Hunt-Brother


by
Lady Cat



Part Thirteen

Soft, gentle licks from a warm mouth.  He knew that mouth, remembered teaching that rough-slick tongue to trace the outline of his abs, dipping into the creases where he was just slightly ticklish.  He stifled a groan as that sweet, wet mouth traveled down past his navel to suck on the juncture between hip and thigh.  Stretching luxuriously against soft sheets, cradled by firm support instead of the broken down—

“No!”  Spike bolted upright, shoving himself out from under that delicious mouth.  “No,” he said again, forcing his voice level while he tried to will his erection away.  Damn me for trainin’ him so bloody well!  Swallowing, he regained control and concentrated on the hunched, shivering form at his feet.  He could practically hear the tumbling thoughts underneath the tousled curls: I’m sorry, I’ll be good, let me be good, don’t be mad, please don’t be mad at me, let me be good, want to be good, don’t be mad, don’t be mad. . .

Cursing himself, Spike gathered the boy into his lap and held him close.  “Shh, precious,” he whispered, kissing the stubbled jaw, “not mad at you.  You did good, luv, you were a good boy.”  More kisses, leaning up to press against lips bitten raw.  Licking the bruised flesh, he tried to put as much affection as he could in the touches.  “Not you, luv, never you.  My good boy, yeah?  My good boy.”

Xander relaxed slowly, obviously mistrusting the constant reassurance.  Spike continued to whisper and touch, kiss and caress, until taut muscles loosened and warm flesh melted into cool skin.

“That’s it,” he crooned, rocking them slightly as he cocooned them in blankets.  Burning hot to his own dead flesh, the goose-bumps he could feel appearing everywhere on Xander’s skin told a different story.  “See, luv?  It’s safe here.  We’re home, puppy.  This is home.  Jus’ you an’ me now.  Safe here, luv.  I promise.”

Wide, liquid-dark eyes stared up at him, unblinking and unreadable.

Bugger.

Mouth tight and eyes hard, he pulled Xander back against him so the boy wouldn’t see his reaction.  It wasn’t like it was permanent.  He’s just scared, that’s all.  Wakin’ up someplace new an’ different, not really rememberin’ too well. . .   That’s all it is.  Right?  Cause. . . he can’t be that broken.  He can’t.  He’ll get better; I’ll bloody well make him get better!  It’ll be fine.  It will.

Those sable, gold-flecked eyes were heartbreakingly familiar.  Innocent.  Artless.  The direct stare of a child who doesn’t know how to deceive for protection.  Only knowing hurting and not hurting.

Dru’s eyes.

Spike took a deep breath, expanding dead lungs and wishing he could still feel the constriction, the pressure so close to pain.  Opening his eyes, he forced himself to smile gently, to look as calm and compassionate as he could.  Right now, he knew Xander wouldn’t be able to sense anything but what Spike wanted him to, but that didn’t stop the need to make it as real as possible.

It was the way he had cared for Drusilla.

“Okay, luv?  You okay now?”  A slow, careful nod, teeth catching a lower lip and biting down until the skin turned white.  “Yeah, you are, precious.  You’re fine.”  Another kiss—he had to make the boy stop biting his lips, didn’t he?—and then Spike finally began to relax.  “Hungry then?  I could make some, um, eggs for you?”

A shake, although this time he got a slight whole-body shift with it—which put Xander’s cheek right on his shoulder.  Spike brushed back sooty curls, unable to look away from the depths of his boy’s eyes.

“What’s wrong with eggs?” Spike teased gently, hoping to draw the man out from the child.  “I know you like my omelets, an’ I can whip one right up.  Dead easy to make, eggs, and hey—easily digestible, too!”  That earned him a slight grin—more like a quirk or a twitch of full lips—but he’d call it a smile and take it.  Even if it meant he had to channel Willow.  “Eggs?  No peppers or onions like you like, but lovely, nummy eggs. . .” he trailed off, laughed a little at himself.  “Listen t’me.  Sound like a right wanker, I do.   C’mon, Xander.  Are you hungry?”

“Little.”  The whispered voice was high and soft, lacking an adult’s depth and control; the voice of a little boy.

What did they do to you, luv?  What was so horrible that you go here, where you’re barely past infancy?  He knew regression—too many years with Dru not to know it—but it was different from what hers had been, and it didn’t fit the profiles he’d read about either.  Yes, in fact, I do read, an’ not just crap.  So Rupert and Red can go sod their big squishy brains somewhere else.  Song Li believed the differences were due to the hyena’s growing influence.  She theorized that Xander’s increased dependency on childishness wasn’t necessarily because of the old childhood fear—but because it was easier for the hyena to control mind and body in that state.

All of which Spike could agree with. . . but he’s a child.  A baby practically, can hear it the way he forms his words.  Sometimes won’t even speak at all, jus’ whines an’ babbles the way only real little ones will.  An’ the hyena may be manipulatin’ this, but it isn’t causin’ it.  What the hell did they do to a kid of maybe two, three years that here is the only time he feels safe?

This time when his lips touched Xander’s there was minuscule movement.  Not really a response per se, but certainly better than anything else.  An’ what does that say about me, that the only time we’ve kissed—despite being lovers for the past month an’ change—is when he’s too zonked to know it?

“A little?  Well, how about we get you up and dressed, yeah?  Gotta get your medicines.  Mebbe by then you’ll be hungry?”

Maybe by then you’ll remember that you’re nineteen years old an’ it’s safe here.

Tiny nod and Xander tucked his chin under just a bit, hunching his shoulders in a little boy’s classic posture of uncomfortable shyness.  Spike brushed his fingers against the lowered chin, tracing over lips and across a cheek that had nearly a week’s worth of stubble covering it.  A few more days and it’d be an outright beard.  “You are so good, luv,” he whispered.  “Such a good boy.  My good boy.”

“Yours.”

A flash of intelligence and understanding and Spike wondered just how much of this was regression and how much was the mojo in his boy’s head.  Lifting Xander required no effort whatsoever and Spike made a mental note to start cooking more.  Sod his image; five days on gruel and thin soup shouldn’t have made the boy feel this light.

Xander blinked in surprise when they entered the bathroom—the only room he hadn’t seen.  “Biiig,” he whispered, curling a little closer in Spike’s arms.

“When you have the nose I have,” Spike admonished, “then you’ll understand why keepin’ clean’s so important.”  Xander giggled a little, cutting off abruptly when the sound echoed.  “Hey.”  Setting him down on the rim of the tub that dominated the entire left half of the room, Spike crouched in front of him.  “Don’t hide that, precious.  Like you laughin’, I do.”

Innocent eyes stared back, round and solemn.

Sighing, Spike began gathering the medicines he would need.  He wanted to go downstairs for this, but right now the high-powered jets would probably frighten his boy all the more.  That, an’ he don’t need his blood-pressure screwed about with, he mused as he turned on the spigots above the tub.  Besides, we go down there an’ he’ll try to seduce me again.

Not that he was averse to having sex.  Ignoring the fact that it had been five days of celibacy after an extremely active month with his boy, it was also a good way to release some tension—something they both needed.  That, and he’d really liked the boy’s habit of waking him with a blowjob or a quick ride.

No, it wasn’t the sex that was the problem.  It was why Xander would seduce him.

Not cause he’s horny and wants to have a bit of fun.  Not cause he knows I’m horny an’ thinks it’s a good idea.  No.  That’d be okay and a century of experience don’t hurt when one of us can’t move so well.

The problem was that Xander wasn’t interested in sex—at least, not sharing and allowing both partners to get off, something Spike had been insistent about.  Pavlov’s rule.  I cum, he cums, an’ suddenly makin’ me cum don’t seem that bad a deal, now, does it?  Except now Xander was solely interested in pleasuring Spike, making Spike happy.  There was an almost desperate, slavish quality to his desire, consumed by the belief that his role was to give others pleasure—at the expense of himself.

The soft, limp flesh against his thigh had been a very rude wake-up call.

So, no sex.  Not until they worked out that little quirk, because Spike would not have that in his bed.  Twenty years of Angelus wanting it from him had taught him just how humiliating, painful, and potentially debilitating it could be.  A person’s spirit could be utterly broken that way.

He is not broken, Spike snarled at his own line of reasoning.  Won’t let him be.  I’ll bloody well put him back together if I have to find psychological super-glue t’do it.  A slight gasp behind him made him stiffen and curse himself—gettin’ to be bloody non-stop this is.  Look, boy, I ain’t gonna hurt you!

But Xander didn’t know that.  All Xander knew was that he’d been hurt, badly hurt, and it was easier to run away than have to deal with the pain.  Wish I had some o’ Song Li’s mojo, he thought ruefully as he began to calm his boy with soft words and softer touches.  The loopy, curvy writing worked into the walls and ceilings had done wonders to keep Xander relatively calm and content while his body healed.  Wonders he hadn’t fully appreciated until he didn’t have them anymore.  The only reason Xander was as calm and pliant as he was came from the hyena in his skull—Spike was pack-leader and pack must submit.  Spike had no doubt that other people would not be tolerated.

Don’t know whether to curse the beastie in his head or bless it.

One of Spike’s primary goals was to get his boy used to physical contact again.  Not the hyena that would take anything pack-leader might give; the human boy Xander who cowered and winced at the mere thought of contact, certain that what started out gentle would end in pain.  So Spike was extremely gentle as he washed, shaved, and then held his boy, letting the warm water and Song Li’s potions work in tandem with his words and touches.

It took approximately an hour before he felt the subtle shift as Xander lay cradled against him.  The regression into a tiny, terrified little boy lessened just enough that Xander the man could peek through and start controlling his own actions again.  Not a lot—he could see the struggle and knew Song Li was at least partially correct, if not more—but some.  Enough that Xander actively sought out his touch, still totally platonic, instead of shying away from it.

Relaxing himself now that his boy was, he applied the various medicines and dried and dressed them both before leading Xander to the kitchen.  He’d objected to being carried again, but Spike was fairly certain that had more to do with reasserting maturity, than his distrust of physical contact. 

An’ don’t I sound the bloody psychologist.

“Still want eggs?”  No response, so he set about scrambling two eggs on the stove.  Xander was seated by the small island, his eyes tracking every move Spike made.  Don’t need supernatural skills to feel that, now.  Whether it was the slow return of awareness or the focused gaze, Spike had two large holes sizzling through the skin on his back.

He fixed himself a mug of blood while Xander began eating.  He started off slow, obviously distrustful not only of what he’d been given but why he’d been given it.  How long is it gonna take to get you t’trust me again, boy?  You did a week ago.  Stood up to the ruddy Slayer, you did for me.  Against the closest thing you got to family.  So why do you look at me like I’m gonna take it away an’ punish you for eatin’ till you aren’t hungry no more. . .

Sitting down to read the morning paper, Spike felt his boy’s eyes flicker rapidly between himself and the plate on the table, eating faster now that Spike’s attention was turned elsewhere.  Like it’s gonna disappear—oh, fuck me.  Dammit, I shoulda. . . they starved him.  I shoulda seen that, the way he lived for those bloody candy machines!  Only good food he ever ate was what I made him.  Didn’t cook, didn’t even order takeout that much.  Bloody, buggerin’ hell.

He didn’t think Xander had been intentionally starved; that was a little too cruel, even for those two psychotic wastes of good blood.  Who, unless Spike was mistaken, wouldn’t be bothering Xander for a long time.  No, it hadn’t been intentional, but making food for a growing, hungry boy would have been far more work than Mrs. Psycho Bitch would have been interested in.  She would feed him when she felt like playing Mommy Dearest—and if he made a mess, as children usually did, she’d have her henpecked husband discipline Xander and probably take the food away.  It explained his penchant for wolfing down chips and candy bars—cheap, easy to conceal, high-calorie food.

Right.  Gotta get him used to touch.  Gotta get him used to eatin’ normal.  Gotta get him t’feel comfortable here, so he stops bloody regressing’.  Gotta get. . . fuck, Xander, you are too much damned work!

Not that he wouldn’t do it.  He hadn’t come out and said it, not when Xander was truly awake and aware enough to understand it, but. . . but it’s a promise.  An’ I always keep my promises.

He was nothing if not stubborn.

“Right, then,” he said when Xander finished, taking the plate and quickly washing up.  Bloody nursemaid. . .  “How ’bout we go upstairs, then?  Get your room set up?”  A flash of utter terror and Spike was across the room before he realized he’d moved.  “Hey, hey!  Luv, puppy, I’m gonna be with you!  Well, not in the same room with you, it bein’ day an’ all.  Just thought you might like to make the place yours.”

Get you t’feel safe, t’feel comfortable, and mebbe my Xander’ll come back.  Miss you, boy.  Wanna hear you makin’ jokes ’bout the stereos, tellin’ me what a right arse I’m bein’, houndin’ me about what I’m havin’ done to your parents.  Not starin’ at me like I’m gonna leave you.

A half-memory of Song Li’s voice floated through his mind, roughly shot down with a snarl.  I will not control him like he was a fucking animal!  Don’t care what the fuck the hyena wants.  I’ll force him if I have to, but dammit . . .!

Too many years with Dru, too much time spent under Angelus’ thumb.

Concentrating on the rest of what she’d told him, Spike focused deep within himself.  She’d said it would probably feel. . . brown.  Rich and warm, like the color of Xander’s eyes, effervescent and sparkling among the blackness of his demon—

There.  A shimmering, twisting knot of fire that meant mine.  Following the thread it provided, Spike concentrated on making his boy feel the bond that was already between them.  He was Pack-Leader.  Xander was Pack.  So long as Pack-Leader accepted Pack, the bond would be there.  A kind of metaphysical leash, Song Li had called it, able to be used for communication and comfort, as well as tracking and a bit of controlling.

“My pack, luv.  You’re my pack.  Never leave you, pet.”  He forced nervous, innocent eyes to meet his.  “Never leavin’.  You get hurt, or scared, or alone, you tell me.  Like this.”  A wordless burst of emotion—not love, not tellin’ him I love him again, s’just, um, affection—traveled from Spike to Xander.  “See?” he asked kindly while large eyes widened and blinked in amazement.  “Now, you do the same.”

It took some coaching, but fortunately Song Li had given him that over the last few days.  Not that he’d been available all that often; if he wasn’t with his boy, he’d had a million and one things to do, getting the house ready and making sure that his boy would be safe when they finally left.

Nothin’ hurts what’s mine.  Nothing.

A tentative touch of uneasy astonishment made him grin and pay attention again.  Never thought takin’ care of Dru for soddin’ decades would come in handy again.  Damn them.  “That’s my good boy!” he crowed, leaning in for a short kiss.  “Can you do that again?  Yeah?  Good.  Now, listen, pet, this is the important part.  You use that, okay?  After I get you set up, I’m just gonna be down in the basement, but you need me, you use that.  I’ll be there in a flash, luv, promise.  An’ you know I keep my promises.”

Slow nod, a hint of wonder still edging big eyes.  Spike hadn’t stopped sending emotions to his boy, designed to keep him aware of the fact that he could trust Spike, that Spike wasn’t going to leave him, and that Spike would always protect him.  It wasn’t much, but. . .

But I have t’get him t’calm down an’ relax.  Gotta.  Do that an’ hopefully he’ll. . . wake up.

Spike got him set up in the third-floor room, explaining—again—that Xander could do anything he wanted here.  If he wanted to bring things downstairs, he could make a pile and they’d do that later, otherwise, there were tools in the corner for almost anything he might need.  “You wanna tear down the wall, lemme know and we’ll do that tonight.”  Noonday sun lay bright and golden on a patch of carpet Spike studiously avoided.  “You wanna just sit an’ do nothin’ today, that’s okay, too.  All right?”

Xander nodded; after stealing another kiss, Spike went downstairs.

Fast.

Forgot how hard this was, he thought as he stripped off everything but his shorts and surveyed the room.  Did it for so long with Dru that it was second nature, but now. . .  Hm, what should he start with first?  Right, punching bag in the far corner.  Duh, as the boy would say.  He turned on something loud and punk—although not too loud—and attacked.

It felt good to just pound on something.  Not quite as good as it had that first night, when he had killed anything and everything he could, desperate to return to the tiny, candle-lit room where his boy lay so small and hurt.  Once Xander had truly fallen asleep, Song Li had banished the hyped-up vampire to go kill things and calm down before he disturbed the healing slumber Xander lay in.

At the one Scooby meeting he’d gone to, Giles had asked him if he knew of any new demons arising; both the Initiative and Buffy’s own patrols had discovered dead demons in surprisingly large number.  Giles was concerned, considering the brutality of the mass slaughter and the unusual fact that the corpses had been left to rot where they fell.  Bodies usually disappeared by sun-up, although none of the Scoobies had ever questioned this fact before. . .

If I didn’t have this god-buggerin’ chip, the night would have been red with blood.  Start with the Psychos themselves but after that. . . after that. . .

After that, Buffy would have staked him.  The kind of blood-bath he was envisioning would convince Buffy that the ‘stake now, question later’ policy was a good one.  It was also extremely doubtful that the gang would have been appeased by Song Li’s deception.  One look at him an’ they’d blame me, Spike thought, as the punching bag flew off its chain and burst as it impacted against the wall.

Shaking his head in disgust, Spike worked through several of the weight machines and hoped that would help some.  He grinned, imagining Xander’s reaction when the boy saw the gym Spike had created in the basement.  First he’ll ask me if I did it all for him, gettin’ all ashamed an’ flushed-like.  Then he’ll remember that I’ll use the damned thing more than he will, which’ll prompt a few comments about undead bodybuilders an’ why the hell I need t’pump iron.  An’ then he’ll start thinkin’ about Buffy an’ how much she’d like this place for trainin’, what with the dojo-like area between here and the ’tub. . .

He tried to concentrate on the pull and burn of his muscles as he worked on the various machines, the weights set as high as possible in order to offer his supernatural strength some actual resistance.  It wasn’t helping.  His thoughts swirled, settling back on something he’d tried hard to ignore since the first time he’d realized it.  Really realized it, not just moaning about losing his bite or snarling out impotent threats for when he was freed.

Five nights ago something had hurt what was his, and he’d been powerless to stop it.

That did not sit well with a vampire used to taking whatever he wanted and never caring about the consequences.  He’d started actively searching for a way to remove the chip and some promising leads had turned up. . . nothin’ like a little application of blood an’ terror t’get minds workin’ right.

Except that led to yet another problem.

The chip had given him Xander.  It wasn’t the hyena, although that had been the driving force.  It was the chip that allowed Xander to trust him enough to allow the hyena to get its way.

Without the chip, Spike could lose him.

Never! he snarled silently, hurling a free weight against a padded wall, not satisfied with the dull thump it made.  He’s mine, an’ I’ll never let him go!

Unless Xander wanted to leave.

He’d never stay, Spike realized morosely.  Not if I started huntin’ again.  He’d run an’ not even the hyena could make him stay.  It wasn’t like Xander ignored who and what Spike was—quite the opposite.  He made sure Spike had human blood, even if it was nothing more than old, expired bags from a blood bank, didn’t seem to mind when Spike beat up demons that harmed humans, and the sex. . .

Could I stay like this—chip or no chip—for him?

Posturing aside, he knew he’d never keep the boy against his will.  Because I’m William the Buggerin’ Stupid, is what, and I love him an’ want him to be bloody happy an’ if it’s me that’s hurtin’ him, I’ll. . .

Spike tried very hard not to think anymore.


He felt the quiet request for entry thirty seconds before he heard footsteps in the stairwell.  Pushing himself up off the low bench, he headed over to the free weight section and began selecting ten and twenty-pound weights.

“Spike?”  Still young, but not the puppy.  Old enough to control his own self, least.   Thank god.  Having Xander that dependent was frighteningly like caring for Drusilla.  “Um, Spike where are you?  All I see is the laundry room. . .”

Huh.  Looks like the bond is good for pinpointin’ locations.  We’ll have to work on that.  Never lettin’ him outta my sight again.  “Wooden door in the back,” he called.  “You feelin’ better?”

A tousled head peered around the slowly opening door.  “Yeah.  Fell asleep in the sun, or I would’ve been here soon—oh, wow.”

Spike didn’t give him a chance to go back into shock; that would only allow the regression to creep back in.  “Here,” he said, handing over the ten-pound weights.  “Start the routine; you gotta rebuild your strength.”  An’ I need t’see how fast Song Li’s stuff works.  Gotta get you in tip-top shape for tomorrow.

Xander obediently began doing curls, still studying the room while his body worked on autopilot.  “Um, Spike?  You’re a vampire.  You don’t gain or lose muscle like a human does.”

Hiding a smirk, Spike headed towards the small fridge.  He wanted water on-hand.  “Right.”

“So, why do we need a gym like this?  I’m the only one who—you’re going to be here twice as much as I am, aren’t you?”  A sparkle of amusement across the room and Spike was finally able to push back his uneasiness at Xander’s instant, unquestioning obedience.

“Sure.  Don’t want me t’get bored, do you?”

“So trying to become He-Man will keep you from being bored?”  Heh.  Now all we have left is. . .  “Hey, we should bring Buffy here.  I think she’d like it.  I know she and Giles are looking for a place for her to train since we blew up the school and this is nice and airy.”

Bingo.

“Not so sure I want her to train here,” Spike said with what he hoped was calm neutrality.  “But we can talk about it.  Right then, enough of that.  Do your stretches and we’ll hit some of the machines.”

“But I just got started,” Xander complained, even as he handed over the weights and began twisting his body into the proper positions.  “I like this, remember?”

Spike remembered how gleeful he’d been when the increase in strength and flexibility had trickled over into their bed.  “I know.  But you’re still healin’, an’ I’m not gonna rush you just cause you like the endorphin rush.  Gonna build up slow.  Sides, you been sleepin’ for what, couple hours?”

Xander flushed, hiding it by lowering his body to do pushups.  “Yeah,” he grunted out when he was more in control.  “Can we get a, umph, futon for the back room?” he asked as he pumped up and down.  No sex until he’s better! Spike ordered himself sternly, forcibly turning away from a warm, sweaty Xander.  “It’s nice to just lie in the sun, there.”

Spike made sure Xander couldn’t see his smirk of triumph.  He couldn’t wait until Xander was better, pulling that golden, sun-warmed body against his, basking in the only sunshine that wasn’t deadly to him, licking salty sweat from skin that still glowed faintly. . .

I was not this horny before.  What the hell?

“Anything else you need?  Make a list and we’ll go shopping tonight.”

Pause, mid-pushup.  “Out?” a small voice quavered.  “We’re going—”

Spike pushed soothing reassurance through the bond.  Useful thing, that.  Shoulda started usin’ it long ago.  I’m his pack-leader, ain’t I?  “Not out, luv.  Heard of the Internet?  Handy for those with a sun allergy.”

“Oh.”  Quiet as Xander finished up the routine Spike had created for him.  He was growing tired again—although it wasn’t overly worrying given the severity of his injuries and the medicines Song Li had him on.  Then, while he drank water and Spike wiped him down, trying very hard not to think about taking the boy right there, “We have a computer?”

Huh?  “Course we have a—oh, right!”  Grinning hugely, Spike hugged the boy.  “C’mon, pet.  You can make a list of what you need an’ start playin’ while I fix you some supper.”  It was nearly eight o’clock now, the dying sun probably what woke Xander in the first place.

“Oh, I had some stuff already.”  Hurried words, the boy’s back firmly turned towards Spike.  An’ what did we eat, hm?  Chips and Hostess products?  Not a chance, luv, you’re too skinny by half right now.  Gotta build you back up.  An’ I gotta stop buyin’ that shit.  Don’t care that you like it, y’need to eat proper.

“It’s no problem,” Spike said comfortably, pulling the nervous-but-pliant boy along behind him.  “Can fix up some tomato soup and grilled cheese in no time.”  Xander didn’t even try to argue, although Spike could feel his reluctance.  “I know you’re hungry, precious,” he continued as he dragged them both into the kitchen.  “Here, sit.  Remember that bond I told you about?  Between pack and pack-leader?”  The one you’ve been touchin’ every few seconds all ruddy day, just to prove to yourself that I’m still here an’ not leavin’?  Xander nodded, flushing faintly.

With a sigh, Spike crouched at his boy’s feet.  “Xan, pet, look at me.  I am not mad at you.  But I know you’re hungry, an’ Hostess is not a food group.  Okay?  Now, here.  You play while I cook.”

Grinning, he retrieved the laptop from its place near the entertainment center.  “Um, Spike?”  He did not hesitate sayin’ my name.  He didn’t.  “I don’t know how to use a computer.  That’s, uh, that’s Willow’s thing. . .”

“You learn by playin’; s’how I figured it out.  Look, there are these nice little tutorials.”  Spike clicked on the various program tutorials he’d already found for his technologically illiterate boy, watching with amusement while Xander worked his way through them.  “There’s a desktop waiting to be unpacked—wasn’t sure the best place to put it without you—an’ I got the wireless network all set up.  All by meself, too,” he added proudly.  Not that it hadn’t taken a few hours of screaming frustration before the damned thing had cooperated.  Bloody useful, having a Sparva demon that was fascinated with all the techie junk; got him good prices on everything, too.

“W-why are you—I mean, how are w-we paying for all. . . this?”  The final word encompassed not only the sleek laptop and peripherals but everything—the entire building from top to bottom.

Spike stirred the soup quietly.  He’d been expecting this question for some time.  The question Xander hadn’t voiced, though. . .

‘Why are you bein’ nice to me?’  That’s what he wanted to ask.  Like in the beginnin’ when he was constantly waiting for the other shoe to fall an’ conk him on the head.

“Told you, pet,” he said patiently.  He could do patience when he felt it was necessary.  Right now, it was.  There was something off about Xander and he was never going to figure it out if he pursued it in his usual manner—rushing headlong into any given problem.  That would just frighten his boy.  “You’re mine an’ I take care of what’s mine.”

“By buying a house?”  Spike winced; that cracking voice must be scraping Xander’s throat raw.

Push him down on the table, ripping off clothes.  Grab up long legs, holding them back while he shoved his way inside, chanting “Mine, mine, mine,” as he thrust and took and—

The bolt of lust caught him completely off-guard, forcing him to turn back to the stove so Xander wouldn’t see his suddenly raging erection.  The flash had been in surround-sound, complete with the rights smells and feelings. . . and was utterly wrong.  He was horny, yeah, but he would never do that to Xander—not while the boy was half-healed at best.  He wanted to take the boy desperately, but slowly, gently.  Allow Xander to want it as much as he did and to enjoy it as much.  To finally erase even the slightest hint of a claim that insane bitch had over his boy.

Oh.  Buggerin’ hell.

“Eat this.  Sandwiches’ll be done in a bit.”  Filling another mug for himself—gotta remember not t’confuse it with the soup—Spike finished cooking and brought everything over.  “Think you got some misconceptions goin’ here.”  He motioned when Xander just stared at him, encouraging the boy to begin eating.  The movements were mechanical, but Spike wasn’t willing to argue the point yet.  So long as the boy was eating. . .

“You look at me an’ see a vampire.  Think we all live in dirty ol’ crypts or abandoned warehouses, wherever we can hide in.  An’ yeah, to a point, you’re right.  When we ain’t planning on stayin’, anyway.”  He paused, raising an eyebrow until Xander began—again—to eat.  The fascinated look in those wide eyes made him hide a grin.  “Me’n Dru, sometimes we’d blow in an’ blow out of a town in a couple days.  Take what we wanted and hightail it before anyone noticed.  Sometimes, though, sometimes we’d set up and hang around a bit.”

“But—you lived in a warehouse before,” Xander said hesitantly.  “A-and you used to talk about going and f-finding a crypt o-of your own?”

Now I know why that shy bit of innocence bothers the hell out of me.  I fuckin’ well hate stutterin’.

“Yeah, cause we were new here.  Didn’t know the layout so well an’ Dru was sickly.  Was worried about gettin’ her better, not findin’ posh places to put her up.  Sides, once we figured out Angelus was here, we needed a place we could run from, an’ quick.  If Angelus took it into his head that we were too much the reminder of when he was soulless. . .”

Not that that had actually occurred.  Instead, he went back to bein’ fascinated with Dru, just like bloody always.  Kept me on my toes, he did.  Always wonderin’ where Dru was off to, worried about us havin’ too high a profile.  All that just so she could bugger off with him when he was her bloody Daddy again.  No time for Spike then eh?

Fuck them both.

Muscles squeezing him, so tight, so warm.  The harsh, wet sounds of a human panting, groaning, moaning.  Sweat dripping onto the table to slick the constant back and forth motion.  Himself, still pounding above, fangs extended and salivating with a chance to taste that rich, heady blood, spiced with pheromones and the physical need to be taken, to be claimed— 

“Spike?  S-Spike are y-you—?  Spike?!”  The frightened, desperate voice brought Spike abruptly out of the vision.  Xander was half-standing, white face making his eyes dark holes of pure panic.

“Shh, now, still here.”  Forcing his erection to subside—vampiric control was a wondrous thing—he pulled Xander down into his lap.  “Sorry ’bout that, luv,” he whispered as he rocked them both gently.  Wrapping his arms tightly around his boy he stroked and soothed while Xander shivered against him.  “Just got lost for a bit, that’s all.  Quiet now, shh.  I’m here, pet.  Told you, precious, I’ll always be here.”

An’ I have no idea what the fuck that was.

“You were g-gone,” Xander quavered, words muffled by Spike’s neck.  “You d-didn’t hear me, you j-just stared and—”

“I know, pet.  I know.  C’mon now, eat your supper.”  Sniffling, Xander obediently twisted—still on Spike’s lap—and dragged the remaining half of the sandwich over to him.  Spike watched as the boy nibbled at the gooey, fluorescent yellow cheese squashed between toasted bread.  An’ he complains my food is gross?

“Spike?”

“Yeah, pet?”  Spike glanced down, catching the shy, waiting expression.  “Oh, right.  Like I said, when I was here before, had to keep an eye out for too many things, so I couldn’t do what I normally do.”

“And that is?”  No stutter there and Spike caught a hint of Xander’s old impatience.

Shrugging, Spike made his expression as self-deprecating as possible.  “Like my comforts, I do.  A nice, soft bed with warm covers on it.  Whatever toys I can grab, a good view, whatever.  Normally, Dru’n’me, we’d find some old mansion or villa off outside the city limits.  The kind no one knows is still there, really, with no servants or caretakers, just a big, posh old house an’.  S’what we did in Prague.  Found this big mansion used t’belong to the cousin of a king or somethin’.  Old bastard’d been dead for days when we got there, rottin’ up this gorgeous house.  So we just settled in.  Went out at night, spent the day playing with whatever we could find.  Was only when someone realized that no one had seen the prior owner in months that we had trouble.  They found Dru an’. . .”

Covered in blood from her latest snack, she’d been branded a witch and a demon—neither of which was wrong, precisely—and there had been too many of them for her to work her own brand of magic on them.  Her only saving grace had been that the sun was nearly down when they reached the house and by the time they dragged her out to that damnable fire, it was fully dark.

He could still remember his utter terror when the mob went by the alley he was in, Dru’s screaming alerting him that this particular witch-hunt wouldn’t result in a bit of fun for all—

Shaking off the memories, he turned a grin to a still wide-eyed Xander.  “I like my comforts,” he repeated.  “Besides, haven’t I been buggin’ you to get a better place for weeks now?  Well, got tired of waitin’, I did.”  He pressed a quick kiss on the boy’s temple.  “Right, then.  You done?  Good, time for medicines.”

“Again?”  The complaint wasn’t quite what it should have been, but it was a damn sight closer than anything else.  “Don’t like those.”

“Too bad.  You don’t get to argue about this one, pet.  I want you healthy and you’ll do what you’re bloody well told.”

The minute the words were out of his mouth, Spike knew it was exactly the wrong thing to say.  Xander quietly rose and headed to the bathroom, gathering the necessary medicines and brought them back to Spike.  Then he stripped off and waited, a hint of complacency on otherwise unreadable features.

Spike had given him an order.  Xander—the hyena? the boy? who knew?—had obeyed it.

Fuck.  Fuck fuck fuck.

Song Li had warned him about this: that perhaps the only way to get through to Xander would be through commanding him.  She wasn’t entirely sure why, there were too many possible factors given his past and the hyena that still resided in his mind, but whatever the reason. . .

Hiding his discomfort, Spike began applying the various creams and salves as Song Li had directed.  The boy was getting better, that much was clear.  Already he looked, well. . . not healthy, but certainly no worse than he would with a bad cold: a little on the pale side, weak, and moving gingerly; all but the worst of the bruises had faded and the few scars that remained were thin and pale pink.  Put him in normal clothes and only Spike would know anything was wrong; no one else would know where to look.

Xander was warm putty in his hands, moving where directed and clearly enjoying Spike’s attentions.  This is wrong.  This morning he’d barely touch me without flinchin’.  Not twenty minutes earlier he was still more’n a bit wary!  Okay, yeah, might see him bein’ a bit more touchy after I disappeared like that.  He got scared, don’t want me to leave him, but. . .

But while there were elements of that fear coloring the boy’s current actions, they weren’t because Spike had disappeared.

Could take him right here.  He wouldn’t fight me, just let me slide right in an’ use him, claim him, take him, till I pulled out an’ spread myself all over his golden sk—oh, bloody hell.

Spike swallowed convulsively and forced himself to remain calm.

That’s why it had taken all day for Xander to recover to the point where he was nominally functional.  That’s why he was still so nervous and frightened, except when Spike’s hands were all over him.

I claimed him through sex.  Cum and control.  When I stopped him this morning. . .

He’d rejected him.  Rejected the hyena that was currently controlling his boy’s actions, because Xander wasn’t ready to yet.  Like I thought, wakin’ up in a new place, unable to figure out how he got there or why.  The hyena coulda slipped right in, took right over.  An’ once it was in control, it needed to reassure itself. 

That’s why he’d withdrawn, especially when Spike had left him upstairs to deal with the room by himself.  That’s why he was receiving overpowering images of sex and claiming; the hyena wanted—needed—the reaffirmation of the claim and was desperate to make pack-leader understand what was wrong.

They’d never gone more than a few days without sex before.  Three at most and then Spike spent a considerable amount of time making sure the boy knew he was still wanted despite the lack of physical proof.  It was his nature to do that, not because of some ridiculous leftover animalistic personality.  He was always demonstrative with his lovers.

Hang a mo’.  I’ve been touchin’ him ever since Song Li bloody let me.  Done nothing but act like some soddin’ romantic git, kissin’ him an’ being pathetically sweet.  So why. . .

Song Li’s words floated back to slap him across the face.  “Hyenas are predators and will react much like other predators.  Rank is determined through strength and force; without both the hierarchy is unstable and can be. . . influenced by outside events.”

The hyena wouldn’t recognize a vampiric ritual claiming, despite the extreme overtones of domination and possession in the words—because they were words and those were meaningless sounds the hyena would not understand.  The hyena registered only physical shows of mastery.  I’ve been treatin’ him like an equal.  Like he matters, more than just a quick fuck.  Even a long-term fuck.  I’ve been treatin’ him like. . . like I love him.

The hyena didn’t know what love was.

Ice gathered in his belly and he resolutely ignored the sudden burn behind closed eyelids.  The Big Bad did not cry, not even when he proved himself to be Love’s bitch yet one more time.

So I fuck him.  No hardship there, eh?  I fuck him, the hyena goes back wherever the hell it came from an’ my—Xander’ll be in control an’ normal when his chums drop by tomorrow.  He acts normal, his friends don’t worry, and Spike stays not-staked.  One big, bloody dysfunctional family.  That’s all this is, see?  Just makin’ sure I get to greet another sunset.

But his hands remained gentle as he worked in the final salve and a single tear slipped out.

“Spike?”

“Yeah, pet?”  It took surprisingly little to keep his voice even and calm.

“I’ve—I’ve got some stuff upstairs,” Xander said shyly, twisting slightly so he could look back towards Spike.  The table had to be hard and uncomfortable underneath him, but he hadn’t complained once.  “Some pictures and things?  Can—can we bring them down here?”

“Sure we can, puppy.  Told you, this is your place too.”  Washing his hands, he helped Xander dress himself in one of the loose kimonos Song Li had gifted them with.  They looked silly—Spike was waiting for the sarcastic comments about wearing a dress—but the smooth fabrics were the best thing for the still-healing skin.  “Wanna go get ’em now?”

“Okay.”  Spike followed as Xander went up the stairs, unable to stop the frisson of pleasure as he noted how comfortable his boy was moving around their new home.  Xander moved like this was the place he’d grown up in, the place he felt most comfortable in.

Well, that’s good.  His home now.  Not lettin’ him go back there.  Not fuckin’ ever.

Not even if it meant Spike had to leave.

Posters, some clothes, a few books and a lamp shaped like a fish were piled in the corner, everything else put neatly away.  The shelving units had been filled and the walls contained poster after poster of different bands, movies and television shows.  Collector plates from some sci-fi show had a prominent place on top of the shelves.  Spike ran a finger down the bright finishing.  He’d taken the plates, still in their original packaging, hopeful that the boy would feel settled enough to take them out of styrofoam peanuts and protective plastic cases.  Before, displaying such obviously treasured pieces was to risk their destruction. . .

“Can I move those downstairs, too?” Xander asked quietly.  His voice still lacked the depth and breadth of an adult, still had that damnably nervous waver to it, but there was still real Xander behind it.  “I wasn’t sure if I wanted them to be just for me or. . . can I?”

“Sure.  That—that’s fine, puppy.”  Downstairs.  He wants them downstairs.  In our place.

“Good.  I wasn’t sure you’d want them down there.  It’s so nice there and these are just—”

“Here now.”  And nothing else really mattered, did it?  Not the why’s or the how’s, just the results.  Hadn’t he stayed with Drusilla for decades, knowing no matter what he did or how hard he tried that she’d never be truly his?  And Xander was his.

Whatever the reason.

“Told you, luv, this is our place,” he said softly, taking Xander into his arms and cradling him gently.  Xander pressed his face into Spike’s neck and inhaled deeply.  “You want somethin’ changed, we’ll change it.  Want somethin’ different, we’ll go an’ get it.  What, you want different color walls?  Want me t’go get some paint samples?”

“No.  I like blue.”

“Okay.  Somethin’ else, then?”  Xander shook his head, hair whisking against his neck and chin.  “Whatever you want, luv.  Whatever.”

“Can we go look at the moon?”

Spike hid a grin; he’d thought Xander would appreciate the window-room and apparently he’d been right.  The room was comfortable, the warm brown walls and plush carpet giving it a safe, almost cave like feel to it.  It had originally been painted in the same blue as downstairs, but Spike’s first trip to Xander’s old bedroom had convinced him that the boy liked the close, cave-like feel and had tried to recreate it for him here.

His second trip removed every single personal item the room contained.

Blankets were layered in the corner where a futon or some kind of sofa would be placed, and Spike was glad he’d purchased so many when he was picking out linens.  And that Xander’d had the initiative to get them when he wanted them.  Yet more posters were up, but these were older, more worn, and Spike knew that these were his most private, prized possessions.  Against the far wall was a small painting of an older woman which Spike had found shoved under Xander’s bed, buried in a box full of junk.  All of which told him it was very prized.

“That’s my grandmother,” Xander said quietly.  For the first time, not a hint of little boy colored his voice.  This was just Xander.  “She died when I was four.  She used to take me to the park.  She’d sit under a tree and knit while Willow and I played on the swings.  Then Willow would go sit with her and learn how to make scarves while Jesse and I would chase each other for hours.”

Spike slipped his arms around his boy’s waist, resting his chin on a broad shoulder.

“I don’t really remember a lot, but Willow does and she always talks about how much she loved my grandma.  Her parents were never around a lot either, so it was mostly my grandma who took care of us.”

She’s part of it.  Whatever happened to him, whatever the initial trauma was, it involves this woman.  He stared at the picture through a few wayward strands of dark brown hair.  She had Xander’s laughing eyes and strong bones.  She looked kind.  She looked old, even though she couldn’t have been more than forty in this painting.  Like she’d seen too much life.

“I thought—I thought she might like to see the sun again.”

I can show her somethin’ better.

He kissed right on the juncture between neck and shoulder, resolutely pushing Song Li’s strident concerns and everything else out of his head.  It didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered except that Xander was his.  Peppering kisses along the column of his throat, Spike delicately nibbled at an earlobe while he pressed his palms against a suddenly quivering belly.

“Can say no, precious,” he whispered, moving his fingers in soothing patterns until the boy began to breathe again.  “Don’t have to do nothing you don’t want.”  Xander shook his head, pressing back in what Spike took to mean wordless acceptance.  Turning him around, Spike dragged his lips along the exposed jaw until he met parted lips.  “Shh, luv.  Nice an’ slow, yeah?” he whispered as hot breath feathered his skin.  “You’re still hurt, precious.  Gotta be careful, then, keep you from gettin’ worse.  Right?”

“Please. . .”

Spike chuckled at the wanton note of desire.  Has been five days an’ my boy’s always been willing.  He rose on his toes just a little, rubbing his hardness against Xander’s.  Kissing deeper, allowing his tongue to slip inside that hot, hot mouth, he ran his hands up his boy’s back, down strong arms to thread his fingers with Xander’s.

Still kissing—why the hell ’ave we never done this before?  Boy can kiss!—he frog-walked them back to the waiting pallet, twisting at the last moment, so that when Xander predictably lost his balance Spike was there to take the brunt of the remaining drop.  Once on the blankets, Spike rolled them so that he was on top again, settling himself in between Xander’s legs.

“Wanna fuck you,” he whispered hotly, releasing Xander’s hands to drag his fingers back to the heaving chest.  “Can I have you, pet?  Can I?”

Xander nodded frantically, unable to say anything through his harsh panting.  His hips worked uncontrollably and Spike knew that the hyena still had too much influence.

“Shhh, luv.  Slow tonight, remember?  Slow can be good, too.”  He circled the areola before pinching lightly at already taut nipples, using the smooth, sensuous feel of the silken kimono to heighten the sensation.  Xander moaned, head falling back.  The moonlight fell through the wide window, highlighting the boy’s Adam’s apple as it bobbed and moved.  Leaning down to kiss right on the protruding bit of flesh, he chuckled as Xander’s moans vibrated against his lips and tongue.

His hands wandered to the kimono’s belt, tugging the material undone and spreading the top part open.  Returning to pinch and tug pebble-hard nipples—a place relatively free from injury and therefore safe—he began kissing down Xander’s throat, along the collarbone and down the center of his chest.

“You taste so good, puppy,” he whispered in between kisses.  Hot, sweaty hands scrabbled at his back and he chuckled again.  “All right—hey, enough!” he yelped as the fabric tore slightly.  Sitting up, he toed his boots off while quickly pulling the shirt over his head.  Xander was tugging at his jeans, but Spike pushed the boy away—buttons apparently beyond his capability at the moment.  Shoving the offending material away, he slid back to his prior position, moaning as his erection rubbed against the silk.

“Please, Spike, please!”  Two minutes, and already the boy was desperate.  Shaking his head in amusement, Spike slid a little to the right, throwing one leg over so that he was balanced along Xander’s right thigh.  Mm, gonna have t’thank Song Li for these robes, he thought with lusty appreciation.  Feels nice, it does.  Real silk, warmed and supported by Xander’s heat and strength, moving slowly back and forth as he thrust leisurely against his boy.

One hand slid down to cup Xander’s already dripping erection, smoothly curling his fist around it and stroking lightly.  Hyena don’t know the words, but it’ll recognize the tone.  “Gonna fuck you, puppy.  Gonna push myself inside that pretty pussy of yours.  Gonna pound you into the floor.”  Slow, gentle pulls as he kissed and licked over every scar he could see and all the cuts and bruises he could still so vividly remember.  Rubbing himself to make sure Xander knew how much he was enjoying this.  How much they both were.

“Yes, please.”

“You’re mine, puppy.  Mine to play with.  Mine to tease.”  He sucked at the distended bellybutton, making Xander buck and groan violently.  “Mine to fuck.”  His other hand burrowed under the heaving body to gently massage around his boy’s hidden entrance.  Xander let out a short, hoarse scream at the first touch.  “Shh, puppy.  Slow down, now, easy.  Don’t want you hurting yourself.”

But the wild eyes that stared up at him weren’t aware of pain, lust overwhelming everything but the need to be taken.  Mentally cursing, Spike drew his hand back up to gently tease a nipple again.  Increasing the speed of his strokes, he kissed his boy deeply, fucking the willing mouth.  “You wanna cum, puppy?” he whispered, pulling back slightly.  “You wanna cum for me?”

Xander could only moan his agreement.

“Yeah, cum for me.  That’s right, puppy, give me enough to lube you up good.  Gonna take you so good, puppy.  Cum for me.”

A short, sharp yell and Xander came hard enough that the blankets were splattered.  Amused, Spike gathered up the milky fluid, coating his fingers before bringing them back down to rest just against his boy.  “Look at me, pet.”

Xander opened hazy eyes, lust still clouding their depths as he stared down obediently.

“I’m gonna fuck you,” Spike whispered as he gently slid one finger inside.  Xander tensed, but did not cry out; still Spike continued to wait until Xander fully relaxed.  He was not going to hurt his boy, hyena be damned.  Once he felt the muscles loosen enough he began pumping in and out.  “I’m gonna take you.”  Another finger was added and Xander was hard again.  “I’m gonna claim you.”

A low, drawn out moan and the pressure that had steadily built up through the shared bond relaxed completely.

Good, Spike thought roughly as he quickly rubbed himself on Xander’s belly, lubing himself and giving Xander a quick bit of friction as well.  Now that that’s outta the way, we do it my way, furball.  He’s mine!

Quick as a flash, Spike had them both turned around so that he was leaning up against the wall, Xander in his lap with his back against Spike’s chest, impaled.

Oh, god, why the hell did I not want this again?  It was so hot; molten lava burning through him, ringed pressure squeezing him snugly, lighting every nerve in his body to a white-hot heat.  Mine, Xander, you’re mine.

It took Xander a moment or two to get over the shock.  “S-Spike?  Wh-what?”

“Told you, luv.  Slow tonight.”  Wrapping one arm around the boy’s waist—effectively stilling the tentative downward thrust the boy was attempting—the other playing absently with his boy’s sac, he nodded towards the window.  “Look outside, luv.  Look out there at the moon.”

Heavy and swollen with its fullness, the moon shone silver brilliance over the small, sheltered park below them, washed out colors fading into feathery shadows.  The posters on the walls gleamed white, their messages obscured in the reflection, making the whole room glow.

Spike would have given anything for a mirror just then.  Although he couldn’t see all of his boy, what he could see was just . . .

Beautiful.

Slowly, lazily, he began to thrust upward.  Xander moaned, head lolling back to rest against Spike’s shoulder, hips working just a little to meet and accept the thrusts.  Spike allowed the movement, concentrating more on keeping his balance while he lost himself in the hot, tight depths of his boy.  The position was awkward, but hey, that was what supernatural strength was for.

“S’pretty here,” Xander murmured, words slurred just a touch.

Spike grinned. Must be doin’ somethin’ right, then, he though, and thrust a bit harder.  “Yeah?”

“I—ohhh—like it here.  All of here.  Thank you.”

Spike resting his head against Xander’s, kissing wherever his mouth could reach.  “You’re mine.”

“Yours,” Xander whispered.

“Will you call me master?”  Xander went rigid, gasping, as man, boy, and hyena recognized the ritual.  The tempo of his breathing increased to the point where Spike feared he might start hyperventilating, body vibrating with shock and pleasure.  Spike couldn’t stop his moan at the feel of his boy’s—his beautiful, responsive boy’s—reaction.

“Yes.  Please, yes.”

“Will you call me Lord?”  He was afraid to touch Xander’s erection, settling for moving harder and faster into the warm, yielding flesh.

“Yes.  My Lord, my Master, my everything.  Please, god, please!”

“Will you—ah!—obey, always an’ forever?”

“Anything!”  He was hyperventilating now and Spike wasn’t sure if he should stop and let him calm or if he should just continue.  I stop now an’ it’ll kill him, he realized abruptly.  Hyena won’t take that rejection again.

Trusting to supernatural strength and balance, he gripped Xander’s hips and began a brutal pace.  Xander bucked against him, trying desperately to respond despite the bruising hold.  “Will you be my boy?”

“Always yours, always!”

“Will you stay—oh, fuck—stay with me, always and—and forever?”

“Yes!  Yes, yes, yes, yes—”

“Mine,” he snarled, pulling on his boy so that they’d cum together.  Always together, always.  Doesn’t matter why, doesn’t matter how, he’s mine.  Always.  “Mine.  MINE!”

Spike threw his head back and roared, taking and claiming the only way left to him.  Above him, bucking frantically, an ethereal, animalistic howling matched the roar, twining with it as it rose up to the moon.

For a long moment, neither of them could move.

“Xan?  Pet, you awake?”  Slow, even breathing was the only response.  “Right, then.”  Still a bit breathless—quite a feat for a creature that didn’t need air—Spike carefully examined the bond between them.  It lay quiet, satiated and content.  Claimed.

Slipping free, Spike cradled the long-limbed body in his lap, studying his boy in the moonlight.  He was so beautiful, body relaxed and content with a tiny, pleased smile on his face.  Skin washed silver instead of gold, every muscle highlighted in grey shadows.

Including the scars.

There weren’t many left, for which he owed Song Li anything she might wish for as long as he wasn’t dust, and the ones that were left looked old and faded but. . . Spike still knew where each one was.  He traced the longest, a horizontal slash right above the line of pubic hair.

Still rubbing over the scar, he turned to meet the washed-out gaze of his boy’s grandmother.  “I’m sorry you had to see these,” he said quietly.  “Shouldn’t ’ave let him get hurt like that.  But I swear to you, it won’t happen again.  Nothin’ will ever hurt him again.  Not even me.”

Swallowing an unexpected lump, he nodded to the representation of the long-dead woman, gathered up his boy and took him downstairs to bed.





Part Fourteen



Vampires were supposed to be cold.

That’s what Buffy said, in one never-to-be-mentioned conversation.  That’s what Angel said, one of the rare times Xander gathered up enough courage to question the elder vampire, hoping against hope that Angel would never realize why he was asking.  That’s what the Watcher’s books said, when he read them under the cover of his blankets with only a flashlight and his fear for company.

They were all wrong.

Spike was always warm to him.  True, he didn’t have the same self-generating heat of a human, but he was never cold.  Not in his actions and not when Xander tried to burrow his larger frame into the vampire’s body.  It was always warm when he was with Spike.  Always.

Of course, the mountain of blankets wrapped around them probably didn’t hurt.

Xander lay completely surrounded in Spike.  Arms snug around his torso, one hand on his hip, the other on his neck, legs entwined with his, holding him flush against hard muscles and soft skin.  It wasn’t restrictive being held like that, although he had thought so the first time he’d woken mummified by his lover.  If Xander made a single move to escape, strong arms would relax and let him go. . . most of the time.  Sometimes Spike just rolled into the new position with him and held on tighter.

Big Bad Cuddler.

One day he’d actually have the guts to say that to Spike’s face.  Only after he regained the ability to run all out, though, because otherwise Spike would kill him. At least a chase might wear him down to some severe mutila—

“Hey,” a rough voice mumbled in his ear, the hand on his hip rubbing in absent comfort.  “S’all right now, puppy.  Safe here.”

How does he do that? Xander wondered as Spike nuzzled in to kiss and lick his neck, strong fingers carding through his hair. I didn’t say anything.  I didn’t do anything.  But he still knew that was thinking—about things I really need to repress.  Now.

Pushing closer to the hands and mouth that traveled over him, Xander tried to ignore the memories that always surfaced with frightening clarity in favor of actually remembering yesterday.  Bits and pieces were easy to access—the sex, most importantly, and what Spike had done the prior morning.  Everything else felt wrapped in fuzzy bubble-wrap, hazy on the edges and definitely missing entire chunks out of certain sequences.

“Go back to sleep, luv.  S’too early.”

He remembered decorating the room upstairs and that there were things he wanted down in the main floor.  He remembered the weight room downstairs and—

“Buffy!”

A gust of air against wet skin made him shiver.  “Bloody hell, pet,” he grumbled, snuggling down closer, “she’s not comin’ for hours.  Can we wait to panic ’til then?”

Panic?  Why would we panic?  Just a simple little get together with me, my vampire lover, my stake-happy Slayer-friend, her stake-happy commando boyfriend, a stake-happy watcher, and Wills.  Who could probably be very stake-happy if she thought Spike was hurting me.  And Tara, who could be stake-happy, too, if Willow thought she should be—

“Xander.”  The long-suffering patience made Xander freeze guiltily, scrunching so that he could look into Spike’s direct gaze.  It shocked him how old Spike looked.  How tired.  Spike wasn’t supposed to look like that—he was supposed to look like a bored, smirking teenager.  Forever.  “Your gonna worry yourself sick.  Relax.  They don’t know what’s goin’ on an’ we ain’t tellin’ them.”

“But—” was all he got out before a highly annoyed vampire pushed him onto his stomach and settled on his thighs.

“The things I do for you, puppy,” Spike groused, but his hands were gentle as he kneaded at tense muscles below him.  “You know damned well that that lot’ll see only what they want to.  So, we’re gonna show ’em a nice new place and feed ’em up right.”  The not-cold hands on his back soaked up the warmth from his skin until they felt almost normal as they rubbed and squeezed and pushed.  “They’ll babble on ’bout how lovely this all is an’ how happy they are for you an’ then they’ll be on their merry way.”

It was true.  He knew it was, since he’d used that particular blind-spot often enough.  But—But Spike isn’t supposed to know how to do this.  He isn’t supposed to sound like he’s choking on the words when he says it, either.

Instead of the eternally selfish demon being grateful that their secret could be kept just a little bit longer, Spike sounded angry.  Angry and disgusted and bitter—for him.

Panic tried to skitter through his nerve, but oh-so-talented hands soothed the tremors before they could really take hold.  Spike wasn’t supposed to do this.  Pack-leader wasn’t supposed to be angry on behalf of the pack.  Protect it, yes, but only as much as it required for its own needs to be met.  Spike wasn’t losing in this current situation; if anything, he was gaining.

So why does he sound like he wants to beat their heads in?  Besides the normal reasons, anyway.

“You calm now?” Spike asked, the strident demand in his voice muted and changed by something Xander couldn’t recognize.  The firm pressure on his back lessened, fingers tracing over sensitized skin.  “Yeah?  You better now, puppy?”

“Yeah.  Sor—”

A low growl cut him off.  “Don’t apologize.  Got nothin’ t’be sorry for, pet.  Bein’ scared is normal.  Just don’t get lost in the panic, that’s all; makes you tense up fierce.”

Spike’s being nice to me.  It still came as a shock, even after over a month of living with it every day.  Spike wasn’t supposed to be nice to him.  Spike was supposed to use him, just like everyone else—

No.  He wasn’t thinking about that.  Hopefully never, but at least until after he’d gotten through the next few days.  Then he could have a nice nervous break down over what had happened and another one over why Spike was being so solicitous to him.  But later.

Squirming out from under Spike’s weight, he got to his feet and stumbled towards the bathroom.  It bothered him in a sleepy, confused sort of way, that he knew exactly how many steps to take to reach the toilet, despite his eyes being mostly closed and his thoughts definitely not on the potential hazards in front of him.  But he didn’t trip on anything as he washed up and brushed his teeth—something he’d always done in the basement.

Memories from the day before grew sharper as he headed towards the living room, losing the bubble-wrap feel to them.  He knew what that ‘bubble-wrap’ feel meant, after a few times he’d been forced to spend days carefully covering up or explaining the missing day’s actions.  Usually it meant a few pointed questions on successes on patrolling the night before, sometimes for the terse manner in which he’d spoken. . . in which they hyena had spoken.

Crap.

The hyena being in control—or even the soldier, occasionally—wasn’t always a bad thing.  There were more times than he really wanted to contemplate when it was only the presence of the hyena or the soldier that got him out of certain situations alive.

But he shouldn’t have needed that, yesterday.  He should’ve been okay yesterday, cosseted in a warm, safe place with someone who—

Someone who what?  Cares for me?  Kinda lame for the Big Bad.  Who wants me?  Yeah, for sex, but I haven’t really been able to give that to him lately.  He didn’t ask or even hint this morning, the way he usually does, even when I’m tired.

Except that wasn’t quite true.  There had been times when he’d been thoroughly exhausted and Spike had ignored the usual morning’s erotic wake-up.  In fact, there had been times before yesterday when Spike had stopped Xander and either sent him back to bed or off to whatever he needed to do.

Which only made it worse.

So he cares for me.  Okay.  I’m his, he’s supposed to want to take care of me but—

Arms that should have been cold but weren’t slid around his naked waist, turning him around and holding him close as lips that were warm from the hot tap pressed against his own.

He’s not supposed to kiss me.

Lips rubbing his own, tongue sneaking out to tangle with his.  The taste of toothpaste and a hint of cigarettes and booze that would probably never go away.  Blunt teeth grabbing at his lower lip, pulling it out so that it could be sucked on, tongue rubbing up and down.  Then he was free and he was biting, harder than Spike had, tickling his tongue over a rough palette before Spike used his own tongue to push him back out again.

“Mm,” came the eventual groan, “suppose I should be thankin’ the cheerleader, hm?  Cause I’m bettin’ Anya didn’t kiss like that.”

“Uh?”  Well that was true, but—“Shouldn’t insult Anya,” he managed to get out before they were kissing again.

“Heh.”  Fingers in his hair but pulling him away instead of to and he wanted to go back, dammit!  “Demons don’t kiss, precious. ’Least not much, anyway.  S’too personal.”

Xander’s stomach dropped.

Another kiss, this one much quicker with Spike barely aware of Xander’s half-hearted response, and Xander was suddenly watching a very nice backside wander towards the kitchen.  “So, brekkie?  Want eggs again?  Can add some cheese, mebbe, today.  Li said we could try some, if you felt up to it.”

“You’re naked.”

Spike paused, half turning to give him a highly amused glance.  The same kind of look that Giles would often give them when they’d done something they didn’t consider to be funny but he obviously did.  “So’re you, precious.  Got a problem with it?”

“Er?”  He was supposed to talk with naked Spike in front of him?  Despite the vampire’s complete lack of anything resembling modesty or the standard American inferiority complex, it actually wasn’t that often that Spike just walked around naked.  Xander had pulled the ‘people upstairs’ card and, when that had gotten old, added that his friends would often come over unannounced.

Nobody upstairs, no friends know where I am.  At least, not yet.  Do they know where I am?  How do they know how to get here?  I’m babbling, aren’t I.  Yes, yes I am.  Is it bad when you talk to yourself?  No, only when you answer back.  Right.  Glad I got that cleared away.

Spike was getting that look in his eyes, the one he sometimes saw in Buffy’s mom but mostly from Giles. Again with comparing Spike and Giles!  Spike and Giles?!  Oh, no.  Not going there.  That is deeply, deeply wrong.  And okay, now he’s just starting to look plain old concerned.  I should probably talk.  And possibly breathe.

“Not near a stove,” he managed to choke out when Spike swung all the way around.  The crawly feeling in the pit of his stomach noticed that Spike was barely half-hard and completely disinterested in the bits that had previously been the center of the vampire’s world.  “The whole flame, grease thing.  Probably not good.”

“Yeah, cause cotton’s so very flame retardant?”  The amused look was back despite the snark, so Xander breathed a little easier.  Also, Spike had turned back to the stove, hiding the things that made him think things he really didn’t want to think about and all he was left with was—

Clothes.  For me.  Now.  Before I start hemorrhaging.

Spike had a pretty ass.

I am so gay.  A not so very stunning revelation as he’d been giving it up ever since Spike moved in, but still.  Gay.  Him.  With the lusting after boys and not having many guy friends because all his friends seemed to be girlsand this is going to come as a surprise to no one, I’m sure.  Hell sometimes I wondered if Angel thought that I was asking ’cause—

“Oh, gross!” he said out loud.

The morning was wasted away leisurely.  Breakfast and then more kissing.  They spent almost an hour applying Xander’s medicines, but since that meant an hour of Spike pampering him, he wasn’t complaining.  Even if one of those lotions stung like hell. 

They cleaned up the minor damage they’d done in rearranging things yesterday, rearranged a little bit more to make room for some of the things Xander wanted downstairs.  A moment of pure terror when three bell-tones sounded, turning out to be the doorbell and the express-ordered futon that went upstairs.  Xander set it up with Spike in the other room, tossing over tools and suggestions randomly and usually detrimentally.  A trip down to the gym where Spike put him through his paces, trying to gauge just how much strength he’d lost—a lot—and what they needed to do to fix it.

The whole time, Spike was cheerful, open, relaxed and nice.

Xander was starting to feel sick.

He didn’t feel me up, okay, there was that one time.  But only that one time.  He’s been kissing me a lot and smiling at me.  Spike’s been smiling at me!  Every time I stumble, he’s there.  If I’m the slightest bit out of breath, he calls for a break.  It’s like. . . it’s almost like he. . .

Loves me?

Wasn’t possible.  Xander knew that, had known it since he’d accepted what the hyena-pack was all about.  It wasn’t love, not human-boyfriend love, despite Spike’s imitation of one.  Pack-leaders used their pack for sex, food, and comfort, protecting them and keeping them relatively content and fed, so that they didn’t mind providing said sex, food, and comfort.  A nicely selfish little cycle—and Xander was okay with that.

Can’t love me.  Bad.  Ugly.  Stupid.  Wrong.  Broken.  Bad bad bad.

“Hey, puppy, easy!”  The words were caustic, shouted across a room as Spike hurtled himself over mats and dumped equipment to grab the weighted bar Xander had been trying to bench.  “Damn.  I leave you alone for five bloody minutes, an’ you’re stranglin’ yourself with,” he briefly checked the limit, “soddin’ hell, two fifty!  Luv, you could barely do two hundred an’ fifty pounds before.  You still need to rest up more.  An’ start with somethin’ a bit smaller!”

“But I feel okay,” he whined as he squirmed into a sitting position.  Stupid, he was so stupid.  Stupid and bad and ugly and—

Snorting, Spike hauled him to his feet, flashing a brief almost-smile when Xander slumped against his shoulder.  “Yeah, cause you got some heavy-duty mojo in you,” Spike explained softly.  “Go slow, pet.  Got all the time we need.”

“’K.  Sorry.”  Wrong and bad and stupid and why was Spike being so nice to him?

“Don’t apologize.”  Spike waited, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his still naked chest as Xander went through his cool-down stretches, before striding towards the opposite end of the room.  “Come on, then.  Time to relax a bit before the fun really starts.”

Through the doors, down a short flight of stairs and Xander didn’t even attempt to look up from the floor.  He’d been bad, made Spike yell at him because he was so stupid and bad boys didn’t deserve to be treated like they were loved.  Bad boys deserved to be—

“Xander!  Take off your clothes.”  The patient voice made his insides flip, because he knew that tone.  Not with Spike, never with Spike the Impatient who got angry or just did whatever he’d been asking, but from her. . . that was a bad voice.

Stripping off his workout clothes, Xander tried not to huddle in on himself as he finished.  Ugly, so ugly.  Just like she said I was.

Except. . . she hadn’t always said that.

There was something in his throat, something that wanted to get out more than anything, but he was suddenly assaulted with the smell of chlorine.  Bubbling, gurgling sounds pulled his attention away from himself, his skin twitching as expectant eyes watched his reaction closely.

“That’s a—that’s a—”

“Mm, yeah, isn’t it?  C’mon.”

It wasn’t a big room.  The high ceiling helped, but it still wasn’t a very big room.  Wood floors, yellow walls.  A small wooden structure on the far wall, barely big enough for one or two people, if that.  Towels stacked up near his feet, a small refrigerator humming quietly in the background with a microwave squat and black on top of it.

“Spike?”  All thoughts of wrongness or punishment fled under pure shock.  “What is this?”

“Here, now.  You aren’t feelin’ wonky again, are you?”  But Spike didn’t move from the ledge he was relaxing on, everything but his neck and head covered in foamy froth.  “Stop buggin’ your eyes out an’ get in.  Gotta be feelin’ a bit chilly up there, by now.”

He was, but—“Come on, Spike, just once.  Pleeease?”

“Don’t make those bloody big eyes at me.  Hear that?  No bloody eyes!”

“Didn’t think my eyes were that blo—hey!  No throwing of pillows I’m resting on, Fangless.  Now come on, please?  Anywhere but here.”

“I’m playin’ sodding children’s games.  Bad ones.  All right, all right.  Sucker for them eyes, I am.  Anywhere but here, yeah?  Hot tub.”

“With who?”

“Oh, sensin’ some interest?  An’ don’t matter with who.  Just in a hot tub.”

“Ew?”

“Oh, you innocent little puppy.  Never had sex in a tub before, obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be lookin’ at me like I was—”

“Don’t finish that, please, I never like those comparisons.  Okay, a hot tub.  They’re warm, I guess.  And wet.  Wet’s good, right?  I mean it’s good in the shower. . .”

“Mm, love it when you blush, puppy.  All that lovely color down your belly.  You’n’me’re gonna have to take a trip to one of them posh hotels next t’ the coast, one day.  Gonna show you just why a hot tub’s so good.”

Xander blinked out of the memory, grateful that Spike was still looking at him but not yet concerned enough to move.  “Sorry,” he muttered, climbing down the first step to settle himself carefully in the water.

It stung.  Worse than the bright red salve that Spike hated using on him, worse than the things he was trying desperately not to remember, it—

Felt really, really good.

Powerful jets and intense heat slammed into tense and aching muscles, forcing them to relax with a suddenness that left him gasping.  Sinking down deeper, he let the water bubble up past his shoulders, wondering if it’d be okay to just submerge totally into the blessed warmth and let go.  To forget about everything and just feel the soothing burn. . .

Only Spike was allowed to hurt him.

The realization pushed him out of whatever daze he was in enough to make him grin guiltily as he crossed through the water to sit beside Spike on a handy ledge.  Leaning against Spike without being prompted earned him a rumble of contentment, arms holding him while Spike, well, snuggled.</i?

“Told you, precious,” a warm voice in his ear whispered.  “Hot tubs are divine.”

Spluttering into laughter at the incongruous word, Xander gave into the demanding heat and an equally demanding lover and just relaxed.  It didn’t matter why Spike was being nice to him, not really.  If Spike had wanted to hurt him, there had been plenty of opportunities in the past.  Hundreds of them, probably.  But Spike was here, offering all the things he’d ever needed or wanted.

Why am I arguing with what’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me?  Xander wondered as hands as hot as the water that surrounded them curled around the soft place between his legs.  Spike was nuzzling him gently, kissing, licking, occasionally even biting at his neck while he stroked him slowly, letting—

“Oh, god,” he moaned, arching slightly as he realized why Spike liked hot tubs so much.  He’d angled one of the jets to pump hot, bubbling water directly where it would have the most—effect.

“You taste so good,” Spike whispered.  “So good, puppy.  My puppy.  My good boy.”

Kisses, growing harder, up his neck and along his jaw line while fingers intertwined with the heated pressure to wrap around his cock.  It felt like nothing he’d ever experienced and he was instantly hard as a rock.

“You gonna come for me, precious?  Gonna be my good boy?”

“Yours.  Always—ahh!  Ssss—”

Spike chuckled from his new position seated on Xander’s thighs, their cocks pressed and rubbing together as Spike slowly writhed above him.  “See?  Hot tub.  Nice little pressie for me.”

“You—you bought it, Spike.  Not a present, then.”  Hot, so hot all around him and Spike pressed up close and rubbing him with hand and cock and chlorine-softened skin and hot words whispered against him.

“Mm, still a pressie.  Got me the tub I’ve always wanted,” he said, fiddling with something under the water which turned out to be another jet stream, so that their cocks were buffered with high-powered water.  “Got me a place that suits me,” Spike continued.  Xander bucked up a little, causing Spike to frown.  “You, puppy, are not supposed to move, hear?  Let me do all the work.”

When Xander obediently froze, Spike gave him a truly wicked grin—and started moving again.

Xander was going insane.  Spike had been on top of him plenty of times before, but Xander had always been the one to open up.  The one who twisted and turned and bent until everything fell where it was supposed to, because he was pack.  That’s what he was supposed to do.  But now Spike was on top of him, truly on top, and open.  Open, around, rubbing with abandon that made him want to sweat in the boiling heat of the water, insistent feet inching him away from the wall so slim legs could wrap around him.

“That’s my boy,” Spike was saying as he took them both together in his hand, “my precious luv.  Gonna come for me, pet?  Gonna be good for me?  Know you are.  Know you’re good, such a good boy.  My boy.”

Tilting his head back, Xander stared at the ceiling and tried to remember how to breathe.  Breathing was always important.

“Yeah, that’s it, precious.  So hard for me.  So good for me.  Mine. . .”

Lips pressed against his and they were kissing, writhing, moaning as Spike consumed him.  Above him, around him, and in him there was Spike.  Not pain or fear or bad or wrong, just Spike.  Because he was Spike’s.  Because Spike had saved him and he was Spike’s.

He knew when Spike came, saw it in the tensing muscles of a thrown-back neck and the jaw that worked frantically.  Leaning forward instantly, Xander pressed his face into the valley between Spike’s pecs and hummed. Pack-leader was pleased with pack and that was all Xander wanted, now, to be here and safe and wanted.

But Spike didn’t stop moving.

“What—you—”

“Shh, pet, no talking.”  And Spike was kissing him again, still jacking him against a cock gone soft and that only made it hotter.  Because Spike was done but still here, still with him, around him, still wanting him.  Still needing him, because he was pack.  He was—

“Come for me, Xander.”

His body arched up, silent and frozen as orgasm tore through him.  Arms, freed from their previously appointed tasks, gathered him in close, stroking hypersensitive skin as he slowly came back to reality.

“That’s it, love.  That’s my good boy.”


Xander tried not to bounce as he led Buffy and Riley up the stairs.  They were following at a more sedate pace, wide eyes taking in the dark wood paneling and well-lit stairwell.

“How did you say you found this place?” Riley asked again, running his hand along the banister.  “We’re not worried about, uh, what’d you call it again?”

“Hellmouthy things,” Buffy supplied promptly.  She offered a narrow-eyed look.  “The things that seem nice and normal until suddenly they’re trying to kill you with their very lack of normalness.”

“Come on, Buffy,” Xander said disarmingly.  At least, he hoped it was disarmingly.  Can I do disarming?  I used to be good at this, dammit.  And now. . . now I just want Spike to make it better.  Opening the door, he tried to grin.  “What’s hellmouthy about a new apartment?”

Rolling her eyes, Buffy shut the door behind her.  “Where, oh where, would you like me to begin?  Don’t get me wrong, Xander.  I’m all for you getting of out that basement.  But into a warehouse?  Not really screaming urban chic.”

“Uh, Buffy?”

Whirling around at her boyfriend’s stunned question, Buffy’s eyes tracked along the far wall where the entertainment center sat.  The double-take became a triple-take before she could get her mouth up off the floor and by then she was eying the rest of the main room.

“Buffy, do stop staring.  It’s quite rude.”  Not that Giles was totally comfortable, either, but Buffy’s dumbfounded look was too blatant an invitation for mocking. 

Xander very carefully didn’t mention that every single person who had walked through that door—a list that now included all of his friends—had had the same reaction.

Pure, unadulterated, shock.

It wasn’t a happy reaction, either, not with Xander still feeling floaty inside his own skull.  Or maybe it was and he was just too messed up to see it.  Either way, all he wanted to do was run into the kitchen and beg Spike to make it better.  Dumb Zeppo isn’t allowed to have a nice apartment, oh no, he has to stay in his parent’s basement where he—

The shaking always started slow, a trembling in his hands, a slight ache in his neck.  Song Li was adamant that it would go away—but until he was healed, emotions would translate into physical reactions.  Like crying?  I really want to cry.  I mean, I don’t want to cry.  But I hate when Willow looks at me with those huge eyes like I did something wrong—except, I did.  I had to have.  Cause I’m always wrong and bad and—

“Oi!  And you lot say I’m the rude one?”  Spike sauntered into the room looking supremely comfortable.  Like there wasn’t a group of potentially very hostile and very dangerous people in their living room, looking around like they were waiting for demons to appear.  Xander backed up against the wall, wishing he could shake his thoughts from his head.  These were his friends; he wasn’t supposed to feel like this around them.

Riley was immediately up on his feet when Spike appeared, aggressively positioning himself in front of Buffy.  “What are you doing here, Spike?” he growled, a six-foot tall, extremely muscular child playing dress-up.

The rest of the occupants stared at Spike with varying degrees of shock.

“Uh, Riley?” Willow sounded cautious and a little confused.  “Spike lives here.  We told you that.”

“Repeatedly,” Buffy chimed in, glaring at her boyfriend.  “And why are you standing there, looking like that?  Is there anyone here in this room who’s a threat?”

“Oh, ta, pet, very much.  You do know how to make a bloke comfortable in his own home,” Spike snarked, casually backing up.  The dark blue of his shirt filled Xander’s vision, blocking out the room and his friends until it was the only thing he could see.  The only thing he wanted to see as strains of familiar arguments rose up in his mind and he couldn’t make them go away again.  No.  That’s Buffy and that’s Riley and Riley may be a prick but he’d never hurt me.  Neither would Buffy.  And she and Spike would rip the throat out of anything that tried.  I’m safe here.  I’m safe. 

But the voices in his head wouldn’t go away.

“Shut up, Spike.”  Buffy’s dismissal was automatic, the familiar flip of her hair helping Xander get control of himself.  Okay, mostly it was that weird thing in the back of his mind, that he still wasn’t used to.  The thing that felt cool, pulsing slowly and calming his frantic heart beat.  And Spike was so close.  Touchable.  Right there.  He was safe.

“Pet, wanna go get some of the munchies?  On the counter, there.”

Nodding, Xander gratefully took Spike’s excuse and fled to the kitchen.  Nice, safe kitchen in his nice, safe apartment with his nice, safe friends.  Okay, Xan-man, this is getting on the pathetic side.  It’s just Buffy and Wills.  And, okay, Giles and Riley and Tara, but it’s just Buffy and Wills.  They’ll never, ever hurt me.  Not like that.  So take a deep breath and just grow up.

Picking up the first plate of cut vegetables and low-fat dip—chosen so the girls wouldn’t complain—Xander looked up at the end of the counter to see Willow.

The girl who had been his best friend for longer than he could remember.  Sweet and innocent, even after all they’d seen and done together.  The one person in the world Xander thought he’d always be able to trust. . . who was taking the tray out of his hands and putting it back down.  And throwing her arms around him, sighing contentedly into his neck.

His first reaction was to squeak and try to back away—body-heat meant not-Spike and not-Spike meant—

“Oh, Xander, I was so worried about you.  Spike wouldn’t let us come visit.  Are you okay?”

—Willow.

Roses and the cloying smell of the shampoo she’d used since they were kids.  Silky-soft feel of red hair on his neck.  Small, petite body that fit against his like a jigsaw puzzle piece.  Not because it was natural, the way it was with Spike, with every bump finding a corresponding dip.  Because it was familiar.  Their bodies knew how to move and twist until they were perfectly comfortable.

“I’m okay,” he said quietly.  One arm slid around her waist, the other tugging on a lock of her hair.  “I’m fine, Wills, really.”

Pack, the hyena whispered.  Sister, the human whispered back.

“Are you sure?  Spike sounded scared.  Of course, we figured that was ’cause he didn’t want to go live with Giles again, but that meant you were really sick if he was worried about that and—”

Willow-babble.  As familiar as his own breathing.  “I wasn’t dying, Willow, just sick.  That’s all.”

“Did you get the chicken soup?  And the poultice?  Tara and I made it.”  The blush was extra warm on his skin and he smiled his first genuine smile.  Go you, Wills, I like her.  “Spike said he’d give it to you.  He did, right?”

“Yup,” Xander lied effortlessly.  “Probably what healed me up.”

“I’m glad.  I don’t think you’ve ever been that sick, before.”

No.  Only once before.  And I don’t think you even remember it, it happened so long ago.

“Eh, you know me,” he joked aloud.  “Demon-magnet.  Little germ-thingies are a kind of demon, too, right?”

“Xander!”  Her impish, half-scandalized grin felt like the salves Song Li made for him, working deep into the muscle to ease the pain that felt ground into his bones.  “You are not a demon-magnet!  But you are okay?”

“All healed.”  Thumping his chest Tarzan-style was stupid, of course, but the dull ache was worth it to see Willow so relieved.  “C’mon, I hear a hungry Slayer out there.”

“I was promised food,” Buffy called from the living room.  “It’s not my fault if my hosts are lacking in manners.”  Her tone was jocular, clearly ribbing him in the light, easy-going manner she had when she was happy.  Normally, that meant a lot of fast-paced dialogue usually intended to make Giles’ get flustered and start cleaning his glasses. . .

But there was no anticipation, now.  Just a flinch he barely covered.  I’m sorry! the wail started up immediately.  I didn’t mean—I wasn’t trying to—  Thoughts too disjointed to form a cohesive apology, Xander forced his smile a little broader and set the tray down in front of Buffy with as much of a flourish as he could get away with.  I didn’t mean to, he silently repeated as he slowly backed away.  I wish I could be better, but I don’t know how.  Just bad and wrong.

“Cause you’re the well trained one, are you?”  Spike’s drawl had a hint too much bite, his eyes a bit too hard as they glared at everything but Xander.  Shit!  Swallowing nervously, he tried to ignore the sudden thread of bright yellow, hard and cold, uncurling in the back of his mind.  And the part of him that was grateful for Spike’s anger.  “I’ve met your mum, you know.  A proper lady, she is.  Can’t imagine what she did when raisin’ you.”

Xander slowly backed up towards Spike, who was sprawled lazily in the easy chair.  He had to stop this.  Because attacking my friends when they’re teasing me is so helpful for the don’t-stake-Spike plan.  Great going, doofus!  Way to get them pissed off at you!

The surge of fear and anger for Spike blanked out his own nervousness, calming him in a way he doubted anything else could have.  Which Spike had to have done on purpose.  The way he abruptly relaxed and started smirking said it all.

Manipulative bastard, Xander thought fondly.

“Got y’the non-fat stuff, like Willow asked for,” Spike continued, tone a complete one eighty from the silkily menacing one from before.  “Got the regular stuff, too, if you wanna quit the diet.  Don’t know what a Slayer needs with a diet, anyway.  Not like you can get fat, amount of runnin’ and stakin’ you do.”

Buffy, tense and expression considering, watched as Spike leaned forward to snag a piece of celery.  “Okay, so, Xander.  Wanna explain why the bipolar vampire is in residence here?”

“Uh.”  They’d gone over this.  He could remember Spike repeating over and over that they were. . . they had. . . it was. . . Dammit, why can’t I remember this!

“Oh, that’s nice.”  Once again, Spike was there with the save.  Something cool and solid pressed into the back of his leg—which he identified as Spike’s knee before he jumped out of his skin in fright.  Go me!  Slowly mastering the blind-panic thing.  Can we make them go home now, Spike?  Please?  I just want you to fuck me, please, so I don’t have to think anymore and I know that it’s okay and—

And he was babbling in his head so loudly that he missed what Spike was saying.  Shit.

“—bloody White Hats.  Gonna throw me out on my ear, are you?  I live with him now, ’member?  Got nowhere else to go, what with this—”

“Yes, Spike, we’re aware of your limitations,” Giles interrupted.  “However, we didn’t ask you to regale us with your tales of impotence and inadequacy.  We asked Xander.”

Spike made a show of seething, but Xander could feel the knee pressing into him even harder.  Inside his mind, the hard thread of yellow anger had eased back into the black sparkles it usually was: Spike’s concern.  Spike’s. . . something that was more than concern.

He didn’t ever dare put a name to that.

“Well, what did you want me to do?” Xander asked, trying to sound exacerbated and not terrified.  Friends didn’t hurt each other.  They didn’t.  Okay, the repeating thing?  Not working so well.  “I suppose I could’ve left him in the basement, but I wouldn’t even do that to Angel.”

A nice, safe, simple joke.  The kind he always made about his home.

The blackness in his mind melted into a blaze of silver, warming him from the top down.  For an instant, he could almost feel Spike’s arms around him, petting him until the tremors stopped and he was okay again.

“Besides,” he continued, effecting an easy tone of voice, “he’s getting pretty good at keeping the place neat and tidy.  How could I pass up such expert cleaning care for the low cost of a few blood packets?  Oh, and the whining.  Don’t forget the whining.”

The girls laughed only slightly nervously and Xander felt another bit of tension drain away.  He could do this.  Yeah.  I can continue lying to my friends about, oh, everything that’s important in my life from the really bad stuff to the really incredible stuff.  Like the way I have been for years.  And while I’m doing that, I can mock the only person I don’t lie to.  You know, the one that’s been taking care of me for a while?  Yeah.  I’m such a great guy.

He had to figure out how to turn his brain off.  Just for a little.

“He cleans?”  Apparently the ‘joke’ part of the quip flew past Giles, who was staring at Spike like the latter had grown horns.  Possibly had his skin turn bright green at the same time.  “Good lord.  What have you been doing to keep him in line?  He was remarkably, well, solicitous while you were ill.  At least, we assume so.”

Translation: Spike wouldn’t let us near you and you don’t seem to be exhibiting the symptoms of someone turned, tortured, or mistreated in any way.  Therefore, we assume Spike took care of you.

And he had.  “Xander!  Let me in!”

“Yeah, Spike’s a good nursie.”  Making an irritatingly gushy face at the vampire earned him a growl and a twinkle in suddenly deep blue eyes.  Deciding to ham it up totally, he affected a baby-talk voice.  “Got me my medicine and made me take every drop.  Just to get me alllll better.”

“Sod off,” Spike swore at him.  Turning towards Giles, he added, “D’you know what he did?  He dripped.  Bloody everywhere.  An’ guess who got to clean up after it, huh?  Not his precious prince up there, oh, no.  It was ‘Spike, I’m cold’ an’ ‘Spike, I need chicken ruddy soup’ an’ ‘Spike, I need more tissues’.  It was disgustin’.  He snotted all over everythin’, includin’ me!  I ought to get hazard pay for puttin’ up with that!”

The girls were giggling—Buffy the loudest—and even Giles cracked a smile.  Riley. . . Riley looked vindictive.  And smug.  And I want to wipe that look of his face, preferably with my fist.  Applied repeatedly.  But that would be bad, Xander, to attack your friend’s boyfriend.  And huh, why am I so Riley-hating today?

“Do be sensible, Spike.  You’re the only one who wouldn’t catch whatever he had—a point I believe you mentioned over the phone?”

“Yeah, well.  Still want compensation.  Bloody wretched.”  Grumbling irritably, Spike pushed himself to his feet.  “Since droopy-boy really doesn’t have a clue how t’be a host, looks like it’s up to me.  Who wants what to drink?  You name it, we got it.”

“So if I said I wanted a brandy—”

“I’d ask you what brand you wanted.  Hells, Rupert, I live here, now.  You think I’d be able to tolerate it without a daily drink or twenty?  We’ve got a bar.”

“Ah yes, no doubt stocked with plenty of Bud Light and perhaps, what was it you preferred, Spike, JB?  A liquor of depth and refined quality, of course.”  There was nothing to show why that particular bit of snark made Giles lose the tension around his eyes, but Xander was grateful for it.  Of all of his friends, it was Giles he’d worried about the most, when he actually allowed himself to think of it at all.  Because Giles wouldn’t stake first.  “Very well, what beers do you have?”

“GB and Carlsbad,” Spike said blandly, like he hadn’t spent several very frustrating hours on the internet, trying to find some kind of beer that wasn’t ‘piss water’.  “Preference?”

Giles looked startled.  “Carlsbad?  I didn’t think you could get real lager over here.  I daresay you’ve put it in the refrigerator—”

“And desecrate good beer?  Be still your soddin’ heart!  It’s right here. . .”

Sinking in the vacated easy-chair wasn’t what Xander wanted, but it was a reasonably good substitute.  Spike’s unique scent, musky and spicy at the same time, filled his head until he didn’t think he was lying when he told himself that he wasn’t alone.  That Spike was there, right there. . . obviously playing up his reluctance to act as host, to everyone’s amusement.

And in the back of his mind, it was warm.  Very warm.

Falling into a light daze, Xander was only slowly aware of Tara sitting on the near edge of the sofa, watching him.  She flickered a smile when he glanced at her.  “Th-this place is n-nice.”

He’d never talked with Tara much.  Not because he didn’t like her or anything, it just. . . never seemed to happen.  The few times he tried, the painful shyness always made it easier to talk to her through Willow—which he knew Wills would be horrified to find out.  But while he knew he liked her and thought she and Willow were sweet together—yes, indeed, I saw that before Spike blurted about how I wasn’t the only gay one, a fun conversation I’d rather we hadn’t had—he didn’t think she’d ever spoken directly to him.

She was smiling earnestly, the blonde, wispy ends of her hair framing her face like a halo.  He could see how nervous she was, how determined to at least try and interact on her own—and he couldn’t help but smile back.  “Yeah,” he said quietly.  “I like it.”

“I d-didn’t know warehouses c-could be converted l-like this.”  Glancing around the room with an interest Xander was pretty sure wasn’t faked, her eyes landed on the tv.  “Great movies, too.”

“Yeah, aren’t they?  Spike made me get rid of all my old vhs copies.  Okay, not all of them, since you can’t find some of this stuff on DVD, but most of them.  It’s great.  The sound is so much better and the sound system h—I bought gives them this whole new dimension.  Wanna look?  You can always come crash here, watch something, if you wanted.”

Bobbing her head, Tara followed as he led her over to the media stands and began going over his favorites, expanding to the CD’s when she saw them.  He heard Giles and Spike still babbling about various types of ales and how easy it wasn’t to get them in America.  Buffy and Willow were hovering over the food, occasionally making trips into the kitchen to poke around there, Riley an awkward guard behind them.

Doesn’t Buffy get it? he couldn’t help but wonder as Tara pulled a CD out.  Doesn’t she see how wrong it is?  He doesn’t fit here.  Okay, Angel didn’t either, but he trusted us and he knew not to underestimate us.  Doesn’t she see how patronizing he is?

Which was a much more complex version of the pack/not-pack terms the hyena was throwing at him.

“X-Xander?”

“Wh—I’m sorry, I’m still not totally—did you want to play that?  I can put it on.”  He glanced at the title: Metallica.  Black album.  “Um, I can put that on low.”

He knew the instant he started scrambling to cover his lapse that it was the wrong way to go about it.  Wills and Buffy would smile indulgently at his babbling, not ignoring it, but familiar enough to know they could.  Tara, on the other hand, was shrinking back into her self, obviously terrified that she’d done something wrong.  She responded with a negative shake of her head, blond tendrils whipping back and forth into a gossamer shield as she put the CD back in its slot. 

I didn’t mean to do that!  Her fear was contagious, his own nervousness returning as he tried to think of a way to put her at ease, again.  I didn’t—I’m sorry, I’m bad, I—

A flash of black clouded his vision and for a second, Spike was right there, next to him.  S’alright, puppy, he heard in his mind, multiple memories crowding to say the same thing.  Deep breath now, that’s it.  Let it out.  Better now, pet?  Good.  Go on, now.  Right on top of the ever present: Xander!  Let me in!

He was safe here.  Spike wouldn’t let anything happen to him.

The whole thing hadn’t taken more than a second or two, Tara still looking at the CD’s in nervous uncertainty.  Xander forced himself to smile—if he didn’t, she’d scuttle away again and he didn’t want that.  When she glanced up at him, his smile melted into something a little more real.  “How about this instead?” he offered, picking a CD at random.

“Isn’t that kinda, um, girlie?”

“Hey!  I happen to like Sister Hazel.  But, you’re right.  Can’t have any more attacks on me today—” I wouldn’t be able to take it “—especially not over my manly inability to appreciate folk rock.”

She laughed quietly, pouring over CD titles once again.  The tension was leaving her shoulders and Xander didn’t know whether to thank Spike or the memories of Spike.  Yeah, uh huh, that’s not confusing.  “I think it’s n-nice,” she said after a moment.  “Y-you two.”  She gave him a sidelong look through her hair.

Hearts were supposed to beat.  Unless you were a vampire and then they didn’t have to, but otherwise they were supposed to beat.

Something on his face must have given it away, because Tara abruptly leaned forward, hand hovering above his arm.  “Are you—I-I didn’t tell, or—Xander?”

If she touched him, Spike would be over there in a flash.  Without turning, Xander could feel blue eyes boring in his back, the silent message clear, that if he didn’t say everything was okay, Spike was going to go over there and make it okay.  Or, in pack-terms:  Mine!  Go away!

Pack-terms lacked that certain subtle elegance, Xander decided as he tried not to hyperventilate.  He had to calm down.  If he didn’t, Spike was going to blow their cover wide open and beside, Tara hadn’t meant to hurt him.  At least, that’s what he thought those huge, wide eyes meant or the trembling in her body.  The one that said she knew the Wrath of Spike—tm—was an issue, except she was looking at Xander not Spike, like it was Xander she was worried about more.

That finally penetrated the loop of ‘Oh, my god she can’t know!  Spike’s gonna be dust!  Wills and Buffy are going to hate me!  They’re going to find out!  Oh, my god!’ 

“Hoo.”  Exhaling forcefully, he gave Spike a rueful grin.  The vampire’s expression was still tense, but he turned back to his conversation with Giles.  “Bit of advice, Tara—telling the recently recovered that his secret’s blown?  Not good for recently recovered’s constitution.”

But not all my secrets.  Not even the most dangerous of them, really.

“S-sorry.”  But she was smiling again and his heart rate was approaching normal.  “I haven’t, um, told Willow or anything.  I-I wasn’t even sure if I was g-going to tell you, but—”

“But?”

“I read auras?  And when I walked in here, it was—well, it was—” Surprisingly delicate brows lowered in concentration, searching for the final adjective.

But Xander already knew what it was.  “Home,” he told her.  “It feels like home.”  Like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies smelled as someone else’s mother put them on the rack to cook.  The comforting taste of a meal served with gentle white hands, not callused or cracked, voices raised in stories and questions and comments.  It was safe here.  No secrets or lies.  Nothing to hide.  A place to be himself.

For the first time, Xander realized that this wasn’t just another place to live in.  This was the place his hat and heart could finally be put down.

“Exactly,” Tara said quietly.   “I think you’re, um, good for him.  B-being together?  H-he’s got a—a purpose now.  And you n-need him, too.  He’s. . .”

“Safe.”

She nodded, the right side of her mouth twisting up into what was probably the most genuine smile he’d ever seen from her.  “Yeah.  A-and I won’t tell.  N-not even Willow.  It’s not. . . she doesn’t n-need to know.  Not until y-you’re ready to t-tell her.”

Impulsively, Xander gave her a quick hug.  “Thank you,” he whispered before pulling away.  “I kinda needed that.”

It was incredible, the feeling of relief that someone else knew.  Someone who, if she wasn’t a full-fledged Scooby, knew his life and his friends and understood how insane this was.  And still said it was a good thing to do.  Song Li’s brusque reassurance that being with Spike was the right thing to do was good, and he did trust her.  A surprising amount.  But this came from someone who’d heard about the bad side of Spike long before she saw the good.

He wasn’t surprised when Spike called them over for dinner, then.  Refused to comment when Spike made sure he was sitting right next to Xander, their knees touching underneath the table.  Had I always been waiting for. . . permission?  Cause that’s kinda what this was.  Or approval?  Did I need that?  But it was like a weight was gone from his shoulders.  There was someone he could talk to, who thought this was a good thing, someone who shared Song Li’s calm and stillness. . .

And maybe he could actually tell someone, instead of them finding out the most humiliatingly way possible.

It was late when everyone finally left, Buffy and Riley begging off first to patrol.  Giles had escorted the girls home, Willow teasing him about being too drunk to drive.  Crashed out on the couch, Xander lying half in Spike’s lap while Spike absently petted his over-stuffed belly, Xander could finally relax.

“Not dusty.”

“Nope.  Not dusty.”  Not that Spike had told him about that concern. . . not that he’d really needed to.  Xander had worried enough without Spike vocalizing the possibility that someone would get overly concerned about his safety and react.  Violently, as was the Scooby way.

“Liked the place, too.  Should tell the Slayer that I’m th’one who did most of the decoratin’.”

Xander thought of the obvious response and smirked.

“Hey, can feel that.  Am not a nancy.  Just like my comforts, s’all.  You like ’em, too, huh?”  There was a leer in his voice, but half-hearted.  The hand rubbing Xander’s belly didn’t dip lower, either, just traced soft circled on the shirt.

“They didn’t ask me how we could afford this.”  There had been a single mention of his supposed new job—did Xander like it—which Spike had deftly blocked with a rant about the hours Xander forced him to keep.  There had been a lot of Spike rants, that evening, and both of them had enjoyed every one.  He was pretty sure the rest of them had, too.

“No, they didn’t.  Think Rupert had a word or five ’bout that.  Probably more—Slayer’s head is thick.”

They hadn’t been dancing on eggshells, either, after the initial awkwardness had worn off.  It had been nice.  The way it used to be, with the four of them and their various significant others.  When was the last time we did something like this, anyway?  I know we did once, right after graduation, but afterwards. . .?

“Like Red’s bird, Tara?”

“Yeah.  She—she told me—”

The hand on his belly stilled and then slid down to his hip in an awkward one-armed hug.  “Easy, puppy.  Told me, too.  She’s bright, that one.  Old eyes.”

“Yeah.”  Xander cuddled closer, enjoying the hard muscles against his back and side.  “It’s not. . . bad, right?  That she knows?”

Spike chuckled, the sound vibrating between them, and tugged Xander up and around.  Face to face, Spike offered a wicked smile.  “Nope.  Don’t mind a bit.”

His lips tasted of the alcohol he’d laced the fruit salad with, grand-something or other.  Xander lost himself in the feel of Spike against him, not questioning Spike’s sudden desire to kiss.  He wasn’t a big kisser, actually, despite how often he and Cordy used to steal smoochies.  He’d never felt he was very good at it.  With Spike, though, his skill never mattered.  Spike was kissing him, with all the intensity and passion he went about everything else.  All focused on Xander.

When Spike finally pulled his head back, Xander was flushed and panting.  “C’mon, puppy.  Time for bed.”

“But it’s barely ten o’clock.”  And why was he arguing this, exactly?

Spike’s eyes went dark and glittery, a true leer appearing.  “Now, pet.”  Okay, dark, commanding tone.  Good reason to argue, if it meant he got that tone.  And no, he wasn’t a sick puppy, dammit.  He was Spike’s puppy.

“It was good, right?” he asked in the bedroom, undressing first Spike and then himself.  “Tonight?”

Spike kissed him again, hard.  “Was just fine, luv.  Your friends behaved real nice for me.”

“I think they’ll say that you were behaving,” Xander said, right before his lips were nibbled on.

“I never behave, puppy.”  Pushing him onto the bed, Spike clambered on to hover above him.  “Might not want to forget that.”  Lips, cool and full from kissing, trailed down his skin from neck to navel.  Lightly biting around the indentation, Spike’s tongue flickered out to make Xander cry out sharply, squirming.

“You looked so strong, precious,” Spike whispered between kisses and licks.  “They way you were, tonight?  Not hurtin’, not scared. . . looked gorgeous.”  Tickling touch at the base of his now very hard erection, Spike’s hands caressing his thighs absently.  “Hold onto the head board. . . yeah, like that.  Good boy.”

Xander gasped aloud, hips thrusting up.

“Were good for me tonight, weren’t you?  Made sure the big bad Slayer was nice an’ happy. . .protectin’ me, not that I needed it.  So strong for me.”  The bedroom was dark with the heavy curtains down around the bed, blocking out all but a thin strip of light cutting across Spike’s face.  Blue eyes glowed in that light, bright and clear as Spike waited until Xander was looking at him again.

Then he licked from base to tip, his tongue flat and wide.  “My boy tastes good,” he purred.  “Gonna be good for me, puppy?  Gonna be my good boy?”

Don’t stop talking, please don’t stop talking.  “Yes—promise, please—I will—”

“Stay, puppy.”  Spike waited for the half-second it took for Xander to lock his body down—and then sucked Xander’s cock deep into his throat.

Oh, holy god!

They didn’t do this often.  Not never, but most of the time it was Xander who nibbled on the vein running up Spike’s cock, tonguing that place just below the head.  And it was Xander’s hands that tugged and fondled a sac that trembled under his touch.  Not Spike, taking him in until he could rub his nose against Xander’s pubic-bone, the brief flare of sensation making him pant even harder.  Not Spike swallowing repeatedly, lacking both gag-reflex and the pesky need to inhale.

But it was Xander who was too afraid to give in to the begging building in his throat, his body trembling so hard his muscles started to ache from the strain.  And it was definitely Xander who wanted nothing more than to stay like this forever, Spike’s cool mouth surrounding him with inhuman tightness, a wet, raspy tongue driving him insane.  The silken feeling in his gut because Spike was actively pleasing him—him—and telling him things he couldn’t help but believe.

“Good, puppy.  You’re so good for me, precious.”  It was almost a relief when Spike finally traded his mouth for his hand.  “My good boy, huh?  Always mine.  Not even your bloody friends are takin’ you from me, yeah?  You’re mine.”

“Yours.  Always.”  Promise. Promisepromisepromise.

Spike pushed himself to his knees, still roughly pulling on Xander’s cock, his own hips working in time.  “Now, precious.  Come now.”

Whispering Spike’s name, Xander threw his head back and shot all over himself.  Spike was. . . it was good now.  He was good, now.  He was safe and good and everything was okay.  To be here, with Spike.  It was right.  Because Tara knew about it and wasn’t telling anyone and thought it was a good thing.

Pushing himself on his elbows, Xander dazedly fought to stay awake.  He still had Spike to take care of, after all. . .   Except Spike was sitting on his heels, one hand moving in a blur as he jerked himself off.  The other was held to his mouth, carefully licking it clean, with his eyes half-closed.  

When he noticed Xander watching him, he tensed and came with a groan.

Later, curled up together the way they usually slept, Xander felt himself relax.  Completely.





Part Fifteen


Spike was pacing.  He hadn’t had a need to do that for nearly a week, something of a novel experience for him.  He always paced when he was nervous or frustrated or worried or. . . just damn antsy.  And since the moment Spike had taken Xander to their new place, gotten him settled in, there had been no need.

Yeah, an’ that went all to pot now, didn’t it?

It was nearly six o’clock.  Xander had left around ten, promising to be good and call later just to keep his over protective vampire from worrying.  For a while, too, it’d been okay.  Spike had things he needed to take care of, like checking up on his various monies and verbally intimidating a few recalcitrant lackeys.  Most demons didn’t use technology, but Spike was perfectly content to use both internet and telephone to do things for him for now.

Not forever, mind.  He still preferred the hands-on method.

But since his hours were now that of his boy’s, he had an entire day trapped in the brand new flat.  The one he’d designed to his tastes, stuffed full of things he loved to do.  Hours and hours of entertainment, he’d though, picking out videos he didn’t want to watch.  Shelves full of books and the privacy to read without getting caught.  Should keep him occupied, shouldn’t it?  But it wasn’t.  Why?  No Xander.  Because Xander was at work.

Growling in frustration, Spike threw himself down on the sofa.  Oh, he’d tried to find something to do—scanned the paper, hunted through the jumble of CD’s for one worth listening to, and there was nothing, not one sodding thing was enough to take his mind off the fact that Xander wasn’t there.  That Xander was currently somewhere far enough away that even if the contented place in the back of his head flared in fright, it’d be twenty minutes or more before Spike got there.

Sod this.  M’goin’ t’pay him a visit.  Appropriate for the first day, yeah?

Well, no.  Especially since he knew that Xander was okay—the connection between them was slumbering brown with hints of gold and softness like down would even calm him down, if he let it.  But he didn’t want it to, and he didn’t care anymore.  Grabbing his duster, Spike clattered down the stairs into the basement, where the sewer entrance resided.  Wasn’t really safe, having one inside the house, but he’d gotten Song Li to put enough wards around it that only Spike or someone with his permission could use it.  They’d already tried it once with Xander, so he was pretty certain that they were the real goods.

The last two days had been just fantastic.  Xander had overdone it at the party—an’ you goin’ all cave-vamp on him didn’t help none, wanker!—and Spike had been allowed to pamper his boy until the still-healing body had recovered.  He may not be very proud of his desire to play mother-hen so damned much, but he’d been aware of that particular facet of himself for decades, now, and had. . . come to terms with it.  Even if he did sound like the blinking Watcher when he thought of it that way.

Speaking of the Watcher, there was something odd going on under those greying curls.  Spike was pretty sure he hadn’t figured it out, yet, but he was damned close.  That was going to prompt a decision he could really do without, too, and a chat with Xander that he’d give someone’s lung not to have. Just ’cause the little witch knows doesn’t mean he wants them all to know.  Or how much of it he wants to tell.  Or why.  Or what I’ve been doin’ on the side.

Oh, definitely not that.  Not how it all started, the witch’s tacit blessings or not.  Because from an outsider’s point of view, Spike knew how it looked.  Oh, they were lovey-dovey and sappy enough for a brace of chick-flicks, with the witch probably sighing about how romantic it was, a vampire taking care of a human, loving him, even. The witches I can win over, since I’ve been takin’ care of him.  That should convince the Slayer not to stake me on sight, and the Watcher would do some checking before he came to that, make sure my boy is really happy where he is.  So yeah, can manage to stay unstaked that long.

But when they found out that he’d raped Xander, all bets were bloody off.

Didn’t rape him.  I didn’t, an’ they’re never gonna convince me that I did.  He wanted it, just as much as I did, needed it, even, and was practically beggin’ for it.  And I didn’t hurt him, didn’t use him, just took what was bein’ offered.  Nothin’ wrong with that, is there?  What’s a vampire to do when he’s got a hot, sweet boy like my puppy beggin’ to be taken and. . .

But that wouldn’t matter to a group of kids who’s definition of black and white was still iron-cast.  They’d form a hunting party—wouldn’t bother asking Xander for his side of it, just assume they were helping him—and destroy the monster that hurt their friend. Might convince ’em not to stake me ’cause of the bond.  Maybe.  But that was a flimsy hope, and even if he did, they’d never let Xander hear the end of it.  He’d be miserable, they both would, and sooner or later Spike’d leave to spare him.

Or worse, the Watcher would get involved.  Of all of them, the Watcher would understand what was going on, the good and the bad of it, and he could figure out a way to make Xander want to leave.  Convince him that Spike was a lying, manipulative bastard who could never do more than take and use, or figure out a way to banish the hyena from Xander’s mind totally, cut their bond off at the knees, leaving Spike. . .

Leaving Spike alone.  And deserving it.

He hated that realization, found buried under covers warmed with Xander’s heat, solid flesh pressed against his own, tracing barely-visible silvery scars with a gentle finger.  It wasn’t rape, wasn’t even close to rape.  But it was taking when Xander wasn’t in the right mind to give, the hyena personality forcing an issue that normal humans—hell, even normal vampires—couldn’t really understand.  And the Watcher would see that easy enough.  The rest wouldn’t, but he would and he’d calmly and slowly work away at Xan, using that bloody great mind of his to manipulate a boy he’d spent years getting to know, until the boy finally left him.  Probably stake him before Xander took off for good.

Never!  The flare of anger made him hurry his steps until he was practically running through the sewer, desperate to see Xan and reassure himself that this was all just the leftovers of an incurable worrywort and that Xander was his.

The chill of air-conditioned air slapped at him as he popped out of a small grate, in the building next to where Xander was working. Probably should tell him this entrance exists, Spike thought, then dismissed it.  Might make him think Spike was crowding him or something, and that’d undo all the work he’d been doing.  Because he did trust Xander.

He just didn’t trust anyone else.

The alley was nicely shaded and didn’t smell worse than the sewer had, at least.  Plastering himself onto simple brick walls, Spike peeked through the back window.

“Did you find that medallion yet?” a querulous voice demanded from the shop proper.  “Garon will be here in a few minutes.  He said six fifteen which is. . . a few minutes from now.”

“Was that three arms or three heads?”  Xander’s voice, relaxed and with only the smallest tinge of his ever-present nervousness.  Dark brown curls bobbed into view and Spike pressed his nose harder onto dirty glass.  “Because I’m seeing lots of threes.  And wow, I really don’t want to meet whatever has three of those.

“Oh, that’s the Rikatt.  From the no-flowers dimension.”

“No flowers dimension?  Like the world without shrimp?”  Spike could almost see Xander’s grin, even though his eyes only saw the back of Xander’s skull.  That, or Spike was further gone than he’d thought. ’Cause sneakin’ out to spy on him, that’s a sign of total security and sanity, right.

“Yes, exactly.  It’s gold.”

“Um, what’s—oh, the coin!  And hey, there it is!”  Picking up the appropriate coin, Xander closed the black-foam book and replaced it out of Spike’s sight.  Heading back into the main room, he paused for a few seconds, swivelling around like he was a hound almost catching a familiar scent.

“Xander?  He’ll be here soon.”

“Oh, right,” Xander said, leaving the back room totally.

See?  Perfectly bloody fine.  Knew Keller would take care of him, he’s a good guy, owes me a bunch.  Sides, he likes me an’ he likes kids, so that’s doubly sure, yeah?  Nothin’ at all to be worried over.  Xander’s fine.

Ten more minutes, with the sun just barely below the crust of the earth, and Spike was following a demon dressed in a parka and a baseball cap into the shop proper.  He snorted as he caught sight of what was supposed to be hidden.  “Uh, mate, word to the wise,” he said, watching another demon—well, smelled demon, but it looked human enough—purchase the three-armed gold coin.  “Know a lady down by the docks, charges a pretty penny, but does a decent illusion spell.  Might wanna call her up—you’re ears are pokin’ through an’ the grey skin’s a bit of a give away.”

The demon just grunted at him, stumping forward as the Goran pocketed the coin and left.  Spike slid his hands into the duster, wandering around examining things without touching them.  Touching in this place was liable to set off traps—both the owner’s and the object’s.  There was a general set-spell to prevent theft, but the more expensive items often got individual spells, if they didn’t come with any on their own. No wonder Song Li has all the best merchandise.  Got a nice little back-scratchin’ arrangement here.

He thought idly how to get in on it, not really interested but still pondering a few possibilities.  Just to keep his hand in, as it were.  He was still evil, even if he was a love-struck fool.

The store was cluttered and warm, the smell of wood polish and old parchment dust strong in the tiny space.  Paths were narrow and treacherous, since objects were not placed out for optimal viewing, so much as left wherever Keller dumped them.  Least, that’s what it seemed like, with the haphazard, floor-to-ceiling layout.  A child’s room, tumbled and dirty without mum to force it clean, and Keller doting on his merchandise the way a child would their favorite toys.  It was warm, though.  Soft yellow walls and a feeling of safety and peace.

Given the charms Keller had on this place, it was peaceful—would take a godling to fight through that magic.

“Ah, Master Spike, so good to see you.” Keller smiled genially from behind the counter, old man persona in full control. Like the poncy bastard doesn’t know I know how old he isn’t.  Seeming old and a little hard of hearing was a useful appearance for an antiques dealer, though, and Spike was used to seeing him like this.  Wasn’t going to blow his cover, neither, not unless there was a reason for Xander to know.  “Come to check on your boy?”

“Why, you abusin’ him?”  So glad he’d learned the trick of keeping his eyes and his mouth separate.  Made smiling back with eyes nice and wintery in warning pretty easy.  But then, Keller knew what Spike’d do to him, if Xander got hurt here.  He’d been told, in detail. Bloody buggering chip.  If Keller hurts him, though, gonna find awayaround the soddin’ thing.  Just to beat Keller m’self.  Shrugging, Spike dropped the threatening look.  “Need some artwork for the walls.  Was thinkin’ of them Japanese screens of trees an’ stuff.  Puppy likes ’em.”

There was a startled ‘meep’ from the backroom and then hurried feet sounding on thick carpeting.  “I’m what?  And I like huh?”

He couldn’t stop the smile as Xander tumbled into view, scraggy hair falling into his eyes, face slightly flushed from surprise and a bit of a true blush, body half twisted as he leaned against the wall to scan the outside room.  Not a hint of true fear, though, the coil in the back of Spike’s head still calmly complacent, despite the boy’s agitated appearance.  Spike took a casual half-step towards his boy, inhaling deeply and trying not to be obvious when checking him out.  Boy was covered in dust and smelled of cobwebs, sweat stains darkening the collar of his shirt.

Spike looked from the stains to Keller, mildly glaring.  “Thought I told you no heavy liftin’ for a bit, yeah?”

“I’m fine, Spike,” Xander replied automatically, still scanning the store.  “And hey, where’d everyone go?  Not that I want them back,” he added, tossing Spike a distracted glare, “because then they’d hear Spike call me ‘puppy’.”

“You don’t like it when I call you puppy?”  The pout was faked, his lips twitching too much to maintain it for long, but it got a positively delicious reaction out of the boy: burst of pheromones, sweet and salty, plus more embarrassment and pleasure.  True pleasure, the kind Spike savored.  “An’ they saw me an’ hightailed it.  Vampire of my rep can do that, you know.  Clear a whole room.”

Xander didn’t even bother to respond, looking towards Keller.  “I thought night-time was busy time?”

“It is,” Keller replied, favoring Spike with a glare of his own.  “Give it an hour or two and I’ll have more customers.  Spike, I haven’t been overworking him, it was just hot in the cataloguing room.”

“Aw, what happened to ‘master’?”  But that was a reasonable explanation and Spike was willing to let it go until he had reason to pursue it.  He did trust Keller. . . to some extent.  “So, he behavin’?  Don’t need to. . . remind him who’s boss, do I?”

Xander flushed heavily at that, dark eyes screaming to please stop embarrassing him.  And turning him on, because Spike knew damned well what that voice did to his puppy, which was why he’d chosen it in the first place.

Mine.

“No, no, Xander has been quite helpful.  We managed to go through the cataloguing room in record time this morning and so far, I’d say that this arrangement is going to work out just fine.  He’ll be allowed longer hours as he gets used to it, I assume?”  Without waiting for Spike’s response, Keller headed behind the counter and popped open a small drawer.  The smell of sulfur and camphor drifted out. A magically lock drawer?  Paranoid.  Not that Spike hadn’t known that before.  Not that Spike hadn’t banked on that, when sending the most precious he owned to Keller for the day.  “Here we are.  A small token of appreciation—I’ve never had a helper before.  Didn’t realize how much fun it would be.”

Fun?  Spike sidled over, wrapping an arm around Xander’s waist and was pleased when the boy immediately leaned against Spike, not even thinking about it.  “What’s that, then?  Told me you were gonna pay him normally, end of every other week, direct to his account.  S’what all those forms I gave you were about, yeah?”

“Oh, yes, of course he will.  But this isn’t wages, this is thanks.  I told you, I didn’t have helpers before your boy, and he’s very useful.  I may even hire more, if you and your boy run off together into—well, the moonrise, I suppose.”

And that was just all kinds of weird, but Spike accepted the small token and examined it closely.  A coin, silver and shiny from fingers rubbing over it again and again, the image on one side of two vampiric canines, elongated with a hint of blood running down them.  Unnerving, but—on the other side was a person, could’ve been a vamp, but Spike knew it was a human.  Surrounded by smaller images of the canines, untouched.  It shocked him, like static on a blustery day, when he touched it, which explained the lingering smell of sulfur—the coin was witched.

A protection coin.  Against vampires meaning Xander harm.  Wouldn’t stop the determined, but it would give them pause long enough for Xander to do something about it on his own.

“Now you keep that with you, Xander.  Put it in your wallet.”  Keller smiled grandfatherly, heading back towards his beloved cash register.  “You two are going to see Song Li a little later, I believe Xander said?  Mind giving her this?  That’s a long walk for a man of my age.”

Xander, good little human that he was, ignored Spike’s snort and immediately picked up the small white parcel that Keller placed on the counter, not even bothering to sniff or shake it before tucking it under his arm.  Stupid, that, even from someone you trusted. Gonna have to instill a proper amount of paranoia in the boy, it seems.

“Anything else?” cheerful, intrepid employed lad asked anxiously.  “Or am I done?”

“You’re done.  Come on back tomorrow around noon—you can help me set up that big desk in the back.”

“Ok, thanks,” Xander waved, hustling Spike out of the store and into the semi-darkness.  “Keep walking,” he gritted out when Spike made to stop, keeping the pace at a fast clip.

Curious, a little offended, but willing to humor the boy, Spike kept up a rambling monologue about the trials of being popular and important among Sunnydale’s demons as they walked all the way to Song Li’s place, clear to the other side of town.  Not that there was a whole lot of town, mind.

“Ah, Xander, thank you.”  Song Li was dressed all in white today, hair separated into two long braids down her back.  She accepted the package, looking it over briefly before sliding it onto a shelf on the wall behind her.  “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay.  I started my first day of work today!”  Xander hopped up onto the counter, totally at ease as he babbled on about his day.

Spike listened with half an ear wandering through the downstairs part of the store.  Where Keller’s shop was warm, this place was cool, with hints of otherworldly mystery hanging over all of it.

Does he ever shut up? Spike thought irritably, ten minutes later. Rush all the way out here, just to check on him, an’ does he care?  No, would rather butter up to Song Li about what an ‘incredible’ day he had.  I got him that job, damnit, should be me he’s blatherin’ on to.  But oh, no, he don’t care.  Got him a captive audience, an’ why should I want to listen?  I’m just a vampire.  Just a soddin’ rapist that took him away from the ones who truly hurt him an’—

“Spike?”  Song Li’s tilted head meant she’d been trying to talk to him for a while.  And Xander was looking bloody impatient, the insolent, ungrateful brat.  “I asked if you had much of the pain-dulling salve left.”

By the time he figured out which salve Li meant, Spike realized that it wasn’t impatience writ onto Xander’s face.  It was severe discomfort and the beginnings of pain—all emotional, but pain nonetheless; in the back of his mind, the brown was shading towards grey, and the streaks of gold turning brittle and icy.

“Only a bit left,” he answered, moving as casually as he could until he was plastered up against Xander, arm around his waist again.  Drumming a pattern on his hip, Spike tucked his shoulder underneath Xander’s arm, forcing Xander to lean on him again. Much better like this.  “Don’t suppose we can get a bit more while we’re here?”

“Of course.”  And why the hell he rated that look of disappointment and disapproval, Spike had no clue.  What had he not done for Xander?  “You must be sparing with it,” she explained again, this time for Xander’s benefit.  “I cannot give you much more.  Use it carefully.”

Spike stared at the small vial and then back up to Song Li, while Xander stuttered on about more prosaic forms of lube.  What the hell did the bloody woman mean, use it carefully?  Like he slathered it on so much that Xander felt nothing?  And besides, she’d given them plenty of other lubes, better smelling and of a better texture, but not that different from what you found in a normal porn shop, like the one on 15th.  He hated when people played word-games like this, and he had no idea what the bloody hell she was saying!

But if she was saying it, then it had to be important.  Which pissed him off even more.

“Yeah, right, careful.  We done now?”  Barely waiting long enough for Song Li’s nod, Spike eased Xander off the counter and outside.  “Dinner, yeah?  Gotta celebrate my puppy’s first day, don’t I?”

Xander didn’t fight as Spike hustled him outside and down the deserted street, though Spike could read the mulish expression without the benefit of the colors in his head curdling like rotten milk.  This bonding bit took some getting used to, it did, no matter how sodding useful it might be.  Xander did pull away from Spike’s touch as soon as he could, though.

When Spike tried to reestablish a connection, Xander fucking flinched, and stopped dead.  “Okay, Spike, what gives?  I get the bored, stuck in the apartment all day thing, but you just blew off Song Li.  The one who healed me?  The one you repeatedly told me not to offend?”

“She’s not so tough.”  Why the hell was he sulking again?  Just cause Xander had a good day, no Spike-contact at all. . .

Xander snorted, suddenly sounding like the annoying brat Spike had conked over the head with a microscope, more than a year ago.  “We’re going home.”

Oh, no.  Oh, hell no.  “No, we’re not.”  Grabbing Xander’s arm, he tugged—not hard, but enough that it got Xander’s attention.  “Sorry to destroy your little fantasy, precious,” he snarled, “but this is my show.  I go where we say, an’ when, you clear on that?  I don’t give a Slayer’s fart for how good your day was, that never gives you the right to talk to me like that, puppy. Never.”

Spike wanted to go to a bar.  Play the Big Bad, pound his chest and rip some heads off, maybe tie knots in a few spines.  Something to shake the feeling in his belly, and remind himself that he was no one’s toy to jerk around. 

But that wasn’t possible, was it?  He was bonded to a human child who was still hurt and starting to shiver in the cool night air.  There were things creeping about, too, and Spike could only protect Xander from roughly half of them—which made the damned shivery feeling even worse.  Sulking, fuming, and refusing to admit to either fear or worry, Spike went to the only destination he had left.  Xander followed behind, drawn for the same reasons Spike was. 

It was a very quiet trip.




tbc




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