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This story is No. 2 in the series "Learning Curve". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Scoobies who don't understand Xander and Spike's new relationship, a big bad trying to end the world, and a missing lover all conspire to keep life from being boring... or easy

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Sentinel, The > Xander-CenteredlitgalFR2141174,0473014677,52618 Mar 0726 Dec 07Yes

NOTE: This story is rated FR21 which is above your chosen filter level. You can set your preferred maximum rating using the drop-down list in the top right corner of every page.

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Chapter One-Angel baiting

Disclaimer: not mine, no money made, yadda yadda yadda. Joss Wheton (or whoever he sold it to) owns the rights to Buffy and someone owns the Sentinel... not me.

"I can't believe the sod came back here. Not like he has a lot of good memories associated with this place, but he always has been one for sulking in the dark," Spike said as they stood at the entrance to the Hyperion hotel.

"Whoa, big fire," Xander said, noticing the black streaks that wrapped around the corner, staining the stone.

"Yeah, either lightening or a dragon hit there, depending on who you ask."

"Okay, with your luck, I'm guessing dragon," Xander said as he bit his lip. "This is where they all died, isn't it?"

"Yeah, out back, but they're gone, and hanging out on top of California's newest Hellmouth isn't going to make them come back any time soon," Spike said, and he moved away, pushing in through the doors. Angel might brood, but Spike ignored, Xander had discovered. He followed silently because having seen his own share of disasters, he knew that sometimes you had to ignore the broken bits and the pain and the losses until you glued yourself back together well enough to talk about it without breaking down into tears.

"Angel-cakes?" Spike yelled, and that was a new nickname. Xander snickered.

"Spike?" Angel came out from the back, his face barely visible in the low light, but the big old ax looked fairly ominous. Xander started to back up, but Spike's arm slipped around his back, holding him in place.

"You're looking mighty broody, mate."

"Spike, I have a job. I don't have time for this right now."

"Yeah, you never do. So, what's the job and I'll throw in for old times sake," Spike said as he stepped closer, dragging Xander with him.

"Xander," Angel finally acknowledged him. "Spike, what are you doing with Xander?"

"Wot? You need the birds and the bees speech? Seems like you knew what to do with my arse well enough the one time you came home drunk enough to miss the girls' beds, so figure it out."

Xander choked. Angel... and Spike. Oh god, some things he did not need to know. "Hey, about those Clippers? Looking good this season," Xander tried to deflect the conversation, but both vampires ignored him. Well, Angel ignored him, Spike told him to shut up and gave him a slap on the ass that made Angel's eyebrows raise.

"Spike, I'm going to assume you've forgotten how little patience I have for you, but let me try this again. What the hell are you doing with Xander?"

"The boy warms my bed, not that it's any of your business. We just thought we'd drop in for a family visit, but if you have nasties to kill, all the better," Spike shrugged.

Xander stayed silent, even when Angel tightened his lips and scrunched all his facial features toward the center as though some demon where trying to suck off his face. And staying silent, not so easy, because he could think of any number of face sucking jokes that he *could* make.

Spike's hand moved up to Xander's neck, grabbing him by the scruff, and Xander hunched his shoulders instinctively at the pressure.

"Hey, I'm big with the non-insulty manners, here," Xander protested. Spike tightened his grip a little more.

"Oi, can hear ya thinkin' them," he said. Xander just sighed as Spike pulled him a little closer and the hand around his neck moved so that it draped over Xander's shoulder. Angel's face now sort of dropped into a frown that made his eyes nearly disappear under his eyebrows. Okay, so Xander might be exaggerating a little, but it wasn't a good expression.

"I don't need help."

"Never said you did. I figure we can just punch the hell out of whatever nasty you're hunting, and then we can talk some. So, let's go," Spike said as he pulled Xander around and started heading for the door they'd just come in. Angel got in front of them.

"He is not going." Angel said as he glared at Xander, but then his voice choked off at the end as though something had wrapped around his throat and squeezed off the air. Xander was fairly certain that the something was disgust since the fingers of Spike's second hand crept under the waistband of Xander's jeans.

Xander could feel his ears warm with embarrassment. Spike tightened his arm and Xander allowed himself to lean back into that strength. He knew facing Angel would be hard. But, like Spike said, better to deal with one overbearing, obnoxious, stick-their-nose-into-other- people's-business friend at a time, and if they didn't tell Angel, Buffy sure as hell would. Xander just really wished Spike wasn't enjoying this quite so much.

"He's not going with us," Angel finally ordered.

"Not your call, Peaches," Spike said with far too much amusement in his voice. Xander rolled his eyes. He wasn't sure how he felt being Spike's 'secret weapon,' the shaman powers hidden until Spike could show them off and rub Angel's nose in them. Personally, Xander didn't think there would be much rubbing. No matter what Spike said about demons and power and wanting to claim power, Angel would never see him as anything other than annoying: he could see that in the barely contained fury on Angel's face.

"Then neither of you will come, William," Angel growled.

"Oi, seems to me we settled this little debate. Don't have to do jack-all that you say, mate," Spike answered, amusement still coloring his tone. Angel's fists clenched.

"And you didn't want *me* to piss him off?" Xander whispered.

"Careful pet, wouldn't want me ta punish you in front the poof, would ya?" Spike asked sweetly. Xander's ears burned even hotter, and Angel made a strangled squack-like noise.

"I've got demons to kill," Angel snapped as he stormed out of the office, slamming the door.

"Right, we're right behind ya," Spike announced cheerfully as he herded Xander after Angel. The convertible was parked along the side of the building, and now Xander could see one whole wall scorched black, and the ruins of a building next door which had turned into a giant pile of bricks.

"In you go," Spike said as he practically tossed Xander into the backseat. Angel had already rolled away from the curb when Spike landed in the passenger side seat. Angel tightened his fingers around the steering wheel, but didn't say anything as he navigated the streets.

Eventually, he turned in at a fairgrounds on the edge of town, bright lights whirling high in the air and screaming voices drifting on the breeze. Demons at a carnival, and that was actually pretty cliche, Xander thought as he hurried after Spike and Angel.

"Right, so what are we looking for?" Spike asked.

"I'm looking for vampires."

"Doesn't narrow the field much. This type of place always attracts a few random minions picking off the careless. What are they doing to get your ire up?"

Angel stopped, and looked at Spike with murderous eyes.

"I fight every vampire I find. There is no such thing as a death too small to fight."

"Right," Spike said disbelievingly.

"Go away, Spike."

"I will, mate, just as soon as these baddies are taken care of. So, why drive half way across the city to hunt here?" Spike prodded again. Xander trailed along after them feeling vaguely like the family pet, but then he got the feeling that these two were dealing with shit that had nothing to do with Xander and Spike and Xander or even Xander and shamen, not that Angel knew that bit yet. They walked in silence, and Xander couldn't spot anything that screamed "vampire" other than a Goth chick with a huge cross necklace which sort of suggested she wasn't actually a vampire. Angel stopped.

"They're collecting sacrifices. Children. They're going to drain their blood and summon a demon," he finally admitted.

"I don't smell 'em," Spike said. "Pet," Spike looked back and Xander stepped forward. Right, time for the floor show. "They're planning on draining children, probably excited by how helpless the kiddies are. Hungry, frustrated at not taking a taste... either that or they have tasted them. They want power, and they think they're going to get it tonight."

Xander nodded, and then closed his eyes tightly.

"What are you doing?" Angel asked, but Xander ignored it as he opened his eyes to a new landscape. Xander felt for the lust for power and blood, seeing a few possible threads appear in the tangle of faint shadow threads. Xander focused on one, making it thicken as he concentrated. Lust, but lust for money.

Xander turned his head and followed a second thread. It was dark, and throbbing, inhuman, but he abandoned it after feeling the fear and disgust roll off one of the workers, a thick necked man who clearly wasn't human.

"Watch it," the guy complained as Xander bumped him, and some sort of scuffle broke out behind Xander as he felt it. There. The dark cords tangled together, three or four. All pulsated with hunger and lust and power and a raw superiority. Xander followed, blindly ignoring the people and the ropes until hands grabbed his shoulders, pushing him away from his goal.

Xander fought to turn back, but the hands moved him forward until finally Xander could turn to the source of that evil.

"Bloody fuck, they're starting," Spike hissed. Xander shook his head, making the vision retreat as Spike and Angel raced away from the fair and out into a field of broken stalks. Xander raced after them, grabbing the stake from the back of his jeans as he heard the first sounds of flesh hitting flesh.

Xander reached the fight and found children, their hands tied to stakes pounded into the ground. When Xander pulled out a knife, a girl started to scream, and Xander shushed her. "I'm just cutting the ropes. Just sit still and let me get you free," he begged. A little boy desperately scooted away so that Xander couldn't slip the knife between the rope and the hands without cutting him.

"I'm with the police. I'm a policeman. I'm trying to rescue you," Xander finally lied. The girl immediately stopped screaming and the boy held out his hands with wide eyes. "Stay together. Stay together now," Xander said as he cut loose the boy and then a quiet girl and finally the screamer. The fight was still going on.

"Stay together. Run to the lights and find the first person with a uniform, but stay together," Xander said as he put the boy's hand into the quiet girl's custody and then did the same with the screamer. "Run. Run as fast as you can, but stay together," he said as he gave them a push. The three children fled toward the fairgrounds, and Xander focused on the fight in time to see Angel and Spike grab the last minion. Angel swung his ax just as Spike struck out with a stake, and who knows which hit first, but the minion turned into another pile of ash.

"The kids," Angel said as he looked around.

"All three are heading for the fairgrounds. They'll be fine as long as they stay together and find a guard," Xander said as he put his knife and stake away.

"No more of them, then?" Spike asked as he waved toward the ash still settling to the ground.

"Greed and general not-niceness, but no more murderous demons with blood rituals," Xander agreed.

Angel just stood and stared. It was too dark here for Xander to see his face, but Spike obviously could.

"You look like a bloody idiot with that expression on your face," he said smugly as he moved to behind Xander and wrapped his arms around Xander's waist.

"Hey, why do you get to insult him if I don't?" Xander demanded.

"Not an insult... just an observation."

"Um, that sounds like something I'd say, so I'm calling it an insult. Well, except for the bloody part. When I say bloody I usually mean bloody as in blood." Xander shrugged.

"What is going on?" Angel demanded. He took a step closer, and now Xander could see the suspicious expression on his face. Okay, maybe that was suspicion. Xander wasn't actually sure.

"Wot?" Spike asked. "Ya wanted the buggers found, and we found them."

"And *how* did you find them, exactly?" Angel demanded, his eyes never leaving Xander. Xander squirmed a bit under the attention, and Spike's arms around his waist tightened.

"Interestin' question. I figure you've known the boy a lot longer than I have, so it's your own soddin' fault for never noticing."

Xander could feel Spike shrug, the movement telegraphed from his vampire's body to his own.

"Not noticing what?" Angel took another step forward, and now Xander could see the muscles under Angel's shirt tensing so that silk shifted over his body. Funny, that expression was looking more Angelus than Angel, and with the silk shirt, Xander could feel the first tendrils of worry. He opened himself slightly, allowing the shaman part of his mind to see the threads of the universe that tangled around them all.

Immediately, Xander sucked in a deep breath. From Angel came a corded, twisted thread, a silky, slick black rope of sickness and hate that twisted and snapped before smaller threads wove around it, sticking to it and obscuring the raw fury with guilt and sorrow and need and fear.

Xander looked up at Angel, seeing the demon inside as clearly as he could see the nose and the brown eyes and the confusion.

"Pet," Spike's voice drifted around him, pushing away the image of those threads, and Xander blinked himself back into this world.

"Hey," Xander answered, a good sort of non-committal answer since he really didn't know what to say after seeing that. The purity of the evil horrified Xander now that he could see it clearly. He pressed back into Spike's embrace and blinked away the ghost images that crowded his vision. And really, it was almost worse to see Angel's soul's threads wrapping and twisting and sometimes snapping as they struggled to embrace that evil, cocooning in so that it couldn't touch the world.

"You don't use the sight again, not around him, pet, understand?" Spike said in a low voice, and Xander nodded, happy to have that particular order.

"What sight?" Angel demanded. Without the shamanic vision, Angel just looked annoyed, but even now Xander could feel the darker thread lurking just beneath the surface.

"Gotta wonder how you could fight next to him all those years and ya never noticed."

"Spike, if you don't start explaining what is going on, I'm going to crack your head on the sidewalk," Angel growled. Xander couldn't help the tremble that went through his limbs and Angel backed off a step.

"Xander?" he asked.

"Okay, are we done with the Angel torture now? I'm thinking hot bath. Hot bath and bed. Bed would be good," Xander quietly pleaded.

"He's a shaman. He couldn't figure out how ta control it, but he'd get sucked toward evil because he could feel it sliding just under the skin. We thought he was trying to off himself, but it was just him bein' a white hat, trying to save everyone else without understanding how to save himself."

"A shaman?" Doubt colored Angel's voice, and Xander couldn't really blame him. But he'd better learn how to convince people because Buffy and Giles and Willow weren't going to be any less with the doubting.

"I can see Angelus," Xander said softly, "like an oily black cord straining, only you keep twisting around that hate, trying to hold it. You can feel him surge forward, and snap through the threads of your control, and you just have to cling to the hope that you can hold him. That's why you hold on to your guilt. It sticks to Angelus, clings to his essence so that you can hold on to all that hate inside," Xander said softly. He looked up at Angel's face, and Angel staggered back as though he'd been punched.

"But you aren't Angelus. I can see your threads as clearly as his. And I could see the life threads of the demons we tracked here, I could see their hatred. I am a shaman," Xander finished.

The distant sounds of the carnival rumbled as the three of them stood in the field. Angel stared at them until Xander pressed back against Spike, feeling his arms tighten protectively, and Xander chewed his lower lip.

"Seeing that. Knowing what it means to have a soul and a demon, how can you let Spike touch you?" Angel finally demanded.

"Oi, I do more than touch him. Own him, don't I? He's mine, gave himself to me, the way demons in a clan do," Spike objected.

"Spike," Angel growled, and Xander blinked, watching as the black cord twisted up in rage and impotent jealousy.

"Angelus hates that Spike has what he wants," Xander announced. The black cord surged before again being buried beneath the threads of Angel's own soul.

"I hate to see Spike manipulating you into something you don't understand," Angel corrected him.

Xander shook his head.

Spike chuckled darkly. "I told you the old sod would be jealous as hell that I have myself a shaman. And the longer you use those powers of yours, the more powerful they seem to be getting."

"And you just want bragging rights. You want to be able to rub my nose in having something that you think I want. That's why you went after Buffy. That's why you tried so hard to make Dru love you, because I was always number one in her life and you knew it."

"You don't know the first thing about me. Never did anything but love who I loved," Spike snapped back.

"You can't tell me that he loves you, not if he can see our demons," Angel countered.

"Oh, I can see what Spike is, just like I can see what you are," Xander interrupted the fight. "You aren't the same. Spike's soul doesn't battle his demon, and I gave myself to both his soul and his demon because it's the best way to keep him from ripping himself apart."

"Shh, luv. Bastard doesn't deserve an explanation." Spike reached around and put a hand on Xander's chin, pulling his gaze away from Angel.

"But he's going to call Buffy or Buffy's going to call him, and I don't want them doing the conspiring thing," Xander protested as he turned back to Angel. "I can read you and Spike better than most people because with the whole demon and soul thing, it's like having the parts separated out so that I can see them clearer. I'm not walking into this blind, and I know how possessive Spike is, and maybe that's a good thing, but don't try making it seem like I don't know what I'm doing," Xander insisted.

Angel just looked at him with wide eyes. Finally he shifted his gaze to Spike. "If you hurt him, I will hunt you down," Angel said.

"Not going to happen, Peaches." Again, the silence fell between them.

"And if I lose my soul, you get him as far away from me as you can," Angel finally added.

"Goes without sayin'," Spike agreed.

"You two take the car back to the hotel. I need some time," Angel said as he tossed Spike the car keys. Spike snatched them from the air and used his arm around Xander's waist to urge him away from Angel.

Xander followed Spike's lead, stepping over the dried corn stalks that stuck up out of the ground and crunching over the brown leaves.

"Okay, that went..." Xander paused. "It just went," he finally finished.

"Oi, the sod is jealous as hell, and he's given us his approval, so Buffy won't find an ally with him," Spike said. "Went a hell of a lot better than I expected."

"What, you thought you'd have to battle over me?" Xander snorted a laugh, but when Spike didn't answer, Xander stopped, digging in his heels when Spike tried to pull him forward. "You thought Angel would try to take me?" he demanded.

"Well, yeah."

"And you still brought me here? Hello! What is it with you two? I am not to be given away or stolen away or won like the prize bull, and feel free to start apologizing now."

Instead of apologizing, Spike pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Xander had an image of him dropping the thing and setting the whole field on fire, but right now he had bigger complaints than Spike's smoking.

"Pet, watch your tone," Spike warned, blowing smoke out into the cool night air.

"Watch my tone? Watch my tone?" Xander demanded incredulously, okay, that might have been a small squawk, but he was entitled. Spike obviously didn't agree because he closed the distance between them, grabbing Xander by the back of the neck with one hand while he held the cigarette away in the other.

"Yes, bloody watch your tone. You said you understood what it meant, givin' yourself to my demon, but you obviously don't. I'll bloody well dust before I let someone take you, but you have to trust me to know how to keep you safe," he growled, and Xander could see the fear in every tight line of Spike's face. He relaxed his body, leaning forward into Spike, and the hand that had grabbed him turned into a fierce hug.

"I'm just freaking out here. And you are not allowed to dust, ever," Xander whispered. "But fighting over me is kinda medieval in the knights fighting over a girl way, and I'm not really wanting to be the girl in that scenario."

"You're not a bloody bint," Spike said as he let Xander go. "But demons fight over control, and Angel soddin' well wants you."

"And you know, I was getting that feeling too, which is big with the creepiness," Xander said with a shudder as Spike led them back toward the carnival, a hand on Xander's back.

"Angelus wants the shaman in you; it's why he took Dru, to get control of her powers."

"Which is why the telling you to keep me away if his soul goes on shore leave," Xander nodded.

"Fuck yes. If the soul takes a crapper, we're vacationing in another dimension, pet," Spike agreed. "But at least now I can have it out with Buffy without Angel coming in on his white horse trying to play knight in shining armor. If it came to a fight, don't care to know which side Buffy would take," Spike said indifferently, even though Xander could guess at his pain.

"So, no potential fighting over me like I'm the princess in the tower?" Xander asked.

Spike snorted. "You're soddin' strange, you know that, yeah?"

"Totally," Xander nodded.

"Angel isn't going to fight over you, so I figure that just leave Willow, Giles and Buffy."

"You can take them," Xander tried joking, even though the thought of them fighting over him made his guts curl up into a little ball.

"If I had to, yeah," Spike agreed. "Not really my first plan, pet."

"You mean you actually plan?"

"Oi, someone's looking for a spanking," Spike warned.

"Oh yeah, because that's a threat that's going to keep me from mouthing off," Xander rolled his eyes. Spike was entirely too serious, but Xander knew how to keep his vampire from getting all obsessive about Buffy and Angel and things that were in the past that needed to stay in the past.

"Brat," Spike said with a swat on Xander's ass.

"Hell yeah," Xander agreed. "Your brat." He wiggled his ass and walked faster so that he would get ahead of Spike. They had nearly reached the edge of the carnival, and Xander glanced back to make sure Spike was watching before he dashed off.

Xander heard a British curse behind him, and he ran faster, grabbing a support pole for a tent and swinging around a corner with a laugh. A group of teenagers who stood too close for Xander to dash through forced him to slow down, and he caught a glimpse of white hair pushing through the crowd after him.

Xander smiled and detoured around the back of the food alley, where the trash cans smelled of fried bread and sugar. Not wanting to get caught here, he ran faster, dashing to the edge of the parking lot and skirting it south into the dark where the security building squatted. Ducking down to avoid the windows, Xander didn't even see the figure racing across the dying grass. He just felt the body slam into him, pushing him down into the warm earth of a flower bed.

"And just where do you think you're going?" Spike demanded mischievously, showing his fangs.

"Um, to the car?" Xander blinked up innocently, and then he thrust his hips up toward Spike who was firmly sitting on him.

"Looked like someone was running away from his master," Spike corrected him. Xander remained silent. Spike must have taken that for permission because he leaned down and commanded Xander's mouth in a dangerous kiss.

Xander lay quiet, not moving as those razor sharp fangs slid over his lips, sharp front teeth nipping at his mouth. And while Xander knew that Spike would never actually hurt him, that sharp danger made him gasp for breath.

"Someone's naughty," Spike whispered as he pulled back, and then he licked Xander's neck. Xander had no idea if the naughty was the running or the fact that Xander was now very interested in sex with a room full of security guards inches away, but he didn't care as Spike sucked as his pulse, making him thrust up into Spike's body.

"Over," Spike ordered, and used his supernatural strength to physically lift Xander, urging him onto hands and knees, and Xander obeyed, pressing his face toward the smell of healthy earth and crushed daisies as he felt hands at his belt.

"Oh shit," he breathed.

"Best be quiet or we're going to have some company out here," Spike hissed in his ear, and Xander felt his heart race, which made his cock all the happier.

Spike pushed his pants and underwear down to his thighs, leaving Xander's cock dangling, and Xander squirmed until strong hands grabbed his hips. Oh yeah, he was wired funny because that just made his heart pound faster and his cock ache with need.

Xander felt one hand disappear, and he made a strangled, protesting noise, but then slick fingers pressed into him, and he just focused on not crying out. Sex in public, hot. Getting caught by security guards with big sticks, not. Getting Spike to dress up like a security guard with a big stick.... Xander groaned contentedly as another finger pressed into him and Spike found his happy button.

Xander arched his back and panted as Spike pulled out his fingers and something larger slowly pressed into him. Fuck, yeah. Oh he was so going to scream and get them caught. He pressed his forehead to the ground and just endured as pleasure made his spine tingle and muscles stretched and came to life. Spike pressed up to the back of his legs, and Xander whined in need and excitement and maybe even a little fear.

Taking pity, Spike pulled out and thrust in again quickly, grabbing Xander's cock as Xander dug his fingers into the dirt and thrust back and choked on his own silent cries. When he came, his body jerked until Spike grabbed him, yanking him up and sinking fangs into his neck.

Xander couldn't hold back his keening sound as his body spasmed, impaled on both ends.

"You hear that?" a male voice asked, and Xander silently finished his orgasm, shaking as he grabbed the arm Spike had slung around his waist. Spike first licked and then kissed his neck, and Xander let his head loll to the side.

"Hear what?"

"I don't know, heard something."

Spike pulled up his underwear, awkwardly tucking Xander Junior in directions Xander Junior didn't like, and Xander rearranged himself, tucking everything away quickly as he pulled his jeans up.

"You're always hearing things."

"I'm telling you I heard something."

Xander stood up, wiping off his arms where dirt clung to him. Spike stepped forward and brushed his face, and Xander cursed himself as he felt the damp dirt on his forehead. Oh yeah, real subtle.

"So go check it out," one of the voices said dismissively, and Xander looked toward the guard shack in panic, his brain shutting down right about when a coherent thought would have been helpful. A strong grip closed around his wrist, and Xander found himself pulled off balance, and he ran after Spike just to keep from being dragged behind him. They raced along the bushes that lined the south edge of the parking lot, staying just outside of the pools of light created by the lamps, and Xander noted a number of surprised, and sometimes half-dressed couples as they jumped over them.

Spike didn't stop until they reached Angel's convertible, by which time Xander was gulping air, and Spike was laughing hard enough to make the sides of his eyes go all crinkly.

"Not. Funny," Xander finally huffed.

"Oi, bloody well is. You're still all full of muck. Guess we'll just have to get Peach's car dirty then," Spike smiled as he opened the passenger side door.

"Angel's going to go a grrrr over this car," Xander said as he slipped in, his ass grinding dirt into the upholstery.

"I'm counting on it, pet. Well, that and I'm counting on us being on a plane for England before he finds it." Xander snickered as Spike walked around to the driver's side and got in. "One family member down, three more to go, pet," Spike said as he started the car.

"We'll make it," Xander said confidently.

"Bloody well right we will." Spike agreed.
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