Musical Wars



Xander silently slipped down the stairs, well aware of the angry vampire following behind.  At the bottom, he went to the chair and waited silently.  When he looked over at the stereo, he flinched.  Oh god, he only hoped that Spike didn’t try to listen to music tonight.  The last time Spike had been this angry, the vampire had watched television, so he could only hope.  Right now, the vampire in question was rattling around in the armoire, which Xander had to suspect was a bad thing.

“Strip,” came the order, and Xander jumped when the harsh voice broke the silence.  With trembling fingers, he slowly removed his shirt before toeing off his boots and pulling off his pants.  Then he sat in the chair trying not to shake in the chilled basement air.

“Spike pulled chains out of the armoire before heading back to the dimly lit far end of the room.  Xander shivered, but he stood and followed without complaint.  When Spike turned and fastened manacles around his wrists, he waited silently.  He trusted Spike not to hurt him too badly, and, he reminded himself, he had once told the vampire that he’d rather be punished and get it over with rather than endure Spike’s attitude.  So, when Spike pulled his hands up and chained the manacles to a ring in the concrete, he didn’t comment; he simply tried to stand back far enough to not press up against the cold concrete, but close enough to not strain his arms.

He could hear Spike moving around behind him, and he tried not to tense his muscles; he knew from his time with Cassidy that it would only hurt more if he did.

“Pet, tell me what you did wrong today,” Spike asked in a tone that sounded far more reasonable than the circumstances would suggest.

“I called Angel?” he guessed in an unsure voice, but then he grew more forceful with his next statement.  “But I couldn’t just let those vamps feed on the customers.”

“Don’t give a shit about the other customers,” Spike quickly pointed out in an annoyed tone.  “Care about you not gettin’ killed.  So tell me what ya did wrong.”  Xander stopped and thought about that for a moment; obviously calling Angel wasn’t the million dollar answer.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t come up with another answer to give.  He stood mute until he felt the bite of a whip across his back.  He knew Spike hadn’t used his full strength, but the force still sent him forward into the concrete with a cry.

“Asked ya a question,” came a voice that grew more displeased with each moment.

“I don’t know the answer.  What do you want me to say?” Xander begged.  He could feel the stirring in his mind that spoke of an unhappy demon, but he didn’t know how to make either demon happy.

“Ya do know.  What happened today that ya know I wouldn’t allow?”

“I got in the middle of the fight,” he rushed to say before the whip could return.  The speed of the answer didn’t matter because he felt the whip land one, two, three, four, five times.  He gasped for breath and braced his hands on the cold wall to keep from crashing into it, but he also realized that Spike hadn’t broken skin or criss-crossed the lashes.  Could be worse, and oh god, when did his life get so out of control that being chained by a vampire in a secret lair and whipped didn't phase him?  Spike stopped at five.

“Yeah, and what else, pet?”  He tried looking at the day from a vampire’s perspective, and he could feel his inner guest sending up reminders.  Okay, when had his inner vamp been upset?  Not at the fight; god, the thing had loved the fight whether Spike approved or not.  Then it came to him, the moment when his inner voice had cringed.

“I shouldn’t have talked to Angel; I shouldn’t have gone into the back room with him,” he offered.

“And why not?”  He had to think about his answer again, but again his mind provided an answer.

“If he tried to take me, he could turn the demon.”  He didn’t honestly think Angel would do that, but he understood the animosity between the two vampires.  After all, Angel didn't exactly love Spike, so he could see Spike's point of view.  Oh god.  Angel.  Soul.  If Angel thought he could ‘save’ Xander, he might do it just to keep him away from his soulless childe.  And if Angel did turn his demon, Spike might not be able to turn it back; Angel was the older vampire.  “Oh shit,” he breathed suddenly understanding the danger he had put himself in.  Even if Angel did only want to help, he could have taken him away from Spike.

The whip landed again, and again Xander felt himself pushed into the concrete, his cheek resting on the cold surface for a moment before he forced himself back onto his feet.  These strikes fell slower and harder.  Each one turned into a line of fire before the next one landed.  Ten hits.  Xander truly struggled to breathe now.

“And what ‘bout Carlos?” Spike asked, and he had to sort out the thoughts and emotions running through his brain before he could correctly translate that threat.

“Oh god, I put him in danger.  Spike, no, please,” he truly begged now.  “He told me to leave the club; he begged me to call Gunn and then leave with him.  Please don’t hurt him.”

“Left ya in his care, came back to find ya with another vamp.  That’s not taking care a my pet, that’s failin’ in his job.”  He could hear Spike pacing, but he didn’t have the strength to turn.  He simply leaned his forehead into the concrete and pleaded.

“Spike, I’ll give up the job.  I’m off until next Thursday anyway, so I can call T and tell him I can’t come back.  We could even leave town, just please don’t hurt him.”  Xander offered everything he could think to offer in return for Carlos’ life.  Never before had he felt so helpless or so scared, not even in the beginning when he thought Spike would kill him.

“Not that easy, pet.”

“Spike, he tried.  “He really tried to keep me out of it, and he stayed by my side the whole time; he even faced off with Angel.  Please, don’t hurt him.”

“He’s got to pay.  He’s Largis; he knows what failure means.”

“He’s human, humans are allowed to screw up,” he countered, panic robbing his mouth of moisture and his body of strength.  Oh god, would he hang here until Spike went out and killed Carlos?  “Please, Spike.  Please don’t.”  He couldn’t come up with any other words, and he realized that his arrogance and his lack of eloquence had condemned Carlos to death.  The pacing stopped and he held his breath, praying for some reprieve. 

“Would of rewarded him if he’d looked out for ya.  Had a weapon picked out as tribute.”

“He did look out for me; he kept me alive when I went sailing into the middle of a vamp fight.”  Xander knew the words would more than likely bring about another whipping, but he preferred that to causing Carlos’ death.  Instead of the whip, a cool hand landed on his shoulder.

“Not goin’ to forgive that easy.  When I find him, we’ll see if I can forgive at all.”  He watched as Spike reached up for the chain and unlocked it, but instead of leading him back to the living portion of the room, Spike simply chained his hands lower so that he could sit on the ground.  He did, ignoring the cold that seeped in from the concrete.  Then, with a swirl of leather, Spike left and Xander was left to think about how many ways he had royally screwed up. 

Spike returned much quicker than he expected.  He figured Carlos had more sense than he did, so he assumed the man would have taken off for parts unknown, but Spike couldn't have been gone for more than an hour or two when he heard the door open.  When Spike appeared and dropped his coat on the chair, Xander had to hug his legs just to keep teeth from chattering with cold.  He knew how badly he'd messed up, so he really expected to be left in the cold, but Spike came over and unlocked the chain from the wall, pulling him to the bathroom and waiting while he took care of his human bodily functions.  Oh yeah, this didn't bode well he told himself when he came out to find Spike still waiting.  He washed up quickly, listening to the chains rattle against the ceramic of the sink basin as he rubbed his hands.  When he finished, he turned to face Spike who simply grabbed the chain and walked out to the bed where he fastened the chain to the wall with about six feet of slack.

He just wanted the answer to one question, but he didn't know how to ask it, so he quietly sat on the bed and watched as Spike dug through duster pockets until he came up with a cigarette.  Oh yeah, still pissed vamp.  Suddenly Spike's coat rang, and Spike pulled out a cell phone and tossed it at Xander so fast that he had trouble catching it with the heavy weight hanging on his hands.  He opened the phone while still keeping his eyes on Spike.


"You alright, Xander?"  He heard Carlos' voice and he almost cried.  Probably would have except he had cried so hard when Spike left that he didn't have any damn tears left in the reservoir. 

"Carlos?" he asked, almost scared to believe that Spike would have spared the man.

"Yeah, a little sore but still here."

"Oh god, I'm so sorry.  I shoulda listened to you, but I just went all alpha male stupid there for a while and I really wish I could just take it all back 'cause you totally didn't deserve whatever Spike did to make you sore, which was probably a whole lot less than he wanted to do what with the whole talking thing you're still doing, for which I'm very grateful…"

"Xander," shouted the voice on the other end.  "God, breathe." Carlos' voice took on a more concerned tone.  "I assume you're okay," he asked almost tentatively.

"Yeah, mostly.  Didn't lose any skin cells I really need or anything.  Can't say I didn't have it coming, but I'll be damned if I'll actually admit to having it coming since that would be unmanly."

"Unmanly?" Carlos asked, this time obviously amused.

"It's in the man-code.  We never admit when we're wrong," Xander explained seriously, and this time Carlos laughed outright.

"I assume you're really okay then."

"Yeah, but I somehow doubt I'll make work on Thursday," he admitted as he peeked over at Spike.  The vampire had on his 'bloody right' look, so he took that as confirmation that his working days were over, at least until Spike trusted him far enough to let him off a leash.

"You injured?" The concerned tone returned in Carlos' voice.

"Nope, just don't expect to be unchained by Thursday," he admitted with a shrug.  Why he shrugged, he couldn't say since Carlos obviously didn't see, but the man must have heard his nonchalant attitude in his voice.

"Well, don’t say I didn't warn you.  Just try to talk him into letting you call T.  Boss man is going to kill me for this."

"Yeah, but at least T only kills metaphorically; Spike tends to take the whole death threat thing a little too seriously," Xander pointed out as he watched the vampire standing by the armoire smoking furiously.

"Tell me about it.  I'm hoping my demon blood will help my backside heal up a little faster or else I'm going to be taking a few days off myself.  You take care, Xander."

"Yeah, will do," Xander promised before he hit the disconnect button and lay the phone on the bed.

"Thank you," he softly offered.  The demon in his head goaded him, but he couldn't quite figure out what it wanted.  Spike stood there unmoving except for the cigarette that moved from his mouth to his side to the ashtray in the cabinet.  Mouth.  Side.  Cabinet.  Oh yeah, it was going to be a long night.  Mouth.  Side.  Cabinet.  He was almost relieved when Spike broke the pattern to light a new cigarette. 

"Spike, please?" he held up his hands with the chain.  He knew that the demon begged to be closer to Spike, and he couldn’t do that from the bed. 

"Ya can't need the loo again so quick," Spike said without moving even his head.

"I don't.  I just need…" Xander stopped, not sure what he needed, but sure he couldn't do it from the bed, well at least not without Spike here.  Spike put out the cigarette and came to stand by the bed, but Xander kept his eyes lowered.  He found himself scooting off the bed before he realized what he was doing, but he followed his instinct and slid down to his knees at Spike's feet. 

Part of him railed against such a dehumanizing act, but another part of him insisted on following through.  He felt humiliation warming his cheeks, but he couldn't decide if he was humiliated by kneeling at Spike's feet or humiliated for disappointing Spike so badly.  He lowered himself until he felt his forehead touch Spike's feet.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, sure the vampire could hear him, but Spike didn't comment, and he remained frozen, waiting for Spike's response.  He knelt there for several minutes before he heard Spike's reply, and only then did he realize that he had held his breath, leaving him slightly dizzy and happy he was already on the floor.

"Don't want an apology.  Want to know I can trust ya."

"It was stupid.  I wasn't thinking of Angel as a vampire.  I won't do it again."  Xander surprised himself by stopping there; no babbling, no begging.

"Need ya safe.  Can't trust ya to go out on your own if I don't know you'll be safe."

"I'll be safe, promise."  That must have been the wrong answer because Xander felt himself being pulled up to face an angry Spike.  One glance and he sent his eyes back down to the ground.

"No, ya won't.  You value every life except your own."  He didn't answer the charge since he really didn't have an answer.  "Bloody hell, I've got to have the last selfless human in the whole bleedin' world as my pet.  Not bloody fair."  Spike released his arms, and he sunk back down to his knees.

"Spike," he whispered, still not sure what he needed, but trusting that Spike understood his instincts better than he did.

"Ya think ya had enough already.  Ya think you deserve back in my good graces?" Spike asked, and the pieces suddenly made sense.  Yep that's what he wanted, Xander decided.  Life was really too complicated when the different parts of your brain didn't communicate well.  Hell, his one brain didn't always work well, and this did seem like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen.

"Please," he reached out a hand towards Spike's leg, but something froze a centimeter away from the fabric of Spike's jeans.  He held his hand there for some time, before moving his hand back to his own thigh.  The cold of the concrete made his knees ache, but he remained kneeling, unwilling to give up the chance that Spike might just forgive him.

"Oi, balmy git, get off the floor," Spike finally ordered, and Xander struggled to rise, his legs not willing to cooperate for a moment as the concrete had limited the blood flow.  He felt Spike's arm slip around his waist and lift him to the bed.

"Please," Xander asked again and he let his fingertips touch Spike's arm.

"Ya even know what you're askin'?" Spike asked, his expression suddenly amused.  Xander had to think about that for a minute.

"Not exactly.  Kinda playing by ear here, but I faked my way through so many book reports, I figured I have this covered," he finally admitted. 

"It's a vamp thing.  When ya anger the master, ya have to make it up to him."

"Oh god, please don't tell me you made up with Angel because there are some things I am just not prepared to hear."  Xander's eyes crept up as high as Spike's chest before the demon demanded he stop.

"Usually just brought him a screamin' girl or two."  Spike shrugged.

"And yet again your idea of comforting is less than effective." Xander flinched at the discomfort in his own mind.

"Ya hurt, pet?"

"Nope, just an unhappy demon voice that wants to show his master he's sorry before cracking more jokes."  He looked up into clear blue eyes that shone with a fierce possessiveness he hadn't seen before.  The demon cried for him to drop his eyes, so he did and then he felt the cool fingers work through his hair.

"Go on, then," Spike said, and he reached out for the vampire's arm, touching it lightly for a second time.  This time Spike reached down and used a key to unlock the chains.

"I don't…I'm not…"  Xander stopped, unsure of how to do this.  "I know I’m not very good, maybe you just want to…"  Oh boy, that was smooth, Xander thought to himself. 

"You're just fine, pet," Spike offered as he walked around the bed to lie down.

"I know…I couldn't even… You finished yourself off to avoid…"  Oh god, he really couldn't say this out loud without losing what little self-esteem he had managed to collect.

"Ya thought I didn't want ya to touch me?" Spike guessed, and Xander could only silently nod.  "Some days you're as loony as Dru," Spike sighed.  "Been decades since I felt a warm body under me.  Never have felt a warm, willing human.  So, I finished a mite earlier than I planned, and we're not goin' to discuss it any more."  Xander didn't know whether Spike was telling the truth or trying to give him a way to save face, but it didn’t matter.  Either way meant that Spike cared about his feelings, and that's what mattered to him.

"I can do better," Xander promised as he reached over and undid the button on Spike's jeans.  "If you want, you can use the chains," he suggested, wincing at the uncertainty in his own voice.  Either that, or he was wincing at actually publicly admitting that he found the restraints sexy as hell.  He slipped the zipper down on Spike's jeans.

"Oi, you're supposed to be makin' it up to me.  Means you get to do the work this time," He looked up to see if Spike was teasing him, but the vampire looked back with crystal blue eyes as Spike lifted his hips.  Xander pulled the jeans down and tossed them off the bed, looking at the naked perfection below him.  He could quickly become addicted to this body, he decided as he looked at sharp collarbones and hip bones showing through the layers of sinewy muscle. 

Thoughts floated up to his consciousness, and either the demon had a few suggestions or Xander had just discovered that he was a bit of a perv.  Of course, it didn’t really matter since the demon was part of him; no matter where the thoughts came from, they were part of him now.  He ran a finger down the middle of Spike's chest down all the way to the soft cock, exploring the loose skin and sliding his hand up and down, amazed at the unfamiliar movement beneath his palm. 

As Spike's cock stiffened and grew, Xander released it and leaned over, groaning slightly when the pull at his back aggravated the lash marks, but he didn't let it stop him from lowering his mouth to Spike's neck, nuzzling into the soft skin and running a tongue along the muscle before biting down sharply.  Spike made a groan of his own, and Xander took that as encouragement, repeating the maneuver before kissing along the chest down to the nipple where he took the flesh between his teeth and sucked.  Definite reaction from Spike. 

Remembering what Spike had said about a warm body, he lowered his weight onto Spike's recumbent form, resting his knees on the outside of the slim vampire, leaving their cocks touching as Xander returned to worshiping Spike's neck.  He knew he had succeeded when the vampiric ridges appeared and Spike looked at him through yellowed eyes.  He reached up and explored the features with his tongue, this time not bothering to be as gentle but instead nipping once or twice, each time causing the body under him to respond passionately. 

Wordlessly, he stood and went to the cabinet where he pulled out the oil, and he could see Spike's raised eyebrow, but Xander simply straddled the vampire's thighs, turning his back to the vampire so that Spike could watch as Xander oiled his own finger and then reached around to open himself up.  As quickly as possible, he added a second finger, the stinging in his back providing more pain than the quick preparation.  Knowing he had to be stretched for the coming event, he created a tight triangle with his three middle fingers, forcing them past the complaining ring of muscle that couldn't quite compete with the complaining damaged skin on his back that definitely disapproved of the awkward bending. Would a vampire consider the whip marks sexy?  Have to ask later, he thought to himself.

As soon as he had inserted the third finger, he worked to separate and straighten the fingers, widening the hole.  He could hear Spike taking unneeded breaths behind him, either because of the show or because he anticipated Xander's next move.  He removed his fingers and turned, lowering his mouth to Spike's cock even as he reached back to finish the stretching.  The one arm holding all his weight trembled, but he continued, teasing and sucking and nipping at the head of Spike's cock before lowering himself until he could feel the cock touching the back of his throat.  Pouring more oil into his palm, he smoothed the oil onto the stiff organ and then he shifted upward.  He tried to impale himself but he couldn't seem to get the angle right.  After two tries, he would have given up except he felt slim fingers suddenly holding the cock and a firm touch at his waist guiding him.

With guidance, he managed to sink onto the shaft, his legs trembling with the effort to go slow enough to avoid really hurting himself.  He looked down and saw Spike's ridged features, and suddenly the familiar reddish brown filter slipped over his vision, the dark corners of the room suddenly appearing in perfect detail.  He felt Spike start below him, and he looked down to see the wide eyes of his master watching. 

Lifting himself up, he used his inner muscles to squeeze briefly before reaching the apex, relaxing slightly to avoid damage and then allowing himself to basically fall onto Spike.  The vampire moaned, and Xander repeated the procedure.  On the third lift, he reached out and grabbed Spike's nipple, pulling sharply as he fell onto Spike's cock, and this time he could feel Spike's hips rise to meet him, the vampire unable to remain still.  Xander rose up again, this time tightening his inner muscles as he fell, and suddenly Spike thrust up so hard that he was lifted from the bed.

"Turn," Spike hissed.  It took a second or two for Xander to catch up to the vampire's meaning, but then he lifted half way off and carefully rotated so that his back was to Spike when he thrust down.  Steel arms grabbed at him, and he dropped his head to one side as he felt Spike sit up.  Instantly, two points of fire burnt his neck and he could feel Spike make short powerful thrusts as the vampire came, but the cock remained hard, and Xander remembered Spike's words about staying hard as long as he wanted.  Sitting in the vampire's lap trapped between Spike's cock and his fangs with strong arms wrapped around him, Xander couldn't help hoping that Spike wanted to stay hard a long time.  He dropped his head back onto Spike's shoulder, relaxing into the grip.

Spike wasn't feeding anymore, but the fangs didn't withdraw.  In fact, the only movement came from one hand of Spike's which now wandered over his body.  For the first time, he noticed how his own cock begged for release, dripping pre-cum down the shaft.  Spike's fingers traced up the milky substance and then the fingers approached Xander's mouth.  He didn't hesitate but simply opened his mouth and began to run his tongue over the slim fingers even as he sucked enthusiastically.  Spike growled, but from the twitching of Spike's cock still inside him, he guessed it was a good growl and he responded by tightening his inner muscles, massaging the intruder.  The hand retreated, gathering more pre-cum, but this time Xander watched as Spike detached from his neck and began sucking the fluid from his own fingers.

"So, ya think you're forgiven then?" Spike asked.

"Please," he muttered, his head still resting on Spike's shoulder, his neck still exposed.  Of course, none of that made him feel as fundamentally helpless as the fact that an ancient creature with supernatural strength held him impaled on a cock.

"You're stayin' with me, by my side 'til I tell ya otherwise."


"You're stayin' away from Peaches or I'll leave stripes on your back that won't ever fade away."


"You'll bloody well use that brain for something other than holdin' up your hair next time you get in a tight spot.  You'll remember that your life's worth just as much as some soddin' moron on the street?"

"Yes."  He felt a cool hand close around his cock, and he tried to thrust, but the angle and his own position trapped on Spike's cock made that impossible. 

"Don't ya trust me to take care of ya?" Spike asked, his breath tickling Xander's ear, and he realized what Spike wanted.  Spike wanted his trust, his willingness to allow Spike to take care of things.  After Spike had spared Carlos, he would trust the vampire in anything.  Spike had rejected his own instinct and his own fury because he wanted to take care of Xander, so Xander found he could trust this to Spike as well.  He stilled and tried to control his breathing as Spike slowly moved his hand up and down the shaft, using his own pre-cum to lubricate the motion.  Spike's fangs slid back into the channels they had carved just moments ago, and Xander found that he really couldn't move without causing a dozen little sore points, so he simply surrendered into the embrace.  It only took four or five strokes before he felt himself come, his muscles twitching, his ass tightening almost painfully as he came, and then the feeling of Spike twitching within him as the vampire either ejaculated or had a dry orgasm.  He felt lightheaded as Spike lowered him to the bed.

"Sleep, and heal up that back," Spike ordered as he curled up behind.

"Yes sir," Xander said and his vision suddenly returned to normal color, the sharpness of the edges and the details in the darkness just gone.  Well, if that was how they were going to end their fights, he just might not mind being such a screw up he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

Politics, Vamp Style

Xander woke with cool limbs tangled around his own and blue eyes watching him.   For several seconds he lay there unmoving as Spike simply watched him.

“Mornin’, pet,” Spike finally said, and Xander realized that the vampire was waiting for some sort of explosion.  Well, he would have to keep waiting because in the cold light of day he realized that Spike had a right to be upset and that his back had already healed, so clearly the vampire had not hit him nearly as hard as it had seemed like the night before.  He was actually more pissed about Spike getting the Safari clients worked up and then leaving him.

“Morning,” he answered.

“Your back’s healed up,” Spike commented. 

“Yep,” he answered, and then the long silence revealed Spike’s true meaning.  “You didn’t expect it to heal-you wanted the marks to stay a while,” he said quietly.

“Wanted you to have somethin’ to remember, something to make sure that you didn’t make the same mistake a second time.”

“Won’t do it again,” Xander said and then dropped his gaze.  He had thought when they went to bed that all was forgiven but obviously not.  He froze on the bed, waiting for Spike’s next move, but Spike simply pulled himself up so that he sat leaning against the headboard and waited.  After a couple of minutes, Xander slipped out of the bed and went to the cabinet.  He bent down and grabbed something off the shelf he normally didn’t even like to look at, and he went back to the bed where Spike waited with a raised eyebrow.  He handed the whip to Spike.

“It’s okay, really,” Xander tried not to let his hands shake as he remembered the pain from last night, but he had told the truth when he’d once said he’d rather have Spike get it out of his system than stay mad. 

“Ya want me to?” Spike asked curiously.

“Want, no.  Definitely no.  Rather take a trig test nude type no.  But it’s better than having you mad at me.”

“Not mad, pet. Ya made it right with me.”  Xander hadn’t realized how upset his demon was until Spike said those words and the creature calmed down and stopped circling uneasily.

“But you wanted the punishment to last longer.” Xander said.

“When I had ya up on the wall, yeah.  Expected it to last a couple of days even with you healin’ up faster than a human.  But I also didn’t expect that you’d understand the concept of makin’ up with your master.”

“So you don’t want…” Xander gestured helplessly toward the whip Spike had laid on the bed.

“Once a master forgives, punishment’s over.  No goin’ back.  Fact is, pet, it works out better anyway since I really don’t want you cringin’ around with a sore back.  I’m surprised is all.”

“So is this another one of those how weird I am moments?  Cause the whole no sex rule is now back in play since I actually did stake Angel.”

“Wot?” Boy that got Spike’s attention.  The vampire sat straight up on the bed, yellow eyes locked on his own.

“He kinda came up behind me during the fight, but he’s a little faster than the average vamp, so I ended up staking him in the stomach.”  For a moment, Xander wondered if Spike were angry, his blank face and motionless yellow eyes focused on him.  Then Spike began to laugh.

“Bloody hell, if the pouf’s stupid enough to walk up to somebody durin’ a fight, he deserves a stomach ache, but what in the bloody hell did he say to ya for doin’ it?”  Spike leaned forward eagerly, and Xander found himself responding to the pure delight in Spike’s face.

“Well didn’t really say much except something along the lines of ‘Stop it.’  Of course, at the time he was rolling on the floor.”  Spike’s eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline, and Xander hurried to explain.  “Carlos decked him from behind with a stool or something, so when I felt this vamp who had grabbed me start stumbling, I pulled up my feet and threw all of my weight on him, sending us both to the ground before I even noticed it was Angel.”

“Oi, glad now I didn’t kill the soddin’ Largis demon.  That must have been a treat.”

“Yep, kinda fun,” he admitted.  “It felt nice not to be the bumbling idiot for a change.”

“Ya aren’t an idiot; thought we had this discussion already.”

“I’m not insulting the pet, Spike.  I’m simply pointing out that when it comes to fighting I take after the Keystone Cops more than Kung Fu.”

“Pet, ya took down a 250 year old vamp.  Don’t know any other humans who ever did that single handed, so I’m thinkin’ you need to change that attitude of yours.”

“I didn’t really take him down,” he pointed out but Spike’s uplifted hand stopped him.

“Oi!” he snapped.  “Not goin’ turn into some bloody poof always makin’ supportive comments, so bloody well take the compliment and shut up.”  Spike swung out of bed, and Xander sat there, shocked and not really knowing how to deal with Spike’s version of emotionally supportive. Strangely enough, it actually was more emotionally supportive than his parents. He smiled and picked up the whip to put it away.  While he had the cabinet door open he looked at the pile of his clothes.  He had no idea how to dress or even if he should bother getting dressed. 

He sat on the bed naked and wondered what his life would be like without a job.  True, his job had only been three nights a week and like most of his other jobs, he had lost it before he really even got used to being there, but what was he supposed to do all day while Spike was out doing his ‘vampire things’?  He went into the bathroom and found the familiar towel thrown over the sink, so he finished his morning duties and took a quick shower.

Surely Spike wouldn’t want him along while he and Ajani took out Cassidy’s minions, so that left him locked in the lair, hopefully just locked in now that Spike trusted him because the chains were not nearly as fun when Spike wasn’t there, and oh god, he had not just thought of chains and fun in the same thought.  Nope.  Na uh.  He was not going to admit that even to himself. 

Chains bad, he chanted as he dried off and opened the laundry room to toss in the towel.  Well, if nothing else, he could do laundry; Spike never used a towel more than once, and he was picking the habit himself.  Oh god, he was turning into a housewife.  A kinky housewife.  Xander tried to mentally scrub the image out of his mind as he walked into the main room.

“Oi, hurry up, pet,” Spike complained as he came in the room.

“What?  Where are we going?”  He reached in for a faded pair of jeans and a plain white t-shirt.  When Spike growled, he tossed the t-shirt to one side and grabbed a button up greenish-blue one instead.

“Ya get hit in the head too hard last night?  Told ya, helpin’ Q.”

 “Ajani,” Xander corrected absent-mindedly.  “You’re taking me with you?”

“Yeah, punishment's over.”

 “I know that.  I just thought you wouldn’t want me tagging along.”

 “Ya fight better than Q, why wouldn’t I take you?” Xander turned in surprise to look at Spike’s confused face as he buttoned up his shirt. 

"Hate to break it to ya, Fangface, but Ajani kicked my ass last time I took him on."

"Oi, where the bloody hell were you fightin'? In the fight I watched, ya got in a good hit, and then surprised yourself so bad ya lost your balance.  Then, injured leg and all, ya tried to hide the injury and still managed to get in a couple of good hits.  Ya might a killed the git if you'd had a stake."

"Really?  I was good?"  Xander thought back to that night, the pain of his leg, the feeling of being a wounded animal circled by a predator.  He tried to reconcile his memory with the fight Spike described.

"Up until you completely lost your mind and charged him like some bloody mindless minion.  Now, get your boots on and don't forget your soddin' weapons this time; I feel like dusting some fledges."  Spike walked away without another glance, heading up the stairs and out the door which stood open, allowing the lights from the parking lot to shine in.  Xander pulled on his boots, tucked his knife into the one boot and a stake into the back of his jeans.  A large crucifix from his days of hunting with Gunn went in one pocket, and he snapped off the lights as he went up to join Spike.

Xander was surprised they didn’t take the motorcycle, well, at least until he saw Ajani and two strange vamps sitting on a low brick wall outside a car repair shop.  He tried to suppress the shivers he felt as they walked closer to the three waiting vamps.  Logically he knew that the three in front of him were far less dangerous than the one walking next to him, but logic had very little to do with his feelings of revulsion at the two dirty, subservient minions milling around a far more confident-looking Ajani.

“Master Spike.” Ajani inclined his head as they walked up, but he didn’t project the obsequious cowering he’d shown the last time.

“Q,” Spike acknowledged, and Xander felt a cool hand reach out and pull him closer.  Feeling a little like a toddler whose mother doesn’t want him to wander too far, he had to suppress the urge to shake off the hand.  Instead he reminded himself that the alternative was being chained in a basement, and he inched closer to Spike.  The inner demon obviously approved because it sent little thoughts of relief and safety up through his mind.  He quickly nodded at Ajani and then returned to studying the minions.  Pretty standard cronies, really the only surprise had been Ajani bringing them. 
Xander didn’t realize he'd been released until he noticed that Spike had started walking again, and he had to quickly trot to catch up.

The five of them walked in silence for some time, and Xander wondered at his own sanity for walking in the middle of a pack of killers that considered humans food.  The minions would certainly attack him given a chance, and Ajani probably would.  Funny enough, the 120 year old serial killer stood between him and certain death, and he just had to mentally laugh at that irony. 

No wonder he’d nearly flunked out of school; his teachers always expected him to understand stupid examples of irony with hairbrushes and watches.  If his English teacher had asked him about the irony of seeking protection from a serial killer he might have made better grades.

He realized he was mentally babbling, but he couldn’t come up with any other diversions as they walked through increasingly run down neighborhoods.  He realized that they were only blocks outside of Gunn’s territory, and he prayed that they didn’t turn east. 

“Through dere,” Ajani said and he gestured toward a store front.  It didn’t have any of the signs Xander associated with vampires—no broken windows or boarded up doors or even any signs that the building was abandoned.  The front window of the store advertised a special on computer repair, and a cardboard sign hanging in the door announced that the shop was closed.

“Right.  Need to check it out,” Xander stood so close to Spike that he could feel the vampire tense up.  He glanced over at Spike in time to see him glaring with yellow eyes at the two minions now standing by a giant trash bin.  He suddenly understood Spike’s dilemma. 

Spike and Ajani needed to check out the lair, and minions couldn’t be trusted to do it, especially if these minions had been Ajani’s for as short a period a time as he suspected.  The weak demons would be easily turned, so they couldn’t be trusted around another master unless Ajani were present.  And as minions, their ability to act stealthily was limited at best. Of course, as a human he would have alerted every vampire around with his smell and heartbeat, so he needed to stay outside too.  Spike wanted to stay with him and protect him from the minions but he also wanted to go into the building and investigate the lair.  He wanted to object to being treated like an invalid except he really did worry about being alone with two possibly hungry minions and he didn’t want to challenge Spike in front of the other vampires.  He suspected it might prove deadly.

“Master?” he asked, making sure he said it loud enough for Ajani and the minions to hear.

“Yeah, pet?” Spike’s eyebrow did a quick twitch, but other than that he kept a neutral expression.

“The minions aren’t yours, master.  If they bother me should I disable them or dust them?”  Xander did his best to look innocent.  One of the minions growled, and Xander’s vision went red as his demon responded to the threat with a growl of his own.  He turned, determined to stare down the minion, and the vamp flinched back.  When the second minion also dropped his gaze, Xander felt the world shift as the blues and greens returned and the world once again looked slightly out of focus as was normal for human eyes.

“Try not to dust Q’s property, pet, but if they give ya trouble, do what you think best,” Spike shrugged and then made a jump for a second story window sill.  Xander had to give a low appreciate whistle for the athletic prowess as Spike easily pulled himself up.  Ajani gave him a strange look and then leapt for the sill as Spike pulled up onto a ledge and moved over to a second window.  Ajani made it, but only by one hand and he had to swing himself to get a second hand on the sill and then scramble with his feet against the wall trying to pull up.  Yep, Xander thought to himself, his vampire was definitely better.

He turned away from the building, suddenly much more interested in keeping the two minions in sight.  When he looked over, one growled at him, and Xander panicked for a second before he felt the rising growl from his own chest.  So, his demon recommended bluffing?  He could do that.

“Back off blood breath,” he snapped, and the second minion’s eyes now snapped over to him.

“Human,” minion one growled.

“Well no duh.” He rolled his eyes.  “Vampire,” he announced, pointing a finger at the complaining minion.

Vampire number two dropped his gaze again, but vampire number one now slithered forward, fangs bared in a National Geographic sort of way. 

The vampire stopped about four feet away, and Xander leaned back against the wall even as he reached back in his waistband for a stake.  Without backing up or losing eye contact, he looked at the vampire without flinching.

“You are so bucking to be dusted ‘cause one more step and your buddy’s gonna be washing your remains out of his hair--or not.  He doesn’t look big on personal hygiene.”  He watched as the minion opened his mouth to reply only to close it and back off to stand with his friend.  Co-minion?  Whatever.

He hadn’t let go of the stake at the small of his back when a familiar figure reappeared at a second story window and dropped down.  Xander felt a moment of panic that Ajani had returned without Spike, but he reminded himself that Spike could take care of himself far better than Ajani and would easily sacrifice the younger vampire to save his own hide.  And wow, betraying allies should really not be a comforting thought.

“Ajani,” he said with a quick tilt of his head.  He may not want to challenge the vampire, especially in front of minions, but he also wanted it clear that he didn’t feel any particular loyalty toward him either.  He liked Ajani, but that wouldn’t keep him from staking the vamp.  Ajani looked at him for nearly a minute—a minute during which Xander grew increasing uncomfortable until the vampire finally turned his attention to his minions.

“This massah’s out, so we be waitin’ for him.”

“And Spike?” Xander asked, half expecting Ajani to see the question as a challenge, but Ajani answered without emotion.

“Guardin' de sewah, too many minions for us both to stay and he wants de massah dead fore the minions done get riled.”  Xander could understand that vamp logic.  If the minions start doing their mindlessly destroying minion thing, the poor little human in the middle could very well get hurt.  Probably didn’t trust Ajani to take care of whatever prep work needed to get done.   

Then something else occurred to him.  Spike had left him with three vampires, and he suddenly knew that Spike was trusting him to take care of himself.  It was more than Gunn ever did, but then again with his little passenger hitting the brakes in the middle of fights, he couldn’t really blame Gunn for thinking of him as a total screw up not even worth training.  He just wished Gunn had looked past that to see whatever had make a century old vampire trust him.

He leaned back against a chain link fence, feeling the cold thick wire digging into his back.  Okay, he just needed to wait for Spike.  He could do that.  He shifted against the fence.  No problem waiting.  He was the mighty waitin' man.  How long could this new master take to get back anyway?  He’d just wait for Spike.  Oh who was he kidding; he couldn’t stand the quiet.

“So, Ajani, do you ever remember your life, I mean the life before you got… um… well… vamped.”  Wow--that really came out bad.  Hopefully asking about life before undeath wasn’t some sort of vampire taboo.  Ajani turned and considered him with a curiously blank expression.  “Don’t remember?” Xander finally asked just to fill the silence.

“Jes’ been awhiles since I thought about it, but I kin ‘member ever moment.”  Ajani moved toward the street so that Xander found himself between the two minions standing next to the dumpster and Ajani who stood watching the street from the edge of the alley.

“So you still know who you were?  You remember dying?”  He shifted slightly so that he leaned against the building and could keep an eye on the minions even while talking to Ajani.  He might be stupid, but even he wasn’t *that* stupid.

"Sho enough.  Went to a stomps ovah in de next county to meet up wid a woman, met a vamp instead.  Fore I knew it, I b’longs to the vamp, and I follow him north.  Fuhgot m’self for a while truth be told."

Xander thought about that, well, to be more accurate, he tried to decipher the vampire’s thick accent.  He’d gone to a ‘stomps?’ Well he wanted to meet up with a woman, so party maybe.  Yep, Gunn and the crew had staked more than their share of vamps at parties, maybe because people were just so willing to invite anyone in during a party.  But Ajani had forgotten himself?  He obviously remembered now, so what had changed?  He briefly considered the possibility of vampire psychology classes just to try and understand his life, but Ajani continued talking.

“I ‘members dis one time, these white folks eased up on a group of boys day aftah a squall.  Lynched ‘im all.  Three bodies swingin’ jes’ cause dey’s worked up over some niggah who’d passed one a dey’s tests—de type dey used to keep us from votin’.”

“Holy shit,” Xander responded.  Sure he’d studied the violence and racial killings in the south, but he was standing with a man who’d watched friends get hanged because white people were angry about a black person casting a vote.  Ajani was like a living textbook, or an unliving textbook anyway.

He looked at Ajani’s face and wondered if the vampire still cared about those three dead boys.  Yeah, if he met three boys now he’d probably catch a snack and would kill them without regret, but did he still remember being a human and watching innocent people die?  Did he remember caring?  Ajani continued after a brief pause as if the vampire couldn’t stop talking now that someone was listening.

“B’longin’ to a vamp didn’t seem too bad.  My massah, when some older vamp ketch him and dust him, I’s a bit lost.  De other vamp, he don't wan' me”

Xander couldn’t come up with a more intelligent response than “huh.”  Ajani seemed to have finished because he wandered back toward his minions.  Xander watched him thinking again how little he had understood on those nights when he had followed Gunn.  A blonde head suddenly appeared in the window, and Spike leaned down holding out a hand.  Without even questioning, Xander jumped up and grabbed for the outreached hand.  He felt Spike’s grip lock onto his wrist and pull him steadily upward until his feet landed on the window sill.  He ducked down and crawled into the building without talking, moving to one side while Ajani made the jump and then reached down to help his minions.

Spike stood to the side and gestured Ajani over to him, and the two talked before Ajani gestured to his two minions and started out the door.  Xander waited as Spike walked over to him and watched the three leave.

“We gonna help?”

“Not if we can bloody help it; it’s Ajani’s job to take them out, innit?”  Spike walked up and stood at the door and Xander moved in just behind him.

“Then why are we here?”

“Already took out a couple of older vamps, one was childer for sure.  Now it’s time for him to take charge and take over the soddin’ nest.  Can’t do that for him.”

“And if he gets killed?”

“Then we find another vamp to make master.  Only doin’ this to get the minions off the streets and back under control, pet.  Don’t really care of Q bloody gets himself killed or not.”  Xander knew that Spike was telling the truth, but he had grown to like the red-haired vampire and he really didn’t want to see him killed.  On the other hand, he could see that if Ajani didn’t fight for himself, he would never hold power and never demand obedience from his minions. 

“I really hope it doesn’t come to that,” Xander said, and Spike instantly jerked around and glared at him.  It only took Xander a half-second to process that look.

“I like him in a totally human don’t really want to see him dead type way and not in any sort of feeling loyalty or wanting to serve him type way.”  He watched Spike’s features go from infuriated to amused in a blink.

“Don’t know how to take ya half the time,” Spike acknowledged.

“Yeah, don’t know what my own brain is doing three-fourths of the time, so no problem.”  They stood in silence for several minutes, and Xander had almost reached the limits of his ability to stay quiet.

“Ajani’s done, pet.”

“Done as in finished or done as in done for?”

“Oi, think I’m daft enough to still be here if he’d lost?”  He had to admit Spike had a point.  He also had to admit that he was relieved that Ajani instead of the other homicidal monster had won.  If Gunn could see him now, he’d probably run a stake right through his heart.

“Come on then,” Spike called, and he realized that Spike had started down the stairs.  He hurried to catch up, passing through several doors and passing Ajani’s two minions at the entrance to the basement stairs before descending into the main lair. 

The vampires had obviously chosen this building for its huge basement, which looked like most lairs he’d seen—a little cleaner than normal, but not the cozy retreat Spike kept or the sheer decadence of Cassidy’s warehouse.  This place had a little trash scattered across the floor, old newspapers and tossed clothing.  The furniture was clearly picked from the garbage, and a half dead human hung from chains on one wall.  Xander looked closer at the hanging human.

Xander almost froze at the sight of a black man hanging from chains: bruised, clothes half torn away, eyes closed, neck torn and seeping blood.  It's not that he'd never seen a human half dead in a vampire lair before, it's just that he never expected the half dead victim to be Gunn.


"Oh God, it's Gunn." Xander grabbed Spike's arm hard enough that the vampire growled softly.
"Oi, watch the leather."  He knew that Spike recognized the hanging prisoner because his eyes never left the injured man.  Obviously Spike hadn't forgotten their last meeting, but Xander wasn't about to let one little homicidal vampire stop him from helping Gunn.  He started forward, but Spike's hand snagged him and pulled him back.

"I'm helping Gunn," Xander gave a good impression of a snarl as he tried to pull free, but when his various tugs didn't help, he had to admit defeat and allow Spike to pull him back to the vampire's side where Spike's arms wrapped around Xander's waist.

"We had this discussion this mornin' pet.  Your life is worth just as much and if ya go around riskin' yourself, I really will put bloody stripes on your back and chain you in the lair," Spike hissed into his ear, and Xander didn't doubt the veracity of the statement for one minute.

"I can't walk away," he whispered back, desperate and afraid Spike would make him leave, and Gunn clearly couldn't save himself because he hadn't even raised his head at the noise.

"Soddin' white hats, always think they have to save the bloody world.  Some days I think you and Peaches deserve each other," Spike sighed into his ear even as his eyes darted around the room.  Minions still crouched on the floor toward the corners, and Ajani randomly walked from group to group, sometimes staking and sometimes biting into necks and sometimes running a hand through some fledge's hair.

"No one's eatin' him right now, pet.  We wait."

"Just tell Ajani to hand him over."

"Said we wait, pet.  I'm not tryin' to get your mate killed, but I’m about to put a bloody leash around your neck."  He looked into Spike's eyes and saw that he had exceeded any patience the vampire may have once possessed.  Dropping his gaze and biting his lip to keep from saying something stupid, he followed as Spike walked closer to Gunn.

Xander watched vampire after vampire walked past Gunn, ignoring the suffering human, for which he was uniquely grateful.  As he followed Spike over towards Ajani, he lived in fear that one of the vampires would grab Gunn and finish draining him, or even worse, turn him.  Xander looked toward Ajani who had settled into a chair and prayed that the young master had enough minions to keep him happy because he couldn’t live with himself if he allowed Gunn to get vamped.  Ajani now sat in a relatively decent armchair, obviously the nicest in the basement, and Spike walked over and perched on the edge of an old oak table. 

He nearly jumped at the sound of Spike’s soft growl, and when he turned from Gunn’s half-naked form to Spike, he could see the aggravation in the vampire’s eyes.  Spike’s eyes darted toward the floor and then to the room of vampires, but he simply gave Spike his best confused look, not hard considering his confusion. 

Spike’s hand darted out and snagged his shirt, pulling him closer and, he finally figured out, pushing him down.  Dropping to his knees as he had at the demon bars, Xander tried to play the part of the good little pet without staring at Gunn.  Nearly 40 minions clustered in small groups, several near Ajani’s chair, and Xander knew that even Spike couldn’t fight his way through this crowd.

“Massah Spike,” Ajani called, but Spike continued lighting his cigarette without acknowledging the call.  He took a couple of deep pulls on the cigarette and released a cloud of smoke before responding.

“Yeah, mate?”

“I owes ya, Massah Spike.  Me court, it’ll always be open to ya.”  Xander watched the minions shift uncomfortably at that news.  Several pairs of eyes turned to consider them, and Xander dropped his gaze to the floor to avoid accidentally triggering some fight in the increasingly tense atmosphere.

“No problem, mate,” Spike said, and Xander glanced up to see minion eyes bounce from Spike to Ajani.  “Just need one favor.”  Spike stopped to continue pulling on his cigarette, seemingly unconcerned by the minions that now shifted nervously and the gold tint in Ajani’s eyes.  Spike continued to smoke for several minutes as the tension built. 

“The human there, he thinks my pet owes him somethin’.  Challenged me in front of my sire before runnin’ out like a coward.”  Xander felt cold fear flowing down his back as Spike nodded toward Gunn.  Oh god, please don’t let Spike kill Gunn.  Xander glanced toward the motionless man.  Glancing back, he could see both Ajani and Spike watching Gunn with undisguised disgust.

“I’s happy to give him to ya,” Ajani waved a hand, and two minions moved in on Gunn, freeing his hands and allowing his body to fall to the ground.

“Oi, don’t want him dead before I can kill him,” Spike complained, and the minions picked Gunn up more carefully and brought him over to Spike, laying him out so that his bruised body rested inches away from Spike’s foot.  Xander struggled not to reach out and check for a pulse because the body lay motionless and he couldn’t even be sure Gunn was breathing.

“Dat all, Massah Spike?”  He spared Ajani a glance and he could see the vampire leaning forward in his chair, his eyes flashing gold and his body poised for a fight.

“Yeah, mate.  Mind the warnin’ about my sire, though.  He’s a wanker who’ll stake ya as soon as look at ya.”  Spike reached down and pulled Gunn’s arm, dragging the body high enough for Spike to tuck an arm around Gunn’s waist so that Gunn’s head dangled near the floor and his feet drug along the concrete.  Xander stood behind Spike, wanting to reach out for Gunn but not wanting to risk the man’s life. 

He honestly thought Spike was saving Gunn, but he couldn’t be sure, and he didn’t want to anger Spike by showing too much concern for his former friend.  So he simply followed as Spike walked up the stairs, Gunn’s head perilously close to each step as Spike climbed.  On the street, Spike tossed his cigarette and got a shoulder under Gunn’s arm.

“Oi, not carryin’ the wanker alone here.”  Xander quickly slipped under Gunn’s other arm and followed Spike’s nodded directions as they walked down the street toward the abandoned basement the crew called home.

“Um, Spike?” he finally worked up the nerve to ask, “Is he going to…. Is he dying?”

“Bloody hell no.  Never did have the luck that soddin’ Irish bastard always seemed to have.   Only luck I ever get’s the bad kind, innit?”  Spike cursed.  He wasn’t quite sure how to answer that so he stayed uncharacteristically silent until he noticed where Spike led them.

“How do you know where the guys hang out, Spike?”

“He hurt ya, pet.  Hurt ya and would a killed ya if he’d had half a chance.”

“Gunn wouldn’t…” he saw the look in Spike’s eye and stopped.  “Okay, he might have, but only in a really not thinking straight in the heat of the moment and thinking I was a demon kinda way.”

“Wouldn’t make ya less dead, pet.”

“And how does this explain your ability to navigate down here?”  Xander suspected he knew where this led, but he really wanted to be wrong.  He’d never wanted to be wrong so much in his life.

“The lot of them are lucky to be alive.  The pillocks don’t cover their trails.”

“And were you planning on doing anything other than looking?”  Xander shifted as he redistributed Gunn’s weight so he could walk more easily.  Luckily in this neighborhood the sight of two men carrying home a drunken friend didn’t even cause turned heads.

“Might a been, but the pouf’s been down here, talkin’ to them and lookin’ out for them.” 

“Whoa, Luther and crew talking to a vampire?  Okay, that’s just a little surprising as in waking up to find the Carolina Panthers winning the Superbowl kinda way." 

Gunn groaned and that ended the conversation.  Of course, Spike’s constant and steady growls mixed with occasional curse words also tended to impair the conversation.  Xander resolved to look up dangleberries, wassock, pilchard, and nit.  Arsewipe and tosser he could pretty well figure out without a dictionary.  Yeah, Spike obviously didn’t like saving Gunn and he could only hope that didn’t reflect on Spike’s desire to kill Gunn.  He was suddenly discovering the benefits of unemployment; maybe his vampire needed a little vampire sitting.

“That’s it,” Xander said as he nodded toward the familiar building.  Why he didn’t know because Spike obviously already knew which building already.  Spike stopped across the street, and Xander had to stop or risk dropping Gunn who now made small groans on a semi-regular basis.  As they stood looking at the building, he found himself wondering just how they could manage this.  After Spike’s confession about the whole spying on the crew thing, he certainly didn’t want to offer Spike an invitation, but he couldn’t carry Gunn by himself.

“Go on then, get a couple of ‘em to do the carryin’.”  Xander felt Gunn’s body pulled away from him as Spike took the weight and freed him to go get help.  He looked at Spike, his face totally blank as if he hadn’t been cursing up a storm earlier.  From his comparison of Gunn’s whole crew to dangleberries on Angel’s arse, he had to guess that the vampire didn’t like any of them, but here he was helping one, hopefully.  He didn’t *think* Spike would take the opportunity to finish Gunn off, but he had to admit it as a possibility.  On the other hand, they couldn’t leave Gunn here and they had to get back to the lair soon, so waiting was out.  Right, facing the guys alone was the plan then.  He took one step and Spike’s voice stopped him.

“They lay one finger on ya, and the lot of ‘em’s dead, make sure they know that, pet,” Spike commented casually as if he hadn’t just threatened murder.  He nodded to Spike and then ducked between cars as he dashed for the familiar entrance.

The basement hadn’t changed, he noticed as he walked in the door.  Guys who’d obviously just returned from hunting repaired weapons while others stretched out on thin bunks.  Casey’s Playstation buddy was Lou this time, and Luther stood staring at something pinned to the wall.  He wasn’t sure how to announce his presence when a voice solved his dilemma.

“Look who the cat drug in,” Luis called out, and Xander forced a smile on his face, a smile that faltered when Luther spun, crossbow in hand.

“Whoa, ya know most people just make excuses to get rid of company,” Xander tried joking as he held up his hands, but he noticed that Luther didn’t move the crossbow and now the other guys were silent, watching the scene.  Gilly took one step forward as if to defend Xander before she stepped back and stood next to Gwen.

“Heard ya changed sides.  Always were a demon magnet, so we shoulda figured you’d end up a demon,” Luther snapped.

“Hey, no more demon now than the day I dropped that plate of pizza on your favorite shirt, and I’m thinking I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that when you’re all Rambo-guy with the weapons.”  Xander shuffled back, his hands still held up in surrender.  He never expected them to welcome him back, but he honestly hadn’t expected violence.  He wondered for a minute if Spike could hear; if so, some of the crew might end up as walking to-go meals.

“What you want?” Luther demanded.

“We were out and about and ran into Gunn hanging around, thought we might bring him home.”  Xander quipped, starting to truly panic at the expression of disgust and hatred in Luther’s eyes.

“Where is he?” 

“Outside with Spike,” Xander answered, and then Luther closed the distance before he had time to react, Luther’s large hand pinning him against the door as the point of the crossbow dug into his stomach.

“This ‘we’ wouldn’t be the vampire you’re hanging with now, would it?” Luther’s voice dropped into a near whisper, and Xander found himself shivering at the sound.

“He got Gunn out of a lair.  He’s guar…” Xander would have said more, but he found himself bodily thrown into the room, Casey and Lou catching him inches before he stepped on the Playstation.  “Hey!”

“Shut up,” Luther said as he gestured for the others to grab weapons.  Xander tried to step forward, but a hand landed on his arm and he turned to see Casey holding him even while the man refused to meet his eyes.  “Come on then,” Luther demanded, and Xander felt himself pushed forward, not a single member of the crew objecting when the shove from either Casey or Lou sent him off balance and struggling not to fall. 

When the group reached the street, Xander almost fainted with relief to see that Gunn now stood beside Spike, the fingers of one dark hand tangled in the chain link fence and the other hand gripping the vampire’s arm.  Spike, as usual, simply looked bored as if nothing in the world was important enough to bother him.

“Gunn, you alright?” Luther called without crossing the street, and Gunn nodded shakily.  Luther motioned for the crew to follow, but Spike’s voice interrupted him.

“Ya don’t need more than two wankers to help him; leave the rest over there,” he ordered with a flash of gold in his eyes. 

Luther took a deep breath as if to argue, but Gunn raised a hand and gave the signal for two members to move forward.  Luther let out his breath in an exaggerated sigh and touched Lou on the shoulder.  Xander found himself pushed forward as Lou grabbed his arm and ‘escorted’ him across the street.  He tried not to show the pain he felt that they wouldn’t even listen to him; he didn’t want Spike to come back and kill them all, so he steeled himself and pretended that it didn’t matter that the guys he had grown to see as some sort of family were using him as a hostage.

As they crossed the street, Xander could see the fatigue in Gunn’s face, and the guys must have seen it—either that or they saw the blood, torn clothes and bruises because Lou’s hand tightened until Xander had to intentionally ignore the pain, and Luther’s hand gripped his shoulder.

“Let Xander go; he and Spike saved me,” Gunn ordered as soon as they crossed.

“Don’t look too saved to me,” Luther pointed out.

“Yeah, well my boy and I gotta have a little talk.” Xander walked over, and Gunn leaned against him heavily, still obviously having trouble walking. “We’re just gonna go down to Culligan’s,” Gunn announced, and Xander found himself helping Gunn stumble down the dirty sidewalk to the stairs Gunn had mentioned.  There he helped Gunn sit.  Looking back, he could see Spike leaning against the fence in a pose that suggested to prey that he didn’t have a care in the world and suggested to Xander that the vampire was inches away from eating someone.  Luther and Lou had taken classic attack positions relative to Spike, but he knew they didn’t have a chance if it actually came to a fight.

“Ya know, we probably shouldn’t leave the sheep guarding the wolf very long.  Not healthy for sheep,” Xander pointed out.

“Is that what we are now?  Sheep?” Gunn snapped, and Xander could see Spike’s eyes suddenly meet his.  Obviously Spike heard that and the odds of getting away without mayhem had dropped.  He turned to look at Gunn.

“I was joking, Gunn.  You know the old saying about foxes and henhouses and sheep and wolves, although now that I’m thinking about it, the fox was guarding the henhouse and the wolves weren’t guarding anything.  They were just doing the whole kinky species cross dressing with the sheep’s clothing so I guess I shouldn’t have used sheep.”
“God, it still sounds so much like you,” Gunn’s voice sounded suddenly tired.

“It is me.”

“That’s what Alonna said.  She wanted me back in her family.”  Xander fell silent, waiting for Gunn to continue, but he didn’t. 

“You mean after she…” he let his voice trail off.  Alonna’s death still hurt him, and he knew Gunn had to be destroyed over it.

“Got vamped?  Yeah.”

“If she was vamped, that wasn’t her.  You know that.”  Xander now sat down on the cold concrete, trying to offer some comfort to the man who Xander had seen as an older brother.

“And you?  How are you any different, man?”

“I always had this demon, well not ‘always’ as in always, but always since I knew you.  The whole blood mixing with the blood—it gives me a touch of something not human, but it doesn’t change who I am.”

“Right.  Sounds a lot like Alonna’s line.”

“Did you talk to Angel?  Didn’t he explain the difference?”

“Yeah, can’t believe I’m takin’ a vamp’s word for anything, but the problem is that Angel says you aren’t like any pet he’s ever seen.  He doesn’t know what you are.”  Gunn gave a dry laugh, and Xander could hear a pain that he had never known in Gunn before.  The man who had always laughed off everything now had a laugh that screamed in pain.

“Great, one more reason to stake Angel,” he quipped.

“What?  Cause he don’t lie about what you’ve become?”  Xander looked over in surprise at the sudden defensiveness in Gunn’s voice. 

“No, because he won’t stop calling me weird, and coming from a vampire with a soul, that’s pretty pot calling the kettle blackish.”

“So your vampire,” Gunn nodded toward Spike who’s stance had relaxed quite a bit in the last minute or so.  “Any soul there?”

“Spike?  Hell no.”

“So he’s evil, and you’re hanging with him.  You can see why I might question your humanity.”  Gunn leaned back against the step, but Xander suspected it had nothing to do with Gunn trusting him and something to do with Gunn being so weak he couldn’t sit up well.

“He’s not evil.” Xander paused, unsure how to explain himself.  “He’s…morally ambigious.”


“Meaning he’ll eat you without thinking twice, but he also has another side, a side he shows when we’re alone.”  Oh god, when had he turned into a girl that he could say a sappy line like that and actually mean it?

“So, it don’t matter who dies as long as you’re getting your end off?”

“Whoa, okay, can we please never say it like that again, and no, I’m not okay with random death and Girl Scout snacks when the snacks are actually the girls.”  Xander rushed to explain.  “Spike doesn’t do that when we’re together, and I’m the first to admit he might if I’m not around, but doesn’t that suggest it might be better for me to stay with him.  You know, saving innocents by putting Spike on a Xander-approved diet?”

“You’re okay with him killing *some* people then.”

“Oh boy, so didn’t intend on going there with you.”

“Well you have now, so you better start talking, boy.”  Xander thought about that line for a long time.  Gunn had always told him what to do, and Xander had never challenged him.  Gunn called him “boy” and “my boy” when Gunn was only a year older, yet Xander had never challenged it.  Was he just really pathetic or could he blame this willingness to get pushed around on his guest?  Either way, he wouldn’t get pushed around any more.

“No, I don’t have to start talking.  I don’t answer to you Gunn, and I don’t think I ever will again.  I don’t want us to be enemies, but maybe I’m figuring out that we can’t be friends.”  Gunn took a sharp breath, and Xander braced himself for the explosion

“Damn it.  You and him, this ain’t right,” Gunn shouted.

“It feels right to me.”  That stopped the conversation cold, and they sat there watching old cars go by on the road.  Finally Gunn sighed.

“And what does the Magic 8 ball say?” Gunn asked in reference to a game they used to play.  They would sit on the stoop, watch some woman walk by and then ask the Magic 8 ball about some sexual act.  Would the red-haired woman in the mini-skirt give Xander a blow job?  Outlook not so good.  Would the short Hispanic woman ride Gunn like a pony?  Try again later.  Xander looked at Gunn, the tired eyes and the slumped shoulders, much of it from sheer blood loss.  He looked over at Luther and Lou still threatening Spike, who now looked mildly amused. The vampire kept shifting slightly, causing the two humans to constantly readjust their own stances.  He’d get tired of that game soon, Xander knew.  He looked at the faces on the far side of the street, most of them closed to him, showing masks of anger or distrust. 

“The magic eight ball says, ‘Definitely yes’.” Xander said softly, “and I never contradict precognizant plastic.”

“If you ever want to come back…” Gunn left the statement unfinished, but Xander knew what he would have to give up to earn the right to start over with Gunn, the right to go back to the beginning and fight for every inch of respect in the group.  He also knew he couldn’t ever do it.  He offered Gunn another option.

“Not enemies?”  he asked.

“I can deal with that,” Gunn replied and he held out his hand.  Xander grabbed Gunn’s forearm, and Gunn clasped his in return.  They sat there on the stoop, and Xander knew they were saying goodbye.  Without another word, he stood and started walking away from Gunn and Luther and Lou, sure that one person behind him would follow.  In less than a block, a familiar arm slipped around his waist.

“Ya alright, pet?”

“No.”  Xander tried not to cry as he walked away from every person who’d ever ditched class with him or covered for him on a test or protected his back in a vamp fight or commiserated with him after a break up.  When his mother had been so lost in the divorce that she talked to her lawyer more than her son, those people had given him a place to go and now every single one of them had turned away from him.  “Spike, make the pain go away,” he whispered hoarsely.

“Let’s get home, and I’ll do that,” Spike promised.

“Just promise me this doesn’t involve killing.” Xander had to ask, he knew Spike’s version of comfort well enough to be suspicious.

“If it’d make ya feel better, I’d torture and kill every one a them pillocks with rusty roofing nails, but seein’ as how that’d probably just make ya nuttier than Dru, we’ll skip the murder and vengeance, and I’ll just make ya forget they ever existed.”  Xander didn’t know if Spike truly had the power do make that happen, but he allowed himself to close his eyes against the threatening tears, and he followed Spike’s lead.

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