Part Thirty-Six

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Xander said as the ghosts around Dean revealed his thoughts. He was definitely thinking about ways to get his legs around Xander's neck and then strangle him to death.

"Right. So you're mind-reading guy now."

"Mind reading is actually the first power that showed up, although I thought I was seeing freaky ghosts. And actually, I still do kind of see ghosts."

"Kind of ghosts?" Dean rolled and sat up.

"Are we playing nice now?"

He shrugged. "It's better than being bored."

Xander doubted that. He was pretty sure that Dean was still trying to come up with ways to kill him.

"So, how do you see a 'kind of' ghost?"

For a few seconds, Xander mentally debated the wisdom of talking to Dean. He’d read the books, so he knew that talking generally came right before the monster of the week ended up dying. Since he was now a monster, that worried Xander a bit. Dean raised his eyebrows, though, and Xander felt like an idiot for just sitting there, so he said, "Spike said that some objects are so important to a person that they end up leaving an impression of themselves that sort of clings to the object itself."

"Like a curse," Dean said. Benny growled from his corner.

"Knock it off,” Xander ordered before he turned back to Dean. The man went perfectly still. Yeah, he was trying something. Hopefully Spike got back before Dean got loose or Xander was going to have to fight him again, and that hadn’t gone all that well last time. Xander really didn’t want to accidently break the man. “Most of the time, it's more like a good luck charm."

"Ghost are never good luck. Trust me."

"Boy don't I know. Who knew that a healthy teenage desire for sex could get so ugly so fast?" Xander really didn’t like the thought of Buffy and Riley sex, but the thought of ghosts making them boff over and over was really awkward. "But it isn't really a ghost, more like the object develops a memory of the person who loved it."

Dean studied him. "So you see good luck charms that don’t have any power? Well that's a worthless gift." Dean seemed pleased by that… either that or he was really enjoying insulting Xander, not that Xander took offense.

"Slightly," Xander agreed, "but then I have the regular mind reading and healing and now apparently I can do the whole blast wave."

"I noticed.” Dean looked over toward the corner. “Benny noticed more."

Xander’s guilt made a reappearance. "Spike's going to get him blood. Honest. Do your vamps die if they get hungry enough?"

"They're already dead, genius."

"Fine. Do they get deader, dust, turn to bones... Whatever your vamps do, can they do if from hunger?" Xander held his breath as he waited for the answer.

A flicker of doubt crossed Dean's face and he squirmed around until he could sit up with the headboard at his back. "I don't know."

"You don't... But… Really?"

The doubt vanished under liberal amounts of eye rolling. "Until recently, I wasn't all that interested in the feeding habits of vampires except where affected my ability to kill them quickly. Starvation isn't quick."

"That's true. Someone tried to starve Angel, and months later, he was still alive. Crazy, but alive. But you seriously don’t know if Benny can die from lack of blood?”

“Why would I?”

“Because he’s your friend?”

Xander watched emotions flicker across Dean’s face. He really hadn’t meant to pry, but the ghosts rose up, and Xander could see Dean turning to Benny over and over—covering his back when they were in purgatory—trusting Benny to have his back. He watched as Benny and some other guy who wasn’t human sniped at each other, and Dean stepped between them. Xander could tell just from the way they moved closer together that the emotions had run deep, but Dean didn’t even know the first thing about what Benny needed.

True, Xander hadn’t know how much blood Spike needed, and right after he was chipped there was some small miscalculation that led to accidental torture by starvation, but Xander hadn’t been Spike’s friend then, and Giles had been even less friendlike than Xander. Dean was supposed to be Benny friend.

“He can’t help being a vampire,” Xander pointed out softly.

That earned him the grand-daddy of all dirty looks. “I had noticed. The fangs are a dead giveaway.”

Xander opened his mouth to say something nasty—as soon as he could think of it—but he stopped himself. He didn’t want to fight with Dean. Okay, he did, but it probably wasn’t a good idea, even if Xander was starting to get a little frustrated with the man. Dean scooted around like he was trying to get settled, but Xander had pulled that move way too often to be fooled. He was working a hand free. Xander probably should have tied Dean tighter, only he didn’t want to hurt him. Xander was becoming more and more aware of how fragile humans were. When Buffy had fallen for Spike, Xander had been more than a little disturbed, but now he was starting to get it.

The idea of having sex with a human felt a little like trying to have sex with glass—they were too breakable. Maybe that’s how Buffy had felt—like humans were breakable and she needed someone like Spike who wouldn’t shatter into pieces.

The hotel door came open so fast that Xander nearly fell on his ass as he scrambled off the chair. Spike stood in the doorway giving him a strange look.

“Hey, you’re back. And not alone.” Xander looked at Elizabeth who was carrying a cooler.

Elizabeth shoved the cooler at him and tried to go straight for Benny. Spike caught her arm, stopping her before she turned into a vamp meal. “Keep clear of him,” he ordered and Benny pushed himself up to his feet and snarled with all his fangs showing. That was a little creepy.

Elizabeth sucked in a quick breath, but she wasn’t running for the hills. “What happened to him?”

“Hunger,” Spike said without much sympathy. He gave her a small shove back toward the wall, and she glared at him. Yeah, she was made of the same stuff Joyce had been because her first reaction was to glare at him. Luckily Spike was immune. Xander, on the other hand, felt worse than ever. Elizabeth’s obvious horror made him feel about two inches tall.

“That’s hunger?” she demanded, and it was pretty clear she suspected they’d tortured Benny.

Spike pulled a bag of blood out of the cooler and ripped off the end before pouring the thick blood out into a plastic glass. “When you’re a vampire and you’re hungry enough, that’s what it looks like,” Spike explained. He went into gameface and growled at Benny before stepping closer. It was like watching pit bulls circling each other, but eventually Benny dropped his gaze. The fact he was chained up probably made it a little easier for him to admit he was not winning any fight with another vampire.

“I got vamped for a while. It was hard to not… you know…” Dean made a face.

“Eat people?” Xander supplied.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that. But I was never that bad. Even when I’d never had a drop of blood and I was starving, it wasn’t that hard to keep control.” Dean watched, wrinkling his nose as Spike finally got close enough to tilt the glass up for Benny to drink. He slurped at the blood noisily.

“You never had a big lummox knock you arse over teakettle,” Spike said, his voice artificially calm.

“What?” Elizabeth turned her glare on Xander and Dean, moving her focus from one to the other as she tried to figure out which lummox had knocked him out.

Xander confessed, “I hit them with some sort of blast by accident because they were fighting, and I was not okay with them killing each other. And I already apologized.”

Dean snorted. “You dented my car, so keep apologizing until I tell you to stop.”

“I’m more interested in Benny than your car.” Elizabeth’s dry tone made Dean start to blush. Xander felt for him, because moments of unintentional dorkitude were pretty damn embarrassing. However, he wasn’t about to attract Elizabeth’s attention.

“Why do you have Dean tied up?” And that was Elizabeth’s attention turning to Xander in all its motherly, pissy glory.

“Good question. I’ve been asking that myself,” Dean said smugly.

Spike backed away from Benny and grabbed another bag of blood to refill the empty glass. “Mostly because he’s a prat,” Spike offered. “Bloody hell, all we do is offer to help find some backup, and he acts like we’re public enemy number one.”

“Which you might be,” Dean said. “You’re bad guys.”

“I thought you were the one who’d been a vampire once,” Spike pointed out. “I know you’ve been to hell, and you seem to be chums with another vampire, not that being your friend is exactly healthy. So if you’re looking for the moral high ground, I’m thinking most hunters would be happy enough to gut you. True?” Spike offered up one of his truly nasty smiles, and Dean’s face had lost every bit of emotion. He’d locked it all behind his cold mask that did nothing to hide his homicidal urges.

“Is that normal?” Elizabeth asked, and Xander looked over to see Benny blinking and leaning against the wall like he might fall down.

“I think he’s trying to figure out where he is,” Spike said. He moved in with the second glass of blood, and again Benny growled. They repeated their little dominance ritual.

“And again, I’m really sorry,” Xander offered. Elizabeth didn’t even glance his way. “But in my defense, these two idiots were trying to kill us at the time. I was trying to stop bloodshed.”

Elizabeth slowly turned until she was looking at him—really looking. “They were doing what?”

“If someone tries to kill me, I tend to get cranky,” Dean hurried to defend himself.

Now Elizabeth just looked confused. “You tried to kill Dean?”

“Oi! Did not,” Spike said. “If I’d tried to kill him, he’d be bloody dead. I’m old enough to know how to finish a job.”

“Spike, not helping. In fact, you’re all kinds of unhelpful.”

Dean grinned. “Yeah, Spike, you’re unhelpful.”

“The man who’s tied up doesn’t get to say shite to me.” Spike pointed a finger, and Xander could almost taste Dean’s need to attack—to get free and prove that Spike couldn’t talk to him like that.

“Then I won’t say ‘shite,’ but you’re still an asshole.” Dean grinned.

A sharp whistle cut through the air, and the bickering all fell silent. Elizabeth lowered the hand she’d used to make the obnoxious sound. “Okay, I don’t care who tried to do what. There will be no killing. Right now, all I care about is whether Benny is okay. Everything else can wait.” She gave Spike an expectant look, and Xander wasn’t even a little surprised that Spike caved almost immediately.

“He’ll be fine, mum. He’s going to need more blood, and it would help if you did what we talked about.”

“What you talked about?” Dean pushed himself to his feet and rocked a little unsteadily on his bound feet.

“If it will help, that’s fine.” She took out a knife, and Dean started shaking his head.

“No, Elizabeth, whatever you’re going to do, don’t.”

“I’m giving him some blood. Fresh blood.”

Dean pulled on his restraints. “Don’t.”

Elizabeth hesitated. “Why?” She looked over toward Spike, but he shrugged.

“Blood’s blood. Fresher is better, but there’s no harm done by sharing.”

“There’s…” Dean grimaced. “There’s a closeness to sharing, Elizabeth. If you share, then for a time, he’s going to be able to feel you—tell where you are.”

“Whoa. Okay, that’s not in Giles’ books.” Xander definitely would have heard about it if there were. After all, Angel had taken some of Buffy’s blood and some of Willows, and Spike had tasted him and Buffy and Willow and probably Tara during that whole time when Buffy was in heaven, and then Dracula had tasted him and Buffy, and actually, a whole lot of vampires had tasted them.

“Is that true?” Elizabeth asked Spike, and Xander could see Dean’s frustration ready to boil over.

“Might be,” Spike admitted. “He’s a different sort of vampire than me. If it bothers you, you might want to skip sharing any fresh blood with him and just use the bagged.”

She turned to Dean. “He can feel me? Like where I am?”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “And it’s… it’s just a pretty intimate thing to do with a guy, you know?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “He’s the best man I’ve met in a long time, and apparently he’s my great grandfather or something. I’m not going to let him go without.” Without a pause, she drew the knife across the flat of her hand. Spike cursed and moved inhumanly fast to get the cup under the bleeding cut. “Sorry. I was making a point,” she said.

Spike didn’t answer, but Dean gave a huge sigh and sat back down on the bed.

Xander moved to the other bed and sat on the end. “You can stop pretending that your hands are tied.”

Dean narrowed his eyes and stared at Xander.

Spike gave a rough laugh. “You never could tie a knot, pet. Every time you tried tying me to that god-awful chair of yours, I had to work to avoid calling you an idiot,” Spike said. He poured more bagged blood in on top of Elizabeth’s donation. She looked confused.

“We were enemies at the time,” Xander explained. “That was back when Spike was still being the big-bad and I was one of the good guys. And now we’re both good guys, but because of the not-human parts, we both get shoved into the monster box a little too much.”

Elizabeth pressed a towel to her cut hand. “Did you ask to be monsters?”

“Hell no,” Xander said firmly. He watched as Dean tossed the rope off to one side and went to work untying his feet.

“I don’t think anyone chooses to be a monster, not even when they’re technically given a choice,” Dean pointed out, “but that doesn’t mean that they get a free pass when they start killing.” He looked up at Elizabeth. “I told Benny that even if I thought of him as a friend, I’d put him down if I found out he was killing again. When I came here, I was prepared to do just that.”

“But you weren’t prepared to tell me the truth about a potential danger in my own café,” she said. Dean blushed and let his gaze drop down to the floor for a second. However, embarrassment didn’t keep him down as long as it did with Xander.

“I do what I have to,” Dean said firmly. “I don’t apologize for that.”

“I understand having to protect people, and maybe I even understand that you felt like you had to make sure Benny wasn’t killing, even if it meant killing him. Maybe,” Elizabeth repeated, making it pretty damn clear she didn’t like the idea. “But if you think that lying to everyone you meet is just what you have to do, you have a funny understanding about how the world works.”

“Oh, I know how the world works,” Dean said, and he sounded bitter.

Elizabeth frowned but she didn’t say anything. A weak voice from the corner called, “Lizzy?”

Looking over, Xander found Benny rubbing a hand over his face as he looked around in confusion.

Part Thirty-Seven

Benny wrapped his fingers around the cup that Spike offered him. “Thanks, brother,” he said softly.

Spike nodded and headed back over to lean against the wall near the bathroom. Xander shifted nervously on the bed. Dean and Benny were between him and the door, and that shouldn’t make him nervous because Elizabeth looked ready to verbally rip into both of them. Still, he had an itching sense of unease.

“You think these government people would help Dean and his brother?” Elizabeth asked.

Dean’s body stiffened a tiny bit more.

“Cher,” Benny said softly, “it’s Dean’s choice.”

Elizabeth looked at Dean. “Explain why you have to carry this all on your own. Even a soldier would have teammates, health benefits, time off.” Her voice rose in frustration.

“The government have not been our friends,” Dean said tightly. “The last time I got too near a government agent, he tried to arrest me for murder.”

“Had you killed someone?” Elizabeth asked. Dean’s head snapped up, but she was looking at him without any judgment showing in her face. Xander had to give her credit because she was handing this pretty good. Most people freaked. Maybe she’d needed a little time to get herself together after he and Spike had pulled Martin out of her café, but overall, she was a rock.

“No one human,” Dean said sharply.

“Did you need to kill them?”

“Unless you wanted them to kill more innocent people, yeah.” Dean planted his hands on his thighs and bent his arms so his elbows stuck out aggressively.

“Lizzy,” Benny said softly.

Elizabeth nodded. “Then you did what you had to do, but if these people know about monsters that go around feeding on humans, then wouldn’t they know the difference between killing a monster and murdering a person?”

“You’d think, but not so much,” Dean said.

“This particular group has the weird part down pat,” Xander added. “They actually thought monsters were less of a problem than…” Xander stopped. He really didn’t think Dean needed to know about the whole intergalactic war. This universe sucked. Seriously sucked. It was like the whole universe had pissed off God and he’d decided to take a crap on its head.

“They’ll be fine with you hunting,” Spike said, rescuing Xander from his own mouth.

“Right, and I have your word for that.” Dean snorted.

Spike pushed off from the wall. “You’re right, you do. My boy would throw a wobbly if you got locked up, so I wouldn’t do anything to put you in that position. Hell, he’d pitch a fit until I rescued you if you did land in a jail cell.”

“Pretty much,” Xander agreed. “Whining and nagging would be had by all.”

“Nagging?” Elizabeth frowned. “But I thought you were the one who knocked all three of them out.”

Spike looked down at him fondly. Demons were just weirdly fond of getting their asses kicked, as long as their side won in the end. “He did. He’s a powerful bugger, even if he is like a bull in a china shop.”

“So, you have to help him keep this power under control because he’s younger?” Elizabeth pulled a leg up under her and studied them.

“That and he has the common sense of an inbred chicken.”

Xander shrugged. “I would protest, only I’m pretty sure that’s true,” he admitted.

“Maybe we should get you a keeper,” Benny said as he looked over at Dean and grinned. Dean raised a middle finger.

Benny’s expression turned more calculating as he studied Xander and Spike. “So, you’re strong enough to control him if he does something?” he asked Spike.

Spike laughed. “The boy has more power in one hand than the rest of us put together.”

Elizabeth gasped. “But then how do you—”

“It’s not about the power, luv. It’s about how firm you can stand,” Spike said firmly. “Before I got the soul back, I wanted to take out a powerful demon hunter. But her mum stopped me. A human with perfectly average strength got in the way, and I wouldn’t have gone after that lady if someone paid me. She had a spine of steel, and it didn’t matter that I was physically stronger.”

Xander sighed as his heart ached with loss. “I miss Joyce.”

“World was better with her in it,” Spike agreed.

Xander smiled as he remembered her calm expression when Buffy would get all flustered and flappy. “When Buffy found out that you were having tea with her mom, she was ready to hunt you down with Mr. Pointy. She was raving. Considering that you were chipped and couldn’t defend yourself, that would have been bad.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “That didn’t worry me none. If Buffy had tried it, Joyce would have clipped her wings before she got two steps in the door. That lady had brass.” Spike pursed his lips for a second.

“Classy brass.” Xander agreed. “No offense, but she scared me more than you, even when you were evil.”

“No offense taken, luv.”

“She scared me more than Angelus.”

“I would bloody hope so,” Spike said with a huff of laughter. “Ponce.”

Xander pulled a knee up and rested his chin on it. “When Angelus came to the hospital to kill Buffy, I kept thinking that if I didn’t win—if Angelus got into Buffy’s room—I was going to have to look Joyce in the eye and admit that I’d failed her daughter. I was way more scared of that than I was of having Angelus rip my throat out.” He fell silent, and Spike came over and rested a hand on his shoulder. If Giles had been the disapproving and slightly distant father to their group, Joyce had always been the mother holding them together. Disappointing Joyce was not an option. Ever. Xander didn’t know if it was college or Joyce’s death that had set them drifting apart.

“She sounds like she was an amazing woman,” Elizabeth said in a respectfully soft voice.

“She sounds like you, Lizzy,” Benny said.

“Me?” She laughed as she shook her head. “Oh no.”

Benny was nodding, though. “You knew what I was, and you still dressed me down for not telling you. I don’t think I’ve gotten told off that firmly since dying.”

Elizabeth crossed her arms. “Because you needed telling off. I had a right to know.”

“I’m not saying you didn’t, cher.” Benny held up his hands in surrender.

“Yesterday you were saying exactly that.”

“Well I’m not fool enough to say it again.”

Dean snorted.

Elizabeth turned on him, her gaze pinning him against the wall where he was leaning. “And you. You came in my restaurant and ate my food and never opened your mouth.”

“I didn’t—” Dean started, but Elizabeth cut him off.

“And you were going to kill Benny.”

“I never thought he was killing.” Dean cringed. “Not really. I was trying to protect him.”

“He was, cher,” Benny agreed.

Elizabeth looked at both of them. “Don’t give me that kicked puppy look. Both of you knew someone was killing, and you didn’t say a word. Men.” She huffed her disgust with both of them, and Xander found a nice spot on the floor to study.

“Now, cher, don’t go blaming him.”

Dean sighed, “When you start telling people about monsters under the bed and vampires, the loony bin is not far behind. Look at Martin. They put him in an asylum.”

“Because he’s crazy,” Elizabeth said, her voice flat. Xander could feel the danger making the air spark, and for once, he wasn’t in the middle of the potential shit storm.

“Just nod and agree, mate,” Spike advised Dean. “You’re not winning this one.”

“Don’t start.” Elizabeth poked a finger in Spike’s direction, but then she turned her attention right back to Dean. “If you had some help, you wouldn’t have to try and figure this out. If an Air Force officer came in and said that they had a dangerous soldier go AWOL, I would have locked up the café or invited him to leave as many soldiers as he wanted, and I would feed them gumbo and poboys until I knew they’d caught the guy.”

“She’s got a point, brother,” Benny said. Dean glared at him. “But it’s your life. I’ll just be sitting here and trying to recover from whatever this one threw at me,” he added.

“Sorry,” Xander offered again. He was very close to breaking his own personal record for apologizing. Between the hyena incident and the whole love spell gone wrong, that was a pretty high number to reach. Spike tightened his hold on Xander’s shoulder, either in sympathy or as a silent order to stop apologizing. Xander would probably be able to figure out which one if he used the ghosts, but there were too many people in the room now. He didn’t need any more getting in the middle.

“I’m not saying you should trust them,” Elizabeth said, with a gesture toward Spike and Xander. “I’m saying you should look at the offer and talk to these people. Clearly they already know about you, so what harm is there in meeting them?”

Dean made a strange face. “You have no idea how many horrible things have happened right about the time someone said that,” Dean said. “The answer is usually plenty, whole worlds of harm, even. In a porn movie, when the doorbell rings, you know that delivery man is about to get lucky, and in real life, when someone says it couldn’t hurt to try, you’re about to find out exactly how much it can hurt.”

“Your view of the world scares me,” Elizabeth told him.

“Yeah, me too,” Dean agreed.

“If you don’t talk to them, are they going to give up and go away?” Elizabeth asked. “If this Willow person has already confirmed that those books about you that you hate are all real, are they going to walk away?”

Dean pressed his lips together.

“It isn’t if you talk to them, but when. At least, that’s what it sounds like to me.” Elizabeth looked over toward Benny. “Am I missing something here?”

“I’m staying out of this,” he said before busying himself with drinking the last lingering drops of blood out of an empty cup.

“Do you think you can avoid them forever?”

Dean offered a curt, “Yes.”

“Then you’re an idiot. This is the Air Force we’re talking about. You’re not so high and mighty that you can go up against the entire Air Force and win.”

“I went up against Michael and Lucifer and won,” Dean said smugly.

For a long time, Elizabeth looked at him and Benny looked everywhere other than the two of them, and Xander tried very hard to breathe in and out and avoid seeing any ghost thoughts. He figured he’d need therapy if he peeked at the inner thoughts of these two right now.

“What price did you pay for that?” she asked softly.

Dean lost most of the color out of his face. They all sat in the world’s most awkward silence, and Xander was ready to crack and beg Dean to make the call. He knew Elizabeth wasn’t going to budge. He didn’t need mind-reading to see cold determination written all over her face. Seconds drew out into minutes, and Xander was physically squirming before Dean finally slapped his hand down on the motel wall. “Fine!” he snapped. “I’ll call. What’s the number?” Dean stomped over to the hotel phone and snatched it up before looking over.

“Um…” Xander stared back. Number. Right.

Spike rattled off a series of numbers. When Xander looked up in confusion, Spike shrugged. “Number were listed on every phone in the place, pet. Pay attention and you might notice things like that.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Dean finished dialing and punched the button for the speakerphone before sitting on the bed next to Elizabeth. She actually managed to look pleased without looking smug, which was a skill Dean hadn’t mastered yet. The phone rang twice before a man picked up the other end with a polite but anonymous, “Hello.”

“I wanted to talk to General O’Neill.” Dean glared at Elizabeth as he said it.

There was a brief pause on the other end before the man answered in that same bland tone of voice, “I’m not sure if there’s anyone on base by that name.”

“Really? That’s your best line?” Dean made a pfft noise. “You need to work on the lies.”

“I can check, sir, but I cannot say whether or not that person is available.”

“Better. That was almost not stupid.” Dean had this weird condescending congratulatory voice, and Xander was starting to wonder if Dean made a practice out of annoying everyone.

“Can I say who’s calling?”

“Dean Winchester.” Dean flashed Xander an overly sweet smile. “Spike and Xander tracked me down and suggested that I might want to give him a call.” Xander could hear the low growl coming from a very unhappy Spike. If the military was looking to recapture them, Dean had just made it a little easier. Xander wished he could say he was surprised.

“Let me check the directories and try and find a General O’Neill,” the voice said. Dean rolled his eyes as he made a production out of putting his hand over the speaker’s mic. “Seriously, these guys suck on the secret identity front.” He just made sure to say it loudly, so Xander didn’t doubt the guy heard it.

There was a click and a new voice answered. “Hello?”

“General O’Neill?”

“Who is this?”

“Dean Winchester.”

“Riiight. Okay,” O’Neill said slowly, and that was definitely a voice Xander recognized. “And who else is on the line?”

Xander knew that Spike would want to go for silent retreat. He knew it, but he couldn’t do it. He had to know one thing. “Hi General O’Neill. Is Dorsey okay?” Xander blurted out. He felt a twist of worry just saying Dorsey’s name.

“Harris.” O’Neill sighed.

Dean laughed. “He likes you as much as I do.”

“I’m very likable,” Xander said firmly.

“Likable like the plague,” O’Neill said. “You made Dorsey’s life a little too interesting.”

“Yeah, about that. I’m really sorry. I didn’t exactly know what I was doing.”

“You accidentally turned him into a slayer?”

“A what?” Xander’s voice squeaked. Dean gave him an odd look, but Xander was definitely too distracted to care. “What did you call Dorsey?”

O’Neill laughed. “The name annoys Giles, too. I think that’s why it stuck. Annoying Giles is oddly satisfying. Back to the main point here, you turned one of my soldiers into an alien life form. You’re not high on my Christmas card list right now.”

“Cut this short, pet.” Spike ordered. He walked over to the dresser and started shoving the last of their things into a bag.

“He’s on the other side of the country, oh paranoid one,” Xander pointed out.

“And he has a bloody phone to call someone local. Hurry this up.”

“Oh.” Xander was definitely not firing on all cylinders. “Is Dorsey okay?”

“Other than passing out every once in a while, sure.” O’Neill sounded weirdly casual about it, but Xander couldn’t read minds through the phone, and to be honest, O’Neill always sounded weirdly casual. He was not what Xander expected of a military officer.

“Passing out?” Xander swallowed. That didn’t sound good.

Spike leaned closer to the phone. “The moron is trying ta make due with human food, isn’t he?”

There was a long pause. “What other choice would there be?” O’Neill asked.

“Energy,” Spike said. “Xander absorbs it straight from any life force, although generally we make sure he uses cows so that if he takes too much he doesn’t start brooding.”

“That would explain a few things,” O’Neill said, and from the tone of voice, he definitely wasn’t telling the whole truth. “I’ll have Rosenberg work with him on that. She’s pretty good at kicking his ass.”

“But he’s okay other than that?” Xander asked. Now that he knew Dorsey was having trouble, he could feel his stomach start to churn with worry.

O’Neill sighed. “He’s fine. He’s actually pretty handy to have around. Mind reading slayers make life difficult for the NID, and I approve of anything that annoys the NID. The fact he annoys Giles is a bonus.”

The knots in Xander’s stomach unknotted just a little. Spike was looking at him oddly, but Xander could only shrug.

“Should we talk about you breaking out of my base?”

“No,” Spike said sharply.

“Subtle,” O’Neill said. “So, Winchester. How much of those books are true and how much of it came out of someone’s rather twisted imagination.”

“Shit. Please tell me you didn’t read the crap online.” Dean was suddenly blushing. Xander glanced over at Spike, but he just shrugged. Clearly he didn’t know what that meant, either.

“Oh yeah. Every bit of it.” O’Neill sounded way too cheerful. “I made my linguist read a bunch of it too, at least until he retaliated by putting Egyptian porn in my conference room. So, that’s a ‘no’ to the online stuff… how about the published books?”

“They’re true,” Dean said, his voice curt enough to make it clear he didn’t plan on saying much more.

“Then we’d like to offer some support. We’re the government. We’re pretty good at blowing things up if you’re around to point out which thing needs the C4 attached to it.”

“You’re offering…” Dean stopped. “I’m not actually sure what you’re offering.”

“To talk,” O’Neill said. “With you and your brother.”

Dean’s gaze fell to the floor for a second, and Xander watched as dozens of little Sam Winchesters blinked into existence. Sam with floppy hair trying to load a gun while Dean helped, tiny Sam sitting under a Christmas tree while Dean read a book to him, middle school Sam crying with Dean on the phone looking mad as hell. Dozens of Sam and Deans crowded into the room on all sides. Sam reaching for Dean—Sam shot with blood seeping through his fingers—Sam falling into hell. The weight of them almost overwhelmed Xander, and they weren’t even his memories. He took a breath and worked to scatter the ghosts back into atoms. Dean was a really loud thinker.

“Sam might be a little pissed right now. He will probably take some time to show up again.”

There was another long pause on the phone, but Xander thought he heard something scratching across paper. Finally O’Neill answered, “Then we start with you and me having a face to face.”

“I suppose I have to come out there,” Dean said.

“I don’t know. Do they have good fishing in that part of Louisiana?”

“Hell if I know. I was more focused on the vampire, but it’s dead. Now they just have two pains in the ass who have a strange way of offering help.” Dean looked at them.

“Hey, if it was up to me, I’d shove them in a cell, but now that we made a policy exception for slayers, there’s all this paperwork, and I really don’t like paperwork. So as long as they stay clear of me, I’m going to pretend they don’t exist. So, the nearest base is Barksdale over near Shreveport. I can be there tomorrow by noon. I can leave your name at the gate or we can meet on neutral ground.”

“Base is fine,” Dean said. That shocked Xander. Something was not adding up, and Xander was really hoping that Dean didn’t plan to blow up O’Neill or something.

“Okay, then I’ll see you tomorrow. Try to ditch those two trouble-makers, and Harris, Rosenberg says hi. She also says that if you ever hurt Dorsey again, she’s going to use her impressive knowledge of science to dissolve your body into unrecognizable chunks and flush you down a toilet.”

“Oh. Um, okay.” Xander cringed.

“I’m sure she’s joking,” O’Neill said.

“Doubt it,” Spike was equally quick to offer.

Dean turned and started toward the door. “Hey,” Xander called after him. “Aren’t you going to stay and talk to O’Neill?”

“Why?” Dean shrugged. “I’ll see him tomorrow.” With that, he walked out the door.

“And on that note, I don’t actually like you two well enough to keep this conversation going.” There was a click, and O’Neill was gone.

“That was rude,” Xander said quietly.

Spike snorted before he reached across the bed and hit the button to turn the phone off. “You have three minutes to grab what you need, pet,” Spike said before he turned back to his own packing. That was his ‘I’m not hurrying, but I’m getting out of here fast’ mode, so Xander figured he had very little time to really do much before Spike hustled him away. He glanced toward Spike and then toward the door before he made up his mind and trotted after Dean.

Out in the muggy night, Dean was a dark mass leaning against car. Xander headed that way, guilt gnawing at him when he saw the size of the damage on the side door.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Xander said, gesturing toward the damage.

Dean shrugged as he looked at it. “She’s been beat up worse.”

“I’m sorry about the car size bruises you probably have too.”

“I’ve been beat up way worse.”

Xander shifted his weight as he tried to figure out how to say something more meaningful than nice night. That wasn’t going to cut it. Dean turned and leaned his forearms on the top of his car as he looked over it. “Are you just here to annoy me or do you want something?”

Letting out a breath, Xander sat down on one of the low concrete blocks that were supposed to keep cars from running into each other in the parking lot. Spike usually just drove over them. “Seeing thoughts is not as much fun as I thought it would be.”

Dean moved so he was standing near the car’s hood. “Either you’re complaining and I don’t care or you’re trying to lead up to something, and oddly enough, I still don’t care.”

“You’re tired,” Xander blurted out.

That made Dean laugh. He laughed so hard he slapped his palm against the hood. “Really? That’s your big revelation? No wonder you need a keeper.”

“You like taking care of everyone, but not everyone needs taking care of,” Xander said softly. Dean froze.

“I mean,” Xander hurried when it seemed like ice was forming in the air between them, “I tried to take care of Buffy. Over and over again, I tried to take care of her, and sometimes I ended up being helpful and sometimes I got in the way, but she’s not the sort of person you can take care of. She’s more the run in, kick, quip, and run out again sort. She doesn’t need me and she’s not really the sort to want to take care of me, which is fine. I don’t really need taking care of. Much.”

“Have you considered investing in a therapist?” Dean asked dryly.

“Benny needs to take care of someone, and I’m pretty sure he needs someone to take care of him. And I’m that way too.”

“Are you looking for permission to court Benny? Are you looking to go a’wooing?” Dean crossed his arms.

“Not so much. Spike would break him into little pieces,” Xander pointed out. “Because Spike needs someone to take care of, and sometimes I think he needs someone to take care of him, but mostly I think he needs someone to take care of, which is good because I actually do a lot of stupid things. I’m not used to having powers, so normally when I stumble through a situation, the only person in danger is me. Now I screw up and people are thrown around like rag dolls.”

“I noticed.”

“You want to take care of Sam,” Xander said softly.

“Do not go there.” Dean’s voice had turned into something colder and deadlier.

“But in the books, he was happiest when he was on his own, which is not about him not loving you but might be about him not being someone who needs being taken care of.”

Dean was coming around the car, long strides covering the ground faster than Xander expected. He scrambled to his feet, but then Dean was there, fists tangled in Xander’s shirt as he shoved Xander back and back and back until Xander hit some car. “Stay out of my life,” Dean growled. Xander had a lot of experience with getting growled at, and that was a growl.

“I’m the messenger here, not the person making all the bad happen.”

Dean gave him a wicked grin. “Well I’m oddly okay with killing the messenger.”

“Then you’d better get used to the fact that the bad is going to keep coming. It’s never stopping, and the more you try to make things right, the more wrong they’re going to get until you hate yourself and everyone around you.” The words slipped free unedited, and Xander could see them hit Dean with a force that made him physically step back. “We tried so hard to make everything right, and even after Willow went a little crazy and a little evil, we didn’t get it.” Xander pushed away from the car, and now Dean was the one backing up. “We can’t fix things. We can’t. We aren’t all powerful, and it’s like opening a car engine and promising yourself that you’ll only do a little tinkering, only the more you tinker the worse things run, and then you break the car.”

“I can fix a fucking car,” Dean pointed out. For a half second, he stopped retreating and held his ground.

“You can’t fix Sam,” Xander said. Again, Dean retreated a step. “He isn’t someone who wants fixing. He’s more a leave me along and let me heal sort, which is very Giles, and I don’t get it because I’m more a cling to people sort of person myself.”

“Fuck off.” Dean turned and headed for his driver side door.

“You can’t fix Sam or Castiel or the world, and the more you try, the more you’re going to break things because you don’t know how. And I know because I broke almost everything important in my life. I lost everything, and now I’m down to the one person who could never stand me, and yeah, I’m figuring out that we like each other more than I thought, but every relationship I have is teetering on disaster and we almost turned my world over the ultimate evil because we couldn’t get our hands out from under the hood. Don’t do that.” Xander put every bit of himself he could behind those words. Dean might not know him, but after reading all those books, Xander knew him. Xander had cried for Dean, had actually started out kind of not liking Dean and then had somehow gotten sucked into loving the shit out of him. Xander ached for the raw need that he had read about and now he could feel that same pain. He wanted to help, but he didn’t know how to fix Dean any more than he’d known how to fix his own broken life.

Dean hesitated at the door of his car, and Xander threw one more volley of words. “Castiel wants to fix things. You’ve seen him, haven’t you? I can read your thoughts, and you know he’s making things worse and worse the more he tries to fix them, and you’re the same only with a lot less power.”

Dean’s expression twisted into ugly shapes.

“You know it, but Benny needs you and that woman you keep thinking about, the one with the kid, she wants to take care of you, and there are… I don’t know… lots of others.”

“But not Sam?” Dean asked, anger making his voice shake.

“He’s not like us.”

Dean pressed his lips together, but without a word, he got in the car and started it up with a roar. Xander watched, uneasy as Dean sent gravel flying with a dangerously fast turn.

“You did your best, luv.” Spike’s arms wrapped around his stomach and pulled him back until Xander was leaning into him. “We need to get you fed up.”

“I’m suddenly not feeling well.” Xander wondered if guilt could make you dizzy.

“As hard as you pushed, I’m not surprised. But pushing someone in a direction they don’t want to be led is hard, innit?”

“What?” Xander looked over his shoulder, struggling to figure out what Spike was saying.

“Bloody hell. I always do fall for the ones who are ‘round the twist. Come on then, luv.”

Not understanding, but too tired to sort it out, Xander let Spike tug him toward the stolen car. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, and every movement made him feel like he might slide off the face of the earth.

Part Thirty-Eight

Spike half carried him to the car, and left him leaning against it as he unlocked the stolen sedan. Closing his eyes, Xander took several deep breaths and felt the strength return. It was like he’d thrown a punch and needed to shake out his arm. “That was a power,” Xander said softly.

“I reckon it was.”

Xander opened his eyes to see Benny standing next to a blue van. Elizabeth was twenty feet or so back, watching warily. She was afraid Benny was about to get hurt, Xander realized.

Spike moved quickly to get between Xander and Benny. “You got a problem with that, mate?”

Benny held up his hands without moving. “None. You didn’t say nothing I haven’t said to him myself. Only sometimes Dean is about as stubborn as an old mule, and I ain’t about to drive him away with more truth than he can handle.”

Spike didn’t move. Every line in his body was prepared for battle, but Benny leaned into the van, making a show of looking casual.

“What are you?” he asked Xander.

“Not your business,” Spike snapped.

“I honestly don’t know,” Xander said at the same time. Spike glanced over his shoulder with one of those ‘Are you an idiot’ looks, and Xander could only shrug.

“You feed on human food mostly? Not on blood?” Benny asked.

“Time for you to move on,” Spike said with a shift in his posture that definitely meant danger.

Benny turned his focus to Spike. “Do you even feel the bloodlust anymore, are you so old that it’s a dry, withered need in your chest?”

“I feel it,” Spike said slowly. “I drink bagged.”

Xander frowned. That wasn’t technically true anymore. Ever since Spike had rescued him, he had definitely traded in bagged for Xander blood.

“All the time? You never hunger so much that your insides twist up?”

Spike raised his chin, but he didn’t answer.

“Do you feel the need to crew up with someone—to have a crew, a clan, a family? Does your kind of vampire feel that need?”

“Do you have a point?” Spike was sounding less and less amused.

“If it weren’t for Lizzy…” Benny got a haunted expression. “I wanted to go with that fils de pute that came hunting for me because it would mean not being alone, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t go back to hunting humans and then look Lizzy in the eye. I’m a bastard, but god a’mercy, I couldn’t do that.”

“I’m still not seeing a point,” Spike said. His voice was tight, and Xander thought back to all the times Spike had gone back to Angel, all the times he’d stuck with Buffy when any reasonable person would have run for the hills. Suddenly Xander suspected that the two types of vampires might have more in common than he thought.

“You said you’re learning your powers, that you made a child without meaning to. Are you an alpha?”

Xander stopped breathing, and suddenly Spike’s whole body shifted into something with sharper angles and more deadly intent.

“No fighting!” Elizabeth said as she trotted closer.

“Lizzy, stay back!” Benny cried out as he moved to get in front of her. For his trouble, he got punched in the arm and Lizzy still squirmed her way around him. However, she couldn’t get too far because Benny caught her around the waist and held her tight, and human strength was not going to break free from a vampire. Besides, she’d already made her point because Spike couldn’t attack without going through her, and he was already dropping back. Yep, Spike was not going to mess with anyone who reminded him of Joyce, and there was no way he could miss the similarities in personality if not in looks.

“Yes, I’m an alpha,” Xander said without giving Spike a chance to jump in and make things worse. “I was attacked with magic in my own world, and Eve used that power to turn me into an alpha… I don’t know. Alpha slayer works as well as anything.” Saying that felt oh so wrong, but it wasn’t like this world had any actual slayers to object.

Benny closed his eyes for a moment, and Xander got the impression he might be praying.

“If you’re looking for alpha blood, you’re in no shape to take on either of us, and hiding behind a woman’s skirt won’t help if you attack,” Spike warned.

Elizabeth frowned. “What’s an alpha, and why is everyone so tense about it?”

Since Spike and Benny weren’t exactly getting along, Xander decided he had to play nice if he wanted to keep this from getting uglier. “There’s a demon called Eve. She is one of the old ones who lived here long before people were ever born. She gives birth to monsters, and she made me herself, so I’m an alph or alpha, a first generation monster.”

“One of the most powerful monsters on earth short of Eve herself, who can’t come back to Earth because Dean poisoned her with Phoenix ash,” Benny added. “The stories say that alphas have powers that their descendants can’t dream of. I know that the vampires who were topside when the Armageddon came a’calling said that the alpha vampire reached right into their minds and called on them to rise up and kill humans. I figure I’m lucky I was out of commission at the time.”

Elizabeth looked up at Benny. “An alpha can do that?”

“That’s what they say,” Benny agreed. “And the alpha vampire ain’t fond of humans, which is why his descendants generally don’t make friends easily.” He looked down at her with such fondness that it was clear he made an exception for her. But then he’d clearly made an exception for Dean, too. Either the alpha vampire wasn’t pushing much human-hate right now or Benny was strong enough to ignore it.

“Take your pity party somewhere else,” Spike suggested coldly.

Benny straightened up, and pushed Elizabeth to one side. This time she allowed herself to be maneuvered so that Benny could step forward. “They say an alpha can turn another monster, providing that monster is far enough removed from his own alpha.”

“You want me to turn you?” Xander felt panic rise up and press against the bottom of his throat until he wanted to vomit.

“I know it puts me closer to an alpha, but there’s only so long I can hold out like this—no crew to jungle up with, no human blood, no hunting. It’s not in my nature, and I fight every day to hold onto this life. If it weren’t for Lizzy…” He turned and gave her a pained look before he turned back toward Xander. “If being your child means I can live with humans easier and not feed on ‘em, that’s a good trade.”

“Trade implies we get something,” Spike said. Spike was definitely looking for reasons to say ‘no,’ Xander realized.

“Sure enough,” Benny agreed. “I’m a good hunter, and if you’re looking for children to keep the other monsters at bay, I’m willing to sign up for that crew. I’m told I’m fairly loyal, at least until someone tells me I should kill folk who don’t deserve to be killed.”

Spike stepped forward and looked Benny up and down. “So, every person you ever killed deserved it?” Spike asked coldly.

Benny sighed. “No. I ain’t going to make that claim. But I fell in love, and now I see humans as more than food. I can’t… I can’t keep on smelling them and thinking on food. It’s more than a vampire can handle.”

Spike fell silent again.

“Benny, I don’t actually know what I’m doing. I could hurt you or kill you if I even try this.” Xander felt bad, he really did, but turning someone scared him more than he could explain.

“If you do kill me, I suppose that’d be a mercy. It’d save Dean from having to later.”

Elizabeth gasped.

Benny turned to look at her. “I can’t lie, Lizzy. I spend every day fighting against the need to feed. One day I’m going to be too weak to keep on a’fighting.” When Elizabeth took a step back, he hurried to add, “I wouldn’t never hurt you, cher. Not you or Dean or anyone I knew, but the folk who come walking through smell too much like food.”

“I feel that too,” Xander blurted out.

Benny turned around fast, clearly startled. “You feel the need to feed?” The anguish on Benny’s face made it pretty damn clear that he’d pinned a lot of hopes on this plan.

“I smell it around some monsters,” Xander said. “Leviathan smell like chocolate and I can’t resist, and trust me, Spike is less than amused when I go running off, but there’s no way I can stand still and have that smell pass by without trying to eat it.” Xander stopped. Shit. Was that what Spike and Benny felt when they smelled humans? Xander looked from one to the other, but both vampires had completely shuttered expression.

“But you don’t feel that with humans?” Benny asked carefully.

Xander shook his head.

“I’d rather you try than you leave me here to fight my nature.” Benny raised his chin.

“But I could kill you,” Xander explained, even though he was getting the idea that was not as much of a deterrent as it would have been for Xander.

“Then I land in purgatory,” Benny said without much emotion. “There’s no need to hunt there. And yeah, the others are likely to try and kill me, but a good fight ain’t a bad thing.” Benny gave a smile that looked a whole lot like Spike’s.

Xander opened his mouth, but Spike moved closer and put a hand on Xander’s arm. “He’s not telling you everything,” Spike said, and the smile vanished from Benny’s face.


“Yeah, oh?” Xander echoed.

Spike gave him a weary look.

“No, honestly, I don’t know what I’m leaving out,” Xander said.

Spike shook his head and looked back at Benny. “He’s not the most dominant creature on earth. I suspect you’ll inherit that, too.”

For the first time, Benny looked concerned.

Spike looked over at Elizabeth. “Since you have her blood in you already, it could be that you’ll end up feeling a need to stay with her, to listen to her.” Spike gave Elizabeth a sharp look. “And you don’t know what it is to have a supernatural creature fixated on you.”

Benny took a quick step back. “I appreciate you telling me. Maybe this isn’t the wisest idea.”

“Wait.” Elizabeth stepped forward. “You’re not saying ‘no’ for me. So, what do you mean by fixated?” she asked Spike.

Long seconds passed as Spike tried to have a staring contest, but Xander didn’t have any doubt how it was ending. Sure enough, he folded like a handfan. “This one,” Spike said poking a thumb in Xander’s direction, “stays close all the time, and if I sent him away, I suspect he’d be back in no time.”

“Weirdly accurate,” Xander agreed as he thought about what life would be like away from Spike. He didn’t want that.

“Would I be in danger?” Elizabeth asked.

Xander would have given an immediate ‘no,’ but Spike seemed to think about it for a second.

“Cher, we’re not doing this,” Benny said firmly. However he couldn’t walk away without leaving her, and staying put made that statement seem a little less statementlike and a little more like pleading.

“If you order him to do something totally against his nature—to walk into a fire or let a leviathan walk past—there might be trouble,” Spike finally answered. “And if he’s Xander’s child, he’d going to have a lot more power than you can handle if he gets it in his head to pull against the leash.”

“But he wouldn’t try to turn me?”

“Lizzy! Never!” Benny said in an anguished voice.

“Xander never showed any interest in making me into someone I’m not,” Spike said. “I don’t think Benny would turn you, but that’s not something either of us could promise. If I were dying, I don’t doubt for a second that Xander would do anything to save me, even if that meant turning me.”

“But I’d be what Xander is, not a vampire?” she checked.

Benny moved to her side. “Lizzy, don’t be talking about this.”

“You want this for yourself. I have to decide if I want it for myself,” she said. He had grabbed her arm, and she rested her palm on the back of his hand. “I’m not rushing into this blind, but I’m not going to let you walk away from an opportunity because you think I can’t handle it.”

“I know you can handle it, cher. You handle everything, but you don’t want no part in this.” Benny looked over at them. “If we waited until her blood was out, would that mean I would turn to whoever was near enough?”

“Someone not me?” Elizabeth asked. “Are you trying to protect me or suggesting that I’m not good enough for you?”

“What? No. Lizzy, I would never say that.” Benny looked half panicked.

“Then you let me make up my own mind, Benny Lafitte.”

He opened his mouth, but maybe he’d seen that he was just prolonging the agony of defeat because he closed it without any more comments.

“Would Benny be open to anyone’s suggestions? I don’t want him to feel trapped.”

“Then definitely don’t use the bondage gear on him,” Xander muttered. Benny looked over sharply, but Elizabeth didn’t seem to have heard. Xander cleared his throat. “I don’t listen to just anyone. And yeah, I listen to Spike because he makes better judgment calls than I do, but trust me, I can still argue with him. I’m pretty famous for calling him an idiot when he does something idiotic.”

“Oi,” Spike protested, but he didn’t bother trying to defend himself.

“So, this would be between me and Benny?” Elizabeth asked. She got a thoughtful look on her face before turning to Benny. “I want to do it.”

“Cher…” he protested.

“You already said you wanted this, even if it meant dying. Would being tied to me be worse than dying?”

“Of course not,” Benny hurried to reassure her, his hand coming up to rest against the side of her neck. Xander wondered what it meant to a vampire that a woman who knew what he was would let him touch her there.

“Do you have any objections other than some worry that I can’t handle it?” Elizabeth’s stern look make it pretty clear she didn’t want to hear that argument.

“I never said you couldn’t handle it.”

“You implied it. Loudly,” she said. “And I can. You’re my friend, my family. If you’re in pain, then we find a way to fix it together.”

“But that don’t mean sharing the pain,” Benny said softly.

Elizabeth looked over at Spike. “Is this going to hurt me?”

“Don’t see how,” Spike said. Benny gave him the nastiest look to end all nasty looks.

“Then I’ll take a small risk to myself to save you from dying.”

“I’ve had my time in the sun, cher. If I die, it’s because it’s my time.”

“And if you back out of this now, I am going to make you the sorriest vampire on the face of the entire planet,” Elizabeth said with a hint of fury behind the words. “You came out here ready to do anything to try this, and we’re trying it.” She looked over at Xander. “Just don’t hurt him.”

Xander wondered when the others had started assuming he would do this if Benny and Elizabeth agreed. Even Spike had fallen silent, but listening to Benny’s speech about how people smelled good to eat, Xander couldn’t walk away without trying to help. He just worried that his attempts to help were often unhelpful. “I can promise that I’ll try to not hurt him, but I’m new at this. I could kill him.”

Elizabeth’s eyes grew shiny and she took several deep breaths as if she had to settle herself. “Try not to?” she asked.


“You need to do this. I understand that, but I’m not going to be happy if you die on me,” she said. She grabbed his arm and held on tightly, and Xander looked away from the intimacy there. They were both hurting, and Xander hated that it all came down to whether he could fix things.

Spike’s arm came around his waist and pulled him close. “Do you want to try?” Spike asked, no judgment in his voice.

“When you smell humans, do you feel that way, like I do about demons and chocolate smell?”

Spike hesitated, and that told Xander what he needed to know. “It got better after the soul. I understood why I had to resist instead of just having a bit of technology that made me stop feeding,” Spike said. “And some kinds of animal blood scratches the itch more than other.”

Xander closed his eyes as he thought about all the times he’d teased Spike. “Yeah, I want to try and help,” Xander said.

He felt Spike’s hand under his chin, and he opened his eyes. “It’s been a right treat since I started snacking on you,” Spike said. “I don’t ever feel the bloodlust, and if I think I might start, I can just nip in and steal a little of yours.”

“Take as much of mine as you want, Spike,” Xander said firmly. “Honestly. I make lots.”

Spike smiled at him.

“How do we do this?” Benny asked.

“We don’t do it here,” Spike said firmly. “Do you want to go back to the café?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I have a bit of land close enough to the swamps that most people avoid it. Every time it rains, I take a boat to work, but there’s a solid house built high up on a hill.”

“Then we go there,” Spike said.

Benny nodded, but he looked a little like a man going to his execution. Xander knew how he felt.

“I’ll draw you a map,” Elizabeth offered.

They were doing this. Xander watched at Elizabeth drew on the back of an envelope. Benny watched Xander, his eyes searching for something. Xander looked right back. Awkward.

Part Thirty-Nine

Spike drove though the split rail fence that looked like it had been standing since the 1800s. “Do you think Benny lived here?” Xander asked. If Elizabeth were his descendant, maybe she had inherited his house. “When he was human, I mean.”

“The land, maybe,” Spike said. “But that house doesn’t look old enough.”

“It looks pretty old.”

Spike snorted. “This part of the world is rough on buildings. Trust me, if that were a hundred years old, it wouldn’t look that good.”

Xander didn’t answer. An old truck sat by the front door, and a jeep was parked under a tarp that someone had put over a framed out garage that someone had left unfinished. Before Spike had turned off the car, the door opened. Benny stood there looking about as wary as a man can get.

“We can turn around and drive off, luv,” Spike offered. Part of Xander wanted to. Desperately. Turning Benny into one of his children or minions or whatever… it felt like turning a monster loose on the world. But if he didn’t, a good man was going to get trapped by his own hunger. Xander knew the near-pain of smelling a leviathan, the way he didn’t seem to have any control. He couldn’t let Benny suffer under that curse, especially when Benny wanted to like humans.

“No,” Xander said. This might not be the right thing, but it was less wrong than walking away. Xander briefly wondered what Dean would think of this. Would he approve? Did he know how close Benny was to the edge?

Dean was probably heading for that meeting with the general or tracking down his brother, or both. But he’d walked away when Benny really needed family, and Xander had to believe that was because he didn’t understand. He didn’t know how much Benny needed him, and Xander wasn’t going to walk away.

Xander got out of the car, butterflies already setting up camp in his stomach.

Elizabeth appeared at the door behind Benny, and she stood there with her hand on his back, watching. Spike got out of his side of the car and slammed the door hard enough that a small flock of birds rose from the trees that surrounded them.

“You ready?” Spike asked.

“As I’ll ever be,” Benny answered. His gaze was locked on Xander.

Xander wondered what it felt like to know that you were turning yourself over to another monster, to know that you might just die. He glanced over to Spike. Fact was Spike could kill him any time, and the fact that Xander had more power wouldn’t stop it. Spike was older and trickier, and he cheated. Like ninety percent of the time he cheated. If Spike wanted him dead, he’d be dead.

But that was different because Xander had learned to trust Spike. Spike had saved him from the preacher and saved everyone from the First. But Benny had one day to build some sort of trust with Xander.

Xander’s doubts started pressing to the surface. “If you can’t trust me, accept the energy I push into you, this could be very bad,” Xander said when he stopped at the bottom of the steps.

Benny stepped back and held the door open. “You had a chance to kill me. You didn’t.”

“But I hurt you. And if I’m trying to give you energy and you’re afraid of being hurt again—” Xander broke off and let the silence carry all his worries.

Elizabeth looked concerned, but Benny started laughing. “Cher, I’ve been hurt worse than that by those who claimed to love me.”

“I knocked you out.”

“Exactly,” Benny said with a chuckled. “Get yourselves up in here.”

Xander waited until Spike passed him and then he followed. The living room was small with handmade quilts on the walls and an old couch decorated with colorful pillows. Spike sat on one arm, and watched the room. Xander had expected him to storm in and start directing traffic, but he seemed happy to sit and watch. Xander stood near him, not sure what to do. With Dorsey, instinct had sort of taken over.

“You knocked me out,” Benny said, the humor gone. Maybe he realized Xander was freaking out a little. “I’ve had people who claimed to like me tie me down and torture me. You weren’t trying to do no harm, and I can tell the difference between an honest mistake and malicious intent. Of course, you might want to keep in mind that you look a good deal more threatening than any human, so you can see how Dean and I got a little twitchy, seeing as how we didn’t know what your intentions were.”

Xander cleared this throat. Yeah, he probably had kicked that hornets’ nest. Pretty much every time he tried to do the right thing, he did the wrong. He hadn’t been lying to Dean about that.

“So, how do we do this?” Benny asked. He stood in the middle of the living room with an almost defiant expression, and Elizabeth stood near the front door with her arms wrapped around her waist. There were a lot of uncomfortable people in the room, and Xander was counting himself in that number.

“He needs to drain off your energy,” Spike said when Xander couldn’t seem to find the words.

“Right. Feeding,” Xander said weakly.

“But you won’t kill him, right?” Elizabeth asked. She looked at Benny with all this worry, and Xander could almost taste her desire to help him.

“I’ll try not to,” Xander said. “I really am new at this.”

“Then we’d best get this done.” With that, Benny stepped right up close to Xander. Xander was surprised to find that Benny was a couple of inches shorter. He had a lot of presence that made him seem larger than life, but he wasn’t actually a very large man. He tilted his head back a little, and Xander felt his fear at showing weakness.

“You don’t have to do that,” Xander said. He reached up and caught Benny by the back of the neck, pressing so that Benny would stop baring it that way. Benny didn’t deserve to be forced into submission, but Xander had the feeling that’s what he expected.

“What do I need to do?” Benny asked.

“Give me a second while I try to stop hyperventilating,” Xander confessed.

Benny gave him an incredulous look.

“The boy is better when he doesn’t think about it before he does it,” Spike said. “Get him thinking too much and he worries the edges of bloody everything.”

“Sounds like Lizzy,” Benny said.

Xander gasped as he finally found whatever internal switch let him feed. Benny’s mouth fell open and his eyes got large and Xander felt the energy flow into him. He didn’t even have to pull at it. The energy was more like water flowing downhill, and panic rolled through Xander as he tried to slow the current. He finally did, and now Xander could feel the emotions rushing in with the power. Fear. Loneliness. Helplessness. Benny was dying an inch at a time, scrambling to find a reason to spend one more day avoiding the hunters’ blades. Xander could also feel the hot need Benny had felt at the idea of joining a crew again. He needed to belong. Loss. He’d had so much loss. Xander got a flash of Dean walking away, and Benny carried that like a deep wound, even if there was forgiveness clinging to the memory as much as pain.

Benny sank to his knees, his eyes starting to roll back in his head, and Xander refocused on the pure energy, sinking down with Benny. When Benny started to rock from side to side, Xander caught his arm and lowered him down to the deep plum rug in the center of the room. Fear. Guilt. A deep sense of failure and weakness.

Shoving all those aside, Xander gathered up his own strength and waited for some tipping point that his instincts told him hadn’t come yet. Benny grew weaker, and his skin turned the color of old parchment before finally his eyes started to close. In the distance, Xander could hear Elizabeth’s cries and he knew Spike was moving, but Xander focused everything on Benny. He shoved his energy back down that pathway he’d just used to feed. He pushed energy and more energy, and Xander could feel it slide off as if it were hitting a forcefield.

He kept shoving. He thought about Elizabeth and Dean. He thought about how much Benny could protect the fragile humans if he only took some of the energy. He focused on that and pushed with all his might. Dorsey had unconsciously reached out and grabbed at the energy Xander had offered, but Benny wasn’t.

Xander looked over at Elizabeth’s tear-streaked face and thought about that as he shoved another pulse of energy out, and this time, he could feel a small crack. Focusing on that, Xander concentrated. He drove every ounce of energy he could muster at that point, and it was like glass shattering.

The sudden lack of resistance startled Xander so much that he fell forward across Benny. They lay in a heap, the energy tangling between them, and then Benny gasped loudly.

“Damn.” Benny sounded dazed.

Xander understood the feeling. Even without soldiers around to zat him afterwards, making a child was hard. Spike’s hands pulled him up and helped him settle back down onto the couch. Elizabeth crouched near Benny, not touching but staring at him with worry even as she wiped her tears away.

“Are you okay?” She reached out, hesitated, and then pulled her hand back.

Benny struggled to sit up, and Xander reached out to help, but Spike caught his wrist and held it.

“Yeah. I’m fine, cher,” Benny said.

“Are you changed,” she asked next.

Benny frowned and ran a hand over his face. “Yeah. I reckon I am. I feel whole, like the part of me that was always pulling at me is gone.”

“Pulling at you?” Elizabeth moved closer and laid her hand on Benny’s arm. “What do ya mean?”

“Can’t really say,” Benny said slowly. He looked down at Elizabeth’s hand, and Xander could feel the shifting. Benny looked up at her face, and a spark seemed to flare up between them before it faded. “I always felt this pull, but it’s gone now.”

“Could be the vampire alpha was trying to call you,” Spike said.

Elizabeth helped Benny to his feet, and for a second, he clung to her. “If so, he wasn’t being real clear,” Benny said, “but I didn’t know how strong that pull was until it was gone. Thank you for that,” Benny said, holding out a hand to Xander. It felt strange, shaking hands like they had just finished a business transaction, but Xander solemnly took Benny’s hand.

When they made contact, Xander could feel Benny’s emotions wash over him. Relief. Obligation. Fear. Regret. Joy. All of them tangled up until Xander pulled his hand back and broke the connection.

Benny smiled at him. “I guess you’re my pappy now. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Xander said. He pulled his hand back, and Spike slipped an arm around his waist and held on tight.

“You both look rode hard and put up wet. I’ve never let a man go hungry, so if you come on in, I’ll make another one of those shrimp poboys you inhaled at the café,” Elizabeth offered.

Xander looked at Spike. He wanted to stay. Some part of him really wailed at the thought of leaving Benny. He wasn’t like Dorsey who had a whole base full of people who would support him—he only had Elizabeth. Not that he would ever call Elizabeth an “only.” Nope, he was way too smart to say anything that stupid out loud.

“We’ll stay,” Spike said.

Elizabeth’s face lit with a smile. “Good, because this one will not be passing out like that Dorsey man did. I want to know everything,” Elizabeth said. Benny got an embarrassed look on his face.

“Now, cher, I’m sure they want to get clear before the Air Force turns up.”

“It sounds like the Air Force is avoiding them,” she said. She leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek before she turned and headed for the kitchen. “So, explain how feeding off energy works, and how often do you have to do it?” she called over her shoulder.

“Lord have mercy, I have turned her into a mother hen,” Benny said sadly, but he still had a crooked smile.

“She can mother hen with Spike. He does it too,” Xander said with some sympathy. It was nice to know you were the center of someone’s life, but it did get a little much sometimes.

Benny eyed Spike. “Yeah, I can see you’re the sort.”

Spike flipped him two fingers before standing up and heading for the kitchen himself. “The first thing you have to know, mum, is that the idiots will try and starve themselves rather than admit they need more food and energy than normal,” Spike said. Xander cringed.

“Sorry,” he whispered. He stood up, and the world spun a little. Benny reached out and caught his arm, steadying him.

“I do that now, so if I inherited more of a tendency from you, I suppose she should know,” he said. “Mind you, I’d prefer him phrasing it a little different.”

“That’s sorta Spike,” Xander said by way of an apology. With that, he headed into the kitchen. Yeah, Spike was going to embarrass him, but Elizabeth was making poboys, and her cooking was definitely worth it.

They talked until the sun came up, and then Spike and Xander crashed in the spare bedroom with blankets tacked up around the windows. While Spike had revealed all kinds of embarrassing details, including how sometimes it was important to just take a slayer demon in hand and throttle him until he stopped being an idiot, Benny had gotten his own back by teasing Spike mercilessly about having to avoid the sun like some sort of fictional horror movie vampire. It felt almost like home. Xander knew they couldn’t stay because Spike’s paranoia about the Air Force was way too thick for that. Besides, as much as Benny and Elizabeth felt like home, this universe didn’t. But for one night Xander let his guard down, and when he curled up and felt Spike’s arms around him, he could honestly say he was happy.

Part Forty

Another day, another hotel, another call home. Xander would have felt guilty about the paint on the carpet, but honestly, witchy runes in white house paint could only improve the décor of the motel they were in. This one was done up with horses. Horse wallpaper. Horse carpet. Bits and bridles for towel hooks even. Someone in this universe had offended the god of motel decorating and that pissy little shit was still getting even.

Spike finished the spell and the air shimmered as it made contact with the others back home.

“Red, you there?” Spike asked.

“Spike! Oh Goddess, I was worried when you missed the last check in. Is Xander okay?”

“Fine and fit and mostly not tripping over my own feet,” Xander offered.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Spike said as he looked to the wide patch of spilled white paint where Xander had accidentally kicked the can over. But again, Xander wasn’t feeling guilty because it actually made the room look better.

“Good news,” Willow said, her voice warbling a bit as the spell struggled to maintain the connection. “Well, mostly good news, with a pinch of potentially bad news depending on your definition of bad.”

“Red…” Spike definitely made that sound like a threat.

“Right. Okay, so I have a spell. And I think Xander might actually fit through it, but it doesn’t work from that dimension to this one.”

“Um, Willow, that’s a problem,” Xander said, “because I’m in this dimension and I’m trying to get to that one.”

“Yes, but you didn’t go straight there.”

“Purgatory,” Spike said with a sigh.

“Exactly! Purgatory! And if you can get to purgatory on your side and I can get there on my side, then I think I can open a portal between the two purgatories, and you can come home.”

As good as that sounded, Xander’s gut was still uneasy. “Willow, where is the pinch of potentially bad in this?”

She took a second to answer, which was never a good thing. “The magical rules in purgatory are way different, so I’m almost sure that getting pulled from one side to the other won’t strip off your powers, but I can’t be sure.”

Spike flashed into gameface, even though she couldn’t see him.

Xander dropped down to sit cross-legged next to Spike. If he didn’t sit, he was about to fall down because he knees had definitely gone weak. “Willow, if this is an excuse to depowerfy me, that is a monumentally bad idea. The powers are part of me, and I really want to stay me. You have got to make sure that I’m coming through without missing bits or I’m not going to try,” Xander said firmly.

“Xander!” Willow sounded shocked.

“Red, I’m seconding that,” Spike said firmly. “The boy has changed too much to go back, and if you try, you’ll kill him. If you can’t make the spell stable enough to get all of him through, then we wait.”

The pause at the other end made it pretty clear that Willow had been scheming, and Xander was guessing Dawn, Buffy, and Andrew were probably her co-schemers. Great. They wanted him to go back to being the helpless guy who drank his problems away and hid in his room… or in the nearest bar. God, he’d been turning into his father—minus the unwanted child.

“They mean well. They don’t know how things are, luv,” Spike said softly. He reached over and ran his fingers over Xander’s neck. Xander shivered and leaned closer. Spike’s arm reached around his waist, holding him tightly, and Xander relaxed into that grip. He kept screwing up, and he knew it. He didn’t know how to be the person who didn’t, so until he could get himself back on an even keel, he was going to let Spike handle this instead of screaming about how the others always tried to run his life for him. And how weird was it that he was okay with Spike running his life?

“Are you still there?” Willow called.

“Yeah, we’re here,” Spike agreed. “We’re still not going through with this unless you can bloody promise me that he’s coming through in one piece. I’m not bringing him through just to go to his funeral.”

Willow’s gasp was audible across the spell. “We would never put him in danger.”

“Maybe not on purpose, but you can’t separate him from this power any more than you can separate my soul from my vampire.”

“Right, no separating Xander from the power,” Willow agreed. “As long as you’re coming through purgatory, that’s possible.”

“Better be, Red,” Spike said with a growl in his voice. It was odd, hearing Spike be all protective of him, especially when Xander knew he’d never been great at protecting himself from his friends. He got bossy and shitty and passive aggressive, and sometimes he even got drunk and meanly honest, but he wasn’t good at protecting himself.

“He’s our friend. We wouldn’t hurt him.” Willow was definitely getting offended now. Spike, however, didn’t seem to care.

“You wouldn’t mean to, and you’d be sorry after. However, he’d still be dead. Now how do we get into purgatory from here and when do you need us to go?”

“I’m sending a spell. It’s going to require you to kill something evil.”

“Evil or inhuman? Or both?” Xander asked. He wondered how long they’d all used evil and inhuman interchangeably. A long damn time.

“Both,” Willow said. “I’m sending a spell, but you can’t use it until after the paper turns red.”

“And if we use it too early?” Spike asked.

“Um…we won’t be ready on this end, so you’ll be stuck in purgatory waiting for us to catch up.”

“Right. We’ll wait,” Spike said firmly. A scroll burst into existence, and Xander’s ears popped. “We’ve got the spell,” he said, reaching in to grab the paper.

“Okay. So…”

“We’ll see you soon,” Spike said, and leaning down, he blew out the candle that was part of the spell. Willow’s voice just vanished. Spike glanced over, and then seemed to take a second look where he really studied Xander. “How are you doing?”

“Me? Hey. I’m great. We’re going home. That’s… great.” Xander frowned as he tried to come up with any other word he could use to describe it.

“You lie about as well as you walk.”

“You don’t have to get all insulty.”

Spike stood and pulled Xander up with him. Then he tugged on Xander, forcing him to turn until they faced each other. “Do you want to stay here?”

“Here kind of sucks, Spike. In terms of universes, this is one of the shittier ones.”

“I’m not disagreeing. But you don’t seem exactly thrilled with going back.”

Xander chewed on his lower lip as he thought about it. It was simpler here. If they went back, he was going to have to face his friends and hopefully do it without turning into his father or accidentally breaking them with his new powers.

“We can stay here, pet,” Spike offered with way more sympathy than Xander expected. Xander felt like cobwebs were all tangled up in his brain cells and he couldn’t think right.

“What are we doing?” he asked.

“I thought that’s what I asked you.”

Xander reached up and grabbed Spike’s wrists. “What are we doing? You keep dropping all these hints like maybe we don’t hate each other anymore, and I don’t know exactly where you’re going.”

Spike’s eyebrows rose all the way up. “Do you need a bloody roadmap?”

“Yes,” Xander said firmly.

For a second, Spike blinked at him. “Okay then,” he finally said. “You’re a trusting bugger, and I like that someone finally trusts me enough to let me lead without always reminding me of every soddin’ mistake I ever made. And I want to point out that my plans did work until I ran into you lot. I thought I disregarded rules, but I’m a paragon of conformity compared to you.”

“I almost understand what that means,” Xander said.

Spike rolled his eyes.

“Does this have anything to do with me being strong?”

“Some,” he admitted.

“Yeah, the idea of sex with humans is actually creeping me out a little. They break,” Xander said, wrinkling his nose.

That made Spike laugh. “That they do, luv. You shag a human and either you need an iron control over yourself or you’re breaking them. Dru always tried to keep her human pets alive, not that it did much good.”

“This is a disturbing conversation.”

“And that’s something else I like. I don’t have to wonder where I am with you. You tell me. And even when you’re annoyed as a wet cat, you still listen.”

“You’re only about a hundred years older than me, and in case you haven’t noticed, I suck at running my life. You don’t panic or flail or do really stupid shit just because you can’t think of anything less stupid to do. And you’re loyal, so I know if you promise to stick with me, you will. And that’s kind of important because I’ve been on this whole screwed up mission to drive people away.”

“Willow,” Spike said.

“She wants me to be happy-happy all the time. Does she have any idea what I saw in Africa? I mean, people are not the nicest creatures in the world, and she wants me to brush all that off like it’s dust.”

Spike pulled Xander closer, his arms slipping around Xander’s waist. “No, she hopes, pet. She hopes you can brush it off and she’s afraid that they abandoned you. They were all so caught up in their own projects, they never thought about what it would mean for a human doing the work they asked you to do.”

“Giles asked,” Xander whispered. He closed his eyes and let himself feel Spike’s strength around him.

“Giles is a right git, but you’re the one who asked for a job.”

“He gave me Africa.”

“You turned down half the world before he landed on Africa.”

“How did…” Xander sighed. “Buffy ripped him a new one, huh?”

“Bloody right,” Spike agreed. “But you’re too like Dean, always hiding that pain so the others think you’re not feeling it, and then when the surface cracks and they see all that suffering all boiling over inside, they don’t know what to do with it.”

“I don’t do that,” Xander protested, but he knew Spike was right. He did do that.

Spike snorted his disgust with the lie. “Buffy goes out and fights. I do the same. Red will go and have herself a cry and do a little meditating. You’re the one who bottles it all up until you’re ready to blow.” Spike pulled back and caught Xander’s arm as he guided him back toward the bed. “You never have figured out how to let any of those feelings out, have you?”

“Sure. I drink. And then I’m drunk. Drunk lets it out.” Xander gave him a goofy grin.

Spike gave Xander a little shove so he sat on the edge of the bed. “Pet, if drinking worked, you would have been the mentally healthiest git in our universe.”

“So that’s a ‘no’ on drinking the problems away?” Xander nodded. “I mostly already knew that.”

Running his fingers through Xander’s hair, Spike looked down at him. “I always did fall for the loony ones.”

“Hey, I resemble that remark.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Ya have to find a way to claw all that emotion out and let it go.”

“Easier said than done,” Xander confessed.

“I know how I like to do it.” Spike wiggled his eyebrows.

“I’m not chasing down a moira demon just so you can kick it to death.”

Spike blinked at him. “I’m making a pass at you, ya nit.”

“Oh. You are?” Xander tried to find more words, but honestly, they weren’t there. Sex. With Spike. Okay, the thought wasn’t bad, but there was a definitely lack of knowing what exactly that meant. “I’ve never, you know.”

“After a hundred years, I know a lot,” Spike said with another eyebrow wiggle, so Xander assumed that was more sex talk.

“I should be more weirded out by this.”

Spike ran his fingers through Xander’s hair. “You’ve been holding to me since I tied you to the bed, pet. I could have taken you then, and your demon would have been happy enough, even if the rest of you needed time to catch up.”

Xander frowned and thought back. “No, I’m pretty sure I would have totally freaked.”

“Bloody right you would have, but you would have enjoyed it. I can feel ya, luv. I can feel ya the way I might a minion I made, only the feelings are sharper. Maybe this is what it feels like to make a childe, but if so, Angelus is a right bastard for leaving someone he could feel like this.” Spike’s voice seemed to fade out, and his fingers stroked through Xander’s hair.

“You feel me?”

Spike sniffed and pulled his hand back before nodded. “Yeah, luv, I can. If you focused on yourself instead of running around trying to fix the rest of the world in some attempt to avoid yourself, you’d feel me too.”

Xander held his breath and tried to listen to his own thoughts. It was pretty much a failure because all he could feel was the stirring fears about going back, and the guilt about not helping Dean and a cold sort of desperation to do something that he couldn’t even identify.

“Kit off,” Spike said before stripping off his shirt and tossing it to one side. Xander’s mouth fell open and he just stared at Spike. Naked Spike. Beautiful naked Spike. Xander’s cock started warming to the idea right way, even if the rest of him was sort of frozen.

After sitting down on the edge of the bed, Spike pulled off his boots and put them next to the scroll Willow had sent through. While Xander’s fingers fluttered around his buttons, he struggled to get even one open before Spike sat back up. Xander could feel his face heat up, and he expected mocking. However, Spike gave him a soft smile and moved to stand in front of him. After batting Xander’s hands away, Spike took over the buttons.

“You’re alright, luv. Just breathe.”

“I don’t have to breathe,” Xander pointed out. He fisted his hands and wondered what to do with them. Reaching up, he rested them on Spike’s hips for a second before dropping them back to his sides.

“Yeah, but it will keep you relaxed. Just focus on not forgetting to breathe.”

“Easier said than done, Xander whispered as his cock started to ache and his skin itched. He wanted contacted. Needed it. Spike slipped Xander’s shirt off, his hands skimming over Xander’s overwarm skin. His brain whiting out a little, Xander reached up and caught Spike’s shoulders, holding tightly.

Spike chuckled and then pushed him back onto the bed. When he laid on Xander, his weight pinning Xander down, Xander thought he might come just from that. “You're mine, aren’t you, luv? I always take what’s mine.”

Xander groaned as Spike pressed his fingers deep into Xander’s shoulders. Then Spike kissed him. Hard. Demanding. Verging on painful as twin fangs nipped him. Xander thrust his hips up in a silent plea for more.

“Someone’s randy,” Spike teased.

“Someone’s Xander, and if you’re doing this with a Randy, I’m eating him,” Xander replied.

Spike laughed. “Someone’s got a jealous streak."

“Hell yes. Jealous, petty—” Xander might have kept going, but Spike said up and pressed the heel of his hand into Xander’s hard cock. His words vanished in a meaningless mewl. Only then did Spike start working on stripping Xander of his pants. While Xander tried to help, he was fairly sure that his squirming was more of a hindrance.

Xander shivered as Spike ran a possessive hand over Xander’s now-bare ass and down a thigh. He pressed back and wiggled in invitation.

"I’m going to enjoy this," Spike said as he stripped off his own jeans and underwear. Then he gave Xander a slap on the ass that made Xander gasp. Spike’s cock hung heavy between his legs as he stood there, and Xander reached out. He ran his fingertips over the soft skin, watching as it stiffened. This was odd, but Xander wanted it. He was hungry for it. Hell, he was about ready to beg if that’s what Spike wanted, but Spike stood there, looking down with this fond expression Xander didn’t quite understand.

“What do you want me to do?” Xander asked.

“Whatever you want,” Spike said, tilting his head to the side. Xander pulled his fingers back just a bit, and Spike caught his hand. Leaning closer, he brought Xander’s hand to his lips and kissed the inside of Xander’s wrist before sliding fangs into the flesh.

Xander cursed and thrust up into the air. Before he could repeat the futile gesture, Spike was there, his naked body pressing down into Xander.

Xander went wild, thrusting up as he tried to get the right friction on his cock to match the heat and tingling need that crawled up his arm as Spike fed. Spike slid his fangs free and gave Xander an evil smirk.

"Oi, someone's being all pushy." Spike grabbed Xander by the shoulders and physically shifted him farther up onto the bed before holding him down. Xander panted in need, but since he didn’t really know what he wanted, he waited for Spike to make the first move. Spike did that when he grabbed Xander's cock.

"Spike, please," Xander begged as he tried to thrust into the hand only to have Spike move with him, teasing him with the lack of friction. “Please.” Xander didn’t need dignity. Hell, he’d lost it so long ago he didn’t remember it anymore. He did need to come. Badly.

"My pace, luv," Spike said firmly. “Flip over.”

Xander hurried to do just that, and he got in one thrust against the sheets before Spike caught him by the hips and pulled him up so that his groin was above the bed. “Geez, Spike.”

“Get your knees under ya,” Spike ordered. Groaning with frustration and lust, Xander did that. Then he watched as Spike quickly locked cuffs around Xander’s ankles. The military had taken the ones Xander used to wear, and he’d forgotten how it felt to have leather pressing into his skin, reminding him that Spike felt this sense of ownership over him. Xander shivered in lust. Two more cuffs went around his wrist, and Xander waited for Spike to cuff his hands behind his back. That’s what Spike normally did. Instead, Spike clipped a short chain to Xander’s left hand and pulled it down until he could clip the other end to Xander’s left wrist.

When Spike repeated it on the other side, connecting right wrist to right ankle, Xander found his face pressed into the mattress with his ass up in the air. The helplessness made him groan with need, but Xander couldn’t do anything about it because his cock was hanging free.

"Such a pretty demon." Spike stroked his ass, pinching it when Xander least expected it.

"Spike, please," Xander found the words to beg.

“Do you feel me?” Spike asked, and Xander tried to nod, his cheek rubbing against the sheet.

“Really? Do you really feel me?” Spike laid his body across Xander’s back, and Xander could feel the faint press of power, a sense of ownership, a pleasure in watching a lover squirming and a hot need.


“There you, luv.” Something wet and soft ran across his asshole. Xander groaned as the feeling of warmth traveled up his spine and radiated through his body. Spike moved, and something was inside Xander. A finger, he realized. Spike had put a finger in him. Xander pressed his forehead to the mattress and groaned in need.

“Someone’s ready to get buggered,” Spike teased.

“Yes and yes,” Xander agreed. The pressure in his ass grew, and muscles stretched in delicious ways. The beautiful pain shifted to a growing heat as Spike spread his fingers.

Spike reached inside and the pressure against Xander’s prostate made him cry out in need. He needed to thrust, to come, to move, to get fucked or do something, but Spike kept moving in slow motion. This was torture. Spike was torturing him.

Spike chuckled. “So impatient.”

"Impatient?" Xander demanded. “It’s sex. We’re men. Impatience is mandatory.”

“Someone has a lot to learn.” Spike shifted and Xander moaned in distress as his fingers pulled out. “Tell me if it hurts,” Spike said.

“It hurts,” Xander immediately answered. His cock was so hard and heavy and hot that it did. He needed to come so much that it was like he had itching powder in his shorts and he was sitting in the middle of math class. It was torture.

“Nancy boy.”

Xander didn’t answer because he could feel something huge pressing against his ass. He pressed back, desperate for more, and Spike grunted as he pushed in. The friction burned the way Mexican night at the Bronze burned his tongue. It verged on pain and made his eyes water, but he wanted to gobble up more and more. Xander moaned

Spike started tiny rocking motions, sinking deeper each time. Xander tried to push back and impale himself, but Spike held his hips and continued his own slow assault. Each thrust was longer, and now the pressure against Xander prostate came and went like waves that washed Xander's brain cells away with the tide. Gasping in both pleasure and pain, Xander fisted his hands and arched his back as Spike pulled out and then slammed in again. Finally Spike stopped, his cock buried all the way in Xander, and Xander wailed.

“Problem, luv?”

Xander would have been offended, but he could hear the edge in Spike’s voice. The vamp was barely holding on himself. Xander tightened his ass around Spike’s cock, and a low growl answered him.

The thrusts came harder. Their bodies slapped together so hard that it sounded like a slap fight. Xander cried out as he started coming and suddenly the heat eased as Spike came, and his come lubed Xander’s ass so he slid in and out easily. The new sensation sent pure pleasure crashing through Xander’s core. He panted, all his thoughts scrambled.

That’s when he really felt it. Spike’s pure satisfaction and warm possessiveness, yes. But he also felt Dorsey. He was hunting, moving warily and sending his senses out into the night. Benny was with Lizzy, his fears and needs raw as they talked. He could feel them. Lizzy and Willow were more distant whispers in his mind, but they were all there, connected to him. His children. His lover. His family.

Spike unhooked the chains from the ankle cuffs and Xander flopped down onto the bed and let Spike’s need for family wash through him. Family. Clan. Beings that would walk through eternity with him. The need had been a sharp edge of glass that Spike had never escaped.

“It’s why I could never walk away from Angel,” Spike said as he settled down next to Xander, his arm around Xander’s back. Then Spike slipped his leg between Xander’s leg and used his knee to press up into Xander’s sore ass. The little aftershocks of pleasure made Xander gasp.

“You feel me,” Xander said.

“Always have, since that first night you woke up tied to my bed. Felt you like a minion at first, but the sense kept growing.”

“But… I’m not a minion,” Xander said.

“Nope,” Spike agreed. “You’re not even a vampire, but when I saw what you did with Dorsey, I figured it out quick enough. You never were one for being alone, so any creature built out of your needs would want a partner. Need one, even.”

“So, this is me? This connection is because of what I am?”

“It’s what it means to be a slayer in this world. They need a partner.” Spike sighed. “We need to find another name or Giles is going to throw a wobbly.”

“That sounds like a good reason to keep the name,” Xander said. Yeah, it was a petty and shitty thing to say, but Giles hadn’t come to his wedding. And Giles had given him the job in Africa. And Giles had locked him up and chained him to a bed, although that was another Giles.

“Our Giles is not going to like me being demonified,” Xander pointed out.

“Fuck ‘em,” Spike said. “So, what about being called a hunter demon? There isn’t really a group that calls itself hunters in our world.”

Xander thought about it. “If we use hunter demon, you know people are going to ask what I hunt.”

“Wot? You plan to stay home and make dinner while I hunt the baddies?”

Xander pushed himself up enough to really look Spike in the face. “You want me to hunt with you?”

“Bloody hell, yes! I’m finding the biggest, baddest bugger we can find and waving him under your nose like a big piece of chocolate. Demons happen to like death and destruction.”

“Huh.” Xander dropped back down onto the bed. “The girls had exiled me from hunting, and that’s pretty much what caused my whole funk and the telling off of Willow right before Eve grabbed me.”

“Not their choice now, is it? You’re my hunter demon.” Spike kissed Xander’s shoulder before sliding his fangs into the flesh. Xander groaned as he felt the heat and pleasure of being fed upon and felt the growing warmth and satisfaction of feeding that flowed to him from Spike. Oh yeah. He did like his powers.

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