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Alliances

by
Whichclothes



Part One


Willow was playing with the puppy again.

Sometimes she wanted Xander to play too, but today when he’d tried she snarled at him, so he retreated to the wobbly wooden chair just outside the cell. He sat there, watching silently, stroking himself through the denim of his jeans.

Angel was splayed on his back, his arms and legs stretched wide and chained to the floor. Willow had torn his ragged, filthy clothing to shreds so that now he was completely naked, the ribs and hipbones prominent on his underfed body.

The corpse of a pretty girl had been discarded in the corner of the cell, not much visible of her aside from her drab-green clothing. Willow had dragged the sobbing girl into the cell and held her in place while the girl had sucked on Angel’s cock. Willow had fondled the girl as she choked and cried and, when Angel was fully hard despite himself, Willow had gleefully torn into the girl’s neck. She’d sprinkled a few drops of blood onto Angel’s mouth too, and although he clearly hated himself for it he’d licked the scarlet droplets from his lips, groaning at the taste.

Then Willow had moved quickly, tying a leather cord around the base of Angel’s cock and balls so that his erection remained, angry and painful-looking. He’d screamed when she shoved a huge plug into his ass. And then she’d shoved one end of a dildo into his mouth and strapped it in place with a leather harness that wrapped around his head. She’d settled down onto the toy, riding it, so that Angel’s head was obscured entirely beneath her skirts.

Angel could only buck and writhe a little underneath her—Xander figured he probably couldn’t breathe at all—and as Willow rocked on his face she tossed lit matches onto his belly. One of the matches bounced against the purple head of Angel’s cock and even buried as he was, Angel managed to cry out.

The entire scene was diverting, something to do while the fucking sun shone. Xander remembered two or three years earlier, back when he had been one of the weaklings scurrying around in fear, the big vampire had appeared, promising redemption at the hands of someone named Buffy. But this Buffy never arrived and the halls at Sunnydale High grew gradually emptier. And then one morning Willow didn’t show up at school. Xander knew what had happened to her and he’d grieved. But when she’d appeared outside his house three nights later, calling for him, she’d still looked so much like his best friend, like the girl who’d shared her PB&J with him back in first grade, that he’d left the relative safety of his crappy home.

Willow herself had helped capture Angel not long after, luring him into a trap by wearing something pink and fuzzy and looking helpless. The Master had been very pleased, so that now Willow was his favorite and Xander enjoyed favored status by extension.

So all was good. Xander ate well. His parents had been one of his first meals and that had been fucking satisfying. Xander had died a virgin but now he got plenty of sex, sometimes with Willow, occasionally with one of the other vampires, and now and then when the mood hit him, with his prey. He didn’t have to worry about flunking algebra anymore, and he was no longer the uncool dork in the cheap clothes, snubbed by the other kids. Hell, he’d eaten some of those snubbers himself.

He should be happy, he thought, as he watched Willow lean down to rake sharp fingernails across Angel’s chest. She left five deep furrows in the flesh, each of them bleeding sluggishly, as if Angel’s body begrudged the loss of any blood at all. Xander licked his lips and rubbed a little harder on the bulge at his crotch. He was a little hungry. Maybe he’d head upstairs in a few to have a snack. The Master kept several people caged in case someone got the munchies during daylight. But for now Xander still watched Willow play, and he sulked a little. Because he wasn’t happy. Yeah, now he and Willow screwed, but they were missing that connection they’d had when they were human, that bond of love and friendship. Probably Xander shouldn’t care about that shit anymore now that he was a demon, but he did.

A couple years ago, not long before Xander died, a pair of vampires had arrived in Sunnydale. Nothing unusual about that—the Hellmouth drew vamps like a lamp drew moths. But this pair was different. Instead of gleefully massacring the locals, the male, a cocky guy with day-glo hair, had spent most of his time looking for Angel. This vampire had even captured Xander once and demanded to know where Angel was—apparently he thought Angel could somehow help his girlfriend, who looked like an extra from the Addams Family. Surprisingly, when Xander told him he had no idea where Angel was, the vampire had just let him go, wandering off muttering something to himself about peaches and poufs.

But what stuck in Xander’s head about that odd pair of vamps was how dedicated the male was to the female. He loved her, adored her freaky self. Until then, Xander hadn’t realized demons were capable of emotions like that. Maybe most of them weren’t. But now, as he watched the puppy thrash helplessly and Willow wriggle and laugh, Xander wished he had his own someone special.

Christ. Even as a vampire he was a dork.


~*~*~*~*~


The Master was giving a speech. Again. He was about as interesting as Mrs. Davis had been when she droned away in geography class. Xander was a vampire now—he shouldn’t have to listen to boring lectures anymore.

But Xander was listening—or at least pretending to—as he stood next to the Master on the stage and looked suitably right-hand-mannish. As opposed to miniony, because Xander was not a fucking minion. Willow was on the stage too, holding the Master’s hand and gazing adoringly at him. The two of them looked like a girl and her doting grandfather. Well, except Willow had a little blood smudged on her chin and the Master was fucking hideous.

“For too long our kind has crawled around in the Dark Ages,” the Master was saying. “Running after our prey, no better than beasts. But this is the age of technology! We are superior beings—why do we let the lowly humans be the only ones to use machines, to increase productivity, to be efficient?”

The assembled masses mumbled something vaguely approving. Xander figured that most of them didn’t give a crap about the Master’s great plan, but they knew better than to be anything but supportive. You’d think an ancient monster would have outgrown the need for yesvamps, but apparently not.

The Master smiled, revealing yellowed fangs, and continued. “In less than two weeks’ time the machine will be complete, and then we can begin our collections. What used to take all night will now take only minutes, leaving us free to spend our nights however we wish. Perusing great literature, perhaps. Finding ways to improve our unlives—perhaps one of you will invent a sunblock effective enough to allow us to go out in broad daylight. Or maybe you’ll discover a way to overcome that ancient nuisance, the need to be invited into homes. Maybe you’ll even create a mirror that reflects our faces!”

Xander had to turn his face away and bite at his lip. He was pretty sure that the Master was a whole lot better off not seeing his own face. Xander wished he didn’t have to see it either.

The Master drew Willow closer to him, settling his arm over her shoulders. “With this machine, we will truly rule the world! We will be twenty-first century demons!”

The crowd obediently clapped and cheered.

“Bollocks.”

The cheering stopped abruptly and everyone turned to the back of the room to see who had spoken. Xander tried to peer through the crowd; the Master and Willow were doing the same.

And then the audience parted and a figure made its way to the middle of the room. The vampires left a wide circle around him as if they wanted to make sure nobody accused them of being with the guy.

Xander recognized him.

He was dressed pretty much like Xander remembered—black leather duster over a red shirt and black tee and tight black jeans. Almost-white hair slicked back. Lit cigarette stuck between two fingers that sported chipped black nail polish.

“William!” the Master exclaimed in surprise; Xander couldn’t tell if it was a happy sort of surprise or not.

“Spike, mate. Has been since 1880. Or perhaps senility’s crept up on you? That would explain this daft scheme of yours.”

“It’s a brilliant plan!”

Spike snorted, took a puff of his cigarette, and flicked it negligently to the side. Some of the vampires ducked out of its way. “Bollocks,” he said again. “What sort of demon needs a bloody machine?”

The entire audience gasped at his audacity, but Spike didn’t seem to care. He hooked his thumbs in his belt loops as if he thought he could take on the whole roomful.

“Maybe you didn’t understand that part,” the Master sneered. “With the machine, we’ll be free to spend our time in other pursuits.”

“Other pursuits? We’re demons! We’re not meant to sit about contemplating philosophy. We do three things: we fight, we feed, we fuck. You haven’t done that last one in centuries, I’d reckon, and you have your sodding minions to fight for you. That leaves feeding, and what fun is that without the hunt? We’re predators, mate, not soccer moms at a drive-thru.”

The circle around Spike widened, as if he might explode or something. But that didn’t put him off any, nor did the Master’s growl. Spike cocked an eyebrow. “Besides, genius, if you’re so bloody efficient, eventually you’ll run out of humans. The pickings are looking slim in Sunnydale already. Then what?”

“We’ll breed more,” the Master said through gritted fangs.

Spike made a dismissive pfft sound. “Breed? Loads more trouble than it’s worth. Takes ages before they’re big enough to make a decent meal, and in the meantime you have to remember to feed ’em and keep ’em clean. I know—sometimes Dru fancied keeping one of them as a pet, but she’d always forget to care for it properly. And in any case, I’m a hunter, not a bloody farmer.”

Privately, Xander agreed. Honestly, he’d been hoping the Master grew tired of his stupid plan. And if the Master didn’t, Xander had been hoping that once the machine was functioning he could persuade Willow to leave with him, to head somewhere more interesting. He didn’t want to spend eternity in fucking Sunnydale, that’s for sure.

“It’s too much for a simple demon like you to understand,” the Master said. All the minions in the room were following the conversation nervously, heads swiveling back and forth to watch. The Master continued, “But even if you don’t understand, I’ll allow you to join us, William. You can help us round up humans to be processed.”

“Told you, it’s Spike. And I came to Sunnyhell ’cause I was looking for a bit of fun. I didn’t mean to become a factory worker. So bugger off, batface.”

The crowd gasped again, louder this time, and backed a few feet farther away. Without any blood circulation the Master’s face couldn’t exactly turn livid, but Xander could almost swear he saw little puffs of steam coming out of his pointy ears. “Get him!” he roared.

At first, nobody moved. Spike waited as if he actually wanted to be attacked.

The Master stomped his foot. “Now, idiots!”

The minions glanced at each other. They looked at Spike and then at the Master and then at least a few of them apparently decided that the Master was scarier—he sure looked scarier—and they hurled themselves at Spike. They were sort of half-hearted hurls, though. Xander snorted with amusement at his own thoughts and watched the fun.

Spike waited until the minions were pretty much on top of him before he moved. When he did move, though, it was lightning fast, his feet kicking out even swifter than Xander’s demon-enhanced eyes could track, and when an attacking vampire or three stumbled backwards, Spike laughed gleefully and grabbed a chubby guy by the head, twisting it all the way around like that girl in The Exorcist.

Most of the remaining crowd scurried farther away. Chickenshits, Xander thought. What was the point of being a monster if you couldn’t even fight right? He’d have joined in himself—it looked like fun—but it was also pretty fun to watch. Besides, Willow had crept over to his side and draped herself against him, and was now happily caressing his ass. Violence always turned her on.

No matter how good a brawler he was, Spike’s situation should have been hopeless due to the sheer number of opponents. But most of the minions pressed to the edges of the room, gawping nervously. The few that had the balls to actually attack acted like the idiot bad guys in every stupid movie Xander had ever seen, going at him one at a time. He picked them off neatly, breaking their necks, poking out their eyes, or busting their knees so they couldn’t stand up any more. Soon the floor was littered with moaning, incapacitated demons and drifting clouds of dust.

But Spike was also gradually falling back towards the exit, Xander noticed. Probably wise, because Spike was beginning to slow down a little. Even vampire endurance had its limits. When he made it to the door, Spike managed to wrest one unfortunate guy’s head clean off. Then, with a swirl of his duster, Spike was gone.

The Master was not pleased. He stomped his foot and growled and thrust a broken chair leg through the chest of the nearest demon. Then he turned to face Willow and Xander.

Willow was unfazed. She’d worked her hand beneath Xander’s waistband and her cold palm was cupping his left cheek, her long nails digging in just a little. Xander, however, had to resist the urge to take a few steps back because the Master looked seriously pissed. And he might give boring lectures about dumb evil schemes, and he might have his minions do most of his dirty work, but he was still seven hundred years older than Xander and a pretty powerful demon.

“Stupid little upstart,” the Master said. It took Xander a moment to realize that the Master meant Spike and not him. “He’s been nothing but trouble from the night he was turned. I should have had my Darla punish Angelus for allowing his making.”

Xander nodded. No point in arguing with the Master when he was in a mood like this. Then Willow pressed her finger between his cheeks, which made him jump a little. If the Master noticed, he didn’t seem to care. “William should leave town now,” the Master said. “But he’s probably too stubborn and too foolish to do so.” He pointed a skinny, taloned finger at Xander. “I want you to take care of him.”

“Um, run him out of town?”

“No! Dust him, of course!”

Willow had turned her body so that his right leg was trapped between both of hers and she was kind of humping up against his hip. It was pretty distracting, and even more so when her roving finger touched his sphincter and then, ever so slightly, inside. “Okay,” Xander said to the Master. “No problem.”

The Master nodded as if that satisfied him. “I think I’ll go work on my machine,” he muttered.

Xander managed not to snicker at the double-entendre, but only because Willow had worked her finger in as far as the first knuckle.

“Come on, Xanny,” she purred. She bit at his ear, not especially gently either. “I have some new toys we can play with.”

He nuzzled into her hair. The evening had gone so much better than the tedious lecture had promised.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander was walking a little unsteadily by the time he left the Bronze. Willow’s new toys were…impressive. He wouldn’t have minded spending a little more time with them, actually, but she’d grown bored and wandered off to find some girls, she said. She seemed to prefer them to boys, actually. Xander, on the other hand, felt pretty much in the middle on this issue. Girls were nice but so were boys, in an entirely different sort of way. Being forced to pick just one would be like having to choose between Ho-Hos and Twinkies. Each was equally delicious in its own cream-filled way.

He wasn’t sure anymore if he’d felt like this when he was human. Back then he’d been mostly fixated on females, but maybe that was because it was expected of him. Maybe it just hadn’t occurred to him that he was missing out on half the world, like walking around with one eye closed. Or maybe he figured being straight was easier than being bi. It was hard now for him to remember what had motivated his human self and honestly, it was pretty uncomfortable if he did try to remember.

Anyway, it didn’t matter. He’d gotten laid and he’d had a little meal from one of the caged humans—so convenient, like snack-sized cans of Pringles—and it was another fine Sunnydale night. He didn’t really have any particular destination in mind as he sauntered out into the darkness. Maybe he’d head over to the highway and see if he could flag down a clueless motorist. He wasn’t really hungry, but he wouldn’t mind another bite or two. Or maybe he’d head over to Sam’s Comix. Xander was always careful not to eat the comic shop guy—if he did, there would be no new shipments of Astonishing X-Men or Wolverine—but he certainly wasn’t averse to a little larceny. He chuckled to himself. It was good to be evil.

It was a quiet night. The human residents of Sunnydale knew better than to venture outside their homes after sunset, and the Master had put most of the minions to work on machine-building duty. He’d turned a few people with manufacturing know-how specifically so they could work on his project, but tonight all the vamps were chipping in as penance for their embarrassing failure to stop Spike. All except Willow, of course, who was off playing, and Xander, who was supposed to be hunting Spike but who didn’t feel any particular obligation to hurry.

Something skittered along the buildings on one side of Main Street, hugging the shadowy spots where the streetlight couldn't reach. Xander inhaled. Renghui demon. Not especially evil, so not an ally, but not edible either, and they didn’t put up a fight worth the effort. Xander let it go. An entire community of demons like that had set up shop in town, barely tolerated by either humans or vampires. They were sort of Sunnydale’s equivalent of the DMZ, and they often provided services that vampires couldn’t easily do for themselves or didn’t want to, and that humans were too scared to do, like running the two all-night gas stations.

A few years ago it was Xander who crept anxiously around the city at night. Willow had recruited him to join this group of losers—led by the school librarian, of all people—who actually thought they stood a chance against the Master and his followers. They’d driven around with stakes and crossbows and holy water, and when they were really lucky they’d even managed to dust an especially stupid vampire or two. But mostly they were unlucky, and their ranks had already been pretty severely depleted by the time the bad guys caught Willow and then she sank her teeth into Xander.

Xander turned left from Main onto Fourth. Maybe he’d check out UC Sunnydale. Sometimes students were too stupid or too drunk to stay inside at night like the university told them to, and they’d hang around campus somewhere, partying.

But Xander had only gone about a half block down Fourth when something came flying out of the alley, knocking him to the sidewalk with a painful thud.

Xander had learned long ago that when he was attacked, his best response was to appear weaker than he was. It hadn’t been the demons who’d taught him that, but his own bastard father. It was a lesson that had come in handy more than once when he was a white hat, stumbling around town with a neon “BITE ME” sign just about stuck into his skull, trying not to piss his pants with fear every time something moved. Monsters had struck and he’d flopped to the ground. They’d eased up, maybe taking the time to gloat over easy prey, and then he’d killed them, or his friends had.

He wasn’t that weak boy anymore. But still he took the blow and just lay there, absorbing a punch or two until he could roll over and see what was after him this time.

And to his delight, the what turned out to be a certain blond vampire.

Xander grinned, sprouted fangs, and punched Spike solidly in the balls.

Spike howled. To his credit, though, he didn’t fall away, but instead hit back, breaking Xander’s nose and sending blood spurting everywhere. Xander laughed and bucked up so that Spike went flying off him. Spike’s skull hit the pavement with a loud crack and when he got to his feet he shook his head as if to clear it. Meanwhile, Xander had scrambled upright too, and he wiped the back of his hand across his upper lip.

“I remember you,” Spike said. “Scared little whelp, hanging about with bloody Angel. Still keeping bad company, I see.” He gestured in the general direction of the Bronze.

Xander shrugged. “For now, maybe. And I’m not scared anymore. Or a whelp.”

“Reckon you’re the big bad now, do you?” Spike said with a sneer.

“Bad enough.”

“Too stupid to be frightened any longer?”

“Oh, I still get scared enough. When there’s something to be scared of, that is. But I don’t see anything, do you?”

Spike shook his head slowly and made as if he were going to simply walk past. Xander might or might not have fallen for it, once upon a time. But tonight he only smiled and waited for Spike to spin and launch himself at Xander again. As soon as Spike got close, Xander kicked outward, planting one boot very firmly in Spike’s midsection. Sadly, he missed Spike’s already-abused balls, and even worse, Spike grabbed his foot and twisted. It was a move that might have badly broken Xander’s ankle, but Xander turned with it, using his free leg to sweep Spike to the ground.

They rolled around for a while after that, each of them getting in a hit or a kick or knee whenever they could. Xander fought dirty, aiming for Spike’s crotch whenever he could, and Spike took a painful bite or two out of Xander’s shoulder, not quite managing to latch onto his neck.

They were a pretty even match, really. Spike was older and more experienced at fighting, but he was also probably somewhat battered from his earlier brawl. Xander was bigger and heavier and he’d been feeding well. Probably better than Spike, who was a little on the thin side. They could have fought all night.

Except at some point in the proceedings Xander got a taste of Spike’s blood, and of course Spike had a good mouthful of Xander. The fresh blood—even vamp juice was delicious—and the close body contact and the general thrill of a good scuffle had a predictable effect on the pair of vampires.

Xander and Spike stopped trying to dust each other and instead concentrated on getting as free of obstructing clothing as possible. Xander had thought that Willow had worn him out, but a demon constitution was a wonderful thing, and Spike’s cold skin and hard angles against him were fucking wonderful.

And fucking—that was a really good idea.

More wrestling followed, complete with snarling and growling interspersed with moans and groans, as each jockeyed to top. Xander won, partly on account of his greater bulk and partly, he suspected, because Spike wasn’t trying as hard as he pretended to. When Xander jammed his thumb into Spike’s hole, Spike stopped struggling altogether.

“More, you bloody pillock. Or is your thumb bigger than your dick?”

Xander flipped Spike over without removing the digit in question. He took only a moment to admire the pale ass that glowed softly in the lamplight like the moon itself, and then he pulled his thumb out and replaced it with his cock. “Does that feel like a thumb?” he demanded, hammering mercilessly into the clutching tightness with only blood to serve as a lubricant.

“Fucking brilliant, mate. Like that. Harder!” Spike pushed up on his knees, rocking his hips back into Xander’s thrusts. He wrapped a hand around his own cock and stripped it almost viciously, keeping to the rhythm that Xander set.

They rutted like a pair of animals, swearing and howling, until Xander felt himself nearing the edge of the cliff. Then he bent down so that he was blanketing Spike’s back, and he sank his fangs into the meat below Spike’s right shoulder blade.

Spike screamed. Xander came hard. Almost simultaneously, so did Spike, his inner muscles spasming and milking the last of Xander’s climax from him.

They pulled apart with a wet sucking sound and collapsed onto their backs, side by side on the pavement in front of the Espresso Pump. “I’m supposed to kill you,” Xander said when he could talk again.

“You’re over a century too late for that, mate.”

“Hah.”

“Nearly shagged me to death, if that helps.”

“Probably not what the Master was going for.”

Spike propped himself up on one elbow so he could look at Xander. “Are you really on with that scheme of his?”

“Not really. I think it’s pretty lame.”

Spike reached over, scraped a little gummy blood from Xander’s cheek, and stuck his finger into his mouth. He sucked it clean. “Then why stick with the wanker?”

“Dunno. He’s the only game in town, pretty much. And besides, Willow’s all rah-rah with the old guy, and I hang with her.”

“Willow? The ginger bint?”

“Um, yeah.” Xander sat up and looked around for his jeans.

“You and she were mates back when you were human, yeah?”

Xander sighed. “Yeah. She turned me, actually.”

“So you’ve a tie to your sire. I understand that.”

They both got to their feet, shifted to their human faces, and started slowly pulling on their clothing. Xander’s was somewhat the worse for wear, but it was easy enough to steal new. No more Wal-Mart clearance bin for him. He snuck a glance at Spike, who looked suddenly tired and worn, and a realization struck him. “That girl you were with last time…um….”

“Drusilla,” Spike said quietly.

“Drusilla. Right. Is she your sire?”

“Sire and the fucking light of my unlife for over a century.”

Xander looked around the deserted street. “So where is she?”

Spike snarled half-heartedly. “No idea. Barmy bird left me for a Chaos demon.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Spike nodded and shrugged into his duster. They stood there on the sidewalk, not quite looking at each other, and the moment felt a whole lot more morning-aftery than any of Xander’s previous quick fucks.

“So,” Xander said after an awkward pause. “You still planning on heading out of town?”

Spike gave him a sharp look. “If I stay here you’ll have to try and dust me. And then I’ll dust you and—”

“Don’t be so sure about that, Bleachie. I’ll kick your undead ass.”

“Nah. Besides, ’t’s not nearly as much fun as fucking my arse, is it?”

“Nope.”

Spike stared at a spot somewhere several feet to Xander’s right. “Could come with me. Fledge like you needs to see the world, yeah?”

Xander’s unbeating heart twinged. “I—I can’t. Willow—”

“Right.”

And then Xander had another insight. Two in one evening—he was on a roll. “You didn’t just come to Sunnydale for kicks and giggles, did you? You were looking for something. Someone.”

Spike was silent so long that Xander was sure he wouldn’t answer. But finally he nodded once. “My sire’s sire.”

“Who’s your grandpa?”

Spike sighed loudly. For a creature who didn’t need to breathe he was really good at it. “’Gelus. Reckoned maybe I could find some way to shake that sodding soul from him and….” His voice trailed off.

Angel? Angel is dear old granddad?”

“Yeah. ’S why I came last time—his blood mended Dru. But now…. He’s a great sodding pillock but he’s family.” Spike shrugged. “Can’t find him anyway. I expect you lot ran his wide do-gooding arse out of town, or finally dusted the git.”

Xander thought quickly. If he said yes, Spike would probably take off and then Xander could tell the Master he’d taken care of Spike and it wouldn’t quite be a lie. The Master would never know the difference. Yep, that was the wisest course of action.

But Spike was standing there, somehow managing to look hopeful, dejected, and slightly menacing all at once; and he had the sweetest ass Xander had ever met; and he’d talked to Xander, really talked to him. Didn’t just order him around or use him as a sex toy or cower like the extra in a bad horror movie.

With a pretty melodramatic sigh of his own, Xander shook his head. “He’s still around.”

Spike’s head had been bowed, but now it shot up. “Yeah? Where? Can’t find his scent anywhere.” After a brief pause he added, “Last time you said you didn’t know where he was.”

“I know. Except I did know then—not as much of a scaredy cat as you thought, even when I was human—and I know where he is now, too.”

Spike chewed on his upper lip for a second. “I haven’t any dosh if you’re looking for payment, mate. Maybe you reckon another shag’s your price.”

“Honestly? I’m shagged out for tonight. No, no price. Angel’s being held prisoner by the Master.”

Spike blinked at him. “Why?”

“To torture him, mostly. The Master was pissed that Angel was trying to help humans—not that he did a lot of good at it, but still—and so he keeps him chained up. He lets Willow play with him. He wants Angel to have to watch when the machine starts production.”

Spike shook his head. “Don’t understand what the poof was about, anyway. I know he has the bloody soul, can’t eat humans like a proper vampire, yadda yadda. But he spent a century skulking about with horrible hair and noshing on vermin. Why the sudden urge to become a savior? ’T’s not natural, not even for him.”

Xander rubbed his face. Daylight was hours away but he was suddenly very tired. “I don’t know, Spike. Maybe he was trying to start a club. But he accomplished pretty much jack shit and now he’s locked in a cage in the Bronze and he is not a happy camper.”

Spike took a few steps away and turned to gaze up at a street light. A pair of bats were wheeling around up there, gobbling up mouthfuls of nummy bugs. With his back still to Xander, Spike said, “Free him.”

“Can’t. The Master keeps the key. He lets Willow have it sometimes, but I doubt he’d give it to me. And even if he did, I’d have to get Angel past a building full of vampires. They’d notice, Spike.”

“Then tell me exactly where he is. I’ll fetch him myself.”

“Yeah, and end up dusted. If you’re lucky. You’re pretty high up on the Master’s shit list right now. He’s likely to throw you in a cage too, and believe me, you wouldn’t like it.”

Spike whirled around to glare at him. “I’ll off the old bastard. Maybe become master myself.”

“You won’t get anywhere near him, Spike. Yeah, I know today’s performance was pathetic, but the minions won’t let you attack the Master. They’re petrified of him. And for good reason. He doesn’t fight often, but when he does he’s fucking fierce.”

Spike bared his human teeth. “I won’t just bloody walk away!”

Xander found himself admiring the guy. Spike was loyal—sticking with his crazy sire all those years and now trying to rescue Angel. Sure, he had his own self-interests at heart, too—obviously, he didn’t want to be alone—but still. Willow would never risk her own neck for Xander, and nobody else would probably give a shit what happened to him. True loyalty was rare enough in humans, and even more so in demons. But how far would it go?

“I have an idea,” Xander said.