Janus' Shadow


by
Litgal



Part Five


Xander scooted back a bit, trying to avoid the broken spring on the old sofa sleeper as he watched the small television he kept in the outer apartment. Not that it was an apartment—more like a large closet with a refrigerator at one end. If he honestly had to live in a dump like this, he would set fire to it just for the pleasure of watching it burn.

Sitting in the flickering light of the television, Xander suddenly wondered what the hell he was doing. He… what? Loved? Desired? Lusted after? Felt possessive about Spike? Oh god, Xander let his head fall back against the couch and stared at the yellowing ceiling. Okay. He felt something for an evil creature, and did that make him evil? Xander knew he had evil in his heart and had since the hyena and the vampire, maybe even before that, but he couldn't avoid thinking that hanging out with the bleached evil was making him feel a little more evil than normal.

But hanging out with a vampire again, hunting, having a clan… not that he needed a clan. Nope, not the Xand man. He just needed friends, like Willow and Buffy, only ones that saw him as a fighter and who enjoyed the feeling of a sharp sword slicing through flesh and didn't complain about demon goo on shoes or go all weird when Xander laughed in the face of danger. He liked laughing in the face of danger.

Xander shot a glance toward the bathroom door as he shifted again and then really just wished Cordy would just show up because he was starting to get a headache. He wasn't thinky-boy, as evidenced by the fact that he had obviously started something he couldn't handle.

Unfortunately, Cordelia Chase didn't live by anyone's expectations or preferences, so he sat and stared at some bad science fiction movie, the plot of which seemed to be to get as many earth women out of their clothes as possible.

Xander had watched nearly an hour of women with spandex shirts that bounced with every step, and he still hadn't figured out any plot by the time a pounding at the door interrupted him. Sighing, he escaped the grip of the butt-poking couch and peered through the peep hole. In this neighborhood, you could never be too cautious, but only Cordy stood there with an expression that suggested she hadn't enjoyed the trip.

Pulling the door open, he plastered on his best smile. "Cordy!" he cheerfully welcomed her as he stepped back. He'd expected various Cordy-insults aimed at his pathetic, small apartment, but she just looked around and made a small disgusted sniff before getting to the point.

"So, where's the Bleached Menace?" Cordy demanded, a blue cooler over one arm and a small designer bag over the other. Trust Cordy to look like a million dollars even while living off a vamp who grew up when five dollars a week could make a man a nice living. Xander guessed that Cordy was probably in the middle of breaking Angel of that belief.

"Out," he answered shortly.

"Ah-huh. Right. You just let him go wandering around town?" She didn't bother hiding her disdain or her disbelief.

"He's chipped; he can't hurt anyone," Xander pointed out, working to control his frustration at her challenging tone of voice.

"Exactly, and you just let the helpless vampire go wandering around with the soldier boys out there hunting?" Cordy put the cooler on the tiny island that barely had enough room for one placemat and turned to glare at him with her hands on her hips.

"It's not like he's a prisoner," Xander snapped, and the minute he did, he regretted it as Cordy's eyes turned to stone. Xander crossed his arms over his chest and tried to ignore the rising discomfort. Okay, now he knew why Angel complained about her. Of course, he kinda already knew she had a nearly magical ability to make anyone she looked at like a bug actually feel like a bug, and considering she was a Hellmouth-raised princess, there just might be magic involved.

Xander dropped his gaze and suddenly he felt a familiar self-hate at the fact that he was backing down to Cordy because she was just a human, but then he was just a human, and Xander closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he tried to gather his quickly scattering thoughts.

"I don't care what you two have going on, but you'd better leave Angel out of it. Every time you call he spends the next week pounding some poor punching bag or some poor demon or in one memorable case, one poor wall. Of course then he gets guilty and buys me things for acting like an ass, but I can get him to do that without your help, thank you very much." Cordelia stopped, and Xander looked at her with an open mouth.

"Um, okay?" he stuttered an answer, not sure how to handle a Cordelia who sounded strangely protective of Angel. A nagging part of him resented a human's claim on a master vampire, but then he was sort of pot and kettlish on that score.

"So, where's Spike?" she asked again, the anger gone in a blink as she examined the room, which was strange since there really wasn't much to examine.

"He's not here. I don't have him shoved in the closet if that's what you're worried about," Xander said as he watched Cordy's eyes focus on the closet doors. Xander rolled his eyes and went to load the blood from the cooler into the small, dirty refrigerator with the motor that made a high-pitched whine when he kept the door open too long.

"Uh huh," Cordelia went over to the closet and slid open the doors. One stuck and she swore softly as she tried to wrestle it back onto the track. "So, where are you living these days?"

Xander nearly dropped the blood. "Hey, what you see is what you get," he answered after an awkward moment of juggling a squishy bag of blood while holding the refrigerator door open with his hip.

"Right. So, where's that comic book you raved about for days when Buffy touched it?"

"I don't know what you mean," Xander said as his heart started beating faster. The comic in question was hanging in an airtight display in his real living room along with several others he'd bought over the years.

"Considering that thing said 10 cents on the cover, I don't see why you got so cranky about Buffy tossing it, but I definitely remember your face turning a beautiful shade of white. I also remember that you used to have some surprisingly not disgusting clothing in your closet. This thing is full of flannel and geekwear." Cordelia waved a dismissive hand at the closet and then sat on the arm of the couch, which was actually the most comfortable part of the thing.

"I, um," Xander struggled to come up with an answer. "When did you see my closet?" Xander went for distraction, but from the amused look of disbelief, he did it poorly.

"Senior year, that day we all came over right before we blew up the school. I sure as hell wasn't checking out you, so I had to look at something," Cordelia shrugged. "But enough about you, Angel promised you were providing payment for this little side trip."

Xander finished stacking the blood and happily followed Cordelia onto the new topic. "Hey, not sure this is real, but I found it in one of the vampire lairs we raided last year. Xander opened a kitchen drawer and pulled out the red and gold bauble. He traded a good solid week on a translation of a family lineage for a demon that smelled like moldy bread to get the piece. Now he offered it to Cordelia. He'd been planning on offering a smaller blue bracelet, but desperate times called for desperate measures, and Cordy's sharp vision was making him pretty damn desperate.

"Oh, Xander," Cordelia breathed reverently as she stood up and flipped on the kitchen light to see the pendant better. "This is real ruby," she fingered the stone that hung from the gold chain, and Xander smiled at the expression of awe. Now if she just forgot the rest of the conversation, it would all be worth it.

"Hey, count on demon lairs to be full of the good stuff. Or is that dragon lairs that have the treasure?" Xander went to go sit on the couch, but he found himself in a tight hug. Before he had a chance to return the embrace, Cordelia had let him go and practically pushed him toward the couch.

"I should probably have it cleaned to make sure I don't get cooties," Cordelia sniffed.

"You know, as much as you abuse me, why didn't we ever get together?" Xander asked with a wink.

"Because I'm top dog, and I don't plan on sharing that spot with someone with equal parts bossiness and dorkitude," Cordelia answered in a voice so matter-of-fact that Xander had to gather his thoughts for a second.

"I'm hurt," he finally complained as she fastened the gold and ruby necklace so that the stone lay on her bare skin, winking at him in red flashes.

"Whatever. Just do me a favor and leave Angel out of this because he goes and does the whole brooding thing whenever you two talk."

"Hey, so not my fault."

"So don't care," Cordelia shot back with an exaggerated shrug and a small smile. "Just so don't call any more."

"Right, like I want to talk to Deadboy,"

"If you need to talk…" Cordelia's voice grew suddenly serious, and Xander saw a flash of the true Cordy, the one who stayed with Angel because she had just as much loyalty and selflessness in her as anyone he'd ever known. Someone who delighted in verbally torturing others as she hid that more compassionate side, and he could appreciate her flare for torture too.

"I'm okay, Cordy," he answered just as seriously.

"'Okay' might be a strong word for it. I'd say more like not a complete dork," Cordelia sniped back, mask firmly in place, and Xander smiled.

"A complete dork who just gave you jewelry, so I think I've bought myself some insult free time this evening."

"As if. You're just lucky I have some real work, other than playing go between for you and McBroody pants." Cordelia leaned forward and gave him a quick peck on the cheek before she turned around and headed for the door, waving her hand over her shoulder in a farewell.

Xander watched her breeze out of his apartment. Right. Time to deal with Spike. Chipped Spike. Not that he wanted Spike dechipped. Okay, maybe a little want in there. Xander sighed as he closed and locked the door. Spike needed Angel's blood, and he needed a brain transplant, but at least he could fix one problem.

Walking into the inner apartment, Xander avoided looking at the corner with the tied-up vampire as he focused on the west wall. His prized comics hung in sealed containers that protected them from dust or grease or inconsiderate slayers. The one with Robin crashing through a paper hoop to appear for the very first time had a place of honor on the top row with the first comic book to feature Cat Woman and the one with Superman joining Batman and the one where Spiderman had to fight the Chameleon.

"Give me your word that you won't do anything I wouldn't do," Xander said, still facing the wall.

"Seems like I'm not sure what that means," Spike's voice sounded calm, but Xander could imagine how the childe felt. He'd pledged himself to a sire who just might have lost his marbles. Then again, this should be familiar territory for Spike. Xander turned around and found himself mesmerized by the sight of that perfect body spread out in front of him, still tied to the bed by his wrists with his ankles wrapped in leather.

"Promise me that you won't do anything I might find morally of the bad. No killing nuns or eating babies."

Spike's head tilted to one side as he held his head up at an awkward angle that left him looking down the length of his body.

"Right then, those the only terms?"

Xander thought quickly. "No doing harm to anyone who doesn't, you know, completely deserve it. And at least try to avoid doing harm even when someone does deserve it," Xander amended himself. Spike stared at him silently. "And no doing stuff that could hurt someone even if the chip lets you do it, so no trying to make Buffy starve herself to death by calling her fat. In fact, no calling Buffy fat at all because she so isn't, but if she doesn't stop dieting… and I think I'm going to stop now." Xander felt his face heat as he realized he had just blown through all his cool points. But at least he wasn't the one tied up. Xander wandered across the middle of the room, biting his lower lip and considering the perfect body laid out before him.

"So, you want me to be some bloody boy scout?" Spike asked, scorn clear in his voice.

"No!" Xander instantly replied before the rest of his brain started complaining about Spike tone of voice.

"Then wot?" Spike's accent thickened and his face froze into a cold expression, one that others might call anger, but Xander thought probably held more fear.

Xander sighed as he tried to get this right. The words he spoke now meant too much for him to fuck this up. "Promise me that while you will still be snarky and bitchy and just as—" Xander struggled for a word, "as puerile as ever, you won't actually cause permanent or substantial harm to anyone if you can avoid it."

He looked into Spike's eyes as he reached the side of the bed. Reaching out, he trailed one finger up the captive leg, feeling the smooth, cool skin ripple in response. "Promise me that you won't make me sorry for getting that chip out for good. Promise me that you won't do something to confirm Giles' belief that I'm in total self-destructive mode here." Xander now focused on that hard cock as he allowed his fingers to brush the edge of the surrounding hair, his fingertips exploring the curve of a hip and the dip of a bellybutton as Spike hissed an unnecessary breath. "Promise me," Xander finished. He splayed his fingers out against Spike's strong thigh and looked into bright blue eyes.

Spike considered him for several minutes, and Xander knew that Spike knew that his words would matter.

"You askin' me ta go crawling around your mates?" he finally asked.

"No! Um, I'm thinking I don't want them to see you crawl. I don't intend on anyone seeing you crawl," Xander's fingers tightened until they created furrows in the flesh and he had to intentionally loosen his grip.

"So, if I have the chip out and some soldier boy is tryin' to take me?" Spike let his question trail off.

Taking a deep breath, Xander sat on the bed and stroked a patch of skin as he watched Spike struggle to not twist and whine in need. "I'm not big on the thinkiness. I've always been more on the act now and figure out how to cover my tracks later. Hell, even as a vampire I drove Nusa insane with the whole taking on a slayer by myself trick, which I managed to do over and over and over again despite skin-flaying whippings, and thinking was not really a big part of the package."

Xander remembered that part of his history with equal parts pride and self-loathing. He just really hoped that part was all imagination, the overcompensating of a Zeppo who had a slayer always telling him to go home despite the fact he had fought at Angel's side any number of times. He hoped the memory of killing five slayers was his own sick and twisted imagination and not chaos magic making the impossible possible.

"Anyway, I've decided I'm going to stop with the thinking and go with acting first, covering of ass later," Xander admitted.

"Right then. What the bloody hell does that mean?" Spike asked, but the tone carried more amusement than anything else. Well, maybe less amusement than frustration, but Xander was chalking that one up to the slow, tender stokes he now made up and down the shaft of Spike's cock, a tenderness more torture than any whip.

"Means that I would want you to kill as few soldiers as possible," Xander answered, "and no torture, definitely no torture," he amended himself after remembering Angel's story of Spike's last visit.

"Deal," Spike offered. "My word on it, and while I'm an evil, murderous bastard, I do keep my word."

"Oh yes, you will," Xander agreed as the magic made the air flare with a subtle heat before it shimmered and settled into Spike's skin.

"So, the only thing definitely off the menu is torture; torture's my job," Xander added as he swirled a thumb around the head of Spike's cock and then took his hand away altogether as Spike made an awkward attempt to thrust up.

"After all," Xander said with a smile, "I'm sire, and that makes this body mine," Xander pointed out as he ran a fingernail up the underside of that engorged cock. Spike slid into gameface and snarled. Xander only pulled back again, and this time aimed a snapping finger at the head, tweaking it hard enough to elicit a growl from Spike.

"Mine," Xander said cheerfully as he flicked the head of Spike's cock a second time. "Mine," Xander reached down and jerked a single hair out of Spike's balls. Spike hissed, snake-like and low. "Mine," Xander said as he trailed a tickling finger around the head of the cock so that frustration shone out of Spike like rays of sunshine.

"In fact, you're all mine, and I'm never letting you go again," Xander said as he yanked off his shirt and lay down next to the bound body. "You're my deadly pet, and you'll never escape me," Xander reached over and took a small brownish nipple in his teeth and nipped sharply before sucking.

Spike groaned, and his self-control snapped as he started twisting so that the metal frame of the bed creaked. Xander ignored the struggles and continued to alternate sharp nips that caused bucking desperation and sucking that led to a needier twisting motion.

"All mine, and I can do whatever I feel like with you," Xander pointed out. "I can leave you tied here forever and slam into you a dozen times a day until you're worn out and used up and lay here limp from pleasure and pain."

"No bloody way you can wear me out, mate," Spike snapped back, and Xander recognized the challenge. He laughed slowly and quietly, little more than a chuckle.

"Maybe I'll just fill you up then, stuff the world's largest dildo up your ass and seal it in so that every time you move you remember that your body is mine. Maybe I'll mark you so that every time you look at yourself you remember that I'm never going to let you off this invisible leash you're going to wear for the rest of your unlife." Xander dug a fingernail into one of the faint rune scars hard enough to make a crescent-shaped cut. Xander had a dozen more small tortures planned, but Spike's body stiffened and arched as he came all over his own stomach.

Xander looked up at Spike's face, both eyebrows raised in question and wishing he could figure out the one eyebrow trick.

"Don't bloody say it; it's been too damn long. Besides, it's not like you lasted either," Spike complained.

Xander didn't say anything, but he did laugh as he settled back down onto the bed, thinking that he really needed new sheets. Seriously needed new sheets. However, tomorrow would have to be soon enough.

"Plannin' on untying me?" Spike asked as he yanked the wrist shackles, making the chains rattle.

"Nope," Xander answered as he tucked a pillow between Spike's head and arm so that he could lay his head next to his childe's. Clapping twice, Xander made the apartment lights turn off as he hummed the tune of "Clap on, clap off."





Part Six

Morning came entirely too soon for Xander, or afternoon anyway since he found late hours suited both his sidekick-to-the-slayer and his translator-to-the-demons personas. As he struggled out of sleep, he found himself remarkably unbothered by the whole giving-Spike-permission-to-kill thing even though he knew Giles and Willow would put him through a depossession spell while Buffy yelled at him. He was just going to have to live with not telling them. Ever. Never ever.

While Spike still slept, Xander went to the outer apartment to get some of the sire's blood to help Spike heal up. Despite the human blood he'd had yesterday and the night's sleep, the vampire's color still suggested poor feeding. And despite the agreement, Xander could still practically feel Spike fighting to not fight. Xander wasn't about to let Spike near anyone until he was physically ready and not struggling with their relationship. Putting the blood into his real refrigerator until Spike woke, he started his 'morning' routine.

"Soddin' bored now," a voice complained when Xander had all his concentration on tracking down the possible verb conjugation forms for an Amphisbaena dialect.

"Gah!" Xander dropped the pen he was using and clutched the edge of his desk.

"What the?" Spike's voice sounded concerned for only a second before he started laughing.

"Laugh it up," Xander groused, "I'm trying to do work here, and you startled me."

"Right, scared of the dark too?" Spike's voice carried none of the venom of his words but even so, Xander felt a flare of anger that his own childe would so disrespect him. Xander pushed himself half out of his chair. Before he could even stand, Spike's eyes dropped down to the floor. Fury drained from Xander as he realized that for Spike, this probably counted as obedience. Besides, he didn't want to pull his hellcat's claws.

"At least I'm not stupid enough to piss off the person with the keys to the chains and the access to the sire's blood," Xander pointed out, and he went ahead and stood up, a smirk on his own face. Spike's eyes darted back up, and Xander remembered being on the other side of this dominance ritual.

He remembered racing through the park, Buffy distracted by the need to pound Giles' location out of someone, scabby-faced minions stalking them, being human and getting dragged to Angelus. He remembered being forced to his knees while Angelus ruffled his hair with deceptively gentle fingers and described how he would torture Xander, not that he had time to do most of it. He remembered being shoved in a room with Spike, expecting that the younger vampire would want revenge. He remembered making those same darting glances as he tried to figure out how far he could push the crippled vampire… or rather the not-crippled but faking it vampire.

Spike's eyes darted up and found something that encouraged him to keep eye contact. "Oi, not fair," he complained in a thick accent.

"Oh yeah, and you expect me to be fair?" Xander turned his back to the rather satisfying sight of a chained Spike in his bed and fished two blood packets out of the refrigerator.

"Yeah, well you're a human, the slayer's white knight even. You were ready to die under Angelus in order to give her time to save the world," Spike's voice had an unusual seriousness, and Xander remembered that night, what he'd done to keep Angelus busy while Spike went to Buffy for help.

"And you turned against your line to save the world right beside her," Xander pointed out as he heated the blood.

"They weren't my line by then, were they?" Spike answered just as quickly. Xander looked up at the seriousness in Spike's face, their gazes locking for a good minute until the microwave beeped to a stop. Retrieving the giant yellow mug with "Thinking of you" on the outside and "naked" on the inside hidden by the blood, Xander headed over to the bed.

"They aren't worthy of you," Xander said as he put the cup down on the triangle-shaped shelf between the last kitchen cupboard and the bedroom area. "They're deficient," Xander added when he considered the ploys Angelus had fallen for. He never would have fallen for the doe-eyed "please don't rape me again, you're just too manly and big" trap.

"Not like my plans have been goin' well lately," Spike pointed out, and Xander stopped, key half-way to the manacle as he looked down at his vampire.

"Yeah, well considering Buffy's taken out the Master and his minions and Angelus and Order of Teraka and Bazor-momma and the Judge and how long are you going to let me keep going on because the blood's getting cold," Xander said as he unlocked the chains.

"Well, when you put it like that, I'm in good company," Spike smirked as he sat up, cracking his back before reaching out for Angel's blood.

"Of course, no one else had a chance to take down Buffy, and you had her dead to rights twice and couldn’t finish her off because you were doing the whole bragging bit. You really need to work on that," Xander finished. Spike didn't answer, and Xander had no idea if that was some silent acceptance of the criticism or enjoyment of sire's blood. He put the chains away without continuing with the lecture since he didn't really have room to throw many stones.

"So, ya plannin' on telling me what your handiwork means?" Spike finally asked, looking down at the small runes carved along the left side of his chest.

"You mean these?" Xander asked, reaching over and tracing fingers down the pale skin. The runes remained, small flat scars that would remain as long as the spell. "Just a little blood magic," Xander shrugged dismissively. "Don't you trust me?"

"Let ya carve 'em, didn't I?"

"You didn't have much of a choice," Xander pointed out as he carried the now empty mug to the kitchen where he put it on the counter.

"Details," Spike dismissed that with a wave, "so what exactly did you carve in there?"

Xander returned to the bed and looked down at the strong, lean body and at the runes carved into it. He considered whether or not he really wanted to confess. Reaching out, he ran his finger over Spike's cool skin, feeling the edge of the scar that formed the first rune, the double-sided cup.

"It invokes Janus." Rubbing the skin a little harder, he felt the heat of friction as his finger traced the nearly invisible scar. "He's the god of beginnings and endings and new starts. Ethan used his image to summon the original spell, so it seemed right to ask him back."

"Can't say I'm in favor of any god watchin' me—demon here," Spike objected, and Xander shrugged.

"Little late to object now," he pointed out. He moved his finger down to the second mark, the 'x'. "The Roman god Orcus might be more your kind of god. He's the god of oaths, and he punishes anyone who breaks an oath, like someone who would refuse to obey after submitting." Xander looked at Spike with a serious expression, and allowed the silence to say all the things he didn't want to have to say out loud, all the consequences for breaking an oath once you were brought to that god's attention. The threats that lay in that figure that Xander had carved in flesh, Xander couldn't bring himself to say, and illogic, thy name is Xander.

"Bloody hell, that's taking things a mite bit far," Spike said, his eyebrows lowering in concern as he looked at the mark.

"Ah, but he is also a vengeance god who will give blood retribution for those who are wronged," Xander then pointed out. Spike's eyes snapped to him, and Xander stared back steadily. Spike's expression slowly turned from one of outrage to satisfaction.

"The third mark," Xander fingered the checkmark, "is Furrina, the Roman goddess of darkness who makes things clear. When those who hunt in the dark pay homage to the goddess, their luck will improve." Spike's face took on a definite smug edge.

"The last one," Xander fingered the "I" mark. "It's the Celtic symbol for need, but it's also the symbol for the goddess Adeona." Xander stopped there.

"And what's she do?" Spike asked quietly.

"She guides lost children home," Xander answered. He looked up, and Spike stared at him with open shock. For several seconds, they remained frozen, Spike sitting on the edge of the bed clutching a mug, and Xander allowing his hands to explore the carved spell, fingertips brushing off flakes of dried blood.

"Not exactly a demonic spell there, luv," Spike finally said, the accent mutated into something that sounded like Giles and BBC news and that soap opera he could never understand.

"I'm not a demon, Spike. You demon; me human." Xander shrugged. "Of course, I think I might be a morally challenged human because this spell means you have to obey me or suffer the anger of some pretty big gods, and I'm fairly sure than enslaving people is on the not-so-much side of morality."

"What? No lightening? No Hellmouth opening and flinging me to hell if I disobey?" Spike asked, blue eyes both amused and challenging.

"Don't even say that!" Xander reached out and slapped a hand over Spike's mouth.

"I think having four powerful beings pissed at you and giving you the worst luck in all creation is bad enough. Around here that might even be enough to open the Hellmouth." Xander pulled his hand back and clapped it over his own mouth. Spike gave a quick bark of laughter before he settled for smirking so broadly that his cheekbones became sharp cliffs.

"Hey, this is the Hellmouth. And I totally didn't mean that, so takebacks," Xander said as he glared at Spike.

"Right, because the evil gathering around the Hellmouth allows for takebacks," Spike said.

"Yeah, well if you aren't careful, you're going to find yourself with the kind of luck where a car kicks up a rock and breaks your front window when you're driving in daylight or you trip over a shoelace in the middle of kicking the ass of some demon or the slayer is seriously PMS'ing on the day you insult her new jeans," Xander warned in a more serious tone.

"Bloody hell, you wouldn't."

"I already did, my Hellcat. Break your vord to submit to me, and Orcus will demand revenge and Furrina will find you anywhere you hide. You're mine." Xander watched Spike's body shiver, that cock, which had started hardening when Xander traced the runes, hardened even more now.

"Wait a soddin' minute. If this means I can't ever lie…" Spike let a growl carry the bulk of his threat.

"Nope, just your word to me that you would submit, so at this point, doing anything that would be considered refusing to submit would be bad of the unlife-ending variety," Xander confirmed.

"Effin' mojo," Spike snapped.

"Yeah, but now that I know you aren't going to try eating the innocent of Sunnydale, we can concentrate on getting that chip out of your head. Well, that and other stuff of the you submitting variety." Xander trailed his fingertips up and circled the back of Spike's head, pulling the vampire up. He could feel a moment's hesitation before Spike followed the unspoken command and stood.

"Someone needs a reminder lesson in submission," Xander commented calmly, a thousand lesson plans running through his head, many of them making his stomach roll uncomfortably even as his cock hardened, and he was a sick, sick boy.

"Don't bloody need lessons. Could do with some shaggin' though," Spike suggested with a shimmy of his body. Spike's naked body pressing into him reminded him that his childe needed this; his childe needed to know that Xander's Zeppo parts wouldn't stop him from being a sire. Xander hesitated, his hand on Spike's ass pulling him close as the realization struck him. God. He really was dumb. After Angel and the soul and the no more with the sire stuff and the whole Yoda betrayer screaming, he really should have figured this one out about three exits back.

"You will take whatever lessons I chose to teach, my Hellcat," Xander corrected him, suddenly understanding what he had to do in order to prove himself. He slapped Spike's ass hard enough to make the sound echo in the room. Against his neck, bone shifted, and Xander could feel vampire ridges pushing into his skin. Well, he could feel them until Spike started slowly sucking at his neck, giving him an old fashioned hickey like Amy had… at least until she'd gone and rat-tat-tooied herself, and Xander shivered as he realized that all of his potential and actual lovers had been some attempt to get back this feeling: Amy with her magical powers, Faith with her slayer powers, a blissfully short-lived crush on Cordy with her emasculating powers. He missed the feeling that he was petting a tiger that could turn and rip his hand off if he wasn't careful.

Now he knew what he wanted. He wanted to own and control a body where power ran below the skin. He wanted to throw himself against a lover strong enough to survive it. He had this raw need to mark and possess and demand and dominate. Xander lowered his mouth to Spike's neck and placed a gentle kiss on the smooth skin before he bit down with all his might, the sharp taste of metal like when he'd chewed aluminum foil making his jaw muscle feel almost a shivery cold as saliva rushed into his mouth.

Spike's whole body jerked, and Xander slapped a hip awkwardly, unable to get a good angle. "Face the bed," Xander ordered.

"Like facin' you more," Spike retaliated with a hand down the front of Xander's pants, fingers finding the sensitive cock's head.

"Childe," Xander did a fair imitation of a growl as he twisted as hard as he could on Spike's exposed nipple.

"Oi, that hurts," Spike howled as he backed away, rubbing the offended skin.

"I said face the bed. Stand at the end, and face it," Xander crossed his arms and allowed himself a very un-Xanderish smile, or rather a very vampire-Xanderish smile. Spike hesitated, but then turned and took the two steps to the end of the bed, facing it so that he was standing between the two iron poles that stood at the foot of the bed. Xander took his time as he walked around to the second rack and chose items. Spike watched carefully, but Xander ignored him as he picked up one item after another, fingering them carefully. Some he put back on the various racks, others he laid out on the messy sheets.

"Chain your ankles," Xander ordered as he tossed two manacles at Spike. Each had a wide iron cuff for a limb and then a small one that would fit perfectly around the iron pole. Spike caught them as they bounced off his chest, and Xander could see the need to submit warring with instincts that still told Spike to eat the human. Xander stood with his arms crossed, waiting. This could only end one way, but every second Spike hesitated would bring more punishment.

Spike finally took the chains, and locked them around his ankles before spreading his legs wide in order to chain himself to the poles.

"My hellcat," Xander whispered, walking around behind Spike and pressing himself into Spike, the childe's reward for obedience.

"Bloody neutered hellcat."

"Don't look neutered to me," Xander remarked as he slipped a hand around and cupped Spike's heavy balls. He rubbed the skin, feeling the curly hairs bristling against his fingers as Spike hissed his pleasure and dropped his head back onto Xander's shoulder. The sight of that neck arched out in submission left Xander's legs so unsteady and trembling that he just felt like he'd just outrun a troop of zombies the entire length of Sunnydale.

"Soddin' hell yeah," Spike breathed out.

"Plenty more like that, but first you have a debt to pay to your sire, yes?" Xander commented as he pulled back. Spike tried to push himself back into that retreating body until he nearly lost his balance. Unable to reach either pole to steady himself, he ended up bending over to brace himself on the bed.

"Such a lovely offer. I'll have to make sure to chain you more often, pretty one," Xander commented as the position gave him clear access to everything since Spike's legs remained chained open. Spike started pushing himself back up, but Xander reached out and ran the back of one knuckle over the skin behind Spike's balls and up to the puckered entrance. Xander circled the ridge, and Spike sighed and lowered his top half back down onto the bed. "So pretty and so submissive. You know I'm master, and your demon will learn," Xander promised.

He slid a finger inside Spike, the skin dry and warm with friction as he pushed in. Spike wiggled a little, going up onto his toes before he settled back down and pushed himself down the last inch or so until Xander's finger reached all the way up inside, the knuckles of his other fingers pressing into Spike's tender skin.

"Someone went to his grave a virgin," Xander chuckled as he felt the muscular ring tighten around even one finger.

"Not exactly one now, am I?" Spike answered, his words muffled by the bed as he lay with his head and chest against the mattress, his ass pushed high by the angle.

"No, my hellcat, you are most certainly not," Xander agreed as he bent his finger, finding the lumpy, slightly harder spot where the prostate pressed into the colon. He wiggled his finger over it, watching as Spike jerked, his leg muscles cording and straining against the chains.

"Bloody hell, bugger me already. Can't take this rot," Spike cursed as he grabbed fistful of dirty sheets. If Xander hadn't already written off the sheets as a complete loss, the sound of tearing fabric might have annoyed him.

"That is the point, childe. You will take what I give you. More than that, you will beg me. You won't beg me to end the teasing, you will beg me to fill you, to remind you of your place, you will beg for the right to suck my cock and sit at my feet." Xander could feel that body shiver even as Spike pushed himself partially up, Xander's hand on his back keeping him bent over even though Xander could feel the tightness increase around his finger.

"So you can turn me into a pet?" Spike snarled.

"So I can make you my childe as I promised I would. You will sit at my feet and terrify nations of demons," Xander promised, draping his own body over Spike's back. "Isn't that vhat I promised you? I value your strength enough to chain you and keep you. I vill make you strong again, and vhen we face…" Xander hesitated as the thought of that crossed his mind. He took a deep breath and ordered himself to stop thinking of all sorts of nasty, tricky, pus-filled and demonic possibilities down that path.

"When we face the solution to the chip problem, you will be my hellcat: no doubts, no hesitation, no rebellion." With each word, Xander pressed into Spike's prostate, feeling the body fight him even as Spike reached back desperately, grabbing his jeans and hanging on with one hand despite the awkward angle.

"Not goin' to be tossed aside again," Spike muttered as he let his second arm collapse so they both fell to the bed, Xander on top with a finger still up Spike's ass.

"Betray me, and I'll stake you myself," Xander promised seriously. "Show me the loyalty you have thrown away on fools, and you will sit at my feet as long as I sat at Nusa's." Xander pulled his finger out so quickly that he could feel the friction burn the skin and Spike growled lowly. "Annoy me, and I'll just torture you," Xander finished.

Spike didn't comment as Xander locked a manacle around each wrist; he simply watched with yellow eyes. Stepping up onto the bed, Xander took the right wrist manacle and pulled it up until Spike stood at the end of the bed again. Looping the leading chain through a hoop at the top of the pole, Xander used a simple clip to keep the chain as tight as possible. Xander repeated that on the second arm before hopping down. When he walked to behind Spike, he could see that the wrist chains were tight enough to leave Spike the choice between standing on his tip toes or letting all his weight dangle from his wrists. Soon enough both would become uncomfortable.

"Do you have any begging for me?" Xander asked as he trailed a finger down Spike's tight back. Spike shifted his feet as much as he could, which wasn't much, and remained silent. "You doubt I have the will," Xander guessed.

"Bloody hell, ya already went with the effin' mojo, think you've proved ya still are a bastard."

"Oh, but you think I don't know what you need. You need to know that I'm a ruthless bastard who will do what I have to do to get my way. It's our way, is it not?" Xander pointed out as he walked around to the bed. "You need to know that I want you enough to torture you into staying in your place. I made a mistake in that warehouse when I untied you, but to be honest, I hadn't had time to figure out exactly how the two parts of myself fit together yet. I understand much better now."

"Oh yeah?"

"Oh definitely. Now I know that the correct response would have been to leave Angel chained up as I took you again and again, whipping your skin red until you pledged your allegiance and actually meant it. I have your obedience, but now I will force your allegiance."

"But you didn't do that, now did you. Little late to change history now."

"If Ethan's spell has taught me anything, it has taught me that it is never too late to change history," Xander pointed out with a laugh. He gathered a number of cool iron spheres from the bed, old-fashioned things with the marks of long-dead blacksmith's hammers forcing the iron into a ball shape. The globes rolled around in Xander's hand, three or four fitting in his palm. "I made a mistake, and now I'm fixing it. However, you have sinned, childe. Tell me your sins," Xander said as he walked over to a shelf and picked up the oil from the previous night. He carefully poured it into his palm with the iron orbs.

"You asked me to take you," Spike snapped, his voice now defensive.

"Oh, my hellcat, you didn't sin that night. You acted with far more control than I ever expected from such a young one. Barely a century and you gave up the chance to tear into a hot, virgin body. Such control. Such beautiful and deadly control," Xander corrected him as he came around to Spike's back, picking one oily ball from his hand and slowly working it into Spike's unguarded entrance. "That was one wrong guess, so shall we try again?" Xander asked, his finger slowly pushing the iron ball deeper into Spike's body as Spike writhed.

"Not good at guessing games, so why don't you just tell me," Spike snarled, but Xander could see the vampire's hips move in a short and jerky thrusting motion, the chains rattling as Spike pulled on them in frustrated need. The childe wanted to thrust, or be thrust into. Xander might not be able to bring himself to strip the skin from Spike's back the way Nusa had done to him after finding out about his first duel with a slayer, but that only meant he had to be more creative in his punishment.

"Refusing to guess is an incorrect answer," Xander said sadly as he took a second heavy ball and slowly worked it into Spike body. "Try again and you at least have a chance of being right. Think carefully, childe."

This time, Spike remained silent.

"Silence is also an incorrect answer. You will answer me when I ask you a question," Xander said as he worked the third iron sphere into Spike's body. "You will hold those or I will punish you beyond these little games," Xander warned before he pulled his fingers all the way out and left Spike to struggle to hold the balls in with his legs spread wide. As Xander walked around to the bed to retrieve more iron, he didn't miss the heavy cock, fully erect and starting to turn a dull red color. Spike might fight, but he seem to enjoy the fight.

"So, I ask again. What sins do you have to confess?" Xander repeated the oil treatment before he returned to Spike's backside. The oil made the heavy balls go in easier, but they also meant that Spike had to tighten his muscles more firmly in order to keep the balls from dropping out again. He slowly turned the metal sphere in his palm to make sure it had as much oil as possible.

"I killed people?" Spike asked, his voice confused as he cocked his head to one side.

"I am starting to think you want to be tortured," Xander commented as he worked a fourth ball in, pressing harder to get the previous bits of iron worked farther up the body. Xander could feel the moment one pressed into Spike's prostate as the lovely chained body twisted and fought the restraints. Spike panted heavily, a human habit Xander still found both curious and endearing. "You are a vampire, and while I don't condone killing, and I won't have you kill, I can't exactly call killing a sin for you. More like a disagreeable eating habit," Xander pointed out, pushing the iron up so far that his finger disappeared up to the second knuckle.

"Bloody fuckin' hell," Spike snarled as soon as he had enough breath to complain and not just pant.

"I am your sire. What sin have you committed since accepting your place in my line?" Xander demanded as he nipped the skin of Spike's shoulder where the muscle bulged out as the chain pulled the arm tight. Spike grew still.

"You can't expect—" Spike started, and Xander pulled his finger out and shoved a fifth sphere up so fast that Spike swallowed his words. This time Xander had to work at it to get the iron all the way up inside.

"I didn't come to you for help," Spike snapped out. "Shoulda crawled back and admitted I got my arse kicked by some thing with antlers who took Dru from me."

"You should have admitted your failure and taken your punishment," Xander agreed. Now he let his hand reach around and close around Spike's cock, the oil making his skin slide smoothly as he teasingly stroked.

"Didn't know you'd kept the Halloween upgrade, mate," Spike pointed out, but his breath came in shallow needy gasps.

"Vampires do not live alone. If you could not come to me, you should have gone to my line or even to Angel."

"Never soddin' turnin' to Peaches," Spike instantly snapped. Xander slowed his touches until Spike whined with need, forgetting his anger. Xander's mouth found Spike's ear, sucking and nipping as Spike's body struggled with the bonds. In order to not stop the game before it began, Xander kept the thumb of his second hand up Spike's ass while he tickled the back of the Spike's cock and balls with his fingers. Soon enough Spike's mouth gaped open like a dying fish, his head fell back so that his Adam's apple stood out on the curve of his neck, and his hands opened and closed in time with Xander's slow, torturous strokes.

"You vill never have the chance to turn away from me again," Xander promised. "You will turn to me as the center of your universe. I am sire. I offer protection. I punish transgressions." Xander increased the pressure on his stokes, slipping his thumb over the now exposed slit at the end of the cock as Spike began trembling. Xander stopped. He stood, holding his childe's bound body and feeling the chest rise and fall with unnecessary breaths.

"So, your punishment is for thinking that at a mere one hundred you could stand alone. You're lucky a chip and not a stake found you. Lucky and strong," Xander corrected himself when Spike's breathing stopped a little too quickly. His hellcat carried scars from the Aurelius clan, and Xander intended to replace them with marks of his own. And his first order of business was to make sure Spike didn't ever feel weak, no matter what his idiotic clan had told him.

"So, you will endure your punishment without letting these balls drop," Xander said as he slowly pulled his thumb from Spike's body. "For each ball that drops, you shall either have to do something that truly pleases me, something you come up with on your own, or you will endure twenty-four hours chained like this so that I can admire this body I own," Xander stepped back, trailing an oily hand across Spike's hip as he walked diagonally across the large room to the bathroom tucked in the corner behind the television. He wouldn't damage a good whip with oily hands, and maybe he still had more than just a shadow of Nusa's childe in him since he still remembered his own sire's adamant insistence on caring for equipment.

When Xander saw himself in the mirror, his eyes dark with lust and his hair unruly and hanging in front of his eyes in waves, he froze in surprise for a second. For that instant he'd expected to see empty air, and Xander washed up quickly, avoiding the glass that reminded him both how much humanity he had and how much the shadow of his vampire self affected him.

Returning to the bed, Xander picked up a brown, leather whip, the long tails hanging straight and the wood handle worn smooth by handling. "A number, childe. And don't disappoint me," Xander added when Spike opened his mouth too quickly. Spike looked at him, shifting a bit as he worked back up onto his toes to take the strain off his shoulders.

"A hundred," Spike finally offered, his gaze focused on Xander. Xander nodded his approval as he considered the number. He would keep the first sets light enough that a hundred wouldn't damage his hellcat too much.

"And what is the rule vith the iron spheres?" Xander quizzed Spike.

"Five up there. Each one that falls means I need to do something to impress ya or go twenty-four hours strung up like a bloody Persian carpet," Spike answered.

"Not impress, childe. You never need to impress me. At a hundred you held a Hellmouth. You took your first slayer when you were so young you probably still smelled of your grave. You escaped the Initiative, an act only managed by three other demons in all of history. Childe, you have no need to impress me. For each sphere you let fall, you disappoint me, and that disappointment must be repaid with pleasure," Xander corrected him. Xander smiled as Spike's cock twitched in response, and Spike pushed himself up as far on his toes as he could.

"Count," Xander ordered. He brought the whip down sharply on the skin where ass and back met.

"Bloody fuck, one," Spike snapped, and Xander walked over and flipped on a light so that he could better appreciate the cobweb of red from the many tails of the whip. Xander waited until the heat of the hit had reached a peak before bringing the whip down in a series of lighter strikes that spread the heat from the shoulders down to the knees. Xander stopped and waited.

"Two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight," Spike immediately offered. Xander waited, watching the skin turn pink slowly before striking again, this time at Spike's ribs, making the ends of the whip twist around to his front and nip at his chest.

"Nine."

Another flurry along the legs, the edges of the whip tails dancing dangerously close to the vulnerable cock and balls, and Spike counted without complaint. Xander reached eighty before his shoulders started to ache so badly that switching hands no longer helped. He went to the kitchen to pull a beer out of the fridge, rolling his head on his shoulders as he considered the body still enduring silently.

Xander reached ninety three before a ball dropped, the heavy iron ringing against the concrete floor despite the area rug. Xander stopped and waited as he watched muscles strain as Spike fought to hold the rest.

"Childe?" Xander asked.

"Sire, can't hold 'em," Spike admitted, desperation coloring his voice. Xander closed the distance, tossing the whip on the bed as he slipped a thumb up into Spike, pushing to get the remaining four balls back up in place where Spike could hold them. Spike panted roughly, and Xander rested his head against a shoulder marked with red railroad tracks that connected every part of his backside.

"I'm pleased with you for admitting your need. You have held up well," Xander crooned as the breathing grew more uneven. "We aren't finished, but you can relax for now, my young one," Xander said as he wrapped his free arm around Spike, pulling the suffering body to his chest as he felt the body sag into him. For long minutes, Xander stood, holding Spike as the breathing became more regular and finally stopped.

"Right, let's finish this, 'cause I'm ready to get down. It's takin' too bloody long." Spike finally said.

"Only you would complain when spread-eagle and at the mercy of someone famous for having none," Xander said as he slowly pulled his thumb from Spike body. The iron spheres remained inside. Retrieving the whip, he finished the last seven hits, drawing blood only once he reached one hundred. Xander smiled with pleasure as he realized he could still wield the whip just as artfully, leaving a regular redness across Spike with individual trail criss-crossing from the harder strikes. Xander continued to feel pretty damn self satisfied until he went to toss the whip on the bed and his arms practically screamed with pain.

"Problem there, luv?" Spike's head still hung wearily, but he turned it slightly to the side to look at Xander while Xander rubbed his arms.

"Yeah, I need a hot shower to get the blood flowing again, and then I have to finish that translation," Xander answered as he looked at the few items remaining on the bed.

"Let me down, and I'll join ya in the shower, Spike suggested with a flip of his eyebrow despite the fact that his body hung limply, the single scored whip mark slightly oozing, and red trails winding down his arms from the manacles. Xander felt his stomach turn at the sight, but that didn't stop him from feeling a little satisfaction from removing some of the hesitation from Spike's voice.

"I somehow think I'll get more done alone," Xander said as he grabbed a wood and leather item. "Open up," Xander ordered. Spike's eyes went wide in either disbelief or anger, but at least this time he obeyed without hesitation. Xander slipped the thick wooden dowel into Spike's mouth and then buckled it in place, effectively gagging him.

"Oh, you do remember what happens if these fall out, right?" Xander asked as he slipped a finger up into Spike, pushing at the iron balls and feeling only a slight tremor when one pushed into the prostate. Xander could imagine that the nearly purple and rock-hard cock hurt Spike about as much as the whip marks. Spike gave a short nod.

"Right. Now that you aren't going to complain about boredom, I have to finish my work." Xander slapped Spike's hip sharply before heading for a cold shower because he really was a sick, sick boy. A sick, sick boy who wanted to still be hard in a couple of hours when he let Spike down. He just hoped that he had some Ben Gay left for his arms because they hurt like the last time he offered to spar with Buffy.





Part Seven

Xander heard the second ball drop while he tracked down felicitous numbers in relationship to the two Amphisbaena tribes that wanted to make eggs together. The dull clang of metal against concrete startled him, and then a strangled sound from Spike suggested that the vampire was struggling.

"Busy here, quiet down or I'll make you quiet," Xander commented as he continued scratching numbers on a notepad. Spike, surprisingly, did fall quiet. A second clanging sound echoed as the third ball fell to the floor. Xander shifted on his seat, equally lustful and uncomfortable with the thought of Spike's body aching as he struggled to hold the last two heavy spheres. Xander waited for them to drop, but no other sound came and he went back to calculating numbers of tribe members and days since the full moon and egg production.

Standing up from his desk nearly an hour later, he went over and ran a hand over Spike's back, feeling the welted skin under his fingers. Spike made a soft grunting noise around the gag, and Xander used a thumb to trace the puckered skin of the vampire's ass. The muscles shook with fatigue, and he could feel the cool iron right at the entrance.

"Let them go," Xander ordered and immediately the last two oiled balls fell into his hand as Spike wuffed a heavy sigh around the gag. Xander retrieved the other spheres from the floor and dropped them all into a dish on the corner shelf. Despite knowing that a vampire's colon was clean, he wanted to disinfect those five balls before putting them back into the leather pouch that hung on the weapons rack. Just ew. Xander wiped his hand on his jeans and looked at Spike, who hung utterly limp.

Jumping up onto the bed, Xander unclipped the vamp's right arm, and Spike's body swung and hung limply from the left one, a new trail of blood creeping down his arm. Even through Xander moved as quickly as possible, Spike's left wrist had a deep cut from the manacles before Xander could loosen that chain from the ring and lower Spike's body to the bed.

Spike didn't move as he lay with his arms stretched over his head, and Xander realized that the young vampire's time with the Initiative had weakened him even more than Xander expected. When Xander climbed off the bed, Spike lay limply, his lips stretched around the wooden gag that he didn't even try to remove, and his legs still chained wide open. Xander opened his mouth to apologize, to say that he hadn't meant to do so much damage, but Spike blue eyes stopped him. Reaching over, Xander brushed a hair out of Spike's face, and Spike closed his eyes, his body settling into the mattress.

"My beautiful childe. Too exhausted to move, and yet you followed orders the best you could. So much control. So much deadly control," Xander praised, and Spike's eyes remained closed as he lay wilted and still on the bed.

"Sore?" Xander asked as he walked around to the end of the bed and put his hand over Spike's loose asshole and perineum. Spike nodded slightly, and Xander easily slipped two fingers inside, rubbing the sore muscles and watching Spike's back arch like a cat. Nusa had played this game with him once, making him hold a dozen of the balls until each one dropped like an overripe apple from a tree. He remembered the unique aching that made his entire body sore. He remembered the pleasure when those sore and aching muscles were stretched by one of his sire's toys.

"Just relax and you'll enjoy this," Xander said as he unzipped his pants. Spike opened one eye and looked back, but he otherwise lay still. Xander slowly pushed into the already opened body, forcing himself deeper into Spike as the vampire moaned low in his throat, the gag muffling the sound. "Just relax," Xander crooned. He'd been afraid that he would come immediately, but seeing Spike like this had brought up enough guilt to prevent that. Strangely though, he didn't feel enough guilt to get rid of his erection, and that made him feel even more guilty because naked, chained, gagged, and subjugated Spike should not make him so hard he ached. And yet…

Xander stopped thinking and just started slowly rocking in and out, groaning at the feeling of Spike's body trembling around his cock. He kept his motions slow, massaging and working those fatigued muscles. Below him, Spike arched and closed his hands into fists, and Xander started thrusting a little harder.

Now Spike's back arched so strongly that his shoulders came up off the bed, his forearms supporting his weight as he made noises that didn't sound like any language, and Xander knew over a hundred languages. Taking that as his cue, Xander began to slam into Spike, his thighs slapping against Spike's skin as he aimed downward into the prostate. Spike now added little thrusts, as much as he could with his ankles chained, as he rubbed himself into the bed.

"If you want to come, I suggest you do it before I do," Xander commented hoarsely. The sight of Spike's wanton pleasure quickly overrode any guilt as he could feel his own orgasm gathering. He slammed in again, and Spike growled around the gag, pushing himself up to his hands so that his back was inhumanly arched as the body stiffened. Xander thrust once more, and then started to come himself. He dropped onto Spike, grabbing the vampire's arms and biting into an exposed and arched neck.

Once the waves of orgasm passed, Xander let his weight fall on his lover, his childe. His cock still buried and warm, he reached up and played with a bit of hair, wishing he could order his childe to grow it long, but understanding that this persona the childe had created was his armor. He would have to wait until Spike felt strong enough to let this personality go. Trailing his finger down Spike's nose, he finally reached the lips, tracing their edges as they stretched around the gag.

"I think we can get rid of this," Xander said, as he unbuckled the thing. Spike immediately pushed it out with his tongue, but before the hellcat could offer any complaints, Xander crushed his own mouth to Spike's. The angle was wrong with Xander laying on Spike's back and too lazy to pull out of Spike's body, but Xander didn't care. He explored alien teeth and tickled the top of Spike's mouth and nibbled at a lip as Spike's tongue explored him.

Finally Xander pulled away, pushing himself up onto his arms and looking down at Spike, who still lay like a rag doll with his arms flopped on the bed.

"I told you I would see you limp with pleasure and pain," Xander whispered.

"Not soddin' limp," Spike disagreed without moving, his words muffled by the mattress his face was half embedded in.

"Of course not, my hellcat," Xander conceded as he slowly withdrew. His cock ached in a good, overused kinda way. He'd been hard for hours, so he didn't know why he was surprised at being all owie. "I'm glad you're not limp, childe of mine," Xander offered as he slapped a hip, "because we have a meeting to go to if we don't want Giles to think you ate me." For the first time that day, Xander looked down at his damaged arm, where the hicky with the puncture marks still showed against his skin. Right, long sleeves for him.

"And the slayer?" Spike asked suspiciously, even though he didn't move.

"I told you last night, I'm not good with the thinky, so we're going with impetuous stupidity and hoping she'll forgive me later," Xander offered cheerfully. Spike just made a grunt.

"Bloody hell, might be nice if one of us had a plan," he finally added after Xander had retrieved several packets of blood and one of the huge, plastic stadium glasses with a logo from a local hardware store on the side.

"Oh, I have a plan, not a good one, but one that will probably work if we don't end up dead first," Xander assured him as he waited for the blood to heat and appreciated the view Spike offered from behind with his legs chained open and the back of his thighs still red with whip marks. Now Xander could even see a trickle of white leaking out since Spike was too limp to tighten the ring of muscle at his ass. Oh yeah, he was a sick, sick boy. A happy, sick boy. A happy, sick boy who missed vampire stamina because not even a teenager could get up again this fast.

"And?" Spike asked when Xander fell silent.

"And nothing. I told you. No more thinkiness. Nope, no thinky, just acty," Xander insisted as he pulled the blood from the microwave and brought it to the bed. With a sigh, Spike pushed himself upright.

"Right then, planning on unchaining me?" Spike asked as he took the large cup filled with enough sire's blood to cure his pains. If Xander had to guess, he would say it was more sire's blood than Spike had ever been allowed. Spike drank the blood slowly, his eyes closed in pleasure.

"I rather like this view. I think I may leave you like this whenever we're home. You chained up like some offering, ready for me to take as I like, those muscles straining and your most private parts vulnerable only to me. I think you may spend quite a bit of time like that," Xander said as he went to one of the two small closets where he kept his less geeky clothes. Stripping off his t-shirt he considered his choices. Normally a night of Scoobie meetings and patrols called for flannel or brightly colored Hawaiian wear. Tonight, he decided to go for a change. He pulled a soft, midnight blue sweater over his head and turned to look at Spike, who watched him, the empty cup still in hand.

"Oh yes, I think that's a good place for you. It keeps you out of trouble, and it does so amuse me to see you like this," Xander said as he came after the cup.

He expected Spike to preen at the compliment, but instead he watched Xander carefully, that ocular game of dominance back again as he dropped his gaze to the ground.

"Say what you're thinking," Xander ordered as he took the cup.

"Wot? Nothing," Spike said, and the expression had cleared, his face becoming neutral.

"I tell you that we're going to a meeting, and you get… distant. I am sure this is not nothing," Xander contradicted Spike as he rinsed out the cup and put it in the dishwasher.

"Not scared of the slayer."

"I never thought you were, certainly not after you made a deal with her to save the world or attacked her in broad daylight."

"Just don't want her…" Spike stopped.

"Spike, I can't stop her from taking verbal shots at you any more than I will stop you from taking verbal shots at her. However, she will not physically attack you when you're helpless. She wouldn't, and if she would, I won't let her," Xander promised. Spike's expression returned, relief evident, and Xander turned to the closet to find the smallest things he could. He had a pair of jeans that had shrunk in hot water that would probably still be too big for Spike but at least they would sorta fit.

"So, if I tell her she's a slut for sleeping with Angelus?" Spike asked as Xander dug through the clothes that had fallen to the bottom of the closet.

"Not like I haven't thought it," Xander answered. "I'd never say it, but I've thought it."

"And if I point out that her hair color comes straight out of a bottle?" Spike's voice now had more of the devilish glee that Xander had first fallen in love with back when he'd been a vampire and Spike had tried to kill him.

"People in glass houses, Spike," Xander pointed out. "I have some evidence here that your hair color isn't exactly natural," Xander waved a hand toward Spike's naked body where the hair definitely wasn't blonde.

"Yeah, but I can carry it off; she looks like a washed out housewife with that color."

"Just as long as you don't call her fat, I don't care what you say. Just don't expect her to take it lying down," Xander pointed out as he came up with the jeans. They were wrinkled, but a quick spin in the dryer would fix that, and at least they were dark blue and in decent shape.

"And if I call you her lapdog?" Xander froze, his cold gaze turning to Spike as he felt fury rise in his chest. Spike's eyes dropped to the floor. "Not like I mean it, mate, but I'm thinking your chums… they don't want to know about this side of you." Spike's words cut through the anger, and Xander started to smile. His hellcat might be impetuous and foolish, but he wasn't stupid. Even more importantly, he had turned that sharp mind to doing something to make Xander's life easier, as he should.

"Fair enough. Outside this room, we are the parts we need to be, but in here," Xander dropped the jeans on the top of the dryer revealed behind kitchen cupboards before walking over to Spike and grabbing the vampire by the back of the neck, "in here you are my childe, and you will not forget it."

"Not bloody likely to," Spike said as he leaned into the grip.

"I'll be happy to remind you any time you like," Xander answered with a smile.

"Just me that you'll remind?" Spike asked curiously.

"I'll do vhat I have to do," Xander insisted seriously, and Spike nodded. "Right now, unchain yourself and go get cleaned up. You're a mess," Xander pressed a key into Spike's palm and went to shove the jeans in the dryer with a damp towel.


~*~*~*~*~


"I'm still voting for chaining him in some dark basement," Buffy complained, her arms crossed and a determined expression making it clear that she wasn't going to go down easy on this issue.

"If any of us had a basement available I might consider the plan, but we cannot leave Spike unguarded," Giles had his patient teacher-voice going, and Xander bit his tongue as he tried to stay out of the fight.

"Xander guarding Spike," Buffy snorted.

"Hey! Sitting right here," Xander snapped back before he remembered he was supposed to be biting his tongue.

"No offense, Xander, but you're not exactly reliable-boy any more. I went by Hotdog on a Stick after I talked to Giles, and they said you'd stopped showing up for work like a month ago. What happens if you flake out when you're supposed to be keeping an eye on biteless wonder here?" Buffy turned on him, and Xander closed his eyes and counted to ten in three different languages.

"Brainless bint," Spike hissed under his voice.

"Buff, I stopped working there because of that huge bruise and cracked ribs I got flying into a headstone when those biker guys rose from their graves. Remember? Oh, wait, that was the night you had to quit early to study for a chem test, so Giles and I had to deal with that one alone."

"Oh hey, look, they have ice skating on television," Willow piped in, turning the television up so that the overly cheery music filled the room. Spike snorted. Giles rolled his eyes.

"Are you saying I'm not doing my job?" Buffy's voice was low and dangerous.

"He'd never say that!" Willow instantly insisted.

"No, I wouldn't say that," Xander retaliated, crossing his own arms over his chest.

"I've given my life for this slayer-gig. I've given up everything to do my duty, so don't even go there," Buffy practically shrieked, and Xander could feel an edge of something permanent and ugly creep into the landscape.

"God, Buff, I know that," Xander dropped his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face. "I know you're doing your job."

"Like bloody hell she is," Spike offered from the arm of the couch where he sprawled as if it were his home. "Never seen a slayer that asks for nights off or lets other people do her work for her. Demons have minions, but I never knew slayers to before you lot," Spike waved an unlit cigarette around the room as everyone froze in place.

"Hey, not big with the minioning, we are so not minions," Willow said as she sat up straight.

"I really think—" Giles started.

"Watch it, because if you think I should be more traditional with the slaying, Mr. Pointy has no problem with turning you to dust," Buffy took one step forward, and Xander practically threw himself off the couch and between the two. He didn't think Buffy would stake Spike, but he wasn't taking any chances.

"Hey, he's not with the biting, and you're not with the staking. We already agreed on that!" Xander said as he put his back to Spike and held out a placating hand toward Buffy. He discovered his mistake when Buffy's face reddened with fury, and he turned to see Spike making a face at her. Putting his elbow into Spike as hard as he could, he kept focused on Buffy, who now looked ready to stake him to get at Spike.

"Oi! Didn't call her fat… you said it was fair game as long as I didn't call the bint fat," Spike complained, and Xander felt his stomach roll the way it had when he'd spotted that dead cat with the maggots making the scabby fur on it move. Buffy's face twisted into something first ugly and then hurt, and Xander preferred the angry Buffy to this injured expression.

"You talked about me being fat?" Buffy asked in a small voice.

"Xander! How could you?" Willow flew up from her spot on the floor looking for the perfect television show to stop a fight and aimed a fairly serious backhand at his arm. Of course, for Willow, "fairly serious" meant a fair-to-middling chance it would have killed a fly, but Xander still flinched.

"No!" Xander yelped as he considered the two women now glaring at him. "I never said she was fat. She just talks about dieting all the time when she doesn't need to diet and I told Spike to not say anything." Xander glared at Spike, who looked remarkable unfazed. When Xander had given permission for Spike to play the part of an unwilling captive, he hadn't expected it to go quite so far. He narrowed his eyes in frustration, and Spike suddenly got up and began exploring Giles' book collection.

"So, you don't think I'm fat?" Buffy asked.

"Of course he doesn't," Willow stepped in before Xander could say anything.

"Of course I don't," he echoed.

"Right, if we're finished with the pointless bickering, are we ready to discuss this new government Initiative? Or rather, what may be an on-going government program, since Angel called this morning with information on his contact with a similar group in World War II."

"Angel?" Buffy asked, turning away from Xander and Spike, and Xander breathed a sigh of relief right before Willow hit him again for good measure.

"And there goes Slutty the Vampire Layer on the quest for a good lay," Spike offered and Xander could only roll his eyes.

"Spike, do shut up," Giles answered as he picked up a legal pad full of scratchings. "This experimentation is a little…" Giles paused.

"Barbaric," Xander offered in the silence.

"Yes, quite."

"What did Angel have to say about them?" Buffy asked.

"They blackmailed him into retrieving an enemy sub. They made no attempt to perform experiments on him."

"Oi, that's because he ditched the thing before he met up with them again," Spike interrupted. "Knew the bugger was up to something when he tossed me and Lawson overboard."

"He what?" Xander could feel his anger rise at the thought of Angel carelessly tossing Spike aside, again.

"Lawson?" Giles asked.

"Nazis thought they could use demons, yeah?" Spike started, waving the cigarette Giles had forbidden him to light. "Had several of us on this sub when we staged a bit of a revolt. McAttitude shows up and tells us we can't eat the rest of the crew, then he goes and eats one of the crew, then he kicks me and his newest childe right off. Tells us he'll stake us if he sees us again."

"A childe?" Xander asked, horrified, "not a minion?"

"Mate, he had more sire's blood in him than I did. He wasn't just a childe, he was juiced on sire's blood."

"But Angel just—" Xander couldn't get the words out.

"Angel wouldn't have turned someone unless there was no choice," Buffy insisted.

"I'm sure that's true," Giles assured her.

"Who gives a flying fuck? He made a childe and then dumped him without a thought," Xander snapped.

"Xander? What the hell is wrong with you lately?" Xander felt a pull on his arm, and he turned to see Buffy looking up at him, her eyes wide with worry. The Xander he had been could see that he was hurting his friends, worrying them. The whispers from the past wanted to find Angel and beat him until blood ran in rivers.

"Buffy, that's wrong," Xander said earnestly.

"Angel wouldn't have turned the man if he didn't need to. They were fighting Nazis, demons and Nazis," she explained earnestly.

"And Nazis are right up there with demons on the 'absolutely must stop to save the world' list, " Willow agreed. "Way up there, maybe higher than some demons even."

"But he…" Xander let his voice trail off as he realized he had no way to explain the reason for his horror. He looked to Spike, whose carefully neutral expression showed the vampire's distress, and then at Giles, who polished his glasses and avoided eye contact.

"Buffy, I'm tired and not feeling all that charitable toward Deadboy or the government or anyone else right now. Maybe I should just head out."

"That might be a good idea," Giles offered as he slipped his glasses on.

"But the pizza, the pizza hasn't even come yet, and we ordered the extra cheesy goodness, and you can't give up pizza," Willow said softly. Buffy stepped back and dropped into a chair, still looking cranky, but clearly not wanting to fight any more. Xander felt a stab of regret that he couldn't seem to find his footing with Buffy now; they couldn't seem to find that comfortable place where they could all three of them curl up and make fun of people on television. Of course, adding Spike to his life wasn't going to help matters, but he wouldn't abandon Spike.

"Tell you what, come over Saturday, and I'll order the pizza," Xander offered as he looked at Willow. He didn't limit his invitation to her exactly, but he did drop his eyes to the floor without looking at Buffy.

"But we have this big paper coming due," Willow had a dismayed tone, but Xander just shrugged.

"Hey, that's okay, college girls have college deadlines, and non-collegy boys don't," Xander offered with a small smile and another shrug. "Come on, Bleach Boy, let's run through a cemetery or two before we head back to the apartment."

Xander got up and headed for the door. Giles stepped into his path, and Xander looked up at the man, expecting worry or even anger. Instead Giles pressed a small book into his hand. "Do be careful, Xander," Giles suggested.

"No problem, G-man," Xander answered as he detoured around the man without looking down at the book. Xander opened the door and practically bolted into the night. He didn't bother to even wait for Spike as he power-walked the length of the block to where his blue lady waited in the pool of light from the only working streetlight on the block.

"Right then, what he give ya?" Spike asked, and Xander turned to find the vamp already leaning one hip into the two-tone car, a glowing cigarette between his lips as he sucked deeply. Xander glanced down and started laughing.

"Wot?" Spike asked, straightening up and leaning forward so he could see the title, "Imperium," written in a sharp scrolling script that was probably Rual or Waa'ath.

"He's a little behind the time, innit he?" Spike asked with a gesture toward the small demonic book of spells that allowed a person to gain control over another.

"Just a bit, yeah," Xander said, surprised both that Giles would offer that kind of help and that Giles would give him a demonic book. "Oh shit," Xander said as he looked at Spike in horror. "He knows I read demon."

"Yeah, so?"

"But that means he knows… okay, I don't know what he knows," Xander admitted. He looked at Spike, who just cocked a head at him.

"He goin' to be a problem?" Spike asked, obviously confused by the whole conversation.

Xander laughed. "God, you sound like a mafia boss when you say it like that," Xander said, worried that the laughter just might be hysterical. Walking around to the driver's side, he opened the car and slid in. Spike pulled open the windowless door on his side, and Xander added "car shop" to the list right under "new sheets."

"So, where to now?" Spike asked, as he slammed his door shut.

"To see a man about a chip," Xander said in his best 007 impression. He looked over his shoulder for traffic before guiding his car into the road as he headed for the bad part of town. The really, really bad part of town.





Part Eight

Xander parked his lady in the shadow of a jagged cliff, the moonlight showing an empty field of weeds and pebbles in various shades of grey, a wide-mouthed drainage pipe sticking out of the bottom of the cliff on one side, and a drunken barbed-wire fence on the other. Xander turned the car off and sat staring at the stone in front of him.

"Left Sunnydale a ways back there," Spike pointed out, shifting his boot from the dashboard to the floor.

"Technically, this is still Sunnydale, just really not a nice part of it."

"Don't seem to be enough here for it to be one thing or another," Spike pointed out, and then Xander watched as vampire bones cracked into place and Spike turned his head toward the broken window. Xander didn't have the nose for sniffing the air anymore, but given that he'd seen what kind of demons came stomping through here, he could guess what Spike smelled.

Xander opened the door, the dome light flashing on so that the pool around their car turned to color: the sick grey-green of grass, the brown and grey gravel, the grey stick like twigs that would never grow into trees, and it occurred to Xander that even with the lights on, this place didn't have much color. A second door slammed right after his, and Spike came bouncing around the car, flexing his hands.

"Right, we here for a fight?" Spike asked, his eyes scanning the darkness. Xander couldn't resist smiling at the kid-at-Christmas smile on Spike's face.

"Not if we can avoid it, because killing? Not such a good way to ask for help."

"Ask for help?" Spike dropped out of game-face, his blue eyes focusing on Xander although in the dark, they faded to grey as well.

"I told you we're seeing a man about a chip," Xander pointed out.

"Now?" Spike seemed confused, and now Xander cocked his head as he considered his vampire.

"Well, yeah?"

Spike slowly grinned, and if the last smile was a kid at Christmas, this was a pervert-in-a-sex-shop smile, a tired-husband-in-a-strip-joint smile and a teenager-discovering-Internet-porn smile all wrapped up in one. And why did all his metaphors about Spike's curving mouth have to be pervy?

"Goin' to fix me then?" Spike asked, and Xander finally understood.

"Doubt my word again, and I'll fix you," Xander suggested with a veiled threat as he passed Spike and headed for the giant drain pipe. Behind him, Spike's boots crunched over gravel and dead weeds, and Xander smiled at bringing that grin to Spike's face.

Xander didn't even have to duck his head to walk into the corrugated metal tunnel, Spike's heavy boots clanking behind him. No one would accuse them of trying to sneak in. Xander kept his hand out in the darkness, stopping when he felt the warmth of a wooden door under his fingers. Rapping twice sharply, Xander stepped back in the pitch black and found hands at his hips, holding him lightly. Xander let his own hand trail over the back of Spike's fingers, appreciating that touch in what, for him anyway, was complete darkness.

"What?" a wheezing voice demanded as a square section opened, and Xander could see broad shoulders and curving horns backlit so that it became only a black outline of a Fyarl demon.

"Xander Harris," he announced firmly. "Or Xan Nusa," he added.

"That supposed to mean something?" the door demon demanded.

Spike growled, and the Fyarl bobbed its head aggressively.

"Just tell your Master," Xander said as he turned his back and walked away. He wasn't going to argue with minions, and turning his back on the beast made the strongest statement possible. Of course the fact that Spike's eyes flashed yellow in the dark as he continued to growl made the whole back-turning thing a little easier to do without it turning into a whole peeing-the-pants thing. Xander heard the door slam shut, and he waited.

He'd expected demands and frantic energy from Spike, but instead, a hand simply found his stomach, cool fingers working under his shirt and resting there without moving. Xander rested one of his hands on Spike's arm and looked out at the complete darkness, waiting.

The door banged open a second time and the outline of the demon returned. "This way," he practically coughed, his displeasure clear in the side to side movement of that massive head. Xander ignored the cranky Fyarl and walked into the inner passage which instantly widened out to a swap mart, well, a swap mart minus the funnel cake goodness and plus demons, racks of weapons for sale, occasional screams, and more than one creature on a leash, and very few of the leashed critters were actually dogs.

Xander steeled himself against images he'd tried his best to forget. He'd come here before, several times in fact, but each time, he felt this same shock and horror and really rather uncomfortable curiosity as he spotted bits of iron that he wasn't familiar with, and even more discomfort when he knew what they were. He'd stopped doing business down here not long after starting to do business down here, and Xander still blessed Uick for giving him a place to set up shop and meet customers.

"Knives, best around," a small brown elf-like demon offered, shoving a silver knife toward him. Spike's growl rose in volume, and Xander struggled to not grab for his own knife and his gun and even wish for a stick or two of dynamite. He kept his eyes forward and pretended disinterest as the corridor narrowed and quieted into the twisting tunnels of the deeper regions. The Fyarl had to duck now, his horns scraping once or twice on the sloping edges of the ceiling.

"Here," the demon thumped a door with a clawed hand and then headed back down the tunnel toward the fair. Xander pulled open the heavy door and found a familiar room inside. The rough stone walls had irregular bookshelves tucked between veins of rock, and an ornate carved desk stood on a thick rug.

Xander figured the desk had either been carved in place or magicked in because it sure couldn't have gotten through some of the turns in the tunnels. One soft brown leather chair sat behind the desk, and one smaller red leather chair waited for guests in front of the desk. Xander sat in the guest chair and tried to stretch his neck, making the bones pop loudly in the silence.

"Not feeling particularly good about havin' ta fight my way out through that," Spike said softly.

"Um, I'm thinking it's a 'no' on the fighting. Well, unless we really have to. If we really have to, fighting is better than not fighting," Xander amended himself, and Spike snorted. Shooting his vampire a dirty look, he waited until Spike dropped his eyes down and shifted. Disgusted noises were on the 'no' list, and Xander trusted that Spike had just gotten that message.

"Right, so if it comes down ta fists and fangs, what's the plan?" Spike finally asked as his eyes roamed the room.

"Kill them?" Xander suggested.

"Bloody—" Spike snapped off his own curse.

"I did say this was a bad plan. It's just the only plan I have right now because this guy has supposedly gotten one or two of these chip things out," Xander chewed a thumbnail absent-mindedly, the last of his cool used up in the bluff that had gotten them this far.

"Coulda just given me a name," Spike's voice sounded brittle, and the vampire started pacing, his leather coat flapping behind him, whipping with a cracking snap each time he changed direction.

"I wouldn't send you in here alone," Xander said around the hangnail.

"Not an idiot," Spike growled, and Xander found himself catching an unhappy glare.

"I never said you were." Xander abandoned his chair and intercepted Spike on the next pass. He pulled his childe to him with a hand on the back of his neck, drawing the vampire close until they stood forehead to forehead and Xander could look into those bright whiskey eyes. "This man knows me. He likes to get me worked up. He would have demanded to see me anyway because it's part of his game."

"Then you soddin' well shouldn't be here." Spike's voice carried a frustration and an anger Xander hadn't heard before.

"I wouldn't be if you weren't with me," Xander promised him, letting his hand migrate south to Spike's shoulder and then around to the font where he could feel Spike's body vibrating through the fabric of his shirt. "I told this guy I'd never come back because I was starting to feel a little too much like some rare tropical bird he wanted to cage and look at…" Xander thought about that for a second. "Well, that and poke at, I get the feeling this guy's a poker."

"Not makin' me feel better, here," Spike complained, the swirling whiskey eyes now solid yellow and malevolent. Xander found the sight of his childe's anger delicious.

"You'll make sure I don't get caged, and I'll make sure he takes that chip out of my deadly childe's head," Xander whispered even though anyone might be listening. He wasn't trying to hide either his faith in Spike or his unhappiness at having to come here again.

"He touches ya and I'll eat him."

"Don't. You'll probably just get indigestion," Xander answered with a smile. With Spike now settled down to a soft growl, Xander flopped back into the chair before his knees could start knocking together.

The sorcerer always did have a wicked sense of timing, and he chose that moment to open the door and brush into the room, his open-necked shirt and tweed pants yelling "nerd" more than "powerful, evil, life-sucking chaos-worshiping bad-ass sorcerer," but Xander wasn't fooled.

"Ethan," he said stiffly as he stood and held out a hand.

"If it isn't my protégé," Ethan Rayne smiled, taking Xander's hand in both of his own, a gesture of friendship that made Xander long for some good old-fashioned lye soap. "What has brought my successor back to me?" Ethan asked as he walked around the desk and settled in, his elbows resting on the papers spread across its surface, his chin resting on his palms.

"I'm not your protégé. I'm not your anything. Ever." Xander paused for a second as he sat down again. "Ever." He bit his tongue to keep from saying more, but for some reason Ethan always did pull up his Zeppo side. Spike shifted slightly, and now Xander could hear shuffling near the door. He guessed from Spike's carefully disinterested expression that Ethan had brought a guard.

"Oh, my dear boy, you know I made you the man you are today," Ethan disagreed with a smile.

"You made me help the slayer? Wow. I missed that memo. Your buddies must be really put out with you." Xander struggled to hold back a dozen other comments since he needed Ethan. Otherwise, he would never be in the same room with the man.

"Now, now, bitterness does not become you," Ethan waved off the insult. "So, what brings you to my little corner of the world? I seem to remember that last we spoke, you said you would never grace me with your presence again."

"I didn't—"

"The words 'hell' and 'freezing' were used," Ethan interrupted.

"I hear there are some interesting weather patterns in Pylea this year."

"Brilliant," Ethan laughed. "You do have a wicked sense of humor, my boy." Ethan turned his attention to Spike, who stood with his back to a bookshelf as he watched the room. "I don't believe we've met."

"Spike."

Xander had to admit he was surprised at this new silent, deadly version of Spike. He'd seen Spike dance with glee through death and blood, but this version of Spike promised swift, emotionless death. Xander couldn't decide which signals gave him that impression, but he noticed that Ethan didn't offer his hand.

"Ah, William the Bloody. I had heard you and Xander had come to some interesting arraignments last year. You know how demons love to gossip."

"If they want to keep their heads attached to their soddin' bodies, they'd better keep their yaps shut about me," Spike's voice had a soft tone that made his words seem even more sincere.

"So defensive. Perhaps the rumors are not just hyperbole and conjecture," Ethan offered, and Spike's sudden growl and the sharp snapping sound that could only be teeth made the man jerk back.

"Rumors? What rumors?" Xander demanded, even while appreciating seeing Ethan off guard for once. The man was always so damn smug that Xander felt a constant need to check his fly and make sure he didn't have a cow's lick of hair sticking up. However, Spike's ability to make the man flinch put him in a whole new light.

"That William the Bloody managed a short stay with our boys in green," Ethan offered.

"Oh shit," Xander had thought they would have more time. Any human with a grudge or a bounty could target Spike now.

Ethan laughed. "Word has traveled rather quickly that the Aurelius house has shifted yet again. One needs a scorecard to track allegiances."

Xander glared at the sorcerer for several long seconds, hating that Spike shifted uncomfortably. "I have every faith in Spike, and his allegiance is quite firm even if he is proficient at hiding what I have demanded he hide," Xander defended Spike. "But right now, I just want the Initiative chip out of Spike's head."

"Oh, so the buggers did manage to bag William the Bloody."

"Watch it, mate, just as happy to rip your throat out as look at ya," Spike interjected, and Xander leaned back in his chair, enjoying the fleeting expression of concern as Ethan glanced toward his own bodyguard.

"Well, that's just ungrateful. After all, I am the proud… I suppose 'sire' is the wrong word—"

"Call yourself my sire and I'll gut you myself," Xander growled, leaning forward in the chair as the guard behind him took a rather loud step forward. Knowing that threats sometimes had to be followed through, Xander closed his hand around a knife he had tucked in his sleeve. Xander didn't lose focus on Ethan as Spike shifted into a fighting stance in response to the shifting bodyguard behind him. Xander just prayed the thing had some demon blood or it would be one hell of a short fight.

"Now, now, kill me and your pet is stuck with that thing."

"He's not a pet." Xander pulled his knife and sank the end of it a good inch into the wood of Ethan's desk, spearing a number of papers.

"Well, I never meant to insult," Ethan began, holding up his hands in surrender. More shifting behind him. "Whatever your relationship, I simply meant to point out that you need me."

"I know that or I wouldn't be here," Xander snapped. "Now what do you want to get that thing out of Spike's head?" Xander asked, pulling the knife from the wood and sitting back down. He noticed that Spike kept his fighting-ready stance, and Xander smiled approvingly at his childe's aggression.

"Well, there are certain factions that would like to see this three way race with the Initiative, the slayer, and the demon-population narrowed down," Ethan pointed out with a small wave of one hand. "Eliminate a player, and the game changes, shifts."

"I'm not big with the taking down the Initiative plan since that would take months, and I want this chip out now. Try again." Xander slid the knife back into place even though he kept his hand close.

"I never suggested targeting the Initiative. You don't even have to take action. You provide a little intelligence on the slayer—what she values, what motivates her, what she fears—and I will spirit the chip out of your…" Ethan stopped as he looked up toward Spike.

"Childe," Xander supplied the word. Ethan smiled. It was not a nice smile.

"Oh my boy, I am so proud of you. The day will come when I will point you out and say that I put your feet on the true path."

"Don't bet on it, you son of a—"

"Language, no need to get crass," Ethan interrupted him. "You know, I think I have just discovered where I made my mistake with Rupert. I tried to keep him by my side, keep him sheltered. He tasted power only through me, and so he found it easy to walk away from the potential. But you've tasted that power, haven't you, my boy?"

"Call me 'boy' again, and I'll cut your tongue out." Xander leaned forward, and out of the corner of his eye, Spike shifted again, moving closer with a cat-like and lethal grace.

"It would make it unfortunately difficult for me to complete the spell you want. So, will you meet my price?" Ethan asked. He held up his two hands as though weighing items. "You give me some irrelevant information," Ethan tipped his hands one way to show a scale tilting, "and I cure your childe."

"Name another price." Xander fought to keep his voice calm.

"There is no other price." Ethan's smirk made Xander wish for vampire strength and vampire speed and a vampire's lack of morality over the whole killing issue.

"Maybe I'll just tell Giles that you're still here, sliming in the corners of the sewers," Xander threatened.

"Oh bugger. No! Please not that," Ethan mockingly begged in a voice heavy with sarcasm. "Do you truly think he doesn't know? Where else would a serious sorcerer be but a Hellmouth? And Cleveland is not my style."

"You suck." Xander said, realizing just a little too late that the defeated Zeppo voice revealed entirely too much to this man who did have a huge part in creating him, no matter how much Xander tried to deny it.

"And swallow," Ethan said with a smile and a waggle of his eyebrows. "It's not like I'm asking you to act against your precious slayer. You just give us a little information the way Giles can go to his books and call his friends and find out a little information on any assassin who targets her. It's all quite fair."

Xander stared at the man, feeling the helpless rage as he found himself wanting to choke the spell out of Ethan, but they would never leave these tunnels if he tried that, and Xander knew that entirely too well. It didn't stop him from having violent fantasies including Ethan, a rope, and a face slowly turning purple.

"Deal?" Ethan's voice came out honey-smooth and soft like a kindergarten teacher.

"No deal," Xander said as he stood.

"Interesting. So, you're going to allow your childe to suffer? After all, you aren't sacrificing the slayer; you are simply providing a little intelligence to even the battle field."

"There are no even battle fields with you," Xander pointed out as he turned toward the door. A Kungai demon stood there, his yellowed skin and horn gleaming in the dull light of the office.

"Oh ye of little faith. How can you think that of me?" Ethan asked in a voice full of mock-indignation and very real humor.

"Because in nine hundred years I never played an even field if I could find a way to rig the game," Xander pointed out, glancing over his shoulder before heading for the door.

"I'll be here when you change your mind," Ethan yelled. Xander didn't bother answering. Xander also tried to ignore that carefully neutral expression on Spike's face… the expression Xander was learning meant that Spike was thinking something he didn't want to say to his sire. Why couldn't life be easy for him just once, he wondered as he headed through the tunnels, the Kungai occasionally offering directions either left or right from behind as the tunnels split.




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