Chocolatey Goodness


by
Mad Poetess



13 Talking To Him

I keep trying. A hundred and twenty-six years and I keep trying to find somebody not quite as twisted-up as me, and do I ever succeed? Angel, in the morning, sometime tomorrow, he'll corner me and he'll ask me all the questions he was too nice to ask last night, and he'll ask me sooner or later where the six years came from, as if I can't count from eighteen eighty to two thousand. As if I didn't have just as good an education as he did. One year I add onto my death for every month I spent in that fucking wheelchair, so sorry, please forgive the language, that's where they came from. One year for every month I thought he was back and he wasn't, it was some bastard with his face who didn't... Sorry.

I keep trying. My little girl. His little girl. Crazy sweet child woman who could read my mind when she had her hands on me, who read my mind in an alley and said one word that made me stop and give her my soul. What'd she do with the poor thing, I wonder. Gave it to that creepy Miss Edith? Except it was Princess Charlotte, back then, with the porcelain head that the Bitch, and I won't apologize for that, smashed against a wall when she was angry with Dru, and my little one crying like her poor heart was broken. For about five minutes, until I handed her a pretty red-headed girl wrapped up in a Christmas bow and she had a new dolly. For a day or so. She tended to break things, our Dru, just like she was...broken.

I keep trying, and here's this one in my arms. He scared nine hells out of me just a few days ago, lost someplace I couldn't find him, asked me, told me, ordered me to hit him and hit him just to bring him back, and the chip never even buzzed at me. Never gave a whisper. And he won't tell me. All I have in this world, now, and he won't tell me where I almost lost him to, and God, he's broken. He's broken. Tonight when I thought it was safe as houses and I had him back, tonight in this flat in the dark, with Angel's little Girl Friday sleeping a room away, he slept on the sofa so nobody would know I love him, most of all him, and he had a bad dream.

And he woke me up from some scrap about Darla, about Dru, the sort of mindless idiocy I've dreamt for years and never cared about. Faces change, song remains the same. Woke me up from the first nightmare, if you want to call it that, since the first morning after, when I sat up and he was gone and the bed was cold. And like he's done all his short little life, he'd gone for donuts. Donuts. I could eat him up sometimes.

Not had one dream like that again, not me, not a one, not since then, and he crawls up tonight hot and shaking on me, and his back cold with sweat and he's got chocolate on his hand that I put there, and I lick it clean and somewhere in there he starts to cry. Cry and cry and it's all I can do not to join him, but I don't. Haven't. In ninety-eight years, I haven't cried but once, and that when I was so drunk I don't have to admit to anything I said or did, except damn me if I didn't apologize for hitting this one on the head. My boy. Lost boy. Christ, and shouldn't the word burn my tongue, but it never has.

He doesn't love me. He can't possibly love me, I'm everything he's learned to hate in almost twenty years of living on the Hellmouth. I'm a monster and I'm proud of it, I live for it, I died from loving it, and he doesn't love me. But he trusts me, and he lets me pretend, even if he doesn't know that's what I'm doing. He trusts me enough to climb into my lap and cry until he can't shake anymore, and all I could do was rock him back and forth and try not to let him know the rocking was for me. Just for me. And he wouldn't tell me why. He doesn't know. If he doesn't know, and I don't know, and you, well you haven't answered me for longer than I care to remember...

And then... and then he asks me to drink from him. Asks and I can't believe he thinks I need it though I do and then he says it's not for me and he's broken. He's this tiny little thing for all he's a smidgen taller and a little wider and he smells like sick right now but usually he smells like warm and sweet and I don't cry. Not ever. Not for anybody. Not since the only one I trusted enough to crawl into his lap and cry... I don't cry, but my boy's asleep in my arms and I could've killed him when he fell away into that bloodsweetness that came when I had my teeth in him. He could've died, because I'm just as lost as he is, and the fool chip didn't think I was hurting him, because he wanted it. First time I've ever hated that thing for not doing its job, and...

I don't cry, alright? He's sleeping and it would wake him up anyway and it took more than I had left to smile at him and play as if everything was fine, when nothing's fine at all. He's sleeping, and you won't make me wake him up. So if you're watching, if you think because I'm William now, in the dark and inside my head and Spike and the rest of the parts that shout at me for reminding them I'm here have finally gone to sleep, if you think I'll cry for you, when you never answered me in a hundred, hundred, how many? Never, you've never answered me, you bastard, and here's this one in my arms and who broke him in the end, if not you? I won't cry for you. I will not. Not for you, not for me, and as for him...

Just don't look at me. Sweet Jesus, just don't look at me.





14 Vampire Brownies

"This bloody well sucks," Spike grumbled to himself in an embarrassing hybrid of Queen's English and Xanderspeak. He groaned the minute the last word exited his mouth, but overall, it was a fairly accurate assessment of his current position.

In fact, on Spike's list of favorite positions, 'Locked In A Stuffy Metal Box' was somewhere down below 'Missionary' and nowhere near any of the really entertaining ones that he'd barely started trying out on Xander. 'Locked In A Stuffy Metal Box With Xander' might actually have potential, but since Xander was up front driving the stuffy metal box and the presumably cool convertible to which it was attached, that wasn't an option. So it was dark and hot and boring, and the carbon monoxide seeping back up from the exhaust pipe was giving Spike a headache, and there was nobody in here to rub up against to make the whole experience at least bearable.

"Oi! Don't suppose you'd like to turn on the AC back here?" he shouted over the growling of the engine.

Xander's muffled voice came back to him, with Cordelia's snarky laughter in the background. "It's a 57 Chevy, Spike. It doesn't come with freon. And even if it did, they wouldn't air condition the trunk."

Sure, use logic to splat his innocent, heartfelt pleas of discomfort. "Bite me, Harris."

"Same to you, but... Oops. No. Guess not, huh." Xander was having entirely too much fun with this 'Spike is just a brainless twit I can't shake off' routine.

Didn't help that their reluctant hostess was loving every minute of it. She'd apparently grilled Xander last night while they were driving the bespectacled hyphenated bloke --who reminded Spike uncomfortably of his mortal self-- home. Asked Xander why he was 'shacking up with the undead' -- and somehow Spike's glib-talking lover had managed to convince her that they were living some sort of musical-comedy buddy flick. Harris and Bloody, now starring in 'The Road to Hell'. And guess who gets to play the useless git with no sense of humor? Dammit, the two of us need to adopt a straight-man, or I'll end up looking as brainless as Angelus.

"Well, then, couldn't you at least put on another tape besides that Nerf Herder swill? Stuff makes my fangs ache."

"And what does Spike like to listen to? Billy Idol's Greatest Flops?" came the acerbic reply from Cordelia. There was silence except for the music, and then she said slowly, as if reading, "Pistol Whipped? Sex Pistols Live? Aren't they like, deader than you?"

"Well, at least you've heard of 'em. Goes you one better than Harmony." His thankfully-ex had asked sincerely if the name had something to do with whips and chains and 'all that other kinky stuff you're not getting me to do, eew, eew, eew.' Three eews. He'd counted.

More indie-rock-filled silence, and then murmuring from Xander that Spike couldn't make out, and then the sound of Cordelia laughing. And laughing. And laughing.

"Harmony?" she choked out, and then more laughter. "Harmony Kendall ? Is a vampire?" Whisper, murmur, wait for it, wait for it... "And Spike dated her?"

And more cracking up at the expense of the poor trapped vampire who'd never done anything to deserve such treatment. Well, nothing much, anyway. Alright, he'd done plenty, but she was supposed to be one of the good guys, dammit! Bloody hell. He should've let her lick the other bowl after all.

As the road bumped along beneath him and he tried to ignore the headache that was just getting worse every time Xander hit a chuckhole, Spike let his mind drift back to earlier that morning. Fun with chocolate. Cooking With Blood, volume three. Subtitled 'Never Let A Vampire Experiment In Your Kitchen.'

*****

"Yumm... it's Xander-flavored..." Spike sidled up to Xander and whispered in his ear, after pouring half a bag of O Positive into one of two identical bowls of brownie mix. Cordelia was taking a shower, so the whispering wasn't really necessary, but it gave him a perfect opportunity to stick his tongue in Xander's ear.

Waving a chocolate-and-blood covered finger in front of Xander's face, Spike was a little annoyed to discover that Xander didn't make eew-face at him, just shrugged.

"I'm so glad to know I taste like pig's blood."

"Cow," Spike corrected him, sulking a bit that his attempt to gross Xander out hadn't succeeded. "Angel actually put out the dosh for the expensive stuff."

"And why use your own when you can steal from the 'rents?" Xander guessed correctly. "Well, I guess I can't get too righteous about that one, unless I want to start paying for the Cartoon Network."

Spike licked his own finger, since Xander didn't seem inclined to do it for him, and went back to the table to beat the mixes a little more, letting Xander alone to continue his own advanced culinary experiment-- toaster waffles. On his way back from putting his creations into the oven, though, Spike took the obvious opportunity offered by Xander's rapt attention to the oh-so-exciting toaster.

Putting one arm around Xander's waist, he carefully slipped his other hand down the front of his lover's cargo pants. Xander squirmed, but didn't pull away, as Spike started doing things there that shouldn't be done in somebody else's kitchen if you were a good little vampire. Luckily he wasn't. A stroke across quickening hardness beneath whatever today's cartoon boxers were, and Xander moaned lightly.

At which point there was a tinkle and a crash, and a half-gallon container of orange juice was splattered colorfully all over the floor. They jumped guiltily apart, Xander almost slipping in the puddle of Florida sunshine, sans vampire-killing side effects. Not that Spike was all that worried about Casper the friendly invisible ghost-- if he was going to grass on them to the landlady, he'd have done it last night -- but the noise was likely to attract other attention, and it did, within seconds.

Cordelia came running out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, long brown hair soaking wet. Spike ogled her unashamedly, unlike Xander, who was trying to be soulfully subtle about it. She was worth ogling; long legs, lovely shoulders, and plenty to hold up that towel, and Spike had to wonder again just why Xander had never gotten beyond the opening ceremonies in the broom-closet olympics with this one. Little bit of denial there, mayhap? He took in the sights until she gave them both a glare that made Xander's usual Death-Ray look like a come-hither stare, and even Spike found himself gulping.

"Dennis did it!" they shouted in unison, and Cordelia put her hands on her hips. Which shifted the towel in a way that made Spike's eyes bulge out, until Xander smacked him hard on the upper arm. For what? Doing what comes natural to any reasonably bisexual man, demon or otherwise? He didn't go about smacking Xander for staring at scantily-clad Star Trek actresses in magazines. Granted, he couldn't go about smacking Xander for doing anything, unless Xander wanted him to. It really wasn't fair.

"Uh-huh. Right. Blame the poor defenseless ghost," Cordelia said. "What are you two doing?" She peered through dripping hair at Spike, and her face suddenly looked rather like Dru's had the time she'd swallowed a live squirrel. "And what are you wearing ?"

Spike looked down, remembered, and ducked around behind Xander, thanking whatever gods might be that vampires couldn't blush. "I'm plotting mayhem and destruction, obviously. After my getaway driver's Saturday morning cartoons are over." As if on cue, the sound of 'Meep Meep!' echoed in from the living room. Spike snorted, trying to cover his sartorial embarrassment. "I'm making brownies, you daft..." At a warning glare from Xander, Spike substituted "woman," for the decidedly more descriptive phrase he'd been about to use.

He ignored the second question entirely, but of course Xander couldn't leave it alone. "And he's wearing one of my shirts," Benedict Harris gleefully supplied.

Grrr. Yeah. He was. Because Spike's own shirts, both of them, had mysteriously disappeared while he was showering, unfortunately alone, and the green cabana shirt from Hell had been left in their place on the bathroom sink. Add that to the fact that he was out of hair-gel, and it made for a lovely morning, really. He'd stalked bare-chested out of the bathroom, holding the shirt in his hand. Xander had snickered evilly, twirling an imaginary Snidely Whiplash mustache, and Spike had decided they both really needed to stop watching the Cartoon Network.

He'd had been about go tearing through Xander's bags to locate something of his own to wear, but snicker became Death Ray, and he'd twigged. This was his punishment for whatever it was he'd done last night to spack Xander off. He'd reiterated in desperate whispers his entreaties for a nice long spanking instead, but it was a no go. ("Please?" "No." "Right, how about if I spank you, then?" Contemplative pause. Headshake. "No." "Er...blow you?" Glare. "Shirt. Now.") And Xander claimed he wasn't a sadist?

Cordelia echoed Xander's snickers as she looked Spike over, but he refused to offer any explanation, since he couldn't come up with anything that didn't make him look even more undignified. No washer here, so he couldn't claim he'd been forced to wear this shirt for the second time in his unlife because he'd shrunk his clothes again. Couldn't pull the 'Lost a bet' gambit either-- Madame here was nosey enough to actually ask what the bet had been, unlike Red and Tara.

Xander continued his stand-up routine. "He's not allowed to cook without supervision, which is why I'm in here watching him, instead of out there watching Road Runner."

"He," Spike pointed a chocolate-coated spatula at Xander, "shouldn't be allowed outdoors without a day-pass, much less permitted to play with sharp or hot objects, so he really doesn't have a lot of room to talk. He's the one who was whinging on about 'I'm bored. I'm hungry. I want chocolate or I'll make you watch Pokémon...' "

"You cook?" Cordelia asked, fixing her towel, much to his disappointment.

"Cook, eat, occasionally do laundry, but not windows. Don't like Disney films, no matter what my poof of a Sire says, know all the verses to 'American Pie,' and my greatest ambition in unlife is to track down the git who told William Shatner he could act, and use his head for a bowling ball. Any other questions, or is it time for the swimsuit competition?"

Cordelia was silent for a moment, as if the concept of Spike doing semi-housebroken things was a bit too much to take in. Spike knew exactly how she felt. Finally she ventured, "You bowl?"

Xander snorted. Spike smirked proudly, although a part of him cringed at the fact that he was proud of this particular talent. Cringed even more at the fact that somewhere deep inside he was proud of finally being able to do laundry, too. "I do. 280 game, thank you very much. My secret? Picture each pin as the head of Buffy Summers."

Cordelia looked as if she were going to comment on this, but then her eyes fixed on the brownie mix bowls sitting on the table. She zoomed towards them, grabbing the one furthest away from Spike. "Ooh! Bowl! Lick! Mine!" Spike refrained, under great duress, from making a comment about licking anything of hers, and she made as if to wander back to the bathroom, silver bowl in hand.

"Not that one!"

"And why not?" She turned around. "They're both mine, technically, since it's my food you're allegedly cooking with."

Because it was bowl, lick, Spike's, that was why. "Well, that's the bowl for the...er...vampire brownies."

Cordelia studied it in confusion. "Because they sneak out at night and suck the chocolate from all the other brownies in the neighborhood?"

Xander pointed helpfully to the empty blood bag on the counter. The light dawned.

"Eew! Eew! Oh, gross." Spike grinned, glad he could still freak somebody out, since Xander seemed to be desensitized to the whole blood thing. She reached over and switched bowls, pushing the 'vampire' one as far away as possible. Then she paused. "Although..." A calculating look came into her eye. "Bring the brownies along. Maybe you can get Angel to actually eat something, instead of just staring at it like he doesn't know what it's for."

Then she disappeared into the bathroom again, taking what would've been Xander's bowl with her. Spike shrugged. So sorry. He gleefully licked the remaining bowl, Xander sulkily cleaned up the spill, and Dennis scrawled on the chalkboard attached to the refrigerator. 'Sorry. Next time, just warn a guy!'

Spike, being a sensible sort of fellow, took this as free license to grab Xander, and plunge his chocolate-and-blood-coated tongue into Xander's mouth. Xander, after a moment of silly human panic, gave an apologetic gesture in the direction of the chalkboard. Then he returned the kiss wholeheartedly. Or possibly whole-tonguedly. Almost made up for the Banana Republic shirt.

*****

Of course, that was before Xander decided to replace Nerf Herder with 'He Thinks He's Ray Stevens'. Spike's only defense against the hideous southern twang was to belt out random Pistols lyrics at the top of his lungs. The ride to the bus station went something like this:

"Erik the awful, the brutal and courageous..."

"God save the Queen, she ain't a human bein'..."

"Fred, you were a good dog..."

"I am an anarchist..."

"Go see Ned Nostril and his South Seas paradise, put your blues on ice, cheap at twice the price..."

"I don't wanna holiday in the sun..." (Which he thought was quite appropriate.)

"The day the squirrel went berserk, in the First Self-Righteous Church..."

Spike actually shut up for that one, because he rather liked it. Sounded like something he'd done once. Of course, his squirrel had been rabid. And it had been in the House of Lords. That was what had almost gotten the four vampires run out of London on a rail soon after Spike's turning. Well, that and Spike and Dru having nibbled on a few superfluous MP's during the melee. Wasn't as if they wouldn't keep churning out more.

But then there was:

"Hey, hey, we's der Monkees..."

And at that point Spike just gave up on Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, and went for the big guns in the war of annoyance: Robert Frost.

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," he shouted.

"There's something that doesn't love a mall?" Cordelia replied, and turned up the volume.

*****

Willow decided there was something wrong with being glad to see Cordelia Chase. On the scale of wrongliness, it was right up there with egg babies that cracked open and had monsters inside them, or Britney Spears ever having had a number one hit. But after a bumpy ride from Sunnydale, sandwiched between Tara (the good part) and a big guy who obviously had an onion sandwich for breakfast, she was more than happy to step off the bus and see Cordelia waving cheerfully from beside a quietly smiling Xander.

After introducing Tara, and the creepy sensation of actually getting a hug from Cordelia, Willow glanced again at Xander. Yesterday's vague worries for his emotional state returned with a vengeance. Somewhat appropriate, since they were all tangled up with thoughts about a powerless vengeance demon, and an Anya-less Xander, and a nameless man with a size nine-and-a-half foot in Xander's bed.

It wasn't that Xander looked upset. He just had on that weird happy-sad smile he used to get at Christmas, when her parents would politely give him some expensive gift, even though he wasn't their kid, even though it wasn't their holiday. He'd fall in love with it at first sight, the puppy-eyes lighting up, and then he'd stare suspiciously at it for a while, like he was afraid it would fade away. Or that there was some catch to it.

When Xander's eyes caught hers, he blinked, and then the usual goofy cut-up mask clicked into place with an almost audible snap. The contrast convinced her -- she wasn't just worrying about nothing. Y'know, there's being a nosey-butt, and there's caring about your friends, and look where minding our own business almost got us this spring...

"Hey, you two. How was the in-ride movie? I heard they were switching it from 'Road Rage 2000' to 'Blood on the Asphalt,' but who knows where these rumors get started." He took Tara's bag, and then Willow's as well, leaving her with only her laptop case to carry.

"I think there's something growing in the bathroom," Willow confided. "I'm not saying it's a demon. It could just be mold. Although I've never seen penicillin with eyes."

"You used the bathroom? I envy your courage and fear for your sanity. " Xander shuddered. "And Spike wonders why I hate bus stations."

"Where is Spike?" Tara asked, and everyone turned to stare at her. She ducked her head. "I mean, I know, sunlight. But where do you have him stashed?"

Xander grinned for real. "Oh, you have to see this."

*****

Spike was getting used to the feeling of motionlessness and silence again. That, combined with the darkness, was almost cryptlike. Relaxing. He settled down into a half-snooze, and his wandering thoughts settled where they usually did these days-- on Xander.

His lover seemed happy enough now. When Spike had kissed him and shaken him awake at six o' clock, and stared into sleepy eyes to see whether there was a street-legal personality in there or if he had another Dru in his arms, Xander had smiled genuinely, and said softly, "I'm fine, Spike." And then gave him a bone-crushing hug, before jumping up to turn on the telly.

They'd simply sat and watched cartoons for most of the early morning; Xander cracking up over repeats he'd undoubtedly seen a million times before, Spike dividing his attention between the fun of watching various cartoon animals get squished in creative ways and the uncertainty of watching Xander. Eventually he came to the amazing conclusion that Xander was telling the truth, at least as far as he knew it.

And who are you? Spike, Vampire Psychiatrist? he snarked at himself. Never managed to fix Dru in over a century, what the hell makes you think you can do it with Xander? Fix what, anyhow? He wanted nothing more than to smooth away the hurt parts, but the delightfully crazy parts were half of what made him love the boy.

The sound of voices and the car boot opening put an end to his musings, for which he was somewhat grateful. Then something heavy was dropped in next to him, and another one, partially on top of him. Squirming to shake it off brought him up against the canvas bag of weapons, and he very nearly got poked with a mace somewhere he really only wanted Xander poking him.

"Bloody Hell! Watch the merchandise, won't you?" Spike shouted.

"Spike?" It was Willow's voice, followed by a giggle.

"Yeah, Red. Laugh it up. Your turn'll come, and you won't be unzippin' your bodybag and climbing out."

"That was uplifting," Cordelia commented. "For a guy who could be gone at the pull of a zipper..." And there was a click, as the first tooth of said zipper was undone.

"Oh, leave him alone, Cordy." The voice was Xander's, and it was calm and cool, and completely in control, and Spike still didn't know what to think. The bags were shifted until he was comfortable, while Xander added, "I think having to live with being Spike is a more appropriate punishment than being dusted, somehow."

Cordelia's voice was defensive. "Oh, like I was really gonna dust him. I don't kill helpless creatures. Except spiders. Ick."

Xander's voice was very quiet now. Casual-sounding to anyone but Spike. "He's not an animal."

It hit him like a tiny bolt of lightning, and he blinked, as if it would do any good in the pitch darkness of the bag and the car boot. He had the strangest feeling, just for a moment, that Xander-- saw him. For what he was. Man, killer, demon...terrible poet. And still wanted him. It couldn't possibly be true, and he shook it off. Mostly.

Ahestele. My own one, William the bloody awful poet thought in the unwritten language of a stuck-up, goat-footed water fairy he'd met once. He said it as softly as he could, down where the parts of himself that laughed at him shouldn't have been able to hear, but his luck really was irreparably bollocksed. Mine, the demon, shoved down even lower, slumped grumpily in its cage, corrected him. Oh, could you two be any wetter? Snarky Voice Number Something-Or-Other shouted down at them, and was completely ignored.

Do shut up, you overgrown hobgoblin, William hissed quietly. Mine indeed-- rather lacks that touch of classic elegance, don't you think? Obnoxious roaring sound from below. I certainly won't do that. Mother would never approve. Extended growl, huffy intake of long-gone breath... Have you ever seen a demon get bitch-slapped by a Victorian poet? The bickering kept Spike entertained all the way to Angel Investigations. It even got rid of his headache.

*****

Silly bitch. Wesley looked around, as if someone could have heard him being less than gentlemanly towards Kate Lockley even in his head. Shaking off that bit of stupidity, he gazed back down at what was left of the weapons cabinet. The center of the explosion, so he wouldn't have been surprised if it were completely obliterated-- but it wasn't. Instead half of it had been blown across the flat to the end of Angel's living room, where it currently lay, bereft of the weapons that had been neatly clipped into place. The clips were there, and they were shut, and they were empty, hence his uncharitable sentiments towards Detective Lockley.

The building was no longer technically an investigation site, since the explosive had been completely untraceable, and, as usual, no one had seen anything. It was still considered an unsafe area, however, and the police were monitoring the front and back entrances. There were always the sewer tunnels for surreptitious entry, of course, but neither Wesley nor Angel relished the idea of being arrested for trespassing once in the building proper. So they had trudged into the precinct house early on Thursday evening, and the blonde detective had shown up to glare at them personally.

Kate had informed Angel, never even looking at Wesley, that under no circumstances would they be allowed in after nightfall or before sunrise, and, by the way, a number of unlicensed weapons had been taken as evidence. Since there was no way to identify the illegal owners for certain, given the damage to the floorplan, there would be no prosecution, but said owners would be seeing said weapons again when Hell froze over, or perhaps later.

Silly bitch... Wesley thought again. As if they weren't trying to keep the streets safe as much as she was. But no, she had to take her own fear of the unknown and throw it at Angel like it was his fault, as if he didn't wear the sins of the world on his shoulders already. If it irked Wesley a little more than it should've, since it wasn't he whom she was baiting, that was his own business. He was allowed to feel possessive of Angel.

He was allowed to feel whatever he liked -- with the exception of a few items he liked that were actually attached to Angel -- he just wasn't allowed to do anything about it. Nothing except quietly research spells and curses in books that never gave him any real answers, not the ones he was looking for. Angel might become human, someday -- but that someday could be five hundred years from now, when no one that he loved was still alive. Except perhaps for Spike, if Angel didn't kill him during the next four days.

"Hey, Wesley," Cordelia shouted down through the great gaping hole in the office floor above. "Where's Angel?"

"Not here yet, I'm afraid." He looked up at her, to find that she was accompanied by two additional faces, one familiar, one not. Willow Rosenberg he recognized, as she gave him a little wave. The second girl, a curvaceous blonde with long dark roots, was holding Willow's other hand. More than the length of Willow's copper hair had changed since they'd last met, but he couldn't say he didn't approve. He'd be treading dangerously close to hypocrisy if he disapproved of such a relationship, and he'd be coming dangerously close to needing new glasses if he didn't appreciate Willow's taste in women.

"Hi, Wesley," Willow said cheerfully. "This is Tara Maclay." She smiled, and then added, "My girlfriend. Tara, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."

"Hi," the young woman said softly, tilting dark, full lips into a shy smile.

"Pleased to meet you. And how are you finding university life, Willow?"

"Normally fascinating, currently boring, since classes are out of session. Even the summer ones are over. Hence our freedom to travel, see the sights, look up old friends and play in unsafe demolition zones. How's the rogue demon hunting business these days?"

He was really never going to live that down, was he. "About the same as it is in Sunnydale, except, as Cordelia has pointed out, Evil drives a better car in Los Angeles."

Cordelia whispered something to Willow, and Willow's eyes widened appreciably. "And Good rides a motorcycle?"

Wesley grinned. She wasn't the only one who'd changed, after all. "On occasion. When there's an extremely fast rogue demon to be chased down," he teased. "Speaking of rogue demons, haven't you lost two members of the Sunnydale party? Or was that intentional?"

*****

"I told you we should've taken a left turn at the pipe with the dead rat on it."

"No, I believe your words were 'Euuchhh, let's go the other way. Any other way.' I refuse to navigate solely by your squeamishness factor."

"Oh, yeah, because your solution is so vastly superior, Mister Sulu." Xander stood in the middle of a long, dark, drippy tunnel that looked just like the last three long, dark, drippy tunnels they'd been through, folded his arms around the two pans of semi-freshly-baked brownies, and glared at Spike. "At last count, my ick-detector has saved my life at least seventeen times. How many times has 'eenie meenie meinie mo' saved yours?"

"Well, it saved yours at least once. You were one syllable away from being my evening meal on parent-teacher night in 1997. It was eat first, compare prick-sizes with Angel second, or the other way round, and you lucked out. So don't complain about my sense of direction, unless maybe you actually have some idea where the hell we are? " Spike ended on a semi-harsh note. Xander blinked, then narrowed his eyes.

"You're just lucky I'm in love with you," he muttered way too softly for even Spike's sensitive hearing to pick up, as they slogged on down the tunnel, stepping on things that made squishy sounds. Smelling things that had squishy smells, too. The tunnels were just barely illuminated for him by the flashlight Spike had dug out of the back corner of the trunk, though it probably looked bright as day to Spike's enhanced vision. Judging by what he was picking up with his other senses, Xander frankly thought he had the better end of the deal.

"Come again?" Spike said, pausing at the junction of yet another tunnel. "Did you say something?"

Of course, Spike's hearing could always be more sensitive than he'd thought. It sure wasn't all that sensitive when he was being asked to get up and change the TV channel, or clean the bowl he'd just desecrated with more Count Bloodula. Well, shit. Xander let the babble flow freely, and luckily it decided to save his ass, instead of getting him into more trouble. The Babble-Goddess was a fickle bitch-- she was probably off hitting Willow with a lightning bolt right now.

"I said you're just lucky I put up with you," he lied. Spike looked suspicious, but didn't pursue the argument.

Thank god, Xander thought, lifting up his shoe and staring disgustedly at something he really didn't want to identify on the sole. I mean, let's try it out for laughs. Spike, I'm madly in love with you. He snorted to himself. Yes, that has a very masculine ring to it. Okay, how about 'Spike, I love you' ? Better, but it was still something straight out of a Harlequin Silhouette. Or a Mills and Boone, or possibly a textbook on abnormal psychology.

You just don't say things like that to another guy. Let alone an evil, undead fiend who can't possibly love you back, and would probably look at you and laugh his unbelievably gorgeous ass off. Except he wouldn't laugh his unbelievably gorgeous ass off, which was even scarier. Spike would be...nice...about it, and then Xander would have to get all freaked out again. He liked this mood better. Vaguely horny, like arguing with Spike almost always made him. Like Spike almost always made him. If he concentrated really hard on said horniness, he could almost believe being in love with Spike didn't scare him shitless.

Xander unwrapped one of the brownie pans, and dug out a roughly square-shaped piece with his fingers. Chocolate, old buddy, you never have to feel like a third wheel, y'know. Spike loves you too. It's kind of a kinky threesome. No point in not talking to the chocolate these days, given his current sanity level. He nibbled as he walked along behind Spike, staring at the back of the black duster, which he'd graciously allowed Spike to wear even though it temporarily hid the shirt. He wished it wasn't temporarily hiding the unbelievably gorgeous ass.

"Oh, bloody..." Spike said, stopping so suddenly that Xander almost walked into him. "Another one? We only parked across the sodding street !"

Across the alley in back of the building actually, but Spike's point was still valid. The sewer tunnel hadn't done anything as sensible as go straight under the road, though. It had come up against a flat wall where they had to turn left or right, and they'd chosen right by Spike's navigational system, and now here they were at yet another junction. It felt like they'd been walking for hours, though it couldn't have been more than ten minutes.

"Left or right?" Xander asked with a resigned laugh. "Eenie or meenie? One potato, two potato?"

"How about Jack Be Nimble?" Spike suggested, jumping over a really disgusting puddle of something greenish. Xander tried it himself, and of course ended up slipping and almost falling on his ass for the second time today. Only grabbing hold of the front of Spike's duster saved him from getting doused in Eau de L.A. sewer. The brownie pans, luckily, landed on a fairly clean concrete ledge on the other side of Spike. As Spike pulled him up, Xander grinned, and pressed himself closer.

"Hi."

"Hi," Spike said, a little confusedly. Xander sighed, grabbed him around the back of the head, and yanked his face close for a long, hot kiss. What, he couldn't initiate this stuff sometimes? He couldn't stay sappy-virgin-guy forever, not with Spike around. Besides, more kissing = less dangerous relationshippy thoughts.

When Spike let him up for air, there was the familiar Spikey eyebrow-leer, but a bit of that confusion remained in the wide-pupiled blue eyes. Or maybe it was new confusion, since Spike licked his lips and said slowly, "You do realize you've been eating the wrong brownies?"

Erk. No, as a matter of fact, he hadn't, but... he really didn't want to ponder what that meant. That path led back to 'you're fucking a vampire,' which he'd actually come to terms with, but that led neatly to 'no, you're making love to a vampire,' and... Xander kissed Spike again.

Worked like a charm. With his tongue in Spike's mouth, he could pretend happily that the familiar copper-and-chocolate taste in his own mouth had come from Spike's tongue. Which was busy doing nice stuff to the little hangy thing at the back of Xander's mouth. What was that thing called? The uvula, Willow's voice said helpfully in his head, courtesy of a long-ago tutoring session. Yeah, thanks, Will. The uvula. The thing that's supposed to initiate the human gag reflex, but... um.. doesn't anymore, for reasons I'd rather not go into just now. The uvula, which the tip of Spike's tongue was currently tickling.

"So do you really know all the verses to 'American Pie' ?" he asked as they continued down the right branch of the tunnel, stopping every so often for a little kiss-and-grope.

Spike raised his eyebrows in an expression of innocent indignation. "Would I lie to you?"

"Frequently."

"Why Xander! Anybody would think you didn't trust me or something."

Xander just raised one of his own eyebrows. Do I...heh...trust you. Not to hurt me, at least on purpose, yes. Not to be a lying asshole? Heh. Bwahahaha. God, Spike, you're a laugh riot.

Spike set off down the tunnel, his shoulders set in the fakest 'I'm so hurt' slouch Xander had seen since...oh, this morning, probably. Then the tunnel was filled with the sound of Spike's voice, singing softly. "A long, long time ago, I can still remember..."

*****

As Angel made his way down the sewer tunnel, he heard, just up ahead, the unmistakeable sound of someone singing. A familiar voice, a familiar song, though he'd never heard them combined. And with the exception of a little head-banging in Sunnydale, he'd never heard Spike sing for anyone but himself or Drusilla. Spike used to sing her lullabyes...

"And in the streets, the children screamed, the lovers cried and the poets dreamed..."

A suitable lullabye for Dru, actually. "But not a word was spoken..." Angel sang along under his breath, which was the only way he could stand to hear himself sing, and stalked closer to the sound. "The church bells all were broken."

And then, of course, the cracky voice of Xander Harris had to chime in. Thankfully not in song. "Y'know, not that it's not a pretty song, but you do have to wonder what this guy was on ."

He could hear Spike's sarcastic snort loud and clear. "It's about rock and roll, Xander. Y'know, that stuff they don't play at the Bronze?" Pregnant pause, and then, amazingly, "Yeah, alright. I don't know what he's on about for most of it either. But the chorus kicks arse, anyhow."

Which they both launched into, skipping the part about the Holy Trinity of rock. Xander was only in tune about half the time, and Angel wondered suddenly why he was using the sound to navigate towards them again?

He'd hardly been expecting to get the two of them alone quite this quickly. When he'd woken up this morning, after about half an hour's restless sleep, Angel had moved one piece, just one, on the chessboard next to his window, and then peeked out the closed blinds at the lightening dawn, wondering what he should do about Xander and Spike. If he should do anything at all.

Spike. Spike and his infuriating self-serving logic and his jumping at anything that looked like it would give him a good fight because it was all he could think of to do. If the boy had been in school during the end of the last century, instead of the one before it, they would have diagnosed him with attention deficit disorder-- occupy his mind and he's fine, but let him get bored... Let him get bored and you get Spike running a hot poker inexpertly though your side, playing around with a rusty pair of needle-nose pliers, and then clapping gleefully when a real torture artist takes the job back over. All because Angel wouldn't, didn't dare, give Spike the ring that would be, in the end, nothing more than a toy to him. A way to walk in daylight and eat his fill of those who thought they were safe, because it amused him. Because he was lonely and bored.

And now Spike was here, jumping and snapping at nothing but himself. Biteless, crippled in a much nastier way than just being stuck in a wheelchair. Angel had known about it for months, glimpsed him through Giles' open door at Thanksgiving-- but if he didn't have to see Spike every day, he didn't have to think about it. About Spike starving, about him lowering his damn stubborn pride to take handouts from Buffy and her friends. Because Spike wouldn't accept anything from him, if he'd dared to offer.

Part of him wanted to smack some sense into Spike the way he'd always had to, soul or no soul. You've got a chance here-- use it! Do something with yourself! Help the kids for real, instead of just for money. You're so damn close to human, Spike. You always were. You could... But he didn't have any right to expect that of Spike. There was no soul there to make Angelus' child, Dru's child, see anything beyond himself and those few who were lucky enough for him to be in love with them.

Another part of Angel wanted to take Spike in his arms and hold him close and call him Will and make it all better. But he wasn't allowed to do that, wasn't allowed to call Spike 'William' or himself 'Sire,' was he. Unless last night's brief truce meant the cold war between them was really over. He could hope.

The demon was straightforward: it wanted to hunt down the morons who'd dared to touch his child, and rip them limb from limb. The answers to why that wasn't an option were pretty straightforward too, thankfully. That Buffy was dating one of them was laughably ironic, really. This nasty habit the Sunnydale crowd has of sleeping with the enemy...

Like Xander Harris, who was just rounding the corner, his face alight with enthusiasm as he dipped into "And this'll be the day that I..." He stopped, looking at Angel first with surprise, and then as Spike followed him around the corner, shining a small flashlight into the open area at the joining of two tunnels, the surprise was replaced by something unreadable. Not that familiar look of distrust and disgust and maybe a little lust, never to be discussed, that Angel knew so well from Sunnydale, and it took him a minute to realize he actually missed it. Xander's confused dislike of him was a constant that he could count on when he'd been falling in love with Buffy, when he'd been out of control, and when he'd come back. One true thread to hold onto-- Xander Harris couldn't stand him.

This new Xander was... unnerving, to say the least. He was carrying two metal baking pans in the crook of one arm, and had the other hand on Spike's back, just like last night. Once again Angel could smell protectiveness mixed with arousal (and chocolate) -- only it was coming from both of them. Harris and Spike, together. In my town. In love. A soul wasn't enough, God? You had to do this to me?

"Deadboy," Xander said pleasantly enough.

Angel tried hard not to growl at him. "How about you don't call me that, and I won't call you 'idiot who's sleeping with a vampire,' and we'll call it even? It's this way."

And he walked past them into the next tunnel, without waiting to see if they'd follow. They would. They had to. They did, and when the two of them came face to face with him again, he'd had a few minutes to think about what he was going to say. Not that it made any difference, since they didn't give him the chance to get a word out. Which was a good thing, because he still had no idea--'What are your intentions towards my son, and by the way, are you out of your fucking mind, Xander?' sounded a bit on the Drusilla side of sanity.

"Okay, you've got me and the Beav away from the rest of the crowd, what did you want to tell us, Ward?" Spike said with a short little laugh. "All about how we're both morons and Buffy's going to kick my arse from here to London and back when she finds out? Figured that bit out already, and still can't see how it's any of your business."

"When she finds out?" Xander broke in. Spike tried to shush him, but Xander was apparently going to give him a piece of whatever mind the human kid still possessed. "When? Was this desire to talk about our sex-life with Buffy something you were planning on telling me about at some time?" he sputtered. "I mean, God knows you can't keep your mouth shut or your pants up when tall, dark and tortured here is in the room, but..."

Spike blinked, then mouthed the word 'pants?' with a quizzical expression on his face. Which to Spike would mean underwear. Which Spike didn't wear, of course.

"Excuse me..." Angel tried to put in. Tall, dark and tortured?

Spike cut him off, backpedaling to Xander and ignoring Angel entirely. "Meant if, luv. If Rat-eater here goes and tells her. If I can't convince him it's a bad idea."

"I don't eat rats! I haven't eaten rats in..." Angel might as well have been talking to Cordelia when she was trying to watch MTV's House of Style.

"Spike, you couldn't even convince Giles to let you watch 'Passions' by yourself. He was afraid you'd do something evil to the TV."

"Oh, is that what he told you. Just ask him about Tabitha and Timmy. Ask him why he thinks they're secretly in love with each other."

"Tabitha and who? You watch what?" When had Angel lost control of the situation? Hell, when had he had control of the situation?

"Oh, sure. It's time for another game of 'See how gullible Xander is.' Giles watches 'Passions' voluntarily, Giles keeps Acapulco Gold in the in the back of the drawer under the Tiffany Lamp, Giles used to date Ethan Rayne..."

Spike blinked at Xander. "I never told you that."

"Oh. Um. Well, it's pretty friggin' obvious, isn't it?"

"Sure, but I thought you were in denial. And I doubt those two were up to anything so vanilla as dating. Stuff I've heard about that chaos fellow makes my hair stand on end."

"Earwigs make your hair stand on end!"

"Well, yeah! I mean, that scene in 'Wrath of Khan.' Eech. Don't like anything that goes in your ear and sucks your brain out. Well, tongues're nice, but otherwise..."

"That wasn't a real earwig, doofus..."

"WILL YOU TWO SHUT UP?!!!"

Xander glanced at his watch, and then looked at Spike. "I make that a minute and twenty seconds. You're right. You win."

Angel blinked slowly at them. "I hesitate to ask, but what does he win, and why?"

"None of your business, and I bet him we could get you to blow your perfectly-moussed top in under two minutes." Spike leaned close to Xander. "Er... what did I win, actually?"

Xander shook his dark hair-- which was getting way too long, and could use some mousse, in Angel's opinion--out of his eyes, and grinned at Spike. "I'll tell you later." Pause. "No I won't! You didn't bet that we'd get him to blow his top-- you bet that he'd say 'I can't heeeer you...' "

Angel was affronted. "I have never said..."

Spike talked over him. "Did not. Bet that he'd do 'I can't heeeer you.' If he says it, sort of defeats the purpose."

"Which still means you lost."

Spike considered this for a blessedly silent moment, and then grinned. "You're right. I lost. Does that mean I get to spank you?"

"No, it does not, and Jesus, Spike, shut up! You're actually, and I can't believe I'm saying this, worse than Anya."

"Whom you're supposed to call, by the way. Or did you write 'er name on your hand because you're planning on gettin' a tattoo? A real one, that is. I've a better suggestion, if you're not too chickenshit..."

"Not a chance. I don't like needles, and anyway..."

Angel had had enough. He was about to.... let Spike win, of course, if he blew up at them again. He shook his head, turned around, and stalked down the tunnel towards the next junction. Spike called out after him, "Oh, nice coat-flapping. Got a great swing to it. Could we see that move again? I still had the lens cap on."

He'd got about halfway there when he figured out what was going on. He whirled around on Spike and Xander, who were three feet behind him and staring at him with innocent expressions. Xander he might believe it of, but Spike was incapable of being innocent.

"You're trying to distract me, so I won't come down on you two like a..." He searched for an appropriate simile.

"Bloody great tosser who can't mind his own business and leave two fully grown men alone to shag in peace and harmony?"

"Yes. No. Spike, dammit!"

Xander nudged Spike. "I thought you weren't going to mention your ex-girlfriend anymore?"

"Not that Harmony, you twit."

Angel gritted his teeth. Stopped, because he realized that if Spike stayed more than a day, he'd be having to get caps for them, and he really couldn't spare the cash. 'What kind of a vampire needs dental insurance?' he'd asked Cordelia when she suggested he sign them all up for a plan. Only a vampire who was stupid enough to adopt William the Bloody as his own.

"You two..." he said, and looked at them as they half-glared, half-laughed at each other. They were this close to either starting World War III, or tearing each other's clothes off. Neither of which he really wanted to witness-- the first because he'd end up tearing his own hair out if he had to watch it, and the second because the sheer smell of their arousal right now was making him want to stalk into the office, bend Wesley Wyndam-Pryce over what was left of his desk, and do extremely undignified and soul-risking things to him. He growled. "You two deserve each other."

And that would've been the end of it, really. He would have shut up. He would've let it go, at least for a while, if only Xander hadn't decided to give Spike a high-five. Spike just stared at him, wrinkling his brow in disdain, as if there were some activities too immature for even the undead Peter Pan to participate in. Xander tugged at the collar of his parrot-covered shirt in embarrassment, and Angel saw it. Them. There on his throat. Two sets of fang marks, one fading, one fresh.

His hands were around Spike's throat before he even knew what he was doing, and then Spike was hanging six inches off the ground by the collar of that buttoned-up duster, and he was hissing into Spike's ear in Gaelic: "Cen fath cuireadh tu i jeaicead teann?" -- Why haven't they put you in a straitjacket?

*****

"Speak English, you nonce. I don't remember that bog-trottin' Danny-boy crap anyhow," Spike lied. He remembered. Listening to Angelus curse him out in Gaelic as the four of them rode hellbent out of London. The blank look on Darla's face. And later, pinned down by that heavy body, scratching and clawing and liquid syllables ground out at him in guttural passion and he had to find out what they meant.

So he'd learned it. Only him. Drusilla couldn't hold it in her head, though she loved to hear them speak it to her, and Darla couldn't be bothered. Not with something that had come out of the Irish Bastard's human life, not when the selfish bint tried so hard to pretend a rampage through Galway a hundred and fifty years earlier had wiped that life away. Which meant Spike could toss Irish insults at her to her face, and get nothing more than a stern eye, sometimes even a laugh, from his Sire. And they would whisper it, tangled around each other like snakes in a nest, he and Angelus -- when the Bitch let him out of her bed --and sometimes Dru. He remembered.

"Don't lie to me, boy," Angel growled, still in Gaelic. "Are you insane? You think he's your own personal blood bank?" Or something close to that, since they didn't have blood banks when Spike had learned the language, much less when Angel had.

"Fuck you for thinking that, and fuck you for saying it, and if that's what this is about, you can sodding well speak English."

"And you could maybe put him down before I decide I really don't care that you have a soul, and stake you just for being an asshole." Xander had Angel by one arm. It was almost cute, though Spike doubted Xander would appreciate the thought. Angel shook him off lightly, dark eyes still boring holes in Spike's forehead. Xander might be near enough to Angel's height, but Angel was a vampire, and one without a chip. Xander had about as much chance of making him drop Spike as Spike had of levitating out of Angel's grasp and kicking him in the head.

"Relax, he's not about to do anything impressive. Bat-Vamp won't bash away on a poor biteless cottontailed bunny like me," Spike drawled to Xander, and Angel shook him until his teeth rattled.

"Biteless?" With Xander standing inches away, caught between pissed and confused, Angel had no problem reaching out to flick his collar away from his neck, and then Xander caught on.

"Hey, I think a guy's hickeys are his own personal business, unless you happen to be dating an ex-vengeance demon with a big mouth, which I don't anymore. They sure as hell aren't any of yours."

Angel looked at him, away from Spike, who took the opportunity to kick Angel in the knee. Didn't accomplish anything, but it felt good. "Do you have any clue at all what you're doing? Don't you know what he is? What we are?" Angel went vamp to illustrate his point, and Xander just stood there looking back at him. Didn't even blink.

"Wait, let me think. Pointy teeth, yellow eyes, bumpy forehead... Klingon?" Xander shook his head. "Not to sound like the youngest person in the smelly tunnel here, but, duh."

Angel furrowed that pretty-boy bumpy Klingon brow, and spat out at Xander through teeth that needed a good kicking in, "You really think he's some kind of neutered housepet that you can just let munch on you whenever he feels like it?"

And for the second time that day, Xander floored Spike. "It's not your business, and it's not your call, and I don't remember anybody dying and making you the dad of me, but I asked him to bite me. He's got a chip in his head, dipshit, or didn't you remember that? He can't do anything to me that I don't want him to do."

Spike could see it on Angel's face, the double-take, the oops, forgot about that, the fact that he hadn't trusted Spike, for all his father-son shit last night. I'm a demon, and I'm evil, and I lie like a sodding rug, but Christ, Angelus! You know I love him, and have you ever known me to hurt somebody I love? Ever? Besides that time when I made Dru think she was bein' strangled so she'd stop trying to save your psychotic arse? No, that's your game, you I'm-so-fucking-sorry bastard.

Then there was the other look, creeping across that sanctimonious face. The pitying look that said... you've got yourself another broken one, don't you, Spike. Yeah, maybe, but at least you didn't do the breaking this time. Don't you dare pity him. You never pitied Dru, not before you picked up that soul. You broke her and you made her and you loved her, but you never pitied her, so don't you dare pity my boy.

And his boy... Come on, Spike. He's a man, isn't he? Can't you ever decide? His Xander had as much as told Angel that he needed it. The feeding, not the pity. Given Angel a glimpse of how fractured he really was, just to save Spike from a thrashing from Dad. The heavy sound of footfalls on overhead suburban floors echoed in his skull, and Spike made another mental note about Harris Senior being first up against the wall come the de-chipping. Just on principle, whether he'd ever laid a hand on Xander or not.

Angel looked at him with the question in his eyes, and Spike answered it with a half-growl in the Irish he wasn't supposed to remember. "What, you think he's lying? How'd you figure I go about it when I lose at Scrabble-- hire somebody to spank him for me? How'd you think I shag him, for fuck's sake? Or did you s'pose I'd brought him down here for you to break him in for me?"

"Y'know, I don't happen to speak Klingon. You wanna try that in English or really slow French?" Xander asked. Then he winced, and blushed. There was no Gaelic for Scrabble, not in 1753, and Spike's boy was no idiot, though it might take a minute or so for sounds to make it from his ears to his brain. "Or possibly not. The less I know about how much you're telling people about our sex life, the shorter and less painful your impending death will be."

A blink of surprise, and then a snort of laughter, and Spike's feet were on the ground. "Don't be an ass, boy," his Sire said to him in English. He could almost swear Angel was about to ruffle his hair. If he did, he'd find that hand so far up his fat backside... Angel must have thought better of it, because he ran his fingers through his own hedgehog spikes instead. Then, as if Spike hadn't had enough surprises for one day, he turned to Xander. "I'm sorry. You're right. It's none of my business. You're a grown man, even if he isn't."

Spike considered all his options, and settled on the most dignified and mature one: he stuck his tongue out at Angel. "Póg mo thóin."

"Kiss your ass? No. Kick it possibly, but only if you ask nicely."

"Excuse me," Xander said politely to Angel, and reached over and smacked Spike on the back of the head. Of all the unfairness! Made him bite his tongue, too!

Angel shot a look back at Spike as he led the way down the tunnel. "I mean, in Cordelia's living room? What kind of moron are you?"

"Go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat," Spike called after him.

 

*****

"What the hell was that for?" Spike asked Xander after a few seconds, rubbing his skull, and Xander just shrugged, not really apologetically.

"Thought I'd round off the set with a little mindless slapstick, I guess. Think it worked?" Playing Pinky and the brain for Angel, that is. They'd fallen far enough back that Angel could probably hear them if he tried, but since the older vampire was purposely ignoring them again, he felt reasonably safe in discussing it with Spike.

Spike continued to rub at his head with a pouting look, and Xander leaned over and kissed the spot where he'd hit him. "All better?" Twit.

"Hmmph. S'pose." Spike blinked at him and clarified. "S'pose it worked. Don't think he's likely to run off to her Buffness anyway, but if we drive him wonky enough, his tiny brain won't even be able to hold onto the idea. 'Sides, it's fun, which was the whole point of coming here, yeah?"

It was? Oh, yeah. Right. That, and a roof over their heads for the weekend, and apologizing to Cordy for past sins, which he'd sort of done on the way back from Wesley's last night. She'd just snorted at him and asked him why he thought she cared if he was sorry for kissing Willow Rosenberg a hundred thousand years ago.

"Like I even remember that far back. I've firmly repressed most of my high school career, with the exception of the stuff that might save my life, like how to stake a vamp while changing earrings and trying not to drop your calculus book. You, Xander Harris, are at the top of the repression list, trust me." It had taken him a few panicked seconds to realize she meant she'd repressed her memories of dating him, and she wasn't pointing out that possibly Larry the gay quarterback had gotten it right between the goalposts when he'd pegged Xander for a member of the team. He really was getting paranoid.

She'd said it with a toss of her hair that reminded him a little nostalgically of the days when she was cutting him to little Xanderpieces every afternoon in the library, and sucking up to Wesley. She'd said it, but then she'd asked him all about Anya, and whether he was really okay, and the pen had tickled when she wrote the name on the back of his hand. It was almost faded away now, and he still hadn't called Anya. And Cordy'd kissed him on the forehead last night before she disappeared into her room, before he laid down alone on the couch.

"Hello? Pet, you in there?" Spike was watching him, like Spike had been watching him all morning, like he was going to fall apart if Spike wasn't there to keep him together or something. Which... might be true, though not the way Spike was thinking. If Spike wasn't there... So the comedy had a desperate edge, even though he believed Spike that Angel wouldn't tell; even though he wasn't all that sure what Buffy would do even if she did know. What he had, crazy as it might be, was too precious to not be afraid of losing. And... Way too much thinking going on here. There was a cure for that.

"I'm in here." He turned around and pressed Spike against a relatively clean section of wall. Smashed two saran-wrap-covered baking pans between them. Buried his face in Spike's neck, smelling april-fresh vampire wearing Xander's own clean shirt. My april-fresh vampire, he thought insanely. Kissed cool skin, licked at a vein that hadn't had fresh blood pumping through it for five or six times the number of years he'd been alive. Nibbled, and then bit, while Spike gasped and groaned, pinned to the wall.

"Yeah, I guess you are," Spike replied, twisting his hands in Xander's hair, and that felt so good. Fingers on his scalp, arm around his back, lips whispering things in not-really-Klingon into his hair, too.

"What is it, and don't tell me it's about sock-merchants," he breathed into Spike's throat.

"Gaelic. Teach it to you, if you like."

Irish Gaelic. Angel's language. Just one more thing the big guy and Spike have together, that I don't have a clue about. Nope. Cut it out. More sex, less thinking. He ran his free hand down to Spike's crotch, cupping the hardness beneath the denim, and Spike moved against him. Returned the favor by squeezing his ass with both hands.

"What'd you yell at him before?" Xander's mouth whispered with absolutely no input from his brain. His brain was busy. Brain: You're fucking Spike against a wall, Xander. With Angel about twenty feet away. Xander: Thanks for the update, brain. I'll call you if I need you. To quote Spike, sod off.

"May the cat eat you, and may the cat be eaten by the devil." Xander took his teeth off Spike's throat for a second to stare at him incredulously, and Spike shrugged. "Yeah. Biting, ain't it. S'what you get from a culture based on whiskey and rotten potatoes. Spud-brains like Himself."

Shaking his head, Xander moved his teeth to the shell of Spike's ear, nibbling and sucking at it. Stuck his tongue in and tried sincerely to suck Spike's brains out through his ear. He didn't find any, which didn't exactly surprise him. Spike growled low, and then added,"Try this one on him-- guh lee nuh mee-uhl-tuh kroo-buh-khuh duh wahl fa-ruh-guh. "

Xander did his best to memorize it, though he was a little distracted by the feeling of Spike's skull buzzing against his lips as his lover spoke.

"Are you two coming?" Angel called back, from around the corner.

"Not at the moment, but get back to me in about five minutes an' I might have a different answer," Spike shouted out, only half-jokingly.

"Oh, for..." came back at them.

Xander grinned, and sank down, setting the brownie pans on the ground. He hoped like hell that there was a nice dry patch of cement beneath his knees, and he got lucky. Seemed only fair to share that luck with Spike, so he slowly unzipped Spike's jeans with his teeth, inhaling the smell of april-freshness mixed with vampire-scent. Bottle and sell it. Xander Harris' Obsession for Vampires.

"Xander, you're insane..." Spike hissed happily.

"Yuh-huh. Problem with that?" Spike shook his head, and Xander pulled the stiffening cock from its hiding place, caressing it with his fingers. He lowered his mouth to the tip, and sucked greedily at it while his hands were busy running up and down the length, and dropping down to fondle the velvety softness of Spike's balls. Another groan, and Spike pushed forward against him, running fingers through his hair, not pulling, just touching his scalp, shifting his hair around.

It felt wonderful, Spike's hands in his hair. Like he was being petted, which reminded Xander of last night, but in a good way. Just Spike touching him, trying to make him feel good, like he was doing for Spike. Love you, he whispered in his head. Love you so much it scares the hell out of me, and I know you don't love me back, but you do a damn good job of making me feel like you do. He pulled his mouth away for a moment, just resting his head against Spike's thigh, and Spike's fingers softly stroked the side of his face.

After a second, Xander returned to what he'd been doing, tonguing Spike's pulled-back foreskin until he heard Spike start actually breathing, little can't-quite-stop-myself breaths. "Hey, you don't need to breathe," he said, the words a bit muffled by the fact that his mouth was still on Spike's cock. "How come you're panting?" He took Spike back into his mouth without waiting for an answer, and sucked hard, as if he were breathing for both of them. He didn't really expect an answer, and so was surprised when he got one.

"Make me breathless, you do."

Not nice to compliment a guy and spoil your whole evil demon image while he's trying to suck you off in a sewer tunnel with your pseudo-dad-person probably within hearing distance, Xander thought. Gets distracting. He massaged Spike's balls again, and felt them spasm, as if... No, not quite, still had a bit of time to play, and Xander pushed down against Spike as Spike pushed up with his hips, fingers back in Xander's hair, twining and twisting. Xander's lips sliding down and down, sucking for all he was worth on the cool, hard flesh in his mouth.

When Spike was pushing at him just a little harder, so obviously straining to hold back from just pumping into his mouth, Xander grinned and dove all the way down. Down to the bottom, and he was glad he was a good swimmer, glad he could hold his breath, glad sorry Willow, no, don't think of Willow when you're sucking Spike off, bad bad Xander that his uvula didn't work quite right, because he was able to take all of Spike in. His hands on Spike's hips, Spike's hands on his head, he froze still when Spike did, as Spike shot into his mouth with a rush that he just kept swallowing.

Salt and cream and it wasn't sweet at all and it didn't quite taste like the blood that he was getting too used to, but it was close, and it was everything that was Spike. Tasted like Spike smelled, ocean salt and coolness of moving air, and he sucked and swallowed until there was nothing left. Nothing. Yup, that's me. Xander Harris, cock-vampire. Suck it dry and bring it back to life so we can have lots more cock-vampires running around, and no, I'm not insane. I'm just reality-challenged. Comes of living on a Hellmouth for sixteen years before finally figuring out that vampires are real. And boy, are they real. He leaned his head against Spike's leg again.

Spike was still doing that fake-breathing thing, but he pulled Xander up so they were face to face. Kissed him hard, swiping his tongue inside Xander's mouth, as if he was trying to suck out every drop of his own flavor he could find. Because he was a vain bastard, obviously.

"You're still panting," Xander pointed out with a grin.

Spike frowned at him. "Panting... panting... pants!"

Xander looked down at Spike's, and obligingly tucked him back into them, zipping them up. "There, better?"

"No, you lunatic. Not these pants. Yesterday's. Can't keep my mouth shut or my pants up, y'said. We all know the first one's true, but... That what you're pissed about? Really? Me droppin' my jeans for Poof-head? That was just so he'd tell me what that bloody tattoo you stuck on me is, not that it worked. Like I'd touch him with a ten foot pole."

"You don't have a ten foot pole." Xander leaned against him. "Close, but not quite."

Spike wasn't satisfied. "But that's it? That's why I'm wearin' the shirt that ate Cleveland?"

Xander sighed. "That's why I was mad at you last night. That and you flashing Cordelia."

"Don't think she minded."

"Kind of the point."

"Oh."

Yeah. Oh. Stupid vampire.

"So Spike's personal dangly bits are only to be viewed by one Alexander Harris, is that the concept?"

Yes, that was the concept, but he didn't have to make it sound so much like Alexander Harris cared what Spike did with his personal dangly bits, or thought Alexander Harris personally owned Spike's personal dangly bits, or...

"Alright."

"What?"

"Alright. All you had to do was say so."

Xander rested his head silently against Spike's shoulder, not trying too hard to understand what that meant. Finally he gathered his poor lonely brain cells together enough to say, "Not why you're wearing the shirt, though."

"No? Why, then?"

"You look cute in the shirt." That got him no reply, but a look that said he was obviously completely, utterly insane. Then a kiss that said maybe completely utterly insane was cute, too. It also seemed to be saying that he might, at some point, get that spanking Spike had offered several times this morning, for playing head-games with him. But maybe that was just wishful thinking.

They were waiting for Angel to stomp back and tell them that since the party was over, could they please get their asses in gear and come on... But there was no sound from down the tunnel and around the corner. They looked at each other, and waited. And waited. Finally there was a rumbly growl that didn't sound like anything remotely vampiric, yet was still oddly familiar. Spike cursed in some semi-familiar-sounding demon language, and then in English.

"Shit. What's he gotten himself into now?" Spike pushed Xander gently back. When Xander gave a protesting squeak, Spike ducked his head, like he was ashamed of giving a damn whether Angel was in danger. "Gotta at least watch him get trounced, y'know. Better'n Saturday morning cartoons, it is."

What he'd gotten himself into now, when they rounded the corner, was a standoff in the middle of a wide section of tunnel with a barred grate above that let in a nice, bright, focused beam of sunlight. On one side of that beam was Angel, looking determined and a little confused. On the other was a tall putty-colored demon that looked a hell of a lot like Giles.

Okay, rewind. Looks a hell of a lot like Giles did when Ethan Rayne-- Oh my God, did they actually? Really, I was just letting that shit burble out of my mouth and yeah, they must've; you can see it in his eyes when he talks about him-- put the whammy on him.

It stalked over to Angel and rumble-growled at him again, then picked him up by the collar, swinging him as easily as Angel had lifted Spike a little while ago. Angel, out of vamp-face again, launched a punch at the demon that connected with the edge of its craggy chin, and it let go for a second, but not before tossing Angel back against the wall with a painful-sounding thud.

"What the hell is this thing? Either of you know?" Angel hissed through the roar that signaled the return of his game face.

"Fyarl Demon," Xander answered a bit dazedly. Hey Wills, I knew the answer to the monster trivia quiz! Do I get a treat? Yes, Xander, you get to do some more research. Yippee, thanks, sweetie. I was thinking of something that would tickle my uvula.

"Pretty common," Spike added. "Surprised you haven't managed to piss one off before." Angel shrugged, then made a vague gesture back and forth between the growling demon and Spike. "What was that? Translate for me, Spike? Pretty please? Sure. It wants your hide. If you're 'Big Vamp With Fussy Hair,' which I think is a pretty safe assumption." Spike grinned and leaned back against the wall while the demon reached out for Angel again.

"You're getting sewer-slime on your duster," Xander pointed out. Spike nodded, and settled for leaning against him, which was nice. Except it probably meant he was getting sewer-slime on Xander's shirt. Oh well.

"Brownie?" Xander offered Spike the 'vampire' pan, and Spike, after a second's still-confused glance at the evidence of Xander's munching, dug himself out a piece.

The demon, meanwhile, swung Angel around and tossed him against the opposite wall.

"Mmmm. Damn, I may be a Cordon Bleu chef after all," Spike commented, not taking his eyes off the fight.

"You dumped cow's blood into a Betty Crocker mix. I don't think Iron Chef Kobe needs to worry just yet."

The Fyarl rumbled once and grabbed Angel again, hauling him into the dim light. Big Vamp With Fussy Hair growled and swiped at the demon as said fussy hair started to smoke, and they stumbled back out from under the grating.

"Little help here?" Angel called out.

Spike cocked his head, torn between the current fun of watching Angel get beat on, and the potential fun of getting to beat on something himself. Xander pushed him away. "Go play, dipshit."

With a little crow of joy, Spike licked his fingers and jumped into the fray. He grabbed onto the thing's neck and just laughed when it reared up to its full height, hauling him up so that he was swinging a good foot and a half off the ground. "Grrrrr, arrrgh..." Spike growled at it, and it threw him off like he was a fly, but he rolled and came up with a sharp-toothed grin on his face.

"Should I ask what you just said to it?" Angel asked as it concentrated on messing up his hair again, the hard way-- picking him up by one leg and shaking him.

"Somethin' about its mother and a sheep farmer," Spike replied, jumping back into the fight. The demon dropped Angel and he bounced to his feet. Xander watched in amusement and fascination as the two vampires got a rhythm going, and the Fyarl suddenly didn't have a chance. Spike would yell something at it and give it a punch or a kick in a vulnerable spot, Angel would get it from the other side. It was like watching them dance.

Of course, it was like watching them dance without him... He had a brief Ally McBeal thought-bubble fantasy of the two of them in tails, waltzing. May I cut in?

Gulp. He was in the middle of it, brownie pans stacked neatly against the wall, before he could smack his brain upside the head. Hello, you're Xander? Remember? Second-hand hand-to-hand skills are only for things that have hands, not claws? Um... Army Guy... where are you.... MIA, apparently, but plain old Xander got in a good sock to its stomach, or he assumed it was the stomach, before it kicked him out of the way. He landed hard on the ground, directly in the middle of the fighting arena.

"Xander, get back!" Angel growled at him.

"Guh lee nuh... um... mee-uhl-tuh..." he tried to remember. How did that go? Oh yeah. "Kroo-buh-khuh duh wahl fa-ruh-guh."

Angel turned his head to stare at him for a second, and the Fyarl ripped out a nice dime-sized patch of hair from the back of his head. Spike guffawed.

"What'd I say?"

"May the crab lice lick your manly part. Implies that he has one, of course, which is assuming a lot." Then Spike frowned at him as he scrambled to his feet. "Xander, get back!"

"You too? Look, I'm just as happy to protect my own skin as the next guy but..."

"Mucous-shooter," Spike shouted, just as the Fyarl turned its face towards him.

"Right, getting back." Xander flattened himself against the wall as a stream of smelly yellow gunk hit the spot where his feet had been seconds before, and solidified. Double-erk. So it was back to watching them fight, and hearing Angel bitch.

"Thanks for telling me about the mucous thing."

"Didn't ask, did you."

In a few minutes, without Xander to get in the way, they had it flat on the ground. Spike had pounded a satisfying number of blows into its face, and was growling at it in its own language. It growled back.

Spike looked up at Angel. "Says he was sent specifically to find and kill you."

Angel shrugged. "Happens."

Spike snorted. "Yeah, not surprised, but my point is, these guys are grunt workers. Maybe cannon fodder. Not smart enough to find their own bollocks if they had an itch to scratch. They're not assassins. Who the hell would be stupid enough to send a Fyarl Demon after a vampire? Even a soft, lard-arsed one like you?"

"Ask it, twit. You're the one who speaks its language."

More growling, and Xander wondered if the thing was telling Spike its entire life story, given the length of its answer.

"What's it saying?"

Spike glanced up in disgust. "He doesn't know. Somebody's brother's uncle's cousin four times removed put him onto the job. Go here, crush big stupid vampire. And something about going to the Inn of the Big Roses for payment?"

Angel shrugged. "Doesn't ring a bell." They all three stared down at the demon, who was looking at them with big gray eyes that blended in with the rest of its skin. Angel looked like he was trying to decide something, and Spike... Spike looked like he knew what that decision was, and it involved mixing chocolate with demon-mucous.

"You wanna let it go, don'tcha."

Angel shrugged. "Job's done. It's not gonna try again, I assume."

"No, they do learn from getting their backsides kicked, I'll give 'em that."

"Means they're smarter than you, then."

It appeared that Spike was about to get into another pissing war with Angel, but he shook his head and looked down at the demon, which had stopped making any noise at all. Then he looked up at Xander for a few long seconds, narrowed his eyes, and let it up with a disgusted wince. The eight foot tall demon actually scurried down the tunnel and out of sight.

*****

When they made it to the sorry mess that was left of his apartment, Angel heaved a sigh of relief. No more putting up with the oversexed hyperactivity twins by himself, at least. He snatched the uncut pan of brownies from Xander's hand and passed it over to Wesley. The last thing Xander or Spike needed was any more chocolate. Somewhere, he decided, there was a higher power laughing maniacally at them all, after having put those two together. It probably owned stock in Cadbury's.

Wesley gazed at the pan of brownies fearfully, obviously remembering Cordelia's last attempt. Angel felt the need to reassure him. That would be why he almost, but not quite, reached over to touch him on the shoulder. Reassurance.

"Don't worry. Spike made them."

He probably deserved the look he got in return for that. The one that said 'Have you utterly taken leave of your senses?' Wesley could even stare at him with a British accent. Nonetheless, the other man unwrapped the pan, took a sniff, and sighed happily.

"Forgot to go grocery shopping again?" Angel asked.

"Quite. And I wasn't about to ask Xander to take me back out once they'd carted me home last night. So there's nothing left in my larder but a tin of Darjeeling and three rather dubious-looking oranges."

"Walk back with me tonight and I'll drive you around to the supermarket." Translation: You've gotta take better care of yourself, Wes.

"Yes, thank you, mother." Translation: You're so cute when you're overprotective. Wesley munched gratefully on a brownie. "You know, these are actually rather edible. Bordering on delicious."

Like the man before him, but Angel refrained from saying it. He always refrained from saying it. Just like Wesley refrained from acknowledging that he heard it anyway. "So what've you guys found, if anything?"

"Willow says Cordelia's computer is...er...terminal," and Wesley winced at the joke, which probably wasn't any funnier the first time he'd heard it, "but she's getting a deathbed confession from it, and downloading the results to her laptop. Which means we'll have our client files back, so Cordelia can send more bills they won't pay. The other two are sorting paper files into 'Good,' 'Salvageable,' and 'Extra Crispy.' Cordelia's filing system strikes again."

A nod. "Demon in the tunnels. Somebody hired it, don't know who. Know anything about an Inn of the Big Roses?" Wesley shook his head, and Angel repeated the question to the group upstairs, who had come over to lean across the remnants of Cordelia's desk and stare at him.

"The Rosa Grande Hotel? There's two-- east and west." Cordelia offered, perturbed. "Both way expensive for demons to be using it for hit-jobs central."

Willow looked even more worried than Cordelia, though Angel doubted it was because whoever hired the Fyarl was hanging in the wrong social circles. "The Rosa Grande West is where Tara and I are staying." Pause for inane social niceties. "Um, Tara, Angel, Angel, Tara. Why would demons want to go there? Don't they have enough demony things to do without crashing a science fiction convention?"

"I think a more appropriate question is why would anybody want to go to a science fiction convention?" Spike asked, taking off his coat and handing it to Xander with great reluctance. Angel could see why. It was all he could do not to laugh out loud at Spike's shirt and scare the hell out of Cordelia and Xander again.

There are just moments when you get a flash of brilliance. Single, silver, shining moments when you know without a doubt that no matter what you've done in your life, there's somebody up there, and he occasionally loves you, whether he owns stock in Cadbury's or not. Angel looked at Spike. Spike looked at Angel.

"You son of a bitch." Angel just continued to look at Spike. "No way in hell." Look, look, la la la la... "I am not going to..."

"Multi-Media? Xander asked, coming up behind Angel. He could smell Spike on Xander's breath, which was expected, and chocolate, also expected, and... nah, couldn't be. "You two are going to Multi-Media?" Xander had that too-much-chocolate-in-a-good-way face that Angel remembered from a few late-night Scooby sessions he'd crashed, and then he wiped it away, replacing it with a manly air of disinterest. "I mean... isn't that the name of the convention you used to go to in middle school, Wills?"

She stared at him as if he'd grown another head, and Spike just groaned.

"I can't think why demons would want to crash a Star Trek convention, or whatever it is, either. I'm betting that whatever's going down is going down at the other hotel," Angel said slowly. "But it doesn't hurt to be careful. Take Xander and Spike with you. If anything weird happens, call me. Spike can always annoy them to death while you wait for us to show up."

"I hate you." This from Spike. "I hate you with a passion so deep and fiery that it makes two hundred years in hell look like an ice-fishing trip." Angel just grinned. Possibly a little too widely, because Willow's girlfriend looked down at him nervously. Then Willow prodded her just a little bit, and she spoke.

"Um... hi. You're... not evil again, are you?"

Har-de-har-de-har. General laughter from the group, at Angel's expense, but Spike took her seriously. Well, as seriously as Spike could take anything. "Yes! He's evil! Stake him! Stake him now! He wants me to go to a geek love-in!"

Angel rolled his eyes in Spike's general direction, and set the women to looking up the guest roster at both hotels via Willow's laptop and Cordy's cell-phone. And changing Willow and Tara's single reservation to a double. He might have been willing to pay to get Xander and Spike out of his hair, but they weren't going to fuck each other silly on Angel Investigations' tab.

Xander and Spike wandered off to opposite corners of the room, both looking annoyed, except that Xander would every once in a while grin maniacally and then get his disdainful expression back if he caught Spike staring in his direction. Angel and Wesley watched with a great deal of amusement.

"Very impressive," Wes commented. "I was betting it would take you at least two days to find a suitable wild goose chase for Spike to go off on."

"You don't grasp the vastness of my desperation. After two days with those two, I would be evil again." God bless black humor. Trauma physicians, abuse counselors, and people whose lives were touched by the Hellmouth couldn't exist without it, he'd discovered. You either joked about death or it came and bit you on the ass. Actually, it came and bit you on the ass anyway, but at least the jokes gave you something to do while you waited. "I'd better go threaten Spike with beheading, or a spanking, or something, if he doesn't behave. No, definitely beheading. He... " Wesley gave him the I-don't-want-to-know face, but there was amusement hiding behind it. "Anyway. King to E eight."

Wesley smiled. "Bishop to D seven. Check."

*****

Spike was fiddling with the rusty lock on an interesting-looking trunk that he'd pulled half a wall off of a few minutes ago, when Angel walked around the pile of springs and fluff that used to be his couch, and stopped there, staring at him.

He stood up and spread his coatless arms wide, as if hanging on a cross, then winced at that image. "Alright, have at it. Everybody else has." Which wasn't true, since Red and her snuggle-bunny hadn't said a word, just stared, and not-doing-anything-with-Wesley had merely raised an eyebrow and turned back to not-doing-anything-with-Angel.

Angel actually lifted the gloom-and-doom off his face long enough to give him an Angelus-like grin. "How dost thou, Benedick the married man?"

Which Spike quite properly declined to answer on the grounds that cramming his fist down his Sire's throat probably wouldn't earn him any points toward Early-Shirt-Release-For-Not-Evil-Behavior from Xander. Or maybe he was supposed to be trying not to look cute, now, to get out of it?

"Okay, I know you two act like twin six year olds, but why are you dressing like him?"

Spike grimaced. "He thinks I look cute in it."

Snicker from the soon-to-be-permanently-dead Sire, who looked as if he were about to vomit up all that food he didn't ever eat as he gazed at the shirt.

"Oh, stuff it, why don't you, Peaches? Like you're any better, with your 'King to E eight' ?"

Ah, that got him stammering. Not used to being around somebody whose hearing was as sensitive as his, not anymore. "That was... Wesley and I..."

Closed-mouth Spike-smirk. Fair exchange. "Yeah, I know exactly what that was. You two can't even play chess without a prophylactic." No reply on that, because it was so obviously true even the poster-vamp for denial couldn't deny it. "Why don't you just shag him and get it over with?"

"Are you completely brainless, or is it just that you loaned yours to Xander this morning? You remember the party guy I was the last time I did the moment-of-happiness thing?"

He remembered. Remembered the factory, the mansion, the sound of Dru screaming in pleasure from another room. Because she didn't know any better. Because she didn't understand that Daddy was only hurting her because he couldn't do it to Buffy. She thought he loved her again.

"Yeah. I remember. You remember. Most of Sunnydale remembers, even if the blind sods won't admit it. But let me ask you-- you ever gonna be naive enough to be that happy again?" No answer. "You don't shag, you don't eat, you don't watch TV, you might as well just climb into your coffin and be done with it."

Angel's face was impassive. He'd put up his damn 'I can't hear you' shields, finally, and if anything Spike said got through to him, Spike would never know.

Spike handed him the other pan of brownies. "Eat something, for fuck's sake, since you won't eat someone. Either walk into the world or crawl out of it, but stop bein' vampire ballerina and pirouetting on the bloody line."

"That was suspiciously poetic," Angel replied, studying the pan of chocolate and... he sniffed. "This has blood in it!"

"Yeah, relax. Not human or anything. It's Chateau de Bossy, from your private cellars at the Chase mansion."

"And that's what Xander has on his breath? Aside from you?" Something dark flared in Angel's eyes.

"Er..."

"Don't even try it. The one I gave to Wes hasn't been touched."

Spike shrugged. "So he's used to the taste. What, you never kissed the vestal Slayer with blood on your breath?" No, he probably hadn't. Probably brushed, flossed, and gargled with holy water before chastely pecking that one on the lips like something out of Sleeping Beauty. Angel was staring at him with that damn pitying look again, and he couldn't honestly make himself believe it was for the shirt.

"You can't turn him."

Son of a... "I bloody know that!" Spike hissed, smacking his chipped-up skull.

"That's not what I mean." And it was worse than seeing pity on Angel's face for Xander, who didn't need it, to see that look. Like he understood. He didn't fucking understand, nobody understood.

Spike stood up, looking up into that face. He really didn't know whether he wanted to bash it in, or just press his own against Angel's chest and pretend it was a hundred years ago and everything would be fine if those arms just wrapped around him again. He settled for growling like a wolf that had been caught in a trap for a couple of days, which made him sound like a serious candidate for having his own day-pass revoked.

"I know that. I don't want him that way. Won't change him unless I can find some way for him to keep his soul -- without being fucked over by that no-happiness bollocks. He doesn't deserve it. Won't do it if he doesn't want it, anyway, and it's not like he's in this for more than the laughs, so why would he?"

Angel put an arm around his shoulders, and he didn't have the presence of mind to shake it off. "I'm sorry. I didn't... But I think..."

He wanted to say, 'You gave him to me, you know. Offered me his neck on Parent-Teacher Night. Just took me this long to get round to takin' you up on it.' Big macho bollocks stuff. But all that came out was, "Don't take him away from me. Don't."

It wasn't an order. He could tell Angel to stick his head so far up his arse it came out the other end, and then tie a knot, when they were throwing down in the middle of Sunnydale, or if he had a nice pair of pliers in his hand and Angel was conveniently chained up. But here... like this, this close, when his nose was telling him that this was Sire, and it didn't give a toss if there was a soul in there or not... Here, he might as well be turning up his throat. And he'd do that, too, if it meant keeping Xander. Keeping all he could get of Xander, for as long as he could.

He didn't understand what happened next at all. Didn't get why Angel suddenly pulled him close, just for a second, and put his lips to the top of Spike's skull. "I won't." Didn't get why there were arms around him, still covered in the waterproof whatever of that flappy-tailed London Fog wanna-be duster. "I wasn't going to, Spike. I just had to make sure that he knew. That you knew. Do you have any idea how stupid it was, you biting him a room away from Cordelia? You could've been dust before either of you had a chance to explain."

"Would've got me out of your hair, at least. Without you having to send me to Trekkie-Heaven." He pulled free, finally. "Nice comb-over, by the way."

Angel reached a hand to the back of his head, and scowled. "Yeah. Thanks for that. Crab lice? Very classy. I didn't teach you that one."

"Like you're the only Irish git I've ever met in a hundred and twenty-six years?"

"A hundred and twenty si..."

They weren't going there, and Spike cut him off. "D'you know Bono has a cousin who's a banshee?"

"I should know who that is, right?"

"You would if you hadn't stopped listening to the radio right about when Marconi stole the idea from Tesla."

"I listen to NPR. And Manilow, sometimes."

"Why am I not surprised. Go away before I shove my anniversary present up your arse."

Not that he'd waste a Pistols tape on Angel's fat backside, but it made a nice threat, and Angel backed off. "What'll it take to get you to go to that convention and semi-behave yourself?"

The fact that Xander obviously wanted to go, and wouldn't admit it, since he was still pretending he wasn't a complete science fiction geek. But Angel didn't have to know that. Spike considered. "You're supposed to be Vamp Detective," he said at last. "Find the DeSoto. Got nicked last time I was here and I'm sick of travelin' about via the courtesy of Spike's two feet." Way too much Cartoon Network, Spike. "And the boat out there belongs to the kid's uncle, who's gonna want it back sooner than later."

Angel looked a bit nonplussed, but nodded. "I'll see what I can find. Or rather, what Cordelia can find." He felt about inside his coat for a second, and Spike looked pointedly elsewhere. "Spike, give me back my wallet, now."

*****

Wesley was watching him when he came back, brownie pan in hand, and Angel saw the question in his eyes. Or thought he saw it.

"That wasn't..." How do you explain to the friend you think you're falling in love with, the one you won't touch, by unspoken agreement, why you can wrap your arms around a killer, but not around him? When you can't quite explain it to yourself in any way that makes sense?

"I know." Wesley glanced down at the brownies in his hand. "More?"

He shook his head. "Apparently they're... ah...vampire brownies."

"Really? That's an...interesting idea." No puns, thankfully, though there was a bit of an ick-face, for a second. "Have you tried them?"

He shook his head. Couldn't stop searching the blue eyes, so oddly like Spike's, for confirmation that Wesley did know.

"I understand, Angel."

*****

Xander was watching him from across the room, where he'd found some kind of fedora in a pile of Angel's Vamp Detective disguises, and was snapping the brim back and forth. Spike moved across the space between them, grabbing an abandoned pan of brownies on the way, and tugged him into a dark corner.

"That wasn't anything, pet."

Xander smiled. "I know. Believe it or not, in the light of day, I'm not a complete moron. I'm glad you've got a ... whatever he is... who loves you. Even if he is an annoying asshole." There was a little wistfulness there, and Spike made another mental note-- torture Harris Senior before you kill him. Or maybe let him live after all. If he's stupid enough not to love this one, he's probably stupid enough to kill himself in some really entertaining way. Just as long as I get to watch.

"Hey, you've found your Indy hat." Spike put it on Xander's head, and studied the effect. Not bad. Not bad at all. He wrapped his arms around Xander. Definitely not saying anything about courting him with more grace, though the thought flashed through his mind when he pressed his face to Xander's and felt the stubble there. Didn't say anything to Xander in Gaelic or Glaistig that he'd have to make up some lie about, either. For a bloke who couldn't keep his mouth shut, he spent so much damn time not saying anything, when he wasn't lying. Sometimes it seemed like everything he left unsaid would sneak up and bite him on the bum, and sometimes, like now, it was fine. Just right. Nothing that needed to be said.

*****

The two of them stood in the darkest corner of the basement, out of sight of the room above. Arms wrapped around each other. Faces pressed together. With the shadows on Spike's hair from that silly hat Xander had found, Angel could almost see its original dark-blond again, especially the half-waves that fell ungelled against Xander's face. He was watching from the doorway of his bedroom, which alone had escaped the explosion more or less unscathed. At least it meant he wouldn't have to buy a whole new wardrobe, which would undoubtedly disappoint Cordelia.

"Good Lord..." Wesley said, coming behind him and staring at Spike and Xander over his shoulder. "They're..."

"They're fine," Angel said softly, not wanting to catch Spike's oversensitive hearing. "They're morons, but they're fine. Spike won't hurt him."

After a few minutes of staring, Wes seemed to accept his assurances. "Er... if you say so." Quiet pause. "That bit about them being morons was rhetorical, wasn't it?"

"Pretty much, yeah. But I meant about that." He pointed to the two figures, pressed close together, locked in something desperate and sweet and terrifying that he remembered all too well. Wanted. Feared. "They're in love, but neither one of them's going to say it out loud, because they each think the other isn't. And they sure as hell wouldn't believe it if you told them. Ergo, morons."

Wesley stood in silence next to him for a moment, and then breathed in slowly.

"I'm not a moron."

Angel glanced away from Xander and Spike, back to the man who stood just a bare inch away. As if them not touching would make a damn bit of difference when his brain was full of the scent of Wesley's after-shave, Wesley's shampoo, Wesley's conditioner, Wesley's skin and sweat and fear and hope and loyalty and everything that made him stay when he could get on that bike and ride away any time.

"No. You're not." Angel looked him straight in the eyes. "Neither am I. " After a second of silence, he laughed a bit at himself. "Well, okay, if you ask Spike, you might get another opinion. He thinks all my problems can be solved by... eating something. I should walk into the world or crawl out of it. Something like that."

"I'm not concerned about Spike's opinion," Wesley said with a bit of a sniff. "I wouldn't disagree with him on the food issue, though. You could eat something, you know. It won't kill you." Translation: you really should take better care of yourself, Angel.

Something was pressed into Angel's hands. One or the other of the pans of brownies. He sniffed at them. The human-safe ones. Unleaded. Blood-free. "No, I guess it won't kill me." Angel broke off a piece and lifted it to his nose. This was Spike's cooking, after all. Then he took a bite. Chewed. Swallowed. Took another. Tasted. Chocolate. Something he could always take or leave-- this was Spike's passion, not his. But... It really wasn't all that bad. Wesley watched him, smiling a very small smile.

At last, Angel put down the pan and turned to him. Put a hand on his shoulder. Touching Wesley, something he did so seldom unless he was patching a wound or helping him up from a fall.

"What are you doing?' Wesley asked, uncertainty in his eyes.

"I think I'm walking into the world." And he leaned forward, brushing his lips against Wesley's.

*****

"Ain't they cute?" Spike asked him, and Xander sort of crinkled up his face. They were watching out of the corners of their eyes, still standing in the dark with their arms wrapped around each other. Spike had nodded his head at the other end of the room, a few seconds ago, and supposedly used his Super-Spike-Sonar to pick up what they were saying. More likely he was making it up, since Xander doubted Angel would say anything like 'Hey Wes, let's go back to my place and shag in the shower.'

"Angel and Wesley? Cute?" In Bizarro-World, maybe. But Xander was actually too busy feeling reassured to give in to the suspicion that he'd woken up in the every-male-I-know-is-bi-and-nobody-ever-bothered-to-inform-me dimension. Not totally reassured, because Spike was still going to do whatever Spike was going to do and all Xander could do was watch and wait, but it was nice to know that Angel was showing an interest elsewhere. Even a weird one. "Cute?" he repeated. "Um... Okaaaaaaay...."

"Oh, like you're any judge. You think this shirt's cute."

"No, I think you're cute in that shirt. Or out of it, actually, but I'll deny ever having said that if anybody asks."

"Shut up and have a brownie."

"Okay." But instead he just kissed Spike again.


The songwar in the car starts with a Ray Stevens song, and alternates between Ray and the Sex Pistols. "American Pie" is by Don McLean, and that Peter S. Beagle quote pops up again at the end.






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