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Part One

By mid-July, the Children of the Hellmouth had set up an impressive schedule of patrols and observation posts. As a result, the Scoobies were able to wander around the town fair, pointedly not stalking Dawn. Technically Megan's dad had taken the pack of girls as an unobtrusive chauffer - he hung around the quieter adult tables and avoided the crowd of young people milling around over by the stage waiting for the band to start. Megan's dad, however, was a moron with absolutely no survival instinct, which was why Xander was lounging on the grass in the park at 10:30 P.M., instead of in bed with Spike taking advantage of a night off. Megan's family had moved in from the Bay area about three years ago and each Memorial Day weekend since had thrown an open house barbeque with a large banner strung over their door saying 'everybody welcome'. If they hadn't lived across the street from the Slayer there would have been a large group of drained corpses that first year.

Spike strolled over in a tight black tee shirt and jeans, carrying a cardboard tray of cheese fries and chicken fingers. He leered at Xander's cut-offs and tank. After setting the food down and joining him on the grass, Spike ran his fingers over Xander's tanned, well-muscled thigh.

"You get us busted for PDAs and we'll have a hell of a time keeping an eye on the Dawnster," Xander said but made no move to stop the roaming hand.

Spike's questing touch traveled up to stroke along the zipper of Xander's shorts "Now, Pet, give daddy some..."

"Eww! Yuck! Gross! I can't stress strongly enough how wrong it is to have the word 'daddy' and the concept of sex in the same hemisphere." Xander sat up, pushing Spike away.

Spike snorted, extended a fried peace offering and said, "Dru always liked it."

"News flash: Drucilla is insane." Xander stayed upright, but tentatively reached for a chicken finger. "You've met my father."

Any response Spike may have made was preempted by Willow and Tara joining them. "Oooo, fries!" Willow helped herself as she and Tara sat down next to the men. "Dawn is so on to us, don't even try to be discreet when you make your next lap. Hey, look, there's Giles." Giles and Olivia were even further
away from the stage, standing in a crowd near a game of chance. "Xander, go get them." Xander shrugged and kissed his mate before going to carry out the redhead's orders.

As soon as he was a few yards away Willow leaned in, grabbing Spike's arm and hissed, "How could you not call? What happened?" At his incredulous look she added, "Dinner! Duh! You had dinner with Xander's parents, what happened - question mark!"

"We had dinner with Xander's parents. I forcibly restrained myself from having them for dinner. Insert large awkward silence culminating with the Harris himself telling my boy he was killing his mother. Mum got drunk and sobbed thought most of the meal. By the by, how did he grow into such a large bugger eating that crap? There was colorful language, much yelling, and disappointingly, no violence. Xander said we only have to see them about once a month."

"Wait - you're seeing them again?" Tara asked

"Well, I'm family now, aren't I?" Spike smirked.

"Yeah, honey, that's pretty much how all Harris family dinners go." Willow put in with a solemn nod.

Spike watched Xander break away from the Watcher and his bird, who remained at their game. Xander strolled across the gravel-filled parking area, which had been converted into the midway, toward the grassy park where Spike and the witches waited. He didn't make it halfway to them before one of his
minions bounced up and babbled at him, gesturing toward the carnival rides and then pointing over toward the many parked trailers behind the fair area. Xander listened, hands on hips and scowling off into the darkness. When he turned his attention back to the dark-haired girl he nodded and made a few clipped comments, probably orders and she skipped off now babbling into a cell phone.

"Problem?" Spike asked, voicing the concern they all had.

"Sunnydale. We have surveillance on it. Nothing definite, someone's ookie detector when off and they think something's up with the haunted castle ride - how cliche - and we're watching the residential area of the staff here - since they're transient. They'll keep us updated. Oh, Giles said they'd head over as soon as Olivia wins the stuffed Clifford she has an eye on."

"Tara and I will pick up some more food. Spike, you save this spot - it's perfect. We can see Dawn from here and have dinner. Xander, you help carry."

"Cheese fries." Xander gestured to his food and looked pitiful.

"Xander." Willow used her mommy voice.

"Wiccans. Girl power. Big gun. Hunt, gather, you go, you bring-home-the-chili-dogs girl." The end of his babble was almost incomprehensible as he shoved a whole chicken finger dipped in honey mustard
sauce into his mouth.

Tara laughed and tugged Willow's arm, saying, "We can manage. Xander will help save the spot."


The band was bad and the food was nasty - in a good way. They were all heavy-lidded and sprawled on the grass listening to Olivia giggle though an embarrassing story from Giles' past when Spike sprang up, sprinting toward the rides and shouting, "That was Dawn!"

How the vampire was able to distinguish Dawn from the hundreds of kids screaming on the rides and distinguish her come-help-me scream from a 'this is fun' scream Willow didn't know. Nor did she know how Xander had managed to stay right on his lover's heels as they bolted off to find Dawn. She and Tara ran after them and just managed to keep them in sight as they cut into the line in front of the haunted castle and ran inside it without paying. A quick look over her shoulder showed Giles and Olivia were following at a distance but there wasn't time - Xander had gone in unarmed. Well, unarmed except for Spike. Tara was breathing heavily and speaking into her phone saying, "The haunted castle; Xander and Spike went in."

There was unrest at the entrance to the ride when the witches arrived and an older man with few teeth and lethal breath was trying to calm down the outraged patrons. "No one else goes in," Willow said.

"Who are you?" the man asked.

"I'm the one shutting down this ride. No one goes in until I tell you differently." Willow put herself in front of the door and Tara moved beside her.

The old man blew on a whistle and men jogged over from the surrounding booths and rides glaring at the girls. Surrounding them, out of the darkness, young men with crossbows and staffs stepped up and moved into the tense situation.

"Willow?" Jonathan asked.

"Keep order out here, Giles is in charge." Willow nodded to the Watcher, who had just arrived. She and Tara went in, instinctively reaching for each other's hands.

Inside the door of the haunted castle attraction Willow saw a nondescript curtain behind the sign which said 'This way' and pointed to the right. She pushed the curtain aside and saw a box of light switches. She pushed each lever from left to right and the lights came on. Together the girls walked warily, as if the lights were still off.

The corridors were oddly deserted considering the crowd outside. As they rounded a corner a werewolf sprang from a ledge above their heads and they let out a stereo squeak. The wolfman saw their squeak with a whimper when he found himself slammed into the ceiling instead of plummeting to the floor.

The girls exchanged wide-eyed looks and stepped closer to the man pinned to the ceiling. " you think he's an actor?" Tara asked.

"He does look kind of fake." Willow said.

"Fake? Fake!" The carney spat out through the false fangs. "Who are you?"

"Oops." The man dropped to the floor. As he picked himself up and pulled off his mask Willow added, "Just go straight out the entrance carefully, with both hands in sight.."

"What's going on? Who are you?" He showed no signs of following her orders.

Girlish shrieks echoed from further into the house and Willow leveled a black gaze on him and said, "Just go, now!"

The witches hurried into the attraction, stumbling through a nauseating room of black and white squares designed to mislead perspective. Entering a large diorama of the 'Aliens' movie queen's egg chamber they found Dawn cowering with a group of girls under the mock-up of the queen. The last shrieks had been inspired by the thick, dripping, chunk-filled goo the color of dried blood that had splattered the room. The original shrieks must have been brought on by the massive eight-legged spider/turtle demon whose head Spike had ripped out of its shell.

Xander was on his cell phone. "Yeah, it's toast. I got five girls here. I don't know if a head count at the exit is worth anything since we don't know how many people were in here. Leave everyone on alert. Send two teams in here, I want every inch checked. Beef up the perimeter patrols and flush out those trailers and the backs of the booths. I noticed they have them back to back with missing space boxed up in there, and I want to know everything that's being hidden. This thing is too big to have slipped in unnoticed."

He crossed to the witches who had coaxed the girls out of hiding. He gave Dawn a tight hug and kiss on the forehead before handing her over to Tara. He shared a rueful smile with Willow before going over to Spike who by now was jumping up and down on the carcass driving both Doc into a dent he had managed to start in the shell's shiny coating. "Ah... is it dead?"

Considering its head and three of its legs were piled in the far corner of the room Spike snorted and stopped his assault. "Dead, Pet," Spike said.

"Smells better than dragon - but what's with the chunky blood?" Xander asked.

"S'not blood - it's partially digested prey." Spike paused to appreciate the chorus of 'ewws' and added, "It injects its prey with an acid that turns the insides to mush, then it drinks them."

"Dawn?" Willow and Xander said.

"It didn't touch me! It didn't touch any of us! was drinking this...person..." She buried her face in Tara's hair and started to sob.

"We couldn't tell if it was a man or woman," Stephanie added to Willow. "It heard us and moved so fast to block the doors - we couldn't get out but it was too big to get at us." She held a hysterical Megan with one arm and the hand of a quiet girl, obviously in shock, whose name escaped Willow.

Willow shared a look with Xander who nodded toward the door and said, "Get them out, we'll take care of this."

Later that night, the slumber party planned to commemorate the last night before the closure on the sale of the Summers' house - was subdued to say the least. Xander and Spike were not on the scheduled guest list, but Dawn had turned puppy eyes on them and they had caved like well-trained poodles. Since her friends, minus Jenna who had demanded to go home as soon as they had left the castle, seemed to be in shock and two were trying to work the denial groove, there wasn't much happening in the way of party games. The furniture was all in storage and the carpet had been steamed only two days before. The sleeping bags were semi-circled around the television and videos and cd were still neatly stacked.

The events of the carnival had warped the dynamic of this little clique. Willow sighed as Xander tried valiantly to steer the girls back to normalcy, joking and teasing as he had done hundreds of times with she and Buffy and Cordy back in high school. It was different though. It wasn't reassuring to the girls because he wasn't goofy Xander to them. He was an outsider to their daytime world of school and boys. He was Dawn's hot older brother - even though they knew he wasn't her real brother. The fact that he was talking to them at all just created more tension, since usually he just checked them over for demon possession and told Dawn when she had to be home. Willow wondered if any of them had connected how overprotective Dawn's 'family' was to the demon attack or if like Cordy they had managed to banish
their first up-close encounter with the Hellmouth with some not-remotely-plausible excuse.

Willow rolled off her sleeping bag and tried to unobtrusively elbow Xander into silence, but she slipped and they both ended up sprawled against Spike who had been sitting against the living room wall. Willow looked at Xander. Xander tried to glare at her, but his eyes were laughing. She giggled. He snickered. They both lost it. The teens were watching them with varying degrees of wariness. Dawn looked worried that they had finally cracked from the pressure. Megan blinked and looked around as if expecting some sort of attack. Stephanie looked pleadingly at Tara as if she was hoping that she would be the one to slap them. The quiet girl, whose name was Mia, bite her lip and divided her attention between the hysterical adults and her friends' reactions to them.

"Egg babies," Willow said, when she had caught her breath.

"Ted's cookies," Xander countered.

"Hyenas," Willow tagged Xander to make it a game

"Werewolves," Xander tagged her back. Spike and Tara exchanged a look that spoke volumes and Dawn started to laugh.

"Zombies," Willow said

"You never met the zombies," Xander said.

"At the party - Joyce's mask," Willow frowned.

"Oh, never mind. Love spell." Xander tagged her

"Tart. Mummy girl." Willow giggled.

"Computer geek. Cyber-gypsies," Xander said pulling back, trying to dodge her next tag.

"King of Cretins. Swim team," Willow laughed.


"Demon magnet."

It was fitting that the Summer's homestead was relinquished with 'remember whens' that stretched until early morning. Xander and Willow had started by filling in their lovers on the stories behind their memories. Dawn's friends sat in awe. They teetered between disbelief and wonder. They remembered
Dawn's pretty older sister but like everyone else had never known just how much they owed her. Hearing the adventures surrounded by stories of her being grounded because she got caught sneaking in after saving the world would have been dismissed if not for the equally unbelievable night at the carnival and the way Willow and Xander finished each others sentences as if these memories were well-worn and cherished.

Part Two

Spike sneezed. Unusual for someone who didn't have to breathe but a predictable reaction by his oversensitive sense of smell to the strong paint fumes. He realized when he and Xander had been drafted to help the witches move into the little two-bedroom over by campus that Xander's nesting instinct would kick them both in the ass soon. Whether it had been more than a century devoted to observation of the prey or just three solid months of living with Xander, Spike had known his mate would want Dawn to have her own room with them as well. Xander was reluctant to leave their apartment complex though, since it was close to his work and the magic shop. After charming the apartment manager, Xander had arranged to move into another unit in the same building. He had opted for a three bedroom instead of a
two, since the only two bedroom available had been on the ground floor. There had to be some sort of Hellmouthy logic to that reasoning, although for the life... er undeath of him, Spike couldn't figure out what demon would be deterred by a flight of stairs. He had been meaning to ask Xander about that but kept having the thought driven from his head by unbridled, mindblowing sex. Ah, well, no one ever said unlife was easy.

The fumes were the primary reason Xander had arranged to paint the vacant apartment before they left on vacation. He planned to move everything from the old apartment to the new when they got home - thus giving the smell a chance to dissipate so that it wouldn't torment his sensitive lover. Spike turned around in the spacious living room/dining room area. It was all one space and Xander had chosen a vivid blue-green from a tiny speck of color in the kitchen tiles and had covered all the walls in the main room with that shade, except a large rectangle of silver grey over the spot where the couch would be. Xander asked Spike to pick their bedroom color and Spike had surprised him, intentionally, by not picking black. Just to keep Xander guessing he had picked that same shade of silver gray for three of the walls and a dark red for the wall that the headboard of their bed would be against. Dawn had chosen the same silver gray for one wall of her bedroom and a dusty pink for the rest. Xander painted the third room a vivid yellow, adding another rectangle of Spike's gray, as he called it. He said it would tie it all together and it might have but obviously, Spike thought, Xander had neglected to visualize all the blinding throws, pillows and other Xander-inspired clutter from their current place against this background. Xander intended to use the spare room as an office-cum-headquarters for managing his vigilante group. Spike chuckled to himself, Xander didn't like it when Spike referred to the 'Children' as vigilantes any more than he liked the term minions.

A gentle breeze wafted the smell of the early evening through the open, uncovered windows. The smell and the fact that the walls couldn't be painted with blackout curtains up had gotten Spike relieved of all the labor involved in the redecorating. The sound of the shower shutting off pulled Spike's attention away from contemplating how much work Xander had done on the place. The paint was dry in all except the third bedroom and the trim gleamed wetly. Hooks were up in all the dry areas to hang their art and
photos and Xander had built in a shelving unit to house the stereo and the telly. Xander emerged from the master bath, dark hair plastered about his neck. He wore loose grey draw-string pants and was absently stuffing his work clothes into a plastic sack. His attention to that detail was just one more way Xander unconsciously took care of his mate.

Spike had never been the focus of such cherishing. He had known Xander loved him. He knew Xander was a good person, and not just the 'white knight/warrior of light' type of good but an intensely loyal and loving man. But it wasn't until that night, the night the chip had been removed, the night Spike could once again kill and if he wished, seek vengeance, that he realized just how protective Xander was of him. Even after the witches had removed the chip, Xander's first thought was seeing to it that the Initiative never got their hands on Spike again. Spike had started right then, watching Xander to see what else he had missed. He had missed quite a lot. Spike had written off the supply of fresh human blood; after all it kept him from dining on the populace. After closer observation Spike realized Xander had learn that he preferred O negative and blood that had been rejected for its alcohol content versus certain other medications and that was now the bulk of his supply. Also, whenever they were together during the day Xander managed to unobtrusively position himself between Spike and any source of natural light. Xander seemed to do the same with holy objects and any wooden weapons, as if he were willing to place his fragile mortal life between Spike and any danger.

It was some consolation to Spike that he had picked up on Xander's shielding him before the rest of the Scoobies had. Of course, now that quirk was out of the bag to everyone. The other day in the shop Giles had acquired a particular cross, once purported to belong to a reputedly pious Slayer who had almost lived long enough to take her religious vows. The fool, Jonothan, had brandished it about after he opened its shipping crate and Spike had been blinded by its holy glow. None of the humans could see the pure white light of devout faith that had built up in the object during the years that a lonely young woman had treasured it. Spike had winced away, covering his watering eyes with his arm and mentally chanting 'don't fucking kill the moron', in hopes of keeping in Xander's good graces. Xander had hissed and
jumped the counter. He was slamming the lid down on the crate before anyone realized he had pulled the cross from Jonothan's stunned grip. When it was Xander who growled 'keep that thing covered' and pulled Spike into the back to bathe his reddened eyes. The rest of the Scoobies' shocked silence had
lasted almost as long as Xander's fussing over his wounded lover had. Spike's head had still been cradled in Xander's lap when the little blonde witch had come back and heated a cup of blood from the fridge and extended Jonothan's apologies.

"Remind me to come down and shut the windows before we leave," Xander said as he crossed the room and kissed Spike.

Spike grabbed him as he made to pull away and growled playfully into Xander's neck. Xander giggled and squirmed and they both ended up in a heap on the floor. "Have you where I want you now," Spike leered.

"You can have me anywhere," Xander laughed. "But you'd enjoy it more if we got out of the smelly place." Xander punctuated his suggestion by biting Spike's ear lobe hard enough to draw blood. Spike purred as Xander licked the blood off his ear, then scooped the young man up off the floor and started carrying him toward the door. "Whoa, Cassanova! Unless you want to see my dinner do its impression of a Monet, you gotta let me walk."

Spike laughed and pinned Xander to the door - the only safe place to pin him since Spike was sure the door hadn't been painted. After a long probing kiss that left Xander breathless Spike shifted to his game face and said, "Not walk, Pet - run." He gave Xander just enough space to open the door and took a step back into a fighting stance.

Xander eyes darted about, gauging the distance and Spike and probably a hundred things Spike would never think of, then he shot Spike a hungry smile and bolted out the door.

Xander's reflexes were noticeably faster and not all of it had to do with their bond. Spike had insisted that Xander start training with him. Xander made time in each of his busy days to work out with Spike. Their sparring matches weren't always in the practice room; they had played this chase game in cemeteries and tunnels all over Sunnydale. Spike had been touched when Xander gave him the Kevlar vest to go with his suit which mimicked body heat but had balked when his mate insisted he wear the vest on patrols. He was the Big Bad and had been kicking Slayer ass for over a century. Thankfully,
Xander had refrained from saying 'I told you so' when it had stopped the crossbow bolt that an overprotective minion had fired the first time one of Xander's precious 'Children' had caught the vampire ravishing their beloved General.

Spike heard the heavy security door at the end of the hall slam. That would put him out on the side of the building near the park. The park had privacy to play and Xander wouldn't be running far barefoot. Spike waited another count of ten before leaving the apartment, then started toward the fire exit. He ran out into the night scenting the air, but the lingering paint fumes made him unsure if he were smelling it on the wind from Xander's passing or if it were just traces on him from the apartment. He circled the
park, nodding to one of the patrols and clearing his head of the smell of paint. Cutting through the playground he was disgusted to realize that Xander, nearly naked and completely unprepared, had managed to lose him. He was worried. Even with the minions patrolling Sunnydale was still dangerous.
The idea that Xander was outside, weaponless, and hiding caused him a moment of panic. As he came to the entrance of the park again he glanced over to their building to see if he had missed any signs at the exit. The light in their bedroom window caught Spike's attention. He knew he had turned the light out before going to find Xander.

Spike ran up the stairs, too impatient for the elevator. The little shit, he thought. He doubled back on me! He cursed himself for not realizing that Xander of all people would not run around Sunnydale after dark, shoeless and weaponless. Xander must have slammed the fire door and then taken the elevator to their floor. Spike slipped into their apartment, expecting to find a smug human in front of the telly. Instead he found the plastic bag Xander hadn't dropped thoughout their roughhousing was tossed in the corner nearest the door and the pants Xander had worn were laying a little farther along. Dim flickering light spilled out of the door of their bedroom. Spike prowled around the corner. In the center of the bed, Xander lay naked. Languid amid the pillows, the soft light of a multitude of unscented candles caressed his body and he smiled seductively at Spike while holding out a hand invitingly.

Spike began to slowly stalk toward Xander as he removed his shirt. He circled around to his side of the bed and Xander pouted at him when he didn't immediately pounce. Spike snickered. He tossed the lube off the nightstand and it landed next to Xander. As he removed his boots, Spike nodded at the lube and leered at Xander. Taking the hint, Xander opened it and squeezed some into his hand. He looked up, wide-eyed, and then smiled as he realized how intently Spike was watching him. Spike kicked his boots under the bed and sat on the edge still wearing his jeans. Xander blushed as Spike made no move toward him, just watched. Spike nodded his encouragement and grinned as Xander ducked his head and then looked up with a guilty grin before slowly trailing the slick fingers down along his body. He wiggled some and spread his legs, lifting his hips for better access. He began by just trailing his finger back and forth across the puckered opening. Spike watched as Xander's cock twitched and a flush spread down his body. The pupils of his dark eyes opened fully and Spike thought he just might fall into them.

"Wicked, Pet." Spike purred. "What would you have done if I had stayed out looking for you?"

Xander moaned softly as he slipped a finger inside himself. "You''re," he panted softly, "too smart. Knew you'd figure it out... Please."

Spike laid down on his side and propped his head on his hand. With his other hand, he traced idle patterns in the slippery traces that lingered on Xander's abdomen. Spike smirked as his mate increased the rhythm of the finger which loosened his ring of muscles. A second finger joined it and Spike let his hand come closer and closer to Xander's straining erection. Xander whimpered and started to reach his free hand toward the aching flesh. "Now, now," Spike whispered, leaning close to Xander's ear, "that'll never do." Spike sat up. He held the hand Xander wasn't using to prepare himself with down against mattress. He used his other to stroke Xander's cock with a feather-soft caress from base to tip. Xander groaned his frustration at the lack of friction and bucked his hips up into the touch. Spike kept up the unsatisfying contact, delighting in the way Xander began to piston his fingers in and out of his ass. A third finger was added as Xander bit through his own lip, blood trickling down his chin. Spike leaned forward and licked it off and continued to trace kitten-like licks up Xander's face to lap up the beads of sweat forming on his brow.

"Damn it," Xander growled. "Fuck me."

Spike stopped his soft caresses of Xander's leaking erection. He chuckled low in his throat and leered. "Not yet, Love."

He leaned down as if to suck Xander's cock and then looked up into those wide pleading eyes and grinned. Xander screamed his frustration when Spike blew across the moist head. Xander's hand faltered in its pumping and he came without any contact, his come coating his stomach and chest as Spike leaned back and laughed.

Before his mate's devious mind could plot retaliation, Spike grabbed hold of Xander's knees and pulled them up and apart. Xander gave what Spike was sure he would deny was a girly squeak as he was lifted ass over head. Spike quickly unbuttoned his jeans and gave up trying to remove them once they were at mid-thigh. He slid into Xander in one smooth stroke. His balls smacked satisfyingly against Xander's ass. Leaning over his pretzel-like lover, Spike hissed, "Now. Now, I fuck you."

Spike set up a speed-metal rhythm and was pleased to see Xander's revived erection brushing the human's stomach minutes later. He lost track of time but was aware that the phone had rung twice in the space of their coupling. Just as Xander's muscles contracted again in orgasm, Spike sank his fangs
into the fading scar of his mate's mark and came. He collapsed on top of the boneless human. Xander murmured, "Mmmm, sticky," before dropping into a light doze.


Spike played back the messages while his blood heated. Dawn had called. She had been planning to stay with Stephanie and ride to LA with the rest of her friends on Saturday. But her message said she would be coming to LA with them Thursday night. Dawn had been wary of them all staying with Angel now
that reports had Riley and his commando friend living in the hotel with him. Xander had had Cordelia call her and talk about the ex-Initiative members and reassure her that no one would be coming after Spike. The second message was from Jonothan; apparently a patrol had called in something suspicious and were going to check it out. Spike took his mug and went to wake his mate.

Xander and Spike showered quickly and were both dressed and heading to the sewage treatment plant within thirty minutes. They arrived on the scene just as four of the minions had cornered a scrawny Ayin demon. They were scavengers and lived mostly on exotic molds, so unless this one had ambitions of world domination Spike couldn't see what the fuss was about. The vampire growled when one of the minions swung a Supersoaker of holy water to bear on him. Xander stepped in front of him and barked, "Stand down," at the boy.

"Holy water doesn't work on Ayins," Spike said. He usually didn't give pointers to the humans but knew they were impressed by his extensive knowledge of what was what and how to kill it.

"What does?" asked a heavy girl in dark, layered clothing and too much makeup.

"What did it do?" Xander interrupted.

"Huh?" The boy with the gun pointed it at the floor now that he knew it wouldn't hurt his prey.

"What. Did. It. Do." Xander circled the group and stepped closer to the demon. Still out of reach he looked questioningly at Spike.

"Don't worry, Pet, no fangs. Those claws are for scraping food - slimes and molds - off of ....well just about everything. It doesn't have stingers or venom or emit poison gas or, well... anything, much."

"Their good guys?" a tall redheaded male minion asked, lowering a crossbow.

"Well, not good like collecting money for widows and orphans, more just disinterested in humans except for your garbage and waste," Spike snarked.

The minion 'ewwed' appropriately and Xander stepped closer to the little Ayin. The thing was shaking and had apparently lost control of certain bodily functions in its fear as a pungent aroma of sulfur filled the air. Xander squatted in an attempt to look less threatening. "Shh, you're okay, shh, no one's going to hurt you."

Spike growled out a stream of incomprehensible guttural syllables and then said, "Pet, we are not adopting that thing. It's an adult and they smell."

The demon raised large cloudy blue eyes and spit out a string of similar gibberish.

"What'd he say?" Xander asked

There were several more of the incomprehensible exchanges, then Spike said. "He thinks you're gonna eat him."

"Why?" Xander asked over the chorus of 'ewws' from the minions.

"S'not that bright. That was what they figured the Initiative was doing. The nightbreed, they know you lot run the Hellmouth, but they don't see much different between you and the Initiative." Spike said.

"But... we're not like them," the girl said.

"You had it cornered for the kill, right?" Spike asked.

The girl nodded reluctantly and Xander said, "What made you target it? Did it kill someone?" As the minions shook their head Xander added, "Hurt someone?" They shook their heads again and looked away from Xander. "You think we should let him go?" Xander asked Spike.

"Dunno, Pet. Some big bad could use one of their lot to run errands I guess. They got some human in their bloodline... like the rest of you, they're just as capable of doing harm." Spike smiled at how uncomfortable the minions were looking.

"He... he wasn't doing anything... other than being a demon," the girl said.

Spike was surprised by the humans' reactions. Before he had met up with the Initiative and basically began living with food, he would have seen their visible relief at not having to kill the Ayin as a weakness. Now, as Xander told them to keep erring on the side of caution, but to call if they had the
luxury to be unsure, he realized how that weakness served them. Their willingness to let Xander make life and death decisions wasn't compelled or enforced by fear, as it would have been with vampires. They simple assumed Xander knew best - whether it was his experience with all matters unnatural or the air he projected that no matter how strange things got it was just another night on the Hellmouth was unclear, but Spike would continue his observation of his favorite subject. Xander, unlike a master vampire, didn't play his minions against each other or make them feel questioning their own actions would reduce them in his eyes. He used their uncertainties as he used their abilities and was stronger for it.

Xander stood and dismissed his minions. Spike spat out a string of the ratlike demon's native language, punctuated with a demonic trade tongue and told them that Hellmouth's ruler was sparing his life but to spread the word that the humans were watching. The night was still young when they headed over to the magic shop.


part three

"Oh, no," Cordelia gasped, just before shutting her eyes. She felt that free-fall sensation which accompanies vivid dreams and far too frequently indicated she had lost her balance while enduring a vision, thus foreshadowing her hitting the floor - hard. She hadn't told the guys, partly to prevent them from teasing her and partly because she knew her three big strong men already sympathized with her pain, but she had been reading up on breathing techniques and meditation. She had picked up several volumes on natural childbirth at the library, reasoning that if Lamaze could help women focus past that pain it would help her endure her visions while gleaning important details from the messages.

As the images faded and she became aware of the world around her once again, she felt Angel's cool hands holding her. Her back was against his chest and he waited still and silent for her to nod and indicate she was ready to move. Fortunately, she had skipped breakfast. Sometime the pain of the
visions was so intense that if she moved too quickly afterward she would become violently nauseous. She took three deep cleansing breaths before unclenching one hand from where it was gripped tightly around Angel's forearm and trailed it down to clasp his hand. He helped her to the couch and sat close with his other arm still loosely around her. Gunn appeared and knelt before her holding a glass of water and two aspirin. Wesley hovered, still holding his book and visibly restraining himself from asking what she
had seen.

"Are you all right?" Angel asked.

Cordelia nodded and gave them a weak smile. "I saw...Lindsey," she said. "Route 909, just past a speck on the map called Silver River, mile marker 103. Truck's broke, he's going to need a ride."

Angel growled. Really growled, Cordelia thought, and wasn't that surreal. Ever since the Darla incident he had gave good grovel but seemed to be hiding the fact that he was a vampire less and less. Which, she reflected, was good - since he was a vampire and working on redemption wasn't going to change that until he was actually redeemed. Then again maybe it wasn't Darla that brought him out of the vampy closet, maybe it was losing Buffy. Aside from slaying, Cordelia hadn't spent much time with Angel when he and Buffy had... well, could you call that dating? Xander and Angel had always rubbed each other the wrong way and to be frank, the less time her boyfriend had spent with his first crush had been the better as far as Cordelia had been concerned. She had always expected to walk in on Xander with Buffy some
night, which was why Willow had been such a shock. It's always the quiet ones, she thought, noticing Fred creeping down the stairs and staying in the shadows.

For all she knew, Angel had behaved like this - protective and kind of possessive - with Buffy. More than any of the Scoobies, Cordelia knew that a good deal of Xander's animosity toward Angel was because he was a vampire rather than because he was involved with Buffy. Which made Xander's current choice of snuggle bunny just a touch hypocritical, if you asked her. So perhaps Angel letting down his human mask was a sign that he was feeling secure in their little family. Cordy was aware of Fred inching closer. The girl looking longingly at Angel as he danced attendance on Cordelia.

"He can walk," Angel said.

"No." Cordelia was firm. "If I have to have the vision, he's going to be rescued."

"So now we're the auto club?" Angel muttered.

Cordelia turned in his arms, momentarily surprised by just how close they were sitting. She wasn't as blind as she pretended to be. You didn't run in the social circles she had without knowing how to read what people tried to keep hidden. It had had been rather obvious in Pylea that he considered her to be his. It was just more and more apparent that the possessiveness he felt about her wasn't entirely the same way as he felt toward Wesley, Gunn, Fred and even Lorne. She knew what he felt for her was more than just a vamp thing, or would have been if he were human. But he was a vampire, and living practically on top of him over the past couple years, Cordelia had learned that everything in Angel's existence was altered, changed and influenced by that reality. Just what this increasing familiarity would mean, in conjunction with the curse and all, was what kept her silent regarding their enigmatic relationship.

"Hellhounds, Angel. You remember, like the ones that attacked me at the dress shop, before the prom? A pack of about twenty will show up about an hour before dawn. If he's still there he won't manage to fend them off. For some reason the PTBs don't want that, so..." she trailed off.

"I'll go." Gunn said with a shrug which indicated he knew Angel hated the lawyer and pretty much agreed with him.

"Take Misters Finn and Miller with you," Wesley said.

Gunn rolled his eyes and held out his hand for Angel's keys, as his truck wouldn't seat four comfortably.

Angel continued to fuss over Cordelia. He insisted she lay down and shadowed her to the room just off the lobby which he had arraigned as a place for Cordelia to rest and recover from her visions. It had originally been a coat-check room and was large but had no windows. It was dim and quiet, conducive to soothing her pain.

"I'm fine, really." Cordelia lay on top of the daybed and Angel sat at the end and removed her shoes. She really didn't want to lay down but wasn't about to refuse a foot massage.


"You're sure?" He watched carefully to see if she were hiding any pain. Angel sometimes thought Cordelia hid just how traumatic Seeing could be. He knew she had survived eighteen years on the Hellmouth but there was a limit to event Cordelia Chase's fabled resilience.

She gifted him with a weaker version of her million-dollar smile and nodded. As he applied gentle pressure to the arches of her feet she sighed and closed her eyes.

He worried about the damage the visions could do to her fragile human brain. He could tell by her scent and the way she held her head at times that the pain was far greater than she let on. Angel had secretly been consulting a Wiccan priestess to see if there were a safe way to have the visions transferred to him. Unfortunately, the woman had said that only death would relieve the Seer of her burden. Her response had made him flash back to just how irritating Buffy had found his cryptic comments when they had first met.

The tension had bled out of Cordelia's body and her breathing was just evening out when her eyes snapped open. She shuddered, then looked embarrassed and smiled. "I can't nap, I have too much to do."

Angel shifted closer and brushed her hair back. "What was it? A dream?"

"Just high school and Sunnydale - they both taint you for life," she said softly. "You wouldn't really have left him to the hellhounds? I mean... sure he's oily and evil-on-sabbatical, but hellhounds?" she said and shuddered again.

"Bad memories?" Angel asked. He expected Wes or Fred to pop in at any moment. He wondered sometimes if that was intentional, the way that he and Cordy only seemed to be left alone when they sparred. Fred, well she just had a harmless crush, but Wes... sometimes Angel though that the ex-Watcher was too attentive in his efforts to keep Angel's demon under-control.

"Good actually, except for the whole nearly dying theme that followed me from sophomore year 'til now. I just had way too much up close and personal time with hellhounds," she said.

"Yeah, I remember the tape. You and Xander both could have been killed while you were shopping for the prom." Angel said. Cordelia hadn't mentioned her ex much, not even after the brief return to her hometown where she was treated to a glimpse of his current courtship.

"As if! Shopping? With Xander Harris? Saint is not on my resume." She laughed. Angel had heard that sound far too infrequently lately. "Truth? Swear you won't tell."

"Promise." He grinned. Her laughter was infectious.

"I was working - a job - in retail. Me. Some things are just so wrong." She shook her head, fanning her dark hair across the pillow. "Xander saved me - again. Being that you know first hand how much I love having someone save my life when I'm trying to stay angry at them, I reacted as you might expect. And I ended up owing him big time. Not only did he keep my secret..."

"But?" Angel watched Cordelia's smile turn sad and wistful.

"You don't remember my prom dress, do you?" she said.

"It was midnight blue and it shimmered." Her smile blossomed up to full voltage at his reply.

"Normally, I had a dress and at least two back up dresses and I would finalize the decision based on my hair or the weather or whoever I ended up going with... but that wasn't an option for prom. I could only pick one dress and if I could only have one I wanted that one - not that I had any idea of how I was going to pay for it. But I deluded myself that with an employee discount and if I warped the quantum continuum I could somehow work enough hours to pay for it." She shook her head ruefully and Angel was transfixed by the highlights in her hair that only vampiric vision could see in the dim light. "So, prom night comes and my shift ends - I know I can't pay off the layaway - and the boss is so not simpatico with my charms. But as I go to leave, the other salesgirl said, "Chase don't forget your dress," and lo and behold 'someone' had paid for it. 'Someone' who knew I was working there. 'Someone' who could have paid me back big time for what a total bitch I was to him by telling everyone that Daddy lost his money, but didn't. 'Someone' who never had a dollar in his life that he didn't earn by his own sweat. 'Someone' who never said a word about it except 'it looks good on you.' I dated a lot of guys but..."

"But Xander?" Angel wasn't sure he wanted to know Cordelia feelings about Xander. She had seemed happy that he was involved. She certainly hadn't shown any signs of interest. Angel realized just how closely he had been monitoring her scent when Xander had been near.

"Xander treated me the best. No diamonds or ski weekends, but he was always a good friend. Even with the sarcasm and the digs, no matter how outwardly shitty we were to each other after we broke up, I always knew he would do anything..." Cordelia's looked away, her eyes were bright with unshed tears.

"Cordy? I thought you were okay with Xander..." Angel said.

"It's not that. I just...Doyle, you know?" She looked back at Angel and said, "Why do I never realize how lucky I am until I lose it all...? I just wish we had had a chance... that I had pulled my head out my... well, I didn't. Angel, what's wrong with me? I throw away kind, loving men and end up with Hacksaw spawn."

There wasn't really anything he could say to that. Angel was uncomfortably aware that he wasn't in Doyle's class and reluctantly admitted he probably wasn't in Xander's either. The boy had a tenacious loyalty Angel hadadmired even when he had been lacking his soul. While Cordelia seemed to be willing to forgive if not forget his sojourn with Darla, he knew he had deeply betrayed her trust in him during that fiasco and had a great deal make up for.

Fortunately, Fred chose that moment to creep in with a steaming paper tumbler of the chai from the coffee shop down the street that Cordelia loved. Since the young woman still hadn't ventured out of the Hyperion, she answered Angel questioning look with a whisper. "Wesley went and got it." After Cordelia thanked her, Fred said, "You have a half an hour 'til when Graham said that the caterer woman would be here."

"Catering?" Angel asked. Cordelia was planning a reception and dinner for the Sunnydale group for the evening they arrived, but Angel had assumed she would be budget conscious. Having seen Xander and the newest members of Angel Investigations eat he had hoped that the massive amounts of food needed to sate the men would consist of high-carb junk food like pizza or donuts.

"Graham has a trust fund. It's your fault, you sent Riley and Graham with me to shop. After forty minutes at Safeway and having only half of what was on the list he said he would foot the bill for having the gourmet food department cater the whole visit if I would just let them get the hell out of there. I thought Marines has more stamina." She sat up straighter and brushed back her shorter hair in a gesture he had seen a hundred times when she was trying to point out that she wasn't selfish, she just wanted to have her own way.

"Cordelia, Graham is not paying to entertain people he doesn't know," Angel said, opening his wallet.

"Not the whole visit, I have some standards." Fred scooted into the far corner, away from the former cheerleader. Cordelia stood and put a hand on her hip while sipping her sweet tea. "He grew up in a house that was on 'America's Castles'. Who knew one of *the* Millers was risking his life in some coverty, elite, military task force? Anyway, Graham is taking care of the welcome dinner, and you are taking us all for a night at Lorne's and to dinner at Jobarr's."

"A demon restaurant? Cordelia..." Angel was fighting the urge to laugh, Fred's eyes were the size of saucers. Cordelia had only been to the exotic eatery once with Angel, Wes and Harry before Gunn had joined the group. Cordelia had been shocked at the varied menu with had numerous delicacies that were potentially fatal to humans.

"They're from Sunnydale," Cordelia said, as if that was the end of the discussion.


Spike inhaled. Heaven and hell, he loved that scent - himself, on, in, around Xander. His. His boy, his mate, his world. It was an ascension, a boon, a bounty that he hadn't earned and didn't deserve. Here, now, for however long he could hold onto him given the violent nature of Xander's life and the fact that Fate, cruel bitch that she was, had fucked up every good thing in Spike's life - Xander was his paradise.

Indistinct voices tickled at Spike's ears. Willow and Dawn had arrived for the meeting, and he could hear them catching up with Tara in the shop above. The blonde witch had been working the evening shift and had closed up upon the men's arrival. The shy one had blushed a charming shade of pink when Xander said he needed Spike's help in the storeroom.

Spike stood up straight, having been bent over the table while Xander prepared him. Xander made a delicious growling noise at having his plans interrupted. Still evil, Spike smirked as he contemplated just how far to push his focused lover to achieve maximum results.

"Girls are here, Pet. Shall we go up?" Spike asked as he leaned back, luxuriating in the flesh-to-flesh contact as Xander's bare chest felt warm against his back.

"Huh?" Spike felt Xander's hair lightly lash the back of his neck as his mate tried to shake of his 'shag now' thought process and participate in the conversation. Xander's hair was getting long to Spike's delight and Xander chagrin. Every time Xander headed for the door with the intention of getting it cut, Spike shagged him silly.

Spike turned slowly in Xander's arms, so that he could enjoy this mate's struggle to speak. "Red and the Nibblet - they're here." Spike knew that he had no intention of stopping, and Xander had better know the same if he knew what was good for him. Still it was fun to wind the boy up. "We can order that pizza you've been hankering after."

Whack! Xander slapped the back of Spike's head and hissed out, "Rule number one!" He then pulled up on Spike's hips, lifting the smaller man and pushing him back over the table with his greater bulk. The human's warm hands slid down to the inside of the vampire's thighs and in a surprisingly gentle move
nudged them apart before trailing up to spread the cheeks of his ass.

Spike's throaty chuckle morphed into a purr as Xander slid home.


"Yes," Wesley was musing out loud. "It's possible Mr. McDonald is our soul-wounded bard."

"Hm?" Cordelia turned her attention back to the matter at hand. The woman from the catering service had stayed only ten minutes. After briskly checking the facility for working outlets she had reviewed Cordelia's menu selection and efficiently diagramed the layout of serving table and seating.

Wesley put down his book and crossed a shelf. He sorted though some wooden scroll cases and unsheathed a parchment which he spread out on his desk. He moved the mouse on a nearby computer and after a moment said, "I gave up on this --- the original language is too obscure and the translation I managed to .... well nevermind." He read from the screen, "She who waits will unlock the door as darkness comes to light again. The one cast out by light and shadow will show the way and succor the twain. Two tainted hearts of light will seek and find the soul-wounded bard. Reasoned by heart instead of head the warrior frees the demon bold. Demon and slayer will storm the citadel yet the heart will reduce it to rubble. The Slayer will fail and rise again, united in pain with the world wrecker. "

"Not the end of the world again - I'm coordinating dinner for ten, no way is the world ending after all the work I've done." Cordelia strode over to the desk and a scowl marred her perfect face as she contemplated the offending document. "This is gibberish. Are you sure it's an apocalypse? Maybe we should scan it and send a copy to Giles."

"This document is older than any civilization on the planet, we will not be scanning it. Anyway, I believe that Rupert Giles learned the hazards eminent in scanning magical text."

"Have Spike take a look tomorrow night, he always liked to puzzle out secrets and odd language." Angel said, causing Wesley to jump as the vampire had silently glided up to peer over Cordelia's shoulder at the parchment. "I don't see why he would be a bard," Angel continued, either oblivious to or unrepentant for the start he gave the ex-Watcher, "it wasn't as if he sang all that well."

Cordelia rolled her eyes at Wesley. She wasn't sure if Angel really was tone deaf, as his own singing had implied, or his feelings for Lindsey colored his judgment, but she made a mental note to call the caterer and change the order for service from ten to twelve. It might be prudent, given the bard mentioned. to invite Lorne to the dinner party as well.


Xander had in the course of stuffing himself with barbequed chicken pizza, managed to avert Dawn's crisis. In the manner only known to fifteen year old girls, her life had been ruined. Stephanie's mom, who had been going to take the girls to a fashion show Saturday had had to move it to Friday so that she could fly out of town on business. This was apparently not an acceptable substitute. The Friday show was at a large department store, where the Saturday one was semi-haute couture and featured a designer that Dawn aspired to be able to afford one day.

Spike had sat blinking through Dawn's outrage, obviously wanting to make it all better but befuddled by the ins and outs of the power of popularity and the importance of Dawn being able to start school by saying she had actually seen Tommy and not just his clothes. Xander flashed on all the conversations- well, monologues-of Cordelia, which he had tuned out while trying to think of the best way to ask her into the utility closet with out sounding desperate. While Willow and Tara had smiled and nodded
sympathetically and Spike had agreed with everything Dawn said, Xander had slipped into the office and made two phone calls. The first had been to Stephanie's mom. Although he hadn't been able to charm her into leaving her daughter in LA with them he did manage to take the tickets off her hands. The second had been to Cordy. The girlish squeal she had let loose with told him that she wasn't too put out at going to a private showing of the latest fashions with Dawn. She even found use for the third ticket, although Xander hoped Fred, whoever he was, knew what he was in for.

Dawn had made him feel like he saved the world from certain destruction when she hugged his neck. Spike looked profoundly relieved that he had a happy Niblet again, without being forced to attend the show himself. Willow smiled and winked, the only one there who realized that the real added bonus was
that this would curtail a full day of Queen C's concept of organized fun. From all the conference calls, the ex-cheerleader had been planning quite an active week. It was a week now. What had started out as plans for a long weekend was now starting with the Scoobies heading to LA on Thursday night and leaving for Sunnydale the wee hours of following Friday. Xander had a vague memory about something his granddad used to say about fish and guests, he wondered if it only applied to the Hellmouth variety of both.


Willow skipped, which when you thought about it was what happened when you bounced while walking. She smiled at Xander. Tara and Spike were following behind them, each sporting individual looks of indulgence. Her lover had confided that the sight of Xander and Willow in full-out babble-mode doing their tandem talking was a mind-boggling sight. The times when they tandem-talked - covering two entirely different subjects and alternating simultaneous questions and replies - were rare. Tonight, though, Xander was angsting over leaving TJ in charge of the Hellmouth, albeit with Giles
watching over him, while she was detailing the plans for their vacation, which she had been coordinating with Cordelia. Spike managed to keep an eye on Xander and on the surroundings as the four of them moved briskly down the sidewalk.

Upon reaching the girls' new apartment Xander and Spike were invited up to move Willow's grandmother's highboy one more time. The monstrosity really wasn't suited to their kitschy little place but Willow was determined to find a place for it. As Xander and Spike carefully moved the cumbersome
antique from one corner to the other, Willow stood in the doorway to the kitchen tilting her head to one side.

"Do not even think of saying you liked back there better," Xander grunted.

"No, no. I was just thinking..." she said.

Xander leaned against the highboy and gestured for her to continue.

"It would be ... bad manners, to kill Riley while he's living with Angel." She darted a nervous glance from Xander to Spike. "I mean, Cordy says Angel is all on board the Riley reclamation project, and, well, that Graham guy and he are kinda on Angel's team and all."

"Only a bleeding wanker like the poof would choose minions from the Initiative." Spike shifted to game face and back.

Tara slipped past Willow carrying a tray of four tumblers of homemade wine. She set it on the spot she had cleared on the end table before going for the drinks. She took a seat on the couch. "You're right," she said, "it looks much better there."

Willow smiled at her and nodded, but continued, "I'm not saying Riley should be forgiven, 'cause...well, I owe him a bludgeoning with a shovel, but well, in the interest of family relations and this is a vacation..."

"Relax, Will. We'll be good." Xander gave her a warm smile and plopped down with exaggerated exhaustion into an overstuffed, well-worn armchair. Spike moved to lean on its back and absently stroked Xander's thick dark hair. "So," he said with a twinkle in his brown eyes, "if you're sure no apocalypses are going to happen here while we're gone... think it'll follow us to LA?"

Part four

There was nothing like a pre-catalytic converter engine, Gunn thought as he accelerated to pass a little import on the open highway. Finn was riding shotgun and Miller was behind Gunn in the convertible. The top was up to keep down the wind. They had made good time once they were out of city traffic. Away from all the light and noise, the sky spread out with stars scattered like sequins on a fine woman's dress. It was easy, spending so much time surrounded by teeming masses of people and buildings, to forget that there were things bigger and broader that LA.

Alonna would have loved this. Instead, he was sharing all this beauty with a couple of white ex-military guys he hardly knew. Cordy seemed to take it in stride that these guys had gone from being members of an invasion force they had been sent to stop to Angel's roomies in the space of a couple months. Not that they were actually sharing a room, or a bed, with anyone but each other. Angel had moved them into the hotel and seemed to be watching over the Finn guy's addiction. You wouldn't know they were queer from the way they acted, no flirting or effeminate behavior. The fact that Miller shadowed Finn unless Riley was with Angel could have been chalked up to being his bodyguard or warden. No, the only reason Gunn had been clued into the fact they were together was when he helped them move in the large bed to replace the two smaller ones their suite had contained. One room, one bed; they got up together in the morning and went to bed together at night. They were pretty damn near inseparable. Judging by the limited history Finn had shared with Gunn, he would have been dead if Miller hadn't shown up at his parent's farm and dragged him to LA.

Riley spent sometime alone with Angel almost everyday. Gunn hoped that it had to do with breaking the young man's cravings to be fed from and wasn't an indication of a change in Angel's diet. After finding Miller pacing outside Angel's office, Gunn had persuaded him to come back to the neighborhood with him. The ex-Marine had been met with the same hostility all of Gunn's co-workers were until he'd proven himself. Now, his friends trusted Miller and they were adopting his strategy tips and letting him instruct them in hand to hand combat.

The two of them had taken Riley with them last time, but Finn was quiet and hung back when presented with the boisterous hunters. Some of Gunn's crew thought he was acting as if he were too good for them and had made comments. What could have turned into a free for all was forestalled when Miller looked at Riley and asked for permission to give their new friends a little background. Instead of explaining Finn's addiction and recovery, Miller told them about the Initiative. In short, blunt statements he shared with them an experience they had all had at one time or another - what it was like to find out that monsters were real. The example of the Initiative's racial cleansing program couldn't have come at a better time. Some loud-mouthed out-of-towner had joined the crew and was advocating wholesale slaughter of demons, whether that demon was a threat to humans or not. The story of Maggie Walsh and her boy Adam shook up the hardened fighters. As Riley took a photo out of his wallet and passed it around, Gunn and the rest of his friends were shaken to the core by the story of what had happened to Forrest.

Gunn liked Miller, but he didn't trust Finn. He remembered what Harris had said in that burned out building. Finn was weak, which okay that was who they were supposed to protect, but that didn't mean he felt safe having a junkie watch his back. He consoled himself with the knowledge that if they made good time they could scoop up the evil ex-lawyer and be out of there before any fur-bearing demons showed.


Xander was still a bundle of energy when they returned from the witches' place. Spike smiled as he tried to unlock the door while Xander pawed at his body and nibble at his ear. The vampire chuckled and said, "If this is how you react to homemade wine, I'm going to have a standing order with the shy one - she won't be able to keep it in stock."

"You drank it? Spike, it tasted like cough medicine. I'm glad you didn't notice me pour into that big potted bamboo thing cause then I know Tara didn't see." Xander said pushing Spike though the now open door. "I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but blech." Xander ended with an elaborate, full-bodied shudder and made a face that should have been impossible for someone with a pulse and no demon.

"Then what's got you in a state, Pet? Not that I mind, a horny Xander is a thing of beauty." Spike paused as his amorous mate licked his face and then laughed and bit his neck.

"No work - for a whole week! Spike, it's summer vacation all over again. Sure, I'm ricocheting between 'Oh, God! The site will go to hell without me' and 'Oh, God! The site won't go to hell without me'. And I can't decide which is worse and if I'm a horrible person for not wanting them to be entirely okay without me but not wanting them to bother me on vacation." Having finished his panic attack in a burst of babble, Xander breathed in deeply, then he smiled and licked Spike's face again, following the angular cheekbone and then kissing his ear.

Spike snorted as Xander continued his assault and pushed/pulled him toward the couch. He was torn between fucking Xander into unconsciousness to encourage him getting the rest he deserved, and using this nervous energy to let his mate wear him out in sticky, wicked ways. Xander made the decision for him by pulling Spike down on top of him as he plopped down. They lay in a heap on the couch while Xander nipped his way along Spike's jaw ear to ear. Spike purred and decided to just enjoy whatever Xander wanted to do.

Xander, it seemed, wanted to do everything. He rolled them over until he was on top, nearly sending them both onto the floor. He lingered over Spike's neck, following the path of the veins down to the shoulders and chest. The human was developing a knack for getting the vampire undressed without swerving from his appointed task. Sucking gently first on one pale nipple and then the other Xander purred himself, or at least emitted a reasonably good imitation of Spike's purr. The vibrations released a moan from the vampire and as Spike buried both hands in Xander's thick dark hair he sent a silent thanks to the witches. He knew that by the time Xander reached his destination he would be in no state to worry about the chip, and thanks to them he wouldn't have to. He tried to guide his lover's course but the human was stubborn and nipped the sensitive nipple, then licked it to make up. Xander laughed, sending delicious vibrations though Spike's body.

It occurred to Spike that in over a hundred years he had never had a lover who laughed as much as Xander. How the hell the boy managed to laugh though all the crap his life threw at him and how he had made Spike laugh before the chip had been removed was amazing. Now, no matter how stressful or dangerous Xander's life was, he enjoyed it thoroughly. Spike had often wondered, after he had been turned, how humans made it from day to day. They were so far down on the food chain, their fates so uncertain and at the mercy of so many merciless creatures, he marveled that they got out of bed in the morning.

Xander was finally working his way down. Unexpectedly he grasped the hairs which grew in a fine line down below Spike's navel in his teeth and pulled up. A tingle of not-quite pain set sparks off behind Spike's eyes. There was nothing on Earth or in Hell to compare with a playful Xander - this had to be a little slice of Heaven. As Xander bit the inside of his thigh, ignoring the weeping cock, Spike cried out, "Bloody hell, Pet, I'm the one's supposed to be evil here."

Xander relented and took Spike's length into his mouth just as he started to laugh again. The vampire squirmed as he supressed the desire to thrust into his mate's warm, wet mouth. There was no chip to worry about, but an unconscious Xander couldn't do what he was doing.


Lindsey scanned the horizon. Dusk had been brief in the desert; the sun dropped all too fast. It was a hell of a spot to break down. It was miles from the last gas station he has passed and the map in his car told him that he would have a least a couple hours' walk to the next town. That walk would have to wait until after dawn.

He had made it as far east as Provo before doubling back, and he was thinking of heading south once he hit the coast again. For all his posturing at his 'exit interview' he didn't feel comfortable staying still. He hadn't spent more than twelve hours in any one place since he had left LA. Intellectually, he felt he should be safe. He had enough of the firm's secrets squirreled away that his continued health should be in their best interest, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched - followed.

He knew he had survived his tenure at Wolfram and Hart only because of incredible luck, absolute ruthlessness and a Machiavellian sense of self-preservation. So, just because the firm hadn't made a move yet, didn't stop him from anticipating their possible gambits.

He had everything he needed in the cramped cab of the truck. Stretching out in the bed might be more comfortable but knowing just what could go bump in the night made slinging his long legs over the gearshift infinitely more appealing. All in all, a motel might give him more of an illusion of privacy but he remembered how Drucilla had been able to waltz right into Darla's room without so much as a by-your-leave. Being that he had the pink slip on the beat up old pickup and pretty much was using it as his primary residence, he was hoping the PTBs would count it as his home.

Lindsey's back was against the passenger side door. He had shucked off his boots and they lay next to the crowbar, stakes and flask of holy water on the floor. His feet were propped on the steering wheel and if he twisted at the hip, into a slightly awkward position, he could play his guitar. Sometimes it was all that kept him sane, provide he was still sane. On sleepless nights like this he wasn't so sure. At least he had his music back. No matter how bad the nightmares got he couldn't imagine doing without it again.

Oddly enough, playing seemed to calm his hand; not that it was still giving him messages like 'kill, kill, kill' but sometimes Lindsey could swear it made decisions without consulting him. Like now, he had intended to play something that sang the praises of being footloose and instead he had started on a ballad with a freight train rhythm that bordered on a lament. He sang anyway.

"The tar in the street starts to melt from the heat
And the sweats runnin' down from my hair
I walked 20 miles and I'm dragging my feet
And I'll walk 20 more I don't care

And I'll wander this world, wander this world
Wander this world, wander this world all alone

I'm like a ghost some people can't see
Others drive by and stare
A shadow that drifts by the side of the road
It's like I'm not even there

And I'll wander this world, wander this world
Wander this world, wander this world all alone

Well I've never been a part of the game
The life that I live is my own
All that I know is that I was born
To wander this world all alone, all alone

Some people are born with their lives all laid out
And all their success is assured
Some people work hard all their lives for nothin'
They take it and they don't say a word
They don't say a word

Sometimes it's like I don't even exist
Even God has lost track of my soul
Why else would he leave me out here like this
To wander this world all alone

And I'll wander this world, wander this world
Wander this world, wander this world all alone" (1)


He continued to play after he finished the turn, improvising around the melody and humming under his breath, until headlights in the distance jarred him out of his music-induced meditation. He reached for his boots.


Gunn parked about twenty feet behind the pickup. He left the headlights on as he stepped from the convertible. The beams spotlighted the back of the truck, giving a limited view of the cab. McDonald appeared to be alone, but he wasn't taking any chances. He pulled his ax from the back seat and sensed more than saw the commandos fall in behind him. He knew Miller would watch the surroundings, leaving him to deal with the lawyer. He hoped that Finn could be depended on to do the same.

Cordelia had called it to within a tenth of a mile. Sometimes, with all her high maintenance attitude, it was hard to remember just how spooky she was. Wes had given him a brief rundown of hellhounds, having apparently crossed paths with them with Cordy back in Sunnydale. Until he had visited there himself, he hadn't understood Cordelia's battle weary dismissal of some of the freakier aspects of their job. Once he had seen some of what she had survived in high school, he realized that when she said "I'm from Sunnydale - we have our own Hellmouth" it meant something. That old beau of hers was just the type of tenacious warrior he would have expected a class act like Cordy to have been involved with - no wonder she had survived with him looking out for her.

The lawyer stepped down from the cab. Worn jeans battered boots had replaced the suits that had probably cost more than Gunn had ever earned in a given year. "Charles Gunn." The lawyer's voice held a trace of an accent Gunn couldn't place and which he wasn't sure had ever been noticeable before.

"McDonald," Gunn nodded.

"Little out of your element, aren't you?" McDonald's eyes shifted nervously from Gunn to his backup and continued to survey the surrounding area, as if expecting an attack.

"Not really. Still helping the hopeless. That would be you. Cordy said you're about to be turned into a great big chew toy for a pack of hellhounds. You want to come with us, or should we just videotape it?" Gunn waited, enjoying the shocked look that crossed the lawyer's face before years of dissembling enabled him to hide it with a bored expression.


Xander woke up naked and spread-eagled on the bed. A lazy smile crossed his face as the memory of the activities leading up to his nap replayed behind his closed eyelids. It felt so good to not have to worry about an alarm or how many things he had to squeeze into the next day. Steam wafted out the open bathroom door and over the sound of the shower Spike sang,

"They look
so lovely and pale
When they kiss the third rail
and they won't step lively any more." (2)

Xander laughed to himself and crawled across the rumpled bed toward the bathroom. He hoped their new neighbors liked Spike's voice, since he had had no luck getting his lover to conform to human sleep cycles. They had been fortunate that none of their current neighbors had complained of Spike's odd hours.

It was the wee hours of the morning - dawn wasn't yet lighting the sky - but the smell of the breeze had changed. Sometimes, like now, Xander tried to remember if he had been able to sense the smell of dawn before Spike had claimed him. He though he might have, if he had tried, but it hadn't mattered before. He was jarred out of his musings by Spike playing air guitar in the shower. Bleached hair stood up in tufts as he mimicked a riff and jumped up and down. Xander bit his lip to keep from laughing as his lover's dangly bits flopped up and down as he got into the imaginary music. Xander supposed he was lucky it was imaginary and figured he owed Spike for that - among other things.

Xander slipped into the shower and wrestled Spike up against the wall. "Think I could get a private performance of that?"

"Like the classics, do you?" Spike leered.

"You might say I've developed a taste for fine antiques." Xander leered back.

"Oy! Antique? Who're you...?" Spike's protest morphed into a purr when Xander demonstrated the taste he had developed by biting down on the same spot of flesh above Spike's collarbone that sported the mark on his own.

Spike had picked him up and carried him, wet and naked, halfway back to the bed before Xander had finished licking off the blood he had drawn. Spike tossed him into the middle of the mattress and pounced before Xander finished bouncing. Xander couldn't stop giggling as Spike nipped his way up from his knee to his navel, growling and in gameface the whole time. Xander grabbed his lover's hair and pulled him up to face him. Feathering kisses over the demonic ridges of his brow Xander whispered over and over, "I love you."

Spike purred and held himself just over Xander's body on strong forearms. He lowered himself into the kisses and rubbed up along his mate's long frame, brushing their ready erections together and causing Xander's breathy words to transform into a moan.

Spike trailed his fangs along the erotically exposed throat of his mate and Xander shuddered with desire beneath him. He increased the tempo of the friction between them, working all of Xander's hot spots until the human came hard against his stomach. Spike waited until he felt the post-climax languor spread through Xander's body before lifting his mate's hips. He slid in with ease, since they had coupled only an hour before, and was rewarded with the look of utter contentment in those dreamy, sated brown eyes. Xander reached up and pulled Spike down into a long, slow kiss. Spike lost himself in those eyes when he pulled back and began an equally slow rhythm.


Day was breaking in the city by the time the four of them returned to the Hyperion. Lindsey had his guitar and his duffel bag. He wondered if he'd ever see the truck again. He had liked that truck. The muscle followed him into the hotel after Gunn had tossed them the keys and taken off in his truck. To be fair, Angel's flunkie had introduced them as Finn and Miller, but the ride back had been in silence. Lindsey hadn't wanted to ask any questions and give away how little he knew. He was sorry to see that the lobby was empty; Cordelia was always good for information, whether she intended to spill it or not.

Finn looked nervous and edgy. The young man had been shooting him cautious glances since they had pick him up. Miller was as impassive as he had been since they met. Lindsey had dealt with a number of people like him at the firm and wondered if he was a sociopath - there was something unnerving about that controlled discipline.

Angel descended the darkened staircase. Smirking at Lindsey, he silently made his way across the lobby. "Problems?" he asked Finn.

"No sign of the hellhounds, but he was right where Cordelia said he would be." The young man ducked his head as he gave his report then looked up at the vampire as if looking for approval.

"Good, get some rest. Graham, show Lindsey to a room, Wes wants to have a chat with him in the morning." Angel turned to go.

Lindsey wasn't standing for that. He may or may not be in the damned corpse's debt, yet again, but he wouldn't stand by and be dismissed.

"It's morning now. If he wants to talk to me before I leave, he better do it now," Lindsey drawled. He was pretty sure he remembered how to push his host's buttons.

"You'll talk when he's ready," Angel said without turning around. "Take the room, McDonald. Don't make me hunt you."

1. 'Wander This World' Jonny Lang
2. 'Subway Terror.' Michael Lee Smith (Starz)


part five

Xander shifted his feet in an attempt to give Dawn more room. He was wedged in a corner of the back seat, his long legs spilling across the limited space. Dawn was in the other corner, too engrossed with IM-ing her friends on the phone the Scoobies insisted she carry at all times. Spike was between
them, or more accurately, on top of Xander. The blonde was sprawled over Xander's chest and his Docs were wedged out Dawn's window. She was using the vampire's legs like a desk to steady her hands as she typed text messages, but otherwise seemed oblivious to them.

The noise of the wind drowned out Tara and Willow's conversation from the front seat. The witches had pulled their seats up as far as they would go. Spike had complained that this was taking girl power too far when the wee ones had relegated the men to the back seat. Xander had laughed and pushed Spike into the car. He was too tired to drive, given last night's and today's activities, and he sure as hell wasn't going to let Spike drive with Dawn in the car. Having safe-driver Willow behind the wheel was well worth
any discomfort on the ride. Besides as he had pointed out to his mate, it was only for a couple hours.

Spike was in gameface, his eyes half open but showing only the whites as Xander stoked his now-darker hair. He seemed dead to the world, but Xander could feel the tension in his body. Spike was not as blase as he tried to project about the visit to LA. Xander was a little nervous, but then Angel wasn't his Sire - his Yoda. Xander smiled at that memory. He really didn't give a damn what Deadboy thought.

They had spoken a couple times. Angel talked about souls and the danger of vampires, as if Xander wasn't Hellmouth born and bred. Xander had done his best to control his sarcasm. He hadn't blurted out that it had been too late to worry about Xander binding himself to Spike, even before Angel had visited Sunnydale and voiced his disapproval. Xander figured he owed Angel the same courtesy that the brooding one had give him regarding Xander's take on the Angel and Buffy affair, which was none. Spike seemed to feel that Angel's blessing mattered to Xander; thus the human had spent the better part of the day trying to shag that illusion out of his lover's now chipless brain.

Of course he could be wrong, Xander thought. Spike's reluctance to see his Sire could have less to do with Angel's reaction to their blood-bond and more to do with taking shit for the new hair color. Xander loved it. Not that he gave a damn what color Spike's hair was, but it had given him a taste of power to know that the big bad had changed his look just because Xander had brought home the wrong color. Until Spike had come out of the bathroom and asked how it looked in that insecure voice, Xander had never
been able to figure out why Spike did his best to distract him whenever he started to go for a haircut. Now that he knew that feeling, that he could influence this fierce, obstinate man, it a huge rush.

Just a week ago, Xander had come home early, rain having closed the site, loaded down with groceries. Spike had padded out to the kitchen, naked and adorable with his hair standing up every which way. He had made a small noise of joy and rewarded Xander with a kiss upon finding a carton of his smokes, a bottle of JD, and a new tube of hair gel. But after the food had been put away and Xander had sorted out the lube and other bed and bath products, Spike had just stood there holding the box of hair coloring and scratching his head.

"What's this, Pet?" Nothing was as cute as a naked vampire looking scared of a small box of bleach, Xander thought.

"It's haircolor; you said you wanted to do your roots before we head to LA." Xander had slipped around behind Spike and wrapped his arms around him to read the box over his shoulder. He knew when he bought it Spike would have problems with the name.

"Yeah, it is, isn't it." Xander could almost hear the wheels turning in his lover's head. He pressed his ear to Spike's waiting, for the 'click, click, ping!' of an idea to herald the vampire somehow getting out of using that color. "It was the whitest shade they had," he said, and then waited and just when he felt Spike take a breath to reply added in a soft whisper, "Don't you like it? It reminded me of you."

Xander laughed at the memory, causing Dawn to look over questioningly. He shook his head and she went back to her messages. He stroked Spike's hair and whispered, knowing the vampire would hear even over the sound of the air, "Moonbeam."

Spike growled, but his eyes remained rolled back in his head and he still feigned sleep.


Lindsey skirted the edge of the Hyperion's lobby. The settees had been moved and a long dining table had been centered under the glowing art deco chandelier. Vast assortments of dishes were being fussed over by the catering workers. Cordelia Chase stood amid the chaos like a drill sergeant inspecting her troops. Graham and Riley were hiding out in the office behind the reception desk with Fred, as they tried to avoid Cordelia's critical eye. Just as she focused on Lindsey, obviously unhappy he was there at all,
Angel came in from the back of the hotel carrying a two-headed helm ax and covered in blue ichor.

Lindsey stood back and enjoyed the show as Cordelia chewed Angel out. His years of honing his instinct for self-preservation at the firm aided him in hiding his smirk as the tall, powerful vampire hung his head at the Seer's tirade and mumbled an apology. Lindsey wondered if Angel had any idea just how tightly he was wrapped around the young woman's finger. After she admonished him for showing up looking a mess with company coming she segued into a diatribe over Lindsey's presence at the 'family' dinner.

Angel staged a strategic retreat and went to clean up as Gunn and Wesley came in the front doors. "Cordelia, this is impressive," the Englishman said. Their arrival caused Fred and the young men to venture out of the safety of the office.

"Hey, I do good work with the right budget." She beamed at Wesley and then turned her blinding smile on Graham, causing Riley to poke him in the ribs eliciting a slight smile from the quiet man.

Lindsey knew he was an unwelcome addition to this celebration, but it wasn't as if he wanted to be here. As the detective agency's staff began bantering and socializing, Lindsey backed away from the group. He continued meandering around the outer edges of the lobby hoping to sneak up to his room before the guests arrived. He was almost to the stairs when a familiar voice said, "Hey, cowboy, I thought you got the hell out of Dodge?"

He turned to see Lorne striding in from the same back entrance Angel had come through, resplendent in a gold-toned Dior suit that complemented his green skin and red eyes. Lindsey couldn't help returning his friend's wide smile. He shook his head ruefully and said, "So did I. Bat-vamp stumbled over some prophesy or vision that caused him to send his boy wonders after me."

The caterers had been staring openly at the demon and Lindsey's remark silenced everyone else. Lorne continued, ignoring the silence or perhaps reveling in being the center of attention, "You'll have to treat me to a sample of those golden pipes. I'll see what comes up." The showman crossed to Cordelia, gesturing dramatically, "So where is tall, dark and broodingly handsome? Love the spread, but isn't it a bit too Thanksgiving for a vampire?"

"Lorne." Cordelia fake-kissed his cheeks and said, "So glad you could make it. Please keep Lindsey from skulking around, plotting mayhem. This is my party and it is going smoothly if I have to behead everyone involved. Out." She directed the last to the gaping staff who had frozen in the process of packing up the crates in which they had delivered dinner. They scampered out with the packing crates, muttering something about special effects and pretentious actresses.

"I wouldn't miss a chance to see Angelkins bond with his favorite Childe." Lorne nudged Gunn with an elbow, inviting him to join in the teasing. "I heard from a Traxorian that Junior has quite a set of pipes himself."

"Yeah, if you like Sex Pistols," Cordelia said with a roll of her eyes.

Before anyone else could join in the conversation, Lorne nodded to the elaborate spread and gushed, "This is a big event for you, hum? This the first time Junior and company have come home to meet Daddy's minions?"

"Minions?" Cordelia hissed and glared at Lorne.

Lorne continued, heedless of the outrage in his audience as he gestured dramatically while circling the banquet table. "Gotta admit, the idea of all this family together brings a tear to my eye. Almost makes me miss my family - may magic and the portals keep them far away."

Lorne circled around and started to chat up Angel's new boys, while Wesley calmed the Seer. Since he was no longer the focus of anyone's attention Lindsey stopped fighting the desire to smirk - with Lorne here to bait Angel the evening was looking up.

Before he had a chance to think of more than five ways he could use this to his advantage his train of thought was derailed by the entrance of an arrogant young man. The blonde strutted in, opening both doors, palms flat and arms stretched wide. He stopped to survey the room, or perhaps to give its occupants a chance to admire his lean frame. Mouth-watering in tight black jeans and a tee shirt over his whipcord muscles, he was riveting. The blonde sneered and stalked forward. His hair was bleached a pale, delicate blonde and was quite striking when paired with his clear blue eyes and porcelain-like complexion. The combination should have made him look fragile or waiflike; instead he was every inch a predator - dangerous and hard. Lindsey hadn't survived at the firm as long as he had without being able to spot a vampire in a room full of humans. The vampire's thin-lipped sneer changed to contemptuous smirk as he purred out seductively, "So kiddies, did everyone miss me?"

So this was Angel's Childe? Wolfram and Hart had a file on him but had contacted Drusilla when looking to turn Darla, thinking she would be more malleable. A prudent move, since William the Bloody had been known to hunt Slayers for sport. That and the fact the in the demon community Drusilla had been much easier to locate. William, or rather Spike as he went by now, had dropped out of sight about two years ago. Since it had happened shortly after rumor had had the Childe torturing his Sire, many had thought he was dead, perhaps one more blood kin sacrificed to Angel's need for redemption. Well, he obviously was dead, but the Slayer of Slayers was still walking around dead and still apparently primed to annoy his Sire.

The 'minions' Lorne had mentioned were now entering behind him, two young women and a girl hardly into her teens by the look of her, followed by a tall, broad-shouldered brunette with dark, laughing eyes. Cordelia greeted them all enthusiastically. Well, she pretty much ignored the vampire, but the rest seemed human and they all appeared to know and like the Seer.

"Hey, food! Real food." The young man's attention was absorbed by the buffet of chafing dishes and deserts. He bounded toward the table but was detoured by Cordelia who grabbed his arm and used this momentum and centrifugal force to propel him with her over to meet Lorne.

"Hi, Wesley," the redhead said with a wave. Her blond shadow gave the Brit a tiny smile and a shy nod.

The only other member of the vampire's entourage was the young girl. She stayed close to the vampire, appearing a bit ill at ease in the crowd. Lindsey followed her wide-eyed gaze, expecting her to be thrown by Lorne's appearance ,even if she had arrived with a master vampire. He was surprised to find that instead of the demon she was watching the two most recent additions to the detective agency staff. When Lindsey looked back to see if he could determine why these men made her ill at ease he was shocked again to find the vampire soothing her worries with softly-whispered words while stroking her long brown hair.

Cordelia briefly demanded everyone's attention as she introduced he and Lorne. Apparently, everyone else had been previously acquainted. He quickly put faces to names and tried to think if he had heard of any of them from the firm's files.


Angel stopped at the top of the stairs. Cordelia was wearing a red sleeveless, wrap dress. Her sun-kissed skin and gleaming hair radiated life and health. He warred briefly with the side of him that would either
consider this a dinner invitation or long to make that beauty eternal. He watched as she worked the room, making sure the two groups mingled while keeping an eye on their reluctant guest.

Angel knew he should go down and play host; if he didn't she would surely make him pay. He smiled at the thought of those flashing brown eyes. He hadn't meant to be late or come back smelling of Ithor demon ichor, but he had to work off the nervous tension the impending visit had caused. If the recent updates from Willow were anything to go by it was probably too late to stop Xander from becoming fully blood-bonded to Spike. Angel understood the selfishness that would drive a demon to grab what he wanted regardless of the consequences; he had felt it himself when claiming each of his Childer. What he couldn't fathom was how Xander, who had the best sense of self-preservation of the lot of them, could throw all his years of experience aside and willingly embrace hellspawn in the name of love.

It was love. Angel couldn't deny that. He had seen them together, the way they moved, unconsciously shadowing each other, protecting each other. He remembered Xander's eyes before the battle, when he had asked what he should do about Spike if Xander died. Already there had been a level of intimacy that spoke of a bond deeper than even Angelus' had been with Darla. But, he knew firsthand the dangers of such a bond. Surely, Xander realized that Spike would never willingly be parted from him. That alone almost guarantied that the boy would be turned eventually. Even if Spike could fight his desire to hold on to his ephemeral lover, what would such darkness do to Xander's soul? Did he truly understand what bonding like this to a demon could do to his soul?

He watched now as Spike's eyes tracked Xander's movement around the room. Typically, Xander was making more of a circuit of the trays of hors d'oeuvre than attempting to socialize, yet he seemed to be the one person who effortlessly laughed and talked with each person. Wes was carefully easing Fred into a conversation as she matched Xander in scarfing the chilled shrimp. Spike stayed close to Dawn. This was the first Angel had seen her since she had been giving him baleful glares for roughing up his obnoxious Childe. Angel thought, judging by the look she was giving Riley, that Dawn had inherited Buffy's ability to hold a grudge.

Rather than get called on for lurking by Cordelia, Angel reluctantly descended the stairs. After greeting the new arrivals, Angel was rescued from the awkward cocktail party-like setting by Xander, of all people. It had seemed like just small talk at first but Angel found himself opening up to the young man when he asked about the hotel and the renovations that were possible.

Finally, it was time for dinner. Cordelia had agonized over the seating each time she had added a member to the party. She had wanted to keep Riley away from the Scoobies and Spike away from the LA people and in the end everyone away from Lindsey. Unfortunately all her planning went to hell, due to Xander and Gunn being engrossed in a conversation. The two men took adjoining seats, thus prompting Spike to sit on Xander's right and of course keep Dawn on his right. The shuffling planted Riley right next to Willow and somehow ended up with Lindsey between Tara and Fred.

Sitting at the end of the long table, as massive amounts of roast vegetables and rare meat were being consumed, Angel noticed Cordelia's forced grin and raised eyebrow frequently drawing his attention to the ex-lawyer who was bent on charming their more innocent guests. He assumed she wanted him to
keep a close eye on Fred who was seated on his right. He preferred to let Wesley, who was across from her, engage her in conversation, since at least Wes had a chance of understanding some of what she said.

Angel didn't think it was the crisis Cordelia was making it out to be. Dawn seemed perfectly at ease next to Lorne and after an initial glare Willow promptly ignored Riley. Although each spoke privately with their dining partners, the bulk of the table's attention was on the two young men swapping tales of slaying. Gunn briefed Xander on the recent and not-so-recent events. Using colorful language, he abbreviated the events surrounding Wolfram and Hart, Darla's resurrection and turning, Angel firing
them all and Wesley now being in charge. Xander showed no surprise at the mention of Darla and confirmed that Dru had made a brief and bloody visit to the Dale before vanishing again. Dawn elbowed Spike and giggled during that tale and Angel watched his Childe duck his head as if he were still able to


After dinner, they separated into smaller groups. Lindsey bid a reluctant goodnight to Fred, whose quirky babble he found charming, as the painfully shy young woman offered to show Dawn to her room. The girl was going out with friends first thing in the morning, or so Lindsey had overheard her confide in Lorne at dinner.

The two young women, witches if rumor were to be believed, were over on the settee with Cordelia. She and the redhead seemed to know many of the same people and the young woman was updating her at an amazing rate of speech. The blonde woman sat silently at her side, radiating a tranquility unobtainable by the magic users the firm had contracted. Obviously, Cordelia and this Willow had known each other for quite some time. Lindsey wondered if the Sire had given the witch to the Childe or if the Seer had been gifted to the Sire by the Childe. As of Lindsey's departure from the firm over six months ago it had been assumed that Angel had met Cordelia when he saved her life from the unfortunate Russell Winters.

Xander, the human male who had accompanied Angel's Childe's group, was standing at the serving table with Gunn, Finn, and Miller, trading stories while picking at the leftover prime rib. Spike and Wesley had gone into some kind of a library or study off the lobby where they were examining a scroll. Lorne and Angel were at the bar that had been set up at the reception desk.

Lindsey had taken a seat out of the way and with a view of all the groups. Lorne looked bored to tears and Angel looked like he would prefer to be working on a case. Lindsey was just considering going to rescue his friend when the dark-eyed human from Sunnydale left his companions guarding the food and crossed the lobby to take a seat near him. "Hi, I'm Xander."

"Yeah, Cordelia introduced you." Lindsey was instantly on his guard.

"True, but there are only two of you for us to remember. But, I guess being an evil lawyer, that you'd have to keep all the names and faces straight or risk pissing of the wrong demon, huh?" Guileless brown eyes blinked and an open, friendly grin replaced the slightly pensive look which had accompanied that speech.

Reluctantly, Lindsey found himself returning that easy smile. "Know a lot of demons, do you?"

"You'd be surprised," the young man quipped. Given his choice of companions Lindsey supposed he should have expected that. It was odd that of the people Spike had chosen to come with him to visit his Sire, they were all still human. Xander didn't have the acquiescent attitude of a pet or slave. Human
consorts were rare and would still be expected to show a certain deference to the vampire which this man lacked. He could see the vampire keeping the witches for their power and the girl perhaps as a pure offering to some higher demon, but the young man had him stumped. Not only did he appear too
average for this master vampire to notice but his whole attitude was far too alpha for someone who dealt with a being that could squash him like a bug. His unbroken spirit along with his easy banter with both Angel and his Childe completely threw Lindsey in regard to his status in the vampire's entourage.

Lindsey considered and discarded a variety of small talk. If he ask how Xander knew Angel, the young man would just point out that they were family. The young man would never volunteer the real reason for their visit. It was unlikely that, after all this time, the vampires had suddenly had a yen for family togetherness. Something was up, that much was obvious. This evening had a formal feel to it. The catering of food for the humans. The Childe arriving and filling his Sire's refrigerator with units of human blood. How had the firm missed this connection? They had written off this dangerous opponent. No, worse than written him off, they assumed, seemingly incorrectly, that the Slayer of Slayers was an enemy of Angel's. Yet they had been in contact for quite some time, if the level of intimacy between their humans was any way to judge. This information could be invaluable, Lindsey thought.

Lindsey nodded in the direction of the gossiping women and said, "They seem to be enjoying themselves." It seemed a safe comment and just might elicit more information on how close the two circles were, depending on how savvy the human was at withholding information.

"Yeah, hard to believe there was a time when I was about all those two had in common." The brunette smiled inwardly and shook his head at some memory. "So, how does one decide to be an evil lawyer? Do you do an internship or do they recruit you by your LSAT scores?"

Lindsey couldn't help smiling at Xander. The man projected an air of 'I'm too dumb to come out of the rain' but a flash in those dark eyes told him that this rube had no intention of telling him anything he didn't already know.

Lindsey leaned in, preparing to charm the man with a well-tested ice breaker about his first year as a clerk when he heard a low growl and looked up into yellow eyes. The vampire must have crossed the lobby in a flash. He had been a good forty feet away only a moment ago. Gone was the smooth, controlled predator, this was a salivating beast looking at Lindsey as if he were dessert and the entertainment rolled into one. As Lindsey's life flashed before his eyes, in one fluid movement Xander pulled the vampire down on to his lap and bit into the heavy muscle where Spike's neck joined his shoulder. Xander lapped gently at the blood he had drawn and whispered an amused, "As if," into the vampire's ear.

Angel was there in an instant, but whether he intended to protect Lindsey or assist his Childe in rending him limb from limb the ex-lawyer wasn't sure. Lorne had followed and put a restraining hand on the hulking vampire's arm. Lindsey turned back to the pair in the chair just in time to see Xander lick the blood from his lips. "Use your words. We talked about this. You agreed to use words when something was bothering you and not just pounce," Xander said softly, and while speaking, brought his gaze eye to eye with Spike. Without breaking that gaze he said in a more forceful voice, "Lighten up, Deadboy, it's under control." Spike broke their impromptu staring match and seemed no less murderous but at least now his glare was for his Sire and not for Lindsey.

Thankfully, Lorne stepped in and said, "How about you play for me now? I think we could all stand a change of pace."


Across town in the a gleaming office building, the lawyers had finally left. Glory stretched out on the fluffy towel. It seemed coarse against her gleaming skin and was an inadequate cushion against the dry wood of the bench on which she reclined. The sauna's dry air coaxed jewel-like beads of sweat from her most magnificent form. Already her golden curls were wild and damp from the combination of sweat and dry heat. A scowl marred her perfect features as she considered the minions -- guards? not likely -- who stood at attention by the door. The towering figures looked carved out of highly polished onyx and were naked but for elaborately embroidered loincloths. The obsequious lawyers had offered to provide for her every need and craving. The two well-muscled beings, each with the head of a jackal, could either have been sent as a meal or an amusement.

Stretching again, she bit her lip trying to discern what had brought on the itchy feeling of restlessness that throbbed through her body. It almost felt as if Ben... "Get out!" she hissed and didn't even take the time to enjoy the minions scuttling out the door, their now-visible tails tucked between their legs. "No, no, no, no..." Glory chanted and jumped up holding her hands up - willing the delicate manicured fingers to remain. The lawyers had sworn Ben was gone, she would vivisect the lot of them. Angry blue eyes were replaced by confused hazel and Buffy Summers slowly lowered her hands and tried to figure out where she was and how she had gotten there.