The Strength of Submission

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

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

"Perhaps we can talk about this."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fred," Angel said, his voice pained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not bloody likely, mate."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah. Seems like."

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

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

Xander made a small noise, but instead of getting upset at his pet breaking the rules, Spike grinned over at him, his eyebrows twitching with amusement. Angel ignored the distraction. "If you're angry with Buffy, don't take it out on Riley."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, Master," the soldier answered.

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

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

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

"No, Master."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes," Angel answered quickly.

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

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

"Yes," Angel agreed wearily.

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

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

Wesley quickly looked away, not wanting to participate even by watching this horror. Certainly, vampires used sexuality as a means of control and submission, but he had never dreamed that Angel would be forced to perform for Spike. He noticed that Xander was looking away as well, his eyes focused on Dalton. Riley, however, watched the vampires with his cheek still resting on Dalton's knee as she petted him.

Most of the humans had averted their eyes, and Dawn and Tara were at the back of the crowd now. He could see Tara's arms around Dawn, soothing her, so he imagined that Dawn was crying or close to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"After he injured you?" Wesley asked incredulously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't go adding more guilt to the guilty one," Xander said with a snort as the elevator bumped to a stop on the third floor. "You couldn't break away from the Watchers without coming to Angel. You needed him to disprove what you already knew was pure bullshit."

Wesley had absolutely no answer for that. He stood in shocked silence as Angel stood an unsteady step toward the opening doors. Fred hurried to pull up the grate for him. "And I needed Spike to force a true submission. I can't go up against one of Buffy's friends," Angel said softly. "If you want to think me weak and leave, I'll ask Spike to just let you go," Angel said without even turning to look at Wesley who was still standing in the elevator in shock, "but don't think Spike raped me. We're vampires, Wesley, and he knew what I needed."

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Master Spike," Aeth said with obvious surprise.

"You like the room?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A higher dimension?" the mage asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Master Spike," Aeth choked out, looking desperately at him.

Dalton smiled, her fangs showing as she took a step forward. "I will break her for you, Sire," she agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, Master."

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

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

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

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

"I don't know what you mean."

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

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

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

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

"Where's Lindsey McDonald?"

"The lawyer?"

Spike frowned.

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

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

"Spike, this isn't your territory."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angel shook his head. "Darla?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Spike, please," Angel called.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angel sighed. "Where is she, Spike?"

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But--" Dawn started to protest

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

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

"I'm not tired," Dawn said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

"Master?" the minion asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Spike," Angel said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Master?" Xander called.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Angel!" Fred shouted as he stood up.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Master Spike?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Luv?" Spike asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who have you talked to?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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