Ice-Cream


by
Maz



25 Cause and effect

Prompt: 86 - Juggling

Saturday evening

Biting carefully into Liam's neck was like coming home. The blood flowed freely and Angel had to resist the urge to drag it out faster. It slid over his tongue and down his throat, hot and vital, intoxicating in its promise of life, tinged with Liam's fear and the adrenalin that released. Instinctively, his arms clamped around Liam, trapping him and still the blood flowed. Angel closed his eyes blissfully. He felt the saliva with its natural anticoagulants burst free from the glands at the base of his fangs with an explosion akin to orgasm. His brain buzzed with it, like the white noise of a radio station after it has gone off the air or a soaring orchestral crescendo, blotting out everything else. The power flowed into him, sending surges of joy and loss and a gloating smugness throughout his whole body - through his torso and down his legs, causing sharp prickles of pleasure to alight his nerves, and into his arms where the flood of energy forced its way passed the broken bones and bruised tissue, sweeping away the blockages like a river in full flood, bringing healing in its wake.

Angel surrendered himself to sensation, glorying in a strength and richness he'd not felt in fifty years, not since his reluctant but essential turning of Lawson on a submarine in the Atlantic. With the arrival of that memory a feeling of unease began to tickle at the back of Angel's mind, intruding on the pleasure, creating discord in the music and he became dimly aware of movement, of hands batting weakly at his ribs. With a mental gasp he pulled himself back to full consciousness and dragged his fangs free of Liam's flesh, the back of his head hitting the wall behind him. Liam lay limp in his arms and frantically he searched for a pulse, breathing a sigh of relief when he found one, strong and steady on the other side of Liam's neck. The wound was still bleeding, so he bit through his own tongue, a new urgency replacing the abandon of moments before. The blood filled his mouth and he sealed his lips around the wound again, so the antidote to his saliva, the thing in the blood that gave vampires their ability to heal, sealed up the wound.

Drawing his head back, Angel inspected Liam's neck. Liam would always bear a scar, but it would not be ugly. He tried to calculate how much he'd taken. He'd meant it to be no more than a pint, as much as Liam might donate voluntarily to the Red Cross. But he'd lost himself in the experience and from the way the broken bones in his arms felt, it had to have been two pints, maybe more. That wouldn't normally be too serious, since Liam was a healthy, well fed American male in his prime, but he'd had nothing to eat since his imprisonment and had vomited up what he'd had in his stomach, so he was probably already dehydrated.

Angel berated himself for his carelessness as he gently laid Liam down on the floor. The boy had trusted him, had befriended him, even after he knew what Angel was. He'd had more conversation with Liam, more interaction, than the sum total of the last hundred years. He'd shared things with Liam that he'd never told a soul about before. And Liam had listened and sympathised and understood. Finally, in circumstances of adversity, Angel had met someone he felt he could really connect with, and he'd almost killed him.

Bending over Liam's prone body, looking down into vaguely fluttering eyes, Angel smoothed a curl of hair back from Liam's face. "Stay still, don't move," he said. "I'll try and get you some food, or at least some water. You'll be okay if you take it easy."

Liam nodded his understanding and whispered, "Sure, man. I'll be okay," adding ruefully, "Just don't expect me to do any housework around here for a while, yeah?" He smiled reassuringly up at Angel as he allowed himself to relax onto the hard ground.

Angel smiled back and once more smoothed one of those stubborn curls back on Liam's forehead. Then he got up, walked as near to the cage bars as his shackles would allow and started to yell for room service.


~*~*~*~*~


Locating a trio from Luke's gang proved to be child's play. They were walking down the street, free and easy, as if they owned it. Anticipating their planned hunting ground and ambushing them in the alley leading up to the club Xander called The Bronze, was simple. Jumping in and having a good old scrap, was just plain fun. It also gave Spike an opportunity to see his childe and his sidekick in combat. That was not such fun.

Spike took on the leader of the hunting party himself, pouncing onto her back from their hiding place behind a stack of pallets and twisting her head until her neck broke, even as they both crashed to the floor. As they went down he brought up his left leg, so when they landed his knee came down hard on the small of her back. Grabbing a fistful of hair in his right hand, he yanked it back exposing her throat. He brought the stake in his left hand down hard, puncturing the ribs in her back and watched with satisfaction as her dust settled. After that he got to his feet, leant up against the pallets to study the continuing fracas.

Dru stepped out of the shadows to join him, her head tilted thoughtfully. "Pretty, kitty kitten," she observed. "He'll grow up to be a dragon."

Spike smiled at her, pride in both his sire and his child swelling his heart, before turning back to watch the 'kittens' at play. As he'd expected, Xander was timid, overly cautious, not yet at ease with his body and his new capabilities. His technique more resembled the kitten Dru had named him, playing with a ball on a string, than any serious combat. He was holding his own defensively with a set of instinctive swerves and ducks that suggested he had the potential to be light on his feet, but it was obvious to Spike that he would need to apply some serious effort to his training. It was a shame, because the vampire he was so singularly failing to engage was himself hampered by his refusal to let go of what appeared to be a bag of groceries. It was actually comical, there was Xander making ineffective swipes with his balled fists, while his opponent juggled the paper bag back and forth between his right arm and his left, as it threatened to spill its contents all over the floor, at the same time as he tried to kick and punch at Xander. Spike felt his grin threatening to turn into full laughter and frowned to suppress it, scratching his ear as he concentrated on watching his childe and sparing the occasional glance for Jesse.

Jesse was the opposite of Xander. He was overconfident and began his attack of a solidly built male with a clearly telegraphed head-down charge which his opponent deflected by simply taking one step to the side and shoving him off at a tangent. Jesse staggering onwards, carried by his own inertia, right towards Spike, who took his own evasive step, allowing Jesse to crash face first into the pallets. His opponent followed up immediately, grabbing Jesse by the shoulders and dragging him away, pausing for a moment to nod a polite greeting at Spike and Dru. Spike inclined his own head in reply as he returned to his former position of comfortable observation. Jesse's arms reached out to Spike as he was hauled back and he appeared to be trying to say something. He didn't get an opportunity to voice his plea as he was lifted bodily into the air and dropped, flat on his back in the dirt. His opponent pounced, pinning him down and clamped one hand around Jesse's throat, the other reaching into his jacket pocket. Spike pursed his lips in thought as he weighed the advantages and disadvantages of keeping Jesse. With a nod to himself, he came to his decision, took the two necessary steps and brought his own stake down into the minion's unprotected back. Jesse might be pretty worthless, but there was no point in wasting him. He'd provide a distraction, if nothing else, when they eventually headed underground.

Before the dust had even cleared or Jesse had managed to scramble back onto his feet, Dru stepped forward into the alley. She clapped her hands, the sharp sound echoing between the tall buildings on either side. "Now then, dearies," she called loudly, her voice cutting through the grunting and shuffling of feet on concrete. "That's enough play. It's time."

Xander's opponent jumped clear of Xander's last attempt at a punch, glancing wildly around, as if searching for his mates. His eyes fixed on a smear of ash on the oil stained ground, then he raised his head, took one look at Dru and Spike together, turned on his heels and ran. He was out of the alley and away before Spike could say 'jackrabbit'.

Note: The idea that vampire saliva contains an anticoagulant, to encourage the blood to flow, while vampire blood contains something to encourage healing, is not mine. I came across it in Twilight Time by Shadow, which can be found here: http://www.shadows-and-dust.co.uk/SDFA/Round9/twilightime1.htm
When I read that, back in 2002? 2003? I thought it was a beautifully logical idea. Much more logical than the common fanon theory that vampire saliva heals wounds, because, lets face it, that's sort of contradictory. I was always surprised that more people didn't pick up on it and use it. I do and always have, but I have to give the credit where it's due.





26 Being the Cavalry

Prompt: 87 - Dreams

Spike wasn't happy about leaving Dru alone in the centre of a town she didn't know, and where he knew no one he could call on to protect her, but her plan required he do just that. She had faith in her own ability to evade any number of untutored minions. And in truth, he acknowledged, Xander or Jesse would be more of a hindrance than a help to her in that task. He also knew that, like him, she didn't make the mistake of underestimating Luke. His followers may be weak minion made minions, but Luke himself had centuries of experience and had stood at the Master's shoulder through them all. Spike's comfort was that Dru knew Luke even better than he did, since she'd spent time at the Master's court before Spike was made. She knew that Luke was big, but slow, experienced, but stupid. She would be okay, he assured himself as he led Xander and Jesse in the wake of the fleeing survivor of their little ambush, towards St David's cemetery.

Finding the crypt was easy, once you knew about it. They approached warily, making sure they were not spotted, making sure there were no guards or lookouts.

Crouched behind a large family gravestone, downwind of the crypt, they watched the entrance. "Are we going to kill them, sire?" Xander whispered, his words tickling at Spike's ear.

Spike swivelled round on the balls of his feet, one arm raised to the lip of the tombstone for balance. "What? No! Are you mad?" He saw Xander open his mouth and moved to forestall him. "Don't answer that," he said, frowning first at Xander, then at Jesse for good measure. "No, we're not going in there all guns blazing to commit bloody suicide! There could be twenty of them. First rule of survival, pet - pick your fights!" With a final glare at Jesse, he turned his attention back to their target.

Half an hour later and Xander and Jesse were fidgeting and nudging at each other like the pair of school boys they so resembled, while Spike was worrying that Dru had been wrong in believing that a sighting of her would have the desired result. He was beginning to consider returning to her, his concern for her health warring with his instinctive need to follow her instructions, when the heavy wooden door behind the fancy wrought iron gates was pulled open. Moments later the gates themselves swung wide and Luke strode out into the graveyard, into the meagre light of the crescent moon. He paused on the threshold, taking a deep breath, scenting the air and Spike allowed himself to relax into gameface, keeping his eyes slitted until they had adapted to the darkness. Reaching out, he placed a restraining hand on Xander's and Jesse's shoulders as he waited to see if their presence was suspected. Apparently not, because Luke turned ponderously and jerked his head in a clear order to those behind him in the dark that they were to follow him. Spike counted them out, logging their faces as they exited the crypt.

One by one, he watched the dark shapes slip through the doors and hurry to catch up with Luke's retreating back, the last pushing the gates closed behind him. They gathered behind Luke in a phalanx as he disappeared between the trees towards the town centre. Twelve in all. Assuming there was more than one hunting party already out, and there would need to be with a gang that big to feed, it was likely that the den had been left with a minimal guard. Given the amazing freedom vampires had in this town, there was even a chance that the place had been left empty. Everything Spike had seen since his arrival in Sunnydale suggested that these vampires had grown overconfident and sloppy, secure in their invulnerability. It was quite possible they wouldn't consider a home guard necessary, but that was not a guess he could afford to rely on. He waited a further full minute after the last one disappeared from sight, before he stood up.

Settling his coat comfortably back onto his shoulders, he turned to look Xander and Jesse in the eyes. Addressing Jesse first he frowned to reinforce the message. "You, stay behind me and keep your mouth shut!" he instructed. Then to Xander, "You too, pet. Stay back. You don't have the experience, or the age, to face off against an enemy alone. Even if they do still have dirt under their fingernails."

"I can fight!" Xander asserted indignantly.

Spike snorted. "Yeah, in your dreams, pet."

Beside him, Jesse nudged Xander. "Yeah, like you could always fight Rodney Munson?" he jeered.

Xander turned on him. "Rodney Munson is a.. a..."

Jesse laughed. "Oh, come on, man, you're a vampire and you still can't manage to insult the guy who beat you up every day for five years."

His laughter was interrupted by a growl from Spike. 'Bleedin' upstart good for nothing,' Spike thought, taking in Xander's crushed expression. He stepped between them, turning his back on Jesse. "Listen, love," he said softly, "once this is over, I'll teach you to fight. By the time I've shown you a few tricks, you'll be able to knock the clogs off anyone. But right now, you haven't had time to get used to your body." Xander looked up at him hopefully. "My Dru, she says you'll be a bloody dragon one day. But that day isn't now." He raised an eyebrow interrogatively and Xander nodded in doubtful agreement. "And then you can come back and show this Rodney Munson character exactly what fighting is." He smiled when he saw an expression of gleeful anticipation light up Xander's face. Turning around, he glared at Jesse until he lowered his eyes with due respect, then he strode off across the grass to the crypt.

Sure enough, the gates were unlocked and the door still ajar. Spike took a quick look back, reassured when he saw Xander give Jesse a playful shove. Frowning when Jesse returned it. 'Deal with that later,' he thought. In the meantime they had a job to do. Opening one of the pair of gates and pushing the door slightly wider, he edged into the musty space with care. A couple of dark alcoves, a couple of large sarcophagi, a stone urn and another set of ornate, wrought iron gates opposite the entrance, but thankfully no guards on duty. 'Minions!' He snorted to himself. 'They never bloody learn.' He shook his head in wonder, as he walked over and inspected the other set of gates. As pretentious front doors went, this was certainly one. It was just the Master's style. It was also unlocked.

Giving an iron curlicue an amused stroke he turned, intending to call Xander and Jesse in, and found them already standing to attention behind him, Xander's grin making clear his pride that they'd been able to creep up on Spike without him noticing. Spike contented himself with a sceptical eyebrow, although he knew his lips had twisted in acknowledgement.

Pulling the gate open a crack, he slipped through into the darkness beyond. Inside was a set of concrete stairs and at the bottom of those, what was obviously a service tunnel of some sort - a couple of ancient acetylene bottles indicated that, at least at one time, maintenance workers penetrated this far to check the conduits and pipe work lining its walls. Utilities, he surmised, laying a hand against one of the pipes and feeling the cold chill that suggested a mains water supply inside. Taking a breath, he scented the air, nodded at Xander and set off, heading east.

The maintenance tunnel went on for about half a mile and although Spike strode forward as if he owned the place, his concentration was focussed on the shifting patterns of air and the messages they carried. The scent of Luke's departure was dimming now and there were no indications of more recent traffic. At each side tunnel he paused to check, but so far their current route was leading them steadily onward, towards the school and the hellmouth.

After ten minutes of steady marching, the tunnel took an abrupt left turn, while many of the conduits continued straight ahead through the solid concrete wall. Mentally calculating distances and geography, Spike decided it was probably a detour around the basement of the Town Hall. He turned to follow the tunnel, ignoring the nervous sniping and whispering Xander and Jesse were indulging in behind him. After a further hundred yards or so, a rough hole on his right exposed what looked like a disused sewer, it's curved floor now dry, but stained from old use. 'That would be right,' he thought with an internal grin as the scent of family led him to step over the broken bricks and breeze blocks at the entrance. He heard Xander pause before scrambling after him, his steps uncertain on the loose rubble and he turned to offer him a hand. Xander took it gratefully, although he was already over the small obstacle and Spike pulled him forward so he stumbled into Spike's chest, his startled laugh clearing the concerned frown from his forehead. Looping his free arm around Xander's waist, Spike hugged him. "Close now, pet," he whispered. "Try to keep the noise down, yeah?"

"Uh, yeah, sure. We'll be quiet as mice. Quieter. Won't we Jesse?" Xander whispered, with a quick glance at his companion for corroboration. "You won't hear a squeak or a sniffle." His brow creased in thought. "Do mice sniffle, or do they just scratch? 'Cause the ones in my parent's basement..."Looking up he registered Spike's expression. "Umm... Yeah. Uh. Quiet as mice. Shutting up now," he added. Releasing Spike's hand to thread both his arms around Spike, inside his coat, he nuzzled his face into the crook of Spike's neck.

Spike gave Xander's back a long stroke as he watched Jesse, shoulders hunched and eyes down, shuffling uncertainly from foot to foot. "When we're done here, love. Okay?" he said, pushing his childe back to stand clear of him. Turning his attention to Jesse he added sternly. "Just be quiet. Prove yourself tonight, and I might look more favourably on you in future."

Jesse's body tensed to attention and he nodded. "Yes, sir," he replied, cowed by Spike's tone.

They continued along the sewer for a further twenty yards, Spike gradually becoming aware of light up ahead, around another bend. Walking carefully to the corner, he peered around it. A few yards in front of them the sewer came to an abrupt end and the space beyond was alight with the warm glow of hundreds of candles and torches. There was still no one in sight. Stepping out into the middle of the tunnel Spike strode forward, noting all the new details that came to his view as the cavern widened out below him. There were candles everywhere, tall ones in brass candlesticks, squat ones perched in niches in the broken rocks that littered the space and formed a rude staircase down to a patch of cleared floor, even a number of tall candelabra holding five or six candles each. There were also torches, their naked flames flaring malevolently in the sluggish breeze that caused the candles to flicker and almost gut on a regular basis. He shifted back to his human face, to reduce the visual distraction.

Pausing on the threshold, Spike surveyed the totality - the air was stiflingly hot with the smell of scorched wax and burnt pitch, many of the rocks were carved and he spotted a gutter gargoyle sticking up out of one of the piles of rubble. A broken pulpit lay on its side against the far wall and a plush chair sat like a throne, next to a pool which appeared to be full of dark water, or blood. Being careful where he placed his feet, Spike picked his way down the rock slope. Behind him he heard Xander and Jesse doing the same.

He was half way down when a heavily built male vampire entered the cavern from a rough hewn tunnel in the far left corner. 'Ah,' he thought. 'The guard, at last.' Pausing on a ledge about three feet above the floor, he called out, "Hey, you there, your Master at home?"

The greeting seemed to confuse the vampire, who stepped forward, apparently unsure whether to greet him or challenge him. Eventually he compromised. "Who wants to know?" he asked.

Spike drew himself up straight. "I do," he replied at his most arrogant. "Who the hell are you?"

Being challenged in return appeared to confuse the poor sod even more, because he began to look around, as if hoping for assistance from one of his absent colleagues, but he stupidly didn't stop his advance. Eventually he reached the bottom of the rocky slope and looked up at Spike. "I'm Sam and this is the Master's hall. You shouldn't be here without an invitation," he said.

"Don't need an invite, now do I, Sam?" Spike responded. "I'm family." He glanced around as if seeking out more efficient assistance. "Where is he then?" he asked. "Anybody else here, who might actually know the full court and it's members"?

"Er, no, sir," Sam replied, obviously getting more flustered by the moment. "Um, family?" he asked dubiously, but tingeing his voice with a note of cautious respect. "May I ask, which member of the family you might be, sir?"

Spike closed one eye and squinted down at him thoughtfully. "William," he announced, shifting back into gameface. "Descended in direct line from the Master who begat Darla, who begat Angelus who begat Dru," he paused a moment for effect. "Who begat me," he finished with a flourish. He watched Sam's face shift from dubious to impressed during the first part of his list, which at least confirmed that Darla was still officially in favour, to concerned and finally to downright worried, by the time he reached the end. "Oh, bloody hell," he exploded. "Don't tell me you've been listening to gossip?" It wasn't really a question he intended Sam to answer, because even as he spoke he launched himself off his perch, feet first, smashing into Sam's chest and knocking him flat. Converting his stagger into a full roll, head over heels, Spike bounced up onto his feet again, swung around, raced back and stamped down hard on Sam's face. Sam let out a howl as his nose broke and another when Spike jumped up into the air and brought both his heavy boots down to do the same job on his right knee-cap. Then Spike stood back and surveyed his handiwork.

In spite of his injuries, Sam still attempted to roll over and drag himself up. Spike watched his efforts. "Having some problems there, mate?" he asked as he reached into his coat pocket for his stake.

Sam was braced on his hands and one good leg, his other leg splayed out behind him and was attempting to get his uninjured foot into a position to allow him to stand, when Spike put him out of his misery. Which was the exact moment that Xander apparently lost his footing. Alerted by the scraping sound and the clatter of dislodged pebbles, Spike looked up, just in time to see Xander make a grab for Jesse's arm, miss and get a fistful of his shirt instead, pulling Jesse off balance and sending them both tumbling down the slope to crash into Spike. They all landed in a mass of arms, legs and damned uncomfortable elbows in Sam's dust.

Spike shook his head to clear it, shoved the tangle of limbs off himself and clambered to his feet. 'Thank fuck I didn't try and persuade Dru to take one of them with her,' he thought, leaving the boys to sort themselves out while he did a quick scout around the cavern. There wasn't much to inspect that he hadn't already seen from above. The pool was confirmed to be brackish water, heavily laced with old blood, but the only item of interest was the tunnel Sam had emerged from. The air from there was heavy with rot and death, but inside that almost overwhelming smell was something else, something familiar, something imprinted on Spike's memory from his earliest days. 'Angelus,' he sighed. 'That's where he is, among the dead. Who knew Luke could appreciate irony?'

Striding towards the opening he brought a halt to Xander's and Jesse's hissed recriminations by calling back over his shoulder, "Stop messing about there, you two. We're here to do a job and the sooner we get it done the sooner we can leave." Without looking back, he grabbed a torch from a bracket by the tunnel mouth and set off, following the trace of Angelus and doing his best not to breathe in the other stench.

He'd made about five paces when he heard two pairs of footsteps running after him.

Three steps more and he'd reached another cave. This was smaller than the main cavern, one side lined with cells cut out of the rock wall. A quick glance around confirmed that Sam had not lied when he said no other members of the court were at home. The occupants of this space were of a different class entirely. And there, in the central cage was Angelus, standing bare-chested, with bruises and half healed burns painting his visible skin, leaning back against the wall, his chained arms crossed and a scowl on his face.

Spike grinned through his fangs. "We're here to rescue you," he announced.

Note: Breeze Block is the British name for what in the US is called Cinder Block - what the tunnels Buffy and Xander walk down on their expedition to rescue Jesse in episode 1.02: The Harvest, are made from.





27 Uncaged

Prompt: 88 - Haste makes speed

Angelus took a few steps forward, as many as the chains attached to his wrists would allow, and watched them warily. His eyes flicked from Spike, to Xander, to Jesse and back to Xander, where they fixed. Spike stood and joined his grandsire in admiring the view, while Xander prowled around the cave, stopping to peer into the dark corner that was the source of the stench. Jesse stayed where he was, hovering between Spike and the entrance, like the good little minion he needed to learn to be, if he wanted to survive to enjoy his death. Behind Angelus, a young man with a mass of curly blond hair rolled onto his knees, from where he had been sitting cross legged against the wall, and heaved himself to his feet. He edged carefully forward to stand behind Angelus and peered over his shoulder, instinctively seeking shelter, but also curious to see what was going on. Spike almost thought he'd have taken hold of Angelus' arm, if his hands hadn't been fully occupied by a bottle of juice and some sort of fancy bread bun thing, which was threatening to spill sliced tomato and lettuce all over the floor.

"Hey," Xander announced to the room in general, "I don't have to breath, so I don't have to smell the garbage. This is way cool."

"Is that your 'godforsaken child'?" the young man whispered, addressing Angelus. "I can see the resemblance." Spike smirked as Angelus turned, his mouth opening to answer, until he saw where the kid was staring. "Who's the punk?" the kid asked.

Angelus closed his eyes, briefly. "The punk is my godforsaken childe," he explained, eliciting a surprised 'oh' from his companion. Shifting back into his human face, which caused the young man to gasp, Spike gifted Angelus with one of his most irritating smiles.

Meanwhile, Xander's explorations had brought him back to where Spike was standing. Ignoring Angelus, he studied the young man. "Hi," he said cheerfully. "I'm Xander. I'm not sure if we're going to rescue you." The kid's eyes widened and his mouth opened and closed a couple of times, as if he was trying to find the right words to reply, but Xander was already wandering away, attention caught by other things.

Spike ignored him, concentrating on Angelus. "Seems like you pissed young Xander off somehow. God knows how you did that, warm, open bloke like you are, but you did."

Ignoring that comment as the provocation it was, Angelus reassured his fellow prisoner: "I wouldn't leave you here, Liam. Don't worry. We're all getting out."

"Liam?" Spike laughed, incredulously. "Is that his name? Ha! Poor blighter."

Angelus simply crossed his arms over his chest and glared through the bars. For a moment their gaze held as each tried to stare the other down, until, finally, Angelus relaxed and a smirk twisted his lips. "What took you so long?" he asked.

Unwilling to concede anything to his twice blasted grandsire, Spike smirked back. "Wanted to give you a chance to do it on your own, mate. Only came 'cause I realised you weren't up to it." Snapping his fingers, he pointed at Jesse, then at the torch in it's bracket on the wall. "Keys!" he instructed. Jesse hurried over and retrieved them, returning to hand them to Spike. Stepping up to the bars, Spike grinned at his grandsire. "Promise not to bite?" he asked, facetiously. Angelus simply glared. With a soft snigger, Spike picked through the keys, trying each in turn until he found the one that opened the gate. "C'mon then," he instructed, stepping back. "Don't hang about."

Angelus lifted his arms to indicate the shackles and, smiling, Spike went over and unlocked them too, before preceding his sire from the cell.

Angelus stepped out after, Liam following behind, while Spike turned around looking for Xander. He was halted by Angelus, "Wait. What about the others? We need to free them too."

Xander was crouched down in front of the cage on the left, his face pressed close to the bars. With a look of scorn for Angelus, Spike took an exaggeratedly theatrical side step to the left and tilted his head, gazing past Xander to study the contents of the cell: a group of four humans, huddled as far back as they could get, clinging to each other. With a shrug, he took two steps to his right, so he could see into the cage on the other side of Angelus' cell. It contained a single man who sat like Liam had done, against the wall. Returning to stand in front of Angelus, Spike lifted his chin and stared him in the eye. "Why?" he asked. He gestured towards the first cell. "Take a look at them. They're broken! Nothing's going to make them right again." He strolled over to the other cage. "This one's interesting though." The man raised his head and looked at him. "How come you're not gagging at the smell and horror?" Spike asked. Looking more carefully, he felt his face shift, before he'd properly registered the impulse. "I know you!" he accused. "You're my escaped breakfast. 'S probably your fault I got put to all this inconvenience, in't it?"

The man held up his hands in a placating gesture. "I... I'd just like to point out that that wasn't my idea," he said, with a nervous smile. "But if you'll help me get out of here, I'll make it worth your while."

Just for the sheer fun of it, Spike smiled in a way that he knew exposed his fangs to their full effect as he sorted through the keys again. By sheer chance, he got the right one first go and twisted it in the lock. Removing the key and pulling the gate open, he advanced on the cowering figure, who started to panic. "No, no, no! Don't kill me, please," he cried. "My name's Ethan Rayne, I have some skill in conjuring, I can be useful to you. I can fix anything. I can help you."

"And just how, exactly, do you think you can help me?"

He felt hands settle on his shoulders and a hard young body press up against his back. "Pretty," Xander whispered, his soft breath tickling Spike's ear, too soft for the human to hear.

'Dru might like to play with this one,' Spike thought. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed that Angelus had drifted closer and was watching them with a scowl on his face.

But Ethan was speaking, "Just tell me what you want and I'll arrange it. I would imagine, for instance, that you're not flavour of the month with this little court, am I right? I understand about family and coming to rescue your sire, but..."

Spike interrupted with a growl. "Grandsire!" he corrected.

"Yes, yes, of course, grandsire. How could I have been so foolish? So you rescue him. But then Luke and his crowd are hunting you and following you and it all gets very tedious. I can mask your location."

Snarling, Spike snapped, "I'm not afraid of them!"

"No, no, of course not. But they could be an inconvenience, an irritant?"

Spike stood and considered the human at his feet for a full thirty seconds, then, without replying, he lifted Xander's hand from his shoulder, turned and walked back out of the cell, pulling Xander with him. Behind him, he heard Ethan scramble to his feet and follow.

Back in the central space, Angelus waited. "The others?" he asked. He seemed particularly sullen all of a sudden.

"They'd just slow us down," Spike objected.

Xander lifted Spike's hand to his lips and kissed it, before he let it go and slid back behind Spike, his arms circling Spike's waist, his chin propped on Spike's shoulder. Spike's hands came naturally to rest over Xander's. "Quick in, quick out, you said," Xander observed. "Shouldn't we be making haste out of here?"

Angelus' scowl turned into a sneer. "Haste makes waste, little man," he snapped.

Spike could hear the taunting smile in Xander's voice. "No, it doesn't! It makes for speed," he said, with infuriating literalness. "Come on, get with it, man. We came for you. Be happy. Let's eat and run, huh?"

Lifting one arm up behind his neck, Spike tangled his fingers in Xander's hair and gave his head a playful shake. "Angelus doesn't do that any more, do you?" he observed. "Angelus is all for saving puppies and kiddies and bunny rabbits, these days." Releasing his grip, he allowed his hand to stroke down over Xander's hair to the nape of his neck as Xander turned his head and laid a kiss under Spike's ear. Spike watched Angelus face harden further, his brows gather and lower over eyes that flashed momentarily yellow. If they weren't careful, they'd push him too far and he'd turn stubborn. Spike remembered that look. If they made him angry, Angelus was quite capable of refusing to leave.

Shaking his head, Spike gave in. "Oh, all right," he agreed, stepping out of Xander's arms. "I'll open the doors, but then they're on their own," he said, suiting his actions to the words. The gate swung open, but apart from a collective shudder none of the occupants moved. It was obvious they weren't going to, either. This clinging they were doing wasn't a natural reaction for humans. It was herbivore behaviour. Humans were usually too individual to cooperate in allowing the loss of one or two to protect the herd as a whole. Usually, they could imagine themselves in the place of the sacrifice and that didn't sit well. Usually. This lot weren't huddling as a protective device. This was evidence of how broken these specimens were. Spike stepped back from the cage and pursed his lips in disgust.

"Spike," Angelus said and it wasn't clear whether he was pleading or despairing. "We have to take them with us. We can leave them at the hospital."

"Bloody hell, okay, okay. Just shut up about it." Spike strode back into the cage, grabbed a couple of arms and hauled them away. Not even a whimper, let alone a screech. Yep, this lot were nothing now, their minds gone. He dragged them out and handed them over to Xander. "Hold on to this," he said. "And no snacking." Then he went back for the other two. A jerk of the head brought Jesse over to take them. Spike looked over at Angelus. "Satisfied now?" he asked. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted movement and reached out to grab Ethan's collar as he tried to slip past. "Oi! You take one of them," he said, indicating the load Xander was supporting. "You help us, we help you." As Ethan hurried to obey, Spike addressed his grandsire, "Told you, you should have eaten him when you had the chance," he observed. "Bet he was the one ratted you out." He swivelled on the spot, taking in the motley collection. "Don't suppose you'll reconsider now, eh?" He nodded past Angelus' shoulder. "Or that one. Looks like he'd make a fine healing meal." His eyes narrowed as he noticed something under Liam's raised collar. "Oh, but lookee here, you've already partaken." He felt the righteous indignation rising in his throat. "You're a damned hypocrite, you know that? 'Oh no, don't touch the humans' until you get hurt and need a boost to heal."

"It wasn't like that!"

But Spike was too angry to care about making Angelus stubborn and mad now. "Don't try to fool yourself," he yelled. "And, really, don't try to fool me! You may have a soul, but you're still the same underneath. It was exactly like that!" He turned to Xander and Jesse. "One each," he said. "Pass one over here. And we'll take the fourth one home for Dru." He caught the mutely whimpering meal Jesse shoved towards him and, as he sank his fangs into its neck, he watched Angelus turn away to stand between them and Liam, blocking the boy's view. He watched Angelus place his hands on Liam's shoulders and begin to whisper urgently to him. Spike couldn't hear what Angelus was trying to say, but he didn't miss Liam's instinctive flinch.





28 Escape

Prompt: 89 - Hot seat

Staring into Liam's eyes, holding his attention by main force, Angel knew he was pleading. "Don't watch," he instructed. "Please. You'll be safe. I'll make sure you are. I know it's a shock. I know it's wrong. But I can't stop him." Liam took a half step back, pulling himself free but didn't interrupt, just stared at Angel, as if challenging him somehow, his unfinished supper still clutched in both hands. Unsure what the look meant, or if Liam was even hearing him, Angel continued his attempt to reassure, "I know I said he was family. And he is, sort of. But he's not like me. I don't do that. I told you. I need blood to live. But I don't kill humans." Looking into Liam's eyes, he felt the pressure to explain the unexplainable, excuse the inexcusable. "What I told you before..." He hesitated to step closer, although the need to do so was almost overwhelming. "It was true. Everything. About my soul, about Xander, about finding other ways to survive." Liam was still staring straight at him and Angel felt uncomfortably like he was on trial. He'd never had to defend himself before. Never faced this hot seat situation, where everything he said could be taken the wrong way, if he wasn't careful in his choice of words. Silently willing Liam to understand, to wait, not to judge him, he injected all his sincerity into his voice. "Just wait until we get out of here," he pleaded. "I'll get you away. You won't die. I promise. I'll keep you safe." The sound of a body crumpling to the floor seemed to echo around the cave. "But I can't stop him," he admitted again. "He was my childe, but he's his own vampire now." A shiver passed through Liam's frame and he seemed to reach a decision. He raised the forgotten baguette and stuffed the last bite into his mouth, following it with a swig of the orange juice the big vampire had brought down to him an hour or so ago. Angel chose to interpret that as Liam doing his best to cope, to understand. "I'm sorry for them," Angel said, waving his hand vaguely behind him, while still making sure that he was the only thing in Liam's line of sight. "They didn't deserve this. No one deserves this. Please. Let's just get out of here. Once we're out, I'll help you get away. I won't let them hurt you. I promised, didn't I?" Desperate for any response, the feeling of relief when Liam's mouth twisted into a faint smile was enough to make him offer up a prayer of thanks. He reached out and pulled Liam against his shoulder, enfolding him in a hug. "It's okay," he murmured. "It's okay. It'll be okay."

Liam remained stiff for a moment, then with a suddenness that took Angel by surprise, his body relaxed. His arms rose to hug Angel back and he took a shuddering breath that ended on a hiccup, before he pulled himself free again. His eyes were solemn, but he nodded his understanding and Angel felt the tension leave his own body as he offered another smile of reassurance and admiration for Liam's bravery. "We will get out of here," he repeated, just to be certain Liam understood.

"Yeah, sure, man," Liam whispered. He broke eye contact then and glanced quickly around. "So, hadn't we better be going?"

No question, that was a necessity. Turning around Angel addressed Spike, "How did you get in here, anyway?" he asked.

Stepping over the bodies at his feet, Spike scanned the cave. "Dru had a plan," he replied. "She's led them all a merry dance by now. No worries. She won't let them get back too soon." His face took on that fondly indulgent expression that Angel had only ever seen when Spike was thinking of Dru. "They all left, except for the one guard and he was no trouble. But I don't want to go back that way. Don't want to leave any scents they can follow." He began to prowl around the walls, sniffing deliberately. "Torches stay alive," he noted, plucking one from its bracket and lighting it from the one by the entrance. "So there's air coming in from somewhere. Reckon the way out's past the charnel heap there. Come on," he said with a jerk of his head. To the minion he added, "You take Dru's supper off the sorcerer there. Clock 'er one and carry her. Can't expect her to walk, not the condition she's in." He began to turn towards the dark corner but apparently registered the minion's lack of comprehension, because with a sigh of exasperation, he strode back to Ethan's side, handing the torch to Xander as he passed. He jerked the last apathetic human out of Ethan's arms, punched her in the temple and tossed her across to the young vampire who caught her limp body and hoisted it over his shoulder like a sack.

Spike reclaimed the torch. "Right!" he announced glancing around the diminished group. "We ready now?"

The minion nodded enthusiastically, Xander snapped to attention and gave what he probably thought was a military salute and Angel reached over and placed an arm around Liam's shoulder, pulling him in to his side. Spike laughed at Xander and indicated Ethan. "Keep a close eye on that one, love, okay?"

Grinning back, Xander nodded and grabbed Ethan by the upper arm. "Sir, Yes sir," he replied crisply.

"This way, then," Spike said, spinning on his heel in a mockery of a parade turn and leading them over to the corner. Picking his way between out flung arms and legs, he skirted the pile of bodies and entered the darkness beyond.

Angel debated who he would rather have at his back, knowing that the minion would come last. Deciding that on the whole, he'd rather have the sorcerer where he could see him, he allowed Xander to hustle Ethan forwards next and then guided Liam after, keeping himself between the boy and the pile of bodies. "Don't look," he murmured. "Just a few steps and we'll be past. Can you feel the fresh air? Feel the breeze? It means there's a way out up here. Just watch the light and keep walking, okay?"

Liam nodded jerkily, keeping his eyes fixed on the torch as it dipped and flared, casting heavy shadows across the tunnel wall and sparking the occasional flash of reflected light from small crystals of quartz embedded in the rock. The walls were as rough hewn as the cave they had left, but the floor was fairly even and it didn't take long to get past the last of the bodies and into a clear stretch beyond. Rats chittered and squeaked around their feet, indicating that this exit was not regularly used by the occupants of the court, and gnawed and broken bones lay as testament to their reason for being there. Angel just hoped that the exit, once they reached it, would be big enough for them to get through. The idea of having to retrace their steps, and possibly having to fight their way out through the front door, was not an attractive one. However, the tunnel showed no signs of narrowing and it had obviously been created deliberately, so he concentrated on the intermittent wafts of clean, outside air and guided Liam as best he could in the semidarkness.

The light ahead disappeared as Spike turned a corner and Angel paused to look back. The faint glow behind them was almost obscured as the minion approached, his outline obscenely distorted by his burden. Angel felt Liam shiver beside him and tightened his arm in a reassuring hug, before resuming their walk. Rounding the corner, Spike's torch was in sight again and Liam relaxed a little, so Angel hurried them slightly, to get them closer.

Once they were nearer to the group in front, Angel was able to make out the words of the conversation he had been aware of between Xander and Ethan. "No, see, that's where you're wrong," Xander was saying. "There has to be a better reason than that. I mean, this town? How come no one ever mentions vampires? How come Xander went his whole life and never even knew they existed?"

"Very interesting, young man, the way you separate yourself from your human host." Ethan obviously caught a look from Xander because in spite of the tight grip Xander still had on his arm, he raised his hands and added, "I talk too much, I know." Apparently satisfied that Xander had accepted that peaceable gesture, he continued, "But I keep my ear to the ground. This place is famous, in certain circles. At first glance it could be considered mysterious, how it's survived so long, but there are power players here, keeping a low profile, waiting. More than just this vampire king his followers want to raise" He shrugged. "And lots of eyes watching from a distance, ready to swoop in when the storm breaks." There was a suggestion of a rueful smile in his voice. "I really should learn to wait too. But to be in on the first wave..." He sighed. "As the great man said: 'I can resist anything, but temptation'. On the other hand..."

A step or two ahead of them, Spike stopped. "Quiet!" he hissed.

Crowding closer, Angel could make out a branch in the tunnel ahead. Spike took a few paces into the one on the right, paused, returned and entered the other. Turning back to his companions, he jerked the torch towards the first tunnel. "This way," he said.

The tunnel sloped gently downwards and they continued along it in silence. The walls around them were no longer so rough and after a while the bare rock was replaced by brick. It looked old, by the standards of the area, but it was in good repair. They passed a number of other junctions, but Spike seemed more confident now and he didn't hesitate. After a further five minutes Angel spotted a ladder fixed to the wall. Pausing there, Spike handed the torch to Xander and climbed up to the iron trapdoor above them. It seemed to take some effort, but with a soft grating sound it shifted and Spike's stance changed as he lifted the lid slightly and peered out, turning in a full circle to scope the entire area above. Once satisfied, he bent down and spoke, "We're by the docks," he said. "Back alley behind The Customs House. Drop the torch, pet, and follow me up." Bracing himself again, he hefted the trapdoor over, so it fell open with a loud 'clang' and clambered out. Xander gave Ethan a shove towards the ladder and climbed up behind him. Angel helped Liam in turn, immeasurably glad when he was finally able to stick his head out into the cool night air, rich with the tang of diesel, salt and weed. The minion came last, still hauling the unconscious body of the girl they had liberated from the court's cells.

Xander left Ethan in Spike's care and pulled her up, allowing the minion to get out more easily. "Jesse, man, are you okay?" he asked.

The minion nodded in reply and Angel pursed his lips thoughtfully at the exchange, but he didn't have time to speculate on the nature of Xander's relationship with an obvious minion, Liam needed him. He was almost hyperventilating as he took deep lungfuls of air. Laying a hand on each of Liam's shoulders, Angel bent close. "I told you I'd get you out," he said. "But it's still not safe. We need to get back up town. So keep it together a bit longer and stay close, okay?"

Liam nodded tightly and wrapped his arms around his chest, rocking slightly.

Xander shoved the trap door back in place and Spike scuffed dirt roughly back into the slot around its edge. Then he handed Ethan back to Xander and set off along the alley, towards the centre of town.


~*~*~*~*~


Eleven days and finally Giles had reached the end of his 'to do' list for settling in: furniture bought and delivered, belongings unpacked, kitchen appliances in place, pantry stocked, books put away on the shelves, car acquired and driving test booked, so he could get his California licence. He'd arranged an interview with the headmaster and a tour of the school and he'd even managed to wangle a key, so he could spend some time checking the catalogue in the library over the summer months.

Mr Flutie was a harmless old bird and had gushed enthusiastically in response to Giles' apparent dedication to duty. He'd promised that Sunnydale High would soon feel like home and that he'd discover in the student body a family to be proud of. Giles had not had the heart to contradict the man, or to admit his own natural aversion to teenagers in general and en mass. He was simply thankful that the Headmaster was going back east for the next month, so he wouldn't be subjected to too much of his overpowering personality.

And now, for the first time, on this Saturday evening, Giles was free to do as he wished. What he decided to do was take a walk around town, to get a feel for the place after dark. It wasn't large, but it packed a tremendous variety of neighbourhoods into it's small space. In the natural course of settling in, Giles had already learnt the general layout. He knew where the docks were and the mall. He had found the street off the high street, which housed the small, specialist shops and he'd thoroughly inspected the public library. What he didn't yet know was where the trouble spots were. There appeared to be an inordinate number of churches in the town and a rather impressive number of graveyards. Giles decided that he ought to at least know which was which, in case he ever needed to be specific in his instructions to his slayer. Packing a large cross in each of his pockets, he straightened his tie and let himself out of his flat.




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