Third Verse, Same as the First

It was the warmth that drew him from the deep sleep his body used to heal itself, a soft, tender body pressed alongside his. The warmth and the echo of a slow, steady heartbeat called to him with the rhythmic pulse, just beneath the surface. Scent teased him next, the musk scent of a woman and the sweet, rich scent of her blood.

Xander woke tantalized, his mouth watering and fangs descending without thought as he unerringly moved for the bare throat placed directly within reach. He stopped abruptly, the tips just barely pressed to the skin, as something about the woman’s scent broke through the fog of drowsy bloodlust. Something familiar. Horror slammed into Xander as he recognized Willow and he jerked away, scrambling off the bed as fast as his still-injured body would allow to crash onto the floor with a pained moan. He kept moving back until he hit the wall and then wrapped his arms around his legs, hiding his shame from her, hiding his face and fangs.

Willow was beside him only a few seconds later, putting her hand on his knee. “Xander? It’s okay, I just, I’m sorry, but I had to be sure and it was the only way I could think of to do it.”

“Go away, Willow,” Xander pleading, the bloodlust getting stronger, the longer she stayed beside him. His nails ripped through his jeans, digging into his shins in the hopes that the pain would alleviate the need to drain the girl who used to be his best friend.

Sounding hurt, Willow replied, “I said I was sorry, Xander…”

Xander heard the door open and then Wesley snapped, “What on earth is going on in here?”

Looking up at the other man’s entrance, he begged, “Get her out of here, Wesley, please!”

Willow gasped on seeing him in gameface, a brief, short burst of fear-scent coming from her, souring his stomach but not dimming his need for the blood that pulsed oh-so-close to him. Wesley strode the rest of the way into the room and hauled Willow up bodily, dragging her from the room and ignoring her vocal protest.

It was only a few minutes later that the door opened again and Cordelia marched in with an armful of large thermoses. She set them down wordlessly and left again, shutting the door.

Grateful and starving, Xander drained all five thermoses in less than two minutes, the warmed blood sliding down his throat in a not-entirely satisfying manner. But he was full and no longer on the brink of doing something that would send him into an all-too-familiar pit of self-loathing. Taking several steadying breaths, Xander positively ached for Angel, wishing his Sire were there. When Wesley’s distinctive rap sounded against the door, Xander could call out, “Come in,” and not have to worry that he would glut himself on the ex-Watcher.

Wesley entered the room and asked, “Are you all right?”

Snorting, Xander replied, “You mean considering that I almost drained Willow? Just peachy, thanks, Wes.”

Wesley grimaced, but only said, “You didn’t, so there’s no use in thinking about ‘might have beens.’”

“Guess not,” Xander sighed.

“How are you feeling, physically?” Wesley questioned, offering a hand.

Xander took the hand up and winced at the residual pain in his midsection. “Better. Good enough to get back to work, at least. What’ve we found out since last night?”

They fell into step together as Wesley replied, “Two nights ago, actually, and not much. Angel, Spike, and Gunn have gone to check out a lead, some woman who may have cursed Buffy. The rest of us have been checking into Rachel, to see if we can find any weaknesses or enemies.”

“And?” Xander prompted as they walked down the stairs.

Wesley shrugged. “And we can’t find hide nor hair of her in any book.”

“Not to mention,” Cordelia announced, joining them. “That she sounds like a seriously powerful bitch, so I doubt that anyone’s going to want to go up against her except an idiot. Oh wait, that would be us.”

Xander grinned and confirmed, “Every time.”

The grin faded on seeing Willow standing hesitantly by the table.

Willow waved, awkward, and said, “Um, sorry about that. Before. I just, I had to know, Xander.”

He wanted to yell at her, but only sighed instead. It was understandable, after a fashion. She had to know if he could be trusted, and how better to find out if he would bite a friend than when he was hurt and needing as much blood as possible.

Oy! We’re back!”

Xander flinched at Spike’s shout, instinctively shifting into game face and relishing the surge of power that came with it. He’d been taken by surprise before, but never again. It didn’t matter what deal Angel might have made with the other vampire, he wasn’t going to turn his back on Spike again. Looking beyond the blond, Xander immediately locked on to Angel, meeting the dark gaze and watching an echoing fire glow through his Sire’s eyes.

“What did you find?” Giles questioned, stepping out of the kitchen.

Spike headed for the sofa, jumping on it and stretching out as he complained, “What, no rest for the wicked? We been out for two days solid.”

Wesley sniffed and retorted, “And you did most of the heavy lifting, I’m sure.”

“You bet your sweet ass, I did,” Spike countered, flipping him off.

Xander ignored the entire exchange as Angel approached, never looking away. He leaned into the caress as Angel cupped his face. The soothing gesture brought him back to an even-keel and Xander sighed deeply in contentment, ridges vanishing as he resumed human form. Even though he wanted to just throw his arms around Angel and beg to be held, Xander sighed and asked, “How’d it go?”

Dropping his hand, Angel looked around the room and settled on Tara, saying, “She wants to meet you.”

Xander was pretty damn sure that his jaw wasn’t the only one to hit the floor.

*  *  *  *

“M-me? But, w-why?” Tara exclaimed, grabbing Willow’s hand.

Angel tapped Xander’s jaw shut before answering, “She didn’t say. She did, however, agree to allow a protector to go with you.”

“You better believe I’m going, Mister!”

Glancing at Willow, Angel shook his head. “Not you. Pretty much anyone but you, was how she put it.”

“Smart old biddy,” Spike piped up.

“What good will that do?” Willow demanded, glaring at Spike. “She just whisked Buffy away poof! No trouble at all! Unless I’m there to protect Tara, there’s no way she’s going!”

Angel crossed his arms over his chest and told her, “You wanted Buffy back, this is how it happens. End of story. I’ll bring Tara to her, they’ll talk, Buffy comes back.”

Willow pulled Tara in close, protective, and snapped, “She’s not going.”

Spike snorted. “Told you she wouldn’t go for it.”

Willow, Tara can make her own decisions,” Wesley said, overriding Spike with his own glare. “She’s not helpless and neither is Angel, whom I presume will assume the protector role.”

Angel looked at Tara and questioned, “Will you go?”

He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d met someone with that much innocence, which meant that he didn’t know which way she would go. It was no surprise why Willow had latched onto the girl. As wholesome as Willow had been, there’s always been that core of strength inside that would do whatever it took to protect those she loved…and the chance for it to go evil, as it had. Maybe it had something to do with growing up on the Hellmouth. Maybe those who did, were tainted with evil no matter how much they tried. They’d all succumbed to it in one form or another except Xander, and it had been thrust upon him by Dru.

Looking a lot like a deer in headlights, Tara finally nodded and said, “I’ll, I’ll go.”

Willow spun around, exclaiming, “No! Baby, you can’t go! You won’t be safe!”

“Excuse us,” Tara said softly, lacing her fingers with Willow’s to drag her lover away.

Giles stepped forward and asked, “What’s the deadline for this?”

“Three hours,” Gunn answered, entering the condo. “I got that stuff you wanted, Angel.”

Angel nodded. “Thanks, Gunn. Wesley, I remembered part of a protection spell, but couldn’t think of all the herbs. You know, the one with the dragonsroot?”

“Yes, of course,” Wesley agreed. “Cordelia, Giles, if you would assist me?”

Dragonsroot?” Giles echoed, following Wesley to the study.

Cordelia took the large bag from Gunn and rolled her eyes, but followed the two ex-watchers.

“I’m gonna crash until it’s time to leave. See ya.”

Angel waved him on, then turned back to Xander. “Come, Childe. Time to feed.”

Brightening visibly, Xander asked, “We’re going hunting?”

Angel chuckled and nodded as he countered, “Think you can find some bad people to put out of commission?”

Xander shifted back to gameface and replied, “Definitely!”

Wagging a finger at his Childe, Angel warned, “You can’t drain anyone.”

“What? Not even here?” Xander protested.

“Not even here,” Angel repeated firmly. “You can take enough to knock them out, but not enough to kill.”

Xander grumbled, so Angel swatted him sharply on the ass. Lust-filled pheromones filled the air almost instantly, lids drooping over chocolate eyes in a distinctive, ‘fuck me now, big boy,’ kind of look. Heat surged through him, his groin tightening in anticipation, and Angel shoved Xander against a wall. He was on the young vampire in an instant, leg thrust between Xander’s as he devoured his lover’s mouth, fangs cutting tongue and lips for the taste of blood.

“Ah hell, d’ya bleedin’ have to do that here? I’m going to lose my lunch!”

Truly pissed, Angel pulled away from Xander’s pliant mouth to snarl at Spike, who rolled off the couch and slunk away. There were times that Angel could be pushed; this was not one of them. He returned to Xander and sucked lightly under his ear, murmuring, “Let’s go hunting, Childe.”

Humming happily, Xander nipped at Angel’s chin before he answered, “Ready when you are, Sire.”

They walked comfortably together, leaving Giles’ home and heading out into the darkness. The sun had only just set less than an hour ago, so there were still regular people out and about, though not as many as usual. People who lived on the Hellmouth knew when something was up. Those who didn’t, simply didn’t live long enough to repeat the mistake.

Taking the car downtown, they parked in a shadowed place and when Angel put the car in park, he pulled Xander close with a hand on the back of the neck. He felt his eyes glow golden just before he took Xander’s mouth in a savage kiss to which Xander responded with a willing moan. He wanted so much more than that, but there simply wasn’t time. Xander had to feed and they had to be back to Giles’ within the hour. Breaking off the kiss, he growled in pleasure on finding his Childe flushed and dazed with need. He nipped sharply at the tempting throat and ordered, “Go on now, have some fun.”

Xander grinned, almost feral, before hopping nimbly out the door. Angel waited in the car, knowing that without him around to show off for, Xander would simply feed and return. Which was exactly what happened twenty minutes later. The fledge had left a blood trail from his mouth down his throat and Angel happily cleaned it off with his tongue. Fear-spiked blood tasted the best, even now, and he bit into his Childe’s throat to get more.

Moaning and arching his neck in further submission, Xander pleaded, “Take me, please, Angel, need you so bad!”

Angel snarled agreement as he released Xander and they set about getting rid of enough clothes to fuck. Within seconds, Xander straddled him and sat on his erection, both of them groaning at the impalement. Once fully seated, Xander’s handsome features twisted in pained pleasure, Angel wrapped his arms around his lover and held him absolutely still. Xander whined in need and Angel started fucking him in hard, brutal thrusts, hips jerking up into the immobile body on him.

It didn’t take long. The moment Angel again bit into Xander’s jugular and sucked hard, his Childe screamed in pleasure and release, spurting blood-tainted come all over them both. Angel growled his own release as he held Xander down and ground up, into his body while spilling into the tight hole.

Both collapsed the same time and Angel found himself panting for air that he didn’t need while gently stroking a hand up and down Xander’s sweaty back. Nuzzling at the torn throat, Angel licked the wound healed in broad swaths of his tongue.

Humming in contentment, Xander whispered, “Let me come with you?”

“I can’t, my own,” Angel replied. “It’s not safe. I want you tucked away in bed waiting for me when I return. Then we’ll do this properly.”

Xander chuckled as he sat upright, undulating on Angel’s semi-hard cock. “I don’t know. I think we just did it pretty properly.”

Angel grinned and swatted the bare ass affectionately before ordering, “Up now, and make yourself presentable. Wouldn’t want to offend mortal sensibilities now, would we?”

“Why not?” Xander muttered, even as he moved to obey.

Sensing more to the statement than a desire to irk Giles, Angel asked, “What happened while I was gone?”

From the deer-in-headlight’s expression on Xander’s face, Angel knew he’d guessed correctly and sighed.

*  *  *  *

Practically dancing in his agitation, Xander begged again, “Please, Angel, don’t make a big deal of it!”

Angel ignored him and opened the door to Giles’ apartment. He focused immediately on Willow across the room and snarled, “You! Witch! We need to talk. Now.”

Willow’s eyes went wide with fear, but only momentarily. She straightened and crossed her arms over her chest as she stood. “What?”

“If you ever do something like that to Xander again, I will personally rip your throat out,” Angel promised.

From the deadly quiet tone, Xander knew his Sire wasn’t fooling around. From the aghast expressions all around, he knew the others knew it, too.

To give Willow credit, she didn’t flinch this time. She simply replied, “I have no intention of doing that to Xander again.”

“If you do it to me, you won’t like what happens,” Angel informed her.

“Oh bullocks. Can we do this pissing contest later?” Spike complained. “We got more pressin’ things, yeah?”

For once, Xander was glad Spike was there to divert Angel’s temper. Stepping into the hole created by his rival sibling, Xander moved forward and took Angel’s arm, reminding, “There’s only a couple hours left to get Buffy back.”

Angel looked irritated at the interruption, but nodded agreement and said, “Fine. Tara? You ready?”

The blonde looked anything but, but she nodded resolutely and went to exchange a few soft words with Willow. There was a brief kiss which was almost painful to watch due to its heartfelt fear and love and then Tara turned to Angel and said, “I’m, I’m good. Let’s go.”

Xander squeezed his Sire’s arm and received a brief kiss of his own before the vampire turned and left with Tara. There was a tangible taint of fear and uncertainty in the room and it soured Xander’s stomach.

Oy, butt-monkey,” Spike called to him. “Better get cleaned up, yeah? Wouldn’t want the lot of them to know what you and Angel got up to while supposedly hunting.”

Flushing angrily, Xander spun to get some of his own back when Wesley unexpectedly stepped between them.

The slender man held up a hand and said quietly, “We have things to do, Xander. Perhaps a shower to clear your head and a catnap wouldn’t go amiss?”

Xander glared at the blonde vampire before stalking up the stairs to take a shower. He took his time under the hot spray of water, relishing the heat he could no longer provide on his own. It wasn’t until he’d finished washing his hair that a thought occurred to him; with Angel looking after Tara, what was to stop this Rachel from doing something to his Sire? Worse yet, what if she simply took Angel and Tara both and disappeared?

As much as he’d loved Buffy, he wouldn’t lose Angel for her.

The decision to go after them, despite Angel’s orders to stay home, was made without any real thought. He was dried off and dressed in fresh clothes in minutes and then simply jumped out a window so he wouldn’t have to worry about the others trying to stop him.

Following Tara and Angel’s scents was easy even though they’d taken a car and he was on foot. Figuring out what to do once he got to a two-story house in a normal looking neighborhood, wasn’t. He wasn’t invited in, so it wasn’t like he could just find a back door or an open window to climb through. Grumbling to himself, Xander walked up the steps to the porch and peered cautiously in through a window.

“Would you like to go in?”

Xander yelped in fright and spun around to find a little girl looking up at him with a smile. Glad that Spike wasn’t around to witness that, he asked, “Do you live here?”

Gramma lives here,” she answered.

Close enough, he thought before saying, “Sure. Let’s go in.”

She smiled and held out a hand, which he took and followed her inside.

*  *  *  *

Angel frowned as he and Tara waited at he front door of the building where Rachel had said to meet her. They’d rung three times, so he pounded on the metal door and called out, “Rachel! We’re here! Let us in!”

“Maybe she ch-changed her mind?” Tara suggested, sounding hopeful and somehow upset at the same time.

His frown deepened as he faced the girl and answered, “If she didn’t want to see you in exchange for Buffy, then why would she go through the trouble of arranging this in the first place?”

Tara shrugged, biting her lip as she looked around the empty street. “I don’t know, but I don’t like this. Something’s not right.”

Angel had to agree with that. Something was very wrong, even though there was no sign of trouble. The very lack of trouble told him that this wasn’t going to go at all the way they’d hoped.

If Angel hoped, which he didn’t; he planned.

Pulling out a lock-picking set, Angel unlocked the door, ignoring Tara’s startled exclamation as he did so. It swung open into an empty living room. He looked at the girl and said, “Go in and then invite me in.”

“It’s not my house,” Tara protested.

Angel shrugged. “Technicality. This’ll work, trust me.”

She hesitated, biting her lip, but gingerly stepped inside with one foot. When nothing happened, Tara walked the rest of the way through and then turned back towards him and said, “Come in, Angel.”

Angel entered the home, an unpleasant shock jolting through him, but not stopped by it. Someone had invited him in, even if it hadn’t been the owner, so he just gritted his teeth and continued into the room. The inside of the house looked as normal as any other middle-class, suburban house. Angel felt power there, though, and it caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up in warning.

“S-s-something’s not right here,” Tara repeated, echoing his thoughts.

Acting on pure instinct, Angel spun and grabbed Tara at the waist and neck, throwing her out of the house. Just as his feet hit the porch, an explosion sent them both flying through the air. He landed against a tree several yards away, pain lancing through his back and sides, the cracks of broken ribs and possibly his shoulder, loud in his ear. Groaning, Angel didn’t move for a long minute, doing his best to catalogue other injuries from where he lay.

“Angel? Help me?”

Tara’s pained whisper galvanized Angel into shoving himself upright, ignoring the resultant agony in what was definitely a broken shoulder. The girl stood upright, against a different tree and a branch stuck through her belly at the center. Pulling out his cell phone, which was miraculously unharmed, he called 911 on the way to Tara.

“911, please state your emergency.”

“There’s been an explosion, I need an ambulance right now! A girl’s been hurt, stabbed through with a tree branch,” Angel reported.

“What’s your location, sir?”

111 North Sanders Dr.”

“I’m dispatching a unit to your location right now, sir. Do not move her, but try to staunch the blood flow, if you can.”

“Got it.”

Angel yanked off his shirt and wrapped it around the wound, pressing firmly. That caused Tara to cry out in pain and then slump. He cursed viciously and held her up with his good shoulder so that she didn’t tear the wound further. It seemed forever before the ambulance got there, right alongside the fire engines. Angel was promptly pushed out of the way so the professionals could cut her loose of the tree and lift her carefully onto a gurney.

An EMT came over to Angel and asked, “Are you all right, sir? Where are you injured?”

Angel grimaced as he answered, “I’m fine. Is Tara going to be all right?”

“They’re going to do their best,” the EMT answered.

Which meant that he didn’t know. Taking his cell phone out again, Angel braced himself and called Wesley.

*  *  *  *

Xander couldn’t figure out why his Sire’s scent was nowhere in the house. It had been strong the entire walk over, so had Tara’s, but once inside it had disappeared. He followed the girl through the living room into the kitchen where an old woman sat, shucking corn of all things. Utterly black eyes looked at him, sending a shudder of dread down his spine and the girl disappeared into nothingness.

He suddenly got the feeling this was a Very Bad Idea.

“It’s about time you got here, boy. I’ve been expecting you,” the old woman said. “Sit.”

Something more than good manners compelled Xander to sit opposite her at the table. His feet moved of their own volition and he sat with a jolt to the spine. “Are you Rachel?”

The smile she gave him then was all the more hideous for the lack of expression on her wrinkled face and disturbing eyes. “That’s one of my names, yes. It’ll suit our purposes for the time being, I suppose. Now then. You’re here to see your friend, the Slayer. Or, the girl who used to be your friend. You want to save her from her captivity, is that right?”

Xander nodded. “That’s right. But um, where’s Angel and Tara?”

Waving a hand, the old woman answered, “I expect they’re either dead or dying by now. Well, mayhap not your Sire. He’s a tough one. But the witch’s conscience is likely on her way to the netherworld. Human flesh don’t withstand explosions all that well.”

Xander tried to jump up and yell at her, but found himself unable to move, stuck to his spot on the chair. Panic surged through him as he demanded, “What did you do? What’s going on here?”

Rachel set down the corn and pushed aside her bowl and answered, “A vampire born with his soul is a most unusual specimen, Alexander Harris. I don’t think you quite understand how unique you are. A vampire can be cursed with a soul, a vampire can even regain his or her soul by becoming human again, but to be born with one? My, my, that is a rarity.”

“What does that have to do with Buffy?” Xander exclaimed, frustrated.

“Absolutely nothing,” Rachel replied, smiling that dreadful smile again. “However, if you agree to stay here in her place, she’ll be free to go.”

Stunned, Xander slumped back against his chair, staring at the old woman. “You’re saying that all of this was a ploy to get to me?”

“Not just that, but it worked out so well, don’t you think? The girl who keeps the witch sane is gone. Your Sire is dead or severely injured. Both sets will be at odds over this, which means there will be plenty of time for havoc to be wreaked all around, both at the Hellmouth and in Los Angeles. By the time they figure out that they aren’t enemies, so much lovely damage will be done that they may not be able to recover. And I get you.”

“What if I refuse?” Xander questioned.

Rachel shrugged and answered, “Then you go free and I keep the Slayer. Since she’s not technically dead, another will not rise to take her place, and the world will be without a Slayer. Oh, there’s that other girl, but she’s hardly a Slayer at all, is she? It’s all one to me. Damage done in either case. And it’s all on you, Alexander Harris. Your choice here decides the fate of the world. I bet no one ever thought that when you were born.”

There was no choice. Xander swallowed against a very dry throat and agreed, “I’ll stay in return for you freeing Buffy, without harm to her.”

 

Aria

 

Wesley alone had come to get him at the still-smoldering ruin of what had supposedly been Rachel’s house. Angel stayed where he was, leaning against the car with its now-broken windshield, and waited for the other man to come to him. There was no way he could make it anywhere on his own, just then.

“You look like hell,” Wesley observed.

Angel grimaced. “I feel like it, too.”

“Blood’s in the car, so let’s get you taken care of,” Wesley informed him. “Anything need to be set first?”

“My shoulder.”

“Lovely.”

Wesley helped Angel to the car, where the vampire braced himself against the hood and turned his injured shoulder towards his friend. Wesley retrieved the first aid kit, one that might be found in an ambulance as opposed to one owned by a civilian, and opened it, pulling out bandages and splints. He probed the break, tsking the whole time, and then gave a fantastically sharp pull and twist movement of the arm without warning.

Angel screamed in pain, dropping to his knees. Wesley dropped with him, holding the arm in place.

“That’s it, we’re done now, it’s okay,” Wesley soothed.

Angel grit his teeth and stayed absolutely still while the other splinted his shoulder and arm, then wrapped it to his body to keep it immobile. From there, Wesley assisted him into the car, almost lying all the way back, and handed him warmed bags of blood. Angel drank hungrily, desperate for the healing surcease from pain it would bring. He was a mess from both Tara’s blood and the blood spilled from drinking so fast, but didn’t even care.

Once the last bag had been drained and he lay there, content and bloated with the healing process in full swing, it happened. The connection with Xander, ever-present and underscoring everything, disappeared. One second he felt intense confusion and pain and longing from his Childe and the next, nothing. Angel rolled to his feet in response to the loss, staggering away from the car towards the last place from where his Childe’s ‘voice’ had come.

“Angel! Angel, come back! What on earth are you doing?” Wesley demanded, running after him.

Shaking him off, Angel snarled at the man, fully vamped. He tore the bandages off for greater movement and ran across the yard, ignoring Wesley’s shouts to stop. Angel ran through the yard, the back yard, into someone else’s yard, and to the street behind. He went in a straight line towards that last burst of psychic energy that connected him to Xander with a single-mindedness that would have scared him, had he been aware of it.

He stopped at last in an empty field of tall grass. A field that was empty of everything except powerful magic, an unconscious Slayer, and a pentagram cut into the earth itself.

There was nothing.

Not even a hint that Xander existed.

No scent, physical or otherwise, to grant the least bit of hope.

Once again, he was utterly alone.

Angel lifted his face to the uncaring moon and keened his loss from the bottom of his too-feeling heart.

 

Da Capo

 

When all else failed, consulting The Powers That Be remained an old standby that sometimes worked.

Finding Angel broken and silent in that field had cut right to the heart of Wesley. The vampire had been a heap on the damp earth, uncaring of his injuries or anything. It had taken Buffy’s very confused help to get Angel to the car and back to Giles’ home. She’d had no memory of where she’d been or what had happened, but pitched in without hesitation.

In his meaner moments, Wesley suspected that had she known Xander had disappeared, she wouldn’t have been so quick to help.

Once he’d rewrapped the broken shoulder and they’d gotten Angel into bed, Wesley had dispensed a major sedative that would help keep Angel under through the day. Not trusting that the vampire wasn’t non compos mentis, Wesley had then explained to Buffy what had gone on while she was missing, up to and including the last news he’d heard, that Tara was in surgery for her life.

On finding that out, Buffy had immediate left for the hospital while Wesley had stayed put to keep an eye on Angel and call Lorne. There was a distinct possibility that Old Magic, possibly even Ancient Magic, was involved and if that were the case, Wesley knew they had to contact TPTB for some guidance. Lorne was their most expedient method of doing so.

Y’ello? The Host with the Most speaking!”

Wesley smiled tiredly and replied, “Good morning, Lorne, it’s Wesley.”

“Hey, Wes, what’s up?” Lorne asked, cheerfully. “Having fun up there on the Hellmouth? I hear the weather’s fabulous this time of year.”

“Unfortunately, we’ve run into a bit more trouble than expected and could use some guidance. Can you come up here?”

“What happened?”

“We’ve got Buffy back, but Xander’s missing now.”

“Well, isn’t that just craptastic?” Lorne sighed.

Wesley’s eyebrows rose as he observed, “I do believe that you’ve been spending a bit too much time with Xander, to be using such phraseology.”

“Yeah, well, I like the kid, what can I say? And sure, I’ll be there in two shakes. Well, maybe three, depending on traffic.”

“Very good, thank you, Lorne.”

“No problemo. See ya soon, Wes.”

“Bye, Lorne.”

Hanging up, Wesley’s gaze returned to the somnolent Angel and he sighed. The vampire would be out cold for at least another eight hours, but he didn’t feel right leaving. Dialing Giles’ number, he waited patiently for it to be picked up.

“Hello?”

“How is she?” Wesley asked without preamble.

Giles sighed heavily into the phone. “It’s touch and go, I’m afraid. Buffy’s here, thank God, and she’s keeping Willow intact for now. If Tara doesn’t make it, though...”

Wesley could well imagine what might happen if Tara died and Willow’s darker side were unleashed upon the world. He’d caught glimpses of it over the years, though of course he hadn’t seen her regularly for quite a while.

“What happened with Angel?” Giles questioned at last.

Wesley rubbed at tired eyes as he answered, “I’ve no idea. One minute I was bandaging him up and the next he simply went berserk and took off. I imagine it has to do with Xander’s disappearance, though what, I’m not sure.”

Giles prompted, “Not sure?”

“I think their connection, whatever it is that ties Sire to Childe, was severed by Rachel somehow.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Exactly.”

“So what do you plan to do?”

“For now, I’ve drugged him to give his body a chance to heal,” Wesley explained. “I’ve also called Lorne to come. Perhaps if Angel sings for him, we might find out what’s truly going on.”

“You think Buffy was a diversion?”

“She wasn’t harmed, was she?”

“That’s an awfully big presumption.”

“One I’m willing to make.”

Giles remained silent a long moment before saying, “I’ll keep you apprised of Tara’s condition. Please do the same for Angel.”

“I shall, thank you Giles,” Wesley agreed, disconnecting.

Settling back on the sofa, Wesley sighed deeply and prayed that somehow, everything would turn out all right.

*  *  *  *

Angel woke slowly, numbness encasing his body in such a way that he hadn’t felt in quite a while. He’d been drugged, that much was clear, but why remained elusive. His brain wouldn’t function right and it was an effort to even open his eyes, though he did finally manage it.

“Angel?”

Wesley, Angel thought in foggy recognition.

“Angel, can you hear me?”

Blinking his sight into greater focus, Angel’s gaze landed on the ex-Watcher’s worried face.

“Thank God,” Wesley murmured. Clearing his throat, he said louder, “The sedative put you under for longer than I expected.”

Angel frowned and rasped, “Why sedate me?”

Wesley hesitated, but answered, “You were badly injured, remember? There was an explosion.”

The memory flashed through Angel’s mind and he nodded, asking, “How’s Tara?”

Looking relieved, Wesley explained, “In recovery. She almost didn’t make it, but the surgeons think that she’ll be fine. Everyone else is at the hospital. Even Spike, though I rather think that’s more to do with Buffy’s presence than any concern for Tara.”

There was something wrong with that statement, but Angel couldn’t quite make it out. His main focus was elsewhere, his mind searching for something that was missing. What was missing? He had no sense of... “Xander!”

Wesley caught him when Angel tried to get out of the bed, pushing him back down with effort. “Take it easy, Angel, please! You’re still badly injured and won’t do Xander any good hurting yourself further.”

“Where is he?” Angel demanded. “What happened to Xander?”

“I don’t know,” Wesley admitted.

Angel sagged back against the pillows as he tried to ignore the gaping maw of emptiness Xander had filled. He couldn’t, of course, but he did manage to think around it with concentration. His very energy felt sapped and he wondered if the same would happen if Spike or Dru were taken from him in the same fashion. He suspected not, but didn’t want to try a comparison.

Wesley continued, “The woman, Rachel, has vanished as well, so we must presume that she has him. That Xander was her target all along, perhaps with creating as much chaos as possible in the process.”

Angel nodded slowly. “That makes sense, but why does she want him?”

“That, we don’t know. Lorne’s on his way.”

Nodding again, Angel understood that he was to sing for the demon in the hopes that TPTB would give Lorne some sign of what would happen. Not that he had any idea what to sing.

“In the meantime, you should get some more rest so that you’re at your best for whatever might happen,” Wesley finished.

Angel sighed, but knew the other man was right. There wasn’t anything he could do with a broken shoulder and ribs that hurt every time he moved. “How is Buffy?”

“Fine, so far as Giles can tell.”

Which was good, but Angel couldn’t help the well of bitterness from rising within. If she hadn’t gotten captured in the first place, Xander would still be safe with him.

“I’ll leave you to rest,” Wesley said softly. “Are you hungry?”

Angel thought about it a moment, then nodded. “Double portion, if you can manage it?”

Wesley stood and told him, “I’ll be back shortly.”

Only it wasn’t Wesley who returned with the blood, it was Spike.

“Now before you take a pint of this,” Spike began, holding the thermos up where Angel couldn’t reach it, “you need to get something with a bit more kick in it to get back to strength, yeah?”

“You offering?” Angel questioned wryly.

“Matter of fact, I am.”

“Did Hell freeze over?”

“Depends which level, I s’pose.”

Angel made a face, but knew that Spike was right; he would heal faster with ‘fresh’ blood. He motioned Spike to sit, which the other did, and winced as he tried to sit up. Spike’s arms came around him unexpectedly, strong and easy, supporting Angel so that his mouth was in line with Spike’s throat. The scent of hot blood pumping through the other vampire’s body saturated the air between them and Angel breathed in deep before licking a broad swath over the pale skin.

Spike moaned, his head arching away to expose himself further. A rush of heat that had nothing to do with bloodlust ran through Angel and he was viscerally reminded of all the times he’d taken blood from Spike in the past. Chuckling warmly, he let his fangs descend and scraped lightly over the jugular without piercing the flesh.

“Please, Sire,” Spike gasped.

Angel nipped at the slender throat, again without breaking through, and chided, “Yer so easy, William. Did ye never learn patience in all these long years?”

It wasn’t until Spike shuddered in reaction to the brogue that Angel bit down and sucked the hot, salty blood into his mouth. Swallowing it down tinged with the adrenaline of lust and need did more good than regular blood ever would. As he drank, Angel felt his body knit and heal at an ever increasing rate. The connection that had always hovered in the background between him and Spike, though greatly dampened with time and enmity, flared explosively back into consciousness.

Angel found unexpected strength and pushed Spike down to the bed with his free hand, his Childe falling back easily beneath him. He was hard and hot for it, they both were, and Angel continued to drain Spike of the life-giving blood as he settled between Spike’s legs, thrusting against an answering hardness. It wasn’t until Spike pushed at him weakly that Angel realized he’d taken too much. Releasing the other with a growl of unearthly satisfaction, Angel panted on the edge of orgasm. He struggled to bring himself back from the brink, in more ways than one, and slit his wrist with one of his fangs, holding it down to Spike.

Spike drank from him eagerly and Angel found himself hypnotized by the rhythmic bobbing of the other’s Adam’s apple. He’d trained the boy, so long ago, and well knew just how good the other was in bed. Shaking himself out of it, Angel focused on the pounding heart and unfamiliar scent of lust nearby. Canting his head towards the door, he found Wesley standing in the entrance, pale and shaken.

Clearing his throat, Angel offered a weak smile before saying lamely, “I feel a lot better now.”

Wesley swallowed visibly and replied hoarsely, “I’m sure you do.”

Angel sat back and tentatively moved his arm within the bandage. There was still an echo of pain throughout, and his ribs twinged, but there was significant improvement. Looking down at his Childe, who lapped at his wrist with something akin to devotion, Angel felt a tenderness towards Spike that he hadn’t in a very long time. Cupping the other’s face with his free hand, he commanded softly, “Enough, Childe.”

Spike left off with a disappointed moan, arms dropping to the side as he sighed deeply.

As Angel began stroking his hand over the platinum hair, he felt something through the bond he shared with Spike that he never had before; contentment.

Wesley cleared his throat and said, “Yes, well, I believe I have something to do downstairs. I’m sure of it, as a matter of fact,” before turning and walking quickly away.

Spike laughed softly and arched, catlike and satisfied, as he commented, “Think we shocked the poor blighter.”

Squeezing Spike’s dick through his pants, since his ass wasn’t available to slap, Angel warned, “Be nice.”

Oy! That was nice,” Spike protested, grinning.

Angel shook his head and ordered, “Help me get these bandages off.”

“You healed enough for that?”

It was a serious question and Angel nodded. “I am.”

Spike shrugged and moved to help him get free.

*  *  *  *

Wesley, Buffy, Giles, Gunn, and Cordelia all waited in the living room as Angel and Spike walked downstairs. If Wesley had spoken of what he’d walked in on, nothing showed on anyone’s face. Angel assumed his friend hadn’t breathed a word of what he’d seen.

“It’s about time you got down here, Mister!” Cordelia fussed, walking over to him and giving him a hug. “You had me worried when Giles told us you were injured. You know, you look remarkably good for someone with a broken shoulder.”

Angel almost shrugged, but thought better of it. “Spike’s blood helped.”

“You drank from Spike?” Buffy demanded sharply, gaze flickering to the blond vampire.

Spike sat on the sofa beside her and said offhandedly, “Just a nip for the old man. Too much of me is a potent brew.”

Angel snorted and asked, “Do we have an ETA for Lorne?”

Wesley glanced at his watch. “Should be any time now.”

“How long since Xander went missing?” Angel questioned.

From the guilty looks everyone wore except Spike, Angel knew that no one had at first realized that Xander was missing.

“In our defense,” Wesley began, “Xander was supposed to be taking a shower and resting. He jumped out the second story window so that we wouldn’t know that he’d gone.”

If it had been anyone except Wesley, Angel knew he wouldn’t have accepted the explanation. As it was, he growled in dissatisfaction and sank into the leather chair left open. It took a few seconds to get comfortable, much to his annoyance. A jaunty knock on the door interrupted the anger before it could truly get going, which was probably just as well.

Giles hurried to the door and opened it on Lorne in a spectacularly vibrant red suit that hurt Angel’s eyes.

“Evening, folks,” Lorne greeted, sauntering in passed Giles. When there were only a few half-hearted smiles, he continued, “Wow. Tough room.”

Standing, Angel said, “Thanks for coming, Lorne.”

Lorne nodded and replied, “Anything to help out. So. I gather getting down to business is a good idea?”

“Definitely,” Angel agreed. “Um. You have any suggestions on what I should sing?”

Gripping his shoulder, Lorne told him, “Anti-Blue Eyes, I’d be the happiest clam on earth if you never sang another note. That being impossible, though I live on hope for the future, sing whatever reminds you of Xander.”

Angel thought, but nothing came to mind and he sighed. “I have no idea.”

“What about a mix cd?” Buffy suggested unexpectedly. “He was always listening to music on his headphones. Or, he used to. Before, you know.”

It was a good thought and one Angel wished he’d thought of himself. Looking at Wesley, he asked, “Was the car towed back here?”

Wesley nodded. “It’s in the driveway.”

Angel went outside and pulled open the back door, grabbing the cd booklet Xander that kept there for long trips. The cd he listened to most often, whatever it might be, was always in the first pouch. He pulled out the cd and walked back inside, asking, “Anyone have…”

Buffy and Cordelia both held out cd players with headphones, glaring at each other.

Nonplussed, he took Cordelia’s somewhat gingerly. He did, after all, have to live with her. Putting the cd in and slipping on the headphones, he pressed play and skipped through the songs until he came to the one he remembered hearing Xander hum the most under his breath. Hitting pause, he pulled off the headphones and stated, “This song. I don’t know the words, though.”

“Easily solved,” Wesley replied, taking it from him and moving towards the laptop on the table. A few moments of listening to the song and typing into the computer and Wesley pulled them off, standing. “Here you go. Words and song are queued up for you.”

Angel took the player back and settled the headphones in place. Clearing his throat, though he knew it wouldn’t help, he hit play and did his best to sing along with the strong voice that was both pleading and intense at the same time.

One more kiss could be the best thing.
Or one more lie could be the worst.
And all these thoughts are never resting.
And you're not something I deserve.

In my head there's only you now,
This world falls on me.
In this world there's real and make believe,
And this seems real to me.

You love me but you don't know who I am,
I'm torn between this life I lead and where I stand.
And you love me but you don't know who I am,
So let me go, let me go.

Angel’s voice stopped of its own accord as the words sank in. If this was truly how Xander felt, then he hadn’t shown his Childe nearly enough of how he felt; that what lay between them was real. He’d known, of course, that Xander’s lack of self-esteem had followed him into his unlife, but not to nearly this extent.

Lorne touched his shoulder, startling Angel. “I need some more. Keep going.”

Pained, Angel put the headphones back on and hit play again. That voice filled his head and as a painful echo in his mind, he heard Xander’s soft humming.

I dream ahead to what I hope for.
And I turn my back on lovin' you.
How can this love be a good thing,
And I know what I'm going through.

In my head there's only you now
This world falls on me
In this world there's real and make believe
And this seems real to me

You love me but you don't know who I am,
I'm torn between this life I lead and where I stand.
And you love me but you don't know who I am,
So let me go, just let me go, let me go.

And no matter how hard I try,
I can't escape these things inside,
I know, I know.
But all the pieces fall apart,
You will be the only one who knows, who knows.

The chorus continued, the words damning…

You love me but you don't,
You love me but you don't,
(you don't know)
You love me but you don't know who I am…

…but Angel couldn’t. Throwing the cd player into the wall, he watched it shatter into pieces, filled with self-rage and despair. No one said anything as he composed himself. Thankfully. It took several long minutes before he could draw a full breath. When he finally did turn to face them, it was to see Lorne wiping tears from his face.

“Oh Angelcakes, Xander’s not the only one with issues,” Lorne said softly. Louder, he reported, “I didn’t get a clear glimpse of him, but he’s alive. It was so dim, so tenuous, the contact I mean, that I can think of only one explanation: Xander’s in another dimension.”

Angel’s mind reeled at the knowledge and fear did its best to claw its way up his throat. He finally managed to ask, “A Hell dimension?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I wish I could be more help,” Lorne answered.

Glad he was already sitting, Angel was helpless against ugly thoughts and images running through his mind. If Xander was in a Hell dimension, then he wouldn’t be safe or alive for long. Finding him was going to be a lot harder to do than anything they’d had to do in a long time, and that included saving the world.

 

Idee fixe

 

Xander had often thought that if someone were to make a movie out of his life, it would be a black comedy. Something like War of the Roses, only, with a worse outcome.

Abusive childhood, check.

Alcoholic parents, check.

Borderline flunking out of school, check.

Vamp plaything, check.

Monster magnet, check.

Best friend and one-time love interest turned lesbian, check.

Other best friend and one-time love interest completely not into him, check.

Vamp snack, check.

Turned into vamp, check.

Finds the love of his life and soulmate only to have him ripped away, double check.

Sighing, Xander added out loud, “Slave to crazy bitch with insane amount of power in a Hell dimension, double check, exclamation mark.”

Fiery pain sliced across his back and he yelped, struggling against the iron manacles that held him fast. He was almost used to it already. He sure as hell had a higher tolerance to it than he’d imagined. Time didn’t pass in the same manner that it had in his “real” dimension. It felt like he’d been there a month, but for all he knew, years had passed in Sunnydale and LA. Not that it mattered. Nothing mattered, since he was trapped without even the sliver of a hope that Angel would find and rescue him.

On first arriving through the portal, Rachel had shown him what lay beyond the walls of the castle in which he was imprisoned and really, endless desert in every direction and fire breathing dragons patrolling the sky put a serious damper on even thoughts of an escape. Not to mention the manacles were spelled against vampire strength, which he was fast losing to hunger and lack of fresh blood.

Sacrificed as an undying, ensouled creature of the night, triple check, Xander thought with a sigh.

Because Rachel had told him why he was there just that morning. Or, what he thought was morning, anyhow. In three more days time, when the two moons came to their apex in an eclipse, he would be gutted on the alter on the other side of the room to enhance her power. To enhance the power of the entire dimension. A unique, willing sacrifice and he’d made it so damn easy for her. He’d believed Rachel when she’d said that she would keep Buffy when he now knew she wouldn’t have been able to.

Another whip sliced across his lower back and he moaned in pain.

Hindsight was a real bitch.