Cats, Dogs, And Rats




Spike's slouching down in the back seat, low enough to keep the wind from putting out his cigarette--or his hair, though I'm kinda thinking it'd take more than a stiff breeze to knock his hair out of place. Maybe more than a hurricane.

"So, has my boy been taking proper care of you then? Regular shaggings and all?"

Yeah, I'm gonna kill Spike, but maybe not just yet, because while he's annoying, he's also mildly entertaining, which probably explains why he's still alive.

"I don't believe that's any of your business."

Besides, Wesley can handle himself.

"Course it is," Spike's saying, and I can hear him lighting up another smoke, probably just to test Wesley's tolerance for second hand delivery.

"I look forward to hearing the logic behind this conclusion, Spike. Do explain."

"He told you I left him, right? For the Poof?"

"Which poof?"

I grab the first thing I've got, which turns out to be a crumpled burger wrapper, and toss it back over the seat at Spike just to hear him yelp and try to keep it from catching fire. "He means Angel." That's just Spike. He's got a nickname or twelve for everybody, and you need a score card to keep track until you get to know him.

"Ah. Of course, yes. Conventional wisdom would suggest that since you left Xander for another man, you've given up all right to interfere in his love life."

"Nah, makes his love life my responsibility," Spike says with a cloud of smoke I know he blew my way on purpose.


"Yeah. See, Xander's a right enough bloke. Other circumstances, I'd have sunk my claws into him, held tight, and god help any mortal what tries to come between us. But me and Peaches, we've got something bigger than just us, too big to let go. So since I led Xander here on with my many charms, it all falls to me to make sure he ends up as happy as I have. Still with me, Percy?"


"Right, Percy."

I know Wes wants to object, but this one? The nickname thing? Nobody wins this one, so I give his leg a squeeze. "Let it go, Wes. Means you passed the test."

"Hey, now! I didn't say he passed all the tests."

"No, but you gave him a nickname, so he obviously passed the first one."

Spike thumps himself back into the corner after that, and I know he wants to argue, but ha! Today's score so far, ladies and gentlemen: Xand-man, one, Spike, zero. "Well the second one's more difficult."

"And what, pray, is the second one?"

"That'd be telling, wouldn't it?" I can so hear the smirk on Spike's face. Not in the mystical way, but it's Spike. Who needs the mystical way? "So I chaperone Xander here, set him up with likely blokes, screen the blokes who get past his screen cos Xander's got bloody awful taste in men."


"One word, mate: Parker."

Aw, fuck. Okay, yeah, that one was a great big, course of antibiotics
big mistake, so he's got me there, but that doesn't mean I've gotta admit it out loud. Smug bastard.

"So ever since I realized he's about as helpless as a lost puppy, I've been helpin' the hopeless."

"I suppose Angel sent you to warn him off of me, then."

The car did
not swerve. I am not at all taken by surprise that Wesley brought up Angel on his own. Now stop honking at me, you assholes! It's California. Everyone drives like this.

What? You think I work like that?" And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, that incredulity you're hearing in Spike's voice, is why I still love him. "Peaches is a worse judge of character than my boy here. God knows why he likes Xander. Only good call he's ever made. Aside from me, of course, but then I didn't give him much choice, did I?"

"He's right. Spike's about as tenacious as herpes."

"Thank you, pet."

Did I mention there's nobody else in the world quite like Spike? There's not.

"You seem right enough. Haven't done him any irreparable harm. Don't see any signs of him wishing you'd pack up your toothbrush and go elsewhere. He passed the Lindsey test yet, luv?"

"God, Spike. Shut up. You're going to scare him off."

"Lindsey?" There's a flash of Wes wondering how many of my ex boyfriends he's gonna be lunching with, and I'd laugh, but the kind of hurt wafting off him makes me wanna reach over and cuddle instead.

"Don't worry, sweetheart. Never dated him, I swear."

"Cause I got to you first."

"You mean because he introduced me to you, Spike."

"Oh. Yeah, right."

"Spike's being an asshole because he can. Passing the Spike test basically means you care enough about me to put up with him." We'll pause while I adjust the rear view mirror
just so to glare at my favorite culprit.

Who looks about as innocent as a tattooed punk with grease in his hair and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth can.

Figures. So I flick a glance over at Wesley, and this time, I do swerve the car. "Oi! Watch the bloody road!" Don't think I'm even listening to Spike, cause that smile on Wesley's face is doing warm gooey things to my stomach, crazy things, like wanting to lean over and kiss it at fifty miles an hour.

A sharp tap on my shoulder's all it takes to bring me out of it. "Right. Fine. I believe you're all besotted. Now pull the fucking truck over and let me drive before you kill us all. Not like I don't remember the way to the sodding clinic. Been there enough, haven't I?"

"Yes, mother."

"God. Wanker." Spike throws himself back into his corner, and Wesley's got a hand over his lips trying not to laugh.

"Was that the second Spike test?"

"Melting me to a warm and dangerous pile of goo? Yep. Pretty much."

Wesley perched on the edge of Xander's couch, nervously fingering the bandage over his inner elbow, not quite picking at the tape. Perched was the only word Xander could use for it, all stiff and tense, looking anywhere but at the front door, where any minute now, Angel would knock. He was so locked down, all Xander could get out of him was wordless stress.

As soon as Spike slipped out onto the upper patio for the first of many cigarettes, Xander leaned in closer to Wesley, bringing one hand to the back of his head, and stroking through the curls. "Okay, baby?"

Dredging up a tense smile, Wesley squeezed Xander's other hand. "I'll be better once it's over."

"Are you sure there's nothing I should know before he gets here?" Xander's thumb slid down, resting over the pulse that hammered in Wesley's throat, completely at odds with the calmness in his voice.

"I suspect you'll know it all very shortly after." Wesley returned his gaze to his lap, not wanting to look at the door anymore.

"Hey," Xander said softly, and then said it again when Wesley didn't look at him immediately. "How can you think I'd believe him instead of you? I'm support-o-guy."

"You've known him a very long time," Wesley said. "I can hardly expect you to put my version of the story over his after knowing me for a week."

Xander snorted. "No, no, you're right. I have known him a long time." As Wesley's thoughts began to close in on themselves again, Xander tugged him closer, until Wesley had a choice between grabbing onto Xander or simply falling into his lap. "And
because I've known him a long time, I know what a stubborn asshole he can be. You think Spike loves him for his sensitivity and altruism?"

Xander felt the beginning of a question form and fade on Wesley's lips, and kissed him before it could get away entirely. Instead, he caught it with a soft sweep of tongue, Wesley's lower lip cool between his teeth, and his breath tasting faintly of cinnamon. As Xander backed away, the question followed him on a sigh. "Why does Spike love him?"

"For his heart, I guess. It's mostly in the right place even when he's kinda out of touch with it. He's got some pretty amazing shit in his future."

"He does?"

"Oh yeah. Not that I'm telling him that," Xander said, pulling Wesley's head down to his shoulder and going back to stroking his hair, feeling the muscles and cords of his neck loosen under the touch.

"Why not?"

"His head's big enough all ready."

Wesley was quiet for a moment before answering, not looking up at Xander. "Is it your place to decide that?"

Xander watched his finger curve a trail over the edge of Wesley's collarbone that was visible above his sweater. "He doesn't take help well."

"I know," Wesley said even more quietly.

"Yeah. Thought so."

"I truly did wish to help him," Wesley whispered, "that's all."

Xander dropped a kiss on Wesley's hair for his answer as Spike returned in a swirl of tobacco-scented cool fall air. "The poof just pulled onto the drive," Spike said, slouching himself into the room's most comfortable chair. "Reckon he'll be up as soon as he's done convincing himself it's the right thing to do."

"We could be here all night."

"Well, yeah. Still got that big fluffy down comforter on the guest bed?"


"Then he can take his sweet bleeding time," Spike said, and propped his boots on the coffee table with a thunk.

"Want to call it?"

Spike shrugged, yanking his wallet out by the chain and pulling out a twenty, tossing it onto the table. "Fifteen minutes."

"That long?"

"Got an advantage, pet. Woke up next to him this morning, remember?"

"Yeah, but he gets all worked up during the day and wants to get things over with. I call five." Xander tossed his own twenty onto the table.

Wesley found both men looking at him expectantly, and said softly, "Twenty minutes, then. He really isn't looking forward to seeing me." Wesley's bill fluttered onto the table between Spike and Xander's.

"I'm thinkin' he isn't the only one not looking forward to this little meet up."

"You'd be thinking correctly." Wesley levered himself out of the couch, giving Xander's hand a small squeeze. "I'll be right back."

Xander and Spike watched him go, and then as one, picked up their beers and took long pulls. "So what's his side of the story?" Spike asked.

"Dunno. He won't tell me."

Spike wiggled his fingers at his temple. "So mojo it out of him."

Xander shook his head. "I can't."

"Losing your touch?" Spike leaned forward, a crease marring the skin between his eyebrows.

"No." Xander fiddled with the label on his beer, picking at it. "He's just really fucking repressed."

Spike let out a low whistle, and drained his beer. "Angel won't tell me the whole thing. Just said Wes stuck his nose in where it didn't belong and got him tossed out of the army."

"Um. That's all this is? Wesley got Angel tossed out of the
army? How?"

"All that don't ask don't tell nonsense." Spike shrugged. "He's better off these days. He'll get over it."

"So, what does that mean, Wes and Angel were lovers and got caught with their pants down?" Xander put it together slowly, and they stared at each other, then very slowly turned to look at the closed bathroom door.

"Hadn't thought of that," Spike said slowly, and then, looking from the closed bathroom door to the closed front door added, "well, bugger."

Spike's already patting himself down for the smokes, but I've got something more pressing on my mind. If Angel was Wesley's lover, what the hell does he have to do with that big fucking scar on his throat?

I can hear Angel pacing on my front porch. Come on in, bastard. Get your sorry ass in here where I can read you. Mrs. Harris's little boy wants some answers, and he wants them yesterday.

You know what? Fuck patience. It's ten steps to the front door from the couch, and I hope I scare a year off the bastard's life when I rip the door open. "Doorbell broken or something?"

Angel's got his hand up to knock, and slides it back into his hair. Oh no, buddy. That awkward little boy look isn't cutting it with me tonight. "Trick or treat?" At least we both know how lame that was.

"Come in all ready. I think you're leaving a groove in the wood with your pacing." And oh yeah, when I called five minutes on the bet, I never promised I wouldn't cheat and invite him in before he was ready.


"Yeah, right."

"Xander-" He catches my arm, and I know what's coming before it does, so I'm not gonna shake it off even if I want to.

"Yeah, we're good, Angel." I give him a moment with my arm, then pull away carefully enough that I don't make a hypocrite of myself, scooping the twenties off the table. "You can do this, okay? Just pretend you're an adult or something." Come on, man. Joking. Smile with me. Remember, the muscles contract, and the lips go

Okay, the grimace is good enough, I guess.

"Where's Spike?"

"Having a smoke. You want a beer?"

"Please." Angel's looking at his feet, and I've gotta admit, it could be charming watching a hulking guy like that turn into an awkward little kid, but I've seen it too many times. And I know that awkward little kid's got my sweetheart hiding out in the bathroom, and what is this, nursery school?

"Go ahead and sit down, Angel."


"You know? In a chair? Bend your knees and go with gravity until your butt makes contact."

"Ha. Ha." At least he sits. And broods.

Angel could brood for the USA in the Olympics.

Which is good for me.

See, Angel's in that gray area I've got, close enough that I can't get the clarity I get with complete strangers, but not as close as Spike, where I can't sense anything anymore. So the harder he broods, the more I get, and sometimes, it worries me, like right now. Cause with everything Angel's thinking, and everything he's brooding on, I'm getting a lot of answers, just not the one I want.

"See you got Captain America out there to park his arse." Spike leans around me to grab another beer for himself, twisting off the cap and pouring it down his throat. "Where's Wesley?"

"Still hiding out. Gonna give both of them some cooling off time before I go back in there."

"Think that's a wise move then? You're not wanting to go plant yourself between Peaches and the bathroom door?"

Spike knows me too well. "Maybe a little. But I'm not going to. They're both scared is all."

Spike eases himself up onto the counter, setting the bottle between his spread legs in a move that led to a hell of a lot of fun when things were different between us. He doesn't even get how blatant he is with his beer bottles. "Scared can be pretty dangerous, pet. And something's bugging you."


"Wanna tell me what?"

"I told you about Wesley's scar, right?"

"On his throat, yeah? Rubs it every time he's thinkin' about Angel?"

"That's the one." Can't take my eyes off of Angel, who's still staring at his hands. "Angel doesn't know about it."

"What?" Spike's got his fingers around my arm hard enough to hurt, and keeps squeezing till I look at him, bastard.

"If Angel has anything to do with the scar on Wesley's throat, he doesn't know about it. He's all betrayed trust, blackmail, lies, but there's not one single thought in his head about violence." And I don't know how to deal with that.

See, I've gotten myself all ready for jumping between them like the conquering hero and hitting Angel over the head with a coffee table until he apologizes for hurting Wesley and agrees to make nice, except he didn't hurt Wesley at all.

"Bathroom door's opening, pet. Reckon we should get out there, put ourselves between them like the human buffers?" Spike sets his bottle down, and hops off the counter, stretching. "Once more into the breach?"

And it's right about then that there's a fucking loud
thump from the living room. My head explodes with Wesley's panic hard enough to leave me seeing stars and fuck-all else.







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