First Learn to Love One Living Man
Spike stared at Giles for a long moment, then said, "I'm growing weary of saying that I don't believe it, so I don't think I'll bother. How did I go from William the Bloody to Spike?"
"Um, well--it may be rather related," said Giles. "Some people theorize that you simply adopted the name because you fancied it. The other theory is that you acquired it as regards your penchant for using railroad spikes in... an unorthodox manner."
Spike paled, shut his eyes, and allowed his head to drop back on the sofa. "I most certainly do not want that clarified."
"Okay, this is how it stands," said Buffy. "Spike isn't a vampire any more, and he's lost his memory, which means that any knowledge that might have come in handy is gone, too. So he may not be a menace, but he's also useless."
"Thank you kindly," muttered Spike, not opening his eyes.
"I'm just being honest," Buffy said defensively.
"Anybody ever tell you that honesty and brutality are not synonymous, Buff?" said Xander disgustedly.
She scowled at him. "What's up with you, Xander? You're acting like I've been using puppies to practice place kicks."
"Well, you as good as. Look at him." Xander waved a hand at Spike.
"And thank you so much for considering me pathetic," said Spike.
Xander threw up his hands. "I give up. Trying to please you is as bad as when I was dating Cordelia."
"You were involved in a liaison with the dark haired girl?"
"It wasn't for long."
"Life is full of hidden blessings."
"How did we get off the subject again?" asked Buffy. "What are we going to do about this?"
"Should we do anything about this?" said Willow. Everyone looked at her. "I mean... Well, he's not hurt... Unless you count the hangover he's probably going to have tomorrow. And you know, I always wondered how he managed to get hangovers when he's dead..."
"Wills, that's the classic 'Friday the 13th' argument," said Xander. "How the hell could Jason do any of the shit after about four or five? It just happens. Accept it. Move on."
"Right. But he's healthy. A lot healthier than he was since he was dead... undead... heart not beating..." They were staring. "Right. Anyway, he's alive again, and he has his soul, I think, so he's not all evil-grr. And... and... he's polite, and almost courtly, and... and... Well, he's sweet."
"Dear girl, I know that you mean it as a compliment, but I hardly relish being compared to a bon-bon," said Spike.
She smiled at him. "Not even if it means you look good enough to eat?" That elicited a weak chuckle.
"Willow," said Giles. "The main trouble is that Spike..."
"William, please," Spike interrupted. "That is my name, and I'd prefer you used it."
"Very well. William has lost almost all of his cultural and historical references. He's going to have a very difficult time making his way in the world. As far as society was concerned before, he was a non-person. He usually managed to circumvent the strictures that would have placed on him, but now..." Giles sighed, sitting down. "He's going to have to operate and interact with society, and there's a very good chance that he's going to be viewed as unstable, if he doesn't have someone to help acclimate him to this time and place."
"This is a problem?" said Buffy. "Someone thinks he's nuts, he lands in the local version of Bellevue, and he's their problem."
"Buffy, he isn't crazy."
"Couldn't prove it by me."
"You're a distinctly unpleasant young woman," said Spike sourly. "I'm assuming that your Bellevue is the equivalent of Bedlam? No, thank you. I have no desire to take cold water treatments or wear a canvas jacket."
She waved away his protests. "They've reformed a lot. The worst you'll have to deal with is probably Thorazine and group therapy."
"Buffy," said Giles, "we do not simply dump people if they become inconvenient."
"And now I'm an inconvenience," said William. "My life becomes more charming by the moment."
"My word, this is going to feel odd. William, you're in a difficult situation, and it won't be made any easier if you feel sorry for yourself."
William sat up straighter. "Well, we can certainly tell you're British. 'Stiff upper lip, lad. You're not bleeding much. Pick up that arm, and stop being such a girlie'."
"He's sounding more like his old self," said Oz.
"I think the shock is starting to wear off," said Xander. "Giles, I have a suggestion, and don't look so shocked. I do have decent ideas occasionally. I think that the person best qualified to help Spike... Uh, William would be the person who spent the most time with him."
Buffy said, "He's screwed up already, and you want Drucilla to baby-sit him?"
"No, the other person who spent the most time with him. Angel."
"Fine," said Buffy. "In fact--good idea." She got her purse and started dipping into it. "Everybody pony up, and we should be able to come up with a one way bus ticket to Los Angeles."
"What? We shove him on the bus and wave bye-bye?" said Xander.
"No, we give him Angel's address, too. Maybe a city map. He's been taking care of himself for a long time."
"And suppose he steps off the bus and the first person he sees is a Crip who takes a liking to his duster? He's been a real help to us lately. The least we can do is get him there safely."
"Do you know what's annoying?" said William. "Being discussed as if you aren't in the room. Incredibly annoying."
"Xander's right," said Giles. "An escort is in order. Oz, your van..."
"Giles, have you forgotten what tomorrow is?" said Oz.
"Oh. No, I suppose not. Can't risk having you break down somewhere. Willow?"
"My parents decided to take the car with them this trip. I've been catching rides with Oz," she said.
"Don't look at me," said Buffy.
"No one was," sighed William. "I'd prefer walking--or perhaps crawling."
"You can't go, Giles," said Buffy. "You're Answer Guy, and we need you in case some strange new oogie shows up."
Xander looked up to find everyone but Spike looking at him. "Oh, no. I have a job, remember--a job? An actual strain-the-muscles, pay-the-bills, fire-your-ass-if-you-don't-show-up-and-haven't-at-least-lost-a-leg sort of job." No one said anything, and he snapped, "Why the hell is it that I'm the one who should be available to do anything, since I couldn't possibly have anything in my life that's important enough to... to... be important?"
"I know how you feel," said William quietly. "Since I'm the last one who is consulted about what should be done with myself."
Xander stared at him, then sighed. "What the hell. It shouldn't be more than one day. Maybe I'll fake up a sling, or something. And if that doesn't work," he shrugged, "Hey, there's always another construction job, right? Not a foreman's job, but it isn't like it's a career I'm endangering, huh? I guess it's a good thing you didn't smash one of the lights, William. The last thing I need tonight is a State Trooper pulling me over. Let's go."
"I don't suppose we could take the train?" said William glumly, looking at Xander's truck.
"No. I know that England has more rails laid than Lionel ever thought of, but it isn't like that here in America. And believe me, with the track record Amtrak has had lately, I'd rather try to drive a Yugo cross-country."
"Is this Yugo a substandard form of transportation?"
"I've seen sturdier cars with a tab on their undercarriage, racing around a plastic loop. In."
William climbed in with no further coaxing or coercion, and even buckled his seat belt without having to be reminded. When he saw that Xander had noticed this he muttered, "Well, I don't want to risk being thrown from this thing in the event of an accident." As they drove out of Sunnydale, William said, "So, tell me something about this Angel person. You say we were together for a long time?"
"What's his relation to me?"
"He's your sire."
"No--sire. Uh... a slight similarity, but big differences. He's sort of your ancestor, in the vampire thing."
"Do you mean that he's the one who made me a vampire?" William sat up in alarm. "Then he's a vampire."
"Oh, yeah. About as vampy as they come."
"They why are we going to him? Wouldn't his first reaction be to do the same thing all over again?"
"Well, if Angelus is in charge, yeah. But that's not likely right now."
"And who is Angelus?"
"He's..." Xander winced. "Damn, this is more complicated than I thought. You remember Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?"
"Do you mean The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?"
"That would be the unabridged title--yeah."
"I recall it. Written by Stevenson. Very fanciful."
"Well, it's sort of a little like that. Think of Angelus as Mr. Hyde to Angel's Dr. Jekyll--if Dr. Jekyll kicked ass for the forces of good. Only Angelus is, like, uh... Think of a cross between the Spanish Inquisition working for fun, and a Mongol so bad that Genghis Kahn had him court-martialed for excessive force."
"You mean that there's a possibility that we might find this Angelus instead of Angel?"
"Don't really think so."
"For one thing, if Angelus was on the loose again, I think word would have reached Sunnydale by now. He has an ex-Watcher, Wesley, hanging with him, and Wes would have given Giles a heads up. And secondly, there's only one way we know for Angelus to get out. Angel has to experience a moment of true, complete happiness. How the hell often do those occur, man?"
"Point taken. So, what's he like--aside from the history of bloodshed thing?"
Xander lightly slapped the steering wheel. "I'm really not the best person to ask." He held up a hand, forefinger and thumb slightly parted. "I'm a wee bit prejudiced."
"Judging from what I've seen of you so far, you aren't a vindictive sort. How prejudiced could you be?"
"I made sure he literally went to Hell at one point."
"Ah. Note to self--try not to irritate Harris. Well, Mister Harris, as long as we're trapped in this rolling cage for a while, why don't you tell me a bit about the world?"
"I wouldn't know where to start."
"How about beginning by covering the things that will get me killed, or arrested?"
"Okay. Let's see... Maybe we ought to start from the ground up. No running with scissors. No poking things in electrical outlets. No teasing of anything with teeth--this includes large men, dogs, and demons. If it's wearing a uniform, it's better to be polite and do a quick fade. If a girl says no, stop right then..."
William found himself watching Xander as the boy talked, letting his voice flow over him. In a world of the unfamiliar, there was something familiar about the sound--familiar, and oddly comforting. He turned as much as the constraining belt would allow, laying his arm along the back of the seat and watching Xander. The boy's face was faintly lit by the lights coming from the front panel. It was amazing. Xander was reciting a long list of advice, suggestions, and orders--many of which were more suited for a toddler than a grown man, but his expression was so... alive.
*He really is changed,* thought Xander. *Spike would have ripped my throat out to shut me up a long time ago. William is just sitting there, and he doesn't even look bored out of his skull. He actually looks like he's paying attention--like I might have something worth saying. What am I saying? I just told him about sorting laundry. Oh, hell! How long have I been talking crap?*
The headlights of a car coming from the other direction filled the car, and Xander flicked his eyes to the side for a second, saying, "And always drop your high beams when you approach someone while driving at night. It's just common..." His voice trailed off. Spike was watching him. Xander had seen Spike in sudden, bright light before. He'd always looked washed out, his pale skin bone white, features almost faded into obscurity. But he looked different now. There was color in his face--faint pink in his cheeks, and his lips were a darker tone. His eyes somehow didn't look as pale as before--more sky blue than ice blue. The blond hair, ususally slicked back, was rumpled. The styling gel he'd used made it stick up in some places in odd clumps, but instead of looking ridiculous it was... Xander really didn't want to think about what it made him think about. Spike with 'just out of bed' hair was a dangerous thing to contemplate. *But it isn't Spike,* Xander thought with a touch of surprise, at himself and the situation. *That's William I'm looking at.*
"Harris, the road!"
There was an ominous crunching, and the balance of the car shifted disturbingly as the passenger side wheels went onto the shoulder. Xander's eyes snapped back to the road and he compensated, but didn't over compensate, bringing them firmly back into their lane. "Sorry. Mind went to Disneyland for a second. Another thing to remember--don't let yourself get distracted while you're driving, and keep your eyes on the road."
"Even I can tell that's sound advice. How much longer till we get there?"
"First off, let me congratulate you for waiting till now to ask 'are we there yet?' We'll hit Los Angeles in about another fifteen-twenty minutes. After that I think it takes about another half-hour to get to the Hyperion."
"Hyperion. A hotel?" Xander nodded. "My, that certainly sounds like a posh establishment. Does he keep rooms there?"
"Actually he just keeps it, period. He has his offices there, too, and I think he's planning on renting rooms once he gets it fixed up a little."
"He's an innkeeper?"
"Nooot exactly. He's sort of a... I mean, he... I'd say private eye, but that's not it exactly."
"What's a private eye?"
"Er... detective? Investigator?"
William gave him a doubtful look. "That's a less than respectable profession, isn't it?"
Xander barked with laughter. "I gotta remember to tell him you said that. Okay, you've gathered by now that there are things going on in the world that most of the ordinary mortals either miss or ignore, right?"
"I am coming to that awareness."
"Well, Angel investigations helps people who get caught up in that shit. They get the word that someone is about to be in trouble, and go help."
"About to be? How can they get the word that someone is about to be in trouble?"
"Oh, man. Now I know why they had Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers movies. Fact spewing can get old really fast. Angel can explain that to you later. Look, I've been yattering on and on--it's your turn. Talk."
William blinked. "But... I have no idea what to talk about."
"Just talk. Say anything that runs across your mind. It'll give us some idea of what you know and don't know. And who knows? Maybe it'll stimulate your memory. It might start to come back to you. So talk."
William rubbed his chin, and finally began. "The fashions of your young women are quite shocking. At least half of them were wearing trousers, and the ones who were wearing dresses... In my experience, even harlots dress more modestly."
"So, you have a lot of experience with harlots, do you?"
William blushed. "No! I mean... I've seen them in the streets when I've had to go to the more unsavory parts of town. Since I arrived, I haven't seen a single woman or girl who fits my concept of a lady." He frowned. "Willow comes close."
"You damn betcha," said Xander firmly. "But not Cordelia? I mean, she's the most obsessively groomed woman I've ever known."
"My dear friend, one can have all the outer indicators, such as fashionable clothing and fine speech, but if the inner qualities are missing it's all for naught. Now, while Miss Willow was wearing those distressing garments, her intelligence, graciousness, and concern for her fellows shines through."
"You're showing rare perception. Speak on."
William sighed. "I don't know. It's just that everyone in this place seems to be something other than what they present to the world. Cordelia presents herself as supremely self-confident, but anyone who expends so much effort on keeping up appearances must have deep seated doubts about theirself. Giles... Yes, he's a gentleman--that's obvious. But he takes very odd things so calmly, and... and there's an edge about him. Your friend Oz is a very calm individual. I have a hard time believing someone of his years could have reached such a serene plateau already. There has to be some hidden turbulance in his life."
Xander could feel himself gaping. About Cordelia, he couldn't be sure--but it would make sense. Oz was one of the most laid back people he'd ever known, but every month the beast took control, and Oz lost control. And Giles? Xander knew his reaction after Jenny Calendar's death. Ripper had come forth with a vengeance--literally. Xander couldn't help but wonder. Had William really seen all this in the short time he had been aware, or were these memories held over from Spike?
"Yeah, well--that isn't how it is with everyone. With me, what you see is what you get," Xander asserted. William made a noncommital sound. "What? No, really, what? Don't worry, I won't make you get out and walk, not even if you tell me I'm a closet Barry Manilow fan."
William shrugged. "I don't understand why, but you seem to present yourself as a bumbling incompetent."
Xander sounded defensive. "Well, if you know yourself, you can get on better in the world."
"There you are. Modesty is a wonderful quality, but not when it gets to the point of being false. You mustn't be like Dickens' Uriah Heep, Mister Harris."
"What have I done to make you think I'm so competent?" Xander asked, curious.
"You've coped. This situation has to be almost as strange for you as it is for me, and I must say that you're handling it better than I am. You kept me from hysteria, you brought me to help, and you generously forgave me when I purloined your vehicle and damaged it. And now... you're helping me again. You must be a rather special person, Mister Harris."
Xander drove for a few moments in silence. William... Spike... No, William--was being nice to him. Was telling him that he was of worth. Xander didn't know how to deal with it. After a moment he said, "Quit calling me by my last name--it reminds me of my father, and I try to forget him whenever possible. You can call me Xander."
"Is that really your name?"
"I guess it's my nickname. My real name is Alexander LaVelle Harris."
"If you don't mind, I'd prefer to call you Alexander."
"Well, it indicates a certain level of intimacy, but it still retains respect." He smiled. "Perhaps, if our acquaintance continues, we can move on to something more familiar."
Xander nodded, and thought, *I guess we are starting our relationship, or whatever the hell it is, from scratch.* He glanced quickly at William. They were entering Los Angeles, and the street lights flickered across the sculpted planes of his face. *I wonder how close we'd have to get for him to start calling me 'pet' again?*
They were sitting at a red light, and Xander estimated that they were only a few blocks from the Hyperion now. He glanced over at Spike. "I wouldn't count on recovering a lot of phone numbers."
"I don't trust those devices. There's no telling who might be listening in."
"Surprisingly enough, I almost agree with you on that."
"Anyway, that's not what I meant. I mean..." He blew out a breath in frustration. "I mean about my life. What was my father like? Did he encourage me at sports and schoolwork, or was he distant and disinterested? Did my mother make my favorite biscuits, or was she known for her Christmas pudding? Did I ever have a dog, and if I did, what did I name it?"
"Um, might I suggest that you're worrying about some pretty trivial things?"
"But these are the things that tell a lot about a person--things that mold them. Real things. There aren't all that many men who have an unshakable grasp of how they feel about the great issues--religion, politics, love... But if a man picked up after himself to spare the servants, or please his wife--that says something about him."
"It's scaring me that you're actually making sense." They pulled up in front of a large, gloomy building. "And we're here. Let's hope that we catch them at home, because unless they've left the place open, we're stuck in the car till they come back."
They got out of the car and went to the entrance, stepping into a slightly seedy lobby--an empty, slightly seedy lobby. They paused just inside the door, looking around. Spike frowned. "I have to say that it doesn't seem to be wise to leave a door open at night in a city of this size."
Xander was surveying the room with eyes that were accustomed to look for certain things. He grunted, then squatted. "There may be a reason the place is empty." He reached down and dabbed at a damp patch on the floor, then showed William the moist redness. "And I doubt that it's anything pleasant."
As he stood, wiping his finger on his pants, a door on the other side of the lobby opened, and a young man with tousled brown hair, looking very rumpled and a bit the worse for wear, came out. He stopped abruptly, eyeing the newcomers. When he spoke, there was a slight Irish lilt to his voice. "I hope whatever brought ya here isn't too urgent, because we've really had enough for the night."
Xander pointed at the spot. "Wanna tell me what that's all about?"
His eyes shifted. "Shite, I knew there was too much catsup on that blasted burger I had for lunch. In fact, I think it's turnin' on me, and I don't feel all too well, so if you two will just come back later..."
Xander's voice was cool. "Look, man, if you're going to be helping Angel out with his business, you need to learn how to lie better than that. After all the crap I've been through in Sunnydale, I can tell blood when I see it. Who shed it, is there a big ass puddle of it somewhere else, and is there any body you need help disposing of?"
The man blinked. "Direct fella, aren't you?"
"Don't you think someone should be, when blood is involved?"
A dark haired man, dressed in scuffed looking tweeds, came out after the first man, saying, "Doyle, what's keeping the supplies? Angel is making a mess on the sofa, and..." He caught sight of the visitors, and suddenly erupted into action.
The first man yelped in surprise as the second grabbed his shoulder and shoved him back into the room they'd just exited. They heard him call, "Look, I told ya I wanted the medical tape! It's a right bitch tying off that gauze, and..."
Wesley whipped out a cross and held it up, barking, "Get me a stake, now!"
William looked at Xander. "I should be alarmed by that, shouldn't I?"
"Wesley," said Xander. "It's all right."
"If you're saying that it means that you are not a hostage, you have been turned. I'll hate staking you, Xander. You were a nice lad, if a bit of a smart-ass," said Wesley.
"Ah," said William. "So, he does know you."
"Wesley, cut the blue wire, okay? I'm not turned, and I'm not a hostage."
"You can do sarcasm pretty well, you know that? Okay, I guess I'll have to prove it to you." Xander fished inside his shirt and lifted out a cross on a chain. He kissed it. "See?"
Wesley's eyes widened, but he took the stake that the first man handed him, and held it in a practiced grip, gesturing at William. "What about him?"
Xander sighed, took off the cross, and offered it to William. The blond man stared at it for a moment, then took hold of the chain. "You gotta do better than that, William."
William shrugged, then made the sign of the cross with the cross, touching it to his forehead, chest, and shoulders before handing it back to Xander. "Satisfied?"
Wesley was blinking, and he slowly lowered the stake. "I suppose, but I confess to being mystified." He approached slowly, peering at William. "It is Spike, isn't it?"
"Noooot exactly. You said something about Angel making a mess on the couch. Please tell me he's just sloppy drunk, and puked?"
"Um, no. You see, there was this Candazilaz demon--the sort with the razor sharp scales all over their body? Well, we didn't know what it was till we saw it, and Angel didn't have heavy gloves, and you know he doesn't heal as quickly when he drinks the cow blood as when he has human blood..."
A voice came from the office. "Doyle, get the hell out of my way."
"Angel, Wesley is handling it just fine. Will ya hold still, ya stubborn git, till I can get this antiseptic on your cuts?"
"Doyle, I keep telling you, I'm dead. That pretty much rules out infection."
"And I'm telling you that we don't know where the fuck that thing had been, and when it comes to the demonic ya never know what to expect."
Xander raised his voice. "Take your time, Angel. No hurry. We're not going anywhere for a while."
"What the...? Harris? Doyle--move." A moment later Angel appeared in the doorway. Most of both of his hands were wrapped in gauze, though one side was trailing a loose strip. It was hard to tell by color, since Angel was wearing his customary dark clothes, but Xander was pretty sure he saw some damp patches on his shirt that definitely were not sweat stains. Angel looked surprised and a little wary, till he saw William. His expression hardened. "I told you not to come here, Spike."
"I don't remember that--but then, it isn't surprising."
"Look, things have been a little hectic lately, and I'm not in the mood to play your head games. If you have anything important to say, say it, then get out."
William looked at Xander. "Well, if we did have a father/son relationship, I'm hardly the Prodigal Son, because there isn't a fatted calf in sight."
Xander sighed. "Angel, is there somewhere we can sit down? I'm gonna have to explain all this, and I'd really rather not do it standing up. I may yak my head off, but speech was never my class in school."
Angel stared at him for a moment, then turned his regard on William. The silence stretched. Finally Doyle came up behind Angel and said, "Look, if no one's going to be bashing each other within the next few minutes, come sit your arse down and let me finish your first aid."
Angel glowered back at him, but said, "All right. Wesley, go lock the front door. Look what wanders in off the street when you leave it open."
As they walked to the office, William said, "This is the man you expect to help me?"
"I know he's not very endearing right now," said Xander as they entered the room, "but he's under stress. Wait till you get to know him under normal circumstances... Wait--this is normal circumstances for him. Anyway, then he's really annoying."
Angel sat in the chair behind his desk, gesturing at a tatty sofa on the other side of the room. Doyle grabbed his wrist, saying, "Will ya stop waving that about till I get it tied off? You're starting to unravel." Angel sighed, and held his hand out to allow the ministrations, a long-suffering look on his face. Xander figured that after some of the torturing and maiming Angelus had gone through at the hands of his Sire, Darla, that sliced up palms were pretty low on his list of 'worst injuries'.
There was another moment of silence as Doyle finished making sure that the bandaging would stay in place. When he was done, Angel grunted, and said, "I don't know why you bother. I won't need these by tomorrow."
"Well, ya need them now, so quit complaining." He looked over at the two men sitting on the couch. "No one has bothered to introduce me, but I'm assuming from what I heard that you two are Spike and Xander Harris?"
Xander nodded, but William said, "William, actually."
Angel frowned. "William? You haven't gone by William for about a century."
"So they tell me, but it's my name, and I'd ask you to please use it. I dislike 'Spike'."
"Since when? You're the one who insisted..."
"Angel," Xander interrupted, "I suppose the nuances have escaped you, but things have changed since the last time you saw Spike... William, here. Do me a favor and don't interrupt or ask questions for the next couple of minutes. I sort of want to get this all out in one gush--compress the bizarreness, as it were."
He took a breath, then started. "Buffy and Spike were going together, and you know what I mean by 'going together', but then she broke it off, and Spike got pissed, which I suppose is understandable, and disappeared for a couple of days, and we didn't think much of it because hey, he's never exactly been a homebody, and earlier tonight he shows up at my place, and he's got amnesia, and he's alive again, and according to Willow he probably has his soul back, and none of the Sunnydale gang had a clue what to do with him, and he almost got eaten by a vamp, and it didn't seem safe to just leave him wandering around by himself, so I brought him here to you." He was starting to get red in the face by the time he reached the end of the ramble.
Wesley entered the room and said, "Now, what's this all about, then?"
Xander groaned, letting his head drop back on the cushions. "I am not going over that again."
William sighed. "I have amnesia, and I'm alive. I think that covers it. Though you might have added the bit about the theory about the demon wish giver."
Wesley looked up alertly. "The Mjanjampanji?"
"Uh... probably," said Xander. "I don't remember exactly, but I know it sounded like a bad Scrabble hand. Anyway, Giles and Willow said something about it being a trickster giver. You know, using the loopholes to hang people up?"
Wesley looked excited. "But I thought those were extinct!"
"Apparently there's at least one left somewhere, because Giles is of the opinion that's the only way William could have been brought back breathing because he needs to, rather than for show or from force of habit," said Xander. "You know about these things? It took Giles and Willow hitting the reference books to come up with it."
Wesley's straightened his glasses, and his tone was slightly smug. "I got best marks in Obscure Demonic Species at the Watchers Academy."
"Why am I not surprised?"
Angel was staring between William and Wesley. "You mean to tell me that story might not be a load of garbage?"
"If Spike actually is alive, I'd say that it is most likely the only explanation."
William groaned. "Does this mean that I'm again going to have to prove that I'm not dead? For heaven's sake, I'm sitting here, speaking to you."
Doyle shrugged. "I've had some interesting conversations with people who've been buried at least once. I'll check." He started across the room, but Angel's hand darted out, catching his arm. "Let go." Angel's fingers tightened minutely. "Bloody hell, I'll be a few feet away, Angel."
Angel's eyes were dark. "You haven't seen him do what I have."
"Can't you tell from his color?" said Xander.
"How close are we to Hollywood, Xander?" said Angel.
"I'm just going to check his pulse--or rather if he has a pulse," said Doyle.
"How about if I hold his arms?" offered Xander. William looked at him, arching his eyebrow. "Yeah, I know it's familiar as all hell, but couldn't you put up with it for the sake of getting this the hell over?"
William shrugged. "Very well."
"No disrespect, Xander..." Angel began.
Xander gave him a sharp grin. "Since when?"
"Let's face it--you're no Arnold Schwarzenneger."
"I only have to hold for a second, if Doyle has any sense and speed at all. C'mon, Angel. If he really wanted to do any damage, Doyle wouldn't have walked back in from the lobby--you know that." Angel nodded reluctantly. "Fine. Sit forward a little, William." William did. Xander put his arms around the other man, locking his hands around his opposing wrists, so tightly that William grunted. "Sorry. C'mon, Doyle." The Irishman stepped forward and leaned down, reaching toward William's throat. William knew his intentions, and obligingly turned his head to give him better access.
Angel watched, and felt a twinge of unidentified emotion. How often had he seen a similar image? Spike, often restrained, turning his head to offer his neck to his Sire. But there was something different this time. Before there had been heat in the vampire's eyes--either rage, or desire. This time there was bewilderment, resignation, and a sad weariness that was somehow very human. Even before Doyle said, "That's as strong a beat as I've ever felt, and he's warm," Angel knew the truth.
This wasn't really Spike--this was William--William as he'd first seen him, so many years ago.
"You do know me, then?" William wasn't sure if he felt relieved, or worried.
"I did. For awhile, anyway--a very little while. We saw each other a few times, but we really only talked once before I turned you, but I felt I came to know you well after that."
Wesley held up a finger, as if making a point. "But then you wouldn't really have known him--you would have known his demon."
Angel didn't even glance at him. "Spike's always had a kind of playful nature. He liked to let William come out occasionally," he sighed. "When you're a vampire you quickly run out of pastimes, and tormenting an innocent is considered prime sport. Look, Xander, I'm not sure bringing him was such a good idea. We're busy around here."
"Didn't notice a flood of customers out there, champ," said Xander dryly.
"You know what I mean, Harris. LA isn't quite the hotbed of demon doings as Sunnydale, but we have more than enough to keep us occupied, so we don't have time to baby sit."
William stood up abruptly, color rising in his cheeks. "I'm getting very tired of being talked around, and having everyone assume that I haven't yet lost my milk teeth." He looked down at Xander. "Alexander, it begins to seem that this trip was a mistake. Perhaps we should return to Sunnydale. If you or Mister Giles will allow me to stay with you for awhile, I'm sure I can figure out a way to support myself."
Angel was watching him with renewed interest. "Doing what? Most of your skills will provide you with food and shelter, all right--in jail."
William lifted his chin. "I'll write. Surely this time still needs authors."
"Not poets. Poets get from ten to fifty dollars a shot submitting short verse to things like Reader's Digest or Redbook."
William's eyebrows rose. "As much as that?"
Xander tugged at his pants leg. "Will, you're thinking in terms of turn of the century finances. Yeah, fifty bucks looked like a shit load of money--back when you could eat yourself sick on the equivalent of a quarter. Hey, if I could take my fairly pathetic wages back then, I'd be considered well-to-do, if not downright wealthy."
Angel grunted. "You'd have had fortune hunters chasing you down the street, Harris." He looked at William. "I don't suppose you've had a chance to study the cost of living?"
William shrugged. "I was able to purchase five tipsy jellies with one bill."
Angel stared at him blankly. Xander explained, "Will, you hit dollar shot night at The Bronze. Believe me, you're not going to run into deals like that often, and you can't live on Jello shots--I know people who have tried. Anyway, I just don't think you could support yourself as a poet. There isn't much of a market. Even Maya Anjelou has to, like, take speaking engagements."
William's tone was stubborn. "Then I'll be a journalist. I seem to recall there were numerous scandalous rags in my time, and they always needed dreck to fill their pages. Surely I could manage that."
"Hey," said Xander, "if you could make yourself a stringer and work out of Sunnydale, you'd be able to give the World Weekly News and the Midnight Star all the weird stuff they could handle. But y'see, if you're going to actually work for a salary, you need a couple of forms of ID. Do you have them?"
Will angrily turned his pockets out. The lighter and a few coins clattered on Angel's desk. "That's it. That, and the rather ridiculous clothes I stand up in."
"Will," Xander spread his hands, "officially--you don't exist."
Angel was shaking his head. "I'm not going to believe that Spike wouldn't have provided himself with some sort of ID. Not legitimate, of course, but I'm pretty sure that with his contacts he'd be able to get his hands on pretty good fakes."
Xander gave Angel a scornful glance. "Haven't you been listening? If he had the ID, he can't remember where it is. And as for getting replacements..." He threw up his hands. "Oops! Same problem. What contacts? Angel, face facts--you're stuck with us for the foreseeable future."
Doyle sighed. "I wish ya wouldn't use that term."
Angel sat up straighter, giving Xander a cool stare. "House you two, feed you, protect you, finance you, and spend whatever spare time I have trying to refresh Spike's memory? What makes you think I'm going to let myself be taken advantage of like this?"
Xander grinned sharply, and purred, "Because it's the decent thing to do." Angel opened his mouth to reply, then shut it slowly. "Gotcha. Having a conscience can play heck with your free time. Don't worry, we'll pull our weight." He hooked a thumb at William. "Will here can still read, so he can help out with the research when you need it. And I took a quick glance at your lobby as we came through. Is it safe to say that this place could stand a good bit of patching up in the nooks and crannies?"
"More than safe," said Doyle. "The plaster nearly brained me in the third floor hallway, and it might be nice if all the doors would actually open and shut when you wanted them to."
"There's a broken window on the second floor," said Wesley, "And the entire edifice could do with a coat of paint and..."
"Enough," said Angel.
"I'll say," said Xander. "Damn, I'm not Bob Villa. He got paid."
Angel sighed. "Okay, you two can stay for the time being, and I'll see what I can do about helping Spike get his memory back--or at least learn 20th century survival skills."
"Um, Angel? Twenty-first century," said Wesley.
Angel scowled. "Damn it. I hate it when the century turns. It takes me forever to remember to change the year on the date."
Xander stood up. "Great. It's settled." One corner of his mouth twitched. "As settled as a bowl of Jello. Could someone point us to our rooms?"
"I'll do it," said Wesley. "The lower the floor, the better the rooms, but all living quarters are above the ground floor, for security's sake. We've got some very nice wards on all the stairs."
"What about the elevators?"
"Ah. Class establishment."
"Do you need help with your luggage?"
Xander looked at him sharply. "I know that 'ah'. Look, we might be checking into this excuse for a hotel, but we're not here for a dirty weekend, so don't get your panties in a bunch." He sighed. "We'll hit the shops tomorrow and I'll wear the numbers down on my plastic. I hope this doesn't take more than a month, because I'm going to be needing a paycheck soon. If I go too long between payments they'll do to my credit rating what Angelus would do to..."
"I get the picture, Harris," said Angel quickly. "I'll front you a few bucks." His tone was grudging. "It'll cost me less than paying a contractor would."
Wesley led the way up to the second floor. "I'm afraid that only two of the rooms on this floor are clean."
"I can live with a little dust," said Xander.
"Xander, have you ever seen a Shandwalla nectar sucker?"
Xander thought a moment. "Yeah, they had one draining the botanical garden in Sunnydale. Kinda cute, actually, in a Care Bear-through-the-looking-glass sort of way--till you saw the fangs."
"The dust bunnies are roughly that size, and the last time I went in one of the unused rooms, I had the unnerving sensation that they were beginning to develop sentience."
"You win. Which of the two rooms is mine?"
"Your choice of twenty-one or twenty-six. Linens are on the beds. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm in desperate need of a hot bath and a cold beverage--hopefully one that will kick my ass more thoroughly than any of the demons I've faced lately." He left.
They were standing in front of room 21, and Xander said, "You can take this one. I'll be right down the hall if you need me. Try not to." He sauntered down the hall.
William went into room 21. The room was non-descript. There was a double bed, a dresser, a desk, and a couple of chairs that looked modern to his eyes, but he realized that they were probably several decades old. There was an attached bathroom, which still seemed to him to be quite a luxury. For a moment William just stood near the door, at a loss. The room was completely impersonal, and he wasn't comfortable. Finally he went and sat at the desk.
Opening the drawers, he discovered stationary, and several pens. The paper was beginning to get a little discolored at the corners, but to William's surprise, the pens worked. He started writing. //An empty room can be a lonely place. How much more empty is the space which is meant for public use? And so I sit and court my Muse in hopes to fill my empty time...// *Drat. I don't think I ought to rhyme 'use' and 'Muse'. What else might fit? Hues? Puce?* He snorted. *I can hear the comments now. 'Purple poetry.' Noose? 'Why don't you go hang yourself?'* He rubbed his eyes. *I know that being melancholy is supposed to be poetic, but I seem to be drifting over into morbid.*
Angel had gone back down to his room in the basement. He was lying on his bed, fully clothed, hands crossed behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. *William. He really was William--not Spike. Even when Spike let him out in those early days, there was still the shadow of the demon in his eyes. It's gone now. I haven't seen him like this since the night I turned him.*
Angel rolled over on his stomach, pressing his face against his crossed forearms. *He was so much the same tonight. Confused, vulnerable, apprehensive... He isn't afraid like he was back then, though. But then, he was facing Angelus.*
It was part of the curse that he remembered everything. He remembered the cunning with which Angelus had struck up an acquaintance with the young poet who'd been so humiliated by the young society lady they'd been visiting. The image was so clear--the sandy haired young man, blue eyes wounded, braving the careless ridicule far longer than most men would, leaving with an attempt to preserve his dignity that would have been touching, had Angelus a soul to be touched.
How surprised William had been when Angelus had followed him, commending his self-restraint, and offering him a sherry, and a sympathetic ear. When Drucilla had appeared he'd been at first gentle and concerned, at once discerning her affliction. Then when she'd taken a fancy to him, wanting to sit on his lap, rubbing herself against him, he'd become uncomfortable. Drucilla had asked to keep him. Angelus had said he didn't see why not, and let the facade of humanity drop. Soon Drucilla had a playmate--and Angelus had a new toy. Things had been very hard for William for awhile.
Angel thumped his head against his forearms. *William became Spike, and a terror in his own right--and it's my fault. I owe him. I can't ever make it right, but he has a second chance now. He's human again. And I can do my damndest to see that something similar doesn't happen, and he has every chance for a normal, happy life.* He sighed. *Well, as normal as anything ever seems to be with this group.*
There was a knock on the door. He was a little startled, but he went and opened the door. Xander was in the hall. "Ya know, William, opening your doors on the chain would be a good habit to develop."
"I'll try to remember. What do you want?"
"When someone is standing outside your door, and they're not carrying a sample case or religious tracts, they generally want to come in." He crooked an eyebrow. "Well?"
"I..." Will's mind was racing. They were supposed to be retired for the night. Why was Xander here? Feeling a mixture of apprehension and pleasure, he stepped aside. "Do come in."
After Xander had entered, William said, "Not that I'm not pleased to see you, but it is a bit late for a visit."
"This isn't a visit." Xander started to unbutton his shirt. "I'll be staying."
It wasn't easy, but William kept his jaw from gaping. "I beg your pardon?"
"No need for that. Not unless you snore, steal the covers, or have sharp toenails." Xander pulled off his shirt.
Once again William found himself distracted by the sheer physical perfection of the young man. "Do you mean that you intend to sleep here--in this bed?"
"I'm not sleeping in the bathtub. I've done that before." He was unbuckling his pants, and paused, "Oh, right--I haven't told you why you have to share your digs with me. You know that only other room fit for occupation?"
"It wasn't. I'm not sure when Wesley was last in it, but you sure couldn't tell there were clean sheets on that bed. Not under the load of plaster than had fallen down from the ceiling, anyway. Apparently there was once a water leak somewhere upstairs. I'll have to look into that before I start the repairs. In the meantime, the upper floors don't seem to have light, and I'm not about to go wandering around in a spooky building like this--in the dark--with nothing but a flashlight--which would probably have iffy batteries, in the finest horror tradition." He pulled down his pants. "I mean hell, we already have one vampire on the premises, right? Why court disaster?" He flipped his clothes onto one of the chairs. "Don't worry, this is as far as I'll strip. Now, unless you're so freaked by the idea of sharing the bed that you're willing to go downstairs and hunt up a sofa," he pulled the spread down on the bed, "how about calling it a night? I'm bushed."
"I... Yes. That would be sensible, wouldn't it?"
Xander got into bed. "As sensible as nun shoes. C'mon." William reached for the edge of the sheet. "You don't think you're sleeping in your jeans, do you? I can handle the T-shirt. Maybe my skin isn't as delicate as Cordelia's, but I don't feel like sleeping next to denim."
William nodded, and reached for his pants, then stopped, blushing. "I forgot. I'm not, um, wearing undergarments."
"Then turn off the lights, and I promise not to peek, but get on with it, huh?"
William turned off the lights and stripped quickly. He took off everything--it seemed silly to wear the shirt when he would be naked from the waist down. Before he got into bed though, he groped on the desk, found the half-finished poem, and crumpled it. Somehow he just didn't think he'd recapture the mood needed to write about empty loneliness.
He slipped into bed. He thought that he wouldn't be able to sleep--not with the young man lying so close beside him. But he was more tired than he'd imagined. Sleep came quickly.
It came more slowly for Xander Harris. He lay awake a long time, listening to the slow, calm breathing of his bed companion, and wondering how guilty he should feel for having broken his promise not to peek.
To a Stranger
Xander was a little bleary when he woke up. The first thing he noticed was that the bed seemed to be too big--his was a single, and just the tiniest bit too small for him to get really comfortable. This felt like... Eyes closed he stretched his hand out, feeling. Felt like at least a double, if not a queen size.
Then his hand encountered a warm body, and a smile ghosted across his face. *I must've gotten lucky.* Then he frowned. *And I don't remember it, damn it.* Then he noticed how solidly muscled the body was. *Did I pick up a female athlete? Cool.* His hand slid. *Kinda flat chested, though.* His hand slid again. *Really flat chested.*
Xander had proved to be a considerate bed partner--no snoring, no twitching or kicking, no stealing the covers. He stayed on his side of the bed, not crowding, and William woke up feeling vaguely discontented. For some reason he had thought that Alexander Harris was a physically inclined man, and might--just might--be the sort who... The term 'snuggle' wasn't a frequently used part of William's vocabulary.
He was just searching for an appropriate term when Alexander's arm moved, drifting over. The young man made a snuffling sound, which told William more than anything else that the boy hadn't completely awakened yet. The hand came to rest on William's chest, and William drew in a sharp breath. The contact was warm, and slightly rough. The hand moved, sliding a little, and William could see Harris' eyebrows draw together a bit in puzzlement. William decided that he'd better say something. "Alexander, what are you doing?"
Xander's eyes popped open. "Spike?"
"William. Why are you, er, petting me?"
Xander thought, *I guess the term 'queen sized' might be more appropriate than I thought.* He sorted rapidly through his memories, and felt relieved. *Right--bed full of plaster chunks. Maybe I better remove my hand now.* He did. "Sorry about that. Sometimes it takes me a little while to wake up. I wasn't... um... like..."
"Yes, I understand. Would you please close your eyes so that I can get dressed?"
"Oh. Sure. Yeah, can do." Xander closed his eyes and felt the covers twitch and the mattress shift as William got out of bed. If William had been trying to preserve his modesty, Xander wasn't sure how successful he was. Sure, Xander wasn't actually looking at a naked William, but did it count if the image of a naked William was being projected on the inside of his eyelids?
There was the rustle of cloth, and William was saying, "I do hope we can acquire some more clothes today. I'm afraid my wardrobe is in danger of becoming rather pungent. I'd rather like to bathe, but it hardly seems worthwhile if I'll just have to don these garments again. I'm finished."
Xander opened his eyes again. "Now that you mentioned it, I wish I'd gone back to my place and threw a few things in a bag, but we were in kind of a hurry. I'd be worried that I left the iron on, if it wasn't for the fact that I don't own an iron." He started to dress.
William had gone into the bathroom. "I confess myself astonished to the number of indoor WCs." There was a moment of quiet, then a dissatisfied murmur. "What is the matter with my hair?"
"We went over that, didn't we? Bleached."
"Yes, I know. But it's acting very peculiar. It's a bit stiff, and wants to clump. I'm afraid that if I attempt to comb it, I shall break teeth in this mess. I wish I could wash it, but that sink looks regrettably small."
"So take a shower. I could use one myself--I'm getting kinda whiffy. I think the bathroom in that other room is okay, so we won't have to take turns." *Though I wouldn't mind climbing in with... No! Not gonna think about wet, naked ex-vampires.*
"That would be smashing." Xander heard the sound of running water, and a gasp. "Damnation! It seems that we've become quite advanced in the area of heating water. Um, before you go, could you please tell me how to operate this thing?"
"Oh, right. Sorry." Xander came in. "Forgot you wouldn't know about showers."
"Of course I know about showers. I'm not from the middle ages, you know. I'm just not familiar with how this version operates. There HAVE been some changes."
Xander demonstrated the proper way to start and stop the shower, then left quickly, calling, "I'll meet you back in the hall in a few minutes, and we'll go see if we can locate something resembling a kitchen."
As William had indicated, the hot water was surprisingly adequate. Xander found it a little ironic that the bed was buried under the remains of the ceiling, but the bathroom was supplied with itty bitty samples of soap, shampoo, and even a wash cloth and towel.
The shower started off brisk and efficient. Xander was just going to scrub and get out--but then he started wondering if William had the same sort of supplies he did. What if he needed a towel? An image of William, fresh from the shower, bare skin slightly pinked and dripping with bright drops of water, searching through bathroom cabinets for a towel, presented itself. In fact, he was bending over to search under the sink, which presented his ass as two pale, perfect globes...
Xander looked down to find that he was sporting an insistent erection. "Ah, crap," he muttered. "I don't want to turn off the hot water." He stared at his rampant flesh for a moment, and realized that he was working the bar of soap in his hands, and it had almost dissolved, leaving behind a thick lather. He sighed. "Fuck it." *I don't wanna freeze, so I guess the only alternative is to beat it into submission.*
He spread his legs slightly, grateful for the rather tacky non-slip decals on the floor. He gripped his balls in one hand and his rigid cock in the other, and began to masturbate. As a horny adolescent growing up in an abusive, and prudish, household, Xander had gotten proficient at bringing himself off quickly and efficiently in the shower, since that was the only place he could be fairly sure that he wouldn't be interrupted by someone bent on beating his ass, and he knew that all traces would be destroyed.
He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the wall for added support, massaging his balls and stroking himself fast and hard. He'd have preferred a more leisurely pace, but William might finish quickly, and be waiting for him, so...
And the idea of William waiting for him morphed into William waiting for him in bed, sprawled naked, perhaps aroused... Xander groaned and shuddered, spraying the tiles with a thick stream of come. He panted for a moment, feeling the water begin to cool. Then he splashed water on the tiles, washing the traces of his completion down the drain, thinking, *I'm glad I got that out of the way. I don't need to be carrying those thoughts around in my head. I know that vampires can smell things like fear and desire, and I know that Will isn't a vampire any more, but you never can tell--something might have carried over. And I don't want him running out into the street in a panic if he gets a whiff of pheromones off me.*
William was waiting for him in the hall. Without the congealed styling gel, his hair curled softly, making him look younger. He was trying to finger comb it into order, and Xander dug his own comb out of his pocket, offering it. William thanked him, and stroked the comb through his hair carefully. "How do I look?"
"Adorable." Xander winced. *I said that out loud!* He quickly added, "You're not gonna get that to lay straight without some sort of gunk. I know Angel has some, so maybe you can borrow some when he wakes up."
"Do you suppose that will be soon? I'd hate to go out in public in disarray."
"First off, disarray is pretty fashionable these days, and second--vampire?"
William looked startled. "Oh, yes--I'd forgotten."
"How can you forget something like that?"
William shrugged. "He seems quite normal. A bit dour, perhaps, but not unusual."
"Wait'll you see him when he goes grr. C'mon, let's go hunt and gather."
The hotel kitchen was cold and dusty. The only operational piece of machinery was a small chest freezer. Xander opened it and saw several dozen frozen bags of blood. "Huh. Plasma-sicles."
William was peering hopefully into an empty cabinet. "I beg your pardon?"
"Nothing that would interest you--now. There has to be something around here. I know Wesley has to eat. Let's try back around the office."
There was a kitchenette attached to Angel's office. "This is more like it," said Xander, opening cabinets. "There's actually food here." He pulled out a box of oatmeal. "Wholesome food, dammit." He blew dust off the box. "Though I suspect that there may be something a bit more palatable around here." He started removing packages, peering at them.
Spike had found another of the shiny cool boxes, smaller than any he'd ever seen before. He peered curiously at a tall, square carton with an unusual folded opening at the top. "Does your age have an obsession with using paper for containers? I can't imagine you'd be able to reuse them often."
Xander didn't bother to look over. "We don't. They're disposable."
"Really? It seems terribly wasteful."
"Great--you're gonna be a 'save the ecosystem' activist this time around. What have you got there?"
William had managed to figure out the proper method of pinch-and-pull that would open the carton. He sniffed, then made a face. "At one time it was milk. I think that now it's closer to some form of cheese."
"Gurg. Well," he held up a box of Grapenuts. "Not much of a loss, unless you really want to eat something resembling ground nut shells." He shook the box, then paused, frowning. "Wait--I know that sound. And why has this box been opened from the top instead of the little spout?"
"I do hope that was a rhetorical question, Alexander, because I personally haven't a clue."
Xander unfolded the box top and peered inside, then crowed, "Bingo! We hit the jackpot, my friend! Where are the bowls? Ah! Have a seat."
William sat at the table, and Xander put two bowls on the table. "What is that?"
"Good lord, Alexander, you aren't going to eat it raw, are you?"
"Raw? What...? Oh, yeah. Forgot. You're pre-Kelloggs. This is cold cereal, ready to eat."
Spike's eyebrows lifted in doubt, but Xander hadn't lied to him yet. "Spoons?"
"I suppose you could, but they're hardly necessary. But yeah, your generation was really into specialized silverware. I wonder what type of spoon is appropriate for artificially colored sugar lumps?" Xander found a spoon in a drawer and handed it to Spike. Then he poured cereal into both bowls, and sat down. "Dig in."
William stared at the luridly colored jumble in his bowl. "You must be joking."
"What?" Xander picked up a handful of cereal and started tossing it into his mouth, a few pieces at a time. "That's prime stuff, man. I used to have to practically tap dance to get it when I was a kid."
"Yes, children do like, er, colorful things." He poked at it, squinting. "What are those things?"
"Blue diamonds, orange stars, pink hearts, red balloons, rainbows, pots o' gold, and green clovers. Oh, and purple horseshoes. I've never felt right about them--they just strike me as unnatural. I mean, the other's make sense, even if I don't think blue diamonds look all that blue, and stars probably won't look orange except through smog. And come to think of it, when did they phase out the yellow moons? It just isn't right. I still haven't gotten used to blue M&Ms, either."
"Do stop babbling."
"Sugar does that to me." Xander continued munching.
"In any case, I hate to disillusion you, but I believe there is very little about this that is natural. The shapes and colors are obvious, but what are they?"
"I'll say it again--you're joking. I've seen marshmallows, and these are nothing like..."
"So they're marshmallow-esq. Just eat." William stared at the bowl again, then looked at Xander. "Trust me."
William dipped his spoon into the bowl, scooping one bit of cereal onto his spoon. He examined it carefully, then looked at Xander again. Xander tossed another bite into his mouth and chewed enthusiastically. William tweezed the cereal out of the spoon, setting the implement aside. After another second's hesitation, he opened his mouth. Xander watched, near fascinated. Dark pink tongue between even white teeth, cereal deposited neatly...
Xander got up quickly to run himself a glass of water, because he could feel his mouth going dry. He heard faint crunching. When he looked back, William had a thoughtful, but not unpleased, expression. "It's very sweet, isn't it?"
"That's the whole point, dude."
"My nanny used to tell me that sweets were an indulgence, and were bad for me."
"Sounds like a bitch to me."
William frowned, then looked a little surprised. "You're very rude, but I think you're right. I believe she was. I seem to have remembered something else." He carefully picked up a tiny orange star. "Are these different flavored?"
"I used to think so when I was a kid, but I believe that was mostly because I figured if they were different colored, they had to be different flavored." Xander watched as William picked out several more marshmallows, eating them in turn. "How is it?"
"Odd--but strangely addicting." He dug his spoon in the bowl and began to eat.
"Mwha ha ha. Another brought over to the dark side of junk food."
Wesley, not quite starched, but much less rumpled than the two guests, came in. "I see you're making yourselves... Where did you get that?" Xander pointed to the Grapenuts box. Wesley picked it up and peered inside. "Bloody hell. Doyle told me we were out of these. Can I assume we're out of milk?"
Xander nodded. "You could try stirring it into the yogurt that's in the milk carton, if you must."
Wesley got a bowl and emptied the last of the cereal into it, then joined them at the table. He watched as William spooned up some cereal, then sighed. "I suppose it's a mark of my having gone native that I don't feel the need for a spoon." He started eating with his fingers.
"Yeah, you've loosened up nicely," said Xander. "I'll have you deconstructing Hostess cupcakes eventually."
"Good lord, no!" When William looked curious, Wesley explained, "First Xander peels off the icing in a solid sheet. Then he breaks open the cake and licks out the creamy filling..." He didn't notice William's eyes widen slightly, "he eats the cake, then he eats the chocolate portion of the icing, and saves the white decorative squiggle for last."
"Hey, anyone will tell you that the squiggle has to come last--it's the only proper way," Xander protested.
Doyle, looking even more rumpled and exhausted than he had the night before, shuffled into the kitche, rubbing at slightly bloodshot eyes. He regarded the trio at the table, then sighed, "Shite. I should've know ya'd find my Lucky Charms--and not a bleedin' word about it, either! I'm not in the mood."
"I don't understand," said William. "Why should we...?"
"God bless ya for not being immersed in American pop culture," said Doyle, going to the refrigerator. "Looks like I'm left with hair of the dog." He took a beer out of the refrigerator and opened it, taking a swig before he dropped wearily into the final empty chair.
Wesley said tartly, "You smell like you were bitten by a much larger dog last night."
"Yah, well, whiskey before breakfast is a bit much, even for me. Don't start with me, Wes. Me nerves were shot last night."
Wesley's expression softened a little. "Doyle, you can't keep up like this. If you're going to get blind drunk every time Angel endangers himself, your liver is going to be petrified in no time at all."
He shrugged. "Maybe. I dunno what kind of effect my heritage will have on it." He sighed and drank some more, looking between Xander and William. "So, how was yer first night in this palatial palace?"
"A little more crowded than we expected," said Xander. "Wesley, part of the upper floor decided to migrate. I had to bunk in with Spike."
Wesley rubbed his eyes. "Drat. Well, the upper floors..."
"And that's going to be a problem, unless the only thing wrong with the power up there is bad fuses. I'm a carpenter, and I can do a fair job on rudimentary plumbing, but I'm not an electrician. If I go messing around with your wiring... Does Angel have fire insurance on this place?"
"Double drat. It's going to be a little while before we can afford a professional. Oh, well--you two won't mind sharing quarters for awhile, will you? I mean, if you want, you can swap your bed for two singles." His voice became doubtful. "I'm fairly sure there must be some usable ones here somewhere. In any case, we can worry about that later. I believe the first order of business should be acquiring whatever you and William will need for your stay here." He frowned. "I suppose it can go on the company credit card, if we aren't too extravagant. I hope this doesn't stretch what I like to call our budget too badly. We can't afford many expenses, you know."
Xander popped a rainbow marshmallow. "Could be worse, Wes." He grinned. "Imagine what it would be like if you had to outfit Cordie."
Wesley shuddered. "I'll thank you not to say things like that so early in the morning, Xander."
Xander looped an arm around the other man's shoulder. William didn't stiffen at the casual contact, as he might have a day or so ago. Somehow, after waking up naked beside Xander, that would have just seemed foolish. Xander pointed at the building. "Observe the window displays."
William did as directed. "It's absolutely amazing that they use such great slabs of glass. I haven't seen anything even remotely like it, save the Crystal Palace." He brightened. "There's something else I've remembered--I've seen the Crystal Palace."
"Yeah, well, you didn't send me a postcard. I said the window displays, not the windows."
Williams studied the mannequins. "They look like either very elaborate tailor's dummies, or rather unfinished statues." He squinted. "Tinted statues, which are clothed. How odd. The dresses are just as shocking as any I've seen so far, and the male dummies are all in their shirtsleeves. Don't men in this age purchase suits?"
"Not at the prices we can afford, sport. Besides, you're going to be spending most of your time at the Hyperion. Who are you hoping to impress? C'mon."
As Xander led him into the store, William reflected that it was a good thing that last question had been rhetorical. He couldn't very well have said that he would like to have Xander see him at his best.
"The men's section is back here," said Xander. The front section of the store was devoted to women's wear, with every-day wear on one side, and more expensive clothes on the other. Xander suddenly realized that William wasn't beside him, and turned around to see where he'd gotten to. William was standing just inside the door, staring around with wide eyes. Xander walked back to him. "What is it?"
"I suppose," William said faintly, "That with the rise of industry, ready-made clothing was bound to become more available, but this... this is staggering. Racks and racks of so many different styles and sizes of garments. The colors..." There was a skimpy silver lame item, what looked like a club hopping shirt, hanging nearby, and William fingered it gingerly. "The materials." He touched one spaghetti strap. "Or rather the lack of fabric. Women wear these in public?"
"I have got to take you through the swimsuit section if we have time. Look, there will be plenty of time to gape later. Wesley tends to get lost in bookstores, but I figure one British guy won't want to keep another British guy waiting too long."
"Quite right. Along here, you say?" William started off.
*This is new--having appealing to Spike's manners working. No, scratch that--not Spike, definitely William,* Xander thought as they made their way deeper into the store.
The trip to men's wear wasn't as quick as it might have been. William was curious about almost everything they passed. The watch display in jewelry fascinated him. The concept of wearing a timepiece on one's arm was hailed as a revolutionary idea. "So practical. No wasted movement in digging the watch out of one's pocket, no fumbling with the fob and chain. But can you explain to me why the rodent on this one seems to be wearing shoes, gloves, and trousers?"
Much to Xander's amusement, the scent counter came in for exploration, too. William walked away wearing several conflicting scents--not all of them designed for men. When he'd noticed Xander's amused looks, he'd arched an eyebrow and asked him if he had anything to say. Xander had replied that he could make a remark about French houses of ill repute, but he wouldn't.
They finally reached the men's section, and Xander said, "Okay, shirts aren't that big a problem. What size pants do you take?"
"I have absolutely no idea."
Xander snorted. "Well, don't call me Mister Humphries, 'cause I'm not measuring your inside leg. There's one way to find out." Xander walked behind him, hooked a finger in William's waistband, and tugged.
William didn't quite jump out of his skin. "What are you doing?"
"Checking for the tag, but it's too dark down there, and I'm not getting my face close enough to see." Xander started pulling hangers off a rack. "We'll just have to go the trial and error route."
"Alexander, those are the most hideous shade of orange I've ever seen."
"That's cause we're in the Sports Boosters section, and these are for Denver Broncos fans. Relax, I don't want to buy them--I just want you to try them for size. Besides, I'm pretty sure you don't want to walk around with a couple of hoof prints on your ass." Xander pointed to the changing rooms. "Take those in there and find out which fits you, while I start scoping out styles."
William took the clothes and started toward the booths, calling over his shoulders, "But how will you know what I'd like?"
"Who cares what you'd like? I'm the one who's going to have to be looking at you most of the time."
A few minutes later Xander came back, rubbing his palms together. "Oh, I wish I didn't have any ethics! I could really wear Deadboy's plastic out here." He looked down the narrow corridor, lined on both sides with slatted, not-quite-full-length doors. "Where are you?"
"Down here." Xander followed the sound of William's voice. "I do believe I've found the proper size. These are snug, but do not bind."
"Great. Binding is not good."
A second voice called, "Unless you're into bondage!"
William called, "Pardon?"
Xander chuckled. "Only in Los Angeles." He'd located the door. "I'll have to explain that to you, Will--just to see the look on..." He opened the door, and found himself confronting a complete stranger, who was wearing nothing but a tiger striped thong. "Oops!" He stepped back and shut the door quickly. "Sorry about that."
"I'm not!" came the giggling reply.
"You should lock your door, Bub."
"Where would be the fun in that, cutie?"
Xander shook his head. "Only in LA, or possibly San Francisco."
The door on the other side of the hall cracked open, and William peered out. "I'm over here." He handed the clutch of pants out to Xander, tapping one of them. "This one fits."
"Great. You stay here and I'll be back with the first load for you to try on."
As he started to walk away, William said, "Alexander? Did I hear that man call you 'cutie'?"
"Yeah. I guess you don't know what 'cute' means."
"Don't be ridiculous. It is a slang form of acute, which means extremely severe."
Xander had to fight down a smile. "It means I'm adorable."
"That man called you adorable?" *And you didn't thrash him?*
Xander stopped and gave him a mock scowl. "You don't think I'm cute?"
"It's just that I would associate the term more with... kittens. However, acute can also mean keenly perceptive and intelligent. That would be more appropriate."
He ducked back into the booth, leaving Xander gaping slightly. Xander glanced at the tag of the pants that William had chosen as a good fit, and walked out into the store, muttering, "Okay--one size smaller."
He returned shortly, draped all his selections over one arm, and grabbed the door handle. It didn't budge. "Hey!"
William opened the door a little. "I took your words of caution to heart."
*Fine time to start actually listening to me.* "Here." Xander handed William a package. "I already paid for these. Put them on first."
William was ripping them open. "What is it?"
"I think you Brits call them Y-fronts."
"Them? You mean that this bit of fabric comprises several garments?" He removed a pair from the card it was wrapped around. "Good lord." He tried to hand them back to Xander. "Exchange these for some proper unmentionables."
"What do you mean--proper? Hey, I resisted the thongs. Those look a little ridiculous, anyway, except under the right circumstances."
"What are the right circumstances?"
"I'll tell you when you're old enough. Just put those on."
"See here, I ought to have some say in my wardrobe."
"I'm gonna dress you how I want you, so you might as well just make up your mind that you're my life-sized Ken doll."
"Pop culture reference. We gotta buy you a trivia book when we get through here. I always wanted a Ken doll when I was a kid, but I knew how that would go over with my old man, so I asked for a GI Joe instead. It just wasn't the same. Joe only had uniforms, which are nice enough, but it sort of limited how I could play with Willow. I mean, Barbie's prom date couldn't always be a soldier. Now, get into those."
William shut the door, and Xander could hear him grumbling. "I'm certain my circulation will be cut off."
"Deal with it. There's no way you'd get these jeans on wearing baggy boxers."
"Well, couldn't we get them a size larger, and just tighten the belt a bit?"
There was a pause, then William said mildly, "I do wish you'd be a little more firm in your opinions, Alexander."
Xander chuckled and went for the next load of clothes, shaking his head. *Not just life-sized, but anatomically correct.*
Wesley was deeply immersed in a volume about the myths of South Sea tribes. *This is actually fairly accurate, save for the fact that they seem to believe it isn't factual.*
"Hey, Wes. You haven't progressed to the sitting with coffee, tapping your foot stage yet?"
Wesley glanced up to see Xander coming down the aisle. "Hm? Oh. I would have, but... uh..."
"You don't have to tell me. I saw the new motorcycle magazines were in."
"I hope you didn't melt the credit card?"
"Not quite, but he won't need to buy anything else for awhile. He's just depositing the bags with the cashier, so they don't have to worry about us walking off with their stock."
"Does he look like his old self again?"
"Not quite, but then he isn't his old self." Xander paused. "Unless you mean his older self, the one before the whole Scourge of Europe thing. In any case, he isn't into that ol' undead rut of black, black, and more black. No, seems like the Victorians were really into browns and beiges, the mad devils. He'd have ended up having no trouble blending in with desert landscape if I wasn't in charge of the credit card."
"How does he look?"
"Judge for yourself." Xander pointed.
Wesley looked at the young man who had just entered the aisle and was coming toward them. He wasn't the only one who stared. The two girls that he slipped past with a polite apology turned around to watch, whispering and giggling to each other. William was wearing a pair of well-faded blue jeans that hugged his body lovingly, and their eyes were riveted to the taut sway of his ass. William might be a Victorian gentleman, but when he didn't think about it, he moved like the world's best male stripper. Xander, having had some experience in this line, was well qualified to judge.
As he arrived, he tugged at his waistband, saying, "Alexander, are you certain these are the proper size? They're a bit, um, form-fitting."
With a perfectly straight face, Xander said, "They'll be a little looser once you wash them."
Wesley coughed suddenly, covering his mouth, and William gave him a mildly suspicious look. "They look as if they've already been through the wash a good number of times. They're quite faded. I don't understand why I couldn't get some of those dark, fresh looking ones."
"Because the only thing more nerdy than completely unfaded jeans are ironed jeans, and I have to be seen with you in public."
"It's quite ridiculous. These seem to have been washed almost white, and they were more expensive than the unfaded ones."
"So now you're channeling everybody's father. I suppose next you'll tell me to get a haircut."
"A trim wouldn't hurt. Hair falling in the eyes is all fine and good for a romantic poet, but..."
"Well, why don't you make with the bangs?"
"Because I'm a bloody awful poet, and there's no need to..." William paused, looking surprised. "Oh... So that's how I got the name William the Bloody."
Wesley and Xander were watching him curiously. Wesley said, "I hate to bring up your checkered past, but your rather violent habits..."
"No, you don't understand. I had that name before Angel took an interest in me." He made a face. "If I recall, it was given to me by the young lady of whom Cordelia reminds me so strongly. She said that my verse was so insipid that I deserved a title, so she dubbed me William, the Bloody Awful Poet."
"She sounds like a real sweetheart," said Xander coolly, thinking that it was almost a shame that Angelus hadn't set his sites on that particular Victorian vixen. She sounded like she was halfway to vampire already.
"Fascinating," said Wesley. "And then your demon turned the meaning on its ear. I have to wonder how much of that was deliberate irony, and how much was simply demonic nature. Tell me, can you recall if this woman was one of the initial victims of the demon? One of the first acts of a newly turned vampire is often to slaughter as many friends and family as they can."
"I..." William swallowed. "I don't... recall."
Xander noticed that William was looking uncomfortable. His complexion, which had been a little flushed with the pleasure and excitement of his shopping spree, was turning pale. "Wes? Let it go."
"But every bit of information on demon psychology could be useful."
"Leave--it." Wes blinked at him. His voice low, Xander said, "Look, he needs to know who he used to be, so he can figure out who he is, but he doesn't need to remember it in the middle of Barnes and Noble, okay?"
Wesley wasn't an unfeeling man. Like a lot of scholars, excitement over the thought of finding something previously unknown could make him a little blind to the finer nuances of what was going on around him, but Xander's meaning came through, loud and clear. "Yes, of course. Sorry."
William nodded, then looked around. "Do we have time for me to explore a bit? Of course, I've been in book stores before, but this is rather mind boggling."
"Sure. I want to check out the magazines before we head back," said Xander. "We can meet back at the check out in about a half hour." He noticed William glance down at his wrist, smiling as he saw his new wristwatch. It had been another twenty-five bucks, but Xander figured Angel could afford it. He was pretty sure the vampire had a lot to make up to William.
They parted. William made a direct line toward the poetry and literature section. Soon he was examining a slender volume of the works of Oscar Wilde. *It looks as if Wilde's troubles didn't wipe out his literary legacy. That's heartening. Those hints of an intimate relationship between Dorian Grey and Lord Henry Wotton were very daring.*
He moved along the literature aisle. Every possible style seemed to have its own section--Black Literature, Hispanic Literature, Women's Literature... He stopped before one section, reading the label. *Gay Literature. Well, I could certainly use a bit of levity in my life.* He reached out and chose a book.
Later, Wesley approached Xander at the magazine rack. "We ought to be going."
Xander checked his watch, frowning. "Yeah, past time. Tell you what--you go get the car, and I'll hunt up Will. Maybe he found something he likes."