And Truth In Every Shepherd's Tongue

~ Co-written by Mad Poetess [website]

"Come live with me, and be my love," Christopher Marlowe wrote. Raleigh wrote him an answer -- sort of Elizabethan fanfic. "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd," is the source of this story's title. Today's pretentious literary allusion was brought to you by the letter C, and Astroglide Lube.

"Man, I gotta tell you--"

Angel looked over his shoulder at Gunn, as they trod down the hallway to their suite. Gunn was covered in yellow and orange demon goo. Snot, actually, but Angel wasn't about to inform his lover of that. "Tell me what?"

"You stink, man." Gunn's nose wrinkled up, as he acted like Angel had just walked in off the street after having accidentally rolled around in dog droppings.

"Yeah? And your aim was l...less than perfect." He'd been about to say, 'Lousy,' but of course it hadn't been, and Angel didn't especially want to wait until Wesley came home, to get turned back from the newt he'd become if he told a direct lie. Stupid, stupid, rassenfrassen spell... Still, he had to say *something*. Angel had gotten sprayed by Mathrak demon blood, which smelled worse than Cordelia's cooking, after Gunn had struck it with his ax. He'd been about saving Angel's life, of course, but that wasn't the point.

"*My* aim? You mean my saved your undead ass aim?"

"If you'd hit it a few inches lower, it wouldn't have sprayed me with blood. It would have just lost use of its lower limbs, organs, and brain. It'd be dead, and I wouldn't smell."

Gunn was giving him a flat stare, now. Angel tried looking guileless, but honestly, he'd never picked up the trick of it. All he could hope for was 'cute' or 'hopeless'. He didn't see how someone like *Spike* could look completely and utterly adorable, without so much as a twitch. Oh well. At least Gunn knew Angel wasn't lying, per se.

"Yeah, you wouldn't smell, 'cause your ass would be ash, if I'd taken the time to line up my aim so your favorite shirt didn't get trashed, instead of just whackin' its head off."

"I wasn't complaining about--" Shit. Newt. Orange and purple newt. "You were complaining about me smelling. You really think it's trashed?" Angel looked down at his best black silk shirt. There *was* a lot of blood on it.

"It's gone, Angel. Dead. Joined the choir invisible. It's an ex-shirt."

"Maybe there shouldn't be any more English TV nights for you." An idle threat, since no more English telly nights would mean no more getting Wes plastered by making him take a shot every time Mr. Humphries said, 'I'm free!' and neither of them was going to give *that* up.

He studied the shirt again, ignoring the fact that Gunn was holding the door open for him. Was it really ruined? He didn't trust Gunn's opinion; he'd suspected for a long time that Gunn was systematically trying to destroy every piece of dark clothing he owned. Wes would know whether it could be saved or not; sometimes it was nice to have a lover with a laundry fetish. He decided to put it aside in a smell-proof bag, to wait for an expert opinion.

"Uh-huh," Gunn was saying. "You try keeping it until he gets home and we are *both* leaving you. Hell, we'll have to fumigate the hotel, again."

"Two weeks isn't...that long. It's just a few days or so," Angel responded, trying not to look startled that Gunn had figured him out so well. "In the life of a vampire, anyway." He went into the suite, though, thinking that maybe if he invited Gunn to share the shower, he could sneak the shirt into the bag without Gunn noticing.

"Or so? Talk about pushing your newt-luck. Two more weeks is not 'a few days' -- especially in the life of a stinky, dead shirt. Besides, his last phone call he said he wasn't sure *how* long it'd be."

Angel could hear Gunn's disappointment -- he felt it himself. The first day had been nice, a short break from having to constantly be aware of two lovers. The second day he'd caught himself brooding about Wes being gone, and since then he'd only grown to miss him, more. He knew Gunn felt the same way, even without the whispered talks in bed, when they'd turned the lights off and cuddled in the empty spot between them.

"Did he sound distracted to you?" Angel asked, as he pulled his shirt out of his slacks, and began unbuttoning the fly.

"Uh-huh," Gunn said, sounding a little distracted, himself. Angel supposed it was because he was letting his slacks fall down, and bending over to help them, and showing Gunn his black-briefs-clad ass in the process. Funnily enough, Gunn didn't have the same complaints about his black wardrobe when it came to underwear, though he destroyed them as often as any other piece of clothing. Just usually not during battle.

Angel looked down at his feet, and made a noise of surprise at seeing his boots. He bent over farther to unlace them. He could hear Gunn moving closer to him, and he grinned at his toes as he pulled them out of the boots and slipped his socks off, still bent over. When the hand touched his back, Angel was ready for it, and didn't jump. Er, much.

Then Gunn was bending close over him and breathing in his ear. "Angel..."

"Yeah?"

"You smell."

"Your point being, and may I say you're gonna kill the mood here, if you don't watch it?"

"My point being I'm not having sex with you until you take a shower."

Angel didn't move. The position he was in was actually better, for what he was trying to accomplish, than face to face. Let Spike adorable-ize his way out of trouble, if Xander wanted to fall for that kind of blatant manipulation. Angel might not be known for being the most subtle man in the world, but he did have his moments of inspiration. He flexed his ass muscles.

"I was kind of hoping you'd have sex with me *while* I take a shower." Okay, not all that subtle.

"Man I ain't even taking a shower with you, until you take a shower. Angel, I love you but you *stink*."

Flex.

"Uh-uh, man, no way. Shower first."

Angel hesitated, then slowly began to stand back up -- making sure to use his ass muscles to maintain his wavery balance.

"Yeah, right. You think after watching Wes do a strip-tease for the thousandth time and making me wonder just how the heck I ended up in the hot tub when I was on my way to rescue my truck from Spike, that I'm gonna fall for something as simple as you twitching your butt at me?"

Angel looked over his shoulder. "I was kinda hoping."

Gunn shook his head. Then he took off his jacket. "Don't be using that rose scented soap, all right? Cordelia gets one whiff of it and she'll be raggin' on us all week." Gunn took his own shirt and jeans off, still chuckling, and followed him into the bathroom.

Angel didn't stop to question his success, just started heading for the shower. He had to leave his shirt someplace where Gunn wouldn't see it, which would be hard to do with Gunn standing right next to him, but he'd figure something out. The company was worth the difficulty. When he turned around and saw what Gunn was still wearing, Angel stared happily for a moment, then realized they looked familiar. "Aren't those Wesley's?" he asked.

"Are you kidding? There's no way I could get his underwear on my fine, well-muscled, posterior. I just got 'em to match."

"Wesley's ass isn't fine?" Angel asked without looking back, as he leaned into the shower and turned the water on quickly, curtain wrapped around himself to save him from the icy spray that always came out for the first few minutes, then quickly jumped back out to let the water get hot.

"Of course Wesley's ass is fine, nimrod. It's just too skinny. Like the rest of him." Gunn was peeling those cheetah print briefs off as he spoke. He looked up at Angel. "You think his folks are feeding him enough?"

Angel leaned against the bathroom wall, and frowned. He had a sudden vision of Wesley locked in a little bedroom under the stairs like Harry Potter, wearing his dad's old socks and eating two-day-old bagels for breakfast. He knew that wasn't the case, knew Wes was a grown man and anything that might have happened when he was a child aside, no one could get away with doing something like that now. But still...

"I get the feeling he won't remember to eat at all," he said, after his pause for thought had grown into a measurable silence. Then, "I don't like him going back there."

"You and me both. We should have tied him to the bed and told his ole lady he wasn't available."

"I don't think you can call an Englishwoman an 'ole lady'," Angel pointed out. He was waiting for Gunn to get into the shower, so he could hide his shirt.

"Think we should just go get him? Two weeks is long enough, don't you think? His dad's outta the hospital, and they say he's gonna be OK, right?" Gunn's tone said that he wasn't serious, he was just grumbling about missing Wes.

"That's what Wes said. You know, you could have gone with him." Angel twitched the shower curtain a little, making it appear that he was gesturing Gunn in, ahead of him.

"So could you. Put you in cargo, take a night flight...and don't think I'm getting in that shower while you're still standing there in that shirt. *Lose* it, deadman. It's stinkin' up the bathroom."

Angel blinked in surprise, and tried to look like he didn't have a clue what Gunn was talking about. Gunn's reply was cut short by a knock on their front door.

"Go away! We're naked in here!" Gunn called out. Angel knew it was safe, because the only people who would take that as an invitation, were in England.

"Fine!" Cordelia called back. "I'll just take this registered letter from Wesley back downstairs. Maybe even steam it open and read it."

Angel pulled off his shirt, yanked his robe off the back of the door, and shrugged into it faster than Gunn did his, but he did have supernatural speed, after all. Gunn was right behind him, though as they opened the front door.

Cordelia was standing there, letter in hand, foot tapping impatiently against the carpeted floor. When Angel reached for the envelope, though, she made a horrible face. He almost went into the patented Angel Investigations Cordelia-Catching Position, but figured out that it wasn't a vision when she reached up with her free hand and pinched her nose. "Eew! You stink! I take it back. Go shower."

"Fine." Angel rolled his eyes and reached for the letter.

She snatched it away, backing out of reach. "Uh-uh. Shower first, then letter. I wanna read it too, and you're not stinking it up with demon ick." She turned and walked off down the hall. Angel thought about ordering her to come back and give him his property or else, but he was already feeling humiliated enough by being told, again, that he smelled. He didn't need the sound of Cordy's and Gunn's laughter on top of that.

The shower that followed was one of the quicker ones that they'd ever taken; no pausing to soap interesting places more thoroughly than might be required, or stand under the water and just let it soak into worn-out muscles. It was more efficient than showering alone, and less crowded than showering with three people, but Angel knew they would both have preferred to be washing a familiar set of knobby knees and elbows in a slow, leisurely manner, than hurrying their way through a shower to run downstairs and read a letter from their owner.

Finally, though, they were both wrapped in their robes and somewhat dried off. They didn't smell, which was the important thing.

They found Cordelia sitting at her desk, -- on it, really -- holding the letter in one hand. "Finally! I was ready to open it myself." She paused, and looked them both over. "Are you guys naked under those?"

Angel just strode forward and grabbed the letter.

"Touchy! Boy, someone hasn't been getting any lately, has he?" She raised an eyebrow in question, at Gunn. He just growled at her, and leaned over to read over Angel's shoulder.

Angel didn't bother pointing out that he *would* have, if she'd just been ten minutes later. He ripped open the letter, wondering why Wes had written, instead of calling. Unless he had something to send? He pulled the paper out and unfolded it.

"Dear Angel, Charles: I hope my letter finds you both well. Things have been quiet the last two weeks, unless there are things you aren't telling me, when I call."

Angel grinned; he could almost see the look on Wes' face as he accused them of not telling him about the close calls. They actually *hadn't* had any, but...well, they probably would've told him.

"I imagine you're enjoying the last few moments of peace, before Spike and Xander return. Things here are...not so good, to say the least. Father's had something of a setback. Not another heart attack; I would have called you immediately, if it were anything so serious. But his doctor has told him that the damage looks to be worse than they first thought. He has a persisting cardiac arrhythmia, meaning that his heart is beating irregularly.

By itself, it isn't life-threatening, but the doctors fear that this may mean he isn't healing properly. For the moment, he has to be shielded from excessive stress at all times. This means that he can't run the house, or his business, or do any of the sort of things he's used to. Of course, he can't do any of those things right now, anyway, while he's recovering, but it appears that it might be a permanent situation."

Angel stopped reading, and looked at Gunn, whose expression matched his own -- not a lot of sympathy for a father who'd done his best to make sure Wes felt like a complete failure for most of his early life, and... well, Wes had never come right out and said anything, but there had been hints, here and there. Hints that the crack, years ago, about the closet under the stairs hadn't just been something made up by a desperate Ethros demon.

Or, as Cordelia put it, with a disgusted huff of breath, "Screw him. When's Wesley coming home?"

Angel started, then turned back to the letter. "I will of course have to extend my visit, as I indicated the last time we spoke. I apologize, but as I'm sure you're aware, my parents are in need of my assistance. As the only son, it falls upon me to make sure the estate runs smoothly during my father's convalescence. I am afraid that this position shall have to be as long-term as my father's need to refrain from subjecting himself to stress.

There was talk of hiring an assistant for him, but after reviewing my parents' financial situation, that would seem to be out of the question. The estate has had some serious financial setbacks in the last few years, due to losses among the livestock, and most of the family's remaining assets have been funneled into the maintenance of the manor proper. My father's pension from the Council of Watchers, while generous, isn't enough to cover the salaries of additional staff, to manage all this, but since salary isn't an issue with me, there is at least a good chance of saving enough to put the property on more stable financial ground."

Angel stopped reading aloud, and frowned. He re-read the last few paragraphs, silently, while Gunn said, "Is he saying what I *think* he's saying?"

Cordelia slid down from her desk and walked over, frowning. "How can you tell *what* he's saying? He just took three paragraphs to tell us his family's broke because some of the sheep died, and the house is falling apart. He sounds like he used to, back when he was in Sunnydale. Like Giles, but twice as stuffy."

Gunn blinked at her. "I thought you had it bad for him, back then?"

She looked suitably embarrassed. "Hey, I was eighteen. All older men were cute. Even *Angel* was cute."

Angel didn't even bother to acknowledge the compliment or insult, whichever it was. He was too busy re-reading the letter so far, for a third time. "He is. He's saying he's not coming home. What the hell?"

"He can't be saying that," Gunn replied. "What else he say?"

Angel returned to reading. "I realize that I never spoke of the chance I would one day have to return here; I had suspected it would be several more years before my parents would be in need of my assistance. I must confess I suspected this would be the case, when I received the phone call -- it is why I could not give you an answer, Angel, and for that I apologize. I was touched that you asked, and I would have given anything to respond. However, this way, you and Charles are free to pursue your lives together, without waiting for me."

"What the *fuck*?" Gunn tore the letter out of Angel's hands.

Cordelia pressed forward to read over his arm, as Gunn re-read the words Angel was trying to tell himself he hadn't seen. Maybe Wes was possessed? He was being forced to write those words? He...hadn't just said he wasn't coming home to marry them?

Gunn's voice interrupted his shock. "I would not delay your wedding, for my return, as I doubt I will be able to get away for several weeks, if not months. The situation here is rather delicate, and I fear it will not stabilize for some time. As I'm sure you can appreciate, any visits would only upset my father, so I must urge you not to do so. I shall be busy traveling back and forth to London over the next several days; as such doubt you will be able to get hold of me by telephone.

Father has suggested that I might try re-applying to the Council of Watchers as a consultant, which would allow me to have a certain financial independence, while maintaining things here on the estate."

Angel looked over. "I thought he didn't like the Council...?" He still felt too stunned to even ask why Wesley was writing these things.

"He sounds like he's been brainwashed," Cordelia observed. "Or like somebody's holding a gun to his head."

Even though Angel had had the same thoughts, now he found himself second-guessing them. "Well, he *can* start to sound like this when he's feeling defensive. Like when Gunn insulted his taste in interior decoration."

"I didn't insult his taste, I just said I didn't want Paddington Bear curtains in the bedroom. And that was pouting; he wasn't serious anyway. This ain't like that. This sounds..." Gunn shook his head, then said quietly, "Sounds like he means it."

Cordelia was trying to get the letter away from Gunn, now, looking positively pissed off with both of them. "This is such crap! What's the rest of it say?"

Gunn was shell shocked enough to let her take it, and she read out loud, "My regards to everyone...blah, blah, send for my things later, blah, blah, more stuff that sounds like Giles on Ritalin, and... oh, come *on* -- now I *know* he's insane."

"What?" Angel asked.

She held out the letter and pointed. "There. You gonna tell me he wrote *that* while not under the influence of heavy drugs or black magic?"

Angel read the line, then he read it again. Gunn was blinking, and finally leaned over to read it too. "Give Spike my beer?" he read aloud.

"Is that a cry for help, or what?" Cordelia asked, hands on her hips.

Angel was still staring at the letter. It was in Wesley's handwriting, and it...sounded more or less like him. He could certainly understand the need for the family's only son to return home and take over. Despite how much it hurt to know Wesley would choose parents he disliked, over friends who loved him, he was willing to admit it sounded...sort of understandable.

"Well, he doesn't exactly need his beer, since he's there now, does he? He can buy some around the corner at any local pub," Angel pointed out, though he didn't quite believe it. He was afraid to believe Cordelia, though. Why would Wesley write this letter at all, if he didn't mean any of it? Angel saw that Gunn was equally confused, unwilling to believe either that Wesley meant what he said, or that he had written it under the influence of something.

"God! I don't believe you two. You can't think he means any of this?" Cordelia asked.

"Why'd he write it, then, if he didn't mean any of it?" Gunn asked. "He coulda said something over the phone, and we coulda talked him out of it. Or tried, if he really meant it," Gunn's voice dropped to a defeated whisper.

"His phone calls haven't exactly been long and revealing lately, have they?" Cordelia asked dryly. It was true, in the last week his calls had grown shorter and shorter, until they barely had time to exchange pleasantries and reassure each other they were all still alive and breathing. Or the vampiric equivalent.

"Well, this one will be," Angel said grimly, picking up the cordless phone from her desk. "I don't know if he was serious about not being available or just trying to dodge us, but I plan to find out. And if he *is* there..." If he *was* there, then Angel would damn well *make* him stay on the line until he explained just what the hell was going on, and why he wasn't either on a plane home, or telling them which flight to take so he could meet them at Heathrow.

Cordy put her hand on his arm. He turned to look at her. "What? Don't you *want* me to call him?"

"Hell yes; it's the first intelligent thing you've done all day. I just think you should let *me* talk until we can get Wes on the line, so he doesn't go all freaky over his parents getting a call from one of his boyfriends."

She had a point; he handed her the phone, and she punched her way through its memory until she'd found the correct redial number. Soon she was waiting for the international operator to switch her over; Angel could hear the other side of the conversation faintly from where he stood.

An older woman answered the phone. "Hello?"

"Hello? May I speak with Wesley, please?" Cordelia asked.

"I'm sorry, Wesley isn't at home. This is his mother; may I ask who's calling?"

Angel had to hold himself back from grabbing the phone from Cordelia and demanding to know where Wesley was. Cordelia asked calmly, "Do you know when he'll be back? This is Cordelia, I'm a friend of his."

"He's not due back until tomorrow. He had to go visit Mr. Heller, our family's solicitor, and he thought he would be late enough that he wouldn't return until morning."

Gunn was making moves towards the phone, but Angel shook his head. Cordelia was speaking now. "Oh. Well, could you possibly have him call me when he gets in? It's pretty important; it has to do with a case we're working on."

"Oh. You're one of his...co-workers?" The friendly tone had grown a little awkward now, as if his mother didn't quite know what to say to a group of what were essentially amateur Watchers, when the professional versions were a part of her usual society.

"Yup, that's us. I'm Precognitive Headache Girl. I leap tall bottles of Tylenol in a single groan."

There was polite, if confused laughter on the other end of the line, then Angel heard the sound of something being clicked very near the phone. "May I take your number, then?"

"He has it. But just in case he's forgotten, it's..." She gave the office number. Then she gave her home number. Then she gave Spike and Xander's number. "If he can't reach me there, he can ring his own cell-phone, since he left it sitting on his desk," she finished off.

"It sounds rather important, then," his mother said.

"Oh, it is. It could be a matter of life and death." Cordelia mouthed, "His," at Angel.

When she'd hung up, Gunn looked at her like she'd gone nuts. "You give her enough numbers?"

"I want him to think there really *is* an emergency, and he *has* to call me back," she said unapologetically. "If he thinks it's about a case, then he might not dodge us."

"That's devious and underhanded," Angel told her. "Thanks."

Cordelia smiled, proudly. "You're welcome. I actually got the idea from Carla -- but you can't tell Xander."

"We haven't even told him we know you two have lunch together," Gunn pointed out. "Although I don't understand why -- someone tell me again why I can't give that guy a hard time?"

Angel gave him a flat look, trying to pull his thoughts away from Wesley. Wasn't coming home? "Because if you tell him...." He frowned, and tried to remember. "Why exactly don't we tell him?"

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Because it's more *fun* this way. God, don't you two ever remember anything that doesn't involve killing demons, or Wesley's swimsuits?"

Angel tried to think about Wes's swimsuits. Tried to think about Wes, wearing a swimsuit. But all he could think was - Wes didn't want to come home?

Cordelia waved her hands in front of his face. "Hey. Angsty One. Go pack."

"Huh?"

"Pack. Clothes. Yours. Gunn's. Um, no, maybe you should just pack Gunn's, and let me shop for you when we get to London."

"What?" That was from Gunn. "Whaddya mean, pack? He said not to go over there."

She put her hand on her hips. "He also said give Spike my beer. The man is *cracked*, Gunn. He needs medical attention. Or at least a good swift kick in the ass from a pair of size seven Prada pumps."

Neither of the men were going to point out that the only people in the hotel who could fit into size seven pumps were Spike and Xander's fish. Angel shook his head, at the rest of the statement. "Maybe. I don't know. But we at least have to wait for him to call back."

Cordelia looked at her watch. "Fine. I'll give him an hour. In the meantime, you can pack."

"We're not packing," Angel told her. "We're going to wait until Wesley calls, and see what he says."

"Yeah, see if he's drunk or just stupid," Gunn added. "We can just tell him to come home, and we won't have to go anywhere." To Angel, it didn't sound as if Gunn *truly* believed what he was saying. But it sounded good.

"You should call the airline," Cordelia said. "Do you want me to? Actually, I can have Carla do it -- she's way too good at making reservations without *any* connections. It's eerie."

Angel looked at Cordelia, not quite sure he believed what he was hearing. "We're not going anywhere," he repeated.

"You don't want to get last minute tickets to England, Angel. Trust me -- even a few hours' in advance will make it a lot easier."

"We aren't going anywhere," Angel said again. He glanced down at himself -- still not a newt. He must mean it, then. "We're not going anywhere because we won't need to," Angel added quietly. He wished he was as sure of that as he sounded -- and he wasn't sure he sounded all that sure. He wasn't a purple and orange amphibian, but there was a difference between lying out loud, and wondering if you were lying to yourself.

Gunn nodded, looking defiant -- then he reached for the cordless phone. "I'm just gonna... take this with me, while I go up and get dressed. Don't wanna freeze my ass off waitin' around down here for him to call." He started up the stairs, and Angel, after another look at Cordelia, who was heading for the front desk and the switchboard phone, turned to follow.

"Don't forget to pack your toothbrushes!" Cordelia called after him.

******

"Hey, thanks for the offer -- we'll definitely keep it in mind..." Xander was calling over his shoulder. Spike tapped him on the other one, then moved round behind him with vampiric speed, so that there was no one there when he looked. "Dork," Xander said, spinning all the way around and grabbing him.

"Who's the dork -- I'm not the one talking to people who aren't there," Spike pointed out. Xander looked around.

"Oh-- we're here. Damn. That was quick!"

Spike nodded. They stood in the basement bar of the Hyperion, directly facing the dart board upon which he habitually kicked Wesley's arse. "Yeah. Hmmph. You'd think somebody would've been round to meet us. Make sure we came through in two pieces, not counting luggage. At least Wes, since he did the spell in the first place." He looked down at the bags around their feet. One, two, three, four, five. "Er, didn't we only have four bags?"

"I bought the fifth one from the desk clerk, to carry all your stolen towels, which I also bought," Xander answered.

Spike stared in disbelief at his obviously-ill-trained glurble. "You *what*? Well, I don't want 'em." He reached down to grab his own two bags and headed for the lift. He found himself listing backwards, as someone's grip on the back of his shirt threatened to pull him off balance. "Yes?" he asked, as politely as his mum had taught him.

"You don't want the towels you stole?" Xander asked, looking less confused than he ought to be.

"Well, I didn't steal them now, did I? You bought them. Where's the fun in that?"

"Spike," Xander said in a very reasonable, patient tone which always made Spike want to depants somebody named Xander. "We would have been charged for them whether I told them we were stealing them, or not. There was even a line on the invoice for 'stolen merchandise/internal' and 'stolen merchandise/external' which I'm guessing means that they charged us for the cigarettes you stole from the newsstand."

Spike looked behind him, wondering who Xander meant. Stolen cigarettes? He didn't smoke anymore. Couldn't have been him, and he let Xander know. He looked cute.

"You don't think I don't know what brand Angel smoked? Spike, if you leave cigarettes around his office and suite, and he gives in to temptation and smokes one, you know what he's going to do?" Xander looked stern.

"Spank us?"

"Yes-- why 'us'?"

"Because he'll know you didn't stop me."

Xander grinned. "Cool!"

Not that Angel really would, not with his two humans growling at him. But it would piss him off, and make him *want* to smack them, which was almost as much fun. Especially watching him have to reign in the impulse. Spike started for the lift, again. Xander grabbed him by the collar, again.

"Forgetting something?" Xander asked, pointing to the fifth bag.

"*You* bought 'em."

"*You've* got the super-strength. Besides, the cigarettes are in there too."

"Well, why didn't you say so." Spike grabbed the shoulder strap and added the bag to his load. "Still think that lot could've come to meet us," he grumbled as they entered the lift. "See if they get any pressies, if they don't show up to help carry the bags."

"Like it's such a hardship, Spike. We only have to walk about ten feet with 'em. You just wanna start telling X-rated honeymoon stories right away."

"Well, duh..." The lift creaked its way to their floor, as Spike was still rolling his eyes.

"We'll drop the bags in our suite, then go downstairs and find everybody, okay?"

Spike nodded, and followed Xander down the hall to their door, which was, as usual, not locked. Everyone was afraid of the fish food, or possibly the fish. "Dru?" he called.

"Um, love of my life?" Xander was saying, hesitantly, as he stared at the door. Spike looked over and saw there was a piece of paper stuck to it.

He looked at Xander. "It isn't my fault."

Xander just pulled the paper off the door, and handed it to him. Spike took it, but didn't look at it. He peered into their suite, wondering where Dru was. Maybe she'd taken the kids to the hot tub?

"Spike, read it."

"Not sure I want to." Xander was acting like Spike had got caught doing something important. Was it too late to just run downstairs and find someone to regale with stories of nakedness in the Queen's court? Not that Xander had let him, but nobody *here* would know that.

"Spike, it says 'Daddy gave me--"

"All right!" Spike didn't put his hands over his ears, but he did give Xander a glare, and read the note.

'Daddy gave me the pool, so I've taken my niece and nephews down to play. It has more room for the crocodiles, anyway. Can we get some monkeys?' It was signed 'Drusilla'. Spike handed it back to Xander. Then he carefully set his bags down inside the doorway.

Xander looked at him worriedly. "Shouldn't we be going down there? Like, now? Before either our children or our whatever-the-hell Dru is, get eaten by large carnivorous reptiles?"

"The crocodiles are imaginary. She's had 'em for years. I'm more worried about the monkeys. If she pouted Angel into buying her some, and she tries to feed real monkeys to imaginary crocodiles..." Spike shook his head, and started to walk past the bags, into the room. Yet again, he was stopped by a yank on his collar. He turned round to see that Xander had set his own bags down in the hallway, and was looking at him expectantly. "What?"

"I believe somebody told me I got to be the manly man when we got home." With that, Xander grabbed him, and wrangled him round til he was being carried like some swooning chit. How Xander managed to balance holding somebody like that who was only a couple of inches short than himself, Spike would never know, but balance he did, as he carried Spike over the threshold, then deposited him with a loud 'boing!' on the couch.

Then Spike watched as Xander turned around to pick up the bags, and stopped, still, staring at the wall where the fishtank used to be. "Uh--" Xander said. Then, "Uh? She carried the whole tank downstairs to the pool?"

"Probably. S'alright. We've got a spare." Spike pointed to the opposite wall, managing to stifle his shit-eating grin, somehow.

A large freshwater tank ran half the length, filled with growing plants, colorful rocks, and several half-chewed bubbly divers. There was even a separate small tank attached to it, just as Spike had ordered. Angel had set the whole thing up while they were gone, just as Spike had asked him to -- though he'd probably waylaid Dru into distracting the kids while he got the tanks ready, the big chicken. Afraid of a few friendly nips from his own grandchildren...

Xander was staring open-mouthed at the setup. "Uh..." he repeated.

"Happy Wedding?" Spike offered. Xander's mouth closed and opened several times, and Spike decided the kids really did take after him, on that account. They got the teeth from Spike, though. "We did want a bigger place for the kids, right? It's even got an extra tank for the fry, 'cos...er...they're a bit cannibalistic." Spike was looking carefully, to see if Xander was pleased with it.

He must have been, because he bent over the couch and kissed Spike on the forehead, very softly. "You're a very good husband and father, you know that?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Well, of course I am. Read all the books, didn't I?"

Xander stood over him, grinning slightly. "The New Joy of Gay Sex does not count as a fatherhood manual, Spike." He crossed his arms, and just stood there for a moment, still looking at Spike, and at the wedding present against the wall.

Eagerly, Spike waited to see if Xander was going to strip for him, or strip *him*, or just order Spike to do one or the other. Instead he found Xander walking back towards the door. "Oi! Aren't we gonna shag?"

Xander gave him a very amused look, over his shoulder. Spike pouted at him, but Xander turned his head too fast. "I'm gonna go find Dru, and make sure there aren't any monkeys being eaten by...anything. Imaginary or not."

Spike folded his own arms. "And you'd rather make the hotel safe, than stay up here with a very good husband and father and be naked? I'd go for partially naked," Spike offered. Xander was still walking away, so Spike scrambled up and hurried after him. He wasn't about to waste his time pouting at the *wall*, for cripes' sake. "What d'you think you can do, that Angel and his hairy beasts can't?"

"Watch?"

"Better things to watch than Dru pouting at Angel," Spike reminded him. Xander was ignoring him, though, and still headed for the stairs. "Xa-an..."

"Spike, you act like we didn't just have sex an hour ago."

"Because we didn't!"

That got him. Spike tried not to show any signs of glee, as Xander stopped, and looked at him with a bewildered look on his face. "Excuse me? Who was I having an orgasm with, then?"

Spike grabbed Xander's watch, and tapped its face. "It was 75 minutes ago. Not an hour. I'm a newlywed, I need lots of sex."

"You're a doofus, and I wanna go find everybody. Come on." Xander returned to his quest to prevent Spike from having sex any time in the next half hour, and headed for the stairs.

Spike stared at his husband's backside, as it disappeared down the stairs. Grumbling, he followed. Angel had better be down there for Spike to annoy, or else Spike was going to...er...be even more annoyed. Half a flight down, he could hear Cordelia going on about something. Sounded like she was yelling at Angel. Spike grinned, and hurried. Seeing Princess give his Sire what for was even better than annoying Angel, himself. As Spike caught up, Xander glanced over at him and raised an eyebrow. He could probably hear Cordy now, as well.

Spike just grinned even wider and hurried them along. When they reached the lobby, they found Angel and Gunn both being yelled at by Cordelia. Admittedly, it wasn't a real yelling -- not like they'd destroyed Cordelia's new leather shoes, or some other cardinal sin. But they'd been idiots about *something*, that was clear. Spike sauntered over, and gave them a big smile when they looked over. "Well, anyone want to know what we did while we were gone?"

Angel didn't respond, and Gunn just shook his head once. Cordelia gave both Spike and Xander a worried look. Spike frowned. "What's going on?"

He glanced around. "Where's Wesley?"

"In England!" Cordelia replied, glaring at Angel and Gunn again.

Spike blinked, then started to laugh. "You don't mean to say he came after us to help with the bags after all, and got sucked into vamp-land when we came through?" He wasn't remotely worried that Wes would be in danger. Even assuming some uncouth vamp like his own double decided to ignore protocol and snack on an uncollared human, Wesley hadn't worked in this business for this long without learning to defend himself from vampire attacks -- or hotel concierges who'd want a bribe to tell him where he was.

"Not *that* England, slow boy. *Real* England."

Spike blinked. "Oh. Er... why?"

Then Cordelia was explaining, at a speed he'd have had no idea the human body was capable of producing if he hadn't lived with the King of Babble for seven years. With frequent interjections of "No, that's not what I meant," and "But he *said* not to come over..." from Angel and Gunn. Xander's eyes were bouncing up and down, and he kept glancing at Spike as if he was only barely getting it, and would be requiring a translation for those with only human-level hearing, later on.

"And it's been two *days* and he hasn't called back, and *these* idiots don't want to fly over there and drag him home!" she finished off. Spike was fairly sure she'd said that bit already, but even *he'd* gotten slightly lost once the back-and-forth shouting had started up again.

"Er, so?" Spike asked, and he knew it was a mistake as soon as he'd got to the 'er'. Princess was about to take his head off, so he ducked behind Xander and added, "Why don't we just go over there, then?"

Cordelia threw up her hands. "That's what *I* say! God, I can't believe I'm saying this, but even *Spike* agrees with me." She stopped, and frowned. "Normally I'd say that was cause for checking myself into an institution. But in this case I'll say it's due to the fact that Spike likes Wesley."

"Not that way!" Spike said quickly, even though Sire and grumpy Sire's Other Lover barely glanced his way. Reflex was a wonderful thing, kept you undead.

Xander was staying quite handily in front of Spike -- and what was up with that, Spike wondered. Since when does Xander not try to toss Spike back into the fray? Maybe his brain was still all glurbled. Spike didn't ask, as his hus-glurble. Glurble. As he said, "I have a company jet we can use, if tickets are the problem?"

When everyone stared at him, he added, "Not *my* company. I have David's jet. Um, he might not *know* I still have it."

"So you let me think I'd have to fly cargo on the honeymoon because..." Spike asked.

Xander looked at him. "So we'd end up going someplace you couldn't get to by plane, d'uh."

Spike opened his mouth, then closed it, then nodded. Made a mental notch on his "Things I Must Get Xander Back For" list, and went on with looking innocent and helpful in Cordelia's direction.

"Well, David certainly won't mind if we use his plane," she said. "He still owes me for fixing him up with Jonathan, anyway."

Spike bit his tongue. *He* certainly wasn't going to be the one to tell her that David Nabbit, visibly flaming nelly that he was, was also straight as a parson's nose, and his roleplaying sessions with Jonathan Levenson were just... roleplaying. He was rather hoping Angel got stuck with making that little revelation about Cordy's matchmaking abilities.

"We're *not* -- " Angel started.

Cordelia cut him off. "Come *off* it, Angel. You're just as worried as the rest of us, and there's nothing you'd like more than the stomp in there, throw Wes over your shoulder, beat your chest and yell like the large hairy man-thing you are, and carry him off into the sunset. Well, the moonrise, anyway."

"I'm not hairy," Angel said absently. He looked like he was trying to put a real answer together at the same time. Spike kept expecting to see smoke coming out of his ears, or a little popup window telling him the system was dangerously short on resources.

Gunn frowned. "Maybe she's right, Angel. It's been too long. It's not *like* Wes to make us worry. Not on purpose."

Angel frowned too -- then he growled. "Wes asked us not to go over there." He looked at Cordelia. "You're right. Every instinct in me is telling me to hop in Xander's plane, or David's, or whoever's, or just jump in the damned ocean and *swim* across, and take what's mine." Then he looked at Gunn. "But I'm not going to."

Gunn looked back at him, challengingly. "Why not?"

"Because he asked us not to. He made his decision -- if he wants to unmake it, he knows where we are."

For a moment, everyone stared at Angel. Spike was pretty sure they were all thinking the same thing - 'Should I smack him?'

"So you're gonna just let him go, without a word." Gunn crossed his arms and glared. "Well, not me. If he thinks he wants to stay in England--"

"Stay in England?" Spike blurted. Maybe he should have listened to Cordelia more closely.

"Yeah. Hello? Earth to Spike?" Gunn didn't say it quite the way Cordelia did, which made Spike feel safe in growling at him. Gunn just glared at him, and said, "He says he's staying. For *good* unless we go talk some sense into his pansy ass."

"Didn't you hear the part where Wesley said you could have his beer?" Xander asked, sounding all smug about the fact that he'd followed that part of the rant, and Spike hadn't. Xander just had more practice, was all, what with monthly staff meetings.

"I was distracted," Spike muttered, glancing towards Cordelia's chest, which got him smacked, and dimpled at. "So tell me again why you aren't already back across the pond, dragging him home?" Spike asked.

Angel sighed, sounding truly set upon by the weight of annoying childer everywhere. "Because he's a grown man, and he can make his own decisions. I'm not going to second guess him, or demand that he do what *I* want, when his family needs him."

"What about this family?" Cordelia demanded.

But Angel just shrugged. Gunn continued staring in disbelief, then he shook his head. "Fine. You stay. I'm going -- Xan, where've you got this plane stashed?"

"David's got a hangar at LAX." Xander was looking questioningly at Angel, though. "Angel--"

"Xander, leave it alone," came the reply. One tick over the safe side of the line that would have Spike growling at anybody who talked like that to Xander, Sire or no.

Xander saved him the trouble of deciding whether he should growl at Angel anyway, just because it was fun. Spike's glurble blinked, then nodded and turned to Gunn. "I'll call David and let him know I've still got the code keys and we're taking it international tonight. You guys packed?"

Cordelia gave him a 'd'uh' stare that would probably have wilted anyone who'd never dated her, and said, "I *know* you didn't just question my preparedness for international travel, oh small boy who used to think road trips to Tijuana for his uncle's favorite beer made him a jetsetter...."

"Hey, at least *I* didn't get *killed* in the first alternate dimension I ever went to." There was a glint of predatory amusement in Xander's eyes that made Spike want to do something to him against a door. Or a wall. Or Cordelia, if she wouldn't come after them with an axe.

Anya had told Spike all about that alternate universe. At the time, the story had prompted him to drag Xander to the mall and pour him into some leather trousers, then take him dancing, just so he'd have the fun of peeling his lover out again after. Much later, it had made him think thoughts he didn't want to think, about how different that other Xander sounded from his own.

"How was I supposed to know you were a vampire?" Cordelia shot back.

"The black leather?"

"I probably just thought it was some *really* bizarro dimension, where you had taste. Anyway, the second dimension I visited, I was a Queen. And I mean the kind with the crown, not the kind with the husband's hand down the back of his pants."

Xander just grinned, and whapped Spike's hand. "You're beautiful when you're shallow and vicious. Anyone ever tell you that?"

Cordelia smiled, and Spike didn't bother to inform her that Xander was obviously talking to *him*. She gestured at Gunn, who was heading towards the stairs. "You're packed, too. And tall, dark, and broody. I didn't touch those animal print underwear, though." She wrinkled her nose.

Gunn raised an eyebrow. "Should I ask where my suitcase is?"

"Car?" Cordelia rolled her eyes.

He narrowed his eyes. "And the pilot?"

"He's at the Biltmore. Waiting."

Spike felt Xander shiver. He leaned close and whispered, "You need to not let her hang around Carla anymore."

Xander gave him a look that said he thought Spike was crazy. Spike kissed him, then got pushed away. "What makes you think Carla's the evil influence?"

"I heard that!"

"I'll go grab our bags," Spike offered, giving his husband a slight nudge towards Cordelia. Hopefully it would distract her long enough for him to make a getaway. Not that she made *him* want to shiver, or anything.

******

They were making way too much noise, Angel thought. He sat in one of the upholstered chairs in the lobby, trying to ignore them as they made their last-minute checks and phone calls, grabbed things they thought they'd need, and whined about carrying the suitcase full of stolen towels, whatever the point of that was.

He hadn't moved from the chair he'd sunk into when they all jumped into action, and none of them had stopped to try convincing him again, which was perfectly fine with Angel. He might not be able to convince Cordelia to give it up -- and he'd long since given up believing she'd take a direct order from him -- but he didn't have to participate in the madness.

He could sit here and... That was the problem, of course. He could sit here and do nothing. Except think. Brood. And no one was going to paint his toenails to snap him out of it, now.

No one. 'No one' might never do that again, since it had been 'no one's' idea in the first place, and Gunn had gone along with it because it was fun. Angel resisted the urge to take his shoes off and stare at the chipped Purple Passion on his feet right now.

"You're very silly," a low voice commented. It was feminine, oddly musical, and he'd known it for over a century. Angel opened his eyes, and looked up to see Drusilla standing in front of him, holding the small travel Piranha tank in her arms.

"They're not taking the fish, are they?" he asked, blinking.

"No, silly Daddy. I'm watching the babies." She frowned. "I know what you're thinking, and you are. You're *very* silly."

Angel stretched, limbs stiff from sitting still and trying to pretend he wasn't paying attention to the bustle that had been going on round him. Then he settled back and closed his eyes again. "Dru, if you know what I'm thinking, you've got one up on me."

There was no answer, except a laugh. When he opened his eyes again -- since a laugh from Dru could mean anything from 'That's a lovely Christmas card' to 'The building is on fire' -- she was gone. There was a reason to go to England, right there. He could avoid spending the next few days alone with Dru. Not that he would ever tell *her* that...since she probably already knew. But to be locked up with her and Spike and Xander's insane pet fish was a very good argument for going.

But he wasn't going. Wesley had *asked* them not to. Told them, in fact, straight out. 'Don't come'.

It wasn't that he thought Wesley was *right*, really. Deep down Angel thought Wesley belonged here, no matter what was wrong with his parents. But what Angel wanted wasn't necessarily what Wesley wanted. If Wesley wanted to come home, all he had to do was say so. Angel would be the first one on the plane, if Wesley asked them to come get him. But Wesley had asked that he not come. So he wasn't. And why was he the only one who was respecting Wesley's wishes?

Angel frowned, and listened as Gunn called out something to Xander, something which Angel wasn't listening to because he didn't care if anyone had an extra set of keys and if they should hire a taxi or take Angel's car. Wait, take *his* car?

*His* car? Okay, true, Xander's car was too small for four people *and* their luggage, and Gunn's truck was out of the question. Cordy didn't drive if she could help it in case she got a vision behind the wheel, so his was the most logical choice. But it was *his* car!

He was *not* listening. He could *not* hear them bumping suitcases down the hall towards the garage, or Spike calling back last good byes to the fish. He didn't care if they took his car and left it sitting at the airport. He could always hotwire Gunn's truck, pick up his own car, and leave the truck to be impounded at LAX. Would serve him right.

Angel was glad he hadn't said any of that out loud, or he'd be flicking his little newty tail right now. Especially for the last part; Gunn just wanted Wes back, as much as Angel did. More, maybe. No, not more. But...maybe Gunn thought he knew Wes better than Angel did. That this was like Wesley's little 'show me you love me' head games during sex. Hell, maybe it was, but Wes had *said* straight out -- don't come here. That wasn't the same as "No, really, it's okay, I don't need to have my legs held apart held forcefully and be rimmed until my eyeballs roll back in my head."

No matter how many secret handshakes he and Gunn had, or Laker games they'd been to while Angel was living in Darla-inspired la-la land, there was a part of Wes that sometimes only Angel saw -- a part against which you didn't press, because it was too stiff. Too hard, too brittle. Times that you had to take him at his word, because if you pushed him on it, you'd break something. What if this was one of those times, and with or without Angel there, they pushed, and something shattered?

Angel could trust Gunn to try to put him back together, and Cordelia and -- god help him -- even Spike could help pick up whatever pieces of Wesley they broke. If he were *there*, though, Angel could stop them from hurting Wes in the first place.

He realized he was standing, before he realized he'd decided to go. He frowned, and sat back down. He was worrying for nothing. They weren't going to hurt Wes. They were just going to go talk him out of the decision he'd made. The decision that the intelligent, self-reflective man had come to after at least two weeks to think about it. Angel noticed he was standing again. He stepped back to the chair and sat down. He wasn't going.

He could maybe go down to the garage and yell at them not to hurt Wes, though. Warn them not to argue with him or push him or do anything more than just ask him if he really wanted to stay.

Angel noticed he was several steps towards the parking garage. How the hell had he skipped standing up again? He wasn't going with them, he told himself sternly. He was just going to tell them they'd better be nice to Wesley, or he'd.... Well, yell when they got back. Although if he *did* go, he could yell at them right away...

Fuck it. Angel ran towards the garage, hoping they hadn't left yet.

When he got there, he found Cordelia leaning casually against the driver's side door, holding out the keys. Everyone else was already packed into the back seat.

"I'm not--" Newt. Spike laughing at him. The whole six-month quarantine for pets, in England... "I still don't think you're right," Angel explained as he took the keys.

"Uh-huh."

"I'm only going along to make sure you guys don't screw things up."

"Uh-huh."

Angel frowned. "I mean it. I'm *not* going to enjoy myself."

"Whatever." Cordelia had already slid into the front passenger seat, and was slamming the door behind her.

Angel got in, and turned the key in the ignition. "I'm doing this under protest."

"Gonna be doing it under water if you don't shut up," Spike observed. "Princess'll chuck you out the plane window into the ocean."

Angel turned to Cordelia as he started the car's engine. "Can we make Spike fly cargo? Please?"

There was a sniff from the back seat. "Hmmph. See if you get any pressies."

Cordelia's eyes lit up. Angel groaned.

"Besides, who's providing this plane, anyhow?" Spike demanded. Angel glanced over his shoulder as he backed out of the parking spot.

"David," Angel told him.

"Er, yeah, but if it weren't for Xander's ability to eat two pounds of gummy worms at one sitting, David wouldn't have lost his pl--" He stopped as Xander elbowed him. It looked like Xander had put a lot of force behind it, too. "He wouldn't have lent us the plane in the first place. So you better be nice to me, or we won't let you go."

Angel didn't bother trying to follow any of the more insane threads of Spike-logic in that claim. "I don't want to go," he reminded them, instead. No one looked like they believed him. "I mean it," he reiterated. Could they not *see* that he hadn't turned into a lizard? Well, those of them who knew he was under the spell, which would be Cordy and Gunn. He hadn't been about to let Spike know he couldn't lie, even if it *was* part of his childe's wedding gift.

There was smug silence, and Angel headed towards the garage exit. He heard Xander start to say "Um", but he was apparently stifled. Angel was trying to think of a way to explain, again, that he was only going to protect Wesley, without insulting anyone -- say, Gunn -- enough that he'd be in real trouble.

"Er, Ang--" Cordelia started, then cut off and turned around to glare into the backseat. Angel ignored her -- they were all obviously trying to distract him, or convince him that he was going in order to bring Wes home.

"You gonna--" Gunn began. Angel heard someone thump him, then Gunn was demanding, "What the fuck was that for? You're gonna turn to ash too, moron."

Angel slammed on the brakes, twenty feet away from the garage exit, so he could put the top up before driving out into the sun. "I hate...arrgh. I have extreme dislike for all of you," he muttered.

"Ow!" he heard Spike say. Then, sullenly, "Just wanted to see how close he'd get."

"I didn't marry you just so you could get yourself killed the day we get back from the honeymoon," Xander informed him.

"I'd've ducked under you," Spike protested.

If this lasted all the way to the airport, Angel might just decide to put the top down again, he thought. Why did his two blissful weeks of no Spike have to be combined with two unhappy weeks with no Wes? The only reason it *didn't* last all the way to the airport was that Cordelia distracted them again by asking about presents -- which were packed away in one of the suitcases in the trunk, so they all had to make do with Spike and Xander's disturbing hints about what they might have brought home with them.

Especially the 'remembrances' from the other universe's version of Dru. Imagining what *those* might consist of did a good enough job of distracting Angel that before he knew it, they were pulling into the underground long-term parking garage in the private business section of LAX. Then there was yammering about who was going to carry the suitcases, and where were they supposed to meet the pilot, and did everyone have his passport, and Spike wanting to buy a Tom Clancy novel that he wasn't going to read, just to say he'd had a proper airport experience, since this would be the first time he hadn't flown cargo.

Before he knew it, Angel was sitting in the window seat of the flight he hadn't intended to take, staring out at the sky through polarized glass, wondering what, if anything, he should say to Gunn. His lover had been avoiding him -- sometimes subtly, sometimes rather pointedly, but, there was no doubt, avoiding him. He wasn't sure if Gunn was mad at him, or not. Angel could think of some good reasons for it, starting with him implying that Gunn was going to England to do something, even accidentally, to hurt Wesley.

But Gunn wasn't the sort that had to be followed around and talked into telling you what you'd done wrong. Sooner or later he'd get his own back on Angel, either by pissing Angel off or giving him a good thump or being attacked by slimy demons and deciding to let bygones be bygones.

Unlike Wesley. Angel closed his eyes and pretended to be concentrating on not thinking about the fact that he was on an airplane. He'd never been on an airplane before, a fact he wasn't sure anyone else knew. But really, he was thinking about Wesley, and how you had to trick him into telling you what was bothering him, or how you had to listen to what he was saying and put it together with what he wasn't saying and.... Angel was starting to get a headache.

The plane was moving forward, now. Spike was jabbering about something, to Cordelia -- something about England, and a shopping trip. He didn't want to listen. Spike and Cordelia bonding? He *really* didn't want to listen.

He could read, of course. There was Spike's Clancy novel, discarded on the seat across the aisle from him, as Angel had known it would be. Not that Spike didn't read; you just had to get him in the right mood. Either extremely relaxed, or extremely bored. So bored that bouncing around and annoying people lost its appeal. Angel suspected Spike wouldn't be picking up a book in the near future.

The prospect didn't appeal much to Angel, either, though; spy thrillers didn't do much for him. He could stand up and walk around as soon as David's private stewardess made the announcement that it was safe to get up and move about now. But if he did, there was a good chance everyone would notice how worried he was. After all, where was there to go? Only over to sit with someone else, or the restroom, and he'd definitely be looked on suspiciously if he headed that way.

Angel shook his head, and found, to his surprise, that a shake was turning into a nod. Well, it *had* been a long, argument-filled morning. A quick nap wouldn't do any harm, and might get rid of the ache in his skull. He'd likely wake up when the plane lifted off anyway, whereupon he could...return to thinking about things that gave him headaches. He closed his eyes lightly, still half braced for the pressure he was expecting when the plane began to pick up speed. He opened them a few seconds later, to hear the stewardess saying, "Would you like O negative, or AB?" in his ear.

"Huh?" He blinked, and looked up to see the stewardess standing beside the row of seats. She was smiling brightly at him, which would have made her pretty if it weren't for the third and fourth eyes and the tusks. "O?" Angel told her, not completely sure what she was asking. He'd barely -- Angel caught sight of the window beyond her, and saw clouds.

"I'll be right back!" the stewardess was saying, in a perky voice. Angel leaned closer to the window, and looked down.

Clouds. Fleecy white clouds.

He leaned back, fast, and wondered how long he'd been asleep and whether he could manage to sleep for the next however many hours it would take to get to England.

"What's the matter, Deadboy? Afraid of heights?" Xander plopped down in the seat beside him, looking entirely too nonchalant. Angel reminded himself that Xander traveled rather a great deal, on business. He'd usually only be gone for a day or two, but he flew at least twice a month.

"Nah, heights are fine." Angel didn't look out the window again. Maybe talking to Xander would distract him from flying, *and* from other headache inducing things.

"How often have you flown?"

"Oh, you know...never."

Xander blinked at him. "Never? Oh, you mean like Spike -- you've always had to be stuffed in a box in cargo, before."

"No, I mean never."

"You're two hundred and fifty something, and you've never flown in a plane before? How'd you get to the States in the first place?"

"Boat." Yes, this was distracting him from flying. Too bad he *couldn't* have lied, to shut off this line of inquiry. "They float on water. Kind of like rubber ducks, but bigger."

Xander was wide-eyed, now, though grinning lightly. "Whoa -- Angel makes with the attempts-to-be-funny. You *must* be nervous."

"I'm not nervous," Angel answered. He wasn't. He was too worried, to be nervous. Not worried about flying, not really. At least not more than the dozen other things he was worried about. He just *seemed* more concerned about flying than anything else, because it was happening, right now. He was flying, and people weren't supposed to do that. Not even dead people. Bats were supposed to fly, and if he suddenly developed the Drac-u-lesque ability to turn into one, he wouldn't mind flying at all.

"You know nothing'll happen to you, right? I mean, even if the plane crashed over the ocean, you'd be fine. The humans would drown, but you'd just be stuck inside the plane, underwater. With Spike."

"Thank you. That's... not exactly comforting."

"You could always stake him, so I'd have company," Xander added.

Angel peered at him, but declined to respond. Xander gave him a grin, and said nothing more. They sat in silence for a while -- it was almost companionable, and Angel was beginning to get paranoid. He was just turning his head to demand Xander get on with it, when Xander spoke.

"So, uh."

Angel waited. When there was nothing more immediately forthcoming, he decided that if nothing else, talking to Xander would work off a bit of his Go To Hell, Go Directly to Hell points. "Yes, Xander?"

The man sitting beside him shifted in his seat, a worried look on his face that made him look exactly like the sixteen year old boy Angel had first met. He could understand why Spike was insisting on waiting until Xander looked older, before turning him. Angel thought he'd probably have to wait til Xander was about 35.

He couldn't imagine what Xander would have to talk to him about, unless something had happened in the other England. They *had* met their counterparts, but Spike had gleefully explained at some point on the drive over, how the other Spike and other Angel had spent the entire week having sex. The look on Xander's face when Spike had told them, let Angel know there was nothing about *that* which bothered Xander. If anything, he looked a little too interested.

Angel wasn't about to tell him that it was physically impossible for vampires to have sex for a week...without stopping at least twice a day. Not that Angel *knew*, but it was what he'd heard. Yeah. What he'd heard. He just hoped nobody asked him about it before Wes took the truth spell off.

"Um..." Xander said again. Awkwardly. It suddenly clicked in Angel's head, and he only escaped his urge to groan because the stewardess chose to show up at that moment, handing him a warm mug of O neg, complete with a drip-proof saucer. Angel gritted his teeth as he took it, because he had an idea of what was going on, now. Xander had been sent as the goodwill ambassador. The person he'd be most likely to talk to, because Gunn wasn't *ready* to talk to him, Cordelia was sick of arguing with him, and they all knew he was moments away from wringing Spike's neck on a *good* day, which this wasn't.

He leaned back, took a sip, and looked at Xander again. Sighed. "I'd have thought you'd understand where I'm coming from, better than anybody. Or was that why they sent you over?'

Xander looked puzzled, as well as awkward, now. "Sent me? Nobody sent me. Can't a guy come over to harass his father-in-law of his own free will?"

Father-in-law? Angel was suddenly grateful for both his drip-proof saucer and the fact that vampires didn't have to breathe, so couldn't technically choke. "I'm not your father-in-law." Not legally, anyway. "Cordy says she found Spike under a cabbage leaf."

"They why'd you give him away at our wedding?"

"Because Cordelia couldn't get the cabbage leaf to do it."

"She could have. Cordelia? Oh, she could have. But nobody wanted to invite it. Come on, Angel, confess -- you did it because you wanted a good seat."

"I did it because Wes and Gunn would have guilted me for a year if I'd said no." True, among other reasons. "I have enough guilt already, thanks."

"So why do you think I'd know where you're coming from?" Xander asked. "Where you're coming from about what?"

Angel hoped Xander wasn't trying to be subtle. He didn't have the strength to deal with subtle, at the moment. Purposely dim, he could handle, but not subtle. "About Wes. About taking off after him when that's exactly what he said he didn't want us to do."

"Oh. That." Xander looked... less comfortable. Not *un*comfortable, exactly; just not as easy as he'd seemed when he first sat down. "You know, Gunn's just trying to--"

Angel shook his head, then nodded, then, since he apparently couldn't decide what to do with his head, simply put up a hand. "I know what Gunn's trying to do. You think I *don't* want to go stomping into his father's house, throw Wes over my shoulder, and... what was that Cordy said?"

"Beat your chest like the hairy man-thing you are," Xander supplied helpfully. He grinned. "I don't think you're hairy. Really."

"Thank you. I appreciate your support." Angel took another sip of his blood. "But I don't know what's going on, and I don't know what Wes wants, and I don't want to be the guy to screw everything up by treating him like some kind of damsel in distress, or a kid who can't think for himself. He's a grown man; I have to respect what he says he wants, even if I hate it. Even if I'm not sure he really wants it." He looked at Xander, who was nodding, slowly -- though Angel couldn't tell if that meant he was agreeing, or just looking over Angel's shoulder at a gremlin on the wing. "I thought out of everybody, you'd get that."

"Oh." Now Xander was definitely nodding. Then frowning. "Um, even though I kinda do, why did you think I would?"

"Because of Spike." Angel could hear him, a few seats back, telling Cordelia something about inviting his mother to visit. His *mother*? Spike's mother? Angel shuddered -- subtly, he hoped. "When he took off for L.A., you let him go. Let him figure out what he wanted to do."

Xander blinked at him, then smiled. Almost shyly, which made Angel blink back. Xander hadn't been shy with anyone in the inner family circle in years. "Ah, yes. The 'if you love something, let it go -- if it doesn't come back, it probably took up with a creepy pole-dancer who never pays for dates and comes on to everything on less than five legs' approach."

"Um, yeah." Angel tried to remember if that was a fair assessment of Marc, or if there was something to Xander's past he didn't want to know about. All right, something *else*.

Xander was still wriggling in his seat as if he couldn't tell if a bug had crawled into his underwear, or if he'd just sat on a magazine. "Normally I would say, yes, that's right, I feel your anguish," Xander finally said. "But , um -- and you can't tell him this, OK?"

Angel felt his eyebrow crawl up his forehead. He didn't know if he were more surprised that Xander was keeping secrets from Spike, or that Xander was going to tell *Angel*. "Sure." There was no way he could say no -- he'd die from curiosity.

Xander turned towards him, and kept his voice low. "I didn't."

Angel stared at him. He waited. When Xander kept acting like *that* was the revelation, he demanded, "Didn't what?"

"Didn't let him go." Xander looked more uncomfortable than ever. "I mean, I *told* him, sure, do what you want, if you feel like you've gotta get out of Sunnydale, fine. If you think this thing between us is all 'cause the Hellmouth is making you crazy, fine. Go live in LA and see what you see. You don't have to wait for me, I don't have to wait for you. If you want me, you know where I am."

Angel nodded. "Yeah, that's pretty much what he told me."

"And it's true. Um, except for the part about him knowing where I was. Since I waited all of an hour before I hopped on a Greyhound and followed him."

Angel felt his other eyebrow crawling up to join its mate. "You were in L.A.?"

Xander nodded. "Yeah -- I moved into that little roach-motel apartment about two days after I got here. I just didn't tell Spike I was here, until he called back to Sunnydale, to say he wanted me to come try life in the big city." Xander grinned, a bit shiftily. "Willow hacked into the phone system and got my Sunnydale number transferred to her second line, and forwarded all the calls to me in L.A. -- so every time Spike thought he was calling back to tell me everything was okay, and he was doing fine, I was about five miles away, and I knew *exactly* how fine he wasn't doing."

Angel found himself suddenly gaining a new respect for Xander. True, he'd seen the obnoxious young man grow up over the last few years -- he'd even had one very embarrassing, never to be mentioned again, bonding session with Giles one night about how much Xander had matured since moving to L.A. But he'd never suspected that he could be so...devious. "You followed him?" he repeated. "You *spied* on him?" he asked, quietly.

Xander grinned. "Oh, hell yeah. I wasn't about to let him go -- but I had to let him make his own decision about not being let go." Despite Xander's satisfied grin, his tone was exactly why Angel had agreed to walk Spike down the aisle and hand him over to Xander. It wasn't *just* to get rid of Spike, officially, once and for all.

Then Angel realized what the logical conclusion of Xander's revelation was, and looked away. Out the window -- bad move. Clouds. He stared at the back of the seat in front of him, instead. "So I'm supposed to go after Wesley, and hang around until he changes his mind?"

"Well, there's more to it than that," Xander admitted. "But it probably wouldn't work for you, because Wes would probably notice. Since he helped me with my surveillance, and all. Gave me a lot of good ideas about getting rid of Marc, too."

"He-- Wes knew you were here?" Angel looked back at Xander.

"Yeah. He's the one who helped me find the apartment. Wes even helped me move my stuff out, so Spike could help me move back in, when I 'officially' came to L.A. You know, for the month that he let me stay in that dump, before he dragged me over to the Hyperion."

Angel stared at him.

Xander shrugged. "What, I was gonna tell you, and assume Spike couldn't worm it out of you? And Cordy would just have bapped Spike upside the head and told him to go see me. Didn't really know Gunn back then, so Wes was the obvious choice. Spike cried all over his shoulder about how much life sucked while they were out getting sozzled on imported beer, and Wes passed that info on. At least some of it, if Spike didn't specifically tell him not to tell anybody."

"I didn't know." That sounded stupid. Of course he hadn't known; that was Xander's point. "I mean, Wes never told me. Later."

"I guess--" Xander shrugged. "Actually, I have no idea. It might just have been that it was part of his life BT -- Before Trio. When you and Gunn were makin' with the relationship, and he was hanging with Spike. That wasn't exactly a banner couple of years for Wes."

"So you're saying you snuck around behind Spike's back, spied on him, and made sure he didn't manage to successfully date anyone else?"

"Yep. Basically. Hey, I didn't do anything to make him decide he wanted me. I just...made sure I wouldn't have to."

"If he'd started having a grand time being a single vampire, again, you'd have shown up and chopped off parts of his anatomy?"

Xander shifted in his seat again. "Well, at that point in my life, I might've just...no, I would've. You're right. Since he could've grown 'em right back anyhow...."

"So I should go to England and storm the castle and throw Wes over my shoulder like the hairy beast I am?"

Xander looked thoughtful for a moment. "I think...you should let Gunn storm the castle. I doubt Wes' folks have a standing invitation for their son's vampiric lovers. Then maybe the two of you can swap out shoulder-slinging duties." Xander gave him a half-smile. "This isn't about forcing Wesley to do something he doesn't want to do, Angel. It's about making sure he's doing what he *wants* to do. Sometimes even smart guys like Wesley and Spike need someone to show them what they want."

"Just because they have the same accent doesn't mean Spike's intell--" Angel stopped, and looked down at the pencil aimed at his chest. "Xander?"

"I'm morally obligated to prevent anyone but me insulting my husband. Except Cordelia, because she's scary. Be nice."

"To Spike?" That was gonna take all the fun out of his unlife.

Xander shrugged. "Nah. But I have to threaten you once in a while. Otherwise he thinks I'm not earning my keep."

Angel was beginning to get that old familiar feeling of losing control of a conversation with Xander Harris Bloody Wyndham-Price whatever Giles. He was surprised it took this long, actually. He eyed the pencil, then gave Xander his best guilt-inducing kicked-puppy look. "You'd point a deadly piece of office equipment at your own father-in-law?"

Xander looked down at the pencil, grinned, and withdrew it. "You think that's deadly, you've obviously never seen what Spike can do when he visits my office. There are random people in Singapore who have faxes of his ass hanging on their walls."

"There are random people all over the world who would much rather have his *head* hanging on their wall," Angel responded, though he couldn't resist a shudder-chuckle at the thought of what else his deranged childe could get up to in a high-tech publishing office.

"True." Xander nodded. "But he's only allowed to give *me* head. Unless prior arrangements have been made."

"Thank you so much for the gratuitous imagery." Angel tried to remind himself that he *wanted* a picture in his head to take the place of being trapped underwater in a sealed airplane with Spike. Not that this was the picture he would have chosen. He leaned back and studied the depths of his blood mug for a second, then finally spoke. "I'll think about it. Not that I *wasn't* thinking about it, but I'll think about it."

"Spike giving me head? You can come watch, if you like. Cordy made the mistake of explaining the Mile High Club to him, and now he wants to see just exactly how many positions are possible in an airplane bathroom."

Angel gritted his teeth, which had the effect of reminding him that he *still* had a headache. "No, what you said about Wes. You can report back to the others that you've done your duty, and Angel's not being an anti-social bastard, he's just tired."

Xander gave him a frown, which made him look eerily like an adult. "No one sent me over here, you know. Not that they wouldn't have, because, yeah, everyone still worries about you even though you pretend they don't. But I was just--" Xander shrugged, and looked uncomfortable. Then he sighed. "That's not why I came over here, though," he admitted, quietly.

Angel opened his eyes and looked over. "If you came over to ask for souvenir money, the answer's no. If you need extra cash, sell Spike."

Xander laughed nervously. "No, I'm good, thanks." Then he was silent again. Angel was this close to asking him to spit or swallow -- or at least digging for a politer version of the same phrase -- when Xander said, "I wanted to ask -- that is, it's not any big secret, but I think he's gonna stall about it and --"

"Oi -- you'd rather chat with a bloke who can't remember he drives a convertible, than have sex in the loo with me?" Spike's voice was loud in Angel's ears, and meshed nicely with the little headache-demon on his shoulder. "Or did you get him to agree to hold the door?" Spike leaned over the seatbacks from the row behind them, and said cheerfully to Angel, "I think position number three is gonna end up with us sprawled on the floor outside the bathroom, unless we can barricade it closed."

Angel closed his eyes again, and thought of Wesley. Thought of Wesley, at his parents' home, being pissed off at Angel for coming to his rescue. It really *was* a better image than Spike and Xander having sex. "Why don't you ask *Gunn* to hold the door for you," he suggested.

"I did. He said he would, but only if he got to flush me down the bog, after." Spike chuckled. "Might be worth it. Can you imagine some poor housewife in Idaho, gettin' hit on the head by a giant blue vampsicle fallin' out of the sky?"

"If you take him away now," Angel said in Xander's general direction, without opening his eyes, "I'll let you use the hot tub when we get home. Free-of-newt."

Xander, ever the businessman even with that odd nervousness still in his voice, said, "Hot tub *and* you have to come to Page's Bar on Trekkie Night with us, if we have time while we're in London."

"Done. Sold. Go." He could just walk in the door of this place, and walk out again, right? Or make damn sure they *didn't* have time.

"In costume," Spike added gleefully.

"No. Leave, before I tell Gunn you're taking him up on his flushing offer." Angel thanked Wesley silently for realizing -- or not -- that an implied lie isn't the same as a direct one.

"You're no fun," Spike complained. Like this was new? Well, for a guy with a vampire's life expectancy, it was sort of new. Angel found himself thinking about the sorts of things Spike had always thought *were* fun, when it came to Angel and Spike being anywhere in the same town together. Back when he'd been Angelus, soulless, and out to dismember anything he could.

Angel flinched as he was whapped on the back on the head. "Don't make me borrow nail polish from Cordelia," Gunn said.

"Oh, I've got some," Spike piped up in a helpful tone. "Black, though, might not suit your purpose."

"Don't you still have some of that blue sparkly stuff?" Xander asked.

"I wasn't--" Angel tried to protest. He shut his mouth in time. Okay, he had been, but he *might* have been thinking about all the grand times they'd spent having sex. Spike had always enjoyed anything that involved getting his end away -- except for the one time a couple of squirrels had got into the boat with them.

Gunn was staring at him, eyes narrowed. "Uh-huh. Legs?"

"Arms and heads, act--" Angel replied reflexively, then caught himself. He tried to glare at Gunn, but it had no effect. Angel pouted. "I wasn't *trying* to think about dismembering people."

"Oo! Why not?" Spike asked, cheerfully. Angel heard the sound of Spike's head being struck by Xander's hand. He could almost hear the echo, too.

Angel peered out the window. Nothing but ocean and clouds. "How long until we get there?" When he heard the answer, he decided his next mug of blood was going to have brandy in it, Or possibly horse tranquilizers.

******

Gunn was about to bitchslap somebody. Surprisingly, it wasn't Spike. More surprisingly, it wasn't even Angel, who had dozed through most of the flight, and fallen back into his not-quite-broody-enough-to-get-his-nails-painted silence, as they made their way underground from Heathrow to Kings Cross Station, and boarded the train for Nottingham.

No, he was about to spin *Xander's* head around if he didn't shut up.

"Look! Sheep!" Xander was sitting in the seat ahead of them, pointing out the carefully-draped train window at a passing meadow. Or field. Or whatever the fuck it was besides fuzzy and green and just like the last 30 of them that they'd passed. The first time Xander had pointed out the sheep, it was cool. The second time, it was funny. The 29th time...

"Xander, you just got *back* from England. And you've been here how many times on business?" Gunn finally asked, in order to stop himself from intruding on Spike's territory and whapping Xander on the back of the head. If he could even focus on it, since Xander was still bouncing in his seat. "What's the big deal about some sheep?"

Xander turned his head to look at Gunn. "Spike and Angel ate a sheep farmer once, and decided to try raising his flock for a couple of months. Somewhere between London and Nottingham, there's a flock of sheep that are kind of my step-grandchildren."

Gunn looked at him. He looked back. Xander seemed perfectly serious, and from the seat next to him, where Spike was slumped to avoid the sunlight that was trying to sneak past the curtain, he heard "Not this one, luv. Our sheep had black ears."

Was it even worth *trying* to respond? Those nutjobs raised piranha and called them their kids, so why couldn't sheep be their grandkids? "Hell, knowing Spike," he muttered, "They really *are* his grandkids."

"Oh, right," he heard from Spike's seat. "Cos Angelus would *never* get drunk an' have unlawful carnal knowledge of a fluffy animal."

Gunn started to comment, when he stopped and looked back at Angel. Angel, who was studiously trying to pretend he had the hearing of a 90 year old human and hadn't heard a word from the seat two feet from his. "Angel?" Gunn demanded, because he *knew* Spike was pulling his leg. It wasn't totally unheard of for Angel to play a joke or two, but to go along with one of Spike's?

Angel looked at him with an expression of innocence. "Yes?"

"Don't make me ask if it's true," Gunn told him. He was trying hard not to think about the fact that Angelus had probably done lots of things that didn't involve killing and torturing, which Gunn still wouldn't want to know about.

"It was Spike!" Angel protested.

"Was not," Spike argued. "You *told* me. You rodgered that fluffy one with the bell round its neck."

"Yes," Angel responded in a patient voice, and Gunn had to force himself not to clap his hands over his ears. "That was *you*."

Gunn grinned as Xander, then Spike, realized what Angel was saying. Xander began laughing hysterically, while Spike looked outraged.

Angel looked very nearly smug. "He was dressed up as a sheep. Even had the little bell around his neck on a blue ribbon, and did a fair 'bah'."

"I am *not* fluffy!" Spike protested. "And I can't remember any such thing. Must've been passed out, or some such. Took advantage of me in my weakened state, he did," he assured Xander, who was still laughing hysterically. "Pervert."

"You'd had two bottles of Scrumpy Jack, I'd had six," Angel said, still smug.

"You're bigger'n me!"

"It was your idea."

That set Spike's husband laughing even harder. Gunn blinked. Husband. Sheesh. *There* was a word. Even after living through six months of Cordy's wedding preparations, and surviving the wedding itself, it was just...weird, to think of those two as married.

He flicked a glance over at Angel, who was actually smiling, just a bit, at Spike, or maybe at Xander. Shit. Right, 'cause *Gunn* hadn't just said yes to the same thing, two weeks ago.

"S'okay, Spike," Xander was whispering now. "*I'll* never get you drunk and make you pretend to be a sheep."

"What, never?" Spike sounded disappointed.

When Gunn and Wes and Angel got married, would they automatically have to become as crazy-ass as those two? Well, no -- Spike and Xander had been pretty crazy before they'd gotten married. Now they were just sickening about it. Gunn glanced over at Angel again, and watched him watching Spike wriggle out of admitting he'd done anything perverted unless Xander wanted him to.

Angel was still smiling, but then his gaze flicked back to Gunn. For a moment they just looked at each other, the silent communication thing going, without Wes around to get into a snit about it. That thought reminded Gunn where they were -- why they were halfway across the globe. Drag Wes back home where they could all three get married.

Gunn felt something inside, give a slight lurch. As he felt it, he saw Angel's expression change. The smile vanished, and the echoes of a serious brood settled into Angel's eyes. Gunn reached over and took Angel's hand. "We're gonna drag his pansy English ass *home* and lock him in the bathroom, if that's what it takes."

"If he wants to come," Angel said quietly. Gunn gave him a sharp look.

"It's gonna take a lot of convincing, to make me think he shouldn't come home with us," Gunn declared. He wasn't totally certain he wouldn't sling Wes over his shoulder, anyhow. He didn't *want* to marry Angel, if Wes wasn't gonna be there.

What was the point? Wes was the one who needed something like a ring and a piece of paper, no matter how not-legal it was, to show that the two of them wanted him for more than just running the show in the office (or pretending to run it when Cordelia's back was turned), and playing the bottom in bed so Gunn and Angel didn't have to flip coins for it.

Gunn knew how Angel felt about him, and though nobody knew exactly what Wes felt about anything, Gunn knew how much he needed the guy who'd once told him that if he fucked up on the job again, he was out, 'bag and baggage.' He'd been pissed at the time, but later, he understood. In the middle of a firefight, two *years* later, when Wes had given him one look, and Gunn had run to knock Cordy out of the way, instead of saving Wes. Right then, Gunn had figured out exactly what it had taken for Wes to make a speech like that -- and had loved him all the more for it.

How could Angel even have questions about whether to grab him and carry him home? If Wesley *did* somehow manage to convince him that he needed to stay...England was going to have two more permanent residents. Gunn felt Angel's fingers press lightly against his -- Gunn knew Angel had felt him relax, again, and was saying that if they weren't on a public train, he'd probably gotten more than just the slight touch. Gunn gave him a half-smile.

Spike and Xander didn't seem to be paying any attention to the whispers and stares, even if they hadn't gone as far as to play their usual every-three-hours tonsil-hockey. The two girls giggling, a few rows back, seemed to be the only ones who didn't really mind the gropes, quick kisses, and things Gunn didn't want to know about that were making Xander say "No, Spike! Not on the train!" and Cordy say, "Damn straight, not on the train. Not anywhere where I can see you -- the airline food was bad enough the first time, thank you."

Gunn returned the pressure on Angel's fingers, and thought about getting Angel and Wesley back to the hotel. Wes wouldn't refuse to see them, would he? Even if he'd started being a prick about returning their calls? Gunn stared towards the shaded window, and tried not to think about why Wesley *was* trying to avoid them.

Maybe... Maybe things really were a mess with his family, and they could help straighten things out, before throwing Wes over one shoulder or another? If it was money, well... Gunn was perfectly willing to go into debt to Xander until he was eighty. Not to help Wesley's parents, who, as far as he was concerned, could suck eggs, but to make Wes feel easy about leaving them alone.

When they hit the Nottingham station and were making their way to the back of the car to grab the luggage, he quietly shared that thought with Xander, after a deep breath. Xander just looked at him, pretty much like he'd suggested one of those sheep in the last field they'd passed had Spike's eyes.

"I ain't hitting you up, Xander. If they need it, I'm saying, we'd do it the legal way. Through a bank, and--"

"Don't be a dork. If Wes needs money, I'm not gonna loan it to *you*. I'm gonna give it to him." Xander rolled his eyes.

"But if he won't take it -- if he gets all proud and stupid and shit--"

"Then Wes' folks will suddenly win the Georgia Lottery, and they'll have all they need," Xander interrupted. He sounded eerie, like an international, inter-species business magnate who hadn't just been laughing at his vampiric husband and making 'baaah' sounds.

"Why don't I ever win the lottery?" Cordelia complained, and Gunn watched the entertainment as Xander tried to explain why he hadn't ever just given Cordy a couple hundred thousand dollars to play with.

Gunn started grabbing bags, and tossing them towards stronger-than-thou vampires. Xander was reaching the 'because you never asked!' lame end of the excuse pool, as Gunn moved past him with his own bag slung over his shoulder. A thought occurred to Gunn -- one he didn't like. "We gonna wait til tonight, to go see Wes?"

"Why? Can't we just stash the sunlight-challenged among us, while we go pay a visit?" Cordelia was smiling. Gunn wondered just how much pocket money she had now.

Angel looked suddenly nonplused. Gunn wanted to grin. So he *wasn't* quite as laid back as he'd been pretending. Looked like Gunn wouldn't need to look around for any help in carrying Wes home. "I don't think a family of Watchers would be very happy to see a vampire on their doorstep, even if we did wait for night," Angel said after a second.

"And we care about their feelings because?" Spike piped up as they headed down a narrow passageway to the rental car pick-up, on the shaded east side of the station.

"Because Wes apparently does, and I don't think we should embarrass him by pissing off his folks," Angel said sharply. Maybe a bit sharper than he'd intended, Gunn thought, because Spike -- *Spike* -- was silent as he walked to the second car and stood in the shadows while Xander dealt with the car rental people, making sure they'd gotten the vamp-safe cars he'd ordered, before they began loading suitcases into the trunks.

When he was alone with Angel in their own car, Gunn was suddenly at a loss for words. They were here. A mile or so away from where Wes lived. Angel was still plainly not happy about the whole thing, no matter how many times he looked like he might give in and be the one to lead the charge. Finally, for lack of anything else to say, Gunn began, "Spike was just--"

"I know he was just. When Spike decides somebody's family, nobody else is allowed to pick on them. Not even their own." Angel looked out the darkened windshield. "Especially not their own."

Gunn wasn't entirely sure he wanted to ask what Angel meant by that. He had some suspicions -- he'd heard a few things, but hadn't ever asked. A survival instinct, that the cops couldn't make you confess to something when you didn't know. Not that Spike had a problem with getting arrested, but Gunn liked being able to swear, in all honesty, that he had no clue exactly what Spike did when he was out of Gunn's sight.

"He's OK," Gunn said quietly, not quite changing the subject. Angel glanced at him sharply, almost looking surprised.

Gunn didn't blame him -- he didn't really believe it, himself. He knew Wes was a grown man, able to take care of himself. But the thought of anyone even hurting Wes' feelings -- the way Wesley's folks always seemed to do -- made Gunn's blood burn. He knew he was over-reacting, but the closer he got, the more he wanted to knock somebody silly at the first sign his father had even looked cross-eyed at Wesley.

It was weird, though, to realize that *Spike* felt the same way. Disturbing, in a way he really didn't want to think about. Made Gunn wonder just how much he didn't know about *Wes*, too, despite all the time they'd spent together when Angel had been off in Darlaville. He didn't *like* to think that he didn't know his lover, but he was beginning to wonder. He didn't like wondering, either.

Gunn felt a poke on his arm. "Huh?"

"I said, do you want me to paint your toenails? I think Spike said he had the blue sparkly stuff." Angel looked deadly serious.

"Try it and you're a dead dead guy," Gunn answered. Then he leaned his head back against the upholstery, which just happened to have Angel's left arm stretched across it.

There was something nice about resting your head on somebody's leather coat sleeve. Especially when somebody didn't say anything about it, just left his arm there, and rested his hand casually on your shoulder, as he drove. Still, by the time they reached the hotel, Gunn was almost ready to admit that maybe they should just paint each *other's* toenails. Maybe they'd let Wes do it. Bribe him to come home, and they'd let him paint them whatever colours he liked.

Or else they'd threaten to paint *his* toenails.

*****

Cordelia was beginning to reconsider her original decision. True, the first two times she'd ever kissed Wesley, there had been nothing by way of passion. There was also the whole 'gay now' thing, not to mention having two boyfriends, even if they were pissed off at him right now. But, seeing the Wyndham-Pryce estate, Cordelia reconsidered.

The family might or might not have a lot of money -- but they had a lot of land, a huge house, servants, and English accents. What else could she possibly ask for?

"Don't even," Gunn's voice jolted her out of her accounting of how many servants a mansion that size would require.

"Huh?"

"I see that look in your eyes, Cordelia. You ain't gettin' him." He sounded stern, but he was smiling, ever so slightly. Xander just shook his head, and moved forward up the porch to ring the bell. It actually took him a few moments of searching the doorway, before he just pressed the area where doorbells usually were.

Cordelia gave Gunn an offended look. "I wasn't thinking anything like that! I was just...you know. Nice house. Nice garden. Could do with a beautiful young woman gracing the rooms with her presence."

"Yeah, well, if you wanna stay here when we take Wes home, be my guest. Maybe they need a new maid."

"Uh! I'll give you 'new maid,' Mr. I Can't Clean The Cheeto Bags Out of My Desk Until The Health Department Comes By To Shut Us All Down. See if I ever--"

The door began to open, and Cordelia broke off mid-threat, to present a smiling, cheery face to whoever was on the other side. Wesley's dad needed an executive assistant, right?

The woman on the other side of the door wore a simple gray dress. Housekeeper? Or Wesley's mother, in something so expensive it didn't *have* to be complicated? Cordelia blinked. There was a time when she would have known instantly, and it irked her that she even had to wonder. "May I help you?"

That wasn't the voice she'd heard over the phone. Housekeeper, then. Cordelia never let her smile falter. "We're here to see Wesley. Is he home?"

"No, I'm sorry. He's not due back until this evening." The woman remained in the doorway for a moment, obviously just waiting for a message to be left, when they heard another woman's voice call out.

"Who is it, Cecile?" That voice, Cordelia recognized. Wesley's mother. "We're friends of Wesley's," she explained to the maid, who relayed the information to an older, *very* tastefully attired woman who walked up behind her. There wasn't any comparison. Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce gave them all a short, but thoroughly measuring look. "My son is not here at the moment," she said to them, not quite disdainfully. Cordelia had the feeling that if it were the proper British thing to do, she'd dismiss them all at once and slam the door.

"Can we wait for him?" Cordelia asked, boldly. She gave Wesley's mother her most charming smile before the older lady could voice her refusal. "This is a gorgeous home, Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce. Nothing at all like the glitz in LA." Cordelia gave the woman an un-subtle 'Please let us look around and show off your house while we pretend to care, so we can wait for Wesley,' expression.

Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce almost smiled. "Thank you. It has been in my husband's family for generations." She still made no move to invite them in -- or, given the non sheep-farming part of the family business, to stand aside and let them invite *themselves* in.

"I guess the upkeep on it must cost quite a bit," Xander said, as his gaze traveled over the whole scene around them.

The carefully-clipped hedges along the drive, the little unmanned stone gatehouse halfway down it. The garden gnomes peeking out of the grass, which Cordelia hoped were *real* garden gnomes, the stone kind. You never knew, and after the incident where Spike had invited the pixies to hide in her bathroom, disguised as troll dolls, she'd been overly suspicious of such things.

"And it's probably a family trust, so you wouldn't be able to mortgage it." Xander spoke very casually, much more so than Cordelia had. Well, he could afford to -- he wasn't standing on a hard granite porch in heels that were just slightly too high for walking comfortably in the English countryside. She recognized his 'I'm being subtle' face, though, the one he used when he was trying to convince Spike that *later* would be a good time to try the thing with the raspberry jelly, and not while Match Game 79 was re-running on the Game Show Network.

Wesley's mother looked slightly uncomfortable, but nodded. "It does get rather expensive to keep the place up to Historical Society standards, yes."

Xander nodded. "And that's the only way to keep the property in a tax bracket that isn't three times the income of the estate itself." He flashed the Xander innocent-boy grin, and Cordelia would have rolled her eyes, if it didn't seem to be working so well. "You know, I bet there's a way to play it from both ends -- get the tax credit for being a Stately Home, and still not have to funnel your own money into it. Have you looked into applying for a National Treasures grant?"

The uncomfortable look on Wesley's mother's face was being replaced by a combination of flattered and... well, 'money-grubbing' didn't sound right for somebody dressed so well. But Cordelia had seen a similar expression n her own mom's face, in times long past. "No -- I think Wesley might be..." Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce frowned.

"I'm sorry -- we're being rude. This is Cordelia, and Gunn, and I'm Xander, who can't keep his mouth shut about financial things that are none of his business."

"No, that's perfectly all right." She smiled, now, very politely. "I'm not certain when Wesley will be back, but perhaps you'd like to wait for him inside?"

Just like Cordelia hadn't asked that, two minutes ago. She glared at the woman behind her back, as they were led into a large entrance foyer. Then she whispered into Xander's ear. "Okay, I know you own a big company, but since when do you know about real estate and English tax law?"

"I don't. I was just making it up as I went along, trying to sound as much like David as possible. Without mentioning hit points or dexterity rolls."

"Whatever works," Cordelia whispered, heartened that Xander hadn't been hiding this business acumen persona from her -- his ability to bullshit, she knew about. They used to call it babbling, but once he'd started increasing his vocabulary and hanging around Spike, it became full-fledged bullshitting.

They entered the house, losing the maid somewhere behind them as they walked into the large foyer. Gunn stood behind and between her and Xander -- looming back there like he was Angel, or their bodyguard or something. She wanted to tell him to relax -- but Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce was smiling at them, now, and gesturing towards one of the side doors.

"Would you children care to see the house?"

Cordelia smiled, biting back the 'children?' response, choosing to believe it was just that she still looked 21 and not because the woman was being condescending. Xander, of course, *did* still look 21, which always irked her.

Wesley's mother led them out of the entryway, and through a much larger room. "The formal parlor -- I'm afraid we don't use it much anymore; it's rather expensive to heat in the winter, so it's usually blocked off year round, but we're having some of the art pieces appraised, and needed to air it out."

"It's very...airy," Cordelia managed. Airy, as in, could fit half a football stadium in it. Her own house in Sunnydale, B.D.T.D. (Before Daddy's Tax Disaster), had been large -- but nothing like this scale. Only the knowledge that everything wasn't hunky-dory on the money front here, either, kept her from drooling unabashedly.

"I wouldn't think about selling them off to pay for the house, if I were you," Xander said, as he walked closer to a large painting of three children in velvety clothes, playing with a dog that was taller than any of them. "You'd have a better chance at a historical grant with the ancestral art collection intact."

"That's what Wesley said. Though of course, we wouldn't part with them anyway. They're just being reappraised for insurance purposes."

Xander smiled disarmingly. "Wes and I have the same tax advisor."

It was on the tip of Cordelia's tongue to say 'Yeah, he's a Burgelin demon', but she controlled herself. No doubt Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce wouldn't find it amusing, and since when did she have this urge to annoy Wesley's mother? She hadn't spent *that* much time talking with Spike on the flight over.

They allowed Wesley's mother to guide them through the various rooms on the first floor, smiling and nodding while Cordelia and Xander traded making complimentary remarks. Cordelia was flatly astounded at Xander's ability to be charming *and* sound like he knew what he was talking about. She knew he could be like this, but it wasn't often he let anyone see him acting like a grown up. She gave him a smile, once, when Wesley's mother had her back turned as she pointed out a particularly boring family artifact.

He smiled back, looking surprised for a second, before returning her look with a warm one that made her secretly wish, as she did every very so often, that it was her that Xander loved. As she turned back to Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce in time to be impressed with some drapes, or possibly the windows themselves, she wasn't sure which, she told herself she would have to be satisfied with hiding a pair of Spike's underwear in Angel, Gunn, and Wesley's bathroom.

Gunn just followed them around like... well, like a tall, black shadow. Stereotypical or not, it was what he was acting like. Hands in his pockets, almost like he was afraid they'd accuse him of stealing something. He caught her looking at him as they walked out into an open area near the stairs, and mouthed, "What?" at her.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "What?" she mimicked quietly, while Xander chatted with Mrs. W-P about the library, and how much they'd all like to see the collection of a family that had several generations of Watchers in it. "You could talk, you know. Xander and I shouldn't have to carry this show all by ourselves."

He looked guilty for a second, but then his expression changed, as his gaze focused on something over her shoulder. Cordelia glanced that way, to see Wesley's mom showing Xander the wood paneling on the wall of the stairway, and a clever little door handle that was disguised as a fleur de lis, the only indication of the tiny closet under the stairs. Gunn's eyes grew cold. "I don't think she'd wanna hear anything I got to say."

"Okay, *somebody's* grouchy. She seems perfectly nice to me." She did, if a little snooty. But snooty didn't necessarily mean bad. Not compared to flesh-eating Triska Worms or giant bugs of all shapes and sizes. Besides, if Gunn didn't chill out and stop that vein from bulging in his neck, *he* was gonna have a heart attack. They could tuck him up in bed next to Wesley's dad, wherever he was, and they could share the nitroglycerin tabs.

She understood perfectly well why he was on edge, but if he ground his teeth any louder, Wesley's mom would think she had termites. "Wes didn't ever tell you?" he asked in a low voice.

Ahead of them, Xander was cheerfully saying something about the hardwood flooring. Cordelia wondered if maybe Xander had been possessed by...well, the only one she knew who knew anything about quality flooring was herself. If *he* was getting turned on by hardwood flooring, instead of linoleum, she didn't want to know about it.

"Tell me what?"

Gunn nodded back towards the stairs. Cordelia looked, confused, as Gunn said, "That little closet's where they used to lock him up."

"Lock him *up*?" Cordelia spun around to stare at Gunn, then back at the closet, then ahead, at Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce, who was merrily recounting all the times she'd held parties and dances in the ballroom across the way.

He had to be kidding. Wes had never told her anything like that. Her eyes narrowed, but the look on Gunn's face made her stop, and look at Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce again. Gunn looked like he was about to tear something apart.

Cordelia put her hand on his arm, and wasn't surprised to find him tense. "Come on. Let's just find out when Wes is going to be back." They caught up as she was leading them towards the library, and Cordelia asked, as politely as possible, "Maybe we should leave a message and come back, after all? If Wes isn't going to be home until *much* later, we don't want to take up your whole afternoon."

Whatever Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce was about to answer, was curtailed by a voice from within the seriously huge room whose doorway they stood in front of. "Claire, is that you? Who's that with you?"

Wesley's mom-- Cordelia couldn't quite bring herself to think of the woman by her first name, blinked, then smiled a bit nervously. "That's my husband," she explained. "He's been resting in the library, lately, rather than upstairs, so he can work on cataloguing part of the book collection for the insurance appraisers. I've told him he shouldn't tire himself, but..."

"If that's Wesley, send him in here -- I want to see those bank statements."

"No, dear, it's some of Wesley's friends." She moved into the room, heading towards a desk where a man sat, bent over piles of books and ledgers. He bore a striking resemblance to Wesley, from the back -- Cordelia saw the same shape of the skull, the same posture and frame, even the same hair colour in the smattering that had not turned grey.

When he turned around to greet his visitors, however, all resemblance was gone. Wesley's father had a hard face, creased with lines that Cordelia knew didn't come from laughing too much. His eyes were cold, and he made no effort to put on much more than a polite veneer for the strangers in his home. His gaze took them in, then he grunted and turned back to his work.

Wesley's mother smiled, a bit nervously, and walked further into the room, forcing them to follow. "They've come to see Wesley," Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce told her husband. "I've let them know he's gone out, and I've been showing them the house."

Mr. Wyndham-Pryce waved a hand, as if that was well and good, and she could get on with it.

The library would send Giles right past green-with-envy, if he could see it, and straight into plaid, Cordelia decided. Possibly ecru. Or maybe he *had* seen it before; as the Slayer's Watcher, he probably knew Wesley's parents, at least socially. Xander was doing his David-impersonation again, though underneath that, she could see some real awe in his eyes, at the sheer number of books. Or it might be fear, that Wes would carry half of them back to L.A. with him, and Xander might be forced to actually read one of them, at some point.

Gunn, on the other hand, stood at her elbow, utterly silent -- until she touched his arm again, and found that he was vibrating so hard that you could probably sell tickets to lonely housewives to sit on his lap. Not that you couldn't anyway, but she tended to try not to point those things out to the men in her life.

Then he spoke, slowly, and way too loudly for any room with this many books in it. "You remember what I told you about Wolfram and Hart?"

She blinked at him. "That they kiss Angel's butt a little too much since that whole hostile takeover thing that David did?"

"No. About the first time I saw the place. Mecca for evil white folks."

"Come on, Gunn. They aren't that bad," Cordelia scolded him quietly, while glaring. "He just had major heart surgery, he's entitled to be a bit gruff."

Gunn gave her a look that said he not only didn't believe her, but would appreciate her removing her hand so he could go strangle someone without tripping her.

"Some of these books are over five hundred years old," Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce said, proudly.

"Wow. Are any of them in English?" Xander asked, sounding definitely a bit intimidated by the prospect of being told, one day, to 'Grab that copy of Erstwhiler's Treatise that I brought from home, and tell me if it mentions Morgag rituals.'

Mr. Wyndham-Pryce looked up sharply. "Of course. Many of them *are* in ancient languages, though; I've had to read them all, at one point or another. Wesley would have, as well, if he'd ever learnt how to read Aramaic properly."

Gunn took a step in his direction, but Cordelia managed to step daintily on his left foot. "I think Wesley reads Aramaic pretty well, now," she said, searching her memory for what the hell language that was. "Xander, wasn't that book on the Tay-cross, that that thing that was haunting the daycare center, in Aramaic?"

Xander shrugged, looking less casual now. Whether he'd picked up Gunn's alpha-male pheromones, or just heard a nasty echo of his own dad in Mr. Wyndham-Pryce's voice, she wasn't sure. "It was in something I can't read. Which means it could've been anything besides English, first-year Spanish, or Spike's handwriting."

Wesley's dad looked up again. "Tehcrossh?" He frowned, and those wrinkles fell right into place. "Are you the people my son 'works' with?" There was enough condescension in that tone to send lesser people running for the nearest plane back to whatever obviously tiny and illiterate third world nation they'd arrived from. But Cordelia had played that game with the best of them, and always won -- and Xander and Gunn... well, they worked with *her*.

"For," she said brightly, as if no insult had been implied.

"Wesley works for you."

"No, we work for him. Technically, anyway," she explained.

"Ah, yes, Wesley explained about that. You needed a figurehead to divert attention from that...so-called souled vampire." Wesley's father turned back to his books, already dismissing them, and his son's business.

"No, she means 'technically' in that he lets us argue about what we do, before telling us to do it. Works a lot better for him, though, than it does for me." Xander frowned.

"I thought Carla let *you* argue, before she decided what you'd do?" Cordelia asked him. Xander gave her a look that would have been a tongue-sticking-out, if they weren't trying to impress Wesley's parents.

"I meant with Spike."

Cordelia tilted her head. "You and Spike argue all the time."

"Yeah, but he never does what I tell him to. Angel and Gunn--" He stopped, suddenly, as if realizing perhaps he shouldn't be mentioning Wesley's two lovers, in front of Wesley's parents.

"But Spike doesn't work for you," Cordelia pointed out, realizing that Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce was looking confused, but not really caring.

"Oh god! Can you imagine?" Xander groaned. "If Spike were my secretary...." Even Gunn snickered at that, once, before resuming his going-to-blow-a-gasket stance.

"Is, er, Spike, another one of your...colleagues?" Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce asked.

Cordelia couldn't help snorting. Not because he wasn't part of the team. Spike was almost as good at the research thing as Wesley was, if they really needed him -- and of course, he loved to go on a killing-slimy-things run. It was just trying to associate the word 'colleague' in her head, with the image of Spike in Wesley's office, dropping paperclips down Xander's pants and trying to retrieve them with a magnet on a string.

"Yes, on a part-time basis," she settled on saying.

"Yeah, when he's not too busy with his day job, feeding the fish and lounging on the couch watching TVland all afternoon," Xander put in with a grin. When Wesley's mom looked at him questioningly, he added, "Spike's my husband." Then he made this adorable little noise that Cordelia decided then and there would have to be repeated and recorded as soon as possible, so she could play it back to embarrass him at a later date.

Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce didn't say a word -- but her face froze, slightly. Cordelia could see the stern look of disapproval in her eyes. It was Wesley's father's reaction that made Cordelia wish they'd brought Spike along, to let them see the two newlyweds groping each other. Mr. Wyndham-Pryce had looked up quickly at Xander, and his expression was one of finding slimy, muddy, demon poo tracked in on the thousand year old Persian rug.

Xander smiled back, brightly. "He's a vampire, too. Angel's grandkid."

Mr. Wyndham-Pryce leant back in his chair. In a frosty voice, he said, "I believe you three should be on your way. My health is not at its best, and having a house full of people is very distracting. You can leave a message with Cecile, to let my son know you stopped by." He turned back to his books, then, and Cordelia knew that no matter what else they said, he would no longer acknowledge their presence.

Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce stepped forward, between them and her husband. "I'll see you to the door." She sounded more formal than before, if still more friendly than Wesley's father.

Cordelia could feel Gunn hanging back, as they walked out of the library. By this point, *she* didn't really care what he said to Wesley's parents -- the look on Wesley's father's face had been enough to convince her that he, at least, wasn't worth being nice to. But if they were trying to convince Wes to come home, pissing off his parents, even if they were jerks, might not be the best way to get him in a mood where he was willing to discuss it.

When she turned back to pull on his arm, though, she found him just staring at Mr. Wyndham-Pryce's back. Not a murderous glare, just... she really couldn't read it. "Gunn?"

"You don't wanna know, okay?" He gave a last look, then took her arm -- almost like he was trying to teach this guy who wasn't watching him what it *really* meant to be a gentleman -- and led her out of the room. As they passed the stairs, he glanced back at the little door, and she almost asked him if he'd been serious. He shook his head, and said more softly, "I said you don't wanna know, right?"

"I do know," she whispered back. Maybe not the specifics, but enough. "But he has people who love him, now. People who tell him how great he is, and how much he's worth." She gave his arm a slight squeeze. "We won't leave him here, Gunn. But we owe it to him to let *him* decide." She paused, then added, "Before we haul him off in a crate and ship him back by Federal Express."

******

Angel was not brooding. He was not even sort of brooding, and there was no way anyone could mistake him for being someone who was brooding.

He wasn't staying in one place long enough to brood. The hotel they'd rented rooms at was only a few miles from Wesley's parents' place, and with Wesley not purportedly at home, it shouldn't take them long to go out, check things out, and come back. Angel had resolved to wait patiently for them. He'd even seriously considered finding a chess board and making Spike play against him.

Two hours of pretending to wait, he'd begun pacing. Spike, the annoying little rat, was lounging in a chair, watching him. Angel had tried growling at him, but Spike had only smirked. Angel had been about to call him on it -- all this being calm and casual when they were cooped up, waiting. Then he'd seen the threads picked free from the chair's arm.

"You know, you keep that up, you're gonna wear a hole in the carpet, and Xan and I'll have to spread marmalade all over the floor to hide it," Spike said, perfectly seriously.

"No, you won't," Angel replied immediately, aware of just *how* perfectly serious Spike could be about things like that. "If you have to make a mess, you'll do it in your own room, that Xander's paying for."

Spike nodded. "Oh, we're planning on it. He paid extra and all. But it's not as much fun to do it where you've permission to."

What exactly had he done to get saddled with Spike, again? Oh. Right. Drusilla. Convent. Eternal torment. But he'd meant for *her,* not himself. He glared at Spike, and went back to pacing. Up the length of the room. Back down. Slowly, so as not to *look* like he was pacing. Spike just watched him. And watched him. And yes, picked at the armchair, but still, there was that half-grin on his face.

"What?"

"Nothing."

Angel growled again. "Spike, if you don't stop that, I swear I'm gonna pick you up and throw you -- " Newt! Newt! His memory screamed. You would *not* throw him out in the sunlight, and if you tell him you will, you'll be pacing around this room on four legs and a tail until they can get Wes back to put you right. "In the bathtub, under the cold water," he finished. *That*, he would be more than willing to do.

"Mine, or yours?" Spike asked immediately. "Cos mine has the complimentary rubber ducks."

Angel scowled at him as hard as he could. No effect, and he hadn't expected it would have had any, but it made him feel better. It occurred to him that arguing with Spike might be at least a bit diverting, while they waited. Shouldn't they be back by now? He didn't glance at the clock, because he'd glanced at it five minutes ago and he figured it was five minutes later than what time it had been then. Right?

He glanced at the clock. Four minutes had passed.

"Relax, Angel -- you'll give yourself a coronary. They'll be back when they're back." Angel pretended he wasn't listening. "'Sides, I thought you didn't care if Wesley wants to come home."

"What do you mean?" He turned back to face Spike with a deep growl. "Of course I care!" So much for pretending. "I want him to come home -- I just don't want to make him come if he doesn't want to!"

Spike grinned. "Never met a man who didn't want to come, no matter how much he says otherwise." There was no mistaking the leer that accompanied the statement. "It's an old game, innit. I remember playin' it. I don't wanna, can't make me... And then you'd do your best to change my mind."

Angel snorted. "And your record at that game was what -- thirty seconds?'

"With or without a ring?" Spike asked easily. Then his expression grew serious, which was always disturbing, no matter how many times Angel witnessed it. "Just saying. Wes plays that game better'n Xander, even."

It was on the tip of Angel's tongue to say, 'Since when do you play sex games with my boyfriend?' while he knocked Spike out of the chair and did things to the floor that would make marmalade look like Luv-My-Carpet -- but the brain prevailed over the demon, or possibly the penis, at the last second. He settled for glaring. "I *know* he does. Did. But I kinda thought that was over--" His eyes narrowed. "Thanks in part to the services of Love Doctor Spike."

Spike gave him a look of innocence that was just...wrong, on that face. Except when dressed as a choirboy, and that had been a *long* time ago. "Hey, all I did was point out that you and Gunn are morons. It doesn't take an advanced degree for that, mate."

"We are *not*--" He stopped himself, just in time. He wasn't certain if he'd been close to turning himself into a newt, but he didn't want to risk anything.

Spike snickered, then said, again in a serious tone, "Obviously it isn't over. You two lugs might've convinced him, for a bit, but I'll wager that all Wes wanted was for you two to come to England and haul him back home, thereby proving your devotion to him."

Angel stared at Spike, wondering if his childe had been possessed sometime in the last decade, and nobody had told him. "Dru made you read pulp romances to her, didn't she?" he suddenly realized.

Spike barely had the grace to look embarrassed. "I learnt a lot about human nature, reading those things. Enough to tell me that Wes is acting like a prick because you and Gunn have been acting like idiots. Plot number 12A -- missing only the rendezvous on the beach on page fifty-two."

"So what am I supposed to do, rent a horse and go riding up to carry him away?"

"Nah. Not unless the novel's got a historical setting. Be enough to drive up in a slick sports car, leap out and rescue his parents from their life of poverty with the rich uncle's inheritance you got while you'd vanished mysteriously."

Angel gaped at Spike. "You don't still read those things, do you?"

"Hell, no!" Spike grinned. "Well, not the ones Dru used to have me read, anyhow. Not enough sexy bits in 'em."

Okay, so he *sounded* like he knew what he was talking about. But how much of that was Angel wanting him to be right? Wasn't that the easiest answer, that Wes wanted them to show up and shower him with devotion, and carry him home? Problem was, Wes had never been that uncomplicated. *Spike* was that uncomplicated, most of the time, for all he was more intelligent than his day-to-day idiocy let on. He was mine and me and mine, and you love me so I'm happy, you hurt me so I'm mad at you, please don't cry, I'll do anything. Simple answers.

Wes... wasn't like that. Sometimes the simple answer was the right one, with him, and sometimes it was the one that would make him shy away, and turn his shoulder towards you in the middle of the night. And then you'd wake up to find your toothbrush floating in the toilet again, and you had to try to figure out what you'd done that pissed him off.

Though, come to think of it, Spike had played those sorts of games, too, and still did, with Xander. With him, though, it had always seemed like the effort put forth to figure out what it was he wanted, was enough to convince him you cared. With Wesley, you actually had to get it right.

His head was beginning to hurt again. "I just want him to tell me what he wants. Then I'll do it, and we can all go home."

In an equally quiet, reasonable tone, Spike said, "Then ask him. You'll see him soon. Until then, why don't I tell you about my honeymoon. Did you know you're a wanker in every dimension I've ever visted? In that one, it took you a hundred bloody years to drag me behind closed doors and shag the death out of me. You were bein' sensitive to my emotional needs, or some poncy crap."

Angel groaned, and let his head fall forward. Once everything was fixed, and Wes was where he belonged -- Angel was going to kill Spike.

He heard people coming down the hall, and recognized Xander's voice. He ended up racing Spike to the door, and opened it to find a startled Cordelia just beginning to knock. "Er, hi. Miss us?" she asked.

"Where is he? How is he? What'd you find out?" Angel babbled.

Cordelia blinked at him, and he could see Xander smirking. "A little nervous, are we? Gee, for someone who didn't want to come at all--" Cordelia began.

"I hate that place," Gunn interrupted. "I don't like those people, I don't like thinking about Wesley being there and as soon as I see him I'm--"

Angel looked from Gunn, to Cordelia, to Xander. Whatever they'd found hadn't been pleasant. It hadn't been awful -- otherwise they'd all be heading right back out to stage a rescue. But none of the three were happy, and Gunn was about to start ranting and pacing like he was Angel.

Angel took Gunn's arm and pulled him into the room. Spike slipped past him, gathering up Xander along the way. The two of them headed down the hallway, already talking quietly and slipping their hands into each other's back pockets. Cordelia just gave him a wave of her fingers, and mouthed 'restaurant', before she pulled the door closed.

Angel turned his attention to Gunn. Gunn had fallen silent, and was still, but was obviously just waiting to get set off. "Did you see him?"

"No. He wasn't there. But man, I never... I just... you wouldn't..." He cut himself off, and stormed away, across the room. He reached the spot where Angel had paced to, earlier, and turned back.

"His dad's a prick?" Angel guessed.

"Does Cordelia like to shop?" The bark of laughter was nastily painful. "But we knew that, right? Just..." Gunn's fists were clenched at his sides. Then opened. Then closed. He shook his head. Angel could hear the rapid beat of Gunn's heart from where he stood. "But that place. And those people... I don't even understand how he managed to grow *up*, without bein' more of a basket case than he is." Gunn moved to the chair that Spike had been sitting in, and kicked at it. "Son of a bitch."

"If he's that bad..."

"Oh, he is, but I don't mean Old Man Winter." Gunn reached down and picked up one of the cushions. For a second, Angel thought he was going to start picking at it, Spikelike, but then Gunn threw it, hard, at the wall. "Son of a BITCH!"

Picked it up and threw it again, harder this time. Shaking his head, and that pulse was going through the roof. Angel walked over to him, and waited, until Gunn had thrown the pillow again, and his hands were empty. He reached out and took hold of them, lightly, but firmly. Waited, until at last his lover would look him in the eyes.

"Who?"

"Wes." Gunn frowned, biting at his lip. "Angel, don't... How could he want to stay with them? How the *hell* could he even come back here, and how could he wanna stay with them instead of us?"

Angel sighed. Spike was right. Luckily he wasn't around to make Angel admit it. "We'll just have to ask him."

Gunn didn't look placated, and made a move to pull his hands free. Probably to start pacing and throwing things, again. Angel kept hold of him. "Why's he doing this?" Gunn demanded, after Angel didn't let him go.

"I don't know. I wish I did. Sometimes I think I need a manual, one thousand pages on the ownership of one Wesley Wyndham-Pryce."

Gunn sighed. "You and me, both. He was *never* this complicated when-- you know. Before we all started sleeping together."

Angel didn't know what to say. He couldn't say he regretted making that change in their relationship -- nor did he want to admit that he'd always been rather confused when it came to dealing with Wesley. He just hadn't really paid as close attention, before he'd realized -- or been told, rather -- that he was in love.

"Makes me glad you're easy to handle," Gunn continued.

"I'm easy?" Angel teased, even though his heart wasn't really in it.

Gunn half-smirked. "You're easy. All I have to do is let you make that grunting noise, and you're all happy."

Angel's jaw dropped, as he tried to figure out which part of that claim to take offense at. "Let me? Grunting noise? That's *all* it takes?"

"Yeah. That and a blow job or two. Mostly that's just to see you get that goofy gonna-come-soon look on your face. Where I'm not totally sure if it's all good, or somebody dropped a bowling ball on your foot." Gunn nodded, then just moved forward. Like that, in a second, no warning except the lowering of his head and him in Angel's arms. "What do we do?" Angel heard, muffled by his own shoulder.

"I guess... we wait for him to call," Angel answered. He frowned. "I do *not* --" Newt. Right. "I don't remember ever hearing myself grunt."

"Yeah, yeah. I've got it on tape. Play it for you when we get home."

"But I'm a complicated guy. I like Mozart, and _Sonnets from the Portuguese_."

"You also like professional wrestling, and light beer. And when I've got my hand on your dick and I'm just holdin' it tight and not *doing* anything, you'd sell your own mother to get me to jerk you off. If you hadn't, you know."

"Killed her before light beer was invented. Right."

"Yeah. But when I got my hand on Wesley's dick, half the time he starts talking about something obscure and demonic."

Angel smiled. "You sure he isn't just saying 'jerk me off' in another language?"

Gunn returned the smile, then it faded and he shook his head. "Sometimes I just don't know what's going on in that head of his. Sometimes it don't matter, because I just like being with him. Other times I get the feeling I've upset him, only I don't know what I did."

"Exactly!" Angel nodded, and wondered if they could be having this conversation with Gunn's hand on his dick. He mentally shook his head, and told himself they had more important things to worry about. Like fretting for the rest of the afternoon, until Wesley called.

"And what's up with him not telling us the easy things, like that he wants waffles made with pecans, but he'll describe how he wants the entire room set up with candles and incense and how many scarves to use to tie his wrists and ankles?"

"Uh..." What was the question again? Angel's imagination supplied the picture, complete with the smell of sandalwood and vanilla, and the sight of Wes spread before them, willingly holding up his wrist to be tied. "Pecans?"

"Yeah, in his waffles. He just gave me this sorta disappointed look, the last time I made breakfast, and I couldn't figure out what it was about. Later on, when Wes left the room, Cordelia said I didn't put pecans in his waffle like I had in hers. Since when does he like pecans? Never told me."

Angel shook away the silk-scarf picture, and frowned. "I... Pecans?"

Gunn nodded. "Yeah. I don't think the pecans mattered. He just wanted me to know what he wanted, without having to ask him. Or something." Gunn sighed, a sound that would have gotten Angel's toenails painted if he'd got caught doing it. In fact, he was half tempted to go borrow Spike's polish, anyway. It would give them something to do. "It didn't used to be like that, with us. He wanted something, he'd just say so, and I'd do it, or I'd look at him like he was crazy, and we'd argue for an hour." Gunn smiled, slightly. "That was fun."

"That was..." Angel broke off, trying to place just when it had been. Certainly, back when he had first noticed Wesley and Gunn had become friends -- after he'd kicked them out of his life because Darla was in town -- Wesley had been easier to deal with. For Gunn, at any rate. They'd been easy, friendly, and even when they argued it passed over within days, Gunn had told him.

The way he and Gunn were, now. As Angel and Gunn got to be friends, finally, and grew to be more, Wesley had remained, at first, the same sort of friend to Gunn, while Angel and Wesley were still working things out that Angel hadn't even known were issues between them. Then one day Gunn had kissed Angel, and from that point on, understanding Wesley had been difficult. Bringing him into the relationship had only made things *look* easier.

Angel sighed. "Maybe we should tie him up, and not let him go until he tells us everything."

Gunn grinned at him, even though Angel could see he wasn't completely amused. "As long as we don't forget what the questions are."

Angel smirked. "Oh, yeah. That's a problem." A picture entered his head suddenly, and he couldn't quite shake it. The picture, not his head. He *did* shake his head, soundly, which prompted Gunn to look at him like things were falling out of his hair or something.

"What?"

"Just a mental picture."

"See, that's what I mean. We start thinking about tying Wes up, and before you know it--"

"No, it wasn't that. I was picturing him tying *us* up."

Picturing the little smirk on Wesley's face, that time they'd *had* to chain Angel down, before Gunn had even entered the picture. They'd left him, Cordy and Wes, as a little joke, even after he was safe again. Very funny, guys, ha, ha. Except a few minutes later, Wesley had slipped back into Angel's bedroom in the old apartment, and looked down at him. Put a hand on one of the chains, and asked quite calmly, "Are you comfortable?"

"No, I'm not *comfortable*," Angel had growled.

And there'd been this little smirk. Something far too knowing for a guy like Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. Something just slightly dangerous. He'd twitched one corner of his mouth, and nodded, and said, "Good," and walked out of the room again.

Gunn looked at him, more than a little surprised -- then gave him a truly shit-eating grin. "*Mental* image, huh?" He slipped a hand between them and whisked it lightly over the hard-on Angel hadn't even realized he was sporting. "Must be some picture."

"Er," Angel said, then asked himself quickly why he wanted to deny anything, or even speak and risk distracting Gunn back into his brooding.

"You need to be tied up?" Gunn asked, and the tone of his voice made Angel think that any and all brooding was far, far away from anyone's thoughts. Except --

"We didn't bring anything strong enough."

Gunn fixed him with a stare. "You gonna break through anything I tie you up with?" he demanded.

Angel swallowed. "Not unless you say I can." The hand on his erection moved, and Angel heard himself make a very un-vampirely noise. He thought about picking Gunn up and taking him into the bedroom -- or was there a chair in here he could get tied to? He looked around, gauging their relative strengths with a practiced eye. He heard Gunn snicker, and gave him a quick glare. "You rather do this outside in the carport?"

Gunn held up his hands, which unfortunately took his hand *off* Angel. "Hey, man, wherever you want. We can go down to Spike and Xander's room, if you want to."

"*Try* not to kill the mood, please." Angel grimaced. It was commonly agreed-upon behavior among the three of them that nobody admitted they'd jump either or both of the Newt Twins in a New York Minute -- as long as Wes put a spell of silence on Spike and Xander, first.

"Uh-huh. Right. Dead mood," Gunn replied, pushing him back against the chair Spike had been sitting in. Angel sat down with a thud.

"I've got a couple of ties in my suitcase," he said, not remotely hoarsely. "Or... we could unhook the cable from the TV..."

"You think you can get it back the way it was, after?" Gunn asked skeptically. "Cause I'm not stayin' in a hotel room without cable. It's un-American, man." Angel didn't bother to point out the obvious, which was that it wasn't even American cable. It wasn't worth pointing out when Gunn had one knee up on the chair, pressed firmly between Angel's legs, and a hand on each of his shoulders. "Maybe we don't need to tie you up. You're pretty tame, right?" Gunn growled softly at him.

Angel hissed, more in response to the growl than to anything Gunn had said. "I think I brought the handcuffs. I must've brought the handcuffs."

Gunn grinned. "Think I should run next door and borrow a pair from Spike?"

"You keep mentioning that name," Angel complained. "And--" He shifted, and realized that, yes indeed, he was sitting on something. He reached underneath his ass.

"You can't wait for me?" Gunn asked, raising an eyebrow.

Angel ignored him as his fingers closed on the tiny object and pulled it out. A tiny, very familiar object. "Excuse me, I really should go kill Spike now."

"Tell me that isn't one of his Skippy mikes." Gunn looked at Angel's hand, folding his arms across his chest. It occurred to Angel that he could let Gunn go kill his childe, while he waited here, comfortably.

Angel heard a distant thump, and the echoes of Spike's and Xander's voices from down the hall. Would Xander kill Spike for them? No, probably not. He'd probably been the one to distract everyone else while Spike planted the bug. "Wanna kill 'em both?" he asked, conversationally.

"Wanna throw that thing out the window and get back to me tying you to that chair and fucking you silly?"

Angel heard what was definitely a squeal, from down the hall, then a "Please? Now? Now?" He assumed the request was directed at Xander, not himself and Gunn. Angel narrowed his eyes, brought the little microphone close to his mouth, and let one of those looks cross his face that he was only allowed to use when thinking about killing Spike -- otherwise his lovers started worrying about the soul spell having come undone.

"You're not even gonna bite that thing," Gunn said, sounding disgusted.

"Nah." Angel mouthed 'Cover your ears' at him, and Gunn took his hands off Angel's shoulders, to slowly, confusedly, put them over his ears. Angel opened his mouth, and listened for the sounds of bedsprings coming from next door. Silence, silence... wait for it...

SQUEAK! "Oh, yeah... Bloody hell, *him*, tied up... Right there, Xan.."

"This one's for you, wherever you are," Angel sang loudly into the listening device. "To say that nothin's been the same since we've been apart..." Gunn was grinning from ear to ear, as he read Angel's lips. Poor guy didn't get the joy of hearing the loud groans from Spike and Xander's room. "This one's for all the love we once knew..."

"Bugger all! Turn it off! Turn it off!"

"Like everything else I have, this one's for yooooo..." Angel crooned loudly. There was a snappy, fizzy noise from the mike, then it got so hot Angel had to toss it across the room. A small 'paf!' later, there was no sign of it on the carpet where it had landed.

Gunn watched him, eyes wide in disbelief, and made no move to take his hands from his ears.

"You can put 'em down, now," Angel said, enunciating clearly so Gunn could read his lips.

"You done singing?" Gunn asked, as if afraid Angel *had* lost his soul and was going to torture him, next. Angel pouted.

"I want you to tie me up."

"What?" Gunn still had his hands over his ears.

Angel pouted harder. "I don't sing *that* badly, do I?" Gunn raised an eyebrow. "Just because everyone insists on having three drinks first, before I sing at Caritas doesn't mean--" Both Gunn's eyebrows went up. His hands were still over his ears. "Fine. I'll tie myself up." Angel stood up and headed for the bedroom.

"Can I watch?"

Angel looked over his shoulder. "Are you finished insulting my singing ability?"

"When you *get* the ability to sing, then I can insult it. Insulting whatever it is you call that noise you make...." Gunn grinned. "Rather listen to you shout in Irish while I fuck you so hard your eyes spin around in your skull."

Angel tripped on the rug, and stumbled towards the bed. "I can do that." He started removing his shirt. "I could start shouting, now, if you want."

"Nah. It's more fun when you do it without meaning to. Like making Wes scream in Latin when you deep-throat him."

Angel thumped down on the bed as the image -- video and audio -- flashed over his brain. After a moment, he was able to focus enough to grin. "Or when you do that thing with the wet feather, down the insides of his thighs, and he starts quoting Walt Whitman, only it's like he's on helium?"

"That's Walt Whitman? I thought he was makin' it up as he went along."

Angel stared at Gunn for a moment, trying to decide if he was serious. The dark eyes betrayed no hint that he was attempting to bullshit a bullshitter. "That stuff about watching the young men bathing? Gee, and I thought it was Wes who needed to brush up on his erotic poetry."

"Hey, I'm all for reading about people getting busy, however they wanna describe it. Beats Paddington Bear."

Gunn had started to grin when he said it, but after a second, while Angel was trying to get images of naked bathers with little tags that said 'Please look after this bare...' out of his head, the smile vanished, stillborn. The look that replaced it wasn't quite a frown. More something... he'd say 'melancholy,' if he could bring himself to associate that word with Gunn.

"It doesn't really beat Paddington," Angel said, his hand halted five buttons down the length of his shirt.

"Nah, not really." Gunn walked over and sat beside him. "Cause it really doesn't matter what it is we read. It's just looking at his face, you know?"

"Or listening to him ask for something, or complain that you aren't reading it right, or making you move a dozen times until he's comfortable." Angel felt himself feeling what he could see on Gunn's face. Melancholy -- not brooding.

Gunn put his hand on Angel's arm, tracing his fingers down, then back up. When they reached his hand, Angel reached up and took Gunn's. He waited as Gunn stared at their entwined fingers for a moment before looking up at him. The melancholy wasn't hard to figure out.

"He should--" Gunn began.

"Be here," Angel finished.

Gunn nodded. "Not because...I don't think..." He stopped again, and looked down, frustration clearing away the melancholy, at least on the outside. "He should be *here*," Gunn repeated.

It was on the tip of Angel's tongue to say he would be. Pat words to make them both feel better, when they both knew it wasn't their reassurance to offer. Wesley might decide-- Angel cut the thought off, realizing he'd tightened his grip only when Gunn looked at him, sharply. He eased off the pressure of his hand, concerned for a moment that he'd used more strength than your basic human who'd just suddenly had the thought that maybe, after all... Maybe he wouldn't come, wouldn't call. And even if he did, there was something very wrong, that he'd ever had to do this thing in the first place.

Gunn was still looking at him, though, not as if Angel had caused any major structural damage, but as if he were worried about *Angel*. Which vampire, mindful of the fact that it usually got him at least one coat of nail polish, if not two, still chose to sigh. "Yeah. I know."

Angel tugged on Gunn's hand; Gunn moved forward, leaning against him, then they both scooted back to lean against the headboard. Hands still clasped, they settled together on top of the bedclothes.

"He has to--" Gunn began.

Angel pulled his lover closer, held him. He closed his eyes and thought about being alone with him, forever. No Wesley. "If he won't come back, we tell Spike. He can kidnap him for us."

Gunn laughed. "I don't wanna know what he'd make us pay."

"Six-pack of Batham's?"

"We're in England -- he can buy his own."

"A thousand blank video tapes?" Angel felt Gunn trying to relax, beside him. He tried to relax, himself. Tried not to think about what he'd do if Wesley said 'no' and made them all believe he truly meant it.

He'd never have to worry about losing his soul again.

"We could just trade him the hotel, and have Xander buy us this one," Angel said finally, when the silence had grown too...silent.

Gunn stretched and fidgeted for a second, before fitting himself into the mold of one body's crooks and curves, where usually there were two. "Bed's too skinny," he whispered.

From where Angel was lying, though, as he bent his head closer and tried to let sleep and Gunn soothe some of the fear from his body, there was far too much room in this bed.

******

"Frickenfracken gotta have blackcurrant soda 'cause I'm in a version of England where they actually *have* blackcurrant soda..." Xander muttered on his way across the lobby. Not like Spike hadn't gotten *blood* flavoured soda on their honeymoon, and not like he couldn't order blackcurrant soda from a hundred different websites when he was at home, and never did. Xander half suspected... All right, he was pretty damned sure, that Spike had asked him to go down and get him a pop from the machine in the lobby merely to prove that Xander would do it.

He was still cashing in on his 'I heard my Sire sing again, and now I'm permanently scarred, and you must coddle me until I stop looking small and defenseless' points. And Xander, of course, like the big mook that Spike undoubtedly knew he was, had trundled down the stairs after a few hours of make-you-forget-all-about-it sex and a brief nap, to continue fulfilling his husband's every whim.

All right, so it wasn't like he hadn't spent entire mornings doing the exact same thing. But this was the first time either of them had done it when they were married, and not on their honeymoon. It seemed unfair that Spike got to go first.

Xander muttered under his breath about missing the coin toss, as he found the soda machine and pulled some coins out of his pocket...only to discover he had US change, and English coins with pictures of a vampiric Queen Victoria on them. He was tempted to see if the front desk would change the latter coins. He suspected they might serve a better purpose as souvenirs for Cordelia and Wesley -- visual aids for their 'and this is who we met, had dinner with, and chatted about foreign trade policy for an hour with' story sharing. As soon as they *found* Wesley, so they could proceed to make him sick with jealousy.

Xander decided that Wes was going to owe him for all the blackcurrant sodas he was forced to buy while they waited. He looked around, and found an ATM that would give him regular English pounds, grabbing enough cash to last him...possibly until an hour after sundown, if Spike decided he wanted to go *out* to have fun.

He headed back to the vending machines, and stopped. "Since when do you drink-- oh, unless you're Gunn's mook?" Xander walked up beside Angel, who was looking nervous.

"Gunn's what?"

"Mook. Palooka. Love-slave. Fetcher of tasty things that it's too cold for somebody to roll their naked ass out of bed for."

Angel smirked, probably at the thought of how whipped Xander was acting. Xander just raised an eyebrow. Not about to say the *word* Wesley, since they were still waiting for word *from* Wesley, but he figured the gesture was enough to make Angel look suitably chagrined. It was, too, at least for a moment, until Angel shook his head, and answered, "No, Gunn's asleep. I just... felt like a walk."

Xander studied him for a second. "While I agree that 4 o' clock is much too early for good little vamps to be strolling the countryside renewing old acquaintances with the local sheep, I can't see you as the kinda guy to get excited by a walking tour of the Pepsi and Ding-Dong machines, either."

"They have Ding-Dongs?" Angel asked, his eyes shifting nervously towards one of the machines.

"No. They're sincerely lacking in any products from the Hostess food group, which explains why all the English guys I know are so skinny and malnourished. And hey -- you...sneaky...sneaker guy. You're not looking at the snack machines!"

Xander had followed Angel's gaze, in the hope that the vampire had discovered a Hostess dispensing machine that he'd somehow missed, or, if it was necessary to compromise his standards, Little Debbie. Then he remembered that Angel, though he did eat occasionally, swore up and down that any baked goods with a freshness date of three years away would never cross his lips unless you held him down and shoved it in. He'd had to stick his own fingers in Spike's mouth, in order to stop him from saying the obvious, in front of a client.

Xander stepped between Angel and the machine he was now openly, if guiltily, staring at. "If Wes finds out you're even thinking about smoking, he'll kick your ass from here to Cleveland."

Angel gave him what might have been intended to be a reprimanding glare. "Wes isn't here, is he?" Angel said with a sharp tone.

Xander just crossed his arms -- he'd long since stopped being cowed by Angel, even if he'd never admitted it when he had been. "You think he's gonna fail to notice you smelling like an ashtray when you see him tonight? Or are you figuring on him not showing so it's OK to get all masochistic?"

Angel kept glaring, for a moment. "I'm a vampire, Xander. How can smoking be bad for me?"

"Oh, let's see -- because the humans you live with will get lung cancer and die horrible, painful deaths?" He'd gone through this conversation before. Only once -- and not with Spike. Spike had stopped smoking on his own, once they'd moved in together. Xander had had to have the conversation with Dawn, when she'd spent about three months trying to find a new way to rebel. They'd finally convinced her that with an older sister who burned down and blew up schools, she should rebel by being voted class president.

Angel was still glaring, but Xander suspected it was as much out of guilt he didn't want to admit to, as it was actually being annoyed. "I wasn't planning on smoking around Gunn or Wesley."

"Somehow I think they'd figure it out," Xander told him, shaking his head. "Come on, Angel, you really want either of them bitching at you to give it up again? Because, y'know, you don't have a great track record with obsessive addictions." Angel glowered. Not very well, though; he looked a little too distracted as he glanced again at the hideously expensive cigarettes. "Besides, you don't wanna spend your money on those. They're taxed out the wazoo."

Angel rolled his eyes. "I wasn't gonna actually smoke one. I just wanted to...have something to put in my mouth, and don't say it. Just because Spike's not here, doesn't mean you're legally required as his spouse to fill in for him."

Xander clamped down on the 'glurble' that wanted to make its way to the front of his brain at the word 'spouse,' and instead grinned. He retrieved Spike's blackcurrant soda, snagged two Lion Bars from the candy machine, then led Angel over to one of the couches near the edge of the lobby. "Here. Sit. Put this in your mouth. It's not poison or anything; promise."

"I don't--"

"I wasn't asking. I'm telling. Eat the candy, listen to me, and if you try to buy cigarettes I'll...I'll tell Wesley."

Angel looked cowed, then he got a defiant expression on his face, as if pretending that being told on to Wesley *wasn't* cowing. He took the candy bar, though, and gave Xander another glare.

"You think Wes won't do anything?" Xander asked. "You think he won't sigh and shake his head, and make that little noise that means he's not gonna say it, but he knows you're gonna--"

"All right! Geez, Xander, all right! I'm eating the damn candy." Angel tore the wrapper and crammed the end of the bar in his mouth.

Xander whapped him on the side of the head. "Slowly! It's English chocolate."

Angel gave him another glare -- this one was much more serious, and almost intimidating. Anyone but family might've thought Angel was about to take Xander's hand off at the shoulder. Xander plopped down on the couch beside him, and popped open Spike's soda. He'd torture him, bring him an empty can...before handing over the full one he'd buy on his way back.

"So what am I listening to?" Angel snarled.

"Geez, lighten up, dad." Xander grinned as Angel choked.

Xander brought the can of soda to his lips, took a big gulp -- and watched in annoyance as Angel suddenly smirked widely at him, just because *Xander* had begun to cough and choke. "Little son of a bitch..." Xander sputtered.

"Me?" Angel asked disbelievingly, from his mountainous two inches or so above Xander's head.

"No," (cough), "Spike. He *knew* I'd steal his pop, and didn't warn me about how *nasty* this stuff is. That must be why he never orders it online."

Angel just looked at him, Lion Bar still stuck in his mouth. Xander swallowed, and decided he'd buy Spike a six-pack of the stuff and force him to drink it while Xander watched. "Did you actually have something to say to me?" Angel asked after a moment, and after doing a bit of chewing and swallowing himself. "Or did it pretty much amount to 'Don't smoke because I don't wanna hear Gunn and Wes bitch about it on the flight home' ?"

Xander straightened, and answered with dignity, "Well... my version included entertaining impressions of them."

"Spare me; the ones you did at the New Year's party were bad enough." Angel chewed a bit more on his candy bar, looking like he was trying as hard as possible not to enjoy it. "So are we just trying to distract me? Because I have to say, I could be distracted just as easily by staring at the cigarette boxes and thinking about how I'm not really gonna buy one."

Xander settled down into the cushions. Was this a good time? There was no one around to screw up the conversation. No short blond vampires who would turn the whole thing into a matter of pride and not ever really get a straight answer out of him. And god knew, it would certainly be distracting. "Not totally. I was gonna ask... Actually, I was gonna ask on the plane, but then Spike showed up and the choice was sex, or talking to you, and well... Anyway..."

"Xander, if you're about to ask for Spike's hand in marriage, I'd say you're a little too late."

"Nah -- I'd have asked for his co--"

"Xander. If you're trying to distract me from smoking by making me smack you, it's working."

Xander flipped Angel off, the good old American way so the little old lady currently walking through the lobby wouldn't be offended. Then he set the can of soda down, between his legs, since he certainly wasn't going to finish it. Let Spike drink *warm* disgusting soda. "I really had something I wanted to talk to you about."

Angel gave him a doubtful look, but apparently realized that Xander was serious. He nodded, which meant Xander had to actually *say* it, now. He tried to recall if he'd worked out a way to ask, or if he was gonna have to wing it, or--

"Xander, just spit it out, OK? Eventually our mooks are gonna come looking for us."

"No, we're the-- right." Xander grinned. It faded fast, as he took a deep breath and said, "What's it like being turned?"

Angel didn't even drop his candy bar. He stared at Xander for a moment, then asked, "You planning on doing that soon? Or -- if you're having second thoughts...."

"No, not--" Xander stopped. He wasn't about to tell Angel that *Spike* was having second thoughts. Even if those thoughts were all for his safety, which, having looked in Spike's eyes as he said it, Xander knew was true. Spike wouldn't particularly want Angel knowing he was afraid of anything besides squirrels and stale port wine cheeseballs, though. "I guess it's more like we're having first thoughts. We both want to make sure that once I'm dead, I'll still be *me*. That having a soul won't just make me a demon with a soul, instead of me, without a pulse."

Angel stared at him for a second longer -- like maybe he hadn't expected either of them to be smart enough to come up with that possibility? -- then nodded. "So you want to know what, exactly? I mean, I can't answer any big existential questions, like am I really the same drunken guy who got his blood sucked out in an alley in Galway because he was hoping the pretty lady would give him a tumble in the hayloft down the street." He looked off into the distance for a moment, then added, "I can't even tell you if I'm the same guy who decided it would be a good idea to ask my idiot grandchilde to come live in my hotel, knowing full well that if he did, he'd have access to water and electrical equipment at the same time."

Xander laughed. "He still has nightmares about what that did to his hair. Hell, *I* still have nightmares about what that did to his hair. No, but... did you change very much? Do you remember?"

Angel didn't answer. He set the candy bar down, and looked at Xander with a thoughtful expression. Xander spent a few seconds having a major wiggins, that he was having a serious heart to heart with Angel, and no alcohol was involved.

"I can't answer that, Xander." He held up a hand, as if to forestall anything Xander could say -- not realizing Xander was sitting there, too stunned to say anything. "I spend a lot of time not thinking about what I was like, before. I...can't really remember, a lot of it. It was a long time ago."

"But--"

"I'll tell you what I can, though," he continued, over Xander's protest.

Xander subsided, sitting back and waiting. He found himself tensed, as if waiting for the worst.

"Most vampires I know, I didn't know when they were human, so I can't tell you what's most common. Spike -- William, didn't change much at all, by becoming a vampire. The changes that came about were all of his own devising; when he stopped being William, it was months after Dru killed him. He created 'Spike' quite carefully, and it fit him...not well at all. But he persisted, and we all got used to him, used to Spike. I think, now, he's more Spike than William because it's a habit he'd spent a hundred years learning." Angel glanced at his hands, then the floor, then far away someplace Xander suspected he'd never get to see, himself. "Dru didn't change. I'd made her insane before I ever killed her."

"Huh." The word came out of Xander's mouth despite his own discomfort with the subject of whatever had been done to Dru while she was alive.

Angel looked up. "You've known that for years."

"No, it's not that. It's just that the versions of Spike and Dru who live in the Victorian-verse are a lot different. Dru isn't crazy. Or, I guess she is, but nothing like our Dru. Mostly like a regular vamp would be, if they happened to get visions. And Spike..." Xander found himself grinning, almost snickering. "I think our Spike is more William than you know, though if you tell him that, I'll be forced to tell Wes and Gunn you were thinking about smoking again."

"You think this because?"

"Contrast. The other version is still... I think he's probably just like the Spike you remember from the beginning. All swagger and bullshit."

Angel looked at him disbelievingly. "You're saying our Spike isn't?"

Xander just shook his head, then said, fixing Angel with his most serious expression, "*Our* Spike thought he was *uncouth*." He grinned over the glurble as he added, "My Spike."

Angel looked like he wasn't sure whether to believe Xander or not. "Uncouth? I'm not sure I want to know what Spike considers uncouth." He leaned back in his seat, and looked off into the distance again, though this time, the reflection seemed less troubled. "William was... silly, and very shy, and terribly, terribly proper. None of which lasted very long."

"The kind of guy who'd be utterly shocked if his mother said she wouldn't mind seeing him and his husband go at it on her living room floor?"

Angel came back to the present with a disturbing refocusing of his eyes that looked for a second like he was about to fall into gameface from sheer surprise. "His *mother* ?"

Xander gave him a serious nod. "We met his mother. She's a vampire -- says she expects you to be nice to Spike, and hopes you help take care of your grandchildren. When I get my film developed, I'll show you pictures."

Angel was still staring at him. Xander recalled that they hadn't actually had a chance to tell their friends much of anything about their trip, at least not in chronological order. He was tempted to tell Angel who'd turned the Queen -- but Spike would pout at missing his reaction. He'd probably pout at not having gotten to tell Angel all about his mum, too.

Xander smiled, remembering the kind, if disturbing, lady who had sent them a note card saying a package was on its way -- toys and tank decorations for the kids. They were going to be so spoiled. "She was really cool, and you wouldn't have believed Spike. All prim and proper and blushed when she pulled out his baby pictures. Afterwards, he said...." Xander trailed off, remembering Spike's quiet, confused joy, that she was just like his own mum. Realizing what it meant.

It meant Spike's mother hadn't changed at all. Xander had the sudden inkling that he was grinning inanely.

He also had the distinct sensation that Angel didn't notice, and in fact wouldn't notice if he stripped naked, stuck a banana in his ass, and danced out the door singing the theme from Gilligan's Island. (Mental note, don't repeat that to Spike; it might give him ideas.) Angel was too busy repeating, "*Baby* pictures?"

"Yeah, baby pictures. Well, mostly baby-paintings, but she did have a few photos." Xander grinned -- continued to grin -- at Angel. Maybe his grin widened a fraction of a centimeter as he contemplated how he might best revenge himself on his husband for being such a bonehead. It didn't take long to contemplate. "Want a copy? Mum gave me a couple for my wallet."

"Baby pictures," Angel repeated.

Xander pretended he was asking a coherent question. "Yeah, it's the 21st century there, too, ya know. Some things are different, but they still have photo-mats. She made copies of Spike's old tintype thingies." He reached into his pocket, and retrieved one of the ones that he personally considered the most embarrassing -- and therefore had asked for several copies of -- and handed it to Angel. It was a photo of a three year old William in a white gown, holding a small stuffed dog in one hand, with his opposing thumb firmly lodged in his mouth.

Angel took it, and held it in both hands as though it were a kitten which Cordelia had given him and told him not to make cry -- which she had done, and Xander and Spike had lain bets on how long Angel would actually hold it before trying to foist it off one someone. Angel blinked once at the picture, then stared. His eyes went wide, and his dumbfounded expression very slowly began to change. Xander held his breath and wished he'd brought a camera down with him. Angel, looking almost glurbled at a picture of Spike.

Granted, it was a very glurble-inducing picture. Anyone who even sort of liked Spike, would melt at the sheer adorableness of the photo. At least Xander thought so, but he freely admitted to being very biased.

"Can I have this?" Angel asked in a tone which was utterly calm, free of the sound of glee which meant the photo was about to find its way into every mailbox in the country.

"Sure. I have copies."

Angel stared at the photo again, then shook his head slightly and looked up at Xander. "Did we...finish talking?" he asked, distracted.

"The only thing left was you promising never to smoke, or risk someone not sharing the other cute and embarrassing photos of young William."

"Other?" Angel asked, but not really. Not really in that he was already engrossed in staring at mini-Spike again, by the time Xander had taken two seconds to try to catalogue which scandalous or just plain disturbing shots he had with him, and which were upstairs in the suitcase.

Angel's distraction was probably a good thing, since a) It might get his mind off Wesley not having called yet, and b) Xander had a warm-under-the-blankets sleepy husband to wake up. Preferably with a cold can of blackcurrant soda on the soles of his feet -- which meant that Xander had to buy a cold can, since the one on the floor near his shoes that he intended to make Spike *drink* was now warm and disgusting, as he'd planned. He was just heading for the pop machine again, counting his change and being amazed yet again at the fact that British vending machines took *pennies* -- or at least the ones here did -- when he heard a shout from the stairs.

"He's home!" Gunn yelled down. Angel looked up, his unhealthy fascination with Spike-in-a-dress broken in an instant. Angel was on his feet and hurrying towards Gunn, Xander following along behind.

Gunn stayed at the top of the stairs, so the two of them headed up, sort of together: Angel was at Gunn's side before Xander could reach the fourth step. "He's home? Is he coming here? Are we meeting him? Did he call?"

Gunn held up a hand. "Relax. He didn't call, but Cecile did. The maid or whatever. Said he'd got back and had invited us over." Gunn gave Angel a sharp look. "I don't know if she meant it that way, or not. If she even knew. Guess we'll find out when we get there."

"When are we going?" Angel looked like he was about to bolt for the car, and break a few speeding records heading over to the Wyndham-Pryce estate.

"As soon as we can roust everybody--" was as far as Gunn got, before Angel was running down the hallway, shouting for Cordelia and Spike. Xander walked up beside Gunn, and exchanged an amused glance with him.

"For a guy who didn't want to come to England, he's awfully anxious."

"He'd better--" Gunn began. When he didn't elaborate, Xander started to ask what he meant. Then it occurred to him that he might already know.

If 'he' was Wesley.... He'd better make the trip worth their while. Not necessarily agreeing to pack up and return home, but if he made things worse.... Xander didn't want to think about what he'd have done if Spike hadn't changed his mind and asked him to move to L.A. It would probably have involved peanut butter and chains, which Spike would have enjoyed, once he'd gotten finished with the bitching and moaning. So would Wes -- Xander made a note to pass the suggestion on to Angel and Gunn, if it looked like it might be necessary.

*****

Angel had seen mansions before, and manor houses. Lived in a few of each -- at least until someone noticed that nobody was ordering fresh milk, and the lord of the manor hadn't shown up to church on Sunday that week. He had never been as impressed by them as Darla had, and he wasn't terribly impressed by Wesley's family home -- except for the fact that it contained Wesley. And Wesley's family.

He'd never met them. Had spoken to Wesley's mother several times, but only on the level of, "Is my son available?" He suspected she hadn't known who she was speaking to, or her tone would have been much more frosty, to judge from Gunn's description of them.

He wasn't intimidated. He'd faced vampire hunters and irate Slayers and Cordelia with possible PMS -- he'd never dared ask -- and come through all of them relatively unscathed. And he was only mildly nervous about the fact that in some universe, Spike's mother was still alive, and wanted to meet him. He would *not* be intimidated by a pair of bigoted fools. Even if they were his lover's parents.

If anything, the looming house made him want to laugh, because it brought back far too many terrible seventies horror films. Not so the rest of them, apparently -- the other four stood around Angel on the wide front steps, looking like teenagers daring each other to ring the doorbell and run. Angel sighed, stepped forward, and rang the bell. They still didn't know if he and Spike would be able to enter -- Cecile had said that Wesley said they were all invited. Angel didn't know if Wesley's invitation would count, second-hand.

He didn't want to think about what it meant for Wesley's 'just visiting' status, if it did count.

They didn't have to wait long before someone came to the door. By her uniform, and lack of resemblance to Wesley, Angel guessed it was Cecile. Her gaze swept over them quickly, then she simply stepped back, holding the door. Angel took a hesitant step forward, and found absolutely nothing barring his way. He walked in, trying not to sniff out Wesley. It was a large house, and Wes knew they were there; they wouldn't have to hunt him down. They'd better not, at any rate, because the whole foyer was submersed in the overlapping scents of humans, two of which seemed vaguely familiar, and one that he knew as well as the smell of his own childe's blood. His childe who was now tracking mud across the floor and not getting whapped for it by his husband.

"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce is waiting for you in the library," Cecile said shortly. He glanced at her again -- a plain, slim woman, somewhere in human middle-age, brownish hair pulled back in a bun. He couldn't quite get a read on her; she didn't seem nervous, though she had to have known that two of them were vampires. The ultimate in professional English servants, he decided, and wondered if it creeped him out. Not like *his* family's one maid, who'd been a little local girl always willing for a tumble out behind the henhouse. This one led them in a dignified manner to the library door, then nodded her head once, and took her leave.

They were all three in there. Wes, and his parents. Angel could smell them from the doorway. So, of course, could Spike, who was getting one of those looks on his face. One of those, "Do *not* try to stop me from making trouble, because you might as well try to tell a cat not to... er, do anything" looks.

Angel was too distracted to even bother trying the corresponding "Don't you dare," look. It hadn't worked for years, and certainly not since Spike had gotten together with Xander -- who was busy not telling Spike don't-you-dare, either. In fact, Angel could have sworn Xander was wearing the cat-look too. God help them all, whenever Spike finally turned him.

Maybe it would be time to pack up his own lovers, and move to the Himalayas for a few decades. Wesley would love the-- Wesley was standing in the library, beside a chair where an old man sat. He looked up as they entered.

He looked tired. Angel wanted to go over and sweep Wes into his arms, carry him up to bed and tuck him in. Tuck Gunn in with him, so someone could keep Wesley warm, while Angel held him. Instead, Angel put his hands in his pockets, and merely nodded. Polite. Formal. Like somebody who wasn't thinking about kidnapping his lover and keeping him tied to the bedposts until some sense could be gotten from him.

Wesley's mother, it must be, met them as they stepped into the room. She didn't seem particularly pleased to see them, though she spared a friendly smile for Xander and Cordelia. "Welcome to our home," she told them, her tone offering nothing more than civility.

"Thanks," Angel said, looking past her to Wesley. Wesley was looking down at his father, or at the books on the table before him. Obviously nervous, not meeting their eyes.

"Wesley?" Angel prodded, not willing to just stand around and talk about the weather. It was England, there was nothing to say beyond 'Rained today, didn't it?'. He was tired, and stressed, and wanted answers, and he didn't feel like playing whatever games they were being asked to play.

A glance up, then, and suddenly Angel *was* intimidated. Not by Wesley's father, who was utterly ignoring their presence, but by the eyes of his lover -- which revealed nothing of what he was feeling, lifted none of the confusion that had plagued Angel since he'd opened Wesley's letter. "How was your flight?"

Nothing. He wasn't giving them an inch. Polite as his mother, uninflected as Cecile's directions to the library. As if they were just... old friends, who had stopped in to see him. Angel couldn't even answer. Couldn't think what to answer. Was reconsidering that cave-vamp suggestion that kept cropping up, for once in a serious light. He could throw Wes over his shoulder, *then* take him home and tuck him in and tie him up, right?

Gunn seemed just as wordless, though more surprised -- as if, when it came down to it, he'd expected Wesley to run into their arms. But if he'd been going to do that, there wouldn't have been a letter in the first place, would there?

Spike took up the slack. "Don't like David's jet -- the loo's too small," he announced.

"For a man who's only ever flown cargo before, I don't think you've got much room to complain," Xander responded, while looking somewhat nervously at Wesley's parents. Were they making conversation? Was *Spike* making conversation, annoying as it might be?

"Not got much room to shag, either. Hell, you had to sit on the sink just to--" Whap! Ah, there it was. Finally. "Just saying. When you buy me a plane for my birthday, I want bigger loos. With a hot tub."

"William, Alexander," Wesley interrupted, sternly. "William, I don't believe you've met my father, Richard Wyndham-Pryce?" He gestured towards the man in the chair, who looked at them all with a clear expression of disgust and annoyance.

"Hey, guvnah," Spike drawled. "Nice place you've got. Don't think I'll be stealing the towels, though."

'Guvnah?' Since when had Spike turned into Dick Van Dyke? Angel couldn't decide if Spike was being irritating because he was the only one who *could* be, or because he was just...being Spike. He was probably the only one who wouldn't be turned to dust, later, by an irate Wesley. What was the point? As far as Angel knew, the only time *ever* Spike behaved himself was when Xander asked him to.

Or when his mother had scolded him, according to Xander's honeymoon tales. Angel had to stifle a sudden grin. He was tempted to mention that, now, to see if Spike would jump. Wesley's father did a creditable job of ignoring "William's" presence; if Angel hadn't been told things about him that made him want to not have a soul, just for a *little* while, he'd be tempted to ask for pointers.

Cordy arched a brow at Wesley. "Since when do you call him William?"

Spike walked over and slapped Wesley on the back. "Why shouldn't he call me William? S'my name. Known each other too long for 'Mr. The Bloody.'" Spike frowned, slightly, as if concentrating. "Er, Mr. Harris Bloody Wyndham-Pryce Gunn Chase Summers Rosenberg Jones Giles."

Xander corrected him. "No, the Bloody comes first in your name." He looked at Wesley's mother with a proud grin. "Wesley wrote us a memory thing for it: Handcuffs before whips please. Get chocolate sauce. Rimming's justified, Giles. But Spike's name goes Bloody, Harris, so it doesn't technically work for him."

Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce was looking at Spike strangely now. More strangely than people *usually* looked at Spike, Angel corrected himself. Even more strangely than she *should* have been looking at Xander, for that mnemonic. "William...the Bloody?" Her eyes widened considerably, though there was no further indication that she'd suddenly realized she had *half* the Scourge of Europe tracking mud into her house, instead of just a quarter.

Spike grinned. "Most people just call me Spike. Wes is family, though -- he knows I'll just throw non-color-safe bleach in his washing for calling me William, instead of rippin' out his spine and using his vertebrae to make a lovely macrame plant hanger."

"May I interject an eww, here, Spike?" Xander asked. "Not for *my* plants, you won't."

"Family?" Wesley's father said, suddenly looking up from his books again. "William the Bloody is now a part of our *family*, Wesley?"

"They're...friends, father," Wesley said haltingly. Angel knew he shouldn't have expected loud declarations of love, but it still hurt to hear Wesley denying that any of them meant more than that.

"Yes," Richard said, and there was so much in his tone that Angel could hear. They'd been dismissed, Wesley's choice of friends ridiculed, all in one simple syllable. "I'll be the envy of all the Watchers, now. I've had the infamous William the Bloody to my home." His acrid tone was obvious, then, and Angel could see Wesley wince, behind his nearly expressionless mask.

Angel found everyone glancing at him, and it was on his lips to introduce himself. If only he knew what Wesley wanted. For Angel to piss off his folks enough that he could leave, conscience clear? To behave, make somewhat of a polite, or just not hostile, acquaintance?

"And he's taken our family name," Richard continued in that sarcastic tone of approval. "Well, now we won't have to worry about the family line dying with you."

"Father, it's not--" Wesley looked quickly at Spike and Xander, and Angel could read the conflict in the twitching of that muscle in his cheek, in the shadows that floated over his eyes. He wanted to step forward and erase any questions as to which set of people in this room were really Wesley's family. He did nothing.

And Wesley said nothing more, just looked at the floor. Spike filled the silence with a cheery laugh. "Nah -- I'll be around for a few more centuries, at least. And we've got kids to pass it onto. Gomer, Goober and Hubert Harris Bloody Wyndham-Pryce Gunn Chase Summers Rosenberg Jones Giles."

"And me," Xander piped up, following his husband's lead. There was something hard in his voice, something that sounded to Angel like it had the density of every word he hadn't said to his own father at the wedding reception packed into it. "I figure I'll probably outlast Spike by a century or three, once he turns me, since I'm so much younger and spryer."

"You won't be spry once I've had you for three centuries," Spike said, giving his husband a leer. Angel saw that Wesley's mother was turning pale, and sending worried glances towards her husband.

Richard Wyndham-Pryce was giving Wesley a look. "Your friend is *planning* on becoming a vampire? Why am I not surprised? Should I even ask about the others? Werewolves? Demons? Or are they just all bent?"

Angel could hear three members of his family sub-vocalizing growls. Oddly, Spike wasn't among them. "N-no, they're...." Wesley took a deep breath, and in a polite, controlled tone, said, "Angel's the only other non-human here." He nodded towards Angel, who felt like he'd just been slighted out of his introduction.

He gave the elder Wyndham-Pryce an Angelus smile. "How do you do?" He stepped forward and held out his hand. Glad that he hadn't gone with 'pleased to make your acquaintance,' or he'd be holding out a newt-foot.

Wesley's father didn't make any move to accept the handshake. He glanced at it as though Angel had just offered to bite him.

"Actually, I'm not bent," Cordelia said cheerfully. "Unless that means 'dating a demon' in which case, me, too."

"Oo, are we officially dating the Flaming Green One, then?" Spike asked. Angel blinked at him. Was he actually... "We've rubbed off on you, luv. Only a woman in a house full of poofs could pick the gayest straight man in existence to play Spin-the-Bottle with." He was. He had one hand on his hip and was batting his eyelashes. *Spike* was being consciously campy.

William the Bloody. In pure black classic-Spike garb, long honeymoon-hair pulled back, curls falling in his face, looking like a roadie for Metallica. Waving one hand in the air in that classic Mr. Humphries gesture that Angel recognized from

too-many-Brit-TV-nights-to-count, and leaning ever-so-gaily on Wesley's shoulder. There was going to be an Apocalypse.

"Are we finished with these introductions, Wesley? If so, perhaps you'd like to take your friends elsewhere to continue the hilarity," Wesley's father said acidly.

Someone moved past Angel, and it took him by complete surprise to realize that it was Gunn -- and Angel hadn't even been aware of his presence beside him. So focused forward on Wesley and those eyes that wouldn't quite meet his own, that he'd lost track of the smell and heat of his other lover, standing next to him.

"Wes?"

Wesley looked once, quickly at Gunn, then back at his father. "Father, this is Charles Gunn, and the lady is Cordelia Chase. I believe you met earlier."

Gunn repeated himself, made Wesley's name into the question not even Spike had been rude enough to ask. Perhaps the question none of them had been brave enough to ask. "Wes?"

"Yes, Charles?"

"He wants to know what the hell you're still doin' here," Spike translated unnecessarily, when Gunn just kept staring at Wesley.

"I...am needed here," Wesley said, faintly.

Wesley's father gave them a stern glance. "I appreciate that you've grown accustomed to having my son working with you, but the time has come for him to resume his duty here. I'm sure he appreciates your concern for him, coming all this way."

"Oh, and now he's not allowed to talk to us?" Spike asked.

Richard gave Spike a glare which Angel knew all too well, from having refined it himself over the last century. He felt no urge to tell Wesley's father that it was a waste of time. But Angel realized something, in all this, that wasn't being said. "Taking over the family business, huh, Wes? Just planning on taking care of the house and raising sheep, or have you decided to try going back to the Council, too?"

"No," Wesley replied, quietly. "I won't be applying to the Council again. I'm needed *here*." The faint stress on the word could have indicated a lot of things. Angel thought it meant Wesley knew just how useless his life was going to be, serving as his father's lackey and heir apparent.

"The Council wouldn't take him back," Wesley's father put in. "Someone who consorts with vampires, instead of killing them." He glanced at his wife. "Remind me to revoke certain invitations, once they're gone."

"You don't like us?" Spike asked, sounding hurt. "But dad, we like *you*."

Angel heard Xander do a very good job of stifling a giggle, then he crossed the room to where Spike stood next to Wesley, and the inevitable whap occurred. On the ass. "Spike, it's not nice to lie. What would your mum say?"

"Stop this," Wesley said quietly, ducking away from Spike's pronounced leaning on him. "Please. My father isn't well; the least we can do is spare him the traditional Angel Investigations insanity. He's right; we should take this elsewhere."

"How about home?" Gunn asked with a hint of challenge.

There was a pause, then in a slightly strangled voice, Wesley said, "I am home." He wouldn't look at any of them as he said it.

Richard Wyndham-Pryce was looking triumphant; Angel felt like grabbing his tie and doing something nasty with it. He was getting dangerously close to going cave-vamp on *someone*, be it Wesley or his father.

Spike, however, raised his hand. When everyone was looking at him, he said, "I've a question, please," in as proper a tone as Angel had ever heard.

Angel thought again about having drowned his childe at birth. Staked, rather. Except that Spike was sparing Angel the associated costs of being annoying himself, so perhaps he should just ask, "Yes, Spike?"

Spike stood up straight, all trace of Are-You-Being-Served-ness disappearing from his carriage. "If someone happens to have a heart condition, where 'the slightest amount of stress could cause a relapse, so you'll understand why my presence is needed here' " He paraphrased Wesley's letter in an eerie duplication of the author's speech patterns. "Shouldn't his heart be beating just a snitch faster than normal? At least when somebody's been systematically pissing him off for five minutes straight? Er, bent?"

Spike walked close to the man's chair.

"Or when a vampire without a soul -- and without that little piece of silicon in his head telling him it's a no-no, by the way, Wesley, does something like this?" With a ragged growl, Spike darted towards Mr. Wyndham-Pryce's throat, features transforming to those of the gold-eyed demon that Wesley's family had been long been trained to destroy.

Wesley's father jerked back in his chair, reaching towards the table for something -- probably a pencil. Xander would spank Spike six ways from Sunday if he managed to get slain while trying to annoy Wesley's dad, Angel reflected quickly, as he reached to pull his childe away.

"Spike, get back!" Wesley commanded.

Spike stood up, game face split by a wide, fangy grin. "Oh, don't get your jockeys in a twist, Wes. I wasn't gonna hurt him." He pointed to the man who sat next to him, the fear on his face now replaced with unadulterated rage. "Just wanted to make a point, for your edification and delight. Your dad's about as healthy as I... well. No. As healthy as Xander is -- physically, at least. Pulse jumped a bit when I went for him, but it's already slowing back down to normal."

Wesley gave Spike a glare. "And that's your excuse for trying to get yourself slain? My father *is* a trained Watcher." Angel could hear the unsaid 'you moron', and wondered why Wes hadn't said that part.

Spike sounded affronted. "Give me a *little* credit! He wasn't gonna get to anything that could hurt me, before I got to him. You're missing the point, here, anyway. His heart's healthy. Your excuse for staying sucks dirty dishwater, so pack up and let me get home where I can shag my husband in your hot tub."

Wesley just kept glaring at Spike, ignoring the others' questions, various exclamations of surprise and delight. Angel didn't say anything. Couldn't say anything. He simply stared at Wesley, in sheer disbelief.

"Richard?" from Wesley's mother.

"Claire, would you help me upstairs, please? I'm not feeling quite up to whatever sort of fun and games our son's deluded friends are trying to play." Mr. Wyndham-Pryce leaned heavily on his wife as she helped him from his chair, and accompanied him out the library door. Neither of them looked back, though Claire was studying her husband confusedly as they moved away.

Angel listened, as they passed him -- to what he hadn't been hearing before, because he'd been so focused on Wesley. The scuff of shoes on the floor. Shallow breathing, loud and obviously intentional, and the beating of two perfectly average hearts.

Spike walked back to Wesley. "I'm not deluded. He may've had some sort of trouble in the past, but there's nothing wonky about his heartbeat. He's been playing you, Wes."

Wesley looked at him, and said nothing. Angel looked at Wesley, and his disbelief turned to something else. Something he hadn't felt for Wesley in a long, long time. Anger.

"You knew."

*****

There were more sounds of surprise, questions being thrown to him, and Wes. Angel ignored them, watching Wesley. Waiting for him to deny it, to explain why he hadn't been at all surprised to hear Spike's revelation.

"You *knew*," Angel repeated, when Wesley didn't say a word. "And you stayed."

Wesley looked away, towards the bookcases. Gunn stepped up beside him. "Wes? You knew he was okay?" Wesley still didn't answer. Gunn shot a confused look to Angel. "If you knew he was okay, why'd you keep saying you--" He stopped, and his face grew hard. Angel could feel him tensing. "Change your mind, did you?"

"Do what?" Spike was asking loudly. "You *what*?"

"Spike..." Xander's voice was quiet as he tugged on Spike's arm. "Come on -- let's go look around the grounds and see if there's any lawn gnomes you can smash. I think Angel and Gunn want to be alone with Wes."

"Don't we all," Cordelia said sharply. Angel gave her a look that had never been any good at quashing her before, and she glared back at him. Then, after a moment, her expression softened. "Oh, fine. But I get to kick his ass later." She headed for the door, following Spike and Xander. "Hey, wait up, you guys. I wanna smash lawn gnomes too. It'll do as a warm-up."

"I get the ones with the red caps, " Spike was saying, off in the distance. "Little buggers piss me off, all cute-n-beardy. Real Redcaps would scalp any gardener tried to plant 'em in a plot of petunias."

"You wanna tell us what's goin' on," Gunn asked, when they were truly alone. "For real?"

Wesley looked down at the table in front of him for a moment, then back up. "If I must." He folded his arms, then unfolded them to twitch his sweater, and adjust his glasses. Angel waited, patiently -- Gunn rather less so.

"Well?"

"You were right -- I've changed my mind."

Angel swore he felt his heart beat -- just once, so it could stop. *There* was a cardiac arrhythmia for you. He stared at Wesley, unable to process what he'd heard. Changed...he couldn't change his mind.

"You...?" Gunn sounded just as shocked by the admission. "Damn, Wes -- what's going *on*?" Gunn glanced towards the doors, through which everyone had gone. "They got something on you? They keeping you here? Man, you know we can help--"

"That won't be necessary," Wesley interrupted.

"They're not forcing you to stay?" Angel glanced around. "Or they're listening in and you just can't admit it?" It made more sense that Wesley's parents were holding something over his head: making him stay against his wishes, forcing him to write letters to his real family, saying he wouldn't be back. Angel reached his hand out to his lover, trying to let him know they could help. Whatever was wrong.

Wesley just shook his head. "I'm sorry, Angel. I must say 'no'. It would have been easier if you hadn't come all this way just to hear me say it. A letter should have been enough."

Angel blinked. Left his hand were it was, because this sounded like Wes *had* to be possessed. He sounded nothing like the man who'd begged them to make love to him, rolled over in bed and ground himself against Angel's body, eliciting cries and groans and whispering 'I love you' over and over. Angel blinked again. "Huh?"

"You're saying no, you don't wanna marry us?" Gunn asked quietly. "Or no you don't wanna ever see us again?"

Wesley didn't answer for a moment -- he looked rather like he did when trying not to tell Angel to stop dancing or someone might think they needed to call an exorcist. Finally he pulled away from Angel, and walked around to the chair his father had been sitting in. "This would've been so much easier if you'd just done as I asked." Wesley sat down, and motioned the two of them to sit as well.

"You couldn't actually have thought we would?" Angel asked. They were dancing around the question, but he'd let it happen, for a bit, if it meant they would get some kind of explanation of Wesley's behavior out of him. And... Angel wasn't sure he was *ready* to hear the real answer. "That letter made no sense. You don't just walk out of a three year relationship with an airmail note that says, "Have a nice life and unlife, respectively, and don't forget to add the fabric softener, or your underwear will itch."

"More than three years," Gunn said quietly. "Maybe we've only all been sleeping together for three years, but we've had something between us all for a hell of a lot longer than that."

"Yes," Wesley said simply. He sat, stared at his hands as if they held the answers Angel and Gunn needed. Perhaps Wesley was the one looking for answers.

Maybe that was why he'd come here. Angel understood the need to re-evaluate your life when someone asked you to make this kind of commitment. But what Wesley had done didn't make sense. To run so far -- his father's attack had been a convenient excuse to leave. But to remain here, where he had to be faced with a constant reminder of his family's displeasure and disapproval, instead of coming home where people loved him and told him how wonderful he was?

Angel moved swiftly to kneel in front of Wesley's chair. He put his hands on Wes' knees, and felt his lover tense. Wesley still wouldn't meet his eyes. "Wes...please. Just tell us. No matter what it is -- can't you just tell us, instead of saying 'it's for the best, just go'?"

Gunn came up beside him, as well, put a hand on Wes' shoulder. Wesley closed his eyes. "Wes, man, we love you. If you want us to go you're gonna have to convince us."

"It isn't sufficient to simply ask? What I want doesn't matter?" Wesley's voice was sharp, but the anger wasn't there. Angel heard desperation, a little bitterness. Fear.

"Maybe if we had a fuckin' clue what you want," Gunn started.

"If you can't accept plain English..." Wesley cut him off.

Angel shook his head. "Wes, that wasn't plain English, and you know it." He paused, trying to sort out what he wanted to say, but it didn't seem to be making any more sense in his head than Wesley's words had made on paper. "Of course what you want matters. It matters just as much as what I want, and what Gunn wants, and even though we both want you home with us, that doesn't outweigh what you decide to do with your life." Angel looked up at him, and fixed him with a hard stare.

"But you knew damn well we'd come after you to find out what the hell you were talking about. This isn't a sex game, where we play figure out what's on Wesley's mind and do it to him. This is the big leagues, and you're still hiding behind this self-righteous deal of we don't pay enough attention to you, we don't include you, we keep you hidden away, we make you work too hard to feel like you're part of this relationship. We've tried to change everything you've ever let us know we were doing wrong, Wes. Even when you wanted us to learn to figure it out without being told. So don't you owe us some honesty now, instead of this passive-aggressive bullshit?"

It was one of the longest speeches he'd given in his long life, and only the anger, the frustration, had kept Angel's mouth moving once his brain had figured out that he sounded like somebody on a daytime talk show.

Wesley started to respond, his expression angry -- then he stopped. Angel could see him folding in on himself, looking once again at the floor, or his hands, before finally taking a deep breath and looking at Angel. "That's why I had to say 'no', don't you see? You've done so much...and it still hasn't fixed things." His voice died to a whisper. "It wouldn't work. Don't you, can't you, see? Things are still so wrong between us all."

"If you're waiting for things to be perfect, Wes," Angel began.

Wesley shook his head. "I don't think any relationship could be perfect. But it should well be better than what we have -- you say you've tried to make me feel as though I were part of this relationship. Angel, the fact is, I am not a part of it -- not the way you and Gunn are a part of each other." He held up one hand, to forestall the protest that Angel was about to make, if Gunn didn't beat him to it. "You needed me, I understand that. I need you, too. But I've brought you two the balance you were seeking. *Your* relationship isn't in trouble, any longer." He swallowed, looked away, towards Gunn. "You'll both be fine without me. No more games, no more trying to change yourselves to fit me. You can be yourselves, and you'll be fine."

Angel wondered if Gunn could hear the way Wesley's voice was almost, but not quite, breaking. "We *are* us. What, I don't crack mirrors when I sing in the shower anymore? Gunn doesn't still watch Green Acres repeats and yell, 'It's a damn pig, you moron,' at the screen?"

Gunn was shaking his head. "No. No, Wes, this is stupid. I don't even know what you mean, no more games. Angel's right -- you had to have known we'd read that letter and jump on the first plane over. Only reason we even waited at all was Angel didn't want to come, til we convinced him."

Angel recognized the look that flashed across Wesley's face, the wrinkling of the nose as if it were pricking him -- he was ready for the words before they came. Ready for them before Wesley was, judging from Wesley's look of shame after he said, "You had to be persuaded, then?"

Angel sat back on his heels, and wondered insanely what Xander would do if Spike ever got this manipulative. Insanely, because... 'If?' Anyway, the answer would most likely involve Spike and nudity, and probably leather -- all of which was sounding good to Angel when applied to Wesley, right about now.

"You want us to take you at your word, but you're hurt because I did?" Angel retorted finally. He put a hand to Wesley's lips when he started to respond. "I wanted to swim over and drag you back by the toes, Wesley. But I thought, for some reason, that you'd be upset if we treated you like you don't know what you're doing."

Wesley looked away again, his shamed expression growing stronger. "I...appreciate your confidence in me."

The words sounded absurd, given everything. Angel took hold of Wesley's hand. "Wes, if you honestly, truly, want us to go and not come back for you, then let us understand whatever it is that's going through your head. Tell us *why*. Don't just tell us to go -- because we can't. We *love* you, and we want you in our lives, and we're going to fight anything -- even you -- to make sure we have every opportunity to have you."

Wesley glanced at Gunn, a question in his eyes, though the question was guarded behind something Angel didn't understand.

Gunn nodded. "What he said. Wes, just tell us."

"I've told you," Wesley began. He held up his hand, the one Angel wasn't holding, before either Angel or Gunn could interrupt. "Don't you hear what you're saying? 'We' this, 'we' that -- you two are more married now, than I could ever be. The two of you have a relationship with each other, that I have with neither. My only connection with you is with you *both*. That's not a relationship, that's...owning a pet."

Gunn looked like he'd been physically slapped. Angel *felt* that way -- but about two seconds after that reaction, the knowledge set in that, wrong as Wesley was, he was also right. When it came to any troubles with Wes, Angel and Gunn looked at each other, first. Or sometimes didn't *need* to look at each other -- but even that was telling enough. Apparently it told Wesley that they were, to all intents and purposes, using him. Like a live-in sex counselor. A buffer.

It wasn't true. Angel didn't think of Wesley that way, and he knew Gunn didn't either -- and yet it was.

"You think we treat you like a dog?" Gunn was asking.

Incredulous. Hurt. Angel's first impulse was to reach up and put his free hand on Gunn's arm. But wouldn't that confirm Wesley's diagnosis? That the two of them had somehow come to know each other so much better than either of them knew Wesley, since the day when Gunn had told a room full of vampire hunters that he and Angel could never be friends, and Wes had told Gunn that if he endangered their lives again, he was fired.

But this wasn't only about Wes. It couldn't be only about Wes, if they were to have any hope of coming out of this together, all three of them. Angel reached up and touched Gunn's sleeve. "That's not what he means. He means he feels like... like a guest, that we allow into our bed, and play with and fuck senseless and treat like a visiting royal most of the time, but still a guest, at the end of the day."

"Damnit, Wes, would we marry you if you were just a guest?" Gunn demanded.

Wesley looked at him, holding his gaze steady. "That won't solve things, Charles. A piece of paper that isn't even legal won't suddenly create what isn't there."

"Fuck the paper. Like anybody cares about the paper. Would we want to let Cordy put us through all that wedding crap *again*, if you were just a guest?" Gunn asked again, in a hard tone. "Doesn't that mean something? That maybe we want to be together? All of us? Why would we ask you to marry us, if we didn't want you?"

"*You* didn't ask me to marry you," Wesley pointed out in a semblance of a lighter tone. Prim, as if he were on the side of the angels -- or at least the blameless.

Gunn looked surprised, and angry. Angel began to stop him, opened his mouth to derail whatever Gunn had to say. He stopped himself, knowing that whomever he was trying to protect, didn't need it. Perhaps it would be better if they let it out.

"So, you wanna marry me?" Gunn demanded. Angel saw Wesley's eyes turn slightly wetter, and once again he was struck with the need to gather Wes in his arms and hold him safe from everything -- even himself, and Gunn.

"I think perhaps you should ask your fiance if that's acceptable, before you ask me," Wesley replied, looking pointedly at Angel.

Sometimes Angel wondered if it had really been worth climbing out of his coffin all those years ago, if he was going to spend the prime of his unlife being played by somebody every bit as good as Spike, and only a little bit less evil. He took a look at Gunn's face, then Wesley's, and felt like throwing them *both* over his shoulders. Could he? He'd once managed Spike and Dru at the same time...

"Gunn," he said slowly. "You want to get un-engaged?"

"Huh?"

Angel removed both of his hands from his lovers' bodies, and stood. "This is about you, and Wes, and me. Not us and Wes. I don't know why it's suddenly the end of days because you happened to answer first when I proposed, but it seems to be. So let's stop this, right? I don't want to risk having to wear teal bow-ties again, unless Wesley's involved. Do you?"

Wesley jumped up. "No -- don't you see, this is why I stayed away in the first place. Don't *do* that. Don't ruin whatever you two have, just because it doesn't really have room in it for me." Angel moved after him, and grabbed his wrist. He knew he was holding too tightly, but as long as the bone didn't break he couldn't be bothered.

"This is not about Gunn and I making room for you! This is about the *three* of us being together. Maybe it isn't perfect, yet, and maybe it's too soon to get married." Angel knew he was growling, now, but he still wore his human visage and was still in control. Just. "But there is no excuse for you not telling us. Hell, for *lying* to us, about why you were staying. None except that you're rather run and hide and ruin it for all of us, than tell us there's something wrong. Really wrong. If you're too afraid to say no..." Angel felt the anger spin out of him. "Then you can't be ready give up, either. Wesley...."

He had no idea what to say. No way to convince him that he understood, and that he still wanted to try. He felt like he'd been banging his head against a wall, for months now. The wall of Wesley's issues, and how no matter how hard you try, you can never get them right.

"Can I make a suggestion?" Gunn was asking. He sounded suspiciously calm. Wesley and Angel looked at him. "This all just comes down to me and Wes don't have the kinda relationship that me and Angel do. And you two don't have what Angel and I do. Right?" Angel could see Gunn wanting to whap someone on the head, Xander-style. "So what's wrong with spending time together? Just you and me. Just you and him. Find out if there's anything, before assuming there isn't."

Wesley tugged at Angel's grip on his wrist, but gently, not as if he was planning to make a run for it and go see if he could help Spike and company murder a few innocent painted lawn decorations. Angel, after a second, let go. Wes wasn't a child, and he certainly wouldn't appreciate being treated like one, in this house. Especially by somebody bigger and stronger than him.

"Sorry," he said softly.

Wes blinked, then looked at his own wrist as if he hadn't even noticed. Angel wasn't sure that made him feel better. "Are you..." Wesley paused, then something like a smile crossed his face. It might have been amusement; Angel couldn't be sure. "Are you asking me out on a *date*, Charles?"

"And why the hell not?" Gunn crossed his arms. "Since I'm right now as of this moment officially not engaged to either of you cakeboys, I got all the free time in the world. Unless you're worried about your parents knowing you're going to the movies with a smart, well-hung black man who plans to do things to their son in the back row that could get me dead in Montgomery, Alabama."

Wesley blinked a few times, and Angel had to bite his tongue from asking if he could come, too. He'd offer to sit a couple seats over, as long as he got to watch. Except he'd help, and that was exactly what Gunn was suggesting they not do.

The horrors. Spend time with Wesley, *alone*. Angel grinned. "Me, too? Not the same night. We can even pick a different movie. Or...maybe bowling?" Though he couldn't see Wes letting him bend him over the automatic ball-return, there was always the parking lot...

Wesley looked at him, then at Gunn, appearing faintly stunned. He was still doing that something like a smile thing with his mouth, though, and that encouraged Angel. Then all signs of amusement died, and Wesley looked away from them both. "I'm sorry I--" His voice cracked. Angel and Gunn reached out at the same time, reaching for him, not quite touching. Wesley didn't move closer, but neither did he move away. "How can you possibly--"

"Want to try dating you?" Angel asked, when Wesley couldn't finish speaking. "Wes, we both...each, love you. We--"

But Wesley was shaking his head. "How can you possibly forgive me?"

'For what?' was on the tip of Angel's tongue, but this wasn't Stage Three of a Wesleycoddling game. He was asking a serious question.

"For what -- not wanting to marry us?" Gunn asked. Angel didn't look at him, didn't try to telegraph that Wes was serious. Didn't try to put up a united front, because they weren't at war -- though it had seemed like it for a while, there. "World's full of people who don't want to marry us. Well, at least people who don't want to marry Angel. Last time I looked at the website with the membership list, it was up to 8 thousand, not counting people who happened to show up at Caritas on Manilow night and haven't recovered yet."

"There's a website?" Angel asked reflexively. Of course there was a website. Xander had probably even uploaded the New Year's video as a warning to potential suitors.

"Piranhakids dot com, I think," Wesley said, again with the almost-smile. Then he looked down at the expensive carpet that Spike had tracked every bit of mud he could find into, and was probably out there now gathering even more, on purpose. "For running," Wesley whispered, answering their question. "For taking the coward's way out. For pretending I believed my father's lie."

Angel regarded him seriously. "Are you coming home?"

Very slowly, Wesley nodded. Angel exchanged a grin with Gunn, although he could see the 'told you so' in Gunn's expression.

Angel ignored him. "Are you going to give us -- including yourself -- a chance to fix things? I mean really fix things, not just make us jump through hoops that address the symptoms, and not the cause?" Angel found Gunn giving him a bizarre look. "What?" Angel asked.

"Where'd you learn to talk like that? Passive-aggressive bullshit symptoms?"

"Harmony made me watch a whole day of family counseling shows with her, on the Lifetime network," he said, deadpan. "She said I needed to get in touch with the inner me, or I'd never be able to get over my obvious jealousy that she's with Buffy, and I'm not." He saw Wesley half-smile, again. He wondered if he ought to still be stifling the urge to grab Wesley, and run.

Gunn shook his head, then turned back to Wesley. "You're really coming home? You're not just saying that so we don't tie you up and haul you outta here?"

Wesley hesitated, then, slowly, nodded. His lips barely moved as he whispered, "I hate it here." He looked up at them, after a second, and added, "And I miss the hot tub."

Gunn thumped him on the head, startling Wesley and Angel, both. "Dumbass. Next time you say 'hey, guys, we gotta talk'. Because if I have to chase you across the globe again...I will. But I'll be damn grumpy."

Wesley essayed a smile that was almost a real one. "As opposed to how you've been for the last two weeks, I suppose."

"Hey, I was a regular ray of sunshine, compared to Mr. Mope Around Reading Paddington Bear in the bathtub when he thinks I ain't looking."

"Like there was somewhere for me to *hide* it in the bathtub?" Angel asked reflexively. When had they turned into Xander and Spike, exactly? Or were they just trying to make Wes feel like everything was back to normal?

Nothing was back to normal -- which might not be a bad thing, of course. Still, Angel felt a strange squishy squeeze in the middle of his chest when Wes fixed him with a stern stare and asked, "You were reading my collectors' edition of Paddington, in the *bathtub*, Angel?"

Angel shook his head. "No. I...um...boughtanewcopyatBarnes&Noble." Because he hadn't dared take Wesley's copy anywhere near water. Wesley raised an eyebrow at him, and Angel could hear the teasing reply he was about to make. Could hear it coming, but he saw something else in Wesley's eyes. Angel put his hand out, and placed it on Wesley's arm. Startled, Wesley said nothing, and Angel spoke quietly. "I think...can we go home, now? Instead of acting like everything's okay, can we just go and make it okay?" Wesley and Gunn were now both staring at him like he'd grown a third head. Angel began to feel a bit insulted; then he just shrugged. "We really *should* going to family counseling. Maybe I should ask Spike and Xander to join us."

It wasn't precisely a lie -- he'd do it if he had to, to keep them all together -- but he'd paint himself blue and sing naked songs in the middle of the road again, first. Gunn and Wesley would never be *completely* sure he didn't mean his threat, though. Even if they asked Spike, because Spike lied like he had sex. Often, everywhere, and with little necessary encouragement. Often doing one to get himself out of trouble for the other. Thinking of Spike made him realize that his childe had come back into the house. They were all in the foyer, standing around and whispering about whether they should risk going in the library yet.

"I *really* hate when he says shit like that," Gunn mock-whispered at Wesley. "Who the hell is qualified to psychoanalyze *us*?"

Angel moved towards the door, nodding his head in that direction to indicate the listeners outside. "I don't know. We'd have to find somebody willing to put up with including *Spike* in group therapy, after all."

"The bloody *hell* you say," came the expected shout from the corridor. "I'm not getting my head shrunk. Bad enough they put hardware in it, now you want to reprogram me? I'm the sanest one of you lot."

Angel didn't have to have superhuman ears to hear Cordelia's burst of laughter, or Xander's hand thumping...some part of Spike. There was a hollow echo, so it was probably his head.

Wesley smiled, mildly. "Let's go," he said. "We should at least find out how much damage they've done to my parents' garden -- so I'll know what we need to replace before we leave."

There was a small crow of triumph from outside, then Spike stalked in, closely followed by Xander. "I *told* you he wanted to be rescued." Angel gave Spike a dirty look, the sort that used to make William the Bloody flinch, and start apologizing. Spike flipped him off.

"What?" Wesley was asking. Angel turned to see a faintly confused, faintly accusatory expression on his lover's face. Angel couldn't tell if this was one of those 'apologize to him' moments, or not. Except they'd just decided a few minutes ago that these sorts of moments were to be made clear.

Besides, if Wesley was upset -- Angel didn't do it. He shrugged, and gestured towards Gunn. "They thought you were just obliquely asking us to come rescue you. Your letter. When you said not to come, they thought--"

"*They*?" Gunn interrupted.

"Yes," Angel said. "I said, 'if Wes wants us to come see him, he'll ask'."

"Uh-huh." Gunn folded his arms, then looked at Wesley. "We came to rescue you -- from yourself, your parents, the evil that is England. Can we go?"

"Oi -- the evil that is England? Are you gonna stand there and take that, Wes?" Spike had that glint of instigation in his eye, the one that made Angel want to reach over and perform some home-brewed family counseling on his head.

Wesley didn't answer. He just laughed, and patently ignored Spike as he walked toward the library door.

"Oh, come on -- you're not gonna let him insult the motherland? Home of Walker's Crisps, Lion Bars, and Batham's Bitter?" Spike insisted as they followed Wes into the hallway. "That was a blatant blow against everything fish-and-chippy about home."

Wesley turned to face Spike, then. "How long since you've considered England home, Spike?"

"Er?"

"How long since you've considered anywhere home except where Xander is?"

Spike's mouth opened and closed a few times, then he frowned, crossed his arms, and stuck out his tongue. "Utterly beside the point."

"You just wanted to get Gunn into trouble, because you get off on watching us bicker."

"Er, duh?"

Wesley turned away from him and led the way towards the front entrance hall, ignoring Spike again. Angel didn't bother hiding his grin when Spike looked poutingly back at him.

He got a glare in return, and Spike poking Wesley on the shoulder. "Hey Yank-lover. Betcha didn't know Angel killed the Queen."

"You *do* need therapy, Spike," Wesley responded.

"No, I'm serious," Spike insisted. "Off in Victorian England. Angelus killed the Queen -- s'how she got all vamped." Wesley stopped, and gave Spike an eerily accurate 'we are not amused' look. "Yeah, her," Spike agreed. "Vickie."

"Queen Victoria," Wesley repeated, while Angel tried to figure out how any of this was more important that the forward momentum they'd gained. He tried to get Wesley moving, again, but he was standing there, arms crossed, not budging. "Angel killed Queen Victoria?"

"Yeah," from Xander. "Dork-Spike and Dru got most of the Lords, and I think Darla killed what's his name, the annoying guy?"

Spike shrugged. "They were all annoying."

"Dork-Spike?" Cordelia asked, her question echoed by everyone in the room. Xander laughed, and opened his mouth.

Spike spoke quickly, "My alter-ego. Not as polished as some. But Angel -- hell, talk about a guy who looks good in leather no matter what dimension he's from." Spike gave him the once over, which Angel ignored -- primarily because Wesley was also looking at him, like he'd just dropped Paddington Bear in demon goo.

"And he killed the queen," Wesley repeated.

"Yes. Angel killed the Queen." Spike sounded like he was repeating a lesson for someone who'd just been knocked on the head. "One of the few smart things he did, before spending a century not shagging me."

"You killed Queen Victoria?" Wesley said one more time, to Angel.

"No, some alternate universe version of me killed Queen Victoria. Apparently." Angel didn't mention that he'd thought of it, and discarded the idea as being too much work, not enough fun, and likely to get Darla pissed at him if he suggested it.

Wesley gave him one last disapproving glare, then turned to Gunn. "Right, he's flying cargo on the way home."

"We have a private jet," Xander said.

"We'll ship him separately," Wesley announced. He turned at the main staircase, and began climbing. The rest stood below, including Angel. Wesley looked back. "Were you planning on helping with my luggage, Angel, or just standing about? It's the difference between cargo and coach."

Angel followed, as did the rest, with Xander once again pointing out that they had a private jet, so there *was* no coach, and Spike telling him to shut up, it was more fun this way, and if necessary, they could make Angel spend the whole flight in the loo. The conversation about how Spike and Xander would manage to have sex in that same bathroom, with detailed position descriptions of how to avoid kicking Angel in the head unless they wanted to, took the group all the way up the second floor.

Angel waited until he was level with Wesley again -- merely on a geographical basis, he had no question about a psychological level -- and said, "It wasn't *me*. I'm not the one who killed her." He felt vaguely silly for having to say so, and he heard Gunn snickering.

Wesley cast him a sidelong look. "Spike said it was you." As though suddenly *Spike* could be believed.

All right, when it came to getting Angel annoyed or in trouble, he could be. "He said it was the *other* me. Alternate dimension, remember, Wes? There's more than one of me."

"Then you don't deny it was your Doppelganger?" Wes demanded.

Angel opened his mouth, then stopped. There was no way he could answer that, without being blamed for Queen Victoria becoming a vampire. Or getting turned into a newt. He glanced at Gunn. "How is it that, with everything Wesley's done, *I'm* the one in trouble?"

Gunn shrugged. "You turned the *Queen*, man. What do you expect?"

"I did not!" Angel gave Spike a deadly glare. Spike just looked back at him like Angel had brought this all on himself, and it was no use passing the blame. He opened his mouth to explain all the things he was going to do to Spike, but thought twice, given the newt issue and how Xander would pout at him if he did them. "You annoy me greatly, Spike," he muttered. *That* at least earned him a stare, when the expected threats didn't materialize. Angel enjoyed a brief smirk before turning back to Wesley. "You aren't *really* going to hold me responsible for something done a hundred years ago by somebody who *looks* like me, are you?"

From the doorway at the end of the second floor corridor, Wesley's father said acidly, "It would hardly be noticed among the atrocities you *did* commit a hundred years ago, would it, Angelus? Why not just take responsibility and be done with it?"

"Because he's angling to sleep in their bed when we all get home, instead of on our sofa," Spike answered for him, truthfully enough.

Mr. Wyndham-Pryce looked sharply at Spike for a second, then at Angel, then at Wesley. "When you *all* get home, Wesley? Are your friends still under the impression that this is a temporary visit?"

Angel watched Wesley remain motionless -- for just a second. Then he could see him stand up a bit straighter, shoulders back, as he faced his father. "I'm leaving now, as a matter of fact," he said clearly.

Wesley's father didn't even look surprised. "Oh, really?" He sounded like Angel's own father had, when Liam had been eight, and informed his father he was a man now, and didn't need his father's household rules. It had preceded a spanking, and extra chores for the week. Hearing Mr. Wyndham-Pryce use that tone on Wesley, a grown man who was making the *right* decision, made Angel want to find something to spank *him* with. A bamboo cane, say. Or a large club.

He heard Wesley sigh, almost inaudibly. "Yes, father. I realize I've given you no notice--"

"You're going nowhere," his father interrupted, giving the gathered group of them behind Wesley, a single, dismissive glance. "Whatever your friends think they need you for, they can cope without you. Tell them to be on their way and we'll ignore this nonsense."

Another hard glance in Angel's direction, then at Spike, told Angel that Wesley's father wasn't going to forget, at all. He had the distinct impression that a de-invitation spell would be performed as soon as they left. All the more reason to get Wesley out now.

"I'm going." Wesley's voice was determined, but slightly softer than before. Angel put his hand on Wesley's shoulder, briefly reminding him they were there to support him. He felt Wesley relax, and gave Mr. Wyndham-Pryce a smile. Not as toothy a smile as he'd have liked, but he really didn't want to be sleeping on Spike and Xander's couch.

"Wesley, you have responsibilities here. Playing at being a Watcher-for-Hire is all well and good when there's nothing more useful you could be doing, but now you're needed here."

Angel felt Wesley tense again, then step out from under his hand. "Father, you don't need me. I know that what Spike said is true. I saw your medical reports shortly after I got here. You had a very mild heart attack, and the doctors say you have every chance of a full recovery. You're not going to expire if someone upsets you." There was a quaver in Wesley's voice that Angel hadn't heard outside of a bedroom situation in years, but he made his way steadily to the end of his speech, and stood before his father. Tense, but tall.

"What exactly are you accusing me of, Wesley?"

"Offhand, I'd say being a manipulative, lying bastard," Xander said. "I guess I should be impressed -- I mean, *my* father doesn't approve of me being gay, but he never acted like he was dying to get me away from my sordid life of debauchery."

Wesley stood a little more stiffly, Angel noticed, but he didn't look upset at what Xander had said. "I shouldn't be jealous, if I were you, Xander." His voice was even, and slightly sad. "He didn't do it because he wants me here." He looked at his father again. "Do you truly think I'm stupid, Father? I looked into everything, while researching how to save this place from being taken over by a historic trust, or mortgaged to the hilt. Everything. The only way to keep it in the family without selling off things that you don't want to sell would be for you to get a grant based on having a designated heir to pass it onto. Preferably two generations of designated heirs."

The only sign a human would have seen that Wesley's father was discomfited by his son's words, was a small twitch of one nostril. Angel heard the thump of his heart beating faster, though. Smelled the faint pheromones of anger radiating from him. "That's the conclusion of all of your brilliant detective work? That your family needs to manipulate you into staying here and doing your duty by us? By your own name?"

"Oh, I'm sure there's more to it," Wesley said. "Having me around to remind me that you disapprove of everything I've done is probably just a perk."

Wesley's father glowered, narrowing his eyes and turning red. Angel heard his heart speed up -- his perfectly fine, no danger of even skipping a beat heart.

It made him hungry.

"I'll not stand you to be disrespectful to me. Inexcusable. You think because your so-called friends are here that you can be rude? I will not tolerate such impertinence." He seemed to gather himself up, and for a second Angel thought he was going to raise his hand to slap Wes. "You will tell your friends good-bye, and you will take your place with your family as instructed, and we will have no more of this nonsense."

"Yes, father, you're right," Wesley said, and Angel panicked. He nearly grabbed Wesley and flung him over his shoulder, not caring what had made him change his mind so *fast* -- when Wes continued speaking. "My place is with my family." He looked over his shoulder, and gave Angel, and Gunn, then the rest of the gang, a smile.

Angel shared a triumphant grin with Gunn. Score one for the good guys.

He heard the rustling behind Mr. Wyndham-Pryce long before Wesley's mother appeared in the doorway, but the need to ask somebody familiar with Watchery things to check and see if he still had a soul, didn't come until she spoke.

*****

"Wesley?" he heard his mother say. Wesley couldn't decide which was worse -- the sound of her voice, or the look on her face. As if he'd just crushed some priceless figurine -- as he'd done, on certain occasions, growing up -- and she was more disappointed in his lack of care, than the loss of the object. Only in this case, what he'd crushed was something inside her.

"Mother--"

"Do you no longer consider me to be your family, either, then?"

"It isn't like that, Mother." But for a moment, it had been. For a moment, he'd forgotten that, disappointed in him as she might be, he'd never questioned that his mother loved him.

"What is it like, then?" She looked... He would say 'devastated,' if he'd ever thought she was capable of being brought that low. "Please explain it to me." It was the last sentence that did it. Because she sounded, as she hadn't in years, as if she truly wanted to know.

Wesley turned to his assembled friends. His lovers. His family. If he was going to claim them aloud, he'd best get used to saying it in his head. "I... Could you excuse me, for a moment? I think I need to speak with my mother alone."

No one made a move to stop him, though Angel and Charles asked him silently if they should go with him. He shook his head slightly -- and reveled in the fact that he could read them. Had he been missing it, all this time, or had something truly changed, tonight?

Wesley went to his mother, and led her towards her sitting room, down the hall. She went, casting him that same, hurt, confused look, but saying nothing until they entered the room and Wesley closed the door.

She stood there, just inside the door, holding her hands in front of her.

"Please," Wesley indicated her chair, waited for her to sit. He could remember a thousand times she'd sat there, as he watched her -- reading some book, studying something Father had given him. He'd look up and she'd be there, reading something of her own or tending to some mysterious paperwork he'd not been privy to as a child.

Not quite a sense of comfort -- he'd learned real comfort from being held in his lovers' arms. But a sense of familiarity, to be sure. She sat, and settled herself, and he took the seat to one side of hers. He still had no idea how to explain what he'd said so she wouldn't be hurt. He suspected there was no way, but he ought repair what damage he could.

She didn't give him the chance. "You've chosen to go with them, then, have you?"

"I-- yes, Mother, I have." She didn't look at him, and he couldn't decide if that was making this any easier. "Mum, I have to go. They are my family, as much as you are." When she didn't respond, he added, "If I had married, you wouldn't question my going to live with my wife, would you?"

"If you had married properly, you and your wife would be living here. The family estate, where you belong." She sounded hurt, but he could hear the anger beneath her words.

He could understand it. He'd never had a problem understanding it. But they'd never tried -- never -- to understand, in return. At least until now, and he didn't know if he had the words, now. "Mother..." She looked up at him, and he spoke softly. "I was never going to marry properly."

She shook her head, plainly confused. "There were girls. You dated, when you were in school."

"People Father introduced me to, yes. The daughters of his friends."

Wesley could still picture some of them -- well-to-do girls who had looked at him with everything from disgust to pity. A few had even become friends, to what extent they could. More than one of them would have married him, despite the lack of anything resembling a spark between them, even though he'd tried, he truly had. More than one of them would have become Mrs. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, for the name, or because her parents' expectations were just as high as his.

"I would have married, yes. But it would never have been a *proper* marriage. I'd have condemned one of them to something that was at best a business partnership, at worst, a mockery." It was best to say it plainly, wasn't it? "I'd still have been gay, Mother. That has nothing to do with the people I love *now*."

She looked perturbed, ever so slightly. He suspected it was because he was insisting on being exactly what she had spent his young adulthood telling him he wasn't. "You don't know that -- you can't tell me there is no girl in this entire world you wouldn't love, and be happy to marry."

"But it doesn't matter," he said, trying to feel half the amount of patience he was putting into his voice. "I'm in love, and I don't care to look for any girls."

She looked away from him, her expression telling him quite clearly that she would prefer not to discuss this -- except they would, because it was better than discussing what had brought them here in the first place. "In love?" She gave him a flat look. "All I've heard since your...friends... arrived, is you arguing."

He opened his mouth, then revised what he'd been about to say. It *was* true. But it wasn't the whole truth. "Whatever problems I do have with them, I shall work out."

"Really? That isn't what it looked like. If you really thought your father was 'manipulating' you, why did you stay so long, never saying a word about it until they arrived to take you back, if you weren't hiding here? From your 'family'?"

Her words were bitter, and truly angry, now. Wesley wished he could say he was shocked -- but he wasn't. As familiar as the chair she was sitting in. If his father could smash him down with orders, now that he was too tall to fear any other sort of smashing, his mother wasn't weaponless. She knew how to use the truth -- or a partial truth -- to demolish him with guilt in a way that would no doubt make Spike want to compare notes with her, under other circumstances.

In this case, of course, she was right. "I used you, yes. I'm sorry for that."

"And this...man, that you're in love with, has treated you so well that you had to cross an ocean to get away from him?"

As if he hadn't crossed an ocean to get away from *them*. Stayed across an ocean, so as not to have to return here for longer than a few days' time, until he'd finally had another reason to stay in America, besides trying to avoid his parents.

Wesley backtracked past his own bitterness, as the specifics of what she had asked replayed in his head. She didn't even know which of them were his lovers. Didn't know that there was more than one. He'd never said, thinking that them knowing he *had* a lover was cause enough for disapproval, without telling that there were two, and one was Angel. Angelus. "My lovers have never shown me anything but kindness, Mother. Whatever problems there are, they have nothing to do with ill-treatment."

She looked about to ask if he was implying the opposite on his family's part -- which he was -- then she stopped. "Lovers? You... No. I don't want to know."

"You've never wanted to know."

She gave him that look, again. That haughty, displeased, how dare you expression. Utterly unlike his father's; this one made him feel as if he had hurt her, rather than merely disappointed her. "I don't see how you can say you're in love with... *several* men. This is just some sort of twisted game you're playing, to get back at us, for whatever slight you've perceived. This fight with your father -- it's ridiculous. Wesley, I know he's difficult to understand, you've *never* really seen his side of things. But to bring all this into our home -- is it worth it?"

"Worth it? Mother, I--" He shook his had. "No, I'm not going to argue this with you. You don't want to hear it, don't want to understand it. Nothing I can say will make a difference."

There would certainly be no family celebrations, here, on the day he *did* decide to marry. Not even a grandparent, as Xander had rediscovered, to stand in the front row and watch. He wondered, idly, who would give them to each other -- knowing that Charles had no family, either, beyond his circle of friends. Angel had Spike -- and wouldn't that be amusing to see, Spike giving Angel away? It was almost worth it to say yes, let's get married right away, to see it.

Wesley shook himself, not so much annoyed at getting side-tracked as he was ready to get this conversation over with. "It doesn't matter, mother. I'm going home with them."

"Silly me, then, to think this *was* your home."

He hated hearing that tone in her voice. No longer the accusations, or anger. Just the hurt, just the mother's devastation that her child, her only child, would reject her. He could see that plainly written on her face, even if he hadn't heard it in her voice. He almost asked her, begged her not to make this any more difficult. It wouldn't help, though, and it would only make things harder. He lowered his gaze, unable to continue looking her in the face.

He wanted so badly to say this was never a home, was never *his* home. That home was someplace where they enjoyed your company for yourself, and not for what you could do to serve another's interests. Home was where you were loved and valued, rather than belittled.

"You're going, then," she said, and her voice broke. He could hear her crying, now, and dared not look up lest he promise things he could not bear to say. "You're just leaving, like this, no warning, no time to even let us *prepare*. You'll abandon me here, to take care of your father and the estate and everything, and you *know* I haven't got the head for business. The solicitors will do as they want and I'll lose my home. You know they're only waiting for the chance."

"I can't..." he managed to say, at least.

He shouldn't have spoken. It gave her something to build on. "Surely you could stay for another month? At least *try*, before you give up on us completely?"

Another month? It was ridiculous. Nothing could be solved in a month. The legal ivy growing around this estate would take years to untangle, even for a professional businessman, which he wasn't. And yet, a month... wasn't the end of the world, was it?

Everyone would still be there, in a month. Angel would certainly have grown no older, and Charles would hardly be in his dotage, thirty days from now. And in that time, surely he could convince his parents that he did *not* plan to be the Good Son, and marry the proper girl. Couldn't. End of story, chapter and verse.

In a month, yes. He could do what he hadn't managed to do in over thirty-five years.

"A month?" He saw something flare in her eyes. He wished he could recognize it as anything but triumph. "I don't know," he began, not truly wanting to stay.

"Please," she asked quietly. "At least long enough to get things in order. Arrange your father's affairs. Help him with the estate. I won't ask you to stay longer, just...give me that much time. I can't do it, Wesley. You know I can't -- I need you. You're the only one who can help me." The only one who ought to, she didn't say. The only one who was duty-bound.

Only a month. She was correct, in that she *couldn't* handle the estate. Without someone to oversee things, the family home and lands would be likely lost. The sheep would be sold at auction, the hired men moving on to some other local estate. Possibly following them, like the good shepherds his family hadn't actually produced in generations. Lord knew, Wesley had never cared to spend his nights out on the meadows, watching them graze, when he could be inside with a book in his hands.

He sighed. It wasn't that he cared so much for himself, but this was, as she'd said, her home. Wesley closed his eyes, and nodded. "For one month. I'm not sure what I can do in that time, but--"

"You're staying?" An unexpected, disbelieving voice interrupted. Wesley spun around, jaw dropping as he saw Angel standing in the doorway.

"You--"

"Were listening. Yeah. Kinda hard not to, vampiric hearing and all." Angel didn't sound truly apologetic, but he sounded just enough so, that Wesley couldn't find it in him to be angry. Not when he felt ashamed for having reneged on his decision just moments before.

"Angel, I-- one month, surely that isn't--"

"You're asking his permission?" his mother asked, in a shocked tone. "Wesley, surely you don't mean to say...*this* creature, this...thing, is... Oh, no, Wesley. Say I'm wrong."

Wesley glanced at her, unable to bring the words to counter her disgust. He knew he ought to stand up and say it proudly, that yes, this vampire was his beloved. One of them. He kept his head down, though, not wanting to see the accusation in Angel's eyes, that he had told her he would stay, regardless.

"And in a month, you'll, what? Think of another reason to keep him here?" Angel asked. "Or you'll do it for her, and continue to run away from us?"

"I can't just abandon her," he said quietly, still looking at the floor.

"Your mother is a grown woman, Wesley. She doesn't need you to take care of her."

"She needs help, Angel. This place is a step away from being taken away. I've seen the finances. My father may not be at death's door, but they *are* going to lose the house and lands if they can't put every penny towards the upkeep, and he's truly not in a condition to act as a caretaker himself."

Angel put a hand on his shoulder, and it weighed a thousand pounds. "Xander offered to take care of that, if it's really about the money."

"I can't..." Wesley shook his head. "My father would never accept Xander's money."

"Then let them foreclose. David and Xander can buy the place as an investment, take a loss, and hand it over to your mother. Or to you."

Wesley looked up, at that. Surely he was joking?

A quick glance at Angel's face showed only a deadly seriousness. A hint of desperation, perhaps. "What do you want me to do, Wes? What's going to be enough to get you free of this? Because you know, if you stay a month, you're gonna stay for the rest of your life."

"This is ridiculous," his mother put in. "You can't be thinking about taking favours from a demon. You'd sell your soul to that thing, just to be free of us? Of me?"

Wesley stared at Angel. There was no demon in those eyes. No evil, no hatred. Only love, and fear, and uncertainty. "The alternative would be to be free of them." Wesley met Angel's eyes as he spoke, and saw the slight widening. Hope? Joy?

"And what, then, when you've lived your life? He'll go on, free of *you*, and you'll have nothing left behind. No family, no home. Nothing -- thrown us away to follow *that*. What can he want from you that an honest, decent man could give? What could it possibly give you, to replace your family's love?"

Wesley turned to her, intending to point out that Angel *did*, and could love, as well as any human. But Angel stepped forward.

"Wes? You remember that spell you put on me before the wedding?"

Surprised, Wesley thought back. "What, the -- oh! The truth spell. Good lord, Angel! I forgot to remove it. I'm sorry." He stood up, trying to remember the spell, or if his parents would have that book on hand. They'd have the ingredients, of course.

Angel held up his hand, and turned to Wesley's mother. "I'm under a spell that pretty much compels me to tell the truth. So, believe me when I say -- I love your son. I want only the best for him, and I would give him anything in the world he asked for, if I thought it wouldn't hurt him."

Wesley found himself smiling, and feeling quite guilty. He'd doubted this, all of this -- when all he'd had to do, was ask.

His mother looked scornful. "Extravagant words, but they mean nothing. I could say I was under a spell to believe I was the Queen of France. I hardly think--"

"You could check it, yourself, mother," Wesley said mildly. She wasn't unfamiliar with magical pursuits. Not a Watcher's wife. Not in this house.

She sniffed. "And it would show only that someone had tried to cast such a spell. It wouldn't say how well it had taken hold. Wesley, a creature like this *can't* love. How can you possibly think of trading your real family, for this? This parody of a human?"

Wesley felt as though he'd been struck. He stood, quickly, ready to take Angel and leave, and to hell with *saving* his parents from anything.

Angel, however, said very mildly, "Fine. You're right -- I don't love Wesley."

Whatever else he'd been intending to say, was lost. Wesley stared in disbelief at the large orange and violet newt, standing in the middle of the floor.

"What on earth is *that*?" his mother squeaked, backing away.

Wesley bent down to pick it up. "That's my lover. Well, one of them. I think I should go get the ingredients to change him back to a man, now. Before we leave."

She looked at him accusingly. "You said that you would stay for a month, at least."

He blinked, and did, still, feel a twinge of guilt. He swallowed hard, then nodded. "Fine. I'll stay for a month."

She went from frown to smile, instantly. "Good. You can send your... friends... home, then."

"Oh, no. That would be silly. They're going to stay here. All of them. It's only fair -- they *are* family. And Xander will be helping us straighten out the finances, so I suppose I should warn Father not to be rude to his husband, assuming he doesn't want to get bitten, for real. Or worse, become the butt of one of Spike's practical jokes. They tend to involve sticky substances and unpleasant odors."

"Stay here? Wesley, you know that's impossible. Your father would never allow it."

Wesley squared his shoulders, then, carefully, shrugged. "I suppose Angel's plan would work, then. Allow the solicitors to take the place for back taxes, then buy it from them. Of course, you'd have to move out, during the interim..."

"Don't be ridiculous, Wesley," she snapped. More familiar words. Wesley looked down at the amphibian in his arms. Angel blinked at him, slowly, and opened his mouth. A thin tongue darted out, and flicked his arm.

"Yes, you'll forgive me if I don't kiss you back." Wesley couldn't hold back a smile. Didn't even try.

Angel raised his head, and gave him the most soulful eyes Wesley had ever seen -- barring Spike, of course. Spike had the pout-as-a-newt thing down. Too much practice, of course.

He looked over at his mother, who was giving them both a look of outrage. "If you wish my assistance, you will have to accept it on my terms. As you say - if I were properly married, my spouse would live here with me. It seems only fair that my lovers be given similar accommodation." There was another tongue-flick to his wrist, then Angel started crawling up him. Wesley had to move his arm, to keep from dropping him on his head. "Angel, hold still. I'll get you turned back in just a moment."

But Angel seemed determined, climbing up Wesley's chest with a stubbornness that he found...extremely Angel-like.

"Your friends have rooms at the hotel," his mother was saying. "Surely, if they wanted to stay, they would prefer--"

Angel was at his chin, now, and tongue-flicking him. Wesley laughed. "Angel! Please. That tickles." He looked over at his mother while he tried to pull Angel off his sweater. "No, mother. I'd prefer they stayed here. With me."

She watched him for a moment, clearly unsure if he was serious. He wasn't, of course, intending to stay at all, but he was willing to, if she called his bluff. And he was sure Angel and Gunn were as well. Someone would have to go home to run Angel Investigations for a month, unless Cordelia's visions went trans-Atlantic as well, but things could be arranged. Spike would no doubt enjoy the chance to stay here and bait his father into an early grave.

"That's the way it is, then, Wesley?" she asked, finally.

He found himself, suddenly, able to grin. It might have had something to do with a rather disturbing amphibian-tongue flicking across his bottom lip. "Love me, love my newt, mother. And my axe-wielding vampire hunter, and my shopping-addicted seer, and my sex-crazed in-laws." A thought occurred; he saw no reason not to share it. "By the way, did you know you're a grandmother? Of sorts, at any rate. Since Angel is Spike's Sire, which makes him my stepson, or stepgrandson, technically." Her eyes widened slightly, as Wesley continued. "But I actually meant Spike and Xander's children. Three of them. So I suppose that makes you a great-great-grandmother."

"Children?" she repeated. She almost sounded as if she were toting up the potential matches she could make with them already, trying to remember who had the appropriate-aged children from among their social set, before she remembered that these would be the adopted children of a vampire and his human husband.

"Two boys and a girl. They're carnivorous, but usually well-behaved, with people they like."

"You never mentioned..." she began, before she trailed off. "You're making fun of me," she said in a low tone. "You're talking about those...pets. It's not enough to pretend you have some sort of family relationship with those two--"

Wesley's hand tightened on Angel; he wasn't sure what damage a large newt could do, but he didn't want Angel to break his neck trying to find out. "Yes, well, mother, we take what we can get." He turned, then, and did something his mother would consider extremely rude -- as much as anything he'd just said. He walked out before she'd dismissed him.

He didn't care one whit that she thought it was rude. If he stayed, he'd end up saying more, which would just make things worse. Make her say that he shouldn't bother calling, once he got back to Los Angeles. He walked down the hallway, praying his father had gone, leaving Wesley to pack in peace. He wasn't sure he was up to dealing with more accusations and deprecations. If he were still waiting at Wesley's room, Wesley would leave his things.

In fact, there was very little he needed to take with him, anyway. The clothes he'd been wearing for the last two weeks were a combination of things he'd left here years ago, and things he'd bought in town; he didn't care about either set enough to bother packing it. All he'd really wanted from his room was the pile of books on his desk -- a set that had been given him by his grandmother, which he'd rescued from the cataloging efforts down in the library.

In the hallway, however, he found no sign of his father; just Xander tapping things into his Palm Pilot, while Cordelia and Spike leaned over his shoulder, making corrections.

"No, those tapestries have got to be worth at least two thousand a piece. I saw a set of four go for nine thousand at auction, last month," Cordelia was saying.

"Since when do you hang out at tapestry auctions?" Spike asked her.

"On cable, nitwit. The Lifestyles show."

Xander made a correction, then shook his head. "I'm not real estate guy. I'll have to get hold of Gavin and see what he thinks."

Cordelia shuddered delicately. "Pardon my skin for crawling, but I still don't like doing business with Wolfram and Hart. I don't *care* who owns them now, they're still creepy little...ugh. Lawyers."

Xander shrugged. "Yeah, but now they're David's creepy little lawyers. Which makes them Angel Investigations' creepy little lawyers. Besides, so Gavin screws Wesley's dad on the deal -- we planning on complaining?" Spike poked him on the arm, and Xander looked up. Wesley waved. "Um... unless you'd *like* your dad not to be screwed?' Xander offered, looking guilty.

"Could we figure that out somewhere else, please? The hotel, for instance?" Wesley asked. "I'd rather not stay around here any longer than necessary."

"He just wants to get someplace where *he* can get screwed," Spike pointed out, not entirely incorrectly. "Fine, let's round up Gunn and the Sire, and..." He stopped, and looked carefully at Wesley's shoulder.

"And what?" Xander asked. Spike pointed, his eyes wide, and his mouth hanging open. Everyone stared at Wesley's shoulder.

Gunn stepped out of Wesley's room, took one look, and burst out laughing. "He did it! Man, he went two weeks saying nothing but the truth. Course, he spent a lot of time not talking at all." He shook his head, still laughing. "What'd he say? Man, and I missed it."

Wesley smiled down at the indignant newt on his shoulder. "He was trying to prove a point." He rubbed Angel on the head, not quite willing to give the dry, lizard skin a kiss. Even if Angel was looking cute at him.

"He was under a truth spell? Even at the wedding?" Spike was asking incredulously. "All that bollocks about being proud of me was real? God, he *is* a ponce. Think I might lose that last blackcurrant soda, just thinkin' about it." He was ignored by everyone around him, since they all knew he'd be running about on the floor right now, just as small and slimy as his Sire, if he were under the same spell.

"Huh. He meant to get newted?" Gunn sounded disappointed. Wesley noticed that Gunn was holding a satchel that appeared heavy, and couldn't figure out what he might have packed.

"I need to get--" he started, thinking that he would just duck in for his books, and they could head downstairs. He could stop at the local chemist's, and buy what he needed to turn Angel back.

"Your books," Gunn answered, holding the bag open. Wesley peered in -- and saw the set he'd wanted. He looked up at Gunn.

"How did you know?"

Gunn shrugged. "They were the only books on your desk."

Wesley was surprised. He started to smile, feeling unaccountably touched that Gunn had thought to get them.

"Oh for god's sake," Spike interrupted. "Can't you wait and make googly eyes at him later? Back at the hotel where we don't have to watch?"

Xander raised his hand, and Wesley waited, a bit smugly, for Spike to get whapped. But Xander didn't -- instead he put his hand on Spike's shoulder, apparently surprising Spike as well. Xander said to Wesley, "You'll have to forgive him. My husband's a tad grouchy; hasn't gotten to bite anyone lately."

"Yeah, what the hell kind of wedding present is it, to give a man his bite back, then send him off to a dimension with no biteworthy humans? See if Red and wife get a decent Solstice pressie from me an' mine--" Spike suddenly stopped, and a strange, liquid noise came from his throat, before he turned the googliest pair of eyes Wesley had ever seen, on Xander. "Muh?"

Xander kissed him on the nose. "Delayed-reaction glurble," he explained to Wesley. Whatever that meant.

Wesley felt a newt-tongue whisper across his earlobe. Twice. "Yes, yes, we'll get back to the hotel, and get you changed back. You can wait that long, surely."

"Uh?" Spike asked.

Xander put an arm around his waist as they led the way down the stairs. "Don't worry. He'll recover in about two minutes," he informed Wes, Gunn, and Cordelia.

"Aww... isn't he sweet -- taking care of his *husband,*" Cordelia responded.

Xander stumbled, and almost missed a step. "*Not* both of us at the same time -- geez, Cordy. *Somebody's* gotta have a working brain."

"Why start now?"

Wesley saw Xander trying to give Cordelia a dirty look. He was glad to be heading down, on his way out. His heart was pounding, slightly -- as though he were sneaking out at night, hoping his parents wouldn't catch him and punish him. He shivered, and felt four newt feet gripping his shoulder, harder. He told himself he was being ridiculous. He *was* sneaking out, and his parents were rightfully angry with him -- but he wasn't going to be punished. He was a grown man, and he was doing the right thing, for himself.

Those thoughts got him all the way down to the main hallway, where he stopped, at seeing his father waiting. Wesley halted abruptly, and told himself again that he didn't care what his father had to say about his going.

"So. You're leaving now?" his father said, looking as disapproving and angry as Wesley had expected. Then his gaze shifted. "What the hell is that thing?"

"That's Angel," Wesley explained calmly. "A small newt-spell. I don't suppose I could borrow some mugwort to use in changing him back?"

"You accidentally changed your...paramour, into a newt, and now you want *my* help in turning him back? After which you're planning on turning your back on every responsibility you have, and leaving with him?"

"It wasn't an accident. He..." Wesley shook his head. "I'm leaving, Father. I don't need your help; I just mistakenly thought you might be willing to give it."

His father folded his arms. "I might, if I had a son who was worthy of it. But I don't see anyone like that here. Just a collection of demons and perverts, and someone who decided to pass on the family name to them without earning it himself."

Wesley saw Spike turn to look at his father, 'glurble' moment apparently worn off. "S'cuse me, but which of those was s'posed to be the insult? 'Cos trust me, the only reason I'd let the name get tacked onto mine is that it came from Wes. Personally, I'd rather he'd changed it to 'Smith' than give us that one, even if it does bugger up the mnemonic device."

"Handcuffs before sodomy," Xander said simply.

Spike looked at him, blinked, smiled, said, "I love you," then turned to Wesley. "Right, you're Wesley Smith now. Can we go?"

He tried, knowing it was futile, to regain some control of the conversation. "That isn't necessary," he said, not quite sure to whom he was saying it. He did dimly notice Angel climbing down his arm and leaping to the floor. He supposed if Angel wanted to piddle on his father's foot, he wouldn't try to stop him.

"You might as well change your name," Wesley's father said. "Since you're no longer a son of mine."

Wesley turned, mouth open, and completely unable to process what he'd just heard. It wasn't as though he hadn't just spent the last hour trying to get away from this place...but it wasn't the same as hearing *that*. You're... disowning me?" he stammered, thinking that perhaps his father had just meant...well, something else that involved no longer being his son.

"Don't worry, Wes," Xander was saying. "I know a nice lady who'd love to adopt you. Well, she's already...um... your sister in law, technically. Or -- stepdaughter? I need a chart. But I don't think vampires mind cross-lateral relationships."

"You...what?" Wesley turned to Xander, certain that he probably ought to understand what he was talking about. He ought to be satisfied that his father was finally cutting all ties, as well. Right? He wouldn't ever be asked to come back. That was a good thing.

Wasn't it?

"Drusilla?" Spike was asking.

"No, not Dru, stupid. Your mum."

"My mum wouldn't like you calling me stupid, I don't think."

"If Laurel and Hardy here are finished, you're all welcome to leave," Wesley's father said loudly. Or...no. Not his father.

There ought to be some sort of relief. He'd never have to try, anymore. To be good enough, respectable enough, proficient enough with magic or science or history of the occult. Dutiful or straight, or...whatever it was that his father expected of him. He'd never know the entirety of it, because there was always something new that he wasn't doing well enough just when he thought he'd halfway succeeded. Now, he didn't have to struggle for this man's approval. Only his own.

Christ, *that* was terrifying.

"What the--" Mr. Wyndham-Pryce looked down, startled. His expression turned ugly, and he raised his foot.

Wesley started forward, heart skipping a beat and he *knew* something terrible was going to happen, and there was nothing, nothing, he could do about it.

And Spike was there, fist connecting with his father's jaw, knocking him away from the small newt which he'd been about to step on. Wesley continued forward, sliding to his knees and scooping up Angel; Gunn was right beside him, hands on the purple and orange amphibian even as Wesley took him into his arms.

His father had flown backwards under the force of Spike's fist; Wesley watched, stunned.

"Spike, shouldn't you have a headache? Or -- is that guy not human?" Cordelia was asking, in the moments of ensuing silence.

"Nah," Spike said easily, wiping his hands off, as though he'd struck something slimy. "Red turned my chip off for the honeymoon. Hasn't turned it back on yet."

Wesley was still staring up at him -- in the shocked tumult of his thoughts, he realized something. "Spike...you saved Angel's life." He smiled, proudly -- not that Spike hadn't tried to do so before, but this time he couldn't deny it. Wesley ought say thank you...but this was Spike. "I always knew you cared for him," he teased, instead.

"Aww," Cordelia said, walking over to give Spike a hug. Spike looked completely flummoxed.

It definitely made Wesley feel better. He stood up, cradling Angel carefully, helped up by Gunn's hand under his elbow. Gunn's hand didn't leave his arm, as he turned back to the man sprawled on the floor, looking outraged enough to grab an ax and chase them all out.

"Thank you, Richard; we'll see ourselves out." Wesley stepped past him, flanked by his lover, and headed for the door.

*****

The smell of marjoram assailed Angel's nose first, followed by the realization that he *had* a nose. A not-newt nose. His not-newt nose noticed a new note -- nutmeg. That must be the difference between the spell Wesley had put on him in the first place, and the spell to...take it off?"

He stood up straight, and said, "I envy Harmony's intellect." Angel looked around at the hotel room, and saw that it hadn't grown any smaller. "Yes! I can lie again!" He danced, just a few steps, but enough to make everyone in the room look at him like he needed to be shot, to put him out of their misery. Angel didn't care -- he was *free*. "I think Spike is the most mature person in this room."

"I am *not*!" Spike protested. "Er, wait, yes I am. Long as you don't join in the chorus of 'Aww, Spike saved his Sire 'cos he lurrrrves him. Then I'll have to thump you."

"You did," Xander insisted.

"Did not. Just thought if anybody gets to squish Angel, it'll be me. And he doesn't deserve to be stepped on. Sat on, yes."

Angel had been hearing them go back and forth like this, for the past half hour -- he could just hear it *better* now, with vampire ears instead of tiny newt ones. He went over to Spike and loomed over him. "Spike...I know why you did it," he said in an annoyed tone.

The tone made Spike perk up, even though he couldn't have a clue what Angel meant. "Er, yeah?"

"And I'm touched," Angel finished. Then he laid a huge, sloppy kiss on the other vampire's cheek. Xander and Cordelia started laughing hysterically, and Angel grinned and backed away, fast.

Spike was rubbing his cheek and glowering. "That was uncalled for," he muttered.

But it most definitely was called for. This was going to make Angel feel good for days. Then he caught sight of Wesley, who was watching with a slight smile on his face. Angel went to him and grabbed him into an embrace.

"God, Wes -- I love you."

Wes started, then wrapped his arms around Angel and leaned into the hug, a bit. "I...I love you, too, Angel," he said, sounding perplexed.

Angel tightened his hug, then turned his head and kissed Wesley. He'd meant it to be a short, brief, welcome back kiss. But as soon as he felt Wes' lips on his, it was all he could do not to ravish him, right there.

Wesley was breathing hard, and flushed, by the time Angel let him go. He felt a tap on his shoulder, but didn't have to look over to know it was Gunn. "Can I take a turn?"

Angel handed Wesley over to Gunn, and stepped back half a step, to give them room. A little room. As Gunn gave Wesley a kiss, Angel thought about throwing everyone else out, and taking his lovers to bed.

Then there was a tap on Gunn's shoulder. Angel looked in surprise at Spike, who said when Gunn looked over at him. "My turn." Gunn let out a growl that was *almost* as loud as Angel's. Spike stepped back, hands in the air, and a smirk on his face that did nothing to make him look like he didn't need to be thumped. "Hey, was worth a try."

Gunn took a step towards Spike. "Yeah? Wanna try this?" Angel could tell he wasn't *really* going to hit Spike -- and Spike knew it too -- but that didn't stop his childe from stepping back into the protective arms of his husband and sticking out his tongue.

"You know, if he stakes you someday, it'll be your own fault," Xander said.

"Nah. It'll be yours, for not defending me. I'm valuable, and should be cherished."

"You're incorrigible, and should be spanked."

"That's what I said."

Gunn made a disgusted sound. "Why don't you two go back to your own room and do that glooble thing where the rest of us don't have to watch?"

Spike stuck his tongue out again, and this time he got whapped on the head for it. Angel realized that he had *no* idea how Xander decided when to whap Spike, and when not to. Maybe it was purely random? Not like it ever had the proper effect. Spike was grinning, even now, like he'd been invited to a party. Xander *was* taking him by the hand, though, and pulling him towards the door.

Excellent. Angel looked at Cordelia, who just looked back. "What?"

"Do you mind?" Angel gestured towards Gunn and Wesley, asking to be left alone with them.

"No -- if I can take Spike and Xander making out in front of me, I can handle Gunn and Wesley hugging."

Angel sighed. "Cordy--"

She giggled. "Relax. I'm going -- down to the hotel restaurant, again by myself I might add. Don't blame me if I order two desserts."

She gave them all a smile, though, that said she didn't really mind. As she headed for the door, Wesley called out, "Cordelia." When she turned back, Wesley said, "Thank you."

She smiled wider, looking like a girl of sixteen, for a moment. Luckily Angel knew better than to say so out loud unless he left off the 'moment' part. "You're welcome, Wes. I'm just sorry we couldn't...do more, you know?" Her smile faded, slightly.

Wesley took a deep breath, then nodded.

She left, then, and the mood, Angel discovered, had been broken. Instead of taking his lovers into the next room to get naked, he felt like hitting something. Possibly Wesley's father.

"She means besides slashing your dad's tires," Gunn told Wesley, who blinked.

"You slashed his tires?"

"No, she did. While you were trying to start the rental car, and Spike was putting the distributor cap back on and pretending he didn't know why we woulda been stranded there if you hadn't decided to come with us."

"That was...nice, I think. Of someone."

Angel walked back over to them. "I think she was trying to make sure he didn't change his mind, and come after you."

Wesley's lips tightened into a narrow line. "No danger of that."

Angel saw Gunn's hand tighten on Wesley's arm. "Yeah, 'cause I'd have finished what Spike started, if he tried."

Wes shook his head. "We all know it wasn't going to be an issue." He breathed deeply again. Not quite a sigh -- like he wouldn't allow himself that much emotion about this thing. "It's for the best. Now I know."

"Wesley...." Angel began, but he didn't quite know how to say 'your dad's a bastard, who cares what he does?' Because Wesley did care. Maybe not about Richard Wyndham-Pryce, but about that image he had in his mind -- the one they all had, of a father that loved you for what you were.

"It's all right, Angel," Wesley repeated, and Angel could see he'd tucked it all away, set it aside like a text he needn't bother reading.

It wasn't all right, but if Wesley wanted to pretend otherwise, Angel would let him. For now. "What do you want to do? About the estate, I mean? I think Xander called Gavin already...."

He watched his lover sigh, and look away. "Yes. I should..." His voice broke slightly, and Angel wanted to gather Wesley in his arms. "I should take care of things, shouldn't I?"

Gunn was still holding him, and Angel saw the way Gunn's arms tensed, then he was pulling Wesley closer, nudging him with his chin until Wesley conceded, and let his head drop, and accept the cuddle. "You don't have to do it tonight," Gunn said.

"No, but... I'd rather it were over as soon as possible. I don't want my mother to worry about losing her home."

Angel shook his head. "I don't think she will. After all, she knows I was telling the truth about Xander and David being able to buy it."

Wesley looked up at him, his expression pained. "I don't want to do that -- to take that much money from either of them. I realize it's the best option. I just don't like it."

Gunn stepped back, a little. "So, you were pretty much gonna give up the rest of your life to take care of your blood family, but you can't take money from your real family?"

"I--" Wesley started to answer, then shook his head. "All right, so I'm neurotic. Which I believe you've known for several years now."

Grinning, Gunn gave him a kiss. "We like you neurotic. This way, neither of us has to be."

"Thank you," Wesley said, dryly.

"Wes." Angel stepped forward, again, feeling awkward. He felt like Wesley was going to see him and Gunn on one side, again, teamed up to take care of Wesley. But right now, Wes *did* need taking care of...so why couldn't they both do it?

He wanted to explain the things they could do, to make sure the estate was dealt with, which would require as little contact on Wesley's part as possible.

But looking at Wesley, seeing how his lover was beginning to let Gunn hold more of his weight, and how his eyes were losing focus, his eyelids dropping ever so slightly -- he decided he didn't care. They would just take care of things, now, and tomorrow they would make sure none of this had affected their chances to make Wes satisfied with whatever arrangement they'd come to.

"Wes, what do you want? When all is said and done -- what d'you want done? Not done?"

For a moment, he thought he'd managed to utterly confuse his lover. Well, Gunn looked a little confused. But Wesley finally said, "I don't want my parents to be forced to leave their home. I...I realize they don't want my assistance, and I don't owe them anything...." Again his voice started to break. Gunn ran his hand up Wesley's arm. Wesley seemed to pull himself together once again, and said in a steadier voice, "I don't care what happens to it, after. I needn't inherit, and I don't...want anything from it. If it's sold, or whatever. I've very few fond memories of that place and I don't think--" His tone faltered again, and Angel heard himself whispering that everything would be okay as he cupped Wesley's head in his hand, and kissed him.

Whether it would be or not, tomorrow or the next day, at least for right now they had Wesley back. Angel had lips that parted against his, and breath that sighed into his mouth, and a pair of blue eyes that were searching his own for comfort. Just that, now. Not answers, or assurances that things would be perfect. Just comfort, and that, he could give.

"We'll figure it out tomorrow, okay?" he whispered, and Wes nodded. Lifted his head slightly as Gunn stroked the backs of his fingers over Wesley's throat, and over Angel's hand, as well. There was something there, though. In his eyes -- something that looked almost like what Angel had seen when Wes had told his mother he would stay that mythical, pivotal extra month. The fear that he was giving in to something, giving up his own free will.

Angel's fingers closed over Gunn's for a moment, and both of his lovers looked at him. "Angel?" Wesley asked.

"This isn't me, or us, trying to fix everything with sex. We're not *trying* to fix anything, right now."

Over Wesley's shoulder, he saw the understanding bloom in Gunn's eyes. There were moments when he wished just as hard as Wesley, that they didn't share something that Wesley didn't feel a part of, but he didn't want to give up that wordless communication, either. Maybe they didn't need to -- because on Wesley's face, he saw understanding, as well, and relief. And for once, Angel was sure of what he was seeing: not relief at his words, but that he had known they needed to be said.

"So," Gunn began, hesitantly. "It's okay if we *have* sex now, as long as we all know it isn't to fix stuff. Right?"

Angel grinned, and contained his laugh until he saw Wesley smiling, as well. But Angel shrugged. "We could put it to a vote."

Wesley laughed. Angel found himself staring, transfixed for just the moment. Gunn appeared to have been hit the same way. It was good to hear Wesley laugh. It was even better to be holding him. Angel dove in to kiss that laughing mouth, and he felt a flick of a tongue inside his own mouth. Hot, and teasing, and when Wesley pulled back, his eyes were dancing.

"Well, I believe Angel votes 'yes'. Charles?"

Gunn looked thoughtful. "Did we put down a cleaning deposit for the room?"

Angel was torn between grinning, and scowling. Wesley just looked patient. Angel was reminded that Wesley could out-wait them *all* when it came to this sort of thing. Until they actually got naked and started doing things to him, of course.

Gunn waited a few more moments, before nodding. "Okay, I'm in."

"You make it sound as though we were going to pillage the countryside," Wesley remarked, pretending to be unamused.

"Oo, can we do that, too?"

"No pillaging around here, man." Gunn wrinkled his nose at Angel. "Not when the sheep are related to you. I'm down with the whole vampire incest thing, but I draw the line at livestock."

"Sheep in the family?" Wesley raised an eyebrow as Angel gently nudged both of his lovers in the direction of the bedroom. "What *have* you been up to while I was gone, Angel?"

"Nah, that was a hundred and some years ago. Man gets desperate, with only Spike for company."

Wesley paused them inside the doorframe to the bedroom. "Do I want to know what you did? Should I be having sex with a man who did these things?"

"Nope. Have sex with me, instead," Gunn said quickly.

"Oh, for god's sake. All I did was get Spike drunk and make him dress up like a lamb."

Wesley looked at him, then at Gunn, then back at Angel. "With a bell and collar?"

"Of course. I had a crook, too. Put it to good use."

"If you promise never to mention it again, I'll think about having sex with you."

"Mention what?" Angel responded, innocently. He was more than happy to never talk about Spike, when he wanted to be having sex with Wesley. It was almost too easy.

"So, are we having sex in the doorway, or can we use the nice, comfy bed?" Gunn asked.

Wesley took another step into the bedroom, then he hesitated, again. His expression grew slightly doubtful, and Angel braced himself for another round of ought we, ought we not.

"I...don't know if I've said this enough, or clearly enough," Wesley said, seriously. "But -- thank you. For coming after me. For...forgiving me." He looked away from them, one hand fiddling with a wrinkle in his sweater.

Angel picked that hand up, and brought it to his mouth. Kissed the back of Wes' hand, and caught his eyes. "I love you."

The blue in Wesley's eyes seemed to grow darker, and warmer. Angel wanted to pull Wesley close and never look at anything else. But he felt Gunn taking Wesley's other hand, and Angel held back, to let his other lover into the circle.

"I love you," Gunn said. He placed a kiss on the palm of Wesley's hand, and Angel saw and smelled the sharp spike of Wesley's arousal. Time for talking was over. He nudged Wesley backwards, into the room and over to the bed.

Gunn followed, each of them still holding Wesley's hands. They used their free hands to begin stripping him; for once no one seemed interested in pointing out that it was two against one. They had to let go to remove his sweater and shirt, but by that time his hands were starting to do other things, and it really didn't matter.

Long practice allowed them to undress each other without getting too much in anyone's way. Angel ran his hand along Wesley's side, as two hands began undoing Angel's jeans. He ignored them, as he realized -- "Shit, Wesley. How much weight have you lost?"

"I haven't -- " Wesley looked down at Angel's hand, which splayed over ribs far too close to the surface for Angel's liking. He was always thin, but this bordered on famished. Angel would never have chosen this Wesley for a meal, in the old days. "I suppose I haven't been paying much attention to eating, recently. Now don't mother me, Angel. It puts me right off sex, thinking about you in an apron and housecoat."

Angel would lay odds that Wesley's mother had never worn an apron or housecoat in her life, but he wasn't about to say so. "What about *just* an apron?"

Someone was sliding Angel's jeans down his hips, and someone was undoing his shoelaces. If Wesley's tongue weren't suddenly in his mouth, Angel might have been able to summon the logic to figure out who was doing what.

"And cover up the most attractive part of you?" Wesley whispered, somewhat brokenly, as Gunn stood behind him and did things to his lower back that must have been pretty spectacular if what Wesley was doing to Angel was any comparison.

"I could wear it backwards."

"Nah -- then you'd cover up *my* favorite part." Gunn reached both hands around Wesley and pushed Angel firmly backwards, so that he landed on the bed, on Gunn's favorite part.

"I think I'm a little insulted that nobody likes my *face* best," Angel complained. "I mean, I even got my name because of it." But no one seemed to be listening. Angel was going to really be insulted...or just think about it. Then someone was licking him, and he decided they could discuss it later.

He realized he was almost fully naked, and he pulled himself away from his lovers long enough to stand up and get rid of the last bit of clothing. He noticed with approval that Gunn was taking advantage of the opportunity to divest Wesley of his pants, and underwear as well. That left only Gunn still wearing any clothing -- and Angel and Wesley didn't need words to agree that they should handle that, next.

When they were all three naked, Angel looked from Gunn, to Wesley, wondering which he was going to do first. Not who -- he knew that. Knew the moment they'd walked into the room who he wanted. As he ran a hand up Wesley's far too thin chest, he pushed, gently. Wesley moved backwards towards the bed, and Gunn reached out to ease him down, already touching, and leaning over to place kisses along Wesley's neck and collarbone.

It aroused Angel, just to watch. Seeing how Wesley arched under the touch of Gunn's fingers along his stomach, or groaned when Gunn sucked gently along his neck. Angel didn't feel like only watching, though; he crawled onto the bed between Wesley's legs, and pushed them apart.

He wasn't thinking, as such. He sometimes got the feeling Wesley thought they were ganging up on him, had these things planned out on advance, or at least communicated to each other -- you do this, I'll do that. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least not now. There was just this oh-so-warm, too fragile-looking body beneath him, and his own screaming at him to take it all, now, now, now. Suck it all in, the demon that still lived inside him letting its hunger for blood become another sort of hunger entirely.

He wasn't thinking about what to do, even though a part of him still had words. He was just reaching, his fingers almost burnt before they touched the skin of Wesley's thigh, traced in and up and then there was no question that they were burning. No question that hands weren't enough, that he couldn't fill hunger with his hands, that he had to lower his head and take that vessel of pure heat that he was holding, into his mouth.

Whimpering was good. Thrashing, and little noises that almost sounded like terror were good, because the right parts of him knew to take the sounds and movements for pleasure. The wrong parts were perfectly happy to pretend, as long as he let them run his tongue over the tip of Wesley's cock, let them taste and lick and pretend they were going to be allowed to devour.

He heard himself growl, deep in his throat, and felt Wesley jerk before the sound of his cry even registered. There was no other movement, for the moment, other than Angel on Wesley, and Wesley's uncontrolled writhing. Then there was a hand tugging at Angel's arm, and Gunn was trying to move them over.

Angel moved, let Gunn scoot Wesley to one side without letting Wes' cock free. Sucking down on it, listening to every sound he elicited and finally closing his eyes to just hear, just taste, and just feel. Wesley's body beneath him, everything he wanted to consume.

Then the sounds were suddenly muffled -- the gasps and cries vanishing into subvocalized whimpers and moans. Angel glanced upwards, not removing his mouth from the cock he held. He smiled around it, knowing he must present an evil picture, were there anyone with presence of mind to look. Gunn had propped Wesley's head up on a pillow, and, kneeling above him, was thrusting himself into Wesley's mouth.

Slow, easy motions that Angel knew so well; he watched, and began matching his own long, slow sucks and teasing head licks to those he was watching. As Gunn slid himself into Wesley's mouth, Angel lowered his own mouth onto Wesley's full length. As Gunn pulled out and nudged at Wesley's tongue, Angel pulled back and licked the head of Wesley's cock.

Wesley was trembling, beneath them, the muffled sounds growing stronger and more desperate. Legs spreading farther on either side of Angel, as if begging for more. Angel ignored the request, eyes riveted instead on Gunn, on Gunn's thick, slickened cock, and the sound of Gunn's sharp panting. His hands were gripping the headboard tightly enough that Angel suspected anything less than solid wood, should be torn free and pulverized.

Angel looked up, for a second, and caught Gunn's eyes. At first, there was only the glazed look of complete immersion in pleasure, then the dark eyes seemed to focus on him. The mouth that had been used only for panting, managed to shape itself into a grin, and Gunn leaned forward, balancing his hands momentarily on Wesley's shoulders before he was stretching out, moving towards Angel.

Wesley's spread legs twitched more desperately, as Gunn lost any pretense at teasing him, as Angel grabbed at his left leg and held it steady while he slid over it, angling himself towards the head of the bed, and Gunn. The part of him that still had words had a brief, irrational fear that he was going to get kicked in the head somehow. The rest of him shushed it with the knowledge that they'd all done this before with no grievous bodily harm, and even if he did get brain damage, would anyone notice?

It also pointed out that if he kept sucking *quite* so hard at Wesley, one of his lovers would be gone before he himself even had... gah. No fear of that, then, when hot, moist lips were closing around him, and Angel's instinctive shudder carried through his whole body. He could feel the reverberations in the spasms of Wesley's leg, under his head, carrying in a circle as Wes gripped Gunn's ass, and Gunn tightened his fingers on Angel's hips.

Angel tried to concentrate on what he'd been doing -- sucking the life out of Wesley through his cock. He managed one good suck before Gunn did the same, and it was all Angel could do not to shout -- or the stuffed-mouth equivalent. But there was another pull on his cock, straight into the hot, wet depths of his lover's mouth, and Angel groaned. The vibrations from his chest and throat went straight into Wesley, who jerked, and moaned himself -- which went directly into Gunn, which.... Angel recalled that their record for holding out, while doing this, was a mere twenty three seconds.

But now it wasn't necessary to watch, to match his every move with Gunn's, or Wesley's. He could feel everything, and as he moved his tongue he felt a tongue move on his cock. After another dizzying moment he couldn't tell who was following whom. Angel dug his fingers into somebody's legs -- he'd find out tomorrow, when they saw the bruises -- and lowered his head again, pulling Wesley's cock all the way into his mouth. He heard strained cries, and sensed Gunn reacting to those cries, then felt himself being pulled into oblivion.

Someone shouted, and someone was holding onto Angel, and someone -- or all of them -- shuddered and jerked, and came.

Angel was the only one who swallowed, keeping Wesley's cock in his mouth until the motions had stilled. He licked the softening cock before letting it go, and heard the heart-felt sigh from his lover as he collapsed. Gunn crawled away, just long enough to turn himself around to properly grab onto Wes and cuddle. Angel gave a wet, still trembling thigh a kiss, before doing the same on the other side.

He made plans to kill his childe, when he heard from the other side of the wall, "Oi, that's thirty-two seconds, innit? They've set a new record!"

"Fuck off," he growled loudly. Wesley slapped a hand over his mouth a moment too late.

"Don't mind if I do," was the expected and received response.

"Is their bed against our wall?" Gunn hissed.

Angel shook his head -- though he wouldn't put it past Spike to move it, just so they'd have to hear the headboard banging all night.

There was muffled mumbling from the other side of the wall -- Angel could barely hear it, so he doubted Wes and Gunn could -- then Spike spoke up. "How about we just use the chair?"

More mumbling, and the clear word "Knees," in Xander's voice, before Spike let out a loud sigh.

"Well, I'll stand on my hands, of course. Bloody hell, do I have to think of everything?"

"Can I kill him? Please?" Angel whispered to anyone who was listening.

Wesley wrapped an arm around his neck. "Later."

"Promise?" Angel asked, but his lovers were both already drifting off to sleep. He decided to let them, settling himself down to rest the way he'd wanted to for the last two weeks. Wesley, sandwiched between himself and Gunn, all three of them with arms and legs entwined.

Of course, his human lovers didn't have to try to fall asleep to the sounds of Xander and Spike trying to re-create *their* sex scene, with one fewer people. Angel reminded himself that in the morning, he'd be able to strangle Spike. That thought alone would give him sweet dreams for the rest of the night.

*****

It had been, in Xander's opinion, a successful mission. He and Spike, between them, had enough duffel bags filled with English chocolate and Batham's beer to last a week -- two, if they actually tried rationing them.

Cordy had gotten her shopping trip in -- two of them, in fact. She'd woken up early the morning after they'd rescued Wesley, and left a note at the front desk, saying if they tried going anywhere before eight pm she would meet them in L.A. and someone named Xander or Angel would be paying for her ticket on the Concorde. Then, when they'd gotten to London in the evening, she'd glared them into staying until midnight, so she could hit the famous London boutiques.

Spike had been all for it, since it had allowed them to give Angel and his lovers a walking tour of where they'd been on their honeymoon. He'd sulked attractively when he couldn't find the lamppost they'd fucked against, but it hadn't stopped him from pointing to a random one and giving the trio enough details to make them get all growly and touchy-feely with each other, while they pretended to be disgusted. That it had also made Xander drag him into the bushes for something that was *almost* illegal, but not quite, Xander chalked up to honeymoon nostalgia.

The enormous amounts of bags and new luggage that they'd been drafted into carrying for her, made Xander sort of regret having given Cordelia his American Express on a two-day loan, though he didn't regret not having gone shopping with her. He had it back, now, though, and was trying not to check to see if it were warm to the touch or if any numbers had been rubbed off.

The tube ride back to Heathrow had been spent listening to Cordelia talk about London fashions, and listening to Spike talk about Victorian ones. After the first five times, Xander had stopped trying to convince anyone that Spike was telling the truth. Now, though, they were all safely back on the plane, and headed for the States.

Safely, because for the last day and a half Angel had been trying to strangle Xander's husband. Glurble.

Though it didn't actually *hurt* Spike to be strangled, since he didn't have any air supply to be cut off, he'd *whine* about it, and Xander had gotten tired of pointing out the obvious. Mostly because every time he got to the phrase "air supply," Spike would start singing "I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you..." and there'd be no reasoning with him. It was just easier to keep him mostly out of Angel's reach. Like, at least a seat away.

That meant, of course, that Spike had to find something else to do besides annoy Angel. At the moment, it involved his hands, and Xander's seatbelt. Or at least, that was what Xander planned to tell the stewardess if she asked.

"Spike, the Captain hasn't turned off the 'No Groping Your Husband' sign yet," he informed his groping husband.

"Like he can see me from up there in the cockpit," Spike responded. "'Sides, he's probably too busy having his little orgy with the air hostesses to pay any attention to what's going on back here." Spike had given Xander -- and everyone else -- a detailed explanation of where he suspected the phrase 'cockpit' came from, during takeoff. That had prompted Angel's hundred and fiftieth attempt to strangle him in the last 48 hours.

"Spike, *someone* has to be flying the plane." Wesley's voice came from the row in front of them.

"Nah, s'all computerized. Perfectly safe. He just has to punch a few buttons. The rest is just for emergencies." Spike was frighteningly well-informed on the subject -- probably because he'd spent the last few hours of the flight over, reading all about it so he could torment Angel by telling him the exact opposite.

"Just because there's an autopilot," Wesley countered, before being interrupted by Gunn.

"Man, why do you bother? You know whatever you say to him, he'll turn into some way of rationalizing *somebody* having sex."

Spike looked offended. "You say that like it's bad."

"Oh, gee," Gunn retorted. "You, evil? Nah."

Spike looked smug, and nodded. "Damn straight."

Xander noticed that neither Gunn, nor Wesley, seemed terribly invested in tormenting his glurbly husband. They were looking at each *other* too much to give Spike much attention. Xander tried not to grin too widely. From what Cordelia had said, Gunn and Angel had been positively grim, moping around the hotel without their Wes.

Now that they had him back -- for good, as far as Xander could tell -- they were all practically bouncing off the walls. Or maybe it was just pheromones. Spike swore that the Deadly Trio had spent more hours having sex, in the last two days, than Xander and Spike had. Xander had just asked Spike how he'd noticed, if he'd been busy having sex.

Xander glanced over at Spike now, knowing that his husband could probably tell by vampiric-telepathy, that Xander was thinking about him and sex, at the same time. Spike met his gaze, and after a split second, his eyes started to fleck gold. Yep. He knew.

Xander started thinking about the sex they'd talked about that morning, about having on the plane. In the bathroom, pressed up against the wall. Spike had said that Xander could finish his phone calls to Gavin, while Spike finished licking his way around Xander's body. Xander had pointed out that he'd told Gavin everything he needed to, to take care of Wesley's folks' estate. They wouldn't lose the place, though the name on the deed would end up being *Wesley* Wyndham-Pryce (Smith), and not Richard.

His folks could stay or not, as they saw fit. If they *didn't* stay, the place would go up for sale, and the proceeds would go to a charity of Wesley's choice.

Spike had pointed out that he could get very creative with his tongue, if Xander were willing to call Gavin from the plane and talk to him abut anything under the sun, while Spike got busy. Xander had pointed out that they could do that just as easily from the hotel bathroom in London. Spike had conceded that he might have a point. Xander had dialed the time and temperature service, and Spike had pretended he didn't know there was a recording on the other end of the line instead of Gavin Park.

Not that Xander hadn't been willing to have sex while on the phone -- he'd done so several times when he'd had to call into work to explain why he wasn't going to be there -- but talking to anybody from Wolfram and Hart made his skin crawl almost as much as Cordy's, and it might be one of the few things in the world that would put him off just-post-honeymoon sex with Spike.

It had been weird enough to be tongue-bathed while hearing a woman who sounded just like Giles' friend Olivia, reading the local time and temperature in Celsius and Fahrenheit to him, over and over. Xander reminded himself never to ask Giles what Olivia did for a living.

He blinked rapidly, as the thought blossomed in his head. Good lord. He'd forgotten, in all the drama. Giles. Giles! Xander grinned widely, and leaned forward. "Oh my god -- I didn't tell you guys what *Giles* got us for a wedding present, did I?"

"Muzzles?" Gunn suggested.

Spike tapped Xander on the shoulder. "Hey, don't spoil it -- make 'em wait for the video."

Wesley turned around to look at them. "Giles got you a video? That's not terribly creative, given the number you have already."

Xander grinned. "No, he's gonna help us make one."

Wesley looked confused for a moment, then his eyes narrowed. "Xander, if this has anything to do with anyone having sex, I don't want to hear another *word*."

"Why? Still tuckered out?" Spike asked. His head was jolted forward by a hard whap from behind. Spike glared at Angel, who had just come up the aisle behind them. "Was that strictly necessary?"

"You rather I use hot pokers?" Angel asked mildly, sitting down across from Wesley and Gunn. "Leave my lover alone."

"What for?" Spike sounded honestly perplexed by the request.

"Because otherwise, you're going to discover the joys of plummeting. Without a parachute."

Xander gave Angel a look. "You're really getting into not being under a truth-spell, aren't you?"

"I liked 'im better as a newt," Spike muttered, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms. He looked adorable, pouting like a schoolboy -- and somehow the fact that he was obviously aware of that didn't make it any less effective. Xander leaned over and gave him a big kiss.

"What if we put *Spike* under a truth spell?" Gunn asked.

"Hey, I'm *always* truthful!" Spike protested.

"He'd be a newt before he ever got near the hot tub," Xander told them.

"Oh and thank you for your support. I see how it is. The honeymoon's over, is it?"

"But you make a very sexy newt," Xander assured him.

Spike preened, and stuck out his tongue at Gunn. "Do it, then. Lay it on me. Not like I'm not used to bein' a newt, unlike *some* people, who don't know any better than to get stepped on."

Wesley leaned across the aisle towards Angel. "What *were* you trying to do? You ought to know by now that newts can't bite, after the number of times you've fished Spike out of the hot tub."

"I was going to do something nasty on his foot," Angel said matter-of-fact-ly.

Spike looked pleasantly surprised, and said, "I knew there was a reason I saved your life," at the same time as Wesley smiled, and said, "I'd wondered."

Angel looked smug -- like he'd actually done something heroic, and been rewarded for it. Xander supposed he couldn't blame him. He was still trying to think of things he could do to Wesley's father -- ex-father -- that wouldn't have unpleasant repercussions for Wesley. Maybe submit a report to the Watcher's Council, detailing the secret demon lovers Richard had taken over the years? Xander could even provide pictures. His job had to be good for *something* besides money, power, and free porn.

He knew Wesley didn't want anything done. He was the forget it and never mention it again, type. Xander was, sorta, too-- with his own father, at any rate. Xander was content to have nothing to do with his parents, as long as they behaved themselves. But he still had his grandparents, and now he had a trans-dimensional mother in law; Wesley, he realized, had no one. No parental figures at all, despite Xander's half-serious offer of Adelaide.

Xander looked at Angel, and Gunn. None of them had. He felt a little sorry for them.

As he watched them, though, looking at each other and talking about things unrelated to Spike or sex -- because Spike was happily humming to himself while he groped Xander -- he saw that maybe he didn't need to. They looked as happy with each other, as Xander was, with Spike.

He wasn't stupid. Whatever had kept Wes over here that long, had prompted him to send that letter in the first place, and been responsible for the announcement that all engagements were off until further notice -- hadn't been solved by a day and a half of marathon sex and cuddling. Any more than his and Spike's problems ever were.

Well, the cuddling part sometimes solved things. The only problem sex ever had ever permanently solved, though, was the problem of not having sex, Xander realized. And even that wasn't permanent -- it took frequent reapplications.

It hadn't solved the issue of Spike wanting proof that Xander wouldn't become someone else, after he was turned. *Talking*, of all things, seemed to have worked that out. His excited announcement on the way to Wesley's parents' house, that Adelaide was precisely the same woman Spike had known when he was William -- even if *he* might not be precisely her son -- had nudged a grudging, "S'pose you're right," out of Spike.

Later, in bed, there'd been more. He'd met Spike halfway; agreed to wait at least another year. Officially so Xander would look old enough that people wouldn't think Spike was a chickenhawk when they were seen together, though how this explained Spike not caring *now*, Xander didn't know. But he knew it was really so Spike could check around some more, himself. He couldn't argue; how could he? Tell his husband, "No, you can't have ample research time to prove to yourself that you won't be murdering me, when you kill me?"

To the others, though, Xander was sure they looked as if nothing had ever been wrong -- just like, right now, Angel, Wes, and Gunn did. Right now, he *felt* like nothing had ever been wrong -- and he supposed that was all he could ask for. He looked at Spike, and found his husband unabashedly making glurble eyes at him.

Xander loved him, loved him so much he didn't know how anyone could not see it, a mile away. Anyone except Angel, Wesley, and Gunn, who were too wrapped up in their own being in love, to notice anyone else. Xander reached over, and traced a line down Spike's face, along his cheekbone. He didn't mind waiting a year, or two, or ten, if Spike just kept looking at him this way.

There was a sniff from a few rows back. "Damn. Stewardess? I need more ice cream."