Part Eighty-One   Crisis

For a few days, things were good again. There were no more occasions like the morning after their anniversary. Spike seemed calmer, and Xander watched him carefully at home for any signs of further distress, but nothing really changed. Xander hoped they were getting back to what passed for normal in their lives. He knew he was fooling himself, but just for a little while, after everything, he just wanted it to all be okay.

Spike, for his part, carefully hid what he was feeling from Xander. He'd seen the looks his boy gave him when he thought he wasn't watching, and waited for the moment when concern turned to annoyance. To put off the inevitable, Spike controlled himself as tightly as possible, withdrawing into himself completely when Xander left the apartment, only to force himself out when he returned. It was unfulfilling and getting harder to come back, keep up the facade when Xander was around, but it was better than any of the other options he could come up with.

And then, Spike, huddled on their bed one afternoon while Xander was working, found the knife. He knew Xander had been taking it with him when he left the house, careful to have something with him at all times that could fend off human attackers, but with the added purpose of not leaving it where Spike could find it. He must have forgotten in his rush to get out the door that morning after their goodbye kiss had turned a little more 'good' and a lot less 'bye'.

He picked up the dagger, testing its weight, the feel of cold metal against his hand causing him to shudder in anticipation. He could almost feel the blade parting his skin. He knew it would be nearly painless at first, as Xander kept the blade finely sharpened. And then, once the cut had been made, the pain would sharply seep into his consciousness, bringing a clarity to his thoughts that he hadn't been able to achieve on his own since... well, since Xander had started doing it for him.

A sudden surge of independence welled up in him, along with anger that he'd come to rely on Xander so heavily. He couldn't even do this for himself anymore. He deserved to be able to do what he wanted, when he wanted. Xander wasn't his Sire, he couldn't force him not to do anything that he wanted to do. The point of the blade rested against his skin, lightly, almost tickling. And then Spike put it gently back in the drawer, leaving the room for an extra long shower. He owed Xander that much, at least.

When Xander came home that night, he placed his watch on the bedside table, then looked quizzically at Spike. "Where's my knife?"


"Did you put it away this morning?"


"Did you use it?"

Spike faced Xander, automatic refusal dying on his lips. "Thought about it."

"Did you?"

Spike shook his head.

"Love you, Spike."

Spike nodded once, then went into the kitchen to start their dinner, avoiding Xander's embrace, not meeting his eyes.Xander followed him at as great a distance as the short hallway would allow. "Do you need me to-"

"No. I don't need you to do anything," Spike snapped.

"What if I need to do something?" Xander questioned, quietly, but Spike either didn't hear or ignored him. Xander let it drop, too tired to start a fruitless argument. Instead, he asked a question that had been on his mind all day. "Hey, Spike. Why don't my bites show up on me?"

Spike turned to look at Xander, confused until he saw him rubbing at his neck absently.  "What?"

"You got a paper cut at lunch time," Xander continued, lifting Spike's paperback off the end table in illustration. Spike nodded, and Xander continued, tossing the book back down. "Yeah, I was at a lunch meeting. One minute, I'm sipping my soup, and the next I'm bleeding. Try explaining that to prospective clients. Anyway, when I bite you here," Xander reached out toward Spike's neck, but the vampire flinched and stalked into the kitchen. "It doesn't show up on me. How come?"

"Dunno. Don't know one bloody thing about it, do I?"

"Sorry I asked." Xander snapped.

"So am I," Spike snapped back.

"What is your issue tonight?"

"Nothing, Xander."

"Don't lie to me, Spike." Xander reached out again, ignoring Spike's automatic flinch. He wrapped his fingers in Spike's collar and tugged his vampire to him. "This means you don't get to lie to me."

Spike nodded.

"Now, what's wrong?" Xander asked gently, stroking over Spike's neck, but not letting go of the collar.

"I don't know." It wasn't exactly a lie. Spike didn't know what was wrong, just that whatever it was, Xander couldn't fix it.

Both men were sleeping soundly, having fallen asleep shortly after dinner, tired of the tense silence and petty small talk. Xander rationalized that whatever was bothering Spike couldn't be that bad or he'd tell him as he fell asleep with him, curled close and wrapped in his arms.

He woke when Spike's gentle cuddling became desperate clinging, breaking into his idyllic slumber. Xander tried to sit up as Spike began pushing into his chest, trying to burrow into the warm human. Not able to wake Spike by calling his name, Xander yanked on his collar. "Wake up. Now."

"Angel, please!"

If Xander hadn't been fully conscious before, he certainly was now. Not 'Peaches'. Not 'Angelus'. Angel. Xander yanked harder, pulling Spike up by his neck. "Now."

"Xander?" So scared, croaked out through a dream hazy throat that was currently supporting a good portion of Spike's weight.

"It's me, baby. Just wake up now." Xander released his grip on Spike's chain.

"Don't leave me."



"Promise, baby. Never. Tell me?"

"No." Spike pulled away from Xander and slid across to the other side of the bed.

"Why not?"

"Just a dream, Xander. Go back to sleep."

"You called for Angel."

"I did not." Spike knew he couldn't pull off this lie, but that wouldn't stop him from trying. If Xander had heard that part of the dream, though, what else had he heard? Couldn't have been the whole thing, otherwise he'd have kicked him out by then. As long as he didn't notice how worked up he was, hard enough to hurt, but unable to come, because his Sire hadn't given him permission. Even Dream-Angelus had that much control over him, subverting the soul, whittling him down to his basic, instinctive components: Eat, survive, obey Sire.

"You did. Did you have a nightmare?" Spike hadn't really sounded scared, just... hurt. Maybe.

"No." This was the nightmare. Only one thing to do, distract and placate the demon in his head. "Master?" Spike asked, lowering himself out of bed to kneel at Xander's side.

"Go on. I'll be there in a minute." Xander sighed as he watched Spike's pale form crawl, crawl across the floor and was once again thankful for the thick, soft carpeting he'd had installed before they moved in. He glanced at the clock and noted the time before calling his secretary's voice mail and left a message for her to reschedule his 9:30 meeting to 10:30. He watched Spike crawl into the room, waiting for him. "Better make it eleven."

Part Eighty-Two   Morning

Xander swung his legs off the side of the bed, scrubbing his face with his hands as he collected his breath. Time for the patented 'ignore it and maybe it'll go away' problem resolution technique to be put aside, and the 'confront the damn thing head on' technique to make an appearance.

Spike waited, eyes on the floor in front of him while Xander made his call. He waited while Xander did that heaving sigh he always did when he had a problem he didn't want to talk about. He didn't want to talk about it either. All he wanted was for Xander to come in, take all the thoughts of Angelus away, replace them with pain and pleasure of himself and his Master. Not a Sire-substitute, his Master.

His demon growled somewhere inside himself that Xander was not his Master, and knew he'd made the noise out loud when he heard Xander's sharply indrawn breath. Growling always did it for the boy, always had. No wonder he was a demon-magnet. Still, his eyes remained fixed on the floor.

Xander stood up straighter, hardened his voice, and circled Spike as he began to speak. "Rules. You will not speak unless I direct you to. You will not move unless I tell you to. I will chose what we do, and you will not come until I tell you to. Will there be any problem with this?"

Spike shook his head, raising his eyes off the floor just enough to see Xander's expression. Briefly, he wondered how he'd managed to sound so much like Angelus just then. Then he remembered that Xander had learned from Angelus, had enough lucidity left to realize the irony there, and dropped his gaze again. As if the situation needed to be more complicated.

Xander nodded his head just a bit, and Spike knelt up, nuzzling Xander's boxers out of the way and licked him to hardness. As soon as he was hard, Spike settled back into position and Xander stepped away. Spike dropped his head again, listening intently as Xander opened the toy cabinet. he tried to let go of the dream, of the things that happened outside this room and just be. He lost himself in the sounds of Xander searching through the cabinet, knowing Xander did it for him. He heard the heavy leather-covered paddle slice through the air, then the strap. Both items were replaced, apparently unsatisfactory for whatever Xander had planned.

Xander knew this was going to be rough, harder than any of the other sessions they'd had so far if he didn't want it to degenerate as the other night had, and so settled on one of new toys they'd yet to use. He picked up the riding crop Spike had caught him eyeing weeks before. Xander had held a slight interest in it for a long time, but he hadn't purchased one. It seemed awfully cruel; he loved the thought of using anything on Spike that would mark him for longer than a few hours, but then hated that he thought that way. But now that he had come to term with his own desires, the fact that he wasn't just playing a role with Spike, that he was his Master and he enjoyed it, he'd loosened up, gotten into it, and wanted to use it. 

He walked back over to stand in front of Spike, shaking his head as the vampire started to suck him again. One hand went on Spike's shoulder, the other titled the vampire's face up to look at him. "I want you to know that I love you, and nothing that happens in here will change that."

Spike nodded, and Xander continued. "Tell me if you know why we're in here."

"Because I asked for it," Spike whispered.

"Yes. Anything else?"

"No, Master."

"Yes. There's always something else. Do you know what it is? Think about it."

Spike considered for a moment. He'd asked for it. He'd deceived Xander about why, but that didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was that they were there, and Spike could get what he wanted. He shook his head.

Xander sighed. "We're in here because you need this. You're mine, and I will give you what you need, but to do that, you have to know that you're mine."

Spike's gaze immediately left the floor and searched Xander's face, looking for the trick. He had to know. Everything about this session was different, from the way he was standing, to the way he was talking to Spike, it was so much more... real. As if Xander really believed it all, rather than said it just because he knew what Spike wanted to hear.

"Stand up. I'm going to prove to you that you're mine." Xander held the crop in front of him, showing it to Spike as he stood. "I know the marks from this will fade, but they'll last until I come home. Think of that, when I come home, your back will still be red from where I marked you. You'll have that all day, reminding you who you belong to, and how much I love you." Xander moved into position and pulled his hand back, raised and then dropped it as he began the beating. Several hard blows rained down across Spike's back, from waist to thighs and back again, each one causing Spike to moan and sway. At first he jerked away from the sting; Xander had practiced with this toy, and he was good with it, though he'd never used it on Spike. But slowly he began to accept the beating, finding his body moving with the crop as Xander hit him in just the right place to keep him in position. One of the stinging swats landed on Spike's hip, farther to the side than the others, causing him to whimper.

"Relax. You can take this. Take it for me. I want you to be able to see them. Every time you look down at yourself today, you'll see my mark."

Spike gasped as Xander hit him in the same place on the other side.

"Do I need to remind you of the rules?"

Spike shook his head as Xander brought the crop down on each side again.

"Tell me what you have to say." Xander's hands rested on Spike's shoulders, the crop lying gently against his back. "Why you refused to talk to me before."

"I'm sorry," Spike whispered, still not able to give Xander the answer he desired.

Xander knew he was avoiding the question, preventing Xander from helping him, fixing whatever he'd done wrong to get this type of reaction from Spike. He snapped the crop down again suddenly, moved out of Spike's reach and behind him. The only thing he could think of was that the dream had been about Angel taking him away. Time was running out, he needed to get to work, but Xander didn't want to rush this. Best to try to reassure Spike, calm him now, get him to that peaceful place inside his head, and resolve this when he came home, when he had time.

"Whose are you? Tell me."

"Yours." Again in a whisper.

"That's right. You're mine. You belong to me and I take care of you and no one will ever take you away from me because you. Are. Mine."

Spike's cock barely twitched at the possessiveness of Xander's words, but when his Master moved again, inflicting and then inspecting the pink lines left on his back, he stilled once again.

Xander saw that the wounds were deeper than he'd expected Spike to need, but still Spike wasn't responding. Relying on vampiric healing, Xander made his decision. Spike may have thought he hadn't noticed that he wasn't yet enjoying himself, but he had. He always knew what state Spike was in, if he was ready or not, flying or lying back passively. This was beyond passive, this was introverted.

Xander brought the crop down against Spike again and again, upping the intensity once Spike began to react, finally dropping the crop and using his bare hands. He rubbed and squeezed over Spike's sensitized back, causing the welts to burn, taking Spike even more deeply into headspace. All Spike's thoughts centered on Xander's hand slapping down on his ass over and over until even that thought left him, and all he could do was feel.

Xander lubed himself and began fucking Spike hard, pushing him over on all fours, while Spike thrust back against him. "Come with me." The moment the command had been issued, Spike came, muscles clenched around Xander bringing him off as well.

Xander pulled out slowly, smiling to himself at Spike's small whimper of protest. He gathered Spike in his arms and laid him down on the bed, settling his weight on top of him. The friction of the sheets on Spike's back caused him to wince, but Spike needed to feel Xander with him, on him, not leaving. He held him as long as he could, whispeing how proud he was of Spike, how good Spike was, how he would never leave him. He knew Spike could barely hear him, but when he came back to himself, Xander's voice, Xander's words would be the first thing he heard.

Spike blinked, and shifted, inhaling sharply as he finally registered the welts on his back.

"With me again?" Xander asked, rolling to Spike's side as he nodded. "I have to go now. You'll be okay?" He asked, concerned. This session had been rougher than their previous ones. Each had increased in intensity over the past month or so, and the increase in frequency had been happening even before that. But this one was exhausting for him, beginning in the early morning and lasting far longer than he'd been prepared for  before Xander could beat Spike to his satisfaction. It had been more physically draining for Spike, though Xander watched him come down with a distinctly unvampire-like grin.

Spike nodded.

Xander picked three packets of the human blood he kept in the refrigerator and tossed them in the microwave. They heated, and he brought them over to Spike, who ripped into them ferociously. He always needed to eat that way after a session, and this time Xander felt bad that Spike needed too much to drink from Xander directly, but he needed to get him fed. 

"I'll come home as soon as I'm done with these meetings. You'll rest?"

Again he nodded.

"Tell me if you're feeling better."

"Yes, Master." Spike smiled at him. "Much better."

"Good," Xander grinned back. "Eat some more, and when you're up to it, clean up and go rest in our room. I don't want you in here all day, okay?" Xander was careful to give him permission to leave the room whenever he wanted. "You look beautiful. I'll be home as soon as I can." Xander waited to make sure Spike had nothing to add.The blond remained still, eyes lazily closed, body held carefully but still relaxed.

Part Eighty-Three   Sleeping Beauty

While Xander sat at work, he focused solely on the meeting, trying to block out all other thoughts. He was trying to convince people he didn't know to give his company money it didn't need to construct a building that he would never visit. He delivered his speech on auto pilot, and could only hope he answered the questions posed to him satisfactorily. Throughout the entire affair, only one thought ran through his head:

'Hi, I'm Alexander. Not thirty minutes ago, I was beating the fear out of my undead gay lover because he doesn't feel like he deserves me. Now, help me to help you. Got a puppy you need kicked?'

Afterwards, proposal agreed to and contracts signed, he declined a round of celebratory drinks and lingered in his office, remembering his promise to be home soon, but needing the time to think. The guilt weighed upon him heavily. He enjoyed his role as Master in his relationship, and usually couldn't ask for a better bottom than Spike. Under any other circumstances, he would have delighted in the experience, and would still have been riding the high from that morning's session, whistling and drawing snickering glances from the secretaries throughout the building as he floated through his day.

But this wasn't completely about mutual pleasure, as it should be. He had to do this for Spike's sanity. At first it had been a once in a while thing, but now... Something was happening to make Spike need this. And he wouldn't tell Xander what it was.

He still wasn't convinced that Spike trusted him completely. He could see the fear in Spike's eyes on occasion. Not fear of him; fear that he would leave, fear that Xander would change his mind, fear that he would still one day say yes and mean no.

The beaming smiles, no trace of smirk or sneer to be found, that Xander received as Spike came down, drank the blood Xander gave him, both from his own body and from the refrigerator, convinced Xander that he was providing what the vampire needed. He did his research, he knew his stuff, and he knew the difference between hurt and pain. But with Spike's reluctance to tell him what happened, what caused this now, he knew he was hurting Spike, making it worse, not better.

He hated that he had to be so forceful with Spike, wincing as he thought back on the amount of blood he had drawn that morning. But he knew that, as a vampire, Spike's pleasurepain threshold was much higher than his own. He also knew, from cruel experience, that to take him to that point and then not step just slightly over would undo the progress, if any, he had made in gaining Spike's trust that he did this out of love.

But if Spike wouldn't tell him what happened to make him need this, if Spike was lying to him about why he needed it...

He finished up what little paperwork he had, and gathered his things. It was well past time to put a stop to this.

Xander dropped by Bob's office on his way out, knocking lightly on the open door. Bob glanced up from the mountain of paperwork littering his desk and motioned Xander inside after signing the last of the documents in the manilla folder with his chicken-scratch writing. He folded his hands in a distinctly boss-like manner and drawled, "What can I do ya for, Harris?"

"How's it going, Bob?"

"Can't complain."

Xander sighed heavily. "I need to take a few days, Bob. There's some issues that suddenly came up. I want to clear them out and get it over with."

"Family?" Bob's concerned tone underscored the nosiness of the question.

Xander took another deep breath and went with what he thought might possibly be the problem. The part he could tell someone and not be locked away by the loony patrol. "In-laws."


"You have no idea," Xander sighed heavily. "So I was thinking next week. There's nothing we have scheduled that Matt can't handle on his own."

"Yeah. He's a pretty good guy. Knows his stuff, but has a hard time making decisions," Bob answered as he shuffled through his desk to find the leave papers Human Resources required for paid days off. Bob signed them as he continued to speak. "You're grooming him well, though. He'll get there."


"For your position."

"Oh. Um, I don't really need these days off. Well, I do, but I can try to take care of it on the weekend. It's not-"

"Harris, what the hell are you talking about?"

"My position. If Matt takes it-"

Bob chuckled, and shook his head at the insecurity of the fastest rising star in the company. "You'll be promoted. I know you keep to yourself, but you can't tell me you're immune to the gossip."

"I hear things." Xander smiled at Bob's knowing grin. "But I thought the ones about me were just rumors."

"Except for this one, they are. Unless you are having an affair with that blonde in purchasing?"

Xander snorted. "Not my type. Plus, Spike would kill me. And then her. And then he'd bring me back just to kill me again," Xander spoke without irony, though Bob just laughed.  "So, another promotion, huh?"

"Not for a while, but yeah. Fast track. I'm proud of you, Harris. You've done good." Bob clapped him on the shoulder, and for a brief instant, Xander remembered what it was like to have someone proud of him. "Get on out of here. Take care of the blond you've got at home. I'll keep the vultures off your back here."

"You know they only go after me because they can't have you, Bob."

Bob blushed all the way to the top of his balding head and let out a belly-laugh that would have scared lesser men, shaking his head and returning to his paperwork. "You think yours is something, you should see Laura on a bad day."

"Thanks, Bob."

"Anytime, son. Anytime."

Part Eighty-Four   Confessions

Xander opened the apartment door slowly, quietly letting Spike become accustomed to his presence again. Sometimes lately he just seemed to... forget that Xander was there, and he startled so easily. Not just when the phone rang, but when Xander spoke or moved suddenly, and Spike would snap back into himself, as if reminded that a whole different world existed outside his head. Xander didn't see him in the living room or kitchen, and called out softly. Spike usually at least had the presence of mind to be where Xander could see him.

Nothing. Xander walked towards the dungeon, able to see a Spike-shaped lump on the bed. He watched Spike, awake but not really moving, and sat down and pulled Spike's feet into his lap as he had so often back when things were right.

"You can come out now."

Spike shook his head, less in accordance with the rules than simply lacking the desire to do much else.

"Tell me why?" Xander asked. Not a command, not yet.


"You're not," Xander reassured him gently.

Spike shook his head again. "Not me. Us. This. "

Xander released his feet, stood, and walked to the cabinet. "Strip."

Spike's eyes widened and he rolled onto his side, facing Xander.

"I gave you an order, Spike. I expect you to follow it." Xander turned around, watching as Spike slowly stood, raising the shirt off his chest and over his head. Xander held the whip in his hand.

Spike removed his jeans, set them on the table and waited, not sure exactly what this was about.

Xander simply raised an eyebrow, eyes flicking to the center of the floor and back to his vampire. He came to this conclusion when he walked into the room and Spike was still so despondent. He -they- would solve this problem. No more waiting, no more hesitation. They had time now, and Spike would talk voluntarily, or Xander would beat the resistance out of him, and then he'd talk. Either way.

Xander started by trailing the whip over Spike's back, letting him feel the leather. Spike was such a sensualist, he loved to just feel whatever Xander was using. "I want you to tell me why I'm doing this."

"I don't know."

"Try." Xander struck him with the whip lightly, more a tease than anything else.

Spike sighed. "You're doing this because I need it."

Xander cracked the whip, but only the tip hit Spike's shoulder, barely even touching him. "No. Try again."

"I don't know."

"Tell me, when I left this morning, were you feeling better?"

"Yes, Master."

"For how long?"

Spike shrugged.

Xander cracked the whip down again, still barely letting it touch Spike. "Tell me."

"I don't know, I fell asleep, and when I woke up I was like this again."

"Good." Xander stroked his hand across Spike's shoulders, pressing his thumbs into the twin spots of pink the whip had raised, and Spike shivered. "Now, for the rest of this session, you can speak whenever you want. As long as you tell me what's been bothering you."

"I can't."

"Yes, you can."

"But I. don't. know." Spike sounded exasperated, as if he was sure none of this would help.

"I think you do." Xander cracked the whip down hard against Spike's shoulder, a thin trail of blood left in its wake. He knew this was working. If he was already under Spike's defenses, maybe they'd get out of here sooner than he'd thought. "Tell me if you trust me."


"Have I ever broken a promise to you?"

"No, Master. Never."

"But you don't believe me, do you?"

Spike didn't move from his position, kneeling in the center of the room, hands clasped behind his back, out of the way of the whip.

"Tell me."

"I want to."

Three quick lashes, curling around Spike's arm, a spot that was reserved only for the most intense sessions. It wasn't an amateur's mistake; Xander was quite skilled with the whip. The tops of Spike's arms were incredibly sensitive, and therefore a sure-fire way to take him down deep fairly quickly. 

Spike clenched his jaw as the first strike hit his shoulder, but the second and third fell so quickly he couldn't bite back a low scream. Master was serious, then, and Master wanted an answer. Spike tried to remember the question, having trouble concentrating. He wouldn't be able to think of a good enough lie, not while he was arching his back when the whip hit him, and Master was lowering his voice like that, trying to pull the truth from him.

"Who do you belong to?"

"You, Master."

Three more lashes, again to Spike's upper arms. "Whose property does that collar say you are?"

"Y-yours, Master."

Xander lowered his voice even more, almost whispering, watching Spike visibly lose the battle against his desire to sink into the pain and give his Master everything that was in him, all the pain, all the truth.  "Who claimed you, in blood and semen, as his property?"

"Angelus." The word spilled forth from his lips and Spike froze, crashing back from his inner world suddenly, lightheaded and weak. He stopped panting, stopped shuddering, stopped writhing under Xander's whip. Spike lost his position and tumbled to the floor, hands behind him, not bothering to break his fall. His shoulder took most of his weight, but his hands stayed in place, holding himself open for Xander.

"Sorry. So sorry Master. I should have told you. Didn't want to hurt you, sorry, so sorry. I didn't want to, don't want him, want you, only you, please, sorry, only you, so sorry, Master." The chanting continued, frantically, as Xander tried to regain control.


Now was not the time for losing it, Spike needed him. Spike needed him.


That bastard did not own his Spike. Spike belonged to him.


"Mine!" Xander roared, yanking Spike back into position by his collar. Five more lashes, striking down hard with the whip, the entire length of braided leather trailing through the split flesh, but the even pace remained the same. Xander would not lose control, not when Spike needed him this badly.

Spike remembered to count, each number followed by "Sorry, Master, please."  After the last blow fell, Xander dropped the whip and pushed Spike down, kneeling behind him, coating his cock with Spike's blood and pushing his way in, hard. He reached around with his blood-slickened hand and pumped Spike ferociously as he thrust.

"Mine! Come. Now!" Spike did, and Xander bit him hard, swallowing the rich blood that rose in his mouth, no longer acting completely by himself; some sort of instinct taking over and telling him this was how to get through to Spike.

"Mine!" They fell forward and Xander rolled off of him, holding his arm out to Spike to offer the grounding presence Spike always needed. He did not come to him, though Xander could see the emotions warring across his features. "You're mine. Mine. Come here, rest with me."

Spike crawled across the floor and went to the refrigerator. Xander closed his eyes, trying to figure out what happened, waiting to hear the microwave beep as Spike heated his blood. Instead, Spike returned with a bottle of water for Xander, and a towel to clean him off.


Spike shook his head, defying Xander again. "Eat," he told him more firmly. "You do what I tell you, because you are mine. Now, eat!" Spike's wounds were no longer actively bleeding, but not healing fast enough for Xander's liking.

Again, Spike did not move.

Xander grabbed Spike's head and forced him to his neck. "Now." Knowing, hoping Spike could not refuse his Master's blood. He had to replace what he had lost, both from that morning and just now. Spike bit, ever so gently sliding his fangs into Xander's neck, showing more control than Xander would have thought he had. After one small sip, Xander pushed him away. The bloodlust was in control, and Spike had no choice but to follow. "Go to the fridge. Eat."

Spike did as he was told.

Xander thought. Spike still felt like he belonged to Angel. Well, that at least explained his need to constantly be reminded who his Master was. The instinct from his demonic nature competing with Xander's much newer, radically unorthodox claim must have been driving the vampire insane. Even though Xander had fought Angelus with his entire being, and he had never been properly claimed by him, certainly never like Spike had been, he still remembered the hurt, the pain, the emptiness when Angelus rejected him: 'You're just not worth it anymore, boy. You're damaged.'

Spike finished his blood and remained where he was, stationary on the other side of the room. Xander wouldn't want him anymore, of that he was certain.

"Do you have anything to say?" Xander asked him gently, sitting up.

Spike nodded.

"Tell me."

"Don't deserve you."

"Yes you do", Xander told him firmly. Spike tried to look away, but Xander was there, holding Spike's chin in his hands, and turned Spike to look at him. "Doesn't matter," he said instead. "You're mine and I take care of what's mine."

Spike nodded.

"Thank you for telling me." Xander moved toward the bed, the hard floor of the room hurting his back. "Come up on the bed with me, please. Are you all right? You came out of it pretty fast, I don't want anything to happen to you because of it."

Spike followed Xander, but kept his distance on the bed, not wanting to be touching Xander when he was told to go. He still didn't speak.

"I'm very proud of you."

No reaction.

"I am. You're mine and beautiful and I'm very pleased. We'll take care of this, okay? And look, you're still marked from this morning," Xander stroked a finger over the faint pink lines on his hip. "Proof. Mine."

Spike looked away.

"Will you come out? Maybe take a shower with me? Let me get you cleaned up a bit." Xander knew he had lost control of the situation, begging his sub to obey rather than commanding it, but he couldn't help it, not now, not this soon.

Spike shook his head, not wanting to be any more of a burden than he already was.

"I want you to eat some more and then lay down. Do you need me to stay?"  Spike's frightened eyes met Xander's and he clarified quickly, "In here, in the room with you."

Another shake.

Xander sighed, unsure of the wisdom in leaving Spike in the room full of toys, weapons. He briefly considered ordering Spike out of the room, or perhaps restraining him, but the thoughts were dismissed almost before they were formed. Firstly, there was no way he'd leave him like this, tied up and alone. And secondly, he trusted Spike. Spike could be trusted.

"I need to go shower, okay? I won't be long, but come out whenever you're ready. Tell me if you feel better."

Spike opened his mouth as if to say something, but the closed it softly and shook his head.

"I'll be right back and then we'll fix this. We'll take care of everything." Xander kissed Spike gently and left reluctantly, trying to prepare himself for what would come next.

Part Eighty-Five   Confessions

Xander stood under the too-hot spray, letting sweat and blood and water and rage run off him. He wasnít mad at Spike. He wasnít. There were lessons and instincts that went back farther than Xander could comprehend, let alone fight. He was mad at himself. For not knowing, not asking, not figuring this out before it got so bad.

And it was Angel. Taking, always taking. This time, though, Xander wasnít going to take it like a kid. He was going to fight. And he was going to win.

Xander willed himself to relax, let the hot water ease some of his tension, thinking about how to proceed.

Spike waited while Xander showered, not sure why he hadn't been forced to leave yet. Now it was out in the open. Xander knew he'd been lying, been using him, had accepted his collar all the while thinking of Angelus, comparing the two and for some reason finding Xander lacking. But Xander hadn't told him to leave. He hadn't told him anything, other than to eat.

Spike didn't want to eat. He wanted to make things right. He left the room, searching for his cigarettes. His duster yielded only a crumpled, empty pack, and he entered the kitchen, still hunting. Absently, he wandered to one of the junk drawers, and rummaged around.

He loved Xander. They had bonded, soul and soul with the rings, soul and demon with their bond, Master and slave with the collar. 

But he had told the truth. Angelus had claimed him. He had never called him Master; if he had, his Sire would have grown bored and left him. But he had owned Spike as completely as was possible. When he left, ran away, he had not revoked the claim, had not broken it. He had just *left*. And as much as he had determined not to tell Xander, now that he had, he didnít kow what to expect.

It shouldn't have mattered. Xander was his Consort, his Mate. Spike barely noticed the sharp sting pricking at his fingers, but pushed harder against whatever caused it, forgetting himself for a moment in the barely perceptible pain. When it registered, he looked down, saw that he was pressing against the tip of the scissors. Without thinking, he picked them up, opened them fully and rested the open blade across his arm.

No matter what the situation, inside he was still the lost lonely fledgling vampire abandoned and trying to play at being the Big Bad to hide his fear. Xander probably regretted his decision to get involved with him, and he was no doubt in the shower now, mentally making calls to any one and everyone about how to break the bond. It was early enough, it could be done with minimal damage to the human. Of course, breaking the bond would mean killing Spike, and Xander would never do that. Spike decided he would probably just keep him locked in the room, chain him up for the proximity and occasional dose of blood, but move on with his life as much as possible.

Spike cut off that line of thought, rubbing his arm harder with the scissors, finally changing the angle and drawing it across his arm in a deep, sharp gash. Blood began to trickle down his arm, and the logical part of his brain tried to reassert himself. Xander had tried to get him to calm down, tried to comfort Spike. He had given him a home, his love, his blood, his life, and he had brought his beautiful pain. He had never once hurt him. Finally Spike changed the angle and drew the blade across his arm in a beautifully deep, sharp gash.

"Fuck, Spike!"

Spike dropped the scissors and looked up from his arm, noticing for the first time that the shower had turned off, and that Xander was standing next to him, an identical gash running down his right arm.

"Xan-Xander?" Spike was shaking, and his tremulous voice conveyed his anguish. Over, over, it was over, over, over, over.

"Come on, baby. Come with me. It's all right, okay? Let's just get this cleaned up." Xander spoke in low, soothing tones, and led an unresisting Spike into the bathroom. He sat Spike down on the edge of the tub, cleaned and dressed the vampire's wound before working on his own. He let out a shaky laugh as he tried to hold the bandage in place. "You had to be left handed, didn't you?"

"No, I... I." Spike tried to explain but his throat closed. He was not going to be forgiven this time.

"It's okay. See?" Xander his arm out to Spike, showing him the almost-professionally done bandaging job. "Now," he held Spike's hand again and led him into the kitchen, sat him down and warmed up some blood. "Eat."

Xander walked calmly back to the other side of the kitchen, putting some distance between them to try to curb his urge to hold and stroke and comfort him. "Now, listen very carefully, because I need you to understand. I am not mad at you. Just tell me, exactly, what is going on here."

"I belong to Angel."

"No. No you do not."

Spike nodded once, very very slowly.

"Spike, you haven't been with Angel in a hund- in six years."

"Doesn't matter. Belong to him."

"To? Or with?"

"To," Spike replied firmly, getting control over his shaking body as the warm human blood he drank filled him, healed him.

"But I took you. You're mine now." Xander clearly didn't understand, but Spike couldn't quite find the right words to express himself. A short silence followed, Xander's eyes flickering between Spike's collar and his face, trying to put it all together. "That's it, isn't it? I took you. I took, but you never gave. Because you can't. Tell me, you really feel like you still belong to him?"

Spike looked pointedly at Xander's bandaged forearm, then met his eyes. "Yes."

Xander led Spike out of the bathroom and tucked him carefully into the bed, with strict instructions that he was to sleep, and left the room, waves of anger flowing off him, making Spike wonder how much longer he'd have a home here.

Just before sundown, Xander inspected the injured area of Spike's arm and could find no trace of the cut. His own arm was healing fairly quickly as well, which was good. It wouldn't do to show any weakness with what he had planned.

"Come on. We're going to L. A."



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