Xander had not yet found enough brain cells to point out that he didn't know a Cassidy before Blue Eyes, correction—Spike, disappeared into the crowd.  Only then did Xander look around and realize that he had just been returned to his favorite nightmare, still in progress.  Quite a few men silently watched him with knowing smiles, and Xander watched as several nudged or pulled over friends and partners, pointing toward Xander and whispering meaningfully.  Soon, T's prediction came true and more customers watched Xander blush deeply and retrieve the tray than watched the dancer currently prancing down the runway. 

He considered making a mad dash for the kitchen.  Oh well, he told himself, he had publicly humiliated himself and lost the best paying job he had ever held, but at least he had enough money to carry him through a month of job searching. Maybe T would still let him wash dishes, he mused as he considered the distance between himself and the kitchen door.  Deciding that a dash would probably end up with him fishing potato skins off the floor for a second time, Xander decided to go for the dignified retreat, not easy in cum-stained jeans.  Xander groaned as he realized the jeans weren't even his.  Good news: he didn't have to walk home like this.  Bad news: he owed someone for one very expensive pair of jeans.  Mike or Matt, he thought to himself as he tried to remember whose jeans he had just ruined.  He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn't register that several members of the crowd had moved in on him until he looked up.

When a thick arm circled his waist, Xander jumped, and struggled to right the tray before he dumped it back on the floor.  Obviously he had no business carrying the thing.  "Nice show," a deep voice rumbled in his ear as a ten dollar bill appeared in front of him before the hand that held it slowly sank down and fingers slipped under the front of his jeans.  The fingers continued to invade until Xander felt the paper suddenly slide easily into the slippery cream that filled his jeans.  The hand withdrew and the slightly damp fingers slid up under his shirt and rubbed the substance into his skin.  Xander stood silent, shocked, his fingers closing on the edge of the tray until the knuckles turned white.  He couldn't imagine how his heart managed to beat with all his blood in his face which burned with shame.

"Lovely," a second voice added as an older man with salt and pepper hair came up on Xander's right and slid his empty hand down the front of Xander's jeans until his fingers found the dampness.  Xander felt the fingers press into his skin and slide along a couple of inches before the older man pulled his hand out with the collected cum pooling between two fingers.  "Just lovely," the man intoned as his second hand held up a fifty.  The man's damp fingers reached up toward Xander, and Xander pulled back sharply, or at least tried to.  The thick arm tightened as Xander simply managed to push himself back into the first man's embrace.  Xander felt the weight of the arm and the press of other men crowding in as the cum-covered fingers approached his mouth.  "Be a good boy," the older man cajoled as he held up the fifty.  When the fingers touched his lips, Xander opened his mouth with a small whimper that caused the man behind him to laugh.  The older man slipped his fingers into Xander's mouth and rubbed the salty, slightly sour taste over Xander's tongue as other men now stepped up and slid their tips into Xander's jeans. 

After a moment, Xander watched as the older man's face slowly turned into a frown even though the fingers remained in Xander's mouth.  Xander's brain had long since turned off, and so he simply gazed back until the man leaned in and whispered, "Suck, boy."  Without a second thought, Xander began to suck; he had often had fantasies of men, but this surpassed even his wildest ones.  He couldn't help feeling like he had fallen into some dream and would soon wake up in his own bed.  Feeling this dream-like trance settle in over his mind, Xander felt free—free to do anything since he would soon wake and find that he had imagined it all. 

In this trance like state, he sucked harder and then began to tongue the fingers enthusiastically.  His hips thrust up to meet the probing hands even though his own erection could not meet the challenge of a third performance without more recovery time.  The older man left his fingers in Xander's mouth even as he slipped the fifty dollar bill down the back of Xander's jeans, his fingers running as far as they could down Xander's crack given the tightness of the jeans and the fingers exploring the front of the jeans.  Xander continued to suck and caress the fingers even after the hand had deposited the fifty and withdrawn and the older man slid his free hand through Xander's thick hair, pushing the curls away from this face.  "So lovely," he finally announced as he pulled his fingers out of Xander's mouth.  Xander's eyes remained fixed on the gray-haired man until a darker complexion moved into his line of sight.

"Xander?" Xander heard the voice, but his eyes hadn't quite focused since blue eyes had left him leaning against the wall.  He did suddenly register the lack of warmth behind him suggesting that the man in whose embrace he had stood just a moment ago had left him.

"Xander?!" the voice repeated more insistently, and Xander looked up into Carlos' worried face.  "Are you okay?" Carlos asked as he slipped an arm around Xander's shoulders and glared at the few remaining customers who now hurried to back off.

"Yeah," Xander replied slowly, "I'm just fine."  He didn't even convince himself with his weak and trembling voice, and he felt Carlos' arm pulling him toward the kitchen.

"Yeah, right," Carlos snorted sarcastically.  "When I catch Billy, I'm going to beat the crap outta him for leaving you alone."  Carlos promised as he steered Xander around several people and through the kitchen door.  Xander only half listened as he continued to walk in his dream-like state and think about Spike pinning him against the wall. 

"Shit, what happened to the boy?" T asked as he tossed a baking sheet aside and took the tray from Xander.

"He dumped a tray of your skins on the floor," Carlos jutted his chin out toward the tray of mangled potato skins.

"Fuck the potatoes, what happened to him?" T asked, but Xander couldn't find the strength to do anything except brace himself against the metal table and take deep breaths in an attempt to restart his brain.  "Xander?" T called his name gently as he walked around the table and laid a hand on the small of Xander's back.

"Well there's the tip stealer," a high-pitched male voice called out as Xander heard the slap of a stripper's sandals against the tile of the kitchen floor.  "Did you see him out there?" the indignant voice demanded as the slapping noise came closer.  Xander lowered his forehead to the prep table and prepared to be humiliated and fired—in exactly that order. 

"What happened?" T asked the nameless stripper.

"He and some guy were hot and heavy on the floor—had a whole audience for it.  Not sure, but I think the boy even finished the deed if the reactions of the audience were anything to go by.  I'm out there shaking my ass, and he does the whole trembling, blushing virgin bit, blows his load in the middle of the floor, and steals every tip in the house." The voice snorted derisively. 

"You outta be in pictures, 'cause you're one damn good actor with your whole wide-eyes, 'don't know what to do' act you have going," the voice stopped just behind Xander, but Xander didn't move—just let this be over and let T quietly fire him, that's all he hoped for at this point.  "Just tone it down during my show or I'll show you," the voice finished with a threat.  Xander didn't think the threat entirely necessary since T would shortly fire him, but he couldn't blame the stripper.

"Luis, you cool it or you'll be shaking that ass on the street," T retorted.  "Xander?" T asked quietly, hand still on his back even as Xander leaned over the table.  "That what happened?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Xander agreed.  The details didn't matter and that is what basically happened.

"Carlos?" Xander heard the sharpness in T's voice and he braced himself to be forcibly thrown from the club.  Luckily T was calling for Carlos, who Xander hoped would only shove him out the door and not actually throw him.  Of course Carlos was entirely large enough to throw Xander if ordered, hell the man could probably bench press him, he realized with a start.  He wondered if they would let him get his clothes or if he would have to walk home in the cum-stained jeans after all.  If he got home.  The vamps were out in force lately and he wouldn't call Gunn for an escort with his jeans still stained from his most recent humiliation.  Xander mentally pulled himself to a halt to review the latest words he thought he heard T say.  Reality didn't seem to be meeting expectations, so he listened more carefully.  Yep, T was angry at Carlos for leaving him alone.

"I just went to change, and I ordered Billy to keep an eye on him," Carlos defended himself against the accusation Xander had only half-heard T make.  "I didn't know things would get so out of hand, and I trusted Billy to keep him safe…I won't make that mistake again," Carlos finished with a growl.  Xander struggled to understand what was going on.  It sure didn't seem like T had fired him, so he peeked over his arm to look at the thin black man.  Yep, T looked angry as stick-poked bear, but the scowl pinned Carlos in place and the hand now moved in small circles on Xander's back.

"Wasn't his fault," Xander managed to murmur as he started to push himself up from the table.  Since he wasn't fired, he had to show some pride, and hiding his face in his arms while the boss rubbed his back didn't seem very manly.

"The hell it isn't," T retorted sharply.

"No, it isn't," Xander snapped back.  "I saw him call the other bouncer over, and he had to change his pants because of *me,* so if you want to get angry, get angry that I dumped the food on him in the first place."  Xander stood up and turned so that T had to let go of his back.

"That was an accident," Carlos interjected quickly.  "You didn’t do anything wrong."

"And neither did you," Xander turned to pin Carlos with a glare just as cold as T's own.  "I'm a big boy, and you can't blame other people for my mistakes," Xander finished as he turned back to T.

"Honey, I doubt the mistake was yours," T slipped a hand over Xander's arm, and Xander could feel his own muscles tremble beneath the fingers.  "What happened?" T asked gently.

"The blonde…things got a little out of hand with him," Xander finally admitted.  "I thought he wanted a kiss for helping me pick up the mess, but when he backed me into the wall, I knew I was in trouble.  I looked for a bouncer, but I couldn't find one.  I should have just shoved the guy back and walked away.  He was smaller than me," Xander finally admitted.  In retrospect, the whole situation should have been easy to handle, but Xander just couldn't stop the shiver as he remembered the blue eyes and the sardonic smile that had immobilized him.  T's hand tightened at the feel of the shiver and Xander found T's dark eyes searching him, looking for some sort of answer that Xander didn't have.

"How far did it go?" T finally asked. 

"He didn't do more than lean on me, and I ruined the jeans," Xander sheepishly admitted.  Xander heard a friendly snort behind him and Charlie appeared in the kitchen. 

"If cum ruined clothes, I'd be running around naked by now," the well-built man laughed as he stole one of the fresh potato skins that lay forgotten on the prep table.  He had changed out of his work clothes, but the tight green shirt and white pants still made him look like a god.  "You want me to make a food run?" he asked T as he pulled a second tray down from the top of the ice machine and began to load the new potato skins and the peanut bowls that waited to be served.

"Please," T agreed with a smile before turning back to Xander with concern still in his eyes, but Charlie hadn't finished yet.  He continued talking as he efficiently loaded the tray.

"Good job, Xander.  Now that the customers know you're capable of that kind of show, you're going to rake in the big bucks," Charlie ruffled Xander's hair as he walked by with the tray of food held high in one hand.  "We're going to have to work a little harder to keep their attention on the runway."  With that, Charlie backed through the kitchen door into the main club.

"So I'm not fired?" Xander asked in a small voice.  Charlie had given him some hope, but he didn't know whether to believe it.  He certainly wouldn't keep his job at the expense of blaming Carlos, but Xander did wonder if his words would simply mean they were both unemployed.

"You thought I'd fire you over this?" T asked with a quick wrinkle above his nose that appeared and disappeared in a flash.

"Well, yeah.  I didn't handle the blonde guy very well, and then I embarrassed myself in the middle of the club, and then I just sort of stood there shell-shocked and didn't even try to do my job as guys touched me." Xander enumerated his crimes.  He wanted T to make his decision based on the truth, and he knew that he hadn't handled the day well at all.

T gave a small defeated sigh.  "Xander, you not only have a job, but I'd give you a raise just to keep you, not that you need one," T commented as he gestured toward the jeans where a couple of green paper corners stuck out from the waist band where a few timid customers had not pushed them down very far.  "You and the blonde guy put on a nice show for everyone, and if you're okay with people seeing that, trust me, I have no problem with you doing it.  Law says there can't be any touching of genitals, but what you did was both legal and highly entertaining.  Some of those men will come back just hoping to see a repeat of that."  T's brow quickly wrinkled and smoothed for a second time. 

"As far as embarrassing yourself, I'm sorry you aren't comfortable with what happened, but no one is judging you.  And your job is to keep customers here and drinking.  If the customers stay because of the food—fine.  If the customers stay because they're watching you—all the better.  It saves me on the cost of chips," T finished as he pulled a box out from under the prep table and began to line up bowls.  "However, I think you need the night to recover, so go use Charlie's dressing room to get changed and cleaned up.  There's a small bathroom behind the screen.  Xander turned to leave, but he didn’t get far before a sound stopped him.

"Xander?"  Xander froze at the sound of his name, and when he turned, he found Carlos right behind him, smiling.  Carlos held out a stack of money he had been holding for him.  "Thanks for sticking up for me," he said quietly enough that T wouldn't hear.  Without another word, Carlos turned and followed the path Charlie had taken toward the main club.

"Xander?" This time T called his name, and he silently turned to his boss.  "Normally the strippers and food carriers put 10% of their tips in the jar for all the bouncers to split," T nodded toward a jar half full of money that sat on a shelf across from the ovens.  "However, Carlos guarded just you tonight.  You give your 10% to him and the others will split that pot," T finished.

"But won't that be less money for Carlos?" Xander asked, concerned about losing Carlos part of his income for the night.  T only laughed.

"When he was back here changing, he showed me what you got when you dropped the first tray.  Trust me, he's better off taking his share from you," T said confidently.  "Take advantage while you can, the customers can smell virgin meat, and you'll only get those tips as long as you blush the color of that shirt every time someone calls you cute," T finished as he emptied the bags of corn chips into the waiting bowls.

Xander felt his face warm once again as he proved the accuracy of T's words and quietly crept down the hall toward the end room where he could hopefully have privacy.  T's laughter followed him down the hall.

Xander woke with only the light from the hallway showing and a strange quiet throughout the building.  He sat up and quickly checked his surroundings.  The silk shirt lay folded and draped over the arm of the wooden chair.  The newly washed and still damp jeans were draped over the metal partition screen between the bathroom and bedroom. He now wore his baggy jeans and Hawaiian shirt and lay on the floor half on, half off a bean bag chair.  He remembered sitting down, but he didn't remember falling asleep. With a surge of panic, Xander leapt up and stepped into the bathroom.  Two stacks of money still waited for him: one had mostly fives and tens to make $60, the other had everything from dirty ones to damp tens to a single fifty dollar bill, that stack made up the other $510 Xander had earned.  Xander looked at the money in awe, and pocketed the two stacks separately.  Stretching his neck which had stiffened in the uncomfortable sleeping position, Xander walked in the silent hall wondering about the time and what had woken him.  Usually he didn't wake without serious yelling, cover-pulling, and direct sunlight involved. 

" more," he heard the tail-end of T's comment as he quietly padded down the hallway.  He didn't want to bother T if he were on the phone, but he needed to give T the money for Carlos since the other employees had clearly left.

"Help Xander, and it's even." Xander recognized Gunn's voice.  Gunn must have rung the employee buzzer and come in the back, Xander mused.  The buzzer was loud enough to be heard over the bustle of rush hour as Xander had discovered when a load of alcohol was delivered and the trucker had rung the buzzer causing Xander to drop a tray.  Luckily, that one had been empty.

"How'd he do?" Gunn asked, and Xander froze.  He didn't want T to be nice just because he was there, and he really needed to know whether T would tell Gunn about the whole 'obviously homosexual' thing.

"Let's see," T began, and Xander felt his heart tighten.  "He dropped three trays—two of them full of food and of course the full ones he dropped on the club floor.  He dumped potato skins down the front of one of the bouncers, pissed off a stripper, panicked and humiliated himself when one customer got overly friendly, and had to be rescued by a bouncer when he couldn't get by another rather friendly group," T chuckled and Xander could hear Gunn's open laugh. 

"Yeah, that sounds like my boy.  Lost his last job when he dropped a crate of glasses on the floor," Gunn agreed.  Xander felt the warmth at his eyes, and he struggled to even out his breathing and not cry.  When others were around, he could do the whole manly 'don't cry' thing, but when he knew no one was watching, Xander sometimes just couldn't stop the tears.  Now, in the privacy of the hallway where the two men couldn't see him, he felt the tears fill his eyes and threaten to fall.  The $500 would be enough for the month, he decided.  Hell, it was as much as he normally earned in two or three months.  He wasn't going to stay when the job and the kind words were obviously just part of some sort of "payment" T felt that he owed Gunn.  He hadn't yet slowed his breathing down enough to confront the two men before he heard T continue.

"He has also endeared himself to my security chief, Carlos, and my headline stripper, entertained the entire club with his ability to blush, charmed the bartenders, and caused half my customers to fall completely in love with him, not that he noticed," T finished with a chuckle.  "I don't think that boy even noticed that one of my strippers spent the entire time on the catwalk trying to catch Xander's eye, or so Carlos told me.  I was too busy back here to watch the fun, but apparently Xander did make for an interesting evening; he has real charm about him, doesn't he." T commented quietly.  "I'm glad you sent him." 

Xander's breath caught as his emotions swung back once again.  He couldn't believe that T had not only kept his secret but expressed an honest desire to have him back.  He never felt like he belonged anywhere, not in his LA high school where he was one of the only white kids, not in his Sunnydale junior high where he was the class loser, not in Gunn's crew, not even in his house where he seemed pushed to the side by his parents' fights.  Even after the divorce, one screaming match caused both of his parents to completely forget about him.  The kind of acceptance T quietly offered seemed entirely foreign to Xander.

"Know what ya mean," Gunn agreed.  "Even Luther who hates all white guys can't manage more than a few half-hearted insults when it comes to Xander.  Boy's got heart, he'll jump into any fight if it means helping his friends or doing the right thing."

"Yeah, that's what worries me.  He's got more heart than common sense," T commented in a voice so quiet Xander had to strain to hear it.

"What happened?" Gunn asked, his voice instantly hard like steel.

"Nothing.  I wasn't there, but one of the strippers said that the guy who hassled Xander had a real look to him."

"Look as in…" Gunn let his voice trail off, inviting T to provide more information.

"Don't know," T confessed.  "Xander said that he was small, that he could have pushed right by him, but he didn't.  Xander stood there until the guy moved on.  And the dancer who was on the catwalk said the guy had a real fierce look in his eye."  T fell silent again.

"Xander’s got good instincts," Gunn confessed.  "He knows when he needs to stay back and when we need the extra help.  I've seen Xander go up against vamps, course he got his ass kicked, but he still went in swinging and gave us the extra edge.  If Xander froze then something about this guy made him freeze." Silence fell again, and Xander leaned forward to try and hear any words they might whisper, but he didn't hear anything until Gunn gave a sigh.  "Maybe he shouldn't come back," Gunn finished.  At that, Xander felt his anger rise up.  How dare Gunn make that decision for him! 

"Guy probably won't come back; he wasn't a regular," T hurried to say.  "I wouldn't want to lose Xander; I really need him for the weekend shifts."

"I just don't want to see Xander get…"

"Get hurt?" Xander finished as he walked briskly into the kitchen, trying to make it seem like he had just woken.  "Why?  What do you have planned that would lead to Xander-hurtage?"  Xander asked with his patented naïve smile determined to cut this conversation off.  These two men were not going to stand in a kitchen and decide his future for him.  The two men in question turned to face him, their elbows rested on the tall metal prep table and each nursed an amber colored drink in a short glass.  Xander raised his eyebrows; it wasn't like Gunn to drink before patrol or escort duty.  If Xander wanted to get home, they had to go through some pretty active vamp territory.

"No plans, you just seem to find trouble on your own," Gunn laughed as he lifted his drink to his lips.

"Gunn?" Xander asked in a long, drawn out tone.  Gunn cocked his head to one side and looked at Xander.

"Yeah?" Gunn replied in the same exaggerated tone.

"Are you planning to get drunk before walking me home?  If so, maybe we should save the vamps some trouble and just tie ourselves to a lamp-post as sacrificial victims." Xander gestured toward the nearly empty glass and the half-full bottle of booze between the two men.  Xander could see T's lip's twitch.

"I can see your point, but I don't think we really need to worry," Gunn said confidently as he quickly downed the rest of his drink in one gulp.

"Worried?  I'm not worried, I'd just like to stay breathing.  So, unless you have some super weapon that we can use to get home, maybe you should stop drinking," Xander gestured toward the bottle that Gunn uncorked as he began to pour himself another drink.

"Super weapon—that's a good word for it because it will certainly 100% guarantee that no vampire is going to bother us on the walk home.  I could be falling down drunk, and I still know we'd be safe with our super-weapon."  Gunn threw back another drink with alarming speed.

"Super weapon?"  Xander repeated slowly, and T began to laugh.

"Oh yeah," T agreed.  "That big ball of light in the sky does wonders at keeping the vampires at bay."

"Ball of light?" Xander repeated dumbly, only dimly grasping their meaning, and both men burst out laughing.

"It's 11 o'clock in the morning, Xander," Gunn finally explained.  "I don't think you need an escort home, and you certainly don't need me to be sober." Gunn sipped this drink more slowly, but he clearly intended on drinking more.

"Damn," Xander quietly whispered.  He knew that he felt more rested than he had in days, possibly weeks, but Xander had no idea he had slept so long.  With his free hand, Xander reached up to rub the tension out of his shoulder, but in doing so he pushed hard on his scar, a scar left by the vampire who had nearly killed him on the day he met Gunn.  A scar Spike had played with the night before.  As he pushed, he could feel the warmth in his stomach grow and his cock struggle to react.  For years he carried that scar, but until Spike came, he had no idea of its power.  Now he dropped his hand awkwardly as the two men looked at him curiously. 

For a moment, he worried that they knew of his arousal, but he quickly realized their amused faces came from his confusion over time.  "Morning," he squeaked as he concentrated on calming his arousal and his disobedient cock which remained at half-mast.  Both men laughed again as Xander rolled his eyes.  "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up you hyenas," Xander snarked.  "You wanna unlock the back door for me, boss man?" Xander asked as he stuffed his hands in his pockets and fingered his two piles of money. 

"Can do," T replied as he draped his arm over Xander's shoulders and gently pushed him down a new hallway, one that passed a couple of locked storage rooms and a giant freezer before turning at a 90° angle and revealing an EXIT sign.  When they turned the corner, Xander pulled out his hand with the $60. 

"Give this to Carlos, huh?" Xander asked as he pushed the money into T's hand.  T quickly counted.  He gave a soft whistle. 

"$60?" He cocked one eyebrow.  "Is this 10% or are you being a little overly generous?" T asked in a serious tone.

"I brought in $570," Xander admitted.  As the door opened and the sunlight flooded the small hallway, Xander suddenly felt embarrassed by the large pile of bills in his pocket.

"Knew you'd be good, but I had no idea," T slapped Xander's butt gently to push him out the door.  "Get yourself three shirts and two pairs of tight jeans:  you're on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday shifts," T announced.  You can keep the one pair you used last night.  Mike said that if you came in them, you keep them.  You owe him $90 for a new pair." T finished as he pulled the heavy door closed.  "See you tonight, cutie." Xander barely heard T say as the door clicked shut and Xander found himself blushing in a wide alley.  With a sigh, Xander started the thirty minute walk home wondering what he would tell his mother about his new source of income.

Death in the Neighborhood

As it happened, Xander didn't have to tell her much of anything; Gunn had called the night before and told her all the good news about Xander getting a job as a night assistant manager at a club because of all his experience.  Yeah, Xander thought with a snort as his mother congratulated him over and over.  Experience at getting fired from every grocery store, fast food place, and check cashing company in the neighborhood.  Despite his mother's excitement, he couldn't help looking at the woman with an unfamiliar horror.  She didn't even know him.  She didn't know how often he'd been fired.  He doubted that she even knew how close he came to never graduating. 

He felt a moment of rising resentment, and he stomped on it—hard.  Looking at his mother again, Xander watched the wrinkles at her eye deepen with her smile and her gray hair bob as she practically danced around the living room doing her regular chores.  She worked her ass off to keep him in food and clothes and a home, and he stood in her living room and resented her for not doing more.  He felt the guilt rise up and drown the resentment and anger out of his body.  Taking his mother's dry, warm hand, he pressed $100 into her palm as he tried really hard not to think about where those bills had been a few hours earlier.

"What's this?" his mother asked in a voice much softer than the one she usually used.  Of course, she was usually yelling at him…yelling about not being late, about coming home to late, about going to technical school or automotive school or computer school.

"My rent for the last two months," Xander said.  When he had graduated, he had promised his mother that he would pay for the difference in price between a one bedroom apartment and a two bedroom--$50 per month.  Of course, those months when he didn't have the money, she never commented and never complained—okay she rarely commented and her many complaints never included the missing rent, so close enough.  Certainly his mother was better than his father whose best feature was that he usually stuck to verbal and emotional abuse. "I know that I'm behind, and I'm going to get caught up," Xander promised as he also promised himself that he would start buying more of the groceries. 

"Honey, you don't have to pay right now, I can wait until the end of the month," his mother offered with a small smile, leaving her hand and the $100 still extended.  Xander gave her a quick hug and pushed her hand toward her body. 

"Nope, I'm paying my bills like a real-live grown up, and now I'm going to go buy clothes that don't clash with the club's décor—T seems to think I have bad taste in clothing," Xander admitted with a wink.

"Well, honey," Xander's mother contracted her brow in an obvious sign of concentration before it smoothed out again.  "I wish I could find a nice way of saying it, but you have atrocious taste in clothing," she finally finished.

"Now you're just ganging up on me," he gave a mock whine.  "Fine, tell me where to shop for solid colors in nice fabrics without having to rob a bank."

"Well, what budget are you talking about?" she asked hesitantly.

"Boss gave me an advance just to get me to stop wearing Hawaiian shirts," He laughed even as he crossed his fingers behind his back.  "$200 is burning a hole here."  Yeah, he knew the whole crossing fingers thing was about as mature and sticking out his tongue, but he didn't feel like explaining the benefits of tips over a weekly paycheck, and he *really* didn't want to explain $500 in tips.

"Head over to the Garment District, between 8th and 11th," his mother suggested.  "Try the Cooper building."

"Thanks mom," Xander yelled from his bedroom where he was already stripping out of his clothes and grabbing new ones for the bus ride down to the garment district.  He hoped to finish his shopping and meet Gunn and crew for the late afternoon shift.  He could help check out the abandoned buildings that so often turned into vampire nests without constant monitoring, and then while the guys split up to patrol the area once the sun set, he would head over to the club. 

Entering the bathroom, Xander dropped the clean clothes on the bathroom counter, dropped his robe and stood under the hot shower feeling water cascade down his skin. For the first time in a long time, he felt excited.  He felt like he had somewhere to be. Usually his life was a couple of hours of boring job and many hours of waiting around for Gunn to start the afternoon patrol.  Now he felt like he had to get moving—like he had a purpose.  Okay, that just didn't jive.  The only purpose he had found included letting men touch him in ways that he still wasn't sure he liked getting touched.  A face flashed across his memory as he realized that he had enjoyed at least one customer's attention.

He stood under the shower fingering his scar.  He wasn't sure whether it was the feeling of his own fingers pushing into the marred flesh, pushing until he felt a pressure that seemed to reach from his head all the way down through his legs, or the memory of Spike's face as Spike leaned in with long, cool fingers caressing the scar.  Either way, Xander was half-aroused before he even realized that his body had hijacked the controls.  With a small yip, he turned the knob toward cold.  Even so, Xander ended up taking a longer than normal shower and exited the bathroom shivering with his arms covered in goose-bumps.

Luckily the shopping trip had proved so annoying that Xander had escaped without any more interruptions from Xander Jr.  He deposited a couple of outfits in a small locker at the club, left the rest at home, and then went to find Gunn wearing his least favorite purple and green Hawaiian shirt. 

"Damn boy, I thought you were going to stop offending the eyes," Gunn complained as Xander came through the basement door.  Casey, Trey, and Fredrick took up the dusty couch, Gunn leaned against the wall, and various other young men draped themselves over low bunks, milk crates, and even an upturned shopping cart someone had hauled down.  From the variety of stakes and crossbows in evidence, Xander guessed that Gunn had something planned.  Fredrick was certainly fingering his beloved crossbow with more enthusiasm that usual even if his face did have that bored, I'm-too-cool-to-listen-to-anyone expression.

"Nothing's gonna make that less offensive," Luther snorted from his spot on a bunk as he waved a dismissive hand in Xander's direction.

"In which case, my choice in clothing shouldn't matter.  Besides," Xander said with a shrug and a smile, "you guys bleed on my shirts with such regularity that I don't really want to wear anything nice—not like I'm trying to impress the vamps," Xander continued as he settled himself cross-legged on the floor.  "Not really into dating demons, thanks."

"Can't imagine who else would have you," Luther returned quickly.  "Of course, the retard school has a few possibilities for you."

"Okay, that's just ew.  I don't know what worse, you calling them 'retards' or suggesting that I hit on them."  Xander watched as Luther's face suddenly turned dark.  Oh shit, pissed off Luther does not a healthy Xander make.  "Of course," he hurried to add, "I don't really have to go that far now that they're opening that school for blind.  I bet I could impress a blind girl with my manliness."  Xander tried hard not to think about the one person he wanted to impress with manliness.

"Yeah, she'd have to be blind," Luther snort-laughed even as his shoulders relaxed.

"Oh, I don't know, a studly guy like me has one or two options," Xander gave a quick wink toward Alonna, Gunn's sister.  He and Alonna had been in the same grade in school and were the only two in the room who had actually finished high school. 

"You better not be making eyes at my sister," Gunn warned, but when Xander looked over, he could see the corner of Gunn's eyes wrinkling as Gunn attempted not to laugh.  "You two are definitely on different teams tonight."  That comment made Xander sit up.  When the group invaded abandoned buildings looking to break up nests, Gunn usually kept the group together.  If he planned to split the group into two or more teams, he was worried about something big.  Xander felt the familiar fear start to uncurl in his stomach, but he clamped his mouth shut and waited for Gunn's game plan.

"Okay, Casey, Luis, Trey, Chuck, and Schilly—you're with Luther.  You guys are going to the work the back of that gray tenement between the check cashing place and the Catholic church.  Alonna, you're going to run back up for them.  Fredrick, Pedro, Dan, Lou—you're with me.  Xander's running back up for us.  We're going to work the old theater on the north side."

"Didn't we just clean out the theater?" Xander asked.  If he remembered right, that night had cost him a couple of bruises and a pair of jeans. He had gotten his jeans' pocket caught on the ticket booth and ripped a chunk out of them.  Xander realized that if he hadn't found a new job, he shortly would have been fighting vampires naked.

"I spotted a couple of vamps right before first light," Gunn explained.  "They didn't look like our typical vamps from around here—little too clean, little too put together.  They had a third vamp I think I recognized from the Chinese grocer.  The guy was human last week, so we may have some vamps intent on something other than just feeding.  We certainly have more nest sites if the neighborhood gossips are right, so we need to clean these out now."
"If something's up, maybe we should ask around first, maybe during daylight tomorrow," Xander commented.  Most vamps around the neighborhood were vicious, mindless killers, and 'put together' vamps making little vampire families out of neighborhood guys sounded pretty strange.  Xander had reached the point that he could pretty much predict a vampire's next move, but these guys sounded like they were changing the rules.  Definitely not of the good, Xander decided.

"I think vamp bait's got a point," Dan agreed, nodding his head toward Xander even while he used the group's favorite nickname.

"We do what we gotta do, whether vamp bait's balls are too small to do the job or not," Luther insisted as he pushed himself to his feet.  "Can't have them breeding up."  Xander watched as a fine tremor made Luther's large frame shiver.  He could sympathize.  As the only member of the group to actually experience a vampire bite, he didn't look forward to a repeat performance, and the thought of being turned made his stomach ache.  He still remembered the feeling as Gunn swung the baseball bat into the face of the vampire who had attached himself to Xander's neck.  Xander shivered as he recalled his torn neck with his blood and the vampire's blood running down his shoulder.  Luther had shot at the vamp, but the bloodsucker had disappeared into the night leaving Xander confused, scared, and "in the know" about vampires for the first time in his life. 

"Some of us just have bigger brains than balls, that's all" is what Xander said, despite his sympathetic thoughts.  Showing sympathy for Luther wasn't a smart move; Xander had already learned that lesson. "And I'm really hoping that came out in a 'I have really big brains way' and not a 'I have really small balls way.'"

"Listen vamp bait, it ain't your fight," Luther took a step forward and Xander quickly stood up, despite the fact that he knew Luther wouldn't actually hit him…well…he was fairly sure at least. 

"Back off, both of you," Gunn interjected as he stepped away from the wall and took a position in the middle of the group.  "We have a job here."  Without another word, Gunn turned and left the abandoned basement, leaving his crew to follow him into the afternoon sun. 

When Gunn and his half of the crew reached the theater with the late afternoon sun still bright, Xander felt the familiar fear start to uncurl in his stomach.  He was back up, meaning he didn't have a place at the front line; he held back and pulled any injured to safety and yelled his head off if vamps grabbed someone:  two jobs at which he excelled.  The building was beyond decrepit with peeling paint, and in several places, boards so warped they appeared to be peeling off the building along with the paint.  The once-proud sign now had two corners broken off and an entire display of broken light bulbs.  Inside, Xander knew it would smell of dust and rot and something vague but putrid, but when Xander slipped in under a broken board, the smell that hit him wasn't nearly as nice as that.

"What the…" Fredrick choked before his voice cut off.  Vamps during the day were sluggish, but still able to put up quite a fight with enough warning.  Xander could hear the other four ahead of him, their short staccato breaths sounding their displeasure at the smell even as he heard small gagging noises from Fredrick behind him.  Xander couldn't place the smell, but if pushed he thought he would probably compare it to fifty dead and decomposing cats lying next to a pool of ammonia. 

He struggled to take shallow breaths in through the collar of his shirt which he had pulled up around his nose.  If there weren't vamps in here, there sure as hell was something else.  His backpack with various supplies hit his butt with each step and he reached back to steady it before something clinked together and alerted the nest.  The lobby had pools of sunlight that only highlighted the worn carpet and layers of dirt, but the hall into which they traveled only allowed in tiny slits and slivers of light through the worn roof, which did little more than illuminate the dust floating through the air.  Xander kept his eyes focused on Gunn, worried about losing sight of him. 

When Gunn froze, Xander moved to the side of the hall they were traveling through so that he wouldn't be in the way when the fight started.  Slowly, he lowered himself to one knee so that he made a smaller target—despite their human appearance, vamps hunted like animals, going for the large or quickly moving targets first and sometimes even passing by Xander without even giving him a second glance.  Xander had developed a technique where he waited for a vamp to rush by him and then staked him in the back. At least that's how it worked in his mind.  In reality it included having the vamp rush by and right before Xander staked him in a leg or dropped his stake.  He really couldn't blame Gunn for leaving him on permanent back-up duty.

Gunn's plans usually included covering him while he helped the wounded and shoved ammunition or replacement stakes into the fighters' hands.  Xander could count his kills on one hand.  Xander clutched his stake tighter as he saw a vamp come around the door that led to the main auditorium.  Within seconds, he could hear the growl as the yellowed eyes caught the little available light and shone it back like cat's eyes. Gunn abandoned stealth and leapt toward the vampire.  Xander's breath caught in fear as the vamp's hands rose to fight off the attack, but Gunn had moved more quickly than the unsuspecting vamp couldn't counter and the eyes disappeared into a cloud of ash that Xander could hardly see. 

"Lights!" Gunn shouted, and Xander scrambled for his heavy duty, yellow and black flashlight.  Now the dark hid just the monsters, and Xander rushed to flick on the light, and other hands had flicked on their flashlights before dropping them to the ground.  No one could afford to hold the lights, so Xander just scooted around and turned the flashlights to better illuminate the door, so he didn't actually see the first wave attack.  When he scooted back to the wall with his stake clutched, Xander quickly looked for each man.  Was everyone alright? 

Pedro and Dan were fighting in the middle of a cloud of ash that spoke of their success; Lou had his back up against the wall, but he held his own since he had his back to a slight indent where a water fountain once stood, so the vamps had to come at him one by one, which meant they turned to dust one to one when confronted with a giant crucifix hanging from Lou's neck, the holy water gun in his left hand and the stake in his right.  However, when Xander looked for Fredrick, who should have been at his side, the small man with his crossbow was missing.

"Where's Fredrick?" Xander yelled as he alerted the team to the missing member.  Nearly at the door, Gunn started edging back, keeping the wall of the hall to his back as he fought two vamps at once.  One vamp disintegrated, but a hard backhand sent Gunn flying, and Xander rushed in, throwing a towel soaked in holy water with one hand while he held his stake high in the other.  Gunn recovered almost immediately and lunged forward with the stake to dust the offending vamp.

"Where'd you last see him?" Gunn gasped as he stood up.

"I lost him when I moved the lights—almost immediately," Xander felt panic pushing reason right out of his mind as he felt a desire to start screaming Fredrick's name.

"He pass you?" Gunn asked.


"Then he got pulled into the main room," Gunn said as he started forward.  Xander looked around for backup; vamps had pushed Dan and Pedro back toward the lobby where the two of them used the pools of sunlight from the broken boards to their advantage.  Lou had three vamps still trying to get at him, but his system was working well, so Xander hated to call for him and force him to leave the safety of the alcove to take on all three vamps at once.  In a heartbeat, Xander made up his mind and grabbed a flashlight before following Gunn down the hall and toward the main auditorium.  He wanted to point out that if Gunn helped Lou then Lou could back up Gunn, but he doubted Gunn would take the time.  The last member of the crew lost to a vampire had died seconds before rescue, and Xander worried that Gunn wasn't thinking straight now that another member of the crew had disappeared. 

Xander crossed the threshold and a cold hand immediately grabbed the wrist holding the light.  A sharp twist sent the light flying back out into the hallway, and Xander could only hear the scuffles as someone—either Gunn or Fredrick—fought for his life. 

"What the…" a strange voice inquired as the hand quickly released Xander.  Before Xander had time to wonder why, he had plunged his hand into the darkness and felt the wood sink into flesh before that flesh turned to dust.  The sudden change in resistance sent Xander stumbling forward, away from the door and the flashlight.  His outstretched hand jammed into an old theater seat, and Xander spun around as he felt the hairs on his neck rise.  Even though he couldn't see, he felt the air move around him and he smelled cologne that did not belong in this room that reeked of decay and rot.  Xander stuck the stake into the darkness again, but encountered nothing.  Pulling back toward the seat, Xander tried to convince himself that he only imagined a demon stalking him from the shadows. 

He strained to hear something useful, but he could only hear the sounds of struggle to his right.  He didn't dare interfere or Gunn might stake him or he might stake Gunn or maybe he would just trip Gunn and then the vampire would eat him.  Xander realized too late that his small curling fear had turned into out and out panic and mental babbling.  It still beat out-loud babbling, Xander justified mentally as he tried to squint enough to see something. 

His eyes obliged him by adjusting to the dark enough to vaguely make out two figures struggling four or five feet away.  Xander still couldn't tell who was who.  He turned, and quickly decided he had more immediate problems.  A vampire stood three feet from him, slowly circling with his eyes invisible in the dark, so probably using his human face.  Xander continued to move his head as if he was scanning the room even though he had spotted his opponent.  While appearing to aimlessly turn from side to side, Xander turned his body and his stake-arm to the vamp, and then without warning, plunged his stake straight at the vampire's body. 

For a fraction of a second, Xander felt pride and fight-lust and anger all surge up, but the sound of struggling precluded any drawn out victory dances.  He sped back out to the hallway and grabbed his flashlight.  He heard Lou ask something, but he didn't even take the time to actually decode the words, he simply dashed back into the auditorium and pointed the flashlight toward the fighting couple.  Immediately Xander could tell the vampire from Gunn, and just as immediately, Gunn shied away from the light, blinded by the sudden beam.

"Fuck," Gunn swore and Xander felt a body move past him and Lou leaped in and plunged his stake deep into the last vampire.

"God, Gunn, I'm sorry," Xander started.

"It's alright.  You couldn't tell who to help without some light," Gunn waved Xander off even as Xander tried to push closer.  "Find Fredrick," Gunn ordered Lou who quickly took off down the aisle with his own retrieved flashlight.

"But I caught you right in the eyes.  I'm really sorry," Xander continued.

"Stop it," Gunn ordered sharply. Xander froze for a moment, unsure about whether Gunn was actually mad or not.  "Stop apologizing," Gunn amended after glancing at Xander's face.  "You get yourself any vamps?" Gunn asked with more enthusiasm.  Gunn looked at Xander strangely, rubbing his head in obvious distress, probably over Fredrick.

"Two," Xander revealed, grateful that he hadn't totally embarrassed himself.  "One when I first came through the door and one right before the light." Xander knew in his head that Gunn's approval shouldn't change how he felt about himself.  More importantly, more episodes of Oprah than he was willing to admit to having watched meant that he knew he shouldn't look to Gunn's approval to make him happy.  But damn it, Gunn's approval changed Xander's opinion of himself, and Gunn's approval made him happy. 

"God, you got two of them in this dark?" Gunn asked in a quiet, gravelly voice.

"The first one was more accident than on purpose," Xander admitted sheepishly.  Oh well, there went that bit of approval.  "But the second one, I kept calm and just waited for my eyes to adjust enough for me to see his outline," Xander continued, mentally cataloguing the number of things he had done right.  He waited for the expected praise, but Gunn simply stood there in the glow of the flashlight looking at Xander strangely.  Seconds passed and then more seconds.  "What?" Xander finally asked fearfully. 

"Nothing," Gunn quickly replied.  "Just listening for Lou and Fredrick."  Xander studied the deep lines around Gunn's mouth.  Sure enough, Gunn's hand moved to rub his bald head nervously again—an ominous portent.  Xander considered the man, but then it dawned on him that they hadn't heard either Lou or Fredrick, which couldn't mean anything good.

"Lou?" Gunn called out.

"Here.  Nothing yet."  After hearing Lou's reply from the back projection room, Gunn took the flashlight from Xander's hand and started walking toward the front.  Xander knew there was a room that could double as a stage if the screen was lifted, so he started to follow Gunn.  "No, just head back to the others and let them know what's up," Gunn ordered as he continued down the aisle toward the front.  Xander stood there near the door, confused and tilting between hurt and anger, but he finally simply followed orders and went to find Dan and Pedro.

When Gunn and Lou followed a few minutes later, no one had to ask about Fredrick.  Gunn pressed his lips so tightly that they were little more than thin lines, and Lou had an uncharacteristic shine in his eyes. Gunn blew by the group of men waiting in the dusty old lobby amid broken counters and dirty burgundy carpeting.  He practically charged at the gap in the boards and pushed himself out into the alley.  The sun still had a good hour left in the day, and normally the group would be celebrating, drinking, and maybe making a quick "supply run" during which Xander would excuse himself, but today Gunn led the group wordlessly back to home base. 

Xander tried to get close enough to Lou to ask, but the man kept moving away.  Of course he did, Xander told himself.  He was supposed to keep an eye on everyone, shout a warning at the first sign of trouble.  Instead, he was caught with his back turned and Fredrick had died.  Xander's eyes dropped to the chipped and cracked sidewalk as he allowed himself to slowly gravitate to the back of the group which was now short one man. 

He remembered Fredrick teaching him how to shoot a crossbow—the two of them had stood in an empty lot covered in half-collapsed cardboard boxes and weeds and broken needles.  Over and over he shot and missed the red circles Fredrick had painted on the side of the large piece of cardboard he had propped up against the side of a convenience store.  Fredrick had stood behind him, moving his foot into a better position, showing him how to hold the crossbow, helping him pull back the string.  For hours they worked until his shoulders ached and his fingers threatened to never unbend again, but Fredrick never complained.  The only comments Fredrick made all day were words of encouragement and an enthusiastic congratulations when his arrow finally nicked the corner of the target. 

The memory of those words caused the corners of his lips begin to curl into a small smile, but then an image entered his mind: the image of Fredrick lying on the cold, dirty floor of the theatre with his neck torn open.  Or even worse, maybe the vamps had turned him so that Gunn had to stake him before Fredrick even woke.  Or maybe Gunn had arrived in time to see Fredrick die with his breath gurgling out of his bloody mouth.  Xander shuddered.  Not knowing made it even worse, and he couldn't believe that a few seconds of his carelessness had killed Fredrick. He shouldn't have gone.  He knew that he just wasn't focused today with thoughts of a certain blonde filling his thoughts.  He should have begged off, then Fredrick would have survived.

He continued to put one foot in front of the other as he followed the survivors, but he desperately wanted to just go home and forget the evening.  The only thing that kept him moving was the knowledge that he deserved everything the rest of them were going to say when they found out.  The crew had lost men before, but no one had ever been snatched during a fight; Gunn's system made sure of that.  Out of all the nests they had invaded and all the street fights, they always came home together because the back up always yelled the warning in time.  He had done it right himself a dozen times; after all, he only had to yell for help before the vamp pulled Fredrick away.  Gunn had been close enough to save him as had Lou.  The system had always worked before; at least Gunn's system made sure of that when the person playing back-up wasn't a complete fuck-up.

Before he realized he had even reached the building, he found himself mindlessly entering the familiar basement.  Xander spared the couch a quick glance, but he could only see Fredrick sitting back with a familiar half-bored look on his face—the expression Fredrick had worn as the Gunn had given the assignments for the evening just an hour or two earlier.  In fact, the other team hadn't even arrived back. 

He saw the confused faces on the few members of the group who hadn't gone hunting:  Tomas had stayed home on the injured reserve list and Gilly and Gwen mostly just acted like den mothers—the sisters had sort of moved in on the group after losing their apartment.  One of them knew Alonna.  Now, the three of them looked from one face to another until the widening of the eyes and the quick gasps told Xander that they noticed the missing member.  He waited for someone to point out the obvious, but the other members each found a quiet corner without commenting on Fredrick's absence or his own guilt. 

He looked around for either Gunn or Lou, needing to know how Fredrick had died, but the two men were sitting together in the far corner, and the stiff backs and cold stares made it clear that they wanted no interruptions as they whispered to each other.  He moved into the opposite corner and lowered himself to the cold concrete with his back against the cinderblock wall.  He pulled his knees up under him, lowered his forehead to rest on the kneecaps, folded his arms around his head, and allowed the silent tears to fall in the relative privacy of his own limbs.

Return of the Blonde

Xander knew nothing else until the sound of raised voices woke him from the half sleep, half daze he had entered.  Someone had slipped a blanket over his shoulders, and he pushed it off as he stood, determined to face the group on his feet.  Luther's group had obviously returned because he now sat with Lou and Gunn in the far corner and Casey and Trey stood a foot or so away, their own confusion and pain written on their faces. 

"Man, what went down?" Trey asked him.

"Nothing good," Xander finally choked out.  He knew it was cowardly, but he couldn't bring himself to tell them how he had failed Fredrick.

"Not dead," Trey asked in a tone that existed somewhere between hopeful denial and pained sob.  Xander studied the floor carefully, unable to even look at Trey, unwilling to be the one who destroyed the last shred of hope that Fredrick simply needed them to get him out of jail or the county hospital.  Xander was saved from having to reply when Gunn rose to his feet and started moving toward their end of the large room.

"Need to talk," Gunn began, and every voice, every shuffle, every breath instantly stopped.  Gunn sighed deeply into the silence, and Xander waited to find out just how much Fredrick had suffered for his mistake.

"Lost Fredrick tonight," Gunn said in a rushed tone as if he forced the words out.  "More vamps than we expected, a lot more.  Had a couple of real clever ones in back, harder to kill, and we think one or two may have got away.  Openings to the sewers back there."  Gunn took a deep breath and rubbed his head as he looked around the room.  Xander waited in near panic.  He had never seen Gunn so…Xander searched for a word to label Gunn's expression.  Nervous?  Scared?  Horrified?

"Vamps had some sort of set up in there—had strange letters on the walls." Gunn stopped again, and Xander could feel the whole group begin to react to Gunn's nervousness.  "Letters in blood.  Vamps used organs and such—made some sort of pattern," Gunn almost whispered, but in the silence every word sounded like a shout.  Xander's brain couldn't even process for a moment, and then the thought of Fredrick split open with his guts decorating a floor and his blood used as paint rose to the surface.  Oh god, had he seen that before he died?  Had he known?  Xander felt his stomach twist as he reached out to steady himself against the wall.  Somewhere deep down, he registered the warm hand holding him steady, but he couldn't even see who had offered him that comfort.  He silently accepted the help for as long as it was offered.

"They're doing something, and it's not your normal vamp activity," Gunn's voice pulled Xander back to consciousness, and now Xander could hear a variety of soft sobs and angry curses and threats and promises.

"We'll gut the sons of bitches before we stake them," Luther promised darkly, and a chorus of voices passionately agreed.

"We can't go rushing into this; these vamps were ready and all our training didn't save Fredrick," Gunn replied when the voices finally dropped off into an angry murmur.  "We need some intel and some bigger ammo.  We're going to get them, but I won't have any more of us lost.  I won't make the mistake of walking into another nest of these new vamps," Gunn continued.  Xander knew that Gunn was taking the blame to save him, but Xander couldn't listen.  He also couldn't admit his own guilt, so he took the only option open.  Without a word, Xander pushed himself away from the supporting wall and supportive hand and he headed toward the door.  Once out on the street, Xander looked at the quickly darkening sky, and began his long walk toward Safari.  He couldn't decide if he was going to the club to work his shift or going to tell T that he couldn't work; he just knew that he had to keep moving, and so, with only a stake in the waistband of his jeans, he started off into the twilight.

Xander wandered down the street, passing old men sitting on steps and couples holding hands and mothers trying to herd entire flocks of children and he didn’t actually see any of them.  Instead, Fredrick’ face floated through his memory as he wandered in the general direction of the club.  Xander only looked up when a pair of black boots connected to a pair of black jeans suddenly blocked his forward progress.  Xander looked up into the face of Blue Eyes—Spike.

“Hello pet,” Spike said with a quick flicker of his eyebrows making him appear like a man on the prowl, which he probably was, Xander realized.  However, Xander just could not deal with another round of grope and kiss, so he simply turned to detour around the man.  What should have been an easy maneuver on the wide sidewalk of the club district turned into a dance with Spike blocking Xander’s various attempts to evade.  In fact, Xander found himself growing increasingly irritated after he attempted to use an oblivious couple to block Spike while he slipped by on the right.   The attempt ended with Xander face to face with Spike again, only this time, Spike wore an expression that bordered between a smile and a smirk.

“Please move,” Xander finally asked in the most polite voice he could muster.

“Don’t wanna,” Spike announced with a shrug.  “Havin’ fun here.  Besides, I’m not a patient man, so the whole following you around plan—I’m revising it.”

“Really not interested today, blondie.” Xander felt his anger transform into a weariness and emptiness that threatened to make him sit down and cry in the middle of the sidewalk.  “Now please, I have to get to work.”  Xander tried to move around Spike once again, and once again Spike moved to intercept so that the pair of them simply moved two feet to the right.

“Like I said, not patient,” Spike repeated.  “So you give me an answer and I’ll let you pass.”  Xander waited for the request for a date, for dinner, for a quick fuck in a hotel room, whatever.  He would say yes to anything and then just not show up later, he decided.  It really was the quickest way to get rid of the man and be alone with his thoughts again.

“Tell me ‘bout Cassidy—where he’s hidin',” Spike whispered in a hiss as he leaned forward into Xander’s personal space.  Xander was still nodding his head to his own internal thoughts when the words finally penetrated.

“Cassidy?  I don’t know a Cassidy,” Xander protested as he now began to shake his head.  Spike had mentioned him last night too, Xander now recalled.  Maybe the blonde had him confused with someone else.

“Pet, I wouldn’t take that route with me, I tend to be an unforgivin’ sort,” Spike made direct eye contact with Xander and for a moment, Xander thought he had lost his mind because the blue eyes slowly started showing flecks of gold, and then a ring of gold, and then Xander stopped breathing because he knew who he was facing.  Or more precisely, he knew what he was facing.  As the vampire’s eyes turned pure gold and then faded back into blue, Spike smiled again.  “Care to revise you answer, then?” Spike asked.

“I…” Xander managed before his throat closed.  “I…um…I…” he got out the second time.  Xander tried to casually reach his hand back to the waistband of his jeans, but long before his fingers found the wood of his stake, Spike’s cool fingers closed around his wrist. 

“Let’s take this conversation somewhere more private-like,” Spike said in a friendly tone as Xander felt a cool hand at the back of his jeans removing his stake without releasing his right wrist.  Once the weapon had been tossed into the gutter, Spike threw his arm around Xander’s waist and started walking back the way Xander had come as if the two of them were best friends wandering down the street together.
Xander looked around at the crowds.  He had been on plenty of vampire hunts, but he had always played back-up to Gunn, Luther and the others.  Hell, even Alonna kicked his ass on a fairly regular basis.  He didn’t know what to do without even a stake.  He considered calling out for help, but he didn’t know how Spike would react, whether he would kill any hapless Good Samaritan who tried to come to Xander’s aid.  Huh.  Spike.  Xander never knew vampires had names much less personalities.  Always before they were mindless monsters stalking the night.  Xander wondered whether it was better to be killed by a monster whose name you knew or by an anonymous demon who chose you because you happened to be there. 

Even more, Xander wondered who the hell Cassidy was and just how long it would take Spike to kill him if he couldn’t tell Spike where to find the man.  Obviously he deserved anything that Spike might do to him.  In fact, Xander thought it had a sort of elegant symmetry.  His stupidity had caused Fredrick’s death, and now his stupidity would cause his own death.  Making up his mind to die without taking anyone else with him, Xander followed Spike’s lead without complaint.

Spike soon turned the corner, and Xander watched as the buildings became larger—the businesses gave way to warehouses and shipping yards.  On one lot giant semi trucks squatted with their square headlights silently watching the couple.  Xander felt Spike push at him, and he silently pressed his body through a gap between the fence and the huge rolling gate. The ends of the chain link scratched against his skin as he forced his way through the narrow space, and a cool grasp on his wrist held him in place as Spike gracefully followed with far less effort. 

“Can we stop with the whole hand-holding thing here?” Xander asked testily.  “Feel like we’re going steady,” he muttered as Spike continued to hold his hand even as they continued their journey deeper into the truck lot.

“And I thought you already had a steady,” Spike snapped back in a sharp enough tone that he lost a step, forcing Spike to give his arm a yank.  As Xander gave a quick step to catch up, he finally decided that if he was going to die, he wasn’t going to be quiet about it.

“Since we both know what you are now, can we just stop with the sexual innuendo?  Ya know, the thought of sex with a dead guy—kinda ew.”

“Didn’t seem to be a problem before,” Spike snarked back without turning to look.

“Kinda didn’t know you were dead then.  So let’s skip the intro and go straight to the main event.”

“And what event would that be, luv?” Now Spike stopped at a metal door set into the side of a small, windowless concrete shed.  He turned and Xander watched as Spike’s lowered his head and raised his eyebrows in the same expression that the night before caused him to come in the middle of Safari.

“Ok, just ewwwww,” Xander complained.  “Dead guy sex.  I’m thinking not.” The minute the words came out of Xander’s mouth it occurred to him that he really didn’t have a choice in the matter.  If Spike wanted to go there, Xander didn’t have the strength or speed to stop him.  The horror of his situation settled around him like a heavy cloak that made it difficult just to keep himself upright.

“Wot?  Not good enough for ya’?” Spike demanded in a voice that suddenly dripped with both English accent and a dark menace that made Xander wish for a hole to open up under him.  Damn it, he wasn't going to play the good little sacrificial victim.

“You mean other than the dead guy thing?  Oh, there's the you being a killer thing, and the demon thing, and I really had my heart set on a church wedding, so I don't think the romance will work.  After that, there's always the drinking blood thing, definitely designed to make romantic dinners instantly disgusting, and I always thought I'd take my first love sunbathing in Europe what with the naked beaches an all.  However, I'd be glad to escort you into the sun any time you'd like.”  Spike simply stood looking at Xander, their hands still connected even as Spike used his free hand to dig in a pocket. 

When the key appeared, he realized that this was it.  If he let this monster drag him into his lair, he would never see daylight again.  He waited until Spike had his attention on unlocking the door, and then he wrenched his hand away.  He stumbled back a couple of steps, still surprised the maneuver worked, but when he turned to run, to find a stake, to scream for help, to do something, he felt Spike barrel into him from behind.  As his head and chest hit the hard ground of the parking lot, Xander felt the warm stickiness he always associated with blood loss.  He would have reached up to feel the damage, but Spike had both hands pinned to the ground.  Actually, Spike seemed to be sitting on Xander with his legs keeping Xander’s arms pinned close to his body.  he could hear Spike’s soft cursing as Spike squirmed, but he barely had time to wonder what the vampire was doing before he felt his arms being pulled behind his back and leather lashing his wrists together.  No one had ever accused Xander of being a genius, but then it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Spike had just used his belt to tie Xander’s hands.

“Bloody wanker.  Try that again and I’ll decorate my floor with your guts,” Spike snapped as he slapped Xander across the back of the head far more gently than Xander expected.  Of course anything less than a broken neck was actually less than Xander expected.

“Yeah, like that’s not going to happen anyway,” Xander immediately replied.  He knew the score, and he somehow doubted that he actually could make anything worse.

“Probably, but there’s always a chance.” Xander felt strong fingers grab his upper arms and pull him to his feet.  “Move,” Spike commanded as he pushed Xander toward the now open door.  Realizing that the vampire could just as easily throw him down the stairs he could now see in the harsh glow of a bare bulb, Xander decided to play cooperative hostage—at least until he died, which right now, Xander was betting would be in a few hours.  Unless he got lucky.  If he got lucky, he could hope to die within the next few minutes.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Xander realized just how different Spike actually was.  The vampire lairs he had raided with the crew were dirty holes with rats and stained mattresses strewn about the floor.  Usually three, five, or even ten lived together in dark, dusty mildew and filth.  Luckily, vampires usually cleaned up the bodies after eating, so Xander had never encountered the kind of stench they found the theater.  However, Spike clearly didn't fit this stereotype.  The room was a huge rectangle with gray cinderblock walls and four bare light bulbs hanging near the stairs.  A large bed with shiny black sheets stood on one wall, and a large brown recliner sat nearby.  On the wall by the stairs, Spike had even set up a stereo system and tiny television on a bookshelf with a poster of some strangely dressed rock stars somehow fastened to the cinder block wall above.  The opposite wall hosted a huge metal storage cabinet.  And the room's far end disappeared into darkness, leaving him with an impression of some huge space beyond the light.  He felt as if he had entered some strange adolescent secret clubhouse.  Spike gave him very little time to think, though.  Spike shoved him toward the chair, and he barely had time to twist his body so that he landed on his butt instead of his face.

"Hey!  Human here!"  He struggled to get his legs untangled and get comfortable in the chair with his hands still tied.

"That's just too damn bad, innit?" Spike asked as he walked over to the bed and pulled out a bottle of whiskey from the far side.  "All I need is some information, and you go all silent on me.  So, how are we gonna handle this?"

"You're asking me?" he stared at Spike, who seemed to be intent on breaking every rule Xander knew about vampires.  "I'm the guy who's tied up; I think that leaves it up to you."

"Could go the torture route, but you're already scared shitless and still not talkin'.  Could take a while to break ya, and like I said, I'm not a patient man."  Xander sucked in a breath of air, suddenly realizing that he hadn't been breathing for a moment.  He would accept any excuse for avoiding torture, so he found himself blessing Spike's lack of patience.

"Suppose that leaves getting you drunk or shaggin' you to try and turn your demon."

"My what?!" Xander practically screamed.  He may not know what shagging meant, but he sure as hell didn't have a demon, meaning Spike really did have the wrong person.  He couldn't decide what he felt about that because a tiny little voice in the back of his head screamed that being here felt right.  Okay, where the hell did that thought come from?

"Your demon, pet.  Didn't Cassidy tell ya' that your demon can be turned?"  Spike calmly took a drink from his bottle and settled back on the bed.  "So, is it going be shaggin'?"  Spike patting the bed.

"Oh shit," Xander said as he finally figured out what shagging meant.  "You really don't want me; I know dozens of guys that are a whole lot better looking than me, and I eat so many donuts in a day that I'll probably just give you this whole sugar rush and then you'll get a headache and be really cranky, 'cause those sugar highs can really make your head, well, ache…" Xander's words trailed off as he realized three things.  One:  he was babbling, again.  Two:  his babble seemed to amuse Spike if the smile was any indication.  Three:  Xander Jr. didn't object to the thought of shagging nearly as much as Xander thought he should. 

"Almost like having my Dru back," Spike said in a voice that sounded strangely sad and quiet for a monster about to commit rape; however, Xander knew a choice diversion when he spotted one.

"Dru?" he asked, praying Spike would take the bait.  On one hand he didn't know why he was trying to put off the inevitable, but on the other hand he just wanted a few more minutes to pray for a miracle. 

"My dark princess.  We were together better part of a century." Spike closed his eyes tightly and his demon form rippled to the surface for a moment as he took a deeper drink from the bottle.  Xander felt a small stirring of sympathy in his own heart.  Then Spike's face suddenly turned hard and gold eyes pinned Xander to the chair.  "Your master killed her, and I'm gonna kill him."

"No master here.  No master, no demon, apparently no common sense either based on today's track record."

"What are you up to?" Spike said, standing up and walking over to loom over him with his eyes still showing more gold than blue.  He shivered at the sight.

"Up to?  I seem to be up to getting kidnapped by a hyperactive vampire who may be suffering delusions and probably is suffering multiple personality disorder."

"Don't taunt the vampire, pet." Spike said without rancor as he reached down and grabbed the lapel of Xander's Hawaiian shirt.  Xander flinched as the hand descended, but Spike simply grabbed the fabric and ripped it.  Xander yelped as the fabric dug into his armpit, but then the shirt tore leaving his shoulder bare.  "And what is this, then?" Spike asked as he began to rub the reddish scar on his neck.

"Oh shit," Xander once again exclaimed, only this time the words were flavored with desire rather than panic.

"Pet?" Spike asked hesitantly.  He opened his eyes when Spike stopped his gentle rubbing and found Spike looking down at him in full game face: bumps, ridges, fangs, and all.  What caused the hysterical laughter, however, was the look of utter confusion on that face.  Xander laughed so hard his stomach hurt, but then he felt a hand around his throat that slammed him back against the chair so hard that Xander had no doubt that he would have died if Spike pushed him equally hard into a solid surface instead of the soft, bumpy fabric of the chair.  Now the hand tightened, and Xander struggled to breathe, his feet involuntarily kicking as he started to truly panic.  Just as soon as Xander realized that he had reached the end of his short and rather unproductive life, he also realized that Spike had let him go and that air could flow into his abused lungs.

"Laugh at me again, and I'll strip every piece of skin from your back before I kill you," Spike announced in a voice so cold that he didn't even recognize it.  He looked up into Spike's face and realized that the vampire meant every word of his threat.  For that moment, the personality disappeared and all that was left was raw fury and aggression. 

"I just didn't…I mean…I never thought of a vampire as ever getting confused," Xander tried to explain.  When the face remained hard and angry, Xander tried another approach.  "I'm sorry.  I won't do it again," he promised, and he found himself meaning it.  At those words, Spike's features slowly retreated into human curves and angles, but the way Spike quickly turned his back reminded Xander of himself.  Xander suspected that this vampire liked being laughed at as much as he liked it when others always laughed at his cheap clothes, clumsiness, or inability to keep a job.  Of course Xander had learned to laugh with the tormenters, to befriend them and take the sting out of the insults by insulting himself; however, Spike was a beautiful, powerful hunter.  Insult him, and you could find yourself spread out across several acres before he actually allowed you to die.  Part of Xander envied that strength, but only part.  The larger part of Xander screamed in terror that a mentally unstable vampire had him tied up in a secret lair.   Great plot for a bad T.V. movie of the week; bad situation for real life.

"What's wrong with your mark?" Spike finally demanded after a silence so long that Xander was beginning to believe it was a new form of torture.

"What mark?  You mean my scar?" he asked, this time ready to truly listen to Spike instead of just issuing general denials.  If Spike had human emotions like shame or love, maybe he had enough sympathy for Xander to talk his way out of this.

"Yeah, mate.  Your scar, why do you respond to me?"  Xander noticed that the "pet" had been replaced by "mate" and for a brief moment, he felt offended.  Then he just felt confused at his own reaction.

"Since yesterday, I just get a little…" he searched for a polite word for his reactions, "a little excited when anyone touches it…even myself," he finally finished in a whisper.

"It only happened starting yesterday?" Spike turned back around, and he sighed in relief when he saw ice-blue eyes.

"Well, yeah," Xander agreed as he squirmed to try and ease the pressure on his arms which had begun to ache.

"Sit still," Spike ordered brusquely, but he also walked over and pushed Xander's torso forward so that he could reach the belt and undo the clasp.  "Does it react to Cassidy too?" 

"Spike, I am telling you the honest truth here," Xander said, and then he waited for Spike to finish freeing his arms so that he could look Spike in the eye when he finished his sentence.  When Spike finally pulled back with the belt in his hand, Xander pulled his arms in front of him and struggled to not rub them as he deliberately made eye contact and tried to simply will Spike to believe him, "I. Do. Not. Know. Cassidy."  For a moment, the two men looked at each other and Xander felt a rising desperation at Spike's lack of reaction.  If Spike didn't believe this, he had no hope left.

"Cassidy left that mark," Spike finally said.

"You mean you're looking for a *vampire*?" Xander asked.  The emphasis on the last word made his incredulity clear.

"I *am* a vampire, pet, who did you think I'd be looking for?" Spike words were spoken softly, but the eyes once again flickered gold.

"No, I mean why come to me if you're looking for a vampire?  I haven't seen the guy who did this for about four years.  And when I do see vampires, I tend to run and hide behind someone with a really big stake, so I don’t really take names."

"You mean he took you as a pet and then left you?" Spike asked as he now crouched down and started that same nervous bounce he had the first time Xander had seen him in the club.  Xander didn't realize he had been rubbing his sore arms until Spike took his left arm in his hands and began vigorously rubbing to help circulation return.  "What did ya call him if he didn't give you his name?"

"Who Cassidy?"  Oh yeah, the rubbing of the arms felt wonderful, so wonderful he hadn't quite caught all the question.

"Bloody hell, pet, is there any other vampire we've been talking about?" Spike stopped, and he had to curb the urge to whine at Spike to start again.

"I didn't call him anything except maybe, 'Who the hell' when he bit me.  After he bit me I tended to call him things like 'that asshole bloodsucker who bit me.'"  Xander returned to the task of rubbing his own arms.  They didn't really hurt anymore, but he needed to do something, and since Spike had now taken up pacing, he didn't want to risk a mid-stride collision.

"Pet, I'm still confused as hell here, so you tell me every minute of your relationship with that wanker." Spike still paced, but now the confusion had been replaced with an expression that frightened him even more.  As Spike paced, he flipped his leather coat and pursed his lips in a way that suggested either deep thought or constipation.

"Well, the whole thing took less than a minute, so it's a pretty short story.  I was walking; it was about two weeks before the start of sophomore year, and I had a pretty big fight with my best friend over the phone…"

"Xander, I need the vampire bits.  I love a good soap, but it'll have to wait for later."  Spike interrupted, and Xander bit down on his desire to tell Spike exactly where to shove his vampire bits.

"Fine," is what he said more sharply than he intended, but Spike only gave him one of those looks with one eyebrow raised higher than the other.  "I was walking.  I got bit.  The vampire ran away," Xander said with his arms crossed.  Spike only sighed deeply and sat on the side of the bed facing Xander. 

"It really is like trying to get a story out of Dru," Spike mumbled as he scanned the room.  When he walked over to the shelf where he had deposited the whiskey some time during the earlier drama, Xander realized that the vampire had probably reached the end of his patience.

"I was walking out late when a vampire grabbed me, pulled me into an alley and bit me," Xander began again before the vampire went back to the earlier three options of torture, rape, or forced drunkenness.  "I thought I was dead, but these two black guys came into the alley and ran toward us.  The one, Luther, held up a crossbow, but the second one, Gunn signaled Luther to not shoot with me in the way.  Gunn ran right up to the vamp who was still feeding and hit him in the face with a bat.  Then Gunn pulled me down to the ground with him while Luther let loose with his crossbow.  The crossbow didn't hit the heart, so the vampire ran away." Xander finished and waited for Spike to respond since the blonde was now smiling and nodding his head happily.

"He bled on you," Spike said confidently as he returned and sat on the bed.

"Well, yeah," he agreed, still confused about the source of Spike's amusement.  The 'no laughing' rule obviously only worked one way because Spike now softly laughed to himself.

"Bloody wanker made a pet by accident," Spike finally announced before he broke out laughing and fell back onto the bed.  "Only that git could manage to fuck up making a pet."  Spike wheezed after the laughter finally subsided. 

"Hey!  Pet is definitely added to my list of no's.  No master, no demon, no pet and no common sense," he repeated his list from earlier with the new addition.

"Wait one minute," Spike said and all laughter disappeared immediately.  He really was beginning to wonder whether a vampire could get multiple personality disorder from his host.  "How did you know those hunters' names?  How'd you know their signals?" Spike demanded suspiciously.

"Cause I joined their crew?" Xander returned uncertainly.  He didn't want another trip to the land of no air, but he realized that he had trapped himself by giving away so many details.

"*You're* a vampire hunter?" Spike asked, the humor returning as laugh lines appeared in the corners of his eyes.

"Sort of.  I mostly help the injured and call for backup if there's trouble.  I have a bit of a reputation for getting in trouble when I try to take on a vamp myself," he admitted.  "I once dropped my stake as I was bringing it up to dust a vampire. Even tripped on my own toe during a fight, so don’t expect me to put on any demonstrations of physical prowess," Xander looked at his own shoes, ratty old sneakers.  He had hoped to replace them with tonight's tips, but he clearly wasn't working tonight.  He wasn't even sure if he would survive the night, so shoes really should be the least of his worries, but he still studied them intently.

"Pet, that was probably the demon in you," Spike said in a soft voice.  Xander didn't move, but Spike continued.  "A pet only has a small part of a demon, so it will always seek a stronger leader to follow.  Demon didn't want those vampires dead, it wanted to be claimed by one.  That's what I meant when I told you a pet can be turned to serve a new master.  If a master vampire can dominate a pet—prove that he is stronger than the pet's old master, then the pet may change allegiance."

"I'm not a pet," Xander insisted as he looked up, expecting to see Spike laughing at him, at his situation which was beginning to sound entirely too possible; however, Spike simply returned his gaze calmly and with an expression that he might have described as sympathy on any other face.

"Actually, I'm not sure what you are, but the closest name would probably be a pet," Spike calmly replied as he went to the metal storage cabinet and opened it. "Sometimes a vampire wants control over a human, and so he forces some of his own blood and with it some of his demon into the bite.  Then all he has to do is dominate the demon, and the demon will force the human to act.  It's kind of a shortcut for brainwashing, like a thrall."

"So I'm a demon?" Xander asked as he fought not to hyperventilate.

"No, pets only have a bit of demon in them, but that bit will push.  You have to be strong to hold your own against the demon's desires, but it can be done."

"And the problem is my demon was never…dominated?" Xander practically squeaked out the last word.

"Yep, you have the demon, but the demon has never had a master either beat or frighten or fuck him into submission, so it's left with just you to contend with.  Give him a strong master, and you may find your desires and fears basically hijacked by a demon desperate to please his master." Spike confirmed his worst fear without pulling his head out of the storage cabinet.

"But why would a vampire do that?" Xander asked in a near panic as he thought back over the last four years: the feelings that sometimes floated to the surface, the desires he shoved into the part of his brain he labeled "sick fantasies" and then tried to forget.

"Sometimes a vampire wants to keep a human close, either to use as a pet or to give the human time to grow a bit before taking him as a childe…"

"A childe?" Xander asked curiously.

"Bloody hell, don't you know anything about vampires?" Spike gently chided, and Xander could almost hear him roll his eyes.  However, the next sound sent Xander's heart racing, and the moment of sharing disappeared as he returned to the tried and true sarcastic approach to life that served him when everything seemed to get out of control.

"If you stick a stake in their hearts, they turn into little floaty bits of ash.  That's all I ever needed to know," he snapped sardonically even as Spike turned around with the chains in his hands.  He knew that fighting was useless, but he gripped the arms of the chair in an attempt to keep himself from doing something stupid when he seemed so close to actually surviving this encounter.

"Pet," Spike said softly, and Xander was reminded of the way people on TV sometimes talked to spooked animals.  "I just need to make sure you stay here while I do a bit of research." Spike inched forward as if he expected Xander to go crazy on him at any minute.

"Oh for god's sake, just do it," Xander sighed as he held his trembling arms out.  Before he had a chance to reconsider, cold metal closed around his wrists, and Spike crouched in front of him with one hand holding the metal chain connecting the two manacles and the other hand running over Xander's hair.

"Beautiful curls," Spike said as Xander sat there fighting the tears.  "Dru used to have me curl her hair; she'd love your curls.  Probably keep your body around for weeks until I made her throw it out," he finished and Xander's eyes, which had begun to fall closed at the petting, flew open. 

"Um, thanks?" he replied uncertainly.  "I think.  That was a compliment, right?"  Spike only chuckled.

"Come on," Spike used the connecting chain as a leash as he pulled Xander to his feet.  Once standing, Xander's shirt started falling off his shoulders, and he realized he had to pee.  Spike solved the first by simply tearing the rest of the shirt off his back, but when Spike began pulling him toward the bed, he planted his feet.  As soon as the chain went taut, Spike gave a small growl, "Pet," his voice carried a clear warning as he turned to look.

"I really have to go to the bathroom," Xander admitted.  "Maybe we could just go up into the parking lot?"  He really didn't want to even think about how Spike would react to finding pee in his bed.

"Or you could use the bathroom," Spike said gesturing toward a door behind the stairs where Xander had first walked in.

"You have a bathroom?" Xander asked, confused.

"This place came with one—it's a bomb shelter, you idiot." This time Xander actually saw Spike roll his eyes.  He also watched as Spike dropped the chain leash, and dug around in his duster's pockets until he found a cigarette and lighter.  "Get in and get out within five minutes because I will not be happy if I have to break down that door to get you out again," Spike warned as Xander started to walk away.

"Got it," Xander replied before opening the door and finding himself in a hallway.  The door at the end was barred and padlocked as were the two doors on the left, which meant the bathroom must be the door on the right.  Xander opened the door to find what he considered to be a pretty standard locker room bathroom minus the urinals.  Four sinks each had a mirror, three yellow bathroom stalls, and an open doorway into a shower area.  Xander scooted into one of the stalls, noticing as he passed the shower room that someone had set a giant old-fashioned tub in the middle and run pipes from the fixtures on the wall to the bathtub taps.

Xander spent only one or two minutes in the stall, so he had time to check out the damage to his face when he went to wash up.  He had been right earlier; Spike's tackle had left a gash on the left side of his forehead.  Taking a hand towel from the floor and praying it was fairly clean, Xander wet the cloth and began to awkwardly wash the wound with his chained hands.  It didn't look too bad and even the rough towel had only caused a small trickle, so Xander assumed it would be fine and returned to Spike before his time was over. 

When he reached the main room, the cigarette had disappeared, but the smoke lingered in the air.  Spike went to reach for the chain, but when Spike looked up, he could see vampire eyes go to the still bleeding cut.  Spike reached out and ran a finger along the length of the wound and then brought it to his mouth.

"Bloody hell, pet. You're not local." Spike exclaimed as his eyes went wide.

"What do you mean?  I grew up in California," Xander protested as he went to reach up to touch the wound, but Spike's hold on the chain stopped him.

"You grew up in Sunnyhell," Spike corrected him.

"You mean Sunnydale?" When Spike nodded, he laughed.  "Sunnydale *is* in California.  Hell, it's only about two hours away, so I think I still count as a native."

"Sunnyhell is the home of the hellmouth, pet, and your blood fairly sings with the taste of hellmouth.  No wonder Cassidy got too distracted to notice your vampire hunters."  Spike took a step back and pulled Xander with him to the bed.  This time Xander didn't protest.  Whatever Spike planned, Xander knew he didn't really have a choice in the matter.  "Vampires from all over go to the hellmouth to eat a couple of humans—best tasting blood around, except Slayer blood of course," Spike had now pulled Xander over to the wall and padlocked the leash to a ring set into the wall.  Xander realized that he would never pull that loose, so he simply sat himself on the side of the bed.  Suddenly something occurred to him.

"There are vampires in Sunnydale?" he asked in a near panic.

"More demons in Sunnydale than humans by some accounts.  Never been there myself," Spike confirmed.  "Why?"

"Willow," he whispered.  "What if she's not okay?" 

"Friend of yours?" 

"Yes," Xander quickly replied, but then he revised himself in a much softer voice, "No, not really.  Just somebody I used to know."

"Yeah, well if she's survived this long, she can take care of herself," Spike pointed out before he gave Xander's leg a pat and started walking away.  "Sleep tight."

"What?  You're leaving?" Xander asked in confusion.  Somehow the chains and the bed had suggested to him that Spike had decided to take advantage of Xander's little uninvited guest.

"What?  Want my company now?" Spike asked with a prurient leer.  "Sorry luv, but if I want to use you as bait, I have to make sure you keep smelling like Cassidy, which means I don't get to bite or fuck you," Spike laughed as he climbed the stairs.  "Be good now," he called from the top as he locked the door.  Xander leaned back on the bed.  Most of him breathed with relief at the thought of escaping certain death or rape…so far.  A small part of him howled in outrage at not being taken, and Xander could now feel the alien nature of the small voice that had lived with him for so long.  The logical part of his brain finally recovered from the hours of panic to register Spike's last words. 

"Bait?" Xander howled as he jerked at the chains that held him.  "Shit."

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