Spike/Xander- Consent Issues, BDSM, Bondage, DARK!FIC


Toys 15: Giving it Away

Xander followed Spike trying hard to ignore the way his unbuttoned jeans kept threatening to head south. If Spike wanted them buttoned, Spike would have done it, so Xander just focused on walking very, very carefully. Of course, even if they fell, the worst case scenario would be that he flashed some random minion or Dalton, and they had all seen him naked more times than he could count. Funny, in high school being naked in front of people had been the stuff of nightmares, in one case the stuff of nightmares come to life, which had been high on the horrifying scale, but Xander couldn't quite figure out why anymore. Sometimes it worried him that the him from back then wouldn't know the him from now.

"Right then, this is what I need you ta look at," Spike said as he unlocked a door near the human end of the sprawling warehouse. Xander often went out with Spike hunting or dancing or playing pool at the Bronze, but the majority of the time, Xander only saw the two rooms in the warehouse: the main hall and the bedroom he shared with Spike. So getting to see other parts of the lair was a bit of an outing. However, the excitement vanished as soon as he stepped into the room.

The stench nearly knocked him over, and he did take a step back away from the body odor and urine and whatever other general yuckiness was drifting off the shivering body in the middle of the narrow bed.

"Master?" Xander asked as he tried really hard not to throw up. He'd seen addicts. Plenty came to the court begging to be turned or for a bed in Spike's stables or even for money in return for sex or blood. Sometimes Spike laughingly had some minion toss them back outside. If they annoyed him enough, he'd give them to the minions, and Xander tried really hard to not think about what happened to the humans who went there.

Only once had Xander seen Spike take someone in. She'd been a tall woman with dark skin, and she had trembled with need as Spike circled her. He'd ordered Dalton to take her to the stable, and that had been the last Xander had seen her. But this huddled mess on the bed… Xander was surprised Spike hadn't just broken his neck and put him out of his pain. Okay, so Spike might not be a big proponent of mercy killings, or at least not the mercy part of mercy killing, but the stink and the pathetic whine should have driven him right over the edge into homicidal already.

"Um, Master?"

"Can't hardly stand the stink of him. You think you can get him cleaned up and help through the worst of the withdrawal? Don't rightly trust a minion to not kill 'im at this point." Spike pulled out a cigarette and lighted it. Xander was about ready to ask for a cigarette himself just so he had something between him and the stink from the bed.

"Why is he here?"

"Don't ya recognize him?"

Xander stared at the miserable, dirty, emaciated lump curled in the middle of the bed. "That would be a big no. I'd remember knowing someone who looked like an Ethiopian refugee."

Spike snorted. "He didn't look much like that last time ya saw him."

"So this would be someone from the grand old Sunnydale High days?" Xander asked as he stared at the man on the bed. His eyes were closed, and his face was so covered in dirt and a long scabby sore on one cheek that Xander couldn't even get a sense of general features. The man had wide shoulders, so he might have guessed Larry, only Larry was definitely dead and this guy was only mostly dead.

"Um, Spike," Xander said as he chewed his bottom lip.

"Pet?" Spike dropped the cigarette, and a strong hand went around the back of Xander's neck, pulling him close. Even after all the time they'd spent together, it still sometimes freaked Xander out that one sign of distress from him and Spike immediately reacted. He just wished Willow could see the Spike he knew… the vamp who was every bit a demon, but a demon who cared about things without reservation. Spike had a small, worried frown on his face and Xander leaned in and planted a kiss on Spike's lips.

"Ya alright?" Spike asked, the concern still evident.

"I love you."

"Oi, strange git. I ask ya to look after a useless lump of addicted flesh, and that gets me an endearment? Did you hit your head when we took on them rwasundi demons?" Spike's fingers ran across Xander's skull, and while the vamp was probably just checking for bumps, Xander couldn't avoid groaning as his cock hardened in its cage.

"I didn't hit my head. I hit them without getting hit on the head, which woo hoo for me," Xander pointed out. "And the endearment is for you worrying about me, but I have a question, and this is one of those human things that has great potential to really screw with my head, Spike."

"Must be worried if you're callin' me by my name, pet."

"Kinda." Xander glanced over at the shivering man and took a deep breath. "You know how we talked about you being a vamp and some things just don't make sense to me, and I just have to put it under the 'demons-weird' column in my brain?"

Spike raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, so here's the thing. Even if I don't know this guy, or even if I do know him and I don't like him because he's one of the swim team members who shoved me around in the steam room, even if he's John Lee the asshole of 3rd period chemistry, I can't put him back together just to watch you take him apart, so please don't ask me to be all helpful with him so you can torture him longer or something." Xander stared at Spike, trying to make his vampire understand just how important this was to him.

"Still the white knight wantin' to save the world," Spike sighed and shook his head, but that indulgent smile suggested that Spike found it more amusing than annoying, which was comforting. "I'm not plannin' on torturing the sod. Torture's for things that ya need to bring down to size, and that lump's about as low as he can get already. He couldn't scare Clem's mum at this point."

"And killing? I'm voting no on the patching someone up only to kill him. Not that this is a democracy, but if you kill him after I patch him up and get all talky with him, there will be mental weirdness, Master. It's part of the 'human-weird' column," Xander warned, perfectly aware that Spike could still order him to do it.

When Spike's hand fell away from his neck, Xander fidgeted some, and his jeans slipped a half inch. "Can't promise I won't kill 'im. Don't really know right now. If he cleans up and has a respectful tongue in his mouth, would rather keep him for the stables. After the last apocalypse, I vamped two of 'em and the rest are mopin' around a bit."

"Okay, that's not with the making me feel better. People chained up in terror waiting for you to vamp them… not with the making me feel better at all," Xander almost wailed.

"Bloody hell, pet. They're not waitin' in terror. It's more like they're mopin' cause I didn't pick them and they don't have enough left to get up a good game of poker. If I want the taste of terror in the blood, I hunt on the streets. The whole point of a stable is to get that randy, contented flavor in the blood, not that I visit them all that often with you waiting in my bed." Spike leered at Xander, and Xander groaned as his cock hardened. Think of something else… think of something else… think of Giles' last phone call… think of Clem… Clem was good for killing the lust. Nice enough demon, but not really with the attractiveness. Ooo. Think of Clem's mom. That woman had flaps on her flaps and wrinkles on her wrinkles and she was definitely in the lust-killing category.

"So, I get him cleaned up and you'll at least give him a chance, right?" Xander checked .

"Yeah, pet. I'll give 'im a chance. Amuses me havin' him around, it does. This room has its own bathroom through there, and feel free to kick his ass if he gives you any trouble, pet." Spike nodded toward a door on the far side of the room and was already backing toward the hallway.

"Okay, first order of business is the BO," Xander said resolutely as he considered the miserable man in the bed. The man wasn't coming to the bathtub, so the bathwater had to come to the man. The door clicked, and Xander found himself alone with the stranger and his body odor.

"Geez, big bad vamp afraid of a little smell," Xander said as he hitched his jeans up and fastened the button. He sniffed again. "Okay, afraid of a lot of smell. A whole lot. Geez. Dead things smell better than you, buddy." Xander just hoped there were washcloths and a bucket in the bathroom.

Three days of washing the man down, holding his hand through violent periods of shaking, and changing his sheets after he pissed himself, and Xander finally recognized him. Riley.

"Just a little," Riley begged softly, his voice a whisper as his hands clawed at Xander's jeans. Xander had no idea what Riley was begging for, but it was some seriously bad shit because Riley's eyes were near black and unseeing as he thrashed in his bed.

A week and a visit from Spike's pet doctor to pull a rotted tooth, and Xander got Riley to eat something solid. It took him a while to learn the rules for the care and feeding of an ex-soldier. Cheese sandwiches stayed down. Ham came up in spectacular bursts of projectile vomiting.

Two weeks and Riley finally started blinking at him owlishly.

"Xander?" Riley finally asked one day as Xander came in with lunch. It was nearly three weeks after Riley had first shown up and as Xander watched, his eyes focused for a second before that fast blinking returned and the man stared vaguely at the dingy sheets. Xander hadn't bothered changing them in a week or so since Riley hadn't actually pissed on them again.

"Yeah, it's me. Hey, you sound almost alive there. Are you feeling better?"

"Better?" Riley snorted and then flinched back so fast that the chain around his ankle rattled.

"Okay, I'm going to assume that's a no, but Ri, the lack of bodily fluids on the outside your body is a good sign that you're getting better." Xander kept talking as he set the tray he'd brought on the small table. "I was starting to think you had managed to fry your last brain cell. Whatever you were taking… if I'm ever dying and in incredible pain and that's the last bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet… I still don't want it."

"Rapture," Riley hoarsely whispered.

"Rapture as in fundies speaking in tongue and flopping on the ground rapture?" Xander had watched some documentary on religious rapture at four in the morning on some weirdo station when waiting for Spike to get back from killing some evil sucking magical thing one night.

"Rapture as in the drug vampires give to humans before biting them to get a high," Riley said with a frown. "One of the drugs they do that with anyway."

"Okay. That's weird. Spike is always, 'I did that at Woodstock and nearly walked into the sun while watching my hand change colors' about drugs. Not as catchy as 'Just say no,' but around here, way more effective. He staked a minion for buying some girl heroine before draining her. So, are there actually vamps out there dumb enough to drug people on purpose?" Xander held out a cheese and tomato sandwich with a side order of fries.

"Vamps in general are pretty stupid." Riley took the plate and ate a fry as he settled crosslegged in the middle of his narrow bed. Xander perched on the foot of the bed and tried to give Riley some space, but with no other furniture in the room other than the bed and side table, he could either sit on the bed with Riley or hover over him.

"Riley, I don't know how hard you got hit in the head or hit by the drugs or just hit, but you do know you're in the middle of vamp central, right? Calling vamps dumb… not really the way to prove your own lack of dumbness when you're chained to a bed in a vamp house."

"It's not like it'll make a difference," Riley shrugged as he took a bite of sandwich. "Hostile 17's your master, right?"

"Spike," Xander agreed uneasily. Riley ate another fry and nodded.

"Buffy hated losing you to that asshole. Blamed herself." Riley's words sounded so calm and logical, but the sharp edge of the truth cut Xander. Buffy was gone, and no matter how much he wanted her to understand, she never would. Just like Willow never would. His best friends had made him pick between the man he loved and them, and no matter how much he wanted that pain to go away, it never would.

"How'd she feel when she lost you to a vamp who got you drugged up?" Xander demanded in return. Riley froze, a French fry half way to his mouth. He hesitated a second before shoving the fry in his mouth. His face had been full of disgust, either for Xander or himself or Spike… who knew. However, now he wore a mask of indifference.

"She never knew. I just left."

"With a vampire," Xander pointed out.

"After a fight. As far as she knew, I just walked."

Xander chuckled and shook his head. "Riley, I knew Buffy a long time. If you walked, she went out and killed a whole bunch of vamps, bought huge amounts of ice cream, and had Willow do a tracing spell on you, not necessarily in that order. She knew what you did… what you chose--"

"I never chose!" Riley shouted, moving so fast that the plate fell off his lap and the food tumbled all over the bed. "I never chose this. I never chose to be a fucking meal for a vamp." Riley's hands were fists, and Xander slid off the bed, taking a step back so he had room to defend himself if he needed to. Riley was still stick-thin and already his arms were trembling from the effort of just making a fist, but the man looked angry enough to try something stupid.

"Fine. You tell yourself that. I'm out of here." Xander headed for the door.

"No, wait." Riley sat up, his shoulders drooping as the anger vanished. "Where is she?"


Riley nodded, looking as miserable as a person could.

"You don't know?" Xander's heart got caught in his throat as he thought about having to tell Riley.

This time Riley shook his head before answering weakly. "I was in L.A."

With a sigh, Xander took a step closer to the bed and struggled with the right words to say. He hated that she was gone, that he never got to show her that he was happy, that she never got to have a real life. He knew that Spike didn't understand how he could love both a vampire and the slayer, but Xander had.

"She died. There was a prophesy and a hellgod and an apocalypse… she saved the world," Xander finished softly. Riley gave a half sob and then just breathed fast, his face indifferent but his hands clutching the covers.

Xander waited for Riley to say something, but he turned his back on Xander so that Xander had a choice between begging the man to talk or just walking out. Xander walked.

For a week, Spike sent a minion with the food trays, not even asking why Xander was avoiding the room. But guilt and a morbid curiosity drove Xander back to the room. He stood in the doorway and watched as Riley sat, his knees pulled up to his chest as he fingered the rough scars on the inside of his elbow. The marks were a combination of fading tracks that followed the vein up the arm and circular bite marks overlapping dozens if not hundreds of time. Riley's fingers moved slowly over the pale marks.

"Is it just the bite or do you want the sex, too?" Xander asked from the door.

For a second, Riley just glared, his fingers pressing against the scars. "I'm not gay. I don't care what perversion you and your master get up to, but I do not want to have sex with vamps, and I'm sure not going to roll over for a male vamp." Riley's voice was cold and vicious, but he still stared at nothing in a way that didn't exactly make him look altogether sane.

"So being the drug of the day is okay, being a lover is out. Got it," Xander agreed in a tone of voice that made his opinion on that logic clear.

"Just go away."

"You said you didn't have a choice."

"What?" Riley looked up at Xander in confusion.

"A week ago, about vamps, about the drugs. You said you didn't have a choice."

"I didn't."

"What happened?"

"Just go away, Xander."

"I'd think you'd want to talk what with the overwhelming nothingness in here."

"I've gotten used to it," Riley shrugged as he leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes.

"Other vamps, is this how they keep people? Did your last master—"

"I never had a master. I never gave myself to someone like a whore," Riley cut him off with a cold, emotionless voice. A little part of Xander flinched away from that word, but the fact was that Xander knew that he and Spike weren't like that. He wasn't Spike's whore, and Riley saying it didn't make it true.

"What did you have, then?" Xander took another step into the room.

"I had a captor," Riley offered curtly.

"They captured you? Um, Riley, I don't know how to say this, but you're full of shit. There are way too many humans volunteering for the job to go out and grab random people off the street, and as much as I find that way with the creepy, it's true."

"Maybe they don't have a choice about volunteering," Riley said with that same distant, cold tone.

"Choiceless. Check. So, you volunteered for a suck house, but you didn't have a choice," Xander guessed.

"Not after Dracula, I didn't." Riley dropped his head into his hands.

"The one who tried to do the whole fancy vamping thrall thing with Buffy?" Xander asked. "I mean, Dawn told me that story, but your name was not with the coming up."

"Dawn? Dawn's okay?" Riley asked as he looked up with an expression that came close to hope.

"Yeah. Dawn is in huge trouble right now because she's failing biology and grounded until she's twenty one or the world ends, so as far as she's concerned, we're all out to get her, but short of the normal drama, she's fine."

Riley didn't react as he sat there, staring at the bed, and Xander considered just leaving. It was funny, but being around Riley was like picking a scab. He wondered if Buffy blamed herself for both of them ending up with vampires. Okay, so he knew Buffy blamed herself, but he wondered how deep that guilt went. He had tried to convince her that he was happy, but how much of Riley's life had she seen? What happened that Buffy didn't get him back, chain him in the basement, and make him get clean? That would have been more like the Buffy he remembered.

"So, Dracula?" Xander tried again. He could see Riley's fists tighten again. "I'm guessing the thrall thing."

Riley nodded.

"Thrall and bite?" Xander guessed. Riley didn't react.

"Thrall and no bite, and you went looking for the bite."

Riley looked up with so much hate that Xander could feel the heat of it from across the room.

"Going out looking for the bite seems kinda choicelike to me," Xander pointed out. Riley lay down and turned so Xander could see his back. The sores that had covered him when he'd arrived had faded to traces of scars littering his skin.

"And I guess you just want to stare blankly at the wall and not sleep now, which is still a choice. Riley, your issues have issues," Xander pointed out before he left. If Riley didn't want to talk to him, he had way more interesting things to do than stare at Riley's back. He was doing a large carving of Dru, her eyes staring up at the sky, and he wanted to finish before she came twirling into town again. She'd been so mesmerized with his carving of Buffy that he really wanted to see her reaction when she realized he'd carved her. He had no more than closed the door when a voice startled him.

"Seems like soldier boy's not doing so well," Spike commented. Xander spun to find Spike leaning against the wall, but he moved so fast that the jeans slithered over his hips, down his legs, and puddled around Xander's ankles.

"Way to give a human a heart attack, Master," Xander sighed as he looked down in resignation at his fallen jeans.

"Seems like ya have a problem there, mate."

"Seems like. The vamp who dresses me funny has this thing about not buttoning my jeans," Xander pointed out.

"I like your face when they finally fall," Spike said as he came close and slipped an arm around Xander's waist, pulling him tight against Spike's body, their stomachs pressed together, and Xander groaned at the thought of how good it would feel if he wasn't wearing the cock cage, if he could rub against Spike.

"You like the look of shock and horror as I flash random people?" Xander asked, even if he didn't feel shock or horror, and random people would get eaten way before they got this deep into the lair.

"The way ya stare at them without even tryin' to pull 'em back up. I like that ya follow my rules," Spike whispered as he licked the spot just below Xander's ear and then let his lips rest against the skin. Xander hummed and tilted his head to the side and Spike's hands roamed over him, stroking his back, tangling in his tail hair, teasing the skin just above the caged cock until Xander helplessly squirmed.

"Control freak," Xander whispered affectionately as he humped helpless into Spike's body. Spike just chuckled.

"Too bloody right."

Xander grabbed Spike's shoulders and gasped as strong fingers found the base of the plug hidden under Xander's tail and pressed. "Aw, shit," Xander hissed. "If I break, you'll be sorry," he warned as lust made his cock strain against the clear plastic cage that kept him from getting hard.

"Ya aren't that fragile, pet. Like seein' ya squirmin' and obedient. Who knows. If you're a good boy, might even let you come tonight."

Xander cracked open one eye and considered Spike. "Okay, you let me come two days ago, so an offer for more coming makes me worry that either you're about to be in a very good mood or you're afraid I'm about to be in a very bad one. What's up, not-so-subtle Master of mine?"

"When did you get so suspicious?"

"Um, about the time I found out vamps were real?" Xander guessed.

"Git." Spike took a step back and pulled out a cigarette, and Xander started getting the feeling that something big really was up. He waited, stepping out of his jeans as he crossed his arms. Finally, Spike sighed. "Time for soldier-boy to make his decision. One way or the other, this is his choice, and I don't want you gettin' in the middle."

"Would this be the middle of the death and bloodletting?" Xander asked unhappily.

"Might be. I'm hopin' that he'll listen to reason. His body's strong and more than that, he was Buffy's. Feels right since I took her territory and her clan that I take her… whatever the fuck he was. Sure wasn't a boyfriend by the end seein' as how he ducked out and let her go up against Glorificus alone. But whatever he was, he was hers."

"Which means he's yours now," Xander nodded knowingly. It made sense if you tilted your head to the side and squinted, which was true of most demonic logic, which is why he just kept a column in his brain labeled 'demon weird'.

"So, I guess I'll head back to the bedroom," Xander said as he took a step backwards toward his bedroom.

"No. Want you in there speakin' the truth if the moron has enough brain cells left to listen. You remember the day you found out I had gotten the chip out?" Spike asked in a quick change of topic that left Xander feeling a little lost.

"Um, yeah."

"Remember how I had you over my lap? How you asked to call Angel? Bloody hell, pet, I knew I wanted to keep you the minute you picked the great sod. Warn your friends and torture the vamp you hate all with one call. Always knew you had a sadistic side, but seeing you take it out on Peaches by making him listen all helpless-like? That was soddin' poetic."


"Right then, Finn's in the hot seat now, pet. He either faces himself or I go looking for another couple of humans for the stables." Before Xander could even come up with an answer, Spike pushed open the door to Riley's room, leaving Xander to either stand in the hall or follow. Xander had a pretty good idea about the odds of Riley ever admitting that he'd made his own choices. Hell, Xander had a hard time admitting that, and he'd been doing the dirty deed with a chipped vamp, which was about as choiceful as it got. He totally had choices. And Riley did too, but with the vamps being stronger and demonic, the denial was just so easy.

Standing outside the door, Xander shifted his weight, feeling his tail brush against the backs of his legs as he tried to convince himself to just walk away.

"Buff, you owe me for this one," he sighed as he looked up toward the ceiling. The ceiling didn't answer, so Xander slid into Riley's room and stood as close to the door as he could while still being fully in the room.

Spike was leaning against the wall, a lazy trail of smoke from his cigarette wandering toward the ceiling, and Riley was just sitting, his arms still around his bent knees. The only difference between now and when Xander had walked in the first time was that he wasn't fingering his scars. He was unnaturally still.

"Right then, got better things ta do tonight that watch you sulk. So, you got anything to say to me that might keep you alive?"

Riley tilted his head and studied Spike silently. Then he shrugged. "You might as well start the torture now."

"Torture?" Spike snorted in disbelief, and that got a frown out of Riley. "You aren't worth the time to torture, mate. Mind you, right after I got the chip out, if you'd been around, I would have tortured you. Might've gotten you addicted to the bite, and then turned you out and watched as you got more and more desperate until you whored yourself out and got hooked on some shite that scrambled your brains. But then you went and did that on your own." Spike had his smirk going full blast, and Xander could see Riley almost shaking with either fear or rage, he wasn't sure which one. "I figure taking that shite away from you and making you face up to the way you fucking ballsed up your life was torture enough for me."

"What do you think, pet, should I torture the wanker?" Spike asked before he took a deep drag on his cigarette. Spike watched Riley, but Riley's eyes darted up to stare at Xander.

"What?" Xander yelped. "No! No, I'm voting a big old no on the torture."

Spike held his breath and then slowly released it so the smoke curled around his face. "I suppose I can give you to one of the LA masters," Spike sniffed. "That wanker Donald would fall over himself for a sign of favor. Bloody stupid name for a vamp."

The name didn't mean anything to Xander, but Riley turned a really shocking shade of white. Xander was half-afraid Riley was going to go and have a heart attack right there; however, the ex-soldier just sat and stared at Spike with a completely blank expression.

"No comment on that, then? Maybe you miss the bite. 'Course, that wanker isn't the only one who knows how to bite." Spike vamped, his yellow eyes staring at Riley even as he reached out toward Xander. Sliding closer, Xander ducked his head and yielded when Spike's hand caught him by the back of the neck and slowly pulled him close. A strong thumb caressed his shoulder, stroking the pinprick scars scattered across his skin. Xander shivered, his cock thickening and aching in its cage.

Xander involuntarily shivered, and his tail twitched up, soft curls sliding across the back of his thighs, and his cock made a superhuman attempt to break through the cock cage. When Spike leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on the scarred shoulder, Xander groaned in need and pleasure so intense that it ached. Xander didn't realize his eyes had dropped closed until Riley's gasp made him open his eyes. The ex-soldier, ex-addict watched them with wide, hungry eyes as Spike slid a hand around Xander's waist and pulled their bodies close together. Xander let his head fall back and rest on Spike's shoulder.

"Ya want this, don't ya?" Spike asked, his voice low and sensual, and the tone went right to that deep core of Xander where he felt a need for Spike that was so deep that he sometimes worried it would swallow him. "Ya want what my boy has." Spike stopped talking long enough to brush a sharp fang over Xander's shoulder, and Xander moaned.

"I'm not gay."

"Bloody human morality. Ya spread your legs often enough before, but ya want to play all pure now that you aren't stoned out of your mind, that it?"

"I never!" Riley sounded angry, and the sudden reappearance of the more aggressive, familiar old Riley broke the spell that Spike had woven around Xander. He looked up, and Riley had on a familiar expression of disgust, and this time Xander had no doubt that Riley meant it for him. Suddenly Xander felt naked for the first time in a long time.

Spike growled as he stepped forward, putting himself between Xander and Riley. "You pathetic fucker. I can smell them… I can smell the vamps who've fucked you. I can smell your need for the bite and that fucking drug, but you're going to stand there and deny it until I get tired of your shite and break your fucking neck or give you to some second-rate vamp who'll shove you fulla drugs and drain you. That what you're looking for? You looking to die? You're closer than you know, right now."

"I don't lie to myself. I'm going to die, but I'm not falling for your lines." Riley stood on unsteady legs and raised his chin, looking so defiant and so unsteady on his feet that Xander had to feel just a little sorry for him… sorry enough that he edged toward the door rather than have a front row seat for Riley's death.

"Pet," Spike's voice cut the silence that had followed Riley's words, and Xander froze. "What do you figure Riley's odds are of surviving the next five minutes with this attitude of his?" he asked in a weirdly calm tone of voice.

"Master?" Xander whispered the word.

"Did you have a choice the first time I put you on your knees and made you suck my cock until your eyes watered and you stared up at me through eyelashes wet with tears? Was that your choice, pet?" Spike asked in an almost cheerful voice. Xander remembered that day. He'd woken up with Legos super-glued to his body, and when Spike had sat there watching him squirm in pain, the humiliation had been so close to his fantasies that his cock had gotten all the wrong ideas. It didn't help that it was Spike watching—Spike who had been starring in his fantasies right next to Buffy and Angel and Cordelia ever since Parent Teacher night. Maybe if he hadn't had such physically intimidating people in his life he never would have discovered his little kink, but his life was nothing but people with more power than he had.

Spike tilted his head to look back at Xander. "Pet, was that a choice?"

Slowly, Xander nodded. "Yes, Master. You had the chip, and I could have stopped things, but I didn't want to," he admitted. Riley got a sour expression on his face.

Riley made a disgusted noise. "That's where we're different. I would have stopped it if I could have."

"No, where you're bloody different is that Xander's strong enough to admit the truth. That's why he's still soddin' breathing and saving happy meals and playin' poker for potato chips with Clem and the Bit. You're so busy lying to yourself that you don't even see that I'm giving you one chance to survive. Just one, and I’m not a patient vamp," Spike warned.

Riley laughed, but the sound was brittle and desperate, and the way he crossed his arms looked more like a child trying to protect himself than the angry soldier of just a second ago. He shook his head, and hair that had grown long brushed against his shoulders. "See, that's how I know you're lying. You have no reason for keeping me alive unless you want a human with a high tolerance for Rapture for a snack, and Xander says you're into murdering and feeding off your humans drug-free."

Without even trying to deny being a murder, Spike shrugged and half turned away from Riley. Reaching out, he pulled Xander to him so suddenly and so hard that Xander kinda yelped in surprise. "You government wankers never did figure out vamps. The master kept his toys around—his bitch whore, his prophesy boy-vamp, his soddin' ugly throne. Angelus and Darla just collected whatever shiny bits crossed their path. Me? I took over this territory from the slayer. Have her minions all safely tucked away and play poker with her sis. Since I'm powerful enough to collect toys, seems right to collect what was important to the slayer. And you? You're the wanker she loved even after ya went and abandoned her."

"I didn't abandon her. I…" Riley stopped and just sagged to the bed. "Just finish it, already."

"Ya don't want to hear about how she called your name? Her blood bubbling out her lips and the two names she gurgled out were Dawn's and yours."

"You're lying." Riley hissed the words, but Xander could tell that Riley didn't believe his own denial.

"Don't have to, mate. First thing she cared about was making sure her sis was safe. After that, she asked for you, only you were long gone by then. Then she went and died before she could ask after anyone else."

Xander looked at Spike suspiciously because as far as he knew, Spike had been so stoned on god's blood after eating Glorificus that he wouldn't have noticed if little green men had sprouted out of Buffy's mouth and started tap dancing. However, Spike's fingers traced the line of his stomach down and teased the tender skin just north of the cock cage, and then Xander really didn't much care if Spike was lying through his teeth. He didn't understand, but he didn't much care because that went in the 'demon weird' column.

Riley was still shaking his head. He was sitting on the edge of the bed with his hands on his knees, and Xander could see them trembling. "You're lying," Riley repeated weakly.

"I'm a murderous demon, and I'll lie without a second thought, but you aren't important enough to rate a lie. Here's the truth you need to hear. You show that same strength Xander had, and I'm going to find you a bed in the stable. Might show you off every now and then, show how one of the last living Initiative soldiers is a good little boy in my stable, and in return, you'll get your bite." Spike moved closer, pulling Xander with him until Spike could reach out and touch Riley's shoulder. "Have a childe of my own now. 'Bout time she takes a pet and proves to the world she'd got the control to be a master in her own right. You impress her, and you'll never feel that empty ache again."

Riley looked up and swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing and the trembling in his hands traveling up his arms until his whole body shook. Spike slid his hand down until he caressed Riley's throat.

"They never bit you on the neck," he said casually as he ran fingers over Riley's neck.

Chewing on his lip, Riley shook his head.

Spike tightened his arm around Xander's waist. "Pet, if ya had to give up orgasms or my bite, which would you give up?" he asked, and for a half second, Xander was caught between panic because those were two things he really didn't want to give up and overwhelming need because the fact that Spike had that much control over him sent his sex drive into overheating mode.

"Um, really hoping to not give up either, Master," Xander said. Spike pulled his hand away from Riley and embraced Xander with both arms, pulling their bodies together so tightly that Xander could feel Spike's erection.

Giving Xander's neck a long, leisurely lick, Spike whispered words against his skin so that the breath made his skin turn to goose pimples and his body throb with need. "Asked you a question, pet. Now answer." Xander could feel Spike's fang score a line across his skin. "Which would you give up?"

"The orgasms, Master," Xander blurted as his whole body tightened in anticipation. Sharp fangs pierced his skin, and the burning draw started, like he was being stretched into a new shape. Squirming, Xander clutched at Spike's arms and writhed as the fire consumed him. He arched his neck and pressed back into the embrace, and the pain in his cock only made it even better. Reaching down, he grabbed at his cock with one hand, almost overwhelmed with a desire to touch himself and push himself that one inch farther where he could fall over into oblivion. But his hand could only scramble over the plastic, helpless. And the building of the pleasure past the point of mere orgasm into a place where nothing existed but the bite and the hands around his body and the cage encasing his cock… it erased every fear, every thought other than pure, unspoiled bliss.

Xander felt his body jerking, but he wasn't really in control of his own limbs as he slumped in Spike's arms. Spike had taken more than usual, and the near-orgasm and the lack of blood left him sated and gasping and probably smiling stupidly. For long seconds, he stood in Spike's embrace, not able to do anything but hold on to his Master's arms and struggle to pull his thoughts back from the void.

Eventually, he blinked and Riley was there staring at him with such desperation that Xander could only stare back.

"You want it," Spike said confidently.

Riley swallowed twice before slowly nodding.

"On your knees. Show respect for your Master, boy," Spike said.

Xander could see Riley struggle, his hands opening and fisting as his body slid an inch closer to the edge of the bed as though his body was trying to kneel without his brain's permission. "Ri," Xander said quietly. "It was my choice. Spike blackmailed me with a videotape that I knew he didn't have. He threatened to go to Giles, when I'm pretty sure that Giles would not exactly be shocked at kinky sex. He was chipped."

Riley looked up at him with a pained gaze that almost begged Xander to do something. Xander knew that if Spike just reached over and physically forced Riley, he'd comply. Instead, Spike just stood with his arms around Xander watching impassively. Xander could almost feel the clock ticking down on Spike's patience and Riley's lifespan.

"You chose to give yourself to those vamps instead of going to Giles or Buffy and telling them about your addiction just like I chose to gag myself and chain myself and suffer back when Spike had the chip and he couldn't hurt me himself."

Riley's eyes were suspiciously bright. "I never chose the drugs. I never chose to leave Buffy." His voice was gravelly.

"You chose to put yourself in that position," Xander pointed out. "You chose to give power to vamps who drugged you, got stoned, and probably went out and killed even more people because they were on a vampire equivalent of an acid trip. Riley, that isn't Spike. He's a killer, but he's not opening Hellmouths or killing random people. If you give him your power, you aren't making the world any worse, and maybe one person or two people or ten people will live because either him or Dalton fed off you instead of off some teenager at the Bronze. Riley, you don't have to die. You just have to make a different choice."

Riley was shaking so hard that Xander was afraid something was physically wrong with him—that he would have a heart attack or something. Xander felt lips at his neck as Spike kissed the two new pinprick wounds in the middle of an already impressive scar. The room was utterly silent as Riley slowly slid off the bed and sank to his knees next to it.

"Good, boy," Spike said as he reached out and rested his hand on Riley's head.


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Toys 16: Strength of Submission

"Angel, are you quite sure this is a good idea?" Wesley asked as he chased Angel down the hallway.

"Yes." Angel might have been the vampire, but Wesley was the one ready to start growling at Angel's laconic answers.

"Perhaps we can talk about this."

Stopping in the middle of the hall, Angel turned and gave Wesley a blank stare. "Have you found a way to stop Willow?"

"Not as yet, no," he admitted. Willow Rosenberg had become quite the formidable witch, and her corruption and addiction to black magic along with her usurpation of others' powers made her a difficult opponent. He could easily come up with a spell that would disable or kill her, but to bind her powers required more magical talent than he possessed. "I am still not sure that Spike is a reasonable ally in this, however."

"He isn't," Angel agreed, "which is why I want you out of the hotel."

"Leaving you to deal with him and his court alone? I am not the only one to believe that is a ridiculous suggestion."

Fred edged out from the doorway she'd been haunting. "He's right," she said softly. "If Spike brings his court and you're alone, you won't have anyone watching your back." Her words trailed off into a whisper, but Wesley knew there was steel under that façade; she wouldn't have survived Pylea and an encounter with the primal vampire within Angel without that core of indomitable strength.

Angel looked from one of them to the other. "You have no idea what you're volunteering for. You should follow Gunn and Cordelia's example."

"I have studied vampire culture. I am well aware of the place humans play within it," Wesley said, his guts already starting to knot at the memories of those old studies. Even if he was not keen on having to play the part of a human pet, he would not abandon Angel. Besides, as the older vampire, Angel would be able to protect them from the worst of the excesses for which vampires were famous. However, he was far more concerned about how Winifred would handle seeing Spike's own human slaves. While she had not known Xander Harris as he had, the sight of human enslaved would, no doubt, bring back some painful memories.

Angel was frowning at Fred in concern. "You should stay with Cordelia for a few days."

Fred was already shaking her head. "I'm not always good with company, but I know what demons expect. I mean, I'm the 'weirdly okay with demons' Fred, not the 'naïve and doesn't know what demons really do behind closed doors' Fred that I used to be."

Angel didn't look reassured, and Wesley wasn't either. She sounded terrified, and quite frankly, that was probably the reasonable reaction. From all reports, Spike was running a far more traditional court than Wesley would have expected given the vampire's history. But then again, the impulsive and imprudent vampire described in the Watchers' records could never have held a Hellmouth. Clearly Spike had grown up, a concept that Wesley would have found incredible a few years ago, but after seeing Angel's growth over the last few years, he had come to terms with the fact that the Watchers were largely unschooled nits with more opinions than facts.

"Fred," Angel said, his voice pained.

"Nope. I'm standing by my vampire... or kneeling if I have to," Fred offered before she turned and hurried down the hall toward her own rooms. Spike would be taking the third floor, which the entire AI crew had spent three days scrubbing in preparation, but considering their collective failures when attempting to contain Ms. Rosenberg, cleaning was probably the most productive activity they'd had in weeks. It was only luck or the last of Willow's morality that had kept one or more of them from dying.

"This could go so very wrong," Angel said softly. "You should get somewhere safe."

"More wrong that Ms. Rosenberg alternately trying to prove she's good by blowing up demons and getting high on black magic and blowing up random bystanders?" Wesley asked. When she had taken out a bus station, he had moved from the 'showing mercy' column to Gunn's point of view: If she looked evil, acted evil, and blew up innocent people, her ass was fair game. "If she is not curtailed, I doubt there is anywhere safe."

Perhaps Spike would be able to convince his grandsire to take a more direct approach to Ms. Rosenberg. Hopefully Spike wouldn't try to harness the witch's power. From all reports, Spike had little to no patience for magic on the Hellmouth, going so far as to execute several individuals who had tried to practice a form of ritual magic in his territory. Their deaths had been neither short nor particularly pleasant.

"Potentially, yes. Spike is... unpredictable." Angel looked up at the ceiling for a moment and then he reversed direction and headed back for the staircase. "And I'm not sure I know this new Spike," Angel admitted. Wesley followed.

"What do you mean?" he asked as he practically chased Angel down the main staircase.

"The old Spike was predictable. He wanted stability... a promise that his place within the group was secure. Now he's one of the most powerful vampires out there with a group around him who will die to protect him... until the day that he shows any weakness, and then his allies will turn on him and he'll be dust."

"Not bloody likely, mate."

Wesley jumped as he realized that Spike was standing in the middle of the lobby. He was smiling... smirking really. Behind him stood a man that Wesley had trouble recognizing right away. Xander Harris was muscled and lean, a low-necked, black shirt showing off a webwork of white scarring on his shoulder and a thick black collar. While Wesley watched, Xander sank gracefully to his knees, his eyes still searching the lobby.

"Spike." Angel said the name flatly as he stepped into the lobby, and Wesley was careful to stay behind Angel.

They hadn't had time to discuss the finer details of their alliance, so Wesley wasn't sure if Spike expected him to kneel or not, but until someone told him differently, he intended to retain as much dignity as possible. If he went to his knees, he would blush and stammer and generally appear a fool. He had no illusions about that. Xander seemed much less concerned as he watched his master pace forward. Wesley noted with some surprise that Xander was armed rather heavily.

"Master Spike, the bus follows shortly," another vampire announced as she came into the lobby. Wesley recognized her as Dalton—Spike's childe who had come seeking help when Spike had been enslaved in L.A. Back then, Wesley would have called her mousy, but now her dark blonde hair was slicked back and her leather outfit tight enough to earn her a position as a dominatrix at any club in the city. Her hand rested on her sword and a large and handsome human followed her, sinking to his knees when she stopped. Like Xander, this second male had on a simple black t-shirt that showed off the scarring on his neck and shoulder and a heavy collar.

Spike kept his gaze firmly focused on Angel. "So, Peaches, I hear you have a witch problem."

"I inherited your witch problem," Angel pointed out dryly.

"She wasn't a problem in Sunnyhell." Spike moved slowly, and Wesley froze as he recognized the pattern. The two vampires were circling now, and Wesley backed up toward the stairs. He certainly did not need to damage Angel's chances of winning the coming fight by tripping the man. Of course, under other circumstances, he would simply go for his crossbow, but dusting Spike was likely deleterious to their alliance.

"So, you picked up Riley along the way?" Angel asked. Wesley held his breath as Angel circled perilously close to Spike's childe; however, her only reaction was to rest her hand on her pet's head.

"Yeah. Seems like."

"You always did take grudges too far. After Willow's powers are bound, leave him with me."

"Wot? You looking to set up a stable? I could provide a few nice humans for ya, but Riley there is my gift to my childe. I don't go givin' humans away only to take them back when I feel like it."

Xander made a small noise, but instead of getting upset at his pet breaking the rules, Spike grinned over at him, his eyebrows twitching with amusement. Angel ignored the distraction.

"If you're angry with Buffy, don't take it out on Riley."

Spike snorted. "Pet, tell the poof here what shape the boy was in when I found him."

Rising gracefully, Xander let his hand rest on his own sword, and Wesley wondered if the man realized that he and Dalton had taken identical stances. "Riley was strung out on Rapture, emaciated, addicted to the bite and about two deep breaths away from dropping dead, Master."

"That sound about right, boy?" Spike asked, tilting his head toward the other human.

"Yes, Master," the man agreed without moving. Dalton still stroked his hair, her gesture far more gentle than Wesley would have imagined.

"Right then, who do you think you're savin' by wanting to keep him?" Spike asked with a curious frown. Wesley had thought he'd been prepared for this encounter, but right now he dearly wished he'd chosen to absent himself as Cordelia had. "Riley, Angel here thinks you might want to belong to him, or more likely, want to get turned loose. Who do you want to stay with?"

"Mistress Dalton, Master," Riley answered without hesitation. He leaned into her leg slightly even as Wesley sucked in a breath. Obviously humans could be easily broken, but as the pet of a subordinate vampire, Riley should have answered that he wished to stay with Spike. The master of a clan was the ultimate authority and everything belonged to him or her. Wesley waited to see how Spike would punish either Riley or punish Dalton for not training her human pet to show better manners.

Instead, Spike ignored the tacit insult. "If something happened to Dalton, then. Who would you want to stay with?" he asked.

"You, Master Spike," Riley answered, but he pressed his shoulder to Dalton's leg. The vampire reached down and cupped her hand around Riley's cheek, pulling him even closer to her in a mockery of affection.

"Sorry, Peaches, but soldier-boy is not a negotiating chip," Spike said with an insolent grin in Angel's direction.

"You always push too far, William," Angel snarled before he launched himself at Spike. Wesley scrambled back, getting up several steps to keep out of the fray as he watched the two vampires crash into each other. Angel slammed Spike to the floor, but Spike got his legs around Angel and quickly pulled him to the ground and pinned the older vampire.

A disturbance at the door distracted everyone for a second, but Spike just continued to hold Angel down as a troupe of demons now wandered into the room. The first two were well-dressed and well-armed vampires, but behind them came two Clonach demons with their folds of skin all over their faces hiding facial tentacles and giving them the look of humans with serious skin conditions. They were largely peaceful demons who fed on rats and mice and maybe even the occasional kitten, but they certainly didn't associate with vampires or any violent demons. However, one of them was holding eight chains attached to eight wrists of what was obviously Spike's stable of humans.

Rather than the pathetic creatures Wesley was used to finding in the basement of suck houses, these were well-fed and clean and looking around curiously. Three women followed them: Tara and Dawn and a third who could be either human or vampire. Wesley had met the first two, and while both looked more stressed now, the situation with Willow certainly could account for their worn expressions. A half dozen vampires followed the women, and the order of that procession frankly rocked Wesley. This second group of vampires carried a large number of bags and trunks, stacking them just inside the door before turning their yellowed eyes toward where Spike had Angel pinned to the ground.

Finally, four women with black facial tattoos and tight leather outfits followed. Unless Wesley had just lost his mind, the women were Oden Tal, but that made no sense. The Oden Tal sought escape from the men of their dimension, so why would they give their allegiance to another male on this planet? And for that matter, why would Spike allow fire throwers into his court? The Oden Tal clearly posed a significant threat to any vampire, and yet the four silently followed, their eyes scanning the area, and their hands resting on their weapons in warning. Wesley had no intention on challenging anyone in Spike's court, so when one of the women caught his gaze, he quickly looked away.

"Master?" one of vampires from the first pair through the door asked.

"Oi, just in time, Keenan. Seems like Peaches and I have a little settlin' to do," Spike said as he leapt up and stalked toward his court, nodding to the vampires and Oden Tal. Angel pushed himself up with one arm, but remained on the floor, and now that Wesley really thought on the matter, it should have been obvious that Angel planned to submit. He could hardly control Spike's court if he forced Spike to do the submitting and two Master Vampires simply did not occupy the same space for any length of time.

Spike walked over to Xander, and Xander immediately sank back down to his knees. "Finn," Spike called. Dalton's human rose and walked to the other side of Spike before kneeling obediently. "You think you could take Peaches?"

"No, Master," the soldier answered.

"How long you think you could last against him?" Spike let his hand rest on Riley's head as he cocked his head at Angel.

Immediately, Angel was up and off the ground, but Riley answered calmly, "Maybe five minutes, Master."

"Wot? You're not fooled by that helpless shite he just pulled?" Spike asked as he looked down at Riley.

"No, Master."

"You're growin' a brain. Never thought I'd see that," Spike said with just a touch of derision. Wesley watched the kneeling man flinch, but he didn't offer any resistance as Spike continued petting him. "Xander, how do you think you'd fare against Peaches?"

"With or without weapons, Master?" Xander immediately asked as he looked up and gave Angel an evaluative look.

"Spike," Angel warned with a growl. The court shifted, each group coalescing into a clump with Clonach standing with the humans. Tara and Dawn had pushed closer in with the stable humans while the third woman they'd walked in with took a step forward, which put her near Dalton. The politics of this court were beyond fascinating.

"You could use any weapons ya have, pet. Peaches could have a weapon if he reached one before you could stop him," Spike answered as he reached down and tangled his fingers in Xander's curls, pulling him to his feet.

Xander rose and tilted his neck, showing his scar as he pressed close to Spike. "I could handle him for ten or maybe fifteen minutes, Master," Xander said slowly. Wesley only realized he was holding his breath when the edges of his vision started graying, and then he carefully took deep breaths.

"Have at it then," Spike said as he waved his arm in Angel's direction.

Angel stepped forward angrily, and Wesley waited for the explosion. "If you think—" Angel's words cut off as he threw himself backwards to avoid a nasty swing from a sword that Xander aimed at his midsection. Wesley's memories of Xander were that of a shy and goofy boy constantly trying to find some way to get attention. Those memories did not prepare him to see this. Xander moved in graceful and deadly steps as his sword remained pointed at Angel. Angel growled, his yellow eyes glancing toward Spike, and Xander struck again, jabbing with his sword.

Dodging left and taking a quick dive and roll, Angel easily avoided the thrust, but Xander was on him, stabbing and slashing quickly enough that Angel couldn't launch a counter-attack. In one minute, Wesley knew he could never hold his own against this man. Obviously sick of dodging, Angel caught the blade of Xander's sword between his two palms, wrenching the weapon to the side in a move that Wesley knew first hand. It looked like it would be so easy to just pull the sword back, but vampire strength and speed could twist so fast that the human wrist would wrench and sprain in the blink of an eye. Xander, however, let go of the sword immediately so that Angel lost his balance and presented a vulnerable side.

Xander darted in, and then he flew backwards as Angel backhanded him halfway across the room. Wesley could hear Xander grunt as he landed on his back near the center of the lobby, but Angel was holding his side and the blood was already staining his shirt. Xander had drawn first blood. With a snarl, he picked up the sword, and Xander scrambled to his feet, but Spike was there standing between them.

"You do him any permanent harm, and you'll be dust, Angel, don't doubt that," Spike warned, his voice calm and only his yellow eyes revealing his emotion. Shaking his head, Angel took a step backwards.

"I wouldn't kill him," Angel said, sounding more confused than anything.

"See that you don't," Spike warned again as he slowly stepped to the side. Angel watched Spike, his expression slightly dazed, and Xander attacked before Wesley could figure out why Angel was so confused. Slamming Angel's injured side with a flying kick, Xander tucked and rolled and struck out at the back of Angel's knees before darting away.

Angel went down on one knee and twirled around to snarl at Xander in full game face. Wesley would have run in fear from that expression, but Xander stood, knife in hand, waiting. Slowly, Angel stood up and tossed the sword he'd confiscated from Xander across the room. It spun and skidded and finally came to rest at the bottom of the stairs where Wesley watched the fight.

"Xander," Angel said with an enforced calm that did nothing to hide his aggravation, "you don't want to do this."

"Yes, I do," Xander said with a goofy smile, and for one second, Wesley could see the boy inside the man. Council lore was very specific about what type of human became a vampire pet, and Wesley was, once again, faced with just how incredibly idiotic all those old men with their older ideas truly were. This was no sycophant crawling for his vampire master.

Angel and Xander circled slowly. Xander kept his knife in front, and Angel's side slowly seeped blood. Angel darted in, and Xander sidestepped, ignoring what seemed to be an easy opening.

"Good on you, pet. Don't fall for that old trick," Spike offered as he leaned against the reception counter and applauded.

Xander didn't react as he continued to watch Angel. He struck out, and Angel darted aside and landed a heavy blow on Xander's chest. Xander fell back, his knife still up so that when Angel immediately tried to follow up with another attack, Xander inflicted a deep wound on Angel's arm. Angel pulled back, his arm flinging drops of blood as he swung it, catching Xander across the chin. Xander flew to the side, rolled, and came up ready to attack again.

Wesley began to doubt whether Angel could take the man, but then he used vampire speed sweep Xander's legs. Xander fell to the ground, still clutching his knife. When Angel went to attack, Xander stuck the knife deep into Angel's side, but instead of moving away from the pain, Angel threw himself on the blade so that the knife and Xander's arm were both trapped under his body. Then he reached out and grabbed Xander's throat.

Xander's free hand clawed at Angel's arm, but clearly the fight had ended. Spike slowly clapped. At first he was alone, but then the court began to clap with him, the Oden Tal first. "Right then, let him up, and lets you and I settle this," Spike suggested.

For a second, Angel continued to squeeze Xander's throat, and then he stood, his shirt torn and bloodied as he faced off against Spike. "So, you send your pet at me to wear me down and then challenge me?" Angel demanded. Xander pushed himself over and got up to his hands and knees, crawling the short distance to Spike before he knelt at the vampire's feet and leaned against him.

"Mate, he's a bloody human, so if he wears you out, that's your soddin' problem. How long was that, Dalton?" Spike asked. He ran his tongue along the inside of his lower lip in obvious amusement.

"Thirteen minutes," she answered. She had sat on the lobby couch, and Riley was kneeling next to her, his head resting on her knee as she absent-mindedly petted him. One of the Oden Tal women sat next to her on the other side.

"This time," Spike warned as he pointed a finger in Angel's direction, "you don't bloody throw the fight unless you want me to give you to Xander for the week. He's not fond of you, mate."

Wesley nearly choked on that threat. A human would never be given dominion over a vampire. The highest human pet was far inferior to a minion according not only to Watcher records but the many humans they'd rescued from the suck houses and Rapture houses that infested the city. However, none of these vamps seemed particularly surprised at the warning. As Spike stepped forward, Xander slid back before getting unsteadily to his feet and going to Dalton, kneeling between her and the Oden Tal warrior. The Oden Tal reached down and touched a trail of blood on his face, her hand giving a faint glow, but Spike ignored that and focused on Angel.

"You're an idiot. You should have taken my first submission," Angel growled.

"I'll have a real submission from you or I'll see you dust. You called me, mate, and even you know this is the only way," Spike answered cheerfully.

Again, Wesley found himself holding his breath as Angel launched himself at Spike. The two vampires crashed through the reception desk, demolished the front of the weapons cabinet, and ended up going at each other with swords as Spike's court watched, but even Wesley could see that Angel was no match for his childe. This time, Angel clearly wasn't pulling his punches, and he managed to get a sword through Spike's thigh at one point, but the younger vampire was simply too fast. He darted around, stabbing Angel, slamming the back of his head with a heavy book end he'd grabbed from Cordelia's desk, even throwing a vial of holy water that spilled over Angel's skin so that he left a faint trail of smoke behind as he circled Spike looking for an opening.

The end came suddenly as one of Spike's flying attacks caught Angel in the side of the knee. The sound of the cracking bone echoed in the room, and Angel fell to the ground, Spike on his back with a sword against his vulnerable neck.

"So, you really ready to submit, Peaches?" Spike asked.

Angel didn't answer immediately and Spike pushed the sword down just hard enough to made blood well up on either side of the cutting edge. "Yes," Angel finally hissed.

Spike kicked Angel's sword away before he stepped back, his own sword held to the side. Spike cocked his head and watched as Angel reached around to the back of his neck, feeling for the wound Spike had left. Slowly, Angel got to his knees and then stopped, watching Spike warily.

"You're out of shape, mate. Who do you work out with?"

Angel considered him for a second before looking away. "Two humans who work with me," he admitted slowly, and Wesley realized how ridiculous that sounded because he and Gunn were clearly inappropriate sparring partners. Angel paused for a second and then looked back up at Spike. "And all the various monsters I kill."

Spike nodded and pursed his lips. "Still on animal blood?"

"Yes," Angel answered quickly.

"I know you want Willow alive, but I'll bloody well handle her however I want." Spike announced as he circled Angel, his sword still at his side. Angel didn't answer, but Wesley could see how hard it was for him to stay silent. If Spike killed Willow, Angel would carry the guilt of that for a long time. Angel had made the call to ask for help, but then Spike was the only one with magic users powerful enough to bind Willow and yet aligned with good so they would not be tempted to feed from her dark magic themselves. Wolfram and Hart had already sent two of their mages up against her, and when she'd killed their operatives and fed on their dark magic, she had grown exponentially more powerful. At this point, any dark magic user who defeated and fed from Willow would be even more dangerous than Willow herself.

"I'll handle her however I want, and I don't give a rat's arse about you or your bloody soul," Spike repeated when Angel didn't answer.

"Yes," Angel agreed wearily.

Spike stopped circling and stepped close, his fingers resting on the side of Angel's face. "My boy is beautiful, isn't he? Angelus was a great bog-trotting fool to not see the potential there." Spike stroked Angel's cheek as he looked at Xander with great fondness. "You won't ever mean to me what he does... not anymore. But you'll show your submission just like he does," Spike said with a slow smile.

Angel closed his eyes, his fists clenched where they rested on his knees. Wesley watched with growing horror as Spike unzipped his pants so that his cock came free. The anguish was etched into Angel's face, but he didn't hesitate as he moved forward and took Spike in his mouth.

Wesley quickly looked away, not wanting to participate even by watching this horror. Certainly, vampires used sexuality as a means of control and submission, but he had never dreamed that Angel would be forced to perform for Spike. He noticed that Xander was looking away as well, his eyes focused on Dalton. Riley, however, watched the vampires with his cheek still resting on Dalton's knee as she petted him. Most of the humans had averted their eyes, and Dawn and Tara were at the back of the crowd now. He could see Tara's arms around Dawn, soothing her, so he imagined that Dawn was crying or close to it.

The Oden Tal remained impassive, but given their history, their own oppression by the males of their culture, Wesley wasn't sure how they could justify standing by and allowing this rape to happen. Spike gave a hoarse cry, and Wesley kept his eyes averted.

"Right then, what floor do you have your rooms on?" Spike demanded.

"Two," Angel answered, and the tone of voice had changed so dramatically that Wesley had to look over to convince himself it was still Angel. It was. Angel knelt on the floor, his mouth reddened and his body still as Spike casually petted him.

"You," Spike said as he turned to pin Wesley with a stare. For a moment, Wesley was nearly overcome with the need to flee. "Get down here."

Wesley glanced toward Angel, and he gave a small nod. On shaking legs, Wesley ordered himself to walk down those few steps, to ignore the sword lying temptingly on the ground and to walk to where Angel knelt in front of Spike. Knowing that his only protection was still Angel, Wesley dropped to his knees on the far side of Angel, praying he was not about to be orally raped as an entire clan watched with not a trace of sympathy.

Xander had now come to Spike's side, his palm resting on Spike's arm as he stood just behind his master. Wesley's heart pounded dangerously fast, and Angel reached out and rested his hand on Wesley's thigh.

"Right then, where is your loyalty?" Spike demanded.

Intellectually, Wesley knew that he should say that it lay with Spike. As the dominant vampire, Spike would demand that all members of the clan swear loyalty to him, and by remaining in the hotel and claiming allegiance to Angel, Wesley had been assimilated into Spike's clan with Angel's submission. However, Wesley doubted he could pass a vampire test of loyalty... not without biting Spike's damn cock right off.

"Angel," Wesley said softly, fully prepared for punishment to follow.

"Right then, you'll keep tabs on him?" Spike asked.

"Yes," Angel agreed. Wesley jumped as another joined them, kneeling next to him.

"Master Spike, I’m Fred, and I'm Angel's, too," Fred offered with far more aplomb than Wesley had managed so far.

"Good enough for me," Spike answered cheerfully. "Dalton, find Peaches' quarters and kick him out. We're setting up on two. Clem, you set up the stable up on three. Two hours until training, I want to see everyone's best work tonight. Tara, Dawn, do you have that shopping list?" Spike turned away from the three of them kneeling and strode into his clan, giving orders that sent everyone scurrying.

Wesley looked to Angel, but the vampire was clearly ready to collapse. "Let's get you upstairs. I'm sure we can find a room on the third floor," Wesley said softly as he got an arm under Angel and tried to get him to his feet. Fred immediately got herself under Angel's other arm, and between the two of them, they got Angel onto his feet even if his broken leg dragged awkwardly.

"If you're taking him up to three, either feed him yourselves or make sure he uses the stable. He's bloody useless if he's not feeding properly," Spike snapped before he turned his attention back to Tara and Dawn and the third woman.

It was Xander who stepped close and offered to take Fred's side. "Let me," he said softly.

"After he injured you?" Wesley asked incredulously.

"Naal already healed that," Xander said with a shrug, "and Spike has done worse both when training and during..." Xander glanced over at Fred and promptly blushed, "you know," he finished weakly. He busied himself by taking Angel's left side so that Fred could dart ahead and push the call button for the lift.

"They know," Angel agreed, his voice still weak. "And I'm not feeding on humans."

"Spike didn't give you a choice," Xander pointed out. "Choiceless means feeding, but there's pretty much a stable human for any preference. Chad is all lust all the time." Xander offered as he helped Wesley practically carry Angel to the elevator. "I mean, Spike really had to train that boy out of masturbating pretty much non-stop. Leanora loves some pain with her orgasm, so you can't get too rough with her. Billy... he reminds me of Tara. Well, except for the lack of magic and the addition of a penis. But Spike says he has a sweetness to him. So, you can pick your flavor, but you don't get to say 'no'."

Wesley didn't comment as they struggled to get Angel into the elevator. Fred held the button to keep the doors open as he and Xander finally got Angel inside. Fred had to pull the grate down and hit the third floor button.

As the lift groaned into an uneven motion, Wesley studied Xander. He was clearly loyal to Spike, but how the boy had become so morally lost was truly beyond Wesley's understanding. While he had been a fool, he'd never been evil as a teenager.

"You mean the way he had no choice in servicing Spike?" Wesley demanded coldly. "Are you so lost that you excuse or perhaps don't even register a violent rape?" Wesley's voice was barely above a whisper but was still harsh in its condemnation.

Angel's hand fell on his shoulder. "Wesley, don't," Angel said. Xander frowned and looked from Angel to Wesley.

"I haven't changed that much," Xander said in a tone that almost sounded hurt.

"Wesley, now is maybe not a good time," Fred nearly whispered, and Wesley certainly knew it was not a good time. Angel's rapist was currently moving into Angel's old rooms, but he couldn't help the sour fear in his guts now that he'd seen Spike hurt his own grandsire with such casual ease.

"Wesley, it wasn't rape," Angel said as he tightened his hand on Wesley's shoulder.

"Really? It did appear to be rape to me."

"It wasn't," Angel shook his head vehemently. "That was..." Angel paused. It was Xander who finished his thought.

"That was Spike trying to help you? Trying to give you a place where you didn't have to carry all the guilt by yourself?" he guessed, and the condescension implied by such a statement horrified Wesley. He frowned at the boy and then at Angel.

Angel's eyes were closed, but he was nodding. "Yes," he admitted softly.

"Too many monsters, and you can't save everyone. You don't have a way to decide who to save and it gnaws at the soul," Fred said softly as she reached up and touched Angel's cheek. "But you saw the court. Spike has more good and neutral forces on his side than evil. It's like he's the fulcrum with positive and negative forces cancelling each other out," she nodded.

"You're condoning this?" Wesley demanded. He'd been so sure that Fred would demand that the three of them get out.

"It's like a stochastic process," Fred said, obviously struggling with her words as she sometimes did. "A state is accessible from a different state if, assuming we are in the first state, there is a non-zero probability that at some time in the real future, we could be in the second state. If Spike forces Angel to get stronger or if Spike kills Willow, there is a zero probability of that causing him pain. But if Angel has to choose to do these things, then madness is an accessible state from the forcing of the choice," she said softly.

Wesley frowned as that explanation sank in. "No," he whispered.

"Don't go adding more guilt to the guilty one," Xander said with a snort as the elevator bumped to a stop on the third floor. "You couldn't break away from the Watchers without coming to Angel. You needed him to disprove what you already knew was pure bullshit, so it's not like you're in the 'exactly mentally healthy' column yourself."

"None of us are," Fred agreed softly.

Wesley had absolutely no answer for that. He stood in shocked silence as Angel took an unsteady step toward the opening doors. Fred hurried to pull up the grate for him.

"I needed Spike to force a true submission. I can't go up against one of Buffy's friends," Angel said softly. "If you want to think me weak and leave, I'll ask Spike to just let you go," Angel said without even turning to look at Wesley who was still standing in the elevator in shock, "but don't think Spike raped me. We're vampires, Wesley, and he knew what I needed."

Fred slipped under Angel's other arm, and with Xander on one side and Fred on the other, Angel managed to move down the hall, toward the sound of the humans who were being herded up to the third floor where they would be making their home until the emergency with Willow had passed. The elevator doors slid closed, and Wesley found himself staring at them dumbly, not even sure what he was supposed to think at this point.


Wesley fidgeted under the vampire guard's gaze as he waited outside of what used to be Angel's room. Apparently Spike had attached great importance to both appropriating Angel's space and making Angel's humans wait in hallways.

"Hey Wesley," Fred said brightly as she came up to him. "Onion ring?" She offered him a plate of snack foods.

"I..." Wesley frowned at her a second. "Surely Mr. Harris cannot eat that much."

"Nope, I think Master Spike is going to eat more that Xander," she agreed. "But there's enough for you to have one."

Wesley's blood turned to ice water. "I hardly think I should eat before Master Spike," Wesley quickly said, his gaze slipping to the vampire guard as he swallowed fearfully. He had nearly offered a fatal insult to a Master Vampire over a ruddy piece of fried onion.

Fred gave an exaggerated sigh. "It's not like he's so insecure he's even going to worry about an onion ring." She rolled her eyes. "I doubt you or me could do much that would make him worry one bit at all." With that, she headed right for the door, smiling at the vamp guard when he opened the door for her.

"Just send the bloody nit in, too," Spike shouted, and Wesley jumped. God, he hadn't been this nervous since the day he'd gotten off the bus in Sunnydale. Of course, back then he had been a good deal more certain that he knew what he had been doing, and now... now he was almost certain that he had lost his mind. His plan to be a Rogue Demon Hunter was utter brilliance compared to the current mess into which he had injected himself

"I made my momma's dipping sauce," Fred offered as she put the tray of goodies next to Spike on the black leather sofa that had replaced the small table in Angel's sitting area. Spike sprawled, somehow taking up most of the room while Xander sat at his feet. Wesley nearly giggled at the thought of pointing out that the heavy thing did not match the overall décor. Angel was sitting in his own old-fashioned wingchair which had been moved next to the new addition. Once Fred had delivered her food, she dropped cross-legged to the floor in front of Angel. Spike looked at her with a raised eyebrow, and she just smiled at him sweetly. Spike shifted, his expression darkening, but Fred just continued to smile at him. For his part, Wesley was ready to ask someone to call 911 for the heart attack he was about to have.

"Fred," Angel said awkwardly. He was obviously trying to avoid touching her, which left him spreading his legs to give her room lean back against the chair. Spike and Xander clearly had no such problem with touching. Xander was sitting with one leg sprawled out in front of him and one tucked under his butt as he leaned against Spike's inner thigh. He was using a tiny piece of sandpaper to polish a carved statue in his hands, and Wesley wasn't sure, but he thought he'd seen the edge of a smirk on Xander's face.

"Yes?" Fred asked as she looked up at him with wide eyes. Wesley stopped breathing to avoid the gasp that wanted to escape. They truly were not going to survive this.

Surprisingly, Spike started laughing. "She's got talent, that big-eyed waif look of hers is bloodly impressive camouflage," he said as he picked up an onion ring and dipped it in the white sauce Fred had made before popping it in his mouth.

"The Pyleans were much easier to fool once they thought I was innocent and stupid, Master Spike," Fred agreed. A hint of pain flashed across Angel's face.

And now Xander definitely looked like he smirking. It was an expression he'd worn all too often around Wesley back in Sunnydale, and it looked strange on him here. In all the illustrations of human pets in various books Wesley had seen and in all the suck houses and Rapture houses he had helped Angel raid, he had never seen a human pet smirk. Spike held an onion ring down and Xander turned his head and ate it as he looked up at Spike. If Wesley had harbored any doubts about their relationship, the way Xander slowly licked Spike's fingers and rubbed his cheek against Spike's thigh certainly would have cured him of any confusion.

Spike took a second to run fingers through Xander's long curls before he turned his attention back to Fred. "I'm not a Pylean, pet. So, as much as I appreciate the nibbles, you're going to have to explain why you think you have a right to park your arse in here." Spike cleared his throat and looked down at Xander who was now nuzzling dangerously close to his owner's cock. Xander stopped.

Fred waited until Spike looked back at her. "You called for Wesley and Tara and Dawn," Fred said softly, her lower lip disappearing. She chewed on it quietly and Spike cocked his head at her.

"Yeah, don't recall your name being on the list," Spike pointed out as he held down a chip. Xander repeated his nearly pornographic performance with the food. This time, the young man drew Spike's fingers into his mouth with soft sucking sounds. Wesley carefully studied the curving details in the corner of the room in a desperate attempt to ignore Xander Harris' antics.

"You're going to discuss magic... magic to stop Willow," Fred said quietly. "And I know I'm not always real reliable with the fighting, but my equations are always right, Master Spike," she said softly, and then she looked up at Angel with so much raw pain and confusion that Wesley was quite sure he had missed something.

"Pet, tell me about your equations," Spike said as he tilted his head. Xander subsided from his obvious attempts to engage in foreplay and just rested his cheek against Spike's knee as he watched Fred.

"In Pylea. I had all these equations, and sometimes I couldn't even remember what oatmeal tasted like because it'd been so long, but I never forgot the dynamical systems theory. If you can calculate the Poincaré recurrence time and use a non-rotated Baker's map, you can predict the interactions of dimensions like intersecting lines of tartan. The only hard part is the Lebesgue measure, which doesn't really measure much, but I'm working on explaining the way multiple dimensions affect the layering and interlap... maybe related to the dyadic expansion of x. But anyway, when Wesley pulled out his dimension books and no one asked about my numbers..."

Fred's voice trailed off, and then she was studying her own jeans, her fingers picking at the hem and all of the easy joy of a second ago had drained from her. "I should go," she said softly as she got up. She started for the door, but Spike was there, his hand on her arm, and Xander was standing, and Angel was up and looking worried. It suddenly occurred to Wesley that he was between all of these people and the main exit. Slowly, he slid to the side, nearly knocking over the globe in the process. Bloody stupid place to put a stupid globe, he thought as he scrambled to keep it from crashing to the ground.

He looked at the others, hoping they hadn't noticed, but Master Spike was looking right at him with something that resembled amusement. Then he returned his attention to Fred. She slowly looked up at him.

"You have any of your numbers around here, pet?" Spike asked gently.

She frowned for a second, and then slowly nodded. "On the walls of my old room."

"Here?" Spike asked, both eyebrows going up. Fred nodded again.

"Would ya happen to know who picked your old room?" Spike asked as he let go of Fred and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.

"Aeth," Fred answered. Spike's eyes instantly darted over to Angel who appeared to shrink by a couple of inches.

Aeth was the dark-haired woman Wesley had seen with Tara and Dawn the first night the court had appeared. She was a mage from the Order of Taraka with strict orders to defend Dawn and Tara at all costs. From what Wesley had gathered from various eavesdropping, Tara had refused to feed Willow her magic and their relationship had become increasingly volatile with Willow attempting to steal first Tara and then Dawn's innate magic. Tara had taken up residence within Spike's court for protection, and Willow had used black magic to attempt a direct attack. She had come to L.A. only after that failed, and now Spike was determined to remove Willow's magic or drain her of blood. He'd brought Aeth in to handle the black magic Tara and Dawn had been unable to use due to their own associations with white magic.

"So, Peaches, ya have a budding techno-mage on your hands," Spike said. Rather than sounding congratulatory as Wesley would expect if Spike chose to attribute such powers to one of Angel's humans, he sounded almost peevish.

"I wouldn't call her that," Angel said with a frown. Wesley could see Angel's fingers twitch as though he wanted to pull Fred back to his side, but the matter of dominance had been rather definitively settled between Angel and Spike.

Ignoring everyone, Spike lit a cigarette. As everyone else waited, Xander slid closer, pressing himself against Spike's back and reaching around so that he could stroke his hand up and down Spike's chest in a blatant sexual display that left Wesley warm and blushing. Luckily, Fred seemed so embarrassed by being the center of attention that she didn't notice Xander's performance. Turning his head, Xander rested his cheek against Spike's shoulder and just looked at the vampire, his fingers now rubbing small circles on Spike's stomach. Spike turned his head and blew a plume of smoke away from Xander.

"Right then, time for a little show and tell. Pet," Spike reached out and caught Fred's chin, pulling her head up so she was face to face with him, "you answer questions only if I tell you to and you think fast enough to go along with whatever I say, got it?" Spike demanded.

Fred stared at him with big eyes and then nodded. "Peaches, bring your humans then," Spike said as he twisted around and caught Xander by the waist, pulling him close for a hard kiss before heading for the door.

Spike slammed out of his quarters, sending the vampire guard stumbling back, and Wesley found his own arm caught in Angel's firm grip as he was hurried along after them.

"Angel, did I say something wrong?" Fred whispered desperately.

Angel grimaced. "No, I did," Angel said. "I should have realized... too late now. Just do what he says."

Wesley had very little time to ponder that statement before they had reached Fred's old room. Spike shoved the door open without warning, and the dark-haired mage was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room with a lap top on the floor in front of her. Wesley had offered once to help Fred paint, but her mathematical graffiti still covered the walls, part of the floor and one corner of the ceiling. When she'd come back from Pylea, her numbers had been all that she truly cared about. Now Aeth immediately stood and tilted her head respectfully, a heavy braid slipping off her shoulder and swinging down.

Wesley would have gladly left the others to discuss whatever they were going to discuss, but Angel shoved him and Fred both into the room before he took up a position standing just in front of them both.

"Master Spike," Aeth said with obvious surprise.

"You like the room?"

"I... It's more than adequate, Master Spike."

"See, here's the thing. I figured you'd come and talk to me before this. Instead, you do seem to be keeping your own council," Spike said softly, and even though nothing obvious had changed, Wesley could feel the danger sliding around them like a hungry snake.

"I certainly didn't wish to bother you, Master Spike."

"So, this isn't worth bothering with?" Spike asked with a gesture toward the walls.

Aeth looked around the room for a second and then looked at Spike, blinking for a second before she obviously came to some conclusion. "This is certainly worthy of study, and of course I would have spoken with you about such power magic within your territory, Master Spike."

Spike didn't answer right away as he continued to smoke, and Wesley pressed closer to Angel. Next to escaping the hotel altogether, Angel offered the only island of safety, precarious though it might be. Spike nodded. "Right then, have ya finished yet?"

"Finished, Master?" she asked as she looked up with some concern.

"With the mage rot. If ya can't handle it, I suppose the Order could send someone more competent," Spike said before he took a deep drag on his cigarette. Xander moved forward and knelt, his head resting against Spike's hip as the vampire watched the mage with yellowed eyes.

"This is..." Aeth gestured toward the room, but whatever she was going to say just stuck in her throat. Wesley could understand why because the look on Spike's face was rather forbidding. "The equations are fascinating and powerful, Master, but I am at a loss as to what you might mean about finishing."

"Wot? Ya thought I'd just give ya access to a techno-mage's work on a whim?" Spike dropped his cigarette and crushed it under his boot before he reached down and let his hand run through Xander's hair. "Careful, luv, you're running the risk of offending me."

"I would never wish to offend you, Master Spike," Aeth hurried to say.

From nowhere, Dalton appeared at the doorway, Riley right behind her, and neither looked particularly friendly.

"I had no idea you wanted me to do something in particular with these equations," she said, her eyes going from Spike to Dalton as she took a step backwards.

"Then you're not the Order's best mage, no matter what they may think. I'll have to call Itnal and have that discussion with him," Spike said with a shrug and the woman paled. "Might have to talk about how you're not guarding your witches the way you were ordered."

"Dawn and Tara are with the Oden Tal and are safe, Master, my life on that."

"Bloody right your life is on that," Spike agreed. "So, tell me what you can add to this research or I'll start shopping for another mage," Spike said, and he transformed into his full vampire visage. Xander slid back a half inch, his hand dropping to his sword as he put one foot on the ground. It left him looking like he was preparing to propose to Master Spike, but Wesley suspected the man could launch a deadly attack from the position. Angel reached back and grabbed Wesley, pulling him and Fred farther in as Dalton stepped forward.

Riley had his hand on a sidearm, and the expression on his face was utterly cold. Wesley had no doubt that Riley would efficiently and calmly shoot this woman given half a chance. Her hand came up, and Spike growled low. Before she could make a single protective charm gesture, he'd reached out and caught her by the wrist, yanked her in a half circle and slammed her back into the wall.

Xander had his sword drawn and he took up a position to Spike's right while Riley had fallen to one knee and had his pistol trained at the mage's head. Wesley could only freeze in horror at the idea that he was about to watch the woman die. True, she was a dark mage in the employ of the Order of Taraka and a Master Vampire, but Wesley had problems with the sort of evil that did not conveniently turn to dust. He was actually grateful for Angel's bruising grip keeping him firmly trapped against the wall.

"You thought to take my techno-mage's work for yourself? Steal knowledge from me and not even try to help with the mad witch? Maybe you thought I was too stupid to know the power of higher-level math," Spike said, his voice little more than a whisper as he grabbed her braid and pulled her head to the side, exposing the arch of her neck. He leaned in and licked her neck.

"Explain to me why you haven't done what I expected you to have the brains to figure out on your own." Spike licked up her neck and ended up sucking on her ear, a gesture of affection which felt more horrifying than any threat of harm--given the circumstances. Wesley reached out and laid his hand on Fred's arm, worried about how she might react to such overt violence.

"I'm sorry, Master," Aeth whispered.

"Then you'll either make it up to me by proving your worth, or I'll have you for dinner," Spike said as he backed up a half step. "Show some of those lovely brains that Itnal believes you to have."

Even though Spike now let her go, Xander and Riley continued to point their weapons at her, and Dalton had gone into gameface as well.

"The equations define dimensions, predict the ways that dimensional walls thin and portals can most easily be opened between worlds," Aeth hurried to offer.

Spike leaned against one of the equation-covered walls and watched her impassively. She cleared her throat and talked faster, her voice now higher than usual. "Since we're here to deal with Willow Rosenberg, I assume the equations are in reference to her situation, and certainly sending her to another dimension would be one solution. With these equations, you could predict the instabilities and perhaps even open a portal to inaccessible dimensions such as Quor'Toth or To'ojager; however, Ms. Rosenberg's ability to siphon magic from others and the inherent magical potential in those realms would not preclude her return, especially if she has access to this level of power." The woman was coming dangerously close to babbling.

Spike waved his hand and Xander and Riley both stood down. Immediately, Dalton was next to her pet, her hand around his neck tightly and he dropped to his knees at her feet. Xander however, continued to watch the mage in a guarded stance.

"Red didn't do this," Spike said dismissively. "So, Fred, seems like Aeth is impressed with your math, but not your plan to trap Red in another dimension."

"Fred?" Aeth demanded as her eyes went to Fred who was now blushing brightly. Angel snarled and stepped forward, and the mage dropped her gaze to the floor.

"Any thoughts, pet?" Spike asked. He walked over and brushed his hand over Fred's hair. Wesley could see Angel flinch, but he didn't comment and unless he was seeing things, Fred almost seemed to move closer.

"If we can't put her in a fifth dimension, another reality or possibility, could we put her in a higher dimension?" Fred asked quietly. Spike looked over at Aeth.

"A higher dimension?" the mage asked.

"Sure," Fred smiled and got that look of utter fascination that would come over her when she would lose herself in her numbers. The shyness vanished and she stepped up to stand between Angel and Spike. "M-theory postulates eleven dimensions with branes that intersect or define each, and of course bosonic string theory has twenty-six, but I don't really think the number is important. What's important is the Dirichlet-p-brane. They hold the end of superstrings that have loose ends, only the ends aren't loose because they're localized within certain regions of space, which makes sense only if they're somehow caught by some limitation in a dimension we can't track." Fred made a cage out of her fingers as though holding a ball. "Polchinski defines these p-branes by the actions of seemingly unrestricted endpoint being restricted. Since we know that it's not just theory but reality that these dimensions are other worlds, could it be that there are closed ended p-branes that aren't actual other dimensions but just bubbles... loops that have a grip on the end of the string but that don't have an actual dimensional quality which is why the string can't slide back out again? Things go in but they don't check out?"

Angel and Spike were both looking at Fred rather dumbly, and Wesley had to admit that he hadn't followed even half of that. Aeth, however, looked interested. "Dimensional prisons?"

"Bubbles," Fred said as she held up her hands still formed around an invisible ball. "But unless we knew what was inside the bubble, maybe this would be a bad idea. We could end up shoving Willow into some space with no air or light."

"I've got no bloody problem with that," Spike said with a snort.

"Master?" Xander asked softly. Spike looked over and sighed. "Right then, can you two find one of these bubbles and poke around a bit? I want to know just how tight the prison is, how it will react to Willow throwing every bit of her magic at it and whether or not we can get her back out if we want."

Fred's face fell. "I wouldn't know how to do that." She looked from Spike to Angel with a look of profound sorrow, and again Wesley felt for the woman who had seemingly lost everything except her math during her imprisonment.

"We could built a magical construct, send it in and then record the results," Aeth offered. "But I don't know how to identify a...."

"Dirichlet-p-brane," Fred offered. "And we could make one. Maybe. Tachyon condensation might—"

"Oi!" Spike interrupted. Fred jumped at looked at him with something that came close to panic. "Ya did good pet," Spike quickly reassured her, "but I'm not about to stand around and listen to you bang out ideas. Xander, go get Tara and have her sit in on this discussion. Among the three of 'em, they'll figure out a plan."

Xander finally put his sword away and turned and headed for the door. He stopped on the threshold. "Um, where am I going to find Tara, Master?" he asked. Spike looked at Aeth.

"The Oden Tal were going to teach Dawn some defensive moves in the training room," Aeth offered. Xander turned and darted out of the room.

"Dalton," Spike said as he walked to his childe. Reaching up, Spike wrapped his hand around the back of her neck and she tilted her head in submission. "Ya did a good job breaking your boy in," Spike said as he reached down with his other hand to rest it against Riley's head. Wesley shivered. Riley Finn had been a soldier, a demon hunter with dozens of kills, and now he knelt under these vampires' hands. It looked like Dalton tightened her hold on his neck because his shoulders hunch a little, but he remained quiet. "Think ya could rein in a mage?" Spike looked over his shoulder at Aeth.

She paled so that she looked nearly ready to pass out, but her back went straight. "I am a member of the Order, Master Spike," she said, but her voice trembled.

"When I tell 'em how you were tryin' to pirate from me, no, you won't be," Spike said as he turned to face her, his hand still around his childe's neck. Wesley had no idea what the relationship was between Spike and Dalton, but he obviously trusted her implicitly if he was planning on allowing her to break a mage. Either that, or Spike intended to take Fred for himself, and Wesley would die before he would allow that to happen.

"Master Spike," Aeth choked out, looking desperately at him. Dalton smiled, her fangs showing as she took a step forward.

"I will break her for you, Sire," she agreed.

Aeth stood, her body starting to tremble, but Dalton just stepped forward and grabbed the woman around the neck and forced her down to her knees.

"Mistress?" Riley asked, and Wesley looked over to see an expression of alarm on the former soldier's face.

"Hush, boy. She just needs a little time to bring her new pet under control," Spike said as he rested his hand against Riley's cheek, pulling Riley in close so the man leaned against Spike's leg. "Come." Spike turned and headed back out of the room. "Angel, leave Fred to work with Tara and Aeth. Dalton will make sure that the mage plays nice."

Wesley panicked at the thought of leaving Fred behind, and Angel was clearly not comfortable with it either because he hesitated as he watched Riley follow Spike out of the room.

"It's okay. Really," Fred said softly despite the fact that Dalton had her fingers wrapped tightly around Aeth's neck. The mage was desperately clawing at Dalton's arm to get her to ease up. Dalton glanced over.

"I will not discipline your human, Master Angel," Dalton said with a tilt of her head in his direction.

Angel didn't react right away, but then he tilted his head toward her. "See that you don't. Fred was damaged by people who paid for harming her and I will not have her damaged again." Dalton glanced over toward Fred and then back toward Angel.

"Of course, Master Angel. I shall be busy with this one who believes she can steal from our Master with impunity," she said with a smile that was not at all nice. Aeth made a little distressed noise, and Wesley might have been tempted to intervene except Angel started pulling him toward the door with a painfully tight grip. Wesley flinched but didn't complain as he was dragged out like an errant schoolboy. As they were leaving, Wesley could see Fred sink to her knees and smile sweetly at Dalton.

"Angel, you are hurting my arm," Wesley complained quietly as they headed back down the hall. The Oden Tal were coming up the stairs looking like extras from an Amazon movie set, Tara and Dawn in the middle dressed in rather suburban clothing and Xander trailing behind them. It truly was surreal.

"Hey, Angel," Dawn called. "Xander said that Fred might have figured out a way to stop Willow without the killing. That's great!" she said with a smile. Rushing ahead of the two Oden Tal in front, she darted to him, threw her arms around him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"I hope it works, short stuff," Angel said as he gave her a hug. "I really do."

Tara had reached the top of the stairs, and she stood quietly, her fingers playing with her long skirt. "I hadn't realized Fred was a techno-mage." Tara glanced up and studied Angel closely.

"Fred is just Fred. She has a lot of talents," Angel offered rather noncommittally. Tara nodded. "We need to go see Spike," Angel ended the conversation and started down the hall, his fingers tightening on Wesley's arm even more.

"You truly are hurting me," Wesley complained a little louder as the other group headed for Fred's old room.

"Not as much as you're going to hurt if you say what you're about to say," Angel said as he glanced over his shoulder. Wesley looked back and Xander was there behind them.

Xander nodded. "Deadboy's right, Wesley. You're so far out of your league it's not funny. A few bruises on the arm to remind you to shut up is so not even approaching the hurt you're going to be in for if you say the wrong thing at the wrong time," he agreed. Then he frowned. "And I just agreed with Deadboy. We need to check for apocalypsi and flying pigs."

"The correct word is apoc—" Wesley's words strangled in his throat as Angel's hand tightened enough to sent burning agony down his arm.

Xander gave a huff of laughter. "Apocalypses, yep, see, I knew that, but the correcting of my grammar makes you seem like you're trying to prove you're better than me, and that would be very bad for the health because if Angel's pet tried to make himself out to be better than Spike's pet, then badness lies that way. Seriously, Wesley, you're way out of your league, so I would recommend keeping the mouth shut or asking Angel for a gag," Xander offered as he detoured around them and headed for Angel's old room.

Angel leaned in close, his words a whisper against Wesley's ear. "And as much as it pains me to do it, I have to agree with Xander. Get your emotions under better control or I will chain you to the radiator in your room and leave you until they're gone." Wesley looked at Angel in surprise, but he did not appear to be joking. Before Wesley could even form a response, Angel herded him into the room with Spike.

Spike was back on his sofa, this time with Riley and Xander kneeling between his legs. One of his boots was resting on Riley's thigh, and he had his hand around Riley's chin, forcing the man's head back so that the front of his neck curved out. Spike let go of Riley's face, but Riley didn't move as Spike's hand trailed over the curve of his neck and down to Riley's scarred shoulder.

"Took me nearly a year to track down the wankers who had bought Riley here," Spike said quietly as Angel closed the door. "They had him strung out on Rapture so bad he didn't rightly know who I was when I showed up in his room. Fuck, he didn't even notice he was layin' in his own shit. The drugs were all that mattered to him, back then. Isn't that right, boy?" Spike asked.

Riley's adam's apple bobbed. "Yes, Master."

"Ya hate admitting that part, don't ya?" Spike ran a black fingernail over Riley's bite scars.

"Yes, Master."

"Pet," Spike asked as he reached down and stroked Xander's hair. Xander pressed into the touch, twisting around so that his hand ended up on Riley's thigh as he looked up at Spike. "What had you so twisted up when I found you?"

"Fear," Xander answered without hesitation. "I was afraid that I wasn't important... that people didn't need me or really care about me. Sometimes I thought that Buffy and Willow just put up with me because I was there, and as they got caught up in college and other people I was so scared that I turned to the only person who seemed to want me."

"Spike?" Angel asked in a bewildered tone. Wesley was grateful that he wasn’t the only one confused. Spike crooked his finger at Angel. For a half second, Angel pressed his hand against Wesley's chest, pushing him back and tacitly ordering him to stay out of the way, an order Wesley was only too happy to obey. Angel stepped forward.

Spike leaned back on the couch and looked up at Angel. "You want to explain what has your head up your arse because I know it's not drugs or fear."

"I don't know what you mean."

Spike exploded up off the couch and slammed Angel back against the far wall. Wesley jumped back and promptly cracked the back of his head against the door, but Xander and Riley just watched as Spike pinned Angel to the wall. "What the bloody fuck are you thinking? You have a fucking techno-mage and you don't fucking notice? Darla tortures you, and your big solution is to fire all the humans who are trying to be loyal? What the fuck are you thinking Angel? How many pieces are you losing track of?"

"I'm not losing track of anything," Angel growled, but even Wesley wasn't particularly convinced. Spike threw Angel across the room and he hit the bed, slid across it and thumped to the floor on the far side.

"Pryce," Spike snapped, and for a second, it didn't even occur to Wesley that was his name. Then the vampire turned and snarled at him.

"Um, yes?" Wesley pressed himself back against the door. "Master Spike," he hurried to add.

"Where's Lindsey McDonald?"

"The lawyer?"

Spike frowned.

"I'm not sure. After the massacre at Wolfram and Hart, I assume he has remained in their employ, but I don't know that for sure... Master Spike."

"Because Peaches isn't keeping track of the pieces," Spike said as he turned to face off against Angel again.

"Spike, this isn't your territory."

"Bloody well is, mate. What's yours is mine, only what's yours is a fucking mess. Spies tell me that you had Lindsey on your side and then you turned him back out to find his own way."

"Yes..." Angel's voice trailed off as he frowned at Spike in confusion. Spike just shook his head and went back to the couch, flopping down between his two kneeling humans. "Riley, let's play a little game." Spike again lifted his boot to rest it on Riley's thigh. "Let's say I'm right brassed off at Dalton and decide to take her favorite little pet away. I could put a chain on ya and add you to the stable or turn you loose... give you back your freedom. Which one would you want?"

Riley paled and looked down for a second before taking a deep breath. "To go to the stable, Master."

"Tell the brooder here, why," Spike ordered.

Riley looked up at Angel who looked downright gobsmacked at this point. "Every day I still want the Rapture and the bite. I can control that need here because I know I wouldn't get far if I tried, and I'd be punished. But if I was free, I'd go for the drugs. And I hate myself for wanting them, but I do. If I had to choose, being a stable human is a better life and does more good than going back to a Rapture house."

Spike slowly applauded, and now Riley turned a soft shade of red. "He's bloody figured it out. You've only had about three hundred fucking years and you still haven't gotten it," Spike snarled at Angel. "Lindsey came to you—he might as well have begged you ta take his choices away because he couldn't make the right ones, and you tossed his sorry ass right back out. Wouldn't make a difference if he was a useless piece, but he wasn't. You're losing track of the game, Peaches. You're losing track badly. Where's Darla?"

Angel shook his head. "Darla?"

"Darla. The bird who turned you, who you boned and then turned loose to eat a bunch of lawyers. Where is she, Peaches?"

"I don't know," Angel said stiffly.

"You don't know bloody much. You don't know you have a techno-mage in the clan? You don't keep your seer close enough to protect? You don't have a bloody fucking charm on the building? You don't even own the building?" Spike was up again and pacing.

"I bloody promised myself I'd stay out of your business, but I can't. You're fucking up, Peaches. And until you figure out what has got your head screwed on backwards, you're not worth spit."

"Shanshu," Wesley breathed softly. Immediately, strong hands grabbed him and lifted him off the ground. His shirt cut into his underarms and Wesley had to tamp down an instinct to struggle as Spike pinned him to the door.

"Spike, please," Angel called.

"Wot?" Spike demanded, yellow eyes boring into Wesley.

"Shanshu. The prophesy that says that with enough good deeds Angel can become human again," Wesley blurted. It must have been the right answer because Spike dropped him and whirled on Angel again. Wesley collapsed to the ground, his shaking legs not able to guarantee he would remain upright if he tried to stand. Perhaps that was why human pets knelt so much... their knees were too wobbly to support their weight.

"You're bloody losing it over a chance to be human? That's why you're so wrapped up in your own shite that you're not taking care of business?" Spike demanded.

"I'm taking care of business," Angel snapped, but then he looked away.

"Lindsey is out bein' evil and settin' you up for a fall instead of being tucked away safely like he wanted to be, Darla is out trying to take over my territory and talking about her plans for recapturing her wayward boy, you have a techno-mage wandering around totally unprotected because you not only didn't tell me but you didn't bloody know yourself, and the only protection your seer has is the vampire I sent to watch her. You're doing a bang-up job Peaches. Do any better than this and I'll fucking send you to work for Wolfram and Hart. You're doing your own side more harm than good, so if I want to avoid an apocalypse, I can just bloody put you on the other side's team. Maybe you should go and help Willow. You'd fuck up and give her a nice vulnerability in no time." Spike snorted derisively.

"You're making it sound worse than it is," Angel argued rather weakly.

"Riley, you were into logistics and planning and all that rot. Why don't you give Peaches your honest assessment," Spike suggested with some amusement.

"He has an ill-structured problem with ambiguous goals, and as a commander, he is accepting limited intel from his staff and providing inadequate support, Master," Riley answered.

"Which is a nice way of saying he's fucking up big time, Master," Xander offered rather gleefully. Angel gave Xander a nasty look.

"Figured that out on my own pet," Spike said as he sat down and pulled on Xander so that the man literally crawled up into Spike's lap, nuzzling at Spike's neck as his fingers slid into Spike's waistband. "We'll take care of Red, and then you and I need to have a little discussion, Peaches," Spike warned. "Go on, go keep an eye on your Fred the way you want to."

Angel took a step toward the door and then stopped. "Spike, what about Darla?"

"What about her?" Spike asked, his hands already tugging Xander's shirt off. Xander was squirming in what might have been an attempt to help Spike undress him, but Spike just reached up and fisted Xander's hair, pulling his head to the side until Xander stilled.

Angel sighed. "Where is she, Spike?"

Spike pulled Xander's shirt off, and Wesley was surprised that beyond the feeding scar on his neck, he appeared unmarked. After Spike patted the couch next to him, Riley crawled up on Spike's other side. Unlike Xander, he wasn't squirming in anticipation, but he braced himself on the back of the couch and closed his eyes as Spike quickly stripped his shirt. Unlike Xander, Riley's back was a map of old, white scars.

"She challenged for my territory, Peaches. You already know the answer to that. So, if you want to stay and share my boys, I’m more than happy to have you around, but otherwise, bugger off," Spike ordered. Angel moved so fast that Wesley didn't even have time to stand before Angel had lifted him up from the ground and practically carried him out of the room.


Wesley leaned against the counter and watched the various fighting members of the court as they sprawled over couches that had mysteriously appeared in the lobby, no doubt arranged by Clem and his cousin who tended the stable and more mundane details of the court. The Oden Tal had taken their wounded member up to her room, but the other three had commandeered one of the couches. The tallest sat on the arm of the chair and smiled in amusement as the low-level vampire minions retold the tale of the attack on Willow. It didn't bother them at all that the minions had been the only group to suffer significant losses. Wesley wasn't sure exactly how many they had started with... more than a dozen certainly. Now five of them retold the story to each other in more and more outlandish variations.

Spike sat on the couch farthest from the door, and Angel was awkwardly hovering near him, not sitting, but clearly staying near. Fred sat on one side of Spike and Tara sat on the other looking emotionally and magically drained. However, Dawn was perched on the arm next to her looking no worse for wear after providing the magical energy for Aeth and Fred and Tara to perform one of the trickiest spells Wesley had ever seen.

Even now, he wasn't sure it would have worked if not for Xander. Willow had ripped through a half dozen minions with one word. The Oden Tal had hit her with a prolonged fireburst, and she had curled up, only to throw the fire off like a dog shaking water out of his coat. Her next attack had badly wounded Edent of the Oden Tal. Spike, Dalton and Angel had fared better, forcing her back while Wesley did his best to maintain a shield around the four women who were preparing the spell. Willow threw spells that had sent him to his knees, but with the others distracting her, she hadn't been able to destroy his protections, even if her every gesture had forced him to reinforce his weakening shield.

Toward the end, Wesley had been convinced that she just had too much magic for them. She'd slammed the majority of the attackers back, and then turn to obliterate Wesley's shield and the magic users within. But then Xander dropped his sword and stepped forward. He'd just whispered her name, but even Wesley could feel the power behind it, the love and confusion and need that Xander shoved into that one word as he just looked at her, standing helplessly in front of her as he silently begged her to remember who she had been.

Willow had paused in the middle of her attack... just stopped. She looked at Xander, and by the time she had raised a hand to attack him, Aeth had opened the dimensional prison. Willow had been sucked in screaming, and the fight was simply over. Angel had ended up all but carrying him and while Spike was caught between supporting Tara, snarling at Xander for endangering himself, and fussing over Dawn who'd seemed shell shocked at the damage their side had taken.

And now Xander sat at Spike's feet looking, for the first time, very much like the sort of human pet Wesley expected... dejected and lost. Spike softly petted him as he watched the minions retell the same story for the fifth or sixth time.

Dalton had her own couch, and Wesley wondered if that meant her status was higher or lower than Angel who hovered near Spike. Then again, perhaps it just meant that she wanted to keep her new pet away from the others. Aeth was horribly bound, chained, collared, and tightly gagged as she knelt at Dalton's feet. After completing the spell, the mage had attempted to run, and that had not ended well. Somehow Wesley doubted that Dalton would show Aeth much mercy.

Dalton's soft petting was limited to Riley who knelt between her feet and rested his cheek against her knee. He'd been thrown into a rock and one side of his face was turning a beautiful shade of black, but the Oden Tal and Tara had used up their magic and had none left for a healing. Dalton had said that her pet was strong enough to not worry about the pain of bruising. Wesley was rather more concerned about concussion, although Riley didn't seem to be particularly bothered by the injury.

What Wesley didn't understand was why Dalton had tightly bound his arms so that his chest protruded, but then Wesley was beginning to understand that he wasn't likely to understand much of anything when it came to the court. Xander commented to him that he simply needed to make a space in his brain labeled "demons weird" and as strange as it seemed, Wesley was beginning to think he should simply give up trying to reason his way through the situation and go along with Xander's suggestion.

One of the Oden Tal... Allia... began to sing a war chant, and the minions' retelling of the battle quieted some as her voice echoed against the marble. One of the two vampire lieutenants had survived, and he leaned forward and thumped out a rhythm on the coffee table to match her melody.

Angel drifted to the far end of Spike's couch and put his arm around Dawn. Anyone walking in would have heard the chatter of the minions and the battle song of Allia and assumed this was a victorious gathering, and perhaps for most of them, it was. But Spike and Angel and Xander and Tara all carried a sadness that kept the festivities subdued at best. And the glowing sphere in Tara's lap was a potent reminder that they had not just gone up against a monster of the week, but a former friend.

Wesley almost jumped out of his skin when a warm hand fell on his shoulder. He turned to find Falif looking at him with some amusement. Her black hair framed a round face made exotic by a black Oden Tal tattoo that marked her caste and rank. Of course, on her home planet, that rank was negligible given her gender, but it did appear that Master Spike had a fondness for strong women.

"Yes?" he managed to fight off a blush. She smiled.

"I had thought you might come sit with us," she suggested, her hand sliding around Wesley's waist. He nearly squeaked before clearing his throat.

"I don't know... I mean, I certainly don't want to offend," Wesley said as he looked toward Master Spike. She followed his gaze.

"Master Spike, is this one available or are his services under a master's control?" she asked loud enough for the entire room to hear. Wesley was quite sure that he blushed hard enough to damage blood vessels in his face.

"Up to him, luv. He's not a pet," Spike said dismissively, and Wesley looked to Angel who seemed intent on not giving him any assistance whatsoever.

"Ah, but Dawn is not a pet, and you have made your position very clear about my teaching her the ways of pleasure," Falif said coyly.

"Bloody right I'm clear on that," Spike just about snarled, and the Oden Tal women all laughed at what was obviously a private joke.

"I'm not a kid," Dawn protested with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

Spike narrowed his eyes. "You're not having sex. Not until you're grown."

"I'm old enough to have a baby," Dawn pointed out smugly.

"Not without having sex and then watchin' the boy who you had sex with get the shite kicked out of him, you aren't," Spike countered. "You're grown at eighteen, and you won't be learning anything about pleasure until then."

The Oden Tal laughed again as the minions watched with a sort of mild confusion. This time even Tara had to smile sadly before she glanced down at the sphere that contained Willow and her smile faded.

"But--" Dawn started to protest.

"One more word and you'll be twenty one before I let you out of the bloody house again," Spike threatened. Dawn crossed her arms and contented herself with glaring at him. Spike glared right back.

"We should go to bed. This was a difficult day," Tara said softly.

"I'm not tired," Dawn said.

Tara stood and rested her hand on Dawn's arm as she held the sphere with her other hand. "I'm very tired, Dawn. Please?"

Dawn's eyes drifted down to the sphere and the adolescent energy of a moment ago evaporated. "It is kinda late," she agreed as she stood up and slipped her arm around Tara's waist. "G'night," she offered, and she reached down to kiss Spike on the cheek as they passed him on the way to the main stairs. Wesley watched them go and worried immensely about Tara. She was carrying a great burden. According to Giles, Willow and Tara had entangled their auras and magics as well as their lives, becoming as close as two witches could. Now Tara had to carry the burden of having imprisoned Willow, of having left Willow alone to deal with her addiction. But truly, Wesley had seen no other choice given Willow's terrifying power.

When Tara and Dawn had left, Falif called out again to Spike. "So, Wesley is not like Dawn? He is not limited in his freedoms even without being a pet?"

"Have at him, luv," Spike said, his attention on Xander. "Dawn's the special case."

"See, he says I may have at you," Falif said as she took that as an answer and pulled him to the Oden Tal couch, settling him down between a black-haired woman whose name Wesley had not caught and herself.

"I... uh," Wesley managed before a strong hand landed on his thigh, fingers pressing into the soft inner flesh and he lost what he had been trying to say.

"Oi, Victor!" Spike called, and one of the minions jumped out of his seat to hurry to a spot in front of Spike.


"Tellin' those stories, ya make it sound like ya took on Red yourself. Seems like you got your ass tossed aside and Xander here stepped into the breach."

Xander turned and looked up at Spike, and clearly this was confusing him as much as Wesley. At least confusion managed to distract him from his growing erection. The dark haired Oden Tal had caught on to what her sister warrior was doing and she now had taken to inappropriately touching Wesley's other leg. He tried to cross his legs only to have Falif and the other pull them back apart with a soft laugh that was utterly uncalled for.

"Master?" the minion asked.

"In fact, it seems to me that Xander was about the only one of the front line fighters who didn't get tossed on his ass," Spike pointed out casually. Wesley could feel the fear crawling up his own belly for Xander, but surely Spike would never put Xander in any real danger. "Dalton, is that how you remember it?"

"Very much so, Master Spike," Dalton agreed, her fingers coming up to press into the black bruising on Riley's cheek. His eyes fell closed, but he made no other sign that he even noticed the pain.

"Thought so. I wonder. Does that mean that Xander's better than you?" Spike asked as he leaned back against the sofa. "Pet, could you take Victor?"

Xander blinked for a second. "I don't know, Master."

"Not knowing does seem to imply he thinks it's a possibility. So, do you think he could take you?" Spike asked as he cocked his head at the minion. Victor turned and looked at the other minions, but they were all silent and inclined to study the pattern on the tiled floor.

"He's a human," Victor said, still obviously not understanding his master's game and feeling pretty hesitant.

"Yeah, but he's kicked the shite out of most of the minions at some point. I'm wondering if you fight as well as you talk about fighting. So, do you know the rules for fighting my pet?" Spike asked. Victor backed up a step, cocking his head and looking from Spike to Xander.

"Spike," Angel said softly.

"Bugger off," Spike dismissed him with a wave of his hand as he nudged Xander with his knee. "Go on then, pet."

Xander stumbled up and stretched his legs since he'd been kneeling instead of sitting on the hard floor. "So, Victor, here's how it goes. He gets a sword in your gut, and you've lost. He beheads you, and I'm not going to bloody worry about it because any vampire who can't save his own soddin' neck from a human doesn't deserve his unlife. However, if you do any permanent damage, I'll make you wish for a nice quick beheading, got it?"

"Yes, Master," Victor agreed as he pulled his own sword to face off against Xander who already had his sword out. Victor had the clear advantage at first, his strength forcing Xander back as he twisted to defend himself from a fast flurry of attacks. Wesley suspected that the vampire would have won immediately had he not been trying to avoid damaging his master's pet because he was talented with a sword. This was no fledge fresh from the ground.

However, the longer they fought, the more frustration gnawed at the edge of the vampire's control. Xander's cautious defense slowly turned to a more aggressive offense as he feigned a weakness and then attacked when Victor fell for the bait. No more than five minutes in, Xander was sweating and smiling grimly as he forced Victor to back until he tripped over the edge of a rug. Victor sprawled, his sword sliding across the floor, and Xander tried to finish him off. Victor wasn't done, though. He caught Xander's sword and rolled onto it, forcing Xander to let go.

Xander jumped back, his knife immediately in hand, and the two combatants traded another series of blows. Victor was a closer match for Xander than Angel had been, and Wesley realized that Xander might actually win. With a knife to the vampire's stomach, Xander drew first blood, but Victor backhanded him away before he could do any more damage. When Xander came up, his lip was bleeding, and Victor immediately flashed into gameface, snarling as Xander leaped at him again.

"Hold!" Spike called. Xander froze, his knife extended and motionless as Victor took just a fraction of a second longer to halt his own forward motion.

"Master?" Xander called.

Spike stood up. "Nice control, Victor. Some of your mates are dust because they didn't bloody change their behavior when the prey or the rules changed. A blind attack is stupid. If you're going to be stupid, you find another court," Spike announced to the group. "A real vampire has control, even in the middle of a battle. He can change plans, take advantages of weakness." Spike slowly walked over to Xander. Running his thumb along Xander's split lip, he smeared the blood and then licked it from his finger with obviously pleasure, and Xander's battle ready tension faded as his body leaned toward Spike. "Not even blood makes a real vampire lose control. You don't forget control. Not ever."

Spike ran his hand over Xander's face, and Xander pressed into the touch, baring his neck. For a second, Wesley thought they might have sex right there in front of everyone, and the heat gathered in his face as Spike's hands ran possessively over Xander's shoulders and chest. But then Spike stopped and turned to the minions.

"Some of you survived because you saw the others go down and you changed tactics, attacking while Red was distracted. One of you survived because you bloody well panicked and hid. My boy didn't hide, so if you hid, that means that you are less than a human. Less than Xander or Riley. Less than the soddin' watcher who doesn't even have the training that Xander and Riley have." Spike looked over at Wesley, and he could feel himself blush. He just wasn't sure it was from the compliment of being noted as having stood his ground or being insulted for his lack of training. Obviously decades of watcher training meant very little to Master Spike. The dark haired woman took the opportunity to squeeze his cock and Wesley further embarrassed himself with a squeak.

"Someone shows a lack of control and I bloody well expect someone else to take up the slack." Spike turned his back on the minions and started walking back to his couch. Before he made it there, Victor had moved, darting in and grabbing a minion who looked like a reject from a Goth concert. Lifting the other vampire by his neck, Victor slammed him down on the floor and put a knee into his neck. Before Wesley could blink, Victor had a stake above the other's heart.

"Shall I dust him for you?" Victor asked. Spike reached his couch and sat, holding out a hand for Xander who immediately hurried to Spike's side and curled into him, half sitting in his master's lap.

"Depends. You feel like controlling him? He worth that?" Spike asked without much emotion. Victor looked around for a second, his eyes pausing on Dalton before he looked over at the remaining three minions who watched in silence.

"He isn't worth anything, Master. He has no control," Victor offered as he drove a stake into the other minion's heart. The minion vanished in a second, and silence descended on the court. Wesley watched in a sort of horrified fascination as Victor stood up, brushed off his clothes and walked to where Spike's surviving lieutenant sat, taking a seat next to him.

"We have a few other matters of control to deal with," Spike announced, and the court was silent. The Oden Tal who had been cleaning her sword slid it back into its scabbard with the slithering sound of steel against hardened leather.


"Me?" Fred asked in dismay as she sat up straight.

"Luv, you have incredible control over your emotions. It was a right treat out there how calm you were," Spike assured her as he reached over to rest a hand on her leg. Angel had moved to a position right behind Fred and looked about ready to have a heart attack. If he did, Wesley was joining him. His heart truly had taken too many surprises in the last few days. "But ya don't have much control over your powers. You're up there weakenin' the dimensional barriers without even knowin' it."

Fred glanced up toward the second floor. "I'm sorry," Fred whispered, and she looked truly upset.

"Not your fault, luv," Spike assured her as he turned and gave Angel a withering glare. "But the Order of Taraka owes me a mage since the one they sent me tried ta stab me in the back. The Order takes a dim view of that. They're sending a techno-mage, and you'll learn to keep your maths to the paper and not spread them out into spells hither and yon," Spike said firmly.

"A techno-mage?" Fred asked as she looked at Spike with with sudden interest. She had that tone of voice like when Gunn had suggested they go out for ice-cream, and she remembered loving chocolate chocolate-chip. "I'll work real hard to learn it. I really didn't mean to make my math into spells on the walls because I was just tryin' to make sense of things in my head that weren't making sense as long as they were all up there jumbled around together," she promised him. Spike patted her on the arm again.

"So, you're staying?" Angel asked with absolutely no emotion in his voice.

"Bloody hell no. Ever since Glory, the Hellmouth is demon bait. I'll have prime hunting grounds after a week off, but a month away and something's going to start trying to move into my bloody territory. Fred's going back with me."

Angel drew himself up, but Spike cut him off. "Do we need to fight over this again, Peaches?" he asked, his voice low and deadly. Angel looked at Spike and then at Fred. "Don't take her away from me, please," Angel asked softly.

"Wasn't plannin' to, mate. You're the other one who's been having a crisis with control lately. You're going back too." Spike gave a grin that made it more than clear that he'd been planning that little bombshell for a while. Wesley sucked in his breath and even Xander inched away from his master, so obviously he expected trouble.

Angel's mouth came open twice before he actually managed to come up with a response. "I have work..."

"Which you're bloody fucking up. You can come back after you get your head out of your fat arse," Spike shrugged dismissively. The court shifted nervously as Angel didn't immediately agree. The women on either side of Wesley finally let go of him, their hands falling to their weapons.

"I can't," Angel insisted as he backed up a step.

Spike stood and turned toward Angel. "Peaches," Spike said slowly and deliberately, "you're either going to submit or I'll bloody tie you up tighter than Aeth over there and drag you to Sunnyhell. Your choice."

Wesley held his breath as Angel just stared at Spike. Angel slowly shook his head, and before Wesley even had time to panic about this latest turn of events, Spike had leaped over the couch and plowed into Angel full strength. Both of them went flying backwards and crashed into the railing. Wood splintered around them, and Wesley recognized Angel's bellow.

When Spike darted aside, Wesley could see that Spike had taken a wooden rail and driven it through Angel's shoulder and into the floor below.

"Angel!" Fred shouted as he stood up.

"Stay out of it," Angel snarled as he managed to pull the bloody wood free. He turned, but before Wesley could even shout a warning, Spike had swung a chain at Angel's head, sending him crashing to the ground. Within ten seconds, Spike had pinned Angel and shackled his wrists in heavy irons.

"That was almost too easy, mate. I should give you to Xander for that week just for giving up so easily," Spike said as he pulled Angel up. Angel's shoulder bled profusely, and the chain had deeply cut his face.

Angel clenched his jaw and refused to answer. "Dalton," Spike called. "You did such a good job with Aeth there, take Peaches up to the stable, feed him up to full strength, and then get him trussed up good and proper. Take Riley with you, that'll amuse your boy," Spike suggested as he gave Angel a not nice smile. "And don't make me come up and set you straight, luv. My patience with you is out." Dalton walked over and grabbed Angel's arm, and for a half second, Angel didn't move as he glared at Spike with yellow eyes, but when Spike turned his back, Angel shook away his vampire features and let Dalton pull him toward the stairs. The court watched Dalton push Angel upstairs, dragging Aeth behind her by the leash with Riley following behind. Spike just walked to the couch and flopped down.

Fred was watching with wide eyes. It was Xander who reached across Spike and laid a hand on her hip, and she looked at him for a second before ducking down and settling in on the couch. Spike reached over and patted her shoulder.

"Right then, we're moving out tomorrow, so let's start getting the gear packed," Spike announced cheerfully to the court. "Victor, get Pryce to show you his books and let's get them down to Sunnyhell, too," he suggested as he stretched and pulled Xander to him with one arm. "Go on then, shift your arses," Spike said as he waved a hand. The group quickly dispersed and Wesley found himself alone on the couch and the center of Victor's undivided attention.

"I'll show you those books, now," Wesley offered quickly. The vampire looked faintly disappointed as Wesley hurried to offer up the volumes he had painstakingly gathered. On the couch, Spike's hand had vanished into Xander's waistband as those two started in again.


Sunset brought furious activity as the court packed and prepared to head back home. The stable humans looked a little more tired than they had when they'd come, and Clem was fussing over them, clucking about how the vampires needed a little more self control. The youngest male was obviously eating it up, clinging to Clem as he got them settled. Dawn and Tara went with the Oden Tal, but this time Aeth was chained and leashed right next to Angel, and Wesley tried hard to not look as Dalton led them both out to her vehicle.

Riley left his mistress's side and came over to where Wesley was trying to busy himself with the computer despite the fact that there was precious little to actually do. His face was hideously bruised and his jaw swollen.

"Is he screwing up as badly as Master Spike suggested?" Riley asked as he stood in front of Wesley, his hands tucked behind him, and Wesley found himself wondering if that was a soldier's habit born of standing at ease or the habit of a man used to being restrained.

Wesley considered the question for a moment. "Perhaps. I can't say I agree with the conclusions Master Spike drew, but Angel has made... questionable choices of late," Wesley agreed even if it did feel like betrayal. "However, Angel is more than capable of recognizing any missteps he might have taken along his path to redemption."

"Right," Riley commented without even trying to sound convinced. "He's a commanding officer who needs to be relieved of duty. But they won't hurt him. They will, however, hurt you if you misunderstand this situation and attempt to remove Angel from their custody."

Honestly shocked at the warning, it took Wesley a second to decide whether Riley had meant it as friendly advice or a threat. "I had come to that conclusion," he finally said.

"Good." Without another word, Riley turned and walked back to his mistress who was waiting near the door to the rear exit with her two charges on their leashes. For a second, Wesley caught Angel's gaze, and Angel was neither wide eyed with horror or glaring with frustration. He was simply waiting. He was gagged, collared, tightly bound and leashed, but simply waiting. Yes, Wesley did think he needed to just stay out of this one. When Riley reached Dalton, they went out the back door to the private parking. Hopefully none of the neighbors were watching with binoculars or Wesley was going to have an interesting time explaining any of this to the constables.

A commotion at the front door interrupted his musings. "Oh, I don't think so," a loud voice insisted. "This is my hotel, so unless you want me to call the Shop of Skank and have them repossess your outfit, you can just get out of my way."

Wesley hurried out from behind the desk. "She's one of us," he called to the vampire who had been left guarding the front door, a female who made the Oden Tal women look they were wearing nuns' habits in comparison. Before Wesley could get through the lobby, Spike was already there, looking Cordelia up and down. She just crossed her arms over her chest and checked him out right back.



"Didn't reckon you'd show up around here." Spike leaned against the wall and watched her with undisguised amusement. Wesley wasn't sure how far that amusement would go if Cordelia wasn't careful because minions were watching. Master Spike tended to have rather less patience in front of his minions.

"I just thought with my cutting honesty I was better off staying away so that I didn't say something that injured your ego so badly that you had to kill me," she shrugged as she headed into the lobby. "So, Fred says you have Willow all bottled up." Cordelia started going through the random papers and bills on the counter without even looking at Spike, and Wesley retreated back to the office area and his pointless fussing over the computer.

"She's contained. Tara reckons her stolen power will be drained in a few weeks, and the worst of the addiction will be past in a couple of months." Spike followed her and leapt up onto the counter so he could watch as she sorted papers.

"So, you're leaving her in there to go through withdrawal on her own?" Cordelia asked. She looked up at him.

"Got a problem with that?" Spike had just a hint of danger in his voice. Had Wesley challenged him even this much, he had no doubt that Spike would have passed 'hint of danger' in favor of slamming him to the floor already. Cordelia appeared to have more maneuvering room with him.

"After getting visions of what she did to those guys in the bar, no, not so much," Cordelia said with very little sympathy. "Fred says you told her and Angel to pack. Actually, she said something about you packing Angel, but that was definitely not very clear, so I ignored it."

"Blunt as ever, luv," Spike said with a smile.

"Life's too short to waste time," she said with a shrug, and now Spike frowned and leaned forward.

"I suppose it is. It's too short to leave Mr. Clueless to fumble about on his own, too."


"Yeah," Spike agreed. He reached out and caught the back of Cordelia's neck. She didn't even flinch as Spike pulled her close. "He says your Groo left ya."

"Men do that... leave," Cordelia sniffed as though the whole mess were beneath her.

"Really? Fred says you pushed him away," Spike said as he finally let her go. Cordelia just went back to sorting papers.

"Fred is not exactly insightful when it comes to relationships." Cordelia finally gave up any pretense of sorting papers and just let her hands rest against the counter as she looked incredibly tired.

"Yeah, I noticed that. She's better than the twit over there though," Spike said as he poked a thumb in Wesley's direction, and Wesley cursed himself as he blushed again. "Although it's fun making the git twist with embarrassment. You'd think he'd never seen two blokes having sex before."

Wesley blushed even harder and barely avoided pointing out that he actually hadn't until he had been unlucky enough that morning to be present in the room when one of Xander Harris' constant attempts to seduce Spike had finally succeeded. He'd never seen men having sex, he'd never seen a man with a tail, and he'd certainly never even considered that particular body position. Xander was obviously very athletic and surprisingly flexible.

Cordelia looked over. "Is he going with you?"

"Hadn't thought about it," Spike shrugged, and Wesley wasn't sure how he felt about being beneath Master Spike's notice. Relief was probably the sanest reaction he might have. "I figured you and that human fighter might stay here, so I was thinking of leaving him behind. But since you're here now, I'll just send someone to fetch your shite."

"They'd never get past Dennis," Cordelia said archly. "Ghost trumps vampire."

"Not likely," Spike said with a little yellow in his eyes.

"Oh please. Dennis is even more dead than you are. Besides, my stuff is packed and in my car anyway," Cordelia said wearily. "I'm Angel's seer, so if he's going, I’m going."

Spike reached down and caught her wrist. He pulled her close and studied her carefully. "What aren't you telling the big sod?" Spike demanded. Cordelia's gaze flicked over to Wesley, who tried to appear busy with the computer and uninterested in any conversation.

"Oi, get over here," Spike called. Wesley flinched. He should have just left. He should have headed for the hills the moment Angel called Spike. Clearly, Gunn was the only one of them with any sense. But since he had no choice at this point, he headed over to the counter.

"Master Spike?"

"I don't mind you holding your loyalty to Angel, but he's mine, same as every member of my court, understand?" Spike demanded.

Wesley nodded his head. Yes, his father would call him a fool, but he was well aware that at this point both he and Angel were essentially owned by Spike. "Of course."

"If Cordelia's not telling the great sod something, you will not go running off and repeat any of this or you will be spending the rest of your life without a tongue, got it?" Spike snarled.

At first Wesley couldn't say anything because blind terror did tend to rob him of his words. "Yes, of course, I would no more betray a confidence of Cordelia's than I would betray Angel himself, Master Spike," Wesley finally managed.

"Right then, he won't be talking," Spike promised. "So you can just spit out whatever has crawled up your arse and died."

She laughed, but it was a bitter, dark sound that greatly bothered Wesley.

"Luv?" Spike asked.

"What crawled up my ass and died," she said as though that explained anything. "I couldn't tell Angel because I watched him when Buffy died, I saw what it did to him to lose Doyle."

"Oh good lord," Wesley breathed as he stared at Cordelia. She didn't look sick, but it was not in her nature to play a trick this cruel, not about a subject this serious, at least.

"What's doing it?" Spike asked as he reached for a cigarette.

"The visions. They're damaging my brain and more and more often the things I see in the visions, I feel in my body... cuts, bruises. Angel would tear himself up over this. The visions are his link to the Powers that Be, so if anything happens to me, the guilt of it...." She let her voice trail off.

"But... why didn't you tell us?" Wesley asked as he struggled to even understand how she could have carried such a burden alone.

"Right, and watch the stupid lug go 'round the twist? It's not like he can handle what he has on his plate now," Spike snorted. "Which is why you will not tell him." Spike poked a finger in Wesley's direction, and he held up his hands in surrender.

"No, of course not, assuming that we will do something to try and help her." Wesley looked directly at Spike, bracing himself for some sort of reprimand at his implied refusal to obey if Spike didn't plan to help, but the vampire just turned to focus on Cordelia.

"Who have you talked to?"

"About every specialist in L.A.," she admitted with a grimace. "Look, if this can't be fixed, you have to promise me that you will end it before it gets really bad because it's already getting bad, and I'm just not sure I want to deal with really bad," she said seriously.

Spike reached over and laid his hand on her shoulder. "If we can't find ya help from the mystical side, I'll do it myself, pet. You'll love your grand exit," he offered with a leer and a wink. Cordelia rolled her eyes.

"Oh my god. Why is it that all men just think they're god's gift to a woman?"

"But not all men are right-- the way I am." Spike gave her another leer before slapping her gently on the arm. "You can ride in back with Fred."

"I have my own car, I'm not squeezing anywhere." Cordelia headed for the front door, but Spike caught her arm and pulled her to a stop.

"Yeah? And when you have a vision when you're driving, who's going to scrape your brains and seer's eyes up off the highway, pet? And what about the family of six you'll kill when you go sailing across the median? No bloody way is a seer driving herself. Pryce, you're driving Cordelia's car. Cordelia, you're riding in my car with Xander and Fred. It's us or the car with the minions."

Wesley supposed that he had just been upgraded from unimportant to convenient. Xander came trotting down the stairs. "We're all clear, no moogly from the mojo tracker," he said as he held up the white ball used to identify malicious magic. "Cordelia!" Xander called with obvious pleasure.

"Xander? Oh my god. You actually look good."

Wesley had actually thought he looked a little like a rent boy with jeans so tight his cock cage was obvious and this tight black muscle shirt.

"Thank you very much, that's quite a compliment coming from Queen C, but my taste in clothes has actually not changed. I just don't get to pick my own clothes out very often," Xander admitted with a smile as he moved to Spike's side, sinking gracefully to his knees. Wesley had grown used to the sight of Riley and Xander kneeling, but Cordy looked faintly shocked.

Spike reached down and cupped Xander's face, pulling him close.

"Okay, I'm just saying up front that I do not kneel," she announced to the room. Two minions were still collecting Wesley's magic books and the guard stood just outside the door, and she announced this loud enough for everyone. Wesley froze in horror. He certainly did not want to have a front seat for Cordelia's evisceration, but he could hardly imagine any other outcome.

"If I wanted to force you to your knees, do you really think you could stop me?" Spike demanded as he closed the distance between them.

"Oh please, no way could I stop you because you are a cold-blooded soulless killer, but let's get one thing straight. I would complain bitterly, and my complaining is like fingernails down a chalkboard. It is so not worth making me unhappy."

Spike just stared at her, but even Wesley could see the vampire's lips twitch. "I'm bloody well going to end up buying you a gag, aren't I?" Spike asked with a snort of amused concern as he held out his hand for Xander. They headed for the door. Wesley realized that he had not packed since he'd been excluded from the order to relocate, but with Spike's new orders, he supposed he would just have to ask Gunn to send him something or perhaps go shopping. He was heading back to the Hellmouth. Actually, it looked like pretty much all of them were headed for the Hellmouth.

Truly he had lost his mind. But as Xander had told him, sometimes one did just have to deal with what one was given.


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Toys 17: Sacred Choice

Spike stalked past the rows of supplies for the human members of his court, all neatly organized by Clem's cousin by shape and size. Everything from huge canisters of peanuts to cans of soda and V-8 lined the shelves, partially obscuring the room in back, probably because the Clonach demon didn't like looking at the recipients of Spike's punishments.

Dalton had been down here once after she'd nearly gotten Xander and Riley killed by following Spike's orders to the letter, leaving the pets in a bad spot when the other side zigged instead of zagging. She'd learned better. His oldest lieutenant had become a lieutenant by surviving two weeks of punishment that had dusted the other three minions chained next to him. Once he'd had Falif of the Oden Tal against the wall after the woman had insisted on taking the punishment for one of her women who had failed badly.

The woman had balls of steel, volunteering to go under a vampire's whip. But it was that or allow her younger kin to be whipped for flat out stupidity or have the entire clan leave Spike's territory. Spike provided more than a place for them to bring young escapees from their world; he provided the muscle and magic users to go to war against their men when they would cross the portal and try to reclaim their women.

But now, Angel was down here, the dim light from the hall spilling through the shelves to make an uneven lattice of light on the stone floor. His boots ringing against the concrete, Spike walked to the end of the shelf and leaned on it so he could stare at the vampire who had tortured him and mentored him and helped define the vampire who he had become.

Three people had created Spike, and he wasn't so pathetically weak that he had to deny their power over him. Angelus had been the first.

"Enough with the games, Spike," Angel growled. He was naked, his wrists and ankles chained to the floor near the center of the room so he had a choice of sitting or kneeling, and right now he was sitting cross-legged. His muscles stood out in thin ropes against his bones, the skin stretched over them. He needed to feed, but then Angel had gotten good at denying his hunger these days.

"What game is that, mate?" Spike asked as he grabbed a chair from next to the wall and set it in the middle of the cavernous room before straddling it backwards. Resting his arms on the high back, he waited to see Angel's reaction. Funny, after a year of being chipped, Spike had grown good at reading every nuance of human behavior, of knowing every thought. He'd been predator and prey to humans and their souls, and he'd learned to read every twitch so that not even Angelus with all his preference for psychological games could do as well. Spike understood souls.

And Spike knew Angelus. He'd lived under the vampire's lust and whip. He'd learned to predict when Angelus was likely to go into a rage and when he would throw an arm around young William's shoulders and bond over their maleness in a court ruled by women. When Angelus had been lost to the madness of Acathla, Spike had read Angel's every move and countered each.

But Angel, this combination of soul and vampire, was as strange as any being Spike had ever seen.

"You let Dalton chain me, to prove that I'm not important enough for your personal attention, and then you starve me and leave me down here forgotten for two weeks. You take Fred away from me just to prove you can. I taught you these games Spike," Angel said as he slowly shook his head. "You're still just trying to follow in my footsteps."

Spike leaned back and just considered that statement. Five years ago, he would have risen to the bait. Now the accusation was just ridiculous. Angelus had never looked beyond the traditional childer and minions for power. Terror was his favorite weapon. Oh, Spike understood terror and never failed to use it on the vampire members of his court, but if he hadn't stepped out of Angelus' footsteps, he never would have included Clonach or Oden Tal or witches in his court. The more interesting point here was whether Angel really believed he had so much influence over the vampire Spike had become.

Spike stood and slowly circled, studying Angel's emaciated body. Stepping closer, he ran a hand over Angel's shoulders. A muscle twitched, but Angel didn't try to fight the gentle caress. "How do you think this is going to end?" Spike asked softly.

"You'll try to break me," Angel said softly enough. "I won't fight you with Cordelia and Fred in the middle, Spike. You don't have to do this." Angel yanked on his wrist chains, making them rattle.

"Cordelia and Fred?" Spike asked as he completed his circle and stood in front of Angel. Cordelia needed protection about as much as a porcupine, and Fred… she had a strength to her that made Spike honestly consider turning her. If he could guarantee that she'd retain that determined core and keen intellect, he'd do it in a second, but turnings could be strange. While he would love to have an immortal and immoral Fred, he didn't want some stupid minion with her face and none of her talent. But how interesting that Angel was worried about the two pieces who least needed protecting and not worried at all about his most vulnerable member.

"You won't fight? You making a promise?" Spike asked curiously. Angel looked up at him, and Spike just cocked an eyebrow at him, wondering how far this streak of complacency went. Angel didn't answer, but he shifted around, the chains clinking softly as he shifted to his knees and then leaned forward so that he was resting on his elbows.

Spike had seen his boy take that same ass-up position a thousand times, usually with a cheeky grin or a coy flirtiness or with that curly tail of his whisking back and forth in excitement. Now Angel spread his legs, making it entirely too clear how far he was willing to go. Reaching down, Spike ran a fingernail over Angel's exposed arse, pressing until a thin streak of blood appeared in a wavering line.

"The cocky bastard who refused to take his place at the Master's feet is going to play submissive for me?" Spike asked in surprise. Given time, he could have broken Angel so that his sire begged for his cock, but this strange submission with no fight felt wrong somehow. Spike considered the vulnerable body in front of him. Angel's muscles were tight, his back arched uncomfortably even though his chains gave him enough slack to maneuver into this submissive stance rather easily.

"What you've done here is impressive. I won't deny that," Angel said slowly. "And if you feel a need to show your power over me, I'll do what I need to, whatever you ask me to. But you will eventually get tired of Cordelia and Fred. Just let me be here to take them back to L.A. when you get tired of them." Angel's voice was oddly devoid of emotion.

"So, if I called Xander in here, you'd kneel for him, you'd suck his cock and bend over so he could plow into your ass because I told you to?"

Angel flinched, but then he set his jaw. "You stopped Willow, so play whatever games you think you need to play," he said stoically.

Spike couldn't help it. He started laughing. A gentle chuckle gave way to a roar that made his sides ache as he finally stumbled back a step and dropped down into the chair. Angel stared at him with a barely contained fury, but Spike just could not stop laughing long enough to care. Pulling helplessly against the chains, he ended up shifting around so he could sit on the cold floor. Every muscle was tight and ready to fight, but with those chains, he didn't have much chance of that.

"Bloody hell, Peaches. You're developing a fucking Christ complex. Wot? You think it's your lot to suffer? You putting me in the role of Judas? You aren't that fucking important, luv. Get over yourself."

"You're the one playing games, boy," Angel snarled. Spike got up so fast that his chair skittered away. Spike closed the distance between them and backhanded Angel so hard that he slammed into the floor, the scent of blood seeping into the air as his lip bled sluggishly. Angel lay on the floor looking up at him silently.

"Not your boy, anymore, Angelus," Spike said as he crouched down and stared at the vampire who had been his mentor.

"I'm not him," Angel said, but his voice was soft.

"If that were true, you wouldn't have been able to let the vampire instincts take over when you came to the Darkside club for me," Spike pointed out. He ran a hand over Angel's shoulder, feeling the muscles bunch futilely. "Soul might keep a lid on the instincts, but they're there. So, is that why you want to be a real boy so very badly?"

Angel turned his gaze to the far wall and didn't answer.

Spike stood and dug in his pockets for a cigarette. It was a stalling technique, and Angel would recognize that, but Spike really wasn't sure where to go from here. With his Dalton or even one of the humans from the stable who acted up, the solution was so pathetically obvious. Angel wasn't. Walking over to the far side of the room, Spike righted the chair he'd just kicked aside.

"I wasn't down here because I had other business to take care of, and you could bloody well wait," Spike said as he sat and took a long drag on his cigarette. Angel watched him suspiciously. "I was gone for two bloody weeks, mate. Had a fucking Mohra setting up shop, but havin' a seer is a right handy way to flush out the riff-raff."

"Cordelia?" Angel pushed himself back up to a seated position, his chained wrists hiding his tackle, and Spike wondered if that was a subconscious fear poking its head up or if it was just the easiest place to let his hands rest. "Is she okay?" Angel asked desperately.

Spike cocked his head at Angel. "About as good as she was in L.A.," Spike shrugged. He had Tara working on the problem, and he had a Pockla coming in next week, but she wasn't good. Problem was that Angel sighed in relief and nodded his head as if Spike had just said something reassuring.

"Is Fred okay?"

"Fred's in bloody heaven, mate. Keeps babbling on about numbers that make no sense to me, but she has the Order's new techno-mage atwitter. Keep havin' to warn her to keep some of that intelligence under wraps since we don't want to give all our secrets away. She's practically ready to burst waiting for Dalton to finish training Aeth up right and proper because I told her that Aeth is the only one safe for her to tell everything to. That's one who won't be leaving my court again." Spike smiled in amusement at Fred's antics. "She asks about you."

Angel closed his eyes for a moment as though he were in pain. "Spike, I meant what I said. Keep them safe, and I'll do what you want. If you want to give me to Dalton or Xander, I'll try... I really will." Angel didn't even bother to open his eyes, and Spike just couldn't avoid thinking that Peaches really had gone 'round the twist at some point.

"You'll fail if you try to submit to those two," Spike said simply. Angel was having a hard enough time submitting to him, and he was the stronger vampire at this point.

"Then what do you want from me?" Angel growled as he looked up finally. Spike raised an eyebrow and Angel let his gaze fall back down to the floor.

"Pulling your head out of your arse would be a first step," Spike said bluntly. Angel pulled on the chain but didn't say anything. "Cordelia and Fred have value and both are a good deal stronger than you seem to give them credit for. Takes a special sort to survive years of slavery without yielding for even one minute," Spike pointed out. He watched, but Angel only stilled, his muscles tight. "She survived long before you came playing white knight, and she would have gone right on surviving. Sooner or later, she would have gotten her numbers to work, and she would have come home a self-taught techno-mage who had outsmarted a whole fucking planet of slavers. If you think she's weak, you have that head of yours so far up your arse that you're never going to be able to pull it out."

Angel looked up and frowned. Spike rolled his eyes as he just focused on smoking for a minute. Obviously, Angel really had lost all touch with reality.

"Cordelia's dying," Spike announced in the silence. Angel exploded into motion. He tried to get up, only to have the chain stop him short and for a few seconds, he madly fought the restraints.

"If you hurt her..." Angel snarled through his fangs as he glared at Spike with yellow eyes.

"You'll what? Glare at me? You're not in any position to tell me what to do, and you bloody well lost your right to try and defend her when you stopped giving a rat's arse about her."

For a second, Angel froze, every muscle straining silently as his body became a statue. "I'll kill you. I'll dust you, Spike," Angel vowed, his muscles straining against the chain until Spike could hear the magicked metal groan under the force.

"I haven't touched her. Well... except for the time I had to carry her upstairs because her vision left her so weak that a kitten could have soddin' killed her if it had the mind to."

"What?" Angel dropped out of his true face, the human mask slipping back in place, and Spike nearly laughed at the confusion on it.

"The visions are killing her, mate. Doctors say she's suffering brain damage, and if it keeps up, they're guessing she's going to end up in a coma." Spike shrugged and dropped his cigarette to the floor, crushing it casually. "To me, she's a useful piece. I might go look for a seer of my own after seeing how handy she is. I have to admit that until I had her in court, when I thought about seers, I thought about my Dru. Her visions were never what you'd call helpful," Spike said as he stood and pushed the chair back against the wall. "But Cordelia has targeted the Mohra and a group of Polgara tryin' to set up shop. She even got the head's up on a number of minions poaching on the edges of my territory." Spike smiled at what had happened to those gits. "I sent Victor and some minions to babysit while Xander and Riley dealt with the idiots. Word got around pretty fast that anyone stupid enough to touch my territory is going to get staked or run off by a fucking human pet. It's humiliating," Spike said with a smirk, "for them."

"But Cordelia?" Angel asked, horror and uncertainty in his voice.

"Bloody hell, what the fuck do you care?" Spike asked. "You had her livin' on her own. She drove away a man she bloody well loved because she didn't want him watchin' her die. She's trying to protect you from the truth. She's not yours or you'd be taking better care of her... noticing that she's always taking pills and starting to put her life in order so she can die."

"She isn't..." Angel stopped, and Spike sneered as the truth finally seemed to be sinking into Angel's thick skull. "The filing," Angel almost whispered. "She tried to teach me how to do the filing. She ended up teaching Wesley her system."

"Because she didn't want to make your life inconvenient when she went and dropped dead," Spike pointed out with a derisive snort. At one point, nothing happened in Darla's court without Angelus knowing. He knew every minion, every horse, every jewel and every feud in the family, and now he was thick as pig shit when something was sitting right in front of him. Spike crossed his arms and waited as the truth did more damage to Angel's ego in two minutes than the chains had in two weeks.

Eventually Angel looked up at Spike with wide eyes that reflected a self-loathing deeper than any Spike had ever seen. When he'd first started training up his Xander, he'd seen self-hatred and pain so great that the boy was willing to submit to his greatest enemy just to escape it, but not even his boy could match this pain that seemed to swallow Angel. "I'll do anything if you'll help her. Anything, Spike."

"Would you give up your quest to be human?" Spike asked curiously.

Angel looked away. "I won't ever be human, Spike. Wesley was wrong; I gave that up."


"I turned Darla and Dru loose on humans," Angel said softly.

Spike nodded. He'd heard that story already. When Darla and Dru had shown up in his court, Darla had told everyone who would listen about her great massacre. Of course, she didn't recognize that the Oden Tal had very little respect for anyone who attacked weaker creatures and the minions couldn't understand a master vampire bragging about killing happy meals. Spike only bragged when he killed something that was actually big enough or bad enough to brag about killing... like a Mohra or slayer or a fucking hellgod.

She had thought his court would flock to her, and when they didn't... when she had to face Spike in battle, he'd turned her to dust. Then he'd sent Dru away screaming, two minions dragging her out with orders to escort her out of the territory and guard her wherever she went just as long as it wasn't anywhere near Sunnydale or L.A. When they'd been dragging her out, she had been reaching for him, screaming about the bloody stars and traps and coming darkness and beautifully dark babies born in endless night. That was his Dru—nutters to the end. She had taught him about need and viciousness. She'd formed his admiration for strength by being strong. So many fools only saw her strange affectations and assumed she was weak. She feasted on their entrails. But, like Angel, her power over who he had become was a relic of the past.

"Not seein' your point, pet," Spike said when the silence had gone on for far too long.

"I got my humanity back once. I was useless and I asked the Powers to reverse the spell. I just thought..." Angel stopped as he closed his eyes and struggled with some thought that made his vampire features flash to the fore. "Maybe I should just leave," he finished softly.

Spike raised his eyebrows. "You givin' me your humans?"

"You've already taken them," Angel said with a humorless laugh.

"It's just like you... fight as hard as you can and then just give up when you think you can't win," a voice said from the door, and Spike was amused at Angel's startled jerk against the chains. Git hadn't even heard his Xander come in even though the human heart was pounding loudly enough for a vampire to hear the faint echo against the stone walls. Xander stood there in the jeans and the black t-shirt he wore when he left the court, but he was barefoot. A heavy sword was strapped to his hip, and the heel of his hand rested on the hilt. His thick black collar and the black neck of the shirt made the white scarring all over his shoulder stand out in stark relief.

Spike held his hand out and Xander immediately came to him, kneeling and tilting his head in submission without a moment's hesitation. "Master," Xander said happily as he pressed a shoulder against Spike's leg.

Spike let his fingers tangle in Xander's soft hair as he studied Angel. All emotions had vanished from his face.

"That it, mate?" Spike asked. "Are you so worried about losing that you won't even fight?" Spike cocked his head at the vampire who had once terrified and inspired him, at one-fourth of the Scourge of Europe, at the favorite childe of Darla of the line of Heinrich. He looked suddenly small. "Is that why you left Buffy to fight a hellgod by herself?" Spike asked, and a small flinch told Spike just how close he was to the truth. "Is that why you're willing to submit to me?" Spike asked, suddenly angry that it was some twist of Angelus' mind and not Spike's power that might have given him the power. Leaving Xander kneeling, he walked over and grabbed Angel's chin, pulling it up and forcing Angel to kneel up. "Well?"

"What do you want me to say?" Angel asked as he glared up at Spike. His sire was not gracious in submission.

"Would you go arse-up right now and let Xander fuck you?" Spike demanded. Angel's gaze flickered over to Xander, and Spike could just imagine the look on Xander's face. However, right now, he didn't have time to let himself enjoy the irony of Xander's disgust at getting to fuck Angel. His boy would do as ordered.

Angel's attention returned to Spike. "Yes," he said tightly. Spike tightened his fist, digging fingers into the sides of Angel's jaw. "Master," Angel added unhappily.

"Why?" Spike demanded.

Angel frowned at him.

"Pet, go get me a stake," Spike ordered without turning. Xander's footsteps scrambled on the stone floor, and Angel fisted his hands but remained silent. Before long, Xander came hurrying back, offering Spike a beautifully carved stake with a series of runes running down the length.

Angel's body had gone slack as he stopped fighting the chains. He knelt with his eyes focused on nothing. With his stake in hand and Xander's warm hand resting on his back, Spike faced his sire. "Are you ready to be dust?" he demanded.

Angel didn't answer, but he certainly didn't try to defend himself when Spike slowly pressed the stake against Angel's naked chest. The chains gave him enough slack to knock the stake away, but he didn't. Behind Spike, Xander sucked in his breath and fisted Spike's duster.

"Master Spike?" an uncertain voice called from the door. Ah, so his timid little mouse had finally taken the bait. The mouse cleared his throat. "Perhaps I should just take Angel and leave. We've clearly overstayed our welcome." Wesley inched into the room, terror spreading like the scent of jasmine as the man pumped out pheromones that would have every minion in the house flocking to him if Dalton didn't have them busy enough.

Xander backed away silently, watching with wide eyes. Oh, Spike had no doubt that the boy would clasp Spike's knees and plead if Spike went to kill Wesley, but his boy had enough faith to not assume that's how Spike planned to handle this bit of disrespect. Wesley, on the other hand, appeared about ready to faint, so he was quite clearly expecting death.

"Look who came to save your sorry arse," Spike said with amusement. Angel twisted and shoved his chained hands up to try and knock the stake out of Spike's hand. Spike leaped backwards and Wesley took two fast steps forward before Xander intercepted him with sword drawn. Xander pressed the edge of his sword against Wesley's stomach, and the git backed up, his eyes still focused on Angel. Once Wesley was against the wall, Xander put his sword up and retreated back to the other wall. Spike smirked.

"Oh, so now you have a little life to you," he told Angel with some amusement as he tossed the stake at Xander who caught it and tucked it in his waistband. This time when Spike walked near, Angel was coiled and ready to fight.

"Do it, and I'll drain him in front of you and leave you with his rotting body," Spike warned. Angel glanced over at Wesley and then made a conscious effort to relax. Spike moved in his hand resting on Angel's shoulder. "Peaches here thinks that if he fucks up, he deserves to die. I'm pretty sure he thinks you lot would be better off with me because I don't have my head up my arse the way he does," Spike told Wesley who looked about as pale as Cordelia after a vision.

"Angel?" Wesley asked.

Angel let his head droop. "Just let him go, Spike, please."

"You keep making the mistake of thinking you have a choice here," Spike said cheerfully. Wesley's terror did smell bloody delicious. Pulling a key out, Spike reached over and unchained Angel's ankles first. As he unlocked Angel's wrists, he watched for the attack he knew would come. It didn't matter how much Angel played at submitting, he wasn't built for it. He never did submit to the Master and his relationship with Darla had been all about which could outmaneuver the other. There never was a true submission there even if Darla had played every trick to keep her boy at her side.

Spike backed away slowly, and Wesley's eyes were bouncing from one of them to another as if he were watching a bloody tennis match. If they didn't finish this fast, the man was going to have a heart attack. For a minute, Angel stood naked and seemingly defeated as he inched backwards. With a frown he looked from Xander to Wesley. If he was looking for help from that quarter, he was going to be disappointed. Spike had no doubt about Xander's loyalty and Xander could handle Wesley if the man tried to get involved.

"How many times are you going to make me submit, William?" Angel asked with a derisive sneer. From another vampire, that would have been cause for immediate dusting. Spike didn't need the submission at all, though, and they both knew that. This was all for Angel's benefit.

Spike danced in and tapped Angel's chest, shoving him back against the wall. When he darted in again, Angel threw a punch that landed on Spike's shoulder. It didn't have the strength behind it that it did even two weeks ago at the hotel, but it still make Spike spin around to avoid having to stumble back. He used the spin to land a kick on Angel's back, sending him flying forward.

"Angel!" Wesley called out, and Xander was there pressing the man to the wall. Then Spike was on Angel's back, pinning him down, and this time, Angel didn't even try to fight. He tilted his head to the side in submission, and Spike bit deeply without taking any blood. Reaching down, Spike unfastened his jeans and thrust into Angel with no preparation. Angel growled but didn't move as he tore, and Spike felt the slow flow of blood around his cock as he fucked Angel. Rather than fight, Angel spread his legs a little farther and arched his back. Spike obligingly angled his thrusts to hit Angel's prostate, and Angel growled his pleasure.

Spike pulled his fangs from Angel's shoulder and roared out his orgasm. Pinning Angel's shoulders to the floor, Spike scanned the room, every predator's instinct on high. Wesley looked like he might be in shock as he just started with a slack-jawed expression; however, Xander caught his eye and slowly slid forward, his neck bared as he edged toward them. The moment Xander was within range, Spike reached out and grabbed his boy, crushing Xander to his chest and ripping the shirt off before he sunk fangs into Xander's neck and drank the familiar blood so full of love and submission.

This was why Angel and even Wesley were worth so much of his time. The court and the power were aphrodisiacs. He'd discovered that he was happier proving his strength rather than his wickedness. He liked his mixed race court full of powerful warriors who didn't want his job and vampires who were too confused about how he managed the court to even dream of challenging him. He liked Tara and Falif following him, trusting him. But he'd discovered all that by accident after he found that the love and submission of his boy was quite enough to make unlife worth living... even before he'd gotten rid of the chip, even before his court or his childe or his power.

Spike pulled back, his demon singing at the taste of blood, and Xander's eyes were closed in bliss as he leaned in, his neck still bared, now with a new, deep bite mark on the scarred skin. Tearing Xander's jeans off and pulling out the plug, Spike grabbed his boy and pinned him with his back against the wall. Xander's arms went wide, fingers clawing for some purchase as Spike lifted his legs so that Xander was bent in two, his ankles caught over Spike's shoulders. Without any preparation, Spike thrust in.

Xander gave a strangled cry as he threw his head back and promptly smacked his own head into the wall. Spike chuckled and Xander just squirmed in need, his tail whipping against Spike's legs. When Spike reached down and unclipped the chastity cage, Xander started panting, but bent in half and pinned against the stone, Xander couldn't do anything else. Spike braced his hands on Xander's hips and began thrusting and lifting as he pounded into his boy. Xander made a low strangled scream and lost control, orgasming so hard that white splattered his own chin as Spike kept thrusting into him.

Finally Spike came again, and for a second, he leaned all his weight into Xander, resting as he slowly returned his focus to the room behind him. Spike easily lifted Xander, making sure his boy had both his feet under him before taking a step back. Even with the help, Xander slowly sank to the ground with a blissed out expression the moment Spike let him go. Having power meant being able to move pieces into position, and it was time his great bog-trotting sire moved. Killing Angel was likely to cause too many cracks in his own power base.

Spike tucked himself in and focused on Wesley who had gone from deathly white to brilliant red. His eyes were still focused on Angel who had curled in on himself on the floor.

Walking over, Spike threw his arm around Wesley's shoulders, and the man jumped as though he hadn't seen Spike coming. "Angel there thinks that if he makes a mistake you lot won't forgive him. Or maybe he just thinks he'll get you killed. I can't really say since it doesn't make much sense to me. Maybe he thinks you'll just up and leave if you figure out he's not perfect and he can't protect you from everything," Spike pointed out cheerfully as he pulled Wesley closer to Angel. "So, now that you've seen that your hero has feet of clay, do you plan on leaving him?" Spike asked curiously.

"What? Of course not," Wesley stammered. Angel didn't even look at them.

"I won't even hold it against you, mate. I'll give you bus fare back to L.A. and my word that Cordelia and Fred can follow when they want."

"But not Angel?" Wesley asked with a frown.

Spike laughed and pushed at Angel's hip with a foot. "Are you getting the point here, mate? Doesn't matter if you fuck up. They'll still be yours. That's the difference between humans and minions that you still don't seem to gettin'. I fuck up now just as much as back when I was a fledge, but Xander and Dawn and Tara never hold it against me. I stopped Willow from stealing Tara's power and then thought she'd just give up and start playing nice. Bloody stupid of me. If my court were only vampires, that would've had tongues wagging. But Dalton is more human than not and the humans and Clonachs didn't even dream of blaming me and the Oden Tal..." Spike still couldn't quite figure their reaction. "They have some religious rot about choice, so they thought I did the right thing letting Willow get out of hand. Can't say I'm agreeing with 'em, but it's nice knowing that my court isn't going to turn on me just because I fuck up."

Angel rolled to one side and looked up at Spike, and now the pain was all on the surface, etched into every line so that Angel looked about fifty years old. He looked at Spike and Wesley in confusion.

"Did you know," Spike asked Wesley, "that he gave up on being human, and he thinks he can't be forgiven for letting the gits at Wolfram and Hart get killed?"

"We talked about that," Wesley said to Angel with a frown, "and while I didn't agree with your actions, given the provocation, I don't blame you. Or, I do blame you, but I think that most anyone would have reacted much the same. I myself offered to sell out my slayer and Giles the first time I was captured by a demon, so I hardly have a lot of room to criticize."

"What about him bein' clueless about Cordelia's illness?" Spike asked as he nudged Wesley.

"I didn't know myself. Given that I have spent more time with her recently, I am arguably far more to blame."

"Then tell him what you are angry with him for," Spike said. Either his little mouse took the bait or this was going to get bloody messy. Wesley looked at him for a second and then swallowed.

"I don't know what you mean."

Spike grabbed Wesley's neck, tightening just hard enough to warn the man. Xander was suddenly standing beside him, that warm hand at his back. Yeah, Xander would stand by him, even if he popped Wesley's head like a tick, but it would hurt Xander if he did that. Besides, it would just make it all the harder to get Angel to stop acting like a fucking nob. Instead Spike just waited for Wesley to come up with a better answer.

"I was angry that he left us to try and handle all of this on our own, as if we were unimportant to his cause," Wesley blurted as he grabbed at Spike's wrist in desperation.

Spike smiled down at Angel who still had that stupidly confused look on his face. "You're so busy trying to keep your humans far enough away to keep them safe that you don't see how much damage you're doing. You're bloody stupid Angel. So, if you want to know what I want, it's this... pull your head out of your arse before you get yourself killed. Like it or not, we're the same clan with adjoining territories. What we do reflects on each other. Our courts know each other. My Xander went to you when he was in trouble. You called me when you couldn't handle Willow. I'll either have you functioning or I'll put you on a leash like a fucking pet and keep you close enough that you can't do any more harm. But if you want to play at being a master, you need to start by paying attention to the people who call you master."

Angel still didn't have any words, but at least he wasn't hiding his emotions behind that blank look he seemed to have on his face all the time. "Now, be a good boy and go back and chain one ankle to the floor," Spike ordered.

At first, he didn't think Angel was going to obey, but then he pushed himself up. His knees were scraped and raw, and a thin trail of blood leaked down the back of his legs. Walking over, he reached down and locked a cuff around his ankle.

"First lesson, Peaches. If you're too bloody weak to protect your humans, someone's going to take 'em away from you. So, you'll start feeding and you won't leave here until you're strong enough to fight your way past Dalton. She's not exactly a natural, but she's quick to learn all the best ways to cheat in a fight," Spike said with a smirk. Angel's emotions started to vanish behind that façade of his.

"And since I'm not having you wear my stable out, you can use your own humans. Wesley, Cordelia and Fred should be enough to start with."

Angel was already shaking his head. "I can't."

"You will or you'll be in here for a bloody long time," Spike warned with a growl. Angel stopped and really looked at him.

"I mean, I can't because I don't have enough control, Spike. I'm not you. I'll kill them if I try that." Angel sounded supremely aggravated at having to admit that.

"Oh." Spike cocked his head and considered Angel. He was starving. Spike hadn't killed Xander when he'd been starving or stoned on god's blood, but Angel never allowed himself love his humans the way Spike loved Xander. Spike walked over to his sire and tilted his neck, inviting Angel to take enough blood to take the edge off the starvation.

"Limited time offer, mate," Spike warned when Angel just stared at him for a second. Spike held his breath as familiar hands caught him around the waist and pulled him close before fangs sank into his neck. He wasn't the fledge who lived for those rare moments when Angelus would share blood anymore, but this still felt good. After Angel had fed for a while, Spike went to step back, only to find Angel's arms locked tightly around him. Spike had to reach up and force his thumb into Angel's neck to force him to stop feeding. With a shake of his head, Angel pulled away from the pain, and Spike stepped back to see Angel gamefaced and nearly feral, his mouth red with blood.

"Wesley," Spike said as he turned to the other man. "You don't come down here without me, not you or the others, is that clear?"

"Of course, Master Spike," Wesley agreed, and right now Spike actually thought he might have a bigger problem with getting Wesley to offer his blood at all. "Come on," Spike said as he held out his hand. Wesley swallowed and glanced over at Xander before he straightened his back and stepped forward resolutely.

"Wesley, you don't have to," Angel said weakly.

"Perhaps I should abandon you until such time as Master Spike puts you on a leash and parades the Powers' great champion around like a trophy," Wesley said sarcastically as he pulled the neck of his shirt down to reveal the curve of his neck. Spike smiled at the man's knackers. Angel would have a nice pet in this one if he just opened his eyes and noticed how very badly Wesley wanted to be one. Victor had already asked for permission to take Wesley as his own. Cheeky, wanting a pet so soon after being promoted to lieutenant, and it did suggest that Victor wasn't going to survive for long, but Spike still found it pathetic that a glorified minion could see what Angel couldn't.

Angel's eyes were focused on Wesley's neck, his fingers twitching. "Some of us are growing old," Wesley complained, and Xander struggled to hide a smile as Angel frowned. The sod needed someone to poke that great ego of his, though, so Spike didn't correct Wesley's manners. With a sigh, Angel moved forward and slipped an arm carefully around Wesley's back as he pulled him close.

"Spike, please..." Angel started.

"I'm not going to let you kill 'im. He's the only one of your humans willing to tell you when you're being stupid, so you bloody well need him more than any of 'em." Spike rolled his eyes at the way Wesley twisted in Angel's grip, staring at Spike in shock before Angel bit him and then Wesley gave a squeal as his eyes went wide for a whole new reason. Not all humans enjoyed the bite, but Spike wasn't exactly surprised that Wesley did.

Spike waited until Angel had fed some before he stepped forward and pushed his thumb into the underside of Angel's jaw. Again, Angel backed off, flinching from the pain, and Xander had to catch Wesley who nearly fell to the ground.

"Wes?" Angel called as he tried to step forward. Spike put a hand on Angel's chest stopping him.

"I'm quite alright. I have often donated blood," Wesley insisted as though the bite was nothing, but Spike could smell the lust. Hell, both were hard and aching, but Wesley and Angel would have to sort that out themselves.

"Pet," Spike said. "Help Wesley back upstairs and make sure Fred doesn't come running down here the minute she finds out I'm allowing visitors. I need to talk to her before she does something particularly stupid that Peaches will brood over for the next century."

"Yes, Master," Xander agreed as he gave Spike a smile that promised a very enthusiastic lover later on. His boy was so ridiculously easy to please. And if Angel got his head screwed on straight, Spike's south border would be secure, so there were a lot of advantages to helping the powers of light or whatever the hell they were supposed to be. Xander supported Wesley who seemed even more uncoordinated than ever as they headed for the stairs.

Once they were gone, Spike turned back to Angel. "Your girls are tough cookies. Got brass knuckles for knackers, Cordelia does, and Fred is a lot like Dru. She hides her strength, but that doesn't make her less strong. But Wesley there..." Spike let his voice trail off and Angel frowned at him.

"His father turned him out, the watchers gave him the boot, his slayer turned on him, and he was an utter failure on his own. He's clinging to you, and he's only as strong as you are. He's like my Xander, luv. If you want to worry about one of your humans, you worry about him. You know, he actually thought I'd leave him behind by himself in that hotel of yours. Scared the shit out of him, that did. He actually smelled relieved when I ordered him to follow in Cordelia's car, and the look on his face when he found out I'd ordered Fred to pack his shite..." Spike laughed at that bit of confusion. Wesley was fun to fuck with, that's for sure.

Spike shook his head at the man's utter determination even when he was convinced of his own worthlessness. "He doesn't know what he has to offer, and he's just waiting for you to kick him to the curb the way everyone has. He's about broken, that one, but he's holding it together because he's convinced himself that he belongs to you. Have some respect for his submission. Then again, if you don't want him, Victor already put in a request to claim him for his own," Spike said with a shrug before he turned his back and headed for the stairs.

Xander had already gotten Wesley to the main floor, and behind him, Angel called out angrily at the thought of another vampire taking Wesley, but Spike ignored that. It was time for Angel to do some thinking on his own. He closed the heavy door and slipped the lock into place with Angel still calling for him to come back and explain himself.

When Spike turned, Falif was there, her arms crossed over her very impressive chest. "Need something, luv?" Spike asked as he started up the stairs. She fell into step right behind him.

"Not at all. I am enjoying watching the viibor."

Spike glanced over his shoulder at her. She smiled. "The sacred forcing of a choice onto one who has lost her path and fallen from the knowledge of choice," she translated for him. Spike raised an eyebrow as he considered just how odd Oden Tal could be.

"Master Spike," she said with a respectful tilt of her head before she turned and headed for the corner of the warehouse she and her women had turned into their home. Shaking his head, Spike headed for his boy. It'd been a long day, and one round of sex was definitely not enough.


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Toys Detour: Dalton's Pet

Feb 2001

The female vamp settled between Riley's legs, her teeth buried in his arm, and Riley arched his back in pleasure. Nothing else in his life felt this pure. Maybe pure was the wrong word... maybe intense was a better description. Since he'd left the Initiative, he wasn't a soldier. After getting enthralled by Dracula, he wasn't even sure the man he saw in the mirror was a good man. He couldn't protect Buffy. When Joyce died, he couldn't even get close to her. She turned to Willow or Giles, and he was just the pathetic sycophant who didn't know when to go away. Sometimes he thought of going home to Iowa, but this... this moment of the vamp slowly drawing blood from his veins until the heat made his cock hard... this was worth staying.

After the fight with Buffy, he would have to go home and masturbate, but that was okay too. "Harder," he gasped as the vamp eased off. She obliged by driving her teeth deep into his arm so he hissed his pleasure and threw his head back. Her hands gripped his waist hard enough to leave bruises. Another time he might worry, but his odds of getting Buffy in bed soon were not good. She could leave all the bruises she wanted.

She sucked hard enough that Riley felt his brain fuzz out as he fisted the back of her head. Oh yes. Yes, this was... this was perfect. However, some soldier part of his brain never fully stood down, so the shuffle in the corner brought his eyes open. Two vampires were coming in the door.

Riley shoved at the vamp between his legs, straining to sit up, but her hands grabbed for him as she smiled at him with a mouth stained with his blood. Damn it. She was in on it. Riley liked the bite, but he wasn't an idiot. He pulled out the stake he kept hidden in his pant leg and shoved it deep into her back before she could do more than widen her eyes in surprise.

She exploded into dust and Riley struggled to get up, but between coughing up dust and the light-headed feeling from blood-loss, he was badly off balance. The first vamp through the door tackled him, and Riley drove the stake deep into his back, but missed the heart altogether.

The second grabbed Riley's foot and dragged him across the dirty floor, and Riley aimed a kick at the vamp's face. His boot contacted with a satisfying crunch, but the vamp didn't let go. Riley twisted around to focus on the first vamp, but the monster had already pulled the stake from his chest and tossed it across the room. Riley reached for his knife, and the vampire was on him with a growl, landing on Riley's back and forcing him to the ground. Clinging to the knife, Riley tried to roll, but a knee in his neck stopped him and a strong hand grabbed his wrist.

"Listen human, I can break your fingers or you can let go," the vamp hissed at Riley. He looked young, 19 or 20, but his leather jacket and slicked-back hair whispered late seventies or early eighties, so Riley was estimating the vampires age at something closer to 40. Riley considered his options. He hated surrendering his weapon, but a broken hand would reduce his ability to fight back later and he couldn't realistically bring his weapon to bear on the vamp. Reluctantly, Riley uncurled his fingers and let the knife drop.

"Good boy," the vamp said as he put even more weight onto Riley's neck. This was it. This was how he was going to die. After months of hiring vampire whores and letting them drink his blood, he wasn't surprised; this ending had been waiting in the shadows for him all this whole time. He came armed, but a human was no match for a vampire, not like a slayer. If he was going to be honest with himself, he knew the whole time that the law of consequences would catch up with him eventually.

"He broke my nose. That fucker broke my nose," the other vamp complained. Riley hadn't seen him well enough to do more than catch a glimpse of greasy blond hair.

"Your own fucking fault."

"It's his fucking fault."

Riley curled his hands into fists and closed his eyes as the dirt from the floor and the drifting ash from the whole made them sting. He was going to die, and it wasn't going to be some vamp he paid or Dracula. He wasn't going to die covering Buffy's back. Then again, he didn't trust himself at Buffy's back, not anymore.

Hands clawed at him, and Riley prepared himself to die. It took a few seconds to realize that the hands were pulling on his waistband. Riley exploded into motion, struggling and flailing as he tried to stop the hands from pulling his clothes free. The knee crushed his neck to the floor and hands grabbed at his arms, but Riley fought madly.

"Give him the shot."

"No way. I want him awake and suffering through this one."

"Fuck that. We're going to kill him and he's not worth anything dead."

"Yeah, but it'll feel good killing him. He dusted Rita."

"Just get the fucking shot in or I'll dust you."

Riley kicked, trying to force the other vamp to kill him, but a heavy weight fell across his legs and he was left squirming as air drifted over his now-bare ass. A sharp pinch made him gasp, and he coughed as dust and ash went down his throat. Almost immediately, Riley felt like vomiting. The world spun, colors streaking through his vision as life became a bubble that stretched as it filled with air, and Riley was part of that bubble, stretching and stretching until he thought he might snap.

"Good boy," a voice warbled, and Riley blinked in confusion. Heat filled him.

"Good boy my ass," another voice answered. "He thinks vamps are nothing but prostitutes, whores for him to hire. Well, he's about to figure out who the real whore is. How much do you think we can charge for him?"

"If you don't kill him first, a slayer's minion should go for some nice money. Him being Initiative will be worth even more."

"Hear that whore? You're going to bring in some nice money."

The bubble he was on stretched more, and Riley closed his eyes as he body elongated to match the curve of the world. Air brushed over him, little armies of air marching, marching across his naked back. The fire ripped his ass open, and Riley screamed.


Kink Bingo: Glory holes
Warnings: Rape, abuse, drug use

July 2001

"Be a nice boy, and you can have it," the vamp smiled as he waved the syringe in front of Riley's face. Riley blinked, struggled to focus, and then gave up as he sagged back down onto the dirty mattress that was his home. Home. That word should mean something else. Riley's thoughts skittered down that path for a little while, but like always, they just ran away leaving him running his fingers over the texture of the mattress.

"Fuck, he's still too stoned. Let's try the dark one."

"We could have a minion do it."

"They pay for a warm mouth. I think they'd notice if a vampire was blowing them."

"Some of them might not."

Riley heard the words. They were purple blobs falling out onto the world with splatters of red. He reached out and touched one, but it felt just like the wood floor that his mattress was on. He reached down to scratch. His leg itched. His leg always itched, but he liked it. He scratched and fireworks went off behind his closed eyelids. Blue and yellow and pink flared to life as he dragged his broken fingernails over the skin. Bringing his hand up to his nose, he sniffed and frowned as the musky smell reminded him of something. Then his memory skittered away like a scared mouse, and Riley just sank into happiness again.

The world slowly faded from purple to pink to the pale blues that Riley didn't like. The blue came before the pain, and he didn't like the pain. The pain came when the world started to deflate and his skin got all pinched as the rubber contracted against him. He didn't like that. Riley made an unhappy mew and hoped that someone came to get him. He didn't want the pain. He'd been good. He hadn't even tried to be bad in so long. Riley tried to remember what bad was, but his brain brought up memories of fire eating his back, and that just made the blue press in harder. He cried out for help.

"Finally. Someone has to feed this one more or he's going to be too stoned or too weak to work."

Riley squirmed and struggled forward toward the voice, but something heavy around his ankle pulled at him. Struggling to move toward that voice, Riley frowned at the blue shadows that invaded his blue world. A vamp squatted down in front of him, and Riley reached out to touch his boot.

"You want this?" the vamp asked, waving the syringe in front of Riley. Riley frowned at it in confusion. Did he want it? "This will make the world feel better."

Riley breathed faster at that promise. He wanted the world to feel better. He wanted the blue to go away. "Yes," he said weakly. A strong hand caught him under the chin and forced his head up. Riley blinked sluggishly.

"Hose him down and put him on the first floor. Now, human, listen here. You be a good little whore and suck whatever you're given, and I'll give you a nice shot that will make the world go pretty."

Riley nodded happily. He wanted the pretty.

"Good boy," a hand patted him. Riley chuckled and made a little woofing sound. "If he's good about sucking the cocks, give him the shot and throw him in with the other Rapture whores. Oh, and if Oliver shows up, tell him that two dead humans is one too many. He's not welcome here. If he wants a hit of Rapture, he can fucking well run his own humans."


"No buts." The hand let go of Riley and he flopped back down to the floor. Other hands came and lifted him so that Riley slid along on the bubble, the blue streaks scaring him so that he flinched away, but they kept right on stabbing at him anyway. His skin was starting to turn to lead, and that hurt too.

"Hurt," Riley whispered to the hands that made him slide around on the bubble.

"Suck first, and then I'll make you feel better," the voice promised, but it lied because there was nothing to suck, only cold water pounding at him, flooding the room with blue so that Riley cried at the pain and the jagged edges that poked him and his lead skin. He was lifted again, this time dropped onto clouds, and Riley looked around desperately for something to suck. If he sucked, the world would turn pretty, the voice promised.

"Here." Hands took his head and pulled him toward a wall. Riley knelt up, his mouth open and ready to suck, but it still took him a little while to find his target. Something cool was poking through a hole, and Riley happily sucked it into his mouth, working it eagerly as he waited for the pretty. It was too big for him, and he poked it with his tongue and it only got bigger, but Riley was afraid to pull back because he wanted the pretty, and sometimes when he was here, a fire monster was lurking in the shadow. If he looked away, the fire monster might eat his back again. Rather than risk seeing the blue fire monster, Riley closed his eyes and sucked happily. The sucking made little pops of pink burst behind his eyes, and he liked that.

But then he did something wrong because the thing in his mouth tried to choke him. Liquid went up his nose, and his eyes watered, and Riley pulled back, crying out in fear of the fire monster and afraid that if he didn't suck, the world wouldn't ever be pretty again, and he wanted the world pretty. His skin wrinkled and throbbed as the world shrank and turned ugly blue. But then a new something came through the hole and it was just the right size to suck.

Riley went back to work, humming and sucking as he waited for the blessed pinch in his arm that would make the world go swirling pink again.

Kink Bingo: Drugs
Warnings: Rape, abuse, drug use

Oct 2001

"Be a good boy, and you can have it," a voice sing-songed, but Riley was too tired to pay it much attention. He missed the pink and purple world he used to live in. Now the world was pretty much gray.

Something pressed against his mouth, and Riley sucked at it. Sometimes if he sucked enough, he could find the pink world he missed so much. Instead he just got something thick that slid down his throat and made him choke. No pink. Sometimes the pink brought fragments of a memory. A pink shirt and a girl with pink lips who laughed in the sun. Riley liked that memory. He wasn't sure it was real, but he liked it anyway. Her shoes were pink. Riley was pretty sure that was real.

"Just give it to him or he's not going to be worth anything."

"He's not worth much more than anything now."

"This new Rapture is supposed to be really good."

"I hope so. We're using up more humans than I really want to deal with. This one has already outlasted a half dozen others. There's a limited market for human meat that's been tainted with Rapture, and I do not want a bunch of bodies around stinking the place up. Humans make enough stink on their own."

"No kidding. He's fucking disgusting. Do you have to feed him so much? If you didn't feed him as much, maybe he wouldn't make so much shit."

"If I feed him any less, he'll die. If vampires could just take Rapture straight from the needle, we wouldn't have to put up with any of this. The chemist who makes a direct to vampire Rapture is going to be Master of the whole fucking West Coast."

"Right now, let's just see how this new version does." Fire burned in Riley's arm, and he mewed his displeasure. The bright flare of white interrupted his nice, calm, boring, sad gray.

"Let's get him clean." Riley's head flopped back as he was picked up. It didn't matter. Sometimes he dreamed that his head would just flop off, but it never did. Riley didn't know if that was good or bad. A flare of green made him jerk, and they he flew off the world, his body lighter than air until he somehow still crashed into the ground.


"If he's broken, you have to find another."

"He's fine. He barely bruised." Riley jerked again when a streak of yellow almost collided with him.

"That new mix has some kick to it. I haven't seen him that lively in a while."

Water ran over Riley in blue rivers, and he crab-walked away, hitting the edge of the universe and then shaking his head as he tried to figure out where his was. Hot. He was hot. Riley tried to rip his clothes off, but his hands found only naked skin, his fingernails scoring hot trails across his chest.

A face was there, but it was all wrong. It loomed in front of him for a second before it started licking up his chest. Riley tried to grab the head, but his hands were too big.

"Yummy," the face announced when it lifted itself from his body. And then Riley was flying again. Red. The world was red. Red like blood and need and the hearts you cut out of construction paper and gave to people in your class when you sat in a building with a window out onto a world that was green and filled with light. Riley jerked away from the memory of light, but that didn't stop it from chasing him down until the light surrounded him, swallowed him whole. He closed his eyes tightly, but the red invaded his eyes too.

Something pressed inside of him, and that was a familiar feeling, but the intruder breeched his defenses, the red came flooding into his body, and Riley groaned. His hands reached for his cock, feeling the flesh harden, and that was a strange sensation.

His face felt strange, like his skull was stretching and the skin might burst off any second, but Riley didn't care because he was stroking his hand up and down a part of his anatomy that he could only remember in a vague way. He used to lay on white sheets and do this oh so quietly. He remembered the smell of eggs. Riley pumped faster, the red turning all the world pretty as he gasped for air. Something sharped ripped into his elbow, and Riley cried out in pain, but then the pain became pleasure... the sort of twisted pleasure you got from slowly pulling back a scab to find soft, pink flesh beneath. Riley screamed as his whole body convulsed and he lost himself in pleasure so intense nothing else in the universe existed.

"Fuck, that's some good shit. Fuck, yeah," a voice said as a hand pressed on his back. Riley had to agree. That was good shit. It made the whole world pretty. Riley sank into sleep with the red still coloring his world.


Kink Bingo: Gangbang
Warnings: dub-con, manipulation

Apr 2002

"Right then, you ready to prove your obedience?" Spike asked as he leaned against the door to the room that had been Riley's prison for at least a couple of months. The pain of getting off the Rapture had distorted his sense of time so he didn't know if it had been two months or a year since Spike had first dragged him into this room and dumped him on the bed.

Riley shivered in dread as he pushed away the images of how Spike might make him prove obedience, but what he really hated was the fact that it didn't matter. He wanted the bite that much. "Yes, Master," he forced past his lips. If he were being honest with himself, he wanted the Rapture even more, but that level of honesty was more than he could face at this exact moment. Spike cocked his head to the side and walked slowly to Riley.

Without the drugs, Riley couldn't pretend this wasn't happening. He couldn't pretend he wasn't on his knees or escape the memory of what he had done. He should have just let Hostile 17 kill him, but—God help him—he still wanted the bite. Spike reached down and ran a thumb over the sensitive skin of Riley's neck, and the shivers were back.

"Show that you can submit even when you soddin' well don't want to, and I'll give you a bed up in the stable."

"And if I can't?" Riley found the strength to ask. Spike just cocked an eyebrow at him. The threat to send him back to the suckhouses loomed over him, he already knew that. Xander was right about one thing... he'd put himself in that position. Actually, Xander was right about two things... he put himself in that position and he'd helped vampires get stoned before going out and feasting on the people of L.A. Riley hated himself to such a degree that his feelings for Spike were warm and fuzzy in comparison.

"Come on, then," Spike said as he turned and walked out. Riley rose and followed after Spike. In basic training, they'd spent a week naked to acclimate to the sensation in case an enemy ever tried to use it as a weapon of humiliation. Riley didn't bother trying to cover himself as he followed Spike down a long hall and then down a set of stairs. The echoes of Spike's boot told him they were going into a large area, so Riley wasn't surprised when the stairs ended in a garage. A half dozen cars and two vans sat waiting.

"Minions live down here," Spike commented, and Riley went stiff. Minions. It didn't take a genius to figure out what the test of obedience would be. Riley ached for a shot of Rapture. He could feel the need crawling through his veins like a hungry rat trying to eat him from the inside.

"So, I figure you have a choice mate," Spike commented as he leaned against the closest car and pulled out a cigarette. Riley stood at parade rest, not sure what the rules were. From the way Xander acted, there were rules for being a human in Spike's court, but he'd never been privy to any vampire etiquette. He'd been shot up with drugs and left to lie in his own waste. Until someone ordered him to do otherwise, he'd stay on his feet, even if his feet were still a little unsteady. "You can either submit, or I can turn you out that door."

For a half second, Riley was blinded by the idea of freedom, of going back to what he had been and proving that he was more than this drug-addicted mess he'd turned into. Almost immediately, though, his mind turned to Rapture, to the suckhouse where this had all started—they had Rapture. The memory of the simple beauty of the world when he was stoned clashed against his memories of the degradations and pain he endured. His back was still a map of pain left over from the time before the drugs had completely eroded his will.

Riley swallowed as he looked at the open door where Spike had gestured. Death was better than either option, but Spike wasn't offering that.

"Well?" Spike asked.

Riley closed his eyes and clenched his jaw for a moment. Xander talked about choice, about admitting that he had made a choice, but as far as he was concerned, this was little more than psychological terrorism. Spike knew there was no real choice here. If Riley walked out that door, he'd go straight to the suckhouse. The need for Rapture and for the bite was too great.

"You've made your point, sir," Riley finally managed from between clenched teeth. With his eyes closed, he had no warning before a hand stroked his neck, and he jerked back. The hand tightened, and when Riley looked into Spike's yellow eyes, he had to order himself to stand down and allow Hostile 17 to do whatever he wanted. Riley had made this bed and he would learn to lay in it.

"So, you're choosin' to stay then?"

"Yes, Master," Riley managed to sound mostly respectful. It was the best he could do under the circumstances.

"That means you choose to give your body to whatever demon I want to give it to," Spike pointed out.

Riley swallowed. "Yes, Master."

Spike nodded and gave him a pleased smile, but then the vampire had everything to be pleased about. "Name one thing you'd never do, not even if I ordered you to, not even if the consequence would be going back to that soddin' suckhouse."

Even knowing that the vampire would use the truth against him, Riley found himself telling the truth. "I wouldn't ever kill an innocent human being."

Spike brought his cigarette up and took a long drag before letting go of Riley's neck and turning his back. Riley wasn't sure if it was meant as an insult or a test, but he remained at parade rest. Spike blew out a cloud of smoke before turning back.

"My boy doesn't get to set limits, but he does remind me that if I ask him to do certain things, like hurting people or even making him watch them be hurt, he's very likely to have a bloody breakdown and end up nuttier than Dru," he said with his lips pursed together, and Riley was surprised. Xander had been so complaisant, so different from the young man Buffy and Willow described and who Riley had met a half dozen times, that he had assumed Xander had been broken. The idea of Xander negotiating with his master this way wasn't what Riley had expected to hear. Then something occurred to Riley.

"Permission to speak freely, sir?" he asked. Military code seemed about as useful as anything else since he didn't really know how to handle this situation.

Spike waved a hand at him, and Riley took that as permission.

"Is that why Xander isn't here right now, sir?"

Spike's expression grew thoughtful. "Drugs didn't kill off too many brain cells, did they? And don't bloody call me sir. I’m your Master, boy."

"Yes, Master," Riley agreed as he tried to just shut down all his emotions. He knew the torture would come eventually. Hostile 17 might talk about how Riley wasn't worth torturing, but that had been in front of Xander. Obviously he cared what Xander thought of him.

"This might hurt, especially if ya fight," Spike shrugged. "But I won't bloody have you around if you aren't ready to remember your place. When the minions come in tonight, I promised 'em that you were going to be waiting."

Riley's skin went cold. He'd been gang-raped more times than he could count, but he'd never been forced to endure it sober.

"You can still walk out. There are clothes over there, and the minions won't touch ya unless you're waiting for 'em on your knees," Spike commented as he again gestured toward the open door. Riley twitched. If he left, he knew he'd end up in the suckhouses again. The need was too great for any other outcome, but at least on the Rapture he wouldn't truly understand what was happening. He was weak for wanting that oblivion, but he did.

"If ya stay and play nice with the minions, I give you my word on two things," Spike commented without emotion before he took a deep drag on his cigarette. Riley was temporarily distracted by the sight of a minion coming in that door. The man was big and dressed in a biker's jacket and he had a bottle of something in his hand that he was taking a drink out of. The moment he spotted Spike, he stopped and tilted his head in Spike's direction.

"Master Spike," he said respectfully. Spike didn't bother to answer, and the minion retreated to the far wall. A second minion came in, and the first one grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him back into the shadows.

"First," Spike said to Riley as if the minions hadn't just interrupted. Riley had to force his eyes back to Spike. "I promise the minions won't kill you or cause any permanent disability. I don't like my toys broken." Spike said that last part loud enough for the two minions in the far shadows to hear. A third minion coming in the door froze as he spotted Spike and heard the warning. "Second, you won't ever have to hurt an innocent human or see one hurt." Spike smiled. "Of course, that rule doesn't apply to human hunters or even vampires or demons from outside the court who try to hunt in my territory. If I tell you to bloody hunt something down and kill it, you bloody well will." Spike poked his cigarette at Riley.

"Master?" Riley asked in shock.

"Wot? Ya think I make Xander stay in such good shape just to have sex with me?" Spike frowned. "Actually, I would make him stay in shape for that reason, but it's a fucking treat to see him take down some minion who's stepped over the line. When the master's pet turns ya to dust because the master can't be bloody bothered to take care of you himself, now that's a lesson," Spike said with a wide grin. Riley's brain stalled out as he tried to understand Spike's words. He might have a chance to hunt vampires again? But that's only if he trusted Spike's word. But if he believed Xander, Dawn and Tara both trusted Spike. Dawn wasn't exactly reliable, but Tara wouldn't trust him without good reason. But then he only had Xander's word that Tara did trust Spike. Riley just didn't have enough information to make the right call with any degree of certainty.

"Your choice, mate," Spike said as he waved a hand toward the door before turning and heading back for the stairs.

The minions stared at him, and for a second, Riley expected them to jump him. It would be familiar, hands clawing at him, cocks pressing into him. But instead, they just watched. A fourth minion showed up at the door and smiled widely at Riley. It wasn't a nice smile.

"He's not ours unless he kneels for us, moron," one of the vampires in the shadows growled.

The new guy looked at Riley. "Well, kneel then," he snarled as he started walking toward Riley. Riley backed up quickly, fear overriding all other thoughts, but a Hispanic-looking vampire darted out and drove a stake into the other vampire's back so that he exploded into dust. Riley was left staring at the vampire in shock.

"The master said you have a choice, so you do," the vampire told him, hissing the words through his fangs. Then he backed up, heading for the shadows where the other two waited. Vampire number four was obviously out of the picture since dust couldn't really participate in a gang rape. Edging toward the door, Riley stopped at a shelf and fingered the clothes neatly folded up. He was starting to believe that Spike had told the truth, that he could get dressed and walk out. He could walk out and find a Rapture house. Riley could feel that need pull at him like a string in his guts urging him out into the pre-dawn air. He could get high again. The only thing stopping him was the knowledge that the drugs were a weakness, and he was weak for wanting them. But his only other option was staying. He knew he couldn't walk out that door and not go to the suckhouse.

Then again, maybe he could call Graham. Graham would handcuff him to a radiator to keep him away from the suckhouses. Graham was a good enough friend to do that. Riley closed his eyes and found himself wishing for a world where that was possible, but Graham had been headed to South America last Riley knew. He'd never find Graham in time for Graham to stop him. How would his life have been different if he'd taken Graham up on that offer to go along?

Another minion came through the door, a woman who was slightly overweight, but attractive in a plain sort of way, the sort of woman Riley might expect to see in an apron back in Iowa. She looked around, narrowing her eyes at the three in the shadows.

"Pierce?" she asked.

"He tried to grab the human," the Hispanic one said, his eyes firmly on the floor. Ah, so this was one of Spike's commanders. The line from Animal Farm suddenly crossed Riley's mind. 'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.' Clearly, she was more equal.

She looked at him curiously. "Master Spike has made it clear that this is your choice. I can even call a cab for you, pay for you to go anywhere within Sunnydale," she suggested calmly. The suggestion turned Riley's stomach to ice because he knew where he wanted to go. He knew what his body demanded even now. He didn't care if he laid in his own filth until someone beat him to death if it meant getting Rapture, but if he did that, people would die. People would die because vampires were stoned and had their version of the munchies.

"You could just kill me," Riley whispered as he looked at the woman desperately. He should have refused to kneel for Spike. He should have died that day, but seeing Xander's ecstasy as Spike bit him, it had made him weak. It made him want one more taste of something he never should have allowed himself to have. After Dracula, he should have killed himself before walking into a suckhouse.

The woman studied him. "Not without Master Spike's permission," she answered without a hint of mercy. Riley's legs were shaking. He looked at the door. The first weak streaks of light were staining the sky. The suckhouse would be quiet, vamps sated on freely given blood fucking and settling in for a day's sleep. He almost sobbed as he forced himself to look away from the door and toward the shadows. Now, with the weak light penetrating the darkness, Riley could see beds. Large mattresses on the floor created two massive beds covered in nests of blankets and pillows.

Every step was painful as he walked toward the closest one. In the dark, yellow eyes watched him, and Riley shivered and his skin crawled. When he reached the closest bed, he slowly went to his knees.

He no more than touched the ground when strong hands lifted him, and with a growl, he was pushed face down onto the nest of bedding. He didn't fight as hands pushed his legs apart and something cold and slick was quickly shoved up his ass. Lube was more than he had been expecting. As quick as Riley had that thought, the something was gone, and the familiar feeling of a cock up his ass replaced it. Riley grunted with each thrust as he was pushed into the bedding.

"Hurry up. I want my turn," someone complained and the pace of the thrusts picked up a little. Riley fisted the blankets. The third vamp came forward, pulling his pants off. "Hey, I'm next in line."

The vamp in front of Riley was the Hispanic one. "A human has two holes you idiot," he pointed out as he knelt in front of Riley, fisting his hair. "Are you going to be good or do I have to teach you some manners?" he demanded.

"Victor," the woman snapped. He immediately let go of Riley's hair.

"I just don't want to get bitten by a human," Victor complained with a sulk.

"He won't bite," the woman said as she came up behind Victor and looked down at him. "If he bites, I might be too annoyed to bother biting him, and since I'm the only one with permission to bite him, he very much wants to please me." She slowly bent down and pressed her thumb into the sore spot where Spike had pierced his neck. Riley felt desire for the first time since Spike had bitten him. "Be a good boy," the woman told him.

"I will, ma'am," Riley promised, the heat from his bite already warming his cock. But then she let go and retreated, watching as Victor arranged himself on the bed and pulled Riley into his lap, the other vampire still pounding away on his ass.

With the realization that he had brought himself to this and that this was the only option that didn't lead to innocent deaths on his hands, Riley closed his lips around Victor's cock and started to suck. The vampire behind him roared as he came in Riley's ass, and Riley didn't even pause in his task as the third vampire took the first one's place and shoved his cock deep in Riley with no warning. Closing his eyes, Riley did what he had to do. That's what he'd been trained for.


Apr 2002

Riley woke, but not in his narrow bed in the stable. Up there, he woke every morning to the sound of Chad complaining about the unfairness of being in a full chastity harness while the other males only had to wear a plug. But now, he was in a large bed and he could feel absolutely nothing. He tried to move, but his body wasn't under his control. Panic was quickly setting in.

"I know you are not hurting, so there's no reason for you to have a racing heart," Dalton said as she appeared in his line of sight. But then she moved out of it, and Riley couldn't even move his head to follow her. "The paralysis is temporary. Clonach demons are largely harmless, but their facial tentacles produce a toxin intended to paralyze prey until they can escape. It's useful." She reappeared in Riley's line of sight and reached down to run a finger down his cheek.

Spike gave her permission to use the stables more than any other vampire in the court, which was understandable considering that she was Spike's childe. He wasn't sure if that was a biological relationship or something related to status... a lieutenant who had been promoted. Twice she'd tied Riley down and then ridden him until his cock was raw. Once she'd tied Chad down and then put a gag on him with a huge cock that stuck up. She rode his face as he squirmed in need, his own cock still helpless in the cock cage. Riley had no illusions that she was particularly merciful even if she looked like she might have been nice in life.

"The toxin has a number of useful benefits," she mused as she let her fingers trail down over his body. Bringing her other hand up, she palmed his cheek and lifted his head so that he could watch as she stroked his cock. It was strange watching the thing thicken and grow when he had no physical feeling attached to it. She released his head, and it fell back onto the pillows.

"You'll recover your voice first, but I fear your inhibitions and self-control might not return for some time," she mused as she crawled onto the bed and pulled her skirt up. She straddled him and then dropped down onto his cock. It was actually easier this way. Riley hated the fact that he always got hard for her. When the lieutenants ordered him onto his stomach, Riley would spread his legs without ever feeling lust. He didn't feel dirty when they finished with him. But his body would feel Dalton's soft curves and get hard every time. He couldn't seem to get his penis to remember that she was a vampire, a monster who served to the monster who owned him.

"Can you talk yet?" she asked as she started lazily riding him. It was surreal—watching her face soften in pleasure and knowing he was the other half but not being able to feel it. Riley struggled with his mouth.

"Any noise at all?" She reached down and cupped his cheeks, pulling his face around so he was looked right at her. He managed a weak mumble.

"Good boy," she praised him, her thumbs stroking over his lips, and Riley mentally cringed from the praise. He knew how tentative his hold on his own will was at this point, and his resistance to mental manipulation was almost non-existent. It was strange, but having sat through lectures on Stockholm Syndrome and the defense mechanism of identification didn't protect him from the feelings. When she came to the stables, he wanted her to pick him. He wanted the bite, but he also wanted her.

She studied him, her rhythm as she rode him never varying. "When Master Spike first brought me into his court, I didn't understand his attachment to his human, but I do enjoy your heat and your smell. I wonder if you have other talents as Xander does. He is very good at fighting, the best human I have seen. And he carves magical objects. They say that he helps bring the white magic that shields this place," she said in a voice barely above a whisper. Riley wasn't sure if he actually did frown, but he wanted to frown at that. As far as he knew, Xander had no magical ability at all.

"Master Spike does many things different from other vampires. Other vampires would drive the Clonach demons away because they are not hunters and would drive the Oden Tal away because they smell of human. It's hard to remember to not feed on them," she said. Riley had been brought out for a visiting vampire once... one who had spent time in the Initiative cells. Between having to kneel with his forehead to the floor for Spike and having to suck the other vampire's cock, Riley had seen the Oden Tal. They were Amazons. Sitting in a group to the side, Riley had been confused about their place in the court, but then one with long black hair had stepped forward and asked permission to hunt a demon who had encroached on the territory, and Riley had quickly come to the conclusion that they were not seen as inferior.

"Can you talk yet?" she asked, her fingers pressing his lips.

"Yesssss," Riley managed to hiss out. He couldn't talk well, but he could talk. She smiled at him.

"Are you happy in the stable?" she asked. Riley frowned, and this time he was fairly sure his face did actually respond. Parts of it were beginning to tingle to life like when the Novocain wore off after going to the dentist.

"No," he admitted, the word coming out before he could consider his answer or plan his strategy for how to handle this. She didn't answer right away as she continued to ride him, but she let go of his face and ran her hands over his chest. Riley managed to keep his face up even though it took a good deal of effort.

"Are you unhappy?" she asked.

"No," Riley said, again before his brain could check with his mouth. Riley sighed in frustration as he realized just how helpless the Clonach venom had made him. They'd had a Clonach in the Initiative, but Riley couldn't remember it having facial tentacles at all much less poisonous ones. He sometimes suspected that everything the Initiative had ever learned or reported was utter crap.

"Do you want to leave?"


That made her pause for a second, her breasts bouncing out of time with her as she stopped and they didn't. Riley again reminded his idiotic body that she was a vampire and not the woman she appeared to be. "Why not?" she asked curiously.

"I don't want to be addicted to the drugs again."

"You want protection from the drugs more than freedom?" she asked.

"Yes." Riley watched as she resumed riding him, her back arching in pleasure and her fingernails scratching across his chest. He could watch the white trails slowly pinken, but he still could feel nothing.

"Is there anything you want more than protection from the drugs?"

"To protect others, to die." Both answers tumbled out of Riley's mouth.

"To protect who?"

"Everyone, citizens."

For a second, Dalton just stared at him like he had grown a new head. "Xander sometimes talks of just having to accept that demons have strange thoughts, but they are not nearly as strange as the thoughts of humans. You would protect everyone? Even people you do not know?"

"Yes," Riley agreed.

Dalton sped up, giving up on the questions for a moment, and Riley recognized her expression. Her head was thrown back, and her face flushed, and she looked so much like a girl he'd liked in high school, that Riley could easily convince himself that Dalton was human. But then she flashed into gameface, her yellow eyes pinning him.

Riley flopped his head weakly to the side as she growled and panted, her motions growing jerky as she climaxed. Riley wondered briefly if his own body was climaxing. Then she collapsed onto him, her teeth sinking in to his scarred shoulder as she drank, and Riley had his answer. No other feeling touched him, but the first draw of blood brought white pleasure crashing through him so sharply that his body had to have climaxed even if he didn't feel it. She pulled out, her mouth stained with his blood, and Riley thought back to the woman who had helped his first two owners capture him.

"You liked that," she said knowingly.

"Yes and no," Riley said, and he groaned to himself. His honesty was going to make her angry enough to punish him.

"You like the pleasure," she said.


"What don't you like?" she asked. She slid off him and settled in at his side, her body blanketing his own as though trying to soak up his heat.

"I don’t like the helplessness."

"You'll always be helpless with a vampire," she pointed out. "If you weren't, you would be strong enough to fight back, earn your freedom and return to the suckhouse. You will never have that power."

"I like knowing that," Riley answered. He silently cursed the venom.

"You don't want to be free." She traced circles on his chest before following the red trail her fingernails had left down his chest. "What part of the helplessness do you not like?"

"You're a killer," Riley pointed out.

"Yes, and?" she frowned at him, obviously not understanding.

"You kill people, I want to protect people, so I want you dead," Riley said, and he braced himself for the punishment that would surely follow that statement.

Instead she frowned at him. "Killing civilians is a game for weak vampires. Any vampire so weak that he must prey upon the helpless has no part in my sire's court. I do hunt. I hunt vampires who poach on my sire's territory. I hunt humans strong enough to be worthy as prey. I hunt Vigories: the males come through to take the Oden Tal or to kill Master Spike for giving them refuge. They taste of fear and insecurity and power all at once. I revel in their blood," she said with a wicked smile that transformed her from an ordinary and attractive person to a stunning woman who would catch anyone's eye. "Why would you want me to stop this?"

Riley felt the quicksand around him. He didn't want to identify with her. He didn't want to see her as a hunter rather than a monster. "You're lying," he said, but he could hear the uncertainty in his own voice.

"Master Spike says that one should lie to the enemy or to an ally one means to keep only for a short time. To lie to a long-term ally will only undermine his ability to work with you, and to lie to a subordinate is weakness. I could tell you that I plan to eviscerate you in the morning, and you could not stop me, so to lie to you about it would only indicate my own insecurity," she said calmly. Riley blinked at her.

"If I kill many more demons than humans, do you still want me dead?"

"Yes," Riley said, blinking as his eyes tingled uncomfortable as the toxin wore off. He could only hope he would regain control of his mouth soon. Of course, she could simply give him more and repeat the process.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because I'm attracted to you and I don't want to be," Riley said. He then groaned in frustration at his own inability to keep his libido or his mouth under control.

She laughed softly. "When I was alive, I would have given much to hear that from one such as you," she said, running her hand across his naked chest. "What would you give much to regain?" she asked softly. In court, her voice was harsher, less educated.

"The chance to do good."

"The chance to kill vampires?" she asked with more than a little amusement.

"Yes," he agreed. "And I keep waiting for you to punish me for that." Riley cursed himself for adding that.

Reaching up, she trailed her fingers over his face, and now he could feel the gentle touch tickling his cheek, but he couldn't reach up to scratch it. "I will punish you if you act against me or my sire. I will punish you if you hurt someone in court or refuse to obey an order. I will punish you if I just want to see you twist in pain, your pretty body struggling to escape."

She paused. Riley held his breath as she reached down and kissed him. Sitting up, she smiled at him. "I won't punish you for saying what you think," she promised. "I used to have to promise my classes that. They were used to professors who would give out grades to reward those who agreed. The first man I ate—he would give lower grades to brilliant students whose only sin lay in disagreeing with him. His blood tasted sour." She made a face.

"But I am not a weak minion who must hunt civilians. I am not so lost to violence that I would end a world I very much enjoy. I do not lose myself to blood lust until I harm the species that is my food source. Other demons may hate humans, and other vampires may resent them." She stroked Riley's cheek. "I rather like the beasts."


Kink Bingo: Voyeurism
Other Pairings: Spander
June 2002

Riley knelt between Dalton's legs, his arms tightly pulled back and bound. He still wasn't sure if her love of bondage was a remnant of the woman she used to be, the professor of English who had been raised in Nebraska and had gone so far as to study Medieval literature at Oxford. Perhaps she had twisted his own words, his fear of going free and returning to the Rapture. The need didn't burn in him like it once had, but he could still feel it stalking him.

He shifted, and Dalton's hand found his neck, gripping him tightly in warning. Sore knees did not compare with an unhappy Dalton in terms of potential pain, so he immediately stilled.

"Bloody hell," Spike complained as he threw a beer bottle at the wall. Clem's mother, whose name Riley could never hope to pronounce, went scrambling after it. "I fucking well want an explanation for how this could happen under your bloody nose," Spike demanded of Aeth, who was either a mage or a witch, Riley wasn't sure which. If Riley had been free to offer a little advice, he might have suggested that she either stop screwing up or move to a different dimension. Spike's patience was running thin.

"Master Spike, I was not aware that she was siphoning magic in this way," Aeth hurried to explain.

"Then why the fuck do I keep you around?" Spike snarled.

Dalton let go of his neck, and Riley laid his cheek on her knee, his silent apology. She'd explained how his behavior reflected on her. By taking him as a pet, she was making herself vulnerable, just as Spike did by taking Xander. If they couldn't control human pets, then the vampires under them would be driven by instinct to try and challenge them. But the willingness to show a vulnerability to the world was a declaration of strength—like turning your back on an enemy. If it backfired you were in a terrible position to defend yourself, but if it worked, it left your enemy uncomfortable and off balance.

"Master Spike, Willow is not beyond my power to control her. I have a spell..."

"She's gone," a voice said from the doorway. Riley turned to see Dawn there at the entry to the court. Normally Dawn was banned from this area, but Riley often saw her in Spike's private quarters. Now she looked lost.

"Bit?" Spike asked, immediately turning his back on the witch/mage. Xander was up on his feet, padding across the floor with his bare feet, his tail hanging out of his shorts. Riley sometimes wondered how much Xander controlled the tail, because, like a cat, he tended to twitch it when he was aggravated. Right now, his curls were bobbing and weaving as his tail twitched madly.

"Dawnie?" he asked.

"I went by the house after school, and I know you said I should wait for Clem, but she's Willow and she would never hurt me," Dawn wailed as she threw herself in Spike's arms. Spike hugged her, and Xander added his own arms.

Looking around the room, Riley wondered how the others saw this little moment. The Oden Tal considered Spike to be a creature not quite human or vampire, but they never showed anything but respect for him. Clem and his family adored Spike. Clem once admitted that the mortality among his family had significantly dropped since taking up residence in the court. But the minions... if Riley believed Dalton, and he had no reason not to, then every human attachment, every attachment with any creature of lesser power, was a weakness. With so many attachments, Spike's power must look like Swiss cheese. However, Spike never had to deal with challenges. The blonde woman had been the only challenge Riley could remember, and while that fight had been brutal, there had never been much doubt about who would win.

"How could she leave?" Dawn cried.

"Sometimes a need gets so great that a person just can't control it. Not your fault, Bit," Spike reassured her. Riley wasn't surprised when her gaze settled on him. He had left her and her sister. He didn't know it at the time, but he'd left them to face a hellgod with only Spike to back them up. Any time she wanted to condemn him, he would look her in the eye and accept that condemnation without hiding.

Dalton slowly stroked his hair, and Riley could feel a blush warm him. Sometimes he thought she petted him for reassurance, but other times he was fairly sure she was just pointing out his weakness and his inability to stop her from treating him like a pet. He had very little to say about it either way.

"I thought she loved me."

Tara appeared in the doorway, her feet bare and her shawl thrown around her shoulders haphazardly, so Riley was guessing someone ran to get her when Dawn showed up in the court instead of the private quarters.

"Dawn, are you alright?" Tara asked as she stepped forward and added her own hand to those comforting Dawn.

She shook her head. "Willow left. She didn't leave a note or anything. She's just gone."

Tara exchanged a worried look with Spike. "Dawn, let's go up to the apartment. You can help me look at tracking spells," Tara offered. Usually Dawn jumped at any chance to get involved with hunting or magic, but now she just looked joyless as Tara pulled her from the room.

"Will we go after her, Master Spike?" Aeth asked. Given how she'd already screwed up, Riley wasn't putting much faith in her ability to counter Willow's magic.

"Princess Jheira would do battle with us," Falif offered as she leaned forward on her seat. Two of the other women had been sharpening their swords, but they stopped now.

"Bloody hell. First, Jheira has enough on her plate fighting her entire fucking dimension," Spike snarled. "Second, if Red wants to leave my territory, I'm not going to fucking track her down just to play fucking baby sitter again. If she's gone, good fucking riddance."

Not even Riley was particularly convinced by that explosion, but he wasn't sure what Spike really wanted or thought. Xander was standing near him, and he flicked his tail in Spike's direction.

"Get your bloody tail out of my way," Spike snapped.

"Yes, Master," Xander said contritely as he backed up, his head ducked and tilted invitingly. Spike took one step toward his chair before turning to look at Xander again. The man still hadn't gone to his knees, and one of the first rules Riley had learned on the end of Dalton's whip was that an unhappy master or mistress meant you immediately collapsed to your knees.

"Pet," Spike said darkly as he started toward Xander. With a grace Riley had never seen in Xander before his time in Spike's court, Xander lowered himself to his knees. Swishing his tail, he tucked it around his knees where it lay surrounding his legs like a nest of curls that didn't quite reach all the way around. He was kneeling now, but the disrespect had been shown.

Spike closed the distance and caught Xander by the ring at the front of the heavy collar he always wore, forcing Xander's head up. "Not nice, pet," Spike growled. The first time Riley had seen this, he'd been genuinely concerned for Xander. Of course, Xander had put himself here just as much as Riley had, but he still didn't want to see the man eviscerated. Since then, Riley had come to the conclusion that Xander intentionally distracted Spike. And while Xander often ended up gasping and in pain, he was always smiling as he followed Spike back to their quarters.

"I'm sorry, Master," Xander offered. He lowered his head to the ground.

"Someone's forgotten how to show proper respect."

Dalton's fingers carded through his hair and the two Oden Tal resumed their work sharpening their weapons. Aeth, however, took the distraction as a chance to run for the hills... or her private room. Riley suspected that had been Xander's plan all along.

Of course, now Spike was dragging Xander over to the wall, wrapping thick leather around his wrists and lifting him to hook the bindings. Xander ended up with his nose to the wall as he stood on his toes.

"Get that tail out of my way," Spike snarled right before he pulled his belt off. Most of the tail simply hung in long curls, so Xander had to keep flicking it from side to side to keep it from hanging down over his ass. "Count 'em," Spike ordered as he pulled the plug out of Xander's ass. The first slap of leather against skin made Riley jump: too many memories. Dalton fisted his hair, holding it so tightly that he couldn't even breathe deeply.

"One, thank you Master for reminding me of my place," Xander answered promptly. His tail was still flicking up and away from his ass with the brilliant red stripe on it, and Spike brought the belt down again.

"Two, thank you Master for reminding me of my place," Xander recited after a brief hiss of pain.

By the sixth stroke, Dalton had released his hair and returned to stroking him. By the tenth, Xander was struggling to get through his phrase. At ten, Spike threw the belt to one side and opened his jeans. Using his hands to lift Xander as easily as one might lift a puppy, Spike impaled him.

Riley could see Xander's neck arch in submission, his toes scrambled at the wall as he tried to find some purchase. Riley now had a cock cage to match Xander's, so he knew the man had no hope of coming, but he still made all the grunts and moans Riley associated with pleasure. Xander started panting, calling out for his Master on each hard thrust that slammed him into the wall. Spike finally came silently and backed away, the white of his come slowly leaking down Xander's thigh in a thin, milky trail. His ass was brilliant red.

"Dalton, make sure Tara and the bit don't come back down here. Xander's going to spend the evening showing everyone what happens to those who forget their manners," Spike said as he turned and headed back for his chair.

"Yes, sire," Dalton agreed as they stood. Riley waited for her to get one step ahead before he rose and followed, his knees stiff. If Dalton had to stand guard, Riley suspected his knees were going to be more stiff because he was going to be kneeling with his head between her legs until she got recalled. Sometimes Riley wondered if sex wasn't the secret weapon to controlling vampires. If they got enough sex, they just didn't seem very motivated to go out and end the world. Well, if that was the case, Riley was certainly doing his part to save the world.

Kink Bingo: Author's Choice: Threesome
August 2002

The pat on the couch was a bit of a surprise, but Riley figured he was being used as a demonstration for Angel and Wesley. Wesley, at least, had an excuse for not understanding vampires, but Riley really couldn't figure Angel out. And he couldn't figure out why Buffy had never quite gotten over losing him. He was not terribly impressive. Riley crawled up on the couch next to Spike, on the opposite side from Xander. Xander was still, but his eyes were focused on Spike, his lip vanishing as he kept chewing on it. The man was practically trembling with need as Spike calmly reached over and pulled Riley's shirt off.

"She challenged for my territory, Peaches. You already know the answer to that. So, if you want to stay and share my boys, I’m more than happy to have you around, but otherwise, bugger off." Spike answered Angel's question about Darla with a growl that left no room for doubt about what had happened. Angel was behind Riley now, getting a good look at vicious scars that showed how vampires in a suckhouse treated humans. Riley wondered if Angel knew about the suckhouse where he was. He suspected the vampire did. Vampires could rarely hide from other vampires, but if Angel had raided, what would he have done with a dozen Rapture addicted, starving humans? No, it was easier to just walk away and save someone who could be grateful. Most of the humans in the suckhouses were just ready to die, and Riley doubted the souled vampire was up to the mercy killing of those people.

Spike brought a hand up and pinched Riley's nipple as Angel and Wesley hurried out. Riley still preferred his own Mistress over any male, but he had to admit that he was relieved that he wasn't about to be ordered to perform for Angel. Spike had a strength to him that sometimes scared Riley, but he could also admire it. He didn't admire either Wesley or Angel, but he could deal with serving Spike. He sometimes even wanted to serve Spike. If Riley were alone with Dalton, he was fairly sure that he wouldn't be able to slip his leash and get free, but when he was around Spike, Riley knew as an absolute certainly that escape was just not possible.

Reaching over, Spike snaked an arm around Xander's waist and pulled him close. "Strip," Spike ordered, and he had to look over before Riley realized that the Master meant him. Riley ducked his head in submission and embarrassment as he hurried to obey.

Xander lay still on top of Spike, Spike's hands buried deep in his hair as he kissed the man, but Riley could see the slight bulge in the back of Xander's jeans where his tail was trying to switch. As much as Xander seemed to enjoy his tail, Riley hoped that Dalton didn't have plans for any modifications. She had already rewired his brain to a terrifying degree; he didn't need physical reminders of those changes.

"Your turn, pet. Strip," Spike ordered. He gave Xander a slap on the ass. Xander slithered off, his body arching invitingly as he went to his knees to unfasten the button on his jeans. Spike stood and stalked toward Riley, who stood still, his head down while he weighed his options. If he went to his knees, it might look like he was trying to deny Master Spike access to his body, so he simply stood silently.

In record time, Xander was stripped and standing behind Spike, his hands running over Spike's shoulders. "Master, what can I do for you?" Xander asked in a throaty whisper.

"On your back on the bed," Spike ordered without turning away from his careful consideration of Riley. Riley could see Xander hesitate for just a fraction of a second before he retreated to the bed. The first months in court, Riley hadn't noticed how often Xander still tried to play white knight, defending others with his powers of distraction. However, Riley didn't need protection. He truly had no honor left to worry about, and the worst thing about when Spike used him was the fact that Spike always made sure he came. Riley hated the pleasure more than the sex, but he understood it, too. In some ways, he even appreciated Spike going so far out of his way to make sure Riley knew that he would never be free, never be able to choose Rapture over life. Dalton and Spike simply had too much power over him.

"Show me that lovely arse of yours, pet," Spike said with a leer toward Xander. Xander flipped over and switched his tail up and out of the way to reveal a tight ass plugged with a large black plug. "Lovely, innit?" Spike asked as he reached out and grabbed Riley's nipple. He pulled and Riley gasped but held still.

"Yes, Master, for a male."

"Hey, nice ass for male, female or in between," Xander protested.

Riley hissed in pain and took a step forward as Spike continued to pull on his nipple. From the smirk on Spike's face, that was what he wanted, so Riley followed his lead, walking backwards toward the bed. "I agree with Xander. That's a bloody fine ass no matter what the gender," Spike said as he gave Xander another affectionate slap. "And I'm rather fond of the tail for that matter."

Spike grabbed the tail and ran his fingers through it. Riley watched curiously as Xander shivered, his eyes half falling shut. Spike glanced over. "Ya still try to deny the pleasure, mate. Isn't Dalton breaking you in right?" Spike asked as he gave Riley's nipple a little twist. He gasped. The physical pain made it hard for him to process the threat right away.

"No, Master Spike. I do enjoy it with her. More than I should," he hurried to say. He did enjoy Dalton's company, both physically and intellectually. When she wasn't around other vampires, her love of literature and philosophy would come out, and Riley was quickly learning to question everything he'd learned about vampires simply being pale shadows of human personality. He definitely didn't want to be taken from her. And now that she had Aeth, he could feel that fear crawling through his belly like fire, nearly as strong as his fear of Rapture. She didn't need him to prove her status.

"So, it's just my company you don't enjoy?" Spike asked in a voice that was dangerously calm. Even Xander had gone still.

Riley shook his head. "It's just males, Master. I just—being with males brings back bad memories."

Spike reached up and pulled on his sore nipple again. "Time for some new memories then. I know Dalton, she won't give you up for all the soddin' tea in China, but with Aeth on her leash, she's going to be busy breaking that one in. And you can't wait for her to have time to give you what you need." Spike stroked over the shoulder where Riley was starting to scar in a feeble imitation of the pattern on Xander's shoulder. He had months of bites overlaid one on top of another where Xander had years, but Spike's touch made him squirm as need started to unfurl. Only Dalton stroked him like that.

"So bloody predictable." Spike chuckled as he took out a key and unlocked the chastity cage from around Riley's cock. "You probably get to come a lot more than my boy, don't you?" Spike asked. He stroked Riley's cock. Riley struggled to keep his hands behind his back.

"Probably, Master."

"She let you come when she does?"

"Yes, Master. Riley glanced over and Xander was staring at them hungrily. After feeling his own flash of jealousy when Dalton had forced Aeth to her knees, Riley felt bad for displacing Xander, no matter how temporarily.

"What does she do when ya come first?" Spike asked.

"She ties me down and uses a gag with a large dildo on it, pleasuring herself where I can see and smell it but not feel it as she half suffocates me, Master."

Spike was nodding. "She uses one of those with Chad. That boy is fucking annoying, the way he goes off at the first touch. Here's the game, mate. You're going to fuck Xander." Spike reached over and patted Xander's leg as Riley traded a shocked look with Xander. "I'm going to fuck you," Spike went on, "and Xander is just going to get tortured with no chance to come. If he's a good boy and squirms good enough to convince you that he's enjoying it, I might let him fuck you to show you that it isn't always about pain with males," Spike offered. "And if you come first, I'll use that gag on you and tell Angel that I won't take it off until either he fucks you or Weesley fucks himself on your face. Now that might be bloody amusing." Riley stopped breathing, but Xander was already laughing.

Xander smiled. "Oh, I will definitely enjoy this, so I will definitely be getting to return the favor, Ri," Xander offered.

Riley wasn't sure how he felt about that but then Spike's hand stroked over his scar again, and his waning erection returned, helped by Spike's fingers trailing over his cock. Then Spike gripped his arm, and he followed automatically. Kneeling between Xander's open legs, Riley noted the unfamiliar heat under his hands as he rested them on Xander's thighs. Xander had already braced himself on the headboard, and when Riley just knelt there for a second, Xander flipped his tail so it brushed against Riley's leg. The soft curls slid across his skin and Riley shivered.

"Go on, mate," Spike ordered, his hands on Riley's waist. Riley pulled out the thick plug and looked at the vulnerable body in front of him. Xander wiggled his ass and Riley looked up at the man's face in surprise to find Xander smirking at him.

"Riley, it's not about male or female. If you trust who you're with, it's always good. I trust you. More than that, I trust Spike to stop you if it's not good," Xander shrugged.

Riley took a deep breath and thought about pointing out that he had never actually been on this end with a male before and he might just mess it up. However, Spike lost his patience at that point, reaching around and grabbing Riley's cock as he lined it up with Xander's hole. Before Riley could blink, he found himself pushed forward into Xander's body, the tight heat burning him. Then the familiar feeling of his own plug being pulled out distracted him from the perfection that was Xander's ass. He'd forgotten what it felt like to thrust into warmth. Spike pressed into him, and Riley was forced all the way down onto Xander who made a little needy noise.

Riley tried to push back against Spike, but he might as well have tried to move the Great Wall of China. Spike braced his hands on Riley's hips and pulled him back a couple of inches before slamming into him and pushing him into Xander. Xander grunted and spread his legs more.

Riley lost himself in pleasure, not even bothering to try to direct his own movement as Spike moved him in and out, filled him and then pulled back, thrust him into a squirming and moaning Xander only to pull him back. It was supremely frustrating because he wasn't allowed enough movement to come, and supremely satisfying because Xander was squirming happily under him. The tight heat around his cock stole all coherent thought as he lost himself to the sensation. Riley still wouldn't trade his mistress for a spot in the bed between Spike and Xander every night, but right now, he just let the waves of pleasure travel his spine and tried to hold on until Spike came. The pleasure grew to a white hot pain that left him desperate, but Riley held on as Spike pounded into him mercilessly.

Vampires didn't have to come; they could control their body's function. Riley had almost given up and decided that Spike wanted him to fail when the vampire cried out and collapsed onto Riley, forcing him down onto Xander. Teeth pierced his skin, and Riley humped, not able to get more than an inch or two of room to thrust as he finally came in Xander. Xander just groaned.

"Problem, pet?" Spike asked cheerfully.

"I think my cock is broken, Master," Xander said sadly.

"If it's broken, I guess that means ya don't want to fuck Riley and get to come yourself," Spike pointed out.

"And let's hear it for instant recoveries!" Xander answered eagerly, but then he grew still. "I mean, Ri, I totally don't want to unless you want to." Xander sounded worried.

Riley let himself soak up the heat of another living being. "I want to," he admitted. He wanted the connection to someone who wasn't dead. He wanted a reminder of who he used to be, a man who was quickly vanishing. Sometimes Riley was alright with the man he had been disappearing because that man had made so many bad choices that Riley couldn't forgive him. And sometimes, sometimes Riley just wanted a human touch.

Spike pulled out. "Well then, let's get flipped over and get your cock cage off pet. Come on, I have enough blood to keep this up all night." Spike wiggled his eyebrows and Riley rolled to get Xander up, taking his own position stomach down in the middle of the bed with his legs spread.

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Toys 18: The Nature of the Beast

Riley watched as Aeth carefully rose and walked toward Spike before sinking to her knees, her head tilting to the side in the submission she'd learned at the end of Dalton's leash. Dalton's fingers found his hair, tugging at individual locks.

"Dalton improved your manners," Spike snorted. "I'm still not convinced she improved your magic." Xander was sitting at Spike's feet, another carving taking shape in his hands. Dalton had once told him that Xander's carvings were magic, but even without mystical powers, they were impressive. The current one showed Spike in a half-crouch, his fury clear in every line of the wood. Xander had talent.

"Willow has become a conduit for magic. She cannot shut herself off from all magic without it gathering in her body. This spell would prevent her from gathering even insignificant amounts of magic by allowing it to flow through her." Aeth delivered her message and then sank down, her forehead pressed to the floor.

"Tara?" Spike asked. She was picking at her dress, a frown on her face, but then she rarely had any other expression when Aeth was around. Riley wasn't sure if she disliked the dark mage or just the reminder that humans were lower life forms and could be turned into pets at Spike's whim.

"This—this is dark magic. I just can't say. I'm sorry," she finally offered.

"No worries, luv. At least you're wise enough to know when ya don't have the answer. The bigger fool tries to make herself look important by pretending knowledge she doesn't have. Isn't that right?" Spike asked, reaching out to give Aeth a kick with his toe.

"Yes, Master," she quickly agreed. Dalton snapped her finger, and Aeth rose and backed up to Dalton's side, kneeling on her left while Riley knelt on her right.

"It'd be a neat solution," Spike mused. He looked around at his court.

The leader of the Oden Tal, Falif, leaned forward. "Would anyone be able to siphon her magic?"

Aeth looked up at Dalton who gave a slight nod. "Yes, Mistress. Willow would have no control over the magic, so it would flow through her to the nearest source pulling at it."

"Fred?" Spike asked. The woman jumped a little and then blushed when most of the court focused on her. If Riley guessed right, the small Oden Tal woman sitting next to Fred had been distracting her with nimble fingers. Those two had formed quite a friendship.

"Master?" she asked as she looked around. The woman sitting next to Fred blushed as several of the Oden Tal made amused noises and one called out a foreign word. If Riley or Aeth had been that oblivious, punishment would have followed, but then Fred hadn't ever made the sorts of decisions that led to a person being demoted to a pet. She was a techno-mage who the Oden Tal courted and the lower-level vampires avoided.

Angel sighed. "Spike asked whether a spell to force Willow's magic to remain open so that it would drain out of her would work." Angel was a recent addition to the court. Sometimes the politics changed so fast that Riley didn't understand and with Aeth now sharing Dalton's quarters, he found himself reluctant to ask for the explanations he used to. However, it seemed that whatever stupidity Angel had committed in LA had been forgiven, and he was appearing more and more often, Wesley or Cordelia or Fred sitting with him on a low bench near Spike's chair.

"Um, as long as the flow of energy out equals the flow of energy in, there shouldn't be any problem. She'd just be like a circuit with power going through but not really affecting anything," Fred hurried to say. She looked over at Angel, and he smiled at her. Angel didn't treat his humans the same as Spike. Before the drugs, before he'd been broken into so many pieces that he didn't know himself anymore, Riley would have preferred Angel. The man treated his humans as equals, and Wesley was particularly quick to criticize. Now... now Riley knew he was where he needed to be. He leaned into Dalton's leg and her hand reached down to stroke his cheek.

In the months since she'd taken Aeth as a pet, he'd grown to realize that he wanted Dalton's touch as much as her body or her ownership over him. Oh, he still wanted those other things. He missed the nightly sex and the feel of her chains on him, reminding him that he was free to want the drugs because he'd never have them. But what he really missed was the constant touching. Even now, her hand slid away as she leaned the other way to stroke Aeth's hair. Riley leaned his cheek into Dalton's leg and simply waited. He'd grown adept at waiting.

"It'd be one less fucking problem to deal with," Spike sighed as he leaned back in his chair. Xander put his carving down and stroked his hand up and down Spike's leg. "Too many fucking problems at once, and you not having your house in order is not exactly helping." Spike sent a nasty glare in Angel's direction, and the other vampire looked down, clearly accepting the censure even if his body was tight. He did not like being called out in public.

"We are pursuing the Groosalugg," Falif offered. "Our informants in L.A. have given us a number of useful leads, and we believe that we shall find him within weeks."

"Make it days," Spike snapped.

"Of course," Falif agreed, but Riley noticed she didn't say how many days.

"What if he won't agree to the spell?" Angel asked. Riley had no idea which spell this was because the whole court was talking about the ridiculous number of spells that seemed to be planned right now. Tracking spells and truth spells, a spell to strip the seer of a power that was killing her, and a spell to find Master Spike another seer, a spell to imprison Willow, and now the need for a new spell to retrieve her from her prison after months in there. Master Spike had even staked one minion who had complained that real vampires didn't have this much magic around.

However, as near as he could tell, this Groosalugg was supposed to either take Cordelia's visions or at least stop her from having any more. If they didn't find him soon, Riley doubted the woman would survive. When she'd first come to court with the rest of Angel's humans, her sharp tongue had amused him, even when he worried that Spike might just snap her neck. Now, when she appeared, she was weak and trembling, her body often bleeding from mysterious wounds left by her visions.

"If you can take him in fucking hand, that won't be an issue, will it?" Spike demanded as he stared at Angel.

Angel stared back for a second before he looked away. "I won't just attack him."

"Then fucking challenge him, but if ya don't make him agree to the spell, I will. Xander's goin' to be sharing his spot at my feet and I'll fucking claim the queen-bitch. Got it?" Spike demanded.

Angel didn't answer, but he did give a short nod. Wesley had watched with interest. "Groo did seem very willing to follow Cordelia's orders. I doubt very much that the hierarchy of a vampire court would shock him," he said.

Angel narrowed his eyes and glared at Wesley, but the man simply stared back. Eventually, Angel reached out, caught Wesley by the back of the neck, and just pulled him close. Even if Wesley verbally argued with Angel, he always yielded physically, and this time was no different. He ended up with his head against Angel's chest, and he shifted to lean into the vampire's body.

Riley really had no doubt about that relationship. At one point he'd theorized that the correct way to control a vampire was to offer them enough sex to keep them happy and sated, and the longer he was in Spike's court, the more practical that strategy appeared. He had a flash of himself offering the General that bit of advice, and he had to smile. Yeah, they'd lock him in the nuthouse. That didn't mean he was wrong, though.

"Right then, so I need someone who has something useful to say about Aeth's spell here," Spike said loudly to the whole court. Fred caught the wrist of the Oden Tal woman sitting next to her, and Riley guessed that she was not in a mood to be distracted. The woman leaned back, her hand moving to Fred's leg as she watched the room with more interest. Falif was watching the pair, and Riley couldn't even guess what she was thinking. If this were Riley's command, he'd be worried about divided loyalty and fraternization in the ranks, but there was so much fraternizing going on, it hardly seemed fair to tell Fred and her young woman not to have hot sex on any available surface.

Tara cleared her throat. "I could call Giles," she said softly.

That was not a pleasant expression on Spike's face.

"The G-man knows way more about dark magic than he likes to admit, Master," Xander seconded her.

Aeth shifted uncomfortably, and Riley knew that she resented the fact that the others were questioning her magic. Well, she could get used to it. As a pet, the others had very little concern for her feelings. A pet could only look to his owner for any sort of respect because Riley knew how the rest of the world saw them. Sometimes Wesley would slip, and a bit of horror or pity would shine through his expression so that it practically burned Riley. Luckily that usually ended with Angel pulling the man into his lap or over his lap or just out of the room.

"I should talk to him," Angel said firmly.

Master Spike looked over with amusement. "You think you're up to that, pet? It's not like he has a high opinion of you."

"He'll believe that I want to help Willow," Angel said, his head high. But he also waited, his eyes on Spike who would either give permission or not.

"He'll believe that even more comin' from Glinda."

"He'll believe that you're serious if you send me," Angel countered, and that made logical sense to Riley. Xander and Tara had a lot of status in court, more than the minions or even the younger Oden Tal, but he wasn't sure that someone from outside of court would ever believe that. Every demon who walked into the court to pay respects to Spike turned to Angel as the second most important person in the room. Riley had no doubt that anyone with experience with vampires would believe Angel had more influence in Spike's court.

Spike reached down and tugged at Xander's hair, urging the man up and into Spike's lap. Xander had on jeans that hung low on his hips, and he slithered up into Spike's lap with a sensuality that Riley rarely associated with men. For long seconds, Spike ran fingers through Xander's curls and Xander played with the buttons on Spike's shirt, clearly looking for permission to go farther.

"You plannin' on calling him or using a portal to pop in on the old fart?" Spike asked Tara.

"I would be more convincing in person," Tara said, indirectly answering his question.

Spike nodded. "Right then, you, Angel and Xander, pop off and talk to Giles. If this spell is going to make Willow safe, it's time to bring her back before we have some other disaster."

"The dimension will hold for at least a few more months," Fred quickly interrupted. "I'm real sorry I didn't recognize the inherent danger of introducing a destabilizing factor into a closed system."

Spike waved his hand dismissively. "The whole fucking thing can collapse and take the witch with it for all I care." Riley could see both Tara and Xander react to that. Xander's hand stilled on Spike's chest and Tara sat up a little stiffer. "But if we can get her out safe, we will," the vampire finished. He gave Xander a slap on the hip and Xander rose and offered a flash of arched neck before he turned to Tara. "And get some blood before you go anywhere. You still don't fucking feed enough," Spike complained to Angel.

"Wesley and Fred have given too much already," Angel objected. Wesley had pushed himself away from Angel, but now he already had his head tilted to the side. Riley could see a flash of something that looked almost like disappointment when Angel didn't bite. That one was becoming well and truly addicted to the bite. For his sake, Riley hoped that Angel never decided to turn on the man because he would find himself going down the same path that Riley had, without a doubt.

"Use Riley," Spike said with a wave of his hand.

Riley jerked a little in surprise, but Dalton's hand was already gone, and he knew better than to question a Master's decision. Getting up, he walked over to Angel, prepared to go to his knees, but then Angel stood up and caught him around the back of the neck, keeping him on his feet. Riley offered his neck and waited, his body stiff.

No matter how often he saw Angel in court, he could never erase that first meeting when he and Angel had stared at each other across Buffy's dorm room. Only now Buffy was dead, and neither of them had stood by her side. Part of Riley wanted to argue that Angel was no better than he was, but the fact was that Riley had fallen so far that he wasn't a fraction of the soldier who had once stood beside Buffy, and he had no right to challenge Angel the way he once had.

Teeth went in faster than he expected, digging deeper into his flesh, and the power and the pain sent signals to Riley's cock that he did not like, but that was the nature of addiction. He no longer believed he had any control over it. His cock hardened in its cage and he fought to not groan in need. Angel took several mouthfuls, but Riley had plenty to spare. Long before Riley was dizzy, Angel stepped back and wiped his mouth.

"Thank you," he said. Riley found that amusing, as if he had any choice in the matter.

"Of course, Master." Riley turned to head back to Dalton. She looked up at him with yellow eyes, her nose widening slightly. She sniffed, and he knew that she could smell his need. He slowed his walk and tilted his head in invitation. Over the last few months, he'd had her attention only in flashes—a day here or a few days there. Most of the time, her attention had been on Aeth, first on training her and now on guarding the mage as she researched and prepared the spell. This was the first sign Dalton had given him in weeks, and he tried to mimic some of the moves he had seen Xander use so effectively against Spike.

A small part of his mind called him a whore, but that was easy to ignore. He was a whore.

Dalton's eyes slipped past him to where the Oden Tal sat. "Falif, would you like the use of my pet for the evening?" Dalton asked.

Riley stopped in the middle of the floor, his guts tangling at the thought of her giving him away. The Oden Tal were exotic, beautiful, powerful women. They were the sort of women who starred in most men's fantasies, but Riley had gotten used to Dalton. He'd grown to like laying in bed with her reading or talking about the farms back home or listening to her explain vampire logic as he tried to explain ideas like honor and guilt. He'd even grown used to her tired and cranky as she quickly used his body before falling asleep. The Oden Tal weren't Dalton, but then as a pet, he wasn't consulted on his preferences. Riley went to his knees in the middle of the floor, waiting for Falif's decision before he either returned to Dalton or went wherever he was ordered.

Falif sounded surprised. "Surely you have use for him."

"I'll be busy with this one," Dalton said as she pulled Aeth's head up by her thick braid. Aeth leaned into Dalton's touch, and for one second, her expression was smug as she looked at Riley. By vampire logic, she was the better pet—more beautiful, more powerful, more advantageous in a fight. Riley might have been beautiful once, but he knew what the scars on his back looked like. He knew how Dalton's fingers always avoided touching him there.

"Riley, would you choose to come with us?" Falif asked. Riley looked over his shoulder at the five women who were considering him with interested eyes. They'd never had a chance to try him before, and he knew they were curious. His other alternative was to sit in a corner and try to not disturb one of Aeth's piles of books or computers as she worked, Dalton standing behind her, holding her leash.

"Yes, ma'am," Riley answered. He turned and looked back at the floor in front of him as he waited for an order. Something silver flew through the air over him, but Riley kept his head down until he heard his mistress's voice.

"Return him in the morning."

"Of course," Falif agreed. Without waiting for a direct order, Riley stood up and turned to the Oden Tal, walking to a spot in front of their bench where he sank to his knees. One of the women, a young one with red hair, laughed and reached out to run a hand along his arm and up to his neck where the white pinprick scars from feeding gathered. Riley's cock hardened, and he tried hard to just turn off his mind and allow his body to do whatever it would.

Wesley was staring at him, a look on confusion on his face, but Riley was a soldier, trained to not give away anything to the enemy through his expression, and he focused on keeping his face neutral. Looking around, Spike was studying him, and Riley lowered his gaze to the floor, afraid that Master Spike might see some spark of disobedience in him.

"Mistress, I can prepare detailed notes on the spell and ceremony," Aeth suggested.

"Sire?" Dalton asked.

"Right then, make sure she don't try anything," Spike quickly answered, but he sounded distracted. Riley focused on a small bug trying to make it across the length of the wooden floor, but he could just imagine how Xander might be saying goodbye and distracting his master.

"We have a pleasant diversion to attend to as well," Falif suggested as she stood. Riley rose at her side, keeping his head down and avoiding the stares of the court. Victor wanted a human pet badly, and Riley suspected that he was now up for grabs if he wasn't on his way back to the stables. If Master Spike was going to give him to Victor, if they were exchanging silent looks right now, Riley didn't want to know. Then again, Victor might be a better choice than Angel. Riley clasped his hands at his back to keep himself from touching the mark where Angel had bitten him. The vampire was weak, and Riley suspected that it would be entirely too easy for him to slip that leash. The thought of the Rapture houses rose in his memory, half horror and half dream. No matter how long he was clean, Rapture still called to him. Then again, maybe that's where he belonged. Falif started towards the Oden Tal's end of the building, and Riley followed.

The plain gray and steel and wood structure gave way to colorful swirls and patterns painted across hallways. Spirals splashed across doors, long arrows dodged around rough windows cut into the steel siding, red circles dotted the floor like a blood trail.

"He is so quiet," one of the Oden Tal said, and a hand ran up his back, fingers brushing over his scars.

"Were you always so quiet?" another voice asked.

"No," Riley answered.

Falif led to a double door and pushed both sides open. The inside was a riot of color that made Riley blink for a second. "Do you plan to be this quiet all night?" she asked as she held up a silver key—the key to his chastity cage.

"I'm not sure what you want," Riley said honestly. He kept himself still as the Oden Tal moved around him, gathering in small groups on the floor where pillows and throws were arranged in piles. There were probably a dozen women here, and the ones who had not been in court started whispering loudly. Angel had been here one night, Riley knew, he and Wesley both. Fred often came here, but Riley didn't think any of the human pets had even been to the Oden Tal's main hall. No one in the stable had ever mentioned it, and the people there had very little to talk about other than their pasts and the latest soap opera plots.

"We want only for you to enjoy yourself. We know so little about you or Xander," Falif said as she reached forward. She slowly unbuttoned his jeans, and Riley went to parade rest, his hands behind his back so she could work more easily. "Like this," she said as she uncovered his trapped cock. The pink flesh pressed against the plastic cage. "This is not vabata."

"Ma'am?" Riley asked, not sure what she meant. She pushed his jeans open a little more so she could reach in far enough to find the lock.

"This is not respectful of choice. You and Xander allow the vampires to take away your choice to have sex. Why?"

Riley blinked for a second. "It's theirs to take," he finally answered.

"Why?" Falif asked curiously. She freed his cock and slowly pulled the cage away, running her fingers along the head until Riley groaned in need and hardened. "Does that not feel better?"

"Yes," Riley agreed. The conversation had grown quiet in the room.

"But yet you give that choice to Dalton, to a woman. On our world, women are not allowed choice over even themselves."

"That's wrong," Riley immediately answered. The idea of enslaving an entire gender turned his stomach. Falif smiled.

"And yet, you have no choice over yourself," she said.

Riley closed his eyes, wishing this was something as simple as them riding him while he tried to please them all before coming. That would be painful, but not as painful as this. "I made choices, and they were the wrong ones. Dalton and Spike make better choices for me," he said. Falif nodded, and maybe that was the answer she wanted because she turned away and wandered toward one of the groups. That left Riley standing awkwardly at the front of the room, his jeans open and his cock hanging out as he waited at parade rest. He was not into exhibition, and his cock slowly softened and shrank.

Several of the women returned to their own business, talking or watching small televisions, or in one pile, working fingers into each other and writhing in pleasure. He turned his head away when his cock started getting the wrong idea.

"Is he going to stand there all night?" the red-haired one asked loudly. Several of the women laughed, and a couple admonished her.

"Where would you like me to go?" Riley asked, fighting against his own embarrassment. He should know better by now because he had no more right to embarrassment than to any other feeling. This was his life, and he would accept whatever came.

"Where would you want to go?" one of the older ones asked.

"To Dalton," he answered quickly, but then he thought of Dalton, standing with her hand on Aeth's cheek. "Outside, to find Rapture," he amended himself, "which is why I can't be trusted to make my own choices, ma'am," Riley quickly answered.

That caused a sudden silence in the room. A young one said something in a foreign tongue, and one of the older ones hushed her. "Come over here, human," the older woman suggested, holding out her hand to him. Her black hair was just starting to streak with gray at the temple, and Riley went immediately to her, kneeling down in front of her as he took her hand.

"We get very few chances to sleep with males. The males of our own world believe that sex gives them power over us," she said as she ran a hand down Riley's chest to where his cock was still framed by his open pants. Riley glanced over at Falif to make sure this was allowed, but the Oden Tal leader was on her own pile of pillows, looking at an open scroll with another woman with hair cropped close to her head. Riley turned back to the woman who was stroking him and allowed himself to harden under her touch.

"Does he feel like Angel or Wesley?" a woman with short blonde hair asked as she came over and sat close.

"He is human; he feels like Wesley."

"Does that mean he can only choose one of us like Wesley?" she asked, clearly disappointed. The woman looked at Riley, obviously waiting for an answer. Riley glanced around at the number of women watching.

"I can service at least four or five," he said. It would hurt, especially without the cock ring, but he could hold off that long. Old words floated into his memory. Great minds had purpose, his mother always told him. She had told him to find his purpose... his destiny. Riley shoved his pants down and sat in order to pull them off. His mother would cry if she could see him now. He didn't have a great mind. He had a small mind, and the only thing he had in his future was pain.

Riley settled back onto a pillow and held out a hand to the young woman who had been disappointed at the thought he could only serve one woman before losing control. Confusion flashed on her face for a second, and the older woman pulled her close.

"He's letting you be on top, foolish one," she said, but her voice was amused. The young woman blushed as she straddled Riley. Her warmth made Riley harden even more, and he allowed his hands to drift up her thighs as he shifted a bit so he could thrust up.

"Ride him," another woman advised her.

"Do you know how--?" Riley started to ask, but then she finally figured out to line up with his cock and dropped into place. The tightness made Riley's eyes water, and he thrust up involuntarily, hissing at the heat and pressure that made him fully hard immediately.

She gasped, and women's hands steadied her, helping her find a rhythm as Riley just struggled to hold on and not come. Maybe if he was good enough they'd keep him. He fisted a pillow with one hand and reached down where their bodies met with his other. Working his thumb on her clit, he listened to her squeal with surprise and pleasure as he just hoped she would finish soon.

~ ~ ~

"Master, I did tell you as soon as I realized that the spell would require a life," Aeth defended herself, and Riley could hear her desperation. Riley knelt by the Oden Tal, his body still sore from the night before, but unless Dalton paid him some attention, he might return with the women after the current meeting was over.

"We m-must find another spell," Tara said firmly, but the return of her stutter showed how much this whole thing bothered her.

"Master," Xander said softly.

"They are quite right. To sacrifice a human life in order to save Willow would be an abomination," Giles insisted. Riley leaned back on his heels and found himself praying that Giles did not look in his direction. As much as it burned to see pity out of someone like Wesley, he truly did not want someone who had known him before to see him.

"Don't give me bollocks about the sanctity of life. Vampire here," Spike pointed out. Xander shifted uncomfortably at Spike's feet, and Spike sighed so loud that Riley could hear him from the other side of the room.

"But Willow isn't," Giles insisted. "If you expect me to believe that you... you... understand human beings..." Giles had a bit of a stuttering problem himself right now, but if Riley was remembering correctly, Giles had known Xander for years... had first sent Spike to stay with Xander after the Initiative had chipped him. And right now, Xander was going for his all-out puppy impression. His tail flipped from one side to the other, and he was kneeling up between Spike's legs, looking up with a desperate expression.

Giles cleared his throat and tried again. "If you understand human beings then you will understand that Willow will not be able to recover from the thought of having a human being die for her. It is abhorrent to..."

"So, you'd rather make poor Fred live with knowin' she sent Red into a world that's slowly collapsing in on itself and killing her?" Spike demanded. Giles' gaze went to Fred. When Riley glanced over, Fred was sitting with huge eyes, and Angel glared hatred at Spike for a second before he reached over and pulled her close. Fred's Oden Tal friend slid over on the bench, her hand on Fred's shoulder as she looked back toward Falif for help. The Oden Tal leader didn't seem inclined to do anything but watch.

"I would rather have been consulted before someone redefined space and time," Giles practically yelled. He backed up a step and sat on a bench where the vampire lieutenants normally sat. They'd been sent out to patrol the edges of the territory and get a meal.

Giles pulled his glasses off and polished them slowly in a gesture so familiar that Riley could almost convince himself they were back in Giles' apartment as they tried to decide how to handle the Initiative or Adam or Dracula. The Initiative imploded on its own, Spike had taken down Adam before disappearing, and Dracula had wandered off on his own after getting turned down by Buffy. It wasn't exactly a string of successes.

"Perhaps with some research, I can find some other solution. Winifred's calculations do suggest that we have some time," Giles said, his gaze focused on his glasses-polishing.

"Could be," Spike admitted. "Angel's staying on until we find a bloke who can take Cordelia's visions, so you have until then to try and come up with another spell."

"I shouldn't have suggested the dimensional prison. The math was all pretty, but math numbers on the page don't ever match what you get in the lab. I shouldn't have trusted what I saw on the page," Fred said, and Riley could hear the pain in her voice. Spike and Angel exchanged a look.

"It wasn't your call. You didn't make the decision to use that spell, we did," Angel said firmly as he rubbed her back.

"Like bloody hell, you did," Spike snorted. "You were on your fucking knees in front of me, mate, in case you don't remember it. Then again, if ya don't remember that, I'm happy to stage a rematch to remind everyone of who the fuck is in charge here." Now Spike sounded angry, and the whole court tensed. Riley shifted back, and Falif's hand found his shoulder. He wished he was with Dalton, but she took to the side of Spike's chair with Aeth at her feet, the mage's forehead to the ground. "It was my fucking call, and if I say to let the witch die, she bloody dies. Does everyone in this fucking room understand that?"

The entire court went silent. Dalton had her hand fisted around Aeth's leash. Xander had his hand on Spike's thigh, but he was motionless, even his tail was still. Tara had frozen with a cloth twisted in her hands, and Angel and his humans were absolutely silent—Fred with her head buried on Angel's chest and Wesley sitting on Angel's other side with wide eyes. The six Oden Tal sitting around Riley were all silent statues.

"Yes, I believe we all know who is in charge," Giles offered. Xander's tail twitched and then the breathing members of the court seemed to breathe again. "I only ask for some time to try and offer a few alternatives to allowing Willow to simply die. The original release spell may simply need adjustment."

Spike leaned back and Xander tentatively climbed up into Spike's lap, keeping his head low as his fingers stroked up and down Spike's arm. If that were Riley, he wouldn't be able to perform like that in front of Mr. Giles. Then again, as angry as Spike was, if Xander didn't soothe him, someone truly might lose their life.

"Rupert, you can work with Fred and Tara, but I don't want you near Tara's apartment. If the Bit finds out what bollocks we've made of this, I'm having someone for dinner, and your name is going to be at the top of the list."

Giles shoved his glasses back on and stood up. "I hardly think threats are necessary."

"No, but they make me feel better," Spike cut him off. "Peaches, keep an eye on this one, and if she fucks up again, eat her," Spike said as he aimed a kick at Aeth. The mage flinched a half second before the boot even hit her.

Angel stood up and pulled Fred forward with him. "Should I leave any for you to torture later or just finish her off?" Angel asked as he took Aeth's leash. Riley wasn't sure if Angel was playing a part to intimidate Aeth or not, but he was certainly convincing.

"Finish her off. You need the blood more than I do. You still aren't feeding enough; there is a bloody stable here."

"And Angel is always welcome to come back to visit us," Falif called out. Riley ducked his head as everyone turned toward them, but Mr. Giles didn't show any sign of recognizing him.

Spike smirked. "You and your bloody women, Peaches. You're a bloody show off."

"I have something worth showing off," Angel answered.

"Maybe I should give Wesley a try and see which he prefers." Spike looked over, and Wesley was turning an alarming shade of red.

"He's mine, Spike. If you're tired of Xander, you come to me, not Wesley," Angel said as he stepped forward. Riley watched the quick exchange of looks, the flash of a fang as Spike and Angel considered each other, but whatever Angel was doing, it seemed to put Spike in a good mood. Xander even gave Angel a smile before he worked fingers between the buttons on Spike's shirt.

"Find me a fucking solution," Spike said with a dismissive wave. Angel took a step toward the door and gave Aeth's leash a harder tug than he needed to. She scrambled to follow him quickly enough. Fred and Tara and Giles all followed.

"And you, take care him," Spike said with a wave in Riley's direction. Riley sat up as Dalton turned to consider him. She strode quickly toward him, and Riley lowered his gaze. He still wanted her. Even though he suspected that she preferred Aeth and the power the mage carried under her skin, even though he would always be her second choice, he wanted her.

"Did he behave?" she asked after stopping in front of the Oden Tal.

"He is remarkably well behaved and has great endurance for a human," Falif offered. "By our customs, we cannot use such a devise as this, however." Even with his gaze down, Riley knew Falif was returning his cock cage. After sleeping with four women last night and three more this morning, Riley definitely did not need it. His cock's only goal right now was a long rest.

Dalton reached down and stroked his hair, and Riley waited for an order. "Come," Dalton said before she turned and started walking away. Riley rose and followed, ignoring the needy sounds Xander was making as Spike turned to more interesting diversions.

"Aeth's solution will work," Dalton commented. Riley waited for some comment that required his answer. He understood why Dalton said that—she wanted to make it clear that her pet did have power even if she had displeased Spike. Riley just didn't have anything to say about it.

"Why do the humans not want to trade the life of a stranger for the witch?" she asked. She stopped outside the room she shared with Riley and Aeth. She took a large key from a chain around her neck and unlocked the double deadbolt.

"They want a solution that doesn't require any life to be lost, Mistress," Riley answered.

"Why? We could find a human on the street and use it as a sacrifice." Dalton stood beside the open door, and Riley hurried into the room. Aeth's books had been removed, probably so that Tara and Fred could work with them, but two computers still sat on a low table in the corner.

"That would be..." Riley paused. His gut said it would be wrong, but that was not an answer Dalton would understand. "In King Lear," he said slowly, "Lear tried to decide which of his daughters was best by talking to them."

Dalton sat on the edge of the bed, and Riley went to her, kneeling at her feet. "Go on," she urged him, her hands stroking his shoulders.

"Lear favored the wrong daughters because he didn't really know them. He didn't understand that Cordelia really loved him. When humans kill people they don't know, they always wonder what they didn't know about the person. In war, human soldiers often have trouble when they think of the enemy as real people because killing a stranger means you just might be killing Cordelia."

"You worry about the person's potential for good," Dalton said as she cocked her head. "If Master Spike could purchase a convict, that would not be an obstacle."

Riley studied her for a second. Spike might have given the others permission to look for whatever they wanted, but he had the feeling that the vampire was going to go ahead with the spell anyway.

"Mistress, just because a person is a convict does not mean that they deserve to die."

"I could bring one I had picked for dinner, and then everyone would know that the human was scheduled to die anyway," she pointed out. But she studied Riley's face, waiting for him.

"If it were me in that prison," Riley said slowly, "I would rather die than know that someone else died for me. I couldn't live with myself, Mistress."

"What would you do?" she asked, her fingers moving up to his hair.

Riley thought about that. Honestly, he wouldn't do anything. His ability to make choices for his own life had ended long ago. "I belong to you, Mistress. I wouldn't do anything without your permission, but Willow might hurt herself or hurt someone who she blamed for making the choice."

Dalton nodded. "Which is why the other humans cannot be part of making that choice."

"Yes, Mistress."

"Did you enjoy the Oden Tal?" she asked, and the sudden shift in conversation put Riley on edge. There was something here he was not understanding.

"I served as best I could," he said carefully.

She nodded. "If you failed it was because a male's body has certain limits." Dalton stood up, and Riley could feel the cold grab his guts. If Dalton preferred a female pet, that should hurt less than any specific rejection. It wasn't personal. Riley had studied psychology long enough to know that he was lying to himself.

Dalton was standing at the closet, unlocking the heavy bolt. "Master Spike has asked that we return in two hours, but until then, I have time to watch you strain and hurt for me," Dalton announced. Riley closed his eyes. He didn't want his last memory of Dalton to be her demon torturing him, but he had very little choice in it.

"Where would you like me, Mistress?"

"On the bed." She turned around with heavy leather manacles. "On your back."

Riley stood and quickly undressed, before getting on the bed and stretching his arms and legs to the corners. Chains in hand, Dalton circled the bed, running a finger down Riley's leg and then up his arm as she chained his first wrist. Even though his cock was sore and his thighs ached, Riley's body reacted. The chains made it easier. Wearing them, he didn't need to try and control himself. He could fight without any danger of getting free. If Angel took him as part of his new stable, Riley wondered if he could escape. If Graham was still out there, maybe he... yeah, that was an old fantasy, but he couldn't exactly ask a friend to keep him chained up for the rest of his life. Dalton finished on one side and moved over to his left.

"You're tense."

"I'm sore, Mistress. I’m not going to be able to do my best," Riley admitted. She locked his left ankle into a restraint without comment.

"My enjoyment is in seeing you struggle and twist. You will do that quite well," she said as she locked the cuff around his left wrist. She knew exactly how long to make the chains, so that Riley was left stretched across the bed, his cock half-hard and his muscles straining to ease the pressure on his shoulders. She went to the closet again and returned with a tawse. She slapped the stiff leather against her hand and smiled. At one point, she'd amused herself by giving Riley the history of the belt-like whip, the way it had been used on naughty children. This time, she circled the bed silently.

She ran the cool leather along the inside of his thigh, and Riley arched up into the touch. Little bits of him that remembered terms like operant conditioning could have explained his reaction without ever using words like desire or lust, but Riley just let himself feel. Feeling the moment was all he had, and he'd become an expert in it. Not even vampires could live in the present the way he could. The tawse moved up over his chest, and he breathed faster, waiting for the first strike.

Dalton chuckled, her voice skittering across his skin leaving goose pimples in its wake. "Obviously they did not leave you too sore," she said, and she laid the flat of the tawse on his balls, pressing. Riley pressed his head back onto the pillow and pressed his eyes closed. That was both pleasure and pain and he wasn't sure if he wanted more or less, but the pressure now was a perfect torment. Fisting his hands, he pleaded softly, "Mistress."

"Mmmm." She moved the tawse, using it to press his cock first one way and then the other. When the pressure vanished, Riley took a second to breathe a sigh of relief, right before the leather slapped down on his stomach. The sound was sharp, but the pain gathered dully, an ache that started at the point of contact and sank into him. Dalton struck again, this time on his right thigh, and Riley yelled, arching his body and pulling against the chains.

"You strain so prettily. All that muscle standing out in cords like a work of art," she commented as she circled the bed. Riley's cock ignored the pain and focused on the words, on the heat left behind once he had controlled the pain, on the look of pleasure on Dalton's face. He might not be enough for her in the long run, but right now he was making her happy.

She swung, and Riley flinched, closing his eyes a millisecond before the tawse caught him on the inner thigh.

"Damn it," he cried out, the pain overcoming his control for a half second, before he could mentally gather his wits. He opened his eyes and found her watching him with yellow eyes. "Mistress," he gasped, still struggling with the pain.

"Are you begging me to stop?" she asked, teasing him with the tawse with one hand and running her thumb over his nipple with the other.

"No, Mistress," he answered. He knew she'd stop if he begged her, but she enjoyed this, and if his pain was all he could offer her, then he would. A part of his brain protested that logic, but Riley closed his eyes and braced himself before the tawse came down again and again over his chest, the slaps become a rhythm that controlled his breathing. She stopped and dropped the short whip on the ground.

Straddling his waist, she ran her hands up his chest, her fingers spread wide. "So very warm. I forget what it feels like to be warm," she said, her back arching as she rocked back and forth. Riley's cock hardened now. Her touch felt warm as it slid over the tawse marks, hot in fact. But that illusion vanished when Riley looked up into yellow eyes.

"Angel bit you. I didn't like him biting you," she said, and Riley frowned in confusion. Before he could ask what she meant, she had reached up and pushed his head to the side to expose his neck. Riley's body tightened in anticipation. He opened his mouth to warn her that he wasn't wearing the cock cage, that the bite was too much to ask him to endure without coming, but he didn't have a chance.

Her teeth sank into his shoulder, and his whole body narrowed to that one point, to the heat and the need and the pleasure that radiated from his shoulder out until it enveloped his whole body and nothing mattered but the bite. Riley thrust up, digging his heels into the bed and struggling against the steel as he came in a crashing wave.

Dalton licked the wound, sending shivers of pleasure echoing through his body. Slowly, his muscles relaxed, and Riley sagged into the bed, the chains no longer even necessary because he was floating on pleasure and that light-headedness he got when Dalton took more blood than usual. It felt good.

"I should punish you for coming," Dalton sighed, but she also slid down next to him.

"Yes, Mistress," he agreed. If she wanted to punish him, it meant she was keeping him longer. She reached up and unhooked his wrist cuffs before grabbing a blanket from off the floor and draping it over them. Riley's legs were still stretched open, but he brought his arms down and pulled Dalton close.

"Is bringing Willow home worth the risk that feelings will be hurt?" she asked him.

Riley's brain was still a little fuzzy, so he couldn't come up with an answer immediately. "Without Willow, Xander's the only one left. Cordelia's dying, Buffy's gone, most of the others died at graduation or when Glorificus started ripping through everyone who knew Buffy looking for the key. Those who survived have run for the hills."

"So, Xander needs her to survive?" Dalton asked.

"I think so," Riley tightened his arms. "It's not easy being the only survivor and knowing you shouldn't have survived because other people were stronger than you were." Riley remembered the horror of seeing Forrest dead and then reanimated by Adam, but then he didn't have to suffer survivor's guilt for long because he hadn't truly survived. "And Tara is alone trying to raise Dawn in the middle of a vampire court. She doesn't have any other adults to talk to about whether she's doing the right thing."

"What about Xander?" Dalton asked, her fingers trailing over Riley's chest and making him shiver.

"Xander belongs to Spike. Tara doesn't truly have anyone who's there just for her."

"So, even if we have to make a sacrifice, we need to recover Willow?" Dalton asked. Riley stopped breathing for a second.

"We need to find a way to get Willow back without making a sacrifice," he said.

Dalton nodded, but she didn't answer.

~ ~ ~

Riley felt uncomfortable in fighting clothes without any weapons. He had no doubt that the jeans and t-shirt were for Giles' benefit, but it had been so long since he wore clothing that they felt strange. And to wear clothing without the weapons he would normally carry outside the lair felt even stranger. True, the dusty warehouse was in shouting distance of the lair, but Riley itched to have a gun on his hip. When he looked at the runes drawn across the rough floor, he had the uncomfortable feeling he needed a weapon.

Spike stood off to the side, but Fred stood at his side instead of Xander. Angel was walking Aeth around the perimeter of their work on her leash, and Riley was standing beside Dalton just a few feet from Giles who kept looking in a large book with gold lettering, a bag slung over his shoulder. If this worked, they would have Willow back, but the very fact that Xander and Tara weren't here didn't leave much doubt about which spell the vampires planned to use.

"Riley," Giles said in surprise, physically jerking as he finally recognized him.

"Mr. Giles," Riley offered politely. His mother's manners were still there, even if she wouldn't recognize the man he had become. Dalton stopped and studied Giles, her hand tightening on Riley's arm, but at least he wasn't on a leash like Aeth. Riley missed the days when Dalton focused on him, and he even sometimes missed the bondage, but he certainly did not want to be publicly humiliated in front of Mr. Giles.

"It's good to see you..." Giles pulled off his glasses... "looking so healthy. I um..." He put his glasses back on. "I never would have expected to see you here."

Riley's blood went cold as he watched Giles flail through the conversation. Only one thing would inspire a reaction like that. "You found me after I left Sunnydale," Riley said. Every time he thought he had survived everything his stupidity could throw at him, he found a new level of misery.

Giles looked at him for a long minute. "Yes."

"Did Buffy..." Riley didn't finish the sentence because he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"No, she did not see you," Giles said firmly. "Had I not believed you beyond rehabilitation, I would have told her, but as it was, I did not feel it necessary to inform her that I had found you."

Riley didn't answer right away, and he could almost feel Dalton's curiosity pressing against him. Part of her was still the college professor trying to understand the world, but as a demon, human nature was just a little beyond her. "Thank you," Riley said to Giles.

"I hardly think thanks are appropriate," Giles said. "After all, I am the one who made the decision to leave you there. I think I owe you an apol—"

"No, you don't," Riley cut the man off. "You were right. I am beyond rehabilitation. I would have happily died on Rapture if Master Spike hadn't forced me to give it up. I still would if he gave me that option, so you don't have anything to apologize for."

"I see," Giles said with a frown.

"We about ready?" Spike demanded. Riley looked over at Aeth who hadn't added anything to the numbers or symbols on the floor for at least five minutes.

"It should work," Fred said. Her hands were fluttering, and Spike reached over and caught one.

"You make sure those numbers are right, luv. The price of being wrong on this is more than you want to pay, and you won't be the only one payin' it."

"Spike," Angel said.

"Just speakin' the truth, pet, and you know it. You may play at giving your humans choices, but as long as she's in my court, she's followin' my orders, just like you have to, Peaches. Right, luv?" Spike asked as he turned to Fred, and put a finger under her chin to raise her head. Dalton tilted her head to the side and watched curiously.

"Your orders, got it," Fred agreed with a nod. Angel was fisting Aeth's leash, but he didn't comment as he walked back around to where Riley and Giles and Dalton waited.

"Perhaps we can just get this over with," Giles commented as he opened the bag on his shoulder and pulled out two carvings. They looked like stylized antelope, like the chiwara Riley had seen in an undergrad anthropology class. Giles placed one on either side of a gap in the circle surrounding Aeth's runes and numbers.

"Places, people," Spike said almost cheerfully, but then he was standing farthest from the circle, a crossbow in hand. Fred took the north side of the circle, and Giles walked over to the south while Angel handed Aeth's leash to Dalton as they stood on the west side, near the gap.

"Do it," Dalton ordered. Aeth tilted her head respectfully and then started chanting. Light gathered slowly, as if individual points from the flickering fluorescents overhead were pulled out and gathered above each of the runes. The points of light merged into a glow that started to slowly circle, like water out of a bathtub.

Aeth stopped chanting and tilted her head toward Dalton again. "The spell must gather strength, Mistress. Then we can finish it."

Dalton just watched the gathering storm, her fingers tight on Riley's arm, tight enough to hurt. Maybe at one point, Riley would have wanted the touch, the pain, the illusion that someone was holding on to him to keep him from drowning. Not now.

"It's okay, Mistress. It's fine," Riley promised Dalton, resting his hand on top of hers. She frowned at him, but loosened her grip a little without letting go. She was probably afraid he would run, but Riley had decided a long time ago that he needed to accept her orders. Aeth, Giles, and Fred were here to run the spell. The vampires were here to guard them. Riley... Riley was the sacrifice to buy back Willow's life. Fred's numbers said that the dark wouldn't give up one source of power without another, and Riley was going to step into a prison they'd made for Willow.

It was the ultimate chain, the ultimate Master. He'd never again have to fear the drugs. He'd never have to wonder if Dalton or Spike would get tired of him and give him back to some house where he'd lay in his own urine and feces. It would be him and his memories and his prayers, and maybe he could find something like peace before the bubble collapsed and he just stopped existing.

Aeth looked over at him, her face smug, but Riley didn't give her any reaction that she could use revel in. He'd made his bed and he'd lie in it. At least he would know that his death bought someone else's life. That was better than the guilt he lived with now. He'd lived on in L.A., wallowing in filth and all the pretty colors of Rapture while Buffy died. This would save Willow; maybe it would right the scales.

"We're just about there," Fred called over the sound of the roaring wind inside the circle.

Riley stood up straighter. As a soldier, he was trained to put his life on the line to prevent civilian casualties. It was part of his job... it was part of who he had chosen to be long before he even knew vampires existed. This was an end he could face like a man.

"Mistress, it is the right choice," Riley said, his eyes focused on the gathering darkness in the middle of the light.

She looked at him and tightened her grip on his arm.

"I'm not going to run, Mistress," Riley said, almost amused at her inability to understand him, even now. "I'm still yours," he said quietly.

Aeth looked over at him, that smugness now unmistakable. "Mistress, the spell is ready for the sacrifice," she said, but her eyes stayed on Riley.

He nodded. He hoped that Dalton gave him a chance to walk into this on his own with some dignity instead of just tossing him in. He still remembered Willow, screaming and clawing at the ground once the edge of the spell had caught her. Her face had been twisted by hate and rage and fear, and Xander had watched with this haunted and pained expression that not even Spike could erase for the longest time. Riley wouldn't give Aeth the pleasure of seeing him act like that, and he wouldn't make Fred live with the guilt. And despite Spike's loud insistence that they were acting under his command, Riley suspected that Fred and Angel would still feel guilty. Mr. Giles had abandoned him to a suckhouse, so that man clearly had learned to live with making difficult choices that included sacrificing a few pawns to the greater good. Riley didn't expect guilt from him.

"Get on with it," Spike called. Dalton looked over at Riley, and he kept his face neutral as he waited for the order or the push. She pushed. But instead of throwing him toward the opening, she shoved him backwards. Aeth's hands were flying out to the side as Dalton yanked her forward by the leash before slamming her in the back with a swift kick. Aeth's screams vanished under the roaring winds, and then the circling lights flashed so bright that Riley threw his arm up to shield his eyes.

When he brought his arm down and blinked, the spell was over, the air was filled with thousands of dust particles that swam before his eyes and Willow was lying in the middle of the spell circle.

"Oh lord," Fred said softly, but her voice sounded like it was coming from the far end of a tunnel. Riley swallowed to try and make his ears pop.

"Tara, get in here!" Spike called, and the door came open. Tara hesitated just a second in the open doorway, the light from the street a halo around her, and then she ran forward. Xander came in behind her and stood just inside the doorway, watching the scene.

"Willow," Tara called as she ran to the other woman, her feet scuffing the carefully drawn runes.

"And you," Spike said as he turned to Dalton. "What the fuck was that?"

Riley froze. Dalton, however, didn't seem overly disturbed that Master Spike was obviously not happy about her choice of sacrifice. He wasn't surprised when Xander slipped in behind Spike, a soothing hand on Spike's back.

"Bloody hell, pet, just family here, so spit out whatever you're thinking," Spike sighed as he pulled Xander around to his front.

"Okay." Xander drew out the vowels and paused for a second. "I'm thinking what the hell just happened in here, Master?" Xander looked around the room. The sudden shift in tone from the quiet, sensual pet to this man who looked a lot like the Xander Harris Riley had known years ago shocked him.

"We were goin' to use a bloke we nicked out of some prison cell to trade for Willow, but Dalton went and changed the plan." Spike pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it, his eyes still yellow as they watched Dalton. Angel had gathered Fred and Giles near him, and he stood over Tara who was chanting softly in Willow's ear, either to heal her or just to reassure herself that Willow was back, Riley didn't know which. Willow clearly wasn't conscious, but he could hear her labored breathing.

"Um, what happened to Aeth?" Xander asked.

"Good question. What happened to your mage, Dalton?" Spike asked, blowing a trail of smoke out into the air. Dalton stepped closer and caught Riley by the back of the neck. At this point, Riley didn't understand anything about what was going on, but he sank to his knees at her side, letting her pull him close.

"She thought she was more valuable than Riley. She wished for me to put Riley into that prison." Dalton looked down, and Riley watched her in confusion as she frowned at him. "Riley thought to go into that prison."

"Spike, we need to get Willow somewhere warm," Tara interrupted.

"Right then, this shite will wait until later."

"I'll help you," Xander said as he left Spike to hurry to Tara and Willow. Riley looked up at Dalton, not sure if he should help or not. That was answered when Angel stepped in and simply picked her up and started for the door, the entire human camp trailing after him.

"I have Aeth's spell. Tara, do you have an obsidian wand?" Giles asked.

"I think so. I c-can check."

"I'll get the room ready," Fred blurted out and then she raced ahead of the group and out the door. It took Angel a second to navigate the narrow exit with Willow in his arms and everyone else crowding around. "Watch her head," Xander said, and then the chaos was gone, and Riley was more confused than ever.

"Actually, seems like I'm not really needed, so we'll deal with this shite now," Spike sighed. "Bloody lot of them could at least pretend to remember I run the fucking court. Right then, start talking," Spike ordered as he walked over and leaned against the wall of the warehouse, and Riley looked down at the floor. None of this made any sense.

"You said I had to stop expecting others to act as vampires," Dalton said calmly. "I did."

"We had a plan."

"She thought I would use Riley as the sacrifice." Dalton sounded pretty outraged at Aeth's assumption, but then Riley had pretty much made the same assumption.

"The minute we pulled the arsewipe out of the closet, she would have known she figured wrong. Still not hearing why you threw away a valuable piece like her." Spike was still not sounding amused, and Riley held his breath as the seconds went by and Dalton didn't answer.

"She thought she understood me, that she could use me to get what she wanted." Dalton pulled Riley closer. "I didn't trust her enough to allow her to use me."

Riley glanced up, but Spike actually looked more amused than upset now. "Bloody hell, you could have waited until she did the last spell on Willow."

"Fred and Giles can do the spell," Dalton said firmly.

"Soddin'..." he stopped mid-curse. "You are getting to be cheeky, aren't you?" Spike asked as he dropped his cigarette and crushed it.

Dalton didn't flinch back, but Riley flinched for her. Very early on, Dalton had made a mistake that had put Xander in danger in a battle, and by the time Spike returned her to their room, she was a bloody mass of whip marks and broken bones. Riley had been afraid to even touch her for days as the open wounds slowly closed and healed. She would have healed faster, but Spike didn't even allow her to leave the lair to hunt.

"Serving a master does not always mean obeying blindly," Dalton said.

"Who told you that rot?"

"You did, sire." Dalton's fingers trailed along Riley's cheek, stroking him gently.

"Ya listened to the wrong bloody part of the lecture, luv. I'm sure I've pointed out once or twice that I'm the one who calls the shots around here," Spike complained, but he had an almost friendly tone, the way he would sometimes complain about Xander's tail about two seconds before the two of them were having sex on the floor.

"You do, which is why I listened when you told me I was being an idiot with Riley instead of challenging you for questioning how I handled my pet."

Spike snorted. "You'd last about two minutes in a challenge before you ended up hanging from my chains."

"I'd make it at least ten, sire."

"That sounds like a dare." Spike pursed his lips, but instead of starting a fight with Dalton, he walked over to a door and pulled it open. "So, since we don't need this piece of shite, I guess it's dinner time for you, mate."

Spike pulled out a man who was tied. His legs had about two inches of slack in the rope so he could stand, but his arms were bound so tightly that that his chest thrust out. His bare head was a mass of tattoos, and a cluster of teardrop tattoos under his left eye made it pretty clear that this was not a good man.

"Or we could return him to the prison," Dalton commented. Riley looked up at her in surprise. Dalton was many things, but merciful was not normally one.

Spike looked just as surprised. "Suppose we could. Don't really see the point of it, though." Spike pushed the con back against the wall and walked slowly toward Dalton.

"As Riley said, we do not know what a man is like just because he is in prison."

Both Spike's eyebrows went up and he looked down at Riley. Swallowing nervously, Riley looked right back. They were his words, and if they made Spike angry, he would take the responsibility for that.

"So if Aeth manipulates ya, she gets shoved into a collapsin' prison dimension, but you're alright with Riley here doing the manipulation?" Spike asked, his voice slow and dangerous.

"Yes," Dalton answered, her fingers still stroking Riley's cheek. Riley had not been this confused since that first day in Fort Irwin when the commanders had introduced the unit to vampires, showing documentary footage that most of the soldiers had believed to be faked all the way up until they met their first vampire.

Spike snorted. "The Aurelian line isn't going to earn back any sanity points with you, is it?" he demanded, but again, he sounded amused.

"Probably not, but the line is in no danger of ever being suspected of sanity." Dalton smiled at Spike.

"Figure out what to do with this one," Spike said, kicking the prisoner who fell to the ground with a heavy grunt that was muffled by the gag. "And talk to your fucking pet before the git goes an offs himself. Just because the wanker has a better poker face than my boy isn't a good reason to be a fucking nit, got it?" Spike demanded.

"Yes, sire," Dalton agreed, her head tilting forward respectfully. Spike strode out of the room without another look, and Riley stared up in confusion. He normally considered himself a fairly intelligent man—a weak one who made horrible choices—but an intelligent one. Today was challenging that perception.

Dalton stood there, stroking his hair, and Riley waited for some sort of explanation that she didn't seem to be ready to give him. The prisoner made a pained grunt, and she looked over.

"Do you truly believe that he may have goodness that is simply unseen?" Dalton asked as she left his side to walk over to the man. She flashed into gameface, and he screamed behind the gag and pissed himself.

"I don't know." Riley stood up and took a couple of steps toward her. "You saved him because I said that?"

Dalton looked over at him. "I would have still killed him if Aeth had not been so aggressive, but your words made me consider it as a choice." She reached down and easily pulled the man to his feet, but he looked so unsteady that Riley thought he might just fall down again. Riley stepped forward to steady the convict.

Dalton sighed loudly. "I intended your night with the Odel Tal as a reward... because I had spent so much time with the mage and her questionable loyalties." Dalton started pulling the prisoner toward the door at such a fast pace that the man gave a couple of hops and then ended up crashing to the floor again. She growled at him in gameface.

Riley was so shocked that he stood still and watched the strange scene. "A reward?"

"They are more attractive in human terms." She pulled the guy up again, and whether this guy was a murdering gang-member or not, Riley was starting to feel some sympathy for him as he struggled to hop and shuffle fast enough to keep up with her. Riley trotted after her, putting his hand on her arm to slow her.

She looked at him, and for a half-second, Riley could imagine that he saw the human she had once been. "I prefer you," he told her.

She tilted her head at him and then turned away, pulling the prisoner toward the door but moving slower now. "I didn't understand your illogical preference for me. You were uncomfortable sharing a bed with Spike and Xander, so I thought you would prefer attention from the Oden Tal. Master Spike had Xander explain a few things that still do not make sense, and now I believe I should not have sent you away."

"What did Xander explain?" Riley had a few suspicions, but he really needed some direct answers. This uncertainty was not good for his digestion.

Dalton turned away from the prisoner and reached for him, her hands catching him by the back of the neck and the waist as she pulled him close. "He says you would have an irrational preference for me even if I were to be injured or weak. Spike was once captured and gravely injured, and Xander pursued a dangerous and reckless rescue plan with very little chance of success. He says you would do the same."

Riley studied her. "Of course I would."

"You and Xander are odd," she announced, and then she turned her attention to the prisoner, moving him toward the door at a slightly slower pace now. Riley wasn't sure what the plan was, but he had a feeling that the guy was actually looking forward to getting back into a jail cell.

"It's human to have irrational preferences," Riley pointed out. He got a hand around the guy's elbow and tried to help him along.

"Even to the point of disregarding appearance or strength?"

Riley thought about that. "If you weren't strong enough to control me, that would worry me," he admitted. "I wouldn't want to leave you. I still..." he stopped and blinked a few times to clear the dust that seemed to be making his eyes water. "I still hate myself for leaving Buffy. I should have died with her before leaving her to fight alone. The drugs made me do that. I can't promise I wouldn't ever leave you because I'm always..."

Riley stopped when he found Dalton suddenly vamped out an inch from his face. With one hand she grabbed him by the back of the neck so hard that he hunched his shoulders, and with the other she grabbed his cock. He froze. Dalton just slowly tightened her hold on Riley's cock until he couldn't breathe. Then just as suddenly she let go.

"I will kill you before I ever allow you to touch a drug. Never doubt that." She reached up and ran her thumb along his lower lip. "I have an irrational preference for you, even over someone as powerful as Aeth was, but I will drain every drop of blood and leave you a corpse before I allow you to abandon me for the drugs."

Riley held perfectly still, her hand still clamped around his neck tight enough to warn him that she wasn't kidding. "Of course, it's far more likely that I'll just chain you to the bed until you remember your place, at least once Rupert Giles is gone. Xander also says you have an irrational preference to not have Giles or Dawn see you in chains and a collar. Xander wears a collar with them, so why would you rather not?" Dalton asked. She let go of his neck and took a second to stroke fingers over his feeding scar. Riley reached up and caught her wrist, his back arching and his cock hardening at her attention. Dalton was definitely smirking.

"I don't want them to think I'm weak," Riley admitted, "which is stupid because in most psychological terms, I am."

"You should hunt more demons," Dalton commented. They were outside now, and Dalton opened the trunk of a large old car. She tipped the prisoner in. "After I finish keeping you chained to the bed for a while," she amended herself.

"He's going to suffocate in there. You should take the gag off... Mistress." Riley dropped his eyes down as he realized that he probably needed to remember his manners. Something might have fundamentally shifted when he wasn't looking, but she was still his owner, and he didn't think she wanted him forgetting all the lessons she had taught him at the end of her whip.

She looked down at the guy for a second, her hand on the open trunk. "I would rather just feed off you and dump your body in the ocean. My pet would return you to the police. So, I give you the choice," Dalton offered in an overly-friendly voice. The prisoner looked even more freaked than before. "I'm going to take your gag off. If you're quiet, my pet is right and you want to live. If you scream, I'll eat you for dinner." She flashed into gameface. "Isn't that fair?" she asked as she turned to Riley.

"Yes, Mistress," Riley agreed. "I really don't like watching when she eats people. Seriously, don't call for help because in this neighborhood, it's not coming anyway," Riley told the guy.

Dalton reached down and pulled the duct tape off so fast that it must have hurt the guy, but he lay silently, staring up at them in mute horror.

"You were right about him wishing to live," Dalton said to Riley with a shrug before she slammed the trunk shut. "I'll have Victor drive it somewhere and call the police, but right now, you need my attention more." She reached out and caught his wrist before pulling him back toward the lair. For a second, she moved so fast that Riley couldn't keep up and he stumbled after her, her hand on his wrist unforgiving. But then she slowed, and when Riley caught up to her, she slipped her arm around his waist.

For just a brief moment, Riley wasn't sure what to do. This wasn't a gesture Dalton normally used with him. He tentatively let his arm rest on her shoulders, aware that from the outside, they must appear to be more of a couple than a vampire and her pet. As they approached the lair, he prepared to move into a more formal position just a half step behind her as proper, but her arm tightened around him, and they walked into the main entrance.

Clearly Riley had some new rules to learn. He was bright, though. He'd figure it out.


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Toys 19: Yellow Brick Road


Xander sat in the back of the dimly lit bar, watching the singer on stage as he played his guitar and crooned. So this was Angel's graduation test. The guy would have a career in music if he ever gave up his gig serving as one of the minions of evil.

"Can I get you anything, Sweetcheeks?" a green demon asked.

"Lemonade?" Xander asked. That seemed to amuse the guy who just chuckled and shook his head before heading back for the bar. Tonight was business, and Xander knew better than to have something to drink before business. Spike would string him up against the wall and take the whip to him in a not-so-nice way. Xander much preferred the nice sorts of torture over the punishments. The singer glanced over, and Xander gave him a bright smile. The guy dropped a note and then went back to his chord.

"Someone is getting some attention," the demon returned with Xander's lemonade and leaned against the wall so he sort of hovered over Xander. "Lindsey always did fall for the ones with soulful, brown eyes," he announced with a wink that shocked Xander. He wasn't used to guys flirting with him, not without having Spike cut them into little tiny pieces afterwards.

"Lindsey McDonald," Xander echoed. The green guy's... well, they weren't actually eyebrows... more like his eye ridge where the brow was missing... they went up. "And you would be Lorne."

Lorne tilted his head to the side. "I think I'd remember if Lindsey had brought a sweetpea like you in here before. Trust me, I'm not so old that I don't notice cute and young.

Xander laughed. "Maybe not so young and I'm not sure cute is really the right word." Xander tilted his head and the collar of his shirt shifted to show off his constellation of tiny pinprick teethmarks. "And if Lindsey had every tried to bring me anywhere as his sweetpea, Master Spike would have pulled all his guts out and strung them over the nearest light post, and if Lindsey was really lucky, he would have been dead before Spike did it."

"Ah, you're Master Spike's Xander from the Hellmouth." Lorne sat down. Funny, most people ran screaming the other way when they figured out who Xander was. "I have a regular celebrity in Caritas. So, what can I do for you today, darling?"

"Just watching the show." Xander took a drink of lemonade. The scar and the name were supposed to scare Lorne away, not invite him to take a seat, but then again, Xander had long ago given up hope that demons would ever approach anything close to actually logical logic. They sort of did their own thing, and you went along for the ride and hoped you didn't fall off.

"Is Master Spike interested in Lindsey?" There was a guarded interest in Lorne's voice now as he looked from Xander up to the stage where Lindsey was singing quietly about love and loss.

Yep, the big broodster was clearly an idiot because he had not mentioned Lindsey being friends with the bar owner, but unless Xander was misreading all the signals, they were. Great. If he got one scratch during some bar fight, Spike was going to put Angel back in chains and take the skin off his back with a bullwhip. Xander took another sip of lemonade. Actually, that might be worth it. That really might be worth it. Since submitting to Spike, Xander had become a lot more honest about himself and his own needs, and he definitely needed to see Angel beat up on a little more. The man had the interpersonal skills of a ferret, and any time someone tried to teach him to have better manners, he just did his equivalent of biting someone's finger and then peeing on the floor. He'd refused to go to the Master's lair for Buffy. He hadn't come back to Sunnydale when a hellgod was threatening to open a dimensional door, and he kicked his guys totally out when they tried to point out that he was a flat headed moron who had the moral compass of something really, really rusty and old. Yep, he had Angel-issues, and he was proud of it.

"Lindsey is a good man," Lorne continued when Xander didn't answer. "He has a lot of potential, and he has fears in there that sometimes make the boy a little on the unreliable side, but when he sings..." Lorne's eyes glazed over like a man in the middle of a really good orgasm.

"No offense, but you need to get out more if you get that excited about singing," Xander said, the words slipping out before he could stop and do a demon-safe check on them to avoid offending anyone. He really did have better manners when Spike was sitting next to him holding his leash.

Lorne just laughed and took a drink of something pink and strong enough that Xander could smell the alcohol in it. "Some days, I think I do," he agreed. He looked toward the stage where Lindsey was just finishing up. "Will you pass on a message for me?"

"To Master Spike?" Xander asked. Dumb question, but then Xander really wasn't used to demons talking to him at all.

Lorne just nodded. "Tell Master Spike that Lindsey has great potential. I'm well-known for my clairvoyant skills, and Lindsey..." Lorne looked up at the stage as Lindsey finished. The last note lingered, too sad to really encourage applause even if he was a great singer. "He's something special." Lorne stood up and put out a hand and rested it on Xander's shoulder, something that shocked Xander so much he temporarily lost the ability to even figure out what he should be because demons did not go touching him without permission. They just didn't. Lorne, however, left his hand there for a second. "He deserves more than to have someone use him and then throw him away, even if his soul is a little tattered around the edges." With that, Lorne raised his glass toward the stage and patted Xander's shoulder.

"Lindsey, you are as superb as ever. You simply must come here more often," he announced loudly over the crowd. Xander could see every demon's eye turn toward them. In the corner, Riley had gotten up from his seat and he looked about ready to call in the cavalry. At least Riley was backup and not Wesley; Wesley definitely would have called in the cavalry and the air force and one or two naval units by now. That man seriously needed to chill. Riley was just slowly making his way closer while still trying to look uninterested in the drama.

On stage, Lindsey smiled as the audience finally applauded. Lorne gestured toward Lindsey, calling him over to the table. Well, that solved Xander's first problem—how to make contact with Lindsey. The man gave the crowd a shy smile and a quick wave of his hand before he jumped off stage and made his way toward their table. He was cute. Cute and clearly evil if he was working for Wolfram and Hart. But then, Xander could blame that on Angel, too. Lindsey had come to Angel for help, and Angel had tried to save some kids but hadn't even bothered to try and keep Lindsey out of harm's way. It was like helping an alcoholic get sober and then dropping him off in front of a bar with twenty dollars and telling him to be good. Angel was an idiot.

"Hey." Lindsey gave him a little head nod that reminded Xander more of Oz than some evil corporate lawyer.

"Hey," Xander answered. This was way more awkward than he'd expected when he'd argued for the right to give this a try.

"Lindsey, this is Xander. Xander is very well connected with the Master of the Hellmouth up in Sunnydale. Xander, this is Lindsey McDonald, singer of songs that call to lost souls." Lorne gave Lindsey a special smile, and Xander wondered for a second just how far this friendship went.

"Xander, huh. Nice name." Lindsey turned a chair around and straddled it, leaning his guitar's neck against the table. "Could I get a beer?" he asked Lorne.

"Sure thing. One beer, coming up. On the house." Lorne let his hand rest on Lindsey's shoulder and he looked over at Xander with something like sadness. Yep, whatever these two had going on, it was killing Lorne to not tell Lindsey to run for the hills... or run for the evil lawfirm's evil bodyguards anyway. But it was pretty telling that he didn't warn Lindsey. Not even when he probably thought Xander was step one in some diabolical trap.

After a few seconds, just long enough to make Lindsey look up in confusion, Lorne pulled away and headed for the bar.

"So, you work for the Master up in Sunnydale?" Lindsey asked, and he gave a smile that made Xander wonder why evil always had to be so very pretty.

"Work for might be the wrong term," Xander said with a shrug, "but I'm definitely loyal to him. So, what I'm about to tell you, I am not going behind Master Spike's back. Trust me, you are not worth the special kind of guilt and pain that would entail. Lots of pain. Even more guilt." Xander couldn't even imagine going against Spike anymore. Oh, he could argue with Spike lots. Like when Spike suggested that letting Willow die in a collapsing prison dimension was a good idea... he'd done all kinds of arguing that time. But going behind Spike's back was not something he was ever going to try.

Lindsey's cute act vanished, and sharp eyes focused right in on Xander. It was like seeing the guy turn off one personality and turn on another, and Xander could definitely see the evil shining out now. Yep, Lindsey was ready to eviscerate him and offer up Xander's entrails to a hellgod for a little information. Of course, he didn't actually have the skills to eviscerate Xander. Way bigger demons had tried and they hadn't even come close enough to make Spike get off his butt and help. Xander was not exactly the sort easily eviscerated these days.

"Well?" Lindsey demanded.

"Oh, sorry. Woolgathering in the brain," Xander apologized. "I know about how you went to Angel for help, and obviously Master Spike does too since I pretty much don't find out about things until after Spike does."

Lindsey leaned back, holding on to the chair so that he looked like an extra in a western movie—all white smile and boyish charm. He sure did know how to do cocky. "Angel offered to help me out. Someone else made a better offer." Lindsey smiled to make it perfectly clear that he didn't need anyone's help. For a second, Xander wondered if he'd looked that cocky and that stupid back when he was still insisting that he didn't need anyone and that he wasn't terrified out of his mind and alone and going nowhere after high school ended. If he had, no wonder Spike had claimed him. And no wonder Wolfram and Hard had claimed Lindsey because all this cocky posturing was making him look pretty claimable.

"Master Spike doesn't like you wandering around. He seems to think that you're not good at picking a side and staying on it."

Lindsey's eyebrows went up. "So, is he trying to tell me to get out of town? Wolfram and Hart has never interfered with Hellmouth business, and we have a lot of respect for how Master Spike rules that town. He's an effective leader. But I can't understand why he would send you to give me some sort of warning."

Xander frowned. "Okay, first, getting compliments from your bosses is not exactly complimentary. And second, if this is coming off like a warning, I think I need to rephrase it." Yeah, just as soon as he could find a way to explain what was about to hit Lindsey like a ton of bricks. Some things were not exactly easy to put into words, and Xander was just now starting to think that Spike had been right about letting Lindsey figure this one out on his own. He looked over, and Riley was watching him with concern, clearly ready to jump into the conversation.

"So, this isn't a warning? Is this a really strange job offer? I mean, I hear good things about Master Spike's court, and I'm honored, but the life expectancy of a human in a vampire court is generally pretty short."

"Oh, it's definitely not a job offer," Xander said. "Okay. I'm really bungling this. Look, you know how sometimes you want to do the right thing, but the right thing is the hardest thing ever to do and so even when you know you're supposed to be doing it, you screw it up?"

Lindsey frowned without answering. Damn. Where was Lorne? This conversation would be a lot easier if Lindsey just had a beer or three.

Xander sighed and decided to just go with his strength—blurting. "Angel was talking to Master Spike about you. Master Spike told Angel to get you under control. He said that the second you came to Angel, you put yourself in the jurisdiction of a vampire court, and that humans don't get to choose to leave the court."

"Angel is discussing me with Master Spike?" Lindsey got a big grin on his face. "I guess I have him more worried than I thought. I just thought he was laying low and licking his wounds after getting his ass kicked by that magic user a couple of months back. Well, don't you worry about me. I can handle Angel," Lindsey said with a wink. Standing up, he grabbed his guitar and headed for the door. He didn't even notice the little smear of black tar-like gunk Xander had marked the instrument with. He just trotted toward the exit, all cocky and sure and totally about to get taken down about a hundred notches.

"Thanks for the offer, but it turns out, I have to go take care of some business," he told Lorne when he met him halfway to the door. Lorne was finally coming back with his beer, and when Lindsey hurried past, Xander wasn't sure Lindsey even noticed the stricken look on Lorne's face. Yeah, that was one demon who knew he was going to be a friend short tonight.

Riley dropped into the seat across from Xander and stole his lemonade. "How'd it go?"

Xander shrugged. "I warned him. At least when he gets broadsided by Angel channeling his big, dorky domhood, he won't be totally in the dark."

"Like we were?" Riley asked before taking a drink.

"Exactly," Xander nodded. "When life is about to completely upend your life, a little warning is nice. Just not so much warning that you have time to freak out and do exactly the wrong thing, but just enough to keep the heart-attack levels of panic manageable."

"You got him tagged?"

"Yep." Xander folded up the small handkerchief with the magical gunk and tucked it into a pocket. Riley nodded and took another drink.


Riley pushed the lemonade back in his direction and took a couple of pretzels out of the bowl in the center of the table.

"Do you think this is the right thing for Lindsey? Wesley's right that this is sort of like accomplice to kidnapping, which is feeling vaguely wrong."

Riley took another pretzel, but this time, he concentrated on breaking it at each of its little joints. He gave a little laugh. "You'd damn well better be willing to kidnap me if I ever slip the leash. Some of us... we just aren't good on our own." He stared out the door where Lindsey had just gone. If Spike's new dark mage knew his stuff, Lindsey had just stepped across a portal and landed in the middle of Spike's court.

"We really aren't," Xander agreed. "I kinda suck on my own."

"I got sucked on my own," Riley pointed out.

"But you're better now. I mean, it's easier being owned by someone than living like that, right?" Xander looked to Riley for some sort of confirmation.

Riley's easy smile faded and something sadder settled over him. "Yeah, it's better now. Sometimes I can go a whole day without wanting the drugs. Maybe the day will come that Lindsey can get through a day without craving the power and the evil."

"Or maybe he'll just get used to the idea that he can crave it, but Angel is never going to let him go wallowing in evil again."

Riley made a face like someone had forgotten to put sugar in the lemonade. He took another pretzel and started breaking it into tiny pieces, flicking the crusted salt bits off with his fingernail. "I just hope Angel can hold things together long enough to actually dominate Lindsey." Riley shook his head. "I would never want him to hold my leash."

Xander leaned back and looked around at the demon and humans gathered around the small tables. "I know. He is a giant dork. I could trick him out of a key to my cock cage in two days," Xander pointed out.

"I could get off his property and find drugs in one," Riley countered, poking a mangled pretzel toward Xander. Xander frowned at that. Yeah, Riley had made a bad choice, but unlike Lindsey, he'd fought like hell to not go back into it. When Spike said he was giving Riley the choice to walk out into the night or submit, Xander had pretty much expected Riley to walk out and find a nice suckhouse with a stash of Rapture. Riley had surprised him.

"Xander," Riley rested his chin on his hand, "are you ever sorry? For me, the drugs are a constant temptation, and let's face it, Lindsey is probably going to be safer and happier in the long run if Angel can just get a leash on him and hold it. But you never gave in to darkness. Buffy never understood that. She didn't get why you seemed to be just fine one day and taking off with Spike the next."

Xander fingered the lemonade glass, sliding his fingers across the cold surface as he thought about that one. Buffy and Willow were his bright and shining girls, but Buffy was gone, and Willow wasn't so bright or shiny now. She was more the cringing, clinging girl with a side of psychological damage. Sometimes he wondered what Buffy must be thinking of them as she looked down from heaven. "I wasn't that fine," Xander said softly. "I don't think I had been for a long time. There were just a lot of things that I don't think I told anyone about, and they left me feeling like I couldn't ever catch my balance. I just think Spike was the first one to really realize that."

Riley sat with him in silence for a time. "I'm sorry I never really noticed."

Xander shrugged. "I was already with Spike by the time I met you. I think that helped me keep the happy face on a little longer. We'd go home and play at domination and submission even though the chip meant it was never real, but even that show was enough to help me glue myself back together long enough to play the happy dork."

"You were never the dork." Riley brushed his hands off on his pants, scattering pretzel dust. "You were no different from Tara or Willow or even Giles and me—you were an ordinary person caught in extraordinary circumstances."

"And falling apart."

"And I followed you in the falling apart department. Actually, I think I managed to greatly surpass any falling apart you did on your own," Riley pointed out. "And Willow outdid both of us. Hell, she makes us look psychologically stable."

Xander bit his lip. "But she'll recover, right?"

That made Riley sigh, but Riley's slow answer felt more real than all Tara's stuttered declarations. It was like Willow would be okay if Tara just said she would be often enough and cheerfully enough. Riley was not that cheerful. "She was alone in the dark for a long time, Xander. Hostages who go through that take months or even years to recover, but they do... eventually. Willow will recover from the isolation. Whether or not she can recover from the realization that she committed cold-blooded murder really depends on how strong of a person she is."

"She'll recover," Xander whispered to himself.

"I hope so," Riley said just as quietly. "However, you and I have about five minutes to get out there or we are going to turn into pumpkins, and our babysitters are going to sit on us." Riley poked a thumb toward four vampires sitting in the corner drinking blood from tall glasses. One had celery stuck in it like a bloody Mary. Or maybe it was a bloody Mary. Xander found that vampires who hung around Spike too long tended to develop a very strange sense of humor.

"We could take them," Xander said, but he got up and double checked the silver bracelet around his wrist. The same black gunk he'd put on Lindsey's guitar was caught inside a little glass bubble so that it looked like onyx.

"Yep," Riley agreed, "but the two Master Vampires who would come after us would kick our asses so hard that we'd be limping when we were sixty."

Xander smiled. "It does feel nice to know that someone out there cares that much, right?"

Riley slung an arm over Xander's shoulder as they headed for the door. "It feels safe," he agreed. "As a psychology major, I should point out that you are confusing love with obsession, but as another slave owned by an obsessive vampire, I will admit that sometimes it's nice to feel safe."

"I just hope Angel has Lindsey under control because I do not want to have front row seats for that. I may understand that Lindsey needs an owner, and I totally understand that Angel needs practice taking care of humans because his human-tending skills suck, but I'm still not sold on this whole idea. It's like giving an abused dog to the kid down the street who always stuck crayons up his nose."

"He's a Master Vampire who had the drop on an unarmed human. I don't think the fight lasted this long," Riley said as they stepped out of the Caritas. The void ripped at them, howling black sucking at their clothes as time and space tore apart. Xander closed his eyes, his fists curling around Riley's jacket as he reminded himself that the spell had been tested over and over and over. And over more. Spike had become slightly on the paranoid obsessive side when it came to trusting his mages. Pinpricks of light gathered, making his eyelids glow red, and then Xander gasped as reality reformed around him.

"Well, shit. That is not ever going to take the place of commercial flying," Riley said softly. His hands were digging painfully into Xander's arm, and he slowly uncurled them. Putting an elbow in Riley's side, Xander poked his thumb toward the corner of the court. Lindsey was backed into it, swinging a sword from side to side to keep Angel at bay. "Idiot," Riley said so softly that Xander might have even imagined it. But with his face a perfectly calm mask of respect, Riley went to Dalton's side and lowered himself to his knees and leaned into her leg. Riley could call it whatever he wanted, but the way Dalton looked at him, Xander was pretty sure they were big with the love. Xander headed for Spike. Most of the time, when there was a fight, the room was crowded with spectators and Spike sat poised on the edge of his seat, giving the constant impression that he was about to jump into the middle of things. Now the room was empty and Spike was leaning all the way back, one boot resting on the seat of his chair.

"Bloody boring, pet. You may have to find some way to distract me from the great poof." Spike waved a hand toward the standoff in the corner.

Glancing over, Xander could see there was no real danger. Swinging his hips, he slowed down so that he could pull his first button loose. The neck of his shirt gaped, and Xander fingered his scar, groaning when his trapped cock pressed tightly against the cage. He wasn't surprised when Spike's eyes yellowed.

"Oi, finish this up. Don't have time for this rot," Spike yelled at Angel. His boot hit the ground as he slid forward in his chair, leaning his elbows on his knees and watching Xander strip with a predatory gaze. Riley might call it obsession, and Xander did understand that for demons, love always came with a little obsession—or in Spike's case, a lot of it. However, that didn't change the love that shone through. He pulled his second button free and pulled on the shirt so the white pattern of bitemarks was visible as the shirt fell from his shoulder. The third and fourth and fifth buttons gave, and Xander let the silk slither off his skin and fall to the ground in a pool.

Twisting his body sensually, Xander moved closer without coming close enough for Spike to touch him, not without leaving his chair. Instead, Xander teased, dancing just out of reach as he pulled his first weapon. He ran a finger along the flat of the blade, watching Spike's gaze flicker between the weapon and the dance. Xander had played rough before, throwing bladed weapons and trusting Spike to be fast enough to move out the way before he took a major injury. It inevitably led to a seriously hot spanking, getting tied face down on the bed and then getting taken over and over while Spike taught him his place. Spike did like playing teacher, and Xander was very good at being an incorrigible student. Who knew that talent was going to come in so handy? Holding the knife, Xander considered it.

"Lindsey, this is for your own good," Angel said in a petulant tone that didn't exactly scream with domination.

"Fuck you," Lindsey answered, and that was enough to break the mood. Spike sprang off his chair and stormed past Xander, all yellow eyes and ridges.

"He's a fucking human slave, Peaches. Do you need me to teach you how to put him in his place?" Spike snapped the words so viciously that the sword in Lindsey's hand wavered.

"Lindsey, this is your last chance," Angel warned darkly. Spike turned his back on both of them and rolled his eyes.

"Or what?" Lindsey asked with a lot more arrogance than a human in the middle of a vampire court had a right to use.

Obviously Lindsey was a little on the slow side because Xander totally saw the punch coming. Angel's fist struck out without warning, catching Lindsey in the cheek and sending him crashing back against the wall. The sword Lindsey was holding clattered to the ground and Angel shoved his body right up against Lindsey.

"About bloody time. It's a good thing you caught on faster, pet, or I would have killed you the same night I first took you," Spike said, holding a hand out for Xander.

"I was always pretty quick when it came to the not dying part of the program." Xander trotted across the room and took his place beside Spike, leaning into him. Now that he was closer, he could see the fear in Lindsey's face. Obviously he'd said something not good because Angel had his hand over Lindsey's mouth and was whispering something in his ear that was making the man wiggle and pound weakly against Angel's back. Yeah, like that would help. Lindsey definitely wasn't on the quick side when it came to submission. Despite all Lindsey's struggles, Angel pressed his whole body to Lindsey in order to free up his other hand so he could rip the neck of his shirt. Now Lindsey's shoulder was exposed, and his flailing became even more pronounced.

Shouting came from behind Angel's hand. "Bite me and you will learn something of pain, boy. Understand?" Angel demanded, but before Lindsey could do anything, Angel struck. This wasn't the soft, slow entry that left Xander trembling on the edge of orgasm every time. This was a hard and fast strike, and Xander flinched at the thought of how much that was going to hurt.

"Sir," a voice called, Xander barely glanced over to where Spike's new mage was rushing in when a wave like black light washed over the room and a half a second later, the whole place boomed like a big jet had just flown over and missed by only about an inch.

"What the fuck?" Spike shoved Xander behind him.

"I am sorry, sir. I hurried over as soon as I recognized the problem." The man edged into the room, his gray head low in submission. "I accept full responsibility, but the spell in question was so subtly crafted that I did not discover it until it started to unravel."

"Bloody, fucking magic. What happened?" Spike snarled.

"A spell ended. While there may be repercussions, the blessings on this building will certainly hold against any magic," the mage hurried to say, his hands held out like he could hold off Spike's fury that way. Xander worked his fingers under the edge of Spike's shirt and found a bit of skin to stroke. "We are all safe," he emphasized.

"I assume this has something to do with my latest acquisition," Angel said. He looked over his shoulder, but he was still using his entire body to pin Lindsey, only now he seemed to be applying some pressure. Lindsey's expression looked a little more pained, but he had stopped trying to beat Angel off with his bare hands.

"Indeed. He had a slavery spell on him. A deep one—one that transcended even death and would have claimed his soul in servitude. However, by asserting your ownership, you had a prior claim and undid the magic binding him."

"Wait, he already sold himself as a slave?" Xander whispered into Spike's back, resting his weight against his Master.

"Bloody hell. For someone who's already a slave, you make a lot of fuss over a change of ownership," Spike told Lindsey. Turning to the side, he slipped an arm around Xander, and Xander let himself be captured and pulled close. The new mage started visibly breathing easier as soon as Spike's attention turned away from him.

"Who?" Angel took his hand away, but the yellow glare he was giving Lindsey wasn't exactly comforting.

"I... I didn't."

Weirdly, Xander actually believed him. He looked way too freaked out to be lying. With a shake of his head, Angel slipped back into his human face. "Dalton, would you send your boy over with the restraints?" Angel called. "I gave you a choice, and you picked the wrong path. You asked for help getting away from Wolfram and Hart and you manage to go from working for them to enslaved to them. Clearly we need to discuss your choices. But until you can make better ones, I'm taking them away."

Angel pulled Lindsey forward and yanked on the shirt hard enough to make the fabric rip. That looked cool when people on television did it, but Xander knew it was going to leave even more hellacious bruises on Lindsey in the morning. Fabric plus vampire strength plus human flesh just did not mix well. Okay, Xander had totally expected Angel to blow it. He expected self-flagellation and guilt and doubt. He expected Angel to be Angel. Clearly, whatever little heart to heart he and Spike had been having, Angel's head had actually come out of his ass because from the dazed look on Lindsey's face, he was finally starting to get it.

Riley appeared with the restraints in hand and he offered them to Angel, his head lowered in submission. "How can you help them?" Lindsey asked... accused even.

"Because this is what Spike did for me, and I know I'm grateful now that I've been out of the situation long enough to see how dangerous it was for both me and others," Riley answered without a trace of guilt. "You asked for help, Lindsey. You're getting it." Angel didn't comment as he took the restraints from Riley and turned Lindsey to face the wall before chaining his hands behind his back.

"Right then. You lot sort this, I have something else to sort," Spike said, his arm tightening around Xander's waist. Xander smiled and wiggled just enough to imitate an escape attempt. Spike growled low in his throat so that Xander felt the rumblings more than he heard them. His vampire had taught Angel to act like a real live vampire, and that deserved a little reward. Xander reached around and pulled out the knife he hadn't yet gotten around to taking off. Smiling invitingly, Xander shimmied as he transferred the knife from one hand to the other behind his back. Did Spike's eyebrow twitch? Xander thought he must have imagined it because Spike was giving him the same sexual look as before, just lust with none of the darker edge to it... not yet.

Stretching sensuously, Xander hid the knife against his forearm and then tried to swing it around for a fast attack at Spike's back. Before Xander knew what was happening, he was being swung around by his knife arm. Riley went darting backwards and Xander still managed to accidentally kick him before landing face down on the floor. Xander hadn't even taken a breath before Spike's weight was pinning him down.

"Oh pet. Someone needs a good spanking and a reminder about who gets to play games and who is the little pet whose job it is to get played with," Spike warned darkly. Xander could feel shivers down his whole body as Spike grabbed his wrists and twisted them up behind his back. "Dalton, get the heavy manacles," Spike called. Xander rested his forehead against the cool tile. Oh god, it was going to be a long night, and Xander squirmed in happy anticipation. Yep, hopefully Lindsey would figure out that the first night of submission was a lot like getting hit by a brick, but after a while... it was more like you had followed the yellow brick road and gotten the answers to life.


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Toys 20: Fear of Failure

Angel locked the top of the cage. "Comfortable?" he asked. It worried Angel that he felt so good enslaving Lindsey, but it did solve his problem rather neatly—perhaps too neatly to be truly moral.

"You're enjoying this." Lindsey glared up. He was dressed only in sweats and his wrists were chained to the sides of the narrow cage. Lindsey had room to lie flat, but he didn't even have much room to squirm and the bars gave Angel access that probably made his situation even more uncomfortable. Dalton had used it on Aeth, and Angel hoped that wasn't some sort of ominous sign.

"I'm enjoying the fact that I don't have to wonder what idiocy you're up to," Angel admitted.

"How is this going to work with your big quest for redemption? Are you giving up the good fight in favor of becoming a rapist?"

"I haven't raped you," Angel said patiently. It was easier to be patient with Lindsey when he was caged and unable to do any more damage with his poor choices.

"Yet," Lindsey said darkly. "You certainly enjoyed catching a feel when you changed my pants. So, when can I expect the main event?"

"Do you want the main event?" Angel asked. He studied Lindsey. The man's hands were fisted, but he wasn't fighting the restraints. He was smart enough to know he'd just wear himself out. He was also smart enough to understand the psychological reasons behind Angel taking a few liberties and examining his property. Angel supposed the rape comment was meant to put him off his game. After all, lies and manipulation had always been Lindsey's strengths. Maybe that's why he'd been drawn to Darla like a moth to a flame. Darla had been a master at manipulation. While she hadn't truly dominated Angelus, she'd manipulated him into following her every whim.

Angel reached through the bars and ran fingers down Lindsey's bare chest. "I touched you because I can... because you need to understand that things have changed and from your words, it's clear that you think you can talk your way out of this. You can't. I own you Lindsey, and as your owner, I need to make sure you know that. I'm not going to push you farther than I need in order to get that point across, so you are safe, but do not think that safe means that you are free. You are not." Angel laid the flat of his hand against Lindsey's chest and just watched at the lawyer fought his inner demons. Those were always far more terrifying than the ones that threatened you from the outside.

"And your soul... is that still attached because this is feeling a lot more like something Angelus would do."

Angel didn't answer. He just returned to running fingers over Lindsey's chest. Somewhere in the past, Lindsey had learned that to be powerless was to be in danger. Angel had to break that connection or Lindsey would never give up on his quest for power or his willingness to put himself or others at risk.

"Freak," Lindsey whispered. His muscles tensed as Lindsey expected pain, but if Angel had reacted, then he would have been giving Lindsey power—the power to manipulate him and control what happened. It was time for Lindsey to learn that he had no control and no power, not over anything. Angel reached up and cupped the side of Lindsey's face. Almost immediately, Angel could see the cunning look in his eye.

"Bite me and I'll gag you and I will still touch you however I like," Angel pointed out mildly. Immediately, the muscles along the sides of Lindsey's neck relaxed. His boy did not like the thought of losing his last weapon, that's for sure. The cage was small enough that the bars that made the top were only an inch above Lindsey's chest and his arms pressed up against the sides. Angel really did have full access and he stroked a thumb across Lindsey's throat. He had to teach him that powerless did not mean the same as hurting.

"You are safe. More importantly, the rest of LA is safe from your schemes. Did you know that Darla killed an entire bus of passengers because she was having a bad day? She and Drusilla killed a girl in a shop, a young woman who was working her way through school to become a social worker. When you were fifteen, would you have approved of helping someone kill a social worker, Lindsey?"

"I don't think you have any right to judge my morals." Lindsey gave his arm a sharp jerk. The three inch chain that connected his wrists to the side jingled.

"Considering that I own you, I can judge anything I like," Angel pointed out. "However, I'm not currently judging you; I'm asking you for an honest judgment of yourself. If you were fifteen again, and I said that I had arrested a man who turned a killer loose because he wanted power, what sentence would fifteen-year-old Lindsey McDonald have handed out?"

"What sentence are you serving for being the Scourge of Europe?" Lindsey demanded with a smug smile. Angel didn't react. If Lindsey was off balance enough to attack, that meant that Angel's barb had sunk in.

All this was so terrifying. Angel remembered every moment of his life at Darla's side, and he remembered using his understanding of people, honed at her side, to torture them. When he would have killed Holtz, Darla coached him in the finer points of psychological torture, and what he was doing now... he had a different goal, but the methods were so similar that he was petrified. He had planned this out with Spike, talked through every permutation: anger, denial, attack, fear. However, actually taking Lindsey in hand did feel like something Angelus would have enjoyed, and that terrified Angel.

Actually, all of this terrified Angel: Wesley and his adoration, Cordelia's fealty that had eventually led to her magically-induced coma as the Pockla attempted to protect the last of her brain, Fred and her powers and her unfailing faith in his goodness. It all terrified him—terrorized him. Their emotions were so strong, and they centered their lives around him and his quest. No wonder he had tried so hard to be blind to the storm brewing around him—he didn't feel worthy of being the eye of this storm. In Sunnydale, he'd been a minor player off to the side, at least until he lost his soul. But now, a clan was forming around him despite his every effort. It all terrified him so much that part of him wanted to run. He wanted to drive all his humans away before he made some unforgivable mistake.

Angel shifted and now he stroked Lindsey's leg. Lindsey was so surprised that he tried to pull his knee up and cursed as he hit the bars of his cage almost immediately. There was no escape for Lindsey, and Angel was starting to realize there was no escape for him. He could lead this clan or he could watch them all fail, but he couldn't choose to not be a leader. And if he tried, Angel suspected that Spike's patience was about out. Angel had to admit to some respect for the vampire Spike had become, but he was not about to become a pet on a leash for anyone. He had been willing to choose death over kneeling for old bat-faced Master Heinrich, and he would be dust before he'd live on Spike's leash.

Angel sighed. If he had the choice. Spike might not give him a choice if he screwed up again.

"Having fun?" Lindsey asked bitterly.

"Yes," Angel answered. He was enjoying the feel of human heat under his hand, the ripple of muscle and the play of fear and anger drifting through the air. Lindsey clenched his teeth.

"I see you're busy."

For a second, Angel's hand paused, but then he continued his stroking. "Wesley," Angel greeted him. Wesley stood at the door, and Angel simply waited. Wesley had already voiced his opinions about the plan and Angel had stood and listened to every objection. He'd withheld his final decision as Xander and Riley had joined Fred and Wesley to talk about Lindsey's past and what mistakes he'd made. Soshie, Fred's young Odel Tal lover, had watched silently but with wide eyes as they had discussed whether Lindsey's choice to ask for help justified this action. Considering she had fled from slavery, Angel wasn't sure what she thought about Lindsey's enslavement. However, with the exception of Wesley, everyone else had concluded that it was the best choice.

It took Wesley several minutes to step into the room.

"We have word that Groosalugg is in Vegas. Two Oden Tal told him that Cordelia is dying, and he's on a flight coming back here. Actually, it's rather ironic. He was coming here to find Cordelia anyway. It turns out that after he was deposed by his subjects, he had wanted to come to our dimension, but the mage who had been controlling the cross dimensional traffic recently vanished. I rather suspect from the description that the mage who has recently given up free-lance work might be Master Spike's newest court member." Wesley's eyes travelled everywhere as he gave his report—the ceiling, the wall with the movie posters, the bookshelf, Angel's bed. They went everywhere but to the cage pressed up against the side of Angel's bed.

"I bet you're enjoying this. Does this make you feel more powerful?" Lindsey demanded. Immediately, Wesley turned red.

"I assure you that I—"

"Wesley," Angel warned. The last thing he needed was for Lindsey to start seeing internal politics. Lindsey needed one master and a united court around that master. Wesley might not like this course of action, but he would respect it.

Wesley's mouth snapped shut, but his body went stiff.

"Not man enough to answer for yourself?" Lindsey taunted.

Angel reached in and covered Lindsey's mouth. "It's time for us to discuss rules and consequences," Angel said firmly. "You will ask permission before talking to anyone other than me, and you will speak to them respectfully if I grant that permission. And I am going to warn you right now, I will not be in the mood to grant you permission very often. If you break this rule, I will gag you and you will take one hit with my hand on your butt for every word that comes out of your mouth. Understand?" From the way Lindsey narrowed his eyes hatefully, he understood. Angel pulled his hand back slowly, waiting to see what happened. Sooner or later, Lindsey would challenge the rule and see how far Angel took the punishment. If Angel chose, he could easily break bones with a single hit, so Lindsey would need to learn that he could trust Angel's fairness.

"Clearly, I'm not the one whose lack of manliness puts my ability to answer into question," Wesley said with undisguised glee, choosing exactly the wrong moment to channel Xander Harris levels of inappropriate snark.

"Wesley!" Angel snapped.

Wesley blushed, but he also kept talking. "For a man in a cage, he has a lot of opinions about people who have managed to not get put in cages."

Angel was up and had crossed the room before Wesley finished. Putting his hand over Wesley's mouth, he pushed him back into the wall and held him there. Wesley's eyes were wide, and panic was just now starting to set in as his brain finally caught up to his mouth. Angel groaned. If he didn't do something, Lindsey would never trust Angel to protect him, but he didn't want to take Wesley to task. Spike was right about one thing—Wesley's confidence was far more shaken than Angel had ever noticed.

Clearly he had to do something, and clearly he had no idea what he should do. However, hell would freeze over before he would run to Spike for every problem. Angel took his hand away from Wesley's mouth and caught the man by the back of the neck.

"Oh god, Angel, I am sorry," Wesley blurted.

"Lindsey, we will be back. Be good," Angel said before he pushed Wesley out the door and closed it behind them.

"Angel, I don't know what came over me. That was clearly unforgivable," Wesley said. Angel didn't answer. He simply took Wesley by the arm and walked down the short hall to Wesley's room and pushed him inside before pulling the door closed again. Wesley would stay put. Fred's room was between them, and Angel went to it and gave a sharp knock and waited a second before pushing the door open.

Soshie was kneeling between Fred's open legs, her hands spread out on Fred's hips, and neither woman had done anything to try and hide anything for modesty's sake. Angel was caught temporarily speechless.

"You need something?" Fred asked in the same guileless voice she always used. Angel's hardening cock not only knew that it needed something, but he had the uncomfortable feeling that one word and the two women would make room for him in the bed. He had business to attend to. And why had he never noticed how firm and strong Fred was? "Angel?" Fred asked again. Angel cleared his throat and struggled to get his attention focused back on the business at hand.

"Could you ask Dalton to come to Wesley's room?"

"Sure thing," Fred agreed while Soshie moved to the side, her long, black hair hanging like a waterfall over her shoulders. Angel was either going to have to find someone willing to take a bedpartner tonight or he would be asking permission to use the stable, and Angel did not want to explain to Spike why he had avoided Fred's bed. Fred was too much like a sister for Angel to be having these thoughts. It was wrong. And his vampire nature was actually fairly willing to indulge in some wrongness.

"Soshie," Angel said with a nod for the Oden Tal woman before he turned his back and headed to Wesley's room.

Angel opened Wesley's door, stepped inside, and then turned his back to Wesley in order to rest his head against the wood.

"Angel? Are you alright?" Wesley was clearly concerned, and Angel didn't want to worry the man, but Wesley was about to get thrown on the bed and ravaged if Angel couldn't get his lust under control. While the man had never complained about being ravaged, this was not the time. "Angel?" Wesley asked again. A warm hand rested against Angel's shoulder, and Angel held a hand up to warn Wesley off. Wesley backed up, the smell in the room slowly turning bitter as he worried.

"Fred and Soshie have no modesty. Were that Dru and Darla in the next room, I'd accuse them of using their bodies as distractions," Angel finally admitted. He could feel his fangs slowly withdraw as the demon realized he was not going to be released.


Angel rolled his head to the side and looked at Wesley out of one eye. "I'm trying to focus on business."

"Yes, I can quite see where I put you in a difficult situation."

"Can you?" Angel turned around and really studied Wesley. He certainly looked guilty enough. He was staring at the carpeting, and he'd turned an unhealthy shade of gray. "I need to teach Lindsey that he is safe giving up power, and you attack him so that he feels vulnerable."

Wesley looked up, his gaze temporarily defiant—angry even—and then he looked away again. Angel took a step closer and turned all his attention to Wesley. "I need to show Lindsey that he can trust me to protect him, that he does not need to gather all this power around him. That is the only way that this slavery can be anything other than torture. Xander trusts Spike with his life, and after Dalton choose to protect Riley even at the cost of upsetting Spike or keeping her mage, he started to truly find some peace with his slavery."

"I was at the meeting. I heard the same stories you did," Wesley snapped.

"Then why, Wesley?" Angel didn't expect a straight answer, but he did hope for some clue if he could only keep Wesley talking.

"I was out of line. I simply reacted out of frustration."

"With me?" Angel followed as Wesley retreated to the bed.

"No!" Wesley looked at Angel with confusion, so clearly that was a wrong path. "I never supported the idea of bringing Lindsey here. Wolfram and Hart will try to reclaim him. We're borrowing trouble."

"Are they likely to invest more resources to come after us now? Will they take on Spike's court as well as ours?"

Wesley opened his mouth, and then closed it again as a knock came at the door. Angel took a step backwards and opened it.

Dalton stepped in, her gaze scanning the room curiously. When Angel had first seen her as a starving minion in his LA hotel, she hadn't seemed like much. She had more control that most minions, certainly. However, she hadn't seemed Master Vampire quality. Now she did. She carried herself with a confidence that sent minions and lieutenants running. Angel still remembered Spike's threat to not let Angel leave with his court until he fought his way past her, and the more Angel watched her, the more he had started to see that she would be a challenge.

She was predictable in a fight, choosing her strategy out of training instead of instinct, but she had power and precision that one didn't normally find in a vampire so young. Angel wondered if Spike still fed her sire's blood or if she was simply one of those vampires who could claim power early. Spike had actually been like that. By twenty-five, he had broken away from Darla and taken Dru away. Angelus certainly hadn't managed to assert himself by that age, not that he planned on ever admitting it publicly.

"Master Angel," she offered, tilting her head in respect without actually signally any submissiveness.

"You came faster than I expected," Angel admitted, wondering if Fred had gotten dressed or if she'd simply trotted down the hallways in search of Dalton while naked. "Wesley, we need to show Lindsey that there are consequences, so I'm going to ask that you help me decide how to best teach that lesson."

"Me?" Wesley's voice broke. He cleared his throat. "So, you are doing the metaphorical equivalent of asking me to cut my own switch?" he asked, this time his voice a little lower, but still not sounding normal.

"I don't want to do something that hurts you, Wes," Angel said. Ignoring Dalton, Angel moved forward. Wesley tried to retreat, but he was in the corner formed by the wall and his bed, and Angel moved too fast for him to get free of it. Reaching out, Angel caught Wesley by the back of the neck and pulled him close. It was a gesture he often used before biting, and he could smell Wesley's lust. "Would you rather have it over fast, something like a spanking or a tawse to your back?"

"What? No. I mean, I am rather not interested in pain."

Angel nodded. Wesley didn't want pain, and he didn't want it over fast. "It was your inability to control your mouth that caused the trouble. I imagine Dalton could find a gag that would not be painful, simply annoying." Wesley didn't answer. "Of course, if you're gagged, I would want you in my bed to make sure you do not have breathing troubles." The lust smell increased. Angel pulled Wesley closer so the man would not see the look of weariness on Angel's face. This was going to be a problem; Wesley was jealous of the attention he was paying to Lindsey. If Wesley were angry, this problem would be far easier to solve, but now that Angel had identified the issue, he couldn't ignore it.

Wesley cleared his throat, his fingers tentatively finding Angel's waist. "If you think that's best," he almost whispered.

"What I think is that you are too good of a man to attack a slave when he feels vulnerable and lost," Angel said harshly. After all, Wesley did need to be punished for doing that, and the gag and spending the night in Angel's bed were not exactly going to be punishment. Wesley cringed, so Angel thought he had made his point. Angel gently pushed Wesley away and turned around. "Dalton, I need a gag that is not going to cause jaw cramping or block his breathing. Actually, bring two. I don't trust Lindsey to control his mouth, so I'll need the second one soon enough."

Dalton was watching them, a frown on her face as she obviously tried to work something out in her head. "Quickly," Angel added. She could ask Riley to explain later—between his psychology degree and his experiences, he had a lot of insights, but Angel did not want to leave Lindsey alone for long.

"Of course, Master Angel," Dalton agreed with a smile before turning and leaving. She closed the door behind her, and Angel stood in the room, smelling Wesley's uncertainty and lust and wondering just how to handle this particular permutation. If Wesley were a vampire, Angel would throw him down and fuck him until he understood he was valued, but he didn't think that would go over well.

"Lindsey is under my protection, and that means he will stay at my side until I can trust him anywhere else," Angel said firmly. That could not change no matter how jealous Wesley got.

"I fully understand. I am truly sorry that I have made his life more difficult because I did argue that we had no right to put him in such a difficult situation," Wesley nodded, a stoic look on his face. Angel frowned, trying to decide if Wesley was putting on a front for Angel or if he simply hadn't admitted his jealousies to himself.

"It's just that keeping him there does tend to stir my darker needs."

"Your demon? Do you have control?" Wesley looked at Angel, not with concern for himself but with concern for Angel. If he'd said the same thing to Cordelia, she would have cheerfully offered to stake him. He didn't even want to consider what she was going to say to him when she woke up and found out he'd taken a slave. Angel looked at Wesley. Or two.

"I am about as far as I can get from losing my soul," Angel admitted. "However, between my demon stirring and the show Soshie and Fred just put on, I really planned to invite you to share my bed. However, I don't want to make you uncomfortable by putting you in that position when Lindsey is in the room. You do know that he will, sooner or later, question your manhood because you choose to submit."

"My manhood is not in question," Wesley said firmly. "And I trust you to make that clear to him because my judgment seems a little skewed when it comes to Lindsey McDonald. If you need me..." Wesley took a step closer.

"I always need you. You and Cordelia both have a talent for telling the truth, but the way Cordelia says it..." Angel made a face.

"She is rather confrontational," Wesley said. Angel felt a flash of guilt at even thinking that. She suffered for him, and sometimes he felt pulled toward her like none of the other members of his team. But other times, she was entirely too confrontational and he felt uncomfortably like the fledge trying to gain the approval of older clan member, which made no sense because Cordelia wasn't even half his age.

"Rather," Angel agreed. "So, Groosalugg is coming? How long will it take for him to get here?"

"His flight should land in a little over two hours. Given traffic around the airport and the distance up here, Master Spike estimates that he will be at the court in six or seven hours."

Angel nodded. Spike could use his new mage's portal spell to bring him here a lot faster, but he suspected Spike was giving him time to prepare. The fight with the Groosalugg had not gone well last time; Angel had to use his pure demon's form in order to win, and Angel didn't have the ability to do that in this dimension. And Spike had been more than crystal clear that he would not allow the visions to be transferred to Groosalugg until the man was safely in Angel's clan, and for Spike, that meant through combat. In some ways, Spike was so very different from any vampire Angel had ever known, but in others, he was very much a traditionalist, even more than Darla. Sometimes he suspected that Spike and old Heinrich would have gotten along well. At least until the old master figured out that Spike not only retained his ability to love but was absolutely enthralled to a human slave. Angel would never have that relationship with Lindsey. Wesley took another tentative step closer, and Angel reached out and pulled him close.

"Do you know what I would really like?" Angel whispered in his ear. Wesley titled his head to look up at Angel. "You spend so much time in bed worrying about my needs. What I would really like is to tie your hands so that I could explore and taste you and know that you had nothing to do other than feel what I was doing to you." Angel ran a finger over Wesley's neck, and the smell of lust burst into the air.

"I... um... if that's what you would like," Wesley finally stuttered out.

"It is," Angel said. A knock came at the door. "To have you gagged and helpless as I make you come would make me very happy," Angel confessed.

"As long as it doesn't make you too happy," Wesley said in a cautious voice while Angel answered the door. Riley stood there with two gags in his hand. With a soft "Master Angel" and a lowered head, he handed them over and then turned to leave, his back a railroad crossing of old scars.

"Wes," Angel stopped not sure how to explain this to Wes without him taking it wrong. To dominate Wesley or Lindsey was terrifying, and it always would be. He could feel the weight of failure breathing down his neck. He knew that with one wrong move he could do more damage than he could repair, and he knew that by doing nothing and withdrawing, he would do nearly as much damage. Angelus had only ever dominated one person who wasn't dead hours or even minutes later because domination was a game that demanded far too much attention. It was a game that was entirely too easy to lose. Pure happiness was not a danger here.

"I am in the middle of Spike's court with Spike threatening to put me in chains if I can't live up to his expectations. I have a man in a cage in my bedroom, and I have to somehow take him from spitting with fury to the sort of acceptance Riley has," Angel gestured to where Riley had just left. "And I have a new warrior coming in who I am supposed to make part of the clan so that Spike will allow a magical transfer of Cordelia's powers before they kill her. And then, if we're all very lucky, Cordelia will wake up and I will have to face her and all her opinions about what has happened since the Pockla put her in that coma."

Wesley grimaced. "Put like that, I can see where perfect happiness is not truly a danger."

"Truly, it is not," Angel confessed. "And we need to get back to Lindsey who has to feel very alone and very afraid with no access to any of that power he has counted on to protect him." Angel held up one of the gags. It had a flat mouthpiece and smooth, curved plastic sides that attached to a leather headpiece with a lock. A small key stuck out from the side.

"Yes, of course," Wesley said, his voice all business, but as Angel reached up to gag Wesley, the man's lust nearly overwhelmed Angel's sense of smell. At least this was one small piece Angel had managed to get right, he thought as he locked the restraint in place. With a pat on Wesley's arm, Angel went over and grabbed the man's robe off his bed.

"For the morning," Angel explained. Wesley nodded and then, when Angel put out an arm for him, stepped close to Angel's side as they headed back out of the small room Wesley had been given and toward Angel's.


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Toys 21: Nature's Own


Angel unbuckled the gag from around Wesley's face, and the man reached up to rub his jaw.

"Sore?" Reaching up, Angel ran his own thumb over Wesley's cheek and jaw. The morning stubble was rough under his fingers, and Wesley smelled of sleep and Angel.

"It feels rather odd," Wesley said, not actually complaining about the gag, and Angel stored that bit of information away for a later time. When Wesley had first come to Angel's bed, he'd been nervous and randomly babbled about the mating habits of various demons until Angel had fed from him so slowly that Wesley had fallen silent, the sound of his gasping the only interruption as Angel had slowly rediscovered human anatomy. Clearly the gag worked just as well to calm that overactive mind.

"I think you have something to say to Lindsey," Angel said with a meaningful look over to Lindsey. He was still wearing his gag, but then his comments had been rather more pointed. In fact, Angel was slightly worried about whether Wesley would be able to apologize for his own rude comments given that Lindsey had called him so many names before Angel had gotten the gag in. But Wesley surprised him.

Straightening up, he faced Lindsey with pink in his cheeks. "I am sincerely sorry for my earlier words. You are part of this clan, and I will admit that I was feeling rather peevish for reasons that had very little to do with you. I should not have taken that out on you."

Angel could almost smell Lindsey's surprise. "Are you worried about the Groosalugg?" Angel asked curiously. When he reached out to catch Wesley around the waist, Wesley yielded.

"And Cordelia," he added. "Do you need blood?" Wesley tilted his neck in invitation, and Angel's cock hardened at the sight of a half-dozen little pinpricks of white scar against his neck.

"I took from you last night. Others will feed me this morning," Angel said firmly. Not only did Wesley need some blood for himself, but Angel was going to end up back in bed if he tried to feed from Wesley. Why had he never noticed that Wesley was so quick to yield, to mold himself to Angel's needs and Angel's body? Angel had the uncomfortable suspicion that Spike might have been right about the fact that Angel had been an idiot for the last few years. Possibly longer.

"Lindsey?" Angel called, holding out his hand. Lindsey was gagged and his hands were still cuffed behind his back, but that did not prevent him from making his thoughts very clear. He had a glare on him that could wither plants. "You may come here using your own feet or you may refuse and force me to come over there. The choice is yours, but do keep in mind two facts," Angel advised him. "I own you and your blood, and I will take what is mine. If you make me come over there, I will need to do something to remind you that you are mine." Angel gave Lindsey a moment to think about that before he raised the hand he was holding out toward Lindsey.

With a final glare and a snort through his nose that was nearly as loud as a horse's, Lindsey finally moved closer. When Wesley tried to move away, Angel tightened his arm around the man even as he pulled Lindsey closer. Both men needed to be held close, even if their reasons were so very different, and Angel had to find a way to make this work or one of them was going to self-destruct. Lindsey refused to tilt his head in offering until Angel quirked an eyebrow at him.

"Other side," Angel said when Lindsey tilted to show the rough and swollen bite mark Angel had left when they had first fought. For some reason, Angel wanted that to scar undisturbed so that the rough mark would always remain to remind Lindsey of that moment when ownership had transferred. Lindsey took several seconds, and then he tilted his head to show the other side of his neck.

Slipping his hand around Lindsey's waist, Angel carefully pulled him close and tasted the warm skin before slowly sinking his fangs in just far enough to find a vein. Angel focused on making Lindsey enjoy the moment—drawing the blood as slowly as he could. At first, Lindsey was stiff in his embrace, and then his body temperature started going up and he wiggled, his breath hot against Angel's chest. Only when Lindsey was clearly feeling needy did Angel pull his fangs out and lick his lips.

Wesley was watching, an expression of concern on his face, but Angel wasn't sure what the man was concerned about. Before he could ask, a knock on the door interrupted them. Angel let go of his boys, amused when Lindsey made a little unhappy whine. The man might be mad as hell that he'd been taken captive, but he was certainly not above enjoying parts of it.

"Yes?" Angel opened the door to find Spike's new mage there. He was an older man, portly and gray-haired with only a few streaks of brown left to show its original color.

"Master Angel," he said respectfully, bowing his head. "Master Spike suggested that I present you with some options for claiming your newest slave."

Angel's eyebrows went up as he accepted the thin notebook from the mage.

"Master Spike also hoped that I could speak with the slave about what spell his previous masters used," he glanced over at the gagged man, "but if you have other uses for his mouth, I can come back later." He gave Angel another bow and then waited. Angel looked over toward Lindsey and Wesley, not sure whether Lindsey was ready to have a civil conversation.

"What does Master Spike hope to learn?" Wesley asked, stepping forward. He was dressed, but his cheeks still had the red marks from wearing the gag over night, and Angel wondered if he would be embarrassed if he knew that. There was so much Angel didn't understand about the people he was claiming as his own.

"I have told him that I am not a dark mage and I have limited knowledge about the sorts of slavery that would claim a soul, even after death, but he seems to think that I have more practical knowledge with the dark arts than anyone else in court. I imagine he is right on that count." The man smiled at Wesley, and Angel took a step back, tacitly inviting the man inside his quarters.

"You aren't a dark mage?" Wesley seemed surprised at that, and the truth was, Angel was as well.

"Ah, no. Master Spike uses a number of blessings on the lair." The mage lifted his arms and gestured at the building around them. "Witch Tara is very talented, and the various white magic fetishes and blessings would make it rather difficult for a dark mage. Apparently Master Spike has had quite the trouble with dark mages." He made a face that almost looked amused. "I do green magic."

"Really?" Wesley's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Good heavens. I had thought that discipline was nearly extinct."

The mage laughed. "So many young users tend toward dark or light magics or even the technomagics, but the nature magics and the chaos magics hold just as much power as the others. Do I take it you are a student of magics?" The older man's smile invited Wesley to share more, and Angel studied this new mage. Should he allow him access to Wesley? If he was supposed to be caring for Wesley, surely that meant he should make sure Wesley was not in any danger. He took a step toward Spike's mage, and Wesley fell silent.

"If you would allow it, Master Angel. I assure you that I am loyal to Master Spike and would do nothing to endanger the members of your court," Spike's mage hurried to add.

Angel expected Wesley to furiously protest that he had a right to speak with whomever he liked, but the man was extraordinarily quiet. "Perhaps Lindsey is in a mood to answer some questions," Angel said instead of giving that permission.

"Of course," the mage offered.

"I'm sorry, I missed your name," Wesley stepped forward and offered his hand without answering the man's question about Wesley's own interest in magic.

"Harry, Harry McMillian."

"Wesley Wyndam-Pryce." They shook hands while Angel unlocked and unbuckled Lindsey's gag. Lindsey was rolling his eyes but at least he managed to remain quiet.

"Remember, you only have permission to speak to me," Angel reminded him.

"How long are you going to keep playing this game, Angel? I know you. This is not your style."

"You do not know me that well," Angel said firmly as he took hold of the man's arm and walked him over to the edge of the bed and forced him to sit. The fact was that Angel hadn't known himself because he was enjoying this perhaps a little too much. "If you have a question for Lindsey, ask it," Angel told Harry.

"Thank you, Master Angel. Now Lindsey, I know that the spell bound your soul, even after death, and the fact that Angel had a prior claim means that it was put in place after you first approached Angel in Los Angeles. However, I know little else. Do you know what the spell was?"

Lindsey had the good sense to look to Angel for permission to speak. Angel nodded and then rewarded that behavior by running his thumb over the red pinpricks from Angel's feeding. Lindsey shivered. "I signed a non-compete agreement after going back to Wolfram and Hart, but I never sold myself into slavery."

Harry snorted.

"Watch yourself, mage," Angel warned, his eyes turning yellow. He would give Wesley some room to adjust, but Spike's mage would pay if he made Lindsey feel uncomfortable.

Harry blushed. "I apologize, Master Angel. No doubt the young one believes that."

"But it's not true?" Angel guessed.

"No, Master. A dark mage can enslave the body, as can a technomage or even a nature mage as myself. In fact, the papers I brought were to offer a number of slavery spells. Master Spike said that you were to choose whichever was of interest to you. However, I cannot enslave a soul, and a dark mage can only enslave a soul that has given itself freely to the evil."

"Like seeing that he's working for a murderous demon and going back in return for a promotion?" Wesley asked.

"Wesley," Angel warned. He oddly felt like he was playing the part of the mother between two squabbling siblings in this family drama.

Wesley blushed. "I hardly have clean hands myself. I chose to follow the watchers long after I realized that they were preying on girls who were too young to care for themselves. Their definition of training rarely included anything as mundane as reading or learning to function in the world, and the potential slayers were often removed from homes as young as five. So, I am not condemning Lindsey; however, it does seem likely that Lindsey sold his soul."

Angel looked down. "Lindsey?" he asked.

"I didn't sell my soul," Lindsey said mulishly. Angel nodded. Clearly he had and he was not yet ready to face reality. Wesley opened his mouth to continue to argue, and Angel tossed the binder Harry had given him toward Wesley as a distraction.

"What are these?" Wesley caught the binder, dropped it, and then grabbed it off the floor. "Oh dear."

"Wesley?" Angel took a step forward so he could see what had alarmed Wesley enough that the blood had largely drained from his face.

"Ah, the leucochloridium worms enslavement spell." Harry sounded pleased. "That is quite a difficult spell, but if a form of slavery exists in nature, I can harness nature's intent and bend it toward human slavery."

"This is reprehensible." Wesley's voice came out as a horrified whisper.

"It is rather drastic," Harry agreed. He looked up at Angel, that same genial smile in place. "The worm enters a snail through eggs left in bird droppings. It then reproduces, takes over the snail's brain and forces the beast into the full sunlight. The worm fills the eye sack with eggs that pulse and make the entire stalk bulge until they appear to be two caterpillars. A bird sees that and either rips the snail from the shell or simply rips off the snail's face, eating both it and the worm eggs. If the snail is particularly unlucky, it survives having its eyestalks ripped off simply to regrow them and repeat the procedure. Were you to choose such a drastic form of slavery, you would have almost complete control over your slave's body. He would do as you wished even if it would be sure to lead to certain death."

Wesley looked over in complete horror, and Angel could only stare in shock at the man who was offering to perform such a horrifying spell. He shouldn't be surprised given that the mage worked for Spike. The smell of terror swept over him, and Angel turned to see that Lindsey had gone dangerously pale.

"I assure you, the procedure is not nearly as drastic as some dark magics. It still cannot enslave the soul." For the first time, Harry sounded unsure. "There are certainly other spells in there if you would rather look at all the offerings. Nature is rather fond of slavery in any number of forms." Harry started backing toward the door. "Perhaps you should ignore the leucochloridium and osedax worms altogether." He cleared his throat. "Cuckoos and cleaner fish and remoras are all interesting options." He was backing up now, his hand feeling for the knob. "Perhaps I should leave you with the choice. If you need any clarification, please do not hesitate to call on me, Master Angel." He stood, his hand on the doorknob, clearly begging for permission to leave.

Angel waved his hand for him to go, not even watching the man flee.

"So, is that my future?" Lindsey asked with the sort of stoic horror that made it clear that he expected Angel to say yes.

"Good lord, no. I should think not," Wesley blurted out before Angel could answer. Angel stepped closer and let his hand rest on Lindsey's shoulder, ignoring the flinch. "We really should not be shocked considering that the nature mages have a long history of rather dubious alliances. In the 1300's a number of green mages made a pact with a dark mage named—"

"Wesley," Angel said softly. The man stopped and looked over to where Angel was slowly stroking Lindsey's shoulder. Lindsey still stank of terror and his body was rigid.

"Ah, yes. Clearly we will not be using Mage McMillian's skills." Wesley walked over and sat on the bed a few feet from Lindsey, the binder still clutched in his hand. Now Angel could see the full color picture of a snail with its eye stalks swollen and pussy and florescent green. Lindsey lost a little more color.

"Is that what you have planned for me?" Lindsey asked again, looking up at Angel.

"No," Angel said firmly.

"But you plan to keep me in slavery?"

Angel sighed. "I plan to prevent you from selling your soul to any more demons."

"I never—" Lindsey stopped when Angel held up his hand.

"Even if you did not consent to the spell, you helped a group that murders innocents and targets children. They tried to rip Cordelia's eyes out to get her visions. I will not allow you to continue to make those kinds of choices."

"Hell hath no fury like a vampire thwarted," Lindsey quipped, some of his sarcasm returning. Hopefully that was a good sign; however, Angel feared that it might be a sign that he was catching his second wind to continue their fight. He looked up, and Angel could see the craftiness return to his gaze. "So, do you plan to enslave every Wolfram and Hart lawyer?"

"Every single one who comes to me looking for a way out," Angel agreed. "You put yourself in my court, and I thought I was doing you a favor by allowing you to go home. Clearly, we both made a mistake, but I will not turn you lose so you can target my court with more of your schemes."

Lindsey looked away, and a heavy silence fell on the room. Angel stared at the wall, not sure what he was supposed to do now, but he could feel the responsibility like a weight on his chest.

"Good god. May I say that I had no idea nature was quite so creative in its admiration for slavery." Wesley interrupted the silence, flipping pages. Angel saw a line of ants on one page and a colorful orange and white fish on another. Now Angel could smell Wesley's fear, and the scent pulled on his demon. Wesley would taste so good now. If he pushed Wesley down and licked the sweat from his body, it would be strong with fear-musk and delicious. His blood would taste tart with the spice of adrenalin.

"This is interesting." Angel looked over to see a gray fish with a neon blue streak. Wesley tilted the book in Lindsey's direction, and for a second, Lindsey carefully didn't look at it. Eventually curiosity won. "Labroides. Cleaner fish. They have full and independent lives with mates and broods." Oddly, that didn't seem to make Wesley all that happy. Angel studied the man carefully.

"May I speak?" Lindsey asked. The clipped words were clearly difficult for him to say, and Angel nodded, giving permission. Lindsey turned to look at Wesley. "What enslaves them?"

Wesley shrugged. "Technically nothing. However, predator fish come to their cleaning grounds and the cleaner fish appear to only be able to live by eating the parasites and loose skin from those predators. The spell makes the slave dependent on an owner for nourishment, but nothing else." Wesley's voice was flat, and Angel moved to Lindsey's other side so he was standing between them. He rested his other hand on Wesley's shoulder. The fear smell from Wesley lessened, but so did the lust smell. When Spike had chained Angel in the basement, it was Wesley who had risked Spike's anger by following, and even now, Angel could taste the desire when he bit. The man had been dangerously loyal before, but now he was, most likely, addicted to the bite. Those clues added to the fact that he was sitting on Angel's bed discussing slavery tempted Angelus from the darker corners of Angel's mind.

"I would prefer to use the same spell with you both, and I'm not sure that one would remind Lindsey of his place." Angel kept his voice carefully neutral and his gaze focused on the book. He pretended to not notice when Wesley's gaze snapped up to him and Wesley swallowed convulsively.

"You must have seen that one coming," Lindsey said with just a hint of derision. Angel opened his mouth to correct the man, but again, Wesley jumped in there too quickly for him. Obviously, Angel was going to have to learn to talk faster.

"Actually, I did not," he snapped. Then he took a deep breath. "However, I am the first to admit that I put myself in this position, and I am not going to do anything as silly as insisting that life is being unfair. I chose to come to Angel. Anyone who knows vampire hierarchy understands that the species is hardwired to expect certain things like unwavering loyalty."

"And slavery," Lindsey said dryly.

"And slavery," Wesley agreed, his back straight, but his scent was so full of lust that Angel was having a hard time controlling his own body. He shifted his hand so that his fingers rested against the back of Wesley's neck and his thumb stroked over the tiny feeding scars. "The worms are still non-negotiable," Wesley suddenly blurted, looking up at Angel with defiance.

"Of course," Angel immediately agreed. He could hear in the tone that Wesley was not going to budge on that one, and quite frankly, the idea of having that sort of complete control was beyond terrifying. Angel needed Wesley to argue with him.

"So, you're simply going to go along with this?" Lindsey demanded.

Wesley shrugged. "You went along with Wolfram and Hart. I don't suppose this is any different."

"You're setting yourself up for slavery," Lindsey pointed out. Wesley looked over, leaning forward slightly to look around Angel, and Angel could read that expression as easily as if Wesley had called Lindsey an idiot, reminding him that he had set himself up as a perpetual slave to the law firm. Surprisingly, Lindsey didn't answer with denials this time.

"And you people call yourselves the good guys." Lindsey shook his head.

"The cuckoo bird pushes other birds' eggs out of the nest," Wesley said, ignoring Lindsey altogether. "The spell makes the slave push his own needs aside for his owner."

Angel shook his head. "I am not good enough at remembering your needs. You must keep those for yourself until I learn better," Angel said softly, still stroking his thumb over Wesley's scar. The man was choosing a form of slavery for himself. He was smelling more content than ever because he was choosing a spell to bind himself to Angel. Lindsey still smelled of outrage and fear, but the demon in Angel reveled in that, too.

"Clownfish and anemones is a rather general spell and the master can be left weakened if the slave dies," Wesley's tone made it clear that he disapproved of that as he flipped to the next page in the binder. "Considering that Lindsey and I are human, I suspect we shall both predecease you, so that would not be appropriate."

Angel sat down beside Wesley and looked at the book, his fingers still tracing across Wesley's neck. "This is rather promising. Anglerfish."

"You can't be serious," Lindsey interrupted, but Angel ignored him and focused on Wesley. They still had some time before the Groosalugg was due to come. Not much, but then Angel didn't need much time.

"The male attaches to the female and slowly becomes part of her. The spell makes it impossible for the slaves to ever leave their master and they draw energy from him. Look at it this way, Lindsey, it may give us both a longer life if we are able to draw from Angel's strength."

"A longer life as a slave." Lindsey was still not sounding happy, but Wesley smelled of contentment. His choice had been made. Angel stood up and slipped his hand around the back of Wesley's neck, pulling him up with one hand and plucking the binder away from him with the other. Tossing the binder to one side, Angel pulled him around to the far side of the bed.

"Fuck. Can I go to the bathroom while you do this?" Lindsey asked.

Angel shook his head. "Lay on the edge of the bed on your stomach, Lindsey," Angel ordered.

"What, you want my help in my own rape?" Lindsey stood up altogether. Angel had one hand on Wesley's hip and the other around his neck, and he did not have a spare hand for Lindsey or his discipline. Not now.

"I have already told you that I will not rape you. I will not, however, be happy if I must stop and secure you every time I have a better use for my time." Angel could feel his fangs drop. "So get on your stomach at the edge of the bed and be a quiet boy while I enjoy myself. And as of right now, consider your permission to speak to me revoked. Every single word will be one swat. Every second that you stand there without obeying my order will be one swat." Angel looked at Lindsey calmly. This felt right. He wasn't angry or out of control. He wasn't reacting to prophecy or fears. This was what he wanted and what Wesley wanted, and in time, it would be what Lindsey wanted. Otherwise Lindsey never would have come to Angel for help to escape the evil choices he had made in his life. That same need had driven Angel first to Whistler and then to Buffy, and if either of them had offered him a clear path as he offered Lindsey, Angel very well might have chosen it. He'd wanted that with Buffy. He'd allowed himself to yield to her, but instead, he'd inadvertently yielded to the demon inside of him.

After two seconds, Lindsey lowered himself back down to the bed and lay on his stomach facing the wall, his bound hands clenched into fists.

"Perhaps we should go to my room," Wesley suggested softly after Lindsey had obeyed.

"I don't think I want to wait," Angel said rather selfishly. The smell of lust from Wesley nearly overwhelmed him. Angel unbuttoned Wesley's pants and carefully pulled the zipper down. Wesley wasn't hard, but his cock was swelling some, and considering that they had already had sex twice in the last six hours, that was a rather impressive feat. Angel unbuttoned Wesley's shirt and then eased him back onto the bed.

Wesley reached up for Angel, and Angel caught his wrists and put them over Wesley's head. "If I didn't have the Groosalugg to deal with, I would tie your hands to the bedhead and gag you. I do love the sound of your helpless moaning," Angel admitted. If he admitted that to anyone else, he would have felt guilty about it, but not Wesley. Wesley enjoyed being helpless, and maybe it was his enjoyment that made it possible for Angel to revel in the man's helplessness.

Kneeling up, Angel pulled Wesley's pants off and tossed them at the foot of the bed before unzipping his own pants. His cock pressed forward, and the pheromones from Wesley were intoxicating. Angel took the base of his cock in his hand and reached up to pull at Wesley's nipple. Arching his back, Wesley gasped and squirmed, his body radiating heat. Before Angel could even ask, Wesley raised his legs, bracing them on Angel's shoulders. It was Wesley favorite position, folded double under Angel's strength. Helpless. Wesley had his own darkness, and even his darkness had molded itself to fit against Angel's needs.

Angel smiled, and he could feel his own darker nature sliding along the edge of his control as he pressed forward, forcing Wesley's legs up. "Such a pretty, wanton boy," Angel said before lining his cock up with Wesley's opening. The man was still loose and slick from the morning's play, and Angel slipped the head of his cock in and stopped.

"Angel!" Wesley protested, groaning loudly.

"Should make ye beg for it, but I want you too much," Angel admitted. Pressing forward, he grunted at the heat and pressure around his cock, the smell of Wesley's lust and Lindsey's indignation rising to meet him. It was a buffet of smells. Angel thrust forward, driving the breath out of Wesley before he leaned down and sucked on the skin of his scar, tasting the sweat. Wesley wiggled, and Angel arched his back, pulling out a little before driving back in. He hadn't made more than four or five thrusts when he came with a loud grunt. Even though he had just fed from Wesley, his teeth sank into the willing flesh until he could taste the coppery lust.

Angel breathed deeply, losing himself in the smells and tastes for a moment before he pulled out first his fangs and then his cock. Wesley let his legs flop back down onto the bed the second Angel sat up.

"Good lord. I think I my legs have gone boneless."

"I hope not. We still have problems to solve, and would like you at my side," Angel said. He didn’t have much to offer Wesley in the way of romance, but the man smiled at him anyway.

"Of course. The Groosalugg. We should discuss battle strategy, just as soon as I can gather a few brain cells."

Angel settled his weight down on top of Wesley, pinning the man to the bed. Wesley opened his eyes a crack to look at him. While Angel didn't say anything, Wesley slowly smiled as though Angel had just offered endearments. He smiled and he reached up to pat Angel on the shoulder and then he lay under Angel's weight, his body slowly calming so that contentment drowned out the lust.


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Toys 22: Symbiosis

Lindsey could feel his face get hotter with each person they passed in the hallways of this cavernous building that must have, at one point, been the world's largest warehouse.

"Is it true? Is Groo here?" A girl with long brown hair and an accent right out of Texas bounced up, another woman in her wake. The first woman was Fred, but Lindsey didn't know the second one. Actually, now that he had a closer look, he realized she was at least part demon with ridges along the sides of her face. The demon-woman with long black hair looked at Lindsey with undisguised curiosity, and Lindsey could feel his face get hotter. Fuck it all. What the fuck had he done to deserve getting gagged and tied and dragged around on a leash? Angel could make all the noises he wanted about the good fight, but the fact was that people were just looking out for themselves. That's all Lindsey had done, looked out for himself. He sure as hell hadn't murdered anyone or raped some kid or anything else that would warrant a life sentence.

A trio of faces darted through his memory, but Lindsey pushed that thought aside as he mentally focused on preparing his closing arguments on his own appeal. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, he would start, should a vampire who had killed thousands, tortured hundreds, earned a reputation as one who specifically enjoyed eviscerating nuns—should this vampire really be given control and custody of a man whose only sin is self-preservation? I say no. I say you must free Lindsey McDonald.

Unfortunately, with the gag in his mouth and Angel keeping him on a leash, Lindsey doubted he'd get a chance to make his arguments. The ironic thing was that Lindsey had been considering leaving Wolfram and Hart. The others were wrong about his soul being enslaved because if that were true, he never could have even considered leaving the law firm, and he had been. He'd seen a lot of schemes that had convinced him that maybe they were not a group he could afford to work for.

The girls and Wesley had finished their little mutual cheer session. Yay, Groo was here. Yay, they were in time to save Cordelia. Yay, Lindsey didn't give a rat's ass about any of their ridiculous problems. He pretty much tuned them out until Angel tugged on his leash, and he was forced to follow.

He could hear the noise from the gathered crowd before they turned the corner into a huge hallway that led to a pair of steel double-doors. Lindsey stopped, fear running through his veins as he thought of some of the activities Wolfram and Hart had sponsored. Gladiator fighting, public executions, ritual sacrifice—Lindsey was not interested in being center stage at any of these.

The leash pulled tight, and still Lindsey didn't move. That forced Angel to turn, and the expression on Angel's face did not improve Lindsey's mood at all. The vampire was already yellow eyed. Lindsey knew Angel was supposed to fight at this event they were going to, but he had the sudden fear that he might be the prize. Angel sure wasn't going to trade away his teacher's pet. Oh no, moaning and wiggling Wyndam-Pryce would never get traded away, not as long as he was playing good little fucking whore. Picking out his own slavery spell—Lindsey had to give the man credit for an ability to manipulate; that was right up there with Lilah.

"Don't test my patience," Angel warned. With his free hand, he reached out and caught Lindsey by the back of the neck. Unlike Wyndam-Pryce, Lindsey was not interested in playing good little slave, and he shied away."

"Angel, you need to stay focused," Wesley said, his voice taut. Lindsey glared at the man. Fucking teacher's pet. But this time, Angel didn't turn to his pet right away.

"Lindsey?" Angel cocked his head to the side and then pulled the key for the gag out of his pants pocket. He opened the lock quickly, and Lindsey stretched his lips, hating the way they felt after having plastic pressed against them so long. "What are you so afraid of?" Angel asked. Lindsey stiffened. A couple of vampires were watching from the far end of the hall, Fred and her demon girl were staring, and worst of all, Wesley was there with his English prim and proper.

"Who said I'm afraid? This is me pissed off," Lindsey pointed out.

"I can smell your fear." Angel said it so calmly, but the words made Lindsey want to kick him right in the balls.

"Whatever you're going to do, just fucking do it. Or maybe you really are still the pansy you've always been in the past, some Eurotrash vampire—" Lindsey's words were cut off by Angel grabbing him around the throat hard enough that tears came to his eyes.

"I have told you to be polite. That will be two more hits," Angel said, and again, he had that weirdly calm voice that bothered Lindsey more than all his yelling and ranting. Holland Manners had been like that... nicest right before he served your guts up to some demonic client for lunch. "I have a fight to focus on, and I cannot keep track of your foolishness right now. Either Spike or Dalton will hold your leash, and I can promise you one thing, neither one of them has the patience I do. They just might take permanent action if they find your tongue too offensive. Understood?"

Lindsey gave a small nod, but that seemed to be enough to satisfy Angel. He turned back toward the double doors.

"Perhaps you should gag him," Wesley said softly. Fucking teacher's pet.

"His breathing is erratic. I can't take that risk when I'm not there to monitor him. I doubt either Spike or Dalton would care if he panicked and suffocated."

"That is true," Wesley said thoughtfully. After that, Lindsey tuned them out as they discussed fight strategy and weapons and challenge rituals. It was all entirely too boring to pay attention to. Besides, Lindsey had more interesting things to notice.

Xander Harris was sitting at Master Spike's feet. The man had a reputation as a deadly demon hunter, but right now he was looking up at Spike with wide brown eyes, his hands clasped around Master Spike's leg as he bounced a little in excitement. And unless Lindsey was seeing things, the man had a tail. Considering that Harris was buck naked and giving everyone in the room a nice view of his ass, Lindsey could definitively say it wasn't a costume.

Lindsey really was having a hard time thinking of this big-eyed doe of a man as some stone-cold killer, but most of the demons in L.A. told stories about Harris. He'd trained with the slayer, the great Buffy. She had taken down a hellgod and about half of the demonic population of Sunnydale before she'd been taken down by Master Spike. And now, Master Spike turned his boy, his sex toy, loose to kill demons who trespassed on clan territory. It was quite the humiliation to have a clan member or spawn killed by some lowly human, and Harris had taken out more than his share.

Looking around, Lindsey spotted the other human hunter. There were a number of different stories about this one. Some said he was a rescued human, others that he was a soldier who had challenged Master Spike. He'd lost his challenge, but he'd impressed Master Spike so much that the vampire had claimed Riley as his own and then presented him as a present to his first childe. Yet others claimed he was a friend of Harris from when Harris had been free, someone who had chosen to join Spike's clan after the slayer fell, and humans in Master Spike's court had a limited number of job opportunities. The story didn't matter so much to Lindsey; he was more interested in the man. Riley.

Riley was kneeling beside a woman who Lindsey would have described as plain. She was the sort Lindsey had become adept at charming and then using. However, the way her fingers stroked Riley's hair, it was pretty clear that she was his owner, which meant vampire. Most likely, this was Spike's only childe, Dalton. Riley rested his hands on his knees, his cock caged and on display for everyone who passed, but he didn't seem to even notice. He leaned his shoulder into the woman's knee and watched the room with suspicious eyes that found Lindsey and then stared with a wary warning that made it pretty clear he would be willing to attack... just as soon as his owner gave permission. Lindsey was reminded of a pit bull his older brother owned. That was a human he could see hunting down demons.

The north side of the building was lined with two sets of benches, one higher than the other—like bleachers. The women sprawled over those benches had the same cheek ridges as Fred's friend, and several had elaborate tattoos up the side of their face and neck.

Lindsey had worked for Russell Winters, but as much as that vamp had cared about status, he'd never had the sort of court that was gathered here. He'd taken Lindsey with him once to visit another Master Vampire, one who was more interested in tradition that computers and corporate structure the way Mr. Winters had been, but even that court paled next to this one. There were so many people here. A dozen vampire minions in game face wandered through the shadows. Demons with sagging skin brought trays of food and joked. A blue woman leaned over to whisper in Spike's ear, and the old mage who had so helpfully offered the slavery spell was sitting on a low cushion to Master Spike's left, talking to another of the wrinkle-faced demons.

"I'll get our seats," Fred said, and she darted off toward two benches sitting near Spike's right.

"I should probably join Fred and Soshie," Wesley said, but he didn't move away from Angel's side. Lindsey wondered why Angel was bothering with a slave spell on this one. But Angel just patted Wesley on the arm and nodded, giving him permission, and off Wesley went like a good little puppy.

The thought of puppies brought Lindsey's attention back to Xander, and he watched as the man basically squirmed his way under Spike's arm and into his lap. Lindsey would cut off his own balls before he would do that. And yet, demons whispered Harris' name like a curse. 'Don't get caught on the hellmouth; the Master won't even bother with anyone as small as you. He'll send Harris out to stake you.'

"If I hear one report of bad behavior, you will be sorry," Angel whispered in Lindsey's ear. Lindsey clenched his jaw and struggled against saying any number of bitterly sarcastic comments that wanted out. "Do I need to gag you? I can, but I can't promise that Spike or Dalton would pay you much attention if you got in trouble."

"I'm fine. I don't need to be gagged." Lindsey almost kept the sarcasm out of his voice, but not quite. Angel was still looking at him with a narrow-eyed glare when Riley rose to his feet and padded over, his head carefully bowed and his neck covered in tiny, almost invisible scars.

"Master Angel," he said softly, "Master Dalton has offered to tend your newest slave until you're done." Riley delivered his message and then stood, his hands behind his back and his head down. Lindsey could see the muscle on him. He was an impressive man, and yet he was utterly silent, waiting for Angel's decision. Lindsey rolled his eyes and Angel procrastinated on even this simple choice.

"Tell her that I would like him back unscarred," Angel finally said, holding Lindsey's leash out.

"Yes, Master Angel," Riley agreed, taking it. For one irrational second, Lindsey's brain screamed at him to run. He could probably pull the leash out of Riley's hand. Then he'd only be barefoot, bound, and dressed only in a pair of sweats in the middle of a vampire lair. That was not his best plan.

Riley turned around, and Lindsey's thoughts fled as he saw the mass of scars on the man's back. Holy mother of god. There wasn't an inch that wasn't jagged or slick with scar tissue. Some scars were long lines, like a rod had cut the skin from his back. Others looked like someone had tried to take a bite out of him. If Dalton were sadistic enough to do that to a human she petted tenderly, Lindsey did not care to think what she would do to him. That's why Angel had warned her.

Lindsey suddenly wished he had one solid argument for staying near Angel. Hell, at this point, he'd settle for sitting with teacher's pet Pryce who was whispering with Fred on those benches near Spike. Instead Riley was leading him to Master Dalton who had her own impressive throne near the doors where she could intercept anyone who bothered her sire's court. Lindsey held his breath as they approached her, not sure of the rules, but suddenly very certain that he didn't want to break them.

Riley knelt next to Dalton, and Lindsey awkwardly got to his knees in front of them. Fuck. The floor was hard. He shifted back to put more of his weight on his heels and Dalton's yellow gaze fell on him. Lindsey froze.

"Were you ever so poorly mannered?" she asked, her fingers threading through Riley's hair.

"No, mistress. Or if I was, I can't remember it anymore," Riley answered. "I don't think he's used to kneeling and the floor is hard when you don't have a cushion." Lindsey glanced down and saw a thin pad under Riley's knees.

Dalton tilted her head. "If you were mine, you would kneel there until you learned that your pain is less significant than your need to please me," she said darkly, and Lindsey glanced over his shoulder. Angel was talking to Master Spike, and Lindsey was fairly sure that screaming for help would be considered bad behavior. "You are lucky you aren't mine. Sit if you cannot kneel properly."

Riley tugged at the leash, and Lindsey sat awkwardly. With his arms bound at the wrists and elbows, he had to sit up straight. Lindsey hated having Dalton and Riley to his back, but his other choice was having the rest of the room at his back, so he and he crossed his legs and squirmed to see the room. Angel was still talking to Spike, but now he was looking over at them.

"Wha—" Lindsey gasped as Riley caught him around the chest and easily pulled him back until his bound arms were up against Dalton's chair.

"Good manners, Lindsey. Humans who are dinner try to stay as far from vampires as possible. If you're planning on being something other than dinner, you sit close enough that they can touch or smell you as they like," Riley said in a matter-of-fact voice that Lindsey actually found rather disturbing. He also disliked that Riley tied Lindsey's leash to the arm of the chair with so little slack that Lindsey couldn't even lean away. "After all, they have to invest considerable time and effort to keep us healthy, so the least we can do is provide them a little enjoyment in return."

"I am not sure I would invest the effort in one who smells of such rebellion." Dalton sounded annoyed, and Lindsey pulled against the leash, grimacing when the choke chain tightened. Clearly he was not going to get a choice in this. "I prefer my own taste in humans." Dalton looked at Riley hungrily.

"Yes, mistress," Riley answered calmly. Lindsey wondered how he could be so calm around a woman who clearly enjoyed causing him great pain.

Riley moved to Dalton's other side, only instead of kneeling, he sat at her feet and leaned into her leg, his arm resting in her lap. She ran her fingertips over his arm and then brought a foot up to rest against his thigh.

"You would like it if I put you on your back and rode you."

"Yes, mistress." Riley didn't even blush. Lindsey could feel himself blushing just out of sympathy for the man, but Riley was clearly used to it.

"Considering that this fight will decide what our ally's clan will look like, we cannot leave."

"Yes, mistress."

"So, it's Master Angel's fault if you're frustrated."

Riley sighed and shifted, and now Lindsey could see the plastic cage with Riley's cock pressed against it, struggling to harden. That had to hurt, but he didn't comment. He simply laid his cheek against Dalton's knee and watched the room. Dalton continued to stroke Riley's arm with one hand and stroke his hair with the other.

"Will Angel keep this one?"

Lindsey looked up at Dalton, but she was still looking at Riley, petting him like a dog, and he was slowly losing his military stiffness and starting to look a lot like Xander who was sprawled over Spike like a blanket.

"Probably, mistress. Master Angel feels responsible for him."

Lindsey opened his mouth to argue that point, but Riley gave him a withering look that made him close it again. Angel might be a dickless wonder, but Dalton clearly knew how to use torture, and until he could get away, Lindsey intended to avoid that.

"Why would Angel be responsible? Doesn't he belong to Angel's enemies?"

"He did, mistress." Riley paused, and Lindsey was almost biting through his tongue just to keep quiet. He was Lindsey McDonald. He didn't fucking belong to anyone. He was going to tattoo that on someone's forehead. "But I once belonged to a suckhouse, mistress. Will you one day give me back because I once belonged to someone else?"

Lindsey gasped when her hand darted out and grabbed a fistful of Riley's hair. Yanking him to his feet, she pulled him close, her eyes yellow as she wrapped her other hand around Riley's throat. "I don't care who you once belonged to, you are mine and you will stay mine." Several members of the court had turned to look, but instead of trying to defend himself, Riley let his eyes close and his head tilt to the side. "Yes, mistress."

She shifted one hand to his waist and pulled him so close that he grunted before she drove her teeth into his neck. Lindsey was afraid to even breathe, but Riley's one hand traced patterns in Dalton's arm until she finally pulled her teeth out.

Her lips were unnaturally red, and she continued to hold him close. "Mine." The word was almost a growl. Riley put his head down on her shoulder and brought up one of his legs to drape over her knee so that he was almost sitting in her lap. His other leg was still braced against the ground though. It was an odd and awkward position, but they both held it for long seconds. Then Dalton patted Riley's side, and he slid down her body and went back to sitting at her feet.

"Angel had Lindsey. He thought he had put Lindsey somewhere safe, and then he woke up to find that his enemies had reclaimed him."

Dalton shook her head. "He should keep better track of his toys."

"Yes, mistress," Riley agreed. "Especially when his toy wants power as badly as I want the drugs my last owners used to control me. He'll run if he can, and he'll hurt Angel if he can."

"Then Angel should kill him," Dalton offered without any emotion.

Lindsey was starting to feel light-headed from lack of oxygen, but it was difficult to keep breathing when people were discussing life and death issues—your life and death—and they expected you to just stay quiet. Only the sight of Riley's back kept Lindsey from telling all these people exactly what he thought.

"Perhaps you should kill me and get a pet who is not so damaged," Riley said softly. It was an idiotic thing to say to a vampire, but Dalton smiled, her fingers tugging at Riley's hair affectionately.

"I'm too busy to do anything so logical," she said. "Besides, I'm well-known for my irrational preferences."

"Yes, mistress. We are both well known for that." Riley smiled up at her. "And as much as it pains me to admit any similarity with Master Angel, he is just as irrational as the rest of us." Riley put his head back down against her leg and wrapped his arms around one of her legs so that he looked like the mirror image of Xander's position when Lindsey had first come into the room. Right now Xander was draped all over Spike, and Spike was playing with his balls while Xander squirmed, his mouth open and gasping. Either that or he was trying to not scream, Lindsey wasn't sure just what Spike was doing to Xander's testicles, so either was possible.

"If Master Angel is going to choose this one to be irrational with, he had better get more chains. I could teach him some of the training techniques I used on you," she said thoughtfully. "You reacted very well to the whip and tawse."

"Yes, mistress." Riley sounded unbothered, but if training had left the scars on Riley's back, Lindsey definitely needed to keep Angel away from either of these two. On his own, Angel had proven over and over that he couldn't handle humans. He was moral milquetoast unless he had a clear side he was supposed to take. Oh, he could fight demons. He was terrifyingly good in battle, which is what had made him such a draw in the gladiator ring, but humans were his giant Achilles heel, and Lindsey did not need him to pick up any new habits.

Lindsey was learning a lot through the conversation, but when a large man walked in through the double doors with a huge smile on his face, Lindsey lost his best source of information yet. The whole room fell silent, and Riley back stiffened again, like a guard dog bothered by a stranger in his territory. So this was the Groosalugg.

Lindsey half-listened, bored as Spike outlined the rules, which came down to there were no rules, try not to kill any of the spectators. Angel promised the man a place equal to Cordelia as his second-in-command if he lost. Blah blah honor. The Groosalugg promised to make Angel his first lieutenant and honor his subordinates if Angel lost.

Lindsey rolled his eyes at the ridiculousness of it all. The Groosalugg had been part of one of the Wolfram and Hart slave worlds, one of those nasty little corners of the universe that employees were sometimes sent to spend the rest of their lives in chains digging onions out of a demon's garden when they failed in their performance assessments. Lindsey had always promised himself that he was too good to ever be sent to the Groosalugg's world, and now the Groosalugg had come to him. The saying about Mohammed and the mountain came to mind.

But he didn't have much time to ponder that because Groo and Angel threw themselves at each other fiercely. The fight raged across the room. At one point, Lindsey was certain that the Groosalugg had won. He'd thrown Angel across the room. Demon women scattered, and Angel crashed through the benches they had been sitting in just moments before. Splintered wood surrounded the vampire, and the Groosalugg leaped in. But somehow Angel twisted away, and picking up a broken board, he slammed it across the Groosalugg's face. The demon warrior stumbled back and the fight was on again.

Each of them went down a half dozen times, and still they fought on. Angel caught the Groosalugg on the back of the knee, and the man fell forward, but this time, Angel was close enough to press his advantage. Grabbing the Groosalugg by the head, Angel forced his neck to bend right before biting deeply. Lindsey sucked in a hard breath. He'd seen Angel fight. He'd watched the man in surveillance video and in the gladiator ring, and Angel never used his teeth to win a fight. Yet, now he was. The Wolfram and Hart psychologists had said that Angel's refusal to feed from his opponents was a psychological 'tell' and a great advantage. Lindsey wondered what they would say if they had the tape of this fight.

The Groosalugg was still moving, but his movements were slow and sluggish now. Angel stood up, and the Groosalugg remained on his knees, clearly beaten. Walking around to the front, Angel offered him a hand, pulling the Groosalugg onto his feet.

"It was a good fight." The Groosalugg was clearly an idiot, congratulating the man who had just forced him into submission. Then again, if Angel were embracing more of his vampire nature, maybe the Groosalugg was just a survivor trying to survive.

"It was," Angel agreed. "I look forward to fighting at your side."

The Groosalugg's smile was wide enough for a toothpaste commercial as he slapped Angel on the arm. "I shall look forward do that day. But this day, I understand the queen needs me."

"Bloody hell, you two will get along right as rain." Spike sounded bored even though he had watched the entire fight sitting on the edge of his seat, his hands twitching with every attack. "So, are you following Angel?" Spike held up a hand to stop the Groosalugg from answering. "And before you say anything, remember this, mate. Angel answers to me. You bend your knee to him, and that means you're mine to call if I get the urge. Got it?"

Groosalugg drew himself up straight and walked to a spot in front of Spike where he dropped to one knee, rested an arm on other knee, and bent his head. He looked like a poster of a knight about to be given a title by his king. "My sword is yours sire, if you ever call on it."

Spike snorted. Lindsey was starting to feel a kinship with Spike because that's pretty much what he thought of the Groosalugg's ridiculous offering. "Just make sure you don't forget it or I'll come to LA and remind you."

"Yes, my lord," Groo answered. Standing up, he backed up several steps. "Can I see Cordelia now?"

"Show him the way, pet."

Lindsey wasn't sure who Spike meant, but Xander got up from his place next to Spike's chair. "Come on, I'll show you," he offered, walking through the room easily, despite the fact he was naked. As they passed near Lindsey, he could see the wiry muscles and grace the made the man such a deadly killer. He could also see the curls that brushed against the back of his thighs as he walked. That was an actual tail. Lindsey felt slightly nauseous.

"So, Angel, any thoughts on how you want to handle your new pet?" Spike turned his head, and Lindsey froze as the attention in the room turned toward him.

"Clearly I have to keep him on a tight leash," Angel said thoughtfully.

"Bloody right. And you don't have time to babysit him. I used the cuckoo spell on that one." Spike poked a thumb toward the mage. Lindsey's shock was reflected in Angel's expression.

"That is a strong spell, Master Angel," the mage agreed amiably. "Master Spike never has to worry about me developing any needs of my own. But then, I'm old enough that if I have a soft bed and a safe home, I'm happy enough."

"And for once, I don't have to worry about a bloody magic user. I was getting soddin' tired of that."

"Yes, Master," the old mage tilted his head in Spike's direction without actually looking all that subservient.

It took Angel a second to answer. "I had planned to use the anglerfish spell."

Spike's eyebrows went up, and Lindsey desperately wished he could see the details on those two spells. Teacher's pet had gotten to study them and even choose the fucking spell, but Lindsey hadn't gotten more than a glance at the pictures.

"Your slave." Spike shrugged, the gesture making it clear he would have chosen differently. Then again, Lindsey was surprised Master Spike hadn't used the damn worm spell on the mage. Maybe that would have damaged the man's magic.

"Slaves," Angel corrected him. "I would like to claim both Wesley and Lindsey."

There was an odd shifting of places among the demon women who were now standing along the edges of the room since their seats had been destroyed in the fight.

Spike, however, looked rather pleased. That was a smirk on his face. "About bloody time, mate."

"Spike," Angel said wearily, the word a warning, but Spike was already waving his hand to dismiss them all.

With a sigh, Angel turned his back and headed for the door. Wesley and Fred hurried after him, but the demon girl Soshie headed for her own people, and they gathered around her in a knot of whispers and odd looks that Lindsey couldn't understand. Angel stopped in front of Lindsey and waited as Dalton untied his leash.

"Did he mind?"

"His body is untrained, but he did not willfully disobey any order," she said, handing the leash to him.

Lindsey wasn't sure if he was relieved or unhappy when Angel took the leash and gave a small tug to force Lindsey to his feet. Spike's mage had gotten up and was following them from a small distance, and Lindsey realized his time was pretty short. He had to come up with a plan, and he needed it now. He opened his mouth to make a bargain with the devil, but before he could say a word, Angel had slipped the gag in place. Lindsey grunted unhappily but there was very little else he could do as Angel buckled the gag in place and then headed out the door. Well fuck. Lindsey would just have to... well, he'd have to figure something out.


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Toys 23: God Have Mercy

Lindsey followed Angel back into his room, not that he had a lot of choice. Wesley was even managing to look nervous now, his arms crossed over his stomach as the mage followed them.

The mage smiled happily enough. Lindsey truly hated the man; he reminded Lindsey entirely too much of Holland Manners. He even faintly sounded like him. "No need for worry," he offered cheerfully. "The spell stings some, but that's the nature of green magic. You feel the price as you go, none of that putting off until tomorrow the price you don't feel like paying now."

"Yes, well, that's rather not as comforting as one might expect," Wesley said. Lindsey actually found himself grateful that Wesley was along because he could say what Lindsey couldn't since he was still gagged. "We might wish to wait until Cordelia is conscious."

"Why?" Angel looked at Wesley, and for a second, Wesley just looked back at him. Lindsey tried to telepathically send any number of excuses: Cordelia might want a vote in this decision, Cordelia might need Angel, Cordelia might be fucking pissed that her boss had first stolen her visions and then enslaved two men.

Instead of using any of those excuses, Wesley simply sighed. "I have no idea, other than my own nervousness." Loser. "Are we sure this is the right choice for you? If you must keep control over Lindsey, that does not mean you have to commit yourself to this." Wesley looked over at Lindsey, and Lindsey felt a flash of gratitude. Yes. Exactly. Angel should not be committing himself, Lindsey couldn't have put it better himself. Appealing to a person's self-interest was always a solid strategy.

"Would you mind an old man butting in here, Master Angel?" the mage asked.

"No, of course not, Mr. McMillian," Wesley answered for him. The mage still looked to Angel who gave a small nod. Lindsey sighed through his nose. Wesley was going to suck as a slave. If the man was smart he'd invest a little more energy into getting them both out of this mess.

"I'm just Harry, now. At one point I was Mage McMillian, a man to be feared in more than one dimension, but all beings must act according to their nature. I know that more than most." He walked over and leaned against the edge of a low table where Angel had set a thick book. "As a young man, I carved out a territory. As a middle-aged one, I defended it, sometimes quite violently. Eventually I was... convinced... to take in an apprentice and that was when I realized I had to accept my own nature. I was becoming the elder lion about to be killed by his own successor. I couldn't even blame Elena, my apprentice. It was in her nature to begin to chafe under my strict rule.

"However, when Master Spike came, it was quite easy for me to see my escape from my own path. The elderly lion must be killed by the incoming ruler. If I had tried to simply retire and allow Elena to take over, I would have sat home and fretted about the mistakes she was making, even if they were no worse than the ones I made at her age. And she would have always worried about me trying to kill her to take back what had once been mine." Harry sighed. "As I said, it is in our natures, and a green mage does not live as long as I have without recognizing that he is a slave to his own nature. However, if the old lion is captured and caged and taken far from the hunting grounds, then his nature has been circumvented."

"You asked to be enslaved," Angel summarized.

"I did. It amused Master Spike no end, and Elena managed to show some last signs of affection and regret as she carved the enslavement rune." Harry unbuttoned the top of his shirt and showed a stylized bird over an egg that was carved in the center of his chest where the white wisps of chest hair were thinning. The lines were crisp like a tattoo but raised slightly, like a scar, and Lindsey was having very unpleasant thoughts about how that image had been made.

"Yes, well, this is all very enlightening," Wesley interrupted.

Harry smiled. "Not yet, it has not been. The young... so impatient." He sighed. When Wesley's expression turned into a combination of embarrassment and frustration, Lindsey felt a little sympathy for him.

"Angel has his own nature. I imagine it has been hard for you to pretend you do not, but as I said, a green mage is adept at seeing the true path of all creatures." Harry looked at Angel.

Wesley frowned as he looked over as well. "Angel?"

"Perhaps you have hidden your nature from yourself, but a vampire owns things. He is a magpie, collecting all that he can into his nest or trying to join the largest nest he can so that he can enjoy the things of others. I was willing to enslave myself to Master Spike because he accepts his nature. He is a collector of people the way other vampires become collectors of money or kills or power or even jewelry. Each magpie lines his nest with trinkets of his own preference."

"You're saying I want to own people." Angel's back was stiff and his expression totally shut down, but Lindsey could keep himself from snorting in disgust. Of course Angel wanted to own people, and as the man trussed up, gagged and about to be enslaved with a rune, Lindsey knew that as well as anyone. Angel was a self-deceiving fool if he had any other impression of himself.

"I'm saying you are ripping yourself apart by denying your nature. You try to not own them, but you pull on them because it is your nature to do so and then push them away because it is your foolish choice to deny your nature. If you don't want to enslave these two, I would suggest you take up stamp collecting." Harry's expression was not entirely nice, but Lindsey could at least appreciate the vote for stamp collecting. Fuck, he'd buy Angel the most expensive stamp he could find if the stupid vampire would just call off this slavery spell. If Lindsey hadn't been gagged, he would have said exactly that.

"Good lord," Wesley breathed the words. "When you kicked us all out, I thought we had done something wrong."

Angel sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, Lindsey's leash links clicking against each other as the leash dangled from his wrist. "I wanted to put you all somewhere safe." Angel sounded like he hated himself for admitting that. "Safe meant away from me." If Lindsey could only escape or maybe even postpone the enslavement until they returned to LA, he had enough ammunition to take Angel and his entire crew down.

"You wanted to push us away because you felt the need to pull us close. Of all the bloody stupid...." Wesley just stopped midsentence, but if Lindsey was getting that particular glare from Angel, he would have stopped too. "And then you called us all back and bribed Cordelia into forgiving you by purchasing her obscene amounts of clothing," Wesley said. He was still frowning.

Harry chuckled. "Nature is not easily put aside, not even for our strongest desires. I would rather have found a way other than slavery in a vampire court, but I knew I could not divert nature, only give her a new outlet. The old lion is definitely defeated, and nature is satisfied." Harry fingered the rune on his chest. "You asked if this was the right choice for Angel. He must find a way to embrace his nature or it will destroy him."

"I am not ruled by my vampire," Angel said, his words clipped.

Wesley and Lindsey both rolled their eyes at that proclamation. "We do the spell now," Wesley said firmly. "What do we need to do?"

"Wesley, you shouldn't do this just for—" Angel was cut off when Wesley put a hand in his face.

"I am doing this because I am committing myself to a cause that I believe in. That is my nature, and I am quite done coddling your squeamishness." For a second, Wesley looked shocked at the words that had come from his own mouth. But then he squared his shoulders and kept right on going. "You need to own people in order to feel secure, and you will."

Lindsey wasn't entirely sure that a slave was supposed to be quite so firm about demanding slavery—that seemed contradictory somehow, but Harry appeared amused. Lindsey... not so much. Fuck it. Angel had given Wesley the perfect opportunity to escape, and Wesley had slammed the fucking door shut on both himself and Lindsey.

"So, I shall ask again. What do we need to do in order to ensure the spell is most effective?" Wesley turned to Harry.

Harry stood up straight, and Lindsey did not like the gleam in the mage's eye. "The slave should be bound in some way. The tighter the restrictions, the more effective the spell. Master Spike had me hanging from his dungeon wall for two days before Elena did her work, but it does seem like Master Angel has already exerted his ownership, so we should not need the additional time."

Wesley nodded and went over to the trunk Dalton had delivered to Angel's room that morning. Reaching in, he came out with a number of leather straps and metal cuffs and locks. "We certainly do have the equipment for binding. I think it best that I go first, Angel. Perhaps it will calm Lindsey if he sees that we don't plan to make him the sacrificial lamb."

"Wesley..." Angel cut himself off, stopping as he watched Wesley untangle straps and leads.

"The slave should be naked. A slave brings nothing to his master but himself because he owns nothing," Harry said. Lindsey could see Angel blush, but Wesley's hands simply paused for a moment before he nodded and continued sorting. "Master Angel," Harry turned to look at them, and Lindsey could feel panic rise as his time for schemes started running out, "you should secure your second slave. You need to focus on Wesley for now."

"Oh, of course."

Lindsey grunted, which was the best he could do to express his unhappiness with this whole situation, but Angel simply walked to the headboard and tied Lindsey's leash to the edge. Great. Now he got a front row seat for more naked Wesley. Lindsey wasn't quite sure why the idiot thought that would be reassuring. Maybe he'd be lucky and the mage would fuck something up. Lindsey leaned his shoulder against the wall and watched as Wesley dropped the last of his clothing to the floor. Now the man was blushing like a virginal bride. That was funny considering how he'd moaned in Angel's bed last night.

"I can do that." Angel took the straps from Wesley's hands, which was good because they were getting hopelessly tangled. After a few twists, Angel had turned the mess back into an arm binder and he carefully pulled it up over Wesley's arms, fastening the straps and buckles before pulling the chest strap across the front.

"I'm not that fragile," Wesley said peevishly. Angel sighed so loud that Harry had to turn toward Lindsey to hide a smile, but Angel did go back and tighten everything. Perhaps Wesley would learn to keep his mouth shut because from the looks of it, Angel had him trussed up so tightly that he couldn't move his upper body at all. Angel added a second strap across Wesley's belly, and now he was truly helpless.

"You'll need to keep him still for some time as I work. I would suggest that you get comfortable." Harry gestured toward the bed.

"How long will this take?" Wesley managed to sound almost bored with the spell, but his hard cock pointed the way to the bed. Lindsey would have found all this amusing as hell if he wasn't act two in this little drama.

"Magic always takes its own time. I'm here to help deliver the baby, not rip it out of its mother's womb," Harry said with a shrug and another of those disturbing smiles.

"That is an image I could have lived without," Wesley complained quietly, but he moved where Angel pulled him, and Angel was pulling him onto the bed. Spreading his own legs, he arranged Wesley so the man was laying back onto him and shifted until he could wrap his legs around Wesley's legs. Lindsey suspected that Wesley was more tightly bound than he was right now.

"Is this acceptable?" Wesley asked.

"If Master Angel would like some control over your words, now would be the time for a gag," Henry offered mildly. Surprisingly, Angel managed to speak up before Wesley could. Sometimes Lindsey suspected that Angel really was not the brightest or quickest vamp in the nest.

"No, his mouth is one thing I need to not control," Angel said firmly. "Start the spell."

"Yes, Master," Harry agreed. He brought out a knife, and Wesley couldn't quite hide the hiss of breath. That was a damn big knife.

"Wesley, if he hurts you, I will pull out all his entrails and apologize to Spike later for killing his mage. You're safe," Angel ran his hands over Wesley's bare arms, and Wesley only nodded. Given the threat, Lindsey expected Harry to run for the hills, or at least to show a little concern about his own skin, but the mage just smiled as he sat on the edge of the bed and started chanting. The air felt heavy, like a huge rain was about to come crashing down on them, and Lindsey shifted nervously from one foot to the other.

The chanting continued, and Lindsey picked up a few odd words of demonic Latin—none of which he liked. This was definitely a slavery spell. Finally, Harry put the knife point to Wesley's chest, right over the heart. The smell of rain and salt and ocean air seemed to sweep through the air as Harry chanted and flicked the knife point. Drops of blood traveled in short arcs before smearing across Wesley's chest and Angel's arm and the white sheets. A few warm drops even landed on Lindsey's stomach, just above the sweats he was wearing. Lindsey pulled back as far as he could with his leash tied so tightly; however, the other three just ignored him.

Wesley was starting to squirm now, his breath coming in little gasps that come in time with each flick of the mage's wrist. He was chanting louder, and Angel's eyes were a deep yellow.

"Oh lord," Wesley breathed. He tried to buck up, and Harry pulled the knife back without pausing the chant which had become something alive and crawling through the room. Lindsey could feel it slide over his skin and Angel's vampire face appeared as he tightened his hold on Wesley until the man was again squirming helplessly.

Harry leaned close and drew a long line along Wesley's chest, and the cry that came out of Wesley did not sound pained. The little freak was enjoying this. Lindsey rolled his eyes and focused on the far wall as Harry continued his chant, and Wesley's cries started sounding more and more like the one's he'd made last night. While this was certainly providing him with a whole lot of ammunition for any future interactions with Wesley, it wasn't something he really needed to watch. Voyeurism was more Lilah's thing.

"Angel, I need... oh good lord." Wesley gasped the words out, his voice rough with lust.

"Should I..." As usual, Angel was sounding ineffectual and worthless. Lindsey kept focused on the far wall.

"Green magic is a river. It carves a new path with every spell. You should follow your instincts." Harry stepped into Lindsey's view, so he had clearly left the bed. The knife in his hand gleamed dully with the fresh blood, and that feeling of power was still sliding through the room like a giant snake. The bed springs started creaking with a rather unmistakable power. Lindsey rolled his eyes at that. Any slavery spell that used blood and sex was going to create a bond that wouldn't be broken easily, not without someone being dead. And Lindsey suspected that Angel's death would only kill Wesley now that the idiot had gone and bound himself so tightly.

Knowing this was his last chance, Lindsey stared at the mage. No, he didn't expect sympathy from someone as coldly self-interested as Harry, but maybe the mage would see that Lindsey was a good ally. Yes, he was in a bad spot now, but he wasn't one to give up. Leashed to a vampire's bed, he was still searching for ways to fight back, and that sort of inner strength counted for a lot in this world—a whole lot. If Lindsey wasn't so strong, he would have ended up living and dying in some damn backwater town where his only power was hitting on whatever woman was stupid enough to marry him. That had been his father's world. But Lindsey was stronger than that. Better. If Harry could just see that, maybe he would leave an escape clause in the spell he was about to do. Lindsey could be a good friend.

Eventually, Harry's gaze did fall on him, and Lindsey met it evenly, praying to whatever twisted gods would listen that the man would understand what Lindsey couldn't say. Harry's eyebrows went up, like he was surprised, and Lindsey straightened up a little more. Slowly, Harry smiled. Shaking his head like he'd just seen a child do something particularly amusing, he turned his back and studied the poster Lindsey had been looking at.

Lindsey's hopes crashed. Fuck. Angel had the cards now, but Lindsey would find an escape. He would. Wesley's cry marked his orgasm, and Harry turned to face the bed with a smile.

"Such power in this room. Master Angel, I can promise you that your slavery spell will never break, not without Wesley dying."

"Is Wesley safe?"

Harry chuckled. "Far safer and healthier than he was an hour ago, I assure you. Do you wish to finish the second spell or wait until you've had time to... recover." Harry made it sound so damn innocent, but Lindsey stiffened at the implication that Angel needed time so he would be able to rape Lindsey.

The bed creaked, but Lindsey refused to look at it. "Does the spell always create such..." Angel stopped.

"Overwhelming sexual desires," Wesley filled in for him. He sounded exhausted.

Harry smiled. "Certainly not, Master Angel. Yes, the anglerfish spell is based on male and female; however, fish reproduction bears little resemblance to human sexuality, so the sort of mutual need you experienced is part of the energy you yourselves brought to the spell. The spell only makes the seed and success of the slave dependent upon the master." Harry made it all sound so perfectly logical, but from where Lindsey was standing, he was dangerously out of control when it came to his own magic. Performing magic without knowing every potential side effect and cost was a fool's bargain. It was like signing a contract without reading the fine print, and Lindsey was well aware of just how much could be hidden in a contract. A few well chosen words in 8 point font and a charming smile to distract the signer, and you could rob a man blind.

"Then I doubt I need recovery time, not unless Lindsey plans to bring sexual attraction to the spell." Angel's words made Lindsey turn and glare. Angel returned his look evenly, and Lindsey hated that the gag prevented him from making anatomically impossible suggestions.

"Very good. We can finish now." Harry pulled a cloth out of his pocket and wiped the blood from the edge of the knife before stepping forward. "Master Angel," Harry said suddenly, "the spell is still settling. I would recommend that you give it time to rest."

Lindsey looked over and Angel had his hands on the buckles on Wesley's restraints. He paused.

"I assure you, I am quite comfortable. Lethargic, even," Wesley offered. Lindsey cringed at the sight of white flecks around the man's asshole, but before he could notice anything more, Angel had pulled a sheet up over his ass.

"This won't take long," Angel promised, petting teacher's pet Pryce on the shoulder before he got out of bed and reached for Lindsey's leash.

Lindsey sighed. Well, this was it. This spell was about to complicate a whole lot of his plans, and Lindsey didn't have the time or resources to distracted Angel.

"Could you bring me that black strap?" Angel asked, pointing at the table as he untied Lindsey's leash. He pulled Lindsey over to the bed and down into Angel's lap with Lindsey's back to Angel's chest. Lindsey had never realized just how strong Angel was, but the hands that held his arms had absolutely no give in them. When Lindsey had worked for Russell Winters, the vamp had gone out of his way to impress the staff with his inhuman strength, but Lindsey had gotten used to thinking of Angel as ineffectual. The hands that held him tight against Angel's bare chest were anything but. They both had on pants, but Lindsey was suddenly uncomfortable with how much skin was touching skin.

"Calm down, Lindsey. I'm not going to rape you." Angel sounded cranky now.

"Is this the strap you wanted?" Harry held up a very short belt-like strap.

"Fasten his legs, please. Just below the knees."

Lindsey had one moment of rebellion where he considered kicking, but Angel's fingers dug into his arms, and he lay quietly while Henry wrapped the belt around Lindsey's legs and pulled it a good deal tighter than it needed to be.

"Shall I start?" Harry sat on the edge of the bed and held up the knife. Lindsey could feel a movement behind him, and then the mage started to chant. Before the sense of magic had slid around Lindsey, but now the coils of it settled on him, sinking into his skin. He tried to squirm, but Angel held his upper body firmly, and Harry was leaning into his legs. The knife made its first cut—a small flick that created something that looked like a tiny c. The next flick created a tiny straight line like a papercut and then he added another.

Lindsey's body was starting to get hot, and he jerked in Angel's arms. He just couldn't accept this without a fight. However, Angel easily held him and Harry continued his work. The knife darted in over and over until a mass of small lines had gathered over Lindsey's heart. A wide arch cut just over his nipple made Lindsey scream behind his gag. The heat seemed to sink through him and settle in his heart. The chanting grew louder, and Lindsey arched his back as his heart seemed to start pumping the warmth to the rest of his body.

He was fever-hot now, squirming helplessly as Angel tightened his hold. Even though no one was on top, Lindsey felt like the air was being pressed from his body, and his ribs ached dangerously. Gasping through his nose, Lindsey tried to ignore the way the heat and the lack of air mimicked other feelings... more pleasant feelings. Unfortunately, the sweats Angel had dressed him in did nothing to hide the erection he could feel starting to grow.

Straining at the leg bindings, Lindsey panted and groaned.

"Angel," Wesley said softly.

"I know. Hush," Angel said softly. Lindsey felt some satisfaction that pet Pryce had been told to back off. The mage cut a long line, and now Lindsey could see the bottom edge of the stylized fish the man was carving into Lindsey's unwilling flesh. The line that carved the top line made Lindsey scream again. Oh god. His cock hurt. He felt as though Harry was carving his cock, and only coming could heal it. No. This wasn't fair. If Wesley wanted to spread his legs for some man, that was fine, but Lindsey was stronger than that. He was. He was strong and powerful. He didn't have to find some man's shadow to live in. He wasn't his mother... all tears and soft words and placating hands. That wasn't him.

"Lindsey, he's almost done," Angel stroked a hand across Lindsey's forehead, and Lindsey jerked away from the tender touch. Instead of allowing him even that small show of power, Angel grabbed his chin and held him firmly, pulling Lindsey's head back until it rested on Angel's shoulder. The chanting continued, and every syllable was a caress against his already painfully engorged cock. Lindsey hated himself when a tear slipped free, but he couldn't help it. The weight of the spell, the need to come, the heat... they were all gathering in his belly until thought wasn't even possible.

The chanting fell silent, and for a millisecond, Lindsey felt relief that the words would no long stroke down his hot body, but then the emptiness rose up. Arching his back, Lindsey struggled. He needed. Fuck, he knew what he needed, but he wouldn't ask for that. Lindsey McDonald wasn't anyone's bottom boy.

"Is the spell over?" Angel sounded worried. Stupid fucker. He had no business owning a slave when he didn't know how to use people. Lindsey would have known how to take control without sounding like some sort of pushover.

"My part is, Master Angel. I fear the spell is trying to break through some pretty rocky ground." The bed tilted as the mage stood up.

"Something isn't right." Angel's hands worked at the buckle to the gag, and the moment the plastic was out of his mouth, Lindsey gasped for needed air. The oxygen drove back the light-headed feeling, but that just seemed to give the fire in his body more fuel. Lindsey screamed at the need to come overrode every thought in his body.

"Lindsey, how can I help you?" Angel asked. Lindsey could only manage a weak laugh. A master asking for a slave's opinion. Stupid fucking fuck. He didn't know what he was doing.

"Maybe you should..." Wesley's voice trailed off, but Lindsey was hurting too much to make fun of the man, even if he now had his voice back.

"Lindsey!" Angel pulled Lindsey's head around so that Lindsey was forced to look into his yellow eyes. "Do you want me to take ye? The sex may ease this."

"I’m not some weakling who spreads his legs for the offer of protection," Lindsey snarled even though his cock twitched at the thought of sex, of completion, of relief.

"You were never weak, Lindsey. You are immoral and annoying, but never weak," Angel said firmly. "If you were weak, I would never allow you in my clan. We have enough problems without bringing someone weak into the middle. If you were weak, Spike would have broken your neck the first time he saw you. Lindsey."

Lindsey's face was cool and wet, and part of him wanted to agree. The pain was making his legs go numb.

"Untie his legs," Angel told Harry. The hands against his flesh brought new fire and Lindsey screamed. "That's enough. Lindsey, I need you strong."

Lindsey felt himself flipped onto his stomach, and he screamed as his cock touched the sheets. One of his arms was pressed up against something warm, and he squirmed toward that contact, but someone strong pulled him away. Cool air brushed over his ass, and Lindsey spread his legs, undulating his body to press his cock into the mattress. The first intrusion into his body made him tense for a half second, but the emptiness faded and Lindsey just pressed his forehead to the sheets as Angel quickly pressed into him with fingers and oil.

Fingers caught his hips, pulling him off the bed, and Lindsey got his knees under him, well aware of how submissive he must look with his ass in the air, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He needed this. Angel pressed in, and the heat that had been burning his cock shifted. Muscles stretched and warmed and yielded as Angel slowly pressed inside.

The pain was growing, but so was the pleasure as Angel started rocking in and out. Arching his back, Lindsey pressed his ass farther into the air and then hissed as the pleasure grew. Sinking into his body's feelings, Lindsey tried to forget what exactly was making him feel so damn good. Hands ran over his back and now Angel was moving faster, their bodies slapping together.

Angel yanked him up by his arms, and Lindsey dropped his head to one side. Fangs sank into him, and Lindsey shouted, his orgasm exploding. For a second, the world was white—reality erased by a pleasure so great he could only lay limply in the arms that held him. A familiar sense of calm settled into his skin as he was gently lowered back down to the bed. His stomach was cool and clammy, pressed against the wet spot, but Lindsey was too boneless to care.

A sheet drifted over his body, and the bed shifted. Lindsey floated on a contentment that he couldn't quite identify. For long minutes or perhaps even hours, the only thing he felt was soft fingers over his shoulder and the weight of the spell. Eventually, reality started gathering at the edges of his vision like a distant field appearing through the mist.

"That was quite intense." Wesley whispered the words, like speaking too loud might break the fragile reality around them.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm feeling quite well. Rather more than well, actually."

"Lindsey?" Angel asked.

Lindsey grunted, and that's when he realized that he was laying with one cheek on Angel's naked thigh.

"Is he alright?" Wesley's words were a soft gust of warm air across Lindsey's skin. Opening his eyes a crack, he realized that Wesley was laying with his cheek on Angel's other thigh. Between them, Angel's cock lay nestled in curled hair. Lindsey had never been this close to another naked man, and he'd never had this particular view of a cock.

"I don't know. Physically he's fine, but if you two keep laying on those bound shoulders, you're going to feel it tomorrow. Are you ready to be untied?"

"Soon," Wesley said. "Good morning, Lindsey," he said politely. Lindsey wasn't quite sure what the etiquette was, but he certainly had a few things he wanted to say. He opened his mouth, and found that he couldn't find the right words.

"Lindsey?" Angel asked, fingers stroking through Lindsey's hair. "Are you okay?"

"I..." Again, Lindsey had a moment where language slipped away from him.

"Tell me what you're thinking," Angel said, his voice and fingers were still soft, but Lindsey didn't doubt that it was an order. "I planned to make fun of Wesley for being so comfortable with your cock, but I can't seem to find the right words," Lindsey said. If he couldn't make fun of them, he could at least point out that he still wanted to make fun of them. "And I don't like that this spell is editing me."

Wesley smiled. Prick. "It does seem that the gag made a difference, although you do still seem perfectly capable of sharing your contempt, even if it is in a rather less offensive form," Wesley said.

"I never wanted you two helpless," Angel said, his fingers still stroking Lindsey's hair. Blinking his eyes open, Lindsey could see that he was stroking Wesley's shoulder as well. "Lindsey, once you've settled in, I think we have a legal problem. Can I trust you to act in the clan's best interest?"

Lindsey tried to raise his head, but Angel's palm stroked over his cheek, holding him down. "I guess the clan's best interest is my best interest," Lindsey said wearily, but that odd sense of contentment returned, wrapping around him like a cat that insisted on curling in his lap whenever he wasn't shooing the beast away. "I've always been remarkably good at taking care of my own interests."

"Yes, you have. You would have died a long time ago, otherwise. I made a mistake by not purchasing the hotel, and now Wolfram and Hart is looking to purchase the company that holds the lease. I am loath to lose my lair, so I need you to legally outmaneuver them."

"Legal means only? How much creativity am I allowed?" Lindsey didn't want to, but he couldn't help focusing on the legal puzzle. If Wolfram and Hart had shown their hand, that meant the purchase of the holding company was done, and Lindsey would have to find a creative exit. Taxes maybe. Wolfram and Hart would have been careful to pay any tax liens, but Lindsey might be able to find some paperwork that hadn't been properly applied to the hotel. The historical society might even take the hotel as a landmark, although that would pose other problems.

"Try to not get people killed." Angel patted his shoulder. "Actually, consider this an order. You do not take actions that could result in the loss of lives. If that has to happen, I'll decide what we do." Angel reached over and unbuckled the back of Wesley's arm binder. "Go stretch out in a hot shower. I don't want those muscles disabled tomorrow," he told Wesley. As soon as he had the back buckles loose, Wesley sat up so that Angel could reach the chest and stomach straps. Lindsey sighed. He'd been tied for three days now, and his arms had passed the point of numbness, but Angel had showed very little interest in that.

"Wesley." Angel stopped, one hand resting on Wesley's naked hip.

Wesley smiled. "I believe we shall need a larger bedroom and a much larger bathroom if we are to share on a regular basis. Right now, I think I will go use my bathroom." Wesley ran a hand over Angel's arm, and then he turned to leave.

He was almost to the door before Angel started working the buckles on Lindsey's arm binder. Lindsey lay still. "Sit up," Angel said. Squirming around, Lindsey sat up, surprised that Angel would take the leather restraints off before putting on the metal shackles he used to bathe Lindsey.

Angel undid the stomach and chest straps, and for the first time in days, Lindsey had the use of all of his limbs. Of course, the spell was still there, but that invisible leash didn't chafe as much as leather bands around his sweating skin. Lindsey was decorated in red. The carving over his heart was smeared with blood and the leather straps had left vivid red marks where they had chafed him.

"Do you want to bathe yourself or do you want me to come wash you?" Angel reached up and stroked Lindsey's hair, but it sounded like he was giving Lindsey an actual choice.

"Without restraints?" Lindsey cursed himself for saying something that might make Angel change his mind, but surprise had forced the words out of him.

"Do you want restraints? You're in the middle of Master Spike's lair with dozens of demons and the demon who owns you between you and the exit, but if you need more restraints, I certainly have them." Angel looked over toward the table.

"No. No, I do not need to be chained like a dog," Lindsey said, scrambling to get off the bed as fast as he could, and hopefully that would be faster than Angel could change his mind. Unfortunately, it wasn't. Angel's hand darted out and caught Lindsey by the wrist. Lindsey hissed as the irritated skin stung.

"I asked if you were going to wash yourself or if you wanted me to wash you. Lindsey, when I asked if you wanted sex, you didn't answer. If you don't answer this question, I will choose an answer for you, again."

Lindsey stared into Angel's brown eyes, and he could feel something dark rise up in his chest. "I'll wash myself," he said as respectfully as he could.

Angel nodded, but he didn't release Lindsey's wrist. "Some days I will want to wash you just because I will want to run my hands over you and enjoy the fact that you are so strong that Wolfram and Hart couldn't hold you, but I can. But today, you can wash yourself." Angel let go, and Lindsey stumbled off the bed as he was released. Angel continued to sit in the middle of the bed, naked and watching Lindsey. Slowly, Lindsey backed up toward the bathroom. After several steps, he turned and hurried there, closing the door behind him.

Lindsey didn't dare breathe again until he was under the hot water, feeling all his aching muscles relax. The water ran pink with blood, and Lindsey reached up to trace his sensitive skin, not sure how he should feel about this permanent mark of ownership left on his unwilling body. He knew how he wanted to feel; he wanted to feel resentful and angry. But that odd contentment came and settled into his heart again.

A memory floated up. After he'd gone back to Wolfram and Hart, Holland Manners had thrown him a party, half welcome back and half congratulations for Lindsey's promotion. Lindsey remembered signing the new employment contract. He remembered his feeling of contentment as he'd shaken everyone's hand—a real part of the upper management now. Tracing the stylized shape of the fish, Lindsey suddenly realized that he knew what slavery felt like, and god have mercy on his soul, it felt good.

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Toys 24: Queen to King's Rook

Angel stepped into the room. “The Pockla transferred Cordelia’s visions to the Groosalugg.”

Wesley dropped the magazine he’d been pretending to read. “Is Cordelia going to be—”

“She’ll be fine. The Pockla says she’s going to be just fine. He’s walking her up now,” Angel said. Despite the fact that he had no idea how he was going to explain any of his actions, he could feel joy at having Cordelia back again. “We can go see her. Groo is staying with her while she wakes.”

“Thank God.” Practically throwing the magazine to the side, Wesley hurried toward the door. However Angel was watching Lindsey. Part of him wanted to use the cuffs and collar to remind Lindsey of his place, but part really didn’t want to have Cordelia see those things.

“Am I to be trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey? No doubt Ms. Chase would enjoy seeing me uncomfortable,” Lindsey said with a grimace.

Unfortunately, Lindsey was probably right about that, and Angel was determined to not put his slaves in a place where they were uncomfortable or where they needed to defend themselves. Angel looked over to Wes.

“I dare say Angel would content himself with a collar and leash if you would give him your word to go out of your way to be polite,” Wesley said.

Lindsey rubbed his chest where Harry had carved the slave rune into his flesh. “It’s not like I can go plotting against him when he magically enslaved me.”

“No, but you can say the wrong thing in front of Cordelia, and that would come with consequences,” Angel said firmly. Wesley was right, Lindsey needed the reminder a chain would provide. A leash would be the least offensive form. Hopefully. An offended Cordelia could be difficult to take. However, right now he had to worry about his two slaves. Stepping to a spot in front of Lindsey, Angel caught him by the back of the neck and held him firmly. The scent of lust was a surprise, but then Lindsey, for all his complaining, seemed far more interested in sex than Angel would have guessed.

“Politeness would require you to show your neck,” Angel said with a hint of a growl. Guilt gnawed at the edges of his conscience until Lindsey dropped his head to the side and bared his neck. The scent of lust growing even stronger wiped out Angel’s guilt. Angel leaned in and mouthed the twin pinprick scars without biting. “You smell randy,” Angel whispered into Lindsey’s ear.

“Yes, well if I’m stuck serving you for eternity, I don’t plan on having a celibate eternity,” Lindsey said with disgust.

Wesley made a noise, and Angel turned around to find Wesley standing there with a leash in hand. “Thank you,” Angel said as he wrapped the collar around Lindsey’s neck before locking the leash in place. That done, Angel turned to Wesley and caught him by the back of the neck. Wesley bared his neck immediately, his shoulder already pinpricked with scars and his body pressing close to Angel. Mouthing the scars, Angel enjoyed the scent of contentment that rose to greet him. He rarely let himself really indulge in smelling humans, and this was a treat.

Angel wrapped his arm around Wesley’s waist and pulled him close with enough force that Wesley made a little surprised noise even if he didn’t protest. “Maybe it would be fair to leash you, too. You both belong to me.” For a second, Wesley’s lust was enough to make Angel feel light-headed. Before he could do anything, Wesley was pressing against his shoulders in a token attempt to escape.

“I doubt Cordelia would appreciate that. After months of watching Spike indulge in his fetish for restraints with Xander, I can safely say that good manners should preclude certain activities in public.” Wesley straightened up, and the starch in his spine didn’t match his scent.

“You might as well beg him to leash you and tie you up in private,” Lindsay said, but he sounded weary rather than hateful.

“As you said, if we are to be linked to Angel for our entire lives, there really is no need for celibacy,” Wesley said cheerfully. “Right now, however, I am far more concerned about seeing Cordelia recovered from this ordeal.”

“You’re right,” Angel said. “Let’s go.” He ushered Wesley out of the room with one hand and led Lindsey by the leash with the other. The halls of the lair were busy, and from the various tables and containers and boxes being carried from one place to another, Angel was guessing that Spike was planning a feast of some sort. At least he’d ordered the feast, Clem’s mother was mostly likely the one planning it. Considering that Spike controlled the territory, he actually controlled very little of the day to day operations of the lair.

“Master Angel,” Dalton said with a respectful if small tilt of her head as they passed. Angel offered her a smaller nod. He might not be the head of the line anymore, but he was above her. She smiled and kept heading down the hall.

Soon enough they were to the room near Spike’s own quarters where the Pockla had kept Cordelia in her magical coma as he tried to stop the visions from destroying her. “I do hope she has fully recovered,” Wesley whispered. Angel clenched his jaw and controlled his instinct to breathe. He didn’t need to accidentally smell Wesley’s fear right now; he had enough of his own.

Knocking lightly, Angel pushed the door open. He’d expected to find Cordelia in bed, wan and pale and suffering. Instead she was on her feet, her arms crossed.

“You took my visions?” she demanded without giving him a chance to say a word. The Groosalugg was backed against the wall, and Angel retreated out of the room and into the hallway as Cordelia zeroed in on him. “What gave you the right to decide to take my visions? Do you have any idea how much I suffered in order to provide you with the information in those visions? Do you? And you just took them?” She stopped, her foot tapping against the floor, and it took Angel several seconds to realize she actually expected an answer to the last question.

“You were dying.”

“Oh please,” she dismissed that out of hand. “We could have found another way.”

“I assure you, we couldn’t,” Wesley jumped in. The man might be slow to defend himself, but he had never shown any hesitation to defend Angel.

Cordelia turned to look at him with disgust. “And how hard did you try?”

Wesley stiffened. “I searched every magical text I could find.”

“Cordelia,” Angel interrupted, “we all did our best, but in the end, it was a choice between you or the visions. I chose to save you.”

“You saved me in the middle of some vision quest with a demon who had a way to make me vision compatible. You and your lousy timing,” Cordelia complained. She frowned, and Angel followed the line of her sight to Lindsey. The man was leaning against the wall and if he’d had popcorn in his hand, he would have looked like someone watching a featured reel. “Lindsey?”

“It seems I’ve changed teams. Been drafted, actually.” Lindsey reached down to grab the leash that Angel was still holding. Angel could feel cold horror run through his veins as Cordelia’s expression turned truly terrifying. If anyone ever vamped Cordelia, Angel was moving to another dimension, right after warning Spike to head for the hills.

“Drafted?” Cordelia’s eyes grew larger.

Groo walked up behind her, moving slowly and carefully as though she were a Hellmouth about to start spewing demons. “Angel officially claimed both Lindsey and Wesley,” he offered in a hopeful voice, like that would make anything better, but the horror in Angel’s veins got a little colder.

“He… claimed? He claimed?” Cordelia turned on Angel. “You claimed them? Mister, this had better be some euphemism for gay sex because if you’re talking about vampire claiming, about enslaving people, I am going to shove a stake in some place that you really don’t want a stake going.” Cordelia’s finger was up, and Angel had an irrational urge to back away.

Wesley stiffened. “There is hardly one boilerplate for all forms of slavery. In parts of Africa, slavery was part of the penal system long before American slavery twisted it, and many argue that the slavery of Africa was far more humane than the penal colony system used in parts of the English speaking world. One cannot judge the cultural values of a group by one’s own personal value system.”

Cordelia’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Are you done?” Rather than wilting, Wesley seemed to stand up straighter. It occurred to Angel that Wesley never would have stood up to Cordelia before becoming a slave. Spike had told him that Wesley was too much like Xander—that they both needed firm ground to stand on, and it didn’t get any firmer than slavery. As much as it galled to think that Spike understood humans better than Angel, he just might have to eat that bit of humble pie and admit it.

“I don’t know. Are you still feeling a need to verbally eviscerate someone?” Wesley asked.

“Yes,” Cordelia answered. Crossing her arms, she turned on Angel. “You enslaved them. What part of your redemption includes slavery?”

“I’m more concerned about this family than my redemption,” Angel said. Even more shocking, he meant it. If he had to give up his quest to keep the people in his life safe, then he would. Angel was pretty proud of himself for making that choice, but Cordelia’s expression made it clear she thought he’d lost his mind.

“My queen,” Groo said soothingly.

“And you.” She turned on him, poking him in the chest. “You went along with this idiocy.”

“He beat me in fair combat,” Groo said. Angel could have told him that was the wrong thing to say, but it was a little too late to warn him now. Cordelia’s eyes narrowed.

“What? So now you’re going to claim to be Angel’s good little slave?” Angel could feel the danger like the ice cracking under your feet after the spring winds thinned it.

Groo straightened up. “I am his loyal warrior. He is my king as surely as you are my queen.”

“Oh, I am not queen to his king. I’m just the pissed off secretary who had her visions stolen.” Cordelia aimed a punch at Angel, and he didn’t even try to duck. She hit him in the chest, and she was pissed enough that he could actually feel the hit. “Do you have something to say?” Cordelia demanded as she turned on Lindsey.

He fell back a step, but his expression was still entirely too amused. “Not a thing. I’m just enjoying the show,” Lindsey said. Angel gave him a tug just hard enough tug with the leash to remind him of his place before Angel stepped between Cordelia and Lindsey.

“If you’re angry as me, ye’ll take it out on me,” Angel said firmly.

“Oh, so we’re sticking up for Lindsey now? He stabbed you in the back. He stabbed us in the back!”

“And things are different now,” Angel said, struggling to control his temper.

“Because he’s a slave? When did you all lose your minds? Am I still in a coma, because if I’m dreaming all this, I’m going to go get myself a therapist and bill you.” Cordelia poked Angel in the chest with a finger, and Angel gritted his teeth. This is why he pushed people away. He didn’t have one blessed idea what he was supposed to do with them. With barmaids, you paid them. With fledges, you killed them when they got out of hand. Well, unless the fledge in question was Spike. Angel never had managed to get around to staking him, not even when young William had clearly crossed the line.

“My queen,” Groo said soothingly.

“For the love of God, it’s not as though Angel has lost his soul,” Wesley snapped with far less patience. Lindsey just kept smirking, but Angel was trying to stand in front of him so that Cordelia couldn’t see that. Right after he got this mess with Cordelia fixed, he was going to have to punish Lindsey for aggravating her, and that was going to lead to even more troubles. He really hated this plan. Really hated. What had made him think he could keep human beings happy, especially a crew of humans as cantankerous and difficult as this one? At least Spike only had to worry about Xander, a man who seemed supremely easy to please as long as he was getting enough sex.

“Are you sure of that? Are you sure he’s Angel?” Cordelia demanded. “Has anyone checked to see if his soul is still pinned on tight, because the Irish lilt and the fact he’s taken slaves makes him seem more like Angelus than Angel.” Angel truly had no idea how Spike ran his court without gutting every one of them just to get a little peace and quiet.

“If that were Angelus, you’d be eating your spleen, luv.” Spike walked out from behind the corner and leaned against the wall. Angel could read the danger in every line of Spike’s body, but Cordelia sailed right into those dangerous waters.

“You had something to do with this.” She strode toward him with an expression that would have put Darla to shame. Spike, however, had been the one to send Darla to her most recent death when she’d tried to challenge him. When Cordelia closed in on him, Spike just watched her with a twitch of his eyebrow.

“I reckon I pulled Peaches’ head out of his arse. I am the master of Aurelian line now, luv.”

“And that gives you a right to tell him my secret? To help him take my visions? To go along with this plan to collect slaves?” Cordelia’s voice was reaching dangerous levels and Angel shoved Lindsey’s leash at Groo before he moved forward to intervene in case this turned ugly. If Cordelia pushed hard enough, Spike was going to have to punish someone to avoid losing face in front of the court, and Angel would take that punishment before allowing him to touch Cordelia. However, right when Angel expected things to turn truly ugly, Spike started laughing.

“Get it right, pet. I didn’t go along with the slavery plan. I fucking told him that he had no business letting Lindsey go wandering the universe after Lindsey put himself under Aurelian control. Either he took the boy as a slave or I would. I also told him that Wesley was a valuable enough piece that if Angel couldn’t get his head out of his arse long enough to lay claim to him that another vampire had asked to take Wes as a slave.”

“You did?” Wesley asked, his voice squeaking. At the same time, Cordelia demanded, “You what?” in a very unhappy tone.

“I won’t have Peaches making a mess out of my south border.”

Cordelia shot Angel a look. “This is not an improvement, even if he was screwing up.”

“Bloody right he was screwing up. I can’t believe you didn’t soddin’ call me and tell me he was ‘round the twist. I thought you had more sense than the bog-trotter over there.” Spike gave Angel a wicked grin.

Angel glared at Spike, his demon shifting uncomfortably under the knowledge that he couldn’t beat Spike. “If you have something to say, you say it to me,” Angel warned. When Angel stopped Spike from talking to Wesley, Spike would always give him an approving purse of the lips, but now Spike was looking at Angel like Angel was some sort of idiot.

“The cheerleader can speak for herself, mate. And if she wants to take a piss with me, she can live with the consequences of that.” Spike’s eyes flashed yellow and he gave Cordelia a flash of fang.

“Oh please, I’d give you heartburn. Go threaten someone you might actually eat.” Cordelia pushed past Spike so fast that even Spike managed to look a little surprised.

“Oh dear,” Wesley said softly.

“I shall go after her,” Groo said, stepping forward and offering Lindsey’s leash back to Angel.

“No, you bloody well won’t,” Spike interrupted before Angel could go along with that plan. Sending Groo after her seemed the best solution all around. Angel sure as hell didn’t know what to do.

“Someone should go after her,” Wesley said.

Angel nodded, watching Spike for some sign of what the hell he was supposed to do. Instead, Spike leaned against the wall and Angel had the uncomfortable feeling that he was failing some test. This was exactly why he didn’t want humans around. He wasn’t good with them. “Groo, take the others back to my room and stay with them,” Angel said.

Wesley opened his mouth, but Groo ducked his head as he accepted the order. “Yes, my liege.” Reaching out, he caught Wesley by the arm and urged him down the hallway. If Wesley had any useful advice, he certainly had time to blurt it out. Instead, he let Groo usher him down the hall, Lindsey following behind on the leash.

“Well, at least you’re giving clear orders now,” Spike commented.

“Shut up,” Angel said, habit triggering the words. Spike immediately flashed into gameface, and Angel figured he had about two seconds before he ended up in chains. “What the hell am I supposed ta do with Cordelia?” Angel asked without hiding his confusion. He added in a slight tilt of the neck—not enough to compromise his own pride, but just a hint of submission to appease Spike’s demon.

Spike’s body twitched before he leaned back against the wall again. “She won’t bloody listen to you.”

“I know that, Spike.”

“She’d probably listen to me, but not before annoying me into eating her,” Spike said as he sucked air through his front teeth. Angel let his demon rise up until his eyes turned yellow. Spike rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to eat her, you nit. We need someone who hates you, someone who you couldn’t have corrupted.”

“Xander,” Angel immediately said. The boy still hated Angel with a passion that made him stink of aggression and disgust every time Angel stood too close. When Angel had first been allowed in the throne room, Xander had taken to stroking a small wooden carving of Buffy so real that Angel could almost see her power and grace in the curve of the statue’s arm. He couldn’t look at the carving without guilt ripping at him. While he was off trying to recover from his great epic failure as a lover, Spike had fought by Buffy side. He’d nearly died at her side, and when she’d died, she done it in Spike’s arms. Angel had no doubt that Xander had intentionally chosen that carving to bring to court on the days when Angel was going to be there. He had a sadistic streak that matched Spike’s.

Spike seemed to consider Angel’s suggestion for a second. “He’d be a good choice if she didn’t have a history with him. Humans aren’t like to forget something like betrayal.”

“Then who would you suggest?” Angel demanded.

“Time for you start figuring that out on your own, luv,” Spike said as he pushed away from the wall and started to stroll off in the same direction Cordelia had vanished.

“Spike!” Angel called out, half-afraid that Spike was going to go have that conversation with Cordelia. She really might not survive because Spike’s patience wasn’t unlimited and her anger was clouding her better judgment. “Can I borrow Riley?”

Spike pursed his lips and gave Angel an approving look. “Go ask Dalton; he’s her pet.”


Angel watched from the shadows as Riley went to sit next to Cordelia on the bench in front of a long line of windows. They were set high in the wall in the Oden Tal section of the warehouse, but even so the glass was tinted and spelled and had reinforced steel bars. However, it was a view of the world outside for those who wanted to climb the scaffold and sit on the bench while watching the trucks pass on the road and trash tumbled down the alleys when the wind blew.

“Master Spike said I should come and answer any questions honestly,” Riley offered a good minute after he’d sat down.

She looked over at him. “Oh yeah, and you’re an impartial judge here.”

Riley shrugged. “Impartial? No. I don’t actually like Master Angel, so I do tend to assume the worst of him. However, knowing my bias, you can decide how much weight to give my comments.”

That shocked Cordelia; Angel could see it in the line of her back. “You don’t like him?”

“I think he’s an undisciplined, arrogant ass,” Riley answered. Angel fisted his hands and pushed himself farther back into the shadows as he fought an urge to go grab Riley and teach him a few manners. Unfortunately, if he did that, Spike would be aggravated. Besides, attacking Riley wouldn’t convince Cordelia that Angel had control over his demon.

Cordelia gave a surprised laugh at Riley’s statement. “You work for Spike. Now he’s undisciplined and arrogant.”

“Arrogant, yes. Master Spike has earned the right to brag about his accomplishments. He killed a hell god, controls a Hellmouth, owns a dozen slaves, and runs one of the largest vampire courts in the country. His arrogance reflects his tactical successes.”

Cordelia was looking at Riley like he’d lost his mind, and Angel closed his eyes as he listened to this unmitigated disaster. He’d chosen wrong, and now he was going to have to find some other way to get Cordelia to believe he wasn’t evil. Right now, Riley was only convincing her of his own evil.

“He owns you.” Cordelia used her most withering tone on Riley.

“Yes, he does.”

Cordelia sucked in a breath. “How can you defend him then?”

Riley turned and looked out the windows, and the silence continued until Angel shifted his weight uncomfortably and debated going out there. Maybe he could talk to her about how much happier Wesley and Lindsey were now.

“I was addicted to Rapture.”

“Old news, Riley. I’ve heard this sob story.” That was cold, even for Cordelia, but Riley didn’t seem to take offense.

“Then you know I’m far better here than I would be out there. Hell, I’ve killed more demons working for Dalton and Spike than I ever did working for the Initiative.” Riley gave a small chuckle. “I’ve even had this fantasy about going to General Buchner and explaining how vampires are actually pretty amiable and easy to live with if they just get enough sex. There are days Dalton and Spike are so sated couldn’t go on a hunting spree if someone paid them. It could open up a whole new avenue of demon hunting.”

Cordelia was less than amused. “So, Wesley and Lindsey give Angel sex and that keeps him happy? We don’t want Angel happy.”

“True,” Riley said slowly. “Look, I’m not saying I know how this works for your group. I just know I was ordered to come answer your questions.”

“You get ordered around a lot.”

“I did in the army, too.”

Cordelia frowned at him, but she didn’t have an immediate answer. With a sigh, she looked out the windows. Angel just wanted to fix this, fix her, give her back her visions, do whatever it took to make her happy again, but instead, he stood in the shadows, impotent to do anything but watch as she radiated misery. He hated this.

“How did Lindsey get pulled into this?” She demanded after a long and awkward silence.

“Master Spike said that he had put himself in Aurelian control when he came to Angel for help to get away from Wolfram and Hart. Actually, the law firm had already but a slavery spell on him, something he’d signed for his big promotion had given the lawfirm control of his soul.”

“God.” Cordelia shook her head. “That sounds like something Lindsey would do.”

“I just know that Angel had some sort of prior claim because Lindsey had already voluntarily put himself under Angel’s control and Angel hadn’t every relinquished it. It’s something about demonic politics and magic.” Riley shrugged. “I don’t really understand the spell or the slavery spell Angel used on Lindsey, but I can ask Master Spike for permission to have Harry explain it if you want.”

Cordelia seemed to sag as she shook her head. “I don’t think my brain can handle any more. Thanks anyway.” They sat in silence for a long time, and Angel could feel failure stalking him. His grand plan to have Riley talk to her was failing, and he didn’t have a backup plan. Actually, Xander was his backup plan, and Spike was right—it was a dumb plan.

“Can I give you a soldier’s assessment?” Riley finally asked.

Cordelia gave a sigh and looked at him with such weariness etched in her face that Angel ached to fix it… to help her. He just didn’t know how. “A soldier’s or a slave’s?” she asked Riley.

“A soldier’s, ma’am.”

Her second sigh was twice as loud. “Okay, let’s hear it.”

Riley nodded. “In L.A., Angel was acting like a human, but he wasn’t a good leader.”

“Most days, he didn’t act human at all,” Cordelia disagreed, and Angel could feel his face warm. He’d tried. He’d tried hard to be human and earn the humanity Darla had ripped from him.

“He took a human job as a private detective, he secured his lair in a human manner by renting it, he trained with humans, he paid human bills, he lived with humans, he had friendships defined by human rules, and he took cases where he could help humans. I’ve lived with vampires long enough to know that none of those are likely if a vampire is involved, less likely for a Master vampire.” Riley lined up each of Angel’s pathetic attempts to deny his demon, and Angel realized how ridiculous it sounded. He was a vampire who paid an electric bill. However, he didn’t know how else to live.

“Angel? You think he used human rules for friendships?”

“Did he make anyone kneel or acknowledge him as the leader and master?”

That made Cordelia laugh. Angel could feel his demon stirring uncomfortably at the tacit disrespect in that gesture.

“He used human rules,” Riley concluded. “Now he is acting more like a demon and he is also showing a greater aptitude for leadership.”

“You say demon like that’s a good thing.”

There was another long pause. “It’s an honest thing,” Riley said softly.

Cordelia turned to Riley and frowned.

“He is a demon,” Riley added. “A good leader understands himself and the men and women in his command, and if Angel doesn’t understand himself and his own demon, he will never understand the people in his command.”

“Is this a command?” Cordelia asked. “Because this is looking like a demon lair to me.”

Riley shrugged. “But nothing happens in this lair without Spike knowing. He scents every person who walks through so he knows how people feel. He intimidates enemies. He takes those who feel worthless, like Xander, and he gives them strength. He takes those who can’t control themselves, like me, and he provides control. When is the last time Angel scented his humans so that he could understand them better?”

Angel knew the answer to that. Since coming here, he’d slowly started indulging in scent as part of sex. However, he had never scented people in the hotel because he didn’t want to smell the blood flowing just below their skin. Now that he was drinking human blood more regularly, he felt more in control, but he was still uncomfortable smelling every place where Soshie had touched Fred’s body. He didn’t want to know when Wesley’s skin smelled of fear or when Lindsey stunk of pure hatred. Sometimes he couldn’t avoid the heavy scents of humanity, and while he would never admit it, Cordelia’s period had always made him edgy to the point that he avoided the lobby.

“So, he’s a bad leader because he avoids sniffing us?”

“He used to be a poor leader because he ignored evidence that could have helped him run the unit more efficiently. When he put all his energy into ignoring his demon, he lost focus on the tactical goals and he lost access to his most effective weapons.”

“And now he’s all better.” Cordelia’s sarcasm was hard to miss. “And I’m all better.” She threw her hands up. “No more visions for Cordelia, so we can all be proud of how we saved her.”

Angel closed his eyes and intentionally scented the air. It was hard to tell from this distance, but he thought he could smell the particularly musk he knew came from her. The two humans were silent, and Angel concentrated on pulling on the demon’s powers. Breathing more deeply, he stumbled back when her bitter despair hit him. If the Pockla had saved her life, why was she despairing?

“Should he have allowed you to die?” Riley finally asked.

“He should have found a way to save me without ripping my visions away from me.” Angel waited as the lazy air drifted toward him. Loss. Grief. She was grieving for the loss of her powers. But… but she had tried to give them to anyone she could. He remembered her kissing random people as she’d tried to pass them on. And the demon who had turned her powers loose so that she got all the visions all the time—it had almost killed her. She’d been willing to keep them and had even committed herself to helping the hopeless, but were the visions that important to her?

“I would have liked it if someone could have ripped me away from Rapture without shredding the last illusion of freedom I owned,” Riley said, and his own grief mingled with Cordelia’s. “Before Spike would let me stay, he forced me to admit that I put myself in this spot. I really wish he would have just taken me the way Angel took Lindsey. Then I could have lived in denial and told myself that one day I’d escape and be free.” Riley’s head dropped for a second, his scent buried in pain, but then he shrugged and sat up. “Maybe one of these days Lindsey will admit that he’s the only one to blame for his situation and maybe he’ll get to live in happy denial his whole life, but at least he didn’t have to face the ugly truth when he was at his weakest.” Riley’s voice had a shakiness to it that Angel had heard before. “Sometimes we swallow a bitter pill because the cure is worth the discomfort.” Riley said that with such grim determination that Angel suspected it was a mantra he’d learned to live by.

“And you think losing my visions is just a bitter pill?”

Riley looked at her calmly.

“And what—” Cordelia just stopped. “Look, I appreciate your efforts, but maybe you could just go away.”

Riley stood up without even trying to change her mind. “Yes, ma’am. If you need anything, just ask for me. I’m sure Master Spike and Mistress Dalton will allow me to come to you.” With that, he turned and headed for the ladder at the far end of the scaffolding.

Angel watched as the man climbed down. Humans were so hard to read. When he’d first seen Riley Finn in Buffy’s room, he never would have guessed that the man needed to be owned and controlled. He did guess that about Xander, but then the boy had always shown a submissive streak that made him catnip for most demons. However, Angel hadn’t ever seen the strength behind the submission. He’d turned into a deadly hunter in his own right. And Wesley… Angel had nearly missed how fragile the man was. But even with all these answers, he still couldn’t understand Cordelia. Could she truly grieve for powers that were painfully killing her?

Not knowing what else to do, Angel slowly climbed the scaffold. If this went really badly, Cordelia could shove him off it and break several of Angel’s bones. There’s something to look forward to. The metal stair treads rattled as Angel climbed, but Cordelia didn’t turn to look at him. Angel remembered when he’d first seen her. She’d been the perfect cheerleader then—a woman who had all the power a high school student could wield over her classmates. She’d traded power for Xander, and then been betrayed. Angel supposed in a way he’d betrayed her too. He’d taken her visions without ever understanding that they were so important to her.

“Are you up here to convince me how enslaving Lindsey is some charitable act?” Cordelia demanded when Angel finally got to the top. He stopped, half-afraid to get too close to her.


“Oh, so maybe you’re up here to explain why I should be grateful to you for taking away my powers.” That sounded sarcastic. Angel breathed deeply, struggling as the grief and pain stirred feelings in his demon.

“No. You have a right to be angry.”

Cordelia’s head whipped up, and Angel fought an urge to retreat. He’d feel bad about that, but he’d seen Spike go out of his way to avoid Cordelia more than once. He remembered Buffy telling him how she’d once talked a vampire into running away in fear. She was unique.

“So, you’re admitting you screwed up?”

Angel sighed. “Maybe. I wish I could have found another way, but I couldn’t let you die.”

“They were my visions.”

“Before you, they were Doyle’s visions,” Angel pointed out. Cordelia looked away. Angel could smell her grief now. “I still miss him,” Angel said quietly, inching closer. The comment earned him a narrow-eyed confused look from Cordelia.

“Me, too,” she admitted after a long pause. “They were his gift to me.”

Angel nodded and waited until her scent had calmed some. “I don’t think he’d want you to die for them. He never would have put you in danger like that.”

“Oh, so poor, weak little human me can’t possible have a power.” Shame. Fear. The scents hit Angel so sharply that he was tempted to just stop scenting. Two months ago, he would have stopped, but he couldn’t now.

“Weak? Cordelia, you terrify and intimidate and confuse and make coffee that could strip paint from a battleship, but yer not weak.”

“Your Irish is showing.”


She looked over at him. “Your Irish accent is back, and trust me, the ability to read people—that was always more Angelus’ thing than Angel’s. So, I don’t care what you’ve told those idiots, you need to tell me the truth right now or you need to try and kill me.”

Angel eyed her hand. It was up under the bottom of her shirt. “You have a stake under there, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she answered.

Angel nodded and moved close enough to sit on the end of the bench. “My soul is still in here.”

“In there as in under lock and key? Because I have to tell you, it doesn’t look like it’s driving anymore.”

“It’s driving, but…” Angel shrugged. “I can’t do what needs doing without the demon, Cordelia.”

“So you are listening to Angelus more.”

Angel nodded. “More, yes. But I’m not going to go out and slaughter some nuns for entertainment.”

“What are you going to do then?”

Angel thought about that. Cordelia deserved more than an easy answer. “I want my family safe, and that means safe from my own stupidity as well as safe from people like Wolfram and Hart.”

“And you think enslaving Lindsey is going to make them want to play nice?” The brutal tone more than the words made Angel flinch.

“Taking Lindsey wasn’t my idea.”

“Spike,” Cordelia said flatly.

“Actually,” Angel said, “Spike suggested it and the humans voted on it.”


Angel nodded. Lindsey is human, so I asked Xander and Riley and Fred and Wesley what they thought of going and getting him.”

“I know Riley’s opinion, and Xander thinks slavery is one big sex-fest.”

Angel wasn’t sure that was a fair characterization, but he wasn’t about to go defending Xander Harris.

“What did Fred and Wesley say?”

Angel really hoped he wasn’t about to turn his clan against each other. “Fred said that Lindsey wouldn’t have come to us unless he knew he needed help. She thought he was like an alcoholic, and she told me that turning him loose in the middle of L.A. was like agreeing to sponsor someone in AA, giving them twenty dollars, and then dropping them off in front of a bar.”

Cordelia looked shocked, but Angel shrugged. As much as he hated to admit it, Fred had a point. “Wesley insisted slavery was wrong.”

Cordelia gave a grim smile. “Well he changed his tune.”

Angel nodded. “He called me an idiot for trying to deny my nature, and said it was his nature to give himself to a cause, and he’d chosen me as his cause. At the time, he made it sound like I was being selfish if I didn’t agree to take him as a slave.”

Cordelia sighed, but her shoulder muscled relaxed and the stress scents were fading. Hopefully Angel wasn’t going to get staked today. “That sounds like the idiot.”

“He’s a good man.”

Cordelia looked at him oddly.

“Do not look at me like that. He is,” Angel defended himself and Wesley.

“Yes, he is,” Cordelia agreed, her voice oddly distant. “Angel, no offense, but my brain has been twisted enough today, and I really just need some time alone.”

Angel opened his mouth to try and get her to change her mind, but he could taste her weariness on the air. Instead he nodded. “Call if you need something. You’ve been sick and you’re probably still weak. I don’t want you falling off the stair, okay?” Angel asked, but at the same time he stood up and started backing toward the end of the scaffold, showing that he did mean to respect her wishes. He wouldn’t crowd her the way he did Lindsey or Wesley, and he could respect that she wasn’t going to just yield like Fred or Groo.

She nodded. “I’ll call.”

Accepting that, Angel headed back down the stairs. It felt like a pretty small victory, but with Cordelia, he’d take any victory he could get, no matter how small. Angel smelled Spike a second before he turned the corner.

“You almost didn’t fuck that up too bad,” Spike said with a sniff. Angel just stared at him. “I’ll ask Dalton to keep watch. At least Cordelia isn’t brassed off at her like she is at the two of us. We’d be best off finding somewhere else to be for a bit, mate.”

“You aren’t….” Angel gathered his thoughts while Spike waited, his head cocked. “You don’t mind it looking like you’re running away from Cordy?”

Spike shrugged. “I’ve taken hell gods, luv. My reputation’s not so battered that I have to worry about that. Besides, I like the bird. She scares the shite of me, but some days I look at her and see what Dru could have been if you didn’t drive her all barmy. She’s got the power and the insight, even if she doesn’t have the visions anymore.”

“If she ever gets turned, I’m moving dimensions,” Angel commented.

“Bloody hell, not before me. You can stand in the portal and slow her down while me and mine make a clear get away.” Spike gave a gentle chuckle and headed down the hall. An Oden Tal woman gave quick nod of respect as she passed, and Spike returned it. Angel watched. Maybe he could have a touch of demon without being the demon he’d been before.

“Did Buffy ever tell you about how Cordelia scared a vampire into running away?” Angel asked.

“Did she now?” Spike’s eyebrows went up. “I never heard that one.”

“These demons came in to hunt the slayers: Buffy and Faith both. Apparently they confused Cordelia and Faith.”

“Cordelia’s a good site scarier,” Spike said.

“That she is,” Angel agreed. They walked the hall and Angel told the story of a young Cordelia. She was a survivor. One way or another, she’d survive this, too.


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Toys 25: Queen's Gambit


Cordelia stared out through the barred windows as the sun sank behind the squat buildings across the alley. This part of town seemed abandoned except for the odd demon and one or two dock workers who seemed to be walking as fast as they could to get from point A to point B. She may have slept in that magical coma for months, but she was so tired that all she wanted to do was go back to sleep again. Her visions were gone. No matter how much she kept telling herself that it didn’t matter, she just couldn’t get herself to believe it. It was as though her life had been this opera, this larger than life drama with her two leading men: Angel and Groo. Only just when the story got interesting, it was over. It was as though the singer had come out on stage and sung her coda. The adventure was over, and now she was just Cordelia Chase—a woman too average to warrant an opera.

Her whole life she’d been avoiding average, and now she was right in the middle of it.

Cordelia looked around at the warehouse. This part of it was painted in outlandish swirls and streaks of color that looked more like a Gerhard Richter painting than Spike’s punk style, and demons walked under her fairly regularly, so maybe she wasn’t in the middle of average right now, but she herself was average. In Sunnydale, she’d been the most beautiful woman, but watching the Oden Tal cross below her, she didn’t even rate mildly attractive. She’d consider taking up a Xena costume, but with her luck and her lack of actual fighting skills, something would eat her.

The scaffolding shook, and Cordelia looked over to see Spike climbing with inhuman grace and speed. He landed on the top level and looked her up and down for a second. “Right then, you in a reasonable enough mood to talk without saying something that would force me to eat you?” he asked.

Glaring, she looked him up and down. “So now you’re into blaming the victim. You'd eat me, but it’s my fault for making you. Classy,” she said with more sarcasm than she’d meant to use. She was lucky that anyone wasn’t around to hear that or he really might eat her. Instead, he just quirked an eyebrow at her before she went back to staring out the windows. “Should you have windows in your lair?”

“Should you let Peaches run around in a soddin’ convertible?”

Cordelia shrugged. “It has a big trunk, and sometimes it feels really good to shove him in it.”

Spike laughed. “Good on you, luv. And to answer your question, the windows are spelled and I don’t normally come into this part of the warehouse. I didn’t know they’d turned it into a regular Pollock painting down there.”

“He did splatter work. That looks more like Richter.”

Spike sat so close that Cordelia could smell the leather and smoke. “Your boy is turning himself inside out thinking that he had no right to take your visions.”


Spike snorted. “You know better than that, luv. Stop playing at stupid; I have Peaches around if I want that.”

“Groo,” Cordelia said with a sigh. When she’d woken up and found out her visions were gone, she’d been beside herself with anger, and the look of horror on his face had grown deeper with every passing second. She knew he was upset, but she was too focused on her own loss to really care.

“Bloody right, Groo. He lost his challenge to Angel and swore to obey, but when Angel put him in a spot to take your visions without your permission… it’s tearing him apart because he’s your loyal servant. The worst part is that Peaches doesn’t even understand why Groo is so bloody touchy. I swear, trying to teach Angel is like pounding nails into steel.” Spike gave a grim smile. “I can do it, but it’s fucking hard work and it leaves a right mess behind.”

Cordelia frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m trying to teach Angel to stop living with his head firmly planted up his oversized arse.”

“Right. Like teaching him to start taking slaves. Maybe you aren’t the best role model here, Spike.”

“So, I should have left Lindsey McDonald free to keep torturing you lot?” Spike demanded, his voice sharp, and Cordelia finally gave him her full attention. He was getting a little too cranky, and she liked all her blood on the inside.

“If the alternative is slavery, we can deal with him.”

“He’s a slave either way, luv.”

“So, Riley was telling the truth about Lindsey enslaving himself to Wolfram and Hart?”

Spike gave a tight smile, the kind that made his lips pull together and wrinkles appear at the corners of his eyes. “Good on you, pet. Don’t trust everything you hear, but to answer your question, yes. Of course the moron keeps saying it was all a misunderstanding.”

“Yeah, he would.” Cordelia remembered when he’d come to them asking for help. He’d been sincere enough about not wanting to participate in killing kids, but he’d never felt bad about the adults he’d helped to kill. His morality was very limited, and he treated the world like something that could be negotiated down to a number of bullet points. “So, Wesley really is okay with the slavery?”

“I’d be more likely to use the word ecstatic. He finally found a way to make sure he doesn’t get left behind ever again. Angel let him pick the spell, and he picked one that means he’ll die if Angel ever abandons him, and we both know that with Angel’s guilt complex, that isn’t going to happen.”

Cordelia nodded. That did make sense. Wesley’s insecurities had insecurities. It was one of the reasons she’d had so much fun playing with him in Sunnydale, and that probably didn’t make her the nicest person on the face of the earth. “Fred?” she asked, realizing she hadn’t seen her yet. Given Fred’s background on a slave world, Cordelia was suddenly worried about how she was handling this little universe Spike had created.

“She’s fine. She’s training up to be a fine technomage, and apparently she has some talent with the green magics. She just had the good sense to stay out of this mess until it got sorted. She’s with her little gal pal.”

“Her what?” Cordelia could feel her anxiety rise as she realized she had no idea what Spike was talking about. She tried to keep up with her the comings and goings of everyone in the Hyperion, but Fred was not one for making friends with any random little gal pal. And from Spike’s salacious expression, Fred not only had a friend, but she had taken it a little beyond just friendship.

Spike shrugged and confirmed Cordelia’s suspicions. “She’s sleeping with one of the Oden Tal, a woman named Soshie.”

“Do you put gay in the water? First Xander and now Fred.” Cordelia might not have anything against gay, but she had a hell of a lot against anyone who went and changed without giving her time to mentally adjust. She did not appreciate change—not unless it came with a charge card and a handsome man hanging on her every word.

“If you want, I could fuck you to confirm your heterosexuality,” Spike offered with an even more salacious expression. Cordelia let her cold glare answer for her. With a snort, Spike dropped the act. “You’re a hard one to place, Cordelia Chase. I think Groo got it more right than most.”

“Groo? What? Because he knows I’m pissed about losing my visions?”

“He’s a right mess at the thought of displeasing you. Angel plays at being the head of the clan—he talks big and swaggers bigger—but he’s not the one to keep all the pieces in play.”

Cordelia leaned back and really studied Spike. “What are you talking about?” Spike studied her, his head cocked to one side until Cordelia got suspicious. “Mister, if you are doing that sniff thing, you’re about to lose all ability to smell at all.”

Spike’s hand darted out and caught her by the neck before she’d finished her last word. Cordelia scrambled at Spike’s wrist and wished like hell she actually had the stake she’d threatened to put in Angel, but she couldn’t do anything as Spike leaned closer, his fingers painfully tight even if they weren’t cutting off all her air.

“You can say that to Peaches, luv, but one thing has changed while you were asleep—Peaches and his court all know they answer to me. If you go forgetting that, the others are going to follow your lead, and I won’t have you undo the work I’ve put into trying to get this lot sorted. Understand?” He tightened his fingers just enough for Cordelia to have trouble answering.

“Yeah,” she managed to press out. Immediately, Spike’s fingers were gone. She rubbed the bruising skin and watched him suspiciously. “So you’re basically saying we all belong to you?”

“Yep,” Spike said without even trying to sugarcoat it. Considering that they were sitting in the middle of a demon lair, Cordelia actually appreciated the honesty. She might like manipulating others, but she sure as hell didn’t appreciate it when people went and manipulated her when she was helpless and coma-ridden.

“Great. So, how does this work? I mean, are we going back to LA or am I going to spend the next several decades sitting here looking out on the ugliest bit of street in Sunnydale?”

Spike’s body dropped all the tense lines and he leaned back against the metal rail that made a primitive back to the bench. “As soon as everything is sorted, you lot are going back. Actually,” he said in a distracted tone, “getting your brain fixed was the last bit to sort. Lindsey is under control, Wesley isn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Fred’s trained up so she doesn’t go flinging magic around willy-nilly, and Groo is a good addition to the fighting crew. I still say you need to do some recruiting—some good fighters maybe some lower level demons to tend the lair and more humans so Angel can feed. He’s got my stable so worn down that Dalton and I are both back to hunting. He always was a greedy bloke. But you lot are going to have to fix those problems on your own. I can’t run your clan for you.”

“More humans… Angel’s feeding from humans?” Cordelia’s back went straight.

“Bloody hell yes. It isn’t natural—animals’ blood from a bag. But he has enough control now that he doesn’t kill his donors. If he wants to stay in top fighting form, he’ll need human blood. And if he’s going to go back to LA and be anything more than some pathetic excuse for a demon hiding out in an old hotel, he’s going to need to fight a lot. He’ll need you and Groo or he’ll be dust a week into this.”

“He’ll be dust? Spike, what the hell have you gotten us into? What exactly do you think we’re going to do when we go back to LA?”

“Help the hopeless, isn’t that your lot?” Spike cocked his head to the side.

“Yes, but helping the hopeless is sounding a lot more dangerous now. Why would Angel be dust? Why would we need more fighters?”

Spike cocked his head to the side and pursed his lips as he seemed to consider something.

“If you don’t start talking, someone is getting holy water in his booze,” she warned. Spike’s pursed lips twitched into a near grin before Spike reached out and caught Cordelia by the back of the neck. This time he didn’t hold on hard and Cordelia didn’t even try to pull back. She knew full well that threatening Spike would lead to more intimidation, but she wouldn’t be manipulated by a fashion cast-off from the seventies. She might be killed by one, but she wouldn’t be intimidated or manipulated.

“Just remember, luv, what’s Angel’s is mine, and I won’t be challenged.”

“Oh please, like I could challenge you. Human here,” Cordelia pointed out.

“Not so sure, some days,” Spike answered, but his hand dropped to her shoulder and he relaxed like they were two old friends just sitting on the bleachers. It was almost like high school except for the fact that Spike was a demon and she was in his liar. “If I told you where there was a whole mess of humans, a vampire whore-house where humans like Riley are kept chained in filth and high on Rapture, what would you do?”

“Pass out stakes and send a bunch of demons back to hell,” Cordelia said without pause.

Spike nodded. “And if I said that Angel’s known the whole time where to find these houses?”

Immediately, Cordelia shook her head. No, Angel wouldn’t turn a blind eye to that. He wouldn’t. Unfortunately, her gut coiled in fear as she realized he just might. “If you’re lying,” Cordelia threatened, her voice strained. She couldn’t even find the right ending for that threat.

“Don’t have to, luv. You know full well that Peaches wants the easy fix. The lug didn’t know how to deal with humans when he was one, so he sure doesn’t have a clue now. So he left humans ta suffer, and he left Rapture suck houses running in his territory.”

Cordelia could feel her stomach roll at the thought of those people and their suffering. She had the visions; why hadn’t the Powers ever sent them a warning about those houses? Did the Powers really want people to suffer and die in their own filth? “Why?” she whispered.

Misunderstanding her, Spike answered the part Cordelia already understood. “If he’d saved the humans, he would have had to deal with them. Some will be like Riley—they won’t ever be able to go free again. And if he shuts down one house, the vamps will just go to the other Rapture houses, and those buggers will snatch up more humans to fill the stables. He doesn’t see a way out.”

She didn’t need that part explained; Angel wasn’t particularly hard to understand. However, she still didn’t understand why the Power That Be had never send her a vision so they could save those people. Despite the fact that Cordelia felt off-balance, she pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the present. “So, what does need to happen to shut those places down?” Cordelia asked. She suspected she wasn’t going to like the answer, but at least Spike would be honest. He might not be right and he might be a demon with a really screwed up world-view, but he’d be honest.

Spike sucked a breath through his teeth and studied her for a second. “Peaches stakes every vampire he finds. It don’t matter if they’re in a feeding only suckhouse with free humans or a Rapture house or on the street, they get the same treatment. That means that low-level vamps won’t come to him with intel for fear of getting staked and the nasty buggers run free. The first thing Angel needs to do is stop indiscriminately staking every vamp he meets.”

Cordelia narrowed her eyes. “So, to fight vamps he needs to stop fighting vamps?” she demanded.

Instead of answering immediately, Spike stared out at the street. “Luv, if I sent you walking the street down to that club with the wretched music you lot always liked when Buffy was alive, you’d be safe.” He made a face. “Well, safer than you would have been back then, anyway. The vampires in this town don’t go grabbing random chits off the street.”

“If you tell me you don’t kill people, I’m going to call you a liar.”

Spike gave her a wicked grin. “Oh, I kill, pet. I’m not infected with Angel’s ridiculous quest to help people. But I don’t have to go feeding on the helpless. If I want to hunt, I’ll pick some rough dockworker who can put up a fight. I’ll pick prey that’s worth my time, and any vampire who can’t control himself is going to face a slow and painful death. Vampires who play by my rules are safe in my court. Angel needs to make it clear that vamps who follow his rules will be safe in his territory. They’ll help him keep an eye on his territory. Then he needs to find the gits who aren’t, and he needs to torture the unlife out of them so that everyone knows there are consequences.”

“Angel? Torture? Spike, that is not going to happen.”

Silence hung between them as Spike stared out the windows for an uncomfortably long time. “No, left on his own, he’ll leave Rapture houses to torture humans. Worse, every once in a while he’ll get his arse in gear, take out one house, and then leave the other houses to grab more humans and make more minions. Face it, pet, Peaches can’t do this without help.”

“Right. So he needs more fighters. I’ll put an ad in the paper,” Cordelia said sarcastically. She had a feeling Gunn was not going to be thrilled with the new Angel and company.

“He needs you.”

Cordelia looked over at Spike and frowned. “I’m not a fighter, Spike.”

Spike pulled one leg up and braced the heel of his boot against the bench. “Did you ever meet Darla?”

“The psycho bitch who turned Angel?” Maybe it was her recent coma, but Cordelia was not tracking this conversation all that well.

“That’s the one. She was a right bitch—more than once she tossed Angel to the wolves while she ran for the hills. Still, he bloody followed her like a puppy.”

“Thank you for the random history lesson?” She turned the statement into a question and stared at Spike as she waited for him to say something that made sense.

“I’m starting to think you’re just annoyin’ me on purpose, ducks.”

Cordelia looked over, and Spike did look more cranky than usual, but she hadn’t even said anything offensive.

Spike sighed. “Darla never was the fighter. When she showed up here, she thought she could get the court to turn against me by talking about her years with old Heinrich. However, when that didn’t work and she had to face me, she didn’t even last five minutes. Xander could have taken her.”

“But….” Cordelia frowned. Darla had been the leader of the fearsome four, and Cordelia always figured with vampires that meant she was the strongest.

“Angel will always look like the head of the clan. He did when he ran with Darla. He threw his weight around and acted the big man while Darla twisted him around her finger. She might not have been as strong as him, but she knew how to play him. That’s why he never was the one to really run the show. Good thing, too. Angel or Angelus… he wants the easy fix. He wants to throw his fists around and then be done with it. He’s a great second-in-command, but he’s not one who wants to make the hard decisions, and he never has been. It’s not in his nature.”

That didn’t make sense. Yeah, Angel was big on shoving his head in the sand, but not Angelus. Angelus was all about his big plans. She’d been around to see that first hand. “Spike, he’s the one who wanted to play with Buffy when the soul went south.”

“Yeah, and look how well that turned out,” Spike said with a pretty disgusted tone. “He learned that game from Darla. There was a bloke named Holtz—a vampire hunter. Angel was all for just killing him, but Darla had them hunt down his family and drove him ‘round the twist. But when it came right down to it, Angel never did play the game well. If he did, he would have destroyed Buffy before she had a chance to shove his soul back in. It was the same with Drusilla. He didn’t understand her well enough to know how much was too much until it was too late. Face it, pet. Angel or Angelus—he wants to be the one up front getting the attention and throwing his weight around. That doesn’t mean that he can lead a clan.”

Cordelia sucked in a fast breath. “You can’t be suggesting—” She stopped and stared at Spike, not even sure how to finish that thought because if she finished it and she was wrong, he was so going to eat her for even having the thought.

“I reckon Darla’s in hell screaming her frustration right now, what with how you’ve taken her place.” Spike looked amused at that.

“But I’m human.”

“Don’t make a bit of difference, luv. Power is about who can call the shots. When I came down to L.A., Peaches ordered you to stay clear of me, didn’t he?”

“So?” Cordelia asked. Spike was right.

“So, you feel free to disobey him any time you don’t like what he says.”

“Because I’m not a vampire, Spike.”

“But you notice that Angel is a right mess when he thinks he’s going to have to cross you, and Groo is near beside himself at the thought. Wesley and Fred are both avoiding the whole issue and Lindsey…” Spike made a face. “That git is enjoying watching the clan suffer. Angel better take a firmer hold on that boy or you lot are going to have more trouble. But as much as you feel free to tell the rest of them to sod off, they clearly don’t feel like they can cross you without taking their lives in their hands. That’s power.”

“You can’t be suggesting— But I never—” Cordelia stopped. Spike was suggesting that she was the head of the clan, and that was just too ridiculous to even think about, but the very absurdity was making it hard for her to figure out how to explain the many ways that Spike was stupid.

“Right then, it’s your job to make sure Angel doesn’t go off the rails. If he gets that fat head of his shoved high enough up his backside that you can’t pull it out, I expect you to call me. If you don’t, then you and I are going to have a conversation about your leadership.” Spike suddenly stood up and looked down at her. “And trust me luv, neither one of us wants to have that particular conversation, so get your head together and start bloody leading before Angel can do any more damage.” Spike turned and started toward the stair at the end of the scaffolding.

“But I’m not the head of anything,” Cordelia objected. “I’m the seer. I was the seer, anyway.”

Spike stopped and looked over his shoulder at her for a second. “Pet, you’re the only one who’s even asked what you’re going to have to do when you go back to L.A. The others are good at their jobs, but it’s not their job to go thinking too much about how this all works. Angel may want to think he’s in charge, but you’re about the only one who can lead this pathetic crew. If you don’t, Angel’s going to end up in chains at my feet sooner or later, so you go thinking on that.” Without even giving Cordelia a chance to gather her thoughts or her words, Spike was practically throwing himself down the stairs, the metal shivering and rattling under his boots.

God she hated men. She hated men who ripped up reality and didn’t even bother to buy her a dozen roses to make up for it. Cordelia leaned forward and rested her face in her hands as she tried to sort through entirely too many new ideas. Clearly she could never again afford to go into a coma because the rest of them were not to be trusted. They couldn’t even go a few weeks without getting tangled in their own stupidity. And now she was left trying to sort the whole mess back out. Angel was so buying her a whole wardrobe full of Ann Demeulemeester and Michael Kors after this.

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Toys 26: Queen's Checkmate

Cordelia walked into the quarters that Dalton pointed out to her. The room was nicer than Cordelia expected given that Spike had a long history of hanging out in dirty lairs. Then again, Clem's mother did have a real flair for decorating. She'd be tempted to try and hire the woman away, only Spike would probably eviscerate her for it.

“If you need anything, send any vampire to ask for me,” Dalton commented. With a nod of her head she turned and left Cordelia alone in her quarters.

Part of Cordelia just wanted to lie on the big bed and try and forget everything that had happened. It would be easier if she could blame Angel or if she could assume that Angel was being stupid or greedy. However, when the demon had put her in the coma, she'd known there was very little chance that she would even survive. Angel was a giant dork and she was mad as hell, but she could also understand what he'd done.

“My queen?” a soft voice called.

Cordelia turned and saw Groo standing in the doorway, his face unsure. She gathered up her feelings and smiled at him, even though losing her visions was still a raw and bleeding wound. Groo hadn’t known that he didn’t have permission, and he shouldn’t suffer. Angel would be doing the suffering.

“Groo,” she answered. Immediately, the fear in his face vanished, and he gave a relieved but tentative smile.

“My queen, had I known you did not wish for your visions to be removed, I would never have agreed to the procedure. To die in a battle with the higher forces is an honorable end, one I stole from you.”

Cordelia stared at Groo for a moment. Demons. They never made any sense. "Trust me, I never intended to die battle. I just wanted Angel to find a solution that didn't include taking my visions away. However, that will be a conversation I will have with Angel,” she told him.

Groo nodded. “While I understand your displeasure, my queen, he did act to preserve your life. As a warrior, I respect his instinct to defend you."

“So you think he was right?” Crossing her arms, Cordelia stared at Groo and just dared him to say that. She might understand Angel, but she was still angry enough to want to take it out on someone.

“I would never think to pass judgment on the motivations or actions of either of you." Groo stood stiffly. “I can only apologize for my part in an action which clearly displeased you.” Groo had an expression on his face like he expected to be executed at any moment. With a sigh, Cordelia considered the mess Angel had made out of this one. Spike might be a fashion reject and an egomaniac, but he knew how to recognize a vampire who had his head up his ass.

“None of this is your fault. You don't have anything to apologize for.” Cordelia sat down in the green wingback chair that flanked the oversized bed. Immediately, Groo moved forward and went to one knee in front of her. Reaching out he caught her hand and held it between his.

“Is it not appropriate for me to apologize when my actions, however inadvertent, displease my queen?” Ducking his head submissively, Groo brought Cordelia's hand up until he could press his forehead against her fingers. “My first pledge and my honor belong to you. I have sworn that my sword belongs to Master Angel and Master Spike, but the arm that wields it is yours to command, my queen.”

“Get up.” Cordelia stood up and pulled a Groo's arm to get him back on his feet. He looked down at her with dark eyes still full of guilt, and she couldn't resist seeing how beautiful he was. Reaching up, she rested her palm against his cheek. “You saved my life.”

“I took your visions.”

Cordelia sighed. Clearly this wasn't something she could just tell him to forget. “Well, that's true,” she admitted. “So let's do this. You get Angel to pay your salary, and when you saved up enough money, you can buy me a really nice silk shirt or an expensive ring or maybe even a designer handbag.”

Immediately, Groo's face brightened. “Yes, my queen. If it would please you, I would grow the silk myself. I would feed the worms nectar from the gods and harvest the silk with these two hands.” Reaching up, Groo rested his hands against her shoulders.

“Buying me something will be fine. Besides, we don't have room for a worm farm at the hotel. Although…” Cordelia pursed her lips. “Silk could be a nice side business.” She smiled at him, and for a second Groo just looked at her, clearly confused. It took him a second, but then he smiled back.

“If it pleased my queen, I would gather the silkworms for her tomorrow,” he vowed. Cordelia let her hand slide down his face and over his neck. She rested her fingers against the place where his shoulder and neck met, and felt his warm skin under her hands. He was a beautiful man. If it hadn't been for the visions, she would've happily gone to bed with him when she'd first seen him. That wasn't a problem now.

“My queen?”

“Do you ever wish that we had been together?”

“Do you mean copulated?” Groo asked in perfect innocence.

Cordelia could feel her face red as the heat rushed to her skin. “I'm not sure I would've phrased it like that.”

“If my words offend, I do apologize.”

At this rate, Groo was going to spend a lot of time apologizing. That wasn't exactly what Cordelia had in mind. “I don't want your apology, Groo. I just wonder, now that I'm not a queen and you're not the champion, now that we’re both here, whether you're still interested.”

Groo sucked in a fast breath. “I shall always be interested. You are a beautiful woman, a strong woman. You rule in fairness, and you have the strength that is hidden within a—” he stopped and cleared his throat. Cordelia could just imagine what he had been about to say, but then he had been raised to believe that humans were cows and slaves. However he ducked his head for a second, and when he looked up again, he gave her an apologetic smile. “Your strength is hidden within your gentleness,” he finished. Cordelia raised her eyebrows at that. While she’d been called a lot of things in her life, gentle wasn’t one of them.

“You're the second person today to tell me how strong I am.”

“That is unsurprising given that you are. To speak the truth is hardly remarkable.”

Cordelia turned and walked over to the bed, running her fingers along the smooth satiny surface. Maybe Groo was telling her whatever she wanted to hear. While she liked to think that Groo was different from most men, the fact was men lied to get her into bed. She discovered that the first week she'd shown up in LA. Hell, she discovered that the first day she'd shown up in LA.

So maybe she could dismiss Groo's words is nothing more than one more man who wanted to sleep with her. However, that didn't explain Spike. She was pretty sure Spike had no interest in sleeping with her. And even if he did want to sleep with her, she had no doubt that Xander could quite effectively castrate him. The others were idiots. They had always assumed that Xander was some poor little victim. She wasn't that stupid. So if Spike wasn't out to get sex out of her, she couldn't come up with another reason why he'd lie. Maybe Spike and Groo were both telling the truth as they saw it. Of course, that still didn’t mean they were right.

Cordelia stopped at the far side of the bed and stared at the wall. Someone had good taste in art. “Cordelia?” Groo asked softly. Footsteps padded across the floor, and then Groo's hand tentatively brushed across her waist. Glancing over her shoulder, Cordelia gave him a small smile. Without encouragement, he moved closer and let his fingers rest against her hip.

“This is just a lot of change for me. When I went into the coma, everything was different.”

“Different how?”

Cordelia turned back to the artwork on the wall and studied the brushstrokes and the miniature horses and the distant surreal farm house. It was hard to remember that Groo hadn't been here. He hadn't seen Angel falling apart and ripping his soul to shreds with his own guilt. He hadn't watched Wesley curling in on himself. He hadn't seen Fred so shattered by her experiences on his world that she couldn't come out of her room. And of course, the second she did come out of her room, one of Gunn’s psychotic gang friends nearly killed her. No, he hadn't seen any of that. And if she believed Spike, it was her job to keep any of that from happening again. Even without knowing the pay scale, Cordelia suspected she wasn't paid enough to deal with this new reality.

“Are things more or less to your liking?” he asked when she didn't answer him immediately.

Cordelia had to think about that one. She wasn't fond of slavery, but at least Lindsay wasn't trying to kill them, that was a step in the right direction. She didn't know anything about Fred or Fred's new lesbian friend. However, she was going to be honest with herself, it was a relief to know that Fred could get out and have sex. The woman's impression of a wallflower was starting to get old.

“I don't know.”

“Does it not please you that I've joined the group?” Groo sounded worried about that one. Turning around, Cordelia rested her hand against his chest. His very muscular chest. His very toned and muscular chest.

“It pleases me a lot. I'm sorry that you lost control of your world, but I'm happy to see you again.”

He flashed her a brilliant smile. “As long as I am wanted, I will always be at your side.”

“Because your priest called me the Queen?” Cordelia asked. Groo frowned at her.

“Because you are a strong, ethical, beautiful woman who has earned the right to command my hand.” Groo looked at her with such intensity that Cordelia felt almost trapped in his gaze. “Has something I said surprised you, my queen?”

Cordelia looked over toward the open door and try to come up with an answer for that one. She was used to commanding man. She was used to commanding them because her father had money or because she was beautiful or because she was the seer and it was her job to send Angel out into the world and to help him redeem himself. However, her father's money had proved ephemeral, beauty faded, and Groo now had her visions. Actually, she wasn't sure she even wanted the visions anymore. She had a small problem with any sort of Powers that thought one group of people should be saved, and another group of people should be left to lie in their own feces and urine and rot. If she ever met one of the Powers face-to-face, she might have to knee him in the groin. Hard.

“I suppose that's part of the world changing that I was talking about. I'm not a queen here, Groo.”

He reached up and stroked the back of a finger crossed her cheek. “You are queen no matter where you go.” For a moment he was silent. When she didn't have a reply, he turned and moved to the bed, sitting on the end. “When you awoke, I could see immediately that Angel did not have your permission for the ceremony. You were displeased with his actions. You did not fear reprisals for showing that. However, Angel greatly feared your displeasure.” Groo gave her a small conspiratorial smile. “Were I to be honest, I would have to admit that most of Angel's court has lived in fear of your displeasure since I arrived. I do not know what words your people use; however, you are the queen. And I am yours to command. I am most hopeful that you will have some interesting commands.”

“Interesting?” Cordelia raised an eyebrow at him.

“I have never hidden my own interest in copulating with you.”

“Seriously, don’t ever use that word again.”

“You have no interest in me?” Groo reared back.

“Yes, I’m interested in you. I just don’t want to hear it called copulating again. Making love, having sex, sleeping together—those are much better words.” Cordelia sat next to him on the bed.

The panic in Groo’s eyes faded as he leaned close again. “I had no plans for sleeping, my queen.”

“Oh?” Cordelia let her hand rest against his leg. His thigh muscle twitched and tightened so she could feel the hard muscle. Damn. It had been too long because she could feel her body tighten at just that small touch.

“In fact, I had hoped for something far more energetic than sleep. If my queen would permit, of course,” Groo added after the briefest of pauses.

“Oh, your queen insists,” Cordelia said. She’d wanted him so long. True, this might be a really stupid move because she was still confused and reeling from too many changes in too short a time, but her body didn’t care. She’d wanted him, and he was here and willing and warm. Sliding her hand up his thigh, she paused, her fingertips just brushing the growing bulge in his pants. She could hear his breath growing heavy and uneven as she pressed her fingers deeper into the soft of his inner thigh.

Groo's hand caressed up her spine. He paused with his hand against her lower back and again when his hand reached her neck. Strong fingers caressed her neck and then stroked through her hair. “Like silk,” he whispered. Cordelia turned, angling her body toward him and he brought his second hand up to stroke along her cheek. Reaching up, Cordelia caught his wrist holding him for a second. He was so strong. Yet his arm yielded to her pressure and she pushed his hands down until it rested against her hip. Only then did she reach up and cupped his face between her hands.

“This might be a really bad move,” she confessed in a whisper.

Groo tilted his head and studied her. “If it would displease you… I would not have you displeased,” Groo finished after a moment of hesitation. His erection was an unmistakable swelling between his legs, but here he was offering to stop. Cordelia had no idea that an offer to not have sex could be so incredibly sexy. But it was.

“It would only displease me if doing this made things more complicated.”

“Perhaps things are complicated for you. As a ruler, I ruled only long enough to know that I did not have the skill to do so. However, for me, this is not complicated. You are my queen. Whichever of my services you choose to employ, and how long you choose to employ them, it complicates nothing. You are still my queen.” His hand caressed her, slipping down over her shoulder before settling at the small of her back.

Cordelia still held his face between her hands, and she pulled him slowly closer. He yielded to each gesture, allowing himself to be pulled in for a kiss, and when she slid her hands down to his shirt and worked the buttons, he remained in place. Damn. He was a good kisser. His lips moved under hers, his tongue slipping in to explore. She opened her mouth more, and he responded, his kisses growing more hungry. His warm hands pulled her closer, and she abandoned her quest to open his shirt. Instead, she caught him by the back of the neck and shifted to throw one leg over his lap.

He made a small cry, either of pain from the weight on his cock or of need—she didn’t know. She pressed closer, her own body demanding movement, screaming for it. Groo’s hands left her, and he squirmed out of his shirt and threw it to the side. Now Cordelia could run her hands up his arms and feel the strong muscles just under the warm skin. “May I, my queen?” Groo asked before kissing her gently on the hollow of her neck. A shiver went through Cordelia. His hands came up to toy with one button without unfastening it.

“Yes,” Cordelia answered. She ran her fingers through his thick hair and leaned back a little so he could work the buttons. His fingers were quick and nimble despite their size and he soon had the front of her shirt open, his fingers stroking the black lace of her bra. Arching her back, Cordelia reached around to unhook her bra. With an enthralled expression, Groo traced one finger down the center of her stomach from the bra down to her belly button. Despite the fact that the room was a little chilly, she could feel the heat radiate out from his touch.

Her pussy was hot and wet and she ached. Cordelia let her bra fall to the ground, and Groo’s face was full of wonder as he let his hands reach up to cup her breasts. Leaning in, he licked tentatively at a nipple, the moisture cooling the nipple so fast that it hardened almost painfully. Before he could do the same on the other side, Cordelia caught Groo’s chin and tilted it up so she could kiss him again.

His hot mouth tasted of mint and musk. Cordelia pressed against his shoulders, and even though she didn’t have a fraction of his strength, Groo yielded again. He settled back onto the bed, his hands at her hips for a moment before they roamed across her bare skin. His slow, reverent touch made Cordelia ache even more. Never before had her body been so hungry for a man’s touch. She could feel this slow build of pure need that filled her belly.

Pulling back from the kiss, she panted as she struggled to regain some control over herself. Beneath her, Groo gasped for air and the heat of each breath skittered across her shoulder. “Naked would be good,” Cordelia managed to say. Her heart pounded as though she’d been running, and she could feel her wet underwear sliding and sticking.

“Most good,” Groo agreed. He arched his back, lifting her easily so that he could reach the fastenings on his pants. He fumbled at them for a moment before the clicking of a zipper. Then his hard erection pressed up, tenting his red boxers. Ignoring the questionable fashion choice of red boxers with a small blue stripe, Cordelia reached for her own pants.

“Allow me,” Groo said softly, his hands intercepting her own. Cordelia rested her fists on her thighs and watched as Groo slipped a finger inside her pants and freed the button before sliding the zipper down, an almost worshipful expression on his face. With her pants open, Groo pressed his palm against her waist and then slid his hands down. His eyes fell shut, and Cordelia arched her back in pleasure as his rough hands stroked her body. She wanted more. She wanted to him to fill her—stretch her and scratch the itch that was starting to annoy her. However, she wanted this slow torture to last. She liked the feel of her whole body hot and tight and aching. She liked feeling alive, and it had been too long since she felt truly alive.

His hand slid down over the round of her ass, the jeans pulling tight in front, and Cordelia dropped down, her hands on either side of Groo’s head. His dark eyes came open and considered her, waiting for some sign. Cordelia leaned closer, and his lips parted in an invitation to kiss. Instead, Cordelia took his lower lip in her teeth and then pulled back, carefully pulling at the sensitive skin as she scraped her teeth across it. Groo cried out and thrust up into the air, throwing Cordelia off balance so that she fell on Groo, her chest pinning his face to the bed. He lay quietly under her, not even attempting to move her off.

Still, his hands moved. He pushed against her jeans, his desperation clear in the way his body twitched under her. He wanted to be thrusting into her, and she’d done this to him. She’d taken this careful warrior and reduced him to someone who could barely contain his need. His fingers pulled at her lace panties, and she heard a ripping sound and felt a sharp pinch at her left hip as he tugged too hard and the fabric ripped.

Then the cool air stroked over her overheated skin. Cordelia was naked. Kicking her legs, she pushed her pants all the way off and then sat up, her thighs still straddling Groo’s legs. She was hot. Too hot. But still, she wanted more heat—more touch. Groo’s hands fondled her legs as she pulled at his jeans. She never would have gotten them off except that he dug his heels into the bed and lifted himself. Then she slipped them down, revealing a hard erection that was already purpling with need.

With one finger, Cordelia stroked the cock from the base up to the thick head. Groo threw his head back and made an inarticulate cry as his hands flew wide. He fisted the sheet, and she could practically taste his need to grab her. He wanted to. He wanted to so very much, but instead he lay under her. Almost patiently. Digging his heels into the bed again, he shoved his body up so that he was farther on the bed, and Cordelia rode the movement. Beneath her, muscles gathered and strained. It was like riding one of her father’s champion horses—all carefully controlled power and beauty.

Groo’s hands came back to rest against her thighs, and Cordelia shifted up so that her wet clit was pressed against the underside of Groo’s cock. It twitched, and Cordelia could feel her own body strain against the all-consuming need. She felt so alive. Bracing her hands against Groo’s shoulders, Cordelia lifted herself up to her knees and then started settling down on Groo’s cock. He was large enough that she could feel her body stretch. Like a good morning stretch, it woke up muscles and made her body hungry to move.

Instead, she sank down as slowly as she could. The slow torture made Groo squirm uncomfortably and Cordelia’s body trembled with need, but she liked the knife’s edge. She liked this unfulfilled thirst that made her body yearn for life. She finally settled down, and Groo’s eyes stared up at her, begging her for more even though he was silent. She remained perfectly still.

Groo’s fists uncurled, leaving behind wrinkles that looked like two crumpled flowers on the sheets. Carefully, he brushed his hands over her thighs, and with each pass, his fingers got closer to where their bodies joined. Cordelia simply watched. Finally, his fingers stroked her curled hair, and a full-body shiver of need went through her. Her pussy tightened so that Groo felt even larger, and he gave an answering moan of either pleasure or pain.

His fingers returned, this time slipping between the lips of her pussy to find the hard clit. Moving with great caution, he stroked a finger over it, and Cordelia couldn’t take any more. She rose up on her knees and then slid back down on Groo’s hard shaft. She needed this. Oh God, she needed this. She rode carefully, not giving him enough to come while she indulged herself. Instead of complaining, Groo kept his fingers against her clit, stroking and pressing as she rode him.

Cordelia’s control slipped, and she started riding him harder, cries coming with each thrust. Now Groo started pressing up to meet her. Their bodies worked together, point and counterpoint as each thrust grew longer and faster. Cordelia’s legs started to ache, and she reached down and caught Groo by the shoulders. Immediately he stilled, but then Cordelia threw her weight to one side while still impaled on Groo’s cock. Luckily, he was a fast learner.

She rolled to her side and then her back, and Groo rolled with her, supporting his weight on his elbows as he took over the thrusting. Hooking her legs around the back of his thighs, Cordelia pulled him closer with each thrust. He was powerful, and now she could feel every inch of that power as he pushed into her, his breath hot against her neck as he moaned with each movement. Cordelia cried out as her orgasm swept over her. Her entire body tightened. She dug fingers into Groo’s shoulders and pulled herself up off the bed. Her legs stiffened and her pussy tightened until Groo was almost too large as he continued to thrust into her. She cried out again as the orgasm continued, each thrust pushing her deeper into the orgasm until she couldn’t think. She could only gasp for air as her body twisted.

Groo cried out and then his thrusts started slowing. Eventually he stopped, his body still draped over hers. Only then did Cordelia’s muscles being to recover. Taut limbs slowly softened and her aching pussy finally loosened. Groo was panting, his breath hot against her neck as he buried his head against her, and Cordelia loosened the death hold she had on his shoulders to slowly stroke her fingers through his hair.

“My queen,” he murmured, his voice carrying that same sleepy, muddled tone most men had after sex. She pressed against his hip, and he shifted to the side and collapsed, one arm and one leg still sprawled across her. They lay, their breath heavy in the silence. His fingers traced small circles against her stomach, and Cordelia stoked his hair.

“My Groosalugg,” she whispered back. Her groosalugg. Her champion. Angel would always be pulled between humanity and the power, between his guilt and his need to do something noble. His past would always own some part of his soul, and Cordelia had never been good at sharing. Groo, though, Groo was hers. He would always be hers.

“Your Groosalugg,” Groo agreed softly. He shifted so that his hand was resting between her breasts, and Cordelia brought her own hand up to cup his. Spike was right. She was the queen. And if her men needed someone to push them in the right direction while letting them think they were in charge… well, she was the right woman for the job.



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