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It's the year 2009, and Angel unknowingly hires Willow's company to design a website for Angel Investigations.
Post Season 4/Season 1
Willow/Angel; Xander/Spike (Rated PG-13)






The Magic of Computers


by
Sabre Shadowkitten





Part One

Angel removed the telephone book from the bottom drawer and dropped it onto the fastidiously neat surface of his garage-sale oak wood desk. With a tiny furrow between his brows, he began to flip through the yellow pages in search of a company that would suit his needs. He knew he could ask Cordelia to chose one for him, but he wanted to do this now, today, and not next week when she finally got around to making a choice.

It was bad enough that he was giving in to the twenty-first century -- he didn't want to have to wait to do so.

Angel's eyes skimmed the multitude of entries on the yellow page. In the other office, he could hear his friend and secretary, the ex-Mrs. Fitzpatrick, Cordelia Chase, chatting on the phone to her three-year-old daughter. The muted clinks of fencing foils floated from the basement vent, accompanied by laughing and conversation from Wesley Wyndham-Price and Charles Gunn, Angel's friends and co-workers.

The ten years in which the four of them had worked together had flown by. It seemed like just yesterday that Cordelia had wrangled a job out of Angel, Rogue Demon Hunter Wesley had become Employed Demon Hunter, and Gunn had exchanged a favor for a favor.

The offices of Angel Investigations had undergone many changes over time, as well. So far, they'd been bombed, burned to the ground, destroyed by an earthquake, flooded, infested with termites, and skunked. Getting skunked had been the worst. It was impossible to get the stench out of leather. Angel was still pouting over the loss of his coat.

Their current offices were located in a quasi-seedy neighborhood in Los Angeles. The area was nice enough that paying clients weren't scared off, and downtrodden enough that demons and needy humans weren't scared off either.

Angel Investigations had an outer lobby/office, an inner office, and a small basement where Angel was making his home. Since they'd only been there a short while, Angel was sleeping on an army surplus cot, and his dresser, night-stand and desk were cardboard boxes. The rest of the basement was being used for weapons and book storage.

"Damn it," Angel muttered, glowering at the phone book. There were too many choices. What happened to the days when the choice was between Jack, the smithy and Jack, the smithy?

And why did Angel Investigations need a webpage, anyway? Okay, yes, the world was now dominated by dot coms and e-commerce... and they'd get more paying business if they had some form of advertisement... and their free services to those in need would also reach more people... and it was the twenty-first century...

Angel growled, closed his eyes, and jammed his finger down onto the open phone book. He opened his eyes and read the name.

Otherworld Technologies

1-888-555-1221

The dark-haired vampire hit a button for an outside line on the phone, dialed the number, then picked up the receiver. The line rang twice before an automated female voice greeted him.

"Hello. You have reached Otherworld Technologies. If you have a software problem or question, press one. If you have a hardware problem or question, press two. If you would like to speak to someone about webpage design or applications, press three."

Angel was about to press three as instructed when the next option made him pause.

"If you believe that your computer is possessed, press four."

"What?" Angel said.

"If you would like a symbol, glyph, rune, or other image defined, press five."

Angel blinked in surprise.

"If you have questions on computer magick, press six."

Angel slumped back in his chair, flabbergasted.

"If you are a vendor or in sales, press seven. If you have a complaint about one of our websites, press eight. To repeat the options, press nine. If you wish to speak to an operator, press zero. "

Angel's fingers hovered over the buttons on the phone as he mentally debated on pressing an option. Otherworld Technologies sounded like a company a vampire would call. But Angel wasn't just any vampire, he was an indecisive worrywort when it came to making non-life or death choices.

Think of it this way, Angel told himself as he forced himself to press three on his phone. If this company is messing with things they shouldn't be messing with, you can stop it. If they're not, they could be just the company to design a website for a souled vampire, a seer, an ex-Watcher, and a vampire hunter.

"Otherworld Technologies, Website Design, how can I help you?" a pleasant, confident male voice asked over the line.

"Um, hello." Angel straightened in his chair and cleared his throat. "I'm interested in, uh... putting up?... a webpage."

"Business or personal?" the man asked.

"Business."

"Occult related or not?"

Angel shouldn't have been surprised, after the options menu he'd heard, but he was. "Kind of both," he replied hesitantly.

"Bookstore, gift store, antique store or investigative agency?"

The vampire shook his head in amazement. "Investigative agency."

"Okay. Do you own your own domain?"

"No, renting."

The male chuckled, and a memory tickled Angel's mind. He didn't take time to delve into his subconscious, though, because the other man began speaking again.

"You do own a computer, right? And have Internet access?"

"Yes," Angel said. "Of course."

"Of course," an amused male echoed.

Angel scowled. Why did people treat him like he was a technologically impaired moron? He wasn't that behind the times.

And programming his VCR didn't count. No sane person knew how to do that.

"Should I send you some materials and examples of our website designs, or would you prefer to have an in-office presentation of what Otherworld Technologies can offer?"

"How soon would I be able to have that presentation?" Angel asked in return. He knew if he didn't do this A.S.A.P., he'd talk some sense into himself and forget about this website stuff.

"As soon as tomorrow at 4:00 p.m."

"Sounds good." Angel jotted down the name of the company and the time on a pad of paper.

"I just need your address," the male on the other end of the line instructed.

"5112 Ross St. Angel Investigations is on the first floor."

"Got it. A representative will be there tomorrow at four. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"No, that's it," Angel said. "Thanks."

"Thank you. Have a good evening."

"You, too."

Angel hung up, tore the top page of paper off the pad, stood and walked into the outer office. Cordelia was just finishing up her twice-weekly conversation with her daughter.

"All right, sweety. I'll see you on Saturday morning. Tell your father I'll be there when Super Kids comes on, okay?" Cordelia listened, and a large smile spread over her lips. "I love you, too, Jocelyn. Goodnight."

"How is she?" Angel asked after Cordelia had hung up.

"She's good. Vanessa," the name dripped with venom as Cordelia said it, "taught her how to count to ten on her fingers."

"Then, this weekend during your visitation, you teach her how to count using her toes," Angel said. "Which way do you think she'll like counting more, especially if you paint her toenails first?"

Cordelia sighed. "Yeah. That's an idea. Have I mentioned how much I love you and how much I hate Vanessa and Matt?"

Angel chuckled. "As a matter of fact, just recently."

The vampire ventured further into the office and handed his secretary the slip of paper. He gave her a small grin. "Guess what I did?"

"Decided to give me a raise?" Cordelia said.

"I gave you a raise when we moved," Angel perched on the edge of her desk. "You make more than me now."

"Angel, you don't pay yourself, so that's not saying much," Cordelia told him. She looked at the paper. "Okay, I'll bite, in the non-vampirey sense of the word. What's Otherworld Technologies?"

"They create webpages, among other things," Angel replied.

Cordelia raised her perfectly sculpted brows. "And what do they have to do with us?"

Angel sighed with exasperation. "I may be hiring them to make a website for us. For Angel Investigations."

"Really?" Cordelia smiled, picked up a pencil, and wrote the appointment on the calendar. "It's about time, old man. You're only, what, a decade behind everyone else?"

"Ha ha," Angel said. "Just make sure that you and Wesley are here for the presentation..."

"Because you don't know a thing about webpages," Cordelia completed. Angel glared at her. "Don't worry, Angel. We'll be here."

"Good."





Part Two



Otherworld Technologies was located in an quaint neighborhood near the Sunset Strip. The two-storey Victorian-style home had a shaded porch with a porch swing nestled into one corner. Both steps and a ramp led up to the wide front door, and a small brass placard was situated above the doorbell proclaiming the business' name.

Inside, the dark wood floor and pale ivory walls created a homey atmosphere. The furnishings in the front hall were a mixture of antique and modern, and a massive grandfather clock stood guard of those who worked and lived within the home.

Muffled music could be heard coming down the staircase near the end of the front hall. Beyond the staircase and slightly to the left was an open doorway that led to the kitchen. To the left and the right of the front door were identical closed doors.

The door to the right opened, and Willow Rosenberg walked out, her head bent and her eyes focused on a large stack of printouts in her hands. She headed for the kitchen, her orange gym shoes making no noise on the hardwood floors. Without looking up, she went right to the refrigerator, took out an apple, and bit into it.

"Hey, Will, just the redhead I was coming to see next."

Xander Harris's cheerful voice broke into Willow's concentration. She looked over at her best friend and coworker, and smiled. "Hi, Xander. What's up?"

"Presentation, tomorrow at four," Xander said. He caught the apple Willow tossed to him and took a bite beside the small chunk already missing from the fruit. "I wote it in yowr cawendawr."

"What type?" Willow asked, taking another apple from the refrigerator.

"Mowon," Xander swallowed, "The guy who called said he was renting a domain."

Willow giggled. "I love newbies. They're so cute."

The shaggy-haired thirty-year-old rolled his eyes. "Anyway, it's an investigation agency."

"Occult?"

"'Kind of,'" Xander used his fingers to air quote, "They investigate angels, and are looking to put up a business website."

"Got it." Willow bit into her apple and wiped her chin with the back of her pink sleeve. "Do you have any new examples you want me to substitute for the demonstration?"

"Yeah," Xander led the way out of the kitchen, through the front hall and to the door on his right. "I want to sub the Corbett page for one I just designed for Hicks."

Willow entered Xander's office and grinned when she saw a new full-color printout tacked to the wall. A black and white cartoon dog, with his tongue lolling out of his mouth, sat on the end of a double bed. The caption at the top read: "When I woke up this morning and realized you weren't here, things really looked dark and the whole world seemed stinking and rotten...

"Then the dog rolled off my face."

The floor in Xander's office was the only clutter free surface in the room. The room had originally been the study, and a built-in bookshelf lined one wall. The lower shelves were crammed with books of various thicknesses and colors, with subjects ranging from web design, to art books, to occult references.

The tops shelves and the hand-built two tier shelves that ran around most of the room were piled with toys. Electronic games, robots, RC cars, legos, koosh balls, obscene stuffed animals, obscene and non-obscene wind-ups, Happy Meal accessories -- anything that could be played with by a single person lined the shelves.

Willow walked over to the single window and looked out. She absently noted that the light on the lightpost at the end of their front walk needed to be changed.

"Wills, can you hand me a CD?"

The redhead went over to the drafting table that doubled as Xander's desk. A color 19-inch monitor took up most of the space on the surface. A keyboard and mouse tray was attached underneath the table and slid out when needed. A five-disk hard drive tower sat on the floor, with cords running from its back to a zip drive, scanner, laser printer, fax and modem.

"Here," Willow said, handing Xander a CD she'd taken from a new box.

"Thanks." Xander put the CD in the CD burner, his eyes never leaving the monitor. Willow watched over his shoulder with a proud smile on her face as he burned his new design to the CD for her. She never would have thought that Xander would become one of the best web designers in Southern California, but she couldn't be happier that she'd been wrong.

Willow had started Otherworld Technologies soon after graduating from UC Sunnydale. It had been difficult, at first, because of the mass influx of computer-related companies. But once she'd specialized her company to the occult-related, business had boomed.

In fact, business had become so brisk that she'd had to hire help. And out of the four dozen applicants for the positions of web design and hardware technician, she'd ended up employing two of the best surprises in the field -- Xander... and Spike.

"'Allo, pets," Spike greeted, entering Xander's office with his usual swagger and smirk.

"Hey," Xander said, not stopping what he was doing.

"Hi, Spike." Willow turned to face the bleached-blond vampire. She frowned when she saw a burn mark marring his cheek. "What happened now?"

"Nothing that the fire extinguisher couldn't fix," Spike replied flippantly. He walked up behind Xander and began to massage the younger man's shoulders.

Willow leaned against the drafting table and whined, "Spi-ike."

"Wil-low," Spike drawled. He chuckled at her glare. "Don't worry, luv. I was working on a new machine for Xander's exercises, not a customer's PC."

Xander looked up at Spike and scowled. "Who said I wanted a new machine?"

"I did," Spike replied.

Xander put his biker glove-clad hands on the wheels and jammed his wheelchair backwards into Spike. Spike quickly moved out of the way as Xander backed up and wheeled towards the bedroom attached to the office. "It's on the CD, Willow," the brunette said over his shoulder.

"Thanks." Willow's heart went out in sympathy at the flash of pain that crossed Spike's face.

The vampire glanced at her, then went after Xander. "Xander, don't do this..."

The door to the bedroom closed behind Spike. Willow sighed and chomped down on her apple. She knew she wouldn't see her friends again until the following night, unless she ran into Xander in the kitchen.

The two males had returned to her life unexpectedly. The last she'd seen of either of them had been at Buffy's funeral, six months after college graduation, until they'd shown up on her doorstep. That had been four years ago, and now she didn't know how she ever managed to live in the house by herself after Tara had left with Miss Kitty Fantastico.

Like Vikings, Xander and Spike invaded her home and her heart -- and her refrigerator -- and she loved it. They were her family. And a single woman at twenty-nine needed all the family she could get.

It wasn't as if Willow hadn't dated since her painful breakup with Tara. Six years was a long time, and after her initial misery had worn away she'd thrown herself back into the dating game. Men, women, human and non, she'd dated them all. In fact, she felt as though she'd dated everyone in the metropolitan area and halfway up the state.

Taking the CD, Willow returned to her office across the hall from Xander's. Her office was once the living room of the home, and her favorite thing about the room was a big bay window that faced the front of the house. Painted in pale pink and decorated with fantasy artwork, her work area was tidy, the books on her freestanding bookshelves in order by software application, her computer desk cluttered only with her current project.

The computer she had was actually comprised of three hard drives hooked together to increase the speed and memory. Her monitor was like Xander's, although whereas his held images most of the time, hers held lines and lines of code. A dot-matrix printer and a laser printer sat in their assigned corrals. Her modem, fax and phone lines were tied neatly and hidden behind several potted plants.

In the far corner of the room, next to the bay window, Willow had set up a permanent spot for her Wiccan supplies. A large roll of paper leaned against the wall, waiting to be spread over the floor to protect the dark wood during her circle casting. A trunk held magickal supplies, and her spellbooks had their own shelving unit.

Willow dug out the presentation disk and made the necessary changes as requested. As the file saved, she continued to munch on her apple as she returned her attention to the printout of code she was working on earlier.

The multi-lined phone on the back corner of her desk rang. Willow tossed her apple core into the trash, wiped her hands on her jeans, and placed the hands-free headset over her head. She pushed the button with the blinking light and spoke into the thin wire-like receiver.

"Otherworld Technologies, Software, how may I help you?"





Part Three



Willow grinned at the cardboard sign taped to the window that read: Angel Investigations. She remembered those beginning days, when her office consisted of a computer on a tv tray table and a garbage can for a printer stand. After shifting the three straps on her shoulders -- one for the laptop, one for the LCD Projector, and one holding a small projection screen -- she took a quick breath, put on her "you really want to give me money" smile, and opened the door.

A tall, well-built black man dressed in torn jeans, black t-shirt, and sporting a bandana on his head looked up from the newspaper spread across a dented metal desk. He looked to be about twenty-five, in Willow's estimation, but he didn't look like the type that chased angels.

"Hey," he greeted. "Can I help you?"

"Um, yeah," Willow said, extending her hand. "I'm Willow with Otherworld Technologies. I'm here to give a presentation and show you why Otherworld is the company to hire for all your computer needs."

"Nice to meet you, Willow," he shook her hand, "I'm Gunn. And that's a great speech you've got going there. If I thought that computers were actually useful, I'd hire you."

Willow's brows furrowed slightly, but her professional smile never left her face. "I see."

Gunn chuckled. "Come on. Everyone's in the back office."

Wondering if Xander'd heard wrong when he scheduled the appointment, Willow followed Gunn through a door, down a short hallway past a restroom and a storage room, and to an open door at the very end. She could hear animated conversation coming from the room before she'd reached it, and she felt butterflies take flight in her stomach. Even after five years, giving presentations to potential clients still made her nervous.

"Yo, Big Pale Guy, the computer person is here," Gunn announced.

Willow squared her shoulders, checked her smile, and entered the room. "Hi, I'm Willow and--" She saw a very familiar person stand on the opposite side of the room and she blinked in shock. "--and you're Angel!"

"Willow?" Angel's mouth parted in surprise.

"Oh my god, Willow!" Cordelia exclaimed. She stood, pushed past the frozen-in-shock vampire, and rushed over to give the redhead a quick hug. "I can't believe it's you!"

"Cordelia, hi," Willow said, snapping out of her surprise. She embraced the other woman. "This is beyond weird."

"You're not kidding." Cordelia stepped back and looked Willow over from head-to-toe. "I can see you still dress the same."

"Cordelia," Wesley chided as he joined them. He held out his hand to Willow. "Ms. Rosenberg, it is a pleasure to see you again."

It's the weenie!, Willow thought unbelievingly. She accepted Wesley's hand. "You, too. I mean, it's nice to see you again."

"I take it you know her?" Gunn asked Angel with an amused smile.

"From Sunnydale," Angel said, still staring at the redhead. "Like Cordy and Wes."

"Life's full of surprises, isn't it," Gunn commented. He clapped the vampire on the shoulder. "I'm outta here. We're expecting a shipment at the shelter and I want to get there before the locusts descend."

Angel nodded, and Gunn slipped out the side door, which led to the parking garage. The dark-haired vampire took a step forward, stopped and continued to stare at the redhead he hadn't seen in six years.

She's so beautiful, he thought, drinking in her lithe body clothed in a long-sleeved light-blue tunic blouse and an ankle-length navy broom skirt. Her red hair was chin length, parted on the side, and was in vibrant a color as he remembered. The years had done nothing to her that he could see. She still looked like a college student... who was currently staring right back at him.

Angel felt his cheeks redden and cursed the fact that vampires could blush. He wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his dark slacks, took another step forward and held out his hand. "Hi, Willow. It's great to see you again."

Willow closed the distance between them and took Angel's hand. Tingles ran up her arm when he closed his larger hand around hers. For some reason, her heart was pounding in her chest as she looked up at the vampire she'd not seen in years. "Angel, it's wonderful to see you, too."

Cordelia and Wesley exchanged amused looks as Willow and Angel continued to stand there holding each other's hands. "So," Cordelia said loudly, slapping her hand on her thigh.

Willow and Angel jumped apart as if burned. Willow blushed, ducked her head, and toyed with the cases hanging over her shoulder. Angel cleared his throat and looked everywhere but at Willow.

"How about that presentation?" Cordelia continued, returning to her seat. Wesley took the chair beside her at the rectangular folding table set up in the center of the room. Eight metal folding chairs were placed around it, four on each side.

"Right. The presentation." Willow set her cases on the table and started to unzip them.

"We don't need to see it," Angel said quickly, causing his coworkers to give him confused looks. He gestured to the redhead. "It's Willow."

"And?" Cordelia prompted.

"What do you mean 'and'?" Angel frowned. "It's Willow."

Willow giggled. "Angel, that's sweet of you. But I'd feel better if you based your decision on the quality of our work, not on favoritism."

Angel gave her a sheepish smile. "Sorry. You're right. Go ahead."

As Angel returned to his seat on the other side of Cordelia, Willow began her speech while she set up her equipment. "Otherworld Technologies was founded in March of 2004. Specializing in occult-related areas, the company has done over a million dollars worth of work in both the personal and professional arenas."

Willow inserted the demonstration CD into the laptop and pulled the correct files up. "Otherword Technologies is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, year round, because computers always decide to cause problems while Santa is trying to set them up at 3:30 in the morning, Christmas Day."

Cordelia and Wesley laughed, and Angel smiled. Willow clicked the mouse icon, and with the remote in her hand she began the Powerpoint slide show.

"The company is divided into three divisions: Hardware, Software, and Web Design. One technician operates each division, and each is one of the best in their field," Willow said. It was the truth: Xander and Spike could run rings around some MIT graduates. And she wasn't that bad, herself. "We build and sell our own personalized PCs, but we can fix any problem a store-bought PC presents, including computer possession, virus-causing hexes, and email or chatroom magickal attacks."

"Do you get many telephone calls in regards to, er, possession?" Wesley asked.

Willow nodded. "All the time. Most of them are panic calls because the computer isn't doing what the person wants it to do, rather than real possession. But we have had a few honest-to-goodness demon-possessed PCs we've had to perform exorcisms on."

"That's neat and all," Cordelia leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table, "but how about telling us some important information, like do you have any cute guys working with you?"

"Cordelia," Angel sighed.

Willow laughed. "Actually, yes, my website designer is right up your alley, Cordelia."

"Really?" Cordelia perked up.

"Uh-huh," Willow nodded, "In fact, I know you two would create fireworks together."

"Well, hook me up!" Cordelia said. "I haven't been on a real date in two yea-- weeks."

"Boy, I don't know, Cordelia," Willow said, hiding her grin. "Xander hasn't been in the dating game at least for four years now..."

"Xander?!"

Angel snorted and covered his lower face with his hand to hide his mirth. Cordelia shot him a glare.

"If I recall correctly, there were many explosive battles between you and Xander," Wesley commented.

"Stuff it," Cordelia told him.

"Uh, so, Xander is your designer?" Angel asked, pulling the conversation back around to the real reason they had congregated.

"Yeah," Willow replied. "And he's really good, too." The redhead returned to her presentation without hesitation. She pointed to the small screen where a web page was displayed. "As you can see here, he's designed sites that are very basic," she advanced the slide, "and he's designed sites that pull out all the stops."

"Xander did that?" Cordelia said, staring at the screen in amazement. She shook her dark head and slumped in her chair. "Someone please make note that this is the worst day of my life."

"Why's that, Cord?" Angel said.

"Because I'm very impressed by something Xander Harris did."

"You should see some of the screen savers he's done," Willow said. She shot Angel a grin. "He's got one where a certain Chosen One chases after vampires with a stake. Only sometimes instead of staking the vampire, they start making out."

"You're not serious," Angel groaned.

"Accompanied by bad seventies porno music," Willow added.

Angel dropped his head in his hands. "Perhaps I'd better rethink this website thing."

"Don't worry, Xander is a professional," Willow told him as she shut off the overhead projector. "He'll design a site specifically tailored to your wants and needs, and that's it."

"How can we be sure?" Cordelia asked. "I mean, we're putting our future money-making in Xander's hands. Do you know how wrong that sounds?" She turned to Angel. "You know, maybe we should try print advertising. Or stick to passing the business cards around."

"Why don't you come over for dinner and ask him yourself?" Willow suggested.

"Dinner?" Angel said, raising his head.

"Yeah," Willow warmed to the idea, "It'll be like a Sunnydale gang reunion."

Angel caught the excited light that shone in her eyes, and he found himself smiling widely at her. "That sounds like a great idea."

"Really?" Willow bounced once on her toes. "That's great! How about tomorrow night, say around seven?"

"I'll be there," Angel replied, meeting her pretty eyes squarely, his smile seeming to widen even more. Her happiness at his accepting her invitation seemed to radiate off her, and it made him want to throw his head back and laugh in joy.

Cordelia cleared her throat loudly. Angel looked at her, then past her to Wesley, who were both giving him expectant looks in return.

"Oh," Angel said. "Did you guys want to come, too?"





Part Four



"Isn't that a chick flick?"

Willow found her two housemates in the kitchen when she returned home after her meeting with Angel. Xander was sitting in his wheelchair at the kitchen table, a folded-over newspaper in his gloved hands. Spike was at the stove, dishing food onto two plates.

"Don't know, but it starts at eight," Xander replied to Spike. He glanced over at the redhead as she walked into the room. "Hey, Wills."

"Guys, you are not going to believe this," Willow began.

"Us not believing something?" Spike said. The blond vampire moved to the table, set one full plate down in front of Xander, and took his own seat. Xander put the paper down and grabbed his fork.

Willow retrieved a plate from a cabinet and dished herself some Chow Mein from the pan on the stove. "This time you won't," she said. "You know that presentation I just got back from? Angel Investigations?"

"Let me guess, they have an angel on staff," Xander said. He glared at Spike as the blond stole a carrot from his plate. "Hey, eat your own!"

"Much tastier if it's yours." Spike waggled his brows and popped the carrot into his mouth. Xander rolled his eyes.

"No... well, yes, they have an Angel on staff," Willow went on, joining her friends at the table. "But this Angel doesn't have wings. He has fangs."

Both men froze with their mouths half-open and their forks half-raised.

"You know, Angel," Willow said, misunderstanding their reactions. "The vampire with a soul. It's his investigation agency."

Spike and Xander exchanged looks, a wealth of information passing between them without a word being said. Xander stuck his fork in his mouth and Spike used his to move the Chow Mein around on his plate.

"So, what's the old sod up to these days?" Spike asked.

"Um, well, Angel is a detective," Willow said around a fork-full of food in her mouth. "A supernatural investigator."

Xander snorted.

"And get this: Cordelia works with him," Willow grinned, "and Wesley Wyndham-Price."

Xander's gaze snapped to Willow. "Cordelia? Chase?"

Willow nodded. "She looks and acts the same, from what I could tell." She frowned. "Although she and Angel seemed really close."

"Well what do you know, Spike, our ex's may be together," Xander said dryly.

"Makes me feel all tingly," Spike deadpanned.

"I could be wrong," Willow said. "They could just be good friends, like us."

"Am I supposed to do a webpage for them?" Xander asked, an evil smile appearing on his lips. Spike snickered, picked up his mug of blood and took a sip.

Willow scowled. "I don't know. If we're hired, I expect you to treat the job like any other. No funny business."

Xander smiled innocently. "Okay, I won't do anything."

Willow didn't believe a word he said. "Xander, I'm serious. I told them that you were a professional and that they'd have a page designed by one of the best."

"Did they believe you?"

"They will after dinner tomorrow night."

"Dinner?" Xander frowned. "I don't get it."

"I invited Angel, Cordelia and Wesley to come over for dinner tomorrow night at 7:00," Willow told him.

Xander's fork clanked on his plate. "You did what?!"

"I in- invited them over," Willow repeated, startled by his outburst.

"Great, Willow. Just super," Xander pushed back from the table, "Only count me out."

"But...," Willow trailed off as Xander wheeled out of the kitchen.

"And who do you think is going to make this dinner, Willow?"

Spike's voice was low and flat, and it also surprised the redhead. "I was, um, hoping you would," she said.

"I only cook for one person -- Xander."

Willow gestured to the plate in front of her. "You cook for me, too."

"No, I don't," Spike stated. "I cook for Xander, you just help yourself to his food."

Willow stared at him in shock. "But--"

The scraping of Spike's chair against the linoleum interrupted her. "Now, because of you, I'm going to have to sit through a soddin' chick flick."

Spike stalked out of the kitchen, leaving a confused redhead at the table. The vampire crossed the front hall, went through Xander's toy-cluttered office, and entered the bedroom.

The bedroom was once the dining room of the Victorian home. Converted after Xander's accident, the large room located between the kitchen and Xander's office and which at one time seated twelve comfortably, was windowless and carpetless. A queen-sized bed with oak-slatted headboard was pushed almost flat against one wall and was, as usual, unmade. A two-drawer oak night-stand was beside the bed and a small trash can sat next to it.

Two doorless closets had been built on either side of the bedroom door. Black clothing filled the closet across from the bed's footboard, and the other was filled with clothes in all the shades of a rainbow. A large black trunk sat on the floor at the end of the bed, padlocked shut.

The entire left side of the room was taken up by a conglomeration of nautilus equipment. Pulley weights and press weights made up one of the exercise machines. Beside it was a motorized exercise bicycle with shoe-locks on the peddles. The final piece of equipment, a stepper, looked like a Stairmaster crossed with a leg press.

Xander had levered himself from his wheelchair onto the padded bench of the nautilus machine and he was angrily doing bench presses. Sweat already coated his brow and stained his t-shirt wet. His biceps bulged with each press of the heavy weight, and he hissed in a sharp exhale with every one.

Spike closed the bedroom door and leaned against it with his arms crossed over his chest. "You shouldn't do that so soon after eating, pet."

"I'm not in the mood, Spike," Xander ground out, pushing up on the handled bar.

"We don't have to stay, you know," Spike said. "The witch can fend for herself."

"If we're not there, she's going to be unhappy," Xander said. "And when Willow's unhappy--"

"--spells get cast and I'm a bloody girl again," Spike finished.

Xander stopped, raised his head and raked his gaze over the blond vampire. A smirk tugged at his lips. "Then again..."

Spike was across the bedroom and straddling Xander in an instant. The vampire's hands covered the brunette's on the weight machine's handles, and he leaned forward and said, "What was that, luv?"

Xander's chocolate eyes twinkled. "You looked damn good in that little black dress, too," he said, then shoved the handles -- and, subsequently, Spike -- upwards.

"Keep it up, Harris," Spike warned.

"But you're heavy," Xander whined, his arms shaking slightly from the exertion. "What have you been eating, elephant's blood?"

"Cute."

Xander let the weights fall with a clang, and Spike was abruptly nose-to-nose with him. The younger man grinned. "I know I am."

Spike snorted in derision, dropped a quick kiss on Xander's lips and climbed off of him. The blond walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge.

Xander sat up, ran a hand through his damp hair, and sighed. "This is gonna suck."

"It's only dinner," Spike said. "They come, we feed them, they go away again."

"So now you're all for this?"

"You know me better than that."

Xander tugged at a thread on his ancient grey sweatpants and watched as the stitching slowly came apart. "I hate pity."

"Then get better clothes," Spike said.

A smile pulled at Xander's mouth. "You sound just like Cordy used to."

"Again with the chit comparison. Are you trying to tell me something?" Spike asked with a lift of his brow.

"Nah, I like your manly parts." Xander shot Spike a mischievous look. "But in that little black dress..."

Spike lobbed a pillow at him. "Bugger off."

"Come over here and I will," Xander said with a flash of a grin, throwing the pillow back.

"Cheeky bastard." Spike caught the pillow and put it back in place.

"Firmest around," Xander slapped his hips, "I've got a Grade A thirty-year old butt. Of course, my best asset--"

Spike groaned.

"--is always hidden because I'm stuck in this frickin' chair," Xander finished, giving the wheelchair sitting beside the exercise machine an hateful look.

"Good. I don't want anyone looking at that delectable arse but me," Spike stated as he rose and moved to the closet.

"Delectable? Was that the word on Sesame Street today?"

Spike took a bright orange shirt off a hanger, made a face at it, then tossed it to Xander. "Shut your gob and go wash up. I want to get to this picture on time for once."

Xander put the shirt over his shoulder, pulled his chair closer to the bench and levered himself into it. Using both hands, he lifted first one leg and then the other so his feet were resting on the footpads. He accepted the pair of khakis that was handed to him and dropped them in his lap.

"Give me five minutes," Xander instructed as he wheeled himself out of the bedroom through the door Spike had opened for him.

"Take ten. You reek."

Xander flipped off the vampire, and the blond's laugh followed him all the way into the hall. The rubber wheels made no sound on the hardwood floor as he pushed himself to the bathroom set under the stairs. He was about to wheel through the door into the remodeled bathroom when he abruptly changed course.

Willow was still sitting at the kitchen table with her back to him and a slump in her posture. "You said seven, right?" Xander said.

Willow turned quickly in her chair, a hopeful expression on her face. "Yeah, but you don't have to come. I should have asked first. I just thought you'd want to see them, too. I'm sor--"

Xander held up his hand, halting her apology. "Don't worry about it. We'll be here."

"Really?" Willow perked up, then immediately slumped again. "Will Spike cook dinner?"

"I think I can persuade him," Xander replied dryly. He shook his head at Willow's small cheer and rolled back to the bathroom.

Once inside the modified-for-Xander bathroom, with the door firmly closed behind him, he stared at himself in the low level mirror. He removed his gloves then his sweaty shirt, and he felt a brief flare of pride at the sight of his muscular torso. His arms were bulky from having to walk using his hands instead of his feet.

It took longer to remove his battered shoes, socks, and sweats. When his eyes caught his reflection again, the pride he'd felt fizzled into abject misery. Despite hours spent on the motorized exercise bike and stepper, his legs looked like twigs. Pale, useless twigs.

Xander turned his eyes away from the mirror in anger and disgust. Boy, he couldn't wait to see Cordelia and Angel again.





Part Five



"Do you want me to get out the straight-edge for you?"

Willow looked up at Xander's voice. "What?"

Xander gestured towards the kitchen table. "A straight-edge, so those forks you keep fixing will be perfectly straight."

Willow glanced down at the silverware under her fingers, started to straighten it a little, then snatched her hand away. She gave her oldest friend a sheepish smile. "You got me."

"Xander, come here and taste this," Spike said over his shoulder. The vampire, dressed in his customary black jeans and t-shirt, was standing in front of the stove stirring a pot.

As Xander rolled over to Spike, Willow made a final study of the plate-settings. She was certainly glad their kitchen table was made for six, although, with Xander's chair, the leg room under one end of table would be tight. She'd have to make sure she took the seat to Xander's left. Spike always sat to Xander's right.

Willow looked at the clock on the microwave and felt butterflies take flight in her stomach. Their guests would arrive any minute.

*Ding-dong.*

Or right now, she thought, nervously tugging on the hem of her pale green sweater as she went to answer the door. She looked around the front hallway she'd spent hours cleaning earlier that morning, took a fortifying breath, and opened the door. "Hi!"

Cordelia and Wesley stood on her front porch, with Angel standing behind them. "You're front light's out," Cordelia announced.

Angel sighed. "Cordelia."

"We're out of lightbulbs," Willow said with a grin. Same old Cordelia, she thought. "Come in, please. I think dinner's almost ready. I hope everyone likes salmon."

"Here," Angel said as he entered the house behind his friends. He handed Willow a chilled bottle of wine. "To go with dinner."

"You didn't have to do that," Willow said. Angel gave her a small smile and she felt the butterflies lift off again.

"This is a marvelous home, Ms. Rosenberg," Wesley commented.

"Willow, Wesley. Call me Willow," Willow told the bespectacled man.

"Willow," Wesley acquiesced.

"So, where's Xander?" Cordelia asked as she set her purse on the hall table.

"Right here."

Xander sat in the entry of the kitchen, his wheelchair taking up the entire doorway. His black "dress up" glove-clad hands rested on the worn rubber wheels. Dressed somberly, for once, in dark brown slacks and matching button-down shirt, he smiled tightly at them and said, "Food's on."

"Thanks, Xander," Willow said in the stunned and uncomfortable silence. He nodded once, backed the chair up and disappeared into the kitchen.

Willow looked from Wesley to Cordelia to Angel, frowning as they stared at the now-empty kitchen entryway. "Follow me. We no longer have a dining room, so we're eating in the kitchen. I hope that's okay."

Angel cleared his throat and forced the shocked expression from his features. "Of course it is. If we were having dinner at my place, we'd be eating in a basement on unpacked boxes."

Willow felt her lips curve at his awkward attempt at humor. "It's okay, Angel," she told him. She turned to Cordelia and Wesley. "Xander was in a car accident a couple years ago that left him paralyzed."

"How dreadful," Wesley said.

"Is he- is he all right?" Cordelia asked.

"Except for that whole not walking thing," Willow shrugged, "he has his good days and his bad, just like everyone else." She started for the kitchen. "Come on, let's eat. Spike's salmon is my favorite."

"Spike's salmon?" Angel asked as he followed Willow, with Cordelia and Wesley following behind him. "Is that a type of smoked salmon?"

"I don't know," Willow replied. "My cooking skills are centered around the freezer and the microwave." She entered the kitchen and spoke to the blond vampire setting plates of food on the table. "Spike, is the salmon smoked?"

"With my very own fags," Spike said. He looked past Willow and a sardonic smile appeared on his face. "'Allo, pops. Long time no see."

Angel came to an abrupt halt, causing Cordelia to bump into him. "Did I miss the stoplight or something?" she said, giving him a small shove before walking around him. She stopped when she saw Spike and arched her sculptured brow. "Willow, why is there a vampire in your kitchen?"

"She invited Angel to dinner, that's why," Xander answered from his spot at the head of the table.

"I meant Spike, lamebrain," Cordelia said with a scowl.

"Spike's a vampire!" Xander gasped and looked to Spike with huge eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Spike smirked. "Didn't want to spoil the mood."

"And here I thought there was a rattlesnake loose in the house."

Willow handed Spike the wine. "You'll have to excuse them," she said to her guests. "They don't get out much."

"Hey! We went out just last night and didn't see that movie. Isn't that right, Spike?" Xander said.

"One of the best sappy pictures I haven't watched in a while," Spike replied with a wink.

Angel, Cordelia and Wesley, who was standing partially behind Angel ready to fight, continued to stare at Spike as the blond put the wine on the counter and opened a drawer. Xander rolled his eyes and gestured to the other chairs. "Sit down, will you? I'm starting to feel like a midget."

"Yes, sit," Willow echoed as she moved beside Xander. "We're all friends--"

Spike snorted as he uncorked the wine.

"--and there's no need to stand on ceremony," the redhead finished, ignoring Spike.

The three guests looked tentative as they chose seats. Cordelia was about to sit on the other side of Xander when Spike appeared next to her and whispered in a threatening manner, "That's my seat. Find another."

Cordelia tensed, but replied caustically, "Geez, rude much?", as she moved to the seat at the end of the table, opposite Xander.

"Willow, why is Spike here?" Angel finally outright asked.

"Why wouldn't he be here?" Willow said in confusion. Then, it dawned on her. "Oh! I didn't tell you that Spike would be joining us, too. Sorry. I just didn't think about it because he's always here... which makes sense, since he lives here...," her hands fluttered in Spike and Xander's general direction, "...and where one of them is, the other usually isn't that far away..."

Spike and Xander both wore identical expressions of amusement as they listened to Willow. Spike walked to the table, poured some wine into Xander's glass and his own, set the bottle down, and took his seat.

"Anyway," Willow continued. "Spike works for Otherworld Tech, too, and since this is a sort-of business meeting, it's logical that you meet all the employees... Oh cool, this means I can take this dinner off of my taxes!"

Angel still looked concerned. Spike sighed exaggeratedly and yanked out the chair to his right. "Will you just sit down, pillock. I can't bite them, and I'm not gonna bite you. You'd leave a horrid aftertaste in my mouth."

The dark-haired vampire warily took the proffered seat. Wesley had taken the chair beside Willow and was cautiously examining the food on his plate.

Xander decided to get the conversation rolling before Willow became unhappy. An unhappy Willow-the-Witch had a tendency to cause his dinner to literally jump up and do the hustle. "So, Wills tells us you guys are super-dooper detectives. Have you solved any mysteries involving a wife's ex-husband's brother cheating on his wife with his wife's ex-husband's sister?"

"Xander, you really need to stop watching the telly," Spike told him.

"Actually, I think we did solve one of those," Wesley said. "Although the brother was a rather grumpy Bartyian demon and the woman he was cheating with resembled a Pekinese." He took a bite of his salmon. "Oh my, this is tasty. There's a bit of a zing to it."

"That's the picayune pepper. I learned that from Emeril. The secret's to add it to the lemon glaze while it's still whole and let the heat from the stove pull the juices out of it," Spike said, gesturing with a speared piece of salmon on his fork as he spoke.

"Who watches too much tv?" Xander teased. Spike made a face at him.

"Wait a second, you made this?" Cordelia said to Spike.

"Of course," Spike replied, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a vampire to cook.

"He even wore his 'Fuck the Chef' apron...," Xander grinned salaciously, "...and nothing else."

"Xander, language," Willow scolded.

"Sorry, mom." Xander dodged her swat and winked at her.

Willow shook her head and looked at Angel. "Angel, why don't you tell us what it is you do--"

"Besides ponce about like a foofed-up nancyboy," Spike completed for her. Willow glared at him. He returned her glare with an innocent smile. "What?"

"Aside from 'poncing about,'" Angel began, shooting a dirty look at the blond vampire, as well. "Mainly--"

"'We help the helpless,'" Cordelia chimed in. "That's our motto. I came up with it."

"Who could be more helpless than you three?" Spike said.

Xander suddenly grabbed Spike's wrist and squeezed. "Ix-nay on the pissing off the Itch-way," he warned, noting the angry glint in Willow's eyes. "I have plans for later that involve you and all your pieces-parts."

Spike nodded once and Xander released him. The thirty-year old gave Cordelia an apologetic smile. "That's a great motto, Cordelia. I like how you made it species-unspecified," he told her.

"I did?" Cordelia quickly recovered. "I mean: yes, I did. Since we don't just help humans, I thought it would be appropriate."

The conversation picked up from there, centering around Angel Investigations and leading into suggestions from Xander about a webpage design. Although Angel kept a wary eye on the now oddly quiet blond vampire seated beside him, he joined in the conversation with stories and anecdotes about some of the cases he'd worked on.

Eventually, the discussion turned into a game of "Do you remember...?" The bottle of wine was empty and the plates were picked clean. The tapers Willow had set in the center of the table had burned a quarter of the way down.

Spike leaned over to Xander and whispered, "I'm going to heave on all this soddin' togetherness if I don't get out of here soon."

"Go ahead," Xander told him. "I think you've suffered long enough."

"You sure?" Spike studied the brunette intently.

For a rude vampire, Spike certainly was sweet at times, Xander thought, a happy smile curving his lips. He knew Spike was concerned about leaving Xander's somewhat new and unimproved self without support. It made him feel all gooshy inside.

"Yeah. Get lost," Xander told Spike.

"I'll be upstairs if you need me," Spike said, then stood and addressed the others. "Well, I can't say what I think about this little stroll down memory lane without Willow turning me into a bloody chicken or something equally as fowl..."

Spike then strolled out of the kitchen to the accompaniment of groans and "boos!"





Part Six



Angel barely waited until Cordelia and Wesley had followed Xander out of the kitchen before asking Willow the question that'd been plaguing him all through dinner. "Willow, are you out of your mind?"

"What?"

The dark-haired vampire picked up two plates and joined her at the sink. "You invited Spike over for dinner!" he exclaimed incredulously.

"Not really," Willow said, frowning at him in confusion. "I only asked if he could make dinner."

"But for him to make dinner, he had to be invited over," Angel persisted.

"Angel, Spike lives here," Willow said as she returned to the table to continue clearing the dishes.

"He what?!"

Willow turned and gave Angel a questioning look. "I thought I already explained that."

"Explain it again, please," Angel said. "I must've missed the logic portion the first time around."

"Wow," Willow said in amazement. "You sound exactly like Cordelia. Or, at least, the Cordelia I remember."

Angel had the grace to color slightly. "Sorry."

Willow smiled. "No need. I think it's cute."

Then she blushed wildly and busied herself with the dishes.

Angel felt his lips twitch in the beginnings of a smile, and he moved to help her. "Why don't we start this thread of conversation again?"

"Okay," Willow agreed.

"So, Willow, why Spike is living under this roof and making dinner for people he obviously can't stand?" Angel asked.

"Well, about four years ago, Spike and Xander showed up on my doorstep with a big, black trunk and 'persuaded' me to let them crash here for a few nights," Willow began. She turned on the tap in the sink and raised her voice in order to be heard over the running water. "I hadn't seen either of them since Buffy's funeral and, after Xander passed the 'I'm-not-a-vampire' test and Spike proved that chip in his brain was still active, I let them in and they've been here ever since."

"Spike still has the chip?" Angel was surprised.

"Yep," Willow said. "Next Wednesday is his tenth anniversary with it. He's been stocking up on alcohol and plans to celebrate so hard, he won't be sober for a full month after he stops drinking. Of course, he might blow himself up first because he's storing the liquor in his office because he got too close to the alcohol with the soldering tools. I told him it was a bad idea, but Spike's Spike and he does whatever he wants."

"He wanted to make dinner for us?" Angel asked skeptically, as he handed her more of the dinner dishes.

"No, but Xander convinced him to do it anyway." Willow held up her wet hand, a joking smile on her lips. "Don't ask me how, because I don't know, and I want to keep my illusions that Xander is pure and innocent."

"Spike and Xander are together? Like a couple?"

"I would hope so -- they've been sharing a bed the whole time they've been here," Willow said, her eyes twinkling in amusement.

"Oo-kay," Angel dragged the word out disbelievingly.

"What about you?" Willow asked as she shut off the water and began stacking the plates in the dishwasher.

"Huh?" Oh, very eloquent, Angel, the vampire thought derisively.

"Do you have someone who's been sharing your bed?" The second the words were out of her mouth, Willow couldn't believe she'd said them.

"Is that the Willow-way of asking me if I have a significant other?" Angel said, one corner of his mouth quirking.

"That's the Willow-way of embarrassing herself," she told him, her face flaming and her eyes focused on the dishes.

Angel chuckled. "No."

Willow frowned. "No?"

"No, I'm not seeing anyone... yet."

Angel's eyes widened, then he quicky headed to the kitchen table to retrieve the remainder of the dishes. Real smooth, slick, he thought. Could I sound any more smarmy?

"Me, neither," Willow admitted, glancing over her shoulder at him. She quietly added, "Yet."

Angel almost dropped the wine glasses in his hands. He looked over at her, and when he met her shy gaze the floor dropped out from under his feet.

Willow looked away first and made a big production out of putting the silverware in the dishwasher. Her heart was pounding in her chest and the butterflies from earlier returned with a vengeance.

She couldn't believe she was flirting with Angel. She couldn't believe he was flirting back. She couldn't believe how sexy he looked in his creme-colored sweater and grey slacks!

"Here." Angel's soft voice came from behind her. Willow straightened and turned to him, but didn't look him in the eye. He held out the used wine glasses to her. She reached out to take them, and when her hands brushed his tingly tendrils snaked up her arms.

"Willow?"

"Um, yeah?"

Angel licked his lips and focused on a point on the wall across the room. "Would you, uh, like to go out with me tomorrow night? On a, um, date?"

"I'd love to," Willow breathed. Almost instantly, she swore. "Damn, I can't."

Angel had felt his excitement rise and plummet in less than a second, as if he was riding a carousel horse. "Why?" he asked, hoping he didn't sound as disappointed as he felt.

"It's company policy that employees can't date clients," Willow said, a forlorn note in her voice.

"Then I quit," Angel said immediately, startling both her and himself.

"Quit?"

Angel ran with the thought, uncaring that he was making himself out to be ten times the fool. "As of right now, I no longer work for Angel Investigations. If you have business with the agency, talk to the partners who run it, Cordelia Chase or Wesley Wyndham-Price. I'm just an unemployed schmuck asking a beautiful woman on a date."

Schmuck? Oh god, he was seriously floundering here. It was only Willow, looking scrumptious in a pale green sweater and long, black skirt. And her hair was falling just so over her face, making his hand itch to brush it back for her.

Willow giggled. "Angel, you can't quit."

"Why not?"

"Because I do," Willow replied. "Quit, that is. Otherworld Technologies now has a vacancy in its Software department. Know anyone interested in the job?"

Angel threw his head back and laughed. Willow joined in, and soon the two of them were practically rolling on the floor.

When they finally calmed, Willow's eyes were sparkling and, to Angel, they resembled green starbursts. A sappy comparison, but true.

The dark-haired vampire dropped his chin and reigned in his scattered thoughts. He tried to limit the number of times he made a fool of himself per day, and he was already past his quota. After taking a short, purposeful breath, he suggested, "What if neither of us quit and we go on that date anyway?"

"Be rebels? Buck the system? Stick it to the man?" Willow grinned. "I can do that."

"Then, it's a date."

"It's a date."

They stood there with beaming smiles on their faces until the beep of the intercom made them jump apart.

"Willow, tell Xander to turn the soddin' intercom on in his office," Spike's voice ordered from the speaker on the wall.

Willow rolled her eyes and walked over to the white intercom. She pressed the talk button and said, "Walk your butt down here and tell him yourself."

Colorful cursing about redheads and their parentage filled the kitchen and Angel chuckled. "I'll tell Xander," the vampire told her.

"Thanks," Willow said. "Spike's liable to be a real pain if he has to come down." Her brows furrowed slightly. "Although, that's not very different than how he normally acts."





Part Seven



Armed with the tiniest toolkit he'd ever seen, Angel climbed the stairs to the second floor of Willow's small Victorian home. According to Xander, Spike's office was the first door on the left.

The first door on the right was Willow's bedroom.

Ignoring his conscience, Angel stopped in the open doorway on the right. Willow's bedroom was soft, feminine, and a bit quirky -- just like Willow herself. The walls were painted a very pale peach and the carpeting was a light blue. A light oak mirrored dresser and a chest of drawers matched the light oak head and footboards of Willow's queen-sized bed. Stuffed unicorns, dragons and other mystical creatures, as well as thick candles of all colors and scents, were scattered around the room.

Angel started to take a step forward but pulled up short. He doubted Willow would appreciate him invading her bedroom, especially not with the illicit images flitting through his brain.

Quickly, the dark-haired vampire turned on his heel and crossed the hallway to the closed door with the small sign that read: "Otherworld Technologies Hardware."

Angel knocked once and opened the door. "Spike?"

"It's you. How lovely," Spike's dry tone floated to him from somewhere indistinguishable.

Angel entered the office and looked around curiously. Gutted computers, electronic equipment, and other hardware littered the two-room office that took up the entire left half of the second floor. There were winding paths between the large piles of disassembled machines and scraps.

A hefty stash of multicolored bottles of liquor was stacked in one corner of the room.

A motorized car zipped along the grey carpeting of one of the paths and stopped at Angel's toes. "Halt! Who goes there?" a tinny, robotic voice demanded.

One of Angel's dark brows raised as he looked down at the small car. "Cute."

"'Cute' does not have permission to be here," the robotic voice announced.

Then, the car shocked him right through his boots.

"Ow!" Angel exclaimed, jumping backwards.

Spike's laugh filled the office before the blond vampire came into view, wearing a pair of dark goggles around his neck. "Car, retreat," he said.

The car spun around and sped away from Angel. Angel watched it warily until it disappeared completely. "Where'd you get that car?" he asked.

"Made it," Spike said offhandedly as he pulled a pair of protective gloves off his hands. "What brings you up here, poofter?"

"I volunteered," Angel replied, suppressing his surprise at Spike's answer about the car. He held out the small toolkit. "Is this what you wanted?"

"Stupid boy," Spike sighed loudly and crossed to Angel. "I would've come down and gotten them."

"Xander didn't want you to have to," Angel told him. "Besides, I wanted to talk to you anyway."

Spike snorted. "Figures."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"The great white poncey knight rides to the rescue," Spike said scornfully as he took the toolkit from Angel. "Well, guess what, peaches, no one needs rescuin' here."

Spike turned and walked away. Miffed, Angel followed. "I'm not trying to rescue anyone."

"Right," Spike scoffed, dropping the toolkit and his gloves on a cluttered workbench. "You didn't come up here to play Daddy to Xander and Willow."

"Believe me, I'm not having fatherly thoughts about Willow," Angel said under his breath. Louder, he said, "I'm only curious and, okay, a little 'white knightish' about why you're here. I know you, Spike--"

"No, you don't," Spike interrupted firmly. "You don't know a bloody thing about me."

"I beg to differ," Angel said with a pointed look.

"Beg all you want, tosser, but it still doesn't change the fact that you don't know jack." Spike leaned back against the workbench and folded his arms over his chest. "The bloke you ran with over a century ago doesn't exist anymore. Time, Drusilla, you, and this chip in my brain have seen to that."

"That doesn't explain why you work for Willow or why you're in some sort of relationship with Xander," Angel said.

"I'm in love with Xander."

The blunt simplicity of the statement surprised Angel. "You're in love with Xander?"

"Is there an echo in here?" Spike said sarcastically. He straightened, picked up his gloves and walked over to an obscure creation of welded metal.

Angel followed the blond with his eyes. How the hell could Spike love Xander Harris of all people? Xander was... Xander. He was unable to keep the disgust out of his voice when he asked, "Why?"

Spike shot a glare at Angel as he put on his gloves. "Because he's Xander."

"I just can't...," Angel shook his head, "Xander and you. Together. Lovers. That seems wrong."

"Then it's been wrong for six fucking wonderful years," Spike said.

Angel still couldn't believe it. Six years? "How in the world did you two get together?"

A small, purely happy smile spread across Spike's lips. "He rammed me with his motor."

"He ran you over with his car?" Angel repeated.

"Yeah." Spike's eyes took on a faraway look. "And then he yelled at me for making him hit me."

"Let me see if I understand. Six years ago, Xander hit you with his car, yelled at you because he hit you with his car, and you fell in love with him," Angel said.

"You forgot the part where he threw my carcass in his boot and left me in there for days," Spike added, his smile growing dopier.

"No, can't forget that." Angel wondered if Spike caught Drusilla's insanity, and hoped that he wouldn't go nuts, too.

Spike shook of his memories, grabbed a piece of soldered metal and checked its hold. "Don't worry your foofy head, Angel. Xander -- and because of him, Willow -- are safe from me, even if this chip wasn't working anymore."

Now that Angel didn't believe. "Oh really? And why's that?"

"Are you blind, mate?" Spike stared at Angel. "Xander's in an effin' wheelchair. There's no way in me goin' to heaven that I'd subject him to an eternity of that."

The blond turned away and began tugging on the soldered metal again. "Xander's going to be a wrinkly old sod before he dies. And, then, he can only die in our bed with my arms around him."

"You're nothing but a romantic sap, did you know that?" Angel mocked.

"Bite me," Spike said.

"And catch whatever it is you have? No thanks."

Spike snarled at him, but said nothing. Angel studied the structure that Spike was tugging on. "By the way," he said. "What the heck is that?"

"A new exercise machine for Xander," Spike replied. "Which I was in the middle of building before you interrupted me."

Angel chose to take the hint. "I'll get out of your way then."

"Good."

The dark-haired vampire started to leave, stopped and looked back at his childe. "Xander Harris?"

Spike grinned. "Buffy 'The Slayer' Summers?"

Angel smiled back. "Touche."

The younger vampire's chuckle followed Angel as he left the office. Pulling the door shut behind him, Angel stared at the open bedroom doorway across from him. He told himself he wasn't going to go in there, even as his feet traversed the distance between Spike's office and Willow's bedroom.

Once in the middle of the bedroom, Angel's feet ignored his brain and slowly turned him in a circle. In his first perusal, he'd missed the stencil of five silver-blue dolphins jumping invisible waves on Willow's wall. A collection of thimble-sized candle-holders sat on small shelving unit made especially for them.

Angel moved over to the chest of drawers where several framed photographs sat on top. He recognized one that Cordelia also had which had been taken during their junior year in high school. In a stacked frame, a photo of Buffy, Willow and Xander was under one of a very young Willow, Xander and a boy he didn't recognize. There was a picture of Tara and a black and white cat sitting in the back of the grouping, along with a photo of two people who Angel assumed were Willow's parents.

Front and foremost were two pictures that looked to be the most recent. One was a five-by-seven of Xander and Spike, both shirtless, streaked with mud, and wearing matching devilish grins. Xander's arm was over Spike's shoulder and Angel could see Spike's fingers curled around the surprisingly well-built Xander's bare side. Happiness practically radiated from the photograph.

The second picture sent a frisson of want through Angel. Willow was standing in shorts and a t-shirt at the top of the steps in front of her home, holding the gold placard he'd seen on the siding by the doorbell. The sunshine lighting her and the angle of the photo indicated that Xander must have taken it after his accident.

And, because of the angle, Willow's toned and lightly tanned legs went on and on and on...

With a soft curse, Angel turned and walked stiffly out of the bedroom, feeling all the world like a randy teenager who'd had his first glimpse at an adult magazine.





Part Eight



"What about this one?"

Xander made a face as he looked over at the redheaded woman standing outside of her small walk-in closet. "It looks like something I puked up last time I was sick."

"Um, okay," Willow looked down at her print blouse, "I guess I won't be wearing this one."

As Willow went back into her closet, Xander leaned forward on her bed and snagged a pink shirt with cats dancing on it. He held it up and shook his head. "Why are you worried about what to wear, anyway? It's only -- excuse me while I gag -- Angel."

"It's only a date with Angel," Willow's muffled voice floated to him.

"So?"

Willow straightened a creme-colored peasant's blouse as she exited the closet. "Do you know how hard it is to get a date when you're an almost-thirty-year-old woman?"

"I'm gonna have to say a big no to that one," Xander replied with a lopsided grin. "Spike wears the skirts in our relationship."

Willow giggled. "Oh, I can so picture that."

"He's got the legs for it," Xander's face suddenly darkened, "whereas I have the legs for nothing."

"Xander," Willow said his name with concern.

Xander shifted on her bed, having been carried upstairs by Spike so he could help his oldest and dearest friend get ready for her date. He forced a smile. "Don't mind the cripple. Let's concentrate on you and your horrid taste in clothes."

"Look who's talking," Willow countered, allowing him to change the subject. "I'm surprised Spike hasn't burned some of your stuff."

"Oh, but he has," Xander said, gesturing for her to change again. "I caught him roasting marshmallows over a bonfire of my threads when we were in New Mexico. I even got ticketed for having an illegal fire, even though he's the ass who torched my stuff."

"New Mexico, huh?" The peasant's blouse landed on the floor outside of the closet. "That must've been during your 'Merry Adventures with the Undead Tour' before you ended up on my doorstep."

"Correctomundo." Xander looked out the window Willow had opened once Spike had left the bedroom. Dusk was already upon them, and the California sky was a hazy dark purple color. It was such a vast contrast from the pure blue of the New Mexican sky from his memories. "I told him that I loved him for the first time that same week."

"Before or after his pyrotechnics?" Willow asked curiously, exiting the closet again. She pulled on the hem of a faded purple fringed silk cowboy shirt, sighed when Xander shook his head negatively, and went to try again.

"After," Xander replied. "Which means I really had it bad, because he burned everything but what I was wearing and a light blue tank that he said I looked sexy in."

"I wish I could find something that I looked sexy in right now," she grumbled.

"I'd come over there and pick something for you, but the only rug burns I tolerate are ones I get from Spike--"

"Virgin ears! Virgin ears!" Willow held her hands over her ears as she stepped back into the bedroom. "Don't sully me with your dirty talk."

Xander chuckled. "Okay. I won't discuss the size of Spike's--"

"Xander!"

"What?" Xander smiled innocently.

Willow sighed and shook her head. "You're impossible."

"I'm also illogical, unbelievable and hopeless," Xander added. He looked her over from head to toe. "And you look like a hooker."

The redhead made a sound of distress and looked down at her outfit. "I do not."

"Wills, trust me, that's not a first date dress," Xander told her. "That's a 'we've-been-out-several-times-and-now-I-want-you-to-boink-me-blind' dress." He frowned. "Unless you're hoping that Angel wants to screw you silly tonight."

Willow blushed furiously and fled back into the closet. The little red dress landed at Xander's feet with an embarrassed, "Get Spike to burn that!"

"Hey, Willow," Xander began as he stretched forward and snared the clingy dress. "You do realize that Angel still has that whole curse thing going for him."

"Uh-huh."

"I mean, I know this is just a single date, and your first one at that, but we all remember what happened last time Angel got lucky," Xander said.

"Xander, I'm not going to sleep with Angel tonight," Willow commented from the closet. "And I'm not going to worry about what may happen down the road. This may be my one and only date with him, and I just want to enjoy the company of a handsome, enigmatic man."

"I'm handsome and automatic," Xander said.

"Enigmatic," she corrected. "And yes, you are. But you're also in a long-term relationship with someone who loves you completely. I, on the other hand, am seriously lacking in the companionship department."

"Still, Angel?" Xander ventured.

"I like Angel," Willow said as she stepped back into the room. "I always have in a 'he's my best friend's not-boyfriend so he's off limits' kind of way. But Buffy's been gone for awhile now, and I don't think she'd mind if I went on a date with him." She gestured to her clothes. "What about this?"

"Pure Willow," Xander replied sincerely. "Caring and carefree all at the same time."

Willow beamed. "Xander Harris, if you weren't spoken for, I'd snatch you up just like that," she said with a snap of her fingers.

"Nah, I wouldn't want you to have to deal with the Wheeled Wonder," Xander said with a self-depreciating smile. "I don't want to subject anyone to pitiful ol' me."

"Why do you do that?" Willow asked as she walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. She tucked one of her legs under her and studied him.

Xander was about to respond flippantly, but changed his mind. He looked out the open window into the darkening night and answered with quiet honesty, "If I put myself down first, it doesn't hurt as much when others do it."

Willow reached out and put her hand on Xander's leg. "I wish you wouldn't. You're a wonderful person, Xander."

The brunette looked back at her, saw where her hand was, and laughed mirthlessly. "If you say so, Will."

Willow frowned at him. "I--"

"Don't you have a date to finish getting ready for?" Xander interrupted. He made a shooing motion. "Go do whatever it is women do in the bathroom. I want to see the finished beauty before Angel gets here."

"Okay," Willow squeezed his leg and rose, "but we'll have this conversation again, soon."

Xander nodded and kept the fake smile on his face until she left the bedroom. Once she was gone, he slumped back against the headboard. He looked at his leg where her hand had been and snorted in disgust. He hadn't even felt her hand resting there.

"All right, Incapacitated Boy, stop feeling sorry for yourself," Xander said out loud, returning his gaze to the window. "You may not be able to walk, but you get laid regularly. How many other thirty-year-old men can say that?"

"Only ones who have a vampire lover, pet," Spike answered as he entered Willow's bedroom.

Xander gave Spike a tender smile. "Hey you. I thought you were going to stay holed up in your office until I buzzed."

"It's funny," Spike said as he put his hands flat against the headboard on either side of Xander's head. "I suddenly had this unbelievable need for Xander kisses."

"Are those anything like Hershey's Kisses?" Xander teased, his dark eyes lighting up with delight.

"Huh-uh," Spike leaned closer to Xander, "Xander kisses are much nummier."

Xander's small laugh was swallowed by Spike's mouth pressing intimately to his. The brunette sighed contentedly and relaxed under the gentle assault. Spike's firm lips brushed back and forth over his, sending familiar tendrils of longing to the area below his waist that worked quite fine.

The brunette raised his hands and slid them along his lover's t-shirt-clad sides. Spike's lean body never failed to turn him on. He groaned softly when the blond's tongue slipped between his lips to lightly tangle with his own. His heartbeat picked up in pace when he heard Spike's quiet growl of yearning.

Xander squeezed Spike's sides, and Spike broke the kiss. Questioning blue eyes met desirous brown. The need to be touched and touch in return filled Xander, and he whispered a bit hoarsely, "Let's go downstairs."

Spike's mouth curved into a loving smile. Without a word he straightened, scooped Xander up in his arms, and headed out of Willow's bedroom.

"Okay, Xander, what's the verdict?" Willow asked as she entered her room a few minutes later.

An empty spot on the bed was her response.

Willow huffed, walked over to the mirror above her dresser, and examined herself critically. "Well, Wills," she spoke to her reflection in as deep of a voice as she could fake, "I don't have an opinion anymore. I'm busy basking in my Spikey-lovin' while you waste away in spinsterhood misery. Maybe you should have worn the hooker dress after all. Have a last hurrah before you start adopting cats."

The doorbell chimed and Willow jumped. Her cheeks began to flame and her palms immediately felt damp as her wide green eyes met her reflection. "I have to go now. My -- eep! -- date's here."

Her reflection gave her a terrified look. Willow swallowed back her nervousness, grabbed her purse off the dresser, and hurried to answer the door.





Part Nine



Edible. That's how Willow would describe Angel dressed in a pale grey button-down shirt, dark grey jacket and dark grey chinos -- simply edible. She couldn't stop staring at him, and the butterflies were back and doing the rhumba because of how attractive he looked.

Angel seemed to be devouring her with his eyes, as well. Her ankle-length dark blue shift, with scooped neck and tied at the waist, must've been a good choice from the way he kept looking at her. Willow felt as though her cheeks had developed a permanent blush because of Angel's appreciative gaze.

Angel had brought her to The Cosy Cafe, a small bistro on the Strip that catered to the middle class crowd. She'd been to the cafe a few times since it opened, and really liked their zesty chicken. It was very... zesty.

Angel had ordered a meal for himself, too, although he mostly pushed it around his plate. Willow noticed but refrained from commenting. She knew that vampires didn't need to eat people food, and most normal vampires didn't like it at all. Spike was an exception. Then again, Spike wasn't normal.

Then again, Spike was an exception to most rules these days

"I don't think you would've liked Beth," Angel said as he set his fork down. They were filling each other in on the past six years, including their significant others or lack thereof, as they ate. They had touched briefly on Angel's curse, and on how he'd learned to get around it and still have a relationship with someone.

"Really? Why?" Willow asked.

"She was very blunt and had a low tolerance level for other people. I don't even think she really liked me," Angel replied. He gave her a joking half-smile. "She just wanted me for my body."

"I can understand that," Willow said without thinking. Her eyes went round when Angel chuckled. "Oh my goodness, I can't believe I said that out loud."

"Well, even so, it's appreciated," Angel told her, his smile growing.

"I'm just going to eat my zesty chicken now." Willow dropped her chin and speared her food with vehemence.

Angel chuckled again. Willow glanced at him through her lashes as he sipped his coffee. His hands were cupped around the mug, and she couldn't help but notice how large they were. Very manly. She wondered if they would entirely cover her breasts, then blushed furiously at the direction her thoughts had taken her. She cleared her throat and ventured back into conversation.

"So, uh...," Willow wracked her brain for a safe non-naked topic, "...What's your favorite movie?"

"It's A Wonderful Life," Angel replied. "For obvious reasons: it's about second chances. You?"

"It used to be Some Kind of Wonderful," Willow said. "One of the heroines in that was in love with her best friend, and he didn't have a clue." She grinned. "Sound familiar?"

Angel chuckled. "A bit."

"Now, though, it's The Matrix." Willow gestured emphatically with her fork. "I know it came out almost a decade ago, but that movie was so cool, and it made you think, too."

"I've seen it," Angel told her. She looked surprised, so he explained. "When Cordelia was pregnant with Jocelyn, she was confined to her bed for the last few months. Wesley, Gunn and I used to sit and watch movies with her while Matthew was 'out.'"

The way he sneered when he said Matthew's name gave Willow the hint that Cordelia's ex was lower than dirt. She felt empathetic towards the other woman. The redhead could remember, quite easily, the number of slimeballs she'd dated over the years.

"Tell me more about your business," Angel said, changing the subject. "Do you like being your own boss?"

"Yes, I do," Willow said. "It's hard to force myself to get to work sometimes, though. There are days I just want to stay in bed."

Angel had no trouble conjuring up Willow in bed, her red hair mussed, the white sheet pooling around her waist and baring her unclothed body to him. He cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. "That, uh, happens to me sometimes, too."

"Although recently, I've been pretty busy," Willow said. "I was hired to debug a new word processing program and it's a complete mess. I've only gotten a quarter of it done, and I've had the job for two months now."

"Do you have a deadline?" Angel asked.

Willow nodded. "December 15. The company wants to put it out before Christmas."

"I'm surprised you're not more worried," Angel said.

"I won't start panicking until December first rolls around," she told him. "If I still don't have it done by then, buy a hundred shares of Taster's Choice Chocolate Mocha because their stock will be going way up."

"For me, it's Flint's Polish." Angel set down his mug, a sheepish expression crossing his face. "When things get down to the wire, I tend to polish things. Swords, knives, revolvers, kitchen silverware..."

Willow giggled. "Well, next time crunch time comes around for you, come over to my house. I have a silver serving set that could use a cleaning."

"You're on." Angel leaned forward and, with his finger, lifted the small pendant of a willow tree that was around her neck. "And I'll polish this, too."

The redhead felt her heart pounding in her chest and her skin tingled where Angel's finger touched her bare skin. "Um, okay," she breathed.

Angel rubbed his thumb over the silver, but his eyes were focused on Willow. The space between them crackled with attraction. Angel lightly pulled on the chain, rising from his seat to lean further over the table at the same time. He felt the whisper of Willow's warm breath against his lips before he pressed his mouth over hers.

Trilling filled the air, like a bird's song. Angel's lips brushed back and forth over Willow's, enjoying the softness of her mouth under his. The delicate scent of her perfume invaded his senses, reminding him of springtime after a light rain, fresh and flowery. The bird trilled again, as if it were singing its song for them.

"Phone," Willow whispered into the kiss.

"Hmm?" Angel hummed against her mouth.

"Phone," she repeated throatily.

Angel reluctantly pulled away and opened his eyes. Her softly swollen moist lips were the first thing he saw, and he immediately wanted to kiss them again. Then he heard the trilling and what Willow'd said sunk into his muddied brain -- his cell phone was ringing.

With a silent groan of disappointment, he released her necklace and sat back down in his seat. He pulled his cell phone from the inside pocket of his jacket, opened it, and practically growled, "What?"

Willow pressed her hand against her stomach, trying to calm the fluttering inside. She licked her slightly tingling lips and rubbed them together. Angel had kissed her!

"I'll take care of it," Angel said into the phone before he disconnected. He gave Willow an apologetic look as he tucked the cell back into his pocket. "I have to go. Cordelia had a vision and--"

"You don't have to explain," Willow interrupted. "I understand."

Angel stood, rounded the table, captured her chin and placed a quick kiss on her mouth. "I'll call you," he murmured.

"'K," Willow said, and then Angel was gone.

The redhead sighed and cupped her chin in her palm, staring at the space Angel had occupied. Most times when men said they'd call her, it was a polite brush off. With Angel, she knew he was telling the truth -- he would call her.

Willow sighed again. She couldn't wait--

"Here you go, ma'am," the young waiter said as he laid a closed bill folder on the table. "I'll take it whenever you're ready."

--because Angel owed her a dinner!



*****



Spike was sitting on the top step of the porch, clad only in threadbare jeans and smoking a cigarette, when Willow came up the front walk. The blond vampire gave her a quizzical look. "Where's the poof?"

"Cordelia had a vision, so he had to go," Willow replied.

Spike's snort explained what he thought of that. Willow climbed the steps, pulled her dress in, and sat down beside him. "How's Xander?"

"Well-fucked."

"I meant emotionally, silly," she said with a roll of her eyes. "He seems a bit down lately."

Spike took a long drag off his cigarette before answering. "It's time for his checkup again."

"Oh," Willow said with understanding. She knew from experience that the doctor was going to tell Xander the same thing he always did: no change. "When is it?"

"Thursday." Spike crushed the end of his cigarette on the porch. "I'm going to need you to take him."

"Of course."

Spike didn't thank her, but she hadn't expected him to. He fiddled with the cigarette butt for a few moments, and Willow sat peacefully beside him, listening to the crickets and the muted sounds of traffic.

"Willow," Spike began quietly. "Do you think he still wants me around?"

"Why wouldn't he?" Willow responded, surprised by the question.

"Because I was once paralyzed like him and I healed," Spike flicked the cigarette but away, "and he never will."

"Spike, Xander loves you," Willow said softly.

"That doesn't mean he doesn't resent me."

"He doesn't," Willow reassured him.

Spike started to play with a thread on his jeans, twining and untwining it around his finger. Willow waited, knowing there was more. It wasn't often that the blond vampire confided in her, so she was more than willing to sit patiently until he went on.

"I dogged Xander for months, you know, before we got together," he began, twisting the thread between his thumb and forefinger. "At first, it was just a bloody game. 'Let's see how long it takes to get into Xander's shorts.' For weeks and weeks I did my damndest to seduce him, and he rebuffed me every time," he mimed a panicked Xander, "'No, get away, you undead queer. My man parts only like woman parts.' His protests only made the challenge sweeter."

Spike raised his head and looked off in the distance. "Then, one night, he plowed into me with his motor. I thought the little bastard did it on purpose, especially since he climbed out of the motor and immediately started screaming at me. 'Are you blind or something? Didn't you learn to look both ways before crossing the street? Or did you think the headlights meant you should jump in front of my car?'" he mimicked.

"I was still lying in the street when he stomped over to me, ranting like a loon the entire time. Then, he suddenly stopped and stared down at me. 'Spike?' he says, and that's when I realized he hadn't known it was me." An affectionate smile spread across Spike's face. "Xander had been spoutin' off even though I could've been some human he'd hit."

Willow was surprised. That didn't sound like Xander behavior, she thought. Then again, she sometimes yelled through her closed window at accident scenes for causing a bad traffic jam, so who was she to judge.

"I thought for sure he was going to start screeching again," Spike went on. "But he didn't. Instead, he picked me up, opened the boot and tossed me inside like I was nothing but a bloody sack of potatoes."

Spike shook his head, the smile still playing on his lips. "He left me in there for three days. I couldn't believe the knackers on the boy. I was all set to rip him a new one when he finally opened the boot again, pain or no pain. But he shot that plan to hell when he opened the boot and said: 'One date. Three hours. No touching.'" The blond laughed.

"That cheeky plonk runs me over with his motor, yells at me, throws me in his boot for three days, and then, without so much as an apology or even an embarrassed look, he tells me we're going on a date!" Spike released a small sigh. "Right then and there, I fell head-over-effin'-heels in love with him. Four or so months after that he told me he loved me back, and my unlife hasn't been the same since."

Willow smiled. "In an odd way, that's a very romantic story."

Spike made a sound of derision. "Pathetic is how I'd describe it."

"I don't think so," Willow countered.

"Yeah, but you chose to go on a date with my wanker of a sire," Spike said.

She frowned. "What's does that have to do with anything?"

"Pathetic never recognizes pathetic."

Willow lightly smacked him on the arm as he laughed. "Oh, you... frag-a-raga," she grumbled, good-naturedly.

Spike fell silent after a few more chuckles. He looked off into the distance again, a worried frown creasing his brow. When he finally spoke, there was a pained note to his whisper. "Pathetic or not, I don't want to lose him, Willow."

"Talk to him, Spike," Willow told him. "I know it's not what men normally do, but it may help allay your fears."

"I'm not afraid of anything," Spike said abruptly. He rose with his usual leonine grace and went into the house, closing the door behind him with a small slam.

Willow sighed loudly and shook her head. Men! She would never understand them. The only thing they were good for was opening stubborn jars and sex.

An image of her lying on the kitchen table, with Angel moving against her while opening jar after jar appeared in her mind. Blushing wildly, Willow quickly stood and rushed into the house. Some thoughts were simply to indecent to be having on her front porch.





Part Ten



"Sorry about that," Willow apologized after clicking back to Angel when she'd concluded her call on the other line.

"No problem," Angel said over the phone. "I didn't mind waiting."

Willow could hear the unspoken "for you" and the smile in Angel's voice, and it made her heart flutter. She was beginning to really like that feeling, just as she was beginning to really like the brunette vampire in a serious way.

They had spoken on the phone for several hours every day since their first date, and had seen each other almost every day as well. They'd gone to dinner, the movies, a cabaret, and on a carriage ride that had culminated in kisses that had left Willow breathless.

Willow had no reservations in accepting date after date with Angel, despite her looming deadline and other work. She was the boss; she could play hooky if she wanted. A piece of mental duct tape was slapped over her guilty consciousness' mouth, and she ignored the ribbing she got from her two employees.

Normally, Spike would have barged into her bedroom by now, or Xander would have buzzed her on the intercom, with some asinine question simply because she was on the phone with Angel. She easily put up with their antics because she was floating on Cloud Nine most of the time, even though their actions were more than a bit annoying.

Today, however, Xander was keeping an eye on an exceedingly plastered blond vampire. Spike had begun celebrating the tenth anniversary of having the chip in his head precisely at midnight. By three in the afternoon he'd consumed half of his liquor stash. Willow had hid in her office for most of the day, until a very drunk Spike had stumbled downstairs in search of his "Xandy." Then, she'd wisely taken refuge in her bedroom, leaving Xander to take care of his boyfriend.

Spike's drunkenness was actually sort of a good thing, in Willow's opinion. Xander was focused on making sure the bleached blond didn't do something stupid, like venturing outside during the day, which meant that her oldest and dearest friend wasn't focused on his paralysis. Depression had settled heavily over Xander after his last doctor's appointment, and Willow hoped that babysitting Spike would pull Xander out of it.

Willow glanced at the time as she fixed the pillows propped against her headboard. It was 8:15 p.m. She'd been on the phone with Angel for over two hours now. Shame on her.

"So, let's see, where were we?" Willow picked up a folded-over magazine from the bed beside her and pulled a pen from behind her ear. She and Angel had been taking a compatibility quiz when she'd received another call on her private line. "What's your favorite color?"

"Sky blue," Angel answered without hesitation.

"I thought, for sure, you were going to say black," Willow said with a grin.

"Can you picture me wearing sky blue?"

"Good point." Willow giggled. "Okay, my favorite color is soft pink." She wrote in her answer and moved onto the next question. "Favorite tv show?"

"Name that Hedgehog," Angel replied.

"Oh my goddess, really?!" Willow said. "That's mine, too! Did you see the episode where the hedgehogs played the Partridge Family?"

"Of course," Angel said. "Gunn's daughter, Ronnie, and I watch it every Saturday morning, religiously."

Angel had told Willow about his Saturday morning babysitting job for Gunn and his wife, Tanisha, while the couple worked breakfast at the shelter they ran. The idea of Angel in a rocking chair with a little girl sitting on his lap, rocking as they watched television, made Willow feel gooshy inside.

"Xander and I watch it every Saturday, too," she told him. "Though I'm usually just getting up, and he's planning on going to bed after the show."

"Spike doesn't watch?" Angel asked curiously.

"No," Willow said. "The only thing he watches is soccer when some English team is playing. Then I can hear him screaming at the television all the way outside. Xander thinks it's amusing."

"And you don't," he surmised.

"It's very... loud." Willow sighed. "I have the strangest roommates."

"You're just realizing this now?" Angel said dryly.

"Okay, so I'm really a blond," Willow responded. "You caught me red-handed."

Angel groaned. "That was so bad, Willow."

Willow tittered, then cleared her throat. "Quiz now," she crinkled the magazine in order for Angel to hear it over the phone, "there's ten more questions awaiting our answers."

"Shoot."

"Um... number eleven," Willow read. "Name a type of clothing."

"Dungarees," Angel replied almost immediately.

Willow's sculpted brow went up. "That was a quick answer."

Angel coughed and mumbled, "I'm looking through a J Crew catalog."

A broad smile crossed Willow's lips. Just when she thought she knew Angel, he threw her a curve ball. She would never have figured the vampire for a catalog peruser, especially a clothing one.

"I guess it's better than a Victoria's Secret catalog," Willow said.

Angel coughed again, loudly.

Willow burst into giggles. Somewhat-broody, ensouled vampire or not, Angel was all male.

"Oh yeah, I'm not embarrassed," Angel muttered.

Willow was about to respond when she heard a strange fizzing noise. She cocked her head and frowned. "Do you hear that?" she said into the receiver.

"Hear what?" Angel asked.

"That odd noise," Willow replied as she rose from her bed and headed for the bedroom door. "It almost sounds like--"

An explosion ripped through the house.

*****

The line went dead.

Angel looked at the telephone receiver then put it back to his ear. "Willow?"

No response. He tried clicking the button on the phone base. "Hello? Willow, are you there?" he said with growing worry.

A dial tone sounded in his ear. He quickly dialed the redhead's phone number. After a few seconds of silence, three notes of high-pitched chimes came over the receiver, followed by an automated voice recording.

"The number you have dialed five... five... five... eight... one... three... five... is out of service. Five... five... five..."

Angel disconnected and re-dialed. When he heard the chimes again, he disconnected and tried the number for Otherworld Technologies.

"The number you have dialed--"

The vampire swallowed back the panic, disconnected and tried again.

"The number--"

Angel was out the door and down the stairs of his apartment building before he realized he'd forgotten his car keys. Swearing emphatically, he flew back up to retrieve them, trying not to dwell on what the dead line meant.

Dead line.

Dead.

"Oh god." The panic bubbled inside of Angel like acid burning in the center of his chest. When he got to his car, he jammed the car key into the ignition, revved the engine once, and peeled out of the parking garage.

"Please be okay," Angel whispered in prayer, his knuckles white from his grip on the steering wheel. He didn't know what he'd do if he arrived at Willow's and found her...

He couldn't finish the thought. Willow was fine. The phone company was to blame for the bad connection. He didn't hear the beginning of a loud boom a moment before the line went dead. It was the phone company. It was the phone company. It was the phone company.

Oh god, what if he'd lost her?

Angel took a corner at full speed, his tires squealing in protest. He had to get to Willow's; had to see if she was okay.

He had to tell her that he was falling in love with her.

Blares of car horns echoed as Angel cut across three lanes of traffic. The light coming up was red. He flicked on his left turn signal, gripped the wheel even tighter, and blew through it.

The tires on the right side of the car almost left the ground as he took the left turn. More car horns and tire squeals sounded as other drivers hit the brakes. He didn't hear any crashes behind him, and he threw a quick thank you up to the heavens.

Angel reached Willow's Victorian fifteen of the longest minutes later, and he was out of the car before he'd even barely put it in park. Bright orange cones and sawhorses blocked the area around her house, and the red and yellow lights of the firetrucks matched the flames pouring from the open hole where Willow's office window had been.

"WILLOW!" Angel shouted, running towards the burning home. A yellow-clad fireman stepped in his path, and he barely restrained himself from violently shoving the man aside.

"Sir, you need to keep back," the firefighter told him.

"I need..." Angel's panicked gaze roamed over the house. The fire scorched the second floor of the Victorian, and he could see thick smoke pouring from the roofline where the siding met the roof. Pouring from Willow's bedroom.

Angel's heart got caught in his throat. "Willow..."

"Sir," the firefighter insisted, gently pushing Angel back.

Angel managed to focus on the firefighter. He cleared his throat and asked, "Did you get her out?"

The firefighter's stern face softened. "An ambulance left for Mercy General a few minutes ago."

"Thanks." Angel spared a single horrified glance back at the burning home before running back to his car.

The drive to Mercy General was as harrowing as the trip to Willow's house. Angel screeched into the visitor's parking lot, grabbed the first parking spot he saw, and ran to the worn-looking building.

The Emergency doors swooshed open, admitting the frightened vampire. He went right to the nurses' window and hammered on the shatterproof glass to get someone's attention. A pink-clad woman frowned heavily at him as she came up to the window. "Sir--"

"There was a fire. Willow Rosenberg," Angel interrupted, his dark eyes pleading. "Is she here? Is she okay?"

The nurse, who's badge identified her as Judy Ranwick, picked up a clipboard and scanned it. Angel nervously tapped his fingers on the window ledge.

"Rosenberg, Willow," Nurse Ranwick read. "Yes, she's been admitted, along with a Harris, Alexander."

Xander. Angel had completely forgotten about him. And Spike. Oh no, Spike... "Was there a third person?"

Nurse Ranwick shook her head. "Just the two."

Angel pushed back the unease he felt. "Are they okay? Is Willow okay?"

"Are you family?" the nurse asked in return.

"Yes," Angel replied without hesitation. He knew better than to say no in situations like this. "I'm Xander's brother and Willow's boyfriend."

Nurse Ranwick nodded. "I'll tell the--"

"Angel?"

Angel spun around and saw Xander wheeling towards him. He rushed over to the other man. "Xander, what happened?"

Xander had a wan complexion and reeked of smoke. Pain filled his brown eyes as he looked up at Angel. "I wasn't watching him like I was supposed to be doing," he said in a rough voice. "There was an explosion..."

The younger man wrapped his arms around himself and blinked rapidly against the tears that filled his eyes. "Willow pushed me outside and told me to call 9-1-1, before she went back inside for him. The whole side of the house was in flames," his voice hitched, "and I couldn't do anything."

"Is Willow..." Again, Angel couldn't finish.

Xander took a deep breath and wiped away the tears. "Willow's okay," he told Angel. "Her arms are a little burned and she inhaled a lot of smoke, but other than that she's fine. We rode here together in the ambulance."

Relief swept through Angel. He purposely inhaled and breathed out slowly. Willow was all right. Xander looked shaken, but was all right, too. No one was hurt in the-- "Xander, where's Spike?"





Part Eleven



The view was blurry and an ugly yellow color highlighted by brownish-green blobs. The first thought that came to mind was that the Higher Powers' decorator should've been shot.

"'Bout time," a gruff voice said.

Spike blinked several times and the world came into focus. The ugly yellow and brownish-green was a ceiling. He turned his head and saw Xander sitting in his wheelchair beside the really lumpy bed.

Correction, he saw a very pissed off Xander sitting in his wheelchair beside the really lumpy bed.

"Xan?" Spike's mouth felt like it was filled with cottonballs.

Xander picked up a mug with a straw in it from the chipped night-stand. He transferred it to his other hand, assisted Spike in raising his head and instructed with a clipped, "Drink."

The blood was warm and tasted wonderful. Spike gratefully sucked the red liquid through the straw, washing away the disgusting taste in his mouth.

Xander set the mug aside when Spike was finished. His brown eyes were hard when he looked back at the vampire, and he fisted his gloved hands in his lap. "Do you mind telling me what in the hell you thought you were doing?"

Spike flinched at the brutally harsh tone in Xander's voice. He wasn't sure what the brunette wanted to know. His eyes searched his lover's face for some clue as to why Xander was angry, but all he saw was a cold mask. "Er..."

It came back to Spike in flashes. A collection of empty of Knob Creek bottles. Xander in his wheelchair. Willow's trunk of witchy stuff. An open book. A smelly concoction. A loud fizzing sound. An explosion. Slamming into Willow's computer monitor head-first. Pain.

"Well?" Xander demanded.

Spike turned his head away, and Xander had to strain to hear his reply. "I wanted you to walk again, so you won't leave me."

Xander was stunned. He leaned forward, grabbed Spike's chin, and forced the blond look at him. "You what?"

Spike suddenly got angry and jerked away. "I don't want you to leave me, all right!" he exclaimed, sitting up quickly. He tried to get up, but the blankets were preventing him. He struggled against them, muttering curses and causing the blankets to further tangle. "Damn it!"

And then Xander had the vampire in his lap, blankets and all. Xander's face was inches from Spike's, staring intently into startled blue eyes. "Who said I was going to leave you?" the brunette asked.

"No one," Spike replied sullenly. "But you're going to because you resent me for being able to walk."

Xander's opened his mouth to reply and shut it again without a word coming out. Instead, he snared the back of the blond's hair and kissed Spike for all he was worth.

The motel room filled with the sounds of heavy breathing and the soft rasps of lips moving against one another. A tiny whimper pierced the quiet a short time later, followed by repetitive squeaks of the brakes straining against the rubber wheels of the wheelchair. Eventually, two deep moans twined together like lovers embracing, unknowing of where one ended and the other began.

For once, Spike was glad he was on the small side as he cuddled on Xander's lap, the blanket drawn up over both of them. He gently brushed his mouth over the slowing pulse-point on Xander's neck, enjoying the salty taste of his lover's sweaty skin. Xander's non-gloved hand lightly rubbed back and forth over Spike's hair-sprinkled thigh; his other hand curved around Spike's bare waist, holding the vampire on his lap.

"I love you," Xander whispered in the honeyed silence of the motel room. He tightened his hold on Spike. "You're my 'til death do us part...'"

Xander didn't say, "and the death part almost happened," but Spike heard it loud and clear. He raised his head and met Xander's eyes. He could see the fear he'd caused reflected in the soft brown orbs, and he said softly, "I'm sorry."

Xander nodded, indicating it was okay. Spike closed the distance between them and pressed a loving kiss to Xander's lips.

A knock on the door interrupted any furthering of the kiss, and the vampire broke away with a small snarl of annoyance. Xander chuckled, adjusted the blanket over them, and shouted, "If it's Willow or Angel, come in!"

The door opened and Willow started to enter the room, followed by Angel. "It's just us. We wanted--" she spotted the two males, "--eep! Sorry!" She quickly turned around and tried to push Angel back to the door. "We'll go away. We didn't know you two were... eep!"

Spike sniggered and moved to stand, but Xander prevented him with a glare. "You've seen me less covered than this, Wills," the brunette said. "And Spike's got nothing to write home about."

It was Spike's turn to glare. "Get bent."

"Too late," Xander retorted, causing Spike's lips to twitch as the blond tried to suppress his smile.

"We'll still go," Willow said, looking everywhere but at the two in the wheelchair. "I'm glad to see... No! Not see, cause I'm not looking. Nope, no peepage here..."

Angel's soft laugh covered her babbling, and he carefully took her bandaged hand. "I think what Willow's trying to say is that we're glad you've finally woken up, Spike."

"How long was I, er, out?" Spike asked.

"Eight days," Xander replied with a slight catch in his voice. "Eight very long days."

Silence pressed upon the four as each thought of what had happened. Spike pulled his hand from beneath the blanket and gently brushed Xander's cheek with his fingers. Xander gave him a tremulous smile in return.

Angel looked down at Willow, his thumb rubbing lightly against the side of her hand. Willow met his gaze and felt her heart jump at the wealth of emotions she saw. The butterflies in her stomach reminded her that they were still there, despite the ordeal she'd been through.

"Oh, hey," Willow said, breaking eye-contact with Angel before they ended up kissing in front of her friends like a couple of teenagers. "We came in here for a reason. Didn't we, Angel?"

"Yeah," Angel replied. "We most certainly did."

"Love you," Spike whispered to Xander, who practically lit up at the words. Then, to Willow, "What is it?"

"The insurance money on the house came today," Willow said. She pulled a check out of her pocket, started for Xander and Spike, stopped abruptly and turned her back to them. "Uh, Angel, why don't you show this to the naked men in the wheelchair."

With a chuckle, Angel took the check from her and brought it over to the couple. Spike was first to react after a short, stunned silence.

"Oi! How much bloody damage did my spell cause?"

"Enough for us to get a new fully-equipped office, to buy me a condo on the beach, and to get you two a house of your own," Willow said, her back still to the men.

"You mean, you don't want to live with us anymore?" Xander said, effecting a pout.

"Of course not!" Willow exclaimed, turning around. She blushed, but stayed facing them. "I love living with you guys... when you're clothed... but I thought, you know, you'd like a place of your own. Besides," she sent Angel a shy smile, "maybe I want some space, too."

"Xander, don't argue with Ms. Money-Knickers," Spike admonished. "If she wants to buy us our own love-shack, bollocks for her."

"Good. It's settled then," Willow said with an affirmative nod. "And now, Angel and I are leaving before my face is permanently red."

They left to Xander and Spike's laughter, which settled into broad smiles after the motel room door was closed.

"Our own place," Xander said with joyful amazement.

"Our own place," Spike echoed happily. "Just like a couple of married queers."

Xander chuckled. "I can see the mailbox now: Mr. and Mr. Harris."

"How come I have to be the bleedin' wife of this twosome?" Spike grumbled, hiding the fact that he liked the idea of taking Xander's last name as his own.

Xander's eyes danced as he slid his hand up Spike's bare thigh. "You looked better in the little black dress."





Epilogue



A week after Xander and Spike had moved into their new house, Spike had entered Willow's office at Otherworld Technologies' new location and thrust a Tupperware container filled with food at her. "I still only cook for Xander," he mumbled before he stalked out of her office. Every day after that, when she arrived at work in the morning there was another Tupperware container on her desk.

Willow opened her refrigerator and peered inside, searching for another soda. She pushed aside a stack of Tupperware containers, reached over the top of a another, smaller stack of them, and snagged the lone root beer hiding in the back. She shut the door and jotted down "soda" on the shopping list pinned to the front of refrigerator.

A small party was in full swing in the living room of her condo. Spike was by the low-playing stereo with Gunn and Wesley, deep in conversation about a Dicto'nth demon Angel Investigations was researching. Cordelia, Tanisha, and Wesley's girlfriend, Jody, congregated by the snack table and were nibbling on the hors d'ouvres Willow had set out as they chatted about their children.

Willow rejoined Angel on the couch just as Xander was finishing another story about his travels with Spike. Since the spell accident, the recently committed Harrises were rarely apart. The affection that they'd shown before seemed to have increased tenfold. It was very sweet to see, especially since their relationship had started simply because Xander had finally gotten annoyed enough to say yes to Spike so the blond vampire would stop bothering him.

Angel pressed a kiss to Willow's forehead as she settled on the couch beside him. They'd been dating exclusively since the fire and were falling more and more in love with each passing day. And as their relationship grew stronger, their caution wisely grew as well. Neither one of them wanted a surprise appearance from Angelus.

She sometimes had to pinch herself to make sure she was awake, though. Angel was a dream boyfriend -- courteous, smart, caring, had a good sense of humor, and he was sexy, too. She realized that if it wasn't for Angel's technophobia and her company's magic with computers, she might never have reunited with her old friends from Sunnydale, let alone date one of them.

"What did I miss?" Willow asked, snuggling into Angel's partial embrace.

"Georgia," Angel replied.

"Crashed a convention, terrorized some live-action role-players, made fun of the sci-fi fans," Xander summed up. He took a pull on his beer and glanced over at Spike. The blond vampire caught his gaze and smiled.

A warm, toasty feeling stole over Xander. He gestured towards the door with his chin and Spike, not breaking his conversation with Gunn and Wesley, pressed his palms together in a mockery of a prayer. Xander chuckled, finished off his beer, and set the empty bottle on the end-table beside the couch.

"Looks like Spike's reached his human-tolerance limit for the evening," Xander said to Willow and Angel. He unlocked the brakes on his wheelchair. "This was fun, Wills. Makes me want to have a bruhaha of my own."

"If you do, we'll be there," Willow said for both herself and Angel.

"Cool." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Spike heading for the door. "Well, 'night. Try not to have too much fun without us."

"We won't," Willow promised with a smile.

Xander saluted and made his way to the door. Spike was practically bouncing on his toes in anticipation of leaving. Xander gave him a scolding look. "Don't act so excited, Spike, or Willow might get offended."

"So what if she does?" Spike countered.

"Because I'm horny and I'd prefer you to be you when we get busy," Xander told him.

"Well, I wouldn't worry too much, pet," Spike gestured back towards the living room, "Willow's a bit occupied right now."

Xander craned his neck in order to look over his shoulder. He smirked in amusement. "And here I just told her not to have too much fun."

Spike laughed. "Guess she wasn't listening."

Oblivious to their friends and the show they were putting on, Willow and Angel were kissing deeply, wrapped tightly in each other's arms.







The End








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