Chapter 3: Surprise

Chapter 3: Surprise

                "I found out why Mr. Giles is acting weird."  Everyone paused, and the fledge that Spike was eviscerating dangled, whimpering.  Xander shoved his stake through the fledge he'd tackled and stood up, brushing himself off.  Oz patted the bit of tomb next to him in a 'come sit' gesture.

                "Did you, Anya?"

                "You mean it's not that he's a middle-aged British man all alone on the Hellmouth goin' barmy 'cause his almost-daughter is dead?"  Spike looked at the wriggling fledge - looked back at the other three who were staring at him.  "What?"

                "Stake him, Spike.   We need to know."

                "Right, right."  Spike turned back to the fledge and grinned.   The fledge did his best to smile back but his guts were slipping towards his knees and he couldn't quite manage it.  Spike fished around for a stake and a moment later he was dusting ash off his arm and slipping straight razor and stake both back into their respective pockets.  He walked over to the others, lighting a cigarette.  Anya was perched on the tomb next to Oz now, and Xander was leaning beside her.

                "So - what's the scoop?" Xander asked.  Spike slid his arm around Xander's waist and leaned on him a bit, smiling to himself when Xander automatically leaned back.

                *Mine* and *Pack* and *Family* and *Love* a low and constant thrum in the link.  Spike didn't much care about the Watcher acting funny, but Anya had come by the house earlier and said she wanted to come on patrol - wouldn't take no for an answer - and Spike was curious.  For a change Dawn was home, being drilled by the witches on her American Lit make-up work.  She had to pass the test this week and then she could go on to the next grade.  She'd whined about it, but in the end had agreed summer school was better than repeating a year.   Hell gods made it difficult to be scholarly.

                "Well, about a week ago - right after Dawn's party - he got a letter.  I couldn't find out who it was from - the address was all blurry - but when he read it he got very white and nervous and upset.  He wouldn't tell me about it. Later, when I was pretending to dust the office I found the letter and read it and now...  Here - see what you think."  Anya pulled a battered envelope out of her pocket and held it out to Xander, who recoiled slightly.

                "Whoa!  Hey.  Uh - maybe not, Anya.  I mean - maybe it's family business, you know?  I don't really wanna read the man's private mail."

                "Well - you read it, Oz."  Anya held the letter out again, and Oz slowly shook his head.

                "Not good for the karma, Anya.  I don't think so."

                "Oh, bloody Hell!"    *Don't be such wankers!*   Spike snatched the letter out of Anya's hand and opened it - unfolded the single sheet and scanned it for a moment.


                "My dear Ripper - Despite our best efforts, here I am, coming right back to you like a homing pigeon.  Or maybe a bad penny?  Something like that.  You can't begin to imagine the things that have happened, and I have you to thank for most of them.

                I'll be there soon, to tell you in person.  And please don't try to warn me off or have your Slayer come after me.  Things have...changed.                                    Your old friend, Ethan"


                "Huh.  So, an old school mate or somthin' is comin' to visit -" Spike started, but he felt the sudden tension in the link and looked up from stuffing the letter back into the envelope.

                "No - not an old school mate, Spike.  A very powerful wizard.  Or sorcerer - something.  A powerful, pissed off wizard, sounds like."  Xander was looking at Oz, his eyes filled with worry, and Oz was tapping one hand thoughtfully on his knee.  Anya took the letter out of Spike's hand and studied it.

                "I think I can make out the post-mark.  It says Rio.  Is that Brazil?  Or is it Reno..."  She squinted, holding it to the light.  Xander was looking more unhappy by the minute and Spike leaned his chin on his shoulder, thumb stroking over Xander's hipbone. 

                "It's that bloke that made him a Fyarl demon, right?"  Spike asked.  He remembered the Watcher saying something about an old mate of his, but the name wouldn't come.

                "Yeah - Ethan Rayne.  He's been here a few times. "   Xander and Oz both fed bits of memory through the link - Halloween, the Band candy incident, the demon-turning.  Buffy getting kidnapped and almost sacrificed to a vengeful god.  Bits of things Giles had said, from time to time.

                *He's been busy.* 

                "Last time he was here - the Initiative took him.  Giles - handed him over."  The silent shock in the link at that made Xander twist around to look at Spike.   Spike made no effort to control the growl that rattled up out of his chest, or the snarl that was curling his lip.

                *Deserves what he gets, then.*

                *I don't - know.  Ethan hurt a lot of people.*

                *You don't sell out a mate.*   That was that, as far as Spike was concerned, and Xander turned back to Anya, troubled.  Spike sighed and reached up to stroke his fingers through Xander's hair.

                "All I know is that it's making Giles act weird.  He hardly says a word, he won't discuss the sales or the stock or the money, which is just not right!  I mean - how am I supposed to acquire new things if he won't look over the catalogues and approve my choices?"  Anya shoved the now very crumpled letter into her jacket-pocket, scowling.  "I know he only does it to humor me but it's big part of our working relationship!  I pretend I care about his choices and he pretends he has any control over what I buy.  It's a perfect system and it's all coming crashing down around me!  I think Giles is going to leave."  At this point, Anya burst into tears and they all stared at her.  After a moment Xander moved a little closer and patted her knee, and Oz laid his arm over her shoulders.  They both tried to calm her down, but Anya just buried her face in her hands and wailed.  Spike fished out a smoke and lit it, and then took out his flask.

                *Oz, what...?*

                *Dunno. She's all - wigged...*   Spike uncapped his flask and took a long drink, then he stepped in front of Anya and tapped her gently on the head.

                "Here, pet, have a snort."  Anya shuddered and lifted her head, looking up at Spike with swollen eyes.


                *Best cure for hysterics, love.*

                "Oh god, I really need to get drunk."  Anya grabbed the flask and tipped it up, gulping whiskey like water and Spike grinned in admiration.  After a moment she lowered it and wiped her mouth.

                "Drake asked me to marry him."

                "What!?"  Double chorus from Xander and Oz, and Spike merely took the flask back and took another hit.

                "Oookay...  We really need to talk.  What say we hit the Bronze and get comfortable, huh?"

                *Splendid idea, pet.  Knew there was a reason I loved you.*

                *You and me both,*   Oz added, and Xander laughed, helping Anya down from the tomb. 



                "Spill.  Why do you think Giles is going to leave and what about Drake?"  Xander put Anya's Highball down in front of her, and put three beers down for everybody else.  They were in a far back corner, as private as you could get at the Bronze, and Anya took a long drink and then sighed.

                "Okay.  About Giles.  He's just acting so...nervous, all the time.  Like he's hiding something."  Beside him, Spike snorted and Xander reached out blindly and put a hand on his knee.

                "Well, did you think he might be tryin' to hide that letter?  Or maybe - tryin' to figure out how to keep this Rayne bloke from comin' after him?"  Spike tipped his beer up and took a long drink and Anya matched him.

                "Maybe.  But - it's more he's planning something he knows we won't like.   It's really very irritating."

                "I don't think Giles would just leave, Anya.  I mean - even if Ethan Rayne were coming back here, I think he'd - he'd stick around.   That guy was never a match for Giles before.  Probably he's just worried that if we find out, we'll be - upset."

                "Or he's too far gone to act normal."  Xander looked over at Oz and sighed, and nodded slowly.

                "Yeah.  Maybe so.  He -"

                *Drinks at work,* Oz thought, and they all sat in silent contemplation of that for a moment while Anya shredded her napkin.

                *Maybe that's what he's hiding.  We'll - go see him.  Something.  Okay?*   Spike's enthusiasm was minimal, but he silently agreed, sighing.  Xander squeezed his leg gently in thanks.  Spike's own free hand slithered over and did the same, resting comfortably on his thigh.

                "Okay, Anya - tell us about this marriage thing."  Anya wadded her napkin up and tapped her fingernails on her glass.

                "You guys know Drake, right?"

                "Well - sorta."  Xander glanced at Spike, who shrugged, and at Oz who nodded.  "I mean, we've all met him but - you don't bring him around much."  Drake was a med student Anya had met while visiting Joyce in the hospital.  He seemed nice, and Spike had certified him human, but he was as clueless as the rest of the citizens when it came to the Hellmouth.

                "Well, of course not!   The last thing I need is for him to see some sort of demonic hanky-panky or have Willow loose some weird spell on him that turns him into a goat or something.   I'm trying to live a human life."

                "Should probably move away from here then, ducks," Spike said, draining the rest of his beer.

                "Yes, I probably should.  But I'm making a lot of money here and I'm - I'm happy.  I have friends - I have a family, sort of.  It's comforting."  Anya took another drink and dabbed at her eyes with a fresh napkin.  Her mascara had run and she leaned over at Oz's gesture and let him tidy it for her.

                "Thanks, Oz.   Anyway, after all that mess with Glory, when I got hurt and Buffy got dead, I started thinking.  I'm mortal now!  All my squishy innards are very vulnerable!  And my chances of being hit by a car or a bolt of lightning or a - a falling airplane engine are - well - disturbing."

                *Airplane engine, pet?*

                *Donnie Darko, remember?*

                *Oh, right.*   Spike snorted softly and lit a cigarette, and Xander focused on Anya again.

                "Okay, so - I get that you're worried about - being mortal.  But - what's that have to do with Drake and getting married?"

                "Xander!  I'm a Vengeance Demon!  Former Vengeance Demon.  I know what men are like.  I know how they try to justify their actions and - and make excuses.  I know exactly how low and despicable and conniving they can be."  Anya gulped the last of her drink and raised her hand, signaling a waitress with a jangling of bracelets.

                "But, Anya -"

                "Don't try to deny it, Xander!   You men are all alike.  Tell somebody you love them, and that you want to spend forever with them and then - a nice piece of ass walks by and it's 'C'mon, nobody can see us up on the roof of the Magic Box.'"  There was a long pause and Xander turned slowly to look at Spike, who looked back with the wide eyes of a Japanese manga character.

                *You TOLD her-*

                *Well, not exactly -*

                "Except they can hear you up there, and really Xander, did you think nobody would notice -"

                "Right, okay, stop."  Xander took a gulp of beer and glared at Oz, who was laughing helplessly into the bowl of free popcorn.

                *Oh god.*

                *Yeah, that's what you said -*

                *OZ.*   Xander leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.   "Anya...  Do you love Drake?"  He sat up and tried to ignore the steady creep of Spike's hand from thigh to groin.

                "Well -I think I do.  I mean - he makes me feel all warm and...real.  But what if it's not?  Real, I mean?"  Anya took her fresh drink from the waitress and downed a huge swallow.  "What if - if he's just stringing me along?"

                "Why would he do that?"  Xander put his hand on Spike's to keep it from wandering higher.  Spike gave him a sly, sideways glance and started to knead the muscle there.  Xander twitched.

                "Well, I don't know!  Why do men do any of the things they do?  I'm starting to wonder if being gay is the answer."  Anya bolted the rest of her drink and looked sadly down into the empty glass.

                *Don't even go there,*   Xander thought, and Spike smirked at him and looked around for the waitress.

                "I'm sorry, Anya - I really can't help you on the Drake-thing.  You either love him or you don't and - you're the only one who really knows."  Anya held her glass up as Spike's tissue-thin patience shredded and he stood up, heading for the bar.

                "Get me another, 'k, Spike?  That's the lamest advice ever, you know."  Anya glared at Xander and he recoiled ever so slightly.

                "Uh - sorry.  Maybe Oz has some sort of Zen thing to tell you."  Anya trained her glare on Oz, who coughed and took a second sip of his beer.

                "Anya..."  There was a long pause while Oz contemplated his inner Buddha or something.  Even Spike had paused, waiting.  Finally, Oz looked up at her.  "I've got nothin' here.  Sorry."  Anya rolled her eyes.

                "Jesus, you guys are lame.  How is it that you're all so - so happy?  You don't have a clue."

                "It's the amazing sex, love," Spike said, and eeled away through the crowd, heading for the bar.  Xander felt himself slowly blushing under Anya's frankly speculative gaze.

                "Xander -"

                "No.  Whatever it is, no."

                "Oz -"

                "Anya?"  The werewolf looked steadily at her, laughter and fondness in the link.

                "Is the sex amazing?"

                "Yup."  Anya reached over and picked up Oz's beer - took a long sip.  "The sex with Drake is amazing.  He gives me absolutely wonderful orgasms."

                "Here's to Drake," Xander mumbled, tipping his beer towards Anya just a little and then taking a hasty swallow.

                "Yeah..."  Anya sighed happily, staring vaguely into space with a small smile lifting the corners of her mouth.  She looked -

                *Looks happy.  Think this guy is the one?*

                *Might be,* Oz shrugged, and then his eyes flashed to something over Xander's shoulder and Xander felt a sudden flare of irritation in the link from Spike.

                "What is it?" Xander asked, turning, and there was Spike, stalking back over to them with a bottle of whiskey and some shot-glasses, and there was -

                "Hello, Scoobies," the Buffybot said.


                "And that's 'nother thing," Anya said.  She was perched up on a stool at one of the little tables near the pool tables, and she's shed her windbreaker and was attracting admiring glances from the college-boy crowd.  Xander had to admit that in her low-rise jeans and baby-tee, she looked pretty hot.

                *Hot as me?*  Spike made an exaggerated move at the pool table, leaning over a little further than necessary to make his shot and Xander let his gaze wander over the lean lines of shoulder, rib, buttock and thigh.

                *Nothing's as hot as you, love.*   Spike smirked to himself and cocked his head at the table, studying his next shot. The 'bot stood to one side, frowning.

                "Don't I get to play?"

                "Still my shot, innit?" Spike lined up another and the 'bot watched avidly. 

                "Xander!" Anya brought her hand down hard on the table and Xander jumped a little and turned back to her.

                "I'm sorry - what were you saying?"

                "I was saying...   Willow."

                "Willow?"  Xander resisted the urge to scan the crowd.  Oz came back from a bathroom break, hand trailing over Xander's shoulder and arm as he passed, settling onto the stool next to Anya.

                "Yes, Willow.  Your little witchy friend.  She's been acting weird, too."  Anya poured out two shots and looked over at Spike.

                "Hey!  Spike!  C'mon and drink this."  She'd been matching Spike shot for shot and Xander was frankly amazed at her head for liquor.  Spike was delighted.  Oz had stopped after his first beer and was on water now, and Xander had been nursing his second along for the past hour.

                *More fun to drink with somebody.*

                *Sorry, Spike, I'm just not a shots-doin'  kinda guy.*

                "Don't care," Spike murmured, slipping up behind him and kissing the side of his neck. 

                *You're a vampire-doin'  kinda guy.  That's better.*   He reached around and grabbed his glass - downed it with a twist of his wrist at the same moment that Anya did.  They both smacked their glasses down and Spike curled around Xander for a whiskey-sour kiss.  Somehow, Xander mused, closing his eyes and giving in to Spike's strong, cool mouth - somehow, whiskey tasted good when it was mixed with Spike.

                *You taste good too,*   Spike broke the kiss and smiled at him - then whirled around at the clack of pool balls rebounding off each other.

                "Oi!  That's not your shot!"

                "But I haven't had a shot.  It's boring to just watch."  The 'bot pouted and Spike strode over to argue with it as Xander smirked.  Spike couldn't win with the 'bot, because its logic was so convoluted - and its gaps in logic so bizarre - that arguments ended up a Gordian knot of cross-purposes and confusion.  But Spike liked any sort of fight he could get.

                 "What about Willow?" Oz was saying, and Xander turned back to Anya.

                "She's been at the shop a lot.  And not in a good 'here let me help you make money' way.  She digs around and gets into Giles' 'special' books and bugs me about weird herbs and stuff.  She says she wants to do up some spells that'll help with patrol and I told her - you guys can patrol just fine.  Giles doesn't really notice 'cause he, you know -"   Anya made a sort of tipping-up-a-glass gesture and Xander sighed.  Giles' drinking wasn't exactly out of hand, but it was worrying. 

                *Need to stop it.*

                *Not as bad as it seems, love* Spike thought, and under that was the thought - and a legitimate thought - that Xander's concern was colored by his own childhood experiences.

                *He's more grown-up then they'll ever be.  No need to...make any accusations just yet.*

                *It's not good, though,* Oz interjected, and Xander was grateful that Oz agreed with him.  He had the sneaking suspicion that Spike would rather leave the Watcher to his own devices, despite the truce they'd managed.  But he couldn't - wouldn't - do that to Giles.  He cared for the man more then he'd ever thought he would, and the past year had forged a bond.

                *Know I'll do whatever you want,* Spike grumbled.

                *I know.  Love you.*   The 'bot bent over the pool table and lined up a shot - drew back and drove the cue forward with a vengeance and the cue ball flew through the air and crashed into a pitcher of beer.  As beer and glass went everywhere, the three boys whose drinks and jeans had just been ruined surged up, furious.  The 'bot watched them approach, its head a little to one side.  Spike stepped in front of the advancing trio.

                "New to the game, mates - doesn't know her own strength."

                "I've got glass in my hand, you jerk!  Somebody is gonna pay for the beer and for my trip to the ER!"  The boy was at least eight inches taller than Spike, and built like a truck.  Spike grinned up at him and popped a cigarette out of his pack - lit it.

                "She'll say she's sorry, maybe."  Spike's grin was feral, his body seemingly at ease, leaning on his pool cue.  But Xander could feel the gleeful anticipation.  He reached over and grabbed Spike's duster.

                "Well, fuck.  Let's move up to the catwalk, huh Anya?  Stuff's gonna get messy down here."

                "What?"  The shots seemed to be catching up with Anya finally and she looked bleary - ready to pass out.

                "On second thought - why don't we get you home?"  Oz slipped off his stool and caught Anya under the arm as she swayed.  There was a crash and Xander looked back over at Spike, who had just tossed truck-boy into a table full of similar boys.  They all sprawled and rolled and gaped, and then were up and swarming towards the vampire en masse.  Spike flicked his cigarette aside and launched himself straight into them.  The 'bot just watched, her 'harm no humans' programming holding true.

                *Spike!  Jeez.*

                *Go on up, pet.  Be done in a bit.*    *Chaos malice olderthan* in the link as the demon roared and surged to the surface, although Spike deliberately kept his human face on.  Oz was leading Anya away and Xander hurried to catch up, fighting the lemming-like flow of patrons who were swarming to watch the fight.  He dug his keys out of his pocket and handed them over.

                "We'll be home soon.  You need any help?"

                "Nah, we're fine."  Oz took the keys and grinned - caught Anya as she stumbled and sketched a little wave at Xander.  Xander grinned back and watched them go out - bounded up the stairs and leaned there on the railing, watching Spike whale on anything and everything in reach.  Xander wondered how long it would take until Spike got bored.  One way to make sure it wasn't too long.

                *You're so fuckin' hot when you do that.  Like a dance.  But...*   Xander fed an image or three into the link.  *Like that kind of dancing better.*  Down on the floor, Spike jumped up onto the pool table and kicked someone in the head, and then glanced up at Xander, golden eyes unerringly finding him, human teeth flashing in a smirk.  The momentary distraction was enough for some unlucky guy to get in a sweep of a pool cue behind the knees and Spike went down, rolling expertly and lashing out again with the steel-toed Doc.

                *Nasty little brat - that hurt.  Gonna make you sorry.*

                *Promise?*   Another image or two - rope, this time, and Spike's straight-razor - and the fight was over in minutes.  Spike grabbed the 'bot and shoved her towards the door, whispering something urgently in her ear and she nodded and strode out.  Xander met Spike at the bottom of the stairs and Spike grabbed him and kissed him hard - drew blood with a sharp nip and scratched his nails down Xander's back.

                "Let's get you home then," Spike whispered, and his eyes and the link promised that Xander would be pretty damn sorry, in the best possible way, for most of the night.  Xander held out the duster for him to slip on and smoothed the shoulders - snaked his arm around Spike's waist.

                "Let's," he agreed.



                They didn't make it home right away, though.  Xander couldn't keep the lingering worry and speculation about Giles out of his mind and Spike finally gave in.

                "All right, love - let's go over and see what the bloody Watcher's up to, shall we?"  Xander's abstracted look flashed immediately to a smile and Spike couldn't help but pull him into a quick, hard hug and kiss.

                *Love that, that smile.  Just for me.  Love you.*

                *Love you too.  Thanks, Spike...*

                "You'll make it up to me," Spike murmured, quick nibble of teeth over the claim scar and Xander shivered, smiling.

                They changed direction and walked on to Giles' place, and Spike lit up as they came to the edge of the parking lot.  There was something...different.   Xander slowed, watching him.

                "What is it?"

                "I dunno, it's -"   *Something...  Ripper's doin' some mojo maybe, or...*  The feeling was like little tendrils of heat - of cobweb fire - and it shivered over Spike's skin and made the hairs on his neck stand up.  The demon wanted out and Spike let it, concentrating.  Beside him he could feel Xander tensing as the sensation translated through the link.  The hyena stirred as well, on guard and nervous.  Xander's blunter senses picked it up on their own a moment later and he stopped walking completely.

                "That's -"

                "That's warding magic.  Only whoever's doing it is -"


                *Yeah.  Not in control*   They advanced cautiously and the sensation got stronger as they approached Giles' place; ratcheting up to the distinctly unpleasant feeling of being attacked by brambles, or maybe bees.  Xander was fighting the hyena - it wanted to attack something or run - and the demon wasn't doing much better.

                *Fuckin' bloody magic-users, THIS is why I hate this shite.*  Spike pounded on Giles' door, snarling, and just managed to resume his human face when the lock rattled and Giles peered out at them through a six-inch crack.

                "Spike.  And Xander?  What are you two doing here?  It's late."

                "What in bloody hell -"   Spike snapped, but Xander's hand on his arm stopped him and he subsided, smoking furiously.

                "Giles, we wanted to talk to you about something.  It's - kind of important."

                "I really can't talk at all right now, Xander.  It would be - be much better if you came by in the morning."  Giles started to shut the door and the thin thread of restraint snapped.  Spike surged forward and jammed his foot in the door - shouldered it open, nearly clocking the Watcher in the face with the edge of the door.

                "Don't be playing silly buggers, Watcher.  We can feel whatever the hell you're doing in here."  Giles gave ground, scowling, and Xander came tentatively in behind Spike, shutting the door.

                "Damnit, Spike, get out!  This is none of your business -"

                "Ripper?"  The voice was cracked - weak - and Giles snapped his mouth shut and glared at them - turned to look up the stairs.

                "It's all right, Ethan.  Just - just some -"

                "Just his bloody brothers in arms, eh, Watcher?  Oi!  Show yourself!"

                *Spike, come on!*   Xander's hand was under the duster, rubbing at the small of his back and Spike tried to calm down.  But the magic was making him - *darkspace no way out can't TRUST them hide hide hide* in stuttering jolts that were making him lose his equilibrium and his control.

                *Spike!  Stop - safe, you're safe, calm down - I'm here, I'm here, Spike - calm calm...*  Spike turned blindly and groped for Xander - seized shirt and bicep in a trembling grip and just held on, his forehead to Xander's shoulder.

                *Tell him shut it down - fuck, please -*   Xander was saying something, rapid and urgent, the soldier getting in control and telling Giles in no uncertain terms what to do.  After a bit - and Spike couldn't tell how long it took - the sizzling nastiness of the ward seemed to alter - to twist into something else - and abruptly Spike and Xander were inside it, rather then battering against it and the discord vanished.  Spike straightened slowly, shuddering, and Xander was rubbing the back of his neck gently, holding him close and murmuring in his ear.  He could hear the Watcher upstairs somewhere, and he opened his eyes -*when did I close them?* and looked at his boy.

                "All right now?" Xander asked, and Spike nodded uncertainly.

                "Guess so.  Fuckin' mojo -"

                "Spike - I could feel it too, but it wasn't - it wasn't so bad.  Why did that happen?"  Spike unclenched his fist from Xander's shirt - rubbed his hand over his face.

                "I - dunno.  Felt when Glory did that mind-eating thing.  Like - when Glinda-witch was all - upset.  Felt like that."  Xander's eyes were wide with anxiety and the link held fear - held a long note of worry and question that was distinctly Oz and Spike shook his head and looked at Xander.

                "Better - better call the wolf.  Dunno if he'll hear us good enough.  Tell him it's okay."  Xander slid his hand around a little, so his thumb could feather lightly over Spike's cheek, and Spike leaned into that caress for a moment.

                "Okay.  I'll call him.  You sure you're okay?"

                "Yeah.  Okay now."  Spike nodded and Xander finally moved over to the phone.  As he dialed the number and then talked quietly to Oz, Spike pulled out his flask and drained it. 

                *Fucking mojo...fucking hell-bitch, what'd she DO to me?  Damnit...*   A noise from above made him look up and there was the Watcher, his face a mask of rage.  And there was - somebody else.  Skeletally thin, dark-haired, dark eyes sunk deep into their sockets.  Some trousers and an oxford shirt of the Watcher's hanging off of him.

                "William the Bloody, I presume?" the man said, in that wavering, smashed-glass voice.

                "Ethan Rayne," Spike said back, lifting an eyebrow. 

                "My fame precedes me, I see."  The other man leaned heavily on Giles as they came slowly down the stairs and Spike settled onto one of the Watcher's bar stools.  Xander hung up the phone and they watched in silence as the two got to the bottom of the stairs and paused for a moment so that Ethan could rest.  Giles' mouth was set in a thin, tight line that spoke volumes about his mental state.  His eyes were so utterly cold and furious Spike felt the demon rising to the challenge and crushed it back.  But his hands on the other man's arm and back were gentle and sure, and he guided Ethan to a seat in a padded chair.  Ethan sat with a sigh of relief and Giles patted his shoulder and then moved briskly into the kitchen, getting the kettle.

                "Since I doubt very much you two will just go away, I'm going to make tea.  And I don't want to hear a word out of either of you until we've all had a cup.  Is that clear?"

                "Sure, Giles," Xander breathed, and Spike hunted out a cigarette.

                "No bloody smoking, Spike."

                "It's smoke or talk, mate.  You choose."  Giles shot him a frustrated glare, but then shook his head and turned back to assembling the tea-things, and Spike lit up.


                "So it was you that destroyed the Initiative, then," Ethan said, and the smile that lifted the corners of his mouth was every bit as malicious as the one that Spike wore.

                "How on earth -?  That's ridiculous, Ethan -" Giles sputtered in confusion, but Ethan held up a trembling hand, and Xander could see a ring of scars around his thin wrist - a deep wound that had healed badly, and not very long ago.

                "Was easy, mate.  I had - this bloke make up a spell for me.  Loosed it on the bastards the last time they were in town."  Spike was pacing restlessly and he made a sudden dive for the kitchen, slamming cabinets, and coming back into the living room in triumph, a bottle of scotch in his hand.

                "Spike, damnit, that's -"

                "I'll buy you another Giles, okay?  Please?"  Xander tried to make Giles understand, without saying anything, that Spike was about to go off the rails and anything that calmed him down would be a relief.  He didn't know if it was the ward-magic still, or simply Ethan Rayne, who projected an air of seething wrongness, but where his own nerves where on edge Spike's were -

                *Calm down, love, please?  We'll get out of here soon, I promise.*

                *Sorry, love, sorry, sorry,*   Spike perched on a stool and took a huge swallow of the scotch - eyed the bottle and took another while Giles grit his teeth.

                "How did you manage to wipe out the Initiative in Brazil, Spike?" Giles asked, his voice thick with skepticism.

                "It was a fetch.  It was infected.  A bit of mojo'd virus, so there wouldn't be any way to fight it.  Sent the fetch in and anybody it touched, they got it.  Then - just a matter of time.  They passed it on to the rest, like bloody dominoes, didn't they?  But you -"   Spike looked at Ethan, who bared his teeth in a parody of a smile.  Spike hissed, the demon flickering out and back, and Ethan leaned away a little.

                "You weren't infected, were you?   Mage like you -"

                "I was, actually - which is why I haven't - recovered, as well as I should.  I was fairly weak when I got sick, so it was difficult for me to fight it.  But once the soldiers and doctors were so ill that halted, I recovered enough equilibrium to...  Well, not to cure myself, because I wasn't that strong, but to engineer an escape.  Did you know, the local demon population found out about what was happening there?  They got into the installation in the final days.  It was -"   The man paused, and Xander shivered at the look of pure hatred and vicious satisfaction that crossed his face.  "It was quite delightfully chaotic.  There was even a vampire there - a most extraordinary creature, called herself Drusilla.  She was quite - fascinating."  Spike perked up, grinning.

                "You saw Dru?  She said she knew about what happened...what, she came in there?"

                "Oh my, yes.  Seemed a few of her - get had been captured, and she wanted them back.  I'm afraid they were quite useless at that point.   She drained them instead.   She told me - she was going up to the City of Angels - that she had someone to find.  Did she come here?"

                "Oh, yeah.  Had a little talk.  She's gone off now, though,"   Spike drank again and Xander watched the emotions on Giles' face - horror and anger warring with what Xander was pretty sure was years of Watcher training, that wanted him to get out a journal and take notes.

                "So you killed - hundreds of innocent people, Spike -"

                "Innocent my ass, Ripper, and I think you know the difference.  After what they did to your mate, here, you still give a bloody damn?  Oh - wait.  You turned your mate over to them.    That earn you some points with your fuckin' Council of Wankers?"  Giles opened his mouth to say something, furious, and then he stopped, looking over at Ethan.  The anger was still there, but so was something else - something wistful and sad and regretful, and Xander remembered what Giles had said, out in the desert.  He'd never regretted Ethan, just the things they'd got up to.

                *Should go, love.  Leave them alone, get away from - whatever this is.*

                *Fine by me.*   Spike stood abruptly and Giles did as well, moving between him and Ethan.              

                "Calm down, Watcher.  Time we were gone."

                "Giles -"   Xander wasn't sure what to say, but he felt like he had to say something.  He wanted to help Giles - he wanted to let him know it was okay.  "Giles, we came by because we've been - worried about you -"

                "Not me, mate,"

                *Spike.*   "I have, and Oz and Anya - probably the rest, although we didn't - didn't have time to really talk.  You've just been - we just wanted to know if you were okay."   Giles took his furious gaze off of Spike and turned it on Xander, where it softened to one of weariness.

                "I'm - sorry, Xander.  I don't mean to be so - harsh.  But these past few months have been - been very hard and...  Now Ethan is here and I - I have some thinking to do.  I may - leave Sunnydale."  Xander stared at him - felt as if he'd been punched, and barely registered Spike's fingers brushing over his wrist and twining with his own.

                "Leave?  But - you can't!  We - Giles -"

                "It's really - not the time, Xander.  I can't - talk about this right now.  It's late and I'm tired and I know that Ethan is exhausted.  Can we just - finish this later?"  Suddenly Giles seemed - so old, and Xander noticed that there were lines of pain around his mouth - around his eyes.  New grey in his dark hair that hadn't been there before. 

                *God, he's old and he's - he looks so defeated.  Damnit, when did -?  Spike, let's go, we need to -*

                *Be all right, pet...*   Hard squeeze of Spike's hand in his and Xander blinked.

                "All right.  We'll go.  But Giles - we have to talk.  You're not going to just - skip out of here.  We all need to sit down and talk.  I know it's hard - I miss her too.  But - you're still needed here."  Giles smiled faintly - reached out and squeezed his shoulder briefly, ignoring Spike's automatic snarl.

                "I promise we won't slip away like gypsies in the night, Xander.  But things are - different now.  I'm not sure I can stay here..."  He trailed away into silence and then shook his head - took a deep breath and dredged up something like a real smile.

                "Time for all this another day, eh?  When Ethan is a bit stronger and we've all had time to think.  We'll have a meeting, all right?  At the Magic Box.  Tell Anya I'm going to take a couple of days off and then - we'll talk about this."

                 "Okay."  Xander smiled back at Giles, glad that the older man was willing to talk to them.  "I'd do anything for you, to help.  You know I would and Oz, too.   And I can talk Spike around to your side, if you give me time."  Xander grinned at the mental curses, but Spike didn't contradict him and the look of surprise and then astonished pleasure on Giles' face made up for the foul mood Spike was probably going to be in.

                "Thank you, Xander.  I - we appreciate that."

                "As always, you take matters into your own hands.  But this time your right, my dear Ripper.  Your - trust - is appreciated..."

                "I don't know if it's trust so much as - I'm pretty sure between Spike, me, and the rest of my pack - you wouldn't be able to do much."  Xander let the hyena surface - let it stare into the fever-hectic eyes of the mage that huddled in Giles' chair and was rewarded by a flinch.

                "I see.  No matter.  Not being hung from the nearest tree on sight is good enough for me.  A pleasure to meet you both, I'm sure."

                "Not fuckin' likely," Spike muttered, and he turned and walked to the door, towing Xander along in his wake, the bottle still clenched in his fist.

                "Good night, Xander,"

                "Yeah - 'night, Giles.  Take care."  They were out the door - up the stairs - half a block away before Spike's stride slowed to something approaching normal and he gave a great shudder, the demon to the fore for a moment and then gone.

                "Bloody hell.  That was fuckin' nasty."

                "Yeah."  Xander rubbed the back of Spike's neck, squeezing the muscles there that fairly crackled with tension.

                "He wasn't like that, when he was selling us costumes.  That was -"

                "He was leakin' magic all over the place.  Lost some of his control, I guess, bein' sick.  Or whatever they did to him.  He smelled - off.  Smelled sick."  Sense-memory, in the link, and Xander wrinkled his nose. 

                "I thought that was just - old-guy smell or something.  Wonder if he'll get better?"

                "Dunno.   Don't much care."  Spike drained the last of the scotch and sent the bottle winging end over end, to crash into a wall above a dumpster.  "What I do care about is a promise somebody made to me, earlier tonight."  Spike looked over at Xander, eyes half-shut and his mouth curling in a leering sort of smirk and the *want need MINE* that slammed into the link left him breathless - sent a giddy flush of heat over him.  He felt himself hardening and Spike yanked him close - threaded fingers through his hair and pulled his head to the side. 

                "Gonna keep your promise?" he whispered, lips and tongue and teeth just feathering over Xander's neck, and Xander grabbed belt-loop and buttock and jerked Spike hard against him.

                "Fuck yeah, I'm keepin' it,"

                "Good," Spike murmured, and bit.  He barely took any blood at all, but Xander's arousal spiraled upwards like a rocket and Spike licked a quick path up his neck - grabbed his hand again and pulled him into a jog.

                "Let's go then, love - time's a' wasting."

                "Right with you," Xander said, and they headed home, leaving the worries and the troubles of their visit to Giles behind, for the night.

                *But it'll still be there tomorrow.  Life on the Hellmouth just doesn’t get any easier.*