Tainted Returns


by
Kiristeen



13 Fallout

Spike gaped after the rapidly retreating form of Xander Harris. His mind on complete shutdown, he didn't know how long he simply stood there trying to make sense of what had just happened. Kneeling, he absently picked up the key and undid the locks still holding him captive, never taking his eyes off the door through which the boy had disappeared.

He felt the manacles fall away with a sense of relief that was all twisted up with a sense of loss. He knew what it was; he'd been through it once before. He had to admit that he really wasn't looking forward to working through it again; although he was glad the boy hadn't been of the mind to stake him.

For the first time since Angelus had deserted him, Spike had bowed before someone else. It wasn't a feeling he was used to anymore, nor was it particularly comfortable. His own sense of superiority warred with his instinctive needs. His instincts didn't care that he'd submitted to a different Xander than the one who remained. They only cared that he was being abandoned . . . again.

"You knew it was going to end this way, so why are you so bloody surprised by it?" he muttered to himself, lurching to his feet. "It's not like you wanted it. Be bloody grateful the whelp's not in a dusting mood, and just get on with your life." He didn't want to 'belong' to the whelp. He didn't need to belong at all. He was the Big Bad. He might be leashed, but that wouldn't last forever. When, inevitably, the chip no longer held him, he would be free, and that's exactly what he wanted.

When the words of reason he muttered with utter disgust held no power, no dent in the ache that filled his chest, Spike sighed deeply. Closing his eyes, he dropped his head back and fought the tears he in absolutely no way wanted to shed. He was in love with Buffy. He may -- may?! -- have screwed that up for all time, but that didn't change how he felt.

"Bloody fucking hell!" he shouted. Launching himself into action and grabbing up his clothes, he dressed as quickly as he could. Love or no love, he had to find Harris. He had to try to make this right.

Why?

With one shoe on and one shoe in his hand, Spike's movements faltered. "Good bloody question," he replied to the silence around him. Why did he care? He should be happy that Harris was probably miserable, hating what he'd done. Spike smirked briefly before the expression faded. The git was probably having a massive wig and questioning his heretofore-unquestioned heterosexuality. Spike should be ecstatic. He'd created havoc without even trying.

He wasn't, though; he was as bloody miserable as he'd pictured Harris to be. "How do I get myself into these situations?" he asked plaintively. He got the answer he expected -- silence.

The debate continued as he finished dressing, his mind whirling in useless circles. I should just leave town until I get myself through this, he thought shabbily. It was possible, given enough time. He'd already proved that. So what, if Harris had gotten him to do something not even Buffy had.

Sure, he'd let her beat the piss out of him -- not that he could have done much to stop her, even if he'd wanted to. Sure, he'd let her do whatever she wanted, no matter how humiliating it turned out to be. Sure, he'd pretty much turned himself into a pathetic tosser for her, basically prostrating himself on the alter of his love for her, but he'd never, never, gone so far as to submit, saving that last tiny piece of independence, that last little bit of control, for himself.

Why?

"She wouldn't have bloody understood the significance! That's why!" he shouted, angry at the little 'why' voice inside himself. He didn't want to think about it; thinking about it led to big thoughts about the fact that he'd actually considered it in the first place.

It had never really been a conscious thought before, and it was with sudden, startling clarity that he realized; if Buffy would have understood what it meant, he would have. If Buffy had demanded it of him, he would have readily surrendered that last bit of himself.

He was panting. He couldn't stop. Love's bitch is right! he accused himself disdainfully. But could I at LEAST be a bit less pathetic about it?

Xander understood.

Half way to the door he stumbled as that thought flashed through his mind. He couldn't readily move past the thought that the slayer -- the woman he loved -- knew and understood less about vampires than her goofy sidekick.

He groaned as he resumed his stride toward the door. He was so confused, his insides twisting in knots, trying to pull him in two diametrically opposed directions. He wanted to hide, to disappear and lick his wounds until they healed -- both the physical and the emotional. But his thoughts wouldn't leave him be. Too many questions, wants, and desires were tearing him up, begging him to find answers -- answers to entirely new questions.

Did Xander really understand what had happened, what it meant for Spike, or had he merely been reacting to the instincts left behind by his own . . . demon? Spirit? Whatever it was, Spike suddenly had to know. He had to find out what Harris was going to do now. Would he block it all out, act like nothing had happened, nothing had changed? Would he hem and haw, and stutter, trying to work past red-faced embarrassment?

Of course old ones bubbled right along side the new questions. Why had he fallen so hard for someone who was -- if he was being completely truthful -- utterly wrong for him? Someone who couldn't, wouldn't, understand the least thing about him? Why had Harris picked him to pick on? And having done so, why had the git taken it as far as he had?

Flinging the door open, having no clue what he was actually going to do about any of it, Spike yelped and jumped back. The sun hadn't set yet. Trembling, glad the doorway had been shaded at least, he berated himself for having got so caught up in everything that he hadn't even realized it was still day.

Growling lowly, he slammed the door shut, quickly retreating from the deadly rays of the sun. Spinning on one heel, he headed for the basement, and for the sewer entrance he'd be forced to use if he didn't want to wait until sunset.

No, I don't bloody well want to wait! he snapped silently, almost muttering the words aloud. I . Want . Answers!

By the time he'd reached the sewer exit nearest the whelp's apartment, he knew the sun had gone down. Glad he didn't have to wait, Spike scrambled quickly out into the new night. He ignored the buzzing questions his thoughts kept throwing at him. Convinced he would leave town as soon as he had the answers he wanted, Spike strode with single-minded determination toward Xander's apartment.

He'd go in. He'd get the whelp's attention. He'd demand to know what the hell Harris wanted now. Did he want absolute silence? Did he want-- Spike growled at himself as he stopped in front of the whelp's door. His brain was getting bloody repetitive now, and he wished it would just shut the hell up!

Spike raised his hand, but froze mid-motion, a voice sounding from inside the apartment. Had one of the Scoobies come over that quickly? Leaning a little closer to the closed door, he frowned slightly. He couldn't hear anyone but the whelp. Who was he talking to?

"Yeah, I know I worried you. I'm sorry."

Must be one of the Scoobies, then. Who else would be worried about him?

"Yeah, well, it was kind of unavoidable."

Oh, hurry up and get off the phone, Git.

"I said I was sorry, and that it couldn't be helped. What more do you want? Blood? Besides, I did call you. Yesterday morning."

Spike snorted. Was that Xander getting snippy with his friends. It was certainly hard to believe.

"I know. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap --"

Unable to identify the new emotion in Xander's voice, Spike inhaled deeply. He sensed impatience, uneasiness, and kind of nervous. . . . The whelp's lying to one of his friends! Xander wasn't sorry. He was angry still and . . . something else. Spike's eyes widened as he realized Xander didn't want to be talking to his friend -- whichever one it was. That was a very interesting tidbit. Spike had no clue what it could mean, he just knew that it was interesting.

"-- It's . . . been a really long couple of days."

Spike listened as Xander sighed heavily, fighting against the strange urge to comfort the boy.

"I'm fine. Hey, would you do me a favor?" Xander asked with forced brightness.

Spike stiffened, worried about what 'favor' the whelp would ask for at that particular moment, thoughts of help with stakage and other not-so-vampire-friendly favors flitting through his thoughts -- all this despite the fact that Xander hadn't done so earlier, when he'd had the perfect opportunity.

"No, nothing like that," Xander assured quickly the other listener. "I'm fine, really. Just, would you let everyone else know I'm okay? All I want to do is shower and then fall into bed."

Spike breathed a sigh of relief. It almost drowned out the soft footfalls of Xander's increasingly agitated pacing.

"I know I should do it myself," Xander snapped, sounding at the end of his control, his frustration and fear coming through loud and clear to the listening Spike. "Yeah," the boy continued sarcastically, "I should call everyone individually and stand here exhausted while they lay into me like you have."

The pause was long enough this time that Spike leaned closer straining to hear any sounds. The boy wasn't moving around anymore -- either that or he was doing it very quietly. Had he hung up?

"Damn it, Wills! If you aren't willing to do it," Xander snapped angrily, "just say so, and I'll damn well call them tomorrow."

Spike reared back in surprise. He couldn't recall a time he'd heard the boy swear at any of his friends.

"Thank you," Xander breathed softly. "I appreciate it. And tell them, I'll talk to them all - at the same time - tomorrow."

That's going to be fun, Spike thought dryly.

"Scoobie meeting? Yeah, that's as good a time as. N. Nite, Wills."

Spike almost knocked as soon as he heard Xander hang up, but Xander's tense muttering held him in place, listening.

"Damn!" Xander exclaimed, his angry steps echoing as he moved. "Treating me like I'm a child," he continued, muttering half-under his breath.

As Xander moved farther from the door, his voice became harder to hear, and Spike strained to hear the mumbled, angry words.

"Acts like I wouldn't call if I could have." Xander snorted, slamming a door.

The fridge?

"Right, I can see that call now. 'Hey, Wills, sorry to bother you, but I thought I'd let you know. I got drenched in demon blood. What? No, it doesn't hurt, just made me not give a damn about right and wrong. What?" Xander continued, his rant now getting loud.

Spike almost laughed.

"You'll send the slayer right over to 'contain' me. Thanks, Wills, just peachy that idea.' Not!"

Spike snorted at Xander's sarcastic 'Not', then jumped as something hard and big crashed against the door. It shook, making Spike take a second to reconsider confronting Xander right then. Maybe it would be better if--

"FUCK!"

Right, Spike thought, later it is.

He'd only made it a couple steps from the door when he spun back around. Sod that! he thought angrily. Don't give sod all if he's angry. Stomping back, Spike didn't give himself time to think before pounding loudly on the door.

"Who is it?" Xander growled, wrenching the door open without waiting for a response. "Oh," he said flatly, his eyes flashing. "It's you."

Spike almost stepped back at the sudden rage he saw. He steeled himself. He didn't back away from anyone, let alone Xander Harris. "Yeah, it's me, Git."

"What do you want, Spike?" Xander snapped, turning and walking away from the open door. "I'm not in the best of moods right now."

Intent on striding into the room after Xander, Spike bounced off the invisible barrier. He'd forgotten. He didn't have an invite here. Confusion stole through him at the hurt that welled up at that thought. Why the hell should he care? He knew why, deep down. He just wasn't ready to go there. He wasn't here for that, anyway. It didn't matter in the least. He was out of here as soon as he was sure how Xander wanted to play this. It shouldn't take too long to work past the shit Harris had pulled, but if the git was going to be an idiot and spill all to his friends, Spike was planning a very long vacation.

"We need to talk," he said.

"Talk?!" Xander repeated, incredulous, spinning back around to gape at Spike. Then, suddenly he was laughing, gut-wrenching, hysterical laughter. "I'm so mixed up that I don't know whether I'm right side up or upside down. I'm seriously questioning my orientation. I'm angry at everyone. I don't know whether to hide in my room until it all goes away, or whether I should just cram it all down and forget it, and you, the soulless vampire, want to talk."

Spike hid the wince. No one had to know, except himself. "Invite me in."

"No," Xander replied coldly. "Do you have any clue how seriously whacked out I feel right now? I'm--"

"Yes," Spike admitted softly, before he could censor his response. Do I ever! "I do."

Xander froze, his words coming to an abrupt halt. "Just leave, Spike," he said tiredly. "I can't deal with this right now."

Guess that answers THOSE questions. The git had absolutely no clue what he'd done. "Fine," Spike snapped, "I'll leave after you answer one simple question. Are you telling the others about what happened? Any part of it?"

"Are you out of your ever-living mind?!"

"I'll take that as a no," Spike replied, grinning slightly, unable to stop the disappointment from seeping through him. "See you around, Harris." He shouldn't be disappointed. He should be glad. It wasn't supposed to hurt, like it had with Buffy. He was bloody in love with Buffy. It had hurt that she was ashamed of what they'd shared. The git telling his friends, on the other hand, should be the last thing he wanted. It would just lead to all sorts of trouble they could both do without. He turned to leave, but a tired sigh stopped him.

"Come in, Spike."

He turned slowly, feeling like the world was suddenly moving in slow motion. He took two steps forward, wondering what had made Xander change his mind. The barrier no longer present, Spike slipped inside the room. It felt like coming home. With a frown, he ruthlessly stomped the feeling down





14 Recovering

They stared at each other for several long moments before they both shifted uncomfortably.

"You realize don't you, that I still really hate you," Xander offered finally, his tone a mixture of exasperation and amusement.

"Ditto," Spike replied immediately striding past Xander further into the room.

Xander sighed heavily. Moving just far enough, he dropped down onto the couch and threw an arm over his eyes. "I really screwed things up this time, Spike. I know that."

"Well, I. . . ." Spike's words trailed off as he shifted uncomfortably. He was unsure what to say; he hadn't exactly had much practice at the comforting shit. He'd even botched trying to comfort Buffy the day he'd gone to use the shotgun on her.

Xander went on after a couple moments of silence, as if he hadn't heard Spike's aborted words. "You want to hear something hilarious?"

"Sure," Spike replied uncertainly, stepping closer. "I could do with a spot of funny."

"He thought that if he-- I thought that if I didn't do anything too bad, everything would be fine."

"Not really seeing the funny, H-- Xander," Spike frowned, not understanding what the boy was getting at.

Xander lifted his arm slightly, peering out from under it. "Don't you get it? He, I, had no fucking clue about what would happen after. He was completely clueless, utterly without clue."

Spike sighed, dropping into the chair directly across from Xander. This was going to be a long night. "That's the thing about having no . . . moral compass; things like consequences have no meaning. Guilt, regret, they have no definition. They simply don't exist."

"So, you're telling me you don't regret what happened?" Xander asked at the same moment Spike continued.

"Until you're hit over the head with 'em."

"Oh."

Spike shrugged, leaning back. "Regret, is a strong word, Xander. I. . . ." Spike hesitated before continuing, suddenly pulling himself back upright. He was afraid this would just reopen another can of worms, ". . . .regret what I did to Buffy."

Xander made a sound, one that Spike couldn't fully identify -- either disgust or sarcastic agreement. Either way, at least the boy wasn't automatically laying into him about it. It helped him control the impulse to make a dash for the door -- and freedom -- getting himself free of this uncomfortable topic.

"But honestly," Just stake me now before I give Harris the reason he needs on a platter! "the reason I regret it, is because it didn't work, and I'm left with the very unpleasant results."

Xander jolted up, glaring at him. "Continue," he said softly.

Spike sighed. Yep, should have kept my gob shut. "One: I hurt her, which despite what you may believe, was not my intent. I was angry and lashing out, feeling like I had to prove something to her." Spike ignored the tense look on Xander's face, not really believing he was saying this, and continued on doggedly. He had a point to make here and it was too late to back out now. "Two: she, of course, hates me now. Understandable though that may be; it wasn't what I wanted. The problem is, it never even occurred to me that I might make the situation worse. I just knew, at the time, that I had to do something."

When Spike finished, Xander didn't say anything, just stared at him.

Spike rolled his eyes finally. "Unpleasant as the subject matter was, do you get my point?"

"Yeah," Xander said slowly, drawing the word out, obviously gathering his thoughts. "The hyena part is like that. Tomorrow, or even twenty minutes from now, doesn't exist for that part of me. The hyena lives in the now, and only the now."

"Yes! That's it exactly. Makes it kind of difficult to plan things, when every instinct is screaming at you to just do it."

"Yeah, I get that now."

"Do you really?" Spike asked intently, wondering if that were truly possible.

Xander nodded absently, his eyes unfocused and seeing inward. "Only one problem."

"What's that?"

"That doesn't help me figure this out. I can't just bury all this anymore. For one thing," Xander paused, shaking his head in disbelief, "I find I don't really want to."

"You don't?" Spike asked in shock. He really hadn't expected that. Hysterical Xander he'd expected -- and gotten -- but he'd also figured on huge amounts of denial, which didn't seem to be happening. It left Spike at something of a loss.

"No. I learned something over the last couple of days." Xander paused. "Well, not while they were speeding by me at light speed, but now, thinking back on them, I learned it. The thing I learned."

"Xander?" Spike interrupted, amused.

"Yes?"

"You're babbling like Red."

"Sorry," Xander replied, grinning ruefully. "The point is, I learned that you can't be happy, living your life just to make others happy -- not really."

"Point. But how can the two . . . sides be reconciled?"

"Three actually, if you want to get technical, but really only one. It's me. It's all me."

"What?" Spike asked faintly.

Xander blew out an explosive breath, jumping off the couch and pacing impatiently. "Didn't you listen to anything I said?"

"Yeah, pet, I did. Just that all of it didn't make a lot of sense. Well, it probably did -- make sense I mean," Spike frowned, glaring at Xander. "Now you've got me doing it!" He shook his head, staring down at his restless hands. For one of the first times in his life, he had no clue what to do with them. He jumped up, pacing for only a few feet before he stopped, realizing how . . . nervous it made him look. He just wished he could smoke; the problem was he didn't have any. He sighed again, reluctantly continuing. "But, to be truthful, I was kinda caught up in my own troubles at the time."

Xander stopped his pacing long enough to blink at Spike in surprise, then he ducked his head, blushing. "Yeah, I imagine you were. Sorry."

"No worries," Spike replied immediately, brushing aside Xander's apology, wondering where the hell this was going. This was certainly not the conversation he'd imagined on his way over. Part of him didn't really care, however; part of him simply reveled in the confidences being given him by this man. The sane part of him was screaming, asking what the hell he was doing, and telling him that this was going to hurt when all was said and done. When Xander got back with his friends, he would revert to type, Spike was pretty damn sure of that. Then, once again, Spike would be left out in the cold.

Right now, however; he couldn't bring himself to care. He was tired of trying to always be careful today for fear of what tomorrow may bring. Like he'd told Xander, he simply wasn't put together that way. He'd spent the better part of a year trying to rewire how he thought -- no puns intended, thank you! -- and look where it had got him. Nowhere, that's where. "How about you remind me," Spike said softly.

For several long moments Xander stared quietly and Spike began to think the boy wasn't going to answer. Then Xander began to speak, so softly at first that Spike had to listen carefully, then louder as his confidence grew.

"There was nothing 'left behind'," he said, miming air quotes, "when the hyena was banished -- or whatever word is right for that. The memories of how the hyena acted -- and made me feel -- got mixed up with the darker part of myself." Sighing softly, Xander resumed his seat on the couch.

"There was nothing to be left behind when the Halloween Spell ended -- just memories. Like I told Cordelia, back when you and Dru were getting all cozy with 'The Judge', I remember it all. Even now, I could quote you military procedure."

"Please don't," Spike quipped, making himself sit back down when all he wanted to do was, well, anything but sit still.

Xander chuckled, casting a knowing look at Spike. "I know stuff about ordinance and access codes, that boggles my mind really. I never understood bureaucracy until that Halloween. Strike that, I still don't understand bureaucracy, but I could use it to my advantage, thanks to the soldier memories."

Spike listened quietly, a lot of what Xander was saying was a repeat of what he remembered from before, but this was more, and it was giving him an incredible insight into the mind of Xander Harris. Of course, before today, he'd have looked on that thought with horror.

"Anyway, the soldier stuff wasn't that bad. I mean it gave me skills, skills I'd never had before -- and I have to say they've come in handy more than once. It was the hyena stuff that got me. The memories of how the hyena acted -- and made me feel -- got mixed up with the stuff I already liked, or thought maybe I might like. Only in my deepest, darkest, most private thoughts."

Xander stopped and shook his head. "I was a teenager at the time, that kind of stuff was "sick" and "perverted". I buried it all so fast, it was almost like it hadn't happened. Everyone else was glad to believe it, and truth is, so was I. I wasn't anywhere near ready to deal with that. I was still trying to figure out the . . . normal stuff." Xander paused and cocked his head. "You know what I mean?"

Spike nodded. "I remember. Don't forget, you're looking at a bloke who grew up in good old Victorian England -- the inventors of repression." It may have happened a long time ago, and he may not much like to think about it, but he did remember.

"Yeah, never thought about that," Xander laughed and shook his head.

Spike almost missed the change in expression when Xander leapt up off the couch and headed for the kitchen.

"You want a beer?" he asked.

Not one to pass up free beer, no matter who was offering, Spike grinned. "I could do with one," he replied. Hell, he could do with a good bottle of Jack right about now, but he didn't want to break up the bizarre atmosphere they had going here. This was the first civil conversation he and Xander had ever had, and it felt surprisingly good.

Xander silently came back into the room and handed him an opened beer. Without saying a word, he crossed to the picture window and stared out into the night.

Usually, Spike was comfortable with silence; too much talking made him jumpy, but as the silence wore on, he had the sudden urge to break it. Xander beat him to it by a breath.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" Xander asked quietly, not turning around.

Spike eyed the way the boy was standing; tense, one arm hugged across his chest as he nursed the beer he was holding. Must be a doozy of a question, he thought warily. "Go for it," he said, wondering whether he was going to want to answer.

"Do you hate what happened?" Xander asked, his voice almost inaudible. He didn't move. He just stood there, staring out the window.

Ok-ay, didn't expect that one this century. Did he hate it? No. Was completely okay with it? Again, no. And what the hell was the boy doing asking him this shit? Why did he need to know? This was just a chit chat to make sure no one was going to stake anyone, and then he was taking off for parts unknown.

Right! So why does the thought of answering the question wrong bother you?

Shut up!

He must have been silent just a little too long, because Xander turned, nervously fingering his beer bottle.

Spike sighed. What was it with him and wounded puppies? "No, I didn't."

"No?"

Spike snorted and shook his head. "You repeat any of this, and I deny it," he warned, glaring at Xander for good measure. "But I . . . enjoyed most of it."

"Most of it?"

Spike rolled his eyes. Hell! This is getting to be home confession week! "Could have done without the uncertainty factor," he admitted, conveniently taking a swig of his beer to break eye contact, without looking like he was breaking eye contact.

"Uncertainty?"

"What are you? A bleedin' Parrot?" Spike asked angrily. He didn't want to answer the questions. Hell, he didn't even want them to have been asked in the first place. All this made him feel too much like when he'd been mortal -- all uncertain and . . . afraid.

Xander shrugged sheepishly. "Sorry. What--"

"How about I ask you a few questions?" Spike hurriedly asked, interrupting Xander. It was time he re-took control of this situation, preferably before it spiralled completely out of control.

"Oh, um, okay."

"Did you hate it?" Spike asked, controlling his smirk by the thinnest of margins. There! That ought to send the boy running for cover, and pulling the denial blanket in with him!

Spike's mouth almost fell open at the rush of lust that waved off Xander. Okay! Didn't expect that. He took one step forward, drawn by the tempting scent.

Xander gulped, and Spike could see the boy's trembling. "N-no," he said, and hastily ducked his head.

And I didn't expect that, either. Spike moved back, suddenly feeling very unsure of himself again. Everything he did today seemed to back-fire on him. It was an unsettling feeling and he didn't like it one bit. What the hell is going on here? He glared at Xander, wanting to rant and rage, and demand to know exactly what Xander thought he was playing at.

How could the boy not hate what happened? He was one of the good guys. He hated demons -- vampires in particular. Spike fully admitted the boy had good reason, but still.

Xander took in a deep breath, letting it out in a huff, and Spike snapped his head back in the boy's direction.

"Okay, Spike. I'm going to go out on a limb here."

What? No, you're not supposed to do that! You're supposed to kick my arse out of here, ranting that you never want to see me again. I disappear, and we all forget it ever happened!

And now who's the one running for cover and grabbing for that nice comfy denial blanket?

Sod off!

"Look, Xander. No need for that. Thanks for the beer. Got things to do, you know. See you 'round," Spike said quickly, setting the empty bottle down and heading for the door.

"Spike! Wait," Xander said. "Please."

Groaning, Spike stopped, his hand on the door. He refused to turn around, though. "What?" he asked in a near whisper. He didn't want to hear what Xander wanted from him. He wanted to walk out the door and never look back. He wanted-- He wanted to not feel what he was feeling -- not care about what Xander thought and felt -- not care about whether, or hope that, Xander might care about what he thought and felt.

"I want-- I would like it, if we could see where this might head."

Don't do this to me, Harris!

"I-if you would too."

Spike's head dropped back and he closed his eyes, letting his hand fall from the door handle. That was Harris saying that! Without turning around he straightened almost immediately. "Do you get some kind of perverse kick out of blasting away every preconceived notion I have about you?"

Xander laughed. It was a delighted, child-like laugh and it had Spike turning around before he realized he was doing it. Mischief danced in Xander's eyes, and curled the corners of his mouth upward. It made him look years younger, wiping away the worry lines that were almost a constant presence on the boy's face anymore.

Spike couldn't help it; he responded with a slight smile of his own. The boy's sudden good humor was infectious. Should be quarantined! Of course, since he was already infected, he'd have to be quarantined as well. Images of what they could do to pass the time during their mutual confinement flashed through his mind, and he shifted, his jeans uncomfortably tight as he rose to the occasion.

Xander's eyes widened, his nostrils flaring, and he stalked forward, all traces of child-like gone, replaced almost instantly with predatory grace.

Okay, Mr. Split Personality, who said you could suddenly alter the script? Spike thought, startled, taking a step back only to find the door right behind him.

"Hey!" he complained. "I don't bloody recall saying yes, Harris."

Xander grinned, his gaze flicking down, then right back up. "Maybe not, but your body did. Smells great!"

Spike glared. That was not fair! Harris wasn't supposed to be able to smell him like he could-- Oh! He swallowed, now that he was paying attention, the lust rolling off Xander was incredibly inviting. "I'm not a slave to my body's responses," he snapped.

Liar!

"Unlike certain hormonal teenage boys I know," Spike taunted, going on the defensive the only way he still could -- by lashing out.

"Oh, really?" Xander asked, pressing up against Spike, aligning the entire length of their bodies perfectly. "Then why aren't you pushing me away?" he whispered, leaning in and lightly raking his teeth across Spike's earlobe.

Spike shivered, his eyes drifting shut. Not fair! Part of him wanted this so badly he couldn't think straight. Of course, an equal part was still screaming. "Don't feel like it just yet," he replied, stubbornly refusing to listen to the nay sayer he'd developed over the last year. Smirking, he shifting subtly against Xander. To hell with tomorrow!

"So, I can take that as a yes?" Xander whispered, dropping his head and nibbling down the side of Spike's neck.

"Take it any way you bloody well want!" Spike exclaimed. "Just get on with it." Arching forward, suddenly tired with waiting for the sodding human to move it along, Spike pushed Xander far enough away to capture the boy's mouth with his.

Xander moaned, parting his lips and meeting Spike's probing tongue with equal enthusiasm. Spike groaned, feeling himself melt against the warmth pressed against him. Xander tasted even better than he remembered.

"Hey, Spike?"

"What?" Spike mumbled irritably, immediately trying to resume their kiss.

"That 'hormonal teenager' crack doesn't hold water."

Spike blinked, pulling back in surprise. "What?!" The sodding git wanted to talk about wise cracks when they had their tongues down each other's throats?

"The crack you made, about me being ruled by my hormones, because of my age."

"What about it?" Spike demanded, finally giving in and leaning back against the door.

"Like I said," Xander continued, grinning widely. "It doesn't hold water."

Spike rolled his eyes. "You already said that. What . About . It?"

"I'm older than you."

"In what sodding universe?" Spike asked incredulously.

"This one."

"Okay," Spike said cautiously, "please tell me how twenty is older than one hundred and twenty? Rounded."

Xander's grin just widened as he spoke. "How old were you when you were turned?"

"Nine--teen." He snorted, then chortled, then broke down and actually laughed. "Only you," he said after a moment.





15 Sorting it Out

The laughter died slowly. As it did, Xander was surprised to see the wary expectation return to Spike, his body tensing subtly. He doubted he'd have seen it before, but now it was as obvious to Xander as Willow's blushes. He watched Spike in confusion, wondering what had caused the returning wariness.

"What are we doing here, Spike?" Xander asked, shaking his head.

"Thought that would have been bloody obvious," Spike retorted, tensing further.

Xander rolled his eyes. "Not that! I know what that was. I meant-- Damn it! What about Buffy?"

Spike's eyes narrowed. "What about her?" he asked cautiously, his voice taking on a hint of danger.

Xander wasn't sure he wanted to continue, but it was either that, or back off completely. He wasn't ready to do that. He'd already decided what he wanted--

When did you do that?

--he wasn't going to second guess himself -- no matter how much he kept trying to -- and he was just going to go with what felt right. It was confusing. It was scary. But he was doing it anyway.

"I " he said slowly, "I thought you were in love with her."

"I am," Spike replied simply, not elaborating at all.

Xander blew out a frustrated breath, and wondered whether Spike was being purposely obtuse. He rolled his eyes at himself. Of course he is! He's Spike! Fine, he knew how to play.

"Doesn't seem like it to me."

"You," Spike replied, his tone low, vibrating menacing, "don't know squat."

"Then why are you here, Spike?" Xander countered. "You say you love Buffy, but you're here with me . . . letting me kiss you, seduce you." Xander stepped back toward Spike, invading the vampire's personal space. "Why?"

To a casual glance Spike was closed off, unaffected, angry even. To Xander's heightened senses, there was far more than met the eye. Spike's tense body, his narrowed eyes, his tightly controlled tone were more than just arrogant anger.

"You started this, Git!" Spike retorted.

"Oh, that answers a whole lot," Xander snorted. "Not!"

Spike's eyes closed, frustration rolling off of the vampire. They didn't stay closed long, though, and he pushed himself away from the door with an angry shove, moving them even closer together. "Sod this, Harris! I don't need this crap from you," he snapped, his eyes flashing with flecks of gold. "You can just crawl back to your scoobie friends and make nice with the kiddies. I'm out of here!" Spinning away, Spike wrenched open the door.

Raw anger suddenly rolling through him, Xander grabbed Spike's arm, yanking the vampire back from the doorway. Shoving a startled Spike against the door jamb, Xander himself was surprised to feel a quickly suppressed shiver run through the vampire. It was almost enough to make him let go.

"Let go, Harris!" Spike hissed angrily.

It was then that everything fell into place -- though it did absolutely nothing to clear up Xander's confusion. Spike was afraid. He imagined that was so not sitting well with Spike. He relaxed his hold; though he did not release Spike.

"What are you afraid of?" he asked quietly.

Spike shook him off, glaring. "I'm not afraid of sod all!" he denied hotly.

Xander just stood still, silently watching, his gaze calmly locked with Spike's glare. It wasn't often he could keep his mouth shut, but somehow he knew doing so now would yield more results than spouting off -- or pushing.

Spike looked away, shoving his hands in his jeans pockets. "You have absolutely no clue what you've done, do you?"

"Tell me," Xander replied softly, his mind swiftly reviewing the last few days He couldn't find anything that would make Spike react this way. He almost laughed. He could think of a lot of things that would piss the vampire off. . . . But make him scared? "Explain to me what I've done."

"I'm not explaining anything! You want to know so badly, do some more of that research you were so proud of the other day and bloody well figure it out yourself!"

Xander started to reply, but found himself at a loss for words, floored by the angry defeat he'd heard in Spike's voice.

What the hell?

Before he could find his voice again, he had no one to answer. Spike was already half way out of the apartment building. Shaking his head, Xander thought about following. He was pretty sure he could trail Spike, whether or not he could actually keep up.

No, he decided. Spike was obviously very . . . upset, or maybe unsettled with whatever it was that was bothering him that it wouldn't do any good. Maybe he should take Spike's advice and do some more digging. The though of voluntarily opening those books of Giles', though, reminded him all too well of studying. Well, of trying to study, back when he was in school.

Besides, he rationalized, would the watcher's books be accurate? Where had they gotten their information? Watching? Xander really didn't see the watchers actually questioning vampires to get it. He laughed. Even if they had, he seriously doubted their research . . . subject would have told the truth. That left him back at square one.

His frown deepening, Xander absently shut the door and wandered back to his couch. Maybe he could figure it out himself. Mind racing, Xander worried his lower lip between his teeth as he thought. He tried putting himself in Spike's position, shivering in distaste as he did so. The parts of him made up of the hyena and soldier memories really hated the idea. To be so . . . dominated went against the grain.

Was that it?

He shook his head. No, he didn't really think so. Spike had said he hadn't 'minded' what had happened.
Could have done without the uncertainty factor.

"What uncertainty?" Xander asked again, this time to the empty apartment, suddenly realizing he'd never managed to ask Spike what he'd meant by that, the vampire having gone on the offensive when he'd tried. A faint glimmer of an idea began to form, but it was elusive, darting just outside his conscious control, and he couldn't quite pin it down.

He grinned then, a new source of information hitting him like a brick wall. Who better to tell him exactly what Spike's problem was. Laughing, knowing damn well this call was going to be received with shock, Xander leapt to his feet and started punching in numbers. He was going to enjoy this call.

"Angel investigations. We help the helpless."

"Cordelia?" Xander asked, surprised. Though why he should have been, he didn't know. Willow had told them about Cordelia working with Angel, about her getting visions now. He so did not envy her the headaches Willow had told him went hand in hand with them.

"Xander!?"

"Yeah, it's me. Can I talk--"

"Is everyone okay up there?" Cordelia demanded. "Cuz, if Angel has to go up there, I need to prepare myself. He always gets so broody after."

"Everyone's fine, Cordy," Xander assured with a chuckle. "I just need to--"

"You're sure, Xander? I mean, you didn't just call to chat did you? Because I've got to say this is a--"

"Cordy!" Xander shouted, interrupting his ex-girlfriend's rant. He rolled his eyes, feeling an amused nostalgia. Some things never changed it seemed"I just need to talk to Deadboy. He in?"

Silence reigned from the other end of the line.

"Cordy?" he asked, wondering if they'd somehow been disconnected.

" You want to talk to Angel," she said flatly.

He laughed. "Yes," he said drily. "I want to talk to Angel." He paused. "Okay, maybe saying 'want' is a little strong, but I'm gonna enjoy shocking the shit out of him."

Cordelia laughed. "Now that's the Xander I remember," she said. "I take it I shouldn't tell him who's calling?"

"Oh, go ahead. It won't hurt the shock value one bit."

"It won't?" Cordelia asked suspiciously. "Just what are you up to, Alexander Harris?"

"Me?" he asked. "Up to something?"

"Yes, you! Now spill."

"Can't rightly say right now, Cordy." He heard the swiftly indrawn breath from Cordelia and hurriedly continued. "I promise, after this is over, I'll come up there and 'dish all the dirt'. You'll feel you've hit gossip central."

Xander didn't know why, but it was easy to talk to Cordelia, where he'd just wanted off the phone with Willow. It didn't make a lot of sense to him. Shouldn't it have been the other way around? He shrugged it off; he would figure it out sooner or later. He almost laughed again, though. He could almost hear Cordelia squirming, trying to decide whether or not she could worm anything out of him now.

"Okay," she said finally, "but if you don't keep your end of the deal, you'll find me in Sunnydale and in your face." She paused. "And it won't be in a good way."

"Okay," he laughed, smirking as he added fuel to the fire of her curiosity. "Now make sure you can see Angel's face while I talk to him, so you can tell me about it later."

Cordelia growled at him and his eyes widened a fraction. She's been hanging around Deadboy too long, he thought as the hollow sound of a hand over the receiver sounded through the line. He wasn't sure, but he thought he heard her calling out to Angel.

Good, he thought, suddenly anxious to hear what Angel might have to say.

"Xander?" Angel asked tentatively, sounding as though he hadn't believed Cordelia.

"Yeah, listen. I need some information from you."

"Is B--everyone okay?"

Xander sighed, rolling his eyes. "Yes, everyone is just fine. Well, except Spike."

"Spike!?" Angel asked in shock.

Cordelia's gasp in the background was loud enough that Xander heard it.

He grinned, knowing that after hearing just that much, his ex-girlfriend would be dying of curiosity.

"Why would you care about Spike?" Angel continued suspiciously.

Xander frowned, pulling the phone away from his ear to stare disbelievingly at it.

"You are his Sire, right?" he asked after he pulled it back.

"Not that I see what difference it makes," Angel replied in irritation, "but yes."

"Then you should understand."

For several long moments, silence once again roared loudly through the phone line. "If Spike's being a pain, why doesn't Buffy just stake him and get it over with?"

Xander felt instant rage fill him to overflowing. "I can not believe you said that! Buffy would *never*. Well, she's threatened to a couple times, but I think it's more habit than anything."

"I coming up there."

"What?!" Xander asked, his rage turning immediately to panic. "Why? You obviously don't give a shit about him."

"Him?!" Angel asked incredulously, "I'm more worried about all of you! What's he done to make you all so vulnerable to him?"

Xander's thoughts froze. They'd told him. Sure they had. Angel had to know. He frowned. "Oh, my God!" he breathed. "You don't know."

"Don't know what, Xander??

Taking a deep breath, Xander rapidly filled Angel in on the initiative and what they'd done to Spike. All the while he wondered how the hell Angel could not know about it already. He'd been in Sunnydale since Spike had been chipped. He'd even met Riley. Hadn't the two of them met since then? Wait. Spike had been tied to a chair when Angel had come to help that one Thanksgiving.

Didn't he even ask why?

By the time Xander finished his explanation, held his breath, hearing Angel growling lowly through the phone.

"Is this why you're calling me?" he asked lowly. "You need help getting rid of them? How is Spike taking it?"

"No. That happened a long time ago, Angel. He was in a bad way to start with, but he's pretty much dealing now. And we already took care of the initiative."

Angel blew out a frustrated breath. "Then what is the problem?" he asked, confused.

Xander grinned, this was getting fun again. "I needed some information about vampires -- from someone who might actually know, and would tell me the truth."

"And you think that someone is me?" Angel asked. "Obviously I know about vampires, but what makes you think I'll tell you the truth about anything?"

Xander laughed. "Because you don't care what I think about you. You won't worry about sugar-coating the honest truth just so I won't think less of you."

"Good point," Angel admitted wryly. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to to just open up to you either -- for the same reason."

"True," Xander acknowledged. "Look. You don't like me, and I don't like you. We both know this. But this is important Angel. You can believe I would so not be asking if it wasn't."

Angel sighed deeply, and Xander instantly knew the vampire had given in. "Okay, Xander. What do you need to know?"

"Vampires have a . . . pecking order, don't they?"

"Yes," Angel replied slowly.

"Where would you say Spike rates in that order?"

"Pretty high," Angel replied immediately, then hmmm'd in uncertainty. "Before the chip, anyway. Now, I don't know."

"How do vampires assert their . . . dominance?"

"Why?"

Xander grit his teeth, clenching his jaw tightly. "Just answer the damn question Angel. I need to know. If it'll help, it never gets repeated."

Several moments passed and Xander began to wonder if Angel had completely closed off, or like spaced, or something. To his relief the vampire began speaking, his voice a near whisper. He could just imagine Cordelia leaning closer trying to hear what her boss was saying.

"That depends a great deal, Xander."

"On?"

Angel sighed again, this time his reluctance coming through loud and clear. "On why exactly the dominance is being asserted."

Xander felt like he was trying to pull teeth! He was about to snap when Angel continued.

"If it's a case of two random vampires meeting and a challenge is issued, they fight. Of course, the loser usually ends up dead -- unless the winner has a use for him."

"Go on," Xander urged.

"If it's the case of a master vampire wanting to take over a territory, he goes in, picks the current master and kills him. Usually everyone falls into line after that, but he may have to fight a few others, loyal childer, an especially stupid minion or two."

"Go on," Xander said again, when Angel fell silent.

"Xander, what the hell is going on up there, if that doesn't cover what you need to know?"




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