Imaginary Images

Chapter Twenty-One

During the quiet lulls between each session, Xander continued to hang by his wrists with no food or water. His shoulders had long since gone numb. Xander knew he couldnít escape on his own, Angelus would never give him the chance. Xanderís guilt at letting Angelus affect him was also eating at him, making him doubt that anyone else would help him either.

Angelus turned out the lights every time he left Xander alone, which left him disoriented. Hanging in the pitch black, he quickly lost track of time. He had no idea how long heíd been there, if it had been hours, days or weeks. He tried to stay strong and just endure, but was quickly losing hope as the darkness and the silence wore at him. I bet no one has any idea where to find me. Angelusí constant reminders that not even Spike would want him anymore didnít help either. He tried to remind himself that heíd dealt with plenty worse before, but each time the lights went out Xanderís despair and hopelessness grew.

Xander learned that it didnít matter what he did in the dark, alone. If he pissed himself when the need to urinate was too great, worked his wrists raw trying to escape or screamed himself hoarse, Angelus never commented. It was like he didnít exist when the lights went out. Only when the bright lights came on did it matter what he did or how he reacted. Pleased if Xander got aroused and came, Angelus would praise him, sometimes even give him a few precious sips of water. If he talked back, or failed to get off on the abuse, he got hit some more. This happened quite a bit during the first few sessions. Xander thought even his good eye might be permanently damaged. Angelus' constant pressure had it swollen almost completely shut. Scared, exhausted and confused, Xander stopped struggling.

Xander started to look forward to Angelusí visits. At least then he knew he was still alive and each time was grateful that he could still see. Even having a bucket of freezing water dumped over his head beat being in the dark alone. He never quite knew what to expect when Angelus came, one time it was freezing water, the next was the stereo being played so loud he couldnít help but flinch in pain. The only constant was the pain and confusion. His mind fuzzy from dehydration and his injuries, Xander soon began to wonder if Angelus was the only other person left in the world. He didnít see Charly or anyone else. Some little voice in the back his mind tried to tell him to hang in there and pay attention because help would come, that Spike would come, but his befuddled mind just couldnít hang onto the thought.

Xanderís existence consisted of extended periods of dark nothingness only broken by short bursts of extreme sensation. Even the pain, the unwilling orgasms, freezing water and horribly bright lights were welcomed over the darkness and his own gnawing guilt over actually looking forward to all the things the light offered.

It could have been the fifth visit or the one hundredth, Xander wasnít quite sure, when Angelus yet again entered with a loud slam of the door. He flicked on the bright overhead lights as usual, temporarily blinding Xander. "Ahh, look at my boy! All excited and ready for me! Thatís what Iíve been waiting for!" Angelus boasted. "You donít exist without me, do you, boy? And, you only exist to please me, isnít that right?"

As he nodded his head in agreement, Xander realized with horror that he had become aroused as soon as Angelus had walked into the room. Iím sorry, Spike. Iím such a loser.

A little while later, after spreading their combined juices over Xander yet again, Angelus told Xander, "I know Spike hasnít truly had you yet. Once again, Iíll beat him to it. Weíll take care of that little bit of fun in a while. Youíll scream so pretty. I do so like to drag these things out. Youíd like that wouldnít you? The pleasure is so much MORE when there is anticipation. Darla taught me that, and you wouldnít believe the fun Iíve had using that knowledge on dear sweet William."

The mention of Spike suffering this way brought Xander back a small spark of anger. Xander tried to yell through cracked and puffy lips before he could stop himself, "You stupid fucker. Why do you get off on breaking people?" He then flinched, expecting severe punishment.

Angelus just chuckled and spoke softly before he left the room, "Because I can."

The next time Xander became aware, it was to the sounds and vibrations of explosions that rocked the entire building. He could hear muffled yells and screams as well. Surprised that he could actually hear something outside of his room, the importance of what he was hearing at first escaped Xander. He was jolted out of his shock by one explosion that was close enough to cave in a corner of the room he was chained up in.

When the debris fell, the light bulbs in the wall sconce Xander was hanging from popped with a shower of sparks and glass as it came partially loose. Using more adrenaline than strength, he yanked with what little strength he had and pulled the fixture completely free. He fell to the floor in a heap. Shaking his head to clear it, he got up on his hands and knees. Xander slowly got to his feet and tried to find the nearest door. He stumbled in the dark around the edges of the room until he found the door. His fingers, hands, arms and shoulders were still numb, so his fingers scrambled uselessly on the doorknob for several seconds before he got the knob to turn. One part of his mind told him to stay, that Angelus would be mad. However, the survivor in him screamed to run. Run Xander, you have a choice now, so choose! His damaged genitals only permitted a not-so-speedy shuffle, but he moved as fast as he could.

As Xander shuffled out of the room and down the hallway, he squinted away from the flickering lights, a shock after the absolute dark in his room. On instinct, he headed away from the bulk of the noise. Seeing a tall window at the end of the hallway and darkness beyond it, Xander never even hesitated. He threw his arms over his face and flung himself through the glass window. Dead is better than this. The drop turned out to only be a few feet as he landed on the roof of the carport in a shower of glass. The longer fall came when Xander rolled off the carport to land in the gravel driveway with a pained oomph. Since he wasnít dead yet, the natural diehard attitude of the Scooby continued to reassert itself and Xander figured it might be a damn good idea to get the Hell out of Dodge. He got up and continued his shuffling run with his handcuffed hands over his injured genitals to try and minimize any movement.

Xander ran without any thought other than the need to be elsewhere. He dragged his naked body through a thorny hedge before he staggered down the access road that ran behind the property. Xander was barely aware of what he was doing. It was dark and he couldnít really see where he was going, blood and sweat also kept running in his eye. He only made it about fifty yards when there was a noise behind him. He tried to go faster, but Xander only managed an odd limping trot before he was tackled from behind.

Xander managed to roll over onto his back and struggled in a total panic for a few seconds before he realized that it was Spike who was talking to him in low tones. "Harris, Címon. Take it easy. Youíre ok now. Címon, ya git. Stop hitting me. Iíve been trying to get your attention since you ran through that bloody hedge. Donít want the whole world to know where we are."

Just as it dawned on Xander that he had been rescued, something heavy was thrown over his head and shoulders. The ensuing artificial blackness caused him to launch into a renewed panic attack as he mumbled to himself, "I canít see. I canít fucking see!"

"Bloody stop yer struggling!" Spike had Xander pinned to the ground, his new leather coat over the man, to stop Xander from trying to hit at him. Finally, Xander stilled.

A muffled voice came out from under the coat. "Spike? Is that really you?"

"Yeah, mate. Itís me. Youíre safe now." Spike pulled the coat down off his face to cover the handcuffs, the injuries and as much of Xanderís nakedness as he could, just as the girls ran up. Dawn was in the lead. "Is he ok?"

"Yeah, Iím going to take him home. Iíll meet you there. Iíd stay out of the way for a while though. You girls stay upstairs until I tell you otherwise, ok?"

Dawn was still worried. "Are you sure heís ok?"

"Yeah, Bit. Just gonna check him over, make sure. Put him to bed, let him rest."

"Spike?" Xander whispered.

"Yeah, Xander?" Spike leaned so he could hear Xander better.

Oblivious to everything around him except Spike, Xander whispered, "I wanna go home, but Iím lost. I canít find my way in the dark."

"Donít worry about it, mate. You just sit tight, let ole Spike do all the work." Spike looked up at Dawn, and motioned for them to go. "You girls be careful on the way back, you hear me?"

Dawn nodded solemnly before she ran off after Di and Illyria.

Once the others had left, Spike scooped Xander up, wrapped the leather coat around him and walked towards home.

It was a long haul back from North Hollywood to the warehouse. Once the adrenaline had worn off, Xander whimpered softly as each step that Spike took jarred and caused further pain. When they finally arrived back at the warehouse, Spike put Xander down on the mattress and checked him over.

Xanderís face and genitals were severely bruised. His good eye was swollen almost shut. He also had cuts, bites, scratches and bruises over most of his body. Mumbling to himself, Spike ranted, "Damn bloody tosser, Iíll rip him limb from limb." Spike knew exactly what Angelus had done.

Spike grabbed some cutters from Xanderís stash of tools and worked at cutting off the handcuffs. As he worked, he could hear Xander mumbling something, repeating it over and over. Curious, Spike leaned down so he could hear. "Iím sorry, Spike. Iím so sorry."

"Harris, what the Hell have you got to be sorry about?" Spike wiped the tears off of Xanderís cheek.

Finally opening his eye as much as he could, Xander looked at Spike in shame. "He took you away."

Spike looked perplexed. "No, he didnít. Iím right here, mate."

Xander started to cry harder. "No. He took you away. Iím not yours anymore."

"What?" Then it hit Spike what Xander was talking about since he could smell Angelus all over the boy. "Donít worry about that, Xander. Canít get rid of me that easy, you bloody understand?"

Xander still had tears in his eye, but looked more hopeful. "My vampire?"

"Yeah, you dolt, your very own bloody pet vampire. Look, Iím going to go get you some painkillers. Youíll sleep and feel better." Spike started to get up.

"No! Stay here?" Xander put one hand on Spikeís arm and grabbed the leather coat tightly with the other.

"Sure, ok, mate. Iíll stay."

Xander fell asleep with Spike holding him, still wrapped in the leather coat.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Spike woke suddenly as Dawn shook him. "Spike, Spike. You gotta wake up. I think thereís something wrong with Xander!"

"Where the hell is he?" Disoriented, Spike scrambled up off the mattress and looked around for Xander, confused. He was surprised heíd fallen asleep. Heíd only meant keep an eye on Xander while he slept.

"Heís in the bathroom. Heís been in there for awhile now, and he wonít open the door. I can hear the water running. Iím not sure what heís doing. He wonít answer me."

Spike ran out to the bathroom door and pounded on it, "Open the bloody door, you git!"

When he received no response either, Spike turned to Dawn, "Bit. Go back upstairs, ok? I think Xander needs a little space for awhile. Iíll watch out for him."

"Ok, but yell if you need any help. Iíll be right upstairs. Is he going to be ok?"

"Thanks, Bit. Heíll be ok. Iíll make sure of it."

Once Dawn was gone, Spike broke the door down with a single slam of a shoulder. He rushed into the bathroom, where Xander was naked, on his knees in the shower stall, attempting to scrub himself raw. He mumbled to himself, "Canít get him off of me, it wonít come off. Get it off, get offÖ"

As Spike stepped up to the stall he was already speaking, as he tried to calm Xander down. "Ah. Looks like weíve switched roles, eh pet?" Spike knelt down next to Xander, ignoring the water running over them both. "Here, pet. Let me." He touched Xanderís hand and tried to gently take the washcloth.

Startled, and not aware of who was touching him, Xander lurched away. He scrambled on his hands and knees and tried to screw himself into the corner. "No! Donít touch." Xander held up his hands as if to ward Spike off. His good eye was clenched shut as water from the shower hit him right in the face.

"Xander. Itís Spike. Look, see? Itís just me."

Xander finally looked up and saw that it was Spike. "Oh God. Spike, youíve got to help me, I canít get him off of me!" He was completely flustered.

"Iíll help you, pet." Heedless of the water that ran over them both, Spike gently started to wash Xander. Spikeís clothes were soaked right away, but he didnít want to startle Xander by disrobing. He started at the top and washed Xanderís hair over and over to help him relax, before gently washing his face. He took extra time washing the bruises around Xanderís eye, making sure he didnít get soap anywhere it could sting. Spike slowly worked his way down Xanderís body. The young man eventually started to relax under the gentle touches. When he got to Xanderís genitals, Xander flinched in pain, but remained passive and let Spike continue. "Got yourself a might sore, havenít you?" Spike ignored his inner voice which told him that most of injuries had not been self-inflicted. Spike continued to wash Xander as clinically as he could, trying not to linger over the worst areas. The entire time he worked he spoke to Xander in soft tones, "Washing that idiotís hands and smell right off you arenít I, pet? See, all clean now. Heís gone now. Only Spike here."

Xander took several deep breaths as Spike finished, and visibly pulled himself together. "Spike, I just felt like he was all over me, and Iíd never get it off."

"You feel better now, though, right, pet?" Xander gave a nod. Glad to see Xander a little more coherent, Spike turned off the water, grabbed a towel and gently dried Xander off. The young man stood silent and subdued while Spike worked.

Spike started to lead Xander out of the bathroom. "Letís go back to bed, alright?"

"Ok." Xander mumbled.

Spike led him back to their room and helped ease Xander down into bed. He tucked the covers in snug.

"Iíll be right back, ok pet?"

Xander nodded, shivering.

Spike ran back to the bathroom, took off his wet clothes, dried himself off and quickly changed into a pair of sweat pants. On his way back to the bed, he ran up the stairs to where the girls were. "Stay out of there for now, Ok? I donít think he needs the company right now."

"Will he be ok, Spike? What did Angelus do?" Dawn sounded worried and sick. Di had an arm around Dawn, trying to reassure her. Even Illyria looked concerned.

"Yeah, Bit. He will be. Angelus can really mind fuck a person though. Luckily, I donít think he had enough time to really work him over or heíd have ended up crazier than Dru." Spike didnít tell the frightened girl exactly what Angelus had managed to do to Xander in the time he had.

On the way back to Xander, Spike grabbed a bunch of painkillers out of their first-aid supply. He found Xander still huddled under the blankets. Xander seemed unaware that he had the leather coat fisted in one hand.

"Xander, here. Take these." Xander obediently took the pain pills and swallowed them down with the water Spike gave him. Xander winced because of his abused throat, but got the pills down.

"Spike, can youÖumÖ" Xander wouldnít look at Spike. He went back to his huddled position under the blankets, with a miserable look on his face.

"You want me to get in there with you? Wasnít sure if youíd want anybody up close right now."

"Please, Spike?"

"Yeah. Alright, Pet. Shove over." He crawled in beside Xander and pulled the man half onto his chest and put his arms around him.

"Try and get some sleep ok, pet?"



"Can you, um, I meanÖI donít think I canÖbut can youÖ"

"Pet. What are you trying to ask? Iíll try and help you any way I can."

Xander paused, and screwed up his courage enough to ask, "Can you, um. Put your scent back on me? Show me Iím yours?"

"Right now? Pet. Are you sure? Youíre hurt."

"I know I canít do anything, but I could help you. That is, if you still wantÖ" Xanderís voice trailed off. His look clearly implied he wasnít sure if Spike still thought Xander was worthy of belonging to him, even in just a symbolic way.

"Oi, donít you even dare think that I donít want you. Yes, Iíll help you, If youíre sure."

Xander gave a small nod, a pleading look on his face.

Spike helped Xander so he was on his back, removed his own sweats and straddled the manís legs. "This alright?"

"Yeah." Xander looked relieved.

"Are you sure?" Spike wasnít too sure this was a good idea. His own dick apparently thought it was a bad idea as well, it was totally limp. Hell, I hope this isnít going to make him worse.

"Yes. Please, Spike?" Xander boldly reached for Spikeís cock.

Spike couldnít help it. He started getting hard at the first touch. Even with his beautiful boy so beat up, he couldnít help but be turned on by him. My boy? Yeah, I guess he is. And, heís gonna damn well stay that way if I have anything to say about it! It took us this long to see each other in a new way, Captain Forehead ain't gonna ruin it.

He reached a hand down and started to help Xander. They stared at each otherís faces while they both worked Spikeís cock. Spike watched Xander, to make sure he was really all right with what they were doing and ignored Xanderís flaccid penis. He knew this wasnít about pleasure, this was about reclamation. He also knew that Xander was too hurt and emotionally wrung out for any sort of reciprocal participation. Spike understood the symbolism in the act. Xander needed to reassure himself that his life was his own, as were his choices.

Xander looked at Spike with such an open look of trust that Spike faltered. Fuck, I hope I donít bloody let him down. Címon, Spike ole boy, you can do this. Soon, Spike arched his back with a soft moan and came all over Xanderís stomach.

Spike lay down next to Xander. With soft gentle motions, he rubbed his scent into Xanderís skin. He even covered the bruised and sore areas. Xander winced a few times, but when Spike tried to stop, Xander just nodded and said, "Itís ok. Keep going, please?" He sounded afraid that Spike would give up before it was finished.

After a nod from Xander, to let him know heíd done it well enough, Spike curled up around the boy, and pulled the coat up over the blankets.

"Spike. Thank you, forÖyou know, for everythingÖ"

"No problem. Can I askÖwhy?" Spike knew, but thought that maybe Xander needed to say it out loud.

Xander closed his eye briefly, then opened it and looked straight at Spike. "AngelÖAngelus, he tried to replace your smell with his. That was wrong. He didnít have the right, only you. You know? You obviously know about the wedding that wasnít. I wasnít ready to commit to something that big then. Iím not sure where you and I stand yet, where itís going, but this just feels right. Yaí know? Right like that wedding never did. You and I have known each other a long time. We hated each other even when we were fighting side by side. I think we eventually did come to respect each other, though. Maybe even became semi-friends." Spike just nodded in confirmation as Xander continued, "That certainly NEVER happened with Angel. He always looked down on me, whether he was a good guy or bad guy, soul or no." Xander stopped to take a deep breath before continuing, "Plus, the thought that you and I might not ever get to find out where this is going scared the Hell out of me."

"Yeah, scared the Hell out of me too." Spike let out a long, slow breath. "I know what that tosser is like. Believe me, I know. You know I'm not big on apologies, so it means something when I say I'm sorry you had to experience that. He only did it because he knew about you and me." He left off the rest, the part where he knew exactly how Xander had responded to Angelus. Been there myself, Harris. I understand. "Look, you got the Big Bad to admit that he was scared AND sorry. Got me wrapped right around your finger, don't ya, Harris?"

Xander gave Spike a small squeeze at the kind words, but was still focused on Angel. "You do know what heís like, donít you? He hurt you before too, didnít he?"

"Yeah, he did."

"Iím sorry."

"Donít apologize, you git. Whatís past is past. Now get some sleep. Let me know if you need any more painkillers."

"Iím sorry Iím being such a baby."

"You donít listen well, do you? I told you not to apologize. ĎSides, youíre a girl, not a baby." Spike told Xander with a small smile.

This earned a small chuckle out of Xander before he spoke again. "Gínight, Spike. You try and sleep too, ok?" Xander was silent for a beat before asking, "Can you do me a favor, though?"

Spike looked at Xander expectantly, who asked rather sheepishly, "Can you leave the light on?"

"Will do, as long as youíre not going to run off again. Now be quiet," Spike said in a quiet voice, without heat. He gave Xander a small squeeze, and wrapped his arms around the man just a little tighter.

The pain pills were starting to kick in, but through the increasing grogginess, Xander sighed and slurred a little, "Spike, thereís something else. I just thought of it. Itís important."

"What is it, pet?"

"Charly. She was there."

"Bloody figures, doesn't it?"

Chapter Twenty-Three

Spike squirmed his way out of Xanderís tight grip after the man fell into a drug-induced sleep and went to tell the girls. After Spike told them about Xanderís revelation, it was quickly decided that they needed to move before Angelus had a chance to retaliate. Obviously, their location was no secret and now Angelus would be pissed off. Heíd no longer be willing to leave them be to play his mind games. Illyria had timed the attack for when the group would be at itís weakest, so they had struck when Angelus wasnít there, which is why they didnít see him or Charly. They also figured now was not the time to risk tackling Angelus head on.

Di helped Spike rig up a stretcher for Xander. Working quickly they left within an hour, taking only the books and a few meager supplies. Illyria kept watch from the rooftops as they traveled, to make sure no one saw or followed them. Spike and Di carried the stretcher, and Dawn carried what supplies she could.

They headed south into Santa Monica. Spike already had a destination in mind, an older hotel right near the beach. Arriving just before daylight, Di and Dawn sat with Xander in a first floor room while Illyria and Spike went to the basement to make sure it would suit their needs and that there werenít any nasties already living there.

Dawn had tears in her eyes as she watched Xander sleep. "God, he looks terrible."

Di sat next to Dawn and put an arm around her. "Yeah, but heís strong, right? You guys have told so many stories about the Scoobies, I feel like I know you all. I mean, you were the one that told me that nothing can hold Xander back. Even after he lost his eye, it didnít slow him down at all. And, he was able to joke about it. Iím sure heíll be fine this time, too."

With a sniffle Dawn agreed. "Youíre right, heíll be fine, he just has to be. He just looks so battered right now, I donít think Iíve ever seen him look so injured. Even when he lost his eye he didnít look like this. I donít understand. How could Charly let this happen? Do you think she did this?"

Di sat and thought about the question for a minute, watching as Xander started to struggle in his sleep. He flailed around for a second before he put arms over his face and mumbled, "No, Angel. God, stop it!"

Dawn gave Di a sad look. "I guess it wasnít her."


The hotel looked like it had been family operated, and had a basement apartment. It appeared to have been used by the caretakers who used to run the place. It was a much older establishment than the newer, franchise style hotels that littered the area. The apartment was fully furnished, if ugly. It was decorated in cheap dark paneling, with gaudy Jesus figurines and had gold crucifixes hanging on the walls, which Dawn thoughtfully threw away on Spikeís behalf. It even had beds in the two bedrooms. The bedding and furniture was a little musty, but clean. It looked like much of the hotel had escaped looting, probably because of its unassuming look compared to the more upscale buildings that surrounded it.

Spike set himself and Xander up in one bedroom, which contained a double bed. Di and Dawn took the room with two twin beds. The main room consisted of a ratty couch, a television, a coffee table and two chairs on one side and a kitchenette on the other. Dawn tossed their supplies onto the small dinette table before she helped Spike get Xander settled in.

After he made sure Xander was still asleep, Spike prowled the rest of the basement. He found a small generator in a utility room, and once it was running, he discovered it powered the entire apartment. This lifted the girlsí spirits and even got a small squeal out of Dawn. Not only did they have hot and cold running water, but they also had enough power for lights and the refrigerator. They debated over who would get to clean that out, since one quick peek revealed it was full of spoiled, moldy food. Spike insisted his sensitive nose gave him automatic immunity from that particular task. To make up for it he did quickly offer to siphon gas from several of the cars in the area to stock up for the generator, mumbling about petrol smelling better than rancid food.

Di and Dawn made sure the small basement windows were securely covered so no light could be seen from outside while Illyria sought out access to the roof.

Once they were somewhat settled, Dawn was finally able to get Spike to sit down for a minute. "Spike, you have to tell me. What did Angel do to him? How could Charly be involved in this, sheís a slayer!"

Spike, sat in one of the dinette chairs with a completely worn look on his face. He didnít answer right away. He rubbed his hand back and forward over his hair for a minute, deep in thought. "Bit, I canít answer about Charly, I have no idea what that bitch did, or how she was involved. As for Angel, thatís Xanderís story. Heíll have to be the one to share it when heís ready."

"But Spike, donít you want to know?" Dawnís voice had taken on a whiny quality.

Spike stood up. "No, Bit. I donít want to know, not really. I want it to not have bloody happened, but since I canít have that, Iíll just be ready when he wants to share. For now, Iím going to go to check on him, take care of him. I suggest you both go get some rest."

Spike could feel Dawnís eyes on him as he softly shut the bedroom door. Just canít deal with the Bit right now. He crawled into bed next to Xander and started to speak softly as he adjusted the blankets. "Gonna take care of you, Harris. Gonna do it, whether you want me to or not. Took care of Dru for a hundred years, I can take care of a few bruises. I donít let go either, so youíre stuck with me. Let me know if thatís a problem, ok, mate?" Spike hesitated, as if waiting for Xander to speak. "No? Thatís good." Spike wrapped himself protectively around Xander, still talking to the sleeping man. "I know what that bastard did and well, that broody bastard is gonna be a dusty one if I get my bloody hands on him. That bint too, playing with things she doesnít understand." As if in response, Xander instinctively curled into Spikeís embrace, allowing Spike to finally relax and sleep.

The days passed, and they settled in as Xander slowly recuperated. Spike spent most of his time caring for Xander. Spike even held a jar so Xander could piss without getting out of bed. It took about a week and a lot of painkillers, before Xander could get up and shuffle to the bathroom to pee on his own without doubling over. Spike hand fed Xander a lot of canned soup, and other equally bland foods. He had actually cooked the meals himself on the stove in the kitchenette, even when Xander insisted his hands and arms worked just fine.

On the surface, Xander didnít seem to be a total mental wreck after his ordeal. Compared to the initial episode the night of his rescue, he seemed surprisingly stable. He seemed to be his normal joking self, giving Spike a hard time for waiting on him hand and foot. After one of the many times that Spike asked him if he needed anything, he even dubbed Spike: Jeeves the Butpire. This had lead to Xander being called an ungrateful git. This had quickly down-spiraled into a mature round of "I know you are, but what am I?" Despite the humor though, it quickly became obvious he wasn't totally unaffected by what had happened.

Spike, getting the hint that he may have been smothering Xander, had taken a rare break and was on the roof. Xander was alone in the bedroom, reading a trashy paperback novel based on a defunct supernatural television show. Spike had dug it up from somewhere and figured it would help Xander pass the time. Xander was propped up on several pillows, the room warmly lit by a small lamp on the bedside table. Xander immediately tensed up when the normally soothing rumbling of the generator coughed, hesitated and then stopped completely. The lamp slowly went out, the room going totally dark. Xander was barely aware of hearing Dawn in the next room, as she laughed and told Di it was her turn to put gas in the generator. As his panic grew, he found he couldnít even yell out to get their attention as his throat constricted. Xander just sat frozen in the dark, his anxiety mounting. Címon Xan, snap out of it, youíve been in the dark before. Yeah, but what if Iím nothing in the dark? What if I donít exist? His panicked thoughts spun out of control.

It took Di a minute to find a flashlight in the dark. As she was about to head out into the hall to go the storeroom, Spike rushed in and yanked the flashlight from her grasp. He pushed past her roughly and ran into the bedroom towards Xander. Spike yelled over his shoulder, "Get some petrol in that damn generator, now!"

Dawn, having seen Spikeís rude behavior in the light of the flashlight, but not understanding the urgency, scolded Spike. "Sheesh, pushy much?" even as Di was running out the door towards the generator, a worried look on her face.

Spike ran to Xanderís side and put his hands on the manís shoulders. The flashlight bounced on the bed where Spike had tossed it, sending it's small light bouncing across the walls chaotically. "Pet, Xander. Youíve got to calm down." Xander was sitting with his knees up, his arms grasped tightly around his legs, hyperventilating. His eye looked around wildly in confusion at Spikeís voice. "See, Iím here, mate. You alright?" I knew I shouldnít have left him alone. Canít bloody tell him that though. Spike grabbed the flashlight and handed it to Xander. "Here. Take the torch, you've got the light, see?"

The sound of Spikeís voice, as well as the meager light from the flashlight, now held tightly in his grip, seemed to be just enough to help Xander calm down a little. His eye finally settled and focused on Spike. "Fuck, Spike. It got so dark and quiet. I wasnít sure where the Hell I was. I thought I wasÖ" He slumped into Spikeís willing embrace and rubbed the hand not holding the flashlight over his face as his voice trailed off for a second. "Fucking Angel."

Spike pulled back from the embrace to look Xander in the eye. "You alright now?" Xander gave a small nod as Spike continued, "I could bloody hear your heartbeat on the flippiní roof."

The lights flickered back on as the generator started up, once again running smoothly. Although Xander visibly got himself under control when the lights came back on, he started to get angry with himself. "Iím ok, now that the lights are on. Christ, Iím scared of the friggin' dark!" His slammed his fist down next to himself in anger. "A Scooby afraid of the dark, ain't that a God damn joke!"

Spike sat down beside Xander, and as he threw his arm around Xanderís shoulder and gave him a leer, he boasted, "Donít sweat it, mate. It just startled you is all. Nothiní to be afraid of. Nothiní in the dark scarier than me anyway."

Xander's anger started to melt away. Willing to let Spike take the lead, he looked at Spike and gave a grateful smile, playing along. "Spike, like I keep telling you. Youíre not scary."

Spike looked smug. "Precisely."

Chapter Twenty-Four

While Xander did have a new fear of the dark, overall he seemed to be dealing with everything surprisingly well. Spike kept waiting for him to snap again, but it didnít happen. A few days after the generator incident, Spike finally asked Xander about his ordeal. He figured if Xander was holding anything in, heíd better help him deal with it, instead of letting it fester.

Expecting a fight or at least yelling, Spike was surprised when Xander talked about it in a rational voice. "Iím fine, Spike. Really, I am. This is how I see it. We are either going to fix Angel and he can brood about it for the next hundred years or weíll end up dusting him, right? Personally, Iím voting for dustage, but heís the one that has to deal with it, be it here or in Hell. I donít need to punish him. Heís either going to do it himself or be dead. Itís win, win."

Xander was on the couch in the small living room. It was his first extended foray away from bed since heíd been rescued. Xander had on loose sweat pants and was wrapped in a blanket. The bruises on his neck and face were still stark, but his voice no longer sounded strained. Spike sat on the coffee table, facing him. His hands were on Xanderís knees.

"I guess that makes a certain amount of sense, mate." Spike looked up at Xander, still concerned. "Iím bloody amazed you donít want to just rip that wankerís dick right off, though."

Xander had a serious look on his face. "Trust me, Spike. The words angry and scared donít even begin to explain what I feel about that vamp, but itís ok. I know he canít help being an asshole. Besides, that wasnít much different than the first time I had sex, with Faith of all people. She just about killed me. Apparently, asphyxiation is really a turn on for some people. I thought about that kind of thing when he had me chained up. And how many people can mention both asphyxiation and chains in the same conversation?"

He cleared his throat and continued at Spike's stern look for getting off track. "Sorry. Anyway, I realized that there isnít anything he can come up with that can top most of the shit Iíve already seen or had done to me. I just seem to attract shit. His brand of it isnít much different than most of what Iíve already run into. Kind of helps keep things in perspective." Címon Spike, just let it go. Iím doing fine NOT dealing, thank you very much.

Spike took Xanderís hand, and spoke earnestly. "Christ, Xan. You do know itís not you right? That people, vamps, shouldnít treat you that way. You donít deserve that. Hell, you never deserved the way I treated you."

Xander looked everywhere but at Spike. He just shrugged in response.

Spike started to get pissed. "Look at me. Itís NOT your fault."

Xander looked up with tears in his eye. "But, these things always happen to me. It must be me. Besides, he saidÖ" Xanderís voice trailed off.

Spike climbed up on the couch and carefully straddled Xander's legs. Spike pulled Xander into his arms until Xander's head was against his chest. "Christ. I donít care what he said. This is all my fault. He did this because of me, not you. Because he likes to break those he thinks are weaker than him. Iím so bloody sorry." Spike rocked Xander for awhile, trying to comfort himself as much as Xander. "I also understand the way he can make you feel and respond. Bloody did it enough to me before." Xander nodded, acknowledging that Spike knew exactly how Xander had reacted to Angelus and understood.

After awhile, Xander chuckled through his tears, but then winced when the action caused some residual pain. "Oh, donít get me wrong, if I see him, Iím liable to kick him in the balls once or twice." He paused for a beat. "Ok, maybe it would be more like a hundred times. The way I figure it though, that would just be a bonus to the self-flagellation heís going to put himself through when heís back to being Angel."

Spike laughed, "Ok, just as long as you feel some kind of anger towards that tosser. Otherwise, Iíd think you were loonier than Dru." Spike leaned down and kissed Xander softly on the lips. Xander responded, his mouth opened up so his tongue could slip silkily against Spike's. In almost a mirror of the Charly incident, Spike had his hands on Xander's shoulders and neck as he tilted his head and dived even deeper with his tongue. Xander reached up to stroke each side of Spike's face briefly. After a few moments Spike pulled back with a gasp. He grinned and got an evil twinkle in his eye. "Oh, I know, we could string Peaches up by his knackers and pretend heís a piŮata."

Xander's face was flushed and at first he could only respond with, "Uh, huh?"

They both laughed and were thinking up increasingly disturbed things to do with Angelsí genitalia when Dawn walked in. She looked at both of the men oddly as they laughed. "You two sure youíre alright? Youíre acting kind of weird." She sat down at their feet. Di came in and sat in one of the chairs. In a surprise move, Illyria joined them as well and sat in the other chair.

Xander replied. "Yeah, weíre fine. Just thinking up interesting ways to punish Angel."

Dawn looked up at both of them. "Well, you two look a little mussed, sure you weren't doing something else?"

She laughed when Xander got flustered. "Ok, ok, I'll change the subject. Since you mentioned Angel, what do you think about the Charly situation?"

Xander and Spike looked at each other before Xander replied. "I think sheís confused, Dawnie. I think she looks to whoever she thinks has power. Not sure why itís such a big thing for her, but it is."

Dawn was very confused. "I donít understand. Why arenít you pissed off at her? I mean, she obviously set us up. She helped Angelus. She must be evil. Doesnít she know how dangerous Angelus is?"

Spike looked at Xander before he spoke, who nodded back at him, Xander trusted Spikeís opinion on the topic. Isn't that a hoot. Amazing how far we've come, how much I trust Spike? "Bit, it doesnít make her evil. Daft? Maybe. Deluded? Probably. Bloody Dangerous? Definitely. Just promise me that if you see her, you just bloody get away from her, ok? That bloody goes for you too, Harris."

Xander simply nodded. While Dawn didnít look satisfied with the explanation, she also nodded in agreement.

During the few times Xander hadnít been asleep over the past week or so, Dawn had sat at the end of his bed, and told him a little about what they had learned from the books. So far, it hadnít been too much, just some vague references to a half-mechanical, half-mystical device used to control souls. Dawn had dubbed it the Soul Sucker. Illyria explained that when Fred had read about the device, it was long before sheíd met Angel so she wasnít interested in the implications and had only noticed in passing.

Up to this point, everybody had assumed that Xander didnít want to hear anything Angel related. They had kept their conversations general. So, no one had yet told him how heíd been rescued. Since everyone was there and settled, Xander decided it was about damn time he found out what how they had rescued him.

"Ok folks. Talk to me. Tell me what you did to save my sorry ass." And I mean saving my ass literally. Thank God he didn't get THAT chance. He gave a mental shudder at the thought of Angel being anywhere near his ass.

Chapter Twenty-Five

While Xander had already heard, much to his relief, that Illyria had bluffed about the most important books, he hadnít heard much more than that. It turned out that Illyria had more than one secret up her sleeve. Not only had she kept an eye on Tydok during her walkabouts, sheíd also watched Angelus and figured out where his hideout was. She had never approached him or risked detection, but had determined his location.

The night Xander had been taken, the gang had waited inside the hotel until they were sure none of Angelusí minions were still hanging around. Theyíd had to physically restrain Spike in the meantime, to keep him from running after Xander. Xander sat up a little straighter when he heard that and smiled, flattered. Spike had been certain he could track Xander. No had one doubted this, but Illyria had to wrap him up in the magicked net to keep him from going off half-cocked.

"Now, Iím bloody glad she did, mate. Otherwise I would have bollixed it up for sure. Blue, Di and the Bit put together one helluva plan. You know me and plans." Spike shrugged.

Xander chuckled, then put his hand on Spikeís thigh and squeezed. "I sure do. Thanks guys, for tying him up. Sometimes tying him up is the only way to save Spike from himself, and I know a thing or two about tying Spike up." Xander blushed as he thought about how that sounded.

Spike turned an evil grin towards Xander. "Tying me up might just be some good clean fun, under the right circumstances."

Xander choked at that, and turned an even brighter shade of red, before he winced in pain. "Ignore the vampire, folks. Heís insane." Xander finally managed to spit out. Dawn and Di laughed while Illyria looked at them oddly.

The plan obviously involved Diís knack for blowing things up. It also involved Illyria accessing the mansion via the skylights so she could toss carefully aimed small explosives around the main room before half the vamps there even knew what was going on.

Illyria explained, "I was able to get to the roof undetected. They were ignorant and too busy watching the exits to look above their heads. Bottom feeders never learn to look up. "

In theory, the plan had been to create more chaos than damage, to distract them enough to get Xander out. Di looked sheepish as she explained. "The bombs might have had a little more bang than I expected. They were supposed to be noisy, for show, not quite as destructive as they turned out to be." She also went on to explain the delay, "It took us a little while to get the supplies for the explosives and I sorta had to make some substitutions. Plus, Illyria had to work her way through some of Angelusí crew so we could get close to the mansion. He had quite a few at the outer reaches of his territory that made getting there a pain. We wanted to make sure weíd be able to get away clean."

With a serious look on his face, Xander asked,"How long was IÖgone?"

Dawn looked at Xander in shock. "You donít know?"

Di responded in a soft voice, "About three days, sorry."

Xander paused at that, his eye wide. "Three days? Whoa. Um, donít worry about it, Di. Actually, thank you. One of the explosions knocked me loose, so I was able to get away." Three days? God, it felt like a lifetime.

Spike saw the look of confusion and panic on Xanderís face and figured he knew what it was about. He took Xanderís hand and gave a reassuring squeeze as the story continued.

Dawn had hid across the street with a crossbow and a dirt bike. Her task would have been to whisk Xander away the minute they got him out.

"You know how to drive a motorcycle?" Xander looked at Dawn, amazed.

"Yes, I do. Spike taught me!" Dawn bounced with pride. Then she added quickly, "He also taught me how to hotwire one!"

"But I screwed up your plan, didnít I?" Xander looked embarrassed.

Di reassured him, "Donít worry about it. It worked out better this way. Spike and I were supposed to run in during the chaos of the explosions and track you down. Only you ran in the opposite direction and got out even quicker than weíd planned. Once Spike realized you were on the move, he told me to grab Illyria and Dawn and follow. We caught up to you in that alley, and then Spike brought you home."

While Xander looked down at his bruised torso, he mumbled. "Thank you all. I canít believe you did all that for me."

Dawn gave Xander a hug. "You really are an idiot. Of course weíd do that for you."

Di smiled and said, "Iím glad youíre going to be ok, Xander."

Even Illyria spoke up. "It is fortunate that you still function, you are not without your uses. Like the half-breed, you sometimes amuse me."

Dawn and Spike both grinned at Illyriaís attempt at being nice.


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