Title:  Healer
Author:  Kay
Email:  kaygrr@hotmail.com
Feedback:  I have a specific happy dance just for feedback.
Website:  ssfdu.tripod.com/kay/journal.htm (love for Sandy)
Archive:  Just let me know, eh?
Fandom:  Angel the Series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Pairing:  Xander/Angel, Gunn/Wesley, Dawn/Spike UST
Rating:  NC-17
Disclaimer:  Mine?  What? *These*?  No, I don't own any part of them.  They
just followed me home and wouldn't leave until I played with them.
Summery:  gah.  I can't get this one out.  Xander returns to California
after disappearing five years before, encountering new enemies and old
enemies...who just might become new flames.

Spoilers and Time Line Explanation:  I outlined this fic over a year ago, so
the timeline is going to take a little explanation.  I'm going to lay it out
as best I can and give heads up for potential spoilers, so definitely give
this section a glance before moving on to the fic, K?
-Buffy:  The Glory Arc, about midway through.  Don't read any further hear
if you don't want potential spoilers for that bit of Buffy.  In this fic,
the Sunnydale group knows that Dawn is the Key, Glory is a hell god, and
that they're in pretty serious trouble.  I take a sharp left off of Cannon
Road at that point.
-Angel:  I veer off into AU territory after Epiphany, pretty much.  No
return of Darla, no Holtz, no Connor.  Angel returns to Angel Investigations
and at that point look!  I'm off-roading in my own version of reality again!
-K.  Now that you know when I take leave of my senses...This fic is set five
years in the future from the mid-point of the Glory Arc.  All righty.  This
shouldn't come out as confusing as I'm making it sound right now.
So...yeah.  On with the fic!

Just kidding.  I had you going for a second, didn't I?  I just want to say
massive thanks and hugs for Sandy.  She gave me the music by which to write
this, helped me see what the story was going to be and in general

Part One/?

Hiding a yawn behind his hand, Angel slowly made his way down the stairs
from the second floor to the lobby of the Hyperion.  It didn't matter how
many years he spent getting up in the late afternoon and going to sleep
before dawn; he always woke up tired.  His body was set to an internal
vampire clock that dictated that he sleep as long as the sun hung in the
sky.  He'd once thought that he'd get used to his new hours but he knew
better now.

"Coffee's still hot!" Cordelia called.

Everyone else knew better as well.  Angel blinked when he realized that Gunn
and Wesley were in the lobby too.  It wasn't usual for them to show up quite
so early.  "Morning," he said.  "Is something going on that I should know

"Maybe," Gunn said.

"Ah."  That cleared everything up.  Angel decided that pursuing that point
could wait until after he'd had some coffee.  He poured himself a large mug
and added a liberal amount of sugar.  It had to help.  Cradling the heated
mug in his hands, he walked back into the lobby.  Wesley was flipping
through two books at once while Gunn was writing on a sheet of paper.  Cordy
had her laptop balanced on her knees as she surfed the web.  "What are you
looking for?"

"Gunn had an encounter last night," Wesley said.  "We're trying to find out
exactly what it was that he encountered and if it in any way effects us."

"What kind of encounter?"  Angel sat down on the couch, making sure he sat
so he couldn't see Cordy's computer screen.  He still didn't like those

"Last night I had to run some kids from the old neighborhood to the
hospital.  Their mom wasn't in any condition to take'em and their dad was
long gone, and since Wes was gonna be wrapped up in the new book he just
got," Gunn poked his lover with his pencil, "there wasn't any reason for me
to be home."


Gunn checked the bandage on Marissa's eye for the third time in as many
minutes.  He hated going to the hospital, hated sitting in the ER and
waiting for someone to get to him.  At least this time he wasn't sitting in
intensive care, holding Wes's hand and praying he'd wake up...he shook his
head.  This wasn't about him.  It was about the kids he was sitting with.
Marissa and Tomas had zigged when they should have zagged during their mom's
final blow out with their dad and had ended up caught in the physical
crossfire.  Their father had left town, but their mom was a wreck and
couldn't stop crying long enough to get the kids over here.  Besides, she'd
probably end up being admitted herself once the doctors go a good look at

He didn't like hospitals, but he could handle them and put on a brave face
if it meant keeping the kids calm.  He'd just grit his teeth and ignore the
low-grade headache that had started humming the moment he walked into the
building.  Marissa was four and while Tomas thought he was all grown up at
six he was still holding back tears.  Marissa was going to be all right -
she'd have a heck of a shiner for a while, but Gunn was pretty sure her eye
was fine.  She had quieted down and was just crying a little now.  Better
safe than sorry, though, so she was at the hospital with them because Tomas
definitely had a broken arm.  It needed to be set and put in a cast.

Gunn was careful not to glare at the nurses' station.  He didn't want to do
anything that would delay doctors come to help them and he was pretty sure
dirty looks would guarantee that they were waiting for a long, long time.
He looked around the waiting room.  Couple guys who'd been in a fight, a few
people who looked like they'd eaten something they were regretting, the
others that he couldn't figure out at a glance...the usual late night ER

Movement caught his eye and he looked over at the one person who was walking
around instead of sitting and waiting to be called.  The tall young man had
dark hair cut short; it wasn't a military cut but it wasn't far off.  He had
dark eyes and his skin was the kind of pale that Gunn had learned to
associate with night living.  He wore a long black coat that he kept
fastened and closed even indoors.  Gunn could see black boots and dark blue
jeans where the coat ended.  The man caught Gunn's gaze and a hint of a
smile moved his lips.  He changed direction and walked over toward where the
vampire hunter was seated.

Gunn tensed.  This guy was pale and pale guys in long dark coats had a
tendency to be bad news.  He reached into his jacket and fingered the stake
he had there.  He didn't want to dust a vamp in front of the kids, not while
they were still shocky and hurting, but he would if he had to.  Maybe it
would bring a doctor over and get them a little attention sooner.

The pale man dropped into a squat a foot away from Gunn and the kids.
"Hey," he said quietly.

"Something I can help you with?" Gunn asked.

"No."  Dark eyes moved from Marissa's bandaged eye to the way Tomas
protectively cradled his arm before moving back up to meet Gunn's.  Those
eyes were almost enough to make Gunn relax.  He'd spent too many years
staring down the undead to be fooled.  This guy had a soul.  Of course,
having a soul was no guarantee that he wasn't a psycho, but at least Gunn
wouldn't have to dust him.  "I know you two are way too smart to take candy
from a stranger, but I was hoping that it would be OK if I brought you hot
cocoa."  He cocked his head to the side.  "They always keep it so cold in
here."  His voice was low and quiet, rough like he'd been asleep for a long
time and hadn't used it in while.

His first reaction was to refuse.  Who was this guy to be talking to them?
Whoever he was, he was right:  it was damn cold in that waiting room.  Just
one more reason to hate hospitals.  Gunn put on his best don't-mess-with-me
face.  "I'll be watching."

The stranger nodded, his smile becoming fully real.  He didn't reply, just
rose to his feet in a smooth motion.  He walked across the room, careful not
to brush up against any of the people sitting in the chairs.  He was also
careful to leave his hands at his sides, in Gunn's full view.  He thumbed
quarters into the machine and collected two cups of hot cocoa.  He took a
short detour to a table so he could put lids on the cups, then brought them
back to Gunn.  He made no move to hand the cups over to the kids; instead,
he watched Gunn, waiting for his reaction.

Gunn hadn't seen anything that looked wrong; besides, the kids could use
something hot.  "Thanks," he said.

The stranger handed the two cups to Marissa and Tomas.

"What do I owe you?" Gunn asked, feeling for his wallet.

The pale man shook his head, holding up a hand to refuse payment.  With a
final smile, he walked out of the ER without looking back.

"Careful with that cocoa," Gunn said.  "You don't want to burn your lips."

"It's ok," Marissa said.  She'd stopped crying and was sipping at her cup.

"It's good," Tomas said.  "Thanks, Gunn."  He relaxed for the first time
since Gunn had picked him up from his mom's apartment.

Gunn glanced around the ER.  When the pale guy came back, he was going to
try to get the guy to take a dollar in payment.  He'd looked kinda thin and
Gunn didn't want to worry about him skipping a meal or something.  The guy
had moved completely out of sight but Gunn probably had all night; he'd be
able to find him.

After a few minutes, Tomas began to squirm in his chair.  Gunn looked down
at him.  "What the matter?"

"I'm bored.  Can I go get one of the toys?"  He pointed at the low table
covered in a few scattered toys.

Gunn started to nod yes until he realized that Tomas was pointing with his
broken arm.  "What are you doing?  Doesn't that hurt?"

Tomas looked down at his arm and Gunn so the surprise move through him.  "My
arm!"  He moved up and down and then finally just began wiggling it all
over.  "It doesn't hurt!"

"Let me take a look at that."  Gunn carefully helped the kid out of his
jacket so he could get a better look at the arm.  It had been swollen and
bruised, but now the swelling had disappeared and there wasn't any
discoloration on it at all.  "Marissa?  Come here a minute, sweetie."  Gunn
twisted in his chair and gently removed her bandage.

Her black eye was gone.  "When can we go home?"

Gunn ran a hand over his head.  This was just going to send his headache
straight into migraine territory...except that he no longer had a headache.
He'd been around weird stuff long enough to know when to cut and run.
"Yeah, why not.  Let's go surprise your mom."


"So the kids were completely healed.  And it wasn't the cocoa because I
didn't have any of that."  Gunn pointed as Wesley.  "I told him what
happened and now we're having our own little research-fest."

"You're sure the guy didn't make any gestures towards you?  No hocus pocus?"
Cordelia squinted at her computer.  "No multi-colored crest on the top of
his head?"

"I would have noticed any of that.  This was just a skinny really white guy
giving away cocoa.  There wasn't anything special about him."  He looked as
Wesley.  "Are there any prophecies about him?"

"Skinny really white guys giving away cocoa?  Oddly enough, no.  He doesn't
seem to be mentioned."  Wesley put his book down.  "Add in the fact that the
place where the people were healed was a hospital and I honestly don't think
I'll find anything.  Healing in a place of healing?  Not exactly a
world-shaking event."

"Did the guy feel like he might be dangerous?" Angel asked.

"No.  No, I don't think he's going to be causing trouble or anything."  Gunn
sighed and pushed his paper off to the side.

"Then why are we looking for him?" Cordelia asked.  "If he's not going to be
tearing up the city, then what do we care?  Benevolent weird stuff is good
weird stuff."

"He didn't look like he was trouble, but he looked like he might be in
trouble.  Remember, I thought he might be a vampire first off, and not a
very good one.  The guy is in serious need of a tan and a couple of steaks."
Gunn looked down at his hands.  "He looked sad," he muttered in a voice so
low Angel barely heard him.

"What?" Cordelia asked.

"He looked like maybe he could use some help," Gunn said in a louder voice.

"When I go out tonight, I'll put the word out that we're here to help,"
Angel offered.  "If anyone knows anything, I'll definitely let you know."

"Thanks," Gunn said.

Of all of them, Gunn had the strongest tendency to adopt strays, as Cordy
had once described it.  If someone needed help, then Gunn was all over being
there - whether that meant killing demons, stopping spells, or just making
sure someone got a hot meal and a place to sleep.

Angel stood up.  Now that he'd had coffee, it was time to actually have
breakfast.  He'd gotten over most of his reluctance to eat in front of the
others, but he still preferred to heat his blood in private.  Sometimes he
just didn't feel like wallowing in the fact that he was different.

"Angel, while you're up, check your phone messages," Cordelia called.
"There's one from Buffy."

As always, he was a little surprised that he didn't wince when he heard her
name.  Six years had passed since he'd left Sunnydale for good and he was
beginning to think that they'd finally made their peace with each other.  He
didn't go back to Sunnydale often and she usually avoided Los Angeles, but
he felt like they were friends now.  He clicked the answering machine and
Buffy's voice filled the back office.

//Angel, hey, it's Buffy.  Hey Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn.  No emergency, no
apocalypse, so put the weapons down and relax.  I'm just calling to remind
you that it's Dawn's graduation at the end of the month and you're all
invited.  Not just because it's a good idea to have a small army there on
graduation day, but also because it would be great to see you.  She'd be
very excited.  It's been a long time for all of us.  So, call me back and
tell me you'll be there.  Don't you dare pull a Xander on me.//

Angel erased the message and headed back to the lobby.  "Dawn's graduation?
Do you want to go?"

"Will there be another giant lizard demon?"  Cordy's eyes were wide with
faked enthusiasm.  "I'm kidding.  Yeah.  I want to take a look at how they
rebuilt the high school.  Besides, I like Dawn.  She's cool."

Wesley nodded from the couch.  "We'll be there."

"With weapons," Gunn added.

Angel nodded.  With that settled, it was time to get back to the rest of his
day.  He needed breakfast, then to do a little bit of training with
Cordelia.  They didn't have anything urgent to work on; Cordy hadn't had a
vision in days, for which he was grateful.  The headaches that came with the
visions were getting more and more painful.  A few spells Wesley had found
were able to help, but they were only temporary measures and after a few
months the pain was as bad as ever.

That night when he went out he made sure to ask around about Gunn's mystery
guy, but no one seemed to know anything about him.  Angel scattered a few
business cards around in case the guy showed up and left it at that.  When
he got home it was edging up toward dawn.  He'd lost track of time in the
last place he'd stopped.  As he walked up to the door he saw that all the
lights in the lobby were turned on.  He opened the door cautiously, holding
himself ready until he saw Gunn and Wesley in the back office.  "What are
you guys doing here?"

"I saw him again," Gunn said.

Wesley typed away on the computer.  "Are you sure we can't call Cordy?"

"Not over this.  Just suck it up and type, Wes."

"Saw who?" Angel asked.  "The pale guy?"

"Yeah.  Angel, the guy is definitely in need of help."

"What happened?"  Angel didn't take off his coat.  He might be going back
out in just a little while...although he'd be taking the sewers if this took
much longer.

"I was walking to the Quickie Mart at the end of Wesley's block a couple
hours ago because someone discovered we were out of milk and absolutely had
to have it for his tea.  As I'm heading over, I hear someone running.  Now,
Wes doesn't live in the ghetto, but the only reason for someone to be
running on the street in that part of town is because someone is chasing
him.  So I decide the milk can wait and I head over a street so I can
exactly what is up.  I turn the corner and there's this guy just tearing up
the street.  He's not jogging; he's running from something, going all out.
I stepped out into the street to see what's after him because I sorta figure
I owe him.  Marissa and Tomas are completely fine - it's like they were
never hurt in the first place.

"He sees me when I get further out in the street and he changes direction,
heading right for me.  I don't know what he's thinking so I get ready for
him to jump me, but all he does is grab my arm and pull me back into the
alley.  He drags me behind the dumpster and presses me up against the wall.
He tells me not to move, not to breathe too loud and whatever I do not to
leave the alley.  I try to tell him that I want to help and he tells me that
I can't help.  Then he takes off.  I'm not gonna leave it like that because
I still don't know what's going on, so I step out into the alley.  The
skinny guy is long gone, but I'm in time to see a pair of ugly demons go
lumbering by.  I can handle demons, so I start to head for the entrance to
the alley.  That's when I see a couple long, dark cars go cruising by.
Lawyer cars."

"Wolfram and Hart."  Angel shook his head.  "You're right.  This guy does
need help."  One day he and the lawyers were going to have a major
confrontation that only one of them would walk away from.  For the past few
years they'd been interacting in fairly petty ways, treading on each other's
toes and fouling each other's plans but never really facing off.  Maybe the
time was coming.  "What did you see after that?"

"Nothing.  I want to help the guy, but demons *and* lawyers?  I can't handle
that on my own.  I went home and dragged Wes away from his tea, but by the
time we hit the street it was quiet.  If Wolfram and Hart want this guy,
he's gotta be somebody, right?"

"Or something," Wesley said.  "He didn't say anything else to you?"


"What were the exact words he used?"

"He said, 'Don't move.  Don't breathe.  Don't leave this alley'.  And then
when I said I wanted to help, he said, 'You can't'."

"A true conversationalist," Wesley said quietly.  "We just don't have enough
information to find him.  A skinny guy who doesn't talk much just isn't
getting hits on search engines."

"Damn it."  Gunn paced the office.  "He needs help and we're right here.
We're perfect to help him and he's just running in the opposite direction."

Wesley stood up and crossed the room to catch the other man by the
shoulders.  "We can't find him on the internet tonight.  That doesn't mean
we won't find him tomorrow or the next night."

Gunn relaxed as Wesley's hands moved up and down his arms.  "I hate losing
to them."

"We haven't lost yet."

Gaze locked with Wesley's, Gunn smiled just a little bit.  "Whatever you
say," he said quietly.  He leaned forward and kissed Wesley, a brief brush
of lips, before resting his forehead against the thinner man's.

Angel looked away.  He didn't begrudge the two men the happiness they'd
found together.  He was glad that they'd connected.  He just needed to find
Cordy a decent boyfriend and he'd feel much better about the state of his
little family.

It wouldn't make him feel any better about being alone, but he was getting
used to that.  It didn't mean he didn't feel little flashes of jealousy
sometimes when the two of them shared a tiny moment and seemed to think
nothing of it, knowing that he wasn't ever going to have moments like that.
He felt the jealousy; he just kept it well hidden.  They deserved every bit
of happiness they could find.  He just sometimes wished that he could feel a
little bit of that happiness for himself.

Angel shook himself.  He didn't have time for self-pity.  "I could head back
over and start looking for him," he offered.  "There's a good sewer line in
Wes's area.  I can cover most of the area below."

"No," Gunn said.  "The way he was moving, he's either long gone or they got
him.  Going back tonight isn't going to do any good.  If they got him, we're
not going to get him out tonight.  If he got away, he could be half way to
Mexico by now."  He sighed and stepped away from Wesley.  "Thanks, though."

"Tomorrow, then."  If he could screw up Wolfram and Hart by helping Gunn's
mystery man, then Angel would do it.

"Tomorrow," Gunn agreed.

"After we go home and sleep."  Wesley caught Gunn's hand with his own.  "You
need to rest."

"So says the man who's been up reading obscure prophecies for me."

"You both go home and sleep."  Angel started shooing them toward the door.
After they left, he headed up for bed himself.

The next afternoon proved to be disappointing.  Gunn and Wesley had no luck
searching for the pale stranger in the neighborhood.  No one had seen
anything and they could find no sign of him, no hints as to where he'd gone.
Angel retraced most of his steps from the night before, this time throwing
in the fact that Wolfram and Hart were looking for the mystery man and still
no one knew anything.  By the time Angel returned to the Hyperion, Gunn and
Wesley were dispirited.

Gunn looked over at Cordelia.  "How's your head?"

"Fine, for the moment.  Look, I can't give you a vision on demand.  You know
that."  She cocked her head to the side.  "Angel, do you think people might
have been holding out because Wolfram and Hart are involved?"

"It didn't feel like that.  I can tell when people or beings are frightened.
No one liked hearing about Wolfram and Hart, but they weren't hiding
anything."  He was interrupted from explaining any more by the ringing of
the telephone.  "Got it."  Angel picked up the receiver.  "Angel
Investigations."  When Cordy glared at him he added, "We help the helpless."

//Angel?  It's Lorne.//

"Lorne?  How's it going?"

//Everything here is fine.  Look, I'm in need of a favor.  Are you and your
compadres free this evening?//


//Terrific.  Look, you meet me here at Caritas at midnight.  It'll take two
hours.  It'll be a walk in the park for you.//

"See you then, Lorne."

"Great.  Oh, and Angel?  Have Gunn bring that axe, K?  Talk you later!//

Angel stared at the receiver before putting it down.

"What did Lorne want?" Gunn asked.

"He's got a job for us.  He wants us to be there at midnight."


"He also wants you to bring your axe."  Angel just shrugged when the others
stared at him.  Like he knew what was going on?  "Look on the upside, Gunn.
We're all with you now.  If you see the pale guy tonight, we'll be there to
back you up."

"I won't need back up.  This time I'll have my axe."

Angel laughed.  They'd be able to handle whatever Lorne wanted them to do,
he had no doubt about that.  If nothing else, it would take them to a new
place to look for information.  They'd probably also have the chance to beat
up a few demons.  The night was looking up.

Angel took a step back after opening the door to Caritas, letting Cordelia
walk ahead of him.  "Coward," she whispered, but the smile on her face was

Angel didn't think he was ever going to feel entirely comfortable in
Caritas.  There was too much singing and drinking and bold use of color in
it.  He liked going there...he just didn't want to go in first, that was

Lorne was holding court at the bar, keeping half an eye on the demon
warbling on stage while talking to the people who surrounded him.  It
usually took some effort to catch his notice when he was the center of
attention like that; Lorne willingly gave all his focus to the people who
needed him.  Angel was ready for that; they'd arrived early to compensate
for the amount of time it would take Lorne to be able to get away.

To his surprise, Lorne caught sight of them right away.  He excused himself
from the beings surrounding him and walked over to Angel.  "You kids come on
back to my office so we can talk."  He turned around before Angel could

Angel motioned for the others to follow him, then trailed along in Lorne's
wake.  He was a little surprised to be taken all the way back to the demon's
office; it was rare that Lorne wanted enough privacy that he'd take them
back there.

As soon as they were back in the office, Gunn pulled his axe out from under
his coat.  "Lorne, why am I going to need this?"

"You might not," Lorne said.  "You might end up carrying that thing around
all night and never using it once except to check your ha...scalp in the
shine of it."

"What's the favor?" Angel asked.  He owed Lorne; they all did.  The man had
a connection to the Powers but he hadn't been drafted into the fight against
evil as the rest of them had been.  Even so, he'd been knocked around and
battered more than any bystander deserved.  If he needed a favor, Angel was
more than willing to step up.

"A friend of mine needs to visit the hospital on this side of town tonight.
I'm going to escort him, and I want all of you to come with."

"Why does he need an escort?"  Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest.
"I've got a cab company on my speed dial."

"There's a little bit of a catch."  Lorne looked down at his hands.  "My
friend has a tendency to attract attention.  It's not always pleasant
attention.  I need you to walk with us and make sure that he makes it to the
hospital and back in one peace."

"You know better than to dance around us," Cordelia said.  "What kind of

"Mostly murderous demonic attention.  He's a really great guy and it doesn't
happen all the time but when it does?"  Lorne whistled.  "He needs more than
just little old me backing him up."

"What does he need at the hospital?" Wesley asked.

"It's his business.  He wants to go on his own; he thinks he can take care
of himself.  I know better and that's where you come in."

Angel looked over at Wesley.  The thin man was staring at Lorne
consideringly.  After a moment, he nodded.  "We'll do it," Angel said.

"Excellent."  Lorne grabbed a hat and his coat from the coat rack.  "Ah,
he's just a little bit shy.  How about we meet outside while I fetch him?
We'll be just two shakes of my tail."

"All right."  Angel was willing to lead the way out.

"What kind of friends does Lorne have?" Gunn asked as they stood out on the
street.  "I mean, I never ask anyone to help escort my friends around, and
by the way, bring an axe."

"With you, the axe is implied," Wesley said.

Gunn to a few steps toward his lover, but before they could degenerate into
play fighting the door to Caritas opened.  He changed course abruptly so he
was standing beside Wesley.

Lorne was the first out on the street, his hat brim pulled low and the
collar of his trench coat pulled high.  After a few seconds a second figure
slipped through the door.

Angel was used to seeing odd things.  He traveled through sewers, worked
with demons...odd was just another fact of life for him.  He still couldn't
keep himself from staring, though.  His nose told him that the person
standing so close to Lorne was human.  He could barely tell by looking at
him, though.  The man wore a coat as long as Angel's even though he was a few
inches shorter.  The coat was fastened even in the warm summer night.  He
also wore gloves and a baseball cap pulled low.  What startled Angel most
though was the mask.  Made from some sort of black fabric, it clung to the
man's face, obscuring everything except his eyes.  Brown eyes met Angel's
for a brief moment and then the stranger was half-hidden behind Lorne.

Cordelia's elbow in his side told him that he'd been caught staring.  Angel
coughed to cover up his pained gasp.  "Let's get going."  He took point,
leading the way down the street.  Cordy stayed close behind him.  When he
turned around, he saw Lorne practically hovering over his friend with Wesley
and Gunn bringing up the rear.

After walking for three blocks and seeing no one out on the street, Angel
began to wonder if this was some kind of joke on Lorne's part.  Get them all
hyped up for a quick walk to the hospital.  Angel didn't see the humor in
it, but he still had a tendency to miss the joke a lot of the time.  "Hey,
uh, Lorne?  Is this -"

He never finished his question.  A trio of vampires walked of an alley up
ahead of them.  The vampires didn't waste time with preliminary barbs or
insults; they just ran forward, game faces to the fore as they launched
themselves at Angel and Cordelia.  Angel took the first one down without any
trouble.  Just behind him, Cordelia dusted the second without any real
effort.  The third nearly slipped past them, but Angel was able to stake him
from behind.

The entire group stopped.  "What the hell was that?" Gunn asked.  "They were
acting like they hadn't eaten in a week."

Wesley nodded.  "That was definitely out of character.  All the vampires in
this state seem to have a deep-seated needed to make some attempt at witty
repartee.  Those fellows didn't seem interested in talking."

"That's why we need to keep moving," Lorne said.  The masked man reached out
and grasped Lorne's arm.  The club owner covered the gloved hand with his
own.  "No.  Not on your own.  They'll get you there."

Angel sighed.  "That's about what we can expect then?"  Lorne's nod was
answer enough.  "Then let's get moving.  We're bigger targets if we just
stand here."  He was more tensed up now.  This wasn't a joke.  He or one of
his people could get hurt and that wasn't going to happen.

They hadn't even made it off the block when the next attack came.  This time
it was just a single Lothrop demon and Wesley drove it off with a quickly
rattled off spell.  The man in black watched without reacting; he just moved
a little closer to Lorne once more.

"Let's move faster," Angel suggested.

Two vampire attacks and a bloody encounter with a Fritin demon later, they
reached the hospital.  Gunn and Wesley were out of breath and Cordy was so
full of adrenaline Angel wasn't sure if she'd ever get to sleep that night.
Lorne's eyes were wide and he had begun jumping at shadows.  The only one of
them who didn't seem effected by the repeated altercations was the man in
the mask.  Angel couldn't read his expression, but the man's scent betrayed
no real fear or apprehension.  Oh, he'd reacted to the attacks but as soon
as they were over the stranger was as serene as if they'd never happened.

"What now?" Gunn asked.

The stranger reached up and tapped Lorne's face gently with his gloved hand.
He ducked his head and walked away from the group and entered the

"Now we wait for him to come back," Lorne said.

"Great," Cordelia said.  "Any idea of how long this is going to take?"

"He didn't give me an estimate, no."

"That guy had better have something more serious than a cold," Cordelia

"Who is he?" Gunn asked.

"A friend," Lorne hedged.

"A friend who's been in town for the few days?  A friend who's been having
trouble with a certain law firm we all know and hate?"

Angel looked up.  "You think Lorne's friend is the guy we're looking for?"

"He's got the same coat, the same eyes...it's the same guy."  Gunn looked
squarely at Lorne.  "I want to know who this guy is."  He quickly explained
to Lorne what they were talking about, telling him of the two encounters
he'd had with the pale stranger.

Lorne licked his lips.  "I'm sorry.  Seriously, I wish I could tell you more
but I can't."

"Lorne, he's in trouble.  Wolfram and Hart are after him.  You know what
that means.  Whatever reason you've got for trying to him can't be stronger
than the need to protect him from them."  Angel took a step closer to Lorne.
"We can't help if we don't know what's going on."

Lorne wavered for a moment, then shook his head.  "I can't," he said.  "I
can't betray a confidence like that."

Gunn wanted to protest but Angel quieted him with a shake of his head.
"Fine," Gunn said.  "We wait."

Angel was able to watch Cordelia pace back and forth for ten minutes before
he couldn't take it any more.  "Cordy!  Why don't you and Wes take a quick
walk around the building and make sure no one's trying to sneak in the back

Wesley glared at him but followed as Cordelia immediately followed the
suggestion.  It was a good idea security wise but that was just a side
benefit.  Cordy needed to work off some of that energy before it made
everyone including her insane.

Alone with Lorne and Gunn, Angel considered trying to pressure the club
owner into revealing any information about the man they'd escorted to the
hospital, no matter how trivial.  Any information that he could get would
help him figure out how to stop Wolfram and Hart with whatever plans they
were trying to bring into fruition.  "What's your friend's name?"  He tried
doing the thing with his eyes that Cordy sometimes pretended worked on her.

Lorne took a step back.  "No way.  I don't know who told you those were
puppy eyes, by the way, but they're not working.  You have to get that lower
lip to poke out just a little more."

Angel caught himself before he could try to accentuate his pout.  The gleam
in Lorne's eyes warned him that he hadn't been completely successful.  "I'm
trying to help."

"And if it were up to me I'd be singing like the proverbial canary.  It's
not my choice though, it's his."  When Angel started to turn away
impatiently, Lorne caught his arm.  "I'm sincere, here.  I'll talk to him.
The decision to talk has to be his, though."

"Just tell me if it's the same guy I've seen," Gunn asked.

Lorne shook his head.  "I can't.  I don't keep tabs on him while he's in
town.  He stops by to see me but doesn't leave me an itinerary.  It could be
him but I can't say for sure."

Gunn gave up.  Angel decided to let it go as well.  They weren't going to
get anything else out of Lorne, not right now.  At least they now had a
starting point for looking for the man Gunn had seen.

After fifteen minutes, Wesley and a more subdued Cordelia returned.  Another
five minutes passed and before the antsiness could return the masked man
slipped out the door and joined them.

"You wore that inside the hospital?" Cordelia asked.

The silent man shrugged and turned toward Lorne.

"Time to head home, eh?" Lorne said.

Angel sighed.  It didn't look as though they were going to get any answers
from the man in black, either.  He hefted the sword he was carrying at his
side.  "I'm guessing we can expect more of the same on the way back to

"Less."  The word was no more than a hoarse whisper.

Angel looked at the masked man.  "How do you know that?"

The stranger didn't answer.  He stood closer to Lorne and refused to look
anywhere except at his shoes.

He wasn't going to get any answers from him and Angel didn't want to spend
any more time out on the street than necessary.  He let Gunn and Wesley take
the lead this time,
hanging back with Cordelia so he could keep his eye on Lorne's friend.  He
couldn't figure the guy out.  He knew he couldn't have been up to anything
harmful in the hospital - Lorne wouldn't stand for that and there was no way
he'd try to involve Angel and his people in anything like that.  Angel
inhaled, scenting the air and hoping to find some clue of what had happened
in the hospital.

The sweet scent of blood filled his senses, heady and rich and full of life.
Angel staggered a little as the aroma consumed his senses, seductive and
demanding and somehow haunting as if it was something he had known before.

"Angel?  What's wrong?"  Cordelia's hand on his arm brought him back to full
awareness.  Angel nodded but didn't answer.

What the hell was going on?  Angel's gaze roamed over the man in black's
form.  He was walking slowly but steadily, giving away no visible sign that
he was injured.  He had to be, though.  No one could reek of blood the way
he did and not be badly hurt.  Angel took a few quick steps forward so he
was beside the dark clad man.  "Are you all right?" he asked quietly.

The stranger nodded but didn't look at him.

That was the answer he was expecting.  "Are you sure?"

Another nod and the masked man began walking faster.

Lorne looked over at Angel and shook his head.  His expression was openly
worried though, and he sped up to match his friend's pace.

Angel gave up and dropped back to walk beside Cordelia.  What kind of person
went into a hospital whole and came out smelling as though he'd been through
a meat grinder?  He was almost certain this was Gunn's mystery man, but no
matter who he was he was in trouble and Angel wanted to help.

They reached Caritas without running into any trouble, demonic or otherwise.
Lorne opened the door to the club and ushered the masked man through the
door.  He turned and faced Angel, not letting them into the club.

"Lorne?" Wesley asked.  "What exactly is going on?"

"I just thought you might like to get paid, and then go home and forget all
about tonight."  Lorne pulled out his wallet.

"This isn't about money," Angel said.  "This was a favor.  You don't have to
pay us.  What I wish you would do is let us help."

"Look, I've told you.  This isn't my choice.  I've got to play by his rules
and abide by his decisions."

"Then talk to him and help him make the right decisions.  Lorne, he smells
of blood, like he bathed in it in the hospital."  Angel felt no pleasure
when Lorne started and looked mildly panicked.  "Whatever is happening is
something he can't handle on his own anymore."

"I'll talk to him," Lorne said.  "Look, guys, thank you, but I've got to get
back inside.  I'll talk to you later."  He darted inside.

"Blood?  What are you talking about?" Gunn asked.

"When he came out of the hospital, the guy reeked of blood."

"He didn't appear to be injured," Wesley said.  "And shouldn't the scent of
blood have attracted even more demons then we encountered on our initial

"I know what I smelled.  He was hurt although he hid it well."  Angel stared
at the door.  He could go in.  Lorne wouldn't like it, but there wasn't much
the host could do to keep them out.  "I think I'm going to come back
tomorrow.  Just to see how things are, here."

"I think that's a good idea," Gunn said.  "In fact, I was thinking that it
might be good to get here early, say, the afternoon?"

Angel grinned.  "Sounds good to me."  There was decent sewer access in this
area.  If Gunn would hold a tarp up for him, he'd only be singed a bit when
he entered the club.

"Count me in," Cordelia said.  "I want to find out what Zorro's deal is,
too.  If he's going to be bringing the heat from Wolfram and Hart, maybe
following him can head off a couple of visions."

Wesley would go wherever Gunn went.  It was settled.  Lorne and his friend
might have been able to avoid all their questions tonight, but the next day
would be a different story.  Angel wanted to know just what the hell was
going on, and he was going to find out.

Part 3/?

"Knock harder!"  Angel shifted from side to side, trying to wrap the tarp
around himself more tightly.  He could feel the sun even through the thick
material, felt how very close to death he was with each passing second.

Gunn hammered on the door and Cordelia slid in beside him to add a few kicks
to the wood for emphasis.  Beside Angel, Wesley's fingers twitched and Angel
could sense the gathering of energies as the Englishman prepared to cast a
spell to shield him from the sun.

The door opened just as Angel was beginning to lose hope.  Gunn and Cordelia
jumped off to the side and Angel ran forward, sighing in relief as he felt
the protection of wood and stone surround him.  He very nearly ran Lorne
over in his haste.

"Whoa!" the club owner said, sagging back against the bar.  "Where's the

"The top of Angel's head," Cordelia said.

Angel couldn't help it:  his hands shot up to check the top of his head and
check his hair for damage.  As soon as he realized what he was doing he
jerked his hands back down to his sides.  It was too late; everyone had seen
him do it and no one was bothering to hide their smiles.

"What's going on?" Lorne asked.  "I know this is a popular place but I
almost never have people knocking the door down to get in.  Is someone
spreading rumors that I'm going to be reprising my "Demonic Divas"
performance?  Because it's not true.  That's a show that takes it all out of
you and I just haven't had time to fully prepare myself."  He seemed to be
just chatting, but Angel didn't miss the way the tall demon made sure to
lounge directly in their path, denying them full access to the club.

"You know why we're here," Angel said quietly.

Lorne sighed.  "I don't remember you being this nosy."

"It's for good reason," Wesley said.  "Did you talk to your friend?"

"I did.  He's not real keen on the idea of talking to you, but I think I'm
wearing him down."

"Is he all right?" Angel asked.

Lorne shrugged with one shoulder.  "He says he is."

Angel nodded and stepped over Lorne's legs and then walked fully into the
club.  He'd been to Caritas after hours.  The club always looked smaller
somehow without all the bodies filling it with song and laughter and the hum
of conversation.  It only took him a few moments to spot the person he was
looking for; all he had to do was follow the scent of blood.

A man sat at the end of the bar, perched carefully on a stool.  He wore dark
blue cotton pants and his bare feet rested lightly on the dark wooden rungs.
He was shirtless, his back turned mostly toward Angel as he traced one of
his fingers around the dark mug that rested on the bar in front of him.

Angel's eyes traced the lines of abraded skin on the man's back with almost
clinical detachment.  He held to that detachment as he took in the sight of
the deep bruising and bloody scrapes that marred the pale skin.  The damage
extended onto his shoulders and then on down his arms.  Angel must have made
some sound because the seated man turned carefully to look over his
shoulder.  The vampire recognized the brown eyes that met his gaze from the
night before.  The mask was gone and the man's short dark hair did nothing
to hide the ruin of his face.  Whatever had attacked him hadn't spared him
there, either.  His forehead had been scraped raw and his nose was swollen,
obviously broken.  Bruises caused his cheeks to swell, distorting his
features even more than the jagged cuts and scrapes that crossed his face.
He looked as though his face had been ground up against a wall before he was
turned around and had the same thing happen to his back.

"Jesus."  Gunn's soft comment was filled with pity and horror.  "How the
hell did that happen in the hospital?  Who did that?"

The man at the bar flinched and turned back around.  He slid off his stool
and started walking away from them.

"Wait!" Angel said.

The stranger paused, but didn't turn around.

Angel would take what he could get.  "I know you're in trouble.  Gunn has
told me about seeing you before.  I don't know if you realize what you're up
against in this city, but we can help you.  We know Lorne.  The things that
are after you are things that we fight every day.  You trust Lorne; he
trusts us.  Give us a chance to help you."

The dark-haired man bowed his head.  And stayed in place for a few moments,
giving Cordy and Wesley a chance to catch up to them.  The host slid past
them to stand beside his friend.  "I do trust them," Lorne said.

The thin man nodded, then turned to face them.  Angel suppressed a flinch
but he saw that the others couldn't.  His chest was just as battered as his
back.  Whatever had hurt him had been trying to inflict pain as much as do
damage.  Angel didn't know why the man wasn't wrapped up in bandages and
lying down somewhere.

After watching the others recoil from his appearance, the stranger shrugged
one shoulder.  "No," he said quietly.  "Thank you."  He turned and walked
away, Lorne following close behind.

"Stay here," Angel told the others.  "Maybe I'll have better luck on my own.
Gunn, are you sure this is the guy?"

"I can't tell by the face.  Shit, man.  What if that happened the night
before, when I saw him on the street?  I should've kept looking for him.  I
shouldn't have let him stuff me in that alley..."

Wesley shouldered past Angel and cupped Gunn's face in his hands, shaking
him a little.  "Stop that.  Blaming yourself will do no good.  Just focus on
what we can do now.  It is the same man?"

"Yeah.  The voice is the same, so are the eyes and hair.  It's him."

Angel nodded.  "I'll be right back."  He followed the path Lorne and the
other man had taken, using the scent of blood to track them through the
building.  He'd never been through this part of Caritas.  For all his
chattiness, Lorne was a fairly private person.  Angel felt an urge to open
the closed doors that he passed, wanting to see what was inside.  He
repressed the desire and concentrated on following, heading up a short
flight of stairs to the second floor that he'd never seen.  More closed door
tempted him but they weren't concealing Lorne and his friend so Angel kept
going, walking down a long hall and coming up to another flight of stairs.

Angel walked up those stairs as well and found himself on a short landing
that led to another door.  He hesitated.  He was pretty sure he was running
out of building and he didn't want to open up a door and end up going up in
flames because he'd found another exit.

The choice of what to do next was taken from him when the door swung
outwards.  Sure enough, he could see daylight.  Fortunately, the sun was at
the right angle so none of it entered the building.

Lorne looked at him with little surprise.  "You're taking chances that maybe
you shouldn't be.  If I have to bring in cleaners to get your ashes out of
my carpet, I'm billing your agency."

"Where is he?" Angel asked.

"Outside," Lorne said.  "He's decided he doesn't feel much like talking any

Angel took careful steps forward, shifting to one side so he could see
around Lorne.  The roof of the club was nothing like what he expected:
instead of concrete and metal, it was covered in plants.  There was even a
fairly large plot of grass in the center, growing green and lush in the
summer sun.

The grass shifted and Angel moved even further to the side, wanting to see
what had caused that.  He saw that it had been the dark-haired man, who was
lying supine in the middle of the plot, sunlight emphasizing the paleness of
his skin and the redness of his wounds.  Despite the damage, the man didn't
look to be in any pain as he stretched out his arms, opening his body to the
rays of the sun.

Lorne stepped into the building and closed the door behind himself, cutting
off Angel's view of the other man.  "Let him be.  He just gets upset every
time he sees all of you."

"That's upset?  How can you tell?"

"I can tell.  Trust me."  Lorne wrapped his arm around Angel's shoulders and
forcibly turned him around before walking him back down the hall.  "I told
him to think about it.  He's going to be in town longer than I thought and
if our friends at Wolfram and Hart are interested in him, someone's going to
have to protect him.  I can't do it and I don't want him taking off and
trying to do it on his own.  I'll keep talking to him.  I might be able to
wear him down."

"You don't sound all that hopeful."

"He's one of the most stubborn people I've ever met.  I think he could even
give Cordy a run for her money.  He'll come around, though.  He isn't
stupid.  He just needs some time to think about it."

Angel hesitated at the stairs.  "He's hurt pretty badly, Lorne."

"That's something you'd have to talk about with him.  He doesn't want to go
to a doctor and I'm not going to tie him up and take him to one."

"He wasn't hurt like that when we went to the hospital."

Lorne gave him a small shove that sent Angel down the stairs rather faster
than he'd intended to go.  Angel glared at him but took the hint.  For
whatever reason, Lorne was feeling protective and wasn't going to reveal
anymore about the man on the roof.  Angel didn't want to risk taking a
header down the next flight of stairs so he just kept his mouth shut the
rest of the way back to the main room of the club.

"Did you have any luck?" Gunn asked.

Angel shook his head.  "He's hiding in the sunlight to avoid me."

"Sunlight isn't a problem," Gunn said.  "I'll go talk to him."

"No, you won't," Lorne said.  He stretched to his full height and blocked
the doorway.

Gunn raised his hands in a gesture of peace.  "All right, all right.  I'm
just looking to help."  He sighed and leaned back against the bar, shoulder
brushing Wesley's.  "Now what do we do?"

Lorne looked out at the tables and chairs that filled the club.  "We're
having a bit of a dance night tonight..."

"No," Angel said automatically.

"I wasn't asking you to perform," Lorne said.  "I don't want to bring the
house down; not with laughter, anyway.  I was hoping that you'd volunteer to
move these tables and chairs out for me."  He leaned against the doorway.
"You'd be able to hang out until the club opens and a certain person has the
chance to come to his senses and stop hiding."

"We'll do it," Angel said.

"Hey!" Cordelia objected.  "Some of us didn't come dressed for menial

"Then you can supervise," Lorne said.  "Be our foreman of love."

"Forewoman," Cordelia said, but she was smiling.

"That too."  Lorne clapped his hands together.  "Let's get moving, people."

Cordelia hopped up on the bar beside Lorne.  "You heard the man.  Start

"That guy had better change his mind," Gunn muttered, moving to pick up a

Wesley hooked a couple of chairs under his arms.  "And we'd better get free
drinks out of this."

Angel kept his mouth shut as he moved furniture.  He had some thinking to
do.  He understood why Gunn was so eager to help.  It was part of the man's
nature to reach out to the people he saw as being alone and try to adopt
them into his own family.  Wesley was going along with Gunn and Cordelia was
always ready to help, especially if it meant by doing so she could head off
a vision.  Angel wanted to try to stop whatever plans Wolfram and Hart were
attempting to fulfill, but this went deeper than that.  He wanted to make
sure that Lorne's friend was all right, that whatever had hurt him paid for
it and never had the chance to touch him again.

He glanced back over his shoulder down the hall that led to the stranger.
He couldn't get the memory of the man's eyes out of his head.  They were so
still, self-contained, as if he couldn't share any of himself even through a
glance.  The only emotion Angel was able to read there was sadness and he
suspected that those eyes were always filled with sorrow.  He wondered if
they looked that way even when he laughed.

Moving the furniture kept him moving so that no one would know he was
brooding, for which Angel was grateful.  He'd learned to hide it when he
went into a funk...not that it happened that much any more.  He had friends
and family and purpose, and if he wasn't in love at least he wasn't alone
any more.  That was enough to stop him from retreating into a dark room to
stare at the walls for hours on end.

Time passed quickly and by the time they had all the furniture moved out and
stored in a back room, the club was open and the early birds were beginning
to trickle in.  Wesley and Gunn slipped out long enough to pick up some
Chinese food for themselves and Cordelia while Lorne gave Angel a glass of
his best red.

After glancing down the hall for what felt like the millionth time, Angel
turned back around to find Lorne looking at him.  Angel ducked his head and
concentrated on the glass in front of him.

"For what it's worth," Lorne said.  "I think he'll come down.  I hope he

"Why?  Have you read something about the future?  Am I supposed to help

"Nothing like that."  Lorne shifted uncomfortably.  "I don't read him.  I
just think you can help him.  Heck, your whole dysfunctional little family
could help him.  He's too much on his own and I don't like it.  Maybe being
a part of a group for a little bit would be good for him."

The club filled steadily and soon Angel was crowded against Wesley at the
bar, the two of them watching as Gunn and Cordelia took a turn on the dance
floor.  Lorne left the area behind the bar to make room for the usual
bartenders.  Angel glanced over again at them.  Marc and Ryan looked alike
enough so that the vampire was pretty sure they were related.  He still
hadn't figured out if they were fully human or not, though.  Their scents
were a little off, but considering where they worked he couldn't be sure
that it wasn't just ambient influences throwing him off.  They always had a
smile for everyone, but the moment trouble threatened, even if it was just
an argument, they were immediately there to break it up and convince the
participants to smooth it over or move on.

Movement at the hallway Angel had been keeping an eye on all night caught
his attention.  There were too many people in the way for him to have a
clear view of it, but he could tell that a figure in black had joined the
room.  Angel craned his neck, trying to get a better view.

Wesley noticed his interest.  "What is it?"

"I think I might see him."

Wesley nodded and then quickly moved out onto the dance floor.  Angel knew
that he was going after Gunn and Cordelia and he trusted him to find them.
Besides, there was no way he was going to venture out among the dancers.
He'd stay by the bar and try to track the newcomer.  He thought that he
might have a lock on him.

"Where is he?" Gunn asked.

"I think he's over that way."  There were too many people between them for
Angel to get a clear view.  Angel slowly pushed his way through the crowd,
the others moving with him as he slid through the crowd.  The person wearing
jeans and a black shirt was at the end of the bar but Angel still couldn't
see his face.  It took him a few moments more to finally be in a position to

The man was facing away from him, hands cupped around a dark glass that he
occasionally sipped at.  "Is it him?" Angel asked Gunn.  He couldn't be
sure.  He just hadn't spent enough time with him.

"Maybe."  Gunn pushed forward a little, trying to get a better look.  A
Slert demon got a little nervous about the human moving in on him.  It
shifted away with an offended trill.

The noise caught the attention of the seated man, who turned to see what was
causing the trouble.  The light above the bar fell over clean, unbroken
skin, not a bruise or wound in sight.

"Holy shit," Gunn said.  "I don't understand it, but that him."

"Holy shit," Cordelia began.

"That's Xander Harris," Angel finished.

Part Four/?

Xander wiggled his glass in a circle, watching the liquid inside of it
swirl.  He asked for a drink and what did Marc give him?  Milk.  Lorne was
apparently in full overprotective mode and he was taking his employees with
him.  It was all right.  Xander would have rather had a soda, but the milk
was cold and it was a nice reminder that he was among friends.

He nodded his head a little bit to the music.  He didn't recognize the song,
but that was only natural.  He didn't listen music all that much any more.
He liked this one.  The beat echoed that of the heart, full of life and an
irresistible rhythm.  He liked Caritas, too.  It was a little crowded for
his tastes, but that was what the corner of the bar was for.  He could stay
off to the side and watch people laughing and having fun and not have to
worry about safety or anything else.  He was glad that Lorne had this place
and that the host let him come here.  He didn't get to spend a lot of time
with groups of people and he was grateful for the chance to do so.

He shifted his shoulders, testing the range of motion.  He experienced no
pain, no pulling.  He was fully healed.  The cuts had disappeared first but
the bruising had lingered until just a few moments ago.  He knew that he'd
spend the next few hours testing his body, making sure that he'd fully
recovered.  Even after all these years, he still wasn't used to the way his
powers worked.  Lorne's garden had helped a lot.  Movement off to his right
caught his attention, but he didn't turn around until he heard someone gasp.
Wondering what was happening, he turned around.

Cordelia Chase and Angel stared back at him.

He should have known they'd be sticking around.  He told Lorne he didn't
want to talk to them, but the green demon was apparently determined to
protect him, even against his wishes.  Lorne must have suggested they stay,
hoping that meeting them again would get him to change his mind.  He
couldn't blame Lorne, though.  It was his own fault.  He could have told his
friend more about his past and avoided this.  Also, it was his own decision
to come down.  He should have stayed upstairs instead of giving in the urge
to follow the music down and see if dancing looked like it had gotten any
easier over the years.

"Xander?  Oh my god, it is you."  Cordelia moved closer to him.  "I can't
believe it.  None of us knew if you were alive or dead."

She looked good.  Her hair was shorter than he'd ever seen it and it looked
darker, but she'd been a beautiful girl and she'd grown into a truly
gorgeous woman.  Her eyes were older; she hadn't just been playing here in
LA, then, but they just made her more interesting, gave depth to the lovely

"What the hell are you doing here?  How long have you been in town and where
have you been?  I don't actually care, it's just that once upon a time you
had friends who cared very much."

Xander let his gaze drift over to Angel.  The vampire looked the same.  Of
course.  He was still dark, still strong, still handsome.  Time had only
touched him in his manners.  He looked less stiff, more at ease when
surrounded by people.  In Sunnydale he'd always seemed supremely
uncomfortable in his own skin but that seemed to be a thing of the past.  He
didn't look like he was holding himself in and apart, just waiting for a
chance to find a dark room to skulk in and brood for a while.  He looked...

"Do you have any idea what you did to Willow?  To Buffy?  God, Anya left
town and they hear from her almost as much as they hear from you.  You
destroyed them and you don't even give a damn."

Xander wasn't going to look at Angel any more.  He didn't need to think
those thoughts or risk discovering old emotions that he hadn't quite been
able to kill hiding in the corners of his heart.  He could see Wesley
standing slightly behind Angel and how the hell had that happened?  The
Englishman looked as though he'd steadied over the years.  He wasn't acting
like an observer desperate to join in the fun, but rather like he was part
of the action.  That was good.  Xander hadn't liked him, but then how could
he like another man that distracted Cordelia and was smarter than him and
had an accent?

"Do want to hear about how long Willow spent crying?  Do you?  Do you want
to know about when Buffy called us terrified because Willow was staying up
all night, every night trying to find you?"

Just beyond Wesley was the man Xander had heard them call Gunn.  He
recognized him from the hospital.  Xander had only been there to scout out
the lay out of the building but he couldn't resist helping the kids Gunn had
been with.  With the clarity of hindsight he could see that perhaps that he
shouldn't have done it; it would have kept him out of Gunn's notice and so
out of everyone else's.  He'd learned that there was no way to change the
past, though.  The scars and the pain of the past were permanent and nothing
could erase or ease them.

"How about Buffy?  Maybe I should tell you about the way she tore Sunnydale
apart looking for anything that had hurt you or driven you off.  Maybe you
want to hear about the way she went all quiet when she realized that you
were really gone."

He didn't miss the way Gunn and Wesley stayed close to each other.  Even now
they were so close that their shoulders touched.  He looked back down at his
glass quickly before he started to stare.  He was always so fascinated by
people who were together, by the easy give and take and sharing of space
that they never even seemed noticed doing.

"Dawn cried for you.  Even after everyone else started to give up, she still
wept for you and kept hoping that you were going to come home.  She believed
in that for years, Xander.  But you just let her down all over again."

He shouldn't have come down.  He was just upsetting her and he didn't want
to do that.  He tried to avoid the west coast and California especially but
he had business in LA and he'd missed Lorne.  It wasn't much of an excuse
but it was the only one he had.  The best thing he could do was leave.  If
he stayed they might get angry with Lorne and he had caused enough trouble
so far.

"You know how much trouble they were in.  You were there every day, knowing
how impossible what they faced was, knowing how much pain Buffy was in.  You
knew she needed her friends and you just did everything you could to ruin
all of that, didn't you?"

Xander drank the rest of milk.  He wished he'd thought to bring his coat
down with him but he'd left it upstairs.  It wasn't all that cold outside
but he preferred to have a jacket just in case.

"You hurt all of them, Xander.  You hurt all of them and you did it on
purpose and you don't care.  None of this means anything to you.  When did
you turn into such a cold bastard?"

The sound of a throat clearing distracted him for just a moment and he
looked over to see Marc offering him a jacket over the bar.  Xander took it
with a small smile.  Marc then opened up the swinging entrance to the bar to
let him slip behind it.  He did so quickly, walking behind the bar to avoid
having to walk past Cordelia and the others.  In a few moments he was

Clutching Marc's jacket close, he broke out into a swift trot.  He shouldn't
attract anything except the usual number of attacks but standing still
wasn't a good idea.  He didn't have his own coat, which meant he was only
carrying a knife and a single stake.  He could hold his own in a regular
fight and he knew that if things became truly dire he could get himself out
of trouble.  He'd hate himself when it was over, but he'd still be alive.

He ignored the fact that he was also running away.  It was just a side
benefit.  He smiled a little to himself.  He was still allowed to lie to
himself.  The sound of his boots on the pavement echoed in his ears as he
increased his pace, running away from the lights of Caritas and the pieces
of his past inside.


Part Five/?

Angel didn't move until Xander was completely out of sight.  It was only
then that he remembered that he could move.  He took a step backwards,
thinking that maybe he could force his way through the crowd and catch up to
the other man, but Ryan stood in his path.  The bartender didn't say
anything; he just shifted his weight every time Angel moved to make sure
that he stayed directly in front of the vampire.  Angel gave up.  Xander had
a few minutes head start on him now.  He wasn't going to be able to find

"Was that really..." Wesley started to ask.

"What just happened?" Lorne asked, pushing his way through the crowd to
reach them.

Ryan relaxed and backed away from Angel.  "They upset Xan.  Cordelia yelled
at him until he decided to take off."

Lorne rounded on Cordelia.  "What did you say to him?"

"To who?  *Xan*?  That was Xander Harris!"

"Yes, and I want to know what you said to him."

Angel had never seen Lorne get angry before.  He'd seen him amused, had seen
him frightened; he'd even seen him in love.  Never angry, though.  The host
always seemed so in control of himself, only displaying the emotions that he
wanted everyone else to see.

Apparently, right now Lorne wanted them to see rage.

Cordelia held up her hands in a placating manner.  "Lorne, I don't know what
you think you know about Xander.  I know him.  I grew up with him.  A few
years ago he absolutely destroyed all the people who cared about him and
walked away from them without any explanation.  And then tonight I see him
just sitting here and having a drink like none of that ever touched him.  I
couldn't -"

"Get out," Lorne said.

"What?"  Cordelia stared at him.  "Lorne, listen, I know him."

"No you don't.  I don't know what you think you know, but you are wrong.
And right now you need to leave."

"You're kicking us out?" Gunn asked.

"For the rest of tonight, yes I am.  I'm hoping that Xander will come back
if you're gone."  Lorne's expression softened a little.  "This isn't
forever.  But I don't want you here if you're going to be hurting him."

"Hurting him?  He never said a word to defend himself!" Cordelia objected.
"Because he knows that I am right."

"He didn't say anything because getting that man to talk takes more patience
then you'll find in a boat load of nuns," Lorne said.

"What?" Angel asked.  Xander not talk?  Xander talked all the time.  Angel
could remember being fascinated by the never-ending stream of babble that
came from the young man, by the way he could talk forever and never actually
say anything.  Xander had to talk.  A quiet Xander wasn't Xander.

"I don't want to talk about this right now.  I just want you to go."  Lorne
sighed.  "I don't know if he's going to come back but I don't want there to
be anything here to stop him."

"He's got my jacket," Marc said.

Lorne's reaction was immediate:  a relieved, grateful smile.  "Good
thinking," he said.  "Thanks, Marc." His gaze hardened when he looked back
at Angel.  "It's time to go."

"Can I call tomorrow?" Angel asked.

"Call." Lorne said.  "I'll let you know when it's all right to come back."

Angel nodded.  "Let's go."

"No one gets thrown out of Caritas," Wesley said.

"Well, we just did.  Let's get going."  Angel ushered everyone out, wrapping
his arm around Cordelia's waist to pull her along with him.  He didn't stop
moving until they were all the way out the door.  Out on the street, he
couldn't help looking both ways but he found no sign of Xander.

"Would somebody mind explaining to me what the hell just happened?" Gunn
asked.  "Y'all know my skinny white guy and Cordy wants to kick his ass?"

"Let's explain as we walk," Angel suggested.  "I don't want Lorne to come
out here and tell us to move on."

"Fine.  Whatever.  Just so long as someone talks."

Cordelia shook her head.  "Not me.  I'm not ready to talk about this yet."

That left it up to Angel.  "It starts back in Sunnydale."  Gunn would know
what he was talking about; he and Cordelia occasionally talked about life
there and Gunn had come with them to visit in Sunnydale once or twice.  "It
wasn't always just Willow, Buffy, Cordy and Giles.  There was another member
of their group:  Xander."

"My skinny white guy."

"Not so skinny back then, but yeah.  He and Willow were best friends as kids
and then it was him, her and Buffy.  He was settled in Sunnydale, had a job,
had a steady girlfriend."

"Anya," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes.

"Anya?" Gunn asked.

"She left Sunnydale right after Xander did.  I'll get to that," Angel
assured him.  "So about five years ago, things got really bad in Sunnydale."

"How do you define bad on the Hellmouth?" Gunn asked.

"A hell god on the loose trying to kill Buffy and everyone around her."
Angel nodded at Gunn's impressed look.  "Yeah.  That bad.  And in the middle
of all of this Buffy and Dawn's mom died.  It was a horrible time there.
Right in the middle of it when things looked absolutely dire, Xander took
off.  He didn't give them any warning.  The only thing he did was leave
behind a nasty little note that reduced Buffy and Willow to tears.  It was
just full of dislike and hatred and it devastated them."

"It made no sense," Cordelia said.  "There hadn't been any fights, nothing
to make him want to leave.  He left his girlfriend and his best friends
behind.  They spent a long time looking for him.  Willow even wanted to hire
us, but we couldn't find any traces of him.  He was just gone and the only
thing he left behind was that damn note."

"That must have been some note," Gunn said.

"It was.  You've met Buffy.  She was in tears."


Damn was right.  Angel couldn't remember all the particulars of the note.
He could remember feeling sickened while Buffy read it to him.  It had
accused Buffy of failure, indicting her in her own mother's death and
blaming her for the deaths of others that Xander said she'd failed to save.
Willow was branded as selfish and greedy, so focused on her own power that
she neglected everyone around her.  Anya was insulted on every level, from
her ability to hold a conversation to her performance in bed.  Not even
Giles escaped; he was dismissed as incompetent and a hindrance to
everything Buffy tried to do.  Everyone's secret fears and personal demons
were thrown in their faces without mercy, without pity.  Angel hadn't been
able to believe that Xander could hide that level of rage and cruelty in his
heart, but the note was proof that he had.

Angel understood why everyone had been so shocked by Xander's disappearance.
The younger man had always been loyal to the point of insanity.  He'd been
willing to follow Buffy into danger that even Angel feared.  Oh, Angel could
remember Xander babbling on about being afraid and objecting to dangerous
plans, but he was always right where Buffy needed him when she needed him.
He'd even tried to face down Angelus on his own.  Bravery and loyalty were
inherent traits in Xander, no matter how much he tried to hide them.

"What the hell is he doing in LA?" Cordelia asked.

"What has he become?" Wesley countered.  "I remember Xander.  His only
involvement in the demonic and the paranormal came through his association
with Buffy.  Yet here
he is, surrounded by demons and with unexplained happenings occurring all
around him."

"I don't care," Cordelia said.  "He deliberately hurt everyone who cared
about him.  Spike is still hanging around Sunnydale.  The evil undead has
more loyalty than Xander.  We don't owe him anything."

"I do," Gunn said quietly.


Gunn looked at the walkway to the Hyperion.  "Let's take this inside."

"Why?  So we don't scare the neighbors?  Too late.  I don't think we could
scare them any more than we already do."  She walked up to the front door
and opened it with her key.  "Come on in."

Angel stayed off to the side after he entered the hotel.  It wasn't that he
was scared of Cordelia.  He just thought it was better to stay off to the
side until they were finished.  He found that he was hoping Gunn would come
up with some with undeniable reasons for them to try to help Xander.  He was
reluctant to just walk away from the other man and pretend as though he
hadn't seen him.  He'd wanted to help before he knew it was Xander; now that
he did know, his desire to help had only increased.

"So please," Cordy said.  "Explain to me why you've lost your mind."

Gunn shook his head.  "Look, I get that he hurt your friends.  I understand
that and maybe later on I'll hold his arms for you while you hit him.  But
for right now, I'm not gonna worry about that.  I owe him because he did
something that healed Marissa and Tomas.  I owe him because he took time to
get me off the street when Wolfram and Hart were after him and that time
probably slowed him down enough so that their pet demons had the chance to
beat the crap out of him.  I owe him because for some reason those lawyers
are interested in him and I'm not gonna stand by and let them have their

"If he wanted our help, why did he run away?"

"Cordy, if you were laying into me like that, I'd run away, too.  That just
shows that the guy has some survival instincts."

"Cordy," Wes interrupted.  "When Xander disappeared, did Willow try to
search for him by magical means?"

"Yeah.  She scared Buffy with the staying up all night searching for spells
and then trying them out.  She never found anything and finally Giles agreed
to try one last time with her.  They found nothing.  Giles figured that
Xander had paid someone to put a spell on him that shielded him from all of
Willow's attempts.  Which just goes to show what a slimy bastard he is,
since he went to all the trouble to hide himself like that.  He didn't want
Buffy to be able to find him and kick his ass like he so richly deserved."

"Hm."  Wesley walked to stand next to Angel.

Gunn looked at him.  "You ask a question, you get an answer and all you have
to say is 'hm'?  What's going on in that brain of yours?"

"Nothing.  Except it is exceedingly difficult to cast a spell that will
effectively hide a living being from magical searches for any period of
time.  For a spell to shield Xander from a witch as powerful as Willow for
the length of time it took for her to give up...I'm not sure even Willow
could cast that spell.  I certainly couldn't."

"So what are you saying?" Angel asked.

"I'm saying that we don't have all the information.  We know that Xander
left but we don't know the reason why and we certainly don't know what
happened to him in the interim.  I agree with Gunn.  For right now, we can't
allow his past to distract us.  We need to concentrate on finding out what
has happened to him and what sort of trouble his is in now.  The rest can

"I don't like it," Cordelia said.

"I know," Wesley said.  "Perhaps when this is over Gunn will still be
willing to hold his arms for you."

"I don't need anyone to hold his arms.  There has yet to be a day that I
couldn't take Xander Harris with my eyes closed.  If I really want to hurt
him, I'll call Sunnydale and invite everyone up."

"Don't," Angel said.

"They deserve to know."

"And they will, but let's wait until we know what's going on.  There's no
need to upset everyone and I don't want to stir up any more trouble until we
know what we're dealing with here."

"Fine.  I'll keep quiet for right now, but they deserve to know."

"And they will," Angel promised.  "For right now, I want to keep this

Cordelia nodded.  "Fine."  She took a deep breath and relaxed as she
exhaled.  "Fine.  I'll keep my temper and my silence until we've got this
thing figured out."  She grinned a little viciously.  "But when this is
over..."  She waved one fist around in a menacing manner.

"All right.  Now that we've got Killer here under control, what do we do
now?" Gunn asked.  "Lorne isn't gonna be letting us back into Caritas
anytime soon."

"I'll go back tomorrow," Angel said.  "Just me.  Lorne will let me in and
hopefully Xander will let me talk."

"It might be better if I went," Gunn countered.  "I don't have any history
with him that could get in the way."

Angel shook his head.  "We were never friends and I left Sunnydale before he
did.  There aren't going to be any issues between us to get in the way.
Besides, I think knowing more about him could come in handy."

Gunn nodded.

Angel sighed in relief.  Good.  They had everything settled among
themselves.  Now they just had to get Lorne and Xander to let them in and
they'd have a shot of getting this figured out.

He headed back toward the kitchen, wanting to get something to eat and spend
a little time on his own.  He was surprised by some of his own reactions and
he wanted to be able to think about them for a while.  Angel emptied a bag
of blood into a saucepan and set it on low heat, wanting to give himself
plenty of time.

He wasn't surprised that he hadn't recognized Xander while he was masked.
The brown-eyed man had changed a lot.  He had quickly relearned the other
man's scent.  It was like returning to a house one had lived in for many
years after a long absence:  the way the house smelled was immediately
familiar and one wondered how it had ever been forgotten.  He'd know Xander
in a crowd now, even with his eyes closed.

Not that his eyes were a whole lot of help.  Xander was thin, lacking the
build he'd acquired working construction.  Angel had seen him once or twice
after he'd put on the muscle and had seen pictures taken later.  Now Xander
was all lean muscle, built like a runner.  He looked younger, back to the
more slender frame that Angel remembered from high school.  The short hair
helped with that; it looked a little severe but it suited the sharper angles
of his face.

The thing Angel thought was most changed were Xander's eyes.  Still dark
brown, they looked as though Xander had lived three lifetimes in the past
five years and none of them had involved much laughter.  It had been the
eyes that had thrown Angel the most.  They saw too much and hurt too much
and there weren't any smiles hidden in them any more.  They weren't the eyes
that Angel remembered.

Slowly stirring the gradually heating blood, Angel found himself hoping very
much that Lorne was calmer tomorrow night and would agree to let him in.  He
hoped even more that Xander would see him.  He wanted to know what had
happened to make him leave Sunnydale and what had happened while he was
gone.  He wanted to know what had brought Xander back to California.

He wanted...he cut off his train of thought.  For right now he would settle
for just getting a chance to talk to Xander and trying to understand what
was happening and why Wolfram and Hart were interested in him.  Why Angel
couldn't pull his thoughts away from him was a question that could wait for
another time.


Part Six/?

Xander boosted himself up over the fence that partially blocked the alley in
back of Caritas.  He didn't think anyone was following him, but better safe
than sorry.  He didn't have to make anything easy for anyone who might be
trying.  It took him but a moment to used the key Lorne had given him to
open up the back service door and let himself into the club.

The rest of the night had been quiet.  He'd seen few humans and even fewer
non-humans out on the street.  He'd only encountered a couple lone vampires
and he'd been able to dispatch them fairly easily.  Once he'd faced the
reality that there wasn't anyone to back him up any more, no Willow or Buffy
who would appear at his side to kill the creature that he was struggling
with, he'd found it much easier to focus and kill them quickly.  The lack of
a safety net made it all serious for him at last.

He was grateful for the quiet of the night.  He'd needed time to think, time
to lose himself in the maze of his own thoughts and the empty streets had
given him that.  He couldn't leave LA.  He had business here that couldn't
be delayed or shifted to a new location.  He'd waited for years to have this
opportunity and he couldn't risk letting it slip through his fingers now.
At the same time, he knew he shouldn't stay in the city.  He'd attracted the
attention of Wolfram and Hart.  He'd heard whispered rumors about the law
firm, stories told in lowered voices as humans and demons alike retold
encounters with an unstoppable force that served its evil purpose by any
means necessary.  He understood their interest in him and knew that it
wasn't going to be a simple matter to persuade them that he wasn't worth it.
He believed he had a way to make sure that they let him be but it was a
plan he didn't want to follow and in the meantime it did nothing to
guarantee that the people he cared about stayed safe from the law firm's
actions.  Xander thought the best thing to do was stay as out of sight as
possible, which was why he'd been so quick to take up Lorne's offer to stay
with him.  If he was off the streets in a safe place it was far less likely
that he'd get in trouble.

Not that the plan had worked.  It had been a good idea, though.

He walked up the stairs to the second floor, his steps silent as he made his
way to Lorne's room.  He knocked on the door quietly and waited for a few
moments, but didn't get a reply.  He slowly opened the door, not wanting to
wake the host if he was sleeping inside.

The room was empty.  Xander glanced at the clock on the wall.  It was nearly
3 am.  Lorne was an adult and he could take care of himself.  He decided to
take a quick shower and then wait up for him.  He didn't want Lorne to worry
too much so he wanted to let him know that he was back as soon as possible.
Opening the door to the bathroom, he grabbed his towel off the shelf and
tossed it onto the sink before turning the water on.  He stripped quickly,
climbing into the shower and relaxing under the hot spray.

His thoughts returned again and again to Wolfram and Hart, circling the
problem but never settling on it.  Xander knew what was going on.  He didn't
want to think about one problem, so he was focusing on this one instead,
distracting himself so he didn't have to think about the thing that really
frightened him.

What if Cordelia called Sunnydale and told everyone that she'd seen him?  He
could understand her doing it; his disappearance had been hard on the
remaining members of the Scooby Gang and Cordy was still friends with them.
If he'd been in her place he'd be seriously considering giving them a call
and telling them what he'd seen.  If they came to LA it was going to make it
very difficult for him to conduct any of his business.  He tore his thoughts
away from that train of thought.  He was avoiding it for good reason.  Even
after all this time, thinking about seeing people from Sunnydale made his
stomach churn.  He concentrated on his shower, soaping himself up quickly
and getting out as soon as he could.

He dried himself off roughly, going for speed rather than enjoyment.  He
didn't want to pull on his dirty clothing again; staying with Lorne was
making him soft.  With a small smile, he took Lorne's robe.  The demon was
making him turn all squeamish; the least he could do to make it up was lend
Xander his robe.

Walking into Lorne's bedroom, Xander picked his backpack and dug around in
its contents for a moment.  He retrieved his cell phone from the bottom and
turned it on, carrying it across the room so he could sit down in the chair
in the far corner.  He dialed without looking at the buttons, the number
memorized from years of use.

There was no answer; Xander hadn't really expected one.  "It's me.
Something's happened.  I saw Cordelia and Angel and they saw me.  They might
be calling Sunnydale.  If you hear anything, call me."  He paused.  "I'll
try to call later this week."  He hung up the phone, placing it on the table
next to him.  He didn't really expect to get a call back tonight but there
was a small possibility and he'd welcome it.  Cordelia's angry words echoed
in the back of his mind and it would be nice to hear a friendly voice and
see if it might be able to drown them out for a while.

He leaned further back into the chair, the warmth of robe helping to relax
tired muscles.  He'd walked more than he should have but the chance to think
was one he'd needed.  He let his eyes close.  He'd just wait for Lorne,
apologize for running off and make sure Marc's jacket was ready to return.
He'd just...

Sleep took him before he could finish the thought.  He slid so easily into
slumber that he didn't realize what had happened until he felt fingers
gently brush his forehead.  His eyes snapped open immediately even as every
muscle tensed and readied him for action.  He relaxed when he realized that
the dark shape standing over him was Lorne.

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," Lorne said. "What was wrong with the bed?"

Xander shrugged.  "Waiting for you," he said simply.

"I appreciate the sentiment, but let's get you to bed.  You'll give yourself
a crick in your neck.  Come on, up we go."  He pulled Xander to his feet.

Xander allowed himself to be pulled.  "I can walk to the guest room.  Go to
bed.  It's late."

"No, you don't.  You're not sleeping in there another night."

Xander froze.  "I can leave."

"No!  Not, that's not what I meant.  You're not sleeping in the guest room
on your own again."  The smile on his face was gentle, but his grip on
Xander's shoulders was firm.  "You're having nightmares.  You've been pretty
quiet but they're bad enough to wake me up across the hall.  Stay in here
tonight.  I think having someone near could help."

"No."   Xander shook his head.  It wasn't that he didn't want to stay; he'd
learned that another person's presence definitely settled his dreams.  What
if it didn't work, though?  If Lorne was a powerful enough reader to be
disturbed across the hall, then what could being right next to Xander do?
"I could hurt you."

"Don't worry about me.  I've read futures and pasts that are so horrific
they've turned me green...er.  Your nightmares aren't any worse than what
I've already faced.  Stay with me.  Let's see if we can't get you a little
beauty sleep."

"Are you saying I'm not beautiful?"  Xander tried a pose he could remember
Cordy using, planting his hand on his hips and glaring.

"Bad choice of words, maybe.  Come on.  Give it a try for one night and see
if it helps."

Xander was tired.  He wanted to sleep and sleep deeply and not worry about
waking himself or anyone else with his nightmares.  He trusted Lorne.  "All
right," he said.

"Excellent," Lorne said.  "Let's get you into bed."

Xander headed for the door.

"Hey, hey, where are you going?"

Xander drew the robe more closely about himself.  "I left my pyjamas in the
other room," he explained.

"I've seen what you call pyjamas.  Leave them there.  You can use some of

"Lorne -"

"Come on.  Try them out."

He didn't want to argue with Lorne, especially when he didn't really care
what he wore.  He took the silk pyjamas Lorne handed to him without comment
and managed to restrain his smile.  When the host disappeared into his
bathroom, Xander changed quickly.  The material was infinitely softer
against his skin then anything he'd felt in a long time.  He slid between
the sheets to wait for his friend.

In a few minutes Lorne had joined him, drawing back the covers for a couple
brief seconds.  He settled into the bed, carefully remaining on his own side
of the bed.  "Good night," he said quietly.

"Good night," Xander replied.  "Thank you."

"Yeah, say that after you've heard me snore."

Laughing quietly, Xander allowed himself to slide into sleep.


Pain.  He was surrounded by pain.  It ran through his veins and vibrated
through his bones, twisting his muscles until his very skin writhed with it.
He wanted to scream with it but his throat was just another white-hot
point of agony.  He'd screamed it bloody and useless so that no sound would
emerge.  It didn't matter.  Screams were useless; they brought no mercy, no
relief.  Words were useless; no matter how he begged or pled, no matter what
he promised, they did no good.  He tried talking until he was exhausted, had
talked until the words had lost their meaning and had become just
meaningless sounds that tumbled from his lips with no effect.

He couldn't even try to hide in his own mind because the pain was there,
too.  His mind had been violated, torn apart and then slammed back together
again so that the very process of thinking ripped bloody paths through his
damaged brain.  He tried not to think but it was useless; his mind scrambled
for an answer, for a plan so he could figure out a way out of this hell,
figure out a reason why he was suffering this way but nothing came to him.
He couldn't even remember what it was like to live without this pain
although he knew he once had.

His world was agony and waiting for fire to cease burning even though he
knew it never would.  He was alone, completely and utterly.  He lived
without hope or companionship or the strength that comes with belief and
confidence and the company of friends.  He merely waited for the end of the
pain or of himself.  He no longer cared which came, so long as one of them

He hadn't thought it possible but the pain increased until his entire being
was just one soundless scream.  No more no more no more no more he couldn't
take it he would lose himself in it this time surely he would be consumed no
more no //Xander// no more no more //Xander// more no



Xander finally tore himself out of the dream that held him captive, gasping
for air and trying to believe that what he was experiencing was real, that
the pain was banished back to his memories and nightmares.  It was Lorne
who'd brought him back to reality; the demon's hands were still on his
shoulders although he'd stopped shaking him.  "I'm here.  Are you all

"Me?"  Lorne let Xander go and lay back down beside him but didn't relax.
"I'm not the one trying to shout down the house."

"Shout?"  Xander blinked.  He almost never made noise while having a

"Psychically, at least.  You weren't breathing so well, either."

Psychically.  "Are you all right?"  Xander was well aware of his own
experiences and knew how horribly painful they could be for someone who
wasn't used to them.

"I'm fine.  You didn't project all that much.  I'm actually rather
surprised; I'd expected worse."  Lorne finally began to relax.

"It wasn't as bad as it was last night."

"What?"  Lorne sat up again.  "How could this count as better?"

Xander shook his head.  He didn't want to talk about it.  They were his own
personal monsters and were his to fight.  He already owed Lorne too much to
try to burden him with this.  "I can move back to the other room."

"No.  You're not going anywhere.  Just settle down and go back to sleep."

"I'd like to.  Someone keeps talking."  Xander grinned when he was hit very
gently with a pillow.  He wriggled down into the bed, getting comfortable
and waiting for sleep to come for him.  He listened as Lorne's breathing
slowed into the rhythms of sleep.  He knew it would be several more minutes
before he fell asleep himself.  When Lorne rolled over and tossed an arm
over Xander's middle, Xander smiled.  He almost never got so close to
another person.  It was nice, feeling the heat of another person against his
own.  Even more important was the tactile sense of no longer be alone.  He
felt himself relax utterly.

He wouldn't dream again that night.


Part Seven/?

"I'm being serious here.  I need advice and I don't have anyone else to talk
to.  I need you guys to help me."  Cordelia's voice was plaintive, but there
was definitely a note of threat hiding in the background of it.

Angel recognized the danger through years of long association.  Cordelia was
running out of patience.  If she didn't get the answers she was looking for
then she'd stop asking so politely.

"I don't know, Cordelia.  Until we have more information I really can't give
an opinion."  Wesley looked over at Gunn.  "How about you?"

"Oh, the same thing as you said.  I can't say anything until I know what is
going on here."

Angel stayed in the back office.  If he came out then, Cordy would no doubt
try to drag him into the discussion and he wasn't having any of that.

"But how will I know if I should tell Buffy and Willow if I find out that
it's ok to tell them if I haven't thought about it yet?  I mean, they
deserve to know that he's alive but do they want to know?  They might be
happier without knowing, you know?"

"Cordy, the question is moot until we have a better idea of what is
happening here."  Wesley's voice signaled that he was losing interest in the

"Fine.  I'll just sit here and try to figure it out on my own.  Some help
you lot are."  She sighed and fell silent.

Angel was grateful.  He'd been wrestling a little bit with that question
himself and he wanted to let the whole matter drop so hopefully he'd be able
to stop thinking about it.  He didn't know if he should call Buffy or not.
Xander had been one of her friends and no doubt she was curious about what
had happened to him.  Angel didn't feel he could tell her anything until he
knew for sure what had happened, though.  Without knowing all the facts
there was no way he could come to a decision and it was that lack of
knowledge that was slowly making him crazy.  The only way to get it figured
out was to find out what had happened and that wasn't going to happen unless
he had the chance to talk to Xander.

That was it.  He was going to have to head over to Caritas.  The daylight
would be a problem since he intended to go on his own.  If he called Lorne
first though, and the host agreed, he would find a way to make it work.  If
Lorne held the door open, he could hold a tarp over himself well enough to
guarantee that he didn't go up in flames.  He put away the book he'd been
hiding behind and stood up.  A phone call and hopefully he'd be on his way.

He waited impatiently as he listened to the phone ring over at Caritas.  It
was late afternoon so Lorne really should be up.  Finally, the other end of
the line picked up.

//Hello?//  It was Lorne's unmistakable voice.

"Don't hang up," Angel said quickly.

//And hello to you, too,// Lorne said, his voice sarcastic.  That was fine;
at least he hadn't hung up.

"You said that I could call today."

//And you've done so.  Now what?//

So Lorne wasn't going to make this easy on him.  "Now I'd like permission to
come back to Caritas and talk to Xander."

//Talk to him?  Or yell at him until he decides to leave the building?//

"Talk," Angel said quietly.  "Please, Lorne.  We wanted to help him last
night before we knew who he was.  You wanted us to help to.  I admit finding
out that he's Xander was a shock but that doesn't change the fact that he
needs help."

//No, it doesn't.  I'm just not sure you're the one to help him, though.//

"It's not going to happen again.  I've spoken to my people and we've got
everything under control here, tempers included."  Angel didn't have the
words that he was sure he needed.  "Please."

There was a long pause, and then, //Just you.  Leave the rest of the merry
men at home.//

"There's just a little problem with that.  Well, more of a big one that's
right in the middle of the sky."

//Not a problem.  There's sewer access in the storage room.  I usually keep
it locked but for today I'll make an exception.  Come up through there and
go to the bar.  No wandering around, all right?//

"All right.  Thanks, Lorne."  Angel hung up quickly, not wanting to give the
other man a chance to change his mind.  He walked out into the lobby.

"Ah, look who's decided to come out of hiding," Gunn said.  "Decided the
coast was clear, did you?"

Angel grinned at the teasing.  "I'm going out."

"Where to?" Cordy asked.

"Caritas.  I called Lorne and he agreed that I could come over if I came

"That's not fair," Cordy said.

Gunn shook his head.  "Definitely not fair.  I still think I should go."

"It's the only way he would agree," Angel said.  "We all want answers, so
I'm going to go over and get some."  He was half-tempted to sit down while
he argued with them.  This could take a while.  He wasn't sure what it said
about him that he hung out with the most stubborn people he'd ever met.

He was saved by a distraction when the front door open.  He looked over
toward it eagerly.  "Robert, hello!  What brings you here?"

"Questions," the man who'd just entered said.  Robert Torvay was a doctor in
one of the local hospitals.  Angel and the others had encountered him when a
demon had begun preying on the patients there.  He'd gotten caught up in the
investigation and had ended up learning more than he'd ever wanted to know
about the nonhuman side of life in LA.  Instead of packing his bags and
heading for a quieter place in central Wisconsin, Robert had become a
friend, patching the human members of their group when they needed it.  He
was also attempting to find a medical way to help Cordelia with the
headaches that continued to plague her.  He was a good man and good friend
and right now Angel was hoping that he'd also prove to be a good

"Questions about what?" Cordy asked, walking around from behind the counter
to greet him.

"Something that happened at the hospital a couple nights ago.  I think I
caught a glimpse of you outside that night and I'm hoping you can shed some
light on things."

That would have been the night they escorted Xander there.  "What happened?"
Angel knew Wesley had been reading the papers diligently hoping to find
out what Xander had done in the hospital and nothing odd had been reported
in them.

"Were you there?"

"Yes," Cordy said.  "What happened?  Don't keep us in suspense."

"This hasn't been released to the papers yet and I'm not sure when or even
if it will be released so keep this under your hats."

"What?" Angel asked.  What had happened?  What had Xander done?

"There's a symposium of the top doctors in pediatrics at the hospital right
now.  Because of this, we've got a lot of really sick kids in our peds ward.
Some are there looking for treatment, others are a part of different case
studies that will be presented.  We have a completely full ward.  Well,

"Had?" Gunn repeated.  "What do you mean, had?  What happened to the kids?"

"It's the damnedest thing.  That night, the night I saw you?  They all went
to bed sick and dying and breaking the hearts of every doctor who was trying
to save them.  They woke up the next morning completely healed."

"Completely?"  Angel asked.

"Cancer gone as if it had never been, degenerative disorders gone with the
damage they'd caused, failing organs restored to functionality...they're all
just healthy, happy children again.  No one can figure it but I thought
maybe that I saw you outside and figured that if anyone knew what had
happened, it would be you."  He looked around at them appealingly.  "What

"We're not exactly sure," Angel admitted.

"I'm beginning to have an idea, though," Wesley said.  "I think Xander is a

Angel shook his head.  "No.  I would have noticed that.  If he'd been
healing Buffy and the others I would have seen it.  Besides, he got hurt a
few times and he stayed hurt."  There was no way.  Xander had gotten knocked
about often enough in Sunnydale for Angel to be sure that he healed at a
normal human rate.  Buffy healed quickly because she was a Slayer, but it
was never overnight like it would have been if Xander had been stepping in
and lending nature a hand.  He hadn't seen any increased speed in healing in
any of the others, either.

"What other explanation is there?" Wesley asked.

"What's a healer?" Robert asked.  "And who's Xander?"

"A healer is a human who has the ability to use the energy that surrounds
and permeates all living things to accelerate healing in people, or even to
heal things that medicine can't help."

"Xander is a guy I knew back in high school,"' Cordy said.  "And Angel is
right.  He isn't a healer.  The only thing special about him is his ability
to be an asshole."

"Most healers are discovered because they've performed some kind of miracle,
like healing their friends who have broken arms or even bringing dead pets
back to life.  That usually brings attention to them and some group will
take them in and begin to train them.  The Watchers are always on the look
out for them.  They are most useful colleagues and resources to have."
Wesley paused.  "I'm not sure why Xander escaped notice.  It could have
something to do with the Hellmouth.  Perhaps he didn't come into his
abilities until after he left Sunnydale."

"Or maybe he's not a healer," Cordelia said.

"Again, what other explanation could there be?  He healed the two children
Gunn brought to the hospital and the next night he healed the children's
wing.  He isn't performing magic or else Gunn would have noticed.  He fits
the profile of a healer except for the lateness of realizing his powers."
Wes had slipped into full lecture mode, drawing himself up to his full
height and clasping his hands behind his back.  "Healers draw energy into
themselves and hold it within until they use it in order heal someone.  At
normal times they are targets for demons because of their very nature.  When
they are holding quite a lot of power, the attraction that they hold for
demons increases exponentially.  I imagine that is why we experienced so
many attacks on the way to the hospital and so few after:  Xander was filled
with energy on the way to the hospital, but afterwards he'd expended all
that energy healing the children."

"How do you know so much about healers?" Gunn asked.  "I don't think we've
ever run into one before."

"They are quite rare," Wesley agreed.  "About two years ago Lorne asked me
if I knew anything about them.  I realized that I didn't know all that much
so I did some research.  It's a fascinating subject and most of it just
stuck with me."  He cocked his head to the side.  "I wonder why Lorne could
have possibly been interested in healers?"  His tone was full of exaggerated

Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest.  "Sneaky.  You never told us

"It never mattered before."  Wesley smiled.  "Still think that Xander can't
be a healer?"

"I'm not going to answer that question until Angel gets back from talking to

Robert took a few steps forward, placing himself beside Cordy.  "If this guy
really is a healer, I'd like to talk to him."

"I'm not making any promises," Angel said.  He watched Cordy move a little
closer to Robert and repressed a smile.  He didn't miss the way they
gravitated toward each other.  He had hopes for the two of them.  Robert was
a good man, smart and levelheaded.  He was strong-minded and he treated
Cordelia with respect and gentleness.  Angel wanted there to be something
there between them, wanted Cordy to be able to find happiness with someone
and if that someone was Robert he'd be very pleased indeed.  He wasn't going
to do anything that looked like pushing, though.  He worried that any
interference on his part could ruin anything so he was being as careful as

"I'm going to head over now," Angel said.  "Robert, I hope I'll see you
again soon."

"If you like, Robert, you are more then welcome to stay for a while.  I'd be
happy to answer any questions you had about healers."  Wesley didn't crack a
smile but Gunn did, although he was careful to keep his face averted from
both Cordy and Robert.

Damn.  Those two were trying to set Cordy and Robert up, too.  Angel knew
that Wesley could be devious up to a certain point, but anywhere that he ran
into trouble, Gunn would surely be able to back him up and carry the
deception through to its conclusion.  As long as he was careful not to
accidentally ruin any scheme they set up, he was sure they'd be able to pull
it off.

"I'll be back," he promised, heading to the stairs down the basement.  It
wasn't that far by sewer to Caritas.  He was a little nervous and very
curious, so he knew he'd make good time.  He had to convince Lorne to let
him see Xander.  He had to convince Xander to tell him what was going on.
He couldn't explain why it was so important to him, but that didn't change
the need that drove him forward.  Angel refused to wonder about that too
much now.  He'd figure it out later, after he'd seen Xander.


Part Eight/?

Xander awakened quickly, coming to instant awareness as he catalogued his
surroundings:  an unfamiliar room filled with cherry-stained furniture and a
luxurious bed and an attached bathroom.  He relaxed.  Lorne's room.  He was

He stretched in the bed, taking up as much space as he could since he was
alone.  It was a rare thing when he enjoyed the comfort of a bed as large as
this one and he intended to wallow for just a few moments before rising.
Xander allowed each muscle to stretch completely before relaxing utterly.
He felt refreshed, relaxed.  He'd had a better night's sleep than he'd
experienced in a long time.  He definitely owed Lorne a thank you for that.
He hadn't dreamt again after that first nightmare.  Usually one nightmare
meant that he wasn't going to sleep for the rest of the night; the images
would return again and again until they drove him from his bed exhausted and
shaken and hoping that the next night would be dreamless.

A few minutes more idleness and Xander slowly got out of bed and headed for
his own room.  He ran his hand over his arm, feeling the silk slide easily
under his palm and practically flow over his skin.  It was nice.  Someday
he'd have to think about getting a pair of his own.

He snorted.  Yeah, right.  When a man lived out of a backpack, he learned to
carry only the essentials and no matter how nice they felt silk pyjamas
didn't count as a necessity.  He pulled on a clean pair of jeans and a long
sleeved t-shirt.  He decided to skip the boots; Lorne loved his creature
comforts and Caritas was always warm.  It wasn't often he got to walk around
in bare feet and he'd indulge himself as much as possible.

He carefully repacked his bag and made sure his coat held all its usual
goodies.  He liked to be ready to go at a moment's notice.  He'd had to make
a few quick getaways in his time and he'd learned how inconvenient it was to
leave items behind.  He'd decided not to let that happen again; the things
he carried with him he'd been carrying for a while now and he wouldn't be
able to replace them easily.

Xander felt a little lonely.  It was nothing new; he'd chosen to walk a
solitary path and he'd grown used to the feeling of being alone.  For right
now, though, he didn't have to be alone.  Lorne was somewhere in the
building and Marc and Ryan would be coming into work soon.  Xander was only
a flight of stairs away from company.  It was an opportunity he didn't plan
on letting slide by.

He walked down the hall and headed down the stairs.  He heard voices before
he reached the hallway leading into the club itself and he smiled; he'd
found Lorne.  When he reached the hall, though, he realized that the voices
were raised, angry.  That wasn't right.  Anger had no place in Caritas,
especially during the off hours.  He slowed down and approached far more
cautiously, hugging the wall and sticking to the shadows.  He rarely walked
into a room without checking it out under normal circumstances; things felts
strange, so he'd be doubly careful now.  He crept forward until he could
just see inside.

Lorne was standing in front of the bar.  He'd drawn himself up to his full
height so he almost towered over the humans that faced him.  Behind the bar,
Marc had his hands below the counter, no doubt holding onto the bat and the
gun hidden beneath it.  Not that the weapons would do him any good.

Xander didn't recognize the people facing Lorne.  He didn't have to.  Their
impeccable suits and flawless hair gave them away.  Lawyers.  There was only
one type of lawyer that would be in Caritas.  Shit.  Xander hesitated.  He
was almost certain this was about him, but he didn't know if revealing
himself would help or just make things worse.  Uncertainty kept him immobile
as he stayed hidden in the shadows, listening.

"Leave," Lorne said.

"You haven't heard us out yet," said the blond haired man in the front of
the group said.

"I don't need to hear you out.  Leave."  Lorne crossed his arms over his
chest, his chin raised in stubbornness.

"Fine.  We wouldn't want to violate the peace of Caritas."  The lawyer
didn't look like a man who had been beaten.  "May I perhaps leave a message
with you?"

"I'm not a message board.  Find someone else to run your errands."

The lawyers left without further comment.  As soon as the door closed behind
them, Lorne sagged against the bar, Marc's hand on his arm in a gesture of

Xander took a few moments to gather his courage and enter into the club.
"Are you all right?" he asked quietly.

Lorne's head shot up.  "Xander?"  He stood away from the bar and approached
Xander, placing his hands on his shoulders.  "How much did you hear?"

The hands on his shoulders were trembling.  "Enough."  He'd tried to be
careful, tried to ensure that he hadn't been followed.  He'd been foolish
when he'd given in to his own weakness and let Lorne accompany him to the
hospital.  That was most likely when Wolfram and Hart had figured out that
Lorne was sheltering him.

It was a good thing that he'd packed after awakening.  He was going to have
to leave and find a new place to hide in LA.  He'd been selfish when he'd
agreed to stay with Lorne.  Wolfram and Hart had made their intentions
clear; you didn't send a pair of Glorv demons out hunting unless you were
damn serious.  He'd ended up getting beat to hell before he was able to make
an escape from them; he wouldn't get that lucky again.  The peace of Caritas
was well known, but so was the treachery of the lawyers.  They'd find away
around it and people could get hurt when they did.  There was no way he was
going to allow innocents to be hurt because of him.  That would be the end
of Caritas and the club meant too much to Lorne and to the community at
large for Xander to allow that to happen.  "I'm leaving."

"No," Lorne said.

"Yes," Xander countered, raising his hands and laying them a top Lorne's.
"It's the only way."

"You heard them.  They won't violate the peace here.  They can't.  The
spells on this place prevent violence from being done by demons and humans
both.  You'll be safe here."

Xander shook his head.  "They'll find a way.  You know this.  I won't have
this place destroyed because of me, not by Wolfram and Hart."

"Why would they destroy Caritas?"  Angel's voice was loud in the quiet of
the empty club.

Xander jumped, as did Lorne and Marc.  He recovered quickly; he'd grown used
to the vampire giving him mild heart attacks all through high school.  So
long as the surprise wasn't followed by an immediate attempt on his life he
was able to shrug it off quickly.

Angel moved forward from the doorway he'd been standing in.  "Is it because
you're a healer?"

The stories Lorne had been telling him were true, then.  Wesley had been
able to put that together fairly quickly and with very little information.
The Englishman must have settled down quite a bit over the years to be able
to reason so well.  "Yes," he answered.

"Do you have any idea what a healer is worth?" Lorne asked.

"Wesley said they were valuable allies."  Angel took a few steps closer,
glancing over at Xander every few seconds.

Xander suddenly understood what a skittish animal went through.  If Angel
kept getting closer to him while pretending to be doing nothing of the sort,
Xander would seriously considering bolting just to see how he'd react.  For
the moment, though, he'd allow Angel to continue his careful, stealthy

"They are.  Most healers are affiliated with a group while they're just
kiddies and grow up under their protection.  Wolfram and Hart wouldn't dare
to try anything with them for fear of incurring retaliation from groups like
the Watchers or the Darson Protectorate."  Lorne smiled down at Xander.
"Xander's on his own and as far as Wolfram and Hart are concerned that means
it's open season on him."  His smile took some of sting out of his bleak
words.  "Not that they're going to get to do any hunting.  I won't let them.
They'll have to go through me, first."

"Which is why I'm leaving," Xander said.  He shook his head when Lorne tried
to object again.  "You can't stop me."

"You're worried about Caritas?" Angel asked.

Xander didn't remember him needing this much explanation before.  Maybe it
was good that Wesley was the brains of the outfit.  "This place is
important."  He looked back at Lorne and reached up to briefly touch his
cheek.  "So are you.  Stay out of this from now on."

"You can't just leave.  Xander, on your own they will find you and no one
will even know you're gone."  Lorne didn't let Xander go.

"I'll be fine.  I've been doing this for a few years."  He'd been alone for
so long, with no one to watch his back that he'd almost forgotten what it
was like to have someone look out for him.  He didn't need anyone else.  It
might not be easy, but he could take care of himself.

"Can't you just leave LA?" Angel asked.

"No."  Xander hesitated.  It couldn't hurt to tell Angel.  Lorne had
promised him that he was one of the good guys.  "I need to meet a tribe of
Lirasin demons.  They'll be moving through LA at some point in the next
week.  I'm not going to miss them."

"Lirasin?  They don't talk to humans."

"They'll talk to me."  That was all the explanation Angel was going to get.
There was answering a question and then there was giving away too much
information.  Xander had had enough of people demanding information from
him.  He now shared only what he wanted to.

"If you have to stay in LA, let me help you."  Angel moved forward a little.
"I've had run-ins with Wolfram and Hart and always survived.  I can keep
you alive, too."

"No."  It was too dangerous.  This was something Xander was going to have to
handle on his own.  He wasn't going to risk taking down anyone else with
him.  Lorne had told him how much good Angel did in the city; he wasn't
going to do anything to jeopardize a force for good.

"You need to hear me out.  I don't know if you've ever encountered Wolfram
and Hart.  They aren't the kind of trouble that you can just avoid.  They're
going to keep looking for you and they'll find you.  If you're on your own,
you won't stand a chance."

Xander really didn't want to hear all his doubts and fears thrown at him.
He was having enough trouble ignoring them as they rattled around in his
head; to hear them spoken aloud was more than he could handle at that

Lorne shook his shoulders gently.  "Xander, listen to me.  I know what
you're thinking and I completely understand, but this might not be the best
way to do this.  Keeping everyone safe is important, but not if there's a
way to keep you alive.  Angel's faced down Wolfram and Hart before, faced
them down and came out all right and with all of his people alive.  I really
want you to think this over.  You don't have to do this alone and I'm not
sure that you can."

Great, now Lorne was channeling the voices in his head.  Xander bowed his
head.  He wasn't honestly sure he could make it on his own and he needed to.
He had to meet with the Lirasin.  He'd worked too hard and too long to set
up this meeting.  He looked up and over at Angel.  He'd never been good at
reading the vampire.  He tried now, though, needing to be sure.  He met
Angel's gaze for the first time.  He read only anxiety and hope in the brown
eyes; there was nothing malicious, no scorn or hatred.

He couldn't do it on his own.  "One condition."

"Anything," Lorne said.

"What is it?" Angel asked.

"No one contacts Sunnydale.  No one at all, in any way."

Angel nodded.  "Done.  I'll spread the word and make sure it happens."

"All right, then."  He staggered a little as Lorne pulled him forward into a
hug.  "Happy?"

"Very."  Lorne let him go and smile at him.  "You've made the right choice.
When are you going to leave?"

"Now.  The sooner I'm gone, the less danger you're in."  Now that he'd made
a decision he felt steadier.  He wasn't as sure as Lorne that he'd made the
right move, but he didn't have many options left and this was the best one
open to him at the moment.  Everyone else might regard things as being
settled but he was reserving judgment.  If this didn't work out he would
jump ship and strike out on his own.  He didn't need Lorne's permission for
that, or Angel's either.

He glanced at Angel.  "I need to get my things."  He stepped away from Lorne
and walked around him to reach the stairs.  He tried to keep his breathing
even, hoping it would help to slow down his heart rate.  He ran up the
stairs, just to cover it a little more.

How could feelings so long buried and ignored still affect him so strongly?
He had to get himself under control or else he wasn't going to last the next
week.  A few seconds looking at Angel and all his hard-won control went
right out the window.  He had worked too hard to become what he was, fought
too long to let it all be destroyed by worried dark eyes.  Sitting down to
pull on his boots, he continued to regulate his breathing.  He could handle
this.  He'd had his own personal vacation in Hell.  He was stronger than
this, stronger than his fear, stronger than his heart and its foolish
dreamings.  He could handle this.  He had to.


Part Nine/?

Angel watched Xander walk toward the stairs, not able to look away.  Xander
was so different that he had a hard time not staring, wanting to catalogue
everything that he saw.  The most striking difference was in the silence -
Xander should have been talking a mile a minute, babbling to fill in the
silence and overpower Lorne's objections.  Angel wanted to hear him talk,
wanted him to fill the air with words and explain what had happened to him,
where he had gone and why he had changed.

He looked back over at Lorne and jumped a little.  The host had silently
crossed the distance between them and was standing right in front of him.
"Yes, Lorne?"

"I'm glad that he's agreed to let you help.  I am.  He needs help and I
think that you and yours are the right people for the job.  I just want to
make sure that you understand something:  if you hurt him, I will make you

Angel blinked.  He'd never imagined Lorne threatening anyone, much less
himself.  "What are you talking about?"

"I know you have history with him.  I don't know what that history is and I
don't want you to tell me.  I'm not really interested in your version."
Lorne's voice was quiet, serious.  "I do know he's afraid of you.  Not as
afraid as he is of Wolfram and Hart, but there's more to his hesitation here
than simply not wanting to get anyone else involved.  I don't want him hurt.
I won't allow it.   Not by someone who is supposed to be helping him."

"I'm not going to hurt him.  Lorne, all I want to do is help him.  Our
history doesn't even have to come up if he doesn't want it to.  If Xander
wants me to act like he's just a client off the street, then I can do that."

"Not just a client off the street," Lorne corrected.  "Better."

"How much are you paying me?" Angel asked.  Lorne's gaze hardened and Angel
raised his hands.  "Kidding, kidding.  I'm sorry I said that - I didn't mean
it.  I'm not going to let anything happen to him.  I swear it, all right?"

"All right.  And keep Cordelia away from him, would you?  She's a fire
cracker and usually I just love that about her, but not if she's going to be
going off in Xander's face."

Angel didn't want to see that either.  "I'll make sure everyone watches
themselves.  He's going to be fine with us.  He's going to be safe."

Lorne nodded.  "All right."  He was stopped from saying anything more by
Xander reappearing in the doorway.

The dark-haired young man was wearing a long coat that Angel recognized from
the walk to the hospital.  He had a battered olive backpack slung over one
shoulder, his hands empty.

"Where's the rest of you stuff?" Angel asked.

"This is it."  Xander walked over to stand in front of Lorne.  "Thank you."

"Hey, you don't owe me thanks.  You don't owe me anything."

Xander shook his head but didn't say anything.  He reached out and took
Lorne's hand for a brief moment and said, "Good-bye."

"Don't say it like that.  I'll be by to visit."

"Too dangerous."

"I visit all the time.  No one will notice a thing, not even your lawyer
friends."  Lorne pulled Xander into a hug.  "This is the right thing to do."

Xander didn't say anything, just smiled and hugged Lorne hard in return.  He
stepped away and faced Angel.  "Ready?"

"Sure.  Ah, we'll have to go through the sewers.  I'm still not sun-proof."

A small nod was his only answer.

All right, then.  Angel glanced at Lorne.  "I'll see you later."

"You've got that right."  The green demon's eyes were serious.

Angel led the way to the back room and held the hatch open to allow Xander
to drop down into the sewers.  He followed quickly, conscious of the need to
stay near Xander.  He wasn't going to be able to protect the other man if he
wasn't right there by him.

The trek through the sewers was awkward.  Angel didn't want to be rude to
Xander; that wasn't a good tactic for getting him to open up.  He knew he
should be talking to him, trying to put him at ease and making sure that he
felt safe.  It was a good idea, but Angel couldn't think of anything to say.
He couldn't talk about the past; that would bring up subjects that would
be too inflammatory.  He didn't know anything about Xander's present, so
that was out as well.  The only thing he really had left to talk about was
himself and he wasn't sure that Xander would care.  They'd never been
friends and he didn't want to do anything to upset whatever balance they
were operating with right now.

He couldn't just stay silent, though.  The sound of their echoing footsteps
was going to make him crazy.  "We're going to a hotel.  The Hyperion.  It's
where we work and I live."  He looked over at Xander in time to catch a nod.
It was better than nothing.  "You know Wesley and Cordelia.  Gunn also
works with us.  You've met him a couple times but I don't think you've ever
been introduced.  He was the one at the hospital with the kids."  Another
nod.  "We've all been working together for about five years now.  They are
great and they will help you in any way they can."

"Doesn't take much help to hide," Xander said quietly.

They reached the underground access to the Hyperion, saving Angel from
having to come up with an answer to that.  He shoved the access panel open
and climbed up.  He turned around to offer Xander a hand up but instead
jumped backwards to avoid the backpack that was tossed upwards to land on
the floor.  A few seconds later the young man levered himself up into the

Xander retrieved his backpack and cocked his head to the side in a posture
of waiting.

Angel shrugged and led the way up to the lobby.  He had no way of predicting
how Xander was going to react to anything.  He had a very good idea of how
Cordelia and the others were going to react and he needed to head off the
explosions.  "I'm going to take a few moments and just let everyone know
you're here."

"I'll wait."  Xander didn't relax at all.  "For a while."

Angel winced.  He wasn't looking forward to the argument with Cordelia.
Xander apparently didn't have high expectations, either.  "I will be back,"
he promised.

Xander didn't react.  He stood in the same place, looking equally ready to
head back down in the sewers as come upstairs.

"Uh.  I'll be back."  Angel gave up on waiting for a reaction and headed
upstairs.  He had no idea what he was going to say.  It would take him a few
minutes to get everyone gathered together and he could use that time to try
to marshal his thoughts.

"Angel!  What happened?"  Cordelia was the one who asked the question, but
there were three other faces wondering the exact same thing.

He jumped a little.  He hadn't expected them to be waiting for him.  Even
Robert was still there.  There went his time to figure out what to say.  "I
talked to Lorne.  He wasn't alone when I got there.  I watched him order a
group of lawyers from Wolfram and Hart out of the club.  They were there
demanding that he turn Xander over to them."

Gunn stood up.  "Lorne didn't do it."

"No, no he didn't.  He ordered them out and they went."

"But there's no guarantee that they'll go the next time."  Gunn shook his
head.  "We can't leave Xander there.  Caritas has some wicked protections
set up, I'll admit that, but it won't hold out against Wolfram and Hart if
they get determined."

"That's what Xander said."  Angel quickly repeated everything that had
happened.  "So I told Xander that I'd...we'd protect him."

"What?  No."  Cordelia shook her head.  "He can just leave town.  He can
meet up with the demons somewhere else."

"I don't think so," Wesley said.  "If he thinks the Lirasin will talk to
him, then they might, but only under certain circumstances.  If he attempts
to contact them in another place or another manner, they may well rebuff
him.  I've never heard of them meeting with humans before, but it could
happen.  I will admit that I don't understand how Xander could convince them
to meet him, but then I don't understand much about Xander now."

"Cordelia, he is in real danger."  Angel held up a hand to stop her
protests.  "If we don't protect him, then he'll take his chances on his own
and I'm not willing to let that happen."

"How dangerous could a healer be if Wolfram and Hart got a hold of him?"
Cordelia asked.

"Cordy!"  Gunn shook his finger at her.  "Listen to yourself.  The guy
doesn't want to work for them.  They'll be forcing him into it.  That's no
kind of life for a person.  Besides, we don't want to let Wolfram and Hart
get into the habit of winning, do we?"

"Fine.  He can stay."

"There's something else," Angel said.  "Lorne's really protective of him.
He doesn't want Xander to get hurt by Wolfram and Hart...or by us.  If you
yell at Xander, he's going to be upset and I'm worried that Xander might
take off."

"I always yell at Xander.  Even before he turned into a vicious little
coward I yelled at him.  I'm supposed to change years of tradition because
Lorne doesn't want his feelings hurt?"


She threw her hands up in the air.  "Fine.  I'll bite my tongue and avoid
him.  Happy?"

Well, no.  He was still worried that Cordy would manage to send Xander
fleeing out onto the streets, but he knew he'd gotten all the promises he
would.  "I'll go get him."  He walked back out of the lobby and heard
footsteps behind him.  He turned around and found that they'd all gotten up
to follow him.  "Stay!" he ordered.  "You can see him when I bring him up."
He waited until they all started walking back to the center of the lobby
before heading back down to the basement.

Xander was in the same pose as when Angel left.  He watched Angel approach
without any emotion on his face.  He didn't ask any questions, he just
cocked his head to the side and waited.

"I talked to them," Angel said.  "They know you're coming.  Do you want to
go up now?"

The barest hint of a smile crossed Xander's face.  "No."  Despite his
answer, he walked toward Angel.

Angel turned and led the way back up to the lobby.  He was aware of Xander
behind him with every step.  The other man moved more quietly than Angel
remembered; there was no dancing about, no detours to check out the halls
and rooms that they passed on the way up.  He was self-contained in a way
he'd never imagined Xander capable of being.

He resisted the temptation to take a back way up to the rooms and bypass the
lobby altogether.  He walked into the lobby and saw that Wesley, Gunn,
Cordelia and Robert were all sitting on the lush couch in the center of the
room facing him.  He glanced back over his shoulder at Xander.  Cool brown
eyes stared back at him.

Deciding to just ignore the last time they'd all met, Angel waited until
Xander had fully entered the room and then said, "Xander, this is Gunn, and
over there is Robert.  He's a friend.  You already know Wesley and

Xander nodded cautiously but didn't say anything.

Cordelia shook her head but blessedly remained silent.

Gunn broke the silence.  "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," Xander answered, his voice low.  "The kids in the ER?"

"They're good.  Better than good.  They were excited to get home without
having to see a doctor."

Xander nodded but said nothing more.

Angel could see both Wesley and Robert were itching to ask questions but he
didn't think now was the best time for it.  He turned his back on them and
faced Xander squarely.
"Would you like to pick out a room?"

Xander nodded again.

Angel shot a warning look at the others and led Xander up to the second
floor.  "There are lots of rooms here.  We've gradually gotten most of this
fixed up.  The cleanest rooms are on the second floor.  It's where I live,
where other people sleep when they stay here."  He waited.  He wanted Xander
to stay on this floor, wanted him to be close so if he needed anything at
all Angel would know right away.

"Anyone else staying here now?" Xander glanced backwards at the lobby, but
everyone else was out of sight.


"This floor is fine."

Ignoring the relief that surged through him, Angel led the way to the wing
in which he'd made his own home.  He chose a room a few doors down from his
own.  Far enough away to give Xander some privacy, but close enough so that
Angel could protect him if necessary.  "How's this one?" he asked, opening
the door.

Xander didn't look at it for more than a few seconds.  "Fine."  He walked
past Angel and put his pack down on the bed.

"Do you need anything?"  Angel was reluctant to walk away.

"No."  Xander looked up and met his gaze.  "Thank you."

"I'm going to head downstairs and get to work.  If you need anything at all,
let me know."  He held Xander's gaze, not wanting to look away so long as he
had that connection.

Xander nodded.

"You're welcome to come down."  He didn't want Xander to stay in his room
all day.

"Thank you," Xander repeated.

Angel wasn't sure that the other man believed him.  "I know things didn't go
well before, but it'll be different now.  I promise.  You are welcome here."

There was some warmth in the brown eyes now, carefully hidden but definitely

"Maybe," Xander said.

Angel decided to quit while he was ahead.  "I'll see you later."  He left
the room, closing the door behind him.  He headed back down the lobby and
was surprised by how very much he hoped that Xander would come downstairs.
He remembered Xander vividly, remembered his humor and energy and
never-ending loyalty and the way his smile lit up his entire face.  He
wanted to learn about this stranger that wore Xander Harris's face, find out
how he had changed and what had changed him.  He wanted to see if maybe he
could get that warmth to show in his eyes again...but then he was downstairs
facing questions from his friends that he couldn't answer.  He'd return to
the topic of Xander later, hopefully when Xander came down stairs.


Part Ten/?

Xander stood by the bed, unmoving as he slowly counted to one hundred.
After he finished, he walked swiftly over to the door to his room and opened
it in a single movement, looking up and down the hall.  Empty.

He relaxed.  He wasn't sure what to expect from Angel and the others.  He
wasn't sure if they'd give him any privacy or if they'd watch him every
moment.  For right now it looked like Angel was going to be true to the
promises he'd made.  Feeling inexplicably warmed by that discovery, Xander
quietly closed the door and locked it as well.  He knew the door wouldn't
keep Angel out.  Hell, it wouldn't keep Cordelia out if she was determined
but he liked the feeling of security it gave him.

Turning back to the room, he looked it over for the first time.  He'd told
Angel it was fine and it was fine.  So long as it had four walls and a roof
it was perfect.  The furnishing were old but in good condition and
everything was clean, even the ancient bathroom.  An overstuffed chair sat
in the corner and the bed looked warm.  It wasn't the same as Lorne's
sumptuous room, but it was better than what he was used to.
Xander pulled the drapes shut and didn't turn on a light.  He didn't need
the light.  He opened his pack.  He didn't unpack it; that wouldn't be
prudent.  He settled for pulling out his cell phone and walking over to the
chair.  He settled down carefully but the old piece of furniture held.  He
dialed a number by feel and waited for an answer.  It was daylight so he had
a chance.  He was feeling very unsettled and he wanted the comfort of a
trusted friendly voice.

After a few rings the other end picked up.  //Xander?  Is that you?//

Xander relaxed as the deep voice soothed him.  "Who else?"

//What's happened?  Are you all right?  Has Angel done anything?//

Maybe leaving a message the night before hadn't been the best idea.  "I'm
all right.  I'm fine.  No one has done any thing yet.  You don't have to

//And you don't have to lie to me.//

Xander smiled involuntarily.  "How could you tell?"

//You talk too much when you lie.//

"I'll have to watch that."

//Don't try to distract me.  I want to know what's happening.  I thought
that you were just going to hang about with Lorne and wait for those Lirasin
snobs to show up.//

"That's what I planned.  Things never seem to go to plan for me.  Angel is
friends with Lorne and I ran into all of them at Caritas."

//How did they react?//

Xander hesitated.  He didn't want to repeat any of the things that Cordelia
had said to him.  It was bad enough that the words were still rattling
around in his head.  He didn't want them in his ears again.

He'd waited too long to answer.  Obscene words poured through the phone in a
low angry voice.  //I'll kill them.//

"No!  How else were they supposed to react?  You know what they think of

//Maybe the time has come to change that.//

"How're things in Sunnyhell?"

//Don't change the subject.//

"Try and stop me."

//Xander.  If you think I won't drive up there tonight, you're very

"I know."  Xander sighed.  If he tried to hide anything else, he just might
carry through on the threat.  "There are a few other things.  I want you to
promise me that you'll stay in Sunnydale.  I need you there.  I can't do any
thing here if I'm distracted because I don't know everyone is safe."

//No promises.  Now talk.//

Xander quickly gave the bare details of his run ins with Wolfram and Hart.
"That's why I want you in Sunnydale.  I don't think they can connect me to
anyone there, but who knows what kind of resources they have?  Stay there
and keep your eyes open."

//Bastards.  I'll -.//

"No, you'll protect Dawn and the others."  Xander smiled.  Here was a
distraction that couldn't be resisted.  "How is Dawn?"

//She's terrific.//  The anger was fading fast, replaced by indulgence.
//She's so excited about graduating.//  Gloating entered his voice.  //She
broke up with her boyfriend.  Decided the stupid bugger wasn't good enough
for her.//

"Excellent."  Xander was pleased.  He hadn't liked what he'd heard about the
latest boyfriend either.  Of course, he wasn't in love with Dawn so he
wasn't quite as excited, but he was still glad of the news.  "How are the

//The same.  Buffy's bursting with pride over Dawn.  They all are.  Willow
and Tara are thinking about leaving the Hellmouth for a little while to do
some training with some people Rupert knows in England.  They're getting to
the point where he can't teach them any more and they're too powerful
together to leave untrained.//

"But they're all OK, right?"

//They're fine.//  A pause.  //Are you coming to the graduation?//


//We could keep you to the back.  They'd never know you were there.//

"I can't."  He wanted to see Dawn graduate.  He wanted to see all of them in
the flesh instead of depending on memory and photographs.  He wanted...but he
couldn't.  He wasn't ready to go back to Sunnydale and face the pain and the
hatred and the blame and fear.  He couldn't do it.  He wasn't strong enough
for that.  He wasn't sure he ever would be.  "Maybe I'll send a gift."

//Do you think it would all right if I gave her a car?//  He backed off,
giving Xander space as he moved back to his favorite topic.  //Every girl
needs a car.//

"Do whatever you like.  You always do."

//Not always.  I'm not up there kicking ass, am I?//

"I need you where you are."

//Whatever you need, pet.  You know that.  Maybe after graduation we can
ourselves another visit?  I'll take myself away for a few days when things
are quiet and meet up with you.//

"I'd like that."  He sighed before he could catch himself and stifle it.

//Are you sure you'll be all right?//

"I have to be, don't I?  I just didn't think about what it would be like to
see them again."  He hesitated.  "To see him again."

//He hasn't done anything, has he?//

"No.  No, he's been...nice.  Eager to help."


Xander smiled.  "How did I know you'd say that?"

//Because he is.  Seriously, Xander.  You're sure you're all right with
this?  We can
figure something else out.//

"I'll be fine."  Xander had to be.  He wasn't willing to bring anyone from
Sunnydale to LA, not with Wolfram and Hart paying too much attention to him.

//Yeah.  Somehow I think you will be, pet.//

What exactly did he mean by that?  Xander wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"I'm getting kind of hungry.  I think I'll try going downstairs."

//If any of them give you any problems, you call me.  I'll be up to teach
them manners.//

"No, you won't.  I'll talk to you later, Spike."

//Call me soon, Xander.  Be safe.//

"You too."  Xander hung up before Spike could try to talk himself into
coming up.  He stayed curled in the chair a little while longer.  He hadn't
just been playing with Spike's mother-hen instincts when he'd claimed
hunger; he did need to go downstairs and find something to eat.  He wanted
to take a few minutes out to think, first.

Spike was the only one in Sunnydale he still spoke to.  None of the others
knew about it; it was a secret they kept strictly between themselves.  To
his surprise, Spike had become a good friend, the one he turned to when
things became too much for him to handle on his own.  After the shock of
becoming friends, very little else about the vampire could rock him.  Not
even the realization that Spike had fallen in love with Dawn fazed him.

He stood up and shook his head.  There was no reason for him to be thinking
about that right now.  Unrequited love had nothing to do with him.  It
didn't matter what long-buried emotions seeing Angel was bringing back.  He
didn't have anything to do with love any more.  All of that had been slowly
torn out of him long ago.

He turned off his phone and replaced it in his pack.  He also took off his
jacket.  He didn't need any of the items he had hidden within it.  The only
person he worried about attacking him was Cordelia but she'd only use words,
not anything physical.  Even after reassuring himself on that point, it took
him several minutes to talk himself into actually opening the door.  He was
used to moving unnoticed through an anonymous crowd.  He knew when he went
downstairs that he would end up being the center of attention, surrounded by
people who knew him.  He didn't like attention, didn't like to be noticed.

It was the rumbling of his stomach that finally sent him out of the room.
He hadn't eaten yet and after the self-healing he'd performed his body was
demanding fuel.  He walked slowly down the hall, listening carefully as he
approached the staircase.  He could hear voices down below, raised but not
in anger since there was laughter intermixed with the words.  That stopped
him faster then anger would have.  He was used to anger; he knew how to
ignore it and not let it touch him.  If he went downstairs, the laughter
would stop.  He didn't want to ruin anyone's good time.

The laughter continued and Xander was frozen with indecision.  He thought it
was Gunn and Wesley.  He didn't want to make them stop laughing.  Lorne had
been telling him stories about them.  They worked hard and risked everything
in order to make sure that good stayed slightly ahead of evil.  He wasn't
going to do anything to end their laughter.  Wrapping his arms around his
middle, he leaned against the wall and waited for it to end.

It seemed to go on and on.  So much laughter.  So much happiness while
surrounded by darkness.  Xander was glad for them, glad to hear it.  It was
the only thing that made sure that the darkness couldn't ever win.  At the
same time, the sound only made him more aware of how lonely he was.  When
was the last time he'd laughed that loud, laughed with another person like
that?  He could remember doing it all the time in...

He shook his head hard.  He wasn't going to think about that.  Not now.  The
laughter slowly ended and after relative quiet had reigned for a few
minutes, Xander stood up straight and began walking down the stairs.

Wesley was seated a low padded bench.  Gun lay on the bench, his head in
Wesley's lap.  A book lay forgotten on the bench beside him as he ran his
fingers over the smooth skin of Gunn's scalp.  Off to the side, Cordelia sat
behind a desk, going over a stack of papers.  He didn't see Angel.

Xander continued walking down the stairs, just waiting to be noticed.

"What do you want?" Cordelia asked.  "I thought you were supposed to be

Xander decided not to ask her any questions.  He looked at Gunn.  "Kitchen?"

"Are you hungry?"  Gunn started to sit up.

"Don't."  Xander held out his hand.

"It's no trouble."  Gunn got up.  "Let me show you the way."

Xander hadn't wanted to interrupt.  "I'll be fine."

"Don't worry about it."

There was nothing he could do except follow the taller man.  The kitchen
wasn't very far away, set back from the lobby.  Massive stoves and ovens and
sinks filled the room with stainless steel shine.

"I know it's a little intimidating.  Just remember that you only have to use
one burner at a time and it gets more manageable.  Now, Angel's stuff is
pretty obvious.  Just stay away from anything red and you'll be fine."  Gunn
opened up the fridge.  "What are you feeling like?"

Xander didn't want to be waited on.  He was intruding too much as it was.
"I can do it."

"Uh-huh.  No offense, but you're too skinny to be a good cook.  Maybe if I
make something it'll stick to your bones a little better."  Gunn began to
pull things out of the refrigerator.

"You don't-"

"I want to."  Gunn turned around and pinned him with his gaze.  "You just
sit there and
wait for me to finish."

Xander gave up.  He wasn't going to be able to talk him out of it.  He
leaned against the counter and watched Gunn assemble five sandwiches.
"Angel will eat, too?"

"Nope.  Two of them are for you."  He didn't wait for Xander to protest or
accept; he just slid the plate with two sandwiches in front of him.  He held
the other plates in his hands.  "Come on.  Time to feed the animals."

This was a bad idea, but Xander didn't have time to protest.  The only thing
he could do was carry his plate along as he followed Gunn back into the

"Lunch!" Gunn announced.

Cordelia looked at Xander.  "I've lost my appetite."  She put down the
papers in her hands.  "I'll be back later."  She picked up her purse and
left without another word.

Gunn stared after her.  "Um."

There was nothing to say.  Xander understood her anger and disdain.  He
couldn't blame her for it.  "I'll go upstairs."


"No."  Wesley echoed Gunn's protest.  "She's gone.  There's no need for you
to leave as well."

Xander waited for Gunn to sit down beside Wesley, and then settled down on a
bench as far from them as possible.  He could be sociable.  Up to a point.
He concentrated on eating his sandwich and not letting them catch him
staring as they leaned companionably together, laughing and talking and
easily making their own world.

He'd give anything to have that with someone.  Anything at all.

Part Eleven/?

Angel walked up the stairs from the basement, shrugging back into his shirt
and buttoning it up as he went.  He'd gone downstairs intending to work out
and try to calm himself down.  He couldn't get his thoughts to stop circling
around and around but perhaps if he wore himself out a bit then he'd finally
be able to think about something new.

He'd given up on physical activity after an hour.  He was tired and
irritated and his thoughts were still caught in their new favorite paths.
What had happened to Xander?  What made him change so much?  What was he
like now?

He'd always had a hard time keeping his mind off of Xander.  Even back in
Sunnydale he had trouble controlling his thoughts about the young man.  The
sound of his laughter, the way he squinted just a little when he smiled, his
determined loyalty and endearing nervousness...Angel had spent far too much
time dwelling on all these things while he lived in Sunnydale and even after
when he was in Los Angeles.  Time had helped a little with the problem.
After Xander had disappeared and his name stopped coming up in normal
conversation Angel had been able to forget about him a little, but that was
all over now.  Ever since Xander had resurfaced, Angel hadn't been able to
think about anything else.

He opened the door that led to the lobby and froze.  Xander was there,
sitting on a bench off to one side.  He hadn't expected him to come out of
his room.  Several yards away, Wes and Gunn were play-fighting over whose
turn it was to do the dishes.  Gunn had pinned the Englishman down on
another bench and was apparently trying to get him to agree to do the chores
by tickling him into submission.

Angel slowly walked into the lobby.  He knew his presence wouldn't slow Wes
or Gunn down; ever since they'd revealed their relationship to their
friends, the two men had been openly affectionate.  He was more worried
about startling Xander.  As he came closer, he realized that Xander wasn't
paying any attention to him at all.

All of the younger man's attention was focused on Wes and Gunn.  He watched
the mock-battle intently, not missing a single movement or peal of laughter.
When Angel came a little closer and was able to see Xander's eyes.  Wide
open, they revealed undisguised longing and envy.

Jealousy shot through Angel with surprising power.  Which man did Xander
want?  Wesley?  Had he nursed a crush for the former Watcher for all these
years?  Or was it Gunn, an instant attraction forged when they met in the
hospital?  Anger and despair were quick to follow the jealousy.

Angel shook his head.  What was this?  He had no reason, no right to feel
those emotions.  Telling himself that didn't stop him from continuing to
watch Xander with avid interest.  He still wanted to know which man it was
that had so captivated the dark-haired man.
Gunn continued to demand Wesley's surrender while he tickled him.  Xander
never looked away from them and Angel never stopped watching Xander.  He
soon realized that Xander wasn't watching one man or the other with that
terrible depth of wanting in his eyes:  he was watching both of them.  He
was watching them play together and just be together.

It was with great relief that he realized that Xander wasn't envious of Gunn
or Wesley; he was envious of them both and the relationship they shared.  He
felt sudden kinship with the young man.  He felt the same envy when he
looked at his friends, made the same wish that he could have someone with
whom to share his life and his love.  He had been careful not to let them
know, not wanting to intrude in anyway on their happiness.
He realized at that moment he was intruding on Xander's emotions.  There was
no way the other man would want people to know how he felt.  Angel backed up
a few steps so he wasn't quite so far into the lobby and then entered the
room again, this time taking care to scuff his feet on the floor and make
enough noise to announce his presence.

Xander immediately jerked his gaze away from the two wrestling men and
stared down at his plate, grabbing the remaining portion of sandwich that
lay there and taking a large bite.  After doing so, he looked up and over at
Angel.  His eyes were blank once more, revealing nothing of what he had been

"You made lunch and didn't save any for me?" Angel said.

Gunn stopped tickling Wesley for a moment and looked over at the vampire.
"I barely get paid enough to go out and smack demons around.  I sure don't
get paid enough to feed you."

Wesley took advantage of his lover's distraction and with a quick moved
dumped him on the floor.  "If you will remember, I am the boss.  I am the
one who pays you."

Leaning back on his elbows, Gunn grinned up at him.  "That's right.  So why
did I make you lunch?"

"Because you know how much I like the idea of you in a chef's hat."  Wesley
looked up and saw Xander, and Angel could see him realize that that the
other man was in the room.  He sat up and pulled on his proper English
attitude like a well-worn suit.  "Were the sandwiches all right?"

Xander nodded.  "Thank you."

"Do you want anything else?" Angel asked.  He thought back to the boy he'd
known.  "We've probably got some candy or soda hidden in the back."

Xander looked back over at him.  The barest hint of a smile touched his
lips.  "No.  Thanks."

"The rooms here don't have very many amenities," Wesley said.  "Is there
anything you'd like to help pass the time?  We could drag a television up,
or we have quite a few books here."

"Like the man wants to sit and read about scaly-assed demons."  Gunn got up
off the floor.  "Bet I could find you a video game system if you wanted."

The offers of sources of amusement didn't put Xander at ease.  Instead, he
seemed to curl in on himself in almost a defensive posture.  "I'm fine.
Thank you."  He stood up abruptly and raised his empty plate.  "Kitchen?"

"I'll take care of it," Gunn said.

"I'll do it."  Xander held the plate closer.

"OK.  Just put it in the sink, then."  He watched Xander exit the lobby.
"If he ever says a complete sentence I'll probably have a heart attack."

"This isn't right."  Wesley turned toward Angel.  "He isn't like Xander.  I
used to daydream about the day he would finally stop talking, but I never
imagined it would be anything like this.  This is awful."

"I think he's still the Xander we knew," Angel said.  "Take away the
constant stream of jokes and you have this very quiet man.  I wonder what
happened to him.  It must have been drastic to silence him."

Xander's return cut off their speculation.  He walked slowly into the room,
his movements cautious rather than fearful.  He hesitated once he fully
entered the lobby, obviously torn between going back upstairs or returning
to his seat on the bench.

"Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" Angel asked.  "Just about
Wolfram and Hart and the meeting you've got set up.  I want to make sure
that we get you to the Lirasin on time and in one piece."  He was grasping
at straws but he didn't want Xander to disappear back upstairs.  He had no
idea when he might see the other man again if he let that happen.

"All right."  Xander took a seat on the far bench once more.  "There isn't
much to tell."

"How much do Wolfram and Hart know about you?"

"They believe I'm a healer.  I have no protection.  That's all they need."
Xander looked down at his hands.

"They think you're a healer?"  Wesley leaned forward.  "Xander, you are a
healer, aren't you?"

Xander shrugged.  "I don't know what else to call myself."

"How did Wolfram and Hart find out about you?"  Angel wanted to know
everything he could so that he'd be able to better protect the young man.

"One of their people saw me heal someone.  They took an interest."

"You just go around healing people?  Man, how come you don't have people
following you around all the time?"  Gunn looked at Xander, but the other
man didn't look up at him.

"I don't, not in public anyway.  It was chance, a friend hurt in a public
place and it couldn't wait until we got somewhere private."  He swallowed
hard and shifted in his seat.

"Are you all right?" Angel asked.  "Do you need anything?  A drink?"  He
didn't want Xander to take off.  He'd get him anything it took to keep in
the room and talking.

"I'll get you a soda."  Gunn jumped to his feet.  He was half way across the
lobby before Xander could open his mouth to object.

Xander shook his head as he watched Gunn go.  "Worse than Lorne," he

Wesley laughed.  "You haven't seen him at his worst."  He paused for a
moment.  "How did you meet Lorne?  I don't remember you being a fan of

"Caritas is a sanctuary.  I needed a safe place and it was close by.  Lorne
took an interest and..." he shrugged.  "Here I am."

That sounded like Lorne.  Whether it was just his personality or a result of
his ability to read people, the green demon had a tendency to be a bit nosy,
involving himself in the lives of others especially if he thought the other
person needed help.  Angel could see him wanting to ease some of the feeling
of loneliness and melancholy that surrounded Xander.  No doubt Lorne's
mother hen instincts had kicked in and the rest was history.

Gunn returned with a pair of cans of soda.  He handed one to Xander.  "Is
this kind OK?"

"Yes."  Xander opened the can and took a small sip.

"How about the Lirasin?" Wesley asked.  "I've never heard of a human having
contact with them."

"I can't."  Xander twisted the soda can around and around.

"What, you were sworn to secrecy?" Gunn asked.

"No.  But I can't."  Xander looked up and met Angel's gaze.  "I won't."

Angel had a feeling that if he started pushing, Xander would retreat
completely and he might not come back.  "All right," he said, looking over
at Gunn and Wesley.  They nodded, signaling that they would back off as

"Xander, I was wondering if I might ask you a few questions about being a
Wesley's tone was diffident, not pushing in any way.

"Why?"  Xander's tone wasn't challenging.

"I don't know much about healers.  Just what I've read in books, but I've
discovered that books don't always contain complete or accurate information.
I just want to learn."

Xander nodded slowly.  "All right."  He watched Wesley patiently, waiting
for the questions to begin.

Wesley sat up straighter, becoming intent on the hunt for knowledge.  "How
do you heal someone?  What do you do in order to begin and finish the

"You couldn't start with the easy questions?"  A smile crossed Xander's face
so quickly Angel wasn't sure that he'd seen it at all.  "I can't explain it.
If I know something is wrong with a person, if I concentrate on them I can
feel what is wrong with them.  All I have to do then is focus on
transferring energy from me to where the wrongness is and they're healed."

"But how do you feel what is wrong?  How do you transfer that energy?"

"How do you breathe?  How does your right hand rise when you think about it
and want it to?  I can't describe it; I can only do it."

"It's like when you asked me what it was like to move between my human and
vampire guises," Angel broke in.  "I can't tell you how to do it.  I just do

Wesley shook his head.  "I understand.  I'll admit that I'd be happier with
a detailed description, but I do understand."  He smiled a little.  "One of
the frustrations of being ordinary."

Xander ducked his head, looking back down at his hands.  "Ask Gunn if you're
ordinary," he suggested quietly.

Gunn laughed and wrapped his arms around Wesley.  "There's nothing ordinary
about you," he said, taking advantage of Wesley's surprise to steal a kiss.

Angel sat back a little.  He shared Wesley's surprise.  He wouldn't have
expected Xander to notice the depth of the two men's relationship, how very
much in love they were.  The boy he remembered from Sunnydale wouldn't have
realized how connected they were.  He also never would have said anything of
the sort back then.  There wasn't anything joking in his words; he was
obviously embarrassed by speaking the truth in so blunt a fashion.

He could see Xander becoming more and more uncomfortable as the silence
stretched.  He didn't want the discomfort to drive him back into his room.
"So, have you been to LA often?" he asked, scrabbling for any topic at all.

"Not often."  Xander started to relax.  "Maybe four or five times.  I like
to visit Lorne when I can."

"Lorne is a good friend," Angel said.

"Yes," Xander agreed.  He smiled briefly and Angel was pleased to see that
smile stay for more than a flickering second.  Greatly daring, Angel tried
sharing that smile when Xander glanced at him.  Xander's face slowly relaxed
into expressionless lines, but not before he met Angel's eyes with more
warmth than Angel had seen him display so far.

"Where have you spent most of your time?" Gunn asked.  "I've never really
been anywhere except LA."

"All over," Xander said.  "I've crossed the country a few times.  If you
name the town, I've probably been there."

"Where are you living now?" Angel asked.

"All over," Xander repeated.

"Yeah, but where are you living now?" Gunn persisted.

"I don't," Xander said.  "No specific place.  I keep moving.  Sometimes I
stay for a little while with friends."

Angel didn't want to pursue that subject any more, even though he really
wanted to learn more about Xander's life.  He could sense the dark-haired
man withdrawing again and knew that he wasn't going to talk about his life
any longer.  He was going to come back to it, though.  The thought of Xander
endlessly wandering the country, never pausing or finding a home was
upsetting.  He'd done the same thing himself and Xander didn't deserve that.
He should have a home, a place to go to and feel safe and loved.

Xander was shifting around more and more.  He looked like a man who was
trying to get up the will to leave, or find a way to leave gracefully.

Angel didn't want him to go.  He couldn't think of any other things to talk
about that would draw Xander's interest.  He already knew about Angel
Investigations from Lorne, he didn't live in Los Angeles so talking about
news in the city was out, and they didn't have any mutual friends...except
from a long time ago.

He had no other ideas, so..."Xander?"

Xander looked back at him, one eyebrow raised.

"Do you want to hear anything about Sunnydale?"

The dark-haired man looked back down at his hands.  "No."

"OK.  I just thought you might wonder."

"Willow and Tara are in England, training with Giles.  They'll all be back
in a week for Dawn's graduation.  Buffy is teaching self-defense in the
community and giving visiting Watchers field lessons.  She and her boyfriend
are living together.  Spike is still in town.  It's still the Hellmouth."
Xander's voice was utterly neutral as he recited facts about his former

"How did you know all that?" Wesley asked.

Xander shook his head and didn't look up.  "Are you going to Dawn's

"Yes," Angel said.  "Are you?"

"No."  Xander stood up.  "I'm going to pull a Xander."  He walked out of the
lobby without looking back.

Angel watched him go, silently cursing.  He should have known better than to
ask.  He should have started prattling about the weather or hair gel or
anything except the past.

"Huh," Wesley said, leaning back against Gunn.

"What?" Angelo asked, eager to be distracted from his self-blame.

"Xander obviously has a source of information back in Sunnydale."

"It could be almost anyone," Angel said.  "Or given his new connections in
the demon community, anything.  The nonhumans in Sunnydale keep pretty close
tabs on Buffy and the others."

"Yes," Wesley agreed.  "But close enough to know about the phrase 'pulling a

Angel froze.  It wasn't like it was popular California slang.  Only those
worst hurt by Xander's actions used it:  Buffy, Willow and Cordelia, for the
most part.  A person who was merely keeping tabs on the Slayer and her
friends wouldn't know that.

Who was Xander talking to back in Sunnydale?


Part Twelve/?

Xander closed the door quietly behind himself.  He didn't slam doors or
stomp or yell.  He knew that none of that did any good.  Neither did talking
or crying or begging or pleading.  He'd learned that lesson long ago and
learned it well.  The only way to fix a situation was through action.

His quietness wasn't an indication of calmness.  He was restless and unhappy
and pissed.  He didn't like talking about Sunnydale.  He liked thinking
about it even less.  He didn't want to think about the people who lived
there and loved there and continued on with their lives happily there.  He
hated thinking about everything he'd had and lost and could never have

Locking the door with the same quiet economy of movement, he walked further
into the room and pulled off his clothes, tossing them onto the bed and
walking naked into the bathroom.  He turned on the water in the shower and
waited for it to run hot.  He walked back to the bedroom and picked up his
pack, putting it down on the bed and searching through it until he found his
soap.  He carried it into the bathroom.  The water still wasn't hot so he
turned and faced the mirror.  He didn't meet his own eyes.  He didn't feel
like looking at what he knew he would see there.  Instead, he looked over
his jaw, noticing that he'd need to shave after his shower.

He also looked over his body, pleased to see that the self-healing he'd done
had held.  While the healings he performed on other people were permanent
and unchanging, those he did to himself weren't quite so solid.  He quite
often drew on his own life energy when performing healings; self-taught, he
still didn't know how to keep his own reserves separate from the energy he
could pull and hold from plants and other living beings.  When he had a
recently healed injury and he healed another person, he could accidentally
undo the work he'd performed on himself, reopening wounds.  It had happened
when he'd gone to the children's ward at the hospital.  He'd need more
energy than he'd anticipated and had called upon his own reserves as well,
undoing all the healing he'd done to repair the damage done by Wolfram and
Hart's demons.  He'd fixed himself again and it seemed to have stuck this

He checked the water again and it was warm.  He climbed inside and stepped
under the spray with a tired sigh.  He let the hot water pound down upon him
and wash his stress and thoughts down the drain until he was nearly boneless
with relaxation.  He gathered his will together enough to wash his hair and

He got out of the shower and wrapped a towel around himself.  He used
another to wipe the mirror clear of steam and shaved quickly.  When he was
done, he stared at himself once more, this time meeting his own gaze.  He
knew what he saw in the mirror.  He wondered what others saw when they
looked at him.  He supposed that Cordelia saw a betraying enemy, Gunn saw a
person who needed help, Wesley saw a puzzle to be solved and Angel...Xander
didn't know what Angel saw and he had no business wondering, either.  It
didn't matter what Angel saw.  In a week's time, Xander would have talked to
the Lirasin and he'd be on his way, leaving Los Angeles and California
behind.  He knew he'd return; he'd miss Lorne and Spike too much to stay
away forever.  He wouldn't see Angel again, though.  He'd take far more care
in the future and avoid everyone connected to the vampire.

His own reflection mocked him.  He had no business wondering what Angel saw,
but he could still see that wonder in his own gaze.  He sneered at himself.
He knew exactly what Angel saw:  a charity case.  A way to redeem himself.
Not only would he be helping the hopeless, but he'd be helping the hopeless
that he didn't even like.  That had to count for double points or something.

He shook his head.  There was nothing else for Angel to see.  Short dark
hair, tired eyes, a face with lines on it no amount of healing would ever
remove.  With his slender frame he looked like a stressed out teenager all
over again, and he had no illusions about how attractive he'd been back in
high school.

Xander turned away from the mirror and walked out into the bedroom.  He
didn't need to look at his reflection any more.

He hesitated.  He felt like going out, feeling the sun on his face and
letting the act of moving quiet down his brain and hopefully drive away the
thoughts that were driving him mad.  He knew of several parks near by where
he could go and sit on the grass, maybe lean against a tree and let the soft
rhythms of living things surround him, heal him and soothe him.  Food and
sleep could help him to rebuild his strength, but nothing worked as well as
soaking up strength from nature.

He could go.  There had to be more than one entrance to the building.  He
could slip out a back door or even a window if the walls looked right.  No
more questioning eyes on him, no more judgments hidden behind pursed lips.
He could rest and rebuild strength and lose himself in feeling a connection
to a greater whole.

With a shake of his head, Xander tossed his towel over the back of a chair
and pulled a pair of sleeping pants out of his bag.  He could go, but he
wouldn't.  Being restless wasn't a good reason to place himself in danger.
Even in the daylight he'd attract too many demons.  They'd be drawn by the
energy he held within himself.  Not all of them would be seeking to hurt
him, but he didn't want to risk endangering innocents by drawing the
nonhuman side of life to them.  He also didn't need to alert Wolfram and
Hart to the fact that he'd moved.  He didn't think they knew that he'd gone
with Angel; taking the route through the sewer should have thrown them.
Going outside was a perfect way to let them find him again and that defeated
the purpose of the move.

Xander also knew that if Angel and the others found out he was missing
they'd go looking for him.  He could count on Gunn to be out looking for him
and it wouldn't be fair to worry them and drag them out of the hotel.  Gunn
was obviously happy to be with Wesley and Xander couldn't ruin that.  He
thought that he might even hurt Gunn's feelings by taking off.  It was
strange to think that he could do that.  And Angel...

No.  He had no business thinking about Angel.  Xander pulled the covers back
on the bed and crawled inside.  He couldn't go outside and he wasn't going
to accomplish anything by pacing around the room and making himself crazy.
He was still feeling some of the effects from overextending himself when
healing the kids in the pediatrics ward.  If he couldn't go outside and bask
in the life of plants, then the next best thing was eating and sleeping.
Thanks to Gunn, he'd already taken care of eating.  He was always short on
sleep.  Curling up in a warm little ball, he pulled the covers over his head
and breathed deeply, evenly, waiting for sleep to come to him.


"Just say their names."  Brown eyes stared at him.  "That's all you have to
do, Xander.  Just say their names and they will be all better."

Xander stared at the people in front of him.  Jesse's features shifted from
demon to human and then back again.  Beside him, Joyce rubbed her temples in
an endless search for a relief from the pain in her head.  Behind them were
so many other people he'd known:  Larry and Joan and Kevin and Marie and
Steven and...the list went on and on, all the people that he'd known and
lost in Sunnydale.  They all stared back at him, pleading clear in their

"Please, Xander."  Jesse fought to keep his human guise to the fore.  "Help
me.  I don't want this.  You've got to help me."

"It hurts," Joyce said.  "It hurts.  Xander, can't you help?  Can't you
comfort me?"

A hundred whispered pleas came from the others behind them, all making the
same request.

"Just say my name," Jesse said.  "That's all, man.  Just say my name and
everything goes back to the way it used to be."

Joyce nodded.  "Just say our names.  It's so easy, Xander.  So easy and you
can take away the pain."

Xander nodded.  He could say their names.  He would shout them from the
rooftops if it would help the people he'd loved and known.  He drew in a
deep breath, ready to bring all them relief.

When he tried to speak, nothing happened.  His voice was completely gone.
Horrified, Xander tried again.  Still nothing.  He tried screaming,
whispering, sobbing.


He fell to his knees.  What had happened to him?  All he had to do was-

"Just say their names."  Anya stared down at him.  "You talk all the time,
Xander.  You talk through the movies I want to watch and you talk when I
want to talk and you talk right after I talk so you can tell me how to talk
right.  All you ever do is talk.  It's all you're good for.  Just say their
names and you can finally be of some use to them.  Just talk.  That's all it
takes for you to make everything all right again."

Nothing.  His voice was silent.  All the words were inside of him, all their
names, and nothing he did would give them sound.

Anya shook her head.  "You're useless."  She reached down and put her hands
on either side of his head.  "Only one thing to do with you now, I suppose."
Her hair changed, becoming long and curly and golden blond.

Xander started to scream.  It was silent but he didn't care as the fear and
the pain overwhelmed him as he watched the woman he loved change and-


-and he was being rocked gently in strong arms and a new voice was in his

"Shh, Xander.  It's all right.  Just a dream.  You're safe.  Wake up for me

A dream.  A nightmare.  Xander slowly calmed down.  He hadn't had that one
in a while.  He hoped it didn't come back again soon.  As he came back to
himself and let of the panic that had seized him, Xander realized where he
was.  He realized whose arms held him.

"I'm fine."  He pulled away and scooted as far away from Angel as he could,
only stopping when he ran out of bed.

"Are you sure?"  Angel looked at him worriedly.

Of course he wasn't sure.  He'd been startled to hear his voice work just
then.  He didn't want to let the vampire know just how upset he was, though.
"Yeah.  It was just a dream."

"Some dream."  Angel made no sign of moving.

Searching for a distraction, Xander crossed his arms over his chest.  "How
did you get in here?"  He could remember locking the door.

Angel looked sheepish.  "I have a key.  I don't always go unlocking doors.
It was just..." his voice trailed off and he cocked his head to the side.
"I only came in because I could hear you out in the hallway.  I didn't know
if you were hurt or attacked."  The embarrassment was fading away, replaced
by concern.  "Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine."  Xander couldn't quite meet Angel's eyes, so he settled for
glaring at one of his shoulders.  "I'd like to sleep."  That should get him
to leave.

"Are you sure?  It might be better if you stayed up for a little while.
Nightmares have a way of coming back."

And coming back and coming back and coming back...it was nothing new.  "I'm

Angel gathered himself as if preparing to stand.  "If you're sure.  After
what I heard, I can't imagine you wanting to sleep again."

Xander froze.  He was losing control.  Usually he was quiet when dreaming.
He'd learned to be, because he didn't want to draw attention to himself
while he was sleeping and defenseless.  It had to be his proximity to
Sunnydale that was unbalancing him.  He always felt odd and shaky when he
thought about the town and his life there.  He needed to regain control of
himself.  "What did you hear?"  His gaze stuttered up to meet the other

"Names."  Angel held his gaze.  "Joyce.  Jesse.  Larry.  Marie.  Others that
I don't remember, over and over again.  You were screaming."

Hearing those names was too much.  Xander started to shake and he couldn't
stop.  The sound of those names hanging in the air made the nightmare real
all over again.

"Damn."  Angel moved around the bed and sat beside Xander.  "I'm sorry."  He
laid hesitant hands on Xander's shoulders.

He couldn't resist the offer of comfort.  Eyes screwed shut in an effort to
hold back the tears, Xander leaned against Angel's chest and burrowed in
deeper when strong arms closed around him.  He didn't let himself cry.  He
had to trust someone much more than he did Angel before he would dare to
show such weakness in front of them.  He relaxed enough to be lulled by the
gentle rocking and soothing voice in his ears.  The tremors that rocked him
slowly calmed and dissipated.

When he at last felt in control and firmly anchored in the present, Xander
pulled away from Angel.

The arms around him didn't let go.  "Are you sure?"

No.  He wanted to stay in those arms, remain in their circle of comfort and
protection and pretend that he really belonged there.  "Yes."

Angel still didn't let him go.  "It might help if you talk about it."

"No.  It was just the usual."  He didn't want to go into details.

"I don't know what the usual is."

Those words reminded Xander whom he was with.  He pulled away from Angel,
not letting himself be coaxed back into his arms.  "No," he agreed.  He
glanced over at the vampire.

"Please," Angel said.  "I want to help."

"You can't," Xander said simply.  "It isn't your concern.  Please leave."
He looked back down at his hands.  He couldn't tell Angel.  He'd never told
anyone the full story.  Spike knew most of it; Lorne a little less.  He'd
like to tell all of it to someone, but he knew he wouldn't be believed.  The
only thing worse than pity in Angel's eyes would be disbelief.

Angel hesitated, clearly not wanting to go.

"Please," Xander repeated.

With a sigh, Angel stood.  "If you need anything at all..."

Xander nodded.  He couldn't make himself answer any more than that.  He
closed his eyes and listened to Angel leave, listened to the door lock,
listened until the only sound was his own breathing.

At least he wouldn't have any more nightmares.  With regrets and
might-have-beens running through his mind, all chance of sleep had gone.

He sat on the edge of the bed and let time wash over him.


Part Thirteen/?

Angel sighed heavily and sat down on his bed.  He'd thought about going back
downstairs and talking to Wesley and Gunn after leaving Xander's room, but
he'd decided against it.  He wasn't in the mood for company.  He wanted
answers and understanding and he wasn't going to get those from anyone but

He'd been walking to his room, wanting to change his clothes after spending
time down in the basement.  He'd slowed down while passing Xander's door.
It wasn't that he wanted to pry, exactly, but he wanted to be sure that
Xander was all right.  He hadn't even needed to use vampiric hearing to know
that all wasn't well:  Xander's shouts carried clearly through the thin wood
of the door.  The same names over and over again, said in a voice that was
filled with desperation and hopelessness.  Angel had recognized only one:
Joyce, Buffy's mother.  He hadn't been able to ignore what he heard.  He'd
tried to open the door and found it locked, but his key had taken care of

Xander had been twisting in his sheets, shouting as he moved restlessly in
an attempt to escape the dream that haunted him.  Angel hadn't thought about
his actions; he just moved forward and sat on the bed, drawing the anxious
body into his arms.  He'd rocked Xander back and forth, running his hands
over the sweating skin and murmuring nonsense words of comfort to try to
calm him.  It had worked; in a few minutes Xander awoke and came out of the

Angel hadn't wanted to let him go, but when Xander had pulled away, Angel
had released him.  He hadn't left, though.  He'd wanted to offer whatever
comfort Xander would take and for a few sweet moments, Xander had taken more
than Angel had hoped.  He'd let Angel shelter and hold him for a few
minutes, let Angel try to share his burden and give him some relief.  It
hadn't lasted, but Angel wasn't going to forget those minutes.  He wouldn't
forget the feeling of Xander, warm and solid in his arms, his wiry frame at
rest against Angel's own body.

Frustration drove Angel to his feet again.  He pulled off his clothing and
tossed it into his hamper, then walked to the bathroom.  A shower might help
to relax him, and even though he doubted it he was going to give it a try.
He had too many unanswered questions rattling around his head.  He wanted to
know where that nightmare had come from.  "The usual", Xander had called it.
How usual were nightmares for him?  How many nights was his sleep broken
by images that held him a prisoner to terror and sorrow?  Angel wanted to
know.  He wanted to make it better and see Xander sleep dreamlessly.  He
wanted to take away the fear and the pain.

He couldn't do any of that without knowing more information and it had just
been made painfully clear to him that Xander didn't trust him enough to tell
him anything.  He turned on the water and stepped in, the rhythm of the
water doing nothing to slow his thoughts.  He washed up quickly, careful to
avoid wetting his hair.  When he was done he toweled off and pulled on a new
set of clothing.  He hesitated at the door of his room.  There was the
temptation to stay in his room and brood about his failure to convince
Xander to trust him.

No.  Brooding never solved anything.  Besides, if he stayed upstairs too
long than Wesley or Gunn would come looking for him.  He didn't want them to
bother Xander.  If the young man had another nightmare, he wouldn't want an
audience and Angel would do what he could to shield him.

He walked down the stairs and paused before entering.  Wesley was sitting
behind the receiving desk, going over their accounts.  Cordelia had gotten
to be a pro at keeping the books, but the Englishman still liked to look
them over.  Whether it was from a sense of responsibility or the inability
to reconcile Cordy's new skills with the teenager he remembered from
Sunnydale, Angel didn't know and he didn't plan to ask.

Wesley hadn't been in Sunnydale as long as Angel had and in a lot of ways
he'd been even more of an outsider than the vampire had.  Still, he'd been a
part of the daytime lives of Xander and the others.  "Wes?"  Angel walked
the rest of the way into the lobby.

Not looking up, Wesley turned the page of the book he was looking at.
"Yes?"  He leaned forward and squinted at the page, then shook his head and
turned the page.

"I have some questions."

"And you know that he has all the answers," Gunn called from the back

Wesley grinned.  "Questions about what?"

Angel didn't want to reveal that Xander had a nightmare.  He knew that the
younger man would view that as an invasion of his privacy.  "I was talking
to Xander and a couple of names came up.  He didn't explain them and I
didn't want to pry.  I was wondering if you might recognize them."

Slowly closing the book, Wesley nodded.  "I'll see if I can help.  Xander
and I weren't friends, though.  I'm not sure how much help I can be."

"It's just a chance."  He decided to try all of them.  What if Xander had
known more than once person named Joyce?  "Joyce.  Jesse.  Larry.  Mary or

"I would assume Joyce was Buffy's mother.  I don't know anyone else in the
United States by that name.  The rest of the names...I'm sorry.  I don't
recognize them."

It had still been worth a try.  "Thanks anyway."

"I return, and I come bearing croissants!"  Cordelia stood in the front
doorway and held up a box triumphantly.

Gunn walked out of the back office.  "I thought you'd lost your appetite."

"It got better once the company improved."

"Cordy, you were by yourself."

She smiled at him.  "Your point?"

Gunn shook his head and gave up.

"What did I miss?" Angel asked.

"I just needed a little fresh air."  Cordelia slid the box of pastries onto
the desk.  "The air in this place had gotten a little rank."

He should have seen this coming.  He could still remember Cordelia and
Xander's incessant wrangling from Sunnydale.  He couldn't imagine Xander
carrying on the tradition now, if for no other reason then it would take
more talking than he was willing to do.  Cordelia, however, wasn't one to
let bygones be bygones, especially if friends of hers had been hurt.

"Hey, I didn't yell at him.  I just didn't want to stay here and watch Gunn
try to be his best friend."

"What?"  Gunn stepped all the way into the lobby.

"You were falling all over yourself to make him lunch, get him anything he
wanted...weren't you listening to anything that I told you about him?"

"Yeah.  But I also heard what you didn't tell me about him."

She threw her hands up in the air.  "So I don't know where he's been.  So I
didn't know he's a healer.  That doesn't change anything else that I do know
about him."

"All right."  Wesley drew himself up to his full height.  "Enough.  This
isn't something that you're going to agree on.  I suggest you both leave off
arguing until we have more information.  Cordy, you don't have to talk to
Xander.  You don't have to be nice to him.  But do try to rein in your
dislike.  Angel only got him here by promising to protect him.  I don't know
how much or how little it would take to push him into leaving-"

"You want me to try to find out?"

"Do you want Wolfram and Hart to take him?"

She sighed.  "No."

"Then do try to be civil.  It won't be for all that long."

Conversation died.  Wesley returned to looking over the books and Gunn
disappeared into the back office once more.  Cordy headed over to the files
and lost herself back there.  Not having a case to work on at the moment was
leaving them at loose ends, making it difficult to find busy work to fill
awkward moments.  Angel really didn't want another case; he was too
distracted and he didn't like seeing Cordy in pain.

He sighed and walked over to the weapons cabinet.  Sorting and checking them
for damage was always good for killing time.  He let his thoughts wander as
he worked.  Xander wasn't going to come to trust him easily, if he trusted
him at all.  Knowing that didn't stop Angel from craving that trust.

He'd have to work to earn Xander's trust.  That meant he'd have to restrain
all his normal inclinations to push Xander away and avoid him so as to avoid
his own feelings.  He'd have to make himself available to the other man.  He
hadn't missed the way Xander had eagerly accepted comfort, if only for a
little while.  If another opportunity like that came along, Angel wasn't
going to miss it.

Angel had watched Wesley look over the books the day before.  He knew that
Wesley had continued to examine them while he himself was checking over the
weapons.  He knew that none of the numbers had changed over night, yet he
was still sitting at the reception desk and looking at them any way.  The
reception desk gave him the best view of the stairs so he'd know immediately
if Xander came down.  Angel wasn't going to miss him if he did.

He stared blindly down at the page in front of him.  He didn't have much a
head for figures, so even if there were a mistake in there, he'd never catch
it.  That was just one more reason for having Wesley act as the head of
their group.  When it came to administration, Wes was a natural.  He'd
learned much about leadership as the years had passed.

A soft footfall on the stairs caught Angel's attention and he glanced up,
hoping he didn't look too eager.  It was early afternoon and there hadn't
been any sign of Xander yet.

Xander hesitated on the stairs.  "Is it all right?" he asked quietly.

Angel cocked his head to the side.  It was almost as though Xander was
pitching his voice for vampiric hearing.  How had he learned what the normal
hearing range for vampires was?  "Of course," he said in a louder tone.  He
had no idea if Xander's hearing was any different from normal humans because
of his healing abilities.  "How did you sleep?" he asked when Xander came

"All right."  Xander didn't meet his gaze.

So that wasn't on the list of acceptable topics.  Angel moved on.  "Are you
hungry?  Is there anything you need?"

"I could eat."  Xander's gaze strayed toward the front door and he shook his
head a little as though to himself.

"What is it?"  The question slipped out before Angel could stop himself.

Xander shut down, withdrawing into his head.  "Nothing."

Angel looked at the door and winced at the sunlight outside.  "If you want
to go out, Gunn and Wesley will be here soon."  He didn't want Xander to go
out, not if he couldn't go with him.  "If it's fast and not to Caritas, then
I think it will be pretty safe."

Xander shook his head.  "It's nothing."  He shifted his weight, a small
restless gesture.

"Where did you want to go?"  Maybe if he could arrange it, Xander might open
up to him.  Even if he couldn't, it was a way to get him to talk.

"The university.  Lecture."  Xander shrugged and started walking toward the
kitchen.  "Not important."  He vanished around a corner.

Angel managed to wait all of ten seconds before following him into the
kitchen.  He watched Xander pull a loaf of bread out of the refrigerator.

Without looking around, Xander asked, "Hungry?"

"A little."  He was, and although he was worried about alienating Xander by
eating in front of him, he was more afraid of what could happen if he
rebuffed the other man's offer.

Xander also pulled a bag of blood out of the fridge.  He popped a couple
slices of bread into the toaster and poured the blood into a large mug.

Angel opened his mouth to tell Xander how long to put it in the microwave,
but stared in surprise as the dark-haired man punched in the exact right
amount of time.  After a few minutes, Xander had a plate of dry toast for
himself and a hot mug of blood for Angel.  He handed the mug over with no
sign of distaste on his face.

"Thank you," Angel said.  He looked dubiously at the toast.  "Is that enough
for you?  I know there has to be more food in there."

"I'm good."  Xander munched on his toast in silence.

Angel sipped at his perfectly heated blood.  "I can get you to the
university," he offered.

Xander didn't say anything.  He just raised his eyebrows and watched Angel's

"There's good sewer access to it.  Depending on the building, I can even get
you inside of them.  A lot of them don't have windows in the lecture halls,
so I can continue to protect you."

"I don't want to be trouble."

"What, because we're so busy?"  He took another sip.  "It's not trouble.
I'd like to do it."


"Why not?"

"Sun."  Xander slid his plate into the dishwasher.  "I don't want you hurt
or killed."

Angel felt warmed by his concern.  Xander's worry wasn't for himself, but
instead for Angel.  It gave him hope.  Xander couldn't hate him or even
dislike him if he was concerned, could he?  "That shouldn't be a worry.  Do
you know where the lecture is going to be?"

"The Wolfarth Building."

Perfect.  "That's one of the ones I can definitely take you into.  There
aren't any windows in the lecture halls.  What time is the lecture?"

Xander looked down at his hands and shifted his weight.  He shook his head
slowly, uncertainty clear in every line of his posture.

"I want to take you," Angel said quietly.  "What time?"

Xander stopped twisting and looked up.  He searched Angel's gaze for a
moment.  "Three," he answered.

"Plenty of time to walk over."

That hint of a smile flashed across Xander's face.  "I need to get a few
things."  He walked quickly over to the door and was gone.

Angel stopped fighting his own smile.  Xander was letting him help, was
letting him in a little bit.  It was a small step, but Angel was willing to
take anything, no matter how tiny.  He quickly drank the rest of his blood
and then headed up the stairs for his own room.  He grabbed his coat and
geared up a little with a few stakes and other surprises.  He wasn't
expecting trouble but that never seemed to make any difference when it came
to trouble finding him.

He was ready in record time, back downstairs and waiting in the lobby.
Whenever Xander was ready to go, Angel would be right beside him.  He felt a
little jittery, excited.  He worked hard to keep all that hidden.  While he
was resolved not to push Xander away, he didn't want to scare him off by
appearing too eager, either.

"Ready?"  Xander stood at the top of the stairs, his pack slung over his
shoulder.  With the pack, he was geared like a student.

Angel thought back to the days in Sunnydale when Xander had been a student.
The backpack should have made him look like a version of his younger self.

It hadn't.  Xander's face was too thin, his eyes too dark.  His hair wasn't
cut for style; it was cut for convenience, too short to be considered
popularly attractive.  It fit him, but it marked him as not being a student.
So did the seriousness in his bearing, the stillness with which he held

There was no going back.  Angel could see that just looking at Xander.
There was no way Xander would ever be the same boy that Angel had known.
Angel mourned for the loss of the laughing eyes he could remember, but he
was determined to find out all he could about this new Xander, to come to
know this new man.  "I'm ready," he answered.

Xander nodded and walked the rest of the way down the stairs.  He followed
Angel into the basement and down into the sewers.

It was a bit of a walk, but they'd left in enough time so they didn't have
to hurry.  Angel tried to think of something to talk about.  "What is the
lecture about?"  That should be a safe enough topic.


Angel raised an eyebrow.  "Lesions?"

"Of the brain."

The vampire didn't feel any more enlightened.  He had no idea why Xander
would be interested in that.  Unless..."You aren't sick, are you?"  Panic
rushed through him, pure and chill.

Xander blinked.  "What?  No."  He walked along in silence for a few minutes,
not seeming to notice as Angel regained control of himself.  After they'd
traveled for a while, he said, "It helps me heal if I understand what's
wrong.  Broken leg is easy.  Sickness is harder.  Cancer is harder.  The
brain...I don't know much about it and I don't want to make any mistakes."

Angel nodded slowly, although..."I'm not sure I understand."

"I don't know how much I understand myself.  I just know that it's easier
for me to help people if I actually know what needs to be done."

"That sounds like it makes sense."  Angel didn't know any more about healing
than what he'd learned in the past couple of days.  "It sounds like you take
this very seriously."

Xander just nodded and walked steadily on.  After a few more minutes had
passed, he said quietly, "Thank you."

"We're not there yet," Angel responded with a smile.

"I remember an old saying about it being the thought that counts."

They walked along in a silence that felt companionable.  Angel didn't want
to break it.  He enjoyed the feeling of being friends with Xander, no matter
how briefly it might last.

They reached the university grounds quickly.  It only took a little bit of
searching for Angel to locate the Wolfarth Building.  He had to work a bit
to get the sewer access open; he wasn't a college man and neither were the
other denizens of the sewers, so it had been a long time since it had last
been used.

After he levered himself up into the building's basement, he looked down at
Xander.  The other man had refused his help before, but Angel couldn't not
offer.  He reached down and offered his hand to him.

Xander looked at him for a moment, then nodded and reached up, gripping
Angel's wrist tightly.

Angel pulled Xander up beside him with relative ease.  Whatever he was
carrying in that backpack wasn't weighing him down at all.  It took him a
few seconds to let go.  The skin beneath his hand was warm and smooth and
felt so good.  It almost felt right..."What room?" he asked quickly.  He had
to get his mind back on business.


"Just up a few flights of stairs, then."  Angel led the way.  They were
going to arrive just on time.  He opened the door for Xander and stepped
into the lecture room first, scanning it quickly.  He didn't see any
threats, just a few curious looks from college kids.  He looked back over
his shoulder.  "It's clear."

Xander flashed that quicksilver smile at him.  "Too many cop shows," he said
quietly as he passed him.

Maybe.  Angel still insisted on following Xander closely as the dark-haired
man chose a seat in a fairly empty back row.  He sat down beside him, hoping
that he wasn't crowding him but unwilling to be too far from him.

Xander slipped into student mode, opening up his pack and pulling out a
notebook and a pair of pens.

"You're going to take notes?" Angel asked.  He was feeling uncomfortable.
He'd never been to school like this.  He didn't know what to do with
himself.  Everyone else was getting ready to pay attention.  He wasn't
really interested in brain lesions.  He didn't think there was any real
possibility of trouble in the room, so he couldn't distract himself by
looking for danger.

"If there's something worth it."  Xander shrugged.  "Sometimes I copy
diagrams so I can visualize."

That was something he could do.  "Could I have some paper?  And do you have
a pencil?"

"Sure."  Xander dug around in his bag for a few moments more.  "Why?"

"I can help with sketches."  He was good at drawing.  It would make him look
a little more in place and give him something to do.  "If that's all right."
He didn't want to push, not if it was going to make Xander shut down

Xander nodded.  He looked as though he was going to say something, but the
students in the class began to stir as a man walked into the front of the
room.  The instructor had apparently arrived.

Slouching down in his chair, Angel reined in a curse.  He didn't know Robert
lectured at the university.  There was no way that the doctor wouldn't
notice them.  All he could do was hope that Robert didn't make a big deal
out of their presence.  There might not be any danger in the room, but Angel
knew Xander would be very uncomfortable with attention drawn to them and he
wanted this to be a good experience for the other man.

Robert didn't waste any time.  He quickly set up his overhead projector and
launched into the lecture.

Angel gave up about ten minutes in.  He wasn't sure he even knew what part
of the body Robert was talking about.  Did the brain really have that many
parts?  He looked over at Xander.  The other man wasn't taking notes, but he
was leaning forward and listening intently.  He sure looked as though he was
having no trouble following the thread of the lecture.

Slunk down in his chair, Angel just let the sound of Robert's voice wash
over him and waited for him to start using the overhead projector.  When a
diagram was flashed on the screen at the front of the room, Angel leaned in
closer to Xander.  "Do you want that one?"


Angel nodded and went to work.  He quickly copied down the diagram, writing
down the words that went with it even though he didn't know what they meant.
When he was finished, he leaned over and tapped Xander's arm lightly.  He
wiggled the paper to catch his attention.

Xander looked down at it and smiled.  "Perfect," he said.  "Thank you."

Angel smiled in pure pleasure.  He spent the rest of the lecture dutifully
copying down all the diagrams put up on the screen, taking care to make them
as accurate as possible.  The appreciation in Xander's eyes was all the
reward he needed.  Knowing that he could help Xander in healing people in
the future was just icing.

He kept an eye on Robert and knew when the doctor saw him.  He quickly shook
his head in a negative gesture and Robert went on with his lecture.  Angel
knew that the man would want to speak to them after the class and he'd
handle that when the time came.

When the lecture ended, Angel didn't know any more about brain lesions than
he had when it started.  Xander seemed pleased, though, so Angel counted it
as time well spent.  As students filed out of the auditorium, he looked over
at Xander.  "Robert will want to talk to us."

Xander didn't look thrilled, but he nodded.  He stayed in his seat and
watched in silence as Robert approached them.

"Angel, what are you doing here?"  The doctor held out his hand.

"Just taking in a lecture."  Angel shook his hand.  "Very interesting."

"Uh-huh."  Robert didn't look like he'd been fooled for a moment.  He looked
at Xander and held his hand out to him as well.  "Nice to see you again."

Xander hesitated, then took his hand briefly and nodded.

"What did you think of the lecture?" Robert persisted.

"Interesting," Xander said, echoing Angel.  He slid his belongings back into
his pack and rose to his feet.

Robert made no move to get out of his way.  "Are you planning on using
anything that you've learned?"  He cocked his head to the side.  "Like you
did in the children's ward?"

"Hotel," Xander said quietly.  He turned and walked the other way, leaving
the row of seats and then the auditorium.

Shaking his head, Robert moved as though to follow him.

Angel grabbed his arm.  "Let him go."

"Angel, I need to know what happened in that ward.  If this guy could be
helping other people, then I have an obligation-"

"You have an obligation to let him be.  He isn't like us, Robert.  Right now
he's got his hands full just staying free and alive."

"He healed the kids."

"At no small cost to himself."  Angel didn't let go of his arm.  "Let him

"All right."  Robert sighed as he was released.  "Ask him if he'll think
about talking to me, please?"

"I will."  With that Angel was gone.  He hurried down the hall and ran down
the stairs, unsure of how far ahead of him Xander may have gotten.  He
slowed when he saw Xander waiting for him at the door that led to the
basement.  "I'm sorry."

"For what?"  Xander fell into step with him as they passed through the
basement and down into the sewers.

"For not getting him to back off sooner."

"I'm not a child."

"No," Angel agreed.  "Still..."

"You brought me here.  You're taking me home in one piece.  You don't owe
apologies."  He walked in silence for a few minutes.  "Thank you."

Angel smiled in the darkness.  "You're welcome."  He cleared his throat.
"Did you understand the lecture?  I think I got one word in ten."

"I understood what I needed to.  I'm not a doctor, so some of it was over my
head.  At least now I understand what I'm dealing with."

They talked about the lecture as they continued on their way to the hotel
and Angel could help noticing the difference between the way Xander spoke to
him and the way he'd talked to Robert.  Robert had gotten single word
answers and little eye contact.  Angel was receiving long sentences and
glances and even smiles sometimes.  It gave him hope.  Xander had to be
relaxing around him to act like this.

Back at the hotel, Angel suggested dinner.

"I could eat," Xander said.

Angel was glad to hear it.  It was a little unnerving, seeing Xander slender
as a boy.  He knew that Xander had been bigger, stronger.  He didn't like
the feeling that a stiff wind could blow the other man over.  For however
long he had with Xander, he was going to do his best to put some weight back
on him.

Once in the kitchen, he opened the refrigerator door and stared inside.  He
wasn't like Spike, indulging in human food.  He knew that the other vampire
did it in order to get a reaction from other people, although he suspected
there was something else behind it.  He didn't quite care enough to find out
what it was.  He and Spike no longer tried to kill each other on sight, but
he wasn't comfortable around him and he could tell he made Spike edgy, too.

All that added up to mean that if it didn't involve eggs, Angel didn't know
how to make it.  "We're out of eggs?"  What was he going to do now?

Xander moved to stand next to him and look into the fridge, too.  "There's

"You need something more than toast."


"What goes in the bread?"

Xander gently shouldered him aside.  "Let me look."  It took him just a few
moments to reach in and pull out mustard and sliced meat.  "Grab the bread."

Shaking his head, Angel followed directions and watched as Xander quickly
assembled a sandwich.  "Make it two."

"You eat?"  Xander raised his eyebrows, but he quickly made another

Angel waited until he was finished making it.  "No.  It's for you."

Dark eyes flashed in his direction.  "I'm good with one."

"You're better with two."

Xander sighed, but he kept both the sandwiches as he walked out to the
lobby.  Angel hesitated.  He'd spent a few hours with Xander now and he
wasn't certain that his company was still welcome.

Xander looked back over his shoulder.  "Coming?"

Smiling, Angel nodded.  "Yeah, I am."  He followed Xander into the lobby.


Part Fourteen/?

Xander was used to surprises.  He rolled with them easily, rarely letting
them slow him down.  Oh, he might have to change his plans or suddenly start
moving in a new direction, but surprises didn't stop him from moving and
that was the important thing.  He supposed it was a result of living on the
Hellmouth with open eyes.  After finding out that demons and monsters walked
the earth and that an apocalypse was usually just around the corner, the
other curveballs that life through at a person just didn't have the same
ability to break his stride.

It was this familiarity with the unexpected that was allowing him to keep
his face expressionless and hide his confusion as he tried to figure out
exactly what was up with Angel.

He vividly remembered the vampire from their past association.  Aloof,
awkward, Angel had always held himself a little apart from the Scooby Gang
even when they were all working together to save the world.  The taller man
was never really one of their group.  He was there for Buffy, but he never
seemed comfortable with her, either.  He and Xander had rarely interacted in
anything except emergency situations, but they'd managed to work out a
routine that worked for them:  Xander was confrontational and rude; Angel
turned even icier than usual and ignored him.  The routine served its
purpose:  it allowed Xander to work out his frustration at not having Buffy,
at not being Angel, at not having Angel, either.  He got to take it all out
on the man he blamed for all those problems, too.  If nothing else, it let
him get a little bit of Angel's attention without looking as though he'd
enjoyed it.  It had been awkward, but he hadn't known of any other way to
deal with all his useless, inappropriate crushes and he'd made it through
high school without losing Buffy's friendship or letting Angel find out how
he felt.

Xander had expected to fall back into that pattern now.  He wouldn't be
using the insults of course; he hadn't meant them back then and he wasn't
going to waste the words now.  He figured that his now usual silence and
discomfort in company would be enough to put Angel on edge.  The vampire in
turn would react by ignoring him and Xander would get through the next week
or so without having to relive some of the most stressful parts of high

Once again, Angel had managed to surprise him.  The vampire was far more
comfortable in company than Xander had ever imagined him.  He didn't seem
quite so confused by the actions of humans, wasn't so worried about how he
might be perceived.  It was like he was less aware of his differences now.
He wasn't a dark man of mystery any longer, although his eyes still held
secrets.  He was one of group now, instead of an eternal outsider.

He hadn't reacted to Xander's stand-offishness in any way that he'd been
expecting.  Angel didn't back off or get irritated or just leave him alone
like he was supposed to.  Instead, he just talked to fill the silence and
refused to go away.  Yesterday, Angel hadn't told him his desire to go the
university was dangerous and unfeasible; he'd just made it happen.  Xander
hadn't gone and done something with another person in a long time. He rarely
went out and did anything with Lorne or Spike, the closest things he had to
friends.  When they did go out, both of them insisted on staying close to
him, watching out for him in any way they could.  Angel had done the same
thing.  It was nice to have someone to talk to just share the experience.
It was even nicer when the person he was sharing with looked like Angel...

Xander shook his head.  He had to get a hold of himself.  Thoughts like that
would get him in more trouble now than they did in high school.  He
shouldn't be thinking them, shouldn't be noticing how handsome Angel was
when he smiled, which he did often now, shouldn't care that Angel seemed to
be happy and settled.  He shouldn't be wishing that he could call Angel a
friend or even more than that.  He needed to focus on staying out of sight
and keeping himself free and alive to meet the Lirasin.  Besides, he
couldn't allow himself to get used to relying on Angel or worse, get used to
his company.  He would be leaving LA as soon as his business was concluded.
With Wolfram and Hart so interested in him, he should leave the city as soon
as possible and not return.

There was no reason that thought should upset him as much as it was.  No
reason at all.

His emotions were more shook up then they'd been in years.  And like he had
done as a child, he was trying to hide from them.  There was no other reason
for him to be holed up in his room.  Cordy had settled down into a pattern
of ignoring him and he could handle that easily.  Wesley and Gunn were
friendly and interested in him, wanting to talk to him but willing to allow
him to be quiet when he couldn't handle any more conversation.  This wasn't
anything that he wasn't somewhat used to - Lorne and Marc and Ryan often
treated him in much the same way.

It was Angel who was making everything different.  It was Angel that was
driving him to hide in his room.

Xander didn't know how to deal with the way he felt around the vampire.
He'd thought he'd grown out of the crush he had hidden all through high
school.  He hadn't even been sure that he could feel like that for another
person, not after Sunnydale.  But against all his common sense and own
desires Xander could feel old emotions slowly coming back to life, having
lost none of their potency as the years had passed.

It was stupid.  There was no reason for him to feel this way and no way
anything could ever come of it.  He knew this, knew that his life was one of
constant traveling, always alone.  It was the path upon which he had been
set and he'd done his best to chart a course with the skills life had given
him.  The best thing for him to do right now was head down stairs and enjoy
the company that had been offered to him for as long as he could.  After he
left Los Angeles he looked forward to a long stretch of lonely traveling.

Xander nodded to himself.  He would go downstairs and talk to whoever was
there...unless it was Cordelia.  If it was Angel, he'd enjoy the vampire's
company and store up memories to last him when he was wandering alone once

Resolved, he quickly checked his bag and made sure that it was packed for
quick travel.  He doubted he'd have to make a run for it, but it was better
to be safe than sorry.  Assured that his gear was stowed and ready for
moving, he left his room and walked slowly down the stairs.  His attention
was focused on the receiving desk although he did his damnedest to not look
as though he was watching the area.  He didn't want to get on Cordy's bad
side any more than he absolutely had to.  He hid a sigh of relief when he
saw that she wasn't there.

Looking around the lobby revealed that no one was there.  It was still late
afternoon, earlier than Angel's people went out to work.  For the past few
days, Gunn, Wesley and Cordy had been at the hotel already.  Xander didn't
feel comfortable calling out to see if anyone was around.  He was already
off balance because of the amount of speaking that he'd done in the past
couple of days.  He wasn't ready to shout.

He settled for walking into the kitchen.  No one was there, either.  Xander
grabbed a bottle of juice from the refrigerator and wandered back into the
lobby.  No one had shown up.  He didn't want to be out in the exposed open
room on his own.  So far Wolfram and Hart hadn't shown up at the Hyperion
but Xander wasn't going to take any chances.  He'd head up to his room and
try again later.

He chided himself for the high level of disappointment that he felt.  What
was he going to do when he had to leave the city?  He didn't have time for
regret or disappointment.  Hadn't he learned his lesson?  He didn't get to
have the luxury of hope or regret or anything like that.  He'd left all that
behind over five years ago.

On the second floor, Xander hesitated before returning to his own room.
He'd discovered that Angel lived a few doors down from him.  It would only
take him a few seconds to walk down to the other man's door and knock and
see if he was in.  He found himself walking down the hall before he quite
realized what he was doing.  It was would be safer to turn around and stop
before he reached the door.  Safer and smarter and it was too late.  The
door opened even as he raised his hand to knock.

Angel smiled down at him.  "Xander.  Good morning."

"Morning."  Now that he had the company he'd been wishing for, he didn't
know what to do.

The vampire looked at the juice he held in his hand.  "Is that breakfast for
you?"  His tone was disapproving.

"You object to liquid diets?"

Angel laughed.  "For you?  Yes."  He stepped out of his room.  "Come on.  I
picked up some eggs last night.  Cordy will tell you that I'm good with

"I doubt it."  He still followed Angel down the hall and back downstairs.

"I am!"

"But would Cordelia tell me about it?"

Angel stopped walking.  "Damn."

"Sorry."  Xander hadn't meant to upset him.  For a moment he'd almost
forgotten the way things stood between them, the way things stood between
him and everyone else.  He and Cordelia had never been easy in their
friendship and he'd just been alluding to that.  That was the closest he'd
come to babbling in years.

He had to get himself under control.  He was forgetting who he was,
forgetting the reality of his situation.  He couldn't relax like this,
couldn't let himself forget what he was.  He'd only end up hurting the
people around him, like he'd done to Angel just now.

After a pause, Angel said, "Eggs and coffee.  I'm not sure why only
breakfast foods, but it's what I can do.  Do you prefer them scrambled, over
easy, what?"

Xander shrugged.  He couldn't let himself slip back into the bantering he'd
been beginning to indulge in.  It wasn't safe, wasn't right.  He should go
right back up to his room and just keep out of the way until the Lirasin
came to town.

"Come on.  You have to have a preference."  Angel stopped walking and turned
around to look at him.

"Whatever's easiest."  Xander looked down, not able to meet his gaze any
longer.  He'd made a mistake going with Angel instead of trying to make it
his on his own.  He was pretending that he could fit in and have friendly
conversation and have a place in the lives of others.  He knew it was going
to hurt when he moved on and he was used to that.  It hurt him every time he
had to leave Lorne and Spike and move on, away from California.  He wasn't a
solitary person by nature.  When he was a kid it had always been him and
Jesse and Willow, the three amigos...or amigeeks, as Cordelia had called
them.  All through high school he'd been surrounded by friends.  It was
hard, holding himself apart and keeping himself alone.  It was what he had
to do, though, to make sure that no one could be hurt because of him.  And
if it stopped him from getting hurt, so much the better.

"Hey."  Angel's hand gently brushed over his shoulder.  "What's wrong?"

"Tired.  Think I'll go upstairs."  It was best this way; just retreat and
slide out of the little niche he'd begun to create for himself.  In a few
days it would be like he'd never been here, best for all concerned.

"No."  Angel reached out and laid his hands on his shoulders, a gentle hold
that Lorne used on him so often.  "There's something else.  What is it?"

Xander shook his head.  "Nothing."  It was his problem, his to endure and
his to solve.  He'd done too much here already, upset Cordy and now Angel
and had disrupted all of their lives.

"I don't believe that."  Angel didn't move his hands.  "Let me help you."

"You can't."  He'd learned that lesson years ago.  He was on his own.

"You don't know that.  I want to try."

"No.  You don't understand."

"Only because you won't explain.  If you could let me in, just a little, I
could understand.  I could help."

Xander risked looking up and was caught by Angel's gaze.  Dark eyes full of
worry and hope and warmth held him immobile.  He wanted to fall into those
eyes, stare into them forever and search them for the emotions he'd dreamed
of seeing within them for so long.

Stupid.  He was stupid and foolish and he was going to drag Angel down with
him if he didn't get control of himself.  "No."  He looked down, breaking
away from that alluring gaze.  "You couldn't understand."

"Not if you won't give me a chance.  Please, Xander."

It was tempting.  The impulse to tell Angel everything was strong.  He
wanted to finally reveal all the details and who better than Angel to hear
them?  Angel would understand the situations he described, understand the
people involved.  Xander could explain it all to Angel and then the other
man would know him, finally see him for who he really is.  Maybe then the
pity and distrust in his eyes would disappear and be replaced with...

Xander laughed, the humorless sound ringing in his ears.  He was thinking
like a...no, that was the problem.  He wasn't thinking.  Angel would never
believe him.  His story was too outlandish and the distrust aimed at him too
great.  He was letting his heart rule him again.  Hadn't the pain of the
past taught him anything?  Hadn't the years alone finally made him realize
that his heart could do nothing for him except betray him?  He could reveal
everything to Angel but once he got part way into the story, the vampire
would turn away from him in disbelief.  He had no proof and no reason to be
believed and once he had alienated Angel he wouldn't even have his fantasies

He wrenched himself out of Angel's hands.  "It's useless.  You'd never
believe me."  He wrapped his arms around himself.  "Useless."  Why had he
let himself think that this situation was anything except hopeless?


Part Fifteen/?

Angel stared Xander.  There was so much defeat in the dark-eyed man's voice,
depths of hopelessness that Angel hadn't ever thought he'd hear from him.
Xander's entire posture was one of despair and isolation as he hugged
himself and stared down at the floor.

Angel thought that he'd been making great progress with the other man.
Xander had stopped objecting to his company and had even sought him out
today.  That had to mean something.  If Xander was only allowing Angel to be
around him so he'd be protected, then he wouldn't go looking for Angel.
He'd been so sure that he was getting through Xander's walls.  He'd been
able to coax that quicksilver smile from him several times and he'd notice
that Xander was more relaxed around him then he was with anyone else.

The boy he'd known in Sunnydale had disappeared and Angel was beginning to
think that perhaps he was gone forever.  The man who'd taken his place was
just as fascinating, though, and Angel felt more drawn to Xander now than he
ever had before.  He wanted to learn everything about him, wanted to learn
to make him laugh and stop his nightmares from ever returning.  The old
attraction that he'd thought he could ignore had returned full force and it
was growing with every moment that he spent in Xander's company.  He found
himself watching Xander instead of watching out for him.  He liked the
controlled grace of Xander's movements, was caught by the changeable dark
eyes.  He'd caught himself reaching out for Xander, wanting to pull him into
a comforting embrace to shelter him and to finally feel Xander's warmth.  He
was doing his best to hide those desires, not wanting to scare Xander off.
He'd done fairly well and he thought that Xander was even enjoying the
conversations they had and the time they spent together.

All that was gone.  He could see Xander withdrawing right before his eyes.
He wanted to know what Xander was hiding and he had a feeling that Xander
wanted to tell him.  He just had to convince Xander that he would be
believed.  But judging from the fatalistic hopelessness in Xander's voice,
that wouldn't be an easy task.  "Xander, I believe in impossible things
every day.  It's my job.  Nothing you tell me is going to be beyond what I
can believe."

Xander didn't look at him.  "Not this.  Especially not coming from me."

"You can't know that without giving me a chance."

Xander shook his head, stubbornness one trait that was similar between the
old Xander and the new.  "I can't."  His gaze flickered over to Angel and
then away again.  "I'm going upstairs."

"No!  Xander, please.  There has to be a way for you to know that I'll
listen and I'll trust you."  Angel just had to think of one.

Rocking back and forth on his heels, Xander didn't leave for his room.  He
didn't turn around, either.  "I believe that you think you mean that."  His
voice was low; if Angel hadn't been a vampire, he wasn't sure he would have
heard him.

Angel grabbed at that admission like it was lifeline.  "I do mean it."  He
looked around the lobby hoping for inspiration.  He spotted one of Wesley's
books lying on the reception desk.  Wesley!  He took a few steps forward so
he was standing in front of Xander.  "I'll ask Wes to put a truth tell on
me.  After he does, I'll tell you again that I will believe you when you
tell me what happened."

Xander looked up, startlement written clearly on his features.  "A truth
tell?  You'd do that?"

"As soon as he gets here."

"I..."  A flicker of pink tongue over dry lips, and Xander didn't look away.
"I don't...me."

"You?"  It wasn't refusal so Angel felt hope, but he had no idea what Xander
was trying to say.

His eyes wide, Xander didn't look away from Angel.  "Put the truth tell on
me."  He swallowed hard.

Was Xander actually shaking?  Angel reached out and laid a hand on Xander's
shoulder.  He could feel fine tremors running through the dark-eyed man's
body.  "Are you sure?"

"No."  The quicksilver smile flashed across his features.  "But maybe..."
The tremors got worse.  "Maybe I could finally tell it and be sure..."  He
swallowed hard again and looked down.

Tell it and be sure?  Tell it and be sure of being believed.  Angel was
certain that was what Xander wanted to say.  He was struck by a sudden
thought.  "Have you ever told anyone why you left?"

Xander started to pull away, his gaze snapping back down to the floor.

Angel had his arms around Xander before he realized he was moving.  The
other man was stiff in his arms, made of stone instead of flesh.  "Lorne?"
Angel asked.

"Bits," Xander whispered.

But not all.  Whatever had changed Xander, whatever it was that told him he
was a healer and made him think he had to live his life in solitude, no one
knew the story except Xander.  He hadn't shared the story with anyone at
all.  Angel tightened his embrace slightly, turning the hold into a true
hug.  "Tell me," he urged.  "You should tell someone.  Tell me."

Xander shook his head but he stopped trying to pull away.  "It doesn't

"It does," Angel insisted.  "It does and Wesley will be here soon.  Please,

Stone became flesh and Xander relaxed in his arms.  "I want to tell it," he
said quietly.

"And I want to hear it.  You don't have to wait for Wes, even.  You can tell
me now."

Xander tried to pull away and this time Angel let him go.  "I'll wait for
him."  There was old pain in his eyes.  "I'm tired of not being believed.  I
don't want there to be any doubt."

Angel nodded, carefully concealing how eager he was to hear what Xander had
kept so hidden.  He didn't want to scare the other man back into silence.
"How about something to eat first?"  He tried to keep his voice casual.

"All right."  Xander's voice was quiet once more.  He followed Angel into
the kitchen and watched quietly as he made soup and toast.

Not sure of what to think of Xander's silence now, Angel led the way back to
the lobby so they could eat at the reception desk.  He was glad to see
Xander eating without protest now.  If nothing else, the dark-eyed man would
be a few pounds heavier when he left LA.

Ignoring the little rush of disappointment that filled him at the thought of
Xander leaving, Angel concentrated on not fidgeting around like a crazy
person.  He wasn't much for idle chatter, but since Xander no longer babbled
there was then nothing left to fill in the quiet.  He started telling Xander
about some of the things he and the others had done in LA, about how he'd
met Gunn and Wesley's first incarnation as a rogue demon hunter.  "You
should have seen his face when Cordy asked him 'what's a rogue demon'."

Xander grinned.  "Poor Wesley.  He seems to have recovered."  He sobered.
"He looks happy."

"He is happy," Angel agreed.  He wanted to ask Xander what would make him
happy but he knew he wouldn't get an answer.  He was saved from trying to
remember another story he could tell by the arrival of Gunn and Wesley.  He
sensed Xander tensing beside him and glanced over.  "Okay?"

A quick nod was his only answer.

"Hey," Gunn said.  "That smells good."

"Soup," Angel said.  "I've got a few more cans."

"Nah, I had breakfast."

Wesley walked slowly over to the desk.  "Any special plans for the rest of
the day?"

Angel knew Wesley was itching to learn more about the Lirasin demons and
that was his not so subtle way of trying to figure out if Xander was going
to see them.  He looked over Xander, not sure how to answer.  He knew the
Lirasin weren't in town, but he didn't know if Xander wanted to go through
with the truth telling.

Not meeting his gaze, Xander carefully lay down his spoon and pushed his
plate away.  "Wes?" he asked quietly.

"Yes?"  Wesley was immediately attentive.  He moved a little closer and kept
his voice low.

"I want to ask a favor."

"If it's within my power, then I'll do it.  What do you need?"

Xander looked up at him.  "Truth tell."

"For you?"  Wesley shot a disapproving glare at Angel.

"Hey!"  Angel raised his hands protectively.  "It was his idea."

Wesley's look told him that he wasn't off the hook just yet, but the
Englishman transferred his attention back to Xander.  "I can do that for
you.  It's a very simple spell and I can perform it at any time.  May I ask
why you want me to do it?"

"Because no one with any sense will believe a word he says?" Cordy asked
from the doorway.  Behind her, Robert looked at Xander with confusion.

Angel stood.  "We can do this in private," he said.  "That is, if you still
want to."  He was careful to keep his anger out of his voice.  He was going
to have a talk with Cordy as soon as this was over.  There was being Cordy
and there was being rude and she was crossing the line.

"No."  Xander was looking down at his hands.

Damn it.  Angel resisted the urge to throw something.  If Cordy had blown
his one chance to finally understand Xander past...  "All right," he said
calmly.  "We-"

"Not in private."  Xander looked up and his eyes were clear and full of
purpose.  "Anyone who wants to sit in, can."

"Sit in on what?" Robert asked.

Angel watched Xander, but the dark-eyed man gave no sign of intending to
reply.  He didn't want the doctor to be in the dark, so he said, "Xander has
offered to clear up some questions about the past for me."

There was no mistaking the flare of interest in Robert's eyes.  "Are you
sure about anyone who's interested being invited?"

Xander nodded, but his attention stayed on Angel.  "Where?" he asked

"Wherever you want," Angel said.  "I think out here would be a little too
exposed, though."

"My room is too small."  Xander looked a little shaky but he gave no signs
of backing down.

"How about the room on the third floor?" Gunn asked.  "The one we set up for
that meeting Lorne had."

"That would work," Angel agreed.  They'd dragged a few old couches into an
otherwise empty room on the third floor.  Lorne had used it when he'd needed
to meet with some people who refused to go to Caritas.  It was still set up
as a meeting place.  "Do you want to take a look?" he asked Xander.

"If you think it's all right..." Xander shook his head.  "It'll be fine."

Warmed by the trust the other man was putting in him, Angel rose to his
feet.  "Is there anything you want to do to get ready?"

Xander stood up as well.  "Whenever Wesley is ready works."

"I'm ready now." Wesley said.

"Then let's get this over with."  Cordelia looked at Robert.  "Do you want
to come?"

"Absolutely."  Robert stayed close to her.

Angel led the way up the stairs.  He paused just outside of the door to the
room he'd been thinking of.  "You're sure?" he asked in a low voice.

"Yeah."  Xander swallowed hard.  "Just, stay close, maybe?"

"I will," Angel promised.  He opened up the room.  It was just as he'd
remembered:  Three couches and a couple chairs, all arranged in a loose
circle.  "This all right?"  He knew he had to be driving Xander crazy but he
had to be sure that the other man was sure.  There was no way he was going
to push him into anything he didn't want to do.  He had the feeling that
happened to Xander far too often in the past and Angel wasn't going to add
his name to the list of people who'd done it.

"Fine."  Xander walked into the room and sat down on the couch farthest from
the door.  He curled in on himself, looking far smaller than someone of his
height should be able to.

Angel hesitated for a moment.  Wes and Gunn would no doubt take a couch and
if he was reading Robert and Cordy correctly they would claim the other.
That meant he could go sit in one of the chairs...or join Xander on the
couch he'd chosen.

It only took him a few moments to decide.  He sat down beside Xander,
careful to leave some space between them, not wanting to crowd him.  There
was a hint of a smile in Xander's eyes and the vampire knew he'd made the
right choice.  He watched the others come in and sit down on the other two
couches.  "Wes?  What do you have to do to cast the truth tell?"

Wesley was talking in a low voice to Gunn, his expression serious as he
wrapped long fingers around his lover's hand.

"Wes?"  Angel didn't want them to stall any longer than they already had.

"It's done," Wesley said.  "The truth tell is in place."

The quiet of the room was filled with anticipation as they all waited for
Xander to begin.


Part Sixteen/?

"You're sure?" Angel asked, one last time.  "I can call Lorne if you want
him here."

Xander shook his head.  "He wouldn't understand everything.  Later, for

"Then let the story-telling begin," Cordelia said, leaning forward.

Keeping his eyes on Xander's face, Angel felt himself tense as Xander began
to speak.


Turning his face up to the sun, Xander pushed his hair back off his
forehead.  He should get it cut, but Anya liked it long and he could deal
with the little inconveniences of it to make her happy.  He decided not to
think about that.  He wasn't going to think about anything except the fact
that the construction site had shut down early for the day and he was going
to go home and surprise his girlfriend.

His girlfriend...maybe soon to be something more.  He'd caught himself
thinking about the future and always with Anya beside him.  He hadn't gone
shopping for rings yet, but he thought that might be the way he'd spend his
next free afternoon.  He couldn't wait to see Anya's face when she realized
they were going to have hours and hours just to themselves.  He didn't
begrudge any of the time he'd spent with Buffy and Dawn, but he wanted to be
with Anya and celebrate love and life with her.

He focused on the heat of the sun on his face.  He was going to think about
that warmth, think about the soft scent of Anya's hair.  The past few weeks
had been brutal.  Life as a Scooby was never easy, but lately they'd been
taking hit after hit.  Buffy had barely stopped reeling from losing Riley
and no matter how much it might look like she was recovering and looking at
other guys, Xander knew she was far from over the loss of the blond man.
The realization that they were facing an insane Hell God who looked like a
cheerleader had only gotten more serious when Buffy revealed that Dawn was
the one thing Glory wanted.  Too bad Dawnie was the one thing they'd never
give up.

Losing Joyce had almost broken all of them.  He hadn't realized just how
much he relied on her constant presence until it was gone.  Joyce's death
had shaken Anya hard.  He wakened several times to find her trembling in his
arms, asking him over and over again if he loved her.  He'd reassured her
with words and kisses and caresses but she was still unsettled.  He hoped
that by arranging a surprise Xander-and-Anya day that he'd lay to rest
whatever it was that was frightening her so much.

He swallowed a yawn.  He needed a day off himself.  He'd long grown used to
working during the day and spending half the night running around Sunnydale
battling evil, or at least helping Buffy make pithy comments while she
battled evil, but this whole Glory business was something else.  It was
tearing him down emotionally and mentally, not just physically.  Physical
exhaustion he could deal with, but all the other components were beginning
to wear him down.  He needed an afternoon off as badly as Anya did.

Once he reached his apartment building he took the stairs two at a time,
energizing himself with the activity.  He was going to be happy and ready
for anything that Anya wanted to do.  This afternoon was going to be all
about them, not Glory or the Scooby Gang or anyone else.  Just him and his

He opened the door as quietly as possible.  Anya had been napping a lot
lately.  He understood the urge to retreat from reality when it got to be
too much, but that was a habit he didn't want to see her getting into.  It
could be deadly on the Hellmouth.  He didn't want to startle her if she was
asleep, so he closed the door with care.  There were many other, better ways
to wake her up.

Grinning, he eased the door closed.  The TV was dark and she wasn't on the
couch, so she was most likely in the bedroom.  He crept across the floor,
knowing where to step so that creaky floorboards couldn't give him away.  He
stopped just outside the door.  If she was asleep, then he might get to hear
her snore.  How pathetic was it that he thought her snores were cute?  He
leaned closer to the door, wanting to listen while he could.  She somehow
knew when he was in the room even while asleep and would stop snoring if he
got too close.

He froze when he heard voices.  Two of them, so Anya wasn't talking on the
phone.  Who would she be talking to inside their bedroom with the door
closed?  He leaned closer, wanting to solve the mystery.

"Seriously, Anyanka."  A male voice, deep as the bottom of a well with a
distinctly nonhuman timbre.  "I don't understand.  Good sex isn't a reason
to stay with a human, especially one that is so close to the Slayer."

"It is *really* good sex," Anya insisted.  "For a human, anyway.  But there
is a little more to it."  She sighed.

Xander stopped breathing.  He knew that sigh.  It was her
going-boneless-with-satiation sigh.  He only heard it after they'd made
love, when she was wrapped in his arms so closely that it seemed she was
another part of him.  He loved that sound, loved knowing that he could make
her so happy and so satisfied that she'd make it.  He closed his eyes but he
didn't stop listening.  He couldn't.

"Then what is it?  I've tried watching him and the others, but I can't get
too close to the Slayer and at a distance I haven't been able to see
anything special about him."  The deep voice was questioning.

Anya laughed a little.  "Even Xander doesn't know what's special about him.
He's a healer."

"On the Hellmouth?  You must be mistaken."

"I'm not.  He is a healer, but he doesn't know it.  I think that's the only
thing that's kept him alive so long."

"All right.  He's a healer.  Why does that make it worth you tying yourself
to him for the rest of his life?"

"I'm human now.  I can be hurt, can get sick.  I don't want that.  As long
as I stay with Xander and he loves me, it doesn't matter if he knows how to
use his abilities or not:  he'll want me to be healthy and safe and alive,
and that's exactly how I'll stay.  He'll use his abilities without realizing
what he's doing and I won't have to worry about anything except making money
and planning our next vacation."

"If you told him he's a healer, perhaps you could make money from him.  He'd
learn to direct his abilities and people would pay to be healed."

"I thought about that.  It's not worth the risk, though.  I know Xander.  If
he found out he could heal people, he'd spend all his time healing Buffy and
Willow and I don't know if he'd let me take money from them.  I can't risk
him spending all his energy on other people when I need it."  Her voice
became slower, sadder.  "Even if I might not want a person to die, I can't
risk it."

Xander had heard enough.  For a moment he was tempted to throw the door open
and confront Anya, but instead he turned and quietly left the apartment.
Confronting Anya wouldn't do him any good, not when he was reeling from
shock of what he learned.  He'd talk to her later, after her guest was gone
and he didn't feel like he'd been hit in the head with a baseball bat.

He let his feet carry him blindly through the streets.  He was a healer?
What the hell was that?  From what Anya had said he guessed that he had the
power to heal people, but he'd never done anything like that.  If he could
heal people then he would have healed himself instantly every time he
smashed his thumb at work.  He would make sure that Buffy never had to deal
with the bumps and bruises of Slaying.  Hell, he would have made sure that
Joyce had gotten better instead of worse.

Joyce.  He stumbled as his knees suddenly became weak and rubbery.  He
staggered over to an alley and leaned against the wall.  What had Anya said?
Even if she hadn't wanted a person to die...Anya hadn't wanted Joyce to
die.  Buffy's mother had been mom to them all without seeming to try.  And
if he really was a healer, then he could have saved her.  He could have
saved her and instead he'd let her die.  He jerked his head to the side and
threw up, emptying his stomach in the alley as spasms ripped through him.
When it was over he was left shaken and weak.  He wanted to sink down and
hide from the knowledge he'd just found.  He didn't want to know this.

Not knowing what else to do, he shoved away from the wall and started
walking again.  He had to reach the others.  They'd know what to do.  They'd
tell him how to handle this.  All he had to do was make it to The Magic Shop
and everything would be all right.  He walked blindly down the streets, as
he hadn't done since meeting Buffy.  He knew better, but he couldn't make
himself care.  He wasn't sure he cared if he made it to the store at all; if
he ran into something dripping with ichor and out for blood, it would at
least stop his thoughts from running around in a tight little circle that he
already found painful.  What did Anya mean *he* loved *her* was she cheating
on him oh god he could have saved Joyce could he have saved Joyce what did
Anya mean he loved here was she cheating on him oh god he could have saved

He fell through the door of The Magic Shop more than stepping through it.
The interior of the shop seemed very dark after being out in the sunlight.

"Xander?"  He could hear the Englishman even if his eyes hadn't adjusted
enough so that he could see him.  "Good lord.  Is something chasing you?"

"No."  He pulled in a huge lungful of air and tried to organize his thoughts
and pull them out of that maddening spiral.  What did Anya mean, *he* loved

"Then kindly close the door."

Finding comfort in Giles's matter of fact manner, Xander nodded and closed
the door behind himself.  He waited a few seconds and his eyes adjusted to
the different light.  He could see Giles behind the register and Buffy and
Willow sitting at the main table.  There weren't any customers in sight, so
at least he wouldn't be frightening anyone off.

"Xander?"  Willow looked over at him.  "What's going on?"

He shook his head.  He wasn't sure what to say.  He took a few steps closer
and saw that both Willow and Buffy's eyes were red.  They'd been crying
again.  He didn't want to dump on them, not now, especially not when they
were both hurting but they were his friends and he had no one else to go to.

"First things first."  Buffy's voice was rough with tears, the way it was
too many days.  How long had it been since any of them had just laughed?
"Is it Glory?"

He shook his head.

"Is it an apocalypse?"

He shook his head.

"Are lives in danger?"

Just his heart.  He shook his head again.

"OK, so no red alert status."  She sniffed loudly.

Willow handed her a tissue.  "Xander, is there any chance this can wait?
It's not a good time."

"It's never a good time on the Hellmouth," Xander said.  "If we always
waited until it was a good time..."

"Yeah," Buffy said, her voice watery with tears.

"Buffy..."  Giles moved around from behind the counter and put his hand on
her shoulder.  "Perhaps later would be better."

He couldn't wait until later.  What was he supposed to do, go home and hope
that Anya's friend had left and pretend that nothing had happened?  Pretend
that his girlfriend wasn't cheating and that he could have saved someone he
loved and hadn't and god he loved her he didn't want to lose her but what if
he could have save Joyce what if...he shook his head.  He was going to go
insane if he didn't talk to them and get some help figuring this out.  "I-"

"Fine."  Buffy blew her nose hard and looked up at him with shining eyes.

He wished he were doing this any time but now.  Hell, he wished he wasn't
doing this at all.  His thoughts still locked in that gibbering circle, he
groped for a way to explain what he didn't fully understand himself.  "I -
maybe - Anya..."

Willow stared at him.  "This is about Anya?"

Anya was as good a place to start as any.  "Yes.  She-"

Buffy shook her head.  "You had a fight with Anya?"  Her voice was tight
with emotion.  "You had a fight with your girlfriend and that's what can't

Giles removed his glasses and looked at Xander from beneath lowered lashes.
He didn't say anything.  He didn't have to - the disappointed line of his
lips and the disgust in his eyes did the talking for him.

"I can't believe you, Xander."  Willow stared at him with wide eyes.
"Sometimes you just don't think."

He couldn't believe it.  This was serious, a real problem that he needed
their help with and they thought he would actually come to them at a time
like this to whine about a spat with his girlfriend?  He knew they had more
important things to worry about but this was important to.  "You don't
understand.  Anya-"

"You're right."  Willow slowly shook her head.  "I don't understand.  This
isn't the time."  Her eyes filled with tears.  "There are more important
things than whatever you and Anya are squabbling about now."

Xander had no reply to that.  He'd walked in on the end of a crying session
and it looked like he'd inadvertently started another.  He drew in a few
deep breaths.  He could push and make them listen to him, but it wasn't
going to be easy and he'd end up upsetting them more than he already he had.
That wasn't going to solve anything.  He'd give them time to calm down
before he tried again.

The words still wouldn't come.  He settled for raising his hands defensively
and heading back out the door.  Once he was on the street, though, he had no
idea where to go.  All his usual havens were closed to him and he couldn't
make himself think of a new place.  His attention was still too focused
inward.  He just started walking, letting his feet lead him wherever they

What did Anya mean he loved her was she cheating on him oh god he could have
saved Joyce could he have saved Joyce what did Anya mean he loved her was
she cheating on him oh god he could have saved Joyce could he have saved

He wandered until the sun was at an angle just right for blinding him.  He
stopped and looked around, realizing that he had no memory of the past hour.
Regret washed through him as he realized where he was:  in front of
Jesse's house.  He'd spent days playing in this yard, lost himself in the
pleasure of Jesse's company and the way they just seemed to fit together,
friends in silence and in babbling.

Remembering a friend lost made him appreciate the ones he still had.  He
still needed them and if it turned out Anya was right and he was some kind
of healer, then they just might need him.  Things were bad but they'd gotten
through worse and they would get through this as well.  He'd wasted enough
time.  Buffy and Willow had had time to calm down, as had he.  It was time
to talk to them and start moving forward.  He turned around.

"Gah!"  He'd been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't heard the creepy
little guys he now faced sneaking up on him.  Warty and greasy, they wore
brown robes and barely stood upright.  "What the hell are you?  What do you
want?"  Not real polite, but they'd startled him.

One of them looked to be in charge.  "This one will do for now," he said,
looking Xander up and down.

K, no more asking questions for the Xan-Man.  He'd run now and ask questions
later.  He feinted right and then took off running to the left.  For the
first few steps he really thought he'd make it.

Something caught him across the back of his head and he fell forward to his
knees, blinded by pain and not sure which way was up.

"Careful," hissed the head warty guy.  "Glorificus will not be pleased if he
is damaged."

Pain struck again and Xander knew no more.


"Glorificus?"  Angel stared at Xander in horror.

Xander nodded.  "Glory had some worshippers out doing her bidding while she
ranted in her home away from Hell."

Wesley nodded.  He'd poured over all the information Giles had sent him at
the time.  No one had ever figured out why Glory had disappeared and they'd
all feared her coming back, although that fear had lessened as the years had

"You were captured by Glory?"  Cordelia cocked her head to the side.  "I
never heard anything about that."

"I haven't spoken to any of the Scooby Gang since the afternoon I left The
Magic Shop."  Xander met her gaze steadily.  "Who would have told you?"

Angel shot Cordy a warning glare.  He didn't want anything to make Xander
stop talking, although he was frightened of what he might hear.  What could
a Hell God want with Xander?


Part Seventeen/?

Angel looked at Xander closely.  He was pale, his eyes even darker now
against the pallor of his skin.  Angel wanted to ask if Xander could
continue, but he was frightened of scaring him into stopping.  He tried to
put his questions in his eyes as he caught Xander's gaze with his own.

Drawing in a deep breath, Xander nodded minutely.  He was silent for a few
moments, then began speaking again.


Groaning quietly, Xander rode out the pain in his head.  He wondered what it
said about his lifestyle, that he was getting used to coming around after
being knocked unconscious.  Normal people didn't have a routine that they
followed for these situations, did they?

The pain was bad enough that it took him a while to remember what had
happened to put that pain in his head.  He sat up quickly and looked around,
muttering curses as his head threatened to explode.  He was in...an
apartment.  A completely not evil looking apartment.  It was nicer than his.
Squinting through the pounding in his head, he took another look around
the room.  He was alone.

If he was alone, then he was out of there.  He remembered what the warty guy
had said as he was going down for the count:  Glorificus.  There was no way
he was sticking around.  He swayed to his feet and headed for the window.
No dice.  He was at least three stories up and intrepid Slayerette he might
be, he was no Slayer and he didn't like his chances of making it down from
that height without injury.  He turned around to head for the door.

"Going somewhere?"  A curly-haired blond woman sneered at him from the

Shit.  "I have a dinner date," he croaked.

"You?  You don't date."  She walked into the room, followed by a collection
of the warty guys.  "You're not going anywhere."

Smart remarks weren't going to get him out of this.  He didn't think making
a break for the door would get him anywhere, either.  He decided to try just
keeping his mouth shut and see what happened.

"Talkative type, aren't you?"  Glory walked closer and he could smell her,
cloying heady perfume that wasn't quite strong enough to hide the stench of
decay.  "I can change that."

Right now Buffy would be spitting out clever insults to cover the fact that
she'd come up with a brilliant escape plan.  Willow wouldn't have been
caught in the first place.  Spike would have turned all of Glory's words
around against her, frustrating her and distracting her until he could break
free.  Hell, even Giles would be talking his way free.  Xander couldn't come
up with a single thing to say.  He was worried that if he opened his mouth
to talk, he might let something slip.  He settled for watching her approach
and praying that the others noticed he was missing soon.

"What shall we talk about?"  Glory raised a finger to her chin.  "I know!
How about where my key is?  Let's talk about that."

Xander stayed mute.  He wasn't going to say a word.  He was going to stay
silent and wait for the cavalry.  Buffy and Willow were going to kick her
ass.  He just had to hold on and wait.

"It's not very polite to sit there like a rock when someone's talking to
you."  She looked over her shoulder at one of the ugly guys in brown robes.
"Are you sure he's the right one?"

"Oh, yes, most Hellish One.  Any of the others would have caused
unpleasantness.  He's human, easily controlled.  Despite this, the Slayer
still allows him into her inner circle."

"Okay."  Glory looked down at him and cocked her head to the side.  "Talk!"

Xander never even saw her fist move.  One moment he was giving himself a pep
talk and the next he was sliding down the wall, his face throbbing and the
rest of his body soon joining in.  She'd thrown him across the room with a
single punch.

"Look what you made me do!"  She tossed her curls back over her shoulder.
"Hasn't anyone ever taught you any manners?  I think it's about time someone
did."  She turned her back on Xander and looked at the warty guys.  "Make
him tell me where my key is."

Three story drop or not, it was time to go.  Xander made a run for the
window but was tackled to the floor before he even reached the sill.  He
grunted when he hit the floor, borne down by the weight of many bodies.  He
fought but there were too many of them and he was soon laying face up on a
low table, his arms and legs held fast and Glory standing over him.

"Last chance, Harpo."  She looked down at him with her eyebrows raised.
"Where's my key?"

"Zeppo," he corrected.  She wouldn't recognize that he meant defiance, but
the comeback, no matter how small, gave him some comfort.

"Make him talk."

He didn't know that a broken finger hurt so much.  He didn't know that four
would make him draw in a shaking breath that wasn't a sob but came too close
to it for him to pretend that he was going to get through this without
breaking a sweat.  He'd screwed his eyes up when the pain first started but
he opened them now.

Glory smiled at him as though they were meeting for the first time.  "Where
did you say that key was?"

Oh, there was no way he could let her know about Dawn.  He didn't want to
imagine what it would be like if that little girl was captured by this
psycho.  He couldn't let that happen.  Buffy and the others would be there
soon, he knew they'd be coming, but he had to come up with a better plan
than just hold on...but the pain was making it difficult to think and he
could feel the urge to babble welling up within him and he wasn't sure he
could fight it off.

Fine.  If he was going to babble, then he'd babble about everything and
anything except what Glory wanted to know.  Maybe if he started talking he
could distract them and they'd stop hurting him.  "Under the mat, maybe?  I
always liked leaving keys under the mat.  It's simple but maybe not so safe
so that's why someone I know has a fake rock in his yard and he sticks a key
in the rock and so long as you know what rock it is you can get the key no
problem.  Well, maybe a problem because the rock looks like a fake rock and
if I was someone who wanted to get into his house I'd sure notice the fake
rock and look for a key there so maybe you should check under your mat or in
a fake rock although if that's where you left the key then no wonder you
lost -" He gasped as fire shot up his arm.

One of the demons held up a bloody knife.  "Answer her!"

No.  "I'm trying but you oh god please!"  He couldn't help that, couldn't
help begging when the knife slid back into his flesh, slow and searching and
had anything ever hurt like this?  He gave up on distracting babble and
focused on begging for them to stop.  He'd never felt anything as horrible
as steel slowly sliding into his flesh with cold deliberation.  This wasn't
injury in the heat of battle or someone hating him because of who he was.
There wasn't any personal maliciousness to this, it was just mechanical,
cursory - a means to an end.  "Stop please please don't do this."

The knife twisted again.  "The key?" asked the demon.

"Stop please I don't know please don't do this any more it hurts please."
He couldn't stop the words.  If he said stop they would have to stop
wouldn't they?  He said please.  He was asking nicely.  They had to
stop...and then pain shattered his thoughts again and he was lost to
anything except the agony that was working his way up his arm.  He kept his
eyes closed.  The only thing he was certain of was that he didn't want to
see his arm, didn't want to see what they'd done to it to make him scream
and make tears run like water from his eyes.

The questions never stopped and neither did the pain - it just moved to his
other arm, his leg, his stomach and chest.  Then it didn't matter to him
where the pain was:  all that mattered was that it wasn't stopping and
getting worse and it was all he knew.  He floated in a haze of agony,
vaguely aware that he was begging for mercy even though he wasn't sure he
believed in it any more.

Finally the pain stopped increasing.  He drifted in and out of awareness,
hearing snatches of conversation but barely understanding any of it.

"He must not know, Glorificus...."

"Then why did you bring him to me?  Useless..."

"...tremble before your magnificence..."

"...suppose I shouldn't waste him..."

A new touch then, not hurting.  Xander couldn't open his eyes but he knew it
was fingers on his temples, like Anya sometimes did when he had a headache.
It was hard to think through the agony but he held to one thing:  Anya said
he was a healer.  If he was a healer then he was going to heal.  He was
going to come back from this, recover and be ready to go when the Scoobies
finally arrived.  He was going to heal.  He was going to

He didn't hear the screams that ripped out of him, bloodying his throat with
their intensity.  All his attention was focused on the feeling of fingers in
his head, fingers that had been dipped in filth and hatred and putrid
desecration that now slid over his thoughts and his memories and it was too
much, an invasion he'd never imagined and couldn't endure.  He screamed
until awareness faded completely.


"Fucking hell."  Wesley turned his head to the side, almost hiding his face
in Gunn's shoulder.

Xander broke off his narrative.  "Wesley?"

The other man nodded and straightened.  "I'm sorry.  I am.  It's just..."

"What is it?" Gunn asked.

The Englishman leaned against his lover.  "After Glory disappeared, Giles
asked me to look into her history, see if there was anything I could learn
that could help if she ever returned.  I never had any proof, but I believed
that she was connected to the sudden rash of people going mad in Sunnydale."

"It was how she fed," Xander said quietly.  "It drove the people she used

"You don't seem crazy," Robert said hesitantly.

"I got better."  Xander waited a few moments to see if anyone else had
anything to say.  He glanced over at Angel.

Angel shook his head.  Xander's description had been calm and not too
detailed, but Angel had been involved in enough torture sessions to read
between the lines.  He hadn't thrown up in a long time but he was fighting
the urge to do so now.  That Xander had endured that...he reached out and
gently touched Xander's knee.  "You're sure you want to continue?"

"No."  Xander shrugged.  "But I will."


Strange thoughts held him captive, nonsense phrases that chased each other
around his brain until he was as dizzy as they were.  Their hold loosened on
him slowly and as reason returned, he held to three things:  he had to heal,
he had to stay silent, and he had to endure until his friends came.  Heal,
silent, endure.  Those words became the center of his existence.

He didn't know how he did it.  He had to heal and he bent his will, weak and
damaged as it was, upon that single goal.  He drew energy into himself and
dispersed it throughout his body, feeling torn flesh knit and bones
straighten and seal.  His thoughts grew clearer and he remembered who he was
and what had happened.

Heal, silent, endure.

He didn't finish healing himself, stopping when the pain became manageable.
He was weak, drained, and didn't think he could do any more.  It took an act
of will to open his eyes.

He lay on the floor of a small room.  There was a chair nearby and a couple
droopy looking plants in a far corner.  Xander guessed that he'd been dumped
here to wait until Glory's followers had time to deal with him.  Moaning
crazy guys apparently didn't go with the living room décor or something.  It
took an act of will for him to try moving.

Okay.  He bet Buffy wouldn't have whimpered like that, but he was behind
shame and he kept moving, pushing himself up to his hands and knees.  He
wasn't sure what he was going to do beyond crawling out of the room.  Maybe
if he stayed low they wouldn't notice him as he made his escape.

Heal, silent, endure.

He was tired, so tired.  The effort of dragging one knee forward and then
the next was exhausting.  At this rate he wouldn't make the door before he
died of old age.  No, no thinking like that.  At this rate he wouldn't make
the door before Willow smashed it open with a single word and then Giles
would be there to help pull him to his feet and take him home while Buffy
exacted some whoop-ass retribution on Glory and her warty little side kicks.
Yeah, that was how it was going to go.  He focused on trying to come up
with a really great line to throw out when the others finally arrived.  It
had to be funny and reassuring because he knew he had to look like shit.

He was almost to the door when it opened.  He raised his head, ready to give
Willow his patented I'm-all-right grin.

A demon in a brown robe stared down at him.  "Go inform Glorificus of this,"
he said to the demon still in the hallway.

Xander felt the strength run out of him as it was replaced with despair.
His arms gave out and he crashed back down to the floor.  He'd almost
convinced himself that he was going to make it, almost convinced himself
that he had a chance to get out of this.

"What?"  Glory's voice was petulant and impatient and far too close.  "What
is so important that you wanted me to walk all the way back here?"

The head demon ducked his head submissively.  "This, O Most Heinous One.
This was the man you, ah, used a few days ago."

Days?  He'd been here for days?

"What about him?"  Glory crossed her arms over her chest.

"He seems to have healed."

Glory stepped into the room and kicked him in the ribs, knocking over onto
his back.  "Huh.  He does look better.  Which isn't say much, but still."
She waved her fingers in front of his face.  "Too bad he won't be able to
tell us how he did it."

Xander wasn't going to tell her anything.  He glared at her and did his best
not to gasp as each breath disturbed his bruised ribs.

"Wait."  Glory leaned down closer to him.  "Why isn't he babbling?  They
always babble once I'm finished with them."

"I don't know, Glorificus."  The demon took a few steps closer.

"Then maybe you should try pulling his toes off until he explains it to

Xander curled up on himself.  They wouldn't, would they?

"You see that?"  Glory pointed.  "He understood me.  They never understand
me.  He's not crazy like the others."  She grabbed him by the font of his
shirt and pulled him to his feet.  "How did you do it?"  She shook him.

How did he do what?  He didn't know what she thought he'd done.  Not that he
could explain anything to her with his head flopping around like he had no
spine.  There was a terrible moment of vertigo and then he was slamming into
the wall on the far side of the room.  He heard his ribs crack and then he
could feel them, flames of pain licking through him and coaxing tears from
his eyes.  He didn't have the energy for this, didn't know if he could come
back from this again.

"If I have to take you apart and find the answer by reading your auguries, I
will."  Glory advanced on him.

"Ah, Most Beautiful One?"  One of the demons shuffled forward with his head


"If I might make a suggestion...since he seems to have recovered from his
injuries, perhaps you might see if you can make use of him?  It has been
some hours since you last indulged yourself."

Glory cocked her head to the side.  "I've never been much of a leftovers
girl...then, I've never had an opportunity to try leftovers."  She bent down
in front of Xander.  "How about another go, then?"

He tried to move then.  It didn't matter that it felt like his chest was
imploding or that he'd been dropped off a building.  He didn't want to feel
her fingers on him, in him, again.  He couldn't feel that again...there was
no shame in screaming, not as she slid inside his head and contaminated the
very core of him, the place that no one was supposed to ever touch.  That
was him, damn it, him and she was violating his thoughts and his soul and
the darkness was welcome, any ending was welcome, even death would be
welcome if it would make the touching stop.


"She was able to feed from you again?"  Angel curled his hands into fists
when Xander nodded.  They'd all been so relieved when Glory just
disappeared.  None of them had really cared where she'd gone so long as Dawn
was safe.  Certainly none of them had ever thought of tracking her down.

It might be time to change that.  Angel could hear Xander struggling to hold
his emotions in check.  For the memories to affect him so strongly even
now...no wonder he still had nightmares.

"How many times?"  Angel asked.  He didn't want to know, but at the same
time he felt that he had to.

"Only twice after that."

Only two more times.  To hear Xander just belittle it like that as though it
didn't actually matter tore at Angel.  He shook his head and did his best to
keep himself under control.  Xander didn't need to watch him lose it.  He
risked a glance over at Xander and found that the other man was watching him
with concern.

"She was there the next time I came back to myself.  She threw me across the
room and...everything.  It was getting harder to heal myself each time."
Xander paused, his eyes still on Angel as though waiting for him to react.

Angel didn't know what to say.  "Do you need anything?  Water or..."  Or
what?  A second chance on his life starting six years ago?  Angel wasn't
sure how else to offer his support.

"I'm fine."

Angel nodded and took a moment to glance at the others.  Wesley was still
looking sick; he definitely hadn't shared everything he'd learned while
researching Glory and for the moment Angel was glad.  Gunn looked like he
might volunteer to go hell god hunting with him.  Robert looked confused.
He'd learned a little about the world that existed beyond the knowledge of
most humans, but not enough to easily comprehend what life on the Hellmouth
was like.  Cordelia...Cordelia looked blank.  He couldn't read her
expression at all.

He looked back over at Xander.  He felt like maybe he should reach out and
touch Xander but he didn't know if the contact would be welcome or not.  He
settled for shifting until his knee touched the other man's.

Xander didn't smile, but there was warmth in his eyes as he started talking


He didn't think he could do this any more.  It was taking longer and longer
for him to knit himself together enough so that he was bleeding and broken
although he was nowhere near healthy.  He didn't want to open his eyes.
He'd felt hope again last time when he'd managed to pull himself out of the
madness that Glory had shoved him into...only to find her staring down at
him in frustrated wonder when he opened his eyes.

Better to stay in the dark.  Better not to know.

Xander lay as still as possible.  He knew what he was supposed to do:  the
three words had been burned into his brain and not even Glory's horrible
touch could remove them.  Heal, silent, endure.  He knew the words, he just
wasn't sure that he believed in them any longer.  He'd never say anything
about Dawn, never betray them like that, but he wasn't so sure about the
healing and enduring part.  He thought he could handle the pain.  He was
used to being knocked around and yeah, this was way worse than the knocking
around he usually experienced but he was learning how to shut himself off
from it and wouldn't Riley have fun with that if he knew?  But the feeling
of having Glory inside of him...there was no way to brace himself against
that.  She followed him into all the places where he'd go to hide and there
was no way he could handle that again.

He felt hands on him, human hands, gentle hands.  It was a shock, being
touched without violence.  He opened his eyes, curiosity overcoming his
fear.  He was still in the same room:  nothing had changed except the plants
were looking worse and he was on a different part of the floor.  A man
crouched on the floor next to him, manipulating his fingers, watching them
bend with a look of rapt concentration on his face.  Xander knew him.  Buffy
had pointed him out at the supermarket not that long ago, a delicate flush
on her cheeks as she told him to look but not to look.  "Ben?"  God, was
that harsh croak his voice?

Ben looked at him with huge startled eyes.  "You, you're awake?  How are you

Xander had questions too, like what the hell was Ben doing in Glory's house,
but that could wait.  "Help me."  He'd been begging for years, it seemed
like.  He was so far past shame now that he couldn't remember what it was.

"How are you doing this?"  Ben manipulated his fingers again.  "They told me
that they broke them but they're healed now.  I can still see where the bone
broke through the skin, but the bones have knit completely.  How?"

"Help me!"  He'd explain everything, hell, he'd make up the answers for the
ones he didn't know, but they had to get out.  "She'll come back.  We have
to get out now, Ben."

"Could you do it now?  If you were hurt, I mean, could you heal yourself

Xander wasn't sure if Ben wasn't understanding him or if he just wasn't
being clear.  It could be him.  He'd been spending quite a bit of time
drifting in a sea of insanity lately.  "We have to leave."

"You can't leave."  Ben reached over to the side and pulled a black packet
closer to his feet.  He opened it up and pulled a long thin scalpel out.  He
sliced open the back of Xander's hand.

It happened so fast Xander barely had time to gasp.  He didn't have the
strength to pull away.  "What?"

"You've seen me here.  You can't leave."  He stared at Xander's hand.  "Can
you heal this while I watch?"

Xander stared at him.  "Please?"

Ben's scholarly expression slipped and his mouth twisted.  "I can't.  If I
get you out you might tell people that you saw me here.  I can't take that
chance.  Besides, I don't think she'll let you go.  She'll look for you and
she'll find you and I would have just been revealing myself for nothing."
His face grew smooth once more.  "So can you heal this cut while I watch?"

Xander closed his eyes.  He couldn't fight the tears but he didn't have to
watch Ben watch him cry.

A stinging slap to his cheek forced his eyes open.  Ben glared down at him.
"Don't you drift off on me.  I don't know how long I have here."

It was too much.  Xander swung with his wounded hand, a feeble move but
enough of a surprise so that he managed to hit Ben in the face.  The sound
of someone else's flesh crunching was startlingly satisfying.

"What the hell are you doing?"  Ben clapped his hand over his nose, but not
before Xander saw blood began to leak from the abused tissues.

Xander tried to swing again but the other man easily batted his hand away.
He didn't have the strength to try a third time.  He settled for glaring.
He still had the energy for that.

A strange look crossed Ben's face.  "You've done it now.  You wasted to much
time and that just got her attention."  He started to back away.  "You
brought this on yourself."

Xander stared at him.  What the hell?

"You should have stuck with me.  When she gets here she's going to -"  Ben
changed, his flesh flowing into new lines, his hair lightening and curling
and growing and then it was Glory smirking down at him "- make you wish you
were never born."  She giggled.  "I'm feeling a little peckish.  You don't
mind, do you?"

He started screaming before she touched him.


"That was the last time?" Angel asked.  It had to be.  He wasn't sure he
could stand to hear about it again.

Xander nodded.

"How long did she have you?" Gunn asked.

"Not sure."  Xander looked down at his hands.  "I didn't have a good sense
of time.  From what I'm told, almost two months."

"I can't believe you didn't lose hope that your friends were coming."

Xander didn't answer.

Angel moved farther into Xander's space.  "When?" he asked quietly.

"The second time she touched me."  Xander looked up and there was regret and
acceptance in his eyes.  "There was no way they could do anything against
her.  I wanted to get out, but I didn't want them to try to save me.  I
didn't want them to have to feel, to have to know..."  He looked down again.

Angel wanted to ask for a quick break so he could go kill something.  He
settled for leaning a little against Xander, giving him more contact.
Xander leaned back for a few seconds and that was enough to let Angel
re-center himself.  He'd keep it together until Xander was finished talking.

He just hoped that Xander finished soon.


Part Eighteen/?

"You're still good to go?" Gunn asked.

Xander nodded.  "Almost done."

"Christ," Gunn muttered quietly.

Angel was fairly certain that Xander hadn't heard the other man.  Xander
looked to be fairly lost in his own memories, although he was still good
about checking to make sure no one was being overwhelmed by what he had to

The vampire spared a quick glance at Cordelia and Robert.  Cordy was
starting to look sick and even Robert seemed to be understanding how serious
Xander's situation had been.

Angel turned his attention back to Xander and found that the other man was
watching him.  Xander looked at him for a moment, then nodded and began to
speak again.


He couldn't do this again.  Xander knew it, knew it like he knew his own
name, knew it like he knew that no one was coming for him.  If Glory touched
him again this time it would be the last.  He wasn't going to drag himself
out of madness again.  He didn't have the strength and he most definitely
didn't have the will.

Heal, silent, endure.  So far that plan had gotten him nothing but pain.  It
was time to try something new.

As he regained his sense of self, Xander didn't stop muttering nonsense.  He
was good at babbling, good at talking about nothing and so he went with it,
pretending to be his Uncle Rory's car having a conversation with a bush that
it had just run over.  As he muttered, he opened his eyes to mere slits and
stole a glance at the room around him.

He was still in the back.  Letting his head loll to the side showed him that
Ben was there.  Good.  Ben had possibilities.  He also caught sight of the
plants in the corner, now completely dead.  That was also good.  He wouldn't
call what he was feeling hope, but it was more than the dread that had
filled him for so long and he was going to go with it.

He drew in a deep breath and got ready.  With his luck he was actually crazy
and didn't know it and this was just going to result in him getting beaten
and used again, but he still had to try.  He'd never been much of a planner;
had never been the one to pull all the little disparate parts of a scenario
together and find and answer and make a goal, but then, he'd never been on
his own quite like this, either.  He just hoped his half-formed guesses, mad
or not, were right enough to get him out of this.

"Secret," he said a little more clearly.  "Secret and it's all Buffy's.  But
sometimes she shares."

Ben's head jerked up and he moved away from Xander's foot.  The pain there
told him that Ben had been playing Mengele while his mind drifted, but
Xander would deal with that later.  Right now, he needed Ben to come closer.
"She shares," Xander crooned.

"What secret?" Ben asked, coming a little closer.  His nose looked better,
but Xander could tell that it was still a little swollen.  He'd gotten him
good, then.

"Special."  He kept his eyes closed to slits, not wanting Ben to know he was
watching.  "The light...but it makes her cry."

"Cry?  Xander, what is the secret?"

He'd thought Ben was interested in Buffy.  Who could resist her?  He just
had to keep using that in his favor.  "Quiet, quiet.  Knowing is the key."
He forced out a giggle.

"The key?"  Ben was close enough now.

Xander concentrated on consciously drawing energy to himself.  He'd done
that earlier and the plants had died.  The energy had to come from
somewhere, so why not other living things?  He was like an X-Man or
something.  Xan-Man, X-Man...his mind wanted to follow that tangent and he
struggled for a moment to regain control.  He focused on calling energy and
he was pleased to see Ben start to slump a little.  "Key to Buffy," he said,
trying to keep the other man's interest focused on him.  So long as Ben was
trying to figure out what he was talking about, maybe he wouldn't notice
what Xander was doing to him - what he hoped he was doing to him, anyway.

"I need you to snap out of this...Xander, what is the key to Buffy?  What is
her secret?"  Ben reached out and grabbed his shoulder, shaking him gently.

That was it.  Unsure of how he was doing it, Xander *pulled* as much as he
could, taking as much energy as possible from Ben and hoarding it within
himself.  At the same time, he lunged up from the floor and knocked Ben
over, landing hard on top of the other man.

"What the hell?"  Ben fought back, but sluggishly, his blows and shoves
lacking any real power and they weren't enough to deter Xander, not fueled
by desperation and stolen energy as he was.

Xander still pulled, still stole as much as he could and he watched as Ben's
expression grew terribly frightened as he moved slower and slower.  It
wasn't enough, though.  Glory might realize the danger Ben was in and
reemerge and Xander could do nothing against her.  Ben, on the other
hand...Xander had made Ben bleed once before and he thought that he could do
it again.  He wasn't fully healed but he had enough strength in him now to
do what he had to.  He threw out his hand and scrabbled on the floor for
Ben's little black pack.  After a few moments of fumbling his fingers closed
around a smooth handle and when he raised his hand he found that he was
holding a scalpel, the edge of which was red with his own blood.  He didn't
let himself think about what he was going to do next, couldn't let himself
think about it in case he slowed down.  He plunged the scalpel into Ben's
throat and twisted it, wrenching his face to the side not quite in time to
avoid the gout of hot blood.  Beneath him, Ben's body bucked and writhed but
he made no sound and Xander twisted the scalpel again before dragging it
over to the side.  Ben shook one more time and they lay still.

Panting, Xander worked up the courage to look at the body beneath his.  Face
lax and expressionless, Ben's eyes stared sightlessly up at the ceiling.
His neck was a gory ruin and Xander swallowed hard to force down the bile
that rose up in his own throat.  He stared down at Ben, waiting for Glory to
reappear and kill him.  The blank eyes never shifted.  He waited some more.
He couldn't leave unless he was sure.  The smell of blood was thick in his
nostrils and he waited until it was move or be sick and still
Glory didn't show.  He didn't think he killed her but she wasn't going to be
coming back through Ben any more.  He rolled off the body.

He didn't have any time.  He knew that Ben and Glory were connected:  he'd
watched the medical student transform into her.  He didn't know if killing
Ben would kill Glory or set her free but either way he wasn't going to stay
here.  He wiped his face off on Ben's shirt, hoping the worst of the blood
was gone and then he forced himself to his feet.

He'd stolen quite a bit of energy from Ben but it wasn't enough to make up
for however long he'd been trapped here.  Adrenaline could only carry a
person so far and Xander knew that he was reaching the end of his rope.  He
had to move, move now, and not be stopped.  Bloody scalpel still in his
hand, he staggered over to the door and opened it up.

The hall way was dark and empty and it was the most beautiful thing Xander
had ever seen.  He stepped out into it and closed the door behind himself
quietly.  He had no idea how to get out of the house but he wasn't going to
let that slow him down.  He set off down the hall at a torturously slow pace
but he couldn't force his body to move any faster.  He hurt, a bone-deep
ache that only a week in a bed with mountains of food and drink and maybe
more morphine then was currently contained in the continental United States.
He didn't have any of that right now but he did have a raging fear of
Glory coming back and that was enough to keep him moving.

He found the elevator more through luck than anything else.  Hoping that
Glory's ugly little minions were hiding out on the first floor, he leaned
heavily against the side of the small room and pressed the button marked
'one'.  When the door opened, he stuck his head out and carefully looked
over the entire lobby before shuffling into the empty and then out into the
light of day.  He was tempted to pause and breathe in free air but he had no
guarantees that killing Ben would also kill Glory and her minions could be
anywhere.  It was best to keep moving until he was back with the guys.
Until he was safe.  He could be safe again, if only he kept moving forward.

He had the presence of mind to hide the scalpel up his sleeve, keeping the
handle concealed in his fist.  There wasn't much else he could do about his
appearance:  he knew he was filthy, still wearing the same clothes he'd had
on when he was captured.  He hoped he'd gotten the blood off his face but
there wasn't anything else he could do.  Hopefully the usual
Sunnydale-blindness would work in his favor and he'd make it to Buffy's
without anyone noticing him.  Barefoot, filthy and staggering like a crazy
man...it was going to take a miracle.

The sun slowly slid behind the horizon and he tried to walk faster.  The
shape he was in, he was a magnet for any demon or vampire looking for an
easy snack.  His body simply had nothing more to give and he continued at a
shambling pace until he reached a point where he had to make a choice:  stay
on the main streets and take another twenty minutes to reach Buffy's, or cut
through the corner of a cemetery and be there in ten?  His shaking legs made
the decision for him.  He turned into the cemetery; he'd only be in it for
about five minutes even at the pace he was stuck at now.  The sun had only
just set so with any luck, he'd make it past all the vampires who'd be
sleeping late.

"Well, well, well."

God damn it.  Xander didn't stop walking:  he was afraid if he stopped he
was never going to be able to start again.  He did slow down, though, and
eyed the vampire in front of him.  A young one, probably; he had too much
arrogance to have been slapped down by something bigger than he was yet.  Of
course, right now the arrogance was probably warranted:  Xander only had the
scalpel and if he stabbed the vampire with it, he'd just end up pissing it
off.  "You don't want me," he said quietly.

"What are you..."  The vampire's nose wrinkled up in disgust.  "Is that
smell you?"

It probably was.  Xander couldn't smell much of anything and he supposed
that he might have gotten used to himself.  "See?  You don't want me."

"I'll just hold my nose.  I'm sure I'll be fine."  The vampire moved towards

Xander tensed himself.  There was no way that he was going to get out of
this alive but at least he'd do some damage to the demon before he went
down.  He thought of trying to pull the energy out of it like he'd done to
Ben...but weren't vampires supposed to be undead?  So how could he get
energy from it?

He realized he'd been thinking too long when the vampire leapt at him.  He
didn't have time to do anything besides pull out the scalpel and fall over
backwards before...

...before Spike appeared out of nowhere and knocked the other vampire to the
ground, spitting curses the entire time.  A few seconds later the would-be
killer was dust and Spike was staring down at Xander.


"Spike?"  Cordelia sat up straight.  "Spike never said he saw you."

Xander nodded.  "I know."

"Wesley, are you sure you did the spell right?  How could he be telling the
truth if he says Spike saw him?"

Angel didn't doubt the spell, but it was a good question.  To his surprise,
Spike had become a full member of Buffy's inner circle, a trusted friend and
a valuable ally.  Looking at him today, it was hard to believe that they'd
spent so much time trying to kill each other.  Sure, the chip in his head
made sure that Spike was no longer a threat to humans, but the vampire had
also changed and had learned to fit into a human world as well as or maybe
better than Angel had.

Xander sighed.  "I am seven feet tall."  A soft orange light surrounded him
as he spoke, fading when he finished.  "I have brown eyes."  No light.
Xander glanced at him.  "Angel is naturally blond."  Orange glow.  He looked
at Gunn.  "Gunn kicks ass with his axe."  No light.

"I'm a believer," Gunn said.

"So am I," Robert added.

"Fine.  Then why hasn't Spike ever mentioned seeing you?"  Cordelia sounded
more confused then confrontational.

"I'm getting to that."  Xander relaxed back onto the couch, relaxed back
into contact with Angel.

Shifting a little closer, Angel kept his eyes riveted on Xander's face as he
waited for him to continue.


"Spike!"  The vampire wasn't the person Xander wanted to see most, but he
was willing to settle for anyone who didn't want to kill him.  "I-"

Spike stared at him for a moment longer, then snorted in disgust and started
to walk away.

What?  Xander tried to get up and groaned as his body protested every move
it took to force himself to his feet.  "Spike!"  His voice was still no
better than a croak, but at least it made the vampire turn around.

"What the hell do you want?" Spike asked.  "You've got a lot of nerve,
showing your face after..."

Xander swayed.  Maybe he shouldn't have stood up so fast.  He couldn't do
anything to save himself as he crashed back down to his knees.  He didn't
have the energy to get up again so soon so he settled for leaning back and
staring up at Spike.  "I know I scared everybody," he said, trying to guess
why the vampire was mad.  "I didn't want to.  I tried to fight them but I
couldn't and I couldn't fight her either but I got away.  I got away and I
think maybe we don't have to worry about Glory any more.  I let Joyce die
but Dawn will be ok and that has to count for something, right?"

"What are you talking about?"  Spike came closer.

"They got me.  I was going back to The Magic Shop and they got me and I know
I scared everybody but I'm back.  I'm back and I think we can make
everything better."  He sank a little closer to the ground.  "Do you think
it can be better?"

Spike shook his head.  "You're talking crazy.  Come on.  Let's get you to
the Watcher and see what he has to say about you."  He bent down and grabbed
Xander's arm, hauling him up to his feet.  "What the hell?  You stink."

"Not many baths in hell," Xander muttered.

"You ran off to hell?"  Spike started to pull him along, supporting most of
his weight.

"Didn't want to go.  And if Glory's a Hell god, then she must live in hell,
right?"  It felt so good to let Spike half-carry him, to let him do the

"Glory?"  Spike stopped working.  "What about Glory?"

"I think she's dead.  I killed Ben and if he's dead, where is she going to
go?"  He thought he was making sense so why was Spike so long on the uptake?
He remembered the vampire as being much smarter.  He frowned when Spike
began to pull him into his crypt.  "I want to go see Willow and Buffy."

"You can see them in just a minute."  Spike pulled him to the back of the
crypt and sat him down behind a thin wall of curtains.  "Now, I want you to
talk to me.  What happened?  Take it from the beginning and take it slow."

"Can't I wait until everyone is together?"

"Call it practice.  Tell me first."

Xander didn't have the will to fight with him.  He leaned back against the
wall of the crypt.  "I was going back to The Magic Shop."


"I don't know.  What's today?"


"No, the date?"

Spike crouched down in front of him.  "What date were you going back to the

"The sixteenth."

"It's the twentieth."

Xander shook his head.  "Only four days?  It felt so much longer."  Maybe he
was crazy.

"Xander, you've been gone for two months."

It couldn't have been so long, could it?  But he had no idea how long he'd
drifted in that calm pool of insensibility after Glory touched him.  He had
some vague memories of being coaxed to eat while babbling very seriously
about the way colors hurt his eyes if he looked at them directly.  If they'd
fed him then he might have been there for that long.

A hand on his shoulder brought him back to the present.  "Two months," he
said quietly.

"Two months," Spike confirmed.  The suspicion had faded from his eyes.  "Why
were you going back to The Magic Shop?"

"I didn't want to leave things like I had.  They'd been upset, I was
upset...but I needed to talk to them.  I needed them."


Xander shook his head.  He needed to sleep and eat and take a shower but
more than that he still needed to talk to his friends.  "Later."


He was telling this all out of order but he wasn't going to be able to move
Spike so he had no choice but to answer Spike's questions.  "Because of what
I heard Anya say.  That I was a healer, that I could make people better."

Spike rocked back on his heels.  "She said that."

Xander nodded.  "To whoever she was cheating with."  That thought still
hurt, but distantly.  He guessed that he just didn't have the energy to get

"So you wanted to tell the others that she said that, then?"

"Yeah.  But they were upset and I was upset and it went all wrong.  I left
before it could get worse but then I tried to go back and that's when they
got me."

"Who got you?"

"Glory's guys."

Spike hissed.  "Are you sure?"

"They took me to her.  She wanted to know about the key."

"What did you tell her?"  The vampire's muscles tensed.

"Nothing.  I talked and talked and then," he hesitated but why not admit all
to Spike?  Spike knew how pathetic he was.  "Then I screamed and begged but
I never said anything about anything.  I couldn't.  I wouldn't."  He sagged
down a little more.  "It doesn't matter, though."

"Why not?"

"Because Ben was there and I killed him."


"A guy Buffy likes.  Liked.  Only she doesn't know he's dead so maybe she
still likes him.  But he is Glory and Glory is him.  I saw him change into

"You seem a little addled.  Maybe you thought you saw him."

"I did see him.  He was her and she was him."  He tried to cross his arms
over his chest and ended up nearly overbalancing.

Spike grabbed him and coaxed him upright again.  "Sticking her in the body
of a mortal would fit the description of her prison that Rupert found."
Spike spoke softly, as though to himself.  "What happened?" he asked louder.

"Ben was there."  A sudden thought struck Xander.  "I'm sorry," he said,
reaching out to touch Spike.

"Sorry for what?"

"For not being nicer to you.  For not understanding."  He shifted around
until he was sitting cross-legged.  He looked down at his foot, the one Ben
had been focusing on.  There were still patches of flesh missing from it.
"They had no right to experiment on you.  No right at all."

Spike reached out and cool fingers moved through the air just over the raw
patches.  "Ben?"

"He wanted to know what a healer could do."  Xander grabbed Spike's hand.
"I'm sorry."

"It's all right."  Spike didn't take his hand away.  "So after you figured
out Ben was Glory?"

"I got lucky and Ben was the one there when I got sane again.  I killed him
and ran.  Shuffled.  Whatever.  I left and now I'm here and I have to find
Willow and Buffy so they'll know that I'm OK and not worry about me and not
worry about Glory because if Ben is dead then she can't come back."

"We'll tell them," Spike said.  "But we have to wait just a little while."

Xander shook his head.  He didn't know how much longer he could wait.  "I

"You-"  Spike's head jerked up and he stared off into space for a few
moments.  He hunkered back down in front of Xander.  "Listen to me.  I need
you to trust me for a little while.  Somebody's coming and you don't want
them to see you like this.  You'll just end up scaring them and you don't
want people to be scared do you?"  He spoke slowly, holding Xander's gaze
the entire time.

Xander shook his head.  "No, I don't.  But how long?"

"Just be quiet until they leave and then we'll figure everything out.  Can
you be quiet for me?"

Xander relaxed against the wall.  "OK."  Spike had saved his life and they
were kinda like kindred spirits now so he could wait a little while if Spike
wanted him to.

"No matter what?"

"I promise."  He squeezed Spike's hand one more time before letting him go.
"I'm sorry."

"Me too."  Spike stood up and walked out from behind the curtain, leaving
Xander alone.

Xander concentrated on breathing quietly.  If Spike was worried about his
appearance scaring people, then he much look much worse then he'd imagined.
It would be best to sit and wait and maybe Spike would help him get cleaned
up a little before they went over to Buffy's.  He heard the door to the
crypt open and almost held his breath, wanting to avoid being found.  He
wasn't used to feeling scared like this all the time.  He didn't like it,
but he didn't have the will to try to change it.

"What brings you by?" Spike asked, his voice calm and cool as ever.

"We're supposed to be patrolling tonight."  Buffy!  That was Buffy!  "But we
got tired to waiting for you to show up."

Xander wanted to get up and tear aside the curtain and call to her.  But
Spike had told him to wait, told him that he would scare people and he
didn't want to scare Buffy.  He'd done enough by disappearing.  It was hard,
but he forced himself to stay seated and stay quiet.

"Sorry about that."  Spike paused, as though he was taking a drag on a
cigarette.  "Got caught in a few scraps here in the cemetery and was just
getting ready to head on over."

"You could come with us now."  Willow's voice.  Willow's soft gentle voice.

Nearly shaking with effort, Xander forced himself to stay still.  He wanted
to see her so bad, more than he could ever remember wanting to see another

"Got a couple of errands that I should run, actually.  How about I meet up
with you in a bit?"

"It's been quiet," Willow said.

"I guess that's all right."  Buffy sighed.  "But don't pull a Xander on us.
If I have to come looking for you, it won't be pretty."

Pull a Xander?  What did she mean by that?  Why did she sound so disgusted
when she said his name?  He huddled in on himself.  It sounded like she
hated him.  For what?  For getting captured?  It was stupid and weak but he
hadn't told Glory anything and that had to count for something, right?

"See you later," Willow said, making no comment about Buffy's words.

He held himself even more tightly.  She didn't care what Buffy had said.
Did that mean that she didn't care about him any longer?  He got lost in his
own thoughts and didn't hear Buffy and Willow leave.  He wasn't aware of
anything except his own confusion until he felt Spike's hand on his

"I'm sorry.  I didn't want you to hear that."  Spike's blue eyes looked

"Why?  Why do they hate me?" Xander asked.  "I didn't mean to get caught.  I
didn't mean to.  You believe me, right?"

"Shit."  Spike sat down beside him.  "They don't hate you because you got
caught.  They don't even know that you were captured.  The day you left The
Magic Shop, all they knew was that you disappeared.  Buffy and Willow went
looking for you when Anya said she hadn't seen you either and the only thing
they found was a note from you the next day, shoved in Buffy's mailbox."

"I didn't leave a note.  I couldn't."

"I know.  It was a terrible note, Xander.  Full of hate and pain and hurt
and you dumped it all over each of them.  Even Rupert was upset by it."

"I didn't leave a note!"

"I know.  If it was Glory then she could have made one and left it as though
you did.  That explains why none of your stuff disappeared.  They looked for
you even after they got the note but they found no trace of you and after a
month or so they just stopped looking.  It was that damn note."

Xander nodded slowly.  A horrible letter left behind after they'd argued?
They'd all been under a lot of pressure and he guessed he could see how they
might believe it.  At least, he could see it intellectually.  In his heart,
he couldn't believe that they didn't see right through the note and know
that he would never do that to them.  He wouldn't have ever given up on any
of them, never would have accepted that they just ran off.  Even when Buffy
left, they searched for her and kept the faith that she would be back, no
matter what they might have said.

He needed to change his plans.  He'd planned on talking to them and telling
them where he'd been.  He didn't have the energy now and there was no way he
was going to be able to gather himself after what he'd learned.  Would
talking even do any good?  Glory hadn't listened to any of the words he'd
said.  Ben hadn't cared what he'd told him.  Buffy and Willow had just
ripped his heart out with words and the lack of them.  Words were useless.
They weren't going to work and he wasn't even sure if he wanted to try any

"Xander?"  Spike touched his shoulder again.

"I need to go."

"Let me help?"

Xander nodded.  "Please."  He held out his hands and let Spike pull him to
his feet.


"What happened after that?" Angel asked.

"Spike got me to a hotel.  I holed up inside for a couple days, getting
cleaned up and trying to figure out if I was sane or not.  After I was able
to walk properly and Glory hadn't made a reappearance, I took all the money
Spike gave me and I left."  Xander's voice was a little hoarse.

"Why didn't he tell anyone that he saw you?" Cordy asked.

"I asked him not to."  Xander shifted a little in his seat, rubbing against
Angel as he did so.  "Wesley?  Take the truth tell off, please?"

Wesley nodded and muttered under his breath.

"Thank you."  Xander closed his eyes.  Fine tremors ran through his frame:
Angel could feel them more than see them.

Angel couldn't hold back any longer.  Xander was done talking so it wouldn't
interrupt the flow of his narrative.  He reached out and pulled Xander into
an embrace, hugging him as he'd wanted to do as he'd longed to do since
Xander started talking.  He hadn't been there to offer comfort in the past
but he wasn't going to let that stop him now.


Part Nineteen/?

Xander didn't know what to do.  His emotions hadn't been this jumbled and
confused since...since he didn't really want to think about.  He was
relieved to have finally told his story, to finally have the whole thing out
in the open and stop carrying around the weight of the secret on his own.
He always told himself that he didn't need anyone's approval, didn't need to
be vindicated in the eyes of the people who'd misunderstood him, and it was
true.  He'd spent the last five years proving to himself that he could make
it in the world completely on his own.  Need and want weren't the same
things, though, and he wanted to be understood.  He didn't like knowing that
he'd been cast as a villain in the thoughts of his friends.  It was a relief
to know that there were a few people who wouldn't look at him with loathing
and dislike and complete lack of understanding.

He'd felt wrung out when he'd finished talking, exhausted mentally and
emotionally.  The relief was mixed in with exhaustion and fear of how people
would react and the familiar sorrow that welled up whenever he thought about
everything he'd lost in Sunnydale.  He hadn't been sure he was going to be
able to keep it together until he was able to make an escape to his room.

And then Angel's arms were around him and he was being held close.  There
wasn't really any shared body heat but there was incredible warmth of spirit
and before he knew what he was doing he was burrowing closer, needing to be
touched by another being without worrying about pain.  He'd wanted to be
close to Angel like this for so long and he was tired and in no shape to
resist the temptation that was so very close.

"I'm sorry."  Angel's words were soft, spoken directly into his ear, raising
goose bumps as puffs of air moved against his ear.

"Sorry for what?" Xander asked, not moving.  He almost felt safe, surrounded
by strong arms that he knew could more than support him.

"For not knowing.  For thinking that you might have really written the note.
I'm sorry."  Angel tightened the embrace, pulling Xander closer.

Xander wrapped his arms around Angel, letting the soft rocking motion the
vampire had adopted lull him, soothing his rioting emotions.  "That's what
everyone was supposed to think."

"I'm still sorry."

It felt so right, to be close to Angel, to feel his voice rumble in his
chest as he spoke.  Xander could feel himself relaxing, muscles he hadn't
even known were tense slowly loosening up.  His body was acting as though it
had found a safe haven, almost as though it had come home or...

That thought sent him pushing out of Angel's embrace, struggling to sit
upright and apart.  What was he doing?  He didn't have a home.  He couldn't.
He didn't know how to live in one any longer.  Five years of wandering and
learning how to be alone couldn't be forgotten, not even in the circle of
Angel's arms.

"Xander?"  Angel's voice was soft, worried.

Xander didn't look at him.  He shook his head a little.  "I'm fine."  He
looked up at Wesley.  "Thank you."

Wesley stared at him.  "You're welcome," he said in a weak voice.  He looked
shell shocked.

So did everyone else in the room.  They were all staring at him.  They all
looked shocked, worried.  There was curiosity in Robert's expression; he
would no doubt be pushing for a demonstration of his abilities as soon as he
finished processing everything Xander had just said.  Cordelia looked sick.
He hadn't seen her look that bad since graduation.  She was staring at him
but it looked as though she was looking right through him.

"Cordelia?"  He kept his voice low, not wanting to startle her.

She jerked back to awareness.  "Huh?  What?"  The anger he was used to
hearing from her was missing.

"Are you all right?"

"Am *I* all right?"  She shook her head as she repeated his question.  "I -
I'll be fine."  She licked her lips.  "Are you?"

He nodded.  He wasn't used to telling the story, wasn't used to reliving it
except in his nightmares.  Still, he hadn't been surprised by anything he'd
had to say and that didn't hold true for anyone else.

The staring was beginning to wear on him.  He was used to moving unnoticed
through a crowd, not being the center of attention.  He stood up.  "Thank
you," he said, glancing over at Angel but not meeting his eyes.  He then
walked out of the room quickly, not wanting to be called back.  Once out in
the hall, certain that he was alone, he broke into a run, taking the stairs
two at a time until he was on the second floor and could hide away behind
the locked door of his room.

He opened his bag and pulled out his cell phone.  He dialed quickly,
shifting from side to side as he waited to hear the line pick up.


"Ryan.  It's Xander.  Is Lorne up?"

//For you, he'll get up.  Hang on just a second.//

"Wait."  Xander didn't want Lorne to be woken up for him.  He was just
freaking out a little.  He didn't need to upset Lorne, too.  "I'll call

//It's no trouble.//

"Thanks anyway.  Bye."  He hung up quickly, not giving Ryan a chance to try
to change his mind.

He was tempted to call Spike, to tell the vampire that finally other people
knew the story.  He resisted the urge.  Spike was already worried about him.
The phone call would just make it worse and might even push him into
coming up to Los Angeles and it wasn't a good time for that.   Xander paced
around the room.  He felt restless, full of aimless energy.  He'd never
thought he'd tell that story to anyone, not the whole thing, anyway.  It had
been his secret for so long that he wasn't quite sure how to react to other
people knowing now.

Thoughts whirled through his mind and he wanted to make them stop but know
how to do it.  He didn't like thinking about the past for exactly this
reason.  Remembering the pain and the fear was bad enough, but he didn't
want to deal with the self-disgust and loathing that accompanied them.
Knowing that the entire time he'd been with Glory that his friends hadn't
been looking for him, that they hadn't been worrying about him...it hurt.
He'd thought of them as his family and they were the rock upon which his
world was founded.  To find out that they'd given up on him so easily tore
him up inside.  He understood the note Glory had left had hurt them.  The
Hell God had no doubt intended the words to tear apart the Scooby Gang and
weaken Buffy.

And he'd let it work.  That was where the self-loathing came in.  When he'd
returned to Sunnydale and realized what had happened, he'd had the
opportunity to go to Willow and the others and tell them the truth, tell
them that the note was fake and Glory was gone.  He'd been too tired and too
battered to do it, though, and the shock of their hatred toward him had been
enough to make him give up and walk away forever.  He wasn't the villain
they thought, but he wasn't completely innocent, either.

He couldn't stay in this room any more.  He had to get moving and roaming
around the hotel wouldn't be enough because he didn't want to deal with the
stares he was sure he would get.  He just wanted to escape for a little
while, run away from the knowing looks and his own thoughts.  He pulled his
coat out of the closet and put it on, sliding his phone into one of the
pockets.  He opened his door and headed down the stairs.  He didn't look
around, not wanting to see anyone else watching him.  He just walked
straight through the lobby.

He almost made it to the door.

"Xander?"  Angel's voice was full of barely-concealed worry.

Xander wanted to walk out, wanted to push his way through the door and walk
into the fading sunlight.  He couldn't do it, though.  He couldn't just walk
away from Angel, not when he knew the other man was watching.  Angel had
been the first person who pushed, wanting to know his secrets.  Angel was
the first one who had cared that much and Xander couldn't ignore that.

His shoulders slumped as he turned around.  "Yes?"

Angel stood in the center of the lobby.  "Are you leaving?"

"I need to get out of here."

"What happened?"  Angel took a few steps forward.

"Nothing."  He didn't want to sound like a child by complaining that people
were looking at him funny.

"Xander..."  It was strange to see Angel so discomfited.  "Where do you want
to go?"

"A park."  There was no way he could explain how soothing it was to be
surrounded by the gentle energy of plants and trees.  He'd never been aware
of that feeling in Sunnydale, but he'd learned to treasure it during his
years of travel.  He didn't meditate and he'd given up on prayer, but he
knew that a park would settle his spirits and calm his racing thoughts.

"Can you wait an hour?  The sun will be down then and I'll take you to any
park you want."

In an hour Xander worried he'd be insane from his brain's refusal to just
calm down.  He shook his head slowly.

"Then wait five minutes and I'll have Wes or Gunn go with you."

"I don't want anyone to go with me."  He shifted his weight.  "I feel
strange here now," he admitted.  That was what he wanted to get away from.

"I'm sorry."  Angel's apology was immediate.

"You haven't done anything."  It was true.  Angel hadn't changed in how he
looked at Xander.  He wasn't a part of the strangeness Xander felt.

"Maybe that's why I should be sorry.  Is there anything I can do?"

'Make everyone stop looking at me like I'm a freak' was too stupid for him
to say.  Xander settled for shrugging.

Angel moved toward him again.  "You know, Gunn and Wesley are upstairs and
they won't be coming down for a while.  Cordy and Robert have gone to pick
up some test results from the hospital and they won't be back for a while.
It's just us."

Xander looked up at him sharply.  It was like Angel knew that he didn't want
to be looked at...which he probably did.  He could remember years ago when
they all found out Angel was a vampire.  Angel hadn't been willing to meet
any of their gazes for what felt like weeks.  Angel had been treated like a
freak.  Xander should know, since he'd worked so hard to make sure that the
other man didn't feel welcome.  He didn't deserve Angel's understanding now.
"I'm sorry."

Surprise bloomed on Angel's face.  "For what?"

"For the way I acted back in Sunnydale."  He really didn't want to elaborate
about how nasty he'd been, didn't want to remind Angel of all the reasons
why the vampire should hate him.  Xander liked the feeling of almost
friendship they were sharing and was reluctant to destroy it.

"That was forgiven and forgotten a long time ago."  Angel stepped forward
one more time and stopped, his feet just inches away from the sunlight that
filled the very front of the lobby.  "You were talking for a long time.
It's going to be night soon.  How about I make dinner?"

Xander could handle Angel looking at him.  Angel knew what it felt like to
be a freak and Angel didn't hate him.  "I'll make dinner."

"All right."  Angel smiled at him as he walked out of the sunlight.  "After
you," he said, bowing a little.

Xander didn't fight his answering smile as he led the way into the kitchen.
A few moments of searching in the fridge gave him bread, deli meat, onions,
and tomatoes.  He found some cheese and was in business.  He cut vegetables
and looked at Angel, who was leaning against the counter.  "Tell me about
one of your cases.  A non-apocalyptic one."

"OK."  Angel began telling a story about Wesley impersonating him.

He hadn't believed that he'd be able to laugh after talking about Glory, but
Angel was proving him wrong.  Xander worked on the sandwiches while
listening and laughing as Angel told the story.  He glanced over at the
vampire again and again, storing up images of him.  He did his best to
memorize the sound of his voice, the way he would half-laugh as if hesitant
to give into the feeling.  He wasn't going to be in Los Angeles for much
longer and he didn't want to forget anything about Angel.  He'd spent time
in Sunnydale and then during his wanderings dreaming about the dark haired
man.  He'd always been a little in love with Angel and after having been the
focus of Angel's friendship and protection he was certain that he'd gone
from a little to a lot.  It was going to be hard to leave the city, to walk
away and know that he wouldn't be able to see Angel again without putting
him at risk.

He'd have these memories, though.  New and better memories that he could use
when the darkness closed in on him and the bad memories threatened to
overwhelm him.  He sliced the tomatoes and smiled and memorized everything
with quiet desperation.


Was the sandwich going to be enough? Angel watched Xander eat, wanting to make
sure he had enough food. He hadn't seen any evidence of Xander gaining
weight and maybe if he got up and made him a couple of eggs that would help.
"Would you liken some more?"

Xander shot him a very patient look. "I'm fine." There was a hint of a
smile at the corners of his mouth.

Angel realized that he was being over-protective, ridiculously so. Xander
was a grown man; he knew how much he wanted to eat. If he was still hungry,
he was more than capable of getting up and getting something else to eat. He
needed to keep his mouth shut if he didn't want to give himself away
completely. Xander was skittish enough around him now; if he found out what
Angel was really feeling, it might just be enough to send him fleeing and
that was the last thing Angel wanted.

He'd had many reasons to leave Sunnydale, all those years ago. He'd been
called by The Powers, of course. He also knew that he had to leave for
Buffy's sake, as well as his own. It hurt seeing her every day and knowing
that no matter how much he loved her, nothing could come of it because
they'd only end up hurting each other more and more. He'd also needed to
leave so he wouldn't see Xander any more. He'd been too intriguing, too
distracting. Even when Angel had been in love with Buffy he'd still been
aware of Xander in ways he shouldn't have been. It was obvious Xander didn't
like him; the young man bristled with hostility whenever Angel came too
near. That didn't stop Angel from noticing the lovely line of his jaw, the
way his hair curled when it grew out, the fine sound of his laughter or the
amazing power of his loyalty...all things he had no business noticing when
there was Buffy and Xander's own hatred to deal with. He'd thought of Xander
in the years after he left, fantasized about him when he was in Sunnydale
and worried about him when he disappeared. He'd been a little in love with
him for what felt like forever.

He was distracted from his dangerous thoughts by the sound of people coming
into the lobby. He cocked his head to the side. "Cordy and Robert are back."

Xander tensed a little but his voice was neutral when he said, "All right."
He finished eating quickly, as though he wasn't sure he'd be able to stay in
the kitchen.

Angel frowned. Xander had resisted going out into the lobby to eat, saying
that he preferred to eat in the kitchen. That was why they were both
standing up while Xander ate at the counter. Angel now understood that
Xander had wanted to eat here so he could avoid seeing anyone else. It was
like he wanted to be ready to flee back to his room at any moment. Angel
didn't like that. He didn't want Xander to feel like he had to hide from
anyone, not here in Angel's home.

He sighed. "I can hear Cordy looking for us."

Xander didn't reply; he just put his dishes in the dishwasher and squared
his shoulder, like he was getting ready to face down an enemy.

Maybe he was. Cordy had looked shocked by what she heard, but Angel didn't
know if she was ready to lay aside years of hate and distrust after just a
few hours of truth.

"There's a back way out," Angel offered.

With a small smile, Xander shook his head. "Why put it off?" he asked. He
started to walk out of the kitchen, but he didn't fully exit the room until
Angel moved to walk beside him.

Angel made sure he stayed close as they walked into the lobby.

Cordy turned around at the sound of their footsteps as they walked behind
the reception desk. "There you guys are. I was starting to get worried." She
nodded over toward the front door, where they last few rays of sunlight were
visible. "It's not a real good time for you to be out of the hotel."

Seeing Robert eye Xander, Angel moved to stand a little in front of the
dark-haired man. "What do the test results say?" He did want to know, but if
it worked as a distractionary tactic, then so much the better.

"Nothing," Robert said with disgust. "None of them can explain where
Cordy's headaches are coming from or how we can stop the pain."

"Oh, we can stop the pain." Cordy wiggled the white paper bag in her hand.
"I've got me a nifty new prescription." Her eyes were tired and
disappointed, belying her jaunty tone.

Angel forgot his irritation with her as he took in the signs of pain on her
face. The visions had been getting worse and worse in terms of the pain she
felt. A few grateful demonic clients had been able to reduce her pain, but
it had only been temporary relief and she was soon hurting again. He had to
admire her determination; no matter the price she had to pay, Cordy wasn't
going to give up on helping people. Robert had been trying to help find a
physical reason for the pain, hoping to help her with medical science. Angel
hadn't thought he'd be able to find anything, but he'd still held out a
little hope.

"If I could just see what happens when you have a vision, then I might have
some idea of what's going on." Robert pounded his fist lightly on the
reception desk.

"I can't have a vision on command." Cordelia put the bag down. "If you
could just follow me around with the machines and wait for the most
inconvenient moment, that would work best."

Angel looked over at Xander. He didn't know if Xander knew about Cordy's
visions or not. Xander was looking off over Cordy's shoulder and his eyes
looked unfocused. Angel knew that Xander was touchy about people looking at
him right now so he was hesitant to ask if something was wrong.

He decided to try to keep attention off Xander as much as possible. "The
tests didn't tell you why the visions are causing so much pain...did they
tell you anything at all that could be helpful?"

"No. I couldn't find anything that I was looking for. No lesions, no
bleeding, no deformity. There's nothing there to explain why she's in pain.
It doesn't look like the visions are causing any kind of damage at all, but
that doesn't make any sense."

"At least the pain medication is kicking in," Cordy said with relief.

"It shouldn't be." Robert touched her arm. "Those pills take a while to
kick in, but they're the least likely to be habit forming. That's why I
prescribed them."

"Maybe it's the power of suggestion. The headache's almost gone."

Angel looked back over at Xander. Xander glanced up at him, his gaze once
more focused and clear. Angel quirked an eyebrow upwards. Xander nodded a

"What did you do?" Robert asked. He'd caught sight of the nod.

"Helped," Xander said quietly.

"Yeah, but how?"

Xander looked directly at Cordy. "I can't stop the pain from coming back.
I'm sorry. But it will take longer for it to get bad again."

"You didn't even touch me," Cordy said. "How...thank you." She smiled, the
first time Angel could remember her smiling sincerely at Xander. "The pain
is gone."

"If you healed her you must know what's wrong." Robert leaned over the

Xander shook his head. "There's nothing I can tell you that will help. I
talked to Lorne about the visions when he was telling me about all of you.
They were meant for a demon. From what Lorne tells me, they hurt the person
who had them first."

"Doyle," Cordy said quietly.

"He was a half-demon and better suited for taking the visions, but they were
still damaging his mind, just at a slower rate." Xander shrugged. "I can't
explain exactly what they're doing wrong in any way that makes medical
sense. You're being given information that was never designed to be to be
interpreted by human senses. Your body is working overtime to try to
decipher it, shoving the information down pathways that weren't meant to
take it."

"So there's no hope?" Robert asked. "I'm not going to accept that."

"You shouldn't." Xander shifted. "Getting it transmitted the right way at
the start would solve everything."

"Because it's so easy to get in contact with The Powers." Cordy shook her
head. "They don't seem to care."

"They probably don't."

Angel stared, surprised by Xander's harsh tone. "What do you know about

"Enough not to be working for them. Do you have a way to reach them besides

"Not anymore," Angel admitted.

Xander nodded. "I'll get in contact with them and see if there's anything I
can do. They don't listen to me often, but I can try."

"What, you're not just a healer, you're a handy dandy walkie-talkie to The
Powers?" There was skepticism in Cordy's voice, but the teasing in her voice
had gentled, become something that spoke of friendship or acceptance.

Xander tilted his head to the side. He didn't smile, but the defensiveness
slowly left his frame. "Not exactly. They've approached me a few times. I
can get their attention if I want to. After I meet the Lirasin, I'll contact

"Really?" Cordy asked.

He nodded.


Angel wanted to hear Xander's answer, too, but the front door opening
distracted them all.

Lorne entered and closed the door quickly. "Where is he?"

"Lorne? Is everything all right?" Xander moved past Angel to come out from
behind the reception desk.

"You tell me." The tall demon moved deeper into the lobby, away from the
windows. "Ryan told me you called."

"Did he also tell you that I said I'd call you later?"

"You know better than that." Lorne reached out and touched Xander's cheek.
"Are you all right?"

Angel fought down a surge of jealousy. It was so easy for Lorne to just
reach out and touch Xander, so easy for him to make himself a part of
Xander's world. Angel had been struggling to get even a small toehold in
that world, fighting for any acceptance he could get and here was Lorne who
didn't have to work for it at all.

"I'm fine," Xander said.

"You're lying."

"Want me to hum something for you?" A smile flashed on Xander's face.

"No, no. Let's not do that." Lorne looked at him carefully. "You look

Xander started to deny it, but a yawn proved him to be a liar. He shook his
head. "A little."

"I want to talk to you. Maybe in your room?"

Angel clenched his fists. He had no right to tell Xander who he could or
couldn't have up in his room, but he wanted to. This was his house, his
home, and who was Lorne to just walk in and do this?

"All right." Xander inclined his head as he met Angel's gaze. "Bye." He
started to walk away from them, but stopped when he realized Lorne wasn't
with him. "Lorne?"

"I'll be up in just a few seconds. I want to talk to Angelcakes for a

Xander nodded and headed up the stairs.

That was fine. Angel wanted to talk to Lorne, too, so that was just about
perfect. He watched Xander go up the stairs, seeing weariness in his
movements now. He'd most likely worn himself out healing Cordy. Angel would
have to try to get him to a park that night or else figure out some other
way for Xander to replenish his energies. Xander was staying with him and
Angel was going to watch out for him. Lorne could worry all he wanted, but
Angel wasn't going to let anything happen to him.

"Angel?" Lorne walked past him, heading for the back office.

Angel shrugged at the others as he followed the host. "What do you need?"

"I need to know what happened to him. Why did he call me? And why does he
look so tired? He was supposed to be hiding and resting here."

"Whoa." Angel raised his hands defensively. "Slow down, all right? If
Xander called you today it was probably because he was a little unsettled.
He asked Wesley to put a truth tell on him so he could tell us why he left

Lorne sat down on the corner of Angel's desk. "He did? And what did you
think about what you heard?"

It was Angel's turn to sit down. "I haven't been thinking about it, to be
honest. It was...bad. Very bad and I don't want to think about Xander having
to go through it."

"I can understand that." Lorne relaxed. "I think he needed to talk about it.
He's been letting it fester inside for a long time."

"So he never told you? Never sang a song for you?"

"No! No, he can't sing for me. The one time I walked up behind him and he
was humming, I had a headache for the rest of the week. The pain he has
inside is too intense for me to read him, especially since I care about him
so much." Lorne looked a little wistful. "I'm glad he got to talk about it
with someone, though."

Angel didn't want to pry, so he kept talking. "He also looks tired because
he tried healing Cordy. He said that he's fixed the damaged but he can't stop
it coming back." He hesitated. "He also said he talk to The Powers?"

"He probably can get in contact with them. They've approached him about
working for them. He's refused so far, but they're interested enough to
listen to him if he indicates he has something to say."

"How did that happen?" Angel knew that he and Doyle had pretty much been
drafted into service by The Powers. Neither of them had been given much
choice in the matter.

"It's his story," Lorne said. "Let's just say they were interested in
having a healer on staff, but since he's not your average healer, things
didn't work out quite as they'd planned."

Angel nodded, even though he wasn't sure what Lorne was talking about. It
looked as though finding out why Xander had left Sunnydale was just the
beginning of learning about the other man's new life. All Angel wanted was
enough time to be able to learn everything about Xander that he could. "So
you're here to check on him?"

"Something upset him enough that he made a call, so now I'm here. He
doesn't usually admit that he might need other people." Lorne sighed. "If he
told you why he left, he'll probably have nightmares tonight."

"Do the names Jesse or Marie mean anything to you?"

Lorne cocked his head to the side. "You've heard that nightmare, too? More
ugliness from the Hellmouth, I guess, and it just gets all mixed in together
until he just about gives up on sleeping altogether." He sighed. "Maybe I
should stay tonight."

Jealousy flared. "That's not necessary."

Lorne looked at him, his red eyes too discerning for Angel's comfort. Angel
was ready for an argument but Lorne just nodded. "Maybe it isn't. I still
need to talk to him. And maybe you need to talk to your merry men and Maid
Cordelia. Xander doesn't need to deal with any more of their reactions to
surprises." He rose to his feet and walked out of the office.

Angel followed him and found Cordy standing far too close to the door. He
ignored the fact that she might have been listening for the moment and
watched Lorne walk up the stairs. He thought that he'd done a pretty good
job of keep his face blank, but when he looked back at Cordelia she had her
interrogation face on and was ready to go.

"What was all that about?" she asked.

"Lorne just wanted to know how Xander's doing."

"Uh-huh. And what were you supposed to talk to us about?"

"I think it was something about how rude it is to eavesdrop." He tried
glaring at her.

"I stopped being scared of you after the first time I heard you sing. Knock
that off because it isn't going to work." She poked him. "Give. What is it?"

"It really be better if I waited for everyone to be together," Angel said.
He knew Lorne was right. He needed to talk to Xander, but first he had to
settle things with his friends. He was worried enough about how Xander was
going to react to the news that Angel was attracted to him. He didn't need
the extra stress of wondering how Cordy and the others were react. Besides,
if there were any objections he wanted to deal with them now instead of
letting them affect Xander. He'd promised to protect the other man and that
included protecting him from his friends.

"Be together for what?" Gunn asked from the stairs.

Angel started to feel as though someone were setting him up. "You and Wes
come over here, please." He watched as the two men walked toward him,
watched the way they never moved too far from each other's side. He wanted
to have that, wanted the easy trust and companionship. He wanted it with

"What's going on?" Wesley asked.

"Angel has something he's supposed to talk about with us." Cordy crossed her
arms over her chest. "Now."

Stifling a sigh, Angel tried to think of the proper words. He wasn't good at
this. "It's about Xander. And me. Xander and me." Those probably weren't
them. "The way I feel about him." That was a little better.

"How do you feel about him?" Gunn raised his chin, protectiveness clear in
his tone.

"Ah, that can be complicated."

"Can be, or is?" Wesley had a straight face but Angel was pretty sure he
heard laughter lurking in his tone.

"Is. I'm, ah, attracted to him." He didn't look up, choosing instead to
focus on the baseboards of the wall.

"What?" Cordy pushed into his space so he could see her shoes. "How long has
this been going on?"

"Years," he admitted.

"What?" she repeated.

Irritation made him lift his head. "Years. Since Sunnydale. I just never
acted on it or admitted it to anyone."

"Does he know?" Cordy asked.

"I don't think so."

"And I supposed you're telling us because you want to tell him." Gunn's
voice was still challenging.

"I do." Angel knew that Gunn wasn't going to let him get by with so little
explanation. The younger man had been protective of Xander from the start
and he wasn't going to stop now. Angel knew he usually ended up hurting the
people he cared about so he didn't blame Gunn at all. "It's starting to be
more than attraction."

"Love?" Cordy asked. "Are you serious?"

"Yes." At least he didn't have to worry about them panicking over his
curse. A side effect from the last apocalypse they'd been involved in was
the nullification of his curse. Wes saw it as a step along the way on his
journey to Shansu, when he'd regain his humanity. Humans didn't need curses
to keep their souls, after all. "I'm telling you before I tell him because I
want to know how you're going to react. He doesn't need any more surprises
then what's already coming."

"You're certain about this?" Wesley asked quietly.


"How do you think he's going to react?" Gunn asked.

"I don't know. I'm hoping that he doesn't panic." Back in Sunnydale his
attraction had been fueled by little hints of interest from Xander. He'd
known that the other man's hatred of him had been at least partly a cover
for that interest. "He deserves to know, though." Cordelia had been silent
for too long and he looked up at last to see how she looked.

She stared back at him, searching his eyes. "Don't hurt him," she said at

"I won't," he said. "That's the last thing I want to do."

He didn't wait for Robert to make a comment. This wasn't his concern.
Angel had had enough of other people putting in their input. Now he wanted
to go upstairs and talk to Xander, tell him how he felt. He admitted to
himself that he was a little scared: he had no idea how Xander would react.
He did know that Xander seemed calmer around him then anyone else and that
Lorne approved. He just had to hope that he was doing the right thing.

He couldn't stay in the lobby. Watching the stairs would just make him
crazy. He headed back into his office. He had sat down and picked up a
book that he could stare at and pretend to read. Before he could open it,
Cordy entered the room. She crossed her arms and stared at him. After a few
minutes he couldn't take it any more. "What?"

"I hope this works. I do. But don't hurt him, ok?" She was serious, all
joking façade gone. "I have to make my own peace with him." She shook her
head. "I spent so much time hating him and it was all a mistake. But that's
my job. Yours is just not to hurt him."

He knew she was trying to compensate for her own treatment of Xander and he
appreciated her determination to make things right. "I won't," he repeated

She finally started to relax. "Man," she said with a grin. "When I moved
here I didn't know that there was something in the water that suddenly
revealed that all the men in this city are gay."

"Robert must drink bottled," Angel said, and grinned at her sudden blush.
Teasing Cordy would definitely make time pass faster as he waited for Lorne
to return.

Part Twenty-one/?

Rolling onto his side, Xander swallowed a yawn.  He wanted to know what
Lorne and Angel were talking about downstairs, but he couldn't concentrate
on speculating.  His bed had called to him as soon as he walked in the room
and he didn't resist.  He didn't have a need to be on his guard here.  Lorne
was downstairs.  Even more comfortingly, Angel was downstairs and Xander
knew he wouldn't let anything make it past him to harm him.

Healing Cordelia had been an impulse that he didn't regret except for the
timing.  He'd felt drained after talking so long and the healing hadn't been
simple or easy.  He needed sleep and then a visit with Mother Nature in
order to recharge.  When he'd reached his room he'd stretched out on the bed

That nap was sounding better and better.  He stretched a little, then curled
back in on himself, tucking his hands under his chin and letting his eyes
close.  He could drift here, feeling safe and knowing that he was cared for
even when he was alone.  Lorne would be careful to wake him gently.  His
mind summoned up the memory of Angel waking him from the nightmare.  He'd
been gentle, too.  Xander allowed himself the luxury of thinking about
Angel:  the way he'd offered to be placed under a truth tell for Xander, the
way he'd sat close during the telling, offering support with his every move
and his eyes as well as his words, and the way he'd offered a hug when
Xander had needed one most.  It was foolish since he knew it could never be,
but it couldn't hurt to dream a little right now.

He sank into a haze of pleasant memories and dreamy speculation, his
thoughts slow and heavy and relaxed.  The knock at the door didn't startle
him but it did bring him out of the almost sleep.  Knowing it was Lorne, he
didn't bother to do more than open his eyes.  "Yes?"

Lorne pushed the door open and popped his head in.  "You awake?"

"Maybe."  Xander smiled.  It was good to see Lorne.  He didn't see him often
enough to get blasé about it; every moment was to be treasured.

"You don't look it."  Lorne entered the room and closed the door behind
himself.  "I hear that you've had a busy day."

"Mmm."  Xander didn't get up.  He watched Lorne cross the room and raised
his head when the demon sat down on the bed so he could rest his head on his
knee after Lorne had settled himself.  "Busy, but good."

"How does it feel to have shared the secret?"

"Scary," Xander admitted.  "But I'm glad I did it.  I feel less...lonely,
now, I guess."

Lorne stroked his hand down Xander's arm.  "Good.  And I'm glad you healed
Cordy.  She's a handful and her bark *is* her bite-"

"You don't have to explain her to me.  I dated her, remember?  Her bark is
worse than most people's full on frontal attacks."  He sighed.  "Healing her
was the right thing to do.  She's fighting for the light and there's enough
pain in that without The Powers pulling this shit with her."

"Angel wanted to know if you could talk to them."

"Once I'm out of town, I'll send up a flare to them."

Lorne tapped him on the cheek.  "How can you do that?"

Xander turned his face into Lorne's leg.  "Secret," he said.  He wasn't sure
that The Powers had told the truth when they said that if he told anyone how
he contacted them that the method would stop working, but he wasn't going to
take any risks until he'd told them about the damage they were doing and
made them change the way the visions were sent.

"All right."

That was one of the things Xander valued most about Lorne was his easy
acceptance of the boundaries he set.  "I didn't mean to scare you."

"You didn't.  Much.  It was time for me to visit anyway."  Lorne hummed
quietly under his breath for a few minutes, then asked, "You've been getting
along with everyone?"

"Just like you knew I would."  Xander rolled over so he was looking up at
his friend.  "Gunn and Wesley remind me of Marc and Ryan...just with more

Lorne laughed.  "I thought you'd like them.  And Miss Mouth?"

"Cordy is Cordy.  She's been ignoring me."

"But that's going to change."

"I think so."  Xander resisted the urge to roll over and hide again.  "I
think maybe a lot will change."  Angel was treating him even more gently
then usual.  Now that he knew Xander had spent a couple months losing and
regaining his sanity and that he'd run out on his friends, he was going to
lose all interest in Xander as anything except a charity case.

"For the better," Lorne said.


"You sound about five when you say that."  Lorne sighed.  "As sure as I am
that pink is going to be the new pink next year."

"I didn't date Cordy long enough to understand that."

"Everything's going to be fine," Lorne said, growing serious.  "Everything,

He couldn't be sure that Lorne meant *everything* that Xander hoped for
would be fine.  He couldn't possibly be referring to the way Xander was
slowly falling back in love with Angel despite all his intentions and the
fact that he knew better.  Xander could only hope that he meant that he'd be
able to retain the friendship of Wesley and Gunn and especially Angel and
come to some sort of truce with Cordelia.  He could live with that.  He
would have to since he couldn't have anything more.

"So quiet.  That's the Xander I know and love."  Lorne's voice was light.

"Just thinking."

"Deep thoughts?"

"Stupid thoughts."  Xander started to roll back onto his side.

"Thinking about love isn't stupid."

Xander was back facing Lorne in an instant.  "I wasn't humming."

"You didn't have to.  I know you.  And I know your brown-eyed boy

"Gunn?" Xander said, deliberately obtuse.

"Fine.  Be coy.  I just thought you should know that you two would be good
for each other."  His red eyes were soft and full of truth and compassion.

Xander couldn't face those eyes.  He rolled onto his side, determined not to
talk about it.

Lorne sighed.  "However you want it.  Do you think you need me to stay?"

"No."  Xander sat up.  "You should go back to Caritas.  They need you more
there."  He forced himself to meet Lorne's gaze.  "Thank you for coming."

"Anytime you need me," Lorne promised.  "Are you sure you'll be all right?"

Xander answered without words, reaching out and asking for a hug.  Lorne
complied immediately, pulling him close and holding him tightly.  "Thank
you," Xander murmured.

"Thank *you*," Lorne replied.

He didn't get enough hugs in his life.  It was a basic form of affectionate
contact, one that he only rarely experienced.  Most often from Lorne,
occasionally from Marc, and sporadically from Spike.  He had a hard time
knowing when was the right time to pull away because he never really wanted
them to end.  When Angel had pulled him close, Xander had taken forever to
find the strength to move away.  With a sigh, he slowly moved away from
Lorne.  "I'll walk you out."

"You don't have to."

"If I don't get moving, I'm going to fall asleep.  I don't want to do that."


Sometimes Lorne was just too damn perceptive.  That didn't mean that Xander
had to admit the truth.  "I want to go to a park and it's best at night."

Lorne's look was knowing, but he let the evasion slide.  "I can't see Angel
being happy about you wandering out in the sunshine."  He stood up.  "And I
don't see you wanting to go without him."

Now it was Xander's turn to let something slide.  He rose to his feet and
walked with Lorne out of the room and down the stairs.  He wasn't surprised
to that everyone had gathered in the lobby.  It was the LA version of The
Magic Shop, or Buffy's living room.  They needed more couches and a table
for it to be perfect, but Xander was glad they had a place for safety and

He didn't want to look at Angel.  If he did, he'd no doubt find that Lorne
was watching him and then he'd get more bad advice like 'give it a shot'
when he knew the only sane thing to do was turn around and run from Los
Angeles as fast and hard as he could.  He tried to keep his gaze focused on
the doors.

Despite all his best efforts, his gaze trailed over to the right and he
found himself meeting Angel's eyes.  He could see concern and hope and what
looked like gladness in his brown eyes.  There was more there, but Xander's
courage failed him and he looked away before he could be sure of what he was
seeing.  He continued walking to the door, aware that Lorne was radiating
concern and sympathy beside him but resolutely not meeting his eyes.

Lorne left his side to say goodbye to everyone.  Xander was glad to hear him
joking a little with Cordelia.  He didn't like the idea of being the reason
for a rift between them.  He didn't go over to join in, wanting to give
Lorne and the others a semblance of privacy.  He wasn't really a part of
their world and he needed to start remembering that.  He would be gone soon
and he had a responsibility not to do anything to disrupt their lives any
more then he absolutely had to.

He continued to wait patiently by the door, staring out the glass planes and
watching the flashing lights of the cars on the streets outside.  It was
dark enough now that Angel would let him go to a park and that would be
best.  He could center himself there and he needed to find some serenity
after the events of this day.

After a few minutes, Lorne finished talking and joined him by the door.
Xander looked up.  "Be safe," he said.

"Of course."  Lorne tapped him on the cheek.  "Don't leave without talking
to me."

"I won't," Xander promised.

"Good."  Lorne reached out for a quick hug.  As he bent down, he murmured in
Xander's ear, "Trust in hope.  It's time."

Xander couldn't make any promises about that.  All he could give Lorne was a
weak smile.

Lorne shook his head but his smile was kind as he walked out the door.

Xander turned around and found himself the center of attention.  He fought
the urge to shift nervously and flee back to his room.  "Park?" he asked

"Sure."  Angel relaxed.  "When?"

"I'll get my coat."  Xander half-ran up the stairs, grabbing his coat and
filling the inner pockets with the usual items of protections he carried out
of long habit.  He was back down the stairs in just a few moments.

He slowed down when he saw that everyone had coats on.  It was going to be a
full-blown field trip, then.  He wasn't sure whether he was relieved or
disappointed.  He'd been certain that being alone with Angel would be a bad
idea, but now that he knew it wasn't going to happen he had to fight back
thoughts of just what might have happened.  "Ready?"  The question was
general, but once again his eyes had sought out Angel.

"Let's go."  Angel walked across the lobby so he could move to the door with

Xander sighed as he found himself falling easily into step with the taller
man.  No matter what his mind knew to be the best course of action, his
emotions and his body seemed determined to be drawn to Angel.  He had to
admit he felt safer walking with Angel beside him.  There was no good sewer
access to any of the nearby parks, so the streets were a necessary risk if
he wanted to go.  With Angel and the others with him, though, he felt that
it was a risk he could handle.  There was no reason for Wolfram and Hart to
think he was with Angel and even if they did find him, he still had a last
resort method of self-defense that he could summon up.

The night was quiet, traffic slow on the side streets they walked.  It
didn't take long to reach a mid-size park, full of trees and a few gentle

"How is this?" Angel asked.

"Perfect."  Xander walked away from the group, aware of their eyes on him as
he moved to stand in front of a tree.  The bark was rough under his palms
but the life held within the tree pulsed through him just the same.  He
smiled and closed his eyes.  This would be perfect.  He turned and sat down
so his back was against the tree, the cool of the grass soaking through his
jeans but there was so much life there as well, life and harmony and
*connection* thrumming through even the soil.  Knowing that Angel was
watching over him, Xander let himself get lost in the feeling of being
connected to a greater whole once more.

Time had no meaning when he allowed himself to drift like this.  His
awareness had expanded behind the constraints of time.  He still tried not
to lose himself too much, only staying long enough to regain his strength,
physically at least.  With a certain sense of regret, he opened his eyes,
losing that deep connection as he did so.  He didn't feel the usual sense of
loss that accompanied resurfacing.  Angel was there in front of him,
watching him with curious eyes and a half-smile.

Xander smiled in response and when Angel offered him a hand up, he didn't
hesitate to take it.

Wesley cleared his throat quietly.  "Is that how you do it?  Regain energy,
I mean."

"That's it."

"Why plants?" Gunn asked.

"That tree is full of life, and so is the grass that covers the ground
around it and even the soil contains life.  When I take energy to replenish
my own, I'm not taking it from a single tree or plant; I'm taking from them
all.  They're all connected in an endless cycle of growth, creation and
rebirth.  It's easier to get what I need because of it, and I can be sure I
won't do any of the plants any harm."

"I never thought I'd hear Xander Harris talk like a hippie."  Cordy's voice
struggled to be light and teasing.

Xander turned quickly to look at her.  There wasn't any malice in her
expression; she was honestly trying to joke with him, just like they had in
the past.  He recognized a peace offering when he heard one and he offered
her a smile in return and felt good when she relaxed.

"Healers can only draw energy from non-sentient life forms," Wesley said.
He frowned.  "At least, that's what I thought until you told us about..."
He let his voice trail away, obviously unwilling to say a name that he
thought would upset Xander.

The dark-haired man spared him the stress.   "Ben."  He managed not to
flinch as he said the name.  "From what Lorne tells me, most healers get
spotted as kids and stuck in training programs.  They're taught that they
can't take energy from living creatures.  The training goes so deep they
never even think of trying to absorb energy from say, a human being.  I
didn't get any training so I didn't know any of the rules."

"Does being a healer make you immune to magic?" Cordelia asked.


Cordy looked uncomfortable.  "Willow and Giles tried to find you using
locater spells.  I think Wesley even gave it a shot and they didn't couldn't
find anything."

Xander closed his eyes against the familiar rush of pain when he heard those
names.  He felt Angel move closer to him.  "That's not me.  I think Glory
did it.  I'm a little resistant to most of the magic that I've encountered,
including locater spells."  He figured that the Hell God did something to
him in order to hide him from Buffy and the others but he couldn't be sure.
No matter where it came from, right now he was grateful that he was
difficult to find; it was one of the few things working to hide him from
Wolfram and Hart.  He felt hands on his shoulders and opened his eyes to
find Angel looking down at him in concern.

"Are you all right?" Angel asked.

Xander nodded.  It wasn't quite the truth but he was as all right as he
could be.

The slight smile on Angel's face told Xander that the vampire didn't believe
him, but all Angel did was squeeze his shoulders once before releasing him.
Angel stayed close, well within Xander's personal space.  It made sense to
think that he was just being protective, but Xander couldn't help thinking
that Angel stayed close because he wanted to be near him.

He was distracted from following that dangerous train of the thought by the
sound of Gunn's voice.

"Trouble," the black man said in a low tone.

Xander turned to look, as did everyone else.  He drew himself up to his full
height as he watched the trio of humans in suits approach from the far side
of the park.

One woman stood toward the back, as did one man.  A second man stood
slightly in front of them.  From the shined tops of their shoes to the
perfectly professional cut to their hair, they were obviously lawyers.
Wolfram and Hart had finally tracked him down.  The three lawyers stopped
moving about twenty feet away from the members of Angel Investigations.

"Healer Xander."  The man in the front inclined his head to the side
politely.  "You've been most difficult to locate."

Angel took a step forward, but Xander stopped him with a touch to his arm.
He wasn't quite fast enough to stop Cordelia.

"Maybe he didn't want to be found," she said, moving to stand between the
humans and Xander.  "Don't you have a rock to crawl back under?"

That was the Cordy Xander remembered.  He didn't want her to fight this
battle for him, though.  He'd hoped that hiding with Angel would allow him
to avoid further contact with the law firm.  If he'd been able to meet the
Lirasin and then leave, he would have hoped that Wolfram and Hart would lose
interest in him and let him be.  He knew it was a thin hope but it was a
risk he was willing to run.

He knew now that hope had been futile.  He doubted that Wolfram and Hart had
traced him magically; it was more likely that they had been watching Angel.
If they were willing to confront Angel and his people over him, though, then
they wanted him more then he had previously believed.  Xander had no doubt
that there were more beings lurking out of sight, nonhumans on the lawyers'
payroll ready to move in and help take him in.  He knew that Angel and the
others would fight to stop him from being taken; he also knew that he
couldn't let that happen.  He had to end this now.

Xander moved forward and touched Cordy on the shoulder.  When she turned to
look at him, he gently guided her backwards until he was the one facing the
lawyers.  He was aware of Angel hovering behind him, bare inches away, and
was grateful for his unspoken support and protection.

He met the lawyer's gaze steadily.  "No."

"You haven't even heard our offer yet."


"We do have an offer prepared if that is your only answer.  You'd much
prefer our first offer, I do assure you."

Third time was supposed to be the charm.  "No."

"I'm sorry to hear you say that."  The lead lawyer pulled a cell phone out
of his pocket.

Xander sighed.  He'd been hoping that he wouldn't have to do this.  He
wrapped his arms around his middle, hugging himself as he focused on the two
lawyers standing in the back.  He reached out to their energy as he had done
with the plants, feeling them pulse with life and health.  Steeling himself,
he pulled at that energy, ruthlessly drawing it into himself with terrible

The lead lawyer turned quickly when his back up fell to their knees with
weak cries of fear.  He whirled back around to face Xander, but he looked
past him toward Angel.  "That's a new trick for you."

"It's not my trick."  Angel moved forward until he was just barely touching

The lawyer transferred his gaze to Xander.  "This was unexpected."

"My answer is still no."

The lawyer raised his cell phone.

Swallowing hard, Xander began to pull energy from him, harshly and quickly
and not stopping until he too was on the ground, ruining the knees of his
pants in the soft grass.  Xander walked forward swiftly until he was a foot
away from the now gasping man.  "No," he said softly.  He held his gaze,
refusing to look away from the fear and the pain he was causing.

The lawyer nodded.  He slowly raised his cell phone and this time Xander
allowed him to make his call, still looking him in the eye.  "Hello sir.
No, sir.  No, sir.  No, I'm sorry, sir.  Yes, sir.  I understand."  He ended
the call.  "You won't be bothered again."

Xander didn't believe him, but he did believe that the law firm wouldn't try
forcing him into their service.  He nodded.  He slowly backed up, giving
Angel time to move away from him.

Angel didn't go anywhere.  He stayed close to Xander, giving him space to
move but not stopping his protective hovering.

"Wait."  The lawyer watched him, sinking further down onto the grass.
"Aren't you going to heal us?"

"No."  Xander turned his back on the lawyers and walked away, heading back
toward the Hyperion.  The others followed him and he was grateful that they
allowed him to take the lead and continue to appear to be in control.
During the walk back to the hotel Angel never moved more than a few inches
away from him, his support unwavering.  Xander couldn't let himself say
anything to acknowledge it, not trusting his voice and unsure if he was
still being watched.  He focused on getting back to the Hyperion quickly.
He wasn't holding as much energy as he had when he'd gone to the hospital to
visit the children's ward, but he still contained enough to attract more
than the usual number of demons and he didn't want to have to deal with that
now.  He entered the lobby with a sense of relief.  It was almost a sense of
homecoming.  He stumbled to a stop, arms wrapped tight around himself.

Angel's arms were around him immediately and Xander relaxed into his touch,
letting the strength of the other man to calm him as he sought to regain
control of himself.  After a few minutes he felt steadier.  He leaned back a
little and he felt Angel's reluctance even as the vampire let him go.

Xander knew the questions would come in just a few moments and he readied
himself for them.

"Are you all right?"

He smiled a little.  He should have expected to hear that from Angel.  "I
will be," he said.  It would just take him a while to get everything
straight in his head but he'd get it settled with himself eventually. He
needed to get rid of that energy; he was holding too much within himself and
he didn't like knowing where it had come from or how he'd taken it.  "I'm
going to do something," he said to the room at large.  "You'll feel extra
energy.  That's me and it's nothing to worry about."  He stopped holding in
the energy he'd stolen from the lawyers and released it to the room at
large.  He watched as the others straightened up, their weariness
disappearing as their lost energy was replaced.

"Was that what happened with Ben?" Angel asked quietly.

Xander nodded jerkily.  He'd taken energy from Ben just like he had from the

Angel moved closer to him and Xander moved into his arms willingly.  He
hated taking energy from other beings.  The only thing he could compare it
to was being a vampire:  he stole the life of other beings in order to gorge
himself on it.  He didn't kill, but that didn't make him feel any cleaner.
He knew that he'd taken the only path Wolfram and Hart had left available to
him, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

"They'll think twice before messing with you again, won't they?" Gunn said.

Xander nodded, his cheek rubbing against Angel's shoulder.  The law firm was
nothing if not calculating.  Now that they knew he could draw energy from
living beings, he was too dangerous for them to force into service.  He
could kill the people they wanted him to heal just by being in the same room
with them.  He'd done something that he hated, *hated* to do, but it had
been worth it:  he'd gained himself some breathing room and a measure of

"You'll stay here still, though?"  Angel's voice was quiet.

Xander leaned back a little to get a better look at him.  There was hope
written clearly in the vampire's expression.  Even though Xander was no
longer in immediate danger, Angel still wanted Xander to stay near him.  He
wasn't making any moves away from him, either.

Xander began to think that his own secret hopes might not be so impossible
after all.  "I'll stay."  Angel's smile told him that he'd made the right

He wanted stare at that smile forever, but weariness was taking its toll on
him.  The others might have been energized by the energy he'd released, but
it had merely put him on an even keel.  He was starting to crash.  He
swallowed a yawn.  Going to bed meant going to sleep.  Tonight, going to
sleep would mean nightmares and he didn't want that.

"You look tired," Angel said.

Xander shook his head, feeling like a child.  "I'm fine."  A yawn escaped
him, ruining his protests.

Angel looked at the others; they were all studiously ignoring the two of
them.  He lowered his voice.  "Nightmares?"

Ducking his head to hide the sudden wash of shame, Xander nodded.  He'd
lived with them for so long...he didn't really like other people knowing
that he couldn't handle things, that he had nightmares like a kid.

Arms tightening around him, Angel leaned in closer to Xander.  "Would it
help if I sat up with you for a little while?"

His refusal was automatic.  "I'll be fine."  He started to take a step back,
but Angel's arms didn't loosen.  Xander looked up to see what was going on.

"I'm serious," Angel said.  He looked a little embarrassed.  "I'd like to."

He was serious.  Xander could see that in the dark eyes that looked down at
him.  Angel honestly wanted to stay with him and help him.  It was still in
him to refuse, but he was tired and he wanted to sleep.  Angel had pulled
him out of the nightmares once and Xander suspected his presence would keep
them away tonight.

Angel held his gaze steadily.  "Please?"

That word undid all of Xander's protests and pride.  "All right."

Angel's face lit up in pure pleasure.  He squeezed Xander one more time and
then finally released him.  He took a few steps away.  "I think we've had
enough excitement for one day."

"Amen," Cordy said.  I'm all for bed."

"We'll give you a ride home," Wes said.

A few brief farewells and everyone was gone...leaving Xander alone with
Angel.  Xander shifted from one foot to the other, unsure of what to do

"I'm going to head upstairs, change."  Angel took a few steps toward the
stairs.  "I'll meet you in your room in a half hour?"

Xander nodded, watching Angel walk up the stairs and waiting for him to
disappear before starting to move toward his own room.  He undressed and
changed into his pyjamas quickly.  He was uncomfortable with the idea of
Angel being in his room.  It was like his favorite high school fantasies
were coming true...as well as many he'd had after high school.  At the same
time, he knew Angel was sitting with him because he was revealing his
weakness through his nightmares.  The warmth of knowing that Angel wanted to
stay was marred by the fact that Xander needed him.

He briefly debated climbing into bed so he'd be under the covers when Angel
arrived, but dismissed the idea as pure cowardice.  He fidgeted beside his
bed until a soft knock sounded at the door.  "Come in."

Angel walked in slowly, making sure of his welcome.  He wore black slacks
and a black shirt.

"That's what you sleep in?" Xander asked.

Angel looked down at himself.  "No," he said, a sly smile on his face.

Xander turned away before the other man could see his blush.  He didn't need
to know that Angel slept in his skin, not when he was so close.  He turned
back the covers.  "How do you want to work this?"

"I was going to ask you the same thing.  What do you do with Lorne?"

Xander was *not* going to ask Angel to crawl into be with him.  "Just having
someone near helps."  He climbed into bed.

Angel dragged the chair over near the bed, still giving Xander some space.
"How's this?"

"Great."  Xander squirmed for a few moments, getting comfortable.  "Angel?"


"Thank you."

Angel's smile was beautiful.  "You're welcome."

Xander closed his eyes.  He wanted that to be the last thing he saw.  He
heard Angel turn out the lights and then the room was silent.  Xander let
sleep take him, certain that for this night, there would be no nightmares.



Angel gave up on following the plot of the movie.  He'd lost interest a few
times and had barely dragged his attention back to it before.  It just
wasn't worth it, especially now that he had something more interesting to
focus on.

He looked over to his right, at the man who was leaning against him and
watching the television screen.  He and Xander had claimed one of the
couches in Wesley and Gunn's living room, leaving the other for their hosts.
Gunn had pushed them into coming over for an evening.  It had been three
days since Xander had confronted Wolfram and Hart and Gunn had argued that
the younger man needed a day away from the hotel or else he'd probably begin
to go stir crazy.  Wesley was lying down on the other couch with Gunn laying
half on top of him.

Angel suppressed a smile.  He and Xander were just sitting close together,
shoulders and thighs touching.  Their pose wasn't nearly as romantic as the
other men's, but Angel wasn't going to complain.  He hadn't worked up the
courage to tell Xander about his feelings yet, but he was beginning to think
that maybe he wouldn't have to.  After Angel had spent the night watching
Xander sleep and guarding against nightmares, things had been different.
Angel took it as a good sign that Xander hadn't had any nightmares that
night.  He'd been stiff from sitting in a chair all night, but it had been
worth it.  After that, Xander had welcomed his company and even sought him
out repeatedly, and he'd been able to make the dark-eyed man laugh a few
times.  Xander was more relaxed with the others, but he seemed to be almost
completely at ease with Angel.  The only time his reticence returned was
when Angel looked up and caught Xander watching him.  Then Xander would
stammer and look away before falling silent.

Xander looked up just then and saw Angel looking down at him.  Xander looked
away and then looked back to meet Angel's gaze.  The smile on his face was
cautious but the happiness underlying it was real.

Feeling daring, Angel reached out and slid his hand under Xander's, tangling
their fingers together.  He didn't want to push Xander but he couldn't
resist an opportunity to get closer to him.

Xander smiled and squeezed Angel's hand before looking back at the
television.  After a few moments, he leaned more heavily against Angel,
actually resting some of his weight on him.

It was little things like this that were giving Angel hope.  Xander more
than accepted the small shows of affection that Angel dared to give; he
reciprocated in equally small ways.  That, and the fact that Xander didn't
talk about leaving Los Angeles made Angel think that this was more than just
the past reasserting itself.  He wanted there to be a future for them,
wanted to have a future with Xander by his side.

He debated putting his arm around Xander.  He'd seen enough television to
know that he was acting like a kid on his first date but he couldn't make
himself stop.  He wanted to feel Xander's warmth against him even closer,
wanted to be sure that Xander knew that he did care, did want him.  They
needed to talk soon but Angel wasn't sure what he should say.  Xander was
still distrustful of words so the vampire was doing everything he could to
prove his feelings through his actions.

The way Xander was leaning against him put him at the perfect height for
Angel to pull him close, but Angel would have to let go of Xander's hand in
order to move his arm and he wasn't sure he wanted to do that.  Xander's
hand was warm, his fingers gentle as they curled around his own.  Angel's
fingers twitched a little as he focused on them and Xander reacted by
leaning a little closer to him and stroking his fingers over Angel's in
soothing sweeps.

Angel couldn't resist anymore and he carefully pulled his fingers free but
didn't give Xander a chance to react before he draped his arm around the
shorter man's shoulders.  Angel watched him carefully out of the corner of
his eye, not wanting to make a big deal out of what he'd just done if Xander
didn't like it or want it.

Xander stayed very for a few moments, then sighed lightly and seemed to go
boneless, relaxing against Angel's side as he curled into his embrace.  He
rubbed his cheek against Angel's shoulder for a moment, and then went still.

Angel stopped fighting his smile.  This was perfect.  This was what he'd
been missing and wishing over and envying Wesley and Gunn for having.  He
hadn't spoken any of the words he'd been hiding in his heart to Xander yet,
but he was more and more certain that Xander wanted to hear them and would
speak their matches to him in return.

The movie ended and the television screen went dark.  Angel knew that he
should probably sit up and let Xander go but he didn't want to.  He decided
to stay just as he was and let Xander decide when he wanted to move.  Angel
was going to take every second of this that he could get.

Wesley and Gunn's voices were low murmurs on the other couch and then they
were sitting up.  "It's getting late," Wesley said quietly.

Not that late, not to them, but Angel had gotten much better at taking hints
over the years.  It was time for them to go.

Xander rubbed his cheek against Angel's shoulder one more time and then sat
up.  He moved carefully, though, and managed to keep Angel's arm around his
shoulders.  "It's been a long time since I've seen that," he said.  "Thank

"Hey, you're welcome."  Gunn rose to his feet.  "It was no wild and crazy
night on the town but it was something different then the Hyperion."

"Thank you," Angel echoed.  He stood up and offered his hand to Xander, not
wanting to lose contact with him.  He smiled when Xander took his hand and
he held onto those warm fingers, not letting go as they followed Gunn to the
door of the apartment.

"Since it's looking like a quiet night, Wes and me will see you tomorrow,
all right?"  Gunn leaned against the doorjamb after they'd walked out into
the hall.

"Tomorrow."  Angel nodded and started walking down the hall, acutely aware
that Xander hadn't tried to reclaim his hand.  It was a short walk to the
Hyperion and Angel was determined to make the most of it.  There was a
chance that Cordy and Robert would be at the hotel and Xander still hadn't
completely relaxed around either of them.

He straightened his arm so he could pull Xander to walk right by his side.
He still didn't know what words he should use but he wanted to talk to
Xander before he met with the Lirasin and started thinking that he should
leave the city again.  "Wes and Gunn are good friends."

"I can see that," Xander said.  "You're lucky to have them."

"They're your friends, too," Angel said.  He couldn't come out and tell
Xander that he could have a home here, that he was wanted and welcomed and a
part of them.  There was no way that he'd be able to say those words, so he
was trying to hint his way around without actually using them.

"They're good men."

That wasn't the response Angel had been hoping for.  "Good friends can make
a city a good place to live."

"Friends are important," Xander agreed.  Then, before Angel could start to
go a little crazy, he smiled up at Angel and squeezed his hand.  There was
nervousness in his expression, but also hope and happiness.  "Lorne is

Xander understood what he was hinting about!  Angel walked even closer to
Xander.  "We've got good weather here."  He cleared his throat.  "Friendly

"Wolfram and Hart are going to leave me alone, as much as they ever leave
anyone alone."

It was time to stop dancing around the subject; Angel could see the lights
of the hotel up ahead.  He stopped walking and moved to face Xander.  "I'd
like it if you stayed."  That didn't seem to be enough.  "A lot."  Yeah.
That was so much better.

Xander didn't laugh at his inarticulate attempts to express his feelings.
He stepped forward slowly, moving into Angel's space.  "I'd like to stay,"
he said quietly.  He spoke the words while looking down at his shoes, but
when he finished he looked up and met Angel's gaze.

It wasn't safe on the street and anyone could see them but Angel didn't want
to wait any longer.  He reached out with his free hand and touched Xander's
face, sliding his fingers back along his cheek until his he was cradling his
face in the palm of his hand.  He leaned down slowly, wanting to give Xander
ample time to stop this if he wanted.

Xander's eyes went wide, and then their lids drooped with pleasure and he
was the one leaning forward and pressing their lips together in a brief
caress.  He was the one to draw back and stare into Angel's eyes as he
licked his lips.

Angel couldn't resist another kiss, equally brief but he still felt it down
to his center.  This was right.  This is what he'd been looking for and what
he wanted and needed in his life.  When he pulled back, he brushed his thumb
across Xander's lower lip before dropping his hand back to his side.  "Thank

A wider smile was his only answer as they started walking toward the
Hyperion once more.  Xander stayed as close as possible, so close that Angel
could feel his warmth as they walked in the door to the lobby.  Cordy and
Robert weren't there so they had the hotel to themselves.  Angel was tempted
to try his luck at kissing Xander again.  He wanted to feel that sense of
rightness again.  He looked down at the other man and caught him looking at
him.  Xander wasn't looking at his eyes; his gaze was fixed somewhat
lower...Angel's mouth.

Propelled by the rush of heat that realization gave him, Angel stepped
forward and wrapped his arms around Xander, pulling him close once more.
Warm solid weight filled his arms, reassuring him that this was real, that
Xander really was here.  Xander reached up and slid his hand around the back
of Angel's neck, fingers stroking over the sensitive skins at the nape.
Angel shivered a little and Xander smiled.  Angel had to taste his happiness
and he bent his neck for another kiss.  The slick heat of Xander's tongue
against his was nearly enough to ruin all his resolutions about moving
slowly.  It was with regret and reluctance that he straightened and ended
their connection.

His arms still wrapped around Angel's waist, Xander hid his face in Angel's
coat, his sigh happy as he leaned into Angel's weight.  This was good, too,
and Angel was content to stand in the middle of the lobby and revel in just
being close.

When the front door opened, Angel moved so that his back was to it and he
was shielding Xander from whoever had just come in.  He craned his neck
around, glaring over his shoulder to find out who had interrupted them.

Lorne raised an eyebrow, a smile slowly crossing his face as he took in
their position.

Angel couldn't get too angry with the host.  He'd been the one to bring
Xander back into his life, after all.  "What?"  Just because he couldn't be
angry didn't mean that he wanted him hanging around.  Angel had plans to
indulge in some quality Xander-time for the rest of the night.

"Sorry to interrupt.  I just got word that the Lirasin have hit town."

Xander stirred, drawing out of Angel's arms so he could see Lorne.

Angel had been hoping that they'd take longer to arrive.  "Where?"

"Their messenger said they were at their usual place."  Lorne spread his
hands.  "Whatever that means."

"I know," Xander said.  He glanced out the window, looking up at the sky.
"We've still got hours until sunrise.  We might as well go now."

"Tonight?"  Meeting the Lirasin would take away Xander's reason for staying.
Xander had said he wanted to stay, but Angel was worried that once his
purpose in Los Angeles was complete that he'd want to be moving on again.
Besides, if Wesley missed the chance to meet with the reclusive Lirasin
demons, he'd sulk over it for weeks.

"Wesley will get over it," Xander said with a small smile.  "They won't be
in town for more then a few days so I don't have much of a window of
opportunity here."

Angel looked at him suspiciously.  He'd never heard anything about healers
being able to read minds.

"I'm surprised he didn't make us spend the night at his place to make sure I
didn't go anywhere without him."  Xander shrugged.  "I don't want to upset
him, either, but I don't want to wait on this."

Maybe that could not tell Wesley...Angel nodded.  "I'm ready if you are."

Lorne shifted his weight.  "Do you need some extra company?"  His smile
turned sly.  "Or would you rather be alone?"

Angel hesitated.  He wanted to be alone with Xander but he didn't want to
interfere with Xander spending time with Lorne.

"Alone," Xander said quietly.  He crossed the floor to touch Lorne's arm.
"That's all right?"

"Of course."  Lorne tapped Xander's cheek affectionately.  "Just tell the
Brooding One that if he makes you unhappy, I'll forget that vampires don't
survive dismemberment."  His voice was pitched low, but it was still loud
enough for Angel to hear.

Angel didn't react to the good-natured threat.  Anyone who was looking out
for Xander could threaten him all they liked.  So long as he knew that Lorne
was acting out of caring for Xander, he'd put up with any barbs that were
thrown his way.  Besides, he was busy gloating over the fact that Xander
wanted to spend more time alone with him.

He walked back to the weapons cache and grabbed a short sword that could be
hidden under his coat.  He wasn't expecting trouble, but that was no reason
to get caught by surprise.  Besides, it gave Lorne and Xander a chance to
have an actual moment of privacy.

After he got the sword situated, he wasted a little time staring at the
floor and remembering how sweet and hot Xander's mouth had been against his.
He wanted to feel that again so he turned around.

Lorne was gone and Xander was talking on his cell phone, his voice carefully
low and the front door open so noise from the traffic outside interfered
with Angel's ability to hear what he was saying.  He was immediately overrun
with curiosity, wanting to know who Xander was calling.  He took a few steps
forward and Xander ended the call, hanging up and putting the phone away.
Angel wanted to ask, but he was still leery of pushing Xander so he let it
go.  If it was important, Xander would tell him, or he'd find out later.
"Ready to go?"

"Yes."  Xander's eyes were clear, no guilt in them.  "It would be best if
you drove."

"Are you going to tell me where we're going?"  Angel headed for the garage.

"You'll see when we get there."  Gentle teasing, subtler then the old Xander
but Angel still took it as a good sign since it had taken so long to get the
other man to laugh.  That was worth putting up with some uncertainty.

He left the top up as he drove, not knowing where he was going and not
wanting to have to make any stops in order to prepare the car for strange
terrain.  Xander was careful to give him directions as he drove, letting him
know each time he needed to turn but not telling him their destination.
"This might have been easier if you drove," Angel commented.  "Would you
like to switch places?"

"I've been warned about your car," Xander responded.  "No, thank you."

They'd walked everywhere since Xander had come to stay with him.  "When was
the last time you drove?"

"It's been years."

"How do you get around the country?"  It couldn't just be walking.  He
wouldn't have had time to do as much traveling as he'd implied.

"Hitched.  Got rides from demons or people I'd helped.  Took a bus a few
times when I had enough money for the ticket."  Xander looked out the
window, watching the lights of passing cars.  "I've had to leave town too
fast too many times to have a car.  It's something to have to go back for
and that was always too dangerous."

Angel nodded.  He understood that.  He'd spent a lot of time running himself
and knew that it was when going back for a belonging that one could be most
easily caught.  He'd had to leave a location quickly and had ended up
leaving behind items that he would have preferred to keep.  "Can you still

"I haven't forgotten how, but I'm rusty."

"If you want, I could help you practice."  He sometimes acted like his car
was his prize possession but he knew it was just a possession.  If this was
something that would make Xander happy, then he'd be happy to do it.

"Are you sure?"  Xander had moved to face him.


"I'd like that."  Xander smiled.  When he relaxed back against his seat, he
was closer to Angel, making a conscious effort to be nearer to him.  After a
few moments, he reached out and laid his hand on top of Angel's.  His
fingertips glided gently over the fragile skin of Angel's fingers, soothing
and stimulating at the same time and somehow perfect.

Angel didn't want it to ever end.  He wanted to just keep driving and never
find the Lirasin.  So long as Xander was beside him, touching him with
hesitant tenderness, Angel would drive forever.

He was beginning to feel like he might just drive forever.  They'd left the
city limits behind them a while ago and were driving up the coast now.

"The next exit," Xander said.

Angel obediently turned off.  He knew the Lirasin were a gentle race,
preferring avoidance to confrontation.  That was the only reason why he was
still willing to keep going down this twisty little road to the middle of
nowhere.  He could still hear the ocean and in a few more moments they were
on a two-lane road paralleling the sea.  "Are we meeting them on a boat?"

Xander's fingers flickered over his in a teasing beat.  "No.  Do you see the
warehouse up ahead?"

He squinted through the window.  "Barely."

"That's the place."

"They do like their privacy."  Angel sped up.  This meeting had better not
take too long or else he'd end up giving Xander a driving lesson sooner then
he'd thought - the sun would come up and Angel would have to make the last
part of the ride in the trunk.

When they reached the warehouse, Angel exited the car slowly, cautious and
on full alert.  On the other side of the car, Xander got out quickly,
heading over to the door of the warehouse without any hesitation.

"Xander!"  Angel hurried to catch up to him.  "Stay with me, OK?"

Xander flushed and his gaze snapped down to his feet.  He nodded.

What had he said?  Angel thought back over his words and realized how they
could be taken.  His resolution not too push was getting bent again and
again tonight.  Since he'd already bent it, he might as well break it.  He
reached out and touched Xander's shoulder, waiting until the other man
looked up at him.  "I want you to stay," he said quietly.  "But also stay
close to me right now, all right?"  He brushed his lips over Xander's cheek.

"All right."  Xander looked over at the door.  "I know them.  They're my

"I know.  I just want to be careful."

"Let's be careful inside," Xander suggested.  He stepped away from the door.
"I'm assuming you'll want to go first."

Angel shook his head, but he moved quickly to get ahead of Xander.  It
wasn't that he didn't trust the beings Xander called friends.  He just
wanted to be careful.  It would kill him to lose the other man since he'd
just now found him.

The warehouse was dimly lit, but he could still see fairly well.  It wasn't
just a warehouse inside; it had been set up as a temporary home, with
curtains acting as dividers.  He could hear many beings moving around in the
back, where he couldn't see.  The front section had been set up as a meeting
area, low tables and chairs set up.  Two Lirasin rose to their feet as he
and Xander approached.

Vaguely humanoid, they had pale orange skin stretched over tall, thin
frames.  Their arms and fingers were too long to be human and the four eyes
were a give away as well.  A grimace that passed for a smile crossed the one
in the lead's face.  "Xander.  You came."

"Pley!"  Xander grinned and moved around Angel.  "It's good to see you
again.  How are you?  How's Briten?"

"Well.  We are all well, and he especially, thanks to you."  Pley looked
over at Angel.  "A friend?"

"A good friend.  Angel, this is Pley.  Pley, Angel."

Angel nodded.  "Hello."  He didn't come any closer.  He hadn't been invited
and he didn't want to intrude any more upon the reclusive demons.  Xander's
approving smile told him that he was doing the right thing.

Xander turned his attention back to the Lirasin.  "How has your journey

"Safe and fruitful.  We have learned much - secrets that you haven't yet
imagined.  There is much I'd like to share with you, Xander."

"The next time our paths cross, maybe."  Xander tilted his head to the side.

"You could come with us.  Your skills would be welcome and your company
appreciated."  Pley ducked his head so he could look more fully into
Xander's face.  "We can offer you protection and you can continue your own


"Please consider, Xander.  You have saved the lives of our children.  You
have a spirit that can sing with ours.  Come with us and learn.  You've said
before that you would like the chance to discover some of the secrets of
this world."

Angel stifled his immediate reaction, which was to move to Xander's side and
tell Pley to back the hell off.  This was Xander's decision to make and
Angel had no right to try to make it for him.  Xander apparently had a
history with this demon and his group.  It was a good offer:  Xander could
travel but in company and with protection.  The Lirasin had a formidable
reputation as scholars and seekers after lost knowledge.  They would be able
to show Xander things Angel would never even know about.  He couldn't show
Xander the world but the Lirasin could take him anywhere in their world wide
migratory journeys.  It was an offer that Angel couldn't match.

Xander smiled.  "Thank you, Pley.  I'm going to stop traveling for a little
while, I think."

Angel closed his eyes.  He wasn't sure who he was thanking, but he gave
wordless thanks, anyway.

"You have found a home?" Pley asked.

Angel opened his eyes, wanting to see Xander's face as he answered.

"Maybe," Xander said.  The smile on his face was cautious but it was real.
"I really want to find out."

"I wish you luck, then."  Pley sighed.  "Your presence will be missed."

"Speaking of presents..."  Xander lowered his voice.  "Were you able to find

"No secret remains hidden from me for long.  You should know this."  Pley
reached inside of the twisting robe he wore and pulled out a thin
rectangular box.  He held it out easily, giving it over willingly.

Xander didn't open the box; he just slid it into his own pocket.  "Thank

"No thanks are necessary.  I am just please to have been able to help."  The
Lirasin cocked his head to the side.  "I do not understand why you want it.
Tewa's Necklace cannot affect you in anyway."

"I thought no secret could remain hidden from you."

Pley grimaced again.  "I will tell you the answer the next time I see you,

"You do that."  Xander raised his hand in farewell.  "I'm sorry our visit is
so brief, but I do need to get going."

"I will tell the others you are well."  Pley lapsed into his own language,
speaking to Xander so rapidly that Angel had no chance of understanding.

Xander replied in the same tongue, then turned and spoke to the second,
silent Lirasin.  That demon inclined its head but didn't speak.  Xander
nodded and spoke to Pley a final time before turning and walking back over
to Angel.

Angel met Pley's measuring gaze for a moment, then fell into step beside
Xander, walking with him out of the warehouse.

"Do we have enough time to make it to the city before sunrise?"  Xander
looked up at the sky worriedly.

"If we get going now."  Angel paused by the passenger's side door.

"Then what are you waiting for?"  Xander waited for him to move.

"This."  Angel stopped a little so he could kiss Xander.  It was a meeting
of lips alone, lasting a few moments only.  "Thank you," Angel murmured as
he moved away.

"My pleasure," Xander said.

"I wasn't talking about the kiss."  He'd meant Xander's decision to stay in
Los Angeles.

"I know."  Xander smiled at him before ducking into the car.

Angel closed his eyes for a moment, wanting to memorize that smile.  He was
definitely falling in love.


Part Twenty-three/Twenty-seven

Xander yawned hugely as he walked down the stairs to the lobby.  He and
Angel had made it back to the Hyperion just before daybreak.  He'd gone to
bed soon after, but even though he'd slept into the afternoon he still felt
tired.  He wasn't used to a completely nocturnal lifestyle.

When he reached the floor he looked around, automatically searching for
Angel.  He didn't see the vampire.  Wesley looked at him from behind the
reception desk.  Gunn was standing by the weapons cupboard, slicing the air
with a long knife.

The look on Wesley's face scared him more than the weapon in Gunn's hand.

"Good morning," Xander tried.

"Afternoon, actually," the Englishman corrected.  His tone wasn't exactly
frosty, but it lacked the usual warmth he showed to Xander.

Xander guessed he'd heard about the visit to the Lirasin.  The only people
who knew about it were him, Angel, and Lorne.  He doubted Lorne had called
Wesley, which meant Angel had told him about the visit.  Angel had told him
and was now hiding out, avoiding Wesley's irritation and leaving Xander to
deal with it.

Xander would be really angry with him if he weren't in love with him.  As it
was, he was going to be miffed at him.  "Anything going on?"

"Cordy called in to say that she'd be here soon, but she hasn't had any
visions and we haven't had any calls.  It looks like it will be a slow,
uneventful day.  It's a good thing nothing of importance happened last night
so we're all rested and full of energy."

Xander heard a hint of stifled laughter from Gunn.  If he was laughing, then
Wesley couldn't be too hurt.  Feeling reassured, Xander nodded.  "I'm glad
you slept well."  He was out of practice when it came to teasing other
people, but he thought pretending not to notice Wesley's attitude was a good
way to go.  "Have you seen Angel?"

"He's hiding in the back," Gunn said.  He raised his voice.  "Angel!  Man,
get out here."

Angel appeared from the back office, a book in his hand.  "Good morning."

"Afternoon," Wesley sniped.

Whatever.  It didn't matter what time of day it was.  Angel was smiling at
him, his eyes soft and welcoming and pleasure obvious in every line of his
body.  It was definitely a good whatever.  Xander smiled back at Angel and
ignored Wesley.  "Hi."

"What do you want for breakfast?"  Angel left the office and tossed the book
onto the reception desk.  He ignored Wesley's wince at the careless
treatment of the volume and walked around the desk to stand in front of

Xander wasn't sure what to do.  He wanted to lean in to Angel's bulk and
inhale the subtle dark scent of him and feel his strength again.  He wanted
a good whatever kiss.  He wanted Angel to tell him that he loved him.  He
remembered every second of the night before, every moment that his skin was
in contact with Angel's, every word that Angel said.  /Stay with me./  Angel
wanted him to stay.  Angel cared about him, Xander was sure of that.  He
didn't know if Angel loved him.  He wasn't sure that he could be loved, but
it was nice to hope.  He didn't want to embarrass himself or Angel, so he
settled for asking, "Omelets?"

Angel nodded.  "I can do that."  He stepped away from Xander and headed for
the kitchen.

Xander trailed along behind him.  He wanted to be alone with Angel, but he
wasn't all that surprised when Wesley followed them with Gunn not far
behind.  The only thing he was wondering about was how Wesley would start
asking questions.  Would he subtly build up to asking about the Lirasin?  Or
would he -

"What happened with the Lirasin last night?"  Wes crossed his arms over his
chest and leaned against the counter by the stove.  He wasn't in the way,
but there was no way he could be ignored there.

"It was a short visit," Xander said.  He wasn't comfortable talking about
the demons too much.  The Lirasin valued their privacy.  He'd been welcomed
into their society because Lorne had gotten word that some of their young
ones were ill and Xander had volunteered his services.  He'd never met another
human who was at all familiar with them and he didn't think he should change
that without their permission.

Wesley shot him a sour look.  "So it shouldn't take long for you to tell me
about it."

"There's not much to tell."  Angel took over the conversation as he worked
at the stove.  "We drove out to meet them and Xander talked to one of his
friends for a while.  The Lirasin gave him Tewa's Necklace and went home."
He took the pan off the stove.  "I wanted to ask you about that, Wes.  I
haven't heard of it before."

Xander closed his eyes.  He knew he'd gotten off to easily last night when
Angel hadn't commented on the Necklace.  He squared his shoulders and waited
for the reaction.  He'd known getting Tewa's Necklace in front of Angel
could ruin everything but he'd wanted to be with Angel and he couldn't not
get the Necklace.  It was too important.

"Tewa's Necklace?  Are you sure?"  All the forced petulance was gone from
Wesley's voice.  He was back to being a focused scholar.

"I think so."  Angel's voice was confused.  "Xander?  Wasn't that it?"

Xander nodded.  He didn't open his eyes.  If he was destroying all the
dreams he'd almost started to believe in, he didn't want to watch it happen.

"Xander, what are you doing with the Necklace?"  Wesley had moved closer.

"Not your concern," Xander said quietly.

"What is this Necklace?" Angel asked.

"It's dangerous," Wesley said.  "Very dangerous.  Angel, you and Cordy told
me about the Gem of Amara.  Tewa's Necklace is much the same thing."

"Not exactly," Xander murmured.  He opened his eyes but fixed his eyes on
his shoes.  "It doesn't make vampires invulnerable."

"Yes, it does," Wesley countered.

"No.  It just allows them into the sun."

"It's for vampires?"  Angel moved closer to him.

Xander stared at Angel's boots, not daring to look up above them.  "Yeah.  I
told the Lirasin I was interested in it a couple years ago.  Pley's been
keeping an eye out for it ever since.  He got word to me a few months ago
that he'd located it and now has been the first time we've been able to
meet."  He'd been stupid.  He'd stopped thinking and started feeling and
look where it had got him.  He'd assumed since he happy with Angel, since
he'd found a place where he felt like he might belong and be safe to try
loving again that he didn't have to stay on his guard all the time.  He'd
been wrong and he'd screwed up again.  He was going to have to leave.  This
was going to upset them and he was going to hurt Angel's feelings and he
didn't want to do that.

"A few years..."  Gunn kept his distance but Xander had no trouble hearing
him.  "Before you talked to Angel again."

"The Necklace isn't for me, is it?" Angel said.

Xander shook his head.  He couldn't answer out loud, couldn't bring himself
to say the words.  No, the Necklace wasn't for Angel.  He'd had a reclusive
group of demons hunt down an artifact that could give a vampire the ability
to walk in the sunlight.  Tewa's Necklace had been forgotten for centuries -
by everyone except Wesley and the Lirasin - and there wasn't anything else
like it in the world.  Xander had it in his possession and he wasn't going
to give it to Angel.  He loved him, but he was going to deny him the chance
to walk in the sun.  There was no way he'd blame Angel for wanting him to
leave after this.

"Who is it for?" Wesley asked.

Xander hesitated.  "A friend."  Two friends, actually.  He thought that
Tewa's Necklace could go a long way towards making them both happy.

Wesley started to repeat his question, but Angel overrode him.  "Wes.  It's
all right."

Xander swallowed hard.  It was going to come any time now.  Angel was going
to feed him breakfast and then suggest he pack his bags.  So foolish.  He'd
faced down Wolfram and Hart and he was still going to have to avoid Los
Angeles in the future.  There was no way he was going to be able to come
back to the city and have to face what a failure he was all over again.
He'd have to write off California all together.

"You'd better eat this before it gets cold," Angel said.  His shoes
disappeared as he headed back over to the stove.

Blinking his tears away, Xander nodded and shifted over toward the counter
where he usually ate.  He managed to start looking up to about chest level,
but he wasn't going to try anything more than that.  He made a grateful
noise when Angel handed him a plate.  He supposed the omelet was good but
all he could taste was self-recrimination and guilt.  It was good of Angel
to make sure he had breakfast before he had to go.  He was tempted to linger
over the eggs, to draw out his remaining time for as long as he could.  He
fought the urge down.  He had no right to cause Angel more pain and he'd
stored up enough memories in the past couple weeks.  Last night...last night
would keep him going for as long as he needed it to.

He put his plate down and hesitated.  He wanted to try to say something to
convince Angel that he did care about him, that he loved him even though he
was withholding a potential gift from him.  But...words wouldn't do any
good.  He'd almost forgotten that.  Better to say goodbye quickly.  Better
to make it fast and get out before he couldn't keep the pain hidden any

He turned and headed for the lobby.  His pack was still mostly ready.  He
could be gone in five minutes.

"Xander?"  Angel's hand closed on his shoulder, stopping him as soon as he
reached the lobby.

He had no right to expect this to be easy.  He sighed quietly and turned
around to face Angel.  Well, not face him.  He looked at Angel's shoulder
and waited.  Angel deserved the chance to tell him to go.

"Did you get enough to eat?"

Confusion caused Xander's gaze to skitter upwards.  He looked into Angel's
eyes before he could stop himself.  He braced himself for the disappointment
and hurt and hatred he expected to find...but didn't.  Angel only looked
worried and confused.  There was no recrimination, no accusation in his
gaze.  "Yeah," Xander mumbled.

"Good."  Angel tilted his head to the side.  "What do you want to do today?"

"I don't..."  Xander shook his head.  What was going on here?  He was
supposed to be leaving.  Why would Angel want to plan a day with him then?

"Are you all right?"  Angel's other hand came up and he stroked his fingers
over Xander's cheek.

"I don't understand."  Maybe Angel could use words better.  Maybe he could
explain what was happening.

"I don't either."  Angel took a small step closer.  "Is this about Tewa's

Xander nodded.  It was about the Necklace and hurting Angel and waiting for
Angel to tell him to go.  Except that Angel wasn't telling him to go so
Xander was stuck.  He'd hurt Angel, one thing he absolutely didn't want to
do and so he should leave before he could hurt him again.  He didn't want to
go, though, and he was hoping that Angel would let him stay.

With a stifled sigh, Angel gently gripped Xander by his upper arm and pulled
him over to one of the benches that lined the lobby walls.  "Sit with me,"
he said, pulling Xander to sit down facing him.  "I'm curious about the
necklace.  Of course I am.  But I understand that you've been looking for it
for a long time, longer than you and I have been friends.  I understand that
you're not going to give it to me."

Shame welled up in him, making Xander duck his head.  He couldn't face Angel
while the taller man forgave him for being so thoughtless.

"Hey."  Angel's hands cupped his cheeks, sliding down to cradle his jaw and
angle his face back upwards.  "Don't do this to yourself, all right?  Would
it help if I told you that I don't want the Necklace?"

"Liar," Xander said.

"I admit that the idea of being able to go out in the sunlight again is..."
Angel shook his head.  "I'm not going to get into that.  You remember the
chaos that was caused with the Gem of Amara, don't you?  I've got enough
trouble coming to me now on my own.  Tewa's Necklace would only make things
more complicated."

Xander didn't fully believe him, but he appreciated Angel's efforts to make
him feel better.  "I made a promise to myself," he said quietly, trying to
explain.  "I owe him so much and this is the one thing I can do for him that
will make him happy because it's going to make the one he loves happy.  I
have to."

There was still confusion in Angel's gaze but he nodded.  "All right.
That's all right.  Nothing is changing here, Xander.  You understand that?

Words.  They were words that Xander wanted desperately to believe but in the
end they really were just words.  Still, if it would make Angel happy,
Xander would nod and pretend that he really believed him.

Angel shook his head.  "You..."  He reached out and pulled Xander into his
arms, holding him tightly.  "Nothing has changed," he murmured low into his
ear.  "I still want you to be here, still want you in my life."  He pressed
a kiss to Xander's temple.

Xander relaxed instantly.  This was real.  He rubbed his forehead against
Angel's shoulder.  "I'm sorry," he said.

"Don't be."  Angel continued to hold him, uncaring of their audience.

Turning his head, Xander risked stealing a glance at Wesley and Gunn.  The
two of them had followed him out in the lobby and were now looking down at
him.  He believed that Angel was all right with his decision to give away
the Necklace, but how would Angel's friends react?

Wesley stared at him for a few moments longer, then smiled and leaned back
against Gunn's shoulder.  Gunn nodded, satisfaction clear on his face.
There were still questions in their eyes, but they seemed genuinely pleased
when they looked at him and Angel together.

Xander relaxed further, letting Angel pull him even closer.  The vampire was
careful with his strength but Xander was still aware of it and he closed his
eyes, finding comfort in the knowledge that that strength would be there for
his protection if he ever needed it.  He wasn't used to feeling safe but he
was enjoying it.  He wasn't sure how long he stayed there; time didn't
really seem to matter when he was breathing in Angel's scent.  Angel didn't
seem to mind.  His large hands swept up and down Xander's back in slow
strokes, no impatience evident in any of the movements.

At last Xander decided that they needed to move.  "Don't you have work you
should be doing?"  He tried to pull away.

Angel didn't relax his arms at all.  "That's what I have employees for."

Laughter bubbled up in Xander's chest, unexpected and freeing and welcome.
"I dare you to say that to them."

"Say what to who?"  Cordy's voice startled Xander into looking up.  He
didn't want to flaunt his new closeness with Angel, didn't want to risk
having her anger at him return and spread to Angel.  He tried to ease back

Angel still didn't let go.  "Good morning."

"I thought you'd learned to keep human hours, not weird vampire ones."  She
walked all the way into the lobby, tossing her purse onto the reception
desk.  She leaned back against the desk and cocked her head to the side.
There was amusement in her gaze when she looked at them, her eyes soft for
both of them.  "You didn't answer my question.  Say what?"

Xander relaxed.  She wasn't going to get upset.  In fact, she looked rather
pleased.  He poked Angel in the chest.  "Go on.  Tell her."

Angel mock-glared at Xander, finally letting him sit up and break the
embrace.  "Nothing."  He rose to his feet, stretching.  "You're in late

"No visions, no rush."  Cordy looked at Xander.  "Are you doing all right?"

Warmed by the fact that she asked, Xander nodded.  "Your head?"

"It's good.  I'm honestly not looking forward to having another vision.  I'd
almost forgotten how nice it was not to be in pain."

He reminded himself again that he needed to contact The Powers soon and make
a case for Cordelia.  He understood that they existed on planes of knowledge
that were beyond human comprehension, but that didn't mean that they didn't
have to take notice of the damage that they did to lesser beings.  They
might not like him, but he was going to make sure that they did listen.

He stood up.  Now that he no longer had to leave, he wasn't sure what to do
with himself.  He had a couple hours before he had to meet his friend.  "So
you don't have any cases to work on?"

"Well, there is the woman who called last night," Angel said.

Cordy wrinkled her nose.  "The creepy old woman?  Angel, I could practically
smell the cat pee over the phone.  I don't know if we want to get involved
with that."

Shooting a sly glance at Xander, Angel shrugged.  "Gunn and Wes seem a
little bored.  They'd probably be glad for a chance to get out and moving."

Gunn poked his head out of the back office.  "Oh, yeah.  Cat pee?  Bring it
on because I can't wait to get on that."  He shook his head.  "Crazy ass
vampire.  This place is called 'Angel Investigations' for a reason.  You
take care of the cat pee lady."  He ducked back into the office.

Angel looked at Cordelia.

"Oh, no."  She pointed down at her shoes.  "These babies are brand new.
They're not going anywhere near that woman."

"It's a good thing you've got so many employees," Xander murmured, his low
voice for Angel's ears only.

Angel laughed.  "You want to come with me?"

"I'm really out of practice when it comes to dealing with elderly cat pee

"Come on," Angel wheedled.

Xander gave in:  how could he not?  "I need my coat."  Night had just barely

"I'll meet you here at the door."

Xander ran up the stairs, snagging his jacket from the closet and heading
back downstairs without bothering to put it on.  He wanted it more for the
comfort it offered then its warmth, anyway.  He glanced over at Cordy as he
crossed the lobby.  Her smile was small but real.  He smiled back in the
same way, feeling suddenly optimistic.  If he and Cordy could learn to be
friends, then just about anything had to be possible.  He stepped out into
the cool of the evening beside Angel, the smile still on his face.

The elderly lady they visited turned out to not only be free of cats, but
free of any paranormal problems as well.  The banging in her walls wasn't a
poltergeist:  it was ancient plumbing slowly disintegrating.  Xander had
encountered the same thing in a few of the crummy hotels and apartments he'd
stayed in.  He explained the problem and he and Angel were on their way.

Opening the paper sack in his arms, Xander inhaled the scent of fresh baked
chocolate chip cookies.  "Cat pee," he muttered, grinning to himself.

"We're not sharing those," Angel said.

"Of course not.  Cordy might drop some crumbs on her new shoes.  It's up to
us to save her from that."  He reached into the bag and pulled out a cookie,
unable to resist temptation.  It had been a while since he'd had chocolate
and even longer since he'd had something that had been homemade.  "Do you
want one?"

"Not right now."  Angel was looking about them alertly, watching for danger.

Xander left him to it and concentrated on the cookie.  It was warm and soft
and perfect.  He hummed a little to himself, learning all over again why he
loved chocolate so much.  A quick glance at Angel revealed that the other
man was watching him now.  "What?"

"You've got a little-"  Angel waved vaguely at his face.

Proof that he was out of practice when it came to chocolate.  He never used
to make a mess.  He raised his hand.  "Which side?"

Instead of answering, Angel glanced up and down the street.  He reached out
and slid a hand around Xander's waist, pulling him close into the sheltering
corner of a building.  "Let me."  He leaned down and licked at the corner of
Xander's mouth, his tongue firm and searching.

His hand closing convulsively on the top of the bag, Xander's eyes slipped
closed and he tilted his head to the side, giving Angel better access to his
mouth.  He dared to slip his tongue out from between his lips and tangle it
with Angel's.  He was rewarded with a deep kiss that almost made him drop
the cookies.  He tightened his grip on the bag and moaned happily.

After a few more moments, Angel broke the kiss, brushing his lips across the
bridge of Xander's nose before smiling down at him.  "I think I got it."

"Are you sure?"  Xander wasn't begging, exactly.

"I think so."  Angel leaned down so he spoke directly into Xander's ear.
"I'll check you over a more thoroughly when we get home."

Xander froze.  He liked the idea of Angel checking him for chocolate but the
use of the word 'home' distracted him completely.  He hadn't had a home in a
very long time.  The idea of having one, and having one with Angel, stopped
him in his tracks.

The taller man picked up on his startlement immediately.  "What's wrong?"
Angel moved in closer to him, arms tightening protectively around him.

"Home?"  Xander barely got the word out.

Angel's worry relaxed into understanding.  "Home," he repeated quietly.  "My
home."  He leaned into Xander's space.  "I'm not trying to push you into
anything," he promised.  "But if you want, your home, too."

Xander couldn't answer.  He settled for pressing a kiss to Angel's throat
and hugging him tightly.  There was no way he could say anything.  He still
wasn't sure that he'd be able to stay in Los Angeles.  He wanted to, though,
and he believed that Angel wanted him to stay as well.  The idea of having a
home again was almost as amazing as the thought of loving Angel.  He didn't
quite dare believe that he could have them both, but it was a lovely dream.

"Ready to get going?"  Angel did seem to be in any hurry to move.

"We should," Xander said.  He shook the bag carefully.  "These things need
to be taken out of danger."  He stepped away from Angel and moved back onto
the sidewalk.

"Right."  Angel fell into step beside him, walking so close that that their
shoulders brushed with ever other step.

Each gentle touch was a reassurance that he was all right, that he was in
the right place and everything was good.  Xander hefted the bag and cradled
it close.  Its weight meant more to him then sweet cookie goodness, although
he was keenly aware of the treats to come.  The fact that he was bringing
the cookies back to the Hyperion meant that he had people he could tease.
Not just Lorne or Spike, who had stood by him as long as they'd known him.
He was used to counting on their friendship.  Now he was going to go back to
the hotel and tease three people about the cookies he had and they didn't.
A few weeks ago he would have been terrified of angering them, frozen by his
inability to risk arousing their anger.

He wasn't used to have friends.  A friend, one that he saw once in a long
while, that he knew.  He hadn't been a part of group since he left
Sunnydale.  He hadn't thought he ever would be again.  He'd thought he'd
lost the ability to connect and relate to people.  Angel, Gunn, Wesley and
Cordelia had shown him he was wrong.  He still had a lot to learn - hadn't
he been sure that they would all hate him just a few hours to go? - but he
now felt some hope that maybe he'd get the hang of it someday.

Xander was the one who pushed open the door to the hotel, wanting to hear
someone ask how the job had gone so he could boast a little over his reward.

Gunn and Wesley looked up from where they were practicing fencing in the
middle of the lobby.  Cordy was perched on the reception desk watching them.
"How was the lady?  And her cats?" she asked.

"She didn't have any cats," Xander said.

"And she didn't have an ghosts, either," Angel added.  "Thanks to Xander, we
figured out that all she had was old plumbing."

"I bet you didn't even charge her, did you?"  Cordy shook her head

"We were only there for a few minutes.  It wouldn't have been fair."

"So what's in the bag, then?" Gunn asked.

"Cat pee," Xander said, holding it protectively.

"Right.  What's in it?"  Gunn moved closer.

Xander sidled over toward Angel.  "You wouldn't like it."  He opened up the
bag and pulled out a cookie.  Not looking at Gunn, he took a bite.  "Mmm.
Still warm."

"Are those chocolate chip?"  Cordy jumped down off the counter.

His courage began to fail.  Xander could flaunt the cookies, but he wasn't
quite sure enough of himself to actually deny them cookies if they asked for
them.  He hesitate, not sure what to do next.

Angel came to his rescue by stepping in front of him.  "Did you go and visit
the cat pee lady?  I seem to remember you all making smart remarks and
hiding in the office.  If you don't go out on the case, why should you get
to enjoy the spoils?"

"Angel, man, you can't do that."  Gunn craned his neck so he could peer over
Angel's shoulder.  "Not if they're chocolate chip."

Angel crossed his arms over his chest.  "You called me a crazy ass vampire."

"Now I'm calling you cruel and unusual.  Xander, you can't be serious."

Of course he wasn't.  Xander figured that they'd suffered enough.  He
grabbed another cookie out of the bag and then held it out.

Gunn and Cordy both started forward, but Wesley flanked both of them neatly
and took possession of the bag.  Chuckling quietly, he kept moving, ducking
down a side hallway with his prize.  After a moment of stunned silence, Gunn
and Cordy chased after him.

Xander held up the cookie.  "Last chance."

"They won't eat them all."  Angel scowled.  "They'd better not."  He reached
out and took the cookie, fingers brushing over Xander's.  "Thanks."

"Welcome."  Xander watched Angel eat the cookie tentatively, going faster as
he discovered how good it was.

"They'd better not eat them all," Angel muttered.

Xander shook his head.  He hadn't ever thought he'd see Angel coveting
chocolate chip cookies.  He liked it, though.  Angel had changed and relaxed
and this was more evidence of that.  He liked the changes and was glad Angel
had been able to make them.  Noise from the hallway distracted him.  "Here
they come."

Wesley's hair was mussed but his smile was pleased.  Gunn was holding the
bag over his head in triumph and Cordy was munching on the last bits of a
cookie.  Gunn did a victory lap around Angel and Xander, and then put the
bag down on the desk.

"How were they?" Xander asked.  He noticed that the bag wasn't empty, which
was good.

"Excellent.  I've got dibs on the next cat pee lady."  Gunn grinned at
Cordy's outraged 'hey'.  "Too slow, lady."

"I'll show you slow."  Cordy took a step forward, but the rest of her threat
was interrupted by a voice from the doorway.

"Oh, I bet you will."

Xander closed his eyes.  He didn't have to turn around to know who'd just
entered the room.  "You couldn't give me a call and meet me quietly?" he

"What's the fun in that, pet?"

Xander turned around to meet Spike's smirk.  The vampire looked just as
Xander remembered him:  lean and blond and dangerous in black leather.  His
blue eyes were gentle when he looked at Xander, but that was hidden behind
wicked amusement at the ripples of shock he'd caused in the room.  While
he'd been accepted as a part of the group in Sunnydale, Spike's relationship
wasn't nearly as good with the people in Los Angeles.  There wasn't any use
in chastising him.  The only thing Xander could do was go along for the
ride.  He jammed his hands in his pockets and waited to see how Spike was
going to play this.

"What are you doing here?" Cordy asked.

"What, a guy can't come up for a visit?"  He slouched as he walked further
into the room.

Cordy shot him a glare but didn't say anything else.  She looked over at
Xander and then sighed.

Xander stood up a little straighter.  Was she holding back comments for his
sake?  He hadn't claimed Spike for a friend but in the story he'd told Spike
had been kind to him.  If Cordy was willing to hold her tongue for his sake,
he might be more welcome then he'd imagined.

Spike ignored Angel and continued walking until his was in front of Xander.
"How're you doing?" he asked quietly.

"Good," Xander said, smiling because it was finally true.  He wasn't just
placating Spike; he really was doing well.  "You?"

"Only a few more days until Dawnie graduates."  Spike grinned.  "She's so

Xander smiled back at him.  So much of Spike's happiness was wrapped up in
Dawn...it was good to see him happy and in love.  He was calmer, more
centered and in control of himself.  He still pushed people, still acted
like an ass just to get a reaction, but Xander could see he was content and
that was all that mattered.  "She's not the only one," he teased.

Spike shrugged that aside with careless ease.  "They been treating you all

"Hey!"  Angel took a step forward.

"I wasn't talking to you," Spike said.  He glared at Angel for a moment,
then rolled his eyes and took Xander by the hand.  "I can't talk to you in
front of them."  He pulled Xander outside, ignoring the objections of the
people inside.

Xander allowed himself to be led.  He owed Spike that much and more.  He
closed the door behind them and walked with Spike out to the borders of the
Hyperion frontage.  "What's with the secrecy?"

"Can't be sure that I'll get straight answers with all of them looking over
your shoulder."  Spike moved close to him, getting right in his face so
there was nowhere he could hide.  "They been treating you right?"

"More than right," Xander said.


"Really."  Xander couldn't look away even if he wanted to:  Spike's blue
gaze had him pinned.  "I told them."

"Told them what?"

"About Glory."

Spike's hand's closed hard on Xander's arms.  "And?"

"And they believed me."  Xander laughed.  "They believe me and they don't
hate me."

"Must be smarter than they look, then."  Spike relaxed his grip.  "You look
good.  Been eating enough?"

"Yeah."  Spike the mother hen was an odd person to talk to, but Xander was
used to him.  "Angel's been looking out for me.  They all have," he added
quickly.  He didn't know how Spike would react to the news that he and Angel
were involved.

"Good for them."  Spike moved quickly and pulled him into a hug.  "Good to
see you, pet.  Glad to see you looking happy."

Xander hugged him back hard.  "Same for you.  You are so far gone on Dawn."

Spike laughed.  "Yeah.  I can't wait to tell her."  He started to pull back
then froze.  "You smell like chocolate."

"Cookies," Xander said.

"And Angel."  Spike cocked his head to the side.  "Did he bake the cookies?"

"What do you think?"  Xander felt a blush rising in his cheeks but he raised
his chin and stared Spike down.

The vampire grew serious.  "This is what you want?"

Xander nodded.  "Yes."

"Good.  If he doesn't make you happy I'll tear his throat out."

It was Xander's turn to hug Spike.  "Thank you."

"Any time, pet."

Xander reached into his pocket.  "I have something for you."  He pulled out
the box that contained Tewa's Necklace.  "Here."

Spike took it and opened it up.  "Not really my style, but thank you."

"It's Tewa's Necklace."  When Spike stared at him blankly, Xander shook his
head.  "Put it on."

Grumbling quietly, Spike slid the necklace over his head.  "Happy?"

"Not as happy as you're going to be.  Consider it a graduation gift to you
and Dawn.  It's enchanted.  The vampire who wears it can walk in the sun."
The stunned amazement on Spike's face was worth the wait to find it.

"It's real?"

"Verified by the Lirasin.  You can go with her anywhere, now."  A gift to
Spike and Dawn both.  He wanted them to be together and happy and this would
make it easier.  When Spike loved he loved with all he had and Xander knew
it made him crazy to be away from her during the daylight.  This would make
sure that Dawnie was always protected and help to keep Spike safe as well.
It didn't make up for the pain he'd caused in the past, but Xander felt
better knowing that he'd opened the door to future happiness.

Spike shouted and lunged at Xander, catching him up in an enormous embrace
and swinging him around.  "Thank you."

"Thank you," Xander said, gasping a little when Spike finally put him down.
He glanced back over his shoulder, smiling a little when he saw Angel and
Gunn at the door.  "I think it's time to go back inside."

"Can't stand to be away from him for a second, can't you?" Spike teased as
he put him down.

It was starting to be true, but that didn't mean that Xander had to admit
it.  He led the way back into the hotel.  He noticed that Angel was watching
him carefully and tried smiling at him to reassure him.

Angel relaxed a little...until he caught site of the Necklace around Spike's
neck.  "Is that-?"

"Pretty, isn't it?"  Spike hooked a thumb under the chain and looked down at

"Are you sure you know what you doing?" Wesley asked.

"Yeah," Xander said.

"You think Spike is that trustworthy?" Cordy asked.

"Of course."

"There is that chip thing," Gunn said.

Spike snorted.  Xander elbowed him.

"What?" Angel asked.

Xander tried staring down at his shoes as an answer.

"What?" Angel persisted.

There really wasn't any thing to do except tell them.  Xander drew in a deep
breath.  "The chip doesn't work."

"Hasn't for five years," Spike said in his best snide tone.

"How -"  Angel stared at Xander.  "You?"

"Just before I left Sunnydale.  I wanted Spike to be at the top of his
game."  He glanced over at the blond vampire.  It had been the last thing
he'd done before he left Sunnydale.  He wanted to be sure that Dawn was
protected and he wanted to be able thank Spike for the help he'd given him.
They'd both kept it secret, not wanting to cause any trouble for Spike.

"All this time?" Angel asked.

"All this time."  Spike spread his legs, his stance a challenge.

Angel stared at him consideringly for long minutes, then nodded.  "All
right."  He glanced over at Xander and his gaze softened.

Xander relaxed.  It was going to be all right.  Angel might not really like
his choice but it wasn't going to come between them.

"How long are you going to be here?" Wesley asked.  He wasn't looking at
Spike, though.  He was looking at the Necklace.  He was probably trying to
figure out how he could get his hands on it and do some research before
Spike went back to Sunnydale.

"Long enough to stay good-bye."  Spike looked over at Xander.  "Things get
nervous the closer we get to graduation."

Xander could understand that.  He still got fidgety on the anniversary of
his graduation even when he was on the other side of the country.  That
wasn't the sort of thing a person forgot.  "Can't stand to be away from her
for a second?" he teased.

Spike shrugged.  "So what?"  He looked Xander over one more time.  "Try to
eat a little more and you'll be back in fight trim in no time."

"Uh-huh."  Xander wasn't sure he'd ever be back in fighting trim.  He was a
little too used to running.  "Drive safely back."

"Of course not," Spike said cheerfully.  He reached up and squeezed Xander's
shoulder.  "You should come."

Xander knew he meant Dawn's graduation.  "No."  He wasn't going to go back.
He couldn't.  Graduation should be a day of triumph and happiness - or so he
heard.  He wasn't going to take that away from Dawn.

"She half-suspects, you know.  She's smart and she knows how to pay
attention to silences."  Spike tightened his grip.  "She misses you.  She's
like to see you."

"She's the only one," Xander said.

"Are you saying I don't count?"

Xander pulled out of his grip.  "Don't joke."

"I'm serious."

Angel moved to stand next to Xander.  "There's going to be a lot of people
there.  If you stood in the back, you could watch her graduate."

"She's not big on parties - too likely to end in bloody badness," Spike
pushed.  "She'll have time to meet you after.  She'd love that."

Xander wanted that.  Sweet little Dawnie, with her crush on him and her
laughter and her urge to grow up fast no matter how hard they tried to keep
her a child...the thought that she might not hate him cut through his
defenses.  "It's too risky."  Even he could hear himself wavering.

"No, no it's not."  Angel laid a comforting hand on his back.  "We're all
going.  You'll be safe."

"I'm not worried about my safety.  I'm worried about what I could do to
them."  He wasn't quite willing to say their names.

"They won't see you."  It was a promise.

"You can't be sure of that."

"Yeah, but all of us working together could be," Cordy said, her chin at a
determined tilt.  "You deserve to be there as much as anyone else, maybe
more.  We can keep you hidden and in the back.  You should go."

He wanted to.  He looked from Cordy's stubbornness to Spike's eagerness, saw
Wesley and Gunn nod their support.  He glanced at Angel and saw nothing but
a desire to help him.  He wanted to see Dawn graduate.  He wanted to see the
little girl he'd killed for step into the world of adulthood.  Maybe then
he'd be able to leave Sunnydale behind again and make a new start.  A new
start with Angel...

He drew in a deep breath.  "OK."


Part Twenty-four/Twenty-Seven

He wasn't going to ask.  He was going to keep his mouth shut and just let
Xander be.  He'd already asked him about a hundred times and if Xander
hadn't changed his mind the last time, it was unlikely that he'd changed his
mind five minutes later.  He was just going to make the other man angry and
the last thing Xander needed was to be wound up any more than he already

"Are you sure you want to do this?"  Angel hung his head as soon as the
question was out of his mouth.

Xander drew in a deep breath.  He didn't look at Angel; instead, he turned
to the side, picked a pillow up off the bed, and smacked Angel in the
shoulder with it.  He put the pillow down and continued packing his bag.

Angel nodded.  He'd deserved that.  The corners of his mouth twitched up but
he managed to hide his smile.  It was almost worth getting hit to be
reminded of how much Xander had relaxed in the past few days.  It was a
little hard to believe that when they'd first met Xander refused to meet his
gaze for more than a moment at a time.  The other man might still hesitate
when it came to teasing other people, but he was far more open with Angel.
He laughed and teased and smacked Angel with pillows when he needed it.

He watched Xander carefully stow all of his belongings in a single pack.
That wasn't right.  He needed to put down roots and finally make himself at
home.  Angel decided to find something large and bulky and buy it for
Xander.  If it couldn't be shoved in his backpack, then maybe the young man
wouldn't be so quick to move from one place to another.  He seemed as though
he was getting settled in Los Angeles, though.  He welcome Angel's touch and
sought out kisses of his own will.  He hadn't taken Gunn up on his offer to
spar but he was willing to sit and talk about demons with Wesley for hours.
He and Cordy hadn't gone out on any shopping sprees, but Angel had been
please and a little relieved to see them sharing coffee and talking quietly
more than once.  Cordy still had yet to unleash her cutting humor on him,
but Angel knew it was only a matter of time.  He appreciated the fact that
she was giving Xander time to truly feel at home before letting him have it.

He really thought that Xander was going to try to stay in Los Angeles.  He
didn't think it would be easy - he knew just how hard it would be to stop
running once running had become all you knew.  He was willing to do whatever
it took to make Xander's stay easier...which was why he was so worried about
this trip to Sunnydale.  He was glad that Xander was feeling ready to face
his past, but there were so many things that could go wrong.  What if Xander
couldn't handle being back in Sunnydale?  What if Dawn wasn't as pleased to
see him as Spike had suggested?  What if Xander ran into Buffy and Willow?
Any one of those things might be enough to set Xander running again.  Angel
had commitments in Los Angeles, a purpose and a place and he'd leave it all
behind to chase Xander...but it would be easier on all of them if he didn't
have to.

It wouldn't do any of them any good if he made Xander crazy before they even
left.  He didn't want to ask him if he was sure over and over, but he also
didn't want the other man to be forced into anything.

He could feel the question building up inside of him again.  He didn't want
to ask.  Xander's irritation might not manifest itself in a humorous manner
but that didn't help; Angel knew that the words were just going pop out soon
if he didn't find a way to stop it that didn't rely on his weak will.

Xander's head drooped for a moment, then his shoulders squared and he turned
on Angel, moving quickly to catch the vampire's face between his hands.
Before Angel could react, Xander covered his lips with his own.

This was much better than getting hit with a pillow.  Angel forgot about his
worry and focused on the feeling of soft warm lips moving against his.  He
murmured a little in surprise as Xander pulled him close but it only took
him a moment to reciprocate, winding his arms around the other man so he
could feel every inch of him.  Xander's tongue was a maddening distraction
and Angel decided to retaliate, sliding his hands under Xander's shirt and
up his back, the skin hot beneath his palms as he tried to touch every inch
of him.

Xander's moan of pleasure went straight to Angel's head and he pushed Xander
backwards so they could sit on the bed and he could focus on feeling of
Xander so close to him.  Fingers in his hair were no more than a passing
concern when they felt so good.  Another hand worked its way into his shirt
and ghosted up his side, tentative and tickling and Angel arched up into it,
eager for more.  He returned the favor, gently scraping his nails over
Xander's back and reaping the benefit as the dark-eyed man almost climbed
into his lap.  Angel decided to try it again and this time Xander managed to
push him over, lying on top of him and kissing him with renewed passion.

Angel was vaguely aware of fingers working at the buttons of his shirt but
the hazy pleasure of Xander's tongue slipping over and around his teeth
ruined him for anything like focused thought.  He rucked up Xander's shirt,
sliding his hands up his flanks and then rubbing his thumbs over his
nipples.  Xander's movements against him became almost frantic and Angel
growled a little at all the clothing separating him.

That last thought brought Angel back to himself.  This wasn't right.  They
were going to drive to Sunnydale in a few hours and Angel didn't want either
of them to be unsettled by this.  Besides, when he and Xander finally moved
beyond the kissing and cuddling they'd been enjoying, Angel wanted to make
sure that there weren't any distractions looming over them.  He wanted to
make sure that Xander knew how special he was, wanted to be sure that he
showed him.

With reluctance, Angel pulled away from Xander, turning his head to the side
and ending the increasingly frantic kiss.  "Wait."

Xander dropped his head to Angel's shoulder, his hands freezing instantly.
"OK," he whispered, breathing heavily.  He started to roll off of Angel.

"No."  Angel held him fast.  He didn't want Xander to think that he'd done
something wrong.  "It's perfect.  It's just not the right time."  He kissed
Xander's temple, the corner of an eyebrow.  "Not now."

Xander sighed, but he nodded.  "Not now," he agreed, looking up to meet
Angel's gaze.  One side of his mouth quirked up.  "Then why did you start

"I didn't start it!"  Angel scowled at him.  "It was you."

"Sure."  Xander rolled off of Angel.  "I was just trying to pack."

"You kissed me."

"You asked for it."

Angel really couldn't argue with that.  He'd preferred Xander kissing him to
hitting him, anyway.  He watched Xander close up his backpack.  Buttoning up
his shirt, he grinned a little as he thought about how responsive Xander had
been.  It was like he was starving for Angel's touch, which was a nice ego

Xander shot him an almost shy look, and some of Angel's smugness
disappeared.  Xander was probably starved for almost any kind of touch.  He
hadn't missed the way Lorne touched Xander at every opportunity.  Hell, even
Spike got touchy-feely with him.  They were probably about the only people
Xander ever allowed to touch him.  Angel promised himself that he would
make up for all of that.  "Are you ready?"

"All packed."  Xander sat down on the bed beside him.  "How about you?"

"I've got a bag."  Angel hadn't packed too much - he didn't want any reason
to stay too long.  All the members of Angel Investigations were heading to
Sunnydale once full dark came.  It was the day before Dawn's graduation -
the extra time would give them the opportunity to settle in and visit with
friends the next day before the ceremony.  If Angel had his way, they'd
leave the same night as graduation, leaving town as soon as possible.  He
was uneasy being out of Los Angeles for too long.

More than that, he wasn't sure if he could handle being around Buffy, Willow
and Giles for too long.  It was a good thing Anya had left town, or else he
wouldn't be able to trust himself to go there at all.  As it was, he knew
he'd have a hard time being polite to them knowing that they were sitting
there thinking of Xander and hating him and being so utterly wrong.  Xander
didn't seem to blame them much, but Angel couldn't understand why they didn't
look harder for him, why they didn't know the letter was a fake.  Even he'd
thought it was out of character and he hadn't been a close friend of

Shaking his head, he forced himself to end that train of thought.  He didn't
want to get upset and maybe have Xander feed off of that and get upset in
turn.  The other man was going to have enough to deal with as it was.

"When are we leaving?" Xander asked.

"Depends on the sky," Angel said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed
and getting to his feet.  "As soon as it's dark enough that I can drive, we
can get on our way."

"We're not going to stay at the mansion, are we?"

"No."  Too many memories, not enough rooms.  "There's a hotel near the
school that Spike recommended."  His voice became rueful as he acknowledged
accepting help from the other vampire.

"It will be a good one, then."  There wasn't anything challenging in
Xander's tone.  He was just stating a simple fact.

It didn't irritate Angel.  On the contrary, it helped him to relax.  In
Sunnydale, Spike would be there to help protect Xander.  That didn't mean
Angel wouldn't be looking out for him, but it did make him feel better.  He
wasn't certain that Spike could be as trusted as Xander seemed to think, but
it was true that even without his chip Spike had stayed in Sunnydale and
become a valuable member of the group there.  Xander had hinted at Spike
behaving because he was interested in someone, but Angel thought there had
to be more to it than that.  He'd been reluctant to acknowledge Spike as a
full ally, preferring to view him more as a dangerous source of potential
help.  That might have to change, if for no other reason than how well Spike
treated Xander.

"Do you want to go wait in the lobby?"  Xander hefted his bag.

"All right."  They might as well.  If nothing else, it might help to gather
the others so they could get going on time.  Well-trained and experienced
fighting group they might be, but Angel had no illusions about how well he
and the others traveled together.  Last time they'd needed to hit the road
to deal with a case, he'd ended up in the trunk because they'd been so late
in getting started.  He wasn't going to return to Sunnydale crammed in the
trunk.  Although, perhaps he could convince Xander to ride with
him...grinning, he made a side trip to his room.  He knew his hair had to be
mussed so he put it back in order before grabbing his own bag and following
Xander to the lobby.

There were only slight traces of light in the sky.  They'd be able to leave
in a half hour at the most.  Angel watched Xander trail a finger over the
wood of the reception desk.  He remembered a question he'd been holding on
to, but had been hesitant to ask.  "Xander?"

"Hmm?"  Xander leaned over, examining the desk more carefully.

Trying to ignore the view Xander was presenting him, Angel said, "You
mentioned that you could get in contact with The Powers."

"Yeah."  Xander moved around behind the counter, crouching down.  His voice
was muffled, but Angel could still hear him.  "I really can't tell you how.
They're touchy and I wouldn't want them to close down the connection because
I broke the code."  His head popped up, his eyes anxious.

"No, no, I don't want to know how you contact them."  That wasn't exactly
the truth, but he didn't want Xander to be worrying that he was upset over
being left out of the loop.  "I was just wondering if you'd had the chance
to contact them."

Relief smoothed Xander's expression before he disappeared behind the counter
again.  "Not yet.  It will be another week before I can.  I'm sorry it's not
sooner, but if Cordy has another vision I'll make sure that she's ok."

"I was just wondering."  Angel dropped his bag and walked over to the
counter.  "What are you looking at?"

"The way this counter is put together.  These joists are strange but they're
working great.  How old is this place?"

Angel shook his head.  He'd forgotten that Xander had worked as a carpenter.
"I'm not sure, actually."

"It's in great shape."  Xander stood up from behind the counter, his eyes
widening a little when he saw Angel so close.  "Great workmanship."

"Good to know."  Angel leaned forward.  So long as Xander didn't mess up his
hair again, there was nothing wrong with stealing a kiss.  Xander's lips
were yielding beneath his, his mouth hot and sweet.

Gunn cleared his throat, but Angel paid no attention.  Xander's hands were
safely fisted in his shirt and the counter wasn't cutting into his stomach
too badly.  An audience wasn't going to be enough to make him give this up.

The sound of a camera going off was, though.  Angel pulled away and turned
around.  "What was that?"

Gunn wiggled a camera.  "Cordy leant this to me.  Nice, huh?"

Angel glanced over at Xander, who seemed dismayed by the camera.  If he
didn't like it, then Angel would take care of it.  He took a step forward.

Gunn backed off a step, putting himself behind Wesley.  "Man, there's no
film in it.  It was a joke."  He looked past Angel, at Xander.  "I'm sorry.
It's just a joke, I promise."

Xander sighed and Angel relaxed.  To move past the moment, he asked, "Are
you two ready?"

"All packed."  Gunn pointed at three bags near the door.

"We're not going to be there that long," Xander said.

"I know.  Clothes, sundries, and weapons."  Gunn crossed his arms over his
chest.  "We're playing it like boy scouts this trip."

Angel nodded.  He'd geared up with weapons in his coat and there were more
in the trunk.  If things got really bad, they'd be able to borrow some from
Buffy, he was sure, but it was nice to have weapons that one was familiar
with handy.  "As soon as Cordy gets here, we'll be ready to go."

"Oh, well.  I'll just make a sandwich then, shall I?"  Wesley started
walking toward the kitchen.

"I'll tell her you said that," Angel promised.

Wesley shot him a dirty look and changed course to stand beside Xander
behind the counter.  "If you stand back here too long, we may just put you
to work."

"If it means I can look at these joists some more, it might just be worth
it."  Xander leaned against the counter.  "When was this place built?"

Wesley launched into a history of the Hyperion.  Of course he knew and
remembered all the details.

Angel wasn't really interested, so he walked over to join Gunn in waiting by
the windows.  "Is one bag really just for weapons?"

"Yeah.  I remember our other trips to the Hellmouth.  Besides, I wasn't sure
if we just might need some of them for the people we'll be visiting."  Gunn
caught his gaze - his dark eyes were serious.

"If we do this right, they shouldn't see Xander at all."

Gunn smiled a little and shook his head.  "And how often do things go right
for us?" he asked, speaking Angel's secret fears.  "There's a chance that he
could end up face to face with them.  He just might need back up and that's
exactly what he's going to get."

"Thank you," Angel said.

"I'm doing it for him, man.  Although between you and Spike, I can't really
see him needing us if he suddenly can't take care of himself."  Gunn jerked
his head over toward Xander.  "Do you think he knows the risk?"

"I don't think he can stop thinking about it."  Angel wasn't sure he'd have
the courage to go back to Sunnydale if he was Xander.  He was going to do
everything in his power to make sure that Xander didn't regret his decision.

He was distracted from his thoughts by the sight of headlights flashing in
the drive.  "Cordy's here."  He walked back into the lobby and grabbed his

"No sandwich?" Wesley protested.

The front door opened.  "Let's get this show on the road," Cordy called,
before disappearing back outside.

It was in Angel to ask Xander one more time if he was sure that he wanted to
do this.  He looked at the other man, standing straight and firm with his
pack slung over one shoulder and swallowed the question.  Xander knew how to
take care of himself and even though he was letting Angel protect him, he
didn't need to be coddled.  Angel just had to keep that in mind and maybe
Xander would let him get away with coddling him when they got back.

When Angel reached the car, Cordy had her bags stowed in the trunk.  "It
just takes you men forever to get ready, doesn't it?" she teased.

"We had to pack all the weapons," he protested.  He put his bag in the trunk
and stepped to the side to give everyone else access to the trunk.  He
hesitated.  There was something he wanted to ask Cordelia, but he felt
awkward.  It was silly and frivolous and childish.  "Cordy?"  He pitched his
voice low.


"I know you usually sit up in the front with me, but I was wondering-"

She rolled her eyes and waved her hand at him.  "Fine.  I'll sit in the
back.  Just don't get up to anything in the front seat, all right?"

"Thanks."  He glanced back in time to see Gunn and Wes stow their bags in
the trunk before walking over to Gunn's truck.  There was no way they'd all
cram comfortably into his car so Gunn and Wes were making the journey in
Gunn's truck.

Xander stuck his bag in the trunk and shut it, then hesitated until Cordy
got into the back seat.  With a small shake of his head, he walked around
the car and got into the front passenger seat.

The ride to Sunnydale passed quickly; Cordy chattered in the back seat.  Her
words came faster and her stories became more involved the closer they came
to Sunnydale.  Angel appreciated her efforts to distract Xander:  the other
man got tenser and tenser as the miles passed.  When they passed the knocked
over "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign, Xander curled in a little on himself,
crossing his arms over his chest.

Angel wasn't sure what to do.  He settled for reaching over and laying his
hand on Xander's shoulder.  Xander shot him a grateful look, but he didn't

Angel concealed a shudder as he felt the dark atmosphere of the Hellmouth
welcome him back.  He didn't want to stay here any longer than he had to; he
didn't want to get used to this feeling.  He drove directly to the hotel,
wanting to get Xander inside as soon as possible.

Gunn pulled up beside Angel's car and they all worked at unloading the trunk
while Wes headed inside to check in.

When Wesley came back, he was grinning like a mad man.  "Did you know Spike
made the reservations in the name of Ms. Angel Peaches?"

Angel scowled but he couldn't get too upset, not with Xander finally relaxed
and laughing like that.  "How many rooms?"

"Three," Wesley said, tossing a key to Xander.

Three?  Angel looked over at Xander.  He didn't know if he'd be all right
with sharing a room with him.

Xander smiled at him.  "You don't breathe so you can't snore, right?"

"Right," Angel said.

"It'll be all right, then."  Xander started walking toward their room.

Angel followed him.  He was pleasantly surprised when Xander swung the door
open.  The room was very nice, with two large beds and plenty of space.
Xander shouldn't feel trapped in here, or crowded when Angel was there with
him.  "How's Spike paying for this?"

"What makes you think he is?  I'd double check what credit card was used to
make the reservation."  Xander paused in the middle of the room.  "Which bed
do you want?"

"I'll take the one by the door."  Angel shook his head.  His credit card was
the one used, no doubt.  He needed to remember to talk to Spike when he saw
him next.  Not that it would do any good, but the other vampire would be
expecting it.

Xander put his bag down on the other.  "What's the plan?"

"I'm going to call Buffy and let her know we're in town.  After that, we're
on our own for the night.  The rest of us will get together with them during
the day tomorrow, and then there's Dawn's graduation that night.  We'll
leave whenever you're ready after that."

Xander nodded slowly, but he didn't say anything else.

Angel sat down on his bed, facing him.  "I don't know if I want to see
them," he confessed.

"They're your friends," Xander said.  He sat down on his own bed, knees
almost touching Angel's.


Xander shook his head.  "They *are*.  Nothing that they've done in the past
has changed."

"Hasn't it?  I know the truth now.  I know how wrong they were, how much
they owe you."  It was hard to think of laughing and talking with the people
in Sunnydale knowing that they'd left Xander in Glory's hands and had driven
him from the area with their hatred.

"That's just it.  You know the truth.  They don't.  I never told them what
happened and I didn't let Spike do it either.  You can't hold what they
don't know against them."

"Xander -"  He could hear the other man blaming himself and hated it.

"It's true.  I could have stayed and told them."

"Not the way you were feeling."

"Being weak doesn't excuse me."

"No!"  Angel stood up and grabbed Xander's shoulders.  "Not weak, and you
know that."  He calmed down and gentled his voice.  "Let's just say there's
room for regret on both sides, all right?  You didn't do anything wrong."
He stared at Xander, holding his gaze until finally the other man nodded.
Angel relaxed and let him go.  He didn't want Xander blaming himself.  He
didn't need to be carrying that burden while he was in Sunnydale.

Xander hunched his shoulders a little.  "Now that we've gotten psychotherapy
crossed off our to do list, now what?"

"Food and sleep.  I don't want to be out doing a night time walk down memory

"Yeah, count me out on that.  Food sounds good."

"Room service?"

"Do they do that here?  From what I remember, a lot of the hotels had given
that up.  Night time pizza deliveries were on their way out by the time I
hit high school."

Angel looked around the room and found a menu by the phone.  "This place
hasn't quite gotten the message.  Take a look."  He tossed it over to

"What about you?"

Angel was already in front of the in room fridge.  "I brought my own.  I
don't know if I still trust the supply here."

"You could have asked Spike."

Angel hesitated in the middle of putting away the bags of blood.  "Does he
still use bagged?"

Xander sighed.  "Yes.  The chip being out hasn't changed anything for him
except he doesn't have to worry about getting his ass kicked by humans."

"Sorry," Angel said.

"I'm not the one who should get the apology," Xander said quietly.

Angel nodded.  It was going to take him some time to learn to think of Spike
as truly trustworthy.  He'd been looking on him as leashed by the chip
instead of voluntarily being a part of life in Sunnydale.  That was going to
have to change.  "Order whatever you want.  It'll just go on Ms. Peaches'
credit card."

That won him a smile and he finished putting away his blood supply.  He
moved on to hanging his clothes up in the closet and putting his other
things away in the drawers of the bureau.  He watched Xander hanging up the
phone after ordering, but the young man made no move to unpack.  Angel knew
it was from habit and he decided not to push it.  Besides, he didn't want
any of them getting too comfortable here.  If it wasn't for fear of
wrinkles, he wouldn't have unpacked himself.

A knock at the door signaled the arrival of food.  Xander stood up but Angel
was faster, reaching the door quickly.  He wasn't going to risk Xander over
something as prosaic as room service.  He opened the door a crack and tipped
the human outside, grabbing the covered plate and bringing it inside.

Xander raised his eyebrows.  "Hungry?"

"Starved."  Angel accepted the chiding without any further comment.  He
handed over the plate.  "I'm going to wash up."

Once inside the bathroom, Angel realized that he might have a problem.  He
didn't usually wear pyjamas.  He'd worn comfortable clothing when he'd sat
up with Xander one night to help ward off nightmares.  He hadn't known that
Spike was going to push them into sharing a room.  He thought boxers might
be all right.

Nothing would be even better...he pushed that thought aside.  Not here, not
now.  He wasn't going to think about that.  No use giving himself
temptations that he was determined not to act upon.  He focused on cleaning
up and getting ready to sleep.  He wasn't looking forward to riding around
in the trunk tomorrow, but he was going to have to if he wanted to be in on
visiting other people.  Of course, he wasn't sure that he wanted to visit,
but he was expected and he had to admit that he wanted to see how everyone
had grown and changed.

He walked back out into the main room.  Xander was chasing crumbs around on
his plate with his finger, catching them up and then licking his fingertip
clean.  He looked up and froze under Angel's look, his finger still in his

Angel closed his eyes, feeling all his resolve fly out the window.  His gaze
on the floor, he walked over to his bed.  "Did you get enough?"

"Yeah.  It was really good."

"Bathroom's free."  He listened to Xander get up and walk into the bathroom.
Once he was alone, Angel swiftly stripped down to his boxers and slid
between the sheets.  No embarrassment for Xander and less temptation for

When Xander walked out of the bathroom, he was dressed in his pyjama pants.
He glanced at Angel and his eyes widened.  He looked away quickly, then
slowly glanced back over.  "Hi," he said.

"Hi," Angel repeated.

"I'll just, um, get the lights?"

"That sounds good."  Angel was careful to conceal his amusement.  Xander
didn't need to know how cute he was when he was unsure of himself.

Xander turned out the lights and crawled into bed.  "Good night," he called

"Good night," Angel returned.  He lay in bed, listening to the quiet sound
of Xander's breathing and waiting for sleep to come.


The next afternoon, Angel was focusing on the memory of Xander's quiet
breaths to keep himself calm.  It wasn't that anyone had done anything to
deliberately provoke or upset him.  He thought that it might be the
happiness that he could see in the Sunnydale group that was so irritating.

Buffy was laughing and so proud of Dawn she was nearly floating.  Her hand
on her boyfriend's arm seemed like it was the only thing tethering her to
the earth.  Buffy and Rich were happy, attentive to each other and their
friends.  Buffy was more at peace and whole than Angel could remember seeing
her.  Her heritage as the Slayer wasn't weighing her down as it had in the

Willow and Tara were competing with Buffy in the pride department.  Every
other story they told was about Dawnie and how much she'd grown, how smart
she was, what an amazing young lady she was.  Willow had grown into her
witchy powers; Wesley had remarked on the power he could sense from her and
even Angel was aware of her strength.  Tara was bolder now, starting
conversations with others and laughing out loud.  The two women had settled
into a comfortable relationship and Angel found he had a hard time imagining
one without the other.

Giles looked the same; time hadn't touched him except for a few more lines
on his brow, a little more gray in his hair.  He was full of quiet
satisfaction, proud of his family and proud of Dawn for her accomplishments.
He'd grown easier, relaxing as he learned to trust his children and their

Dawn had grown up amazingly.  She was taller than Buffy, taller than Willow.
She'd grown out of any lingering gawkiness and was a graceful young woman,
slim and full of the confidence that surviving on the Hellmouth brought.

Spike weaved his way in and out of the group, welcomed by everyone in
Sunnydale.  He was like the rest of them:  bursting with pride and
celebration.  His jokes might have more of a bite to them, but there wasn't
the same amount of venom in his words as existed in the past.

They were all so happy.  Angel was pleased for them - it wasn't easy to find
happiness anywhere and on the Hellmouth it was even more difficult.  They'd
spent years fighting back the darkness and they deserved some light.

At the same time, their happiness bothered him.  Why should they be so happy
when Xander had spent years mired in misery?  He knew he shouldn't be
holding their happiness against them but it was hard to join in
whole-heartedly with the celebration when he knew Xander was sitting back at
the hotel waiting for him to come back.

Wes walked past him and shot him a commiserating look.  At least Angel was
surrounded by people who understood what he was feeling.  Wes, Gunn, and
Cordy all looked a little ill at ease.  He'd heard them being teased for
being so nervous on the Hellmouth, but he knew the real cause.

As soon as he thought was feasible, Angel said, "I think we should head back
to the hotel."

Cordy was backing him up immediately.  "I want to change.  Dress up for
Dawn's big night, and all."

"All right," Buffy said.  "We'll meet you at the school?"

"There's going to be a lot of people there," Willow worried.  "I don't know
if we'll be able to save enough seats."

"So Dawn will have two cheering sections," Spike said.  "Do you really think
it's a good idea to have all of us sitting together?  Asking for disaster to
strike, that is."

Everyone was laughing as they finished making their good-byes.  It was a
mercifully short ride back to the hotel and Angel was soon free of the trunk
and back in his hotel room.

"How was it?" asked Xander.  He was lying on his stomach on his bed, the
remains of a room service meal on the floor.

"All right," Angel said cautiously.

"You don't have to lie to me, you know."  Xander stretched.  "I know they're
happy.  I want them to be happy, even if I'm not going to see it."

Angel sat down on Xander's bed and laid a careful hand on his back.  "They
are happy.  Joyful, even.  All of them are proud of Dawn and she's loving it
and she deserves it."  He started rubbing Xander's back, enjoying the
feeling of warmth through the thin cloth of his shirt.  "I noticed that
Spike seemed to be especially proud."

Xander looked at him over his shoulder.  "Really?"  There wasn't any
surprise in his voice.

"Didn't you say something about him being in love?"

Arching up into Angel's touch, Xander shook his head.  "Uh-uh.  I wouldn't
betray a confidence like that."

Angel smiled.  Spike and Dawn.  It wasn't a pairing that he would have
chosen, but he'd learned to stay out of his friends' relationships.  Spike
seemed sincere and Dawn had known him long enough to be able to make up her
own mind about him.  This explained Xander giving Tewa's Necklace to Spike.
The other vampire would be able to be with her in the daylight, protect her
even in the light of the sun.  That was important - not only because she was
a friend or the focus of Spike's love, but also because she was still the

He leaned forward and kissed the back of Xander's neck.  "Spike managed to
convince them not to worry about all of us sitting together, so we'll be
able to slip in the back.  No worries there."

"I still won't be with you," Xander said.

"We'll be in the back," Angel repeated.

"They'll still be looking for you.  I'll be standing all the way in the
back."  His head dropped a little.  "I'm not going to ruin this for Dawn."

"I could stand with you."

"No."  Xander rolled over and smiled a little at him.  "I appreciate it, but
I'll be all right.  This is the only way."

Angel wanted to argue but Xander was right.  He settled for an apologetic
kiss, sorry that he couldn't be with him.  Xander murmured happily into his
mouth, straining upward a little to increase the contact.  Angel obliged
him, coaxing his mouth open wider so he could map out his teeth and indulge
himself in learning Xander's taste again.  The awareness of time pressed in
on him and he regretfully sat back up.  "We have to get ready."

"You do.  I get to hide in the back so I don't have to make any special

Angel made a small face at him, but he didn't believe a word Xander was
saying.  Instead of his usual jeans and long shirt, the other man was
wearing slacks and a button down shirt.  He might not claim to be going to
any effort, but he'd already done so.  He was excited about the possibility
of seeing Dawn, no matter how calm and nonchalant he tried to act.

The vampire ducked into the bathroom the change and make sure his hair was
set to rights.  That done, he walked back into the main room and asked, "How
are you getting to the high school."



Xander laughed.  "I knew you were going to say that.  Spike's going to pick
me up.  No worries."

"Except at the thought of you being in a car with Spike."

"He's gotten better."

"For Dawn."

"I'm not answering that," Xander said firmly.

"That's an answer in itself, you know."

Xander grinned.  "I'm not answering that either."  The phone rang, and the
smile slipped from his face.  "Or that."

Angel nodded his understanding and picked up the receiver.  "Hello?  Yes.
See you then."  He hung up and looked at Xander.  "The others are ready to

"Spike will be here."

"Are you sure you don't want me to be there?"

"No," Xander admitted, trying to find his smile again.  "But I'll be fine.
Can I get a kiss for luck anyway?"

"Of course."  It was short and sweet and Angel found that he needed it, too.
"Thank you."

"Thank *you*," Xander responded.

"I'll see you after the ceremony?"

"Spike will tell you where I'll be."

Angel stole one more kiss and then walked out the door.  Cordy, Wes and Gunn
were waiting for him by his car.

"He ok?" Gunn asked.


"Hey, Xander's one of us Hellmouth kids," Cordy said.  "There isn't much
that he can't handle."

Angel wondered if there was a message in her words for him, too.  He thought
he'd kept his overprotective instincts under control, at least while other
people were around.  He might have to try harder in the future.

It didn't take long to reach the new Sunnydale High School.  It was strange;
the building was new and different, but it felt the same:  full of hope and
fear and evil.  He wondered if it was the influence of the Hellmouth, or if
all high schools felt the same.  It was easy to follow the steady stream of
people into the auditorium.  The room was full; Spike's suggestion about
splitting into two parties was pretty prophetic.  Cordy used her elbows to
get them a group of seats near the center.  It took a few minutes of
dedicated searching, but Angel finally spotted the Sunnydale group far up
near the front.  Willow caught him looking and waved; he managed a
half-hearted one in return.

"Does this bring back memories?" Angel asked Cordelia as they sat down.

"Not really.  If there was more of a sense of imminent death, that might be
more familiar."  She raised an eyebrow at Gunn's confusion.  "I told you,
Hellmouth.  Ask Xander about it sometime.  He helped organize our troops."

"That's a story I gotta hear."  Gunn shook his head.  "And I thought my
school was tough."

"Not Hellmouth tough."

The lights dimmed and a tall black man took the stage.  Angel settled back
into his chair, curious to see how a normal high school graduation
progressed.  There were a lot of jokes that he didn't get, since he wasn't a
part of the community, but the people around him seemed to enjoy it and were
moved by some other parts of it.  The event slowly progressed and then the
principal was calling names.  Dawn Summers took a long time to be called but
when she finally walked across the stage the room was filled with cheers and
applause.  Apparently Dawn was well known and well liked.  Angel joined in
by clapping.  He heard a shrill whistle that he knew could only have come
from Buffy.  Dawn paused in the middle of the stage and with an impish
smile, accommodated her public with a grand wave before moving on to her

As the ceremony started to wind down, Spike appeared at Angel's side.  "I'm
taking him back to the room.  Dawn's going to meet us there."

"I want to be there," Angel said.

"Knew you were going to say that."  Spike cocked his head to the side.
"He's not made of glass."

"I know."  Angel knew they didn't have a lot of time to debate this.  "I
want to be there because he's going to be happy."

Spike shook his head.  "Soft.  Completely soft.  Make an excuse and head
over."  He melted back into the crowd, disappearing into the mass of people
who were trying to reach and congratulate their loved ones.

Angel realized he had a problem.  He looked over at Cordy.  "I need an

"Angel, I've been telling you for years that there is no excuse for you."
She grinned.  "Sorry, I couldn't resist.  For what?"

"For leaving so I can meet Xander."

"Just tell them your hair gel is wearing off and -"


"All right, all right."  She thought for a few moments.  "You got a call
that you have to return.  Tell them it's Lorne.  That'll let you disappear.
When you're late coming back, just say you ran back to the room to grab
something to eat.  They'll buy that."  She looked him over.  "Better yet,
I'll tell them.  You take off."

"You're sure?"

"I'm still a way better liar than you are.  Scoot."

"Thanks," he said, meaning it deeply.  He handed her his car keys and took
off into the crowd.

He still remembered all the old short cuts and it didn't take him long to
get back to the hotel.  A car with windows so tinted they were almost black
had to belong to Spike was parked near their room.  Angel approached the
room slowly, not sure what to expect to see inside.  He knocked on the door,
not wanting to use his key and walk in on a situation where he was

After a few moments, the door opened and Spike peered out at him.  "We
didn't order a pizza."

"Spike!"  Angel forced his hands to remain at his sides, although he
couldn't do anything about they way they clenched into fists.

"Spike!  Let him in."  Xander's command moved the other vampire, who shifted
to one side and opened the door.

Angel looked around quickly, wanting to know what had happened before he
arrived.  Xander and Dawn were seated on the two beds, facing each other and
leaning in to each other.  Spike closed the door and then moved to sit next
to Dawn.

Xander's eyes were shining suspiciously, but his smile was almost too large
for his face.  "Hey," he said.

"Hey, Angel," Dawn said.  She glance at him for a moment and then her
attention was back on Xander.  "I so knew it," she said.  "I knew you were
alive and that you didn't abandon us.  I worried about you for years, you

"I didn't want you to worry."  Xander squinted at her.  "What made you

"Spike."  She nudged the vampire with her shoulder.  "He didn't hate you and
he wasn't worrying about you.  That told me that you had to be all right."

"God, Dawnie.  Look at you.  I am so proud of you."  Xander was on his feet
and so was Dawn.  There was no shame in Xander as a few tears spilled down
his cheek while he held the tall young woman.  "Look at you," he whispered.

"It's so good to see you again," she said.  "So good."

"Missed you, Dawn."

"Hey, I missed you!"  She pulled back a little and shook Xander by the
shoulders.  "Don't disappear again, OK?  I don't want to do this again."

"No worries, pet."  Spike stretched his legs out.  "I keep good tabs on


When Xander and Dawn sat down, Angel slowly sat down beside Xander.  He
ignored Spike's amused stare and focus on the feeling of Xander's warmth
slowly soaking into his side.  He listened with half an ear as Xander and
Dawn talked, sharing stories about the parts of their lives that the other
had missed.  There was no mistaking the happiness in Xander's voice or the
pure joy in Dawn's eyes.

It was obvious time was flying for Xander and Dawn, but Spike was apparently
keeping his mind on the clock.  After a while he rose to his feet.  "I hate
to break up this party, but the night is passing."

Xander nodded.  "You've got parties to go to and wild and crazy and *safe*
fun to have."

"Oh, I promise you she'll be safe."  Spike shot a warm glance at Dawn, one
that she returned with interest.

Spike walked over to the door.  "Lemme just make sure the coast is clear."
He cracked the door open.  He barely had a chance to look outside before he
was thrown back inside, knocked to the floor by a violent force.

Angel instinctively moved so he was standing in front of Xander and Dawn.

Buffy strode into the room, all signs of joy gone.  "Spike, what the hell
are you doing in a motel room with my *sister*?"

Spike was back on his feet in a moment, talking a mile a minute in an effort
to distract her.  Dawn darted out from around Angel to join in the effort.

Buffy wasn't having any.  "And what the hell is Angel doing here?"  She
flung a pointing finger toward Xander.  "And who are you hiding?"

Angel tried to stand more firmly in front of Xander, but it was no use.  He
heard Xander draw in a ragged breath, and then the other man stepped around
him so Buffy could see him.

All the angry words died in Buffy's throat.  She stared mutely at Xander,
eyes wide and muscles lax with shock.

A thousand curses in a hundred languages drifted through Angel's mind.  This
was the last thing he wanted to happen, the disaster he'd been so determined
to prevent.  He groped to find a way to fix this but nothing came to him.
There was no way to save the situation.  Still he would try, do what he
could to shield Xander and Buffy from more pain.  Before he could say
anything, Tara stepped into the doorway.

Behind her, Willow's voice was clear in the sudden silence in the room.
"What is going on with you guys?  First Buffy takes off and then you don't
want us to follow her and now you're freaking out at this hotel?  Is this
some kind of LA thing?"  And then Willow was walking into the door way and
freezing beside her girlfriend, surprise holding both of them prisoner as
they stared at Xander.  It was only a matter of seconds before Giles was
walking through the doorway as well.

Angel shot a glance at Xander and took in his pale, stiff face.  His eyes
were the only things about him that looked alive and they were filled with
fear and despair.



Xander watched the wan light of the hotel lamp pick up highlights in Dawn's
hair.  She was great, everything that he ever would have wanted in a sister.
Smart and confidant and funny and her heart was still so big...amazing.  He
was glad that he'd had the chance to talk to her, the chance to hear her
laugh and see with his own eyes what a wonderful person she'd remained.  No
matter what happened next, finding out that she didn't hate him made it
worth it.  Seeing her alive and happy and full of promise made everything,
*everything*, worth it.

He reluctant moved his gaze from Dawn and Spike's efforts to shield him with
a virtual wall of words and looked at the Scooby Gang.  He'd heard about
them from Spike for years, had kept tabs on them and knew when major events
occurred in their lives.  He hadn't seen any of them in years, though, and
he was a little reluctant to look and see what changes time had wrought in
them.  In some ways, it was easier to imagine them as eternally young,
laughing and strong as they were in his memories.

Buffy was staring at him, shock holding her prisoner for the moment.  She'd
shake it off soon; she always did.  He took the few seconds given to him as
a gift and looked her over.  Her hair was short, shorter than he'd ever seen
it but it looked good on her.  She was older, of course, but it wasn't just
years making her look that way, it was maturity.  She looked at peace and in
control and there were no lines of pain or sorrow on her face.

Just behind her, Willow and Tara stood close together, hands entwined as
they looked at him.  Willow's hair was getting long again.  Not high school
long - she'd never look that young again, but she looked great.  Shock and
surprise filled her eyes but other than that...there was a sense of lightness
about her.  Tara no doubt had a lot to do with that.  Her pale hair was
still long, but her head was held high even while she was staring at him.
Her fingers looked right entwined with Willow's.  He was glad that they'd
stayed together. He couldn't imagine Willow with anyone else.

Just beyond them, Giles hovered in the doorway.  He had gotten older, of
course.  His hair looked to be almost all gray now.  The lines on his face
were deeper now, but mostly around his eyes where his smiles always seemed
to start and end.  There was something more relaxed about him, as though he
was no longer holding himself ready to take a blow.

Xander wondered if they would have been as happy if he stayed.  He was glad
for the chance to see them and judge their happiness for himself.  Of
course, he would have been happier if he'd been able to see them without
their knowledge and definitely without being seen himself.

He'd learned that happiness had a price and it looked as though this time
that price was discovery.  Discovery, and the sick feeling of dread that was
tying his stomach in a cold knot.  He had hoped so hard that this wouldn't
happen yet he'd known it was a possibility.  He'd had nightmares about a
confrontation like this; it was the reason he'd never accepted any of
Spike's offers to help him to return and see how things had changed, how
people had changed.  Still, the chance to see Dawn and find out that at
least one person had held onto the memory of him and still cared was too
much of a temptation.  He held to that fact as his justification for coming.
He'd found out that someone still cared and he hadn't fucked up
completely.  Fucked up royally, definitely, but not completely.

He used the little time he had to relearn how they looked.  As he memorized
their faces all over again, he saw Cordy shove her way into the room so she
could stand near Angel.

Spike lapsed into his most cocky slouch.  "Nice room, isn't it?  I picked it
out special for Dawn and me."  No one paid him any attention.  Xander knew
that the vampire was trying to draw attention to himself in order to save
Xander, but he also knew it wasn't going to work.  It was a good effort and
for any other situation it might have had a chance, but not here.  Not now.

Buffy recovered first.  He'd known she would.  She didn't even glance in
Spike's direction; she was completely focused on him.  "You!  What are you
doing here?"

"Xander?"  Willow's voice was shaking.  "Xander, it is you, isn't it?"

Giles started polishing his glasses, which was comment enough, Xander

"Hi," he tried.

"Hi.  Hi?  What kind of an answer is that?"  Buffy didn't move any closer
but she was moving again, her arms crossed over her chest.

Willow stepped forward, dragging Tara with her.  "Xander?  Oh my god.  Where
have you been?"  The surprise was losing its hold on her.  "We looked for
you for so long.  What happened?"

She'd be angry soon.  She was always the calmest of them, willing to give
people a chance to explain before jumping on them.  Still, it wouldn't take
her long to catch up to Buffy and perhaps even surpass her.

He cast a slightly nervous look at Angel and then Cordelia.  He didn't know
how they'd react to the full force of the others' anger.  It was one thing
to stand beside him while knowing about that anger on an intellectual level;
it was something else entirely to be face to face with it.  What if they
decided he wasn't worth the pain he'd cause to their friends?

Angel shifted his weight, moving so he was standing a little in front of
Xander.  Cordy shot a worried glance at him, but she was worried for him.
When Giles stepped all the way into the room, Xander was able to see Gunn
raising an eyebrow interrogatively outside.

They were still with him.  He kept his face blank, but a smile of relief was
hidden beside his mask.  They weren't going to abandon him.  That knowledge
gave him the strength to meet Buffy's glare.  "Dawn's graduation."

"I don't remember inviting you.  And why would you come back to a place you
hate to see the people you despise?"  Buffy shook her head.  "I don't buy
it.  What do you want?"

"To see Dawn graduate."


Talking to her wasn't going to do any good.  She wasn't going to believe
anything he said.  He shifted his gaze over to Willow.  "You look great," he
said quietly.

"Xander..."  She shook her head.  "Why are you here?"

"Dawn," he said for the last time.

"We're not going to believe that," Buffy said.  "You might as well tell us
the truth.  You remember that don't you?  Truth?"

"I'm glad you're happy," he said to Willow.

"Don't ignore me," Buffy said.

"Talking isn't doing any good, is it?"

"You used to be all talk, Xander.  If you don't talk now, does that make you

He shook his head.  He needed to get out of here before things got any

"He was never just talk," Cordy said.  "And he isn't nothing."

Xander blinked his surprise.  He hadn't expected that.  He shifted a little
so he could see Cordy better.  She was in her best combat pose:  fists
planted on her hips and her legs apart.  She looked ready to shift from
words to blows without much more provocation.

As he moved, Angel moved with him.  The taller man was apparently determined
to stay between Xander and potential violence.

"You're defending him?"  Buffy's laughter was full of disbelief and

"Just speaking the truth.  You know, that thing you were going on and on

"This isn't about you," Buffy said.  "I know, hard to believe, but it isn't.
Stay out of this."

Xander was prepared to stand there and be insulted.  He'd earned it by
running away instead of trying to salvage their friendship.  No one else
deserved Buffy's anger, though, and Xander wasn't going to stand there and
be the cause of a rift in more friendships.  It would be better if he left.
He could take off and hide for a while.  Angel would slip away and find him
and they could go back to Los Angeles.  If worse came to worse, he could
make his way back to the city on his own and meet Angel there.

It wasn't how he wanted to leave, but he'd be able live with it.  Better
yet, he'd be able to put it behind him.  They knew he wasn't dead so that
worry would be gone for them.  He'd seen them looking well with his own eyes
as well, so he was comforted.  It wasn't the forgiveness and redemption that
he sometimes found in his most secret daydreams, but it was some sort of an
ending and he'd take that.

He only needed an ending, after all.  He'd found a new beginning in Los
Angeles, in Angel.  He had the beginnings of friendships and love and a
place.  He finally had a place where he was wanted and he thought he might
have a chance of belonging.  It was more than he ever thought he could have
and he was going to take it and be grateful and happy.  He'd screwed up in
his past and this moment was proof of that, but he was realizing that it
didn't mean he could do right in the future.  He was going to leave
Sunnydale and his failures and his disappointments behind and concentrate on
his future.

He reached out and touched Dawn's arm.  When she looked at him he said,
"I'll be in touch."  He kept his voice low, for her ears only.

There were tears in her eyes, but she nodded.  "Please," she whispered.

"Be good, Dawnie.  To yourself and to Spike."

She laughed wetly.  "I will."

He knew she would.  She and Spike would be good for each other.  Spike
needed someone to love and protect and Dawn needed someone who could
challenge her and understood her background as a Hellmouth kid.  No matter
where they went, they'd take care of each other.

Xander glanced at Spike.  The vampire raised an eyebrow at him and Xander
shrugged in answer.  There wasn't anything more he could do here and he
wasn't quite sure where he was going to go.  He just knew that he had to get
out before the situation could get any worse.

A touch on his arm drew his attention and he met Angel's worried gaze.  He
tried a reassuring smile but it didn't seem to do much good.  He lifted his
cell phone half out of his pocket, signaling that he'd call.  He didn't want
to do any more.  Buffy was pissed as it was; any overt sign between him and
Angel could only make things worse and that was the last thing Xander
wanted.  He just wanted to get out of town without causing any further
incident or pain.

He squared his shoulders.  Getting out of the room was going to be the
hardest part.  He decided to start small and work his way out gradually.  He
picked up his bag and moved out from around the bed.  He found himself
flanked by Angel and Cordy, with Spike and Dawn between him and Buffy.

He looked at Giles who had yet to speak.  "You look well," he said quietly.
"I'm glad."

He moved his gaze over to Tara and dared to smile at her.  He'd still been
getting to know her when he left, but he was grateful to her for making
Willow so happy.

It was hard to look at Willow.  He wanted to get out before she had a chance
to truly get angry with him.  He didn't want to have to see her look at him
with hatred.  "Be happy," he said, meaning the words with all his heart.  He
wanted her to be happy and safe and successful and in love forever.

Finally, he shifted his gaze to Buffy.  He'd learned that words weren't
going to do any good with her.  Any words of friendship he offered her would
just be thrown back into his face.  He couldn't just walk away without
acknowledging somehow, though.  She'd been one of the three centers of his
life, his hero and his sister and his friend.  He settled for a nod, an
inclination that held respect as well as guarded affection.  He didn't meet
her eyes; that could be taken as a challenge and that was the last thing
that he wanted to do.  He just wanted to get out of the room.  With that
goal in mind, he started walking forward slowly.

He'd only just drawn even with Spike and Dawn when Buffy said, "You broke
Anya's heart."

He was pretty sure that he managed to hide his flinch.  There wasn't
anything to say to that.  'She broke mine first' was childish and required
too much explanation.  The sound of Cordy drawing in breath caught his
attention and he waved his hand at her.  He didn't want her to defend him
now - he just wanted to leave.  He settled for ducking his head and trying
to inch forward a little more.

"You tore all of us apart."

That had been Glory.  The Hell God's name was a scream that he swallowed.
He just had to get out the door and this would be over.  He didn't want to
dig everything up, relive the memories and force his former friends to
remember pain that had long been consigned to the past.

He walked resolutely forward, intending to pass Buffy and Willow and Giles
and disappear into the night as he had done so many times before.  He
thought he might make it.  Buffy stopped throwing accusations at him as he
carefully approached her.  He swung wide around her, intending to keep as
much space between them as possible.

He'd just made it a little past her when she reached out and grabbed his
arm.  He'd forgotten what it felt like to have Slayer strength used against
him.  It was only long practice of hiding what he was feeling that allowed
him to conceal how much her cruel grip hurt.  Unable to move, he looked up
and met her eyes.

"What are you doing?" she asked.


"I'm not done talking to you.  You haven't answered any of my questions."

"You don't believe my answers.  Talking is useless."  There was no trust
between them now.  Without that trust, nothing he said would make any sort
of difference.

"So you're just going to leave."

If she'd let go of his arm.  He nodded.

"Running away.  Again.  When did you turn into such a coward, Xander?  Oh,
that's right.  You were always a coward.  I guess you just got tired of
hiding it."  Her voice was venomous, poison that burned his spirit and he
couldn't hide his flinch.

Before he could do more than flinch, he was torn from Buffy's grasp and
pulled backwards.  Xander staggered a little and looked up into Angel's
angry gaze.

The vampire stared at him searchingly for a moment, then nodded to himself.
Angel then turned on Buffy.  "Too far.  You went too far, Buffy."

Part Twenty-Six/Twenty-Seven.

Angel thought that he'd understood Xander's plan:  get out of the room
without any further incident and hide out until they could get out of
Sunnydale.  It wasn't a great plan, but talking clearly wasn't an option
with emotions running as high as they were.  Angel was willing to follow
Xander's lead...until Buffy grabbed him.  All bets were off when Angel saw
Xander flinch.  He loved Xander and he couldn't stand by and just watch him
be hurt.  He acted before he even realized he was moving, pulling Xander
away from Buffy and moving him to safety, out of Buffy's reach where both
Angel and Spike could protect him.

He made sure that Xander hadn't been badly hurt, looking him over closely,
and then he turned to face Buffy.  "Too far.  You went too far, Buffy."

"I'm just getting started.  If you don't like it, maybe you should stop
interfering where you've got no business."  This wasn't the Buffy he knew
from fighting at her side; this was human Buffy, hurt Buffy.  She was
lashing out and he might have been able to be sympathetic about her pain if
she wasn't lashing out at Xander.  Xander carried too much pain as it was;
Angel wasn't going to let Buffy force him to shoulder more.

"This is ending," Angel said.  He was going to get Xander out of here before
things got any worse.

"Yeah, of course it's ending.  Things are rough so Xander's going to turn
tail and run."  She looked past Angel.  "Would you like us to give you some
time so you can write us another little note?  Just like last time?"

That was it.  Angel stepped forward so he was in Buffy's space.  He didn't
want her looking at Xander, didn't want her to look at him anymore.  "No.
Not just like last time.  Last time, Xander had just escaped from Glory.  He
was barely on his feet after having been tortured for refusing to betray his
friends - friends who couldn't be bothered to go looking for him.  He left
after finding out that they they'd given up on him, leaving town with
nowhere to go.  This time is different.  Xander's leaving but he has
someplace to be, a place where he's welcome and wanted."

Buffy jerked back, away from him.  "I don't know what you're talking about."

"That's nothing new.  All of you have been doing a lot of talking without
thinking.  Why don't you try keeping your mouth shut?"  He felt Xander's
hand on his back but then Buffy was shaking her head in denial.

"Angel -"

He couldn't let her lie to herself any longer, not if she was going to hurt
Xander as a result.  "Think!  Try thinking.  Xander disappears and you don't
hear from Glory again.  Coincidence?  Luck finally working for you?  You're
smarter than that.  Glory was busy killing Xander an inch at a time while he
waited for you to come find him.  You never came and he finally had to kill
Glory in order to escape."

She shook her head, but the anger was leaving her eyes.


"Oh my god."  She shifted to look past him and he let her do it.  "Xander?
Is it true?"

Angel turned to look at Xander.  The dark haired man was staring at the
floor, his shoulders hunched as he tried to disappear inside his coat.

Damn it.  Angel hadn't been thinking.  He'd been reacting, wanting to defend
the person he loved and he'd ended up hurting him.  He forgot about Buffy
and moved to stand by Xander.  "I'm sorry."

Xander looked up at him, eyes dark with exhaustion.  "I didn't want them to
know," he said.  "They don't need this."

"I wasn't thinking.  I just wanted her to stop, for them to know that
they're wrong."  Angel touched his shoulder.  "You don't deserve their

Xander shrugged.

"You don't!"

"Xander?"  Willow's voice broke into the tense silence between them.  She
moved further into the room as had Giles, standing close to Buffy.  "Is it
true, what Angel says about Glory?"

Xander shifted his weight and shrugged.

"I don't see how all of it could be true," Giles said softly.  "Glory was a
Hell God.  Xander may have been taken by her, though."

"Then what about the note?" Buffy asked.

"The note wasn't real!"  Cordy took a few aggressive steps  forward, placing
a gentle hand on Xander's back for a moment.  "Glory planted it to make sure
that you wouldn't look for him and you let it work.  You actually believed
that he would write something like that when you knew damn well that he
never even had thoughts like that about any of you."

"You believed the note, too," Buffy said.

"And that's something I've got to live with," Cordy said quietly.

"The note was a fake.  Think about it."  Spike shifted so he was facing
them.  "Could those words have been Xander's?  You let yourselves get so
wrapped up in your own hurt and your own fear that you stopped thinking and
just reacted.  You left him to face torture and death because giving in to
hate was easier than using your damn heads."  Apparently years of silence
were more than Spike could handle now that he had a chance to clear the air.
"Fake.  You justified giving up on him over something that was fake and
you should have known it was fake."

Willow inched forward.  "Xander?"

"I didn't want you to know," he said quietly.

"It's time," Spike said.  "You can't let them live the lie any more, no
matter how comfortable it is."

Xander shook his head.  "It's the past.  It can only hurt."

"You hurt enough," Angel said.

With a sigh that made him sound ancient, Xander nodded.  He looked over
toward the friends he'd had in high school.  "Right after I left the Magic
Shoppe that day, I ended up getting caught by Glory."  His voice was low,
rough.  "I was there for months until I escaped."

"By killing Glory?" Giles pushed.

"He didn't say it was easy," Spike broke in.

"Xander?" Willow said, pushing in her turn.

Angel understood what Spike was trying to do.  He knew that killing Ben
upset Xander, that taking a human life still brought up feelings of guilt.
He didn't want Xander to have to tell them that he'd killed in order to
escape.  He reached out and laid his hand on Xander's shoulder, meaning to
let him know that he'd be there for him no matter what he decided.

"Glory was in a prison," Xander said.  "She shared a human's body and she
lost control of that body to him sometimes.  I killed the human.  Killed the
prison.  Glory didn't come back after that."  He leaned into Angel's touch
and straightened up a little.

"You killed someone."  Willow blinked back tears.  "Xander..."

"After that I left Sunnydale.  I couldn't stay."

"You could.  You could come to us.  You could always come to me," Willow

"No."  Xander shrank back a little.

Angel knew he was trying to avoid telling them that he knew about the phrase
'pulling a Xander'.  He squeezed Xander's shoulder.

Spike jumped into the conversation.  "He couldn't go to you.  You lot had
abandoned him, remember?  Believed the note and turned his name into an
insult.  He was supposed to go to you for comfort?"

Even Buffy flinched.  "We didn't know," she said.

"You didn't want to know," Angel said.  Xander's hand on his wrist stopped
him from saying more.

"I didn't want you to know," Xander said quietly.  "I'd like to go now."

"No!"  Willow pushed past Buffy.  "If you leave, will I hear from you

Xander shrugged.

"I won't.  You'll disappear and I don't want you to disappear again.  Not
again, Xander."

"Maybe it's best."

"No!"  Willow moved closer.  "It's not best.  It's not right.  I don't want
to lose you again."

"I'm not lost.  I'm just...not here."

"Please," she said.  "The note...they've told you about the note.  Xander,
we were so scared about Glory and sad over Joyce and then we had that fight
and we never fight, not when it's important.  You were gone and no one knew
where you were and I was so scared and nothing I did could find you.  Then
that note showed up and it was like all the hateful thoughts that I never
thought you could have were spilled on the paper.  You were gone and hiding
from us and hurting us when we needed you most.  It hurt, Xander, and it
seemed to take the hurt away a little if I tried to hurt back."  The tears
were coming faster now, honest and desperate.  "I'm so sorry."

"Willow..."  Xander voice wavered a little.

"Please, Xander.  You don't have to stay.  Just tell me that you'll get in
contact with me.  OK?  Not right away but a letter to let me know you're OK.

Xander raised a hand, his breathing audible.

"Please," Giles added.

Xander's hand dropped.

"Xander?"  Buffy's voice was barely above a whisper.  "I'm sorry.  Please,
Xander?"  The hate and dislike in her voice had changed; it was focused

"All right," Xander said.  His hands were shaking but his voice was firm.
"I'll write."

"Promise?" Willow asked.

"Promise."  Xander pulled in a huge breath.  "On one condition."

"Name it," Buffy said.

"Don't hate yourselves," Xander said, looking back and forth among the three
of them.  "You don't deserve it.  You didn't know."  He kept looking
forward, not moving until he got slow nods from Giles, Willow, and at last

Xander nodded to himself and hurried out of the room, careful to leave space
around himself and avoid any chance of touching.

Angel looked at three dejected faces.  Xander had forgiven them; he didn't
have the right to harbor anger at them.  "He'll write," he said softly.

Willow nodded gratefully, wiping her cheeks with the edge of her hand.

Angel caught Cordy's eye and nodded his head toward the door.  She got the
message and left, not looking at anyone as she did.  She always took a while
to calm down when she was angry.  She'd cool off and forgive too, though.
He knew her and knew her heart.

Angel followed in Cordy's footsteps.  When he passed Tara, her fingers
ghosted over his arm.  "Take care of him," she whispered.

"I will.  Take care of them," he replied.

"I will."  They shared a short smile and then he was outside.  Xander was
standing by the car, his head down and his arms wrapped tightly around
himself.  Gunn was hovering protectively, but Wesley was holding him back at
a distance, giving the dark-haired man room.

Angel walked over to him.  "Xander?"

"I didn't want to hurt them any more," Xander said.

"I know," Angel said.  "I'm sorry.  I just got angry when she grabbed and
then she called you a coward...you're not a coward.  You're strong and brave
and you don't deserve to be labeled anything except that."  He wanted to hug
Xander, to offer comfort, but he didn't know if he would be accepted.

Xander settled his fears by reaching out to him and moving into his arms.
"I know," Xander murmured.  "I don't think I could sit and listen to people
call you names."

"I just want you to be happy."

Xander held him tighter.

Angel leaned down and buried his face in Xander's hair.  "I think this will
end up being good.  It hurts now, but there's a chance for things to get
better.  And they will get better."

"Promise?" Xander asked.

"Promise."  Even if he had to drag everyone to Caritas and sing Barry
Manilow until they agreed to get along.  Things were going to get better.

"Isn't that sweet?"  Spike's light sneer pulled Angel's attention away from
the man in his arms.

"What do you want?" Angel asked, not letting go of Xander.

"Just wanted to let you know just a few things before you left.  Which
you'll be doing soon, since Dawnie can't keep them occupied for much longer
and I don't think any of us want a repeat of the last twenty minutes.  First
thing, Angel.  If you hurt him, I'll tear your arm off."

"Hey!"  Xander pulled away from Angel to glare at Spike.

"I'm not finished.  If you ever hurt Angel and return him to his former
broody magnificence, I will kick your ass."

"You'll only kick his ass?" Angel objected.  "You're going to tear my arm

"I like him," Spike said simply.  "Now get going."  He sauntered back into
the motel room.

"Are we going?" Gunn asked.

Angel looked at Xander.  "Are we?"

"We should."

Gunn moved closer to Xander.  "You all right?"

"I will be," Xander said.

"And the rest of them?" Wesley asked, looking over at the closed motel room

"I think they'll be ok, too," Xander said, glancing up at Angel.  He looked
back at the others.  "Thank you."

"Hey, there was no fighting and free hors d'oeuvres at the end of the
graduation.  No monsters and free food?  I should be thanking you."  Gunn
looked over at Wesley.  "You ready?"

"I am.  Cordelia?"

"I still have to pack."  Cordy grinned at Angel.  "But I can.  I don't have
a bunch of people in my hotel room keeping me away from my clothes and
styling products."

Angel groaned.  He'd forgotten about that.  He was tempted to just leave it
all behind, but there was no telling what Spike would do with his things
when he found them and Angel really didn't want to find out.  "Cordy?  Can
we wait in your room until they leave?"

"I could go back and kick them out."  Her grin became a little vicious.  "I
don't mind."

"No," Xander said.  "They'll leave soon.  I think I ruined Dawn's graduation
enough already without adding any violence."

Angel was tempted to go back inside and help Cordy with the violence.  "You
didn't ruin anything.  Believe me.  Remember how happy Dawn was to see you?
That's what she's going to remember."

Xander shook his head doubtfully.

"Trust me," Angel said.

Xander stared up at him for a moment, searching his gaze for something.  He
must have found it:  after a moment, he nodded and relaxed in Angel's arms.

Seeing Xander's distress seemed to have calmed Cordy down.  "I'll have to
ride back with you," she said, forgetting all suggestions about violence.

"You can drive."  Angel shot her a grateful look.

"Sold!"  She waved at Wesley and Gunn.  "See you guys in a few hours."

Wes and Gunn waved and headed for the truck.

Angel kept his arm around Xander as they followed Cordy to her room to wait.
Xander had faced his past and stood strong through out it.  Angel really
believed what he had said before - he really did think things would get
better now that the truth was out and known.  With the past settled, he
hoped that Xander would be ready for the future, one that he'd share with


Part Twenty-Seven/Twenty-Seven

A tight turn pushed Xander harder against Angel.  He decided to go with the
motion of the car and cuddle in closer against the taller man.

Angel sighed, but his arms tightened around Xander.  "Cordy, try to get the
car back to Los Angeles in one piece, would you?"

Brown eyes flashed in the rear view mirror.  "It's not fair to back seat
drive me if I can't see you in the mirror to yell at you.  The car is fine.
We'll all be fine."

Angel hummed a little under his breath, but he leaned back into Xander and
left off complaining.

Xander rubbed his cheek against Angel's chest appreciatively.  They'd waited
in Cordy's hotel room until Angel told them the coast was clear.  The
vampire had packed quickly and they were on the road.  Angel had lived up to
his offer and allowed Cordy to drive.  Xander was just fine with that; it
mean he could sit close to Angel and bury his face in his shirt and come to
terms with what had just happened in Sunnydale.

He honestly never wanted his old friends to know what had happened to him
and the true reason he'd left.  They were all hurting at the time and he
didn't want to add to any of the pain that they carried around with them on
a daily basis.  Living on the Hellmouth was tough and as its chief defenders
they came in contact with more than their fair share of heartache and
injury.  He'd spent years sharing in that pain and trying to shield them
from it.  The last thing he wanted to do was heap more upon them.

When Angel had lost his temper and told Buffy about Glory and Spike finished
off the debacle by telling them why Xander had left, Xander had been struck
by dismay so strong he thought he might end up vomiting.  He'd concentrated
on staying standing.  Angel's instant remorse and support had been the only
things that had kept him moving and talking.

Now that he was out of the situation, safe in Angel's embrace and with the
miles stretching out behind them, Xander found that he could begin to think
again, even analyze.  When he'd seen Willow's tears and Buffy's stillness
and Giles's eyes gone dull with horror, he'd thought that he'd ruined
everything, brought more pain into their lives and destroyed every good
intention he'd ever had.

He now believed that he'd been too hasty.  Angel was being optimistic when
he said that he thought maybe now things would get better between them, but
he might also be right.  There hadn't been a chance for things to heal
before; Xander still felt the hurt of knowing that they hated him and from
what he'd heard about the note, they wouldn't have been able to forgive him,
either.  Now that they all knew the truth and there were no more lies
hanging between them, there might actually be a chance for them to leave the
past behind and start healing.  Xander still wasn't sure if they had a
future:  five years of pain was a long time.  At least now maybe the hurting
would stop.

He rather hoped that maybe they would have a future.  He still felt
off-balance without Willow in his life.  She'd been one of his constants, as
Buffy and Giles had been to a lesser extent.  It would be beyond his dreams
if he could have them back in his life.  He could hardly believe that he was
going to get to have Dawn in his life.  Knowing that she didn't hate him and
wanted to see him without any strings attached soothed his spirit; she was
an unshaded bright spot in his memories and he was overjoyed to have her
back.  When he'd left Sunnydale the first time, he'd been too battered, too
damaged both physically and emotionally to face the task of reaching out to
his friends and work on repairing the divide between them.  He hadn't had
the energy to do the work and at the time he'd been hurting too much to want
to try.  He still felt guilty about that...but not anymore.  Now that he'd
made a few steps towards reconciliation, that weight had been lifted from
his shoulders.

"You all right?" Angel asked.

Xander twisted a little so he could look up at him.  "Yeah.  I think I might
be better than all right, even."


"Yeah."  Xander sat up a little straighter, brushing a kiss against Angel's

"Does that mean you'll be staying in Los Angeles?"  Angel made no attempt to
hide the hope in his voice.

Xander kissed him again as he thought.  He wanted to stay in LA.  Lorne was
there.  Dawn wouldn't go to college too far from home - maybe she'd choose
UCLA.  That would mean she and Spike would be near Los Angeles.  Gunn,
Wesley, and Cordy were there.  If he was going to be able to rebuild a
relationship with the friends he'd had in Sunnydale, being close would be
helpful.  Most of all, Angel was in LA.

"I'll stay," he said.

"Thank you," Angel said.  He angled his face, clearly begging for a kiss.

Xander was more than pleased to oblige him.  Angel's lips were generous and
welcoming and they made him forget his upset and fear in favor of focusing
on pleasure and hope.  Xander hitched closer, pressing his chest against
Angel's as he almost crawled into his lap, seeking more contact.

"Hey!"  Cordy's voice broke into the haze of pleasure that was surrounding
him.  "Hey!  Break it up!  Do you know how creepy that looks in the mirror?"

"Then stop looking," Angel suggested.

"Stop performing indecent acts in the back seat," Cordy shot back.  "We're
not that far from home.  Can't you control yourselves at all?"

Xander kissed Angel one more time, just to show that Cordy couldn't
completely push him around, before sliding to sit back down beside Angel
instead of on top of him.  He took one of Angel's hands in both of his and
held it close, remembering how much he enjoyed the feeling of those long
fingers on him.

"God.  Being cute is almost as bad," Cordy warned from the front seat.

"Quit looking," Xander said.

"I'm merely trying to drive Angel's precious car safely.  I have to look in
the mirror in order to do that."  Her voice was patient, implying that she
was speaking to an especially slow child.

"I'll be sure to have an equally convenient excuse when I'm watching you and
Robert," Angel threatened.

"Sure.  You'll say it right after you accidentally fall on my pencil."

"Hey," Xander said.  Teasing was one thing, death threats were something

"I was just kidding," Cordy said defensively.  Their eyes met in the
rearview mirror.  "I'm sorry," she said, her voice gentler.

Xander nodded and leaned into Angel when the vampire pulled him closer.
Maybe someday he'd relax enough to be able to joke about killing people and
dusting Angel.  Maybe he'd even dust off the name "Deadboy"...but not yet.
The situation still felt too fragile for him to do that.

The ride home passed quickly.  Cordy managed to stay close enough to the
speed limit to keep Angel happy, although he did start shifting around a few
times as thought the effort of holding back comments was almost too much for

When they reached the Hyperion, Cordy didn't even go inside the hotel.  "I
just want to go home," she said, pulling her bag out of the trunk.

"You're sure you're all right to drive?  It was a long day."  Xander wanted
to make sure that she wasn't too tired.  It would be stupid to let her drive
when there were so many rooms available.

"Which is why I want to go home.  Did you notice that Gunn and Wesley didn't
even bother to stop by here?  I want to sleep and relax and no doubt that's
what they want, too."  She stepped closer to Xander and tentatively held out
her arms.

Xander didn't hesitate.  She'd deliberately put herself between him and
possible danger had been willing to defend him.  She'd even leant him her
brush.  He could handle a hug.  Cordy was warm and stronger in his arms than
he remembered.

She squeezed him once and then backed off, stepping away toward her car.
"Have a good night."

"Days off for everyone tomorrow," Angel said.

"I thought that was a given," she said, blinking at him.


"Thank you, Angel.  Have a good night and I expect a call tomorrow, just so
I can be sure...I just expect a call."  With a wave, she was inside her car
and she was gone.

Xander smiled as he watched her go.  She didn't want to let them know she
cared - same old Cordy, there.  He didn't doubt, though, if he didn't call
her tomorrow, the phone would ring at the Hyperion until they picked up and
apologized for failing to get in contact.  Super cheerleader she might be,
she still had a heart.

"Come on."  Angel touched his arm lightly and walked with him into the

Xander sighed happily when he got into the lobby.  He really wasn't
surprised to find out that it felt like home and he was glad to be back.


"No."  The sick feeling that had engulfed him during the confrontation in
Sunnydale was gone, but food still had no appeal for him.  "Mostly tired."
He'd learned long ago that being frightened and angry was almost as draining
as physical stress.  He was surprised by the weariness that hovered over

The feeling that was holding the weariness at bay surprised him:
attraction.  He'd spent the entire ride to the hotel next to Angel,
surrounded by the feeling of his arms and his scent and how far Xander had
fallen for him.  Flares of lust weren't entirely unexpected when he was with
Angel; he'd been interested in him forever.  This was the first time he'd
been in a position to do anything about it.  He didn't want to push Angel
into anything, though.  It had been an even longer day for Angel - he'd
spent the day visiting while Xander had been soaking up cable TV and killing
brain cells in the hotel.  It would be best if they went to bed and just
started over again tomorrow.

"Are you going to head up to bed?"  Angel leaned against the reception desk,
tall and strong and handsome in the soft light of the lobby.

"I think so."  Xander tried to look away, not wanting to give away his
thoughts and feelings.  He wasn't going to push.  Angel had given him so
much already:  a home and a place and love and protection.  Xander was
grateful and wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize any of that.  "Thank

"For not being able to keep my mouth shut?"

"For caring enough that you couldn't."

Angel ducked his head.  He cleared his throat.  "Would you like some

Xander froze, not certain that wishful thinking hadn't made him mishear
Angel's words.


"Anywhere," Angel said with a slow smile.

Xander answered before he could talk himself out of it.  "Please."

Angel quickly walked over to him, pulling him close and kissing him deeply.
"Thank you."

Stealing kisses as they slowly walked up the stairs, it took them forever to
reach Xander's room.  That was all right; Xander couldn't ever imagine
complaining about spending too much time kissing Angel.  Humming happily
into Angel's mouth, Xander groped behind himself, reaching for the doorknob.

"Xander?"  Angel pulled back a little so he could see his eyes.  "Would you
like to come to my room?"


Still wrapped around each other, they made their way to Angel's room.
Xander had only been inside a few times, but it smelled like Angel there,
felt like him there, and so it was perfect.

Gentle hands tugged at his jacket and Xander slid it off, tossing it onto a
chair.  Angel's fingers immediately began to worry at the buttons on
Xander's shirt; Xander snaked his hands up through Angel's arms to return
the favor.

"I don't have my coat off yet," Angel said, laughter hiding in his voice.

Xander's only response was to shove Angel's shirt and coat off of his
shoulders at the same time.  He grinned up at Angel, raising an eyebrow

Angel responded by pulling Xander close.  All the challenge ran out of the
younger man.  Angel's skin was smooth and soft and cool.  Xander twisted his
arms around Angel's waist, holding him close, not wanting the sensation to
end.  He kissed Angel, begging for more kisses using his mouth and Angel
obliged him.

Dizzy with want, Xander resisted Angel's efforts to remove his own open
shirt.  He didn't want to move away from Angel, didn't want to give up the
kisses and the feeling of skin on skin at last.

"Xander."  Angel tried to pull back but was foiled by the nipping kisses
Xander scattered down his neck.  "God, that's...Xander!"  He wrenched away.
"We've got time," he said.  "I promise you we have time."

Xander nodded shakily.  He bent down and untied his shoes, pulling them off
and kicking them over to the side.  He reached down to unfasten the button
on his pants, but then Angel's hands were covering his.  He looked up and

Naked.  His mind went blank except for the realization that Angel had
removed all of his clothing.  Xander was almost afraid to look, because
looking would make this completely real and he didn't know if he'd be able
to handle losing this...

"Xander?"  Angel's fingers were gentle on his face.

Xander's gaze stuttered up to meet Angel's.  He didn't answer.  Instead, he
nodded slowly and looked at the man who wanted to be his lover.  Pale skin
stretched and flowed over solid muscles, contrasting with dark hair above
and below.  He was perfect.  Feeling daring, Xander reached out and stroked
his fingertips over Angel's chest.  Soft; softer than silk, even.  He looked
back up into Angel's eyes and smiled.

Sharing his smile, Angel reached back down and unfastened Xander's jeans.
Together, they slide the pants down until Xander was standing naked as well.

Ignoring the embarrassment that threatened, Xander focused on Angel's face
and was surprised and delighted to watch expressions of pleasure and hunger
and love chase each other across his features.  All his doubts were gone and
he moved easily into the circle of Angel's arms.  The feeling of skin
against skin was wonderful beyond all of his daydreams and night fantasies.
Wet kisses and smooth flesh under his palms and the sound of Angel's pleased
murmurs filled his senses until all worry was gone and all that mattered was
the man in his arms.

When the back of his knees stumbled into the bed, Xander broke away from
Angel's mouth and realized that the other man had been walking him back
toward the bed.  Holding onto Angel's hand, Xander sat down and scooted back
on to the bed, pulling Angel along with him the whole time.

Angel followed him willingly, blanketing Xander's body with his own.  "So
good," he said, lapping at the base of Xander's throat.  "So right."

Xander thrust up against Angel, loving the solid weight of him, the security
it gave him and the feeling of connection.  He slid his hands over the slope
of Angel's back, his flanks, the rise of his ass.  It was too much and not
enough and Xander grounded himself in Angel's kiss, his generous mouth a
lifeline while sensation tore through him.  When Angel took his lovely mouth
away, Xander cried out a disappointed protest.

"Shh," Angel said, brushing a kiss over Xander cheek, his shoulder, his
throat.  He propped himself up on his elbows and bent his head, continuing
the attention.  He scored his teeth over the juncture of neck and shoulder.

Hissing with pleasure, Xander slide his palms up Angel's torso, rubbing his
thumbs over the hard nipples waiting for him.

Angel bit down on his shoulder, blunt human teething worrying his flesh as
Angel cursed out his pleasure.  "Xan..."

Liking the reaction, Xander tried it again, carefully scraping just a little
with his nails.  When Angel scratched him again with his teeth, Xander
thrust up hard against him.  The sweet friction nearly made his eyes roll
back into his head and he tried it again, and then again.  Broad hands
pinning his hips down to the mattress were the only things that stopped him
from continuing until he found completion.  "Please," he whispered.

"Soon," Angel promised.  He licked a wet stripe across Xander's mouth and
then starting working his way down, mouth moving hungrily over the hollow of
his throat, maddeningly briefly to each of his nipples, and then down to his

Xander panted harshly, each breath coming as a struggle as Angel nipped at
his navel and continued downward until he was hovering over Xander's
erection.  He lowered his head and lapped at the tip and his hands on
Xander's hips were the only things that stopped the younger man from
thrusting frantically.

It was too much.  Xander wasn't going to last much longer and he didn't want
to come with Angel so far away.  He reached down and patted Angel's cheeks
until the vampire looked up at him.  "Please..."

"Don't you want this?"

"I want your mouth."  Xander reached down towards him pleadingly.

Angel acquiesced immediately, climbing back up Xander's body until they were
face to face once more.  "Better?"

"Much."  Xander grabbed Angel's shoulders just so he didn't get any ideas
about moving again.  He spread his legs, cradling Angel's body to his own as
he began thrusting again.  Angel's length was pressed against his own and it
was right, better than anything he could have ever imagined.  The room was
hot and Xander was hot and even Angel was hot now as he grunted occasionally
from their coupling.  Xander thrust faster and faster and Angel's mouth was
on his and he could taste him and feel him and smell him and hear him and
his eyes were shut because anything else would be too much.  "Love you,"
Xander gasped, movements becoming erratic as he could feel the end

"Love you," Angel answered, kissing him hard, kissing him rough, kissing him
true.  "Love you."

Xander's cry of completion was lost in Angel's mouth.  He shuddered and as
he started to go lax, Angel stiffened above him and came as well.  Angel's
weight came down on him and he was heavy, heavy but right and Xander held
him in place so he couldn't roll off to the side.  He wasn't ready for the
closeness to end and he'd do whatever it took to draw it out.

Angel propped himself up on an elbow and smiled down at Xander.  "I don't
want to crush you."

"You won't."  Xander nuzzled under his chin for a moment.  "You won't hurt

Angel grew very still.  "Thank you," he said quietly.

"Thank *you*," Xander said.

The vampire gathered him close, rolling over to the side as he did so.
"Stay," he said.

Xander knew he should have been terrified to make a promise.  He'd spent
years making sure that no one had to depend on him and just as sure that he
didn't have to depend on any one.  The promise Angel was looking for would
change all that.  "As long as you want me."

"Let's start with forever and work our way up from there."  Angel's smile
was silly and happy and sated.

He hadn't realized how much he'd missed things like lovers' babbling after
loving.  "I like that."  He turned his lips up for a kiss and Angel rewarded
him with a gentle brush of lips over lips.

Xander could feel sleep calling him and he fought to keep his eyes open, to
stay away and never let the moment end.  He had a home, a lover, friends...a
place.  He belonged.  He didn't want to lose this feeling to something as
mundane as sleep.

"Rest," Angel said, feathering a kiss over his eyelids, making them flutter
closed.  "I'll be here."  He rolled into Xander a little, draping an arm
over his middle and laying his head over his heart.  "I'll always be here."

His eyes still closed, Xander kissed the top of Angel's head and relaxed.
He could sleep like this, held tightly in Angel's arms, with his lover's
arms and scent and presence surrounding him.

He was home.  At last.