A Life Less Ordinary

C. Woodhaven

Part Seven

Xander paced nervously around the office. He swore he could feel the Hellmouth pulsing beneath his feet. Stupid, because he’d never noticed the thing when it was in the library, it was just part of the landscape: fiction, non-fiction, and look, one conveniently camouflaged portal to Hell. But now, standing fifteen feet above H-level was giving him the wiggins.

The new principal, Robin Wood, played things close to the vest, not really giving much away. A good-looking black guy, in that fussy, metrosexual way, Xander had worked with him directly, several times during the course of the building project.

Xander liked him well enough, but there was something about him that seemed... off. As if he were hiding something. Like the casual way he’d offered Buffy a job. As much as Xander loved the Buffster…guidance counselor she was not. Ass-kicking, she was off the chart, but the verbal working out of problems – not so much.

Buffy was the reason he was here, sitting in Wood’s office. She had gone out with Giles in the early morning hours to try to find Spike. Her brilliant ‘no real backup plan’ plan included infiltrating the underground lair where the Bringers had set up shop years ago when the First tried to take out Angel.

Only, instead of finding Spike, or the Bringers, she’d found something that made Xander’s blood run cold - an unstoppable Neanderthal vampire called the Wrath of Khan, or something. Stakes snapped like toothpicks against this Uber-vamp’s hide and it nearly tore Buffy apart. She had broken ribs, cuts, bruises and was limping. The last time Xander had seen her that badly wounded was after a few rounds with Glory.

The only saving grace was that the demon seemed to still flame on in sunlight – which is how Buffy got away.

There was no way social services wasn’t going to get called, if she came into work today – so Xander had been nominated to deliver her excuse in person.

Wood was currently disciplining a group of JD wannabe’s who spray painted Hell Here on the southern wall of the high school. He’d said he’d be right back, but that was at least ten minutes ago. Xander thought about leaving a note…but he wasn’t sure that Wood knew that he and Buffy were friends.

Xander’s eyes fell on the supply cupboard attached to the wall and he frowned. This was something he hadn’t built. He hadn't even seen a request to build it. And while it was possible that in other parts of the school details like this were beneath his attention… nothing in this office was approved without him checking it. It was too close to the Hellmouth. And still, somehow, Wood had managed to get an aftermarket upgrade.

After looking around nervously, making sure Wood hadn’t slipped back into the office; Xander flung the wooden doors open and found…a dry erase board.

How completely non-apocalyptic. Sheepishly, he was about to close the doors when he noticed that the board wasn’t flush with the wall; it was set into it, almost like a pocket door, or a window shade.

Xander gripped the tray that lined the bottom edge and lifted. Ball bearings rattled and the board rolled up smoothly, tucking into its hidey-hole.

“Good googly moogly.” Xander stared at the massive array of weapons. Something was definitely afoot at the Circle K. The red velvet lined alcove displayed rows of weapons hung neatly on pegs. Most fell into the sharp and pointy category: daggers, short swords and at least two axes glistened under the soft glow of the accent lighting.  

The only person he’d ever seen with a bigger weapon collection was Buffy.

“Those were confiscated from students.”

Mouth dry, Xander turned to face Robin Wood. The principal stared at him, arms crossed.

Heart pounding, Xander grinned with a level of mirth he definitely did not feel. “Do they teach you that silent disapproving thing in Principal school? Cause, man, you’re channeling your inner Snyder.”

Wood smiled slightly. “I hope that my tenure here doesn’t end with being eaten.”

“The track record for your job – so not good.” Xander commiserated, and then sobered, realizing that he and Wood were very possibly not on the same team. If nothing else, he wasn’t even positive that Wood knew more than the official stories of Principals Past. “You know…rabid dogs and escaped anacondas.”

“I guess it’s a good thing the Zoo’s closed down,” Wood said dryly as he strode over to the weapons cache and pulled the whiteboard down. “So, what can I do for you, Mr. Harris.  Please tell me that the gymnasium is going to be finished as planned. Coach Ledochowski is running out of track and field events to teach the kids.”

“Huh?” Xander frowned confused. “No, we’re on target with the gym. I’m here about Buffy.”

Wood’s eyebrows rose in disbelief. “Miss Summers?”

“Yeah. She’s not feeling well today. She would have called herself but she… uh…” Xander flailed, “kinda can’t leave the bathroom.”

“There’s that flu going around.”

“Exactly!” Xander agreed enthusiastically. “Buffy’s got the flu. Stuff coming out both ends. It’s not pretty.”

“Thank you for that graphic and unnecessary description. Tell her I appreciate her letting me know and we hope to see her Monday.”

“You got it.” Xander replied and strode out the door.

As soon as he was out of the building, he slipped his phone out of his pocket. “Will – we got a problem. Get me everything you can find on the new principal…I know we looked before…but we need to look harder.”

He didn’t notice Wood raise the blinds, watching him intently from his office window.


Pain, the smell of wet earth and the scent of terror were his world now.

At some point, Spike realized, he’d been moved from the Hellmouth, but he wasn’t sure when. His grasp on reality was tenuous and he was convinced that the chip had damaged his brain permanently. The ripping, burning pain of the thing firing had subsided into something deeper – a constant throbbing ache, deep inside his skull. If his hands had been free, he would have torn it out.

Hunger also gnawed in his gut, like a nasty ferret with needle sharp teeth. He was starving. Getting saddled with the chip and not eating for a few weeks was a walk in the park compared to this. His skin was brittle and too tight, and he no longer had the strength to hold onto to his human face. Contrary to what the First said, Spike knew he was starting to resemble the vamps Dru had kept alive for years, whimsical decorations of living corpses. Eventually, as rictus set in, it was impossible to feed.

Honestly, he would welcome that, because his will was crumbling fast. His eyes found the mousy blonde in the corner, leaning against the wall, lengths of chain attached to her wrists. In the weeks he’d been here, she’d been the only constant. Her pale skin shone dully in the flickering candlelight. It was a blessing that he was chained.

“I know what they want…and it’s okay,” she whispered, as if she could hear his thoughts. The perfume of terror joined the salt scent of her tears. Once upon a time, he relished that scent. Now his stomach rippled with nausea, even as he began to salivate.

“Don’t know what you’re saying, love,” he panted harshly, clenching his hands.

“I’m going to die anyway. Today. It doesn’t matter if it’s you, or that monster, or if a random boulder falls and crushes me,” she said, looking up and studying the ceiling mournfully. “My time is up.”

“Don’t know that,” Spike said with a confidence he didn’t feel.

She shook her head and whispered somberly. “I wish I didn’t. But I do.”

Something in her anguished tone struck a chord with him, reminding him of Dru. “You’ve got the sight.”

Her eyes found his. “When you get out of here…could you tell my family, I wasn’t afraid. My mom and dad…they don’t talk, but they’ll want to know.”

“That’d be a lie, love,” Spike replied gently.

She looked at him and a disbelieving laugh tittered out. “So lie.”

“What’s your name?”

“Cassie,” she whispered thickly. “Cassie Newton.”

“I’d rather be dust than feed from you, Cassie.” Spike held her gaze, best he could, as his energy flagged. “If I come at you, kick one of those candles at me and try to get out of the way.”

Pursing her lips together, Cassie looked away, as if she was unwilling to contradict him.

The door banged open and the Turok-han lumbered in.

“Let’s get ready to rumble!” Angelus said gleefully, as the demon began using Spike as his punching bag.

Agony flared in Spike's chest as his ribs fractured under the assault.

“You know,” Angelus mused, “even if you decide not to step up to the plate, Spiky, I might keep you around for the entertainment value.”

Spike was thankful when he finally blacked out.

When he came to, one of the nerd trio was looking at him. “See, Spike. I thought you were cooler than this.” Warren held out his arms magnanimously. “All I’m asking is for you to give this a chance.”

Spike tried to raise his head, and was only partially successful. “You think a two-bit dork’s gonna convince me to bat for the other team, you’re as daft as Dru.”

The force is strong in this one, Obi-wan.” Warren sighed as he quoted. “Doesn’t matter, you’ll give in, eventually.”

Warren’s form shifted so that Spike was now looking at himself. “Don’t you remember what it was like? Fist and Fangs? Freedom! The world was an all you-could-eat buffet.”

A Bringer shuffled towards Cassie. There was a quick flash of silver and then the rich scent of blood permeated the air as the Bringer opened a thin cut on her belly. Spike growled, unable to help himself as hunger surged through him.

“It’s just like falling off a bicycle,” the First continued, and suddenly the chains that bound Spike gave way and he fell to the floor in a graceless heap. “Have fun, mate.”

The overwhelming need to feed clouded his vision and Spike had scuttled halfway across the floor before he realized that he'd moved. He froze and lifted his head, meeting Cassie’s terrified eyes.

“I can’t stop,” he ground out thickly, hoping she understood him. “Protect yourself.”

Tears welled up in Cassie’s eyes and she shook her head. Her foot shot out, kicking the nearest candle across the room, away from Spike. The vampire let out a strangled growl and his tenuous control snapped.

Lost blindly in his bloodlust, Spike fell upon her, fangs sinking into the rich artery in her fragrant neck. She screamed in pain, but didn’t struggle as his fangs went deeper, securing his hold.

Sweet, rich blood filled his mouth and Spike swallowed as fast as he could, feeling it work it’s magic. It wasn’t close to enough to repair all the damage, but he could feel some of his deeper injuries begin to heal and bones begin to knit together.

Horrified realization surged through him and he pulled away, but it was too late. The girl’s pulse was thready and erratic and her grayish skin was growing colder. “I’m sorry,” Spike whispered.

“No.” Cassie shook her head weakly, dismissing his apology. She struggled to lift her hand, stroking his cheek, as soft as butterfly wings.  Her eyes bored into his soul. “You’ll find it. What you’re looking for…your family.”

Her heart sputtered briefly and then stopped. As her eyes lost focus and her hand slipped away, Spike realized that the chip hadn’t fired.

“Bravo.” Angelus gave a strangely silent clap. “I knew you had it in you, boy.”

Spike reached up, touching the top of his head, feeling the thick twist of scar tissue at the crown. Slowly it shrank and finally disappeared under his fingertips, healing from the infusion of Cassie’s blood.

“Oh,” Angelus said, with mock concern, “Did I forget to mention…We took that out.”

“Buffy is going to destroy you.” Spike whispered vehemently, rising shakily to his feet. Two Bringers flanked him. It was pathetic that he wasn’t able to break free from them, but Cassie’s blood had done all it could do. The best he could do was struggle weakly as they forced him back into his chains.

Angelus grinned. “I’m thinking not. Buffy is out getting her pretty little ass kicked by a real demon.”

The door slammed open. “Actually, Buffy kicked its ass.”

The First whirled around and Spike was pleased to see that it looked stunned by this turn of events.

“It’s amazing what you can do with barbed wire these days.” Buffy said, grinning. “I’d tell you to check it out, but your Uber-vamp went poof. I guess they don’t make ‘em like they used to.”  

The two Bringers sprinted forward to attack. Spike tried to keep his attention on the fight, but his strength was gone. He slumped in his chains, exhausted.

It took several long moments of silence for him to realize that the sounds of fighting had stopped.

“It’s over Spike,” Buffy said, cautiously. "The First is gone."

Spike raised his head, blearily. “Doesn’t matter. I don’t deserve to get out of here.”

As usual, Buffy refused to listen to him. She found the release for his chains and he had to lean against her for support. “Come on Spike. Let’s get you home.”

He planted his feet, refusing to move. “Cassie. Don’t forget Cassie.”

Buffy looked over and spotted the girl lying on the floor. Revulsion crossed her face when she spotted the twin puncture wounds on the young girl’s throat. “She’s gone, Spike.”

“Know that.” Spike pulled away. “She’s got family. I owe her that.”

"I won't leave her here - but I've got to get you out."

“Promise me,” Spike insisted.

“I promise.”

He was grateful to hear the sincerity in her voice. “Thank you,” he said. Wearily, Spike shifted and leaned against Buffy once again for support.


Xander wiped the steam from the bathroom mirror. He thought he should look different. Didn’t perverts look different? But he still had ordinary Xander eyes and the messy ordinary Xander brown hair.

Xander felt like he was leading two lives. Three, actually. There was Work Xander, by far the most simple. All he had to do was follow a set of building plans, keep the guys on task and buy a round of drinks on Friday nights. Oh, and not mention that there were monsters living in Sunnydale, which was, unsurprisingly, not hard.

Then there was Slay Xander or, as he frequently referred to that part of his life, ‘Sidekick with a side of bait.’  He was able to help Buffy, or at least he tried to help Buffy, keep the demon elements of Sunnydale in line.  Some of that had changed with the arrival of Giles and the potentials. There were so many of them now: Vi of the funky hats, Molly of the Brit-speak and Caridad who was just… hot. Eve was the blonde with the corn-pone accent, so thick, it seemed fake. Chloe was mousy but helpful, and then there was Chao-Ahn. He felt the worst for her, actually. She spoke zero English and the only Mandarin anyone seemed to know was ‘oranges.’. Apparently, like the metric system, the British ‘handful’ wasn’t equivalent to the American version.

And the third life, what he mockingly called Play Xander, was his life with Anya. She wanted to keep things quiet, and Xander was on board with that. They weren’t dating, and honestly, he wasn’t up to Willow or Buffy giving him their wide-eyed supportive look that was really, thinly veiled pity.

If he was being honest with himself, and he’d had a whole bunch of that lately, Play Xander was his real life. Anya made him feel things that he hadn't thought were possible, he was turned on and terrified, all at the same time.

Last night, she’d tied him up and made him watch gay porn, and just when he was so turned on he could barely see straight, Anya had...fucked him. He hadn’t even known she’d had a harness. He couldn’t stop the hot flush that welled up inside him at the memory. It felt so good…having her take him like that, using him for her pleasure before she even considered letting him come. His ass still hurt, but in such a good way. Every time he sat down there was a twinge and it sent a thrill of excitement through him.

He started to shave, trying hard to dampen his racing thoughts. Things with Anya were so different from what he’d thought. He could finally admit to himself that he wanted to be punished, to somehow alleviate the ache of guilt he felt. Not just about Anya, although that was the worst, he also felt guilty for being somehow less than his friends. The guilt of being plain…just a Xander-shaped friend. He should be happy…god, he’d saved the world last year…you’d think that would have been enough. But it wasn’t.

He wanted…

Bang, bang, bang.

Xander dropped his toothbrush, train of thought totally de-railed.

“Xander, Open up!”


He went to the door, wrapping a towel around his waist and slipping on a shirt before he opened it.

Spike’s limp form was draped across Buffy’s small frame, dwarfing it.

“What the?” He leant a shoulder and helped Buffy half-carry, half-drag, Spike to his bed.

Spike moaned as he hit the mattress, but then fell silent.

“I didn’t know you were getting him tonight. What about the Uber-vamp.”

“Dusted,” Buffy whispered curtly, brushing a strand of hair from her newly bruised face.

“Are you okay?” Xander kept his voice low as they walked out of the room. “A week ago that thing kicked your ass, and now it’s just gone? What happened?”

“After it killed Annabelle, the other girls were in a panic. I was losing them. I had to do something.” Buffy shook her head, apparently not wanting to talk about it any further. She glanced at the partially closed door to Spike’s room. “Can he still stay here?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“With the First and the potentials and…Giles knows something about my boss, but he’s being all tight-lippy….” Buffy trailed off. Her eyes were huge, and she looked exhausted and frantic. “I feel like everything’s falling apart.”

“You’re doing fine,” Xander reassured her.

“Am I? Cause I gotta say, I don’t feel like it.”

“Have you ever felt like it?”

Buffy’s frown deepened. “What do you mean?”

“We’ve been through some pretty serious stuff, Buff. And from where I’m sitting, it always looks like it’s going to fall apart at any second. But it doesn’t – because you don’t let it. You never let it fall apart.”

“This is different,” Buffy insisted.

“No, it’s not. You've faced everything the Hellmouth has thrown at you, including a god, and won,” Xander replied. “We’ll get through this, too.”

Buffy crossed her arms and said exasperatedly, “I died. Do you even remember that?”

“But the important thing is that the world’s still here. Because of you.” Xander grinned. “And I’m hoping that this time you don’t go for the theatrics.”

Buffy laughed and Xander was pleased to see some of the panic receding. “Thanks.”

“No problem. That’s what I’m here for.”


Spike sat heavily in the chair at the breakfast bar. It had taken him twenty-seven hours to venture from his room. He’d showered briefly and thrown on a pair of jeans, nothing more. It was easy to see why.  There were so many cuts and bruises littering his body, Xander lost count. He looked like he’d been pulverized. Xander wanted to say something, maybe commiserate with him, but the wary look Spike gave him made him change his mind.

“Here you go, sir, your bovine blend. Today we have a mix of both Jersey and Holstein for your dining pleasure.” Xander set the glass down with a flourish.

Spike raised an eyebrow, and then winced.

Xander shrugged and picked up his coffee. “I was a bartender once.”

Spike took a sip and grimaced.

“So, do you have to drink animal blood?" Xander asked suddenly. "Couldn’t you get a job in a blood bank and drink the cast offs, or something?”

Xander didn’t think it was possible, but Spike went paler. “Be like giving an alcoholic, light beer. This is fine, just a bit cold.”

“Oh. I can warm it up more.”

Spike looked surprised, but nodded and pushed the mug toward Xander. “That’d be good, thanks. More I can drink, faster I’ll heal.”

Xander nodded. "Buffy left me with several cows worth of blood and instructions to feed you until you puke or get better. I'm desperately hoping for 'better.'"

Spike gave him a ghost of a smile. "Me too. I'll let you know if I get queasy."

Xander covered the cup with a wet paper towel, set the microwave on low and spun the dial. “I haven’t seen you this thrashed since Buffy’s birthday last year,” he observed, recalling the night from Hell where no one could escape the Summer’s residence.

“Yeah, fun evening that.” Spike’s eyes skittered away. “Usually I have trouble getting into places.”

Xander’s stomach clenched as realization dawned on him. “Buffy did that to you, didn’t she? Beat you up that badly.”

Startled, Spike looked back at him. “She wasn’t herself.”

“As excuses go, that ranks right there with ‘got passed over for a promotion,’” Xander said bitterly and took another sip of his coffee. “The fun things you learn about your friends.”

“I forgot about your old man,” Spike apologized. “Look, it’s not the same.”

“Isn’t it? Sounds like just another crappy reason to take your pain out on someone else,” Xander replied harshly. "I don't care if we did pull her out of Heaven, it's just wrong."

Guilt suddenly flared as he thought about what he and Anya did almost nightly. He knew that was different, but it wasn’t like he could have explained how.

“She and I weren’t right from the get go,” Spike explained. “We’d fight, we’d fuck, but there was too much rage and anger between us. I see that now.”

“Why did you stay?”

“Cause I love her. Piss poor excuse, but...” Spike shrugged and looked away.

Xander suddenly felt sorry for Spike, which merited a notation on the calendar. He didn’t forgive him for trying to rape Buffy, but their conversation made him see the vampire in a new light. It was on the tip of his tongue to say something, when the microwave dinged.

“Blood's ready,” Spike prodded gently.

“Yeah, right.” Xander said distractedly. “I’ll get that for you.”

He set the mug in front of Spike. The vampire drank it greedily and for the first time Xander realized how dire his health was. He went to prepare another glass. This was going to be a really long weekend.  

Turning from the microwave, he found Spike watching him intently. “Xander…you need to know. The chip’s out.”

A wave of fear crashed over him and Xander’s mouth went dry. “Did you kill anybody?”


Remorse and revulsion flashed in Spike’s eyes, so quickly that Xander almost missed it, but he hadn’t. Suddenly, it was so clear why he hated Angel so much. His smug, you’ll-never-understand-my-pain attitude was nauseating. Spike at least acted like he knew he’d done wrong. It took a grenade launcher full of holy water for Angel to apologize to anyone not Buffy, and even then, it was grudgingly. Just ask Giles.

Using years of practice as bait, Xander tamped down on his terror and held Spike’s gaze. “If you hurt anyone I care about, I’m staking you in your sleep.”

“Fair enough.”

Xander seriously doubted he and the vampire could ever be friends, but they’d definitely moved out of the bitter enemy camp.

He picked up Spike’s empty mug and brought it to the sink to rinse. It would be time for round three, soon. “So. Three weeks without a cigarette and I’m guessing you’re going pretty nuts. I can rig a canopy up over the balcony.”

Spike eyed him warily for several long moments before deciding that Xander really was sincere. He nodded. “That’d be nice. Thanks.”

Part Eight

“I still don’t understand what the deal is about this chip,” Rona said, dreadlocks bouncing lightly against her shoulders as she shook her head.

The Bronze was fairly empty for a Thursday night, and while Xander was honestly thankful for the quietness of the venue, he still didn’t want to be there.

Willow perked up, looking excited to have something familiar to talk about. “It was a behavioral inhibitor. If Spike tried to cause harm, or even intended to cause harm, it would send painful electrical stimulus to his nerve endings.”

Rona stared at her blankly. “Huh?”

“It was a shock collar,” Xander translated.

“And we’re excited he got it out?” she asked, incredulous.

Xander held up his hands in defense. “Hey, I never said excited. At no time did I say I was excited about this.”

“Xander,” Willow said, looking at him imploringly. “He has a soul now.”

“Do we have to talk about vampires?” Kennedy asked, impatiently. “I’d rather talk about something fun.”

“Sorry.” Willow flushed and Xander realized that he hadn’t seen her this nervous since high school.

Kennedy took Willow’s hand across the table. “No…it’s okay. I just thought it might be nice to take a break from talking about bloodsuckers for once.”

The tips of Willow’s ears turned pink, but she didn’t pull her hand away.

Grinning, Kennedy pulled Willow out of her seat. “Let’s dance.”

Without a glance at the other two, Willow allowed herself to be led away.

Rona looked at Xander and said dryly. “You feeling like a third wheel, too.”

“Yeah.” Xander nodded. “I’m thinking they’re too old to need chaperones.”

That morning he’d been getting a cup of coffee in the kitchen, ready to take Dawn and Buffy to school, when Kennedy had asked Willow out.

As far as Xander was concerned, the jury was still out on the feisty brunette. He currently had her filed under ‘unrepentantly lesbian.’ She was like the Anti-Tara; beautiful in an exotic way, rather than earthy, and with a brash confidence that was sometimes refreshing and at other times grating. As a slayer, Xander had the feeling she’d be a force to be reckoned with, but as for dating Willow …he wasn’t so sure.

He apparently wasn’t the only one who wasn’t sure. Will panicked at her invitation to the Bronze and before Xander knew what had happened, he and Rona had been roped into doubling with them. He hardly knew Rona; she’d arrived just in time to see the Uber-vamp decapitation…which was by all accounts…pretty impressive. Xander had to work to hide his surprise, and no small amount of hurt, that both Willow and Dawn had gone with Buffy for that excursion. Buffy had made it sound like a potential-only training exercise when she’d dropped Spike off.

He was supposed to see Anya tonight, but as Buffy was insisting on daily check-ins for everyone who wasn’t living at Chez-Summer, she happened to be in the kitchen heating up a bagel when the plans for the date had been made. Her blank look and emotionless, “Have fun,” gnawed at him.

Rona tugged his arm, bringing Xander back to the present, saying quietly, “So what’s the real deal with this Spike? Is his soul for real – and does it matter?”

“You know, if you’d asked me that yesterday, I’d have said, no way…Now…” Xander paused searching for the right words, because honestly he didn’t know, himself, how to explain it. “Our neighbors when I was growing up had a pit bull. Sadie was the sweetest dog in the world. If you gave her a cookie, or some of your hot dog, you’d get a face full of slimy dog kisses. She was your best friend.”

Leaning forward, her eyes widening, Rona asked, “So what happened?”

It was more than twelve years later, but Xander still broke out into a cold sweat when he heard the high pitched whine of an animal in pain. “She got in a fight with another dog that wandered into the Fitz’s yard. I don’t know how it got in, but Sadie ripped one of its legs off and she still wouldn’t let go. They had to shoot her.”

“Jesus.” She gave a low whistle. “Remind me not to leave home without a cookie.”

Xander smiled. “Look, just remember that Spike having a soul doesn’t mean he isn’t the monster; it means he can control the monster he is.”

Two songs later, Kennedy and Willow didn’t seem interested in returning to the table. Xander pulled his phone out of his pocket, checking the time. His heart sank when he saw the numbers.

“I hate to do this to you, but I need to bail.”

“Great,” Rona mumbled.

“I’ll take you back to Buffy’s,” he offered, trying to keep the reluctance out of his voice. A side trip was going to make him arrive at Anya’s even later, but he didn’t want to leave Rona stranded.

She slid off her chair. “Beats walking, thanks.”

Xander followed suit, moving toward the dance floor. “I’ll tell Willow we’re heading out.”


“Buffy, do you have a moment.” Giles looked at her expectantly.

“Sure.” She set down her weapons bag and looked at the potential next to her. “Um…Vi can you finish this?”

The girl barely suppressed a sigh and pointed to the redhead in the hat. “That’s Vi, I’m Molly. And yes, I can finish. No worries.”

Buffy grimaced at her gaffe. “Sorry.”

She followed Giles into the kitchen and then out to the back porch. “So, what’s up? Spike’s gonna be here in a few minutes. I’m gonna have them train against a real vamp.”

“Yes…well actually, that’s what I wish to discuss with you.” Giles paused and she could tell he was choosing his words carefully. “I don’t believe it’s wise to allow Spike to…be near the girls.”

That was out of left field. “Wha?”

“He killed that girl,” Giles said, bluntly.

“He was trapped and starving and they cut her open before they unchained him.” Buffy pushed aside the rational part of her brain that was balking at this defense.

“Buffy – ”

She softened, knowing that her watcher was partially right, but wrong, too. He hadn’t been there, in that filthy cavern, hadn’t heard the devastation in Spike’s voice when he’d talked about Cassie. “Giles…you didn’t see him. He was sorry. God, he wanted me to leave him down there.”

His eyebrows shot up in disbelief. “So it’s acceptable for him to feed under the right circumstances.”

“No! But it’s not like he was snacking his way through the Bronze,” Buffy cried, exasperatedly. “He deserves a chance.”

“I feel that I’ve done you a great disservice by over-emphasizing that demons lack a soul,” Giles said softly, rubbing his forehead. “It’s clouded your judgment, first with Angel and now Spike. You seem to ignore the basic facts of their existence.”

“I’m not ignoring anything, Giles. What he did made me sick. That girl was in one of Dawn’s classes; I used to see her in the halls,” Buffy replied shakily. “But it wasn’t Spike’s fault, and even if it was, things aren’t black and white anymore. Spike is the best fighter we have and the best resource to train the girls to defend themselves. One of them is going to get called and they need to be ready.”

“I don’t trust him, Buffy,” Giles implored.

“It’s not your call.” She looked at him plaintively. “It’s mine. He stays.”

“Excuse me.” A timid voice called through the screen door. Buffy turned to see the real Vi fidgeting nervously. “But…the…uh, vampire is here.”

“Name’s 'Spike,' ducks. Just one syllable - sure you can manage.” Spike pushed past Vi impatiently, joining Buffy on the porch. “You ready, Slayer?”

Buffy grinned widely as he rolled his eyes. “Yep. Let’s go.”

Giles watched as they led the girls through the back yard and down the street. He waited a long beat, before slipping his phone out of his pocket. It only took a moment to scroll through the contact list and select the most recent entry.

He waited patiently though the message before leaving one of his own. “Hello. Mr. Wood, this is Rupert Giles. I believe we have some things we need to discuss.”


“You’re late,” Anya said coldly, as she closed the door behind him.

Xander’s stomach, already in knots, plunged to somewhere around his knees. Even though he knew he shouldn’t, he began to babble an apology. “Mistress, I know – I…”

“Quiet. You do not have permission to speak.” Her tone was terse, but he couldn’t say for certain if she was angry, which frightened him even more.

Pursing his lips together, Xander tried to stand still under her silent perusal. Unconsciously, his hands curled into fists from frustration. She frowned and tapped them, and his fingers unfurled immediately. Posture was one of the first things she’d taught him and he hated when he slipped up.

“Undress and meet me in the playroom,” she said finally, turning on her heel and leaving him to his task.

He entered the room swiftly, pausing when he saw a large cushion lying on the floor, and Anya seated in a chair facing it. In the center of the vast space between, laid in a rough horizontal line, was a cane, a flogger and a paddle with several holes drilled into it. None of the items boded well for his ass.

“Sit.” She gestured toward the cushion. “Make certain you are comfortable.”

Awkwardly, Xander sat himself Indian style in the middle of the cushion. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to attain any state of comfort this evening.

“I assume that since you actually showed up tonight, you are interested in continuing our arrangement.”

Her words startled him. Until she’d spoken, he had assumed she’d punish him for being late – which he completely deserved – but he never expected her to think he wanted to end things. Panic set in as he realized that he’d made a very, very bad mistake.

Hoping that it didn’t violate her no talking rule, Xander nodded. Usually it didn’t, but he felt like all bets were off tonight.

“Good. Then your task this evening is to sit there and think about what you did today.”

He made a strangled sound but didn’t speak. “Do you have a question, Xander?”

Xander nodded again, but continued to remain silent, waiting for permission to speak.

Her frosty demeanor thawed somewhat, and he was thankful. “Go ahead.”

“How long do I need to sit here?”

“That will be up to you,” she replied. “Are you comfortable?”

Realizing the ambiguity of his predicament, Xander took a few moments to rearrange himself, uncrossing his legs and resting his hands lightly on the cushion next to his hips, in case he need them to help support his weight. Finally, he answered softly. “I’m comfortable, Mistress.”

“Then we will begin.” He wasn’t sure, but he thought she looked pleased that he’d taken her question seriously. “You are not allowed to move.”

She’d said that she wanted him to think about what he’d done today. He assumed that she meant the date with Rona. Part of him wasn’t really sure why Anya was upset. They weren’t dating. She made that clear several times since they’d started this. And it wasn’t like he liked Rona. It was just a thing. For Willow.

Anya had known about it. And even if she hadn’t been there this morning, he would have called her as soon as he’d been alone. He never had any intention of keeping it from her.

God…he’d never been good at the thinking stuff through thing. Just ask his Dad. Tony Harris would be the first person to point out Xander’s cluelessness and lack of attention to detail.

He replayed the scene from this morning in his head.

Kennedy was making peanut butter toast at the island, when she looked up as if she’d just thought of something, “So…I’ve been here for what…a month and a half? I’ve never even seen the Bronze. Willow, are you interested in going?”

Even though her casual statement had ‘date’ written all over it, she ran her finger through a splotch of peanut butter from her plate and licked it off, leaving absolutely no doubt with anyone in the room that she was interested in Willow for more than a tour of Sunnydale.

Willow’s eyes grew huge with panic and she glanced at him. “Xander! You want to go with us to the Bronze tonight?”

Startled by the invite and Willow’s very obvious desire for him to go with them, Xander sputtered, nearly choking on his coffee, “I…sure.”

Kennedy’s expression clouded slightly, but then cleared as one of the new potentials walked into the room. “Rona, you want to go to the Bronze with us tonight? Xander needs a date.”

Xander had just been glad it had been one of the older ones. Some of the girls were younger than Dawn.

Rona looked at them warily for a moment, as if she thought they might be pulling her leg, or something, and then shrugged almost indifferently. “I guess so.”

He looked over at Anya, suddenly realizing how this must have sounded. He was about to say something when she looked at him coolly and simply said, “Have fun.”

Xander had spent all day telling himself that even if he was late to Anya’s it wouldn’t be that bad. She’d punish him and it would be over. It’d be like with his dad…but with a warning.

Except it wasn’t playing out that way at all – she thought he wanted to end things. How could she possibly think that?

Xander did everything Anya asked of him, including things that terrified the crap out of him at first. But he trusted her, because she took care of him. If she noticed even the smallest sign that things might be too much, she stopped and they talked about things.

And like a storm that you see approaching, he suddenly realized why she was so upset. She put him first in everything they did together - even when she used him for her pleasure, because that’s what he wanted, too. And he didn’t do the same. Oh sure, he did when he came to her apartment, or even when she gave him an assignment. But this morning, when it counted, he hadn’t even thought about turning Willow down because it interfered with his time with Anya. He hadn't thought about Anya at all, in fact, until afterward.

And finally, it sunk in that Anya was his Mistress, not his girlfriend. He was supposed to be attuned to her needs and he’d fallen down on the job.

He wondered suddenly if Anya would forgive him, but realized that that was what this was about – the sitting and thinking.

His eyes strayed to the line of items she’d laid out on the floor, and then he looked at her.

Her expression wasn’t cold. It was stern but hopeful.

Hoping that he was reading things right, he shifted from the cushion and moved to his knees. Keeping his eyes on her, he began to crawl, looking for some sign that he wasn’t breaking the rules.

Xander grew more confident when his behavior wasn’t rebuked. When he reached the line of items she’d set out, he didn’t even pause. The tips of his ears burned slightly as he crouched and awkwardly picked up the cane in his teeth before continuing on his journey to his Mistress. Once again, he marveled at how she had known more about him than he had, himself. Forcing him to select the implement she used to punish him, freed him to accept it.

Stopping when he reached her, he knelt up, smoothly bringing his arms behind his back and gripping his wrists while still holding the cane in his teeth.


Anya studied him as he sat on the cushion. If she were being honest, she didn’t want things to end. But it wasn’t up to her. It was up to Xander. If he didn’t understand this one crucial lesson, they really couldn’t continue. She’d been stung to see how easily he’d allowed himself to be maneuvered into doing Willow’s bidding.

Nine o’clock had come and gone with no knock at the door. As the minutes continued to tick by and he still hadn’t arrived, she expected her anger to grow. Instead, a calm descended. She spent her time setting up the play room for his eventual arrival, and realized that it was very possibly the last time she’d be doing this. She was unprepared for the level of deep sadness that the thought brought with it.

At eighteen past the hour, she heard the knock at the door. She left him to wait and the thought of not letting him in at all flashed through her mind, but she squashed it. His submission wasn’t about vengeance. He needed to be given the chance to try to correct his behavior.

Truthfully, she was pleased that it was only eighteen minutes…well, nineteen now. Part of her had been curious as to how late he’d allow himself to be.

She’d wanted him to choose to come to the playroom, leaving him alone and giving him the implicit option to leave. When she’d explained what he was to do, she was surprised that he only asked one question.

His face was so expressive; she could read everything that went through his mind. She knew the moment he realized his error and her heart sung.

Watching him crawl across the floor, she could see the effort he put in to keeping his posture correct. It wasn’t perfect, but very close. She didn’t miss the flush of humiliation staining his ears when he selected the cane in his teeth. There were dozens of ways he could have left the cushion and requested punishment. The method he chose showed her the depth of understanding he’d reached.

He knelt before her, struggling to make certain that his posture was perfect. She studied him, looking for any sign of imperfection, and found none. He looked beautiful.

She held out her hand and he dropped the cane into it. Tapping it against his shoulder, she asked, “Do you have something to say?”

He gave her a brief nod. Anya was encouraged to see that he waited for permission to speak. Gently she traced his face with her finger, over his brow, down his nose, across his lips and chin. He made a soft whimper of need, but didn’t move.

“You now have permission to speak freely.”

Xander didn’t look away, but she saw once again that the hot flush had returned to his ears. It was so hard for him to talk about his feelings. “I’m sorry, Mistress, for choosing Willow above you. I wasn’t thinking.”

That was close enough, but he needed to hear the real truth. “You need this, Xander. Every time you disrespect me, you disrespect yourself. Today you put Willow’s needs above your own and I won’t allow you to do that any longer.”

“Yes, Mistress. I understand.” Anya saw the simple, raw truth in his eyes. This was a lesson he would not be forgetting.

“You still need to be punished for being late,” Anya said quietly.

Xander nodded and whispered, “I know.”

She rose and stepped out of the way. “Brace yourself against the chair.”

He stood on shaky legs, before bending over and holding tightly to the arms of the chair.

She ran a soothing hand over his pristine backside. “It’s nineteen, Xander. One for every minute you were late. Don’t forget to count.”

The cane whistled through the air before it struck his flesh. Part of her wanted so badly to go easy on him, at least for some of the strokes, but she held firm. Xander hated being caned, and he’d selected this as his punishment, telling her in no uncertain terms that he needed to really feel this and it was her job to give him what he needed.

As soon as the final stroke fell, Xander dropped to his knees like a stone. Wincing he struggled to get into the proper kneel position, facing her.

Tears stained his face when looked up at her.

“Thank you, Mistress,” he whispered reverently, his voice rough with emotion.

The depth of love and trust in his eyes nearly took her breath away. He was finally ready to take things to the next step.

Anya stroked his cheek, loving how he relaxed and turned slightly into her touch. “I’m proud of you, Xander. You did well.”

“Thank you, Mistress.” The quiet, heartfelt words told her what she needed to know.

She helped him dress, careful of the welts that liberally covered both cheeks and the backs of his thighs.

“You will spend the weekend here,” she said as they reached the door. “Tell Buffy and the others whatever you need to.”


The next evening, Xander held his bag in his clenched fist, looking at Spike warily. Finally, he managed to speak. “I told the girls I’m going to a seminar this weekend and wouldn’t be around.”

Spike’s expression didn’t change. “’Suppose I can guess where you’ll really be.”

Xander let out a nervous breath and nodded. Honestly, he was relieved to have confirmation that Spike knew about him and Anya. “You won’t say anything?” he asked hopefully.

“Nothin’ to say.” Spike shrugged.


Spike gave him a small smile. “Don’t expect your beer to be here when you get back, though.”

“Never do,” Xander called over his shoulder as he walked toward the door, feeling as if a huge weight was lifted from his shoulders. Not only because Spike was going to cover for him, but also that he no longer had to carry his secret alone.

Part Nine

The drive over to Anya’s was a blur.  Nervous anticipation filled him as he ascended the stairs as quickly as he could with a woody and a thick plug in his ass.  Every few steps it shifted, striking his prostate, and he was forced to suppress a groan. This was the first time she’d instructed him to wear one prior to going to her place. They had both agreed that being plugged while working or slaying was impractical. As much as he hated it, life and death situations went along with being friends with Buffy and if you lost focus for a split second, there were dire consequences.  

It had arrived at his office that afternoon, just before quitting time, via UPS, in a plain brown box. Thankfully, he’d waited until Tiny left the office before he’d opened it.

Xander had been equally turned on and mortified to see the black silicone nestled in the center of a mound of tissue paper like a naughty Easter egg.  Anya’s typed note was terse, but very clear. Arrive home. Insert. Shower. Shave. Pack.

Just as he reached the door, his cell phone rang. Xander stopped short and guiltily slipped it out of his pocket. He’d meant to turn it off before he left work.

Buffy’s number scrolled across the screen.

Unconsciously, Xander’s thumb moved to the answer button. When he realized what he was doing he almost dropped the phone in his haste to stop.   It chimed again, the high-pitched chirp echoing loudly in the empty hallway.

Xander’s skin pricked with cold sweat and his stomach clenched, but before he could lose his nerve he pressed the power switch and turned the phone off. If the world was ending, Buffy would call Anya and she’d tell him.

Part of him felt incredibly guilty that he was putting his very naughty sex life in front of his friends.  Buffy could be calling to wish him luck at the mythic seminar, or more likely, to ask for either a ride home or for help fixing something at her house, if he had a chance over the weekend. Shifting nervously from foot to foot made the welts on his ass and thighs rubbed against his jeans. They remained burning reminders that he had to start doing things differently, even when it made him uncomfortable.  Anya was right; he needed this relationship with her, because it wasn’t really about naughty sex at all…and he finally understood that.  

He slid the phone back into his pocket and knocked on the door.   Anya took her time answering his knock, but that was okay. An unexpected calm descended over Xander while he waited.  He was on time and had nothing to worry about. She’d open the door when she was ready.


Time seemed to have both sped up and stopped since he’d entered the apartment and been told to strip. The entire weekend had flown by in a haze of color and sensation. Xander had felt layers of himself peeled away like an onion, until there was nothing left but the desire to please his Mistress.

The stiff leather collar at his throat shifted every time he swallowed.  His hands were bound over his head and his thighs cuffed and strapped to the headboard, spreading him out and opening him up for her. Anya had placed a soft pillow beneath his hips, canting them and allowing her access to his stretched and lubricated ass.  His mouth worked around the silicone penis gag in his mouth. Xander was both humiliated and excited by the shape she’d chosen.

Anya knelt between his thighs, stroking lube over the thick black phallus rising from the harness. “Do you like this? It’s new.”

His lips closed around the penis gag as he hummed mmm hmm and nodded. He’d never thought a woman could look hot wearing a harness and a fake cock…but Anya did.  If he hadn’t been wearing a cage around his cock, he would have been aching and hard. Instead, he was just aching.

“It’s much thicker than the one I used on you before,” she murmured, her voice husky.  “Do you want me inside you, Xander?”

Nodding enthusiastically, he pulled at his bonds with desperate need. She smiled as she leaned over him, and he felt the cool head of the phallus prod at his entrance as her tongue traced over the sensitive scar tissue on his chest.

Xander’s eyes rolled back and then fluttered shut as she pressed the dildo inside him. He made a small choked sound of pleasure around the gag when Anya withdrew, and sank in again more forcefully.

Anya stilled and his eyes flew open, seeking hers, afraid he’d done something wrong.  

Her eyes were almost black with desire and that sent a thrill of pleasure through him. “I love seeing you helpless and at my mercy,” she whispered reverently.  

If he could have answered, Xander would have told her that he loved being helpless and at her mercy.  As it was, he tried to relax against his bonds and open his body more to her.

The desire in her eyes was replaced by frenzied lust at his deepening submission. For an instant, he remembered Faith and the night he’d lost his virginity. The striking difference was that Anya wanted him; she wasn’t just looking for somebody to make a connection with.

As much as he needed to submit to Anya, Anya needed him to submit. A powerful wave of emotion crashed over him at this realization.  It almost took his breath away and he made a muffled, strangled sort of sound.  

Anya stilled her movements once again and touched his cheek. He felt the warmth of her hand above and below the strap of the gag. There was deep concern in her eyes. “Is this too much?”

Fervently, Xander shook his head, and then looked up at his bound hands. He was still clenching the small ball she’d given him tightly in his fist. He wasn’t using his safe word.

She didn’t seem convinced and swiftly she unbuckled the gag and set it aside. “Talk to me.”

“No, Mistress, it’s not too much. I just…” Xander swallowed thickly as emotions bubbled uncontrollably to the surface.

Flashes of everything they’d done over the weekend swirled through his mind:

Anya’s warm, lush mouth sucking him off while he leaned against the door. Immediately afterwards, the cool plastic of the cage slipping over his spent and sensitive cock.

Hours of working on his posture in various positions and flushes of pride when he finally executed every one of them perfectly.

Kneeling before her, his naked ass in the air and his cock swaying heavily in its prison as he painted her toenail’s crimson. Taking as much care blowing air to dry the polish, as he did when applying it.

Sprawled across her lap, with the plastic cage trapped beneath him, watching endless Tivo’d hours of Oprah as she worked a vibrator ruthlessly in and out of him and pressed on the welts and bruises that still littered his skin from the caning.

Tears pricked his eyes and the words spilled out before his brain could catch up to his mouth. “I love you.”


It was the truth, but Xander was suddenly terrified that she would stop what they were doing.  He had to look away, because he wasn’t sure if it was joy or pity in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Mistress.  I won’t say it again.”

Her small hand touched his cheek and she firmly turned his face to meet hers.  Xander wanted to resist, afraid of seeing the confirmation of his worst fears, but couldn’t.  Instead of speaking, Anya pressed her mouth to his, kissing him. It was both tender and demanding. Xander’s heart swelled.

“I want you to look at me, Xander,” Anya murmured against his lips. “You don’t have permission to look away.”

She slid out of him slowly, and then back in just as slowly.  Xander bit his lip in an effort not to groan, but he kept his eyes on her.

Heat surged between them as their eyes locked. “Don’t hold back. I want to hear you.”

As she began to fuck him in earnest, ruthlessly hitting his prostate on every single thrust, Xander screamed and begged and pleaded with her, pouring out all the emotions he’d tried to keep in check since he walked through the door.

Her thrusts became erratic as she got closer and closer to orgasm, until she finally tipped over with a sharp cry. She collapsed against him, shuddering and panting.  Xander pulled at his wrist restraints, barely suppressing a whine of frustration because he wanted to hold her to him.

His ass and bound cock pulsed in time with his racing heart.  He hated that this was going to end tomorrow.

She tenderly unbuckled the wrist cuffs, then the ones on his thighs, before shedding the harness and sliding into bed. Xander curled himself around her, needing to feel her. Part of him was aching with unspent passion, but another part was relieved and utterly at peace.

Anya stroked his hair and said thoughtfully, “I want to watch you with a man, Xander.”

His heart pounded. Terror and lust both surged inside him when he realized she’d been grooming him for this question for a long time now. Once upon a time, his immediate reaction would have been ‘not no way, not no how.’ Now he had to admit he was, maybe not interested, but at least curious.

“Would it just be sex…or other things?” he asked, feeling his pulse pound loudly in his ears. “I don’t know if I could kiss another guy, or s-suck his dick.” Xander felt his ears get hot.

“And if that’s what I wanted to see?” Anya asked coolly, but her fingers continued their gentle stroking.

He felt like he was jumping off a cliff. It was exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time. “If you ordered me, I would try, Mistress,” Xander whispered honestly.  

Anya pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “Do you want to choose someone yourself?”

Terror of a different sort seized him. Trying to find a guy, ask him to…and then deal with the possible laughter and rejection. No way he could do it. That was a big flaming red. “No, Mistress.”

“But you are okay with me selecting someone,” Anya confirmed.

“Yes,” Xander agreed. He trusted her and was willing to try this.

As they drifted off to sleep, Xander couldn’t help but think that even though the idea terrified him, it also turned him on.


Xander hazily slipped in and out of a thick haze of pleasure. He was blindfolded and tied down, surrounded by a nest of pillows. Strangers licked and touched every inch of his skin, while he strained and rocked his hips, working toward release. Wet heat surrounded his cock and he surged up, chasing the sensation.

His eyes shot open, suddenly realizing it wasn’t a dream. Somehow Anya had slipped off the cage without waking him. Bathed in the rays of the early morning sun, Xander shuddered as her warm mouth engulfed him and his balls drew up tightly.

“Oh god, Mistress.” Xander clenched his fists tightly.

Immediately she released his cock and said warningly. “Don’t come, Xander.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Xander replied, through gritted teeth.

Anya engulfed him again and Xander reached up and gripped the headboard tightly, hoping that would ground him as he struggled to obey.

His thighs were trembling uncontrollably when she finally stopped.

She shifted on the bed and he realized she intended to fuck herself on him.

“I don’t think I can hold out,” Xander pleaded, panting harshly. “I’m so close…I…”

“Are you using your safe word?” she asked.

Part of him wanted to, but he didn’t want to let her down. It was all twisted up inside his head. He didn’t want her to stop. He wanted to be begging and at her mercy. He felt his resolve strengthen and his grip on the headboard tightened as he shook his head. “No, Mistress.”

“I know you can do this, Xander.” Anya held his gaze steadily as she slid onto his aching cock. “You’ve given me so much these last few days…it’s almost over. Only this one last thing and you’ll get your reward.”

Xander bit the inside of his cheek hard enough to draw blood as she began to move once again. His tongue prodded the cut, welcoming the distraction of pain while she rode him slowly. His cock was so swollen and sensitive it was painful and yet, it felt so good, at the same time.

Anya’s skin was covered in a sheen of sweat and she was trembling on the edge of orgasm when she whispered, “Fuck me, Xander. I want to feel you come inside me.”

Xander almost screamed with need, his hands flew to her hips and he held her tightly to him as he flipped them. He pounded into her his hips churning frantically, working toward an orgasm that he knew was going to be amazing and intense.

Anya clawed at his shoulders as she came, and her pussy contracted tightly around his dick.  The sharp sting of pain was all it took and he crested the wave of painful pleasure. His orgasm lasted just this side of forever. Finally he collapsed against her, spent, his limbs unable to support his weight.

As soon as he found the strength to move, he slid off of her, but didn’t move far. After such a powerful experience he couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to touch her.

Her lips found his and they kissed. Anya’s tongue brushed languidly against his, and Xander made a small, happy sound. When they finally broke apart, Xander looked up at her, feeling another intense wave of love crash over him.  Stroking his face, she whispered, “You’re so beautiful like this, Xander.”

Pride suffused him. Her words made him feel beautiful, for the first time in his life.

Anya shifted on the bed, reaching out to get something from the nightstand. She rolled back and held out her hand. There was a thick gold ring laying in the center of her palm. “You’ve earned this, Xander,” she said softly.

Xander’s mouth was suddenly bone dry. He’d thought his orgasm was his reward for the weekend, but now he realized she’d been working him toward this final thing – she wanted to collar him.

His fingers brushed the ring…so much more permanent than the leather collar at his throat.  Xander wanted to pick it up and almost did so, before realizing he needed permission.  “Mistress, Can I…?” he asked softly.

“Of course,” Anya said gently. “This is your decision.”

He picked the ring up and studied the inscription in the rays of the early morning sun.  It wasn’t much, only a single word, but it meant everything: Mine.

His eyes found hers and he swallowed thickly. “Yes, Mistress. I…this is what I want.”

Xander watched with awe and no small amount of fear as she slipped the ring onto his finger. He was collared…owned. There was no going back.

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