"The Price of the Key"
by Just Human
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See Prologue for credits and disclaimers
>"Oh shit!" I gaped at him in disbelief for letting me get diverted like that. He smiled this shit-eating grin because he was able to do it. I'm dressed in thirty seconds flat. Angel didn't give me a chance to yell at him and took off down the alley at a pace I could just about follow at.
The ticket we were following was over a week old, but sure enough, there was a serious party going on at the warehouse a few blocks away. We scoped the bouncer and the crowd of teens clamoring to get in. Angel frowned.
"They're not in there, but I bet they're nearby." He started scanning the rooftops while I looked at the lousy section of town we were in. What the hell could they have been doing if they weren't inside dancing and hopefully avoiding drugs? What had just happened to me in a local alley flashed into view, but I was really hoping Dawn was too much of a girl to put up with a dirty alley.
"Touch him, Wesley, and I'll rip off your arm." My thoughts, in order, were, 'Why is he calling me Wesley? Who am I gonna touch that will cause Angel to break my arm? And, hello, how the hell did Wesley sneak up on me again?'
Wesley walked passed me, close, but he didn't touch, saying, "You smell familiar now, don't you?" With great dignity and a complete lack of a comeback, I remained silent.
Wesley said, "Some of the teens spotted them earlier, but they're no longer inside. I suggest -"
"The roofs." Angel filled in. "But where to start?"
"Indeed." Wesley started scanning the skyline with my favorite Deadboy. What? Spike had lived in my parents' basement with me for weeks and the only managed to traumatize me by shrinking the laundry.
I, being more contrary by nature and much more of a ground dweller, started looking in the crowd again. Looking until I spotted what looked like a pair of giant fire worms crawling up the side of building in on the cross street.
"Ah, guys?" I pointed.
Both vamps swore. Angel in English and Wes in, well, English, but it sounded completely different. They both bolted for a fire escape on the opposite side of the building. I followed as fast as my non-preternatural legs could carry me. "Anyone want to tell me what those things are?"
Apparently not, both of them were charging up the fire escape like they were cheetahs moving on flat ground. Completely ignored, I made my way up at my own pace. I was panting by the time I reached the top, and Wesley helped pull me over the ledge into the frantic arms of Dawn.
"Xander! Are you okay?"
Pulling out of her chokehold, I pushed her back looking for obvious damage, bruises, cuts, empty condom wrappers. God! Buffy was going to kill me. "I'm okay, what about you?"
"Worried about Connor. Let me have that mace; I want to go help!"
Wesley decided to be helpful, not. "I believe that Angel owns Xander's weapon you should really ask-" Overcoming my terror, I got in Wesley's face and whispered,
"Angel, he touched me."
"Ah, hello!" Dawn hated being ignored. "Don't you think we should help with the evil caterpillars?" We both stopped glaring at each other long enough to watch the fight. Angel and Connor were actually laughing as they bounced off the various roof features distracting the bugs. Wes and I both said, "No." Then we both took two steps away from each other, completely creeped out.
"Fine, but the least one of you two could do is explain what's going on." I opened my mouth and nothing came out because honestly, I didn't have the full story. Fortunately, Wes still had the annoying Watcher gene with all the answers.
"Dawn, as you know, the First Evil wants to use you to open the Hellmouth. The Fire Beast here in LA would be more than happy to assist with your return to Sunnydale. The fire worms are here looking for you. By the way, that means that Cordelia won't be far behind."
"Xander!" I'd got arms full of nervous girl, and I quietly filled in the rest of the blanks.
"And Cordy is working for the opposite side and thinks the only right thing to do is destroy the Key." Dawn looked between the two of us and pushed off me so she could rant better.
"It's just like Glory and the Knights of Bad-clothes-sense all over again. What you're telling me is that not only do I have no shot at a normal life, but I'm doomed to repeats?"
Wesley handed her a big manilla envelope. "I can't promise you anything, but I can offer another option. Those are false ID's for Connor and you. I gave you both the same last name so you can pass for brother and sister or as a married couple - there's also a marriage license and quite a bit of cash. You should both get on a bus and head east or south."
Connor and Angel had finished slagging the worms with only a minimal singeing. I was looking over Dawn's shoulder at the papers, when Connor snarled and launched himself at Wesley,
"Undead beast, get away from her!"
A big knife appeared in Wesley's hand out of nowhere as he dropped into a fighting stance, game face an all. Angel grabed Connor by the shoulder and hauled him back a few steps. Dawn looked like she wants comfort, and Uncle Xander was waiting with open arms...to watch her rush over to Angel Jr.
"It's okay, Connor," she said. "I've been practicing staking with Buffy; she's been training me." Then she did that thing girls do when they want to pump a guy's ego. "I mean, I can take care of myself if I have to, but you're so good, I'd let you stake vamps for me."
The vampires and me rolled our eyes as Connor took the bait and puffed up like - some kind of cocky male animal that puffs up when the female of the species is interested. He also immediately lost interest in slaying the ex-Watcher. I debated the goodness of that.
Wesley was aware of the potential danger of sitting around up here and broke the mood, thank God. "Connor, you're in almost as much danger in LA as Dawn is. I've just given her everything the two of you need to get away from here."
"I'm not afraid, and what makes you think they wouldn't follow?" Connor not happy with Wesley.
Angel heaved a sigh. "He's right, Connor. Cordelia, the fire beast, and the First Evil are all locked down in this area. Take Dawn and get away."
"Xander!" Dawn was hanging on my arm. "Take me home to Buffy. She needs us. We'll find away to stop the First."
I wanted to tell her yes, but Angel went to sit on the edge of the roof, watching his shoes like he knew that there was a decision that he didn't want to make. When I looked at Wesley, I could see that he had already made it. He was going to side with Cordy on this one if he had to.
Connor must've seen it too because he walked right over and glared at Wesley, who glared right back. "You can't destroy her. It would anger Lilah. What would you do if your demonic lover left you? But you're a demon yourself, you don't know anything about love."
Wesley laughed at him. "Yes, Lilah would very much like to get her hands on the Key and the child of two vampires. But you have a lot to learn about love, lad. Part of my husbandly duties are to thwart her plans so that we can fight and have fabulous make-up sex, which by the way, is only mildly better than the sex I would get if I brought even one of you home as a present."
Dawn, who was hiding behind me, apparently thought that Wesley would expend his energy pummeling me if she pissed him off. "Someone married you?"
Wesley laughed some more. I was glad someone was having a good time. "Technically, no. But, after your girlfriend is turned in to a vampire and then left on your bed as a present along with the ax to kill her, one starts reevaluating. I couldn't dust her; she turned me and didn't kill me. Love by any other name." Wesley was looking me in the eye the entire time he spoke.
Dawn was ewwing, and Connor rushed to comfort her. I broke off my stare with Wesley and turned to Angel who was already looking at me with smoldering eyes. It was all starting to come into focus. It was all about strings of dead fish and rose petals and carefully posed lovers. I was a dead man and if Connor and Dawn didn't get out...
Nodding, I turned back to Dawn and Connor. "Dawn, for the sake of the fucking world and because of all the bad things that are going to happen if you don't, you're getting on a bus and heading far away from here. And Junior, unless you're some kind of coward, you're getting on the bus with her and are going to protect her."
Dawn and Connor argued with Wesley and me all the way to the bus station, but my persistent arguments convinced Dawn to get on the bus and Connor felt compelled to follow. I waved until the bus was out of view and turned to Angel who had a possessive hand on my shoulder. Wesley had vanished, leaving us alone.
"What made you lose the soul?"
He backed away and frowned at the ground. "Connor and Cordelia having sex." Angel snorted and shook his head. "Kinda the opposite of a moment of perfect happiness. Wolfram & Hart say that I still have it, but I can't feel it. They're pretty excited because the souled vampire is acting dark."
"So would you like to kill me now or kill me later?" God, that cartoon used to be funny. Angel was back on top of me with his hand on my face, pulling me into the shadows near the terminal.
"No. Family is all gone. I...I need someone to be with me for all time; someone who won't leave."
Dead was one thing. Being something that Buffy would have to stake was another. I started to fight. When he pinned me against the wall, all I could see were the glimmer of fangs and golden eyes. It was all slow motion after that.
My hands were trapped above my head as I performed my death dance, chest to chest, with the animal that was going to consume me. Angel's free hand was almost gentle as it pulled my head to one side, exposing the precious arteries. He licked the spot hard, making the blood rise up as if my pounding heart needed any help. Pain and pleasure - no different then the sex had been. I was crying because I didn't want to die, but some twisted voice inside was urging submission. The voice won. My captive hands strained to hold Angel and not push him away.
As I felt the last of my life draining into Angel's mouth, I heard Wesley's voice penetrating the darkness.
"See you soon, little brother."
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