Musical Wars


Simple Truths

"Xander, duck," Gunn yelled as he brought his stake up.  He would have ignored the request, only he felt himself physically thrown to one side as Spike first flung him to a nearby couch and then planted himself in front of that couch, loudly growling.

"Son of a …" Gunn started, and then he lunged.  Without even a sound, Spike grabbed the arm, twisted it and sent the rest of Gunn sailing toward the door.  Spike might have continued the move to its logical conclusion with Gunn's arm ripped from his body, except Xander threw himself on Spike's back pulling at the vampire and throwing off his balance.

"Sit," Spike roared, and Xander felt his legs moving without his permission.

"Fuck, Spike, stop!"  He yelled from the couch once he realized he no longer had the option to physically intervene.

"William," roared a new voice, and Spike stopped with Gunn trapped face first on the wall and his arm, still clutching the stake, twisted up behind his back.  "Let him go," Angel roared again as he walked into the room.  He could see Spike's arm tremble, but Spike simply turned his game face to Angel without releasing the now squirming Gunn.

"What's this, then, Peaches?  Always figured you'd have at me yourself when you wanted me dust."  At these words, Xander froze.  Never in his life had he felt so panicked, so desperate.  He looked around for a weapon he could use because he sure wasn't letting Angel kill Spike without a fight.

"William, that's not what this is about," Angel insisted, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender.  Xander didn't stop looking for that weapon; lamp, good as an impromptu club; coffee pot, break for cutting edges. Oh great, he was considering taking on a centuries old vampire with a lamp, no wonder everyone thought he needed protection.

"Better start talkin' if ya don't want your toy broken," Spike snarled as he twisted Gunn's arm up higher.  He could hear Gunn gasp.

"Spike, please," he quietly begged.

"Quiet, pet.  Won't hurt 'em as long as Peaches starts talkin'.  Course, if he don't, might just have to rip the wanker's arm off and beat him to death with it," Spike pointed out cheerfully.  He watched as Gunn grew suddenly still, and he could just imagine the fear going through Gunn's mind; it wasn't that long ago that Spike had him pinned to the ground in a parking lot and he thought that he was going to die.  Not a pleasant experience.

"William, let Gunn go and we'll talk."

"Right, just like he tried to talk when I first walked in?  Nope, never trust an enemy enough to let go of the leverage, you taught me that, Peaches, remember?"

"You don't need leverage, William.  We just want to talk,” Xander watched as Angel took a step toward Spike, but Spike simply growled his response.  Angel took a step back, but he could see how Angel had actually inched toward him.  He opened his mouth to warn Spike, but the younger vampire was not so easily fooled.

"Ya take one more step toward Xander, and I'll tear the human into dog food sized pieces."  Spike warned.  "Pet, get over here."  Xander slid down the couch so that when he stood he was as far from Angel as possible.  He quickly darted to Spike so that they were just a few feet from the front door.  Please God just let them get out without anyone getting killed.   Funny how he prayed so much more now that he hung out with the evil undead.

"Spike, please, just let Gunn go," he tried again, but Spike's growl only deepened.

"You want to talk, go ahead," Spike suddenly spun Gunn around and launched him toward Angel.  Gunn hit Angel and nearly took both of them to the ground. 

"That's right, you better let me go 'cause I'm gonna tear you apart for what you did to my boy."

"Gunn," Xander stepped forward, but Spike's arm and Gunn cold stare both effectively stopped him.

"Don't," Gunn warned him.  "Didn't save Alonna and won't save you."  Gunn shifted into an attack pose, and Angel put a hand on Gunn's shoulder, a hand Gunn quickly shook off.  "You gonna claim he's got a soul too?  Maybe there's some big souled monster convention in town I don't know about."

"Ain't got no soddin' soul," Spike objected quickly, and Gunn turned to glare at him. 

"Then I ain't got no problem dusting you for turnin' my boy," Gunn raised the stake, and Angel put a hand on his wrist.

"Xander isn't a vampire," Angel calmly declared, and Xander could see the suspicion, the hope, the fear all cross Gunn's face like a series of veils dropped down over his features.

"Gunn, I'm not.  I'm still the same Xan-man demon-magnet as always," he tried to laugh, but the noise came out sounding more strangled than anything else.

"No, you're *not*.  The Xander I knew didn't hide from me behind a filthy monster."  Xander stood, immobilized by those words as surely as if Gunn had paralyzed him.

"Oi, watch your tongue, wanker, or ya might well lose it."


"Don't soddin' preach to me, Peaches."

"Well if he ain't a vamp, someone better start explaining or I will find a place to stick this stake."

"Gunn, you don't need…"

"Bloody hell, just try and stick it here, I'll bugger ya with it before I tear out…"


"I'll show you how my boys and I dust vamps." 

The words washed over Xander, the voices overlapping, shouting, intersecting until the words themselves disappeared under the general tone of hostility and promised pain.  He leaned back against the wall as he watched Angel hold Gunn back with one arm while trying to keep his body between Gunn and Spike.  Shit.  He felt the terror rise as he realized that someone was about to die, and he wasn't going to like any possible outcome.  The two vamps each continually squared off, Spike's head tilted up slightly in a posture he associated with Spike searching for some scent.  Angel still wore his human face, but flashes of gold in brown eyes revealed his anger.  Oh yeah, imminent bloodshed, and here he stood utterly and entirely helpless to stop it.

"Oh.  My.  God," a female voice yelled from the open office door.  He watched as Spike instantly stepped back to stand between him and the door as Cordelia walked in and slammed the door loud enough to stop all yelling.  "We have a lease people!  A lease that says we will not disturb the neighbors by screaming in the middle of the night."  Cordelia stood with her hands on her hips, a small bag dangling from one wrist. 

"You, blondie, lose the fangs before you scare off the paying clients," she ordered as she darted a finger toward Spike.  "And you mister don't have the money to get blood cleaned out of the carpet, so you better chill out," she declared as the finger turned to Angel.  "And I don't even know who you are, but if you know what's good for you, you WILL NOT come in here waving stakes and threatening murder," she finished with the long finger pointed right at Gunn.

"You tell 'em," Spike cheered even as the fangs and wrinkles disappeared.

"This *another* vampire?  If this is a nest, I know what my boys like to do with nests."

"Oh get over yourself," Cordelia snapped as she walked to the desk and leaned over to pull out a cross.  "Do we need to pass this around?" she asked as she waved the ornately carved wooden crucifix.

"I'll pass," Angel said as he retreated to the wall opposite Spike.  Xander held up his hand.

"Toss it here, Cordelia."  The cross made a nice arc through the air and he caught it before holding it up for Gunn to see.  "No smoke, no burning," he pointed out as he waved it.

"Watch it, pet" Spike complained as the cross came too close to him.

"Sorry."  He tossed the cross back to Cordelia and risked a quick glance at Gunn.  The man stood in the middle of the room with an expression that made him fear Gunn for the first time in his life.  He wondered if this was the look Gunn gave vampires before turning them to dust. 

"I'm really not a vamp," he promised.  "Probably look like one cause of the whole clothes thing, but really that's just cause Spike hates the flowers and surf themed shirts even more than Luther.  Of course Luther only complains while Spike tends to shred them when I'm not looking.  It's kinda like the whole 'your mother dresses you funny' thing only with a vampire instead of a mother and the whole dressing well thing…" He let his voice trail off when Gunn's expression didn't change.

"You always hang out with vampires, cheerleader?" Gunn cocked his head toward Cordelia.  "What?  You have death wish?"

"Oh, please.  Angel is about as dangerous as a houseplant," she insisted as she walked over to the couch and sat down, placing herself between Spike and Angel and within three feet of Gunn. 

"And that one, you trust that one too?" Gunn demanded with a nod toward Spike.  He tried not to show how much it hurt that Gunn wanted someone else's opinion and didn't even give him a chance to explain.

"Not as far as I can throw him," Cordelia scoffed.  "But Angel and Xander can handle him."

"You trying to tell me you don't mind being in the same room with that monster, a monster who's probably thinking about how much he'd like to tear your throat out right now?"  Gunn kept his eyes on Spike.

"Oh, please.  Melodramatic much?" she rolled her eyes.  "Spike, are you thinking about tearing my throat out?" she asked with such perfect calm that Xander found himself wishing he could have watched this goddess emerge from the self-involved girl he had known in high school.

"Not really, luv.  Thinkin' about tearin' out the wanker's throat, but I wouldn't do that to you."  Spike dug in his duster and came up with cigarettes.  When he lit one and leaned back, Xander realized that he hadn't seen this casually violent and detached Spike since before his capture by Cassidy. 

"There, you see?" Cordelia challenged Gunn.

"If Peaches ever cuts ya loose, I'll probably just turn ya.  You'd make a beauty of a vampire," Spike finished with a leer as he took a deep drag on his cigarette.

"Okay, and now we're back with the disturbing compliments, Spike.  Can't you ever give someone a compliment that doesn't lead to nightmares and expensive therapy?" Xander asked with a disgusted face.

"Hey, at least he gives compliments," Cordelia countered.  "Angel over there, you almost have to throw yourself at him to even get him to notice new shoes." 

"Yeah, well Spike gives compliments that would make Mengele proud.  He once told me that my hair was so nice that his Drusilla would have kept my body around to pet until I started stinking up the lair."

"Ew," Cordelia's nose wrinkled up in disgust until she had managed a fairly good impression of a vampire game face minus fangs.  "Okay, you win that round."

"You're all nuts," Gunn declared as he retreated to the fourth wall and sat on Cordelia's desk, stake still in hand.

 "Can we talk now?" Angel asked from his position near the door leading to the back.

"Came here to talk, Peaches.  Your boy over there started something he couldn't finish."

"I ain't nobody's boy, especially not some vampire's," Gunn started standing again, and Xander jumped in before all hell broke loose again.

"Gunn, what did you mean about Alonna?  What happened?" he asked, fear making his voice tremble.  Gunn met his eyes for a moment, and then he sank back down on the desk, his anger buried under pain.

"She got vamped," he whispered, and Xander felt his legs get suddenly weak.  He reached out for the arm of the couch, and he felt Cordelia's hands guide him down to sit with her.

"Oh god, Gunn, I'm so sorry.  I should've been there."  Xander felt his heart break for the beautiful woman he thought of as a sister. 

"Too many vamps on the streets, we couldn't cover everybody," Gunn said in a voice as flat and emotionless as a robot, but he knew Gunn, he knew how Gunn hid his own heart, and he knew Gunn's pain.  "Angel here saved most of the crew, but we lost Trey too."

"Oh god."  Xander couldn't come up with any other words.  How many people would die before this war was over.  "It's my fault," he finally whispered into the silence that had fallen on the room.  "I killed Cassidy; it's my fault."

"*You* killed Cassidy?" Angel asked in surprise, and he could see the vampire looking from him to Spike.  He really couldn't blame Angel for doubting it; he wasn't exactly prime vampire hunter material.

"Who's Cassidy?" Gunn broke in.  "What kinda trouble you in, Xander?"

"Cassidy's the wanker who kidnapped Xander, the same vampire who commanded most of those fledges that've given you gits so much trouble. You're ready to bloody well throw him to the wolves when he's been fighting to protect ya," Spike walked to the open door and flicked his cigarette outside. 

"You took out a vamp?  Way to go, Xander.  Why didn't you call for backup?"

"Oh, and you and Spike would've worked together so well, what with the bonding and the sharing and the love," Xander snapped.  "Oh God, I'm sorry Gunn," he quickly added as he saw the expression of shock on Gunn's face.

"So you runnin' with him then?"  Gunn demanded. 

"Shit, can we start at the beginning?" Xander asked as he leaned his head back against the couch and looked at the ceiling.  "I really think I'm going to need someone to put all this in easy to understand bits using small words.  Might even need a few Cliff's notes." 

Three pots of coffee later, Xander leaned against Spike on the couch as Gunn sat expressionless at the desk and Angel sat in a folding chair with an expression of intense indigestion.  Of course Angel always looked like he had indigestion, so it might not have been a reaction to the night's revelations. 

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Cordelia swore from her end of the couch.  "I think *I* need the Cliff's notes version."  Xander just chuckled; he had lived most of it, and he still felt like he couldn't get his mind around it.

"So let me get this straight.  When Luther and I saved your sorry ass from Cassidy, the blood put this piece of demon in ya?"  Xander nodded.  "And when your buddy there smelled you, he grabbed you 'cause he thought you were with Cassidy?"  Spike raised his cigarette in affirmation, either that or he had just flipped Gunn off.   "And you two idiots were so busy fighting out back in an alley that you let Cassidy take off with my boy?"  Angel's expression went from indigestion to constipation, and this time Spike's two fingers didn't even hold a cigarette as they flicked upwards.  Gunn glared at both vampires for a moment before continuing.

"And when Angel wouldn't move fast enough, Spike tried to take on Cassidy's entire army alone?"  Xander found himself smiling at that thought.  Yes, disturbed that Spike had nearly gotten himself killed but still smiling.  "But Xander, whose little inner demon tried to turn him into Cassidy's slave, killed Cassidy."  Xander felt Spike's arm slip around his waist and tighten.  Gunn's eyes narrowed, but Gunn simply continued with his checklist of events.  "And now hundreds of vamps with appetites and no self control are running around L.A.?" Xander's flinch must have been confirmation enough because Gunn continued.  "So, Xander still has a piece of demon, but now that demon enslaves him to bleach-head."

"Oi," Spike loudly interrupted.  "Ya can still end up dinner if ya don't watch yourself."

"William," Angel warned.

"Won't listen to that rot," Spike snarled.  "Won't listen to it, and I won't have him sayin' it to Xander."

"Yeah, right, like you give a rat's ass what's best for Xander." Gunn snorted.  "So next question, how do we get the demon outta Xander?"  The words barely passed Gunn's lips when Spike, in full game face stood and stepped in front of Gunn.

"Touch him and I'll rip your guts out and string 'em around your neck before ya die."

"William," Angel said again, and Xander wondered if the older vampire actually knew how to say anything else when it came to Spike.

"Time out," Xander added.  "Maybe someone better ask me what I want."

"Right, you tell bleach-head here the facts of life, Xander."  He could see Spike's head tilt, the posture of uncertainty familiar even from the back since Spike refused to turn away from Gunn.  He knew Gunn's expression equally well, that look of calm self assurance when he held the winning hand in a poker game or set off a vampire trap.  He opened his mouth and nothing came out; how could he say anything knowing that he had to cut off one half of his life or the other.  The demon made its choice clear, but he couldn't say the words.

"Can we even get the demon out?" Cordelia saved him by asking.  He heard Spike growl, but Cordelia ignored it, and after a brief glare, Angel did too.

"Normally there is a spell, but I'm not sure this is a normal case.  There've been a couple of…abnormalities." 

"Yeah, ya know, sorta tired of hearing how abnormal I am, especially from a vampire with a soul," Xander pointed out.  Time for him to make a decision.  "Gunn, I appreciate everything you've done, and we can still be friends and hunt together, but I can't walk out on Spike.  He saved…"

"I saved your sorry ass more than he ever did, and I'd never turn around and use you like a slave or a quick dinner." He could see Gunn's hand tighten on the stake, the knuckles paling on his dark hand.

"That's not what we have; that's not how it is between us…" Xander struggled.  He wanted to just crack a joke and make it all go away, but he knew he couldn't do that.  "He understands the part of me that's the demon, and I think Angel's right, after four years this isn't a normal case of possession."  He sighed and tried again.  "You never knew me without the demon.  It's part of who I am and Spike understands…"

"No, I understand you perfectly well. You made your choice now live with it…or don't.  I guess that's your problem now."  Gunn slid the stake back into the back of his jeans and then held his open palms up as he walked past Spike on his way to the door.  "Next time, all truces are off.  I catch any vampires on my turf, and I'll dust them.  And whitebread," Gunn turned to look him in the eye, "We aren't friends, so don't come looking to hang out with the real vampire hunters."  Gunn disappeared out the door, and he tried not to cry or scream or beat his head against the wall.  He felt Cordelia's hand on his back.

"And don't you be gettin' any ideas about the mojo, either," Spike growled as he turned on Cordelia.

"Oh please, give it a rest.  You're going to wear your face out at this rate," Cordelia sighed.  "I just thought if there wasn't a cure, Gunn might be a little more forgiving."  Spike's game face faded back into human features, and he started digging in the duster.

"Whether he wants help or not, we've got to do something," Angel sighed.  "They're kids in the middle of a vampire war."

"So, stakes and swords all around?" Cordelia asked cheerfully.  "I can call Doyle, you can call that weird little demon who owes you money, and the six of us can go start making dust."

"Oi, not goin’ to solve anythin' that way," Spike interrupted.  "Need to have a master strong enough to hold the minions in check and chase off any newcomers," he finished as he lit a cigarette.

"And I suppose you think you're strong enough to take the job?" Angel growled.

"Bloody right I am, but I don't want the soddin' job.  Came here to kill Cassidy, and I'm not goin' to get tied down to some piece of turf."  Spike blew his smoke toward Angel and the older vampire narrowed his eyes in annoyance.

"This isn't a game, William.  You try to set up as the master here, and I will stake you."

"Listen ya nancy-boy, I told ya I don't want the job, so you can take your threats and shuv them up your oversized arse."

"Boys!" Cordelia snapped and both vampires stopped to look at her.  "Play nice," she absent-mindedly ordered.

"Ya have to find someone to be master here, Peaches.  Either that or ya have to take the job yourself."

"That's not how I work," Angel opened the door to the inner office.  "I kill vampires, and I'll hunt down there until I kill all of Cassidy's minions."  Angel disappeared into the inner office without giving anyone a chance to respond.

"Wanker," Spike hissed.

"If by that you mean totally unfashionable and unreasonable, I agree."  Cordelia nodded.

"Really, I thought the translation was broody, overbearing, and overly willing to use threats when completely unnecessary," Xander added to the banter even though he thought his heart would break.  If Cordelia could accept Spike for his sake, why couldn't Gunn?  Four years he had fought beside Gunn, and yet a girl he hadn't seen since his freshman year of high school stood by him while Gunn walked out. 

"Think 'wanker' covers all that," Spike confirmed.  "Time to go, pet."  He felt a hand on his arm as Spike gently pulled him up and out the door. 

"Be seein' ya ducks," Spike called to Cordelia as they reached the door, but he couldn't find the energy to do anything other than follow Spike's lead.  On the motorcycle and again with the freakish careful driving.  Back to the lot where Spike unlocked the door without a word.  Down into the safety of the lair and he finally felt like he could breath.

"'S'all right, pet," Spike offered as he felt a hand guide him toward the bed and sit him down.  Delicate fingers pulled apart the boot laces and then pulled the boots off his feet.  He watched as slender hands worked the buttons of the shirt before pulling it off.

"He walked out on me," he whispered.

"'S'all right," a soft voice repeated.  "We'll get a hot bath and a bit of sleep, and things'll look better, pet."

"I thought you'd be celebrating, you know, what with the not having me talk about Gunn all the time and all."  Spike stopped at that, and he watched the vampire settle down on the floor in front of the bed.  Spike put a hand on either side of his face, the cool fingers pulling the warmth from his hot skin.

"Wanted you to turn to me and not him, but I never wanted ya to hurt like this."  Spike's blue eyes locked onto his own.  "Could bloody well gut him for doin' this to ya."

"Not worth it."

"You're always worth it, pet."  The hands left his face and continued to undress him, unbuttoning and unzipping the pants. 

"If Angel just kills, more masters'll come, trying to take charge of all these minions, won't they?"

"Yeah, pet, they will.  Bloody pouf's forgotten how to be a vampire, forgotten how they think.  The way he's doin' it, he can fight for the next decade and he'll just keep the population down without ever gettin' them under control."

"God, my mother lives in that neighborhood, Mr. Evans down at the comic book store and Mrs. Walker who paid me to watch her cats.  How am I supposed to walk away from all those people?  How can I stand back and let them all face this without trying to help?"

"Don't worry, luv."  He realized Spike had finished undressing him, but the vampire only helped him lay down before pulling up the covers.  "Just rest and I'll get the bath."

"Angel's going to get them killed," he groaned.

"Not goin' to happen, pet.  We're goin' to set up some vamp as the master for L.A., whether Peaches likes it or not."


When he woke in the morning, he tried to turn off that part of his brain that constantly tried to analyze everything; he didn’t want to think about how much it hurt that one more person had walked away from him.  With Gunn turning on him, he probably couldn’t set foot in Safari again, so he could add T and Carlos and Charlie to that list too.  Damn, that list was getting entirely too long. 

He felt the arm draped over his back, and he wondered how long it would be before he added one more name to that list.  He blinked to keep the threatening tears from dropping.  The thought of losing Spike tore at something so deep in his soul that he couldn’t imagine surviving it.  The good news was that he probably wouldn’t survive it.  What had Spike once told him?  Something about turning or even killing but not mentally breaking him?  At least he knew he wouldn’t have to survive this pain of always being left behind since Spike's departure would probably be the last straw for his already teetering mental balance.  Gunn certainly wouldn’t care--he’d said that last night, hadn’t he.

“Pet?” inquired a sleepy voice.

“Just thinking about how many people want me dead,” he cheerfully replied even though cheer was the last thing in his heart.

“Oi, no one wants ya dead pet.”  Xander stopped and thought about that.  Spike was probably right about that, but no one really wanted him alive, either.

“Just feeling sorry for myself here, sorry.  I'll try to keep the pity volume down.”

“Ya had a hard night, pet, not totally unwarranted.”

“Unwarranted?  Since when do you talk all collegey?”  He turned to look into pure blue eyes.

“Oi, not an idiot, and neither are you.” Spike pointed out.

“Nope, I just play one on T.V.”  Spike’s eyebrow rose at that comment.

“And when, exactly did you play the idjit?”

“Um, last night.  I just stood there helpless while you and Gunn went after each other.”

“Really?  I seem to remember a certain git jumpin’ right in the middle until ordered back.”

“Yeah, exactly.  I accomplished exactly zero, and then Angel threatened you, and I was left considering a table lamp as a weapon.  Shit, I’m worthless.  Most of my fighting moves come straight from Itchy and Scratchy.”  He turned over so that he lay staring at the ceiling. Spike’s arm withdrew at the movement, but now the strong, lean hand pressed in on his chest.

“Not worthless,” Spike said with a nearly growling ferocity.

“I sure felt it in that room.  I wanted to rip Angel apart, but I sat there utterly helpless and wondered if I was going to have to watch you turned to dust.”

“Peaches couldn’t do it, pet--even if he does want to sometimes.”

“But if he did, I’d just stand there,” he quickly pointed out, and Spike’s silence spoke volumes.  He could feel the demon squirm; the demon didn’t want *master* to think him worthless, but Xander just pointed out to the voice in his head that if he didn’t make Spike see truth, someone was going to get hurt, probably Spike himself.  Hell not even Gunn ever trusted him to be a fighter.  No, he was more of the demon bait, sidekick type than a fighter.  Isn’t that what Gunn meant with the whole, ‘don’t come trying to hang out with the *real* vampire hunters’ comment?

“Don’t believe that,” Spike finally declared, blue eyes refusing to release his gaze.  “Think you’d fight through hell with me.”

“I’d try, Spike, I really would,” he wanted to drop his eyes in shame, but he couldn’t seem to escape the ice-blue gaze.  “But trying isn’t doing, and no matter how much I tried, I’d never be able to do.  Just don’t count on me in a fight, Spike.”

“Why would ya even say that pet?  Ya took out two vamps in the theater and killin’ Cassidy the way ya did took more moxy than that wanker Gunn has.”

“No,” he closed his eyes in frustration. Why couldn’t Spike understand?  “I’ve never been able to fight; you can’t count on me, Spike.”

“Oi, don’t talk bollocks.”

“I don’t want you to die, please, if you count on me, I’ll just get you killed.”

“Bloody hell, are we back to Frederick? Not your fault.”

“Just don’t count on me,” he whispered his new mantra.

“Mind if I ask a question or two before ya condemn yourself to the home for the worthless and forgotten?” Spike asked with a touch of annoyance in his voice.  “How much trainin’ you got in fightin’?”

“I train with the guys,” he defended himself.

“Right, how many times a week is that?”

“They’re always training--god, probably four or five times a week.”

“Don’t give a shite about how often they train, how often did you get up, weapon in hand, and practice a move?”  Xander blushed. 

“A couple times a month,” he admitted.

“Right, thought so.”

“The guys, they just knew I wasn’t big with the fighting.  I mean, I did manage to drop a stake in the middle of staking a vampire.  Haven’t really inspired trust what with the amazingly lower than average fighting skills.”

“Already said that wasn’t you, pet.  The demon wanted a master and tried to keep ya from dustin’ the candidates.  Not a problem now because that demon in ya better soddin’ well know who his master is now and stake any poachin' vamps.”  He could feel the happy turning in his mind, like a dog circling a favorite spot before lying down, and he couldn’t help but smile.

“He likes that,” Xander confessed.

“Wot?” Spike asked, the reversed V wrinkle apparent in his brow as he pulled his eyebrows together in confusion.

“The demon, he likes you telling him who his master is.”

“He tell ya that?” Spike asked, his voice sharp enough for Xander to look up in concern.

“No, not in words; I can just feel him.”

“Ya feel him without him fightin’ or pushin’ ya to do something?”  Oh shit, here came the abnormal speech again, he could tell from the way Spike tilted his head to one side with one eyebrow higher than the other. 

“Spike,” he said in a tone that carried a clear warning.  “Remember what I said about the whole not getting sex thing?”

“Oi, not fair, you didn’t stake Peaches,” Spike returned with a quick laugh.

“If I’d had a stake, I would have considered it.”

“Bloody hell, you didn’t even have a stake?”  Spike’s eyes grew wide at that.

“Um, I left it in my bag?”  At that, Spike froze, his eyes wide, for a good minute.  Slowly he closed his eyes and shook his head in obvious disbelief.

“Lesson one: Remember your soddin’ weapons," he said in a voice half pleading and half exasperated.  Spike practically jumped out of bed, flipped on the overhead light, and stalked over to the far end of the room.

“Geez, warn a guy,” Xander complained as the sudden light stung his eyes.  He squinted in order to watch naked, bouncing Spike standing in the shadows of the empty far end of the room.

“Oi, come on, then.  Let’s see if ya can dump me on my arse,” Spike said as he made a come hither gesture with both hands.

“We’re naked!” Xander nearly squeaked. “Not that naked is bad in and of itself, but…we’re naked.  And the odds of me knocking you down are right up there with Voyagers' writers having the nerve to show Paris and Chokotay having hot monkey sex on the bridge.”

“I'm going to ignore the whole lustin' over other men for your sake, but as for the naked part, think I noticed.  Enemies don’t always give ya time to get ready.  ‘Sides, the Greeks wrestled starkers all the time.  Now get your arse over here and let’s see what you got.”  Xander rose from the bed and fought the urge to pull the sheet around his waist.  He tentatively approached Spike, and stopped about four feet away.

“Okay, I’m going to come at ya with a right punch, what are ya goin’ to do?”  Spike bounced in clear pleasure at the fight to come.

“Fall down and bleed?” Xander used his best pleading eyes to escape the humiliation that was to come.

“Oi, enough of that.”  Spike stepped forward and moved in slow motion with his right arm coming up in a slow arc.  Xander started backing up, his eyes darting around for something to use as a defensive weapon.

“Lesson two: don’t back up, pet.  In a real fight, ya never know what’s behind ya, and ya don’t want to back yourself into a corner.  So try again.” 

“Okay, I guess I have to either block or duck,” he said as Spike stepped up and repeated the move.  He tried ducking, leaving Spike standing over him.  He quickly realized that he had limited options and even less ability to move away from an attack from above.

“Funny, that usually works with vampires,” he laughed when Spike put hands on his shoulders effectively trapping him on the ground.  He struggled for a few brief seconds before settling down on his haunches, waiting for Spike to let him up.

“With fledges or minions, maybe.  They sometimes get in a blood rage when they fight, can’t soddin’ see anything except the next big enemy they want to gut—tend to miss the smaller targets.  That’s good to keep in mind if ya know they’re fledges, but don’t trust every vampire to fight like that.”  Spike pulled back his hands, and Xander stood. 

“I guess that leaves blocking,” he mused as Spike took the stance again.  This time he raised his left arm so that Spike’s slow-motion swing hit his arm instead of his body.  Spike’s left hand then came up and grabbed his hair, pulling him into a close hug, head pulled to one side in order to expose the throat.  Spike nipped at the vulnerable throat before letting go.

“And we’re back to my original suggestion that I bleed,” he quipped as he watched Spike take the stance again. 

“Don’t put yourself between my arms…well leastwise not when we’re sparrin’,” Spike quickly amended himself.  He studied Spike’s posture carefully before stepping forward so that Spike would start another attack.  This time he grabbed the attacking arm and pushed it so that it went past him and he ended up standing by Spike’s right shoulder with both of Spike’s arms pushed to the side.  He knew that the vampire could easily counterattack, but it still felt good to earn the look of approval in Spike’s eyes.

“That’s it, now ya can hit the exposed kidney,” Spike said.  “Let’s try that a mite faster, and this time try for a hit of your own.”  The session went on with Spike modeling one attack after another while he tried different defenses.  Spike peppered the workout with commands:

“Don’t try to knock me down, pet.  Try to get me off balance, move at the last minute so that I have to reach too far to hit ya…. Stop fightin’ like you’re tryin’ to win a bleedin’ video game.  Doesn’t matter if ya hit me a thousand times and I only get in one hit, if my one hit kills ya, I bloody well won…. The closer ya stay, the less room I have to swing hard enough to knock ya on your arse; keep close and to the side of your enemy.”

Xander fought until he felt sweat dripping down his body despite the fact that he knew the basement tended to be rather chilly.  Spike moved in for an attack from the rear, and he waited as Spike had taught him, playing dumb so that he could catch the attacker off guard.  When he felt Spike’s presence directly behind him, he stepped to the left, toward the center of the room, even as he spun with a fist already throwing a fast punch.  After all, as Spike pointed out, it's better to knock a friend on his arse than risk letting an enemy get the first hit. 

Rather than feeling his punch connect as it had the previous three times they’d practiced this move, he felt a firm grip close over his wrist as he felt himself tugged into the vampire’s embrace so that his back was pressed up against Spike’s front.  Following earlier instructions, he pulled up his legs and so that the weight of his body would pull the attacker off guard, but Spike simply held more tightly until he struggled to breath.  Suddenly he felt a presence at his backside, and he felt Spike drawing heavy, unneeded breaths. 

Almost instantly, he felt his own cock twitch in anticipation.  He could hear Spike sniffing at his neck, and without hesitation, he dropped his head to one side so that Spike could scent his throat.  With a low growl ringing in his ear, he felt himself half dragged, half carried over to the bed and thrown like a doll so that he hit the bed and bounced, struggling to catch himself before he bounced off the other side.  Spike tore open the door to the cabinet with inhuman speed, and before he could truly regain his balance from being thrown, he felt Spike pounce on him like a tiger landing on a mouse.  Okay, not the manliest image, but he certainly felt rather mouse-like with Spike straddling him in full game face.

"Mine," Spike snarled, and he could feel an answering growl reverberate in his own chest.  Without warning, Spike drove fangs into Xander's neck, piercing the skin with such speed that he didn't even have time to react. He arched his back in pleasure and wrapped his arms around the strong shoulders, but Spike pulled out with little licks and kisses to the two tiny wounds.

"Oi, not this time.  Time for me to explore my prezzie, after all, ya gave yourself to me and I haven't taken time to properly inspect ya."  Spike held up the leather restraints he had used once before, and Xander trembled.  He felt his skin tighten as Spike fastened a heavy padded cuff around each wrist before buckling them together.  When he looked from his now restrained hands to Spike, he could see hunger in the vampire's eyes. 

"Goin' to make sure I know every inch," Spike promised and then he felt his hands pulled up toward the headboard as Spike pulled the attached leather lead through the slats of the heavy wood and tied it off.  Oh yeah, Xander Jr. had earned full points for participation, he thought as he felt a drop of moisture hit his stomach.

"Spike," he hoarsely whispered as he wrapped his own legs around Spike's legs, pulling the vampire down onto his erection and gaining for one precious moment the friction and pressure he needed. 

"Oi, my turn to explore, pet," Spike complained as he pulled himself free.  Xander trembled when he felt the restraint close around his ankle before Spike disappeared at the end of the bed, probably tying the restraint to the leg of the bed.  Spike reappeared on the other side and he felt his left leg similarly restricted so that he now lay on the bed with his legs opened, completely helpless.  He panted, trying to get in enough air, and he could feel the demon in his mind stirring to life, inching forward as Spike took control. 

He looked at Spike, waiting for the feel of those hands, but the vampire simply stood there at the side of the bed watching, his own erection hard against his stomach.  Suddenly, Xander felt self conscious, certain that he must look like a fool tied like this, but Spike was at his side instantly.

"Sh, pet, let me have my fun then, right?"  Xander felt a hand slide over his chest, the sweat from the training making the passage slick.  The hand continued down to his right hip where he instinctively jerked, but the restraints held tight and he couldn't move more than an inch in any direction.  Spike chuckled.

"Go on, then.  Pull away, but you aren't goin' anywhere until I say," Spike whispered as he leaned over Xander's chest.  Xander shivered at the feeling of helplessness as Spike slid down and sat cross-legged at the foot of the bed between his own legs.  Again with the staring.  He just wished he could read Spike's mind at times like these.  He pulled against his bonds, but he couldn't move, and Spike wouldn't move.  After a good two or three minutes, Spike reached out and ran a gentle hand up the outside of his thighs, and he could feel every nerve come alive at the touch.  Unable to reciprocate or object or even shift, he couldn't do anything except feel as Spike's hands crept up to his hips and then down the inside of his thighs, causing him to buck even harder as every nerve in him demanded that he act.

He felt ready to rip the headboard off the bed when he felt the tongue on the inside of his knee: tasting, kissing, and finally a sharp dragging sensation across his skin.  The movement traveled upwards until a sharp sting and drawing sensation on the inside of his right thigh made him cry out in pleasure, pulling wildly while his cock twitched in sympathy with his bucking body.  He called out for Spike to let him go so that he could grab the vampire and return the passionate exploration, but Spike continued unhurried and Xander could do nothing but experience every moment.  Spike ran a sharp tooth down the length of his right leg, causing every nerve in his body to fire as he writhed and pulled against the bonds.

His fists clenched helplessly as he felt Spike's fangs descend again into the soft flesh on the outside of his left leg, two little pinpricks that became volcanoes of lust when Spike sucked a slow mouthful of blood out of them.  Then he felt the licks and kisses over the spot as Spike moved downward toward his feet.  He didn't know what he expected, but the feeling of strong thumbs pressing into the balls of his left foot surprised him.  Spike held the pressure in place for a moment before working down into the arch with firm strokes.  Every inch of his body suddenly relaxed as if Spike had total control of his nerves.  Well, almost every inch:  Xander Jr. still bobbed madly.  Spike then repeated the process on his right foot, and he decided that even if Spike untied him, he would never be able to move from the bed again. 

He unexpectedly gasped, sure that he would pass out from lack of oxygen when Spike's mouth closed in on his nipple without warning, the sensitive skin instantly puckering at the touch.  He could feel a sharp tooth teasing the edge and he struggled, but even he didn't know whether he wanted to escape the fang or throw himself onto it.  He felt Spike's weight pin him to the bed, and he closed his eyes in an effort to avoid screaming in frustration.  He wanted to come so bad that he could hardly breathe.  Just when he hoped Spike's wandering hands might finally touch his cock, all sensation disappeared.

When Spike left the bed, he wanted to cry, but he couldn't find enough air in his lungs to do more than whimper.  He heard a soft chuckle, but Spike didn't immediately return.  As strong hands settled in over his hips, he prayed for a quick end to the teasing torture, but instead, he felt himself rolled.  He hadn't even realized his legs had been freed, but now Spike flipped him as easily as a child.  It took a few seconds for Xander Jr. to actually get through to the brain with the distress signals as his cock was trapped between his body and the mattress leading him to struggle up onto his knees.

A finger snaked down and gave his cock a quick stroke causing him to whine in frustration and try to hump, but he found himself urged back down.  He struggled for a minute before he realized that Spike had positioned pillows to keep him from crushing himself.  Allowing Spike to push him back down, he couldn't resist a whimper when he felt his leg pulled straight and restrained again.  Spike returned to the other leg, securing it as well so that now he found himself helpless.   He felt the mattress dip as Spike sat next to him.

"Bloody beautiful," he heard Spike whisper as he felt hands slide across his back, strong fingers kneading his shoulders even as a tongue darted over the expanse of his back.  "Not a bit of fear in your smell, pet,"  Two points of fire descended on his right flank, and he screamed and thrashed as he felt a burning lust spread from his flank outward until it encompassed his whole body.

"You're mine, pet.  Never goin’ to let ya go," Spike murmured when he finished his traditional licks and kisses on the skin he had just bitten. "Don't care what ya think, you're mine and I don't walk away from what's mine."  He felt Spike's body sink onto his own back.  "Never goin' walk away, never goin' let anyone take ya; never going to let ya leave," Spike promised in his ear as fingers ran through his hair, and he couldn’t' do anything to move away from those words.  He could feel a tear run over the bridge of his nose to fall on the pillow.  "Mine," Spike muttered slightly louder this time.  He could feel his cock twitch with every repetition of the word.  "Mine," Spike muttered again, almost as if he knew the lust that single word could inspire.  He began to twitch and struggle against both the bonds and the weight as the need to come built up in him like a fire.  "Mine," Spike said again before rolling off the bed altogether. 

Suddenly, he succeeded when he pulled at his bonds, his right leg freed moments before his left.  He began to madly hump, but he had only managed one mighty thrust before he felt himself flipped again.

"Not bloody polite to finish before your partner, pet," Spike commented airily even though his own cock was hard and dripping and erect and quickly turning a deep red.  Xander dared a single peak at his own cock, and the sight slightly frightened him.  He had no idea that his cock could turn such a dark color, but then he had never teased himself to near insanity before either.

He watched as Spike settled in between his legs with a bottle in hand.

"Relax, pet," Spike murmured, and he felt slick, cool fingers circle his hole before the first one darted in.  He planted his feet flat on the bed and pushed up in invitation, unable to even form the words despite mentally screaming 'hurry up.'

"Oi, someone's ready," Spike laughed, and he felt Spike's second finger enter almost immediately. This time the fingers brushed his prostate, and the tingling, tickling sensation made him jump and curse.  The third finger and then a fourth, the last one stinging a little until he could relax into the feeling.  "Goin' to show ya how a vamp does it," Spike promised, and then the fingers disappeared as Spike finished preparing himself before tossing the bottle to the side.  He watched as Spike knelt and then lifted his butt so that Spike could slide under.  His butt was supported by Spike's knees, and now Spike grabbed his feet and held them up as he felt Spike thrust into him in one push and begin slamming into him immediately. 

He grabbed the headboard to keep from being pushed up the mattress by the force of Spike's drives, each one running the full length of the prostate, leaving him trembling and screaming.  He desperately wanted to reach down and grab his own cock, but Spike simply drove in harder and harder until Xander was sure he would die from lack of coming.  He felt Spike's trembling muscles announce the beginning of the vampire's ejaculation, and without a thought, he dropped his head to one side, pulling his arm out as far as he could while still tied.  Spike's gold eyes met his a mere moment before his legs fell to the bed and he felt Spike's weight drop onto him, Spike's fangs penetrate him.  Spike gave two more pushes and then came even while he began to feed, causing a fiery lust that started at both ends and flowed back and forth through Xander's body.  Even pinned under Spike he managed his own thrust into Spike's sweat soaked body and he felt his own orgasm explode between them. 

Spike pulled out and then lay half on, half off him, purring softly.  He could feel a purr from his own chest as he lay there and thought about the promises Spike had whispered.  He didn't want to doubt, but he had trusted so many people, and so few had ever returned that faithfulness.  He had always thought that Willow would trust him, but then she started with her secrets and without Jesse, she turned from him.  Then he thought Gunn would stand by him through anything, but now that was gone, so what right did Spike have to ask him to risk that kind of pain again?  How could he let himself believe this would be forever?  He felt his own purr falter, but a thought from within circled: 'Trust Master.'  His purr again matched Spike's as he lay, his arms still tied to the bed.

"Could stay here forever, luv," Spike finally said, the words stopping the purr in both of them.

"I think those human bodily functions you hate so much would get in the way," Xander pointed out.  "In fact, when are you planning on letting me up?" he asked with a yank at his still tied hands.

"Never?" Spike asked with a quirk of an eyebrow even as he stood up.

"Spike?" he called as the vampire left the room.  He looked up at the various buckles and straps.  Given long enough, he probably could free himself, but it would take a heck of a long time and probably result in damaged lips from trying to work the buckles loose.  Finally Spike reappeared with two towels. 

"What? Don't trust me to take care of your needs?" He watched as Spike settled in on the bed and started cleaning his body with the warm, damp towel.  "Could keep ya down here forever, ya know.  Not even Peaches knows where this place is."

"Yeah, but then I'd get all moldy from not getting aired out properly and humans start to stink after a while when left in small spaces," he laughed as Spike dropped the first towel on the floor and started drying him with the second one.  Spike looked at him with serious blue eyes.  "And that wasn't a joke, was it?" Xander asked as he looked into those stunning eyes that could both hide every thought Spike had or reveal them all in perfect detail.

"Don't like ya gettin' hurt," Spike admitted.

"And I don't like to get hurt, but I'm not going to hide from the world," he quickly answered.  If Spike decided that he was too fragile to allow out of the lair, he realized that he really had very little choice in the matter.  "If you think I have low self-esteem now, wait and see what happens when everyone I know gets killed while my lover keeps me locked in a safe little room because he doesn't trust me."

"I trust ya," Spike objected.

"You trust me not to turn on you, but do you trust me to survive out there?" Xander asked as he nodded toward the stairs.

"Yeah, trust ya to do that too," Spike finally agreed, but Xander could see the hesitation in Spike's blue eyes even as he untied the leather lead and unbuckled the two cuffs.

"You know the old saying, 'That which does not kill me makes me stronger.'"

"You're plenty strong, pet, I just worry about whether you know it."  The serious voice suddenly transitioned into Spike's normal snark without even a transition moment between.  "Alright, get your arse up because sunset's in thirty or forty minutes, and you've got a job to get to."

"Um, Spike, I don't think that's such a good job since Gunn's probably talked to them."

"Bollocks, they respect ya and want ya around, so ya aren't goin' to walk away assuming they'd reject ya.  If they don't want ya, we can always kill them later."

"Okay, please tell me you're joking," Xander demanded as he went to the cabinet to replace the restraints and get himself clothing from his diminishing pile.

"Whatever ya want luv," Spike said as he disappeared through the hallway door.  Xander threw the clothes for today on the bed as he opened his bag to put away the few clothes he had salvaged from home.  Looking at the second bag, he darted a quick look toward the closed hallway door before he executed his plan.  He'd teach the vampire to tease the human, he thought with a laugh as he quickly opened all the CD cases on the shelf and carefully replaced each CD with one of his own: Garth Brooks, Patsy Cline, Tim McGraw, C.W. McCall.  He even replaced the CD in the stereo with one of his "Best Of" collections. Taking the stack of punk music, he carefully nestled the disks inside his clothes on one of the cabinet shelves.  He smiled in anticipation.

Taking Sides

“Spike, I’m not sure this is such a great idea, what with the whole he probably knows you’re a vampire and he’ll try to stake you when we walk though that door thing.” Xander said as they stood in the shadows of twilight looking at the club door.  The club opened in thirty minutes, but the street was still quiet.

“Oi, can take care of myself,” Spike snorted

“Yeah, I don’t doubt that, but I don’t want you taking care of yourself to result in T having massive arterial bleeding.”

“I won’t kill your little friends, luv; now move your arse before ya get yourself fired and put an end to this discussion.”

“I just know I’m going to regret this,” Xander complained as he considered the doors of the club.

“That’s rich coming from someone who used to dress like a soddin’ game show reject.”

“Sticks and stones,” he chanted in response as he pushed open the doors to the club.  He nodded at the black-vested doorman who gave a quizzical glance toward Spike.  Xander reached back and felt Spike's hand slip inside of his, and the bouncer wordlessly stepped aside and allowed them to pass.  Inside, the same tired-looking men cleaned the same tables; the same grey-haired bartender wrote in the same ledger; and the same old Mexican man wandered from one island of greenery to another watering the same plants. Somehow he had expected some sort of response, but maybe Gunn hadn’t gotten around to telling T yet.  Suddenly that thought terrified him more than facing an angry T. 

“Darlin’, you need to get your ass in gear and get back to that kitchen,” shouted a voice from under the bar.

“T?” he called.  The man appeared with a bandana wrapped around his head and a wrench in his hand.

“Damn beer tap won’t work right.  What the hell are all these gay men doin’ drinking beer anyway?” T swore as he put the wrench on the bar.  The nearby bartended simply grunted.

“Can I, ah, talk to you?  That is, if you’re not busy or anything because I don’t want to interrupt if you’re busy just so that we can, um, talk ‘cause we can talk later…if you’re busy.”

“Good lord, the boy’s started babbling,” T laughed, but it sounded more nervous than genuine.  “I am busy, but if you need to talk, you just go on and do it.”

“I was hoping for some privacy.” Xander sneaked a look over to the bartender who now looked up with one eyebrow raised in a strangely Spike-like gesture.

“If you and your vamp need privacy, rent one of the back rooms because there are some things that even I get squicked by,” the bartender wryly commented.  Xander felt the bottom drop out of his stomach as the world suddenly tilted on its axis, south becoming north and east turning west. 

“I, uh,” he froze, unable to even create babble to fill such an awkward moment.

“To mate, don’t think you’d object if ya saw us in action. Boy’s a bloody treat to watch all squirmin’ and moanin’,” Spike quipped back.

“Oh. God. No.  There will be no discussion of my sex life in any way, shape, or form.  No, no, no, and once more for emphasis, NO.”

“Kinda limits our topics, pet,” Spike said as he stepped up and leaned on the bar.  “Don’t think your mates really want to hear ‘bout the time Angelus and I dropped in on this weddin’ to give the couple our regards and have a spot to drink.” 

He looked at Spike leaning against the bar and for one moment he could see what others must see--the cold and calculating eyes scanning every inch of the club and every person in it, the casual discussion of blood and death, the tense and coiled muscles clearly ready to spring at any provocation.  Shit, no wonder Gunn thought he’d lost either his mind or his humanity, but then he blinked, and he recognized the tenseness as Spike’s worry for him, and he suspected that the reference to the wedding murders was more a warning than anything else.  If they knew better than to attack Spike, then Spike wouldn’t need to kill them.  He remembered that at one time he had wondered if Spike had some sort of multiple personality disorder, but now he thought of the cold killer and the loving partner as inseparable parts of the same personality.

“Subtle, but then compared to the only other vampire I’ve met, you actually do pass for subtle,” T remarked quietly while clearly trying to edge away.  For that matter, the bartender had grown very fond of his ledger, gazing at it as if the meaning of life could be found within the columns of numbers.

“Not like most vamps,” Spike agreed, and Xander could only groan.

“When did I fall into the Twilight Zone?” he asked no one in particular.  “Once upon a time I had a nice simple life--hunted a few vamps, got fired by a few jobs, failed a few math tests, got used as bait now and again.  Now I have weirdness.”  He watched T’s face slowly settle into a smile.  “I assume Gunn called?”

“More like ranted,” T confirmed.  “Came in several hours ago, just before we headed home this morning, so Pete and I were the only ones who got the pleasure of listening to him rage for nearly an hour.”  T jabbed a thumb toward the bartender who nodded at the introduction.

“And you don’t mind?” Xander hated how needy and small his voice sounded, but faced with the chance of regaining some part of his life, he felt an overwhelming need to do so.

“Won’t go that far, darlin’,” T commented.  “You bet your sweet ass I mind you hooking up with a vamp, but it’s your life, and I trust you haven’t completely lost your mind.”  T’s words sent him both sailing and crashing.  T trusted him and that meant more than he could possibly express, but at the same time, T trusted him after knowing him a week and Gunn didn’t. Of course, maybe that *was* the explanation.  Maybe T trusted him because he hadn’t known him long enough to know what a screw up he truly was.  “And I’m also trusting that your vamp isn’t going to start snacking on the customers.  I’m having a hard time keeping the club going as it is; if people start disappearing outta here, I’m never going to turn a profit.”

“Oi, not some fledge to go snackin’ on the locals without bein’ careful.”

“Can I assume that ‘being careful’ in this case means not eating any locals inside my club?” T turned and directly addressed Spike for the first time.

“Deal, mate,” Spike said solemnly.

“I think I’ve lost what little mind I started with,” T complained as he held out a hand over the bar.  Spike took the extended hand and shook it without even a touch of sarcasm.  “And I’m assuming what Gunn said about you enslaving Xander is a load of crap.”

“Yeah, mate, it is.” Spike agreed.

“I just don’t get it,” Xander said softly.  “Why can you and Cordelia accept this and Gunn can’t?”

“Don’t matter, pet,” Spike said softly.

“I’ve known Gunn for eleven years,” T started, and Xander turned to him, hoping for some sort of explanation.  “He doesn’t take to change; he wants the world to follow his rules.  Can be a bit of closed-minded bastard, truth be told.”  Xander had never thought of Gunn in such terms, but hearing T say it without anger or bitterness made him wonder if the man could be right.  “He’s hurt because he lost his sister and the man he thought of as a little brother all in a couple of days.”

“He didn’t lose me,” Xander insisted, trying to ignore the suddenly sour expression on Spike’s face.  It occurred to him that Spike probably still wanted to spread Gunn’s guts all over south L.A.

“For Gunn, you’re either totally in his corner and you do what he wants you to do or you’re against him.  And sweetie, it doesn’t help that he’s never seen you and Spike together.”

“Oh, he saw us together alright,” he responded, remembering Gunn’s glare when he had slipped an arm around Spike the previous evening.

“From what I hear, he got a front row seat for you standing up for Spike,” T said hesitantly.  He paused, obviously struggling to find words.  “I saw you together last night, before I knew you had taken the concept of unsafe sex to new heights.  I saw how you looked at Spike, and I saw how Spike looked at you.  The look I saw had a whole lot of mutual lust and affection, but not the evil that Gunn described.”   T sighed deeply.  “I guess I can handle having a vampire bouncer around.”

“Oi, don’t work for ya, so don’t push it,” Spike warned.  T only laughed, his voice still a little thin to sound entirely natural.

“I had to have a bouncer watch out for Xander; he tended to attract a lot of attention.  Whether you’re pulling a paycheck from me or not, I suspect that you’re taking over that job,” T pointed out.  Spike had stood up defiantly at the thought of taking a job from a human, but now that he understood T’s logic, he settled back into his nonchalant lean against the bar.

“Takin’ care of the boy’s my job,” he confirmed.

“Figured.  So, do you drink?  I mean the alcoholic type of drinking because that was not an invitation for another story.”

“Wouldn’t mind a JD,” Spike said with a smirk when T lost his composure.

“Drinks on the house as long as you don’t drink anyone in the house,” T said as he picked up the wrench and disappeared under the bar again.  “And you get your ass into the kitchen before Ross comes out here and yells at me for holding up his assistant,” T ordered from under the bar. Xander took one look at Pete who continued to count bottles and write numbers in columns and Spike who leaned back against the bar and watched the workers as if he had nothing better to do.  Hoping that the truce held, he headed for the kitchen to load nut and chip bowls while Ross fixed the snacks that required cooking.

When Xander took food to the farthest stations before the club opened, he could see Spike motionless at the bar, a drink now balanced in one hand.  When the club doors opened and the first few customers wandered in, he watched Spike standing in the middle of the milling customers.  When the strippers started on the runway and the customers started catching random feels with quick darts inside his jeans, Spike's eyes never left him from the time he walked out of the kitchen to the time he walked back through the doors. 

At first he tried to keep an eye on Spike, hoping that some random human wouldn't hit on him or vomit on him or do something else worthy of dying, but after a while the crowds thickened and he found himself concentrating on the food.  He had almost forgotten his silent watcher when he felt a strong arm wind around his waist.  He turned to convince some random drunk to let him go, but he found himself face to face with Spike.

"Got to go take care of some business, pet," Spike announced.

"Business as in…?"

"Business as in doing some vamp shoppin'.  Need to check out the possible candidates for kingship," Spike explained with a small laugh.  "Not going to go eat any soddin' girl scouts.  Just want to let Carlos know to keep an eye on ya."

"I don't need babysitting, Spike."

"Pet, I'm not leavin' ya without someone to back you up."  He could tell from the serious look in Spike's eyes that he had just reached the end of his metaphorical leash.  "So we're goin' to go talk to Carlos."  He felt the arm firmly guide him toward the side where Carlos stood watching over the crowd.  As they walked up, he saw Carlos' surprised expression as Spike stopped inches away from the bouncer.

"Need to do some business, thought I'd ask ya to keep an eye on Xander, here."

"Sure," Carlos sounded hesitant; however, Carlos' eyes then widened in fear and surprise.  When he looked at Spike, he could see yellow eyes flashing in the dim light.

"Shit, Spike," Xander complained, “Not exactly low profile."

"Xander?" Carlos asked, obviously confused.

"Just thought I'd just let him know the stakes before I left him watchin' over my pet," Spike said softly enough that only Carlos and Xander could hear, but the tone left no doubt about his seriousness.

"Okay, we have to talk about this unnecessary random threats thing," Xander said as he stepped between Spike and Carlos, hoping none of the nearby customers had noticed the strange events or stranger conversation.

"Holy shit, Xander, what have you gotten into?" Carlos asked in an equally low voice.

"Oi, none of your business," Spike quickly retorted.  "Just need ya to look out for him while I'm out.  Trust you lot, your people have a reputation for standin' by their word, but I want to make sure ya know the score."

"Spike?  What are you talking about?" Xander asked as he looked in confusion from the smug expression on Spike's face to the embarrassment on Carlos'.

"He's a demon, pet.  Can smell him.  He's a Largis."

"A quarter Largis," Carlos quickly interrupted, and Xander found himself staring wide-eyed at the bouncer.  "Don't really have much to do with that part of the family, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't spread this around."  Carlos' eyes darted around the room in a good imitation of panic, an expression Xander had never associated with the calm bouncer.

"No skin off me, mate.  You keep Xander safe, and I'll put ya on the ‘don't kill, maim, or publicly humiliate list’."

"I don't know if…" Carlos began.

"Course if he gets hurt, I'll make ya sorry ya were ever born."  Xander felt a cold tingling down his backbone when he heard the tone of Spike's words and then the vampire turned in a swirl of black leather and disappeared into the crowd.  He turned to glance at Carlos who still stood as if shocked into immobility.

"Guess you're with me tonight," Carlos shrugged and then waved a hand suggesting that they both get to work.

The rest of the shift went by in a normal stream of gropes, embraces, and drunk men taking food from his tray while making obscene remarks.  If Carlos stayed a little closer than normal, he wasn’t going to say anything.  No matter how long he looked, he couldn’t see anything other than human.  He noticed that in return Carlos spent a lot of time watching him with a guarded, worried expression that either meant that the man questioned his sanity for hooking up with Spike or suspected that Spike wouldn’t keep his secret.

“Got to take a bathroom break.” Carlos suddenly appeared at his right side, and Xander shifted the tray of empty bowls to one side with quiet efficiency.

“Go on, then.  I’ll be fine.  Just gonna get some more pizza squares out,” he replied off-handedly as he scanned the crowd:  Well-dressed possible tippers in the far north end; rowdy twenty-somethings to avoid near the bar, and snotty Luis dancing down the runway.

“Oh, I don’t even think so. If I’m off the floor, you’re off the floor,” Carlos said a tone sharper than he had ever heard the other man use. 

“Not a child here; I’ll be fine.”

“Last time you said that you ended up getting targeted by a vampire,” Carlos pointed out with a pained expression.

“Yeah, but now that vampire is off somewhere playing his little vampire games, so all’s well.”  Xander nearly had to shout to be heard over the music Luis used for his dance number.  He only hoped that no one was really listening to their conversation.

“And that vampire’s your master now, and he’ll skin me alive if something happens to you, quite literally.” Carlos stepped closer, and he could feel the man’s body heat as Carlos reached out put a strong hand on his arm, pulling him gently toward the back.  With a sigh at how little control he seemed to have over his own life, Xander followed.  In the kitchen, he dropped the tray on the prep table before following Carlos back to the hallway with the bathroom.

“I’ll wait right here,” he promised as he leaned on the wall outside the bathroom.  From the suspicious look Carlos gave him, for one moment he feared that Carlos would make him come in the bathroom.  He leaned back against the wall and gave Carlos his best ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ glare until Carlos finally went into the bathroom alone.

“So, am I allowed back on the floor now?” Xander demanded sarcastically when Carlos reappeared a minute or two later.  He watched Carlos’ expression go from shock to frustration to profound sadness.

“Xander, I’m so sorry,” Carlos said sadly.

“For what?” Xander knew that he sometimes did the whole spacing out and not noticing thing, but he honestly couldn’t think of any reason why Carlos had to apologize to him.

“If I’d been out there when he spotted you, I might have kept this from happening.” Carlos waved a hand in the air indicating the whole general situation.  He suddenly realized what Carlos had assumed.

“Carlos, I’ve had a vampire mark for four years--since a vamp named Cassidy marked me.  Spike just sort of moved in and took over.”

“But…then why were you here?”

“Oh man, long story, longer than I really want to go into now, but I will say this—if Spike hadn’t stepped in, some other vamp eventually would have, so I can’t say I’m sorry it was Spike who made a move.”

“But Xander,” Carlos interrupted, “you’ve become a marked human, a pet.  You’ll never have the freedom to make your own choices again.”  Xander leaned back and thought about how to answer Carlos truthfully while still making him understand.

“I know I don’t have certain choices,” he began uncertainly.  “But Spike isn’t Cassidy.  He doesn’t keep me sitting at his feet with no chance to do what I want.”  He stopped when he saw the doubt clear in Carlos’ face.  “It’s like…I told Spike that I felt worthless in a fight, and if he had given me a choice, I would have kept feeling worthless and just avoided fighting, but he didn’t give me a choice, and so I learned some moves I’m really proud of.”

“So he’s a good master?” Carlos asked uncertainly, still looking at him as if he had lost his mind.  Well, he didn’t have a good grasp on it to begin with, so if he lost it, there wouldn’t be much difference.

“I wouldn’t call him ‘master’ exactly,” he replied, grimacing at the term.

“And what would you call him?”

“The vampire who tells me what to do, where to go and what to wear?” Xander responded with a crooked smile.  "But that’s okay because he gives some really cool presents.”  Xander bent down and reached into his boot.  When they had been ready to leave, Spike had handed him this and knelt down to show him how to wear it without having it irritate his foot.  Now he pulled the silver dagger out of the sheath inside his boot.  Carlos gave a whistle.

“That’s demon work--a beautiful weapon,” Carlos said appreciatively as he held out a hand for the weapon.  Xander surrendered it and watched as Carlos turned the blade to examine the edge.  He whistled again.

“Yeah, Spike didn’t like the fact that I kinda forgot my weapon when we went to see Angel,” he confessed.

“Angel?” Carlos asked absent-mindedly even while continue to admire the blade with its intricate etching.

“His sire or his sire’s sire-something like that.”

“He introduced you to his line?” Carlos’ head snapped up in with near comical speed.

“He took me to see Angel.”  Xander took back the blade that Carlos held out and replaced it in his boot.

“He’s not a normal vamp, that’s for sure.” Carlos sighed heavily.  “Normally a vamp will keep his pets away from older or stronger vamps rather than risk having the pets taken away.”

“Yeah, Angel and I had that conversation. I sorta offered to stake him if he even tried to do that.”  He remembered the look on Angel’s face when Spike had carried him out of Cassidy’s lair.   Carlos nearly choked on his own laughter.

“Only you,” he finally coughed out. 

“Yep, I’m one of a kind,” Xander agreed.  “So, is little ol' me allowed back on the floor now?”

“Don’t mock me,” Carlos said with a teasing cuff to the back of the head.  “If I let one hair get pulled out of your head, your Spike really will turn me inside out and leave my body in pieces.”

“And I so wish I thought you were joking,” Xander replied, but he realized that Carlos wasn’t joking.  Maybe Carlos’ paranoia was a little justified since Spike wouldn’t have any trouble killing the bouncer.  Maybe he should be a little more sympathetic and accept Carlos’ overly protective attitude. 

“Come on, back to work,” Carlos said as he headed for the kitchen ahead of Xander.

Four hours later, Xander stood in the empty, dirty club and handed Carlos his share of the nightly tips before pocketing the rest.  Carlos accepted the money warily while watching Spike lean against the bar with a glass of alcohol in hand. 

“You really don’t have to,” Carlos said for the second time as he held the money without putting it away.

“All the performers tip the bouncers, T just said I should just tip you directly when you spend the evening pulling drunks off me.”

“It’s alright,” Spike said as he walked up.  “Largis don’t take money for their work, pet; think it’s crass.”  Spike said quietly, and Xander felt the arm slip into its normal place against his lower back.

“But I’m not offerin’ money, and what you and Xander work out, that’s between you, mate.”  He watched as Carlos’ eyes narrowed in consideration.  Finally the hand disappeared into his jeans as Carlos pocketed his share.

“Deal,” he said to Spike.

“Come on then, pet.  Nice night for some action, innit?”

“Oh shit, I think that depends on the action,” Xander complained without malice.  He felt the familiar arm guide him out the door and he stopped dead when he saw the figure waiting.  A tall, thin, red-hair black man leaned against a street lamp.

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