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4: Moving Forward

Spike lay on his back, head resting on one forearm, stroking himself with a leisurely, relaxed rhythm as he listened to Xander in the bathroom. He knew that once finished there, Xander would head to the kitchen and Spike would once more get breakfast in bed. It was good to be living proper vampire hours again. Plus, Xander had taken over the domestics since finishing work and Spike was enjoying that very much. He hadn't minded doing the cooking and cleaning when Xander was working, but there was no doubt that this, being served, was more his style. It made his demon purr. And if he occasionally helped with the housework - well it just meant Xander was free to do other things that much sooner.

Xander had embraced his new life with commitment. Last Monday night, after the job and bank were sorted out, he had come to Spike, knelt at his feet and offered up the collar on his open palms. Recognising the action for what it was, Spike had taken it solemnly and raised it to his lips before fastening it around Xander's neck. It hadn't come off since and Xander had taken to wearing open-necked shirts.

Spike grimaced slightly at the memory of their meeting with the rest of the Scoobies earlier in the week, when they had finally realised the true nature of Xander's relationship with Spike. There had been shock, threats and a lot of shouting. But Xander had remained stalwart through it all explaining calmly, once he was allowed to speak, that he knew exactly what he had done. Interestingly, Giles had not seemed nearly as surprised as the girls. Spike thought that eventually Giles might be able to talk them around. In the meantime he was enjoying uninterrupted Xander time; happy Xander time. Because Xander was happy. There was no hint that he regretted the confrontation or the ultimatum and Spike had become expert at reading Xander's moods, fears and insecurities. Not so many insecurities lately either.

He squeezed some lube onto his hand. Turning on his side, he reached behind his back, ran a couple of fingers between his cheeks and pushed them into his hole as he thought about how far the boy's life had diverged from his friends'. Spike now saw that apart from the slaying, the gang did not actually spend much time together and looking back with this new insight, it seemed that had been true for a while. Xander had talked about high-school and how they lived in each other's pockets as they battled to survive long enough to leave. But then the girls went off to college and Xander didn't. He hadn't talked much about that and Spike remembered with a mixture of pride and shame, how easy it was to set them against each other only months later. They had supposedly made up, but as Spike thought about it he realised that the camaraderie was often strained and at times rang false. There were other changes too: as time passed the Slayer became more and more independent and domineering, pushing even the Watcher away, and the Red Witch had become absorbed in her magic, until her magic almost absorbed her. But Xander had stayed, doggedly hanging on to a role in their lives, any role, be it donuts or window frames. Spike smiled, as always, at the thought of his boy. Yes, he had always been loyal. So why did he now seem happy to walk away? There had been nothing forced or false in his reactions to the recriminations on Wednesday night. In fact, he seemed almost glad to get it all out in the open.

Spike smiled again at the memory: Nobody had noticed at first. They walked into Buffy's living room hand in hand as usual and Spike had propped himself against the wall, pulling Xander back against him, arms around Xander's waist. Xander had leant back against his body, giving his usual little bum shimmy against Spike's cock as he settled. They never sat down at Scooby meetings.

The Watcher had been pacing the room, thinking aloud in incomplete phrases, working his way towards identifying the source of the current disturbance, when he glanced across the room and paused mid-sentence. Had to give him credit, he didn't blanch, just looked at them and asked, "Xander, what is that around your neck?"

Xander hadn't flinched either. He'd reached up and pulled the collar around so the padlock hung at the front and replied calmly, "It's Spike's collar. It shows I belong to him."

Spike grinned to himself. Talk about throwing tinder on the fire. The Slayer blew her top and pulled him out of Spike's arms. Fat chance of success there - as soon as she let him go he came straight back. The Witch had frozen with her mouth hanging open for a good two minutes, then she weighed in too. What with her tearful pleas for reassurance and the Slayer's threats of violence and determined assertions that it must be blackmail or a spell, the Watcher had spent more than five minutes trying to calm them down. Eventually he just shouted for quiet and told them all to sit. Spike had plonked himself down on the sofa while Xander knelt at his feet. That made the Watcher roll his eyes and sarcastically thank Xander for his help. But, he'd gone on to referee the inquisition that followed, as the big threat to Sunnydale was forgotten in the face of this more personal challenge to their cosy world.

Since Spike wasn't being allowed to speak, he had pulled his boy up onto the sofa and into his lap. Xander had relaxed against him as he told them that it was the none of their business, that it was his choice and basically, they could either lump it or leave it. They hadn't, of course. It was possible they could have still been there repeating the same arguments, over and over, except Xander had turned to Spike and said very clearly, "Please, Master Spike, can we go home?"

So they did. Spike held him close as they walked, but Xander was calm. Not like the tears he shed six months ago, when he told them all that the two of them were together. This time he just walked away.

Spike was beginning to suspect that his arrival in Xander's life, properly in his life, had provided some sort of necessary trigger. That once Xander found what he needed, he had simply switched his loyalties to this new object; to Spike, who appreciated what Xander had to offer, as the Slayer so often did not. Pulling his fingers out of his arse, he reached under the pillow and stroked the shallow jeweller's box. Xander had wanted to make a public statement and he had done so. Spike had determined that in future he would do it in style.

Spike sat up as he heard Xander's footsteps coming up the hall and the door was pushed open. Xander padded into the bedroom carrying a tray holding three mugs. Pausing just inside the door, he knelt on the floor and bowed his head before standing up again and placing the tray on the bedside table. Spike felt his demon stir with pleasure and marvelled again at how Xander came up with these little gestures, as if he knew all Spike's buttons.

Climbing back into bed, Xander reached out and offered Spike the mug of pig‘s blood. Spike smiled his thanks and took a big gulp. Momentarily disconcerted, he looked at Xander in surprise. "Dangerous, Pet," he growled in reproof. Grabbing the boy's left hand and turning it over, he found the small cut at the base of the thumb. "How much did you put in?" he asked, shifting to game face so he could prick his own tongue and lave the wound.

Xander watched as the blood and saliva mix closed the cut almost instantly, an expression of awed surprise on his face. "Not much," he said. "Just a few drops, really. I was on the net yesterday and read that a bit of otter added to pig's blood really improves the flavour. So I thought maybe a bit of mine would make it better too."

Spike reached out to cup Xander's face. "Oh it does, Pet. It certainly does." He stroked his hand up Xander's cheek and through his hair. "But it's dangerous. When I drink this I'm feeding. If you put your own blood in the mix, even a little, you could end up conditioning the demon. It is not a complex beast and I don't want you to start smelling like food. Okay?" Xander looked crestfallen. "Hey, Pet," he said, twisting to put the mug down and turning back to take Xander in his arms. "It was a lovely thought, an' I'm grateful. Makes it taste bloody delicious. But I think it'd be safer if we just ordered in some otter, eh?"

Xander smiled shyly. "Okay. Sorry. I didn't know."

"S'okay Pet. It's okay not to know. But it's good t'learn too. That's what I'm here for." He grinned. "Well, one of the things I'm here for."

Xander smiled back reassured and Spike picked the mug back up grinning at Xander again. "Once isn't enough to condition the demon. Would be a shame to waste such a lovely present." He drank the rest as Xander sipped his coffee.

Putting his mug aside, Spike lay down, resting his head on Xander's thigh, curling his arms around the leg and hugging it to him, savouring the taste of strong, red richness. "Not having coffee this morning, Pet. Want to keep that flavour in my mouth."

Xander leant back against the pillows stroking his fingers through Spike's hair. He sounded vaguely flat when he spoke. "Does that mean you can't ever bite me, Spike?" he asked.

Rolling over so he was lying on his back, his head still pillowed on Xander's thigh, Spike looked up at him. "You want me to?"

Xander's face scrunched up slightly in thought. "I don't know... I read stuff, you know? About how it feels... And there was Riley. He must have got something out of it or he wouldn't have done it, would he?" He tilted his head as he gazed down into Spike's eyes, a wistful expression in his own. "What does it feel like?" he asked. "Is it nice?"

Spike stretched luxuriously. "Oh, Pet! Nice is not the word." He grinned up at Xander, sensing another threshold approaching slightly sooner than he had expected. "It can be amazing, for both partners. During sex it heightens the pleasure tenfold." Deliberately catching Xander's eyes and holding them, he said, "And if you ask me, I can do it. And once you invite me, I can do it any time we want." Xander looked puzzled so he continued. "Where do you live, Luv?"

Xander's expression shifted to nonplussed. "Here, with you."

"No, Pet. Not what I meant." He paused a moment, working out how to explain. "For this, you live in your body," he said. "For blood play like this, you have to invite me in." Seeing the cogs beginning to turn, he went on. "Feeding's different. No invite necessary, obviously, or we'd all starve. And it's not 'bout sex. At least, not just about sex. Sex and feeding do go well together." He grimaced ruefully. "Well, they did at one time. The reason I've never bit you, Pet, is 'cause you're not a meal to me. I love you. You're mine. This... what I've been waiting for..." he found himself struggling to find the words. "This blood play's a ritual. It'll bind us together more closely. The demon will truly own you. It's the ultimate, Luv. Once you do this you can never leave. You'll have no choice. If you tried, I could stop you with a word. It's magic, Pet. Powerful, sexual, blood magic."

Spike took in another breath and looked up at Xander, gauging his reaction before going on to reassure. "It's natural magic. Not the twisted stuff Red got caught up in, or that cheap, gypsy hocus that Dracula's into. He didn't bite you, did he?" Xander shook his head. "'S a natural part of the demon, Luv. In blood play the demon has different rules. For one thing it's mutual and the demon recognises that. For another, it's not blood lust. It's impossible for the demon to take too much. That's how the vampire whorehouses survive. Think they'd be so common if half the humans going in never came out again?" He smiled grimly. "'Course, the poor sods don't realise the full extent of their contract. Not until they try to stop - if they ever do. The houses make sure they don't allow the same pairing too often, so the demon never mates - but the magic's still there. The owner of the house can always call them back." He thought a bit further. "'Doubt Solider Boy got away clean," he added. "Even if he escaped Sunnydale, he's still marked. No, Solider boy'll never be free. He gave the demons free access. Any house that sees him can call him in. He's sold. That's how it works, Pet. When it's not exclusive." He paused again, worried that he had said too much. Seeing that Xander looked more thoughtful than horrified, he went on, "But even the first time, it won't kill its donor. It just can't do it. 'S how Renfields are made, Pet."

"Sold?" Xander asked hesitantly. Then more alarmed, "Renfields?! Umm... Not going to be eating bugs again am I?"

Spike laughed. "No Luv, you don't have to eat bugs. Told you, what Dracula did was different. He gets his kicks doing that t'people. Got a weird sense of humour. Renfields is just what they're called. You won't lose your will or your mind, 'cause you already belong to me. The Soldier sold himself for the thrill and he's owned by anyone who feels like reaching out and taking him. You are mine and only mine. You've already gifted yourself to me." He paused for emphasis. "But this is still a big thing. We do it and you'll give me control over you. I could make you do anything, if I used the right words. You'd just have to trust me not to abuse you." He smirked up at Xander. "Other than in ways you like, anyway."

Xander thought about it. He remembered how violated he'd felt by Dracula. He thought about when he was trapped inside his own body as it followed the orders of first a hyena and later of a soldier and he could do nothing to stop it. He thought about being like that again but ruled by Spike, powerless to resist. And he thought about his life now, about how Spike ruled him and how much he needed that. It was already true that he would obey any order Spike could give, or would give.

"I trust you, Spike," he said.

Spike scrambled up so he was kneeling next to Xander and pulled him into a kiss. "Love you so much, Pet," he whispered against Xander's lips.

"So," Xander asked thoughtfully. "How come Angel almost killed Buffy, when she forced him to take her blood?"

Spike frowned, feeling regret for his Sire's loss. "Angel's demon never accepted Buffy," he said. "It hated her. Just like she never accepted it. Y'can bet he never bit her, the one time he did get into her knickers. 'Sides, she's the Slayer and Angelus is one mean, jealous son of a bitch. Never bagged a Slayer himself. No, 'far as the demon was concerned, Buffy was food."

Xander's eyes were wide and wondering. "But your demon...?" he asked.

"Loves you, yes." Spike picked up Xander's hand and lifted it to his mouth. "It recognises you as its Mate. Invite me in and it will never, ever kill you by accident," he promised.

Xander's voice was small and awed. "Oh," he said as he gazed, entranced, at Spike's head bowed over his hand. "Wow. Umm. I invite you" he whispered.

Spike looked up. "Petlove. That is the most beautiful gift anyone has ever given me. Thank you. I accept your kind invitation." He gently removed the now empty coffee mug from Xander's other hand and set it aside. Staring deeply into Xander's eyes, he stroked one lock of hair back behind his ear. "I have something for you too, Pet. It's not as wonderful as your gift. But I think you'll like it."

He reached under the pillow, retrieved the flat jeweller's box and held it out. Xander's automatic smile of pleased surprise gave way to one of delight as he opened the lid, exposing the contents. On a bed of black velvet lay a collar made of a multitude of gold and silver links, much like a thin watch strap. In the centre lay a silver rivet.
Xander's expression was awed as he picked up the rivet, looking at Spike questioningly. "Is it really...?" he asked.

Spike smiled back at him. "Yes, Pet. Put that on and it's there for good. No clasp".

"Wow!" He suddenly burst into life and jumped off the bed. "I'll go get the rivet gun. Hang on." Turning back at the door he hesitated briefly. "Can we do it now, Master Spike?"

Spike laughed at his enthusiasm. "Yes, Pet. If you want. Go get the rivet gun."

Xander disappeared.

When he returned he again paused by the side of the bed instead of getting in. He sank to his knees with the rivet gun clasped in his lap, bowed his head and held the gun out to Spike with both hands. Spike was momentarily reminded of Japanese soldiers surrendering their swords. He took the tool from Xander. "Thank you, Luv. Now come back up here."

Xander crawled onto the bed and knelt back on his feet. Spike rested his fingers on Xander's neck over the leather collar, then ran them up to his chin, tilting Xander's head up so he could see his face. He leant forward and kissed him gently. "I accept your gift of devotion, submission and blood," he said formally. "You are mine and I will care for you always."

He reached both hands up to Xander's neck undoing the leather collar and placing it carefully to the side. Lifting the metal one out of its case, he placed it around Xander's neck, holding the terminal links together. It was a perfect fit; snug but not too tight, he could easily slip his fingers under it.

"Here, Pet. Hold this together will you?" he asked. Once Xander had the links lined up properly he picked up the rivet gun and slotted the rivet in place. "Want to do this right, Luv. Want it to look pretty. Hold still."

A slight squeeze with vampiric strength and the rivet popped. Spike inspected the result. Yes, the angle had been true, it was a perfect circle of metal with a clean hole through the middle.

Xander's hands ran around the collar feeling its fit and texture. "It's beautiful, Master. Thank you." His fingers reached the join.

"Ah yes, that," said Spike. "Hang on again, Pet. One more bit."

He reached under the pillow again and retrieved the other jeweller's box. Opening this one himself he pulled out a decorative gold padlock with a ruby set into its face and a small gold key on a chain.

"Just for show, Pet. But you like show and it's pretty. The red'll look lovely 'gainst your skin."

Xander assumed the present position, clasping his hands together at the small of his back as Spike threaded the hasp through the hole in the rivet and snapped the lock closed. Picking up the gold chain he fastened it around his own neck, so the key lay clearly visible in the hollow of his throat. Sitting back on his feet he gazed at his boy, seeing the pride evident in the raised chin and straight back. The collar and padlock glistened beautifully against the warm bronze of Xander's tan. Reaching out, he ran the palms of his hands lightly over the well defined muscles of Xander's chest, down to his hips and in over the smoothness of his hairless groin. One hand slid up the length of his rigid cock and the other slipped between his legs to caress his silky, oiled balls. Xander threw back his head and arched his body forward, as if reaching for more touch. Spike leant forward and nibbled lightly on the tip of Xander's cock.

He pulled back. "You are fucking gorgeous, Pet," he sighed. "Fucking gorgeous. Now, I want my present."

They met knee to knee, cock to cock and chest the chest. The kiss was long and deep. Spike held Xander's head firmly still and once again Xander surrendered control to him, allowing Spike to push him back. Spike straddled Xander's hips and carried the kiss down with them as Xander clasped his arms strongly around him.

Pulling back slightly, Spike dug the slick out from under the pillow. Xander reached out to assist, squeezing the tube too hard in his eagerness. A huge dollop of lube landed on Spike's palm. He reached down rubbing it all over Xander's cock, caressing the hard length, playing the tease, enjoying the view as Xander's body stretched and arched for him. Then he raised himself up on his knees, moved forwards until he was in position and began to sit down.

His possession of Xander's cock was smooth and slow. Once seated properly he stayed still for a moment simply enjoying the feeling of fullness and the smoothness of Xander's skin against his arse. Xander lay frozen, his eyes screwed tight shut as he tried to control his breathing. Then Spike began to move. Gripping Xander's shoulders and pulling him up into a sitting position, he lifted himself slowly and allowed his own weight take him back down. Xander was gasping and whimpering with need, clinging to Spike and totally unable to move his hips. Spike sped up his movements, leaning back slightly to rub his prostate on Xander's cock. Xander was panting now and screamed softly when Spike squeezed around his cock, his hands clenching on Spike's ribs.

Spike rolled his hips. "Need you, Pet" he gasped.

Xander reached down to grasp Spike's cock, pumping it in time with Spike's own movements. Spike felt the pressure building in his balls as his face shifted. He squeezed again and again, moving faster and faster. Then he sat down hard and lunged for Xander's shoulder, biting into the thick muscle below the collar. Xander arched his neck, screamed and came.

Spike was lost in the taste and the sensation it created. Xander invaded all his senses; the warm flood in his arse, the other in his mouth, snaked through his body, radiating warmth out to the tips of his fingers and toes. Xander's submission and devotion were plain for him to read, as though he had spoken them directly into Spike's mind. He was never going to lose this. This was his heaven on earth.

As he came down from the initial high he stopped pulling on Xander's neck, but left his fangs in place. Xander shuddered in his arms and his head fell forward onto Spike's shoulder. He started to pant as if learning all over again how to breathe. Spike reached up with a sharp fingernail, sliced open his own neck and pressed Xander's mouth to the cut. Xander gave a small gasp of surprise as the blood hit his tongue, but he automatically started to suckle, continuing even after the cut had closed.

Spike gently retracted his fangs and shifted into his human face, leaving the bite to scar. He pulled back and slid both hands into Xander's hair, lifting the boy's head so he could look at him. "Fucking gorgeous," he said.

Xander raised heavy, blissed-out eyes to Spike. "Yeah," he said. "You are."

They stayed still for five minutes or so, even after Xander's softened cock had slipped out of Spike's arse. But eventually the general stickiness penetrated Spike's sex-fogged brain and he shifted off Xander's lap. Xander collapsed onto his back with an 'omph' and rolled his head weakly in Spike's direction, for once rendered totally speechless. Spike lay down by his side, resting his head on Xander's chest and hugged him with a lazy one-armed scrunch. The sun had set when they woke again.


Xander was pottering around the kitchen making his breakfast as Spike sat on a high stool with a mug of blood, admiring the view. Xander's sweats were constantly slipping, as the loose knot Spike had tied and then told him not to touch, slowly gave way to gravity. His cooking was constantly interrupted by his need to hitch them up. Spike watched with amusement as the repeated hitching gradually loosened the waistband more and more. Eventually Xander seemed to realise he was fighting a losing battle and he stopped trying to pull them back up. Spike watched enthralled as Xander's natural movements accelerated or stopped the inevitable downward slide. He also recognised the moment it became a show. Xander's movements became more deliberate: the hip wiggle that caused them to drop a further half inch, the spreading of his feet that halted the fall. He held his mug of blood between his hands and enjoyed. When they inevitably gave up the struggle and fell to the floor, Xander's bum wriggle and teasing back thrust were a totally acceptable finale to the performance. Spike had to restrain his desire to jump the counter and press himself against that inviting arse. His boy had to eat.

Xander casually kicked the sweats aside as he emptied the pan onto a plate and came to sit opposite Spike in just his t-shirt. Momentary regret for the loss of the view was replaced by the true pleasure of watching Xander enjoying his food.

Once he had finished, Xander tidied away his breakfast things and picked his sweats up off the floor. Folding them over his arm, he walked around the counter to Spike's side.

"So what are we doing today?" he asked. "Do you want to patrol?"

Spike twisted around on his seat to face Xander and reached out one hand to Xander's hip, pulling him in between his knees. "Could do, Pet. Haven't had a spot of violence for a few days. But could just as happily stay in. What do you want to do?"

Xander hesitated for a moment. "Could we do something different?" he asked. "Could we go out, just us? Could we go do something really ordinary... like go to the movies, maybe?"

Spike recognised Xander's expression of restrained hope. "Of course we can, Luv," he said. "Don't think that what you want doesn't matter. You can always tell me what you want. If I decide not to give it to you there'll always be a reason. And there's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't go to the movies. Do you know what you want to see?"

Xander reached over the counter to grab the paper. "Yeah," he said eagerly "'Return of the King' has been out for a few weeks now, so it should be less crowded than before. The reviews say it's at least as good as the first two and you enjoyed them didn't you? It would be good for you to see one of them on a big screen.“

Spike managed to prevent himself from reassuring Xander again, recognising that Xander was trying to present reasons to go and see the movie that he thought would appeal to his Master. "Sounds lovely," he said.

Xander relaxed against his leg. "Yeah. Isn't it great how we have so much in common?"

Spike grinned and leant forward to kiss him. "Isn't it just."

* * * * *

The sky was high and wide as they wandered home from the late show. The stars were surprisingly bright given the city lights and the air felt fresh for once. Spike tightened his arm around Xander's waist and felt the corresponding hug of Xander's arm around his shoulders.

He was just contemplating spinning his Pet into a proper embrace when Xander spoke. "You know, I've never lived anywhere else but here. I've done short trips, like when we went to San Francisco and I spent a summer in Oxnard. But I've never really left Sunnydale."

Spike glanced at him. "Do you want to, Pet?"

Xander paused as if thinking, but when he answered it was apparent that he was continuing his own train of thought. "I don't know. I guess it was the slaying. I was involved with that long before I left home. Long before I could leave home, legally. So by the time I did, the idea of moving away didn't occur to me."

"But now it is?" Spike asked.

Xander turned his head to look at him. "You said you hadn't decided where we would live. I was just thinking..."

"Hmm?" Spike prompted. "What were you thinking, Pet?"

Xander tilted his head back as they walked, trusting Spike to steer him as he gazed up at the stars. He took a breath and looked back at Spike seriously. "About how it wouldn't be so bad to go somewhere else. Somewhere where we wouldn't be odd."

Spike laughed. "Vampire, Pet. And human. We'll always be odd."

Xander smiled. "Yeah, I guess we will."

They were nearly home when Spike tensed. He had been aware of the car approaching. He was a predator; even if he didn't hunt anymore he was always alert to his surroundings. His subconscious recognised the sound of the engine slowing and his arm loosened on Xander's waist as his body automatically readied itself to jump between Xander's human body and any possible threat. But all that happened was a head leaning out of the offside window and a voice shouting, "Faggots!" before the car accelerated away down the street, the rest of the shout trailing behind like streamers on the slipstream, "Xaannnder Harrrris!"

He felt Xander flinch and tightened his grip again, hustling Xander the last few yards up to the front door.

Xander unlocked the door and moved to step aside for Spike to enter first, but Spike just shoved him through and closed the door behind them. Xander immediately dropped to his knees, clasping his hands behind his back. Spike stepped forward to stand in front of him. He ran a hand through Xander's hair, petting and stroking.

"Stand up, Pet," he said, shrugging off his coat and throwing it over a chair. "Get yourself comfortable. I'll get us a beer. Off you go."

Xander got up, gathered up the coat and went through to the bedroom to hang it up and remove his outdoor clothes.

Spike pulled off his boots, got a couple of beers from the fridge. He was already ensconced, full length, on the sofa by the time Xander returned, barefoot, in sweats and a T-shirt. Spike dropped one foot to the floor and reached out a hand to Xander, pulling him down to sit. He hooked both his legs around Xander's waist, hugging him with his thighs. Xander leaned back, flopping his head onto the back of the sofa and sighed as he relaxed. Spike slapped a beer into his hand and tightened his legs, pulling Xander in to him. Xander tipped his head to the side and smiled wearily, raising his bottle in silent thanks and salute.

Never one to put off the difficult conversation, Spike cut straight to the chase. "So who was that, Luv?" he asked.

Xander gave a snort of derision. "Greg," he said. "Just a... wanker from work."

"One of the Alexandra crowd?" Spike guessed.

"Yeah. The ringleader. He was on Jim's crew, so I didn't see that much of him." He sighed. "But he doesn't like faggots. I know that for a fact - because he told me so himself, more than once."

"Don't suppose you'd like me to kill him for you, Luv?"

Xander laughed. "No," he said firmly.

Spike shrugged. "Was worth a try."

"You wouldn't do it anyway. Not now," Xander said.

Spike allowed his voice to become firm and cool. "Still a vampire, Pet. And you're mine. There are some things where the soul takes a back seat."

Xander drew in a breath. "Sorry, Master Spike. But..." he trailed off, obviously realising that 'but' had no place in his mouth right now.

Spike finished the thought for him: "But please don't?" he said. "Pet, if I do or I don't, it's my responsibility. I care for you and I protect you and I won't see you hurt." He chuckled. "Unfortunately for me and my desires for vengeance, that means not only by wankers like him, but by the things I do, too. So he's safe from me, Luv. At least for now." Xander bowed his head in grateful submission, but didn't speak. "So, Pet. Tell me about your friends."

Xander looked up in surprise. "They weren't my friends," he said. "Just guys at work. I never even went drinking with..."

Spike interrupted. "No, Pet. You were talking about leaving Sunnydale. So tell me about your Scooby friends."

Spike took a sip of his beer as Xander thought about that question. He knew the boy would be honest in his answers, but he was willing to bet that he'd never made the connection between his place in the Scooby gang and his restlessness.

The silence stretched and Xander began to fidget with the label on his bottle. Spike gave him a nudge. "What's the problem, Pet?"

"I... I don't know where to start." Xander said miserably. "Can you narrow it down a bit please, Master?"

Spike took another drink and thought back over the years he had known Xander. "Okay. Tell me 'bout the year I first came to town with Dru."

Xander's posture relaxed again. "Hmm...," he mused. "That was Junior year, so I was 17... Angel turned bad... We spent hours in the school library. Principal Snider was on our backs all the time..." He paused as Spike made an affirmatory noise. "What?"

"What you just said," he explained. "You spent hours together and the Principal was out to get you all. Go on."

"Umm. Well..."

Coming to his rescue with the kind of question Xander was now used to answering, Spike said, "Tell me about how you felt at that time, Luv."

"How I felt....?" He gripped his bottle more tightly. "I felt scared a lot of the time. Scared of all the monsters that I kept finding out about. Scared of being out at night. Scared of being at home." He grinned at Spike. "Scared of Cordelia".

Spike grinned back, remembering that particular firebrand quite well himself. "But you weren't always scared," he observed. "You stood up to Angelus when he went to visit Buffy in hospital."

Xander's laugh had a slightly bitter edge. "Oh I was scared then, too. Terrified even. But Buffy was sick. She couldn't defend herself. I thought I had to protect her. Once he was gone, I thought I'd be sick, I was so scared." He took a long drag at his beer.

Spike snorted. "Cheapskate came back and gave the roses to Dru. Ranted on all day, he did. None of us got any sleep." Returning to the point, he said, "So tell me where you did feel safe"

The answer came easily, with no hesitation for thought or consideration. "In the library with Giles and the girls and Oz."

"Yeah? Okay." That checked with what he had thought. Spike decided to move on. "Tell me about how you felt the year the Initiative was in town."

Xander took another sip, thinking again. "That was the first year after graduation. I was 19. The girls were in college and I spent a lot of time looking for work. One crappy job after another. Constantly getting fired because I was always tired. Living in the basement of my parents' house so Uncle Rory could have my bedroom, and paying rent." He paused. "That was a bad time. I..."

"Hmm?" Spike prompted again as Xander ground to a halt.

"I..." He seemed to know what he should say, but was reluctant to speak. That was not playing by the rules.

"Luv? Tell me." Spike allowed his voice to take on a hint of sternness, reminding Xander that he had to obey. Spike wanted all of him and Xander had agreed to give it.

"I used to cut myself," he whispered.

Spike was at once surprised, and not. Not surprised that Xander had done it. Surprised he hadn't guessed. "I didn't know that, Pet," he said.

"Well it stopped when Anya..." Xander petered off.

"Right." Of course, he thought, Anya would relieve the need to search for control that way. But he needed to push Xander through this, so he continued. "But before that, your friends had moved on, you were left behind, and…?"

"Even when they did notice me... I felt taken for granted. Like they didn't see me, just what I could do for them." He glanced across at Spike and for a moment his expression reflected the remembered misery. Then his face brightened. "They even dumped a neutered vamp on me this one time," he said saucily.

Spike growled playfully. "Careful, Pet. Not neutered now. Do I need to prove that to you?"

"No, Master Spike. I'll be good, Master Spike." He smirked hopefully. "Unless you don't want me to be?"

Spike snorted with amusement. "Maybe later, Luv. Right now I want you to think about how you felt at that time."

"Lost," said Xander, with a resigned sigh, his gaze returning to the bottle clutched in his hands. "That kind of sums it up. Lost and left behind. I think Giles felt the same, because he was drinking a lot then. I didn't know what I was going to do. I really didn't expect to live that long and I didn't expect to be much of a challenge to whatever was going to kill me." He smiled wearily again, the earlier moment of cheek banished by further remembrance.

But Spike had a reason for these questions. He needed Xander to work this out. "So tell me how you stopped feeling lost," he instructed.

"Umm..." Xander thought about it. "I don't know," he said, picking at the label on his beer. "I guess, for a while I had Anya. She was embarrassing sometimes, but she needed me and that was good." He took another swig, before starting again, his voice flat and weary. "But then there was the whole Glory thing. And Buffy died."

Spike reached out, taking the bottle from Xander's hand and slipped an arm around his neck, pulling the boy into his chest in a comforting hug. "I know, Pet. I know."

Xander's arms wrapped around Spike, receiving and giving comfort. "That summer was bad, wasn't it?" he muttered into Spike's chest. "And Anya was on me all the time to announce our engagement. Should have realised that was a sign it wasn't going to work out."

Spike put both bottles on the floor, freeing his other hand to stroke Xander's hair. "You were still lost, Luv. She needed you and you needed that."

Xander tilted his head to look up. "Yeah. I guess her clingyness meant I was needed." His mouth twisted into a bitter smile, but his voice, when he continued, just sounded tired. "God! That would have been so much a bad thing to do." He glanced away again, staring at the top button on Spike's shirt. "But I wish I'd realised it earlier. Spared her the whole messy day. Spared us both. D'you think she'd have still gone all vengeancey?"

"Don't know, Luv."

Xander sighed. "I think she would. I think she's happier now. She tried so hard to be human. She tried so hard to succeed at it, to love it. But I think she always missed the vengeance."

"She's a pragmatist, Luv. She was making the best of things." He paused for a moment to let Xander settle, before continuing. "So when she was gone. How did you feel then?"

Xander sighed. "I'm sure you remember," he said. "I was broken. The only thing that kept me going was work. After... well... after you left... even before that... I stopped doing anything except work."

"And your other friends?" Spike asked.

"We were all pretty fucked up at the time," Xander explained. "Buffy just wanted it all to stop. Willow was out of control. Then Tara was killed... I still love them. I did manage to stop Willow ending the world." He paused a moment. "I was willing to die then. In a way, I would have welcomed it." He took a deep breath and let it out. "God! That was only a few months ago. It's hard to believe... I still love them, but none of us is the same person we were before. Buffy's less bitter, but she's still angry. Like the anger's part of her now... She's stopped listening to anyone... Willow's still pretty broken and there's darkness there... She doesn't want to remember the good times anymore. And Giles... Giles is going to leave again. I know he is... He wants his own life. And so do I. I want..." He trailed off with another sigh.

"What do you want, Pet?"

Xander pulled back and looked straight into Spikes eyes. "I want to leave, Master. I want us."

Spike smiled sadly at his boy. He pulled him close and rocked him in his arms. Reaching out he tilted Xander's face up and kissed him; a gentle undemanding kiss full of comfort and love, reassurance and ownership. Xander relaxed into him and kissed back, his body slumping against Spike's chest as he surrendered himself to it. When they eventually drew apart, Xander's face was calm and exhausted.

Spike had intended going out later, to see if he couldn't find something up to no good and in need of taking down a peg or two. But not now. Nor was Xander doing any chores tonight. They had come a hell of a long way in a week. Tonight they would hold each other and Xander would finish letting go of the past. And tomorrow they would start their new life. As Xander lay in his arms, exhausted by the revelations of the past hour, Spike considered the virtues of the Phoenix against the Sheraton Palace and how long it would take to turn the rest of the warehouse into a home fit for his Xander. A bit of luxury for a few weeks, then a new home designed to fit their lifestyle. A loft apartment in the centre of SoMa, with lots of space, a proper bathroom and a play room. Xander would enjoy working on that and he would enjoy the games Spike would introduce him to. Yes, he thought, smiling to himself as design ideas and wicked plans began to form in his head, that would do nicely.

Lifting Xander in his arms as he stood, he carried him back to bed.

Part 5


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