The Sequel to Learning Curve

[info]pixel2817 asked for "spike taking xander to la to show him off," and it turned out a little longer than a drabble... more like a chapter. Here you go hon!



Experience Curve


by
Litgal


Part One



Spike and Xander hit L.A.

"I can't believe the sod came back here. Not like he has a lot of good memories associated with this place, but he always has been one for sulking in the dark," Spike said as they stood at the entrance to the Hyperion hotel.

"Whoa, big fire," Xander said, noticing the black streaks that wrapped around the corner, staining the stone.

"Yeah, either lightening or a dragon hit there, depending on who you ask."

"Okay, with your luck, I'm guessing dragon," Xander said as he bit his lip. "This is where they all died, isn't it?"

"Yeah, out back, but they're gone, and hanging out on top of California's newest Hellmouth isn't going to make them come back any time soon," Spike said, and he moved away, pushing in through the doors. Angel might brood, but Spike ignored, Xander had discovered. He followed silently because having seen his own share of disasters, he knew that sometimes you had to ignore the broken bits and the pain and the losses until you glued yourself back together well enough to talk about it without breaking down into tears.

"Angel-cakes?" Spike yelled, and that was a new nickname. Xander snickered.

"Spike?" Angel came out from the back, his face barely visible in the low light, but the big old ax looked fairly ominous. Xander started to back up, but Spike's arm slipped around his back, holding him in place.

"You're looking mighty broody, mate."

"Spike, I have a job. I don't have time for this right now."

"Yeah, you never do. So, what's the job and I'll throw in for old times sake," Spike said as he stepped closer, dragging Xander with him.

"Xander," Angel finally acknowledged him. "Spike, what are you doing with Xander?"

"Wot? You need the birds and the bees speech? Seems like you knew what to do with my arse well enough the one time you came home drunk enough to miss the girls' beds, so figure it out."

Xander choked. Angel... and Spike. Oh god, some things he did not need to know. "Hey, about those Clippers? Looking good this season," Xander tried to deflect the conversation, but both vampires ignored him. Well, Angel ignored him, Spike told him to shut up and gave him a slap on the ass that made Angel's eyebrows raise.

"Spike, I'm going to assume you've forgotten how little patience I have for you, but let me try this again. What the hell are you doing with Xander?"

"The boy warms my bed, not that it's any of your business. We just thought we'd drop in for a family visit, but if you have nasties to kill, all the better," Spike shrugged.

Xander stayed silent, even when Angel tightened his lips and scrunched all his facial features toward the center as though some demon where trying to suck off his face. And staying silent, not so easy, because he could think of any number of face sucking jokes that he could make.

Spike's hand moved up to Xander's neck, grabbing him by the scruff, and Xander hunched his shoulders instinctively at the pressure.

"Hey, I'm big with the non-insulty manners, here," Xander protested. Spike tightened his grip a little more.

"Oi, can hear ya thinkin' them," he said. Xander just sighed as Spike pulled him a little closer and the hand around his neck moved so that it draped over Xander's shoulder. Angel's face now sort of dropped into a frown that made his eyes nearly disappear under his eyebrows. Okay, so Xander might be exaggerating a little, but it wasn't a good expression.

"I don't need help."

"Never said you did. I figure we can just punch the hell out of whatever nasty you're hunting, and then we can talk some. So, let's go," Spike said as he pulled Xander around and started heading for the door they'd just come in. Angel got in front of them.

"He is not going." Angel said as he glared at Xander, but then his voice choked off at the end as though something had wrapped around his throat and squeezed off the air. Xander was fairly certain that the something was disgust since the fingers of Spike's second hand crept under the waistband of Xander's jeans.

Xander could feel his ears warm with embarrassment. Spike tightened his arm and Xander allowed himself to lean back into that strength. He knew facing Angel would be hard. But, like Spike said, better to deal with one overbearing, obnoxious, stick-their-nose-into-other- people's-business friend at a time, and if they didn't tell Angel, Buffy sure as hell would. Xander just really wished Spike wasn't enjoying this quite so much.

"He's not going with us," Angel finally ordered.

"Not your call, Peaches," Spike said with far too much amusement in his voice. Xander rolled his eyes. He wasn't sure how he felt being Spike's 'secret weapon,' the shaman powers hidden until Spike could show them off and rub Angel's nose in them. Personally, Xander didn't think there would be much rubbing. No matter what Spike said about demons and power and wanting to claim power, Angel would never see him as anything other than annoying: he could see that in the barely contained fury on Angel's face.

"Then neither of you will come, William," Angel growled.

"Oi, seems to me we settled this little debate. Don't have to do jack-all that you say, mate," Spike answered, amusement still coloring his tone. Angel's fists clenched.

"And you didn't want me to piss him off?" Xander whispered.

"Careful pet, wouldn't want me ta punish you in front the poof, would ya?" Spike asked sweetly. Xander's ears burned even hotter, and Angel made a strangled squack-like noise.

"I've got demons to kill," Angel snapped as he stormed out of the office, slamming the door.

"Right, we're right behind ya," Spike announced cheerfully as he herded Xander after Angel. The convertible was parked along the side of the building, and now Xander could see one whole wall scorched black, and the ruins of a building next door which had turned into a giant pile of bricks.

"In you go," Spike said as he practically tossed Xander into the backseat. Angel had already rolled away from the curb when Spike landed in the passenger side seat. Angel tightened his fingers around the steering wheel, but didn't say anything as he navigated the streets.

Eventually, he turned in at a fairgrounds on the edge of town, bright lights whirling high in the air and screaming voices drifting on the breeze. Demons at a carnival, and that was actually pretty cliche, Xander thought as he hurried after Spike and Angel.

"Right, so what are we looking for?" Spike asked.

"I'm looking for vampires."

"Doesn't narrow the field much. This type of place always attracts a few random minions picking off the careless. What are they doing to get your ire up?"

Angel stopped, and looked at Spike with murderous eyes.

"I fight every vampire I find. There is no such thing as a death too small to fight."

"Right," Spike said disbelievingly.

"Go away, Spike."

"I will, mate, just as soon as these baddies are taken care of. So, why drive half way across the city to hunt here?" Spike prodded again. Xander trailed along after them feeling vaguely like the family pet, but then he got the feeling that these two were dealing with shit that had nothing to do with Xander and Spike and Xander or even Xander and shamen, not that Angel knew that bit yet. They walked in silence, and Xander couldn't spot anything that screamed "vampire" other than a Goth chick with a huge cross necklace which sort of suggested she wasn't actually a vampire. Angel stopped.

"They're collecting sacrifices. Children. They're going to drain their blood and summon a demon," he finally admitted.

"I don't smell 'em," Spike said. "Pet," Spike looked back and Xander stepped forward. Right, time for the floor show. "They're planning on draining children, probably excited by how helpless the kiddies are. Hungry, frustrated at not taking a taste... either that or they have tasted them. They want power, and they think they're going to get it tonight."

Xander nodded, and then closed his eyes tightly.

"What are you doing?" Angel asked, but Xander ignored it as he opened his eyes to a new landscape. Xander felt for the lust for power and blood, seeing a few possible threads appear in the tangle of faint shadow threads. Xander focused on one, making it thicken as he concentrated. Lust, but lust for money.

Xander turned his head and followed a second thread. It was dark, and throbbing, inhuman, but he abandoned it after feeling the fear and disgust roll off one of the workers, a thick necked man who clearly wasn't human.

"Watch it," the guy complained as Xander bumped him, and some sort of scuffle broke out behind Xander as he felt it. There. The dark cords tangled together, three or four. All pulsated with hunger and lust and power and a raw superiority. Xander followed, blindly ignoring the people and the ropes until hands grabbed his shoulders, pushing him away from his goal.

Xander fought to turn back, but the hands moved him forward until finally Xander could turn to the source of that evil.

"Bloody fuck, they're starting," Spike hissed. Xander shook his head, making the vision retreat as Spike and Angel raced away from the fair and out into a field of broken stalks. Xander raced after them, grabbing the stake from the back of his jeans as he heard the first sounds of flesh hitting flesh.

Xander reached the fight and found children, their hands tied to stakes pounded into the ground. When Xander pulled out a knife, a girl started to scream, and Xander shushed her. "I'm just cutting the ropes. Just sit still and let me get you free," he begged. A little boy desperately scooted away so that Xander couldn't slip the knife between the rope and the hands without cutting him.

"I'm with the police. I'm a policeman. I'm trying to rescue you," Xander finally lied. The girl immediately stopped screaming and the boy held out his hands with wide eyes. "Stay together. Stay together now," Xander said as he cut loose the boy and then a quiet girl and finally the screamer. The fight was still going on.

"Stay together. Run to the lights and find the first person with a uniform, but stay together," Xander said as he put the boy's hand into the quiet girl's custody and then did the same with the screamer. "Run. Run as fast as you can, but stay together," he said as he gave them a push. The three children fled toward the fairgrounds, and Xander focused on the fight in time to see Angel and Spike grab the last minion. Angel swung his ax just as Spike struck out with a stake, and who knows which hit first, but the minion turned into another pile of ash.

"The kids," Angel said as he looked around.

"All three are heading for the fairgrounds. They'll be fine as long as they stay together and find a guard," Xander said as he put his knife and stake away.

"No more of them, then?" Spike asked as he waved toward the ash still settling to the ground.

"Greed and general not-niceness, but no more murderous demons with blood rituals," Xander agreed.

Angel just stood and stared. It was too dark here for Xander to see his face, but Spike obviously could.

"You look like a bloody idiot with that expression on your face," he said smugly as he moved to behind Xander and wrapped his arms around Xander's waist.

"Hey, why do you get to insult him if I don't?" Xander demanded.

"Not an insult... just an observation."

"Um, that sounds like something I'd say, so I'm calling it an insult. Well, except for the bloody part. When I say bloody I usually mean bloody as in blood." Xander shrugged.

"What is going on?" Angel demanded. He took a step closer, and now Xander could see the suspicious expression on his face. Okay, maybe that was suspicion. Xander wasn't actually sure.

"Wot?" Spike asked. "Ya wanted the buggers found, and we found them."

"And how did you find them, exactly?" Angel demanded, his eyes never leaving Xander. Xander squirmed a bit under the attention, and Spike's arms around his waist tightened.

"Interestin' question. I figure you've known the boy a lot longer than I have, so it's your own soddin' fault for never noticing."

Xander could feel Spike shrug, the movement telegraphed from his vampire's body to his own.

"Not noticing what?" Angel took another step forward, and now Xander could see the muscles under Angel's shirt tensing so that silk shifted over his body. Funny, that expression was looking more Angelus than Angel, and with the silk shirt, Xander could feel the first tendrils of worry. He opened himself slightly, allowing the shaman part of his mind to see the threads of the universe that tangled around them all.

Immediately, Xander sucked in a deep breath. From Angel came a corded, twisted thread, a silky, slick black rope of sickness and hate that twisted and snapped before smaller threads wove around it, sticking to it and obscuring the raw fury with guilt and sorrow and need and fear.

Xander looked up at Angel, seeing the demon inside as clearly as he could see the nose and the brown eyes and the confusion.

"Pet," Spike's voice drifted around him, pushing away the image of those threads, and Xander blinked himself back into this world.

"Hey," Xander answered, a good sort of non-committal answer since he really didn't know what to say after seeing that. The purity of the evil horrified Xander now that he could see it clearly. He pressed back into Spike's embrace and blinked away the ghost images that crowded his vision. And really, it was almost worse to see Angel's soul's threads wrapping and twisting and sometimes snapping as they struggled to embrace that evil, cocooning in so that it couldn't touch the world.

"You don't use the sight again, not around him, pet, understand?" Spike said in a low voice, and Xander nodded, happy to have that particular order.

"What sight?" Angel demanded. Without the shamanic vision, Angel just looked annoyed, but even now Xander could feel the darker thread lurking just beneath the surface.

"Gotta wonder how you could fight next to him all those years and ya never noticed."

"Spike, if you don't start explaining what is going on, I'm going to crack your head on the sidewalk," Angel growled. Xander couldn't help the tremble that went through his limbs and Angel backed off a step.

"Xander?" he asked.

"Okay, are we done with the Angel torture now? I'm thinking hot bath. Hot bath and bed. Bed would be good," Xander quietly pleaded.

"He's a shaman. He couldn't figure out how ta control it, but he'd get sucked toward evil because he could feel it sliding just under the skin. We thought he was trying to off himself, but it was just him bein' a white hat, trying to save everyone else without understanding how to save himself."

"A shaman?" Doubt colored Angel's voice, and Xander couldn't really blame him. But he'd better learn how to convince people because Buffy and Giles and Willow weren't going to be any less with the doubting.

"I can see Angelus," Xander said softly, "like an oily black cord straining, only you keep twisting around that hate, trying to hold it. You can feel him surge forward, and snap through the threads of your control, and you just have to cling to the hope that you can hold him. That's why you hold on to your guilt. It sticks to Angelus, clings to his essence so that you can hold on to all that hate inside," Xander said softly. He looked up at Angel's face, and Angel staggered back as though he'd been punched.

"But you aren't Angelus. I can see your threads as clearly as his. And I could see the life threads of the demons we tracked here, I could see their hatred. I am a shaman," Xander finished.

The distant sounds of the carnival rumbled as the three of them stood in the field. Angel stared at them until Xander pressed back against Spike, feeling his arms tighten protectively, and Xander chewed his lower lip.

"Seeing that. Knowing what it means to have a soul and a demon, how can you let Spike touch you?" Angel finally demanded.

"Oi, I do more than touch him. Own him, don't I? He's mine, gave himself to me, the way demons in a clan do," Spike objected.

"Spike," Angel growled, and Xander blinked, watching as the black cord twisted up in rage and impotent jealousy.

"Angelus hates that Spike has what he wants," Xander announced. The black cord surged before again being buried beneath the threads of Angel's own soul.

"I hate to see Spike manipulating you into something you don't understand," Angel corrected him.

Xander shook his head.

Spike chuckled darkly. "I told you the old sod would be jealous as hell that I have myself a shaman. And the longer you use those powers of yours, the more powerful they seem to be getting."

"And you just want bragging rights. You want to be able to rub my nose in having something that you think I want. That's why you went after Buffy. That's why you tried so hard to make Dru love you, because I was always number one in her life and you knew it."

"You don't know the first thing about me. Never did anything but love who I loved," Spike snapped back.

"You can't tell me that he loves you, not if he can see our demons," Angel countered.

"Oh, I can see what Spike is, just like I can see what you are," Xander interrupted the fight. "You aren't the same. Spike's soul doesn't battle his demon, and I gave myself to both his soul and his demon because it's the best way to keep him from ripping himself apart."

"Shh, luv. Bastard doesn't deserve an explanation." Spike reached around and put a hand on Xander's chin, pulling his gaze away from Angel.

"But he's going to call Buffy or Buffy's going to call him, and I don't want them doing the conspiring thing," Xander protested as he turned back to Angel. "I can read you and Spike better than most people because with the whole demon and soul thing, it's like having the parts separated out so that I can see them clearer. I'm not walking into this blind, and I know how possessive Spike is, and maybe that's a good thing, but don't try making it seem like I don't know what I'm doing," Xander insisted.

Angel just looked at him with wide eyes. Finally he shifted his gaze to Spike. "If you hurt him, I will hunt you down," Angel said.

"Not going to happen, Peaches." Again, the silence fell between them.

"And if I lose my soul, you get him as far away from me as you can," Angel finally added.

"Goes without sayin'," Spike agreed.

"You two take the car back to the hotel. I need some time," Angel said as he tossed Spike the car keys. Spike snatched them from the air and used his arm around Xander's waist to urge him away from Angel.

Xander followed Spike's lead, stepping over the dried corn stalks that stuck up out of the ground and crunching over the brown leaves.

"Okay, that went..." Xander paused. "It just went," he finally finished.

"Oi, the sod is jealous as hell, and he's given us his approval, so Buffy won't find an ally with him," Spike said. "Went a hell of a lot better than I expected."

"What, you thought you'd have to battle over me?" Xander snorted a laugh, but when Spike didn't answer, Xander stopped, digging in his heels when Spike tried to pull him forward. "You thought Angel would try to take me?" he demanded.

"Well, yeah."

"And you still brought me here? Hello! What is it with you two? I am not to be given away or stolen away or won like the prize bull, and feel free to start apologizing now."

Instead of apologizing, Spike pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Xander had an image of him dropping the thing and setting the whole field on fire, but right now he had bigger complaints than Spike's smoking.

"Pet, watch your tone," Spike warned, blowing smoke out into the cool night air.

"Watch my tone? Watch my tone?" Xander demanded incredulously, okay, that might have been a small squawk, but he was entitled. Spike obviously didn't agree because he closed the distance between them, grabbing Xander by the back of the neck with one hand while he held the cigarette away in the other.

"Yes, bloody watch your tone. You said you understood what it meant, givin' yourself to my demon, but you obviously don't. I'll bloody well dust before I let someone take you, but you have to trust me to know how to keep you safe," he growled, and Xander could see the fear in every tight line of Spike's face. He relaxed his body, leaning forward into Spike, and the hand that had grabbed him turned into a fierce hug.

"I'm just freaking out here. And you are not allowed to dust, ever," Xander whispered. "But fighting over me is kinda medieval in the knights fighting over a girl way, and I'm not really wanting to be the girl in that scenario."

"You're not a bloody bint," Spike said as he let Xander go. "But demons fight over control, and Angel soddin' well wants you."

"And you know, I was getting that feeling too, which is big with the creepiness," Xander said with a shudder as Spike led them back toward the carnival, a hand on Xander's back.

"Angelus wants the shaman in you; it's why he took Dru, to get control of her powers."

"Which is why the telling you to keep me away if his soul goes on shore leave," Xander nodded.

"Fuck yes. If the soul takes a crapper, we're vacationing in another dimension, pet," Spike agreed. "But at least now I can have it out with Buffy without Angel coming in on his white horse trying to play knight in shining armor. If it came to a fight, don't care to know which side Buffy would take," Spike said indifferently, even though Xander could guess at his pain.

"So, no potential fighting over me like I'm the princess in the tower?" Xander asked.

Spike snorted. "You're soddin' strange, you know that, yeah?"

"Totally," Xander nodded.

"Angel isn't going to fight over you, so I figure that just leaves Willow, Giles and Buffy."

"You can take them," Xander tried joking, even though the thought of them fighting over him made his guts curl up into a little ball.

"If I had to, yeah," Spike agreed. "Not really my first plan, pet."

"You mean you actually plan?"

"Oi, someone's looking for a spanking," Spike warned.

"Oh yeah, because that's a threat that's going to keep me from mouthing off," Xander rolled his eyes. Spike was entirely too serious, but Xander knew how to keep his vampire from getting all obsessive about Buffy and Angel and things that were in the past that needed to stay in the past.

"Brat," Spike said with a swat on Xander's ass.

"Hell yeah," Xander agreed. "Your brat." He wiggled his ass and walked faster so that he would get ahead of Spike. They had nearly reached the edge of the carnival, and Xander glanced back to make sure Spike was watching before he dashed off.

Xander heard a British curse behind him, and he ran faster, grabbing a support pole for a tent and swinging around a corner with a laugh. A group of teenagers who stood too close for Xander to dash through forced him to slow down, and he caught a glimpse of white hair pushing through the crowd after him.

Xander smiled and detoured around the back of the food alley, where the trash cans smelled of fried bread and sugar. Not wanting to get caught here, he ran faster, dashing to the edge of the parking lot and skirting it south into the dark where the security building squatted. Ducking down to avoid the windows, Xander didn't even see the figure racing across the dying grass. He just felt the body slam into him, pushing him down into the warm earth of a flower bed.

"And just where do you think you're going?" Spike demanded mischievously, showing his fangs.

"Um, to the car?" Xander blinked up innocently, and then he thrust his hips up toward Spike who was firmly sitting on him.

"Looked like someone was running away from his master," Spike corrected him. Xander remained silent. Spike must have taken that for permission because he leaned down and commanded Xander's mouth in a dangerous kiss.

Xander lay quiet, not moving as those razor sharp fangs slid over his lips, sharp front teeth nipping at his mouth. And while Xander knew that Spike would never actually hurt him, that sharp danger made him gasp for breath.

"Someone's naughty," Spike whispered as he pulled back, and then he licked Xander's neck. Xander had no idea if the naughty was the running or the fact that Xander was now very interested in sex with a room full of security guards inches away, but he didn't care as Spike sucked as his pulse, making him thrust up into Spike's body.

"Over," Spike ordered, and used his supernatural strength to physically lift Xander, urging him onto hands and knees, and Xander obeyed, pressing his face toward the smell of healthy earth and crushed daisies as he felt hands at his belt.

"Oh shit," he breathed.

"Best be quiet or we're going to have some company out here," Spike hissed in his ear, and Xander felt his heart race, which made his cock all the happier.

Spike pushed his pants and underwear down to his thighs, leaving Xander's cock dangling, and Xander squirmed until strong hands grabbed his hips. Oh yeah, he was wired funny because that just made his heart pound faster and his cock ache with need.

Xander felt one hand disappear, and he made a strangled, protesting noise, but then slick fingers pressed into him, and he just focused on not crying out. Sex in public, hot. Getting caught by security guards with big sticks, not. Getting Spike to dress up like a security guard with a big stick.... Xander groaned contentedly as another finger pressed into him and Spike found his happy button.

Xander arched his back and panted as Spike pulled out his fingers and something larger slowly pressed into him. Fuck, yeah. Oh he was so going to scream and get them caught. He pressed his forehead to the ground and just endured as pleasure made his spine tingle and muscles stretched and came to life. Spike pressed up to the back of his legs, and Xander whined in need and excitement and maybe even a little fear.

Taking pity, Spike pulled out and thrust in again quickly, grabbing Xander's cock as Xander dug his fingers into the dirt and thrust back and choked on his own silent cries. When he came, his body jerked until Spike grabbed him, yanking him up and sinking fangs into his neck.

Xander couldn't hold back his keening sound as his body spasmed, impaled on both ends.

"You hear that?" a male voice asked, and Xander silently finished his orgasm, shaking as he grabbed the arm Spike had slung around his waist. Spike first licked and then kissed his neck, and Xander let his head loll to the side.

"Hear what?"

"I don't know, heard something."

Spike pulled up his underwear, awkwardly tucking Xander Junior in directions Xander Junior didn't like, and Xander rearranged himself, tucking everything away quickly as he pulled his jeans up.

"You're always hearing things."

"I'm telling you I heard something."

Xander stood up, wiping off his arms where dirt clung to him. Spike stepped forward and brushed his face, and Xander cursed himself as he felt the damp dirt on his forehead. Oh yeah, real subtle.

"So go check it out," one of the voices said dismissively, and Xander looked toward the guard shack in panic, his brain shutting down right about when a coherent thought would have been helpful. A strong grip closed around his wrist, and Xander found himself pulled off balance, and he ran after Spike just to keep from being dragged behind him. They raced along the bushes that lined the south edge of the parking lot, staying just outside of the pools of light created by the lamps, and Xander noted a number of surprised, and sometimes half-dressed couples as they jumped over them.

Spike didn't stop until they reached Angel's convertible, by which time Xander was gulping air, and Spike was laughing hard enough to make the sides of his eyes go all crinkly.

"Not. Funny," Xander finally huffed.

"Oi, bloody well is. You're still all full of muck. Guess we'll just have to get Peach's car dirty then," Spike smiled as he opened the passenger side door.

"Angel's going to go a grrrr over this car," Xander said as he slipped in, his ass grinding dirt into the upholstery.

"I'm counting on it, pet. Well, that and I'm counting on us being on a plane for England before he finds it." Xander snickered as Spike walked around to the driver's side and got in. "One family member down, three more to go, pet," Spike said as he started the car.

"We'll make it," Xander said confidently.

"Bloody well right we will." Spike agreed.





Part Two

Manip by Lit Gal

Heading for London

Xander leaned back in the seat, ignoring the fear that always crawled into his belly when the aircraft started to land. Oh, he could face demons and gods and African food and blinding humiliation, but one little aircraft landing and his stomach tied up like… like something really knotty. And for that matter, he didn't know why he was bashing African food because it was good compared to English food.

When Spike's hand slid over his, Xander gave a weak smile.

"Down in a sec, pet."

"I'm fine. See me be fine? Big with the fine," Xander protested weakly. Spike didn't answer, but he tightened his hold on Xander's hand, the one that was clutching the seat's arm. No matter how often he told himself that the fear was stupid, Xander failed to actually believe it so he held his breath until the plane touched ground, bouncing slightly and then rolling down the runway to the screech of tires.

The plane turned and slowly rolled toward the airport, and Spike pulled out his cellphone.

"You're not supposed—"

"Oi, I don't follow stupid rules, do I?" Spike asked as he slipped the earpiece into one ear and shielded the phone in his lap. If a stewardess hadn't been walking by right then, Xander might have argued about signals and towers and controllers, but instead he just smiled silently at the lady as she walked by.

Spike pretty much did what Spike wanted, and right now, making a fuss would just get them pulled off by airport security and frisked so thoroughly that Xander would end up wondering if he should add the guard to his list of lovers. It had happened once at the Bulawayo airport in Zimbabwe, and they'd been all apologetic after going through his bags and leaving him sitting in his underwear in an interrogation room for an hour, but he really didn't think he needed a repeat.

"Hey, we're back," Spike told the person in the phone, but he turned to Xander as if talking to him, and Xander nodded knowingly. They were so going to get caught.

"A ride would be nice…. Then send one of the girls…." Spike paused for a long time, his face impassive as whoever was on the other end went on and on and on. He rolled his eyes and then sucked air through his teeth in a way that suggested someone was about to get eviscerated. "Bloody hell, has to be some way!"

"And I'm really sorry, but no with the wayage. I'm not seeing a way," Xander babbled in Spike's general direction as the man in front of them turned around with a confused expression. "Nope, no way, so sorry, and I'm sorry, we'll just keep our conversation down," Xander told the man as he did his best to cover for Spike's little outburst.

Luckily, Spike had fallen silent again, listening with an expression that did nothing to make Xander feel any better. Maybe if they were all too busy to come to the airport that meant another apocalypse. In general, Xander was not fond of apocalypses; they made his eye socket ache. However, right now a little Hellmouthy action would be good for the distraction.

He suddenly remembered that Willow had sent him off to study Sentinels specifically to get him away from Spike, and as much as he loved Willow, she wasn't really known for going with the flow. She was more the try to redirect the whole river to make it flow where she wanted it to flow, and Xander wasn't really fond of her ways of redirection.

Oh yeah, a little apocalyptic fun might be the thing to distract Willow from any attempts to redefine reality. Yeah, she had given up the magical memory wipes and manipulation, but she still had the Willow eyes and pouting and the all-powerful 'listen to me because I know you better than you know yourself' speech. But then, if that was true, why hadn't she ever noticed that he was a shaman?

"Just do it," Spike snarled far too loudly, and this time a number of people turned and looked. He yanked the earpiece off and shoved the phone in his pocket just as a stewardess came through, her eyes scanning the rows.

"Is there a problem here?" she asked primly in her stiff English accent, holding on to the seat backs as something bumped the plane.

"Just a git who's annoyin' me," Spike said as he turned to Xander. "Andrew must be the most annoyin' piss ant on the whole bloody planet," Spike growled, and Xander got it.

"Sorry," he said with a half-shrug. Let the stewardess think he was Andrew of the annoyingness if it got them off the plane without a police escort. The stewardess looked at them for a second and then wandered off.

"We're on our own for a bit, pet," Spike said as he stood up and retrieved their bags from the overhead.

"I got that," Xander confirmed.

Xander followed Spike through customs and a more thorough than usual body search. It wasn't up to Zimbabwe's standards, but the guard got to at least second base with him. He kept waiting for some sort of explanation from Spike, but he suffered through the security with tight lips and as few words as possible.

Figuring that Spike couldn't talk about it with so many people around, Xander just followed him through the airport, grabbing the bag they'd checked and searching for something American from the various food vendors.  Xander had spent over a year in Africa eating things that where he couldn't identify the meat... or the vegetables for that matter.  Now he wanted good old fashioned American ground mystery meat.  The airport slowly filled as planes landed, but board after board showed planes being delayed from taking off. But Spike led them away from the crowded center.

They ended up sitting on the floor of the main terminal, Xander leaning on the bags and munching a hot dog piled with all the fixings while Spike bounced a tennis ball against a garbage can. The thing would hit with a dull thud, bounce once and then Spike would snag it from the air and throw it again. Thud-bounce-catch.

"I'm assuming that the hang up isn't demonic since everyone else seems to be hung up too," Xander said as he looked at the crowded airport. People clustered around the few public televisions, more crowded around those ones that you had to put a credit card through to get to work. He shoved the rest of the hot dog in his mouth, chewing as Spike sat silent. Thud-bounce-catch.

"Someone blew up the Tube," Spike finally said after Xander swallowed.

"They… WHAT?" Xander looked over, but Spike just kept bouncing the ball.

"Seems like a few dozen dead… maybe more. City's just pretty well shut down, which is why Andrew can't get a car in for us, roadblocks are making travel hard, and the slayers are busy with the nasties who've decided ta take advantage of the cock up.  The phones aren't doing well either, so it's lucky Willow mojo'ed ours.  Might be here for a while." Thud-bounce-catch.

"Spike, who?"

Spike tilted his head and gave Xander an incredulous look.

"Okay, ruling out demons, I can guess who, but what are we going to do?"

"Pet, people have tried ta shut down the city before." Thud-bounce-catch. "Dru and me left for New York after nearly getting blown to bits by an IRA bomb outside a pub. Now that's just wrong, bombing people who are just trying to get pissed enough to forget their crap-all lives."

"Okay, this changes things. No way can we go pushing in there and announce to them that we're all couply after this," Xander said. That made Spike pause with the ball bouncing.

"No, it doesn't. City'll get up tomorrow, sweep up the streets, and keep right on going. If the jerries didn't stop us, a few cowards with bombs sure as hell aren't."

"But—"

"Do you want to hide us?" Spike asked, the tennis ball still in hand.

"No, of course not, but—"

"No buts. Life goes on, pet, at least for those that survived. And for us, life means telling the others that we're together now."

"Which would be where life ended," Xander tried joking. Spike shifted around, reaching out and grabbing Xander's hand with enough force to make Xander flinch.

"Your life isn't bloody ending."

"Just a joke," Xander tried defending himself. "Jokage, you know, where people exaggerate or say things that aren't true in order to make others laugh."

"'M not laughing."

"Okay, it was bad jokage," Xander agreed. "I'm just…. Look," Xander struggled, "I'm the sidekick, specifically, I'm Buffy's sidekick, only now, I'm not, and change is not always good. Every time I try to change, it actually turns out really bad, and you were there for many of those disasters, like the whole kicking Buffy out thing, which looking back… I'm just blaming the pain pills because that didn't even make sense."

"Pet." Spike shoved the ball behind their bags and pulled Xander close. Xander sagged into that strength, letting his head rest on Spike's shoulder and closing his good eye. If some old lady with blue hair frowned at him, he'd get all weird and want to pull back, and right now he just needed to feel Spike's arms.

"You're English, how can you take this so calmly?" Xander asked. He'd ridden the Underground after he wrecked the one car Giles had authorized. He remembered seeing the group of kids who'd bundled on, some adult madly counting heads as the doors closed.

"It's what we do, pet. We've been around terrorism a good bit more than you lot, and there's nothing a good cup of tea can't fix," Spike said softly. "But you're upset because you can't stop it, you can't fix it."

Xander lay in the dark of his own closed eye and thought about that one for a second. "I can't really stop any of the evil," he finally said.

"Bloody hell, Xan. You're the one who brought Buffy back from the dead, and you faced down Angelus. I’m still surprised the wanker didn't grab you after that trick, and if you ever do anything that stupid again, I'll chain ya to the bloody bed. You fought on that last day, thinking you were going to die. You smelled of resignation and bitter acceptance, but you still waded into battle and you helped close the Hellmouth."

"Willow called the slayers, Buffy and the slayers fought the minions of hell, and you died in a big blaze of glory. I just stood at the edges," Xander disagreed.

"Bollocks. You gave everything to the fight, and more than once you did your bit to turn the world back to good."

Xander heard the words, but he had trouble really believing them. When fingers stroked his hair, he dismissed the whole debate and let himself just feel. Thinking bad, feeling Spike smooth fingers through his curls good. Xander pushed aside thoughts of the Underground and children or of demons and Hellmouths as he just let himself drift to sleep in Spike's lap.


~*~*~*~*~


"Rise and shine, pet," Spike voice called, and Xander squinted his eye open. The florescent lighting still made the whole airport feel like noon, but the stiffness in his body suggested that he had slept for a while. Considering the people trying to sleep scrunched up in chairs, it would seem a lot kinder to turn the lights down, but not so much. Security officers walked through, their eyes scanning the waiting room nervously.

"We need to move?" Xander asked as various body parts check in with complaints. He really couldn't comfortably sleep on floors any more, not that floors were ever that comfortable.

"Our chariot awaits." Spike half pushed Xander to his feet and then handed up the eyepatch. Realizing with horror that it had come off, Xander slipped it back into place before he emotionally scarred some kid who happened to look over at the wrong time. "Willow managed to get here," Spike added, "but we need to head out and do a little hiking. She has the car parked over on Hatch Lane."

"Okay, so here we go," Xander said without much enthusiasm. Spike glanced over, but he didn't say anything as he grabbed the larger bag, Xander's bag, and slung it over his shoulder.

Xander grabbed Spike's much smaller bag and followed him through the maze of the airport. People watched them quietly, the normal chatter of an airport quieted by the disaster that had slowed the system to a halt. Eventually, they reached the front doors. Three busses idled as airport employees ushered people onto them, but Spike pulled him north, away from them.

The night air was cooler than Xander was used to, but summer in England never brought the heat Xander knew from California. The city was quiet, strangely quiet, and the air felt like rain. It was weird. He left for Africa and while he was trying to negotiate with a slayer's family over a bowl of cassava, the Towers fell in New York. He was off playing 'make the vampire jealous' with Angel, and bombers hit London.

Hell, he took a three day trip into the bush to find a slayer north of Habila, and he came back to find Janjaweed militias had rolled through the village he'd been staying in, leaving the dead strewn across the ground. The woman who had laughed as Xander had choked on the local alcohol had laid with her legs splayed obscenely, blood on her cold thighs.

He'd stayed there long enough to help bury the dead. Looking back, he wondered whether he could have used his vision to see the danger coming. Had his instincts sent him out of the village? Xander pushed that thought away. He'd gotten malaria not long after that, despite the antimalarial drugs he took. Yeah, he might end up in the middle of every supernatural disaster, but he seemed to miss most of the mundane ones.

They walked along the side of the road until the airport disappeared behind them and they followed the edge of a field. The traffic was light, and the ubiquitous buses and taxis were completely absent.  Two fields, three parking lots, and two very tired feet later, Xander finally spotted the back end of Willow's car, parked outside a house.

"Xander!" Willow called as the door came open, and Xander caught an armful of witch. "Oh goddess, I've missed you, and I was worried." Willow backed off a step and hit his arm.

"Ow!" Xander complained even though it didn't hurt.

"Spike said that Blair was a shaman, and you do not have good luck with magical people, don't make me bring up Ampata."

"No bringing up of ex's. You have a clanky not-so-good ex or two in your closet, too," Xander defended himself, and Willow hit him again.

"Thanks for bringing him home to us, Spike," Willow said. Xander glanced helplessly over toward Spike as Willow dragged him to the passenger side of the car. Spike just tossed the bags into the trunk Willow had popped open.

"Yeah, no problem." Spike slammed the trunk and then opened the door behind Willow. Xander got into the car and twisted around to look at Spike, but the vampire just gazed back with no clue about how to handle this.

"Seatbelt," Willow chirped. Xander pulled the belt across his chest before he even registered the words.

"So, you met a Sentinel, and how cool is that. I know you weren't all excited-boy about going, but you're looking good, really good. I bet you're happy now that you went, right?" she asked as she drove through the quiet streets toward the edge of town.

"Totally happy," Xander agreed with a smile toward Spike. Spike gave a small smile of his own, a smirk that let the tip of his tongue slide out from between his lips. "Totally happy, and as soon as we get back to the house, I'll tell you all about it." Xander watched as the smile on Spike's face vanished, replaced with something a little more wary. So not good.





Part Three

Manip by Lit Gal

The Watchers' mansion was overlit, nearly every window shining in the misty dark of the night.

"I'm thinking I'm glad I don't have to pay that light bill," Xander joked as Willow pulled up to the front, parking the car as close as she could to the front. In the distance, he could hear the dull roar of thunder, but so far the night had just threatened rain without actually delivering.

"Giles is going to give the economy speech again," Willow agreed. "And sigh, and possibly show the chart with the household expenses on a pie chart done with all the different colors."

The front door to the mansion flew open before Xander could answer, and Buffy ran down the steps. Just when Xander expected to have his door torn open so that she could give him a flying hug, Buffy stopped on the driver's side, pulling open Willow's door.

"The psychics report a nest making trouble, grabbing some people as they walk home," Buffy just about gasped.

"Oh goddess," Willow gasped. "Do you…"

"Do a location spell; call me when you get specifics. Spike and I will head for the general area." Buffy pulled at Willow who tumbled out of the car without complaint. "Xander, I'll give you the big welcome-home hug just as soon as me and Spike get back," Buffy offered as she slammed her door closed.

"Boy's coming," Spike said from the backseat. Xander already had his hand on the door to get out, but Spike's voice stopped him.

"Spike, no time for arguing right now. Xander, I promise lots of welcoming later, but Spike and I have to go."

"All three of us are going," Spike said calmly. "People need help, luv, so drive."

"Spike," Buffy's voice now had the darker tones of warning as she twisted around in the seat.

"Buffy, I'm not arguin' with you. Either drive, or soddin' move and let me drive," Spike said without emotion.

"I so do not have time for this," Buffy huffed as she flopped back into the seat and turned the key. "Xander, please be careful. We do not want to have your welcome home party in the hospital, especially since the hospitals are a little full," she asked.

Xander flinched away from that reminder of the mess he'd left behind when he left for Cascade. As far as the girls were concerned, he was still more of a danger to himself than to any vampires. After a few weeks of getting treated like an actual useful member of the team in Cascade, he'd forgotten how much he hated being the useless one, the one who got rescued, the one who did nothing while people died horrible deaths and then lay out in the sun as the flies gathered.

Luckily, mortal terror distracted Xander from the whole self-pity party as he clung to the seatbelt, bracing himself against the dash of the car as he wondered why he'd let Buffy take the wheel. Buffy plus driving equaled crumpled fenders and blustery Giles, and Xander suddenly remembered that as she took a corner fast enough to make the car skid into the grass.

"Oi, can't save anyone if ya get us all killed," Spike complained from the back.

"One of the psychics said there was going to be a huge attack on this road. Why can't the vampires just do the stiff upper lip thing and sit home like everyone else? Attacking people who are trying to walk home in high heels is just not playing fair," she complained as she took the next corner.

Spike answered with a snort that Xander could interpret pretty easily.

"So, seems like you guys are busy. I thought you were doing this month in Italy. Why aren't you off eating pasta and raving about Italian men?" Xander asked, going for distraction before Spike said something and then Buffy said something and then Spike said something really bad… with the news he and Spike were about to drop, Xander really didn't want anyone to get pre-pissed off.

"Willow called me. She said that you'd done your Xander thing and had managed to get in trouble with a shaman." Buffy sounded almost apologetic, like she didn't want to mention it, but Xander still blushed at the idea that the girls still talked behind his back, plotting ways to save him from himself. Yep, they looked at him and saw Xander Harris, twenty-four-year old survivor of multiple apocalypses and incompetent nincompoop.

Buffy slammed on the brake and pulled the car into a side road with a controlled skid. "Come on Willow, call," she said softly as she pulled her cell phone out.

"Pet," Spike said.

"Yeah?" Xander asked at the same time Buffy did. They looked at each other, and Xander could see Buffy's confusion in the way she raised her eyebrow. Yeah, great way to come out to the friend, Xander groaned to himself.

"Xander," Spike clarified. "Vampire's will be excited… the thought of all that prey too tired to really make a fuss. If they're feeding in a group, they're anxious… afraid there won't be enough prey or that some vamp with bigger curlies will take their prey away. But they'll feel the blood lust even more than the fear. They'll be so hungry that all they can think about is the taste of blood rich with fear and pain and confusion."

"Okay, disturbo much?" Buffy demanded. "If Angel talked like that, I'd start checking on his soul." Xander tuned out their complaints as he blinked away the real world until it became a faded picture painted on glass, a ghost-image he could see through. There weren't as many threads out here, and Xander focused on the emotions Spike had described.

"Yeah, well unlike the nob, I earned mine. It's not goin' to come popping off just because I get a happy." Spike shot back, his voice a dim echo from the far side of reality.

"Spike, what has gotten into you?"

"Not really the time or place for this discussion, slayer."

"Slayer? Now I'm 'slayer'? Okay, spill because I'm not really okay with the weirdage that's going on in this car."

"There," Xander said as he pointed out the windshield. "There, that way."

"Any idea how far, pet?" Spike asked.

"I'm not a GPS," Xander pointed out sarcastically.

"Smart ass," Spike shot back as he got out of the car and started walking. Xander got out and trotted after him.

"Obviously, some fairy god-demon sprinkled you two with weird-dust, but we don't have time for this. Willow's going to call," Buffy said as she got out, and chased them.

"Don't have time for Red to get the mojo together," Spike said as he walked faster, his duster flapping as he hurried over the uneven ground and past a row of trees. "Still the right direction, pet?"

"Um, yeah, and there are probably seven or eight vamps," Xander confirmed. Spike stopped so suddenly that Xander ran right into him, rebounding off Spike's back. Spike slipped an arm around Xander's waist as he cocked his head to the side, listening.

"Spike, Xander, someone needs to tell me what's going on because right now I'm thinking about pod people and shape changers and that movie with the perfect wives where it turns out everyone is a robot," Buffy warned as she stepped in front of them.

"I can hear people that way, a group of them walking together," Spike said as gestured in the direction of the cords Xander could still faintly see.

"And you think these are our vamp victims because… Or an even better question," Buffy interrupted herself, "why are you asking Xander where to go? Unless I missed some memo, he's been big with the out of loop for the last few weeks. So someone better start talking."

"No time," Spike snapped and then he took off, running across the field with his coat billowing behind him like Superman's cape, and Xander didn't think that comparison would go over particularly well. Buffy looked at Xander for one second before turning and dashing after Spike, hopefully to provide backup as opposed to assuming he was Stepford-Spike and staking him. Xander ran after the two of them.

By the time Xander reached the next line of trees, dust floated on the humid air and Spike battled two snarling vampires. The taller threw himself toward Spike, his fang snapping, and Spike landed a bone-crushing kick to his leg just above the knee. The snarl turned into a scream of pain, but Spike danced away, trading punches with the shorter vamp. A half-dozen women stood in a cluster near the fence, watching with wide eyes and open mouths as Buffy rammed a stake into a vampire's chest.

Looking around, Xander found one fledge on the ground, and Xander pulled his own stake and dived for the guy. Just as Xander reached him, he could see that black cord, twisting with malice and fury, snap up toward him. Xander flinched away to avoid the touch, his heart pounding with fear as he scrambled back. Unfortunately, his heel caught on a tuft of grass, and Xander ended up on his ass before he could recover.

The vampire snarled and lurched forward, which led to much crab-walking backwards on Xander's part. Just when Xander expected to get pinned to the ground and bitten, and bitten in the less fun way than Spike did the biting, the vampire flew off him.

"You don't want him," Buffy said as she practically danced over Xander. The vamp jumped up to his feet, rubbing his ribs with a grimace of pain. "He eats so much junk food that you'll get high cholesterol. And with that waistline, you cannot afford the extra pounds," Buffy finished.

Xander got up to one knee, smiling as the vampire started backing away. He'd finally figured out that his buddies were dead, and he was facing two seriously scary fighters. Spike's opponents had turned to dust, and he now closed in on the vamp who had attacked Xander.

"Ya should know better than to touch other people's property, mate," Spike offered as he snapped a branch off the tree and staked the vampire on the jagged end. "And you," Spike said as he whirled on Xander, "know how to stake a vampire without falling on your arse, so what the bloody hell was that?"

Spike strode forward, toward Xander, but then Buffy was there between them, her back to Xander as she faced Spike. "Okay. Someone explain what is going on, preferably using small words and short sentences because I'm feeling particularly blonde today. Either I'm blonder than normal or you two are from some bizzaro alternate reality with rules that make no sense."

"Oi, don't go waving that stake at me," Spike said as he stepped back.

"Hey, no stakage!" Xander added. Buffy tilted her body toward him.

"I'm not so sure who I'm waving a stake at. The last I checked in, I had these two friends, Spike and Xander, who didn't like each other much. And Spike was really not big with calling Xander 'his' and if he ever did call Xander 'his property', my friend Xander probably would have tortured Spike with toothpicks."

"Things have changed a bit, luv," Spike said gently.

"Well, duh," Buffy interrupted. "And where did our rescuees go?"

"Um, I think they ran for it," Xander said as he gestured toward the line of houses where the women had disappeared. "And Spike and I haven't actually hated each other for a while now, Buff."

"Okay," Buffy challenged him, her hands on her hips but at least that meant the stake was down and not threatening anyone, "I may miss some stuff, like the whole the Immortal is evil vibe and the reason why the English put vinegar on their French fries, but trust me, I would have noticed any changes on the Spike-Xander hating front. I would have noticed and possibly sent you a fruit basket as a thank you because your constant fighting drove me insane every time I came and, oh my god, you're sleeping together. Okay, I am not freaking," Buffy concluded as she closed her eyes tightly and took a deep breath. "Officially not freaking."

"Hey, what do ya' know. It was easier telling you than I thought it would be," Xander smiled weakly, and Buffy cracked one eye open to glare at him before she started back across the field toward the car.

"I'm not dealing with this," she announced resolutely.

"Now, luv, don't be like that," Spike said as he followed her, and Xander trailed after him.

"Not being like any—" Buffy stopped when her phone chirped. She pulled it out and thumbed it on. "Yep?" she listened for a second. "We already kicked their asses. We're heading back now…. We got lucky and just found them, I guess," Buffy offered as she turned and stared right at Xander. When Spike sidestepped into the path of her glare, Xander was very happy to hide behind him. "Yeah, see you in a sec," Buffy finished. "Bye." She shoved the phone back into a pocket, but then she just stood there in the field.

"Buffy, we need to talk, before we get everyone else all riled up," Spike finally said, his voice soft and the accent more Giles than Spike.

"Riled up? Oh, there will be riling," Buffy nodded. "And can I just say your timing sucks?"

"Buffy—" Spike started.

"And this whole 'hate turned lust turned love' thing, it never works out. Xander and Cordelia, you and me, Willow and Kennedy getting back together after that break up that required mutual non-aggression treaties… they all fell apart," Buffy interrupted. "Or, they didn't fall apart as much as they exploded causing massive casualties and collateral damage."

"Oi, not going to happen," Spike just about snarled, and Buffy put on her patented worried look and gnawed her lip.

"Buffy, Spike and I have had the big talk, and this isn't just about lust," Xander added as he stepped to Spike's side. She looked at him with a small frown.

"Would the 'not just about lust' part have something to do with how you knew the vampires were out here?"

"Kinda," Xander agreed.

"I'm going to need aspirin to go with this conversation, aren't I?" she asked with eyes that begged him to say no.

"Probably," Xander said instead.

"Pet, let's save the shaman bit for when we get back, explain it to them all at once, yeah?"

Xander nodded.

"You did piss off that shaman, didn't you?" Buffy asked. "I can't believe Willow sent you off to take on a Sentinel and a Shaman by yourself."

"Let's just get back to the house, and I will turn into explaino-boy," Xander offered, and Buffy turned back toward the car with a sigh. Xander could feel his guts like a rock rolling around in his stomach as he started after her. Within one step, Spike was there, his arm sliding around Xander's waist, pulling him close, and Xander let himself lean into that embrace.





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