Out of Tune


Part Thirteen

"Can we please get this over with before having to deal with that leaves me in need of a drink? Jenny poured the Scotch down the sink, and the local liquor store only carries cheap American swill." Giles pushed in the door to the Magic Box and went immediately to the counter where he dropped several huge rolls of heavy paper and a few thick books.

"Five by five here," Faith agreed. She followed him into the store and disappeared behind a counter. When she came up again, she held a vicious knife and a sharpening stone. She hopped up on the counter, sitting on the top and sharpening her knife with a whip-whorr of metal scraping over stone. Xander noticed all that, but he focused more on Angel, who had followed them into the store and then stood near a display of dried… okay, Xander wasn't going to look to closely at what those were. Beside, the way Angel pressed close to the wall, it he seemed as though he wanted to press into it and disappear. Baby hissed unhappily.

Xander understood what Angel was feeling. Xander had spent most of his high school career trying to find clothing that would blend into the graffiti stained walls of his L.A. high school, and unfortunately, he generally failed. A quick shove from bullies regularly sent him crashing into lockers had taught him to use that body language that screamed, 'not worth your time to hurt me.' It was a cross between looking so hurt already that any further bullying was a little pointless and looking pathetic enough that bullying him didn't earn cool points for the bullies. Angel had that same expression, and Baby growled at master's discomfort. The human made master unhappy. Baby had a very simple solution for what he considered the Giles problem. Xander focused on stopping the growl from actually growling since he didn't really doubt Angel's promise to kill him.

"I suppose it's hard workin' with the vampire who put one of your slayers in a coma and killed another," Spike mused as he passed them all and settled in leaning against a shelf on the other side of the room.

Outside, waiting for Giles to come and unlock the door, Xander had ignored the man beside Spike, but now he couldn't escape the smell of the unfamiliar male. He smelled like gunpowder and musk, and Xander had a sudden hatred for all things gun powdery and musky. Looking down at the dull tile floor, Xander ignored Spike with his new pet and Angel's discomfort and his own growing hatred for more than one person in the room. Yeah, way too much stuff to keep track of at once, and Xander had that pop-quiz-coming feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"And you are?" At Giles' words, Xander furtively glanced up as the Watcher pulled off his glasses and polished them as he looked toward Spike.

"Name's Spike."

"Good lord." Xander didn't have time to blink before Giles had pulled a large cross from under his jacket. "William the Bloody. Faith, stake him," he ordered. No one moved.

"Chill out. We have a truce."

"A truce? With a blood-thirsty demon who would like nothing more than to drain us all? If you won't do something, I will." Giles started forward, and Faith jumped down, putting herself in Giles' path.

"He's Xander's William. He doesn't want the world to end any more than we do."

Giles stood, his fury clear even though he stood perfectly still. When he spoke again, he had the perfectly calm tone of absolute certainty. "Your naiveté is both astounding and stupid."

Faith stepped back, blinking in surprise, but she didn't move aside. Giles simply stared at her as she refused to yield.

"Slayer's right, I got no problem with you lot," Spike added, "and you're a little long in the tooth for me, mate. Might go for the little witch, but then Xander'd be put out, so I figure your whole lot is off the menu."

Xander felt a slight twinge of fear for Willow, silently thanking his not-so-lucky stars that she hadn't shown up yet. He could just imagine her hyperventilating at the idea of yet another vampire taking an interest in her. He'd heard the stories of Angelus after Willow used a spell to "cheer him up" and accidentally ripped his soul out. She really didn't need any more vampire admirers.

Spike hadn't even finished before Angel stepped forward. "Threaten her again and I'll dust you, Spike."

"Oi, I'm pointin' out why I wouldn't threaten her. Seems like you're the one who went and murdered her fish." The sarcastic tone made it perfectly clear how he felt about Angelus going after fish, and from his place behind Angel, Xander could see vamp's back twitch.

"Enough," Angel growled.

"Was that before or after ya killed her wolf?" Spike taunted. Angel took a single step forward, his jaw clenched in fury.

"I bet ya didn't even wait for full moon when he had a chance in hell. No, it'd be more your style ta trap him in some corner and—"

"Fuck, not this again," Faith practically yelled. "When I'm the most level-headed person in the room, there's a problem, people," Faith said as she backed up a little more to get between the two vampires while still watching Giles.

"Hey, perfectly responsible adult-type person here," Willow objected as she came in, Tara close behind. The bell over the door jingled merrily, and the suddenly cheerful sound gave Xander an urge to laugh hysterically… not so much with the cheer in this room.

"Jenny said it was full on F-team meeting," Willow said as she stepped up to the counter where Giles had dropped the papers before getting in a staring contest with Spike. She stopped, her eyes darting around the room as she picked up on the hate-vibes.

"Good, you're here. At least now the humans outnumber the vampires," Giles said with terse politeness

"Vampires?" Willow nearly squeaked, "other than Angel vampires?"

"And the G-man is exaggerating again. Only two vamps. The other two are..." Faith paused.

"Human," Angel said tightly. "They may carry a part of a demon, but they are human."

"Whoa, what do you mean part of a demon?" Spike's pet pushed forward, and Xander really looked at him for the first time. Spike had called him Riley, and even thinking the name made Xander want to bite someone. Riley. Big, handsome, stupid muscly-type type. Xander knew he deserved to get replaced, but he couldn't help feeling the cold hatred for the man deep in his stomach. He would have gone fangy and growled, but Baby chose that moment to show an utter lack of interest in growling.

"It's in the blood, mate," Spike answered his pet. "Blood touches blood, but that's not what has the Watcher's knickers in a twist. He's mostly browned off because Angel, the great poof who killed his slayer isn't dust."

"I have a demon?" Riley demanded weakly at the same time that Willow gasped, her fingers searching her purse for a stake, "Vampire?!?!"

"Spike, also known as William, and you'd be Xander's little friend. He says lots of nice things about ya, luv, and he isn't exactly overflowing with love for all things Hellmouth."

"William?" Willow sounded slightly hyperventilaty.

"And that's about it," Faith added. "Only he left out that Giles wanted to attack Spike and Spike has been verbally torturing Angel and Angel continues to growl at Spike and then there's the whole fact that no one is really focusing on the demons who are about to open a portal to hell."

Giles coughed. "If the Anointed One is orchestrating this plan, I doubt the Vahrall have the same agenda as the vampire master. Vahrall demons believe self -sacrifice can open a portal to a hell world and return the world to its true master, the pure demons. I find it unbelievable that a vampire would support their activities since pure demons are no more fond of vampires than of humans," Giles backed away, glaring first at Spike and then at Angel for an awkward moment before turning his attention to the stack he'd dropped on the counter. He sorted various scrolls, unrolling them to reveal cramped, tiny writing interrupted by detailed images of various demons.

"Only the Annoyin' One has something up his tiny sleeve," Spike added. "He's got zombies and a Mohra down there. I'm guessing he's either playin' big with the mojo or makin' some pretty big promises." Spike took a step back and leaned against the wall. Xander wanted to just keep looking at him. He wanted to take these minutes to pretend that he hadn't ruined the only good thing in his life by turning to Angel. His mother always told him that he needed to suffer the consequences of his own action. She meant his science grade, but Xander hadn't truly understood suffering consequences until this moment.

He remembered the day he'd sparred with Spike in their basement. Spike had tossed him to the ground again, and then backed off and looked at him with that same intense expression. Part of Xander wanted to pretend Spike didn't have a new pet, pretend that he was still at Spike's side, but instead his eyes slid back to the floor.

He'd thought he felt pain when he thought Spike had died, but being in the same room was a special torture. He should be happy that Spike was still alive... or unalive... whatever, but instead all he could feel was the pain of both loss and rejection. Spike had a new pet, and Xander had Angel.

Xander snorted and Angel shot him a displeased look that made Baby go whimpering back. Oh yeah, once again everyone else sucked the sugary goodness of candy while life had handed him the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Only this time, it was fuzzy, dirty, and covered in cat hair.

Xander glanced sideways at the silently furious vampire beside him and wondered how much it would take to get the vamp homicidally angry. As often as Xander had made his father angry enough to resort to a fist, he should be able to provoke Angel twice as fast. After all, vamps didn't feel much loyalty toward minions. Spike had called them cannon fodder, sent out to die for their masters.

Baby whined and Xander felt himself pushed farther back. He was just so damn tired that he didn't even fight the pressure that forced him into the dim corners of his own mind. Baby came forward and dismissed his plans, his displeasure clear from the throbbing little pain settling in at the back of Xander's head. Baby had a master, and he would live or die to please his master. From a quiet corner of his own brain, Xander pointed out that while they might be able to die to please Angel, neither one of them had much luck pleasing him any other way.

"Whatever the Anointed One has planned, it is imperative that we intercept any attempt to open the Hellmouth," Giles said as he turned to the scrolls. "The scroll says that the demons will need the Word of Valios in order to open the Hellmouth. I simply cannot fathom why the vampires would support opening a portal between here and the Va'alli hell."

"Shortcut to avoid morning traffic?" Willow joked softly, but no one laughed.

"Who cares? We know what they want, so we get it first and then kick demon ass. Simple," Faith said with a shrug. She obviously decided that no one was in any immediate danger of attacking because she went back to the counter, hopping up and returning to sharpening her knife—a wickedly curved silver blade that reflected light from the florescent lights.

"If we knew where to find the Word of Valios, that might work. Since I have no idea where to find it, we start with research. Willow, you have the Tredecim and Attonbitus scrolls. Tara, take Libra Audacter. Faith, maybe you could help me go through the volumes of the Cassus Almus. Those not researching might wish to do something constructive like naffing off so the rest of us can complete our work," Giles finished without looking up from the scrolls.

"I'm not really one for the dusty duty. Why don't I just go along with the boys for some patrol?"

Faith had no sooner suggested it before Giles wheeled around, his eyes so cold and hard that even Baby started reevaluating just how "helpless" this human might truly be.

"I will not have you patrol with Angel or Spike. If we must work under some truce, then we will do so safely, which means you will not patrol with them or patrol alone."

"Whoa, chill—" Faith tried to interrupt,

"You have impressive skills, but no more so than Kendra, and Angelus has already shown his ruthlessness in taking advantage of any weakness. Hunting with him would be—" Giles stopped, obviously unable to come up with any words to explain his opinion on Faith hunting with Angel.

"I'm sorry," Angel nearly whispered.

Giles stalked past Faith and straight to Angel, his heavy cross in one hand, and a stake in the other. Baby wanted to both throw himself between master and danger in an attempt to impress master and cringe back in fear. Really, that was pretty lucky since it allowed Xander to keep himself still at Angel's side as the watcher got up in Angel's face.

"If you touch one hair on her head—" Giles didn't raise the stake, but he held the cross so close that Angel had to press back into the wall to avoid being burned.

"I'm here to help," Angel said quietly, and from his side of the room Spike gave a doubtful snort. Shooting a hateful glare in Spike's general direction, Angel started again. "Jenny called me."

That stopped Giles, but he still held the cross close enough that it pinned Angel to the wall. Xander started looking for escape paths, figuring if all else failed, he could just go right over the low shelving with the shrunken heads in bizarre rows.

"Jenny may have forgotten what you are capable of, but I certainly haven't. Kendra was—" Giles stopped, the words choked off into silence. For a long time, he continued to stand, his tweed jacket and glasses and grey hair doing nothing to hide the raw hatred and fury as he held the cross an inch from Angel's hand. Xander could only stand and watch, not even sure what he should do, even if he could get all his various Xander-and-Baby parts organized well enough to actually do anything.

"Giles," Faith called softly from the counter.

"You will take volume one of the Cassus Almus," Giles ordered her without turning around. And then he backed up, his hand still clutching the weapons as he moved back to the counter where he dropped the stake and used a shaking hand to steady himself on the countertop. Suddenly, the fury drained leaving just a sad, sagging man clutching the counter.

"No problem," Faith agreed quietly. Willow had found some interesting spot on the wall while Tara stared at the floor, but Spike watched his sire with an obvious glee that made Xander squirm. He remembered that expression of unmitigated joy from times they had sparred, especially when the sparring had led to pinning and sex. Now he glanced toward Riley who had silently stepped closer to Spike.

Xander gulped air, aware that he had forgotten to breathe until the sharp edges of unconsciousness poked at him, making him dizzy. Angel's hand fell on his shoulder, and Xander dropped his eyes to the floor, aware that he had been staring.

"Spike and I will do patrol," Angel said as he moved toward the door slowly. Xander followed his master back out into the night.

Part Fourteen

Xander followed close behind as Angel stalked toward the nearest cemetery. He could hear the regular pounding of Spike's footsteps behind him. Normally, Spike could move through any territory without making a sound, but right now, his 150 pounds sounded more like 300.

"I don't know what is going on here, but I am not a hostile," Spike's pet announced into the awkward silence.

Angel snorted.

"I am a captain in the United States Marine Corps, and if you don't plan to take down the hostiles currently conspiring to open the Hellmouth, I need to find someone who will help me get the job done."

"They won't open the Hellmouth," Angel said, his voice tight with frustration. Xander could feel Baby echo his master's distress. And once again, Baby had just one suggestion for humans that bothered master.

"Yeah, 'cuz you've been so good 'bout stoppin' the wankers in the past," Spike growled, his voice dripping with sarcasm and heavy with accent.

Angel didn't answer as he kept walking down the dark street. Tension rolled off the older vampire, and Xander could feel himself slowly unwinding, like a ball of fraying yarn a cat kept batting around until it turned into a big tangled mess of… well… tangles. He felt like begging Spike to just stop before Angel snapped and went after Spike with whatever weapon he could grab while another part of him danced with anticipation at seeing master put Spike in his place. Xander was guessing that Baby was the one voting for an Angel-Spike showdown, either that or Xander had really lost his marbles. Again.

"Seems like you've been playin' both sides of the fence. The Annoyin' One certainly didn't chase ya out of town, and a slayer layin' in that hospital… she'd be on easy snack, only no one seems ta be snacking on her. Not unless you've been sneaking a fang into the coma-girl," Spike smirked. Angel didn't even pause before spinning around in game face. Shrinking back away from that fury, Xander pushed into the bushes lining the sidewalk just to get out of Angel's path.

"If you touch Buffy, I'll stake you myself," Angel snarled, closing the distance between them with a few long, furious strides.

"You're the one who goes for leftovers, these days," Spike said coldly. "Besides, I'm one slayer up on you old man. If I wanted ta take my third, I wouldn't go for the one you already put in a coma," Spike's smirked even wider as his barb sunk home. Angel stood, half in an island of light, his hands at his sides even as his fists trembled and flexed.

"I don't know what game you're playing…" he articulated each word carefully and slowly and dangerously, but Spike's new pet interrupted him.

"He said he was trying to stop the hostiles. What game are you two playing?" Riley, inserted himself between the two vampires, Angel in game face and Spike now leaning insolently against the lamp post, his hair shining in the florescent light. "And I want to know what the hell is going on with the blood reference. If I'm at risk, then so are my men. So someone is going to tell me what is going on."

"Your men?" Angel dropped back out of game face, looking at Riley in confusion. "How many men?"

"Why?" Riley asked suspiciously.

"William, what have you done?" Angel demanded. He stepped around Riley and backhanded Spike viciously. Spike twisted through the air, crashing into the bushes a couple of feet from Xander before he bounded back up onto his feet.

"That your best shot?" he asked as he touched a corner of his mouth where blood trickled.

Angel didn't have time to answer before Riley attacked from behind. The sight of the short wood stake aimed at Angel's back sent Xander flying forward, the world slipping into the demon reds as a burning fury rose like bile in his throat. Xander would have ripped Riley to shreds, only within seconds, the soldier was stomach-down on the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street. Xander barely pulled back before plowing into Angel's back, which wouldn't have won him any warm and fuzzy looks from the great cranky one.

"Enough," Angel roared as Riley continued to squirm and buck. Riley froze, his face still pressed to the damp grass.

"How many of your men?" Angel snarled. For a second, Riley stayed silent, and Xander half expected Angel to take Riley's arm, which he currently had wrenched up behind Riley's back, and rip the sucker off.

"Four, plus me."

"Spike made blood to blood contact with all of them." Angel sounded shocked.

"No, only I did. The others used the two vampires Dr. Engelman held for testing. My men volunteered for Engelman's experiment in boosting strength and endurance, but if this has done something that might compromise them…"

Xander could almost feel sympathy for the man on the ground, or at least he would have except for the whole burning jealousy for stealing Spike and acidic hatred for threatening Angel.

"Bloody idiots were sufferin' from vampire rot. They'd taken to drinking our blood as a substitute for their morning protein shakes. They shoulda stuck to the seaweed and soy," Spike offered as he once again leaned against the street lamp. "But don't get your knickers in a twist, Peaches. I dusted the other vamps, and the soldier-boys won't even notice unless some other vamp slips a fang in their necks." He paused to search his pockets for a cigarette.

"What did you do to my men?" Riley sounded furious now, but Angel just put a knee in his back, pinning him helplessly.

"What game are you playing?" Angel demanded as he twisted around to face Spike.

"Not playin'. That was your business, mate. You liked your head games and your petty torments. I've always been a little more straightforward." Spike sucked on the cigarette and then blew a ring that slowly rose in the air.

"Then explain to me why you would suddenly start taking human pets."

"Wot? I should wait down there while those wankers cut me apart and experiment on my bits? I bloody like my bits where they are." Spike emphasized his words by reaching down and grabbing his own crotch. Xander felt a wistfulness that sent Baby roaring up to the forefront so that he could slide closer to Angel. Yep, Baby knew which vamp he preferred.

"So you risk them? I won't let you turn people into puppets," Angel flashed into game face again.

"You want that one? Fine. You take soldier boy, fuck him, turn him, eat him, use your fucking spell and set the git free, I don't soddin' care. But ya took what's mine, Angelus, and I won't bloody leave 'til I get him back." Spike dropped his cigarette to the ground and crushed it with the heel of his boot. Taking a step forward, he slipped into the sharp ridges of his vampiric face and bared his fangs.

"Leave Xander out of this," Angel warned, and Xander slipped backwards away from the street light. His head began to throb, and he sucked air in as he realized he'd forgotten to breath, the thought of Angel and Spike doing the whole final showdown sending him pretty much into mental meltdown land.

"Thought that's what we were soddin' fightin' about." Spike stepped forward, planting one foot ahead of the other and holding his arms out, ready for an attack.

"You'll lose, William."

"Xander's the one who's already bloody lost. Havin' you as a sire-- not exactly enjoyable."

"He's human."

"No, he's bloody not. Wot's more, he's bloody less human every time I look at him," Spike snapped, and yellow eyes fixed on Xander who suddenly found some very interesting dirt on the sidewalk to stare at. He hated how those eyes saw more than they should. He hated it nearly as much as he hated not being seen at all.

"Enough, William," Angel bellowed, and Spike clenched his fists.

"Still thick as bog-mud, aren't ya? You'd rip him up as bad as ya ever ripped up Drusilla, only this time it's because you're a fucking thick-skulled mick, innit?"

"Don't push your luck." Angel abandoned Riley and moved so fast that he stood chest to chest with Spike before Xander could look back up. Riley lay on the grass holding his wrenched arm and looking a bit dazed. Xander knew the feeling. He also felt his soul shrivel at the thought of Spike fighting and dying for him.

"Spike, Angel? Um, demon hunting? Sound familar?" Xander interrupted the vampire-stare-o'thon. "You know, we told Faith and Giles we'd go out hunting some demons, and I'm fairly sure that he meant for us to hunt other demons," Spike flashed a smile in his direction, and Xander gave a small half-smile in return before Baby rose up and the world slid into demon-red again.

"Think I'm goin' to do just that Peaches. I think it's time I pushed my luck." Spike cocked his head and looked up at Angel.

"Last time in LA, I let you get your hits in. You start something now, and I will kill you rather than let you keep playing these games with human lives."

Xander could hear the certainty in Angel's voice, and he shivered in both horror and anticipation, and Baby really was a little too bloodthirsty for Xander's stomach.

Spike smirked again, his tongue tracing the inside of his lower lip as he slowly inched backwards. "Not going to bloody happen," Spike answered. Without warning, he followed up with a spinning kick that made Angel stumble to the side. Riley barely had time to scramble out of the way as Angel careened backwards, but the retreat didn't last long.

Angel lunged forward, leading with a right punch that Spike only partially ducked, catching the blow on his shoulder. Spike retaliated with a number of jabs while dancing out of the way of Angel's more powerful blows. Angel landed fewer hits, but each of his sent Spike staggering while Spike struck over and over again without driving Angel back at all.

One hard hit sent Spike crashing into a blue mail drop box which rang like a rusted bell before Spike hit the ground. Angel dived after him, but in a move that Xander couldn't quite see, Spike deflected Angel, shoving him headfirst into the metal box which crumpled under the force. Grabbing his chance, Spike twisted out from under Angel and pinned the larger vampire, sinking his fangs deep into Angel's forearm, ripping though coat and shirt until the blood soaked the fabric and dripped onto the grey concrete.

Roaring, Angel bucked and the finally threw himself to the side, pinning Spike between the battered mailbox and his own body. Spike let go with a muffed, "Bloody fuck." They lay tangled with each other, half on the curb and half in the empty street.

Now that they had their hands on each other, Xander could see Spike struggle. He twisted so that he could get leverage with his foot, forcing them to roll into the street where Spike got on top, his hands on Angel's neck in a grip that reminded Xander of the way Spike had ripped one fledge's head right off his neck. But before Spike had time to do anything, Angel used his brute strength to grab Spike's hair and slam his head down into the concrete.

Before Spike could recover, Angel had pinned him. Huge hands squeezed Spike's throat while Angel used his body to trap Spike against the cold concrete of the road.

"It's over, Spike. I don't know what you're hoping to do, but I'll give you one chance to get out of my territory and out of my sight before I hunt you down." With that, Angel physically lifted Spike by his neck and then slammed him back to the ground with a sickening crunch. Xander watched in horror while an amoeba shaped red stain grew under Spike's skull.

Angel stood up, but Spike still lay on the ground motionless. Even while Baby growled his pleasure, Xander could feel the cold horror sinking into his bones. Yeah, Spike obviously wasn't dead-dead what with the lack of dustiness, but he didn't look ready for any fights. The Anointed One's most pathetic minion could probably dust Spike as he lay on the ground, pale and motionless and staring up at the sliver moon.

Baby hissed contemptuously toward Spike, the loser, but Xander stood, unmoving, as he fought through a tangle of his own feelings.

“Xander, let’s go,” Angel said, and Xander looked at his demon’s master and then at his defeated sire. He could feel himself torn apart, but when the demon pushed for him to follow Angel, he rose up with all his strength, and pushed back. Hell, he shoved and rammed and drove forward until he could force the demon back.

“No,” he all but whispered.

“Xander.” Angel turned to face him. “Things have changed; Spike isn't your sire, and you don't need him,” Angel said as he took a step forward.

“Oi, that’s right, force him ta do what ya want, just like with every other pet ya ever had,” Spike said as he slowly picked himself up off the ground, blood smeared down one side of his face. “Go ahead and break him since he’s mine—that’s what ya do, innit? Break whatever’s mine?”

“Spike,” Angel growled, and Xander struggled to just stay standing, his need to hide in the corner nearly overwhelming him.

“So, you’ll threaten Spike and kidnap me?” Xander asked even though he knew that a pretty good sized part of him begged to go with Angel. He clenched his teeth to prevent the demon from following its master.

“I’m protecting you, Xander,” Angel offered in the tone of voice a person might use with a particularly stupid child. The vampire put a hand on his shoulder, and Xander could feel the tremors at Angel’s touch. Just please master; make him want us. He could hear Baby pleading, but he knew that no matter what he did, Angel would never want them, and he sent that thought back into his mind.

He flooded the demon with memories: Angel biting him and then leaving him on the couch, unclaimed as childe; Angel pressing a stake to his chest; Angel ripping him from Faith and choking him unconscious. He pummeled and pounded those memories, mixing in older memories. The time his father called him a child for begging his father to come to Christmas with them and the time his mother forgot him at school until after dark, leaving him wandering home alone when he wasn't tall enough to get into the rides at the summer carnival. He took all that rejection and failure and shoved it down the demon's throat until Baby choked on it, retreating under the pain. He stepped back away from Angel's touch.

“No, you’re taking away my choices; you’re doing what you wanted to do the first time you met me,” Xander said through gritted teeth. “You’re living out your little save the world fantasies with me.”

"You aren't thinking clearly right now. The demon—" Angel started. Xander could feel Baby squirming up, struggling to answer master's voice, but then Spike interrupted.

"You bloody arrogant bog-trotting wanker. Soul-no soul, you don't soddin' change." Spike wiped the blood from his face with the back of his hand. "Everyone has to do things the way you do them, or they're just bloody wrong. I've got fucking news for you, mate. You don't know everything."

"I never said..." Angel started, but Spike shook his head in disbelief and interrupted again.

"You don't have to say it, clear enough from the way you treat everyone else, innit? When you were soulless, you'd beat me bloody if I didn't do things the way you did 'em. You killed your folks, so I was supposed ta be overcome with hatred for mine. You like fuckin' with people's minds, so ya had to tell me what a failure I was for preferrin' an open fight. And now that you have the soul, it's the same damn out-of-tune song, innit? You're a soddin' souled demon, and you fight your own instincts every soddin' day, so you just treat Xander like he's the bloody same."

"You have no idea what..."

"No, but I know what Xander said. I know he and his demon had a truce until you came and mucked it up. Look at him!" Spike pointed, and Xander shrunk back as both vampires and Riley looked at him. Riley had retreated to the far side of a Volvo, but he still stood close.

"The mouthy git stole my CD's and gave them to you, mate. At the club, he went sailing into a fight against a gang of fledges to save his friends, and he bloody called you for help doing it. I soddin' near pulled my hair out with how much he never bloody listened to me, but that's what made him worthy of bein' a childe. He had his own soddin' brain and he used it. With you, he just cringes in your shadow." Spike stepped forward, but this time instead of glaring at Angel in open defiance, he looked to the side, his body tight but not in fighting stance. "And now that he makes a decision of his own, you're punishing him for it. You're bloody well destoyin' him." Spike looked up with fury carved into his face.

"I didn't—" This time Angel stopped on his own. Xander flinched back as Angel closed the distance between them, his hand landing on Xander's shoulder. "I'm trying to help you control the demon."

Xander closed his eyes as Baby struggled forward at the hint of master caring for them. He pulled up the memory of his father telling him how proud he was of Xander for graduating, and then, on the day of graduation, Xander had searched the crowd. He had made his mother stand by the south entrance for an hour, waiting for his father. His father hadn't come. They'd gotten home to an answering machine message with a slurred message about traffic, the sound of a bar in the background. He couldn't do this again.

"I did control the demon until you tried to control him for me," Xander answered. Angel pulled his hand back.

"He bloody well did too. Bugger gave him fits when he had dirty little dreams of topping sire, but Xander controlled himself. He wasn't like you, and Baby's not Angelus, raging under that soul ready to rip the world apart if he can just get out." Spike stepped closer, and Xander clutched at control as Baby quailed in fear.

"Xander, I didn't—" Angel's words trailed off again.

"Spike, I'm sorry," Xander whispered. Spike stopped, his hand hovering above the arm Xander had crossed over his stomach, hugging himself.

"What ya sorry for, pet?" Spike asked softly. Xander trembled as Baby sent up a whole litany of sins. Some didn't make much sense, unless it was sense of the vampire kind, so Xander picked the one that he could understand best.

"I'm sorry I gave up on you."

"Bloody hell, I'm the one who bollocked that up. Sire's supposed to be the one who doesn't fuck up and get caught. I bet you tried to find me, yeah?"

Xander nodded. "But Baby…" he stopped. He couldn't put the vampire's feelings into words. He'd betrayed Spike; he'd liked Angel more; he'd thought Angel was stronger. Xander flinched at the realization that part of him still saw Angel as stronger. But he wasn't. Angel wasn't stronger, Xander thought back into his own mind.

"Baby's too young and too soddin' stupid to really know anything, pet. He can't tell who ta follow, so you have to guide him." Spike put his hand on Xander's arm, and Xander could feel the fear and longing and hope ripple through his mind. "Xander Harris is my childe, and he never bloody stopped bein' my childe. Baby's just goin' to have to earn his way back into my favor," Spike offered.

"Spike," Angel said softly.

"Don't bloody start with me, mate. I had enough years of your arrogant shite already. If you say one thing, I swear, if it takes the rest of my unlife, I'll skin ya alive."

Angel didn't answer, but Riley did. "I have a job to do… to protect this town from hostiles, particularly the group that's trying to open the Hellmouth."

Xander felt Spike's arm slip around his waist as Spike took a position at his side, and now Xander could look at Riley without the jealousy and hatred swirling through his mind. The soldier looked exhausted, dark circles under his eyes and dirt staining his knees and one shoulder. He pushed his blond hair back with an absent-minded gesture that made him look like a tired child struggling to stay awake.

"I'm not going to let the Anointed One open the Hellmouth," Angel said. "I had a truce to protect Buffy's life, but Buffy won't last long if that portal is open."

Angel turned and looked pointedly at Spike. Eventually Spike sighed heavily.

"Bloody hell, I don't want the Hellmouth open any more than you. I meant what I said about helping to keep the annoying little shit from doing something annoyingly stupid. Look, you save the world because it's what you do, having a soul and a mission and all. But just because I don't have some mission from the Powers that Be don't mean that I can't help out. I'm not bloody giving up my Passions or my fags or my music without a fight."

"Mission?" Riley stepped around the car, coming closer to the group, and Xander could practically see the strings pulling at the body. Riley had a bit of demon, and that bit of demon wanted a master. Xander just hoped that Angel's smack down meant that Riley's demon wanted Angel because Xander really wasn't a good enough person to share Spike.

"Angel went and got himself a soul and a mission to save all the innocents in the world. Wanker runs around with his nancy-boy hair savin' all the damsels in distress," Spike answered, and Riley edged closer to Angel.

"Spike," Angel said in a warning tone.

"Stop bein' such a twat, Peaches. After all, the boy's got a mission of his own to protect home and country and all that rot. Besides, you bein' all soul-having, I bet you have a plan to make sure his buddies are all safe as houses, don't you?" Spike asked, his arm tightening around Xander's waist.

"My men. If something is putting them at risk…"

"We'll make sure it doesn't," Angel answered, and Xander felt himself pulled away from the two men.

"Where are you going?" Angel asked. "We still have patrol and we need to find out what the others learned about the ceremony to open the Hellmouth."

"You two can handle that rot. Xander and me need to have a little conversation. We'll meet you at the Magic Shop tomorrow night," Spike answered. Xander let himself get pulled down the street away from Angel and Riley whose voices had faded to a distant mumbling he couldn't quite make out.

Part Fifteen

When Xander pushed open the warehouse door, he could still feel Baby churning uncomfortably. He only realized how uncomfortable they were when Spike's hand landed on his shoulder, sending Xander leaping forwards. Xander ended up in the middle of the garage before he turned to see Spike watching him with one eyebrow raised.

"Problem, pet?"

Xander considered the answer to that, struggling to figure out the flood of emotions coming from Baby. He got so distracted he didn't notice Spike until a fingers curled around his arm.


"Yep, that's my name, don't wear it out," he joked awkwardly, but Spike's face remained serious. "And I'm not really sure on the whole problem front because the brain doesn't seem to be quite keeping up with the feelings, and as a man, I’m not supposed to be discussing feelings. It's in the man handbook."

"Oi, that's my Xander," Spike said with a shake of his head, and then he guided Xander to through the door and into the main room. Everything looked the same, down to the dust on the table, but Xander could feel himself tense at every scritch of mouse feet across the concrete. He followed as Spike guided him to an old sofa that smelled like his Aunt Betty who wasn't really an aunt but the slightly strange neighbor who lived across from them at the first apartment in LA, the one with a dozen cats.

"Xander, I didn't ask about Baby, I asked if you have a problem."

"Do you think cats peed on this couch?" Xander asked as he stared down at the worn leather, following his own mental train to Aunt Bettysville.

"Maybe," Spike admitted slowly. Spike crouched down, his knees on the outside of Xander's knees, and Xander took a deep shuddering breath.

"Pet." When Xander didn't look up, long fingers flicked him in the nose.

"Ow, that hurt!" Xander complained, holding his face with his hands defensively as he finally looked up into Spike's blue eyes. Relief and shame and fear tugged at him.

"Pet, tell me what's bothering you," Spike said, strong hands resting on Xander's thighs. Xander shrugged.

"Oi," Spike exploded up, throwing himself across the room and toward the huge wooden table, and Xander shrank back. When Spike slapped his hands on the table top, leaning heavily with his head hanging between his arms, Xander felt the guilt and shame bits of him overshadow the rest. Pushing himself up, he slowly inched toward Spike.

He knew Spike could hear him, and yet the vampire remained leaning against the table with his back to Xander. With every step, Baby circled uncomfortably, but Xander ignored the feeling as he closed the distance and then sank to his knees on the cold concrete.

"Sire." Xander whispered the word that always brought Spike to his side, bending his head so that he could hide behind a curtain of curls. Fingers ran through his hair, and Xander reached up with trembling fingers to open his shirt. He tried to shrug the fabric off, but then Spike was there, kneeling in front of him, strong hands over his, holding him still.

"Xander, what are you doin'?"

Xander bit his lip and shrugged. Baby had stilled in a sort of silent panic.

"Right, up you go," Spike said, and hands under Xander's elbows lifted him. Xander followed without complaint as Spike led him into the bedroom. The stack of CD's had fallen over leaving a scattering of plastic across the floor and the someone had flipped up one side of the carpeting so that Xander almost tripped, Spike's hands keeping him steady.

"We're going to play twenty questions, and you're going to bloody answer every question, you understand?" Spike said and then Xander sat as strong hands pushed him toward the bed. He nodded silently.

"What did you do that you think you need punishin'?" Spike tugged the open shirt, and Xander slipped out of it, surrendering the clothes as he worked out the answer to that.

"I turned to Angel. You told me to stay away from him," Xander settled on. Spike sat on the bed.

"Ya like the broody one?"

"Not likely," Xander snorted.

"He does make it hard to like him what with the acting like a soddin' git," Spike agreed. "So, you didn't turn ta Angel, Baby did. Bloody awful judgment there seein' as how Angel only knows how to get bossed around by humans and ride roughshod over minions."

Xander nodded his agreement as he twisted his fingers aimlessly.

"Pet." Spike's hand landed on Xander's twisting fingers. "Baby's going to have to pay for that, but right now, I don't give a rat's arse about Baby. You're my first and favorite."

Xander could feel the Baby part of him draw back even farther. He took a deep breath and tried to sort the crush of emotion.

"Pet, tell me what you're thinking." Spike took his hand and turned Xander's head so that Xander had to make eye contact, gazing into blue eyes that he had convinced himself he would never see again. The shame washed through him again: he hadn't even tried to find Spike… he had just believed Willow and Jenny. Rage boiled up through the shame.

"They told me you were gone."

"S'not that easy to kill me."

"They told me." Xander could feel his anger press up against his throat and he pushed Spike's hands away as he dashed for the bathroom just seconds ahead of throwing up.

"Bloody inconvenient bodily functions." Spike's voice echoed over the tile walls, and Xander heaved again, the acid burning his mouth. Pressing the lever to flush away the mess, Xander leaned against the edge of the counter until a water glass appeared before him. He grabbed it.

"I would have looked for you," Xander said as he stared at the clear water. "They told me you were dead."

"I am, luv. Have been for a while now," Spike said softly as he came close and slipped an arm around Xander's stomach, stepping up so that he pressed to Xander's back, and as the words settled into Xander's brain, the heat rose to his face.

"Oh god. Oh god. I'm an idiot. Shit. How can you love a total idiot?" Xander gasped out. "I didn't tell them you were a vampire. You were dead. They told me you were dead, and I was too stupid to even put that one together. Oh shit." Xander let the glass down on the counter with a hard crack, and a trickle of water slipped out the bottom, making a small stream that meandered across the marble counter and into the side. "Oh fuck. Spike."

"Shhh, pet. Bloody hell, you'd been knocked on your ass, left to wander the Hell mouth alone, and in the middle of slayer central. Not surprising that you weren't thinking straight." Spike reached around and pried Xander's fingers off the slightly cracked glass and tipped it the water into the sink. "Don't need ta take it out on the glassware."

"Dunder Harris at it again," Xander snorted as Spike took another glass and emptied out the liquor before rinsing the glass and filling it with water. Before Spike handed over the glass, he slapped Xander upside the back of the head hard enough to make Xander rock forward.

"Ow. Stop hitting me."

"Though ya wanted me ta hit ya?" Spike handed over the glass and then he turned to lean back against the counter as Xander rinsed his mouth and drank the water.

Even after he'd finished, Xander had to stop and think about the answer to that one. "I just want it to be easy, like before," he finally answered.

"Easy?" Spike's face took on an amused expression, like when some gang member called him a fag right before becoming the evening dinner. "Easy like when I stripped the skin from your back, left ya in chains, and then went to find the wanker who let you go sailing into a fight with a gang of fledges?" Spike asked.

Xander thought back to that night when he'd been so sure Spike would kill Carlos because of a mistake Xander had made. He'd crouched on the flood cold and sore and feeling like the world's biggest loser. He shook his head.

"I want it simple like when you came back and everything was forgiven."

"Pet." Spike reached up and brushed curls back from Xander's face and Baby stirred to life again. "I'm not ready to forgive Baby yet." And there went Baby cringing back to a corner of Xander's mind.

"He thought you were dead," Xander said, desperate to have his inner demon okay with the world again, and until Spike said the big 'f' word—forgiven—he didn't think there was going to be much peace.

"Xander." Spike sounded almost tired as he led them back out to the bedrooom. Oh yeah, when Spike called him by his name, he knew he was in serious trouble. "Why did ya step back and let Baby make the decisions?"

"And I'm going back to 'I'm an idiot.'" This time Xander was ready for the hand that tried to bop him, and he ducked, covering the back of his head with one hand while he aimed an elbow at Spike.

"Brat," Spike complained as shoved Xander onto the bed. Xander bounced and sprawled, and before he had a chance to recover, Spike had landed on him. "So, why did you take back over?"

"Hello. In case you missed it, Baby was all ready to go with the great broody one." Xander rolled his eyes. For a second, he wondered what he would be doing if he'd stayed with Angel. He'd probably be chained in the basement again. Maybe Angel had chained Riley down there this time. Spike's finger pulling at a nipple brought him back to reality.

"So when you really wanted something, like me, you took control," Spike smirked and pulled harder at Xander's nipple. The heat made a line straight for Xander's recently neglected cock which began to swell with anticipation. Baby started stirring as well.

"Well, yeah."

"So, when Baby took over, it was because you were lettin' him." Spike turned his attention to the second nipple as he lowered himself and ran a tongue over his claim mark. Xander threw his head to the side and groaned in need.

"Yeah," he agreed. Of course, to keep Spike doing that, he would have agreed to almost anything.

"So, why give Baby the control?" Spike whispered in Xander's ear, tickling the little hairs all the way down. Xander shivered. When Spike stopped, Xander opened his eyes to find Spike staring straight down at him. "Why let Baby have control?" Spike repeated more slowly.

Xander squirmed with discomfort as Spike stared at him the way Mrs. Wilson in third grade had stared at him when she expected him to be able to do long division. "He seems to know what he's doing, and he never babbles, and he doesn't play with his shirt tails and look like a dork dressed up in his brother's clothes because the clothes you bought for me really aren't much like me."

"Bloody hell, you think the demon's… what? Cooler?" Spike pulled back, and oh yeah, Xander totally felt like he'd just announced to the class that 3 goes into 9 five times. He shrugged.

"I guess I hoped that the demon cool would rub off like osmosis or something only with a lack of dorkiness instead of water," he agreed. "Instead I'm just as dorky as ever only when Baby's up front, people aren't so much with the noticing me being a dork."

"Pet, why does the great broody one annoy the unlife out of me?" Spike asked.

"Okay, I'm obviously missing something because one-that's making sense of the not even variety and two-I thought we were talking about how fucked up I am."

"You are fucked up, pet, and so am I for that matter, but look at tonight. I would have staked the git if I could have."

"And that would be the whole stealing of me part, right?"

"Partly. Pet, why did you keep droppin' the stake when you tried to hunt with Gunn?" Spike tried, and Xander could feel the invisible dunce cap growing out of the top of his head.

"Because I'm a loser?" Since Spike had pinned him to the bed, Xander couldn't dodge the slap to the side of the head that time. "Ow!"

"Stop bein' so thick skulled," Spike snapped.

"Hey, I get hit when I call myself thick skulled," Xander pointed out the unfairness, but Spike ignored him.

"Baby wanted a master… why?"

"Demons are all about who's in charge and structure and clan," Xander answered, watching Spike suspiciously for any more sneak attacks.

"Exactly. And why does the great broody one leave me wanting to just rip him right off the family tree and drop him in a vat of holy water."

"Because he broods?"

"Bloody hell, the Master did that all the time. According to Darla, he'd spend months whining about how in the old days, a master could walk the alleys and pick off the best humans without having mobs on his tail. Angel can brood til his hair falls out for all I care, but he should act like a proper vampire. He's part of the Aurelius line, even if he is a git, but he won't act like it."

"Okay, and I should…" Xander waited for Spike to finish his sentence, but he just lay there, pinning Xander to the bed and silent. The pinning part was good, but the silent expectation was more than a little annoying. "You need to put the dots closer together for me, Spike."

"No, I bloody well don't. Figure it out, pet," Spike answered and then he leaned down and sucked on the claim mark so that Xander's entire brain switched off as all the blood headed south. Helplessly writhing, he clutched at fistfuls of Spike's coat and gasped. By the time Spike finally let go of his neck, he could feel his cock struggling against the fabric of his pants.

"Miss me?" Spike muttered against Xander's chest as he worked his way down with a series of small kisses.

"Fuck, yeah," Xander gathered enough brain cells to answer.

"Picked ya up a prezzie, pet. Somethin' ta make up for leavin' ya alone all that time." A mouth descended on Xander's nipple, sucking so hard that Xander arched his back up off the bed and threw his arms out for leverage. Sucking good. Sucking very good.

"Ya want to see?" Spike asked when he finally released the hardened, red flesh. Xander couldn't answer what with everything above the neck being so numb. Spike half sat up, pressing his ass into Xander's crotch, and the sharp edge of pleasurable pain drove Xander to thrust up into that pressure. When something silver floated into his vision, Xander had to struggle to focus on the silver ring, thick with grooves carved into a rough design on one side and a ball suspended between two points at the front.

"You like?" Spike asked.

"Um… yeah," Xander looked at the size and wondered if he could even fit it onto his pinky finger. He didn't have time to say anything else because Spike had gone back to working the same nipple, pulling and nibbling at it until Xander couldn't have formed the word fire even if the heat in his groin had spontaneously set the bed on fire.

The dull aching needy pain in his chest ended with a sharp pain that sidetracked Xander's penis, which was really surprising considering how into things his penis had gotten. And that would be the not-good side of pain.

"And again with the ow," Xander complained, but Spike just waggled his eyebrows.

"Not gonna say that in a minute," he promised. Xander gasped as Spike grabbed the abused nipple and stretched it. The red pain grew for a second, and then cold steel soothed the burn as Spike slipped the ring into the hole he'd made with his fang.

Lowering his head, Spike licked the abused skin, and Xander shivered as the ring sent exquisite shivers through his body. "Like that, pet?" Spike whispered as he moved down, trailing a fang over Xander's stomach, and the faint scent of blood brought Baby to the surface.

"Pet, your demon's showin'," Spike said as he sat up, his knees straddling Xander as he slipped off his coat and flung it to the floor.

"I… uh, what?" Xander finally managed. Spike unbuttoned his shirt before putting his hands on either side of Xander's head and bending over.

"Your demon's showin', and since your demon's been acting like a right git, you have two choices. If your demon's coming to the surface, we can get the punishment out of the way now, or you can put Baby back in his place until sire and sire's favorite finish playin'," Spike offered before licking the claim mark.

It took Xander a couple of seconds to realize Spike was threatening to stop with the sex, and another couple to catch his breath and force Baby back so far that the world blurred into the blues and greens of his normal human vision.

"Oh no, no stopping, stopping bad," Xander objected as Spike shimmied out of his red shirt. He reached up and touched one of Spike's nipples, rubbing his thumb over it until Spike hissed in pleasure.

"Fuck, yeah, Xan. Flip over," Spike ordered as he unbuttoned his jeans and pulled out his cock. Precum formed at the tip, and Xander could see the end already nudging the foreskin aside.

Xander ripped open his own jeans, arching his back as he struggled to get them down, but then Spike grabbed the belt loops and yanked them down with one pull that left Xander's hard cock to bob in the air.

"Miss me?" Spike asked salaciously, and Xander squirmed around, his face to the pillow, and suddenly Spike's use of 'pillow biter' actually did make sense.

"I thought I'd lost you." Xander pulled his knees up under his chest, spreading them to open himself up for Spike.

"Never goin' to happen, pet. You're mine, and I always come back for what's mine. I love seein' ya all spread out for me."

Xander shivered as a possessive hand ran over his ass and down a thigh. He pressed back and wiggled in invitation.

"Stay put," Spike ordered with a warm slap on the ass that just made Xander wiggle harder. His cock dangled in the air, and Xander reached down to stroke the neglected flesh. It'd been too long.

"Oi, someone's being naughty," Spike said as he slapped Xander's hand away and closed his own hand around the base of Xander's cock.

"Spike, please," Xander begged as he tried to thrust into the hand only to have Spike move with him, teasing and tormenting him to the point of near exploding.

"Seems like someone's forgotten who's in charge pet," Spike commented with an entirely too amused tone and then he disappeared from the bed. Xander could only kneel with his face to the pillow and his empty ass in the air as he waited for Spike to come back. Baby uncurled a bit of longing for sire, and Xander ruthlessly shoved it away, so not willing to have Spike stop now.

Just then something wrapped around his right ankle, and Xander partially raised himself to watch Spike tie a soft white rope around it with a double knot that would have made any sailor proud. When he finished, Spike put a hand on Xander's shoulder, pushing his face back down to the bed, and Xander obediently sank down, his ass still in the air. He'd tucked his arms around his head, but Spike took his right arm and pulled it to Xander's side. When Spike used the long end of the rope from Xander's right ankle to start tying Xander's right wrist, Xander could feel his breath catch as his cock thickened even more. Far beyond words, he could only moan.

Then Spike repeated the restraints on the other side, tying Xander's left ankle to his left wrist with about eight inches of rope between them. Xander was left with his cheek pressed to the pillow, his arms helpless at his side, and his knees bent at the perfect angle to leave his ass open and stuck up in the air.

"Such a pretty childe," Spike said, and now hands stroked his ass and traveled up over to his back.

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

"Goin' to enjoy my childe, aren't I. I'm sire, after all, and it's my bloody right," Spike answered without mercy, and Xander groaned as he pulled against the rope. He just succeeded in sliding his legs up the bed an inch, arching his back even more as Spike chuckled.

"Knowin' Angelus, the wanker probably bit the inside of his cheek off trying to keep himself from tying you to a bed and torturing you until you passed out from pleasure and pain," Spike said as he walked around the bed to the far side. Xander squirmed to raise his head and turn so that he could watch, but with his head sunk into a pillow, he couldn't even manage that. He had to just lay there as Spike rattled around the room with his jeans hanging open and his cock jutting out.

"Don't care. Sire, please let me…" Xander pleaded as he stared at the open bathroom door helplessly.

"Not goin' to let you do anything but lay there, so get used to it," Spike answered, and then something wet and warm touched his ass. Xander groaned as the feeling of warmth traveled up his spine and radiated into his body, damn near setting his cock on fire.

"Someone's tight," Spike commented and then a finger wiggled into Xander's ass. The feeling of sire again inside him… even if it wasn't quite the way he wanted sire inside him… made Xander grunt in pleasure and pain and need, but he couldn't do anything else. Spike pressed at his entrance and a second finger worked inside, now stretching him. His muscles loosened with a soft burn, and something bigger pressed inside. Xander awkwardly thrust backwards, impaling himself on something too small to be Spike, and a sharp slap on his ass send him forward again, his movement limited to the six inches of rocking back and forth.

"Impatient little bugger," Spike said, and then he slapped Xander's ass again, this time, the hand drove the object farther into Xander, triggering the prostate so that Xander could only grunt in pleasure and need so sharp it made his hanging cock ache. "Someone got told to just lay there." Spike slapped again, spreading the heat over Xander's ass.

Xander lost himself in the pattern of slaps, some feather soft, some hard enough to press his face into the pillow. Whatever toy Spike had put into him nudged into his prostate, and the growing heat in his ass radiated out to his whole body until he could only feel the fire and the pattern of blows and his hard cock hanging useless. Xander had almost lost himself when Spike pulled the toy out, leaving him cold and uncomfortable; however, the feeling didn't last long.

The bed tilted as Spike climbed up, and then Xander felt the pressure of Spike's thick cock pressing against his ass. Without even opening his eyes, he pressed back, groaning as the muscles stretched even more. Inch by inch, Spike slid in the first bit, and then strong hands grabbed Xander's hips. Xander exhaled and thought relaxing thoughts as Spike then drove in the rest of the way.

Gasping in both pleasure and pain, Xander fisted his hands and arched his back as Spike pulled out and then slammed in again. On the third thrust, Xander felt himself start, orgasms ripping through him as he fought the ropes, his muscles stiff and his whole body struggling to arch up. Spike paused for a second, and then as Xander's second and third wave hit, started thrusting again. Xander only half felt Spike finish as he sank down into a post-coital silence, like being wrapped in sheets too thick to fight out of.

Spike pulled out and dropped onto the bed next to Xander. Xander half opened one eye, still tied in position and his back starting to ache.

"Missed you, pet," Spike said.

"Missed you too, Spike," Xander answered before closing his eyes again. Fingers worked at his wrists and ankles until he could finally lay flat, so tired he couldn't even bother to open his eyes and watch Spike. Even when something warm and wide tightened around his wrist, Xander lay there one big limp sexed-out noodle. When both hands had been wrapped, the clink of chains finally inspired Xander to open his eyes and watch as Spike chained his wrists to a ring set into the wall. He had enough chain to get comfortable, but not enough to get off the bed, and Xander remembered when Spike had first captured him and kept him locked up while Xander fought a growing fondness for waking up chained.

"You aren't going to start on Baby tonight, are you?" Xander asked sleepily.

"No." Spike walked over and dropped the lock key on the dresser before padding back to bed and sliding in under the covers. "Just thought I'd remind you who you belong to, pet," Spike finished as he pressed to Xander's side, clever fingers playing with Xander's new nipple ring. Xander just smiled as he let himself drift to sleep.

Part Sixteen

Xander stretched, the click of chains reminding him that things had changed a bit. Well, that and the comfortable bed and the fact that Baby curled in the back of his head instead of doing the whole large and in charge bit like when he'd tried to bite Faith. And oh god, he'd tried to bite Faith. Xander groaned.

"Mornin', pet." Spike said a second before the stereo speakers screamed with the wails of one of Spike's favorite CD's.

"Gahhh," Xander yelped as he clapped his hands over his ears and clocked himself with a length of chain at the same time.

"Problem there, pet?" Spike asked as he landed on the bed with a bounce, looking at Xander with a smirk.

"Not funny. I think I gave myself a concussion," Xander complained as he felt the bump on his head. Unfortunately, that left his ears undefended as a punk singer screamed through the speakers.

"Have Baby do somethin' about it then," Spike shrugged without much sympathy. Then he reached out and tweaked the nipple ring Xander had forgotten getting. A shiver traveled his whole body and Spike waggled an eyebrow. "Knew you'd like that. Thought of you the minute I saw it."

"Please tell me that's saw it as in 'spotting it in the window of some kinky shop' and not saw it as in 'taking it off someone's body after having them for dinner,'" Xander said as the thought struck him. "Please?"

"Oi, like I'd get you some used bauble," Spike snorted. Xander noticed that Spike skipped the whole eating of people part as he rolled his eyes and then headed out into the main room, leaving Xander chained to the wall and listening to music that made his ears throb. Rubbing the sore spot on his forehead, Xander tried doing what Spike had said, calling Baby up the way he would call up his vision. His head started throbbing worse, and then it evened out, the swelling shrinking under Xander's fingers.

Xander could feel Baby's eagerness to do more, almost like an anxious puppy, and really that might not be such a bad comparison considering how the demon responded to encouragement, pressing forward.

"Yeah, yeah, like you've done a great job lately," Xander said sarcastically as he shoved at Baby. Rather than yielding, Baby growled and slid forward until Xander could feel the pressure like when he and Jesse used to dare each other to dive to the bottom of the deep end of the pool where the water pressed against them.

Pulling against the chain that kept him on the bed, Xander locked his jaw and fought until he could hear the blood thumping through his skull. Baby sent up thoughts of being strong and hunting with sire, feeding. The image of Baby sinking teeth into prey sent Xander off the bed, but with his wrists still chained to the wall, he ended up twisting around and falling so that he sat on the floor with his arms up in the air, the chain tight between his wrists and the wall.

"Not even," Xander said through gritted teeth as he pulled up memories of his own in their silent battle. He remembered the first time Gunn had taken him out hunting without Xander having to follow the guys into the night.

"You keep your head down and stay away from any fangs," Gunn had ordered as he passed over a stake. Xander remembered the feel of the warm wood as he followed the guys, Luther shooting him dirty looks the whole way. Gunn wasn't prey. Humans weren't prey.

Baby retaliated with thoughts of Riley, fantasies of flesh pulping under his hands and the feeling of bones snapping. Riley tried to take their place. Riley was rival.

Xander took a deep breath as he tried to find a way to fight that one since he did feel more than a little Riley-hatred. But he couldn't just kill humans who annoyed them. If he started down that path, his mother would be near the top of the list. He still flinched at the memory of his last birthday dinner. His mom had peppered Spike with questions that bordered on rude until she'd gone over into all-out rudeland with the whole question of protection.

"You seem old enough to know which side of a condom goes on the inside. I do hope you two are taking precautions," she had said, her fork gesturing in the air with a piece of chocolate cake impaled on the end. Xander had fairly well felt like he was the one impaled on the fork as his face blushed dark red.

"I'm always careful, missus," Spike had answered around the cake in his mouth, and Mrs. Harris had frowned unhappily.

"You don't strike me as the careful sort," his mom had started in again, but Spike interrupted her.

"I'm careful when it's important. I even make sure that when I tie him spread-eagle over the bed that I check the circulation in his hands and feet." His mother had dropped her fork, cake and all, and Xander choked so badly that he ran for the bathroom, leaving Spike looking slightly concerned and his mother in clear shock. Yep, if he was going to start killing people who annoyed him, his mother and Spike would both be high on that list, but he still loved them. He loved Spike charging into Cassidy's lair looking for him without any backup. He loved the way, back in his glorious days of unemployment, his mother used to slip a couple of dollars into his wallet at night when she thought he was asleep. They were annoying, but he loved them anyway.

"So, you ready for some breakfast?" Spike's voice interrupted, and Xander opened his eyes to find Baby had retreated. Now Spike stood in front of him with a key in hand.

"Food would be of the good, just as soon as I pee. You know humans with human needs," Xander answered as Spike came over and unlocked the chain from the leather cuffs buckled around his wrists.

By the time Xander wandered out to the main room, buttoning his jeans as he went, Baby circled in the back of his mind, nervous around Spike but no longer radiating fear. Spike sat on the table, his bare feet braced on the arms of a tall chair as he cleaned a handgun, various shining metal parts laying on the table next to him.

Xander glanced down at this own shining metal, touching the nipple ring and feeling the tingling down through the center of his body. "Thank you, Spike," he said as he dropped into a chair near his sire and grabbed the sack of food sitting in the middle of the table. He pulled the fries out first, shoving them in his mouth before they had a chance to get cold.

"Looks good on you, pet. So, are you and Baby sorted out then?" Spike slipped two parts back together with a click and then slid the new piece into the back of the gun.

"Uh, strangely yes. I think he's oddly okay with the whole dumping Angel plan," Xander said as the thought of Angel didn't cause more than a grumble.

"Not so strange, pet. I asked you last night if you'd figured out why I'd like to kick the great broody one off the Aurelius family tree, and last night, Baby was probably about as frustrated with you." Spike put the gun down and picked up a long knife, checking the blade as Xander unwrapped a cheeseburger. He wondered if Spike had some hidden minion who did the food run or if he'd just bribed some McDonald's worker. Xander looked at his sire suspiciously, but Spike just waited for his answer with that one eyebrow up expectant expression.

"The dots still are kind of dot-like instead of picture like," Xander shrugged as he bit into the burger. God he was hungry.

"In the morning, I can hear you pulling at those chains, making sure they're tight," Spike commented, and Xander swallowed quickly, a blush making his face hot as Spike turned to look at him. Yeah, Xander liked the chains plenty, but it wasn't something he exactly wanted to talk about.

"Hey, how about that Hellmouth," Xander tried distracting, but Spike just cocked his eyebrow up even higher. The vampire jumped down from the table and walked around to behind Xander, and Xander could feel his heart speed up when strong hands landed on his shoulders. Spike ran his hands down Xander's arms and then stopped at the leather cuffs still buckled around Xander's wrists.

"When I put things on you, I like that you don't take them off. If I want the cuffs or the ring off, I'll take them off." Spike reached up with one hand unbuttoned Xander's shirt, tracing a fingernail over the exposed skin before reaching in and flicking the nipple ring. "But I'm sire, and I make that decision for you," Spike said with a tug to the nipple ring, and Xander groaned. But just when he expected to get thrown stomach down on the table and taken, Spike stopped. The hands disappeared and Spike went back to his original spot, a malicious grin on his face.

"So not nice," Xander complained. And then the dots seemed suddenly closer. "And that would be the point. I—" Xander paused, blushing as he forced himself to ignore the embarrassment, "I like when you're in charge, and Baby wants me to be in charge, only I went and made him take over, so now he thinks he should be in charge, only he isn't because then I took over again."

Xander knew he was right from the smile, but one part still didn't make sense. "But what does that have to do with you being annoyed with the big broody one?"

Spike had been sharpening his knife and now he paused. "He was my sire," Spike started. "He had a right ta to what he wanted with me and Dru, just like I have a right ta do what I want with you." Spike stopped, but suddenly the dots were very pictury.

"But he left you alone," Xander finished. Spike started sharpening his knife again.

"Wouldn't even mind that as much except he comes in and plays sire. He turned up in China and again during one of the big wars. And then in L.A., he promises to help me get you back, and asks for my help takin' out Cassidy, and then he turns around and tries to shove me off. Can't rightly just call him a bastard and ignore him or submit to him, and I sure can't dominate him even though I did give it my best. Just feels wrong to have things so unsettled."

Xander watched Spike check the edge of the knife. A long red line appeared in his thumb and Spike licked it.

"And that's what I did to Baby," Xander said softly.

"Yeah, ya did, pet. However, that doesn't change the fact that Baby had a duty to me, and he wasn't strong enough to stand on his own and wait for me. You're both my childer even if you're my favorite. So, Baby and I will still need to come to some understanding," Spike added. Xander could feel Baby stir, but there wasn't the blind panic of earlier. "Right now, though, we have to go play nice with the slayer. Vahrall demons aren't the kind to play by the Annoyin' One's rules, and if that Hellmouth comes open, we're going to have to find ourselves some other dimension to set up shop."

"Another dimension?" Xander asked, panic sending his voice into frighteningly girly tones. "But what about my mom, and Willow, and Gunn, and Angel, and Aunt Betty who's not really my aunt but who does have a whole lot of cats?" Spike shot him another look bordering between confusion and concern.

"If we have time, we'll gather up your mum, but my first choice would be keeping that Hellmouth shut." Spike paused. "Considering the alternative is having your mum live with us, I'm willing to do what it takes to stop the Annoyin' One and his half-arsed plan for the Hellmouth." Spike shoved the sharpened knife into a sheath strapped to his leg before pulling the jeans over it.

"Living with us?" Xander considered the true horror of having his mother in the next room. As a teenager, he had to play sock puppet of love in the middle of the night to keep his mother from pounding on the door and asking if he needed more bran, and having her in the same house with his current sex life… Xander shuddered in horror.

"So, let's talk about the others," Spike said as he pulled on his boots. Xander shoved the last of his cheese burger into his mouth and looked at the table. The others. Okay, Angel thought he was out of control, Faith had to think he was a nut job, which was actually okay with him as long as she didn't try jumping him again. And Willow…. Oh yeah, she must think he'd slipped round the bend.

"Ya can't ask Baby to take charge, not when that means dealing with a slayer and a slightly off-bubble watcher and more stress than a new fledge can handle," Spike said as he pulled on his second boot. Xander swallowed and nodded unhappily.

"Out with it," Spike said as he jumped to the floor and picked up the gun, shoving it into the back of his waistband.

"Um, no, I can do this. Just… I don't know… stick me with an elbow or something if I start babbling."

"Just what?" Spike stopped, cocking his head at Xander in that adorable 'I don't know what the hell you're talking about' expression. Xander sighed.

"I babble."

"Yeah, I noticed, pet."

"But when I babble people tend to look at me, and normally this is good because I perfected the whole class clown act where I can be the center of attention and still not have anyone actually pay attention. I'm good at that. Normally." Xander stumbled to a stop, not sure how to explain.

"And you don't want people to look at ya?" Spike asked. "You're a treat to look at, and now that we got you out of those bloody awful clothes, you're going to catch some looks, pet."

"Yeah, but those looks are from people who don't know some of the things I've done, and Angel and Willow know that I'm a different. Angel saw me try to bite Faith."

"Bloody hell, you tried to take a slayer?" Spike practically bounced forward, his eyebrows up in an expression of glee that made Baby growl his pride. "Get in a few good hits then?"

"I sat on her and almost bit her before Angel pulled me off and choked me into oblivion," Xander said, leaving out the part where Faith had offered to throw him down and ride him around the curves. He really didn't want to see her end up Spike's next meal.

"Good on you!" Spike offered with a slap on the arm that left Baby ecstatic and Xander feeling a little pride, and then a little guilty at feeling proud of nearly biting someone.

"Okay, this is what I mean. You think this is great, but Faith and Willow and Angel, not so much with the cheering. And now they're going to give me the look for picking you over Angel and Willow is going to give me the disappointed face, which is nearly as bad as the resolve face, and I'm going to get all flustered and say something incredibly stupid," Xander blurted as he stared at the table. "I didn't let Baby up because he's smarter because really, not so much. Baby just babbles less than I do, and I really don't know how to even start some of the explanations they're all going to demand."

"Pet," Spike sighed, and Xander cringed.

"Yeah, Patheticsville. I know this Spike, but Willow's going to say something like, 'How could you,' and I'm going to say something incredibly stupid, and then Angel's going to give me that disappointed look, and… okay, I have no idea what to say to Angel, but that's the point. I don't know how to talk to these people, at least not without making myself sound like either a loon or someone in need of serious therapy. Of course, they may be right on the whole me needing therapy part."

"No one's suggested therapy yet, so I don't think you're ready ta be committed." Spike pointed out.

"See, inappropriate sharing of inner fears. Baby doesn't do that. He knows how to keep his mouth shut."

"And you will too, and without confusing the shite out of Baby by shoving him up front to try and deal with the slayer and Peaches."

Xander laughed as Spike headed for the other room. "Spike, I had teachers who would have paid good money to see you teach me how to not talk. I had two modes in high school. Either I sat in the back half asleep, or, when the back row was too scary for even me, I would sit up front and make inappropriate comments about Russian queens and rumors of horses. My history teacher almost had an aneurism, and sadly, I didn't even mean to blurt that piece of totally inappropriate material, although, I would like to say in my defense that the back row paid a lot more attention to history after—."

Xander froze mid-sentence when Spike reappeared. Okay, Spike didn't make him fall silent as much as the leather in Spike's hand. "And that can't be what I think it is," Xander whispered.

"Like I said before, you're my childe, and you'll submit to me, not to Baby or to any other demon on the soddin' planet. So, if you can't control yourself, I'll provide the control."

"I can't go out with that on. Willow would think I was…" Xander couldn't even find the word that would explain this. However, Spike kept coming even as Xander backed away.

"This is the Hellmouth pet, people around here have learned to ignore whatever doesn't fit into their narrow little worlds. Now either come here or I'll add in some punishment for you on top of what Baby's earned," Spike promised seriously. That was enough to stop Xander from backing away even if he couldn't get his legs to move him forward.

Spike quickly closed the distance and wrapped his hand around the back of Xander's neck, pulling him forward and he settled the straps in over Xander's head. Part of Xander said that he should make some form of protest, but at least this way he wouldn't be the one explaining anything, at least not without pantomime, and Xander suddenly had an image of himself babbling in pantomime. So not pretty.

Spike pressed something against his lips, and Xander opened his mouth. A cold metal piece slipped into his mouth, trapping his tongue in the bottom of his mouth as Spike tightened straps. Leather ran from the sides of the bit in his mouth over his cheeks and over the top of his head and down the back. Matching pieces ran from the side around the back of his head and then down and under his chin so that Xander found his mouth held firmly shut.

"There, babbling problem solved," Spike commented as he kissed Xander's closed lips, nibbling on the lower lip. With the bit, Xander couldn't really do much in return. "So, let's go see your little friends and get this world-savin' bit over before I lose all self-respect. Can't believe I'm helping the white hats save the world," Spike commented with a slap on Xander's hip.

Xander headed straight for the bathroom, ignoring sire and his own need to start pulling at buckles. In the mirror, he could see the upside down triangle of leather from the corners of his mouth out to a head strap around his forehead. Straps went over his head, and the bottom of the muzzle tucked under his chin before connecting to a piece that looked suspiciously collar like, the soft brown leather dark against his skin and the blue of his shirt.

Xander turned and found Spike leaning against the door, smiling. "Ya look like a right treat, pet," Spike said softly as he came forward. His fingers played with Xander's curls, tugging them out from under the straps so that the leather slowly disappeared under the hair. But unless Xander planned on growing a pretty impressive beard in the next ten minutes, nothing would hide the muzzle around his mouth. Xander reached up and touched the rings at the corners of his mouth where the various straps all connected.

Spike pulled his hand back down and rested his chin on Xander's shoulder, invisible as Xander stared at himself in the mirror.

"Pet, ya let Baby muzzle you, and you nearly lost yourself. If you're that afraid of yourself, ya have to trust me to speak for you." Spike said, reaching up to Xander's still-open shirt and playing with the nipple ring. Xander looked up at the ceiling for a second, struggling with various fears.

"If it bothers ya that much, we can just go dimension shopping. Mind you, Angel is a tough bastard, and I think he'll probably save the world without us."

Xander took a deep breath before looking around the room for something to write with. He found a big nothing. Slipping out of Spike's embrace, Xander headed for the bedroom and snagged a pen from the nightstand. On the palm of his hand, he wrote, "We'll help."

Spike smiled.

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