Out of Tune


Part Five

By the time Spike and Xander reached the crypt with the hidden entrance to the Aurelius tunnels, a dozen minions trailed them, not even trying to hide their presence.

"Look. Dandelions. Did you know dandelions can have roots up to ten feet long?" Xander asked. Spike stopped and looked at his childe in confusion. Xander's brown eyes focused on the ground, and when Spike followed the gaze, a yellow mop-head flower stuck up from one of the graves.

"Pet?" Spike asked. He watched the various trailing minions scatter and lean against headstones and random trees. Not exactly a subtle lot, but then old Bat Face had always picked losers to turn, and the Hellmouth stunk of his scabby minions. After all, Batface had picked Darla, and that spoke volumes about the wanker's taste.

"I'm thinking this is not good in a Titanic or Custer's Last Stand kinda way. I'm going to say something monumentally stupid as opposed to just normal Xander levels of stupidity." Xander stared at his thumb for a moment before starting to chew a hangnail.

"Oi, just stay by my side and keep your gob closed," Spike said as he turned back toward the crypt. Xander grabbed Spike's arm and stopped him.

"Okay, you tried your best with my mom, and look how well that did not turn out. She barely kept herself from stabbing you to death with the cake server. It was like watching boy scouts build a bonfire in the middle of the Ice Capades and wondering which ice-skating cartoon character will fall through first."

Xander stopped to take a breath and Spike reached out, curling his hand around the back of Xander's head and pulling him close. Never before had Spike seen such open distress in those brown eyes. Hell, the boy's heart hadn't pounded so fast when Spike had first dragged him off the street in L.A.

"Pet," Spike kept his voice soft, both to calm Xander and to avoid the eavesdropping minions that circled. Spike used his hold on Xander's neck and his hip to herd Xander into the crypt over the entrance to the tunnels. Silently, Xander's body yielded, and that silence worried Spike more than all the babbling in the world.

Seeking some privacy from the minions still waiting outside, Spike urged Xander toward one of the two sarcophagus in the shadows. Under his hands, Xander's skin felt warm, and the smell of fear made Spike growl at nothing. Xander jumped, and the movement seemed to shake loose his words.

"I'm so going to fuck this up, only I think they're going to have something deadlier than my mother's cake server," Xander admitted in a strained whisper.

"Bloody hell, pet. You've gone up against whole lairs and courts and Master Angelus, what's got your knickers in a twist?" Spike could feel Xander nearly vibrate with manic energy, and he held the boy closer, slipping his second arm around Xander's waist and using his strength to hold Xander still as he leaned in, trapping Xander against the stone.

"Not as your childe, I haven't," Xander muttered, his words muffled as Xander buried his face in Spike's shoulder.

Spike pulled back and held Xander's shoulders, keeping him at arm's length. Despite the darkness, Xander's eyes remained large and brown, without even a trace of the demon's yellow. But obviously the demon was stirring up something that Xander couldn't even talk about without bloody idiotic comments about dandelions.

"Pet, how are ya feeling right now?" Spike asked softly. "Nervous?"

"Well, duh. Big with the nervousness which was the whole point of the Ice Capades metaphor with the fire and the melting ice and the potential for drowning ice-skating plushies, and I really think being around Willow is bad for my babble gene." Xander bit his lower lip.

"Pet, I'm not announcin' ya to the court." Spike watched the fear shake out of Xander with an exaggerated shiver. The boy was right to be nervous, or rather the boy's demon was. If the Annoyin' One threw around his power like Angel said he did, the boy-king would want a way to disgrace Spike. Spike definitely didn't want his childe—his souled, breathing, warm childe—getting in the middle of that.

"Not announcing?" Xander asked, but even in his confusion, his heart rate slowed and his breathing evened out. Spike tightened his grip, his fingers slipping under Xander's shirt and dancing over the warm skin as Spike felt the panic and confusion fade. Now the boy subtly writhed as his body reacted to the familiar fingers. Smiling, Spike scented the vulnerable neck, opening his mouth to taste the musk of lust. After placing a small kiss over the red claim mark, Spike slowly traced the oval mark with his tongue, holding even tighter when Xander groaned and twisted in need.

As much as Spike wished he could toss Xander up on the sarcophagus and take his childe over and over until the warm body lay sated and limp under him, he had to deal with the court and Xander's own insecurities about the court.

"Remember how I said we all carried part of the same demon?" Spike whispered quickly. They didn't have much time. Xander relaxed in the confines of Spike's embrace, his body fitting into Spike's curves so their bodies pressed close. He nodded, and Spike continued. "If we want our demon strong, we can't let little bits of it get corrupted with weakness. Minions, now they're just cannon-fodder, not much more than human pets, and they don't bloody count for piss-all. But childer and masters of a line have ta be strong. And if they aren't strong, the others will cut them off before they can corrupt the whole bloody line."

"They're killed," Xander's voice carried no emotion and the body went still. Spike inched back to consider his childe. Now the eyes that watched him were all yellow, their black pupils focused on Spike without revealing anything. In fact, even the lust scent of earlier had disappeared into nothing.

"You think they'd kill me." Even though Xander's voice was barely louder than a breath, Spike could hear each painfully slow syllable, spoken as though Xander were sounding out unfamiliar words.

Spike knew exactly what Xander thought, and he swore a silent oath to all the gods of evil vampires that one day he'd eat Xander's wanker of a father for making the boy so quick to assume the worst. He just had to deal with his childe first.

Spike captured the back of Xander's head, holding him in place while he leaned forward and stole a kiss. For a second, Xander stood stiff, and then he sighed, his lips opening so that Spike could take what he wanted. Xander tasted of sweetness and musk, and Spike nipped at a soft lip before releasing Xander's mouth. Now Xander had a slightly dopy expression, his eyes brown with yellow bits bobbing to the surface and then sinking again so fast that Xander's eyes seemed to almost shimmer.

"You're the first and favored childe of William the Bloody, slayer of soddin' slayers. You're the one who saved my arse from Cassidy, and ya refused to submit to either that arse wipe or even to Peaches. There's not a weak bone in your body and ya need to get that through your head before I bloody carve it into your back," he threatened. Spike could feel Xander's muscles flex and tremble in response, the musk returning to his scent.

"Sire," Xander breathed.

"Now, what do I always say 'bout the enemy?"

"Kill them before they kill me?" Xander answered uncertainly.

"Well, yeah," Spike admitted. "But also, ya never let them see enough of the truth that they can figure ya out."

"Like a secret weapon?" Immediately the yellow flecks disappeared as the demon retreated, hiding inside Xander's warm, living body. "But wait, aren't these vamps like family?" Xander asked.

"Oh, pet, no worse enemies in the world than your own family."

Xander's expression turned sour, as if he'd bitten into chocolate cake only to find spinach. "No joke." He paused for a second. "So, do I have to play good little pet?" The expression on his face showed both his disgust and his willingness to play the part.

"Bloody hell no," Spike quickly assured him as he turned to the hidden entrance to the tunnels. "You walk by my side, and cover my back. Let them think whatever they bloody well want to."

A quick pull on a cover revealed the mouth of the tunnel. When Spike ducked down into the tunnel, a warm hand found his back, resting there. Glancing over his shoulder, Spike saw Xander's blind eyes wandering the darkness even as he stepped confidently forward, relying on Spike's guidance. The court really might deny Xander's claim to the Aurelius line and even might want the boy dead, but Spike would rip every one of these court-bound vamps limb from limb before he'd give up his childe.

Turning back, Spike headed into the dark with Xander's warm hand on his back and Xander's heartbeat echoing off the brick walls.

After traveling down far enough that beads of moisture gathered on the stone, the tunnel widened into the cavern Spike vaguely remembered from the one time Darla had dragged him here. When she'd publicly turned her back on him and Dru, denying him acceptance into the clan as a full childe, Spike knew he had to escape the bitch or wake up to a stake in the back.

Spike slowed down and slid his hand around Xander's arm as they stepped into the dimly lit cavern populated with dozens of demons, and not all of them vampires. Now this really wasn't kosher. Way he remembered it, old Bat Face only let clan in the lair, and Spike had learned on the end of Angelus' whip that ya kept a lair secret from anyone outside the blood.

But now, two Lakshu demons, with their yellow skin and dinosaur-like ridge running up their bald heads, leaned against a far wall and a small cluster of B'lasha crouched over some sort of game... either that or they were crouching over the remains of some previous dinner, he couldn't tell which. Their heads crowded together so closely that their stubby horns almost touched. Three zombies even leaned against another entrance to the chamber, their dead flesh making the air smell heavy and oily. The normal vamps he expected hovered in twos and threes, their status determined by how far from the raised throne they stood.

"Spike." An old vampire growled his name without any title. Spike slowly turned toward the throne with the boy king and the old one standing behind. The Anointed One sat on Bat Face's seat, his angelic face watching curiously, and the older body guard stepped forward, cutting off Spike's view of the boy. With a snort of disgust at the gesture, Spike strode into the chamber, his hands pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his coat pocket.

"You're the one sired by the seer," the boy said in a soft voice, and his body guard, a vamp with dark hair and a long horse-like face, stepped to the side even as he continued to glare at Spike. Spike had an overwhelming desire to just step forward and snap the tiny vampire's neck. He could probably control the other vampires, at least after he killed the old one playing body guard; however, he couldn't predict how the other demons might react.

A Mohra with his forehead jewel shining in the dark waited on the far side of the chamber. Two more Ethros, who both looked exactly like the one Spike had seen on the street, watched with their eyes shining out from under their hoods. The B'lasha shifted nervously, their pointed ears twitching and rotating like aggravated cats. The sheer numbers and variety of demons made Spike want to growl, but he'd be buggered by Peaches in public before he'd show that kind of fear.

"Dru sired me," Spike agreed. He tightened his hand on Xander's arm, but he shouldn't have bothered; Xander pressed closer without any encouragement.

"Where's your sire?" the Annoying One asked.

Spike could feel the court shifting as the subtle fight for dominance started, but he wasn't a fledge who trembled at the threads of power twisting around the boy-king. Instead of answering, Spike tapped a cigarette out before stuffing the pack back in a packet. When he snapped his lighter, casting a yellow pool of light around him, several fledges flinched, their instinctive fear of fire driving them back. Spike smirked as he pulled at the cigarette and felt the warmth stuff his lungs. When Spike started pacing the chamber, circling the throne and studying the various supplicants, Xander followed.

"Made some changes 'round the old place," Spike observed without answering the boy's question. The body guard vamp growled, making Xander jump. Then again, most of the fledges in the room jumped at the murderous tone.

"Things change," the boy responded. Spike pulled deeply on the cigarette and then blew a warm cloud into the air as minions shifted nervously. Boy king lost points by answering. Spike tilted his head and considered the tiny vamp. Even with the power flowing through the demon, the demon still only had access to the boy's memories, and that meant that he didn't understand the verbal power games. Spike could feel a twitching need to throw himself against the boy, but he simply stopped in his pacing and cracked his neck first one way and then the other as he soaked in the heat of his Xander at his back and the cigarette between his fingers. The body guard vamp growled even louder, the rumbling threat echoing off the walls and the zombies inched forward, smiling with dead flesh… in one case, dead flesh that looked ready to fall off its face.

"Much like your line has changed--Darla and Dru dead, Angelus souled," the older vamp taunted him, verbally distracting the group from the boy king who had answered Spike without even demanding an answer to his own question.

"Seems like Angelus did well enough against you lot, even with his bloody soul," Spike offered after another drag of his cigarette. "But that's history... bloody borin' history. I prefer to live in the here and now." In his peripheral vision, he watched minions taking up position around him. Without even needing prompting, Xander separated from him, turning to take up a position covering Spike's back. Spike smiled darkly.

The Anointed One stood up, stepping down off the throne, and the very fact that Spike had to look down at the ankle-biter made him want to snap the little vampire's neck. "And in the here and now," the Anointed One commented, "you have no recognition as a childe or a master and no sire to speak for you. Are you worthy of our line?" The child's words made Spike painfully aware of the sheer numbers that surrounded him.

Spike took a slow drag on his cigarette. "Been a Master for long enough. Besides, seems like standards have dropped a bit around here, mate." Taking the half gone cigarette, Spike flicked it toward the zombies. A few fledges scattered away while others growled at the spark that arced through the air. Right, this wasn't going to plan at all. Spike tucked his hands into his waist and prayed that Xander recognized the signal.

After decades of painting Eastern Europe with the blood of innocents, Spike hadn't expected a challenge to himself. Yeah, the clan might be a little put out with one more souled demon joining the line, but unlike his childe, Spike wasn't souled. His own demon roared at the challenge, at the suggestion that he needed a sire's protection or that he wasn't worthy of the clan. Spike ignored the white-hot fury and focused on tracking his enemy. The zombies and fledges moved forward while the other demons faded back to the walls. Spike smirked. So, not everyone bought the party line and backed the boy-king then.

The boy-king turned his back, and at some signal that Spike didn't see, the fledges and zombies leapt forward. Spike snapped the knee of the first attacker, leaving him howling on the ground as he pulled his long knife. Sparing one glance for his childe, Spike watched the boy neatly stake the first reckless vamp to rush him. With his own demon screaming in pride, Spike concentrated on his end of the fight, determined not to let anyone get past him to attack Xander's back, and trusting Xander to do the same.

Three fledges attacked in a flurry that might have distracted a younger vamp, but Spike ignored their flailing and decapitated one with a sweeping cut before lodging the knife deep into the heart of a second. A quick twist and vicious yank, and he ripped the unbeating muscle out of the body. The fledge had time for one last incredulous look before turning to dust. The third vamp hit Spike's hand hard enough to send the knife flying, but Spike simply twisted his head off with his bare hands, feeling bones crack before the dust exploded all over him.

Snatching a stake out of his duster pocket, Spike spared Xander a quick glance, just in time to see the boy rip an arm off a zombie and use it as a club against a fledge. The fledge hadn't yet decided what to do with the rotting arm in his hands when Xander jammed the stake into its heart. Xander turned back to the attackers with the vamps ashes settling like snow over his dark curls.

If there hadn't been so many enemies, Spike would have stepped back and allowed Xander to fight while he reveled in his childe's ferociousness; however, one of the zombies crashed into him, sending him stumbling sideways before he could regain his balance. He ripped at the dead flesh, feeling it tear like rotting fruit under his fingers. Two more minions rushed into the fight, and Spike had to settle for crippling one with a roundhouse kick while he focused on the second minion, an older one who moved in more cautiously.

"Enough!" a tiny voice bellowed, and while the volume and girlish pitch might be easily dismissed, the threads of supernatural power backing the order sent the remaining vamps cringing back. A mist of fine ash floated through the air, slowly drifting toward the ground, and two of the three zombies lay in so many tatters that they would never rise again.

"Master Spike," the boy-king offered as he climbed back up to his throne and took a seat, "what brings you to the court?"

"Just passing through. Figure ta be here a few days, a week at most," Spike answered calmly as he brushed the dust from his coat. He'd made his point, and he trusted that he didn't need ta make it again. Scenting the air, he checked Xander, but all he could smell was his childe's excitement. Hell, boy looked ready to vibrate out of his own skin as he returned to Spike's side, his eyes still scanning the room.

Spike didn't bother looking at the others now that he had officially claimed his title. He focused on the miniature head of the line.

"And will you be staying with the court?"

"Wasn't plannin' to. Have a place already, something Angelus laid claim to back when the old Master still ruled and he'd come ta town from time to time," Spike casually answered. The court shifted at Angelus' name. The old vamp who played body guard just as Luke had once guarded the old Master stepped forward in full game-face.

"And do you take Angelus' side in things? You bring a human here; your line is corrupted with humanity. Darla often said that you stank of humanity and stupidity, and now you try claiming the title of a full Master."

"Not claimin' anything. Took it, didn't I? Left the dust of your soddin' minions scattered over the floor. I've tasted the blood of two slayers, and the title's mine!" Spike growled as he vamped out for the first time, his demon's fury pushing forward.

"Colin." The boy-king stopped the body guard with a single word. "Enough."

"Yeah, Colin, enough," Spike mocked the body guard.  He hadn't liked Luke, and he didn't like this newer version any better. Colin growled, and then his eyes shifted to a spot behind Spike.

"Do not look at me, human," he snapped. His eyes returned to Spike. "Your pet seriously needs training."

"I know you're not talking about my Xander because I've never told ya he's a pet." Spike felt the warmth as Xander moved closer, and he reached back, urging Xander to step up beside him.

"What else would he be? He's human," Colin sneered.

"Ya hear that, luv? Wanker thinks you're a pet, that you're weak and helpless and not worthy of fighting by my side." Spike could feel Xander's anger gathering just under the surface, but the eyes that glared up at Colin who stood beside the Anointed One's throne remained brown. Spike reached up and gave a dusty curl a sharp jerk. Yellow flecks appeared before the demon emerged. Colin's eyes widened, and he gave a low, deep warning growl.

In return, Xander gave his own small growl in response, and Colin might never have even heard the small rumble except that Spike encouraged it with a growl of his own. Xander raised a lip and small fangs appeared as he growled louder, clearly still worked up over the fight. When Xander pressed forward, Spike tightened his grip to keep Xander beside him. They didn't need another fight.

"He's not human." The boy-king sounded more curious than anything else, but then for the head of a vampire line and a newly made vampire, the boy always seemed remarkably calm.

"Never said he was, mate. He's young and excitable, but he's not a soddin' human."

"What type of demon is he?" Now the Anointed One leaned forward.

"One that passes as human easy enough ta go places I can't. But don't mistake it, he's a demon who's fought by my side and proved himself, and he's mine."

Spike watched at the other demons considered Xander with a new interest. At the very least, he'd make them worry about Xander and take the boy off the menu if anyone had any more thoughts about challenging them.

"You offer an…" the Anointed One paused… "interesting diversion."

"Yeah, and you're plannin' something mighty interesting here. So, want ta let me in so that I don't muck up some plan you got brewin?" Spike pulled out another cigarette as he considered the remaining court.

Fewer vamps now, and only one zombie watched… the one Xander had ripped the arm off of. He sat cradling his severed limb and glaring. The B'lasha had in a dark recess, or maybe it was the mouth of another tunnel. They weren't fighters, and Spike dismissed them altogether. Instead, Spike focused on the Mohra who watched with narrowed eyes. Hard to kill those buggers, and they normally didn't work for vamps. Then again, the B'lasha normally avoided all violence, preferring the financial and moral corruption of humans over the blood lust.

"What makes you think I'm planning anything?" The Anointed One's false innocence made Spike's skin crawl.  Colin retreated a step to his master's side where he glowered.

"Let's just say I'm followin' a trail of breadcrumbs here," Spike snorted as he waved a hand in the direction of the various demons. The two Lakshu demons nodded their agreement, but the Mohra crossed his arms over his chest and simply glared.

"We have plans," the boy-king nearly whispered.

"I'm not thick as pig shite, think I figured that out." Spike lit his second cigarette and wandered over to a pillar where he leaned his shoulder into the stone.

"If you are not going to stay, I would not ask you to get involved." The Anointed One leaned back, his hand dangling over the arm of the chair, and Colin sat. Slipping back into his human mask, he leaned against the chair and allowed the boy's fingers to play with his hair. Spike could hear a small gasp from Xander, but then the boy hadn't ever seen the courts where shows of dominance and submission were the norm, even between two full vampires.  Bloody hell, if he were presenting the boy proper like as his childe, he'd throw him down and fuck Xander until Xander could only lay helplessly spent and sprawled all over the floor. 'Course, other demons weren't usually around to see it. Spike watched as the Mohra's face curled in disgust before a mask of indifference covered the expression.

"Just don't want to go stumblin' into some mess of your making," Spike shrugged as if it didn't matter to him, and it didn't. He just wanted to make sure Xander was safe, and if his childe wanted the witch safe, he'd fight for that too.

The Anointed One looked at him, his small head tilting as he considered. "Avoid the slayer and the humans who hunt for demons on the Hellmouth and the Vahrall who have recently appeared."

"Demon hunters?" Spike lowered his cigarette and looked at the boy-king in surprise. Those lot should have been hunted down and either killed or turned.

"Stay in groups and they are cowards who will not bother you, but they are useful in keeping others out of our plans." The boy leaned back, his fingers still playing with Colin's hair.

Spike would have asked a dozen other questions, but the scent of excitement from Xander was slowly souring into something weary, so time ta head for safety. Besides, for this many demons to come together, it really could only be one more attempt to open a bloody Hellmouth, like that stunt hadn't screwed every other Aurelius vamp who'd ever tried it. That's what got the Master trapped in this rat hole. Angelus had gotten his soul shoved back in him when he'd been so distracted with some soddin' statue that he forgot ta take care of his enemies. Even Darla had given up her jewels and silk to sit by scabby's side and dream of hell on Earth. It just got her a stake in the heart from her own favorite childe.

Well, let the little nipper try; he'd get his arse kicked, especially with a slayer in town. Spike could feel a thread of shame that one more of his line would go down, but ending the world wasn't high on his agenda. Now if country music ever took over the media, he might consider it, but he liked the world pretty much the way it was now, no gaping Hell mouth to bring in hoards of hungry demons.

Without a word, Spike turned and headed for the tunnel. The minions at the tunnel's entrance stiffened, but before Spike had covered half the distance to them, they retreated so that Spike and Xander could pass. This time when they walked the dark tunnels, Xander's demon eyes allowed him to follow, and Spike missed the warm touch. Smiling, he just planned on getting more warm touches once they got back to the lair.

Out in the cemetery, Spike waited while Xander closed the entrance to the tunnel and followed him out into the night air. A breeze stirred the treetops, and as dawn approached, the night had gone absolutely silent. An early bird sang a couple of hopeful notes and then went still.

"Well, that went… moderately better than I expected. Of course, anything short of me dead or in chains is actually better than I expected," Xander said with a shrug as he closed the heavy door to the crypt.

"Told ya. Nothin' to worry about," Spike answered as he picked a direction and started walking to where he'd left the car. Tomorrow he'd need to hunt early; the faint scent of human on the air reminded him of his own hunger, but they didn't have time to hunt down prey, and Spike didn't want to just grab some mother off the street, at least not with Xander right there.

Spike opened his mouth to ask Xander if he smelled the odd human scent on the breeze, an almost dull or masked smell. He hadn't even gotten the first word out when silver bits flew through the air. Spike wheeled, dodging out of the path of the first set, when a jolting pain ran up his back and driving him to his knees. Immediately, Xander turned toward him, and Xander's confusion turned to agony as his own body stiffened and collapsed. The last image Spike saw was a camouflaged leg step out of the bushes. Then nothing.

Part Six

"Where do we put this one?"

"Let's drop him off at emergency. Bastard's lucky we didn't find him two minutes later."

"Yeah. Sometimes I think the people around here deserve to get eaten; it's natural selection. If you're too dumb to realize what goes bump in the night actually does bump around here, you shouldn't be allowed to breed."

"Graham," a voice snapped.

"Just the truth," a third man offered.

Xander struggled to control his body, but the voices came from the far side of a tunnel, and he seemed paralyzed. Inside his mind, Baby Aurelius took the little seed of panic Xander felt and turned it into a whole fucking crop of hysteria with a side order of terror. With his mind whirling, the sudden sensation of his body moving without his permission left Xander with the nauseous feeling of falling.

"If that vamp had eaten him, it'd be one less civvy to worry about. This shit is fubar, and you're still trying to save every Tom, Dick, and Dumbshit Donna in this town, Riley."

"Forest, you are one word away from an insubordination charge," voice number two threatened.

"Chill, guys."

Fighting to gain control over anything—a pinky finger, an eyelid, anything—Xander finally had to admit his helplessness as someone dropped him onto something scratchy and hard. Something thumped next to him, and Xander could only pray it was Spike and that Spike wasn't dust on the ground back there.

The very thought of sire dead made Baby come screaming to the front, clawing at the invisible bonds that seemed to trap Xander inside his own body. Wonderful. Xander sank under the demon's fury realizing that not even Baby could get his limbs moving. Even knowing that Baby would snap the necks of whoever had captured them, Xander found himself hoping he'd wake up to dead humans and a live sire.

When Xander woke again, he could feel Baby demon slinking through the back of his mind like the creepy feeling you get when someone glares at the back of your head, only with glaring from the inside. The demon's resentment forced Xander into movement, his arms only twitching when he commanded them to move.

"Fuck," Xander breathed, his movement stopped by a familiar weight around his wrists. Cracking open an eye, he didn't see a familiar ceiling. Instead rectangles of white light blinded him. "Double fuck," Xander said a little louder.

"Mr. Harris?" a voice asked, and Xander tilted his head that direction without opening his eyes. "Mr. Harris, how are you feeling?"

That made Xander crack one eye open wide enough to glare at a tall nurse who stood a couple of feet away from his bed. In the history of stupid questions, Xander had never heard one quite that dumb, and he was a connoisseur of stupid questions. And what was up with the Mr. Harris stuff because he sure didn't see his father anywhere around. Xander only figured out that he was the mister in question when he spotted his billfold on the table next to the bed.

"Peachy," he managed to croak, his voice dry and cracked.

"I'll get the doctor," she said as she quickly backed out of the room. Xander tugged at the restraints that held him to the bed, and while he could shake the whole frame, he couldn't free himself. A definite feeling of 'told you so' floated up from Baby.

"Mr. Harris," an older woman said, and Xander cracked his eye open again to glare at her. She looked back with a disturbing curiosity that reminded Xander of how Willow's new bud Wendell used to stare at spiders. And Xander didn't like being on the spider's end.


"Good to see you coherent."

Before Xander had a chance to even question that, the doctor stabbed a light beam his eye. He flinched back, but strong fingers followed and pulled his eyelid open. Xander fisted his hands and focused on controlling Baby as the light swept back and forth over his eye.

"Hey, still recovering from getting... okay, what did happen?" Xander paused as he reviewed his memories. Court. Check. Spike going down. Check and a growl from Baby. Searing pain. Check and still feeling the ache. Weird guys talking. Sorta check. Xander blinked as the doctor released his one eye and moved to torturing the other one.

"What do you remember?" she asked as she repeated the flashing, stabbing ray of light right into his eye.

"Walking. Someone attacked me and my friend. Is my friend here? He's got bleached hair and an English accent and gets really cranky when you play country music."

The doctor stepped back and flicked her light off. "You were brought in alone; I'm sorry. You seemed to have some sort of seizure, and some serious eye damage. Do you remember anything splashing into your eyes?"

"No," Xander said slowly as he tried reaching for Baby's memories.

"Any congenital eye disorders?"

"No." Xander got a flash of panic and the memory of flailing out an arm, only half in control of a body that seemed to jerk into motion in stops and fits. The resentment of food holding him down, warm hands pinning him to the floor, flooded his mind. Oh yeah, Baby had definitely been a bad boy.

"Any history in your family of amblyopia, presbyopia, or astigmatism?" the doctor interrupted his search of his memories.

"I have a cousin with dyslexia, but that's about as close as we come." Xander tried patented stupid grin number six.

The doctor stopped and really looked at Xander for a moment before continuing. "Any history of seizures?" She pulled back the blanket, and Xander discovered the joy of knobbly knees with a short hospital gown. The doctor must not have minded because she started using strong fingers to poke at his legs.

"Okay, I'm getting a little cranky with the poking and prodding and lack of information here. And my cranky levels are even higher about being tied to a bed!" Xander bit his tongue before adding something stupid about not minding bondage from his gay, undead lover.

"How is your neck feeling?" the doctor asked as she abandoned Xander's legs in favor of searching the sides of his neck. Now he could see the name tag with "Dr. Goddard" in block letters. A short fingernail poked at his claim mark, and instead of the tingling lust he normally felt from the mark, Xander cringed in pain.
"Ow. Hey, didn't you take an oath to not go poking at people or something?" he demanded as he hunched his shoulder and tried to protect the tender skin. Baby flared up, projecting an image of Dr. Goddard ripped to bloody pieces, her grey hair laying in a clump on top of a disemboweled stomach, and Xander shivered in revulsion before he could push it back down.

"Mr. Harris, you're very lucky. You don't seem to have any after effects of your attack," Dr. Goddard said as she walked over to the window and pulled the blinds open. Xander narrowed his eyes at the bright light that spilled over his legs, ankle restraints holding him in place. Oh yeah, no way was that coincidence. He could only glare at the doctor as she came back to the bed and started unbuckling one of his feet.

"You had some sort of severe seizure last night. I can't tell you anything about who dropped you off at the emergency room, and I don't know what happened to your friend, but I will say that Sunnydale is not a safe town. You may want to go back to LA or go anywhere as long as you keep moving." At that bit of advice, Dr. Goddard stared at Xander with bright blue eyes behind wire glasses. Even knowing that she obviously wanted to help him, Xander still resented her telling him what to do, especially when the telling did not help him get sire back.

"I grew up in Sunnydale, so I know there's a seedy part of town, but I won't leave without William," Xander insisted. Her lips thinned, but she unbuckled his second foot.

"Your friend may be harder to find that you think," the doctor said sadly as she unbuckled a wrist. Xander pulled his hand free the moment the restraint loosened, and he went to work on the buckle that kept a leather strap over his chest while the doctor walked around to undo the last restraint.

"My friend is tougher than you think, and no way would any of the creepy crawlies around here get him," Xander said firmly as he sat up in bed and dangled his legs over the side. "So where are my clothes?"

Dr. Goddard sighed. "You had a number of items not allowed on hospital property."

"I wasn't planning on coming to the hospital. It was definitely an unplanned stop, and there aren't any laws against being prepared." Xander considered the eight-inch knife he'd had stuffed in his boot. "Okay, there might be laws, but like you said, Sunnydale's not a safe town." Xander corrected himself as he stalked over to a cupboard door. Shit--medical tubing and thingamabobbers.

Dr. Goddard opened a second cupboard and Xander's clothes hung on wire hangers. "You can get the weapons back from security on the first floor. You might want to apologize to the guys on your way out," she suggested. "You gave them a pretty hard time last night." With a last look and a shake of her head, the doctor left.


By the time Xander knocked on Willow's door, he had his clothing and his weapons back in place. Now he just needed to find his sire. The warehouse had been empty, and even going back to the court led to a few random growls without any useful information at all. Either they hadn't taken Spike or they were lying about taking Spike, and Xander wasn't really sure what to do in either case. Baby seemed in favor of just randomly attacking someone, but Xander didn't think that would actually help anything. It might make him feel better, but the whole getting killed end of things might not be of the good. Besides, if he got himself killed, Spike really would be cranky.

"Xander?" Willow asked, and Xander shook himself out of his day-nightmare and gave her his best goofy grin. "Oh goddess, what happened?" Willow immediately asked as she stepped back to allow him in without actually issuing an invitation.

"Still need to work on the poker face, huh?" Xander asked as he stepped inside the room.

"Definitely, but you wouldn't be my Xander-shaped friend if you had the lying down," she agreed. Xander dropped onto one of the twin beds, his knees not really up to holding his weight any more.

"I can't find William," Xander blurted, and her warm hand on his shoulder almost brought the tears of frustration to the surface.

"Oh goddess."

"We weren't even hunting. We were walking along and someone attacked us, and next thing I remember, I was in the hospital, except for this really weird part where these guys seemed to be saying that anyone who walked around Sunnydale at night deserved to get eaten, but I might have hallucinated that part."

"Oh goddess." Willow plopped down next to him on the bed.

"And I'm really wishing you had something more encouraging to say," Xander said as he glanced at her. Willow scrunched her face up.

"Kinda out of encouragement, but if you tell me what you want to hear, I'll say it," she offered softly. Xander pulled a comb out of his jacket, brilliant white hairs still clinging to its teeth.

"Say you'll find him," he said as he held it out. Willow's mouth became an 'o' as she took the comb with the precious hairs. Xander pulled a Sex Pistols CD out of another pocket, Spike's favorite, and a skull ring Spike had left next to the sink. Willow still sat staring at the comb in her hand, and Xander added the new items to the pile.

"You did the magic that gave Angel his happiness back, and while the whole going soulless was kinda of the bad, you couldn't have known about the clause in the curse. But the point is that if you're big enough with the mojo to give a vampire happiness and then shove the soul back in him, you're big enough with the mojo to find one lost person." Xander took a breath, and Willow turned to him with eyes bright with tears.

"Xander," she whispered, her voice small and tinny.

"You have to, Wills. Please. I can't--" Xander stopped before he started sobbing.

"Xander, I want to, really, I do. I just can't." Willow held out the precious pile toward him.

"You can. I can't, but you can. You've done bigger stuff than this." Xander insisted as he used the flat of his hand to push Willow's hand away. He needed her to keep Spike's personal items; he had run out of other options. "Please. I have to find William before something really bad happens to him."

"Xander, I just, I don't do that any more." Willow put the items down on her pink bedspread, scooting back away from them.

"Wills. I can't lose him. I know you can do this; it's a simple location spell." Xander could feel Baby pressing him to attack, to force Willow to help. Baby seemed to think that if she wasn't actively helping then she was an enemy. Xander gritted his teeth as he fought back against the rising fury and resentment.

"Xander, it's not. Not for me."

"Damn it. If you can put Angel's soul back in, you can--"

"Kill people. I can kill people. I can't find your friend," Willow blurted as if those sentences naturally fit together. Xander stared at his crying friend, open-mouthed, while he felt his demon pressing forward angrily. Seems that Baby didn't care if Willow wanted to kill the population of the entire campus as long as she found sire.

"Willow?" Xander asked gently, ignoring the rage as he reasoned that Willow would help him faster if he helped her first. Baby didn't like the logic, but at least he growled off to a dark corner of Xander's mind.

"Xander, I just can't use magic."

"I know you can, Wills," Xander countered, "and I really need help. William could be out there lost or hurt or waiting for me to save him, and he was big on the saving me thing when I got kidnapped, and I just can't walk away. Please, Willow, I'm not asking you to kill anyone, just to do a little spell. For me."

"I know, but you don't know what could happen if I use magic. I'm not well grounded, and last time I used magic, things didn't go exactly right."

"Angelus?" Xander guessed. Willow just snorted as if the answer amused her.

"Goddess, that was puppies and kittens compared to what I did to Wendell."

"Wendell you had the crush on? Spider Wendell?" Okay, Xander had definitely missed something.

Willow worked her fingers nervously, pulling at the hem of her blouse and twisting the fabric. Reaching over, Xander let his hand rest on Willow's restless fingers. She looked up at him with tear-brightened eyes.

"Spider Wendell," she agreed. "Wendell who I had a crush on and who told me it was okay for me to have a crush on Paula Abdul instead of the Backstreet Boys and who was brave enough to go to prom with Larry and who went to therapy with me when we accidentally ate the principal."

"He went to prom with Larry?" Xander practically yelped. It must have been the right thing to say because Willow made a strangled laughing sound.

"They were pretty handsome together," she agreed. "But then there was this whole ascension thing with the major and the Anointed One sent minions to break it up and we got in the middle and there was this box with all these really big spiderish demons and it broke open." She took a shuddering breath. "I only wanted to squish the spiders, honestly."

Now tears ran down Willow's face, and from the way she said 'squish,' Xander had a really gruesome idea of what had happened. He closed his fingers around Willow's hands, trying to take some of that pain.

He stared at her tiny hands for several minutes before he could find an answer. "I understand, I really do. Someone died because I made a mistake. But I'm not going to stop trying to do the right thing just because I fucked up, not even when I fucked up bad enough to get Frederick killed," he said quietly. He could feel oily guilt sliming up his spine, and he truly didn't want to manipulate her, but he needed his sire back.

"I'm sorry. Tara will be here soon," Willow apologized.

"How soon?"

"Um, a few hours?"

Xander tightened his hand as he felt his rage surge. Spike might not have hours; he might not even have minutes. "Willow." He poured all of his desperate need into that one word.

"Jenny. We could call Jenny and have her do the spell," Willow suddenly burst out. She popped up off the bed with the energy that only an over-caffeinated Willow could manage. Immediately, the pain and loss disappeared under the patented resolve face, and oh yeah, that wasn't even near mentally healthy land. Xander watched as Willow punched the numbers for this Jenny, and he could only hope she would help because Xander was quickly losing the battle to keep Baby calm and under control.

Part Seven

"Are you sure this is a spell?" Xander asked as he looked at the computer screen. The dark-haired woman in front of the computer just smiled. Willow, however, seemed to be in high babble gear since leaving the dorm room.

"Jenny's a cyber-wicca.  This one time a hunter was hunting Oz just because he does the whole werewolf thing, and Jenny created this computer program that tracked him using a satellite image connected to a tracking spell, and I bet she's doing something just like that now."  Willow paced between the stairs leading up to the second floor and the kitchen door.  Since Jenny had her computer set up on the dining room table, the path left Willow sort of circling them. 

Xander leaned back against the window sill, feeling the warmth against his back even as Baby flinched away from the light.  Right now, Xander appreciated anything that could force Baby into the recesses since he wasn't doing a great job staying in control. With his luck, he would go all glowy eyed in the home of a watcher and his cyber-wicca wife with a slayer upstairs.  Xander flinched as he regretted even thinking that thought.  Baby growled.

"This is similar," Jenny agreed.  "I'm using a topographical map to indicate William's location, so it's a fairly standard spell only slightly modified for the computer."

"See?  If Jenny can't find William, then no one... and I'm not going to finish that because that so does not need finishing.  Maybe I should just stop now, you know, a closed mouth gathers no feet and all."  Willow blushed deep red, and Xander was caught between terror that the worst might have happened and sympathy for Willow--the only person who could out-babble him.  He ended up not saying anything as Willow sort of slid sideways though a swinging door, disappearing into a kitchen that appeared in flashes as the door clattered shut.

"She's upset," Jenny said as she typed so fast that the clicks seemed to become a chant of their own.

"Yeah, kinda getting that.  I just wished..." Xander stopped.  He didn't know what he wished.  Part of him felt guilty for never calling her back and supporting her through the weirdness, but another part didn't really know this girl who had squished her best friend. And then add the demon's frustration and fear and almost unwilling respect for Willow's power into the mix and Xander had way too many parts going.

"Life is change," Jenny offered ambiguously.  "Okay, here we go."  She hit the 'enter' key with a flourish, and the whole computer screen glowed ominously red.  Xander leaned forward to get a better look as the white lines of streets and shaded parks slowly faded back to a normal blue.


"Huh?" Willow asked as she stuck her head back out of the door.  "What's huh?"

Xander just sat, his fingers gripping the window sill.

"Maybe it's a masking spell," Jenny commented, pushing her black hair back away from her face as she considered the unglowy screen.  Her fingers danced over the keys.

"Shouldn't there be something glowing or flashing or doing some magicy?" Xander asked as the two witches considered the computer.

"Someone might be doing the anti-magic type magic, but Jenny is way ahead of them," Willow promised.  Xander would have been more reassured if Willow hadn't had the funny wrinkle at the top of her nose.

"Okay, here we go."  Jenny stood up and gathered three candles from a buffet against one wall, its carved doors reminding Xander of the Catholic Church back in his old neighborhood.  Baby growled, but Xander just ignored the noise since not even he could tell whether impatience or just a general hatred for anything church-like had made Baby grouchy.  Hell, he wanted to growl in frustration, but he could only watch as Jenny set the thick candles in the middle of the large oak table in a triangle around her computer.

"Will you help me with a opprimo spell?" Jenny asked, and Willow ducked her head for a moment, pausing before she stepped forward and took Jenny's hand.  Xander just gritted his teeth and reminded himself that telling them to hurry wouldn't actually help.  God knows he never took out the garbage faster when his mom bugged him.

The candles flared to life, and Xander jumped back, banging his head on the window in surprise.  The girls just continued to chant, their voices pulling at him like little pricking pains as the computer glowed white.

Jenny shouted something that sounded like 'fat girl,' and the screen flared like the world's biggest flash bomb.  When Xander finally pried his eyes open again, the Jenny and Willow stared at the still unglowy screen in dismay.

Xander didn't even want to ask.  He stepped forward to the computer, the three candles now mounds of wax spreading over the wood.

"So, what's the next step?" he asked, refusing to even name the worry worm that inched through his brain.

"Xander," Willow sighed.

"I mean, Gunn and William would both hit someone until they gave up information, so if the magic isn't going to work, we just need to find—"

Xander stopped when Jenny's warm hand rested on his forearm.  Xander just tightened his arms around his own stomach as he slowly shook his head in denial.

"Are you sure the hair came from William?"

Xander couldn't stop shaking his head even though he was sure.

"God, I'm so sorry.  Xander.  I…" Willow stumbled to silence as she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him, resting her cheek on one of his arm.  Xander just continued to shake his head.


"I know how hard it is to lose someone," Jenny offered gently.

"No.  I haven't lost William.  He can't just die," Xander snapped as he stepped back.  Willow's hand flew to the table as she lost her balance.

"I know—"

"You don't know!" Xander yelled as Willow tried to step forward.  He turned his back to the two women and grabbed the banister to the stairs.

"Problem?" another woman's voice asked from above.  Baby rose with a roar, and Xander dropped to his knees as the world spun slightly counter-clockwise.

"Xander!" Willow gasped and warm hands touched his back.  Xander shoved at the hands touching him and stumbled to his feet when he contacted warm skin that made his body shiver with revulsion.  Slayer.

"Whoa there," Faith said, and strong fingers grabbed at him. Half-blind, Xander lurched back several steps, his shoulder finding the front door.  Xander's hand closed around the door knob before he had even checked in with his body.

Yanking it open, Xander struggled through the shade of the porch, throwing himself into the closest patch of sunlight.  Falling to his knees, he turned his face to the light and let the tears roll down his face.


Hours later, Xander couldn’t really bring himself to care about anything as he huddled on the end of the couch in the basement of the Watcher's house.  His demon whined in pain, and Xander had nothing to use to comfort the soft wails in his mind.  The whole ‘throwing himself in the sunlight’ plan hadn’t worked exactly the way the demon had intended, but Xander could appreciate the thought. 

Life without Spike and he couldn’t seem to see a way out of it.  Go home to his mother, yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.  Find a normal job and just suffer this horrible gaping hole in his soul for the rest of his life, well he didn’t really see any other choice.  Xander could hear voices, but he simply curled himself about his demon and tried to sleep, tried to reach some place where he could forget the pain. 

Xander could feel Spike’s cool hand slipping around his waist as his sire pressed up against his back.  He knew that it was a dream, but he didn’t want to leave this fantasy of happiness, the closest thing he would ever again have to true happiness.  He felt ghostly lips breathe across his ear, whispering ‘childe’ in a possessive voice that made his spine tingle with expectation.  He squirmed, faintly aware of the couch, but trying his best to throw himself into his dream of his lost sire.

“Xander,” a voice whispered, and he tried to pretend that he could hear an English accent, but the concerned tone of Willow’s voice broke through even as he struggled to ignore it.  “Xander, you’re really worrying me,” she continued, and Xander’s dream sire shifted away into the smoke from which he had been formed, leaving Xander alone again. He whimpered and stirred slightly. 

“Xander, you know, impersonating the dead isn’t exactly safe around here.”  The friendly teasing didn't even stir Baby, and Xander just pulled into himself, struggling to not fully wake.  However, a hand on his shoulder sent him flying off the couch and left him standing next to the wall.  Faith sat on the edge of the couch, her hand still suspended in the air where Xander's shoulder had been milliseconds earlier.  Willow stood next to the narrow stairs that led up to the main house, staring at him with wide, shocked eyes.  For a moment, Xander just stared back, words not even forming in his mind even as he realized he had to cover for his own weirdness.  Xander could hear Spike whispering about enemies and weakness. 

He opened his mouth a second or two before he could find words that would make any sense at all.  “God, don’t wake me up like that.”  He tried for a laugh, but from the expressions on Faith and Willow's faces, he hadn't come even close.

“God, chill little man, everything’s five by five,” Faith said as she held her hands up in surrender, but Xander couldn’t escape the feeling of wrongness that he got every time he was around the slayer, and he couldn’t help but suspect that they could feel the wrongness in him.

“Yeah, not so okay with the ‘little man’ comments,” Xander complained, anxious to discuss anything other than the gaping hole in his heart and the demon that threatened to break free.

“Angel’s here, upstairs,” Willow said from the place near the basement stairs, and Xander knew he must have shown some sort of reaction because the two girls exchanged looks, but for the life of him, Xander really didn’t know what he was feeling. 

His demon both railed against the thought of the older vampire because sire would disapprove and at the same time he wanted to be near him.  For Xander’s part, he had nothing particular against Angel except of course for driving Dru insane and for abandoning Spike and the whole trying to take him away from Spike back in Los Angeles.  Okay, so he didn’t hold much against him. 

“I’ll go get him, just to be sure he still has that soul tacked on good and tight,” Faith said with a final look toward Willow.  When the dark-haired Slayer had left, Xander returned to the couch and curled up again.  Pathetic much? he asked himself as he realized what a sight he must make. 

“Xander, I’m really sorry I couldn’t help you with William.  When I called Angel, he said you two were really, really close.”

“Why’d you call him?” Xander asked dully, not really caring whether or not Willow approved of his relationships.  He suspected that the whole sire/childe thing would probably shock her a whole lot more than the gay thing ever could.

“You called for him, remember?” Willow asked, and Xander looked over into her wide, concerned eyes and realized that she was telling the truth.  Xander cast back into his memories, but he couldn’t remember calling out, and his demon didn’t fess up.  “Do you want me to keep him away?” Willow asked.  “’Cause he offered to come the minute I mentioned you.  You never said you guys were that close.”

“We weren’t,” a deep voice from the stairs answered, and Xander shivered at the sound.  His sire’s sire.  Xander pushed himself up so that he sat on the couch and wrapped his arms around his stomach.  An unbalanced queasiness in his stomach suggested laying down would be of the good, but Xander welcomed the nausea's ability to distract him just a little from the ripping pain.  He kept looking down to see if some demon had slipped in and torn his belly open when he wasn't paying attention.  Each time he saw the shirt Spike had picked for him, its buttons still in a neat little row down his middle, he was surprised.  It didn't seem right to hurt this much without having huge gaping holes somewhere.

“Oh, you’re here.  I thought Faith was going to keep you…I mean talk to you upstairs.”

“She talked, I listened.”  Angel's voice carried no emotion as he stepped down the last few steps into the basement.  Xander could feel Angel approach as though it were a high pressure front pressing against his skin.

“I’m not sure Xander’s really ready to talk,” Willow said as she stood up, placing herself between the two of them, and Xander looked up for the first time.  He met Angel’s eyes, and at the intense stare, he dropped his own gaze.  “He’s in a no talking kind of mood, which is kind of strange for Xander because talking was always his thing.” Willow continued.

“We’ll be fine, Willow.  I just need some time alone with Xander.”  Xander shivered again at the voice, and he could almost feel Willow’s doubt like a small animal circling the room. 

“Xander, is that what you want?” Willow asked, and Xander looked up into her elfin face, amazed at how little it had changed in the years.  He suddenly had no doubt that if he asked her, she would throw herself between them.  Okay, she'd get neatly tossed to one side if push came to shove, but she'd try.

“It’s okay, Willow.” Xander whispered instead even though ‘okay’ didn’t begin to cover it.  Willow lay her hand on his arm for just a minute before she left, disappearing up the stairs and leaving him alone with Angel. 

God, Spike would stripe his back if he ever found out, but then that wasn’t likely to happen, was it?  Xander closed his eyes as a new wave of grief tore through him, and he found himself wishing that death were as easy as throwing himself into the sunlight.  Of course, tall and broody making with the silence wasn’t exactly helping.  His demon had reached a near constant wail, and the headache threatened to make his head pop.  He lowered his head to until he had hunched over and could rest his forehead on his knees. It was like his head had grown too heavy for his neck and might just fall off.

“Xander,” Angel finally said softly as he stepped closer.  Xander forced himself to sit still when every instinct in him told himself to either run or throw himself at Angel’s feet.  He didn’t think either option would win him any manly awards, so he just sat and shivered.

“I’m sorry,” Angel offered.

“We could try to excise the spirit,” Angel offered, but his tone was doubtful bordering on incredulous, so Xander didn’t bother to answer.  They both knew that his demon wouldn’t be cast out by a spell designed for the weak, fraction of a demon inserted into a pet.  Silence fell again. 

Bent over, Xander could smell Spike lingering the pants, a faint trace of leather that made the jeans smell somehow warm.  Normally Xander would love the scent, but now a pressure built in his chest until he couldn't breathe.  He sat up and gulped air. 

“Xander,” Angel stepped forward, and Xander threw himself off the couch for the second time in five minutes, only this time he allowed the demon to come up, the room sliding into the crystal sharpness of the demon’s vision and his teeth elongating even as he snarled. 

Angel’s reaction was instantaneous as the larger vampire showed his own game face and stepped forward.  “Enough, boy,” Angel snarled, and Xander backed away, snarling his own wordless reply.  Xander made a break for the stairs, but a heavy body slammed him into the wall, and he found himself trapped, face first against the concrete even as he struggled to free himself.

“I said enough, boy,” Angel snapped and Xander felt an arm close around his neck, pulling him back into Angel’s body.  “Willow told me you ran outside into the sun and just stared up.  She didn’t know what it meant, but I do.  Are you so determined to follow your sire, then?”  Angel’s voice had become soft, almost lilting, but the arm remained firmly locked around his neck, no matter how he struggled. 

“Let go,” Xander demanded.

“Why?  So you can kill yourself?  That is what you tried to do, isn’t it?  Is the demon that much in control now?”  Xander stopped struggling as he realized that he had no hope of freeing himself. 

“Doesn’t matter,” he honestly replied.

“It does matter,” Angel insisted, and Xander felt himself pushed toward the couch.  He caught himself on the sofa's arm and turned to face Angel, but he found the vampire inches from him, staring down at him, and he sat since that was the only way to get some physical distance between them.

“You aren’t the kind to give up, so why are you letting the demon rule you?” Angel asked as he hovered above, his hands away from his body in a clear fighting stance that let Xander know that he wasn’t going to be allowed off the couch.

Xander just shook his head and remained silent, keeping his pain and weakness to himself. Instead of the disgust he expected from Angel, he felt a hand on his head.

“Spike gave ye a taste for something and then left you to suffer,” Angel said in a lilting Irish voice that had even more accent than Doyle.  Suddenly Angel knelt in front of him, his human face showing doubt and worry.  “I’ll not have ye suffer.” Angel whispered and then morphed into his game face.  Xander realized just a second too late what Angel meant, and he struggled to fling himself over the back of the couch, but a heavy body wrestled him back down.  He planted an elbow in some body part soft enough to give, but he felt his arm pulled behind his back by a strength he couldn’t hope to counter. 

As he writhed in panic, trying to buck the body off him, he could hear Angel’s soft voice.  “Struggle if ye need to, but I won’t let the demon destroy you.”  Xander brought up a leg, trying to get leverage, but the foot was kicked out from under him, and he found himself pinned face down on the couch.  Angel’s full weight now fell on his back with his one arm still pinned to the small of his back, and he knew the fight was over. 

The demon knew too and crowed for joy that it had been found worthy of taking.  Xander backed off some and relaxed into the moment, knowing what the demon needed.  He was going to be miserable no matter what happened, so the least he could do is give the demon a new sire, a new source of happiness that would make the beast within him happy even if he never would accept Angel as any sort of substitute. 

He felt Angel press at his head, and he nearly panicked again at the thought of Angel destroying Spike’s claim mark.  Pushing the nearly purring demon to the side, he forced his way up and wriggled until he could tilt his head in submission in the opposite direction, giving Angel a clear shot at his neck, but not to Spike’s own mark. 

That small bit of defiance out of the way, he retired and waited for the strike, and Angel didn’t make him wait long.  He felt Angel’s teeth tear into his neck, and his demon rejoiced at the strength of the bite, the depth of the claim.  He let the demon sink into the feeling of acceptance as he found his own solace in the emptiness that would be his for the rest of his life.  Angel might satisfy the demon, but he was Spike’s and nothing would ever replace that.

Angel drank several mouthfuls, and if Xander knew anything about vampire rituals, forced his own blood into the wound.  Xander’s demon purred enthusiastically, both in his head and in the low rumbles of his chest, and prepared for sire to accept him fully, to use him.  Xander just tried to shut off the surround sound live theater in his head so that the demon and Angel could finish up without him feeling like he had betrayed Spike.  Angel pulled back.

Xander started mentally chanting as he waited for the clothes to start disappearing, but Angel stood there, his human face back in place and obviously done.  Xander could feel his demon’s confusion, but he had to admit to a little relief on his part. 

“You won’t kill yourself,” Angel ordered, and then he turned and walked upstairs.

Part Eight

Where exactly would you find a listing for demon psychiatrists? Or maybe demonic psychiatrists. Except demonic psychiatriast sounded way too much like the tag line for some horror film where a psychiatrist ended up being some demon who sucked brains. Baby sent up his own opinions with bitter, sharp condemnation for the idea that they needed a psychiatrist. Xander was fairly sure that the stabbing stomach pains were Baby too.


Xander continued to stare at the white wall, refusing to even look at Willow. He followed a fairly interesting crack that wandered up the wall and split into three tributaries that flowed up the drywall to the ceiling.

"Xander? Angel said you might want to talk, and he's not really good with the whole talking part of relationships. He's more with the slightly stalkerish following you through the night and killing things for you, which is certainly a legitimate form of expressing friendship, but not always helpful."

The couch dipped as Willow sat down next to him, but Xander couldn't even come up with any words to answer her. His thoughts had become smoke, and every attempt to pin them down to a feeling or a word just sent little wisps of half-thoughts floating through his brain.

"Angel seems pretty upset," Willow offered after a second.

Xander couldn't even place the emotion that slammed through him, but it was definitely not of the good. 'Enormity.' The word floated up from some English class on a day when Xander hadn't been sleeping. Enormity: abomination, heinousness, horror, monstrosity. Xander just couldn't figure out whether the enormity was Angel being upset or the twisted emotions in his own head over the fact he had upset Angel. He wondered if his English teacher would be proud of him for remembering that word. Then again, it probably didn't make up for the fact that he couldn't remember any of those books they always read.

"Xander, you're kinda freaking me out here. I mean, I know how hard it is to lose someone because... well, you know." Willow's words trailed off miserably, and Xander glanced over. The perky Willow of his memory had been replaced with a wide-eyed young woman who looked on the verge of crying.

"I just need some time to deal. I'll be--" Xander tried to assure her that he'd be okay, but his voice cracked and he couldn't say it.

"Yeah, it kinda hurts like someone's ripping out your guts."

"Yeah," Xander whispered his agreement, his throat tight.

"So, come upstairs?" Willow asked as she stood up and held out her hand. Xander blinked at it for several seconds before reaching out to take it. Baby growled at the smell of the blood thumping just under her pale skin, and Xander closed his eyes in silent struggle for a second.

"Goddess!" Willow screeched just as Xander stood.

Before Xander could even open his mouth, the basement door flew open and Angel charged down the steps so fast that the pounding footsteps became a single rattling roar.

"Willow?" Angel asked, but his hand fell on Xander's arm, jerking Xander to his side. Part of Xander wanted to yank his arm away and stand on his own, but another part wanted to hide behind Angel as Willow stared at them in shock.

"Willow? Willow, what happened?" Jenny asked as she detoured around Xander and Angel to put her hand on Willow's shoulder.

"Angel bit him!" Willow nearly wailed. Xander put up his hand to touch the new claim bite, and the skin felt hot and sticky to the touch. He had an urge to suck at his fingers, but he didn't think that would erase the horrified expression from Willow's face.

"It isn't what you think. I can explain," Angel said as his fingers tightened on Xander's upper arm.

"Yes, do explain. Perhaps your explanation will convince me not to put a stake through your heart."

Xander spun around to see a strange man holding a crossbow aimed directly at Angel. Xander instantly twisted to get in front of Angel, but the iron hand on his arm thrust him back and out of the way. Fear crushed him as the man raised the crossbow an inch.

"Giles," Angel said softly.

"I thought I made it clear that I never wanted to see you again," the man answered. His slightly receding hairline had just enough curl to frame his face, and Xander could see in his eyes a desperate desire to turn Angel to dust. He tried again to move closer, only to have Angel's fingers dig into his flesh hard enough to make tears of pain blur his vision.

"Rupert, I told you I was calling him," Jenny stepped forward, putting herself between Giles and Angel.

"You told me he was going to pick someone up. You didn't mention that you were going to ask the blood-thirsty monster into our house."

Angel flinched.

"I've told you how sorry I am. I just came here for Xander, and we're going to head back for L.A. as soon as the sun sets tomorrow." Angel took a step forward so that he was standing just behind Jenny, and Xander got dragged along with him.

"Get away from her," Giles practically yelled as he charged down the last few steps in order to get a better shot.

"Rupert," Jenny said in a warning tone, and now Xander could smell a familiar scent drifting off the man. Even without Baby's sense of smell he knew that Giles had been drinking.

"You just can't stay out of my life, can you? If I see you again--"

"Giles!" Willow cried at the same time that Jenny stepped forward with a serious expression on her face.

"Rupert, do not finish that thought. You know as well as we do that Angel is not Angelus. He feels as badly about Kendra's death as the rest of us."

For a long second, Giles stared at Jenny with a blank expression that made Xander worry more than screaming or yelling or even threatening with pointy wooden objects. Growing up in his father's house, he'd learned to deal with the drunken anger with its random accusations and bitter jokes. He'd learned to deal with the manic glee that would make his father laugh and rip apart some part of the house in a half-assed attempt at home renovation. He'd learned to avoid those depressed moments when his father would sob and tell Xander how much better his life would have been if Jessica just hadn't gotten pregnant. He'd slur advice to Xander to pay for an abortion if he got some girl pregnant.

Alcohol set loose ugly emotions that slowly made Xander hate his father, even if he still loved the man, and again with the need for psychiatric help. However, after they moved to L.A. and things got really ugly, his father would reach these points where he didn't seem to have any emotion, and that's when he did things that Xander really didn't even like to think about. And Giles had the same look. Xander trembled with a need to get between Angel and that cross bow.

"I doubt that very much," Giles finally said. "And I don't really see that much of a difference between Angel and Angelus, especially since he has clearly just put a claim mark on a young man in my basement."

"Claim mark?" Jenny turned around an looked at Xander. Behind him, he could hear Willow gasp.

"It's not what it seems," Angel quickly said. He let go of Xander's arm, but Xander simply stepped closer.

"Pray tell, how is it different?" Giles' sarcasm made Angel's back go a little stiffer.

"He's carried a demon for years, but with William's death, he struggled to get control of it. I simply stepped in to help him."

"Of course. Your motives are always pure." Giles snapped back. Raising the crossbow another half-inch, Giles sidestepped to get a clear line of fire without having Jenny in the way. Immediately, Xander stepped forward, putting his own body between the two men.

Without warning, Angel used vampiric speed to move to the bottom of the stairs. Xander would have followed, but Angel held his hand up, palm forward. "You stay," he ordered. "Willow and Jenny, would you stay with him while Giles and I have a talk?"

Angel turned and climbed the stairs without another word. Inside, Xander could feel Baby curling into a tight ball of pain. Not childe. Not someone to keep close and rely on. Not even a fledge to protect. Irrelevant. Left behind with humans. Minion.

Xander lost his breath as Giles turned to follow Angel up the stairs, and part of him still wanted to throw himself at Giles since the thought of losing Angel ripped at him even if he didn't really like Angel, and even if Angel was clearly not big with the Xander-love. Feeling a tightness around his chest that made breathing hard, Xander turned back to the couch with heavy steps, Baby twisting in a need to prove himself as worthy of more than minion even as Angel's orders left him trapped in the basement.

"Maybe I should," Jenny let her words drop off, but she gestured toward the stairs.

"Oh yeah, definitely," Willow agreed.

Xander pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them. His face felt funny, like the time when he hyperventilated at school and his skin felt all tingly and cold. Minion. The word rattled around in his head, making Baby growl with a desperate, painful need to prove otherwise.

He didn't move when Jenny followed the two men out of the basement.

"Giles won't do anything... well, nothing permanent," Willow assured him. She smelled nervous, and Xander glanced over toward her. She jumped and scuttled backwards a couple of feet.

"Okay, that's just weird. So this is... what... normal? This isn't looking normal, but then I'm the girl that went all grrrrr and ate a principal, so I don't really have much room to be talking normal."

Xander lay his cheek on his knee and listened to the bits of conversation he could hear from upstairs.

"Buffy?" Xander asked Willow. She glanced up at the ceiling for a second.

"You can hear them? So, it's not just skin-deep, the whole demon upgrade? So, does that make you a demi-demon? Okay, this conversation is getting weird, weirder even than most Sunnydale conversations."

"What's the whole story with Buffy?" Xander repeated his question. Willow watched him suspiciously, twisting her fingers and chewing on her lower lip. She looked like the little girl who, in third grade, nearly cried when she didn't have an answer.

"Buffy. Okay, I can answer that, but let's play that game we played as kids."

Xander stared at her for a second, his brain slow to pull out the memories of his childhood. "You mean the one we made up after me and Jesse refused to play doctor with you any more?" Xander asked.

Willow blushed. "Someone could have told me I was playing wrong," she said softly, but the tension drained from her body as she sagged down into the chair. Of course, she still stayed between him and the stairs, and that wasn't lost on Xander at all.

"We just got tired of you poking sticks in our mouths and using that flashlight to look into our ears," Xander shrugged.

"But that's what a doctor--. Nevermind. So, your answer is that Buffy was two slayers before Faith. The Master drowned her, and Angel brought her back with CPR, but he must have been too late or pushed too hard or something because she went into a coma and never came out."

"I already knew that part. Why does Giles blame Angel?" Xander asked.

"Oh, maybe because he drinks a little too much and doesn't always go with the rational explanation. Well, he used to drink too much. And obviously has drunk too much today, but normally he's much better now. But anyway, when he drinks, he thinks Angel and the Master had some sort of deal or something."

Xander glanced up. If Spike was right, Angel did have a deal with the Master, but this might not be the time to bring it up. In fact, from the shouting, never would be a really good time for that discussion. He tried to comfort himself with the fact that Giles and Jenny seemed to be doing most of the actual yelling.

Baby circled and made little mewls of distress at being banished from trying to protect master.

"So, my turn. What's up with the whole demon face? I'm thinking I would have noticed if you were a demon, but then again, I was remarkably unnoticey until I met Buffy."

"I got attacked. A demon's blood mixed with mine and I sort of inherited Baby by mistake," Xander offered. Baby growled and threw himself against Xander's mind as he roared his displeasure. He wasn't a mistake. He wasn't a minion. Xander just closed his eyes and let himself ride out the pain.

"Okay. That's... Can't they get him out?"

"He's part of me, Willow, and that was your second question, so my turn. Who's Kendra?"

Willow paled. "She was Giles' second slayer." She shifted nervously and stared down at her feet.

"Faith is getting into this fight. I guess she's up now." Xander said as a new voice joined the fight. Willow made a funny noise.

"Xander, it's a little before midnight. You sat and did the staring thing for a really long time. We were ready to check to see if you had mold growing on you." Willow tried to make it a joke, but not even she could laugh. "You worried me," she whispered. She still smelled faintly of fear and sweat, but those smells faded under something warmer. Xander struggled to find a way to reach out to her, but he couldn't find the words that would tell her that he still loved her, even if he wasn't the same person she'd known before.

"So, what's up with Kendra?" he asked instead. Baby slowly circled and settled, and Xander felt a popping in his nose that made his eyes tear and his cheekbones ache. He reached up to rub away the soreness, and Willow visibly relaxed.

"Not that I don't like the new look, but I'm a kinda fond of the old look," Willow said. Before Xander could answer, she kept going. "Giles really loved her. Buffy was his slayer, but Kendra was more like a daughter. She worshipped the ground Giles walked on and she was this really neat girl, really neat." Willow stopped, and Xander could smell the salt. "That's my fault too. I wanted to make Angel happy. He would just sit by Buffy's bed with this expression like he was lost, and I wanted to show him that he didn't have to feel guilty all the time, and so I cast this happiness spell. Only he wasn't as much with the happiness as he was with the psychotic killing. Kendra died trying to protect me. Angelus killed her."

"And that's why Giles hates Angel." Xander didn't even say it as a question; he knew the answer from the fighting upstairs.

"Big with the hate. She had this really cool accent, and the first time we met her, I thought Wendell would swallow his tongue, which might have been embarrassing except that she blushed and started stammering and it was really love at first bumble." Willow's voice had a soft sadness to it even if she did smile. "After Kendra died, Wendell really was miserable. I think Larry asked him to prom just to cheer him up, but who knows, maybe he and Larry might have made it if I hadn't--" Willow stopped. And they were back to the squish story. Xander struggled to imagine Willow having to deal with so much pain and loss.

"You've had a hard time, huh?" Xander asked.

Willow shrugged. "Not so easy when demons pretty well run the town. Angel hung around as long as he could, but he was miserable about hurting Buffy, and Giles just drank more and more when he was around. Besides, Faith is holding her own and when we need extra help, Larry and Oz and even Devon will sometimes show up with a stake."

"You and Larry working together, huh? So not natural," Xander tried for a joke. Upstairs voices came through so loud that even Willow glanced up. He doubted she could hear the words, but he could. Angel hadn't wanted him. Angel had to take him or else the demon Xander carried might overwhelm him. Angel would do what he could to excise the demon.

Baby's presence faded as the demon retreated. Xander only realized he had gone into demon vision when it disappeared, leaving the basement dim and blurry. In the back of his mind, Xander could feel a cold acceptance, but he wasn't as ready to give up as Baby was.

"Xander?" Willow asked as Xander stood. Stairs were out. He definitely couldn't go up against Angel, not with his demon in full retreat. One wall of the basement had a row of high windows, short, fat windows that Xander could see grass on the other side of. Grabbing the coffee table, he dragged it to the wall.

"Xander, I don't think this is such a good idea. Um, I'm thinking this is really a very bad idea."

Xander ignored her. Standing on the coffee table, he fought with the rusty latch.

"Okay, I really don't want to have to tell on you, but I so will, mister."

Xander dismissed her threats as the window opened with a rusty groan and the sharp crack as the painted wood split.

"Mister, don't you dare."

Xander grabbed the sides of the window and pulled himself up until his belly rested on Giles' lawn. A nearly full moon cast cold light over the trees and bushes, making them look almost bluish. Hands grabbed his ankle, and Xander yanked his leg, squirming to get free of the basement.

When Willow screamed, he scrambled up. Giles' nice little home with its picket fence and white siding burst to life with shouts and a few particularly nasty curses. Xander ran for the trees


Hours later, Xander sat in a graveyard watching a few last fledges head for crypts as the first birds of dawn whistled. The sky was just as dark as when he'd fled Giles' house, but Xander could feel the dawn in Baby's rising discomfort. He'd wandered the town as he considered his option. The only one that made sense was staying in town and praying Jenny and Willow weren't as good as everyone seemed to think. After all, Willow had gotten that one wrong answer back in third grade.

Xander flinched at his own patheticness. The odds of Spike just showing up… not really going to happen. Fact is, his plan sucked turkey eggs, only it sucked less than any other plan he'd come up with.

Baby still voted on going to the court and prostrating himself in front of the Anointed One to try and earn a place there, but Xander wasn't big on the eating of random people and doing act of random mayhem. Neither of them really wanted to go back to Angel, even if Baby did feel some perverse loyalty toward a master who wanted to cut him right out of Xander's mind.

Xander allowed his mind to wander back to Spike. Settling in on a headstone, he imagined his sire striding across the graveyard, his leather coat flapping open on each side making Spike look bigger than life. Spike would issue a random curse like 'bloody hell' or 'soddin' twit' and then pop him upside his head for even thinking Spike would leave him.

Feeling the tears, Xander just sat and let them fall. Spike hadn't abandoned him, but he still felt angry. Spike was supposed to be immortal. Spike wasn't supposed to leave him.

Xander heard a heartbeat and wiped the back of his hands over his eyes. He'd dodged Willow and Tara and Jenny and Angel and Faith a dozen times tonight, but he was just too damn tired to keep running. If they found him, maybe he wouldn't have to make a decision because they were all for making his decisions for him.

The pins and needles tingling started at the base of his spine—slayer.

Faith walked up to him, stopping nearby and leaning on the next headstone over. Xander waited.

"So, you worried people, buddy."

Xander just stared at Faith, feeling Baby circling darkly at the Slayer's sympathy. He didn't need sympathy from a slayer. Shaking off the sudden anger, Xander shrugged. The cemetery was so quiet that the leaves rustling made a backdrop for the songs of the morning birds.

"So, how ya doing?" Faith finally asked.

"Holding like the last stitch on a fat girls pants," he answered. He jumped when Faith slapped him on the arm hard enough to leave a bruise.

"You're five by five, babe. Or, at least you will be," she added after a second. Faith headed to the next aisle and plopped down on a grave stone, one boot hitting the front of stone with every restless kick of her leg.

"Sure." Xander didn't even bother trying to sound like he believed it. They sat in silence, the crickets chirping in the distance and something heavy dragging through the distant bushes. Xander glanced over to see if Faith would go to the slayer bit, but she just sat and continued swinging her legs. Thump. Thump. Thump.

"So, you're part vampire. That's... completely fucking freaky."

Xander huffed a burst of laughter. Then, the sound turned into a longer laugh, one that Xander couldn't seem to stop. He slid off the headstone and let himself sink into the damp ground, laughing until tears rolled down his face and his side ached in a cramp. Leaning forward, Xander struggled to catch his breath as he started getting light-headed. Finally, the laughter tapered off, even as he continued to feel hot tears rolling down his face. Faith still watched, only now her foot hung motionless.

"At least you say it. I got so tired of being told I wasn't acting like a 'normal' pet, that I told--" Xander stopped. He didn't want to say the name. He couldn't say the name. In the back of his mind, he could feel confusion war with pain, and funny enough, he didn't even know which part was him and which part was Baby.

"Angel's clueless. Big lunk says the most offensive shit, and then he gets all broody when people tell him he's an ass," Faith agreed.

"Angel's..." Xander thought for a moment about how to finish the thought. "He's okay," Xander finally finished. Baby sent a stab of frustration through him. Baby obviously thought Angel deserved better than okay. Angel was master. However, Xander retaliated with thought about Angel being a totally shitty master.

"He's five by five," Faith agreed.

"That doesn't actually make sense, five by five," Xander pointed out.

"Yeah, like you're one to talk about making sense. So, what's it like having a demon rattling around in there?" Faith asked as she stared off into the distance where the dragging noises had now stopped. The wind shook the leaves, rustling them overhead. Well, either than or a ulat demon had crawled up there. He remembered the story where an ulat made these tree branches shake, and two minions went over to investigate. They got snapped up before Spike could even-- Xander cut that thought off.

"Demon boy? You with me?" Faith asked. Xander shot her a disgusted look.

"It's like having a voice that sounds a whole lot like me, but it's urging me to do things I want to do when I know I shouldn't want them."

"And that's different from the rest of us, how?"

"Well, I'm pretty sure that before the demon I didn't have fantasies about ripping the limbs off people and beating them with the bleeding stumps," Xander pointed out. Faith jerked a little but didn't answer immediately. Instead the silence pushed in on them.

"I don't know," she said quietly. "Had a few of those fantasies. And someone took Spike away from you, so you're entitled."

"Aren't you supposed to be the slayer, the one girl in all the world who stops the demons from ripping off human arms?" Xander asked.

"Are you?" Her voice sounded suddenly serious.

"Am I what?"

"A demon?"

Xander stopped. Okay, he had called himself a demon, and in front of the slayer, which was a whole new level of stupid. Baby started to panic, pushing against the wall in his mind that separated them. Xander's heart started pounding right before his vision slid over into the edges and red tones of the demon. Suddenly, Faith appeared in sharp outline against the stone, a few mosquitos wandering in the air between them.

"That's one way to answer," Faith said. Xander could see her body tense so that her arms corded as lines of muscle appeared under the skin. Xander sat up, his heart so loud in his ears that he couldn't hear much besides his heart beat and hers.

"Was that a quiz? because I'm really bad on quizzes. I always give the wrong answer. Especially on pop quizzes, they're the worst. My English teacher told me I was a pop-quiz moron once, and I'm thinking he was right," Xander stammered as he pushed himself up from the cold ground. Faith just sat on the headstone, leaning forward a bit, and watching.

"Fuck, you and Willow really are buds. You sure you're not related to her?" Faith asked with tilt of her head.

"Related? Wha?"

"That babbling. I always assumed it was a Willow thing. Tara and Larry and Oz--not so much for babbling. But you have it down."

"It's a talent," Xander answered. He forced Baby back so the graveyard returned to the dusky blue of night.

"So, the eye thing. You could make slammin' money in a sideshow with that trick."

"You calling me a freak?" Xander asked with a weak laugh. He couldn't manage more since his tongue threatened to stick to his mouth it was so dry.

"Fuck, yeah. But seeing as how I'm the one slayer in the world, well, except for coma-girl, I don't have much room to criticize on the freak-front."

"So we're heading toward bonding and not slaying, right?" Xander asked. He could feel his own demon complain, a desire to fight twisting around his stomach in cold, slimy coils even if the demon was terrorized by the idea. Of course, maybe Baby wanted to fight because he was terrified. After all, any demon who learned about the world through him had to have a few loose screws.

"I could take you, but I'm not looking to slay," Faith agreed.

Xander could feel the coils around his stomach turn to resentment. "Please, you could not take me."

"Could, too."

"As if."

"You looking to prove something?" Faith demanded as she pushed off the headstone with a sly smile.

"Oh shit. Um, maybe?" Xander stumbled up, his feet refusing to cooperate as he considered that the slayer was looking at him like a cat considering a fluffy play toy with lots of pink feathers, and now Baby really complained. The world slid back into demon vision as Xander backed away from the slayer.

"Hey, five by five with me. I just have one ground rule," Faith said as she circled slowly. Xander watched her movements as her long legs covered the ground with a restrained grace. She moved like a predator, and Baby itched to throw himself at her.

"Ground rules are good," Xander nodded. He just hoped the ground rules involved no blood, pain, or death. Then again, death would be fine as long as blood and pain weren't involved. Death would actually solve a lot.

"Everyone walks away with limbs more or less intact," she smiled. Xander didn't even have time to object before her foot slammed into his stomach, sending him flying backwards into headstone. The cold grass under his hands and the even colder stone behind his back made him leap up again, even with the ringing still in his ears.

"Bitch," Xander snapped without his mouth even checking with his brain first.

"And proud of it, babe. You got something to show me, or are you going to lay there all day?" Faith stepped up, and before Xander could even realize he was moving, he had taken a kick at Faith's lower leg, connecting with a jarring thump of flesh against flesh.

"Fuck," she cursed as she stumbled to one side, struggling to catch her balance. Xander leapt up in a moment, pressing his advantage. Still off-balance, Faith backed up to a tree where she caught herself by grabbing at a branch. Xander punched but found only air as Faith used her hold on the branch to twist out of the way.

Realizing his mistake, Xander tried to turn, but a sharp crack and Faith had the broken branch in her hand. Xander had only half turned when the solid wood slammed into his side, sending him flying into the truck of the tree. The tree at his back limited too many of his moves, so he danced sideways just as Faith sent a flying kick into the trunk.

"What's the matter? Don't want to dance with me?" she taunted as she followed him. Now Xander and Faith circled each other warily. Xander breathed deeply as the scent of sweat and dirt and car exhaust and musk and human sifted through to him. Human. Prey. Xander narrowed his eyes and watched Faith's feet as she moved over the uneven ground.

"You smell... interested in more than dancing," Xander pointed out as he identified the musk now floating through the air.

"Good fight gets the engine revving. Thought I'd take a test drive with you."

"But what--" Xander didn't finish, driving forward in the middle of his own comment, and catching Faith off guard. She turned and deflected his attack so that Xander got in a strike to her side, but he also got hit back. Baby roared happily.

Xander stood panting and Faith now held a hand to her ribs. Inside, Xander could feel Baby pressing him to attack the weakness, but Xander held back. She might be faking. He concentrated so much on preventing Baby from raging out of control that he missed the counter attack.

Faith slammed into him with her full weight, and with his feet badly positioned, Xander couldn't prevent a fall. Instead, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her down with him. She positioned herself so that she fell with a knee in the groin, but Xander ignored the pain and tossed her off to the side before straddling her.

So he looked down as she lay on the ground, his fists in her shirt and her dark hair spread across the grass. "Who's on top now, Slayer?" he growled.

"Oh, bottom can be fun, too," she practically purred, and Xander froze at the sudden image. Despite her open invitation, something smelled wrong. Baby growled his pleasure at the scent of fear, but Xander froze as he realized that her sultry words masked something darker. No. He didn't want that. He didn't want her. He opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, she bucked up and sent him toppling backwards. Xander scrambled back, but he didn't get far before Faith landed on top of him, pressing him down into the damp earth.

"Of course, steering around the curves is my usual position," Faith said, squeezing her legs on either side of Xander.

The attraction that Xander had felt before burned out as his fury rose. "Get off," he ordered quietly, not willing to fight when he felt so much hatred. She wasn't his sire; she wasn't even his master. He wouldn't submit to her any more than he'd submit to some poodle with a pink bow in its hair. He was Aurelian.

"I'm trying to get off, or hadn't you noticed?" Faith asked.

Xander felt the ache in his mouth and the cold tingles in his face as his fangs dropped, and then he bucked up, twisting his body so that Faith fell to the side. Instantly, she sprang up into a fighting crouch, and Xander, one knee still on the damp earth, growled as he adjusted his own weight.

"Damn, babe. If you still want to play, I'm up for it."

"I'm not playing. Back off," Xander snapped even as the sound of Faith's beating heart called him, pounding like the sirens he'd read about in The Odyssey, as if he would die if he couldn't reach it.

"Can't take the heat?" Faith asked sweetly. Xander launched himself.

His first attack ended when Faith tossed him into bushes that clawed his skin, leaving long, red, crisscrossing trails across his arms and face. Faith stood with an amused expression, one hand on a hip and completely unprepared as Xander leapt at her, keeping his attack low. He struck her knees, sending her crashing to the ground hard enough to elicit a breathy grunt.

Ignoring the increasingly faint objections about killing, Xander bared his teeth and landed on top of Faith, driving both his knees into her stomach. The sudden overwhelming scent of fear spiced the air as Xander pinned her hands to the ground.

"Get off," Faith snapped as she struggled below him. Xander smiled, showing his fangs as he slid his knees off her to either side, both trapping her and giving him the leverage he needed to keep her pinned.

"I'm trying to get off, or hadn't you noticed?" Xander mocked her. Faith's eyes went comically large, and Xander felt a brief flair of pride that he had put fear into a slayer. Then a hand grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back with such force that Xander ended up running backwards for several steps as he tried to catch his balance before falling on his ass.

He bounced back up, still growling, only to find himself faced with a game-faced Angel. Xander hesitated, and before he could say anything, Angel backhanded him with enough force to send him over one set of headstones and crashing into another. Shaking his head to try and clear his thoughts, Xander scuttled backwards as Angel closed the distance.

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