Part One

Xander was going crazy and it wasn't a pretty sight. He was on his third batch of pasta and if he didn't get it right this time he and Spike would be eating breadsticks and sauce. Who knew lasagne was this difficult? He picked this recipe because lasagne, flashier then spaghetti yet just as easy to make.

Right? However, the noodles weren't cooperating. They kept getting mushy and tearing. Spike was due for dinner in half-hour and he hadn't finished layering the pan yet, let along baking it.

Damnit, he'd wanted everything to be perfect tonight. He and Spike had been a tentative couple for the past three weeks, ever since the Hellmouth battle with Micah and the other renegade angels. They'd been meeting at the Bronze with the rest of the gang, patrolling and ending up at Xander's place afterwards to watch late night movies, on the couch - together -
close together. Which, after what happened the night before last, was why Xander had decided to invite Spike to dinner and have a talk, the Talk. He'd been practicing all day, saying the words over and over again in different variations. He still hadn't gotten his phrasing just right but how did you break this kind of news to a guy you had secretly adored for years who was now giving you the time of day and who just lately was trying to put the moves on you?

He tried again, as he layered noodles, using his best grown-up voice. "Spike, I wanted to discuss our relationship because technically I've never had intercourse with anyone before." No, no, too clinical. "Spike, I asked you here tonight to discuss sex." No, too businesslike. "Spike, I really like you but I think there's something you should know, I'm technically a virgin." Okay, that wasn't too bad but how did he get Spike to start talking about sex? Okay,
let's re-phrase that: how do you get Spike to start talking about sex in a mature non-raunchy manner?

It's not that he didn't want to have sex with Spike. He did, really. He was a young, healthy man. He thought about sex, a lot, even after his disastrous encounter with Faith. Yup, Faith, that little dangerous liaison had left the former angel with psychological scars that were even now still influencing his life. He had done a lot of reading in the Sunnydale Public Library after that incident. Father Hanson had also done his best to help. He'd been very straightforward in his explanation of teenage hormones and biology having little to do with
rational thought. The Father explained that Xander hadn't done anything wrong. Xander had been a victim.

The whole thing along with his infatuation with Spike had gone a long way toward keeping Xander fairly sex free for the past 31/2 years. There had been some necking with Cordelia, which he felt a little guilty about, but darn it, he'd been seventeen and Father Hanson was right about teenage hormones. He still winced over Cordy getting hurt after seeing him kiss
Willow. It was amazing how much trouble a little petting could cause. After that incident he'd decided celibacy was the only way to go.

He'd been doing pretty well too until he and Spike starting spending more time together and then the night before last, Bam! Spike decided to get a little frisky. They'd been leaning against each other watching an old Bogart film. Xander and Spike discovered that they both loved old movies. Xander was busy cuddling with Spike and fantasizing about what the blond would look like in a three-piece suit when he felt the vampire's hand creeping up his leg. He
held his breath as he glanced down to watch the hand slowly inching upward from his knee, inch, halt, inch, and halt. The hand had made it about three quarters of the way towards its goal when Xander lost his nerve, jumped up and dashed into the kitchen, ostensibly for
more popcorn but in reality to get his breathing under control. He'd returned to the couch to find a grumpy and confused vampire who refused to talk, left soon after and hadn't returned since.

Xander had been miserable. When they had met for patrol yesterday, their conversation had been very stilted until Spike snarled out "Sod it," and kissed Xander firmly on the mouth. That gave Xander the courage to invite the blonde to dinner that evening. Spike had quickly
accepted.

"Finally," Xander exclaimed. The lasagne was in the oven. The table was set. Spike was bringing the wine. Xander had even dressed for the occasion in a sweater and slacks that Buffy had given him for his birthday last year. He smiled fondly as he took one last look in the mirror. Buffy had always had an eye for fashion. He looked very grown-up and confident. He needed all the help he could get.

The doorbell rang and Xander took a deep breath, giving his reflection the thumbs up sign and went to open the door. Spike was dressed in a brown leather coat, slacks and a pullover V-neck sweater in the same color blue as his eyes. He held a bottle of wine in one hand and a foil wrapped box in the other. Both men slowly looked each other up and down. Their perusal ended with them both staring at each other gaping like fish. Spike's lips twitched first, then Xander snerked. They both ended up laughing. Xander felt the knot in his stomach relax a bit.

"Hiya, pet." Spike said smiling. "Red wine as requested." He handed the bottle to the mortal with a flourish as Xander stood aside to let him in the apartment. "Also," he offered the foil wrapped box self-consciously, "host gift, chocolates. Didn't think you'd want flowers." Spike said.

Xander gave him a shy smile in return. "Thanks. You look really nice." Xander said, taking Spike's coat.

"Yeah, well, don't get invited to dinner too often. Figured I'd better clean up a bit." Spike cleared his throat nervously. "You look smashing pet."

"Umm, thanks. It was a gift." He said, smoothing his hands over the sweater. He'd almost said Buffy gave it to me but stopped himself in time. "So, I'll just take this and open it up, let it breathe, right?" Xander asked, motioning to the bottle in his hands.

"Yeah," Spike said with a grin of approval. Xander grinned back and went to open the bottle. Spike had found that Xander was a lot more knowledgeable then people gave him credit for. Of course, that was mainly due to Xander spending years trying to pretend he was "normal" to fit in with humans. Since telling his friends who and what he was, Xander was slowly
beginning to unwind and Spike was discovering a very thoughtful and sensitive young man.

 Xander loved old movies, especially film noir mysteries. Xander seemed to identify with the heroes. He had a fondness for old television shows versus the newer stuff. Spike would swear that Xander could hum the theme to every show created between 1950 and 1975. His favourite was Mission Impossible although he refused to watch it if they missed the beginning. He watched every show on PBS that dealt with home improvement and carpentry and loved to build things. He was busy working on a bookshelf right now to house his collection of westerns. Spike had found a box of books in his closet when he was shamelessly snooping on one of his visits. He teased Xander about wanting to be a cowboy. Xander
had blushed then confessed that when he was little he'd always wanted to learn how to ride. Spike had almost made a comment brimming with sexual innuendo but catching the innocent look on Xander's face had smiled softly instead. He found himself rashly promising to teach the boy to ride some night. It had been worth it to see Xander's eye's light up like a child.

Spike sighed softly to himself as he settled in on the couch. Xander was like a child in some ways. It didn't matter that he might have the memories of an ageless angel; he was still basically a twenty-year-old man with an apparently limited sexual background. Spike had quickly figured that out after Xander's escape from the couch the other night. Spike hadn't handled that situation well. He'd thought he'd done something wrong or worse that Xander had been teasing. It took him a few hours as well as a few drinks to figure out that Xander had reacted like a frightened innocent.

Now Spike being a fairly old vampire had enticed more than a few innocents in his time, granted it was usually to their deaths and not to his bed, but there was a certain finesse that was required with virgins.

You had to move slowly, romantically even and keep the predatory fires banked. He admitted wryly, that was how Drusilla had gotten to him.

He had a fairly good idea of what Xander wanted to discuss tonight. He knew Xander wanted him. Now that he was actually paying attention to the young man, he realized that Xander had been interested for quite awhile. It was a fairly straightforward proposition for Spike.

Spike wanted Xander. Xander wanted Spike.

Whatever it was that was holding Xander back was just a momentary obstacle for the vampire. Spike was going to get Xander. He'd just have to move slowly, carefully. He was actually looking forward to this; it had been a long time since he'd been on this kind of a hunt. He felt his canines lengthen briefly as he licked them. He knew that most people considered him as more of the smash and grab type but he could be careful when necessary and with the ex-angel, he knew it was going to be very necessary.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Xander asked as he sat down next to the blond. He handed Spike a beer and put a bowl of pretzels down. Spike raised an eyebrow. "Appetizers." Xander said very seriously then grinned.

"Just wondering what smelled so good, pet." The vampire said innocently.

"Lasagne." The young man stated proudly.

"I'm impressed pet." And he was too. "Oh aye," he thought to himself. "I nailed this conversation. It's the Talk." Years came and went, styles changed but the Talk remained the same. The Talk was universal, demon, human, and angels even; the Relationship Talk crossed all boundaries. It was the reason Vengeance Demons existed. They didn't just grant the wishes of humans. He was probably lucky Dru hadn't summoned one. He relaxed a bit. Now that he was certain of what was going on he could afford to be magnanimous. He took a
sip of his beer and leaned back.

"I wanted to apologize for the other night, pet. I shouldn't have just stalked out of here without a word." Xander started and then looked absolutely relieved.

"Oh, Spike, there's nothing for you to apologize for, I over reacted, really. I can't believe I just jumped up and ran like that, I mean, you'd think that I'd never, well you know, but I have, although not really, which is why I invited you over here tonight, you know?" Xander looked at him earnestly.

Spike blinked. "I think so. Pet," he said, moving forward and setting his beer on the table. "You're trying to tell me that you want to take things more slowly because you've never had sex before?" Spike asked.

"Oh no, technically I've had sex. I just wasn't really…"

"Having a good time?" asked the vampire.

" Well that but, I think the word I want is involved. Does that make sense?" Xander asked.

Spike looked confused. "You were conscious, right luv? I mean someone didn't take advantage of you while you were out did they?" Spike asked indignantly. Now that would really be too much. What was the point if the prey wasn't aware? Where was the fun in that?

"Of course, I was conscious. It was just over with so fast. She was kissing and stuff and then we were all over each other and then well later she tried to strangle me." Xander trailed off giving Spike a self-conscious smile.

"What!" yelled the vampire, "What do you mean Willow tried to strangle you?"

Now it was Xander's turn to blink. Spike looked outraged. "Willow? What's Wills got to do with this? I've never had sex with Willow. She's like my sister! Ewww! Okay, there was that one time when she was fooling around with that spell and you tried to kill us and she and I kissed. I had nightmares about that for awhile, let me tell you."

"Then it was that cheerleading bint; the one that's working for me grandsire now. I'll…"

Xander interrupted. "Cordelia? Spike for heaven's sake. Why would Cordy want to strangle me?" Xander stopped, thought for a moment. "Let me re-phrase. Do you really think Cordy's strong enough to physically hurt me? I'll grant you I was a little on the lanky
side and she is a cheerleader. Believe me they're a lot tougher then they look but…"

"Bloody Hell whelp! Quit nattering on, who tried to strangle you?" Spike roared.

"Faith." Xander said warily.

"The psycho Slayer bitch? You had sex with a Slayer?" Spike was thrown. From the way Xander had spoken about Slayers, Spike would have bet a year's supply of Type O that Xander would never have had sex with a Slayer. Although, it didn't sound like he'd had much say in the matter. Spike needed more information here. He had an unpleasant feeling about this.

"Pet, did you want to have sex with this Slayer?" Spike asked carefully.

Xander fiddled with the beer in his hands, turning the bottle around and around.

"Xan?" Spike asked again, catching the man's hand. "Look at me. Did you want to have sex with the chit?"

"No." Xander said very softly. "I went over there to talk to her, you know. I wanted her to know that someone understood. She was so damaged. I didn't understand why the others couldn't see that. She just laughed at me and then she started rubbing up against me and kissing and her hands just seemed to be everywhere. The next thing I know, I'm presses up
against the door and her hands kept rubbing and I wanted her to stop but I didn't." Xander whispered. "Father Hanson said I didn't do anything wrong, that teenage boys couldn't always control how their bodies reacted, you know? But he didn't know what I used to be and how wrong what I did was. Later, when I went back to try and talk to her and she tried to strangle
me; well a part of me figured maybe I deserved it. She was just a kid and I'm not, not really." Xander dropped his eyes from Spike's and looked at his beer sadly.

Spike swore to himself that chip or no chip if that bitch was in front of him right now he'd find a way to kill her. Maybe she was fucked up but the minute she touched his Xander she made Spike's hit list.

He looked at the sad human in front of him. Right, well time to revise his plan, no stalking Xander. Xander was not prey. He dredged up memories of William's life and made a decision. Xander was going to be wooed. Spike wasn't sure how he was going to do it, this was uncharted territory for the vampire. Xander wasn't a nineteenth century female nor was he a vampire and Spike had never wooed a human. He tried with the Slayer and that had obviously been a disaster. Of course, Xander used to be an angel and he remembered
the fierce look in Xander's eyes before their battle - Xanderwolf. The demon could work with that. Bloody Hell, that's what came of getting cocky, he chastised himself. No shagging in the near future, more than likely but hey, he brightened, that didn't necessarily mean no petting or maybe other things.

"Hey Xan?" He tugged on the young man's hand. "I used to be seventeen too you know, well William did. He pretty much thought of sex non-stop. Why do you think I, he wrote all that poetry? Can you say repressed? And vampires, well if it moves we'll shag it, not that we
have to or anything." Spike said quickly.

"Mr. the Bloody, for an evil blood sucking demon, you can be a pretty nice guy." Xander smiled at him shyly and Spike felt a brief instance of something warm in the region of his heart.

"Don't tell anyone or I'll have to kill you." Spike said solemnly.

Xander bent forward and placed a soft kiss on the blonde's lips. Spike closed his eyes and just lost himself in the warm feeling of Xander's mouth on his. Xander opened his mouth and Spike eagerly followed suit. Their tongues duelled gently at first but then with increasing passion. Spike reached around Xander's waist to pull him closer while the young man reached
both arms around Spike's neck. Spike ran the fingers of his other hand through Xander's hair and angled his head to deepen the kiss. They both leaned back against the couch and settled in to explore the moment.

Spike was very careful to hold onto his control and let Xander lead. Xander grew more confident as he realized that Spike wasn't going to go any further than Xander wanted. Xander ended the kiss reluctantly. He was breathless and there was a golden sheen to Spike's eyes.

"Wow, that was really nice." Xander said trying to catch his breath.

Spike cleared his throat, his voice still coming out with a growl. "Nice, yeah, right luv." If he'd needed to breathe he'd have been panting and the kid thought that was nice? Wasn't there some ancient legend about virgins being the death of vampires because he wasn't sure how he was going to deal with "wonderful" if they ever got to that point?

The oven-timer chose that moment to go off and Xander laughed. Spike was gratified to see that the brunette wasn't any too steady on his feet as he headed to the kitchen. "Just you wait, mate, until I get you to un-fucking-believable, even if it's the death of me." Spike grinned to himself as he stretched.

* * * *

Spike whistled as he headed home. The kid wasn't a half bad cook. The lasagne had been a little crispy but the sauce was great. He'd let Spike dribble blood all over his portion. They'd forgone the cheesecake Xander had bought and had the chocolates for dessert instead.

They'd nibbled while watching "Dark Street" with Clifton Webb. They had cuddled on the couch and generally spent a really pleasant evening. Spike was surprised. There had been no sex, no violence and yet he'd had a good time. Granted, his demon now wanted to go out and find something to pound but Spike was going home to change first. He wasn't getting demon goo on this sweater; Xander said it matched his eyes. "Could I sound any more like a girl?" he thought to himself. "Oh sod it, who cares?" Suddenly every instinct he had started screaming at him. "Oh hell!" There was an angel near by. Spike vamped out and whirled going into
a fighting crouch. "Show yourself!"

Out of the shadows cast by the streetlight a figure sauntered forward, long black coat and white blonde hair almost the color of Spike's. The vampire felt his demon flinch, Gabriel, the Angel of Death. Well, Spike thought, he had been half expecting this ever since he'd started spending time with Xander. Sure Xander said he had decided to stay with them but staying with the Scoobies and keeping time with a demon and an angel killing one at that, were two different things.

It looked like Spike's time with the boy was up. He wasn't going down without a fight even thought all Gabriel had to do was wave a hand and this body was dead, for real this time.

Gabriel walked up to the vampire and then hopped on top of a picket fence
surrounding the house Spike had been passing. Cor, that creeped the vampire out, the way he just balanced there with his coat hanging down looking like a big old crow. They made an interesting tableau, the demon and the angel.

The silence stretched and just as the vampire was about to take a chance and launch himself at the archangel Gabriel spoke up.

"Want a cookie?" He asked pulling a bag out of his coat pocket.

"What?" Spike stammered, completely thrown.

"A cookie. They're double chocolate chip. This little old lady, Myrna, you know her, probably not. Anyway, she works at that bakery off Main Street, next to that retro boutique? Know the place I'm talking about?" Gabriel asked proffering the bag.

Spike shook his head dumbly.

"Oh well, great bakery. You sure? You don't know what you're missing." The angel said snagging a cookie and taking a big bite. "Hmmm. The best." He said with a contented look on his face. "Good double chocolate chip cookies are a little piece of Heaven on Earth." Gabriel laughed. "That'd make a great ad campaign wouldn't it? Nine out of ten angels agree," Gabriel
held up the cookie and smiled.

Spike was seriously freaked. What the bloody hell was going on? Was Gabriel insane? From all he'd heard the angel hadn't been too stable for a few thousand years at least not withstanding his apparent change of heart. Angels, you couldn't trust 'em. They always had
some hidden agenda going. Apparently Gabriel wanted to play some type of mind game with him before he offed him and Spike damn well wasn't going to play.

He snarled. "Look you soddin feathered freak. What do you want, you here to kill me? Or are you trying to warn me off Xander? Whatever it is, it ain't going to work mate."

"Warn you off, do I look like Alexander's father?" Gabriel asked. Then he smiled. "I just work for him. Naw, I'm not here to ask what your intentions are towards Alexander." The angel gave him a sidewise look. "I think I've got a better idea then you do right now."

Gabriel hopped down from the fence popping his bag of cookies back in his pocket. "Nope, I'm here to ask how you and Alexander might feel about taking a little trip? I've got a little situation, small town about 150 miles east of here, middle of nowhere, aren't they always?" Gabriel winked conspiratorially.

"I realize that right now, you're a package deal so I thought it'd be polite to ask you separately. After all," he said, looking straight into Spike's eyes, "any damage to your rep from helping the Slayer was pretty much repaired after you killed Mordacai. You can even
continue to help the Scoobies and I doubt you'll get much of a challenge but if it were to get out that you were keeping company with an ex-angel, well."

"Are you threatening us mate?" Spike asked very softly, flexing his talons, preparing to make a suicidal launch at the archangel. If any demons ever figured out what it was about Xander that irritated them, he would be dead meat. Not even Spike's new found Big Bad reputation would protect him. Spike wasn't going to let that happen, not if he could help it.

Gabriel suddenly grinned like a child. "Nope, just asking if you'd be willing to go along. I'm pretty sure Alexander will go and of course I'm willing to put up the food and gas money."

"What the fuck is this? You angels, you love your fuckin games. Why do you care if I go along or not? You know I'll follow the boy and his name's not Alexander, you pounce, it's Xander. He's not a freakin' featherhead anymore." Spike raged.

Gabriel looked at Spike very seriously. "No, he's not. He's a human with the memories of an angel and you're a demon with the memories of a human. In your case, that can help you but for Xander" Gabriel stressed, "that's not necessarily true. Every mistake he makes, real or perceived, can trip him up. He expects a great deal out of himself and there's a danger that if he feels he's screwed up too badly that maybe he'll stop trying." Gabriel smiled at Spike. "You on the other hand don't have that problem. Xander could probably guard against your little demonic whims."

Spike snarled.

"And I doubt, he'll ever let you turn him but you can hurt him in other ways. He loves you. Because of his nature he's not blinded by that love but especially now, that you two are an item, every mistake you make will cause him pain. I'd appreciate it if you'd try to minimize those." Gabriel finished seriously.

Spike blinked slowly at the angel and then smiled a little goofily. "He loves me?"

Gabriel rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. "Good, glad to see you're focusing in on the really important parts of the conversation." The angel shook his head wearily. Demons.

Spike shook himself returning to his human features. He took a moment to compose himself, pulling a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting it. "So, what is this, I try to be a good boy because of Xander and help out and someday I achieve redemption?" Spike snorted. "Do I look like the poof to you?"

"No Spike. I don't think you understand. You can never achieve redemption." Gabriel said decisively.

Spike felt himself flinch inwardly. "Well what did you expect mate?" he snapped to himself. He took a drag off his cigarette and raised his chin defiantly.

The angel continued, "Redeeming a vampire would be like redeeming a shark or an angel." Gabriel said with a laugh. "I mean what would be the point? We don't
have souls. Nope, you can't be redeemed. You can however be forgiven but only if you're SORRY. Are you sorry?" Gabriel asked pointedly.

Spike closed his eyes and for a moment his entire un-life seemed to pass before him. He took a deep, unnecessary breath and brought his cigarette to his mouth again on shaking hands. He opened his eyes and stared directly at the archangel. "Can't say as I am mate. It's been a helluva ride."

Gabriel nodded his head softly.

"I guess I cocked up eh?" Spike said with a bitter little smile.

"Can't cock up the truth, mate," said the angel. He smiled gently. "So," Gabriel said briskly, "about this trip, kinda of an in and out, like the wind, sort of deal, quick recon. Do you think you and the rest of the Scoobies are up for it? I'm figuring a weekend sort of thing; you and Xander doing the legwork with those cute little witches as back up? What do you say? I just know Xander won't want to go without you."

"Crikey mate, you're Looney. I used to think it was just the boy but that's not it is it? Angels are just plain barmy." Spike threw up his hands. "Hell, yeah sure, recon. What are we looking at: apocalyptic hell demons, insane gods, dimensional portals, what?"

"An orphanage in Tuxedo Junction, actually. Thanks." Gabriel said with a wink before scattering in a shimmer of light.

Spike stared blankly and then shuddered. "Cor, that's creepy." He shook his head and started back towards Xander's place. He no longer felt the need to go pound on anything. He felt like sleeping on a warm couch instead.

* * * *

Gabriel shimmered into existence on the outskirts of Tuxedo Junction, population 1500, not all of those above ground. He stood on a hill overlooking the tiny hamlet. He turned his head to the presence walking up the hill behind him. The scruffy demon took off his battered hat, wiping his forehead.

"What a dump." Whistler complained. "I hate these out of town jobs. So, they gonna show?"

"Yeah, they'll be here." Gabriel smiled. "He gave me a little lip and I haven't asked Xander yet, but I think they'll come."

"Man, how you can put up with the mouth on him." Whistler snorted. "I'd rather deal with broody grand pappy any day."

"Well," the angel said calmly, "it's the age. They're all cocky when they're that young."

"Oh yeah, he's gonna grow out of the blood thirsty, chaos thing and into a mature being." Whistler said sarcastically.

Gabriel raised his eyebrows, giving the demon a look. "You did." He said pointedly.

Whistler looked momentarily chagrined. "Yeah, yeah," he said disgruntledly.

"Cheer up, Whistler, remember one step at a time. Hey cookie?" Gabriel offered.

"Myrna's double chocolate chips? Oh yeah."

............................................................................................................................................................

Part Two

Xander was a very tired and grumpy young man. Just as he had crawled into his nice comfy bed last night, ready to snooze, a very annoyed Spike pounding on his door, demanding to be let in had interrupted him.

Xander had yanked the door open ready to face the coming apocalypse or at the very least, hellhounds; instead he'd spend the better part of an hour listening to the blond rant and rave about those "bleedin featherheads" and "don't tell me that wasn't a threat". It had taken a good fifteen minutes and Xander threatening dire retribution before Spike had finally spit out the name Gabriel. Xander had felt his heart sink. He'd known when he told Gabriel that he
wasn't coming home; that he was staying here with his friends, that he would see the archangel again. The way the angel had smiled and said "Sure, I understand" then waved and disappeared; Xander had known in his heart that it was all too easy.

At least after he'd gotten Spike calmed down and extracted the gist of the conversation from him, he'd realized that Gabriel hadn't actually threatened them. Of course he had an advantage over Spike of knowing how the archangel worked. It was all implication. That was how most angels worked, by implication; that way they could claim later that they'd never actually said that and if you got that impression, 'oh dear'. It was a sort of counterpoint to the demonic, "didn't you read the fine print on the contract?" attitude.

He'd set Spike up on the couch with a beer, a blanket and the remainder of the bag of pretzels, promising the vampire that he'd look into it. He'd then trudged back into the bedroom and tried to fall asleep while Spike watched TV. He hadn't been very successful.

The last time he'd glanced at the clock, it had been 2 am and the alarm was set for 5:30. It felt like he'd just closed his eyes when the alarm went off. He'd tried to move quietly while he got ready for work, what with Spike asleep on the couch. He didn't need to bother. Spike was literally dead to the world when he slept.

Xander had cleaned up the coffee table, made sure the blanket wouldn't slip off and had adjusted Spike's head so he wouldn't wake up with a crick in his neck. That's when he realized that nothing short of a small explosion was going to wake up Spike. The young man
had still decided to have his morning coffee at the café near work instead of home that morning and after double- checking the curtains had headed out.

He had to admit, as he took a deep breath of air, it was a nice morning. He found a table in the corner and sank into his chair. He was contemplating ordering a triple mocha when Gabriel popped into the seat across from him. His only reaction was to blink twice in surprise.

"Gabriel, please, go away. It's way too early for any of your games." Xander said pleadingly.

The archangel just beamed at him, held up a finger and said, "Hold that thought, okay?" as the waitress came over to take their order. She was an older woman, born and raised in Sunnydale, who never took guff from the patrons, no matter what their background. Her name was Sally and Xander had always felt six in her presence. She advanced, pad at the ready although Xander knew she didn't need it. He'd once seen her recite the entire menu from memory for a bunch of frat boys who'd tried to give her "lip" as she called it.

"Well?" she asked flatly.

Gabriel peered up at her and smiled. "Well, Sally, may I call you Sally, I think I'd like the triple mocha supreme. Now does that come with chocolate sprinkles on top of the whipped cream, because," he leaned forward, "I love those chocolate sprinkles."

She slowly raised her eyebrows at him, contemplating him for a moment before answering, "Sprinkles, sure." She turned to Xander, giving him the same look.

He swallowed, "Me too." He cleared his throat, "And a chocolate-banana muffin, please?" He tried to smile. She just shook her head and went to place the order.

"Look Gabriel, don't piss off Sally." He hissed. "I come here a lot, okay and I don't want to have to stop."

"Alexander," the angel held up a placating hand, "you worry too much. You're a young man; you need to calm down; you and Spike, very tense. "

"Calm down!" Xander took a quick look around and leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I had an irate vampire to deal with last night before he passed out on the couch. Seems he felt you were threatening us. It took a good fifteen minutes before I got enough out of him to realize that no, you weren't threatening us; you were just trying to be manipulative." Xander
finished with a grimace.

"No I wasn't." Gabriel said with a suspiciously straight face.

"Yes, you were. You want us to go check this "little situation" out for you and this was your attempt to manipulate us into doing it." Xander stated firmly. "I know you. I know how you work." Xander shook his head, glanced away and then back again. Gabriel was still looking at him with that suspicious, innocent look on his face.

Xander burst out in exasperation, "What? What is the situation?"

Gabriel blinked. "Well, like I explained to Spike," he said very patiently," it involves an orphanage in the town of Tuxedo Junction. It's only about 150 miles east of here, just a little day trip, well, if you and Spike could go during the day. We've just been having a little trouble getting in touch with the lady who runs the place and I thought you could just drive over and check it out."

"We have these little devices called phones now, grandpa, why don't you just call her?" Xander asked sarcastically.

"There's no need to get snippy." Gabriel held up a warning finger. "Anyway, every time, we call she's unavailable. She hasn't returned one message."

"We, every time we call, who's we?" Xander waved his hand. "Never mind, don't want to know. So why not just blink on over to Tuxedo Junction and check out the place. I mean no one's going to notice you." Gabriel pursed his lips. Xander groaned under his breath. "I said, no one's going to notice you right?"

"Did I mention that these orphans aren't exactly…human?"

"No, you seem to have left that little detail out." Xander said flatly.

"I probably also forgot to mention, that most of the inhabitants of this delightful little town, and I mean sincerely, aren't exactly human?" Gabriel questioned.

"Well, what, exactly, are they?" Xander asked dryly.

"Oh, various demonic and half-demonic personages, etc. You saw how the local demonic populace reacted to Micah's visit. So, you can see why an angel arriving in town might not put the towns people at ease." Gabriel nodded and put a hand to his chest. "And
besides, it would scare the kids." The angel shook his head and made a "tsking" noise.

Xander glared at him, lowering his voice to hiss, "I knew it. You're up to something." Xander tapped the tabletop hard. "You've got some sort of plan cooking, probably involving the Powers that Be. Now you've run into a snag and you're trying to rope us in to help." Xander snorted. "That whole business last night was you checking out the situation. I knew it." Xander muttered to himself.

"Why can't you just send Angel?" Xander asked.

"Oh, this isn't really an Angel type situation. Anyway, he's not really very good with children." Gabriel soothed. "At least not yet." The angel said under his breath. Xander contemplated the older man glumly. "These kids could be in trouble?" he questioned seriously.

Gabriel nodded. "So, you'll go then?" He asked.

"If I thought for one minute that this didn't really involve children," Xander trailed off. "You better not be yanking my chain on this."

Gabriel held up his right hand and crossed his heart, "Cross my heart."

"That would mean a lot more coming from someone else." Xander said grumpily. Sally arrived with their drinks and Xander's muffin, giving them both suspicious looks as she set them down. Gabriel gave her a sunny smile and Xander nodded his thanks.

Gabriel took a big sip of his mocha, liberally dosed with sprinkles. "This is wonderful." He waited until Xander had also taken a drink before asking, "So, Spike's still sleeping on the couch?"

Xander choked and glared across the table at the angel. Gabriel handed him a napkin and Xander wiped his mouth before saying, "Where Spike sleeps is none of your business."

"But, he's still sleeping in the living room, on the couch, alone?" Gabriel probed.

"He was on the couch when I left this morning." Xander said repressingly.

"So then, he hasn't actually progressed to the bedroom yet?" Gabriel continued.

"He's seen my bedroom, yes." Xander challenged.

"Ah, but nothings actually gone on." stated Gabriel knowingly.

"Let's just drop this now." Xander said.

"So, you're not actually having sex but you want to, right?" Gabriel asked.

"No, we're not having sex yet, happy?" Xander snarled. Unfortunately, he said it loudly enough to be heard by Sally and the two older women she was serving, at the table next to them. The three ladies turned with raised eyebrows to confront a blushing ex-angel.

"I'm trying to lay the building blocks for a long term, committed relationship - thought I'd start
slow." Xander stammered at them and then concentrated on shredding his muffin and giving the quietly smiling Gabriel murderous looks.

Gabriel reached forward and patted the embarrassed young man's arm. "I think that's a very mature notion." He said gently. He suddenly dissolved in a sunbeam. Xander glanced around desperately, but strangely enough, or maybe not considering that this was Sunnydale, no one had noticed. He glanced back down at the table and found a folded piece of paper with the name Abigail Burns and directions to the town and orphanage. Xander sighed, he'd make some phone calls during lunch. It was time to assemble the Scoobies.

.............................................................................................................................................................

Part Three

Spike woke up well rested, warm and comfy. He slowly cracked open one eye; perfect, the room was all shadowy just the way a vampire liked it. He stretched, and took a deep breath, "mmmm, Xander smell". Spike smiled, his pet had tucked him in and cleaned up.

Spiked grinned and shook his head; his pet was a complex individual. Spike had found out a lot by snooping both before and since the two had started keeping company. You couldn't tell by looking at him, but Xander had neat streak to rival the Watcher's.

Xander stopped just short of coasters, but all his comics were carefully bagged and catalogued and then packed in order. His check book was always balanced and the bills marked with a check number, date and amount paid. It had taken Spike a couple of days to figure out what the notations on the kitchen calendar meant, then he realized that they had coincided with evenings Xander had either stopped by the crypt with blood, brought a bag to a meeting or just asked for a "favor" which resulted in paying Spike with blood or cash.

That's when Spike realized that the young man had been discreetly making sure Spike ate regularly. It had given Spike a warm, fuzzy feeling which in turn made him feel rather uncomfortable, but in a nice way.

Spike had decided before falling asleep this morning that he was going to make his Xander feel exactly the same way. After he had calmed down he decided that there wasn't anything he could do about Gabriel so he wasn't going to dwell on the problem. Xander had said he
would look into it and that was fine with Spike. He was nothing if not resilient; no use brooding about something he couldn't change. "Go with the flow or walk away" was Spike's motto. It was one of the reasons he had outlasted many of his enemies and a good many of his contemporaries. However, there were certain situations that could not be walked away from and lovers fit into that category. Although he and Xander weren't lovers, Spike waved that away as a mere technicality. They would be, that's all that mattered.

To that end, Spike had given careful consideration as to how he would start wooing his pet, flowers and chocolates were fine in their place but he needed to do something more concrete. Movies were good and Spike wasn't adverse to moonlit walks although Spike suspected he liked rather more violence on his strolls then Xander. He could give him sparklies and such but Xander being a bloke severely cut down on the quantity and type.

This would be a lot easier if Xander were a vampire, but being human, Xander wouldn't appreciate tied and bound humans for meals even if Spike had still been able to hunt. That's when Spike had a brainstorm; humans were fragile little things, even his Xanpet and while Spike couldn't hunt in the conventional sense he could still take care of his pet. He'd looked after Dru for all those years and done a damn fine job. His pet had looked after him and done it without fuss. Spike smiled, could he do any less? Of course he would have to be subtle so as not to embarrass Xander, but that was no problem, hell subtlety was his middle name. Spike gave a decisive nod, time to go shopping.

* * * *

Xander trudged up to his apartment. He wondered if Spike was up yet. If not he was going to have to rouse the vampire; they needed to meet at the Summer's residence for a Scooby meeting. He'd called Willow at lunch and given her the rundown and all the information he had. She'd promised to get on the computer and see what she could find out. He'd then called Giles. The Watcher was feeling better though still sore from the beating he'd taken in the fight
with Micah. He'd stated however, that he was more than fit enough to do research and agreed to see if there was any information on Tuxedo Junction in the Watchers' Journals. Tomorrow was Friday and Xander figured he and Spike could make a run to the town after he got off work. He yawned, he hoped whatever information his friends had found could be absorbed
quickly; he was dead tired and really wanted an early night.

He opened his door quietly in case Spike was still sleeping. He didn't want a startled and grumpy vampire on his hands. Spike either woke up at a nice leisurely pace or snapped into fighting mode, there was no middle ground. He needn't have worried, his vampire was sitting on the couch watching the cooking channel?


Spike glanced up as Xander came in, "Hey pet." He then returned to watching some chef puree squash for soup. He seemed really interested too. Xander stared at the screen for a moment, then at Spike. Xander just shook his head; his vampire was a very strange individual. Xander hung his coat on the rack and headed toward the bathroom for a shower.

"Hey, Spike, after I get cleaned up and we get something to eat, we need to head over to Dawn's place for a meeting on our situation." Xander stuck his head out of the bathroom, "Okay?"

"Sure, pet, whatever." Spike acknowledged then cocked his head to the side while the chef explained about all the lovely vitamin A to be found in the squash family.

"Vampires don't even eat vegetables do they?" Xander muttered to himself closing the door and starting the water. He dropped his clothes in the hamper and peered at himself in the mirror before cracking another huge yawn and stepping into the shower. He wondered if he
should have told Spike to order a pizza. Wait; there was leftover lasagne; that would be good. Decision made he smiled and went back to shampooing his hair.

Meanwhile Spike surreptitiously checked the bathroom door before quickly pulling out his notepad and pen. The vampire added the vitamin and calorie content of squash to his growing list of necessary veggies for a healthy human. Of course it would be awhile before he'd be able to slip something as large as a squash into his pet's diet but he felt it was best to be
prepared.

Xander exited the bathroom cleaner and a lot more awake. His nose twitched, he smelled lasagne. Spike was still seated on the couch but now there was a plate heaped with warmed up lasagne sitting on the coffee table next to a glass of milk and the blonde's mug of blood.

"Hey luv, got it all ready, figured we'd be in a hurry. Eat up and we'll be off then. Sooner we're done, sooner you can get back here to bed. You look deader then me." Spike smirked and patted the couch beside him.

Xander sat down and gingerly picked up the glass of milk. "Are we out of coke?"

"No."

"Okay." Xander said carefully then brightened. "Is the expiration date up on the carton?"

"Don't think so pet, why?" Spike asked innocently.

"Well" he gestured to the glass in his hand, "I usually just keep this around for cereal." Xander said in confusion.

"Don't you drink milk then luv?" Spike queried back with the same blank expression. "It's cold." Spike coaxed carefully.

Xander decided at that point that the discussion was getting too complex and just shrugged his shoulders, smiled and took a sip. He blinked and stared at the glass. That was odd, this didn't taste like the milk he was used too. There was something different about it but he couldn't quite put his finger on it, very strange. Xander shook his head and started on dinner.

Spike just smiled and took a sip of blood.

* * * * *

They arrived at Dawn's house in the car. Xander deciding he was just too tired to walk over tonight. He wasn't too tired to worry about Spike though. The blonde had been in a bouncy mood for the entire ride despite Xander telling him about the talk the he'd had with Gabriel. Then there had been that business with the radio; usually the car radio station was a bone of
contention between human and vampire. Spike liked hard, angry rock played at ear splitting decibels. Xander didn't understand how the vampire could stand it. Wasn't vampiric hearing supposed to be sensitive enough to hear a human heartbeat a block away? At least that's what Spike had once told him.

Xander liked bluegrass and old time country/western music. He loved old ballads like Barbara Allen and Mary of the Wild Moor. He liked to come home at the end of the day and unwind with a beer and some Patsy Cline. Spike had put a stop to that; he absolutely refused to listen to any type of country/bluegrass/folk music. If it was playing when he arrived he made a beeline for the radio and changed the station to eighties punk. This would result in 'an
irresistible force meeting the immovable object' type of argument and always ended with the radio being turned off and the TV being turned on.

The same thing happened with the car radio. Except tonight, he'd glanced at Xander and then actually hesitated before reaching for the radio. Xander had held his breath, waiting to see if Spike would leave the radio alone. If that happened Xander would have to jump from his car because this being next to him could not be Spike. Luckily, the vampire had grimaced,
shuddered and switched the station. Xander sighed in relief before he reached over and turned the radio off, firmly. He was still worried though; perhaps Spike hadn't been getting out enough and needed more exercise. Xander felt himself blush; he knew exactly what type of exercise Spike wanted to engage in. He hoped that taking their relationship slowly wouldn't
drive the vampire crazy. He sighed to himself, well one crisis at a time.

Everyone was there when they arrived. Spike bounced in to the kitchen and snagged Xander a coke. He'd then settled in next to him on the couch to listen to Willow explain what information she'd found out about Abigail Burns and the town.

Willow pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, consulted her notes and began; "Well, the town was founded in 1852 by a Richard Burns. He was a Scottish immigrant, married and with seven children. He entered the country in San Francisco and apparently immediately made his way to the spot that would become Tuxedo Junction. It was really odd, because there's absolutely nothing there, it's just desert." Willow grinned and looked up from her notes, "Or so everyone thought, our Mr. Burns starting mining and struck a silver vein. He named the town Tuxedo Junction and spent the next 30 years mining silver and getting rich.

Kinda strange but not too weird right? Well, I dug a little deeper and it seems that no one ever saw Mrs. Burns. She was always heavily veiled and completely covered up whenever she went into town. Her husband said she had a skin condition." Willow made 'quotation marks'.

Willow paused dramatically, and Dawn leaned forward in her seat, "Also, everyone of the kids left home on their eighteenth birthday and were never seen in the town again."

Willow raised her eyebrows suggestively and Dawn grinned at her.

Willow continued, "When Richard Burns died, he left the mine to his eldest daughter. She had an overseer running the day-to-day operations. When she died, she left the mine to her eldest daughter and so on." Willow beamed at them. "It wasn't until almost 1930 that a Burns actually returned to the town. Of course, by that time the mine had played out. This woman,
Rebecca Burns, opened an orphanage in the town. Abigail Burns is her granddaughter. The orphanage has been in continual operation since then. It gets no government funding and is apparently completely dependent on private donations."

Willow tapped her papers carefully and looked very pleased. Xander and Dawn applauded while Tara looked on fondly.

"Well done Willow, really. You were able to get all that information from that machine?" Giles asked gesturing at the witch's laptop.

"Just call me netgrrl." Said the redhead. "Gosh," she said to Tara, "I'd forgotten how much fun it is to ferret out information like this."

Xander smiled at her. "How about you Giles?" Xander asked the Watcher.

"Unfortunately, I was unable to uncover a great deal. The place is mentioned in the Watcher's Diaries, but only because a Slayer and her Watcher in the late eighteen hundred's pursued a vampire to the town. Rather, I should say the outskirts, because before they could actually enter the town a messenger arrived at their campsite and delivered proof that the vampire
they were seeking was destroyed. What the proof was is not recorded. However, it must have been compelling or the messenger was very eloquent because the Slayer and her Watcher immediately returned to Los Angeles."

Giles looked confused and shook his head as he stood and started to pace. "Actually, what is truly odd about this entry is the lack of information. The exact location of the town isn't even recorded. If it hadn't been for the information that Gabriel gave Xander we wouldn't know that there are demons there." Giles said irritably and continued.

"One would think that a town inhabited by demons would have been noticed, especially in light of what Willow has found. It's obvious that there has been something strange going on in Tuxedo Junction for over a hundred years."

Giles sighed. "Xander you mentioned that you thought the Powers That Be might be involved. Do you think they could be protecting this place in some way?"

Xander pursed his lips, "Could be Giles, I mean, I've never heard of the place and what's stranger," Xander said jerking a thumb at Spike, "neither has Blondie here."

"Oi," Spike grumbled, "whelp."

Xander smirked at him. Spike looked like he was about to make a snarky comeback but then settled back on the couch and casually stretched his arms out and smiled peaceably. Xander frowned, what was up with him?

Giles cleared his throat. He sat down, taking his glasses off and cleaning them. "I wish we had more information. I don't like the idea of you going off to this place with so little knowledge." Giles said worriedly. "At least if many of the inhabitants are demonic in nature, Spike should be able to help protect you, but I'm still worried. I wish we could all go along."

Xander leaned forward, "I wish you guys could come too," he glanced at Spike and smiled fondly. "Not that I don't think Spike isn't great protection."

Spike nodded back, "Too right, mate," he said decisively.

"But, you've got to stay here and guard the Hellmouth. I hate leaving you shorthanded as it is." Xander tugged on his lip.

"But you won't be," Willow soothed. "Things have been pretty quiet since…" she trailed off with a compassionate smile to Dawn. "And you'll only be gone a day or two at most and we have the robot, remember?

In fact," Willow took a deep breath and shared a look with Tara, "Tara and I think she should go along." She held up her hand as Xander started to protest. "No, Xander, hear me out. There's bound to be magic involved what with all the demons there. Neither you nor Spike can set up wards or work magic. You said yourself whenever you've tried things get all 'wonky'. Tara needs to go." Tara nodded seriously.

"Besides," Willow said excitedly," we've got this really neat little locating spell. It works like a
tracer. Granted it only lasts for 2 hours," she admitted, "but we've been working on increasing the time. And besides," she continued, "Giles agrees with me, don't you Giles?" Willow said.

"Actually, I do, yes." Said the Watcher. He also held up a hand, "Please, before you start, Willow and I are more than capable of looking after the robot and each other for a day. And Dawn," he smiled at the girl, "has proven herself to be a very mature young woman."

Dawn looked at them proudly.

"She 'holds down the fort" as you Americans would say, quite well. Also," the Watcher sighed," Willow has insisted that I purchase these," he said holding up a cell phone in day-glo orange, "for everyone. So between these hideous devices," he motioned with the phone, "and the girls' magic we should be able to cover our bases and keep in close touch."

Xander looked at his friends, a solid wall of 'resolve faces', wow. "Well, Tara, if you think you can survive being in the car with Spike for three hours, welcome aboard." He smiled at the young woman and she grinned shyly back.

"I'll be fine." She said.

He looked over at Spike. The vampire gave him a slight nod, "we'll be all right."

"Oi, Rupert, my phone'd better be red."

* * * * *

They'd left the Summer's home with plans to pick up Tara there tomorrow as soon as the sun went down. She'd agreed to get the snacks for the trip. When Xander had been ready to go, he'd found Spike having a quiet conversation with the young witch. She was listening carefully and then gave the vampire a truly beatific smile and nodded in agreement. Xander
couldn't catch the words but Spike looked pleased and slightly embarrassed. He turned around and bounded over to Xander. "Ready, pet?" and headed out to the car. Xander decided he needed to find out what was going on but not tonight. He just wanted to go home and crawl into bed.

Spike watched Xander unlock the door and slowly make his way into the apartment. He was trying to rub his shoulders and stretch at the same time. Spike reached up and grabbed his hand. Xander looked over his shoulder and gave him a tired grin.

"C'mon pet, over here." Said the vampire, leading the young man to the couch. "Lie down, luv. I'll work that kink out."

Xander hesitated slightly and then lay down on his stomach. Spike would have liked to suggest that the shirt come off but he noted the hesitation. Besides, his pet needed his rest, so there'd be no fooling about tonight. It was going to be a long day tomorrow.


Spike tucked the brunette's collar under and then started to rub lazy circles across the tops of his shoulders. He rubbed gently and soothingly, moving slowly, letting the friction from the shirt heat his hands. Xander relaxed even more and Spike increased the pressure slightly, using his hands to find the crick in the muscles. He concentrated on the expanse of back between the young man's shoulder blades.

"Xan," he asked.

"Mmmm," the ex-angel sighed.

"Do you miss them?" the vampire asked. "Your wings, I mean." Spike continued his soothing motions as he moved further down the young man's back. Xander was silent for so long that Spike thought he mucked up but then Xander answered.

"No, not really, not like people miss a limb that they've lost. Sometimes when I flex my shoulders I think there should be more weight, I guess." He said with a slight, sad laugh. "But, that's all."

"Actually," he continued softly, "what I miss is the flying. I dream about flying, soaring and dipping and diving. Sometimes, when I watch birds, I can almost feel the wind rushing under my wings and the way I would have to make those little adjustments so I could hover; that one moment of weightlessness where you're perfectly balanced between Heaven and Earth." He finished reverently. He let out his breath. "In my dreams, I live in that moment again."

He turned his head to the side and looked up at Spike with a soft smile. Spike's hands had stopped moving and he was looking at him sympathetically. Xander studied him fondly. Spike looked very adult right now. He would hate to be told that. The vampire bent down and placed a soft kiss on his cheek.

"Time for bed pet." He stood up and held out a hand. He and Xander walked into the bedroom together. Spike turned down the covers while Xander got into his sweats. Xander climbed in and Spike bent down and gave him a kiss.

"You staying in?" Xander asked as burrowed into the bed.

"Naw, pet, think I'll go out for a bit of a prowl." Spike gave his pet a wink.

Xander gave him a sleepy grin and murmured something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like "big old tomcat" before he dozed off.

Spike stared at him for a moment, smiled and went out.

* * * * *

Whistler sat chewing his cigar and dividing his attention between the binoculars set up in front of him and his racing forum. He hated this and hoped the boys got here soon. Gabriel had assured him they would be here tomorrow. He didn't like the way things were shaping up and besides he thought, swatting away another fly, outside was were you kept the car.

......................................................................................................................................................................

Part Four

They started over to the Summer's residence right after sunset. He'd pack enough for a two-night stay and helped Spike pack the cooler with blood, beer, oranges and several tubes of frozen yogurt to go. When Xander had confronted him about the oranges and yogurt, Spike had muttered something about scurvy.

Scurvy, who got scurvy anymore? When Xander had asked whom the yogurt was for, Spike had dodged the question and began making naughty suggestions for practicing fellatio on frozen yogurt tubes. Xander had dropped the topic. He was more and more worried that there was something wrong with his vampire, some form of vampire senility maybe? He was going to have a long talk with Giles and maybe even Angel when this was over. Then something else occurred to him.

"Spike, where did you get the money for the beer and fruit and stuff?"

"The featherhead sent a messenger over with money for gas and food and stuff. Didn't I tell ya?" asked Spike innocently.

"No," Xander said evenly, "you didn't? How much money did he send and how much do we have left?"

"Well the poof was kinda stingy, only 'bout $300." Spike grumbled. "After I bought stuff and all, we got about $50 left."

Xander was astonished, not that Gabriel had sent money, nor that Spike hadn't volunteered the information but that Spike actually still had money left. Although why Gabriel had sent cash was beyond Xander. What had the archangel been thinking?

Xander held his hand out, "May I have it please?" he inquired politely.

"Sure pet." Spike said brightly, apparently pleased that he wasn't going to receive a lecture. That was one of the one of the advantages of keeping time with an ex-angel, Spike thought. They didn't expect too much from a demon.

"Thank you," said Xander. He got in the car, "And don't think because I'm not giving you a lecture on responsibility that I don't mind that you didn't tell me about the money."

Spike opened his mouth to protest but closed it again in response to the stern look from Xander.

Xander smiled to himself. Spike hadn't spent all the money; that was pretty selfless for a demon. "One small step at a time," he chanted what had become his personal mantra, to himself.

Tara was ready when they arrived. Giles, Dawn and Willow were gathered to see them off. Spike had hopped out of the car when they arrived and immediately yelled "Shotgun." Xander had rolled his eyes and given Tara an apologetic look. She returned the look with an
understanding smile.

"Tara has my spare laptop, so we can email each other. I'll leave my computer on in case the instant messenger works. I've got some of my favourite demon pages bookmarked. We've got the cell phones and here's the car charger and an extra battery." Willow ran down the list in her hand. "Now don't let the batteries run down," she admonished. "Here's the schedule for check ins. Give us a call every five hours." She continued.

"And if we don't you'll what, send in a retrieval team?" Spike asked sarcastically. "Do we get code names too?"

Willow drew herself up, "Operation Road trip" she said with a disdainful sniff.

"Oh for…"

"Spike," Xander cautioned with a pointed look. "Thanks Wills." Xander fiddled with the phone. "This is pretty cool, actually." He grinned.

Dawn stepped up to Spike. "I thought you might like to borrow this for the trip." She offered him her handheld and a couple of games.

Spike gave her a big smile and a hug. "Thanks Nibblet. I'll take very good care of it." He finished solemnly.

"Thank you." Xander mouthed at her. That would probably keep the vampire busy for at least 15 minutes.

Giles moved forward next. "Yes, well here are some books, just in case that device," he gestured to the laptop, "doesn't work. Also, here are, well," he cleared his throat nervously, "well, in my day, we made driving tapes for road trips. I've made you a couple. I know you don't like the same type of music but well, there you are." Giles finished in a rush handing Xander two tapes and some books. He looked rather defiantly embarrassed.

Xander was touched. He looked down at the tapes, noting some of the songs. These weren't half-bad. He didn't know how Spike and Tara would feel about them but the fact that Giles had gone to the trouble gave Xander a very warm feeling inside. He reached out and carefully hugged the older man. "This is great, really. Thanks Giles." Giles nodded.

Tara meanwhile had stored her stuff in the backseat and gone into the house. She came back out carrying a bag. "I br-brought the munchies." She said shyly, holding up the bag.

Xander looked around and then gave Willow and Dawn a last hug. "That's everything then, I guess. Next check-in time will be at twenty-two hundred hours, synchronize your watches." He said with a flourish.

He and Spike shared a look and then started "singing" the theme to Mission Impossible as they headed to the car.

Tara turned and pointed at the men questioningly. Dawn rolled her eyes and gave Tara a hug, "Boys," she snorted disdainfully.

Giles patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. "Good luck," he said sympathetically.

Willow gave her a kiss. "I put all your favourite CD's in the bag. There's some Loreena McKennitt ready to go. I'm sure the time will just fly by." Willow said encouragingly.

Tara didn't look convinced but kissed her honey and with a final wave got in the car. Xander gave a "beep, beep" on the horn and they were off.

"Goddess, I hope they don't kill each other before they get there." Willow worried. Giles and Dawn agreed.

* * * * * *


Hour One

"Just pass the bleedin' wanker."

"I'm waiting for a clear spot, Mr. Side Seat Driver. Do you mind?"

The child in the rear window of the car in front of them stuck her tongue out at Spike again.

"I've eaten nicer children then you, you little…" he snarled.

Xander sped up and passed the vehicle. As they came even with the car, Tara watched Spike vamp out and stick his tongue out at the little girl. He looked a bit like a Maori warrior, she thought. The child screamed apparently upsetting the driver because the vehicle swerved slightly before regaining control.

"Spike!" snapped Xander.

* * * * *
Hour Two

"Spike, quit fiddling with the radio."

"I'm bored."

"Oh for…here, put this in," said Xander handing him one of the tapes Giles had made.

"I don't want to listen to Watcher music, " he whined.

"Spike." Xander said warningly.

Half way through side one: "Running on," sang Xander, slightly off key.

"Running on empty," chorused Tara and Spike.

"Running on." Xander bounced

"Running blind." Tara and Spike continued, sounding pretty good.

"Running on."

"Running into the sun but I'm running behind." Tara and Spike harmonized.

* * * *
Hour Three

"What kind of pretzels are these?" Xander asked.

"Oat bran," Tara answered. "Do you like them?"

"Yeah, not bad," said Xander. Spike and Tara shared a look.

* * * *
Tara was resting her eyes and meditating when they came to the top of the road that led down to the little town of Tuxedo Junction. Xander pulled over to the side of the road and they all got out to stretch their legs.

"Anybody sense anything?" Xander queried the two.

Tara closed her eyes and let her mind expand. "There are wards in place. Some of them are newer then others." She continued to explore carefully around the mystic edge of the town. "I think some of the older ones have been breached." She gasped and her eyes flashed open. "Ugh, the newer ones feel slimy!" She unconsciously wiped her hands on her pants.

"I don't sense anything pet." Spike shrugged. "But I guess that answers the question about whether there's something going on."

Xander glanced at this watch. "Look, it's not quite eight-thirty. Let's go straight to the orphanage and see if we can meet with this Abigail Burns. We'll try to keep everything low key okay?" He cautioned. Tara and Spike nodded.

The directions along with the map Willow had created made finding the orphanage fairly easy. It was located at the base of the old mine just on the outskirts of the town. When they pulled up to the two-story Victorian there was only one light on. The friends shared stared at the house.

"I guess they go to bed early in these parts." Xander said getting out of the car. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Spike tense slightly.

"We're being watched pet." Spike said under his breath getting out of the car. "The trees." Xander glanced to the stand of trees off to their right.

Xander created the pretence of dropping down to tie his bootlace. "Tara stay in the car, Spike keep alert, I'll go up and see if anyone's home." He ordered quietly. He stood and casually walked up to the front door. He rang the doorbell, looking around while he waited. From what he could see, the place looked neat and homey. There were flowerpots loaded with various types of greenery scattered on the porch and lace curtains in the windows. It looked like a grandmothers house. He heard the lock being turned and the door opened a crack. A young woman peered out the door.

"Yes?" she said softly.

"Hi," Xander said cheerfully. "Sorry to be stopping by so late but I'm here to see Ms. Burns. Is she available?"

The woman's head dropped. "I'm sorry, no, she's not." She made to close the door but Xander smoothly slipped his foot in.

"It's really important. A mutual friend asked me to stop by and drop a message off. When will she be available?"

The woman glanced back up and Xander saw the brief flash of fear in her eyes. "I don't…"

That's when Xander decided to follow his instincts and take a chance. "Hey," he interrupted softly, "Gabe sent me."

The woman opened the door more fully and took a quick look toward the trees then back at Xander with tentative hope in her eyes. "Junction Motel, tell Morrie that Lisa sent you, tomorrow at 10 am." She whispered in a rush and then said loudly "I told you I don't know where it is," before slamming the door in his face.

Xander turned and walked back to the car saying loudly, "Jeez, rude much. She doesn't know where it is either. Look, let's find a place to sleep tonight and then we'll call them tomorrow."

"Righto," Spike agreed slipping back in the car.

Xander glanced toward the trees and thought he caught a brief glimpse of glowing eyes before he got in the car and backed out.

"What was it?" he questioned Spike, motioning toward the trees

"Don't know, luv, sorry." Spike apologized. "What's up?"

"We're spending the night and hopefully we'll get this cleared up tomorrow. That was one scared lady back there." Xander shook his head. "She wants to meet in town tomorrow morning."

"Did she give you any idea what was going on Xander?" asked Tara.

"Nope but she perked up considerably when I mentioned Gabriel. She obviously knows she's being watched and Ms. Burns is not available. Also, even though it's only eight thirty, I didn't hear a single childlike sound while we were talking. How many kids are supposed to be in this orphanage?" he asked Tara.

"Willow said twenty-three, ranging in age from five to sixteen." Tara answered.

"Uh huh, twenty-three perfectly behaved demonic children. What are the chances?" Xander asked as he drove towards town. He glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw a brief glow from the side of the mountain behind the house. "Didn't Wills say that the mine was
closed?"

"Yes," Tara answered. "It's been closed for over fifty years." Tara glanced back over her shoulder. "Why?"

"I thought I just saw something on the mountain side. Look, let's get to this motel, get settled in and get something to eat. Hopefully tomorrow we'll get some answers."

Tara handed Spike a couple of bags of blood. He grimaced but bit in and drained them. She wrinkled her nose at him. "Yucky?"

"Too right." He answered shifting back to his human visage.

Xander patted his knee, "Maybe they'll have Buffalo wings somewhere," he soothed.

They pulled up to the motel. Spike sighed in relief; the place had a bar attached. He was dying for a beer to get the taste of cold platelets out of his mouth.

"Now remember," cautioned Xander, "we want to play this low key. Let's try not to draw attention to ourselves." He looked pointedly at Spike.

"Soul of discretion, mate." Spike swore.

The motel clerk glared at them suspiciously when they went to register. Xander smiled benignly and asked for one room with double beds, which he got. When he asked
for Morrie, he was told that Morrie was tending bar tonight. Xander nodded.

They took their stuff in to dump it off. Spike was disappointed. He'd been hoping for some snuggling time later but Xander gave him an apologetic look and said he didn't want them to split up. Spike grumbled and gave in with ill grace.

The room was plain but clean. They washed up and headed over to the bar for a drink and some food. "Now remember, low key." Xander admonished as they went in.

The bar was dim and rather subdued. It was only about a quarter full with several patrons keeping to its more shadowy corners. What little conversation there was halted when they came in and looked for a table.

"Oi, this place is dead." Spike muttered. "I smell demon, pets." He murmured under his breath and glanced around arrogantly.

"No surprise there," Xander said as they took a table, after a moment conversation started up again. They looked up at the menu board and Spike brightened considerably. "Hey, they do that blooming onion thing," he enthused.

Xander glanced at the bartender. He was cleaning a glass and watching them closely.

"I don't see a waitress," said Tara. "I'll go up and order and see if that's Morrie. Now, one onion for Spike and…"

"A beer pet," he added.

"I'll have the burger and fries." Xander stated. Spike gave him a look. "What?"

"You sure you want to order meat in a place like this luv?" Spike raised his eyebrows.

"Oh, good point, how about fries and the grilled cheese and a coke." He amended handing Tara some money. "If it is Morrie, see if you can get him to come over."

Tara nodded and stood, "Oi, pet and some smokes too." Spike added tossing her his empty pack.

Tara shyly approached the bartender who didn't appear to be quite human. He glared at her from under very bushy eyebrows. She gave him her best "let's be friends" smile; which Willow had often told her was downright irresistible.

"What'll it be?" he said gruffly seeming to soften just a bit.

Tara gave him the order. She was just about to ask if he was Morrie when he peered at her and said, "Let's see some ID little lady."

She blinked, "Umm, okay." She glanced helplessly at Spike and pulled out her wallet. She hoped they wouldn't get thrown out because she and Xander weren't old enough to drink.

He picked up the wallet and then his eyes widened comically. At least it would have been comical if he hadn't also said loudly, "You're from Sunnydale!?"

Tara froze; the patrons froze; Spike and Xander froze. Suddenly one of the patrons in the back stood up and pointed at Spike, "Hey, wait a minute he's a vampire,
so that means…."

"A blonde woman and a vampire from Sunnydale? Oh god, it must be the Slayer and Angel!" yelled a rather scruffy looking half-demon.

"Oi!" Spike jumped up indignantly.

"Gosh, I thought he'd be taller." Said one of the patrons from the back.

"Who's the kid?"

"It must be a Scoobie." One of the others said in frightened awe.

"Hey pal, I'm not a Scoobie, I'm the Scoobie." Xander huffed. "So much for keeping low key," muttered Xander under his breath.

The place erupted in chaos as patrons started to scramble for the door.

"Hold it right there!" Tara said loudly. Everyone froze, a couple of pasty types tried to edge to the back but the Wiccan pinned them with a look. "Don't make me come over there." She said pointing at them.

She stepped over to Spike and Xander and gave them a pleading look out of the corner of her eyes.

"Right you lot." Spike vamped out. "Everybody just stay where you are and nobody gets hurt. We just want to ask a few questions, answer them and you leave with your limbs intact." Spike sauntered slowly around the room.

"Xander?" Tara asked under her breath, "Wha, what should I do?"

Xander bent near her and whispered. "Guess it's a good thing no one's actually seen the Slayer or Angel." He put a hand on her shoulder, "Try to look really tough and back me up."

Tara crossed her arms and gave a good imitation of Willow's 'resolve face'.

"You there," Xander said pointing at the bartender, "C'mere.

The bartender approached the human slowly. Xander reached over and put an arm around his shoulder turning away from the rest of the bar. "You wouldn't happen to be Morrie would you?" he asked very quietly.

"What if I am?" the man said just as quietly.

"Lisa sent us." Xander stated hopefully.

The effect was dramatic. The man relaxed and said, "Well why didn't you say so?"

"Well, things got a little out of hand didn't they?' Xander said reasonably. "Now, look, Morrie, we're from Sunnydale, that's true but we're not here to hurt anyone. We're just here to check on the orphanage and Ms. Burns for a friend. Can you help us out?"

Morrie glanced over his shoulder at the other patrons and licked his lips. "Yeah, but not here, backroom okay?" He said glancing at the door behind the bar.

"Hey, 'Angel'," Xander said with glee.

Spike snarled, "What?"

"I think Morrie needs to have a 'talk' with the Slayer, if you know what I mean." Xander said
meaningfully. "He doesn't want to cooperate." Xander glanced at Tara and then at the door the bartender had indicated. "Slayer?"

Tara stalked across the room. Xander raised his eyebrows, wow good Buffy imitation. He pushed Morrie toward the backroom. A couple of the bar patrons looked like they wanted to help the bartender but Spike hissed at them and they shrank back.

"Well?" asked Xander after the closed the door. Tara relaxed against the wall with a sigh.

"You're not the Slayer are you?" he asked hesitantly. She smiled at him and shrugged apologetically.

Morrie shook his head disgustedly and then started on his story. "I don't know how much you know about this place but we're a quiet little town. Everybody pretty much gets along, demon, non-demon, whatever. Ms. Burns, she's a good lady, been running that orphanage
since I was a tadpole. Most of those kids turn out just fine, a lot of them even go to college, well if they look human, you know?" He indicated his features. "About a week ago, a big black car pulls through town, tinted windows the whole bit. It goes up to the orphanage. Lisa, she cleans house up there, she comes into town and says it was a demon, like nothing she'd
ever seen before; he's got wings. He and Ms. Burns go into the study and there's a lot of yelling in a language that Lisa don't know and then Ms. Burns comes out and tells Lisa that this guy, he owns the mine now.

When Lisa tries to talk to her about it, Ms. Burns just tells her to drop it but that she doesn't
want any of the kids near the mine. The next night, there are a lot of not so nice types who show up in town, vamps and such. So some of us try to get in touch with Ms. Burns, but she won't return our phone calls. The next day Lisa comes into town, she tells us that some of the kids are missing and Ms. Burns has gone up to the mine to look for them. Well, a bunch of us go up there too, to help look you know? We get up to the mine and there's Ms. Burns standing with this demon, three piece suit and these tattered old bat wings, ugly too, made my skin crawl. She's got this real tight look on her face and she tells us there's nothing to worry about, for us to go back home.

When we start to ask questions a couple of his 'associates' pulled guns. The big guy, he tells us we're trespassing. Ever since then, whenever I see Lisa, she won't talk. No one's seen Ms. Burns or any of the kids from the orphanage in town. And people like you can come and go but when anyone from the town tries to leave there's some sort of wards up. We can't get out. We can't even make a phone call and if we try to get too close to the mine or the orphanage we get all weak and woozy like." Morrie finished and looked at Xander hopefully.

"Look I know she's not the Slayer and that's probably not Angel out there either but someone
sent you here to help us, can you?"

"How many we are we up against?" Xander asked tugging on his lip.

"About, fifteen including the big guy, I think. Normally we could take them. We got some pretty tough fighters in town and we ain't scared but that mojo he's got going, it's like it's specifically targeted for us." Morrie explained.

"Well, subterfuge is out after this little fiasco." Xander said ruefully. "What do you think Tara?"

The witch had looked grimmer and grimmer as Morrie's story progressed and when he'd gotten to the part about no one seeing the kids in several days, she'd begun to seethe. She gave Xander a hard look. "I say we kick butt and take names."

"Well alright," Xander said clapping his hands together. "We hit them hard and fast tonight."
Xander smiled grimly, "Spike'll like that."

..............................................................................................................................................................................

Part Five

"So Morrie, how many of those guys out there can you trust?" asked Xander.

"Everyone but the two pasty looking ones in the back. They showed up when the big guy did." The bartender said.

"Any one out there human?" Xander asked innocently, hoping that Morrie wouldn't think he was being prejudice.

"Not fully, no. Why?" the bartender looked confused.

"Oh you know, no use wasting full power on someone you can just bash over the head." Xander joked. He sobered. "We'll take care of those two and then we start moving and we move fast. I'm betting that the kids are up at the mine along with Ms. Burns." Xander started to pace. "Damn, I wish we had plans and knew whether there was another entrance."

"We do!" "There is!" Morrie and Tara said at once.

Tara motioned to Morrie to go first.

"There is another entrance, in the house. There's a tunnel that runs from the mine to the basement. Lisa told me she and Ms. Burns had to lock it down so the children wouldn't play Hide-N-Seek in it. I don't know where it comes up though, maybe Lisa does." Morrie finished.

"And you say we've got schematics for the mine Tara?" Xander said hopefully.

"They're old but we downloaded them on the laptop." Tara smiled.

"Well all right." Xander punched his fist in the air. He motioned to Morrie and Tara to come a little closer. "We need a diversion. Hey," the young man said brightly, "You got any explosives?"

* * * *
Morrie hustled out of the back room with a grimfaced Tara. Xander stalked out behind them. He motioned to Spike and gave him an evil smile. The vampire grinned back with a mouth full of fangs.

"Tweeldedum and Tweeldledee there." Xander pointed to the two pasty-faced demons Morrie had singled out.

In one smooth motion Spike whirled, kicked and punched. The two hit the floor like bags of wet cement. The bar patrons just stood and stared in slack jawed awe. They looked down at the unconscious twosome and then back at Spike. "Wow," breathed one. The customers then looked uneasily over at Tara and Xander.

"Nice one," said Morrie. He looked over at Spike, "It's a real pleasure to watch a professional work." Spike preened and gave Xander a wink.

"Hey Frank?" The bartender asked one of the men. "Do you think the missus would mind if we blew up your garden shed?"

* * * *
Xander, Spike and Tara looked over the plans. They weren't great but they would have to do. While Spike and Xander were finalizing the diversion with Morrie, Tara sat with, Abner, one of the other customers. They were flipping through web pages trying to identify the demon in charge. They had just about exhausted their options when he pointed excitedly, "That's him!"

Tara grimaced. It was a picture of a Boreal Demon. They looked like a classic demon, in that they had horns and large bat wings. They stood about seven feet high and had cloven hooves for feet. They were magic users but only in a limited area. They were more prevalent in the Middle Ages when they use to take over hamlets and villages, terrorize the locals and generally behave like brigands. Luckily they were solitary and used other lesser demons, like vampires, as muscle.

"Spike, Xander?" she called softly. The guys came over and she motioned to the screen.

"One o' them bloody pillocks, eh?" Spike said disdainfully. He looked at Xander. "Think they're Lords of the Manor, greedy buggers too. Don't worry pet, one thing about these blighters, you take them out and his gang's just gonna fade away. They don't exactly inspire loyalty."" He gave Xander's arm a squeeze and then looked at the young man seriously taking an unnecessary breath, "Thing is pet, what these blighters usually do nowadays is run drugs."

Xander blinked, "Drugs?"

"Yeah, pet, for demons." Spike shook his head and gave a cold laugh. "Now I know what he wants the mine for, there's a type of fungus that grows and can only be harvested once every hundred years. It grows in dark underground places that used to be magical. You used to be able to find it where there were Kobolds and such. It's powerful stuff, got to be to get most
demons high, worth its weight in gold on the street."

"Bastard," Xander said softly. Xander started to turn to pace but Spike grabbed his hand and tugged. Xander leaned against him and Spike put his arm around the young man's waist.

"The kiddies'll be okay. We'll get them out." He gave his pet a hug and Xander bent down and kissed him softly. Spike deepened the kiss, his tongue teasing Xander's to come out and play. Xander hesitated briefly before giving in with a low moan. Spike tugged the mortal down on his lap and continued to ravish his mouth until Xander broke free, gasping for breath. Spike grinned at him wolfishly.

Xander looked around dazedly. Tara was blushing and concentrating on her laptop while Abner was staring nonplussed. Morrie raised his eyebrows knowingly and steered a stunned Abner from the room, "Yeah, I was young once too. C'mon kids, lets use some of that pent
up energy to free those children."

* * * * *
The plan had almost worked perfectly.

Tara had performed the locater spell on Spike and Xander in case the group got split up. Then, they had synchronized watches and made their moves as soon as the shed blew up. The explosion had distracted the demon watching the orphanage and Spike had made short
work of him. There was a lot of shouting from up by the mine and they could see lights and a couple of cars heading back towards town. They found out that only eight of the kids were up at the mine: all of them younger children ranging in age from six to eight. He was keeping them as hostages and using the little ones to harvest the fungus. They could get into small places that his men couldn't. Tara was furious and Xander had seen red; this guy was going down hard.

They had managed to get all the way through the underground tunnel to the mine but from there it had become trickier. There were lanterns hanging on the walls but only at long intervals, which made it slow going for Xander and Tara. According to Spike, they needed to head down. That's were the fungus would be growing most profusely. The wards that had been put up to weaken the townsfolk didn't bother the Sunnydale contingent but they could feel them. It was like walking through invisible spider webs. It was annoying the hell out of the humans and putting the vampire on edge. He wanted to hit something and he wanted to shag Xander, not necessarily in that order.

"Bleedin featherheads, they're the ones suppose to be looking out for this lot. They should be here not us." He muttered under his breath.

There was no doubt in his mind that Gabriel had known exactly who, what and why in regards to Tuxedo Junction and the Boreal Demon. They'd been set up he was sure, the only thing he didn't understand was why. Why would the Powers care whether a bunch of demons kids got hurt? He could understand about the drugs, whacked out demons could do three times as much damage to humans then normal, but the kids he didn't get. Must have something to do with them being White Hats. The good guys always had a soft spot for children.

He took a quick glance back at his pet. Xander's mouth was set in a straight line and he looked tough and capable. Spike turned back and smiled coldly, nope, the Boreal shouldn't have bothered the kiddies.

Spike slowed and came to a stop. Xander and Tara stopped just short of bumping into him. He'd been vamped out since they'd entered the mine. He raised
his head and sniffed. "Bloody Hell. Fyarl Demon mates, headin this way. Back up and give me some fighting room." Spike motioned the humans back. He hated fighting in close quarters like this. He didn't have any room for his rather eclectic fighting style. He was going to have to go for a quick kill.

The Fyarl lumbered into view and Spike got ready to launch himself at the giant.

"Whoosh." Spike felt something fly past his ear and silver star buried itself directly in the demons eye. The Fyarl stood still, tottered and fell over without a sound, relatively speaking.

He turned to see Xander slipping a second star back into his pocket before moving forward and pulling the other star out of the dead demon. He wrinkled his nose at the smell and wiped the star off on the Fyarl's clothing. Spike stared at him.

"What," the brunette said blandly, "you didn't think I was just another pretty face, did you?" He motioned the vampire forward with a flourish and Tara stifled a giggle.

"Brat," muttered Spike, then gave the young man a rueful look. "Been practicing again, eh?"

Xander gave him a cheeky grin. They continued to make their way forward until they got to a sharp bend in the tunnel. Spike halted them again. He could just pick up the faint crying of a child and harsh language.

He jerked his head and Xander and Tara dropped to a crouch. The threesome inched their way forward. Spike risked a quick look around the corner; two more of those pasty face demons that he'd taken out in the bar. They were standing guard over what looked like all eight kids. The little ones were reaching into nooks and crannies, pulling out tiny handfuls of what looked like moss, and dumping them into baskets. One or two of the smaller ones were
trying to wriggle into crevices in an attempt to reach more of the fungus. The crying child Spike heard was a tiny girl with blue skin and delicate features. She was sitting on a rock holding her hand and weeping while the guard snarled at her to get up and get back to work.

He reached out to jerk her up but didn't get the chance. Spike landed squarely on his back and snapped his neck. The creature started to melt. Xander blinked. He hadn't even seen Spike move. The second guard moved forward but Xander just whirled and slammed him into the wall. The guard slid into a boneless heap and started to melt as well.

The children had all frozen when the vampire attacked. They continued to stare at Spike fearfully as he slipped into his human features. He stared back. Xander and Tara stood and the young witch moved forward carefully.

"Hello there." She said to the child who had been crying. She was still cradling her hand and Tara could see a nasty bruise forming on it. She blinked and watched Tara carefully. The young woman smiled gently. "That looks like it hurts." She pulled a jar out of her knapsack. "This'll make it feel better, I promise. Will you let me put some on our hand?" Tara opened the jar and held it out for the child to inspect. She craned her neck forward and took a peek.
She sniffed and then gave a tiny shy smile. Tara smiled back as the child held out her hand and the witch carefully applied the salve.

Xander smiled. "Hey kids," he said softly to get their attention. "I'm Xander, that's Tara and this is Spike. He's a good guy. We're here to get you out. Now, is this everybody?" Xander asked.

An older boy of about eight, who looked human, nodded his head. "Everybody but Mother Burns. She's with the scary man." All the children nodded fearfully.

"Where's the scary man, do you know?" Tara asked gently. The little boy shook his head. She finished putting the salve on the little girl's hand and then motioned all the children over. "C'mon kids, we're leaving."

Xander looked at Spike, "Back up and out?" The vampire nodded, turned and froze. He cocked his head to the side. He snarled softly.

"Damn!" snapped Xander. "Tara?" The girl flipped open the laptop, "This tunnel goes down for a bit and then up. It loops around, runs parallel to this tunnel and another one and then rejoins the main shaft. At the bottom is a dry stream bed."

"Hey," she said excitedly, "there's a path that runs on the other side of the old stream. If we follow that we can get to the tunnel on the far side of the one next to this one. It also rejoins the main shaft further up."

"Okay, you kids, let's move it." Xander started herding kids down the tunnel. Tara had picked up the little girl. Spike was bringing up the rear. They got about fifty feet down the tunnel when the vampire said softly, "What's that noise?"

"It's the stream," whispered one of the boys. "It runs under the mountain and comes up on the other side." He said solemnly.

Xander looked at Tara. "I thought you said dry stream bed?"

"Only during the summer, Mister." Said the one of the children.

"Sorry," he said a bit sheepishly, "we're city kids." Tara shrugged apologetically.

They moved forward a little further and the stream came into view. It was about five feet across. Xander walked up to the edge. It wasn't a very fast moving stream and didn't look very deep. The tunnel path on this side followed the edge for about twenty yards before it looked like it turned to start back up to meet with the main shaft. The path on the other side
of the stream ran along its edge and disappeared into darkness. That path was narrow enough that they were going to have to move in single file. Spike was listening intently. "They're coming pet." He mouthed.

Xander took a deep breath and slipped into the water. He shuddered, damn this was cold but thankfully it only came up to his hips. Tara started handing him kids and he lifted them over and put them on the path on the other side. "Start moving and be careful." He whispered. The kids were obviously well trained because they immediately started moving. They also
didn't appear to have any problem seeing in the dim light. Tara handed him the little girl last and then slipped into the water holding her computer over her
head. She hopped up on the other side and quickly pulled out her little penlight and followed the kids. The path was sloping up. She took a quick look at the stream and saw that they were probably about five feet above the water now.

"C'mon Spike." Xander called softly. The vampire appeared to be listening very carefully and didn't respond.

"Was that chanting?" The vampire strained to catch the words. He heard the last part just fine though, so did Xander. He paled.

"Nice try gentlemen," a deep voice said cruelly.

"Oh bloody hell!" Spike suddenly snarled and grabbed for Xander. He just managed to latch onto the brunette's arm before there was sudden rush of water
and they were both swept downstream. He caught a brief glimpse of Tara and the children and then he was pulled under.

Tara tried to reach out and snag the vampire as he went past but he was moving too fast. The children had dropped down and hugged the wall as the water rushed past and now it seemed as if the were all trying to crawl into her lap. Some of them were sobbing quietly. The water was now lapping at their feet instead of five feet below them and covered the pathway on either side of their little "hill".

"Shh, shh. It'll be all right. It's going to be okay." She soothed. She was shaking and trying not to and comfort children all at the same time. Oh Goddess, she hoped Xander was all right. She thought Spike would be okay because he didn't need to breathe but what about
Xander? What if he hit his head? "Tara, shut up!" She snapped to herself. "Focus on the children."

The little girl she'd helped was staring down the tunnel where the boys had gone and then down at that water. She turned to Tara and tugged on her sleeve and pointed at the water. "Tara, what's that?" She asked fearfully.

.............................................................................................................................................................................

Part Six

Spike tumbled and spun as the rushing water carried him down the tunnel. He felt himself repeatedly hit the wall but through it all he grimly hung onto Xander. He spun in the water and managed to snag an outcropping. When he raised his head above the water
he realized that it was a wide ledge. He hauled himself and Xander up onto the rock and turned the young man over. Xander didn't appear to be breathing and Spike panicked. He wouldn't be able to do mouth-to-mouth so he immediately flipped Xander over and started to push the water out of his lungs, all the while cursing and begging the man to breathe.

Xander suddenly rolled to his side, spitting out water and coughing. "Thanks," he gagged.

"Bloody Hell, don't you ever scare me like that again. Stupid, soddin, human." Spike ranted as he rubbed Xander's arms briskly, leaning him against the wall.

Xander coughed a little more and then sat up straighter against the wall. "Where are Tara and the kids?" He looked around worriedly.

"They're okay mate, at least the witch is, feel the buzz from the spell?" Spike jerked his head down the tunnel. "They're about a quarter mile down, I think. You rest up mate and we'll head back that way." Spike scooted over and leaned in close to his pet. The vampire patted his pockets in a vain attempt to find some smokes.

Xander did feel a tugging from the locater spell but didn't have Spike's ability to judge the distance back to Tara. He studied the way back. The water was deep enough that he was going to have to swim some of it. They were on a ledge in a widened area of the tunnel
but the tunnel must slope down to where Tara and the kids were. There wasn't much head clearance.

"Spike, you sure it's about a quarter of a mile? I'm a good swimmer but I don't think I can hold my breath that long. Did you notice if the water's this deep and the ceiling this low all the way back?" Xander asked.

The vampire turned and gave the man and incredulous look. "Right pet, while being tumbled and smacked into the wall I was taking detailed notes of the trip. Yes, as I was desperately looking for a way out of the deluge I managed to make markings along the tunnel." Spike's voice steadily rose in volume becoming more clipped. "Oh, did I also mention that I was hanging for dear life to a barmy boy who I was terrified, was busy drowning? Did I mention that?" Spike yelled.

Xander blinked. Spike had sounded very Giles-like; that meant he was very upset and/or scared. "No," he said softly, reaching out and putting his arm around the irate vampire. "I'm sorry I scared you."

Spike grumbled and threw his arm around his pet. "Don't do it again."

Xander smiled and took a deep breath and coughed a bit more. Then he cleared his throat, yelling down the tunnel. "Tara! Tara!" He and Spike listened carefully.

"Nothing, luv. I don't think they can hear us over the water."

How to get back to Tara and the kids? If he started to swim and ran out of air, well he had already drowned once today thank you.

"Think Xander," he said out loud, tapping his fingers on his knee. "What would McGyver do?"

Spike snorted.

"Wait a minute!" Xander yelled, desperately patting through the pockets of his jacket. He pulled out a small box, holding it aloft victoriously. "Bingo, air balloons!"

Spike glanced at the box then burst out laughing. Xander managed to look embarrassed and offended.

"Oh pet, I don't think they were made for that." Spike motioned to the box of glow in the dark condoms and continued laughing as Xander glared at him.

Xander smacked his arm and Spike attempted to stop laughing. "Pet, I'm shocked. I had no idea angels were so kinky."

"Hey, I'm just as kinky as the next guy. I've got kinks mister, plenty of them." Xander said huffily. He defiantly pulled out a condom, ripping open the package. He hesitated briefly then started to blow up the rubber.

Spike watched him with a wicked gleam in his eye. So his little virgin thought a little glow in the dark condom made him kinky eh?

"French ticklers." Spike rapped out.

Xander coughed and lost his grip on the condom. He blushed and gave Spike another glare and started over.

Spike burst out laughing again. "Oh yeah luv, you're a regular Marquis de Sade."

Xander growled at Spike in a fair imitation of the vampire and continued blowing.

Spike bumped gently against him. Xander ignored him. Spike butted his head against the human's shoulder like a cat.

"What?" Xander snarled.

"Appreciate the thought pet but I don't really need the toys, just you." Spike gave him a gentle smile. "'Sides, where'd you get the idea that I'm kinky?"

Xander raised one eyebrow.

Spike looked vaguely chagrined. "Right, that would have been from me. Well you know us demons pet, like to talk big. I'm really very conservative." Spike said earnestly.

Xander raised the other eyebrow and continued to blow. Spike nodded his head. "Right, shutting up now." Suddenly the vampire raised his head and sniffed. Xander gave him a questioning look. Spike bent forward to peer in the water. "What the bloody hell is that?"

It looked like a giant slug, Xander thought as it slipped deeper in the water. No, he shuddered, not a slug, a leech. Ugh!

* * * * *

Tara yanked the little girl back from the edge of the water. Ugh! What was that? It looked like a big leech.

Tara knew the guys were still alive or in Spike's case un-alive, because she could feel the buzz of the spell she'd cast. How were they going to get back together? It was fairly obvious that the bad guys didn't think they could get away. Maybe they would come to collect them later and the leeches were like watchdogs, or maybe they just didn't care what happened to them. The young witch shivered. She looked her charges over. They were wet and scared but the crying had pretty much stopped except for the occasional sniffle.

Tara had an idea of how to get rid of the creatures but it required Xander and Spike definitely not being in the water and the help of the all the children. Too bad the guys' phones were probably soaked or she could just call. When they got out of this she was definitely going to come up with a way to make the phones waterproof. That's when she had a brainstorm.

"Kids, okay who here knows how to make paper boats?"

* * * * *
"Okaaay. Show of hands for those not going into the water in the near future," the brunette said watching the leech slide by for the fifth time. Spike had a disgusted look on his face and the young man couldn't resist. He nudged the vampire, "He looks nothing like you." Xander said seriously. "Well except for the fact he's all in black."

"Well, we also have the whole 'wrapping our mouth around something and sucking until it screams' ability in common." The vampire retorted, giving him a snarky smile.

Xander swallowed heavily and felt his face heat up. He was desperately trying to think of a suitable comeback when he saw a little white boat floating towards them.
Several more, bobbing along on the current followed it. Spike reached out to grab one that was floating past. He opened it up, reading aloud.

"Don't touch the water, creatures, going to try a spell. Tara"

Spike looked at Xander. "Lovely, witch-two is going to try a spell. We'll probably regret this."

Xander snorted. "Don't be a putz. You like her."

Spike made a non-committal grunt.

"You like her. You just won't admit it."

"If you say so pet."

After about fifteen minutes there was a flash of light that travelled up through the water and continued past the trapped men and down the tunnel. There was the smell of ozone and sulphur and what can only be described as the smell of burnt slug. One of the
leeches came floating to the surface, rolling over and revealing a truly impressive array of sharp teeth in circular mouth. Spike and Xander shared a shudder. Then Spike grinned and motioned to the five faintly glowing condoms that Xander had blown up and tied off.

"One, I want to see the witch's face when she realizes what those are; and two, I want to hear the explanation you give the kiddies. I also want you to know that this alone has made the trip worthwhile." Spike grinned evilly and waggled his eyebrows.

"I'm so happy." Xander deadpanned.

* * * * *
"Spike, Xander!" Tara cried, hugging both men. Spike grumbled but allowed himself to be hugged while Xander gave her a big squeeze.

Spike snickered when he saw Tara figure out what the 'balloon' in Xander's hand really was in its real capacity. The little girl with the bruised hand reached out timidly and touched his arm.

"Did you see our lightening? We all joined hands and made Tara's computer go 'flash'. She said gesturing with her hands. Spike glanced at the kiddies. They all looked suitably proud. He gave them the thumbs up sign.

"Okay kids, we'll do a quick check and then we're out of here." Xander motioned to the kids to stay put and he and Spike slipped back in the water. They encountered no resistance. It was obvious the big bad guy felt the leeches were watchdog enough.

Xander turned to Spike. "Forget plans. Let's just go wreck some havoc, what do you say?" Spike vamped out and smiled.

* * * * *

"It's been long enough. Go and collect any of the children and meddlers that are left." The Boreal demon hissed. The vampire scurried out. This little town was causing him no end of trouble and he was behind in his harvesting. Three of his men hadn't returned from investigating the explosion in town and he'd lost five more when they heard that the "Slayer and her Gang" were in town, idiots. He only had five men left now.

What should have been a simple scam and grab had turned into a mess. He should have listened to that bitch of a lawyer at Wolfram and Hart. She'd told him that this town was bad news but he needed a big score to pay off some very unpleasant people so he'd taken a
chance. He'd paid to get the deed to the mine signed over to him on a technicality and presented the documents to that Burns creature.

She'd argued but she'd also known what he was after and reasoned that as soon as he got it he'd be gone; if it hadn't been for those stupid townsfolk coming to check on the kids. He should have remembered what his grandfather said; small, close-knit towns were trouble. He rubbed a claw across his forehead.

The vampire he'd just sent out came flying through the door and into the far wall, disintegrating into dust.

"Hello!" Two male voices said in unison. In walked the blonde vampire and the dark haired human from the tunnels. The human invoked a very unpleasant feeling in the demon; like nails across chalkboard.

Xander smiled coldly. "Do you want to leave or do you want to resist?" The demon roared and launched himself at Xander. Spike intercepted him with a flying kick before latching onto one wing and pulling very hard. There was ripping sound and the demon shrieked and
screamed again as a throwing star embedded itself in its thigh. As it doubled over in pain, Spike went to work on the other wing.

"Oi, mate, I hear it's not losing the wings that hurts so much as the never being able to fly again." The vampire hissed maliciously, snapping a bone. The demon dropped to the floor, rolling in agony. Spike jumped back and looked at Xander.

"What, don't want to finish it?" Xander asked in confusion.

"Not exactly our fight is it luv?" Spike said as a tall, spare woman came to the door followed by Morrie and several other townspeople.

The woman stared down at the writhing demon dispassionately. "You should never have come here. You should have left us alone." She turned to Spike and Xander. She gave Xander a searching look and gave a small smile. "Well, well, Gabriel's lost lamb." She said softly. She looked a Spike, "With his own guardian wolf. Thank you gentlemen. We can take it from here now that the children are safe." She smiled again. She had very small, even sharp teeth. Spike returned the sharp-toothed smile with a fanged grin of his own. Xander gave a last look at the damaged demon and nodded. Morrie gave him a wave goodbye.

Xander put his arm around Spike's shoulder, startling the vampire briefly. Tara stood quietly outside, waiting. Xander walked up to the young witch and threw his other arm around her shoulder. "It's 2 am and I wanna go home, how about it?"

"Too right!"

They started toward the motel to pick up their stuff and the car. They would be able to make it to Sunnydale by dawn.

* * * * *

Hour One

"Just pass the bloody wanker." Spike whined.

"Okay, déjà vu." Xander sighed speeding past the car. Spike vamped out and gave the driver the two-fingered salute.

"Spike!" Xander snapped.

* * * *
Hour Two

"All the lonely people," Xander sang.

"Where do they all come from?" Tara and Spike harmonized.

* * * * *
Hour Three

"So these are yogurt covered raisins?" Xander said incredulously popping another handful into his mouth. "You know, I had no idea they even made things like this."

Tara nodded vigorously. She and Spike share a look.

..............................................................................................................................................................

Part Seven

*The song is Unsung Psalm by Tracy Chapman


The conquering heroes made it back to Sunnydale in good time. Of course just five minutes out of town they remembered they were suppose to check in on a regular basis. Tara couldn't believe she had forgotten to call her girlfriend.

"I can't believe we didn't call, Goddess, how could we forget to call." Tara fretted.

"Yeah luv, I'm shocked and just a little disappointed in the both of you." Spike rejoined.

"Hey," Xander smacked Spike's arm, "something wrong with your dialling finger buddy?"

"Oi, I'm a soulless spawn of Hell. No one in their right mind would expect me to 'check in', demons don't 'check in'." Spike looked mortally offended.

"Well call me Nutty then," snapped Xander. "Don't worry Tara. I mean look at us; we've obviously been in a fight. I was even drowned." Xander said brightly. "She'll forgive us."

"And the phones were soaked." Spike added awkwardly. Xander gave him an approving smile.

"Willow's probably mounting a rescue operation," Tara said morosely. "And on top of that, I also fried the laptop."

"Well, yeah, but that was bloody brilliant!" Spike enthused with a little bounce. He looked at both his companions. "C'mon, you can't say that wasn't a bit of alright?"

Xander grinned, "Yeah, Tara, it was pretty neat."

She smiled reluctantly as they pulled up to the house. Everything was still and quiet in the pre-dawn. The three friends got out of the car slowly. Everything was so still.

"Do you think something's wrong?" asked Tara. "Or maybe they're over at Giles."

"Nope, the Little Bit's in there and the witch too." Spike said carefully approaching the front door. Xander pulled his baseball bat out of the car and moved into position to back up Spike. Spike motioned Tara forward and she quickly unlocked the door. The three burst in, rolling in and coming to fighting positions. There was a commotion upstairs and Willow came down the stairs, a spell half-formed in her hands and ready to cast. Dawn was behind her holding a small axe. They were both dressed in their pyjamas and had obviously been sound asleep.

"Goddess! What do you think you're doing?" Willow cried.

"Hey guys, you're back." Dawn yawned. She half waved with the axe.

"We thought something was wrong." Tara started to explain. "You weren't out looking for us." She finished with a little hitch in her voice.

"Why would we be out looking for you? Gabriel came by and told us you were fine and on your way back. And gosh, you know he didn't seem scary at all but I could see how he might be." Willow trailed off and then refocused on the threesome. "Although," Willow dissipated the spell with a wave and put her hands to her hips, "why Gabriel had to tell us that when there are phones and such I don't know." She finished severely.

"They forgot to call." Spike said, pointing to Xander and Tara. Xander glared at him. Spike blinked and made a "What?" motion with his hands. Xander's glare intensified. "Oh, and Xander drowned." Spike added helpfully looking to his pet for approval.

Xander rolled his eyes patting Spike on the shoulder. "We'll work on it."

"Xander drowned!" Willow exclaimed, as she quickly looked her best friend over. She then turned to Tara, "Baby, are you okay?"

Tara let herself be patted and petted and hugged. She sniffed, "Honey, I'm fine bu, but I fried the laptop."

"Oh don't worry about that, as long as you're okay." Willow hugged her harder. She looked over Willow's shoulder at the guys and smiled. Spike caught Tara's eye and winked.

"Well if everybody's okay. I'm going back to bed. You guys'll stop by later and tell all right?" Dawn yawned again and headed back upstairs dragging her axe.

"Night Little Bit. We'll see you later." Spike waved and turned to Xander. "Home pet?"

Xander nodded absently, watching Willow continue to coo and fuss over Tara. He turned and focused on Spike suddenly and threw an arm over his shoulder. "Sleep, yes?" Spike nodded.

They stumbled back to the apartment. Xander wanted a shower and bed. Spike carefully hung up his still damp duster and then flopped down on the couch and turned the TV on, quickly flipping through channels before settling on an old murder mystery, "Laura" with Gene Tierney. While Xander was showering Spike warmed himself a mug of blood and set the kettle on to boil. When it whistled, he poured the steaming water into a hot water bottle, wrapped it up and tucked it into the foot of Xander's bed. He then fixed Xander a nice hot cup of tea and milk. He sat back down, keeping an ear open for his pet.

Xander took a nice hot shower but stopped before the water ran out. Spike might not be able to catch a cold but a hot shower would make him feel better. Xander slipped into his warmest sweats and padded out of the bathroom, stopping by the hall closet and pulling out extra blankets. He hesitated, staring at the pile of blankets in his arms. He wanted to ask Spike if the vampire would like to sleep next to him tonight. The problem was that all Xander wanted to do was sleep. He just wanted to cuddle, but would Spike think he was trying to be a tease or worse yet, would it just make Spike uncomfortable? Xander stood in the hallway biting his lip and trying to come to a decision. He jumped at the sound of Spike's voice.

"Hey pet, can I take a shower?" The blonde looked at him quizzically.

"Yes, yes, absolutely, yes, please." Xander spluttered embarrassedly.

Spike squinted one eye and walked over to the blushing young man. "Pet, come have some nice hot tea, warm your tummy right up. I'll take a quick shower, then we'll get you tucked into bed, all safe and sound." Spike took the blankets and his hand, leading him to the couch. He unfolded a blanket and dropped it over the man's shoulders. "Laura's on pet, one of your
favourites." Spike handed him the tea and then slipped into the bathroom. He emerged a scant ten minutes later, shirtless and towelling his hair dry. Xander glanced at him shyly. He liked the way Spike's hair looked without gel. It was all soft and wavy. Xander was sure that as a child, he'd had a head of curls.

Spike sat down on the couch and Xander held up one side of his blanket in invitation. Spike, looking pleased, slipped in next to his nummy and cuddled while they watched the movie; both of them dozing off before the end.

Spike woke up about five hours later to a gently snoring Xander. He carefully slid out from under the young man's arm and just as carefully picked him up. It was a little awkward, what with a deeply sleeping Xander being not only taller but also as boneless as a two year old, but Spike managed it. Xander half woke up briefly and blinked at Spike before tugging him down to the bed.

"Snuggles," Xander murmured before borrowing into the bedclothes. Spike slipped under the top blanket and cuddled close to his human hot water bottle before dozing off.

Spike woke up first, draped over his Xanpet. He inhaled deeply smelling, Xander, shampoo, soap and clean sheets. Spike wasn't usually inclined to stay in bed unless there was the promise of sex forthcoming but he was enjoying just laying here next to Xander. "I'm becoming domesticated," Spike thought. He waited for the feelings of rage and helplessness that thought should produce; nothing happened. "Perhaps it's because I know I could walk out of here anytime I want to," he mused to himself. "I just don't want to."

Before with Angelus and Darla, he'd told himself he could leave whenever he wanted to; even Dru, hadn't he proved that when he chosen Buffy over his Dark Princess? But the truth was that he'd just replaced one obsession with another. He'd worried a bit that he was doing that with Xander: replacing the lost Slayer with the ex-angel, except there was none of that feeling of having to 'do something' with Xander. He didn't need to have sex with Xander, well not right this minute anyway. He didn't need prove how manly he was or how violent or bold. He could just be himself. Spike frowned; he wasn't quite sure what that meant though.

He started to make a mental list: he was a demon therefore changeable (some might say treacherous) by nature; he liked old movies, human food, smokes, booze, reading, fighting, snuggling, sex, and brunettes, not necessarily in that order. He was smart, sexy, good looking, and he had a good sense of humour; and, he liked having a purpose. He could tolerate the witches and the Watcher. He smiled a little sadly. He'd liked Joyce and Buffy, maybe even
loved them. He took a deep unneeded breath, yes, he'd loved them and he loved Dawn and Xander, too.

He lifted himself up to one elbow and looked down at Xander. He gently reached out a single finger, carefully pushing back a few strands of hair from Xander's brow.

"I love each of you because you saw me; when you looked in my eyes you didn't see just an animal, a demon, you saw a person." He whispered as he bent down and carefully kissed Xander's temple. " I'm real to you and if I decided tomorrow to open a book store and
buy a house, you'd raise an eyebrow but you wouldn't say 'You can't do that Spike because you're a vampire.' I can do anything." He lay back down on the bed and stared at the ceiling, flummoxed. "I can do anything I want to, well except bite humans with the intent to do harm. I keep trying to go back to how it was before but that's never going to happen is it?"

"Nope, you can't ever go back even if you're immortal or used to be, time still marches on." Xander said quietly without opening his eyes. Xander rolled over so that he was face to face with Spike and blinked at him. "That's what being on Earth is all about, change, constant, annoying, exhilarating change." He pointed to his head. "That was the hardest notion to get into this brain; this ain't Heaven and it ain't Hell and nothing stays the same whether you want it to or not; everything keeps shifting and trying to remain unchanging in a changing world is just a waste of time."

"Maybe that's why demons try to make it to this dimension, subconsciously they think there's a chance for things to be different then Hell." Spike said softly, "That's exactly why angels don't want to be here; why would you want things to be different from Heaven?" Xander smiled back. "Unless you can find a piece of Heaven here."

Spike looked deeply into soft brown eyes and swallowed hard. "Well, speaking of change and all. I think I need to get up and get some food into you and some blood into me. C'mon mate time to greet the evening." Spike started to sit up but Xander reached out a hand to stay him.

The young man flushed a bit and Spike heard his heart rate speed up. He opened his mouth but Spike reached out a single finger and touched his lips.

"Xander, would you do me the honour of joining me for dinner this evening? I will meet you in the kitchen in an hour's time if that would be amenable to you?" Spike requested formally.

"Am I being asked on a date?" Xander teased gently.

Spike slid gracefully from the bed holding out a hand to help Xander up. "No sir, I am requesting permission to court you. I would ask the Watcher but he would undoubtedly torment us by insisting on chaperones. I was hoping to move more swiftly in our relationship." Spike still spoke formally although a small smile touched his lips.

Xander stood, "I would be honoured." He said solemnly.

* * * * * *

Xander dressed much the same as when Spike had come over for dinner earlier that week. He couldn't believe so much had happened in such a short time. He'd loved Spike quietly for years and never thought he'd be noticed and now, he was being courted. "I feel giddy and silly and all the other goofy adjectives people feel when they're in love." He thought with a little mental 'yippee'!

He walked into the living room and watched Spike moving about the kitchen. Instead of going out, Spike had insisted that he would cook. He was dressed in his duster, oven mitts and an apron and stirring a pot of what Xander assumed to be soup. He was glaring at it and muttering under his breath. The timer on the stove then went off and Xander watched Spike arm himself with salad prongs before opening the oven door and carefully pulling out a tray of biscuits.

"Spike?" Xander addressed the scowling vampire carefully. "Not that I don't appreciate the effort or anything but vampire, heat, fire correlation thing, what I mean is why are you cooking?"

"It bloody well relaxes me." Spike snarled reaching out and moving the biscuits to a plate. He motioned to the table. "Have a seat luv, I'll serve up." He said, moving the pot off the stove and ladling the soup into bowls.

Xander sat. Spike had set out napkins and candles. It all looked very homey. Spike set the bowl of hot soup in front of him. He also brought out a pitcher of ice tea before divesting himself of his mitts and coat and seating himself at the table.

"Smells wonderful." Xander said picking up his spoon. "What is it?"

"Lentil soup." Spike said offering the plate of rolls to Xander.

Xander nodded, "Well, I didn't even know we had lentils." He said trying not to smile.

"Canned," Spike said nodding and breaking open a roll. He glanced at Xander out of the corner or his eyes.

"Ah, well, good, relaxing job." Xander said continuing to nod and trying to keep the conversation going without laughing.

"I had to break open the biscuit tube though and hunt out the biscuit dough." Spike said breaking into a grin. "That satisfied my need for violence and therefore relaxed me."

Xander laughed out loud. Spike smiled and the rest of the meal passed with Spike and Xander trading insults and jokes. After the meal they moved to the couch. Xander started to get nervous again. He was worried that after all the trouble Spike went to he was going to be disappointed. While he was busy giving himself a pep talk Spike stood and turned on the radio. He listened to the song for a moment, rolled his eyes and then laughed softly. "Gabriel, you meddlin' featherhead." He returned to stand in front of Xander, holding out his hand.

"Dance with me, pet?" Xander felt himself falling into soft blue eyes.

"You know I can't dance." Xander said taking the blonde's hand and standing.

"Shhh," Spike ran his index finger along the brunette's lips. "I want you to close your eyes." He touched the young man's eyelids next. "Remember what you told me when I asked about your wings; remember what you told me about flying? I want you to close your eyes and just concentrate on soaring; let me take care of the rest, all right, luv?"

Xander closed his eyes and felt Spike take him in his arms. They begun to sway and Xander cleared his mind; letting Spike take the lead, concentrating on his half-remembered dreams of wings and weightlessness. Spike slowly led Xander into simple waltz, keeping time to the music.

*There would psalms sung by a choir
I would have a white robe a halo newly acquired
I'd be at peace and I'd have no desire
If I'd lived right*

Xander smiled in delight, his eyes still closed as Spike led him gracefully around the room.

*But I'm feeling hot and bothered under the collar
I feel the sweat breaking out on my brow
I feel the heat and I know it's the passion
The love I can't disavow*

"I'm flying Spike, I'm flying." Xander tipped his head back joyously. Spike laughed and spun Xander as they continued to waltz. His pet had a look of rapture on his face.

*Do you live by the book do you play by the rules?
Do you care what is thought by others about you?
If this day is all that is promised to you
Do you live for the future the present the past*

Spike closed his eyes and whispered to Xander, "I live for you pet." As the song ended he and Xander opened their eyes. Xander bent down brushing his lips across Spike's mouth. "Come to bed?"

"Are you sure, pet?" Spike asked. Xander smiled and nodded, leading Spike into the bedroom.

Spike let go of Xander long enough to pull his shirt over his head, then reached for the young man, slowly undressing him in between nips and kisses. Xander laughed softy and a little shyly, running his hands over Spike's chest.

"I don't know what to do." He whispered bending down to nip at Spike's lips. "Tell me what to do."

"Nope, not gonna do that, pet. Do what you want." Spike nibbled Xander's neck, then licked, nibble, and lick.

Xander moaned and laughed a breathlessly. "I'm sorry, shouldn't laugh."

"Why not? I like to laugh." Spike moved down Xander's chest and licked first the right nipple, then the left. Meanwhile his hands were busy stroking Xander, feeling the young man's cock harden more and more.

Xander ran his hands up and over the vampire's shoulders, down his arms and back. He kept kissing everywhere his hands roamed. He felt shaky with excitement. Emboldened by the murmured encouragement from the blonde, Xander trailed his lips down Spike's chest, following the soft line of hair. He slipped to his knees, dropping his hands to Spike's hips and
hesitating. He looked up and Spike smiled and ruffled the brunette's hair.

"Do you want me to give you a hand luv?" Spike teased gently.

"I was kinda thinking of giving you a hand instead," Xander returned with an endearing mixture of bravado and shyness. Xander bent his head forward and blew against the bulge growing in the vampire's jeans.

"You're gonna be the second death of me." Spike moaned, tipping his head back and gripping the young man's shoulders.

"No more teasing." Xander said, unbuttoning the blonde's jeans and freeing his hardened length. He pushed Spike's jeans down and then laughed. "Boots."

"Bloody Hell, just tip me over." Spike said with a groan. Xander laughed again and gave a gentle push, toppling the vampire onto the bed. He then made quick work of the boots and jeans. Spike watched him through slitted eyes and then hauled him up and onto his chest.

Xander lay chest to chest with the blonde. Spike tried to capture his mouth but Xander shook his head and grinned, slipping down Spike's chest to his waist feeling Spike's cock leaking pre-cum all the way. Spike propped himself up on his elbows, watching Xander reach out with his fingers, running them up and down Spike's length, then down to his sack, then back
up and over the head. Xander bent his head and gently licked the slit.

Spike hissed, dropping his head back. He felt Xander's hand grasp the shaft and hold it while his tongue continued to lick the head like an ice cream cone. Spike was kneading the sheets like a cat and his hips kept moving up and down in an effort not to lose contact with that tongue.

"Xander, I'm going to come if you keep that up." Spike said through gritted teeth raising his head to look down at the man.

Xander lifted his lips from the head of Spike's cock, met the vampire's eyes and gave another lick. He smiled wickedly, "Okay." Xander dropped his lips back to the head and gave an experimental suck and a lick. Spike shouted, jerking his hips up, so Xander did it again and again.

Spike was moaning continuously, "Pleasepleasepleaseplease." Suddenly Spike froze and then cried out, cumming into Xander's mouth in pulse after pulse. Xander felt his mouth fill and he
swallowed and then swallowed again as Spike slowly relaxed back to the bed.

Xander's cock felt like it was going to explode and he dropped a hand to his lap as he finished cleaning the vampire's cock. He started to pump when he felt a hand on his arm.

"C'mere pet. I want a taste of that." Spike breathed tugging Xander up the bed. Xander straddled the vampire's chest, presenting his hardened shaft to Spike's lips. Spike stared at Xander through half closed eyes. His face faintly flushed. The tip of Spike's tongue peeked out between his lips and he just licked at the head.

Xander groaned and rubbed the head on the blonde's mouth, coating his lips with pre-cum. Xander felt Spike's hands wander up and cup his ass, pulling him forward. Spike opened his mouth and swallowed Xander's cock in one smooth, slow motion. Xander's eyes dilated and his mouth dropped open. He was panting harshly and then Spike began to swallow and the sensation that went through Xander's body made him feel like he was going to fly apart. He felt a finger trace down the crease in his ass. He gave a strangled scream, throwing his head back, arching like a bow and he came and came and came.

It seemed to Spike as he watched the young man that for the briefest moment he could almost see the outline of wings spanning the bed. "Cor."

Xander collapsed onto the blonde's chest and then rolled bonelessly over to his side, trying to catch his breath. Spike followed him, licking and nuzzling before Xander tugged on his arm.

The two men shared a kiss and then continued to lie, loosely entwined on the bed for a few minutes. Xander laughed out loud and rolled over to look at Spike.

"Spike," he exclaimed, "that was fun!" Spike arched one eyebrow and Xander hesitated unsure. "I mean it was also wonderful and awe inspiring and everything but, well I guess I didn't think it would be just plain fun." Xander stammered, biting his lip.

"Well," Spike began pompously, "with anyone else you wouldn't get awe inspiring of course, that's just me." Spike patted his chest and gave Xander a cheeky grin. "Of course it's suppose to be fun, pet, sometimes folk don't remember that bit though, especially vampires." Spike finished with a half mocking smile.

Xander thumped him on the chest and gave him another kiss for good measure and hugged him close while artfully manoeuvring the covers up the bed. After a little wiggling and such the two lovers settled down for a snuggle. Spike was quickly becoming addicted to snuggling.

"Spike," Xander said hesitantly, "I want you to know that if, no when, you get the chip out, if you decide to…."

"Come after you, you'll, what forgive me, understand?" Spike interrupted, annoyed and a little hurt that Xander would think after what they had just shared that he would try to hurt the young man or their friends.

"No. I'll kick your lily white ass from here until next week." Xander said, lifting up and staring down at the vampire sternly. "I mean it Spike, I love you but I'm not putting up with that foolishness. We'd better be getting that straight right here and now." Xander gave the vampire a slight slap to the behind.

Spike smiled beatifically, "You love me?"

"Yes, hello, I slept with you, of course I love you." Xander huffed in exasperation. "No, what I was going to say was that if you get the chip out and decide you want to leave Sunnydale for awhile, I'll understand." Xander gazed at him very seriously, "But I want you to
know that you'll always have a home here with me." He bent down and kissed the vampire softly.

He pulled back and Spike smiled back at him, his eyes shining. "Yes pet." He said and snuggling into the young man's shoulder as they both dozed off.

* * * * * *

Spike woke up and carefully slipped from the bed, drawing on his jeans and pulling his cigarettes from the pocket of his duster. He padded into the living room, opening the patio door and slipping outside for a smoke. As he flicked on the lighter he spoke.

"I know you're out here." He turned to see Gabriel sitting on the edge of the railing holding a horn and munching on a cookie. Spike eyed the instrument and smirked.

"Bringing out the angelic equivalent of a shotgun?" Spike motioned to the horn.

The angel tipped his head and smiled. "Nope got another call to make." He hopped down and stood next to Spike. The vampire felt his skin crawl. "Bloody Hell" he thought taking another drag from his cigarette.

"Want a cookie?" Gabriel proffered a bag he pulled from his coat pocket.

Spike shook his head. Gabriel grinned good-naturedly.

"So, you love him?" Gabriel asked curiously, both eyebrows arched.

"I do you know," Spike said seriously, "I'm not just mucking about here and it's not needy obsession or anything, I really do love him. I mean I've thought this through and he's not just a substitute and all." Spike looked earnestly at the archangel.

"Obviously, because, well, you're babbling. That's a sure sign." Gabriel smiled. "Just making sure that you know you love him." The angel turned to leave. "You sure you don't want a cookie?"

"Mum told me not to take sweets from strangers." Spike gave a half smile.

"Margaret was a smart woman." Gabriel winked before scattering like a flock of doves.

"Cor, I'm never going to get used to that." Spike shuddered before finishing his cigarette and heading back inside. He tugged off his jeans and slipped back into bed.

Xander rolled over and half opened his eyes. "Did you pass muster?"

"Yeah. I don't know which family is more bloody annoying, your angel or mine." Spike grimaced and then said hesitantly. "He asked me if I loved you. I do you know. I'm sure." Spike stared at Xander.

Xander smiled at him. "I know you love me. You're a very loving person but it's nice to hear the words." Xander brushed back a stray lock of Spike's hair.

"I love you. I love you. I love you." Spike chanted.

"Goof." Xander said affectionately before kissing him again as they dozed off.

* * * * * * *

"Well, I gotta admit, the brat did better than I expected." Whistler lit his cigar and motioned for another round. There was some Skeck demon on stage doing a pretty good rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee."

"Alexander has always led with his heart and Spike works the same way. It won't be dull." The archangel answered polishing his horn.

"Did you mention about Angel?" Whistler asked while clapping enthusiastically for the now finished demon.

"Naw. You know me, I don't like to kibbutz." Gabriel watched the stage being set up for the next performance.

Whistler snorted politely.

"Looks like you're on." Whistler said as The Host waved the archangel to the stage.

"And now ladies and gentlemen, back by popular demand."

The End

To read the sequel " Family Matters "