Lady Cat

Part Ten

His ass hurt.

Xander tried not to grin like an idiot as he shelved bottles of pickles.  It was empty enough in the supermarket that no one would see him.  Not that anyone would really care that the stock-boy looked like he was totally insane, but—there’s the principle of the thing.  That, and Spike will never let me live it down if I do this at home.

So maybe he should do it here, and not give Spike the chance.  Yeah, that might be good.

Mechanically, he reached for the bottles, stacking them neatly before moving on to the next section.  His eyes were trained on the shelves, but it was obvious that he wasn’t seeing green bottles of all shapes and sizes.  A wavering, blinding grin, goofier than his usual, stretched across his face, making it clear to any onlooker that someone was very happy.

“Xander?  Wow, Anya do something special last night?”

“Wha—Buffy!  And Riley!  Hi!”  Jumping nearly out of his skin, Xander immediately went into idiot-goofy mode, the quickest way he’d found of distracting people.  If he was acting like a five year old, no one wanted to be around him for more than a few minutes, let alone take him seriously.  “And how is my favorite couple doing on this lovely day?  Or should that be only couple?  Unless Willow’s not telling us something. . .”

Which could be more than possible, if he’d read the looks between her and the blonde girl she’d been hanging around with correctly.  Quiet, shy, and very sweet, ah, the things that attracteth the Willow.  Ignoring the insanity that was me.  And, actually, this might be a good idea.  Cause I’m thinking the Buffmeister is not gonna be thrilled when she finds out that both her best friends are gay. 

Oh, my god.  I’m gay!

 He choked, coughing roughly while Buffy pounded on his back.  “Ow!”  He glared at his friend, making sure to grin once he could breathe again.  Okay.  Let’s leave the earth-shattering revelations about male vampire sex when I’m not standing in front of Homophobia Man, and his girlfriend, the Vampire Slayer.  Right, brain?  Good.  No more thinking of bad thoughts.

It was probably not fair of him to peg Riley as a homophobe, but unfortunately Xander was sure he was right.  The soldier in his head had some stomach-churning memories that Xander didn’t like to probe too closely.  Lesbians he’s probably fine with.  Maybe even interested in.  But two guys gettin’ it on?  Uh uh.  That goes against the Natural Order Of The Universe.  Stupid git.

“Xan?  What are you talking about?”  Buffy had that cute perplexed look, where she titled her head and scrunched up her face like it hurt to think so hard.  Cute, silly Buffy.  Or maybe cute, concerned Buffy, because Xander finally realized what he’d just said.

“Um. . . yeah.  About that.  Anya—kinda left me.  Got offered her old job back and decided human boyfriend didn’t match her new ensemble at all.”  Xander bit his lip, eyeing the two blondes nervously.  Please don’t make a big deal out of this.  Please, just let me enjoy the fact that my butt hurts in a really good way and Spike is being so sweet and nice to me that I’m terrified something bad is going to happen and for once I just want to be able to really enjoy the good before the bad comes, okay?

Yes, of course he could babble in his own head.  Where else would he get the practice?

“Anya left you?”  He had visions of Cave-Slayer, cautiously sounding out words like she was unsure of their meaning.  “Anya, your girlfriend, left you.  To become a demon.  Again.”  When he nodded, her face darkened into that look that scared him even as it made his heart turn to mush.  The look that said: Something hurt my friend.  I’m going to kill it.  Slowly.  Painfully.  With many witty puns and much ass-kicking, because nothing gets away with hurting my friends.

Smiling happily right now would probably not be a good thing.  Didn’t stop the desire to, but he managed to reign that in when Riley folded his arms.  “Anya’s a demon?  Great.  So I take it we won’t be hunting down this one, either?”

“Oh, there will be hunting,” Buffy hissed, looking exactly like Spike had when he’d scented the nest of vamps Monday night.  Oh, crap.

“Hey, Buffy, c’mon, please?”  He relaxed just a touch when she finally met his eyes.  “No hunting, okay?  It wasn’t—I’m not really upset.”

“Hey, that’s right!”  The predatory look softened into confusion.  “You were grinning!  Great big Xander’s-had-chocolate grin!”

“That’s because I’m not upset,” he explained patiently.  He hoped, anyway.  “I’m not, Buffy, please don’t try and kill my ex, okay?  Besides, I think she’s in Venice.”  That’s what the note had said, anyway.  Including a bunch of stuff that still hurt to think about, so he was just going to concentrate on calming down Buffy.

“Xander.  She just dumped you to become a demon again!  How can you possibly say you aren’t upset?”

“You knew Anya was a demon the whole time?” Riley added, looking more and more annoyed when Buffy hardly even glanced at him.  The hyena in Xander’s head growled; Buffy may no longer be his pack-leader, but he’d been a part of this particular pack for a long time.

“In a minute, Riley.  Xander.  Please explain this to me, using words with small syllables, because I’m missing something.  You’re happy Anya’s gone?  I thought you two were, well—happy.  Together.”

It was impossible to be annoyed with her right now.  He wanted to, since he was scrambling to find answers that he could give her without mentioning lean, blond, and gorgeous back in his basement, but he really couldn’t.  Because her anger was for him, against the one who had supposedly hurt him.

And all this, while standing in the middle of the grocery store with my boss two aisles away.  Time for my break.

“Come outside with me?” he suggested, ushering them down to the door, his dolly and their basket left behind.  He snagged his boss’ eye on the way out, jerking his head towards the clock and mouthing ten as loudly as he could.  His boss grimaced and nodded, waving him out.

Thank god he can’t short me on break time, Xander thought with deep relief as they walked over to where Riley’s car was parked.  “So, you two planning a big evening?”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed to slits and she folded her arms across her chest, spreading her legs just a touch.  Crap.  Slayer-Buffy will not be foiled.  “Xander, what happened?  Are you okay?  Really?”

“I’m fine, Buffy.  Honest.  Anya. . . well, she was never really good with being human.  She’d get so mad at me when I’d correct her.”  He grimaced, remembering quite a few of their fights.  “So when she got this chance, she took it.”

“And left you.”

“So, what kind of demon was she?  Should we be watching out for attacks of some kind?”

Both Scoobies turned to glare at Riley and Xander was feeling just flustered enough that he didn’t close his mouth in time.  “Can it, soldier-boy,” he snapped.  “This has nothing to do with you, so just back off.”

Riley blinked, going blank-faced in shock.  Then he rallied, getting that condescendingly earnest look that made Xander see red.  “Xander, if she’s a demon—”

“She’s a demon in Venice, Riley.  If you want to go hunting her, be my guest.  Don’t be surprised when she kicks your ass.”

“Xander, Riley has a point.”  Xander turned his astonished expression on Buffy, who started shifting nervously.  Not that much of one, huh, Buffy?  When are you going to figure out that this guy is all bluster and bluff?  At least with Angel, he was the real deal.  He could watch your back, when he wasn’t watching your ass.  “Is Anya gonna be. . . vengeance-y?  Around—you?”

He sighed, losing his anger.  Riley was worried about whatever he and the Initiative worried about.  Buffy was just worried about her friend.  Nice to realize she still thinks of me as one.  Sometimes I’m not sure. . .  “No, she won’t.  She. . . there was a note, and—”

“She broke up with you through a note?  Xander!  Why aren’t you getting all vengeance-y!”  The aghast look made Xander grin and suddenly he felt a lot better about this.

“Because it’s better for both of us.  Really.  I’m not angry with her and she wasn’t angry with me.  In fact, she gave me a gift before she left.”  And no power on this earth is going to make me tell you what it is.  Even Spike doesn’t know—although seven locks may not keep my curious vampire out if he really wants to know what it is.  I should probably hide it somewhere better.  “She needed to do this, for herself.  Nothing to do with me.  So I’m okay.  Really—oomph!”

Buffy threw her arms around him, squeezing tightly enough that he was going to have to remind her of Slayer-strength.  In a minute.  Or maybe five.  Don’t make me lose this, Spike.  Please.  Because as much as I need you, I need them too.  Please don’t make me choose.

The bad feeling hovering around the edges of his mind became minutely darker.

Smiling into Buffy’s vanilla-scented hair, Xander hugged her as hard as he could.  “Thank you,” he whispered.  “But I need to breathe.”

“Oh!”  Blushing, she released him and stepped back.  “You’re a pretty incredible guy, Xander Harris,” she said with a sweet smile.  “Not many boyfriends are so understanding about a girl’s job.”

She didn’t look at Riley when she said that, so Xander didn’t either.  Instead he shrugged and gave another goofy grin.  “What, I was gonna tell her no?  When she could’ve turned my insides out with a wink?”

Riley stiffened while Buffy just grinned and tilted her head.  “You think that was a possibility?  Really?”

Well, yes, before I read her letter, I did.  I was cheating on her.  Except she says I wasn’t.  Which I don’t think I want to understand.  “No, I don’t.  She said she hesitated a little because of me.  She wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t be hurting me, not really.  She said. . . she said she thought she loved me.  Could’ve, if this hadn’t happened.”

Another hug, this time not as hard.  “How could she not?” Buffy whispered before pulling back.  “So, no broken heart to get over?”

“Nah.  Heart’s doing pretty good.”

“Good.  Now, um, don’t suppose you have that lovely employee discount card with you...?”

It was past six by the time Xander was done, leaving him tired and frustrated.  He repeatedly counted the cash he’d just taken out, passing by the stairs on the side of the house that led to the basement—and Spike.

Just drop the money and go, Xander.  It’s really easy.  Drop money on table, turn around, leave.  Hell, they might not even be here.  Please don’t be here.  Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door to the main house and entered.

It shouldn’t be this hard, he knew, but it always was.  Every time he did this.

His body felt even bigger and clumsier than usual as he shuffled through the foyer, the living room, the dining room, past the kitchen and into the Bar Room.  This was the room his parents spent most of their time in.  It had the tv, the comfy chairs, and most importantly, it had the stacks of bottles, cans, glasses, and mixes.  Everything two serious alcoholics might want.

Xander stopped going into that room when he was four.

His father was in the brown chair, watching some broadcast of some game on the television.  “That you, boy?” he asked without turning around

“Yes, sir,” Xander said quickly; hesitating was dangerous, he’d learned that early on.  “I, um—here’s the rent.  Sir.”

Mustn’t forget to call him ‘sir’.  Oh, no.  Cause then he gets pissed.

“Gimme.”  Xander laid the envelope down on the counter next to him, waiting while blunt, thick fingers stained from work and hard living rifled through the contents.  “You’re short.”

“Wh—” cutting himself off, Xander swallowed and regained control of himself.  “I’m sorry.  I thought I put the right amount in.  How short am I?”  I know I put the right amount in.  I only check several dozen times.

“Two hundred.”

Two—two hundred dollars?  I am not short two hundred dollars!  That—son of a bitch, he’s raising the rent on me?  For one precious moment, Xander felt anger coursing through him, heard himself give a wordless growl that would’ve made Spike proud, tensing his muscles and curling his fists.

Callused knuckles cracked into his cheek, roughly sending him to the ground.

He blinked away the tears, instantly schooling his features into blankness while he rubbed at the mark he knew was forming on his face.  He was yanked to his feet, backhanded again, and then punched in the same place.  When he was finally dropped, he was careful to stay exactly where he landed.  “You talkin’ back to me, son?”

“No, sir.”  He wiggled his tongue, not surprised when a rush of coppery liquid drenched his tongue.  Shit.  He swallowed quickly, ignoring his distaste in a panic to hide the blood from sight.  He always gets worse if he sees me bleed—and oh, crap.  There’s a bloodsucking vampire in my basement.  Shit.

“You think we charge you too much?  Then go get a real job, you worthless piece of shit.  And stop making all that racket!  Kept your mother up last night.”  His father leaned forward, breath making Xander gag and choke, an evil glint in his tiny, squinted eyes.  “You know what happens next, don’t you, son?  I don’t know how much longer it’s gonna last.”

Oh, fuck.

Scrambling backwards, he babbled assurances that he’d have the money, that he’d behave, and that he’d keep the noise down.  He was never precisely sure what came out of his mouth in times like these, but the babbling usually got one of two reactions.  The first was to piss his father off, and get hit some more.  The second was what happened more often—thank god—the very drunk man turning away, holding his head like his brains were going to fall out.

“Shut up!” he slurred, stumbling back into his seat and grabbing at the glass he’d set down moments before.  Taking a deep swallow, he turned bloodshot eyes back on his cringing, and still prone son.  “Two hundred.  Get it.”

“Yes, sir.”  Struggling to his feet, Xander hesitated by the doorway.  “Can—Sir, may I go to my room?  The upstairs room?”  Gotta clean up, or Spike—oh, god, what is Spike gonna do when he finds out?

His father waved, already turning back to the game and his drink.  I might as well not exist to the drunken asshole. . . but just in case.  Xander managed to get his thank you out, the words choking in his throat as he turned and frantically headed up the stairs.

He spat blood into the sink, wishing his head didn’t spin so much in the downward position.  Glancing in the mirror, he almost gagged.  His cheek was a brilliant red, and his left eye was just a touch swollen.  Shit.  Double shit.  Spike is gonna be pissed that I went and got myself hurt.  He’s always telling me that he’s the only one who’s allowed to. . . he’s gonna be so mad at me.

His body began to shake, the usual after effects of a run-in with his loving family taking hold.  More blood filled his mouth, a bit of it trickling down his throat.  Gagging at the taste, he managed to get to the toilet before his body forcibly removed the blood—and anything else he’d eaten in the past day.  Which wasn’t much.  Well, Spike made me eat breakfast.  But there was no evidence of actual food in the mess, just blood.  Lots of blood.

He dry heaved for a long time, careful to keep his eyes tightly closed after the first time—watching always made him get sick again.  Once he was certain he was done, he closed the lid and turned back to the small first aid kit he still kept up here.  The much bigger one was downstairs, but there was no way he could go down there looking like this.

Spike’ll kill me.  Who cares about the chip?  If Spike finds out that I let someone else hurt me, he’ll kill me.  Then them.  That’s okay, don’t care about them, but Spike will. . . god, he’s. . . he’ll be so mad.  I’m sorry. . . not—please, I didn’t mean. . . don’t be mad. . .

The shaking got worse as he gargled with salt water, ignoring the pain when the salt touched his split cheek.  He had to stop the bleeding.  It took several repetitions and tears were streaming down his face before he was certain that it was clean and dry.  Then he brushed his teeth.

A lot.

Ten minutes later he realized his teeth had to be clean by now and that his time was running out.  It was barely seven o’clock on a Thursday night, and his father wouldn’t be drunk enough not to remember how long Xander had been up here.  Washing himself as thoroughly as he could, he began applying his ‘standard’.

Wouldn’t the girls laugh to know I put makeup on better than they do?

Five minutes and he looked—tired and obviously not in the best of health, but not injured anymore.  The makeup on his cheek was thick enough that it would hide the bruising he knew was coming, and his eye wasn’t as badly swollen as he’d thought.  Thank god.  I can hide most things, but not a swollen-shut eye.  Spike would definitely notice that.

So, Xander would just have to distract him.

He cleaned up his mess, flushed and headed towards his bedroom.  His old bedroom.  He never stayed in that room for more than a few minutes—too painful.  Ignoring the posters he’d love to transfer down to the basement—need an excuse for being up here—he headed towards his few stacks of books. 

Yes, Wills, I do actually read for fun.  And since I’ve got an attention-deficit vampire in my basement, I need to find some distractions for him.  Telly’s gonna get old.  He’d seen the signs of a bored vampire before, and wanted to head them off if he could.  Spike was dangerous when he was bored.

Stuffing his assortment of mystery and horror novels into a bag, he hesitated, and then changed his clothes as well.  He wasn’t sure how good Spike was at smelling him, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.  The clothes he shoved on were too small and even more threadbare than usual, but since they were his brightest clothes—prints on both shirt and pants—hopefully that would distract Spike from noticing either of those things.

Please don’t be mad, Spike.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.  Just don’t be mad at me.

“Alexander!”  The shout ricocheted off the walls, sharper than any gunshot.  Xander jumped nearly out of his skin, then hurried down the stairs, cloth bag bumping his legs.  His father waited at the bottom, a nasty glare darkening his reddened face.  Xander swallowed and lowered his head submissively.  It never worked, but that didn’t mean he was above trying to use it.

Never works cause he’s too dumb to see it for what it is, he thought venomously.  That, and the hyena whose habits he was copying was not happy about submitting to someone who was not pack, nor alpha.  In fact, it wanted to hit the man—the soldier, too.  Neither could understand the paralyzing, child-like fear Xander felt every time he ran into his parents.

“Yes, sir?”

“Aren’t ya done yet, boy?”  He swayed, and grabbed onto the banister with a white-knuckled hand, making Xander blanch pure white under the makeup.

“Yes, sir.  I’m leaving now, sir.”

“Good.  Stupid brat.  Outta m’way.”

Xander flattened himself against the wall, keeping his head down while his father lumbered past him.  Don’t look at me, don’t see me, there’s nothing here, just a waste of space.  Don’t see the cover job I’ve done, because that always makes you madder, and then you call me a fag for wearing makeup.  Which is true, you asshole.  Only for a week, but you won’t care, will you?  You figure out that I give it up to guys, and well, that’s proof you’ve been right for years.  Although how a four year old was one thing or the other I’ve never understood. . .

Just don’t see me at all, okay?  Just go upstairs, please. . .

He didn’t start breathing normally until he had raced down the stairs to the basement, door dead-bolted behind him.  Not gonna do much if he’s serious enough. . .  But he felt better, knowing that several locks, only two of which his father had the key to, and a deadbolt were between him and the loving bosom of family.

Spike was asleep on his bed, stark naked with the blankets bunched up around his feet.  He’s so beautiful.  He set the books down, dumping the clothes in the washer and pouring soap on top of it.  His hands shook so badly that most of the soap landed on the floor. 

Hopefully, that scent of the soap would muffle any other  scents until he could actually run it.  Then he turned back to the bed.  Men aren’t supposed to be beautiful.  Handsome, yeah, but not beautiful, like some statue.  Michelangelo?  Is that who I mean, Will?  He must have either been starving or worked out fanatically when he was human.  Because the vampire, ladies and gentleman, is ripped.

The familiar, panicked babble started up, and he was helpless to resist the thoughts tumbling inside his head.

Why is he so beautiful?  Moving closer, he watched as the pale white chest moved up and down, breath softly whooshing against the cotton of the pillow.  If Xander put his hand there he knew it would be cold and dry, totally unlike a human.  In and out, in and out. . . that’s what made me see it.  When I realized that it was more than just the hyena.  Watching him inhale and exhale, even while asleep, like he was human.  Like he was Buffy with the super-strength and the super-speed, except he doesn’t have the sun and the laughter that she does.  And I think he misses it.

His legs abruptly gave out.

Tears burned, and if he’d been alone he would have curled up into a ball and shook until he was afraid the teeth would rattle out of his skull.  But he wasn’t alone.  And if Spike found out. . . he’ll be so mad at me.  I’m sorry, I don’t want to make you mad.  Please don’t be mad at me?  I’ll be good, I promise.

He felt a whimper growing in his throat, and suddenly he knew what he needed to do.  Don’t be mad, please don’t be mad, Spike?  Please don’t be mad.  He searched for the little vial Spike had told him about that morning, about how it dulled pain without dulling the pleasure.  It was a magic vial.

Just a little.  Not too much.  He skimmed out of his clothing, tossing the brightly colored clothes into a corner where Spike would see them.  See, nothing wrong with me.  Nothing to be mad at.  He poured a small amount—tiny, tiny—on his finger and reached behind himself.

Ohhhh, Spike.

The finger slid in easily, filling him, making his inner muscles feel like he was suddenly in a sauna, or getting a professional massage.  His dick filled and rose without a single touch of his other hand, which was busy holding himself open.  It felt. . . not perfect, perfect was when Spike was inside of him—but close.  So close.  So good.

He carefully stretched and prepared himself, stopping only when three fingers moved in him easily.  Then he took one of the other bottles, and slicked himself up with something that smelled of rain and thunderstorms.

Xander paused once he was ready to begin.  Spike was still deeply asleep, body moving in quiet, gentle rhythm.  His penis lay soft and small, nestled in curls that matched the color of his eyebrows.  Legs tossed wide, like he was saying he knew he was the alpha and everyone else could just stop and stare.  His manhood was impressive even softened in sleep, and everyone should know it.

The whimper leaked out his pursed lips, the shaking returning now that he wasn’t concentrating on manipulating his own body.  To stave both of them off, Xander laid down in between those spread legs and nuzzled into Spike’s balls.

Smells good, he thought, frightening himself with the intensity of that thought.  It smelled wonderful, like he never wanted to move from this position again.  His mouth belonged here, licking along the crease of the sac, flicking lightly at the head of the penis as he withdrew slightly.  Then down, to that small strip of skin that Spike could drive him wild by just running a finger over.  He licked and sucked, trying not to grin when the statue-perfect body jerked under his mouth and parts of it definitely woke up.

Xander played some more, humming and sucking and occasionally even nipping, until he was sure that Spike was totally erect.  Then he used the flat part of his tongue to lick all the way up to the tip of Spike’s cock—and then swooped down to the base.

He worked his throat, remembering how much Spike had loved when he’d done that by accident, trying to ignore the growing constriction in his chest.  When it got to be almost too much, he worked his way back up, inhaling huge amounts through his nose.  Knew being a swimmer could be good for something.  It burned slightly along the left side of his face, the skin stretching painfully and pulling at the cut in his mouth, but he ignored it.  So long as he didn’t bleed, pain wasn’t important.  He concentrated on licking and sucking, thrusting the tip of his tongue into the tiny slit, hands coming up to fondle the neglected sac while he nipped hard right where the foreskin began.

Spike’s body shifted, legs changing their angle, but other than an explosive bit of exhaling, the vampire appeared to remain asleep.  Not for long, a devilish part of Xander grinned.  But the mischievousness felt forced, even in his own mind.

He licked back up to the top like a lollipop, sucking on the precum he found there and wishing he could swallow it.  It tasted so good.  Instead, he dribbled it along the length of the shaft, wondering if he even needed anything more.  Deciding that it was too soon to take chances, he scooped out another finger-full of the faintly blue-ish gel and smeared it all over the proudly straining erection.

Do I want to know how Spike is sleeping through this?  Quick glance at the top of the bed, where the sculpted face was still relaxed and open the way it never was when Spike was awake.  No.  Just. . . don’t be mad at me, okay?  I just want to please you.

He straddled the narrow hips and slowly, agonizingly, sat down.  Full.  Like home—and here he could almost smell that scent that made him feel so good—like perfection.  Oh, god, Spike you feel so good inside me.

Stifling his moans, Xander used the muscles of his thighs to lever himself up and down.  He started slow, concentrating on the feel of Spike slipping in and out of him.  The bumps and ridges and veins were easily distinguishable when he squeezed tightly.  Memorizing the feel, he felt brave enough to start going a little faster.  Not much.  Just enough that a pleasant tingling started deep within him and traveled along the length of his aching cock.

He changed the angle just a little bit, to take some of the pressure off his knees, and couldn’t stop the deep groan.  Oh, god, there, Spike, right there. . .  Every little movement brought a new kind of pressure to his prostrate, pushing him closer.

No!  Too soon, pack-leader isn’t—not until Spike is ready.  Have to wait!  He reached down to grab the base of his own erection, glancing up half-instinctively for permission.

Two eyes glowed eerily up at him.

Xander froze.  Moonlight from the far window bathed Spike’s white flesh in an ethereal glow.  Shadows obscured his face, hiding everything but those shining eyes.  There was nothing human or earthly to the vision before him.  This alien being made of marble and beauty, watching him with eyes that dazzled.

“Don’t stop.”  The words were whispered, floating along the air currents to tug at the strings controlling Xander’s movements.  No longer in danger of finishing too soon, Xander brought his hands back down to his knees and began a rolling, rocking rhythm that seemed to twist even as it moved up and down.

“Yesssss,” Spike hissed.  He made no move to grab onto Xander’s hips, something he’d half-expected.  Instead Spike pushed fists deep into the bed, his arms straining and cording in the silvery light.  “Faster.”

Instantly, Xander was leaning forward just enough that he could gain speed.

“No.  Lean back.  Yessssss.”  That same hiss of pleasure, the reflected light disappearing for an instant as Spike closed his eyes.  “Faster.”

Throwing his head back, Xander did as he was told.

There were no words, which was unusual.  Spike was very vocal in his pleasure, able to form coherent words up until the final moment.  Now, though, Spike was silent but for the panting and the occasional commands.  Just watching him as he moved up and down and up and down, squeezing himself tightly so that Spike would have nothing but pleasure.

Then, suddenly, one hand was clamped down hard on his hip, the other fisting his penis harshly.  Xander bit his lip until it bled, trying hard not to cry out from pleasure so strong it hurt.  “Now,” Spike gasped, “cum now, boy.  Xan—”

Xander swallowed his scream at the last instant, feeling his muscles contract in his release, which brought Spike to his.  Spike, too, was silent in his orgasm, although Xander could hazily see the distended muscles in the body below his.  I did that.  I made him happy like that.  Then the exhaustion kicked in.  Wavering, he gripped his knees even harder, forcing himself to remain upright, with Spike still deep inside him.

Spike gave a weak chuckle.  Hands reached up and pulled him down flat, so that he covered Spike’s body almost totally.  “Warm, you are,” was whispered into his ear.  “Like a bloody furnace.”

“Sorry,” he managed to mumble into Spike’s collarbone.  Mad?  He tensed to try and force himself to move.

“Don’t be.”  Arms snaked out from underneath his own, circling him snugly.  Xander relaxed, happy that Spike was pleased.  His body sated and content, wrapped up in Spike’s strong embrace, all the emotions from the previous hour slipped away.  He was safe here with pack-leader.  Safe with Spike.

Spike held him a little tighter, a rumbling sound vibrating between their bodies.  Xander smiled.  He loved this part of sex with Spike.  Well, no.  He loved sex with Spike, period.  But this, this holding and just being with your partner?  He’d never had that before, and hadn’t known how much he wanted it until he did.

Cordelia, he had never done something as, well, quiet as this.  She was too busy ripping me to little Xander-pieces every time she opened her mouth.  Including when it was just to stick her tongue down my throat.

Anya hadn’t liked it much, either.  A little after sex was okay, but far sooner than he liked she was pushing him off, complaining that he was too hot and heavy.  Watching movies meant each person on ‘their’ side of the couch, except if Anya wanted something rubbed.

Spike likes it, though.  Amazingly, it didn’t even have to be post-sex.  They’d spent all of Sunday curled up together in a human-demon pretzel, watching movies and munching on blood-drenched popcorn.  Spike’s bowl, anyway.  Each night was passed in a tangle of limbs, sleeping on and under each other—and Spike hadn’t ever made a single move to get rid of his human leech.  Big Bad Cuddler.  The thought made him muffle a snort in Spike’s skin.

“Whasso funny?” Spike slurred, twisting so that he could see Xander’s face.


Spike arched an eyebrow but didn’t press.  Instead he gently rolled Xander off, stretching his arms up over his head and twisting his lower half one way, then the other.  He looked up, blinking at whatever he saw on Xander’s face.

God, he really is like a statue.  The way the muscles play under the skin. . .he’s so beautiful.

“Luv?  You okay?  Look a bit fuzzy there.”  Amused confusion turned to concern.  “Doesn’t hurt, does it?”

“You’re beautiful.”  Spike looked startled for an instant, then smirked, preening a bit before tugging Xander back towards him.

“Mm.  So’re you.  C’mere.”  Xander pressed back in, sighing contentedly when Spike began petting his hair.  He could go back to sleep just like this, no problem.  “Are you okay?  Want to sleep some?  You were gone too long.”

“I only worked five hours today, Spike.”  Xander quickly checked through his various aches and pain, assessing just how tired he was.  Which was very.  But he wasn’t hurt too badly and he’d run on pure enthusiasm before. . . Spike said he had a surprise for me.  I. . . I want that.  More than sleep.  “I’m okay,” he said into Spike’s shoulder.  “Tired.  But okay.  So what are we doing tonight?

“Told you, pet.  It’s a surprise.”  He could hear the smirk and the anticipation in the vampire’s voice.  Smiling, he felt some of his tiredness slip away—a picture of Spike bouncing like Willow does when she’s like this helps, of course.  “You sure you’re okay, luv?  Gonna work you, I am.”

“Thought you just did.  I’m fine.  And I’m not pretty.”

A light smack to the back of his head.  He grinned up at Spike, amused.  “Please tell me?  Pleeeeease?”  Xander tried his hardest to look cute and pathetic, mentally steeling himself to slip back into the goofy mask he hid behind.

Spike hesitated for a brief moment and nodded.  Then the smirk came back.  “Training, boy.  Tonight I start teachin’ you how to fight, for real.”

“And Monday wasn’t?”  His grin became slightly less forced, body tensing as a new surge of adrenaline cut through the last of the exhaustion.

“Nah.”  Spike pushed them both to their feet and over to the shower.  “Monday,” he explained while they soaped each other down, “was to see what you could do.”  Xander moaned quietly as Spike sank to his knees and began kneading his calves.  Ohhh, nice.  No idea what he’s doing, but I’m not going to complain.

“Lift an’ flex,” Spike ordered, peering through the water to watch as Xander obeyed.  “Good.  Movin’ better.”

I’m huh?  “Spike?”

Spike settled onto the back of his heels, looking upward while the water continued to pound on his back.  His hair was totally plastered to his head, which was tilted in that totally Spike way that said ‘I’m thinking about something’.  He looked incredibly serious.  Almost blank-faced. . . and then he smirked, and the seriousness faded as if it never existed.  “Got a problem with me touchin’ you, puppy?”  Xander blinked, totally confused, but obediently shook his head.  No, he really didn’t.  ”Come on, then.”

Xander could feel Spike’s eyes on him as they dressed.  “Sure you’re not hurtin’?”

“No, that stuff you have works great.  No pain at all.”  And did he get that to fool the chip, or did he really not want to hurt me?  No, shut up brain.  Think about fighting.

“Meant anywhere.”

For one precious instant Xander met Spike’s blue, blue eyes—and relaxed.  Quelled the urge to babble for all he was worth; Spike would know something was wrong for sure, then.  “Nope, all good.  Not a twinge or a peep.”

Please don’t press.  Please.

The worst part was that he wasn’t badly hurt.  The worst was his left eye wanting to swell; everything else was so minor it was easy to ignore.

He’d had enough practice at it

Spike seemed mollified with Xander’s casual dismissal, herding them out of the basement and into the cool, crisp air.  “Off we go.  Half the night’s already gone, thanks to you.”  The glare had no real heat to it and the sated pleasure told a different story.  “So, we gotta hurry.  I wanna watch you sweat.”

Classic Spike-smirk, and Xander was sufficiently distracted as they walked toward the docks.  The walk helped, the quiet giving Xander a chance to take firm control of himself again.  Three blocks before it really was nothing but wooden dock, Spike turned to an old abandoned building and unlocked it.

“Um, Spike?  Not to sound like a stupid human or anything but—”

“Relax, puppy,” Spike interrupted.  He sounded wearily aggrieved and Xander tensed before he realized it was manufactured.  “Totally legit.  I know the bloke who owns this place.  He doesn’t mind us using it.”

“Bloke, meaning demon.”

“Yeah, a Than.  Decent sort of demon; you do them a favor, they’re right quick to return it.  Handed the keys over no questions asked.”

And if I believe that’s the whole story, then I’m as dumb as Willow and Buffy think I am.

He didn’t press, content to trail behind the flapping black duster and look around.  The main room was obviously meant for storage or distribution area.  It was huge, several stories tall of metal and cement and filled with dust, debris, and the accumulation of random junk.  Drifters had obviously used this building as temporary relief from cold or wet, but none of it looked recent. 

Spike led him away from the main room, through what had obviously been an office to oversee loading and unloading whatever the merchandise had been.  In the back was a metal door.

Spike forced it open, growling under his breath about upkeep and rust.  Propping it open with a cinder block found on the floor, Spike flicked at the light switch.

“There we go.”  It took almost a full minute for the florescent lights to come on, illuminating a—huh? 

Mats, not new but not old enough to be in total decay, were propped up against the walls and scattered about the hardwood floors.  Dirt was less plentiful here—no human would have been strong enough to get in, given the way Spike had been straining to open the door, and the no windows only helped.  Perfect place for vampires to nest—

Or work out?!

Several aerobic machines and quite a few weight machines lined three of the walls.  The fourth was for a wide assortment of free weights and a bar like a ballerina used, all of which reflected back at him from the line of full-length mirrors.  An ancient refrigerator hummed in the far corner, matching the sound of the lights.

“Great, he got it,” Spike exclaimed, heading over to the fridge and rummaging around.  “Perfect.  Gotta thank him.”

“So, we’re what?  Going to train me to be a body-builder?”

“Heh.  No.”  He headed for the mats stacked by the wall.  “You ain’t gonna use those until we get some basics into you.  Tonight, puppy boy, you learn how to fall.”

Xander hesitantly entered the room, still looking around in wonder.  The walls, except for the one with the mirrors, were painted black.  “Are you gonna stand there all soddin’ night or help me?” Spike growled, tossing a mat down with a whoosh and a loud bang.

“What are we doing again?”  Despite his nervousness, Xander grabbed the one nearest to him and began wrestling it over.  Spike began setting them up, creating a large area.  “Cause I’m thinking I know how to fall, Spike.  I’ve had a lot of practice at it.”

He couldn’t stop the bitterness in his voice.  Staring at his feet as he went for more mats, he hoped like hell that Spike just thought he meant when helping Buffy patrol.

“No.  You don’t.”

Xander froze at the quiet, pensive sound of Spike’s voice.  The skin of his back shivered, the hairs raising at the old, old pain he heard in the voice of an eternal teenager. . .

Use humor, Xander.  That’s what you do, remember?  “Nah, I’m thinking I have a lot of practice,” he said cheerfully, doing his damndest to look like an idiot kid who hadn’t heard the undertones and was taking the words at face value.  “There have been a lot of demons who’ve had the pleasure, shared by many a bully from school.  Oh, Angelus threw me into a wall a couple times.  And every time I go patrolling with Buffy, I fall at least once.  Sometimes she’s the one who throws—”

“Boy.”  Same quiet, spooky tone of voice and Xander shut up.  Babble was just going to piss Spike off.  Deep in his gut the thing he’d tried hard to ignore uncurled with a wail.  Please don’t be mad?  I’m sorry, I’ll be good, just don’t be mad. . .

Spike gave him a glare, and the trembling terror relaxed minutely.  “Not talkin’ ’bout gettin’ thrown, wanker.  Talkin’ about falling.  Correctly.  So you don’t get hurt, and you can get up as fast as you can.”

“You don’t mean getting tossed around, like I usually do.”

“I mean, learnin’ how to not to get tossed around like you usually do.  Learnin’ how t’ stay on your own two feet.  Get that, an’ half your problems disappear.”  Spike sighed and stared at the ceiling briefly before meeting his eyes again.  “Look, pet.  You’re strong, even for Average Joe Human.  You’re stupidly brave, chargin’ into a fight like a bloody puppy when you know you’re outgunned.  You’ve watched the Slayer for enough years to pick up on some technique.”

Xander snorted, embarrassed by the twisted compliments.  “Then why am I so damned bad?”

“Because Slutty’s got the whole supernatural gig workin’ for her.  You’re just a boy who isn’t comfortable in his own body, yet.  She’s got instincts and a feel for fightin’, the kinda thing you just know.”

A bitter laugh caught them both by surprise.  Gotta calm down, he thought fiercely.  Spike’s worried about something.  He was—Xander could see it in the dark blue eyes that tracked every movement he made.  “So what you’re telling me, is that I’ll never be as good as Buffy.”

“Hell no.  Y’ain’t the Slayer, luv.  But you sure as hell can do better’n that git, Riley.”  Spike sneered the name, adding a falsetto twist.  “You got brains an’ you got heart.”

“Yeah, but no instincts or that feel for fighting.”  Bitter sarcasm is not going to convince Spike that all is well in Xanderland.

Spike didn’t seem to hear it, though, shrugging nonchalantly.  “So, you learn it.  Can learn to do just about anythin’, luv, even if you ain’t got no feel for it when y’start.  You think readin’ an’ writin’ is natural for humans?  No.  You practiced.  You learned.  An’ you got yourself a bang-up teacher to show you.”

Spike removed coat, shirt, boots and socks, while he spoke, now clad only in the sweat pants he’d borrowed.  Xander hesitantly did the same, nervously trying to not cross his arms self consciously.  He knew his body looked horribly pudgy and misshapen.  Turning back to face Spike, he was grateful that the vampire met his eyes and held them.

“Okay.  I get that, I guess, but how can you train me?  The chip?”

Spike shrugged, digging out a bag and rummaging through it.  “Told you before.  Don’t need to hit ya to show you how to do it.  An’ you can hit me no problem.  For the rest. . . we’ll see what happens.”

“Like if you try not to hurt me, it might let you?”

“We’ll see,” was all he said, but Xander was pretty sure that’s what the vampire was going to try.  “Ready to start?”

“Um.  Sure, okay.  What, exactly, are we going to be doing?”  It’s not that I’m really scared of you, Spike, except that you terrify me.  Especially when—gulp—you get that look in your eye and your waaay too close and—eep?

Spike just smirked evilly, inches from his nose.  “Now we learn.”  Then he dropped like someone had just smacked into him and—what the hell?  Buffy doesn’t do that!

“S’called ‘slap the ground’.  You’re gonna do it over an’ over an’ over again till you bloody well get it right.  Hands like so,” Spike demonstrated, “shift your weight into the throw, so you can move your body to where you want it.”

Spike pushed himself upright and looked at Xander, expectantly.  Um.  He wants me to, what?  Throw myself onto the ground and slap it?  My life sucks.  I wanted weapons!  A sword, or a whip, maybe even an ax.  What do I get?  Slap The Ground.

Nervous, he tried to copy Spike’s movements.  “Not bad,” was the pronouncement.  “Keep more on your hands, but not so much that your wrists hurt.  We’ll do some strengthening exercises later, an’ then we gotta work on your flexibility.”

Oh, joy.  I can’t wait.

“Now, up, an’ do it again.  Get good enough tonight, an’ I’ll try throwin’ you on your back.  Teach ya how to deal with that.”

Let’s not forget, Xander thought wearily as he got back to his feet.  I wanted to do this.  In fact, I nearly begged for it.  Memories of Monday night before Spike consented to take him out floated through his mind.  Okay, so not so nearly.  I am so stupid.

Under Spike’s direction, he turned so he could watch himself in the mirror.  He glanced over to his left, reassured to see Spike when there was nothing visible in the silvered glass in front of him.  Hate that vampire thing.  It’s worse than the no-sunlight rule.  Sighing, he did what Spike told him, over and over, concentrating on the accented voice that controlled his movements with the skill of an accomplished puppet-master.

He wondered if he was glad he couldn’t see Spike’s face.

Part Eleven

Contains graphic depictions of torture. If you don't like that kind of thing, don't read it

“So this demon was, what?” Buffy asked the assembled Scoobies.  “Munching on little dogs and cats?  Cause. . . that’s just wrong.”  She tossed her hair, before crossing her arms and pouting like a little girl.  “Giles, we have to stop this.  It’s hurting puppies!”

“And kitties,” Willow added with the same kind of abhorrence, although she kept glancing to her left at the shy blonde girl beside her.  That one wasn’t going ‘ewww’ the way the first two girls were; if anything, she looked calmly expectant—under the ever-present hesitancy, anyway.

Spike wondered when the rest of them were going to twig the fact that this girl was dealing far too well with Slayers, and vampires, and other things that went bump in the night.  He didn’t care, precisely, but secrets were useful and he was trying to ferret out hers.

Secrets. . .

***Spike held his boy tightly, wishing that he could be what this dark-haired beauty needed him to be.  Knowing he wasn’t, whatever it was.  Because that smell, that horrible, horrible smell of fear and desperation and pain and worry was still there, after shagging, after working him hard in their new gym, and then shagging some more.  That smell was still there.  And when did I stop wanting that smell?  When did it stop being delicious?  But he knew.  He knew the moment his boy came down those stairs, smelling like that, and he’d been powerless.  Totally powerless to do what needed to be done.***

Over a month later and he was still powerless.

He glanced over to his left, to the bar stool chairs by the kitchen Xander was half-leaning on.  Leaning, not sitting, under two layers of long sleeves and thick protective corduroys—despite the unseasonable warmth of early December.

The growl started low in his throat, but it was fighting the rise of his demon that made him aware of the rumble before it was more than just a menacing vibration.  He forced himself to stop both.  Well, mostly.  He caught Buffy giving him an appraising look—fuck, she sensed it—but when she didn’t say anything he guessed that she hadn’t understood it for what it was.

Stupid chit.  Didn’t the Watcher ever teach her these things?  Bloody Slayer, she is.  There was no real derision to the words, even inside his own head.  Mostly, there was relief and a small amount of thankfulness.  He knew her slayer-senses were picking up on various things before he could control them.  She seemed, however, to write them off as ‘normal behavior’ for a vampire.

Which was partially true.

It was normal behavior, for an un-ensouled, un-chipped vampire that was three hairs away from going on a killing spree that would make Columbine look like a genteel outing to the country.

Blood spatter on the walls always makes such pretty pictures, it does.  Guts and organs like modern art, cocking up the Rarschach blots and giving it just a touch of class.  Some teeth for contrast, scattered about like little pearls.  Hair and eyes to frame it all.

Fuck.  Xander was looking at him, confused and a little wary.  He understood the emotions seething below the faint actions, even though he obviously didn’t understand the why of it, or who it was directed at.  Thank god the boy was so adorably clueless sometimes. . .

If he did know, Spike was damned sure what would happen.  Spike wasn’t an idiot.  If Xander had even the smallest inkling that Spike was onto him. . . which is why I work so damned hard to keep him clueless.  Won’t have him runnin’ from me.  Not from me.  I’m the one he should run to.

The strength of his reaction was what bothered him, when he wasn’t lost in the red mass of hatred and rage.  Part of it he readily understood—he was well aware of how frighteningly possessive he could be of his things.  The lengths he would go to for their protection.  So when his initial desire to maim, destroy, and kill ripped through him, he had reveled in it.

But it wasn’t just about protecting what was his.  Not really.  Not anymore.

Mother fucking pieces of shit.  How could. . .   He knew how.  It was a depressingly common story that he’d lived out in his own life, at least twice.  Possibly three times—Dru was fickle like that.  He knew, but knowing didn’t make it any better.

None of the others know.  That was obvious, had been the instant he’d finally twigged it.  For one moment, he’d been blind in his rage, ready to rip and tear and break the ones who called him friend.  Except. . . he didn’t want them to.  Hid it, best he could, an’ he was good at it.  I lived with him for two weeks an’ I didn’t know.  Hell, if he hadn’t come down, smelling the way he did. . .  How could they, who only saw the face he wanted ’em to?  Not like he ever got their full attention, and him so good at shiftin’ it when he did.  No surprise that he got away with it—except from Spike.

It had taken all of his acting ability to gloss over it, to pretend he was still asleep and let the events play out naturally.  A kind of self-control he never knew he possessed had kept his expression unknowing, his words unshaded.  When all he wanted to do—listen to the pretty screams as I tear their tongues out.  Break the knuckles, one by one, let the bones shatter under the skin so nothin’ can be done with ’em, even if they heal up, smell the fear and pain as the sons of bitches piss themselves and beg for mercy that they never gave. . .

He felt a kind of rage towards his erstwhile Sire he’d never felt before.  It was because of him that these people who his boy called friend based so much upon a soul—a soul meant ‘good guy’, someone who could never hurt people. 

It made Spike furious.  Don’t these chits see the real world?  Or are they so lost to the magic that they can’t see the pain an’ suffering normal people have, without ever meetin’ a demon?  Yeah, s’true most humans don’t drain their victims with their teeth, or rip their hearts out with their own clawed hands, but that don’t stop ’em from grabbin’ a knife or a gun and doin’ the deed that way.  Normal, soulful humans.  Human who’ve made even demons take note with the tortures they devise.  Who the hell cares about a soul when their actions are so. . . evil?

But these humans were curiously blind when it came to the normal every day hell that most people lived in.  It served as a coping mechanism, he knew that—it wasn’t like they didn’t know it happened.  It was just that when presented with the evidence, they looked to the supernatural first.  The more mundane explanations never really crossed their minds.

Boy counted on that.  Had to’ve.  Used it so bloody naturally that he’d had practice, an’ lots of it.  The anger came back, white hot and burning along dead nerves.  Through it all, the thought wasn’t ‘they hurt what’s mine’, the way it had been when Angelus and his bloody great arse had flounced its way to Drusilla’s bed.  That had been comprised of possession, humiliation, jealousy and a deep self-loathing at his powerlessness.  This was far, far more simple.

They hurt him.

“Bleachy!  Oh, Fangless. . .”  Spike snarled, pushed out of his thoughts by the dulcet whine of the Slayer.  Glaring at her, he raised one eyebrow.  “Haven’t you been paying attention?  You’re supposed to patrol with me.”

“What, tonight?”  Fuck, no, not tonight!  Dammit, Slayer!  Pick another night—any other night!  “Sorry, can’t do it.  Have to wash my hair.”

“This is not a request, Spike.”  Giles, the great leader of their ragtag band had apparently put his foot down, and that was that.  “This demon may only target the ah, more domesticated members of human households. . .”  I am going to rip your lungs out for that, you toff.  “. . .but what Riley described warrants the additional support.  You are our next strongest fighter, therefore, you will accompany Buffy on tonight’s patrol.”

Fuck.  Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.  I can’t do it tonight, don’t you see that, you soddin’ wanker?  Open your bloody eyes!  Look at the way he moves, the way he talks, the way he’s fucking terrified!

Spike shifted, trying hard to think of an argument that wouldn’t include little boys and the need to protect them from the Big Bad World.  Did I remember to put more money in his account?  Thank god the boy’s too clueless to really pay attention to his bank statements. 

It had been ridiculously easy to create a separate account to funnel money into the boy’s.  Xander hadn’t really noticed yet, despite the few offhand comments about the bank crediting him several hundred dollars.  So long as the balance didn’t look too distorted, he apparently was going to ignore it.  Idiot, Spike thought fondly.

“Why, Spike!  Got a hot date tonight?”

Xander choked, although only Spike noticed.  Cause I’m the only psychotic vampire that listens obsessively to the boy’s breathing an’ heartbeat.  Wanker. What the hell am I gonna—wait, that’s it.  Good.  He tried hard to ignore the relief he felt now that he had a viable plan to work with.  Though why I’m feelin’ relief leaves somethin’ t’ be desired. . .  I am utterly pathetic.  “Yeah, matter o’ fact, I do.  Boy’s comin’ with, too.”

Please just trust me, pet.  You have to play along for this to work.  He met chocolate brown eyes out of the corner of his, reading the confusion—and the willingness to babble his way into whatever Spike wanted.

Along with the ever-present terror.

He forced another growl down.  Don’t worry, boy.  Told you I take care of what’s mine.  He cursed the chip with a string of words he hadn’t used since those first horrible weeks he realized what, exactly, his new situation entailed.  The little piece of plastic and wires in his skull preventing him from doing what all his instincts were screaming for: kill the ones who hurt his boy.  Then he’d grab him and take him so far away that nothing would remind him of home.

Won’t work, though.  Even without the chip, it wouldn’t work.  Like him stubborn, I do, an’ he’d get all guilty and weepy over his dearly departed.  An’ he’d miss his friends.  So, can’t just take him an’ run.  Gotta do this subtle.  Careful.  Patient.  Damn, I suck at this part.

He had a plan, although how long he could stick to it he wasn’t sure.  Waiting was never his strong suit, he remembered gleefully telling Angelus, and this was the worst kind of waiting.  Because it could go horribly wrong at any moment.

An’ that wasn’t foreboding, was it?  Lovely.  I just buggered m’self.

“Spike.  Where exactly are you going with Xander?”  Giles folded his arms, looking like a stern parent glaring at his daughter’s prospective date.  Which actually isn’t too far off, innit?  The Scoobies had reluctantly accepted Spike into their sanctum, grudging of the Felix-and-Oscar routine he and the boy had created.  Oh, they kept it true to their personalities—he was surly and rude to everyone, Xander trailing behind cleaning up the mess when he wasn’t helping to cause it—but after a month no one commented too closely on the oddness of it. 

He’d overheard Willow saying to the blonde chit that she was glad that Xander finally had a guy-friend to do all those guy-things with—insert air-quotes and baffled expression where appropriate—even if it was Spike who was the new friend.  And wasn’t it odd that Spike was acting more like a real person lately?  “Oh, he’s still his snarky bad-ass self,” Willow had said earnestly.  “But he’s not actively trying to kill us, and he could.  So, I guess, it’s kind of like he likes us—right?”  The blonde had nodded, and Spike had been very grateful that he couldn’t actually see her expression at the moment.  He was terrified of what he might read in those fathomless eyes.

Don’t need anyone else seeing how pathetic I am.  Thanks, doin’ that just fine on my own.  An’ when the hell did Xander-babble become contagious!  He’d seen the boy space out for moments at a time, lost in his own whirling thoughts—just like he had done.  For longer than just a few moments, if the startled, confused, and annoyed glares meant anything.

“Look.  Boy’s got what, four jobs?  Five?  Can’t keep ’em longer’n a week, neither.  So, I think since I’m stuck with him, an’ if I want cable or the good stuff with m’blood, gonna have to do my part, right?  Got a friend who’s hiring, said I’d bring droopy boy here over and have a look-see.”  See, selfish, greedy Spike.  Pay off some debts to old friends, get all the fixin’s to make a biteless vamp happy, an’ there’s no confusion as to why I’m doing this.  Okay?

The room split: Buffy continued to glare at him, Riley echoing because he always glared at Spike, while Willow and Giles turned their attention to Xander.  “Is this true?” Giles just managed to get out before Willowbabble filled the room.

“Xander!  I know you’re unhappy with your job, but you can’t possibly be thinking of working for someone Spike knows. . . are you?  That unhappy, I mean?  I know those jobs are bad, and they pay so little, but I didn’t think you were that desperate.  I could, um, I could lend you some money, maybe?” 

She looked so earnest and concerned that Spike would forgive her that one—she was too worried to notice Xander wince and try to shrink in on himself. 

“Or maybe I could check out campus jobs?  They might be better than the ones you’re at.  Or is this because you want to move out?  I know how much you hate that basement, but you keep saying you won’t move and . . .  Oh, Xander, are you sure this is safe?”

There was silence while various people tried to figure out if she was done or not.  “Yes, Wills, I’m sure it’s safe,” Xander said eventually.  Spike didn’t know whether to be happy or upset at the smooth, casual tone of voice.  He trusts me enough to follow my lead. . . but he’s bloody practiced enough that he can, an’ be convincin’.  “And no, I’m not that unhappy, but Spike knows this guy and . . . well, Spike won’t let them hurt me, if it goes wrong.  Right?”

“Right?” Buffy repeated, balancing her weight to add a more menacing posture to her glare.  “If Xander wants this, that’s fine.  But you are not going to let him work somewhere dangerous, and you are not going to let him get hurt.  Get it?”

“The bloke’s human,” he sneered.  “Runs that old antique store on Halket, an’ a lot of the non-human types frequent the place.  He needs someone who ain’t gonna freak when the customer has horns an’ he’s willin’ to pay for it.  An’ it ain’t like I’m makin’ the boy take the job.  Figured I’d just make some introductions, like.”

Xander nodded, the goofy cluelessness that he’d perfected so well ably distracting the ire of the room.  “Really, Buffy, it’s okay.  I’m just meeting him.  And Spike’ll keep me safe.”

Damn straight I will, boy.  You’re mine.

“Well, I suppose it can’t hurt and if it’s what you want, Xander. . .”  Willow didn’t look convinced, but Spike knew she wouldn’t be a problem.  The little redhead was as stubborn as the rest of the lot, but—there it is, the Xander-pout.  Most dangerous weapon to man an’ demon.  Willow relented instantly, even the Slayer wavering at the sight of those crushed eyes.

"So, let me get this straight.”  Riley strode from his corner, where he’d been effectively ignored after delivering his report, glaring at everyone.  “There’s a demon out there that you, Giles, think Buffy shouldn’t handle alone.  So you take Spike.  Okay, fine.  He’s strong.”  The soldier visibly stopped himself from saying anything more on that particular subject.  “Instead, however, of him helping you, all of you accept his excuse and will instead allow him to help Xander find employment?”

Spike and Xander exchanged looks, both visibly bewildered.  “Well, yeah, pretty much, Rye.”  Xander turned back to the humans, grinning meekly.  “I figured we’d help patrol a bit first, though.”

Buffy rolled her eyes.  “Can we just go?  This thing is killing little fuzzy animals.  And I don’t want to know what the two of you are doing.  The thought of you and Spike doing the guy-friendship thing is the stuff of nightmares.  So lets go before I have to see more of it.”

Spike hung back while Xander threw his arm around Buffy’s shoulders as he escorted her out into the night.  Riley, it seemed, was not going to accompany them, instead stomping back to his dorm room or military base or whatever.  Huh.  Have t’ see about tailin’ him, one night.  See if I can find me some. . . blueprints.  Enough people—demon and otherwise—owed him that if he could figure out how, someone else could actually do it.  Maybe.

Worth a try—fuck.  He’s fucking limping!  That was not there last night!

He sped up until he could scent the boy easily in the clear night air.  Nervous, wary, cautious, relaxed—good lad, just like I taught you—afraid, oh bollocks.  After a month of nearly daily visits to the gym, Spike could accurately determine how many injuries the boy had and what kind, just with his nose.  He didn’t tell Xander this, of course, but he could do it.  Came in handy when he was using Song Li’s healing oil, knowing exactly which spots to concentrate on.

Spike catalogued the injuries with a professional detachment, forcing his anger down the further they walked in the cemetery.  Not because Spike felt the need to hide from the two demons not-so-quietly following them, but because Xander would pick up on it.

You aren’t makin’ me angry, precious.  They are. 

He knew how much Xander feared his anger—that was the scent that had woken him from a sound sleep over a month before.  Not the nervousness, not the pain, not even the arousal.  Just the deep, frantic desire to keep him not mad.  Like if Spike wasn’t mad, than Xander wouldn’t get into trouble. . .

This time he did growl, although yanking one of the demons out into the open was an effective cover.  His body moved in its familiar patterns, systematically destroying the demon while his mind was on a different topic altogether.

Spike knew how much it cost Xander to initiate sex on his own that first time.  It was only the fear of greater punishment that had driven him to do something he viewed as something he, Xander, shouldn’t ever do.  It wasn’t until he’d seen Spike, awake and very much enjoying what he was doing before the fear had lessened.  And the fear hadn’t gone away until Spike had taken that broad-shouldered body and cuddled it in tacit approval.

That eased some of it, Spike thought as he threw down the body of one dead demon and ran to help Buffy take on the remaining one.  Not that he wanted to help her—he just wanted something to pound on.  Made it better when he came home two nights later. . .

Shaking like a leaf, Xander had frantically searched the basement for any spare cash that may have been lying around.  Spike had watched, amused, until he’d finally scented the blood trickling down the boy’s arm.  Scented it, and the efforts made to stop it.  That’s when it had finally clicked.

Furious, Spike had spat out some nonsense about Willy not having any blood on hand and dumped the leftover money on the sofa before storming out in a rage.  Then he’d snuck around back, and watched.

It had been over quickly.  That was probably the only consolation Spike could offer himself.  The boy knew enough to minimize the damage—when he could.  What had disturbed Spike even more was that the boy just took it.  There was no anger or bitterness towards those who hurt him—only acceptance, and fear.

It was that strange, calm acceptance that had warned him two weeks later that another ‘check’ was about to be delivered.  He couldn’t force himself to watch, but he’d been waiting when Xander again came down.  Like before, serious effort had been put into hiding the results of the hour-long visit, although Spike wasn’t going to tell the boy that vampires could smell makeup just as easily as blood.  Instead, he’d been incredibly gentle with the boy, foregoing their normal trip to the gym and convincing him that they could just watch movies that night.  The boy had fallen asleep with Spike’s hand buried in his hair.

He was not limping when we came back last night.  Know he wasn’t, and I bloody well checked him over this mornin’ in the shower.  He was fine.  Which meant at some point during the day, Xander had come home.

Fuck.  I never shoulda left today, not when I damned well knew what was comin’.  Except if he hadn’t left. . . re-establishing himself as a dominant demon in Sunnydale had been ridiculously easy.  The rest of it, however, was proving more troublesome.  Dammit, boy, we need to have a bit of a talk, you’n me.  About how you don’t stay in abusive relationships.  An’ how I know that, since I’ve been in an’ out o’one my whole soddin’ existence.

In fact, this was the only relationship Spike had ever been in that wasn’t abusive.  Not even because of the chip—abuse didn’t have to be physical, and from the way Xander had initially reacted, he’d excepted Spike to hurt him, one way or another.

Except as much as Spike admittedly loved pain and violence, that wasn’t all he was.  Dru an’ me, we had it nice.  She liked the hurt, but she liked the sweet, too.  She liked. . . being us, together.  If Spike wanted to wreck havoc, he had plenty of options waiting for him.  But when he came home after the damage was done, he liked to know that home was for him—not the pain that kept the occupants here, or the fear that made them obedient.  And most importantly, he didn’t like smelling fear in his bed.  Or numb defeat.

That’s what was there last night, sodding hell I never should’ve gone out today!    

He knew the demon he was pounding on was barely alive, but he didn’t stop.  He couldn’t stop, suddenly consumed with the memory of Xander’s reaction to what ‘domestic discipline’ the boy might like.  Their nights at the gym had shown that so long as Spike wasn’t intending on causing pain, he was able to do a bit more.  Not much, and the chip sent out reminders, but he could function.  It made their sparring sessions easier, and Spike had felt comfortable enough to start mentioning the kinks he and Drusilla had grown to love.  Like bondage.  Or spanking.

The first one Xander had expressed definite interest in, although his face and mouth had shown neither.  The second. . . the second had evoked pure terror.  Which meant that sometime in the boy’s life, he’d had an experience with it that had mentally scarred him and. . .

Argh!  He’s still a bloody baby and already he’s got an eighty year old’s list of neurosis’s!  But don’t you worry, puppy.  Spike’s gonna get you over the pain.  Gonna make you feel so nice, pet.  My hand on you, making white-pink turn deep red, feel you jiggle with every hit, feelin’ me inside you every time my palm comes down—fuck, I’m horny.

“Hey, Fangless!”  He turned up with a snarl worthy of a vampire in his prime, glaring at Buffy in the way he knew made her slayer-senses go haywire.

“I am not a pet,” he said clearly, directly in her face.  Xander hovered around the edge, kicking the dropped demon corpse out of the way, worried but silent.  “I am not your friend.  I am not one of your damned Scoobies, I do not support you in your bloody ‘good fight’, I do this to get my rocks off.  You will not give me pet names like I was your bloody pet dog.  You had that with Angelus.  Don’t try it with me.”

“I—I was just wondering if you were going to stop any time soon.  It’s dead.”  But her wide eyes told Spike that she’d heard his words and understood the implicit threat.  Good.  Stupid brat.

“I do what I want, Slayer.  Remember that.”

She started nodding before she realized it, and forced her movements to still.  Licking her lips, she swallowed—and allowed that unbeatable confidence to take over, the way he’d known it would.  Didn’t mean the lesson would be forgotten.  “Xan, are you sure you want to do this?  What I said at Giles’ aside,” she gave Spike a quick glance, “it might not be safe.”

“I trust Spike,” were the shocking words that the boy answered with.  Totally confident.  “He won’t let anything hurt me.  Might let them hurt you,” he added with a nasty looking glare, “but he’d protect me.”

"Right, Xander, because you and he are such good pals.  Like Riley said—Spike is a demon, and what he wants is not what we want.  He doesn’t have to lay a finger on you to hurt you.”  Spike heard the confusion through the normal Buffy-knows-best condescension.  She was shaken by the boy’s last comment.  You an’ me havin’ a long talk, m’boy.  Not that you aren’t right, pet, but I don’t think throwin’ that in the Slayer’s face is smart.

“Buffy, all he’d have to do was invite a demon or a vamp into my home, while I’m out.  He hasn’t.  I trust him.  He won’t hurt me.  Look, Buff, it’s my life, and I’ll live it the way I want to.  So if you don’t mind, Spike and I have an appointment I’d rather not miss.”

Spike smirked to himself as he and the boy both turned their backs to the stunned Slayer and began walking towards the docks.  He could hear her Buffitude calling out to them, but neither reacted to her words.  Eventually, muttering to herself, Buffy finally walked away.

Perfect.  He silently steered the boy toward a nicely private copse of trees, hand burrowing in his duster pocket towards the buttons of his jeans.  Fuck was he horny.  Listening to his boy tell off the Slayer like that, using that sweet, pretty mouth to make his friends hurt and squirm better than Spike ever could. . .

“Um, Spike?” the boy asked hesitantly when they finally entered the small area.  “Where exactly are we—ohhhhh!”

“Gonna talk more?” he asked, continuing to rub the boy’s growing hard-on.  Thick hair flapped from the strength of the boy’s frantically shaking head.  “Good boy,” he purred, as Xander willingly sank to his knees.

Quickly freeing Spike’s erection, the boy sucked it deep within his mouth.  “Ah ah,” Spike cautioned—once he could inhale enough air for speech, anyway.  Make me breathless, you do, pet.  “Slowly.  Wanna be in that pretty pussy of yours.  Wanna stretch you full of me, pound into you, luv.  My pretty little bitch, squealin’ as I ride you so hard. . .”

The suction on his cock grew hotter and wetter, the boy making that humming-purr as he sucked and licked.  Never figured him for the dirty talk, but damn does he get off on it.  Which Spike was not complaining about. 

Warm hands cupped his balls, palming them and then tugging lightly.  “Harder,” he hissed, his own hands buried in the boy’s hair.  More tugs, much harder this time.  “Yes, right there, boy, so good.  Good puppy.  Very good.”  A few more minutes and Spike was pushing him off, yanking down jeans and getting Xander on all fours.

Fumbling for the little tube of lube they always kept with them now, he coated two fingers and pushing inside his lovely boy while the other hand slicked himself.  He was always careful to stretch and prepare Xander every time they did this—even when he wasn’t sure either of them could wait.

"Please, Spike, please, please, please, please,” Xander panted, pushing eagerly back.

“Tell me,” he ordered.

“Want you in me, please, Spike, need it.  Want to be yours, Spike, only yours.  Only yours.”

“Mine,” he snarled, the violence in his voice totally contradicting the gentleness as he slowly pushed his way inside.  There were times for the rough play Spike still enjoyed, but—but the boy doesn’t need that, now.  Only needs me an’ what I give him.

Fully sheathed in the boy, Spike pressed his chest to that broad back for a few moments, just panting.  “You feel so good,” he whispered.  “So hot, and so tight, pet.  So right.  You’re mine, puppy.  My little fuck toy.”  My good boy.

“Spike!”  The boy was too hoarse to say anything but his owner’s name.  Pleased, Spike began to move, rolling his hips in a dreamy rhythm, barely leaving that tight heat before pressing back in.  He sucked on the boy’s neck, holding onto both hips as he fucked his boy.

“Like this, huh?” he asked, smirking.  It drove Xander wild to have to split his attention between the words in his ear and the cock in his arse.  “Like feelin’ me, so deep inside you?  Your pretty arse so open for me, always ready whenever I want.  Isn’t it?”

“Yes. . . more, please. . .”

“Love your hole, I do.”  One hand slid down to caress the rounded flesh there, dipping to run along the edges that sucked so hungrily at his cock, down to the perineum, tickling it.  “So sweet, like candy.  My candy bitch.  Sweet and juicy and always so ready for me.”  He sucked at the boy’s neck again, bring his hand up and around and then back down the straining flesh he found.  “Good boy, you are.  Such a good boy.”

He stroked in a counter to his thrusts, enjoying the boy’s deep groan.  It rumbled through his body down to his groin, mixing with the inferno of heat there.  God, so close.  Too soon, but . . . oh, god, so good. . .

“Gonna come with me, boy?  Gonna please me?”  Those were the last words he got out before he clamped blunt teeth at the juncture of neck and shoulder.  His body shook and jerked wildly as he emptied himself deep into the howling boy.

Gasping for air he didn’t need, he had a split second to notice Xander’s elbows give out.  Twisting them, he cushioned the boy’s collapse to the ground against his own body.  “Easy now, puppy.  Can’t have you sleepin’ yet.”  He cuddled the boy close, unconcerned how that clashed with his Big Bad image.  I like it, sod what any other wanker thinks, had always been his motto, about anything.  Including cuddling.

“Got a job interview, right?” was the sleepy reply.

He chuckled.  The worry and fear was seeping back in, now that his need for sex had been taken care of.  “Yeah.  Gonna actually have to look up old Albert.  Wasn’t lyin’ about him, an’ it would make a good job for you.  I’ll ring him tomorrow, how’s that, pet?”

“Yeah.  Sleep now?”  Could he have honestly forgotten?  Spike pressed his nose against the boy’s head, fighting past the scent of sex and some kind of fruity shampoo.  No.  He’s hidin’ it.  Soddin’ hell.  He’s hopin’ I’ve forgotten about it.  Gonna wait till I’m off doin’ whatever an’. . . not a chance, boy.  Not a chance.

“Sure, pet.  C’mon, let’s go home.”  He got the sleepy, sated human to his feet, trying hard not to curse at how good an actor the boy was.  If he didn’t trust his nose so much, he’d swear the boy was totally relaxed.  Fine.  We’ll play your game for a bit, puppy.  But I’ll be watchin’ you, pet.  An’ if they do what I think they’re gonna do. . . then it’s over.

Someday, some fuckin’ day, I’m gonna catch a break.

Spike swore under his breath—an’ the boy needs to stop askin’ fuckin’ questions about me breathin’.  I do, deal, move the bloody hell on.  Glancing through the leafy canopy, he searched for the telltale sound of Initiative soldiers clumping around.

They’d been almost home.  Another hundred yards, hell, they could see the lights on in the house.  He’d been turning to try and soothe the blast of fear coming from his boy, when the fear had turned into a different kind all together.  “Spike, run!” Xander had hissed, pushing him with newly acquired strength into the hedges.

Spike had had a few precious seconds to feel a complicated of mixture of pride and offended rage—before he’d realized just why Xander had pushed him.  Just fuckin’ perfect, he’d thought before slipping away just as four heavily camouflaged men appeared on the street.

Two hours they’d been after him.  He didn’t think that they knew he was Hostile 17, they weren’t being too fanatical about hunting him, but apparently it was a slow night and they wanted to meet their quota.  Fucking wankers!  I need to be home!

How pathetic was it that William the Bloody thought of the Harris basement as ‘home’?  But it was, at the moment.  More importantly, it would have Xander in it, and he needed to be with Xander more than anything right now.

He had no idea what was prompting the feeling, but he knew that for some reason tonight was going to be bad.  He needed to be there, not playing sodding cat and mouse with retarded government boys!

An’ just what the hell are you gonna do? a tiny voice came from the back of his mind.  He tried damned hard to ignore that voice, usually, but his fear and worry made it stronger.  Can’t fight humans, remember?  An’ the boy won’t fight his parents, you know that.  Spike did know that.  The boy wouldn’t fight, but he wouldn’t leave, either, and Spike had yet to find a situation when he could force it.  So what exactly can you do, besides what you’ve done?  Gettin’ there faster won’t make it stop, and might get you caught by these soldier gits.  That will surely do somethin’, you bloody twit.  Save your hide, then the boy’s.

Spike growled to himself, cutting off abruptly when the bushes rustled a little closer than he’d thought they would.  The soldiers were idiots, one and all.  They had all the hi-tech gizmos a nerd could want, but since they didn’t believe they didn’t really know how to use them.  So they were scanning their body-heat scanners through a forest, looking no higher than their own cotton-full heads.

Yeah, cause vamps, like white men, can’t jump.  Durin’ the day we stay low cause there’s the bloody sun above us.  Hello, night, no sun!  Oh, bloody hell. I’m talkin’ like him.  I need to hang out with Rupert a bit more, if only to get rid of this damned teenage Slayerette-speak.

He pressed closer to the tree, concentrating on showing up as merely a weird branch should one of the soldiers grow a brain and scan the tree-tops.  They were being quite methodical, and they would have found him if they weren’t so incredibly dense.  How the hell the Slayer can date one of—no, wait, can see that just fine.  After my rocks-for-brains Sire, soldier-boy’d be just about her speed, then, wouldn’t he?

He didn’t laugh, knowing that the sound might give him away.  Total inability to understand the supernatural aside, these were competent soldiers and being cocky would give his position away.  God, he needed a cigarette.  He’d been smoking less and less.  Couldn’t let the horrible carcinogens near his boy, now could he?  Gotta get that room set up.  Later.  Fuck this.  I need to get soddin’ home!

But there was nothing he could do, except sit and fume and wait and mentally urge the soldiers to give up and go away.  They didn’t.  He was forced to change hiding places three more times before they finally caught a blip that wasn’t him.  Then he had to be very, very careful on his way back to the house, so they didn’t notice him again and start the bloody-damned thing all over again.

Sod the Slayer for bein’ so bloody diligent at her job.  Couldn’t she leave one or two beasties about for the government to play with?

He was a wreck, working himself up into a frenzy because he couldn’t be where he needed to be.  Normally, he’d be waiting in the basement, pacing to the sound of the telly until the boy finally came back downstairs.  Then he’d usually suggest a massage or a movie, just so he could run his hands all over that golden skin and make sure that none of the injuries were too severe.

Most times, there weren’t.  Bruises, yeah, but no serious amounts of bleeding—hell, most of the injuries wouldn’t even scar.  There were scars on his body, but the boy explained most of them away as Slayer-related-damages.  Anya may have believed that, but strips across the back sure as hell didn’t come from vampires.

Thin, though, an’ I wouldn’t have seen ’em if I didn’t like touchin’ him so much.  Even feelin’ ’em’s hard sometimes.  Which meant one of two things.  Either it happened a lot time ago, or they weren’t too bad to begin with.  Spike wished like hell it was the latter.

He put all of his energy into stealthily keeping to the shadows, pausing every few minutes to listen and scent the air for sign of solider-boys.  That got him fifty yards from the house, coming in the back way so he’d be able to see the boy’s parent’s precious barroom.  It was where the two of them practically lived and that’s where tonight’s little event would be taking place.  He paused against the trees that ringed the backyard, feeling jumpy and not understanding why.  This isn’t normal must-not-get-caught bollocks this is. . .


He howled, shifting to demon-face so quickly it hurt, his body throwing itself to where the scent of his boy’s blood was coming, thick and sweet.

And he hit the door, barrier firmly in place.

No.  Nooooo!  Let me in, dammit, let me in!  It’s the same fucking house!  Somebody invite me the fuck in!  He’s mine, you don’t get to hurt him!  Let—oh, fuck, Xander. . .

The door was open.  They hadn’t even heard him, it seemed like, and he had enough presence of mind to hide himself in the shadows.  So he could watch.  Just like he’d watched, unable to do anything, while Angelus had tortured Drusilla until she screamed for the pleasure-pain of it.

“His kidneys,” a cool, collected voice was saying.  Followed by a thump and a wheeze.  “Face again, he’s still too pretty.  Not enough black.”  This time there was a crack with the thump, and Spike knew that at least the nose was broken.  “Now cut his legs.  More blood.”

The father, drunk, shirtless, his pants undone and hanging loose around his beer gut, lumbered over to the wall and picked up a six inch long knife.  He held it up for approval before going back to Xander, who was lying naked and spread-eagle on the pool table, and traced a thin line from hip to knee.

Then he turned back to the sofa and waited for approval.  Spike felt the overwhelming urge to be sick—until he saw it.

It wasn’t him, Spike thought numbly.  That’s why it was never that bad, before.  It wasn’t him.

It was her.

She was dressed in an elegant red floor-length dress, legs crossed primly and correctly as she reclined against the sofa, drink in hand.  Her hair as obviously henna-dyed red, pancake makeup done too thick and too bright, with enough mascara and eyeliner to give her two black eyes in her overly pale face.  She was trying for classy, elegant and sophisticated.  The result was cheap, unattractive, and utterly pathetic.

“Tony, he’s not hard anymore.  He has to be hard, otherwise, I don’t get to play.”  She pouted at her husband, batting heavily encrusted eyelids coquettishly.

Spike threw up for the first time in over a hundred years.

“Of course, Jessica,” her husband mumbled, going back over to Xander.  Constantly glancing back to the couch for approval, Tony hauled his unconscious son up by a choking grip on his neck and backhanded him.  The pattern of bruises on his cheeks indicated this was not the first time this had happened.

“Wake up, y’little fag!” Tony spat.  Spike could smell the alcohol from the doorway.  “Come on.  Wakey wakey.  Mommy wants t’play!”

Oh, god.  Oh, Xander, luv—  His back was a mass of red and black strips.  Traces of a whip, but other things too, like a belt or a pool cue, or hell, even the crowbar he saw propped against the wall.  Where there wasn’t blood, there was black, and overlaying it all was puss from skin ruptured beyond a simple break.  It went down, over his buttocks, along his thighs to mid calf.  His left leg was broken, the skin distended from the pressure of the bone against it.  His right arm was dislocated, hanging uselessly.

There were no knife marks on the back, but as Tony moved around Spike caught a glimpse of—

Drusilla loved knives.  She loved the feel of them, pressing into her skin, the white hot pain flaring along the path it traced.  She used to take the knife and try and draw pretty pictures with her skin as the canvas and her blood as the ink.  It had taken years to convince her that no, Angelus didn’t like that little habit of hers, and she could stop now.  Really, Spike wouldn’t mind one bit.  If she wanted to draw, he was more than happy to find real parchment and ink for her.  She could even use blood, he didn’t give a damn so long as it wasn’t her own.

Tomes had been written in that beautiful, golden skin.  Some of the cuts were long and loopy like classical script. Some where short and stubby.  Circles, triangles, unnameable designs and doodles, he had become their notepad for them to create upon with absent interest.  And those were the ones deep enough that Spike could see them.  There was so much blood that it became impossible to figure out where all the individuals cuts had been made.

Oh, god.  He didn’t have a lot of time, if he wanted Xander to make it out of there alive.  Humans had a lot of blood in them, more than most knew, but what skin he could see was pasty, with a blue-pallor underlining it that Spike recognized from his unchipped glory days.

Tony shook Xander, making the boy’s head loll so that Spike could see his face.  It was unmarred compared to the rest of him—black eyes, split lip, broken nose, and a shallow cut above an eyebrow.  But Spike could see the dark, wet slits that were supposed to be his eyes.

Even—even if he wakes up, he won’t be there.  Body’ll move, sounds’ll come out, eyes’ll blink but. . . but nobody’s home.

Spike felt tears prick his eyes, suddenly understanding what he damned well should have before.  All his time with Dru, and he’d never even guessed that it was more than a typical drunken father, beating up on anything convenient.  This was torture.

They must—must’ve started when he was little.  S’why whenever he’s scared or upset, he—fuck, he regresses to the last time.  The first time.  When it wasn’t safe for him no more.  What had happened?  How old was he, when his world got turned upside down?  Gotta—gotta get him out of there.  Please, oh, fuck, I’ll beg, I’ll owe, don’t care so long as he’s. . .

“Tony.”  The attempt at elegant nonchalance was waning under her increased impatience.  And the gallons of alcohol she must have consumed.  “Tony, you are thoroughly incapable of satisfying me.  You have informed me that our son, our precious baby boy, is gay.  Therefore, it’s our job to teach him the error of his ways.”

She got to her feet, stumbling over to the table.  Gesturing to it, Tony instantly complied and draped Xander back over it.  She reached over to gently run her hands along the only totally unmarred skin he could see, although it too was drenched in blood, right above where his public hair began.  “And since you are so incapable of satisfying me, we’ll fix two problems with one act.”

Spike felt sick again.

“Alexander?  You need to wake up a little, honey.”  Her voice was soothing, gentle, the way a mother’s should be.  “Come on, Alexander, that’s right.  Open your eyes for mommy.  You’ve been very bad, haven’t you?  Please, Alexander, you have to try.  You’ll try for me, won’t you?  You know how much it hurts me to have to punish you.  But you shouldn’t make us mad like that.  I can’t always control your father.”  She gave her husband a warm, sharing look, which he returned with an unsteady smile.

Sighing, his mother climbed over the table to straddle her son.  Then she rocked.  Xander’s eyes popped open and he gasped, trying to inhale.  Jessica wasn’t as skinny as she pretended to be.

“Sweetheart, there you are!  You disappeared on us.  Silly.  Now, your father told me the strangest thing.  That he saw you go into your apartment downstairs with another man.  Is this true, Alexander?”

Xander just blinked at her, mouth gaping as he tried to breathe.

His mother tsked, shaking her head like he had vehemently shouted defiance in her face.  “You know how your father feels about faggots, Alexander.  And no son of his is going to be one.  Is he.”  It wasn’t a question.  “So, we’re going to play a little game with Mommy.”

Eyes gone totally black with shock blinked and rolled wildly in their sockets—and Spike saw his chance.  That’s right, Xan.  Come on.  Wake up, just a little bit more.  Invite me in.  Please, please, invite me in.  He still had no idea what he was going to do; the chip was already sending out warning bolts, triggered by the horrific deaths he was planning for Mr. and Mrs. Psycho Bitch.

But he’d do something.  He had to.

“Sweety, you want to help Mommy, don’t you?”  Blearily, Xander nodded.  It was a rote response to the tone of her voice, Spike could tell, with no awareness of what was actually being said.  “Well, Mommy doesn’t want to have to watch Daddy beat you anymore.  He’s so rough, isn’t he?  I sometimes wonder if he’s a shirt-lifter as well.”

Tony’s face turned blotchy with rage, but he didn’t make a sound to contradict his wife.

“You aren’t going to be bad anymore, are you Alexander?  You aren’t going to make us angry anymore?  You want to be a good boy, don’t you.”  And she shimmied a bit so that she was positioned correctly, eyes half-closing with pleasure as she began to rock again.

Fuck it all.  He’s mine and I bloody well want in!  “Xander!”

He never liked all the gypsy tricks that Dru was fascinated by, but that didn’t mean he was adverse to learning a few that could help him.  One was the Voice of Command or some poncy, erudite cock of a name.  Basically, it meant a voice that certain people would be hard-pressed to ignore.  Xander shouldn’t be able to ignore it now.  I’m his pack-leader, he’s my bloody pack.  Work, dammit.  Don’t fuck up on me now.

Mr. and Mrs. Harris jerked up to stare at the snarling, animal-like figure they hadn’t noticed in their normally secluded backyard.  The tall trees Spike had forced his way through had always acted as protection against prying eyes and sensitive ears, which meant they usually kept windows and doors open.

“Xander!” he tried again, this time resulting in the boy’s eyes tracking towards the door and focusing—mostly—on Spike.  “Invite me in,” he commanded in his most authoritative voice.

Cracked lips moved instantly, and a hoarse, barely audible voice managed to get the words out.  Barely.

It was enough.

Spike was through the door in a flash, heading towards Jessica.  Tony gave an inarticulate yell when he finally got a good look at his son’s boyfriend—pronounced ridges, incredibly long, sharp teeth, yellow eyes.  Spike got right in his face and snarled.  Tony turned tail, and ran.

Right.  He was easy.  Now for the—well, mebbe not.  Jessica was staring after her husband, a look of stunned shock.  “He left me!” she screeched suddenly, shock clearing away and leaving—


Dru on her worst days, combined with the rage and calculated skill of Angelus.  She was the most dangerous creature he’d ever met, worse than the Scooby girls when they all got their monthlies at the same time.

“He left me!  Tony!!”

“Yeah, he did,” Spike told her.  “Too bloody bad.”  Steeling himself, he let fly a decent right hook that cut her right along the jaw line.  She dropped like a stone.

Then he dropped, the chip overloading his brain.  No, dammit.  I’m tryin’ t’help him, f’r chrissakes.  Let me up.  Gotta get him out of here, gotta get—Christ, pet, you need a doctor.  You need—oh, fuck, I should’ve been here!

He was crying, he could feel the wetness on his face, but he didn’t care.  He forced himself to move despite the spasms, fighting through the pain, because he could.  Xander couldn’t.  Using the pool-table as a lever, he got to his feet.  “Xan?” he croaked out.  “Xander?  Xander, luv, wake up.  Please wake up?  You—oh, Jesus, what have they done to you. . .?”

The tears came faster now, sobs he couldn’t give voice to building in his throat.  Xander was unconscious.  Blood still sluggishly seeped from the wounds, but Spike felt no desire to taste the fresh, hot human blood before him.  His demon continued to howl in rage, but it wasn’t because of the smell that hung so heavily in the air.  It was directed at the prone woman who lay sprawled on the ground and the man who had run the minute something bigger and stronger had shown up.

The chip crackled every time he touched his poor, broken boy, and he knew carrying him was going to be hell.  Deserve it, he thought stiltedly as he covered the hideous sight with his duster.  Shoulda been here.  Shoulda stopped it.  Pack-leader’s supposed to protect his pack an’ I. . . I let the ruddy Initiative run me around town.  Knew they were gonna hurt him, but just a beatin’ yeah?  The kind y’kin bounce back from not. . . oh, god, not this.

He sobbed as he gathered up his boy, cradling the still form against his chest.  The heartbeat was so slow, so distant now.  Not the pounding sound that lulled him to sleep every night, making his own dead body pulse.

Can’t die.  Dammit, you can’t die, I haven’t—don’t have permission, Xander, you have t’ave that.  “You hear me?” he demanded as he stumbled outside.  Every twitch hurt, the chip working overtime for the pain he was inflicting on his boy.  Take it from you, if I could.  “You can’t die on me.  You’re fuckin’ not allowed!  Hear that?  You’re mine Xander, and you aren’t allowed. . . can’t die.  Please, god, don’t let. . .”

He wanted to run, but he was pretty sure that the chip would not understand why he was creating so much pain and melt his brain right out his ears.  And he couldn’t do that.  He had to get Xander help.

His nightmares would forever center on the moment he stepped from the house.  Streets dark and quiet, without even the normal demon population up and about on their own business.  Hardly any noise at all, except Spike’s unconsciously harsh breathing and the shallow, pained sounds coming from the body in his arms. 

The cold white glare of street lamps confused him, making the world a frightening mix of comforting dark with cold impersonal splotches of light which blinded him as he walked.  He couldn’t tell where he was, or where he was going.  He didn’t know where he was going, he didn’t know anything, except that he had to get help.  He had to or his boy was going to die, and he couldn’t because Spike wasn’t ready to let him go yet.  Not ever.

And then he was at a door, staring blankly at the place his feet had taken him without any input from the circling wreck that was his mind, still sobbing in fear and hardly able to stand from the pain.  He wanted to knock on the rich red wood—Red?  How can I see reds in all this damned washed out light?—but that would mean letting go and he couldn’t do that, he couldn’t ever do that.  Xander was his and he never let go of things that were his, not unless they wanted to leave and this one didn’t, he couldn’t, and he wasn’t going to go now because Spike wasn’t going to let him and—

“William!  Bring him inside.  Quickly, now.”

“Yes, mum,” he answered, stumbling dazedly through the doorway into comfortingly dark room.  “Mum, he—god, Xan—he—”

“Follow me.”  Cool, dry fingers rested on his elbow, guiding him through a maze he could hardly see.  Even superior vampire night-vision had difficulty penetrating the inky black pools once they left the front room.  Up narrow, rickety stairs and Spike struggled not to fall and bang his precious load.

He sniffled and sobbed as he followed, uncaring that someone else was seeing the Big Bad reduced to a quivering ball of terrified mush.  Nothing mattered except the boy he held.  Nothing.

“Here,” she directed, leading him to her bathroom.  A lion-footed bathtub stood proudly in the middle of the floor.  “Put him in there.”

No.  Won’t let go, can’t, he’ll leave, he can’t leave, he’ll go away and leave and—

“William.”  Light flared in the corner, bathing the room in a dull golden glow.  Spike snarled, blinking at the sudden change, instinctively ready to defend what he could never truly protect.  Song Li stood by the light, regarding him solemnly.  “You came to me for help, correct?”

“Yes, mum.”  One day, when he could think in straight lines again, he was going to rip his jaw off before he came to see this infernal woman again.  His answers felt pulled out of him, even his accent was changing, gaining more polish and less volume, just to show that much more respect.  “Can—”

“If you came to me for help, young William, then you should allow me to do so.  Yes?  Place him here.  You may remain close by.  But do not interfere and do not touch him.”

Not—not touch?  But. . . no, I have to—the heat an’ thump an’ the skin an’—I have t’ be there an’—

The hands were warm, this time, as they lay along his face, framing it as they forced him to look into dark bottomless wells.  This, this was why people thought she was a demon.  Lights pricked in the depths of those huge eyes, and he knew he could not refuse her.  “Put him down, William.  Please.”

“Yes, mum.”  He eased his boy into the marble tub, trying to keep his movements slow and steady.  One trailing sleeve of his duster caught on an edge, jerking the leather and making the boy convulse.  “Shh,” he soothed, crooning quietly while he got Xander completely within the tub’s walls.  Kneeling on the floor, he stroked blood-matted hair.  “S’alright, luv, shhh, s’okay now.  Safe now, pet.  Promise it’s safe.”  Sobs choked him and he heard his voice breaking.  He didn’t care, so long as Xander was okay.  He had to be okay.  “I’m here, Xander.  I—I’m here.”

“He knows.”  Song Li moved beside him, dark eyes flickering over what the duster revealed.  “Please, allow me to do what you asked of me.”

“But—I didn’t—I mean, I’m grateful, but—”

“I told you, young William.”  She held a jar, larger than her head, that glowed with eerie green light.  Shaking it three times, she opened it and poured the goopy fluid into the tub, and then ran the water.  The green fluid mixed with the water, thinning and spreading to cushion and cradle.  The scent of jasmine fill the room.  She dipped a cloth into a bowl on her left, carefully washing away the blood and dirt.  “You are welcome here, any time.  That is what I said, yes?  Do not think I would have issued such an invitation if I believed you would take it lightly.”  She gave him a sideways look, but Spike barely noticed her.  He was entranced by the sight her gentle cleaning revealed.

It was worse without the blood to cover it.

“You are fiercely proud, William the Bloody, called Spike.  It pains you to ask others for help.  Yet, you will force yourself to survive when odds are heavily against you.  I had thought it would be you who would be carried here, near true death.  While I am pleased that you are unharmed—”

“It should’ve been me,” he interrupted in a harsh whisper.  Distantly, he was aware that interrupting Song Li while she tried to impart wisdom was a bad idea.  Except—“It should’ve been me!  I can take it, hell, lived through enough of it with Angelus.  But he. . . he’s just a human.  Just a fragile—it should’ve been me.”

He began to rock, back and forth, on his knees as Song Li attempt to fix what he had allowed to be broken.  He watched, face empty and aloof, as she finished cleaning.  The green mixture in the tub seemed to aid her, sucking out blood and pus before she got to it, and acting as a buffer between the hard sides of the tub and the tender flesh of his boy.

Examining the results, she went over to a wooden cabinet and began pulling out towels, needle, thread, wooden strips, and an assortment of bottles of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

She set the broken bones and pushed in dislocated joints, displaying a raw strength that Spike would later wonder at, using the wooden strips as splints.  She scooped out a dollop of blue-colored salve and rubbed it from head to toe.  She did not explain what she did, as many healers seemed to prefer, simply doing what needed to be done.  Once three separate ointments had been worked into Xander’s skin, she took needle and thread and began to stitch each individual wound.

It took hours.

There were hundreds of them, and each one, no matter how small or shallow, was closed with thread that shone gold in the faint light.  She stitched and sewed, her face impassive as she worked.  Once that was done, she took the same three unguents and mixed them, coating her hands thickly with the result.  This she worked into Xander with hard movements, as if she was pushing it through the epidermis into flesh and blood and bone.

“Tilt his head back.”  The words made him start.  Hastening to obey, Spike tilted his boy’s head so that the jaw dropped down.  “Keep him steady.  He must drink all.”  She hesitated at the look in Spike’s eyes.  Spike wondered what it was she saw.  “There is internal damage.  Naught is overly serious, but his kidneys bleed.  This will seal the wound.  That,” she gestured with her chin to yet another vial, “will help replace the blood he has lost, but I wish it to stay within his veins, and not leak out over organs that do not need it.”

Song Li got to her feet and then paused, face pensive.  Sinking back down onto the mats that surrounded the tub, she handed him the bottle.  “He is yours,” she said simply.  Then she looked mischievous, “And why you have not used what I have given you, we will discuss later.”

Use what she—don’t know, don’t care, gotta stop the bleedin’.  There was blood in more than just his kidneys, but Spike suspected that she didn’t tell him that for fear of driving him into a rage.  He could feel it, simmering and thickening inside him, but right now it was unimportant.  Right now was for his boy, his precious, lovely boy.  That was all that he could concentrate on.

He stripped, uncaring if Song Li got an eyeful—although he suspected that she had turned away—and slid into the tub.  Oh.  That’s. . . nice.  Whatever this green stuff was, he wanted some of it for later.  It wrapped around his whole body in a tingling warmth that was incredibly soothing.  Comforting.  Almost womb-like, although the part of him that remembered how to be a snarky bastard mocked him for thinking that.

Settling himself in the center of the tub, Spike pulled Xander to him, holding him the way mothers held their children to nurse.  Dark head resting on his shoulder, balanced by the crook of his elbow, for a moment he cold do nothing but touch his boy’s face in wonder.  The nose had been set—the break had fortunately been clean—but the bruising made him look like he’d gone several rounds with a prize-fighter.  Tears threatened again, but Spike pushed them away.  He had to help Xander.

Picking up the vial, Spike placed it at cracked, puffy lips.  “Got somethin’ for you, luv,” he said, hoping unconscious-Xander wouldn’t hear the waver in his voice.  “It’s good, y’see?  You—you gotta drink it, okay?  It’ll make it better.  Can you do—”  Sweety, you want to help Mommy, don’t you?  He shuddered, and when he spoke again emotion made him rough and hoarse.  “Xan, pet, will you drink this?  Don’t have to.  Won’t make you.  But it’ll help, make you feel—make you better.  Will you drink it?”

No response, but Spike wasn’t expecting one.  He tilted the vial, letting a little of the liquid slid into his boy’s mouth.  No gagging, which was good, but no swallowing either.  He shifted position slightly, allowing Xander’s head to loll back so that the liquid would be forced to move, and stroked Xander’s throat.

“That’s right, luv,” he crooned, his voice low and rumbling in his own throat.  “S’all right, precious.  S’just me, just Spike.  Won’t hurt you, luv.  Swallow now, that’s right.”  Throat muscles worked under his fingers, and when Xander opened his mouth again there was silver on his tongue.  “ That’s my lovely boy.  Here’s the rest, now.”

It took a while for the first vial to go down.  Spike just held him, wishing he could run his hands all over his boy the way he did every time they showered, just so he could feel whole healthy human under his hands.  Knowing he couldn’t now, that it would do nothing but hurt.

He didn’t know when he started rocking, or crooning, humming some old lullaby under his breath, eyes never leaving his boy.  Mine, he thought softly.  Always mine.

A touch on his arm startled him, but he forced himself not to tense.  Xander would know, can’t let him worry.  “Here,” he was told, the second vial pressed into his hand.  “All if it.  I will prepare a room.”

Room?  The thought was dazed, most of his attention on getting that beautiful throat with it’s bobbing adam’s apple to swallow.  Room.  Gotta get that set up.  Not lettin’ him go back.  Gotta get everythin’ ready for him.  Keep him safe. . .  This vial finished as well, and Spike could immediately feel the heart pumping stronger, the skin warmer.

Something hard and cold uncurled in his gut.

Tears came, again.  The sound of a door shutting, and then he was lost in it, consumed by it.  His failure.  His impotence.  His fear and worry and—god, how they hurt him.  Never again, luv.  I swear it, as a vampire in the Line of Aurelius.  I will never let you hurt like this again.  He wept for the shame of what had happened and for the beautiful, sweet boy he held, who never should have felt such agony.

It must have been an hour before Spike was able to raise his head and take in his surroundings, but it didn’t feel that long.  He still ached inside, unshed tears still made his throat tight.  But the liquid around them, while still warm, was not as warm as it had been before, and he couldn’t allow Xander to become chilled.

“Mum?” he called, knowing that she would not have gone far.

He felt useless as Song Li dried the boy.  Following her down the hall, he realized they were above her store, in the tiny apartment she lived in.  He wanted to thank her, to worship at her feet for what she had done, even though he had no idea if his boy would even open those laughing eyes again.  He couldn’t, the words stuck behind a lump that would not go away.

Entering a tiny spare room, Song Li directed him to place his burden on the pallet of cushions and mats that she had created.  As Spike obeyed, she busied herself by lighting what felt like hundreds of candles.  Spike eyed them nervously—vampires did not enjoy having too many about, especially in a place that seemed entirely made of wood.

Then the smell hit him and he relaxed, unable to stay tense with cinnamon and jade, roses and lavender swirling around him, filling his head with peace and comfort.  He sagged near the pallet, hands stealing back to hover over the steadily breathing form, afraid to touch.

Song Li placed her hand atop his head, mumbling something.  “There,” she said.  “Join him, for he needs you to rest.  You will not hurt him.”

He looked up at her, amazed that she—and then he was sliding underneath heavy down covers, cuddling against the warmth and softness that shouldn’t have cool, hard lines running all over it.  His voice returned suddenly, abruptly, and he began humming, crooning out lullabies he’d sung to Drusilla when she became lost in the fragmented landscape of her thoughts.  Then, later, he reached for older melodies, found in distant memories of cool white hands, yellow fabric, and a face he could not remember who sang and whispered that it would be all right, William, it would be all right.

Part Twelve

Baloo, my boy, lie still and sleep
It grieves me sore to hear thee weep.
If thou'lt be silent I'll be glad
Thy moaning makes my heart full sad


Rough and whispering, the voice spread warmth deep inside him and to wrap around the places nothing else could touch.  The pain was vivid, every part of his body twisted and throbbing.  Tears traced crazy paths along hot skin, and the wet, gasping sound came from lungs too hurt to truly sob.

Baloo, baloo, baloo, baloo
Baloo, baloo, lu-li-li-lu

He struggled through the black to try and open his eyes, to see what sang to him and touched him so delicately.  So desperately.  But his eyes wouldn’t open and there was only the voice, telling him that it was all right.

O'er thee I keep my lonely watch
Intent thy lightest breath to catch

Cool, gentle pressure on his face, catching the tears as the fell.  Breath gusting over skin that felt raw, quieting the flame.  Touches in his hair, running over and over to the pounding of a single heart.

O, when thou wak'st to see thee smile
And thus my sorrow to beguile. . .

Murmurs in between the song, as if it hurt to sing so much.  But never silence, never stillness.  Always words, ghosting along nerves to teach them more than pain, more than hurt.  Words that made the tears come faster, because it was not for him.  Never for him the peace they offered, hard lessons learned before speech and skill.  Pain and fear were all he knew. . .

Baloo, my boy, lie still and sleep
It grieves me sore to hear thee weep.

Warmth spread over him, bundling around him like the blanket he’d lost so long ago to ‘maturity’, ‘adulthood’ and a small fire.  More touches, more soft words, over and over, never flagging, never faltering, always there on his skin and in his mind.

Baloo, baloo, baloo, baloo
Baloo, baloo, lu-li-li-lu*

It wasn’t true.  It couldn’t be true, what they said, because it never had been before, never would be now.  It couldn’t be true. . .

Have you ever heard your body scream, without ever using lungs and vocal-cords?

It was that sound that woke him, jolting him from drugged half-sleep into dazed alertness.  Freezing, he held his breath.

Not there?

Some lessons are learned so early, so deeply that they never leave.  They form a routine, and there’s comfort in following the routine, because nothing else ever was—routine or comfortable.  The first was to determine not self—but them.

No breathing.

Lances of fire in his chest made him grab sharp lung-full breaths of air; wet sounds of a body working.  The only body.

Not there?

There was comfort in routine.  Without the routine, there was none.  Wary unease pooled in his belly, making his skin itch and tighten.  Sounds: the hiss and crackle and drip and drop but no in and out and in again.  The thud-thud of a terrified heart, but without the measured counter-beats that usually greeted a waking.

Minutes ticked by.  There was procedure, even now, but without the familiarity to provide false-comfort.  Wait, be silent, don’t make the first move.  Unconsciousness brought kicks, but then withdrawal and flimsy offerings of shelter.  Just wait.

Minutes turned to hours and he must have slept again.  Light edged through closed lids, warming the left side of his face and the top of his left shoulder.  Sunlight.  Warm.  Nice.  Not there before.

Not there?

Minutes-to-hours and still alone?  No breathing but the shallow sounds they had never made.  No thumping but the tumbling beat in his ears and behind his eyes.  Not there.  Alone.  Alone?  Uneasiness coalesced into fear, the routine stripped away to leave. . . nothing.

Click.  The whisper of movement, cool air brushing along his face, and low, measured inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale-inhale—

“I will not hurt you.”

Close up throat, concentrate on deep, melodic voice, polished and proper with just a hint—

“You must breathe, child.  He was quite insistent of that.”


Too deep, too fast, and tremors shook him as saline burned behind tightly closed eyes.  Convulsing on the solid breath lodged in his throat, he could not fear cool touch upon his arm, strong hand upon his back, pressing—

The lump dissolved, leaving shivering agony in its wake.  Hot, scalding hot tears dripped from closed eyes, and more lumps formed as breathing grew difficult.

“You must breathe.”


The wet heat could not be stopped, sliding out despite focused pressure.  The touch on his back shifted slightly, and the edged lines around his chest eased.  More deep, shuddering breaths, the rhythm pulling him back in and out and in and out. . .

“I will not hurt you.”

In and out and in and out and in and out.

“You are pack.  You are protected.”

But he did not hear ‘protected’.  Abandoned, bereft, cast out, shunned, rejected, scorned, alone. . .

A sharp tap on his temple.  The flare of pain broke through the haze and he jerked his head up to stare—at spots, from holding his eyes so tightly closed.  Blinking produced flashes of color and the image of a woman’s head.

“You are pack.  Feel!”

Feel?  Feel. . . pack.  Feel pack.  Feel the pack, no matter how small or skewed or fractured.  Feel pack, buzzing deep within areas that saw little daylight but tied directly to nerves and heart.  Ties still bound, despite the tug-and-stretch.  Still bound.

“Are you pack?”

A twitch served for a nod.  He was pack, included and not alone.

“As pack, you are safe.  I am not pack.”

Spots finally cleared, revealing huge dark eyes in a lined and weathered face.  Those luminous eyes blinked, and the lights deep within them resolved to waver and become reflections again.  Two sticks held together a bun of jet black hair.  Little hands rested on narrow legs, against a kimono of black and silver.

“I am not pack,” was repeated.

No, not pack.  But not enemy.  No hate no fear no worry—just little and scared and want.  Want smell.

“I do not wish to hurt you.”  He froze again, untrusting of that beginning.  Not wish but want. . .  “I must check the bandages.  Will you let me?”

He blinked.  Bandages?  Freeing an arm—that caught the light and glittered—he pulling his blanket up an inch.  Just enough to let light shine down his naked body.

Gold was everywhere.  Snake-like, it threaded through his skin from neck to feet, like hundreds of little worms burrowing into him.  Translucent material was dotted among the gold, over areas he knew were too serious to be stitched closed.  Wood was wrapped around one arm and one leg, thin leather holding it in place.  He looked like a child’s crazy-paving, a toy put together all wrong.

A gentle touch made him look back up.  Something she saw on his face made the aloof expression soften into something much nicer.  “You will heal,” she told him quietly.  “All will be well.”

He nodded and slumped back down against the cushions, ignoring the way various bits of him screamed in response.

She hummed while she worked, something soft that he didn’t recognize.  It kept him calm while she checked him over with professional skill and competence.  It hurt—it hurt a lot—but he was silent the whole time, concentrating on breathing.  He had to breathe, pack-leader said so.

“Finished.”  Xander blinked at the satisfied pronouncement, noticing that the stray beams of sunlight were no longer touching him.  Had he fallen asleep?  But it had hurt, and he knew better than to sleep while it hurt. . .

The whimper was growing in his throat, and he swallowed repeatedly to rid himself of it.  Except he didn’t know where he was, and he wanted—he wanted—

“He will return soon.  He has not left you, this I promise.”  He stared at the small woman, unblinking.  “Are you thirsty?  Hungry?”

He was thirsty, horribly so, but he could not open his mouth to tell her.  He wanted—he needed to know that he was still. . . still. . .

“Xander.  Look at me.”  And he was drowning, falling, lost in depths so dark that it was literally the absence of light.  There was nothing but blackness, all around him, but not lost, and not alone, and he wasn’t so little anymore.  Wasn’t he?  Wasn’t he supposed to be?  He liked it when he was little, because little meant safe and cupcakes and a dirty-white blanket he could still taste when his eyes were closed.  Little meant someone to take care of him, protect him from the things he was too small to understand, too small to deal with on his own.

Tears were falling again, burning red patterns down his skin, and the whimper had turned into sobs.  Arms stiff and throbbing, skin turned pale against true gold, moved to wrap around himself in a vain attempt to offer comfort he couldn’t feel, because he was too little!  Just small and cold and scared and he wanted so badly that it ached more than the cuts, the broken bones, more than the look in his mother’s eyes when she’d settled herself on him and he’d known, really known just how bad it was.  Just how scary it was.  When he’d understood for the first time what denial tasted like and how much he needed—

“Shhh, luv.  Love.  Hush, now.”  Oooh, pretty voice was back!  Cool skin resting against his flushed one and strong, so strong arms were moving him, positioning him, a living doll to heat the cold, cold bed at night.  He was moved against something hard and soft and not warm but so nice, touching almost from neck to knee.  Words competed with the rush-rush of blood pounding in his ears, touches dancing over skin that couldn’t take even the gentlest pressure but still needed it, craved it.  The sweet-sharp smell of blood filled him, almost drowning it out, almost overpowering it, but not really.

Musk and leather, cigarettes and pain, and below that something more, something deeper.

Home.  He wept, losing himself in the scent of it, sobbing out over a decade of pain and terror that he’d never told anyone before, never never never.  Home.  And he wanted to believe, wanted to believe so much that the pain of his broken body dimmed in comparison because he hadn’t, he couldn’t.  Wanting was dangerous, he knew that, but it was so much, so strong, and please, please make it better, make it not so much, please. . .

“I’m here, my love.  I promise I’m here.  You’re safe now, precious.  Nothing will hurt you ever again.”

This time waking was. . . better.  No silent, swallowed screaming, no mumbled songs.  Just breathing.  Soft pressure on his forehead, cool breath gusting in and out over feverish skin.  A twitch of movement and he recognized the lump at the top of his head as a nose.


A sharply indrawn breath and then what had been his blanket started moving.  “Mornin’, pet,” was muttered in his ear.  He stifled a giggle—the voice was high and light, from a sleep-full throat.  It made him sound almost falsetto.

“Hm?”  Rumbling vibrations turned the laughter into a silent moan.  “S’funny, luv?”

“Silly.”  And his own voice was falsetto, but that was okay too.

Blue eyes widened and stared into his.  For a moment he thought he saw fear, true fear, the kind of fear that said ‘please, no, not this one too’, but then it was gone and there was only amusement and affection.  “Am I silly, then?”

“Yes.”  Another giggle, which called up an answering smile.  “Pretty.”

“Nah.  Too bony to be really pretty.  You are, though.  Even now, you are. . .”  There was pain in the voice again, like there had been before with the pretty song.  Pain was bad.  Besides, the pretty man was wrong.

“Not,” he said, wrinkling his nose and shaking his head.  Looking down at himself, seeing the cuts and bruises and pudgy bits and dented bits, he blinked back tears.  “Ugly,” he whispered.  “Broken.”

“Never.”  Quick as a flash, there was a hand cupping his cheek, making him look up into blue eyes that were filled with their own tears.  Eyes that were completely serious and not the least bit mocking.  “You are beautiful, love.  Don’t ever think different.  An’ you are not broken.  Don’t keep broken things.  Toss ’em out.  An’ you—” he stressed, tilting his head so that he continued looking into his eyes—“are not broken, ducks.  You are strong, and pure.  Always pure.”

“Mommy says I’m bad.  Daddy says I’m dirty.”  The comments were rote, things he knew and had known all his life.  But it still hurt to say them out loud.

“Never.  Y’er mum’s a ravin’ looney, an’ your da’s a pathetic sack o’ rotgut.  Nothing comin’ outta his mouth but drink.  Don’t believe a word of it.”  The eyes were back, staring into his own with such fervor, such deep belief that he couldn’t help but maybe—just maybe believe.  The pretty man wasn’t leaving, after all.  He was still there, still touching and talking and saying such nice things. . .

“Mommy and Daddy love me,” he whispered.  Which wasn’t true, he knew that.  But they were supposed to. . . weren’t they?

“No, Xander.  The crack-whores you call parents do not love you.  They used you an’ abused you an’ got only what they wanted from you.”  The pretty man was very close now.  Such a nice, pretty man.

“I know,” he whispered again, because he did.  He’d known that for a long, long time.  Love was red hair and cookies and ice cream in the park.  Love was a hand helping him to his feet and accepting the one he offered.  Love was quiet nights in front of the tv, heckling movies that could never capture the creatures that did go bump in the night.  Love was thank you and it looks good on you. . .

Except they loved someone else.  They always loved someone else.  And even when it was him. . . it wasn’t.  Because he was bad and ugly and broken and no one could love him.

“They were idiots, Xander.  Utter gits.”

Nice, pretty man.  So silly, the pretty man.  Because they weren’t gits, they were his parents.  And maybe if he hadn’t been so bad, and stupid, and ugly, and broken then maybe they might have loved him.  Been nice to him.  And then maybe. . .

“They shoulda loved you, pet.  Right morons of them not to.  Know why?”  And the pretty man was moving, sitting up and carefully moving him so that he was still pressed up close, legs wrapped around a narrow waist, and an arm supporting him around his back.  Hair was brushed away from his face and a forehead rested against his own, so that their noses rubbed together.  And blue, blue, blueblueblue eyes were looking straight into his and he couldn’t look away and didn’t want to because they were so pretty, even though he was so close it looked like there was only one big blurry eye, instead of two.

“Because I love you, Xander.”

Feather light touch of lips against his own, and suddenly he remembered.  Not what happened, that was easy to remember, even when he wanted to forget. . . he remembered that he wasn’t little.  He hadn’t been little for a very long time, and this was Spike, kissing him.  Soft, gentle, loving kisses, warm against his mouth, and shouldn’t he be kissing back?

His mouth opened involuntarily, not much, just enough that a tongue could lap at the openness there, and he must have morning-breath from hell, but it didn’t seem to matter because it was gentle touches, sweet, loving touches that never faltered as they kissed and licked and sucked and gently nipped.

And this was different than before.  Than ever before.  There was no gloss or fruit, or plump softness.  There was stubble, and rough, broken patches, and a hard aggressiveness that even his dominant lovers hadn’t been able to match, even now when it was couched in loving gentleness.  There was cigarettes, and fear, and a lingering hint of copper, along with pain and love.  And it tasted better than anything.

He moaned, or gasped, or something, because his mouth was open wider and a slick tongue was rubbing against his own, and he was kissing.  Really kissing.  Tongues tangling together, not battling, just touching, tasting, feeling.  He was crying, he knew, his fingers curled into ice blond locks that weren’t cemented down with gel, and that alone told Xander everything there was to know.  He kissed back harder.

“I’m sorry,” was whispered when they both realized that Xander had to breathe, and the kisses trailed along his face, removing tears that still fell.  “I’m sorry.”  Nibbling delicately at an earlobe, before returning to press hard at lips that welcomed the contact, craved it, never wanted it to end, except there was that breathing thing—

I love you.  I’m sorry.  I’m here.  Beautiful, special, wonderful, strong.  Mine.  Mine.

The words poured out in between the kisses and Xander wallowed in the emotion behind them, became a sponge, the Sahara, desperate for the liquid relief the words brought.  More kisses, and this was the first time, he realized.  The only time.  Over a month, and never had there been kisses, let alone like these.  There had been everything but kisses, and he hadn’t realized he’d wanted them until he had them.

Had him.

The ceiling was pretty.  Swirls of black were worked into the wood planing, creating a soothing pattern he ran his eyes over again and again.  He figured it wasn’t random, maybe some kind of Asian character?  He didn’t know.  But it was pretty.  Soothing.  That was good.

He had no idea how long he’d been studying the pattern above him, but he guessed that it didn’t matter.  He was warm, resting on oddly shaped yet strangely comfortable cushions.  The pain wasn’t even too bad, so long as he kept his body mostly still.  His mind was calm, staring up at the pretty patterns.  They made it easier not to think about—other things.  Made it easy to think about nothing but the patterns.

Which was wrong.

He remembered coming home.  Little fag’s finally showin’ his face?  Prick!  Look at wha’ y’ve done t’ your mother!  He remembered when the beating started, remembered when it got so horribly worse.  No son o’ mine’s gonna be a fag.  Your mom didn’t raise a fuckin’ fudge-packer.  Icy hot pain that dragged through his skin, followed by rivers of blood.  The sharp crack and dull thuds as his body was pummeled into submission.


The drunken, cruel look in his father’s eyes.  Pretty little boy.  The look in his mother’s as she ran her hands along his body, uncaring of the injuries she touched.  Oh, Alexander.  I’m so disappointed in you.  You were such a promising boy.  Her weight upon him and the sticky, slimy feeling of warmth wetting—

Let me in!

“Come in,” he whispered in the stillness of the room.  His voice was hoarse, but not scratchy and weak the way it had been the first time.  His eyes returned to the whirling patterns above him, visible in the warm sunlight, tracing them in a more conscious attempt to calm down. Being agitated made him hurt more.

But not enough.  Not as bad as it should.

Broken leg.  Dislocated arm.  A host of cuts, some of them quite deep, on his front, the ones on his back—reaching from neck to knee—intermixed with bruising that felt down to his bones.  Ribs were at the very least cracked, possibly outright broken.  The hot, wet feeling in his gut that had followed a particularly vicious hit with the crowbar had to have broken something, which meant internal injuries.

He should be dead now.  Or in traction.  Or screaming in tortured agony, waiting for a break in the pain so he could beg for morphine, for an overdose, for something.

He wasn’t.

Not that there wasn’t pain—there was definitely that.  But manageable pain.  Bearable pain.  The kind he imagined he’d feel if he went several rounds with a Slayer who wasn’t pulling her punches, followed by a few very active patrols, finishing with a trip to the gym.  He hurt and he knew it was going to take time and work to feel okay again. . .

But he would.

Xander!  Let me in!

He’d let Spike in.  He remembered that.  Thank god he’s okay, he thought inanely, suddenly remembering why Spike hadn’t been there to begin with.  He’d die if he had to go back to the Initiative.  Trapped behind glass with too-white walls and people poking and prodding and dissecting and taking every—

Pretty patterns in the wood.  He traced them for a while, his mind circling warily while he gathered his thoughts.  They had a tendency to fly away and it was so pretty above him. . .

Spike saved me.

He understood that.  It was hard to miss, given he was lying here in a strange room that wasn’t a hospital, feeling. . . recoverable.  What he didn’t understand was why.

Opening aching eyes, twisting his head just enough that he could see the familiar combination of white and black glowing eerily in the doorway.  Something in him forcing lips and tongue, throat and lungs to produce the combination the voice demanded.  Sinking back down onto scratchy cloth, fighting a smile because now, now it was over. . .

All that blood, soaking into everything.  A feast for a starving vampire, with two humans ready and willing to act as pre-chipped hands.  Xander had slipped away to the peaceful realization that at least Spike would benefit.  He’d get a good meal, and Xander was happy that his death would give that to the vampire.  That his death would be good for something.

Spike saved me.

There was something that was supposed to accompany that thought.  An addendum, a clause, an explanation, a something.  He didn’t know what it was.  He hated that more than anything; the parts of his life where he would do something, say something, and it would be lost to the void of black unconsciousness.  This time, though, the lack of memory tore at him, ripping apart gray matter to find the something that would make him breathe easier, the bit of knowledge that would explain why he felt so—

“Good morning, Xander.”

He froze.

A whisper of cooler air across his skin told him the door was opening, quiet footfalls approaching him.  He did not look away from the ceiling, even when whoever it was knelt beside him.  “How are you feeling?”  Something was unsnapped, making him start violently.  “You must breathe, please.  He was rather insistent about that.”

He?  Pack-leader.  Pack-leader says I have to breathe.

He inhaled too quickly, coughing as sweet air turned rough and cut into his already abraded throat.  Warm, small hands touched him and this time his violent reaction propelled him up against the wall.

Or it would have, if those same small hands hadn’t held him down.

“None of that, please.”  The hands did not move, resting comfortably where they touched his chest and shoulder and he gradually relaxed into their warmth.  “Will you stay calm?”

Will you hurt me if I don’t? he thought.  The fear was instantaneous.  Deep in his mind, something wailed and keened in counterpoint.

“You must stay calm, Xander.  You must breathe.  If you do not, I fear for what William might do.”

It was the amusement rippling through the smooth silk of the voice that made him finally calm down.  That, and the realization that pack-leader would be upset if he wasn’t well behaved.

Spike saved me.

“Now, then.  Let me do most of the work.”  With that bizarre admonition, Xander lay passive as the small, warm hands exerted a startling amount of strength in moving him around.  Soon he was in a sitting position, able to actually see more than the pretty ceiling that still called to him.

The small room seemed covered with candles.  Most had gone out, but a few still burned fitfully.  Beside him a small woman in a black-and-silver kimono watched patiently.  “I know you,” he whispered, his throat still not particularly happy at being used.  “You own the magic shop.  Willow likes it.”

“Indeed.”  Which was an odd answer, and he was able to catch several different nuances in it.  If only he knew what they meant.  “I must check your wounds, now.”  Hands touched him again, but this time to turn his face so that he was looking in her eyes.  Deep, dark eyes. . . depths so dark that they were the absence of light. . .  “I will be as gentle as I can,” she said quietly, “but this will hurt. Do you understand?”

He nodded, throat suddenly tighter.

She worked quickly, occasionally interjecting comments about his recovery and the means she had used to get him there.  It did hurt, but concentrating on her voice and the patterns above him helped immensely.  I’m going to be okay.  That was what she stressed again and again.  Glancing down at himself only served to convince him of it.

He knew what he should have looked like—a lifetime at home and years with the Slayer had given him many mornings to examine injuries from the previous night.  Instead, smooth, mostly unbroken skin stared back at him.  There was an occasional bandage, which was carefully removed.  Most revealed reddened patches of skin, already in the final stages of healing.  His leg was bound in black strips of some material he couldn’t identify, which were also removed.

“Scars?” he asked while she rubbed something cool and tingly into his back.  It felt good, which surprised him.  She’d hurt him plenty before, and this should have hurt like hell.  Wasn’t the first time the crowbar had been used, and he knew how long cracked bones and the bruised flesh atop them remained painful.

“You will have them,” was the immediate response, “but not many.  There is a salve you must apply regularly.  It will help convince the skin to knit back seamlessly.”

No scars.  Well, no more scars.  Which, given what they’d done to his front—

A sharp tap to his temple made the world loose its red-tinged madness.  “You are here, and you are safe.  No one will hurt you, Xander.”  A brief hint of a smile crossed stern features.  “Well, no more than I have already.”

“Okay,” he replied dumbly.  She got him turned over again and a tray containing a bowl and a glass appeared in his lap.  He blinked at it.  “How—what—how did—”  His mouth seemed unable to get the words out coherently.

“You are here because William brought you here.  I have been tending to you for four days.”

Shock kept him docile as she began feeding him a rich chicken broth.  Four days?  I’ve been here days?  God, Willow never lets me go two without calling—  Click.  Oh, god, she knows.  Those unreadable eyes, watching him and waiting. . .  She knows, she knows, she knows, she knows, she—

“Enough!”  Black eyes glared at him, pinning him to the cushions, unable to do more than gasp.  “You were hurt, and I healed you.  I neither know nor care what hurt you, so long as I know it will not happen again.  I do not like my healing to be undone.  William has promised to see you safe, and that is all I care about.”

“But I—but you—must—”

Whatever she read in his face softened her grim demeanor.  “I have guesses, yes.  William has not confirmed or denied anything, so they remain guesses.  I do not, however, think they are wrong.”

Wrong, bad, dirty, don’t touch, bad, ugly, stupid, broken, broken, bad, go away, don’t touch!

“I think no less of you for what I guess,” she continued.  “If I had, William would not have brought you here.”  She caught his eyes, something sparking in their depths.  It made him take a deep breath and pay attention to her words.  “You are safe here, Xander.”

The litany halted, shocked at what he couldn’t have seen.  He couldn’t have.  Because it looked like she. . . cared for him.  But that couldn’t be true because he was . . . he was. . .

Spike saved me.

Lost in his thoughts, he remained quiet while she spoon-fed him the soup and helped him drink the liquid in the cup.  It wasn’t water, but it tasted cold and clean like water did and quenched his thirst.  It was nice.  Then she helped him lie back down and he looked at the patterns some more while she bustled about the room.

She doesn’t bustle, he thought muzzily.  She glides.  Floats.  Mm.  Cool.

She finished whatever it was she was doing and went to the door.  “I’ve closed the shutters,” he heard her say quietly.  “He is dazed, and will possibly grow more so as my medicines take effect.  Perhaps not.  He is coherent.  I will leave you, now.”  The door shut.

The sound of someone settling beside him and a cool, gentle touch on his cheek.  “Hey, puppy.  How you feelin’?”

“Spike.”  He leaned into the touch, just a little, keeping his eyes on the ceiling.  “I don’t hurt.”

“Yeah, Song Li’s good.  Very good.”  Feather light touches caressed him, and he hummed a bit, under his breath.  “Hey.  You awake in there?”

“Pretty.”  It was too hard to look away, so he didn’t.  Just pressed himself closer to the cool, soothing touch as it moved up to pet his hair.  “Nice.”

“What’s pretty?  The ceilin’?  Yeah.  Li was tellin’ me, got symbols up there, worked into the finish.  Supposed to be good for patients.”  More petting and Xander was feeling nice, now.  Not hurting.  Not really sleepy.  Content.  So long as the fingers didn’t stop moving.  “Can I see too?”

“It’s pretty,” he said by way of agreement.  Big, strong hands moved him with a gentleness he would have scoffed at a month ago, arranging him so that another body could lay next to his.

“You make a good pillow,” he said from the crook of Spike’s shoulder.  One hand continued to pet, pet, pet, pet him, the other rubbing slowly over his un-damaged arm.

“Glad to oblige.”

They lay quietly for a while, lulled into a half-doze by the twisty, curvy patterns.  It was nice.

“What do you remember?”

Xander!  Let me in!

“You saved me.”  His voice wasn’t supposed to be that high, was it?  Swallowing only made him notice the lump in his throat.  “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?”  It was too tranquil to yelp, but that’s what it sounded like.  Just with less volume.  “Pet, Xander. . . what the hell are you sorry for?”

“I was bad.  I went back.  I knew you didn’t want me to.  I knew you—”

“Shhh, now.  Don’t cry, luv.”

“I’m not.  M’not a baby.”

“Not a soddin’ baby.  Gonna quote me, do it right, dammit.”  But the humor was strained and Spike let it die a muted death.

Silence again.  The feeling that he was missing something important was back, stronger than ever and very much connected to Spike—but it was hard to stay worried about it.  With the pretty pattern and nice, safe touches on him, and the smell that exuded pack and safe and home, it was hard to do anything except lie there.

“You knew.  Didn’t you?” he blurted out, even though he knew he shouldn’t be talking.  He shouldn’t be pressing this, because he didn’t want to know.  Not really.

“I knew.”

“I’m s—I thought I hid it better.”  The cool form beside and below him tensed.  Apologies were bad, then, and he accommodated the knowledge instantly.  “I thought I hid it better,” he finished softly, relieved when the muscles below his head relaxed.

“You hid it well enough.”  Spike turned his head so that he was speaking almost directly into his ear.  “Too well, really.”  More silence, and Xander wondered what that comment was supposed to mean.  “I smelled the blood.  An’ the makeup.”

Oh.  That was. . . bad.  He wasn’t supposed to be bad, except the words were being pulled out of him because he was bad and— “I’m sorry.”

Arms tightened around him, and he was nuzzled gently.  “For what?  For gettin’ beat on by them you couldn’t fight against?  For takin’ it when you coulda fought back?  Not your fault, luv.  Not ever your fault for that.”

But it was.  Wasn’t it?  Spike was right, of course, he could have fought back for. . . for years, now.  He could have, but he never did.  “But—but only you can—can hurt me.  That’s what you said?”

Spike growled low in his throat, freezing Xander’s tears before they fell.  Shifting, he repositioned them so that they were both on their sides, Xander’s head still on Spike’s arm, blue eyes boring into brown.  Blue, blue eyes. . .  “Not about that.  Not about mine or theirs, just about you.  An’ hurtin’.  You shouldn’t hurt, Xander.  Not ever.”

When has Spike ever called me by my name?

Xander!  Let me in!

“But you knew,” Xander protested weakly.  “You knew, and I was lying and that was bad and I don’t—I don’t want to be—you knew.”

“I knew,” Spike confirmed, “an’ I never pushed you away.”  How had he known what Xander was trying to say?  Was Xander trying to say that?  He didn’t know, but it sounded so good that he didn’t argue it.  “I knew, an’ I never thought you broken or worthless.  I knew, Xander, an’ I kept you closer.”  Big hands, killer hands, brushed away a stray tear.  “Told you, pet.  You’re mine.  Not about them touchin’ what wasn’t theirs to play with.  Bout you not believin’ I’ll keep you.”

Something deep within the back of his mind flared bright, a glorious cry of happiness sounding even as tears rolled down his face.  “Keep me?”

“Told you, puppy.  Don’t do anythin’ less than forever.”

“Oh.”  The something was there again, he could see it in Spike’s eyes.  But he didn’t know what it was and even as he watched the light faded into a muted pain.  Within his mind the happiness became twisted, tainted.  He was hurting pack-leader.  He didn’t know how, and he didn’t know how to make it better, but he was.  That was bad.

Spike didn’t seem to think so, content to pull Xander closer and hold him until the tears stopped.  “Um, S—Miss Li, she—she said. . . four days?”  Spike made a soft hm noise when spoken to, eyes half-closed in drowsy contentment.  “What happened?  I don’t. . . I can’t remember.  After I heard you.”

Lids flickered up, and for a moment Xander swore he saw—  “You invited me in.”  The words were flat, and this time Xander did see pain and remembered rage flaring in dark blue eyes.  “Got in.  Got you out.  Took you here.”

“F—four days?  Ago?”

“Yeah.  Four days.  Li, she’s. . .she’s a healer.  Of sorts.  When I—when—” he cleared his throat roughly.  “Figured here was best.  No officials askin’ funny questions, no Scoobies clusterin’ about.  An’ better healin’ too.”

“Oh.”  He bit his lip, wishing he could concentrate more.  There was something he wanted to—oh, that was it.  “Is she human?”

Rueful chuckle, but the pain and rage lessened so that was good.  “Don’t know.  Don’t rightly care.  She’s powerful, very powerful, so I’m not about to go askin’ after her parentage.”

“She said she used. . . magic.”

“A bit.  Mostly was just Eastern medicine, ’stead of Western.”  The comforting croon he vaguely remembered was back in Spike’s voice, slurring the words together.  It was nice.  Comfy.  He liked being comfy.  “But yeah, some magic.  That a problem?”

“No.”  He thought about it some more.  Turned his head so that it was pressed deeper into Spike’s neck.  His lips tickled white skin stretched over a collarbone.  “Giles says that magic can’t be used to heal people.”

“Yeah, cos the Watcher knows everything’ ’bout everythin’, he does.”  A sigh and Spike cuddled closer.  Pretty Spike.  “He’s half-right.  Can’t use magic like he knows to heal, um, sickness.  Illness.  But injury, that’s different.  Wounds, specially those done out o’ violence, they leave a signature, an echo, in the magic.  Least, that’s the way Li tells it.  She can use that echo to tell your body the way it should be, whole an’ healthy an’ not hurtin’.  Makes the healin’ faster an’ better an’ you won’t scar as much.”

“That’s good,” he said placidly.  “Is Willow mad at me?”  He wondered why he sounded so dreamy.

“Christ, I know she warned me that you’d act funny, but you sound like you’re bloody stoned!”

Xander turned his head again; that was a weird answer.  “M’not. . . stoned.  Not a druggie.”  He wondered why he sounded so petulant.  And childish.

“No, you’re just flightier’n hell.  Right.  S’been long enough, I think.  C’mon, puppy.  Time to get up.”

“Don’t wanna.”  He pouted outrageously, knowing he was pouting, but surprised when Spike just rolled his eyes.  The pout usually worked.  “Sleepy!  And, it’s pretty.  Don’t wanna leave the pretty.”

“There’s more—pretty where we’re goin’.  Now, don’t fight me, pet.  Gotta get you in there.  Come sunset, we’re leavin’.”

“Leaving?  Leaving where?  I like it here.”  He grinned inanely as Spike swung him—carefully—up into his arms and carried him from the room.  “Bouncy!” he exclaimed, wondering why Spike was giving him that look.  “What?” he pouted again.

“This is not just you regressin’.  You are stoned.  Bollocks.”  Spike shifted him so that he was being carried with only one arm.  Whoa, he thought; Spike wasn’t even straining.  Vampire strength is so cool.  He watched as Spike poured some gloppy green stuff into a big bathtub and then ran water over the top of it.

When the water was steaming invitingly, Spike shifted him and Xander suddenly realized just what was going on.  “Hey, no!” he said and began to struggle.  It hurt, but he didn’t care.  “That’s green!  And slimy!  I’m not going in there!”  But despite his protests he was being lowered into the greenish goo.

“Oh, for bloody—!  It’s not gonna hurt you, pillock.  It’s gonna—just get in the—fuck, chip, I’m not tryin’ to hurt him—bathtub!”  Xander glared up from his position seated in the water before he realized—


He held very, very still while Spike slid behind him.  Why was he struggling again?  He wasn’t sure.  Then Spike’s voice was in his ear and he forgot.  “See?  Song Li has good stuff, yeah?  Gonna get some o’ this for us, in our place.  Take baths together just like this, all warm an’ tingly.”

It was warm and tingly.  Suffusing his body with soothing calm, and—oh!  There were patterns on this ceiling too!  Pretty!

He relaxed back against Spike’s chest, humming a little as strong arms encircled him again.  Legs brushed his, coarse hair scraping together and suddenly Xander realized he was naked.  Had been naked the whole time.  So was Spike, behind him.

The warm chuckle reverberated through him, legs tightening a bit to enclose him further.  Touching?  Touching. . . good?  “Just figured it out, did you?  Don’t worry, pet.  Song Li’s the discreet type.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Why is the water green?”

Muffled laughter bounced off his neck in response.

They stayed in the tub a long time.  It was nice in there, and he was losing some of the ‘flightiness’ Spike didn’t like, the more they stayed there.  Also, Spike was very happy to touch him.  Not in a bad way—his mind shied away from the very thought—but a nice way, petting like he was a puppy—my puppy, you are, boy—all over his body, in a soothing caress that felt very, very nice.

First, though, there had been the shame.

How could Spike want to look at him?  He was dirty.  Broken.  Ugly.  Worse, the heat, the incredibly sensuality of Spike’s gaze made him think. . . bad things.  Bad things about heaviness and sticky moisture and—

But Spike had slithered around so that he could face Xander, staring into his eyes, whispering things that Xander couldn’t believe.  Except Spike kept saying them, and there was no hint of mockery or bullshit or anything but utter sincerity in the eyes that wouldn’t let go of his.  There was just concern and honesty and something that blinded Xander even as it reassured him.  Something that he should recognize but he didn’t, and it made him so frustrated. . .

And then Spike was touching him, differently than he had been before, because this wasn’t just comfort—at least, not Xander’s comfort.  Sliding over skin that should have been red and raw.  Running over bones that should have been shattered.  Gliding over blood that should have filled the bathtub instead of his skin.  Spike just touched, tracing imagined patterns, rubbing soap into skin that was oily from sleep and sweat, rinsing it clean with fresh water.

He wanted to stop it.  He was ashamed, a disjointed litany of bad and ugly and broken circling in the back of his mind.  But the touch on his skin was gentle, almost reverential, and the look in Spike’s eyes when Xander dared meet them was blinding, and so happy.

He didn’t know why.  He couldn’t possibly fathom what was so great about touching his skin.  Even skin that was much more smooth and unbroken than it should have been.

He stopped thinking, eventually.  It was hard to think and easy to trust Spike.  So he just let go, relaxing back where Spike directed and allowed the vampire unrestricted access.  It felt good, what Spike was doing.  So good.  Those big, dangerous hands were so tender as they rubbed and massaged and eased.  He drifted under the caress, only noticing one little detail in the back of his mind. . .

“Hey, pet, no sleepin’.  C’mon, wakey, wakey.  Li wants t’see you, an’ we can’t be in here that long.  C’mon, puppy, wake up. . .”

Xander blinked to find Spike hovering over him, anxiously petting him.  “Don’t pet the puppy if you want him to stay awake,” he mumbled, still more than two thirds asleep.  “Hey.  Um.  We’re still in the bathtub.”

“Yeah.  She said that if I added more, it’d stay warmer longer.  It’s good for you, yeah, but too long an’ we turn into prunes.”  Spike waggled five very pruney fingers, showing off a subdued version of his usual smirk.  “Come on, then.  Time to get you out, yeah?”

Xander agreed.  He was feeling very nice, without the heavy lassitude in his limbs that meant too much sleep.  Still a bit silly and. . . fragile, though.  Part of him was rational enough to want it to go away, but not strong enough to do it. 

“Oh, pretty,” he said when Spike dried him off and dressed him in a silky green kimono.  There were pictures picked out in white, but he couldn’t focus on them long enough to make out what they were.  “Spike?  My head hurts.”

“I know, puppy.  Gonna go see Li, now, let her make it better.  Up we go.”

He likes carrying me, Xander thought with a mental giggle as he was once again swung up into Spike’s arms like a girl.  He wondered vaguely if he should be offended by that, but it was nice to rest his head on the muscled shoulder and listen to a heart not beat.

“Xander.  William.”  They were in a kitchen, now, Song Li working with green plants by the sink.  She gave them a brief smile as Spike settled them both onto the mats beside a low table.  “How are you feeling?”

“Good.  Kinda really good.”  He giggled, and this time he heard how drugged he sounded.  There was a flicker in her dark eyes, but she said nothing.  Another bowl and glass appeared and this time his stomach cheered at the sight.  He was hungry.

“Can you manage this on your own?  Or do you want William to help you.”  He could do it.  All he needed was to get the bowl in his hands and then he could tip it down his throat, no problem.  He was starving and the broth from before had been really good.  He stretched out his hands for the bowl, uncaring of the snort of amusement from Spike.  He held it to his mouth—and then realized he was being glared at.  Fine.  He sipped delicately, obscurely happy when Spike relaxed.

He finished the bowl quickly, watching with interest as Song Li began crushing various herbs with a mortar and pestle.  “Hey!  I know you!  You run the magic shop that Willow really likes, but she can never seem to get in it, but I never have that problem so she asks me a lot to go and get the things she needs, which is odd but kinda cool because it’s helping and I like to help, and you always smile at me when I come which is nice because you’re kinda scary sometimes and I don’t think you’re human and neither does Spike and did I say this already, I can’t remember?”

He inhaled a short breath to keep going, whoofing when Spike wrapped an arm around his waist and clapped a hand over his mouth.  “Mum?  Did you give him speed?” he asked very, very calmly.

The dry chuckle killed any desire to continue babbling.  He sucked his lips together, biting them, to let Spike know that it was okay to let him go.  The hand was removed but the arm remained.  Nice arm.  Good arm.  Ohh, nice hands stroking his belly.  It made him feel shivery—and why was Spike looking at him like that?

“Did you give him a lot of speed?  Maybe a bit of amphetamines on the side?”

“He will calm.  One of the side-effects of several of the medicines in him augments the regression.”  Regression?  What does that mean?  “He will sleep deeply when he—” she paused, obviously searching for a word.

“When he crashes like a hundred ton rock?  Yeah, I get it.  You wanna look him over again?  Sun’s nearly down, an’ I wanna get him over to the new place.”

“New place?” Xander turned to ask Spike, wobbling when his lower half didn’t turn as well.  “Ow.”

“Oi, don’t do that,” Spike scolded.  Gathering up his twisted body, Spike plunked him down in the vampire’s lap.  Hm.  It was nice, there.  “Now, let her look at you, okay?”

Touch?  Touch. . . bad.  “Don’t wanna.”  The sullen tone was back, and he shrank against Spike.  He’d been good and let her look at him before and he didn’t want her touching him now.  Only pack-leader could touch him, because pack-leader didn’t care that he was bad and broken and dirty and ugly and—

“. . .due to the nature of his healing.  It will pass.  However, the emotions are already there, William.  He is simply switching between them faster.”

“Yeah, I get that, but—listen, here he goes.”

Why were they looking at him like that?  He curled his arms tighter around himself, rocking a little and—he was talking?  Was that what they were listening to?  Cause Spike had his head cocked just a little like he did when he was concentrating on something.  He listened and heard someone with his voice saying, “Bad, dirty, broken, bad, ugly, stupid, bad, broken, bad. . .” over and over again.  Why was someone doing that?

“Dunno what sets him off, but he’s done it at least once a day,” Spike said, even as he began petting Xander.  “Sh, puppy, no more now.  Quiet, please, luv?  Be quiet now?”

The words died off, but the rocking stayed.  Spike tightened his arms, holding Xander forcefully to his chest.  Trapped, Xander started to struggle.  His mind flashed, and the pleasant little room dissolved into cold and grey and Again, Tony

“Let go.  Let go—don’t touch!”

“No, luv, no, it’s okay it—”

Little asshole.  Why the hell your mom wanted t’keep you. .  He was vaguely aware that the litany had started up again, but all he heard was such a bad boy, Alexander. 

“Fuck, I didn’t want to do this and damn you, mum, for bein’ right, but—Xander!  That’s enough!”

The harsh, authoritative voice shut Xander up.  He trembled, wanting to crawl away from the bad sound, but knowing instinctively that pack-leader would not be happy if he did.  So he sat there, trembling, waiting.

“Look at me, Xander.”  He didn’t think he’d ever seen Spike look so forbidding.  “I’m your pack-leader, right?”  Nod.  “So that means when I tell you to do somethin’, you do it, right?”  Another nod.  “Now, it also means that if I trust someone, you do too, yeah?”  Pause, half-glance towards the patient, silent woman, before he looked back and nodded.  “Right, then.  I trust Song Li.  She isn’t gonna hurt you.  So if she asks you to do somethin’, s’like me askin’ you to do it.  Okay?”

Xander nodded again, too afraid to speak.

“Good, that’s good, luv.  Now, you’re gonna sit here an’ let Song Li look you over again, okay?  I’ll stay with you the whole time.  Just relax now.”

Xander slumped back against pack-leader, trying not to move as Song Li again approached him and began to look him over.  She made clucking sounds when she examined his leg, and rubbed a cream over his entire body, even his face.  Spike crooned and whispered to him the whole time, petting him.  Xander let himself relax into pack-leader’s touch, but he refused to meet his eyes, the few times Spike tried.  Not because he was ashamed, although he was—he was being bad, and pack-leader had every right to scold him.  He avoided Spike’s gaze, though, because it hurt.

Dark blue eyes were silently screaming out in torment Xander couldn’t identify, couldn’t understand.  All he knew was that every order made the pain worse.  So much worse.

I’m bad, he thought, quietly in his own head so that pack-leader wouldn’t hear.  Bad pack, to hurt pack-leader.  He saved me. . . and all I’m doing is hurting him.

“There,” Song Li said eventually.  “Remember my instructions, William,” she admonished.  “Follow them, and be gentle with him.  He will look healed long before he is healed, and the pain will linger longer still.”

“How long we talkin’, here?”  Spike helped him to his feet, redressing him in the long kimono.  The silk felt nice.  “Pain-wise, I mean.  Don’t like him hurtin’.”

“A few weeks at most before he feels perfectly normal again.  Follow my instructions and all will be well.  He will sleep often, especially two hours after an application of the salve in the blue jar.  That forces the body to heal faster and must work much harder.  It will exhaust him.  Use it sparingly, and only upon signs of trouble.”

“Yes, mum.”

“Bring him back in five days, and if there are any problems—”

“I know, mum.”  Xander didn’t think he’d ever seen that amused, respectful exasperation on Spike’s face before.  He wasn’t even sure Spike could do that kind of look, previously only seen on Willow or Giles.  “Ask you, immediately.  Don’t worry, I will.”  He snorted, and the amusement got stronger.  “Good thing you like us both, eh?”

Song Li bowed, tactfully not answering.

While Spike was obviously debating on helping him walk or just carrying him outright, Xander studied Song Li.  The stuff she’d rubbed in him was making him feel. . . clearer.  The silly fuzziness was starting to fade.

He remembered when he’d come to her store for the first time, clutching a list of what Willow wanted.  She’d complained over and over that she never had time to shop herself, so Xander, ever the knight-errant, had volunteered.  His trip was uneventful and unimpeded, something Willow said was impossible for this store.  She always seemed to remember something she had to do, right then, and the magic items were never bought.  She’d cursed herself for a forgetful mind and Xander had wondered, even then, why she didn’t see there was something wrong.

He’d been nervous, right up until he made it through the doorway.  Then he relaxed  completely.  Even when meeting the proprietor—who had terrified him and even now pretty much scared the crap out of him—he’d remained. . . calm.

Just like he was now.  And really, even though he knew he was being crazy and childish and not mentally healthy. . . it was never as bad as it could have been.  He could see that very clearly.

“It’s in the air, isn’t it?” he asked abruptly.  He felt Spike turn to look at him, but kept his eyes on Song Li.  The tiny, fragile little woman who had healed him.  Who had accepted Spike as a friend.

“No,” she answered quietly.  “It’s in the heart.”

“Say your goodbyes,” Spike directed, watching with a father’s patience while Xander awkwardly tried to bow from his seated position.  Song Li waved him off, as well as his stuttering inquiries about compensation.

“Be well, Xander,” she said in parting.  Spike swung him up a third time.  He let his head rest on the vampire’s shoulder, part of him marveling at how easily the slightly smaller man handled his greater weight and bulk.  “And William, do not forget what I told you.”

“I won’t,” Spike answered evenly.  Then he nodded and headed down the stairs.

Outside, the sun had just barely set, lingering rays brightening the early-evening gloom.  A snapping, playful breeze tugged at the kimono he wore, flipping the edges about.  It felt weird, but good.  “Do you have my car?”  Uncle Rory’s latest DUI had resulted in the classic Bel Air residing with Xander.

“Yeah.”  Spike stopped abruptly, looking at Xander directly for the first time since Xander ate.  “You know I’m not takin’ you back to the basement.  Right?”

“No?”  He thought he maybe should be upset with that, but it was pack-leader.  If pack-leader said they weren’t going home, pack didn’t really have a chance to argue.  Right?  “Why not?  I have to go home.  It’s where the bed is,” he ended logically.

“S’not a bed, it’s medieval torture device,” Spike snapped back, leaning against a brick wall.  Still easily holding Xander like he was a swooning woman.  Thank god no one was around.  “We aren’t goin’ back there, Xander.”

“But it’s home.”

“No.”  Xander blinked, hearing patience where he expected frustration.  He was counting on that frustration, dammit, it was useful in convincing Spike that you were right and he was wrong.  He had to go home, the human in him was adamant about that. 

“Xander, it’s not home.  It’s hell an’ it’s torture an’ I am not lettin’ you go back there.  Not ever again.”  Eyes glittered in the growing darkness, oddly bright.  “That ain’t home.  But where I’m taking you might be.”

Xander wanted to argue.  He had nineteen years of training convincing him that he should go back, now that he was better.  He always did.  That’s what he was supposed to do, because. . . because it’d be different.  Wouldn’t it?  For a while, it used to be.  But then Daddy would find something wrong, and Mommy would look at me. . .

He shook his head, ridding himself of memories he couldn’t face.  Not now.  “I have to,” he whispered, little again and confused.  Because that was home. . . except pack-leader said it wasn’t.  He said it was a bad place.  And he hurt there.

“Hey.”  Spike bumped him with his chin gently.  “You’re my pack, yeah?  Means I take care o’ you.  I pick the lair.  Right?”

“Yes.”  Pack leader protects pack by finding a defensible lair.  The basement wasn’t defensible, even the little boy who was still repeating over and over again knew that.

“Right, then.  We’re goin’ to our home now, Xander.  Okay?  Tell me it’s okay, puppy.”

“Yes.  It—it’s okay.  Spike?”

“Yeah, luv?”  Spike walked up to the car, somehow supporting Xander one-handed long enough to unlock the door.  Xander didn’t think about cars and other homes, not right then.  It smelled so good where he was, face pressed up against Spike’s neck.  Except—oh.  Being put down.  In the seat.  Belted, the door slammed shut.

He had an instant of pure, absolute terror—before Spike opened the other door and slid inside.  “What is it, puppy?”

“I’m sorry,” said one last time.  Because he was sorry.  Something was making Spike upset, and pack-leader shouldn’t be upset, ever.  It was the pack’s job to make it better, not worse.  “I’m so—”

“Sh.  Don’t be sorry.  Nothin’ you need to apologize for, white-hat.”  Spike put the car in motion, his right hand dropping down to take hold of Xander’s.  “Now, you need to be calm when we get there.  You’ll wanna sleep soon, I’m guessin’, so I don’t want you riled up.  Will you do that?”

He made some kind of sleepy noise of agreement, enjoying the vibrations from the car like he did when he was a little kid and he’d been stuck on top of the dryer so he’d sleep through the night.  It was nice here, with pack-leader.  Going home.

Not going home.  Going to a new home.

Rational thought was returning slowly.  He had no belief that it would last, but at the moment he was calm and in control of himself again.  He knew who he was, what he was—and that there was no way in hell they could be getting a new place.

“Spike?” he said eventually.

“Back again, are we?  Probably wonderin’ what’s going on, too.”

“I really hate it when you patronize me,” Xander muttered, listening to the various voices in his head howl at his insolence.  Except. . . “I am back, so why don’t you explain what’s going on?”

“Not takin’ you back there.  Not fuckin’ lettin’ you near those arsewipes ever again.”  The tightly controlled fury convinced Xander that now would not be a good time to argue.

“Okay.  Except they’re usually very well behaved—afterwards.”  And way to go Xander’s mouth!  That’s gonna help with our next step, of convincing Spike that this was a one-time-deal.  The snarl of rage certainly wasn’t a good sign.

“Yeah, they might be.”  Spike was obviously trying not to break Xander’s hand or rip the steering wheel off.  He took a deep breath and lowered his voice.  “But I doubt they’ve ever gone that far, before.  An’ you’ve never been a ‘fag’ before.  So, no, Xander, we are not goin’ back there.”

“I—”  The sound came out, but there was really nothing to say.  They hadn’t ever been that bad before, not really.  All of the individual acts had been done, true, but never all at once and never with ferocious look of pleasure and. . . pretty little boy. . .

“Luv, look at me.”  Spike pulled the car over to the side and threw the break.  “Xander, we can’t go back there.  What if they were t’do somethin’ else?  I—I can’t.”  Forced, deep breath.  “I can’t protect you, Xander.  I was lucky, damned lucky that your da took off an’ your mum was too shocked to try an’ stop me.  If they try somethin’ again. . .”

Xander swallowed, imagination painting a vivid picture.  Spike was utterly defenseless against this kind of thing.  The only weapon he had left was his ability to fast-talk, and chances were his parents wouldn’t respond to that kind of thing.  Not if they were drunk enough.  And they would be.  If they found them living together in the basement, proving that Spike was his boyfriend. . .  He trembled violently, but he refused to let go of his mind again.  He had to stay focused.

“I know,” he whispered, “I get it.  I do.  But Spike, I can’t just—pick up everything and leave!  I’ve got things there, I’ve got—oh, my god, Willow!”

“Hey, hey, calm down.  Xander!”  The belt was unbuckled and Spike was twisting so that he had a lap for Xander to sit in.  “Easy now, easy.  C’mon, breathe, pet.  No, hyperventilating is bad, luv.  Breathe.  That’s right, in an’ out, there you go.  Calm down, precious.”

“Four days, Spike.”  Spike was running his hand up and down Xander back to the cadence of the breathing pattern he obviously desired.  Xander found himself matching it unconsciously.  “It’s been four days!  Willow must be going crazy!”

“No, she’s not.  Told you, pet, Song Li’s good at what she does.  She magicked it so that she sounded like you.  Told the Scoobies you were sick as a dog.  They’ve got some problems with the Initiative goin’, so they’ve been busy enough to let it pass.  For now.”

Xander could only imagine with Buffy or Willow must have said to engender that tone of voice.

“The Watcher, puppy.  Threatenin’ me with imminent stakin’ if I was hurtin’ you, he was.  Said they were all comin’ over this weekend, no matter what.  I dunno what the hell he was doin’ warnin’ me, but. . . what is it?”

“Giles?  Giles did that?”  It wasn’t that he didn’t believe they were his friends.  It was just . . . hard to remember, sometimes.  They all had this thing going, and Xander was just comic-relief donut-boy.  No special powers to keep him part of the Super Friends team, not even military background.  Just normal, Zeppo boy. 

It was nice to be reminded that they did care for him.

Spike snorted, but the look in his eyes said that he understood.  And didn’t mind.  Which was weird. 

“Yeah, he did.  This was after, mind, both girls took turns badgerin’ me to make sure I wasn’t lyin’—which I was—and demandin’ to hear you.  If it hadn’t been for Li mimickin’ your voice, they wouldn’t have bought it.”

“So, they’re coming to see me?”

“In two days time, at which point we should have our new place all tip-top for a decent house warmin’.  An’ you won’t look half dead.”

“I look that bad?”  Xander blinked, caught off guard by the blinding happiness that had shone from Spike whenever their new place was mentioned.  Like he was so pleased that he could do this—for Xander.  He wants me to be happy, he realized slowly.  He wants me to like this place.

“You look like crap,” Spike was saying.  “Now, back you go.  We’ll be home soon enough.”

Xander slid across the slick leather seat, leaning against the door for the rest of the trip.  It wasn’t long—Sunnydale was too small for it to be that long—and it was in the decidedly wealthier neighborhood that Spike turned into.  In fact, this wasn’t all that far from where Giles lived, and his condo complex was a definite step up from most in the city.

All that Watcher money, Xander thought.  It was getting harder to think again, although he wasn’t as loopy as before.  Just tired.  Wonder what he’s doing now that he doesn’t have anything.  No money from the council.  No money from the school—although I doubt that was enough by itself.  Hope he doesn’t get—yawn—evicted.

“Here we are.”

It was a warehouse.

Xander dissolved into snorting giggles, made worse by the look of effrontery on Spike’s face.  “Sorry,” he gasped, “but what is it with vamps and warehouses?”

“You stoned again?”  But he could tell Spike was teasing.  “Just you wait, boy.  You’ll be chokin’ on that laughter.”  Which only produced more laughter—and Spike was expecting it, watching with fond amusement.

That sobered Xander, just a little.  Spike was being. . . Spike was being different.  Even for Spike, it was different.  Nicer?  Maybe, except Spike had always been nice to him when they were in private.  It was something else. . .

He continued chuckling as Spike swept him up—again!—and carried him to the front door.  It wasn’t a big warehouse, only three stories and probably no larger than a decent-sized house.  “There’s a garage round the back, but I wanted to give you the grand tour.  I’ll move the car ’round later.”

“Hey, Spike?”  The front door opened to reveal—a lobby.  A large closet on one side, two metal doors directly in front and a second wooden door that revealed a short stair case.  “How can we afford this?  Warehouses aren’t cheap.  Even abandoned ones.”

“Not abandoned.  Bought this outright.  An’ don’t worry about money for a bit, yeah?  You’ll still need to work, but I got more’n enough stashed away to keep us comfortable if you hit a tight spot.”

Xander had no idea what to make of that but decided to just let it go.  He was too tired to fight about it, and Spike was literally vibrating with excitement.

“Go through those metal doors,” Spike was saying as they went through the wooden one, “an’ you’ve got the laundry room.  Figured it’d best be close, given how often we come home covered in muck.  Beyond that is—somethin’ I’ll show you once you’re feelin’ up to it.”

Whatever that meant.

They went up the stairs, around a corner and there—

“Oh, my god.”

The old barcalounger was in the corner, but that was probably the only thing there that came from the basement.  Dominating the main room was, of course, an entertainment center.  Xander had expected that—Spike lived by overloading his senses, whichever one he happened to be abusing at the moment.  So the decent sized tv, vcr, dvd, cd-player, receiver and the speakers scattered throughout the room were not a shock.

Everything else was.

The carpet was grey.  The walls and the high ceiling were a nice matte blue.  The sofa was black leather, but it worked, sprawling its way in a loose arc.  There was art on the walls; he had no idea who the artist was, but the prints contained rich, deep colors in unrecognizable shapes.  They were pretty, whatever they were.  A glass table in front of the sofa, two smaller matching tables on either side.  The barcalounger had a wooden one.

Spike carried him around, showing off what was obviously going to be where they spent the bulk of their time.  Xander noticed a play station and started drooling.  Behind the sofa the carpet abruptly cut out, leaving hard wood floors to support a small table.  The dark wood and the matching silver-and-grey patterned cushions on the chairs meshed well with the rest of the room.  Soft light from various fixtures gave the room a nice, cozy feel, while the high ceilings kept it from being claustrophobic.  There were no windows.

Past the table, they entered a decently large kitchen.  Refrigerator, stove, an island counter, pots and pans hanging above it. . . Xander honestly had no way of knowing if it was good or not.  Spike cooked on occasion, but he mostly burned popcorn.  So he was just going to trust in Spike that it was as nice as the rest of the place seemed.

Which is such an odd statement—even after the past month—that I’m going to ignore it.  Hey, I’m getting good at that.

Back into the main room and towards the far wall.  There were two doors and another small stairwell.  Up that, and they were presented with three more doors.

“This, is my place,” Spike said proudly, going through the first.  It was two rooms, although Xander couldn’t see what was in the second.  The outer room, however, was lined with floor-to ceiling bookcases—already filled—another tv and a small stereo system.  “That room,” Spike gestured with his chin, “is gonna be the smoke room.  Cause I am bloody well not givin’ up smokin’.  I’ll just do it away from you.”  He smirked proudly, to which Xander gave him an appreciative smile.  He knew how much quitting irked the vampire, but he hated the smell of cigarette smoke.  When he wasn’t smelling Spike, anyway.

“The walls up here are soundproof,” Spike continued.  Xander was very happy about that.  While there were a great many things about them that were similar, there were times when he just couldn’t take punk at ear-shattering decibels.  Spike, he knew, felt the same about his occasional need for country.

The second door contained a bathroom, and the third. . .

“This is yours.  I got most of your stuff up here already,” there were boxes scattered about, “an’ you can sort it how you want it.  You wanna knock the wall down to create one big room, that’s fine.  But I figured you’d like this.”  The inside room seemed unnaturally bright when Spike opened its door, but it took Xander a moment to realize why. 

Windows.  Floor to ceiling, clear glass windows.  Facing south, and over looking the back-end of one of the few parks in Sunnydale.

“Can’t see in.  S’mirrored on the other side, so you can do anythin’.”

Tears burned in his eyes and he had to blink rapidly to get rid of them.  He remembered.  It had been an off-hand comment, made on an idle Saturday a few weeks before.  About how Xander missed being able to just lay out in the sun, like he used to.  How he was either too busy, or unwilling to leave the vampire just so he could go soak up the warmth.

“Keep the wall,” Xander whispered around the lump in his throat.  “So you can sit outside it.”  He put his head back on Spike’s shoulder, pressing his tears into the cotton t-shirt.

Spike made an odd sound, like he was choking and clearing his throat at the same time.  “If you like,” he said eventually.  “But this is your room, precious.  Your decision.”

They stood there for a bit, just looking out over the trimmed grass.  In the summer, soccer and baseball games were held there, with the occasional sun-bather.  There were no paths, so the dog-walkers and the joggers avoided it.  Most Hellmouthy mischief tended to take place in cemeteries so there was no danger of it being used against them.  Just a nice view with maximum sun exposure.

“Pretty,” he whispered eventually.  He was so tired, hanging there in Spike’s grasp.  It was comfortable, yes, but he was starting to hurt more and he really just wanted to go to sleep.  “Spike?”

“Yeah, puppy?”

“Where am I gonna sleep?”  When Spike gave him a baffled look, he pointed to the full boxes—and otherwise empty floor.  “There’s no bed.”  He was not going to say how much he hated the idea of separate rooms.  Because he didn’t.  He just wanted to go to sleep and he could deal with everything else in the morning.  He wasn’t upset, not at all.

“There’s no—oh, bloody hell.  You’re a moron, you know that?”  Still grumbling, Spike took them back downstairs.  “You honestly expected to sleep up there?” he asked, still totally outraged by Xander’s question, kicking open one of the two doors they hadn’t been through.  “Why, when you can sleep down here?”

Big bed.  Big, big bed.

It was a four-poster—although Xander had never seen a king-sized four-poster—with thick black velvet curtains surrounding it.  Spike pushed the curtains back, gently placing Xander on the wine-dark comforter.  Black carpet accented the red-toned wood of the night-stands and the dresser.  Yet another television was attached to the wall above the walk-in closet, facing the bed.  A lone window was carved out near the closet, and Xander understood the purpose of the curtains, now.

“This,” Spike said gently, “is the bedroom.  Now, you oughta be just this side of completely knackered, so lets get you in bed, yeah?”  He helped Xander slip off the kimono and get under the covers.  The sheets were soft cotton, cool and smooth against his skin.  “Be right back.”

Spike, don’t leave.  Xander clutched the covers looking around wide-eyed at what was now his room.  Not his room.  Their room—right?  It was their room. . . because Spike wasn’t going to sleep upstairs and leave him alone in this great big bed all by himself and—

“Xander, you don’t have to flip out every time I go.”  Spike sounded thoroughly exasperated and Xander tried to hide a wince in response.  Kicking off his shoes, Spike sat on the bed and handed over a cup.  “Just gettin’ your bloody medicine, all right?  Drink that down.  All of it.”

He obeyed, one eye on Spike as the shirt, jeans, and socks came off as well.  That was good, because it meant Spike was going to be sleeping with him that night.  Except the naked thing was. . . not comfortable.

“Um, Spike, I—”

“Hang on.”  Silk boxers were removed from the top drawer of the dresser, Spike sliding them on before rejoining Xander on the bed.  “What now?”

Xander shook his head, burrowing under the covers until he could only see a little over the top.  Spike snorted.  “Look like a child like that, luv.  Now come on, let me in.  S’cold out here.”

“Here?”  Xander tried to move over a little, but his body reacted rather negatively.  He whimpered, but then cool arms were gathering him up, pulling him closer so that he could latch onto the rest of the body.  Burying his face in Spike’s neck, he inhaled deeply.  Home, he thought sleepily.

“Sh, love.  Go to sleep, now.”

“Spike, this is expensive,” he mumbled into cool, soft skin that tasted like rain and thunderstorms.

“Nah, not when you got as many people who owe you favors as I do.  Close your eyes, puppy.  Time to sleep.  We’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Okay.”  Spike began petting him again and Xander hummed his appreciation.  “Upstairs. . .”  He couldn’t say more, sleep and nervousness robbing him of the words he needed.

“Just a place for space,” Spike whispered, always knowing what Xander meant even if Xander couldn’t say it.  “Just a place where us hot-heads can take a break an’ not bother the other one.  That’s all.  This is our bedroom, Xander.  Ours.”  Gentle pressure on his head.  He hummed again, wishing he could purr like Spike did.  This bed was nice.  This whole place was nice.

If he weren’t so sleepy, he’d be nervous.

“Go to sleep, luv.  Just go to sleep. . .”  There was something in the words, that made Xander wake up, just a little, even though Spike was dropping off.  “I. . .”

The feeling that he was missing something very important grew.

* Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament

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