Meeting Demons

By the third demon bar, Xander's knees ached, his head pounded, and he was bored.  No, more than that; he was BORED.  Xander shifted his weight a little to the side to take his weight off the bruised part of his knee, and this left him leaning against Spike's leg.  Spike reached down and slid his fingers through curly hair even as he continued his conversation with the two other vamps and the green horned demon that sat at the table with him.  Xander resisted the urge to slap the hand away; he knew that Spike was simply showing the others his ownership, but that ownership made Xander squirm, both physically and psychologically.  He slid even farther to the side, throwing more weight onto Spike's leg and moving off the bruised part of his knee altogether.  He sighed in relief as he found a semi-comfortable or at least non-painful position for the first time in quite a while.  He only hoped that Spike planned to leave soon because he desperately needed to stretch his legs.

"Shuman's noth strained well," hissed a voice behind him, and Xander struggled to not turn and look at a demon that would produce such a snake-like sound.  Why did it have to be a snake?  He hated snakes, and this one talked worse than Spike although Xander did catch that the demon was insulting his training and not his straining.  Well, unless the demon had some bizarre cooking preference that Xander really didn't want to know about.

"Well 'nough," Spike returned as Xander felt cool hands pull him even farther into the lean.  Letting Spike's hand guide him, Xander allowed his head to fall to the side and rest against Spike's thigh, and he tried really, really hard not to think about the possibilities if he just turned his head to face the other way.  However, Xander Jr. obviously wasn't going along with this non-fantasizing pact if the tightness in his pants were any indication.  When he heard Spike's knowing chuckle, he also wished the damn vampire would just stop sniffing him at the exact point when he would suffer the most embarrassment.

"Snoth sithing righth.  Disgrassseful."  Xander couldn't help gasp when a decidedly snakelike being with a pointed, reptilian snout and lizard-like claws slid into view.  Where the hell did these things hide during the day?  Yes, this was L.A. and people tended to ignore the odd…well…oddball, but not even an L.A. native would be able to ignore this thing slinking down the street.  Although to be fair, the powerful back legs and thick tail dragging behind did make the creature do more of a march-strut rather than actually slink.  Xander ignored the fear crawling up his into his now-nearly empty stomach and he remained nearly lying in Spike's lap.  He almost blessed Spike when he felt cool fingers slip under the neck of his shirt to play with the well-bruised scar.  For once, he allowed himself to happily fall into the half-daze lust-filled fog that followed.

"Don't know 'bout that.  He's done well enough by me, especially since that bond isn't mine."  A snaky hiss followed that remark, and Xander didn't even try to interpret that noise.  Instead he floated along on his little lust-trip.

"Then whossse?"

"Take a sniff, mate."  Xander didn't even fully decode the meaning behind Spike's words before a brownish snout with two yellow eyes suddenly darted into his personal space—far into his personal space as the mouth dropped open and the creature inhaled deeply mere centimeters from Xander's neck.

"Gah," Xander yelled as he jerked backwards and fell on his butt behind Spike's chair.  The vampire merely laughed, but the snake-thing's eyes narrowed and the snout pushed forward towards Xander.

"Ruuuth," it hissed and Xander couldn't tell if the thing was going for 'rude' or talking in some demon language, which Spike had done once or twice tonight.  Of course the thing might be calling him Ruth, but he didn't think he looked like a Ruth.

"Back-off rat-breath," Xander barked as he scuttled backwards across the cold tile floor using his hands and still mainly sitting on his butt.  God, no wonder his knees hurt, didn't any of these places use carpet?  Xander knew he had reached the land of panic and mental babble when it occurred to him that the tile probably made it easier to clean the blood—like the blood he was about to spill if the look on snake-boy's face were a portent of the future. 

"Disgrassseful," the head hissed as back legs stepped forward, one rear claw catching at the edge of his gray jeans so that he couldn't move back any farther.  Now the panic started to truly build.  Xander looked over toward Spike who sat back with his chin cradled in one hand as he watched the show.  Xander felt a genuine burning in his chest and stomach at the expression of amusement and disinterest evident in Spike's face.  No rescue there.  Well the vampire had warned him not to do anything to disgrace Spike and Xander knew that vampires were unreliable, but the warmth still reached his eyes and Xander fought off the tears that threatened. 

"Hey, I think I squashed one of your cousins, yesterday," Xander blurted. If he died, he would die with as much dignity as he could muster considering the whole crowd had seen him groveling at Spike's feet for the last hour or so.  "Little guy, four or five inches long, ran on four legs, long tail.  He got in my way so I stepped on him and watched his guts come bursting out his back end."  Oh yeah, that got a reaction.  The open mouth now sported two fangs that had dropped down from the roof of the mouth like some sort of horror-movie monster.  Oh shit.  Xander could see saliva or poison or something else slimy and juicy sliding down the fangs, and he looked up defiantly.  Just let this be quick, he prayed.  Either that or let him learn how to shut up for once in his soon to be ended life.

"Shuman thrashhh.  Filthhhhy slittle anmallll." 

"You know, you might want to get that lisp taken care of, they teach English classes over at the community college."  Okay, not learning how to shut up.  Xander expected the strike, he just didn't expect the form it took.  Snake boy lifted up a thick leg and held it over his chest.

"See if your guthsss bursths," snake boy hissed as the foot began its descent.  Xander felt his stomach muscles contract even though he knew it wouldn't do any good.  Very shortly not only his blood but his guts would lie on this floor and someone would thank the owner for having the foresight to put down tile.  Before the clawed foot even made contact, Spike stood over him and snake boy lay on his back on the other side of the room.  The broken table and scattered chairs suggested that Spike had tossed snake-boy away, but Xander must have closed his eyes or blacked out for the one important second because he had seen and heard nothing.  One moment he faced certain death; the next, Spike stood over him with a bored expression and a cigarette hanging from one hand.

"He's mine now; you don't touch what's mine," Spike casually announced to not just the snake-boy but also the rest of the clients.

"Noth strained," snake-boy complained again as he stood up, a piece of broken wood held in one claw.  Xander looked up at Spike in panic, but the vampire simply stood with that look of eternal indifference. 

"He minds me.  You got problems with his trainin' in general, you go talk to Cassidy.  After all, he was Cassidy's for nearly four years and he's been mine for one night."  At that, the snake-boy hesitated, obviously unsure. 

"Spike's right.  Boy smells of Cassidy's mark, so if he offended you, you go see Cassidy about that," the green horned demon added from his place at the table—a place from which he had never moved.  The two vamps now stood, obviously nervous at the disruption.  For a moment, no one in the bar moved, and Xander felt like he had been transported to some slow-motion reality.  Then the snake-boy nodded.

"I'll thelll him," snake boy insisted as he picked his way through the table splinters littering the floor and walked to the door.

"Come on then, pet." Spike held out his hand, and Xander took it, allowing the vampire to pull him upright onto his decidedly shaky legs.  Spike walked back to his chair and dropped into it heavily.  Xander groaned, but put his hand of the seat back so that he could lower himself to his knees without causing too much more bruising.  The two vamps had returned to their places, but Xander could see them darting suspicious looks from him to Spike to the retreating snake-boy.

"Hurt?" Spike asked without turning to face him.

"Yes." Xander waited a moment to see if Spike would relent and offer him a chair or leave the bar, but the vampire remained silent.  With a sigh, he lowered himself onto his bruised knees and tried to avoid whimpering when his weight crushed the skin of his knees between the bony knee-cap and the hard tile floor.  Xander closed his eyes tightly and tried to concentrate on all the little pains, the aching back, the stiff shoulders, the headache, in order to avoid the big pain that radiated up from his knees and flowed down to make his entire lower leg tingle and twitch.  He felt a hand at his neck, and he wanted to argue, he wanted to protest, but he couldn't find the strength. His whole body shook with the knowledge that he had almost died. He allowed Spike to pull him closer, but this time, the hand pulled him so that he knelt between Spike's knees and now had to hunch over even more since he found himself totally underneath the table.

"Sit," Spike gently ordered, and Xander happily allowed himself to fall to the side, his knees finally released from the burden of holding all his weight.  He pulled his knees up and sighed before he felt the fingers in his hair.  At first they simply petted, as Spike usually did, but then they closed into a fist and Xander felt his head being gently pulled back toward the vampire.  Rather than argue about it, he followed Spike's touches as the vampire used his foot and his hold on Xander's hair to arrange him so that he rested with his back against Spike's left leg and his legs curled Indian style on either side of Spike's right leg.  He let his head fall back against Spike's knee and he stretched his back until he felt bones pop. 

At that moment, Spike laughed; however, he didn't know whether his popping bones or the conversation at the table had inspired the laugh.  He had listened in on the conversation in the first demon bar, but after that Xander had been too distracted by the various aches and pains to really pay attention.  Now that the pain had eased, he found himself listening once again.  This conversation proved far more interesting than the first one where Xander had finally stopped listening when Spike and a stone-skinned demon discussed the best ways to keep evisceration victims alive as long as possible.  Very disturbing.

"Boy should be better trained." 

"He'll get there. Besides, I don't fancy bringin' him to places like this regular-like."

"So you did bring him here just to embarrass Cassidy."

"Not my fault the git can't keep track of his own pets.  He lost the boy, I picked 'em up."

"He's going to gut you for this.  I don't care what happened between the two of them, he will kill both of you for embarrassing him."

"He'll try."  At this, he could almost hear Spike smirk.  The two vampires stayed silent as Spike and the demon talked, but from his place under the table, Xander could see them shuffle their feet nervously.  What the hell did they have to be nervous about, he was the one sitting defenseless under a table in a room with lord knows how many demons who considered him part of this nutritious breakfast.  Xander amused himself with thoughts of what demon commercials advertising breakfast foods might look like; at least, he amused himself until his memory filled in the image of one of the many vampire victims he had seen lying on the street.  Okay, he definitely had slipped round the bend somewhere in the last couple of days.

"Your arrogance is going to get you killed.  Hell, arrogance is going to take out the entire Aurelius line, what of it remains,” Spike’s demon friend pointed out.

"It can take the rest of the line, don't care.  But if Cassidy comes for me, It'll be that wanker's last mistake."  Xander's eyes had fallen closed, but coolness on his lips caused him to open his eyes to the sight of a piece of melon pressed against his lips.  Oh no.  The one thing he had told Spike was that he wouldn't eat out of Spike's hand.  For god's sake, leave him some dignity.  However, Spike's heavy right boot slid in closer to Xander, pressing on the still engorged cock, and Xander opened his mouth rather than get into an argument he couldn't win.  He chewed silently as Spike switched to petting him like the family dog.  Just don't react, Xander kept telling himself, but he didn't know whether his self-commandment applied to not reacting to the pressure against his cock by coming all over himself or not reacting to the humiliation by smacking Spike's hand away.  Maybe both. 

"How did you do it, anyway?" the deep voice asked in obvious awe.  "How can he sit at your feet so happily while the bond holds him to Cassidy?"  Xander suppressed the urge to snort at the word happily.

"Cassidy can't control anythin'.  He can't hold his pets; he can't protect his territory or his minions.  Anyone who follows him is goin’ to get taken by a stronger master or left to die."  Oh boy, vamp feet really shifted at that, he noticed as he ate another piece of melon from Spike hand.  Yeah, he was going to make the bleached wonder pay for this later.

"Master Spike," started a slightly higher and more nasally voice, "he is powerful."

"Oi, not unless his only competition's minions, he's not.  My sire could kick his ass, easy.  Me, I'd be more likely to eviscerate him and stake him out to see the sunrise.  May do that yet if I can ever find the tosser."  After this silence fell over the table and Xander sat eating one piece of fruit after another, long after he had enough.  Either the four of them were doing something silent like playing cards or they were having the world's longest staring contest.  Either way, Xander eventually grew even more bored and fell asleep leaning against Spike's leg.

"Pet, wake up." Xander sat up and promptly smacked his head into something thin and very solid.


"Hey, no damaging the goods there, luv," Spike ordered with a small laugh, and Xander opened his eyes to find himself curled under Spike's chair.  Sound asleep on the floor.  Oh yeah, this really did a world of good for his manly self-image, he thought to himself as he slid backwards to free himself from the chair without hitting his head on the rung, again. 

"What?  How long was I asleep?" Xander looked around the room and realized that the clientele had significantly changed.  Before the only three vamps in the room, including Spike, all sat at the one table.  Now when he looked around, he saw game-faced vamps in twos and threes throughout the room.  Xander still sat on the floor, but he pushed himself closer to Spike, settling in between his legs and hoping that none of these vamps were Cassidy or Cassidy's minions.

"Long enough," Spike answered his question before pushing back his chair and holding out a hand to help him stand.  He had to brace himself on the table until he could work a stiff left leg loose enough to actually walk on, but Spike continued to stand there, seemingly unconcerned even though Xander could see him making regular sweeps of the room with golden eyes.  Even more importantly, the vampire leaned on one leg while the other rested on the rung of the now-abandoned chair.  And the resting leg bounced.  It bounced so hard that Xander expected the rung to break at any time. 

Standing firm on both his sore legs, he pushed closer to Spike, his only form of protection in a room full of blood thirsty monsters.  It did occur to him that Spike was a monster too, but at least he was a less blood thirsty monster, or maybe just a monster too polite to talk to and chew on the same person.  Xander counted on the vampire telling the truth about that as he felt an arm circle a waist and he leaned into Spike's embrace.  ‘Better the devil you know’ he thought to himself.

"Thanks for the drink, mate," Spike said as he nodded toward the green demon that still sat in the same spot.  The two vampires had disappeared from the table.

"Any time, Master Spike," the demon replied as Xander felt himself pulled from the room.  He followed compliantly as Spike guided him out to the parking lot and then to the waiting bike.  In the parking lot, a few people stood under street lights and he wondered if these were more vamps.  If so, the number of vamps at this one bar easily equaled the number of vamps he normally saw in a year.  He suppressed a shudder and wondered what the hell had gone on while he slept like a dog under its master's chair.  Yeah, he really didn't like that image at all. 

Spike quickly mounted the bike and Xander followed, willing to do anything to get away from the stares that followed him from those strangely silent watchers.  Spike drove several blocks, dodging around cars and changing directions so fast that he just knew he would die before the night ended, and not from a vampire bite either.  Finally, Spike pulled the bike into a Wal-Mart parking lot and turned off the engine.

"Right, now where's this place with the mojo?" Spike asked, but Xander found himself still unable to completely regain his breath from the moments of unadulterated panic caused by the short ride.

"What the hell," he finally gasped.  Spike only looked back at him over a leather-clad shoulder with impassive blue eyes.  "Are you trying to kill me?  If so, could you pick a quicker method?"  That earned a quick flick of an eyebrow and a half-smile.  

"Wot?  Don't trust my drivin'?  Been drivin' since before you wore nappies." 

"Please don't explain that, I've reached my limit for grossness this evening. I just want to go home or back to your lair or wherever I'm going to sleep tonight.  I hurt and I'm not feeling very friendly toward you right now."

"Pet," Spike growled, and Xander lowered his head so that his forehead rested against Spike's back in defeat.

"What Spike?"

"I need to know where that place is."  Xander didn't look up, but he could imagine the gold eyes glaring at him from just the tone.  Clearly he had reached another of those choiceless moments. 

"Straight south of Glitters on the west side of the road, an old theater called Efrian's House."

"Yeah, know the place.  Went there a time or two in the thirties; it had sewer access and one of the old masters liked the place."  The bike started and Xander found himself alone with his thoughts.  The city had slowed and quieted.  Lights still shone and cars passed by at illegal speeds, but the pedestrians had disappeared and most of the apartment windows remained dark.  It must be about 3 or 4 am, later than Gunn and the others usually hunted, but they might still be on the street. 

Having seen Gunn and the crew going up against what he now understood to be minions, and seeing Spike going up against minions, he worried what would happen if Gunn met Spike.  Unless Gunn or one of the guys got in a lucky hit, Spike would take them all out without working up a sweat.  And even worse, Gunn and the guys fought vamps so often that they wouldn't even hesitate to attack a single vampire.  Xander closed his eyes and sent up another prayer for the evening.  He wondered whether his sudden increase in prayer counterbalanced the fact that he had taken up with a soulless killer. 

When the bike finally stopped in front of the familiar theater, Xander immediately slid off and looked in the opposite direction.  Thoughts of Fredrick assaulted him so suddenly that he wondered for a moment if the man's spirit hadn't returned to harass the loser who had failed him.

"Pet?  This it?" Spike asked and when he turned to look, Spike gazed back curiously, his head actually cocked to one side as though trying to hear something. 

"Yeah."  Another long silence and curious gaze.

"You wait here then," Spike finally announced as he turned to go into the building.

"Don't you want…" Xander suddenly felt vulnerable, exposed in the feeble light of the only streetlight a half block away.

"Wait," the retreating figure ordered without breaking stride.  Xander watched Spike disappear, making sure the vampire actually entered before he took off at a dead run.  Two blocks, that's all he had to make.  Two blocks.  He ran until his breath came in ragged gasps and then he spotted the goal.  Please let it work, please let it work.  He slid to a stop in front of the booth and considered his options. 

The cell phones the crew used were temporaries and could get disconnected at any time.  Besides, they probably wouldn't take a collect call.  That last part worried Xander.  He knew his mother would take a call, but he didn't want to pull her into it, so he called the only other number he could remember.  Not easy to forget a number like 555-HARD, especially when that number connected to Glitters.  Hopefully T would still be there cleaning up or doing paperwork.  Xander picked up the receiver and almost cried when he heard the dial tone.  Dialing the operator, he quickly asked for a collect call.

Every ring of the phone left Xander in agony as he watched the sidewalk for signs of either Spike or the motorcycle. 

"Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up," he chanted as he listened to each ring.  Finally the line picked up and Xander could hear T agree to accept the charges. 

"Darlin' are you alright?" came the familiar disembodied voice, and Xander felt his knees shake as he reconnected with his old life.  For one minute he just wanted to cry and beg T to come and get him, but inside he knew the consequences.  Spike might choose to set him free, but if he tried running Spike would kill him and anyone else who might try to help.  Xander couldn't take that chance.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he finally answered in the strongest voice he could muster. 

"Where the hell are you?  Gunn and the boys have been worried enough they actually brought their paranoid asses into my club.  They still refused to eat my food, but one step at a time."

"I'm with a friend," Xander explained as he tried not to choke over the word.  "Did they tell you about Fredrick?"

"Hell, honey.  Nobody blames you for that, not even that asshole Luther.  I hope I never have to talk to that man again.  Lord, how do you put up with him?"

"Luther's okay.  I just need to get a message to Gunn, and I thought you could get it over there for me."

"If that's what you want, sure.  You know, you could come over and we could sit in the kitchen eating stale potato chips while you gave me the message."  Xander struggled for a moment with a real desire to just say yes. To run for the club even knowing that he would never make it, and even if he did, the club was open to the public, meaning open invitation for vampires.  In the end he decided he valued both his own life and T's life far too much to make such a stupid move at this point. 

"No, I'm heading for bed after this, so I'm really not up for the whole potato chip feast.  I hooked up with a vampire hunter," Xander began as he carefully constructed his story to neither lie nor completely tell the truth. 

"Blondie from the other night?" T asked and Xander nearly dropped the phone.

"How could you…"

"The boys said he had a dangerous look and a real interest in you, so tell me what your hunter told you."

"The vamps that killed Fredrick, they aren't normal vamps.  Most vamps are minions, young and fairly easy to kill."  Xander ignored T's snort of disbelief at that comment.  "But these might be masters.  What's more, it seems like at least one or two of these vamps are using magic, which isn't normal.  Gunn's got to be more careful—keep the crew together—because something's happening.  Some sort of vampire war has started, and if gang wars can take out neighborhoods, I don't even want to get between two feuding vampires."  Xander managed the last part without choking over the irony that whether he wanted it or not, that's exactly where he found himself: between two feuding vampires.

"Xander, maybe you'd better come in."

"I can't T.  Spike really does need me, and I need to get the vamps who killed Fredrick."

"Getting yourself killed won't bring him back, darlin'.  You get your white ass back to Gunn's place before he tears that neighborhood up looking for you."

"T, I can't" Xander resisted the urge to scream out the whole tale, but he couldn't put someone else in danger, and he knew that T and Gunn and even Carlos and Luther saw him as the weak link, the damsel in distress who needed saving.  That used to bother him a lot more, but now he simply accepted his shortcomings.  However, now he had to work his way out of this without pulling his friends in with him, and if he couldn't, he needed to die without taking more of his friends with him.  "Look, I'm really sorry about missing work, but I really gotta go."

"Fuck work," T insisted.  "Your job and your paycheck are waiting, we discussed this.  Of course, quite a few of the customers missed you terribly, but they'll live.  Right now I'm worried about you off playing Lone Ranger."

"I'm with Spike.  Trust me, I am firmly in sidekick mode.  We ran into two vamps, and I hid behind his back the entire time.  Didn't even touch a stake."  Xander glanced down the street again.  Spike hadn't shown yet, but he couldn't count on the vampire's curiosity keeping him in that theater forever.  "Look, I gotta get to bed; I'm wiped out."

"Alright, but you promise to come in if you need help."

"I promise, Mom," Xander teased, enjoying the feeling of normalcy no matter how short-lived.  "Bye."

"I'll give Gunn the message, you take care."  T finished and Xander put down the phone.  For a moment, he leaned his forehead against the sticky plastic and tried to regain his equilibrium.  He had made the right choice; he had made the only choice possible.  After just a few seconds, he turned to make his dash back to the motorcycle, and he nearly dropped dead of a heart attack in that moment.  Standing behind him in full game face, Spike waited.

Xander's Punishment

"Aaahhhhgg," he screamed, his knees giving way as he headed straight for the sidewalk.  Spike stood there, unmoving as Xander fell to the ground and held his upper body off the ground only by leaning on the base of the payphone.

"Told you to stay," Spike pointed out in such cold tones that Xander knew he wasn't facing the same snarky Brit with the strange sense of humor.  Something primitive and instinctive drove this creature, and Xander could feel a part of himself respond. 

"I just had to warn my friends," Xander began, but the low growl warned him that he had taken the wrong approach.  "I'm sorry," he amended his response.  The growl continued.

"I told you to stay."  This time Spike stepped forward and now Xander could see the chain hanging from his hand. 

"Spike?" Xander's eyes remained fixed on the chains as he realized how much damage the vampire could do without actually killing him.  After all, as long as he was alive and smelt of Cassidy, it didn't really matter what kind of shape he was in.  He could be lying in a coma in the backroom of a demon bar, and Spike's plan would still work.  He could feel his heart beat faster as he tried to think of the words that would calm the angry vampire and prevent his possibly imminent mutilation.

"I didn't tell them anything about you.  I didn't betray you," he began, but Spike remained unconvinced, his game face forward and a soft growl filling the night.  "I shouldn't have done it," Xander tried again and the volume of the growls sharply increased.  Suddenly a hand shot out and encircled his wrist in a painful grip.  Xander didn't fight when Spike pulled him to his feet and quickly wrapped several lengths of chain around his hands before adding a padlock.  Xander stayed quiet even though the individual links in the chain dug into his skin and he actually found himself wishing for the manacles from the lair.  Hadn't Spike brought them?  Of course, maybe the vampire used the chain because it caused more pain.  Xander didn't know and he didn't stop to debate the point as Spike pulled him down the street toward the bike.  Spike quickly swung on and then pulled at the chain so sharply that Xander nearly ended stomach down over the seat.  He quickly threw a leg over the seat and settled himself without another word. 

The ride home threatened to end Xander's life several times: when Spike played chicken with a truck, when he took a turn so sharply that Xander nearly slid off, and when the vampire pulled the chain sharply enough to throw Xander forward and cause the bike to take several sliding detours as Spike struggled to bring the bike under control.  Xander tried not to make noise above the involuntary screams that periodically erupted when his life flashed before his eyes.  When Spike finally pulled into the truck yard through a side gate, he found himself grateful to return to the relative safety of the lair.  And yes, the irony of that statement did amuse him; he definitely needed therapy.

When Spike pulled him off the bike, Xander continued with the lamb to the slaughter routine, hoping to break through to the real Spike before the vampire did something that Xander would regret later, even if Spike didn't.  Silently they passed the trucks and descended into Spike's home before Spike removed the chain without a word.  Xander simply sat on the bottom step while Spike paced the concrete bunker, still showing his game face.

When Spike finally stopped pacing and turned to glare, Xander listened to the little voice in his head and dropped his gaze to the floor.  He had disobeyed Spike on so many issues tonight that he couldn't believe that Spike could lose so much control over this one.  At the first demon bar, he had tried to sit only to have Spike order him back up on his knees.  At the first bar Spike had also told him to stop looking at the other demons, an order which Xander knew full well he had broken at least a dozen times.  And then with snake-boy he had really screwed up, screwed up badly enough that Xander had thought Spike might let him die.  Why the fury now?

"I've got to make a call," Spike finally announced, and Xander glanced up to see Spike's human face showing.  He quickly dropped his eyes back down when a voice wailed in his own mind.  Shit, if he had lived anywhere else he wouldn't have to deal with this whole pseudo-possession thing, but no, his parents just had to move to L.A.  Why did the universe hate him? 

"Get over here, Spike ordered as he walked toward the far end of the room where bare concrete and empty space remained only dark since the lights over this section had either burnt out or Spike had turned them off.  Xander followed Spike into the shadows and sat where Spike pointed at the floor.  Before he even heard the noise of the chain, Xander felt the cold of steel closing around his throat and then the vampire disappeared back up the stairs and out of the lair. 

"Shit."  Xander tried to stand so he could stretch out, but he soon discovered that the chain was only about twelve inches long and attached to the wall so that he could neither stand up nor lay down.  Instead he sat waiting on the cold concrete until his ass hurt and the cold had soaked into his entire body.  How long could a human last like this, he wondered, 'cause Spike had already shown him around the demon bars, so technically Spike could just leave him here forever.  Water would probably be the first problem, but right now, he was more worried about the water that wanted to come out of him. 

He tried to distract himself from the fullness of his bladder and the soreness of his butt where the hard concrete dug into his flesh.  He tried counting.  First he went for vampires.  Numero uno had been Cassidy whose bite had nearly killed him.  Two nights later he had seen a middle-aged man, or what looked like one anyway, jump Gunn.  He had been following and had nearly died of panic, but the whole thing had been a set-up, and Luther merely staked the guy.  Several nights after that, a vamp had jumped him while he followed Gunn and company.  That led to his "demon magnet" reputation and one serious ass-chewing from Gunn.  Then the night he'd seen Alonna walking alone, he almost caught up to her before two demons jumped her, and again, it had been a trap that Xander nearly ruined.  This time Luther handled the ass-chewing.  Two vamps in the park.  The blonde girl vamp outside the theater.  The big, black vamp behind the school.  The two vamps Xander had seen the first time Gunn let him come along when raiding a nest.  That was the first time he had been invited instead of simply following the rest of them around.  After that the faces kind of blurred with one set of ridges and fangs looking like another.  Xander couldn't remember whether the nerdy one was next or the really skanky girl-vamp with the Goth makeup.

Xander leaned his head back against the cold wall, feeling so alone that he couldn't stop his miserable thoughts from wandering to a new list:  the people who'd abandoned him.  His parents had been first, he realized.  Even before they moved out of Sunnydale, they had been so busy fighting each other that their son got lost somewhere in the middle.  He remembered trying to fix his own supper at seven because they couldn't stop blaming each other long enough to notice their hungry child.  His mother had tried to make up for those early years, he really knew that.  But she still didn't really see him or know him.  After the divorce, his father had simply made the abandonment permanent.  Jesse had been next.  Wasn't really his fault, but Xander still felt the loss.  He had just moved to L.A., and he still kept up his weekly calls to the only two people who had ever really loved him unconditionally:  Jesse and Willow.  He remembered the night that he had called only to have Willow tell him that Jesse had died in a house fire.  He could hear her pain, and he wanted to say something to make it all better, but words had failed him.  Unfortunately, words just kept failing him.  He had tried to keep up his conversations with Willow, but she had simply stopped talking to him; he could hear it in her gaps, her pauses as she tried to figure out how to talk to him without telling him what she really thought.  His last fight with Willow had sent him walking the night Cassidy had bitten him.

After that, the losses became easier.  Tanisha had been his first girl-friend.  He had done all the normal sappy crap like carrying her books and one quick grab at the chest, and she had insisted that she didn't want to go farther until she married; she insisted all the way up until the day he found her in the back of the science lab with Alberto Reyes' hand up her skirt.  Yeah, that ended well.  Gabi had been next with her pony tail and track shorts that clung to her legs until Xander thought he would die from lust.  Obviously Xander Jr. had not yet sent the memo about liking guys.  Either that or Xander Jr. had trouble telling Gabi's gender because that girl could out-lift, outrun, and outfight him.  She had even worked with Gunn and his crew, ordering Xander around until Luther had started calling him "Gabi's white bitch."  When he started putting down some limits about what she could say to him, especially in public, that ended that relationship.  Pamee had been the last.  She treated him more like a walking science model, exploring the male body whenever she felt like it.  She had certainly brought him off a number of times, and she had allowed him, in returned, to do some naughty touching, but he hadn't even blinked when she walked up and announced they were over in the middle of the cafeteria.  Yep, he handled abandonment well.

Let's see, that came to seven.  He thought about his teachers for a moment, but none of them had even noticed him long enough to make an impression.  He had been the below average student who sat in the back of the room and didn't cause trouble.  His teachers returned the favor by ignoring him and passing him from one class to the next.  His various bosses, and he remembered many, had never seen him as more than another pair of hands, so they couldn't be accused of abandonment either, at least until T; Xander remembered the conversation on the phone, and he felt a physical ache as he thought about how concerned the man had sounded.  Of course, it now looked like it was his turn to do the abandoning, not that T would suffer in the long run since Xander had only worked there one night. Funny, but in one night Xander felt closer to T than he did to many people he'd known for months, maybe because the overheard conversation allowed him to know what the man really thought of Xander. Either way, the words he had overheard between T and Gunn meant a lot to him, and while T seemed to have a pretty unrealistic view of him, he liked that someone else might have stuck with him.

Only Gunn had stayed with him.  He could always count on Gunn even if he really screwed up.  Gunn's loyalty had taught Xander what it meant to be a man, which is why he couldn't disappear and leave Gunn and the guys in trouble.  Oh wait.  If vampires had clan leaders, they must follow one leader at a time, so trying to warn Gunn implied that he felt no loyalty to Spike, Xander suddenly realized.  But that didn't make sense; even Spike said that the bond connected him to Cassidy, so why did Spike expect loyalty, and why did he get so angry at that phone call when he had already broken a dozen of Spike's other 'rules'?

Xander reconsidered the whole evening.  When he hadn't stayed on his knees, he had disobeyed, but he had also leaned into Spike.  At the time Xander did it to relieve the pain and help with the whole "infuriate Cassidy" plan, but he could see how Spike might have seen that as a declaration.  Looking at other demons had certainly aggravated other demons on more than one occasion, but that didn't hurt Spike any, and during the whole adventure with snake-boy, he hadn't insulted or turned against Spike.  So the demon felt like he had declared some sort of loyalty only to have it snatched back when he ran for the phone.  Well shit, no wonder Spike had taken off; he was lucky the vampire hadn't beaten him senseless, not that he had that much sense to start with.

Xander felt better now that he had a plan; he would just wait up for Spike and then explain why Spike couldn't expect him to react like a vampire any more than he could expect Spike to act like a human.  Easy.  Xander sighed when he considered just how uneasy this could get. 

By the time Spike appeared, Xander had given up the pee fight; his wet and smelly jeans stuck to his body, and the cold now had a direct line from the concrete into the skin of his legs.  When the door opened, Xander waited patiently for Spike to come get him, but the vampire simply moved around the room as if he didn't have a wet, smelly, and badly cramping human chained to the far wall.  First he shrugged the coat onto the chair, and then he took the heavy book from earlier and deposited it on the shelf under the stereo.  With a flip, the small television jumped to life, and Xander could faintly hear the laughter of some sitcom as Spike got a bowl out of the cabinet, pulled out a cigarette, and lay out on the bed in his clothes.

Well fine, if that's the way Spike wanted to play, he could play that way too.  Xander pulled up his knees to try and keep some warmth closer to his skin.  What felt like decades later, Xander heard the familiar music of an early morning news show, and Spike stood up and flipped off the television.  However, just when he thought Spike would come and unlock the chain, he simply unbuttoned his shirt and threw it over the chair as he pulled back the blanket.  When the vampire made a disgusted noise and moved to the other side of the bed, Xander realized two things.  First, son of a bitch was going to bed, leaving him chained for the remainder of the day.  Second, they had never changed the sheets after yesterday's not-so-little deposit.

"Spike, come on," Xander whined.  He knew he was whining, but manly pride only went so far when compared to the threat of spending a miserable night in pee-stained jeans chained to a wall.  "Let me up and I'll change the sheets," he offered even though he had no idea whether Spike even owned clean sheets.  For a long moment, Spike stood silent and unmoving.  He only knew that Spike had heard because gold eyes flashed at him.

"Right then, you did make the mess."  Spike walked over, pulling a key out of his pocket, and Xander almost cried in relief.

"Spike, I'm really sorry…" he began, but the growl returned, and Xander took that as a small hint to stop before he ended up being food.  "Right, I'll just change the sheets."

"I'll get clean ones."  Spike started walking for the door to the hall, presumably for one of the three locked doors since there certainly weren't clean sheets in the bathroom.

"Could you get me some jeans or shorts or something that's not, you know, wet and kinda stinky."


"What?  Spike, in case you didn't notice, I'm kinda gross here."  Xander took a step forward and quickly realized that he would also be exceptionally sore if he walked for any length of time.  His wet, soft skin wouldn't survive the acidic urine and the rough denim.

"Get 'em off and drop 'em in the hall.  Shirt too," Spike ordered as he continued walking. 

For one second, Xander considered rebelling, but then he thought about his options.  Option one, Spike could just kill him.  Yeah, not of the good.  Option two, he could stay dressed and Spike might ignore him.  That just left his legs rubbed raw and a definite lack of sleep.  Option three, he could stay dressed and Spike could pull the clothes off him. Okay, most of him really didn't like that idea, and he was rapidly wishing he could just vote Xander Jr. off the island.  Okay, think unsexy thoughts until that problem went away.  Option four, he might piss off Spike enough to end up chained to the wall again. That would be a 'no.' Option five, Spike could just beat him senseless.  Okay, enough options, he obviously just had to strip. 

He walked into the hallway, no sign of Spike, and slipped out of his clothes.  Leaving the pile in the hall, he went into the bathroom to clean up and found a towel thrown across the sinks.  Wondering who Spike had left it for, he grabbed it up and headed into the shower.  After all, he could smell the stench himself, so he was simply saving the vampire from having to put up with human stink all day.  Xander showered as quickly as possible and came out still wearing the towel around his hips.  The clothes had disappeared.  Spike stood leaning against the cabinet in the main room, the ever-present cigarette hanging from one hand and a stack of sheets sitting on the end of the bed.

"Toss the towel by that first door," Spike directed without moving, and he only hesitated a fraction of a second before he turned and opened the hallway door so he could toss the towel as instructed.  Trying to concentrate on the task and not the fact he had to walk around naked, he quickly pulled the blanket off and dropped it on the floor before pulling the sheets loose so he could take them to the hall.  As he tugged, the far corner refused to give, leaving him the choice of either crawling across the bed to pull at the corner or walking around the bed and passing within inches of a still unmoving Spike.  Looking at the strangely motionless form, Xander decided that the lack of bounce meant he wasn't going to get hit, so he took a chance and slid by the vampire, turning his back so that Spike got as little of a view as possible. 

What really got him angry, though, was the fact that Spike was doing this just to put him in his place.  The vampire watched him, proving to him that he was weak and inferior and couldn't fight back, like he needed one more person showing him that.  A feeling of helplessness and rage simmered just below the surface as Xander did his work.

The stripping done, he turned to making the bed.  This time he had to walk within inches of Spike several times as he tucked elastic corners around the mattress before tucking in the top sheet.  He even had to bend over with Spike mere centimeters away from his raised butt as he pushed the bottom end of the sheet and blanket between the mattress and box spring.  Bed made, he stood awkwardly, not knowing how far to push this new Spike.  He crossed his arms self consciously before switching to covering his genitals with his hands before switching back to a crossed arm stance after deciding the whole hiding his genitals thing probably looked pretty stupid considering Spike had touched every part of him, even parts that he himself had never touched.

"Um, Spike?"

"Up in bed, then."  Xander quickly got in the bed and slipped under the covers.  Okay, try to find a way to explain human loyalties to the vampire, that's all he had to do.

"Are you going to, you know," Xander asked as he gestured with his two wrists held out together in front of him.  Was there a polite way to ask if a bed partner wanted to use the chains?  Hey, there could be a whole new career in advice columns for him if he survived this.  Spike simply looked back impassively, one eyebrow now raised in either surprise or confusion.

"You enjoy those, do ya'?" he asked, and Xander felt the immediate response in Xander Jr., who jerked to a sort of half-mast almost immediately.  He watched as both Spike's eyebrows made a run for the hairline.

"Can't say I like what your last chain did."  Xander fingered the tiny sore spots caused by the chain links digging into his wrists.

"Didn't mean ya' to enjoy it."

"Yeah, I got that." He watched as Spike walked over to the leather bag that he had just now noticed sitting by the wall.  When Spike stood up again, the familiar manacles with the wide wrist cuffs hung from one hand.  He never thought that he would be so happy to see manacles.  Spike walked over, and he offered his wrists without complaint or looking up.  The heavy cuff closed comfortably around his wrists and Spike locked the chain to the wall using the last link, so he would again have quite a bit of room to move.

"Smellin' nice there, luv."  He groaned when he realized that Spike meant Xander Jr. who had reached full size.  No matter how angry he was with the vampire, his body still reacted to the sight of that agile body moving with the grace of a cat.

"I wasn't this bad in high school.  I mean, I used to joke about getting turned on by linoleum, but I didn’t really mean it."

"So I turn ya' on?" Spike walked to the other side of the bed and slipped in under the covers and leaned against the headboard.

"I think you know that."

"More than the wanker you called tonight?"

"T?"  He looked over to Spike in surprise, ignoring the voice that demanded he drop his eyes.  "I'm not really attracted to T at all.  I mean he's nice, but the thought of the two of us in a bed…together?  That's kinda yuck."

"How about that other git you mentioned then.  Gunn innit?"  Spike's eyes narrowed, and Xander saw his opening.

“Spike, I’m not a vampire.”

“Think I noticed that you git.”

“Are you sure?  I mean, calling T didn’t mean the same thing to me that it would have meant to a vampire.  I'm not trying to get out of our deal or trying to get away; I just had to tell them what I know.  I had to warn them."

“Know that too.  If I didn’t, I would’ve strung you up on that wall and stripped the skin off your back.”  That made him stop and rethink his strategy.  He decided to go with the pathetically honest approach

“Then why are you so angry?”

“I may understand, but that doesn’t stop my demon from wantin' to make ya' hurt.”  That made him stop and worry.  He couldn’t exactly explain his way out of this if Spike already understood.



“Damn it!”  Now Xander felt the anger rise up.  How dare Spike take away the feeling of security he’d felt.  He knew he had no business feeling safe around a vampire, but he couldn’t deny the fact that he had, at least until Spike had refused to get over this.  “If you’re so damn angry, do something and get it out of your system," he demanded as he pulled on the chain.

“Don’t tempt me”

“I mean it. I’d rather have you smack me around some and then put up with this pissy fit.  I can’t take this.”  Xander trembled from the effort of suppressing his tears.  “I mean it, Spike,” he finished when he saw Spike’s look of confusion.

“Pet, don’t ever encourage my demon’s violence.” The words sounded like the old Spike, the one who laughed at him in the club and teased him after scaring the shit out him, but the tone still carried the coldness. 

“Spike, it couldn’t hurt worse than this thing you’re doing now.  Don’t shut me out.”  Even Xander could hear the tremor in his voice, so he knew that vampire ears could hear the pain in his voice.

“If you hadn’t gone and disobeyed me, wouldn’t be an issue.”

“Damn it, I can’t undo that.”

“Would you?” Now Spike stared at him with such an intense gaze that he couldn’t help but feel pressured to give the answer Spike wanted; however, he knew if he did that he might as well sign over a deed to his life.  He couldn't give up everything that made him Xander Harris without a fight; he couldn't become a creature who lived only to make Spike happy.

“I don’t know.  I think I probably would still call,” Xander said quietly, and he could see the instant fury in the gold rings around Spike’s eyes.  “I knew you’d be mad; I thought you might even hurt me, but I had to warn them.”  After that announcement, Xander waited for Spike reaction.  If Spike was going to hit him, this would be the time.

“Bloody hell,” Spike softly cursed.

“But I didn’t tell them about you,” Xander pointed out.  “They would want to know.  Hell, if they find out about you and then figure out that I had a chance to tell them and I didn’t, they’re going to be royally pissed off.  They may never trust me again.” Xander whispered the last part, realizing the truth only as he said the words.  Gunn and Luther would consider him a traitor, and he would definitely lose the job with T.  If any of them found out about his feelings for Spike, he would be lucky if they limited themselves to just beating the shit out of him.

“That your choice then?” Spike asked, and he had to think about what the vampire meant.

“I won’t just let them get killed,” Xander protested, “but yeah, I made my choice.”  Xander knew he was telling a half-truth, but he also knew that a certain part of him had chosen this sarcastic, pushy vampire.  The rest of him, the parts not on hiatus from common sense, decided to simply remained silent. 

“Can’t overlook my demon, pet.”  The voice had returned.  The voice that had humanity and humor and sarcasm and emotion in every syllable.  Xander felt a thread of panic begin to unwind from around his heart.

“If you can’t get over it, I meant what I said before.  I’d rather get hit than ignored, Spike.  Been ignored long enough.”  With those words, Xander knew he had just revealed more of himself than he had even done before.  He felt naked and vulnerable.  Okay, he actually was naked and vulnerable, but he felt emotionally naked and vulnerable.  When he looked up at Spike, the vampire's eyes had calmed into a pure blue and the face had a look of…compassion?  …understanding?  Spike stood and dropped his jeans to the ground.  After a moment he reached down, retrieved the key and unlocked one manacle.  Xander simply watched as naked Spike then slipped back into position in the bed.

Spike held his arm out to one side, and before Xander realized what he was doing, he had slid into Spike's arms and rested his cheek against a thin shoulder.  With superhuman ease, Xander felt Spike ease both of their bodies down onto the bed so that Spike lay on his back with Xander's free left arm and head resting on Spike's chest.  For a moment, he lay uncomfortably on the unmoving chest, unsure what to do or how to feel.  Then he felt the soft arms close in around his back, the hands joining in the small of his back as Spike settled in. 

That morning, or maybe the previous morning, Xander had woken to a feeling of contentment and security.  He had felt guilty and angry that a monster could stir feelings that even his own mother had failed to inspire for so long, but this time, he let himself admit what he felt:  safe.  Ironic that it came from a creature that ate humans, but Spike had fought his own nature to protect him.  Spike had listened to him and his ideas.  Spike wanted him and found him attractive.  He had to admit that, so far, Spike had treated him better than most people ever did.  No one, with the possible exception of Gunn, had ever taken so much time to look after him, and he let himself relax into that embrace. 

Sire's Help

When Xander next woke, he lay alone in the bed with his right arm twisted uncomfortably, the chain tangled with the sheet and pillow.  He sat up and worked at getting the chain loose before he noticed that Spike was nowhere to be seen.  Thinking back over the previous evening, he felt dirty.  How could he for one minute accept Spike's embrace?  How sick was he that he would trade in dignity for a hand job and a snarky smile? 

He threw himself down on his back and stared at the ceiling.  He had to find a way to get away before he completely lost himself in these feelings, especially since he now knew that many of the feelings weren't truly his.  Xander considered all his options, but he knew that in the end he had only one real choice:  kill Spike. Xander felt his whole body physically jerk and tense at that thought. Okay, so maybe the choice was closer to try and kill Spike because he didn't know if he actually could, but one murder attempt, and someone would die.  One way or the other, he would free himself.  Being dead had to be better than slowly losing his mind and his self-control.

He squirmed on the bed and prayed for Spike to get back soon; two days in a row of peeing himself wasn't good on the ego.  Shit, no wonder he was so damn messed up in the head—he spent his time waiting for and trying to please the very creature he should kill.  The internal howl started again, and Xander forcibly silenced it.  He chanted Sesame Street songs and gritted his teeth until the howl had retreated to some far corner.

He was busy singing, "Remember just to whisper softly into my ear, I won't leave and go away, You know I'm gonna be right here," when the voice interrupted him.

"What? And you complain about my music?"  Xander jumped at the sound of Spike voice.  Opening his eyes, he found a smiling vampire leaning against the open hallway door. 

"Spike!  Thank god.  I have to pee."

"I swear, you humans spend all your time either putting stuff in your body or sendin' it out again."  Spike may have complained, but he did walk over while pulling the key out of his pocket.  Xander waited for him to pull open the one manacle before pushing Spike out of the way and dashing for the bathroom.   He actually found himself grateful for his nudity because he wasn't sure he would have had time to pull down pants. 

"What the hell were you singing, pet?" floated in a voice from the other side of the metal half-wall.

"It's from Sesame Street; it's the llama song."

"Oi, you have to learn some musical taste."

"Hey, I like that second verse," he yelled back over the cubical wall since his bladder was still emptying itself.  Only once he had taken care of his 'inconvenient' human needs did he find himself embarrassed by his nudity.

"Spike?" he yelled from inside the bathroom cubicle.


"Do you have any clothes I could wear?"  Xander barely caught the clothing that sailed over the top of the bathroom stall.  The gray jeans were back, cleaned.  Xander wondered if that meant the vampires did laundry or if Spike made someone do his laundry for him.  This time the shirt was a red silk very similar to the one Carlos had lent him on his one night of running food at Glitters.  While he'd lost other jobs after one night, never before had he regretted it so much.  With a sigh he slipped into the clothes and left his sanctuary.  He found Spike in the main room sitting in the chair watching the small television. From the show, Xander guessed it must be around 6 or 7, too early for the vampire to have gone out.

"Where were you?"

"Sewers.  Needed to do some listenin', pet."

"Listening for what?"

"Rumors.  You put on a nice show last night, and now I just need to listen up and catch enough juicy bits to fix that wanker good."  Spike leaned back in the chair, but Xander could see the muscles in his arms flex.  Spike may have put on a semblance of relaxation, but every muscle was tensed.

"I assume the wanker in question is Cassidy,” Xander commented as he leaned against the door frame.


"And the show was…" Xander allowed his voice to trail off.  He felt awkward around Spike now, and he didn't know whether that came from last night's punishment or this morning's realization that only one of them would survive.

"You.  When the other vamps saw that Cassidy couldn't even keep a pet's loyalty, they started to question whether or not to follow him.  If I'd dominated your demon—taken over the claim—that'd show I was stronger, but doin' it this way with you still holdin' his claim, it shows that he's so weak that his pet went lookin' for someone strong enough to hold a claim.  Worked slightly better than I thought.  All sorts of people who wouldn't talk earlier are singin' their hearts out."   Xander thought about the silent faces that had watched when they left the bar the previous evening. 

"Cassidy has to get me back to prove he's not weak," he said as he leaned heavily against the doorframe since his legs now seemed incapable of carrying his weight.

"He'll try," Spike agreed from the chair.

"Oh shit."  Spike hadn't tried to enforce the claim, but he knew that Cassidy wouldn't hold back.  Cassidy had to prove that he could, how did Spike once put it, beat or fuck Xander into submission.  Shit.  He had an irrational desire to beg Spike for protection, but he reminded himself that Spike had set the situation up in the first place.  Spike saw him as a dog, an animal who, even if you care about them, is expendable.  Xander repeated that to himself until the urge to crawl into Spike's lap and cry had passed.  Besides, he now realized that Spike's own brand of affection probably had little to do caring; he just wanted a way to get back at Cassidy.

"So, more demon bars tonight?" he tried for nonchalant, but he knew that his voice actually came out closer to desperation.  He really didn't want to spend more time kneeling at Spike's feet; he was messed up in the head enough already.

"No, we're meetin' Peaches first, then a few human bars."

"Peaches?  We're meeting with Angelus?"  This time Xander realized his voice had gone up into the squeaking range.

"It’s all right, pet.  Got his soul now, won't hurt ya," Spike stood up and started pacing the room.  "'Course his soul's a pretty impermanent thing, but we won't be 'round long."

"Impermanent?" Xander asked, unsure how that worked.

"Yeah.  He fell for some bint, and when the Master killed her, he tried to save her. Tried to use bloody CPR only he managed to put her in a coma instead of bringin' her back.  He got his broody guilt up so high, some magic-type in Sunnydale tried to make him happy.  Turns out that if he gets happy enough, the soul just sort of floats away."

"What exactly do you mean 'floats away'?"

"Just that, pet.  His soul left, and Sunnydale got to meet the soulless Angelus or rather an angry version of Angelus that had been trapped behind a soul for a century or so.  From the stories I heard all the way in Europe, it wasn't pretty.  He did a lot of damage before they could magic his soul back into him."

"And we're meeting him….why?!"

"Cause he knows mojo, and that place last night reeked of it.  Mojo and somethin' else that just don't feel right."  Xander was so distracted by the thought of a soul doing a disappearing act that the second comment slipped by him for a moment so that Spike had actually started for the stairs before he could respond.

"Wait," Xander franticly cried.  "We can't go to the neighborhood now."

"My sire's waitin', and while annoying the pouf isn't a problem, we need to meet him."  Xander felt cool hands at his arms, pushing him up the stairs.

"But…but Gunn…th-the guys, they'll be out now," Xander stuttered.  Panic reached new levels as the fear from last night flared into outright horror.

"I won't kill your mates," Spike sighed, and Xander felt one hand tighten as Spike stopped him at the top of the stairs so he could open the padlock with his free hand.

"But what if they…I mean, they could start something."

"Worried about me, pet?" Spike asked as they stepped out into the night, the sky still grey from last dregs of the sunset.  Spike's pleased tone make Xander shrink into himself.  For a moment he wished that Spike would just be a little more vampire-like so he didn't have to feel so damn bad about trying to kill him.

"I just don't want to end up Cassidy-kibble," he finally complained.

"Won't happen, luv."  By now they had reached the bike, and Spike quickly slipped on and held out a hand for Xander.  God, he was back to charming.  Xander gave up trying to understand the annoying vampire and settled for wrapping his arms around the slim waist and closing his eyes in an attempt to ignore the questionable driving skills.  Of course, if Spike liked him, that only made it easier to kill him when the time came.  This time the wail in his head felt more distant—almost muffled. 

When they stopped outside the theater this time, Xander saw the big black convertible, but he didn't see either Gunn or Gunn's truck. He just prayed that the guys wouldn't show up.  Xander scooted off the bike and waited for Spike nervously.  He had to grit his teeth to avoid chanting 'hurry up, hurry up, hurry up.' 

"Oi, stop broodin'.  If I gotta deal with Peaches, I can't take you too."  Xander flinched when Spike threw an arm around his waist to guide him to the now-open front door causing Spike to quirk an eyebrow in silent query.

"It's nothing.  I just want to get this over with and leave before anyone sees us.  We aren't exactly inconspicuous here," Xander complained with a wave toward the vehicles in front the open front door with boards thrown about on the sidewalk.

"Yeah, not subtle, but Peaches never was."  Spike nodded toward a figure now coming out of the newly opened front door, and Xander watched as a tall hunk of a man came out of the theater.  Where Spike was all angles and sharpness, this man was curves. His arm muscles curved with one muscle disappearing into another.  His chest curved in a manly broad-chested sort of way, his walk even seemed to roll in gentle curves where Spike had a brisk, energetic stride.  If this was the famous "Peaches," vampire families obviously didn't share many traits.  The man dropped a crowbar into the back of the black convertible before picking up a long-sleeved shirt and putting it on over the t-shirt he wore.

"William," came a deep, calm voice, and Xander glanced behind them to see who the man had addresses.

"He means me, ya git." Spike tightened the arm around his waist while Xander nodded knowingly and made a small "oh" gesture with his mouth.

"What have you gotten into this time?" Xander heard the tone and couldn't help think of his own father; the disapproval and disrespect dripped from Angelus' mouth.  He wondered how Angelus would take it if he managed to kill Spike.  He knew his own father wouldn't do more than show up at the funeral for the sake of presenting a respectable front.  No, if he failed, his mother would be the only one crying.  He felt Spike's arm tighten.

"Me?  Not done anythin', and I won't 'til I can find that wanker.  Just thought you'd like a look is all."  Spike nodded toward the theater.  He sounded calm, but Xander could feel the muscles twitch, and he knew the infinite variations of Spike's eyebrows well enough to see the tension rolling off.

"And him?"  This time Xander jumped as Angelus gestured toward him.

"I'm just, you know, riding along," he blurted quickly, but Angelus didn't respond or even look at him.

"What kind of game are you playing with his life, William?  I told you before that if you continue this nonsense I will take your play toy away."  Angelus took a step forward, but Spike didn't move, leaving Xander unable to back away from the impending fight; however, he wasn't going to go down without some sort of objection.  If he had little to no chance with Spike, his chances of surviving Spike's older, larger, more powerful sire were somewhere between zero and not a chance in hell.

"Hey now," he began in his strongest voice, "I am not a play toy, and no one gets to take me anywhere."

"Boy," Angelus began.

"No, not boy, 'Xander.'  Alexander if you must, but not 'boy'."  And that got the tall vampire's attention.  Angelus turned and looked at him as though seeing him for the first time.

"I didn't mean to insult you, but you must admit that compared to me, you are young."

"Yeah, that still doesn't make me a boy, it just makes you old," he snapped back, and he could feel Spike twitch with suppressed laughter.

"You tell 'em, pet."

"William," Angelus' tone carried a warning of future pain; Xander knew that tone.

"Bloody hell, you're the one what started this," Spike pointed out and Xander found himself agreeing. 

"Xander," Angelus began, now obviously ignoring Spike to the point of turning so that Angelus' body faced him and not Spike, "Spike cannot hurt you while I'm here.  Just tell me where you live, and I'll take you home before I head back to the office."  Of all the things he had expected, this hadn't even made the list. He narrowed his eyes as he tried to figure out the game that Angelus was playing.  Did the vampire want to get him alone and away from Spike?  Did the soul mean that he was offended by Cassidy's claim?  He might just be offended by Spike's obvious affection and intimate embrace.  Maybe Angelus didn't see him as good enough for the family—he would hardly be the first to voice that opinion. Then again, the whole man-on-man love thing was rather unpopular way back when, so maybe Spike's proprietary arm made Angelus angry.  Were vampires homophobic?  Xander considered a whole new possible depth of gay-bashing. 

"Uh, thanks Angelus, but I think I'll stick it out here," he finally answered after several awkward seconds.  He couldn't miss the flinch at the name.

"I go by Angel," the vampire corrected him.

"And I go by Spike, simple name really, innit?  Fewer syllables than William, but you never do seem to remember."  Xander couldn't believe that they were standing on the street having this argument when each passing minute increased the odds of Gunn or the crew showing up.

"Angelus, Angel, Spike, William, whatever.  Does this really matter right now?"  Angel's eyebrows rose to comical heights and the large vampire took a step back.

"Are you sure he's not yours?  He sounds a lot like you," Angel dryly commented to Spike, and from the corner of his eye, Xander could see Spike smirk.

"Nope, the whelp came like that.  Anyway, Xander's right.  I called you to look at that mojo—think it might be related to that wanker Cassidy.  Lots of minions around, claiming their masters were killed by mojo, and Cassidy's the only new master in town."  Angel sighed so loudly that Xander could clearly hear it and see the wide chest rise and fall.  Damn, when did vampires get so damn cute?  And unless he was mistaken, Spike had just used his name for the first time.  Did that mean something?  With a start, he suddenly realized that the vampire had never asked for his name; the bastard felt him up and didn't even know his name.  Xander felt a hot flash of anger, and within a second, Spike turned a confused look toward him.


"It's just this place," Xander waved toward the building vaguely even though he felt like he could stake Spike right there on the sidewalk.

"Yeah, that's why I brought ya'.  You need to tell Peaches everything that happened the other night."

"You were here?" Angel turned a surprised look toward him.

"Yeah.  I was here when Fredrick died."  Xander thought he had edited out the guilt, but obviously not because Spike had that "I told you not to do that" look, and Angel had the strangest expression on his face—nearly emotionless but still distant and cold in a way.  Yeah, definitely not going anywhere with that vampire.  At least not if anyone gave him a choice.

"Tell me what happened," Angel commanded in a voice that expected an immediate answer.  Angel held out his arm in an obvious invitation for Xander to go first.  Catching a quick look at Spike, he realized that Spike expected him to do exactly that.

"We came because Gunn had seen some vamps—better dressed than usual.  Six of us came in through the broken boards there," Xander walked in the front door and then gestured toward the side where light came in through the lopsided boards.  Once in the lobby, he could almost feel his backpack and hear the crew members steps even though the two vampires walked silently.  Taking a deep breath, he continued.  "We smelled this horrible stink, but we started walking toward the back."

"Day or night?" Angel interrupted him.

"Late afternoon.  The roof has lots of holes in the front, so we had pretty good light in here."  Angel just nodded and made vague gesture that he should continue even as Angel started looking around behind counters. 

"We started walking down the hall toward the main theater; every time we have to clean this place out, the vamps always nest in there."

"Sewer access is in there," Angel offered as he continued to open drawers and cabinet doors behind the now ruined snack counter.

"We never found a sewer access, but we do always find them back there, so we started back with Gunn in the lead.  When a vampire came out the main doors, Gunn attacked.  We all turned on our lights and when I went to move the lights into position, Fredrick disappeared.  I called for Gunn who charged into the main room, and then I went in after him."

"How many vampires in there?"

"I don't know. I barely got in the door when a vamp grabbed my light and threw it out; the whole room got really dark.  I caught one vampire by accident when I first lost my light.  The second vamp didn't realize my eyes had adjusted to the dark, so I staked him after a minute or so later."  All this time he had wandered down the fateful hall and now his hand rested on the handle.  He knew the two vampires stood behind him, but he still couldn't contain a shudder when he opened the door.  Where he had expected darkness and memory, two flood lights with car batteries lighted the space behind the screen and a diffuse light flooded the whole auditorium.

"Your eyes adjusted?" Angel asked as he followed behind Spike who, Xander now noticed, worked very hard to stay between him and his sire.

"Eyes do that in the dark."

"Cordelia?" Angel yelled, and a giant shadow figure appeared on the screen as a woman stepped between it and the light.

"I hope you know you're paying me overtime for this, mister."

"Of course.  Can you shut the two lights off for a few minutes?"

"No, I can't.  It'll be dark in here."

"I'm aware of that.  Please, Cordelia."

"Double overtime," a petulant voice floated back as first one light and then the other switched off.  Xander waited in the dark, but nothing happened. 

"And the point of this is?" he asked the featureless darkness.

"My point exactly," came the female voice from behind the screen.  "Can I turn it back on now?"

"Just wait a minute," Angel asked.  "Xander, can you see Spike?"  He squinted and struggled to make out the shadowy forms he knew stood nearby. 

"No,” he finally admitted.

"Try harder."

"Bloody hell, he said 'no.'" Spike snapped, and Xander had to laugh at the frustration he could hear in the tone.

"Xander, you said you could see the vampire in here."

"Maybe there was some sort of dim light somewhere; I don't know."

"Lay off, Peaches."

"Don't tell me what to do, Childe.  I am your sire."

"Bleedin' hell you are, you walked on me, me and Dru, so don't you start using that sire bollocks on me now."

"Watch your tongue if you intent to keep it," warned a growling voice, and now Xander knew terror.  What if the soul was gone?  What would this vampire do to him, to Spike?

"Angel?" came a confused feminine voice from behind the screen.   At the sound of muffled impacts, Xander turned to his right and peered into the darkness until he could see two forms struggling.  Fortunately, their different shapes made it possible to tell which was which.  Unfortunately, Angel obviously had Spike bent over backwards and pinned to a row of molding chairs.

"Look at him," Angel demanded and suddenly he could see not only Angel's gold eyes but also Spike's.

"Bloody hell."  The two shadows separated, and Xander looked in confusion from one to the other as the shapes moved toward him, one on the right and one on the left.

"What?" he finally asked when the shapes took positions several feet from him and waited.

"Pet, how much can you see?" Spike finally asked.

"Shadows, outlines.  Not much," Xander admitted.

"Cordelia," Angel called out.

"Can I turn the lights on now?" she demanded in a very aggravated tone.

"In a second.  First, tell me how much you can see."

"You know I can't see anything.  It's totally dark in here."  Xander watched the Angel-shadow walk down the aisle and up the stairs, and Spike's hand gently guided him to follow. 

"Can you see me?" Angel asked, when he reached the top of the stairs and stood at the  corner of the screen.  Spike stopped him a couple of feet behind Angel.

"Okay, that's just creepy, mister.  Floating gold eyes, that's what I see." 

"And now?" Xander could see the gold eyes blink out; the vampire must have returned to his human face.

"And we're back to pointing out the obvious—it's too dark to see in here, at least for those of us who still shop for tanning lotion."

"Okay, one last question," Xander saw the two yellow eyes blink back into existence inside the Angel-shadow.  Angel made a gesture and Spike and Xander joined him behind the curtain.  "Cordelia, how many gold eyes do you see?"  A sharp gasp filled the silence.

"Six.  Good god, you brought vampires back here; I am so going to stake you."  With that, the lights flipped back on, and Xander blinked uncomfortably as a beautiful brunet waved a large stake in Angel's face even as Angel held up his hands in surrender.

"It was an experiment; you're safe," Angel insisted even as he backed up a couple of steps.  He took a closer look at the small woman who had an ancient master vampire backing up, but she just appeared to be a normal human.  A very determined normal human waving a large stake, but even he could see that the point only marginally pointed in Angel's direction.

"Are you sure you didn't get happy out there?" Cordelia asked, and he remembered Spike's comment about a soulless Angel causing real problems back in Sunnydale.  So this woman knew about Angel, and she still worked with him.  Nervy.  Xander could see himself going for her if he wasn't gay; he found strength sexy, and she seemed to have it in spades.

"Believe me, I was with Spike; I did not even approach happy."

"Oh yeah, and you're the life of the party," Spike snorted.  "Trust me, Peaches here needs magical help to get happy; his life is one giant brood."

"You noticed," Cordelia responded with a small smile.  "However, you're still vampires and I'm definitely a stake-first kind of girl."  The point of the stake wobbled over in their general direction.

"Cordelia," Angel said, but this time his voice carried only a tired sort of frustration, not the threat it carried when he spoke Spike's name.  Xander wondered how much that had to hurt. He remembered how his father would be nice to other kids and how that made him feel even more worthless each time he heard it.  "Spike is my childe, and Xander is not a vampire."  Xander wondered what would make her even think that, but then his brain finally processed her commented.  Six. 

"I go all glowy in the eyes?" Xander asked in amazement as he looked from one person to another.

"Yeah, pet.  You do."

"Cool.  I guess the whole unwanted visitor is good for something.  God, no wonder Gunn looked at me so strange that night.  He must have freaked."

"Xander, this isn't part of your claim mark," Angel said softly.

"Angel, this has to be part of my claim mark.  Glowing eyes do not run in my family," Xander pointed out as he rolled his eyes.  Angel sighed again.

"No, the demon doesn't show in a claimed human. Something is seriously wrong here."  Angel looked like he had a serious case of constipation, and Xander felt like he had missed all the notes and someone was asking him to take a test.

"Human eyes don't glow; demon eyes do.  It seems pretty clear that the demon is showing in *this* claimed human."

"Xander, the demon in a claim responds to its master, not its host.  Your master isn't here, so the demon should be dormant."

"Should be, could be, might be," he shrugged, "but clearly isn't."  He suspected that Spike had called up his demon when threatened, but he had no intention of sharing that particular theory.

"Is someone going to explain this to me or do I have to start torturing people?" Cordelia asked, and he turned to really look at her.  She certainly seemed familiar, but he couldn't place her. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail that made her seem young, but the pencil stuck behind one ear and the laptop sitting in her lap now that she had returned to the floor and the scattered drawings reminded him more of Willow than anyone else. 

"It's a long story," Angel sighed.

"That you'll tell me all about on our way back to the office," Cordelia assumed with a smile as she started collecting the various drawings and shutting down the computer.  "Starting with who the blonde is and why you two were fighting."  Spike had made an offended noise when called "blonde," but Cordelia ignored it as if he didn't even exist. 

"We weren't fighting; I was just trying to make a point about Xander," Angel explained as she finished her gathering

"And by the way, the next time you're trying to make a point, you keep your bloody hands off me," Spike spoke up as Xander felt the arm slip back into its familiar place around his waist.  Cordelia's eyes widened, but she didn't comment as she thrust the laptop at Angel and took the portfolio with the drawings in her own arms.  Angel ignored both the arm and the complaint.

"I sketched and Cordelia scanned all the symbols," Angel explained as he gestured toward the reddish-brown figures that Xander had avoided looking at.  "Xander, I need you to help me figure out the smell."

"Uh, a really gross cross between industrial ammonia and dead stuff?"

"I need to know what potion they might have used.  If we could head over to Thopis, we might be able to narrow that down more."

"Oi, I don't want him anywhere near that place.  There's mojo enough there to poison an elephant."  Xander had thought that the previous evening had been bad, but he was quickly learning to hate the way these two argued.  He was tired enough to sleep for a week.

"I can't be more specific, Angel," he explained earnestly.

"We can pull out a few ingredients, see if any of the smells are familiar," Angel explained in a hopeful tone.  "This looks like a big spell and a dangerous one at that.  We need information."  Angel gestured toward the strange, ragged figures decorating the walls.

"No bloody chance.  Got places to go, people to eat." 

"William, I catch you killing and I'll stake you myself."

"Right," Spike drawled.  "I figured you'd be more the type to stand back and critique my performance.  You know, 'Kill 'em slower, Spike,'  'Can't you cause more pain than that, Spike?'"  Shit, after a couple centuries you'd think they'd grow up.  This sounded like him and his father before dear old dad had just stopped showing up.

"Spike," Xander used a warning tone of his own as he almost felt the room grow colder. 

"William," Angel growled as the gold reappeared in his eyes.

"Oh for god's sake, dump some testosterone and get a life," Cordelia insisted as she walked between the two and grabbed the strap of the computer, pulling Angel along after her.  "Come on, you can follow us to Thopis."

"Never said I'd go," Spike shouted to Cordelia's and Angel's backs, but the two figures just left without a reply.

"She's interesting," Xander commented.  "And Angel's a stud; you never said he was such a stud."  He waited for the reaction, and three…two…one…

"Bloody hell, you go lookin' at him, and you won't have to worry about havin' eyes—glowin' or not."

"What?" Xander asked with his best innocent voice.  Spike narrowed his eyes and stared while he simply blinked back with wide, naïve blinks.  It was one of his best looks, and he knew it.

"Bloody little shit," Spike complained as he let go and started up the aisle where the other two had disappeared.  "Still never agreed to go."

"Yeah," he agreed as he trotted after Spike.  "But you're the one who said that something's wrong, and you're the one who called Peaches because you thought he could fix it.  I say we go along."

"Hate it when you do the bloody logical bit."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he shot back, suddenly feeling more cheerful than he had since the whole mess had started.  He wasn't the demon-magnet loser; he was Xan-man the glowy eyed…man.  Okay, he really needed to find a better rhyme before he said that one out loud.

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