From Out of Nowhere


by
Sukiblue



9 Can't Get You Out Of My Head

Xander stared down at the bottle he cradled between his grazed hands.  He started a train of deep thought and fiddled with the label.

It seemed that LA was just as demon infested as Sunnydale.  Not that he was particularly bothered.  Life wouldn’t be the same without a small amount of threat to his life.

Tonight’s mini-adventure had been a nest of Crow-hog demons that were camped out in an empty office block.  The four of them -- him, Spike, Doyle and Angel -- had stormed the building and had neatly done away with about twenty of the scumbag demons.  And scum they certainly were.  Xander had learned a while back that demon didn’t necessarily mean evil.  These particular nasties had not fitted into that category.  Let’s just say that they had a penchant for sex, fire and prostitutes and we’ll just leave it at that.

The attack had gone exactly according to plan.  The demons had been slain and the women had been freed.  It was disturbing.  Things didn’t normally go that smoothly, at least they didn’t back in Sunnydale.

There were a few other things that had started to disturb Xander over the two months that he and Spike had been living in the big city.

Doyle.  Xander was starting to get the impression that the young Irish man was more than just…young and Irish.  He had visions, mind-blowing, cranial bursting visions.  Doyle had explained that his ability to see these urgent messages of doom had been a power bestowed by the powers that be.  Xander wasn’t sure who the powers that be were, exactly, but then again, ignorance was sometimes bliss.

Another concern was Angel.  The tall and not-so-happy one was particularly not-so-happy and Xander could not help but worry.  Angel was always one for moody looks and extended silences but since arriving back in LA Angel had more or less cut himself off, shutting himself away with Doyle and only showing his face when business called for it.  Maybe he and Doyle were spending lots of time getting down and dirty.  Who knew?  But something was definitely up, Xander was sure of that.  A lot had gone down in the week before leaving for LA -- Angelus, The Initiative, Angel’s loss of control.  Knowing Angel, it would play on his mind for at least a century or two.

And then there was this weird ‘power’ that Isis had bestowed.  What the hell was that? There had not been a peep from it since the night that the Initiative had attacked and Xander had even taken to trying to persuade Isis, in her snake form, to give him some hints.  Angel had arranged a meeting with a contact of his, someone that owed him a favour.  It seemed that this contact had dealings with telekinesis and other powers of the mind.  The appointment was in a couple of days, so Xander had until then to freak out about it.  He hadn’t yet, but the mind and temperament of Xander Harris was a funny thing. It could go at any given moment.

“Too much thinking damages the brain cells, luv,” Spike informed, sliding into the booth and depositing two drinks.

“Really? Got the facts to back that up?”

“Just take a look in the mirror.”

“Bastard.”

“And proud of it.  Go on, then.  Spit it out. What’s bouncing around that fat head of yours?”

“Just stuff.”

“What stuff? The price of lube due to inflation? I guess we could start using margarine and blood.”

“Mmm, yum,” Xander said with a smirk. “No, just stuff.  Angel and Doyle.  The Initiative…”

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t think about it now.  It’s over.  Any more problems and we’ll deal.”

“But…”

“No buts…except mine, of course.”

“I can’t help but think.  It’s a disease.”

“’Telling me.  Reckon you caught it off Angel.”

Xander shook his head. “Nah.  I’ve been doing it since birth.  I think my first thought was how cold the outside was and where’s my placenta?”

Spike laughed, glugged a mouthful of beer and stood. “C’mon, luv. Let's go grind.”

Xander accepted the outstretched hand and allowed himself to be pulled onto the dance floor. “Be gentle with me.  I’m beat.”

Spike grinned and held his lover, pressing their bodies together and swaying slowly to something that sounded suspiciously poncy. “Gonna have to get you a thinking box, pet.”

Xander frowned with confusion and unconsciously pressed closer. “Huh?”

“You know, like a swear-box.  Say a bad word and you have to stick a quid in it.  I’ll make you a thinking box so every time your brain goes into overdrive you’ll have to pay up.”

Xander smiled and rubbed his cheek against Spike’s. “Could be quite the earner.  We could use it to save up for something.”

“The idea is that you won’t have to put money in it ‘cos you won’t be doing any thinking.”

Spike lowered one hand and squeezed a ripe buttock.

“I’ll have to get you a groping box,” Xander gasped.

Spike lowered another hand and squeezed another buttock. “You don’t want me to grope you?” he teased.

Xander gasped again and tilted his head to suck gently on Spike’s neck. “Um, okay, how about a box that you have to put money in every time you don’t grope, ravish or fuck me?”

“Sounds cheap.  Wanna go home and try it out?”

Xander released his lover’s neck and pulled back. “Get our coats,” he demanded.

Spike grinned his most wicked grin and gladly obliged, leaving Xander to wander back to their table and quickly down the rest of his drink.

Okay, so no more thinking, negative thinking at least.  That could be done.  No probs.  How many times had he faced adversity with a smile? How many times had he calmed a situation with a well timed joke and a flash of smile? Xander Harris, the permanent optimist, was going to make a come back, big-time! Angel was not going to be pleased.  Xander smiled at the memory of a long-time-ago feud with the vampire who was now his family.

Spike returned with their coats and together they left at the speed of light, desperate to get back home and do the thing that they did so well.


~*~*~*~*~


‘Home’ was now a tiny basement apartment somewhere in LA.  They were near enough to Angel Investigations in case of an emergency, but far enough away that no-one would be dropping by to borrow sugar.

The apartment was small and a little cramped, but over the two months that they had lived in LA they had made it their own.  The mixture of Spike’s preference for black and sleek with Xander’s preference for colourful and plush meant that the apartment was a combination of leather and chrome with brightly coloured rugs, throws and pillows.  Loud prints seemed to be a recurring theme and the central focus of the apartment was a giant yellow and red Aztec rug that Spike had bought for Xander as a moving in present.

The layout of their new batcave consisted of the main room with a kitchen attached to the side, one bedroom and the tiniest bathroom known to man.  Still, they had a couch, a bed, a bath and a TV. What more could anyone ask for?

Spike tumbled into the apartment, half pulling Xander with him.  He stopped briefly to make sure that the door was locked  before following Xander’s lead and making a mad dash to the bedroom.  He stripped along the way, just to save time, and arrived in time to see Xander fling his last remaining piece of clothing across the room.  He took a moment to admire.  Xander had been working hard to get fit and improve his fighting skills.  Thanks to that and the magic of time itself, Xander’s body had begun to change.  He’d always been in decent shape and had always had the sort of body that Spike wanted to put on a stick and lick like a lollipop, but now that body was maturing and starting to fill out.

Xander approached slowly, reaching out and pulling Spike towards him and towards the bed.  He felt Spike smoothing his hands over his chest and he smiled in amusement that his slightly larger muscles were so fascinating to his lover.

As they fell back onto the bed, Xander flipped them so that Spike was underneath.  He stared down into wide blue eyes and without warning he struck at Spike’s neck and drank.  

Xander’s lust for Spike’s blood was a daily occurrence now.  He needed it as much as he needed his breakfast, except with a little less milk and not so much of the crunch.  For Xander it was like an urgent craving that scratched away at him until he could sate it by taking Spike’s blood into his body.  And where there was bloodlust, there was just plain old lust.  Wherever Xander’s craving went, the urge to fuck and be fucked was right there with it.

Not that anyone was complaining.  Except maybe the neighbours.

Spike squeezed tightly to Xander’s body before tugging him away to signal the end of the feeding.   He watched as Xander leant back and bared his neck to return the favour and Spike dived at him and reciprocated with a growl of enthusiasm.  As the scorching hot blood hit the back of his throat, Spike opened his legs and trapped Xander between them, making sure to put direct pressure exactly where it was needed.

Spike scrabbled under the pillow for the tube of lube and he nearly snorted blood out of his nose when his hand bumped into Xander’s. Obviously, great minds think alike.  Lube. Fuck. Now.

The tube was located by Xander first and, as Spike released his neck, Xander adjusted his weight and leant down to prepare Spike with impatient fingers.  He coated his own cock quickly and rearranged Spike’s legs to give himself a better angle.  As he sank into the cool channel, his mind drifted, as it usually did, to thoughts of how he could never live without this, never live without Spike.  Giles had warned them some time ago that they were bound in a way that meant that they could not live without each other, that if one of them was to die the other would surely follow.  And now Xander could literally feel that.  If Spike was somehow ever dusted, Xander would follow him into death not long after.  And of course it worked the other way around.  Xander still had twinges of guilt that when he grew old and died, Spike would join him.  Even though Spike constantly reassured him that it was the way he wanted it, Xander still couldn’t help but think that it was wrong, that Spike should live forever.

Spike arched up to meet each of Xander’s hard thrusts and he could feel the powerful emotions pouring from his lover’s heart.  He wrapped his legs tighter around Xander’s waist and bit again into the soft skin of Xander’s neck, connecting them together through cock and blood.

Xander almost felt like his brain was overloaded with thoughts and emotions.  The pull of his blood combined with the cock that he was frantically pumping into his lover was enough to make the bond thrum in powerful waves and reassure Xander that Spike was here, Spike was with him and Spike was going nowhere.

Xander felt and heard Spike begin to pant and he reached down to stroke him to a release that he himself needed now so desperately.  

Spike cried out as Xander’s hand fisted him and he held back his climax until he could feel Xander quiver with need above him.  He felt the bond tighten and strengthen and he was hit full in the face with everything his lover was feeling.  And he knew that Xander was experiencing the exact same thing, too. Worry.  Love.  Passion.  Possessiveness and protectiveness.  The bond threw the emotions between them, laying out their fears and their love for each other like cards on a table and it drew them together and connected them in a way that made them feel like they were suddenly one whole, perfectly content person.

Their lips connected and their tongues exploded into one another's mouth.  The bond slipped away into the background as their bodies tensed and, together, they came.


~*~*~*~*~


“Hey, guys.  What we miss? Anything good? Paint drying? A couple of wrong numbers?” Xander almost bounced around Angel’s desk before throwing himself in the chair behind it. “We would have been here earlier but, um, we weren’t.”

“We were shagging,” Spike helpfully informed.

“Euw, do you have to? I just ate.” Cordelia clutched at her stomach and screwed up her face. “I so don’t need any mental images right now.  It’s bad enough that I had to walk in on these two going at it on the desk.

Cordelia gestured to Doyle and Angel and Spike smirked. “Peaches.  Not like you, what with Princess here in the next room.”

Angel sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “We were not going at it.  It was just a kiss and we just happened to be standing near to the desk.  We were not on it.”

“Oh, whatever.  I saw definite gropage.”

Angel looked embarrassed and, for that matter, so did Doyle.  Neither of them were the types to flaunt what they had together, but it still surprised both Spike and Xander that they weren’t more affectionate in public.   But perhaps they were just judging by their own standards.  Certainly, neither of them had any qualms about showing their love and affection for each other.  Hand holding, cuddling and kissing were definitely things that came with Spike and Xander territory.

Xander changed the subject. “So, seriously, what’s the plan for tonight?”

“Pizza and boredom,” Doyle advised as he sat on the edge of the desk and flicked pointlessly through a pile of random papers. “Or was it the other way around? Boredom and pizza? Angel?”

“I think I can live with either.”

Spike visibly sagged. “Bleedin’ hell.  Why do we bother? Nothing ever bloody happens.”

The phone rang and everybody stared at it.  A minute passed and nobody moved.  Shock had set in and it was going to take quite a manoeuvre to pull themselves out of it.

“Cordy,” Xander finally managed to call. “The phone’s ringing.”

The sound of an annoyed huff and a bottle of nail polish being slammed onto a table floated through the office. “God.  I have to do everything around here.  Hello, Angel Investigations.  We help the hopeless and I have to answer the phone all day.  Yes…I see.  Really? Uh-huh, uh-huh.  An emergency? Yes, I know it.  We’ll be there as soon as we can. Don’t worry.”

The phone clicked as Cordelia hung up.  Everybody waited.  They waited a bit longer.

“Cordelia?”

“What?!”

“Was that a job?” Angel called through the door.

“Are you deaf? Of course it was.”

Everybody waited a little longer.  It was really quite suspenseful.

“Well, are you going to tell us about it?”

The noise of another loud huff and a chair scraping across the floor resounded from the other room.

Cordelia appeared at the door and held out a piece of paper.  “Young family.  Nice district. Monster in the attic.”

“Monster?” Xander asked. “As in a demon?”

“I don’t know.  The guy just said monster.  He didn’t expand and I didn’t care. And don’t be long.  I have a date.”

Angel took the paper with the address and shrugged on his jacket.  He turned around to face the others, to say goodbye and to quickly warn Spike not to trash the office and for Xander not to put wet fingers in the electrical sockets again. “Now don’t…what are you doing?”

“We’re coming with,” Doyle said with a shrug.

“I don’t think this needs four of us.”

“And you think it needs three of us to stay here?” Spike pointed out.

He had a point.

Xander was already heading for the door. “And the monster might be a really big one with horns and tentacles and a big iron bar! You might need us.”

Angel sighed again and nodded reluctantly.  “Fine.  You can all come.  But two of you have to wait in the car. We can’t all go in.  We’ll probably scare them more than the demon.”

“Monster,” Xander corrected. “And I don’t mind waiting in the car.  The best stuff always happens to the guy in the car.”

“Best stuff? Like getting your throat cut and wotnot? Yeah.  Alright, then.  Can’t have that.  I’d better stay in car, too.”

Angel narrowed his eyes and began walking out of the office.  He really hoped that Spike wasn’t planning on doing what he thought he was planning on doing.  Spike and Xander alone in a car? It was just asking for trouble.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike leant against the car and lit up another cigarette.  It was a mild evening and he smiled slightly at the sight of the clear sky bursting with stars and the full moon shining almost within reaching distance.

“It looks big,” Xander noted, hopping up to sit on the bonnet of the car. “Is it always that big?”

Spike nodded.  “It just looks bigger ‘cos it’s so clear,” he said, glancing at his watch.  Naughty touching was apparently strictly off limits.  It was a residential area and they had a reputation to uphold.  Consequently, both Spike and Xander were a little bored. “How much bloody longer? They've been…” Spike checked his watch again. “…oh, only ten minutes.  Well, still, they wanna hurry the fuck up.”

“Do you think they’re okay?” Xander asked.

Spike was caught off guard by the sudden change in subject. “Eh?”

“Doyle and Angel.  They seem…”

“Tense?”

“Yeah.”

“Dunno, pet.  I reckon Angel’s still brooding over the Angelus thing.  That’s probably it.”

“I think it’s more than that, Spike.  Doyle hasn’t been right either.  Do you think they’re having problems?”

Spike stared back up at the moon and thought about it.  Maybe.  It was hard to tell.  But, yeah, now that he thought about it, Angel and Doyle often looked uncomfortable together.  What was that all about? And never once could Xander convince them to double date.  Although that was probably more out of fear of the twosome that was Spike and Xander rather than anything else.

“They might be,” Spike said, finally.

“Oh.  I was hoping that it was my overworked imagination.”

“Sorry, luv.”

“Should we try talking to them?”

Spike shook his head. “Nah. Let ‘em sort it themselves.  We don’t want to get in the middle of something.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  Maybe this is just what they need?”

“What?”

“A case.  Like this.  Something to work on together.  Things have been unexciting since we moved, apart from the Crow-hogs.  Not that I’m complaining, but maybe that’s just given them too much time to think about stuff.”

“Stuff like what?”

“You know, stuff like why Angelus dropped everything and came running to Sunnydale.”

“So?”

So, he left Doyle behind.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah, ah.  That had to sting.  And I bet they haven’t talked about it.  They’ve just drifted along and tried to ignore it.  Maybe if they spent some time working together, maybe worrying about something else, then…”

“Yeah, I hear you, pet.  I got it.  Wanna give them something to worry about?”

“Like what?” Xander asked suspiciously.

Spike grinned and tugged Xander off the bonnet of the car. “Let’s do a disappearing act.”


~*~*~*~*~


Angel pointed to something in the corner and Doyle swung the torch light towards it. “A month of renovations and you’d think the attic light would work,” he mumbled under his breath

Angel spared him a quick glance and a nod of agreement before he stalked towards the corner.  

The large demon-shaped object turned out to be a giant stuffed bear.

“There’s no demon here,” Angel declared out loud.

A cautious head peered up into the attic. “Have you found anything at all?”

“Mr Davis.  No, there’s nothing up here. The ‘monster’ is a stuffed bear.”

“N-no, that’s not right. There must be a monster.  It came up here, I’m sure of it!”

Angel scanned the attic room one more time.  “There’s nothing here to suggest that anyone or anything has been up here.”

“B-but he seemed so sure…”

“Hang on,” Doyle started. “Have you or your wife actually seen this creature?”

“Well, no, but my son did.  He told us all about it.”

Doyle and Angel looked knowingly at each other. “How old is your son?” Doyle asked.

“Five.”

“Huh. Five, you say?” Doyle shot Angel a look that was a cross between exasperation and pity. “Can we speak to your son?”

“Of course.  Follow me.”

“If the kid points to the closet and says there’s a monster in it, I think I’ll scream,” Angel whispered.

Doyle tried very hard not to laugh. “I’ll be screaming with you.”

“Should we just leave?”

“Nope.  Let’s interview the kid, at least.  It’s something else to put on the bill.”

Angel grinned. “I guess that’ll please Cordelia.”

“You sure? I didn’t think anything pleased that woman.”

“Money pleases that woman.  Come on, let's get this over with.  I’m not happy with leaving Spike and Xander alone for too long.”

“I’m sure there’s nothing dangerous out there.  And if there is, Spike’ll…”

“I’m not worried about that.  I’m worried about my upholstery.”


~*~*~*~*~


Angel lifted his arms in the air and dropped them again dramatically. “Now where the hell have they got to?”

After the five year old son had in fact pointed to the closet and claimed that there was a monster in it, Angel had smiled as much as he could without showing any fang and politely left.  The bill was going to be extortionate.

“Perhaps they’re…in the bushes?” Doyle helpfully suggested.  

Angel sighed for the thousandth time that night and pulled out his cell phone.  He dialled a number and waited. “Shit.” He dialled another number. “Damn it.  Their phones are switched off.”

“They probably just got bored and went home.  You know what they’re like.” Doyle’s voice had an edge that said that he wasn’t so sure. He glanced down and spotted Spike’s lighter lying on the ground. “Uh, maybe we should have a drive around, see if we can spot them,” he said as he picked up the silver Zippo.

Angel ran 'round to the driver’s side of the car. “Get in. Call the office.  See if they’ve gone back.” Please be alright.  Please be alright.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike ignored the phone and let the machine take it. “That good, luv?”

“Mmmm.”

“Thought so.  How about this?”

“Mmmm, yeah, so good.  More.”

“Sure, baby.  Try this, luv.  Good?”

“Mmm, yes. Gods, Spike, so fucking good.”

“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU TWO THINK YOU’RE DOING?” Angel roared.

Spike looked up and shrugged. “Eating pizza.  What does it bloody look like?”

“You want some?” Xander asked. “It’s the 4forall pizza. We got the All-Meaty pack.”

“NO! I don’t want any fucking pizza! What I want is…”

“Oi! Don’t fucking speak to Xan like that! Calm the fuck down.”

“You expect me to calm down? Why did you leave? Do you have any idea how worried I was? You weren’t answering your phones.  I called the office, no-one picked up.  What was I supposed to think?!”

Ooops.  They’d expected Angel to worry and maybe even be a little pissed, but they hadn’t expected him to be quite as furious as he was.

“Anything could have happened,” Angel continued. “You could have been dead, for all I knew!”

“Look, we got bored and we fucked off back here.  ‘S not like you wanted us there anyway.  And someone had to be back here to relieve Queen C.” Spike left out the bit about deliberately winding Angel up.  In the cold light of day, even though it was still night, it didn’t seem like it was such a wonderful idea.

“Then why didn’t you just call me?!  It would have taken two seconds to lift the phone and tell me what you were doing.  But no.  You’re too selfish to do a thing like that, both of you.  Perhaps I’ll choose to be selfish next time you really need my help.  I’ll let you both get ripped to a million bloody pieces the next time a demon comes your way.” Angel’s voice had deepened and calmed and he sounded more like Angelus than Angel.

“Angel, man. C’mon, you know what they’re like. They didn’t mean nothin’.  Lighten up, yeah?”

“Yeah, Peaches.  Do us all a favour and unclench your bloody backside…”

“Spike,” Xander warned. “I think maybe we should just go.”

“Yes, go.  Get out of my damn sight, the pair of you.” The sound and tone of Angel’s voice spoke of weariness.  

Spike gathered up the pizza and followed Xander out the door. “Fucked that up, didn’t we?” he mumbled.

“Yep. Just call us complete idiots.  I really didn’t think he’d react like that.  He’ll be okay, right?”

“Yeah, just let him brood on it for a while.  We’ll call tomorrow.”

“Shit.  Remind me never to listen to you again.”

“I’ll try.  I might forget, though.  You’d better remind me.”

“You’re an idiot, Spike.”

“That’s alright, then, ‘cos you’re a twat.”

Xander grinned and slipped an arm around Spike’s waist. “You know what? If they’re anything like us, they’ll have a blazing row and then some really hot make up sex.”

“Exactly.  Did them a favour, eh?”


~*~*~*~*~


“Why are you standing up for them? They’re a liability.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Don’t I?”

“No.”

“No. I…It’s just that, I’m responsible, for all of you.  If something happened to one of you, then…I couldn’t…I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.”

“Angel, what’s really going on with you?  I wish you’d talk to me.”  Doyle reached up and cupped Angel’s face in his hands. “Are we…Are we okay?”

Angel knocked Doyle’s hands away and pulled him into a crushing embrace. “Yes, yes.  I love you, Doyle.  I love you so much.”

“Then why haven’t you told me that in the last two months? Am I supposed to just guess? Been feeling really insecure, here.  I know that our sex life isn’t the best right now, but I thought we could get through it…”

“We can get through it, we can.  I’m sorry.  Please don’t hate me.  I just…I can’t…”

“What is it? Please tell me.”

“Too many times.  Angelus.  I can’t cope with what he did…with what I did.” Angel was silent for a moment. “But I won’t do it again.  Not anymore.  It won’t ever happen again.  He won’t be able to.”

Doyle was confused. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing, baby.  Nothing.  Come to bed?”

Doyle nodded and gently tugged Angel to the elevator.  He didn’t feel like he’d gotten any answers and really he felt like he should be standing his ground and demanding them.  But he also longed to lie in Angel’s arms, like they did every night.  The sex didn’t matter.  Angel mattered.  Being close to him mattered. Did Angel really love him? He hoped so.


~*~*~*~*~


Doyle drained his coffee mug and got up to refill it from the pot.  Caffeine was the only thing that was keeping him going right now.  Things with Angel were…tense, to say the least.  Angel had told him that he loved him, he’d held him in his arms, he’d kissed and caressed him, but still something didn’t feel right.  

He’d tried several times over the last two days to get through to Angel, break down the steely barrier and prise the truth out of him.  But it was useless.  Angel continually fobbed him off with excuses about Angelus and about how he was having trouble adjusting to life as Angel again.

Doyle knew that it was a partial truth.  Angel really was having trouble adjusting.  There were times that Angel skipped from dark and broody to snappy and sarcastic in the blink of eye.  The latter was always a stark reminder that Angelus still existed, just underneath the surface of Angel’s skin.  So, yeah, he was having problems in that department, but there was so much more to it.  He was distant and, even when he was still relatively in his Angel persona, he could often be extremely rude to Spike and Xander, unnecessarily so.  Doyle had a feeling that Spike was about ready to show off his skills with a railroad spike.

“Hey.”

“Oh, hey, Xander.  I didn’t see you there.”

“Well, they don’t call me Mr Invisible for nothing.  Actually, they don’t call me Mr Invisible at all.  Mr Harris is what they call me.  Although, no-one ever really calls me that, either.  Except my dentist.  Everybody else calls me plain old Xander…but not with the ‘plain old’ in the front. Um, is Angel ready?”

Doyle shook his head and laughed. “Nervous, by any chance?”

“Whatever gave you that idea,” Xander grinned. “Yeah, nervous doesn’t really cover it, though.”

“Don’t worry about it, man.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“That’s easy for you to say.  You’re not about to have your brain prodded by some ‘psychic’ weirdo. And what kind of a name is Jam Rag, anyway?”

“His name is Jaham Raag.  And he isn’t a weirdo.  He’s an old friend of mine.  No Spike?”

Xander turned to face Angel and he felt himself struggle to get his smile in place. “Hey, Angel.  He’s in the car.  Are you ready?”

Angel nodded and left the office.

“He’s his normal cheerful self, I see.”

“Full of the joys of spring,” Doyle said with mock cheerfulness.

Xander frowned. “Are you…?  You and Angel, are you…? Is everything…?”

“We’re fine, Xander.  Don’t worry about it.  Just concentrate on this goddess-power thing.  I really want to see what else you can do.  Some sort of mind control would be great.” Doyle waved his hand in the air. “You will let us see this movie for free and give us all the popcorn we can eat.  That sort of thing.”

“Like the Force! That would be so cool.  Anyway, I’d better go.  Mustn’t leave the vampires to their own devices for too long.”

Doyle laughed and shook his head as Xander bounced away.  He had to admit he was a little jealous of his friend.  Spike and Xander were far from being the perfect couple, but they were passionate, open, honest and, most of all, they clearly adored each other.  Doyle wished that he could have that with Angel.  He didn’t want someone that only confessed his love when prompted.  He didn’t want someone that seemed afraid to touch him.  And he didn’t want someone that wallowed in self-pity for his entire life.  He loved Angel, very much, but the situation could not continue.

Doyle sat down behind the desk and sipped at the hot coffee.  He winced and realised that he was missing something.  He pulled a silver hip flask from his pocket and proceeded to make the coffee Irish. Much better.  Just like it should be.


~*~*~*~*~


“It smells.”

“Will you stop bloody complaining?”

“But it does!”

“I know it does.  I just want you to stop whining about it.”

Angel sighed wistfully and leant against the wooden counter. “I love the smell of old books.  It reminds me of…”

“Old books?” Spike suggested.

Xander snorted a laugh and Angel opened his mouth to retort just as the curtain to the back of the shop twitched and a tiny old man appeared.

Jaham Raag had been a friend of Angel’s for a number of years.  Although he appeared to be just a very short and very old human, Angel wasn’t actually sure what species he was.  Jaham had looked a hundred and thirty years old for the past fifty years.  Short with long grey hair and a long grey beard, the old man was a dead ringer for Gandalf, apart from the height issue.  All he needed was a pointy hat and a cape and he would be every inch the stereotypical ‘wizard.’ Jaham had been running LA’s finest occult bookstore for as long as Angel could remember and the shop was an invaluable source of magical information and knowledge.  But the most valuable and sometimes dangerous information of all was safely tucked away inside the brain of Jaham himself.  If anyone could figure out what this power was that Isis had bestowed to Xander, it was this old man.

“Angel, sorry to keep you waiting.  Good to see you again.  It’s been a while.  I thought you’d forgotten all about old Jaham.”

Angel straightened himself up and held out his hand to his friend. “Good to see you, too.  It has been a while.  Sorry about that.  I’ve…”

Jaham shook Angel’s hand vigorously before releasing it and turning towards Spike and Xander. “Don’t even mention it.  We’ve all been busy.  These are busy, busy times.  Now, who do we have here?”

Xander smiled down at the cute old man. “This is Spike and I’m Xander.”

“Ah, yes, the terrible twosome.  Angel mentioned you on the phone.  So, you’re the one who been kicking up a storm, so to speak?”

“Yep.  And we were kinda hoping you’d be able to tell us why.  Well, not why.  We know why.  Isis did it.  At least we think she did.  We just need to know how.  Not how she did it, but how I can do it.  The storm thing, I mean.  And also whether I can do other stuff, ‘cause, you know, just making it rain would be a pretty stupid gift, not that I’m ungrateful or anything, but…”

Spike held up his hand to signal that Xander needed to stop talking. “You just have to interrupt if you ever want him to stop yapping, otherwise we’ll all be here all bleedin’ day."

“I see.  I’ll try to remember that.  Xander, if you would like to follow me out the back, I’ll see what I can do.” Jaham turned to the others. “Please make yourselves comfortable.  We shouldn’t be too long.”

“Hang on a bloody minute…!”

“Spike, let Xander go on his own,” Angel said, with a hand on Spike’s shoulder to hold him back. “He’s safe with Jaham.”

Spike eyed the old man suspiciously.  He didn’t look particularly dangerous, although Spike was well aware that looks were seriously deceiving at the best of times. “Right.  I’ll stay here, then,” Spike said with obvious reluctance. “Shout if you need me, yeah?”

Xander nodded happily, oblivious to Spike’s concern, and followed Jaham out the back of the shop.

“How well do you know this guy?” Spike asked when Jaham was out of earshot.

“Very well.  He’s sound.  You can trust him with your life.”

“But can I trust him with Xander’s?”

“Of course.  Spike, what’s the matter with you?”

“With me? I’m just looking out for my boy.  Something you could do with paying attention to, mate.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Nothing.  Forget it.” Spike sat himself on the counter and picked up a book.  Dolwin's Theory of Levitation.  He flicked through it while he tried desperately to bite his tongue.  Now was really not the time for a famous Spike and Angel row.  Angel’s behaviour of late was at the very least extremely irritating.  His Sire’s general attitude and his behaviour towards Doyle were bang out of line and Spike was getting to the point where he either needed to beat the unwanted behaviour out of Angel or just walk away from him.

Spike hadn’t known Doyle all that long, but in the two months that he’d been living in L.A Spike had grown to like the other man.  He was also very intrigued by him.  Doyle was definitely not all human.  Spike often wondered what kind of demon was mixed in his blood, but he’d never found the right moment to ask.  Perhaps it was best not to ask at all.  If Doyle wanted them to know, then he’d broadcast it.  Xander didn’t seem to have a clue and Spike was happy to keep it like that.  

Doyle and Xander had become good friends recently and it was no surprise.  They were like two peas in a pod.  The same humour, the same babble, the same ability to put one’s foot right in it.  Doyle even shared Xander’s past terrible taste in clothes.  So, if for some reason Doyle wanted to keep his demon secret to himself, then so be it.  Spike was confident that Doyle was no danger to anyone, so he was happy for Xander to be in the dark about it.  

There was something about Angel that Spike couldn’t quite put his finger on, something that made him sympathise.  Perhaps it was the small touches and the shy glances that Angel gave when he thought no-one else, including Doyle, was looking.  It reminded him of the way that he needed to touch and look at Xander; just a fleeting caress or a brief glimpse to make a kind of connection and reassure himself that Xander was still there, still beside him, still alive.

Yet Angel was holding back, shutting himself off, and Spike was having trouble working out why.  Yes, it was true that Angel was world famous for his Olympic standard brooding sessions, but there was something slightly different about it this time.  

Angel was clearly feeling guilt over the return of Angelus.  And this was something that he’d probably never stop feeling guilty for, just like he’d never stopped feeling guilty about the first time that Angelus had been unleashed back in Sunnydale.  So there really shouldn’t have been any change there.

But something had changed, something from between the moment that Angel’s soul had been tacked on and after they had rescued him from the Initiative base.  He was different.

Spike made up his mind.  When they got back to the office, he was going to find a way to get rid of Doyle, Cordelia and Xander and then he was going tackle Angel.  He had to find out what was going on.

It was either that, or he was going to strangle his Sire.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander closed his eyes and let his mind drift.  He’d just been through fifteen minutes of trying to clear his mind and…well, let’s just say that Xander had the sort of mind that could never be completely cleared.  So instead Jaham had opted for Xander to think deep, serene thoughts to the accompaniment of splashy sploshy whale music.

It was rather nice.  Xander lay back and thought about the laundry that he hadn’t done, the solution to Broken Sword and whether or not it was time to switch shower gels.  All the while, Jaham sat on his little red rug, surrounded by candles and smouldering incense, and chanted nonsensical words that drifted through Xander’s ears like a twisted lullaby.

Did I leave the bathroom light on?

Jaham sprinkled numerous herbs into a large brown pot by his side.  He lit another white candle and placed it in the centre.  More chanting filled the air and with a silent flash the ceiling disappeared and billowing blue clouds took its place.  Jaham closed his eyes and let Isis fill his mind.

Images, premonitions and visions suddenly darted into his brain with the force of a freight train and Jaham screamed and toppled over backwards, clutching at his head.

So much.  Too much.  He’d felt Isis’ presence, but the things that she had shown him, they weren’t what he’d expected.  He’d expected to be shown the same as Willow had apparently seen back in Sunnydale.  He’d expected to see visions of Osiris' tomb, Isis in snake form, the claiming ritual.  He hadn’t expected what he’d got.  

Fire.

Death.

A Furious Hellgod.

Terrifying visions that somehow Jaham knew were premonitions of the future.

Jaham tried to get control of his ragged breathing and he sat up and glanced over at Xander.  The clouds above them shifted and there in the middle of what was once the ceiling floated a faint outline of Isis.

“To protect,” she breathed. “It is the only way.  The only path.  It must be.”

“What’s going to happen? When? Isis?”

Isis held up her hand. “The path must be joined.  There is more to come first. You will teach and train.  Make him ready, for the others.”

“Isis, I don’t understand.  What is your gift to this boy?”

Isis closed her eyes and smiled as she disappeared into the clouds. “Life.”

The clouds vanished and the ceiling returned to its normal state.  Jaham pushed himself to stand on shaking legs and he rested his hand over his heart to check that it was still ticking as it should.  He looked back over at Xander and realised that the boy had drifted off to sleep at some point and had probably missed the whole thing.

Jaham crossed the room to sit in an old, tatty, brown armchair that had seen better days.  He felt a sudden surge of pride and honour.  How often was it that one was allowed to speak to a Goddess? Not very often.  He hadn’t just seen into Xander’s mind and Isis’ consciousness like this Willow girl had.  He had been on the receiving end of an honest to god message.  Isis would not have communicated with him if it hadn’t been for a good reason, an important reason.  

It was going to take time to sort through all the images that had flashed through his mind at such speed.  At this point in time, he had no idea what was to come, what Isis was showing him.  All he had seen was fire, so much fire.  Innocent people burning, suffering and dying.  And then there had been a flash of the boy and the two vampires.  He couldn’t piece anything else together, not yet.  He needed time alone to meditate and sort out his thoughts.

Although there was one thing that he was sure of.  The Message itself.  The gift must be a way for Xander to defend himself and those around him, to survive what was coming.  And it was up to Jaham to discover Xander’s power and make sure that he knew how to use it.


~*~*~*~*~


Jaham opened the door to the main shop area and waved Spike and Angel to join him out the back.

“Everything go alright?” Spike asked.

“Fine.” Jaham gestured to Xander, who was still fast asleep on the couch. “He fell asleep at some point during the meditation.  I thought it best if you woke him."

Spike nodded and crouched down next to his sleeping lover.  He touched gentle fingers to Xander’s cheek and spoke softly. “Time to wake up, luv.  Xan?”

Xander frowned and swatted Spike’s hand away. “Get.”

“Come on, sleepy.  Time to wake up and face the music.”

Xander mumbled and snuggled down further into the couch.

“I’ve got chocolate,” Spike bribed.

“Wah?” Xander’s eyes shot straight open and he instinctively looked around him in search of the promised treat. “Spike? Where…? Did I fall asleep?”

“Yep.  Now budge up, pet.  I wanna hear what Mini-Gandalf here has to say.” Spike helped him to sit up and then planted himself firmly in the warm spot.

Jaham sat back down in his trusty armchair and began to recite what he had seen; the visions, Isis, the message.

“So, are we talking a ‘Hellmouth’ Hellgod nasty, easily dispatched in five quick and easy moves, or an Apocalypse nasty, all of us dead in one quick and easy move?” Xander asked when the story was finished.

Jaham shrugged and answered as honestly as he could. “I really don’t know.  All I can tell you is what I saw.”

“Lots of dead people,” Xander confirmed, more to himself than anyone else.

Angel paced the room.  He picked up several objects, not really looking at them but using the time to collect his thoughts. “Any idea of a time scale?”

“Not really.  It’s not yet, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Well, that’s something.”

“Is it?” Spike asked. “Bloody hell.  We come here hoping to get Xan some help and what bloody happens? We end up with another lovely ‘end of the world’ scenario on our hands.  Just bleedin’ lovely.  Which reminds me, what about my boy, old man?  Can you help him or what?”

“I can.  I’ll need to spend some time with him, see what he can do, what he can’t.”

Xander raised his hand. “Um, I can help with that right now.  I can’t do anything.”

“We’ll see.” Jaham smiled. “Perhaps if we can meet again in a few days?” he asked Xander.

“Sure. Are you going to see if I can roll a pencil across a table with just the power of my huge brain?”

“Maybe. Maybe.” Jaham stood and crossed the room to an old rickety bookcase.  He pulled out a large volume and blew several years' worth of dust from its cover. “Take this,” he said, holding the old tome out to Xander. “You might find some of this interesting.  Take what you will from it.”

Xander took the book and looked at Spike with dismay. “I get homework, now!”

Jaham laughed and patted Xander’s hand. “Read it, or don’t.  It’s up to you.”

“Okay,” Xander sighed. “I’ll do my best.”

“I’ll make sure he reads it, mate,” Spike said as he stood and started to lead Xander to the door.

Angel thanked his friend with a quick shake of his hand and a promise that Xander would be back in just a few days.  Jaham’s visions were, at the very least, alarming; the last thing that they all needed.  But on the other hand, if something bad was going to happen in the future, at least they all had a heads up.  

Angel sent up his silent thanks and praise to Isis, Xander’s guardian angel.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike watched with a faint smirk as Xander and Doyle trundled off on their very important mission.  

Hot dogs.

After the initial session with Jaham Raag, Xander had been craving hot dogs like a crazy person.  Arriving back at the office, Doyle had needed little encouragement, happily advising that nothing cheered a person up like a nice large sausage.

So, with some notes slipped into Xander’s pocket and whispered advice from Spike that Xander should take his time and buy Angel a full range of mustards, mayos and sauces because who knows when a sausage craving will hit you right between the eyes, Xander and Doyle headed out to face the terror of the late night grocery shoppers.

Spike didn’t waste any time. As the door closed on their way out, he pounced.

“Tell me,” he demanded.

Angel looked up from his magazine and frowned at his Childe. “Tell you what?”

“Don’t play the idiot. I wanna know what crawled up your arse.  Go on.  Tell me.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Angel immediately went back to his magazine.  He didn’t seem all that surprised when it was suddenly snatched from his hands.

“Thank you very fucking much,” Spike stated in a tone that was both sarcastic and irritated.

“What…?”

“You don’t trust me.  After all we’ve been through, no matter how close we are now, and you still don’t fucking trust me enough to tell me what’s going on.  Nice.  Very fucking nice.”

“Spike…”

“Don’t even give me an excuse, Angel.  Just don’t fucking insult me like that.  Something’s wrong, just admit that if nothing else.”

“Something’s wrong,” Angel quickly admitted.

“Oh.  Right.  Okay, then.  Wasn’t actually expecting you to give in quite so quickly.  Thought I was gonna have to resort to a beating.”

“No, no beating necessary.”

“You sure? ‘Cos I’m thinking that I should’ve kicked you in the ‘nads several times for the way you’ve been around me and Xan.  For a repenting soul you’ve been a right git.”

Angel stood and rubbed his hands over his face in a tired gesture. “I know.  Just sometimes I wish…”

“Wish what?”

“I just wish that none of you were here.”

That stung.  Spike turned quickly away to conceal his hurt at those words.  Angel didn’t want him, didn’t want him here, in his life. “Fine.  If that’s how you…” A hand on his shoulder and Spike turned just enough to catch a glimpse of pain. “Tell me,” he tried again.

Angel swallowed and released Spike’s shoulder.  Slowly making his way back to his chair, he wondered if Spike was really the person he should be telling this to, all things considered.  He also wondered why he hadn’t told him straight away.  Out of everybody, Spike was the one that understood him the most; understood the bloodlust; understood the pain and worry of living with humans, understanding them and caring for them.

“Angel?”

“I’ve killed people.”

“Newsflash, mate. We all know that.”

“So many.  For so long.  I can hardly bear to look at any of you now.  You must hate me. How can you even look at me? I wish you didn’t have to be here.”

“Errm, I’ve murdered a few people, too.  Or had you forgotten?”

“It’s different, you don’t have a…”

“Soul?” Spike interrupted. “It isn’t different.  Not for me.  I know what I did before the chip.  But I’m a vampire.  It’s what I do, what I did.  I do regret it to some point, but I ain’t gonna torture myself over it.  Not like I could help what I did.”

“But that’s just what I don’t understand.  You couldn’t help it.  How can you help it now?”

“Eh?”

“You don’t have a soul, not like me.  And you don’t have the chip, so why don’t you go back to the killing? What stops you? Xander?”

“Partly, yeah.  I’d lose him pretty fucking quick if he ever found out I was still feeding…”

“And you don’t have that craving to kill?”

“Well…”

“You see? Xander does that to you. You love each other so much that you’ve lost your instinct to feed, to kill and murder, to rip a babe limb from limb.”

“You going somewhere with this?” Spike asked, his whole body tensing at Angel’s almost gleeful reference to bloody murder.

“I don’t love Doyle.”

Spike shook his head in exasperation. “Yes, you do.”

“I thought I did, but I can’t.  How can I? Just look at the evidence.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Doyle.  I loved him, but…I left him.”

“You left him,” Spike repeated. “What does that mean?”

“When I lost my soul, when I was Angelus again, I left him.  The first thing that I should have done was run to L.A and take him, against his will if I had to.  But I didn’t, did I? I came and got you.  I wanted you at my side; my Will, my Spike, my Childe.  All I could think about was having my family again.  You and Drusilla.  Even Xander. Angelus even considered him part of his family.  But why not Doyle?”

“It was early days.  We never even got out of Sunnydale.  You didn’t have time to get him.”

“I never intended to get him.  Angelus didn’t think he was worth bothering about.  He rejected him.  What does that tell you?”

“It tells me that you’ve been thinking way too much about this.  You of all people know what Angelus is like.  He’s a fickle bastard.  Look at how he treated me at the beginning.  Oh, he wanted me enough to turn and fuck me, but it was a hell of a long time before he gave two shits about me.  You’d have left me behind too, back then.  Fuck me, you did leave me behind a couple of times.  Scared the fuck out of me the first time you went gallivanting off.  Didn’t know where I was.”

Angel stared down at the ground and tried to process what Spike was trying to say. “But…”

“No, listen to me a minute.  Angelus takes time before he gets all obsessed to the point of murder. Look at Dru.  She was just a pretty young thing to tease and play with.  As a human she was nothing more than an amusement.  You sent her bleedin’ mad and killed her family and everybody around her for pure fun, nothing else, that’s what you always told us.  Took months before you considered her part of the ‘family.’  You and Doyle? You’ve only just started seeing each other.  You can’t always expect the thunderbolt of love to strike you down and render you helpless.”

“But you and Xander, you have that.  I see the way you are with each other.  It’s almost like you’re one person.  You’d never leave him behind.  And the reason that you don’t kill is because of him, because you love him so much.  I say that I love Doyle but I still want to kill. How can I say I love him?”

“Yeah, everyday is like a thunderbolt with Xan.  I’d die before I’d see him hurt.  I’d be nothing without him.  But it took time to achieve that.  It weren’t bloody love at first sight.  I’ll admit that I wanted to shag him senseless the first time I clapped eyes on him, but that was all.  We weren’t even friends at first.  Irritated the fuck out of each other.  I love him now, though.  And as for the killing thing? Yeah, a big part of the reason is because of Xander, because I’d lose him if I went off biting people.  But it isn’t just that.  As much as I don’t fucking want to admit this, the chip gave me time to change.  If it hadn’t been for that piece of shit metal in my brain I would never have got to know Xan, never have learned to live without proper feeding, and I’m sure as hell that I wouldn’t be standing here now.”

Angel’s eyes brightened and he stood to take an unsure step towards Spike. “The chip?”

“Yeah.  You think that I would have stopped for a second to fall in love if I hadn’t had it? I’m not that naïve, and neither is Xander.  Look, what I’m trying to say, probably badly, is don’t panic about Doyle and the Angelus thing.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t love him.”

“I do.  I do love him.”

“There you go, then.  A little advice, though.  The whole ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’ thing? It don’t bloody work.  They don’t like it.  Try to be a little nicer to him, if you don’t want to lose him.”

Angel nodded and tried to smile. “I do love him.  I’m just frightened that I don’t, that I don’t love him enough.  I still feel it, Spike.  I still feel him, Angelus.  I feel his darkness and I feel his urges.  It makes me feel like I’m a different person.  I don’t want to kill, but…”

“You’ve still got Angelus’ urges?”

Angel hung his head.  Admitting it was nearly as painful as simply feeling it.  “Yes.”

Spike approached carefully and cupped Angel’s face with his hands. “How bad is it?”

“It depends.  Sometimes it's okay.  Other times it’s all I think about.  And isn’t just the hunger for blood.  It’s hunger for something else.  Pain.  Even talking about it now, I feel the urge to…”

“Wait a minute.  How worried do I need to be? Do I need to keep Xander away? And Doyle? Fuck, Cordelia.  Be honest with me, Sire. How much danger are they in? ‘Cos if you touch…”

“No, Spike.  You don’t understand.  It all just urges.  It’s only what I want. I have something that will stop it.  I hope.”

Spike pulled away again.  The smile that had just crossed Angel’s face was enough to un-nerve the bravest of vampires. “What are you talking about?”

“The chip.”

Silence hung in the air as Spike tried to understand what Angel was saying. “Tell me.”

“The Initiative, Spike.  They put a chip in my head.”


~*~*~*~*~


“Not that I’m complaining, but aren’t we supposed to be buying hot dogs?”

“Yes and no,” Xander explained. “Spike said we should take our time.  Rough translation: Bugger off and don’t come back for a good hour.  And I am not spending an entire hour looking for mayo.”

“Huh.  Why do you think he wants us out the way?”

Xander shrugged and caught the attention of the barman. “Two beers, please. I’m just going to assume that he wants to talk to Angel alone,” he said, turning back to Doyle.

Doyle nodded and picked at the beer mat in his hand. “What does he want to talk to him about?”

“What’s bothering him, I guess.  Spike’s really worried.  We both are.” Xander paid for the drinks and led Doyle to a table fairly near the bar.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Doyle admitted. “I ask him and it’s like he wants to talk and he starts to tell me things, but…I don’t know.  Look, sorry.  I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

“It’s okay.  I really don’t mind.  I’m a good listener, not that you’d believe it from the way I talk all the time.  You’d think I wouldn’t have the time to listen.  But I do.  I’m actually quite good at it.”

Doyle laughed lightly and took a large mouthful of his drink.

“Look, I’ll prove it to you,” Xander continued. “See the guy coming on to that girl at bar? Observe me listening to him. Hey, maybe we can pick up some cheesy chat up lines to use on Spike and Angel.  Well, I can use mine on Spike, not Angel.  That’s all for you.  Anyway, see me listen.” Xander cupped his hand to his ear in an over-exaggerated gesture of listening.

Doyle laughed again and Xander smiled back at him as he listened.  The cheesy lines turned out to be not all that cheesy and Doyle found himself nodding at the impressive flirting.

“This guy’s a real pro!” he exclaimed. “I’m half-tempted to fall at his feet myself.”

“Me too.” Xander had dropped his hand to have a slurp of beer and listen a bit more inconspicuously.  Neither of them could help taking a quick glance towards the bar when the girl easily agreed to go back to the guy’s place for coffee. “Wow.  If only it was that easy for the rest of us.”

“Don’t let Spike hear you say that, man.”

“Do I look stupid? Don’t answer that.”

Their eyes followed the two people as they gathered their coats and started walking to the door.  Neither of them missed the man tilt his head to acknowledge the presence of a following friend.  

“Okay,” said Doyle. “I'm beginning to think sinister thoughts, here. You?”

“Uh-huh. Yep.  I’m thinking thank god for my listening skills.”

“We should call Spike and Angel.”

“No, there isn’t time.  Come on, we’ll follow them.”

Doyle nodded and quickly drained his glass dry as he stood.  They waited for the second man to pass them then, together, they left the bar and followed.


~*~*~*~*~


“Oh, they are so up to something,” Xander observed as they watched the first man take the woman on a detour down an alley.

“I still vote for calling…”

“No way.  We can handle this.  No problem.  They’re only humans.”

“You sure, man?”

“Positive.  They dress far too well to be vampires.”

They watched as the second man followed down the alley.

“Okay, I’ll take dude number one.  You take the other one,” Xander continued.  “We’ll save the day, be worshipped as heroes and then we’ll go get ourselves some sausage–s.  The edible kind.”

Doyle grinned and shoved Xander forward. “After you, then. Let’s kick some behind.”

Xander reached the opening to the alleyway.  He peered cautiously around the corner and was unsurprised to find foul play before him. “Hey!” he called. “I really wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

The first man threw his victim to the floor and turned around in full gameface.

“I thought you said these guys were human,” Doyle hissed out the corner of his mouth.

“Um…my bad?” Xander whispered.

“You wanna run?” Doyle whispered back.

“We can’t.  We can’t leave the girl here.”

“So what do we do? You got a stake?”

“Nope.  You?”

“Nope.”

“Do you have any weapons at all?” Xander asked, panic starting to take root.

“Nope.  You?”

“Nope.”

“Angel and Spike are going to kill us, man.”

“It’s no less than we deserve.  Come on, then.  Let's get jiggy.”

“Jiggy?”

“Yeah.  You know, let's get in there, fight to the death ‘n' stuff.”

“Right…You sure you haven’t got anything that could be used for a weapon?”

Xander quickly searched his pockets and came up with a credit card. “I wondered where I’d put that!”

The second man/vampire cleared his throat and flexed his fingers. “Are you two going to talk all day or are you going to come here and be our supper?”

Xander looked at Doyle, his face a weird mixture of terror and amusement. “There’s a choice? Like cake or death?”

“Oh, man, I love Eddie Izzard!” Doyle suddenly said with great enthusiasm.

“Me too! I’m covered in bees, I’m covered in bees!”

“Erm, boys?”

“Oh, sorry, yeah, okay,” Xander said with shrug.  He turned back to Doyle and slapped him on the back. “It was nice knowing you,” he smiled.  Then, with a howl that sounded more like a cat being strangled, Xander charged at the first vampire.

Doyle watched for only a moment as Xander’s body connected with the vampire’s and he ungracefully bowled them both over.  The second vampire moved to help his buddy, but was cut off as Doyle pounced in front of him with a smile. “Oh, no.  There'll be no two against one here.  You’ll fight fairly like the rest of us have to.”

The second vampire sniffed the air and recoiled slightly at the realisation that this human was apparently not quite all human.  Ooops.  He shrugged to himself and lunged anyway.  Well, nobody said that a vampire had to have brains.

Doyle countered the lunge easily and he swung his fist out as he spun, catching the vampire firmly in the face.  The vampire reeled from the blow and lunged again, his close proximity allowing him to make contact with Doyle without any trouble.  He grabbed Doyle’s throat and started to squeeze.

Now that he was in the vampire’s grasp, Doyle found that his strength, although more powerful than a human’s, was not quite up to par.  He lashed out with his fists to no effect and finally gave up and opted instead for a good old fashioned knee to the groin.  That worked.  

The vampire stumbled backwards, groaning, growling and mumbling obscenities that would have made the devil proud.  Doyle seized his chance and leapt on the vampire, raining vicious blows while he glanced desperately around for something to use as a stake.

Xander struggled with his own vampire, every blow, every move he made being countered and delivered back to him with force.  His mind spun with his lessons, the basic fighting and defence moves that Spike had taught him.  It seemed that the teachings were paying off.  Xander was certain that if it wasn’t for a few of his ‘Spike’ moves he would be dead already.  He finally managed to land a lucky kick and sent the vampire flying backwards.  Desperately scrambling to his feet, he just about managed to regain his balance as his opponent came at him again.  Xander found himself pasted against the wall with an angry vampire panting in his face.  He was tempted to look away, to wrench his head to the side to avoid the close proximity of the snarling, sniffing features, but he in no way wanted to make things easy by exposing his neck and declaring open season.  Now, that would be stupid.  

As he tried to face forward and fight off his potential and, right at this moment, certain, death, his panicked gaze was caught by his friend.  Doyle was knocking seven shades of shit out of his opponent.  Doyle human? Yeah, right.  

Xander was starting to gain hope.  Doyle was doing really well in his fight and, god only knew how, Xander was managing to keep ‘ugly and sniffy’ at bay, using a clever combination of flaying arms, patented ‘Spike’ moves and a good old fashioned squirming body.

But as quickly as things were changing to the good, they suddenly changed to the bad.  Doyle’s opponent quickly gained the upper hand and a powerful blow sent him crashing to the ground.  The vampire pounced and Xander shouted a pointless warning, knowing that his cries were far too late.  He felt a sudden sharp pain in his neck and horror finally dawned as he realised that he was going to take his last breath.  His last moments would be savoured in this filthy alley.  Would he be turned? Or would he be sucked dry and his body dumped for only the homeless to step over? The thought that he would leave Spike alone caused tears to prick at his eyes.  Which one of them would feel the blacker void? Him in death or Spike in loneliness? The thought of the pain this would cause his lover suddenly filled him with rage.

No. Way.  

Uh-uh.  He was not going to die like this, so pointlessly, so stupidly.  He was not going to do this to Spike.  How dare this minion take a life, his life, Doyle’s life.  How dare this creature think that he was stronger, that Xander’s life was worth nothing more than a quick snack.  This vampire would pay, somehow, he would pay for the assumption that Xander was a lower being, something to be trodden on, used, abused and cast aside.  

No. Way.

Xander closed his eyes against the pain in his neck and concentrated all of his rage and contempt towards his captor.  

The effect was subtle at first, a twitch of the lips at his throat, the feeling of that mouth turning from a smile to a contortion of pain.  

The vampire released Xander’s neck and gasped up at the sky.  The hands that held him to the wall started to tremble and Xander was vaguely aware of an immense heat radiating from them and singeing his clothes.  Skin sizzled and blackened and noise, not unlike the terrible cry of a tortured lion, filled the air.  But Xander didn’t hear it.  He only felt the building rage of years of torment, of feeling useless, of feeling abused and unneeded, and with good reason, too.  Just look at the mess he’d gotten himself and Doyle into.  Only he could have managed that.  Anger at himself and at the vileness of what the world kept showing him flowed through his blood and Xander could hold back no longer.  He screamed with untamed fury and let his body expel all the power and energy that it had been storing up since Angel had been taken by the Initiative.  The vampire in front of him vaporised immediately and the one crouched over Doyle followed right after, swallowed in a sea of fire and rage.

Doyle covered his face with his forearm, positive as he did it that it would be a useless act.  He was more than a little surprised to find that the fire flowed through him harmlessly.  He quickly got to his feet and looked around him.  The two vampires hadn’t even left ashes.  He spotted the woman crouching in the corner and he waved her away with a frantic gesture.  Xander was still spilling out fire and he didn’t look like he was going to stop anytime soon.  

“Xander!” he called. No response.  He edged closer but was pushed back by searing heat.  Xander’s clothes were blackening and his skin was soaked with sweat.  How he wasn’t actually on fire was a miracle.

Doyle pulled out his cell and dialled. He quickly explained what was happening and where they were and put the cell phone back in his pocket.  He tried again to edge closer.  Impossible.  Calling out to his friend did nothing either.  He was about to give up when he saw Xander’s expression change.  The fury and panic were gone, replaced with relief and exhaustion.  

Xander felt his anger and energy slip away and he found himself smiling as he slid down the wall and began to fall into unconsciousness.  

I’m coming, pet.  You’ll be alright.  I’m coming.


~*~*~*~*~


As Spike stormed into the alleyway he was immediately hit with a wall of intense heat.  It was the sort of heat that you’d expect to find if you’d just had your body basted, sprinkled with parsley and slid into an oven to roast on gas mark six.  Spike swore and scanned the alley for Xander and Doyle.  

A slightly slower Angel appeared at the corner. He waved his arms in front of him like he was shooing away the sudden blanket of warmth that was threatening to boil him from the inside out. “Doyle?” he called.

A worried face peered around a dumpster.  “Over here, quick!” Doyle got up and stepped back as Spike tore past him and took his place at Xander’s side.

Xander’s face was flushed and he was sweating profusely.  Leaning back against the scorching hot brickwork, Xander was barely awake.  His eyelids were heavy and nearly closed and his body was limp with exhaustion.

“Luv?”

Xander turned his head into the beautifully cold hand that was now pressed at his cheek.  He clutched at Spike’s arm and pulled himself forward, almost throwing himself into Spike’s cooling embrace. “Hot,” he said with barely a whisper. “So hot.”

Spike silently agreed.  Holding onto Xander’s body was like clutching a furnace and Spike could already feel his own skin overheating.  Without any further talk or questions, Spike scooped Xander further into his arms, stood, and began striding back to the car.

Doyle went to follow, but he stopped at a hand on his arm.

“Are you alright?” Angel asked.  He quickly scanned Doyle from head to toe and decided, even before Doyle spoke, that he wasn’t.

“I’ll be fine.  Just a few scrapes here and there.  Come on, we’d better…”

“Wait, you don’t look…”

Doyle smiled at the genuine concern that was so evident on Angel’s face. “It can wait.  Really.  I think Xander needs us more at the moment.”

Doyle walked away and Angel quickly joined him at his side. “What the hell happened here?”

“Honestly? I have no idea.  But I’ll tell you this, Xander has some serious power.  That Jaham guy better know what he’s doing.”

Angel stared ahead.  He hoped so too.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander shivered and looked pleadingly at Spike. “Cold,” he complained.

Spike rolled his eyes and held up a large bath towel. “Wish you’d make your bloody mind up.”

Xander stood on slightly sturdier legs and closed his eyes as he felt the fluffy peach towel wrap around him.  He was unceremoniously lifted from the freezing water and placed onto the closed toilet lid.

“Don’t be mad.”

“’Mnot mad.”

“You are.  Please don’t be.”

“’Mnot.”

“Spike…”

“Alright! I’m mad! Happy?!”

“No.”

Spike sighed and squatted down next to Xander’s legs.  He grabbed another towel from the pile on the floor and started to dry his lover off.  He was mad. Sort of.  He was mad that Xander and Doyle hadn’t called for help and he was just mad in general that life wouldn’t seem to let any of them be. “Xan…”

“I know what you’re going to say.  Sorry.”

“Just bloody call me next time, yeah? I know you can take care of yourself, but you’ve also got some weird shit going on at the moment.  What if you’d set yourself or Doyle on fire?”

“Hey, I didn’t know I could do that!” Xander insisted.

“Fine. Well, what if you’d struck yourself with lightning?”

They both glared at each other for a few moments, each trying to picture the results of that scenario.  A smile crept up onto both sets of lips…


~*~*~*~*~


Doyle frowned and glanced over at the bathroom door. “Now what in the hell are they laughing at?”

“Something they shouldn’t be, probably.”

Doyle nodded. “You’re absolutely sure we can trust this Jaham?  I mean, Xander seems okay, but…fuck, that was some weird shit. That really could have gotten out of hand.”

“I know.  Look, I’ve known Jaham for years and years.  He’s the best.  If anyone can sort out Xander, then it’s him.”

“I really hope so, man.  We all need to know what’s going on.”

“Exactly.  Which is why I’m stepping up the research to release Isis.”

Doyle glanced over to the snake.  Isis was wrapped around the top branch inside her vivarium and was staring intently at the bathroom door. “Is it me or does she actually look concerned?”

Angel approached the glass cage and tapped lightly on the window. “She looks concerned.  I just wish we could communicate with her.”

“Well, what about Jaham?  He said that he spoke with her.”

“A vision and a cryptic message.  It’s not enough.  We need to be able to speak directly to her.”

“But even if we can release her, will it do any good? Or will she float off to wherever goddesses float to?”

Angel sighed. “I don’t know.”

“So, stepping up the research.  What does that mean, exactly?”

“I’m going to spend some time with Jaham, go through his library.”

“Let me guess, big library.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe.  Would you like to help me?” Angel asked.  His voiced was hushed and it held a quality that was shy and unsure.

Doyle smiled. “I’d love to.  Now?”

“When we know that Xander’s okay.”

The bathroom door swung open and Spike appeared, leading a bathrobe-clad Xander in the direction of their bedroom. “He’s okay. Bit tired. Taking him to bed. You can both fuck off now.”

“Spike! What he meant was, I’m alright. No permanent damage done and no urge to set LA ablaze.  You are both free to go.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Angel asked.

Spike shook his head. “I reckon we’re alright.  Go on, go.  I’ll call tomorrow.”

Angel nodded and turned to leave.

“Sire?”

“Spike?”

“…I will call.  Take care, yeah?”

“I’ll look forward to it. Thank you.”  

Xander and Doyle looked incredulously at each other, silently agreeing that both vampires were indeed acting very oddly.  Of course, they would both interrogate their respective vampires and report back with their own phone call in the morning.

The goodbyes were said and a slightly awkward hug was exchanged between Xander and Doyle.  There was a definite friendship building its merry way there, but they were both still at the stage where they were working each other out; how touchy feely was the other; how sensitive was the other; and just how would the other person react if you hid a small beaver in their bed?  

“Spill,” Xander demanded when he was safely in his bed with Spike wrapped protectively around him. “What happened with Angel?”

“Fuck, pet, where do you want me to start?”

“Doyle.  Does Angel still love him?”

“'Course he bloody does.”

“So what’s the problem?  What did he say?”

“He thinks that because Angelus abandoned him, it must mean that the souled version doesn’t love him enough.”

“Right.  That’s stupid. Angelus takes time for his obsession to go all…obsessy.  Just look at Dru…”

“Pet, pet, I know.  I told him all that.”

“And?”

“And I think he sees my point, sort of.  But…”

Spike paused and Xander gripped tighter to Spike’s waist. “I’m not liking the sound of that ‘but’.”

But…fuck, how can I put this delicately?”

“Spike, I didn’t even realise that you knew the meaning of the word ‘delicate’.”

“Ha fucking ha.  Alright then, Angel is off his nut.”

“He’s drunk?”

No. He’s going crazy, doolally, insane, off his rocker, out of his tree…”

“Okay, already, I got it! What makes you think that?”

“The chip.”

“What chip? Your chip?”

“Angel’s chip.”

“Huh?!”

“When Angel was at the Initiative they put a chip in his head, just like they did to me.”

Xander sat bolt upright. “Oh my god! Tell me you’re kidding, please tell me.”

“No can do,” Spike said, sitting up and shaking his head slowly.

“Oh my god,” Xander repeated. “I can’t believe he never said anything to us.  Why wouldn’t he say anything?  Does Doyle know?”

“Don’t think so.  And you know Angel, he keeps everything to himself.  Bloody pratt.”

“So, it’s the same as yours?”

Spike relaxed back into the pillows and pulled out a packet of cigarettes from the bedside table. “Angel seems to think so.  Dunno if he’s tested it.”

“Didn’t you ask him?”

“Well, I would have if someone hadn’t decided to nuke a vampire or two.”

“Ah, yeah.”

“We’ll talk to him tomorrow; see what’s what.”

“Okay.  But you said he was going crazy; it’s because of the chip?”

“Maybe.  I don’t know.  I just can’t seem to put my finger on it.  He’s acting fucking strange.  Whether it’s psychological or the bloody chip frying his brain, fuck only knows.  Jesus, you know, they could’ve fucked him up for good.  What if he gets worse? Fucking Initiative cunts.  Fuck ‘em!” Spike swung out his fist and smashed the lamp into the wall.

“Spike,” Xander started, gently. “I suggest you light up your cigarette and start soaking up that nicotine.”

“Sorry, pet.  I’m just frustrated…and fucked off.  Life doesn’t give us a break, does it?!"

“Yes and no.  At the moment, no.  But it will get better.”

“Yeah? When? When you next sneeze and set fire to yourself? Or when Angel cracks up completely and goes psycho on us?”

“Spike, don’t.  Come on, it will get better.  We know about the chip now so we can help Angel.  And we know that I can do weird stuff and I’m already getting help…Okay, so I’ve accidentally set fire to a couple of vampires since then, but that’s not the point.  The point is that we’ll get there.  We always do.  We've got each other, right?”

“'Course, luv.  Yeah, you’re right.  Sorry, pet.  It’s just been one of those days, you know?” Spike pulled Xander towards him and hugged him tightly. “You feeling alright now?” he asked after a weakly returned squeeze.

“Yeah, I’m good.  Just tired.  I think I wore myself out.  I hear pyromania does that sometimes.”

“Sure that’s it? Not too hot? Cold?”

“No, I’m good, really.  Just in the mood for an epic sleep.”

Spike touched his lips to Xander’s, pouring his love into a slow and gentle kiss. “Good night, pet,” he whispered as he pulled away and laid them both down. “Love you, flames and all.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander peered cautiously around the corner. “Over there,” he whispered, pointing to the corner of the room.

“Oh, right,” Spike whispered back. “Why are we whispering?”

“Because they’re asleep.”

Spike, as promised, had called Angel the next day to let him know that Xander was fine and back to his normal bouncy self.  They had arranged to meet at Jaham’s place.  Angel had gone there with Doyle to continue their research on releasing Isis and, in light of the flame throwing incident, it had been decided that Xander was in need of a swift follow-up appointment.

“They look cute, don’t they, all cuddled up,” Xander observed. “I guess they must be getting on okay.”

“See? I was right.”

“About what?”

“All they needed was a distraction.  You set stuff on fire, they fall into bed.”

“Glad I could be of service,” Xander beamed.  

A door opened behind them and Jaham beckoned Xander to join him.

“That’s my cue.  Have fun and be nice to Angel.”

“I’m always…! Yeah, alright.”

A small kiss was exchanged and Spike watched as Xander disappeared into the other room and the door closed slowly behind him.  He was prepared to leave him alone for an hour with Jaham before checking on him and his progress.  This was not a time for patience.  Who knew what else Xander could do with his gift?  It had to stop, or be controlled or at least reined in a little.  

Spike shoved his hands in his pockets and started a loud trudge towards the opposite end of Jaham’s library, allowing Doyle and Angel to hear him and compose themselves.  

To Spike’s surprise, his Sire and Doyle stirred, woke, and stayed in each other's arms in the tapestry couch they were lounging on.  Well, someone’s obviously crawled out of his own arse.

“Alright?” he asked.

Doyle and Angel both blinked themselves fully awake.

“Mm,” was just about all Doyle could manage.

“Is Xander alright?” Angel asked.

Spike nodded and glanced over at the table full of books and scraps of paper with scribbles on. “Anything?”

Angel squeezed Doyle and kissed his temple before releasing him and getting up from the couch. “We’ve turned up a few possible leads, a few fragments of information.”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t get excited just yet, Spike.  We don’t have anything solid.  Like I said, fragments, that’s all.”

“Still, better than nothing, eh?”

“Is Xander with Jaham?” Doyle asked.

“Just gone in.  So, need some help? With anything? Research? Anything else? Anything else happened while we were gone?”

Angel’s lips twitched in a near smile.  His Childe had never been any good at hinting.

“I’ve told Doyle about the chip,” he confirmed. “And I’d like to talk to you about it, get your advice.”

“My advice? Really?” Spike was in a state of shock.

“Look, I’m not proud of the way I’ve been behaving and I’m not even sure why I’m doing it.  But I do know one thing: keeping you all in the dark about it is doing none of us any good at all.”

Spike raised a suspicious eyebrow at Doyle.  It seemed a certain little halfbreed had managed to finally talk some sense into Angel.

Angel continued. “When we’re done here, we’ll go back to the office, the four of us, and we’ll get things out in the open, properly.  But for now…”

“Xander.”

“Yes.  He’s the priority at the moment.”

“Damn right.  Where do I start?”

Doyle handed over a book that was nearly as big as he was. “Have a butcher's at that.  I can’t make head nor tale of it.”

“And you think I can? Not feeling optimistic, here.”


~*~*~*~*~


“This is stupid.”

“Try again.”

“No.”

“Try again.”

“Why? What’s the point?”

“The point is to clear your mind.”

“With mini golf? I’m telling you, I can’t get the ball in the little hole!!”

“Alexander…”

“It’s Xander, for fuck sake.  How many more times? It’s XANDER!”

As Xander’s frustration boiled over into anger the room shook and the window cracked.

Xander gasped and whirled around to face Jaham. “Shit! Is that me or an earthquake…or a Hellmouth opening?”

“Calm, calm, it is you.  Don’t worry, just calm yourself and things will return to normal.”

“Hey, did you wind me up on purpose?!”

“Yes.”

“Oh.  Well, at least you’re honest.” Xander suddenly smiled and the shaking stopped.

“What the bloody hell was that?! Was that you, pet?!” Spike asked as he crashed through the door.

“Yeah, I got mad.”

“Why?”

“He made me play golf and kept calling me Alexander.”

“You bastard! Xan must have told you about his golf ball phobia!”

“It was simply a tool to allow me to witness his power for myself.  I meant no harm.”

Angel appeared at the door and placed a calming hand on Spike’s arm. “Leave it, Spike.  Jaham?”

“It is a great power, oh yes.  It will take time and skill to harness and control it.”

“Can he hurt himself with it?”  Spike asked.  “That's all I need to know.”

“Doubtful.  And from what you’ve told me about the incident in the alley last night, I also think that it’s doubtful that he would hurt any of you. Come back tomorrow,” Jaham said, turning back to Xander. “Come back tomorrow and maybe I’ll have something for you.”

Xander nodded shakily.  He wasn’t sure what had scared him the most:  the shaking room, the window cracking or all the golf balls.

“C’mon, pet. Long night ahead.  Lots for us all to talk about.  Let’s go.”

Looking at the expressions on everybody’s faces, Xander suspected that Spike wasn’t exaggerating.  He took Spike’s hand and followed him out the door.


~*~*~*~*~


“So, it’s just like Spike’s?” Xander asked, something telling him that this chip was decidedly fishy.

“…I-  Well, yes.”

“You don’t sound so sure, Peaches.”

Angel frowned and stared at the floor.  Something was strange; he just didn’t want to admit it out loud.

“Test it,” Xander suddenly said after a minute of silence.  He bounced around the table and held out his wrist. “Go on.  Bite me.”

Spike snatched back his lover’s arm. “There’ll be no bloody biting, ta very much.”

Xander sighed. “Don’t be so overdramatic…”

Spike glared.

Xander relented. “Okay, so don’t bite me.  But I want you to hurt me, just a little bit.  And boy, did that sound kinky.”

Doyle nodded enthusiastically.  “That it did …I kinda liked it!”

Xander laughed and nodded back, stretching out his hand again.  “Me too! So, come on, Deadboy, gimme what you got. Hurt me, baby.”

“Bloody hell, I’m going to slap you in a minute! Get on with, Peaches.”

With a slightly amused smile, Angel held out his hand to take Xander’s.  He balled the more slender fingers up into a fist and slowly squeezed. “Tell me as soon as it hurts, just in case.”

Angel increased his grip, just slightly, aware that he could easily crush Xander’s hand like it was a ripe plum.  

“Ow.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine.  So, no zap?”

“No.”

“Well, what does this mean?” Doyle asked. “Is the chip not working? Does it do something else? Maybe it’s Xander? He’s not entirely human, you know.”

“He’s human enough.  I think,” Spike pondered.

“Hey! I am human!”

“Sorry, luv.”

Xander sulked for a few moments before an idea hit him. “Maybe the chip only reacts to real pain.  You know, like, if you tore my neck open.”

Everybody stared.

“Hey, wasn’t offering.  But what if…” Xander broke off to pull a small knife from his pocket. “Cut me.  Just a little.”

“Are we getting kinky again?” Doyle asked with a fake leer.  

Angel stared at the knife, mulling the proposition over.  It would just be a cut, a small one.  It couldn’t hurt.  It’s not like he would be biting, drinking, drawing blood from that young sensuous neck…

Spike snatched the knife from Xander with a huff, holding it out to Angel. “Bloody hell, go on, then.  Cut him.  But be sodding careful or I’ll have your guts for garters.”

With permission given, Angel took the knife and, in his semi-trance-like state, he drew the blade over Xander’s thumb.  The beautifully erotic scent of blood would have been enough to make Angel hard, make him groan with want, sweep the boy into his arms and sink his fangs into his neck.  It would have, if the chip hadn’t got there first.

Blinding pain fired into his skull and Angel found himself crashing back into the wall and onto the floor.  His hands gripped his head and he thrashed momentarily until the searing pain began to subside and a migraine took its place.

“Fuck.”

Spike squatted at his Sire’s side and nodded knowingly. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“You alright?” Doyle asked with concern.

“I will be.”

Angel wiped at his streaming eyes and leant into Doyle’s welcoming body. He turned his attention back to Spike and spoke in a voice that was cracked and suddenly very tired. “This is what it was like? For you? All that time?”

“Yeah, well.  Got used to it, didn’t I?”

“Will, if I’d known…if I’d known, I would have…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Spike said, not unkindly. “If, when, how, what.  It’s past, mate.”

“Exactly,” Xander added. “Don’t worry about that; worry about yourself.”

But Angel was worried about himself.  And he was worried for the people around him; his lover, his friends.  In the moments before the chip fired, he’d felt an unmistakable surge of Angelus.  He’d felt it before, but this time - as Xander had released just a tiny amount of his blood to the air – he’d felt his demon roar for freedom, roar to taste and tear and drink.

Why is this happening to me?

Angel glanced up into three concerned faces; these were the people he loved, and there was no way in hell that he was going to lose them, not by anyone’s hand, and certainly not by his own.

“So the chip works…sometimes?” he heard Xander ask Spike.

“It’s more than that,” Angel interrupted. “It’s doing something to me.”

Doyle gently took hold of Angel’s chin, guiding his lover to face him. “What is it doing? What’s wrong?”

“It’s bringing back Angelus.”


~*~*~*~*~


“I see I’m very popular this evening,” Jaham noted with a smile. “What have you done now, dear boy?” he asked, turning to Xander.

“I didn’t!”

Spike was starting to like this guy. “Actually, it’s Angel here that’s the problem.  You see…”

“Angelus is on the rise?” Jaham interrupted.

“Yeah, how did…? Never mind.  We reckon it might be because of…”

“The chip?”

“Yeah. How…?”

“Oh, I just happened to glance into my crystal ball this evening.  I saw it.”

“Were you spying?!” Xander was outraged.

Jaham laughed and patted the young man’s shoulder. “Just watching out.”

“Checking on me, you mean.”

“Maybe,” Jaham admitted with a shrug.

“Okay, well, we’ll discuss this totally sneaky invasion of my privacy later, but for now…can you help Angel?”  

Jaham stroked at his long white beard and pondered. “Cheese,” he said, finally.

Three voices: “Huh?”

Jaham pulled a small block of cheddar out of his pocket and held it out to his guests. “It is magic cheese.”

Silence.

“I’m just joking.  Golfball?” he offered Xander.

Xander shrunk back.

“Look, mate.  I don’t know what you think you’re playing at but…”

Jaham held up his hands in a defeated gesture. “Just feeling a little hyperactive this evening,” he explained to Spike. “I think your boy rubbed off on me.”

Spike ignored the potential smut.

Xander mumbled under his breath. “And I get the blame again. What a screaming surprise.”

“Sit!” Jaham barked.

Everybody sat.

“I actually just meant Angel, but thank you all for your prompt obedience.” Jaham walked behind Angel and placed a hand to the back of his head.  He stood motionless for a while, absorbed in his patient and the magic flowing through his fingers.

Angel gasped and Jaham quickly moved his hand away and stepped back. “It is faltering.  It must be removed.”

“Removed?! I had one of those bloody things in my head for fuck knows how long.  It ain’t that bloody easy to remove!”

“Do you know a way?” Doyle asked.

Jaham shook his head. “Magic is my field, not technology and computer chips.”

Xander stood up and began to pace.  Things always looked better when you were on your feet. “Can’t you just, you know, magic it out? Some kind of spell thingy? I could run out and get you some wormwort or, or, eye of newt or something…”

Jaham shook his head again. “I’m afraid that it is too dangerous…”

“Too dangerous?” Angel interrupted. “So it can be done?” The thought of having the chip had, at first, filled Angel with the hope that if Angelus ever returned he would end up on a short leash.  But it seemed that the chip was failing.  And as it was failing, it was messing up his brain and slowly dragging Angelus into the light.  This was not good.

What if the chip failed completely? From the looks on his friends' faces, he guessed they were thinking along the same lines.

Far too dangerous,” Jaham confirmed.  “The chip is warded, surrounded by a magical barrier.  It will not allow my magics to penetrate.  Not without consequences.”

“What consequences?” Spike asked.

“Death. Coma.  Brain damage,” Jaham answered with a shrug.

“He’s already got that,” Spike muttered under his breath, earning himself a glare from Angel.

Doyle shook his head at Xander; he couldn’t believe what was happening and what he was being told. “How do we get it out, then?”

Jaham smiled kindly and rested his hand on Doyle’s shoulder.  “I suggest you ask the ones that put it in.”


~*~*~*~*~


Xander trudged through the sewer, completely covered – from head to toe - in demon slime, with Doyle by his side.  Doyle was similarly decorated.  Behind them, strolling along in silence, were Spike and Angel.  They were not covered in demon slime.

“Why is it us who always end up looking like a couple of chicken curries?” Doyle asked as he flicked a particularly large globule of goo from the back of his hand.

“Oh, actually, I’ve studied this.  It’s always the sidekicks that get slimed.  Let me tell you why.” Xander sounded like he was introducing a documentary and Doyle laughed in spite of the circumstances.

“Go on, then.  Tell me why.”

“Well, we’re the weak human ones, right?” Xander paused only briefly to see if there would be any contradiction to the ‘human’ statement.  Doyle’s amused expression didn’t alter so Xander carried on with his explanation. “So, it figures that the creatures are gonna go for us; run right at us and sink their sharper than sharp teeth into our vulnerable human flesh.”  Xander waved his arms about in a dramatic gesture.  He stopped and waited to see if Doyle would take the opening.

Nope.

Why won’t he just give it up, already?  If he’s all human, then I’ll…I’ll…take up golf!

“Anyway, while the ‘please insert particular nasty creature of the night here’ is bent over us, preparing to chow down on some tasty, tasty, very, very tasty human flesh, blood and bones, Angel or Spike come up behind it and chop off its head with an axe.  Or a sword.  Or once, Spike used a spoon… anyway, I don’t really wanna remember that. So, the angle of the strike is always the same.  We’re on our backs, the creature is hovering, and bam, its head is flying into the opposite wall.”

“And we’re the ones left with a mouthful of gloop.   That is totally right.  We gotta do something about this.  My wardrobe is looking seriously lean!”

Xander grinned at that. “Arm and Hammer.”

“You wanna run that by me again?”

“Arm and Hammer,” Xander repeated. “It’s a laundry detergent.  The best laundry detergent.  It gets out anything.”

“Kitte’powker  blood?”

Anything.”

“Wow. Thanks, man.  I’ll give it a try.”

Xander nodded an acknowledgement before both men fell silent again.

“You got any ideas?” Doyle asked, trying to keep his voice as casual as possible.

It had been two weeks since Angel had been told that his chip was misfiring.  Much research had been done and Spike had made several journeys back and forth to Sunnydale – to no avail.  The Initiative were gone, disbanded and gone.

There was no-one left to tell them how to remove the chip.  

Or was there?

Xander glanced behind him and noted that Spike and Angel were now in deep conversation.  Or at least some deep argument.  Confident that it was unlikely that either vampire would hear him, Xander dropped his voice and whispered.

“Actually, I do have an idea.  But…”

“But what? Come on, Xander, if there’s anything, anything, then you have to…”

“I know.  It might not amount to much, so don’t get your hopes up.  And I would have done this already, but I’m kinda…um, I’m just not confident about this.”

“What is it?”

“I know someone that might help us.”

“Yeah? Who?”

“Remember Graham?”

“The soldier guy? Yeah, what about him?”

“I know where he lives.  He’s here, in L.A.  He might have some information.”

Doyle nodded.  He could feel his pulse racing at the possibility of helping Angel. “Have you discussed this with Spike? I don’t think he’s gonna like it.”

“No, I haven’t.  And I’m not going to.  Graham wouldn’t talk to any of you.  But he might talk to me.  I’m not telling Spike because he’ll stop me.  And I mean that; he won’t try to stop me, he will stop me.  I’ll end up tied to the bed or something.  Not that that’s a bad thing…”

“Hold up, you’re thinking of seeing this Graham on your own?”

Xander shrugged. “I’ll have to.  The guy creeps me out, but I don’t think he’d hurt me.”

“Xander, the guy was stalking you.  He’s a major creep and clearly some sort of psycho.  There is no way you’re doing this alone.”

“I am doing this.  I’ve decided.”

“Then I’m coming with you.”

“No!” Xander hissed. “He might not help me if you’re there!”

“Then I’ll hide in the bushes.  Hey, I haven’t done that for a while,” Doyle joked. “Look, I’ll come with you and I’ll lurk, yeah?  I’ll be there if you need me.”

Xander sighed. “You’ll have to stay way back, totally out of sight.”

“Done.  When?”

“Tomorrow.  In the morning.  Peaches and Cream will be snoring and we can sneak out and meet up.”

“Alright.  It’s a date.  A completely non-sexual-undercover-gonna-get-shot-by-our vampire-boyfriends date.  And in the meantime, what was that detergent called again? I think I might take a bath in it.”

Xander laughed.  It was a nervous and slightly pathetic laugh.  

The thought of meeting Graham was not exactly the most thrilling thought in the world.  And, truth be told, he was scared.  The soldier had proved himself to be quite unbalanced at times, much like Angel was at the moment.  But if Xander could get to him and get information on the chip from him, then it would all be worth it.  Perhaps Graham wouldn’t know anything.  He probably didn’t know anything.  But it was still an avenue that was worth exploring.  An unhinged Graham was a thousand times more manageable than an unhinged Angelus.

This had to be done.  He just hoped that Spike wouldn’t be too mad if and when he found out.

“Question: How the hell did you know where this guy lives?”

Xander shrugged. “Because I’m very good as guessing?”

Doyle looked up at the building and sighed. “Well, it was a very good guess.  Really, though? How’d you know?”

“Promise not to tell on me?”

“Yeah, alright.”

“Pinky swear?”

“Wha…? Xander, just tell me.  I promise not to tell Spike.”

“’Kay.  I ran into him once.”

“You ran into him? Where, for Christ’s sake’s? At your apartment?”

“No! Okay, yeah.”

“Oh, tell me you’re joking. Tell me this guy hasn’t been to your apartment.”

“Well, technically, he hasn’t actually been to the apartment.  Technically, I only ran into him in the lobby.  He was visiting a friend.”

“A friend, huh? Small world. Right. So you ran into him.  Then what?”

“Then nothing. He asked me out to lunch; I said no.  He gave me his address; I took it.”

“You took it?”

“Of course! I didn’t want to seem rude.”

“You seen him hanging around since?”

Xander shook his head. “Definitely not. No. No way. Nuh-uh.”

“You have, haven’t you?”

“A little bit.”

“Oh, Jesus, Mary, Mother of…”

“Don’t panic, bud…”

“Xander,” Doyle said, putting his hand in the air to silence his friend. “Let’s just go talk to this guy. I’m coming with you; no arguments. We’ll talk about this very scary situation a little later.”

“But…”

“No buts.  No arguments. Let’s get this over with, yeah? I’m coming in with you, whether you like it or not.”


~*~*~*~*~


“Xander! Hey, I didn’t think you’d…Oh, you brought someone.”

“Graham, hi.  Yeah, this Doyle. You might remember him from, um…before.”

“Yeah, I remember. Come on in!”

Doyle and Xander looked at each other as they entered the apartment. “He’s chirpy,” Doyle muttered. “Too chirpy. Crazy son of a…”

“Shhh! Stop it, or…”

“Can I get either of you a drink?” Graham asked.

“No, thanks; I’m cool.”

“No, ta.”

“Sure? I’ve got tea, coffee, juice, just plain old water if that’s your kick…”

“Um, no, we’re fine,” Xander interrupted. “Actually, we both need to ask you something.”

“Sounds serious.”

“Yeah, it is.  Really serious.”

“Right. I see. Fire away, then.”

“We know that you, I mean, the Initiative, chipped Angel.  We need to know how to remove it.”

Graham hesitated. “Look, I haven’t had any involvement with the Initiative in a long while.  You know that, Xander.”

“I know what you’ve told me; I just don’t see it, somehow.  And besides, they’ve done this before, to Spike. Hostile 17? Ring any bells? You must have some inside info.”

“I was just a grunt.  I don’t and didn’t know anything about the experiments.  Wasn’t my department.”

Doyle quickly paced before standing nose to nose with Graham. “Don’t believe you.  Now, I suggest that you cough it up before I get really fucking angry.”

“I don’t know anything.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Doyle pulled back his fist and slammed it into Graham’s face.

“Doyle, no!” Xander cried as he watched Graham stagger to the side and grab at his gushing nose. “This isn’t helping! Back off!”

“What?! You know what they did to Spike and now Angel. Don’t tell me that you don’t want to kick this guy’s backside right into next week.  Come on!”

Xander glared and pulled Doyle away. “There’s a right way and a wrong way, Doyle,” he hissed. “Stay here!”

Xander cautiously approached Graham and put a gentle hand on his arm. “Are you okay?”

“Fuck, yeah. Just keep that idiot away from me.”

“He’s just mad because of Angel. That’s his boyfriend.”

“Yeah? Fucking made for each other.”

Xander bit his lip and stared into Graham’s face. “Please help me.  These are my friends and they’re hurting.  Isn’t there anything you can do? For me?”

Graham closed his eyes for just a second. Xander was so close that he could almost taste him. He debated for a moment whether he should close the last few remaining inches between them and kiss his love for all he was worth.  But, no.  While he was sure that Xander wanted it, he wouldn’t do it in front of this Doyle.  

Graham had long thought that Xander was unhappy with his vampire lover.  He had to be! And now? Well, this proved it, didn’t it? He had given Xander his address and waited to see if he’d come running.  And he had.  He was still loyal to the Hostiles, he’d give him that. He still wanted to help them.  Well, that was because Xander was such a loving and caring person.

And now? He could see longing in Xander’s eyes, and also a message.  One day; one day he would break free from the vampires and he would come to rest in Graham’s arms.

Finally, Graham nodded. “I still know a few people; contacts.  I’ll ask around. See what I can turn up.  I can’t make promises, but…I’ll try…for you.”

Xander smiled. “Thank you. I knew I could count on you.  Thank you.”


~*~*~*~*~


“You’re crazy.”

“Really? I thought Graham was crazy,” Xander joked as he sped up to keep up with Doyle’s fast pace.

“Xander, that guy is definitely one sandwich short of a picnic, but you? You should know better, man.  You realise that Spike is gonna freak, don’t you?”

Xander was a little irritated by Doyle’s attitude. Yeah, maybe asking Graham for help was crazy and kinda stupid, but these were desperate times and Xander was prepared to do anything and sacrifice anything for Angel, for his friend. “Spike doesn’t have to know.”

“If Graham can help us, then I think we’ll have to tell Spike and Angel where we got our info.  Either that or they’ll find out by default. Either way, Angel will need to know. He can’t go into this blind.”

Xander sighed and threw his arms part way into the air and then back down to his sides. “Fine, okay.  Say Graham can get Angel’s chip out.  Say Angel gets fixed and I get found out. I’ll just hide behind Angel until Spike stops hopping around like Duffy Duck having a temper tantrum.”

“I think Angel will be just as mad.”

“Fine. Then I’ll hide behind you.”

Doyle shook his head and smiled. “Come on, man. I’ll be in as much trouble as you – probably more.  And if anyone is gonna be hiding behind Angel, it’s gonna be me.”

Xander fake sighed and trotted up the stairs to the office door.  He waited for Doyle to catch up and touched his hand to the door handle. “Are you mad at me?”

“No.  I’m just flabbergasted that you’d take a risk like this without telling Spike.  You’re playing with fire, man – and I’m not talking literally.  Yep, my gast is well and truly flabbered. You are officially crazy.”

“But you still won’t tell?”

“You’re not even listening to me, are you?”

“Nope. Don’t take offence, though. It’s a character flaw. So, are you gonna tell?”

Doyle shook his head again and smiled faintly. How exactly did he get himself into these messes? “I’m starting to think that I’m the crazy one.”


~*~*~*~*~


“Hello, pet. Have a nice outing?”

Xander stopped dead in his tracks. Oh, Shit.  “Hey, Spike. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be vamp napping – chasing young virgins with milk white necks in your sleep?”

“I woke up. You weren’t there, luv. You left without even a goodbye. Now, why was that, sweetheart, eh?” Spike’s voice was steady, controlled and neutral, but Xander could hear the threat that was so apparent underneath.  Spike had woken up alone and he wanted to know why.  

“Um, me and Doyle, we um, wanted to meet up – in the day.  For, um, daytime stuff.”
Spike quirked an eyebrow at the obvious lie. “Daytime stuff? With Doyle? If I didn’t know better, I’d think you two were getting off behind my back,” Spike teased. Fuck, if he ever did think that, Doyle would be in pieces before he’d even clocked that Spike was there.

“No!” Doyle shrieked, holding his hands up in front of him in a defensive posture. “No way, man. I haven’t been messing with him. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Why?” Spike asked sharply. “Sommit wrong with my boy? Sommit you don’t like?”

“God, no.  I mean, yes. I mean…”

“Spike, leave Doyle alone,” Angel called from his office.

“Sorry, Peaches. Couldn’t resist.”

“So, where have you two been?” Angel asked as he stood and leant against the doorjamb.

“We were just hanging,” Doyle answered. “That’s all. Nothing sinister.” And yeah, lying was easy when you’d spent most of your life doing it. “Want to go back to bed? You look half asleep.”

“Yeah, well. It is the middle of the…morning. You’re sure everything is okay?”

“Positive. Come on, let’s kick these two out and go back to bed.”

“Bloody brilliant idea. You ready, pet? Or you got something else to be doing behind my back?”

Ah, so he hadn’t bought the lie. Bugger.


~*~*~*~*~


The journey through the sewer system and back to the apartment was a fairly chilly one.  Not much was said – which was a big surprise on Xander’s part, to say the least.

They rounded the last corner and Spike gripped the first rung of the ladder that would take them up into their building. “You know, they say that you shouldn’t have secrets in a relationship.”

Xander opened his mouth to speak, although what he was actually planning on saying was a total mystery, even to him. Confess? Protest? Joke? Spike silenced him with a gentle – and unexpected – kiss.

“I don’t think that’s right. I might have done at one point. But not anymore – not now I’ve got you.  I know that you’re keeping something from me, Xan.  But I trust you. Might live to regret that, but I do.  I trust you.”

Xander nearly cracked then. How could he keep lying to Spike about this? He couldn’t - not when those expressive blue eyes were boring into him with trust and understanding.

“But I know you’re up to something. Just…let me in on it if things get too hot. We’re a team, yeah? You and me. Love you, Xan.”

Xander could see clearly how much Spike was trying. He was a Master Vampire – used to having the world at his beck and call. Relinquishing control and quelling the natural possessiveness that called so urgently to him was a hard battle to fight, never mind win.  But he was trying.  

Humans have secrets – that’s just the way of life.  Humans lie to each other, and maybe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe sometimes it’s just what is called for.  A necessary lie in order to take a necessary step.

Yeah, it was okay for Xander to have a secret.  He had Doyle to keep him from trouble and Spike had no doubt that Doyle would run to Angel if anything got out of hand.  And then, Spike thought, Xander was gonna get a bloody mouthful!

“Thank you, Spike. I love you too.”

They kissed gently but quickly, mindful of the dangers of lurking around in a dark sewer system.  When Xander pulled back he briefly stroked his hand over Spike’s cheek. “How about I tell you my secret when I’m done?”

“Yeah, alright. But I want a prezzie, too.”

“You want a present?”

Spike shrugged. “’Course. To make up for being kept in the dark.”

“Batman Bobble Head?”

“It’s on sale,” Spike justified.

“Done, Blondie. Still love you.”

“Still love you, too.  Now get your backside up that ladder. I want a shag before bed.”


~*~*~*~*~


It was three days before the call finally came.  It was sooner than Xander had expected, but still the time had dragged on endlessly.  Whether that was because of the worry that every second that Angel had the chip in his head was a second closer to the wrath of Angelus, or whether it was because Xander just hated keeping such a large secret from Spike, he would never be quite sure.

The cell phone had finally rung in the middle of the morning. Xander had hopped out of bed, leaving Spike fast asleep, and was busy preparing a luscious chocolate breakfast when Graham called.  

If Xander had expected Graham to have a hidden agenda – and yes, no matter how stupid Doyle thought he was being, he still had a clue about his stalker – the soldier didn’t show it or even hint at it.  The instructions were clear, concise and surprisingly easy.  A simple spell was all that it would take for Angel to be rid of the chip – a spell to break the magical barrier that protected a million dollars worth of government hardware.  And with the barrier gone, Graham was quite sure that the chip could be removed either by surgery or, if one knew a decent spell caster, by magic.

Xander looked down at the spell instructions that he’d scrawled over the telephone pad.  Doyle was right; Spike and Angel would need to know where this came from. They’d want to know. They’d demand to know.

Oh, shit.  Spike was gonna freak.

“How long does it take to make a chocolate breakfast, Xan?” Spike asked from the doorway. His voice was thick with sleep and he looked genuinely troubled that his lover was dawdling when he should have been tucked up in bed with him.

“How do you know I was making a chocolate breakfast? Did I say that I was making a chocolate breakfast?”

“You always have a chocolate breakfast on a Monday.”

“I do? Huh. I never noticed. You know, I think I’ve always done that. Must be a comfort thing, what with it being a Monday and all.  Not that I need the comfort now. Well, maybe I do. Yeah, I do.”

“Yeah? What’s wrong, luv? This about your precious secret?” The words were meant to cut – just a little – but the heat got nowhere near them.

Xander just nodded and stared down at the paper in his hands. “I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you in the same way that I want to tell you about everything I do – everything from ‘hey, I lost another sock’ to ‘hey, have I told you today that I love you?’ But…”

Spike sat down on the couch next to Xander and pulled him into his arms. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

Xander bit his lip and shook his head slowly.

“Okay. You ready to tell me now?”

Xander was silent for a moment while he genuinely thought about that question. Yeah, he’d done what he’d needed to do and he’d got what he needed to get.   Hopefully.  And yeah, he was definitely ready to tell Spike the truth.  This ‘keeping things from one’s lover’ game was definitely old now.  Three days of Spike’s slightly hurt expression and he was ready to crack, spill the beans and cough it all up.

“I only kept this from you for one reason,” Xander started. “Because I knew you’d stop me.”

“Yeah? Stop you from what?”

Xander pulled out of Spike’s hold and turned to face him – partly because of the need to look at his face and partly because the arm around his waist had started to crush.

“We needed information, right? To help Angel? We couldn’t let him keep suffering, not if we knew there was something we could do. And Angelus, he could surface at any moment.”

“Right. Nice bit of padding, luv. Do me a favour and just tell me.”

“Promise not to get mad?”

“Can’t.”

“Oh.”

Spike rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. “Bleedin’ hell, pet. Just get it over with. Bloody painful, this is.”

Xander took a deep breath and tried his best to keep his gaze level with Spike’s. “Um, I found a spell to break the protection barrier surrounding Angel’s chip. Well, actually, I didn’t exactly find it in that I asked someone else to find it for me.”

Spike narrowed his eyes and smiled slightly at the same time. “Graham?” he asked calmly.

The expression and tone caught Xander completely off guard and he was left opening and closing his mouth like a fish on speed. “But…how…? Yeah. Yeah, I asked Graham. How did you know?”

Spike leant back against the couch and flung his arm over the back. “I followed you.”

“You…what?!”

“I followed you. No fucking way was I gonna let you walk into the lion’s den without me there. Actually, I didn’t really follow you; I more…cut ahead and beat you to it.”

“You were there?”

“Right outside, pet. I’ve gotta say, Doyle knows how to pack a punch. I could have heard that collision a mile off.”

“Okay, I so missed something here. You were already there? At the apartment? How in the hell did that happen?”

Spike shrugged and picked at the polish on his index finger. “Heard you getting out of bed.  Luv, it was before noon. Something had to be up.  And it didn’t take long for me to figure out what.  I knew you’d go after him for the info. I was gonna go myself – beat it out of him – but you got there first.”

“So you knew? You shit! Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Touché. Hang on, if you got there first…how in the hell did you know where he lived?”

“Followed him.”

“Followed him from where? And when?”

“Followed him from here, from when he ‘bumped’ into you.  Fucker.”

“So, um, you know that he’s…”

“Been hanging around? Stalking you? Getting ready to nab you when I’m not looking? Well, I have been looking. And I ain’t fucking happy, Xan.”

“I’m…”

“Don’t you fucking dare say you’re sorry! He should be fucking sorry! AND HE FUCKING WILL BE!!”

“Spike, no. He’s done a good thing…”

Spike snatched the piece of note paper that Xander hadn’t even realised he was still fiddling with. “We’ll let Jaham be the judge of that, shall we?  Look, I know that over the years you’ve developed this crazy human notion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but you gotta understand…I just want to rip every limb from his body just for looking at you.  I know that he’s never hurt you, but I don’t ever want him to have the chance.”

“What are you gonna do?” Xander asked. He wasn’t sure whether he actually wanted to hear the answer.  

“You decide.”

Xander’s head shot up from where it had automatically bowed. “Huh?!”

“I said, you decide.  Make sure you’re fair - and not just on him. You gotta be fair to me, too. What do you really think is the right thing to do?”

“You really want me to decide what you’re gonna do? What if you don’t like what I decide?”

“Well, if your answer isn’t ‘prod him with a barbeque fork until he bleeds to death’ then I’m going to be disappointed anyway. Other than that…I’ll go with whatever you decide.  Because I trust you.”

Spike smirked at his own logic and because he knew he’d just got Xander where it hurt him most.  The trust issue.  

“Damn vampire,” Xander muttered. “Damn annoying vampire.”

“Decided yet, luv?” Spike asked, full of the joys of spring now that he knew that he’d backed Xander into a corner.

“I think that you should thank him for his help and then warn him one more time to stay away,” Xander said after a thoughtful pause.

An eyebrow went up in shock. “You think that’s fair?! On me?! The bloke is after you, Xan!”

“Spike, I went to him. I went to him and asked him to help me.  It isn’t like he figured out this whole thing and then waited for me to arrive on his doorstep.”

Spike’s expression darkened. “Didn’t he? I love you, Xander, but sometimes you can be so fucking naive.”

Xander looked down at his hands while he tried to process that. What if Graham had known all along about Angel and the chip and the spell? What if he’d known all this time and was just lying in wait for Xander to come calling for help?

“I’d be so grateful.”

“Exactly, luv.”

“Fuck. Just call me gullible.”

“Gullible.”

Xander smiled faintly and swatted Spike’s arm. “Cut it out.  Sorry. I guess I should have waited and let you beat it out of him.”

“Next time, eh?” Spike smirked.

“Yeah,” Xander laughed. “Definitely, next time. Listen, could we talk about Graham later? I kinda think that we should deal with the chip first.”

“Yeah. ‘Course, pet.  I’ll call Angel. Have him meet us at Jaham’s. Soldier boy can wait. For now.”

Xander nodded and stood. He debated for a moment whether Spike would accept a kiss from him. Maybe he was too mad. A cool arm snaked around his waist and soft lips suddenly touched his.

“Not mad, luv. Not with you. Pissed off beyond belief at prick face.”

“Were you mad with me before I told you? I mean, I was kinda liar guy there for a while.”

“I might have been getting ready to spank you, yeah.”

“Spank me?”

“If you insist.”

As Spike chased him into the bedroom and threw him down onto the bed, Xander suddenly had a rush of something surreal.  Life, these days, held a very dreamlike quality.  Perhaps, sometimes, that dream was dotted with nightmarish terrors and scary-ass demons, and it certainly wasn’t the life that he’d ever imagined for himself.  Never in a million years did he ever expect to find himself a Spike.

It was then that it hit him like a ton of bricks.  It was forever. Somehow, someway, he and Spike were forever.


~*~*~*~*~


After twenty minutes of total silence, Jaham finally put down the piece of notepaper and nodded. “It can be done.”

“Really?” Doyle asked. “And then you can just…magic the chip out?”

“Yes, yes, when the barrier is dissolved a simple teleportation spell will remove the device.”

“Can you transport it into someone else’s head?” Spike asked, with a nasty but almost invisible smile.

“Spike,” Angel warned.

“So this will really work? Really, really?”

Jaham got up from his comfy chair and patted Xander’s shoulder. “Really, really,” he confirmed.

“How is this so simple? How come Spike spent years with the same thing in his head and he couldn’t get it out?” Xander asked.

“He obviously didn’t look hard enough,” Jaham concluded with a half shrug. “Or perhaps, then, he did not know the right people.”

Spike shifted in his seat and glanced briefly at Xander. “Are you sure the spell is safe, mate?” he asked Jaham. “Xan’s source isn’t exactly the sanest of the sane. His fruit is in a complete loop, if you know what I mean.”

“I see no problems with the spell. Now that it is all laid out for me to see, it is very simple – precise, but simple nonetheless. Although, the spell aside, I don’t think that trust is a word that any of you should associate with this man. Just a feeling. Be warned.”

“Told you,” Spike said, poking Xander in his side.

“Ow. Hey.”

“So, are we gonna do this?” Doyle asked.

Angel turned to look at Doyle. His lover was pale, dark shadows framing his eyes and his cheeks beginning to appear sunken.  The worry and stress of what had happened and what was still happening were clearly taking their toll.  There was no reason not to do the spell now.  If Jaham was happy, then so be it. There was no need to delay.

Angel smiled and nodded. “Let’s do it.”


~*~*~*~*~


“Do you think things will be better for them now?” Xander asked.  The sun had long since set and he and Spike were taking a long leisurely stroll back to their apartment.

“Maybe. Hopefully. Probably.”

“Good,” Xander said, after a long moment of thought. “Hey, you think they’ll double date with us now?”

“Not a chance in bleedin’ hell.”

“I could convince them.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Spike laughed.

“Does it make you feel bitter?”

“Eh?”

“Bitter. That Angel only had his chip for, like, five minutes and you had yours for years.”

“Maybe. A bit. Not really.”

“You’re just king of the long sentences today, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

Xander laughed briefly before becoming serious again. “So you’re not bitter?”

“Why should I be?” Spike asked with a shrug and a sideways smile. “If it weren’t for the chip, I wouldn’t have you now, would I?”

“Auw, shucks. You say the sweetest things,” Xander joked, bumping his shoulder gently to Spike’s.

“Meant it, though, Xan,” Spike said, stopping them both and turning Xander to face him. “Hated that fucking chip. There were days when I was prepared to rip my own skull open to get it out. But, in the end, it did bring me salvation; it brought me a chance to be myself – the man, not the demon. And it brought me you, pet.”

Xander smiled shyly and leant in to brush his lips against Spike’s.  The taste of liquorice and smoke drew him in further and Xander wrapped himself around Spike’s body and kissed him hard. “I guess everything worked out, huh? Your chip. Angel’s chip – we hope. I guess everything is done and, excuse the expression, dusted.”

“Not quite, luv. I think you’re forgetting something,” Spike said with a deep and sudden scowl.

“Oh, yeah.  Graham.”

Spike huffed. “No!” he said, completely aghast that Xander seemed to have forgotten. “My Batman Bobble Head!”

“Oh, yeah! I hadn’t forgotten. Much.”

“Sounds like it. Got money on you now?”

“Yeah.”

“Bloody marvellous. Store’s coming up. Go get me my Bobble Head and knock yourself out in the comic section - not literally.”

“Why? Where are you going?!”

Spike guided Xander into the shop then started to back out again. “Gonna pay Soldier boy a visit. Won’t be long. An hour, tops.  If I know you, you’ll be looking at comics for the next two.”

“Well, yeah, but…Spike?”

“What?”

“Just…be careful, okay.”

“Don’t worry, luv. Just gonna say thank you and move him on, just like you decided. No need to fret, pet. Hey, I’m a poet and don’t know it! Oh, hang on…”

“Spike…”

“Don’t worry,” Spike insisted, diving back into the store to steal a last minute kiss. “Back in tick, luv.”

Xander watched with a sigh as Spike disappeared from sight.  Okay, so he was definitely going to spend the next hour worrying and worrying and then worrying some more.  

In a perfect world he would have called Angel at this point and gotten him to go after his wayward Childe. But what with it not being a world that was at all perfect, Angel was in the middle of the ritual that would unmask the chip and allow Jaham to remove it – or, as Xander liked to call it, he was in the middle of de-cloaking. Hence, Spike and Xander had finally been expelled from the immediate area when Spike had whacked his elbow on a bookcase and had suddenly developed a random bout of Tourette’s.

The spell required patience, magical skill and otherworldly talent. And it also required silence. It wouldn’t do to interrupt an ancient chant with ‘bugger the buggering fuck! Shit, that fucking kills!’

Xander sighed again and headed towards the toy section. The Batman Bobble Heads weren’t hard to find. There was a whole stack of them built up against the far wall. Xander grabbed one and looked around until he spotted something that made him smile. He picked up one of those, too. He could claim it was for him, but he knew that Spike would want a turn.

Was he worried about Graham? Kinda. He was just a guy. A screwed up guy, yeah, but, more than anything, Xander just felt immensely sorry for him. Pity was all he had to offer a man who clearly thought he was in love with him.

And what if Spike beat the living daylights out of him? Which he would. How much would that tug at Xander’s conscience? Well, when you analysed the situation, when you really got down and thought about it, wasn’t Graham a threat to Spike? Wasn’t he?

Xander drifted over to the comics and wondered what Superman would do. Probably just fly off and rescue a young farm boy before he could be sucked into a swirling whirlwind. Well, that was absolutely no use. Thanks very much, Superman.

“Hey, this is a surprise. Not.”

“Cordy? What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the office?”

“What office? Oh, no.  I closed up.”

“You closed up?! Oh, man, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. Angel is so going to…not actually care one little bit right now. So! Cordy! What brings you to geek central?”

Cordelia huffed and flicked her hair over her shoulders. “Shopping. I need to buy something.”

“That I gathered, Cordy.  I didn’t think you were the type to read and run. So, what’ll it be? Supergirl? Wonder Woman? Poison Ivy? I know, you strike me as a Harley Quinn sort of gal.  And you know they always call me the Joker.”

“Xander Harris, you are so totally gay.”

“Did I blank out for a second there? Because I’m sure I just missed out on something.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes dramatically and put her hands on her hips. “You’re gay? Yes? Remember? You and Spike doing the nasty – literally? You can’t flirt with me now. Actually, I gotta say, you had trouble flirting with me then. Or anyone, in fact.”

“Cordy, what are you doing here?” Xander asked again with a resigned sigh. There was no way he could win an argument with Cordelia Chase, not while he was without superpowers. Unless you counted the fire thing. But he didn’t really want to set Cordelia on fire - not today, anyway.

“Nothing. Nothing much. Just…looking,” Cordelia said with a small amount of disgust that was clearly aimed at herself.

“Looking for?” Xander prompted.

“If I tell you, will you go away?”

“Um.” Xander thought about it. The tension was palpable. “Yeah, okay.”

“It’s Angel’s birthday coming up. I’m looking for a present for him.”

“Really? In here? I don’t think Angel’s really into…Hey, it isn’t Angel’s birthday for at least another six months.  Planning early, aren’t you? Sheesh. I mean, come on, it’s my birthday first…hold up. Are you shopping for my birthday?”

“No.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. And if you deny it again I’ll tell everybody that you’ve got the hots for the guy at the greasy chicken place.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“Try me.  I think you’ll find that, where birthdays are concerned, I can be pretty ruthless. So ‘fess up, Cordy, before I have to get tough.”

“Okay, okay! Yes, I was shopping for your birthday. I thought maybe I could get you something that you’d actually like. But if you tell anyone I’ll twist off your arms and stuff them where even Spike wouldn’t dare look!”

“Got it. Gotcha. My lips are sealed. So, whatcha gonna get me?” Xander bounced.

“I have no idea! Something…Star Trekky?”

“You mean like the Dr Beverly Crusher special edition life size bust? Or the Seven of Nine life size…bust. Oh, yeah!”

“Bust. Right. Got it.  So, what brings you here, apart from the need to actually prove that you’re a geek twenty-four seven?”

“Spike left me here while he went to kick someone’s ass. I think the comics in their shiny wrappers are supposed to distract me.”

“Are they?”

“No. But this Batman Bobble Head is totally mesmerising. Anyway, I guess I’m kinda worried about Angel, too. You know, what with the chip and the spell.”

“Chip? Spell? What did I miss? Where was I?”

“Do you wanna go grab a coffee?” Xander asked.

“Are you paying? Will there be gossip?”

“Yes. And yes. Coming?”

“Oh, you bet! Grab that bobbing head and let’s go have some fun. Or, um, something.”

Xander paled and attempted a weak chuckle. Now, THIS was going to be distracting.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike swore and kicked a tied up trash bag back across the floor of the apartment.  

Gone. He was fucking gone.  The only sign that Graham had ever even been in existence was his leftover trash.  At least two months worth of newspapers were stacked in the corner and in the kitchen was the evidence that Graham had left in a hurry.  Crumbs still on the surfaces. Buttery knife and a plate unwashed in the sink.

So, Graham had some brains after all. Then again, it wouldn’t have taken a genius to work out that Xander would crack like a teapot hitting the ground, thus sending an angry and gleefully homicidal vampire barrelling Graham’s way.

Spike knelt on one knee and toppled the stack of old newspapers. They were all folded as a newspaper should be, but most were folded to show a specific page. There were rings penned around certain articles – articles detailing strange incidents and occurrences.  Spike scanned the pages and realised with a chuckle what Graham had been up to.  

“Bloke really knows how to stalk,” he muttered, after the chuckle died in his throat. He wondered how many times Graham had been lurking in the dark, watching Xander.

Spike stood and quickly made his way into the bedroom. He scanned the walls and noticed a huge patch on the left wall that was covered in pin holes.  Many of the pins were still there, some still with tiny portions of paper or what appeared to have once been photographs attached to them.

A deep, rumbling growl escaped his throat and Spike fought the urge to just tear the apartment to bits and rip the entire building to shreds with his bare hands.

The open wardrobe door caught his eye and Spike strode towards it, wishing that perhaps Graham had hidden himself inside. No such luck.  A few abandoned shirts hung on the rail, a tie dangled crookedly on a hanger and a blanket was stuffed in the corner.  Spike grabbed at the blanket and flung it aside, revealing a tatty old shoe box.  He reached for it, already knowing, at least roughly, what would be inside.

So, he really had been in a hurry to leave. He had to be to forget his little treasure chest. Spike pulled out numerous objects, all Xander’s. A leather wrist band, a toy car, a coffee mug, several pens – which he knew to be Xander’s by the specific way that the tops had been chewed, Xander’s favourite comic that he’d been devastated by the loss of just a week ago.  Lastly, Spike pulled out a book. It was old and dog-eared but, again, it had been Xander’s favourite, a book that he’d managed to keep hold of throughout his childhood, a book that he’d taken comfort in whenever things had been really bad.  Spike pocketed it and vowed to burn the rest; it could all be replaced and would be – even the comic.

Spike did a brief check of the rest of the apartment, unwilling for there to be any trace of the occupant’s obsession.  Even the newspapers went in the garbage chute.  When he was done, Spike considered his options.  He knew now, knew for certain, what he was going to do.  But the issue remained of what to tell Xander. And Angel.

Whatever anyone ever said about Spike, he could never be accused of being dumb.  Slightly crazy and a teeny bit impulsive perhaps, but he wasn’t dumb. And he wasn’t a hypocrite, either.  He’d scolded Xander for keeping secrets, even gone so far as to demand that Xander buy him a Batman Bobble Head for his dishonesty. Did he really want Xander to get the opportunity to demand a present? Seeing as it was his birthday coming up, the presents were sure to be in abundance anyway.

No, he would tell him the truth. He’d tell him what he’d found and show him the box of his own stuff.  He would show Angel and Doyle, too.  And then he’d tell them all what he was prepared to do.

God help anyone that got in his way.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander finished leaving Spike a voice mail and hurried back to the apartment.  Doyle had called and was apparently waiting with Angel outside his front door.  He’d told them to go ahead and let themselves in and had then quickly called Spike to say that he’d be at home and not at the comic book store as promised. Not that he’d still been at the comic book store, anyway.  Rather, he’d been having coffee with Cordy and filling her in on recent events.  

“Hey,” Xander said, looking over at Spike as he closed the door behind him. “How come you got here first?” he asked with a puzzled frown.

“Got longer legs. And you dawdle.”

“I don’t dawdle! And my legs are definitely longer than yours.”

Spike stood by his side and compared. “Oh, yeah. You must have dawdled, then. Unless you were up to something again, eh, pet?”

Xander opened and closed his mouth a few times, clearly flustered by the accusation.

“’S okay, luv. Only teasing. Took the sewers.  Less people to walk around.”

“Don’t tease me. Or you won’t get your present.”

“I’ll never tease you again. Hand on heart.”

“Until after you get your hands on your present, I assume?”

“You assume right, luv. Now, to what do we owe the pleasure?” Spike asked, glancing over at Doyle and Angel on the couch. “Everything alright?”

Angel glanced up after a silent pause and held out his hand, uncovering his palm to reveal a tiny microchip. “It worked.”

Xander grinned widely and bounced on the spot. “Yay! I knew it would work, I knew it! Did it hurt? Does it feel weird now? Did it take long?”

Doyle laughed and got up to stand next to his friend. “I think it’s a no to all those things. Let’s give these two a moment, yeah?” he said, gently tugging Xander back into the kitchen area and sitting on the edge of the table.

“Oh, a moment. Right. Got it,” Xander whispered, setting himself on the table next to Doyle and trying not to watch as Spike slowly squatted in front of Angel and took the chip.

“Hard to believe, innit?” Spike said, staring down at the tiny piece of hardware. “Tiny little bugger. Causes all that pain. Makes you wonder how it works.”

“I’m sorry.”

Spike looked up with an incredulous look on his face. “Eh? What you sorry for?! Daft bugger.”

“It came out so easily,” Angel explained. “Once the barrier spell was broken…it was so easy.  I thought I was coming apart there for a while. I thought I would lose myself to Angelus.  I could feel myself changing, making me something that I didn’t want to be. You had to live with that for so long, Spike.”

“Yeah, well.  Different time, different place and all that shit.  Doesn’t matter now. I ain’t got the chip no more. I got something much better.” Spike smiled faintly and glanced over at Xander. He received a big grin in return.

“I’m sorry, Spike. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m your Sire and I let you down.”

“Told you, Peaches. Doesn’t matter now.”

Angel stood and crossed the room to nowhere in particular. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared up at the ceiling. “It does matter.  I’m your Sire,” he said again. “I should have helped you. I’ll never let you down again.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. You mean so much to me, Spike. I would do anything for you. I mean that.  And the same goes for Xander, too. You’re both my family.”

Spike swallowed and pushed back the urge to pull his family into a group huddle. “I do need your help.”

Xander looked up at that and propelled himself off the table. “What happened? Did you see him? I don’t see any blood,” he observed as he looked Spike over for signs of Graham’s blood splattered over his clothing.

“He’s gone.”

“You went looking for Graham?” Angel asked. He could see that look in his Childe’s eyes that meant he was caught between being very upset and very fucking angry.

“I went looking, alright. Needed to tell him to piss off. Was gonna smack him about a bit, make him cry and send him on his way.”

“And what happened?” Angel asked.

“The fucker’s moved on; cleaned his apartment out and left. In a hurry.”

“He probably knew you were coming,” Doyle reasoned.

“And it’s a good thing, right?” Xander tried. “He’s gone and he won’t be hanging around anymore.”

Angel did a very slow double-take. “He was hanging around? Doyle didn’t mention that bit.”

“Yup. Hung about. Followed Xan. Even came ‘ere a couple of times. Twisted idiot thought I didn’t know, thought I wasn’t expecting it.”

Xander hung his head slightly and unconsciously fiddled with Spike’s sleeve. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. I just…I just thought he was harmless. You know, he’s got a thing for me and eventually he’ll get bored and go away, sort of thing.”

“Yeah, well, we all make mistakes. My mistake was not killing him the first time I clapped eyes on him hanging about. Thought I was being clever, watching him watching you. Just waiting for him to go right over the line.  I won’t make that mistake again.”

“What did you find at his apartment?” Angel asked.

“Evidence. He’s been stalking Xan good and proper.  Found a load of newspapers – articles about incidents and such that we’ve been dealing with.  And I found this.” Spike held out the box for Xander to take. As he watched his lover open it and react to what was inside, he felt his urge to torture and kill rise to the surface. He pushed it back. For now.

“This is all my stuff. Hey, I’ve been looking for this!”

Spike snatched the box back before Xander could actually touch any of it. “You know what this means, don’t you?”

Xander paled and leant his weight against Spike. “He’s been here, to our apartment, inside,” he whispered. “And the office, too. Oh, my god.”

Angel took the box and rifled through, recognising the Snoopy coffee mug that Xander always used at the office.  It had once been Spike’s but Xander had apparently commandeered it back in Sunnydale. “He won’t get close again,” Angel announced firmly as he glanced back up and handed the box back to Spike. “I promise you that.”

Spike nodded and turned to Xander. “Luv, I’m sorry, but when we catch him I will kill him.  Can’t risk him getting close to you again.”

“Okay. This is something you need to do, right?  Just…will you promise me something?”

“Anything.”

“Make it quick? Don’t let him suffer. Just kill him and walk away. I don’t think I can stand the thought of anything else.”

“I promise, pet.  And I ain’t gonna go on a world wide hunt to find him. But I will be watching. And if I catch his scent, he’s gone.”

Xander nodded and let Spike envelop him with strong, comforting arms. “Maybe he won’t come back.”

“Maybe,” Doyle said. “But if he does, we’ll be ready.”

Xander nodded again and pulled out of Spike’s arms. “At least we know now, huh?”

“Exactly, luv.  Bright side to everything, eh?”

“Totally.” Xander wasn’t exactly sure that there was a bright side to any of this.  But he did know one thing for sure. It didn’t matter that Graham had been in his home and in Angel’s home.  It didn’t matter that Graham had been watching him.  Spike wasn’t going to let it happen again.  Neither were Doyle or Angel. He felt safe. “I guess I should give you your present now?”

“Gimme.”

Xander retrieved the bag from where he’d set it as he’d arrived.  

“Cheers, luv. Hang on, what’s this?”

“Oh, that’s just for me,” Xander grinned, taking back the Dalek. “It talks and everything.”

Spike just looked disgusted.  And slightly interested.

“Oh, man, now that is what I call cool. Come on, get it out and let’s have a play.”

Xander smiled at Doyle and did just that, handing the toy over for his friend to have a play first.

“Boys and their toys, eh?” Spike remarked to Angel as they watched the two grown men get very excited over a plastic toy.

Angel looked down at the box still in Spike’s hand.

“Erm, yeah. Just forget you saw that.”

“I’ll try my best.”

The two vampires were silent for a while as they watched their lovers laugh at the twirling Dalek.

“Xander really put himself at risk by helping me.”

“You’re telling me.”

“We’ll keep him safe.”

“Promise me, Sire.”

“I promise.”

Spike nodded, satisfied with the vow.  Angel never promised what he wasn’t sure he could deliver. He pushed himself from the arm of the couch and wandered over to the vivarium. Isis was curled around a branch, watching intently. “What we gonna do, eh, pet?” Spike asked quietly.

Isis stuck out her tongue and inched closer to the glass. Spike watched her, mesmerised by the graceful way her body curved as she coiled and uncoiled around the branch.  Her tongue snaked out again in a gesture that almost seemed affectionate.  Then, her head slowly tilted and her eyes flashed suddenly blue, the bright colour filling Spike’s vision and blinding him before he shook his head and forgot that it had happened.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, he had an idea.




Unfinished




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