Xander Has Kittens


Part Seven

At exactly 9.23pm, precisely twenty-seven minutes after the sun had set, Rupert Giles answered the loud knocks at his front door with his nose still buried in the morning newspaper.

'Yo, G-man! What's shaking?'

'Xander,' Giles said by way of welcome, ushering the boy, no -- boys, he revised upon seeing a familiar blond head -- into his home. 'Nothing is, ah, shaking insofar as I can tell, and I thought that we had agreed to leave that particular moniker far, far behind us.'

Sensing an imminent cute, but ultimately pointless exchange of banter between the two humans, Spike butted in immediately. 'Watcher. I hear there's a new nasty on the loose. Fancy telling me where it is, what it looks like and how to kill it, like a good lad?'

Spike was in a hurry. He had places to be, gorgeous, hot-blooded young boys to shag, and he wasn't getting any younger. He wasn't getting any older either, but that, as far as Spike was concerned, was entirely beside the point.

'Spike,' Giles sighed, closing the door behind them and realising how utterly pointless it would be to lose his temper with the vampire. If anything, this was Spike in a helpful mood and the best way to deal with him would simply be to give him what he wanted and hope that he would go away. 'We're still researching this new menace. Willow and Tara have been here all day, letting that new kitten--' Giles looked as though he had just swallowed something rather unpleasant, '--of theirs run around in here.'

Spike and Xander exchanged a conspiratorial grin as Giles muttered 'dreadful creature... cat hairs everywhere...' under his breath.

'However,' Giles continued, 'as far as we can ascertain it's not due to reach its full strength and rise for at least another week or two, so I'm afraid your trip here was wasted. Didn't Willow tell you this yesterday?'

Xander bobbed his head. 'Yeah, Willow gave me the 411, but I wanted to stop by and make sure there wasn't anything I could do to help. I, ah, I've been kind of shirking my Slayerette duties over the past couple of days. Just wanted to show my face.'

'Well, as nice as it is to see your face,' Giles smiled, 'there's nothing to be done here. Unless, of course, you feel like doing a general sweep of the area. Buffy is patrolling the northeast of the town tonight, so if you felt up to it...'

'Ah, the Buffster has taken the good side of town. So me and Spike could start two blocks over and take in the bad side of town.'

'Only if you feel up to it, Xander. And if you think you can rely on Spike to watch your back.'

Xander glanced towards Spike who wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to them, flicking through the notes strewn across Giles' desk.

'I think I can trust him,' he said with a private smile.

'Hmmm,' was Giles' reply. 'Spike and trustworthy are two concepts which I just wouldn't link together in the same sentence.'

'Hey, is this the demon you're after?' Spike asked, interrupting them once again.

Giles squinted at the picture Spike was pointing to. A powerful, well-muscled demon with two dangerous looking large curving horns on its head, and a strangely delicate tail trailing down to its ankles. 'Yes, that's the one. A Ractang.'

'A rectangle?' asked Xander, coming to peer over Giles' shoulder.

'No, a Ractang. Very dangerous, very committed to finding its "icon", and I can't find a damn thing that tells me what that might be.'

'Its icon? What's an icon?'

'As I just said,' Giles rolled his eyes, 'I haven't the faintest idea. Could be its power centre, or something of near religious significance for the demon. So far all the texts I have examined state categorically that this demon will, um, let me see...' He lifted the heavy book and turned a page in search of the appropriate information. 'Ah, here it is. The demon will rise and search unending for its icon, and unless the demon or the icon can be destroyed it will track down those who have come in contact with it, the icon that is, and, ah, consume them.'

'So we find this icon and we find the demon?'

'In theory, but it's just so damned frustrating that all our research has turned up nothing but hearsay and old wives' tales in this case. There is one text that I found that might be of use, but as usual, it's extremely vague.'

'Well?' Spike asked impatiently. 'What does it say?'

'Something about the "mischance reversal of demonic fulfilment" being able to defeat the demon.'

'Well that's nice and specific, innit?' Spike snapped in annoyance. 'Why can your prophets never just say, "on September the 28th at 9.27pm, in the year of our Lord two thousand and one, go to the corner of Maine and Clement Avenue where you will find a large demon. To kill this demon, chop its head off with a gardening implement of your choice." Done, dusted, simple. But no, we have to go through this palaver every. Single. Sodding. Time. It's as though they want us to fail. We never seem to get any warning, these things just pop up, and we're expected to deal with them; clock's always ticking, bomb's always seconds away from exploding and destroying the world. It's really not the smartest way to operate.'

'Are you quite finished?' Giles asked as soon as he could get a word in edgeways.

'Yeah, I'm done,' Spike muttered, continuing to grumble under his breath.

Giles folded his arms and looked down at the books, deep in thought. He couldn't help but agree with Spike, although wild horses would never be able to drag that particular admission from him. And since when, he wondered, did Spike feel that 'he' and 'they' had suddenly begun to constitute a 'we'? Perhaps, the Watcher mused, about the same time he'd begun to spend so much time with Xander.

And they thought he wouldn't notice anything was going on. Giles rolled his eyes. Again. He was a Watcher, watching was in his job description, and he'd been around the block a few times himself, another thing he would never admit to out loud. He could see the way they stared at one another when they thought no one else was looking.

I may be getting on a bit, Giles thought, but I'm not blind.

Dragging his thoughts away from musing about his two errant visitors, he looked back to his soothing books, until a loud British voice managed to distract him once again.

'... bloody stupid. You remember that one prophecy about the demon who was going to "rise in a time of great darkness" or the one about "the Slayer who walks in the path of light and dark"? Piffle, the lot of it. You could interpret these things in a million different ways. Here,' he said, lifting a book at random off the table and opening it. 'Here's one -- "in the city of heavenly hosts, the demon mother mortal will rise, heavenly being's torment surmise, windows to the soul; the eyes, choices made, destruction or reprise."' He flung the book back onto the table in disgust, 'See? What the bloody hell does all that mean? And the poetry? Terrible. Just awful. It doesn't even flow.'

Giles looked up from the passage he was rereading, the arm of his glasses held between his teeth. 'What's that?'

'Nothing. Just slagging off your precious books,' said Spike.

'Hmm? Oh, right you are. Jolly good.'

'So now you're a poetry critic?' Xander grinned. 'Interesting. I wouldn't have put you down as a high brow type.'

'Except that he was an upper middle class poet of astonishingly bad proportions in his heyday,' Giles said calmly.

'Hey! I heard that, Watcher! You want to watch who you're spouting off about.'

Without looking up from his book, Giles asked innocently, 'Xander, did I ever tell you the real reason he's called "William the Bloody"?'

'Hey!' Spike yelled, 'You know I'm still standing in the room, right?'

Giles looked up in amusement at the vampire, but scowled when he saw that Spike had an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. 'Spike,' he growled. 'I've told you before, you cannot smoke in here.'

Spike huffed out a breath of air, but dutifully snapped his lighter shut. The silver lighter in his hand glinted under the lights of the room, catching Giles' eye.

'Oh, that's nice. May I?'

'Yeah, sure,' Spike passed him the lighter in annoyance, slapping it into the outstretched hand, 'knock yourself out. You're not keeping it, mind!' he added, a little too forcefully, causing both Xander and Giles to stare at him questioningly. 'It was a gift from, eh, from a friend,' he told them quietly, feigning nonchalance. 'Or, uh, no... I mean, I won it off a bunch of demons in a poker game.'

'Did you? Well, you're quite safe, Spike. Grand larceny is not one of my strong points.'

Spike caught Xander looking at him in surprise at the "friend" remark and shot him back a look which said "yeah, what of it?" Xander just smirked, made a mental note to ask Spike later about Giles' "William the Bloody" comment, and went back to examining the books on the desk before him.

'Spike? You are aware that this lighter is cursed, aren't you?'

'What? I...' Spike's brow wrinkled in confusion as Giles' examined the lighter more closely under the desklamp. 'Uh, yeah, I think I knew that. I guess it must have slipped my mind.'

'Slipped your mind!? What are you, high?' asked Xander incredulously.

'No,' Spike looked at him evilly, 'just preoccupied.'

Xander hastily shut up.

'I can't be sure,' Giles' told them as he turned the lighter in his hand, 'but it appears to be some form of a love curse. I'm quite rusty in ancient Sumarian, but I think what it says is that the owner will want what they don't want and cannot rest until... hmmm.'

'Hmmm?!' Spike and Xander exclaimed, both startled at this new information.

'Hmmm? What the hell do you mean, "hmmm?" I'm under a love curse?' Spike bellowed.

'What?' Giles looked up, distracted. 'Yes, it appears that whomever has been in ownership of the lighter will be effected by it. I'm just not entirely sure about this word.' Setting the innocuous lighter upright on the desk, Giles wandered from the room. 'I just need to go and check the meaning of...'

For a moment there was shocked silence in the room. Xander was the first to speak.

'So what he's saying is...'

'This was all just a lie,' interjected Spike grimly. 'Bringing out some basic instinct from both of us. It was probably just find a warm body and fuck it 'til you feel better.'

The words caught in Spike's throat as Xander looked up at him, hurt and anger evident in his eyes, no matter how hard the boy tried to hide it.

'Oh, right. Thanks.'

'*Grrrr*, no wait, Xander, I didn't mean...'

'I'm going to try and track down this demon,' Xander interrupted, not wanting to hear what Spike had to say. Whatever it was, he was sure it would hurt. The whole thing, the sparkly new thing he had been offered in the form of a gorgeous, irritating vampire, had just been a lie. Worse than that, it had been a curse. It was a curse for Spike to be with him. Apparently Xander was destined to spend the rest of his days never finding companionship unless it was tainted somewhere along the line by magic. Do-the-wacky, mess-with-your-head and rip-your-still-beating-heart-out-of-your-chest magic.

'How?' Spike asked sharply. 'You wouldn't know where to start.'

'Oh yeah? Right here,' Xander pointed to the text in front of him, 'says the demon likes it in the dark. It likes subdued prey; dank, crowded conditions and doesn't mind the company of other demons. If that doesn't scream "Willy's", I don't know what does.'

'Xander, all demons like those kind of conditions, it's just what we do. Why do you think demon bars do so much business? That's like a standard entry in these books... Xander!'

But Xander was already halfway across the room. With a final glare towards the vampire, he strode out the door, slamming it shut behind him.

Spike closed his eyes, his jaw clenched in anger and balled his fists tightly at his sides, battling the urge to hit something really, really hard. What the fuck had just happened here? Five minutes ago they were happy as larry. Xander had insisted on leaving the basement they hadn't set foot outside of for two days to come and check in with the Watcher. The walk here had been spent in laughter, with stolen kisses and lewd innuendo. Kinda perfect, really.

And now? Now it was all spoiled. He should have known better. The boy would never ordinarily let Spike anywhere near him. It was common knowledge that vampires were not his favourite creatures and yet he had managed to get up close and personal with Spike just fine. Damn it, he should have known there was magic involved. Magic was always involved. There was just no escaping the stuff in Sunnydale. It got everywhere and chafed, like wet sand in your underwear.

Although, he reasoned, the door swings both ways. He would never have come on to the boy like he had otherwise. And, kittens... hello! What the hell had he been thinking there? Evil vampires simply do not keep kittens as pets, no matter how much they might like to scratch and bite.

It didn't matter that he had always kind of liked Xander in the "you get under my skin, you're cool, I see your hidden depths and you might be worth turning one day if you finally stopped hiding behind the Slayer's petticoats" sort of a way. It didn't matter that he had just spent the most enjoyable two days in a long time in the boy's company.

It had all been a lie. All of it.

And the damnedest thing was that he must still be under the effects of the curse, because the only thing that he wanted to do was run out the door after Xander to tell him that he didn't care about any poxy lighter with stupid squiggles carved into it. That it couldn't be true because he liked him, and he felt good when he was with him, and the constant pain he was in Every - Single - Day because he couldn't be the monster his nature told him he was, eased just a little when he was with Xander Harris, because Xander knew what he was, and somehow, he didn't seem to mind.

He wanted to tell him that it couldn't possibly be true.

'Bloody. Buggery. Hell.'

With a low growl, Spike opened his eyes and moved for the first time in several minutes. He swept from the room, leaving the front door swinging on its hinges in his wake.

Just as Spike disappeared around the doorframe, Giles strolled back into the room, book in hand and opened his mouth to speak. Seeing that there was no one in the room to speak to, he closed it again, his gaze falling to the silver lighter lying forgotten on his desk.

Part Eight

Xander sauntered effortlessly into the smoky depths of Willy's bar. Or rather, he tried to saunter effortlessly into the bar, but as every fibre of his body was telling him to run as fast as he could in the opposite direction, it was actually more of a strained tiptoe into the bar. Without making eye contact with any of the huddled figures in the room, he made his way as unobtrusively as possible to the bar and slid onto a stool.

'Well, well. Didn't think I'd be seein' you back here anytime soon.'

'Wha--?' Xander jumped as the voice addressed him, nearly falling off his stool as his body jerked with surprise.

Willy paused in his haphazard polishing of a glass to peer curiously at Xander. 'Geez, take a valium, kid. You weren't this jumpy last time you were here. Need a little Dutch courage?'

'Uh, no, I'm just...' Xander cleared his throat and pulled himself a little more upright, 'I'm looking for a demon. Perhaps you've seen one.'

Willy let out a bray of laughter. 'You are kidding, right?' he said, waving a hand around the bar at his clientele.

Xander slapped himself on the forehead. 'Sorry, forgot who I was talking to. I'm looking for one demon in particular.'

'Isn't this where you came in?'

'Yeah, yeah, I know. Same demon, different day, but this time I'm not getting distracted by booze and cards and wild women.'

Willy resumed his glass polishing. 'There weren't any wild women the last time you were here.'

'I know, but a man can dream, can't he?'

Willy shook his head, 'Listen... Xander, is it? I'm a busy man. You wanna buy a drink, or just annoy me for the rest of the night?'

'I think I'm safer if I stick with the annoying part of that plan.'

'Fine,' Willy told him, already walking away, 'just stay out of trouble, and don't piss off anyone that you shouldn't. Remember the only reason I let you in here is 'cause you're one of the Slayer's crew.'

'Yeah, yeah,' Xander said, now talking to himself, 'that's me. Good old Xander, sidekick extraordinaire. Anybody need a warm body to use and abuse 'til the urge goes away, I'm your man.'

'You shouldn't make offers like that in a place like this, boy,' came a low familiar voice from behind him.

Xander answered without looking around. 'Spike. I'm sorry. I thought I'd made it perfectly clear that I didn't want you to follow me here. I'm just riding the mellow,' he stated. 'Alone.'

'Right,' Spike said, swinging his leg over the empty stool beside Xander. 'You came here to relax. Sure. And what about the mighty demon slaying plans you had earlier?'

'Oh, I'm slaying,' Xander told him with conviction, 'Just here casing the joint, scoping for clues. So if you don't mind...'

'Actually, I do,' Spike told him, motioning to Willy for a drink. A moment later a mug of beer appeared in front of him and he sipped the foam from it thoughtfully.

'You're still here,' Xander said, folding his hands on the bar, having yet to look at the vampire.

'Observant, aren't you?'

'Don't answer a question with a question, that's really annoying!'

Spike raised an eyebrow. 'You didn't ask me a question, pet.'

'I... !' Xander paused. 'Okay, you're right, I didn't,' he backtracked, 'but the fact remains that you are still here. Why don't you just take off? Go find yourself another warm body to fuck. And don't call me "pet"!'

'Ouch.' Spike replied without inflection. He sipped his drink again. 'Why should you care? It was only a curse, after all?'

'Yeah,' Xander finally turned to face him, 'it was just a curse. So why are you here? What did Giles say?'

'Dunno. I left before he came back.'

'You... why did you do that?'

Spike gripped his glass tightly, staring into its foamy depths. 'I couldn't help it. I had to make sure you didn't get yourself killed by coming here again and pissing off another angry demon just 'cause you're mad at me.'

'Mad at you? Mad at you? I'm not mad at you! I hate you! I hate that you came here just because whatever the hell that curse has done is still affecting us!'

'Keep your voice down, Xander. You want the whole world to know?'

Xander glanced around, and hunched over his stool. 'I don't care about the whole world,' he hissed. 'I care that it feels like my heart is breaking, and I'm making a complete fool of myself and by tomorrow it'll all be gone because none of it's real! Don't you get it? Giles will find a way to undo it, and then all I'll have are the gross memories of what we did messing with my head because they were never real!'

Xander noticed that somewhere during his little speech, Spike had abandoned his drink and was looking over Xander's left shoulder with something akin to wonder. And he looked rather concerned.

'That's great. I'm embarrassing myself, and you're not even listening to me,' Xander frowned, 'and yet you are having an expression. What the hell is...'

'Behind you, you stupid git,' Spike hissed. 'Is it just me or is that the spitting image of the demon Giles said wouldn't rise for another fortnight?'

An icy shiver of dread ran its way down Xander's spine as he slowly spun his stool around to face the back of the bar. He immediately saw what Spike was referring to. There stood the charcoal drawing from Giles' research, brought to living colour and greatly increased in scale. It was covered in bulging corded muscle, its skin the colour of wet clay and had two jagged spiral horns on its head. At its hindquarters was the thin tail which hung down to its thick ankles and trailed lightly across the floor behind it.

'The Rectangle! He looks meaner than he did in the books,' Xander said in a horrified whisper. 'What do we do?'

The Ractang was currently holding a lesser demon off the ground by the lapels of the oversize trenchcoat it wore. A strangely familiar looking demon with scattered playing cards fluttering to the ground all around him.

(... huuumaaaan...)

'That's the... oh shit. The little one -- that's one of the demons I played poker with the other night.'

To Xander's horror, the trenchcoat demon raised a scaly arm to point right at him. He couldn't hear what was being said over the loud music in the bar, but the intention was clear.

They were next.

Struck dumb beside him, Spike watched as the Ractang calmly ripped the head off the shoulders of the trenchcoat demon as easily as a child pulls the petals from a flower. Holding the decapitated head above its open mouth, the demon drank down the green droplets that fell from it. Having consumed the demonic goo, it tossed the head over its shoulder, letting out a bellow that sounded to Xander eerily like the T-rex from Jurassic Park.

Only louder.

And more pissed off.

The Ractang stared at them across the bar with murderous glee, and roared again.

'I think that's our cue to leave,' Spike told him, grabbing the shocked Xander and yanking him to his feet. Xander didn't need to be told twice.

They ran from the bar, not needing Spike's heightened senses to tell them that the demon was lumbering after them, knocking chairs and tables flying as it made its way through the bar. Willy's voice could clearly be heard as they fell out the door, the Ractang only paces behind them.

'Hey! Somebody's gonna have to pay for all this!'

They tripped over a couple of garbage cans just outside the door, knocking them over with a clatter. Stumbling through the garbage and struggling to keep their balance, they sprinted around the nearest corner into a convenient side street. Spike pushed Xander towards the end of the alley, into a tiny alcove at the side of a building while he dived for cover behind the nearest available dumpster. He peered around the cracked plastic of the dumpster and saw the Ractang, haloed by a streetlight, bellowing its anger, screaming at them in a language that Spike vaguely recognised as the same as he had read earlier on the lighter.

Ancient Sumarian, funky demonic dialect. Why would it be speaking the same language as... oh, no. The icon. The fucking icon! I can't believe the amount of bad luck this town has brought me. That bloody lighter will be the death of me! I'm gonna kill Xander! But first I'll have to get us away from big and horny over there.

Sucking in an unneeded breath, he crouched low and then sprung from his hiding spot aiming to land as close as he could to the alcove where Xander hid.

'Damn, damn, damn, damn, waaaaahhhhhhh!' he turned in midair, twisting himself away from the slashing claws of the Ractang who had managed to get much too close for comfort. 'Shitshitshitshitshit!' he cried, hearing the unwelcome tearing sound of claws through the leather of his coat tails. He leapt quickly away from the demon, darting around it, reaching the other side of the alley and temporary safety in the shadows.

The stunned face of Xander Harris was visible to him in the darkness.

'Xander,' he whispered with a nod towards the demon, 'the icon that bastard's after. I think it's the lighter.'

'What lighter? Wait, you mean the lighter I gave you? The cursed lighter? Why the hell would a demon be coming after a lighter? It's not exactly a very demonly artefact, is it?'

'I don't know,' Spike snapped, 'and right now, I don't care. It's speaking the same language as the curse was written in. We can worry about the ins and outs of it later, but for the minute that's my theory and I'm sticking to it.'

'Oh, god. If you're right... but we both owned it.' Xander paled. 'So it's coming after us? Like specifically? It's going to consume us?'

'Looks that way. You up for this?' Spike asked bluntly.

'What the hell do you care?'

'Would you just forget all that! Don't be a prat, now is not the time to argue. You wanna die here? Just keep it up.' Xander looked suitably chastised so Spike continued, his voice strained, but a little calmer. 'I can't take him by myself. If you don't help, then we both go down. Now are you able?'

Xander met Spike's earnest gaze for a moment as he made his decision. 'Yeah, I'm able. No problem. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Or, y'know, paying someone more manly to shoot them for you.'

'You're plenty manly,' Spike told him without hesitation. 'Now I need you to circle around behind him and distract him. Pull on his tail, or insult his mother. Something, just make it good.'

'Ah, the well known and documented "na-na-na-na-na-na" approach to battle. You do know that this is all making the kind of sense that is not?'

Spike simply glared.

'Okay, okay,' Xander relented, 'I guess I can pull his tail. What are you going to do?'

'I'm going to wait 'til his back is turned, and then shove this,' Spike hefted up a wrought iron bar, which had until only moments ago served admirably as a handrail, that he had yanked from the wall beside the dumpster, 'through its chest. Maybe its eye if I can get that close.'

'Will that stop it?'

'Buggered if I know, but it's gotta at least slow him down. After that, it's just a simple matter of beating it to death with our bare hands.'

Unpleasant as that sounded, Xander couldn't find fault with this logic, and readied himself to be Diversion Guy.

'Just so as you know,' Xander said, 'I still think you're a bastard.'

'Just so as you know, the feeling's still mutual.'

'So long as we're clear.' Keeping low to the ground, Xander peeked around the corner and saw the Ractang systematically knocking garbage cans and boxes out of the way as it searched for them, still screaming in the language that Xander couldn't understand. 'So, this is it. It's tail pulling time.'

Spike nodded. 'Don't get dead.'

Before he could change his mind, Xander hooked his hand around the back of Spike's neck, pulling the surprised vampire towards him for a kiss.

'What?' he said innocently when the all too brief kiss ended. 'It's the curse.'

And with that, he rose to his feet and ran around the corner towards the demon.

'Hey you! Rectangle guy! Yeah, you! I'm talking to you.'

The demon raised itself up to its full height, towering above Xander, and its screams reverberating in the enclosed space.

'Are you lookin' at me?' Xander asked, sounding much braver than he actually felt. 'Are you lookin' at me? You must be lookin' at me 'cause I don't see anybody else standin' here.'

Xander slowly circled around the demon as he held its attention. His feet inched their way over the ground, at one point slipped out from under his shaky legs as he stepped on an oil-sodden newspaper, but he scrambled to his feet in an instant and resumed his taunts. The demon raised a huge arm to swipe at him, and it was instinct more than anything else that saved Xander from being decapitated as he ducked under the arm and found himself behind the demon.

The Ractang was powerful, but reacted slowly. It was seconds before it realised that the snapping puppy of a boy in front of him had disappeared, but now there was new prey. Better prey. This one smelt like a demon. White crested, and it held a weapon. He too was marked by the icon, the Ractang could feel it in its bones. They would both die, but the white crested halfling would be first.

'Spike!' Xander called from behind the demon. 'He's strong, but he's real slow. Use your speed.'

Spike nodded to show that he had heard, but he didn't take his eyes from the huge clay-coloured demon before him. Spike grinned. This was going to be one hell of a fight. Suddenly game-faced, and letting out a vicious roar of his own, he lunged forward with all of his considerable strength, slamming the iron pole against the Ractang's chest, hitting the spot exactly where the heart would have been on a human. Abruptly silenced, the Ractang looked down in shock at the attack, and then at the little vampire who had struck him. It then scratched absently at its chest where the iron javelin had glanced off its skin without so much as breaking the skin.

Spike's mouth fell open in shock as it looked at him... and grinned.

'Oh. Fuck.'

'What happened? Did you kill it?' came a voice from behind the grinning Ractang.

'Not exactly,' Spike called back nervously. 'We, ah, may have bitten off more than we can chew here.'

The sudden ringing silence was broken again by an earsplitting screech from the Ractang. It grabbed the useless, and now slightly bent, iron rod out of Spike's hands and tossed it to the side, advancing on the alarmed vampire. Xander saw the rod clatter to the pavement and through clay-coloured legs the size of tree trunks and a slender swinging tail, he saw Spike trip in the garbage to land on his back, scrambling away from the howling demon.

'Oh, no you don't!' Xander shouted and did the first thing that popped into his mind. He grabbed the Ractang's tail. 'It's tail pulling time!' he yelled and yanked the tail as hard as he could.

The Ractang let out a high pitched whine of pain as its body tensed in shock. It rocked back and forth on its heels as the whine continued, a strange orange glow lighting its body. Xander stared in astonishment as the Rantang seemed to melt before his eyes, fading away until there was nothing left standing in front of him. A blessed silence surrounded him as the slight weight of the tail disappeared from his hands. Xander sat on the ground with a bump, his eyes open wide.


There was a faint rustling of someone scuffling in old newspapers somewhere nearby.


Spike knelt down beside him, looking at the boy intently.

'Fire bad. Tree pretty.'

'What?' Spike looked at him with concern. 'Xander? What the matter with you? Did you hit your head again? What the hell did you do?'

'I... I pulled on its tail like you told me.' Xander looked up into blue eyes and shrugged slightly. 'Maybe that was his Achilles heel. His Achilles tail.'

Seeing that the boy was okay, at least physically, Spike stood up, pulling Xander to his feet beside him. 'I've said it before, and I'll say it again. There are some bloody funny ways to kill demons, but I think that one takes the biscuit. Pulling on its tail, indeed. Whatever will they think of next?'

'Well, hello Mr I-Can't-Walk-In-The-Sun. And how would sir like his *steak* this evening? A little extra garlic, perhaps?' Xander asked sarcastically.

In spite of himself, Spike smiled, grudgingly happy to see that Xander was back to his usual wisecracking self. 'All right, all right, point made, taken and instantly discarded.'

Xander returned the smile, and made a move to leave. He was looking forward to going straight home to bed, tuck the kittens in and have dream number 7. The one where he and Buffy were alone on the beach. Except it was a nudist beach, and Buffy had brought lots of suntan lotion and was having trouble with those hard to reach spots on her back. And then they... who was he kidding?

He wanted Spike to come back with him. But he wasn't going to ask. Demon attacks aside, he still hated him, and anything he felt to the contrary, no matter how strong, was just the effects of the curse. The curse that he would be getting Giles to reverse first thing tomorrow morning, so by the next time he saw Spike (tomorrow night at the very earliest, after the sun set) they could begin the long and thoroughly humiliating process of putting this all behind them.

He could resist this for just one night, because there was no way in hell he would be letting Spike back into his home, and even less chance of letting him back into his bed because--

'I don't like this, Xander.'

'Huh?' Xander glanced down at the restraining hand on his arm, and was about to tell Spike to get the hell of him, when he realised that Spike was looking around them in a way that suggested that he still thought there was something dangerous around.

'Why not? Evil is vanquished, we live to run away another day.'

'No,' Spike shook his head in annoyance. 'I mean can't you hear that?'



They looked up sharply towards the end of the alleyway where half a dozen demons had just appeared, looking really pissed off.

'You!' the leader said again, pointing at them. 'You busted up our poker game. Again. Then you trash the bar. Willy's closed up shop for the night. Now where are we supposed to get a drink? Somebody's gotta pay, and we're gonna take it outta your hide.'

Spike looked at Xander and sighed. 'That.'

The weary pair took a deep breath and steeled themselves. They gave one last look at their would-be attackers, turned to each other, nodded in agreement... and then took off running as fast as their legs would carry them.


'I think... think we lost 'em.'

Xander bent over, resting his hands on his thighs as he tried to get his breath back. 'Man... I hate... the number of times... that I have to say... that.'

Confused, Spike glanced at him. 'Say what?'

'I think... we lost 'em. It... implies a lot... a lot of running.' Xander straightened up as his breathing returned to normal. 'Sometimes I really wish I still had a car.'

'Well, you're right,' Spike agreed, satisfied that they were alone. 'There's no one around but us.'

'And yet why don't I feel any better?' Xander asked, his voice laden with sarcasm.

'Oh, here we go,' Spike smirked coldly. 'You couldn't let it go, could you? Listen, whelp, in case you've forgotten, it was you who gave that bloody lighter to me! It's your fault I got cursed in the first place! This isn't exactly something I would have actively gone looking for.'

'Oh, that's right,' Xander said bitterly. 'I'm just a warm body to fuck! How silly of me to forget!'

With no warning, Spike strode angrily towards him so that Xander was forced backwards until he found his back pressed against a tree trunk. Spike slammed his hands against the bark on either side of Xander's head with enough force to make the entire tree shake. 'Shut. Up. Just shut the hell up! This isn't all about you, you know. I have to live with this too. I have to live with the memory of what we did just like you do, and you know what?' Spike's eyes were open wide and burning bright with anger as he spoke, his voice strained and lowering to a raspy whisper. 'You know what? At the minute it hurts me just as much as you with your delicate little virginal sensibilities. I'm standing here arguing like a sodding woman with you because some curse tells me that I care so damn much about you.'

Xander gasped at the admission, his treacherous body reacting when Spike lifted a hand off the tree to gently draw his knuckles along the line of Xander's cheekbone. For a long moment Xander just stared, his breath coming in quick gasps at the feel of the chilled caress on his flushed cheek.

A long moment that ended when he came to his senses and knocked Spike's hand away. He shivered as he heard Spike's angry growl.

'I hate you,' Spike spat. 'I hate this stupid curse. I hate the fact that it doesn't seem to affect you as much as it does me.'

'Affect me? Affect me!? You think I'd jump into bed with you if magic wasn't involved? You're a vampire, fang boy. You're a guy. You do the math. And,' he added as an afterthought, 'I hate you more.'

'Oh, yeah?' Spike tilted his head, his eyes glinting dangerously. 'Do you know what I really hate?'

Even though Xander knew he was physically safe, he still flinched slightly at the ferocity of Spike's words.

'I hate the fact that it's still affecting me, because all I want to do is protect you. You're an arsehole, and all I can think about is how much I care about you.'

'Yeah?' Xander countered, his supply of manly bravado almost depleted after the harrowing night he'd just had. He was tired of fighting, and tired of the strange unnamed emotions running through him. Too much had happened, and there was much too much for his addled brain to process all at once. 'Yeah?' he repeated, still glaring as he searched Spike's face, but his voice was softer this time. 'Well, all I can think about is kissing you.'

Spike matched his glare, both of them fully aware of the other's anger and confusion, until the heat between them suddenly melted it into something else and Xander found himself pressed up against the rough bark of the tree being kissed desperately by Spike.

'It's... it's the curse. That's... that's why we're doing this,' Xander managed to say between kisses.

'Yeah, but... I don't care. We can go back to... hating one another tomorrow,' Spike grunted as he ripped the buttons off the front of Xander's shirt, 'but right now it just feels right. I'm in for the duration. How... how about you?'

More wet kisses and Xander shivered at the chilled fingers running over every inch of his flushed skin. 'Yeessss,' Xander agreed wholeheartedly, 'I'm in. Tomorrow I'll hate you... but, right now, oh, god...'

Spike ran his tongue roughly along Xander's jawline and began to kiss his way down the exposed throat and chest.

'Right now I love you.'

'Love you too, Xander. Love you too.'

Part Nine

A sullen, but noticeably more relaxed Spike and Xander found their way back to Giles' home just after midnight. This time they had a longer wait at the front door and stood in uncomfortable silence until a very sleepy Giles finally opened it.

'Oh, ah, hello. What is it? Trouble?'

Giles was elbowed gently to the side as they walked past him without speaking to stand morosely in the living room once again, not looking at one another.

'Um, yes? Is there a point to your being here? I was just reading the paper in bed, and it has been a very long day--'

'We killed the demon,' Xander blurted.

'What demon?'

'The one you said wouldn't rise until next week, two at the latest,' Spike said accusingly.


Spike growled in annoyance. 'Look. Big angry demon type. Lots of muscles, screamed like a banshee. Bloody stupid dangling tail. Tried to kill us. Didn't get that far because we -- we -- killed it and then did you the favour of coming here to let you know.'

'Well, I appreciate the gesture, but really, I destroyed that demon.'

'You what!?' Spike took an angry step towards the Watcher. 'Don't give me that! I didn't see you there risking your life to try and kill it.'

'No, fair point, you didn't, but the fact remains that I killed that demon by destroying its icon. It should have disappeared from this plane of existence at the same moment as the icon was destroyed.'

'You did?' asked Xander. 'But... but I pulled on its tail and it went *poof*.'

'How nice for you,' Giles said, eyeing Xander strangely as he sank into an armchair and drew his cardigan closer around him. 'While you two have been off gallivanting, I have had a rather productive evening.'

Spike folded his arms and leaned against the nearest wall. 'Do tell.'

Giles allowed himself the pleasure of a smug smile of self-congratulation. 'Yes, well, after you ran off so suddenly, I did a little translating, and found, by some marvellous coincidence that the cursed lighter you left here was related to the demon. Same time period, same language, so I put two and two together. It turns out that the incantation that I originally, and mistakenly I'm afraid to say, assumed was a curse was actually a charm, and a warning about the Ractang.

Spike's scowl deepened. 'What?'

'The lighter wasn't cursed at all,' Giles continued amiably. 'It was like a mystical eye opener. All that rot about "deepest darkest desires" was only half the translation. Its true meaning was that it made the owner aware of what he or she already knew, or more precisely, what they already contained the potential for. It was more of a blessing really, to those of sound mind and body at any rate.'

Spike rolled his eyes, 'Oh, what a surprise. A mis-translation by the Watcher, putting us once again into mortal danger.'

'But what about the not eating, not sleeping, not resting part?' Xander asked in shock.

'That was the demon. It would not eat, sleep or rest until it had tracked down its power source and killed the unfortunate creature who was in possession of it. Actually consuming them and anyone else who had been unlucky enough to have owned it for however brief a time.'

Xander paled noticeably. 'So you mean, it was a blessing? I didn't do anything, uh, out of character under some wacky enchantment, and it still could have got me killed?'

'Christ,' Spike muttered, shaking his head in disbelief.

'But a lighter?' Xander asked. 'It's old, but not more than a decade or two, right? I don't get it. They had lighters in ancient Sumaria?'

'The lighter itself didn't matter,' Giles explained. 'The demon-worshipping Cult of Ract in ancient Sumaria began the link between the demon and the enchantment. They used it initially to bring luck to the followers and to open their eyes to the truth. However, as often happens with magic use, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Their magic created a doorway for the demon, who periodically rises and tracks down all those who have been positively affected by the enchantment.'

Xander still looked confused.

'You see, it was the incantation that mattered,' Giles told him, 'not the lighter itself. The physical object that the words were inscribed on was changed many times through the years to try and hide the icon from the Ractang demon. That's why I couldn't find anything in all my books that told me what the icon was. In addition, the attempt to hide the icon from the demon is why it could only be passed on to another who had no knowledge of the magics surrounding it, and in the same way it only affected the owner if they were unaware of what it was that they owned. Someone recently must have activated it, the, ah, eye opener so to speak, and woken the demon. God only knows how, or who for that matter,' he said, regarding Spike suspiciously.

'Uh huh. And you just snapped your fingers and ended a couple of hundred years of enchantment,' Spike intoned sarcastically.

Giles nodded. 'In a matter of speaking. Earlier this evening. It was quite a simple incantation. A few drops of juniper and thyme oil over a sulphur flame. I'm surprised the demons you said that you won it off didn't figure it out for themselves. Although if they didn't know about the consequences, or if they made an incorrect translation...' He trailed off, stroking his chin in thought. 'They may perhaps have been fooled by the language used in the inscriptions. It was actually a dialect from an ancient demonic subculture, and not as I originally translated from the main language of Sumeria. A common misconception to those unschooled in the area.' He swelled with a modicum of well earned pride. 'It appears that the demon was indeed looking for its power source. It's "Ack'mar sham-shack".'

Spike tutted at himself, 'Sham-shack, not stam-stack. Of course, so close, yet so far away.' Then louder he added, 'And this power source. That was the lighter?'

Giles nodded his affirmation.

'I knew it. I am so the smartest vampire in town.'

'Yes, I'm sure you are,' Giles told him, getting to his feet. 'Now if there's nothing else, I know of a warm bed which is waiting for me. I'm quite knackered, and would like nothing more that to read the article about Britney's latest stalker in the morning paper, which I didn't get to read this morning, and then pass out.'

Xander looked up, distracted from his disturbing thoughts, 'Britney has a new stalker?'

'Yes,' Giles told him, as he read over the headline, 'apparently this one burst in through a solid brick wall to get to her, but you know how these things are, probably all hyped up just for the publicity. I remember this once...'

Spike interrupted, not wanting to hear about Britney's close call with death, 'So the lighter would stop having the same effect when you destroyed it?'

'Yes, but...'

'When did you destroy it?'

'Well, let me see,' Giles considered, 'about an hour or so after you left.'

'An hour or so after we left,' Spike repeated, looking directly at Xander. Without another word, he grabbed Xander's arm and pulled him out of the house, once again leaving the door swinging open behind him.

Giles gritted his teeth in irritation and went to close the door. 'But that doesn't matter!' he called. 'Once your eyes have been opened, you'll know the truth about... Gah, kids. They never listen,' he said as the door closed for the last time that night.

Outside, Spike marched Xander across the courtyard and slammed him up against the opposite wall, shrugging off the resulting zap of pain from the chip.

'What did you do?'

'What did I do what?' Xander asked in confusion.

'You know very well what. What did you do to me? You heard him. When the icon was destroyed and the demon went "poof" the affects of the incantation were cancelled, leaving the truth behind. The truth,' he repeated, pushing Xander harder against the wall for emphasis. 'And... and there was never a curse, only an incantation to reveal what was already there. An hour after we left, he said. Before the demons from Willy's attacked us, before...'

'Before you told me you didn't care about any stupid bloody curse and... and that you loved me?'

Spike blinked in shock, glaring at Xander with clear blue eyes. For a horrible moment, Xander was certain that he was going to hit him. He looked so... looked so... beautiful.

Xander grabbed Spike's head, pulling him closer and kissed him hard.

They were interrupted by the sound of a window opening somewhere above them and an angry voice calling down.

'If you'd bothered to listen to me in the first place, the curse brings out your own darkest desires, it doesn't give you new ones. Now if you've quite finished with your snogging session, would mind kindly buggering off and stop disturbing my beauty sleep!' Giles paused in pulling the window shut. 'Oh yes, and next time? Close the bloody door behind you!'

The slamming of the window made them both jump.

'Giles saw us,' Xander said with dismay. 'He knows.'

Spike couldn't hide his grin. 'Yeah, what of it?'

'Buffy! He'll tell Buffy.' Xander ran a shaky hand over his face. 'Then there'll be accusations, and yelling, and... and face breaking.'

'She won't break our faces,' Spike said, still smiling as he noticed that Xander was still holding on tightly to his hand, their fingers intertwined.

'No,' Xander agreed, 'just yours.'

'Hey! Why just mine? I'm the pretty one!'

'Yeah, I know,' Xander told him, kissing him briefly as they turned and began to walk slowly away from Giles' house. 'But she actually likes me, and your face will heal faster.'

Spike considered this for a minute. 'Okay, you get one face breaking. I'll give you that, but just one, mind, and after that we take it in turns.'

Xander smiled.

'Oh, yeah,' Spike added, 'and you have to kiss it better for me and take care of me while I'm recuperating. You know, peel me grapes, mop my fevered brow, bring me the blood of young virgins and the like.'

'You got it,' Xander grinned, squeezing Spike's hand. 'How about we start with the kissing right now?'

Xander barely had time to yelp before he found himself pressed up against another tree being kissed by Spike.

Kissing. Tree pretty. Spike pretty.

'You have a tree fetish,' Xander said when they finally broke apart.

'Nope, I have a Xander fetish.'

'So we're really going to do this?'

'Looks that way. You heard the man -- no curse. This thing is the truth. All those things,' Spike swallowed, working up the nerve to say what he wanted to say, 'all those things we said that we felt... that was for real.'

'You sound surprised.'

'Yeah, well, aren't you?'

'I don't know. I'm starting to wonder.' Xander cupped Spike's face, stroking his thumb over the smooth skin of his cheek.



'I'm still keeping the Rolex.'

'You mean you have the...! I wondered where that went. Okay, keep it,' Xander told him, sealing the deal with a kiss.

'And Flick-knife.'

'I thought we'd settled on 'Beast'?'

Spike silenced him with more kisses. 'Whatever.'

'Yeah,' Xander agreed happily. 'Kittens are cool.'

The End

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