Xander tried not to laugh hysterically, but it was hard. Very hard. Spike gave him a narrow-eyed look of annoyance, plainly saying that if Xander made so much as one peep he was a dead human.
Which, of course, in no way made him want to laugh harder. Really it didn’t.
Forcing himself to calm down, Xander made shooing motions and pointedly turned to look at the brightly lit stage not so many rows down. After a moment he sensed Spike do the same and decided to give it another minute.
Once the minute was up, Xander moved his head very slowly and carefully until he still appeared to watch the play—but was actually watching something far more enjoyable: Spike. The play was good, definitely, and he had wanted to see it even after Spike’s secret obsession had manifested itself. However, pounding rhythms and rainbow costumes just couldn’t compare to the figure next to him.
Spike was happy.
Childishly happy, with an innocence that no one who knew the vampire would believe. Spike was whispering along to the familiar songs and if it weren’t for the fact that they were in a crowded theater he’d be singing aloud. His head moved to the driving beat. Whenever the singing stopped for dialogue and plot, blue eyes flashed as they darted between characters, often widening like a child’s, intent on not missing a single twitch.
It had taken a lot to get the vampire here but Xander congratulated himself on a job well done.
He’d known, of course, the moment the cool presence slipped from the bed. Part of him had been expecting it—although he hadn’t realized that until it happened. He hadn’t followed his boyfriend. Xander had known where Spike was going and even guessed at part of the reason why. As he’d had to remind Angel that morning, he wasn’t stupid. He hadn’t spent six years as a Scooby to be afraid of research, and having a vampiric lover meant that books had the best—sometimes only—explanations. After all, it wasn’t like he could go out with the girls and dish over lattes.
Even after Buffy came back.
He knew what had happened. More, he knew how much Spike had felt forced into doing it. Xander knew his boyfriend had returned as soft as he’d left—and knew him well enough to know that he hadn’t gotten off in Angel’s room and then attempted to clean it up. The fetal position and silent, shaking tears hadn’t engendered a feeling of jealousy towards the older vampire—if anything, it deepened his rage.
Lying there in the dark, curling his warmth around his sobbing boyfriend, Xander had cursed himself for ever coming here. Not even on the really bad days in Sunnydale was Spike as silent and despairing as he’d been ever since he’d seen his Sire.
So, no more. No more waiting for Angel to have a magical fix-it, or for Spike to suddenly tell Xander what was happening. Time for Xander to do what he’d been planning on doing, ever since he’d realized how bad the problem was getting.
That morning, he’d spent an hour or two on Cordelia’s computer arranging things, before poking his lover awake. Spike had been nervous and wary upon waking; the humiliation, shame, and fear a palpable shroud around him. Xander had pulled him into the shower, washing away the pain, whispering constant reassurances. Spike didn’t have anything to fear—Xander wasn’t jealous. He was furious at the whole situation and Angel in particular but. . . Spike came back to him. Spike wanted to be with him.
And Xander was going to do everything in his power to make sure Spike understood that he knew that and appreciated it.
Waving goodbye to Cordelia, Xander had led his boyfriend into the smoggy, cloud-covered day—possibly the only thing L.A. had going for it was its vampire-safe days—and to the stores he knew Spike would never have voluntarily taken him to.
Spike had gaped at the sight of Xander in tight leather pants, chosen for the abstract design picked out in gold studs, before hurriedly shoving himself into his matching silver-studded pair.
The sight of the two of them together had earned Xander a blink and a twitch.
By the time they’d left the first shop, they’d purchased three bags full of pants, shirts, and all kinds of accessories—including fake nipple rings that had Xander squirming just at the thought. Also something called the ‘Gates of Hell’, whatever that meant, which the grinning sales clerk had added for free. Xander was pretty sure that he was supposed to use it on Spike—which meant, provided it wouldn’t earn him a chip jolt, it was going to be used on Xander instead.
By then Spike was slowly working through his shock and beginning to smile—a little.
More stores were visited; the polluted skies above retained their cloud cover so that with a little effort and some care, Spike was as mobile as any mortal. They went to goth and punk clothing stores, record stores that had non-mainstream music, the kind you couldn’t get outside of L.A., a tattoo parlor and piercing booth, anything Xander thought Spike would enjoy. Which, despite the occasional sideways glances, Spike finally did.
Around six, they’d grabbed a quick bite, Xander promising more later. Then he’d bullied Spike into the punk finery they’d just bought: tight leather pants, slinky tight shirts, makeup, studs in the ears, the whole works. Spike applied a fake tattoo of a stake to himself, and Xander was persuaded into a belly button ring—Spike had wanted the nipple rings, but Xander was firm; there was no way he was going to where those to their next stop. Not with a shirt tight enough that they were extremely visible.
They looked stunning together. Xander knew they did, making sure to use his specially witched camera to take a few snaps of a happy, gorgeous Spike—and of the punk-Xander who was probably never going to return after the day was over.
Their arrival in the crowded theater had been—interesting, to say the least. At first, Spike had been thoroughly shocked, squirming under the scrutiny of families with young children and couples dressed up for a romantic night on the town. While dress codes had relaxed to the point where there were people there in jeans and t-shirts, no one had expected the gay, punk couple to stroll casually inside a Broadway-caliber theater.
Then Spike had realized what the play was.
He’d blinked, standing totally still in the middle of the lobby, before turning to stare at Xander for a long, tense moment. Then he’d grinned. A real, smirking Spike-grin. The kind that was smug bad-ass on the outside and melting boyfriend on the inside.
Xander had been forced to find some kind of cover, immediately—tight leather pants offered no protection at all.
After that Spike had started acting like. . . well, not Spike, the vampire that his friends knew. This was a punked-out version of the kids that ran around them, complete with wide eyes and constant bouncing. It was a Spike that Xander knew and recognized and if he ignored the hints of hesitancy and nervousness that lurked around the edges, it was almost like he had his Spike—the real Spike—back.
Granted, he’d had to swear that people would hear about the adventures of Xander the Fabulous Ladies Night Club Stripper before they would find out that Xander had taken them to see a musical. It was worth it. It was all worth it: the look, the show, the whispered words to songs Spike would swear he’d never heard before; the hints of the Spike he’d fallen in love with, the healthy, happy Spike he craved.
A cool touch made him glance down, pleasantly surprised to realize that Spike had taken his hand. The hand squeezed his. Looking up he saw the shy smile that was reserved for him and him alone. “S’over,” Spike explained, waving at the bright lights and the milling, chattering people. The voice was a little too quiet, the words a little too hesitant, but Xander wasn’t going to argue. He’d take what he could get and count it as a major victory. “You see any of it?”
“I watched! I did! Some of it. . . oh, c’mon, Spike, we have the movie at home.”
“The play is different,” Spike insisted, earning a surprised glance from a woman herding several young children to the gift shop. “Different songs, not by Elton John, praise whoever, and the dances are so much better. . . this one isn’t a bloody cartoon, Xan.”
Xander coughed, trying hard not to talk and laugh at the same time; that never went well. “I know, Spike.” The poor woman was having an embolism watching them. Two decked out punks, obviously a couple with clasped hands and bodies leaning towards each other, discussing the merits of a Broadway musical based on a Disney film. Her children were just fascinated, period.
“I know, Spike, I know. Hungry? There’s an Ethiopian place near here that’s supposed to be good.”
“Yeah. Cooler’s in the trunk?”
“Of course,” Xander glared, making himself look offended. He wasn’t. Spike was having a normal conversation with him, actively involved instead of waiting for Xander to tell him what to do.
If all it took was the removal of all things familiar—both from Sunnydale and L.A.—he was going to pack them up that night and get a hotel. They’d probably stay in L.A., since it was easier for the vampire to get around during the day and there were still plenty of things for them to do and because he owed Cordelia a day with just the two of them. . . but they’d be out. Out of the Hyperion, out of the supernatural save-the-world deal, and away from Angel.
“Xan? Have you ever had Ethiopian food?”
“No? How bad could it be?”
Spike just chuckled.
It turned out to be not bad at all. The injera—flat bread—was filling and Spike made them get incredibly spicy lamb—but that was good, too. “God, I wish they had places like this in Sunnydale!” Xander moaned as he paid.
“Burger-burns only go so far,” Spike agreed, attempting his usual sardonic attitude. He was almost there. “And if we eat at that international whatever house again I’m going to turn you into pancakes.”
Xander smirked back, pleased to hear the attempt. It was a step closer to having the real Spike back again. He opened his mouth to suggest a venue a little more appropriate to their outfits when the phone rang.
Xander pulled it out and both of them glared at it with such similar distaste and annoyance that they could have been mirror images. “I should break it.”
“Can’t break it, luv. Watcher paid for it.”
“I can still break it. And he did not pay for it. He paid for yours, or at least he did for a while. Once he realized I make almost as much as he does he made me pay for it.”
“Still can’t break it. Look, that’s Cordelia. Could be something’s up.”
“Yes, but that means fighting and bruising and I look good, dammit. So do you. I wanted to go show off.” Xander pouted, even as he led them back to the car. This kind of conversation was not one that you wanted to have in the middle of a crowded restaurant.
“We can always go out later. Er, or tomorrow, if it’s too late. And you don’t get hurt.” The diffident voice turned diamond hard on the last phrase, making Xander stumble in surprise. Spike stared at the cracked pavement but his jaw was clenched, his hands fisted, and Xander knew that his eyes would be steely grey.
That. . . was weird. Not Spike being concerned for him, that he knew. Given the vampire was damned near indestructible and Xander wasn’t, it was a constant problem for them. But that was why Xander had been taught at least the basics of fighting and, more importantly, when to recognize he was over his head and needed a professional. He was backup only, and he was content with that.
“Well, it’s not like I like getting beaten to a pulp,” he joked, trying desperately to lighten the mood. “Bloody Xander is not a pretty Xander and I like being pretty.”
He snuck a kiss, unsurprised when Spike didn’t respond. Xander gave him a worried look and slid into his side of the car. The phone had been ringing continuously in the background, a high pitched whine that put them both on edge.
Xander seethed, thinking dark thoughts about certain former Sunnydale residents. Popping open the phone, he rested one hand on the steering wheel. Spike had actually started relaxing and acting normal, dammit. He didn’t need this. Not now.
“Ah, Xander. I’m glad I caught you.”
Apparently, all British people had the talent to be incredibly rude despite sounding polite. “You caught us. We were about to go out. Who needs rescuing now?”
“Angel has requested backup. Cordelia’s vision indicated a rather large convergence of a hive-like species whose sting is deadly to humans. As it doesn’t affect vampires much, it makes sense for the two of them to go.”
The understated, almost paternal attitude made Xander wonder—again—just what Angel had done to put Wesley in charge of the organization. “All right. Give me directions and we’ll go.”
“Xander. . . It might be better if you did not.”
Xander froze, mentally cursing vampiric hearing, Wesley, and his decision to ever come here. He should have gone to New York like he’d originally planned. They could have played the nattering tourists, hit all the spots he knew Spike missed and had a grand old time spending lots of money. Nothing to worry about except him, Spike, and his credit card. But no. He had to come here. Where Angel and daily battles against slimy creatures that wanted to eat him were the norm.
Sometimes he was monumentally stupid.
At Wesley’s quiet, infuriatingly British warning, Spike had turned to stone.
Sighing, Xander turned on the engine. “Fine.” The bite in his voice promised retribution. Quite a bit of it. “Where am I dropping him? And this stuff doesn’t hurt vampires, right?”
“We’ve determined that the poison makes them itch a bit, but nothing more serious than that. Calamine lotion will be sufficient, should they be stung. Thank you, Xander. I do appreciate this. It’s been some time since Angel has had backup that is. . . equal in abilities.”
Xander figured laughing would be a bad thing. Wesley certainly wouldn’t appreciate it and the dry, bitter tone would only worry Spike more. “Yeah. Right.” He missed the good mood he’d been in all of ten minutes ago. He missed the smiling, almost normal, cheerful Spike.
Damn Angel. Damn Wesley. Damn all of frigging L.A.
The trip to the other side of town was spent in silence, neither party willing to communicate through the black cloud that hung over them. When Xander pulled to a stop outside a dirty looking abandoned building—an old school?—he half turned in his seat to look directly at his boyfriend. “You okay to move in those clothes? They’re tight. No, wait, we put the clothes underneath the seat, you’ll use those, right?”
“Want me to take the piercings out? They could get caught.”
Spike was looking at the building intently. “Don’t worry about it.”
Xander practically snarled. “What the hell do you mean don’t—”
“Are you mad at me?”
Blinking, Xander pulled back his rage. This wasn’t snarky-Spike baiting him. There was real fear in that question, a deep-seated terror that froze Xander’s insides. The same kind of terror that had poured out of Dawn when they had run from Glory. . . the terror that said the sky was falling and nothing was going to be able to put it up again. . .
His anger vanished. “No. I’m not angry.”
“You’re tapping. Always do that when you’re angry.” Xander looked down to see he was indeed tapping on the steering wheel.
Forcing his hands to still, he took a deep breath. “Come here.”
“Can’t. Angel needs backup and—”
Hand poised on the door handle, Spike shuddered to a halt. Slowly, very slowly, he slid across the seat, leaning hesitantly towards the man he should never feel hesitant towards. Xander forced down his returning rage, taking the vampire in his arms and holding him tightly.
“I’m terrified,” he whispered into ice blond hair. Spike gradually relaxed into his embrace, unable to stay tense when bathed in vibrating warmth—once, very early in their relationship, he’d told Xander that nothing relaxed him more. “I’m afraid for you, and I’m thinking that if I was there, I might be able to do something. Anything. To keep you safe.”
“Not supposed to keep me safe,” was the whispered reply. “S’my job. I’m the bloody vampire.”
He hadn’t heard a single ‘bloody’, ‘buggering’, ‘sodding’ or ‘bollocks’ since the night of their arrival. The lack made this utterance all the more significant. “Why? Cause you’re the vampire? Not hardly, Fangless. I know you want me out of there so I don’t get hurt. I’d say the same, but since you won’t let me, I want to be there to help, if I can. I know you feel the same—it’s why you never let me patrol alone. Even if Buffy’s with me you’re still worried. Spike, I love you. I love you. I don’t want you to get hurt. I don’t want you to be unhappy. I don’t want to lose you.”
He wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t.
“Should. Should let me go, Xander.” The sound of shattered glass dragged along slate.
“Why? Tell me why, Spike?” He hadn’t wanted to do this here, in the middle of a deserted street, Angel presumably inside the nearby building. “I love you.”
“I cheated on you.” The finality in those words made Xander’s rage spark with incandescent fever. Spike knew how Xander felt about cheating—after Xander’s disastrous kiss with Willow and over a year with a former vengeance demon, it had become something the human was very particular about. He’d made Spike promise that if—he’d said ‘when’, despite Spike’s vehement denials—Spike ever felt the need for someone else that he’d tell Xander first. No matter how casual the desire might be, to always tell Xander first. Even if it broke the human’s heart. He’d rather know than be cuckolded.
“No, you didn’t.”
Short, sharp laugh, the kind that made his own throat ache with sympathy. “Did. Last night—”
“With Angel. I know. And you didn’t. God, do you all think I’m stupid?” Pulling Spike around so that he could glare into eyes gone crystal blue, he fought the urge to snarl again. “You didn’t cheat on me!”
“Do you love him?” Spike wordlessly shook his head, eyes wide as he watched Xander, body trembling slightly. “Did you stop loving me?” Hard shake. “Did you get off on it?” Another shake and Spike slumped down, held up only by Xander’s arms.
“Of course I knew, Spike! I—dammit, go out and kill something. Go kill something or I fuckin’ will!” The burning rage was fighting to get free and hurt something. If Spike didn’t get out of the car, Xander was going to. He didn’t care if the damned things were poisonous. He wanted to bash something until it bled. He pushed Spike towards the door.
“Get out of the car!” Xander watched as Spike quickly grabbed the bag underneath his seat—fighting clothes they always kept with them, just in case—and scurried out of the car. He didn’t look back once as he entered the decrepit building.
Breathing hard, tears blurring his vision, Xander tore the car away from the curb. He drove hard, screeching the tires, revving the engine, yanking the wheel, and generally doing all the things he swore he’d never do to his four-month-old baby. By the time he reached the Hyperion, he was a mess. Distantly, he was glad he had snapped pictures when he did—if nothing else, he was sure his makeup was in large streaks down his face.
“Holy—Xander! What the hell happened!”
Ignoring Gunn’s worried shout, Xander thundered down the stairs to the exercise room. Stripping out of the skin-tight clothes, he headed towards the punching bag and just let go.
He’d never wanted to do this, before. The Zeppo had never been able to take his frustrations out in this manner, concentrating on more mundane things like babbling and snarking to himself and occasionally getting caught up in adolescent attempts at bomb-making. The Zeppo didn’t find release pounding into something that didn’t give quite enough.
Spike’s boyfriend did. It was how Spike unwound, especially if it was Xander he was upset about and he couldn’t wheedle a bit of rough sex. When Spike had meticulously re-taught Xander how to move and walk and the basics of defending himself, he’d introduced the punching bag as something Xander should learn to love.
He punched and yelled mindlessly until his throat was sore and his knuckles were split and bleeding. He even tried kicking a few times, but that didn’t give the same satisfactory feeling, so he stuck with punching. Over and over until he knew he was seconds away from crying.
Because he knew just how stupid he’d been.
“Here. Let’s fix those up.” The quiet, concerned British voice filtered through the dust motes and for a second he felt like he was back home in Sunnydale; warm and safe and protected. But the hands that took his were longer, thinner than the ones who normally patched him and the feeling shattered.
“How could I do that? I know how he gets when I’m. . .”
“Controlling. I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have said that. Oh, Christ, I never should have come here.”
He stared morosely at the floor, uncaring when something stinging was applied to the lacerations and then bound tightly. “You were upset, then?”
“He thinks I shouldn’t love him. He thinks. . . I don’t know what he thinks. But he’s wrong.” Xander looked up at a face that appeared so much older and more mature than the plump, youthful annoyance he remembered from three years before. “I love him. Why won’t he love me back?”
“He believes he does, Xander. I’ve had rather a long conversation with Angel. He is. . .uncomfortable speaking to you about this. I have offered myself as translator since some of the problems are. . . quite complex.”
“He’s a vampire. I’m a human. Where’s the complexity?” Bitterness crashed over the pain, twisting it like a dull knife in his belly. “I know he can love. He just doesn’t love me.”
“Why don’t you go take a shower, clean up. Then I’d like to speak with you, if I may. Angel knows not to disturb us.”
He knows—Xander looked up abruptly. “You bastard. If you wanted to talk to me without Spike, you could have said so. Instead, you send him on a fucking wild goose—”
“I did nothing of the kind.” The mild reprimand stopped him faster than any shout. Rubbing his eyes, Xander forced himself to stop wallowing in pity. Pity wasn’t going to fix what he’d screwed up. But maybe Wesley could. “I did not manufacture Cordelia’s vision, nor did I fabricate the effects of the poison. Those are very real and Spike’s help is needed. However, you are correct.” Wesley sighed and Xander could believe that this was the man who now ran Angel Investigations. This was Giles’ mannerism combined with Buffy’s authority. “I should not have attempted to manipulate you like that, especially since I knew Spike was in the car with you. Forgive me. I did not wish to cause you more pain.”
Swallowing, Xander waved the apology away. He rubbed at his eyes and sighed explosively. “Don’t. You wanted to help me. I’ve been trying to help Spike for months, now. See how far it’s gotten me?”
“Let’s at least level the playing field then, yes?”
Xander grasped the hand Wesley offered, allowing the smaller man to haul him to his feet.
Angel remained slumped against the wall, watching as Spike stripped out of obviously brand-new clothes. The other vampire’s movements were rough and jerky as he pulled on a loose t-shirt and an oversized pair of sweat pants. Angel was sure the actual owner of the pants had dark hair and a heartbeat. Spike had to tie them three times before they stayed on his slim hips.
“Zorazzik demons,” Angel said, while Spike carefully folded the new clothes and hid them securely. Nothing was going to touch these clothes, clearly precious to Spike. The way he had caressed the studded leather pants. . . “Shouldn’t be too much trouble. Hive-mind. We go after the queen.”
Spike nodded shortly and Angel could see unshed pain behind the movement. Odd. Well, not that odd, but usually when the fighting started, Spike could push everything else to the edges and concentrate only on the fighting. It was what made him as dangerous—and successful—as he was. But now. . .
Now, Spike’s attention was still in the car that had pulled abruptly away from the curb, tires squealing harshly. Angel shook his head, pushing himself off his perch and heading towards a crack in the side wall. A distracted Spike was a risk; an emotionally distraught Spike was a danger to Angel, their ability to deal with the demons—and himself.
That worried Angel. He didn’t want Spike to hurt himself—and yes, he did care, so his little internal Cordelia-voice could leave him alone now—but it wasn’t in Spike’s nature to hurt himself. Others, yes. Random inanimate objects, definitely. Spike went on rampages, tearing up anything in his path, turning his rage outward so that the incandescent power of it burned out faster and he could start dealing with whatever had bothered him in the first place.
Internalizing that rage meant that it was going to demolish the very foundations that made up Spike—his strength, his ability to survive, to always regain some kind of control over his life. It meant that Spike was destroying himself over whatever the problem was, and he knew it.
It meant that this was very serious.
Despite his divided attention, Spike still showed his customary skill as they prowled through the abandoned building. He had always been Angelus’ preferred hunting partner, especially once he’d worked through the desire for the theatrical, ostentatious fights that newly-turned William seemed to thrive on. After a little bit of training—and a lot of beatings—Spike became controlled, powerful, clever, strong, swift, and smart. And this hunting partner wasn’t selfishly dominant or insane, which made Angelus very happy.
It wasn’t something Angel had forgotten.
Most of the hive was out—Angel had set up a distraction earlier—so they just had to find the queen, fight whatever guards she had, and kill her. They were tracking by scent: the cold, oily flavor in the air definitely not from the puddles of machine oil they occasionally skirted. So far, Angel felt confident that they hadn’t been spotted.
The first words Spike had spoken to his sire since he’d left Angel’s room last night, cum staining his lips.
“How much did you hear?” The pain, the raw open wounds in Spike’s voice shocked Angel into stillness. Spike didn’t want to ask these questions—that was part of the pain. He didn’t want to, but he had to.
The faint echo of a dim memory, his own voice, thick with an Irish brogue, as he lectured a broken, prostrate, vampire. “Never keep things from your Sire.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They were in the room Wesley used. Barely lived in, but obviously the former Watcher’s; the books strewn around it were a dead giveaway. Wesley handed him a beer, smiling slightly when he placed the second on the desk and instead picked up a cup of tea sitting on the desk. It’s half-empty state told Xander that Wesley had been up here, probably working on the notebook covered in tiny, precise lettering, before coming to find him. Wesley sat at his desk, taking a small sip, while Xander ambled about distractedly. He was too wound up to sit, especially since the only other seat was the bed.
“I’m afraid these concepts are going to be very difficult to comprehend,” Wesley started, staring at the floor. The old Wesley would have stared at a spot above his head. The new Wesley wasn’t going to look anywhere but his eyes—unless he was exceptionally nervous and unsure. That understanding killed the biting reply Xander desperately wanted to make. “I am not attempting to belittle your abilities to understand, nor to make this overly complex, but this. . . isn’t human.”
“I know.” Calm, simple words. Wesley wasn’t the reason for his anger.
“Yes, you do.” Wesley gave him a wan smile, setting the tea cup down. “Forgive me, please, but I’ve spoken with Angel and some of the things he revealed to me were not very pleasant. I admit to being rather shaken.”
That cut through the still-burning rage. Xander took a pull of his beer, hating himself for using the alcohol to steady his nerves but needing the extra cushion. “So it’s bad. Okay. I’m expecting that. But you can tell me what’s going on?”
“No.” Xander met eyes as brown as his own, openly regarding him without thin lenses to block the sincerity of their gaze. “I can’t. No one can. I can, however, help you gather information and perhaps between the three of us, we can—”
“Not Angel. After tonight, I don’t want Spike alone with Angel again.”
“Did he tell you? While he was telling you all the horrible things Spike’s done, did he tell you what he did to Spike? What he made Spike do?”
The rage was back, blurring his vision, but he was unprepared for the calm understanding he saw in the other man. Wesley was Angel’s; despite being the leader of Angel Investigations and the boss of all its employees, Wesley was Angel’s. That’s where his loyalty lay, and that’s who he’d trust first. So the frank agreement made him grab up the bottle and take another deep drag.
“You assumed that the ‘horrible things’ that Angel spoke of were things that Spike has done?”
“Well, yeah. No real love lost between those two.” Xander knew his bitterness was irrational. Although he hadn’t gone to eavesdrop when Spike slipped from his room, like he’d wanted to, he was pretty sure that Angel hadn’t expected or wanted the visit. It was only the sheer physical pleasure that made him accept the advance. Xander knew that. It didn’t stop the hatred he felt for the older vampire, the hatred he had felt because of Buffy.
This time, though, it wasn’t about confused adolescent lust. This had so much more in it.
“Xander, Angel spent most of the time speaking of himself. Of Angelus. And the ‘horrible things’ you fear so much—they were done to Spike, by Angelus.”
Xander sat down.
“Now, then. Are you ready to listen?” Another level look and Xander was reminded uncomfortably of Giles, always warning him to back off and slow down until everything was understood. He nodded, just a bit sheepishly. “Very good. To begin, we first have to look at the very nature of Spike’s turning and then the nature of vampires themselves. Specifically, their family life.”
“Family? Huh. Spike’s used that word a couple of times. And I know Spike’s about turning. Dru found him after a party, decided he had one too many burning baby fish around his head and sucked him off. Both ways.” He could feel the faint surprise in the older man’s gaze at his calm recitation. What, did he think that Xander was going to be upset? Drusilla’s actions had given him a partner he loved—and hating Dru for sleeping with Spike was as silly as Spike hating Anya for sleeping with Xander. It was the past. It was important because it affected their present and future selves, but the events themselves were past and unchangeable.
That, and it wasn’t exactly as if Spike was cheating on him, given his great-great-grandfather had barely been born at the time.
“Yes, well. It’s slightly more complicated than that. It has to do with what a sire actually means.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
“How much did you hear?”
Angel cursed himself for not realizing it sooner. He should have seen the signs—had seen the signs—but what did it matter since Spike was obeying? And what did it mean for Angel, that the things the demon wanted, still pleased the soul?
Low growl and Spike turned to face a burned-out wall. His body trembling with tension, fists clenched tightly enough that Angel could scent the slivers of blood Spike had pricked with his nails. “How much?”
Angel fought the urge to sigh. A very useful human trick, offering a chance to work the body while the mind scrambled frantically. Vampires, however, had no need to breathe and couldn’t really use that delaying tactic. “No words,” he said eventually. “I heard the tone and. . . guessed. But no words.”
“I—I can’t—” Absolute agony in the broken voice and Angel was struck by the obscure need to take Spike in his arms. He didn’t, but he wanted to. To reach out and soothe family, the way a Sire was supposed to. Angel blinked. He hadn’t thought of himself as Spike’s Sire since he was cursed. Angelus had always been the possessive one, not Angel.
“Of course you can,” he said briskly. “I don’t know what you did, but that boy loves you, Spike. Of course you can go back.”
“No. He—he doesn’t—want me.” All the energy rushed out with the last two words, leaving Spike slumped up against the wall, breathing shallowly. “He doesn’t want me,” was whispered again into the burned wood, his mouth tasting the shapes it formed.
“Yes, he does. It was just a fight, Spike. We had them all the time.”
“You’re my Sire.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“There are intricacies in turning that Angel would not tell me, but he did give me general information. There are multiple ways of turning a human, depending on what you want the resulting vampire to be.”
Wesley shifted in his seat, glancing from his notebook back towards Xander, perched on his bed. Xander was sitting very still, clutching the half-full bottle but refusing to take another drink. He was glad it was dark, the room lit only with a single lamp that shed most of its light directly onto the desk. He wasn’t a good poker player, despite Spike’s teaching, and he didn’t want Wesley to be able to read his face that quickly.
“There are accounts that mention the difference between a ‘minion’, a ‘fledgling’ and a ‘childe’. Angel said that these labels were totally fictitious, made up by prying humans, but they were based on an instinctive hierarchy that forms the foundation of a vampire’s social structure. He chose to use ‘minion’ and ‘childe’ in his explanation, so that we might better understand.”
“Wes. I get the fascination you have, really, but what the hell does this have to do with Spike?”
The small smile he got did not improve his mood. “Drusilla had already gone through several ‘minion’ level vampire guardians. They were created expressly to watch over Drusilla, to keep her out of trouble and happy. They were little more than glorified babysitters, with less intelligence than while they were human, controlled almost totally by their instincts and desires. Angelus and Darla instilled upon them the need to take care of Drusilla—otherwise, they probably would not have.”
“‘Mindless cannon fodder’. Spike called them that, once.”
“Yes. They are little more than vampiric beasts, unable to be more creative than a stalk-and-feed routine, with little interest in the demonic community at large or demonic politics, and barely able to defend themselves against an ambitious human. They are walking, talking animals, who needed to be cared for nearly as much as Drusilla herself. Angel said that they were often apt to forget their instructions and allowed attacks on her. Or, just as often, they were unable to prevent the attacks from occurring.”
“So, what—Angelus wanted a smarter babysitter?” This was not endearing him to the cursed vampire. Not at all.
“No. Minions are nearly mindless drones and eminently replaceable. Angelus liked. . . training new minions to care for Drusilla, so he had no objections to continually replacing her handlers. Drusilla herself, however, wanted a companion, a. . . . a brother.”
That got Xander’s attention. “A brother? Not unless she’s from Arkansas and I didn’t know it!”
* * * * * * * * * * *
The broken, shattered echoes of reaffirmation were like knives in the shadows.
“Aye, lad, I am.”
The words burst from him, accent coloring their form and meaning, before Angel could blink. Then he cursed himself. A lot.
The trembling returned and for a moment Angel was certain that Spike would fall to his knees. The need to hold Spike, to offer him comfort, also returned. It was a struggle not to give in to it.
Scrambling about mentally, Angel searched for a way to soothe Spike with words alone. “Yes, I am your Sire.” He forced himself to speak in an American accent, not wanting Angelus to creep up on him like that again. “But I haven’t been for a hundred years, Spike. I lost the right to be your Sire when I abandoned you and Dru, doubly damning you since Darla had left as well. You learned to be your own Sire, Spike. You don’t need me, not anymore.”
A single jerk of bleached hair told Angel he wasn’t getting through. Crap.
“And anyway, it doesn’t matter if I am your Sire or not,” he continued. “Because none of that means anything, now that you’re—now that you’re with humans.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Not a brother the way we mean the word, no, Xander. The, er, sex was not an issue between—”
Xander waved, preventing more embarrassed comments. “Sorry, I get it. Anywhen, anywhere, anyhow, and anywho—even if it had tentacles. So, Drusilla wanted a brother?”
Wesley seemed relieved that he wouldn’t have to explain more of that, no matter how comfortable in his own skin he seemed to be. “I doubt she could have articulated so coherent a desire, but yes. She wanted a constant companion, a friend as well as a lover. This put Angelus in something of a bind. He wished to please Dru, but in giving her what she desired, he was also leaving himself. . . vulnerable. So, he went about selecting the potential vampire very, very carefully. Angelus needed someone more capable than the minions, but would still be very loyal to Angelus, not Drusilla. Someone that Angelus—”
“Yes, exactly.” Xander wondered just what had happened between the Watcher and the soulless version of the vampire to put that kind of expression on Wes’s face. Not that it was a particularly expressive expression, but Xander hadn’t spent the past six years of his life with Giles without learning how to read British inscrutability. Wesley knew exactly who his former boss and current employee was. Good and bad.
“Bet Darla wasn’t too thrilled with that,” Xander choked out, mind racing. Spike had mentioned something about Dru and Darla about two years ago, something about trying to drive Angel crazy. . .
“No, I can’t imagine she was.” The dry, amused sarcasm confirmed it. Not only had Wesley met Angelus once or twice, he’d also met Darla. Apparently she was everything Spike had described. “Here is where we must deviate a bit to explain the various ways one can be turned. Minions turn minions all the time, and they are usually what Buffy faces—strong and occasionally very clever, but usually stupid and infatuated with their own abilities. A childe—although the name is a misnomer—is somewhat different.
“When Darla met Angelus, she found a human who was basically a waste. What little intelligence he possessed was lost in drinking, brawling, and, er, tumbling. That is a near direct quote,” he added to cover the faint blush. “Angel is quite insistent that he was not an intelligent human. I am unsure whether to believe him, although there are moments. . . ”
Xander nodded. “Yeah. Every once in a while, I’ll get a hint of what ‘Liam’ was like. He makes me look like, well, Giles.”
“Yes, quite.” Wesley tried to hide his amusement, but those British-reading-skills struck again and exposed the emotion. And Xander realized that he’d finished the entire beer. Placing the empty bottle on the table, he laced his fingers together to prevent himself from reaching for the second bottle that sat on the dresser.
“So, wait a minute. If Liam, human-Angelus, was a moron then—why did Darla turn him? Because Darla wanted a husband. Spike was pretty clear about that.”
“A husband? Hm. That is a better explanation of what Angel called it.”
Shrugging, Xander leaned back. “Spike said that Darla was a whore in the seventeenth century before the Master turned her. A whore wants two things in life, once she stops whoring, according to William the Know-It-All. Someone to cater to her and someone she can control. Translation: a husband.”
“One who isn’t going to demand sex as payment except when she desires it, yes, that makes a great deal of sense.” Wesley picked up the notebook and began scribbling in it frantically, looking suitably impressed. Xander tried not to grin; he liked it when people realized he wasn’t the same donut-boy anymore. And adolescent Xander, who still made his presence known occasionally, liked showing up the well-educated former-Watcher.
“Yes, that makes it much clearer, thank you. Darla took a foolish human, and with the addition of a demon and a bit of training, she created a childe. Not a minion. This was someone equal to her in physical strength and mental acuity, but as Sire, she was still able to dominate—when she wished. Angel said that Darla liked men taking care of her. Except when she didn’t.” The rueful look told Xander that Wes had made more than one attempt to understand the female mind—hopefully before being presented with the eternal enigma that was Cordelia.
Forcing himself to pay attention, Xander nodded thoughtfully. “So, you’re saying that a minion can walk, talk, and act like a human, but it thinks along the level of an animal. No patience, no real thought of the past or the future, just want, take, have. A childe is different because it has the intelligence of a human, the strengths of the demon, and can still learn and, well, grow, mentally, the way a human can.”
Surprise flickered briefly before Wesley’s expression settled into a pleased smile. “Yes. Exactly. Darla wanted a mate, one she could train to her wishes and control, yet smart enough and strong enough to be a true companion, rather than a servant. While she was the technical head of the line, she yielded control to Angelus for the most part. Angelus also created several childer—we must come up with a better term than that, I feel positively Victorian just saying it—although none were as powerful as he.”
“Yeah, can’t actually see Angelus sharing the wealth too much—oh! That’s why you meant a brother! And that’s why Drusilla found him and did the initial bite!”
The pleased smile grew into something wider. “Yes. Angelus didn’t want a son, one that would eventually grow up and challenge him for power the way all children eventually do. He wanted someone he could constantly control—”
“And who would be devoted to Drusilla. Familial loyalty without the risks.” Xander bit his lip, worrying the skin a little. “Okay, I get that. So he wanted a childe to take care of Dru, but he didn’t want the power struggles he knew he’d have. Especially if it was a male childe, which it would have had to be for Dru to be happy. Don’t ask how I know that, you really don’t want to hear those stories.”
“Quite, and thank you for the warning.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question, not when Spike looked like he was about to curl up into a ball of misery. “He’s human, and you—”
A buzzing sound gave them a split-second of warning.
Spike fell to the floor next to Angel. A glance at the porcelain features told Angel that the internal anguish was pushed away by an unanticipated attack. Spike hated being caught off guard, and Angel hoped it would help force Spike out of this funk. If he wasn’t totally focused and still of the opinion that not saving his own hide was a good thing. . .
“Fuck!” Spike swore, for a moment sounding like nothing was wrong. “You didn’t tell me we were fighting bleeding flying monkeys!”
Angel growled, freeing the blades he’d carried in and passing one to Spike. Only sharp-edged metal, preferably steel or cold iron, would penetrate the chitinous hide. “Shut up and fight.”
They did look remarkably like flying monkeys, Angel realized as he shoved himself to his feet and began to slash. Shaped similarly: with small, wiry bodies; four limbs all ending in appendages that looked remarkably like hands; and leathery wings attached to their backs. They were metallic grey and clicked when they moved.
Hacking and slashing, he and Spike forced their way through the hundreds of zorazziks that attacked them, working toward where the smell was strongest. That would be where the queen was, they were sure. At least, Angel was sure. Spike—
Spike was playing backup. Fighting their way down a narrow hallway, surrounded literally from all sides, it was the best place for him to be. Except Spike hated playing back up and, in times past, wouldn’t without some show of force from Angelus. Even then, he would sulk and grumble about it almost continuously, snarking his way through the fight.
Angelus had come to depend on the pithy comments as a means of communication between the two of them. It often distracted their opponents and over time it had become a soothing background noise that helped him formulate plans all the quicker.
Angel missed the commentary desperately just then.
“It’s not fair,” he said as they moved through the hallway. The demons weren’t that difficult to kill, relying almost completely on the stinger on their tails. Both Spike and Angel had been stung repeatedly; but though the bites had began to itch, they remained at a low enough intensity that ignoring them was easy. “Not to you, Spike, or to him. He loves you.”
A low growl met his words.
“Dammit, Spike, that is idiotic! He’s human. You can’t submit to him, he doesn’t understand what that means! And anyway, it’s not what you want. You’ve never wanted to submit before, why the hell would—”
Angel wondered if he was ever going to finish thinking something through before realizing the answer mid-word.
“If that’s what you wanted, why the hell didn’t you tell him! Answer me, Spike. If you want me as your Sire, then you’ll damn well obey me!”
“He’s human,” Spike snarled, little humanity left in his voice. That scared Angel, earning him a nice sting in the center of his chest when he faltered as a result. Spike had always been so human, even when fully in the throes of the demon. It was his humanity that gave him his strength for so long and to lose it now. . . “How could he want me, a demon? A monster, a fucking thing? He’ll use me. And I’ll let him. But one day he’ll grow up and want a wife and kiddies and no matter how much I submit, no matter how much he takes—he’ll leave me.”
“Your Sire is your life. You belong to your Sire. You will always obey your Sire. You will care for your Sire. You will never leave your Sire. Never.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Wesley lifted the remaining bottle sitting next to him on the desk, tilting it questioningly. Xander shook his head, grateful when Wes opened it and took a pull himself. They’d been up here for over two hours now and tea only went so far with a dry throat.
“Spike told you that Drusilla was his sire, yes? Intriguing. I wonder if Drusilla believes that she truly is Spike’s sire.”
“Uh. . . she isn’t?” Arrogant, shouting voice, full of pain a frightened little boy couldn’t hear, couldn’t understand. The cold, hard grip on his neck as he was thrust from one demon, who had betrayed him, to the new demon, clad in leather and sharp punk attitude. “Not that Spike is the most reliable source about this kind of thing, either.”
“Despite the misnomer of ‘childe’, the act of turning a sophisticated vampire is not the vampiric instinct of procreation. They do not feel this need, according to Angel. Usually, childer are created out of a need for companionship—intelligent companionship. They can be chosen the way Angel was, by taking a human and using the demon to create the desired result. . . or the way Spike was.”
Xander blinked. “I’m totally lost now. Spike wasn’t—Spike wasn’t turned like a normal childe?” His index finger began to tap a frantic beat on the wooden arm of his chair. Great. Just great. Xander wished he could go back to his room, curl up and wait until Spike came home and then fuck him until he couldn’t think anymore. This whole stupid trip was the biggest mistake he’d ever made.
“Spike was turned to become Drusilla’s companion—a vampire who had the mental maturity of a young child. Not an animal, she was indeed a true childe, but. . .”
“But she’s nuts. He was turned to be a smarter babysitter.”
“In essence.” Wesley looked ashamed, although why he should be upset at something Angelus had done over a century before Xander didn’t know. Didn’t care, either. He wanted Spike. He wanted makeup sex, he wanted to tell Spike how much he loved him and he didn’t care about the rest of the bullshit. So long as he loved Spike, and Spike loved him nothing else was important—couldn’t anyone see that?
The tapping got faster.
“So? What did Angelus do for his darling Drusilla?”
“How did—you’ve heard Angelus call her that?”
“I’m in love with Spike. You do remember Spike? The one who talks about his past only when he’s blasted and most of the time says fuck-all about it? I’ve done the research, Wes. Yeah, didn’t exactly call down to chat with dear old granddad, but I have tried to get as much information as I can.”
“Ah. Yes. Xander, I’m not attempting to cause you any more difficulty, but. . . I believe you do need to know this. I think it will be invaluable in helping you—”
“What? Deal with Spike? Fix him, like he’s a broken toy?” Xander was up on his feet and pacing before he realized it. “He’s my lover. I don’t want to fix him, I want him to be happy. There’s a difference!”
“There is, Xander, and I do understand that.” It was the quiet confidence that made Xander slow down, looking back towards the bed to see the same kind of control and poise he was used to seeing in battle-Buffy. “The problem is that he is broken. And you need to understand how before you proceed. I admire your desire to simply see him happy, but I do not think it is possible without some attempt at healing first.”
“Fuck you!” Snatching up his empty bottle, Xander hurled it towards the wall. The shattering sound calmed him a little, but he was still breathing hard and clenching his fists.
“The rage is part of it, you know,” Wesley told him mildly. “He senses it, and reacts to it. The way he was trained.”
Xander went rigid.
“Yes, trained, Xander. This is why I was so shaken, for Angel was brutally frank about what he did to William. Now, will you sit down and let me continue, or do you wish to have another temper tantrum?”
“Angelus chose him, didn’t he? Spike hates talking about what he was like when he was William, but he has. He was sweet, then. Innocent. Loving. He used to take care of his mom and sisters. Played nursemaid when he wasn’t scraping together money for them. I don’t remember what he said they had, but they were sick a lot. His dad died when he was young and he was the only one who could take care of them. So he did. He loved it too, you can see the way his eyes light up when he talks about them. Even now, a hundred years and a demon later, he still loves his family. He still wishes he could have saved them, protected them better.”
Xander slowly turned around, not bothering to hide the tears that wet his face. “Angelus took that. He gave sweet, innocent William a demon’s strength, and a demon’s needs, but he kept everything that made up William, too. He tortured him just as much as he did Dru, except he didn’t want a broken, raving lunatic. He wanted an obedient, caring lapdog. Didn’t he.”
Wesley could only nod.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“This is why you thought you loved Buffy, isn’t it,” Angel snarled, although his ire was directed at the zorrazik currently stinging his leg—and ripping yet another hole in the brand new chinos he’d just bought. A nice soft grey, too. “Because she was the strongest? Because you needed someone to be stronger than you?”
Spike didn’t answer, concentrating on hacking his way through to the small, roundish grey thing near the wall. They were pretty sure that was where the queen resided. It would certainly explain why there were thousands of Zorraziks attacking them.
“And when she rejected you, you thought that was it, didn’t you? Willow wasn’t strong enough.”
A low growl,and then, “Witch is plenty powerful.”
“Yeah, magically, but not—ow, dammit!—personality-wise. Oh, she can be, with the right motivation, but that’s too dark for you. Buffy is strong in spite of the darkness, Willow can’t be without it.” A very stupid, very dangerous idea occurred to Angel. It was probably going to backfire in his face, but this wasn’t Spike. This was miserable, suicidal Spike, with blood streaking his body where he hadn’t avoided sharp claws when he should have—when he could have. This was Spike who was fading away into nothing, the kind of Spike Angelus had tried for so desperately.
Even though it had taken over a century to come to fruition, Angelus had created this Spike, no matter how much Angel wanted to deny that. So maybe Angelus’ way was all there was left. Sending a brief prayer to whomever would listen that he wasn’t about to make things worse, Angel reached into his mind for the ever-present feel of black, desperate, hungry filth—and opened himself to it.
“So who else was there. . . Giles?” he asked snidely, the cruel confidence of Angelus leaking into his words. He knew Spike heard it, saw the younger vampire tense and shrink just a little more. “Nah, too much of the old you peeking through for comfort. Or did he remind you too much of your father?”
A roar of anger—Angelus clearly remembered how precious Spike’s human family had been to him—and Spike was ripping his way through the final protection, hacking at the grey, slippery lump attached to the wall. It crumbled under his assault, leaving behind a very large, female version of the Zorrazik that still attacked them.
“I bet you even considered Riley, didn’t you? Except he didn’t even like you the tiniest bit and you couldn’t handle that, could you? Always so dependent on what other people thought, on other people’s affections. That’s why you hated Angelus so much when he came back, isn’t it? Not because he was fucking Dru, but because he ignored you. He despised you, the unneeded waste he never should have created. Isn’t that what he called you? And Dru couldn’t care less for you, even when she fed you and changed your clothes. The fucking cripple, not a demon, just a burden. It’s why you didn’t turn to me, either, because Angel felt even less about you than Angelus did—and you hated me for it.”
“Fuck you!” Animal howl of pain and Spike was using his fangs and clawed-fingers to rip the female Zorrazik apart, pulling limbs off with a squishy pop, blue-black ichor spraying everywhere. The sword lay unneeded on the ground, a desperate attendant snatching it up. Angel beheaded him quickly, grabbing the blade before someone else could attack Spike—the state he was in now, he wouldn’t know it was coming. Or care if it did.
“He needed you. That’s why you went to him, because he needed you. He loves you, so you think you love him back—because you need that. I—Angelus—made you need that. You have to have someone want you, or you’re nothing. Even though he’s human, even though you know he’ll leave—he wants you. And the fucking trained puppy that you are, you’ll give it to him.”
Spike arched his back over the bloody corpses and screamed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Xander was on the floor, head in his hands. He wasn’t crying; there wasn’t enough emotion left for tears. He wanted Spike. He wanted Spike so badly it was an ache in the pit of his stomach where he usually ached for sex. He didn’t want sex. He wanted Spike.
He wanted Spike to love him.
“It wasn’t foolproof, of course,” Wesley was saying quietly. “There were. . . complications. No one had ever shared Sire-ship before, having one vampire kill and reanimate the corpse, while another changed the new vampire from minion to childe. Also, Angelus was unprepared for the reactionary personality to develop when the soul—and its moral constraints—disappeared. The brash, painfully flashy parts of Spike appeared within days and Angelus was never completely successful in—removing them. He did, however, eventually force Spike to submit. It took years. The only reason Spike was not staked as a failure was his success in dealing with Drusilla, who appeared to love her ‘blue-eyed angel’. She was cared for exactly as Darla and Angelus had planned, and it was easy enough to manipulate him when they truly needed to.”
Xander’s gut turned to ice. “What’d he do?” Wesley shifted but Xander refused to turn around and look. “Tell me. What did Angelus do.”
“This is not—pleasant. Please, you may not—”
“What did he do?”
A quiet sigh. “Very well. Angelus allowed the pattern of disobedience towards Darla and himself to occur for three years. Then, one day, he grew sick of it. He had them all return to London where he—he found William’s family. His human family.”
“Do you—yes, all right, I’ll continue. William’s bloodlust—in fact his whole relationship with the demon—was different than a normal vampire’s. After the initial display of violence, he hunted only when he was hungry, and he appeared not to enjoy the more. . . normal pastimes for a vampire. Angel believes he grew to enjoy it only because Drusilla did—she wanted him bloody and violent, so he became so for her. William—Spike—had argued against killing his family. In fact, Angel found out later that he arranged for monies to be sent to them, so that they were still taken care of after his disappearance.”
“Angelus killed them.”
“First he tortured them. Then he killed them. Much the same as with Drusilla except. . .”
“I’ll kill him. I’ll fucking kill him.”
“And avenge who? The point isn’t that it happened, despite the horror of their deaths, it is what it means for Spike. After that, Spike stopped fighting what Angelus wanted for him. He became. . . obedient, at least most of the time. Angel said that his fire seemed muted for a very long time and then he completely latched onto Angelus. When Angelus drew away, after he was cursed and before he retreated into complete seclusion, he transferred that attention to Drusilla. He couldn’t—he couldn’t live without the focus. Not really.”
Xander finally lifted his head, raising empty eyes to stare towards the lamp. The light was so bright. Dazzling. Hurting. “Does he love me? Or am I just. . . ”
More shifting and for a moment Xander thought Wesley was going to touch him, hug him, something. But proper British men didn’t do that, except when they were Giles and Giles would have done the awkward hand on his arm thing. Willow would have hugged him. Buffy would have hugged him. Tara would have given him that sweet, understanding smile. Dawn and Fred would have shifted nervously before throwing themselves at him, as if their tears would ease his.
He wanted cool skin against his, a rough, mentholated voice whispering in his ear. He needed it.
“I don’t know. I believe so, but. . .” But that meant he believed for Xander’s sake, not because there was evidence to the fact.
Rising unsteadily, Xander stumbled out of the room and down the stairs. Bleary-eyed, he dug through the small cabinet Angel thought no one else knew about even though everyone did. He knew it—there it was. Thank god.
Uncapping the bottle of whiskey, Xander took a long, hard swallow. Then he screwed the cap back on and put it away.
He gathered up the calamine lotion and other anti-itch lotions Wesley had bought, as well as the normal first-aid materials, and settled down to wait behind the front desk.
Spike would need this when he got back.