The Assistant


by
Witling



Part Seven

"Clothes," Wesley says unnecessarily, handing them through the bars. "And to clean up..." He has a bottle of hot water from the tap and a stack of soft towels. They're too big to fit between the bars, so Spike walks over to the door and punches in the combination, shielding it from Xander with his body.

"I could use a shower," Xander says, without much hope. He hasn't bothered to get up off the bunk; it's hard to imagine him trying to force his way out. Still, Wesley feels a frisson as long as the door's open, and relief when Spike closes it again.

"Later," Spike says, without specifying exactly what that means. "Here." He tosses the clothes over, and Xander catches them neatly. The movement of his hand is fast and accurate. Wesley remembers watching Xander try to shoot hoops, once upon a time. He'd been awful.

"I don't know if it's what you'd prefer," he says, stepping away from the bars. "I just took what I found first. If there's something you'd rather have--" He can't imagine going back up to Xander's room again right away, but he still feels he should offer. It would be unbelievably childish to let his own emotion stand in the way of any small comfort for Xander.

"Nah," Xander says. "This is fine." He yanks his shirt off over his head, and for a moment Wesley just stares at what's beneath. Xander's side and back are a mass of bruises and welts. He looks like he's been beaten within an inch of his life. Which is a ridiculous thing to think, when in fact he's been beaten well past that. Wesley's throat closes up, and he turns away.

"Here." He can hear movement, little exhalations of effort and pain, the creak of the bunk, clothes falling. The cap comes off the bottle. He can't turn around just yet. His vision is blurring. And it seems wrong not to give Xander some privacy while he washes. Spike isn't intruding, he's helping. Wesley knows that without looking, because he's starting to understand some of the broad outlines, even if the details still escape him.

"A shower isn't out of the question," he says hoarsely, hating himself. How noble of him, to offer the dead man a shower.

"Later," Spike says again. "This'll do for now."

"Easy for you to say," Xander says. "You're not the one smelling like three days inside a dead horse. I could--goddammit, ow."

"Sorry."

"Take it easy on the flesh wounds, will you?"

"Any more blood in the fridge, Wesley?"

Wesley comes back to himself, trying to remember. "I...don't know. I'll go and see."

"I'll take whatever you've got," Xander says. "Because frankly, if we're thinking Angelus is going to show up here again sometime soon? I want to get back on my feet a little faster than this."

That makes Wesley turn around. Xander's standing with one hand clamped to the cage bars, holding himself upright. He's naked. His clothes lie in a crumpled, blood-stained heap at his feet. It's easier to look at them, as awful as they are, than it is to look at his body. His body is a garish record of everything Angelus did to him. Dried blood and bruises and little cylindrical burns, cuts that look as if they were made by a razor in a patient hand, strange dents where no dents should be.

"You're gonna have to feed another quarter into the slot," Xander says, ignoring the fact that Spike is swabbing dried blood off his belly. "The show's not free, you know?"

"I'm sorry," Wesley says automatically, dropping his eyes. "I'll see what kind of blood we have left."

Walking away, he hears Xander say in a low, conversational tone, "I could get used to this, you know?"

"Hold on," Spike says grimly. "This bit's going to hurt."




There's nothing left in the fridge but a few pints of ferret, which Spike dismisses as the weak tea of mammal blood. "Like drinking rat."

"Mmmm," Xander says, from his bunk. "Rat."

Wesley puts in an order for delivery, goes to the library, and stares blankly at the wards he can't figure out how to counter. After a while he gets up and wanders through the halls to his office. On the security camera, he can see Xander sitting on his bunk with his back against the bars of the cage, facing Spike. Spike is sitting in the metal folding chair, his feet on the bunk beside Xander. They're both smoking. Xander appears deep in thought. As Wesley watches, Xander's face shifts from human to demon, then back. Spike doesn't seem to notice.

Wesley checks the security logs, finds nothing unusual, then goes to the labs and collects a needle, a length of tubing, and a blood bag. Lying on the examination bed while the blood feeds into the bag, he tries to see what he's been missing. There must be something. There always is.

When it comes to him, he sits bolt upright and feels a wave of dizziness. He's still bleeding, he realizes. Stupid.

It only takes a minute or two to disengage from the bag, clean the puncture, and seal it with a neat wad of gauze and a strip of tape. Then he picks up the bag, barely noticing its disturbing warmth, and starts for the elevators.

"This is for Xander," he says, passing the bag through the bars. Spike takes it, starts to hand it to Xander, then stops short and pulls it back. "Spike, I need you in the library." He's already turning to go, his mind running ahead of his body.

"Hang on," Spike says, staring at the blood bag. "This is--"

"Library," Wesley says, walking away.




"That wasn't very bright," Spike says, pulling out a chair and surveying the books Wesley has pulled to the long table. "Last thing we need is you keeling over with Angelus in the lobby."

"I have an idea," Wesley says, walking back to the table with the second volume of Ffolkes in his hand. "Will those cells downstairs hold Angelus?" Spike frowns. Wesley hands him the Ffolkes and says, "Page one hundred and eighteen."

Flipping pages, Spike says, "Not much room at the inn, down there."

"There are several empty cells. Would they hold him?"

"In theory, yeah." Spike spins Ffolkes around and pushes it across the table to Wesley. "But who's going to put him in there?"

"He is," Wesley says.




Semper and Riegel's Fifth Achievement is a complicated glamour to cast, but with Wolfram & Hart's labs and library to call upon, it's also remarkably quick. They use some items from Angel's apartments to focus the illusion--a glass taken from his night table, a few hairs from the carpet. There's a tenth-century astrolabe in stores that Wesley takes no pleasure in burning, given that it's irreplaceable and quite beautiful. When the ashes are cool, he says the words over them and seals them in a clear glass vial with the elevator key.

"Abracadabra," Spike says.




The waiting is the most difficult part, in a way. Wesley sends everyone home, even the security staff, and weakens the wards on the main entrance. Not too much, not enough to cause suspicion. Just enough to make that the easiest way in. To stack the deck in their favor.

"What if it doesn't take?" Spike asks, lighting yet another cigarette and staring at the bank of security screens. They're all empty except for the one trained on the cage in the basement. Xander's in his bunk, unmoving. Asleep, or lost in thought.

"Then we seal the building," Wesley says, more calmly than he feels. "In fact, I'll be doing that as soon as he enters. We're not letting him loose again."

"So we get sealed in with Angelus."

Wesley doesn't bother to answer that. He's adjusting camera angles, not because there's any need but because there's nothing else to do.

"Don't love this plan," Spike says, fidgeting with his lighter and staring at the screen showing Xander's still body.

"Then give me something better."

Silence.




He arrives around midnight, straight through the front doors without hesitation, the weakened wards snapping under the force of whatever he's cast on himself. It makes the security screens jump, but doesn't blow them out, thank God. It also sets off the little alarm clock Wesley's spelled into the system, the one on the long table between him and Spike. They both sit bolt upright and stare at it.

"Angelus," Wesley says, and shoves his chair back.

They go straight to the security consoles, and spend a taut few seconds searching the screens for any movement.

"There," Spike says, pointing at the main hallway, down on the first floor. Angelus is just walking into frame. He smiles up at the camera, and sketches a little wave. He's heading for the elevators. "Seal the building, right?"

"It's already done," Wesley murmurs, staring at the screen. The moment the wards over the main entrance were broken, the no-exit policy fell into place. The only way for Angelus to leave now is for Wesley to remove the policy. He has no plans to do that.

"Right," Spike says. "When does he start seeing things funny?"

"He already is," Wesley says, watching Angelus pause at the elevators, study the panel, and hit the call button. He's pressed the down button.

"Could be just doing something new. Something we don't expect."

"Yes. He could be."

The elevator arrives, and Angelus waves good-bye to them on the lobby camera, then steps inside. He smiles up at the camera in there, fishes something out of his pocket, and holds it up so they can see what it is. It's a key.

"What's that?" Spike asks.

"A key to the elevator," Wesley says. "To take him to the White Room."

"Where'd he get that?"

"I have no idea." Wesley leans closer to the screen, as if that will help make the next few seconds more bearable. "It doesn't matter."

"It'll matter if he uses it," Spike says.

Angelus puts the key into the elevator slot, turns it, and presses a button. It's the button for the basement level. The elevator door closes, and the car starts down.

"He's going to notice he's going down," Spike says.

"It doesn't matter," Wesley says again. "It's part of the glamour."

"You know that, or you think that?"

"I know that," Wesley says, with more conviction than he feels. In fact, he doesn't know it, and he watches Angelus with his fingers wrapped tightly around the edge of the table, unable to make himself let go. If it doesn't work, and they really are sealed in here with Angelus... He doesn't want to think about that.

The elevator stops at the basement level, and Angelus grins up at the camera. Hi, he mouths.

"Sound?" Spike asks.

"Not in the elevators."

"What about in the cages?"

"Yes."

This is it, the moment that will decide everything. What is Angelus seeing, when the elevator doors open? Impossible to say. If the glamour works, he sees a long hallway leading to a single door. Not what the White Room actually looks like, Wesley knows, but appearances aren't fixed. If Angelus thinks he's used his key correctly, he should believe he's in the right place, no matter what it looks like.

The elevator doors open, showing a slice of the basement hallway. Angelus pauses a second longer, then steps out. Spike cranks the knob on the basement sound.

There's no carpet down there, so they sit listening to Angelus's footsteps walking slowly down the hall toward the cages. He should see only one door. Nothing else. Not the empty cells he walks past, not the metal folding chair, not Xander sitting on his bunk in his own locked cage, watching Angelus approach.

"Fucking sadistic," Spike says, watching Xander's screen.

"He's in no danger," Wesley says. "Angelus can't reach him as long as he's in the cell."

"Angelus doesn't have to reach him."

"Just a few more seconds," Wesley says, keeping his eyes on Angelus's screen. That's all they need. Angelus walks straight down the hallway without speaking, without pausing. He walks past Xander's cell. Xander shrinks back against the bars.

"What did you tell him?" Wesley asks, not looking up.

"That Angelus wouldn't see him. And that if he did, I'd get down there."

"You can't go down there."

Spike chooses not to answer that. They both watch Angelus pass Xander's cell and continue on to the larger cage at the end. The door to that one is ajar, but not locked. Angelus stops in front of it. The camera only shows them his back.

"Wes," he says, "it's been great working with you all these years. Looking forward to bringing you into the family, just as soon as I take care of a little business with the Powers."

He opens the door to the cage, steps inside, and swings it shut behind him. The lock engages with a loud click.

On the table between Wesley and Spike, the clear glass vial cracks in two.

Angelus stands stock-still for a moment, then whips around and throws himself against the door of the cell. It sounds like a large animal being hit by a car. The bars don't bend or break. He does it again, and again, and again.

In his own cage, ten feet down the hallway, Xander tries to disappear into his sheets.

"Wesley!" Angelus is bellowing, game-faced, bull-like. "Spike!"

"Turn that down," Wesley says, nodding at the volume control. His palms are sweating, and he feels clammy all over. He pushes off the table and starts to collect his things.

"It worked," Spike says, in a tone of mild amazement. He dials the volume down, so they can't hear the things Angelus is shouting at them. "Actually fucking worked."

"Yes," Wesley says. "And now we have to decide what to do with him."





Part Eight

"I've got to hand it to you, Wes, that was clever." Angelus runs a finger along the crossbar and examines it for dust. "I'm going to have to kill you for it, but still. Pretty clever."

"You're not going to kill anyone," Wesley says, not bothering to look up. "You're going to shut up and play nicely, or you're going to start losing body parts."

Angelus laughs. "You're turning me on."

"Think he's serious," Spike says to Angelus. "You might want to shut your gob for once."

"It's going to be interesting," Angelus says, "seeing what happens when I turn you again. I mean, can a vampire be turned? I figure there's a fifty-fifty chance you'll lose the soul. Or you'll just be dust. Hard to say."

Wesley opens the holy water and tosses a dash across Angelus's hand and wrist. There's a curl of blue smoke, and Angelus yanks his arm back with a snarl.

"You were saying?" Wesley holds the bottle ready, at face height.

Angelus holds his hand tight to his chest, his eyes yellow and hateful. For a moment Wesley has the distinct impression that he's being marked for death. Oddly, it doesn't worry him. It's starting to feel old hat.

"Sorry," Angelus says, smiling and lowering his gaze to inspect his hand. "I forgot who was in charge for a minute."

"Sit down," Wesley says. "And shut up."

Angelus strolls to the back of the cage and hops onto the bunk. He blows on his knuckles, his expression cheerful.

Wesley goes back to his book, looking for counters to some of the wards Angelus may have cast on himself. It's easier work with Angelus physically in the room, but there are still so many he can't be sure about. And there's something about Angelus in the flesh, something he'd forgotten or blocked from his memory. He has a way of putting everyone on edge, of making it hard to think straight, even when he's just sitting quietly. Especially when he's just sitting quietly.

"So what happens next?" Angelus asks, in an elaborately civil tone.

"Next," Wesley says, "we sort out what happened to you in the first place. Or rather, what happened to Angel."

"Can't help you there. I just woke up and found I had a serious urge to rip some throats out." Off Wesley's look, Angelus raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I'm trying to help, Wes."

"Then shut up," Spike says. Quite sensibly, Wesley thinks.

"Is it just me," Angelus says, "or does it seem like one of these things is not like the others?"

"What?" Wesley marks his place with his finger and looks up. Angelus is smiling.

"Everyone here's family, Wes. Except for you. That must feel kind of weird. Kind of like, I don't know. Being the only one in the room who doesn't speak Chinese."

"I don't speak Chinese," Spike says flatly.

"You used to."

There's a faint sound from behind them, and Wesley jerks around before he can catch himself. It's just Xander, shifting a step to the side, trying to get a better view of what's going on. He's standing with his forearms on the crossbar of his cage, his hands hanging through the bars. He looks a little better now, a little stronger. His face has some color, and the bruises are fading. His throat's healed considerably.

"Now that," Angelus says, pointing at Xander, "is unexpected." He looks at Wesley. "Did you notice that he's a vampire now, or should I go ahead and point that out?"

"We noticed," Wesley says, through gritted teeth.

"So what's the plan there? I'm curious, because frankly, you got me with the glamour, Wes. Obviously." Angelus taps the bar behind him without rancour. "You got an extra soul kicking around that you're gonna shove down his throat?"

"Perhaps," Wesley says, staring at the page in front of him. There's no harm in trying the counter-ward that he's looking at, so he puts the book carefully down on the chair, makes the motions, and mutters the words beneath his breath. Angelus shivers, then smacks the side of his neck, as if he's been bitten by an insect.

"Dammit, Wes. A little warning next time."

"Not if I can help it." Encouraged, Wesley goes back to the book and flips the page.

"Getting late," Spike says. "What next?"

Angelus assumes a listening posture. Wesley checks his watch, then closes the book, puts it on the chair, and drags the chair a few more feet from Angelus's cage. "We'll discuss it upstairs."

"Oh, come on," Angelus says, leaning forward. "I won't tell."

"If you do anything to upset Xander while we're gone," Wesley says evenly, "I'll stand at a safe distance and shoot you with bolts dipped in holy water, until you beg his forgiveness."

There's a brief pause. Angelus looks impressed.

"Wes," he says, "I think you're finally catching on to how this works."

"Come on," Wesley says to Spike, and starts back toward the elevator. Spike hesitates, then follows. As they pass Xander's cage, Xander reaches out and grabs the shoulder of Spike's shirt. It's not an attack; it's a plea.

"It's okay," Spike says, not looking too certain. "Won't be for very long."

"Don't leave me down here," Xander mutters. His eyes are fixed on Angelus, Wesley notices. Angelus waves brightly. "Please don't leave me down here with him--"

"Xander," Angelus says. "Son. You wound me."

Wesley turns and raises the crossbow, and Angelus puts one hand over his own mouth, the other raised innocently.

"Let go," Spike says, shaking his shoulder free. "I'll be back in a little while. Just don't talk to him."

"Please," Xander says, more quietly and more urgently. He looks at Wesley. "Wes. Come on. Please."

For a moment, Wesley looks at Spike, wondering if they can chance it. But Spike won't look back, won't open that door.

"I'm sorry," Wesley says. He turns and heads for the elevators, and Spike follows. There's silence from the cages behind them, until the doors of the elevator are almost closed. Then Angelus starts to laugh.




"Don't like leaving them down there," Spike says, as they walk quickly down the hall to the library.

"Oh, really?" Wesley asks. "I think it's wonderful. It fills me with joy."

"It's fucking heartless, for one thing."

"Spike." Wesley stops with his hand on the library door, and takes a deep breath. "I understand that your relationship with Xander has...changed. And that you feel strongly for him. But we don't have time for niceties."

The stony look Spike gives him is fairly eloquent, Wesley has to admit.

"Xander is my friend as well," he goes on. "And I feel responsible for what's happened to him. I have no intention of allowing him to be hurt any more, if I can help it. He was a good man."

"Still is," Spike says. Wesley just looks at him, and Spike looks down and amends, "All right, still could be."

"But at the moment he's a vampire without a soul, and that means we can't have him walking around loose."

"Leaving him tied up next to Angelus, though, that's not going to help anything."

"Tell me where else we can contain him, in this building."

Spike shrugs. "Vaults, probably. Not that that's any better, all alone in a vault. Just another way to make him go crazy."

"Right, so unless you want to chain him to your wrist for the foreseeable future, our course is clear."

Bizarrely, Spike looks thoughtful. Wesley raises a finger in retraction. "I wasn't serious."

"Throw a few chains on him, he might be all right."

"We can't afford to take a chance."

"I'd keep an eye on him."

"You have other problems. We both have other problems."

"What?" Spike raises an eyebrow. "Angelus's in the can, isn't he? Now it's just following the trail, figuring out what happened, how to fix it. You can do that."

"Not by myself."

"I can help, sure--won't matter if I've got Harris on my wrist for that stuff."

"We can't have him listening to everything we say, Spike. It isn't safe."

"Why, because he's going to run and tell Angelus? Were you downstairs five minutes ago? He can't get far enough away from the bastard."

Wesley shakes his head. "It doesn't matter, Spike. I won't agree to it."

"Toff," Spike snaps. "Bloody glacial fascist toff. Got your tie knotted so tight you can't feel a fucking thing below the neck."

Taken aback, Wesley doesn't know what to say. He drops his gaze and opens the library door to go in. Spike walks away down the hall without another word.




They're in over their heads, and the sensible thing to do would be to contact the Council, call for reinforcements. But Wesley's tried the sensible thing, and nobody's picking up. The phone rings and rings, then patches through to the general voice mail. It's strange and disturbing, although it turns out in the end to be nothing more than a temp on the front desk, who's set the foreign incoming line to spiral into the ether. The Tunbridge Wells incident hasn't been reported to the head office yet; in London, everything operates peacefully and in blissful ignorance.

With a sense of things unraveling around him, Wesley pulls books from the shelf. Bufwulder, Ranganathan, the Raven King, anyone he suspects might be able to help him figure out what to do with the warded, soulless master vampire in his basement. Or the hapless, newly-vamped former friend down there with him. The one who is no doubt currently being terrorized into psychosis. Spike is right, it's a bad idea to keep the two of them in proximity. But it's a worse one to let Xander out of the basement. If he got loose, if he injured anyone else--the Xander Harris that Wesley used to know would rather suffer.

Spike comes back in, heaves a delivery cooler onto the table, and starts unpacking blood bags.

"I'm sorry I called you a toff," he says to the bags, before Wesley can say anything.

"It's...all right," Wesley says. "You're right, it's a dismal arrangement."

Spike unpacks all the bags, checks their dates, then packs them all back into the cooler and puts the lid back on. "So, what's the plan?"

"As you said, it's mainly research. We need to learn what happened to Angel in the first place, and try to recapture his soul. If that's even possible. I have a call in to the Council, and I'm doing what I can with this library, but..." He shakes his head. "I'm open to suggestions."

"Xander needs to eat," Spike says. "I'm going to take him some blood."

"That seems dangerous," Wesley says immediately. "The situation is volatile enough--introducing blood into it seems like a very bad idea."

"And you were thinking of what, starving him?" Spike hoists the cooler and turns to go. "I'll keep my fingers and toes clear."

"Spike." Spike doesn't stop. "We still don't know what wards Angelus has cast on himself."

Spike walks out, letting the door fall shut behind him.

With a mounting sense of frustration, Wesley grabs the crossbow and follows.





Part Nine

The moment the elevator doors open, Wesley has the sense that they've walked into the middle of something. The basement is silent, but the air feels electric. He's felt this same kind of tingle at boxing matches and in brawls. Anywhere violence was being done. He's never felt it in silence before.

Without thinking, he raises the crossbow, and Spike lifts an eyebrow.

"What, you thought they'd be practicing for the pub quiz?"

Wesley doesn't know what he thought, but now that they're down here, he feels underprepared.

Spike leads the way, the cooler up on his shoulder, like a man negligently carrying supplies to a picnic. For some reason he doesn't seem bothered by the charge in the air, or maybe he's just steeled himself against it.

"Here comes the cavalry," Angelus says, as they start down the hall. "That was fast."

"We're not rescuing anyone," Wesley says. "We're bringing blood for Xander. If you're lucky, I won't put a bolt in you for his lunchtime entertainment."

"No blood for me? Spike, hey, remember Budapest?"

"Here," Spike says, setting the cooler down beside Xander's cell and pulling out a bag. "Couple of these ought to make you feel better."

"I don't think you ever paid me back for that dinner," Angelus goes on, speaking to Spike's back. "And those were very well-endowed meals, if I recall correctly. Tell you what, you toss me one of those bags and I'll forget all about it."

"Come on," Spike says, pushing a bag between the bars of Xander's cage. "Just ignore him."

Xander is sitting in a small heap against the farthest wall of his cage from Angelus. He's in game face, but it's the most miserable game face Wesley has ever seen. His posture is textbook submissive. When Spike puts the blood bag on the floor in front of him, he looks at it but doesn't move to pick it up.

"Go on," Spike says quietly. "Take it."

"It's good for you," Angelus says. "You're a growing demon, Xander. You need your blood."

"Shut up," Spike says.

"I'm helping. Xander, hey, remember your first meal? You were pretty happy about blood then, remember? I thought you were going to eat my arm off, you were so happy about it."

Xander reaches out and touches the bag with one finger.

"Ignore him," Spike says.

"Kind of took me by surprise," Angelus goes on. "I mean, you were the Slayer's right-hand man, and I have to say, you took the torture pretty well, so I almost expected you to spit in my face, you know? But when it came down to it, you sucked so hard I thought I was going to--"

Wesley raises the crossbow sight to his eye, at the same moment that Xander picks up the blood bag and whips it through the bars of his cage. It throws Wes's aim, and he knows as soon as he's squeezed the trigger that the bolt's slightly wide. Angelus knows it too, and simply pulls his body to the side. The bolt hits the wall behind him. The blood bag clips his shoulder and explodes.

Wesley keeps the bow up and his eye in the sight. Angelus sits shaking blood out of his shirt with a look of faint disgust on his face.

"This was a good shirt," he says, with irritation.

"Please keep talking," Wesley says. His finger tightens on the trigger.

From the corner of his eye, he can see Spike staring at Xander, and Xander staring at the floor. There's some kind of stand-off going on down there, which is not good.

"I was only kidding," Angelus says. "You weren't the Slayer's right-hand man."

"Fine," Spike says sharply, like a parent concluding an argument with a child. He drops the extra bag back in the cooler and fits the lid back on. "Waste of time."

"You've gotta be strict with them," Angelus says. "Kids love boundaries."

"We're leaving," Spike says, hoisting the cooler and standing up.

"Must be hard," Angelus says. "You get a soul, you get a boyfriend, everything's great, then suddenly--" He makes a phht sound, and shrugs. "Boyfriend's soul goes right out the window. That's tough, Spike."

"I'll survive."

"You two make such a cute couple, though. You're like--" Angelus pauses, and Spike looks at Wesley.

"I thought you were going to shoot him."

"Mutt and Jeff," Angelus says. "Laverne and Shirley. Shari Lewis and Lambchop."

"I'll follow you," Wesley says, keeping his eyes on Angelus.

"He seriously thought you were going to find him," Angelus goes on. "Right to the end. That's love, Spike."

Spike is already walking away, back to the elevator. Wesley considers pulling the trigger a few more times, just for satisfaction, but that's a bad idea for several reasons. He walks backwards down the hall, never lowering the bow.

"I'm serious, Spike!" Angelus raises his voice as if Spike can't hear him all the way to the elevators. "This one's a keeper! You might want to reconsider that soul of yours!" The elevator is waiting; they step inside. Spike pushes the button for the twelfth floor, for the library. Wesley waits until the doors close, then turns the key to hold them there.

"Is that true?" he asks, trying to keep his breathing normal.

Spike's staring at the floor, fishing for his cigarettes in his back pocket. "Is what true?"

"You and Xander. Were you..." He doesn't quite know how to say it, he's so taken aback. "You were lovers?"

Spike gives him a startled look, then barks a laugh. "Lovers? That's very nineteenth-century of you, Wes." He reaches for the key, and Wesley knocks his hand away with the end of the bow.

"It's very stupid of you," Wesley counters, "not to have told me."

"None of your business. Besides." Spike's expression shifts to the You are not very bright look. "Wasn't like we hid anything. You just never lift your head out of those fucking books."

"I'm sorry it didn't occur to me that two of my friends were having sex during off moments while we saved the world from apocalypse. I can't think why I was so blind."

"Me neither." Spike reaches for the key again, and Wesley knocks his hand away again.

"The point is not that you've shown astonishingly bad judgment, Spike. Although you have. The point is that Angelus knew, and I didn't, and if there's anything else I should know about, I'd appreciate your telling me now."

Spike makes a show of thinking it over. "Nah. Pretty much just the sex."

They stand looking at each other. Wesley changes his grip on the crossbow, because his hands are sweating. Spike pulls a cigarette out of his crumpled package, and straightens it moodily.

"Sorry," he says at last, flicking a bit of tobacco to the floor. "I've had a few things on my mind lately."

Wesley shifts his stare to the wall behind Spike's shoulder, and engages in a fierce internal debate. He's not afraid that Spike will try to lose his soul, as Angelus suggested. No matter how bad the timing, no matter how cruel the twists of fate, he can't see Spike doing that. But he keeps thinking of what he saw in the security monitor--the two bodies spooned silently in the narrow bunk. That, and what Angelus said about Xander's last hours. Once upon a time, a million years ago, he'd been in love with Winnifred Burkle. If he'd had to think of her waiting for him, trusting in him, and dying horribly anyway, it would have ripped his heart in half.

Spike reaches for the key again, and this time Wesley stops him with a hand.

"There are chains down here," he says, verifying. Spike looks puzzled.

"Yeah. Sure."

"Heavy ones."

Spike studies Wesley's face. There's a faint glimmer in his eyes, a look of growing understanding. "Yeah."

Wesley takes a deep breath, settles his shoulders, and hopes to God he's not being an idiot. "All right. We'll take Xander up with us."




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