33 Dock side

Prompt: 94 - Danger Zone

Tuesday 30th July

Spike untangled himself from his childe and climbed out of bed. Looking down at Xander he reached out and gave one stray curl of hair a gentle tug as he smoothed it back from Xander's brow, before leaving him to wake up when he would. Brand new children needed more sleep than older vampires, as their bodies continued to adapt to the change and Xander seemed to be taking his own sweet time about it. But each night Spike noticed that he moved with more control, more grace, as his spirit integrated with his inherited musculature. There was never a question that when Dru called Spike would drop everything and go to her, but Xander too had a legitimate claim to some of his time. In spite of his constant worry over his sire's health, it had been good to spend one night with Xander.

At the moment, though, he needed to check how Dru was doing. She'd not got up the previous night and had barred him from her bed during the day. Spike could only hope that the undisturbed rest had done her some good.

On the way he stuck his head around the door to the living room, just to check. Angelus was stretched out on the sofa and just beginning to stir into waking. Okay then. Spike continued along the hall, quietly eased open the door to Dru's bedroom and tip toed inside.

Two hours later, having set Jesse to his tasks of making the beds, doing the laundry and polishing Dru's and Angelus' shoes, and having overseen Angelus' feeding of Dru, Spike was feeling free enough of his responsibilities to indulge his own desires and he and Xander were out on the streets to do just that. They'd have to stop off at the hospital at some point, before Nigel Mears went off duty. Angelus had used up the last of the supply and would need more later. Briefly, Spike played with the idea of killing someone and filling a bag from the tap, just for the private enjoyment to be gained from such a practical joke, but on consideration decided it was too much effort. It was simply easier, and safer, to spend money on Mears, at least for Angelus' needs. There was a lot to be said for the easy life.

Personally, he had no intention of stooping so low and he certainly wasn't going to let his childe subsist on stale and processed food. Xander would eat well and grow strong, or Spike would be asking why. But Angelus, Angelus was different; different from how Spike remembered him when Spike himself was a fledge. Yet, in some ways he was also much the same. He was still a stubborn son of a bitch and Spike knew he meant it when he said he'd not kill a human, not even to get the blood he needed to keep Dru alive. It was a pain in the bloody neck, but the actual task of buying blood was not difficult. It was just piss poor behaviour for a vampire to indulge in. Spike could only hope that news of his involvement in the degrading practice didn't spread too far.

Two weeks, they had two weeks before the ritual could be staged. Two weeks before they could kick the dirt of this town from their shoes. Two weeks while he still needed Angelus and had to put up with the sad bastard in his home, with his encroaching, insinuating ways. From the corner of his eye, he saw Xander react to the growl he felt forming in his throat. The boy turned to scan the area, pressed his back against Spike's so they faced in opposite directions, ready to take on the danger he thought his sire had spotted.

Spike took a breath and consciously relaxed, feeling Xander respond to that too. "'S okay," he said. "Nothing there." He reached out and pulled Xander to his side, taking comfort for a moment in his childe's solidity, before he drew the mantle of his responsibilities around his shoulders once more.

Gazing up at the full moon hanging serenely in the clear sky, Spike estimated the time as just short of midnight. He nodded to himself with satisfaction - they still had a few hours before Mears finished work, just right for a trip down the docks to catch the pubs at chucking out time. The local rag had announced that there was a Russian freighter in port, and ever since the fall of the iron curtain it was assumed that sailors who went missing on American soil had absconded to a better life in the west, so no one mounted a serious search in the days before their ship sailed. Once the ship was gone, there was no one left to care.

"We'll go down the docks and find us something that'll provide more of a challenge than the domesticated cattle, eh?" he suggested.

Xander's teeth flashed white in the street light and Spike felt his childe's gleeful anticipation transmit to him, lessening his tensions further. They turned as one and, arm in arm, headed down hill, bypassing the town centre and aiming for the warren of warehouses, flop houses and cheap drinking holes that occupied the narrow strip between the harbour and the freeway.

In the end, their meal was both satisfying and educational. After half an hour of lounging around, across from a place called 'The Sailors' Arms', a pair of likely candidates finally staggered out into the quiet street. The smaller of the two was hanging onto his mate, obviously roaring drunk and barely able to walk, as he slurred out some incomprehensible Russian folk song at the top of his voice, his free hand waving around as if he were conducting an invisible orchestra. His hulking friend looked less inebriated. He seemed to be concentrating on keeping them both going in the right direction as they set off across the road on a long and wavering diagonal.

Spike straightened from where he'd been leaning against a warehouse doorway and giving Xander a nudge, pointed at them. "Let's see how much you've learnt," he said. "I'll take the small one, you concentrate on the other, okay?" There was no way he was going to let Xander get drunk, not even second-hand.

Xander grinned back at him and nodded. "Sure," he agreed. "Time to put all your lessons to good use, huh?" He rubbed his hands together. "This'll be fun!" Pausing for a moment, he looked seriously at Spike. "You know?" he asked. "I think I'm getting the hang of this being dead and eating blood thing. I mean, I remember reading comics about vampires and thinking it was all a bit gross, but now..." His grin broadened further. "Now I just think 'Bring it on, man!'" He caught Spike's expression and tried to appear serious. "Yeah, yeah, I know what you're going to say," he said, replying to Spike's unspoken comment. "That wasn't me." He glanced down at himself, lifting his hands slightly to stare at them, as if they held the secret to his identity. "But it feels like me, it really does. Doesn't that count for something? Anything?" He looked back up at Spike, his mournful tone contradicted by the way his expression was hovering on the edge of laughter while he did his best to appear obediently hopeful. Spike felt his own lips twitch and bit the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from smiling, but Xander seemed to sense it anyway, because he laughed out loud and executed a little dance step, before sidling up to Spike. Bending down, he rubbed his cheek against Spike's shoulder and chanted, "Made you laugh, made you smile, made you..." He paused and straightened. "Umm, shall I pretend I can't think of an ending to that?"

Stepping back a pace so he could look Xander up and down with slow deliberation, Spike allowed just the corner of his mouth to curl upwards. "I think that might be a good idea, pet," he said, gravely. Glancing past Xander's shoulder he added, "And since our supper is about to turn the corner up there, don't you think we should maybe head that way too?"

Xander's head snapped around. "Oh, wow, yes, totally! I'm starving!"

With grin, Spike gave him a shove and they set off down the street in fast and silent pursuit of the Russians.

Rounding the corner, staying close to the wall of the warehouse, Spike sprinted ahead of Xander. As he came level with their prey he reached out and grabbed the smaller man's free arm, using his own speed and momentum to drag him free of his companion's grasp and swing him around at arms length. His target staggered, almost falling, but somehow managed to keep his feet, until Spike released him at precisely the right moment to send him crashing into the wall of the warehouse. His song had been cut off mid note and it was now replaced by a howl, more of indignation than pain.

The bigger guy looked dumbfounded for a moment, then he roared. He looked about to charge Spike, but just at that moment Xander appeared and flung himself on to the big guy's back, arms wrapped around the man's shoulders and legs clamped around his waist. The sudden shock almost caused the sailor to overbalance and for a second he stood frozen. Then he began to turn, staggering backwards at the same time, and crashed into the wall. Spike winced in sympathy as Xander was crushed between the man's body and hard brick, and his arms and legs sprang wide in reaction. The sailor lurched forwards out of reach and spun on the spot, even as Xander slid slowly down, thankfully getting his feet under him so he didn't end up in an ignominious heap.

Spike turned his attention back to his own sailor, gripping the back of the man's neck and smacking his forehead against the wall. His supper thereby subdued, he dragged him back against his chest and sank his fangs into the exposed neck, holding him high enough that he could continue to watch his childe as he fed.

Xander had regained his balance and was closing with his target again. His footwork was good and he was light on his feet, as he danced back and forth, dodging most of the man's punches and pulling back as soon as he had landed one himself. The Russian took half a dozen blows to the torso before he seemed to realise that his opponent's appearance was deceiving and he really was facing a serious threat.

He drew back a pace, out of the danger zone, before lunging in again and this time Spike saw that there was calculation behind the move. He feigned right, but then swung left, putting all his power into his right fist as it connected with Xander's cheek. Xander went staggering, his arms windmilling madly, but managed to stay upright. There was little or no science on either side, and the encounter quickly degenerated into a classic street brawl, with both combatants telegraphing their swings and taking their hits, but unable to get in the killing shot. Spike finished his meal, the alcohol giving him a mildly pleasant buzz, and allowed the body to slip to the ground. Taking a single pace to the side, so he wouldn't trip over it if he had to intervene, he leaned back against the wall to watch.

Judging dispassionately, he was actually pleased with the amount of progress Xander had made over the last ten nights of training. Although he had gone from overly cautious to overly confident in his fighting style, it was, Spike admitted, a relief to at least see a style there at all.

The scrap itself took longer than he would have wished and he almost stepped in on two occasions, but eventually Xander's greater strength and stamina won out over the human's more limited endurance and Xander managed to land a blow past the sailor's guard and into his face. The big man stood stock still, rocked a few times, then tipped over backwards, falling heavily onto his back. Spike watched with approval as Xander made sure he was out, by placing a carefully aimed kick to the side of his opponent's head, before dropping on top of him, knees pinning the man's arms to the ground and sinking his fangs into his throat.

After a few minutes Xander sat up, braced his hands on the dead sailor's chest and pushed himself to his feet. The cuts on his knuckles were already closing and he hadn't taken any serious damage. Spike walked up behind him, slipped his arms around his childe's waist and gave him an admonitory hug. "What did you do wrong there?" he asked.

Xander paused, then his shoulder's slumped. "I didn't wait to judge his reach. I should have attacked in a way that allowed me to keep my feet."

Giving his childe another squeeze, this time of reassurance, Spike corrected him, "Not only that. You also underestimated his speed and how drunk he wasn't." Spike released Xander and swung him round so they were face to face. "The other one was pissed, but if you'd looked more carefully, you'd have seen that yours was holding his mate up and was getting him home. He was pretty well sober." Reaching up, he took a firm grip of a wodge of Xander's hair and gave his head a shake to reinforce the point. "But," he added, "you got the job done in the end and you'll know better next time, eh?" Xander gave an obedient nod and Spike planted a quick kiss on his forehead, before releasing his hold. "Right then. Let's dump these carcasses where they won't be found. I want to get back. Don't like leaving Dru alone with the old bastard for too long."

Pausing in the middle of bending down to haul his late meal up, Xander looked back at Spike. "I don't think he's doing anything with her," he observed.

"Don't care!" Spike replied. "I don't like the way he's sniffing around." He dragged the smaller sailor up and over his shoulder. "We'll drop these off where the weevilers'll find them. They'll have 'em stripped down to shards of bone in no time." Hefting his shoulder to settle his burden more evenly, he started down the street to the next intersection and an alley where he'd caught the telltale whiff of a weevilers' den in his initial scouting of the town, weeks earlier, adding, "And we'll nip into the hospital on the way home, get granddad some supplies, so Dru will eat tomorrow."

Note: I invented weevilers when I wrote Blood on a Sundial. They are small, rodent like demons with a rancid scent and a limited geographical range. Spike delivered a body to the mouth of a weevilers' den in New York, knowing that 'by morning there'd be nothing left but the odd scrap of bone and those few broken pieces would sink peacefully to the bottom of the Hudson'.

34 Crisis

Prompt: 95 - Mime


When Spike and Xander entered the house, Spike sent Xander straight off to change his grubby shirt, while he took the sack of blood bags into the living room. Watching as Xander walked away from him, down the short hallway, he nodded to himself. Xander was developing slowly, but he was making a thorough job of it. As always, Dru had been right - once he came into his own, Xander would indeed be a dragon. And Spike would make sure he was the best dragon he could be, just as Dru and Angelus, between them, had ensured that he was now one of the most successful vampires around today. He found himself grinning at that thought; since most fledges died within a year, simple survival defined him as successful, but it was Dru's and Angelus' training of the uncertain and eager William that had given him the skills to ensure his longevity.

Thinking of his sire and grandsire led him back to Xander's strange comment earlier about Angelus and Dru not 'doing anything'. Unless... he paused as another thought occurred to him: unless Xander meant that he'd noticed Angelus wasn't fucking Dru and thought it strange? Spike thought it was strange too, it just so happened to be true.

Angelus was an odd bird, his soul had changed him in so many ways, great and small. Some of them Spike could ignore, but some of them took him by surprise, ambushed him. Like when Angelus cornered him alone in the kitchen, his second night in the house, and apologised for sleeping with Dru, saying that he'd seen Spike's face and knew that Spike had been hurt. Spike had been gobsmacked. His, "Well, yeah! So what?" response to what they'd done had caused Angelus to wince and he'd gone on to promise not to do it again. That just compounded Spike's befuddlement, the idea that Angelus thought that his sleeping with Dru was worthy even of mention momentarily robbing him of words. If they were fucking, it was their right. Spike might not like it, but he had Xander, so it wasn't as if he was being shut out and left alone. He had always been jealous of Dru's attention, but it was her time and her regard he valued, not her non-existent fidelity. He had never, he thought, had a problem with her sire taking her to his bed. It was the fact that she wanted to be with Angelus, all the time when Spike was young, that had pissed him off and made him push against their rules.

Once he got his head around what Angelus' was apologising for, he'd tried to say that it didn't matter, because it didn't. It was the fact they went off alone and left him that he'd objected to. But Angelus apparently didn't see the distinction and, for once, Spike's glib tongue failed him. Before he could pull himself together enough to produce some suitably flippant, and preferably insulting remark to explain it, Angelus had turned and left the room.

Looking back on it, the only explanation Spike could come up with was that the soul had not only defanged Angelus, it had also turned him into some sort of second rate human, screwed up his priorities so much that he really no longer understood how a proper vampire thought. It was definitely very strange.

Almost as strange as standing daydreaming in the hallway with his arms loaded down with bags of blood. It needed eating, or refrigerating, if it wasn't to spoil. He opened the door, entered the room and froze. Dru was sitting on Angelus' lap on the sofa, her arms around his neck, whispering in his ear.

At that moment, Angelus looked up and caught Spike's eye. With his hands on Dru's waist, he casually lifted her sideways, placing her down to sit next to him, and stood up. "Spike, my boy, you brought supper," he observed, nodding at the sack. "So kind."

Taking himself in hand, Spike strolled into the room and put the blood down on the coffee table in passing. "Had a good night, pet?" he asked Dru, ignoring Angelus. Sinking down to one knee at her feet, he placed a kiss on Dru's cheek.

She lifted her left hand to his face and turned his head, kissing him firmly on the lips in reply and he allowed his mouth to open under the pressure, sinking into the comfort of her caress. "My sweet William," she murmured. "Angel was telling me stories, but when I asked for more, he wouldn't play."

Pulling back, Spike looked up at his grandsire. "Yeah, well, he's here to look after you, love," he said. Turning back to her, he added, "not to take liberties."

Dru's face twisted into an expression of displeasure. "My liberties to take. And they're not your concern!"

Bowing his head, Spike acknowledged the truth of that. "I'm sorry, pet," he said, lifting her hand to his mouth and kissing the inside of her wrist. "But you know he'll not hang around, once the ritual's done. I don't want to see you hurt."

Glancing up at Angelus, Spike could have sworn he caught a flash of embarrassment on Angelus' face, but then it went blank. "It's good to see some respect in the young, no matter how delayed," Angelus noted. A smirk began to twist his lips. "You really should see to your childe though. You have responsibilities now and you shouldn't leave him to associate with minions." Spike eyed him cautiously, waiting for whatever rock Angelus was about to throw into his pond. He got up and sat down on the sofa next to Dru, her hand held in his lap.

Angelus' face held an expression of friendly concern, though Spike was ready to bet that it was fake. "You know he took the servant to bed, yesterday?" Angelus asked and Spike felt relief wash through him. He'd feared it was something serious. "He'll never develop properly if you don't raise him right." Angelus added, with a smirk.

"Well, of course he did," Spike replied. "I was with Dru. There's nothing wrong with that." He gave Angelus a long, considering stare. "What's it matter to you if he fucks the minion?" he asked disdainfully.

Taking a step closer, so he loomed over Spike, Angel's voice was exasperated. "It doesn't matter, if that's all he's doing. But he's your childe, and as such, his behaviour reflects on us all. If he was only 'fucking the minion', it wouldn't matter... a fuck." Angelus seemed to think he was being amusing, because he gave a little chuckle as he delivered his limp joke. "I sleep in here, next to the kitchen, and I sleep lightly. I heard him take Jesse to his room and I heard the creature come back, around noon."

Releasing Dru, Spike stood up. He still had to tilt his head slightly to look Angelus in the eye, but he refused to be intimidated by such an obvious ploy. "So Xander isn't keeping him there all day. What's the problem?"

"He's still sleeping with him."

With a smile, Spike stepped back from Angelus and sat on the arm of the sofa on Dru's other side. "Why should I care about that?" he asked. Narrowing his eyes, he regarded his grandsire. "And when did you become so mamby pamby that you have to use euphemisms?" he added.

There was a momentary flash of something in Angelus eye, before he pulled himself together. "Tut tut," he replied with a solicitous shake of his head. "Careful, Spike, your education's showing. It'd be a shame to let it out now, when you've spent such a long time trying to hide it." He looked away, around the room, and when he turned back his face was blank again. "Are you going to do something about your childe, before he disgraces us all?"

Spike snorted. "Why should I?" he asked. "You're a bloody interfering busy body. And you have absolutely no ground to stand on, when we're talking about being a 'disgrace to the line'."

He wasn't surprised when Angelus didn't react to his taunt. He obviously still had news to impart, but he took a moment to savour the moment, before delivering his punch line. "He called the creature his childe," he said, his supercilious smile converting into a grimace to reinforce his point.

That did cause Spike to pause.

"Are you going to discipline the boy?" Angelus asked.

There was no way Spike was going to concede that Angelus had landed a hit, but he had to admit that if Xander had indeed said such a thing, it did suggest he was confused at best and perverted at worst. Standing up again, Spike suppressed the growl forming in his throat. "Do I tell you how to live your unlife?" he asked. Glaring at Angelus he realised there was no point in pretending there was nothing wrong. "I'll deal with it!" he snapped.

He stomped across the room intent on finding Xander and knocking some decorum into him, leaving Angel smirking and Dru looking amused.

His hand was on the doorknob when he was halted by Dru's next words to Angel. "You shouldn't be mean like that, my Angel." He turned to look at her, unable to resist the urge to see how Angelus responded. She was standing close up to Angelus, her hand resting lightly on his chest.

Angelus was gazing down into her eyes, with apparently no awareness of Spike's continued presence. "I know, but I find it so hard to resist."

Her smile was intimate, as was her voice - intimate and teasing. "There are other, better things, you could find hard... and not resist."

Spike's anger surged again as she continued to gaze up at Angelus, her expression hungry and full of adoration. With a shudder, Angelus seemed to force himself to break the eye contact, focussing on the wall beyond her. He took a deep breath and when he looked back, his face had set into harder lines. "I told you..." he began, before words apparently failed him.

Dru's smile turned bitter. "You'll make him crazy, but you won't offend him?" she asked. "You know it isn't supposed to be like that. You know it isn't even true. Why do you deny yourself the thing you want."

It looked like Angelus was struggling to find the words to explain, and when he did their sense meant nothing to Spike. "Dru, please... Before... I remembered guilt as a pain I didn't need to feel. Then I felt it. And now, it's always there, tearing me up."

Her hand curled against his chest, into a claw, as if she wanted to dig in, through muscle and bone, and rip his heart out. She screamed, "Don't say you're sorry for me!"

Angelus groaned, a defeated sound, and shook his head as he gazed into her eyes. "Ah, I wish I could," he said sadly. She lifted up onto her tip toes and their mouths were almost touching, before Angelus pulled away.

As Spike watched, half fascinated, half repelled, Dru's fingers straightened and she patted the spot on Angelus' chest, above his heart, her face suddenly gentle and it occurred to Spike that it might have been his soul she was seeking, rather than his dead heart. "You're not Liam," she said. Angelus opened his mouth, but she forestalled him and her words confirmed Spike's guess. "It's not Liam's soul. It's not even human. So why do you cling to your delusions when you could be shiny and bright and real?" She began to rock, her hand on Angelus' breast the only fixed point as the rest of her swayed from side to side and Spike felt a shiver of dread skim up his spine. "Do you hear the drums?" she asked. "Lord of the dance in a dark land? Calling. Calling." Her voice dropped and Spike stood totally still, straining to hear her words. "I'd go," she whispered. "If you asked."

All thoughts of Xander fled, as Spike prepared to intervene, but Angelus spoke before he could move. "Dru," he seemed to choke on the word. "I have a mission. I have to hold on to what I know is right."

Dru pursed her lips and emitted a long whistle which undulated up and down the scale, the mournful sound creating resonances in Spike's bones. Beneath his hand, the doorknob moved, attempted to turn, and he released it. The door opened a crack before it hit his foot and stopped, but Xander slipped through the gap and into the room. "What..." he began. Spike raised his hand and flapped it at Xander to shut him up, without shifting his gaze from the tableau across the room.

Dru stepped back from Angelus at last and for a second Spike thought the vision was over, but when she spoke it was clear the voice was still in her. "He lied," she announced, lifting her arms and weaving her hands back and forth before her face. "He told you half truths and second hand truths." She sounded like she was in pain and her mouth twisted as she let out a moan. Clutching at her stomach, she hunched over. "He would say anything to recruit you," she gasped.

Angelus was frozen to the spot, but Spike knew that posture from long experience. Breaking from his trance he rushed over and caught her before she collapsed to the floor. Cradling her against him, he got one arm around her back and the other under her knees and picked her up. Curling in to his chest, she whimpered, batting weakly at him with the hand not caught between their bodies. Sparing a glare for Angelus, Spike turned to Xander. "Fetch the fur blanket off her bed," he instructed.

Xander rushed back out of the room and Spike knelt down, laying Dru out, full length on the sofa. He kept his arm behind her shoulders, holding her up while he grabbed a cushion with his other hand, to place behind her head. Looking back up at Angelus he spat, "What were you thinking? Bloody moron! She could have hurt herself."

Angelus looked stunned. "What... what was that?" he asked.

"That was a bad one. That's what that was. And what were you doing, eh? Standing there like a block, when you know what the visions do." He glared at Angelus again. "At least you did, once upon a time." Turning back to Dru, he gently straightened her skirts down around her ankles. She seemed to have fallen asleep, or into unconsciousness, but she wasn't dust and Spike clung to that comfort. He knew his voice was shaking, but the rage needed an out. "If it wasn't for the ritual, you'd be in the street, on your ear for this. Don't you bloody care about anything except yourself?"

Interrupting his accusations, Xander returned, clutching the fur to his chest with both hands. He tip toed across to Spike, who stood to take it from him. Then he backed away towards the kitchen door, seeming to recognise that this was an occasion when it would be safest to be neither seen nor heard. Spike gave the blanket a shake and tucked it around Dru's still form, making sure she'd be comfortable when she woke up.

Finally satisfied, he straightened and looked again at Angelus, who hadn't moved from where he was standing when Dru's turn began. The anger and worry now gone, Spike was surprised by the expression of wonder on his grandsire's face. "You always had so much humanity in you," Angelus observed, apropos of nothing, "no matter what I did to train it out of you."

Now that he was reassured that Dru would be okay, Spike relaxed. He laughed bitterly. "Dru was undermining you at every step, mate. She wanted me the way I am." Glancing across at Xander he pointed at the bottle of Eagle Rare then brought his hand to his mouth, miming the act of drinking from a glass. Xander jumped to comply. "You may have had the training of me," he added, "but she made me." Crossing to the bureau he took the glass from Xander and pulled the boy to him, loving the way his childe immediately moulded his body into Spike's side. Taking a deep swig, he nodded towards Dru and explained, "They take it out of her. Every time, she's not as strong after. She might be okay one day, but then she's bad again for a while. And it's getting worse." He sighed. "And it's not like most of them make much sense. I don't know what that one was all about. Do you?"

Angelus shook his head, a frown creasing his brow between his eyes and Spike decided he believed him. "You'll have to feed her again," he said. "When she wakes up. She'll be weak as a kitten. I can never get her to take anything after one of her attacks, but you'd bloody better. Got that?"

Nodding his agreement, Angelus walked over to Dru's chair and seemed to collapse into it. Suddenly Spike remembered the blood, still sitting on the coffee table. Releasing Xander, he stalked over, grabbed a couple of bags and tossed them to Angelus. "Here," he said. "So you'll be ready. I'll put the rest away in the fridge." Grabbing Xander's hand as he passed, he pulled him towards the kitchen door. "Just remember: make her eat!"

Looking up from the blood in his hand, Angelus seemed confused. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"Got a conversation to have, about decorum, remember?" Spike growled. "And since it'll be loud, I'm taking it outside. We'll be back before dawn, never fear." Giving Xander a push, he propelled him out of the room. "Go find that Jesse creature, where ever he's cowering, and meet me at the back door," he instructed him. "I have some energy to burn off, and you two just scored."

35 Lessons

Prompt: 96 - Keckle. I haven't used the actual word, because it doesn't fit into any of my characters' vocabularies in a way that wouldn't be forced, but it is there and I know that's alright, because I've done it before (I used the prompt word 15 times, without actually using it, in my first ever Taming story). It also caused Dru to say something she otherwise might not have said, but which really worked out well for me.

Tuesday night

Leading the way out through the small back garden into the woods in the grounds of the big, empty mansion beyond, Spike slapped the coil of thin rope he carried against his knee and listened to the two pairs of footsteps behind him. There was no other sound from either of them. They had both picked up on his displeasure and sensibly were not pushing their luck. Reaching a small clearing with a single large tree in the centre, he stopped and turned around.

Xander and Jesse immediately halted too, a few feet from him, and waited to see what he wanted. Spike spent some time surveying them, allowing the tension to build. His initial anger had been diffused by his more urgent concern in the face of Dru's collapse and now he felt only cold determination that a lesson needed to be taught and taught thoroughly. If Angelus was telling the truth, and knowing Angelus he was, because making up such a story would be too easily discovered, Xander was in danger of going seriously off the rails. It was Spike's job to nip that danger in the bud.

Gesturing Xander over to him, he took him by the shoulders, positioning him under one of the main branches. Holding both Xander's hands in one of his own, he dropped one of the lengths of rope and looped the other around Xander's wrists. Xander was looking really worried now, but he allowed Spike to do what he was doing without protest, and without saying anything, which just went to show that he had a good idea of Spike's mood. Tossing the free end of the rope over the branch, Spike hauled it taut so Xander's arms were stretched above his head, and tied it off around another, lower branch. Once Xander was secure, he turned to Jesse, just in time to see a small smirk of satisfaction on the minion's face at Xander's predicament. The creature obviously thought he was there to witness Spike's punishment of Xander for some offence.

That misapprehension lasted as long as it took Spike to string him up exactly the same way. Jesse opened his mouth once or twice, as if he would voice some protest, but in the end, he also, wisely, kept schtum. "Stand there!" Spike said harshly, if unnecessarily. "Don't move!"

Stepping back, he surveyed his handiwork. They were both secure and, while they were able to stand on the flats of their feet, there was little give, so they couldn't get free without assistance. They were also both watching him with identical expressions of trepidation. Fixing his gaze on Xander, Spike asked his first question, "Who am I?"

Xander's eyes widened with surprise. "Er, you're Spike?" he suggested. Seeing that Spike wanted more, he tried again. "You're my sire?"

Spike nodded and turned to Jesse. "Who am I?" he asked.

Jesse flicked a quick glance at Xander, before turning back to Spike, bowing his head respectfully. "You're Master Spike."

Again Spike nodded his approval. Stepping up close to Xander, he reached out and gripped his childe's chin. "Who's he?" he asked, turning Xander's head towards his co-defendant.

"Umm... He's Jesse."

"Yeah, and what else is he?"

Xander looked a little alarmed, as it obviously occurred to him that he didn't know what answer Spike wanted. Spike gave Xander's chin a small shake to encourage him and Xander drew a sharp breath before uttering an unconsidered, but for Spike's purposes, perfect answer, "He's my best friend."

Keeping his voice calm and encouraging, Spike asked, "Your what?"

"My, my best friend," Xander said again. Looking up into Spike's eyes, he expanded on his explanation. "I've, I've known him since forever."

"Have you now? And what have I said about the human Xander and you?"

Finally Xander seemed to realise where this was going, because there was marginally less hesitation in his reply. "That I'm not him?"

Spike smiled and nodded approvingly. "Yes. You're not him. You have his memories. You feel him, you've taken all he was and wrapped yourself around it. But you're not him." Releasing Xander's chin, he stepped back. "That gives you an advantage when hunting," he explained. "You can think like the prey, but you aren't the prey. You're a vampire, a demon." He turned to the Jesse. "What are you?"

There was no hesitation in Jesse's reply. "I'm a vampire."

"And what's your name?"



That gave Jesse pause, but only for a moment. "Because that's the name of the human whose memories I took when I was born."

Again Spike nodded and Jesse assayed a small smile of satisfaction. "And who's he?" Spike asked, indicating Xander.

"He's Xander, your childe."

Tilting his head thoughtfully, Spike stepped up close, but spoke clearly enough that Xander would be able to hear too. "And what do you feel for him?" Jesse face screwed up in confusion so Spike expanded on the question. "Do you care for him? Love him?"

It didn't seem to help. "I... I don't understand," Jesse stuttered.

"Would you sacrifice your existence for him?"

Here, Jesse seemed to feel he was on surer ground. "If he asked me to. He made me. I know what he wants and I serve his purpose."

Now they were getting to the meat of it. "But he doesn't understand that, does he?" Spike asked gently. Jesse shook his head. "Did he call you his childe?" Spike asked.

Jesse pulled himself up straighter. "Yes."

"And what did you feel when he did that?"

"Proud." Was that a hint of defiance? Spike wondered.

Flicking a glance at Xander, Spike saw relief warring with concern in his face. He turned back to Jesse. "You have ambition?"

"Of course! I'm strong and the strong shall inherit the earth."

"Amen," Spike murmured with a smirk. "You want to be someone important?" he continued. "You want to prove yourself?

"Yes! Just ask. Anything you want, I'll do it!"

Mentally Spike sighed, Minions, so bloody predictable. "Tell me what you feel," he suggested, keeping his voice calm and friendly. "Cast your mind out and describe what you are."

"I'm... I'm a vampire." Jesse seemed at a loss for words, but he did his best. "I feel good! I feel strong! I'm connected, to everything!" He began to warm to his theme under Spike's encouraging gaze. "I... I can hear the worms in the earth and smell the blood in the humans down in the town. I can feel hell stirring!"

"And what about the human Jesse? What do you feel about him?"

"He's like a shadow of me. Occupying my mind, giving me an advantage, an edge." Jesse turned to Xander. "It's like one of Willow's computers, man. Full of information on how to act, how to talk, how to play the part, to hunt. You feel that too, don't you?" Turning back to Spike, an expression of cunning flickered across his face and he asked, "Is there something wrong with Xander? Can't he feel it?" He looked back at Xander. "You're my sire. You made me. How can you have made me so perfect, if you are not whole?"

Sharing a smile with Jesse, Spike turned away and took the two paces necessary to bring him to Xander. Allowing the smile to fade, he instructed, "Come childe, answer the question."

Xander snarled. "I am whole. I remember it all. There's nothing wrong with me!"

"But you think like a human," Jesse taunted. "You cling to the memory of friendship. I remember how it was. How it really was. There's no such thing as love. It's a myth that humans invented, so they wouldn't be alone. We don't need it. I don't need it!"

The reality of their situation seemed to crash in on Xander all at once. He tugged at his bound hands, trying to break free. "No, Jesse, man, that's not true. Remember how we promised to always look out for each other? We used your penknife to cut our hands and shook on it, to mix our blood." There was a note of hysteria entering his voice as he desperately tried to remind Jesse of the connection he still felt. "We said we were blood brothers, because we couldn't be real brothers. Don't you remember, in the tree house, you said you wished I was your real brother, because Harry and Chris were stupid and didn't know how to play? Don't you remember the other night in bed?" With each assertion of memory his voice had been rising and the final plea sounded like it was being torn forcibly from him. "You love me!"

Jesse looked at him, impassively, then he turned to Spike and smiled.

"No!" Xander yelled.

Spike drew his knife from its sheath on the back of his belt. Walking over to the ropes, where they were tied off, he sawed through the one closest to the trunk of the tree. Xander immediately collapsed to his knees on the ground and shook the bindings off his wrists. Grabbing a broken length of branch, about a foot long, from the ground he sprang back up and launched himself at Jesse, makeshift stake raised.

Spike was ready for him to make that move and jumped between them, grabbed Xander's wrist and prevented the killing blow. "No!" he growled. "You don't kill him. He'll live and he'll be a constant reminder to you that the boy Xander is dead!"

Xander fought against Spike's hold on him. "I... I want," he gasped.

Spike forced Xander's arm down, gripping his wrist harder, until the stake dropped. Reaching with his free hand to the waistband of his jeans, he pulled free the riding crop he'd stowed there before leaving the house and placed that in Xander's hand instead, giving the boy a sharp shove to the side at the same time, so he staggered slightly. While Xander was recovering his footing, Spike took hold of Jesse's shirt and tore it up the back, then he stepped away, allowing Xander free access.

It was, he thought, a pleasure to watch such passion, such release of pain and hurt. By the time Xander had finished, the crop was bloody and Xander's hand and sleeve were likewise stained. Jesse's back, arms, and neck were cut to ribbons. In a few places the bone of his ribs and spine showed through the mass of torn muscle. His jeans had slipped down on his narrow hips, but even so, they were sliced through in places around the waistband. But the rope had held, leaving him hanging limply from the branch, the cord cutting deeper for his weight, and blood ran down from the wounds they left.

When Xander's arm eventually dropped and didn't rise again, Spike went to him and removed the crop from his hand, letting it fall. "So I put away childish things," he murmured, clasping his arms around Xander, offering the comfort he knew his childe needed. Xander buried his face in Spike's shoulder hiding his tears as he sobbed.

They stood like that for at least five minutes, before Xander sniffed and pulled back to wipe his hand across his eyes, smearing tears and blood across his cheek. Spike walked over to the tree truck and sawed through the remaining rope, allowing Jesse's body to collapse in an unremarked heap. Returning to Xander, he asked softly, "Who are you?"

Xander gave his face a last angry scrub but his expression was firm when he looked up. "I'm Xander the vampire, your childe."

Cupping Xander's face in both his hands, Spike smiled. "That you are, my fledgling dragon. That you are." He pulled Xander towards him and brought their mouths together, holding Xander firmly still, forcing Xander's lips apart with his kiss, showing him by the most expedient means that he was proud of his childe and that, no matter what Jesse had said and believed, love was as true for vampires as it ever was for the human Xander remembered.

When they returned to the house, Spike again sent Xander off to get cleaned up, while he entered the living room alone. Dru wasn't there, but Angelus was sitting in his usual spot, reading 'La Nausea', the poser - just making the point he could read French. He looked up. "Lesson taught?" he asked.

Spike shrugged. "Yeah, if he manages to crawl in before sunrise, he'll be okay."

"And you really think that'll do the job?"

The hint of doubt narked Spike. "Listen, mate! You're still a bloody guest in my home. So keep your busy nose out of my business!" He glared at his grandsire as he collapsed into the opposite end of the sofa. "And that includes encouraging Dru to go all dewy eyed over you too!"

From the door way, Dru's voice interrupted his little tirade. "You two boys... fightin' over me and all." She wandered into the room and stopped where she could watch them both. For once Spike didn't feel the need to jump up and help her to sit. She was healthy enough to walk, she could seat herself too. Not that she looked like she was going to do that. She had a devilish expression on her face, gleeful and teasing at once. "Makes a girl feel..." She continued, running a hand down her front and stopping on the soft curve of her belly. If her skirt had not been in the way, she might have been touching her sex. Lazily, she allowed her gaze to drift towards Angel and Spike felt his anger stir again.

Angelus apparently sensed something too, because he tried to interrupt her. "Dru, please?"

She scowled at him. "Shhh! Grrrruff! Bad dog," she snapped. Drifting over to Spike, she placed her hand on his cheek, forcing him to look up at her. "You try to keep me wrapped up, to protect me, but all you do is bind me tight. I won't wear away from contact with the world, not once I'm well, my sweet. Once I'm myself again."

Silently, Xander slipped into the room and came over to sit on the arm of the sofa by Spike's side, his arm on the back rest behind Spike's head. Spike placed a hand on the boy's thigh, acknowledging his arrival, but kept his attention fixed on his sire. "Yes, pet. Once you're well, you can do anything. We'll have a coronation down Main Street, and invite everyone, and drink for seven days and seven nights. But until then, will you at least sit down and stop wearing yourself out over this sorry excuse for a vampire? He's got a soul and he's not going to hang around, once he's done what he's promised."

Immediately Xander stood up and offered Dru his hand, guiding her over to her chair.

Spike watched until Dru was sitting down, then turned back to his grandsire. Angelus was looking at him, an expression of puzzled concern on his face. "I don't know what it is that's upsetting you," he said. "I told you, I'm not sleeping with Dru, not since the first day I was here."

"What has that got to do with anything?" Spike snarled. "That's not the point and you know it! What's wrong with you?"

Xander stood up and turned to face the sofa. "He's thinking like a human," he said. "He thinks sex is intimacy. He thinks as long as he doesn't 'sleep with her'," he held has hands up, palms facing forwards at shoulder height and crooked his index and middle fingers as he said it, "he's not doing anything you could object to."

Spike was incredulous. "Is that true?" he asked, looking back to Angelus. "Is Xander right? The reason you're being so... so inconsistent, saying you respect me but acting like a twat, is because you really have lost your mind?" He'd suspected something like this, but somehow, hearing it said in words made it both clearer and stupider, at the same time. Beside him Xander chuckled as he sat back down as he'd been before.

Dru's brittle laugh dragged Spike's attention back to her. "Chilling, isn't it?" she said. "He's so full of good intentions." She picked up her tarot cards from the arm of her chair and glanced around the room. Xander once again jumped up and dragged the coffee table over to her. She smiled up at him. "But it's delicious too," she added. "Rrrr. He's like a fox in a trap, chewing off his own foot. But that won't make him free."

Spike opened his mouth, but finding that he had nothing to say, closed it again. Shame Angelus didn't have the same control. "I was given a mission," he explained, in a voice that suggested he had little hope of convincing anyone present of his argument. "A cause." He hesitated for a moment, seeming to pick his words with care. "I was... I'd lost hope. Whistler... he gave me that back." Placing his book carefully, face down beside him, he leant forwards, resting his elbows on his knees. "I saw the slayer, I saw what she did and how young and scared she was... and I wanted to protect her and help her and do right."

Squinting thoughtfully at Angelus, Spike reconsidered the last few weeks. "Don't you think you burnt that boat, when the watcher rescued your little pet?" he asked.

Angelus looked up sharply, an arrested expression on his face. Spike returned it with his best innocent look, until he couldn't hold the grin in any longer and turned away. He caught Dru's eye and she winked at him.

Final note: Spike's line at the end of the lesson, comes from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 11 - When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

36 Playing the fool

Prompt: 97 - delirious

Tuesday 6 August

Angel wandered listlessly around the living room, picked up his book, put it down, sat on the sofa, but stood up again when he realised he couldn't settle. Without conscious thought he found himself in the kitchen with the fridge door open, gazing blankly at the pile of blood bags that were its only contents. He wasn't hungry and after a moment he closed it and returned to the sofa, stretching out full length in the place he used to sleep.

He was tired of thinking, tired of trying to compose arguments strong enough to persuade the watcher of his good intentions. Tired of trying to find a solution to the mess he'd landed himself in. Liam had screwed him. Even if he could think of an explanation for why he had been found in the street with three vampires, three other vampires, and an unconscious woman, the watcher would surely grant more credence to a young man who had managed to escape from murderous captors. A young man who swore that Angel was evil. There was no precedent for him to recognise the uniqueness of a vampire with a soul.

Angel's thoughts kept going round in circles, getting him nowhere. One week. One more week to the night of the new moon. Then Angel would be free of his obligations, free to leave, free to return to his mission, his cause, his search for redemption. One week left to endure and then he could concentrate on forgetting this interlude had ever happened, banish his children from his life and his memory, as he had done so successfully for the last hundred years. With a sigh he swung his legs back to the floor and sat forward. Resting his elbows on his knees he scrubbed his hands up his face and decided that in spite of his reluctance, he really needed to think.

The past week, since the night Xander and Spike between them had so casually shattered his perceptions of himself and cast doubts on his future, had been uneventful, leaving Angel with far too much time to think. Spike's laughter had stopped abruptly when they'd heard the sound of the back door opening. He'd jumped to his feet and disappeared into the kitchen to investigate, but returned within moments, resuming his seat with a shrug. Dru had murmured some question and Spike had made some reply, but Angel hadn't been listening, too caught up in the shock of seeing all his plans in ruins under his feet. Why hadn't he seen it before? Why hadn't he realised the cost his temporary reunion with his family would inflict? He'd been doing good. He'd prevented the Master from rising, he'd been keeping the vampire population down, he'd been gathering information to help the slayer. He'd been waiting for her to arrive. It hadn't occurred to him that her watcher would come to Sunnydale before her. He'd imagined that Spike and Dru and even Xander and Jesse would be long gone before he had to declare himself.

Even after the fateful night when Liam betrayed him, he still hadn't made the connection. Why not? Was he so caught up in the immediate concerns over Dru's health and the certainty that Whistler had been informed by prophecy that he'd not allowed himself to see the obvious truth until Spike threw it in his face?

And Xander... Xander's exposure of the false premise behind Angel's good intentions, Spike's scornful reaction... They had rocked Angel's beliefs in a way he hadn't though possible. He'd sat transfixed as his whole existence reshaped itself before his bewildered gaze. Then he'd got up and walked out of the room, taking possession of Xander's bed, from where he'd not moved until the following night when Spike came in to bully him into feeding, so he could in turn feed Dru.

Angel had done that, doing his best to stamp on his response to the sensual pleasure Dru's fangs in his throat elicited. And he'd continued to do that - hiding in Xander's room, which had now become his, except when he was needed to keep Dru fed and as healthy as she could be, until the ritual was complete.

Assuming the ritual was successful. He shied away from that thought. The idea that his destiny could be put in such jeopardy and the cause of the damage then fail, was just too much to contemplate. Something good had to come out of this mess. He refused to consider the idea that putting a healthy Dru back on the streets was anything other than a good outcome. She was his childe and he loved her.

The sound of the door opening brought his head up out of his hands, even as his mind reeled again at the shocking realisation of his feelings for his childe. And there she was, his childe, who he'd possessed in his soulless state, but who he'd never loved. Not then. Dimly, through the roaring in his ears, he wondered if this was the ultimate curse of his soul - that he should realise he loved a woman who was not only evil, but also mad?

Standing in the doorway, her head tilted to one side, she regarded him seriously. "I slept so long," she said. "I thought I'd never wake."

Slowly she tottered into the room and Angel jumped up to help her to her chair. Smiling, she relaxed back into her seat with a sigh, her head resting against the chair back as she gazed up at him. "Have they gone?" she asked. "Have they gone to fetch it?"

Angel crouched down in front of her, fearful for reasons he didn't want to examine. "Yes, Spike's taken Xander and the servant. They've gone to fetch the cross."

She nodded, looking so frail that for a moment Angel wondered if she could make it through the next seven days. "Let me get something to eat," he offered. "Once you've fed, you'll feel better. Okay?"

"Of course. Of course, yes, we could ask the wizard," she murmured, her head turning from side to side. She rarely talked like normal people, but there was a note of delirium in her voice that concerned him. "He knows where the dark god is. He knows."

Angel eased himself up and hurried into the kitchen. Glancing at the stove, he decided there wasn't time to wait for water to heat up to warm the blood. He'd just have to drink it cold. It wasn't a hardship, not like choking down cold pig or cow. Grabbing four bags and a pair of scissors, he filled a large tankard and downed the contents in no more than a couple of long gulps, repeating the process twice more. Then he poured the last bag into the tankard and carried it back with him, placing it on the coffee table.

Returning to Dru, he lifted her, surprised that she didn't weigh less, so fragile she looked. Sitting down in her place he settled her comfortably, sideways across his knees. She raised her right hand to his left shoulder as she twisted around and he guided her mouth towards the other side of his neck. Then he leant back and relaxed, allowing her to sprawl across his chest.

As always, the sheer sexual pleasure, the sensation of family, threatened to engulf him and as always he fought to subdue it, but the recent recognition of tenderness made it more difficult this time. Without him noticing when he'd started, he found he was stroking her side, up and down her ribs, a soothing motion, but whether to comfort her or himself, he couldn't tell.

They remained like that for a few long minutes, the pull from her fangs sending tendrils of want through his body, his hand gently stroking. When her hand slipped off his shoulder, he hardly registered the fact. It was not until she took his own hand in hers, as the flow of blood began to slow, and guided it lower, to her hip, that his conscious mind began to reengage. When she tried to push it in towards her lap, he finally realised his own danger and pulled away.

Letting out a little mewl of protest, she raised her head and looked at him from beneath half closed lids, her expression so knowing that Angel felt again the rush of need he so often felt when she flirted with him. "No," he groaned. "Dru, please. I can't."

Lifting her as he stood, he set her back in her chair and stepped away, out of physical range, but he knew he couldn't leave. She might have fed, but she was not well and he couldn't walk away from her if she needed him.

"You could," she said. "If you wanted to enough. You could stay with us. We could be a family." She sounded so frail and pitiful that he closed his eyes to find the strength to resist her. He counted to ten before he opened them again and now she was sitting up straight in her chair, her momentary weakness apparently past, for now. "You've not always been alone, even after you deserted us, left us to fend for ourselves, you had companions by your side. How would this be different?"

"I... Not really," Angel protested. "I didn't really." The only time he'd ever settled down for any length of time had been in the sixties in Detroit. The only person to ever share his home had been a weaselly little man who had attached himself to his household there, somehow, when Angel was living the life of a shady recluse. Parson, that was his name. He'd taken on the duties of a manservant and had punctuated his tasks in caring for Angel's clothes with talk of girls and their beavers. Angel had been both repelled and fascinated by his obsession. He'd had books with pictures of half dressed women in them and magazines showing more. Women with their fingers spreading their lower lips for the camera. He'd always sounded like his mouth contained too much saliva when he spoke of them and Angel had come close to killing him, more than once. Thinking back, it would probably have been a good thing to have done.

His confusion suitably tamed by that memory, Angel frowned at Dru. "I never had anyone I cared for," he admitted. "I made sure of that." Bending down he picked up the tankard and drank some of its contents, to give him something to hide behind. As his rational mind once again took control of his thought processes, he narrowed his eyes and stared at her, suddenly realising that she looked far stronger and far less delirious than her recent feed alone could account for, compared to her state moments before. 'The minx!' he thought.

Dru smiled the serene smile of the Madonna, with more than a hint of mischief. Then she shrugged, acknowledging his victory in this round of what, he suddenly realised, was their game.

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