graham. She was being way too quiet, which probably meant she was freaking out. Xander was feeling like doing a little freaking of his own, so he couldn't exactly blame her. It just felt wrong to see her so lost. She hadn't been this out of it since the whole confusion with the sex and the having sex with him and the guilt that followed.

Spike came through the door with a flash of yellow eyes, but Xander didn't realize why until Harmony trailed in at the end. "Ewwwww. I don't like how that makes me feel!" she said, pointing to the cross.

Father Peter looked up. "We do have quite a few of them."

"We'll deal with it," Spike said, giving Harmony a look that very clearly said she would deal with it or he would make her sorry.

"The basement!" Father Peter offered. "We're in the middle of remodeling, so the religious icons have been removed. He hurried to a side door and led them down a narrow stair into the basement where a hallway led into rooms full of folding chairs, stacks of drywall, and 1970's green carpeting. "What is going on? Where's Angel?"

"Good bloody question," Spike said under his breath.

"Someone cast a happiness spell to try and strip Angel's soul away from his demon," Cordelia explained.

"Dear Lord," Wesley breathed as he finally figured out why they'd fled the hotel.

"I'm pretty sure He didn't do it," Xander answered.

Father Peter stopped at a door at the end of the hallway right by the emergency exit sign. "I doubt He would," Father Peter agreed. "However, are you trying to say that someone intentionally tried to remove Angel's soul?"

"Looks like," Xander agreed.

"And we've got to do a little plannin' before we find ourselves nose deep in shite and trying to swim," Spike suggested, which was funny because he wasn't really big on planning. Then again, normally he just plowed through his enemies and took what he wanted. It was a little harder when the enemy you were trying to fight was also the person you loved. Xander could sympathize with that, because he was in exactly the same position. The thought of Angelus being on the loose was scaring the shit out of him, and he kept remembering that woman in the suckhouse with her wide, empty eyes after Angelus had drained her.

"How bad is this?" Graham asked. He took a seat on a long table set up at the side of the room. Carpet layers had set out samples on it, and Graham pushed those back. Faith stood next to him, her hip resting against his knee, but she just stared into space.

Spike snorted. "Plenty bad, mate. Didn't you read up on your history? I figured the Watcher up in Sunnyhell would have filled you full of stories of the Scourge of Europe."

"I didn't believe most of them," Graham answered.

"You bloody well should have. The Watcher is a bloody prick, but I've never heard him say anything that wasn't true," Spike said. Xander watched as a whole lot of the color fled from Graham's face.

"But Angelus was out once before, in Sunnydale."

"Yeah, but he still had that soul hanging around his neck like a soddin' albatross reminding him that if he fucked up again, the soul was going to make him pay for fair. Now, that soul's gone. He's really free." Spike leaned against one of the support pillars and Cordelia stood near him, her face twisted with worry.

"Free? His soul is gone?" Yep Father Peter was now freaking out with the rest of them.

"Flew the coop like a bird, although Angelus is actually the one who's free now. We don't actually know what happened with the soul," Xander confirmed.

"Right. And we have to figure out our next move before Angelus gets us on the run. If we don't think one step ahead of us, he'll get us chasing our tails and force us to react to his moves." Spike spoke confidently, but he looked at Cordelia for some sort of sign. She nodded slowly. "So, he's going to go for any vulnerable spots. Faith's da is dead, but how do you feel about your mum?" Spike turned to Faith. She looked up at him, too shocked to even understand the question for several seconds as she just stared at him.

"Faith, if Angelus took your mom prisoner, how would you feel?" Graham asked softly, his hand reaching out for her shoulder.

"Let him have her," Faith said with a half shrug. "She sold my ass often enough, so she's on her own." Graham flinched back from the words, but Spike looked pleased.

"Angelus is sure to know you feel that way, so we don't need to worry about her. Cordy's folks are safe for the same reason. Graham, you got any family for him to use against you?"

Graham looked away from Faith after a second. "Um... an older brother I'm not really close to. I never talked about him with Angel, so I don't think that's a security breach."

"So, it seems like the one in the most immediate danger is Blair," Spike said. Xander's guts dropped as he thought about Angelus targeting Blair.

"He wouldn't," Xander whispered, not because he believed Angelus wouldn't, but more because he didn't want Angelus to.

"We all bloody care about him, so he soddin' well would. His first goal is going to be to get us emotionally off-balance, so he'll play dirty. We need to make sure that he can't do that."

"Oh shit. My mom." Xander felt like he had just been punched again. His stomach was starting to physically hurt. "He knows he can get to me through my mom."

Spike's expression hardened, and for a half second, Xander was terrified that Spike was going to tell him some version of 'tough shit.' Instead he gave a short nod. "Right then, we can either go get the bird or send someone over to provide protection."

"Buffy?" Cordelia asked. From the sour look on Spike's face, that hadn't been his first choice.

"I suppose she'd work. It is her bloody job to protect the unprotected and all that rot." Spike reached into his coat and pulled out a cigarette. Normally he just played with them, letting one dangle from his lips unlit. This time he pulled out his lighter and lit it. Yep, stress abounded.

Xander cringed as another thought came to him. "Um, Spike, how do we keep Buffy from wanting to come up here and get her slay on?"

"Why would she?" Spike tilted his head like Xander had just said something particularly confusing.

"If we ask her to protect my mom from Angel, I think she's going to know something is up. I mean, she might believe that Angel would go after my father, and she would totally believe it if we said Angel was going after Faith's father, well, except for the part where he's dead, but if we say Angel is going after my mom, she's going to figure out that he's gone soulless. And she'll think slaying is the best way to protect the world from a potential Scourge of California."

Spike's eyes flashed yellow, so clearly he was still feeling more than a little left-over loyalty for his sire. "We don't bloody tell that chit anything. If she comes down here hunting, I'll take my fourth slayer."

"Which would be bad," Cordelia quickly interjected.

"Why?" Harmony looked at Spike with worshipful eyes. "I think it's totally awesome how strong you are." She blinked at Spike. From the look Cordelia was giving her, stakage was about to happen.

Xander interrupted before Harmony ended up dead because he was so betting on Cordelia in that fight. Even if Harmony was a demon, she was still Harmony. "That's feeling a little on the not-nice side, not telling them that someone let Angelus out of the soul. What if he goes after them?" Xander hated even saying the words, but he wasn't an idiot. He'd read all about the Angelus and William days when they'd tortured their way across a continent. Spike had always been more about following than getting creative with the torture, but Angelus had specialized in mind games and going after friends and relatives. It was feeling suddenly very odd that Xander knew what Angelus hands felt like skimming over his lust warm skin. Those same hands had tortured and murdered.

"He won't bother," Spike said with confidence.

"Um... you do remember his love for friends and family, and I do not mean the warm and fuzzy sort of love."

"Yeah, pet, I do." Spike's voice softened as he looked at Xander. "I remember every minute of what the bastard did, and I remember enjoying more than a few of those minutes. But he's all about fighting when he knows he can win. The slayer's a big bite and now that she's got a whole unit of soldier-boys backing her up, she's not an easy target."

"And Angelus goes for easy targets?"

"Every bloody time, pet. Penn was a fucking nancy-boy, Dru was helpless, hell, most of the humans he tortured didn't even know how to kill him. The slayer knows him, knows his fighting style, and she trusts him as far as she can throw him ever since the soulless one came out at her Christmas party. He won't go after her unless she challenges him. Bloody hell, even if she does challenge him, he'll probably find a way to go after everyone but her. When he had a vampire hunter target him, he just went for the bloke's family. He didn't fight the man with the stake; he ate the bugger's wife and kiddies instead. "

"Which is another reason why my mom is in danger," Xander said. His mom was a whole lot better than she had been during her marriage. She was sober and employed and even had friends who she made weird scrapbooks with, but she wasn't exactly healthy or strong or high on the able to defend herself list.

"Yeah, pet, she is. Angelus is going to want to prove that he isn't weak, so he'll want to force you back to his side, maybe even turn you."

Xander thought about how U'talaba had looked at Angel once he'd seen that Angel had a human slave. Among demons, vampires were the lowest ranking, and Angelus was going to remember how Angel had earned a little respect by controlling his bloodlust. "He won't turn me."

"I wouldn't bet on that," Spike advised him.

"I would." Xander looked right at Spike. "He'll try to get me back and I don't know what he's going to be like in bed now because I suspect I've always seen a lot more of the soul than the demon in bed, but he won't turn me and he won't do anything that would injure me seriously enough to keep me away from other demons."

"Xander..." Graham stopped after one word, but it was fairly clear that he was questioning Xander's sanity.

"Hey, I am not looking to test that theory. I say we just keep clear until we figure out what to do, because right now, I have no idea what I'm supposed to be hoping for. I just know that if Angelus does get me, he's not going to kill me unless I do something that makes me worthless as a slave." The silence that answered him made it pretty clear that the rest of them thought he had lost his mind.

"Boy might be right," Spike finally admitted. "Angelus usually killed humans before he figured out the advantages of keeping them around. Xander taught him a few things about how much pleasure humans can give. The bastard is going to follow his own pleasure, and if he gets pleasure out of having Xander human, he'll keep him that way."

Xander shook his head. "I'm not sure it's even that. He just gets pleasure out of having other demons see me. They know he's strong enough to control his blood lust and they respect him more when I'm around."

Spike might look convinced, but Graham was still looking not so sure. "Xander, I'm not suggesting you're wrong, but that is a lot of conjecture, and I would not want to risk your life on a long-shot like that."

"And I wouldn't want to risk your life or your soul. You're talking about taking a chance at being turned into a demon," Father Peter said. It was actually kind of sweet that the man was still worried after Xander had boycotted the church.

Graham turned to the priest. "If he were turned, his soul would just move on to heaven. Turning couldn't put his soul in any danger... could it?"

Father Peter's expression wasn't exactly comforting. "The church simply can't say. I can safely say that I have turned into one of the Vatican's most versed experts in demonology, and all I can say is that his soul might be in danger. Some experts believe the soul flees and the demon takes control. However, there are cases of an experienced sire attempting to turn a human and the human doesn't wake up. That has led some priests to speculate that the demon can't drive the soul out, but instead it corrupts the soul—brings out the worst in it. But that those who don't wake up as vampires have simply resisted the temptation."

"That's an unpleasant thought." Graham was looking mighty unhappy, but next to Angel and Father Peter, he was the most religious one of the bunch, so Xander could understand how the thought of his soul being vamped was worse than a vamp moving in after evicting his soul from the body.

"Wait a second. The gypsies cursed Angel with a soul. How could they have done that if he already had his soul?" Cordelia demanded.

"There are no easy answers. The gypsies may have cursed him with a conscience or simply returned his soul to its original state before the demon corrupted it. I truly don't know. I'm sorry. I wish I did. I don't have answers, and I truly believe that the cardinals at the Vatican are as uninformed as I am."

"Bloody worthless, the lot of you," Spike said, but he said it with a sigh instead of a snarl, so Xander didn't think he meant it.

"And we're still back to the original question," Xander said. They could debate souls and blame until cows came home from Mars in a rocket ship with little green guys, and that still didn't fix the mountain of problems they had just inherited. "What about my mom?"

"Let's give Buffy another explanation for why she needs protection," Graham said. Faith was still standing next to him silent and unnaturally still, but then Xander figured Angel had pretty much gone father-figure on her, and having one more father figure turn on you was therapy inducing.

"Such as?" Spike asked.

"We tell her that someone tortured information out of Harmony, and we need some assistance guarding potential targets while we focus on eliminating the threat."

"Um, newsflash." Xander held up his hand. "They don't know Harmony is the undead kind of dead."

"Exactly," Graham said with a smile. "Buffy and Giles will be so distracted with that new intel that they won't go looking any farther."

"Bloody hell, you'd make a fine vampire, pet."

Graham frowned at Spike. "Let's not test that hypothesis."

"Just sayin'," Spike said with a shrug, but then Xander didn't think Cordelia would let him turn anyone. It was just the nicest thing Spike could think of to say. Spike had told him that lots, and Xander was fairly sure Spike was lying about that one. "Right then, call the slayer up and ask her to put Xander's mum on the patrol schedule."

"Done." Graham stood up, but then he stopped and got that look on his face that meant he was about to say something that no one wanted to hear. For someone who was a big-bad army special ops guy, his poker face sucked like a really sucky thing.

"Spit it out," Spike ordered. Yep, Graham's poker face majorly sucked.

"I should give Riley a heads up."

Spike's eyes narrowed into dangerous slits, and Graham hurried to continue. "I'm not saying that I should brief him on the issue. I just think he needs to know we have a potential problem. If I put the code word in with the intel about Harmony, he may even assume she's the potential danger."

"If you're not telling him about Angelus, what's the advantage of telling him anything at all?" Spike demanded.

"It will warn him to keep sharp. He'll increase patrols, and avoid this area for fear of getting in the middle of an active engagement."

Spike glanced over toward Cordelia. She might be quiet, but Xander figured she was the real power in the room because Spike would push everything and everyone to get her what she wanted. They exchanged a glance, and while Xander couldn't tell what either of them were thinking, they obviously came to some sort of agreement.

"What's the code word?" Spike asked.

For a brief second, Graham hesitated. "Cheerios."

Xander couldn't prevent a laugh from slipping past his lips. This whole situation was so fucked up, that the word just felt like a piece out of a Monty Python skit or something. Maybe Graham knew what Xander was thinking because he smiled, too.

"The whole point of a codeword is to sound innocuous," he defended himself with a grin.

"And what would you say if you needed him to come riding in with the cavalry?" Spike demanded. He was not grinning.

"Wheaties," Graham answered immediately. For some reason, that made Spike happy, and he nodded.

"Right then, give Captain Courageous a call and let him know we have some troubles. Just make sure he blames Harmony."

"Hey!" she protested loudly. However, when both Cordelia and Spike glared at her, she shrank back and shut up. Oddly, Xander was starting to feel some sympathy for her.

"Perhaps I can bring up an unrelated matter," Wesley suggested. Next to Faith, he looked like he had the biggest case of the wiggins, which was weird because Xander hadn't thought Wesley was all that close to Angel.

Spike looked over.

"I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to go back."

"Whoa, okay, so not a good idea," Xander blurted out.

"Wesley?" Cordelia took a step forward like she was going to tackle him if he tried anything that insane, and Graham's mouth just about fell open. Spike was the only one who didn't look shocked.

"It getting bad?" he asked.

Wesley nodded. "I fear that I won't be able to hold out for much longer. I should go before I compromise any plans."

"No worries. You haven't heard anything that I wouldn't want Peaches to hear," Spike said. Xander thought his head was going to fall off because he kept looking back and forth from Wesley to Spike to Wesley and back to Spike, and yet there weren't many answers falling out of either one of them. Eventually it was Wesley who sighed.

"You might as well tell them. It's not as if I didn't bring this on myself. My father would say that I am coming to the end I deserve, but I do hope Xander is correct about Angelus wanting to prove his status by keeping humans around. I don't fancy becoming a vampire, and I suspect I would be as unsuccessful as a demon as I was as a Watcher."

Wesley turned to leave, but Father Peter moved to block his escape. "How can the rest of you let him go to his possible death?" he demanded, glaring at the group.

"As one of the rest, I'm just too confused to know what's going on," Xander defended himself.

"Father, while I appreciate the concern, this truly is out of their control. I signed a contract that bound me to a demon named U'talaba, not out of any sycophantic need to enslave myself, but rather because I mistranslated a rather important phrase. When U'talaba sold that contract to Angel, all the rights transferred to him. I had hoped that the spell would recognize Angel and Angelus as two distinct individuals, but from the compulsion I am currently experiencing, clearly that is not the case. So, I am left with either having to return to Angelus or asking Spike to simply kill me. I would rather avoid death," Wesley paused, "for now."

"Surely we can find some other solution." Father Peter turned to glare at Spike. Yeah, like that would work.

"Not before his head implodes from the force of the spell. And if his head is going to pop like an overripe cherry, we should probably move him to another room. Brains do make a mess when they get splattered over the carpet," Spike offered. Father Peter lost all his color, and there for a second Xander thought he might get sick. "I thought the spell might cut him some slack seeing as how I just grabbed him up without giving him a choice, so if that didn't work, he's right about his choices." Spike reached out and ground out the butt of his cigarette on an old coffee table, the smell of hot varnish rising as he burned the wood.

Father Peter turned to Graham. "Do you have any idea what he'll endure?" Graham didn't answer, but he'd gone all stone-faced, which was a sort of answer in itself.

"If he doesn't, I certainly do," Wesley straightened up and stood with his back stiff. "I am not a naïve child. Angelus shall certainly rape me in order to demonstrate his dominance. If I offer any sort of resistance, he will torture me, whip me, or simply kill me. However, if Xander is correct that Angelus has learned to appreciate the respect that human slaves afford him, then he may be willing to leave me in relative peace as I perform my work." Wesley spoke the words so matter-of-fact that the horror behind them seemed twice as bad. Xander cringed at the thought of Angelus doing any of that, but he had to admit it was likely.

"Wait. HE gets to have sex with Angel? I thought Angel was all weird about only having sex with Xander and Spike." Harmony crossed her arms and managed to look pissed and hurt all at the same time. Xander could only stare at her silently because the words to describe how very horrified he was didn't exist. He needed bigger words. He needed a stake, and he'd never felt that way about Harmony before.

"I hardly think that Angel is the same as Angelus," Wesley answered before the rest of them could recover. Until this moment, Xander hadn't realized just how much steel the ex-Watcher had in his backbone. Yeah, it took some nerve to be a Watcher, but Watchers weren't usually the ones doing the walking into vampire lairs. They were more the kind to stand back and point where other people should go. No wonder Wesley didn't fit in with them. For that matter, no wonder Giles was not big with the Watcher-love, either. "That being said, there are very few choices here, and I prefer to leave before my brains are in danger of staining the upholstery."

Again, Wesley turned to leave.

"So he gets to have sex with Angel AND he gets to go back to his own room? I want to be Wesley," Harmony said in a pout that rivaled any that human Harmony had ever used.

"So, go then," Spike said, jerking his head toward the door in an invitation for her to leave.

For a second, she froze. Slowly, a smile formed. "Really?"

"Go on. Keep Peaches happy, and if anything happens we should know about, call Cordelia on her cell."

For a second, Harmony just stood there, and then with a squeal and a bounce, she rushed over and grabbed at Wesley's arm like he was taking her to prom or something. "Can I tell Angelus that I captured you and I'm bringing you back? That would so impress him," she said as they started for the door.

"While I am not the best equipped fighter, I assure you that I am quite capable of pulling your hair and making you break a nail in any attempt to subdue me, so the answer to that would be no," Wesley said firmly.

"You don't have to be mean about it. It was only a question." Harmony sounded so hurt as they walked out of the church basement that Xander suspected Father Peter's priest sources might be right about there being some sort of soul or personality or something inside all vamps. Harmony was just a minion, but she was definitely Harmony. Xander watched Spike who had tilted his head like he was listening. He finally shook his head and held his hand out toward Cordelia. She put her own hand in his, and he pulled her close, taking a second to bury his face in her shoulder and just breathe. Xander could see Spike's back rise with each inhalation.

Angel was his sire, his creator in every way that counted. They'd been lovers and best friends and hunting partners, and Xander didn't want to think how much this was hurting Spike—all this having to plot against Angel. He didn't want to think about it because thinking just reminded him about how his own heart hurt. His chest ached with the loss of his lover and his friend, and Xander didn't know what to do about it. If Angelus started attacking nunneries and orphanages, they were going to have to try and take him out, but Xander could still feel the ghosts of Angel's hands over his body. He still loved him. When Angel had looked at him with that predatory look like he could barely restrain himself from ripping Xander's clothes off and pushing him into bed, Xander had known that was the demon looking at him, wanting to possess him and dominate him and ensure his loyalty. The problem was that Xander did love part of Angelus, so he didn't know how to deal with this.

"Was that safe?" Graham asked quietly.

"Probably safer than keeping her around here," Spike said, turning his head so he could see Graham without letting go of Cordelia.

"She isn't exactly loyal," Cordelia agreed. "If she thinks Angelus will give her give her more status, she'll side with him. She always was one to look for any advantage."

"And Wesley?" Graham asked. He was looking upset, and Faith reached out and slipped her own hand in his, moving closer. He put his hand around her shoulders, but he didn't stop glaring at Spike. Cordelia looked away, catching her lower lip between her teeth in an expression that usually meant she was trying not to cry.

"Boy's got brass knackers hidden under all that foppish talk," Spike said thoughtfully. "I wouldn't have guessed it, and as long as he manages to hide his strength, Angelus is likely to keep him around ta impress the other demons."

"And we're going to let him?" Graham sounded more worried than angry, but Xander could see Spike stiffen anyway, clearly not happy at the challenge.

"We don't have a choice unless you want me ta go after him and break his neck before the binding spell can torture him to death." Spike glared at Graham through narrowed eyes, and Graham dropped his own gaze to the ugly green carpet.

"Maybe I should go back, too," Faith said.

"If you go back, I do too," Graham said firmly.

"Faith would be dead in minutes," Spike said. He sniffed and pulled out another cigarette, but he didn't light it this time. He just stared down at it. It was Cordelia who answered.

"Angelus is going to want to kill or turn anyone who made him feel out like he didn't have all the power. Faith is a slayer, and I've given him a lot of grief about the finances—enough to force him to take in residents and go treasure hunting."

"He won't forgive you for that any time soon," Spike agreed. "And he won't forgive me for taking three slayers. He'll kill Faith just to prove he's the bigger, badder vampire."

"But—" Faith started.

"No. You don't go back." This time Spike snarled the words. "He'll bloody well kill you and hang your skinned body out to drive the rest of us 'round the twist with fury." The room fell silent. Faith pressed her lips into a thin line, but she didn't argue. For long minutes, they stood looking at each other, the broken remains of a family trying to figure out how to relate to each other. Xander wanted to make it all better, but he was so afraid of saying the wrong thing that he stood just as silent as the others.

"Xander?" Father Peter broke the uncomfortable silence. "I don't like the look on your face. Please tell me you aren't considering going back, as well."

Xander blinked. "Um, a little bit of me, sure. But then there's the raping and the dominating, which is not really my kink, so not so much."

Spike looked over, his head tilted as he considered Xander with a speculative expression. "Then what has your knickers in a twist, pet?"

"I'm just..." Xander looked around. Graham had his arms wrapped around Faith's waist. Spike was leaning into Cordelia and Father Peter just looked constipated. Oh yeah, he was about to cross a line he had never wanted to cross, but he couldn't help it. "I'm thinking that if someone put the big mojo on Angel's soul, there's exactly one suspect. And I've always been on the big no-killing-people bandwagon, only now I'm feeling like falling off that bandwagon for a certain witchy-type person."

"Jenny Giles." Spike's voice was unnaturally soft and made a shiver go down Xander's back. Oh yeah, he so would not want to be her right now.

"Vengeance is never the answer," Father Peter started counseling.

"No, but sometimes war is," Graham said firmly. Xander was a little surprised because he'd expected Graham to be on the no-killing-humans side of the moral aisle. "Long before the army told me about vampires and monsters, they trained me to deal with the sort of evil that comes in a human package. Killing is never an easy answer or a quick fix, but if a soldier has to kill in order to protect himself, his unit, his country or innocent civilians, he does it. Right now, I don't see a difference between Jenny Giles and a terrorist who has unloosed a nuclear weapon in downtown LA. If we can capture her, that's fine. If we need to kill her, that's fine, too."

Xander knew his mouth was open, but he was way past shocked and off into gobsmacked-land.

"Right then," Spike said, and he smiled with the sort of glee he got before going hunting. "We cover our flank by making sure Angelus can't go after anyone to hurt us, and then we find Jenny Giles and rip off body parts until she explains exactly what she did."

"Sounds like a plan," Graham agreed. He looked over toward Xander. In fact, Xander realized that all of them were looking at him.

"Maybe we could hold off on the pulling off of body parts, but the finding and potentially killing I'm oddly okay with," Xander said.

"We're set then. Graham, call Sunnyhell and get the soldier boys over to Xander's mum. Xander, you get Blair on the phone and tell him to either drop off the end of the earth or to get his arse back here, and Father Peter..." Spike looked over.

"Yes, as someone who regularly tells Angel to deny his vampire instincts, I do see the need for me to be elsewhere. I think an extended vacation in Vatican City comparing my notes with the archives might be in order."

"Good plan. We'll stay here until near dawn to make sure Angelus doesn't try to make a quick snatch," Spike offered.

"You can stay here," Cordelia said. "Even if Wesley tries to protect our location, Harmony is going to sing like a canary. Faith and I are going to find another lair—somewhere private enough to keep out of Angelus' way while we try to fix this mess." Cordelia held out her hand toward Faith. "Come on. If we leave the boys to this job, they'll have us living in sewers or someone's musky old basement."

Faith nodded without answering, but she also put her own hand in Cordelia's.

"And just remember," Cordelia said, "If we meet Angelus, we don't have to stake him. We just have to hit him hard enough to drive him off until we can decide how to handle this."

"I can do that," Faith said, and suddenly she straightened up and gave a lop-sided grin. "Spike taught me one or two really nasty tricks that I never had the nerve to try on him."

"Now's a good time to start using nasty tricks," Cordelia said. The girls headed for the door, and Xander realized he had to call Blair and they had to get moving before Angelus could make too many plans of his own. He only prayed that Angelus was too busy to spend too much time torturing Wesley.



34. Chapter 34

"Hey, a little paint, some drywall and a wrecking ball, and we could make this place look like a big pile of garbage," Xander said, looking around the old theater. The roof leaked, which explained the funky smelling seats, and they had no electricity.

"Don't knock it. The back is dry and the sewer access is chained." Gunn almost managed to sound friendly. Almost. Of course he was glaring at Spike, so Xander wasn't surprised about the lack of love. Gunn and Alonna were big fans of the Faith and Graham Vampire Staking Show, but they weren't actually fans of vampires.

"And I really am not knocking it because it's better than nothing. It just needs a little help," Xander pointed out.

"If you want to fix it up, have at it, Whitebread. I got better things to do with my time."

"Charles!" Alonna stuck her head through the double doors from the lobby.

"Sorry!" Gunn held both hands up and backed away. "I'll try to be nicer to the vampire and his crew," Gunn promised in the most sarcastic voice Xander had ever heard.

"Okay, I'm guessing you're not a Spike fan, which I can understand, but just keep in mind that Spike and Angel actually pay the bills for Faith and Graham and all the fancy new equipment they've gotten for you," Xander said, gesturing toward Gunn's jacket. It was thin enough that it didn't do much to hide the flak jacket or the military knife.

"Angel... the guy who's gone all Darth Vader on your ass?"

Faith pushed past Alonna into the main theater. "Yeah, Angel. The guy who saved my sorry ass when I was so fucking lost that I killed someone. The guy who stuck by me when everyone else in my whole fucking life turned their back. The guy who forgave me when I all but pushed Xander down and raped him because I was so fucked up I didn't know the difference between someone liking me and someone wanting something out of me. If you have a problem with Angel, you have a fucking problem with me. Do we have a problem?" Faith demanded, stopping about two inches from Gunn's face. Xander held his breath and hoped the blood splatter didn't hit him, but right now it looked like someone was dying, and Xander was betting on Gunn. Gunn and Faith stared at each other, their faces oddly lit by the ray of sun shooting in from one broken window. Dust darted in and out of the beam so that it looked like they were in some sort of weird, shimmering halo.

Gunn backed off first with an odd twist of his body. "We're good. I just want it clear that I ain't opening a hotel for vamps."

"Five by five with me. You don't like vamps, I don't like assholes. So, you stay away from Spike and Angel and maybe I won't kill Joey."

Instead of getting angry at that taunt, Gunn laughed. "Yeah, that brother's got issues. I ain't telling him or Rondell about this deal, so you keep it on the down-low. My guys see your pet vamps, and I'm not—"

Gunn stopped with a gasp as Spike grabbed him and jerked him out of the light and into the shadow. Gunn was good—without panicking, he grabbed for his stake. However, Spike was better. He slapped Gunn's hand so hard that the crack echoed in the empty room and the stake rattled to the ground.

"Understand this, mate, I'm not anyone's pet anything. I've eviscerated more people than you've shaken hands with. Faith's family, so I'd do most anything for her, including not eviscerating you, but my patience has a limit."

"Play nice," Cordelia called from the stage. Xander had thought she went in back to figure out living quarters, but obviously she was vamp watching instead. "And Gunn, don't poke wild animals that can eat you. It's not smart."

"Very much unsmart," Xander agreed. Spike sort of tossed Gunn back, and he stumbled backwards down the aisle.

"So, is there running water because I can live without electricity, but I am very fond of my indoor plumbing," Xander quickly said before either of the guys could start fighting again. Faith stood there with her arms crossed and an expression that made it pretty clear that she was just daring Gunn to say anything else. It was Alonna who answered after she reached Gunn's side.

"The bathrooms work. Actually, they're public bathrooms, so you have two or three toilets for every person you have here. And you're welcome to stay for as long as you want."

Gunn gave his sister a blistering look, but he didn't contradict her.

Graham reached out and rested his hand on Gunn's shoulder. "One solder to another—thank you. I know Spike isn't exactly one of us, but he is an ally, and in war, you take the allies you find. We have the same goals, and Spike is powerful enough that unlike most of the minions you see on the streets, he doesn't feel any need to prove himself. That’s the safest sort of ally to have."

Gunn glanced over at Faith before turning his attention to Graham. "Whatever. I'm just saying I don't like vamps."

"Understood," Graham agreed. "I don't like the Iranians, but my general dislike for that group doesn't keep me from recognizing a good ally. I worked in the field with a man who I trusted with my life—a man born and raised in Ravar, Iran and who prayed several times a day to Allah. When I first started working with him, I wasn't comfortable with the situation, but I trusted Riley when Riley said he was a good man. Over time, I learned that Riley was right—that I could trust him."

"So, I just trust a vamp?"

Graham shook his head. "No, you never trust an ally unless you've seen evidence with your own eyes that he's trustworthy, but on the word of a trusted ally, you should give someone a chance. Otherwise, you're in danger of allowing your own prejudices to overtake common sense."

Spike just stood with his arms crossed, but from his stance, Xander could tell he was ready for a fight. He was probably hoping for a fight because the frustration level was getting a little high for all of them. Hell, Xander was about ready to pick a fight with someone.

"Hey, I have an idea," Xander said, "Let's go on patrol. There is way too much hostility in this room for anyone to stay inside without breaking walls, and as much as I appreciate all the practice with my drywall skills, I don't plan to stay here long enough to do any fixing up."

This time it was Gunn who answered with a snort. "Who'd notice if they broke a few walls in this dump?"

"Yeah, you've already put holes in most of them," Alonna teased him with a smile. Gunn smiled back at her, and for one second, the tough expression faded into something fond.

"Yeah, well do what you want with this place," Gunn said. "But I don't think I want to go on patrol with a vamp. I'll just wait and see whether he eats the rest of you, first." With that, Gunn backed away from them, up the aisle and toward the lobby. Xander figured the show was over because Cordelia vanished back behind the main curtain, and Faith started heading for the stage area. She probably wanted to check the security while Cordelia figured out how to set up quarters private enough that they weren't all sitting on top of each other.

"Spike looked Graham up and down. So, I'm not one of you?" Spike sucked air through his front teeth. Someone was in serious danger of getting sat on.

"You're family, but you aren't human," Graham offered. "And I am sorry about Gunn's attitude."

Spike just shrugged. "Boy shows some good sense. If he's going to go playing vamp hunter, it's good for him to distrust demons. Vamps use all sorts of bait, including playing Lestat when it serves their purpose. There are all sorts of idiots who believe the 'tortured soul' rot that some of them pull."

A flash of pain went through Xander. For Angel, it hadn't been a ploy. He'd suffered with his soul for a hundred years, and just when he was starting to learn how to live with himself, Jenny Giles had come along and ripped it away.

"Enough of this rot. I really am ready to kill something. Is anyone coming?" Spike looked at Graham, but it was Xander who answered.

"Count me in, I'm starting to actually understand why you and Faith tend to beat the crap out of things. Either my testosterone levels are rising or I have finally the point at which I can no longer process any more frustration. And considering I went to high school with Harmony, I have pretty high frustration tolerance levels."

"You never killed the Slayer when she complained about that endless string of losers she dated. I think that's proof enough, pet."

"Slightly pointlike," Xander agreed.

"I thought I felt something one street down, so let's see if we can't flush out something big and bad." Spike started heading for the door.

"You do know the girls are going to kill us for leaving them to set up the living quarters, right?" Xander checked as he followed Spike. Spike turned around and walked backwards so he could wiggle his eyebrows.

"Bloody hell, yes. I have to give my queen something to get brassed off about. I won't have her brooding like Peaches." Spike gave a leer that made it clear that not even tragedy would slow down his sex life. Xander was starting to really admire Cordelia's stamina.

"You two have fun killing things. I'm going to check to see that the toilets actually flush," Graham offered.

Xander stopped. "Maybe I should—"

"Get away and work off some frustration," Graham cut him off. "I may not be as good as you with a wrench, but I can get a toilet working. Probably. If not, you can fix whatever I break when you get back," Graham said. "So get out and go kill something for me." Turning around, Graham trotted toward the stage area where Cordelia and Faith had vanished.

"Come on, pet. Let's go see if we can't work off some frustration," Spike threw an arm around Xander's shoulder and practically pulling him toward the lobby. The sewer entrance was off the manager's office, which pretty much meant that some sort of demon had originally built the theater. Then again, based on the funky lack of logical planning, Xander figured out that big chunks of the city had been built by demons. Demon had the non-logical logic going. Spike unchained the entrance and dropped down into the tunnel, his coat billowing up over his head.

"But Graham..." Xander called down into the tunnel.

"Is a big boy. Let him deal with the plumbing for once," Spike called up. Xander sighed and climbed down onto the ladder. He wasn't going to win this fight even if he suddenly didn't want to kill anything. He wasn't sure he even could. If they couldn't find Jenny, they might end up doing the big showdown with Angelus, and Xander wasn't sure what he would do if he had a stake in his hand and Angelus right in front of him. Spike was waiting for him at the bottom of the ladder.

"Should we chain it up?" Xander asked, gesturing up.

"Let Faith have a little fun if anyone's stupid enough ta try and challenge her," Spike said before he reached out and caught Xander's hand in his own before leading Xander out of the small island of dull light filtering down from above and into the dark tunnel. The neighborhood had really run down because the sewers were almost not disgusting, which usually meant that the buildings above were either empty or full of non-working plumbing. They passed two junctions, and Spike still held Xander's hand as they passed into an area with a series of grates that allowed dim shafts of light from the late afternoon sun to filter in. The tires of the passing cars made an odd whining noise as they passed the grates.

Xander looked at Spike suspiciously. He didn't need the help finding his way with the extra light, but Spike was still holding his hand tightly. "You're worried about me."

"I don't bloody worry."

"Then why are you looking at me the way you looked at Faith after she came back from Washington?"

"I am not."

"Am too."


"And now..." Xander poked Spike in the stomach. "You're trying to annoy me out of being totally wigged out."

"I don't even bloody understand what the hell that means. Have you considered learning English, you know, the Queen's English instead of that rot you talk?"

"Har har." Xander tried to smile, but his lips just wouldn't do it. If anything, he could feel anger and grief and fear pushing up into his head like air pushing into a balloon until it was ready to pop.

"We'll get this fixed," Spike said with a sudden seriousness that didn't match the teasing tone of just seconds earlier.

"And if we can't?" Xander hated asking. He wanted to pretend that everything would be okay, that good always won. But somehow when he'd lost that illusion about the time he'd figured out that 'human, good; demon, bad' didn't actually work. Some people, like his father, were worthless and lazy at heart. And others, like Jenny Giles, were just pretty much evil. Not Spike evil where he just wanted what he wanted, but the sort of evil that thinks it knows everything and that it can fuck with people's lives because it knows better than everyone else in the whole universe. Xander didn't like that kind of evil. And the sad thing was that he used to be that sure of himself. At one point, he was so sure he knew all the answers, and now he didn't know anything, and he couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen if they couldn't figure this out. His nightmares were full of images of Angel's face exploding into dust.

Spike didn't answer, but he reached out and rested his palm against Xander's cheek. "We'll get there, pet. Don't count Peaches out, yet."

Xander's eyes were hot, and his nose had that weird itchy feeling that meant he was in danger of snotting on someone. "I want him back," Xander confessed in a whisper.

"We both do, pet."

The sound of clapping hands sent Spike leaping forward with a snarl. Angelus walked around a bend in the sewer ahead of them. "That was just beautiful. Very touching. William, William, William. It doesn't matter how much I beat you, I just can't beat all those emotions out, can I?" He strolled forward, filling the tunnel not only with his size, but with his personality. Angelus was somehow just bigger than Angel. He filled the space and sucked the oxygen out of the room until Xander couldn't breathe.

Spike didn't answer, but his body shifted defensively as Angelus stalked closer. Xander suddenly realized that Spike couldn't easily retreat with him in the way, and the close quarters would favor Angelus in a fight. Backing away, Xander searched the walls of the tunnels for a ladder. He needed to get up and out before the fight started. That was about the only way he could help.

"Look at the little rabbit try and find a way out of his hole. Oh William, he doesn't even trust that you can protect him. It's a good thing I've come to collect him." Angelus stopped and raised a hand to rest it on the hilt of his sword.

"What's the matter? Can't find anyone else who will let you bugger them? I could give you a few lessons, mate."

Spike's words hit a nerve because Angelus' eyes flashed yellow. "Careful boy."

"That's the thing. I'm not your boy. Even before the witch stuck her fingers in your head and stirred, you'd figured that one out."

"I created you. You're whatever I tell you to be," Angelus now totally vamped out.

"Too late for that. You chose to leave me and Dru, so we just had to find our own way."

"I never left you," Angelus snarled. "But the gypsies' curse is gone." He sounded so damn pleased, and Xander somehow thought a happy Angelus was not a good thing, but if Angelus wanted mind games, Xander had grown up watching his parents verbally rip into each other into little tiny pieces before ripping into him. Then he'd graduating to watching Spike and Angel. They might not have meant their barbs, but Xander certainly knew how to throw a verbal punch.

"Why would a gypsy take your curse off?" Xander blurted before he could lose his nerve. He was so not the one to be playing mind games with Angelus, but there wasn't any other way he could help.

"Xand, get out," Spike ordered, but Xander ignored him and focused on Angelus.

"The gypsies still hate you. Jenny Giles hates you. She blames you... well you and me and Spike, but mostly you... for ruining her marriage. She thinks you set the United States military after her, and that was more Riley than anyone else, but that's not my point."

"I'm going to have to train you to keep your mouth shut, aren't I?" Angelus asked in a sadistic voice, but Xander recognized the flash of doubt in Angelus' face.

"Um, if you want me to be quiet, probably, because I say random shit when I'm scared out of my mind, but still that is not explaining why someone who hates you would go and make you all happy and set you free. That is sounding inexplicably illogical for someone who loves logic and computers and geeking out over programming code."

"Boy's got a point," Spike added. "That's what Green Bean came over to tell us, that someone had put a spell on the hotel but it was so helpful that it slipped right past the Furies' protective spell. You bloody well know you'd never let that Giles bint cast a spell on you, but that's exactly what she's done."

"I can deal with her later," Angelus said dismissively. "My concern right now is that I seem to have misplaced something that's mine."

Xander swallowed as Angelus looked past Spike and focused on him. If Xander just ignored everything that had happened in the last day or so, he could pretend that this was still Angel, that the expression was one of love and desire. Angelus wanted him. And a little part of Xander wanted Angelus because he was the only part of Angel that he could still touch, but that little part was quickly shoved in a corner by all the fear and terror that rose up like a wave.

"You're not taking him, mate," Spike warned. His voice was soft, but the warning was clear.

"Are you challenging me, boy?"

"I guess I am."

"I'm going to make you pay for that."

Spike laughed. All the hairs on Xander's arms stood up. "Um, Spike, let's not poke the Master Vampire, please."

"Yes, boy, listen to the human," Angelus agreed with a smile for Xander that made his heart twist in confusion. "If you aren't careful, you're going to pay as dearly as Penn."

"You can try, Peaches, but you seem to be forgetting something."


"You were a vampire for what, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years? And then you turned into a pathetic shadow crawling through alleys eating rats and slowly starving and saving kitties and puppies."

"You will pay for that, boyo." The smile left Angelus' face as he glared at Spike. Xander could feel his heart pound so fast it was actually painful in his chest.

"Maybe not," Spike answered with a casual shrug. "Darla kept you under her thumb. You never were a Master Vampire around her. You were her toy, her bauble. She kept you around just so she could control some big, strong man the way she'd been controlled her whole fucking life."

Angelus had gone perfectly still, and Xander stopped breathing. This wasn't teasing. This wasn't some attempt to get an advantage while sparring. This was full out verbal nuclear holocaust.

"But Darla tossed me out on my ear when I wasn't more than thirty years turned. I've spent eighty years as a Master Vampire. I've controlled territories and taken three slayers."

"Weak ones," Angelus spit out.

"But slayers, mate. I took them and I could take another any time I wanted."

"She's mine. Touch her and I will pour holy water in yer eyes." Angelus had barely finished before he leaped forward with hands outstretched. Spike twisted, but in the close quarters, he couldn't totally escape. Angelus caught him by the arm and slammed him into the side of the sewer tunnel with the thud that Xander could almost feel through the concrete. Spike started slithering to the ground, but as he fell, his legs tangled with Angelus' and before Xander could recognize the danger, Spike pulled Angelus to the ground and had swung his arm around and sunk a stake deep into the back of Angelus' shoulder.

Angelus roared and leaped up, but Spike was already on his feet, crouched and ready for another round. For a half second, Xander thought they were going to throw themselves at each other, but then Angelus chuckled. It was the sort of sound Angel never made. "You might have learned a trick or two, but you can never beat me."

Spike took a step back and stretched his neck as if they'd only been sparring and not trying to rip each other's limbs off. "We'll see."

"William, William, William." Angelus shook his head sadly. "You never understood strategy. You should have killed Wesley because he has proven quite helpful. For example, he tells me that you don't want to bring in the Sunnydale forces. You want to find a way to fix this. You don't want to kill me, and that means you will never beat me. So, it's time for you to come home, boy."

"I never liked doing things the easy way." Spike backed up another step so that he was so close Xander could reach out and touch him.

"Touch him and I'll cut off the offending limb," Angelus snarled, his yellow gaze focused on Xander again. "He's mine."

"He was Angel's," Spike disagreed.

"No, he was mine." Angelus lowered his head and smiled right at Xander. "You gave me more freedom under the soul. The soul never would have touched you, so you brought me out, a m'fhear. You convinced Angel to revel in his pleasure instead of torturing himself like some sort of buffoon. You wanted my hands on your body, feeling your heat. In the end, your touch freed me from the soul, not the witch's spell. Think back to our last time in bed. That wasn't the soul. The soul never held you down and made you cry out his name as you begged for release."

Xander swallowed, every thought stolen out of his head.

Angelus chuckled. "Oh yes, you know the truth, my boy." He turned to Spike. "If you want to play Master Vampire, be my guest, William. Give me the boy and the slayer, and you can do whatever you want with that human you've allowed to chain you up like a pet."

"No deal."

"Then you'll lose everything. I can't decide if I should torture that bitch of yours or just turn her and teach her how to properly serve a master."

Spike snarled viciously, and Xander reached out to rest his fingers against Spike's shoulder. At first, it didn't seem to be working, but then Spike shook his head with a slow chuckle that echoed Angelus' own. "Good try, but I'm not going to lose control. If you want Xander and Faith, you'll have to bloody well fight for them."

"Then I will, William. I can come after you any time I want."

"How did you do that?" Xander blurted out before it occurred to him that Angelus was probably not going to answer him.

Angelus chuckled. "See how you're mine, a m'fhear? You look to me for answers. You ache to have my hands on your skin. Come home to me now and the punishment for leaving will be much less severe."

Spike snorted. "Not like I gave him a choice. Took him and Wesley in hand and forced them out of there."

"And then you gave Wesley back. Maybe you're trying to make sure I win and force you back into your place under me. Do you miss my cock, boy?" Angelus asked. "Why else would you send a magic user back to me knowing that I had all the life force I needed to track the boy?"

"You have my life force?" Xander asked, wondering if this was some Star Wars reference he totally didn't understand.

"Semen, pet," Spike clarified. Xander flinched because Angelus really did have that. They'd had lots and lots of sex, and somewhere in the middle of all the sex, Xander had gotten lazy on changing the sheets. Unless he could smell it or Angel ripped the sheets, he just figured why bother.

"So, I can track you easily. Come with me, and you'll make it much easier for Spike to hide the others. Go with him, and I'll track you straight back to the lair. I'll torture Cordelia until she begs for death, and you can live with knowing you could have stopped it." The smile on Angelus' face was nothing like Angel, and if Xander had a chance to kill Angelus right then, he might have done it. He knew what Angelus was capable of, and the thought of him touching Cordelia made his skin crawl.

"That argument might actually work on him," Spike said, "only, it's not his choice." Spike threw something, and a bright flare filled the tunnel with light and heat so vivid that for a second, Xander thought the top of the tunnel had blown off and sunlight was streaming down. He opened his mouth to cry out for Angel and Spike, but then strong hands caught him by the arms, and before he could even blink the bright spots out of his eyes, someone was hurrying him through the tunnels while swearing in a thick Cockney accent. Xander thought it was pretty sad that he wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed that Spike was the one to claim him.



35. Chapter 35

"If he can track me, this is feeling a little pointless," Xander said, watching as Spike knelt down beside a car and picked the lock.

"Just try to call Cordelia again," Spike muttered around the lock pick sticking out of his mouth. Xander sighed. Vampires. You couldn't explain anything to them without them thinking you were trying to tell them what to do. Xander pulled out his cell phone and tried Cordelia's number again. They'd all agreed to keep the cell phones powered down at the lair, so he didn't give himself good odds of getting through. Yeah, Angel was an idiot with technology, but none of them were willing to bet their security on Angelus overlooking the ability to track them. Of course, that had been before they knew Angelus had an old-fashioned tracking spell.

"What?" Cordelia snapped through the phone.


He was answered by a sigh. "Xander," she said in that tone of voice that meant she was trying really hard to not yell at him. Oddly, his mother had that same tone of voice. "Unless you are about to be eaten by something big and hairy, you need to get back here and confiscate all the plumbing tools. We do not hand you powerful explosives and send you out into the world, and you should not hand Graham a tool and expect him to do anything other than hit things with it. Clear?"

Xander blinked as he considered the damage Graham could have done. "Um, totally," he agreed. "Did he find the shut-off valve?"

"Eventually." From the way Cordelia said the word, it hadn't been fast enough.

"Are there any working toilets left?" If there weren't, they could add lair shopping to the list. Actually, they'd probably need to do that anyway because Xander knew where the lair was, and he was not betting on his ability to not share that information with Angelus once he was captured. Nope. Xander was an idiot, but he wasn't a big, huge idiot, and Spike wouldn't expect him to be. The minute Angelus thought to ask where the lair was, Xander was going to sing like a song bird... like a record player... like Wesley. Hell, Xander didn't even mind that Wesley was doing the magic thing because if he didn't do the magic thing, they'd find pieces of him all down 7th street and Xander's stomach could not take that.

"Yes, we still have toilets, but we also have a very large mess that you helped make by letting Graham touch tools."

"We kinda have a mess, too."

"What is it?" All the frustration vanished from her voice.

"Angelus has a tracking spell on me. Spike had some magical light doo-dad, but we're doing the running for our lives bit."

There was a long silence on the other end, and Xander could just picture her expression.

"What's the plan?" she asked.

"Other than not coming back to the lair? I'm kinda clueless. Spike has gone all non-talkative."

Spike opened the door on the fancy car he'd decided to steal. "I was trying to work, pet. Here, hand it over." Spike held out his hand, and Xander surrendered the phone. The less he knew the better.

"We're heading over to Wolfram and Hart," Spike said. Well, there went the whole plan to keep him out of the loop. Xander rolled his eyes. "Be ready to move if you don't hear from us in an hour." Spike looked over the top of the gray car. "If Angelus catches us, can you hold on an hour?" Spike asked.

"If it meant giving them time to run, absolutely," Xander agreed. Spike nodded in approval.

"We'll check in every hour. We miss by more than five minutes, you move, and you move somewhere that Xander and I don't know, so don't go back to Gunn."

Spike listened for a long time, his expression growing softer with each passing moment.

"No worries, luv. He's tried to kill me more than once, and he hasn't exactly done a bang-up job. We're going to see if we can get this tracking spell off, and then we'll be back, safe as houses. Keep an eye on the slayer because she's the other one the big lug is talking about reclaiming."

Spike listened to the phone and gestured for Xander to get into the stolen car. With another eyeroll, Xander pulled down his sleeve over his hand before he opened the passenger side door. Considering his luck, the police would find his fingerprints and arrest him. Then again, arrested would probably be a lot safer than unarrested right now.

"No," Spike told Cordelia as he got in and used his knee to crack the casing around the steering wheel. "He threatened ta torture me if I killed Faith, and he's still calling Xander his husband, so I'm figurin' he wants to reclaim them more than kill them. Mind you, that means Graham is in a world of hurt. Faith loves him, so Angelus will use that to keep her at his side. Right now, I don't know if he'd chain Graham up in the basement and torture him whenever Faith brasses him off or if he'd turn Graham and make him a loyal minion or childe who would keep an eye on Faith. I don't think we want to find out, either."

With practiced ease, Spike hotwired the car while still holding the phone up with his shoulder and listening.

"Just be safe," Spike finally said before he pulled the phone down and hit the end button. He tossed the phone back to Xander and pulled out into traffic. "If Angelus touches one hair on her head, I'm going to turn him into a pile of dust." From the tone, Spike wasn't kidding, either.

"Will he?"

"Will he what?"

"Hurt her."

Spike didn't answer right away, and Xander supposed that was an answer—not one he liked, but an answer. "He'll most likely turn her," Spike finally answered. "Some demons, like vampires, go straight for the violence. But there are plenty of demons who consider verbal intimidation an art form, and she's a bloody genius at it. She's got a reputation in the demon community, so he'll probably want to keep that."

"But she won't be your Cordelia," Xander said softly. Spike already had one lover pick Angelus over him and a vamped Cordelia would want her sire. Xander didn't even want to think about how much that would hurt.

"We won't ever find out because Peaches isn't getting anywhere near her." Spike vamped out and glared at the traffic murderously. If Angelus wanted to play mind games on them, Xander figured he was actually doing a pretty good job.

"Oh hey, what do you mean he called me husband?"

Spike glanced over. "He keeps calling you m'fhear."

"Which means man, but in a fond way... right?" Xander frowned as it dawned on him that Angel wasn't always one for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"Yeah, I suppose it does, but if I called you 'my man,' I think it's slightly more than fondness, pet. The same word means husband."

Xander stared at Spike and tried to figure out how he felt about that. Angel calling him husband, but being too Angelish to tell him it meant husband was actually sweet in a neurotic kind of way. Angelus calling his husband.... Xander thought about their last time together, the way he'd moved with more confidence, his hands on Xander's waist holding him down.

"He loves me," Xander said slowly.

Spike answered with a half shrug. "I don't know if the bastard can love anyone except himself, luv. He loves how you look at him—he loves the way you want him. He's right, you know. Even down there, you looked to him for answers. If he'd caught you first, would you have even been sorry?"

Xander stared at the passing traffic and chewed on his lip. He didn't know the answer to that question, but it wasn't making him happy to even think about it.

"Yeah, thought so. As long as you're that loyal, he's going to value you. I don't think he's had that kind of devotion much in his life. I know he never had it in his unlife. The sorry bastard really doesn't have a lot of people who would choose him over a pint of fucking ale."

"You would," Xander said. Spike didn't answer as he stared out the front window. Hell, last time Angelus had come out, Spike had come running when he'd called. But now... now he had to choose between protecting Cordelia and being with the only part of his vampire clan that still wanted him, and Xander didn't doubt for a second that Angelus wanted him.

"We're quite the pair," Spike finally said.

"Yep," Xander agreed. "Fucked and Fuckeder."

Spike gave a snort of laughter as he took a turn. "That we are. But it doesn't mean the bastard has us beat yet. We get this tracking spell off you, and then we find the witch before Angelus can rip her throat out. I find people don't generally provide many answers after their vocal cords have been ripped out of their necks."

"Small problem. Actually, a couple of small problems, but the first would be that we've been looking for Jenny and we haven't found her yet. Even Willow is coming up with a big zero."

Spike's snort made it pretty clear that he didn't trust Willow's answers, but Xander did.

"Hey, after her close encounter of the legal kind, she is not going to side with Jenny Giles on anything. She got fingerprinted. They took her mug shot and put her in a military holding cell until Giles could come up with bail and gave her a military defense lawyer and made her go into court and everything. Do you have any idea how totally freaked she was? No way is she going to keep any more secrets. She's scared so straight she's afraid to bend over and tie her shoes."

"Don't bloody care," Spike answered. "Besides, we don't need the witch. Angel's been so concerned about playing by the rules that he hasn't used all his resources."

"Resources as in ripping out of throats?" Xander guessed.

"Threats of, anyway. Wolfram and Hart has offered to help track her, but Angel is trying to live by some moral code he doesn't even fucking understand. He wouldn't even talk about taking help from that lot."

"Not hanging out with bad guys and taking evil favors really isn't a bad moral rule," Xander pointed out. He then grabbed for the dash as Spike raced a truck for an open parking space. The owner of the truck laid on his horn for a long second and then promptly peeled out, his tires spinning against the pavement and sending smoke up into the air, so Xander was guessing Spike had vamped out on the guy. In LA, road rage had a whole new meaning.

Spike stopped the car and turned to really look at Xander. "For you, maybe. I'm a demon, pet. I lost my soul a long time ago, and if it takes evil to get what I want, I don't have a problem with that. I've fought over at Wolfram and Hart's fight club, Twenty-One, a half dozen times, and I've taken out a half dozen of their best slaves. I got some good violence and a share of the take. They got to make arse loads of money advertising that they had a Master Vampire fighting in their ring. As long as everyone got something they wanted, it worked out."


"No arguments. You don't get a vote in this, and that means you don't carry the blame and you don't get to whinge."

"Pointing out the truth does not whining make... or even whinging."

"Your truth, pet. And with the soul, it might have even been Angel's truth. But the rules have changed, and I'm not going to play by Angel's rules. If he doesn't like that, he can get his pansy-arsed soul back into his body and tell me himself." Spike opened the door and Xander had the feeling that the debate was over. Vampires. He got out and looked up at the tall building.

"This is such a bad idea," Xander said softly, but no one had asked him for his vote. Spike strode toward the front door in all his vampy glory—coat billowing after him. Feeling like the ugly stepsister, Xander followed. "Such a very bad idea," he muttered as he followed into the lobby of Wolfram and Hart's big old office building.

"Welcome to Wolfram and Hart, attorneys at law. How can I direct you?" A woman with a perky smile asked. For some reason, her smile made Xander shiver, and he briefly wondered if it was rude asking someone their species.

"Lilah Morgan, please," Spike asked in a voice way more polite than Xander normally heard from him.

"Spike!" A woman called out his name with affection as she came out of an elevator. She looked like corporate Barbie with her tailored suit and smile, and Xander's backbone wasn't just shivering—it was doing the mambo. "A little birdie told me you were coming."

"The little birdie tell you anything else, luv?" Spike asked as he took her hands and gave her a peck on the cheek the way French people did in the movies Angel liked—the ones you had to read.

"Oh, all sorts of things. I hear you have a small problem."

"A small one," Spike agreed.

"We specialize in solutions. I'm sure we can work out a deal." Lilah pulled back and gave Xander a quick glance before focusing on Spike. "So, are you looking for information or perhaps just someone's head in a nicely gift-wrapped box."

"If I wanted someone's head in a box, I'd put it there myself," Spike said firmly. "I just need to know where I can find the person whose head I'm about to remove."

"So, the only question is who you plan to target."

"The only question is how much you plan ta charge," Spike corrected her.

She laughed. "Have I mentioned how much I enjoy doing business with someone so practical?" Lilah smiled at them and stepped aside with a gesture toward the elevator. "So many of our clients are all 'should we' this and 'what if' that. They just do not appreciate the services we offer." Lilah made the doubting clients sound unreasonable, but Xander was starting to think doubting these people was the smart thing. And while normally he was totally willing to trust Spike's ability to protect him, this was feeling so very not smart. He glanced over at the doors that led out onto the street and then at Spike. Spike cocked an eyebrow at him, but he kept on talking to Lilah.

"I always appreciate your services, pet." Spike gave Lilah a leer that would have sent most women running for a sexual harassment lawyer. This woman just leered right back. It was kinda creepy.

"Any time you need servicing, you know I'm here." Lilah actually wiggled her ass at Spike before heading for the elevator. "Does your human need anything?" she asked as she got on and kept the doors from sliding shut with her hand.

"Eyes off, luv," Spike warned, but Lilah's eyes hadn't actually been on Xander for more than a quick glance, and she didn't even twitch when Spike went all yellow-eyed glare. "I brought him here because someone put a tracking spell on him, and I need it taken off."

"Well, that's disappointing. And here I thought you were going to bring me something challenging."

"Might be that I need some information on a cyber-witch. Let's talk about the price for getting the tracking spell off my human, first."

"Fair enough." Lilah gave Spike another smile as the doors started to slide shut and then the whole world flashed brilliant white. Xander stumbled back, his eyes burned by the brightness, like when he'd been a kid and Willow told him not to look at the sun so he had looked just to prove she was wrong when she'd said it would burn his eyes out. He'd seen spots for a week, but right now, seeing spots would be an improvement over the absolute whiteness that filled his vision. Xander couldn't even see Spike.

Blinking against the light, Xander looked around at a room full of a whole lot of nothing. "Okay, this is unsurprisingly unfun. Gee, who would've expected evil tricks in an evil law firm?"

"Ah, if it isn't Mr. Harris. So nice to meet you. I'm Holland Manners." An older man with thinning hair and a creepy smile walked out of the whiteness and offered his hand. Xander just stared at him. While many people had pointed out that he was sometimes not the smartest, even he knew that shaking hands with evil was not high on the smart scale.

"Yes, well, so much for manners." The man pulled his hand back, but he didn't seem upset. Behind him, a chair appeared out of nowhere, and a little girl sat kicking her feet and flipping through a comic book. "I actually wanted to offer our services."

"Evil services?" Xander so did not like where this was going.

"Well, I prefer to think of us as practical rather than evil. Some people just don't appreciate that there is a certainly reality that we all have to deal with. We are simply more realistic about choosing our battles."

"So, you choose battles you can win," Xander summarized.

Holland stopped and really looked at Xander, looked at him like he was one of the stoner kids who sits in the back row and he'd just said something particularly stoned. "Do you choose battles you think you're going to lose?"

Xander thought about that. He'd confronted Angel about being a pedophile back when he'd thought Angel was a killer who would shove him down the nearest storm drain. He'd screamed out a warning to the couple in the park during Angelus' first appearance, and he'd been fairly sure that was going to end badly. He'd tried to stake Spike the first time he'd seen him on the street, and Spike had basically grabbed him by the back of the neck like a naughty puppy and shaken him until his teeth rattled. "Um, actually, yeah. You'd think I'd be dead by now what with all the fighting of losing battles, but obviously I'm tougher than I look."

"I like you," the little girl piped up. "I liked you better when you turned out a vampire."

Xander's backbone was doing the salsa thing again. "I don't think I ever turned out a vampire. And isn't it a little past your bedtime?"

"You turned out a vampire once, but that didn't end right. This should be my sunset."

"Yes," Holland interrupted, "there is a certain protocol when it comes to ending the world."

"We're ending the world?" Xander looked at them in horror. He definitely hadn't gotten that memo.

"We're not ending the world. They're trying to do it all wrong." The little girl crossed her arms and put on a pout that would have made Harmony jealous.

"They are?"

Holland stepped forward and raised a hand like he was going to put it around Xander's shoulder, and then he stopped. "It's all wheels within wheels, isn't it? Well, suffice it to say that we here at Wolfram and Hart are very aware of your problem and willing to take steps to help you solve your problem."

"You want to bring Angel back?" Xander frowned because he definitely wanted Angel back, but unlike Spike, he wasn't so sure that going through an evil law firm was ever a good idea. Ever. Not ever in the history of the whole universe.

"Well, that is still under debate among the Senior Partners. However, I am authorized to help you find Jenny Calendar-Giles." Holland gave Xander a conspiratorial smile.

"And the price?" Xander had no intention of paying any price. He'd read enough stories with evil geniis and backfiring wishes to know that this was going to end so very badly for him. So, he just had to stall and spend a whole lot of time praying that Spike found him.

"No price." Holland backed off and leaned against the chair the little girl was sitting in. "We don't happen to like some of her choices, and if we give you the information, there's a good chance that one of you will kill her. That would fit nicely into our plans."

"You do know that by saying that, I'm really a lot less likely to go along with killing her, right?" Xander looked at the two of them. Why was evil so confusing... and normal looking?

"Unless we're using reverse psychology," the little girl sing-songed and then she giggled.

"We have no ulterior motives here." Holland held up a hand in a placating gesture. "Prophesy is just starting to slide out of our control a little too fast. The entire prognostication department is in an uproar. Two psychics have had their heads literally explode from the force of the visions. And Angel and Spike are in the center of all those visions. We're just trying to clear the field of a few pawns so it's easier to see how all the pieces are laid out on the board."

"And Jenny is a pawn? And why do I suddenly feel very pawnlike myself? And hey, if you try to take me off the board, you do know that Spike is going to be big with the unhappy, right? I mean, your lawyer will be dead before she can say 'wait a minute.'"

"Ms. Morgan knows the danger. After all, she was there when Spike beheaded both purveyors of the demon fighting club on the grounds that they looked at him wrong. I don't think she would be surprised at finding herself dead. That said, we have no intention of removing you. Your death would distract both vampires from the action at hand."

"Ending the world," Xander guessed. Shit. Yep, Angelus was definitely up to his old tricks. Xander's chest tightened in pain as he considered having to stake Angelus, but if he was doing world-ending badness, there were not a whole lot of choices. Angelus had to die. There were some drugs that would make Angelus happy as a clam if he drank Xander's blood. While Xander had always been on the "Just Say No" bandwagon, if it gave Faith and Spike better odds, maybe he should get some of those and let Angelus catch him. Hey, he could get stoned and see if it was as good as Oz always made it look. Xander's eyes burned as he thought about having to live with knowing he'd helped kill the man he loved. He was really considering turning Angelus to dust, and with him, killing the last bits of Angel and the last hope of getting Angel back.

Suddenly the little girl was right there in front of him, and Xander jerked back in shock and fear.

"It should be my choice—I am the ending—I am the omega. I am the face of Ra that watches the world end, but every door, he is there. I should live until I see the sun blink out and the world returned to the darkness that birthed it." Her face shimmered, and pulses of light escaped as if they were slipping past the cells of her body.

"Um, okay?"

Holland stepped forward. "You see, we aren't that interested in timelines. When you work for beings that exist eternally, whether Armageddon is five years or five millennia in the future doesn't really matter much."

"In that case, can I vote for five millennia?"

Oddly, the little girl smiled at him. Holland chuckled. "I admit, I had hoped to pay off my mortgage before any world-ending events. Which brings us back to the point of our little visit. You see, I am the head of Special Projects here at Wolfram and Hart." While Holland was talking, the little girl who clearly wasn't a girl and probably wasn't all that little wandered back over to her chair and threw herself in it. Yep, all the body language screamed annoyed five year old.

"Xander?" Holland called, and Xander focused on the man again. Now Holland looked a little annoyed. He sighed and obviously started over with his little spiel. "My division has been tracking Angel because it is clear that he is a player in the end days, but it's not yet clear which side he's on."

"Um, that might have to do with his whole missing soul," Xander admitted. He figured guys this organized had probably figured that one out already.

"You would think so." Holland's mouth twisted into a grimace. "However, since he lost his soul, the psychics have been dropping like flies, and it's hard to tell which side is ahead at this point. We also have to consider the fact that the Powers that Be helped Mrs. Calendar-Giles with the removal of the soul.

Xander nearly swallowed his tongue. Shit. Shit and more shit. Blair insisted that the Powers were eudaemon who wanted to do the right thing, but if they thought yanking out Angel's soul was good, Xander was putting them on the evil list. That or the stupid list. Stupid was a very real possibility.

Holland kept on going. "Now, I am willing to put my resources and research material up against theirs any day of the week, but it's out of character for them to act directly without some sort of information."

"So, you think his soul coming out was of the good, and that I should help put his soul back in because that would be evil? I'm guessing your research material is not that good or you'd know that sales pitch really sucked. I'm not a fan of evil. Not even when evil would feel good." And Xander had to admit that a little part of him was actually okay with evil if it meant getting Angel back. He knew that part was wrong and on the verge of buying a one-way ticket to hell, but it was still there—whispering.

Holland gave him another of those 'isn't he just the dumbest thing you've ever seen' expressions. "Your masochism is well documented. The office even had quite a betting pool about whether you were ever going to land in Angel's bed or not, so your self-denial is actually quite well known."

"Okay, ewww."

"Especially considering I lost three hundred dollars," Holland said in a voice that made it sound like he was agreeing with Xander, which meant he had obviously been missing the point. Xander was starting to think he was not the only person in the room who had once ridden the short bus to school. "However, the point is that removing the soul may have been good or evil. Restoring it may be good or evil. We don't know. However, we do know that Jenny Giles should not be around to influence current events. Someone changed the flow of time, and a woman who should have died years ago, suddenly survived her fate. Powers have appeared and vanished and reappeared. Entire political careers have risen and others fallen, and all of it is moving against prophesy. Time is shifting. That should not happen." Holland actually looked bothered now, and the little girl was staring at Xander with this intense expression that made him wonder if she wasn't part vampire or something. Spike had that same stare.

"So, you want me to..." Xander let his words trail off because he wasn't sure what they wanted.

Holland gave him a fake-friendly smile. "We are simply providing some information on how to contact the Powers That Be and where a certain cyberwiccan has been seen purchasing supplies. What you do with it is entirely up to you. I can assure you that we are only attempting to..." he waved his hand, "clear the fog so that we can get a better understanding of the forces at work. There is no charge for this information." He raised his hand, and Xander could see a small piece of paper in it. Holland held it out, and Xander twitched. He wanted it. He wanted it badly, but the more he wanted it, the more he really thought he needed to look the gift horse in the mouth. Yeah, everyone said you shouldn't, but if you didn't poke around in the horse's mouth, you ended up with a tired old, worn out nag that ate you out of oats and never pulled a wagon. And sometimes the nag was really a demon wearing a horse skin and it would eat you the minute you turned your back. Yep, some gifts just cost too much to keep.

"Not interested," Xander said, backing up. Holland actually looked surprised. The girl, however, looked downright murderous. Children of the corn murderous, even. She stood up and walked toward him with a loose-gaited motion that didn't look remotely human.

"I am the sunset. I end the light and bring the darkness. Do you dare contradict me?"

"Um, no?" Xander guessed. And really, she was looking like someone you never, ever wanted to contradict. She stopped and blinked at him, and suddenly the child was back, her little-girl smile looking more like a young Harmony than a demonic ender of worlds.

"I will end the world. Sooner or later—that's my job," she announced in a smug voice before she went back to her chair. Holland looked at her, and Xander wondered if maybe someone shouldn't suggest therapy for this whole building. These lawyers had issues. And maybe Spike without his soul was okay hanging with them, but all of them were giving Xander the wiggins so bad he was about to break out in hives.

"I'll escort you back down. But if you ever need our assistance, please know that you are welcome to call on us any time. Honestly, our goals are not mutually exclusive," Holland stepped forward and clapped Xander on the shoulder, and suddenly Xander was in an elevator going down.

"So... I can just go?"

"Of course. You are the consort of a favored client's sire. It's in our best interest to keep our client and you satisfied in any way possible. I'll call Lilah and let her know you will be waiting for Master Spike at the front desk. I'm sure Lilah has finished the incantation to remove the tracking spell. It was a very simple piece of magic, but I have to say, Mr. Windam-Price has some natural talent. You tell your master that if he ever wants to transfer the man's ownership, Wolfram and Hart will pay a fair price."

The elevator doors opened, and Xander found himself looking at the exactly same lobby he'd just left with Spike. The receptionist looked over and smiled at him, and lawyers strolled in and out of the main doors.

"Master Spike will be with you directly," Holland said, and with a little push, he helped Xander out of the elevator and the doors slid shut.



36. Chapter 36

"It's about time you got your asses back," Faith greeted them when they climbed up out of the sewer.

"It's nice to see you too," Xander answered her as he followed Spike out. "So, guard duty?"

Faith shrugged. "It's better than sitting around thinking of how everything is fucked up," she answered, but before Xander could answer, another voice was calling out.

"Xander!" Blair called with such obvious relief that Xander got the feeling everyone had been more than a little worried about them. That was okay, though, because Xander had been worried about himself. And not just from Angelus.

"About bloody time you got here," Spike snapped at Blair before he walked right past him into the dressing main room of the theater.

Blair made a funny face and looked at Xander like he expected some sort of explanation. Oh, Xander had one, he just didn't want to get into it. He'd already been called stupid in many creative ways... about any way that Spike could call him stupid without saying stupid, Spike had said.

"Nice to see you, too, Spike," Blair told the closed doors Spike had just disappeared behind. "Someone pissed in his blood."

"If he'd had time to get any," Xander said. Yeah, he was feeling not happy with Spike, but he also didn't think the vamp needed to get one of Blair's lectures. More importantly, Xander didn't think Blair deserved to get sat on and his head shaved just because Spike was being cranky. Blair's hair had reached the shaggy stage, so either he was trying to grow it out, or he'd been traveling somewhere exotic enough that they didn't have scissors.

"Angelus again?" Blair asked, the sarcasm vanishing. Faith turned around and headed for the front doors to the theater, hitting one with a fist hard enough to make the chained entrance rattle.

Xander shrugged. "Kinda. He didn't catch up with us, but..."

"It's not easy," Blair finished for him. "Oh man, I feel for you. No way do I understand, because I have never had a relationship like you guys. Nowhere near as close. But man... this sucks."

"Sucks hairy monkey balls." Xander clenched his teeth to keep from saying more. A little voice in the back of his head called him an idiot for turning down the information because now, face with the fact that they didn't have any leads, Xander was thinking that evil help might not be all bad. Mostly bad, sure. He sighed.

"Hey, it'll work out," Blair said softly. He was looking at Xander like Xander was on the verge of breaking.

"Or we'll stake him," Xander said with more than a little bitterness. He followed Spike's lead and headed for the main theater. The clan was going to use the backstage area, so Xander trotted down the aisle toward the back.

"Xander," Blair called, but he kept right on going. The stairs up to the stage were low, and Xander went to take two at a time.


The stairs wobbled under his feet, and Xander windmilled his arms trying to catch his balance. A hand grabbed at his back and gave him a good push so that he stumbled forward to the main stage.

"The stairs need fixing," Blair explained when Xander turned around to look at him. "That's what I was trying to tell you."

Xander could feel the blood climb into his face. Yep, he was officially an idiot.

"Hey, whoa, no biggie. Geez, they're only stairs," Blair said as he climbed them much more carefully than Xander had. "Man, you've had the worst day ever, haven't you?"

Taking a deep breath, Xander could only nod.

"Yeah," Blair said softly. "Wesley posted to a website Cordelia knew about. He's okay... relatively... and Angelus doesn't seem to be making any big moves to set the town on fire."

That should have been good news, but instead Xander could feel the emotion press up from deep inside. He wanted to cry, but if he started he just wasn't going to be able to stop. Not now. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and tried to grab ahold of his emotions before he totally fell apart.

He hated this. He hated that he didn't have Angel to hide behind when Spike got all growly and he hated that Spike was growly and he hated that they'd had to leave Wesley and he hated that Faith was hurting so much and he really fucking hated himself for still wanting Angelus so damn much. They both called him husband.

Xander pressed his hands against his eyes until they hurt, and he could see spots. Angel and Angelus had both learned to be vampires from Liam. Both had taken his fears and his desires and had molded that into a seriously neurotic vamp with way more vanity than you'd expect in someone who didn't have a reflection. The hair was the same, the insecurity was the same, and the desire in his eyes when he looked at Xander was the same.

Xander's air left him, and he struggled to get a stuttering breath into his starved lungs. Blair rested a hand on Xander's shoulder, and Xander shied away from the touch and hurried toward the backstage.

The curtain smelled of mold as he pushed through, and the backstage area had been set up with props from some picnic scene, complete with a red checked table cloth. Cordelia was standing with her arms around Spike, his face buried in her neck, and the pain rose like a wave that left him wanted to fly at them, to hit them until they hurt as much as he did.

"Xander," Blair said, his voice so full of sympathy and love that Xander just wanted to punch him, which wasn't exactly logical, but Xander didn't want to be logical. Graham looked up, and for a second, Graham just stared at him.

"Xander!" Graham finally called out. "I'm glad you're back. It's time for you to take the tongue lashing from Cordelia. I've met drill sergeants with more of the milk of human kindness in them."

Xander frowned and looked over at Cordelia. She didn't look particularly upset—no more than anyone else.

"Next time I offer to do any work with tools, feel free to tell me I'm an idiot," Graham kept right on going. "I think Cordelia plans to give you the lecture about supervising subordinates when they're doing their work."


"After turning the main bathroom into a swimming pool, I am more than happy to admit that I am clearly unqualified with water pipes."

It finally dawned on Xander that Graham was talking about yesterday's plumbing disaster, which, compared to all their other disasters, didn't feel all that disastrous. "Bad?" he asked.

"I wouldn't open the door marked "Gentleman" if I were you. The drains handled most of the water, but some pretty scary things came up them before the water went back down." Graham made a face that made it pretty clear that the disgust levels were too high for a covert ops trained soldier to handle, so Xander made a mental note to just avoid the whole mess. "And Blair here ducked out of his classes, and managed to show up just in time to push a mop."

"The highlight of my week," Blair said. He shook his head. "Actually, compared to the shit Dr. Reynolds gave me, cleaning unidentified organic schmutz was a joy. Man, some people. He acted like I was trying to kill his cat or something. Emergencies happen." Blair headed over to the picnic table and sat on one of the benches.

"I hope he wasn't too put out. I remember my college days, and I do not remember them fondly."

Blair shrugged. "The worst he can do is make me take the semester over." Blair frowned. "Well, he could make me redo a year of work on the practicum, but seriously, dude, believe me when I tell you that your class is not the center of my life. Only, he didn't." He rolled his eyes again, and it finally dawned on Xander that Blair was in deep shit for leaving the university. Yep, they were all in one big pile of shit together. He wasn't sure if that was better or worse than being in a pile by himself.

"I think my tech school will be a little more understanding," Xander said. It occurred to him that he should call or something, but he wasn't sure what he was going to say. 'Hey, my lover went psychotic, so I think I may need to miss class until I can decide just how homicidal my husband is.' Yeah, that wouldn't go over well. Xander could feel his chest tighten.

"So, where were you two?" Graham asked.

Xander shook his head and tried to focus on the conversation. "Um... we were staying with big scary looking demons that were a cross between a tank and a deformed human. And can I just say, I'm glad they don't get around much, because if they did, the human race would pretty much be hamburger."

"What kind of demon?" Graham asked.

"Does it really matter what kind of demon? Tell me that you got the tracking spell off and that you have some sort of plan because if I have to stay here much longer, someone is going to be joining me in the land of being in a really bad mood," Cordelia warned, stepping away from Spike's side. For a second, Spike just stood there very obviously breathing. Then he stretched his neck in that so-familiar gesture that meant he wanted to pound something... or that he had just pounded something or that he was thinking about pounding something.

"Erv demons," Spike said, "and the boy bollocked up the best chance for finding the witch. There are some rumors that she's thrown in with the Powers that Be."

Cordelia frowned. "Be what?"

"Be sticking their nose in my fucking business," Spike answered. Walking over, he dropped down on the bench. He looked ready to pass out, but then he was up all night doing the hourly check-ins with the lair. While Xander thought he'd be able to stay up and help with that, he'd ended up passed out next to something that was either a sex toy or the world's biggest slingshot, and Xander was not even going to ask which.

"To make a short story, shorter," Xander offered as he walked over to sit across from Spike where the chances of getting sat on were minimized. "Evil people offered information to find Jenny. I told evil people that I didn't like to get involved with evil, and then we left Wolfram and Hart. Spike apparently made some fight club let go of some baby something, so the big somethings took us in for the night, and I am so exhausted that I just want someone to shoot me and put me out of my misery. And Spike is even more tired, so don't poke the cranky vampire."

"Did that actually make any sense to anyone?" Blair asked, but at least he gave Xander a sympathetic look.

"Not really." Grabbing the coffee pot from the hot plate balanced on the microwave balanced on a small refrigerator, Graham poured two cups. Xander amused himself by imagining the electrical fire the small tower of appliances could cause if they were all plugged into an ungrounded outlet, and he was guessing they were.

Graham pushed one of the steaming cups in front of him. "I worship you, you know this, right?" Xander asked as he curled his fingers around the cup.

"You say that to all the guys who bring you coffee." Graham straddled the bench and sat next to Xander so that Xander was sandwiched between him and Blair. Yep, hopefully he'd get a little backup on the avoiding-evil part of the story because if Xander had to tell how he turned down the information again, he needed a little protection from Spike's tongue. Of course, Spike probably could have tortured him into taking the information from Holland, so it was nice that he hadn't, but Xander really wasn't fond of verbal beatings any more than he was physical ones.

"The somethings would be Erv demons," Spike said. He reached over and stole Graham's coffee. "A while back, I found out that a fight club had captured a forty year old Erv and were trying to make it fight in the ring. I ripped the owner's guts out and suggested that someone set it free."

Blair gasped. "Oh man. That is seriously fucked up."

Graham frowned at Blair. "Why?"

"Would you kill a kid?" Blair demanded.

"What? Of course not!" Graham physically pulled back in horror.

Blair just nodded. "I didn't think so. Erv are huge demons... they live for like thousands of years. But they don't mature into their full form until they're two or three hundred. Forty... that's like not even hitting adolescence, yet."

Putting down Graham's coffee, Spike arched his back. "Young ones look like a garden-variety demon—something human-sized and scaly, but the fight promoters had captured Malish just so they could claim to have an Erv in the ring. They wanted me to fight him. Wankers. I'll fight a full-grown Erv before I'll kill some ankle-biter."

Xander frowned as he remembered the story about Spike and Drusilla and a very unlucky orphanage. "But didn't you..."

"I wasn't fighting them," Spike cut him off and glared. "They were prezzies for Dru, and that's a different thing. I don't fight children to prove I have knackers big enough to earn a little respect. That's closer to Angelus' game."

The room fell silent as that name fell like a bomb into the middle of them. Xander stared at his cup, tracing a finger around the circle formed by the rim. Cordelia was the first to move. She sat down next to Spike, and his arm went around her waist. "And now that someone brought up Angelus, maybe you two can stay on topic and tell us what happened at Wolfram and Hart."

"Ask the boy," Spike said, turning a not-happy expression toward Xander.

Xander cringed, half waiting for the English insults to start again, but Spike just glared at him.

Graham put a hand on Xander's arm. "Xander?"

"I couldn't take the information from Holland. He's evil. And evil is not usually trustworthy." Spike opened his mouth, but Xander plowed ahead. "And even if it's trustworthy, you don't really know what evil really wants because, hello, evil. I vote no to evil."

"Okay, now I know I missed something," Blair said with a frown. "Who's evil?"

"Bloody hell, just tell from the time you disappeared from the elevator. I'm too bloody tired ta make any more editorial comments," Spike said with a sigh. Bringing his cup up, he drained the coffee before heading for the small kitchen area. While he pulled a packet of blood out, Xander told them about the white room and the girl and Holland Manners and his information. As far as Xander was concerned, it was a win because now they had the rumor about the Powers that Be, but Spike still growled the second Xander mentioned the slip of paper in Holland's hand.

Xander finished, and looked around the room. If he'd expected anyone to jump to his defense, he was disappointed to see that most everyone had on expressions that suggested they just weren't sure what to think. Well, except Spike who was clenching his teeth and clearly trying to not say something unnice. Something else unnice. He'd already been plenty of unnice, but Xander was thinking he was a little justified since the lack of a soul meant that he really didn't even understand Xander's dilemma. In his head, it was like someone just offered him a million dollars free and clear, and Xander had decided to turn it down. Yeah, not really smart, except Xander was still thinking it was the smartest choice he could make. He wished now he hadn't made it, but it was the right choice.

"When you're considering intel, the source is as important at the actual information. Can we even trust their word that the Powers that Be are involved?" Graham finally asked in the awkward silence that followed the end of Xander's story.

"Oh man. It totally sounds like them," Blair hurried to answer. Maybe he could see that Spike was about to lose his battle to not snark. "They are the biggest busy-bodies in the demonic world, and considering that my cousin Whistler and my father totally drank the Kool-Aid, I think I can say that with a pretty high degree of certainty."

"Your dad's one of the Powers that Be?" Xander asked.

Blair almost choked to death on his coffee. "No way. Those are old ones. Some of the demons who were forced out of this dimension, but they've kept their fingers in the pot. Some of the oldest human myths talk about eudaemon or Æsir or ancient gods, and those are pretty much all names for the Powers that Be. I happen to think they're big interfering pains in the ass, but my father will be more than happy to tell you how they guide human history and prepare for the coming battle against the forces of darkness."

Graham took a second to really study Blair, like he was trying to understand the man, but then they really hadn't had much time to actually get to know each other. Graham was sort of post-Blair. "No offense to your father, Blair, but when people start talking about preparing for battles against evil, they're generally blowing smoke up someone's ass."

"No fucking kidding," Blair agreed. "And go ahead and offend my father all you want. I actually tell people that I don't know who my father is, which is oddly okay with my mom. The bastard seduced Naomi because some Powers that Be oracle told him that I had some destiny. Does he stick around for the birth? Does he help my very orthodox Jewish mother through an unplanned pregnancy? Does he even show up when the rabbi figures out she slept with a demon?"

"I'm guessing no," Graham answered.

"I should have warned you to avoid father issues, huh?" Xander asked Graham. He was actually grateful they were off on someone else's issues because he couldn't deal with dealing with his own right now.

"Yeah," Graham agreed. "You need to have my back, Xander. I count on you to keep my foot out of my mouth."

Spike's snort was the closest he'd come to unnice since Xander started his story, and Xander smiled at him. It was nice to have family that tried so hard to not emotionally damage you, even when they were really, really pissed.

"Maybe we can talk about the Powers that Be and whether or not they need slaying," Cordelia suggested, and that set Blair off on another round of trying to choke to death on his coffee. "Problem?" Cordelia asked with the sort of tone that could freeze water.

"No, but if you're going to try to slay the Powers, you're going to need a portal. They aren't even in this dimension. I only know of one of the old ones that...." Blair stopped mid-sentence, his head cocked to the side like he was listening to something. Spike searched the room with a yellow-eyed gaze, and Graham stood up, his hand on his gun. Oh yeah, they were all jumpy.

"Xander," Blair said slowly, "what did the little girl say about the end of the world?"

"Um... that she was the sunset and the bringer of dark in the light. It was pretty much standard 'I am bad guy' dialogue. Seriously, she watches too much late night television."

"Unless she's telling the truth. Oh man. Oh fucking hell. No way." Blair slapped his hand down on the table and got a huge, stupid grin on his face. Before Xander could even ask, Spike was there leaning over the table and getting right in Blair's face.

"Out with it unless you want me to start pulling out organs," he threatened. Normally, Spike wasn't big on the threatening family, but everyone's temper was a little frayed. Xander just hoped that Spike didn't actually pull an organ or two out. Oh, he'd go for the useless ones like the appendix, but he was looking pretty organ-ripping frustrated.

"Hey, no problem. I'm just... I'm thinking that if I'm right... whoa. Man, we have entered uncharted territory."

"Already there, mate." Spike's face folded and crunched until the vampire ridges appeared.

"No fucking kidding," Blair agreed, not looking worried at all. "Okay, the Papyrus of Ani the Scribe, which people always call the Book of the Dead, describes the battle between Osiris and Set. Osiris had started helping humans, and most demons who worship the eudaemon count him as one of the earliest of the Powers that Be. But Set was like, seriously traditional. As far as he was concerned humans were bugs in need of a good stepping on. So Set and Osiris have this big war over whether to kill all humans or help them."

"And Osiris won," Xander offered, hoping to hurry the story along. He loved Blair, but he did not love history the way Blair did. And Spike was looking even less in love with the history lesson.

"Not even." Blair gave a dark laugh. "Osiris got his butt kicked. He got chopped into pieces, several times, until Set finally managed to make him stay dead."

"So, they killed all the humans in Egypt?" Either Xander had slept through that part of history class or he was missing something.

Graham leaned forward. "If you try telling me this was one of the plagues, I'm going to think you're making this shit up."

"No. No way. Oh man, we are talking thousands of years before the Jews ever found Egypt. But here's the interesting part."

"Just make it the relevant part, mate," Spike suggested. Blair waved a hand at him. If he wasn't careful, he was so about to get sat on.

"It's all relevant. You see, the Papyrus of Ani, the version of the story written by the human scribe, says that Osiris became lord of the underworld and created a place of safety for human souls where the dark one couldn't feast on them."

"He got people a 'get out of hell free' card?" Xander translated.

"Kinda. Yeah. But, the demon world has an entirely different version. The Papyrus of Heket, one of the minor goddesses, says that the people so loved Osiris for fighting for them that they invited him into their afterlife. According to that legend, demons can actually escape the cycle of being shuffled from one dimension to another by finding grace with a higher power who has opened a path only for humans."

"I never heard that, and I've been a bloody demon for longer than you've been alive," Spike said. Xander looked from one to the other, not sure who to believe. Blair would never lie to them, but that didn't mean that Blair knew the whole truth, either.

"If you think the Jews got persecuted, oh man, they have nothing on the cult of Heket. Demons are...." Blair grimaced and shook his head like he was trying to get something particularly horrifying out of his mind. "Let's just say that demons who believe the Papyrus of Heket have short lives and brutal deaths if anyone finds out. Demons are so not into religious tolerance."

"I can't believe demons are into religion at all," Graham said softly. He actually looked a little disturbed by the thought.

"Religion is part of culture. It permeates the language, the thinking, the way demons see the world. Religion is everywhere." Blair threw his hands out.

"I don't soddin' care," Spike cut him off. "I'm still not seeing where this makes any difference. I'm tired and I'm getting more brassed off by the second."

"Geez. You seriously need to drink some happy blood or something," Blair said without actually sounding all that intimidated. Spike growled. "Ra had stayed pretty neutral through all of this, but according to Heket, when he saw that people were capable of pulling a demon into a dimension of eternal bliss, he decided to protect people and give his descendants time to make that journey themselves. He wanted to make sure that the world could never end. I mean, he was one of the old ones. The old, old ones. So, killing him would create such a big bang that... poof... no more world." Blair popped up out of his seat and started pacing. "So, this is the part that a lot of demons actually do believe, because the whole part with demons following human souls into heaven... so not orthodox thinking. Anyway, Ra split his powers and his being. His power remained untouchable in the sun, but his being he divided into five separate parts and gave each part to an avatar."

"Bloody fucking hell. I do not like where this is going." Spike stood up and caught Blair by the arm, forcing him to stop. "Tell me you are not saying what I think you're bloody saying."

"The fifth avatar is named Mesektet. In human mythology, that's the name of the boat that he carried the sun to the horizon before it vanished. In demon history, she's the avatar that carries Ra's power of ending. She's the sunset. She's a child—the symbol of rebirth, which requires death. She's the literal end of the world. Oh man. Xander, I think you met part of Ra. Oh man." Blair kind of fell back down onto the bench like his legs wouldn't hold him anymore.

"And is this bad?" Cordelia asked.

Blair twisted around and looked at her. "Xander just met the most powerful evil being still in existence in this dimension."

"That's bad," Graham agreed. "Maybe I'm missing something, but why would a creature that powerful want to offer to help Xander? No offense, Xander," Graham added with an apologetic look.

"Hey, I’m a little too freaked to take offense at anything right now, so offend away," Xander offered. Okay, if that little girl was ultimate evil, Xander could understand why he was creeped out, but he was kinda wondering the same thing Graham was.

No one answered that, and Xander noticed that everyone had turned to look at Blair. Blair held both hands up in surrender. "No idea. I'm just really hoping I'm wrong on this. Of course, it makes sense that an evil demonic law firm would ally themselves with Mesektet. And it makes sense that Mesektet would not appreciate the Powers that Be trying to interfere with her plans."

"You just don't know where we fit," Xander guessed.

"Not a clue," Blair agreed. "Honestly, I'm really hoping I don't fit at all. I mean, the oracle told my father that his child born with Naomi would have a great destiny, and I am so hoping that doesn't include getting sacrificed to an old one to stop some Armageddon. Trust me, that would not make me a happy camper. Oh, my father would be thrilled, but I'd still be dead."

"No one's getting sacrificed," Spike growled.

"We need to call Riley," Graham blurted out. Spike didn't even bother answering.

"Who can we go to? Who would know the players?" Spike demanded.

"Ma'at. She's the avatar of sunrise and the embodiment of truth."

"Right then, we go to Ma'at. Do you know anything about her home dimension?" Spike asked. He actually looked happy to have something to actually do.

Blair looked up at Spike. "She teaches classes in modern shamanism at California State University, Los Angeles. My uncle knows her."



37. Chaoter 37

Students hurried across the concrete and brick mall. At one point, Willow thought he should be going to a place like this, but standing on campus, all Xander could think was that he totally didn't belong here. All these people were wandering around without having any idea that their neat little world view was only totally wrong. They cared about grades. They gathered on the grass, in the shade of the trees, and shared a laptop and giggled about things that Xander probably wouldn't understand. Willow was probably doing the same thing right now back in Sunnydale.

For Xander, that just wasn't a life he wanted. Even Blair had admitted that college people could get tunnel vision—like not noticing that your professor is a goddess who carries a part of one of the most powerful demons in history. If Xander ever got that blind, he hoped someone poked him really hard.

"Dr. Mayet?" Blair asked. Xander watched a thin woman with a mane of pure white hair turn around at his call.

Dr. Mayet turned around. "Yes?" She smiled, and all the wrinkles gathered around her eyes.

For a second, Blair just stared at her with awe, and Xander had the feeling Spike was right under them in the sewers growling. If Spike had his way, they would have waited until dark to do this, but Xander had sided with Blair on that one. No way did he want to meet a goddess when Spike was in a mood to threaten someone. There was stupid and then there were levels of stupid that not even Xander was willing to descent into.

Graham stepped forward. "Dr. Mayet, it's nice to meet you. We were hoping you could give us a little help." He held his hand out, and she stepped forward to take it, smiling warmly at Blair who still looked a little stunned. Even though she must have been pushing sixty, she was beautiful, and as a nineteen year old boy, Xander did not normally go for the soon-to-get-Social-Security age bracket. Or maybe he did because Angel was way older than sixty, but he didn't look it.

"Are you taking my class?" she asked, looking at them with a smile that made Xander want to tell her everything.

"You know my uncle Sal'ic'natiti," Blair finally managed to say, but he was clearly more than a little star-struck. Her reaction was immediate. Her back stiffened, and suddenly she looked less friendly and more like the kind of old lady that would give you a concussion if you tried to steal her purse.

"We need some honest advice and help," Graham quickly added.

"Totally. Man, we are in way over our heads, and we need someone we can trust to point us in the right direction before the universe takes a big dump on our head."

Mayet didn't answer, but her expression did turn a little confused.

"As the person, most likely to get dumped on, I second Blair's vote for us needing help," Xander added. "But maybe we shouldn't be having this conversation here."

"Totally." Blair nodded, his shaggy hair bobbing enthusiastically. "Man, Uncle Sal would kill me if he knew I used his real name in public. Seriously kill me."

For a second, Xander through they were about to get turned down, but then she gave them all a little worried frown and sighed. "Maybe we should go to my office," she offered. Before Xander could open his mouth to agree with that, a white light flashed in his eyes, and he found himself standing in the middle of a whole lot of white nothing.

"Okay, this is creepily familiar." Xander edged closer to Graham. Yep, it made him a wuss, but he'd been through this version of freaky already, and he did not want to see it in reruns. Blair was looking around with wonder, but Mayet frowned at Xander.

"This is familiar?"

"Kinda totally," Xander agreed. "Only you're missing the creepy little girl and the used car salesman lawyer."

Mayet's eyebrows rose so high they nearly vanished into her hair.

"Okay," Blair took a deep breath like he was trying to do one of those meditations he liked, but Xander didn't really think they had time for that. "We're not entirely sure, and we're really hoping we're wrong. Or I'm wrong, because this is my theory, but I think Mesektet contacted Xander."

"Why?" Mayet asked. Her features seemed to be glowing now, and Xander wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

Xander shrugged. "She offered to help me find a witch who ripped the soul out of a friend of mine. And really, while soul ripping is never good, getting help from the creepy godlike is feeling even worse. And I'm just now remembering that Mesektet is like your sister or something, so please don't kill me for saying that."

For a second, Mayet just looked at him, and then she slowly got an expression Xander usually saw on Giles. "She is not my sister. We both chose to carry a part of Re for our own reasons, but I feel no allegiance to her. Not beyond wanting her alive in order to protect the piece of Re she carries. And who ripped a soul out of a being? A human soul?

She looked at Xander with such intensity that Xander found himself unable to even form words. He tried to, and the thoughts slipped out of his head like water out of a cracked cup. Blair answered after a second, although he was giving Xander such an odd look that Xander thought he should probably check to make sure his fly wasn't open. He just couldn't seem to get his hands to work, either.

"Our friend Angel had a human soul, but he's a vampire. We think a witch pulled his soul out using a happiness spell because the soul was glued on with a gypsy curse, and she was one of a very small number of people who knew that happiness could make it come unglued. So not cool. But anyway, Mesektet told Xander that the Powers that Be were helping her. Mesektet offered to help Xander find the witch. Now, we want to have a little talk with the witch because pulling people's souls out is like... whoa... seriously bad karma."

Mayet smiled and Xander shook his head as a shiver went through his body. Graham reached over and caught Xander's shoulder and pulled him close, so Xander suspected he was not the only one having issues. Graham wasn't the touchy-feely type, but he was sure touching now.

"And Mesektet offered to help?" Mayet's chuckle was not even a little bit nice. For the first time, she really looked like an old and powerful goddess. "She is more desperate than I had thought. Did you take her help?"

Xander could only shake his head, words still slipping away before they could form.

"For one, I am so not sorry that he turned her down," Blair defended Xander. If that really was Mesektet..."

"It was. Your friend still carries the stain of her touch."

"Eww." The sound slipped out of Xander without him even meaning to say anything. He suddenly wanted to shower... a lot. But the thought of showers just made him think of Angel surprising him in the shower, large hands sliding over his warm skin, the steam rising around them like a mist as Angel kissed the back of Xander's neck before taking the soap out of Xander's hand. Angel had washed him, and that was not a thought he wanted to have... not when they were faced with Angelus. Xander blinked, shocked at his own inability to control his thoughts.

"That's a good way to put it." Mayet's face scrunched up in disgust and suddenly she just looked any other Tom, Dick, or goddess who'd just stepped into a big pile of gross.

"We're looking for some reliable intel," Graham said, his fingers tightened into the soft of Xander's arm. "If these Powers that Be have decided to attack us, we need to know why and where they are."

"And which dimension to hide in," Blair added softly. "Oh man, this is so not the destiny I would have wanted for myself."

Mayet looked at Blair and the last traces of disgust vanished as she smiled at him. "You have no destiny, young one. Had you chosen to follow your demonic path or even chosen to define your life by denying your demonic path, you would have been caught in this battle. However, you've defined your life by your human goals and human beliefs. Unlike so many others, you are free to choose to not get involved."

"And leave them, no way!" Blair looked downright angry, but maybe he realized who he was getting pissy with because the next second he took a step backwards and held his hands up in surrender. "No offense."

She laughed. "No offense is taken, and I am not saying you have to leave them to stay out of this fight. I am saying that demons are drawn back to their own dimensions like..." she waved her hand for a moment, clearly struggling to put her ideas into English, but that was okay because Xander was struggling just to keep up. Actually, he'd been feeling like that pretty much since Blair had shown up, and Xander was starting to think he should have studied demonology instead of drywall.

"Demons are drawn to their dimension like a magnet. And most of them will try to recreate their home here on this world."

"Wait... what? All demons?" Xander frowned. That didn't sound good.

"It's the nature of demons." Mayet agree softly with a small shrug that made her white hair tumble down over a shoulder. "They can no more prevent themselves from trying to change the world than a salmon can prevent itself from going back to the river of its birth to spawn."

Xander thought about Spike, about the way that he just wanted to be loved, and he was fairly sure Mayet was totally full of crap... either that or she was just lying to them. After all, Spike had mailed them that hand of the demon that wanted to send the world to hell, all in order to save the world, and that was not sounding like a creature who was drawn toward hell. Spike was more drawn toward punk music than hell, and Angel had stopped the big world swallowing statue guy. Maybe Xander had a weird expression or she thought he was about to call her on the crap or something because she held a hand up to stop Xander from saying anything.

She gave him a smile, the type you give someone right before you tell them that their dog is dead. "Even Angel. As long as he defines himself as a demon or by trying to escape his demonic nature, then his demon will instinctively act in ways to recreate his home dimension. If he were to try and gift someone with life, then the life would turn out to be one of such twisted power that it opened a door for evil. If he tried to find love, then the love would turn dark and malignant." Her voice was soft... apologetic even, and somehow that made it worse because Xander was pretty sure she wasn't lying to him on purpose.

Xander's breath left him and little black spots danced in front of his eyes as he considered that it had been his love that had freed Angelus. Oh, Jenny helped with her all-purpose happiness, but he was the one who had stood in that room and given Angelus his love. He had brought out the monster that the watchers had written entire books about—him and his favorite ways to torture.

"Not cool," Blair said. "That is so not cool. Angel busts his ass to do the right thing."

"And does it turn out right?" Mayet answered. Blair looked at Graham and Xander, but neither of them were answering. Xander couldn't, because he was suddenly a whole lot less sure that he understood anything. He knew that Angel's love for Buffy had been huge on the creepy scale. And Angel's whole quest to be perfect... so incredibly stupid. And what if their love was just one more way that Angel was all off on the wrong track? Xander's chest physically ached at the very thought. He loved Angel. But what if his love was getting all twisted and was wrong? Xander really wished he could just sit down, but he clenched his jaw and tried to ignore the growing pain and fear.

"So, does that mean you want to do that? Do you want to rip this world apart and make it look like yours?" Blair demanded, and Xander was fairly sure using a voice that smug with a goddess would get you slapped, but Mayet had lots of patience. Way more than Xander's teachers usually showed.

Mayet laughed. "Yes, I do. But my home dimension is a place of calm and tranquility. I fear that it is so calm that you would probably find it intolerable. I admit that I do want that for this world, and part of the reason I teach is to try and help humans find that calm, that peacefulness that mimics my own existence. However, I try to avoid forcing that on anyone. Others have less restraint in that area."

"Like the Powers that Be," Graham said shortly.

"Perhaps." Mayet frowned. "They aren't normally this involved."

"Were the lawyers lying then?" Graham had hated the idea of the Powers being involved, but now he looked like he hated the idea of them not being involved even more. Xander was quickly reaching a point where he didn't care. Finding a nice hole to stick his head in and just hide was sounding good. Actually, for the first time in his life, he understood why his father drank himself stupid. Maybe he had more of his father in him than he wanted to admit because there was a little part of him that just did not want to deal. He wanted to hide somewhere and let Spike fix this. If Mayet was right, then it didn't matter what they did, Angel was doomed to always have his life twist around into something dark, and their love would twist right along with it. A little part of Xander wondered if it wouldn't have been better if Angel had kept on crushing on Buffy. After all, she was the chosen one with all the goodly powers of goodness, and maybe if Angel had loved her, he could have escaped the whole evil trip down Angelus' memory lane.

"I doubt it. The truth is so much more pernicious in the right hands." Mayet looked around at them. "Normally I could be so much more helpful, but the fact is that I have no more answers than they do. Something has shifted destinies until prophesy turns back on itself."

"Someone is undoing the future?" Graham tried to translate.

"No." She looked at him kindly and lifted a hand to him, but Graham stepped backwards, pulling Xander back with him. "No, destiny will eventually happen, but the form and those involved and the time is always in doubt. So many destinies were becoming clear. Fewer and fewer humans were involved in the grand battle, and the champions on both sides were increasingly demonic. With only demonic fighters, one could almost read of the coming battles in the stars." She swept a hand upwards as though she could see stars, but Xander only saw white.

"Humans are involved," Blair said. "Humans are getting too involved, and it's making it harder for anyone to make accurate predictions. Whistler always said he hated it when champions had too much of humanity in them."

"Humans have no destiny—they only have choice." Mayet agreed. "And if you wish to learn what the Powers would want. Ask them."

The whiteness of the room distracted Xander... either that or his brain was getting too stuffed full of weirdness to work right. Because it took him a second to realize that they were in a different kind of whiteness. A shadow seemed to zoom toward them like a cartoon.

"Shit," Graham cursed and shoved Xander back, but Dr. Mayet and Blair were so very, very gone. The gray streak stopped and Xander realized it was an arch and a wall... a medieval type wall with big stones and a lancet arch with a scalloped edge. Very medieval. The arch led into a tunnel, and the whiteness at the end was blinding.

"Um... Graham?"

"Yeah, Mayet pulled a fast one. I hope Spike eats her," Graham answered. He had his gun out, but Xander was pretty sure that a gun was not going to be much use. Not totally sure, but pretty sure.

"If she doesn't run really fast, he will. Unless she has some freaky power and she eats him first," Xander said unhappily. It suddenly occurred to him that she could probably just make him go popping off into some dimension of extra special bright sunlight and dustiness.

"Spike's a survivor. Hopefully she won't stir her fingers through his brain the way she did through yours. That might push him to do something rash."

"She... what?" Xander looked at Graham.

Graham shook his head. "Buddy, she stuck her fingers so far down in your head you were about ready to drool on yourself."

"I was?" Xander got a shiver down his spine.

"Yeah. In training, we had to go under drugs to try and assess our vulnerability and build up a resistance to chemical interrogation. You looked exactly like the guys in the chair. You just seem to be recovering quicker."

"Okay, can I just say that it really is unfair how demons get all the freaky power?" Xander scratched his head and tried really hard to wash away the image of Mayet's fingers sorting through his brain. He hoped she got cooties from him.

"Sounds like they think it's unfair that we get to throw a wrench into all their nicely made plans."

Xander had an answer all ready, but he snapped his mouth closed as Graham raised his gun and targeted two individuals walking toward them out of the arch. Demons. Yep, they were definitely demons—of the shiny variety. They were goldish with blue tattoos all over, and they used way too much hair gel. Xander thought Angel was one to overdo the hair gel, but the male had the worst case of helmet head Xander had ever seen.

"Your weapon is useless," the man said.

"Useless," the woman echoed. "You come seeking answers."

"Look lady," Graham said without lowering his gun. "No offense, but I'm not sure I would trust any answers I got from you anyway. What do you say you just open a door back to the reality I know, and we call this a day?"

"Without your answers?" she asked.

"They are without manners," the male complained. "Let them leave in ignorance."

For a second, the woman looked at them, and Xander held his breath, hoping that they were about to just get kicked out. He'd never wanted to get kicked out so much in his life.

"Wait," a new voice called. Xander looked over his shoulder. Oh shit. Jenny Giles.



38. Chapter 38

"What have you brought us?" The woman asked Jenny, her eyes lighting up. Jenny stepped forward and held up a carved box.

"It's eighteen century, whale ivory and ebony."

"It's small." The man frowned, but the woman cocked her head and the box vanished from Jenny's hand only to reappear in hers.

"It is acceptable," she said. Xander exchanged a seriously weirded out look with Graham. If these people were trying to pretend to not be demons, the look was all wrong, and the whole greedy need for tribute was kinda working against them. From Graham's expression, he was thinking the same thing. Anyone who thought these guys were the emissaries for God god... so not firing on all cylinders.

Jenny turned to them. "Xander, Graham." She spoke their names as if she was happy to see them, but Graham raised his weapon and pointed it right at her.

"I don't know if this will kill them, but it will kill you. So either you encourage your friends to put us back in our own dimension, or I'll kill you, lady."

Jenny stumbled back a step. "Graham. You wouldn't."

"Try me." Graham did not even sound like he was kidding. Oh, Xander had said he would happily kill Jenny, but he didn't think he'd meant it. Graham was sounding very much like he meant it. "You attacked us, first."

"No, I didn't." Jenny brought her hands up toward her face in a gesture of shock, at least that's what Xander assumed.

"Do it," Graham said darkly. "One gesture, one half spoken incantation, and I'll put a bullet through your brain. If you want to live, you will tell me what you did to Angel and how, exactly, to undo it."

"Violence is not permitted," the male demon announced grandly.

"Such animals," the female agreed, and then Graham's gun was simply gone out of his hand.

"Fuck," Graham swore. He reached back toward his belt where he had his knife, but he didn't actually pull it. Xander made sure to keep his hands away from his cinquedea. Angel had given that to him, and he did not want to lose it to the Bobbsey twins.

"Graham, you have to understand," Jenny took a step forward. She looked a lot more confident now that she didn't have a gun pointed at her. "I want to put this right. I want to make Angel whole again."

Xander frowned. "Maybe I missed a memo, but I was almost positive that you did the happy spell that made the soul come off. You were one of the only people who knew about the happy clause... except Whistler... which means the Powers knew." Xander neatly ignored his own part in helping the soul fall off. He'd deal with that guilt later. Right now he turned to glare at the Bobbsey twins. Yeah, getting pissy with demons was never smart, but Xander didn't feel smart. He felt like he wanted to hurt someone else as much as he was hurting. He wondered if the boy twin's boy parts were in a predictable place, because there wasn't a demon Xander knew who liked getting kicked in the reproductive organs.

A hand caught Xander, and he looked over his shoulder to see Graham pulling him back.

"Violence is not allowed here."

"They are too ignorant to understand."

"They can learn."

The Bobbsey twins had a moment of staring at each other, and Xander wanted to wipe the smug looks off their faces so much that his teeth ached with the need.

"Xander, I'm so sorry you were caught in the middle of this," Jenny said, and if Xander had a gun, he really might have shot her. "You don't understand the big picture."

"And you do?" Graham demanded.

"No, but the Powers do. They know how much suffering is caused by the chaos and violence."

"And they want to make it all better?" Graham's voice was sharp with sarcasm.

"Oh hey, would their idea of better be everyone dead?" Xander blurted out. "I get the feeling they're okay with everyone dead. A world of dead people would be pretty calm, and after all, you seem to be saying that the Powers wanted Angelus out so he could help make for lots and lots of death. Not that he's working really hard on the killing thing." Xander stopped, not sure what point he was trying to make because Angelus hadn't gone on any big massacres, which was a little surprising with his history. And even worse, Jenny had a look on her face like she felt so bad for him not being able to understand the way the world really worked—like she was so much better. "So, Giles must love having a wife who totally betrayed him," Xander said with a nasty smile. The look of pain on her face felt good.

"Such ignorance."

"Primitive brains. They are little more than beasts," boy Bobbsey twin agreed. "Enough."

"Oh not even close," Xander muttered, but he could poke fun of Jenny and her patheticness when demons weren't watching.

"Believe me, I would not have done this if there had been any other way. I sacrificed my marriage because I believed this was the right thing to do. Angel was on a path that was taking him farther and farther away from his destiny."

"Destiny?" Xander asked. "You did it on purpose, which yeah, I knew that, but you did it on purpose because of some plan, didn't you? I swear, I'm going to tell Spike to eat you."

Jenny actually laughed. "The entire government is searching for me, my family has disowned me, and my husband refuses to speak to me. Do you really think one more threat will bother me? But listen to what I am saying: there is a prophecy that a vampire with a soul can regain his mortality. Angel can be human again; he can finally be free of the demon that is destroying him."


"The Scrolls of Aberjian contain the Shanshu prophecy—it says that a vampire with a soul will complete the deeds that will make him mortal again. Angel can claim that prophecy." Jenny looked so damn sincere that Xander couldn't even come up with an answer for that. Angel was the demon. The human Liam had died centuries ago, but would he want to be human again?

"What deeds?" Graham asked, focusing on the details when Xander's brain was still spinning out of control.

"The Powers that Be are fighting the forces of evil that are gathering."

"Those guys?" Xander asked looking at the Bobbsey Twins because unless they had some seriously freaky powers hidden away, Xander was fairly sure they'd go down in the first wave of minions. As Powers went, they weren't impressive.

"We are the oracle," the twins answered in identical disdain.

"Let me get this straight," Graham said, "You want Angel to perform certain deeds in return for being human again?"

"It's a chance to regain his humanity." Jenny was practically pleading with Graham to believe her.

"How many deeds? How long is he supposed to serve them? What's their endgame?" Graham asked. Jenny just frowned in confusion without answering. "What are their short-term and long-term goals? Exit strategy? Targets?"

"It isn't important," Jenny said firmly.

"Lady, it definitely is. So, how is taking his soul off supposed to make him want to work for you? Angelus is not interested in being human and he is not going to take orders from these two." Graham crossed his arms and gave Jenny a dirty look worthy of Spike.

"None of you understand. The soul is there to make him suffer, not to let him create some new clan." Now she looked angry.

"Okay, maybe I'm not understanding the logic there," Xander said, "but your family lost someone, so they make this big curse. Only, the second Angel is happy, the soul comes off and then Angelus can kill lots and lots more people. I was there when Angelus came out the first time, half-starved and frustrated and ready to eat the world, and if you're trying to save the world from a monster, that is like the worst plan ever. That plan is pretty much punishing the world, or at least whatever part of the world is near the vampire all cranky with being locked up for a century. And now... now that you've stolen his soul, now you want us to help you hire Angel? Okay, the whole happiness clause is now sounding like the second worst plan ever because that is the worst plan. Angel's not going to work for you."

"Angel is going to understand the danger if he allows his demon to exist. He will want the prophecy." Jenny spoke, but it was the Bobbsey twins who stepped forward. The fog that had been swirling around their feet thickened, and Xander watched a ghostly version of Angelus form from the mist. He was smiling creepily, and blood was splattered on one side of his face. He reached up and collected it with a finger, which he then licked clean.

"So, what sort of information did the Watchers hope to learn?" Angelus was circling, his face amused as he looked at something below him. As he turned away, something else formed in the fog. A man was laying on a table, his hands tied to the corners with ropes so tight that his fingers had swollen to sausages. It looked like bits of masking tape dangled from his back, and Xander gagged as he realized Angelus was slowly skinning strips of skin from the man's body.

The color drained into the paining and now the man was a canvas of red and deathly white. "If you don't tell me, I will just torture you into madness and then turn you." Angelus leaned down next to the man's face and got an expression of mock sympathy. "I'll even be a good master and send you home after you've told me everything. It's wonderful being a vampire—no ridiculous rules to follow. So, who do you think you'll go after first? A child who kept you awake all night? A wife who doesn't understand you?" Angelus reached over and grabbed a trailing strip of skin and tugged.

Two things happened at once: the man screamed and Xander vomited.

"You turned him loose. You took the soul out, so if someone is supposed to feel guilty here, I think you should examine yourself." Graham moved forward with an expression like he was going to strangle Jenny with his bare hands.

"That has always been loose out there. That has been right under the soul the entire time. Angel had a soul when he came to Rupert's apartment and threatened him. Angel had a soul when he allowed Spike to kill Kendra. That was always there. You people just refuse to see it." Jenny screamed, pointing at the shifting mist where Angelus was just starting to drift apart into streaks of red and black. "You're blind, but the Powers have given him a chance to finally purge himself of that evil."

"By enslaving him?" Xander asked. He wiped his mouth, and a trail of slime clung to his skin. He brushed it off on his shirt. "You want to put the soul back in so he'll remember that, and then you're going to tell him that his way out is some prophecy that says he has to obey demons. I'm thinking that's a bad deal."

Jenny gave him the same look she did when he was a kid who mispronounced demon names, which wasn't all that surprising when Giles and Jenny had never gone out of their way to help him do anything right. But he wasn't a kid, and he wasn't the one being big with the stupid. "Xander, this is a chance to truly destroy the demon that has taken over his soul."

"Speaking of, where is his soul?" Xander asked.

"That is unimportant." The Bobbsey twin boy offered, only Xander was not buying that.

"So, you're holding it hostage until the demon does enough damage to make Angel easier to control? Lady, if you think you're on the side of the angels, you're even more brain damaged than I thought, and I never had a very high opinion of you to start with," Graham said.

"I'm thinking she's evil," Xander said. Maybe his honesty was going to get him in trouble, but he was getting to the point where he just didn't even care anymore. "These Powers, you know, the ones that haven't actually shown themselves, they not only set up some guy to get tortured, but they consider this part of their big plan. That's the sort of plan that Spike makes, and as much as I love Spike, he's evil. He's evil, and you're looking pretty evil."

Xander turned to the Bobbsey twins. "Look me in the eye and tell me you aren't the sparkly, pretty version of evil."

The male looked at him with disgust. "You cannot conceive of what I am."

"Which is not a no," Xander pointed at the twins. "Evil. Sparkly evil. Maybe even inconceivably sparkly evil." Xander turned to Jenny. "But they're using earth as a playground and they think we're the toys... or maybe we're the worms that get that icky stuff on the toys. And you think you have a right to hold someone's soul hostage because sparkly evil wants an attack dog on a leash. I'm telling you... right now, I’m thinking maybe someone should just tell Angelus how to find you because that guy on the table... I don't know what he did, but I can safely say you three so deserve to get a little of his attention."

The fog formed into a new image, and Xander stumbled back until Graham caught him by an elbow. Xander gasped as his mother's apartment in Sunnydale materialized. A picture of him during his last visit sat on a shelf above her small table, and his mom was in the kitchen laughing. Her brash red hair dye had vanished about the same time as his father, and now she stood with a pot of coffee in hand and her salt and pepper hair swept up into a ponytail and a smile. Xander felt dizzy as his mom's visitor materialized. Angelus had a knowing smile and the sort of relaxed air that Angel never quite managed.

"No." Xander whispered the word, his eyes already burning as he tried to not cry. She was his mom. And Angel knew he wasn't close to her; Angelus wouldn't go after her. Except Angel knew that Xander still loved her, so Angelus had. The memory of the man Angelus had tortured rose up in his memory so vividly, that for a second, Xander thought he was actually seeing the two images superimposed.

"Fuck," Graham swore. "If you let him do this, I will hunt you down, witch."

"That's the way men have always done this. They slam their way through and never understand that the universe works through magic and rules that they can't even understand."

Xander ignored Jenny's angry protest as he watched his mother fill Angelus' cup before turning her back. Xander searched the scene for any proof that this was an illusion. What had Dr. Mayet said, though? The truth was enough, sometimes, and this actually made sense now that Xander was thinking about it. Angelus wouldn't like someone taking away what he considered his, and he was going to punish someone. Something crawled over his cheek, and Xander raised his hand to brush it away, only to find it was a tear.

His mom had her back turned, and Angelus tilted his head up and sniffed. Was he testing the truth of what she'd just said with a laugh? Was he searching for Xander's scent? Xander held his breath, terrified as his mom turned around again and went to sit down at the tiny table. Angelus dwarfed it, and now Angelus reached out and caught his mom's hand, saying something that made her blush.

"Enough," Graham barked.

"No, I have to know," Xander said, almost panicking at the idea of the vision ending without knowing whether or not she had died just because he still loved her. The people at the table started speeding through time—their gestures turning into flutters until Angelus reached over and touched his mother's cheek before leaving. Outside, Angelus made a small gesture, and a vampire slipped out of the shadow to slink up to Angelus, his whole body radiating submission.

"He's just watching. It's a logical place to watch. It doesn't mean anything," Graham offered, but Xander's fear was a stone in his stomach. Of course it meant something. It meant that when Angelus got too frustrated, his mom was going to be right in the middle of a big old target. Xander closed his eyes and tried to sort through all the fears that crashed through him.

"If you believe that, you haven't read his history." Jenny sounded so damn happy, but that was his mom who had been sitting and having coffee with a monster who had charmed her.

"His history ended over a century ago. I don't assume that his behavior then will match his behavior now," Graham counted. "I don't mind telling you, in eighth grade, I was a real terror. I bullied pretty much anyone who stand still long enough to get bullied. I got over it."

"And you think he will? He's a demon. No matter what you think of what I did, we have the same objective now. We need to get his soul back to his body."

"Then tell us where it is, and we'll get on it. I don't think we need any more of your help."

"The soul moves along its own path," the girl twin offered. She held up a vial. "But this will return it."

"Return it to the body just as before," the male agreed.

"It's the only way to stop him," Jenny said in a soft voice that was probably meant to sound helpful or something, but right now, everything she said just sounded manipulative and bitchy. Xander looked up as something finally registered.

"Wait. His soul moved on?" Xander held his breath as he looked around.

Graham's eyes closed, and he pressed his lips together.

"But we can bring him back," Jenny said in a sort of bright cheerfulness that really did make Xander want her dead.

"But he's moved on." Xander stepped back, his chest aching so much that he wondered if he was having a heart attack.

"Xander, I'm so sorry," Graham offered, reaching out toward Xander.

"The vial," Jenny started to say.

"So, we pull him out of heaven?" Graham demanded.

"After what he's done, you can't think—"

"I think he was a good man who had asked God for forgiveness. So, if you sent his soul on its path, I'm guessing it found its way home." Graham turned his back to Jenny and moved close enough to Xander to put a hand on his shoulder.

"I think I'm dying." Xander said with a half smile. "Pretty wimpy, huh?"

"No," Graham said firmly. "Lady, I suggest you show us the exit before I break your neck."

Jenny walked to the Bobbsey twin and took the vial before walking toward them, the vial held out. "All of Angelus' evil came from that man. That vampire learned every petty and small thought in his head from the human soul who owned that body. If he's moved on to anywhere, it's hell, and the potion will bring him back from that. It will give him a chance to come back to this world, and even more, it will give him one last chance to be truly human and find a real redemption. One drop of this on him, and the soul is back in the body. Your alternative is to leave Angelus loose to play his games with the people of California. Maybe the Powers aren't the ones using earth as some sort of personal playground. Maybe you're hoping Riley will get pulled into this and the man who tossed you out on your ear will get eaten, is that your game?" Jenny asked. Xander watched as Graham went so still that Xander figured he was trying very hard to not break something. As long as the something in question was Jenny Giles, Xander was actually okay with some breaking.

"You truly are evil," Graham said slowly before turning to Xander.

"The choice is yours, but we do have options. One, we leave things as they are. The statistics are pretty clear that a territory owned by a master vampire has lower death rates than a fractured territory, no matter how many soldiers we put into the area. Spike held the hellmouth more effectively than your group, the slayer, and my unit combined. Even now, Buffy insists that the Hellmouth is quiet, but Riley's unit takes more injuries and casualties than most frontline units, and we can't have soldiers on every corner of L.A. Angelus could end up being less dangerous than the patchwork of minor vampire masters we have now."

"You can't...."

"Shut up," Graham told Jenny.

"Two, we can take Angelus out." Graham grimaced. "It would ensure that he didn't target us. Riley and Buffy would both back us, and with their help, we would have a pretty good chance. Three, we can try the soul spell and deal with the consequences. However, I'm not convinced that is a soul spell. It could be." Graham looked over at the Bobbsey twins. "It might be something else, and with Wesley trapped inside Angelus' lair, we have limited resources. Giles might be the best bet to confirm the spell."

Graham moved toward Jenny, and she took a quick step back, but he only snatched the vial from her hand before moving back toward Xander. Grabbing Xander's wrist, Graham forced Xander to lift his hand and then put the vial in it. "The choice is yours, but I'm going to back whatever decision you make."

"Me?" Xander's voice broke like he was some thirteen year old kid.

"Every option has tactical advantages and dangers. This isn't..." Graham stopped. He glared at Jenny Giles for a second before he continued. "This isn't a military decision. You know Angel better than any of us, and this is his life."

Xander stared down at the pale blue liquid in the clear vial.

"I don't think—" Jenny started to say, but then Xander lost his balance, like he was going down a slide standing up. He tightened his hold on the vial as Jenny's voice faded.



39. Chapter 39

Xander blinked as the sun shone right into his eyes. Okay, he was about an hour from sunset, which suggested that either he hadn't lost any time in the land of the white or he's lost whole days. "Graham?" Xander looked around and his guts tightened into one solid knot. If Xander needed any more proof that the Powers that Be were just one more group of demons, this would be it. Of course, Xander hadn't really needed any proof. So this was just the cherry on the shitcake. The Hyperion rose up in front of him, her classic lines as familiar to him as his own hand.

A woman brushed by him on the street, and Xander fumbled with the potion in his hand. "Shit shit shit." He clutched the vial close and backed away from the street. Oh yeah, he was getting some odd looks, but he really didn't need to drop this thing. God only knew what the Powers had given him. Armageddon in a bottle maybe.

A tree spread its branches over the sidewalk and part of the Hyperion's front courtyard, and Xander sat on one of the exposed roots and leaned back into the rough bark. The church was right down the street. But Father Peter would have run for it, and Xander didn't actually expect the church building to provide any answers. Spike was all the way over at the university, and Xander wasn't sure he had the energy to take the damn bus over there.

Closing his eyes, Xander ordered himself to just stop playing games. The truth was that part of him didn't want to go find Spike. Part of him wanted to just sit here until the sun went down and then he wouldn't have to carry the weight of all these decisions anymore. He wasn't decision boy. Everyone else always had the answers. Father Peter would tell him that he couldn't trust anything the Powers said and talk about feet of clay and tell Xander to hand the potion and the story over to the nearest church. Spike would probably just smash it and curse colorfully. Graham was all about tactical advantages and securing more intel. Xander... he just didn't know. He'd always followed his heart, and he was pretty sure that was broken.

Looking up at the light filtering through the branches, he held the potion in his hand and waited for some sort of answer to find him. If Father Peter was right about Angel being able to earn forgiveness for his sins, then Xander was pretty sure he'd been forgiven. Angel had been about as sorry as he could get, and Xander had woken more than once to find Angel fingering a rosary while smoke curled up from his fingers. If he'd earned heaven, did Xander really have a right to pull him out of that and bring him back just because Xander's heart hurt so much that he felt like he was going to die? A tiny, cowardly part of Xander thought that dying might not be such a bad answer, and maybe that was why he was sitting outside the Hyperion. Angelus would turn him. The him that cared about trying to make the right choice—the him who was so confused and hurting would just stop existing. Maybe the confused part of him and the soul part of Angel could hang out somewhere while their vampire selves got big and bad.


Xander rolled his head to one side so that his cheek rested against the rough bark. Wesley stood there shifting feet nervously.

"Hey," Xander offered with a weak smile.

"Um... yes, indeed, hey." Wesley was at his stuttering best. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing," Xander countered.

"Actually, since I live here, I doubt the question carries the same weight," Wesley inched closer, still shifting side to side.

"Are you about to jump on me or something?" Xander asked as he watched Wesley's increasingly nervous movement.

Wesley sighed. "I had been considering it. Angelus ordered me to capture you, which did pose a rather difficult dilemma."

"Because you like me too much?" Xander asked.

Wesley moved to a small brick wall and sat down, his body language tight, but no longer jittery. "I fear the compulsion spell would overcome any inherent fondness or respect; however, I doubt I could succeed in an ambush. Believe it or not, I am quite skilled with combat and weaponry when I have time to plan each move and prospective countermove; however, in battle, one rarely has the ability to make such plans. That would be why I tend to trip my own allies, a trait for which Spike has threatened to shave my head. I have no illusions about my ability to overpower you given that you were trained by Angel and Spike."

"Oh, I don't know. I'm feeling pretty not up to defending myself right now."

Xander sat upright as Wesley's whole body seemed to jerk like a puppet on a string. Or a puppet on a bunch of different strings all pulling different directions. Wesley grimaced in pain and used a word that Xander normally associated more with Spike than with Wesley and all his starch.


"I truly wish you would not imply that I could overpower you. I fear it makes the compulsion to do so very..." Wesley grimaced again.

"Okay, that looks freakily painful." Xander pushed himself up and went over to crouch in front of Wesley. Wesley's hand darted out and grabbed Xander's shirt.

"Please, get away," Wesley gasped, and his mouth twisted in pain. With a hiss, he jerked at Xander's shirt with all the grace of a thing with absolutely no grace.

"Wesley, I'm not going anywhere. If I was going to go somewhere, I would have gone," Xander assured him. Resting on hand on Wesley's knee, he clutched the vial close to his stomach. "I was just planning on sitting here until sundown because my knees are pretty much knocking at the idea of walking in there on my own. Only, I have a potion that I'm fairly sure is hugely bad, so you have to stop pulling at me. If we drop this, I have no idea what would happen, and our combined clumsy factor is not really of the good."

Wesley's body slowly calmed, and his gasps turned into a sort of panting. "Why?" he finally gasped out. He didn't let go of Xander's shirt, but Xander had enough room to sit next to Wesley, dragging Wesley's arm with him so that Wesley ended up twisting around so they were facing each other.

"Was Angelus gone last night or the night before? Like for all night gone with the car type gone?"

"Yes." Wesley watched Xander with a frown that just kept growing deeper. But that was the answer that actually made this easier.

"I think the Powers that Be were telling me the truth about Angelus visiting my mom. He charmed her into an invitation into her house, and from the looks of it, he was sniffing around to see if I'd been there."

"Good lord. Is she..." Wesley stopped. It was so weird. Wesley's face and voice showed nothing but sorrow and concern, but his hand was gripping Xander's shirt so painfully tight that the fabric was digging into his underarms.

"She's okay. Angelus was all weirdly in a good mood. But if he gets frustrated, how long do you think she'd live? How long do you think the people at school would live? How long do you think you'd live?" Xander asked.

"So, you find your own life worth so little, you would trade it away?"

"I'm thinking I'm just making the inevitable happen a little faster." Xander shrugged. "Kept running, and the more I ran, the more I didn't know where I was supposed to be running toward. The Powers want me to turn Angelus into Angel again, the weird evil lawyers are just being creepily helpful, and part of Ra, the big sun god, would like me to fall off a cliff. Actually, I think the Ra lady and the Powers would like all the humans to fall off a cliff, but it's me they all seem to be noticing. How long do you think I'd survive out there?"

"So you're just back here so Angelus can..." Wesley looked away, and the hand that was holding Xander twitched, ripping out the few chest hairs Xander had managed to grow.

"Kill me? Probably." Xander agreed. "He was all interested in turning me last time. But I'm thinking the alternative is letting him lose his good mood and starting ripping through everyone I know. And I get the weird feeling that the creepy lawyer guys are going to start helping him since I said I didn't want their help."

"Wolfram and Hart?" Wesley asked, his face still turned away.

"Those are the creeps."

"Angelus has one of their lawyers in the dungeon."

"We have a dungeon?" Xander tried hard to not think about the image the Bobbsey twins had shown him.

"Apparently so." Wesley sounded so tired.

"Hey, is there any way I could transfer the spell on you over to me?" Xander asked, suddenly hopeful. Maybe he could get Wesley out of the way before Angelus went and turned him.

Wesley turned and looked at Xander, his mouth open. "You would choose to take on a compulsion that puts you in the control of a bloodthirsty monster?"

"Um, pretty sure I'm going to be under his control anyway," Xander said with a shrug. It had sounded like a good idea in his head. Now, Wesley was looking at him like Xander had just suggested they kill Bambi or something. Xander turned to watch the patterns of light on the sidewalk. This might be the last sunlight he got to truly enjoy. He reached out his free hand and watched the sun and the shadows of the leaves dance over it.

"You should leave."

"Really? And what should I do with this?" Xander held up the vial he still held in his right hand. "The magical potion that turns Angelus into Angel. Unless the Powers that Be are lying, and then it could be the big vial that opens the doorway so that their world comes pouring into ours. Or maybe they're telling the truth and this would pull Angel out of heaven and shove him back into the body of a demon so he could remember all the terrible things he did when his soul was checked out." Xander looked at Wesley. He didn't have any illusions about what Angelus would have done to prove his mastery. Spike had said it often enough—rape and evisceration were a vampire's best friends. "Wesley, I'm really sorry. It's my fault you know. I made him happy. Jenny Giles helped by canceling some of the Cordelia stress with her spell, but I made him happy. If you want to blame someone, I'm really okay with you blaming me."

"I most certainly do not blame you. And if that blasted witch cast a spell, I am more than willing to put all blame at her doorstep. If your surrender is about guilt—"

"Nope," Xander cut him off. "This is more like being practical."

"By surrendering to Angelus?"

Xander thought about that, his heart pressing so hard against his chest that he couldn't breathe. "He knows me well enough that I don’t have a chance to get away," Xander said softly. "He knows I still love him." Xander's voice broke. He was so going to hell. Angelus was evil, but he was the only part of Angel, the only part of Liam still left. He was the demon who had given up hunting to go to the suckhouse because Xander talked him into it. He was the one who was so hurt over his father's assholiness that he had tried to prove himself by raping the world. He was the only who had run hands over Xander's body after Xander had confessed his love. Yep, he was officially going to hell.

"Oh, Xander." Wesley finally loosened his hold of Xander's shirt. His hand slid down until it rested on Xander's knee.

"So, I figure I've got a couple of choices. The Powers want me to throw the potion at him. That way Angel gets pulled back into the body where he can be miserable, and they can use that misery to keep him on a short leash and Angelus gets to be miserable under all the guilt. I can't do that to either of them." Xander rubbed his eyes with his sleeve and tried to just hold it together. "And option two would be the big Romeo and Juliet ending where I take him down and go down with him and hope that we end up in heaven together and that Father Peter is wrong about gays. And I might do that, only my chances of touching him are less than zero. So, I’m going with choice three."

"Surrender?" Wesley asked. "Are you entirely sure that's wise?"

Xander laughed. The sound rushed out of him so fast that for a second, he couldn't get a breath in. "Hell no. It's just the only choice that other people aren't pushing me to make. And face it; I'm not good at following orders."

"But Xander, he's not Angel."

"Nope." Xander took a deep breath. "I figure he'll turn me, and I'll be substitute Spike until Spike actually comes back. I guess at that point it will depend on how much I've annoyed him. But I don't think it will actually be me in there, so I guess it doesn't matter at that point."

"Good lord. Spike's coming back? Have none of you any sense of self-preservation?"

Xander laughed and snuffed. "Not so much. He'll be back as soon as Cordelia is safely dead of old age, so I guess in vampire years that's not too long."

"Well." Wesley stopped. "Angelus is not quite what I would have expected given the tomes written on his penchant for torture." Wesley chewed on his lower lip for a second, and Xander could only watch. The sun was about to dip under the horizon, so it was easier now. Even if he wanted to run, Angelus would catch him quickly enough.

"No stacks of drained nun's bodies?" Xander asked hopefully.

"No, indeed not. Three watchers from a retrieval team came to town in search of some blasted prophecy, and they certainly bore the brunt of Angelus' curiosity." Wesley cringed in a way that suggested that had been far less than pleasant. Xander had a pretty good idea how that had ended... or how it had gone in the middle anyway. "However, with the exception of those three, Angelus has been far more interested in making himself felt in demonic circles."

Xander nodded. "He's not a fifty year old fledge trying to impress his sire," Xander pointed out. "He's going to want bigger and badder bad guys to kill. Spike went through that phase with killing humans, and he actually gets cranky when people bring it up. It sends him off describing the hordes of vampires and scourge and actual big bads he's killed. Killing humans is a little like killing cows. Not so much glory."

"I am beginning to think that the entire watchers' library is utter bullocks," Wesley muttered. "However, I still think this is a foolhardy decision. Your grief and possibly your romantic view of Angel are coloring your decisions with Angelus."

"Probably," Xander agreed. "And hey, maybe if I were Riley or Buffy, I'd kill myself before I'd let Angelus turn me, but if I do that...."

"Angelus would most likely turn his frustrations out on everyone else."

"Yep. Maybe this is better, but it's my choice even if it sucks. Hopefully I'll settle for just tracking my father down and eating him. My mom really has always done her best, and her best wasn't great, but considering my best consists of sitting here waiting for Angelus to come out here, I don't think I really have a lot of room to criticize."

"Oh, Xander." Wesley's fingers tightened around Xander's knee, but there really wasn't much else to say. Xander watched the fading light of sunset dance across the windows of the buildings, creating shadow monsters in the corners of the corbels.



40. Chapter 40

Angelus stepped out from the shadow of the courtyard. The sun was just slipping below the horizon, and his skin tingled, a sort of lingering pain that warned him back to the shadows, but he was in no danger of bursting into flames, and the pain was only a reminder that he was, for the first time in a century, alive.

"Wesley, go inside," Angelus ordered. He smiled as the watcher jerked. The more the man fought the compulsion, the more amusing his pain became. Angelus watched the battle, which could have only one ending.

"Yes, master," Wesley eventually acceded before he seemed to regain control of his limbs. He ducked his head submissively and headed for Angelus, passing him without making any comment. Of course, Angelus would have to speak to him later because he was not pleased that the watcher had gone so far to try and convince his prize to escape.

"Xander, I had expected you sooner. Had ye not been so stubborn, I wouldn't have visited your mother," Angelus pointed out.

"Yep. I figured that part out." Xander was looking down, fingering the vial he'd described to Wesley as magic from the Powers that Be. Angelus' skin crawled. If that potion could force the return of the soul, it was far more dangerous than the sun.

"Careful boy. You miss, and you'll pay for trying. You and your mother," Angelus warned.

Xander looked up with startled eyes. It bothered Angelus that he couldn't understand what Xander was thinking. Xander was his, and the hidden thoughts were an anathema to him. If he owned Xander, then he owned Xander's thoughts. They should be open to him.

"I wasn't going to." Xander blurted the words and then reached over to carefully set the vial down on the brick wall before scooting back so that it was out of his reach. "If I used it and it ended up being a door to hell, that would be bad."

"And if it brought the soul back?" Angelus asked. He studied Xander, searching for the familiar body language that he could read as easily as the words on the page, but the language spoken by Xander's limbs had shifted. The twitches and looks were unfamiliar, and Angelus growled at the evidence that there was some part of Xander he didn't understand or command.

"Um, the soul doesn't want the guilt, and you don't want the soul, so I'm thinking that's a bad plan. And the fact that the Powers think it would be a great plan because they could control you using your guilt? Um, that makes it seem even less good-like. So, hey, it's all yours. And before you think about bringing hell on earth, just remember that the Powers are the sort of demons who like the all-powerful calm and boring end of hell. Happy-happy-joy-joy hell. Not really your sort of place." Xander looked down and curled the hem of his shirt around his finger, a gesture Angelus had not seen in many years.

Smiling at the evident capitulation, Angelus slid forward, his attention on both the vial and the street. If Spike or Faith wished to challenge him, he was more than ready for the fight. Angel had restored most of his power... training and feeding well enough that Angelus could feel the demon's strength coiled under the human skin. But now the last lingering traces of the soul were gone, so doubt and guilt wouldn't slow him. He would see Faith and Spike kneel to him as the clan leader or he would see them dead. The choice really was theirs.

Xander didn't move as Angelus final reached out for the vial, slipping it into his pocket before he moved to Xander's side. Angelus brought his hand down on Xander's shoulder, and Xander flinched. The smell of fear was intoxicating, but there were even greater pleasure to be had from a human body, and Xander would yield those pleasures or he would become a childe to carry on the line.

"Do ye fear me?" Angelus asked in a low voice, his fingers rubbing circles on Xander's shoulder.

"Um, only totally."

Angelus chuckled. "And yet you're here. You clearly know your place, m'fhear. I hope William comes to his senses as quickly or he won't like what I do to that pet of his." At the mention of Cordelia, Xander flinched again. The boy had such little common sense; he would advertise his weakness for everyone to see. In a vampire, that would be idiocy, but in a human toy, it was oddly charming. There was not any attempt to keep information from a master, only the total yielding of secrets.

"So, is this going to hurt?" Xander looked up, his gaze charmingly vulnerable. Drusilla was the last to look at him like that. Even now, William's gaze always had caution or challenge, but never the total submission of a young one to his master. Just as soon as Angelus found William, he would change that, but for now, Angelus planned to enjoy his newly recaptured prize.

"I suppose that's up to me," Angelus pointed out. The boy knew well enough that sharing a bed could be a great pleasure, a greater one than sharing the bed of a certain upstart. However, if Xander wished to play coy, Angelus could certainly that play game.

Xander's gaze slipped back down to settle at Angelus' feet, his breathing ragged.

"If you fear me so much, you should have hidden behind William. Or did he choose his viper over you and toss you out?"

"Not so much tossing. More like people pulled me away, and I didn't bother going back, and he's going to be more than a little cranky about that."

"He knows your place is with me, m'fhear. William is a fool who needs to learn to respect his betters, but he's not so much a fool that he would believe you would go back to him." Angelus pulled on Xander's shoulder, and Xander stood without raising his eyes. When Angelus slipped his hand around Xander's back, pulling him in tight, Xander finally looked back up with those large, vulnerable eyes.

"Now? Here?" Xander's voice broke the way it used to when he'd been a half-grown colt of a boy.

"Are ye saying no to me?" Angelus asked, the warning clear in his voice. While he might enjoy a willing human, there would be other humans willing enough. Considering her slavish joy in serving, the human Harmony probably would have been happy enough to lay under a master. Xander was not the only human who could serve. Angelus felt a flash of frustration at that because he didn't actually want another human. He wanted Xander, but he wanted Xander to be as he was before. And if he wouldn't be.... Angelus felt his eyes yellow in frustration. Xander shivered and shook his head before he tilted his head to the side exposing his neck.

Laughter chased the frustration from Angelus as he considered his boy's offer. Xander looked up, startled and blinking like a newly woken owl. "I'll not be turning you, boy. I was trying to offer you a kiss, but if you'd rather be more intimate on the street, I'll offer the good people a show they won't soon forget."

"Um... no. No, a kiss would be good," Xander said, and the smell of relief nearly washed away the fear as Angelus leaned down to claim Xander's lips. This was as familiar. He knew how Xander tasted, how he felt. The way he stretched up into the touch and made a little humming noise when Angelus pulled him in close... this Angelus knew. Angelus stood on the street with the noisy cars racing past and the first of his minions drifting out of the hotel, and he kissed Xander until the fear and misery had faded into the more familiar scent of a randy young man who would soon be moaning in Angelus' bed. Pulling back, Angelus watched Xander with amusement. The boy was easily led by his cock. Then again, Liam had not been much different. Human males were, by definition, weak.

"Master," a minion offered in a respectful tone as he bowed his way past them. Xander's musk sharpened.

"Xander," Angelus warned, tightening his arm around his boy as he headed into to Hyperion.

Xander turned his head toward Angelus and whispered. "I’m just having a small moment of freaking out. I'm supposed to be stopping vampires from going out hunting, not watching them go."

"As if you could stop vampires from hunting," Angelus said dismissively. "Even the soul knew that was a fool's game. At best you picked off the weakest and allowed the strongest to flourish without the others to muddy the hunting waters." The lobby had a dozen demons, and the moment Angelus walked in the room, the tone changed. Heads lowered, and one minion slipped down to his knees. Angelus smiled as he headed for the sitting room he had claimed for his audience room.

"Master, the lawyers have sent another message through the phone," a minion said from the desk. Angelus hadn't turned her, but she was turning out to be the most useful of the minions that had shown up after he'd killed the Baldwin Hills master. However, it would not pay to let her know that. He ignored her and headed for the sitting room. All the furniture was gone except for the large chair that now sat next to the fireplace Xander had so carefully restored. It was proper to put his newest toy back into place, much like the small toy he'd had as a child. He'd always carefully put back each small wooden animal into the small ark, and now he felt that same sense of completion as he brought Xander back to the room he had restored.

"Xander!" Harmony called out joyfully. Without letting go of Xander, Angelus used his free hand to slam Harmony into a wall. Xander jerked as her blonde hair flew around her face from the force. She hit the wall with an exaggerated squeak and fell to the ground. If she were not so good at cleaning the rooms and impressing the guests with her slavish adoration, Angelus would kill her simply for making that noise.

"Geez, sorry, master. It's not like you don't know I worship the ground you walk on. I was just surprised and happy... for you... happy for you," Harmony defended herself from the floor. "You two are like Rachel and Ross, only the gay version, and I was happy to see you back together."

Angelus sat in his chair and pulled Xander close. For a second, Xander was confused. He tried to slip in beside Angelus, but there were certain liberties Angelus did not intend to allow the boy until their roles were clear. After a second of squirming, Xander got the point and slipped down to the floor at Angelus' feet.

"Harm?" Xander called. Angelus frowned at the concern he could hear. He would not have alliances within his court. That was where old Heinrich had lost control... he had allowed Darla and Luke and Colin to form their own allegiances. Then again, the old fool had followed the prophet Aurelius, and as far as Angelus was concerned, only a fool allowed his life to be ruled by the dictates of another. He would form a new family, one based not on some unclear future but on the promise of pleasure and wealth. Heinrich had his caves and his prophesies and his hellmouth, and his bones would rot forever for all his troubles.

"Hey Xander, guess what? I finally got to have sex. I was really starting to get a complex." Harmony got up from the floor and flipped her hair back into place. "Do you need anything, boss? I could get you a nice brunette for lunch."

Angelus frowned as Xander's smell soured. "Get out," he ordered the minion.

"Geez, Mr. No-manners," she muttered. Angelus was half out of his seat, but she was already running, and he had other, more immediate concerns. Namely, his boy clearly needed some training.


Xander felt like he was caught in the middle of a Monty Python sketch. Harmony and her declaration were just the surreal icing on the weird cake.

"You won't tell me to drink bagged blood," Angelus snarled. Xander looked up, startled at the yellowed and angry gaze staring down at him. Obviously, he had done something to piss Angelus off.

"Nope, this is me not telling you what to do. Actually, I'm way ahead of expectations by just not dying, so I think I've used up my favors." Xander bit his tongue because he wanted to say a lot more. He wanted to say that he understood why Angelus was all touchy about getting told what to do because Liam's father had been an ass. He wanted to say that when Angelus had kissed him, Xander could almost believe that some part of Angel was still in there, but that would probably not go over real well. Instead he focused on the pattern on Angelus' leather pants.

"Isn't leather stiff?" Xander asked. "Not that I'm saying that you shouldn't wear it because hey, you actually look really good in leather, so I'm voting yea leather." Xander blurted the second part out the second he realized that he definitely did not want to go telling Angelus anything. He looked up, half expecting an explosion. Instead Angelus was looking at him with the sort of confusion that Xander thought was all Angel. Obviously he confused Angelus, too.

"You're worried about my pants?" A smirk slipped into place, and that was way more of an Angelus expression.

"Um, you threatened to beat Spike if he kept getting me tight jeans because you said that if I got killed because my pants were too tight you'd strip the skin off his back. So, I guess I'm just confused."

Angelus' eyebrow went up. "Maybe that was the soul's opinion."

Xander snorted, and then he nearly died as he realized that he was so seriously pushing getting-made-fun-of buttons. "That was not nearly as dismissive as it sounded," Xander said with a cringe. "Only, it kinda was. Seriously, the soul was all guilt having over leaving Spike with Darla. The whole threatening to kill Spike was way more you."

"The soul was an idiot," Angelus said with a grimace. "And leather is made from skin. It stretches as you move. We should get you some good fighting gear." Angelus' expression grew thoughtful. "A few minions could learn a lesson or two. Actually, after you stake them, they wouldn't be learning anything, but the ones who survived might learn to stop making assumptions. Truly, the quality of vampires in this city is abhorrent. At least the church and its hunters killed off the stupid minions. Now we have Harmony." Angelus sighed.

"You want me to stake Harmony?" Xander asked. He could feel his stomach growing its first ulcer.

Angelus gave him another confused look. "I thought she offended you with her offer to bring me a human for dinner."

Xander thought about that. "Well, she did. But you know, the panthers at the zoo would eat people if people were in their cages to eat, and that would offend me, but I wouldn't kill the panthers. Maybe. Actually, I'm morally ambiguous right now. Could you get back to me on that question?"

Angelus shook his head. "If you weren't so good in bed, m'fhear, I would fear for your survival."

Xander sucked in a breath.

"What?" Angelus growled the word, and Xander looked up, his guts curling into a tiny ball as he looked at Angelus' barely contained fury.

"What did I do wrong? Because if you're going to keep growling at me like that, I'm going to have a heart attack, and dead me would not be good in bed. I hope. That's just.... Okay, brain gone wrong here." Xander held his breath, half waiting to get backhanded or stripped and raped. In fact, the part of his brain that usually enjoyed indulging in horror films was sending up a regular film festival of images that would give Graham a heart attack, and Xander was not nearly as tough as Graham.

"You're afraid of me," Angelus accused him.

"You're growling at me. There's fear here. I can't help that."

"I try to be nice, and you feel fear. If you're going to smell of fear anyway, I can think of ways to enjoy that." Angelus smiled evilly, and Xander felt cold fear that sank into his very bones. Oh yeah, there were definitely worse things than dead, and he should have thought of that before. His brain was a little mouse running around a wheel, and everything Xander thought he understood about Angelus just slipped out of reach. Angelus had won. He had what he wanted. Why do this now?

Little rabbit breaths slipped in and out, and Xander couldn't get enough air into his lungs, but he forced himself to hold his breath until he was almost dizzy. Reaching out, Xander grabbed Angelus' knee just to keep his balance as his blood did odd things like leaving his brain. "Can't really stop you. And I can't stop from being afraid when I don't understand what you want. I came back, so that was my big move. I guess it's your move now."

"I said I wouldn't turn you."

"Please don't take offense at this and go growling at me again because my heart really is on the verge of giving out here." Xander took a quick look up and Angelus looked more confused than ready to growl. "But you lie."

Angelus laughed. It wasn't a dismissive laugh or even the sort that villains made right before shooting someone. It was an honestly amused belly laugh. "Of course. Everyone lies." Maybe some of Xander's confusion was showing because Angelus reached down and stroked Xander's cheek. "M'fhear, tell me what you are thinking."

Part of Xander wanted to just say, 'nothing' and pretend that he wasn't more confused and scared than he had ever been in his life, but he was guessing that Angelus' comment that everyone lied wasn't exactly permission for him to try it. "I don't know why you wouldn't kill me, and that is not a suggestion that you change your mind or anything because I was having nightmares about my body running around doing really goofy things."

"You would be a beautiful vampire," Angelus said in a tone that suggested he was trying for reassuring. And immediately he frowned.

"You're sniffing," Xander said loudly. Angelus actually blinked and pulled back in surprise. "Which explains the growling, but you can't hold me responsible for my smell."

"It's your smell that I want. If you're going to smell of fear like any human, then I'll treat you like any human," Angelus threatened. Yep, that was pure Liam, and Xander actually felt better now because he was starting to see the pieces of Liam in Angelus. They weren't the same, but they were there. Angelus was feeling jealous of Angel because Xander smelled lusty around Angel, and Xander was not going to think where Angelus' sibling rivalry had led to last time. That had not been a pleasant story.

"But you have to convince me that you don't see me like any human, and yeah you said it, but you know I don't really get things unless I feel them because my head is not nearly as smart as my heart." Xander scooted around so he could see Angelus better. "And I didn't actually think I would be having this conversation because I expected to be dead by now, so I'm a little unprepared to try and figure out how I feel about this."

Half way through the speech, Angelus started smiling. It was a sly smile, one that promised naughty, naughty things. "You want to feel me? You only had to ask, m'fhear."

"I did say that, didn't I?" Xander frowned. "I didn't actually mean literally." He expected Angelus to really get mad, but instead, Angelus lifted one foot over Xander so that he was straddling Xander, and then he started sliding off the chair. And wow, his leather pants truly did stretch. They stretched in all sorts of directions. "I'm not sure...." Xander said. He could feel his breath leaving him for a whole different reason. Angelus was now on the floor, his knees straddling Xander's legs, and Angelus used his hands to push Xander back onto the thick rug.

Angelus' smile grew wider. "Boy, your body and your mind truly do not have consensus in many areas. I have no need for more vampires, but any one that brings me such pleasure... he need not fear for his life, m'fhear. I didna lie when I told you that it was my hands on you, making you squirm with pleasure the last time we were together." Angelus pulled Xander's shirt, and buttons plinked off the fireplace screen and the floor and off something that rang like a muted bell.

"I'm so going to hell for this," Xander muttered, but his body knew this. This was familiar. In a world that didn't make sense with people who demanded things he couldn't understand, this he could do. Angelus put his hands on Xander's stomach, pinning him down, and Xander ran his palms up Angelus' forearms. He traced the line of the muscle under his fingertips, and Angelus smirked.

"You do not smell like you're suffering."

"Yeah, yeah, thinking bad. Let me freak out later," Xander said, tilting his head to the side and revealing the curve of his neck. A little part of him expected the fast strike, but Angelus moved just as slow as Angel ever had. Leaning down, he pressed his lips against the soft skin and breathed deeply. His cock was pressing against Xander's own, and Xander couldn't control his body anymore. He arched his back and pulled at Angelus' shoulder, trying helplessly to bring him closer. It never worked. No matter how much he tried, he could never budge Angel from the slow exploration.

With his eyes closing almost involuntarily, Xander let his worries slide away for later and just let himself perform this dance. His hands slid over the silk shirt, the cool fabric catching between his fingers. Arching up as much as he could, Xander held the back of Angelus' neck, pulling himself up into that touch with one arm while his other hand moved in toward the buttons, freeing them one at a time. When Angelus ran sharp teeth over his shoulder, a shiver went through Xander, and he gasped. The low chuckle was new, but the fingers sprawling over his stomach, tracing the curve of Xander's body, that was something he understood.

Xander pulled the last button free and started pushing Angelus' shirt off, letting his own hands explore a body strong enough to break him or hold him down and make him feel wonderful. Xander had the shirt halfway down Angelus' arms, exposing the shoulders so that he could run his hands over them, and then Angelus slipped fangs into Xander's shoulder.

Xander cried out in pleasure, the heat burning him and pressing close to pain while making him squirm for more. Strong hands caught him and pressed him down onto the carpet, and Xander found the touch, struggling to touch, to feel, to do something. However, all he could do was feel the growing heat gathering between them and suck in air that didn't want to stay in his body long enough for him to actually breathe.

Just when Xander was pretty sure that he was going to either die or come, or both, Angelus pulled back with a chuckle. "I knew you were still mine," Angelus said with a smugness that Xander probably should have taken offense at, but he just reached up and caught the back of Angelus' neck. He meant to pull Angelus down for a kiss, but instead, Xander ended up pulling himself up toward Angelus, opening his mouth in invitation, and Angelus took it. That's what Xander needed. Too much talk, and his badly overtaxed brain was going to start having thoughts again, and thoughts bad.

Angelus pulled back without warning, reaching down and pulling Xander's jeans open and pulling them down.

"Vial," Xander gasped, pointing at Angelus' pants.

"Someone needs a vocabulary lesson, boyo," Angelus said with a laugh as he grabbed his crotch.

Xander glared. "The vial. Don't break the vial. If I'm going to hell for still loving you, I would appreciate you not making hell come any faster than it needs to."

Angelus gave him an odd look, but he pulled the vial out of his pocket and put it carefully aside. "You will tell me the whole story of that."

"Like I understood any of it," Xander said with a snort. Angelus got a cranky look. "No, seriously, people were talking about hell and dimensions and statistics and uncles. It was very odd. And yes, I'll tell you, but I'm going to be weirded out when I do."

"Then it can wait," Angelus said firmly. "You think too much."

"First time for everything. Usually I don't think at all," Xander pointed out, but before he could come up with an argument to prove that, Angelus pulled the string on the funky tied front to his leather pants, and his erection appeared, thick and purpling and the head already poking out of the sheath. Xander reached out, but Angelus caught his wrist and held him an inch from his goal. Looking up, Xander waited for some sort of explanation, but whatever weirdness was going on in Angelus' head, it passed, and he released Xander's hand and watched while Xander reached out to run his finger along the exposed slit, collecting a drop of precum before bringing it up to his lips.

Xander had, unfortunately, hung around with Cordelia's cheerleaders long enough to know how much they complained about the smell and taste of going down on a guy, but to Xander, it was like salt and vinegar potato chips, and he had trouble stopping once he started with those, too. "If someone wasn't sitting on me, I can think of something to do with that," Xander offered as he eyed Angelus' erection.

"I can think of something I would rather do." Angelus stood up, and Xander watched while Angelus pushed his pants and shoes off in a graceful movement that would have left Xander tangled in his own legs and falling on the floor. Angelus picked up the vial and placed it in a box on the mantle before getting something out. The sight of lube was a real relief. Xander happened to know that Angel used blood when he took Spike, but that was not really something that worked with a human body. Angelus had turned back around to face Xander before it occurred to Xander that he should probably get rid of his own jeans.

Kicking, he tried to use one foot to push the jeans down on the other leg, but then his sneakers were still on, and the toe of his shoe got caught in the hem of the jeans, and Xander ended up softly cursing as he tried to straighten it all out.

Angelus chuckled. "Slow down, boy. My cock willna go anywhere." He saved Xander by capturing one leg and lifting it into the air so that Xander had to spread his arms out to keep his balance. His cock hung down and his lower back left the rug as Angelus held him in place while freeing his foot from the sneaker. Angelus lowered Xander's leg until his butt touched the carpet and then held it there. It took Xander a second to figure out to offer his other leg. Hey, if Angelus had a kink for holding him helpless while stripping him, Xander's cock was totally on board with that plan. With both shoes off, Angelus easily pulled the jeans off, and then the underwear so that Xander was now naked.

He went to turn over onto his belly, but Angelus caught him, holding him down with large hands on Xander's hips. "You'll look me in the eye and know it's me and not your beloved soul you're giving yourself to, boy."

For a long minute, Xander just looked up. Angelus' face was calm, impassive, and that wasn't an expression Xander saw on him very often. "I always loved the soul and the demon," Xander finally answered. "The soul has earned his redemption, and you're the one left here to love me back."

"And if had been me who'd been banished? If you'd been left with the soul?"

Xander didn't need Graham's degree in psychology to figure out the issues not-so-hidden in that question. "I probably wouldn't be having sex because Angel and sex were never an easy combination," Xander said slowly. From the look of disgust on Angelus' face, he'd noticed that on his own. "I'd still love Angel, but I don't know what we'd be doing. Probably looking for a really good therapist."

"So, you prefer me?" Angelus' look turned smug.

"I..." Xander stopped. He didn't want to lie. "I don't know," he answered. Angelus frowned. "I don't," Xander defended himself. "I don't know which of you was what part of the man I loved. Seriously, thinking bad. My brain stopped working hours ago."

"I'll just have to remind you of what you like, m'fhear." Angelus knelt down and pushed Xander's legs open. Xander yielded, happy to let the bigger question go because right now he did know what he liked. Angelus pulled Xander's legs up until the knees hooked on his shoulders. This was definitely new, but then Angelus slipped a slick finger inside, and Xander curled his hands into the rug and stopped thinking at all. He squirmed and called out as Angelus opened him faster than normal. The pressure in his cock was different at his angle, and Xander wanted to reach up and grab himself, but when he tried, Angelus would always shift his weight just a little, forcing Xander to spread his arms out to keep from being rolled to the side.

"Please," Xander gasped out, and finally Angelus pressed his cock against Xander's opening. He pressed in slowly for the first inch, and Xander arched his neck and just about screamed with frustration. Then Angelus drove forward. The heat drove into him, stretching him until he thought he might come apart at the seams and the come just spill out. Xander screamed and tried to thrust up into the air, only to find himself unable to do anything but hold onto the floor as Angelus drove into him over and over. Xander screamed Angelus' name as he came, and Angelus just continued his pace. The heat grew as Xander squirmed and called out incoherent noises.

Finally Angelus gave a little triumphant grunt and thrust one final time. For long minutes, he held Xander in place, bent in half and impaled on a still sizable erection. Vampires pretty much stayed hard until they didn't want to be hard, but usually Angel softened as soon as he came. Instead, Angelus slowly pulled out and stood up, his cock still fully hard.

Xander let his legs thump down onto the carpet and then lay sprawled in a sweaty and hot mess. "Damn," he breathed. He cracked an eye open and Angelus was still standing over him, erection firm as ever. "If you want round two, I'm all for it, but my cock has gone to its happy place for many hours. It's taken most of my brain with it."

Angelus didn't answer. He reached down and took his own erection in hand and slowly stroked himself.

"Give me a few minutes to find some brain cells I lost and I'll help you with that," Xander offered weakly. In truth, he just wanted to lay boneless and happy for the next year or so. With his eyes closed, the splattering was a surprise. Xander opened his eyes just as Angelus finished ejaculating on him. Come was splattered over Xander's stomach and chest, and a few drops cooled a pattern of spots on his face.

"You're mine, m'fhear. You don't have to think of all these other things because that is a fact you will never change." Angelus made the proclamation as if that could cancel all the moral dilemmas in Xander's head. Actually, it probably was his attempt to solve the problem, so from an Angelus point of view, he was probably trying to be nice.

"Got it," Xander agreed. No matter whatever else happened, he was Angelus', and he'd just have to try to do the right thing from inside a very wrong place. "Oh, and just so you know," Xander said sleepily. "Just because you're suddenly way better at sex does not mean I picked up any mad skills along the way. So, I hope you aren't going to get all cranky when I still do stupids."

"Like trying to snort my come?" Angelus asked with amusement.


"Will you still smell contented as you demonstrate your questionable human reflexes?"

"Totally," Xander agreed. He opened his eyes in surprise when lips touched his in a soft kiss.

"You are mine. If you serve and obey me, you will never displease," Angelus promised as he knelt next to Xander. And then he was up and pulling his pants on. Clearly the snuggling had come from Angel. Xander pushed that small kernel of unhappiness aside and tried to find the peace he'd known just seconds ago.

"Sleep, boy. You smell of exhaustion." Angelus pulled a blanket from the back of the chair and draped it over Xander. "I'll be back for ye." With that, he went to the box over the mantle and took the vial. Even though Xander honestly tried to sleep, he found he couldn't.



41. Chapter 41

Angelus dressed in the dark, not wishing to wake Xander. Awake, Xander drifted between contentment and despair in a pattern that Angelus could not understand. It annoyed him. A little part whispered that he could permanently solve that dilemma by simply breaking him. It had worked with Dru. However, he possessed something with Xander he'd never had with Dru.

When he touched Xander until the grief faded, the boy yielded himself up in ways that even Dru never would. Oh, she would yield quickly enough, but she did it with the coy expectation that she would get something from it. When she'd been human, she had yielded in return for her family's life and then, later, in return for the false hope for a quick death. After he'd turned her, she sought her own pleasure or protection or an audience for her ramblings. Angelus preferred Xander's unconditional surrender without any expectation.

However, he did not appreciate the periods of despair. The boy was right, though. Words would never convince him, so it was time for Angelus to get his family back. The boy was a social creature, and he needed his clan back. A fractured clan put stresses on the firmest loyalty.

Angelus smiled as he slipped his weapons into place. So, it was time to identify the weakest link. Of course that thought always made him think of Spike. The boy certainly wasn't the foppish waste of flesh he once had been, but if Angelus could get his hands on Cordelia, William would fall right into line. The fly in that ointment was Cordelia herself. If Angelus kept her chained, Xander would most certainly object. And if he turned her... well, he did not need another sharp-tongued shrew of a vampiress. He'd had that misery already. Angelus could never understand why the idiot soul mourned for Darla when she'd been such a misery to their unlife.

The memory of her hands guiding him to drink from her neck rose. Alright, she wasn't always a misery. He'd relished the feeling of being valued and owned. When she had chosen him over her old master, Angelus would have walked into the sun to please her. He had thought that he had finally found the loyalty denied him in life. But she had clearly not valued him all that much. She'd turned him away when he'd crawled back to her side, soul and all. Sometimes Angelus liked to remember her face when she'd looked at him with such loathing and then remember her face as she turned to dust. Bitch. She'd been wrong through. She was dead and he was the one still alive to enjoy all the pleasures she liked to indulge in.

The soul could wax poetic and lose himself in the romantic fantasy. Angelus remembered the reality—and the reality was that she would turn him over to a hunter to save herself the trouble of having to step over a mud puddle. Spike might have some illusion about Cordelia being his queen, but Angelus suspected she would turn out as mercenary and cold as Darla herself.

Turning, he considered the young man sprawled out in bed, hugging his pillow as if it was Angelus himself. Xander had chosen him over everything he had ever known. The contrast was not lost on him. So, Spike and his viper might need to wait. That left Faith and her human. Faith had obeyed him in all things: following Wesley when she had still been in Sunnydale, going to Washington, returning home. She was a likely candidate; in fact, she might obey if he simply ordered her back. However, the soldier was an unknown.

Riley had cast him aside. Angelus headed for the door, his thoughts turned to the smell of Graham's fear as Spike had circled him. He had come so close to breaking... not because of any fear but because of the way his ties had been so rudely severed from his human group. Angelus smiled. Graham's parents had died when he was young. Up until now, Angelus had considered that a liability because it left very few points of leverage on the pair. However, both had an overwhelming need for family and stability they lacked in their life, and Angelus was nothing if not stable. Oh yes, Faith and Graham would be the next to rejoin the family.

Decision made, Angelus closed the door behind him and headed down into his kingdom. The hotel was full of the scent of submission and fear, and minions scrambled to their feet as he walked down into the room.

"Boss!" Harmony called out with a cheerful smile. Angelus narrowed his eyes in warning, but it was a warning she did not heed. If it were not for the annoyance of having to manage the lair, Angelus would snap her neck. "The lawyer says he has to talk to you. I told him that he did not want to see you before you had a chance to catch someone to eat, but he says he'll take the risk."

Angelus stopped and considered that. Xander had admitted that Wolfram and Hart had not only cancelled the tracking spell but had attempted to pull Xander into some fool's bargain. Luckily, Xander was not a fool. Changing direction, Angelus headed for the dungeon the minions had set up in the basement.

"Should I bring you a girl?" Harmony called after him, but Angelus ignored her.

Soon he would have to get a majordomo to run the clan as Luke had managed affairs for the old master. He thought about Dalton with some longing. That man had known how to run the logistics of a clan and he had been quiet, a trait Angelus was beginning to appreciate. Most of his vampire life, he had avoided minions unless he needed someone to throw at a pitchfork or a torch-carrying crowd of peasants. Darla had considered them below her. Angelus just never understood how right she had been. They were-- as a whole--annoying, incompetent, groveling worms. As much as Angelus appreciated a good bout of groveling, their relentless quest for the best sycophantic behavior really did go too far.

Angelus reached the bottom of the stairs, his dark mood deepening by the second. The basement remodel was shoddy at best. The table he had used to torture the watcher into revealing his secrets was crooked, and one of the minions had died for that little annoyance, but Angelus did not plan to ask Xander to correct any of their work. The one flaw that his boy would always carry was in inability to understand that enemies did not deserve mercy. Angelus would simply have to protect his boy from his own ignorance.

"Comfortable night?" Angelus asked. The lawyer looked up, his hair falling forward into his eyes, but with his arms chained to the wall, he could do nothing to prevent that.

"I have a deal for you," he started.

"I've been looking for a vampire with some talent for logistics and finances, are you volunteering?" Angelus watched as the man twitched. The chains that bound him to the wall rattled, and the smell of fear and urine grew thick.

"Wolfram and Hart has a lot of resources..."

"Like the ones they used to take the tracking spell off my human?" Angelus asked mildly enough, but the man's eyes went wide.

"I swear, I don't know anything about that. I came to you with open hands and an honest offer of alliance. I don't think you understand how much we could help each other." He talked so fast that the small cut on his lip from Angelus' earlier attentions split open again.

"So, you believe I'm ignorant," Angelus checked. Oh yes, this was the sort of enjoyment the soul would never allow himself. Angelus stalked forward, watching the little lawyer and his little rabbit heart pound so frightfully fast.

"I would never say that."

"I believe you just did."

"I just want a chance to explain everything we have to offer. A vampire such as yourself has to understand the value of having the law on your side... and the irony. I hear you're a big fan of irony. I can appreciate that."

Angelus stopped him by bringing a hand up to his mouth, running his finger thought the blood that sluggishly trickled from the split lip. Bringing it to his mouth, Angelus made an appreciative hum of his own. "Your request for an audience interrupted my breakfast."

The prey swallowed fast, his Adam's apple bobbing merrily and his hands closing into fists. "Russell Winters found me very useful... in the courtroom."

"I'm not Russell Winters," Angelus pointed out. That moron had been defeated in his own lair by Angel, so the little rabbit would not win any points with that argument. Angelus frowned as it suddenly occurred to him that this little nameless emissary had been the same human Spike had fed on during that conflict. At the time, the man had been lucky that Spike had been too afraid of his sire's wrath to kill. It looked like the rabbit's luck had now run out.

"I have a lot of talents."

Angelus ran his hand down over the prey's chest where the heart was beating so fast that it was a fluttering under Angelus' palm. "What sort of talents?" Angelus purred the words, well aware that the little prey was hoping to trade only his education and his words.


"Please? I do enjoy begging. What I enjoy even more is a good little slave that provides his master with information without dissembling. You, however, have not been a good little slave. If you're not willing to talk, I can find other uses for your mouth."

The prey snapped his mouth closed, almost instinctively, and Angelus smiled as he brought his finger up to run across those closed lips. A willing partner who found joy in the coupling was a relatively new pleasure for Angelus, but one need not give up old pleasures for the new.

"Wolfram and Hart has plans," the prey blurted out. If anything, his heart was beating even faster, fluttering at a speed that was bordering on dangerous. "They have seers, and their seers have told them that you might bring Armageddon for the other side."

"Armageddon?" Angelus laughed. "Only a fool wants to end this world full of pleasures. A fool or a madman." Angelus didn't mention that more than once during his century of imprisonment within his own body that he had yearned for that. Death would have been preferable to crawling through alleys in search of rats as prey, and if he could have taken out the rest of the world with him, that would have simply been a bonus. However, one simply did not give up the pleasures he had now with his court. He had a warm, willing and loyal bed partner waiting for him. He had a court of minions that lived and died on his word, and he had a city full of demons waiting to tremble at his feet.

"The soothsaysers—"

Angelus cut him off with a laugh. "They always sound so confident, but their words twist and distort the truth." Drusilla had been like that, screaming warnings that sent them running into the night, only to have the attack of which she had warned happen four years later. But the rabbit was too frightened for this to be a matter of such little consequence. "What have they done?" Angelus asked. He leaned forward, smelling deeply of the terror that poured from the little rabbit.

"Please. They'll kill me."

Angelus smiled and leaned in closer until he was sniffing little rabbit's throat. "You'll be lucky if I only kill you," Angelus whispered. He licked the front of rabbit's throat. The smell of urine intensified, and Angelus took a step back. He had business to attend to, and he did not need his prey's urine on his shoes while he did it. "Last chance," Angelus warned.

"They're determined to break any connections between you and the Powers that Be. They want to have some sort of eyes on the inside of your court."

"So they sent you?" Angelus considered the poor creature in front of him. He was dirty and bruised and reeking of humanity. If this was Wolfram and Hart's best spy, the organization was not nearly as organized as Angelus had assumed.

"I was just here to make the offer. We could provide tactical teams, magic users, seers, anyone you want. We want to have an alliance with you."

"But I'm not interested in an alliance with you, no more than I have any interest in the Powers," Angelus answered, backing up another step. If this one had no other information, it might be time to throw him to the minions. He was too soiled for Angelus to have any interest in him. He turned to leave.

"Wait!" Rabbit called out after him. "They're doing some sort of a raising."

Angelus didn't even bother to turn around. "A raising?"

"I don't know. I was only told that if this went badly, I only had to survive long enough for a demon named Voca to perform the ritual. They said that you would be easier to control then."

Angelus turned and snarled at the lawyer; the very thought of worms like this trying to control him made him ill.

"I could be leverage. Holland says I have a bright future with them. They would pay to have me back." The words tumbled out of the rabbit's mouth, and for a second, Angelus was caught between destroying this little piece of vermin that had crawled into his court and keeping him just to torture him more.

"Boss?" A voice called from the top of the stairs. "I’m sure he's not down there. We should go look on the fifth floor," Harmony was saying loudly. Angelus caught the faint answer. Ah, so his boy was up. Without a word to the rabbit, Angelus went up the stairs. Harmony was trying to shepherd Xander toward the stairs, and Angelus narrowed his eyes at the way the minion touched his Xander.

"Angelus!" Xander called out. He ducked around Harmony and headed straight for him. Angelus held out his arm, accepting his boy's hug. The smell was not of contentment, but it showed no sign of fear or misery, either. Time would prove to his boy that he could be content again. Until then, Angelus would simply have to play the game well enough to get his prize—a happy Xander. Unlike William, Angelus knew how to show patience in a hunt.

"M'fhear," Angelus greeted him. Leaning down, he sniffed at Xander's neck, and Xander tilted his head obligingly. Several of the minions went into gameface, their jealousy making Xander's blood even sweeter as Angelus slipped his fangs in for just a small taste. Licking the wound, Angelus leaned back to look at his boy. "You're still tired. Why are you awake?"

"You were gone." Xander shrugged, his face pinking and his smell starting to sour. Angelus frowned. He disliked his inability to understand Xander's shifting moods. He had hoped some sleep would make Xander less mercurial.

"I have to defend the clan," Angelus pointed out. While Xander might not appreciate the torture of a human, he would have to respect the need to defend one's territory.

"Defend us? From what?" Xander's misery faded, replaced with a sort of aggressiveness that Angelus had not yet smelled. Humans were so very interesting, and yet he had focused only on the terror the whole time he had been a fledge at Darla's side. He had been a fool. Darla had been the larger one for never teaching him the nuances of human pleasure.

"Angelus?" Xander asked, his head tilting in concern when Angelus didn't immediately answer.

"Wolfram and Hart," Angelus answered.

"The creepy little girl guys," Xander said, wrinkling his nose in disgust. "What are they up to?"

"I don't know, but I will find out. I need to go out and see what schemes they are hatching. You stay here." Angelus looked around the room, evaluating the various minions with a glance. None of them appeared to have the audacity to challenge him by laying hands on his Xander. Angelus reveled in having such control over a court that he could trust a great prize in the middle of a nest of vipers and know that the vipers were too afraid of him to touch it.

"What?" Xander asked, incredulous. "No way."

Angelus frowned at Xander, catching him by the back of the neck and squeezing just hard enough to warn him to watch his mouth. Xander gasped, and misery leaked from him as he dropped his eyes down to the ground.

"I'm sorry. I didn't think," Xander said, gasping in little breaths that made him sound entirely too much like prey.

"Master, does that mean we can have the lawyer?" Harmony asked hopefully. Angelus sighed. He needed to find a majordomo so he could dust her, and he needed to do it soon.

"No." Angelus snapped. "Put him in the cell, and don't eat him."

Harmony huffed. "I know his name. It's rude to eat people when you know their names. I was only going to play with him. Lindsey's kinda cute, and it's not like you're paying a lot of attention to me, you know." Harmony gave another little huff and headed down the stairs. If Angelus were not concerned about other matters, he'd follow her just to rip the tongue from her mouth.

"She's trying to distract you," Xander whispered. He leaned in until his head rested against Angelus' chest. "I was stupid to say it like that, but if you're mad at her, you won't be mad at me. That's why she's being so Harmony-y."

Angelus frowned at that explanation. It suggested that Harmony had altruistic motives, which wasn't in the nature of a vampire.

"So, let me try this again," Xander kept talking before Angelus could object. His voice was a soft whisper and he kept his head tucked in close. "I know I'm not that strong. I mean, I'm strong compared to humans, but compared to most demons, I'm on the puny side of the scale. I get that. I've gotten that for a really long time now. But one of the reasons we kick so much ass is that I can do things you can't, like go in a house and invite you in or pick up a cross."

"I can pick up a cross," Angelus growled. He didn't like this conversation, and he didn't like that it had a certain logic to it. Xander had led the attack on the mayor, handling the first wave when the sun was still high enough to keep him locked inside and watching.

"Okay, I can pick up a cross without burning my hand, and if Wolfram and Hart have two active brain cells, they'll be ready with anti-vampire stuff."


"Sunlamps, crosses, houses you can't just walk into. Please, don't leave me behind worrying about you."

Angelus reached down and tilted Xander's head up with a finger under his chin. "You want to be my hunting partner?"

Xander didn't answer right away. He looked around and took a deep breath. "I don't want to help you hunt anything that isn't big and evil." He paused, his scent souring as he took another deep breath. "Honestly, you're going to be really mad at me when I say this, but I really would rather be dead that help you hunt people who aren't big and evil, but Wolfram and Hart is both, so can I just say I want to be your partner in this?"

Angelus stroked Xander's cheek. His boy was an endless source of surprise. "I will deal with these lawyers and whatever they plan to raise. I don't need your help in this m'fhear. Go back to bed." Xander took a deep breath, suddenly smelling even more weary than ever. He nodded and gave Angelus a small smile before he turned to head back toward the stairs. Right, now that Xander was settled, Angelus had to go deal with a meddling law firm.



42. Chapter 42

Angelus turned the corner, watching the tail lights of the car fade into the night. Cars were so much more convenient than horses. He could follow the man who had approached Xander, and there were not nickering horses to betray him. Holland Manners. Angelus might not bother with the name of the little rabbit in the basement, but he would not soon forget the name Holland Manners, and that man would pay for interfering with Angelus' clan and frightening his Xander. Xander was not easily spooked, and the story of Holland and the girl with the power had clearly left him shaken and fearful. Someone would pay for that. Of course, Spike would be one person to pay for putting Xander in such a precarious position, but other blood would spill as well.

The road they were on was narrow, and Angelus slowed. He could smell power nearby, and the sound of the car in front of him ended. Clearly, they had reached their final location. Angelus slipped his car into park and sat, smelling the air and listening to the night. The air smelled of ash and marigold and power. Drusilla had always loved marigolds, picking them until her fingers stank of them and whispering that they made the stars sing brighter for her. Thank heavens the idiot soul hadn't chosen some car that would cut him off from his greatest assets. William's habit of smoking and playing music so loud that he muffled the very senses that offered him an advantage—it only proved his inferiority. However, there would be time to teach his boy that lesson.

Getting out, Angelus moved silently through the trees until he saw the small brick building. Magic crawled along the ground like fog, and something teased at the edges of his senses, distracting him. Shaking his head in frustration, Angelus allowed his demon to rise up. Moving around to a window, Angelus could hear Latin drifting through the air like a Catholic mass. With a smile, Angelus considered just how much he had enjoyed Catholic masses before the soul had taken over. Nuns made the most delicious treats with their pious belief and their prayers. The ones he liked most were the ones who died still praying, their blood sweet with hope even as they died a fool's death.

Angelus sighed. Of course, if he indulged in that little pleasure, his boy might find out. And from tonight's outburst, it was clear that his boy would not be able to hold his tongue. Clearly, he would have to give up that indulgence unless he wanted to lose the pleasures he'd found in his boy's willing body. And Xander would simply have to provide him with enough satisfaction to make it worth Angelus' sacrifice.

Pushing the corner of a window open, Angelus watched as Holland Manners and a woman stood to the side of a ceremony. Vampire dust swirled around a crate, and a masked demon read in a voice that grew louder as robed, human minions repeated his words. A burst of magic blossomed like night lilies that scented the air, and then the scent and the feel of magic skittering across his skin slowly faded.

"Is that it? Is it done?" Holland asked the masked demon.

"She has risen. The prophesy turns to our favor."

"As long as she gets the job done," the woman said in a rather dismissive tone. But then another figure came out of the shadows.

"I shall be her mummy. I shall sing to her when she sleeps and Angelus will be her daddy and my Spike will come spinning back to me." Drusilla spun, her arms thrown wide so that the hooded minions had to retreat from her path.

"I'm sure you'll be a wonderful mother, and we'll be here to support you every step of the way," Holland agreed.

Angelus glared as he realized that Drusilla had fallen for the soft words that had sent Xander running. Damn it. He would not have his clan or his childer manipulated by humans—not now—not ever. It was time for someone to die.

"Daddy, don't be cross," Drusilla sang, bringing her knuckles up to her temples and rocking back and forth. Luckily, Holland and the others were largely ignoring her as they gathered around the crate, using a crowbar to free one end. Angelus abandoned the window and moved around toward the door, pulling his sword out as he moved. The minions to the masked demon were coming out as Angelus turned the corner, and he swung—decapitating one and badly wounding the other in a single swing. The scream brought the masked demon out, a sword already half out of its scabbard.

"Angelus!" the masked one called out. "I am not your enemy."

"Then you should have stayed out of my clan business," Angelus countered as he brought the sword around in a swing that could take a man's head off. The demon brought his own sword up, and the two clashed with a loud ringing noise. The other demon was thrown against the wall of the building, and Angelus smiled at the apparent weakness.

"I am Voca, warrior of the underworld and the one who brings death to the Oracles that would enslave you."

"Then you killed prey that should have been mine," Angelus pointed out. He brought his sword up, but before he could bring it around, Voca struck with a foot, sending Angelus back several steps and forcing him to abandon his attack in order to regain his balance. Voca used the opening to throw something to the ground, and blackness filled the air so completely that Angelus couldn't see or hear or smell anything for the time it took for three human heartbeats, and then the darkness was gone along with Voca. Instead, Holland Manners stood in the open doorway. Drusilla was kneeling next to the injured assistant, drinking from him as he made a death mewl.

"Angelus!" Holland called out. "How wonderful to have you here for ceremony. Had I known you were interesting in coming, I would have invited you myself. Please, come in."

Angelus brought his sword up defensively. Like Xander, he suspected that Holland was not as affable or as harmless as he appeared. Unlike Xander, Angelus was perfectly willing to kill the man. Not even seemingly bothered by Angelus' aggressive stance, Holland smiled and backed up into the room.

"Daddy," Drusilla sang, her mouth bloody from her feeding. "I'll be the mummy now."

Angelus ignored her. He had learned years ago that he could never expected to understand her odd ramblings, so it was time for him to see just what Wolfram and Hart had been up to. Walking into the room, Angelus could see the impromptu pentagram etched into the floor and the open crate in the middle. The smell. He knew that smell. Bending over, Angelus looked at the miserable, shaking human crouched in the far corner of the crate.

"Angelus?" Darla called out weakly, and Angelus recoiled from the horror of seeing his sire reduced to this miserable lump of human flesh. She reached out for him, her hair streaked with sweat and her hand shaking. "Angelus, help me."

Instead, he stood and turned toward Holland and his female companion.

Holland gave an unctuous smile. "We were made aware of the fact that the soul that had wrongfully imprisoned you had summarily executed your sire. As a gesture of good, we went to a good deal of effort to bring her back. It's a family reunion of sorts... at least once you get young Spike back under control, and we have faith that you will be more than capable of that."

"Angelus, help me," the woman in the crate called. Angelus took another step back.

"I'll be your mummy. I'll make it all better," Drusilla said as she came in and went to her knees in front of the crate. "Come to mummy."

"Angelus!" The human called out to him, stinking of fear and need. She crawled to the edge of the crate and reached out for him. His sire had terrified him and taught him new and obscene pleasures. She'd tormented him and teased him until he'd laid in bed panting and sweating and limp. He had a thousand memories of his sire, but in none of them had she been weak and pathetic and so very human. Her very humanity disgusted him.

"I'll be the mummy and you'll be strong. You'll sing to the moon and stain it red with the blood of innocents." Drusilla knelt up and clapped her hands in joy. For a second, Angelus imagined what that would be like... to walk back to his lair with a sire returned to her full power and his favorite child at his side. This time, he was older—stronger. Darla would have to respect what he had done and the power he commanded within the demonic community. She would see that he was not some fledge to be abandoned when they were down to the last horse and the hunters were upon them. She would give him the respect he had earned by battling anyone who challenged him. He had led an attack on a necromancer and had claimed his treasure. He had wiped out three clans who had refused to bow to him.

Drusilla clapped again. "She'll eat the puppy and the moon will cry and we'll all dance under the stars." Darla was still looking around, confused, but Drusilla held out her hands, and Darla moved toward Drusilla. Angelus frowned at the mention of the puppy.

"Drusilla?" Darla asked quietly.

"Grandmother," Dru answered with a mindless smile. Then she went into her gameface and pulled Darla closer, burying her face in Darla's neck.

"This is a family moment. We should leave you do it," Holland Manners said with such oily sincerity that Angelus made up his mind to kill the man, not that he'd really had much doubt before.

"This is a family matter, and you shouldn't have been involved at all," Angelus corrected him, swinging his sword to the side to block Holland's retreat.

Holland held his hands up. "Now, there's no need for violence. We are both practical men with practical concerns, like how to defend our own positions."

Angelus smiled, an expression that often led to terror in humans. Although Holland only watched impassively, the female with him stank of terror now, and her eyes darted from Angelus to Holland and back. Perhaps she was starting to understand she had chosen the wrong champion to defend her. "You hope that by bringing her back, you can control me," Angelus said, his voice was mild, but for the first time, Holland actually reacted the way a human was supposed to—he paled.

"I would never—"

"Yes, you would," Angelus interrupted him, stalking closer. Holland backed up a step, and a click warned him a half second before sunlight shone down in a beam that encircled Holland, protecting him. Angelus snarled, but he had to fall back. High in the rafter, a squeak and the whine of machinery suggested that Holland had some sort of remote control devise hooked to a sunlamp.

"That won't protect you forever," Angelus warned. The female was now pressed close to Holland's side.

"I hope you'll come to see that we aren't enemies. Wolfram and Hart has a lot of respect for you, both for what you've done in the past and what you can do in the future. Bringing Darla back is simply a token of our esteem."

Angelus glanced over, and Drusilla was holding Darla to her breast—the smell of blood and magic heavy in the air. Darla would turn again. And unless she had changed, Drusilla was right—she would want to kill the puppy that Angelus had taken such a liking to. Darla had been ready to kill Drusilla until Angelus had shared her, offering his project up like a cat offers his owner the mouse he had hunted. Well, he was too old and too powerful to accept a sire in his life. Not after finally achieving the success he'd found, and he would not offer up Xander to be used and broken at his sire's knee.

Striding over, Angelus took Darla's limp and stinking body from Drusilla's arms. Dru frowned at him, cocking her head as though someone were whispering in her ear, and Angelus figured he had a limited amount of time before she started throwing one of her fits. With Darla's body in his arms, he turned to face Holland and his companion.

"If you want to show your esteem, then you ask how to please me." With that, Angelus ripped Darla's head from her body and allowed both to fall to the ground in a tangle heap of limbs and death.

Behind him, Drusilla started wailing. Holland took a step back, leaving the beam of light for a moment before he stepped back into it, clearly counting on the light to save him from Angelus' wrath. Angelus remembered his first day seeing the young fledge Drusilla had brought home. He'd held his hand in the sunbeam and let the pain wash through him as William watched, all awe and reverence. That one moment had spared William an early and dusty death, and William could certainly have told Holland just how much protection that light was not going to provide.

Angelus darted forward, hand outstretched. The light burned into his skin, and smoke rose from the flesh. However, that didn't stop Angelus from pulling Holland out of the light. The man gasped and grabbed for his pocket, but Angelus caught the arm and wrenched it up until the bone gave with a wet sounding snap. Holland screamed. Smiling at the sound, Angelus forced Holland to turn and then pulled him close so that Angelus could smell the terror and the power that clung to his skin.

The female called out Holland's name, but she didn't leave the light, and now she was clutching a cross to her chest as if that would protect her.

"I was to be her mummy. The stars promised!" Drusilla wailed.

"Your employer is going to die," Angelus told the female human calmly, breathing in the smell of prey like an elixir. "Whether you die depends on how you handle yourself in the next two minutes."

"Call for reinforcements," Holland gasped out. Angelus watched as the dark-haired woman's hand twitched toward her pocket, but then she stopped and looked at Angelus.

"Liliah, call!" Holland cried out, his voice finally reaching that perfect tone of desperation that Angelus loved to hear.

"Grandmother," Drusilla now crooned. She had Darla's decapitated head in her lap. Angelus cringed from the sight. Maybe he should have waited until the demon took hold so that Darla could return to the neat pile of dust he'd left her back in Sunnydale.

"The first rule," Angelus said, taking a moment to lick Holland's neck. The man gave a desperate attempt at battle, squirming deliciously in Angelus' grip. For a second, Angelus lost track of his words as he lost himself in the pleasure of the moment. The prey was helpless and suffering and yet the power rose like steam from his sweating body. The purity of a nun had never given him the pleasure that powerful prey gave him. Darla had always guided them to hunt in the alleys and bars—among those who were helpless and destitute. That was one more reason to send Darla back to hell because he would not give up this pleasure, not when he was already having to sacrifice others to keep his boy.

"The first rule?" Liliah prompted him. Angelus opened his eyes and considered her. She might make a good vampire—she certainly was keeping her cool and she seemed to know how to follow the strongest leader, and Holland and his increasingly weak struggles had lost her allegiance.

"You ask what I want or you risk displeasing me," Angelus said. He drove fangs deep into Holland's shoulder, feeling flesh and muscle rip under his rough treatment. Blood flowed into his mouth, and Angelus drank deeply, feeling the power of both human blood and latent magic ripple through him. Drusilla started sobbing as she sat on the floor, her dress bloody and her fingers stroking Darla's hair. Holland's heart slowed as Angelus fed until it finally stopped with one last thump. Angelus dropped the body and stepped over it, toward Liliah. She clutched the cross so tightly that her knuckles turned white.

Angelus looked at it with amusement. "It won't save you," he pointed out. Liliah didn't answer, but she didn't let go of the cross either. Let her keep it; she was nothing more than a child clutching a security blanket and hoping it would keep the monsters away.

"Okay," Liliah said slowly. "If that's your first rule, why don't you tell me what you want?"

So, the little mouse had some balls. Angelus studied her, wondering how much he could trust Wolfram and Hart. Certainly, he wouldn't want them too involved in his business, but this situation might work to his advantage.

"Graham Miller."

"The soldier," Liliah immediately responded. Angelus narrowed his eyes in warning. If Wolfram and Hart wished to collect information on his, they had best do so without aggravating him. She paled, so hopefully she had received that message.

"He's gotten himself lost. Return him, in good condition and without harming anyone else and I may consider forgiving this blunder."

Liliah nodded. Angelus turned to leave, but she called out to him.

"And Lindsey?"

"Do you really care about him?"

"Not particularly," Liliah answered. "But the senior partners will want to know."

"Why?" Angelus waited to see if she would surrender the information or attempt to play some game with him.

"Like you, there is some reason to believe he may be a player in coming prophecy."

"The prophecy that is currently spinning out of your control?" Angelus asked. His boy had told him of the conversation with the various demons Spike had delivered him to. When Angelus got his hands on Spike, he was going to strip the skin from that boy's back and then pour holy water on the wounds for that failure to protect his sire's property.

"Yes, that prophecy," she agreed with a wry smile.

"Please me, and we might be able to discuss his future," Angelus offered.

"He's alive?"

"Until you disappoint me... perhaps even if you don't." Angelus shrugged; it made no difference to him whether a human lived or died. Turning, he left the space with the stench of cooling blood and death. Darla. He shook his head at the idiocy of that plan.

Angelus was crossing the space to the trees when Drusilla darted in front of him, her eyes up on the stars and her hands stained with Darla's blood.

"The puppy peed. I tried and I tried and I tried to clean it all up, but the yellow of it stains the world." She started moaning, her hands clutched to her ears as if the stars that were always whispering had begun to scream.

"Not in the mood, Dru," Angelus warned.

She looked down at him, her body swaying. "Bad puppy," she pouted. Pulling her hands over her cheeks, she left long streaks of red across her face.

"If you touch the puppy, I will punish you." Stepping forward, Angelus grabbed her by the arms and shook her. Her head flew back and forth and she laughed with wild abandon.

"Will you let the whip taste of my blood?" she asked when he finally finished shaking her.

"I'll let the minions taste of your blood," he threatened her, hoping that would reach what little sense of self preservation he had left her when he tore her sanity away.

"No!" she screeched as she flew away from him. "All wrong. Slipping, slipping away."

"Listen to me, Dru. I won't let anything that is mine slip away. If you threaten the court..."

"No. No court. Death. Death and the dark new life risen to father the beast." She fell to her knees and moaned as if mortally wounded. "Slipping away. Bad puppy. Little milk teeth chew the teat."

Angelus sighed. As much as he loved her adoration when she was sane, he had no interested in coaxing her out of her insanity right now. If Wolfram and Hart brought home his missing soldier, he had preparations to make. If they didn't... well, he would have to find a proper way to show his displeasure. He wondered whether Lindsey delivered in a number of small, wrapped packages was too pedestrian to make his point properly.

Turning his back on his still-moaning childe, Angelus headed for the car. If she recovered and presented herself at court, he would love to have his dark childe and her adoring eyes at his side again. But if she was not willing to recognize that he was the master and he did not follow her stars... well, she would be better off disappearing into some corner of the world far, far away from him. Her stars were in his past, and he was making his own future.



43. Chapter 43

Xander sat up as a group of men, dirty and bloodied, walked into the lobby. Angelus was still muttering with one of the minions, but Xander was thinking that humans really shouldn't be coming into a vampire lair, not even one that had turned into the Grand Central Station of demons. Xander glanced up at Angelus, but he wasn't even twitching, and Xander so hoped he wasn't about to see a bloodbath. Angelus had either been freakily non-lethal or non-willing to kill in front of Xander, and honestly, Xander rather liked it that way. These guys were definitely going to ruin that trend, though.

The group had weapons slung over their shoulders, but none moved to draw one as they stepped into the lobby and stopped in front of the raised dias Angelus had set up for his throne. Xander gasped as he caught sight of a familiar face in the middle of the group. Angelus stopped and slowly turned to face the group. One word, and this was going to go so very, very badly. Xander got one leg under him and prepare to get the heck out of the way if a fight broke out.

"Master Angelus," the head of the armed group said, inclining his head in a deep half-bow. He gestured and the others in his group bowed even lower. All except the cuffed and bleeding man in the middle. "You had suggested you might be open to a trade, so Wolfram and Hart has sent a gift to open the negotiations." One of the soldiers dragged Graham to the front. His face was cut, and one sleeve of his shirt had been totally torn off, exposing a pretty nasty cut and what looked like rug burn, only the worst case Xander had ever seen. One of the soldiers brought a billy club down on the back of Graham's leg, and he fell forward to his knees. Other than a grunt, he didn't comment, but that must have hurt.

"If he's a gift, he's not a well cared for one," Angelus said, and he eyed Graham without showing any emotion. Xander held his breath, terrified of what Angelus might do, but even more terrified that Xander could say the wrong thing and make Angelus think that he had to kill Graham to keep Xander's loyalty or save face or something. Sometimes Angelus' demon logic was so demony that Xander couldn't even hope to follow it.

"He killed three of my men and put two more in the infirmary. He is as unbroken as we could get him." The leader of the group stepped forward so he was standing next to Graham, but Graham just stared forward at nothing in particular. Xander chewed his lip with worry. Where were Faith and Spike? No way would they just let someone take Graham. And why would Wolfram and Hart target Graham?

Angelus stood up and stepped down off the platform, stopping right in front of Graham. Graham didn't even twitch. "Remove the cuffs," Angelus ordered.

"Sir, I wouldn't suggest—" The commander stopped when Angelus reached over and snapped his neck without even looking. One of the soldiers near the back grabbed for his weapon, but the guy next to him caught his arm and kept him from doing it... which probably saved his life. Xander could see the demons shifting into offensive positions. These guys were about to be dinner.

"Do I have to ask again?" Angelus turned his gaze toward the soldier who had forced Graham to kneel.

"No, sir." He bent down and quickly uncuffed Graham, but Graham didn't even react—not that he could do much reacting with Angelus two inches away. "Compliments of Wolfram and Hart." The soldier backed away with another bow, and a hand gesture sent his troops edging awkwardly toward the door. They didn't even bother taking the dead commander who lay sprawled next to Graham.

"Toss this for the carrion eaters," Angelus said, kicking the body. It was Harmony who moved in to grab the body and pull it out of the way. Most minions tended to avoid Angelus right after he'd killed, but Harmony clearly wasn't bright enough to recognize his mood. Then again, she wasn't dead yet, either, and Xander had expected Harmony dust more than once. She got the body to the edge of the group of minions that always seemed to gather in the shadows and then a couple of them took it from her.

"Stand," Angelus ordered. Graham didn't even glance up. He simply stood and went to parade rest, his hands still behind his back. Xander held his breath and prayed that Angelus would take Graham's gesture as submission and that he didn't end up getting thrown out with the commander. Running a hand over Graham's chest, Angelus studied him. "Any broken bones?"

"No, sir."

"Internal injuries?"

Graham hesitated, and Angelus' hand paused, resting over Graham's hip. "Bruised kidneys, some pretty good bruising everywhere, but I've had worse."

"And yet you took out three of Wolfram and Hart's commando team. Maybe the time I spent training you wasn't a total waste." Angelus got a thoughtful expression on his face and then he turned and came back to his throne. Xander watched silently, wondering if Graham even understood what it meant that Angelus had just publicly claimed him... not claiming like for dinner but claimed as in told the whole court that he had trained Graham. "Did they take the slayer or that idiot childe of mine?"

"No, sir." Graham stared forward, but Xander figured he had to be putting off fear smell like mad because Angelus was breathing deeply, and he was pretty clearly enjoying whatever he was smelling.

"Since Faith has allowed her toy to wander, I'll have to make sure I take good care of it until she comes home," Angelus smiled, and Xander closed his eyes and leaned against Angelus' leg. Of course he would want Faith back. And sadly, Xander was guessing that part of Faith wanted to come back, so this would give her the perfect excuse. Xander was even guessing that Angelus cared about her in his own way. It's just that Angelus' way of caring about something was to own it and make sure he put it away where he wanted it, and Faith had spent way too many years getting treated like an object for that to be even a little bit healthy.

"Someone get Wesley." Angelus didn't even bother specifying a particular someone, but a minion broke off and darted back to the library. Graham just continued to stand at parade rest, not reacting when a minion started edging forward.

"Is that lawyer of theirs even alive?" Angelus asked the room.

"Yes, master. He offered me all sorts of stuff to try and get me to let him go," Harmony said with a cheerfulness that made other minions edge away from her, like they might catch her enthusiasm the way a human caught the flu. "Like I would ever pick him over you." Harmony rolled her eyes at that thought. "He's such an idiot, but he's a really cute idiot."

Angelus ignored her and watched as Wesley hurried into the room. "Did you bring it?"

"Yes, master," Wesley agreed, hurrying up to offer Angelus a small box.

"Will it work?"

"I tested it myself, master. It's fully effective with humans, and effective to a lesser extent with demons, although many demons are actually able to detach limbs, up to and including...." Wesley cut himself off when Angelus waved a hand at him. Wesley gave Xander a worried look, but there wasn't anything Xander could do, and Graham seemed to be avoiding looking at either of them. Angelus opened the box and took out a silver cuff that looked like a plain, wide bracelet.

"Here," Angelus said, throwing it at Graham. "Choose which arm will be disabled and burning with agony if you try and leave the hotel." Angelus watched with a sort of thinly veiled amusement as Graham looked at the thing he'd caught for just a second before snapping it shut over his right wrist.

"Your fighting arm?" Angelus tisked. "Never leave yourself vulnerable, Graham. I obviously didn't teach you well enough."

For the first time, Graham's gaze focused, and he looked at Angelus. "It serves as the stronger reminder that I'm not leaving this hotel on my own." For a second, the two looked at each other, and then Angelus laughed.

"Any human a slayer chooses as her own would have to have some fire. At least you know your place." Angelus leaned forward. "You do know your place, do you not, boy?"

Xander froze, every instinct warning him that this was about to turn so very, very ugly. The minions shifted, a couple practically squirming with anticipation. Graham bent his head forward. "Yes, master, I know my place, and it's where you tell me to be." He stood, the cuff on his wrist and his head ducked for long seconds. Angelus stood up and moved silently forward, his hand coming up to brush the curve of Graham's neck, but Graham stood still.

"Xander, tend his wounds. I don't like to see my toys so misused. In fact, I may need to go misuse Wolfram and Hart's lawyer to make a point about that."

"Yes, master," Xander agreed, hoping a little extra sucking up would put Angelus in a good mood. He moved toward Graham. Angelus waited as Xander came close, reaching up to cup Xander's face with his palm, and Xander smiled. This could have gone so much worse, and with every day, Xander could see Angelus struggle to recreate the formula that Angel had used to claim his family, his respect. Xander waited as Angelus ran a possessive hand over his shoulder and chest, and then Angelus turned and headed for the stairs to the basement. Xander knew that Lindsey had come here to betray Xander, and he still had to feel a little sympathy for the guy. If this didn't teach him the perils of working for evil people, nothing would, but then Xander didn't have a lot of room to preach on that front.

"Wow. You really got the snot kicked out of you," Xander said as he really got an up close look at Graham. Graham smiled, but one side of his mouth was swollen so it turned out crooked.

"You should see the other guys."

"I really should get some healing ointment. You're rather seriously injured," Wesley said softly. "Where do you plan to take him to clean up?"

Xander knew exactly where Angelus would want Graham. "Where he should have been the whole time—his room," Xander said. Wesley got a strange look on his face, but then he nodded, and hurried away. Carefully slipping an arm around Graham's waist, Xander tried to help him since he had developed a big limp on his left side.

Without warning, Harmony came up behind them and just lifted Graham into her arms and headed for the stairs. "Oh, I hope Angelus finds those guys and eats them. They shouldn't have hurt you like this, and where was Faith? Isn't her job to stop bad guys from doing things like beating up her boyfriend? You know, Buffy was the same way when she was dating Devon. She would act all concerned about him, but then when he got in trouble, she was all slay this, busy that. Only back then, she didn't so much let on that she was the slayer, so she had all these really stupid excuses, like studying for history, and trust me, Buffy never studied for history. Based on her school scores, she so could have been a cheerleader." Harmony headed up the stair while giving her running commentary, and Xander could only trot along after her, hoping she didn't bruise any of Graham's bruises. "And Angelus said you might be coming, so I changed all your sheets, but if you get in bed with all that blood, you are going to need new sheets for the new sheets, so you should probably clean up first. If you're feeling up to it. If not, I'll just change the sheets again tomorrow." And with that, Harmony reached the room Graham normally shared with Faith and carefully put him down by the door.

"Are you okay from here?" she asked, finally stopping long enough to actually listen.

"I'm fine, Harmony, thank you." Graham braced himself on the doorknob and kept his left foot off the ground.

"I just don't like to see you hurt." Harmony looked around like she was saying something dirty in the middle of church or something, but then for a demon, maybe she was. "I like you guys," she finally admitted.

"I like you, too," Graham said. "I was worried about you—so were Cordelia and Faith."

"Not Spike?" Harmony actually sounded upset at that.

"Spike's a little busy being angry at pretty much everyone, and since I got myself captured, I think he's probably added me to the list," Graham said in a stage whisper. That seemed to cheer Harmony up, and she smiled.

"I'm glad to see you get captured. Angelus would get cranky if you were gone too long." And with that, she leaned in and gave Graham a quick kiss on the cheek before she turned and hurried back down the hall.

Graham watched her go and shook his head. "Some things don't change."

"It would take more than death to change Harmony," Xander agreed. "Is everyone really okay?" Moving closer, he got his hand around Graham's waist again, supporting his weight before he opened the door to the suite.

"Relatively okay."

"Is Spike really mad at me?"

Graham stopped hopping for a second, forcing Xander to stop with him. "Spike is absolutely furious with you. He wants to lock you in a cage and put a leash on you. He also understands why you did it."

"Why I didn't use the soul spell or why I came back to Angelus?"

"Both," Graham said with a half shrug before he turned his attention back toward the bathroom. "I don't think I can get my clothes off on my own."

"Hey, as long as you don't mind the gay guy helping you get naked, I'm okay with that." Xander cringed. "That came out wrong."

Graham laughed. "It's just good to hear that you seem to be in one piece mentally as well as physically."

Xander maneuvered them into the bathroom and set Graham down on the toilet. "Angelus wants what Angel had, which means he wants all of us in place without any additional bats in the belfry. He did the crazy thing with Drusilla, and I'm not sure it worked out all that well for him."

"Well, I guess that means I made the right choice."

"What? In getting your ass kicked?" Xander asked. He knelt down to unlace Graham's boots so he could get them off without hurting the ankle any more than it had been.

"Faith and I talked about whether she wanted to come back. I offered to take a transfer to Outer Mongolia so she could come back without giving Angelus leverage to hold her here."


"Well, Paraguay, actually, but yes. Faith is a slayer, and that means she brings a certain prestige to the court, and has a certain level of protection from that. As a human, I know I don't."

"But Angelus would have wanted you back, anyway," Xander said.

"Which is why I'm starting to think that staying was the right choice, even if this is one hell of a mess. Angelus sent those guys after me, and I suspect he would have sent them to Paraguay it that's what it took." Graham hissed as Xander worked the boot off the swollen ankle.

"That must have hurt to walk on."

"Getting forced to my knees was a relief," Graham agreed. "But I wasn't going to let those assholes see pain."

"So, the others?" Xander asked. He pulled off Graham's right boot and then looked up. Graham's face was a mask of pure weariness.

"Angelus has good reason to be cheerful. He's flushed us out of a couple of lairs. Spike is fraying at the edges, Cordelia is worried, and Faith..." Graham closed his eyes for a second. "Faith is always going to love Angel above everyone else. He saved her. He was the first person to ever forgive her, and I have always understood and respected that. I wouldn't expect to replace him in her heart any more than I would expect another girl to stop loving her father because she fell in love with me. And as we've seen more and more evidence that Angelus has come back a little more sane than he was a century ago, she's been torn."

"She wants to come back," Xander said softly. He didn't know how to feel about that because Angelus wasn't Angel. Some of the words were the same and the touch was the same, but it wasn't Angel. Xander still loved him, but a part of him would always ache for the gentleness and the uncertainty and the inherent goodness that had died with Angel.

"She knows it won't be the same, but yes. Maybe part of it is that her demon has an allegiance here. Maybe Angelus' court politics and the fact that he seems to be making more trouble in the demonic world than the human one just makes it easier for her to believe he won't force her to be evil." Graham sighed. "The consensus is that you've really changed him, and that's made it easier for Faith to considering coming back."

"Me?" Xander looked up, shocked. "Okay, I'm not doing so much changing as I am doing sitting at his feet, and in his bed, and when he's out hunting things, hiding on the fifth floor and renovating the west wing."

Graham frowned. "Xander, he killed Darla."

"Um, duh, a long time ago," Xander answered. Angel had done that back before they were even friends.

Graham gave Xander a very odd look. "Wolfram and Hart brought her back about a week ago. They tried to recreate the old Scourge of Europe, and apparently Angelus killed Darla and drove Dru out of the country."

Xander's mouth fell open as he tried to come up with some sort of response to that. Angelus was all about the power, and the Scourge of Europe had been big with the power.

"Spike seems to think Angelus is a lot saner this time around—that's one reason why Faith was considering following your lead. I just thought if I wasn't here to use as leverage, she might find it easier to back here. I guess that's not an option." Graham fingered the silver cuff. "At least Angelus seems more interested in securing his own power than taking out any nunneries."

"He's not a fledge. If he wants to impress people with his big bad self, he's not going to pick on the sheep," Xander said. "Whatever made him hate the church before, maybe Father Peter made it better, not that I'm going to say that because I'm still not okay with his position on gays, and really, I don't want Angelus to even think about him. Getting a priest killed is an express train to hell, and I prefer the old fashioned steam engine train to hell I'm on, thank you." Xander gave a dark laugh. "He really killed Darla and sent Dru away?"

"Yep," Graham agreed. "Actually, the number of paranormal deaths has actually dropped, so personally, I think you made the right choice," Graham said. "Riley agrees."

"Riley? Riley and Buffy know?" Xander fell back against the vanity and slid to the floor. Okay, having your ex-best-friends know that you chose the bed of a serial killer. Not good.

Graham rested his injured arm on the counter. "We had good cause to believe Angelus went to Sunnydale, that he had a minion watching your mother's house. The oracles were manipulative, but they seemed to excel in manipulating the truth. We couldn't expose the group in Sunnydale to that danger without warning them."

"I know. I'm just... creeped out," Xander explained. "And worried. Buffy is not good when it comes to using logic around Angel. It's like she lost all logic when she started crushing on him, and when the crush was over, the logic never came back. She still blames Angel for letting Spike kill Kendra, but Graham, Spike was the master of the hellmouth. Angel was a guy living in a basement apartment drinking cow blood."

"So he couldn't have stopped Spike, I understand that."

"He really couldn’t have." Xander looked up at Graham and tried to find the right words to make him understand. "Angel was sweet and confused and kind, and maybe even a little nerdy because he really liked reading big boring books and drawing. He did not have a whole lot of big bad in him. When the big bad showed up, that was more Angelus, and back then, Angel was not really into channeling his inner Angelus. But Buffy still blamed him, like he could have stopped Spike. If anyone gets the blame, I do for not convincing Kendra that Spike was too dangerous." Xander ran his hand through his hair and wondered if that wasn't where things all started to get to very weird. When he was young, right was right and wrong was wrong, and now right and wrong were all kind of muddled together, and that did seem like the beginning of the whole moral slide into confusion.

"The blame goes to the watchers who convinced a child that she had to fight alone," Graham said firmly. "Xander, I hate to say this, but if you don't help me get these pants off, I'm going to end up peeing myself."

"Oh geez. Sorry." Xander got back up to his knees and helped Graham. Once the shirt was off, Xander could see the beginnings of a spectacular map of bruising. The cuts on his arm were the only bleeding wounds, but he had several places with deep puncture marks surrounded by red swelling. Xander reached up to trace one. "Ow," he said sympathetically. "Were the others hurt?"

"Blair and I were out getting supplies. The goons were targeting me, so I ordered him to run like hell. If he did get hurt, I'm going to make him do pushups until his arms fall off for not following orders."

"What did this?" Xander asked, feeling the swelling like a giant bee sting just under the skin.

"Tazers. Hurt like hell. Actually, all of me hurts like hell. I probably fucked up the ankle even worse walking on it, but I wasn't about to let them see me limp. And here I thought I was above acting like some macho idiot." Graham laughed as he leaned forward, resting his weight on Xander's shoulders. Pulling his thoughts away from the horrors laid out on Graham's skin, Xander focused on getting Graham's pants off.

"Oh shit."

"I seriously hope you're commenting on my hip and not the size of my equipment, there," Graham joked.

"What the hell happened?" Xander asked. He ran his fingers over the skin above Graham's hip, and it was hot and swollen and red.

"One of the soldiers decided to kick the shit out of me for shooting his friend. His friend is still dead though." Graham sounded grimly pleased about that.

"You win on the hiding the injuries prize. You do know Angelus is going to be pissed you hid all this, right?" Xander asked. Graham settled back down onto the toilet, and Xander pulled his jeans the rest of the way off.

Graham sighed as he pushed his cock down toward the toilet, but he didn't pee right away. "Angelus ran his hand right over it. I think he already knows just how bruised I am. I just hope Wesley has something that can help or I'm going to be totally immobilized tomorrow." With a grunt and a grimace, Graham started to pee.

"Hurt?" Xander guessed.

"Like I'm peeing fire," Graham agreed, his voice tight. Xander moved to the bathtub and started warm water running. Angelus wanted all his toys back in place, but he would never understand why he had done something horrible by sending Wolfram and Hart after Graham. Angel never would have put Graham in that much danger, and Xander felt a wave of grief roll through him. Sometimes he thought his head was going to come apart from loving and grieving so much at the same time. And the sad thing was that he did love Angelus who was, in his own demony way, trying so hard to protect and reunite his family.

"Should I come back later?" Wesley asked from the door.

"Do you have medicine?" Graham asked.

"Yes, a drink and some salve that should aid healing."

"Then come on in. The more the merrier."

"Yes, but you're..."

"Naked," Graham finished for him. "And I'm going to stay that way because anything I put on now would just aggravate the swelling. So, can I drink that?"

Xander watched while Wesley inched into the room staring off at the wall while he held a cup out blindly. The cup was too far away, so Xander stood up and took it from Wesley before handing it over.

"Thank you," Graham said before he drank it.

"The salve should go on after the wound is cleaned. Otherwise, the skin could knit over any contamination, which would encourage infection." Wesley now studied the pattern on the towels.

"Right, so it's time for the bath," Xander said with as much cheerfulness as he could manage.

"Just give me a hand. If I lose my balance and go down now, Harmony is going to have to get me off the floor, and that really would be embarrassing," Graham said. Xander braced himself on the counter and offered Graham his shoulder. "Wesley, I went through years of military life and shared showers. I’m not going to get embarrassed by someone looking at me naked."

"And I attended boys' school which, might I say, was not nearly as morally upstanding as you Yanks assume. However, that does not mean I feel a need to invade your privacy," Wesley said without taking his eyes off the towels. "How serious is the bruising? I would prepare another potion that would heal, but I fear the acceleration of the healing would cause some discomfort."

"I can live with discomfort." Graham asked as he finally settled himself in the tub. "It's better than being crippled, so yeah, maybe you should get some of that."

"Graham." Wesley turned and looked Graham in the face. "I do apologize for the restraint. Had I any idea that he planned to use it on you, I would have attempted to incorporate some sort of failsafe." Wesley's gaze flicked down to the bracelet before he looked up at Graham's face again.

"Don't worry about it." Graham turned the cuff around on his arm, twirling it. "He would have found some other way to keep me in the hotel, and at least he didn't put me on a leash the way Spike threatened to leash Xander if he ever got his hands on him again."

"Great," Xander said with an eyeroll. Knowing Spike, that wasn't so much of a threat as a prediction of the future.

"Hey, I think you'd look cute leashed," Graham joked.

"How can you make jests about this?" Wesley demanded, his voice getting all high and tight.

Graham shrugged. "Because we're here and there's not much else we can do."

For long seconds, the two men looked at each other, and Xander really didn't have much of anything to say. He'd tried talking to Wesley, but they hadn't really been friends before, and now the awkward just sort of multiplied when they tried to talk. Xander suspected that his own guilt made it a little harder for him to really deal with people now... that and he was slightly totally terrified that Angelus would see any friendship as a reason to get jealous. Xander didn't think Wesley would survive a jealous Angelus.

"Yes, well, I'll go retrieve that potion," Wesley said, turning and leaving without any other comment.

Graham sighed and started gingerly rinsing his cut arm. Pink stained the water as he worked. "His head is going to pop like a tick if he can't learn to roll with the punches."

"These are not easy punches to roll with," Xander offered. He leaned back against the counter, wondering if he shouldn't give Graham a little privacy. Angelus would not exactly be happy if he walked in on this scene. But Angelus wouldn't be happy if Xander left Graham and Graham took a nose dive onto the tile floor, either.

"Are you okay?" Graham asked. Xander looked up to find Graham staring at him. "You're the one this is hardest on. Are you okay?"

Xander opened his mouth to say he was fine, but something else slipped out. "I miss him," Xander confessed in a whisper.

Graham nodded. "I remember when I lost my parents. I've taken some serious injuries in my life, but nothing ever hurt like that. Nothing ever will, except maybe if I lost Faith. But are you okay with Angelus?"

Xander blinked, ordering himself to just not get tangled up in all of the stupid stuff he couldn't change. "Better than I expected, actually. Hey, I'm not dead—that's a bonus. And Angelus is actually really good at sex. I kinda don't mind that part."

"That's good." Graham sighed and let the washcloth slip into the pink water. "Xander, rescue isn't coming for us."

Xander frowned. That had come out of nowhere. "I didn't expect rescue. I kinda expected that I'd get vamped and someone might stake me, but I didn't expect rescue. Spike knows better."

Graham laughed. "Yeah, Spike does. Besides, you're probably safer with Angelus considering how angry he is. I actually meant Riley and Buffy. When we called them, Wesley had already sent an email saying that you had come here voluntarily. They wanted to stage a rescue, and I told Riley that this was your choice and that there were no extenuating circumstances that would warrant military involvement."

Raising an eyebrow, Xander studied Graham. "You don't really think that worked on Buffy, do you?" he asked. "I kinda assumed Buffy would pretty much write me off as the biggest loser in Loserville for surrendering, but if she wanted to come, your little speech about extenuating circumstances is not going to stop her."

Graham looked over. "I told her that she had never understood your relationship with any of your family—and that Angelus was still your family— and that if she got involved here, she would not only destroy any friendship between you, but that she would probably destroy you."

Xander cringed. "Okay, that was not a pleasant conversation. I love Buffy, but she is not good at hearing what she doesn't want to hear."

With a shrug, Graham picked up the washcloth and stared on his other arm. "She didn't like it at all. It was also true. That's when Riley told me that if I wanted out, I had to take the transfer to South America or he couldn't take the security risk. He'd cut off all security clearances and cancel any active codewords I had access to."

"So, he left you out to dry," Xander summarized. Suddenly, he didn't like Riley nearly as much anymore.

"He let me make my choice, and I chose to stay with Faith," Graham corrected him. "Riley made the right call, but it means that I don't expect anyone to come for either of us."

"Except Faith," Xander said.

"Except Faith," Graham agreed. "I just really hope that you're right about Angelus wanting everyone back because once he has her, I can't help but worry that I'm a little unnecessary around here." Graham fingered the cuff. For the first time, Xander saw just how much worry and stress Graham was hiding under his soldier face. Maybe Xander was petty and small, but it actually made him feel better that someone else was feeling off balance—like he'd made a huge mistake, but he couldn't figure out what other mistake to make that would have been a smaller mistake. Xander was quickly coming to the conclusion there was no such thing as a right decision in all this mess, but maybe just lesser wrongs.

"Did Angelus really send them to capture you?"

"I think so. They complained about not being able to kill me."

"Then Angelus wants you and will keep you around," Xander said confidently. "In the past, his standard M.O. for screwing with someone's head was to kill a loved one and then let the person stew in their own grief. If he wanted Faith dead or just captive, he'd kill you and leave her all off-balance. If he wants Faith back in the family, then he wants her to see she can have what she used to have, only she has to come back to him. He's not going to like that she chose to leave, though. There may be some punishment involved that you're not going to like," Xander warned.

"He didn't punish me for leaving," Graham pointed out. "At least, not past what the goons did."

"But you're a human," Xander pointed out. "You're a toy, a possession. You don't punish your favorite toy for getting stolen, you punish the person who did the stealing, and Faith has enough status in the court that he may blame her for not having her loyalties straight."

For a long time, Graham stared at Xander like Xander had said something particularly sad. Then the moment passed. "Hey, help me wash off my back, here. I'm not exactly flexible tonight, and I want to get in that bed before all the joints stiffen up."

Xander nodded and came over to help Graham wash the dirt and blood off. From the looks of it, he hadn't bathed in several days, and Xander tried really hard to not think about Blair and Spike and Cordelia and Faith. Angelus had them running, and Xander couldn't do a damn thing to help any of them. He could only help Graham get cleaned up and then help him into bed.



44. Chapter 44

Graham woke dizzy and disoriented and hungrier than he ever had been in his entire life. The room was dark except for the light spilling in from the bathroom, and for a half-second, he couldn't figure out where Faith had gone. During the day, she was all armor and brass, but at night, she was the sort to lay in his arms, silent and just needing. She never left the bed before he got up. The memories came back slowly.

"God, Faith, I'm so sorry," Graham whispered to no one in particular. He'd tried hard to not object when she'd confessed that she'd considered coming back to Angelus, and he would have supported that decision. He'd never wanted to back her into a corner, and now he was helping Angelus force her to come back or live with his death on her head. Graham fingered the cuff. He could treat it as a prisoner of war situation, but that would probably hit all the wrong notes with Angelus, and if Xander was right, Graham was going to be living in the vamp's house for a lot of years. It wasn't time to start pissing him off yet.

Graham swung his legs off the side of the bed and noticed a tray on the chair. A hardboiled egg and cut fruits and cheeses and crackers and a pink napkin cut into a heart waited for him. "Harmony," Graham sighed. Well, if Harmony and Spike could embrace their inner human, maybe Angelus could, too. At this point, Graham couldn't figure out any other solution to their mess. He certainly hadn't liked what he'd seen with Xander. No one could think of themselves as an object to be owned without suffering long term psychological consequences. And sadly, Graham doubted that either Xander or Angelus saw the danger in that. Graham could only hope that the sadness and despair clinging to Xander were his form of grieving for Angel's loss, and not the signs of damage already done.

Grabbing some melon, Graham ate and toured the room. His Queen CD and his picture of his parents still sat on the dresser. A bill from his credit card company was waiting for him to pay it, and Graham wondered what the vampire etiquette was on having your little human pets pay bills. Well, if Spike was right, Angelus was learning some new tricks by keeping a traditional court, and if he was willing to learn new tricks, Graham would take a shot at teaching one or two. It was time to establish a few norms and mores in this newly forming group. He sure as hell wasn't going to sit back while Xander lost every bit of self confidence he once had or while Faith was ripped apart by her need to love someone who saw her as a playtoy.

His clothes were still in the closet, and Graham checked the upper shelf where he kept his weapons. They were all still in place. After a second's hesitation, Graham took a large knife and a stake down. If he pushed too far, Angelus would probably rape or beat him, but Graham figured he could live with that a lot easier than he could live with letting Xander and Wesley and Faith end up emotionally damaged.

After a shower, Graham finished his breakfast and headed out the door. Angelus' door was closed, so Graham headed down to the kitchen, his tray in hand. Graham didn't even think about any danger until he turned the corner out of the family wing and reached the balcony that ran along the second story overlooking the lobby. Shivers went up Graham's spine as he looked at the demons gathered in little corners. Most were vampires, but a few had unfamiliar ridges or limbs. A thing with tentacles for fingers came out one of the other hallways and stared at Graham for a long time. Graham stared back, his fingers tight on the edge of the tray.

With an opening and closing of his slitted nostrils, the demon turned toward the stairs and headed down. Graham now understood why Wesley was so jumpy. This was definitely not feeling like a safe place for a human to hang out. Then again, Graham had been 150 pounds of skinny and a bad attitude when he'd joined the army, and he'd survived that. Not by much, but he had. He could do this.

Graham headed down the stairs not far behind the tentacle guy. A minion flashed into gameface and snarled at him from the far side of the room, but that didn't bother Graham. He'd killed enough minions to know their weaknesses, and they had plenty. It took a master vampire to control the demon's instincts well enough to become a true danger in a fight.

"Graham!" Harmony called out. "Wow. You healed up nice. Did you like my heart?"

"I loved it. It was nice to know someone missed me," Graham said, well aware of the odd looks they were getting from most of the minions.

"You didn’t have to bring that down. I would have come for it, unless you're still hungry. I can get you more." Harmony reached out and took the tray from him.

"I'm actually good. I just thought I would see what you had going on down here. There's not much to do in the room." Graham watched as Harmony twitched, not sure what to say to that. Clearly Wesley and Xander weren't trying to find any sort of normalcy in the middle of the madhouse, and that wasn't healthy. "Is Xander around or is he at school?" While Graham didn't have a lot of illusions about Xander going to school—he didn't even particularly think Xander should be going to school until he'd had time to mourn—however, he wanted to start planting the seed of the idea. If Angelus wanted what Angel had built, that meant he needed to give his family the freedoms Angel had.

"He's working on the fifth floor. He has a thing going with wood and chisels and he gets really cranky when people interrupt him," Harmony finally offered. "You could visit Wesley." She said that with the same cheerfulness that she always used, but there was an edge to it. Either Xander needed privacy up on the fifth floor, probably to cry, or Wesley needed some human company. Graham didn't understand it, but Harmony did have an odd knack for knowing what people wanted... or maybe just for what they needed. Either way, he was going to have to trust her instincts on this one.

"So, Wesley it is. Has he had breakfast?"

"It's actually past lunchtime," Harmony said, leaning in to whisper. "You slept a night and a day, and you're working on the next night. You were really out of it there for a while."

Graham blinked in shock. "I was? Did anything happen?"

Harmony shrugged. "The master threatened to eviscerate Wesley if one of his potions killed you. You were screaming like it might. And then he went down and made the Wolfram and Hart lawyer scream. People are a little on edge, and Xander was crying. And then Angelus said to leave you alone and that if anyone woke you up, he was using them for target practice."

"Oh." Graham had no idea what to say to that.

"I changed your sheets the second you... you know...." She wrinkled her nose. "Made a mess. So, I don't think your mattress needs to be replaced or anything," she said with total sincerity.

"Thank you, Harmony," Graham said. Her face lit with a smile.

"You're welcome," she answered grandly. Graham's grandmother would have said that the girl looked pleased as peaches, not that Graham had ever understood exactly what that meant, but Harmony certainly looked pleased. "Wesley's in his office, and I have like so much work to do I'm going to have to threaten a half dozen minions just to get all done." And with that Harmony gave her head just enough of a flick to toss her hair around and then she turned and headed toward the kitchen.

"Hey," Graham said to a minion that happened to be staring at him. The vampire went into gameface and snarled. "Your fly's open," Graham said as he walked past. If he was guessing right, no one would touch him for fear of pissing off Angelus. Besides, he'd been training with Spike long enough that a minion didn't exactly inspire fear anymore. It did, however, leave Graham with an overwhelming urge to poke it, and he wasn't going to deny himself that pleasure until Angelus specifically ordered him to. It was time for someone to test the length of the leashes they were all on. Given time, Xander would do it for himself, but right now, he clearly wasn't thinking straight, and Graham still didn't know Wesley well enough to know how he would react.

The short hall that led to the library was quiet, and the library door stood open. "Hey," Graham said from the doorway. Wesley had been bent over a cluttered desk, and he gasped as he jerked upright in surprise.

"Oh. Graham. Thank god you're awake. Are you feeling alright?" Wesley stood up. "I assure you—I researched and tested that potion on myself, and I never had any sort of side effect, so I am truly sorry if my ignorance led to any sort of discomfort."

"Hey, I'm fine. I was actually coming down here to thank you for the potion because that would have been a long and painful recovery without it. I don't actually remember it hurting at all."

"Thank god for that." Wesley dropped back down into the seat. The whole time, Wesley had been slipping them reports through the computer, so Graham had known that Xander was alive and well and had surrendered. He knew that Angelus had carried out raids against other vampire lairs, the watcher team, and a few demon clans. Wesley had somehow failed to mention that he was falling apart. Deep circles under his eyes suggested he wasn't sleeping much, and his hand shook as it rested on the desk.

The desk was covered in research material and the couch had a pillow and blanket that suggested he was sleeping in the room. And even odder, there was a pink fuzzy stuffed unicorn sitting in the corner. Maybe Graham stared at it too long, because Wesley noticed.

"Clearly that is not mine. Apparently Harmony's sense of style offended some of the others and a few of her things migrated into this room. She comes in here to visit them." Wesley took his glasses off and carefully set them on a stack of books. "Not that I mind the company. Sometimes it's hard to remember she is a vampire."

"She's unique," Graham agreed. "So, I would ask how you've been, but I think I can guess the answer."

Wesley looked up with a weary sigh. "Compared to how I might be, I consider this quite the lap of luxury. At least I will never be bored. I fear I may never complete the never-ending tasks to which Angelus assigns me, but at least he has not yet shown any inclination to beat me for my tardiness."

"Wes, there are a lot of things I might call you, including clumsy, but I would never call you tardy with your work."

"Yes, thank you for that reminder of my faults. I really should get back to work." Wesley took the glasses from the stack and set them back in place.

"How long have you been hunched over that desk?" Graham asked. Wesley just glared up at him. "Seriously, Wesley, you're a little young for a hunchback."

"While I appreciate your attempt at completely puerile, inappropriate humor, I do have work," Wesley said primly. Geez, if Xander had tried to get Wesley out of his shell, that would have been enough to send him running. Graham, however, had an agenda and a much longer history of pissing people off. Besides, he wasn't mourning the loss of a lover and trying to deal with having the lover's body still walking and talking. That would screw with anyone's head.

"So, did Angelus order you to work nonstop?"

"He hardly need—"

"Did he order you to stay in this room?"

"No. However—"

"Then we're going on a little field trip." Graham walked over and grabbed Wesley's arm, pulling him out of his chair even as Wesley spluttered and gasped.

"I don't know what you're thinking," Wesley started complaining loudly, but as they left the library, Wesley fell silent and seemed to shrink in on himself. Human beings couldn't survive this level of terror, so it was time for Graham to have a little intervention. If this was going to get ugly, he would rather have the ugly over before Faith showed up. A minion growled at them, and Graham ignored it, but he could hear Wesley's gasp. That was clearly acting like catnip for the kitties because minions started shifting in the shadows as Graham came out into the lobby.

"We can't leave," Wesley hissed in a whisper loud enough that everyone would be able to hear.

"I wasn't planning to. However, the last time I saw you, I promised to give you a lesson in not falling down when fighting. Remember the fight with the Vigories?"

"The Vigories?" Wesley echoed, sounding more confused than ever.

"You tripped Xander in the middle of the fight."

"Not intentionally." Wesley sounded indignant now.

"I never thought it was intentional, but you have got to work on your fighting skills." Graham ignored the minions and demons gathering in the shadows, but Wesley's eyes kept darting to them.

"I'm not a fighter."

"You could be, though," Graham pointed out. Wesley had some nice moves, and every once in a while, Graham saw flashes of some pretty advanced martial arts training... right before Wesley lost his cool and went down in a tangle of limbs after someone shouted 'boo' at him. "You need to focus on the fight in front of you," Graham said, darting in to tap Wesley on the chest. It was a move easily countered, and Graham suspected that Wesley knew several options for countering it.

"Stop it," Wesley complained. Several minions snickered, and Graham could see Wesley's ears start to turn pink.

"Do you know the gojūshiho kata?" Graham asked. The glare he got in return was pretty much an answer, but Graham preferred an annoyed Wesley to a cowed and terrified one.

"I am trained in a wide range of martial arts. One of my duties was to train and oversee the development of the slayers to whom I was assigned."

"Well then, let's see." Graham fell into a formal attack pose.

Wesley glared at him.

"I'm going to hit you in about three seconds, so if you start your kata and block it, good. If not, I'll just hit you," Graham warned. "Three... two... one." Graham reached out, and Wesley easily knocked his hand away. Graham followed up with another slow strike that matched the kata's form, and Wesley moved into a smooth block.

"Really, this is quite pointless," Wesley complained.

"Then let's take it up a notch. The next hit Graham sent out, he put a lot more fire behind the hit, and Wesley easily blocked the strike, pushing Graham's arm away to the side in a way that opened up a vulnerability in Graham's defenses. Wesley glanced that way, telegraphing an attack, but then he pulled back.

"Wes, that was a perfect setup. Come on." Graham sent another series of hits Wesley's way, and he blocked them while moving back.

"I really don't think this is advisable."

"It's this or aerobics because you are too young for a hunchback," Graham countered, and then he sent a kick Wesley's way. This time, a minion hissed, and Wesley looked toward the minion instead of toward Graham, and Graham connected with Wesley's thigh, sending him stumbling back. Several minions chuckled.

"I have work," Wesley said, straightening up so much that he looked like he had a stick up his ass.

"Wesley," Graham sighed.

"Hey, Wes!" Xander called from the stairs. Graham was not surprised to see Harmony three steps behind. Whether she'd gotten Xander because she was afraid Graham was going to get in trouble with Angelus or because she was trying to back up Graham's play to get a little normalcy in the clan—that he had no idea. But he wasn't surprised that Harmony realized that Xander needed to be in the middle of this.

"Xander," Wesley said with a sigh that made it pretty clear he wasn't all that thrilled to see him. For a second, Xander paused on the steps, a frown making it pretty clear that he was on the verge of a brood.

"Hey, Xander!" Graham called out, "we're having a little impromptu training session. Get your butt down here and let's see if you can still kick my ass."

Xander snorted. "Hey, I enjoyed that ass-kicking period while it lasted, but you caught up with me on that front months ago. Of course, some of us have lives that don't include training pretty much 24/7."

"What can I say?" Graham shrugged. "It was killing my ego to have a kid straight out of high school kick my ass. You should have to go through marine boot camp before you can do that. But I'm a little out of practice, let's see how you do."

Harmony headed over and caught Wesley's arm as he tried to retreat. "Oh! They're going to spar. I hope they sweat. They're both really cute when they sweat, and not all men are. Larry was always sort of clammy looking when he got sweaty at football practice, and I thought it was because he was gay and maybe gay men didn't sweat well, but Xander's about as gay as a guy can get, and he sweats great." Harmony gave Xander a little wave like she was encouraging him to sweat. Graham looked over at Xander and had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

"Whoever turned her forgot to put a demon in," Xander whispered. Graham didn't answer, but he was pretty much thinking the same thing. He knew she fed on humans when she'd lived at the suckhouse, but she'd never killed and she'd been on bagged blood since moving in with Angel. Graham really had no idea how she was managing to feed now because the idea of Harmony actually killing someone didn't seem very plausible.

"You ready?" Graham asked with a wicked smile.

"No, but you'll get some nasty bruises before I'll go down," Xander warned. Graham laughed. He knew drill sergeants that would have killed to have a recruit with half Xander's heart. Graham started with a simple attack, and Xander danced to the side in a move so close to one of Spike's offbeat attacks that Graham could almost believe Xander was channeling Spike. That move would have taken most humans, but Graham did a diving roll toward Xander before he had a chance to follow up. He still got a nasty hit on the shoulder, but he counter-attacked with a sweeping leg. Xander almost jumped it, but one foot caught on Graham's leg, and Xander went stumbling back.

That gave Graham time to get back on his feet and study Xander. He looked more relaxed now. Sometimes you just had to let your body do something familiar. With a smile, Xander started the second attack, darting in to feign a punch only to throw out a nasty kick. Graham blocked both and countered with a hit that Xander blocked before Xander got in a good kick to Graham's hip. If Wesley's potion hadn't work so well, that would have been a problem, but on a healthy hip, it was little more than a sting.

"Aim lower to disable an attacker," Graham advised him.

"I don't actually want to disable you, and that's a good way to break someone's leg," Xander pointed out.

"I think I can take care of myself," Graham countered. He hadn't even finished his sentence before Xander launched a sneak attack. For several minutes, it took all of Graham's concentration to counter Xander's flurry of moves, but the same attack that left him scrambling, left Xander gulping in air. Graham allowed Xander to tire himself out before he counter-attacked with a series of punches that left Xander retreating. They ended up traveling the length of the lobby before the stopped, both breathing hard.

Harmony clapped as fast as she could, almost bouncing. Graham half expected her to break into a cheer.

"I should go back," Wesley said, backing up until Harmony caught his arm again.

"Hey, Wes, I'll take you on!" Xander said brightly. The tone was strained, but maybe he had finally noticed that Wes was a little too withdrawn. Graham figured Xander was one of those people who did better with other people's issues than his own, but he'd been hiding in Angelus' room and mourning his own loss for too long.

"I don't think...."

"Will you teach me that?" Harmony asked. For a second, Xander stared at her, and Graham could pretty well figure out what that was about. Graham had learned a long time ago that his mother's advice about never hitting a woman just didn't sit well with the kind of women you met in covert ops. However, Harmony was definitely the kind of woman who you really just didn't want to hit... not even when she was already dead.

"Hey, Wesley, we can try out a few of the dirty moves your watcher training never taught you. I think I learned as much about fighting from bars than I did from formal classes." Graham motioned for Wesley to come over. Wesley was watching the minions, but at least he did slide closer to Graham. Meanwhile, Xander was facing off against Harmony who looked like she was trying to belly dance, her hands held all the way out in front of her. Wesley stopped to stare, and Graham did too. Heck, even Xander was looking at her with dismay, like he wasn't quite sure how to handle this sort of attack.

"Okay, ready," Harmony said, inching forward toward Xander, hands still out. Xander looked over at Graham with an expression that clearly begged for help, but Graham held his hands out in surrender because there was no way he was hitting Harmony. His grandmother would come back from the dead and slap him silly. Xander looked back with a mild expression of panic before he reached out and basically slapped one of her hands. Harmony exploded into movement, but it wasn't any sort of fighting Graham had ever seen. She held her head back and then slapped as hard and as fast as she could. She actually looked like a five year old trying to splash in the pool.

"Good lord," Wesley said softly, and for the first time since all this started, he actually smiled.

"That's one way to put it," Graham said, and then he couldn't help himself—he started laughing. Wesley held out for about two second after that, and then Xander started laughing, which did not help his defensive strategy at all. Harmony kept flailing and inching forward, her eyes tightly closed, and what had started as a series of blocks on Xander's side deteriorated into counter-slapping as he tried to retreat and laugh himself stupid at the same time. Eventually Xander's back hit the far wall.

"Uncle!" Xander called out, his face red with laughter. Harmony opened her eyes.

"I won?" she asked brightly.

"The master should stake her," a minion behind Graham hissed. Graham could see Wesley tense up, and Graham took his stake out and drove it into the minion's heart, turning it to dust which exploded.

"I keep reminding myself to get eye drops at the store, and I keep forgetting," Graham said, waving his hand in front of his face to clear the ash. Wesley was staring at him in horror, but Graham was not going to live his life in fear of minions, and if he had to stake one to prove it, he was okay with that too.

"I see you're awake," a new voice commented from the door. Graham looked over to see Angelus standing there, his hand on the hilt of his sword.



45. Chapter 45

Xander looked over, and the joy of just moment ago faded as worry settled in. He didn't want Graham hurt for staking the vampire, but it must have said something pretty bad to make Graham strike out like that. Angelus looked around the room for a second, taking in everyone's position. Harmony quickly moved away from Xander, and Wesley retreated to a position behind Graham.

"About the vampire," Graham started to say.

"That's what happens to a minion that doesn't know its place," Angelus said, holding out a hand toward Xander. Xander breathed a sigh of relief, the joy returning as the relief washed through him. "That was not your finest moment of fighting," Angelus said. He gave Harmony an unhappy look, but when Xander reached Angelus' side, he poked him in the stomach.

"Nope, but it was fun." Angelus looked down at Xander with an expression of such fondness that Xander could almost pretend it was Angel, even if that was so totally not mentally healthy. "Graham was working out with me, and we just thought Wesley and Harmony could use some practice."

Angelus looked over. "Wesley? Are you so short of work that you have to find ways to amuse yourself?" Xander held his breath. This had been going so well, and now Wesley was going to suffer for it, and if Xander could take Angelus' anger on himself, he would, but he didn't know how without just making things worse.

"No, master," Wesley offered, looking like he was ready to curl in on himself.

"I brought him out here," Graham said. He stepped forward and tucked his stake into the back of his pants. "Humans need a little more practice time than vampires if they don't want to end up easy prey."

Angelus looked at Graham, and that was so not a good expression. Xander was going to pass out from holding his breath this much. Angelus glanced down, and now Xander was getting the unhappy look from Angelus. "Do you think I can't defend him?" Angelus finally asked Graham.

"No." Graham shook his head. "But I think that if he goes out for supplies at noon, he'd better be able to take care of himself. I'm certainly not going to be making any supply runs." Graham held up his right hand with his cuff.

"Give me the weapon," Angelus said, holding his hand out. Graham pulled out his stake and walked over to Angelus. Xander could hear the minions shift nervously as Graham approached, but Graham put the stake in Angelus' hand and went to parade rest. Angelus fingered the stake, testing its weight, and then in a move so fast that Xander could follow it, he launched it at the far side of the room. Xander gasped, his first thought that Angelus dusted Harmony. But Harmony was still standing there, her mouth a wide O of surprise.

Angelus frowned at Xander again. Then he turned to the court as a whole. "I decide who in the court deserves to be staked, and if I find anyone else having that discussion, you'll be lucky if I only stake you or have Graham end your miserable unlife for you." Angelus turned toward Graham, and Xander could see his own shock reflected in Graham's face. With one arm still around Xander, Angelus reached out with his other hand and caught Graham by the back of his neck, pulling him in close. He scented Graham's neck, and after a half second of what looked like panicked indecision, Graham yielded, arching his neck to give Angelus access.

Angelus allowed his demonic face to show right before he slowly sunk his fangs into Graham's neck. Graham stood, his hands still behind his back, but the surprised and blissed out expression on his face made it pretty clear that he hadn't expected the bite to feel good. Xander stepped on a little jolt of jealousy that shot through him. If Angelus wanted to bring Graham into the clan by sleeping with him, not only could Xander do a big nothing about it, but Graham would not exactly be enjoying it, so jealousy was pretty stupid.

Angelus pulled his fangs out and chuckled as he pulled Xander closer. "Not as sweet as you, a choi." Angelus licked his lips and just watched while Graham took a dazed step back. "Where did you get the stake?"

"Um... my closet." Graham shook his head and brought a hand up to touch the bite mark.

"Who made it?" Angelus asked, and this time he sounded a little grumpier. Graham blinked and then finally seemed to focus on Angelus.

"The army."

Angelus nodded. "Poor balance. It didn't throw straight and the wood was too soft to make a good weapon. Get Xander to make you a better one."

"Yes, sir," Graham agreed. Xander allowed Angelus to shepherd him toward the throne he'd set up on the far side of the room. Once Angelus was seated, Xander settled in on the cushion at his feet, leaning into Angelus' leg.

"So, you want to train Wesley." Angelus reached down, and it took a second for Xander to realize that Angelus wanted him to get up. He stood, and it took some more fumbling before Xander then figured out he was being invited to sit next to Angelus in the oversized chair.

"Humans are strange creatures. If we're only asked to do one task, we become less and less efficient at that one task," Graham answered. He still sounded a little spacey, but he seemed to be recovering quicker than Xander normally did. Then again, Xander normally had bite bliss and sex bliss going on at the same time.

Angelus didn't answer immediately. He watched the room and the minions still shifting in the shadows. Xander wondered if Angelus was ignoring Graham or just trying to figure out whether he was telling the truth.

"Permission to ask a question?" Graham asked. Xander hadn't heard Graham this officially military... well... ever.

Angelus slowly turned to look at Graham, studying him for a second before raising his eyebrows in a questioning expression that Graham must have taken as permission.

"What duties would you like me to take? Should I train the minions or just work with Xander and Wesley? Should I continue my cross reference work with the library? Should I continue to prepare reports for Captain Finn or would you rather we terminate our arrangement with the government?" Graham focused his eyes straight ahead, not actually looking at Angelus, but Xander watched Angelus with great curiosity. He'd expected a bit of an explosion by now, but instead, Angelus was looking thoughtful.

"How much do Finn and the slayer know?"

Xander closed his eyes. One wrong move, and Angelus would be declaring war on Sunnydale, and Xander was going to hate himself forever if that happened. He felt like if he just stayed very still, the cracking ice under him wouldn't crack, and he tried giving Graham the evil eye, to warn him that he was walking on some pretty thin psychological ice, but Graham kept his gaze straight forward.

"They know that the soul curse is gone and that Xander chose to come back. They are also aware that Faith would like to return and I was concerned that I would be too vulnerable as leverage against her."

Angelus leaned forward. "You are."

Graham got a strange look on his face and glanced down at the bracelet. "Yeah, I figured."

"What do Finn and the slayer plan to do?"


"If you lie to me, I will string you up and whip you raw," Angelus said, his voice low and just a little growly. Xander was officially going to have a heart attack.

Graham's back went stiff and he gave a single nod. "I remember very well what happened last time I concealed information and you had to persuade me."

"You won't escape that easily again," Angelus warned, and Xander looked from one to the other. Okay, he had obviously missed something because he was not remembering Graham holding out on them, and from the way these two were talking, Graham had been stretched out on some rack while Angelus questioned him, only since Angelus hadn't been around Graham, so that would have been Angel stretching Graham out on the rack.

"Understood, sir. However, I am not lying. Riley has orders to avoid any organized demonic communities unless those communities threaten the stability of national security or the world. You are not within his purview, and he will not take action against you."

"And the slayer?"

"Faith, Blair, and I all told her that this was not her business and that if she insisted on coming down here, she would not only do so without our support but that she would likely destroy any relationships between our groups. Honestly, she may feel pulled until she hears from Xander and knows that he truly did make the choice to come back here, and he tells her to mind her own fucking business. However, I think Captain Finn will attempt to keep her clear. I also believe her watcher will try to keep her clear because Mr. Giles was very specific about how dangerous you were and how we were all fools for not immediately evacuating and seeking shelter with their group."

Xander snorted. Angelus looked away from Graham and looked over at Xander with some amusement. It was weird, looking Angelus in the eye because most of the time, Xander was sitting at his feet when they were down here. Angelus raised an eyebrow. "Like that would have gone over well," Xander explained. "Can you imagine Spike and Buffy in the same space for more than five minutes without wanting to kill each other? And Cordelia is not really big on the forgiving of Willow... she's not even little on the forgiving. She's more like really pissed and verbally poking whenever possible. You can't tell me that the idea of everyone going to Sunnydale is not just a little amusing."

"I'd be amused if it weren't for the fact that someone would end up dead," Graham agreed.

Angelus just got that thoughtful look that suggested he was not really so put off by the idea of people dead. "So, Giles is afraid that I'll take his slayer," Angelus sounded entirely too pleased about that, but that was the sort of thing that did please Angelus. Xander leaned in, trying to distract Angelus by slipping his fingers between the buttons of Angelus' shirt. Angelus ran his fingers over Xander's shoulder and leaned back in his chair. "If she comes down here, I will take her. You know that."

"Yes, sir," Graham agreed. Xander's breath hitched. "I just don't see any reason for us to interact with them. If you take out the slayer, someone is going to have to hold the hellmouth, and that's a miserable little town to be stuck in."

Xander could definitely back up that play. "I think Angel liked it because there was lots of time to do reading and not much else. They don't even have a good cable service provider in town." This time, Angelus didn't even bother to hide his cranky look when he stared at Xander. "It's true and you know it," Xander defended himself. He also worked his fingers south toward Angelus' stomach. When all else failed, distract.

"M'fhear, you are as subtle as a trebuchet," Angelus commented.

"Would I be insulted if I knew what that was?"

"Possibly," Angelus said. It occurred to Xander this was actually the closest they'd come to normal conversation yet. Oh, he was still freaking over having to distract Angelus from killing Buffy, but either Angelus was mellowing or Xander was becoming frighteningly used to him. Angelus caught Xander's hand and brought it up to his mouth. He nicked the pad of Xander's thumb with one fang and then sucked gently on it. Xander squirmed as desire started rolling through him. Okay, clearly Angelus was way better with the distracting than Xander was. Angelus finally released the thumb only when Xander was breathing fast and squirming uncomfortably.

"So, you would serve me as something other than Faith's playtoy." Angelus seemed to be thinking about that as he watched Graham.

"I think that if I am nothing more than a playtoy I'll go insane," Graham said firmly. "I am well aware that you are going to take actions that I absolutely do not approve of. However, as long as those actions do not endanger national security or the stability of this world, I recognize that you are well within your rights."

"My right is to do whatever I want," Angelus warned with a growl.

"Sir, you have the power to do whatever you want, but if you send the world to hell, you can't expect me to support you. However, I do recognize that I would be hanging from your chains in the basement in that case and that there wouldn't be much I could do at that point."

Xander watched. This was a dangerous game Graham was playing. Xander had been going for more the stay out of Angelus' way plan, and it had actually been working pretty good, but this was something infinitely scarier because Angelus was perfectly aware that Graham was manipulating him. Xander just couldn't figure out if it would make things better or worse if he did anything else to contribute to the manipulation. Angelus' distracting sucking suggested he didn't want Xander getting in the middle, but then Xander had never been particularly good at staying out of the middle.

"Please don't kill Buffy." Xander whispered his plea in Angelus' ear, pressing close to his side and making it clear that he was willing to pay whatever price Angelus asked in return... not that they weren't already doing pretty much what Angelus asked.

"Will Finn be willing to continue our arrangement?" Angelus asked. Xander let out his breath and sucked another one in so fast that he got dizzy.

"Probably not unless Xander or I meet with them on neutral territory so they can determine that we aren't being coerced."

"But you are," Angelus pointed out. "Kneel."

Graham went to his knees without blinking.

"If I allowed you to walk out that door, would you return?"

Graham didn't answer immediately, and Xander could only sit and watch, not sure exactly how far Graham would take this.

"Right now, no."

Angelus' eyes yellowed.

"I'm worried about Faith. She adores you, and she's afraid that you aren't really you anymore. She would have come back to you eventually, if only because she has to know if she still has a home with you, but now she's probably feeling trapped. I would get to a secure location and allow Faith to make her own decision without the pressure of worrying about me."

Angelus stood and crossed the distance so that he was standing in front of Graham. Reaching out, he rested his fingers against Graham's head, and Xander curled up, terrified. "And if Faith chose my court, could I then trust you to know your place?"

Slowly Graham nodded. "Yes, sir. When I first requested this assignment, Captain Finn required me to read the materials the watchers collected on you. Before I showed up in L.A., I was convinced that you would run your court very much like this, and I was willing to make that commitment to you because I believed that the army had inadequate intel and would do more damage than good. I thought you were strong enough and knowledgeable enough to provide a better frontline defense against forces that would try to end the world. I still believe that."

"So, you would train Xander." Angelus returned to the chair, and Xander pressed to the side to give Angelus room. Instead, Angelus slipped an arm around him and pulled him close. "Would you want to train, to hunt at my side when I am cleaning out the disloyal minions that litter this city like trash?"

Xander looked at Angelus with wide eyes. Okay, he'd pretty much given up hope of ever leaving the hotel again, and now Angelus was offering this. Xander could feel tears prick at his eyes, not really from joy or from sadness or from any emotion except surprise. Angelus smiled.

"Train him well. If you go easy on him to spare him a few bruises, I'll put those bruises on your backside," Angelus warned Graham. Xander's head was spinning as he realized Angelus wasn't teasing.

"Wesley?" Xander asked, glancing over only to find the man was gone.

Angelus gave him an odd look. "He's a poor fighter."

"Um, I kinda was too at one point," Xander argued.

Angelus stared at him for a second before looking over to Graham. "Wesley's greatest value is his talent in that library, so let me make this clear. He is confined to the hotel until you believe he is trained well enough to not trip himself or Xander in any fight. If you approve his training and it proves inadequate in any way, I will take the whip to your backside."

"Yes, sir. Understood perfectly," Graham agreed without even a trace of worry. Angelus frowned, so Xander was guessing he wasn't all that happy about something, but he was letting them do this, and right now Xander was almost giddy at the thought of walking outside.

Pulling him close, Angelus leaned in, and Xander thought he was going to do the sniff thing he liked so much. Instead Angelus whispered in his ear. "Graham keeps too much of his attention on me in a fight. He is not unlike Wesley. Wait until I am behind him to attack." Angelus gave him a little push, and Xander stumbled off the chair.

"Let me see you spar."

"You ready?" Graham asked as he got to his feet and took a defensive position against Xander.

"Um, yep," Xander agreed. Angelus was up and watching them, walking what seemed to be a random path around the room. As he passed one group of minions, Angelus struck out and one vampire exploded into dust, sending the rest running.

Graham glanced over, and Xander hesitated, caught between wanting to attack and show Angelus that he was good enough to go out and wanting to give Graham at least some sort of fair warning because technically they hadn't started the fight yet.

"A lot of people around here are as subtle as trebuchets," Graham commented as he turned back around to face Xander, his hands out and ready for an attack. Xander moved in slowly, testing Graham's defenses the way Spike had taught him. He attacked on the left and the right and then the right again before going low. Each time, Graham deflected him with just enough force to put Xander off-balance and force him to regroup. It'd been months since Xander had won a sparring match, largely because he was focusing on drywall and plumbing codes while Graham spent every day with Spike and Faith.

"I'm going to have to look that word up," Xander commented absent-mindedly. Buffy might be able to quip and fight, but Xander generally had to concentrate on one or the other.

Graham didn't answer, but he did attack with a series of punches and kicks that had Xander retreating across the lobby. A minion hissed off to the side and then there was another familiar whooshing sound as one more vampire turned to dust.

Xander concentrated on countering Graham's assault, waiting for the moment when he ran out of energy or lost his balance or, more likely, got a hit through and flattened Xander. Angelus was circling now, and he stopped on the far side of the room, watching silently. And for a fraction of a second, Graham twitched in Angelus' direction, like he was checking to make sure the vampire wasn't sneaking up. Xander struck out with his foot and caught Graham right above the knee. Rather than let his leg get broken, Graham took the fall and went to the ground. He tried a quick roll and up, and Xander struck out. He missed Graham's jaw and caught him on the shoulder, but it was enough to send Graham off balance, and now Xander counter-attacked. Graham couldn't catch his balance, and when his leg hit the couch, he went down.

"Uncle!" he called from the floor, the couch still trapping him on one side and Xander on the other. "Shit. I need to practice more."

Angelus clapped. "Maybe I should allow you two to practice on the minions. It would cut down on the number of idiots around here." Xander noticed a number minions scatter for parts unknown.

"Actually, I kinda cheated," Xander admitted as he went to Angelus and leaned into him. "Angelus told me that you try to keep an eye on him, so I attacked when he was behind you."

Graham got up rubbing his elbow. "Xander, that's not cheating; that's a good tactical advantage. And if Angelus can see that weakness in my fighting style, other people can, too. It's a good lesson for me. It's a painful one, but a good one."

Angelus left Xander's side to walk over to Graham, his hands catching Graham's arm and feeling up it. Graham hissed, but he didn't make any comment about the manhandling. "I can almost believe that you're accepting your place," Angelus commented as he finished his examination. "Perhaps when Faith comes back, you will let go of the last of your hesitations. So, are you ready to come back?" Angelus looked up toward the balcony. Xander gasped as he saw Faith standing there, stake in hand.



46. Chapter 46

"New wardrobe?" Faith asked as she wandered toward the stairs.

"The old one was sadly lacking leather," Angelus agreed. Graham was staring up at Faith, his face a riot of emotion that Xander couldn't even hope to understand. However, if he got in the middle and tried to protect Faith, this was going to be even uglier, and from the stake in Faith's hand, this just might get really, really ugly. Xander hurried to Graham's side and caught his arm, pulling him back toward the front desk.

"You sent people after Graham."

Angelus shrugged without denying it, and now he was circling around to take a good position to attack the stairs. "If I sent them after you, you'd kill them all."

"If I find out who you sent, I still will," Faith said with a cocky smile. "So, you really want to throw down with me? Is that why you sent some assholes after Graham?"

"Faith, I'm fine," Graham called out. Faith glanced over, and Xander knew that was a tactical mistake. Graham did too because he flinched, but Angelus didn't strike.

Instead, Angelus kept on talking. "If I want to send someone after you, I will. You are mine, and I did not give you permission to be absent from the court."

"Oh babe." Faith shook her head. "If that's how you want to play this."

"It is. You will acknowledge my claim or I will drop your dead body at Graham's feet." Angelus sounded weirdly cheerful about that, but Xander could see Graham go absolutely pale.

"He doesn't want to kill her," Xander whispered. It was kinda pathetic as far as reassurance went, but it was all he had to offer, and maybe it was enough because Graham let Xander pull him back behind the counter. Faith spared them both a look, and Xander felt guilt curdle in his guts. He was the idiot who had decided to come back, and now she was putting her life on the line for him and Graham. Maybe Spike should leash him so he couldn't go doing anything this stupid again. Angelus wasn't Angel. He would kill Faith if she didn't fit into his neat little idea of clan.

"I'm not that easy to kill. You should know—you trained me to know how to kill vampires."

Angelus chuckled. It was a scary sound. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Angelus laughed outright this time. "Are you afraid Faith? Because if you don't yield, this is your valley of death."

"Somehow, I'm not worried," Faith said with as much brassy arrogance as normal, and that was quite a lot. Xander watched as minions gathered together in corners—corners particularly near the exits. Oh, if Angelus survived this, he was going to turn them all into dust. And oddly, Harmony, who had been out with them the whole time, had now vanished. Graham clutched the counter so tight his knuckles turned white.

"You should—" Angelus didn't finish. Instead he struck out, throwing a knife across the room mid-sentence, and Faith threw herself backwards to avoid the weapon. That left her off balance, and she went to her butt on the stairs, and Angelus leaped into the fight. For a second, they grappled on the stairs, and then they went flying down the stairs, their arms still locked around each other. Graham grabbed for his knife, and Xander caught his wrist.

"Do, and she has to kill him or be killed because he'll gut you." Xander clung to Graham and he prayed that he was giving the right advice because if Angelus killed Faith anyway, Graham was never going to survive. Xander realized that for the first time. As much as Xander had felt like he was dying when Jenny spell had ripped Angel away, that's how much Graham hurt now. Only now, Graham was having to watch it happen and make a decision about whether or not he was going to try to stop it. If this went bad, Graham was never going to forgive himself or Xander, and Xander was going to be right there with him on the unforgiving. "She's been his since she was fifteen years old. He won't want her dead," Xander pleaded, and he wasn't sure if he was pleading with Graham to not get in the middle or pleading with the universe to make it true.

Graham slowly let his fingers relax, and Xander took the knife. If Graham had it, he would be too tempted. It was like him and the vial, and sometimes it was really hard to not do something stupid when the choices were to be stupid or do nothing. Graham's face closed down, all emotions gone as he watched the fight, but Xander could see his fingers grip the counter so hard that the muscles stood out on the back of his hand like cords.

"Getting slow old man," Faith said as she broke away from the close combat. Her lip was bleeding, and she wiped it, smearing the blood across her cheek.

"Clearly, you need a reminder of who is in charge." Angelus actually looked mussed. His shirt was out on one side, and his sword had vanished altogether. Xander looked around, but he couldn't see where it had fallen.

"Not you," Faith said with a snort. "If you want to play daddy with Xander, that's between you two." Xander felt his face flush with heat.

"She's just trying to throw him," Graham whispered, reaching over to put a hand on Xander's arm. And from the look on Angelus' face, she was doing a pretty good job.

"If you want me to play daddy, you don't have to play these games. You won't be the first to call me daddy and beg to please me. And I won't be the first you've begged and spread your legs for and called daddy." Angelus delivered the line with a smug smile that shocked Xander so much that he nearly vomited on the desk. Faith took a step back like he'd slapped her, and her face went cold.

"Oh god, no," Xander whispered. Sometimes he could tell himself that he loved Angelus. Sometimes he could see the fractured remains of Angel left behind, like a broken window that lay on the ground still in the shape of the square, each fragment lying in its spot. But this wasn't Angel. Angel had been the one to reach out for Faith, to try to help her heal from the pain of her past. This... this was a monster who was taking the same memories and twisting them into a weapon. Angelus was all sharp and broken edges that sliced into anyone who got too near.

Faith attacked with a flurry of kicks that drove Angelus back toward the desk. Xander watched the fight with a cold horror slowly settling over him. He had wanted Faith to just surrender, and now he didn't know what he wanted. He wanted to go back to the fifth floor and lay the floor one board at a time, working until he was too old to stand up straight anymore. He wanted to forget that Angelus had said that and find a way to slip back into his comfortable lies. He wanted Faith to stick a stake so far in Angelus that she could erase the words he had just used to rip through her.

Angelus grabbed her, and the fight turned into a close quarters scramble for supremacy and then Angelus went flying backwards into the banister. It snapped, and Angelus reached over and grabbed the broken section of railing, ripping it free and brandishing it like a club. "I never knew you liked being hurt. If that's what you want, I can provide that for you." Angelus smirked.

"You're going to die," Faith said with a cold fury.

"Not today," Angelus said with such cheerfulness that Xander found himself hating Angelus just a little bit more. Faith looked utterly devastated—her anger was carved into every twitch of her body, and she was almost vibrating with rage. She was also on the verge of losing so very badly because Angelus was totally in control. "Today, I think I have a girl who needs to be brought back under control."

"Fuck you," Faith said. She leaped in for an attack. Angelus brought his weapon around, but Faith wasn't that blinded by anger—not yet anyway. She leaped to the side and then spun around, delivering a kick to Angelus' exposed side.

"Again, if you want to fuck, you don't need these games," Angelus offered sweetly.

Faith flew at him, and Xander cringed as he realized she had totally lost all concentration. She left her side totally vulnerable, and Graham cringed even before Angelus' foot caught her in the stomach and sent her crashing against the wall. Xander gasped, and Graham darted out from behind the desk, but before he was halfway across the room, Angelus had Faith's arm up behind her back, and his other arm across her throat.

"Boy," Angelus warned Graham darkly, "on your knees."

Graham stopped, his fists clenched at his sides. Angelus wrenched Faith's arm up behind her, and she gasped in pain. Immediately, Graham dropped to his knees, his back stiff and his fists clenched on his thighs, and Xander had absolutely no idea how to fix any of this. The illusion was gone, and this wasn't Angel. The minions pressed forward, the boldest leaving the doorways and halls where they'd been sheltered in order to watch Angelus... actually, Xander wasn't sure what Angelus was going to do.

"So, you're finally home. Is that idiot childe of mine here? William?" Angelus called up into the hotel. Silence answered him. "So, alone?"

Faith didn't answer until Angelus wrenched her arm up again. Graham jerked, and Faith gasped out, "Yes, I'm alone."

"Your boy there was worried about you," Angelus said, his eyes focusing on Graham. "He was afraid he had put you in a bad situation, but I think he put you in exactly the situation you want to be in."

Xander moved to the front of the desk, his heart breaking just as badly as it had on the day he realized that Angel's soul wasn't trapped or stolen, but just gone. This was his fault. He'd given Angel that moment of perfect happiness, even knowing the curse was there. He'd held Graham back. Xander looked down at his hand where he still had Graham's knife.

Faith didn't answer—she pressed her lips together tightly. Angelus moved forward, forcing Faith to move with him. It was pretty clear that she was fighting with every bit of strength she had, but Angelus just pushed her forward until they were standing right in front of Graham.

Graham had knelt up, his fists at his sides, and his jaw tightly clenched. "Graham here believes I'm a better defense than the military when it comes to the sort of evil that seem to always want the world to end. He confessed to me that he was willing to go to his knees, even to the soul. I wonder. Does he go on his knees for you?"

"Fuck you," Faith cursed, but her words were soft and tired.

"Sir," Graham started to say.

"Shut up," Angelus cut him off. Xander took a step forward, not sure what do to, but he couldn't do nothing. Angelus looked up at him and for one second, the confusion looked just like Angel—the illusion slipped back into place, and Xander sucked in a breath, his heart pounding painfully hard in his chest. Angelus shook his head and looked down at Faith again.

"So, you have some choices. Do you want to hear them?"

"What? You talk me to death?" Faith asked. The sarcasm was forced, and Graham was almost trembling. Xander took another step forward. If he attacked, he was dead, he really didn't have any doubt about that. His mom would probably follow shortly after, but somehow that didn't seem nearly as horrifying as standing still and watching a monster he set loose kill Faith.

"Faith, Faith, Faith," Angelus said in a scolding tone. "What I want is you back in your place, and you've been bad—in front of the minions no less. So, you need to be punished. Should I treat you like one of my clan, like a childe who has done something particularly stupid? Maybe you'd like that. It'd be familiar territory for you." Angelus made a production of sniffing along Faith's neck. "I remember having to bring Spike in line over and over. That boy doesn't look half-bad with a cock in his mouth. Or maybe I should treat you like Graham here and put you on your knees until you remember who your master is. Maybe you will take your place with the humans and bend your neck, offering me your blood. Or maybe you refuse to yield at all, and then this will be the valley of death for you and your boy."

Angelus gave Faith's neck another sniff and then he pushed her roughly away. Graham went to follow, but Angelus put his hand on Graham's shoulder, pushing him back down. "See how I marked your boy?" Angelus asked. He pushed on the side of Graham's neck so that the red marks were clearly visible.

Faith looked at Angelus and then at Xander. Her gaze burned him, it tattooed guilt so deep into his soul, that Xander thought he really might be able to outbrood Angel himself—if Angel weren't dead and gone and if they didn't all have to deal with the monster who'd been left behind. Xander let the hand with the knife fall to the side. If Faith wanted to take it from him, he wouldn't stop her. He wasn't sure if he's stop her if she took it and plunged it into his chest. Actually, that seemed like justice right now.

"So, you mark me, and then we all go back to being one happy family?" Faith circled, but Xander knew there was no way she'd risk jumping Angelus when his hand was resting against Graham's neck.

"You go back to obeying me, and we all go back to being one happy family. Bending your neck in supplication and asking my forgiveness is just how you prove that you'll obey better this time around."

"So, you just want me to roll over and be your bitch?" Faith checked. The words were strangely not-angry, and given just how hard Angelus was pushing her into a corner, Xander couldn't quite figure out where all her angry was.

"You are my slayer. You always have been, and you will either show me that you remember that or I will remind you again. Boy, explain to her why you would stay with me, even if I gave you the chance to walk out that door right now."

For a second, Graham just bit his lip, but Angelus leaned a knee into Graham's back in warning and he held up his right arm. "The cuff doesn't allow me to leave the hotel. It will cripple me with pain if I try."

"Fuck," Faith sighed. She let her eyes fall closed for a second, and Xander could feel her surrender.

"Faith, just take off. I'd rather live with those consequences than see you trapped." Graham blurted the words, his gaze darting up to Angelus as if just expecting to get hit for daring to say it. Instead, Angelus chuckled.

"He actually means those words, Faith. You found yourself a man who would rather die by torture than let you lose one drop of blood over him." Angelus patted Graham on the cheek like he might a dog he liked, and Xander could see the disgust in Graham's face.

"So, that's the future you have planned for me—the pet slayer you keep on a leash and trot out for the other demons to see and poke at?"

Angelus frowned at her, and Xander could see the confusion for a second before the smirk was back in place. "You're my slayer, your future is whatever I say. If demons stand up against me, I will send you to destroy them. You will walk by my side, and the vampire courts who have not yet submitted will be left in ash and ruin. And if a demon pokes at you, you will rip off its arm and force the creature to eat it."

Faith dropped her hands to her side and looked down at Graham before she looked over at Xander. "Are you guys alright?" Xander chewed his lip, not sure how to answer that. He wasn't okay.

"We're fine, Faith," Graham answered for him. "Angelus hasn't hurt us." Xander ducked his head at the way Graham pointed out that him and Graham hadn't been hurt. Yeah, they were fine, but Angelus had hurt Faith in ways that Xander never would have believed. But maybe he should have believed it because Angelus was a demon, and unlike Spike, he had always been focused on getting what he wanted.

"And I won't. Unlike some people, I am very careful to care for my possessions," Angelus said, and Xander flinched as he realized that was Angelus' way of being comforting, only not so much with the actual comfort. Angelus held his hand out, and Faith stared at it for a long second. She looked down at Graham kneeling at Angelus' feet, and then she took a step forward. When she reached up to take Angelus' hand, the expression of triumph on Angelus' face almost broke Xander's heart.

Maybe there were parts of Angelus that he would always love, but this was just under the surface—this desire to make sure that other people were under him—below him. And maybe that was okay for Xander because he'd never been exactly the type to be on the top, but Faith didn't need to get knocked down just so she fit neatly under Angelus. Xander frowned. Oh god, he so seriously hoped that she was going to be figuratively under Angelus because if Angelus had sex with Faith, Xander's genitals were going on a very long vacation from which they just might not come back. And Xander suspected that Angelus was not going to be amused by that.

Faith put her hand in Angelus', and he pulled her close, his other hand still on Graham's head. When Faith came close enough, Graham reached out and touched her leg, his silver restraint bracelet reflecting the hotel lights. Angelus let go of Faith's hand and reached up to run a finger along her cheek, and Faith took a deep breath before tilting her head to one side, her neck arching.

Xander sucked in a breath as Angelus slipped a hand around Faith's waist, pulling her close before putting his face to her neck. Xander was too far to hear the sound of feeding, like he had when Angelus had fed from Graham, but his imagination supplied the sound. Sooner than Xander expected, Angelus raised his head from Faith's neck, licking his lips.

"Slayer's blood. Better than brandy for warming ye." Angelus smiled at Faith, and Faith looked up at him, so open and vulnerable that Xander wanted to rush in between them and pull Faith away. She was too vulnerable and sooner or later, Angelus was going to hurt her. "So, is that idiot William coming home or am I going to have to go out and fetch him?"

Faith shook her head, and that tough mask slipped back in place. "I don't think he intended for you to find him."

Angelus glared at Faith, but she glared right back. "I'll bring him home, eventually, but the longer he's gone, the longer he's going to hang from my chains."

Faith shrugged. "I figure he knows that already."

"If he isn't dust before I catch up with him, he's going to wish he was," Angelus said in his cranky voice. "And he is obviously lairing up in the sewers like a rat. Go get bathed." Angelus nodded toward the stairs. Faith took one step backwards and then looked down at Graham still at Angelus' feet. Graham looked up for permission, and Xander figured there wasn't anything they could have done to make Angelus any happier. Too bad Angelus' perfect happiness couldn't reverse the reversal on the curse. Xander flinched. Or not. Right now, he didn't think Angel wanted to be back in his body, feeling the guilt of all the havoc he'd wrecked in his own family. It'd kill him. Again.

"Go on, boy. Your slayer looks like she needs some attention." With that, Angelus turned his back on the pair. A minion hissed, either in shock or appreciation at the strength Angelus must have to turn his back to a slayer, but Angelus ignored it as he moved toward Xander. With a confused look, Angelus took the knife from Xander's numb fingers. He looked at it for a second before turning back toward the stairs.

"Faith!" he called. She turned around, and he sent the knife flying at her. She plucked it out of the air.

"What the fuck?"

"Keep your toy's toys in their place," Angelus suggested in a tone that made it clear he wasn't joking. Faith looked over at Graham, and he held out his hand for the knife.

"Yes, sir," Graham agreed as he took it from Faith and slipped it back into place in his belt. Faith said something to Graham, and then the two of them turned to head up the stairs. Angelus slipped an arm around Xander's shoulder, and Xander couldn't suppress the shiver that ran through him.

"M'fhear, are you unwell?" Angelus asked with a frown.

"Um, kinda, yeah," Xander agreed. "I just don't feel well."

"We should get you to bed," Angelus quickly said, his Angel mask firmly in place as he studied Xander with something that looked a lot like love.



47. Chapter 47

Xander lay in his bed watching Angelus' hand trail down his arm, his fingertips tracing the same lazy trail that Angel had always followed. Yesterday, Xander would have taken comfort in that. He would have watched Angelus' hand slowly caress him, and he would have taken it for proof that Angelus, like Spike, could learn to love. A demon learned from the human soul who had first owned the body, and maybe Angelus could learn from Angel, too.

But Angel never would have said that to Faith. And watching them fight, Xander had realized that Angelus was prepared to kill her... her and Graham... if she didn't surrender. He would have killed her or raped her to make her submit, and Xander still wasn't sure which would have been worse, and he'd just sat there and let him happen, which made him worse than Angelus. Angelus had the whole no-soul excuse. Xander was just a coward.

"M'fhear, should I get Wesley?" Angelus asked. Xander looked up from that large hand still slowly stroking his arm and into concerned brown eyes. Was that love? Xander had thought so, but now he was wondering if it was just concern that one of Angelus' toys wasn't up to amusing him. "You don't smell well."

"I told you sniffing is rude," Xander said, but his voice was weak.

Angelus smiled at him anyway. "And I always agreed and then continued to smell you." He was amused now, but the worry hadn't left his eyes. Xander looked back down at the hand trailing over his arm in slow circles. Usually by now Angelus was well into the sexual act, but tonight he seemed oddly willing to simply lay close. Xander's body wanted to sink into the familiar comfort and push all other thoughts aside, but he couldn't. He'd never been good at self-deception. Oh, he could spin a mean story about how his eye really got black, one that didn't involve tripping over a tombstone while chasing a vampire in tenth grade, but he wasn't one of those who could lie to himself.

"How many people have you killed?" Xander asked, his mouth blurting the words before his brain could register the fact that he probably didn't want to have this conversation. He looked up at Angelus' face, but Angelus' expression hadn't changed.

"A few people on the street, three watchers sent to investigate and report back and a few Wolfram and Hart employees who annoyed me. They tried returning Darla to life thinking that I wanted to be under the thumb of a treacherous sire." Angelus' expression made it fairly clear how he felt about that.

"Darla's back?"

"Not anymore."

Xander frowned, not understanding what happened.

"I ripped her head off."

Gasping, Xander stared at Angelus. "But you were all conflicted about having to stake her, you did major angst last time."

Angelus raised an eyebrow.

"Angel did major angst," Xander corrected himself.

"Angel had confused his feelings for his mother and his sire. Darla considered me a toy, a plaything, and maybe Angel was willing to put up with that in order to sooth his guilt over feeding on his mother, but I'm not. I fed on the mother because she deserved it. She was weak. She lived under the thumb of that man until death was more than likely a blessing. And Darla... well, she was a good fuck and a great teacher, but I don't need either from her—not anymore." Angelus reached over and slapped Xander on the hip, a gesture unique to him.

"And the watcher guys?"

"Why the interest in my feeding habits? If your soul bothers you, remember that I have killed more vampires than Angel managed in a hundred years. The city is safer for having me as the master of LA rather than that ineffectual excuse of a vampire who refused to take the power there waiting for him."

Xander frowned, because that was true, too. For the first time in a long time, he wished Father Peter was here to talk these things through with, but somehow, he didn't see that going over well with Angelus.

"Before ye go thinking too hard, boy, remember that I never asked your permission to be who I am. I am a vampire, and I'll not be pretending I'm anything else."

Xander looked into yellowed eyes. "I say things that piss you off all the time—it's part of my charm," he pointed out, but fear was prickling at the edges of his awareness, and Angelus never liked to smell fear on him.

"I can protect you from the likes of the watchers." Angelus laughed. "The head of their hunter team will be giving them trouble enough for quite a while. I haven't made such a strong vampire since Penn." Angelus looked amused. "If he gives his former bosses half as much trouble as Penn gave me as a fledge, they will too busy to bother us for many years. And a demon summoned by Wolfram and Hart dispatched the Oracles, so there are not threats to the clan, a choi." Oh shit. Shit and shit and more shit with a side of cold-hearted bastard. Xander's stomach twisted into unfamilar shapes as he considered a new terror turned loose on the world, and not even a normal terror, but an Angelus-created terror. Penn, Dru, even Spike--they were monsters several steps ahead of the normal monster because Angelus was good at creating evil.

And Xander was laying in bed with him--the monster creator. Xander wondered if some family in England was dying right now. Shit. How much damage could a vamped watcher do what with all the demon knowledge the human had come ready made with. It was like one of those sponges you dropped in water and it turned twenty times bigger. After seeing Giles' family issues and Wesley's family issues, Xander was willing to be watchers in general had issues, and now Angelus had taken the issues and added water, and 'poof'--instant evil.

"No threats. That's good," Xander said weakly, struggling to turn off his brain, which was spinning like a gerbil in a wheel. Yep, he was just gerbil brains. And considering that he had just now figured out that he had to find a way to take Angelus out, he was going to be very dead gerbil brains if he wasn't careful. However, no way would Angel want his body out creating uber-vampires to torture groups of people—not even the watchers, and Angel was not a watcher fan.

Nope, Angelus wasn't Angel, and he never would be Angel, and this weird Angelish period would end the minute Angelus stopped and thought about unhappy things like aging and dying and leaving. And somehow, Xander didn't think that Angelus was going to handle having his family grow old and die very well, which meant that as time marched on, Angelus was going to be forced to act more and more like Angelus just to keep his toys and his clan and his illusions. He'd turn them. Xander knew that now. And once he'd turned them, the whole watcher attack would get more and more common because Angelus wouldn't have to worry about having some tender human whose feelings he had to keep in mind.

Xander wondered what kind of a vampire he'd be. Would he be all issuey and try to conquer the world? If he'd been turned at sixteen, he so would have been another Angelus. Maybe he'd be a depressed vampire who would sit and stare at a sunbeam all day. Hopefully, he wouldn't find out because if Angelus turned him, there was not going to be anything keeping him from going Scourge of California. Or Scourge of L.A. maybe because Angelus seemed to like having a permanent court. He could go on killing vacations to the Keys or the South of France and then come home to his lair. Xander could feel the hysteria like a bubble in his chest slowly growing bigger until he felt like he couldn't breathe.

"I'm getting Wesley," Angelus suddenly announced. "I should turn a doctor." That last statement finally made the bubble burst, and Xander gasped for air, seeing spots in front of his vision. Yep, that was Angelus' solution to everything, and that's why Xander had to stake the man he loved. And god help him, because when he died, Xander was so ending up in hell with Angelus rather than up with Angel. He shouldn't love someone who could just casually comment on murdering someone. He shouldn't. But his gerbil brains very clearly did.

The hysteria slipped out of Xander in gasping breaths and weak laughter. Maybe this was hell. The door flew open, Angelus, naked, was dragging a still-dressed but rather rumpled looking Wesley. For some reason, Harmony was trailing just behind, hovering at the open door.

"Xander?" Wesley knelt down at the edge of the bed, his hand cool on Xander's forehead. "He seems a little warm."

"I'm fine." Xander pushed Wesley's hand away, but he couldn't seem to catch his breath, so he sat gasping.

"You are not fine. I'll find a doctor." Angelus turned to go, but the thought of him out there turning a random dude made Xander's abused lungs feel like they were on fire. He gasped desperately, but he couldn't seem to get any oxygen in.

"You have to slow down, Xander," Wesley advised him. Yeah, like that helped. Xander couldn't get enough air now, and if he slowed down any, he was going to die from lack of oxygen. "I need a paper bag."

The world was streaked with gray spots that moved like drunk fish, and Xander grabbed the arm of someone who slipped in behind him. He grabbed the arm and held on for dear life because the whole losing control of his body just sucked.

"Is he...?" Angelus' voice boomed and echoed oddly.

"He's hyperventilating. He just needs to slow down his breathing."

A hand reached around, covering Xander's mouth, and Xander exploded. He shoved and twisted and bit in a desperate attempt to reach the air.

"Here. Here. I got one." Harmony's voice warbled, and then Xander could breathe again, but the air was hot and stale as someone pushed a paper bag over his face. But it was better than not breathing, so Xander gasped for air and relaxed into the strong arms holding him tightly.

"He's breathing better. What happened to him?" Angelus sounded cranky. Even worse, Wesley looked ready to pee his pants, and for the first time, Xander considered that Wesley might be having the more rational reaction and Xander might have been grossly underestimating the epic bad of having Angelus back.

"Sometimes the cheerleaders did that before a big competition," Harmony offered. "Or after sometimes. Betty would finish her last jump and smile for the judges and then we'd have to just about carry her off the stage." Xander looked up, wondering why Harmony was even here. "It's a human thing," she said with a shrug, like that was below her. Even though Xander was being held close to Angelus' chest—too close to see his expression—it was clear from the way Harmony turned and ran that she had gotten one of those looks. Yep, Angelus had one serious "I'm going to kill you" looks, and Xander was fairly sure he wasn't kidding.

"Anxiety attacks are common both before and after major stress," Wesley offered. Yep, good old Wesley was right. Deciding that you had to stake the three hundred year old monster that was holding you close and stroking your arm soothingly—that was stress. That was major stress and potential therapy and permanent psychological damage all rolled into one. But that was the only solution Xander could see.

"Why are you stressed, Xander?" Angelus asked. Xander closed his eyes and focused on just breathing because his lungs suddenly didn't want to work. "M'fhear?"

"We were all worried about how far Faith would push you. This is probably just a reaction to tonight," Wesley answered for Xander. Xander looked up gratefully, and from the expression on Wesley's face, Wesley suspected he was lying for Xander.

"She's back in the clan now, so you can calm down, m'fhear. We'll get that idiot Spike back and send Blair back to Washington, and then everything will be as it should be." Angelus finally let Xander push the bag away, and Xander drew in a full breath of fresh air. For a second, he was afraid the room would start to crush his lungs again, but air actually moved in and out of his lungs. After 20 years of knowing how to breathe, Xander had never expected to lose that particular ability, and he could now definitely say that it was not a pleasant experience.

"I just freaked a little. I'm okay. I'm fine." Xander rested his hand against Angelus' knee and felt a wave of guilt so heavy that he gasped for a breath before he forced himself to slow down.

"You are really an incredibly bad liar."

Xander twisted around, which wasn't easy with Angelus' arms tightening around him.

"Oh dear," Wesley muttered.

Standing in the middle of the bedroom, Anyanka had on a very odd expression as she studied him and Angelus. It took Xander a second to figure out that it was lust, and then he dropped his paper bag and clutched the sheet closer. Okay,, as often as people popped into his bedroom, he seriously needed to start wearing pajamas.

"So. Year's up," she announced cheerfully.



48. Chapter 48

Oh shit. Xander was becoming the potty mouth in his brain, but he thought he was pretty justified because no one should be tortured by demons as much as he was... and considering Angelus still had Lindsey downstairs, that might not be the best choice of words, even in his own head.

"It's not been a year yet," Angelus said with a touch of growl in his voice. "Come back and hear his answer later."

"So I'm a few days early," Anyanka shrugged. "The dramatic moment is always more important than the technicalities."

"Maybe I should..." Wesley's voice trailed off.

"Get out," Angelus snapped.

"Yes, get out. Good advice. So nice to meet you." Wesley sidestepped toward the door in this weird hopping step that got him out pretty damn fast.

"So, you have to tell me your fantasy so I can put you with someone who makes you happy. This is not the sort of wish I want to get caught making, so make it fast."

Xander's stomach tightened. If she'd asked him yesterday or even three hours ago, he'd know his answer. And even knowing that Angel's soul had earned a little peace, Xander wanted to ask for him. He wanted to feel Angel's arms around him, and sometimes he even liked to pretend that Angel was in hell—that he could save Angel by pulling him back and having him shoved in a body with a demon. But that was the fantasy. Wanting that was like fantasizing about your parents dropping dead to save you from a history test. Yeah, you did it, but you never, ever admitted to it. And wanting Angel back out of heaven was feeling like that kind of guilty, creepy fantasy. And that meant he was left with one choice... which was the least bad of a whole lot of bad choices because picking someone as a lifemate and then staking them on principal—this did not make him a morally upstanding man. He was so going to need therapy again. But he had only one answer.

"Angelus," Xander said with all the resolve he could dig up.

Anyanka looked him up and down so thoroughly that Xander clutched the sheet and Angelus started growling.

"Mind yer manners or I'll teach you some," he said. He got up out of bed and took a step toward her, not even bothering to hide his oh so very nakedness. Anyanka just switched over to looking him up and down like the last piece of chocolate cake. Angelus crossed his arms and went into gameface. "He chose me, so the wish is filled and you can just leave."

The snort Angelus got in return was a bit of a surprise. Obviously, Angelus was surprised too, because it took him a whole half-second before he launched himself at her. Xander flinched back so hard that he clocked himself on the headboard, but the blood and guts and various pieces of intestine never started flying. Instead, the headboard grew chains, and the chains snaked out and snapped at Angelus until they caught his wrists and then yanked him back onto the bed.

"Go mbeire an diabhal leis thú!" Angelus snapped the words out, but the chains just withdrew into the headboard with a rough clattered, pulling Angelus back until he was chained tightly, right next to Xander.

"Hey! Not really the way I had this planned! You're supposed to be making me happy, remember?" Xander pointed out. Anyanka gave a shrug and walked over to the chair.

"I'll pull yer intestines out and break every bone in your body before I'm done with ye," Angelus snapped, and that was the all-Irish, all-pissed Angelus.

Anyanka rolled her eyes, her demonic features fading away. "Vampires are like men: they love to talk about everything they're going to do, but usually that's just covering their deep-set impotence. Not that you're impotent." Anyanka looked over Angelus' naked body laid out on the bed. "I'll admit that I have really enjoyed watching you two. You should do porn—there would be many people who would enjoy watching you."

Xander was so shocked his mouth fell open.

"You will suffer for this," Angelus snarled, and that snapped Xander back to reality. Oh this was going so very not well. Grabbing the edge of the sheet, Xander covered Angelus. Yeah, it was a pointless gesture, but he really didn't want Anyanka seeing any more than she had already seen, and it sounded like she had seen a lot. Ew. Demons and demony logic were just really unlogicy and more than a little gross.

"I doubt it," she said with a shrug. "So, you're choosing the walking attitude here? Really?" Anyanka turned toward Xander, and with her human face on, she almost looked confused.

"Yes, I'm picking Angelus," Xander agreed.

Anyanka's frown didn't look like a good sign.

"Hey, I'm the one who had naughty fantasies about Diana from V, so it's not even like this is the first time I've totally fallen for someone who could easily eat me in the non-sexual and non-fun way."

"I would never eat you, m'fhear," Angelus said, and now he looked confused, which wasn't easy for a vampire in gameface to do.

"I know, which is why I'm choosing you."

"You loved Angel more," Anyanka said with confidence. Xander flinched as Angelus' muscles gathered and bunched under the skin. Shit, demons really knew how to poke sore spots.

"Hey, that is not true." Xander sat up, still clutching the sheet around his waist. "I fell in love with both of them, and yeah, it's a little different trying to deal with just one at a time, but if it were just Angel here without Angelus, that would be just as weird, and I would still love him anyway." Xander frowned. He was fairly sure that had come out wrong. Note to self—never imply that he had loved the old Angel with the soul and the demon more than just the demon, because Angelus was straining against the metal cuffs so that his muscles stood out in hard cords under his skin.

Anyanka gave another of her snorts. "Oh please. I've been torturing men for a thousand years, and I still have to watch in awe as he tortures you." Anyanka poked a thumb toward Angelus, which provoked another growl.

But then Angelus shook his head and his human face returned, smiling in that way that made Xander want to yell for people to run and take cover. Angelus smiling had a real creep factor to it. "I've never tortured Xander. If I wanted, I could turn him into a shivering shell of himself, caught between crying for my touch and flinching from it."

Okay, the creepy levels had just risen. "Angelus?"

Angelus looked down, and the smile faded into something more fond. Maybe it wasn't as fond as it was possessive, but it was an expression that Xander recognized. "But I wouldn't do that to you," he promised. He turned back toward Anyanka. "He chose me willingly. You're a vengeance demon—a wish demon. You have no power other than to make a wish come true, and he chose me. Do your work and get out of my lair."

"Men." Anyanka shook her head. "They never change. A century, a millennium, it doesn't matter. And people wonder why I specialize in torturing unfaithful men. I love my work. I'm very good at my work." Anyanka leaned forward and got a thoughtful expression on her face that worried Xander. "But just because I don't normally do this kind of wish doesn't mean that I should neglect you. You are going to get my best work." For the first time, Xander realized that Anyanka's creepy smile looked a lot like Angelus' creepy smile. A little panicked part of his brain wondered if they had sinister classes in demon school.

"So." Anyanka clapped her hands once and stood up. "How sure are you that Angel's soul went up and not down?"

"Oh no. No and more heaping loads of no. I don't want the curse put back on, so that would not be making me happy, which would not be filling the wish."

"Oh, please. The wish was for you to be with someone who could make you happy. Whether you are happy or not is not my concern."

"You'll see your steaming intestines piled at your feet." Angelus went back into gameface, his arms bulging as he fought the chains that imprisoned him.

"Besides, do you have any idea how hard it is to curse someone out of a heavenly dimension? This will absolutely make my reputation." She looked weirdly excited now. "I will be forever known as Anyanka who cursed a soul out of the upper dimensions. I have to say, I was starting to get bored with the vengeance thing—shrivel a penis here, make a man's genitals fall off there, create an alternative reality where a man is a forever locked in the body of a hormonal teenage girl with acne and severe PMS. It all gets so boring after a century or two. But this... I'm actually excited about this."

"But it wouldn't make the wish true. I wouldn't be happy because he'd never talk to me again out of fear that I'd make his soul fall off and he'd kill someone else. And you know that's true. So, you'd end up breaking the whole thousand years of wish-filling with one giantly broken wish!" Xander could feel his heart pound so fast that his ears pounded with the sound. A little part of him wanted Angel back, wanted to beg Anyanka to just make the last few weeks go away. But that little part of him was a selfish bastard because Angel didn't deserve to be tortured, and that's exactly what she was planning to do.

"Trust me, if I curse his soul onto his demon, it's not coming off again. Humans have no business in the curse business because that happiness clause was the most idiotic escape clause I've seen a thousand years. If they wanted to make sure he could never enjoy his happiness, they should have made a fireball clause. But human logic is rarely up to the standards required for a good curse. It takes a special type of human to know how to turn a man into his worst nightmare and then turn his family against him." She got an odd smile on her face.

"You even try this, and I'll make ye pay." Angelus was angry, his body straining against the chains, but he didn't sound as sure yet.

"You asked me to pick, and I'm picking Angelus."

She actually rolled her eyes at him when he said that. "This one can't make you happy, so putting you with him is not fulfilling the wish, and I am not breaking a perfect record of a thousand years for you. You're cute and built very well for a human, but you are not that cute, and I've seen plenty of men with larger cocks, even if yours is rather well formed."

Xander pulled the sheet up higher.

"I make him scream with pleasure and writhe under my hands. The soul never did to him what I can do. It was a fumbling idiot who had nary a good idea in his head. He's mine, so you will give him to me." Angelus pulled so hard that the stud groaned, and Xander was afraid the wall was going to collapse on them. Afraid might have been the wrong word, though, because Xander was actually wishing for it right now. A little death would actually be a good way out of his mess.

Anyanka seemed to stop and think about that. "I actually agree with you about your superior sexual skills. You've been much more fun to watch since the soul left; however, you're emotionally damaging Xander, and that actually doesn't fit his mother's wish, so the soul comes back."

"You can't," Xander said desperately, all logic gone and now he was down to abject begging.

"I hope I can. I mean, cursing someone out of the lower dimensions is easy—open a door and they'll come flying through either to find weaker prey or because they are prey. But if he's in a higher dimension, he'll have to choose to come back. So, I guess we're going to find out how much he is willing to give up for you. I really hope he likes you enough to come back. It's going to be bad for my reputation if I try this and it doesn't work." She stopped for a second, and all Xander could hear was the ominous creaking of the stud as Angelus strained. "If this doesn't work, I wonder if D'Hoffryn would consider it cheating if I killed you. I mean, witnesses would not be good for my rep."

"I'll rip yer guts out and stuff them down your throat." Angelus sounded desperate, but Anyanka just shrugged again.

"Been there, done that. Done that several times actually, although my preference is for making victims eat their genitals instead. Men are oddly attached to their genitals... even more than their intestines." Anyanka closed her eyes, and Xander took a flying leap off the bed. Yeah, his chance of winning the fight was somewhere between 'not going to happen' and 'not a chance in hell,' but he had to try. He was inches from her when cold steel grabbed his wrists, and he was yanked backwards so fast that his shoulder popped and started aching immediately.

"Did you really think you'd win where Angelus couldn't?" Anyanka looked at him like he had lost his mind, and maybe Xander had.

"Not actually, no. But I had to do something." The chains pulled him back up on the bed next to Angelus, and Xander twisted to try and hid his private parts against Angelus' thigh.

"A choi, hush," Angelus said. "What do you want, demon? I have a lot of connections in this town. Magical texts, magical objects, I could provide them. I could give you the heart and blood of a slayer—that is power most demons can never dream of."

Xander's vision darkened as he realized what Angelus was willing to trade away to keep his freedom. Faith, Graham... him. They all existed to make Angelus happy.

"M'fhear?" Angelus' voice was soft, but Xander couldn't open his eyes to look at the man—the monster—he had chosen. The monster who was offering to trade Faith's life away, or maybe he was offering to trade Buffy's life away, and that wasn't any better. Xander realized he'd stopped breathing when he started getting light headed.

"I'd admire your torture technique if you weren't so oblivious." Anyanka sounded a little disgusted. "But hopefully it won't matter in a second."

Xander looked, and Anyanka had a crystal in her hand. It had spires that rose up from the base so that it almost looked like a fantasy castle, and now it was starting to glow a brilliant white. "Please, don't," Xander begged. He pulled against the chains, but he couldn't certainly couldn't pull them loose.

"I have alliances who could prove useful to you!" Angelus said in a voice that might have sounded all silky persuasive to someone else, but it just sounded desperate to Xander. It was weird hearing Angelus sound so desperate.

"Why is it that men always overestimate their own power and attractiveness? I am not attracted to you or your alliances, and both are rather unimpressive." Anyanka got way to much pleasure out of saying that, and then she lifted her hand and the crystal started pulsing with light.

"Angel will leave me. He'll be so afraid of hurting me that he won't be able to make me happy." Xander blurted the words out, not really believing them, but he had to say something. He had to stop this. Oh god, Angel had such a big martyr complex that he ate rats for a hundred years. Coming back to earth for Xander was just going to be one more chalk mark on his issue board—unless heaven had taught him a little more self-respect. Did they teach self-respect in heaven?

"He won't have a chance," Anyanka said mysteriously, her voice strained as the sound of a whistling wind started filling the room. Xander felt the breeze through his hair, and then the whistling grew so loud that he flinched back. The bestial sound of Angelus' growl was a low rumble that Xander almost felt in the pit of his stomach, making him nauseous as the light from the crystal grow.

Xander opened his mouth, but he had used all his words. He didn't know what to say to convince Anyanka to not do this. He didn't have the right words, and he couldn't protect Angel or Angelus from Xander's own selfishness. It was his happiness that was going to destroy both of them.

"Angel!" Xander called out to the air as the wind started blowing hard enough to make his hair tickle across the back of his neck. "Angel, don't come back. I'm okay. I'll take care of things here. I promise I'll take care of things. If you're happy, just stay where you are." Xander screamed the words, but the wind now battered at him and the pitch was so high that it made Xander's ears ache and his eyes water. Angelus' growl was now inaudible, but Xander could feel the vibrations where their legs were pressed together. Even Xander's own words were swallowed by the horrible sound; the other thing Xander could hear was Anyanka's chanting.

The crystal's glow slowly turned from white to a brilliant blue, and Xander looked at Angelus—his face lit from the side by the blue of the crystal and then the room exploded with light. Xander could see Angelus' skeleton, and Xander could feel himself scream in terror. Angelus was going to turn to dust in front of him, and Xander was going to taste the ash of it for the rest of his life, but then the light faded, and Angelus was still on one piece, his eyes glowing white in the suddenly dark room.

"There." Anyanka said with self-satisfaction dripping from her voice.

"Angelus?" Xander whispered, his voice gravel and pain. The chains had vanished. Xander reached out, but froze, his hand dangling in air.

Slowly, Angelus turned to look at him, but the confusion, the pain, the guilt and despair were all Angel.

"Angel?" Xander whispered, hope and horror so tangled in his heart that he couldn't even hope to understand what he was feeling.

Angel looked around the room as if he'd never seen it, like he hadn't spent almost a year living in it. Actually, he looked at it like it horrified him, and he pressed closer to the headboard.

Anyanka gave them both a wide smile. "Well, my work is done. I have people to curse and demons to impress with my powers over the heavenly dimensions, so you two have fun." She was gone before Xander could even gather his thoughts, and then Xander was left with some damaged version of Angel who seemed to just stare at him with horror and pain.



49. Chapter 49

Graham closed the bedroom door behind him. Endgame. Angelus had all of his pieces put away of their little boxes. Everyone except Spike, and Graham had no doubt that he was going to disappear with Cordelia. No way would Cordelia put up with Angelus' mind games. She'd call him out, and two seconds after that, she'd be dead. So this was it. This was the shape of Graham's life for the foreseeable future. And considering how Angelus spoke to Faith, Graham was not sure how this was going to work.

“Babe, you're okay?”

Graham looked at Faith, and for a moment he wasn't sure what to even say. “I should be asking you that.”

“Why? I'm five by five. Little worried about you being in here with the big guy, but you're holding your own.”

“Are you?”

Faith frowned at him like Graham had said something incomprehensible. “I've gotten more bruises sparring with Angel. Hell, I've got more bruises throwing down with Spike.” She grinned at him to let him know how much she’d enjoyed those bruises. “I'm fine.”

Graham moved into the room, closer to Faith. “It's not the bruises of worried about.”

“Oh.” Faith made a face and then she shrugged as if the matter was too small to even bother talking about. “He was poking the daddy issues a little hard.”

“A little? Faith…” Graham stopped he might have a degree in psychology, but he had a feeling that there weren't enough degrees of the world to teach him how to deal with this.

Faith gave him a broad grin. “I'm fine. Fuck, do you really think I'm that breakable?”

“I think we all are if Angelus hits the right buttons.”

The grin fell off Faith's face. “Are you talking about someone in particular or are we just playing with some pessimism?”

Graham rubbed his hand over his face. “I don't know.” They were all so close to some psychological cliff that he didn’t know who he should worry about more. Xander who was trying to turn Angelus into Angel? Wesley who was trying to vanish into the woodwork? Harmony who seemed to think she could annoy Angelus out of killing someone without ending up dead herself? Faith, the woman he loved, who had just been emotionally shredded while he stood by and watched? Worse, he’d knelt for the man who’d done it. He was supposed to be comforting Faith after that brutal psychological attack; instead her arms came around him, holding him close.

“Babe, that was just a little slap and tickle for a demon. Yeah, he threw me.” She shrugged. “But he went out of his way to attack me with words so that he wouldn't have to hit me as hard.”

Graham looked at her. She still looked like Faith, like this beautiful strong woman he'd fallen for. Wesley was a shadow of himself and Xander… If Graham couldn't find a way to fix some of this, Angelus was going to break Xander into so many pieces that the man was never going to recover. But Faith just looked like Faith. Graham let his hands settle at her waist, her body swaying slightly under his touch. She was never completely still, not unless she was asleep.

“When he said that…” Graham could feel his fury rising again. If Xander hadn't taken the knife away from him, he would've shoved it so far in Angelus’ back then he would've been buried wrist-deep in gore.

Faith brought her hands up to cup Graham's face and studied him. “When you told me to run, you meant it.”

“Fuck yes,” Graham agreed.

Faith leaned in and at the same time she pulled him closer until their foreheads rested against each other.” I wouldn't leave you,” she whispered.

“He's counting on that.” The cuff was heavy around Graham's wrist. “You have to promise me that if things go wrong, you have to promise you'll take care of yourself first.”

“Spent a lot of years doing exactly that, Babe. It hasn't turned out well for me. So I think I'll stick with the family. But you—” she gave a huff of laughter and pulled back a little. “You've got to remember that I've got my own touch of demon. What Angelus did down there, that felt a lot like him loving me enough to hold on.”

Graham didn't answer. There wasn’t a psychological theory out there that would allow that to be even a little bit healthy.

“Awww. Now I worried the big bad soldier,” Faith teased.

“A little,” Graham admitted.

Faith stepped back and stretched her body twitching it like a cat that just stood up out of the sun. “I'm fine. Better than, actually. I thought for sure he was to put me in chains and whip the skin off my back.”

Graham didn't say that his fear had included Angelus sleeping with Faith. Emotionally and psychologically, Angelus was still her father. Soul or not, she looked to him for guidance, and Graham just didn't know what would happen if Angelus decided to use sex to cement their bond. Well that just meant that he had a new mission: make sure Angelus understood that having sex with a woman who was essentially your daughter would emotionally destroy her. He had his objective; now he just had to decide how to reach it.

Faith was backing up towards the bed, her body still twisting and twitching. “I think I've missed you even more than running water,” as she said it she stretched her hands over her head so that her shirt lifted up to show a toned midriff.

“That must be true love them,” Graham said with a smile. A little voice in the back of his head that sounded a lot like his third-year psychology professor reminded him that sex wasn't going to fix anything. However, it sure wouldn't hurt anything either. Graham moved closer to Faith, his hands reaching for her, his fingers brushing across the bare skin of her stomach. Just then, the door crashed open.

Graham spun around his knife already out of its sheath, and Faith dropped into a fighting crouch. Standing at the open door was Wesley, his hair sticking up at odd angles and his eyes wide.

“She's back.”

Graham's heart drop to about his knees. Fuck. They got Cordelia. As much as Cordelia sometimes annoyed Graham with her attitude, he didn't want to see her in chains. Her or Spike, and if they’d gotten Cordelia, Spike would follow. Angelus might be fairly careful with the rest of them, but he had a history with Spike and a hatred for Cordelia that not going to allow mercy to come into the equation. And Graham was fairly sure that Angelus would kill any of them for trying to get in the middle. That was a problem, because Xander was going to try and get in the middle.

“Who?” Faith demanded.


The name caught Graham so off guard, that for a second he couldn't even process it. Anyanka. The wish demon Anyanka.

“Fuck.” Faith breathed the word, and for a second, no one moved. Then she dashed toward the door, shoving Wesley out of her way so hard that he tumbled back into the hallway and would have fallen if Harmony hadn’t been two steps behind him ready to catch. Graham darted after her. He had no idea what to do when faced with a wish demon, but if Faith was throwing herself in to the middle of the battle, he could, too.

The door to Angelus’ rooms stood open, and Faith crouched outside.

“Hear anything?” Graham whispered, painfully aware that if Angelus caught them spying on his room, they were all going to end up in chains.

Faith shook her head and edged into the sitting area. Despite the sour taste of fear in his mouth, Graham followed.

“Please, don't," Xander’s voice came from the sleeping area, and the rattling that followed could only be chains. Graham froze a half step behind Faith. Shit. He never thought Angelus’ sexual appetites including making Xander beg with such fear and desperation. If anything, Angelus always tried to make Xander happy. He rarely succeeded, but he tried.

"I have alliances who could prove useful to you!" Angelus said, a thin veneer of desperation over a darker anger. Faith turned around to look at Graham who could only shrug. He was officially clueless.

"Why is it that men always overestimate their own power and attractiveness? I am not attracted to you or your alliances, and both are rather unimpressive,” a woman said in a voice that sounded a whole lot like Cordelia, at least in the sort of superior tone she took.

"Angel will leave me. He'll be so afraid of hurting me that he won't be able to make me happy." Xander sounded like he might have a heart attack at any second, and Graham shifted his grip on his knife, prepared for Faith to leap into the room at any time, but she was crouched by the crack of the door, watching without acting.

"He won't have a chance.”

"Angel!" Xander screamed as a whistling sound rose as if the room was having a windstorm. "Angel, don't come back. I'm okay. I'll take care of things here. I promise I'll take care of things. If you're happy, just stay where you are." Chains clinked, at least until the roar of wind grew so loud it drowned it out. Graham moved closer, settling his hand against the small of Faith’s back to let her know he was still here with her. Looking at the door that led into the hall, Graham could see Harmony and Wesley watching with wary eyes.

The roar settled into a whistle and then quieted completely.

"There." The woman sounded very pleased with herself.

“What’s going on?” Graham whispered so softly he wasn’t sure Faith could even hear him.

She tilted her head. “Demon decided to bring back the soul,” she whispered. A wave of relief hit Graham so hard that he nearly went to his knees. The soul was back. Closing his eyes, Graham sent up a prayer of thanks and promised to never again doubt the mercy of God.

"Angel?" Xander voice was calling softly, and Graham’s eyes came open at the tone of horror her could hear. What the hell was going on in that room?

"Well, my work is done,” Anyanka said in a very pleased tone. “I have people to curse and demons to impress with my powers over the heavenly dimensions, so you two have fun."

Graham’s joy froze as he realized what she was saying. She’d pulled Angel’s soul out of heaven. She’d dragged him out of heaven into this… Graham looked around at the terror on Wesley’s face and the tense lines in Faith’s body… this disaster.

“Faith, go,” Graham said, not bothering to whisper.

“I’m not sure… maybe they want…” Faith stood up, clearly no longer on guard. Shoving his knife into its scabbard, Graham rushed past her into the room.

Angel was in the corner, naked and clutching a sheet he’d clearly ripped off the bed. Xander knelt in front of him, hands held out as though in prayer or supplication, but Angel just stared at him as if a kneeling man was the most terrifying site in the world.

“Angel, it’s okay. You’re home. I’m Xander. You remember me, right?” Xander’s voice cracked, the emotion pouring out into every syllable, and Angel flinched back. That led Xander to flinch back as though hit, and then Angel flinched again.

“Xander?” Graham asked, keeping his voice soft. If Angel had been in heaven, Graham wasn’t sure what he thought about being shoved back into the body of a vampire with all the murderous thoughts rattling around in it, but he didn’t want to set Angel off.

“He doesn’t… he acts like he doesn’t know me.” Xander looked up at Graham with such raw pain, but Graham could feel his air go out as though he’d been punched.

“Give him time. Let him adjust,” Graham suggested as he inched forward. Angel had an expression Graham usually saw on people who were mentally ill, unstable and dangerous. Right now he needed to get Xander away, and he could worry about trying to reach Angel once he knew that Xander was safe.

“I told her that I was okay with Angelus. I told her to leave Angel’s soul in heaven.” Xander’s voice had an odd silence in the middle as he tried to suck back in a sob, but the tears flowed anyway. “I didn’t want her to do this.”

“I know,” Graham said softly. None of them consciously wanted to torture Angel by shoving him back into Angelus, but subconsciously… they’d probably all harbored the same fantasy. “Just give him some space,” Graham said as he held out his hand for Xander. Yellow eyes locked onto him, and Graham froze, his hand still outstretched.

“Ye’ll not take him,” Angel roared. Lunging up out of the corner, he reached for Graham.

Dropping his gaze to the floor, Graham tried to stumble back out of the room, but Angel caught him, strong hands dug into his shoulders and something in his right arm popped, sending fire spilling down through the flesh.

“Angel!” Xander pulled on Angel’s arm, yanking at him so hard that Graham could see Angel rock back on his heels, but he didn’t let go.

“What the fuck?” Faith’s voice was behind Graham, and Angel released him so that Graham could fall to his knees, his breath forced out of him by the pain.

“Leave him be,” Angel snarled, and when Graham looked up, Angel was back in the corner, this time Xander trapped behind him as he snarled at Faith.

“Angel? It’s us. Fuck. What the hell is wrong with you?” Faith took a step closer, and Graham could see the coiled fury and fear in every line of Angel’s body.

“Faith, I need you,” Graham said softly.

She turned and looked at him, putting her back to Angel, and for a half second, Graham was terrified that Angel would take that moment to kill her. Maybe Xander had the same thought because he had his arms wrapped tightly around Angel.

“I need some help out of here. Something’s broken,” Graham said as calmly as he could. Faith turned to look at Angel, her body stiffening as she backed away from Angel. As soon as Faith was out of attack range, Angel seemed to lose all interest in her. He turned and brought his hand up to cup the side of Xander’s face.

“You shouldn’t be here. I deserve this. You should be in heaven. They shouldna have sent you to hell.” Angel’s voice broke with a sob as he slid to the ground, pulling Xander down with him.

“What the hell?” Faith asked again, but this time she kept her voice low and moved to kneel next to Graham. “What’s broken, Babe?”

“Left shoulder,” Graham answered. “He thinks this is hell. He thinks he’s trapped in hell.” Compared to heaven, this place was going to look fairly hellish.

“So, what? We’re the demons?” Faith demanded, her face drawn with anger.

“I don’t know if he can even see us. I don’t know what he’s thinking, but we need to give him space,” Graham said as he struggled to stand. His left shoulder and arm burned so badly that Graham couldn’t control a hiss of pain.

Yellow eyes targeted him, watching as Faith tried to help him up.

“Keep him safe,” Graham whispered. If there was some part of Angel that knew what was going on, the first step was to get him to understand they were on the same side. “Keep Xander safe,” Graham repeated.

Faith gave Graham an odd look before she looked at Angel and Xander in the corner. “Yeah, Big-A. Don’t do anything you’ll hate yourself for later. Xander, you okay?”

Xander didn’t answer, and his weak nod wasn’t all that convincing, but Faith gave him a nod of her own before helping Graham out of the room. She toed the door closed once they were clear of the sleeping chamber.

“Is everything okay?” Wesley asked. He hovered at the door, clearly afraid to enter without invitation. Either that or Angelus had used the compulsion of the slave spell to order Wesley out.

“Not even by half. Fuck. He broke Graham.”

“Angelus?” Harmony pushed into the room and reached out for Graham’s arm like she was going to tough it.

“Don’t,” Graham warned. “Wesley, I’m going to need something for the pain. Can you tell if a bone is set straight? I don’t want to go to the hospital, but I may need to.”

“Fuck yes, you need to,” Faith said.

“I’d prefer to not have my right arm in blinding pain seconds after having my left one broken,” Graham pointed out with a look down at the cuff locked around his wrist. Then he looked up at Wesley. “Unless you know how to get it off?”

Wesley shook his head. “Only Master Angelus can do that.”

“Well that may be a problem,” Faith said with a snort.

“Why?” Harmony looked at the connecting door. “What’s going on? Is that Anyanka woman in there? If they’re having a threesome with some—”

“Angel’s soul is back,” Graham cut her off. He might understand that for a minion, not getting sexually used was a sign of disrespect, but he really wasn’t up to dealing with it tonight.

“The soul? Anyanka brought the soul back?” Wesley sucked in a breath, and Graham could see the hope etched into his face. Then he looked at Graham oddly. “What exactly happened, then, with your arm.”

Graham leaned into Faith and glanced at the closed door. “The soul’s been in heaven, Wesley. Compared to that, he thinks this is hell.”

“Oh dear,” Wesley said, taking a step back as though physical distance from the problem would save him from it.

“What’s wrong with that?” Harmony asked.

“The problem is that if he thinks this is hell, he seems to think we’re the demons sent to torture him and Xander. He’s in there protecting Xander from us,” Graham said.

“Fucking martyr complex,” Faith muttered, but then she urged him toward the hall. “Wesley, get the pain killers. And can you set a bone?”

“A leg bone, certainly. With a collarbone, I would likely cause internal damage and kill Mr. Miller.”

Collarbone? Graham tried to look down to see how bad the break was that Wesley could identify a collarbone break from halfway across the room.

“Don’t look, Babe. Just don’t look,” Faith said, raising her hand to block his movement, but not before the searing white pain left him stumbling. Harmony grabbed him by the waist and Faith caught his injured arm, cradling it close to his body. “Wesley, you get on that computer. You call Spike, you call Finn, you call anyone you fucking want, but I want an expert on human injury here within an hour or I’m taking it out of your hide.” Fast footsteps suggested that Wesley was running to obey. Normally Graham would tell Faith to be a little more careful of the man, but the pain was distracting him.

“Do you want me to…?”

Graham gasped as he struggled to push the pain to one side.

“I’ve got him,” Faith said. Graham didn’t figure out what she meant until he found himself getting carried for the second time in about a week.

“This is doing bad things to my male ego,” he hissed out between clenched teeth. The adrenaline that had protected him from fully feeling the pain at the time of the injury was wearing off, and he was just now starting to understand how badly he’d been hurt.

“Tough shit. Deal with it,” Faith suggested without much sympathy. “If Wesley doesn’t find someone soon, I’m knocking you out and dragging you to the hospital, cuff or no,” she warned him.

Graham nodded. “Good. Just make sure you knock me out good enough to keep me down,” he suggested. Faith kicked a door, and Graham near threw up as the up and down movement in her arms made his world spin.

“Just don’t move, okay?” Faith asked as she settled him flat on the bed. Graham wanted to curl up in pain, but he gave a short nod that made the fire in his shoulder burn brighter. Yeah, he was out of the game for a while. Hopefully someone else would figure out how to solve this mess because he wasn’t going to be solving anything. Graham just focused on breathing as he drifted in and out of consciousness. Somewhere in there he realized the irony. Angelus had always been careful with him physically. Angel had clearly broken something rather important. Graham really hoped that wasn’t some sort of sign.



50. Chapter 50

Spike stopped just inside the doors of the Hyperion. He was ninety percent sure Wesley’s message was a trap, but even if it was, enough was enough. They’d been run to ground too many times. Cordelia and Blair could disappear places Spike couldn’t. They could run during the day and get on a bloody airplane without worrying about getting turned to dust. Since Angelus hadn’t made any secret out of the fact that all he really wanted now was Spike, it was time for Spike to take his lumps and let the others jack themselves free of the mess. Once Angelus had whipped him raw and raped him a few dozen times, Spike would get his way back into his sire’s good graces. He always had.

A minion snarled at him, and Spike slammed a stake into its heart before it could blink. Too bad. He’d done it too fast for the others to notice, so he’d just have to make his point a little clearer.

“Olly, olly, all in free,” he sang. “Security around here isn’t worth shite. Who do you have to dust to get a little attention?”

A half dozen minions threw themselves at him, but Spike hadn’t dusted more than four before the others started backing away. Under other circumstances, Spike might have chased them down to dust them, but if this was Angelus’ trap, he wanted to stay focused. It wouldn’t help him much, but he was determined to get in a few good hits before he went down.

“Spikey!!” a voice sang from the top of the stairs. Spike cringed at the sight of Harmony sailing down the stairs, her arms open like she was going to sodding hug him. Daft bint. “I’ve missed you so much.” Ignoring Spike’s death glare, Harmony actually fucking hugged him. “The master is waiting. He wants to see you,” she said with a smile as she backed away, but Spike frowned. There was something in her expression that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

“That right?” he asked as he brushed his shirt off. Harmony had a bad habit of wearing lotions and shit that had glitter, and if he had one sparkle on him, he was dusting her—trap or no trap.

“Yep. Wesley promised to get you right away. Oh, but Angelus and Xander were having sex.” She leaned in closer like she was sharing a secret. “Angelus likes sex. A lot. You should wait until he’s done having sex first.”

Spike stared at her, wondering, and not for the first time, whether some demon other than a vampire had gotten into her as she lay dying. Spike knew full well that sometimes a vampire didn’t turn out violent. Angelus had beaten him enough for that very flaw. However, Spike had never seen a vampire turn out like Harmony. He hadn’t even heard of one.

“You should go see Faith and Graham. They’re home too. Just about everyone is home now,” Harmony finished, smiling at the minions and assorted demons gathered in the lobby. In a distant corner, a minion muttered about the fact that someone needed to put Harmony down. Spike didn’t even bother to turn and look before he flung a stake into the corner. The screams that followed meant he missed the heart.

“Bugger it all,” Spike said, pushing past Harmony. Behind him, there was a puff and the screaming stopped, so someone had put the minion down. “Next one ta talk out of turn dies a lot slower than that,” Spike warned as he got to the top of the stairs. “If I want some minion alive and screaming, you lot let him scream, got it?” Spike demanded. It was better than letting them think he’d missed. Some minions nodded—others vanished into the shadows. Good. They needed fewer minions around.

Spike headed for Faith’s room. The scent of blood and magic swirled heavily in the air, and his eyes just about watered when he opened the door. Wesley knelt next to the bed with some magical incense that made Spike’s skin crawl and Faith paced the room, a cigarette in hand.

“Spike.” Faith said his name the way someone else might say a prayer, and for a half-second, Spike considered preening in that praise. Then he caught sight of Graham.

“Fuck. What, the idiot couldn’t keep his bloody head down?” Heading for the bed, Spike tried to see how bad the break was. The skin was purpling and an end of the broken collarbone stuck out at an odd angle, threatening to poke through the skin at any point. Graham’s breathing was shallow and had a sort of wet rattle way down deep that was bothersome. “Get the bedspread on that side. We need to lift him down to the floor,” Spike said, pulling the bedding out on his side. Faith just about shoved Wesley to the side as she hurried to do the same. “Angelus order him to stay here?” Spike asked. Hopefully not. Spike wasn’t sure what was broken or how easy it would be to fix him. He needed to go to hospital.

“The cuff causes him pain if he leaves,” Wesley answered. Faith and Spike got Graham to the ground and Spike started feeling around the injury. His collarbone had snapped like a twig. The fucking soldier was just lucky the broken end hadn’t cut through a vein.

“How much pain?” Spike asked Wesley.

“Thrashing and screaming sorts of pain,” Wesley said, his voice tight with emotion.

“Fuck.” Spike grimaced. “That’d kill him. We need to stabilize the bone. I’ll get it in place.” Spike looked over at Wesley. The man was gaunt, but he had a steel to him that he hadn’t before. Sometimes prey was like that. You thought you had a soft one, and the first sign of pain and hardship, and they toughened right up. “Do you have anything to make the bone knit? We need to get it stable before the ragged edges cut something we can’t fix.”

“I have a potion,” Wesley said, but the doubt on his face made Spike wait for the other shoe to drop. “Last time I used it, he screamed and thrashed a lot.”

“That’s out then. Go get something that will hold the bone in place—potion or spell,” Spike ordered. He’d suggest calling 9-1-1, only he didn’t think a riot in the lobby with minions scrambling to eat the paramedics would help much. If they got the bone set, Spike could actually drain off some of the blood gathering in the joint easy enough. That would stabilize him for the time being, unless the bone had already done some sort of lung damage.

Wesley nodded and got up.

“Nine minutes,” Spike called after him. “You be back in nine minutes.”

“Yes, master,” Wesley said. He cringed at his own word choice, but Spike would play the bloody master if it got things done.

“Right then, what the fuck happened? Wesley talked like Angel is back in his message.”

Faith nodded. “He is.”

Spike frowned. This was a new wound. If Angel was back, that wasn’t making a penny’s worth of sense.

“He was in heaven, Spike. He thinks this is hell.” Faith bit her lip. It wasn’t a gesture Spike was used to seeing on her.

“This fucking well is hell,” Spike said briefly. “Watch soldier-boy,” Spike said as he got up. “Is Angel in his room?”

Faith nodded. “With Xander.”

Spike felt his guts knot with worry. “Is Xander still in one piece?”

Faith nodded again, her fingers resting on Graham’s arm. “Yeah. Graham was trying to get him to back away from Angel and give him some space.”

Spike snorted and didn’t point out that Graham was thick as pig shite if he thought taking Xander away would calm Angel down. Instead he just headed for Angel’s room. His demon wanted to rage and rip and tear. Angel had hurt Graham, maybe fatally if that ragged bone edge cut something vital or if the fluid built up in his lungs. He’d left Wesley gaunt and Faith nearly trembling with fear. He was holding Xander, a boy Spike had broken in, who had submitted, who had laid under Spike’s hands. The demon raged at all the insults, but Spike didn’t have illusions. As long as Angel was feeding on human blood and working out, Spike wasn’t going to beat him without a whole lot of luck on his side.

Treading softly, Spike pushed open the door that connected the sitting room with the sleeping area. Angel was rocking in the corner, his body bent at awkward angles. It took Spike a second to realize that he was holding Xander. For a brief second, Spike’s demon slipped free, his rage poured out at the fear that Angel had killed Xander. Xander’s upper body lay in Angel’s lap, arms hanging limply.

Xander turned his head, and brown eyes found his, eyes full of confusion.

“Shhh, a choi,” Angel muttered. “It’s illusion. It’s all illusion. I’ll protect you.” Angel pulled Xander closer. Well, fuck. The soul might be back, but it brought a few bats to hang out in the belfry.

“Peaches,” Spike said softly. Angel paused in his rocking. Xander brought his hands up to touch Angel’s shoulders, but the second he made contact, Angel shivered and vamped out.

“No problem. No problem,” Xander said and he let his hands fall awkwardly to his sides again. “Hey, I have an idea. Does anyone want to get on the bed?”

“They shouldna have sent you here. Won’t let them hurt you.” Angel looked around the room with yellow eyes, and for the first time in a hundred years, Spike found himself utterly flummoxed. Usually he could come up with a plan for any situation. Oh, it might not be a particularly good plan, but he could come up with a plan. Right now, he had no idea what to do.

“Peaches, you’re on Earth. The boy’s been here the whole time, so he’s pretty good at protecting himself.” Spike crouched down near the door, his hand holding the door so he could get out fast, slamming the door behind him if need be. This version of Angel was feeling more dangerous than Angelus, truth be told.

“I’m not sure all of him is on Earth. He seems to kinda have his own world here, Spike,” Xander said. “And my back is hurting.”

“Not surprised, pet. He’s holding you odd, that’s for sure.”

Angel’s eyes found Spike and suddenly Angel snarled like a dog and pulled Xander to his chest.

“Hey, human bones here. Take it easy.” Xander’s hand rested on Angel’s shoulder and Angel surged up, his eyes darting from Xander’s hand where it rested against his shoulder to Spike and back, but he continued to hold Xander tightly to his chest. “And now I’m feeling emasculated,” Xander complained, his voice muffled from being pressed to Angel.

Spike glanced back out at the hall. He should go deal with Graham, but this wasn’t a version of Angel he trusted. He could kill Xander without even understanding what he was doing.

“Mate, you have to let humans breathe. Do you remember breathing?” Spike asked, modeling it by taking a deep breath and letting it out. Angel snarled louder.

“Seriously, he’s better when you guys aren’t helping. Give him some space,” Xander said.

Spike’s pressed his lips together and debated with himself for a few seconds. “If you let him kill you, I’m bloody chasing you into the next life and whipping you raw,” Spike threatened. The words were no more out of his mouth than Angel threw himself forward.

Even though Spike had been prepared to run for it, he still barely had time to clear the door and kick it closed. Angel slammed into the door so hard that the frame shivered and something made a crunching sound. Spike curled his hands into claws and picked the best spot in the sitting room to defend himself as he watched the doorknob, waiting for it to turn. Fuck, he was an idiot. He was dumber than pig shite. He was dumber than Graham. Angel was feeling threatened, and he had to go and offer to take a whip to the boy. Well, at least they knew Angel was processing and understanding language somewhere under all that feral growling.

Spike braced for Angel to come out and attack, and Spike suspected he’d have to fight for his life. Instead Angel hit the door again, and this time a couple of books fell off the shelves and clattered to the floor. A few more hits, and Spike realized that Angel couldn’t get to him. “Daft bugger,” Spike muttered as he backed up toward the hall. If Angel could figure out how to use a door knob, they might all be in trouble. Spike closed the door to the sitting room and found Harmony waiting for him.

“Does he need anything?” She had that hopeful look on her face as if having something to offer would make her the happiest little vamp in the world.

“Find the key and lock that door,” Spike said, poking his thumb toward Angel’s door.

“On it,” Harmony agreed with a wide smile as she rushed down the hall.

Spike stood in the middle of the empty hall listening to the minions mill about below him. Thankfully Xander had soundproofed Angel’s room or he really would think he was in hell. Angelus hadn’t chosen the best and brightest minions, that’s for sure. They were an argumentative lot, and Spike could hear several of them making fun of Harmony as she hurried through the first floor.

What the fuck was he supposed to do? He hated courts. The only time he’d tried to run a court had been Sunnydale, and that had just turned out just bloody lovely. The fucking Mayor had corrupted most of his minions, Dru turned him out, and he’d eaten Xander’s little slayer friend. Actually, that last one had been the bright spot of his time as Master of the Hellmouth, but he couldn’t exactly go bragging about that without both Xander and Angel threatening to brood their way through the fucking week. But always before, when one of his plans went belly-up he could just move on. He never feared making a right bollocks out of something because he could just leave the disaster behind. He’d shoved around most of Europe and Asia that way, both with and without Dru. He didn’t want a soddin’ court. Only now, he had one, and he couldn’t see any way to get out easy. They couldn’t even run for it with Angel and Graham both down for the count.

They couldn’t run and he had no bloody idea how he was supposed to deal with an Angel who’d clearly gone ‘round the twist. He’d call for Cordelia to come back, only he didn’t know where she was. He’d given her strict orders to head for the hills and wait to see what the scuttlebutt was on the court before showing her face. So, he didn’t have a lot of choices. The second Angel was back on his feet, though…. Spike was going to bloody torture the vamp until he remembered that he had bloody duties that he was supposed to fucking tend to. With a scowl, he strode back to Faith’s room.

Wesley was back, a huge book laid open next to Graham. “I found a spell. If you can hold the bone straight, I think I can get it to set.”

“Make sure you can,” Spike said. This was going to hurt like hell, and if Graham woke up and thrashed about, that bone was going to hit a vein or artery for sure. But he was too weak for pain spells.

Wesley’s back stiffened. “This will work,” he said firmly, showing that hint of steel at his core. “It has to. That git Finn emailed back and he is declining to get involved.” Wesley’s face twisted with anger.

“He probably figures it’s a trap,” Spike said. He couldn’t really blame Finn, especially given that Finn had ordered Graham to leave, and Graham had chosen to follow Spike’s orders instead. Graham wasn’t theirs, anymore. They weren’t going to go out of their way to put their own people at risk to help him. That left the clan to take care of him.

“The spell is ready,” Wesley said with a sort of formality that didn’t really match the mood. Faith stood by the window, her hands trembling, and Spike put his knees on either side of Graham’s head and used his fingers to probe the wound. There was swelling enough to do some real joint damage, but first they had to get this bone stabilized. Funny, he’d learned most of what he knew about the human body by breaking them. Putting them back together—that had been a sport that Angelus had only indulged when he wanted to torture some poor bloke more. Now Spike felt a cold desperation that he might muck this up, and he didn’t know what would happen to Angel or Faith if Graham went and died. Spike dug his fingers into the purpling flesh, pushing at the broken bone. He could feel flesh yielding and muscle straining.

“Luv, if this goes wrong, am I letting him die or turning him?” Spike asked Faith. She turned and looked at him, her eyes large with panic. Right then, she wasn’t up for any big life and death decisions. “Nevermind. We need the clan strong. He dies, and he’s getting elected the first fledge of the clan,” Spike said. After that, he concentrated on getting the bone straight. He’d make Graham a fledge if need be, but if he did that, Angel was going to birth kittens just as soon as he found where he’d left the rest of his mind. Giving Wesley a nod, Spike held the bone in place as Wesley started to chant. The feel of magic skittered across his skin like spiders.



51. Chapter 51

Xander’s butt was sore and his back was aching, but he continued to sit in the corner while Angel crouched in front of him, his head swiveling from one side to another like he expected some enemy to come floating through the walls. Morning light made the window shade glow amber, and Angel kept studying the glowing square in a way that made Xander more than a little nervous. If Angel went sunbathing, Xander was going to find Anyanka and… and he’d probably get his ass kicked, but he’d go down trying to make her pay. Angel’s attention drifted away from the window and back toward the bathroom.

Looking over at the bed, Xander considered making another try for it. He’d be more comfortable. Xander pushed an inch out of his corner and Angel’s yellow eyes swung around to him. “Quiet, m’fhear. The demons are close,” Angel hissed. Reaching out, he caught Xander’s shoulder and slammed him back into the corner again. Xander flinched as his bruised shoulder got rebruised. At this rate, he was going to be one giant bruise before they were done. One giant disgusting bruise because he seriously needed to pee, and he was about to pee on himself. He had no idea how Angel would react to that.

“Yeah, great job Anyanka,” Xander complained softly. Then again, she had said that she didn’t care if he was happy, only that he had a chance at happiness. Xander eyed Angel. He could feel that chance slipping away. The door clicked, and Xander looked up. If Spike was back, Xander was going to stake the giant idiot himself, at least if Angel didn’t kill him first. Angel’s inability to open a door had saved him last time, but Xander was pretty sure that Angel had figured it out. Either that or he was just enjoying staring at the doorknob. A lot. Right now, Xander wasn’t sure what Angel was thinking.

Angel started growling and he caught Xander by the back of the neck, pulling him so close that Xander’s face was smushed against Angel’s chest. Normally naked touching was of the good, but naked touching with a clearly insane Angel was just a little odd.

The door opened with a slow, soft creaking sound that Angel’s growl nearly drowned out. Despite the fact that Xander expected another short and brutal fight like with Graham and Spike, nothing happened. Angel’s growl slowly lessened and the arms around Xander loosened. Maybe Angel was improving. As soon as Xander had enough room to breathe more easily, he brought a hand up and rested it against Angel’s chest. Angel’s cock immediately started hardening, he just as quickly vamped out, and Xander was thrust in the corner with a nice view of Angel’s back. Again. Shit.

“If I can’t ever touch you again, this is going to be a really weird relationship,” Xander warned. “Weirder, anyway.”

A soft chuckle answered him. Xander leaned to the side and through the open door, he could see Blair sitting against the door that led out to the hall. Naked Blair. Weirdly calm naked Blair. Considering that Angel had driven Graham and Spike out, Xander wasn’t feeling too good about having Blair on this side of a closed door. He was even less okay with the fact that Blair was naked, his eyes closed and his head tilted back. Angel, though, seemed weirdly accepting of it. He went back to scanning the room.

Xander shifted, and Angel immediately pressed back, his body pinning Xander against the wall so that Xander had to concentrate to breathe. With a sigh, Xander gave up and just waited for something to happen. Maybe his bladder would give out or Blair would launch some brilliant plan, but at this point, anything was better than sitting in the corner. When Angel gave him a couple of inches of space, Xander sank to the ground, drawing his knees up in front of him. After a second, Angel crouched down in front of him, and Xander could see Blair still doing his meditation thing. Yep, weirdness levels were up all over the place.

Time crawled by, and Xander dozed, his head resting against the wall.

“I see dark burgundy walls and two heavy doors,” Blair said softly. Angel’s growl grew more ominous for a moment, but then he settled into a soft grumble of warning. Blair was silent for a few moments before he continued. “I see bookshelves you helped Xander carry out of the basement. I see your first edition of Count of Monte Cristo. I see the television. Xander likes to make you watch really bad movies.” Blair sounded amused by that. Angel’s growl got a little louder, but Blair kept his eyes closed and his voice soft.

“I see the bed you share with Xander. I see the robe you wore when Spike broke the railing on the second floor and you came running out. I see the hardwood floor you picked out with Xander. You didn’t like the pine. I think Xander didn’t like it either, but he liked threatening to give you bright yellow floors. I see the dark sheets Cordelia bought. She has the same kind on her bed. One time, you got Spike’s sheets on your bed, and Xander told me how aggravated you were all day.” Blair’s smile grew wider, but his eyes stayed closed. Angel’s growl, however, was reaching dangerous levels.

Maybe Blair knew that because he fell silent. He’d crossed his legs when he first sat down, and now he turned his hands so they were palm up as he breathed so deeply and slowly that Xander could see each inhalation. Okay, Blair’s plan clearly included boring Angel to death.

Xander waited until Angel’s growl had subsided before he tried. “I see the slippers I bought you that—” Xander stopped when Angel turned on him, his growl terrifying as he grabbed Xander and pressed him close to his chest. “And I’m really tired of you doing this,” Xander said as his bladder threatened to empty on Angel’s legs.

“Calm. Be calm. He hears the fear.” Blair had to speak louder to get his voice heard over Angel’s growling, and before Xander could do anything—like grab Angel’s arm and hold on for dear life—Angel whirled around and leaped at Blair. Xander gasped, fear making his whole body stiff. Angel was going to tear Blair into little, tiny, bloody pieces.

Blair continued to sit with his hands on his knees as Angel growled right in his face. He didn’t even open his eyes. Xander held his breath. If Blair was right that Angel could hear the fear in Xander’s voice, Xander had a sudden urge to give up talking. He could become a monk. Hell, if Angel kept up this strange unwillingness to be touched, monkdom wasn’t out of the question, so he could start working on his vows of silence.

Angel grabbed Blair and pulled him upright before shoving him back down onto the ground, this time on his back. And the whole time, Blair didn’t react at all. Xander knew that sometimes Spike had a habit of assuming Blair wasn’t as strong because he didn’t want to swing a sword, but right now, Xander figured Blair was the strongest man Xander knew. He took the shaking without the sorts of girly screaming Xander would have resorted to. Angel slammed Blair into the floor two or three times, Blair’s arms flopping like a doll’s. That seemed to make Angel happy because he left Blair on the floor and came back through the connecting door to the sleeping area. Before Angel decided to do any more slamming, Xander retreated to the corner.

Now he could only see Blair’s feet, but it didn’t look like Angel had broken anything major. Hopefully. Xander wasn’t surprised when Angel caught him up and held him close. Xander was starting to feel a little like a teddy bear. Considering how Xander’s teddy bear had ended up—torn and worn with the stuffing falling out one missing foot—that wasn’t a comforting thought.

“I sent him away, a choi. He’s gone. He’ll not disturb us again. Shhhhh,” Angel comforted him. That might work if it was Blair that scared Xander. It wasn’t. For a long time, they all settled into silence. The light against the shades grew brighter, and Xander’s bladder grew painful, but it was quiet.

“I see a copy of Xander’s electrician’s manual,” Blair said quietly from the front room. The foot that Xander could see didn’t move. “I see a picture of Xander and Willow and Buffy when they look way too young.” Blair had some amusement in his tone now. Xander was surprised that Angel wasn’t growling, but he wasn’t. “I see a pile of papers in the corner. I see an old fashioned pocket watch on the dresser. I am so thinking that’s yours Angel. Xander is not the pocket watch type.”

Xander watched as Angel’s eyes moved to track each item as Blair described it. “I see Xander in the corner. He’s safe, Angel.”

Now Angel growled. “No, he’s not. I’ll keep him safe.” That wasn’t making much sense, not even to Xander who wasn’t exactly good friends with logic.

“He is as safe as he can be in this world,” Blair corrected himself. “He’s not hurt.”

“Liar!” Angel snarled, and that sounded a whole lot like Angelus.

Blair fell silent for a time, and Angel kept a steady growl going. “Xander, are you hurt?” Blair asked, his voice softer than ever.

“I have to pee,” Xander answered. At this point, he had to pee bad enough that it was reaching hurting levels. His arm was bruised, and his guilt—oh his guilt was piled on so deep that he was going to be shoveling it for the next decade—however, right now his bladder had priority.

“Then pee,” Blair said. The exasperation in his voice seemed to aggravate Angel who growled louder.

“Hey, make him let me into the bathroom, and I’d be glad to,” Xander pointed out.

“Just pee,” Blair said. Now he really sounded tired. Xander reached out to catch Angel’s arm before he decided to go out and throw Blair around some more. Angel whirled around, flinching from Xander’s touch even as his cock hardened. Xander saw therapy in their future. Lots and lots of therapy. He also saw a floor sander and a lot of varnish if he peed on hardwood.

With a sigh, Xander gave up the fight with his bladder. He peed, the yellow stream splashing against the dark wood between him and Angel. Instead of flinching back, Angel looked at him with confusion, like he couldn’t figure out what the hell Xander was doing. Letting the pressure off his bladder felt so good that Xander sighed in relief, the pleasure making him sag back against the wall. “Oh so good,” Xander said, even if he had made a disgusting mess.

Angel tilted his head and moved closer. “Ewww,” Xander said softly when Angel stepped in the puddle he’d made. Angel’s hand came up to touch Xander’s cheek.

“I see Xander. He’s just human. I see him standing in the middle of the bedroom he renovated for you.” Blair was standing at the door that separated the sitting room from the sleeping area. “I see Xander, Angel. What do you see?”

Angel’s gaze focused on Xander, his head tilted so that Xander knew he heard Blair even if he wasn’t looking at him. Actually, right now it was good that he wasn’t looking at Blair.

“I see pain,” Angel said softly. “Trapped, locked in a hurting shell.” Angel ran his fingers over the curve of Xander’s neck, pressing them for a moment against Xander’s pulse point. “Trapped,” Angel echoed. “I don’t want you trapped,m’fhear.” Angel pulled Xander close, but this time, the arms held Xander without threatening to crush him.

“We all spend time in a body, Angel. It sucks, but that’s the way of life. We’ll get out eventually, but how can we appreciate being free without a little time trapped?” Blair asked. Angel looked over at Blair like he’d just lost his mind. Blair shrugged. “Think of it like a baby in its mother’s womb. It has to spend time trapped in there before it can be born. It’s small and cramped, but it’s normal Angel.”

Angel shook his head. “It’s not. It’s dark and it hurts.”

“Well, I think we can safely say you don’t get to brood about whether you’ve earned redemption,” Blair said with some amusement. Angel growled loudly, and Blair backed up a step. “Whoa, hey, you know me. I just talk. That’s what happens on Earth, Angel. You’re back on Earth.”

Angel looked around, and for the first time since Anyanka’s spell, Xander had the feeling he was actually seeing the room. “Home?” he asked.

Xander carefully brought his hand up to rest it against Angel’s arm. Angel shivered, his whole body trembling, but he didn’t shake off Xander’s touch. “Welcome home. And can I just say now how very sorry I am? Totally and completely sorry because you earned your spot in heaven. Or maybe earn is the wrong word since Father Peter always gets upset about it when you talk about earning heaven, but… but I lost my point in there somewhere,” Xander finished.

“You… you needed me.” Angel turned, still holding Xander carefully close, and Xander cringed at the feeling of water under his feet. “I… I did something.”

“You didn’t do anything,” Xander said. He let his hands rest against Angel’s hips, and Angel had another full body shiver. Maybe it was a little too soon to talk about heaven and hell stuff. “Blair, why are you naked?”

Blair shrugged. “When in Rome…. We anthropologists are big on respecting native cultures.”

“Okay, as one of the natives, I’d love it if you got dressed,” Xander said. In theory, he had no problem with naked Blair. In reality, it was more than a little freaksome to see his tutor naked.

“Cool,” Blair said and he turned to leave. “You two need some time. I’ll tell Spike to keep his nose out of here.”

“Yeah, do,” Xander agreed. Angel clearly needed calm, and Spike and calm were two things that went together as well as vinegar and baking soda. Explosions were just going to happen. Blair nodded and closed the door behind him as he headed into the hall.

“Spike?” Angel asked, sounding the word out like it was difficult for him to understand.

“Spike, your overactive kid,” Xander said. “Or grandkid. Sometimes you claim him, but when he comes home dragging arq snot across the floors, you generally blame Dru.”

“Spike.” Angel repeated the word. Slowly letting go of Xander, he backed up until he could sit on the bench at the end of the bed. “Spike and Drusilla.” Angel said the names like he wasn’t sure.

“It used to be,” Xander said. “Then it was Spike and Faith, which was all kinds of freaksome. Now it’s Spike and Cordelia, which is even freakier.”

“Cordelia.” Angel rested his elbows against his knees and let his head hang. Yeah, he had figured out they weren’t in hell, but his brain was not fully engaged.

“Cordelia runs the hotel and Spike threatens people.”

Angel’s head came up. “Threatening people is wrong.”

Xander thought about that for a second. He really tried to put himself in the shoes of someone who had just gotten thrown overboard out of heaven. He definitely couldn’t see heavenly beings threaten each other. “In a perfect world, yes,” Xander said, wishing they weren’t having this conversation when he hadn’t slept at all. “But in this world, sometimes you have to threaten people who are doing the wrong thing, like not paying Cordelia. That would be very wrong.”

Angel seemed to think about that for a while his yellow eyes studying Xander. “This world isn’t perfect,” Angel said slowly.

“Not even close,” Xander agreed. “I’m not perfect. Sometimes you threaten me because I’m doing something really stupid. Like when I was all mentally unhealthy boy after Faith and I slept together, you threatened me to get me to go to therapy. That threat was actually good.”

“Threats are good?” Angel looked not only confused but weary.

“Only sometimes,” Xander said. Angel might not remember everything, but unless he’d had a personality transplant in heaven, he was definitely going to take everything Xander said way too literally. “Threatening people when you’re trying to help them can be good. Or threatening people who are doing something bad and you’re trying to stop the bad, that’s good.”

Angel’s expression cleared, but then something darker started shadowing his eyes. “I threatened people.”

“Well, yeah,” Xander agreed. Angel had threatened people on a fairly regular basis.

“I threatened the man in the basement.” Now the self-loathing was pretty clear. Xander hadn’t ever seen Lindsey, but he’d heard a few snippets of stories that made him think that the lawyer wasn’t having the best month. And honestly, Xander didn’t know what to tell Angel. That had been Angelus, and Lindsey wasn’t exactly the innocent sort, but from what Xander had heard, the threats had been less threat-like and more torture-like, and torture was on the not-good list almost always. If Xander were a better man, he’s say torture was always on the no-list, but then Jenny Giles was still out there, so Xander planned to keep his options open.

Angel looked up at Xander, horror on his face. “I threatened Graham. I hurt him.”

“You threatened him. Wolfram and Hart hurt him.

“I sent them.” Clearly Angel was working his way up to a major brood—the sort of brood he hadn’t gone on since those early days back in the apartment in Sunnydale. And honestly, Xander hadn’t always liked Angel back then. Truthfully, he disliked Angel about 60 percent of the time.

With a sigh, Xander sank down next to Angel on the bench. “Not something you would have done in heaven, huh?”

Angel looked at him with wide brown eyes. Xander guessed that was a ‘no.’

“Hey, I would love to talk about heaven and hell and morality, only right now I’m dirty and tired and having a minor nervous breakdown. Is there any chance we could maybe wait until we’d had a couple of hours of sleep?”

“Sleep?” Angel just looked confused. Either heaven had done a partial mind wipe, or time didn’t work exactly the same way and he’d been up there a while. Xander stared at Angel, not sure where to even start. How did you explain sleep?

“Does it feel good when you close your eyes?” Xander asked, closing his own eyes. “Are your eyes stinging so that when you close them it doesn’t hurt as much?” Xander opened his eyes and saw that Angel had closed his. “Are you feeling sort of off-balance, like you can’t quite keep your balance?”

“Feet are awkward,” Angel agreed amiably without opening his eyes. Xander thought having feet was probably better than not having feet, but he wouldn’t argue the point right now.

“That means you’re tired. You want to lie down somewhere soft and close your eyes and let your body rest.” Xander avoided the whole going unconscious thing because he suspected Angel would freak out.

“Sleep.” Angel’s eyes came open. “It’s dangerous to sleep. You sleep and your sire attacks a gypsy clan, brings them back to the lair.”

“Um… if you had a sire. Your sire is gone, and Spike will not be attacking any gypsies,” Xander said. “This is home. This is where we can sleep. At least, we can sleep after getting some towels to soak up the mess and washing off. Pee and hardwood are not friends,” Xander said, looking sadly over at the yellow pool slowly sinking into his beautiful floor.

“The world is so fragile,” Angel said sadly.

“Yep, which is why we have to take care of it,” Xander said. He got up slowly, watching as Angel’s eyes followed him. Xander had backed away about three steps when Angel got up and shadowed him step for step, but Angel didn’t stop him. Using a washcloth, Xander wiped down his legs and feet before toweling them off. Angel watched silently, his eyes following every twitch. When Xander grabbed every towel in his arms, Angel tilted his head to the side, not even hiding his confusion. Xander knew he confused Angel all the time, but mostly Angel hid it rather than risk a lecture on the relative merits of Star Wars versus Star Trek. Now things were different. Angel was different. Their relationship was different. A wave of grief swept through Xander, hitting him so hard that he stopped in the door to the bathroom. For a moment, he stood with a half dozen oversized towels in his arms. Then Angel stepped close, his hand came up to gently rest against Xander’s shoulder.

“Fragile,” Angel said, his voice thick with sorrow.

“Fragile,” Xander agreed. He didn’t know if he was agreeing that the world was fragile or that he was, but both were true enough. Forcing his body into motion, Xander went over and started laying down towels to soak up the pee. Once they were all down, Xander thought about finishing the job, about hauling the towels downstairs to the laundry. Angel’s hand slowly curled around Xander’s arm.

“You need sleep,” Angel said, pulling at Xander. But this time, his hands were gentle, not like when he’d shoved Xander into the wall over and over. Abandoning the mess on the floor, Xander let Angel pull him back to the bed he’d last shared with Angelus. The bed where he’d decided he’d have to stake Angelus. The bed where he’d betrayed Angel and pulled him out of heaven by loving him too much. Xander’s eyes were hot and they itched, but Angel pulled him onto the bed and grabbed the covers. “Sleep,” Angel said again, his fingers stroking over Xander’s cheek before he traced the edge of Xander’s eyelids, forcing him to close his eyes. Despite the guilt and the fear and the memories that clung to him like chunky, yellow snot, Xander felt himself slide toward sleep.



52. Chapter 52

Angel watched as the door slid open, a sickly line of light cutting through the constant darkness. The light wasn’t right though. It didn’t shine or warm his heart. It only made the shadow darker. It reminded him of a Giovanni Baglione he’d seen with the blonde vampire on his arm. They’d laughed at the human view of sex and love, but now… now Angel was almost certain that Xander understood this shadow world better than the vampire who had walked so long in it. A shadow person appeared, and Angel held Xander closer, careful to not bruise that shadow body. Even now he could feel the warmth gathering in the skin where Angel had hurt him, but Xander hadn’t complained at all.

“Blair said I should clean the mess.” The shadow woman came farther in. Harmony. She was Harmony. Angel remembered his hands holding her down, his fingers tangled in her hair as he drove his cock deep into her.

“I took ye,” Angel said softly, not sure whether the memory was real. Memory and fantasy were hard to distinguish, but he was almost sure he wouldn’t have fantasized about taking Harmony.

“Yep,” she agreed with a smile. “I’m a real part of the clan. Those stupid minions downstairs thought if you growled at me you didn’t like me, but you didn’t take them.” She went up on her toes and looked over the bed. “Ewwww. That’s pee. I don’t like pee. Xander’s going to like it even less if it stains his floor. Xander is all weird about his wood,” she said, heading into the sleeping quarters without even asking permission. Angel growled a warning despite the fact that something told him that she wasn’t a threat.

“Cordelia and Blair are back,” Harmony went on as she gathered up the towels, holding each by a corner and keeping it as far away from her as she could. Now that she had lifted the towels, Angel’s nose twitched with disgust. “The whole family is together. I really need to wash these. Or have a minion wash these. These are really disgusting. I thought Xander knew better. I’ll get some wood cleaner in here boss.” She backed out of the room, the towels held out away from her body as she left.

Family. Angel knew that word. Memories that belonged to the body flooded through him. A woman staring at him, her mouth forming words. She was begging for the life of her child. “We’ll send your husband your last message.” The blonde woman with the darkness in her center smiled, long fangs appearing. Angel jerked, a gasp forced out of him as his body relived the pleasure of killing the woman. He could feel a chuckle echoing through his head.


Xander’s eyes were open, his hand resting on Angel’s chest, and Angel’s body reacted without his permission. It was like being a passenger in a car driven by no one. His cock hardened and his fingers itched to touch Xander, to taste Xander, to steal the warmth of that willing body. He wanted to pull away, but each time he did, he could see the pain in Xander’s face.

“What’s wrong?” Xander asked.

“I killed her,” Angel confessed.

“Who?” Instead of recoiling in horror, Xander just looked confused.

“I dunna even know.” Angel frowned and tried to remember a name, a reason, some circumstance that would have justified the taking of a life. Her husband. Her husband had chased him, made him feel impotent. He didn’t like feeling impotent.

“Recently killed, like since I fell asleep?” Xander pushed himself up and rubbed his eyes.

“No,” Angel said. “I remember her.”

Xander sighed and sat so his back rested against the bedhead. Angel pushed himself up to sit next to Xander.

“You probably have a lot of memories of killing people. For both our sakes, please do not describe them, but that’s in the past, Angel.”

“I did it.”

“Yeah,” Xander agreed, but he did so slowly. He said he agreed, but he didn’t. The shifting words, the hidden lies crawled over Angel like worms. He felt raw, like he’d never felt a lie sliding against his skin before, and Angel couldn’t control the shudder. Xander sighed. “Angel, you did it, but you didn’t have a soul going. You definitely didn’t have this soul attached, because this soul pretty much proved that it is good. I mean, you got into heaven. At least, I assume it was heaven. Anyway, I have lot of memories, things like riding the short bus because the school gave me this test that said I was a total idiot. Jesse was standing outside the window waving the latest issue of Spiderman, and I was so not even listening to the teacher who was doing the testing, but that’s a memory, Angel. I’m not an idiot. So, the memory is like this thing that isn’t real.”

“But…” Angel frowned. “It is real.”

“No, it was real. It’s over, Angel. Was, past. Is, present. Past, present.Present, past. Not the same thing. If it was, we wouldn’t have two words for it.”

There was a flaw in the logic, but Angel couldn’t find it.

“We should get up and see what kind of mess we’re facing, huh?” Xander said as he swung his legs out of bed. Angel watched as Xander went to the dresser and pulled clothing out. He remembered waistcoats and long underwear, but Xander pulled out briefs and a t-shirt. Change… always change, and yet the need to cover the fragile body remained.

“Hey, you’re up!” Harmony stood in the doorway. Xander made a sound that Angel couldn’t place, it was a squawking sort of distress that sent Angel leaping out of bed, his vampire features to the front as he growled at Harmony.

“Geez, boss! I’m not looking,” Harmony said, turning her back. Angel checked himself right before reaching out to grab her. He couldn’t hurt someone who wasn’t looking. She was… the word slid away from Angel like a fish darting between his fingers. However, killing her would be bad.

“Hey, no breaking Harmony.” Xander grabbed Angel’s arm, and again, Angel’s body reacted without Angel’s permission. A shiver went through him as the warm hands forced a response out of Angel’s flesh.

“Yeah, no breaking me,” Harmony agreed, “especially when I brought the floor clearer so that Xander doesn’t make that face like he made when Spike broke the banister, only I think peeing on the floor is way worse than breaking some railing. And I don’t know why you’re complaining at all. I mean, you blew up a whole school without feeling guilty, so what Spike does, that doesn’t even compare.”

Harmony’s words brought a flood of memories rushing through Angel. A giant snake eating a man, Xander standing above the crowd with a sword in hand like an avenging Angel. Spike throwing himself forward, his fists flying as he tried to rip apart the darkness that threatened to swallow them all. A woman with yellow hair who had light leaking from her skin, goodness that crept out to skitter across his skin like cobwebs.

“Blowing up the school was a public service.” Xander hopped on one leg to try and get his limbs into the clothing. “Anything you break on the hotel, I have to fix, and I am so not okay with having more work added to my to-do list. Which is why I am thanking you for taking care of the floor, even if I would prefer you knock next time.” Xander went to the closet, and Harmony still had her back turned.

“Blair said that knocking might sound too violent. He said I should just sneak in real quiet. Spike said you’d stake me if I just came in without warning, but Spike was wrong.” Harmony frowned. “He wasn’t happy when I said that.”

Xander snorted. “I bet he wasn’t.”

“There’s lots of people not happy, and face it, when Cordelia’s not happy, he’s not happy. So me pointing out that he was wrong is not to blame. However, I will not be pointing it out again,” she said as she rubbed the side of her head. Harmony turned back around, and this time Xander didn’t make his noise, so Angel supposed it was okay now. “I should clean.” Harmony nodded happily and headed past Angel.

It took Angel a second to realize that Xander was just staring at him. Angel slowly shifted his attention from Harmony to Xander. Xander’s stare turned expectant, and Angel waited, not sure what reaction Xander wanted. Maybe Xander would touch him again. Xander liked to do that, but Angel still couldn’t help feel uncomfortable at having his body react. He wanted to control his own body, and when Xander stood near, he couldn’t. His body wanted Xander, only Angel remembered what it meant to touch Harmony, and if he did that to Xander, he’d hurt him.

“Well?” Xander asked.

Angel blinked at Xander.

“Are you going to get dressed?” Xander looked down at Angel’s body, and Angel realized that he shouldn’t be naked. Naked in front of a woman was bad for some reason he couldn’t quite remember. Angel knew he should get dressed, but he looked around at the rumpled bed and the dressers and the closet with the brass doorknob and at Harmony polishing the dark wood floor, and he wasn’t sure where he was supposed to get the right clothes.

Before Angel could admit ignorance, Xander when to the closet and opened it. “No clothes in heaven, huh?”

“Was he really in heaven?” Harmony asked. They both looked at Angel, and he didn’t know what to say. The memories were starting to fade, like pictures printed on tissue paper. However, he couldn’t say where he’d been. He hadn’t been here.

“Yeah, he was,” Xander said, the sadness leaking from him. Angel walked over and touched Xander’s cheek, trying to understand the source of the pain. “I think I wished him back, although I really tried not to, Angel. Honestly. I wasn’t going to let Angelus keep hurting people, either.”

Angel frowned. He remembered Xander’s voice calling out. Words hadn’t meant anything, but the pain had cut through Angel’s awareness, making his soul bleed… although bleed was not the right word. The right word didn’t fit in Angel’s head.

“I’m so sorry, Angel. You shouldn’t have needed to come back.”

Angel titled his head. “You hurt.”

Xander sucked in a fast breath, and Angel closed his eyes and scented the raw pain. The pain, not the words, had called him back. This world was dark—shadowed and frightening—but he couldn’t ignore the call of Xander’s pain.

“I shouldn’t have pulled you back. You’d earned heaven,” Xander said again, his voice barely louder than a whisper. Angel didn’t understand what Xander meant. The words twisted shape, dangling in the air between them until they didn’t even make sense to Angel.

“You needed me. You hurt,” Angel repeated. That’s all he could say.

Xander looked up at him, his eyes shining. “And I pulled you into the hurt.”

Angel frowned. “Nothing pulled me. I heard you and I came.” Taking the pants Xander had chosen out of Xander’s hands, Angel started pulling them on. He didn’t understand this world, but he knew he didn’t want to have this conversation. Xander ducked his head before he turned back to the closet and started searching through the shirts. He pulled out a deep brown one and passed it over without looking at Angel.

“Which is still feeling pullish,” Xander said softly. Angel let him have the last word only because Angel didn’t know how to argue with someone who rejected logic. That felt familiar, like he expected to lose arguments not out of any logical failing but because Xander simply ignored logic. “So, when did Blair get here?” Xander asked loudly. He was looking at Harmony.

“She called me not long after Spike got here, and I told her all about what happened. So then Cordelia came striding in. Spike almost had a heart attack, and he staked about a dozen minions who looked at her too long. He tried yelling at her about how she could have gotten herself and Blair killed, only there weren’t any minions looking to kill them. Cordelia came in and started ordering them out of her way and calling for Spike, and mostly the minions were just confused.”

“That’s my Cordy. She can confuse a demon into forgetting to eat her,” Xander said with a warmth in his voice that Angel liked. Angel moved closer and rested his hands on Xander’s shoulder. Xander smiled at him, but the expression had a tinge of sadness that made Angel unhappy. He didn’t want to make Xander sad.

“She’s scary,” Harmony agreed, nodding her head so the hair swayed briskly. Angel watched it, fascinated by the movement.

“She is.” Xander took Angel’s hand in his and Angel looked down at where their hands met. “So, let’s go see how much damage Spike did in his anger, but you have to promise me something, Angel.”


Xander gave another smile stained with sadness. “Promise that if I say stop, you’ll avoid breaking anyone. You were a little on the cranky side with Spike last time. Actually, you were cranky with Graham, too. So, no breaking family members.”

“They threatened you,” Angel said with a frown. Spike had threatened to hurt Xander. Angel could feel the growl rise in his throat.

Xander rested a hand against Angel’s chest. “That was a good sort of threatening. He wouldn’t hurt me, but threatening me told me that he was serious, and he was telling me to keep myself safe, so that was sort of anti-hurting of me. Honestly.”

Angel frowned. Again, the logic didn’t make any sense; however, Angel could tell that Xander believed what he said.

“Just, don’t break people, okay?” Xander asked. “Oh shit. Lindsey. I forgot to ask, what happened?” Xander looked at Harmony, and Angel’s memory supplied him with an image of a man hanging from chains, his body bruised and bleeding. Angel had felt powerful and lust had stained his thoughts as he pressed a thumb into the purpling center of a bad bruise. Angel’s cock started to harden without his permission, and Angel pulled away from Xander and pressed himself against the wall. Xander gave him an odd look, but Harmony talked on like this was all normal.

“He was marked up pretty bad, and Wesley was too tired to do much with the spells so he fixed the worst of it, and we put Lindsey in bed with a really good knock-out spell so he couldn’t feel much. Blair wanted to send him back to Wolfram and Hart, but Spike growled over that, and Cordelia said that if he was going to be evil, he had to expect people to get cranky, so that overruled Blair. I didn’t even know that Blair was family, but anyone who can argue with Spike that much and not get eaten is family. He’s been good for Faith, too. He’s spent most of his time with her.” Harmony was rubbing strong smelling liquid into the floor, wiping it with a strong rag, and Angel frowned as he remembered his hands on Graham, the sound of bone snapping and the feel of flesh yielding to his hands.

“I broke Graham,” Angel said softly. Guilt rose up. Graham had wanted to protect Xander. He hadn’t threatened Xander like Spike had.

“Wolfram and Hart’s guys did that,” Xander disagreed.

“Oh no, Angel broke him,” Harmony said with the same cheerful tone. Xander’s head turned until he could pin Harmony with a gaze that Angel recognized as dangerous, but Harmony kept smiling and cleaning the floor.

“Angel what?” Xander asked.

“When he pushed Graham into the door, he broke all kinds of things. Spike was cursing and Faith actually cried. Considering that Faith is the one who let him get captured, she didn’t have a whole lot of room to cry.”

“She….” Xander didn’t say anything else, turning, he bolted out of the room. For a half second, Angel stood, dumbfounded and caught in his own memories. Then he realized that Xander had gone out into a world full of demons, and Angel leaped after him. Even with vampire speed, Xander beat him to Faith’s door, throwing it open without knocked.

“Graham?” Xander asked, breathless. Angel stopped just before the door, not sure he wanted to look inside the room. He could smell pain and blood.

“Hey,” a weak voice answered. Xander went into the room, and that forced Angel to follow even though he desperately didn’t want to. The only alternatives were forcing Xander back to the room or leaving Xander alone, and Angel wouldn’t do either of those. Edging into the room, Angel saw Graham propped up on the bed. Someone had strapped his arm to his chest and two deep punctures over the wound suggested Spike had to drain blood out of the joint. Angel had taught him that. A man they’d hit had bled under his skin, and Angel had shown Spike how to feed on the pooled blood to prolong the victim’s pain, only it hadn’t been Angel. It hadn’t been him, but he could feel the swelling skin under his fingers; the man’s cries had made his cock hard. Angel cringed.

“Geez, Graham. You look really shit-like,” Xander said as he stepped closer to the bed. Blair sat by Graham’s side, and the room smelled of Faith and sweat and tears, but she wasn’t anywhere around.

“This is me after Wesley and Spike did their doctor impressions. It was mildly impressive,” Graham said with a tight smile. His gaze kept skittering over to Angel, but Angel had no words. What he felt didn’t fit inside neat words that he could pass to someone else.

“They are never getting to play doctor with me.” Xander said, and a half second later, he turned red and Graham laughed, at least until he hissed in pain.

“I hear that Spike already played doctor with you,” Blair said with a huge smile, and Angel looked from one to another, not understanding the conversation. It was as if the meaning was a balloon that slipped out of his grasp every time he tried to reach for it. The feeling was familiar, but Angel could feel his frustration rising.

“Which is something we will not be discussing. But I’m hoping that’s not the kind of doctor Spike has been playing. Because honestly, biting that kind of bruise is not looking like the fun kind of doctoring,” Xander said. “That’s more the kind with dentist drills and really big needles.” Xander reached out like he might touch Graham’s bruised and bitten shoulder.

“He drained off blood that was gathering,” Graham said. “I was a little out of it at the time, but short of going to a hospital, I couldn’t have gotten better care.”

“Wesley couldn’t give you any of his quick cure stuff?” Xander settled on the edge of the bed.

“Man, the body is not built to have magic shoved through the cells. It really isn’t built to have magic shoved through it twice in a week,” Blair said with a snort. “Respect the body, and it can do some amazing things on its own.”

“I broke you,” Angel said softly. The room fell suddenly silent, so silent that Angel thought at least one of the humans had stopped breathing.

“You tried to protect Xander,” Graham said. “I might not appreciate the way it turned out, but you acted for the right reasons.”

Angel tilted his head. “You submitted to the demon.”

Blair sucked in a breath, and Xander definitely stopped breathing now.

“I trusted that the demon was strong enough to stop even bigger dangers,” Graham said. It wasn’t total agreement. Angel could feel the cracks in the words, the places where meaning and intent and sound didn’t quite match up.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m thinking this is a conversation for another time,” Xander suggested carefully. Angel moved to the bed, and Blair moved back with slow, careful steps. “A time far, far away. Years away. Any time other than now would be good, in fact,” Xander said, the words falling out of him in a stream. That was familiar too.

Reaching out, Angel took Graham arm in his hand. The silver cuff caught the light and made it dance in spots against the wall.

“Careful with the human clan members, Angel,” Xander cautioned, but Angel ignored him. He ran his thumb over the edge of the cuff and with a little stinging in the pad of his thumb, the cuff came off.

“Thank the heavens,” Blair said, his word little more than a breath.

“I think I’ll thank Angel,” Graham answered. “Thank you, Angel.”

Angel turned the cuff over in his hand, the silver of it warm under his hands. He’d used this to trap Graham, to hold him. “Were you going to leave?” Angel asked, confused about why he would trap a clan member. Fear rose up, fear of being left, a woman riding a horse away with a laugh. A human with long hair, her hands clasped as she stood behind Angel’s father, turning her back as Angel’s father raised a switch. “I wouldn’t be left,” Angel said softly. He looked around the room.

Blair answered first. “Man, we all have our loose screws. I totally have abandonment issues myself.”

Graham snorted. “For me, it’s all about being not good enough. When Riley wouldn’t believe me about Willow and Jenny getting out of hand, it touched every insecurity I ever had.”

“Yeah, at least you can name an issue. My issues have given birth to litters,” Xander said with a snort. “My parents sold me, my school thought I was short-bus material, my mother’s stupid wish got my lover yanked out of heaven, and my family….” Xander cut himself off, his lower lip caught between his teeth. Angel frowned at the unhappiness in those tones.

“We’re going to be okay,” Graham promised. “As long as we know we have issues, we’ll be fine.”

“Trust me, I’m all knowing-boy when it comes to my issues… which makes it sound like I’m saying I’m all knowing, which is not what I was trying to say.” Xander shrugged. “I also have issues with English.”

“Man, who doesn’t?” Blair asked.

Angel still didn’t understand most of what was being said, but the words didn’t have the sharp edges of earlier. The words floated up like balloons, and some Angel understood and some he didn’t, but none of them cut at him.

“We should go see what the rest of the issuey clan is up to,” Xander said. “Last I looked, we were sort of drowning in minions and assorted other demons.”

“Spike’s temper cut down on that,” Blair said. At the same time, Angel offered his own assessment based on what he could hear from downstairs. “They’re talking about a goddess in Sunnydale ending reality,” he said, repeating what seemed to be the important part of the conversation Spike and Cordelia and Faith were having.

“They… what?” Xander’s voice rose an octave.

“Oh man,” Blair whispered. “It just never stops with you guys, does it?”

Angel looked from one to another, struggling to understand the sudden shift in the tone. “What?” he asked, bewildered at their reactions. No one had any answer at all for that.



53. Chapter 53

“I can't say that I care if they have some hell god breathing down their necks.” Spike leaned back against the front desk, his sprawl taking up most of the counter.

“Well I care. I care a lot. And even if you don't care about the people, it would be nice if you cared about the whole world going to hell.” Xander went to step forward. Yeah, getting into Spike’s face wouldn’t do much good since Spike definitely thought of himself as higher on the totem pole, but it would make Xander feel better. However, Angel caught his arm and held him. Angel might not be understanding most of the conversation, but he definitely had doubts about letting Xander get too near Spike.

Instead of taking offense that Angel was all suspicious, Spike just rolled his eyes. “There are other dimensions, pet. Quite a few of them are nicer than this one.”

“For humans?” Xander demanded. Spike had the decency to look a little chagrined by that question. As far as Xander was concerned, Earth was home. Letting Earth get sucked into hell would, therefore, be bad. It seemed pretty simple to him.

“Angel, tell him we can't let the world get sucked into hell.” Xander turned to Angel about a half second before his brain could remind him that Angel wasn't really firing on all cylinders. Sure enough, Angel just stared at him blankly. Between the blank stares of the random flinches, Xander was starting to get the feeling that Angel was not entirely sane. Not that Angelus had been all sane boy. Angelus definitely had some insane going for him. But this new Angel had his own version of not sane.

Spike snorted. In the past, Angel would've answered that by slamming Spike into the nearest surface. The new Angel just stared at Spike with more blank behind the eyes.

Luckily, Cordelia jumped into the conversation. “Unless you can promise me that this new dimension you want to run to has Nordstrom's, we are not giving up on this dimension. Period.” Cordelia had her cranky face on, and immediately Spike slipped into that head tilting, lip pursing, cajoling expression that he used when he was trying to get Cordelia to change her mind. Strangely, Spike sucked on that front just as much as Xander ever had. Once Cordelia made up her mind, her mind stayed made up.

“I would vote for saving the world,” Blair added from his spot on the steps. Wesley didn't answer, but he nodded his head in agreement. Unfortunately, Xander figured that Blair and Wesley together had about as much influence over Spike as something with no influence at all. They were all just lucky that Cordelia was on their side.

“It's not like the sods sent anyone down here to help us,” Spike said with a glare before he turned back toward Cordelia, gliding closer to her. “They’re not family, luv.”

“Technically, we told them not to come down here,” Xander pointed out. From the glare Spike gave him, Xander was guessing that Spike already knew that. He knew it, and he didn't care. “If we asked them for help, they would've helped.” This time Spike threw in a growl with the glare. Immediately, Angel stepped forward putting himself between Spike and Xander. And the growl that came out of Angel was way louder. Louder and scarier.

“Knock it off,” Cordelia ordered them both stepping in between them and pointing a manicured finger at each vampire. “I don't care whether they helped us or not. I am not letting any hell goddess send my world to hell. Who does she think she is anyway?”

“A goddess,” Xander guessed. “You have to admit goddess is kind of impressive.” Spike’s snort made it very clear that he was not impressed at all.

“If you define goddess as powerful daemon who controls a dimension, I’m pretty sure we just took on a whole lot of hell gods and goddesses,” Blair pointed out.

“What?” Xander looked over in confusion. He was pretty sure he would have remembered taking on gods. Gods were big and scary and all-powerful and scary.

Blair shrugged. “The Powers that Be wanted to get control over Angel, and I’m pretty sure that they run their dimension, so I think you could apply the term ‘god’ to them.”

“But they’re dead,” Xander pointed out. The guy who Wolfram and Hart hired had killed them.

“No, their messengers are dead,” Blair pointed out. “I’m pretty sure they’re still off in their dimension trying to figure out a way to make the world into some calm version of hell. That’s what Mayet said, that demons are driven to recreate their own dimension, and I suspect Mayet is on the side of the Powers on that front. So we defeated her, too.”

“I’ll bloody work for Wolfram and Hart before I’ll let that lot suck the world into that sort of hell,” Spike said with a glare for anyone who might disagree. Xander could understand because the calm and happy hell would be even more hellish for Spike who liked a bit of violence and blood in his day. He considered fighting in Wolfram and Hart’s gladiator ring a good time. He’d once gone out of his way to get a big old rhinoceros looking demon to attack him so he had an excuse to rip its head off in one-on-one combat. Quiet would kill him. But the Powers and Mayet did seem to want the peaceful sort of end of world. And the clan had stopped them from getting Angel back as a champion. Xander let his hand rest on Angel’s arm as he wondered how many godly plans they’d screwed up by refusing to help the Powers reclaim Angel.

“I’d rather keep the world the way it is now,” Blair said.

“Quite so,” Wesley agreed softly. “It seems rather counterproductive to defeat one Armageddon only to stand by and allow another.”

“I’m pretty much thinking that the hell where I burn to death and the hell that bores me to death are both bad in that I’m still dead,” Xander added. Angel’s growl turned sharp and his eyes yellowed. “Only I’m not dead. I’m safe. Totally safe. Safe as a really, really safe thing… like condoms. I’m safe like condoms,” Xander quickly added as he patted Angel’s arm. Spike rolled his eyes. Only three minions had survived the general cleaning Spike and Faith had done, all three protected loudly by Harmony who insisted that she needed them. One of them, a woman in a worn and dusty business suit froze as she tried to walk from the kitchen to the stairs, a tray in her hands. She looked around, clearly confused and scared shitless by Angel’s growl.

“Keep dawdling and you’ll be dust,” Spike warned. The woman’s eyes yellowed and she practically ran for the stairs, the tray for Graham carefully balanced in front of her. Spike sighed. “We aren’t exactly up to fighting strength. We go down there and we’re on unfamiliar territory with weakened forces. Harmony’s right useless in a fight, and she picked the three most hopeless minions to keep.” Spike took a second to glare at Cordelia. Xander would have withered under the look, but Cordelia glared right back.

“If you need help to do your job, you only have to tell me,” Cordelia said with the sort of sweetness that just made the insult sharper. “However, Harmony picked the three minions who are actually useful for running a hotel, which is what I’m doing.” Cordelia crossed her arms, silently daring Spike to argue with her logic. Spike’s nose flared, but he turned back to the rest of them without contradicting her. Considering that Spike was physically stronger, Xander really had no idea how Cordelia managed to win every dominance fight they had.

“Don’t bloody need help,” Spike said with a snarl. “But if we’re plannin’ on going up there to fight, it’d be nice to have some cannon fodder.”

“Then pick up some in the Sunnydale cemeteries,” Cordelia suggested without much sympathy. “Buffy never did pay attention to the details, so I don’t care what she says, there are plenty of vampires still in town.”

“Whoa, so we’re going to go fight another hell goddess, this time face to face?” Blair asked. He looked a little pale at the thought.

“Bloody hell no. You’re going home,” Spike said. Before Xander had gone back to Angelus, Spike had been uncomfortable having Blair around. Blair was clan enough to send Faith to him when she needed protecting; however, he hadn’t been clan enough to ever live with them. He’d been close enough to be in danger from Angelus, but not close enough to be tied in by any relationship other than his mentoring of Faith. Now, Spike was doing his full-on protective routine with Blair the way he did with Xander. Something had shifted, and Xander was guessing sex was involved. With demons, it usually was. Sex and fighting were their answers for everything.

“Hey, I can help. Okay, so my help would be carrying the suitcases,” Blair said with an exaggerated grimace, “but that means one less fighter carrying his own bag.”

“It means one more vulnerability for the bitch to go after,” Spike disagreed. “You’re going back to your bloody warehouse either on a plane or in the steamer trunk I’ve shoved you in, your choice.”

Blair held both hands up in surrender. “Or I could just go home. No problem. The whole fighting gods things is really not my shtick anyway.”

“Graham needs ta stay here,” Spike said thoughtfully. For all his objections it looked like Cordelia was getting her way again, and they were going to go help the Sunnydale crew fight a goddess.

“I’m staying here,” Cordelia said. Spike’s mouth came open, and from the expression, he was about to really blow a gasket. “Oh no,” Cordelia said firmly, “I am not a fighter, and this place needs to be taken in hand. Angelus did an incredible job of collecting treasure and books, but he didn’t run a tight ship with bookkeeping or with making sure guests paid tribute. While you’re off winning the war, I’m going to make sure we have a home for you to come home to.” Cordelia’s words were a little on the harsh side, but she reached up and rested her palm on Spike’s cheek, worry shining through her eyes. Spike practically melted under her touch, leaning in until they were resting their foreheads against one another. It was a gesture that Xander had seen Spike use with Dru, one he’d seen Faith pick up to use with Graham. It was, more than any kiss, a gesture of such utter devotion that it made Xander’s heart ache. If Spike got killed fighting this hell goddess, he was going to take Cordelia heart to the grave with him. Xander wondered if anyone had ever loved Spike that much.

Xander looked up at Angel. He loved Angel that much, he really did, but his love was caught up in all these other emotions. He had pulled Angel out of heaven, torn the soul away from rest and back into a world so dark that Angel thought he’d been trapped in hell. And Angelus was still in there. Xander could see him in the flashes of anger and fear. Angelus lived in Angel’s heart, and Xander had planned to kill Angelus. The love was definitely tangled up with a whole lot of other emotions. Angel frowned and looked at Xander and then searched the room, his eyes going to every corner as he pulled Xander closer and closer until he hugged Xander like an oversized teddy bear and Xander had to struggle to get in a good breath.

“Let the human breathe, Peaches,” Spike said with a sigh as he turned back to the group. After a second, Angel’s arms did loosen although he still held Xander tightly. “Right then, we have to have some fighters here. Faith will likely want to stay with Graham.”

“I could heal Graham,” Wesley said slowly.

“Man, I wouldn’t. The body does not like that much magic running through it,” Blair countered softly. Wesley got an expression on his face like he had developed a sudden case of constipation, but he didn’t disagree.

Cordelia shook her head. “Faith will be enough. No one is dumb enough to try and take this place, not after Angelus wiped out a good number of demons.”

Spike gave Cordelia a weary look. “That’s why they’re going to want to attack, luv. We just made ourselves the castle on the bloody hill, and every knight who wants to prove he’s got the wrinklies to impress his master is going to take a run at us. We’re going to need ta start running this place with more of an eye to security.”

“So we call in some favors,” Xander said. “The Oden Tal owe us… maybe they could stay here for a while or Lorne could help us find a couple of bouncers.”

Spike turned his weary look on Xander now. “Don’t trust people who aren’t clan, pet. That’s a fool’s game.”

“Then we ask Finn to send some soldiers,” Cordelia said, “but you and Angel need to help out in Sunnydale before Buffy does something particularly blonde. And after Finn managed to miss Jenny Giles' trip to nutsoville, I don’t trust him to protect the world any more than I trust Buffy, and I didn’t trust her enough to let her on my cheer squad.”

“In her defense,” Xander started to say. Cordelia glared at him. “I will not be defending her at all,” Xander finished, closing his mouth and leaning back into Angel’s protection. He had no idea that Cordelia was so terrifying when Angel wasn’t around to make her play nice.

“You can have Wesley. His magic should be useful,” Cordelia offered. Wesley turned a lighter shade of white, but he didn’t object as Spike looked him up and down.

“He’ll be more help than Peaches,” Spike admitted.

“Well, thank you for that rousing endorsement.” Wesley was bouncing right back from slavery better than Xander had expected.

“I need Harmony and at least two of the minions, but you can take one to do the cleaning,” Cordelia mused.

“Gunn,” a voice said from the second story. Xander looked up to see Faith standing on the balcony. “We need people to secure the area, we get Gunn and Alona and their crew. They’re good. Graham and I trained them.”

Spike cocked his head to the side. “They hate vampires. I can’t see them agreeing to protect a vampire lair.”

Faith pressed her lips together and started down the stairs. “I can. Gunn hates vampires, but he’s starting to understand that they aren’t all the same. And he’ll defend Graham as long as Graham is hurt.” Faith took a deep breath, and Blair met her at the bottom of the stairs, his hand finding her arm and offering silent support. The smile she gave him didn’t reach her eyes. She looked back at Spike. “I trust him. I trust his crew. And if he can learn a couple of things from Harmony, that’s a bonus.”

That was Spike’s unhappy face.

“He did look minimally competent,” Cordelia commented, which from her was a rousing endorsement.

“He’s not clan, and I’m not shagging the git,” Spike warned darkly. Xander nearly started laughing, but the cold look Spike gave him made him swallow the urge.

Faith, however, had her devilish smile on. “I’ll tell him—no clan, no sex. He won’t even understand what he’s missing out on.” Faith gave Spike a wink before she turned and headed back upstairs.

“Right then, I guess we’re doing this. Mind you, I think it’s downright barmy to run from one battle to another.”

“You love running from battle to battle,” Cordelia pointed out. Spike didn’t answer. He did, however, sigh dramatically.

“I’ll get packed,” Xander offered. Spike swung slowly toward him.

“You’re not going,” Spike said firmly. Xander could feel anger rise up through his guts and he stiffened.

“Oh yes I am,” he said mulishly.

“Oh no, you’re bloody not.”

“Am too.”

“Are not.”

“Am too.”

“Are…” Spike sighed, and that was an aggravated sigh. “Pet, you’re in the same spot at Blair. You don’t have the skills to go up against a god, and you’ll be one more piece the bitch can grab and use against us. You’re staying here.”

“You can’t make me,” Xander insisted. He looked up to Angel for some sort of support on this issue, but as usual, Angel stared blankly. Xander never thought he’d miss Angelus, but at least he could get Angelus to react to him. Angel was starting to annoy him greatly.

“Pet,” Spike said softly, “if we can get Peaches to let go long enough to take him to Sunnydale, you have to know you’d be a distraction. The sod doesn’t think about much but you when you’re around.”

“And how do you know you can even get him to leave me behind. Maybe he’ll insist on taking me along,” Xander said firmly.

“If so, then Angel can stay back with the wounded. I won’t have you in the middle of the fight, not when Peaches would toss us all out with the trash to get you back.” Spike wasn’t budging, and Cordelia was looking the other direction, and Angel didn’t look like he understood much at all.

“You can’t leave me behind,” Xander said again.

“I can,” Spike countered. “Head-boy there and I can help the idiots out of whatever mess they’ve made. I’d prefer it if Angel went along because he’s good muscle, even without his trolley going to the end of the line, but I can’t have you there.”

“Because I’m weak?” Xander demanded. He could feel tears of frustration threatening to fall, not just because of this but because of weeks of feeling worthless and helpless and lots of other ‘lesses” that he just couldn’t face right now. He wanted to go. He wanted to feel like he was one of the fighter again, even if that meant Spike and Angel were doing most of the fighting while Xander cheered them on from the sidelines.

“Angel?” Xander asked, appealing to him again. He didn’t know how much Angel understood, but he had to understand something. Angel tilted his head.

“Peaches, we need to leave Xander here. Leave Xander in safety while we go meet the danger,” Spike said slowly. Spike was actually pretty good at crazy talk, and worse, Xander didn’t have the words to explain to Angel why he needed to go. He didn’t think the idea of a damaged male ego would register with Angel.

“I want to go with you,” Xander tried.

“The boy shouldn’t be in danger,” Spike said. “Keep Xander safe. Leave him here. Make sure he stays here. Here is safe,” Spike insisted in a lilting voice. Xander could feel Angel slowly releasing him, strong hands starting to push Xander away.

“I can help,” Xander insisted. He hated that he didn’t know how to make Angel understand.

“Here is safe,” Spike said. “Cordelia can take care of him. You know most demons would eviscerate themselves before going up against Cordelia.” Spike smiled proudly at that.

“Xander, we have lots of work to do around here. I could use the help,” Cordelia said. Angel’s hands had pushed Xander away from the shelter of Angel’s embrace, and Xander sagged as he realized he’d been outvoted. Great. He’d walked into Angelus’ lair and survived, but he wasn’t allowed to fight at Angel’s side.

“If you two get killed, I’ll make you sorry,” Xander said, unhappiness filling his chest.

Spike stepped closer to Angel, and Angel growled, his warning clear even if Xander had no idea what was making him unhappy this time.

“I should probably just leave the sod here,” Spike said wearily.

“Where’s the hell god?” Angel asked, looking around like he expected this Glorificus to appear in front of him. His eyes turned yellow and his game face came out, fangs elongating more than Xander remembered. The growl turned so viscous that the hairs on Xander’s arms stood at attention.

Spike’s eyebrows went up. “Then again, if we can point Angel in the right direction, this god might discover that she’s bit off more than she can chew.”

“Spike,” Xander said. Spike turned and looked, and Xander tapped his finger. If Angel was going to fight a god, he sure as hell better have the Ring of Amara on. After all, it wasn’t like Angel was going to retreat when he needed to, not in this frame of mind.

Spike grinned. “No worries, luv. I’ll make sure he’s safe as houses. We’ll show this bitch what it means to take on the Aurelius vampires.” And from the grin on Spike’s face, he planned to enjoy teaching that lesson. Xander just couldn’t keep himself from worrying. Angel couldn’t really take care of himself, and as much as Spike loved Angel, Spike didn’t understand souls or guilt or pain or any of the hundred things Angel might be feeling under all the blankness. Xander’s stomach churned at the idea of being left behind, but he doubted his gut feeling would convince Spike of anything.

“Right then, I’ll go get the good weapons. Price, get any books that might tell us about the bitch and her vulnerabilities,” Spike said. And then, with a gleeful expression, he was off.



54. Chapter 54

Spike pulled up in front of the Watcher’s house and sighed. “Right then, you ready for this, Peaches?” Spike glanced over to where Angel sat in the passenger side seat, his eyes scanning the territory without seeming to really register much. It reminded Spike a bit much of Drusilla, truth be told.

“If he’s not, now is hardly the time to discover it,” Wesley complained softly from the backseat.

Spike gritted his teeth and reminded himself that the man was fragile enough without getting put in his place the way Spike wanted. They were all close to going ‘round the bend with all Angelus’ mind games. Everyone except Harmony, and Spike wasn’t sure she had enough of her brain left to go off her rocker.

“Not like Drusilla every needed much sanity to be bloody beautiful and deadly in a fight,” Spike snapped as he got out of the van. “And I’m not your soddin’ chauffeur,” he muttered as he went around to open Angel’s door. Wesley was already climbing down from the side door, but Angel sat in the van and stared out at the Watcher’s house like he’d never seen it before. Then again, maybe he hadn’t. The Watcher and that bitch of his had bought the house after the two clans had effectively split, and Angel hadn’t paid much attention to them after that.

Wesley slammed the side door, and Angel gave a brief snarl that sent Wesley stumbling backward. It’d be amusing if they weren’t all so soddin’ fucked up and about to go into a fight. Spike had half a mind to go shopping for a new dimension and let the slayer go down with the ship, but the rest of the clan wouldn’t accept that sort of solution, not without at least trying to save the bloody world first.

The house door opened and light spilled out onto the sidewalk. “Angel, Spike,” Giles said in a weary voice. Given the tone, that one hadn’t voted to get help, that was for damn sure. Spike gave Rupert his cheekiest smile and considered the man for a moment.

“Wanker,” Spike answered in the same tone of voice. Giles bridled under the taunting, but he didn’t respond.

“Well this is getting off to a good start.” Buffy pushed past Giles and came down the walk. Every time this slayer came near, Spike could feel an itching under his skin, an urge to throw his strength against hers. Hell, with Angel’s trolley off its track, Spike figured he could get away with challenging her, at least until Angel came to his senses and stripped the skin off his back. Spike pushed away the fear that Angel night not ever recover. After a hundred years of Drusilla, he figured he could handle Angel’s nonsense well enough if he had to.

“Slayer,” Spike said, his voice as unemotional as he could manage to make it.

“Wesley,” Buffy said, dismissing Spike with a glance. Spike ground his teeth in frustration and Angel must have picked up the tension because he looked around with yellowed eyes. Buffy stopped dead, her gaze focused on Angel in a way that made Spike’s itch grow stronger. “Okay, you guys were telling the truth about the soul being back, right?” She was halfway down the sidewalk and Finn appeared at the open door, his hand on the tazer at his hip. That bugger was going to get killed with his faith in his fancy toys. They weren’t much good with this hellgod.

“The soul is back. The sanity is rather more in question,” Wesley answered.

“Well that’s not making me feel much better.” Buffy shifted uncomfortably now.

“He’ll be fine in a fight. He just needs a push toward whichever wanker we want him to eat,” Spike said, and at the same time, he gave Angel a nudge toward Buffy. If Angel was going to attack Buffy, it was best to know now. Besides, one bit of bad manners and Angel might get them all uninvited to the party. Spike wouldn’t mind that at all.

Instead Angel took a step forward and then stopped, staring at Buffy and then at Finn. After several rounds, his gaze seemed to settle on Finn. “Why didn’t I trust you?” Angel asked.

“Bloody hell, we don’t have time for this,” Spike said under his breath, but Finn was already stepping forward, looking to Buffy for some sort of explanation, only Buffy was looking just as confused.

“Didn’t Cordelia tell you?” Welsey asked.

“Um, she said that Angel got his soul back and he was having a bad day,” Buffy said. “I took that as having a bad hair day or maybe the sort of day you have when you find stuffy English guys trying to run your life and threaten your watcher. This seems slightly more bad-dayish than I had in mind.”

“Sod was in heaven,” Spike said with a snort. It still felt wrong that a sire as strong as Angel could end up in heaven. Not bloody right at all.

Buffy’s eyes got large. “Heaven? Like heaven, heaven or something weird like Heaven, Indiana?”

This was not the conversation Spike had planned, but Wesley seemed perfectly happy to talk all about clan business. “Yes, that does seem to be the consensus,” Wesley agreed. “Only the vengeance demon Anyanka decided that Angel was Xander’s perfect match, so she pulled his soul back down to this plane of existence.”

“That’s not possible,” Giles blurted. “Demons have no control over higher dimensions.”

Spike gave another snort. “That’s a little more open for debate than you make it sound,” Spike said. “Seems like we got caught between two sets of demons, on that wanted chaotic hell and one that wanted a calm and quiet version. I warned Peaches, and I’m warning you: I’d rather keep the world like it is, but if it comes down to a choice between those two, I’ll throw in with the demons looking to create a little trouble,” Spike warned. “But wherever the soul went buggering off to, it wasn’t anywhere that anyone of those wankers could reach. So it looks like he went and got himself a ticket to heaven. Now, maybe we can go inside instead of standing out here like a bunch of witless fledges waiting for something ta come along and attack.”

Taking Angel by the arm, Spike started pulling Angel toward the Watcher’s house. The slayer could move or she could stand there and let Spike shove her out of the way. Either worked.

“Heaven?” Finn sounded either shocked or witless. Maybe both. He might be the best of the soldiers, but that didn’t mean a whole lot. Spike still hadn’t forgiven the arse-wipe for taking off with Xander to the damn cliffs to hunt demons. Spike reached Buffy, and she yielded, stepping off the walk and into the grass. Spike’s demon preened under the implied respect.

“As unbelievable as it sounds, it is the most likely explanation, and now Angel appears to believe he’s in some level of hell,” Wesley explained.

“He thinks this is hell?” Riley stepped back into the house. “Angel, Spike, please come in,” he said, issuing the formal invitation.

“This is hell,” Angel said softly as he looked around in confusion. He focused on Finn again. “I didn’t trust you.”

“I think you still don’t,” Finn answered. “I think you doubt my commitment and my ability to fight demons.” Finn sounded remarkably calm about that. Most humans got their tails in a twist over status about as quick as demons. Instead of taking offense, Finn looked past them to the van. “Isn’t Graham coming?”

“He took a few knocks. He’s resting up,” Spike said without explanation.

“Spike!!” A new voice squealed, and Spike turned to see Dawn flying down the stairs.

“Bit!” He called out, opening his arms. She was the only one of the Sunnydale crew he cared two bits about. If worse came to worse, he was bloody taking her with them and finding a new dimension. She was almost to the bottom of the stairs when Spike felt strong hands grab at him, yanking him back away from Dawn. Then Angel put himself in her path, gameface out and a growl making it clear that he would kill.

“Dawn!” Buffy cried out, throwing herself forward, and Spike leapt between Angel and Buffy to deflect any blows.

“Buffy! No!” Dawn screamed the words, and then there was confusion. Spike pulled at Angel to get him into a corner, but Angel seemed equally determined to pin Spike into a corner so their struggles became a bizarre, grappling dance. Buffy stood in front of Dawn, stake drawn, and Finn had out his tazer while Giles and Wesley just looked dazed.

“Stop it! Just stop it!” Dawn begged, tears running down her face. It was bloody wrong, that’s what it was. Spike appreciated Dawn because she had balls twice as big as her sister, and now she was crying.

Realizing that he couldn’t physically win a battle with Angel, not without hurting him, anyway, Spike yielded and let Angel shove him back toward a corner. A lamp tumbled off a table, and glass crashed somewhere, but all Spike could see was the backside of Angel, as if he were some helpless chit that needed guarding. Spike couldn’t control the growl that escaped. He might appreciate his sire’s attention more than he’d ever admit, but this wasn’t the sort of attention he wanted.

“Someone’d better start explaining,” Buffy warned.

“Who are ye?” Angel demanded. Great. Now the moron decided the slayer was a danger. Spike punched Angel’s kidney, hoping to force his way clear, but Angel grunted without moving.

“Me? I’m the slayer. I’m starting to think you’re the vampire in need of a little therapy, or a lot. A lot of therapy might be good, only we kinda don’t have time for this.”

“Not you. The girl. Who is she?” Angel demanded. “She smells of power, of hell.”


“Hey! I showered this morning. I do not smell like hell,” Dawn snapped, and Spike realized that things were a little stranger than he’d anticipated.

“That’s the slayer’s little sister. You know her. She used to follow Xander over to your apartment,” Spike explained.

“She what!?” Buffy’s voice rose an octave.

“I was perfectly safe!” Dawn was in defensive mode, and unless Spike guessed wrong, the two Summers sister were about to engage in full-scale warfare.

“You said you didn’t go over there!”

“You said that vampires weren’t real and I was imagining things!” Dawn countered.

“People!” Giles practically yelled, and Spike took the opportunity to shove his way past Angel.

“Bloody hell, Peaches, I know you got a few marbles knocked loose, but don’t you recognize Dawn?” Spike asked. Dawn stood on the first step, her hands still on Buffy’s shoulders like she’d been trying to push past, and now her eyes got bigger.

“He doesn’t know me?” she asked softly, clearly hurt. She needed to learn to not show that soft underbelly, she was too much like Xander in that respect.

“He’s had a hard time, Bit. The Watcher’s bitch helped yank his soul out, and now a demon pulled his soul out of heaven and shoved it back in. He’s just a little worn about the edges, luv. I’m sure he’ll remember you soon enough.”

Angel kept growling through Spike’s entire apology, which didn’t help much.

“And until then? You have brought an insane vampire into my house,” Giles snapped.

“And your bloody wife ripped his soul out in the first place,” Spike snarled right back.

“Okay, as far as help goes, this is less than helplike,” Buffy said, her voice strained. “We have a god out there trying to end the world, fancy knights who think that the world would be safe if they just killed us all, which is not really making sense to me, and now Angel is all mentally not-healthy. Maybe you could just loan us the big magic books and let us take this from here.”

“Buffy,” Finn said, his voice just sharp enough to tell Spike he didn’t like that plan. He’d been part of the group that wanted help, and if soldier-boy wanted help, something had his knickers in a right twist. Spike wondered just how much damage this hell-bitch had done.

“No, this,” Buffy wiggled her finger between Spike and Angel, “is not helping. You said we needed to ask for help, and I’m good with that, but I want help-help, not unhelpful help.”

“Spike and Angel and Xander always helped,” Dawn said, that mulish streak of hers showing up right on schedule.

“Where’s Xander?” Angel asked, and the growl dropped several notes, turning into a low rumble that made everyone take a step back.

“We left him safe in LA,” Spike hurried to say.

“He’s should be with me.” Angel stared at Spike with yellow eyes, and for a moment, Spike swore he slipped back in time a hundred years to stare into the eyes of a pure demon. This was Angelus. Then the moment passed, and the soul seemed to engage again, although this was the sort of fury that Spike didn’t normally associate with Angel. “Why isn’t Xander here?” Ignoring the rest of the room, Angel reached for Spike, grabbing him by his coat’s lapels before slamming him back into a wall. “Get Xander!” he ordered, which was going to be hard if Angel planned to keep slamming him into walls. Spike could hear the drywall crack, but unfortunately, Angel had chosen a bit of wall with a stud behind it, so Spike’s head was taking a pretty good beating, too.

“I can call him,” Wesley blurted out, and Spike could hear the electronic blips of a cell phone.

“Oh good lord. Someone needs to stop him,” Giles answered.

Before Spike could figure out what Giles meant, the man strode forward and shoved a cross at Angel’s face. Most days, Spike thought the Watcher was a bit dim. Days like this, Spike was pretty sure the man was downright pig-ignorant. If he burnt Angel with that thing, Angel was going to take it and shove it up the git’s arse.

“Stop that right now.” Giles pressed the cross toward Angel, but instead of flinching away, Angel reached out and snatched the cross out of Giles’ hand, but at least that meant he had to stop slamming Spike’s head into the wall. With a gasp, Giles fell back, and Buffy was suddenly there, much too close for comfort considering that Angel wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

“Enough,” she said, and Spike struggled to pry the fingers of Angel’s left hand off his coat.

“This is wrong,” Angel said darkly.

Buffy nodded. “In oh so many ways, yep. Spike, maybe you can take your crazy sire somewhere else.”

“You don’t exist.” Angel was looking at Dawn again, and Spike could see the way Dawn’s eyes shone with tears as Angel rejected her. Spike knew how it felt to get shoved aside like yesterday’s garbage.

“Look here, mate, I don’t care how scrambled your brains are right now, that’s the slayer’s sis. Dawn. You know her,” Spike said as he finally pulled himself free and aimed a punch at Angel’s shoulder for good measure.

“She smells like Buffy, but she isn’t. She isn’t real. This is wrong.”

“And again, I’m agreeing with the wrong part,” Buffy said. “And maybe you should put the nice cross down before you burn all the flesh off your hand. Seriously, Spike, why did you think he could fight like this?”

“Never slowed Drusilla down.”

“Drusilla cried. She wanted to be the mother, but I ripped off Darla’s head.” Angel blurted that out as if it made any sense. Oh, it was good to know the rumors about Darla’s reappearance and redeath were true, but it was a little off track, especially since the slayer was looking more worried than ever.

“What is going on?” Finn asked. “Angel, what are you talking about?”

Angel looked around for a second before staring at Finn. For one second, Spike thought he’d go for Finn’s throat and they’d have a free-for-all in the middle of the watcher’s parlor.

“Reality changed,” Angel said slowly.

“The only reality that changed is the bit between your two ears,” Buffy said softly, but not softly enough that Spike couldn’t hear it clear enough.

Angel turned and looked at Dawn. “You aren’t real,” he repeated.

“Seriously, stop saying that!” Buffy complained.

“Bit,” Spike said after flicking an aggravated look toward Angel, “he’s gone a little ‘round the twist, what with getting dragged out of heaven. Maybe you should just head on upstairs and give him some time to calm down.”

Dawn looked from him to Angel and back. “I am real. I was his friend back when Xander was only going over because he liked torturing Angel with horrible movies.” She had her jaw set in that way that said she’d stay and fight to make a point if she had to. She’d always been the brassy one, more like Joyce than Buffy, and Spike did respect that woman. If he’d met her twenty years ago, he would’ve been happy to seduce her, even.

“You’re right about that,” Spike agreed with her. “Xander said you were the only one to stand with him when the others decided to throw a wobbly. Angel always loved you, Bit. I do, too. He just needs time to recover.” The trick to handling a strong woman was to let them have their bloody way and make the rest of the world bent to them. It wasn’t much different with Cordelia. Spike let her do what she wanted, and then he just had to torture and kill enough demons to make sure they understood his queen’s expectations for how they needed to behave. It was easier than changing Cordelia. That’s why Buffy never could seem to get along with her sister; she never understood that Dawn was another one who’d bend the world to her will before bending herself. Hell, even Xander was fairly good at that. He’d gotten Angelus to bend when Spike would have said that old bastard didn’t know how to change.

Of course, Spike didn’t have that power. Even now, Angel growled at Dawn as though considering an attack. If Angel wanted to eat Finn, Spike wouldn’t bat an eye, but he sure didn’t want Dawn getting hurt. After he’d killed Kendra, Dawn had forgiven him first, and he hadn’t realized how much he wanted the forgiveness of the human members of his clan until she’d done that. It’d killed him watching Xander struggle, knowing that Xander might not be able to forgive him fully the way Dawn had.

“Angel, there’s a problem,” Wesley said cautiously. Angel’s yellow eyes found Wesley and pinned him with a stare. “Xander is apparently ill.”

Angel’s head tilted to the side, and Spike wished he knew whether that meant he was about to attack or whether he was just confused as hell. Maybe his time in heaven meant he couldn’t remember just how often humans went down to some snotty, bodily-fluid spewing illness.

“Give me the phone,” Spike said, holding out his hand. They couldn’t trust Angel with something as breakable as a cellphone under the best of circumstances, and they were far from at their best. Luckily, Wesley surrendered the phone without a word of protest.

Instead, Wesley turned to Finn. “I have brought a rather sizeable collection out of Angelus’ personal library. I believe I have a number of demonic texts that might touch on Glorificus’ powers, but I shall need help carrying them in. Perhaps then we could begin cross-referencing the power and characteristics you’ve observed with the texts.”

“Yea, research,” Buffy said wearily.

Ignoring all of them, Spike focused on the phone. “What’s wrong?” he demanded.

“Spike, Xander is starting to really get on my last nerve,” Cordelia announced, but her tone of voice was more worried than angry, which made the hair on the back of Spike’s neck stand up. She wasn’t one to get her knickers in a twist easily.

“What is it?”

“Well, he started saying he had a headache, and from there it went to throwing up and falling down, and I would say he has a really disgusting version of the flu, only now he’s taken up growling. Not complaining in a low rumbling voice that sounds like a growl, but actual growling. Spike, I think we need you down here.”

“She has Xander,” Angel said, yellow gaze swinging around to cut at Spike. Tucking the phone between his ear and shoulder, Spike reached out to take the cross away from Angel. He really would burn the flesh off down to the bone at this rate, and they couldn’t afford any more wounded.

“Seems like if we come back down, we have the same problem with a hell-god running loose,” Spike pointed out. The cross burned his fingers and wisps of smoke rose as Spike tugged at it until Angel finally let loose of it. With a hiss of pain, Spike tossed it back toward Rupert. His skin was charred black in spots with weeping blisters already forming, but when Spike turned Angel’s hand over to inspect the damage, Angel’s hand didn’t have a mark on it.

“And if you don’t come back, I have a problem with Xander,” Cordelia said in a tone that made it clear she wouldn’t accept that answer.

Still running a thumb over the unmarred skin of Angel’s palm, Spike made a little affirmative noise as he considered their options. He didn’t mention that he had an equal problem with Angel.

“If I dunna get my Xander….” Angel let his words trail off, but the tone was all Angelus.

“Luv, I think we may need Xander up here.” Spike thought about the personnel at the hotel. Graham couldn’t move, Cordelia made it clear that she wanted to stay clear of the fighting, and Spike would turn to dust before dishonoring her preference, and the hotel needed at least one good fighter. Faith was it. That left one option. The worst option, but he didn’t see any other choice. “You need to have Harmony bring Xander up. She’ll be staying, and we’re going to need sun-proof draping, bedding, linens, a set up for a lair. It seems like Angel’s taken a disliking to Dawn, so staying with Joyce is going to be right out.”

“You were going to stay with my mother?” Buffy’s voice rose an entire octave. “My mother? My mother?” As she prattled on, changing the emphasized word with each repetition, Spike gave her an evil grin.

“Had an invite and everything, luv.”

“She’s getting back at me for not visiting enough,” Buffy complained as she leaned into Finn. “I’ve been better since she got out of the hospital. I totally have. Why does she have to invite vampires to stay with her?” Finn wrapped his arms around her without commenting. Spike frowned at the mention of a hospital. Joyce hadn’t said anything about going to hospital, but then she wasn’t the sort who would. That was one more thread to follow up on.

“Buffy’s complaining, isn’t she?” Cordelia asked with a sigh. “Fine, I’m sending Harmony up with the supplies, but you are not to stake her or let Buffy stake her or leave her somewhere that she’s likely to get staked.”

“She’ll be safe as houses,” Spike promised. He’d love to stake Harmony, but knowing how Cordelia felt, he wouldn’t. Besides, she’d earned some leeway given how she’d taken care of clan when Angelus had been stomping around in oversized boots, even if she did remind Spike of his own turning in very unpleasant ways. If it weren’t for Drusilla’s obsession with him and Angelus’ attempts to teach him to be a proper vampire, he would have been too much like Harmony for comfort. He would have spent his bloody afterlife in a suckhouse reading soddin’ poetry to humans. What a pathetic picture that would have been.

“Where do you want her to meet you?” Cordelia was all business now.

“Backup plan,” Spike said, not willing to mention the Crawford Street mansion around people who weren’t clan. Spike figured Rupert would love to burn the place down around their ears, and he wouldn’t give odds on Finn or the slayer giving up the chance.

“She’ll be there in a couple of hours. Just….” Cordelia stopped.

“I’ll come home safe, luv,” Spike promised, and he’d do his best to do exactly that. In his whole life he’d never had a woman trust him or love him as much as Cordelia, and he wouldn’t throw that away. There’d be time enough for him to take needless risks after he lost her to old age; he wouldn’t lose one day with her through some recklessness of his own.

“You’d better or you have no idea how I’ll make you pay,” Cordelia threatened him, and then she hung up. Spike couldn’t help but smile as he hit the disconnect button and handed the phone back to Wesley.

“Wesley, get the books in and get set up here. Watcher, even one of those books turns up missing, and I’ll take it out of your hide,” Spike threatened. The watcher opened his mouth, probably to defend his honesty or some rot like that, but Spike ignored him. “Looks like Xander and Harmony will be joining us up here.”

“Xander?” Wesley asked, but he was almost drowned out by Buffy’s loud gasp.

“Harmony? Harmony Kendell? Dead Harmony Kendell?”

“Dead doesn’t slow some of us down much,” Spike pointed out. Then, not waiting for Angel to make another scene, Spike caught him by the arm and starting pulling him out into the night. Wesley and the others could unload the magic books; Angel needed a little space.

“I want Xander here,” Angel complained, even as he let Spike manhandle him out the door.

“He’s coming, luv,” Spike promised. Once they were in the Crawford Place, Spike needed to have Wesley do a little extra research because there were a few things that just weren’t adding up, at least they didn’t add up to anything that made sense. He shouldn’t be surprised, though. Since hitting Sunnydale four years ago, precious little made sense. Bloody hellmouths. They might have some tasty walking happy meals and they made power sing across your nerves, but other than that, they were a fucking menace.



55. Chapter 55

Xander pulled against his seatbelt, annoyed at how it rubbed against his neck. He didn’t like it. For nearly an hour he’d been putting up with the rubbing against the soft of his neck, and he couldn’t take any more. With a snarl, he pulled again, and something cracked right before the belt went loose.

“Well that’s not good. If you go and get yourself whiplash or something, it’s not my fault,” Harmony groused. Xander felt a hot flash of anger sweep through him. He was angry with Harmony, with the car, with the seatbelt, with the thousand damn cars around them slowing them down as they tried to reach Sunnydale.

“If you get in an accident, it is.” Xander snapped out each word, his temper fraying.

“Nah-uh,” she disagreed.

“Ye-es,” he shot back.

“No, because you broke the seat belt.”

“Well you got in the accident.”

“No I didn’t,” Harmony said with a frown as she glanced over at him. Oh yeah, she hadn’t. Xander clenched his teeth and tried to ride through another wave of frustration. He was hot, fever-hot. He’d been better controlling this new anger when they were at the hotel. Of course, Faith sitting on him had encouraged him to control it more. Xander could snap and snarl at Harmony, and he knew it.

She gave a big sigh. “I liked you better when you were less with the grrrrrr,” she complained softly. Xander gritted his teeth harder. “You were sort of pseudo-cool in a nerdy-sweet kind of way, but now you’re acting like….” Her voice drifted off as she made a squinchy face. Xander thought fondly of the way Spike would backhand her, and for a second, he considered trying it for himself, but she was driving. Even with his last nerve threatening to break, he knew that backhanding the driver would probably be a bad idea when you were on the mortal side.

“Like what?” Xander demanded instead, his voice dark with warning.

“Like a vamp instead of a vamp groupie,” Harmony said with a big huff. “And I’m not talking about this because Spike’s going to be really cranky if you’re all in a bad mood when we get to Sunnydale.”

Xander sighed since he couldn’t actually argue with that. Angel’d be in a worse mood if he could grip with reality well enough to know what was going on. Xander’s morality was like Angel’s Achilles heel. Or maybe not a heel, but an elbow. Poke it and Angel might not die, but he’d be really cranky for a really long time. One little thought that he might be compromising Xander’s morality, and Angel turned himself inside out. It was annoying. Annoying and pointless. Xander’s morality was his own business. If he was going to fuck it up or throw morality out the window altogether in favor of staking Harmony because her voice annoyed him, that was his choice.

“Hey, do you think Buffy will remember me?” Harmony asked after a long and awkward silence.

Xander thought about their graduation day, and he could feel his emotions shifting. When they’d learned that a random vampire had killed Harmony, they’d all sat and stared at each other with this mute horror. Even if they never said the names of the people who’d died in that battle, Xander suspected that the others were like him—the names of the dead were burned into their memories. His fury faded in the face of that well-polished pain. Before Harmony had shown up at the hotel, Xander had cherished her memory next to the one of Jesse and Ampada and all the other innocents who’d died in Sunnydale. Okay, so Ampada hadn’t been innocent the second time around, but when she was sacrificed in some ceremony before becoming a soul-sucking demon, she’d been innocent.

He sighed. The road clipped by them, a few landmarks starting to look familiar. “She’ll remember,” Xander said quietly after a long silence.

“Good. Because I don’t know if you realize this, but I'm not actually the kind of vampire who wants to take on the slayer."

“I kinda get that,” Xander agreed. Now that his anger had left, Xander couldn’t decide why he’d wanted to hit Harmony. It would definitely be less than gentlemanly and considering that she was several times stronger them him, probably not all that bright.

“Good,” Harmony said firmly. “Because if she plans to chase me with a stake, I plan to run and leave you to deal with her. She's your friend.”

“That she is,” Xander agreed. No matter how much time or distance separated them, he and Buffy would always be friends.

“And if you’re friends, that means Spike can't get upset with me for leaving you with her because it’s not the same as abandoning you, it’s leaving you with a friend. See? It all works out perfect.” She smiled and nodded to herself. Clearly Spike had been issuing some threats.

“Since you’re going to stay at the mansion, I don't think you're going to be running into Buffy much anyway.”

Harmony did a little head nod-jerk-flip thing. “I can't stay at the mansion all the time,” she said with clear exasperation. “Do you know how many of the old cheerleading crew have ended up dead? Well, either dead or working at Walmart. But anyway,” she hurried to say, “my point is, I need to touch base with the girls before the girls have all disappeared. If I wait, they’re going to be dead or fat or wearing those funny little hats and working some place that smells bad. This might be my last chance to get together for a girls night.” Harmony looked honestly upset at the idea of missing a reunion. They were going into a battle for the fate of the universe, and she wanted to pick out matching underwear with giggling girls. Xander’s cock took a moment to remind him that bisexual and gay were not the same thing.

For hours, Xander had been dealing with these alien, powerful instincts. He'd looked at Harmony and he'd wanted to rip all her hair out, followed possibly by ripping out her heart. To be honest, he wanted the same thing with Cordelia, but no matter how many alien instincts were driving him, he was not going up against Cordelia. There was stupid, and then there was too stupid to live. Xander might be one, but he was not the other. However, right now, Xander could only feel this faint, almost amused sense of horror at the thought of a vampire Harmony being turned loose on the shopping malls of Sunnydale. He would worry about the reactions of the other cheerleaders when she showed up on their doorstep, only the cheerleaders had been more susceptible than most to Sunnydale blindness. The cheer squad had a mortality rate that rivaled certain special ops units in the military, and they never seemed to notice.

“I think you'd better clear that with Spike first,” Xander warned. If Harmony wanted a girls’ night out, Xander wasn’t stopping her.

Harmony rolled her eyes. “Spike’s going to be all busy with that hell goddess person.”

“Not too busy that he can't take time to hit you really, really hard,” Xander pointed out.

Harmony made a little huffing noise and rolled her eyes at him. “Hey!” She smiled brightly. “You're back to being kind of nerdy cool again.”

“Um, thank you?” Xander said. He wasn’t entirely sure that was a compliment, no matter how much Harmony made it sound like one.

“No, really. You aren't all being weird. Well, you are. I mean, really, you're kind of strange. But you’re not doing the demony strange thing now,” she concluded grandly.

Xander scratched his stomach and thought about it. “I think I just stopped feeling like growling.”

“Good. That might be a good look for Spike, but it totally clashes with the look you have going. You’re more of an everyman, common hunk. Like that guy on the commercial that delivers water and all the secretaries would go to the window to watch him deliver water because he was kind of a hottie, but then you knew that he was sort of a loser because he was delivering water, but it kind of didn't matter that he was a loser, because he was really cute. And that's kind of the vibe you have going.”

For a long time, Xander could only stare and try and sort out all the insults from all the compliments. Again, her tone of voice had been totally on the complimentary side, but Xander wasn’t sure the words were. In fact, he was almost positive she’d just shredded his ego, only he couldn’t quite catch the insult. “And again with the questionable thank you,” he said. “I'm starting to think that maybe you shouldn't compliment me.”

“We're friends. I'll always be here to compliment you,” Harmony assured him cheerfully. Then she turned her attention back to the road. They were getting close to Sunnydale, and that growling sense of fury that Xander had been carrying in the pit of his stomach gave way to a more general sense of unease. Spike always talked about the vibe on the hellmouth feeling powerful, but now that Xander had lived off the hellmouth, he realized it actually felt a little creepy. It was like someone was playing horror movie music just soft enough that you couldn't quite hear it. It was like fingernails down a chalk board shivers even though you couldn’t actually hear the screech.

“Home again,” Xander said softly. If the world was about to end, he wanted to be at Angel’s side, even if Angel was visiting the land of la-la right now. He just wished he understood why Spike had changed his mind. Fear sent her tendrils slipping through him.

“Old home, which is not quite as good as our new home, but it’s still very homey,” Harmony agreed. “I know the shopping is better in LA, but I’m so looking forward to hanging out at the old places.”

Xander looked over and frowned as Harmony took the exit for downtown Sunnydale. The sun would come up in a few hours, and all the bad little demons must have gone home because once they’d left the traffic of the highway behind, the town felt deserted, cold, seriously creepy.

“Aren't you even a little bit worried?” Xander asked.

“No.” The answer came so quickly and easily that it caught Xander off-guard.

“Not even a little? I mean not even the smallest tiniest crack of complete and utter despair that our world is about to end?” Xander held up to fingers to demonstrate the world’s smallest crack.

“Oh please. Angel and Spike can kill anything that threatens to end the world,” Harmony pointed out. “They're really scary.” She made a face emphasize just how scary they were, and Xander had to agree. Spike and Angel were kind of scary when they were fighting on the same side. He actually wasn't sure how the universe had avoided apocalypse back during the Scourge of Europe days. From the stories, he suspected that none of them were sane enough or organized enough to actually keep their shit together. Darla had been the only planner in the group, and her plans tended to include pissing people off and abandoning her allies. It didn’t say much about her plans. However, this Glorificus seemed to have the godly powers of good planning because she was out-maneuvering Riley. Xander suspected that wasn’t easy.

“But this is a goddess. As in, well, a goddess,” Xander pointed out.

“Oh please.” Harmony gave a huff. “I happen to be a goddess of fashion. In high school that meant lots and lots of people worshiped me. And in high school, that made me better than all of you. However it did not give me more powers. So if she wants to call herself a goddess and have lots of worshippers, that's fine. She still doesn't get it be any scarier than she would be if she called herself a pathetic god-envying demon with no followers at all.”

Xander thought about that. “Do you really think it's that simple? Do you really think that she's just a goddess because people worship her?” It seemed like there would have to be some powers attached for the Council of Watchers to go calling Glory a goddess, but he didn't actually know. The dictionary definition of god was not really helpful for these sorts of situations, and there were lots and lots of demons who called themselves godlike. Lots even had godlike powers. The guy who reanimated the dead so he could play with them and make their bodies do creepy, creepy things—that was slightly goddish. He was also so very dead. Actually, lots of god-like demons were dead after Angelus’ reign. If Angel remembered being Angelus and got over his crazy, he had all sorts of mad demon-killing skills he’d sharpened up. “I hope she’s just a demon with a good P.R. campaign,” Xander said with a sigh.

“Speaking as a former goddess myself, absolutely. And let me tell you, having goddess powers doesn’t mean much once you don't have people following you. I mean I made one little suggestion to Spike about how all of his dark clothes overpowered his natural coloring, and he got all upset. I mean I just suggested that he give up his black or his red and get some variety like maybe a nice periwinkle. Periwinkle would be a great color with his eyes and his blond hair. But anyway. He totally overreacted. So despite all of my goddessy powers of fashion, and I am a fashion goddess,” she added firmly, “it didn't do me any good. My guess is that this Glory is the same way. She has some power, but it's not good to be enough to save her from getting a serious slap down.”

Xander thought about that. Between the mixed metaphors and weirdly personal stories, she had a point. “Harmony?”


“Have I said lately how happy I am that you’re part of the family?” Xander asked.

Harmony looked over at him, her eyes wide. “Really?” she asked softly.

“Really really,” Xander agreed. Harmony's face broke into a wide grin.

“Well of course you are. I'm Harmony,” she said in her best no-duh voice.

“That you are,” Xander agreed. She was definitely Harmony, and there wasn’t another vamp in the world that could match her. Xander just hoped that either she stayed at the mansion or that Sunnydale was ready to meet her. Vamp her. Riley might never recover.



56. Chapter 56

Xander got out of the passenger side and headed toward the old mansion. “This place is definitely not Cordelia approved,” he pointed out.

Harmony made a face. “I don't care how much I clean, this is never going to look good. We should go back to the Hyperion.”

“Except that we have a small problem with world ending.”

“That's Buffy's job.”

“And if Buffy can't do it?”

Harmony’s face sort of scrunched up at that.

“Then we find a new dimension,” Spike said as he stepped out from behind some trees, a cigarette in hand. He took a deep drag on it so that the red and glowed in the night. “The white hats have to lose sooner or later, and if now is the time, I can't say I much care.” Spike studied Xander up and down. “I hear you're having some problems.”

Xander blushed. “Whatever Cordelia told you….” He gave a heavy sigh. “Okay, they're probably true. In my defense, things were a little with the screwy after you guys left. And I want to point out that I might've growled of Faith a little, but I never growled at Cordelia. So, if you're planning on getting all possessive or defensive about Cordelia, please just….” Xander stopped again. If Spike was going to get all cranky, there really wasn’t a whole lot Xander could do. “Just not around Angel, okay?”

Dropping his cigarette to the ground, Spike crushed it under his heel. “If Cordelia was brassed off about your attitude, she would've eviscerated you herself, pet. I’m just wondering why you would have ballsed-up your friendship with Faith.”

“What? Oh no. No, there was no ballsing up, and I’m assuming you mean that in the messing up way.”

Spike almost smiled. “You seem normal enough now.”

“He got over the growling,” Harmony agreed. “It was totally weird there for a while. I mean he was growling and talking all cranky and it was totally not like him.”

Spike completely ignored her as he headed for the door. Yep, things were back to normal. “I was having a moment,” Xander defended himself. “I mean, if you guys go leaving me behind, I say I'm entitled to throw it slight hissy fit.” Xander cringed. Yeah, he done more than throw a hissy fit, and he knew it, but when all else failed, repress and ignore. Besides, his need for therapy was less important than making sure that the world didn't get destroyed. He was voting no on world destroying. “So, did Buffy and Riley have any big insight?”

“I doubt those two could recognize an apocalypse if it sat on them,” Spike said with disgust. “As far as I can tell, they aren't doing much to track down the magic this bint is using.”

“And that’s bad?” Xander guessed.

Spike headed into the dusty and dim hall of the mansion without answering. Yeah, it was bad.

“Hey, Wesley!” Harmony sang out, waving enthusiastically as she spotted Wesley sitting at a desk behind an entire mountain range of books. Xander was starting to get a few suspicions about what those two had been up to while everyone else was out running away from Angelus.

“Harmony… and Xander.” Wesley took off his glasses, and for a second he looked so much like Giles, and the piles of books looked so much like the library, the Xander could almost believe that the last three years hadn't even happened. Here they were, one more apocalypse threatening to wipe out the universe. You’d think demons would have something better to do with their spare time. “Xander, how are you feeling?” Wesley stood up, his gaze flicking over toward Spike before he focused on Xander again.

“Um… fine.”

“No more bouts of demonic characteristics?”

“Demonic what? Oh no. There is nothing demonic here. I might, however, be having a small case of nervous breakdown. That's an option. So, where's Angel?”

“Upstairs,” Spike said with a jerk of his head toward the stairs, but when Xander looked up, Angel was already standing there. He looked… saner. Not sane, but any move toward sanity was a good one.

“Hey,” he said softly. Angel tilted his head to the side and studied Xander. Moving slowly forward, he almost glided down the last few stairs and across the room, every inch the elegant predator. And yet, Xander wasn't the prey. Instead, Angel had the sort of grace that Xander normally associated with Angelus being in a really lusty mood. His cock started to take interest, and Xander swallowed as Angel moved in on him. Just when Xander expected Angel to grab him and pin him to the floor, one of Angelus’ favorite moves, Angel’s hand came up and gently traced the line of Xander’s jaw. Inching closer until their bodies pressed together, Angel rested his palm against Xander’s cheek and leaned in until their foreheads touched.

“M'fhear,” Angel whispered.

Closing his eyes, Xander wrapped his arms around Angel and stood feeling his strength. This was the Angel Xander loved, soul and demon. Xander might be going to hell for selfishly wanting Angel back, but that wouldn’t stop him from being grateful that it was his Angel’s arms around him. Angel hugged Xander so tightly that breathing was a little bit of a chore, but that was okay, too.

“Right then, I guess that's you sorted out.”

“Who? Me?” Xander didn't bother to open his eyes.

“No, Peaches was having a moment a while back. It seems he thinks he's the king and he can order the rest of us serfs around.”

Xander cringed. Technically Angel was totally in control. If he said something, everyone else did tend to go along. But that worked mostly because Angel didn't actually say much. Spike and Cordelia weren't the kind to appreciate the micromanaging sort of clan leader Angelus had turned into. “Bad?” Xander asked.

“You could say.” Spike sounded guarded, which was the best indicator that it was really, really bad.

“He has been rather aggressive,” Wesley agreed. “I daresay his behavior most recently would have reinforced most of Mr. Giles’ less fortunate impressions of the man.”

“So he’s been acting homicidally jerky?” Xander sighed and leaned into Angel. Whatever had Angel acting all cranky before, he seemed happy enough now.

“Rather,” Wesley agreed softly.

“Well, you guys may have time to stand around and talk about whether or not Angel is copping a jock attitude, but I have a whole bunch of cleaning to do. I don't know why you couldn't have picked a cleaner house. I mean really, there are lots of good houses around here. You'd only have to kill a couple people.”

Xander's eyes popped open and he leaned to the side so that he could look around Angel at Harmony, but she was already heading back out to the car. Sometimes it was easy to forget Harmony was a vampire. Other times, not so much.

Spike threw himself on the end of an old couch, a puff of dust rising into the air as he landed. “Peaches got his knickers in a twist about Dawn.”

“Dawn?” Xander frowned. Angel liked Dawn. If he was going to be honest, Angel liked Dawn long before the rest of them. Through most of high school, Xander was even pretty sure Angel liked Dawn more than him. Dawn had that effect on people. They liked her. Well, except Buffy. Xander didn't have any siblings, but he was pretty sure that trying to sell your sister to a gypsy wasn't good. And Jenny Giles had always been on the fence with Dawn. Of course, Dawn had a bad habit of saying exactly what she thought about people, and she never had liked Jenny much. That probably had a lot to do with it. That's probably the same reason why Spike liked her. Dawn did have a mouth.

“I don’t remember her,” Angel said.

Xander blinked. He was pretty sure memory loss was a bad thing. “Sure you do,” he said in his best encouraging voice. Freaking out probably wouldn't help, so he'd save that for plan B. “She used to give me shit about me giving you shit back when we were more people who hung out together out of some sort of mutual masochism than friends,” Xander reminded Angel.

Spike snorted.

“The demon remembers that.” Angel tilted his head to the side. Xander waiting for more, but that was it.

“Which is of the good since it happened.” Xander spoke slowly, still not sure exactly what weirdness was going on in Angel's brain.

“The soul doesn’t.”

“Doesn’t what?”

“Doesn’t remember that,” Angel said. And clearly the crazy was a gift that kept on giving.

“Angel, maybe your soul is having a little brown out, you know, like when too many people turn on their air conditioners in summer, only with something memory related.” Xander was starting to have a really bad feeling about this.

Now Spike was looking at both of them like they were crazy; however, Angel shook his head. “The soul doesn’t remember. The demon…. Why didn’t I turn Dawn? I wanted her.”

“Whoa, hey there, no talking about turning anyone,” Xander interrupted. “There will be no turning of Dawn or even discussion of motivations for or against the turning of Dawn anywhere that Buffy is likely to hear. Badness lies that way.”

“Quite so,” Wesley agreed softly.

“Luv, I don't care what brain cells got knocked loose, you'll never forgive yourself if you turn the Bit. You just leave her be,” Spike said. The tone was friendly, but Xander could still hear the warning it in, and Angel’s eyes yellowed. Yep, Angel was still the king of his mountain, and he did not want Spike trying to push him off the top.

“Yep, you don’t want to turn Dawn, so if something is telling you that you want to turn her, that something is lying,” Xander agreed.

Angel looked down at him, the yellow fading from his eyes. “I always wanted to turn her. You’d change, and I don’t want you to change, but Dawn….” Angel tilted his head, and his gaze drifted across the room.

“He’s been like that every time someone mentions Dawn, which is a good sight better than how he’s been when either of us mentioned you,” Spike said as he leaned back and propped a boot on the edge of the couch. “He’s been a right git about not having you here. I felt like we had Angelus back there for a bit.”

Xander studied Spike. That wasn’t the sort of thing Spike would say lightly. That was more a subtle sort of warning, subtle like Spike never did subtle.

“Perhaps we can discuss our adversary,” Wesley suggested. “After comparing notes with Buffy, I’m afraid that I can’t give her high marks for her performance. I find that she’s been relying heavily on technology and the Army, ignoring the magical arts and her own mystical powers as the slayer.”

Xander squirmed around so that his back was to Angel. It made it easier to have a conversation with the others, even if Angel’s hands did slip under the hem of Xander’s shirt and trace small circles on his stomach. His cock really was getting a little too interested. It made it hard to get the blood to go to the big brain; maybe that’s why it seemed like there were a lot of things not making sense.

“Why would Buffy be ignoring the magic?”

“Maybe because she figured her watcher is a git who nearly destroyed an ally because he couldn’t pull his head out of his arse long enough to see he married a shrew as bad as Darla on her worst day,” Spike offered with a smile.

“Okay, ignoring that all that is true,” Xander admitted, “it still doesn’t explain why Buffy would be all anti-magic girl.”

Wesley settled back into his desk chair. “I’m not sure her attitude is anti-magic as much as she is simply dismissing the magical opportunities for intelligence gathering and counter-attack.”

“And again… why?” Xander asked. Wesley and Spike exchanged a look that made Xander’s heart pound a little faster. “What happened?” he demanded. “Why isn’t Willow in there giving Buffy the old magic-good speech? What happened to her?”

“Nothing, pet,” Spike hurried to say. “It’s her little friend.”

“Tara?” Xander’s mouth went dry as he thought of Tara’s shy smile and her kind face. Oh god, please not Tara.

“M'fhear?” Angel asked with just a little growl in his voice, his arms tightening around Xander, holding him close.

“She’s been hurt,” Spike said, but the words sent relief rushing through Xander. Hurt. Not killed, hurt. But if she was hurt, Willow would be all about Tara, which explained Buffy’s lack of magical back-up. “Seems like Glorificus thinks Buffy has a key that can open dimensions, and she’s stirring her fingers through people’s brains trying to find it.”

“And she stirred her fingers through Tara’s brain? Okay, that’s not sounding good. That’s sounding like we may need all sorts of psychiatric care in this town.”

Spike snorted. “That’s not the half of it, luv. Tara’s right ‘round the bend, now. She spends her time staring at nothing and finger painting. You can knock, but there’s no one home. The witch has been spending her time at the military hospital with her little friend, and with Angelus on the loose, the slayer didn’t call us.”

“Which is understandable,” Xander pointed out.

“It bloody well is not,” Spike snapped. Angel immediately began to growl, his eyes yellowing as he pressed forward, but Xander threw his weight back into Angel, temporarily holding him in place. Putting both feet on the ground, Spike coiled as if he was about to leap up to meet a challenge.

“Oh good lord,” Wesley complained loudly. “Have we forgotten that we came here to fight Glorificus, not each other? Really, Xander, you ought not allow these two to travel without you as chaperone, Xander.”

“Oi!” Spike protested loudly. Angel just kept up with the low growl.

“They have been fighting, and while I must admit that Angel has been most unreasonable, Spike has not gone out of his way to avoid antagonizing him. However, to focus on the adversary, I have found a number of interesting facts. The texts,” Wesley took a huge book off the top of a pile, “suggest that Glorificus was banished to this dimension, doomed to be locked within a prison.”

“Okay, that didn’t work,” Xander muttered.

“Oh the contrary, it might have,” Wesley said. “Angelus was quite aggressive about collecting texts that related to demons capable of bringing Armageddon. Apparently he’d had some experience centuries ago with one particular demon who had the power to extinguish the sun, and it made him wary of any creature of such power. Therefore, his library has extensive research on the various higher level demons. According to the text I’ve found, her enemies locked Glorificus in a prison through which she could see only a shadow of the world, experience only a fraction of the joy and perceive only the barest minimum of the world around her.”

“So they put her in the hole?” Xander guessed. He’d watched enough prison movies to know that when you got put in the hole, it never ended well. Insanity and gory prison breakout tended to follow. Did demons never watch television? They should know these things.

“Ah,” Wesley said, and that was an all-knowing sort of ah. “But that is the description the Cha’atai demons use to identify humans. Humans,” Wesley said as he flipped the pages of the text, “are animals which can perceive only the shadow, not the substance of the world. They experience only a small fraction of the joy or the anguish of the true forms of demons and they can perceive nothing which does not present itself to the beast’s limited senses.” Wesley finished and turned the text around to show Xander the page with all the weird little squigglies that looked like someone had let a three year old loose with a fountain pen, like that meant anything to Xander.

“So….” Xander asked.

“He means that Glorificus is attached to a human, mate.” Spike gave a vicious grin. “And I know how to end a human.”



57. Chapter 57

Xander walked into the room Harmony said was theirs and sat on the bed. She’d made it with sheets and a quilt from home, but this definitely wasn’t home. The old mansion had good bones, but everything was crumbling to dust. Even though Harmony had swept and vacuumed, she couldn't fix the insect holes in the molding or the long cracks in the old plaster. Angel followed into the room and closed the door behind him. For a moment, Angel just looked at him.

Angel was definitely looking more sane-ish, even if he wasn't totally back in the land of the sane. Maybe Xander had just borrowed some of the crazy for a while. There would be a weird sort of justice in sharing the crazy. The major problem was that Xander didn't really know when he was going to start growling and snapping at people again. He was just lucky that Faith and Cordelia were actually pretty used to being growled and snapped at. Well, that and he was lucky that neither one of them actually took him seriously when he threatened to gut Faith and growled at Cordelia. If they’d been vampire and felt even one little bit threatened, that could have ended so very much worse.

“You're upset,” Angel said as he studied Xander.

“What? No I’m not.”

“You smell sour, and your heart beats faster than it should,” Angel said in a matter-of-fact voice. Oh yeah, vampires were so very annoying.

“Okay, I know we've had this discussion before, but it's really kinda creepy when you sniff me.”

Angel just tilted his head to the other side. It was hard to have conversations when the other half of the conversation was only engaging with reality about a quarter of the time. Half the conversation times one quarter of the time equalled 1/8 of an actual ability to talk. That wasn't exactly a good percentage.

When Angel didn't respond, Xander sighed and tried to figure out another way to explain it. “Angel, I'm not upset with you.”

“Are you upset with Spike?” Angel asked. From the way, Angel asked that, Xander got the impression that Angel would be perfectly happy to go down and beat the crap out of Spike. Xander wasn't sure how to explain that it was pulling Angel out of heaven and finding himself irrationally interested in eviscerating people and the threat of the world ending all coming together in one big ball of bad that was upsetting him. Spike was part of the bad, but he wasn't even a big part of it. Okay, maybe a biggish part since he was the one voting to kill a human.

“No. Not exactly,” Xander admitted.

“You're lying.” Yellow seeped into Angel's eyes, but he looked more confused than anything else.

“Not technically,” Xander pointed out. He almost went into one of Blair’s speeches about lying versus obfuscation, but that wouldn’t exactly help Angel's confusion. “I'm upset about the world possibly ending. I'm upset that Glorificus is running around. I'm upset that they canceled La Femme Nikita, because that's the best show on television right now, especially since they cancelled Xena and Star Trek: Voyager, too. It has not been a good year for TV.” Xander gave Angel a goofy grin.

“And you're upset with Spike.” Angel tilted his head to one side as though he could understand Xander if he could just figure out the right angle to look at him.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Xander struggled with a way to explain this to Angel. A year ago, he wouldn’t have needed to explain anything. But, things changed. Angel changed. Xander changed. There was a lot of change going on, and sometimes it got a little confusing.

“I'm upset at something that Spike might have to do.”

Angel reversed the direction of the tilt of his head. Xander never thought that he would miss Angel's one track mind and annoying habit of bringing every conversation back to God and Father Peter. But this new silent version of Angel was way more annoying than the old moral version. And actually, considering that Angel had recently had a close encounter of the God kind, Angel really wasn't talking much about God. Of course, Angel wasn't talking much at all.

“Spike is going to kill the human that's attached to Glorificus,” Xander explained, even though Angel had been in the room to hear the same conversation Xander had.

Angel's eyes turned up baleful yellow and he growled low with his chest. At first, Xander thought Angel didn’t like the idea of killing a human. He generally did veto murder. “She's a threat to you,” Angel said darkly, so Xander was guessing that Angel was actually okay with Spike’s plan.

“She's pretty much a threat to everyone. But if some human is attached to her? If someone is getting used like the demonic version of Alcatraz? I don't know.” Xander sighed and struggled with his own feelings on this one. Armageddon bad. Murder bad. Murder to stop Armageddon was falling in the morally murky end of the pool.

“I don't know if it's okay to kill someone just because it would save the world. But I don't know if it's okay to not kill someone when not killing someone would mean the world would end. And I don't even know whether this is a good guy or bad guy. I mean, if we’re talking about Glorificus’ life force being attached to some assassin for the mob, I'm okay with Spike eating him. But what if her life is attached to a five-year-old? What if cutting her off from this universe means that we have to kill some ninety-seven-year-old grandmother? What does that say about me that I'm actually better killing the ninety-seven-year-old grandmother that the five-year-old? I mean, at least the grandmother you could talk to. You could point out that her grandkids would definitely be better off without a hell-god ending the world. But what do you say to a five-year-old? ‘Hey sweetie, suck on this lollipop while we kill you?’ That's sounding slightly creepy in a completely absolutely disgustingly creepy way.” Xander looked up at Angel. “And you don't understand any of this. You’re still off in philosophical Timbuktu.”

For several seconds, Angel just stared at Xander, his head tilted to the side and a deep frown on his face. In a cartoon world, Xander would expect to see smoke coming out of Angel’s ears as his brain overheated.

“Should I stop Spike?” Angel asked. The worst part was that Angel could stop Spike. That meant that if Spike went and killed someone, Xander carried part of the blame because he had the power to stop Spike.

Still not sure he was doing the right thing, Xander shook his head. “I'm going with no.” He thought about that answer for a minute. “I also reserve my right to change my mind if it turns out that Glorificus is attached to some five year old. Seriously, this is one big mess.” Xander sighed. “Do you understand any of this?”

“I understand that I need you,” Angel said as he moved closer.

“You understand that, huh?” Xander could feel guilt gnawing at the edges. Need had pulled Angel out of heaven. There was a special place in hell for people who pulled other people out of heaven.

“I understand…” Angel stopped. Xander waited for Angel to find whatever word he was searching for, but Angel reached up and cupped either side of Xander’s face in his large hands.


“I need you,” Angel whispered, his thumbs tracing the corner of Xander’s mouth. Xander’s blood all went south. Reaching up, Xander caught Angel’s hands. He loved Angel. He did. And his cock definitely lusted after Angel. But it was like Angel wasn’t all Angel. He was sort of half-Angel and half-crazy heaven-boy who was still trying to figure out how to deal with being back on earth.

Angel tilted his head. “You need me.” The whispered words made Xander close his eyes. He did need Angel. It made him a really shitty person, but he did. Angel’s hands skimmed over Xander’s skin, fingers brushing over Xander’s neck before landing on his shoulders. “Look at me. Please.”

Xander looked up, and Angel gazed down at him with large brown eyes full of lust. Glancing down, Xander could see the bulge in Angel’s pants, and his own cock started to harden. “This is probably such a bad idea because you’re not really you right now.”

“Yes I am,” Angel disagreed. He pressed on Xander’s shoulders, a gentle nudge at first and then harder when Xander resisted. The moment of doubt passed, and Xander yielded, landing on his back, and Angel followed him, his hand braced on either side of Xander as he hovered over him. “I didn’t like being away from you.”

“Um, yeah. I was having that same feeling, which might be something to have Wesley research once—” Xander’s words cut off with a squeak when Angel arched his back and pressed their groins together. “Oh shit.” It had been too long. Oh, Xander had lots and lots of sex with Angelus, but this look? These brown eyes watching him, searching for some way to drive Xander crazy? That was all Angel. And it had been way too long.

Reaching up, Xander braced his hands on Angel’s arms, feeling the strength in them. Angelus was like riding a wild horse, exciting but always with this edge of wondering if you were about to break your neck. Angel was strength controlled; Angel made Xander feel safe enough that Xander could let go of all the worries that chased him through the day. Even now, he could feel all the very real problems start to fade to gray as his little brain quickly started taking over the thinking. Angel rocked slowly, holding his own weight as he thrust against Xander.

“Oh shit,” Xander gasped, his hands scrambling to get his jeans open before something important got smushed, but Angel covered his body, blocking Xander’s hands no matter how much Xander squirmed.

“Shhhh a’choi,” Angel murmured as he lowered his weight onto Xander. Hissing with frustration, Xander grabbed Angel’s shoulders and arched up.

“Faster, maybe?” Xander asked.

Angel took a moment to mouth at Xander’s neck, running dull teeth over the skin so that Xander shivered. “No,” Angel whispered, his breath tickling Xander’s ear.

“No?” Xander coughed and tried to bring his voice down out of the soprano range. “Faster would be good.”

“No it wouldn’t,” Angel disagreed before he went back to softly nibbling at Xander’s neck. One of Angel’s fingers threaded through Xander’s thick hair, and Xander could feel all his blood rush south. These slow, soft touches always made him come apart at the seams. During his whole search for sexual identity, Xander had gone on websites and seen guys talk about how they wanted a hard fast fuck. And to be honest? Sometimes that was really nice. Really, really nice. But the slow tease of Angel’s tongue tracing the muscle of his neck, the damp trail that quickly cooled in the air, the fingers in his hair holding him, the thumb tracing small circles against his temple… that was all pretty much better than anything quick and hard.

Angel’s weight slowly settled on Xander, pinning him so that Xander couldn’t move much except his hands. Using the little freedom he had, Xander stroked up and down Angel’s arms, cool silk sliding under his palms as he felt Angel’s muscles gather and bunch. Yet, despite all the strength, Angel moved slowly, gentle kisses moving down over Xander’s collarbone before moving toward the spot of skin where the collarbones met. Xander swallowed and he could feel Angel’s lips against his throat as his Adam’s apple rose and fell.

“Love your heat,” Angel said, his breath tickling across Xander’s neck. Xander dug his fingers into Angel’s arms and thrust up into that strength, his body struggling to find the right pressure to just drop down into the perfect orgasm he could feel just out of reach. “Love your hands reaching for me, love the feel of you under me.”

Xander didn’t realize he’d closed his eyes until he opened them. Talking during sex was more of an Angelus kind of thing, but the slow move of lips across Xander’s neck until Angel reached his other shoulder… that really was all Angel. Angel sucked gently, and Xander could feel the heat gather under the skin. Angelus would have bitten by now, his sharp fangs sliding in so smoothly that Xander wouldn’t feel it until the short front teeth pricked his skin. When Angel hummed against the warm skin, Xander squirmed wildly, pulling Angel closer and finally wrapping his hand around the back of Angel’s neck and clinging as every spare brain cell shut down and sent blood south.

Angel chuckled, and Xander could feel the vibrations more than he could actually hear the sound. He thought Angel might be ready for the main event, but Angel just returned to torturing him with slow kisses. This time, lips moved back toward the center, and Angel slipped his hands between their bodies.

“Angel,” Xander begged, not even able to form the right words to explain that Angel was killing him.

“Shhhh,” Angel’s breath danced over Xander’s hot skin, cooling him before Angel placed another kiss. A quick tug, and Xander realized one of his shirt buttons had died in the name of the cause. A half-second later, Angel placed a kiss on the newly exposed skin.

Struggling to get an elbow under him, Xander tried to sit up. If he could just get his hands on Angel, or more accurately, on Angel’s cock, he could definitely speed up the process. However, Angel easily pushed him back down without even pausing in his work. With a hand braced over Xander’s heart, Angel held him down. With his other hand, Angel pulled Xander’s shirt open one button at a time, exploring each inch of exposed skin.

Xander gulped down air, his body gathering heat until he could feel every centimeter of skin. He was one giant nerve and Angel gently kissed the skin just above the belly button. Practically exploding, Xander pulled at Angel, his short fingernails scraping over the silk of Angel’s shirt. Angel gave a short hiss, and then he sat up, pulling his shirt off so fast that Xander could only blink before Angel was back on top of him.

When Xander pulled Angel close, he could feel his fingers slip against the sweat damp skin, but Angel still yielded to his tugs, closing the distance between their mouths until Xander could arch up and kiss him hungrily. Angel might be in a mood for slow, tender torture, but Xander wanted more. He wanted to glut himself and then lay in bed with his brains dribbling out.

Angel opened his mouth to the assault, allowing Xander’s tongue to press in where Angelus would have taken control back. However, when Xander reached down for Angel’s pants, Angel pressed his body down. Xander’s cock, already trapped inside a pretty tight pair of jeans, sent up flares of distress as Angel’s weight pressed down, and worse, Xander couldn’t get to Angel’s fly.

“Please, Angel,” Xander pleaded.

Ignoring the request, Angel went back to slowly freeing one button at a time from Xander’s shirt, placing gentle kisses that tickled the scattering of hair that started well above Xander’s belly button. Trying a new tactic, Xander wrapped his legs around Angel and thrust up. The pressure almost killed him… either that or it almost made him come in his pants. For a second, Xander thought he’d found the key. Angel stopped and raised his head, his eyes yellow as he studied Xander. Xander threw his head back and humped up into Angel again. He really was on the verge of coming in his pants, but then Angel’s large hands landed on his hips, holding him down as Angel scooted a little farther down and pulled the last button open. Then he placed a kiss just below Xander’s belly button, and Xander was pretty sure he was broken. Broken and about to die if he didn’t get to come.

He threw his hands wide and fisted the sheets as he fought Angel’s grip. Angel pressed a kiss lower, just above the waistband of Xander’s jeans.

“Please, just do it. You’re going to feel bad if my heart explodes,” Xander pointed out.

“It won’t,” Angel said with a whole lot more confidence than Xander felt. Xander was pretty sure he was going to die in the very near future if Angel kept this up.

Angel pressed one more kiss to the sensitive skin just above the button and then he did something with his teeth and Xander’s jean button came open.

“Yes,” Xander gasped.

Angel gave another of those Angelusy chuckles. “Not so fast,” he warned, his fingers pressing deep into Xander’s hips. Xander grabbed Angel’s wrists and squirmed. He wanted to rip his pants off and thrust up into Angel or have Angel take Xander’s cock in his mouth or have Angel flip him over and fuck him. Xander wasn’t picky at this point. Anything resembling sex would work as long as it ended in bliss and messy sheets.

“You smell so good,” Angel whispered. Xander could only groan. Most of his blood was now in his cock, and Xander could feel the throbbing pain edging toward a not good place. Just as a sliver of worry started to creep into Xander’s awareness, Angel mouthed Xander’s cock right through Xander’s white underwear. Angel sucked at the head of Xander’s cock, and the cloth between the cock and Angel’s mouth dulled the feeling, it made air move around Xander’s overly-hot skin, and then Xander felt his whole body tighten as his orgasm finally crashed through him, making his whole body twitch and stiffen as Angel pinned him down and continued to mouth Xander’s now-messy underwear.

The pleasure rolled through his body in waves, and Xander had to gasp between each new shiver that drove the air out of him again. Angel’s mouth gentled against his cock without abandoning its task, and Xander’s muscles slowly loosened until his arms flopped against the mattress and Xander’s whole body sagged. His lungs burned as if he’d been running, and his whole body felt like a frame with missing screws so that everything was loose and tipsy and one good shove might send it over. Xander figured one shove would either make him fall asleep or make all his limbs fall off because he definitely didn’t feel held together very well. In fact, Angel’s hands against his hips might be the only thing holding him together.

Angel gave another of those Angelusy chuckles, and as Xander lay with his body limp, he figured he should probably worry about that. He should. He just couldn’t.

Angel stroked Xander’s stomach, his fingers slipping under the waist of Xander’s open jeans before he pulled and Xander found himself neatly stripped of jeans and underwear in one motion.

“Naked good,” Xander agreed sleepily, even though his brain was off-line and his sated cock lay nestled in its hair. Short of magic, Xander was temporarily all used up.

“My beautiful boy. My m’fhear,” Angel said as he stood and stripped his own pants off. Angel definitely hadn’t come. His cock stood up, thick and dark. Xander’s tongue slipped out and he licked his bottom lip as he thought about the taste of Angel’s cock. He loved the feeling when Angel would shout out, his body jerking as he came in Xander’s mouth. Angelus never let Xander spend long minutes teasing and nuzzling at the heavy balls before finally sucking at the heavy cock. However, before Xander could offer, Angel flipped him over. Xander gave a squeak and pulled his arms in closer as Angel’s strength moved him as easily as a doll.

Angel pulled off Xander’s shirt, and then straddled him, pinning Xander down on the bed. “M’fhear,” Angel whispered again as he pulled Xander’s shirt off before exploring with his hands. His touch was somewhere between a caress and a massage, and sleep tugged at Xander as the last of his muscles relaxed into the touch.

Leaning forward, Angel rested his weight on Xander’s back and ran fingers through Xander’s hair for a second before he gently turned Xander’s head so Xander’s forehead pressed to the pillow. The position made the back of Xander’s neck arch out, and Angel kissed the curve of it before starting to suck at the tender skin.

Still half asleep, Xander couldn’t manage more than a happy hum as Angel ran dull teeth over the damp skin. The heat gathered in the back of Xander’s neck, a slow burn that send threads of warmth through his entire body. Even Xander’s sated cock gave a little happy twitch—right before it went right back to sleep. When Xander sucked in a quick breath, shifting his neck just a little, he felt Angel’s short front teeth prick his skin. Xander’s heart tripped out a quick step. Angel was biting him. Angel never bit him. Angelus did lots and lots of biting, but not Angel.

The tendrils of happy heat faded and Angel shifted around a bit before kissing the skin tenderly, his fingers still threaded in Xander’s hair and holding him down.

“Hush, love. You’re fine. I just want to feel my beautiful boy,” Angel whispered.

“Angel?” Xander asked softly. His body fit comfortably under Angel, still, but his mind had shrugged off some of post-sex lethargy.

“Yes?” Angel’s hands moved down Xander’s shoulders and then his arms, stroking the skin reverently.

“You’re not feeling the need to go kill anyone, are you?”

“No. Only Harmony, but I won’t upset Cordelia over such a trivial matter,” Angel said, his voice distant and still heavy with lust. Okay, that sounded way more like Angel than Angelus. Angelus had a habit of twitching when people brought up Cordelia. Badly.

“Shhhh. This is just us, a’choi,” Angel promised, his voice soft. His hands stroked down to Xander’s hip and then a finger that was suddenly slick slid between Xander’s legs, circling his hole.

“Nice, now you get to the main even when I’m too tired to care,” Xander teased softly.

“I can make you care,” Angel answered playfully. Xander smiled. Oh yeah, that was Angel. That was all Angel. Angelus might be damn good at sex, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Angel because Xander always felt like the center of the world when Angel’s hands were on him. “I can’t make you care so much that you forget your name,” Angel promised. That sounded slightly more Angelusy, but then Angel slipped a slick finger inside Xander and started plunging his finger in and out of Xander.

The heat Xander had been shedding started to gather again. Xander groaned as his cock tried valiantly and miserably failed to react. Angel added a second finger quickly, stretching the muscle around the hole, and Xander squirmed in pleasure. The stretch always felt so good, like scratching a really deep itch. It was just strange to scratch the itch with his cock already put up for the night. Still good, but different.

Angel shifted back, and Xander opened his legs in invitation. Almost immediately, Angel moved back in place and a blunt cock pushed against his hole. Xander pushed back to make it easier for Angel to slip inside, not that Angel could really slip. It was more like careful shoving and stuffing and stretching as Angel inched inside Xander. He felt full, and when that fullness reached Xander’s prostate, he groaned at the frisson of pleasure that travelled up his spine.

Usually about this time Xander was gasping and squirming and totally focused on his cock. Now, though, he could feel the stretch, the fullness as Angel pressed all the way in and then started to pull back so that the friction caused just enough slick heat to make Xander squirm. He was still processing how good it all felt when Angel thrust in again, this time faster.

The pressure against his prostate made Xander’s air leave his body in a huff of air, and the slick wasn’t enough to keep him from feeling every inch of Angel’s cock as it then dragged across the tightly stretched skin of Xander’s hole. Xander’s breath came in little gasps as Angel started to speed up, each thrust now ending with the slap of Angel’s thighs against Xander’s backside.

Xander arched his back and let himself sink into the feeling of Angel’s body moving against his, Angel’s cock filling him while his own soft cock lay quiet. Normally his cock and ass were involved in the sex, but the rest of him checked out along the way. Now Xander could feel the way Angel’s fingers pressed deeply into the muscle of Xander’s back, eight perfectly spaced points that would be tiny bruises tomorrow. Angel might not need to breathe, but Xander could hear each ragged gasp as Angel sucked in lungfuls of air. Slowly pushed farther up the mattress with each thrust, the top of Xander’s head nudged the headboard just as Angel came with a shout and a brutal series of thrusts that sent Xander’s head thunking into the headboard with enough force to sting.

Xander got his hands up to brace himself against the headboard as Angel finished out the last few thrusts and then collapsed onto Xander, his breath skittering across the skin of Xander’s shoulder. Given time, Angel would remember he didn’t need to breathe, but right now, feeling Angel’s shaking body and hearing his uneven gasps and feeling Angel’s half-hard cock still deep inside Xander… right now, Xander thought the world was perfect.



58. Chapter 58

Xander came out of the bathroom followed by a cloud of steam. The hot water heater worked, but Xander smelled like rust, so he was guessing the pipes weren’t exactly in tip-top shape. That seemed right, somehow. Xander wasn’t feeling particularly tip-top shapish himself. Sex with Angel should count as aerobic activity, and his aches were aching. When Xander was a few steps into the room, an arm caught him from behind, wrapping around his waist and pulling him close. Xander leaned back into Angel’s arms. Making a little humming noise, Angel placed a kiss on Xander’s neck, right over last night’s bite.

“Good morning,” Xander said.

“Very good,” Angel agreed. His hands slipped under the waistband of Xander’s jeans, and Xander figured they were going to end up having more very athletic sex if he didn’t get them focusing on business. Actually, he should have taken his shirt into the bathroom with his jeans because even half-dressed was way too undressed unless it led to imminent sexage. When Xander leaned back, he could feel the hard lump in Angel’s jeans, too. The world had a funny sense of humor with Spike trying to focus on saving the world and Angel off looking for sex.

“So, are you feeling more sane?” Xander asked as he tried to pull away. For a moment, Angel held him, but then his arm loosened and Xander slipped out of Angel’s grip.

Angel tilted his head as though trying to figure out the words.

Xander sighed. Great. Last night, he definitely seemed on the road to sanity, but now that they were trying to figure out how to stop a hell-god, Angel had done some backsliding. “Okay, I’m taking that as a no. Just stop saying that you don’t remember Dawn, okay?” Xander asked.

“The demon remembers her,” Angel immediately answered.

“And again with the being weird.” For one brief moment, Xander wallowed in some self-pity about having to explain this again. However, if he couldn’t pound it into Angel’s head, no one could. “Angel, Dawn loves you. I was all screwy in the head because my parents tried to sell me, only with less trying than actually doing it.” Xander made a face. “But if they had forgotten me, there wouldn’t have been enough therapy in the world to handle that. And here you are, the vamp she crushed on for years, saying that you can’t remember her. You can see where that would do mucho with the damage, yes?”

Angel frowned.

With a sigh, Xander grabbed his shirt and pulled it on. “Seriously, Angel, if you don’t want to send her running to therapy, you need to stop talking like that.”

“I don't….” Angel stopped and his frown deepened. “Reality is different.”

“Compared to heaven, I'm guessing, yes, it is. Actually, if reality isn't different from heaven, I'm kind of saying that heaven sucks.”

“No. This reality is different.” Angel sounded frustrated, and Xander studied him for a second.

“We just agreed on that,” Xander reassured him. Angel might've come back from heaven with some serious sex skills, and Xander wasn't sure he wanted to spend a lot of time thinking about how that happened, but sanity was a little harder to come by. Xander sat on the edge of the bed and grabbed his socks.

Angel stepped closer, and when Xander tossed a shirt at him, Angel put it on and started buttoning it up while continuing the conversation. “When I left—”

“Do you mean when Jenny ripped your soul out?” Xander was still feeling a little sensitive on that subject. If life were fair, Glory would be attached to Jenny. Then they could kill Jenny and feel extra special good about it. Well, he might not feel good exactly, but he would feel totally and completely justified.

Angel seemed to take a long time to think about Xander's words, and Xander started tying his shoes. “When Jenny pushed my soul out,” Angel restarted, “Dawn did not exist. Joyce had only one child, and when Buffy's father did not return after the first summer—”

“Buffy and Dawn were both hurt,” Xander said fiercely. If Angel went and ignored Dawn’s pain over their idiot sperm-donor and his abandonment, more than one person would kill Angel. Actually, Xander still wasn’t completely convinced that Spike hadn’t tracked down Hank Summers and cut him into little pieces for some scavengers to eat. Spike sure as hell wouldn’t touch the asshole’s blood, that’s for sure.

Despite Xander’s warning, Angel kept going. “No, Dawn was not. Buffy smelled of pain, but Dawn was not there. Buffy had no one to talk to.” Angel's head cocked to the side. “But the demon remembers Dawn's pain, too.” Angel finished buttoning up his shirt and his hands drops to his side as he just stared at Xander as if Xander could make any sense out of all of this. Clearly Angel had forgotten that Xander was not the big thinker in the group. Xander was the fixer. Xander was the person who could get a toilet working. Xander was even the person who occasionally told vampires that it was wrong to commit murder. Xander was not the thinker.

“Seriously? This whole thing with Dawn is starting to creep me out.”

“Reality confuses me,” Angel said, and Xander snorted. He was pretty sure Angel needed a bigger word than confuse. “But I know that my soul has never seen Dawn before.”

Xander took a deep breath and thought about that before he grabbed Angel's socks and boots off the ground and thrust them at Angel. “No offense Angel, but your demon and your soul seemed to be acting a little different since you got back. Like maybe your demon not quite as…” Xander let his words trail off as he tried to find a way to explain it. Angel definitely had more bits of Angelus showing through the cracks.

“The soul is not forced upon him,” Angel blurted out as if that was no big deal.

Xander had just finished with his last shoe, and he found himself frozen in place. Slowly he gazed up at Angel, fear clawing at his heart. “It's… What?”

“The curse pushed the demon on top of the soul.”

As answers went, that didn’t answer anything. “Okay….” Xander let his voice trail off as he waited for some sort of explanation. Right now he just had a whole lot of confusion going on. Unfortunately, Angel just looked right back at him as if what he had said was no more surprising then the sky was blue. Actually, since most of the time they were out at night, the unsurprising thing would be the sky is black, but Xander was pretty sure that the soul not being on top was a big deal. “Angel, can you explain in very small words,” Xander held up his forefinger and thumb to show exactly how small the words needed to be, “what you mean by that?”

Angel sat on the bed next to Xander and started pulling on his socks and boots. For a time there was silence in the room, and Xander could feel himself start to break into a nervous sweat. Xander was on the verge of starting a world-class of babble when Angel finished pulling on his boots and turned toward him. “The demon and the soul share the body. The demon cannot act without the soul allowing it, but the soul….” Angel’s head did another tilt. Xander was really starting to hate that particular gesture.

“Are you telling me that the soul lost veto power? Or maybe that the demon gained veto power?” The cold, nervous sweat was getting colder and nervouser. “Okay, seriously, smaller words Angel.”

For a second, Angel kept on with the confused silence. Eventually, though, he seemed to almost gather up his words like he had to plan them. “The demon would wish to turn Dawn. She was ours, and we lost her. The demon does not like to lose what is his.”

Okay, Xander could've guessed that one already. Angelus was one seriously possessive, jealous bastard.

“I would flee from Dawn. She is not part of reality. Buffy has no sister, and if I cannot understand her, I cannot defend you or my clan from her.” Angel frowned. “I am blocked from doing either.”

Xander let out a slow breath as it finally occurred to him what Angel was saying. “So unless the soul and the demon are both on board, the train isn't leaving the station?” Xander guessed.

Angel looked confused again. Angel often looked confused. Then again, if Xander had to share his body with the demon that got equal veto powers over what his body did, that would make him a little crazy too. Guilt, the familiar old friend, came creeping in and found a warm spot in Xander's soul to curl up for a nap.

“The demon rages less.”


Angel reached over and put his hands on Xander's knee, his fingers curling around the curve of it. Angel had such strength in his hands, but his touch was still gentle. “The demon wants power. It has more power than it did for a hundred years under the curse.”

“But….” Xander swallowed. If this was Angelus as much as Angel, then Angelus should want to get rid of the soul. He should want to go out and kill nuns. He should want to go bathe in the blood of innocents. Only, when Angelus was out, there wasn't all that much bloodshed. The demon community did way more bleeding than the innocents. Mostly Angelus seem to want what Angel had. But he never got it. Spike and Cordelia came back only after Anyanka put the soul back in. Angelus had done great things for the hotel’s library and budget, but he hadn’t been all that good with the clan. “Does the demon want to do things the soul is vetoing?” Xander asked, his voice soft and careful. Xander thought he’d escaped having to walk that tightrope with Angelus’ ego, but maybe he wasn’t as done as he thought.

Angel tilted his head and seemed to think for a long time.

“Wait.” Xander leaped up. “You aren't thinking; you're debating what both of you are willing to say. You have to agree before you can say anything. Oh my God, that's Anyanka’s curse.” Xander had to admit, that was a good curse. The gypsies needed to take some lessons.

Angel nodded slowly. That brief moment of elation at having figured out the puzzle slowly drained from Xander as he realized just what this meant for both Angel and Angelus. They were forever locked together as equals.

“Oh Angel. Angelus. Both of you,” Xander sank down on the bed next to Angel. He had to think of this as Angel because otherwise, life would be too weird, but the idea that it was an Angel who was on a leash as short as Angelus’… that they could control each other… it was high on the freaky-meter.

“We don’t need pity,” Angel said, and for one second, the voice and the expression and the set of his shoulders was pure Angelus. Then that second passed, and the body language softened into something that looked more like Angel. “The bitch could not keep us from our clan, from you. She has done nothing that prevents us from having power or protecting our family.”

“And you can call her a bitch only because both Angelus and Angel agree that she is one, huh?” Xander guessed.

Angel nodded. “Powerful, but a bitch. Maybe your mother can avoid making any more wishes.”

“I’m all over that,” Xander quickly agreed.

“It could be worse.” Angel’s hand came up to cup Xander’s cheek. “I could have lost you to some fictional world. From 1753 until the curse came along a hundred and fifty years later, the demon had control. For a hundred years after that, the soul had control. If we must adapt to a new reality, that is more acceptable than having Anyanka steal you away.”

“Angelus talks more than Angel,” Xander said as the realization struck him. This sounded like Angelus.

“We both agree with the words or we would not speak them,” Angel said. So Angelus might talk more, but he didn't get to say things if Angel vetoed him. This was… this was really freaky. This was also why wish demons were called demons and not something fluffier and happier like wish fairies or wish granters who made everyone’s dreams come true.

“You need therapy more than I ever did,” Xander pointed out. There was a perfectly blank expression on Angel’s face for several long seconds, but now Xander was guessing that was less about Angel being confused than it was about Angel and Angelus having very different reactions to the thought of therapy. Unless they could agree on something to say, the body just got stuck. Yeah, this was going to be interesting. “Maybe you can just avoid the internal debates during any fighting,” Xander suggested. “I really don't want you dusted because the two of you couldn't agree on which weapon to grab.”

“That will not happen,” Angel said fiercely, a bit of growl in his voice.

“I’m glad,” Xander said as he stood up and headed for the door. “You still need therapy.” Before Angel or Angelus or Angel/Angelus could answer, Xander headed out the door and down the stairs. “Hey guys, new problem. Or maybe not a problem as much as new information. Or new situation. This might be situation-like.” Xander saw Wesley stick his head out of the dining room arch, and Spike came out from one of the back rooms, a worried look on his face. Yep, if Xander and Angel and Angelus were in a mess, at least they had family to keep them company in the mud pit of life.



59. Chapter 59

Xander finished and looked at the other two. Wesley’s eyes were big, and he’d pulled his glasses off before Xander had finished his first sentence. Spike… well, he didn’t look as shocked, but he had gone perfectly still, and for Spike, still was not normal.

“Bloody hell. So Angel’s in there… the original Angel? Angelus?” Spike leaned forward in his chair and stared at Angel like he’d never seen him before. He was taking the whole thing better than Wesley who seemed to be trying to flatten himself against the far wall. Xander figured the man was going to have heart attack if they didn’t find a way to get the slave spell off him.

Angel narrowed his eyes. “I’ve always been in here,” he said darkly, and now that Xander knew what was going on, he could tell that was all Angelus. Spike did too because he leaned back in his chair.

“Never said you weren’t, ducks.”

Angel’s eyes narrowed more and Spike stood up and headed for the fireplace, his hands digging in the pockets of his duster.

“This is… I mean… quite remarkable.” Wesley seemed to have lost the power over complete sentences.

“I’m guessing that Anyanka is a little better with the cursing than gypsies,” Xander pointed out.

“And I suspect I’m not the only one she cursed,” Angel added. His expression softened, and he reached out to rest a hand on Xander’s knee. “You weren’t yourself after I left Los Angeles.”

“We’re talking about your curse here,” Xander said. The same thought had occurred to him, but he was trying really hard to ignore the possibility. “Well, that and the fact that Angel and Angelus have two different sets of memories, and only one includes Dawn. I’m thinking that’s not good.”

Spike leaned against the side of the fireplace, a cigarette between his fingers. “Right then, you’re still thinking you don’t know Dawn then?”

Angel nodded. “The soul never met Dawn. The demon remembers meeting Dawn when Xander first came to the apartment.”

“Which was back when the soul was still there,” Spike pointed out. “That sounds a little like you’ve gone ‘round the twist.”

Angel gave a low warning growl, and Spike held up his hands in surrender. “Not that I can’t think of a few other possibilities.”

“Really? Because I’m totally out of options other than Angel had his brains scrambled,” Xander said. Angel’s fingers tightened painfully against his knee for one moment before they loosened again. “And I would still love you, and I would still really enjoy having sex even if you did have scrambled brains, but I’m hoping Spike has a better explanation,” Xander offered with a shrug. Angel went totally expressionless again. Yep, Angelus was pissed at the suggestion. “And besides, I’m pretty sure I’m saying the soul has potential brain scrambling, not the demon,” Xander added.

Immediately Angel seemed to shake free with a quick twitch. “I don’t believe that either of us is having delusions,” Angel pointed out.

Crossing the room again, Spike dropped back down into the chair he’d abandoned just minutes earlier. “I can think of more than one reason for changing reality,” he mused. “The thing that bloody worries me is the amount of power it would take to do that. If we have someone who can change reality, that’s some big mojo.” Spike actually managed to look worried.

“Surely you don’t think anyone….” Wesley’s voice trailed off when Spike looked over with a cold expression.

“It’s been done before if the old master Heinrich can be believed. This is why I soddin’ hate mojo. People have too many ways to muck up the world for the rest of us.”

Wesley shoved his glasses back on his face. “So, you truly believe someone could… fabricate a human being? Fabricate memories for each of us?”

For a time, Spike was silent. Then he gave a nonchalant sniff and a shrug. “When we researched Anyanka, we found that she created all sorts of alternate realities. The buggers bled into each other more than once, too. If she has that power, others do, too. There’s no such thing as a unique magical skill, so you need to get into those books and figure out what kind of mojo we might be looking at.”

Ignoring the whole question of whether it was possible, Xander focused on the part that didn’t make sense to him. “Okay, is it just me that's not coming up with any good reason for inventing a baby sister? I mean, I like Dawn, I like her a lot. If someone was going to create a human being from scratch, they could do way worse than Dawn. But I'm thinking that magically inventing a little sister for the slayer is somewhat pointless.”

“Oh, I don't know about that, pet. It’d be a soddin’ good tactical move. And if Angel’s soul was banging around heaven when the spell got cast, it even makes sense that he didn’t get the update.”

“Sense?” Xander demanded. “What, annoy Buffy with the tagalong little sister until she gives up? I’m the first to say that I’m not good with planning, so maybe I’m missing something, but that seems more than a little stupid.”

“Luv, there are days that I think you're so innocent we should just find someplace safe and lock you up,” Spike said with the sort of fond look that made it clear he liked Xander, even when he thought Xander was a goober. Angel growled. “Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I didn’t say I would do it,” Spike said with an elaborate eyeroll. But you have to admit, he’d be a good site safer chained to your bed, Angel.” That seemed to satisfy both Angel and Angelus because he got a thoughtful expression on his face.

“Don’t even think about it,” Xander warned him, even though there was this little part of him that was terrified of pissing off Angelus. Or a big part of him. Living with Angelus had added a few new twists to his brain, and Xander had been through enough therapy to know they weren’t healthy turns. So instead of paying attention to any of the new turns in his brain, Xander just aimed a punch for Angel’s stomach. Angel let it land before he caught Xander’s wrist and held it, the shadow of a smile on his face. Angel raised one eyebrow, but Xander leaned into Angel without trying to reclaim his hand.

“How about you guys just explain exactly how this would be any kind of tactical advantage,” Xander asked, still leaning into Angel.

“Manipulative, isn’t he?” Spike asked with a nod toward Xander.

“Very. He’s also very transparent,” Angel agreed fondly before draping an arm over Xander’s shoulders and pulling him closer.

“Yep, that’s me. Manipulative, transparent, and really confused about why you guys seem to actually think Dawn might be something other than our Dawnie,” Xander agreed.

“It would seem to be a rather large outlay of magic for a rather questionable outcome,” Wesley agreed cautiously.

Spike gave another snort and bounced out of his chair before starting to pace. “Not so questionable. Imagine you're the local big bad. You want to make sure that the slayer doesn't shove her bloody big sword and you. Tell me the one person in this town that Buffy is not going to run a sword through.” Spike stopped and pinned each of them with a look.

Xander's heart sank down into his stomach. “You can't mean.” He stopped, not even wanting to say the nasty little thought that was growing in his brain. He tried to lean forward, but Angel’s arm held him, and Xander struggled, his heart beating faster as Spike didn’t reassure him that he’d just made the world’s worst joke.

“Hush, m’fhear,” Angel crooned softly.

“If I were Glory, I'd want whatever human I was attached to in the safest place possible. Having her in the same house with the slayer would be a bloody brilliant move. I could keep an eye on the enemy and emotionally gut her at any time,” Spike pointed out. His gameface came forward.

“But Dawn wouldn't – no.” Xander squirmed harder. “No, I've known Dawn forever and she wouldn't do that to Buffy. She loves Buffy. Okay, sometimes she loves to annoy Buffy to the point of homicide. But that kind of goes along with the little sister thing.”

“It could be she doesn’t know what she is,” Spike said. He shook his head and his demon features fell away leaving him looking more worried that Xander could ever remember seeing him look. Spike had gone up against the Nazi demon guys with their big old vampire and human burning technothingy without looking this upset. “I don’t rightly know how much power a hell god has, but if Glory can control who she’s attached to, and if she can gather up enough power, she might be able to create an avatar.” Spike ran his tongue along the inside of his lower lip.

“A what?”

“Avatar. A human,” Spike said with a sigh, clearly annoyed at Xander’s lack of vocabulary. “If we’re right about Glory using her, there’s a good chance Dawn doesn’t even know, luv.”

“Okay, you’re talking like this is more likely than not, and that’s more than a little freaky. We don’t know any of this is true,” Xander said, desperate to defend Dawn. She was like a little sister, only one lucky enough to not have Tony Harris’ genes.

Spike came close and crouched down in front of Xander, both his hands on Xander’s knees. “That’s just one possibility, pet. I figure it’s just as likely that she’s some magic user who doesn’t have any other way to defend herself, so she’s hiding behind the slayer’s skirt. That actually sounds like something that a demon from Mayet’s group might try to pull off.”

“You think she could be another aspect of Ra?” Wesley took a step forward before practically collapsing into a chair near the door as if he couldn’t handle one more surprise without his knees giving out.

“Dawn?” Xander’s voice went up an octave. “She cried over long division. Cried.” Xander’s voice broke. “Do you really think that an aspect of Ra would cry over having to carry three? I mean, I did, too, but I’m not someone powerful enough to shift all of reality. And honestly? I don’t think Dawn is, either. I think she’s a little sister.”

Spike nodded and then pushed himself up using Xander’s knees. “There’s a good chance she believes that, pet. There aren’t many creatures that can lie to a vampire, and I didn’t notice anything amiss.”

“She smelled of Buffy,” Angel agreed. “And when I challenged her, she smelled of hurt and confusion. If she’d turned aggressive, even if she’d tried to hide it, I would have known. She believes she’s Buffy’s sister.”

Xander looked from Angel to Spike and back, but neither of them was saying the sorts of things that would make Xander feel better. “Saying that she probably believes she’d Buffy’s sister is not the same as saying she is Buffy’s sister. I would be much happier if we stopped talking about Dawn like a potential big bad. It’s doing strange things to my head.”

“Agreed,” Wesley said softly.

Spike and Angel exchanged a long look, the sort that reminded Xander that they had a hundred ways of communicating without ever talking. “Luv,” Spike started, “you know I love the Bit is much as you do.”

“Then why does it sound like you're finding some justification for taking potentially lethal action against a member of Buffy's family?” Wesley asked. Xander had been wondering the same thing, but he hadn’t wanted to say it out loud. The second someone said fatal or lethal or any other word in that general family, it was like jinxing them all. However, Wesley looked up with a fierce look on his face. “Such an action would lead to war, and the slayer has an impressive number of allies.” It occurred to Xander that Wesley had discovered a whole lot of backbone over the last few weeks. It was kind of weird; Angelus had actually been good for Wesley in a sick and twisted sort of way.

Spike flashed into gameface at the accusation. “I won't bloody do that unless I have no choice. But I am not going to put my family at risk. If Angel says that reality didn't include Dawn before he left, then something is going on.”

“It is,” Angel agreed. “I won’t go to war unless my family is at risk, but if Glorificus is hiding in Dawn, we will do what we have to.”

“And here I was having moral conniptions over the idea that Spike wanted to kill some random human we didn’t know. Spike killing Dawn is way, way more conniption-worthy,” Xander muttered.

“We’ll leave that to last resort,” Spike said firmly. Angel didn’t contradict him, so Xander figured that was the best promise he was getting out of either vampire. “But if it comes down to it, we’re strong enough to take care of Glorificus and Buffy if need be. I mean, Angel was a right treat to watch in a fight, but in the good old days, I saw Angelus take on some pretty impressive blokes. If the demon gets more influence here, Angel could take the slayer.”

“Not unless I have to,” Angel said firmly.

Spike went back to pacing. “Which is why I know you’ll get the job done. Angelus always played too much, and Angel didn’t bloody know how to play at all. If you two can agree on one attack plan, we’ll take out this god,” Spike said with confidence. Xander could feel Angel shift subtly. “Price, you find anything you can on reality shifters. Send Harmony back to LA for more books if you need them.”

“Where did she—”

“How the soddin’ hell would I know? Call her phone. That’s why she has one,” Spike snapped. Then he turned toward the couch. “Sire, any preference?”

“I should send you as bait,” Angel said.

“What?” Xander looked from one to another.

Spike grinning. “I’m brilliant at it.”

“But I can’t concentrate around Dawn.” Angel looked like he was pretty disgusted with himself about that. “You stay with Dawn. She’ll want to talk to you, and if I’m not there, you can easily explain it.”

“You were acting pretty barmy, earlier,” Spike agreed. “The slayer would probably be just as happy to have you keep your distance.”

“What bait?” Xander demanded.

“Can you handle Riley?”

Spike snorted. “You’re the one who always thought he’d take things too far, Peaches. Well, that or you thought I would. I never did have a problem with Finn. We’re not two mindless lieutenants battling for our clan leaders.”

“Bait?” Xander tried again.

“I’ll take bait, then,” Angel said firmly.

“Someone had better start explaining ‘bait’ to me in small words,” Xander threatened as he wrapped his fingers around Angel’s belt. If all else failed, he was clinging to Angel like a limpet until he knew his vampires weren’t about to do something really idiotic.

“In 1889 we had a hunter on our tail, some magic user who kept spotting our lairs. We couldn’t figure out who kept sending out the mob with the torches, so we split up,” Spike explained.

“Drusilla, Darla and I each watched a church. Young William played the bait.”

Spike grinned. “And we figured out which church was sending out the mobs.”

Xander made a face. “I’m not going to like how this story ends, am I?” he asked, seriously bothered by the idea of them doing their hunting thing with Dawn.

Angel went stone-faced again. It was Spike who had to answer. “Probably not, luv, but we’re not the same vamps this time around. I’ll keep an eye on Dawn, and Angel will see if he can flush out the hell-bitch. If he can, and Dawn’s still with me, that will narrow down a few things. Either they aren’t connected or Glorificus can appear without using her avatar’s body. Information is power.” Angel was still stone-faced as Xander looked over to Wesley for some sort of backup. Hunting and Dawn should not be in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence.

“It could narrow the possibilities,” Wesley said slowly.

Xander bit his lips as he realized he was the only person in the room who wasn’t in favor of this plan. Worse, he couldn’t come up with one reason against it, other than his gut really didn’t like the idea of even suspecting Dawn. And the more he didn’t like the idea of suspecting Dawn, the more he wondered if that was a rational response. Maybe someone had stirred up his brain to make him trust Dawn when he shouldn’t. If Xander didn’t have an ulcer by the end of the week, he was going to be surprised.

“You guys better not get Dawn killed… or get yourself killed… or even get any of you significantly maimed,” Xander warned.

Spike’s grin widened, and Angel shook himself out of that stone-faced silence.

“A’choi, trust that I will act only in our best interest,” Angel promised. He stood up and pulled Xander up with him. For a while, they stood holding each other. Xander accepted the tacit promise and sent up his own little prayer. Please, God, do not make Dawn the big bad. Xander’s stomach would never survive, and Xander wasn’t sure whether Buffy would listen to any explanation if the LA crew touched one hair on Dawn’s head. Xander wasn’t sure that he could forgive either Spike or Angel if they killed Dawn, not even if it took killing her to save the world. Clearly Xander’s morals were a little rusty if he was willing to let the world burn just to protect one person, but Xander knew his own faults. He always had been a selfish bastard when it came to family.

Eventually Xander loosened his hold around Angel’s waist, and Angel stepped back and brought his hand up to cup Xander’s face. “The mansion is spelled and safe, m’fhear. Stay here. I promise I will return.”

“No worries. I’ll bring him home safe as houses,” Spike agreed with a wink.

Angel gave Spike a dirty look, and then the two of them were heading for the door, and Xander was wondering exactly when his life had taken on this particular shade of being completely and totally screwed.



60. Chapter 60

Xander shifted his weight from foot to foot. He didn’t feel bad about leaving the mansion… not even a little. However, he’d be a lot more comfortable if he could get back inside a house. Maybe the doorbell wasn’t working. Xander knocked on the door and waited impatiently. If Joyce didn’t answer soon, he was definitely going to have to rethink the whole wandering around Sunnydale at night plan.

Just when he was starting to think he would have to head back to the mansion, the lock clicked. Xander smiled, but as the door opened, that smile faded. Joyce looked gaunt and washed out, and she was answering the door in a robe at 8 pm.

“Mrs. Summers?” He could almost believe this wasn’t Joyce, but a pale imitator.

“Xander!” She smiled widely, but then she hesitated, her hand only half raised to meet him. “Oh my, how nice to see you. Why are you in town?” She stepped back, gesturing toward the house without actually issuing an invitation. Willow had told him that Buffy had finally come out to her mother on the whole vampire thing, so it was nice to see that she was being careful. It was less nice that she thought he might be a vampire. Maybe this was a bad idea.

“You look really tired. Maybe I should come back later,” he said, backing off a step.

“I’m fine. I’ve recently been in the hospital.”

“You what?” Xander’s voice cracked. He knew he didn’t have a great line to the Sunnydale gossip, but he would think that bit of information should have come up at some point.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m fine. Xander, you’re as bad as Buffy, I swear. But I want to hear everything that’s been going on in your life.”

“And you don’t want to invite me in first?” Xander guessed.

She gave him one of her motherly smiles. “Even if you are a vampire, I think I want to catch up with you, but I would rather know sooner rather than later. Besides, if you are a vampire, we definitely need a chaperone.” She stepped backwards toward her stairs, leaving the path to the living room open.

“If I were a vampire, you probably shouldn’t want to catch up with me. Catching up could involve arterial bleeding, Xander pointed out as he stepped into the house without an invitation.

“That seems to be the opinion in certain corners. Other corners seem to believe that vampires are more like hunting wild animals. Most will eat you, but there are a significant number that might choose to just have a cup of tea.” Joyce reached out and gave him a hug, but Xander could feel the weakness in her arms. It was a little freaky, because Xander always thought of Joyce as indestructible.

“Giles would be corner number one,” Xander guessed as he hugged her back carefully.

“Oh yes.” Joyce laughed and gestured him toward the living room. “You see, I had invited a man over for tea, a friend of Mr. Liam Angel. He was in the gallery and it turns out he has a very sharp eye for the abstract painters, and we had struck up a conversation.”

Xander dropped down onto the couch. “Please tell me you’re not talking about Spike, because if you’re suggesting that Spike is an art and tea sort, my brain is going to need all kinds of rearranging. Spike is a cheap vodka and rock concert sort.”

Joyce gave him a sympathetic sort of smile and sat on the other end of the couch. “I imagine when you live that long, you have time to be all sorts. But I’m afraid that Giles was quite furious when he found out Spike was coming here. Riley seemed to think that Spike’s interest came from either curiosity or a need to aggravate the life out of Buffy, and apparently our teas did that quite well when she found out.”

“Okay, that can’t have been pretty,” Xander guessed. He would love to hear that story, but Joyce was too classy to describe one of Buffy’s hissy fits. Instead she went back to talking about Spike.

“The fact is that Spike and I simply enjoyed our conversations. I am quite sure he would never have such poor manners as to eat me after we had debated the relative merits and popularity of Pollock versus Joan Mitchell.”

“Okay, that’s true. Spike is weirdly picky about who he eats.” Xander scratched the bit of skin above his ear and tried to figure out how this new piece of information fit into what he knew about Spike. Although, if Spike could discuss art well enough to impress Joyce, that actually made his relationship with Cordelia a little less totally incomprehensible. Other than incredible sex, Xander hadn’t ever been able to figure out how Spike kept her interest. When Xander had been dating her, he spent a lot of time nodding and agreeing when she talked about things like art and opera that didn’t make any sense at all. Maybe Spike was better with those sorts of conversations than Xander had been.

“So, how have you been doing in LA? I always ask Buffy about you, but lately, she’s been trying to hide something, and quite frankly, my daughter did not inherit my ability to lie.”

Xander pointed out, “She hides things good, though.”

“This I know.” Joyce shook her head and got that mother-weary look on her face. “She is an expert at hiding. But if you ask her a direct question, she can’t lie to save her life. So I know something has been going on with you.” Reaching over, Joyce put her hand on Xander’s knee. “Is it your parents?”

“Mom’s fine,” Xander quickly reassured Joyce. “She has an apartment over on Eaton.”

“And your father?” Joyce’s voice turned brittle.

Xander shrugged. “I have no idea. Once he reached the bottom of the bottle, he kinda liked it there, and I didn’t want to get between him and his one true love.”

“That man should be flogged. You’re turning out to be a wonderful young man, Xander, and he doesn’t deserve such a good son. Don’t worry about him.” Joyce gave him a few more pats on the knee before she leaned back.

“I’m not,” Xander admitted. “I mean, after three therapists telling me that my dad’s issues are his and not mine, I think I finally understand that he just needs to live his own life.”

“Well that sounds very mature. So, you’re not having a hard time with your family?”

“Not so much.”

“Then… Xander, Buffy has been extremely worried about you.”

“Yeah, well that might be because Angel lost his soul for a little bit, and Angel without a soul is not like Spike without a soul.” Xander thought about that for a second. Actually, when Spike first showed up in Sunnydale, all threats and worried about Drusilla and grabbing Xander on the street and nearly giving him a heart attack, Spike without the soul really had been a lot like Angelus. Spike had mellowed. Angelus, not so much.

“Xander?” Joyce prompted him.

He shrugged. “Angel without a soul is more of the hunting tiger than the laid back lazy lion Spike can be. I mean, if you keep Spike entertained, I’m not sure he wants to bother killing people. Not unless he’s hungry.” Or trying to impress someone, but Xander left that one off. Discussions of Spike’s need to impress others led to orphanages and nuns and railroad spikes, but Joyce really didn’t need to hear any of that.

“Angel was more dangerous then? Did he hurt someone?” Joyce leaned forward, her expression caught somewhere between worried and furious.

“Lots of someones, but mostly the someones involved were demons who didn’t give him the respect he thought he deserved. That and the demons that had the money he wanted or the demons that owned books he coveted or the demons that got in his path. I mean, he ate people too, but I’m not sure he actually went out of his way to hunt anyone. He just ate whoever was there. But the demon community… oh, they will not be forgetting this visit from the soulless one for a very, very long time.” Xander made a face. He should feel good about the number of demons and vamps and other random baddies who’d died in the last few weeks, but he really wasn’t.

“So he was more of a tiger compared to Spike’s lion,” Joyce summarized for him. “And where were you through all this?”

Xander sighed. Seriously, he’d just wanted to catch up with Joyce, to sit and drink hot cocoa and remember when she’d been more of a mother to him than his own. He wanted to remember who he’d been when he’d been sixteen and hanging out in this same living room, back before things got so complicated. Now he was just dragging the complicated into her living room. He officially sucked.

“Mostly, running. There at the end, though, I guess I realized that I’d rather be with Angelus than running from him.”

Joyce leaned back and gave Xander a long, worried look. “Even though he’s a tiger?”

And that was pretty much the center of the problem. Xander knew how dark Angelus’ moods were. He knew how much Angelus loved him the way you might love a favorite stuffed toy. And now Angelus got equal control over the body with Angel. Last night, during the sex, Xander could feel the difference… even before he got Angel to explain things, he knew that Angelus was much more present than before the whole soul-ripping thing Jenny had done.

“That’s big with the psychologically unhealthy, huh?”

“I don’t know. Did he hurt you?”

“Physically… nope,” Xander answered easily.


Xander wondered why he’d come here. Joyce was very mothering, and these were definitely mother type questions, but they weren’t questions Xander wanted to answer. He wasn’t sure they were things he could answer.

“Xander?” Joyce’s voice was soft.

“I’m dealing with it.”

“With what?”

Xander picked at the hem of his shirt. “Have you ever loved someone, but you were pretty sure their love for you didn’t include a whole lot of respect?”

“Ah.” Joyce moved closer. “That would be my ex-husband. If I couldn’t make money, then my work wasn’t important. I shouldn’t want my own life; I should stay home and make it easier for him to go out and make more and more money by fixing fancy dinners for his business clients. And if I couldn’t even manage to do that, he wasn’t sure exactly what use I was. He might have loved me.” She paused. “I know he loved me. He just didn’t have two cents’ worth of respect for me.”

“It sounds like you married Angelus,” Xander said. It really did except instead of money, for Angelus it was about killing.

For heavy seconds, silence fell on the room. “I divorced Hank,” Joyce said softly.

“Not really an option for me,” Xander said.

“Is he forcing you to stay?” Joyce’s voice grew suddenly sharp, and Xander could tell she was ready to pick up a stake and go confront Angel herself, if she had to. And the truth was that if he tried to leave, Angel probably would come after him. Actually, after Anyaka’s cryptic comment about Angel not being able to leave and the mess when Angel came up to Sunnydale without him, Xander figured he was magically screwed if he wanted a divorce. Royally, magically screwed. But that wasn’t really an issue because he didn’t want a divorce.

“No. I mean, if this were about trying to get away, that’d be easy. But I love him, which complicates things.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s healthy to stay with him.”

“And if it were just Angelus, I would be right there with a ‘woo hoo’ for that. But the soul is back.”

“So, he’s Angel again?” Now Joyce looked confused. That was fair since Xander’s feelings were pretty damn mixed up.

“He’s sort of a mixed up version of both. The first curse gave the soul all the power, but this new curse… it’s a little more about power-sharing.” Xander shrugged. He didn’t have answers… just lots and lots of questions.

“And who’s in charge?”

“They have to agree or the body gets sort of stuck.”

“That sounds… well, painful,” Joyce said, her mouth twisting into a grimace.

“So far, pretty much,” Xander agreed. “I mean, they’re both on board with killing the hell-god roaming Sunnydale—”

“The what?!” Joyce’s back went stiff.

“The hell-god,” Xander said slowly, suddenly not sure that he should have said anything. Crap. Obviously Joyce was not totally in the know. “Not that it’s a big deal. She’s a really small hell-god, from what I hear.” Xander held up two fingers to show how small, but Joyce’s eyes just narrowed more. “Not that I’ve seen her. Because I haven’t. Non-fighters are definitely sidelined for—” Xander stopped and bit his tongue. He was officially an idiot. If Joyce was just out of the hospital, Buffy might have good reason for keeping her loop-minimal.

“A hell-god. Buffy is fighting a hell god?”

“A small one,” Xander said with a cringe. “And hey, she asked for help, so she’s got the army and Spike and Angel. And personally, I would bet on Spike and Angel winning because those two are kinda scary when they’re on the same side, and can I just say how very happy I am that it’s our side?”

“She’s fighting a hell-god.” Joyce seemed to be gritting her teeth, and her pale skin was pinking up nicely. Oh yeah, Xander had definitely poked the hornet’s nest this time. He’d be avoiding Buffy for the next decade or two.

“Can I be honest here?”

Joyce’s anger seemed to vanish like a popped balloon. “Of course you can,” Joyce assured him. “I have always respected your honesty. Even when you were lying about Angel being a vampire, and your boyfriend, you always told the truth about him being important to you. You’re an honest person.”

Xander frowned as he thought back. The only time Joyce had met Angel was the party that turned out to be lime-Jello hell. “Actually, back then we weren’t boyfriends. He was trying to figure out if he was my friend or my father or something weirdly stalkerish but in a caring way, and I was chasing girls.”

“Oh.” Joyce frowned. “Really?”

“Yep. We had this whole drama in LA when he figured out I liked guys. He thought that liking guys might be some sort of soul-killing sin and he tried really hard to get me to give up the being gay.”

For a second, Joyce blinked, her mouth half-open. “But, if you two are together, doesn’t that mean he’s—”

“Totally and completely gay,” Xander agreed. “Only he’s dated girls too, so maybe mostly gay. However, he was doing this weird thing where it was okay for him to go to hell, but I was supposed to be perfect or something.”

“Oh.” Now Joyce was back to looking confused, but that was better than having her furious. “Okay, so what did you want to be honest about?”

“You’re looking a little….” Xander let his voice trail off. He wasn’t sure how to say it politely.

“Run down?” Joyce guessed.

“Like a truck hit you, backed up, and then hit you three more times,” Xander agreed. “I’m guessing Buffy didn’t tell you because she didn’t want you worrying, only now I’ve gone and told you, so please don’t worry or Buffy is going to kill me.”

Joyce looked at him a little the way Spike looked at him after Xander had said something particularly stupid. It was a sort of exasperation mixed with fondness. “I always worry, Xander. My daughter is the chosen one who is supposed to stand up against the forces of evil. I think I inherited a right to worry when she became the slayer.”

“Yeah, and it probably doesn’t help that Dawn is hitting those fun, fun teenage years, huh?”

Joyce got an odd expression on her face, and Xander frowned. “Joyce?”

“It’s nothing,” she said with a wave of her hand before she pressed the fingers to her forehead. “Just a headache. The doctors said I’m going to have them for a while.”

“Maybe you should see another doctor, someone who could do something to make you feel better.”

“I’ve been to three doctors, including one at Riley’s base. They all agree that the brain is traumatized by the tumor and I need time to heal.”

Xander bit his lip. Doctors knew way more than he did, but he didn’t like the color of Joyce’s skin. He really didn’t like that she didn’t seem to have enough energy to keep being mad at Buffy because from what Xander remembered, Joyce Summers had all sorts of energy for that.

“Xander, are you okay?” Joyce asked, completely startling Xander. He was supposed to be worrying about her, not the other way around.

“Yeah. I mean, the stuff with the demon getting equal control is a little freaky because I have Angelus-issues, but the fact is that I love both Angel and Angelus, and we’ll work this out. Angelus doesn’t get to emotionally rip me to little pieces any more. Not that he ever meant to. That’s the thing about Angelus, he actually wants family and respect, which are two good things, but his idea of how to get them is a little on the wacky side.”

“Xander, I meant physically. Are you okay?” Joyce reached over and grabbed Xander’s arm, and Xander realized he’d been jerking it back and forth like he was trying to carve a really tough Thanksgiving turkey. Xander stared down at his arm in confusion.

“Um, maybe,” he said. “I… that’s not normal.”

“No, it’s not,” Joyce agreed. She took her hand away, and Xander did one more jerk before he consciously forced his limb to stay still. “Maybe I should call a doctor.” She didn’t sound too sure about that.

Standing up, Xander moved to the middle of the room. “Yeah, I’ve been having some weirdness go on, and I’m not sure it’s the kind of weirdness a doctor deals with.”

“Weirdness?” Joyce stood up and moved to his side, but Xander flinched away. “Xander?”

Xander shook his head. Now that he was paying attention to his own body instead of Joyce, he could feel the tension building steadily. Something was wrong.

“Xander, tell me who I should call,” Joyce urged him. Xander headed for the bottom of the stairs and gripped the railing as a wave of fury rolled through him. “Xander?”

Gritting his teeth, Xander fought down an urge to scream at Joyce, to hit her. Hitting Joyce was on the ‘no’ list. Forever on the ‘no’ list. And yet, he could feel the sweat gather along his spine as his body fought him to do just that.

“I’m calling Buffy,” Joyce said, and Xander didn’t argue. She turned toward the phone, and Xander turned around and eyed the door. Something was out there. Something big.

“Stay in the house,” Xander growled. Just as Joyce started to turn, Xander raced for the door, threw it open and ran out into the darkness.

“Xander!” Joyce screamed from behind him, but Xander ran. North. Always north. Something was north of him, and he wanted to rip and shred and tear it limb from limb.



61. Chapter 61

A figure ran behind him, and Xander snarled at the intruder.

“Hey, mister, I’m trying to help. You have to go back to the mansion,” Harmony complained. She had a cellphone in her hand, and she tripped as she tried to run at his side and dial at the same time. Xander ignored her. She wasn’t important.

“Spike! Spike, Xander is running, and Angel’s not answering his phone.”

There was a pause, and Xander leaped to the top of a low brick wall and paused for a second, listening to the night. Power. He could feel power running under his skin. Power from the land, rising like a mist, and power from the north.

“I know that!” Harmony complained with a whine. “But he’s really fast.”

She stopped at the bottom of the wall. “Come down here right now, mister. Spike’s pissed at you, and he wants to talk to you.”

Xander growled at Harmony, enjoying the little squeak she gave before he leaped down on the far side of the cemetery wall and starting running down the rows of gravestones lined up like soldiers.

“Xander!” Harmony yelled. He could tell from the grunting and scraping sounds that she was following, but he didn’t care. North. He had to get north.

“I’m trying!” Harmony cried out.

“Well, he’s not acting human!”

“That’s what I told him!”

Xander ignored Harmony’s one-sided conversation, all his attention focused forward. A vampire lurked behind a mausoleum crypt, and Xander took a second to snarl at the intruder. The vampire had a few years on him, but he just stared with wide eyes, not even trying to stop Xander.

“North, through Restful Days cemetery. Spike, he’s growling at strange vampires.”

“I did not!” she protested loudly after another pause. A hand brushed over Xander’s arm, and he threw it up to dislodge the alien touch. He wouldn’t be stopped. “Xander!” Harmony yelled in the sort of voice she might use if he wore stripes with a Hawaiian shirt.

“Spike, he isn’t listening.” That was a whine.

Now Xander could hear Spike’s voice through the tinny speaker in the microphone. “You bloody stop him or I’ll turn you into a pile of soddin’ dust.”

“I’m trying! He’s really fast.”

“You’re a bloody vampire. You’re faster. Now I don’t care if you have to sit on him, stop him!”

Harmony’s hands clawed at him, and Xander whirled around, snarling before he landed a punch in the middle of Harmony’s face. Her body flew back, hair going everywhere, and Xander had one brief flare of guilt before he turned and started heading north again.

“Bloody hell, was that him?” he heard through the phone, but then Xander started running, the sound of his heart drowning out everything else as he ran and ran. Power… he could taste it like a sour grape on his tongue, cold and slimy and bitter enough to make his lips curl back in disgust.

Xander heard the fight before he could see it, the heavy thump of flesh against flesh, the grunts of pain and the sharp cracks as things broke.

“Hey, that was my dress!” a loud voice complained. A familiar growl answered her. Xander came over the hill and found Angel, on one knee with a hand braced against the earth. A woman… a monster… in a red dress with a torn hem stood several feet in front of him, and all around were the broken bits that used to be a playground. The teeter totter lay in three long pieces, the merry-go-round had been knocked off its center, and four of the five swings were a tangle of chains lying on the ground.

Xander snarled as he saw the enemy, and he threw himself forward. There was a flicker of something in Angel, and his concentration slipped. The woman chose that moment to throw herself forward, her hand coming around in a swiping motion like some old Hollywood movie star. In other circumstances it would be comical gesture. It was a ridiculous open-handed woman-slap. What wasn't funny was that Angel flew six or seven feet to the side before crumpling to the dust. She might not have good fighting form, but she had power behind her hits.

Before his conscious mind could even point out the fact that anything that could take Angel down could take him down, Xander found his hands closing around her neck. The woman gazed at him with a sort of dismissive annoyance. Almost casually, she backhanded him. Xander could feel the force of her blow as his head snapped back. His left hand completely lost its grip, but with his right hand, he caught her hair even as his body flopped to the side. Closing his fist as tightly as he could, he pulled her down into the dust with him.

“How dare you,” she hissed. Shoving at him, she easily stood up again. However, Angel had time to recover. Xander watched as Angel tackled her from behind. Her arms flew out to the side as she landed face first on the ground, and for a second, it looked like Angel had really hurt her.

Angel stood up, a low growl still rumbling from his chest, and she lay on the ground with her arms flopped out to the sides. She looked like Harmony two seconds after Harmony had bothered Spike one too many times.

Then she sighed. Loudly. “Okay, people, this is not acceptable. I want my key.” Turning over slowly, she pulled her feet under her and brushed at her dress in annoyance. “Who has my key?” She demanded in the tone of voice that Cordelia had once used when looking for her cheerleaders after they had run off. The voice was equal parts annoyed and homicidal.

The woman climbed to her feet and glared first at Angel and then Xander. Xander could feel the growl rise in his own chest. She was enemy. She was power. He wanted to rip her to shreds and leave her bloody body in pieces scattered across the ground.

For the first time, she seemed to really look at them. “Well this is interesting. You’re new. Do you have my key?” When neither of them answered, she rolled her eyes. “Why do I even bother asking?” she said wearily. She started advancing slowly toward Angel, her hands reaching out for him. Something was wrong. She was going to do something, and Xander knew that in the pit of his stomach. Angel did too, because he started backing away, his hands coming up in a defensive posture.

“I dunna have your key, but if it's a key your wanting, I can find you plenty.” Xander knew that tone of voice. That was the tone of voice that Angelus had used to try and negotiate with Anyakana, which hadn't actually worked out all that well.

“I don't need plenty. I need one,” she said. She stopped, and for a half-second, Xander thought she was going to stamp her foot like a five-year old. “I need my key. I'm going to find where those monks put my key.” She reached out for Angel, but he jerked himself back out of range. Still not understanding exactly what this woman was trying to do, Xander picked up one of the long boards from the teeter totter. Angel spotted him and gave a small nod, and Xander slung the board as hard as he could. It was a huge chunk of wood, and it seemed to fly in slow motion straight toward Glory's head.

It hit with a dull thunking sound, and she stumbled forward. For a second, all of them froze. However, she didn't fall to the ground. With infinitely slow movement, she reached up and ran her fingers though her hair to straighten it out. Whatever she was, she wasn't human. Of course, being that she was a god that was kind of implied.

“Now you're just annoying me,” she said as she looked over at Xander. Hitting her in the head with a hundred pounds of solid wood had annoyed it. It was a little emasculating.

“That's funny I thought you were already annoyed,” Xander answered.

She narrowed her eyes, and now she started advancing toward Xander. Xander scrambled backwards. He might feel a murderous fury in his heart, but he had even more stark cold terror in there. She could kill him. He knew that for a fact.

“You best be leaving him alone,” Angel warned darkly, and that voice was all Angelus. Picking up one of the chains from a fallen swing, he started twirling it. The chain whistled as it spun through the air, and Glory stopped. Turning slightly, she angled her body so that she could look over Angel.

“Are you challenging me?”

Angelus smirked. That was a dangerous expression coming from him. Slowly, he looked her up and down, still swinging the chain. “Yes.” With that, he swung the chain at her. It caught her around the neck, and the momentum swung chain around until it wrapped around her. She gave a startled squeak, the sort that Harmony might, and then Angel jerked the chain. She flew forward, her feet leaving the ground.

Xander opened his mouth to call out a warning as her hand came up in a fist. However, before she could land the blow, Angelus had already darted around the other side of a tree. He jerked the chain again, and now Xander could see his plan. He was hoping to chain her to the tree. Xander ran and grabbed one of the other chains; however, before he could join the fight, Glory planted her heels in the ground and jerked back. The chain snapped, and broken links flew off. He could hear several of them making tinking noises as they hit the metal playground equipment.

“Now I'm really upset,” Glory complained as she ripped the chain off of her neck. She tried brushing her dress off, but it was stained and dirty and torn. Slowly, she looked up at them – first Angel and then Xander. Oh yeah, she planned to turn them into little bloody splotches on the ground. Bigger and scarier things than her head tried, though. Xander dropped into a crouch and glanced at Angel to see if he had a plan.

“Bloody hell, I can't let you to go anywhere, can I?” Spike bolted out of a car that had just pulled up to the curb, leaving the door open behind him.

“William,” Angel said with the sort of enthusiasm that suggested that the demon was getting to come out and play.

Spike broke stride for a split second, but he recovered quick enough. “Angel,” he offered. Most of the time, Spike was more likely to use “Peaches” or “Ducks” or even “Luv” when he talked to Angel, so Xander was guessing Spike knew he was dealing with the demon.

“So, is anyone invited to this fight?”

Xander had been so distracted by Spike that he hadn’t noticed Buffy and Riley getting out of the car. Riley had a big old gun in hand, and Buffy was twirling her favorite stake.

“You,” Glory said, and from the tone, she’d had more than one run-in with Buffy. Buffy usually left demons feeling a little cranky.

“Yep, me. I did warn you that if you didn’t get out of town I was going to slay you. I warned her, right?” Buffy said, turning to Riley for confirmation.

“You did,” Riley agreed, the perfect straight man for her act.

“I knew it,” Buffy said. “I mean, with all the college papers, sometimes I forget things, but I was almost certain that I had offered to kick your scrawny ass.”

Glory just gave a sniff. She might have had something nasty and witty to say, but Angel picked up the board that Xander had thrown earlier, and swung it like a bat. It caught Glory on the back and threw her forward. That probably wasn’t enough to hurt her, but Spike leaped in, meeting her face with his boot. Glory’s head snapped around, but before Spike could retreat, she’d punched him in the face. With a snarl he tumbled back and Buffy leaped in, trading kicks.

For a time, Spike and Buffy traded off the close-fighting with Angel landing some heavy hits when he saw an opening and Riley unloading two clips, and there must have been at least fifteen or twenty shots in each clip. However, despite all the firepower, Glory’s dress seemed more rumpled than she did. Xander moved in closer. He could see Buffy starting to tire, and Angel looked like he’d taken a lot of hits before the rest of them had even shown up. He was favoring one side, and he kept his right arm pulled in close, so Xander was guessing it was a big ‘no’ on him wearing the Gem of Amara. Idiot. Even Spike was starting to look a little frayed around the edges. Glory had caught his coat at one point, which had forced Spike to shrug out of it before she could pin him down. And yet, despite the fact that three of the strongest people on earth were pounding on her, she kept getting back up. She was definitely getting back up faster than the rest of them. Sheer stubbornness seemed to be the only thing keeping Spike in the fight. In fact, he’d gotten tossed into the remains of the merry-go-round, and he cursed as he struggled to get himself untangled from the twisted and broken bits.

Then Glory backhanded Buffy so hard that Buffy flew a good twenty feet backwards and Riley was still working to get a new clip in his gun. Seeing that no one else was in position to cover Riley, Xander lunged at Glory.

“M'fhear,” Angel bellowed in a very cranky voice.

Xander went for an ungraceful full-body tackle, but he did manage to take Glory to the ground before he rolled away. He was on his knees when something that felt like a jackhammer caught him in the stomach, and he flew backward. His body struggled for every breath. He felt hands grabbing at him, and Xander flailed for the two seconds it took him to realize that Angel was grabbing him, dragging him away from the fight while Spike rained Glory with a series of blindingly fast strikes. That lasted seconds before Glory backhanded Spike so hard that his whole body seemed to come unjointed as it flew in a jumble of limbs across the field. However, this time, Angel roared and charged straight at her. She met him with a fist, but that didn’t do more than take Angel to one knee before he started trading blows with her.

At one point, she got Angel down on the ground, and Xander moved closer, only to have a badly beaten Spike grab him by one arm. However, Riley stepped up and put a good twenty bullets right into Glory’s head. It didn’t stop her, but it sure made her cranky, and by the time she’d finished glaring at Riley, Angel was up again and Buffy had rejoined the fight. Both Angel and Buffy traded punches with her until Glory finally seemed to slow.

Just when Xander expected Angel to go in for the kill, Angel turned, his eyes searching for Xander. When he found Xander, he moved unsteadily closer. Xander shrugged Spike’s hands off and ran to Angel. Bones stuck out at odd angles in his right arm and he was limping so badly that when Xander reached him, Angel actually leaned his weight into Xander as if he couldn’t hold himself up one more second. “M’fhear,” Angel whispered. Xander could hear the pain and the fear and the exhaustion and the love all poured into that word.

“Angel.” Wrapping his arms around Angel’s waist, Xander held on tightly. As soon as Xander stopped shaking in fear, he was going to take the Gem of Amara and superglue it to Angel’s fucking finger.

“Bloody hell,” Spike breathed as the sounds of the fight stilled. Xander looked around Angel to see Buffy and Riley standing over a very human looking guy with feathered hair that had definitely come out of another decade.

“Ben?” Buffy asked softly.

“I… She’s too powerful. I can’t stop her.” The man on the ground sounded utterly anguished, and Xander looked around for Glory, but they were definitely one hellgod short of a hellgod.

“What…?” Xander didn’t get to finish.

“We found the bloody avatar, and it’s not Dawn,” Spike said. “Right then, kill him and be done with it,” Spike shouted at Buffy and Riley. Xander wasn’t all that surprised when both looked over at Spike without doing any killing. Spike was never going to understand the concept of moral dilemmas, that’s for sure.

“We don’t kill humans,” Buffy complained, and then she actually turned her back on Ben and started walking toward them. “Besides, we’re supposed to be chasing down Glory.”

Xander frowned and looked from Angel to Spike, but both vampires looked just as confused as he was. Riley actually held out a hand and helped this Ben up from the ground before he holstered his weapon and turned his back on him. Xander’s mouth fell open. However, Ben seemed to take it all in stride as he turned and ran toward the hill.

“He…. She…. But…. He…. Buffy!” Xander spluttered.

“What?” Buffy demanded. “Okay that was strange. Did anyone else think that was strange?”

“You letting the bad guy walk away, yeah, that’s much with the strange,” Xander complained.

Spike was even more upset as he glared at Riley. “You bloody tosser. I can't soddin’ believe you let him go. This is not a fucking Sunday School people.”

“What? Who?” Riley asked, clearly confused.

Xander opened his mouth, but this was too Twilight Zone, even for him.

“You will track that man down right now,” Angel just about growled. Xander wrapped his fingers around Angel's arm. He wasn't sure he wanted Angel tracking the guy down, not when Angel was this beat up.

“And do what?” Buffy asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Kill him,” Spike snapped when Angel didn’t answer. Actually, Angel was pretty much frozen. Xander could feel Angel's body stiffen, the muscles go hard as the soul and the demon locked each other inside so they could privately rage at each other about who owned the body. Since Xander was having some not-good feelings about the idea of killing the human who’d been stuck playing avatar for Glorificus, he could imagine Angel and Angelus weren’t exactly agreeing on how to handle this.

“Kill who?” Riley asked, and there was the Twilight Zone.

“Ben,” Spike snapped.

“Why would we kill Ben?” Buffy looked honestly confused.

Spike looked from Buffy to Riley for a second before turning to look at Xander.

Xander shifted so that he kept one arm around Angel and support his weight. “Hey, I’m morally questionable on the killing of Ben front, but I’m all in favor of tracking him down before Glory comes back,” Xander agreed.

“Glory? What does Ben have to do with Glory?” Buffy asked as she got that odd little wrinkle between her eyes. “Sometimes you don’t make all that much sense, Xander.”

“He’s probably just upset about Angel. Actually, both of you look worse for the wear,” Riley said with some sympathy as he looked from Spike to Angel. Xander could have told him that sympathy was not the right approach. Both vampires growled.

“Make that three of us. My hurts hurt,” Buffy complained softly. Riley slipped an arm around her and started urging her toward the car. “Xander, are you okay? I mean, she actually hit you.”

“I’m not exactly breakable,” Xander complained. This is why he’d left Sunnydale. It was like Buffy and Willow expected him to always be a fifteen year old boy bumbling through life. He could fight. True, he couldn’t fight as well as Angel and Spike, but that pretty much described 99.9% of the world. “Are we going to talk about the fact that Glory is living inside this Ben guy?”

Riley and Buffy both stopped and looked at him funny. “Ben from the hospital?” Buffy asked.

Angel growled softly and Spike muttered darkly as he went to grab his coat off the ground.

“Um, yeah… if that’s the Ben that just came popping out when you guys beat the snot out of Glory.”

“Ben is Glory?” Buffy looked honestly shocked. Spike might even call the expression gobsmacked.

It took Xander’s brain a second to translate the odd Twilight Zone conversation. “Yes. Now can we chase Ben down?”

The shock faded from Buffy’s face, only to be replaced with confusion. “Why?”

Xander might have kept going but Spike interrupted. “Don’t bother, pet. Someone’s mojo’ed her.”

“Who? Me? I am not mojoed. And that would be magically screwed with for those who aren’t used to Spike’s bad English,” Buffy translated for Riley as they headed for the car again.

“Oi, at least I know a noun from a bloody adjective, ya brainless….”

“Spike,” Angel said wearily. Spike went back to that under-his-breath muttering.

“Wait, they really don’t remember?” Xander asked softly.

Angel looked up at Buffy and Riley. They were still close, but neither of them seemed to be interested in the hill where Ben had run for his life. “They don’t,” Angel said wearily.

“We should have expected the bloody mojo,” Spike said wearily.

Riley glanced over his shoulder. “Does Glory have some sort of magical power you guys know about?”

“No fair keeping the good intel to yourself,” Buffy added.

“She… um….” Xander looked at Spike and Angel. Spike was already striding toward the hill, or maybe that was more of a plodding. He was definitely having some trouble walking. “She can disguise herself, stop people from remembering having seen her or her avatar,” Xander explained. Buffy and Riley had stopped their slow retreat to the car and both were looking at him with the sort of weary resignation he remembered from his research days in the library. That was the face you made when you figured out you were trying to kill something really big and hugely nasty as opposed to normal sized big and moderately nasty.

“That makes sense,” Riley finally agreed with a sigh. Xander bit his tongue before he blurted out the rest. Clearly if he told them that Ben was Glory, they were going to go all weirdly amnesiac on him again.

“Okay, I am so tired of that woman getting all the good powers,” Buffy said as she rubbed her neck. “Can I hit her really, really hard?”

“I think you just did, and she got away,” Riley said sympathetically.

“Hey, I'm just happy that it turned out that Glory's other half wasn't Dawn. That would've been big with the bad,” Xander added with a sort of fake enthusiasm. Right now, he was feeling anything but enthusiastic about this particular big bad.

“Dawn? Buffy pressed her lips into a thin line and pinned a Xander with a stare that might've killed a lesser man. However, Xander had been glared at by a lot of people, including Angel and Angelus and Spike and Cordelia. He was actually kind of getting used to it. “You thought Glory was Dawn?!” Buffy was passing furious and going straight into homicidal.

“Did I say that? I did not say that,” Xander hurried to defend himself. Angel had gone perfectly still and Spike turned around so he could watch from his spot on the hill. Buffy, however, was focused all on Xander, and that was not her happy face. “I implied it,” he admitted, “but I'm hoping we can sweep that under the rug for now.”

“And when were you planning on telling me this?”

“Pretty much never. I mean, she isn’t Glory, so, yeah, never.”

“Bloody hell, we don't work for you slayer.” Spike started limping back down the hill. “We take care of our own.”

Buffy advanced toward Spike, her finger jabbing in his direction as she left Riley’s side. “Understand this-- if by taking care of your own you plan to lay one finger on my sister, I'll turn you into a pile of dust.”

Just about the time it occurred to Xander that Buffy was definitely not joking, Angel came to life. He stepped up so that he was inches from Buffy’s face, and she fell back a step with a quick gasp. “You’ll na have the chance,” he snapped.

“Hey, I have an idea. Let's all play nice!” Xander said as he hurried to get between the two of them. Buffy had her arms bent as if ready for battle, and Riley inched closer, his hand resting on the butt of his weapon. “We're all friends here. We're friends that sometimes don't like each other, but that's kind of the way friendship goes sometimes,” Xander pointed out. “Buffy and Willow definitely didn't like me when I decided to call Giles a backstabbing two-faced librarian man, but we were still friends. And hey, we don't like her when she goes poking her finger in people's faces when she shouldn't. But we still like her in the general sense of we aren’t going to fight with her.” Xander talked as fast as he could. If Angel really decided to go for Buffy, Xander was not entirely sure how that was going to turn out, but he was pretty sure that Buffy wasn't going to win. They might both lose, but Buffy definitely wasn't going to win.

For a second, Xander was standing there with Angelus, all offense and power and homicidal urges. But then the body language shifted, the shoulders dropped and the hard lines of muscle relaxed somewhat and Angel was there in Angelus’ place.

“Buffy, don’t threaten family, not when I’m this angry and this injured,” Angel said softly. “It might not be the right choice or even a rational choice, but if you say the wrong thing when I’m this hurt and this in need of blood, we both might regret what happens.” Angel’s voice was soft, almost conciliatory, but Xander noticed that Angel wasn’t offering to back down or apologize.

“All of us are on edge,” Riley said as he brought a hand up to rest on Buffy’s shoulder. “Buffy is pretty injured, too, so I think we’re all a little irrational right now.”

Buffy had a stubborn expression on her face, but she didn’t say anything.

“I can give Wesley the location of a suckhouse, or we can request a blood supply from the base,” Riley offered. Xander had to admit that Riley had learned about dealing with offended vampires.

“We take care of our own, mate,” Spike said before Xander could ask for both.

With a nod, Riley accepted that and then he gave a small tug on Buffy’s arm. For a second, Buffy just stared at Angel and Xander, that worry line back on her face.

“Xander, I know you’re all superjuiced from the whole consort deal, but she hit you pretty hard. Have Wesley check that out, okay?” Buffy asked. The hard edge was gone from her voice, and Xander could almost feel the apology.

“Sure, Buff,” he agreed, ignoring the whole consort thing since he didn’t want to reopen that fight. She nodded and then she let Riley pull her back toward the car.



62. Chapter 62

“So, this Ben is the avatar?” Wesley brought the cup from the microwave over to Angel, but Angel gestured toward Spike.

“Seems like,” Spike agreed. He gave Angel an odd look, but he took the mug anyway. Xander had to agree that Angel was being unAngellike. He had pulled Xander so close that Xander had been forced to sit in Angel’s lap or end up on the floor. Wanting Xander on the floor sounded a lot like Angelus, but if Angelus had come out to play, that didn’t explain why Angel was nuzzling Xander’s neck. Not biting, just nuzzling. Nuzzling was more of an Angel thing, even if Angel never had been one for public displays of affection. Xander might have objected, but he was so tired that moving would require too much energy.

“So, do we attack the avatar or try and break the connection, force Glorificus out into the open?” Wesley asked as he prepared another mug of blood. While that was heating, he grabbed fried chicken out of the refrigerator and put it on the table in front of Xander and Angel.

“Thank you,” Xander said as he grabbed for a leg. He was starving.

“You’re quite welcome.”

Spike finished his blood and put the mug on the table. “Where’s Harmony?”

“She thought that absence was the better part of valor after her failure to stop Xander from his headlong rush into battle.” The microwave dinged and Wesley headed over to retrieve the blood. “But she did ensure we were well stocked before she disappeared.”

Spike snorted.

Xander decided to distract Spike before he decided to go hunt Harmony down. He owed her… he owed her even more after punching her in the face. He’d never hit a girl before. Okay, so Harmony wasn’t technically a girl, but she was close enough. “So, can we split Glory from this Ben person?”

“Who?” Wesley asked as he tried to offer Angel the second mug of blood. This time Angel didn’t even look up from Xander’s neck. Spike reached over to retrieve the second mug.

“Ben,” Xander said, and his frustration made Angel give a little growl. Wesley’s eyes went big, but he still had that blank look. This magic spell was going to get old really fast.

“Give it up, pet. That spell is going to hold until we can find someone ta take it off,” Spike said wearily.

“Spell, what spell?” Wesley took Spike’s empty mug and retreated to the sink.

“This is going to make conversations a little annoying,” Xander pointed out. Wesley was the only one who understood magic, so if they couldn’t talk to him about magic, they were pretty much screwed. Angel just got a constipated look on his face when someone mentioned magic, and Xander wouldn’t trust himself or Spike anywhere near anything magical. There was stupid and then there was flat-out suicidal.

“Would someone like to explain the situation to me so I can share in the annoyance?” Wesley asked, and he sounded pretty damn frustrated already.

“Theoretically,” Spike said slowly, “it seems like Glory has her avatar hidden by some sort of spell that keeps people from remembering the identity of the human, even when they see her change or get told the truth straight out.”

“Oh dear.” Wesley leaned against the counter. “I take it that this is not as much theoretical as a way to avoid having the spell erase my memories again?”

“Maybe,” Spike admitted.

Xander sat up straight, and Angel made an unhappy little grumble before pulling him closer.

“Pet?” Spike asked.

Xander sighed. “First, the Angel weirdness is getting a little too weird, but putting that on the back burner, I have an even bigger problem. Why do I remember that Glory is Ben?”

“Ben? Ben who?” Wesley asked.

“None of your bloody business,” Spike snapped, most of his attention still on Xander. “And I can’t say I know, pet.”

“I’m still human, right?” Xander asked. After two rounds of growling and having fantasies of pulling people apart with his hands, Xander was starting to have a doubt or two.

“You still smell human enough,” Spike said, which wasn’t exactly a rousing endorsement.

“Yer human,” Angel added. He started with little kisses down the side of Xander’s neck, and Xander’s cock did very embarrassing things in his pants. Xander was just happy that none of the girls were around. Faith would tease him, and Harmony would probably ask to join in about two seconds before someone backhanded her into a wall. They weren’t exactly the poster children for function family life or domestic non-violence.

“Angel, think about this,” Xander said, shifting as his cock grew harder. He was a little large to fit into a lap comfortably, and with his growing problem, it was getting uncomfortable. “No human can remember the name of Glory’s human half because of a spell. I’m totally okay at remembering the whole thing. Therefore that implies I have some non-human bits going on. And actually, that’s freaking me out a whole lot less that it might have five years ago, but I’m still wondering what the hell is going on.”

“I would think the answer to that was obvious,” Wesley said in that superior tone Xander had always resented when Wesley or Giles used it.

“Obvious? Spit it out, then,” Spike warned, and Xander suddenly remembered how much Spike had hated Wesley back then. Completely hated Wesley. Homicidally, even, and Spike didn’t have a friendly look on his face right now. Wesley went a little green around the gills, but he straightened up and kept his gaze on Spike.

“As a consort, Xander is not entirely human.”

“Oh bloody hell,” Spike complained loudly, “not this rot again.”

Angel finally gave up Xander’s neck long enough to frown at Wesley. “Consorts are a myth, a legend made up by a vampire to bed some woman,” Angel said.

“And trick a whole lot of Watchers. Do you lot believe everything you read?” Spike demanded. “Bloody idiots.”

Wesley stiffened, but he didn’t drop his gaze. “The evidence—”

“Doesn’t exist,” Spike cut him off.

“Perhaps not before Xander,” Wesley said, and his gaze flicked back toward Angel as if looking for permission to keep going.

“Wait, are you saying that…. Actually, I don’t know what you’re saying,” Xander interrupted himself in the middle when he realized that he didn’t know what Wesley was even getting at. Angel and Spike had both agreed that consorts were myths. A vampire got its power from a demon, and the demon couldn’t take over without a person dying, so vampire powers were pretty much limited to vampires. After many long conversations back in Sunnydale, Xander had made two definite conclusions. First, Giles was pretty much an idiot when it came to anything the Watchers wrote down. If some guy in the fifth century had written that a Watcher had to wear purple feathers and jump up and down on one leg every seventh full moon, Giles would be out there, feathers and all. True, he’d do it because he loved Buffy, so that made it kinda admirable, but he was still an idiot. Second, vampires really were manipulative bastards. After living with Spike and Angel for so long, Xander knew first hand that both his vampires could be a little on the overbearing and devious side; however, the vampire who’d made up the consort myth just to get in some witch’s bed had definitely won the slime of the century award. Maybe he was just too tired to get his brain to put all the pieces together. It wasn’t like is brain was all that good at connecting random bits under the best of circumstances—at least not with stuff like this.

“I am suggesting,” Wesley said with a sort of false calm and a sideways glance at Spike, “that you are showing every classical sign of being a consort. You are psychically linked to your master, you know when he is in trouble, you have speed and strength greater than a human. While I would not recommend you go up against any demons, Harmony said that you hit much harder than a human would.”

“You’re talking about Harmony,” Xander pointed out. “I’m pretty sure my Grandmother Lavelle could take her down, and my grandmother is not the forever young and strong sort of old. She’s just old.”

“Be that as it may, you have shown some new characteristics since the soul returned.”

Spike’s scowl had turned into something more thoughtful, and that was freaking Xander out more than the cranky-face from before. Angry Spike was normal; thoughtful Spike was terrifying.

“You think I’m a consort? When consorts don’t actually exist? Why not just call me a unicorn or something more interesting?” Xander tried joking.

“Angel’s wounds are healing despite the fact that he hasn’t taken blood. You are eating huge amounts of food. Both are signs that he is drawing more on the demon, using its healing powers and drawing the energy to do so from you.”

“I’m…” Angel suddenly sat up and shoved himself back so fast that Xander nearly fell on the floor. “I’m taking his energy?” The look of utter panic was all Angel, but Xander felt a warm fuzzy feeling that Angelus cared enough to not veto signs of sponateous love and concern.

“I’m tired, not dying.” Xander caught Angel’s arms and held on. For a moment, Angel froze as he and Angelus had some internal debate.

“All the literature suggests that this cannot hurt the consort. The power sharing is simply a way to transmit human energy without the need to feed, although the literature also suggests that feeding and sex are used by the master vampire to both strengthen the bond and to generate excess energy, which he can then use—”

“All of which doesn’t change the fact that consorts are a soddin’ myth,” Spike cut him off.

“They were,” Wesley agreed. “I have read a number of demon texts which consider the topic somewhat of a joke—a social commentary on the worthlessness of the Watcher’s research system.”

“Because they are a bloody joke,” Spike muttered, but Wesley didn’t even bother to get upset at the insult.

“However, the symptoms all fit, including the fact that Angel could go up against a hellgod and fight her single-handed for so long before backup could arrive.”

“The Gem of Amara—” Spike started to say.

Angel cut him off. “She broke it.”

Spike’s mouth fell open.

“She recognized the Gem and tore it off my hand before I realized what she was trying to do.” Angel’s jaw clenched as he made that admission. “I had to fight her without the gem.”

Spike stood up so fast that the sent the chair flying backwards where it slammed into the wall and crumbled into three uneven pieces. However, Spike ignored the mess as he pulled out a cigarette. “So, we lost our single biggest weapon. Good job with that Peaches. Do you want to do anything else to hamstring us? Ya want to give her our address?”

Before Xander could blink, he found himself carefully and quickly tossed to the top of the table before Angel lunged forward, caught Spike by the neck and drove him back into the wall so hard that several glasses on the counter fell over, one shattering as it rolled off the counter altogether.

“Enough,” Angel growled. Spike watched with yellow eyes, but he didn’t argue. “How exactly could Xander become a consort when I don’t know of any magic that could perform such a rite, and I did no spell?” Angel demanded as he turned his glare on Wesley.

“I… um… well, that is to say….” Wesley was saved from stuttering himself to death when Angel growled and then promptly turned into a giant Angel-statue.

The unspoken threat got the words to come out of Wesley, though. “We know that Anyanka has the power to create entire dimensions, new worlds with twisted rules to fit the curse she’s fulfilling for her client. We also know that Xander’s mother wished for Xander to find his equivalent of the fairy tale love story, the happily ever after.”

“And she thought turning me into a demon consort was the happy ending?” Xander asked as he slid off the table. He really did feel weak, but now that he really looked at Angel, he could see that the horribly broken arm had set and the worst of the gashes had closed. Without blood, and lots of it, Angel shouldn’t have been able to heal.

“For a demon, human frailty and the short lifespan are rather formidable obstacles to happiness. Perhaps she truly believed that you could only be happy if you had some way to overcome these human weaknesses.” Wesley grimaced. “Perhaps she was simply twisting the spell in order to get some revenge for being forced to fulfill a wish that ended with men being happy rather than eviscerated. I cannot comment on the motivations of a wish demon.”

“But it means that she spelled Xander,” Angel said. He took a step back from Spike, still watching with a nasty glare, but Spike stayed quiet. Unlike Harmony, Spike knew when to avoid Angelus’ temper. “And I’ve stolen his strength to heal.” Angel clenched his teeth as he looked over at Xander. Angel might have more of the demon’s temper, but clearly he’d kept all his own guilt.

“Actually, you share strength. Most of the time, that means he gets more strength from having this connection. However, when you’re injured….”

“I steal his strength,” Angel finished. “I willna do that.” Angel’s voice was soft and thick with guilt, but the Irish lilt suggested that Angel wasn’t the only one feeling that sentiment.

“Hey, I get to eat as much as I want without getting fat. This is a good thing,” Xander pointed out as he grabbed another piece of fried chicken. “Calories good.”

For the length of time it took Xander to blink, Angel had another of those statue moments. In a fraction of a second, it passed. “Call Harmony. I want high-calorie human foods over here now. Hot pizza, chocolate cake, anything with calories to help Xander recover. Then I want two humans from the suckhouse. Tell them they can have a master vampire, but they are not paying, and if they say one word I don’t like, I’ll kick them out of my house, and I won’t guarantee what shape they’ll be in when I do it,” Angel growled.

“But—” Xander shut his mouth so fast that his teeth clicked.

“Ye look like you’ve lost twenty pounds in a day,” Angel pointed out. Xander looked down and he realized that his pants were nearly falling off. That was seriously freaky. “I won’t have my consort starve for me.” Angel sounded way too Angelusy for Xander to argue the point.

“Wesley, call Harmony about the food. I’ll take care of the humans myself,” Spike said. “Sire.” With a tilt of his head toward Angel, Spike headed out of the kitchen. Xander could hear the front door open and slam.

“I’ll call her now,” Wesley said quietly as he inched toward the door to the living room.

“Wesley,” Angel said softly. He waited, and the silence was heavy enough to feel like a weight on Xander’s chest.

“Yes?” Wesley finally asked.

“Can this hurt Xander? Is there a way to fix it?”

Wesley sighed and seemed to gather his thoughts before answering. “If Anyanka used Watcher lore, then the change is permanent. The Watcher’s always questioned whether such a spell would damage the soul of the human, but other than the moral objections, there really is no downside for the human.”

“Other than the danger of losing his soul,” Angel said dryly.

“Hey, I am not about to lose my soul,” Xander objected. When he pushed away from the table, he could feel his legs wobble under him, but he walked over to Angel anyway. Once there, he punched Angel as hard as he could in the arm. “Look, first it was that I’d be corrupted if I hung around you, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t corrupt when I led the fight against the mayor. Then you tried saying that I would be corrupted if we slept together, but after we were sleeping together I fought off Wolfram and Hart and the strange Powers demons who wanted the happy-happy end of the world. Now you’re saying this consort thing is a danger to my soul. I think I’ve proved that my soul is a little tougher than you think. So you worry about your soul and I’ll worry about mine.” Xander gave Angel his nastiest glare. For a second, Angel just stared at him blankly, but then he started to smile.

Angel’s hand came up to rest against Xander’s cheek. “A’choi, you always have been my partner, haven’t you?”

“In demon fighting? Hell no. In being able to argue, yes,” Xander agreed. When Angel reached out and wrapped his arms around Xander, Xander just let himself be pulled into that strength. They’d get through this fine. Hell, there wasn’t even anything to get through, as far as Xander was concerned. This was a win-win. He could share Angel’s strength. They could feel each other’s pain. Now as long as Glorificus didn’t start torturing either of them, that was all good.

“Wesley, after you call Harmony, I need you to track someone down.”


“Ben. He works at the hospital as a doctor or an intern. Finn might know more.”

“Why are we looking for him?” Wesley asked. Xander sighed. Yeah, this spell shit was getting old.

“With a spell affecting Xander, draining off his energy, we would like someone to look at him. I understand that Joyce has been ill. Maybe a doctor that looked at Joyce should look at Xander. However, keep security in mind and don’t give our location away,” Angel finished in a harsher tone.

“It’s likely that all Xander’s symptoms result from—”

“Wesley,” Angel said, cutting Wesley off with one exasperated word.

“I’ll check on him. Ben from the local hospital,” Wesley agreed. Angel’s arms still held Xander tightly, so Xander could only hear the footsteps as Wesley left them, a door closing in a distant part of the house.



63. Chapter 63

Xander flexed his arms as he followed Angel down the corridor. He didn’t feel different, but he had certainly regained his missing weight quickly enough.

“Xander?” Angel asked quietly.

“Just wondering if I got any Justice League powers,” Xander whispered as a nurse passed them in the hall. Spike was setting up some heavy duty firepower near the morgue before paging Ben down to the lower level. As much as Xander didn’t like the idea of having a big hellgoddy fight in the middle of a hospital, he did understand tactically why Angel and Spike had chosen it.

“Stay behind me,” Angel said firmly. “If ye want to try out powers, you’ll do it some other time.”

“Oh, no. I have no interest in trying out any powers. I’ll just… I don’t know, try out any potential super strength on the oak corbels. Do you have any idea how tough those things are to carve, and I cannot find anything that matches the Hyperion’s architecture.”

Angel stopped in the middle of the hall to give Xander an odd look. Xander waited. Sometimes it took Angel a little longer to collect his thoughts these days. “You don’t want to fight? When Angelus… when I…” Angel froze.

Xander laid his hand on Angel’s arm. “I didn’t like getting left behind, but that doesn’t mean I need to be in the middle of the fight. Trust me, if I get to talk to you about any potential slaying and be slay-adjacent in case of full assaults and help out in emergencies, I’m happy. I’m even happier if I get to spend more time remodeling the hotel than fighting. We can’t all be fighters, you know,” Xander pointed out. He had hated the feeling of being trapped in a small space with Angelus. He’d hated knowing that he couldn’t stop Angelus from eating random people or doing some really freakily scary things to Watchers. Xander suspected that Giles was avoiding them because he’d heard those stories about the Watchers who had come to spy on Angelus. Unless Giles had seriously changed, Buffy and Riley were probably getting lectured about the foolishness of trusting vampires. Hopefully Riley had more self-esteem than Xander had at fifteen.

“You’re a good fighter,” Angel said.

“Yep, I am,” Xander agreed, “for a human. You and Spike are better. I can live with that.”

“As long as you know I trust you at my side,” Angel said firmly.

Xander laughed. “Okay, the soul so gave the demon shit about that, didn’t it?” Xander asked.

“Yes.” Angel sounded oddly determined about saying that.

“I always knew the demon loved me,” Xander said. “I knew it every time he looked at me, so if he made any mistakes, I always forgave him because he didn’t mean any harm,” Xander said. He didn’t point out that he had made the decision to kill Angelus right about the time Anyanka had shown up. “Besides, the demon is way scarier than the soul in a fight, so any fight the demon is leading, I probably want to be far, far fray-adjacent,” Xander admitted.

Angel didn’t answer, but he did slip an arm around Xander’s shoulders. Yep, the demon liked being called scarier, and the soul liked knowing Xander was happy. When Xander was in high school, being happy meant he had to be in the middle of the fight. Buffy and Willow with their attempts to push him toward safer ground had made him feel… well, like less of a man or less of a human or something. Maybe less powerful was the best way to put it. Now, now he didn’t mind all that much. After all, Angel was letting him come with them for the “kill-Ben” plan, even if he had threatened to chain Xander to a bed if he got too close to any fighting. So they trusted him to be part of the fight, even if it wasn’t the front line. Nope, Xander was cell-phone having, back-up calling man, and there wasn’t anything wrong with that.

They stopped in a deserted corner of the hall, right outside a stairwell. “You could wait here,” Angel said.

“I could, but I won’t,” Xander answered. From the look Angel gave him, Angel knew he was up to something, but Xander put on his sweetest smile. Now Angel looked even more worried.

“Stay behind me,” Angel warned again.


“And stay out of the fight.”


“And call Buffy if Glorificus appears.”

“Call, got it,” Xander agreed, happy that Angel ran out of orders. If he kept on long enough, he was sure it hit an order that Xander didn’t plan to follow. However, with a sigh, Angel headed down the stairwell, and Xander followed.

Spike should be set up by the elevators, so it was show time. The vampires planned to kill Ben without warning, but Xander had plans of his own. They weren’t good plans, but he didn’t worry about the strategy of things, only the morality of them. That was his job, along with reproducing period corbels. The others had their strengths, and Xander had his.

“He’s coming,” Angel whispered. The plan was for Spike to let Ben pass and then the two vampires would ambush Ben in the hall outside the morgue. If Ben managed to turn into Glory, Angel and Spike would hold her until Xander could call for backup or until Spike could pull out the machine gun he’d “borrowed” from Riley’s unit. Riley’s gun might not have taken Glorificus down, but it had slowed her.

Angel’s body tensed has he readied himself to leap out and try for the quick kill.

“Ben?” Xander shouted. The noise startled Angel so much that he actually stumbled into the open, and Xander pushed forward, taking advantage of that to reach the main hall, even though he did stay behind Angel. Ben stood in the middle of the hallway looking confused.

“Yes?” he asked unsteadily. “Do we know each other?”

“Um, yeah, we met last night,” Xander said, moving quickly while Angel was frozen in his internal battle. Xander figured Angelus was arguing for dragging Xander home and chaining him to something right now. Immediately. Screw Glorificus and the end of the world stuff.

“Last night?” Ben spoke slowly, but Xander could see the growing horror on Ben’s face. That answered one question. Ben knew there was something going on with him.

“Yeah, when your fun, fun other half tried to rip my arms off,” Xander said. Lots of expressions crossed Ben’s face: guilt, horror, fear, hatred. However, Xander didn’t see a whole lot of confusion.

“You know about Glorificus, don’t you?” Xander asked. Xander hadn’t vetoed the plan the vampires had come up with, but the fact was that he wouldn’t help kill some random, innocent person. He just wouldn’t. There were lines that shouldn’t be crossed and that was one of them. Unfortunately, Angel pulled himself out of his internal monolog long enough to step forward with a growl, blocking Xander’s view of Ben.

“You… you’re… but…” Ben spluttered a bit. Funny, a guy with a hell god in him really shouldn’t be shocked at vampires.

“Do you know how to stop her?” Xander asked. He looked around Angel’s wide shoulders, and Ben was backing away, shaking his head.

“You can’t.”

“Yes, we can,” Angel disagreed, but he wasn’t charging forward.

Ben kept shaking his head. “She’s too powerful. I try. I try to keep her inside, but she’s so powerful.”

“You don’t try hard enough then, mate,” Spike said as he came out of the room where he’d been hiding, cutting Ben off from the elevator. Spike shot Angel and Xander a confused look, but he backed the plan. Xander did love his vampires.

“You have to know what she’s doing,” Xander told Ben. “She’s sucking people’s brains out. She wants to rip open a hole to her own world, and if ripping a hole in the universe sounds like a good thing, you’re clearly not that bright. I thought doctors were supposed to be bright.”

“Do you think I don’t know how dangerous she is?” Ben demanded. “Even now, she wants to come out. I fight her every minute of every day.”

Xander could almost feel the tension rise as Ben made that admission. Okay, tactically it’d be good to get with the killing, but Xander… he had to see if there was another way.

“Tell us about her, about her power,” Xander urged. “Maybe we can get her out of you.”

“You can’t.” Ben’s voice rose to a near-shout. “If she comes out, my body will be torn to shreds. I’ll die. You have to believe that I’ve tried to figure a way to fix this. I became a doctor because I wanted a way to fix this.”

Spike gave a rough laugh. “You thought medical school would teach ya to get a hellgod out of your head? You really aren’t the brightest, are you?”

Ben scowled at Spike for a second before turning back toward Angel.

“I have a right to my life. You can’t blame me for what she does.”

“What about what you aren’t doing?” Xander asked.

Ben looked confused.

Keeping his hand on Angel’s arm, Xander stepped to the side so he could actually talk to Ben without having to stare at the back of Angel’s shoulders. “If I had a hellgod in me, someone who threatened the existence of the universe, I’d find the people fighting her, and I’d tell them everything I knew. I’d tell them where she goes and what she thinks. I’d tell them what it feels like when she takes over… I mean, is it cold? Can you see what she’s doing when she’s hijacking your body? Are you in the dark the whole time? All these are magical clues we might use to fight her.”

“I can’t fight her.”

“You may not be able to win, but you can fight, and I found that most of the time when I get in there and fight, I do better than I expected,” Xander pointed out. He wanted Ben to see that they were trying to help. He wanted Ben to give Angel and Spike one really good reason to not kill him.

“How often does she come out?” Angel asked.

Ben looked from Xander to Angel in clear panic.

“How long does it take her to recover her strength and get out again?” Angel repeated, stepping forward.

“You don’t understand. It’s not fair. I have a right to my life. I never asked to have her put inside me.”

“Life’s a bitch, mate, and that’s the same no matter who you are,” Spike said, joining in. “How much warning do you get before she comes out?”

Xander could almost taste Ben’s desperation now. He wanted to help them; Xander knew that. However, he needed a reason to believe they could win against Glorificus. “We beat one of the old ones, one of the old demons that ruled this world. We can beat her,” Xander promised, willing Ben to listen, to believe.

“No!” Ben shouted, “You can’t. You can’t beat her. I can’t beat her. Don’t you understand that? She’s stronger than all of us.”

“Not if we work together,” Xander tried reasoning with him even though he could almost feel the moment passing. Ben had almost sided with them, but now he pulled back. He wouldn’t risk himself, not even to save the world.

“I have a right to my life. You can’t blame me,” he said. He turned to rush at Spike or past Spike or something. He got two steps and Spike’s hands came up. With a sickening crack, bones snapped and Ben’s head twisted around so sharply that the skin of his neck folded and wrinkled like a shar pei’s. Xander sucked in a fast breath, and before he knew it, Xander felt himself wrapped up in Angel’s arms.

“Shhhh, m’fhear, you did your best. And we’ll talk later about you changing a plan in the middle.” Even though Angel promised unhappy talk later, his hands moved in soothing circles on Xander’s back.

“I thought we were just killing the bugger?” Spike asked, clearly confused. Xander could feel his body start to shake. He’d wanted to save Ben. He’d tried. He really had. But if someone wouldn’t be saved, they wouldn’t be saved.

“Xander changed the plan,” Angel said, his voice still soft.

“Why?” Spike’s lack of a soul was definitely showing through.

Xander squirmed around so he could lean back against Angel and talk to Spike, but as he did, he found his gaze falling on the twisted and bent body lying in a tangled heap of limbs. Ben. “He had a right to try and fight back,” Xander said softly as he looked at the body. If he got infested with something nasty and world endy, and face it, in their line of business, that wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility, Xander would want a chance to fight back.

“Against us?” Spike sounded utterly confused now.

Xander shook his head. “Against Glorificus.”

Spike gave a loud and disgusted snort. “He wasn’t the fighting sort, pet. He was more the sort to whinge about his lot in life.”

“And do nothing to protect people from the monster he had inside,” Xander agreed softly. “But at least that means we killed him for what he did, or what he didn’t do, not because someone shoved a hellgod in him.”

“There’s no ‘we’ there. I killed the hellgod.” Spike started smirking. “Slayer of slayers and now the executioner of hellgods. I like the bloody sound of that.”

“You killed a human doctor,” Angel said, and from the tone, he wasn’t nearly as amused. Xander looked up to find Angel still watching with this concerned expression. Xander ducked his head and leaned closer. This didn’t feel like the sort of victory that you’d cheer for, but it was a victory. The world was safe. That was good. And if Xander wasn’t feeling particularly good about it right now, that was okay too. Xander knew they’d done the right thing.

“He had a bloody hellgod in him.”

“Which you didn’t fight.”

“I did last night,” Spike pointed out, following as Angel urged Xander back toward the stairs. Xander wondered if they were going to just leave Ben in the middle of the hall. Most of the monster they fought had the good manners to vanish. Leaving a human body, a broken and twisted human body behind, felt wrong.

“And you didn’t beat her last night,” Angel said. The two of them kept bantering the whole way back to the main corridor. Spike said something about poetic license that led to a whole exchange about poetry that left Angel smirking and Spike fuming and Xander just confused. They were almost to the exit when Angel stopped.

The double doors opened, and Xander could see the starry night waiting for them, but Angel cocked his head and turned around to look down one of the other halls. “Angel?” Xander asked. Spike turned to look down the hall, and it took a couple of seconds, but then he started walking back into the hospital.

“I hear Buffy,” Angel said as he guided Xander in the same direction Spike had taken. “She’s crying.”

“Crying?” Xander’s heart dropped into his stomach. Dawn. Or Riley. Riley was human, so vampire-hunting was a dangerous job. Or Joyce had been looking really not good last time Xander had seen her. But she’d promised that the doctors said she was fine. Xander walked faster, nearly running as he followed Spike around little clusters of waiting families—crying children and weary mothers who all clung to the sides of the hallways as if they needed to lean against a wall to keep from falling down.

“Summers?” Spike asked as he got to a waiting room on the far end from the morgue access. He’d nearly called her ‘slayer,’ something which always made Buffy scowl and threaten to out his secret identity in public. Always. But this time she was nearly curled into Riley’s arms, crying so hard that she didn’t even bother sniping at Spike.

“Spike!” Dawn threw herself at Spike, nearly knocking him offer as she clung to him, her sobs loud enough to drown out Buffy’s.

“Buffy?” Xander asked, almost afraid to get an answer. Buffy didn’t even react.

“Joyce,” Riley said, his voice shaky.

“What about her?” Xander didn’t realize he was losing his balance until Angel caught his arm and pulled him closer. Xander waited for someone to say that something horrible had happened, like she’d had a stroke or a heart attack. He waited for them to say that she was clinging to life in ICU. All those things would be hugely bad, but there’d be this hope. He needed hope. However, Buffy and Dawn both just kept crying.

Spike sank into a hospital chair, pulling Dawn down with him, and she clung to him desperately.

“Oh God.” Xander felt his eyes burn with tears. “Oh God, no.” No one said anything.



64. Chapter 64

Willow walked up to the shade of the tree where Angel and Xander stood. Spike was still inside the closest mausoleum, waiting until true nightfall, but the little bits of dappled light that drifted through the leaves weren’t enough to hurt Angel, not with the consort link to support him. “Xander,” she said softly. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for everyone.”

“You had Tara to take care of,” Xander answered. “It’s not your job to take care of everyone, Will. Just Tara.”

“Yeah, but…” Willow caught her lower lip between her teeth and looked over to where Buffy leaned against Riley. Her hair hung limply and she didn’t have a bit of makeup on, two things that definitely didn’t look right on Buffy. “I know I can’t fix this, but I should have been here. I should have noticed that Joyce was more sick than the doctors thought.”

“You couldn’t have,” Angel said. Angel hadn’t ever been much of a Willow fan, so Xander was a little surprised, but Angel reached out and caught her hand. “Jenny Giles, and probably Rupert too, have this idea that things can be fixed if you have the right book and the right spell. They can’t be, Willow.”

Willow blinked up at him, and Xander could almost taste her pain. She was the golden child of the group. Buffy had taken the job as the class screw-up, and Xander had class clown all sewn up, so if she wanted attention, she had to be perfect. Looking back, Xander figured he wasn’t even the one with the crappiest childhood or the most issues. He was just the one with the most therapy.

“After two hundred and fifty years, I can tell you this,” Angel offered, “I can’t stop bad things from happening. A demon curses the man I love, and I can’t do anything to undo it.”

Willow’s gaze bounced over to Xander, and she opened her mouth, most likely to offer to try and undo the curse.

“And you can’t do anything, either,” Angel said firmly. “Sometimes you have to trust or at least accept that the universe is bigger than you.”

Halfway through, Tara had come up behind Willow, wrapping an arm around Willow’s waist. “Wise words,” Tara offered in a quiet voice.

“It’s a hard lesson to learn, and one that took two more than two centuries for me to understand,” Angel said.

“If Spike were out here, he’d say that’s because you’re not a fast learner,” Xander pointed out. Angel gave Xander a mock glare before putting an arm around Xander’s shoulder and pulling him closer.

“Joyce always said something similar,” Tara said. She turned to watch the funeral guests walk by the coffin for the last time. “She said that as much as she never wanted Buffy to be the slayer that she had to trust that God had chosen her for good reason.”

Willow didn’t answer, but a tear slipped over her cheek.

“Blair says the same thing,” Xander said. “He says that people don’t have destinies, they have choices. But sometimes the universe doesn’t give you any choice other than throwing a fit like a two-year-old or accepting that the universe doesn’t revolve around us.”

“Blair sounds wise,” Tara offered.

“The wisest,” Xander agreed. “He’s the one who first made me really see that I was judging people around me using rules that didn’t actually make any sense. But I wonder if he’d say the same thing if he really knew Joyce. She didn’t deserve….”

“No one deserves to die,” Tara said. The minister walked over to Buffy and all of them fell silent while the minister offered some words. Dawn had abandoned the grave side service to hide in the mausoleum with Spike, so it was just Buffy, Riley and the minister as the last of the guests wandered away. The sun was starting to slip below the horizon and the first of the stars were out in the blue-gray sky.

“We should offer to take in Dawn,” Angel said.

Xander frowned and looked up at him. “Buffy will want Dawn with her.”

Angel nodded. “Until Dawn’s anger makes her start striking out. She’s Dawn’s sister, and Dawn needs her sister to fight with and grieve with. Being her mother is going to be a lot harder.”

“And you think we’d do any better?” Xander asked. He knew he didn’t know how to handle a grieving teenager, no matter how much he loved her. And he was pretty sure the same was true of the rest of them, too. Spike had actually gotten banned from the Summers’ home because he’d taught Dawn how to pick locks, and Dawn had invaded her sister’s diary. Actually, that’s how Dawn figured out about the slaying stuff, although at the time she’d shown up at Angel’s apartment clutching the diary, sure her sister was psychotic.

“I think Cordelia could handle it,” Angel said. “But now is a time for grieving. We can offer later.”

Maybe there was some silent signal Xander missed because Tara and Willow started wandering toward the road where they’d all parked. They were going to all meet at the Summers’ house later, but Xander could feel fatigue pull at him. Maybe it was the strain of the consort link as he supported Angel who was busy not getting turned into a big pile of ash or maybe it was just one too many emotional hits in too short of a time, but he felt like he could sleep for about a month.

“You’re oddly more aware of people’s feelings,” Xander accused Angel. Angel’s arms came around Xander’s stomach as Angel pulled him close.

“The demon can smell emotions that linger on the skin. He can understand anger and resentment and revenge and weakness. He can’t read Willow’s face or see that she has strength under the weakness. He can smell power and vulnerability, but he can’t understand the love there.”

“And the soul?”

Angel sighed. “The soul can read a face and understand the pain and the guilt and the joy of being human. But he isn’t any better at reading people. He still finds himself surprised when people act like demons with no souls or when a soulless demon finds the strength to love.”

“I thought it was the demon who hated Spike’s habit of falling in love,” Xander pointed out.

“He does,” Angel agreed, “but he understands it. The soul can’t understand that love is something that comes from the soul and the being. The soul loves you because you don’t surprise him. You may make bad choices from time to time....”

“Like interrupting your assassination plan?” Xander asked.

“Yes.” Angel’s voice was utterly flat as he said that, which usually meant he was trying to not show some emotion from one side or the other. The flat voice was a definite improvement over the long periods of being locked in his own body.

“And why does the demon love me?” Xander asked.

Angel took longer to think about that. “Because you are utterly his,” he finally answered. “The Powers, Wolfram and Hart, the slayer, your parents, even Father Peter… they all tried to take you away, and you belonged utterly to us the whole time.”

“It takes strength to command that sort of loyalty,” Xander guessed.

“And strength to command it from someone who is so strong,” Angel agreed. “Some days I wonder how you ever decided to fall in love with me.”

Xander thought back over the years as he watched the minister leave. Buffy and Riley leaned into each other. “You respected me,” Xander started slowly. “Even when you thought I was wrong like back when I wanted to follow Buffy to the Master’s lair, you respected me. And you were a little afraid of me.”

“I was afraid of your movies,” Angel corrected him with a growl.

“Oh,” Xander said knowingly. Angel could say that now, but looking back, Xander could see that Angel had been afraid of facing the world and all the messy moral choices that Xander dragged into Angel’s life. “And I was all about not knowing who I was, and you let me be someone I liked.”

“I did?” Angel sounded confused.

“Yeah,” Xander said with a shrug. “You were the big, strong, scary dude I taught how to use a cell phone, and because you needed me for something, it didn’t feel as totally emasculating when you had to show me how to hold a sword without cutting off my own ear. And you were so good at fighting that when you could kick my ass that was okay too because you can pretty much kick anyone’s ass.” Xander sighed. “Do you think Joyce and Hank ever had anything that good?” Xander thought about how she said that Hank had loved her without respecting her, and he doubted it. Angel didn’t answer.

“I really hope that Buffy and Riley have something that good,” Xander said softly as he watched Buffy pull away from Riley to land on her knees beside Joyce’s casket. Riley was right there next to her, holding her as she leaned against the polished wood. In the distance, several soldiers watched from a respectful distance, but Xander could see their grief too. These were the men and women who had become part of Buffy’s life, and Xander was guessing some of Joyce’s cookies had made their way back to the soldiers. Joyce had a way of doing that, of reminding people that she appreciated that her daughter never had to deal with her destiny alone.

“I think they do.” Angel sighed. “I was so sure that Riley and Spike would turn on each other, that they would act like vampire lieutenants. I was equally sure that Riley would be too human, that he wouldn’t allow Buffy to follow the demon instincts that give her the strength to survive.”

“So, you think you were wrong?”

Angel took his time answering. “Looking at him with both the soul and the demon, yes. I think I was wrong,” Angel admitted. Xander nodded. Angel really was better with people now that he wasn’t trying so hard to ignore the demon that he pretty much ignored any knowledge Angelus had, even when it was right. And honestly, the demon understood people better than the soul. The soul spent most of his life avoiding people. The demon had learned to mimic humanity, to understand it and hunt it. The demon might be immoral and sadistic, but it was a smart sort of immoral and sadistic.

“Joyce would have liked knowing that Riley had your seal of approval,” Xander said softly.

“I wish I had told her.”

“I wish I had told her a lot of things.”

Angel didn’t answer. Xander watched as Riley helped Buffy back to her feet before he went to go offer his condolences; however, Angel held him back. Xander turned and frowned at Angel, but Angel just nodded toward the shade of another tree. The light was fading fast, and it took Xander several seconds to see Giles standing there. He looked old and tired. Then again, life hadn’t exactly treated him well. His slayer didn’t need him, his Watcher group had pretty much left him twisting in the wind by refusing to help with Glorificus, his wife had betrayed him, and the Buffy had turned to the Scourge of Europe, or at least the male half of it, when she needed help. As far as a Watcher went, Xander was pretty sure that went in the “loss” column.

Giles slowly walked to Buffy’s side, his hands twitched as if he wasn’t sure what to do with them. Buffy turned from the coffin and caught Giles in a hug so hard that Xander could hear Giles’ “uf” from their spot under the tree. Riley stood awkwardly to the side, watching as Giles and Buffy held each other tightly. Xander wasn’t sure what they were saying, but Angel urged him forward.

Xander crossed the damp grass, swallowing as he looked at Joyce’s closed casket. The cemetery workers were standing near some equipment, clearing anxious to get the casket in the ground before something Hellmouthy could happen, but this was one woman who wouldn’t rise from her grave. Joyce had earned her rest.

“I’m so sorry,” Xander could hear Giles muttering over and over as he held onto Buffy. Given that slayers normally lasted a year or two, Xander figured that either Giles was way better at loving someone than most Watchers, or there had to be a whole lot of sad and broken Watchers out there. It was killing Giles that he hadn’t been able to protect Buffy from her mother’s death, so Xander was pretty sure it would really kill him if he failed to protect Buffy from demons.

“Angel. Xander,” Riley greeted them. Giles pulled away from Buffy, and Xander could almost see him try to pull himself together in front of them. It made Xander sad that their lives were so separate that Giles couldn’t grieve in front of them. But then, Giles really had been the one person Xander couldn’t seem to really get past his problems with. As he grew up, he understood Giles more, but something in his friendship with Angel had destroyed any respect between them, and Xander couldn’t accept a relationship without respect.

“Hey. Thanks for coming,” Buffy said weakly. She wasn’t holding up well, but luckily they didn’t have a hellgod to worry about, and the soldiers could handle any slaying.

“Buff. I’m so sorry,” Xander said. Opening his arms, he offered a hug. She took it, but there was a distance between them that he couldn’t bridge. After he had given her one squeeze, she was already pulling back.

“Joyce was a good woman,” Angel offered. “I know she’s happy now.”

Giles looked away, but Buffy looked at Angel, tears welling in her eyes.

“Thank you,” Riley offered for her. “We know she’s in heaven.”

Angel nodded. “I’m sure she is.” For a second there was an awkward silence. It wasn’t hostile, but Xander realized that they really didn’t have much to say to each other anymore. “The spell that… when I lost my soul,” Angel started, awkwardly. He stopped, and Xander could almost hear the soul and demon debating about what to say. Xander was actually pretty proud that Angel hadn’t gone off on Giles about his idiot wife… or ex-wife. Xander wasn’t sure where they stood, now that he thought about it. Angel sighed. “When I came back, I knew that this world was so dark, so terrifying that I have to believe that the place I had been was much better, much safer,” Angel said, his words still slow and awkward. “I knew that, and I knew who I loved. I never stopped loving my family. I know Joyce is the same. She’ll always love you.”

Buffy stared at Angel, tears rolling down her face, one after another.

“Thank you,” Riley said. “She was a grand woman, and I know she’s watching from heaven.”

Angel gave Riley and Buffy a nod before turning, his hand on Xander’s back urging Xander back toward the cars.

They walked through the darkening cemetery, the smell of freshly turned dirt reminding Xander of vampires and high school. “That was beautiful,” Xander said softly.

“The demon would have rather avoided the conversation,” Angel admitted.

“It was a kind gesture,” Xander said, and that would explain why the demon had wanted to avoid it. “Is Spike coming?” Xander asked.

“He’s staying with Dawn. Buffy’s in no shape to keep an eye on her, and Riley is too focused on Buffy.”

“Oh.” They reached the car and Xander got in on the passenger side, waiting as Angel walked around to the driver’s door. Angel got in. “Oh, shit,” Xander suddenly exclaimed.

“Xander?” Angel’s hand fell on his waistband where he kept a weapon.



“Dawn,” Xander said louder. “We thought Dawn was Glory because she wasn’t real, or she hadn’t always been Dawn, or something. We’re leaving Spike with Dawn when Dawn is probably not Dawn.” Xander could have kicked himself. How did he let that detail slip past him? Seriously, there was a reason he wasn’t one of the frontline fighters. He sucked at keeping track of the enemy, not that Dawn was an enemy, or even a potential enemy. Probably.

“She thinks she’s Dawn,” Angel said firmly. “Wesley cast an honesty spell. Apparently she’s been lying about attending classes, something Buffy will discover eventually, but she believes she’s Dawn Summers.”

“But….” Xander was back to being confused.

“If you were a magic user, and you wanted to guarantee that no one ever found you, how can you prevent yourself from calling an old friend or using a familiar spell?” Angel pulled away from the curb.

“Wait… you think Dawn thinks she’s Dawn? So she wiped her own memories, her own personality?”

Angel took a deep breath. “Whoever she used to be, now she’s Dawn Summers. She’s Buffy’s sister. She’s Joyce’s youngest daughter. Unless the spell used to create the memories has a time limit, that’s all she is.”

Xander frowned. It made sense in a demonic sort of way. Demons and witches sometimes took things a little too far. However, Xander was a consort, Spike was a vampire who found a way to still love people, Angel was a demon and a soul shoved in one body, Faith was half abused child and half terrifying warrior princess, and Cordelia was… well, Cordelia. Dawn actually fit in with them better than Graham. “Okay,” Xander said with a shrug. “We’ve dealt with stranger.”

“Yes,” Angel agreed, “we have.”



65. The end... until the next disaster/adventure

“Home sweet bloody home. The first hotel guest ta bother me gets put on the menu,” Spike complained loudly as he went through the doors to the Hyperion. Angel noticed, however, that Spike’s loose-limbed walk and the way he headed straight for Cordelia had a completely different message.

Angel briefly juggled competing thoughts. Cordelia was terrifying. Agreed. Cordelia was family. Vehement disagreement. If she were family, she’d try to rule. But she wouldn’t rule. She wasn’t a vampire, and she wouldn’t challenge the hierarchy. But she often acted as if she did rule. Angel kept walking with his arm over Xander’s shoulders until he finally decided to simply accept that Cordelia was. If she ever got turned, he would either stake her or move to Tibet, but until then, she was powerful and beautiful and his. And as long as he didn’t push his ownership too far, she would remain his.

“You’re back!” There was a flash of joy, of relief and longing, before Cordelia’s more stoic expression of habitual boredom returned. “You just wanted to avoid having to put things right in the house again. Seriously, Angel, if you ever want to go soulless again, just set the place on fire. It’d be easier to clean up.” If she was publicly complaining, Angel thought he had little to fear. Were she truly angry, she’d get him in private and show him pie charts.

“Hey, no setting the place on fire. This place is a landmark. Do you have any idea the history in these walls?” Xander demanded.

Cordelia gave him a dirty look. “Do you have any idea what sort of messes the minions left in all the corners?”

Xander grimaced.

“Oh! I do!” Harmony sang out as she trailed in at the back of the pack. “I told them you’d make them pay. I did.” Harmony said it as she passed them with an armful of sheets and a basket of something Angel still couldn’t identify. It smelled like the aisle in the grocery store with all the boxes that said “Tide” even though nothing smelled of the ocean.

“At least someone was threatening them. Really, Angel, when minions make that sort of mess, feel free to stake them,” Cordelia said with a huff. “Only not Amber and Jarod. There will be no staking of either of them. They are my minions, and with all the messes around here, we cannot afford to lose any more help. Got it?” Cordelia pointed a finger at Angel, and he stopped and searched his memory. He couldn’t come up with any faces.

“Amber is the older vampire with the beautiful white hair, and Jarod has the dreamiest eyes,” Harmony offered. Jarod didn’t sound familiar, but Angel vaguely remembered Amber. She’d been turned far too old, and her long white hair was starting to thin. Some vampire probably made a mistake when feeding or he was looking for a decoy to get him in some place that an older woman could get access to. Angel flinched as he thought of some vampire creating a minion just to get access to a nursing home. The soul quailed under the horror of the idea, and the demon sneered at the weakness of any demon that hunted at such a place.

“We kept them?” Angel asked, not sure how to feel about that.

“They’re both really hard workers,” Harmony said before she backed through the door into the service hall that led to kitchens and work rooms. “And they hated the suckhouses. Those places suck.” And she was gone, right in the middle of Xander opening his mouth. Given the opportunity, Xander rarely passed up the chance to make a suck joke…. At least he hadn’t when he’d been with Angel before the soul-ripping. Angel liked seeing that side of Xander return.

“They are hard workers,” Cordelia agreed. “If my cheerleaders had worked half as hard, we would have been national champs, but no, they were always worried more about getting some boy’s attention. Priorities, people. Why does no one have priorities?” Cordelia asked. Spike had practically wound himself around her body, and he watched her with undisguised love.

Angelus would have hated that expression. The demon still did feel the stirrings of disgust at a vampire offering such devotion to a human, but the soul understood it. Angel looked down, and Xander watched Spike and Cordelia fondly, at least until he noticed Angel, and then he looked up, a question in his expression. However, even confused, Xander still exuded love. Angel had hurt him, hurt his friends, taken him prisoner, and terrorized him, and Xander still loved him. Angel suspected that Xander would have eventually staked him if the soul hadn’t returned to balance out the demon, but for a vampire, loving and destroying weren’t mutually exclusive terms. He could live with that.

“Hey, you’re back,” Faith called from the top of the stairs. She came bounding down. “How’d the god-killing go?” Angel watched her controlled power and the slight tilt of her head as she unconsciously bared her neck to him.

“We killed him. Her,” Xander corrected himself. “Well, sort of a him-her.”

“Kinky,” Faith offered with a wink.

“Not as much as you’d think.” Xander’s voice had that edge to it, the one that the soul had always hated because he couldn’t understand it. The demon could see the pain more easily. If pushed on the point, if tortured with it, Xander’s guilt about killing Ben could rip his psyche apart. Once the demon might have used that, but now he gathered up his knowledge in order to defend his consort from the danger.

“A human host knew he was carrying a world-ending demon, and he refused to even try to fight her,” Angel said, defining the event to make sure that everyone in his clan knew that Xander carried no blame for the death.

“And then the git tried pushing his way past me to escape.” Spike’s expression made it clear that he considered such an individual too stupid to either live or worry about killing.

“As long as the world won’t end before I get the books back in order, that’s fine,” Cordelia said with a half-glare for Angel.

“I willna do paperwork. That was your job, and you weren’t here,” Angel said, the demon’s aggravation slipping out before the soul could really mitigate it. However, Cordelia seemed unfazed.

“Well, next time, I’m not budging from this desk. I mean, the raiding fund is looking… amazingly healthy,” Cordelia admitted, “but I can’t tell who stayed in what room, and someone has to pay for a completely ruined queen bed in 402. Oh, and Xander, there’s now a swimming pool in the basement.”

“What?” Xander’s voice rose to a truly alarming screech. “Who broke a pipe? Do you people have any idea how much structural damage water can do? Especially to an older building? I told people to not hit those pipes.” Xander’s voice rose.

“Not that, you idiot,” Cordelia cut him off. Instead of getting offended, Xander just stopped and looked at her in confusion. “It turns out we have another basement level, and Lorne’s witchy ladies had to do some spelling to clean out something slimy that I was not going to get near, but apparently we really do have an actual swimming pool down there that someone sealed off. Do you have any idea how much more money we can charge with those sorts of facilities? Xander, I’ve set aside about sixty thousand for you to get the second basement in order so we can start opening it up for guests.”

“Sixty thousand?” Xander’s voice was dazed, and Angel gave him a quick squeeze before he headed over to Faith. He needed to touch her, to just feel her and know she was really his. When he walked over, Faith smiled at him as Angel rested a hand on her arm for a moment.

“What? Not enough?” Cordelia asked.

“If you want the pipes fixed before the whole place falls down, no,” Xander said firmly. “Plumbing is expensive, and I’m not licensed to do it. That’s why I was threatening people instead of just fixing the pipes.”

“How much?”

“Probably a hundred and twenty thousand, maybe more.”

“For pipes?” Cordelia’s shriek rose up through the hotel and on the second floor, a door opened and slammed.

“Hey, pipes are expensive.”

“I could by a half-dozen cars for that much. Good cars.”

“Yeah, or one set up upgraded pipes that aren’t going to burst and compromise the foundation when the water soaks into the ground through all those cracks.”

Cordelia sighed and gave Xander a nasty glare, but Xander crossed his arms and glared right back. Angel could see that Xander had won this round. Considering how much raiding the demon had done, they could afford the cost.

“Hey, welcome home!” Graham appeared at the top of the staircase. His arm was strapped to his body, but he looked surprisingly healthy. “Everyone accounted for?” He started down the steps, and his careful navigation of the steps made Angel reconsider that assessment. Graham was definitely still seriously injured, but at least he was healing.

“Oi, are you suggesting we can’t take one little hell-god?” Spike demanded in an offended tone.

“Of course not. I’m sure you can single-handedly save the world from demons, terrorists, and narco-criminals with one hand tied behind your back,” Graham offered. Spike gave a little growl, but it didn’t sound very threatening. Clearly Graham thought the same because he smirked wider.

“Just wait ‘til that heals,” Spike threatened with a nod toward Graham’s shoulder. “We’ll see if you’re mouthing off then.”

“Oh trust me, I won’t be,” Graham assured him. “You can kill hell-gods and kick my ass very effectively, and I plan to enjoy this brief respite from your ability to prove that on a daily basis. However, when the shoulder heals, I know you’ll be proving it all over again.”

“Bloody right,” Spike agreed, only a little mollified. Cordelia watched him fondly, and Spike seemed to bridle a bit. “Killed that hell-god myself, no help from Captain Hairgel.” Spike looked over toward Angel.

Angel’s demon rose and he growled at Spike. Spike’s own eyes flashed yellow. Since Angel had woken up with the soul back in place, he hadn’t had time for Spike. They’d gone from disaster to disaster and Angel could feel the need to reaffirm that connection. His growl grew deeper and he showed a bit of fang. Spike was his and if the boy wanted to be disrespectful, he’d have to pay with blood.

“Maybe the vampire sex can wait until after all the books are moved back into the library,” Xander suggested. “Geez, you’d think you two were sex deprived or something.” He rolled his eyes, and Angel could feel that emotional dissonance roll through him again. He should be monogamous to Xander. No. He shouldn’t. He loved Xander, but he needed Spike. He could break and bite with Spike. Breaking and biting weren’t love. They were ownership. Ownership wasn’t love. Love was owning something totally and completely. Angel let the feelings wash through him as he looked from Xander to Cordelia, measuring how the humans felt about their vampire lovers’ lack of monogamy.

Cordelia picked up a pen and busied herself with some papers. “Ladies don’t discuss such matters,” she said archly. “But if I weren’t a lady, I would say there’s little chance of that.”

“No joke,” Xander agreed. “But there is no way in hell that I’m carrying all the books while they have sex. Not unless someone wants to go for a good long time without getting any sex out of me.” Xander turned toward the door.

“Is that a threat?” Angel asked as he stalked toward Xander. His boy would not be making threats. His boy was playing with him. Both realities swept through him, and these two thoughts fit well within one brain.

Xander turned and eyed Angel before slowly backing away. “I don’t know. Which answer will get the books carried in for me?”

“Books? You’re worried about books?” Angel asked, stalking closer.

Xander was smiling now. “Um… maybe,” he said.

“Oh good lord, just ask him to jump on you,” Wesley said, but it was a fond tone, not one that the demon needed to correct or the soul minded.

Faith and Graham both laughed as Angel caught Xander, capturing him in a tight embrace. “Books?” he demanded. “Ye care more for the carrying of books than me?”

“Hey, I never said that. I was more about caring about the carrying of books first, not more,” Xander protested, his arms going around Angel. The demon approved of the game, the chance to have his boy submit. The soul whispered of limits and caution. It also worried about guilt and shame and others seeing, but as Xander smelled of contentment, Angel let that fear slide to the background. Other feelings, possession and lust, slipped forward. Without warning, he could feel reality shift as love and need surged through, overshadowing the possession and lust for a moment before the two sets of feelings settled.

“Um, Angel, are we going to move?” Xander asked, and Angel realized he’d been holding Xander for several minutes.

“You’re warm and comfortable,” Angel pointed out, holding on for a few more seconds before he backed away.

“Angel, you okay?” Faith had moved closer, and she looked a little worried. It occurred to Angel that she had dealt with the soul and then later the demon, but he had left before finding a way for both to interact with the world. She’d never dealt with his new reality.

“I’m fine,” Angel promised. “Different, but that is not necessarily bad.” He frowned as he heard a scraping, and then the outer door to the Hyperion came open… fast. Angel thrust Xander behind him, and took up a defensive position. Spike leaped out from behind the desk, and Angel distantly noted that both Faith and Graham retreated to the weapons cabinet. Within a split second, the easy camaraderie and family tone vanished to reveal a battle-ready group.

“There you are.” Anyanka burst into the lobby, her human face on, and Angel could feel panic claw at his chest. She couldn’t take his Xander or his soul. He wouldna let her. However, she didn’t attack or go into her demon visage. She didn’t threaten, and as the air drifted through the lobby, Angel realized that her smell had changed.

“What do you want?” Angel snarled, his fangs out. Spike circled around to the right, and Anyanka spared him one look before focusing on Angel.

“He broke my necklace! That pasty, pompous, self-serving little quat broke my necklace!”

Angel frowned, not sure if he was misunderstanding or if she was simply a very confusing woman. Most everyone looked as confused as he was, everyone except Wesley.

“Oh dear.” Wesley had retreated to the wall, but now he stepped forward. “Some texts theorize that a vengeance demon’s power is in the necklace given to him or her by the full demon—”

“D’Hoffren,” Anyanka snapped. “D’Hoffren gives you the necklace, and you get to be a demon, but now that little pimple on the butt of the universe broke my necklace.”

“So, he broke all the spells you’ve cast?” Angel reached out for Xander, feeling the need to touch his consort. If Anyanka’s spell were broken, would Xander be mortal again?

Anyanka gave a mighty sigh and took a second to glare at Angel. “Of course it doesn’t end all my spells. I have entire universes out there. I created one universe without shrimp! Universes don’t just end. But he broke the spell I cast on him. And I’m not a demon anymore! How dare he take away my hard-earned rights. Do you have any idea how good I am at being a demon? D’Hoffren never had anyone half as good as me. I cursed a soul out of the heavenly dimensions. Beat that!”

Spike stepped closer. “I’ll eat you, and then I’ll be the bloke that ate the demon who cursed a soul out of heaven,” he warned. Angel could feel his demon and soul preen at the evidence of Spike’s loyalty.

“You wouldn’t.” Anyanka looked over at Spike in horror. “You’re a man, of course you would. Men have no appreciation or respect. I mean, I fixed things so that Angel and Xander were happy, and I even fixed Xander’s humanity problem, and do I get any thanks? No. Do you know how few happy men I’ve left behind me in the wake of my spells? Do you? Two.” She pointed at Angel and Xander, and Angel growled a warning and stepped in front of Xander. “Men are generally not happy when they have to eat their own genitals, but I made you two happy, and now you’re threatening to kill me just because I’m not a demon and I can’t shrink your testicles. That is so like a man.”

“Hey, we didn’t threaten to kill anyone,” Xander protested, but Angel noted that Xander did his protesting from a spot just behind Angel. That was fine. Angel could defend his consort, although if Anyanka were telling the truth about being human, she didn’t pose much of a threat.

“You don’t even care that a slimy, insecure, intellectually inferior little worm has betrayed women who trusted him, who loved him! Oh no, he gets to condemn women to hell dimensions. He can send women to some slave world where they’ll be called cows and get beaten, but he’s a man, so that’s okay. This is why I hate men. They’re all the same.” Anyanka looked truly frightening, and if she were still a demon, Angel would have called retreat the best part of any strategy. However, she wasn’t a demon. She was just confusing.

Angel frowned as he looked over to Spike and then back at Xander to see if it was just him, but they both looked equally flummoxed by the flood of words.

“Is someone sending women to hell worlds?” Angel asked, not entirely sure he’d picked out the most important part of the rant. He forced his demon features away and took a cautious step closer to Anyanka. “If someone is hurting innocent women, we’ll help them.”

“We will?” Spike sounded even more confused, but Angel ignored him. His own demon grumbled, but remained largely silent. Rescuing women held no interest for the demon, but fighting demons could be fun. The demon then sent of a brief flare—a vivid warning that it would walk into the sun if Angel offered to rescue even one puppy.

“We will,” Angel said firmly, ignoring his sudden urge to toss a puppy into traffic. The demon would not get its way on that one.

“Of course we will,” Xander said enthusiastically. He came to stand beside Angel, but when Angel took a step forward to keep himself between Xander and Anyanka, Xander kept to his place. Even if Anyanka didn’t have her demonic powers, she was an angry and vengeful woman with a thousand years of experience. That was a terrifying though.

“Hey, I’m in. If someone’s set up their own little slave trade, I say we kick ass,” Faith agreed.

Graham strode across the room, passing Angel and Xander as he held out his hand for Anyanka. Perhaps it was uncharitable, but Angel allowed Graham to put himself at risk, more willing to have Graham in that position than Xander. However, Anyanka shook his hand solemnly. “Graham Miller, ma’am. I’ve never seen anyone in this room put up with a bully.” Graham glanced over at Spike, “at least not one that does real harm to innocents.”

Angel figured Graham still didn’t understand Spike that well. He had no doubt that Spike would cheerfully bully any innocent who didn’t happen to be family, but Angel felt no need to explain that.

“Well, these women are innocents,” Anyanka said as she looked around. “This scientist befriends women, mentors them, even sleeps with them, before stealing their ideas and throwing them in a portal to a hell world. I would have wished him into the body of a woman from the fifth century, a very pregnant slave woman, but had magical traps ready. I can’t believe that after a thousand years, I fell for some man’s trap.”

“If it’s a portal, we’ll need to set up stable transportation to and from this other world,” Wesley said.

“And supplies,” Cordelia added. “You people never remember to take the right supplies.”

“As long as I have a sword, I’m happy,” Spike offered.

“Says the man who doesn’t need food or water,” Cordelia pointed out. “For humans, travel requires a little more planning. And you may not need a soft bed, but face it, you’re a cranky mess when you have to sleep somewhere hard.”

“Exactly, that’s just like men. They never stop and really think through their actions,” Anyanka said enthusiastically, and Angel stepped back, horror growing as he watched the two women smile at each other. Okay, new mission, help Anyanka as fast as possible and get her away from Cordelia before they either formed a friendship or killed each other. Soul and demon were in agreement that both options were equally likely.

“I’m not sure I’d agree with that,” Graham said softly, but Angel noticed that he was retreating back to Faith’s side.

Angel looked around his hotel. The signs of Angelus were gone. The minions cleaned out, the court finery gone, the throne torn out. Cordelia’s computer beeped on the counter as she looked something up. Part of him wanted to go back to being the small lord of his tiny manor. The soul had stayed as unobtrusive as possible in the hopes of not attracting enemies. The demon reveled in the fact that Anyanka had come to him, seeing that as a sign of respect. Angel could feel both needs pull at him. He could see his court already scrambling to respond to the newest threat. He could feel the world turn again, and he could almost feel one of Blair’s choices pressing close.

Angel could have a small life. Angel could choose a large life. Angel could define his own world, and for the first time in two hundred and fifty years, he felt free to do exactly that. Free and confused.

“Angel?” Xander asked softly. “Are we going after this guy?” Xander looked up at him, and Angel knew what answer Xander wanted. He could hear the others grow still as they waited for him to make a choice. Angel reached up to rest his hand against Xander’s cheek.

“Are you ready for this battle so soon?”

“Hell, yes,” Xander said. “I mean, he’s enslaving women to steal their science homework. He’s enslaving them after sleeping with them, and for women sex usually involves promises of love and fidelity, and promising that when you plan on throwing them in a slave pit is… if it’s not rape, it’s close enough that I can’t see the difference. That’s slaying sort of slimy.”

Angel nodded. He did trust Xander to make a moral choice in the matter. If Xander said the human had to die, he did.

“Only, maybe we can just make him suffer, not kill him,” Xander added a half second after Angel had come to terms with the idea of killing the human. Souled, unsouled, demon or not, life still sometimes confused Angel, and Xander could exacerbate that confusion without even trying.

“We can decide on an action later. First we get some rest and secure the lair and collect information on the enemy,” Angel said, exchanging a look with Spike. Spike grinned widely. Even if Spike didn’t care much about saving damsels in distress, he did love playing lieutenant and torturing information out of flunkies. “Then we stop him,” Angel said firmly.

“And rescue the women,” Cordelia added.

“Which will require the portal transportation spells, as I explained,” Wesley pointed out.

Angel left the rest of them to discuss the details. This was just one more adventure, and Angel was coming to believe their life in LA would be one disaster or adventure after another. One of the perks of being head of the clan was that he didn’t have to sit through arguments about who should do what. They would sort it out for themselves or Cordelia and Spike would sort it out, but he wanted to spend time with his consort.

Angel guided Xander toward the stairs while the others were debating whether supplies or portal spells were more vital. Faith smirked at them, and Angel gave her a hard glare. She just laughed, which made Graham look over in confusion. Faith eased over to his side and whispered something in his ear that made Graham turn brilliant red. Life wasn’t perfect. Jenny was still out there, and Angel really didn’t want an ex-vengeance demon claiming some sort of favors from him, but on balance, life was good. He had his kin and his clan and his soul.

Half way up the stairs, Xander turned and gave Angel a wink before racing up the rest of the stairs toward their second floor suite. Yes, life was very good. Angel raced after his consort, demon and soul both agreeing about what he should do when he caught him.


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