Intervention 1 - 3 by OtherCat

FEEDBACK: Yes, please! Point out my bad grammar! Mock my spelling! Offer to beta!
ARCHIVE: Just ask
PAIRING: S/X X/A(au) implied
SPOILERS: Ummm...let's say...season six Buffy, and season three Angel, just to be safe.
WARNING: Darkfic! Mentions and implications of torture, madness, rape and nasty, scary stuff.
SUMMARY: Spike brings some disturbing news to Xander.
NOTES: Extremely AU...It was Xander, not Angel, who ended up in LA doing the Dark Hero thing...Details? You want details? Read on then.

As demon bars went, Caritas was pretty unusual. Fighting was prohibited, and the rule was magically enforced. There were almost as many humans as demons scattered about the room, for one thing, humans who didn't have the nervous look of prey, who chatted amiably with beings who would normally consider them meals--but didn't, not in Caritas, or in the two block radius around it. There were demons from clans that had been feuding for generations chatting it up throughout the room, and at the bar, a vampire was (bizarrely) getting into a religious debate with a rabbi, and a priest.

After a few minutes of the usual just-entering-a-bar disorientation, Spike found who he was looking for, sitting at one of the tables nearest the stage, where a three-headed dog man was butchering "Enter Sandman." Spike gave a mental shudder. Sometimes he thought Xander picked this place just for the pure sadistic glee of torturing him with kareoke. "I'm surprised your mum let's you out this late, love," Spike said, sitting opposite the young man. The boy's partners had it in for vamps--had it in for him in particular, and never mind that he had been as much of a part of Xander's life as they had for the past four years.

**You're safe now love, he'll never hurt you again.**
**Never going to be safe again.**

Xander's lips twitched into a smile, though the expression never reached his dark eyes. "'Mum' is trying not to look like a cop turned private eye on a stake out three tables back," Xander said. "'Dad, if you were wondering, is lurking by the bar, ignoring Lorn's efforts to make him sing. The only reason big brother isn't here is because I threatened to steal his guitar strings and use them for trip wires."

"And yer evil twin?" Spike asked, referring to the black bloke that sometimes worked with Xander on a case. Spike had seen the blonde bird, but hadn't noticed the Irish half-demon at the bar. *And no sorcerously ept ex-lawyer threatenin' to lay a mojo smack down on me,* Spike thought with some relief. Xander didn't have many friends, but the ones he did have were loyal and fanatically protective of him. *Including me, I suppose.*

**What am I to you, Spike? Trophy? Slave? Pet? What do you want from me? Why are you helping me?**
**If I thought you were ready to hear the answer, I'd tell you, mate. As it stands, I'll just let you figure it out for yourself.**

The smile on Xander's face faded. "He had a little throw-down with his crew over something," he said in a cold voice. "He's...talking things over with them." A human ear would have missed the slight tremor in the whelp's voice, would have missed the change in the whelp's heart beat, the way it quickened with anger. For the formerly emotionally demonstrative young man, this was the equivalent of clenched-jawed, red eyed rage.

*Bloody hell,* Spike thought...*e's in no shape to hear what I've come t'tell him.* On the other hand, *not* telling him was definately, as the Slayer would put it *not* of the good. "Nothin' too serious, I hope?" Spike asked, testing the waters.

"They tried to wreck Caritas," Xander said in his low, calm voice. His low, calm, *angry* voice. Xander, in his odd, cracked fashion regarded the bar as being the next best thing to sacred ground. Anyone who dared to cause trouble inside the bar, or outside of it usually ended up facing the wrong end of a cross bow or a knife in the dark. A brassed off Xander, while a lovely sight to see in action, was not a Xander Spike wanted to face this side of the Hellmouth, even if he hadn't been chipped. He knew that Xander felt he owed Lorn his life as well as his sanity, and had proved on more than one occasion that he'd go to any length to help the green-skinned demon.

"Why'd they do that then, mate?" Spike asked, but Xander shook his head.

"Not my story, go ask Gunn, if you're curious."

Spike snorted. "Not likely, whelp. Yer twin isn't any to fond of me."

"I wonder why that is?" Xander said with mock innocence. He smiled again. "So, what's the word from Sunnyhell?"

Spike...considered what to say. There was no way he could soften this for the young man. "They know," the vampire said, and looked away. "They know yer alive."

"How did they find out?" Something cold and dark slid over the young man's eyes, and his face was like a mask made of ivory.

"It wasn't me, that told 'em Xan--it was the cheerleader you used to snog with...seems she never believed th' story I told them, that the Sire killed you...seems she hired a private investigator to look for you--"

"*Cordelia* did that?" Xander said with real surprise coloring his tone. Spike wondered if the boy was surprised that the cheerleader cared about him, or if he was surprised that Cordelia had done something about it.

"Yeah, th' cheerleader's done some growing up--not so shallow anymore, whelp," Spike said. "She told the Slayer, and they an' Red got a bit sharp with me, for havin' lied about it all this time. They all wanted to troop down here, but I talked 'em out of it. Promised I'd try to talk you into going down there."

Had given them an extremely edited version of the actual events, but had told them. Told them what they knew, about Xander, about Angelus, but not going into details. How it had been Dru, who had died that night, not Xander. But not why. How the boy ended up in L.A., how Xander got his G.E.D., and got into college--with some help from a half demon and a cop. How Xander was a private-eye, working with the now former cop. Not telling them, of course, about why Spike had helped get Xander set up so he wouldn't be living on the street, or that the reason for the vampire's frequent disappearances had been because he was up in L.A. helping the boy. Not explaining a great many things, except that they shouldn't try contacting Xander.

**Love, if you want, I'll tell them...I'll tell them the truth.**
**No. Maybe someday, but not now. I'm not...I just don't want them to pity me. I'd rather they just grieve for me, and let it go.**
**Love, I don't think anyone could.**

Xander nodded. "Thanks, not sure I could have dealt with seeing them pop up here," Xander said calmly. There was a slight tremor in his hands, as he lifted his glass however.

"And...that's not all," Spike said hesitantly. Xander looked up at Spike sharply.

"What, they want me to go down there, sure, I can do that--it's been what, four years?" Xander shrugged. "I can handle it."

"Angel's back," Spike said, not quite meeting Xander's eyes.

"Angelus is *dead,*" Xander snarled.

"Far as I knew, he was, Xan," Spike said. "Somehow or another, he came back--"

"They let him out of hell for bad behavior or something?" Xander asked harshly. "How long?" It looked like the whelp was getting ready to get up from the table, like he thought Angelus might be nearby. Not to run away though, there was pure killing fury in the young man's eyes.

**I won't let Angelus hurt you again. The bastard's going down.**

Spike swallowed. "'Bout six months ago." Xander looked murderously at the vampire.

"Tell me you just found out, Spike," the young man hissed. From the corner of his eye, Spike could see Lorn, the owner of the bar sail toward them, a concerned look on his face. Xander caught sight of him at the same moment, and looked faintly chagrinned. The human took a deep breath, and visibly forced himself to relax.

"Is this fashion don't bothering you, Xander?" Lorn asked. Spike growled.

"I *can* beat up demons, you poof."

"Then I'd have to kick your ass,"Xander said. "Which would wreck the bar, which would annoy Lorn, and Kate would ground me. So don't." He smiled up at Lorn. "The Bleached One gave me some news I didn't want to hear," he explained.

"Oh, well, don't kill the messenger, at least not in my bar," Lorn said with a smile. The demon gave Xander a concerned look. "If you need to talk kid, the doctor is always in," he said, and headed back toward the bar.

"I--knew, Xander," Spike said hesitantly when Xander returned his attention to the vampire.

"And you didn't tell me--*why*?"

"Whistler told me not to tell you, anyway. Not 'til the time was right." The vampire shifted uncomfortably under the human's dark glare.

"And the time is right, otherwise you wouldn't be telling me?"

"That's about the size of it, mate," Spike said.


Spike shook his head. "Whistler said he'd tell you when you got to Sunnyhell, mate."

**Ye'll tell me, Will, ye hate me enough t' tell the truth. How'd the boy die? Was it a suicide's death that damned him? Was it murder, or did ye turn him? Tell me! Please, William, tell me!**


**You don't have to do this, if you don't want to, Xander.**
**Then why ask 'im, mate?**

*I should have brought Doyle or Kate,* Xander thought as he, Spike, Lindsey and Gunn walked down the street to the book store where he'd be meeting his friends for the first time in years. He felt excited, jittery, happy...terrified, sick, nervous. Though none of this showed on his face, Lindsey and Gunn were picking up on it...probably because of a certain blond vampire becoming more and more agitated as the day had gone on. *Thank you, oh emotional barometer, remind me to repay you, with holy water in your blood bag...* Now Lindsey and Gunn were going all protective on him, showing their support by making like body gaurds as they walked down the street.

**If you had any idea of what was done to him.**
**I do know...I live with that knowledge every day.**
**I *lived* it, Whistler. Do you think I want to *relive* it?**

The store seemed to come up too fast to suit Xander's jittery nerves, and he would have liked a moment to gather his thoughts, but a bell above the door went *din-dingding!* as Lindsey held it open. Gunn stepped inside next, followed by Xander and Spike. All three of them were making like this was enemy territory, Xander was so busy being embarrassed by this display of protectiveness, he at first didn't register the small group by the check out counter.

Willow stood in the foreground, and dear god, she'd really grown up. Shoulder length red hair framed features that had grown out of their adolescent perkiness into true loveliness. There was a graceful, confident air to his childhood friend, and the clothes she wore reflected and enhanced an air of understated elegance and taste. She was flanked by Buffy, on the right, who hadn't changed by very much to look at, except that she was now wearing her hair back into a long, french braid, and somehow, even though she was just standing there, she seemed more mature. On Willow's left was a lazy-eyed young man with red, purple-streaked hair. Directly behind Buffy was Giles, no longer in tweed, which was something of a shock. Behind the counter...was Cordelia. She'd also had her hair cut, and colored to a lighter brown, with blond streaks. He'd known about these differences, had been told about them...but he was still startled by the changes.

They were staring at him as if they'd seen a ghost. *Well duh, they thought you *were* dead.* Or as if they couldn't believe the changes they were seeing in *him*...and there were a few. He knew that he'd filled out in the past four years, and gained at least an inch or two in height. There was the earring, a single gold hoop in his left ear, and the mustache that, when he'd first grown it, Spike had claimed made him look like a pirate, or a highwayman. And those were just the surface, physical changes.

**Xander, I'm not asking you to forgive him. Believe me, it's not a requirement. Just help him, if you can.**
**And if I can't? If I'd rather just stake him?**
**If that's what you have to do.**

Xander tried for a smile. "Hey guys, long time, no see." They were still giving him the ghost-look, and for a moment, Xander thought things would be bad. Then Willow was in his arms, and they were all around him, crying, touching, talking in a babble of voices. Even Giles, in a reserved, "excuse me, I'm English and must clean the tear fog off my glasses" kind of way. Even Cordelia, which in it's own way was even more of a shock, but it was a nice sort of shock.

"Xander, you *are* alive," Buffy was saying, one hand on the crook of his arm, the other wiping at her tears. "Cordelia said you were, but-- but it didn't seem real until you walked through the door." Watery green eyes peered up at him. "I'm so sorry--I had d-dreams, about what happened, what Ang--*he* did--I'm so sorry I--" Xander pulled Buffy into an embrace, wrapping an arm about her waist, while she slid her arms about his, hugging him tightly, and sniffling into his shoulder.

From the corner of his eye, he caught Lindsey and Gunn grinning goofily at him. Xander ignored them, and instead worked on comforting the upset Slayer and Willow. "Hey," Xander said, hugging her back. "Nothing to be sorry for, okay? Nobody's fault, just stupid, rotten luck, right?"

"Why did you let us think you were dead, Xand?" Willow asked in a trembly voice. "Were you angry with us? Did you think we didn't care about you--or," Her eyes narrowed angrily, and she stepped back a little to glare at Spike. "You are so dead mister, if you made him think any thing bad about himself--" She pulled away completely from Xander, and began to stalk toward Spike, who was hastily backing up. Gunn and Lindsey chuckled nastily at the sight of the tiny red-head getting ready to attack the vampire--until they saw the real panic in Xander's eyes.

That, and the greenish sparks dancing about Willow's clenched fists.

"Now Red, don't be hasty, it was Xander's own idea--Xan, tell her!" The vampire said, backing up until he ran into a bookcase.

Xander pulled free of the Buffyhug and caught up with Willow, placing himself between Spike and the witch, bringing her up short. "Wills, it's alright. It was my own idea, not to tell you--he went along with it, because I asked him too."

"He *kidnapped* do we know Spike hadn't brainwashed you?" Cordelia said angrily.

*"Kidnapped?"* Both Lindsey and Gunn chorused, now adding their glares to the figurative deathrays being aimed toward Spike.

"We never heard *that* part of the story," Gunn said, "never heard that at all--just 'we came to L.A. to avoid a bad situation' never said that the *punk* was the bad situation."

"Like bloody *hell*--" Spike said, starting to stalk toward Gunn. The demon hunter stepped back with the universal gesture meaning "bring it on!" pulling a stake out from his jacket pocket.

"Guys?" Xander asked sharply. "Ruining the family togetherness thing here." Both glanced at him, glanced at each other, then backed away. *Jeez, way to look like a team, guys.* "Technically, yeah, Spike kidnapped me. *Doyle* has the details, you have the summary, Lindsey has the highlights--" Xander said placatingly.

"Yeah, man," Gunn said, then glanced at Lindsey. "But I'm gonna be asking questions, later."

"Do we get the Cliff's Notes?" Cordelia asked, coming around from the counter. Her dark eyes were bright with anger, chin tilted up with a quick jerk as she tossed her short, streaked hair back. "Because I personally would like to know why I had to hire a private eye to find out if you were alive or not."

"Over dinner?" Xander asked. "I think I saw an Olive Garden over by the mall?"

"An excellent suggestion Xander," Giles said finally. "Perhaps once introductions are made, we could go there?"

Xander nodded, relieved that there hadn't been a fight. He moved to stand closer to the red-headed witch. "Gunn, Lindsey, this is my best friend since pre-school, Willow," he nodded to the Slayer, "this is my friend Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and Giles is her Watcher." He hesitated a moment. How do you introduce a high school crush? Or your best friend since pre-school's werewolf boyfriend?

"Oz," the werewolf said, as if he was also a telepath, and knew exactly why Xander had hesitated.

"Cordelia Chase," Cordy said with a charming smile bestowed impartially on both Gunn and Lindsey.

Lindsey turned up the full wattage of his own smile as he stepped forward to shake hands. "Lindsey Mac Donald, I'm pleased to finally meet all of you...Xander hasn't told us nearly enough about you."

Xander winced mentally, pretty sure that comment was addressed to him.

"Charles Gunn," the demon hunter introduced himself with a nod. "Lookin' forward to getting to know you all."

Xander winced again. *Definately* to his address. This was going to be a *great* dinner. Grilled Xander was looking to be the main course.

Part 2:

By some silent agreement, very little was said on the way to the restaurant, or while they waited for tables. Xander maneuvered the seating arrangement so that he'd be seated in a booth next to Spike. Cordy and Buffy were sitting across from him, and Willow and Oz shared a table with Lindsey, while Giles was seated at the same table as Gunn. The silence held, broken only when the waitress arrived to take their orders. Questions were served up along with the appetizers.

"So, why did you dump all your friends and make like you were dead?" Cordelia asked, glaring. Her tone was somewhere between the imperious, tactless cheerleader, and the strong willed--and equally tactless--woman she had become.

"Short answer? Some people can't stand watching a good dog being abused," Xander said, ignoring the sudden, quick looks Lindsey and Gunn were exchanging, or the worried one Willow turned on him.

"Good dog?" Cordelia asked, brow furrowing. "What the hell does that mean?"

**Not a kitten after all, My Angel, but a little mastiff pup.**

"It's what Drusilla called me, I won't go into why. Angelus usually called me 'here' or 'Boy'," he knew he'd spoken a little too harshly, by the awkward silence that followed, but couldn't stop himself. Didn't want to visit--or revisit--the memory of what had led her to calling him that.

**Not going to punish the boy for loyalty, are you mate?**
**Ah well, you have a point, Spike--I suppose I'll have to punish you for not keeping him under control then, won't I?**

Their dinners arrived, and Xander made a show of being busy eating, while he tried to find a way to explain why he'd...left. *Kate and Doyle have asked harder questions, hell, *Lorn* has...why is this so hard?* "I couldn't stay in Sunnydale, not after what happened," he said finally.

Cordelia frowned. "So how did you get the peroxide abuser to go along with this?" She asked, and glared at Spike. "Or was it his idea to cut you off from your friends in the first place?"

"I wasn't in much of a condition to argue, at the time, Cordy," Xander said, in a slightly warmer voice.

"So it *was* his idea." The glare Cordy directed at Spike was pure death. "So why didn't you just bring him HOME, oh-soon-to-be-dust-bunny?"

"And what could you have done for 'im?" Spike demanded with a growl. "Couldn't go to a state hospital, could he? They'd never let him out, what with him talkin' about vampires and home, 'is parents kicked 'im out." Spike's voice got louder, and much angrier as he spoke, and his eyes were gold-flecked with agitation.

"We would have taken him in!" Cordelia said, outraged. "He's our FRIEND! We would have done whatever we needed to!"

"I wanted him *out* of Sunnyhell!" Spike growled, loud enough to cause other diners to look toward their tables. Xander gave Spike a warning look, but the vampire ran on. "As far away from what that bastard did as I could take him...stopped over in LA, till he could get his head on straight--"

"Spike..." Xander said, raising his own voice slightly. Spike's mouth snapped shut, and he sat back in his seat with an audible *thump*, glaring impartially at everyone.

Cordelia looked between the two of them, a perplexed frown on her face. "So why did you have him lie to us?" She said finally, speaking to Xander. "Why did you try to make us think you were dead?"

Xander looked away, made uncomfortable by the mix of concern and outrage the ex-cheerleader was expressing. In his head, she was still the most popular girl in school. Still the abrupt, hard as nails rich girl who was more concerned about her own popularity than with anything else. Still the girl he was convinced had never, and could never love him. That that she had never believed that he had died, that she was so obviously hurt that he'd never tried contacting her or the others...was mind-boggling.

"S'not like I didn't try talking him out of it," Spike muttered, staring at his plate and the remains of his chicken ravioli.

Cordelia's eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed in suspicion. "*You* tried to convince him to come back?"

"No, just t' drop you a line at least..." Spike said, still not looking up at Cordelia. Or Xander. Like he was feeling guilty...or was trying to convince the cheerleader he was feeling guilty. Cordelia though, didn't look like she was buying it.

Neither was Xander.

"Only because you hated the idea of skulking around, watching their *backs*..." Xander pointed out.

Spike growled, blue eyes flecked with yellow. "I'm evil, aren't I?"

"You had him SPYING on us?" Cordelia demanded, voice rising for a moment just above the general background noise. Diners at other tables looked briefly in their direction, then turned back to their own conversations.

Xander concentrated on looking innocent, something telling him that he did *not* want Cordelia angry with him. But from the way she was glaring at both him *and* Spike, innocent wasn't going to do it. Gunn and Lindsey snickered.

Cordelia turned the deathglare at both of them. "What are YOU two laughing at?"

"Nothin'," Gunn said, with a nearly straight face.

Lindsey nodded. "What he said."

Cordelia gave them both a very superior sort of look "That's what I thought." She turned back to Spike. "You were spying on us," she repeated.

"Watching out for you guys...for me..." Xander corrected.

"And you trusted him?" Buffy asked, with an odd look on her face. Like she was picking up on something, but wasn't quite sure of what it was.

"Yes," Xander said firmly. "He...took care of me, Buffy. He didn't have to, he could have just let Drusilla--" He stopped, just stopped, closed his eyes, and took a deep, shuddering breath.

A pale, snarling face with long, dark hair swam before his mind's eye. Invisible fingers seemed to be wrapped around his throat. *No. She's not here. I'm breathing, not strangling. I'm sitting, not flat on my back. Nononononononono.* The fingers seemed to ease, and he was aware of Spike rubbing his back in soothing little circles, and the voice of their waiter asking if there was something wrong. He could hear Lindsey assuring the waiter that everything was alright, with Giles hesitantly backing him up.

"I'm fine," he managed to say, after a few more deep breaths. He opened his eyes, and tried to smile. He could see that no one was buying it, but were mostly willing to pretend. "Really," he said.

Buffy frowned. "That didn't look like 'fine,'" she said. "That looked more like 'extremely not-fine.'" She gave him a fierce, concerned look, like a worried lioness. "What happened, Xander?"

**"I'm so sorry--I had d-dreams, about what happened, what Ang--*he* did--I'm so sorry I--"**

"Nothing," Xander said, and looked away from the lioness-look in his friend's eyes. *I never wanted you to know...* She knew. Not everything, but she *knew*. How much did the rest of them know? For a moment, his insides turned to ice, and he wanted very desperately to leave, to get away. The only thing that kept him in his seat was the fact that Spike had the aisle seat, and that he wouldn't budge an inch if he thought Xander was going to try running off. Which by the worried look the vamp was giving him, was in fact the case. "Nothing I want to go into right now," he said softly.

"What...what *can* you tell us?" Willow asked, one hand reaching out to him, as if she wanted to comfort him.

"Spike...Spike took care of me, after. Helped me get Emancipated Minor status, got us an apartment, helped me get my head back together."

"Where did Spike get money for an apartment?" Cordelia said. "He's usually broke...or do I not want to know?"

Spike smirked. "Angelus had money invested here and there, princess, it wasn't all that hard to get access to it."

Xander nodded in agreement. "Yeah. So anyway, we ended up staying in LA.

Cordelia looked like she wanted to pursue the money issue, but instead said. "And started the 'Powers' Detective Agency.' With no one named 'Powers'." It should have been a statement, but it sounded more like a question.

"Yeah," Xander said, "We liked the name."

Spike smirked. "Yeah, appropriate like, considering."

"Considering what?" Buffy asked.

Xander glared at Spike. Doyle and his visions was just about the last thing he wanted to try to explain to his friends. *"Yeah, he has visions. From the Powers that Be. No, *really*." *That's* going to be easy to explain, I *don't* think.* Spike submissively lowered his gaze, bowing his head slightly. Despite that, his voice was firm. "Going to have to tell them eventually, love."

The word "nothing," was just on the tip of his tongue, flippant and a little cold, abrupt even. "Nothing"-- as easy as it would be to say, would actually mean *something* and it would eventually be pried out of him. Spike was giving him his best sad, contrite look. *Oh, don't you even try it, you are *so* getting it, later tonight...* Still, Xander couldn't help but smirk a little. "The shit I let you get away with," he said. Spike looked smug.

"...Never lets *us* get away with that kind of stuff," Lindsey muttered.

Spike leered. "Oh, I'll pay later, running up quite the tab already, I am."

Xander felt his cheeks heat. *Oh, you'll pay, alright...* Buffy, Cordelia and Willow looked confused by the exchange, while Giles... Giles looked like a man who had found a clue, but didn't quite know what to do with it. But never mind that, Xander had other fish to fry. He took a breath, and tried to organize what he was going to say.

"Considering that one of my partners ...gets visions, bolt from the blue, with the emphasis on 'bolt' he gets these mind melting migraines, which he says come straight from the Powers That Be." Xander shrugged, summoning a skeptical expression as he said the very last. Mentally apologizing to Doyle for the slight misdirection. "Where ever they come from, they've really been useful," Xander said with another shrug.

Giles nodded. " that where you get a majority of your clients? From these visions?"

"Some of them, others are walk-ins, and some are cases that Whistler throws our way." And the only reason he was letting *that* particular cat out of the bag was because he knew that Whistler had been in contact with Buffy since Spike had decided to side with the Slayer against Angelus. Xander tried not to smirk. *Yes, share the love.* If he had to "out" himself on so many fronts, Whistler might as well be fingered as an accomplice.

"Like this case," Gunn said, frowning. "Which I still don't get what it is."

Xander glanced at Gunn. "If you've figured out a way to not hear Spike griping, I want to know what it is."

Gunn shook his head irritably. "No man, listen. We get sent here, to meet up with some vamp that has a history with Xan...And I want to know, why bother?" Gunn glanced at Buffy, dismissively. "Don't know about this Slayer thing, but aren't you supposed to *kill* vampires?"

"Oi!" Spike protested, but Gunn didn't even glance the vampire's way, instead opting to glower at the now flustered Slayer. No, not flustered, furious.

"Angel had a soul. I loved him. He lost his soul. He hurt my friends. He got his soul back. I sent him to hell. He came back," Buffy said in sharp, brittle phrases, her face a cold, distant mask.

Gunn blinked. "Isn't that a little out of order?"

Buffy stared at him. "No."

"So you sent him to hell *after* he got his soul back?" Lindsey asked hesitantly.

"That seems sort of...fucked," Gunn said slowly.

"Welcome to the Hellmouth," Buffy said sarcastically. "Angelus was going to open a portal to hell. The only way to close it, was to shove him through."

Gunn looked mildly stunned. "Gotcha," he managed to say after a few moments.

There was another silence, this time centered around Buffy, instead of around Xander. He couldn't bring himself to feel relieved. Buffy was hurting, and he hadn't been there for her. Not that he could have been. He'd been a wreck, barely able to step outside the rules of behavior Angelus had beaten into him. Not capable of functioning at all as an independant individual, let alone a friend.

**There's a good lad. Isn't it so much easier when ye mind me?**

Buffy was looking at him with haunted, guilty eyes, as if she blamed her self for what had happened to him. *No, not your fault Buff, only me. My fault.* His fault for everything Angelus had been able to get away with, his fault for attracting Angelus' attention in the first place. His fault for not escaping, no matter what Spike said otherwise. Xander drank some of his lemonade before speaking again. "So where the hell--sorry. Where is Angelus?"

Spike snickered. Xander didn't even glance back at the vampire. "Don't get yourself into *to* much trouble, you wouldn't like it." Xander said, still not looking at Spike. He didn't have to look, to know that Spike was leering at him. The speculative look in Giles' eye was even more intent than before, but Xander pretended he didn't notice. "So, where is he?"

Buffy, meanwhile, frowned. "Do I want to know what that meant?" She asked rhetorically, then shook her head. "Never mind. When...he came back--"

"They thought there was another werewolf--not fun," Oz interjected.

"I presume you knew better?" Lindsey asked, with a speculative look of his own.

"So what happened?"

"It--it was Angel," Willow said in a tiny voice. "We had to use nets, and a trank gun."

Giles nodded, and continued the story. "We confined him, and for a great many days, he didn't seem to know where he was, or who we were... he's currently in a...kennel of sorts, in the cellar of the Magic Shop. For a time, once the initial...feralness...wore off, he seemed to recognize us, and his surroundings. He...asked for you."

Xander felt a chill at that. "What did he want to know?" He asked harshly.

"If--if you were alive, and if not, how you died. If you'd been turned," Willow said.

"In between bouts of beggin' the Slayer or Giles or even the Princess to kill him, and talking to himself....arguing like..." Spike said smugly.

"About?" Xander asked.

Giles frown thoughtfully. "About what happened to hell. And...and what he did you," Giles said, then after a careful pause-- "And what he claims you did to hell."

Xander stared. "Say *what*?"

Part 3:

There hadn't been a body, but in Sunnydale, that was no gaurantee that there hadn't been a death. Before Spike had disappeared for parts unknown, presumably driving off into the moonset with Drusilla, he had presented her with a gift. A small, antique looking box of rosewood and brass. The box had contained the grainy, gray ash of a dusted vampire.

She had thought that the ashes had been Xander. That Angelus had turned him, and that Spike had killed the demon her friend had become. *"This wasn't part of the deal,"* Spike had said in a accent that was closer to Giles' than to the one he usually used. *"But the boy, he wanted you to have them."*

Buffy had taken the box from Spike, with hands that felt as nerveless and clumsy as blocks of wood. She had clutched that box to her chest, tearless, numb with grief. Xander dead. Angelus in hell. A box of ashes,and a mother who had thrown her out of the house, Giles in the hospital, and she had been expelled from school...too much, all too much. Someone was screaming, and it had taken her a moment to realize that it was herself. That she had fallen to her knees, and was screaming, rage and pain and grief bleeding out of her through her voice.

Whistler had found her in the mansion, trying to tear the place down bare handed. His presence had given her something to focus on in her rage, someone rail at, someone to listen. Someone to talk her down from the heights of her rages, someone who's only link to Angelus had been that of teacher to student. Her teacher. Her friend.

And apparently, also Xander's.

**You *knew* he was alive! How could you hide this from me?**
**You hid it from yourself, Buffy.**

What Whistler had said when she had confronted him about the deception hadn't made sense at first--she'd been too angry to think. Until she remembered the dreams. The first dream. Xander in the library at the old school, dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt, a back pack at his feet. "Don't worry about me, Buffster," the dream-Xander has said with a sad smile. "I've got someone to take care of me, now." Xander had nodded to indicate a second person--Spike--who stepped out of the shadows of one of the stacks, game-faced, and put his arm around Xander's shoulders.

**You've got nothing to worry about at all, pet.**

So much could change in four years. The sweet, smart mouthed guy she had known had been replaced by a quiet, dark-eyed stranger. The only traces of the boy she had known had been the occasional barbed comment, and a flashing grin that would briefly light his face. Still Xander in most ways, but harder. It had been strange seeing the two men that had come with him almost snapping to attention when he'd spoken sharply, or the way Spike--Spike,of all people--seemed to hover over him. Strange, and almost familiar. As if she were remembering something that had happened long ago, to someone else. And perhaps she had been, because she had continued to dream about Xander--past, present and future, hopelessly tangled with surreal conversations and cryptic comments.

Buffy shivered a little and sipped her hot chocolate. After dinner, they had gathered at her house, to exchange first impressions, and share information with those who hadn't been present at the dinner. Joyce was sitting in her favorite chair, her cup of hot chocolate sitting ignored on a table as she listened to Giles and Willow. Kendra and Wesley meanwhile, sat on the couch, with nearly identical worried frowns.

"I met Xander only very briefly, but from what you have said, he appears greatly changed," Kendra commented softly.

"...He appears to have done well for himself," Giles replied, almost hesitantly.

"From what he's told you," Wesley said. "Which it seems, is very little, especially concerning his relationship with Spike."

*Relationship, ohmygod.* Like a light bulb going off, Buffy suddenly realized exactly what had been going on between Spike and Xander during dinner. "Ohmygod," she gasped, feeling her face heat in a blush. "Flirting! Xander was *flirting* with Spike!"

"Ewww!" Cordelia said, "The PI I hired said that Xander had a boyfriend, but not that it was Spike!"

Buffy stared wide eyed at Cordelia. "You *knew* and didn't *tell* us?" She said, outraged.

"Well, I will grant it is a bit of a shock," Giles commented with a frown.

"W-why didn't you warn us?" Willow asked.

Cordelia blinked. "Hey, it was enough of a shock that he really *was* alive, okay? Besides, why would I out him? I'm not *that* tactless, thank you very much!"

Giles smiled a bit at the former cheerleader's last, outraged comment, and nodded. "Yes, I quite understand. That had to be Xander's decision."

"What - what else didn't you tell us?" Willow asked, almost accusingly.

Cordelia glared. "*EXCEPT* for the little detail about Xander being homosexual, everything the PI told me..."

"You're sure?"

"If you like, I'll let you go over the PI's files," Cordelia offered icily.

"No, I didn't mean..." Willow said in a wavery, distressed voice. "It's just, he's so different. So...hard."

"He's with *Spike*?? After what happened?" Buffy said. Even though she had realized the nature of their relationship, it still seemed incredible. Impossible. She had explored every inch of the mansion, she had seen the coffin with air holes punched in the side, the fabric lining it's interior had been shredded, the wood splintered and stained with blood. It had smelled like an outhouse, and there were other stains that she hadn't wanted to look at, let alone attempt to identify. The coffin had been fitted with a lock. She had seen the bloodstained mattress, the chains and "toys." She had seen Angelus' sketch book, lovingly detailing torments and humiliation that Buffy prayed that Xander had never suffered.

"I will remind you, Buffy, that we do not know all that happened to him." Giles said gently. "And they do appear quite, um, attached to each other."

Buffy shuddered. "Angelus did things to Xander that I don't even want to *think* about," Buffy said softly, a haunted expression on her face. "...And I don't think *Spike* was entirely free of blame in everything that was done to Xander...attached or not."

Giles became very pale. "The sketch book?" He asked.

When Buffy nodded, tight lipped, at this seeming non sequitur, Cordelia frowned. "Sketch book?" She asked, "What about a sketch book?"

"Angelus' sketch book," the Watcher said woodenly. Grimly. "The contents featured, among of-of some of the things..." Giles broke off, with an odd catch to his voice, and he took off his glasses to wipe at his eyes. "Dear Lord, those pictures!" He half whispered in a shattered voice. Joyce stood up, and crossed the room to Giles, putting a comforting hand on his arm.

"A sketch book?" Cordelia's voice broke the horrified silence. "Of what was done to Xander? What did you do with it?" She demanded.

"It was sent to the Watcher's Council library," Wesley interjected. "It- it should prove a valuable resource--"

"As *what*? 'Faces of Death, the Vampire Chronicles'?!" Cordelia shouted, furious. She glared at Buffy. "How could you do that, Buffy? Just-just, hand over something like that?"

Buffy glared back. "I did what I thought was right. It was important that the Council get the whole story."

"Since when do you care *what* the Council gets?" Cordelia asked, almost hysterical. "Why couldn't you just give them what Giles wrote in his books?"

"Because the fact that Angelus and Xander were both gone didn't mean that some other vampire wouldn't... wouldn't do that to someone else, some other time. Because the more they know, the more they'll be able to keep Slayers from making all of the stupid mistakes I did..." Buffy said, somewhere between bitterness and anger.

Cordelia looked at Buffy, then away. "I..." she fell silent a moment. "I understand."

"Do you think... could Spike have... have *made* Xander be his... his..." Willow said, after several tense moments had passed.

"Something else I never want to think about...*ever*," Cordelia said emphatically,

"I... very much doubt Xander is being coerced or manipulated in that manner. He certainly did not behave as if he were under Spike's control. If anything..." Giles said, trailing off, with a nervous cough.

Buffy felt her cheeks heat, remembering the nature of some of the...teasing... that had taken place. The odd little comments about punishment, the strangely *submissive* way Spike was acting, not like the Big Bad at all, more like...But Spike? Spike as the--? Buffy wasn't sure if she should be suddenly relieved, or even more disturbed. "It...seemed like they were together in a-a 'Exit to Eden' kind of way..."

It was interesting to see who was blushing or who wasn't, with the mention of the BDSM romance novel. Or who simply looked blank. Her mother was blushing, and hadn't that been strange, the time Buffy had found her reading it in the living room late one night when Buffy had just come in from patrolling. Giles, who coughed nervously, and began to polish his glasses, Wesley, whose ear tips turned pink. Cordelia who looked blank, as did Kendra...Willow, looked blank, *then* blushed--then looked absolutely horrified.

"You think - Buffy, if Spike is hurting him, we have to do something! We're his friends!" Willow said.

Giles had another brief nervous coughing fit.

"Ummm...Wills?" Buffy said, but Wills over rode her.

"--And don't tell me we have to let him make his own choices--"

"I kinda think Xander's the one doing the hurting--" Buffy interjected, between one rush of words and the next.

"--'Cause I'm not going to stand by and--What!?" Willow said as Buffy's words registered.

"--To Spike, not the other way around," Buffy finished.

Willow made a little strangled squeak. "X-Xander wouldn't...he wouldn't hurt someone he cared about!" She said, wide eyed.

"Well," Wesley said, ears still pink. "It appears that this Xander *has* changed a great deal from what you knew of him."

"Wes," Cordelia said kindly, as Willow gave Wesley a look that could peel paint. "Shut up." Wesley's ears reddened even more.

Giles, meanwhile, glanced at Buffy, then away. "That, um, concurs with my conclusion as well. Xander appeared to be the, ah..." the Watcher winced. "...Dominant partner in the relationship."

Cordelia made a "ewww," face. "What I want to know is, was Xander having a...a relationship with Spike when he was still all..." She made a exagerated "grrr" face, and hooked her hands into claws, "'humans are happy meals with legs?' I mean, before he got chipped? I mean, Xander, Unneutered vampire..." She trailed off, then glared suspiciously when Giles' lips twitched into what almost looked like a grin.

"H-he couldn't have. Spike would have bit him!" Willow protested weakly, and curled deeper into her chair, eyes glassy and wide with horror.

"I mean," Cordelia continued, "if Xander's the Caped Crusader or something--and it's *so* your fault, Willow, that I've started sounding like you!--Wouldn't he be having to spend most of the night saving people from...Spike?"

"A point to consider, certainly, Cordelia," Giles said after a moment of silence. "I very much doubt Xander would have tolerated Spike killing innocents. Perhaps they renewed their acquaintance after Spike had been ...chipped."

"No," Buffy said, shaking her head. "The only time they've been apart, is when Spike's been in Sunnydale. Think about it. ..Spike got Xander a apartment, helped him get emancipated minor status," Buffy paused. What had Spike done, to do that? Threatened Xander's parents into signing the papers? Perhaps blamed whatever...damage that had been done to Xander on them? Buffy put those questions aside for later. "That takes a lot of time...months anyway," Buffy said, carefully not looking at her mother.

There had been a brief period of time, after Joyce had kicked her out of the house, when Buffy had been looking into EM status. It had been the threat of that, as much as anything else, had shocked Joyce out of her anger with Buffy. "Then he met that Lorn guy Xander mentioned, and then Lindsey, and that vision-guy...Spike was interjecting little comments about stuff that had happened all through the conversation..."

"But... But Xander wouldn't get involved with a killer. He just wouldn't!" Willow protested.

"A killer you baked chocolate chip cookies for," Cordelia pointed out. "A killer who drinks hot chocolate with marshmallows."

"He can't hurt anybody *now*! I'm talking about *then*!" Willow said, glaring at Cordelia.

"A killer, who is apparently umm...subbing for Xander," Buffy said, and felt her cheeks heating.

Cordelia frowned. "A killer, who Xander trusted to watch us, and report back to him."

"It would seem that Xander has an unusual amount of control over this vampire," Kendra noted softly. "I am curious about how this came about." Her tone was all clinical curiosity, but Giles...blushed.

"I would not care to speculate into such a private matter," Giles said awkwardly.

"But--!" Willow protested.

"Why don't I go make some tea," Giles said quickly before Willow or Kendra could say anything further. He beat a hasty retreat for the kitchen, followed close behind by and equally red-faced Joyce.

Willow looked like she was about to go after Giles, but sat back when Buffy gave her a quick look. "Tomorrow," she said firmly. "You, we, all of us can ask him about it *tomorrow.*"

Giles poked his head out from the kitchen. "Buffy, I do not think it's really any of our business. Xander seems quite capable of taking care of himself. We must allow him the priviledge of making his own choices, even if we do not approve of them."

"If we're going to question what's going on with Xander behind his *back* we might as well get the information from the horse's mouth," Buffy pointed out with typical Slayer logic. Giles sighed, and went back to making tea.

"Besides!" Willow said, "If Spike is doing something to him, he might need help!"

Cordelia frowned at that. "Ummm...I know it's weird, coming from me, but are you sure you can be...tactful, Willow? You ummm...might hurt Xander's feelings if you go off half-cocked..."

Willow glared at the former cheerleader. "He's my best friend. I'm not going ot hurt him!" Then softly, almost menacingly. "And then I'm going to talk to Spike."

Cordelia tried another tack. "Your best friend, who spent the last four years *hiding* from us, to protect us from *worrying* about him..."

Willow looked stubborn. "Well, we're worrying now! And I'm not gonna just pretend I don't care if he's OK!"

"I'm not saying you *should* Willow," Cordelia replied in an oddly gentle tone. "I'm just saying that you should give him space..."

"I can give space! I'm good at space, lots of space, that's me, Willow Rosenberg 'Space girl.'"

Kendra choked on her hot chocolate.