****disclaimer and notes in chapter 1****
Angel arrived at Willow's house with Spike at sundown. He'd driven straight to Sunnydale after finishing a domestic violence case. The Varik demoness wouldn't be having her human husband's heart on a platter after all. The vampire crusader did drop by his apartment in LA to shower and change first though. It was a good thing, for Willow had called and left two messages. The first one asked if he or Spike would mind going to a pizza place to celebrate Xander's new job, and the second message left an hour later asked him to pick up Spike and meet her at her house a little early.
Angel knocked on her door, thankful that Willow's parents had finally just moved to Boston and left her the house. The vampire knew she was lonely though, and kept trying to convince his childe to give up his apartment and move in with the redhead. His favorite childe, being the stubborn vampire he was, refused to do so until there was no doubt the redhead loved him. Angel couldn't figure out for his unlife why Spike was being so blind.
"Come on in, guys." Willow called out from the kitchen. She knew the vampires would most likely be hungry and was currently watching their dinner heat in the microwave.
"Willow! You know better than to tell someone to come in without looking first. We could've been vampires." Angel realized what he'd said and looked sheepish. "I mean, we could've been here to hurt you!"
"He's right luv, we could've been here to maul you." Spike looked uncomfortable at his own words and changed the subject, "Dinner for us?"
"No I thought Xander and I would try a little O positive tonight and leave you two with the pizza." Willow giggled and handed the still warm mugs to Angel and Spike.
"Thanks, Ducks." Spike's eyes glinted mischievously, "Now why did you want us to come early and where is the moron?" Spike smirked at the look on his sire's face, sometimes it was just too easy.
"Xander is not a moron, boy, and you'd do well to remember that." Angel finished the rest of his dinner in one gulp and stalked over to the sink to clean out his mug.
Willow smiled at the exchange, "Spike, stop baiting Angel. Its Xander I wanted to talk about. He'll be here in an hour so we don't have much time to plan."
Angel's attention was completely focused when Willow mentioned that Xander was the reason they came early. He wondered what could possibly be going on. If something bad was happening to Xander he wanted to stop it immediately and of course torture the ones responsible.
Willow took Spike's mug, pushed he and Angel back into the living room and washed it out. She placed it in the dish rack to dry and followed their path into the living room.
She smiled at Angel for taking the chair and leaving her the spot in between them sharing the sofa with Spike, "I don't want to worry you guys. It's nothing hellmouthy as far as I can tell. Xander got a new job today as a personal assistant to Giancarlo Buscetti. His company, Buscetti Enterprises is an investment firm that is the parent company to the restaurant we're going to tonight. Xander will be living above the restaurant and Mr. Buscetti has given him a lot of money already. It's not that I think Xander can't handle the job; I just think that it's too good to be true. I did some searching, and found that Katie Dillon left her job two weeks ago to go to a school in East Texas that specializes in Forestry. So that part of Buscetti's story checks out."
Willow took a deep breath. "As far as I can tell, all of his investments, including the restaurant, are legit. Nothing looks strange on the surface, but his personnel files read like a Most Wanted list. He has the habit of hiring convicted felons, his financial records show he invested heavily in our former mayor's campaign and he has Wolfram and Hart on permanent retainer. This could all be circumstantial evidence, but I don't want Xander hurt." Willow took another deep breath and leaned back against the sofa. Spike's arm came around her automatically and he squeezed her shoulder.
Angel leaned forward and patted Willow's knee comfortingly, "You're right. This could all be coincidence, but what are the odds when you live on the Hellmouth? I'm glad you told us. Have you mentioned any of this to Xander yet?"
Willow sighed, "No, he was so excited. He went home to pack his stuff when I started hacking. I called you guys right after I got into Buscetti's personnel files and cross-referenced them with the NCIC."
"You know luv, he could just be a guy who believes in giving folks a second chance, and didn't the Chases invest in the mayor's campaign too? Not to mention that Wolfram and Hart has legitimate human clients. Right, Peaches?" Angel nodded his head at Spike's words, but his mind was working furiously.
All three of them jumped when the phone shrilly broke into their thoughts. Willow leaned over Spike brushing her chest over his lap in an effort to reach the phone. He pulled her back. "I'll get it for you, Pet," his voice cracking a little. Spike handed Willow the receiver, glaring at his sire who was unsuccessfully stifling a chuckle.
"Wills? It's Xander. Can I meet you guys at Gio's?"
Willow knew that voice, it was the voice he made when his father was really angry. She almost lost it when he said, "Please, Wills. I won't be too late. My stuff is already in boxes. I just need to wait until he passes out again before I can sneak out."
"Did you wake him up earlier?"
"Yeah, and it's not as bad as it looks. I promise. He was just a little upset at the way I was dressed and the loss of the rent money I was paying him. It's ok, really!" Xander whispered.
"Ok, Xan, be safe," Willow sighed and noticed Angel making motions for the phone, must be that vampiric hearing, she thought. "Wait, Angel wants to say something. Hang on." She handed the receiver to Angel. She knew Angel cared for Xander more than he let on, but his next words were a surprise.
"What do ye mean its not as bad as it looks?" Without waiting for an answer, the Irish vampire continued, "No, ye canna meet us at Gio's. We'll be parked two houses down. Ye can wave at us when it be safe to get yer things. Ye'll be staying wit' me at the mansion t'night. Is there some'at else I should know?"
"No, Deadboy," Xan gritted through his teeth, "that's just fine. I'll stay with you tonight, but I'm moving to the place above Gio's tomorrow." Xander grumbled outwardly hanging up the phone, but inwardly he was a jumble of nerves.
Deadboy would see the damage his father had done. He would know exactly what happened. There's no way he couldn't. He didn't even tell Willow the extent of his father's abuse. He just couldn't. He couldn't stand Willow knowing exactly how dirty and filthy and unclean he really was. He had managed to keep it from the vampires so far, but even after his shower, there's no way they wouldn't be able to tell. He sighed and strained his ears for the sound of the bottle dropping on the floor signaling his father's descent into oblivion.
Over the years Xander had perfected the art of sneaking out once his father passed out, and knew exactly how long he had before noise would wake the monster up again. The bottle finally dropped after about ten minutes. Xander let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Xander scurried out of his basement home, he knew he had exactly fourteen minutes before his father would hear him.
Luckily, Willow and the vampires had been waiting for him. Angel walked up and felt his body all over checking for injuries. Xander tried not to let it affect him, but cursed when Angel hit his bruised ribs. Angel put him in the car and told he and Willow to stay there while the brunette vampire and his childe retrieved Xander's things. Xander finally convinced them to drop his stuff at the mansion and continue with their plans. Although, Angel tried his best to persuade the young man to change his mind so they could all stay in for the night.
Spike glanced from side to side quickly scanning the parking lot, "What did you say the name of the place was again, Luv?" He didn't see any dangers, but one could never be too careful on the Hellmouth.
"It's Gio's Pizzeria." Willow exited the car gracefully.
"Home of the best deep dish in Sunnydale." Xander said in his best announcer voice, but the effect was ruined when he winced getting out of the car. Angel laid a hand on his shoulder to steady him as they turned towards the awning-covered entrance.
Angel and Spike wanted a booth in the corner near the kitchen that overlooked the entire restaurant. The pizzeria was decorated very simply with booths along the outer walls and various sized tables littering the rest of the floor space.
Willow wondered why all pizza places seemed to decorate predominantly in golds and reds. This one was mostly wood, but had red and gold accents everywhere. She did like the mural of the waterways of Venice next to the kitchen doors though. Both vampires were grateful for the lack of mirrored surfaces, even though the wooden benches looked painful at first glance. Angel and Spike shared a pointed look with Willow.
Willow nodded minutely. "Um, Xander, since we played muscle movers, why don't we go wash our hands?"
Xander looked at his best friend strangely for a second. He knew that *they* didn't move a thing and that the vampires did all the work but relented. "All right, Wills, whatever you say." Xander allowed Willow to guide him towards the restrooms.
"That redhead of yours catches subtext beautifully." Angel smiled at his childe as they sat in the booth. Both were relieved that the wood was buffed and lacquered and wouldn't be causing painful splinters later.
"She's not my redhead. Yet," Spike frowned, wondering if he should just go ahead share his speculations, then decided it was for the best if he did. "Look Sire, you had to have noticed. We were all sitting in the front seat of the car with the windows up the whole bloody way." Spike glanced at his sire. The younger vampire could tell Angel was holding his game-face back by sheer force of will.
Angel's jaw tightened a bit more as his well-versed imagination came out to play. After a moment, the vampire spoke, "I wanted to go back and rip his father's heart out and feed it to him while it was still beating." The vampire paused, images of bloodshed dancing in his eyes, "I might still do it, depending on the answers I coax from Xander tonight."
Angel and his demon were in total agreement when it came to Xander's well-being. Neither could allow him to be hurt when it could be prevented, and vengeance, well, it was always fun.
Spike scowled, "Right, you'll win lots of effin' points for that, Peaches. I've got a better idea, why don't you take a sharp pointy stick and poke it in your eye, you'll get further with that, Mate."
A tall woman with dark flowing curly hair, attired in a white button down shirt, red vest and blue pleated skirt came up to the booth and interrupted the conversation. She smiled politely. "Welcome to Gio's. My mame is Mandy, and I'll be your server tonight. Would you like to hear our specials?" The vampires shook their heads. "All right then." She raised her pen. "Are you ready to order?"
Angel smiled back at the waitress cordially. "Yes, we'd like four sodas and a large hand tossed, pepperoni and jalapeno pizza with extra cheese, please."
The waitress had been eyeing the handsome vampires covertly from the kitchen and was a bit disappointed they had guests with them. "Would you like any appetizers while you wait? Breadsticks, fried mushrooms or cheese sticks, maybe?" She smiled pleasantly.
"An order of cheese sticks and marinara sauce would be fine, ducks. Now run along and get those sodas. Please?" Spike gave the waitress his most charming smile, one that got him in and out of beds regularly before he had spent any time with Willow. Now he saved most of those smiles for his witch, even though he hadn't tried one on the redhead yet. The waitress didn't take offense at the bleached vampire's dismissal, and was even smiling to herself as she walked towards the kitchen.
Spike leaned towards his sire and whispered harshly, "Look, Peaches, I'll be surprised if Xapper bloody well lets you brood in the same room with him without a chaperone, never mind get any information out of him."
"I know, my boy, I know." Angel whispered back, just in time to see Xander and Willow make their way back to the booth. Angel and Spike stood allowing Willow and Xander the inside seats of the booth for better protection. It was a habit of the vampires to put themselves between their humans and the world for protection's sake when they could.
Spike grinned at Xander. "What took you so long, had to make the bleedin' soap yourself?"
"Nah," Xander answered, "it hurt too much to reach the paper towel dispenser. Their idea of eye level had to have come from seven-foot giants. I let my hands air dry and let the Willster guide me back here the long way. She wanted to see if they had a delivery menu."
"We ordered your favorite pizza and some cheese sticks. That ok, Luv?" Spike looked at Willow hoping she wouldn't be mad they ordered without consulting the mortals.
Willow smiled, she loved it when Spike was being sweet, although she'd never *tell* him he was being sweet, "As long as you put jalapenos and extra cheese on it, its perfect."
"Well, I did say it was your favorite, didn't I? The Big Bad knows what you like, eh, Pet?" Spike winked at the slightly blushing redhead.
The waitress came back with their sodas and cheese sticks. She glanced at the two who obviously held the beautiful man and his sexy British companion's undivided attention with a brief tinge of envy before she plastered the professional smile back in place. She told them their pizza would be out in a few minutes and to call if they needed anything else before heading back into the kitchen.
"So what were our two favorite children of the night talking about so hush-hush?" Willow grinned as she snagged a cheese stick. Her grin turned into a frown as her fingers realized just how hot the cheese still was and dropped it quickly into her previously ignored saucer. She stuck her burned fingers into her mouth.
"Here, Luv, let me." Spike gently took Willow's fingers and placed them into his mouth. She sighed as his cool tongue soothed her fingers. They weren't burned that bad, but even if she could put two words together coherently, she wasn't about to make Spike stop. He pulled her fingers out of his mouth when he saw her eyes start to glaze a bit. He grinned cockily, "Better?"
"Much." She replied saucily, then ruined the effect by matching the back cushion with her blush.
"Now before the burnage, you were going to tell us what you guys were talking about, right? Looked pretty serious to the Xan-man." Xander grinned at the dazed look on his best friend's face and was seriously thinking of taking bets with Angel as to how long it'd stay there.
"Nothing to worry about. I was just convincing my wayward childe not to eat our waitress." Angel replied smoothly.
"He couldn't eat her anyway, still fangless, remember, Deadboy? Or old age finally getting to ya?" Xander smiled at his own funny.
"I'll show you old age!" Angel mock threatened.
"Boys!" Willow scolded, "Don't even start, or we'll never get to come back and then what would Xander do for a job!"
"Yeah, what she said!" Spike agreed smugly, shrinking a little as Willow's glare turned to him.
The pizza arrived stopping any further arguments as the humans gave their undivided attention to their food. The waitress came back as they finished and boxed up the remainder of their food to take home.
The vampires had stolen a few crusts from Xander and Willow's plates to make it look like they had eaten. They could've actually eaten some pizza, but it tasted more like cardboard than anything appetizing. They could drink the sodas as well, which for the most part tasted like sweetened water so they let the two humans drink those as well. They waited several long moments for the check, during which time Spike and Angel scanned the restaurant for signs of trouble. Of course, being on the Hellmouth and all, they didn't have to wait long for trouble to walk in the door.