Disclaimer [Site Disclaimer]: The stories archived for this contest are fanfiction, and the authors do not claim any copyright over the characters and settings of Angel or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plain To See
by Two Ladies of Quality (riani1 at yahoo.com)

Summary: Ethan Rayne has a small job for the folks at Angel Investigations. A simple job, really. No, really.

Spoilers/Timeline: Pre-"Waiting in the Wings"

Rated: NC-17


Not so hot a day in Los Angeles, not like it would get in the depths of summer, but still warm enough that it was a good choice to be inside with the air conditioning. Especially for a pansy ass Englishman who sometimes felt the need to pamper himself just a little.

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce had to admit, also, that the view inside the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel was much more pleasant than the view outside on the streets. There next to the counter was Angel, cuddling with his infant son as if gypsy curses that stripped one of his soul were of no more concern than the curses of children on a playground. Large, dangerous, and sometimes mad, Angel with his son was a sight to make a sentimentalist believe in redemption.

Cordelia stood behind the counter, her annoyance at something she'd found in one of the files more than balanced by the goofy look on her face as she looked at father and son. Wesley put some more money on that private bet in his head. If he won, he'd buy himself a new leather jacket; if he lost, he'd donate a plant to the lobby of Wolfram & Hart.

He might have made that bet with someone else, except that someone else was busy on the far side of the lobby, making Fred giggle at his stories of growing up in Los Angeles. Gunn grinned like a fatuous fool at each smile. Obvious idiot. At least Wesley had the self-respect to hide his interest behind his work and his books. Of course, that only meant that Gunn was the one being giggled and smiled at. As if street smarts were any real challenge to a Watcher's training in strategy and tactics.

Wesley looked up at a sudden shriek from Connor. Oh, a happy shriek, as Angel tossed him up in the air again and caught him.

"Angel, be careful!" Cordelia scolded. "His neck's not strong enough--you'll drop him!"

"I am not going to drop my son," Angel grinned. "Am I, guy?"

Connor blew spit bubbles of happiness.

"Then you'll forget how strong you are and throw him into the ceiling."

"Not down here, the ceilings are high."

Wesley glanced at the clock. "Or you'll miss your well-baby appointment with the pediatrician." He hid his smile at the sudden bustle of Cordelia and Angel, looking around for the diaper bag and running up to the room for extra clothes.

Fred and Gunn appeared at Wesley's desk. "Where did they find all the black baby clothes?" Fred asked.

"Goths have babies too," Gunn explained. "Took some time, though, to get rid of all the little skulls and spiders embroidered on the rompers." Fred giggled again, and Wesley couldn't help smiling himself.

He even managed to restrain his urge to wipe that giddy grin off Gunn's face for several seconds. "I suppose as soon as the two of them leave, we'll get a call for some disgusting demon to kill in West Covina."

"Well, that's what cell phones are for," Gunn shrugged. "Is it lunch time yet? I'm starving."

"So am I," Fred said. "Can we have Taco Bell again?"

"What, the whole place?"

Wesley was spared from reacting to the excessive cuteness by Cordelia's baby excursion going past. "You are not going through the sewers if you intend to hold the baby at the doctor's," she was telling Angel.

"Cordy, he's my son, I can hold him if I want."

"*You* may not catch anything disgusting down there, but you come out of there covered with germs, and you're not giving those germs to the baby."

Angel stared at Connor in horror. "I never thought--"

"I know," Cordy said, flipping her hair over her shoulder decisively. "That's why I'm here. So that means I'm driving and you're either hiding in the trunk or under the blanket in the back." She smiled sweetly at him. "Or you could just let me take him by myself."

The merest hint of Angelus appeared in his return grin. "The last time you did that, they thought you were his nanny. Or was it the housekeeper?"

"I'm not sure I don't prefer that to being considered your beard."

Gunn nearly collapsed holding in giggles. Angel looked at him in concern. "What does that mean, anyway? How could a woman be a man's beard?"

Cordy snapped an imperious look at Gunn. "Don't you dare tell him, Charles. I want to." Gunn waved at her in surrender. "And we're late. Let's go, Angel." She took the baby and headed for the garage, confident that the vampire would follow his son, though complaining the whole way.

Angel hesitated, looking agonized. "Watch the store," he called to Wesley as he followed. "Call us if you need us."

"Catch the baby if she has a vision on the freeway," Fred called after him. "She probably shouldn't drive," she added worriedly. "It could get very messy."

Gunn put an arm around her shoulders. "Angel's not going to let anything bad happen to his boy. So, English, what's the plan? Tall, dark and broody is gone, and she took Angel with her. What say we all head down to that pub of yours and teach Fred how to play pool?"

Wesley was tempted. If Gunn was seeking to impress Fred with his skill, then a pool table was not the field of battle to choose. Not if Gunn thought he was going to win.

Temptation was crushed by the sound of the front door opening. Fred was the only one to smile as she looked up at the slender, well-dressed, middle-aged man who stood at the top of the steps.

"Can we help you?"

The man's sharp eyes scanned the lobby quickly, paying more attention to shadows and the things in corners than most people would. He didn't look frightened, only like someone who expected things to be lurking and just wanted to know what direction they'd be coming from.

"Have I found the offices of Angel Investigations?" he asked in a well-bred English accent that wasn't quite as high class as it was attempting to be.

Wesley blinked at the sound. "Yes, you have. I'm Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, this is Fred Burkle and Charles Gunn. How can we help you?"

Calculation and a brief touch of wariness went through the man's eyes. "Wyndham-Pryce. I believe I've heard the name. A family used to the outre, I believe."

"Indeed. How can we help you, Mr ...?"

Another minuscule hesitation. "Ethan Rayne. I'm looking for something. I'm hoping you can help me."

The name was vaguely familiar to Wesley, but he couldn't place it. Something involving Rupert Giles, but nothing more. "Please have a seat, Mr. Rayne, and tell us about your problem."

Gunn stepped away a little, watching the two English guys talk. Fred perched on a stool nearby, listening with fascination. But something about their new client triggered warnings in Gunn's mind.

Rayne seemed to have an eye on the back of his head--something Gunn didn't really want to think about--that made him react when anyone stood too close to his back. He'd arranged matters so that he was sitting with his back to the wall and Wesley had the whole lobby behind him. See Wesley undefended on that angle made Gunn twitchy. Rayne kept watching all the approaches to the room, and a bit of observation showed he had been careful to have two directions of escape. The man was used to being hunted.

He was pale as any Englishman, but something in the color wasn't healthy. As if he'd been kept in the dark a lot. His suit didn't fit quite right, either.

Gunn nodded to himself. Prison. He'd seen the men on the street fresh from behind bars, anxious, walking carefully, aware of everything around them to a painful degree.

Wesley's behavior caught Gunn's attention. Wes was fidgeting, though only someone who knew him well could tell. As if being close to Ethan Rayne made him uncomfortable. "The last I heard of the Chalice of St. Eugene put it in a convent in the Pyrenees. What makes you think it's in Los Angeles, and why do you care?"

Rayne smiled, and dark things scurried around in the corners of Gunn's mind. "Well, it's cursed, isn't it? Can't have a thing like that wandering around where it could fall into the wrong hands."

"And yours are the right hands?" Wesley asked, not believing a word of it.

"The right hands have no idea where to look. My hands are less wrong than anyone else's would be."

"What's the curse?" Fred asked. "Anyone who drinks from it dies a horrible death?" She sounded far more happy than a nice girl should at the thought.

"Not at all, my dear. Well, not quite. Horrible death has been known to be associated with the chalice, but not as a direct effect. When the chalice is filled with holy water and someone gazes into it, that person sees the hour and manner of their death. It wasn't intended to be a curse, of course, more an inspirational tool to persuade stubborn sinners that their days were indeed numbered and that they should see to the state of their soul."

Wesley frowned. "It's purely divinatory, isn't it? What would a sorcerer like yourself want with a scrying cup?"

Gunn blinked in surprise, but Rayne only smiled thinly. "I thought you seemed a little anxious. Read the aura, did you?"

Wesley looked like he'd been caught doing something rude in public. "Only enough to sense the power. You feel a great deal like a former colleague of mine."

Rayne's smile became much more naughty. "And how did your former colleague feel? Did you like it?"

"What do you want the chalice for, Mr. Rayne?" If Wesley was embarrassed, the glare and sharp voice showed none of it. Gunn didn't try to hide his smirk of appreciation.

"Would you believe me if I told you I wanted to return it to its rightful owners?"

"No."

"Or yes," Fred offered, "depending on who you think the rightful owners are."

Rayne smiled at her, making both Wesley and Gunn glare. "And what do you do for the firm, my dear? The brains and the muscle are obvious, but are there many demons who can be rousted by beauty?"

The men's glares gained an audible component.

Fred only blushed and smiled. "I'm a physicist. I make things sometimes."

"A different sort of mage, then. I should have paid more attention to the sciences in school."

Wes had progressed from annoyance to intimidation. "What is your interest in the chalice, Mr. Rayne?"

"Someday I want to have a conversation that doesn't degenerate into that tone of voice. Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, my interest is self-interest. The Convent of St. Eugene has offered a reward for the chalice's return. I'm willing to offer you a percentage."

Gunn snorted. "I think I saw this movie. Bogie played your part, Wes. This is the place where we say we can return the thing and keep the whole reward."

Wes studied Rayne carefully. "That depends on the reward, Charles. If I recall correctly, the Convent of St. Eugene is not, shall we say, very orthodox. Is it, Mr. Rayne?"

"It is a little known fact that St. Eugene was not, in fact, human. I would dearly like to see the Vatican's papers on the canonization of a Wilnith demon."

Gunn's jaw dropped. "They made a demon a saint?"

"He's more of a locally recognized figure. I believe he was quietly taken off the official rolls a few years ago. Still, in that area he's extremely popular, and his legend says he converted thousands. By their fruits shalt thou know them," he added piously.

Gunn looked at Wes, a look of "Is he shitting us?" all over his face. The former Watcher shrugged ruefully. "I suppose it's safe to assume that the reward is not entirely something normal people would be interested in."

"It is a trifle exotic. But I believe ten thousand dollars to be a sufficient equivalent share."

The three investigators blinked at each other. If Cordelia ever learned that their scruples had kept the agency from making ten thousand dollars, she'd have them out on Sunset Boulevard making up the difference one way or another.

Wesley had to clear his throat. "Where is the chalice, currently, and why did you come to us instead of going after it yourself?"

"And your answer better not include the words Wolfram and Hart," Gunn growled.

"Do you know them?" Rayne said a bit nervously.

"We know of them," Wesley said. "It doesn't, does it? Involve them?"

"Not in the slightest."

"Good. Well, then?"

The chalice was currently part of the stock of a dealer in obscure antiquities who had a shop in Venice, near the beach. The Fyarl demons he used as guards attracted no attention down there. How the chalice had come from the Pyrenees to California was not clear.

"If you know where it is," Gunn said, "why don't you call this convent and tell them?"

Rayne gave him a "you're not paid to think, are you" look. "If they come get it for themselves, they're not likely to pay me the reward, now, are they?"

Fred frowned. "If you're willing to pay us ten thousand dollars, why not take that money and go in and buy the silly thing?"

"Because he wants more than ten thousand dollars for it."

Gunn moved in closer. "You're not thinking that we're going to *steal* it for you, are you?"

Rayne looked amused more than offended. "If it was simply a matter of stealing, my dear boy, I wouldn't need you." But his eyes flickered over Gunn in a way that made the younger man distinctly uncomfortable.

Gunn went to find Wesley, taking Fred with him into the rear office. "English, I know it's a lot of money, but do we really want to do this?"

Wesley leaned back from his computer, rubbing a forefinger thoughtfully across his chin. "I've been looking at various archives, checking the story. The chalice was stolen from the convent three years ago, and there is indeed a reward for its return. No details, just instructions to contact the convent for more details."

"Who stole it?" Gunn asked. "Our client? And did you find anything on him?"

"As for who stole it, it was a demon gang of some sort, and circumstantial evidence suggests it might have been organized by our antiquities dealer in Venice. I imagine it's not in his public stock, but tucked away behind his guards."

"And Mr. Rayne?" Fred asked.

"I found surprisingly little, other than he's very much an independent operator with a taste for mischief in its various forms."

"Maybe I can find out more while you two are gone."

Wesley blinked at her. "Gone where?"

"With--with Mr. Rayne. To Venice." Fred looked at the two men. "I mean, isn't that what you were going to do?"

Gunn and Wesley traded a long look. "At the very least, we should investigate this dealer," Wesley said.

"Ten K would make Cordelia happy," Gunn added.

:I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look the situation over," Wesley admitted. "At the very least, there's a stolen artifact in town in the custody of someone unscrupulous."

"Raiders of the Lost Chalice!" Gunn said enthusiastically. "I want the fedora."

"Not the whip?" Wesley asked.

"Crackin' the whip is your job, English. You're the boss man."

Wesley cursed his heritage that showed blushes so very well. He forced his mind to think only of metaphorical whips and not of a real whip and any part of Gunn. "In that case, let's get out there and try to earn the agency ten thousand dollars."

They left Fred to watch the office and tell Angel and Cordelia where they had gone. Transport proved a difficulty, as Ethan Rayne's rented car was a sporty little thing with a back seat suitable only for transporting groceries.

"We could all squeeze in in front," Rayne offered helpfully. Wes and Gunn both glared at him.

"Your truck?" Wesley suggested to Gunn.

"We'd all have to sit in front."

"There still would be more room."

Neither man entertained the thought of sending the other off alone with their new client. One of the firmest rules of the agency was that people did not go in alone, and only vampires with superhuman abilities got to even consider breaking that rule. They settled on taking Gunn's truck and ignored Rayne's suggestion that he sit in the middle.

Wesley settled himself around the gearshift and tried not to press too closely to Rayne in the passenger seat. His sense of auras and magic was one of the knacks that had made him a Watcher, but he tried not to use it too much. Especially around practicing magicians. Rayne gave off all the signs of someone not to be really trusted, but the Order of St. Eugene was a particularly practical bunch and could well have agreed to work with a man like Rayne, whose methods might be a little suspect but effective.

"So is this guy's shop on the boardwalk?" Gunn asked.

Rayne leaned forward to peer around Wesley. "His building is, but his shop's on the second floor. Not much walk-in traffic."

Gunn muttered about parking while Wesley tried to catalog what Rayne smelled like. Herbs, smoke, something almost musty that reminded Wes of the basement of his grandparent's house. Rayne glanced at Wes as he settled back, and a smile flickered across the reserved mouth.

"What's the plan, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce?" he asked.

"At the point, merely reconnaissance. Does the dealer know you?"

"Not to look at, at least. May I go in with you?"

"That shouldn't be a problem."

They discussed probable security measures. Lorel Kinata, the dealer, was not a wizard, but a man who had demon guards would not be likely to skimp on other means of guarding his premises.

"Weapons?" Gunn asked.

Wes rubbed his chin as he thought, and he gave their new client a considering look. Rayne's attempt to look innocent was very disturbing. "Yes. Fortunately it's cool enough that jackets won't look odd."

"No room for the axe."

"I know, I'm sorry. You can put the short sword in a scabbard on your back."

"What about you?"

"I have some throwing knives on me, and I think I can put some hand axes under my jacket."

Gunn grinned at Wes in appreciation. On Wes' other side, Ethan Rayne was also smiling to himself, not in the calculating way he had before. This looked like he was having some pleasant thoughts of his own. Gunn did not want to know what would make a man interested in 'exotic' rewards smile like that when he was sitting next to Wes. He took the next left-hand corner a little fast, letting g-forces pull Wes in closer to himself.

They found a parking spot only a block from the beach down in Venice. The whole area was one big weird show, so no one paid much attention when Gunn pulled the truck's seat forward a little to get to the weapons stash behind.

"Can I help?" Rayne offered as Wes and Gun shucked their jackets and began assembling their personal arsenals.

"No," Gunn snapped. Wes looked at him a little oddly as he helped adjust the straps for the back scabbard. Gunn remembered, though, that Wes had slid out of the truck on his side rather than follow Rayne out the passenger door.

"So, English, the plan is just to walk in and see what this dude's got? What about the chalice?"

Wes glanced at Rayne. "Any objections to our making enquiries about the thing, Mr. Rayne?"

"Not at all. I've always been amused by watching charlatans lying through their teeth." The amusement on his face begged for someone to make some pointed remark.

He watched with polite interest as Wes helped Gunn slip the shortsword into the back scabbard, then Wes checked the position of his three throwing knives and hung two hand axes on loops under his leather jacket. Wes and Gunn looked each other over and shared one of their complicated handshakes.

"Lead the way, Mr. Rayne," Wesley said, and they started towards the promenade near the beach.

Gunn sidled in close to Wes. "You don't trust him, do you?"

"No further than I could throw him. You?"

"No further than Fred could throw him. So why are we here?"

Wes grinned at him. "To see what he's up to, of course."

Gunn nodded and made sure he could reach the hilt of the sword. "That's cool."

Ethan Rayne loved Venice Beach. It was a place of such intense weirdness that a chaos mage barely had to stretch to find energy to work with. Kinata was an idiot to keep the chalice here, with Ethan on the trail. And with Kinata not having a reputation as an idiot, Ethan suspected his presence had been anticipated. Therefore, he'd gone to the offices of Angel Investigations, looking for some trusting souls.

It hadn't taken long for the opportunity to approach to present itself, with the only two people to have direct experience of him out of the picture. He knew the ex-Watcher and the brawler didn't trust him, but they didn't need to. They only had to be what they were, noble, caring souls in the service of truth, goodness, and knowledge.

And each other, interestingly enough. Comrades in arms could have so many lovely interpretations. Watching the two of them looking out for each other was almost enough to distract Ethan from the reason he was still in this humorless country that had no appreciation for the beauty of chaos. Once he had the Chalice, Ethan intended to go back to England, most likely to drop in on old Ripper, just to reassure him that Ethan's stint in the military prisons of the United States hadn't harmed his sense of humor.

Ethan led the way down the walkway, dodging swimsuited beauties on RollerBlades and ignoring the come-ons from the artists and beggars. His two companions were a bit more distractable.

Gunn tried not to stare too hard at a very overweight woman who sat next to the footpath asking people for money so that she could get breast implants. "Human, right, Wes?"

"Apparently. Demonkind have no lock on bizarre behavior. I've seen at least two species down here wandering around who seem as flummoxed as you."

"And what is flummoxed, when it's at home?"

"Disconcerted, amazed."

Gunn nodded. "Flummoxed. Good word. Yo, Rayne, how much further?"

"The building on the corner. Door on the side and up."

A dwarf with no legs below the knees sat on the ground nearby, next to his wheelchair and surrounded by shaggy people with drums. Dancing as well as he could with no feet, he looked at Ethan, grinned and winked. Ethan smiled faintly and nodded in return.

A mime stood on the corner, drinking an invisible drink and eating something invisible from his hand. He was surrounded by tourists of all nationalities.

Gunn glared as they went past. "Mimes. Clowns. Creepy-assed dudes."

"I find their precision of movement rather fascinating," Wesley admitted.

"You like mimes? Oh, man, and I let you sit in my truck."

"What, are you afraid of--what is it--mime cooties or something?"

"Do not mock the power of the cootie, English."

Ethan did not comment as he led the way to the building's side door and the stairway beyond. He felt the wards in the doorway register their presence, but he said nothing.

"Magical door bell," Wesley commented.

Gunn looked around. "What do you mean?"

"Wards on the doorway, most likely to let someone know when people come in."

Ethan paused a few steps up to look appraisingly at Wesley. "How much work have you done with formal magic, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce?"

"I'm afraid my magical work is very informal, Mr. Rayne. I've rather tended to specialize in combative magics."

"I'm not surprised, in your line of work. Have you ever been interested in more dedicated studies?"

Wesley's smile was twisted and not completely pleasant. "On the whole, I'd rather be tending a garden somewhere." Gunn nodded grimly.

The second floor hallway was dimly lit and looked abandoned. "Saves a lot on overhead, doesn't he," Gunn commented.

Ethan studied every shadow. "The people who come here aren't very concerned with ambience. Ah, there they are."

Two darker shadows appeared at the end of the corridor. Fyarl demons, both wearing collars and little else.

Wesley glanced at Gunn to see how he was dealing with facing a pair of classic horns-and-scales demons. The younger man's fingers twitched, obviously wishing for something blatantly dangerous in his hands.

Ethan ignored his companions for now. "Good afternoon, gentlemen," he said to the demons in their own language. "Is Mr. Kinata in?" The demons glanced at each other, then stepped aside. "I take it that's a yes. Come along, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, Mr. Gunn."

"Let us handle the rest of this," Wesley said, moving forward to go first.

"Certainly." Ethan glanced at Gunn and tried not to smile at the look of suspicion he got in return.

At the end of the hallway was a plain wooden door with a frosted glass window. L. Kinata Trading was lettered on the window. Wesley held an open hand up to the door before touching the doorknob.

"Whatcha got?" Gunn asked.

"Standard wards, warnings of ill intent and the like. Will you be waiting outside?" Wes asked Rayne.

"Not at all," Ethan smiled.

Wesley smiled as faintly in return and opened the door.

The interior of the office was more appealing, with brighter lighting, a plush carpet, and colorful pictures on the wall. Few of those pictures had subject matter that appealed to humans. As the door closed behind the trio, a curtain behind a desk on the far side of the room twitched aside to let a man through. He was in his sixties, dark-skinned, with narrow features and sparse gray hair. "Good afternoon, gentlemen, may I help you?"

Wesley stepped forward, his professional smile in place. "Good afternoon. Are you Mr. Kinata?" The man nodded. "I'm Wesley Wyndham-Price of Angel Investigations, and this is my colleague, Charles Gunn. This is Mr. Ethan Rayne, who has contracted with us to find some information on an artifact that you may have knowledge of."

Kinata looked at Ethan curiously, then gestured them to chairs in front of his desk. "Angel Investigations. That would be the group associated with the vampire."

"Yes, sir."

"He's not about, is he?"

Wesley glanced at the very sunny window they sat near. "He had another appointment."

"What artifact are you interested in? I have some lovely Neronian tablets in stock, they refer to an apocalypse that predicts the west side of the continent will perish in flames and earthquakes."

"If I recall correctly, the Neronian prophecy described an apocalypse that was supposed to take place in 1604 on the west coast of Africa. I don't think we need worry about that."

Kinata smiled and relaxed. "Forgive me, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. I see so many charlatans in my line of work."

"I understand. No, the artefact we're investigating is the Chalice of St. Eugene. It's been reported stolen, and we were hoping that someone with your connections might have heard something about the cup's location."

"The Chalice of St. Eugene." Kinata leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his stomach. "An interesting piece. People have caused wars and murders trying to avert the fates they've seen in the chalice's depths. Amazing how often their struggles bring about the very fate they would avert."

"Divination is always a chancy business." Incense smoke from a burner on the desk wafted towards Wesley's face, making him blink. "Have you heard anything about the chalice's current whereabouts?"

"Its last confirmed location is the Pyrenees, of course. Are the reports of its theft confirmed?"

"Yes, sir, several archives list the story, and there is talk of a reward for its return."

Interest flickered through Kinata's eyes. "A reward?"

Wesley glanced toward Rayne, then did a double take. The older man's chair was empty. "Where's Rayne?"

Kinata jumped to his feet. "By Set! *That* Ethan Rayne!" He pulled a whistle out from a pocket and blew. No sound was heard, but Wes and Gunn jumped to their feet anyway.

Kinata glared from the whistle to the door. "Myandar! Kobol!"

The Fyarl demons burst--literally--through the door.

"These two--"

Whatever orders the man was going to give were interrupted by an explosion from behind the curtain. Kinata screamed and ran back to investigate. Wesley and Gunn glanced at each other and followed. The Fyarls trailed along.

Smoke filled the large storeroom. Kinata scurried from one shelf to another, babbling in Arabic. Wesley pulled out one of the hand axes as Gunn drew his sword. The Fyarls looked at each other, then followed Kinata.

"We got played," Gunn snarled at Wesley.

"I *know*, Charles, I know. Damn his lying little hide."

The smoke, which seemed to have no source, billowed and parted to reveal Ethan Rayne standing in front of them, grinning. "If it's any comfort," he said, "Kinata will just assume you two are fools and were tricked into helping."

Gunn snarled and raised his sword.

Rayne held an ornate silver goblet up between them. "Now, now, don't damage the relics. But I don't think you're fools, I think the pair of you are adorable."

Wes pulled a throwing knife from under his sleeve.

"People just cannot take compliments anymore." Rayne looked towards a far corner of the room, where Kinata had apparently discovered that something was missing from his collection. "Time to go, I think."

"I think *not*!" Wesley snapped, reaching for the man. Rayne grinned and slipped away, heading for the outer office. Wes and Gunn followed through the curtain.

Rayne paused near the window to check his watch. "Right on schedule. Really, it's such a pleasure to work with professionals."

"Give us the chalice, Rayne."

"Oh, please, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, don't make me think less of your intelligence now." He glanced out the window. "I have to go now, but I so would like to stay and play more with the two of you. Perhaps the next time I'm in Los Angeles we can get together."

Gunn pulled the sword back. "Only after they put together your head."

Rayne grinned at Wesley. "He's beautiful when he's furious, isn't he? Which I'm sure you know. But I frequently did have a tendency to state the obvious." He gestured at the two men, then smashed his elbow against the window glass, shattering it. The jagged bits remaining in the frame crumbled away, Rayne glanced through briefly, then, with a quick grin, jumped through.

Wesley barely beat Gunn to the window to look out. A flat-bed truck loaded with, of all things, mattresses, idled below. Rayne scrambled off the back, waved to the men at the window above, then hurried to the passenger door, being held by a legless dwarf in a small wheelchair. At the wheel sat the mime from the corner. Rayne jumped in and slammed the door, the dwarf wheeled away quickly, and the truck sped off.

"Oh, man ..." Gunn said in disbelief.

More crashing and shouting from the storeroom, coming closer.

Wes smacked Gunn's arm. "Come on."

They ran for the open office door as the curtain flew aside.

"Stop them!" Kinata yelled, and the Fyarl demons roared in anticipation.

Gunn half-turned, sword at the ready. Wes pulled him away. "If you don't get that attractive ass of yours moving, I'm going to kick it myself." He blinked, hearing what he'd just said. Gunn gaped at him for a second, then they both ran.

The Fyarls followed them down the stairs to the street below. Odds were that the people outside would see the demons and only look around for cameras. Gunn lead the way up the beach. Wes didn't waste breath asking why they were heading away from the truck. They ran a block, then ducked into the storefront of a t-shirt dealer.

"Morrie," Gunn gasped.

The proprietor looked up from the sale he was making to a pair of Japanese tourists, frowned, then nodded towards the back of the store. Gunn led the way to a door that opened, not into the alley, but to stairs headed down. They ended up in a dirty basement that looked like it ran under several of the shops. Gunn flipped a light switch, and a low-wattage bulb threw dim light over several ugly chairs, a broken couch, and an ugly table in the middle of the space. The place reeked of beer, cigarette and pot smoke, and less pleasant odors. Still, the two men relaxed a little.

"How good are those Fyarl thingies at tracking?" Gunn asked, putting his sword on the table, taking off his jacket, and undoing the uncomfortable back sheath.

"Fairly good, but their attention spans are short. I don't know if Kinata has some way of controlling them at a distance. Those collars may be some sort of device he uses to make them obey--"

"You're babbling, English. Normally it's cute, but I want to know if we're going to be making some kind of last stand down here."

"Oh, sorry. Wait, babbling? I give you a summary of important information, and you say I'm babbling?"

"Wes! Like I said, it's cute, but save it for later. Are they going to be on top of us or not?"

Wesley glared at him, then sighed. "I think not, though we should stay down here a bit. They'll either get confused or Kinata will call them back."

"That's something, I guess. Which just means we've pissed off a dude who knows who we are *and* we're not even going to have ten big ones to wave at Angel and Cordelia to make up for it."

"Nor do we have Rayne's head to stuff and mount and use as a dartboard as a vent for our frustrations."

"Man, that guy was sleazy. The way he kept looking at you."

"He said you were beautiful."

Gunn shuddered. "That's just wrong."

"No, it's not," Wesley said. "He was right about that." He frowned again, wondering what the hell was up with his mouth.

Gunn blinked at him, then grinned. "Nice to know I'm appreciated."

"Oh, you most definitely are--but why the hell am I saying it out loud?"

"You're also cute when you're trying to be all proper and British." Gunn's smile faded. "I mean--hell. Wes, what's going on?"

"Rayne. He did something. I thought I felt something there as he was leaving, but I was so angry I wasn't sure--"

Gunn grabbed his shoulders. "Wes, still with the cute but not making any sense."

Wes gave him a sharp look. "Why do you say it's cute?"

"Cause it *is*."

"It's obvious, in other words?"

"Well, yeah."

"That's what he said just at the end, stating the obvious, then he waved his hand."

"What, that--" Gunn waved his hand in the air "--was some sort of mystic spell-casting shit?"

"He cast a spell on us to make us state the obvious, a sort of say what we're really thinking spell. It doesn't feel like it's permanent, so perhaps we should try not to say anything for the next little bit." He didn't meet Gunn's eyes, praying the next hour--or day--or however long it would be would not see any more wretched revelations.

"But why?" Gunn frowned. "Just for the hell of it?"

"I imagine he was thinking of something to slow us down in chasing him."

"Oh, like *that's* gonna help him. Wouldn't something like 'Don't move' have worked better?"

Wes looked around for something that seemed safe to sit on. How many times had the place been a bolthole? "If he'd told us to freeze, we'd have been helpless against those Fyarls, and I doubt that would have been pleasant."

"Why would he care?"

"It probably amuses him more to think of us cursing him instead of being in pain."

"Said he wanted to play with us if he was ever in LA again. Yick."

Finding a chair that was more or less sturdy, Wesley got comfortable. "The idea disgusts you that badly?"

"Man, and you're not? I didn't think you liked 'em sleazy. Rayne's like the kind of guy you run into at a party and the next morning all you're saying is 'Why, why, why?' And I don't want to be thinking about the choruses of boy band songs." He threw himself into a chair next to Wesley's.

"Happened often, did it?"

"What, the boy bands? I could tell you, but then I'd have to hurt you."

Wesley tried to grab his voice and strangle it. "The guys at parties."

Gunn stared at the dirty adobe walls. "More than once. The beat, the booze, the drugs--things look like a good idea that are downright dumb."

"We should call the office," Wes said, managing to derail the most embarrassing impulse.

"How is that obvious from me talking about raves?"

"Between dueling imperatives, one can choose the least embarrassing."

Gunn stared at him, and Wes was tempted to apologize for excessive obscurity. Then Gunn nodded. "So we've got a choice about what obvious things to say. Cool." He tilted his head at Wesley's blink of surprise. "Yeah, I followed what you said. Must be learning something from you."

"I never thought you were stupid, you know. Not everyone has the benefit of an Oxford education, and it's rude to act as if they do."

"I love watching your mouth when you start going on like that. *Shit!*" Gunn covered his face with his hand to shut himself up.

Wesley pulled out his cellular. "I'll call the office, see if Angel's back. Maybe we can get some sort of escort back to the truck and out of here."

"A little bright out for the pale dude. And Cordy's tough, but I think the horned guys might be a little much for her."

"Well, I can't ask Fred!"

"Hell, no! Wait, why not?"

"Are you mad? Fred's no fighter."

"She can hold up her end."

"I didn't say she couldn't, but if Cordelia, Bitch Queen of Southern California and in the running for the Western Hemisphere, is no match for Fyarls, then one shy physicist isn't going to be, either."

"No, you're right. Best leave her there where she's safe. But don't call the office."

Wes paused with his thumb over the speed dial button. "Why not?"

"You want God knows what to go flying out of your mouth to whoever answers the phone? We'd only need you saying something obvious to Cordy to be in real trouble."

"Oh, such as 'Gunn is far too afraid of you to ask you to come help get us out of a spot of trouble'?"

"Better than 'The time I kissed you is imprinted on my brain, and I'm not sure it's a good thing.'"

"Perhaps we'd get Angel on the line instead, and you could tell him how much you resent him being taller than you and having a better wardrobe."

"He does not! Black with black and a touch of black is not a fashion choice. The only reason he even hints at being suave is he's got the whole woe-is-me, don't-you-feel-sorry-for-me thing going. It don't work for basset hounds and it don't work for him."

A side-by-side picture of Angel and a basset hound made Wesley snicker.

"Sides," Gunn grinned, "you'd only say to him 'So sorry to disturb you, Angel, but we've had a spot of bother down here and we were hoping you'd come swooping down and save the day, you handsome hunk of vampness, you.'" He ducked as Wesley found a mostly empty can of beer to fling at his head.

"I would not! Anymore," he added reluctantly, feeling the spell working on his will power. "And hopefully not in those words."

"I hate the way he says jump and you ask 'How high,'" Gunn said quietly. "You're supposed to be the boss, dude. He works for you, you're not his lapdog. Don't care how much you want to get into his pants."

With all his might Wesley wished the obvious thing to say would be a fervent denial. So he stayed quiet, silence being a valid option.

Gunn grimaced. "None of my business, I know. 'M sorry. How long you think that spell's going to last?"

"I don't know. I suppose the only way to test is to try every now and then to say something that's not obvious."

"Like what?"

"Oh, something complimentary about Ethan Rayne, a statement that you look forward to hearing Angel sing again ..."

"Pointing out that you let Angel walk all over you." Wesley glared at Gunn, who shrugged. "OK, it's obvious to me, wasn't sure it was obvious to you."

"That's not helping, Charles."

"I know, I'm just trying to wind you up."

"Perhaps if neither of us say anything for a little bit ..."

"Yeah."

That lasted for a good five minutes of the two of them fidgeting, tapping feet and fingers, looking everywhere around the room except at each other.

Gunn broke first. "We need to hook you up with somebody."

"Charles!"

"I mean it, get you out of that apartment, make you stop moping around--hell, even Angel's stopped moping now that he's got Connor. You gonna take over for him in the 'Ignore me, I'll just be in the corner feeling miserable for myself' position?"

"Damn it, Gunn ..."

Sighing, Gunn got up and went to crouch by Wes' chair. "You deserve better than that, Wes. We need to find you somebody, somebody who ain't going to look at everything you're offering and shrug and say 'What else is new?' And you deserve better than some fraidy cat rich girl who can't take that your job has risks." He shook his head. "And God damn if I don't sound like one of those pathetic Lifetime movies Cordy and Phantom Dennis watch."

Wesley tried very hard not to laugh cynically. "I'm used to not getting what I want, Gunn. Nothing new to me."

Gunn settled back on his heels and studied Wesley. "What do you want, English?"

If he didn't say anything, then there would be no danger of saying something that could not be forgiven, that would destroy the group, that would wreck all the good work they could do. Duty was enough. But the spell would not let him speak such a blatant lie. Silence was safer.

The younger man tilted his head thoughtfully. "You want me to guess?"

If he was doing this only to find a way to mock him, the body would never be found. Wesley stayed silent.

"I hate that you can be that tough," Gunn complained. "That you can just sit there and pretend you don't give a damn. What kind of hell do they put you English kids through that there ain't nothing in front of your eyes except what you think should be there?"

"It's safer," Wesley said reluctantly.

"Than what?"

"Than saying the wrong thing."

"You ain't leaving me with anything but guessing here, man. You want me to guess?"

"I want you to--" He caught his voice before it could say what the spell wanted him to say.

Gunn lowered his head a little to look up at him. "Want me to what?" he asked softly.

Wanted him to stop, wanted him to leave him alone, wanted him to touch with those big, delicate hands ...

If he didn't say anything, Gunn would always wonder what he'd been thinking. And the damage would be done. They trusted each other because neither was a mystery to the other. Fellow fighters, brothers in arms, companions in whatever fresh hell presented itself in the new day. They knew how the other would react. But now a question had come up that Wes could not in honor answer, and Gunn would always wonder what answer was too shameful to admit.

What was obvious was not always what was right. Perhaps he could convince Gunn that just because he thought about something did not mean he intended to act upon it. They could write it off to spell-influence and hunt down Ethan Rayne and make him pay for damaging their partnership.

"You want to know what I want?" Wesley whispered. Gunn nodded, dark eyes patient. "I want to know what your skin looks like against my sheets when the sun comes through the window first thing in the morning. I want to hear your voice when I make you come. I want you to hold me down with your cock so far up inside me I scream. That's what I want." He stared off past Gunn's shoulder at the wall and waited.

"Damn" Gunn whispered.

The silence became more than Wesley could stand. Damn Gunn for being strong enough to keep his mouth shut. "You understand I'm waiting for you to kick my head in."

Gunn barely blinked. "Why?"

"It was my understanding that the average American male would rather eat ground glass than acknowledge that there could be more than friendly feelings between men."

"I'll give you two out of three, but I may kick your head in for thinking of me as average. So you been checking me out?"

"I already admitted as much, didn't I?"

"I dunno," Gunn grinned. "I might've missed it in all the fancy talk. Got to admit I wonder why. I mean, a fine young specimen of manhood like myself gets used to the come-ons and offers. And when you've got mouths to feed, you start thinking about the easy money. Kids have to eat, and pride's an expensive toy."

"God," Wesley muttered, "I'm no better than the pathetic queers trolling the streets for desperate youngsters."

"You shut up on that. You've got about as much in common with the hustlers--male and female, by the way--as--as Angel does with Marvin Gaye. But you could have any man or woman you wanted to look twice at. Why the hell would you want to waste your time on a scruffy street kid who can't even pronounce half the books you've got that are in *English*, never mind any of those other languages."

Wes stared at him. "You did get hit with the same spell I did, didn't you? Where you can only speak what's obvious? How can you say that about yourself?"

Gunn shrugged. "Scruffy, know nothing but the streets, ignorant. Sounds obvious to me."

"Oh, for god's sake... Braver than a thousand warriors, loyal in the face of anything, and the only thing wrong with your mind is that you haven't had a chance to use it properly." He smiled wryly. "And I believe I mentioned beautiful earlier."

"Yeah, well, brave's easy."

"The brave always think so."

"I started that handshake thing because it was the only way I could think of to get my hands on you that wouldn't freak you out," Gunn said after a moment. "And I love watching you fight, because you get all messed up and breathing hard, and there's this grin you've got--and I just purely hate those demons that bring it out of you, even if they're dying to do it."

"The grin that says 'Dear God, I made it through all that alive'?"

"That's the one. And it makes me want to grab you and--get you messier. And trying to think of a way to say *that* without making you give me one of those chilly British looks ..." He shook his head.

Nice to know he still had some attractiveness. But other things were obvious too. "What about you and Fred?"

Gunn pursed his lips. "A beautiful girl who looks at me with those big eyes and laughs at my jokes and hugs me--I'm a man, Wes, I can't help myself. I just want to tuck her away somewhere safe and make sure she has all the books and gizmos and tacos it takes to make her happy."

"I know," Wesley said softly.

They looked at each other for a moment, then Gunn licked his lips. "It ain't her I've been dreaming of when I wake up in the middle of the night all hot and sticky."

"She doesn't appear in any thoughts I might entertain in a hot shower." Wesley covered his eyes. "I hate this spell."

"Why?"

"Because it's one thing to think it, but it's totally different to have to come right out and *say* it."

Gunn's grin was wicked. "Nothing says you have to say anything." And he leaned in. Wes savored the feel of the warm lips on his own, the taste of sweat and of Gunn. He opened his mouth and sent his tongue exploring, meeting the other man halfway. Gunn made a noise of approval and shifted closer. Wes managed to pull free.

Gunn glared at him from lustfilled eyes. "Get your mouth back here."

"Charles, if this is going to wreck our working together, I would rather we retired to separate corners and jerked off to whatever personal fantasy makes us happy."

"How do English folk ever have kids when they never stop *talking*?" Gunn ran slow hands up Wesley's thighs.

Wesley smirked. "You do know that the talking bits aren't involved in procreation, don't you?"

Gunn leaned closer. "You need a lesson in the birds and the bees, English? They skip that part at Oxford?"

Wesley grabbed Gunn's head with both hands and kissed him. The bald scalp under his fingers was soft and supple, and Wes couldn't help sliding the palms of his hands around the curves of the skull.

"Oh, yeah," Gunn whispered against Wesley's lips before diving in to shove his tongue through to explore. Teeth bumped teeth, but that went unnoticed as Gunn hooked a finger into Wes's belt buckle and began working the leather loose.

"Charles--"Wesley tried again.

"Shut up, shut up, shut up. Or am I going to have to find something else for that mouth of yours to be doing?"

Wes could only blink a moment, and Gunn took advantage to put his mouth back on those idiot lips that wouldn't stop moving in all the wrong ways. Wesley pushed his head away and held it still, staring into Gunn's eyes.

"Charles, I want you--and I don't know if I should curse or bless Rayne for making me say that--but if doing this wrecks the way we function in a fight--"

"The only thing that's going to happen is I won't be so damned distracted by wondering what your body feels like all sweaty and moving." He yanked Wes' hands away and grinned. "It's a *good* thing."

Fire came on in Wes' eyes, and Mr. British Reserve went away somewhere boring. "All right, then." He tugged against Gunn's grip, pulling the other man in close. Their mouths found each other again as hands went on to belts and shirts.

Gunn growled in annoyance as Wes' attempts to pull his t-shirt off threatened to take his hands away from undoing Wes' belt and fly.

"Do I rip it off, then?" Wes asked, all proper and wicked. Gunn could only nod, and cloth went flying. Demon damage, that's what it was.

Wes thanked God he'd never seen Gunn shirtless before now, or he'd have made a fool of himself long since. He ran his pale hands through the sparse dark hair on Gunn's chest, then traced the slabs of muscle and counted ribs before going up to circle the nipples.

"I did say beautiful, didn't I?" he said softly.

Gunn gave a half-bashful smile, then nearly bit his lip as he concentrated on unbuttoning Wes' shirt. Wes traced a finger up the back of Gunn's hand. "You keep doin' that," Gunn muttered, "and you're going to lose buttons. And you bitch when you lose buttons."

"We already have to explain why your t-shirt is in shreds."

Gunn stared at him, eyes big. Wes just smiled. Very carefully, Gunn popped the last two buttons on Wes' shirt. Wesley pulled it and his jacket off, trying not to think about comparisons.

"I'm gonna hide your shirts," Gunn said thoughtfully. "Make you wander around like a Chippendale dancer. Can't think of anybody who'd object."

"I would."

One finger went down the sternum, past the navel, to the line of hair rising from the belt line. "Why the hell would you?"

"Scars are not particularly aesthetic."

Gunn looked at him a moment, then leaned forward to lay a gentle kiss on that bullet wound scar, still red after all this time. Wesley lost language and could only run his hands across Gunn's head.

Then the lips headed lower, and Gunn finished unfastening the belt and fly. Wes whimpered as Gunn reached in and eased the band of his underwear over and below his mindnumbingly hard cock.

"Hide *all* your clothes," Gunn whispered, then he slowly licked the tip. Wesley nearly bucked out of the chair and grabbed the arms of the chair for balance. Gunn rested more of his weight on Wes' lap and slid his mouth down as far as he could go.

Wes put one hand on Gunn's head, felt the muscles under the scalp flex as Gunn worked. The younger man leaned on him so unselfconsciously, one arm resting on Wes' leg, head bent easily over his groin. The other hand--Wes gasped and closed his eyes as Gun's free hand strolled up the inside of his leg to take possession of his balls. Strong fingers, roughened the way no scholar's ever were. The other fingers that had touched Wesley so intimately had, whatever the gender, been soft, unworked, used to nothing harsher than rough-made vellum or the grips of sporting equipment. No hands on whom lives depended, no touch familiar with blood. No hands that felt the way Wesley's own did now.

He had a free hand of his own, and he stroked the side of Gunn's throat. The chuckle he got made him shiver. He ran a finger up behind Gunn's ear in retaliation, then down the back of his neck. Gunn actually paused in sucking him to gasp for air.

Quickly though, he was back to work, pulling Wes in slowly, working his tongue around the shaft. He leaned more weight on Wes' lap as he played with the balls that twitched of their own will in his fingers. Wes tightened his hands on Gunn's shoulders, trying to thrust but unable to move. Gunn smiled at the strangled noises Wes made. Still trying to be discreet, still trying to be Mr. Respectable-British-Men-Don't-Get-Blow-Jobs-in-Dirty-Secret-Hide-Outs. Maybe not, but Mr. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce did, and by God, he was going to enjoy it. Gunn let his hand take over for his mouth on Wes' dick, and he leaned further down to nibble on the balls.

Wesley yelled, digging his fingers into Gunn's shoulders. God, could they hear him upstairs? Before he could remember why he cared, he'd slid further down in the chair and helped Gunn pull his slacks completely down, without the younger man ever losing his hold on Wesley's dick. With a noise of deep satisfaction, Gunn settled back between Wesley's legs to wrap his mouth around the cock tip sticking out of his fist.

"Charles," Wesley managed to say a little softly. Gunn hummed some sort of question. Words went away again, and Wes could only gasp as he wrapped one hand around the back of Gunn's head. Gunn lifted off Wes' lap to let the man move, work his own dick in Gunn's hand as he paid more attention to what he could do with his tongue. Wes' whimpers went up the scale, in tune. Maybe he'd been a choir boy, standing there in church looking like some idea of heaven with his robes and beautiful voice. You are going to be a hell of a man, Gunn said to that picture in his head, and you are going to be mine.

He tightened his grip just as Wesley shook and yelled out again. He took everything he could get, including the last few drops that escaped as Wes lay limp and gasping in the chair. Then he grinned up along the line of that pale body.

"What do you think, English, maybe I've thought about doing that a couple of times?"

It took several moments for Wesley to focus. "I was thinking sheer natural talent, myself."

Gunn settled back on his heels and pulled the boneless Englishman out of his chair. Wes managed to land in his lap and not on the floor, and wrapped his arms around him for a kiss. Slowly Gunn ran his hands down Wes' back, down to the curves of his ass and the valley between. Wes went exploring himself and discovered that his--yes, lover--was still bound by denim.

"That can't be pleasant," he murmured, tracing the bulge in the front of Gunn's jeans.

"Obvious but *evil*, white boy," Gunn growled. "So do something about it, ok?"

"Delighted." He took enough time about it that Gunn was squirming in frustration, and it was turnabout's fair play that Wesley on his lap kept him from moving too far. Finally Wes shoved the jeans down Gunn's narrow hips and fondled his cock.

Gunn dropped his head on Wes' shoulder. "You want my truck, stereo, and the ninety-two dollars in my bank account, it's yours if you keep doing that."

Wesley chewed lightly on the ear closest to him. "Not your goods and chattels I'm interested in." He smiled at the whimper he got when he traced the inside curves of the ear with his tongue.

"Got nothing else ... God and Baby Jesus, Wes ... and that's blasphemy, isn't it."

"Sounded devout to me." He fondled the balls, then reached one finger back to slowly stroke behind. He gasped as Gunn started chewing on his shoulder. "If you've got nothing else, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with your body."

"Oh, yeah, and God knows this body wants to be in you." Wesley stopped moving. "What?"

"I brought hand axes and knives. I did not bring a condom."

Gunn sat back, horrified. "No."

"I didn't. Did you?"

"*Shit!*"

"That's a no, I take it. What about in the truck?"

"If there are any, I don't remember them. Oh, hell, Wes ..."

Wesley kissed him and ran a finger along his cock. "Not to worry, I'm perfectly happy to return the very kind favor you paid me."

"Not what I want, want to be *in* you--I know, we'll call the office."

"And tell them what! 'Excuse me, hate to bother you, but we're in a bit of trouble, could you come down, and could you bring any condoms you might have lying around, because if Charles doesn't fuck me soon we may both explode?'" He blinked, wide-eyed.

Gunn grinned. "Something like that, yeah."

"Could you say that to Cordelia?" He nodded as Gunn actually paled just a little. "And certainly not Fred."

"No. No no no."

"And would you really want to say that to Angel?" He blinked again at the uncomfortable but thoughtful look that went across Gunn's face. "Charles?"

"I am *not* talking about anything sex-related with the blood boy. And if you love me, Wes, you'll stop looking at me like that."

"If I--all right," he said a little breathlessly.

"I mean, it'd be purely rude to bring up sex around him," Gunn went on quickly. "Like he's had any kind of good luck with that in the past little bit."

"Of course not. Simple good manners not to bring up that sort of thing."

"And even worse to make him think about us getting busy. It's our Christian duty to look after him, what with him not getting any and all."

Wesley tilted his head, as if that angle would make more sense of that statement. "Charles, surely you're not saying that it's our Christian duty to fuck Angel."

They both paused to let all the permutations of that run through their brains.

"No," Wesley said, shaking his head.

"Nope, not at all."

"Absolutely not."

"Never dream of it--hell, that's a lie--damn this spell!"

"We have to get out of here."

"Oh, yeah--oof!" Gunn found himself on his back on the gritty concrete floor with Wesley grinning down at him. "What!"

"It would be simply criminal of me to let you leave here in your condition."

"My condi--oh, god," he gasped as Wes slid down and introduced himself to Gunn's cock.

"And then--" Wesley said between licks "--we'll make a run for the truck and get--" nibble "--the hell out of here and someplace with a bed --" suck "-- a shower --" squeeze "--and whatever supplies we need."

"Uh huh," Gunn agreed. The man really needed to learn when to stop talking. But not now.

Cordelia swept across the Hyperion's lobby in stage two of her rant, Magnificent Rage Tempered with Real Worry. "Ethan Rayne! In our hotel! And Wes and Gunn just went off with him?"

Fred sat on the cushioned bench, looking small and apologetic. "He seemed nice enough, if a little weird."

Angel shook his head. "A little weird. Which is like saying Drusilla is just a little mad." He rocked Connor in his arms in lieu of pacing. "And still no answer on their phones?" Cordelia waved the cell phone in her hand at him in answer. "OK, never mind."

The phone suddenly rang, making Cordelia jump and nearly drop it. "Cordelia Chase speaking. Wesley! Where the heck are you? Where's Gunn?"

Angel and Fred clustered around to listen to the other side of the conversation. "We're fine, Cordelia," Wesley's slightly staticky voice said. "I'm sorry we didn't get your calls, we were hiding in a basement for an hour or so. Have you spoken to Fred?"

"If you mean did we talk to her and find out that that icky Ethan Rayne guy was here and took you off for some disgusting chaos purpose, then yes."

"You know Ethan Rayne?"

"Duh! Don't you ever listen to the things Angel and I tell you? Didn't Giles ever tell you? Or maybe not, Rayne seems to enjoy embarrassing Giles a lot."

There were mutters on the other end. "She knows Ethan Rayne. She's not pleased."

"I wonder what he did to her," Gunn said.

"He did nothing to me," Cordelia said. "I didn't get my Halloween costume at a bargain shop." Silence on the phone and the intrigued looks of her nearby colleagues made her toss her head. "Never mind. Where are you, are you in trouble, do you need help?"

"We're on Venice Beach, near the weight lifters. I think the Fyarl demons have left, so we're going to make a break for the truck."

Angel handed Connor to Fred. "Tell them I'm on my way."

"Wes, Angel's on his way."

There was an annoyed noise from the phone. "And what does he plan to do here on the bright, sunny beach when we're on the move and he doesn't know where we'll be?"

Cordelia blinked in admiration, then looked at Angel. "It's a good question." From the phone, though, she heard Gunn laughing and saying "I knew you'd say something."

Angel muttered something very rude in Gaelic. "I can at least be close. And if they get out of there before I get there, call me and I'll come back."

"You heard?" Cordelia said to the phone.

"Yes, and I apologize--"

"Oh, don't, it was an obvious question."

"Yes, that's the problem."

Gunn came on again. "Don't tell her, she'll ask you stuff so she can laugh at you later."

"Wes," Cordelia said, "what's going on?"

"Well--Charles!"

Gunn took over the phone. "We're going to head out, we'll call when we're clear, but we may make a stop at a--English!"

"We'll call you soon. Tell Angel not to hurry too fast, I think the Fyarls have been called off. Good-bye."

Cordelia blinked at her silent phone. "Wesley being rude? Gunn's been a bad influence on that boy."

Angel scowled a moment, then shrugged. "I'm headed out. If nothing else, Fyarls shouldn't be wandering around Venice Beach." He headed off to the entrance to the sewers.

Fred looked worried as she bounced Connor. "Did they sound all right?"

"A little out of breath but OK. Kind of like guys do when they've been doing something dirty and sweaty like rolling around in the mud playing football or something."

Fred nodded, remembering far-off school days. "And they're standing there filthy and smelly and grinning like mad."

"Exactly," Cordelia nodded. "And we're supposed to be all impressed. The boys have probably been chasing monsters all over Venice and having a great time."

Fifteen minutes later, the phone ran again. "We're in the truck and heading home," Wesley said. "No sign of demons."

Cordelia sighed in relief. "I'll call Angel, tell him to come on home. Are you coming straight back?"

"Yes," Wesley said, then Gunn chimed in: "Look, there's a Walgreen's, five minutes, in and out, come on."

"*No*, Charles," but it sounded like Wesley was trying hard not to laugh about something. "You can wait."

"The hell you say."

"Guys?" Cordelia said. "Why do you need to stop at the drug store?"

"We don't, Cordy, I'm just trying to convince Charles that things would be simpler if we got back and told you what happened and get that all out of the way before we do--anything else."

"Tease," Gunn muttered, then there was the sound of someone being thwapped. "All right, all right."

"Talk to you soon, Cordelia."

"Bye, Wes." Cordelia frowned at her phone again.

"Guys are weird," Fred said seriously.

"Amen, sister." Cordy dialed Angel's number to tell the vampire to come home.

The wayward men returned twenty minutes later. Fred sprinted across the floor to throw her arms around Gunn. "I was so worried! Angel and Cordy told me all those horrible things that Ethan Rayne did in Sunnydale, and I didn't know what he might have done to you."

Gunn hugged her tight, but his eyes were on Wesley. "We're OK, Freddy."

Fred pulled back, blinked at him a few moments, then slipped out of his arms to give Wesley an equally tight hug. Wesley looked surprised, but he was happy to return the attention.

Cordelia strode up, her arms crossed but the expression on her face relieved. "You two are OK? You weren't possessed by the spirit of your clothes or forced to act like you were in high school or anything?"

"Excuse me?" Wesley blinked.

She waved a dismissing hand. "No, he wouldn't want to repeat himself. So what happened? What's this Chalice thing Fred was talking about? Notice I'm not even talking about the money he promised," she added grimly.

Gunn nudged Wesley. "Told you we shoulda just kept going south. You and me could get rich hustling tourists in TJ."

Cordelia finally noticed other things. "Gunn, where's your shirt? Aren't you sweltering with your jacket zipped up like that?"

Wesley grinned at him. "Yes, Gunn, take your jacket off, be comfortable." Gunn glared back at him, though he looked like he was trying not to laugh.

"Are you hurt?" Fred asked anxiously.

"Nah, shirt went down to some demon claws, it was a lost cause. So, is Angel back? Oughta just tell this once, then I want a shower."

"He should be right back," Cordelia said, "but forget about him. Did Rayne get what he wanted? What about those Fyarls?"

Wesley sighed. "All right, the basic version--Fred? What is it?"

Fred was staring across the room at the old check-in counter. "None of the rest of you can hear that, right? It's probably too high pitched. I've always had good ears."

"Hear what?" Gunn asked.

"That whining noise. It's coming from over there. Wait, it's changing."

"I hear it too," Cordelia said. She walked towards the counter.

"Cordy, get back," Wesley snapped. "I think it's magical." The feeling of Ethan Rayne's aura was prickling all over his skin. Cordelia paused, but she didn't move back.

The sound became audible to all of them, and part of the counter began to glow. Wesley pulled out one of his knives and headed forward.

Gunn backed off, dragging Fred with him. "English, don't be stupid ..."

Wesley smiled tightly at him over his shoulder.

The sound grew loud and piercing, then bright light flashed, followed by silence. An envelope lay on the counter. Cordelia followed closely as Wesley went to pick it up.

"What is it?" she demanded.

"Do you mind? In any case, it's addressed to Gunn and myself."

"Oh, man ..." Gunn said quietly. "And let me guess who it's from."

Wes slit the envelope open with his knife and peeked in cautiously. Carefully he pulled out a folded sheet of paper and scanned the contents.

"Well?" Cordelia demanded.

"Yes, it's from Rayne. 'I'd hate to think of all of you standing around lamenting what a bastard I am for no good reason. Feel free to be annoyed at me for tricking you, but when I agree to something I do try to follow through.' And there's this." He held up a green slip of paper.

Cordelia clasped her hands in delight. "He didn't." Wesley turned it so she could see. She squealed in a tone that only dolphins could comprehend. "It is! It's a check! Oh, and it's for all of it, ten thousand dollars! I take back every--seventy-five--a lot of what I ever said about him." She started to reach for it, then hesitated. "Unless this is another one of his sick jokes."

"I don't think so," Wesley said. "It seems like the real thing, a cashier's check drawn on Wells Fargo Bank. If it was a joke it would be from somewhere like the First National Bank of Pylea or something."

Cordelia squealed again and snatched the check from Wesley's hand. "It's made out to you and Gunn. And it says 'for services rendered.'" She looked at the men suspiciously. Wesley only blinked amiably at her.

"Does the note say anything else?" Fred asked.

"Yes, it does." Wes smiled at Gunn. "It says, 'you'll be happy to know the spell expired an hour ago.'"

"Yes!"

"What spell?" Cordelia asked, looking up from her contemplation of the check. "Oh, my god, what did he make you do?"

Wes carefully did not look at Gunn. "We could only say things that were obvious, a type of say-what-you-really-mean spell."

"Oh, gosh. No wonder you hid out."

Gunn smiled blissfully. "I deeply admire Angel's hairstyle. I think it would look good on English." Wesley glared at him and silently promised retribution.

Fred moved so she was close enough to hug both men at the same time. "I'm so glad neither one of you was hurt. I've never had brothers before, and I'd hate to lose you just as I'm getting used to you."

Gunn and Wesley both froze, then stared at each other.

Cordelia wrote something on the back of the check with a flourish. "OK, that's the account number. Wesley, sign this. Your name's on the account with mine, so that should be OK."

"Excuse me?" he blinked, accepting pen and check from her.

"Endorse the check. I want to get it deposited before it dissolves or the ink fades away or something."

"Oh, yes, good idea." He signed the back of the check.

"Excellent. Gunn, come on."

"Huh? I mean, what?"

"Come on. You're driving me to the bank."

"Right now?"

"Yes, right now, if we hurry it'll be deposited in our account today. Do you want to collect what is laughably called your paycheck or what?" She went to get her purse. "Besides, what else do you have to do?"

Gunn sent a desperate look towards Wesley, who only shrugged and looked very sorry. The only thing they could do would be to tell the truth, and the various gods only knew what the reaction to *that* would be.

He managed to sidle close. "Don't let her go shopping. Tell her there's a decontamination ritual we both need to perform before sunset--moonrise at the very latest."

"Damn, you're brilliant." Gunn very nearly leaned forward to grab a kiss, then he remembered they weren't alone and hadn't yet figured out the best way to let appropriate news out. "Dammit," he muttered.

"Patience, Charles."

"*Fuck* patience!" The little gasp from Fred reminded them of their audience. "I really need a shower," he explained half-heartedly.

"Yes, you do," she agreed, nodding.

Cordelia reappeared, paused to coo over Connor asleep in his crib next to Angel's desk, then headed for the door. "Come along, Gunn." She didn't even look around to make sure Gunn followed. After a deep, heart-felt sigh, he obeyed.

Fred grinned at Wesley. "I always expect her to say 'spit-spot' or something when she's like that."

Wesley laughed, but there was an ache in his gut at the look on her face. For all the passion and obsession and words not yet defined for how he felt about Gunn, there were longings that pointed towards this slight, not-in-the-least-frail girl. "Brothers?"

"Uh huh." Fred bustled about in her usual routine when she was left in charge of the office. "I feel safe with you guys. It's fun being around you."

Just a few hours ago, the words would have heralded a long night lurking in a local bar where he was known as a grim brooding presence in the corner. Now there was just melancholy, easily distracted by trying to calculate how fast the trip to the bank and back would take.

Moving air warned him a split second before Angel hugged him fiercely for a barely perceivable moment in time. "You're OK," the vampire said. "Where's Gunn? Is he OK?"

"Angel, yes, hello. Gunn's fine, he's been abducted by Cordy."

Angel frowned and actually tried to reason it out. "Why would Cordy abduct Gunn?"

"She's commandeered him as transport to the bank. Rayne paid us."

The angles of Angel's face flickered towards the demonic. "He came back?"

Fred came over. "He teleported the check in. He must have figured out how when he was here."

"Good lord," Wesley gasped, "you're right. He must have left a beacon of some sort." He hurried towards the counter to investigate.

Angel drifted off to check on Connor. Fred smiled and watched for a moment, then went to the computer to continue one of her obscure projects. When she was engrossed in her work, Angel headed over to Wesley.

"So what happened?" he asked quietly. "And is there a beacon?"

"The remnants of one," Wesley said, tracing a circle with his finger around the section of counter where the check had appeared. "I'll have to check the room over more thoroughly later, look for any other surprises. As for what happened ..." He sighed, still chagrined at having fallen for the ploy, despite having gotten paid.

Angel glanced towards Fred. "I mean, just with Rayne. The rest of it, with you and Gunn, that's none of my business."

Wesley stared at him, aghast. "Me and Gunn ..."

"You really need a shower, Wes," he said apologetically, and Wesley cursed himself for forgetting vampiric senses. Angel looked uncomfortable. "But what about the Chalice? Did Rayne get it? What happened with the Fyarls?"

It took Wesley a moment to get his mental feet under him. He studied Angel closely but saw no disapproval, only an unwillingness to talk about it. A good plan. "We might as well sit down, it's a long, embarrassing story."

To Angel's credit, he didn't snicker once during the story, only shook his head and muttered about the perversity that was Ethan Rayne. He and Wesley discussed briefly how to handle Kinata's undoubted annoyance with Angel Investigations, but as the only thing they came up with was sharing some of the money, followed immediately a shared vision of Cordelia's reaction to that idea, they decided to table that problem for later debate.

"What do you think he's going to do with the Chalice?" Angel wondered finally.

"I'm going to have to do some research on that, possibly contact the Convent. It's very possible that he intends to return it for the reward--and I do not even want to speculate what that reward might be. If the Convent doesn't report it returned in a week, we might have to consider steps." Wesley glanced at his watch, trying to be discreet.

"She probably insisted on going shopping," Angel said blandly.

"I told him not to let her."

"Come on, Wes. Gunn in a hurry in one corner vs. Cordy with money and stores within reach in the other? I'm not betting on the big, tough, black guy."

"Damnit." He saw Angel trying to look "It's none of my business," but what was coming across was "I have no idea what I think about this." "Angel, I promise we're going to do our best not to let anything interfere with the work."

"No, Wes, it's OK--"

"Were you a better liar as Angelus?"

Angel blinked, and Wesley decided to blame residual effects of Rayne's spell if necessary, if the vampire got angry. Then Angel grinned.

"Actually, I don't think I ever bothered. No, I never was very good at it. That was always Spike's job." He got to his feet. "You're the boss, Wes. If a couple of people who work here can't keep their private lives out of the office, it's your problem. Me, I'm going to go play with my baby." He smiled and headed off.

"Pillock," Wesley muttered. He came to a decision. "Fred, I'm going home. Will you tell Gunn when he gets back?"

"Sure, Wes," Fred called back with a distracted wave.

An hour later, in Wesley's bedroom, the two men lay together in a contented sweaty pile. "Did I remember to close the door when you got here?" Wes asked while at the same time exploring the lines on Gunn's scalp.

"Uh huh. I remember because I shoved you up against it and you managed to do up all the locks while I was reacquainting myself with your mouth." Gunn's head was still too heavy to lift off Wesley's shoulder.

"Oh, yes, that's right. Did you tell Cordy about the purification ritual we were supposed to perform?"

"Yeah. She said whatever gods needed placating would understand the higher importance of a sale at her favorite expensive shoe place." Slowly Gunn got his hands under himself, to either side of Wesley's rib cage, and levered himself up. "So what else does this ritual involve? We've got the sweat lodge thing down." He leaned down and licked a bead of sweat off Wesley's chin.

"The application of water in the sacred rites of cleanliness, I imagine." His hands still shook a little as ran his fingers up the side of Gunn's thighs, past his hips, and up the rib cage. "You stink, Charles. We both do."

"Can't argue with that."

"And Angel deduced most everything that happened from how I smelled."

Gunn blinked, then grinned wickedly. "Good. I like him knowing I've been all over you. Make him mind his place." The grin faded a little. "D'you think Fred has any idea?"

Wesley rested the back of his knuckles on Gunn's cheek. "Brothers, remember?"

"Yeah. Damn. Color me doofus."

"I know. She said she felt safe with us."

Gunn shook his head. "Safe. Brother. She still mooning after Angel?"

"I don't know."

"If you say 'At least we know she cares' or some other stupid Oprah shit ..."

"I think we're more the Jenny Jones 'Men who fuck each other and the women who love them' type." He winced as Gunn started to laugh, hipbones bouncing against hipbones.

"'Women who have visions, and the men who catch them.'"

"Ow. Stop laughing."

"I know, I know! The Angel Can't Have Sex So Let's Do It For Him Charity."

"I beg your pardon?" Now Wesley was laughing.

"Yeah, like people make donations to the American Lung Association or the NAACP or stuff in other people's name. Cute little brochures, 'This poor vampire can't have any decent sex or he'll go nuts. Won't you please do your part and fuck for him?'"

"With cards to send to Angel telling how many times people have fucked in his name."

Gunn grinned at him. "You don't think I won't go down to the copy center and get a bunch of fliers made up?"

"I think if you do I will suddenly forget you, your name, and everything to do with you, including how your eyes cross when I nibble on the back of your knee."

"Man, you're just no fun. So if you don't want to do it for Angel, what do you want to do?"

Wes pulled Gunn's head down for a brief but intense kiss. "I want to drag you into the shower with me, get us both clean, then suck you off and listen to the way the moans you make bounce off the tile."

"Did I say you were no fun?"

"Yes, you did."

"Stupid me."

"Indeed."

"Blow Jobs for Angel, like Trick or Treat for UNICEF, take him around door to door--"

"I shall tickle you unmercifully and leave you to lay in the wet spot and take a shower by myself."

He pushed Gunn, who finally got the hint and crawled off the bed. They headed towards the shower a little unsteadily. Gunn waited till they were both under the hot water and finally rinsing off the grim.

"New show on Fox, 'Fucked by an Angel'--"

Wesley found something else that Gunn could do with his mouth.

The End


Back to Previous Years' Story Index