The Magic of Computers


By Saber ShadowKitten







Part One



It was time.

Angel removed the telephone book from the bottom drawer and dropped it onto the fastidiously neat surface of his garage-sale oak wood desk. With a tiny furrow between his brows, he began to flip through the yellow pages in search of a company that would suit his needs. He knew he could ask Cordelia to chose one for him, but he wanted to do this now, today, and not next week when she finally got around to making a choice.

It was bad enough that he was giving in to the twenty-first century -- he didn't want to have to wait to do so.

Angel's eyes skimmed the multitude of entries on the yellow page. In the other office, he could hear his friend and secretary, the ex-Mrs. Fitzpatrick, Cordelia Chase, chatting on the phone to her three-year-old daughter. The muted clinks of fencing foils floated from the basement vent, accompanied by laughing and conversation from Wesley Wyndham-Price and Charles Gunn, Angel's friends and co-workers.

The ten years in which the four of them had worked together had flown by. It seemed like just yesterday that Cordelia had wrangled a job out of Angel, Rogue Demon Hunter Wesley had become Employed Demon Hunter, and Gunn had exchanged a favor for a favor.

The offices of Angel Investigations had undergone many changes over time, as well. So far, they'd been bombed, burned to the ground, destroyed by an earthquake, flooded, infested with termites, and skunked. Getting skunked had been the worst. It was impossible to get the stench out of leather. Angel was still pouting over the loss of his coat.

Their current offices were located in a quasi-seedy neighborhood in Los Angeles. The area was nice enough that paying clients weren't scared off, and downtrodden enough that demons and needy humans weren't scared off either.

Angel Investigations had an outer lobby/office, an inner office, and a small basement where Angel was making his home. Since they'd only been there a short while, Angel was sleeping on an army surplus cot, and his dresser, night-stand and desk were cardboard boxes. The rest of the basement was being used for weapons and book storage.

"Damn it," Angel muttered, glowering at the phone book. There were too many choices. What happened to the days when the choice was between Jack, the smithy and Jack, the smithy?

And why did Angel Investigations need a webpage, anyway? Okay, yes, the world was now dominated by dot coms and e-commerce... and they'd get more paying business if they had some form of advertisement... and their free services to those in need would also reach more people... and it was the twenty-first century...

Angel growled, closed his eyes, and jammed his finger down onto the open phone book. He opened his eyes and read the name.

Otherworld Technologies

1-888-555-1221

The dark-haired vampire hit a button for an outside line on the phone, dialed the number, then picked up the receiver. The line rang twice before an automated female voice greeted him.

"Hello. You have reached Otherworld Technologies. If you have a software problem or question, press one. If you have a hardware problem or question, press two. If you would like to speak to someone about webpage design or applications, press three."

Angel was about to press three as instructed when the next option made him pause.

"If you believe that your computer is possessed, press four."

"What?" Angel said.

"If you would like a symbol, glyph, rune, or other image defined, press five."

Angel blinked in surprise.

"If you have questions on computer magick, press six."

Angel slumped back in his chair, flabbergasted.

"If you are a vendor or in sales, press seven. If you have a complaint about one of our websites, press eight. To repeat the options, press nine. If you wish to speak to an operator, press zero. "

Angel's fingers hovered over the buttons on the phone as he mentally debated on pressing an option. Otherworld Technologies sounded like a company a vampire would call. But Angel wasn't just any vampire, he was an indecisive worrywort when it came to making non-life or death choices.

Think of it this way, Angel told himself as he forced himself to press three on his phone. If this company is messing with things they shouldn't be messing with, you can stop it. If they're not, they could be just the company to design a website for a souled vampire, a seer, an ex-Watcher, and a vampire hunter.

"Otherworld Technologies, Website Design, how can I help you?" a pleasant, confident male voice asked over the line.

"Um, hello." Angel straightened in his chair and cleared his throat. "I'm interested in, uh... putting up?... a webpage."

"Business or personal?" the man asked.

"Business."

"Occult related or not?"

Angel shouldn't have been surprised, after the options menu he'd heard, but he was. "Kind of both," he replied hesitantly.

"Bookstore, gift store, antique store or investigative agency?"

The vampire shook his head in amazement. "Investigative agency."

"Okay. Do you own your own domain?"

"No, renting."

The male chuckled, and a memory tickled Angel's mind. He didn't take time to delve into his subconscious, though, because the other man began speaking again.

"You do own a computer, right? And have Internet access?"

"Yes," Angel said. "Of course."

"Of course," an amused male echoed.

Angel scowled. Why did people treat him like he was a technologically impaired moron? He wasn't that behind the times.

And programming his VCR didn't count. No sane person knew how to do that.

"Should I send you some materials and examples of our website designs, or would you prefer to have an in-office presentation of what Otherworld Technologies can offer?"

"How soon would I be able to have that presentation?" Angel asked in return. He knew if he didn't do this A.S.A.P., he'd talk some sense into himself and forget about this website stuff.

"As soon as tomorrow at 4:00 p.m."

"Sounds good." Angel jotted down the name of the company and the time on a pad of paper.

"I just need your address," the male on the other end of the line instructed.

"5112 Ross St. Angel Investigations is on the first floor."

"Got it. A representative will be there tomorrow at four. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"No, that's it," Angel said. "Thanks."

"Thank you. Have a good evening."

"You, too."

Angel hung up, tore the top page of paper off the pad, stood and walked into the outer office. Cordelia was just finishing up her twice-weekly conversation with her daughter.

"All right, sweety. I'll see you on Saturday morning. Tell your father I'll be there when Super Kids comes on, okay?" Cordelia listened, and a large smile spread over her lips. "I love you, too, Jocelyn. Goodnight."

"How is she?" Angel asked after Cordelia had hung up.

"She's good. Vanessa," the name dripped with venom as Cordelia said it, "taught her how to count to ten on her fingers."

"Then, this weekend during your visitation, you teach her how to count using her toes," Angel said. "Which way do you think she'll like counting more, especially if you paint her toenails first?"

Cordelia sighed. "Yeah. That's an idea. Have I mentioned how much I love you and how much I hate Vanessa and Matt?"

Angel chuckled. "As a matter of fact, just recently."

The vampire ventured further into the office and handed his secretary the slip of paper. He gave her a small grin. "Guess what I did?"

"Decided to give me a raise?" Cordelia said.

"I gave you a raise when we moved," Angel perched on the edge of her desk. "You make more than me now."

"Angel, you don't pay yourself, so that's not saying much," Cordelia told him. She looked at the paper. "Okay, I'll bite, in the non-vampirey sense of the word. What's Otherworld Technologies?"

"They create webpages, among other things," Angel replied.

Cordelia raised her perfectly sculpted brows. "And what do they have to do with us?"

Angel sighed with exasperation. "I may be hiring them to make a website for us. For Angel Investigations."

"Really?" Cordelia smiled, picked up a pencil, and wrote the appointment on the calendar. "It's about time, old man. You're only, what, a decade behind everyone else?"

"Ha ha," Angel said. "Just make sure that you and Wesley are here for the presentation..."

"Because you don't know a thing about webpages," Cordelia completed. Angel glared at her. "Don't worry, Angel. We'll be here."

"Good."







Part Two





Otherworld Technologies was located in an quaint neighborhood near the Sunset Strip. The two-storey Victorian-style home had a shaded porch with a porch swing nestled into one corner. Both steps and a ramp led up to the wide front door, and a small brass placard was situated above the doorbell proclaiming the business' name.

Inside, the dark wood floor and pale ivory walls created a homey atmosphere. The furnishings in the front hall were a mixture of antique and modern, and a massive grandfather clock stood guard of those who worked and lived within the home.

Muffled music could be heard coming down the staircase near the end of the front hall. Beyond the staircase and slightly to the left was an open doorway that led to the kitchen. To the left and the right of the front door were identical closed doors.

The door to the right opened, and Willow Rosenberg walked out, her head bent and her eyes focused on a large stack of printouts in her hands. She headed for the kitchen, her orange gym shoes making no noise on the hardwood floors. Without looking up, she went right to the refrigerator, took out an apple, and bit into it.

"Hey, Will, just the redhead I was coming to see next."

Xander Harris's cheerful voice broke into Willow's concentration. She looked over at her best friend and coworker, and smiled. "Hi, Xander. What's up?"

"Presentation, tomorrow at four," Xander said. He caught the apple Willow tossed to him and took a bite beside the small chunk already missing from the fruit. "I wote it in yowr cawendawr."

"What type?" Willow asked, taking another apple from the refrigerator.

"Mowon," Xander swallowed, "The guy who called said he was renting a domain."

Willow giggled. "I love newbies. They're so cute."

The shaggy-haired thirty-year-old rolled his eyes. "Anyway, it's an investigation agency."

"Occult?"

"'Kind of,'" Xander used his fingers to air quote, "They investigate angels, and are looking to put up a business website."

"Got it." Willow bit into her apple and wiped her chin with the back of her pink sleeve. "Do you have any new examples you want me to substitute for the demonstration?"

"Yeah," Xander led the way out of the kitchen, through the front hall and to the door on his right. "I want to sub the Corbett page for one I just designed for Hicks."

Willow entered Xander's office and grinned when she saw a new full-color printout tacked to the wall. A black and white cartoon dog, with his tongue lolling out of his mouth, sat on the end of a double bed. The caption at the top read: "When I woke up this morning and realized you weren't here, things really looked dark and the whole world seemed stinking and rotten...

"Then the dog rolled off my face."

The floor in Xander's office was the only clutter free surface in the room. The room had originally been the study, and a built-in bookshelf lined one wall. The lower shelves were crammed with books of various thicknesses and colors, with subjects ranging from web design, to art books, to occult references.

The tops shelves and the hand-built two tier shelves that ran around most of the room were piled with toys. Electronic games, robots, RC cars, legos, koosh balls, obscene stuffed animals, obscene and non-obscene wind-ups, Happy Meal accessories -- anything that could be played with by a single person lined the shelves.

Willow walked over to the single window and looked out. She absently noted that the light on the lightpost at the end of their front walk needed to be changed.

"Wills, can you hand me a CD?"

The redhead went over to the drafting table that doubled as Xander's desk. A color 19-inch monitor took up most of the space on the surface. A keyboard and mouse tray was attached underneath the table and slid out when needed. A five-disk hard drive tower sat on the floor, with cords running from its back to a zip drive, scanner, laser printer, fax and modem.

"Here," Willow said, handing Xander a CD she'd taken from a new box.

"Thanks." Xander put the CD in the CD burner, his eyes never leaving the monitor. Willow watched over his shoulder with a proud smile on her face as he burned his new design to the CD for her. She never would have thought that Xander would become one of the best web designers in Southern California, but she couldn't be happier that she'd been wrong.

Willow had started Otherworld Technologies soon after graduating from UC Sunnydale. It had been difficult, at first, because of the mass influx of computer-related companies. But once she'd specialized her company to the occult-related, business had boomed.

In fact, business had become so brisk that she'd had to hire help. And out of the four dozen applicants for the positions of web design and hardware technician, she'd ended up employing two of the best surprises in the field -- Xander... and Spike.

"'Allo, pets," Spike greeted, entering Xander's office with his usual swagger and smirk.

"Hey," Xander said, not stopping what he was doing.

"Hi, Spike." Willow turned to face the bleached-blond vampire. She frowned when she saw a burn mark marring his cheek. "What happened now?"

"Nothing that the fire extinguisher couldn't fix," Spike replied flippantly. He walked up behind Xander and began to massage the younger man's shoulders.

Willow leaned against the drafting table and whined, "Spi-ike."

"Wil-low," Spike drawled. He chuckled at her glare. "Don't worry, luv. I was working on a new machine for Xander's exercises, not a customer's PC."

Xander looked up at Spike and scowled. "Who said I wanted a new machine?"

"I did," Spike replied.

Xander put his biker glove-clad hands on the wheels and jammed his wheelchair backwards into Spike. Spike quickly moved out of the way as Xander backed up and wheeled towards the bedroom attached to the office. "It's on the CD, Willow," the brunette said over his shoulder.

"Thanks." Willow's heart went out in sympathy at the flash of pain that crossed Spike's face.

The vampire glanced at her, then went after Xander. "Xander, don't do this..."

The door to the bedroom closed behind Spike. Willow sighed and chomped down on her apple. She knew she wouldn't see her friends again until the following night, unless she ran into Xander in the kitchen.

The two males had returned to her life unexpectedly. The last she'd seen of either of them had been at Buffy's funeral, six months after college graduation, until they'd shown up on her doorstep. That had been four years ago, and now she didn't know how she ever managed to live in the house by herself after Tara had left with Miss Kitty Fantastico.

Like Vikings, Xander and Spike invaded her home and her heart -- and her refrigerator -- and she loved it. They were her family. And a single woman at twenty-nine needed all the family she could get.

It wasn't as if Willow hadn't dated since her painful breakup with Tara. Six years was a long time, and after her initial misery had worn away she'd thrown herself back into the dating game. Men, women, human and non, she'd dated them all. In fact, she felt as though she'd dated everyone in the metropolitan area and halfway up the state.

Taking the CD, Willow returned to her office across the hall from Xander's. Her office was once the living room of the home, and her favorite thing about the room was a big bay window that faced the front of the house. Painted in pale pink and decorated with fantasy artwork, her work area was tidy, the books on her freestanding bookshelves in order by software application, her computer desk cluttered only with her current project.

The computer she had was actually comprised of three hard drives hooked together to increase the speed and memory. Her monitor was like Xander's, although whereas his held images most of the time, hers held lines and lines of code. A dot-matrix printer and a laser printer sat in their assigned corrals. Her modem, fax and phone lines were tied neatly and hidden behind several potted plants.

In the far corner of the room, next to the bay window, Willow had set up a permanent spot for her Wiccan supplies. A large roll of paper leaned against the wall, waiting to be spread over the floor to protect the dark wood during her circle casting. A trunk held magickal supplies, and her spellbooks had their own shelving unit.

Willow dug out the presentation disk and made the necessary changes as requested. As the file saved, she continued to munch on her apple as she returned her attention to the printout of code she was working on earlier.

The multi-lined phone on the back corner of her desk rang. Willow tossed her apple core into the trash, wiped her hands on her jeans, and placed the hands-free headset over her head. She pushed the button with the blinking light and spoke into the thin wire-like receiver.

"Otherworld Technologies, Software, how may I help you?"





Part Three





Willow grinned at the cardboard sign taped to the window that read: Angel Investigations. She remembered those beginning days, when her office consisted of a computer on a tv tray table and a garbage can for a printer stand. After shifting the three straps on her shoulders -- one for the laptop, one for the LCD Projector, and one holding a small projection screen -- she took a quick breath, put on her "you really want to give me money" smile, and opened the door.

A tall, well-built black man dressed in torn jeans, black t-shirt, and sporting a bandana on his head looked up from the newspaper spread across a dented metal desk. He looked to be about twenty-five, in Willow's estimation, but he didn't look like the type that chased angels.

"Hey," he greeted. "Can I help you?"

"Um, yeah," Willow said, extending her hand. "I'm Willow with Otherworld Technologies. I'm here to give a presentation and show you why Otherworld is the company to hire for all your computer needs."

"Nice to meet you, Willow," he shook her hand, "I'm Gunn. And that's a great speech you've got going there. If I thought that computers were actually useful, I'd hire you."

Willow's brows furrowed slightly, but her professional smile never left her face. "I see."

Gunn chuckled. "Come on. Everyone's in the back office."

Wondering if Xander'd heard wrong when he scheduled the appointment, Willow followed Gunn through a door, down a short hallway past a restroom and a storage room, and to an open door at the very end. She could hear animated conversation coming from the room before she'd reached it, and she felt butterflies take flight in her stomach. Even after five years, giving presentations to potential clients still made her nervous.

"Yo, Big Pale Guy, the computer person is here," Gunn announced.

Willow squared her shoulders, checked her smile, and entered the room. "Hi, I'm Willow and--" She saw a very familiar person stand on the opposite side of the room and she blinked in shock. "--and you're Angel!"

"Willow?" Angel's mouth parted in surprise.

"Oh my god, Willow!" Cordelia exclaimed. She stood, pushed past the frozen-in-shock vampire, and rushed over to give the redhead a quick hug. "I can't believe it's you!"

"Cordelia, hi," Willow said, snapping out of her surprise. She embraced the other woman. "This is beyond weird."

"You're not kidding." Cordelia stepped back and looked Willow over from head-to-toe. "I can see you still dress the same."

"Cordelia," Wesley chided as he joined them. He held out his hand to Willow. "Ms. Rosenberg, it is a pleasure to see you again."

It's the weenie!, Willow thought unbelievingly. She accepted Wesley's hand. "You, too. I mean, it's nice to see you again."

"I take it you know her?" Gunn asked Angel with an amused smile.

"From Sunnydale," Angel said, still staring at the redhead. "Like Cordy and Wes."

"Life's full of surprises, isn't it," Gunn commented. He clapped the vampire on the shoulder. "I'm outta here. We're expecting a shipment at the shelter and I want to get there before the locusts descend."

Angel nodded, and Gunn slipped out the side door, which led to the parking garage. The dark-haired vampire took a step forward, stopped and continued to stare at the redhead he hadn't seen in six years.

She's so beautiful, he thought, drinking in her lithe body clothed in a long-sleeved light-blue tunic blouse and an ankle-length navy broom skirt. Her red hair was chin length, parted on the side, and was in vibrant a color as he remembered. The years had done nothing to her that he could see. She still looked like a college student... who was currently staring right back at him.

Angel felt his cheeks redden and cursed the fact that vampires could blush. He wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his dark slacks, took another step forward and held out his hand. "Hi, Willow. It's great to see you again."

Willow closed the distance between them and took Angel's hand. Tingles ran up her arm when he closed his larger hand around hers. For some reason, her heart was pounding in her chest as she looked up at the vampire she'd not seen in years. "Angel, it's wonderful to see you, too."

Cordelia and Wesley exchanged amused looks as Willow and Angel continued to stand there holding each other's hands. "So," Cordelia said loudly, slapping her hand on her thigh.

Willow and Angel jumped apart as if burned. Willow blushed, ducked her head, and toyed with the cases hanging over her shoulder. Angel cleared his throat and looked everywhere but at Willow.

"How about that presentation?" Cordelia continued, returning to her seat. Wesley took the chair beside her at the rectangular folding table set up in the center of the room. Eight metal folding chairs were placed around it, four on each side.

"Right. The presentation." Willow set her cases on the table and started to unzip them.

"We don't need to see it," Angel said quickly, causing his coworkers to give him confused looks. He gestured to the redhead. "It's Willow."

"And?" Cordelia prompted.

"What do you mean 'and'?" Angel frowned. "It's Willow."

Willow giggled. "Angel, that's sweet of you. But I'd feel better if you based your decision on the quality of our work, not on favoritism."

Angel gave her a sheepish smile. "Sorry. You're right. Go ahead."

As Angel returned to his seat on the other side of Cordelia, Willow began her speech while she set up her equipment. "Otherworld Technologies was founded in March of 2004. Specializing in occult-related areas, the company has done over a million dollars worth of work in both the personal and professional arenas."

Willow inserted the demonstration CD into the laptop and pulled the correct files up. "Otherword Technologies is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, year round, because computers always decide to cause problems while Santa is trying to set them up at 3:30 in the morning, Christmas Day."

Cordelia and Wesley laughed, and Angel smiled. Willow clicked the mouse icon, and with the remote in her hand she began the Powerpoint slide show.

"The company is divided into three divisions: Hardware, Software, and Web Design. One technician operates each division, and each is one of the best in their field," Willow said. It was the truth: Xander and Spike could run rings around some MIT graduates. And she wasn't that bad, herself. "We build and sell our own personalized PCs, but we can fix any problem a store-bought PC presents, including computer possession, virus-causing hexes, and email or chatroom magickal attacks."

"Do you get many telephone calls in regards to, er, possession?" Wesley asked.

Willow nodded. "All the time. Most of them are panic calls because the computer isn't doing what the person wants it to do, rather than real possession. But we have had a few honest-to-goodness demon-possessed PCs we've had to perform exorcisms on."

"That's neat and all," Cordelia leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table, "but how about telling us some important information, like do you have any cute guys working with you?"

"Cordelia," Angel sighed.

Willow laughed. "Actually, yes, my website designer is right up your alley, Cordelia."

"Really?" Cordelia perked up.

"Uh-huh," Willow nodded, "In fact, I know you two would create fireworks together."

"Well, hook me up!" Cordelia said. "I haven't been on a real date in two yea-- weeks."

"Boy, I don't know, Cordelia," Willow said, hiding her grin. "Xander hasn't been in the dating game at least for four years now..."

"Xander?!"

Angel snorted and covered his lower face with his hand to hide his mirth. Cordelia shot him a glare.

"If I recall correctly, there were many explosive battles between you and Xander," Wesley commented.

"Stuff it," Cordelia told him.

"Uh, so, Xander is your designer?" Angel asked, pulling the conversation back around to the real reason they had congregated.

"Yeah," Willow replied. "And he's really good, too." The redhead returned to her presentation without hesitation. She pointed to the small screen where a web page was displayed. "As you can see here, he's designed sites that are very basic," she advanced the slide, "and he's designed sites that pull out all the stops."

"Xander did that?" Cordelia said, staring at the screen in amazement. She shook her dark head and slumped in her chair. "Someone please make note that this is the worst day of my life."

"Why's that, Cord?" Angel said.

"Because I'm very impressed by something Xander Harris did."

"You should see some of the screen savers he's done," Willow said. She shot Angel a grin. "He's got one where a certain Chosen One chases after vampires with a stake. Only sometimes instead of staking the vampire, they start making out."

"You're not serious," Angel groaned.

"Accompanied by bad seventies porno music," Willow added.

Angel dropped his head in his hands. "Perhaps I'd better rethink this website thing."

"Don't worry, Xander is a professional," Willow told him as she shut off the overhead projector. "He'll design a site specifically tailored to your wants and needs, and that's it."

"How can we be sure?" Cordelia asked. "I mean, we're putting our future money-making in Xander's hands. Do you know how wrong that sounds?" She turned to Angel. "You know, maybe we should try print advertising. Or stick to passing the business cards around."

"Why don't you come over for dinner and ask him yourself?" Willow suggested.

"Dinner?" Angel said, raising his head.

"Yeah," Willow warmed to the idea, "It'll be like a Sunnydale gang reunion."

Angel caught the excited light that shone in her eyes, and he found himself smiling widely at her. "That sounds like a great idea."

"Really?" Willow bounced once on her toes. "That's great! How about tomorrow night, say around seven?"

"I'll be there," Angel replied, meeting her pretty eyes squarely, his smile seeming to widen even more. Her happiness at his accepting her invitation seemed to radiate off her, and it made him want to throw his head back and laugh in joy.

Cordelia cleared her throat loudly. Angel looked at her, then past her to Wesley, who were both giving him expectant looks in return.

"Oh," Angel said. "Did you guys want to come, too?"





Part Four





"Isn't that a chick flick?"

Willow found her two housemates in the kitchen when she returned home after her meeting with Angel. Xander was sitting in his wheelchair at the kitchen table, a folded-over newspaper in his gloved hands. Spike was at the stove, dishing food onto two plates.

"Don't know, but it starts at eight," Xander replied to Spike. He glanced over at the redhead as she walked into the room. "Hey, Wills."

"Guys, you are not going to believe this," Willow began.

"Us not believing something?" Spike said. The blond vampire moved to the table, set one full plate down in front of Xander, and took his own seat. Xander put the paper down and grabbed his fork.

Willow retrieved a plate from a cabinet and dished herself some Chow Mein from the pan on the stove. "This time you won't," she said. "You know that presentation I just got back from? Angel Investigations?"

"Let me guess, they have an angel on staff," Xander said. He glared at Spike as the blond stole a carrot from his plate. "Hey, eat your own!"

"Much tastier if it's yours." Spike waggled his brows and popped the carrot into his mouth. Xander rolled his eyes.

"No... well, yes, they have an Angel on staff," Willow went on, joining her friends at the table. "But this Angel doesn't have wings. He has fangs."

Both men froze with their mouths half-open and their forks half-raised.

"You know, Angel," Willow said, misunderstanding their reactions. "The vampire with a soul. It's his investigation agency."

Spike and Xander exchanged looks, a wealth of information passing between them without a word being said. Xander stuck his fork in his mouth and Spike used his to move the Chow Mein around on his plate.

"So, what's the old sod up to these days?" Spike asked.

"Um, well, Angel is a detective," Willow said around a fork-full of food in her mouth. "A supernatural investigator."

Xander snorted.

"And get this: Cordelia works with him," Willow grinned, "and Wesley Wyndham-Price."

Xander's gaze snapped to Willow. "Cordelia? Chase?"

Willow nodded. "She looks and acts the same, from what I could tell." She frowned. "Although she and Angel seemed really close."

"Well what do you know, Spike, our ex's may be together," Xander said dryly.

"Makes me feel all tingly," Spike deadpanned.

"I could be wrong," Willow said. "They could just be good friends, like us."

"Am I supposed to do a webpage for them?" Xander asked, an evil smile appearing on his lips. Spike snickered, picked up his mug of blood and took a sip.

Willow scowled. "I don't know. If we're hired, I expect you to treat the job like any other. No funny business."

Xander smiled innocently. "Okay, I won't do anything."

Willow didn't believe a word he said. "Xander, I'm serious. I told them that you were a professional and that they'd have a page designed by one of the best."

"Did they believe you?"

"They will after dinner tomorrow night."

"Dinner?" Xander frowned. "I don't get it."

"I invited Angel, Cordelia and Wesley to come over for dinner tomorrow night at 7:00," Willow told him.

Xander's fork clanked on his plate. "You did what?!"

"I in- invited them over," Willow repeated, startled by his outburst.

"Great, Willow. Just super," Xander pushed back from the table, "Only count me out."

"But...," Willow trailed off as Xander wheeled out of the kitchen.

"And who do you think is going to make this dinner, Willow?"

Spike's voice was low and flat, and it also surprised the redhead. "I was, um, hoping you would," she said.

"I only cook for one person -- Xander."

Willow gestured to the plate in front of her. "You cook for me, too."

"No, I don't," Spike stated. "I cook for Xander, you just help yourself to his food."

Willow stared at him in shock. "But--"

The scraping of Spike's chair against the linoleum interrupted her. "Now, because of you, I'm going to have to sit through a soddin' chick flick."

Spike stalked out of the kitchen, leaving a confused redhead at the table. The vampire crossed the front hall, went through Xander's toy-cluttered office, and entered the bedroom.

The bedroom was once the dining room of the Victorian home. Converted after Xander's accident, the large room located between the kitchen and Xander's office and which at one time seated twelve comfortably, was windowless and carpetless. A queen-sized bed with oak-slatted headboard was pushed almost flat against one wall and was, as usual, unmade. A two-drawer oak night-stand was beside the bed and a small trash can sat next to it.

Two doorless closets had been built on either side of the bedroom door. Black clothing filled the closet across from the bed's footboard, and the other was filled with clothes in all the shades of a rainbow. A large black trunk sat on the floor at the end of the bed, padlocked shut.

The entire left side of the room was taken up by a conglomeration of nautilus equipment. Pulley weights and press weights made up one of the exercise machines. Beside it was a motorized exercise bicycle with shoe-locks on the peddles. The final piece of equipment, a stepper, looked like a Stairmaster crossed with a leg press.

Xander had levered himself from his wheelchair onto the padded bench of the nautilus machine and he was angrily doing bench presses. Sweat already coated his brow and stained his t-shirt wet. His biceps bulged with each press of the heavy weight, and he hissed in a sharp exhale with every one.

Spike closed the bedroom door and leaned against it with his arms crossed over his chest. "You shouldn't do that so soon after eating, pet."

"I'm not in the mood, Spike," Xander ground out, pushing up on the handled bar.

"We don't have to stay, you know," Spike said. "The witch can fend for herself."

"If we're not there, she's going to be unhappy," Xander said. "And when Willow's unhappy--"

"--spells get cast and I'm a bloody girl again," Spike finished.

Xander stopped, raised his head and raked his gaze over the blond vampire. A smirk tugged at his lips. "Then again..."

Spike was across the bedroom and straddling Xander in an instant. The vampire's hands covered the brunette's on the weight machine's handles, and he leaned forward and said, "What was that, luv?"

Xander's chocolate eyes twinkled. "You looked damn good in that little black dress, too," he said, then shoved the handles -- and, subsequently, Spike -- upwards.

"Keep it up, Harris," Spike warned.

"But you're heavy," Xander whined, his arms shaking slightly from the exertion. "What have you been eating, elephant's blood?"

"Cute."

Xander let the weights fall with a clang, and Spike was abruptly nose-to-nose with him. The younger man grinned. "I know I am."

Spike snorted in derision, dropped a quick kiss on Xander's lips and climbed off of him. The blond walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge.

Xander sat up, ran a hand through his damp hair, and sighed. "This is gonna suck."

"It's only dinner," Spike said. "They come, we feed them, they go away again."

"So now you're all for this?"

"You know me better than that."

Xander tugged at a thread on his ancient grey sweatpants and watched as the stitching slowly came apart. "I hate pity."

"Then get better clothes," Spike said.

A smile pulled at Xander's mouth. "You sound just like Cordy used to."

"Again with the chit comparison. Are you trying to tell me something?" Spike asked with a lift of his brow.

"Nah, I like your manly parts." Xander shot Spike a mischievous look. "But in that little black dress..."

Spike lobbed a pillow at him. "Bugger off."

"Come over here and I will," Xander said with a flash of a grin, throwing the pillow back.

"Cheeky bastard." Spike caught the pillow and put it back in place.

"Firmest around," Xander slapped his hips, "I've got a Grade A thirty-year old butt. Of course, my best asset--"

Spike groaned.

"--is always hidden because I'm stuck in this frickin' chair," Xander finished, giving the wheelchair sitting beside the exercise machine an hateful look.

"Good. I don't want anyone looking at that delectable arse but me," Spike stated as he rose and moved to the closet.

"Delectable? Was that the word on Sesame Street today?"

Spike took a bright orange shirt off a hanger, made a face at it, then tossed it to Xander. "Shut your gob and go wash up. I want to get to this picture on time for once."

Xander put the shirt over his shoulder, pulled his chair closer to the bench and levered himself into it. Using both hands, he lifted first one leg and then the other so his feet were resting on the footpads. He accepted the pair of khakis that was handed to him and dropped them in his lap.

"Give me five minutes," Xander instructed as he wheeled himself out of the bedroom through the door Spike had opened for him.

"Take ten. You reek."

Xander flipped off the vampire, and the blond's laugh followed him all the way into the hall. The rubber wheels made no sound on the hardwood floor as he pushed himself to the bathroom set under the stairs. He was about to wheel through the door into the remodeled bathroom when he abruptly changed course.

Willow was still sitting at the kitchen table with her back to him and a slump in her posture. "You said seven, right?" Xander said.

Willow turned quickly in her chair, a hopeful expression on her face. "Yeah, but you don't have to come. I should have asked first. I just thought you'd want to see them, too. I'm sor--"

Xander held up his hand, halting her apology. "Don't worry about it. We'll be here."

"Really?" Willow perked up, then immediately slumped again. "Will Spike cook dinner?"

"I think I can persuade him," Xander replied dryly. He shook his head at Willow's small cheer and rolled back to the bathroom.

Once inside the modified-for-Xander bathroom, with the door firmly closed behind him, he stared at himself in the low level mirror. He removed his gloves then his sweaty shirt, and he felt a brief flare of pride at the sight of his muscular torso. His arms were bulky from having to walk using his hands instead of his feet.

It took longer to remove his battered shoes, socks, and sweats. When his eyes caught his reflection again, the pride he'd felt fizzled into abject misery. Despite hours spent on the motorized exercise bike and stepper, his legs looked like twigs. Pale, useless twigs.

Xander turned his eyes away from the mirror in anger and disgust. Boy, he couldn't wait to see Cordelia and Angel again.

Continued