Out of Tune


Part Nine

Groaning his way into consciousness, Xander reached up to feel the sore, swollen flesh around his neck. The memory of Angel's fury came a little slower, but as his brain slowly woke up with the rest of him, Xander could feel the shame and fear nearly overwhelm him. Xander opened his eyes to see the exposed beams and pipes of a basement. Correction--a dirty basement. Xander watched a spider's web highlighted by the dim sun trickling in through a high window. Even Gunn had a nicer basement.

Closing his eyes against the head ache that threatened to pound out the back of his head, Xander rolled toward the side of the narrow bed. The sound of chains clinking came as a surprise.

"So, you're awake."

Xander jumped at the sound of Angel's voice, and the chain rattled as it pulled tight against his ankle. Turning, he saw the vampire sitting on a stool in the shadowed corner of the room. Immediately, Xander could feel the slippery panic of Baby circling in the back of his mind. Baby would have him throw himself on the ground and cringe and beg. However, Xander knew how well that worked.

He remembered being on the phone with his father, struggling to hold back tears as he begged Tony Harris to come to that first birthday after the divorce. Not only had his father not come, but the next time he talked to his father, the man had accused Xander of turning into a sissy. No matter what Baby wanted, Xander wasn't going to repeat that mistake.

"Angel," he said, fighting to keep his voice even as he got himself straightened up. The chain bolted to the wall didn't give him quite enough chain to put his one foot on the ground, and so he tucked his legs under him Indian style. Even after years of being the weak, vulnerable one, he found himself surprised at the depth of his fear as he faced Angel.

"You have control of yourself again?" Angel asked without moving out of the dark corner. Xander picked at an edge of the blanket, partially pulling it over his lap.

He hadn't been the one to backhand Angel unconscious, so the whole 'who had self control issues' debate raged in his own mind. Luckily, he managed to avoid saying all the not-so-nice things he was thinking. His jeans had a long tear from the left knee down to the cuff from the fight which was closer to a smack-down, and he tucked an edge of the blanket into the rip, shrugging for an answer. Angel sighed.

"Hey, Gel-boy, I told you it wasn't his fault."

Xander jumped as Faith appeared in the open doorway at the top of the steps. Even though Xander only glared for a second, Angel growled, and Xander dropped his eyes down to the blanket. Right. He wasn't a favored childe. He wasn't even a childe. He was a minion whose existence depended on pleasing the master of the line.

Xander sneaked a glance toward Angel, but the older vampire watched Faith with a blank expression. He returned to picking at the blanket and tucking it into the rip. Tuck. Pick. Pick. Tuck.

"He would have fed on you," Angel said. Xander would have objected, but he didn't think anyone wanted his opinion. Besides, if he were honest, he just wanted to kill her, which probably wouldn't get him added to anyone's Christmas list.

"A fledge? Not even close," Faith dismissed with a snort. Pick. Tuck. Tuck.

"He looked like he was winning."

Xander ignored Baby's whine; the demon wanted Angel's approval, only the stupid demon didn't understand that Angel didn't approve. Hell, Angel would stake him if he tried it again. Xander suddenly knew that. Well, that would be one way to end it.

"We were just working out some aggression, playing a little," Faith argued. Xander would have disagreed, but his opinion didn't seem to matter right now.

"He's dangerous."

"Newsflash, vamp-man, most people are if you push them hard enough."

"Faith." Angel's voice was dark with warning.

"Angel," Faith snapped back with narrowed eyes. Oh yeah, this was going well. Pick. Tuck. Pick.

"Where were you going?" Angel barked, and Xander didn't respond until Angel strode toward him, fists clenched. Oh, that one was for him.

"Nowhere!" Xander didn't mean to flinch back, but then he did lots of things he didn't mean to.

"To the court?" Angel asked darkly as he closed the distance, standing just at the edge of Xander's cot and glaring down. Xander struggled against terror that stole control of his limbs for a half second. Smiling sarcastically, he looked up.

"That's your thing, isn't it? Playing both sides?"

Angel flashed into game face, and Xander flinched back so far that he clocked himself on the concrete wall, his head making an appropriate hollow thump.

"Whoa, let's all back off a bit. Boy wasn't doing anything but staring at nothing and doing a mighty fine impression of you when you have a stick up your ass," Faith broke in. Somehow, hearing her take his side just made Xander feel—well—even worse. Yep, a slayer had to wade in and save him. By jerking, Xander had pulled the blanket out of the tear in his jeans, and now he focused on tucking it back in.

"You don't know what's going on here," Angel said through tightly clenched teeth.

"Yeah, and you're all knowing everything vamp. Look, Xan hasn't done anything to justify knocking his ass out or chaining him up."

"He tried to eat you."

"Yeah, like you never did that," Faith sneered so sarcastically that Xander felt a need to flinch for her. Angel took a step toward her, nearly vibrating with rage, but Faith just crossed her arms and stared back at him.

"Which is why I understand him. Having a demon always whispering, having these feelings rolling around in your gut just waiting for a chance to slip out, it's not an easy way to live," Angel's voice dropped into a soft plea that made Baby even grumpier. "It took me a hundred years to sort out ways to keep my demon from slipping out, and not everyone I met survived."

Angel turned his back on Faith and retreated to the far wall where he faced the grey cinderblock, his voice dull. "Who do you want him to lose control around? What happens when Willow cuts herself on a knife and the warm smell of blood overwhelms him? What if Tara does her yoga stretches and the sight of her curved neck makes him slip for just one second?" Angel turned around. "What do I do when he loses control and kills one of you, because I'm telling you right now that I don't have it in me to forgive him, or myself, if you underestimate just how much control the demon has.

Faith uncrossed her arms and shook her head slowly. "Xander and I just got out of hand, and I'm the one who started that boulder rolling downhill," she explained.

"Exactly. Things got out of control, and with the demon inside him, they always will." Angel pointed out. "I'll do my best to pull the demon out, and I know a few demons in L.A. who might have suggestions on freeing Xander from the beast, but this isn't a debate. Xander and I will be heading back to LA tonight."

As the two stared each other down, Xander reviewed the drive back to L.A. Maybe there was a nice tall bridge he could jump off between here and there… He certainly didn't want to live the rest of his life chained in Angel's basement. Hell, he could go his whole life without ever seeing Angel again, and he'd be happy. Baby circled uncomfortably, randomly growling at nothing and everything.

Faith remained silent for a long time, and Xander focused on picking at the thin blanket.

"Whatever, but I'll be down to visit, and the boy better still have all his parts attached," Faith warned.

Faith started heading for the stairs, and Xander watched her slowly leave, her eyes going from him to Angel even as she climbed.. Nice to know someone gave a damn, even if he really didn't get the whole reason why she gave a damn.

"Faith?" Xander called. Angel glowered at him, and Baby wailed unhappily at obviously pissing master off, but Xander didn't really have much to lose since he had a feeling he was going to do that a whole lot in the near future.

"Yeah?" Faith stopped and leaned over the railing.

"Things are going kinda wonky with the court," Xander warned her. "Spike," Xander paused, the name still ripping a big vampire sized hole in his gut, "he thought something was up."

"What did he say?" Angel demanded as he stepped forward. Xander fought to keep his eyes up and stare back.

"He was surprised… there were zombies and all sorts of demons, I think one might have been a Mohra. The Anointed One told him to steer clear of vampire hunters and someone named Vahrall."

"Vahrall demons?" For the first time, Angel didn't sound even remotely pissed. In fact, that might have been worry on his face as he exchanged looks with Faith. "And a Mohra."

"I'm suddenly thinking we might be fucked," Faith said seriously.

"Are you sure it was a Mohra?" Angel asked.

Xander felt a familiar frustration. Yeah, he never made honor roll or showed much common sense, but it'd be nice if someone didn't think he was completely stupid. Despite Baby's distress, Xander handled it the way he always handled being the geek, the nebbish, the dork with the wrong clothes—sarcasm.

"They're kinda unique, and Spike… he made me study," Xander yanked the corner of the blanket out of his jeans. "So, I have to pee. Are you going to let me use a bathroom or should I just pick a section of wall and aim?"

Angel now looked shocked. "I have the key," he finally answered and Xander stuck his chained leg out aggressively.

Angel paused. "But know this--you are not my childe, and I will stake you if you even think of attacking anyone again. Understand?" Angel leaned close until their noses almost touched. "And I don't just mean my friends--I mean anyone. You so much as growl at a grandmother on the street, and I will put this through your chest."

Xander froze, the sharp point of a stake Angel had pulled from his waist pressing into the flesh over Xander's heart.

"Understand?" Angel repeated, the stake in one hand and the key in the other. Xander nodded with a dry mouth.


Spike woke slowly, groaning as reality returned with painful clarity. Fucking hell. His head pounded like the whole drum section of one of those wretched concerts Darla had dragged him to so often as a fledge. Neither the memory nor the pain made him feel particularly better as he considered the while walls of his cell.

Humans in white coats wandered past the glass wall of the cell, clipboards in hand, and Spike growled as he considered the best way to make them pay for whatever pain he felt. A chain rattled, and Spike exploded into motion, ripping at the manacle that kept him chained, even in the cell.

His attempts to pull loose failed, and even worse, the soddin' idiots on the other side of the glass weren't even impressed with his efforts, which were damn impressive.

"Hostile 7," a human voice announced from the far side of the glass wall.

"Standard vampire?"

"Captured quadrant 5, east of the campus," that first answered. Spike growled at being called standard anything.

"Well, hopefully we'll get some results from this one, or we're going to join Dr. Walsh for a nice round of ice bowling in Antarctica." A white-coated doctor with eyes too far apart for his face wrote something on a clipboard

"I don't know how they expect us to work like this." An older man with gray, buzz-cut hair snorted his disgust. "Seven specimens, six of them from the same subgroup, and yet we're expected to have results."

Spike shook his head, forcing his demon face back as he stared out the glass wall. Right, so this was balls over tits. Spike watched with narrowed eyes as the two humans finished their notes and walked away, still complaining.

"Dr. Engelman," yelled a voice that sounded vaguely familiar, and a tall man came running by in soldier-boy clothes. "Graham, he's sick again."

The doctor with funky eyes stopped and shoved his clipboard at the grey-haired one before he started running down the hallway, the gray-haired man hurrying close behind.

As the sound of footsteps echoed away, Spike looked around. Whoever decorated had taken the minimalist concept way too far with white tiles on every surface.

"Hey, I'm Gary," a voice hissed from next door. Spike sniffed the air, annoyed by how the glass dulled his ability to scent his neighbor in the next cell.

"Sod off," Spike finally answered as he caught a whiff of something young… still stinking of grave and dead flesh young.

"Man, I know things. Like, they drug the blood to keep us calm, and some of the men who come through here… they stink of vampire rot."

Spike snarled at the idiot even as he appreciated the other vamp's stupidity. In cases like this, information meant everything.

"Yeah?" he said as he casually leaned against the white wall separating them. "What the hell would you know about vampire rot? You still stink of your grave."

"Another vamp, Antonio, he told me," Gary assured him. Gary's voice came again, slightly louder. "Hey, Antonio, there's a new one, and he knows what vampire rot is too."

"Leave me alone." The voice sounded tired, but at least it had some authority behind it.

"Aw, come on," Gary pleaded, the sound giving Spike an urge to grind the younger vamp's face into the floor. He was weak. Git probably wouldn't survive one day in the court.

"If he knows what it is, bug him for stories for a while."

"Man, come on."

"Gary, if we ever get out of here, I'm going to rip your tongue out, you know this, yes?" Antonio answered, his Spanish accent thicker now.

Right, time to make his presence known. "Just wonderin' how soldier boys would develop vampire rot. Not like they're vampires starving for blood and slowly rotting to make their masters happy."

Gary and Antonio both fell silent, even the sounds of restless feet stopping as Spike used his sire's voice.

"No," Antonio answered slowly. "But they drink vampire blood."

"Enough to get rot?" Spike asked, surprised. Why the hell would someone willingly suffer the agony of rot? He remembered Angelus whipping his back open and then dangling some girl just out of range. Spike would twitch in agony as the unhealed flesh slowly turned from undead to dead as the lack of blood drained him of his power. Angelus would keep up the game for days, sometimes cutting his own wrist and nancy-boy prancing just out of range as Spike desperately lunged at him, sometimes letting prey loose in the same room so that Spike crawled toward the food, unable to catch up with it.

Eventually Darla would complain about the smell, and Angelus would bring him either some tied up beauty or a shriveled cleaning woman who still stunk of Borax and sweat. The best days would be when Spike ignored his pain long enough to time his attack just right to catch the prey and earn his own healing blood.

"Where the bloody hell are we, and what the bloody hell are these wankers up to?" Spike demanded.

"Welcome to the Initiative," Antonio offered. "And if anyone knows what they're up to, they'd be ahead of us. At this point, I'm not sure that even these pendejos know what they're doing."

"Great," Spike said as he sucked on his fangs in frustration. Get free, find his childe, and eat the pendejos. Worked for him.

Part Ten

The humans wandered back through the white hall, and Spike pushed himself up from the floor, consciously putting on a mask of obsequiousness just like he wore a human face over his demon. Ducking his head submissively, he hunched his shoulders to make himself even smaller. As much as he hated playing the weak fool, the act had helped him survive Darla, and he wasn't letting any soddin' humans turn him to dust now. His demon growled, but the idea of getting out of the cage and eating the wankers gave Spike the strength to play his game.

"I didn't do anything," Spike whined as the humans went by. They ignored him.

"The treatments clearly aren't working. The tolerance increases each time, and the side effects..." the older doctor pled, his hand hovering over the younger doc's arm as though he wanted to grab it.

"And what other choice do we have? Once addicted, nothing but blood works."

"We should at least--"

"Shhh," the younger doc desperately hushed as a soldier stormed in through a door at the far end of the corridor.

"Dr. Engelman," soldier boy snapped, his body screaming with a need to hit something, and for the first time, Spike truly considered the tall human. Boy had some aggression issues, which might be useful.

"Captain Riley, you are not needed here. Dr. Cruz, collect a quarter pint from number four. That should cure Graham."

"Cure?!' Riley's voice lowered to an outraged growl. "This doesn't feel like a cure. My men are getting sick more--"

"And this gives you the strength to--"

"It's unnatural!" Riley bellowed, and Dr. Engelman snapped his mouth closed, his body flinching back from the anger. Oh yeah, now this was more like it. Spike waited for the fists to start, but soldier boy just stood with his hands closed into tight fists that trembled with rage. The sounds of the other doc collecting blood faded into silence.

"Captain, we are all doing our best. You have your orders, and we have ours," Dr. Engelman said softly, his body still tense as though he would take off running any second. And Spike figured the git might have to make a run for it considering Riley's barely controlled fury. This one would make a lovely vampire... all rage and violence once he'd lost the conscience that kept his fists at his side.

"Won't work. Drinking the blood... it'll just make ya rot from the inside," Spike tried again, keeping his voice soft and subservient. In the next cell, Gary made a strange noise, and Spike willed the fledge to just keep his gob shut. He hated having the other vamps see him act like a weak, sniveling git, but he figured he could dust them once he got out of this soddin' madhouse.

"Shut up," Dr. Engelman ordered. Spike forced himself to flinch back from the voice just when he wanted to lunge forward and snap the moron's neck.

"It'll just hurt more. Humans can't digest it."

"My orders are clear, but you have to know this isn't working," Riley stepped closer to Dr. Engelman.

"It is working. The body just needs to adjust. The results have shown great promise."

Spike interrupted again, fighting to keep from growling his annoyance at being ignored. He couldn't very well put his plan in action if they didn't bloody listen to him. "I'm old enough ta know things. Know how the blood works. Know how to help your friend."

Spike watched as Riley's eyes jerked to him immediately.

"What?" Riley demanded as he stepped up to the glass. The way he moved reminded Spike of Angel... the way he used his large body to command attention. Even more than before, Spike felt a burning need to throw himself at the boy and prove his strength by draining the body and leaving it lying in an awkward pile of skewed arms and legs. Instead, he reminded himself that strength came in more than one form as he forced himself backwards away from the glass as he indulged in a bit of fantasy with all the humans mangled at his feet.

"The more ya give 'em, the more the pain's just going to come back. I'll trade information for my freedom, or maybe some nice fresh blood," Spike tried again, whining like the worst of the court fledges. Oh yeah, he would bloody kill every last wanker who saw him acting like some half-arsed minion.

"Don't listen--" Dr. Engelman started saying, but Riley cut him off.

"Your experiments are just making my men more and more sick."

"If ya keep drinking blood, the pain'll just get worse. I'm older. I know things." Spike did his best to imitate the irritating fledge Dru had turned in the twenties. Git had made it two whole weeks before Spike had torn off his head.

"The protocols have resulted in higher performance levels across the board, Captain Finn. Our experiments represent the best chance to develop a defense against the hostiles," the doctor insisted as he ignored Spike all together. Spike added the man to the torture before killing list.

"You are not Dr. Walsh. Your experiments have resulted in more men being in the infirmary than available for patrol." The boy was so angry that his body had gone stiff and still so that he looked like a cardboard cutout of a soldier.

"These are temporary setbacks."

"Been around a long time. I've never heard of a human surviving after drinking too much of that. Now lots of humans pay for a little extra," Spike whispered to the soldier, making up the plan as he went. Angelus never had liked his lack of planning, but then Angelus had never tried to deal with humans as nutter as these lack-brains. Fact was that a few mages used vampire blood in some spells and potions, but only idiots would drink the shite straight, at least not without trying to turn someone.

Captain Cardboard glanced at him again.

"I tell you, and you'll do right by me, yes?" Spike whispered as he glanced toward the doctor as though afraid. "You'll remember if I help ya?"

Spike could see the doubt in Riley's eyes. Before knowing Xander, Spike would have tried to bribe the boy with promises of power, but now he slid forward and made another offer. "Can cure your friend. It's an old trick. Works every time. It's a good way ta give human helpers a little extra protection, extra healing."

"What is it?" Riley asked, ignoring both Dr.--'s frown and the second doctor who now stood next to him, a bag of blood in hand.

"You'll do right by me?" Spike forced his shoulders to slump. "Yeah?"

Riley just crossed his arms and stared through the glass. Spike barely caught a growl from erupting.

"It's blood, but the body can't digest it. A little vampire blood over a cut... just enough ta let blood and blood mingle." Spike stilled. It all depended on them falling for that little piece of half-truth. Well, than and them using his blood for the little experiment.

"That's unacceptable. It could result in turning or some sort of half-vampire," Dr. Engelman immediately dismissed it.

Spike shook his head. "Have to drain someone ta turn 'em. But blood touching blood will give ya a bit of a boost. If I'm lying, I'm still here, chained ta the wall. Wouldn't do that."

"And if you're lying, I'll make it a personal goal to make you beg for death," Riley snarled as he slapped a bare palm against the glass wall. Spike flinched back, cowering in the corner even as he promised to bathe in their bloody entrails as soon as he got out.

"There's no way--"

"Do it." Riley said quietly.

"What?" Dr. Engelman was still shaking his head as he looked at Riley in shock.

"I'm not going to stand by while Graham and Forest and the others on your 'program' slowly die from this."

"Graham is far too weak for us to experiment. As soon as he has another dose of blood, he'll recover and we might consider some laboratory tests on his blood's reaction to direct contact with hostile blood."

"He doesn't have time." Riley turned his back and strode down the hall with sharp footsteps that echoed off the walls. For a moment, Spike thought he'd lost, but then the glass slid open. He watched as Riley returned, stepping into his cell and standing at the edge. Part of Spike wanted to throw everything into ripping the chain loose, but for once in his life, he needed to just follow through on a plan.

Riley held a thick knife out. "Give me your arm," he ordered.

Spike inched forward, shaking his head. "I'll heal too fast. You need to cut yourself first ta make sure the blood's still flowing," he said. For a second, Riley looked at him with cold eyes, and then he pulled the sharp edge against his forearm, opening a shallow cut across his arm.

"Just remember, if you're lying, I will make you suffer like no creature on earth ever has," he warned as he pointed the tip of the knife in Spike's direction. Silently, Spike held out his arm. Riley grabbed his wrist and made a quick deep cut into the flesh. As Riley held his own wound under Spike's bleeding cut, Spike could feel his demon swell. For a second, he felt like a rubber band being slowly stretched, and then something snapped.

The world turned reddish as Spike flashed into game face. Riley stared back, seemingly unaffected, but Spike could hear his heart race. Spike could also smell the clear scent of demon now drifting under the soap and gunpowder odor of Riley. Now Spike just needed to figure out a way to use his newly made pet.


Spike paced uncomfortably as he waited for something to happen. A third doctor had come and taken blood from Gary, but nothing else had happened since Riley left with the two doctors nattering on about isolation and tests. The only thing he hated more than playing the moron was being bloody bored.

Spike reached the glass wall and the end of the chain again, and gave it one more yank just for good measure.

"Won't break," Gary offered.

"Shut the fuck up," Spike snapped back. Gary made another of his strange little noises and then fell silent as Spike paced the four steps to the back wall. Fuck the "make a pet" plan, he just should have tried to snap the soddin' chain when the wall was open. Besides, making a pet obey required a serious beating or sex. He doubted he'd have a chance to try either.

The image of Xander flashed across Spike's memory. Boy had followed without either. Of course, boy hadn't really been a pet. Spike shoved a rising nest of fear aside. He couldn't afford to think of his childe right now because if he did, he'd be lost. He remembered seeing Dru across the river, her clothes ripped by the sticks and pitchforks of the mob. A hundred voices had fused into one scream for her blood. Dru had snapped at one with her fangs, and then she had tilted her head in confusion, probably hearing some voice in her head.

Spike had finally waded into the dark, polluted water of the Vltava. His clothes sucked up the water and dragged at him, but he couldn't even think straight enough to shed them. Instead he plowed through the murky water as he struggled to reach her side, even if it had been just to turn to dust by her side. Instead, he hadn't even made it half way before he'd seen her shimmer into dust and then vanish in the light of the full moon. Spike had just stopped swimming, the current pulling him miles down river before he'd finally crawled out onto the rocky shore.

He'd been careless, leaving victims who could identify them. Of course, now he knew that Cassidy had turned the crowd on them, but he remembered the ash taste of guilt in his mouth. He tasted that again as he thought of his own arrogance at ignoring the shuffling sound of human footsteps in the dark. He'd dismissed these wankers, and now his childe was out there, on the Hellmouth, alone.

Spike's mind shifted to nightmare images of Xander broken or chained to the Anointed One's throne. Forcing those thoughts aside, Spike paced harder. No time for turning into a nancy-boy brooder like Peaches.

Spike yanked at the chain again. Stupid, nancy-boy plan. Angelus loved the complex plans with the thousand things that could, and usually did, go wrong. Spike was more the hands on sort, and he cursed himself for not just going for the ripping the chain free and smashing heads into walls plan. 'Course, the chain didn't seem to rip free all that easily.

The door whispered open at the far end of the corridor, and Spike froze. Even before the figure appeared, he could feel the slight twitches and pulls at his demon. Riley-pet then. Spike watched as the soldier came in and silently walked toward Spike's enclosure.

Spike leaned against the wall and considered soldier-boy. Without turning the human's emotions back on himself through fear or lust, he couldn't really control him properly, but obviously he could influence him. This time, when Riley came to the glass, he looked more confused than confrontational.

"Your friend okay, then?" Spike asked. Riley started nodding immediately, and then he stopped and shook his head like a dog coming out of the water.

"He's better. They used a small transfusion of five's blood." Spike glanced toward the wall where Gary and Antonio had their cells. Antonio might not be able to fully use the bond, he sounded a bit young yet, but if he understood what Spike had done, he might be able to influence the git thought their connection.

"Why?" Riley sounded confused. Spike cocked his head as he wondered what the demon whispered into Riley's mind. Bloody stupid volunteering himself like that, but then, lately Spike had some experience with that kind of stupidity. If the boy was anything like his own childe, maybe soldier-boy felt something even stronger than lust or fear.

"Not all demons are out ta end the world, mate," Spike offered. With the demon in Riley, he wouldn't play weak any more, but he couldn't make the human feel threatened. For this to work, soldier-boy needed to take the demon's thoughts for his own. Otherwise, the wanker would just fight tooth and nail ta get free. Spike shrugged. "Take me, I like the world right where it is."

"You're evil," Riley shook his head.

"Maybe. Had a friend once told me that I'm no more evil than a leopard. Just want to go about my business."

Riley shivered, either in response to Spike's voice or his own demon's whispers. Xander had said he felt the demon as if it were some dark part of himself, so Spike just needed to make sure Captain Cardboard kept thinkin' that.

"Seems like experimenting on you lot is more evil that eating a few hairy-arsed idiots. Aren't they supposed to be on your side?"

Spike watched Riley's eyes narrow as he fought some internal battle.

"Hostiles threaten the country," he finally said.

"Bloody boring threatening a country, I'm more hands on," Spike joked. Riley's body tense, and Spike could feel the connection between them go taut as Riley obviously struggled. "'Sides, I don't really fight on the side of chaos anymore," Spike shifted his argument slightly. "Have a mate, a human friend, wouldn't want to make him all cranky."

"You...?" Riley was back to looking confused. If not for the cage and chain, Spike might have found the whole thing amusing. "You have a human friend?" Riley finished.

"Yeah. You lot tossed him in the van with me, but then ya tossed him out somewhere."

"The boy with dark hair."

"Yeah," Spike agreed.

"He's your friend?"

"Yeah, mate, he is. And he's a right white hat, savin' damsels in distress and all."

Now Riley shook his head as he obviously struggled with that idea. "No. You eat people. This town, it's being overrun with demons. They kill."

Again, Spike could feel his control slipping away as the soldier reasserted himself.

"Bloody right," he agreed, and Riley actually leaned forward, his hand slapping the glass, as though Spike's agreement had thrown him off balance both physically and mentally. "Powerful little git called The Anointed One is brewin' up some serious shite with a pack of demons that shouldn't even be in the same dimension together, much less a room. He's got Vahrall comin' in, and they're ending the world sorts, them. Now I don't really want the world endin', and I know my mate would be right put out seeing as how he's human. Problem is, these gits in green interrupted me before I could get any details."

Spike willed Riley to believe him. 'Course it was only half true, but if the boy's streak of protectiveness ran as deep as it seemed to, Spike might just be able to keep this plan from going tits up.

For the second time, Riley shook his head like a dog, as if he could physically rattle his thoughts back in order.

"No. It's not possible." Riley argued, but his words came out strained and soft.

"Oi, not lying. Tell ya what, I'll give you a bit of proof." Spike waited until Riley looked up at him. "But you have to make a promise."

"I'm not promising a hostile anything," Riley immediately answered, his voice stronger than before.

"Promise that if my Xander's at this place I tell you, that you won't bring these wankers down on him. You already saw he's human, and if I'm turning ta dust in this place, I at least want to know he's safe. Promise me you won't let Dr. Frankenstein touch him." Spike leaned forward, putting his palm on the glass. If he gave Riley the warehouse, he wouldn't have a bolt hole, and he might be putting Xander in danger, but he couldn't leave his childe alone, and it was the best proof Spike had.

"Xander? If he's human..." Riley's voice trailed off, and Spike could practically read the soldier's thoughts. Graham and his crew were human, yet the scientists had made guinea pigs of them.

"Promise me, and I'll take your word for it," Spike pressed. Riley paused and then nodded sharply, his mind clearly made up.

"He's safe. I won't give his name to anyone."

"Right, two-story warehouse at the northwest corner of Mill and 3rd. If I were evil, or if I were even cranky, I'd drain Xander for making me listen to his soddin' country music collection, but you'll see. The bloody music, and if the universe likes me just one little bit, Xander are both safe as houses. Not all vampires treat humans like walking happy meals. And I'm not out ta end the world, or even willing to sit back and let someone else end it, now am I?"

"Mill and 3rd." Riley repeated slowly. Spike could feel him balanced on the edge of believing and giving in to the demon voice.

"You go and see. Xander and me, we live together without me seein' him as a meal. And then we need ta figure out what to do about a runt of a Hellmouth Master who seems ta be trying to open a portal to hell right in the middle of California, yeah?"

Spike thought he might have pushed too far from the way Riley went still, his whole body pausing unnaturally with one hand half raised. It was as though the boy had been caught in time, and then, after three heartbeats, he finished his gesture and nodded.

"I'll start with the warehouse."

Part Eleven

The minute he climbed through the concrete tunnel into the night air, Spike took a deep breath and immediately started digging through duster pockets looking for his cigarettes. Stupid bloody buggers must have stolen them.

The other escapees, Gary with his long stringy hair cut in an 80's mullet and Antonio with his dark eyes and cropped hair, followed him out into the night. There weren't many people or vampires Spike could look down at--his new pet had a good six inches on him--but Antonio stood several inches shorter than Spike. Both vampires looked near starved. Finally Riley climbed out, his eyes scanning the dark trees on one side of the storm wash and the park-like clearing on the other. Only on the Hellmouth would a normal storm drain lead to a multi-million dollar secret government facility.

"You need to clear out of here before regular patrol," Riley muttered. Gary hissed, his long stringy hair sticking to his lips as he thrust his face aggressively toward the soldier. Without comment, Spike ripped off a low hanging branch and jabbed the jagged end into Gary's heart. Then he pulled it out so quickly that Gary didn't have time to do more than look confused before his body exploded into a shower of dust.

Riley leapt back, blinking either to clear them of dust or in surprise, Spike didn't know and frankly didn't care.


"Warned him, didn't I?" Spike answered before Riley could even gather his thoughts enough to ask. The demon obviously whispered in his mind because Riley tilted his head in confusion before shaking it like an oversize dog. If Dru had been around, Spike would have tied the boy up with a bow and given him to his dark plum. Problem was, Spike wasn't sure what to do now that soldier boy had broken them out, convinced he was helping save the world from both demons and mad scientist types.

Spike hadn't made a pet before, and now that he had, he was caught between frustration that he'd been forced to claim a soldier boy and a familiar feeling of possessiveness. He didn't want to leave Riley behind any more than he'd leave his duster. Spike considered that comparison for a moment, remembering the feeling of utter elation when he'd killed the slayer and earned his duster. Okay, he didn't want to leave Riley behind any more than he'd leave his lighter. On the other hand, boy wasn't fully broken, and the bit about saving the world probably wouldn't last long once Riley saw Spike snack on some human Happy Meal.

So, eat him, leave him, or fuck him into full submission. Spike postponed the decision for the moment, focusing instead on Riley's unspoken question about the now dusty Gary.

"If the git couldn't control his darker side, he had no business bein' in on this," Spike spun the truth like a silken spider web. "Vahrall demons are a dangerous lot, and we can't afford soddin' mistakes."

After not more than one of Riley's heartbeats, Antonio nodded, his dark crew-cut bobbing in the light from the nearly full moon. Maybe this one had enough sense to keep around. "If we wish to stop the Hellmouth from opening, we can afford no distractions," he agreed.

Riley shook his head again, and his hand rested on the butt of his tazer. "But he was one of you."

"Oi, not even. Can't say all people are on the same side, and I reckon it's the same with our lot," Spike objected, "and I don't bloody leave enemies alive... not even ta torture 'em and bleed 'em." Spike added the last part as he glared back toward the dark exit they'd just crawled out of. While he watched, a small light flickered unsteadily and then stablized to a dull, yellow glow.

"They've got the generator up, you have to go." Riley sounded desperate now.

"Right then, we're off," Spike agreed. Before he could even turn, something crashed through the bushes on the far side of the clearing, and Initiative soldiers in black charged across the lawn, flowing around the park bench with practiced ease.

"Fuck," Riley swore. Antonio froze for a scant second, but when Spike took off in the opposite direction, he followed with a growl of "Pendejos!"

Random curses colored the air as Spike dodged around tree trunks. A thwap sent him dodging left when the silver tangs from a tazer sank into the white trunk of a birch tree. Vines snatched at him, but Spike just powered through the growth, ripping green creepers from trees as he dashed over the uneven ground.

Behind him, human footsteps crashed though the bushes. He darted to the right, and faintly heard a curse behind him before he nearly collided with Antonio. The younger vampire fell back a half step, running just behind Spike. Worked for him seeing as how the soldier-boys would get Antonio first.

A brick wall appeared almost without warning, and Spike crouched and leapt, clearing the structure and landing on the manicured lawn of the college. Crowds. Wankers wouldn't dare chase them into a crowd... too much chance of random Happy Meals getting killed.

Behind him, Spike could hear the ungraceful charge of soldiers through the bushes as he dashed east... toward the faint vibrations of a thumping bass pounding out loud music. Part of Spike wanted to turn and face the soldiers head on. He wanted to growl his fury and rip through flesh like tissue paper. He wanted to drink them and feel them squirm and struggle in his grip until they slowed and finally submitted to him and to death. However, he couldn't bloody do it with a dozen of the wankers all carrying tazers. As Spike finally turned the corner and spotted the frat house on across the street, Spike simply promised himself that he would track them down later. Now, he just needed to lose them.

Spike slowed down as he strode across the street, one more punk party goer looking for some free beer and maybe a few drugs to send him flying. On the lawn stood a college student with pink hair; she smiled at him, and Spike winked back as he hopped up on the curb, heading for the brick house.

"Goin' in, luv?" Spike practically purred. Pink-hair girl looked at him out of the side of her eyes, arching her neck and shrugging her shoulders non-committally. Oh yeah, this one was already flying and putting out the invitations. Spike edged closer, checking behind him in a single glance. He spotted a dark crew-cut on a short, thin man on the other side of the street. Antonio turned and looked at him for a second before dropping his eyes back down, but he started across the street.

Spike smirked. Looked like he had one follower. He hadn't been sure whether Antonio could control the demon's urge to turn and fight or if he were old enough to take off on his own.

"You going in?" Pink-haired girl asked as she gestured toward the house and drifted closer.

"Figured I'd get a bit of something. Invite me in with ya, and I'll play escort," Spike offered, and he reached out, running a finger up her warm arm. The girl shivered.

"Nice accent."

"Not the nicest thing about me. If you ask right, maybe I can show ya what I'm really known for." Spike winked and slipped a hand around the girl's waist. She swayed a little and smiled at him. "So, how 'bout that invite?" Spike asked as he gave her a small push to get her moving toward the crowded house.

"Oh, you're definitely invited in," the girl nodded as Spike headed up the wide steps. A boy no older than his own Xander lay on his back, staring at the underside of the porch ceiling with a beer bottle in hand while a couple sitting on the railing caught a few awkward gropes.

"Right then, maybe we can find a nice corner to play," Spike suggested as they walked through the entrance. Seeing as how the soldiers and doctors treated Spike as if he were some rabid dog, they wouldn't believe him capable of hiding in the middle of all this flesh without tasting a bit. So, if Spike had played this right, they'd go running off looking for him and their little gadgets wouldn't do them any good in the middle of the mass of writhing, stoned human bodies moving in time to the music blasting from the stereo.

Pink girl shimmied up against him, and Spike slipped his hand into her waistband, letting his fingers trail south as she smiled widely, a tongue ring glinting in the dark of her mouth. Twisting and coiling his body invitingly, Spike pulled at the girl, drawing her into the middle of the crowd even as he slipped his fingers farther south. He let them trace the valley down until she shivered helplessly and pressed herself to him, her breasts crushed against his chest.

Spike leaned in and kissed her neck, smelling the scent of lust and drugs. Antonio wandered in the door, walking right in front of Riley who scanned the crowd with an earnest desperation that would surely catch someone's attention, even in this lot. Lifting his head, Spike nodded briefly at Antonio who then turned and whispered something to Riley. The minute Riley saw Spike, his body relaxed, the eyes that had darted wildly settled on watching Spike.

Spike went back to scenting the girl in his arms as he watched Riley move to a position next to the window, snagging an abandoned beer before leaning against the wall. To anyone else, he looked like one more partier tired out from the dancing, but Spike could see the way he scanned the grounds, watching for danger. At least, he watched the grounds when his eyes didn't dart back to Spike, watching his every move. Spike remembered some of Dru's pets doing the same thing, especially when they were new or when she'd bring home a second toy before eating the first.

The slavish need to see master fed Spike's ego, but it did make for another problem. He needed to feed, but his story wouldn't hold up if Riley saw him pull some girl into a closet. The girl shimmied, pressing even closer as her hands explored under his duster, wrapping around him and teasing him with the scent of warm willing blood.

"So cold. I'll have to warm you up," she muttered into Spike's shirt. Spike placed another kiss on her neck before sucking gently at the skin. She mmmmm'ed into his shirt, her fingers slipping under his silk to run nails lightly over his back. He hated partial feedings. He hated the fear that would crawl into his belly at the thought that he'd left a victim alive and able to point at him, point the mob toward them. His stomach crawled at the thought, but soldier boy still watched him with wary eyes, and he could turn Spike in even faster if Spike killed, and Spike couldn't keep fighting all the soldier-boys if he didn't have blood.

Bracing himself against the buzzing fears that stung him, Spike opened his mouth and ran dull teeth over the girl's neck. Pink girl clutched at his back, digging nails in as she made appreciative moans. Spike's body rippled with the music and he used the movement to get his knee between her legs.

"Should find some place more private," she suggested, digging her nails in deeper. Spike smiled without lifting his lips from her neck. Slowly, he pressed in, yanking her body closer.

She jerked once, and then, as he started sucking, her back arched as she gasped her desire. Fighting his own need to drink her down in huge swallows until her heart staggered to a stop, Spike timed his feeding to her heart, sucking out a mouthful with each beat. Pink girl started thrashing, her head thrown back and her pink hair flying as she gasped out a mantra of 'oh gods.'

Her body trembled, and Spike brought his knee up, forcing her legs apart as he pressed into her clit with his leg. Now she went wild, rubbing herself against him madly as her moans reached a crescendo. Spike started truly feeding now, drawing the blood out in satisfying gulps, and the girl cried out.

For a moment, Spike struggled against the instinct to finish her and the fear of leaving her alive. Every cell screamed at him to take her, to drink until she sagged in his arms and he possessed every bit of her. Instead he pulled out, licking the two tiny wounds until no more ruby drops appeared.

Now the girl leaned into him, her heart slowing as she smelled of a woman's completion.

"Fuck yeah," she finally muttered as she held on to him like a life preserver.

"Told ya I had parts nicer than my accent," Spike said smugly. He hadn't partially fed since Prague, but he obviously still had the talent. He started toward Riley, his arm around the girl to steady her. Soldier-boy looked vaguely panicked, and Spike needed to deal with him before he went and alerted the troops. No good denying himself the joy of feeding just to have Riley squeal anyway.

Weaving through the crowd, Spike finally reached Riley who immediately reached out for the girl's neck, either to check for a pulse or a bite. Spike didn't know which Riley expected, but he'd find both.

"Are you okay?" Riley asked as he bent down a bit to look the girl in the eye.

"You're just fine, aren't you, pet?" Spike prompted her.

"Oh fuck yeah," she breathed happily, a stupid smile over her whole face. "He should charge for that."

Spike sucked in his cheeks in amusement when Riley just looked slightly bewildered as his eyes went from the girl to Spike and back.

"You shouldn't just let some guy--" Riley started, the girl cut him off, shoving at him ineffectually with hands that flopped.

"Buddy, I don't need a lecture. You're ruining the whole post-orgasm bliss here."

When Riley didn't step back, she snorted her disgusted and pulled out of Spike's arms, stumbling over to the stairs, where she collapsed on the second step, slipping her hand inside her own pants as she laid back. Spike watched the show for a few seconds: the girl's head rested on a higher step, leaving the front of her neck curved out deliciously, and either the drugs or an exhibitionist streak left her squirming on her own fingers while those dancers who weren't too stoned to care watched.

"She's okay?" Riley said uncertainly.

"Bloody hell, it's not like a vampire has to kill a human to feed," Spike rolled his eyes. "So, you were with those sadistic soldier boys up until a few minutes ago, what're they going to do now?" Spike asked as he leaned back against he wall.

Riley's body went stiff for a moment, his fists clenched as he fought some internal battle. "They're good men," he offered, which didn't even come close to answering Spike's question. Spike raised an eyebrow. "It's Engelman and his kind, not us soldiers. It hasn't been the same since Dr. Walsh left."

"You're not one of them anymore, mate," Spike pointed out, and Riley tightened his fists so tight that cords of muscle appeared in his arms.

"I should turn myself in. You're out, so you go do what you need to in order to keep the Hellmouth closed."

"No," Spike said simply. Antonio wandered closer, and his dark skin looked even darker. The vamp had fed without creating any screaming mob, which was one more point in his favor.

"I need to." Riley took a step toward the door, and Spike grabbed his arm in a vice-grip.

"No," he repeated. "Those wankers have bollocked up the whole mess. You'll stay with me until I tell ya different." Spike watched Riley's eyes dilate, the black swallowing the blue until only a ring of blue remained.

"I should..." Riley said weakly, his voice trailing off to nothing. Hadn't even taken fear or lust to bring the boy under control, and having a soldier, especially one with knowledge of tactics, might come in mighty handy. If Spike had time to wait a full day, he'd turn the soldier, but right now, finding Xander wouldn't wait a day.

"You should help me find my mate and then stop the Hellmouth from opening," Spike finished for him. "We're going under cover. You play the obedient servant, and I'll get us into places where you'll never get alone. We'll infiltrate demon central, we will," Spike tempted Riley. "You'll help save the world."

Riley remained transfixed for a second, and then he blinked and the blue had returned to his eyes, his pupils once again normal. For several minutes, he blinked owlishly, his face a mask of confusion. Then something settled into his skin and he nodded slowly.

"Right, so what does it mean to play your servant, and where are we going?"

"I figure the court'll know where Xander is and seeing as how it sits right on top of the Hellmouth with dozens of demons, that's the place to start," Spike answered. "So, tell me how the soldiers work and how we get from here over to the north end cemetery without getting shot."


"Still don't know why we don't just beat up a few guys over at Willie's and get the truth out of them. There are always a few vamps creeping around that place," Faith complained.

Xander kept his eyes on Angel's boots, but he had obviously missed something. They didn't need to go anywhere to find vamps, they'd passed at least two of them just walking to this cemetery. Xander could feel his demon growl at each who passed. Of course, growling at people was definitely not on the menu of things to do, well, unless that menu was titled ways to get killed. But then vamps weren't really people, so maybe growling at a vamp would just lead to more getting bitch slapped, which might actually be better than the whole ignore-the-minion thing Angel had going on.

Angel stopped, and Xander moved to the side and waited, looking off in the opposite direction from Angel and Faith.

"Those vamps aren't in the clan, they don't know anything," Angel answered after a minute.

"It'll still make me feel better," Faith answered. Something snapped, the sound echoing slightly off the huge stone mausoleum they stood in front of, and Xander could feel his demon's desperate need to look to see if Angel had a tree branch at his backside. He struggled to keep the demon facing away from the danger.

"Do you have the candle?"

"I don't mind saying that wandering around a cemetery waving a candle is not big with the making me feel better," she complained but a zipper opened.

Angel sighed heavily. Since Xander couldn't really annoy the big, broody one too much before getting pinned to the ground and growled at, he could at least enjoy Faith annoying the vamp. A shadow passed from one tree to another as a stray vampire ran along the inside wall of the cemetery.

A snick of a lighter, and the bones of the dark trees appeared faintly yellow.

"Noley me January, Umbrella listens sap ender man 'um sumper me 'effin dater," Angel chanted solemnly. Xander took a wild leap and guess that the vamp was chanting in something other than English... either that or Xander had finally lost the last of his marbles. The wind picked up, and clouds suddenly blocked the moon.

For a dark moment, Xander felt like something cold and huge brushed against his soul, and Baby cringed back, its first instinct to throw itself on the ground seeking Angel's protection. This time, Xander had to turn around. When he did, he fell back several steps away from the huge ghostly face that projected out from the door to the mausoleum.

The mouth opened, and Xander shivered in dread at its answer. "Illae res occultae sun tempature et locis obscure. Enuntiare illas chaos super orbem vivum terrarum ferat." Yep, definitely another language.

Angel babbled back at it, and the huge head drew up, anger etched into the smoke.

"Noli petere! Perturba nos non diutius!" the head yelled, and then the smoke sucked back into the stone like I Dream of Genie smoke, only that definitely wasn't Genie. Xander had plenty of late night rerun fantasies with Genie, but this thing was more of the nightmare producing variety.

"Well that went well," Faith said sarcastically. She had a stake gripped in her hand so tightly that her knuckles had turned a lighter color, but other than that, she was a picture of disinterest as she leaned back against a headstone.

"It was worth a try," Angel said tightly as he blew the candle out.

"Well, you and Giles are sometimes a little too much with the thinking. I have a simple approach to life. See. Slay. Go find someone to bump humps with after."

Angel made a strangled noise as he turned and headed back toward the exit.

"Like him. I'm thinking he knows something," Faith dashed between the headstones before Xander had even spotted yet another random vamp lurking along the inside wall toward the entrance to the Aurelius lair.

Angel hesitated, and Xander could feel a need to follow Faith even as he fidgeted and waited for Angel. When Faith had covered about half the ground, Angel took off after her, and Xander followed. Slaying vamps he knew how to do. For the first time, Baby felt a flare of hope at being able to impress master. Since master hunted other vamps, Baby could prove that he was a worthy fighter to battle beside master.

This wasn't a fledge; he dropped into a fighting stance and growled as Faith flew into him with her first attack. The kick drove the fledge back into the wall, but he tossed the slayer to the side, sending her rolling on the grass. She leapt right back up and dropped into a more cautious crouch.

"That the best you got? Come on, I wanta play," she taunted as she threw a punch. The vampire fell back away from that punch, and Xander crept forward a half inch. Angel's hand falling on his shoulder pulled him back.

"Slayer," the vampire hissed.

"Name's Faith," she corrected him, and a sharp in and out with her left, and then a half second later, the vamp exploded into dust.

"Too easy," she complained as she turned away.

"Faith," Angel said softly, stepping forward. Xander could feel his own heart race as he watched shadows detach from the trees, fangs flashing as a dozen vampires closed on them.

Faith turned to look. "Well, fuck." She cracked her neck first one way and then the other. "It's all five by five. Let's kick a little vampire ass."

Xander couldn't control the bounce in his legs as he watched the enemy close, and Angel finally let go of him to pull a stake out from under his coat. However, all Xander's excitement and blood lust vanished under confusion and shock when he spotted the white hair.

Part Twelve

Well, bugger plan number.... Spike couldn't remember which plan he was on right now, but Xander standing beside the great poofy one buggered it. A couple of the Anointed One's minions hesitated when he stopped, but then they surged forward, throwing themselves against the slayer as ordered. Only Antonio held back, watching Spike as he picked up on some signal that told him things had changed. And Riley just stood behind Spike, still shocked and silent, like he had pretty much been since he'd seen the court. Boy's world view obviously hadn't included demonic communities.

"It's all five by five. Let's kick a little vampire ass," the slayer said with a wiggle of her hips. Immediately, Spike was caught between wanting to applaud her attitude and wanting to drink her down. He did neither.

"Master?" Riley asked, the crash course on human behavior in court obviously still sticking.

"She's the slayer... one human given powers to stop evil and save the world and all that rot," Spike said absent-mindedly as he watched Angel take up a defensive position in front of Xander. The git obviously didn't plan on jumping to the slayer's rescue. Xander, on the other hand, looked nearly ready to vibrate out of his own skin as his eyes snapped from one attacker to another. He was clearly ready to throw himself at the nearest vamp.

"What is it?" Antonio asked as he took a step forward toward the fight, probably feeling the same burning need for violence that Spike felt. Riley just stared as the slayer took a hit and then popped back up with a wide smile. Her opponent turned to dust and she charged right through the cloud to attack two more. Once everyone had their eyes on the slayer's dance, Spike took his own stake and slammed it into Antonio's back, watching as the vamp turned to dust without ever turning around.

"New plan. Step one, get rid of the extra baggage," Spike muttered as he stepped through the Antonio cloud. He had one chance to impress the slayer with bein' on her side, and he couldn't bloody afford to squander it. So he grabbed one of the Anointed One's minions by the back of his neck. He slipped the stake in the fat vampire's back and then flinched away from the storm of dust created when he exploded.

"Are we..." Riley let his voice trail off, but his hand moved to his waist band where he had hidden the rough stake Spike had given him.

"Have at 'em, mate," Spike gave his permission just as the slayer sent two scrawny fledges flying through the air. Both landed on their backs just in front of Spike and Riley, and the gits obviously hadn't kept up with the change in plans because they just lay there like overturned bugs, not even trying to defend themselves against Riley and Spike. Buggers were so stupid, staking them was doin' the Anointed one a favor, not that Spike thought the pipsqueak would see it that way. Riley dropped down to his knees next to the first vamp, driving the stake in before rolling through the ash to stake the second one without missing a beat.

Almost immediately, Riley was on his feet and moving into the fight, stake forward. Oh yeah, this one would make a lovely minion--all grace and predatory instincts. Riley staked a third in the back as it snarled at the slayer, and the dark-haired girl gave Riley a salacious smile and wink before ducking an attack from the rear. The attacking vamp overshot and rammed into Riley, sending them both crashing to the ground.

Seeing another vampire baring teeth at his pet, Spike's demon rose to the front and he charged forward, pulling the wanker off Riley and ripping his head from his body. On the ground, Riley looked up with wide, panicked eyes, and Spike held out a hand to help the human up. When time came, he'd decide to eat or turn his pet--no minion would get a fang in him.

Angel had stepped closer, and Xander stood behind him, yellow bleeding into those brown eyes, but the slayer still fought with the three strongest minions... the three who had enough control and common sense to wait until the others had worn her down. One darted in, backhanding the slayer, and she wasn't bouncing back nearly as quickly now. She staggered backwards, and Spike teetered between two courses.

A minion kicked at her leg, and she went down; however, when he fell on her to feed, he turned to dust. Once his dust cleared, Spike could see the stake the slayer had tucked in close to her body. Decision made, Spike sailed into the last two, dusting one with a short jab while shoving the other to the ground with his shoulder. The slayer wasted no time in dusting the one on the ground, and Spike backed away, his hands held up in surrender.

"Got no problem with you, slayer," he said even though his fangs itched to have at her. Now Angel stepped forward, flashing into game face. Before he had a chance to say anything, Xander spoke up, his voice a strained whisper.


"Pet," Spike answered, the last of the fear snake that had coiled in his guts evaporated.

"William, what are you doing here?" Angel asked, his voice low and dangerous. Spike froze. Bloody hell, he thought they'd made their peace in L.A. They might still call each other a few choice names, but he hadn't done anything to deserve the dark warning Angel now issued. He had even fought on the side of the slayer.

"William?!? Xander's William??" Faith stood, her mouth hanging open as she stared. "Xander was doing it with the undead?" She turned to Xander. "You're doing it with the undead? And the cute undead... good job Z-dog." Okay, that wasn't the reaction Spike had expected from a slayer. Somehow he'd expected more of a welcome from his childe and sire and a little less enthusiasm from the girl who'd dedicated her life to killing vampires. Mind you, she seemed fine with Angel, even after seeing him go soulless, so obviously this slayer didn't take the job all that seriously

Spike kept a part of his attention on the slayer as he turned toward Xander who continued to stand by Angel, his body tense and his eyes on the ground. Bloody hell no. Spike sucked air in frustration as Angel inched sideways, getting between Spike and Xander.

"Xander, pet?" Spike called softly. Xander flinched back, and Spike's demon surged forward at the evidence. His pansy-arsed sire wasn't takin' his childe. He launched himself at Angel before his rational mind could even point out that his sire was older, larger, and more powerful.

Unlike a certain night at Angel Investigations when Angel had just defended his face, allowing Spike to pummel his body into a patchwork of bruises, this time Angel fought back, driving Spike into retreat with a blow to the side of his face that left Spike staggering back. Spike retaliated with a flurry of punches up and down Angel's body, dancing in and out as Angel impotently batted at him. Unfortunately, Angel caught him with a backhand that sent him reeling back.

"Whoa, whoa, hold on there. All of you, shove the testosterone back in the bottle and stop thinking with your dicks," Faith yelled as she jumped in between. Spike snarled, ready to take her on as well, but then Xander was there, standing between him and Angel, at Faith's side. Spike could smell the misery and fear rolling off his boy, and he backed up a step. Normally, he reveled in the smell of human terror, but now it made him want to find the fear and rip it out. He wanted his boy back, and his boy never smelled of fear, even when the git probably should.

"Spike?" a deeper voice asked, and Spike tilted his head toward Riley.

"What have you done?" Angel growled, stepping forward as he glared at Riley, but Faith held her ground, putting her hand on Angel's chest to stop him. Spike almost laughed at the irony. Here stood the great Angelus who'd made a career out of torturing human pets, leaving them cringing and kneeling at his feet, but he was going to get pissy over Spike taking one soldier-boy. Bloody hypocrite.

"Not even, big boy," she snapped at Angel as she held him back. "You just chill your ass out. And you," Faith turned and pointed a finger toward Spike, "start talking."

Spike growled as Xander slid back, silently taking a position behind Angel where he concentrated on staring down some random blade of grass. Angel pressed forward again, and now Faith turned toward him, pushing at him with both hands. The sight of Faith's back made Spike growl softly, but then Xander curled in on himself like a fallen pastry, his shoulders hunching up toward his ears.

Blinking back the demon, Spike struggled to get control before he did the stupid something he desperately wanted to do. He needed to get his childe back from Angel, and while Spike might not be able to win a fair fight, he didn't feel much need to fight fairly, especially considering how Xander was disappearing under the demon's cringing loyalty to Angel.

"Ya workin' on making a new Dru, there?" Spike taunted. Xander flinched back, and Spike soddin' hated hurting his childe, but he hated the weakness his childe showed even more. However, Angel's suddenly stiff posture made the jab worth the pain. At Angelus' knee, Spike had learned how psychological torture could break someone down, rip away their defenses until they begged for death. Angelus had tried to teach him to stalk his prey and find their hidden fears, their secret hopes. Spike hadn't been a particularly good student, but to earn back his childe, he'd play a game that would leave Angel broken and twitching.

"Spike?" Riley asked again, taking a defensive position next to his master.

"Thanks for the assist there, buff-boy," Faith offered with a nod. "Now, someone want to explain what the hell's going on for those of us who seemed to have slept through class?"

"The demons are trying to open a portal to hell," Riley injected after a long silence in which Spike and Angel glared at each other and Xander tried to sink into the earth.

Faith snorted, "Old news. Demons are always pulling that shit."

"Yeah, don't always have Vahrall workin' for 'em, now do they?" Spike added. "Course, maybe Peaches doesn't mind seeing as how he's gone back to playing dominate the human. Maybe your soul isn't stuck on quite as tight as you'd like us all to think," Spike verbally poked at Angel, and the Angel narrowed his eyes in warning.

"And you are...." Faith let her words trail off as she waited for an answer.


The wind rattled the trees in the silence that followed.

"And?" Faith prompted

"And he's a cold-blooded vampire," Angel added.

"Your blood's just as cold, mate," Spike pointed out.

"I have a soul."

"Not much of one from what I can see. Ya still enjoy havin' a minion around ta make you feel like ya aren't a piss-arsed pansy."

"William," Angel warned. Xander glanced up, his eyes yellow under his curls, and for one moment, Spike could see the trembling struggle in the boy. But just as soon as he let himself hope that Xander would fight his way back to Spike's side, the boy dropped his gaze and inched closer to Angel.

"Wot? Not like you'll fight someone strong enough ta fight back, is it?" he pushed. If the slayer hadn't been in the middle, holding Angel back, the older vamp would have tackled Spike right there, or at least tried to. Spike smirked as Faith pushed Angel back with a small shove.

"Okay, patience is gone, and someone better start talking. Xander, since you're the only one not acting like a pissy two-year-old, you're up."

Xander looked up, panic dancing over his face as his eyes darted from Faith to Angel and back again. Angel simply stood with his arms over his chest, and Spike could smell the fear from Xander. Bloody hell, boy had stood up to Spike and yet Angel's silence left him trembling as he shifted from foot to foot. Spike curled his hands into fists, fighting back a desire to punch Angel right in the mouth. Wanker.

"The whole stuff with Cassidy and the pet demon thing is right, and Spike did rescue me from Cassidy but we might have not mentioned the whole him being a vampire." Xander shrugged and slid back behind Angel.

"Is anyone going to do something about the demons trying to open hell? The kid vampire is expecting his minions to come back with the slayer's head, so this might be a good time to attack, when he's expecting victory," Riley interjected.

"Bloody hell, wanker expected us ta get dusted by the slayer," Spike dismissed the concerns. "Not that a slayer could take me. By the way, does this one know you're the reason she got called ta duty?" Spike asked Angel, enjoying the stiffness in Angel's body. "I mean, you are the one who ate the last slayer, aren't ya? You're only a hundred years and one slayer behind me, mate."

Spike braced himself for an attack from either the slayer or Angel, but Faith continued to hold Angel back.

"Yeah, yeah, mortal enemies," she rolled her eyes, "only Willow had her werewolf and Buffy and Angel had the whole Romeo and Juliet bit going and my Watcher is married to a Gypsy witch, so I'm not really big with the whole council party line. I decide who I'm enemies with, and so far, I'm not seeing much reason to have at you with a stake."

"Faith, he's a killer. When he wants something, he's ruthless about getting it," Angel hissed, his eyes flashing between brown and yellow.

"Hate to break it to you, but that pretty much describes the two of us, too," she pointed out as she turned her back to Angel, so she didn't see the flinch from Angel. Stepping forward, she held out her hand to Spike. "Besides, if the Z-dog picked you, I'm willing to give a little credit."

Spike hesitated. He could take her as a hostage... she was tired. One strong yank, and he could have his hand around her neck, ready to snap the delicate bones. But his souled up grandsire hadn't fought at all, and Spike didn't think he could take him right here right now. On the other hand, if he had time to mentally torture Angel a bit, he ran a good chance of getting his childe back. Xander hadn't given up on him even when he'd lost, when he'd hung helpless in Cassidy's lair waiting for the strike that turned him to dust. He wasn't giving up on his boy now.

Spike took the outreached hand.

"Ta, luv. Fucking fine fighter, you are."

"A vamp who knows a way to a girl's heart," Faith laughed. "Just know that if you threaten my friends, I'll torture you before I kill you," she added in a more serious tone.

"If I want ta threaten ya, I'll do it to your face without goin' after your friends like some hyena pickin' the weak ones off in the dark," Spike promised Faith, but he kept his eyes focused on Angel. The older vamp didn't react, but Spike could see the tight muscles where Angel fought to keep himself under control. Let the wanker wear himself out fighting himself; Spike would be there when he finally broke.

"Captain Riley Finn." Riley stepped forward, his own hand held out.

"Faith Lehane," she offered. "Captain? Haven't seen any captains around here except the pep squad snacks that keep wandering the parks at night, tempting all the little vampires. You don't look like a cheerleader."

"Marine, ma'am."

"Marine?" Faith raised her eyebrows.

"Trust me, luv, you don't want to know. Wankers are playing Dr. Frankenstein without knowing what they're messing with," Spike explained when Riley froze, clearly unwilling to tell about his comrades in green.

"In Sunnydale? Fuck, we have enough trouble with demons, we do not need this grief."

"If the doctors can't make some progress soon, it may not be an issue. The government is threatening to discontinue funding if they can't find a practical solution for combating or controlling hostiles. If that happens, this whole part of the state would be left unprotected."

Faith stared at the boy for a half second. "Unprotected my finely shaped ass. Slaying's my gig."

"But the demons, they're talking about opening a Hellmouth."

"They can talk all they want, but makin' it happen is something else. Watch and learn, Captain Cutie. You're about to find out how a slayer kicks demon ass."

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