Spike made his way back down into the basement. As Spike suspected he would be, Angel was sitting back on his narrow cot, leaning against the wall, looking miserable.
“Well, you’ve got a face like…” Spike searched his brain for a suitable insult. “Usual,” he settled on with a shrug. He sat down heavily on the edge of the cot and swore when it didn’t bounce as expected.
“If you’ve come down here just to annoy me-”
“Don’t be daft,” Spike cut him off. “If I just wanted to annoy you, I’d wait for you to come back up. I’m sure you don’t want to miss Queen C’s vision. I know I’m on the edge of my seat.”
Angel turned away from him and stared off into a dark corner. “I really dread to think what’s coming next.”
Spike nodded and looked down at his hands. He touched his fingers to one of his silver rings and turned it around and around. “At least we’re getting a heads up.”
“True. But we won’t always. Last night was a prime example of that.”
Spike looked up and around at Angel, taking in the fading bruises and slightly odd angles of his face where the swelling hadn’t quite gone down. Angel had come so close to dying. Spike wasn’t big on examining his feelings for his grandsire; there were so many, good and bad, and taking them all out of the cupboard for examination was not top of his list of things to do today. “Yeah, well. It wasn’t exactly a good night for any of us,” he said instead.
“How’s Xander doing?”
“He’s alright. Still a bit stunned, I reckon. He’ll be better when he wakes up a bit more.”
Angel nearly laughed. At least it looked like a near laugh to Spike. “He was pretty out of it last night.”
“Oh yeah. And if it hadn’t been because of a broken arm, I would have laughed myself.”
“It was a rough night,” Angel agreed.
They sat in silence and when Spike spoke again he was sure it felt like hours had passed when it was probably only minutes. “I told Xander I loved him.” He wasn’t sure what had made him say it, but he felt like he had to get it out, say it out loud again, just to be sure that it was real, that it had happened.
Angel looked at him, just stared with an unfathomable expression. He was thinking something, his brain turning over; Spike could almost see the cogs grinding against each other.
“Does he love you?” Angel asked at last, expression still totally unreadable.
Spike shrugged and smiled nervously. “Dunno. I hope so.”
“Didn’t he say?”
“He was sort of asleep at the time.”
Angel’s lips pressed together. His cheekbones sharpened, his eyes closed and his shoulders started to tremble. Then he laughed. Then he laughed some more. Then he picked himself off the end of the cot where Spike had shoved him and laughed until the great gusts of amusement had trailed off into distinctly girlish giggles. “I’m sorry, Spike, but… It’s just crazy. That’s all.”
“What, that he could love a monster like me, you mean?” He meant to snap it, but he suddenly felt way too tired to bother.
Angel shook his head. “I didn’t say that. I meant…just look at us, Spike. Think about what we were and look at where we are now. But are we really happier? Is this better?”
“Yes,” Spike said immediately. “It’s a million times better. I’ve got a family, these nutty people that love me…or at least, I hope they do. I’m part of something. I’m needed. And that was a test question, wasn’t it.”
Angel smiled and nodded. “Yep. Just checking.”
They lapsed into silence, but he didn’t feel uncomfortable, and he was pretty sure Angel didn’t either.
“I envy you, you know,” Angel said eventually. “You’ve got everything.”
Spike fidgeted on the small cot until his back was against the wall next to Angel. “So have you, you daft ape. You’ve got Gunn and Wes and Cordy. And you’ve got us now. One great big happy family, eh?”
“I don’t think the others see it like that.”
Spike grinned at him. “They will. You’ll be like the annoying uncle that smells funny and no one wants to sit next to at Christmas.”
Angel seemed to give that some thought. “I guess that’s better than being the favourite uncle. The last thing I need is Dawn jumping on my lap.”
Spike gave him an incredulous look. “She better bloody not! Mind you,” he added, “It is time she developed another crush. First it was Xan, then me. My money’s on Gunn next. Now there’s a hot guy, if I ever saw one.”
“Wes is a lucky man,” Angel agreed.
“Amen to that.”
They sat in companionable silence until they heard a car pull up outside. Spike put out the cigarette he hadn’t really wanted but only lit up to annoy Angel and together they made their way back upstairs. He smiled at Xander and joined him on the sofa, pleased when Xander gave him a brief but slightly goofy grin.
“Right, then,” Spike said. “Cordy? Spit it out and don’t spare the details.”
Xander shifted impatiently as Fred used a Sharpie to write on his cast. Cordelia was being especially closed mouth and that was freaking him out since normally the young woman blurted out what she saw in visions as soon as possible to try to stop them. The two vampires must have felt the tension too, because as soon as they had assured themselves that Cordy was okay but wasn't going to talk until all the Gang was there, they took off for the basement again.
Xander wondered if vampires got PMS because they sure seemed crabby. Or maybe it was just a British thing since Giles used to get that way, too.
Finally Wesley and Gunn brought Dawn home and everyone gathered in the living room. Cordy was the center of attention but instead of revelling in it as she usually did, she looked nervous.
"Okay, this set of visions was all an incredible series of jumbles, so I need to ask you guys some questions first. I've heard Spike bitch about Riley Finn off and on since we moved here. Is he about six feet tall, sort of dark blondish, looks like he just came off a Life Cereal Box? You know, that boy next door type of look?"
Xander nodded along with Dawnie but Spike couldn't resist taking a shot at the man.
"Bloody prat acted as if he had a corncob up his arse, prancing about as if he was the be all and end all of masculinity. Wouldn't have been surprised if he'd done some Don't Ask Don't Telling and was ashamed of it."
Angel growled in his chest. "He seemed...boring. Predictable."
Xander laughed at that and Spike snorted. "You should know about that, mate. Takes a plank to know a plank."
"Shut up, both of you!" Cordelia was not sounding happy and Xander stifled his laughter and sat up straight. In the back of his head Xander thought that in another life, Cordy would have made a good school teacher, but he quickly shut that part of his brain up before his ex could hit him with a blunt object.
"Look, people, this is really bad. Just...answer some of my questions and then I'll explain everything. Why did Riley leave? Really?"
Spike, Xander and Dawn looked at each other and then both Xander and Dawn turned to look at Spike. Spike had been pretty much stalking Buffy at the time he left, and he hated Riley but knew him...sort of. Therefore, it was only logical that Spike go first.
Apparently, he didn't think so. "Oh, fuckin' hell, no! You lot go first; at least you liked the bloody bastard. If the chip had been on the fritz back then you'd never have found all his bits and pieces once I was done with the git."
Dawn nudged him and with a sigh Xander started to tell Cordelia what he knew. "Riley always had a problem with, well, Buffy and Angel." He glanced at the vampire in question and Angel's face looked as if it was made of stone. "He always thought that Buffy didn't love him really, or love him enough. I think he was upset that he wasn't her greatest passion or something. Which I think he was, in a way. I mean, Buffy wanted a normal life and a normal guy and Riley...well, secret government experiments aside, he was pretty much Joe Normal. Then Joyce got sick..."
"Buffy was taking care of Mom and stuff," Dawn broke in and her voice was wavery. Fred put an arm around her shoulders and gave her a hug. "Riley hung out with me a lot. I liked it, you know? I mean, my sister's hot boyfriend taking me to the carousel and junk. Looking back on it now, though, I think...well, I think he hated the fact that he got shoved into the role of babysitter. Not that I needed a lot of sitting but, well, I don't think he liked spending time with me."
"More evidence that the bloke was a bloody arse, if you ask me."
Dawn gave Spike a brilliant smile and Xander looked at his lover fondly before continuing. "Well, Joyce got better for a while, as you guys know, but Buffy was still having problems dealing with her mom’s mortality and the whole Glory thing. I think it was Joyce being sick that got her the most. I mean, demons and vampires you can fight. Even if they're hellgods, you at least have something to beat up. With Joyce it was a tumor and violence doesn't really help all that much. Buffy was kinda used to people dying of vampire attacks but I don't think she knew what to do with someone being sick and almost dying on her naturally."
"About the same time, Riley started pulling away. Doing crazy stuff, like we'd go out on patrol with him but without Buffy, trying to give her a night off with her mom and find a nest of vamps. We'd agree to come back the next day with more weapons and an actual plan, only to find that he'd come by and tossed a grenade in there and blown it up. I mean, I love explosions as much as the next male but that's going too far. Then, well, Spike..."
"Caught lover boy goin' and letting some two-bit fledge suck him off so soldier boy could get his jollies. And I don't mean his dick, either; he was letting fledges feed off him, stupid bastard."
"He did what?" Angel's stone face had slipped and Xander could tell he was straining to keep from vamping out.
"You heard me, Peaches. Was following him, wasn't I? Was courting the Slayer at the time and needed to know about the competition. Faint heart never won fair lady and all that bollocks. So I took her to see him being an idiot. Knew she wouldn't believe me if I told her, figured show and tell was the way to go."
Xander rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that got her to like you more, didn't it? Anyway, Riley and Buffy had a big fight, blah, blah, blah. He gets an offer to join up with the Initiative again and gives her an ultimatum. He didn't give her a lot of time, either. I caught up to her as she was smacking down a bunch of fledges and after we talked and, well, fought a bit, she ran off to stop him. Didn't get there in time; the helicopter was taking off and Riley couldn't hear her over the rotors. That was the last anyone heard of him till he called the other week."
Xander sighed. He didn't like thinking about that night because that was the night he knew he wanted to marry Anya. Oh, he didn't ask her, but he had told her how much he loved her. And why he loved her. It wasn't just words; he'd felt so much passion for Anya that night it had almost hurt.
And now, less than a year later, Anya was dead. And he felt the same thing for Spike.
Xander knew that he had to tell his lover at some point in time, the sooner the better. No, Anya hadn't lived through the confrontation with Glory, but Xander himself had felt better knowing that he'd said the words and asked her to marry him. She had died knowing she was loved. If this thing that had Cordy all nervous was that big...well, if he died he wanted Spike to know that he'd loved him, too.
Xander shifted in his seat nervously and shot a look at his lover. Once this meeting was over maybe they'd go out and pick up food for everyone or something. It was hard finding time alone but Xander would work it out somehow. For the moment, though, he dragged his mind back to where it should be, on Cordelia's vision.
"Okay, this all makes sense. See, Xander, Fred and me were all in the kitchen trying to figure out who the hell hates Angel enough to send a hit squad after him. As you guys probably know, the list is kind of big..."
"Stuff it, Deadboy. Even some of your friends want to kill you at times. Get over it."
"SHUT UP! God! I can't believe the people in this room save the world every six months or so!" Cordelia looked as if they'd gotten on her last nerve and Xander ducked his head. Stupid Angel, making it so easy to make fun of him. It was all Deadboy's fault.
"So...we were discussing who we thought was munching down on the town, and evidently the Powers That Love To Give Me A Migraine decided we were barking up the wrong tree and to do a huge information download into my brain and oh, my god, I've been hanging around geeks too much!" She shook her head. "Never mind, I'll go get a manicure and facial after all this and be fine. What I saw was this blond guy, who from your descriptions I would say is Riley Finn, going to get bitten even after he left Sunnydale. Well, I'd say it wasn't Sunnydale since they were speaking Spanish or something in my vision. Too bad that the Powers don't give subtitles with the visions. Anyway, he went to the wrong vampire one night or someone was extra hungry or he was extra retarded. Either way, three days later, up springs Riley The Fledge. Who, since he was on leave, had access to his little secret military base."
"Man, somebody really screwed the pooch with that. Let me guess, he pretty much vamped the whole base?" Gunn summed up what they were all feeling. At least, Xander thought so.
They were screwed. Very screwed. And they didn't even get kissed first.
"Not exactly. From what I can tell, Riley only vamped his friends and a few of the better fighters. It was a mobile unit or something so it's not as if he had a whole Army Base to eat...they did kill whoever he didn't vamp, though. He just kept them alive and tied up till the fledges he turned woke up. Breakfast in bed, if you will. Problem is, the NID, the branch of government letters that set up the Initiative in the first place. They have a history of screwing the planet over so it's not the first time, but the NID decided that they wanted back control of Riley and his little gang of vamps, thinking they could use them as assassins or something. Pet vampires on a leash. Problem is, they sent another squad to take down Riley and his vamps and Riley didn't like it...so they killed that squad and vamped them."
Spike got up to pace and Xander could almost feel the blood leaving his face. "Oh, this is so not good. This is not good on a really big scale."
"Tell me that's the end of it? Please?" Dawn sounded very young and very small and at that moment there was nothing Xander wanted to do more than throw her in the car and head for the hills. Or the desert. ‘Anywhere but here’ had just taken on a whole new meaning.
Cordy gave the teen a sick sort of smile. "Sorry, kiddo, no can do. See, the NID is run by evil morons, so they sent another squad after Riley. And another...and another...we're talking like five or six squads, all highly trained operatives. Army Rangers, SEALS, that kind of thing, and Riley had been vamping only one or two but they're the best at what they do. Now that they've got a strong enough force they vamped some of the lower level grunts as cannon fodder. They're the ones that we've been dusting."
Cordelia sat down and Wesley took the floor. "So...to summarize...we have a group of highly trained military vampires working to take over the Hellmouth and whose leader has reasons to hate both Angel as well as Spike and more than likely has enough information on how Slayers work to be prepared for any attack we might use?"
Cordelia tilted her head to the side. "Yep, pretty much."
"You can say that again!"
Gunn frowned at his lover. "English, man, I didn't actually mean it, you know."
"It bears repeating. Did you get any sense of what this NID plans to do?"
Cordy snorted. "Same crap, different day. Send out another squad, but this time to wipe out the nest. And they're waiting a week or so to lull Riley into feeling secure or something. Meanwhile, people die."
Xander ran his good hand through his hair, almost hitting himself in the face with his cast. "Okay, that's just stupid. Who the hell sends more troops in after it's pretty much given that they're going to get their asses kicked?"
Spike gave a strangled sort of laugh. "Xan-luv, it's the government. If they did something different they'd have to admit they made a mistake and government wankers hate to admit they made a mistake. They'd rather try to piss up a rope than fix their own bloody messes."
"Spike is right." Angel had a look on his face as if someone had pee’d on his shoes and Xander had to keep from laughing again. "Which should prove how messed up this is. Both he and I got pulled into a version of the Initiative back in the 40's and it sounds as if they're still making the same screw ups."
They were all quiet for a few moments and then Dawn spoke up. "So...what do we do?"
"Well, us being here is one good thing. I mean, Riley may have known what would happen if...if Buffy and the others were still here but we're different, you know? Wesley is different from how he was the last time he lived here; Xander admits that. And well, Riley doesn't even know me or Gunn or Cordelia. That means he doesn't know that Cordy gets visions, or that Gunn is pretty good with making weapons... I am, too! I mean, physics, chemistry... I bet if me and Gunn worked together and maybe Spike or Angel helped us out with the vampire stuff, we could make some really cool stuff. Like, does garlic really affect vampires? Because I'm sure there's a way to make a sort of pepper spray with holy water and garlic that maybe we could pressurize and use. Something stronger than a plain ol' water gun."
Gunn sat up straighter and got a look in his eye. "Yeah...that could work! And back in the ‘hood we had a war wagon fixed up. You know...bright lights, stakes tied to the front of it. We could do something like that and keep it in the garage here. Get some big tanks and fill 'em up with holy water. Xander man, you do construction and shit like that. I bet you could work something out."
Xander sat forward and nodded. This was so much better than quaking with terror. This was doing something. "I could build some sort of frame, maybe? Better yet, we can build a sort of battering ram on the front. We'd have to find a way to make it bullet proof, though. Riley may not play by all the rules and stick to physically attacking us. Who says vamps can't use guns, you know?"
"Kevlar. Gods, wearing a bullet proof vest is going to make me look so fat... Xander, think you and me can sneak into that Army Base again? I bet if we steal some stuff, Riley will get blamed for it."
Xander grinned. "Ah, our first date. Sounds like fun. We can make it a field trip this time and stock up. Bet they have all sorts of goodies we can use."
"Army Base, luv? Something you wanna tell us about?"
Spike came and sat down by him and threw his arm around his waist and Xander felt himself melt just a little. He bet that Spike was feeling weird about the whole dating Cordy thing. "Remember the Judge that you got for Dru? Remember how we killed him?"
"A rocket launcher....that was your idea?"
Xander grinned at Angel. "Yep, and I loved the look on your Evil Twin's face when Buffy aimed it at you. Man, I wish I had a picture of that; it was too good!"
Wesley coughed loudly enough to be heard over both Angel's low grown and everyone else's snickering. "Yes, well, it sounds as if we have the beginnings of a plan. I'm sure there are certain spells that would be effective against large groups of vampires, as well. There may even be something in the Watcher Diaries...I believe there was a story about one group of Knights Templar who fell prey to vampires. We'll spend the night planning and soon we'll be prepared to meet this new challenge."
"Hey, they can't be worse than evil lawyers and zombie cops and we lived through that!"
Xander watched as Gunn and Wes did one of those couple-y smile things and figured there was a story there. He'd ask Cordy later on. For right now, they had a war to prepare for.
"Think they know that I'm the Slayer now? And that I'm new to all this Slayer-stuff?"
It was Spike who all but leapt off the couch to sit on the arm of the love seat and join Fred in reassuring Dawn. "Don't know, Niblet, but I don't think it makes much difference. You might be new to the moves and to the speed and strength, but you yourself know just how much a Slayer is capable of. And I bet that wherever they are, you've got your mum and your big sis on your side, cheering you on and watching over you. Captain Cardboard and his little group of tin vamps won't even know that hit 'em."
While his lover's words were meant for Dawn, Xander couldn't help but feel better. They were a family, they cared about each other and that was one thing the bad guys always underestimated. They would win, if only because the alternative was unthinkable.
And god help Riley when Spike got a hold of him, because Xander sure as hell wasn't going to step in and stop the torture.
Beta'd by kitty_poker1. Thanks luv!