Musical Wars
Rated: ADULT

Dom/sub, bondage, clan psychology, m/m

Chapter 1


Welcome back to Sunnyhell, pet,” Spike said as he drove past the roadside sign.

“Already?” Xander looked up from his book. “Thank god.”

“So, three ways to kill a Gy’phan,” Spike demanded, and Xander felt his demon circle in his mind, anxious to prove himself.

“Have I mentioned lately how tests and me are like peanut butter and vinegar? I tried that once as a kid, not a good combination,” Xander joked even as he closed the heavy book.

“About every five bloody miles, but considering the types of nasties that settle on the Hellmouth, I need to make sure you can take care of yourself. Won’t risk losing my childe to some random demon.” Spike still smiled every time he said the word 'childe' and Xander felt his own demon practically purr. And really, even his soul loved knowing that their connection went deeper than pet and master, but the whole childe reference still gave him a bit of the wiggins.

“Okay, considering the things we have done together, calling me your childe is really doing bad things to my psyche.” Xander snorted when his own demon sent up its own unhappy grumblings making it clear that it wanted to be called childe. Xander ignored this inner voice in favor of watching the familiar buildings through the hole he'd scratched in the paint covering the windows of the De Soto.

“So, you havin’ some sort of private conversation over there?” Spike asked as he sent the car around another corner fast enough to make Xander grab for the dash just to keep his balance.

“Just disagreeing over the whole childe issue,” Xander hissed as he shut his eyes for just a second to avoid seeing Spike dart around a semi with the recklessness of an immortal creature. Spike exchanged obscene gestures with the other driver.

"Your demon likes bein’ called a childe,” Spike smugly answered once he had hit a relatively empty stretch of road or at least empty enough there was no one for him to curse at.

“Yeah, well he didn't grow up with teachers explaining about naughty touches and news reports about pedophilia or would that be incest? Well, sex and children… really not of the good.”

"Bloody hell, you're not exactly some little ankle biter. I may not want you off challenging random demons on the Hellmouth, but you're the fighter who eviscerated Angelus himself."

"I accidentally stuck a stake in his stomach," Xander pointed out dryly.

"Gotta learn how to tell the story better than that, pet," Spike sighed and rolled his eyes. "You're Xander Harris, first and favored childe of William the Bloody, accepted into the line of Aurelius by Angelus the grandchilde of the Master himself. You staked Cassidy, Master of all of LA, you can claim the hospitality of Master Ajani, and you once eviscerated Master Angelus during a fight.” Xander felt the demon that shared his body rise up to the naming, not struggling for control as much as just twisting in near orgasmic pleasure at the sounds of his sire’s approval.

“You keep doing that and we aren’t going to make it to the warehouse,” Xander warned as he could feel his cock respond to his demon’s desire to prove his worth to the sire who so accepted him.

“Havin’ a problem, luv?” Spike snickered, and Xander had no doubt that the evil vampire knew exactly what he was doing. God he hated vampire noses, especially since Spike always managed to sniff him at the most embarrassing times. He hadn’t had so much trouble controlling Xander Jr. since seventh grade when he sat between Cordelia Chase and Suzie Smythe for reading class. He had been caught somewhere between heaven and hell all year, and no wonder he wasn’t any good at reading.

“Depends on how you define a problem. Would you have a problem if I slid down and tasted your cock as you drove?” Xander made himself blush with his words, but he knew better than to back down to Spike. Give Spike and inch, and he would take the whole damn continent, so if he didn’t stand up for himself now, Spike was going to talk dirty to him in the middle of Wal-mart next. Nope, no more public displays of horniness for the Xan-man, especially since lately his horniness had been accompanied by definite signs of demoniness.

Xander smirked as Spike shifted in his seat. Oh yeah, time to teach his sire a lesson. Xander unbuttoned the first couple of buttons on his silk shirt and pulled the collar down to expose his claim bite which now constantly showed red against his tanned skin.

“No problem, pet, come on over,” Spike invited him even as Spike reached over and turned off the punk music currently blasting through the car speakers.

“I wouldn’t want to distract you from your driving by running my tongue over your balls, feeling your cock brush against my cheek.” This time Xander was rewarded with a groan as Spike reached down and pulled at the denim over his crotch. Of course, Xander had to shift in his own seat to accommodate his increasing tight jeans, but at least he was no worse off than Spike.

“Bloody hell, no distraction at all. I can drive even as I pierce your neck with my fangs, pulling the blood from you so slow that you’ll feel it down to your toes. I can drive as I work my hands into the back of your jeans, exploring your tight…”

“Mercy….uncle…enough,” Xander squealed as his cock made a Herculean effort to break through the denim and stand at attention. He whimpered as he pushed himself up on the seat and tried to adjust himself. Spike snickered his victory, but Xander also noticed that the vampire had slipped a hand down the front of his own jeans to try and find a more comfortable position. “Truce,” Xander offered.

“Truce my arse, I won that round, so don’t give me any ‘truce’ crap.”

“A draw with you slightly in the lead.”

“A bloody outright victory.”

“A negotiated surrender.”

“Unconditional capitulation.”

“Tyrant,” Xander huffed, and Spike only laughed.

“Seems like someone never answered my question, though. No more distractions.” Xander sighed. He wanted to please Spike, but there were so many damn demons.

“Okay, Gy’phon: horned demon with blue skin. Kill it by taking off the horn and stabbing it into the demon, fire, or the ever-popular beheading, and why is it that beheading seems to kill everything?”

“It doesn’t, pet. Pyleans just stick the head right back, Goran’s can regenerate, and beheading a Gy’phan’ll just piss it off. The whole lot of cousins from the G’an family die the same way…the Gy’phans, Gulans, and Gurelians all die by their own horns, fire or drownin’, but beheadin’ is a good guess if ya don’t know what else to do.”

"And we're back to, how about I hide behind you while you rip apart anything that looks at me wrong?" Xander tried his best helpless wide-eyed stare, but the demon part of him circled in distress, angry at the thought of sire seeing him as weak, and Xander really had to agree. He didn't want to be the sidekick any more. "Or, how about we stick to just killing vampires?"

"Oi, where we're going, ya won't be stakin' any of the vampires, not unless we absolutely have to. Soddin' Anointed One has most of the demon community bowin' and cringin' just because of some cock up of a prophecy."

"But if it's prophecy…" Xander pointed out. Angel had explained how the Master of the Aurelius line had chosen his heir, turned a young human who the prophesies said would hold great power and free the Master from his prison under the city. Xander was still trying to get his brain around the idea that demons and vampires had lurked right below his feet while he played with toy cars in the back yard. Even worse, when his parents had fought, he would take a sleeping bag outside and sleep under the stars, and just how stupid had that been?

"Lived with Dru long enough ta know there's prophesy, and then there's prophesy. Like the bit about the Anointed One freein' the Master. Old Bat Face got free and ate his slayer like the prophecy said, but the git couldn't keep her dead. 'Course Angel put the bird in a coma, but she's still breathin'. Then the next soddin' slayer just dusted him. So, ya can't count on prophecy."

"But all these other demons, they're submitting to the Anointed One because of the prophecy."

"Yeah, which only said the boy could free the Master and lead the Aurelius line to destroy their enemies."

"Right, so best to not be an Aurelius enemy. Oh." Xander froze as he realized what that meant. "We're Aurelius."

Spike smirked.

"Well, figure I don't want to take on the pipsqueak until we get the lay of the land. Don't figure on settling down in the same town as the slayer, and I don't bloody well want another vampire war."

"So, we play nice," Xander nodded. His demon still sulked, wanting to take power and lay it at the feet of his sire. Of course, his demon also had little fantasies about dragging screaming virgins to the lair and laying them at sire's feet like a cat offering up little mouse bodies, so Xander really didn't trust his demon instinct all that much.

"Best thing," Spike agreed.

Xander watched the familiar ice cream shop appear and then disappear in his little spot of window. “My bluffing skills are at an all time low here, that being the case, why don’t we just skip the whole dropping in on the in-laws thing? Visits to the in-laws always go wrong, as evidenced by the oh-so-lovely snarkage at my mother’s.”

“What? I bloody liked your mother,” Spike protested.

“You two insulted each other through three courses and a birthday cake.”

“Yeah, and she got in some good ones too. Ballsy lady, your mum.”

“Well I’m sure she’d love hearing how my undead gay lover thinks she has balls, but wait, you already told her that, and as I recall her reaction was less than positive,” Xander pointed out with a disgusted expression.

“Meant it as a compliment,” Spike said with a twist of his mouth that Xander suspected might mean guilt, but Spike felt guilt so rarely, Xander had trouble pinning down what that expression looked like on Spike.

“So, since our in-law record is less than sterling, any chance of skipping it this round?” Xander hoped that he could turn that possible guilt into a bit of manipulation, but Spike turned a suspicious eye to him for so long that Xander started panicking and gesturing toward the front window where the car continued barreling down the street. “Road… driving… watching the road while driving,” Xander sputtered. With only streaks of clear glass in front, driving wasn't ideal in any conditions, but he definitely didn't want Spike's eyes off the road.

“Not bloody likely. This town has more cemeteries than schools, and more bloody vampires and demons than humans, so since we can't avoid 'em, we visit the court and play good little vamps."

“Stupid vampire rules,” Xander muttered.

“Bloody right, now you know why I avoid the soddin’ courts. Nancy-boy bowin’ and scrapin’ and sucking up to some bat-faced master. Not my bloody idea of a good time, but *someone* wanted to come and visit his friend.”

"Well, someone was all ready to go run off to China just to get away from Angel," Xander pointed out.

“Can’t believe Angel actually worked with a slayer, bloody unnatural that. Should be eatin’ slayers, not havin’ tea and crumpets with the bints,” Spike complained for the millionth time, and Xander just rolled his eyes.

“Wait…. Why did Angel get away with helping the slayers if the court is so powerful?” Xander asked as he watched the streets darken as more and more of the streetlights stood broken and useless.

“Angelus was one of the Master’s favorites, at least once the Master got over hatin’ him. Even with the Master dead, the Anointed One wouldn’t go after such an old vamp especially since Angel and the Master seemed to have a bit of a truce of their own.”

“He told you that?” Xander turned to look at Spike surprised, but the vampire had an amused expression on his face.

“Didn’t have to, pet. Angel talks about Buffy goin’ into the lairs alone even though he’d already helped her out plenty of times. He didn't go down in there until after he saw Batface go wandering off. Only one reason for that.”

“Coward,” Xander huffed, and the vampire next to him growled at the same time as the vampire in his head.

“Angel’s a wanker, but cowardice isn’t in the line, luv. Two things ya never call a vamp of your own line: coward and weak.”

“So you can call him a pouf and hairboy and captain gel but not a coward?” Xander demanded skeptically even as he tried to send comforting thoughts to his own distraught demon.

“Bloody hell, yes. Those other things are left from when he was human, that’s Angel I’m insultin’, but whether or not a vamp is a coward or a weakling, that has to do with the strength of the demon.”

“And….” Xander let his voice trail out. His own demon had been just as unhappy with his comment, but he and baby demon didn’t actually have the whole communication thing down yet.

“We aren’t related through our human side, pet. But we’re all part of the Aurelius demon, the old Master’s even more bat-faced sire. So you don’t bloody insult the demon’s strength since we all carry a part of the same demon.”

"But my demon came from Cassidy," Xander protested. His inner demon roared a protest as a flash of Cassidy-hatred rolled through him. "Hypocrite," Xander snapped at his demon considering the thing had crawled at Cassidy's feet.

"Wot?" Spike demanded.

"Sorry, internal fight. But I'm still saying Cassidy demon here, whether he wants to deny it or not," Xander snarled as the demon sent a rage through every cell in his body, making him clench his fists.

"Not even, pet. Your demon is Aurelius. I bloody well chased Cassidy's demon out and shared mine, so you're just as much a part of the line as I am. We're Aurelius demons, and so we don't insult the demon that connects us." Spike insisted with a growl that showed his displeasure. Xander flinched as Baby Aurelius scraped distress down his backbone.

“I know he’s not physically a coward considering he let you play with a flame thrower in the same room with him, which, no offense here, kinda scary. I actually meant that he was an emotional coward for not wanting to face his vampire needs.” Xander defended himself.

“Some days I think the pouf isn’t a vampire anymore,” Spike commented as he pulled the car up to a dark warehouse and parked in a spot where only the light of the half-moon and the distant streetlights faintly illuminated the abandoned building. "Wanker."

Xander took that as forgiveness. Or at least Spike had moved on to being grumpy about Angel. Xander watched Spike's profile, and part of him wanted to say something supportive, especially since he knew how much it hurt when the person, or vamp, you saw as a father turned out to be a big turd. His own father had written him off, and looking at Spike's tight jaw, Xander wanted to eviscerate Angel again.

As the car rolled to a stop, Xander rolled down his window and checked out his new home… well, at least for as long as the visit lasted. A few windows remained in tact with blackened glass set high on the warehouse's metal walls, but most of the glass had been replaced with wood boards and squares of corrugated metal, and he really hoped the inside was nicer. The car eased up to a giant door obviously designed for semi trucks to deliver their loads.

“He just doesn’t want to face the vampirey bits he’s got inside.” Xander finally replied absentmindedly as he looked around at the squat buildings and the trash gathering in the corners and the graffiti and then at his sire who stared at him curiously. “What?” he asked, wondering if he had a booger on his face or something. He ran a hand over his face just in case.

“Vampirey bits?” Spike asked with a raise of an eyebrow.

“Yeah, like these bits I feel in me. Some I let out like when I needed to ask your forgiveness childe to sire after the whole thing with the me being stupid in the club. Some bits I just ignore, but I don’t see Angel doing anything vampirey-like, so I just think he ignores it all.”

“So you feel things from your vampire inside, things you don’t act on?” Spike reached into the back seat and dug around in one of the bags.

“Uh, yeah. Thought that was kinda obvious.” Xander watched as Spike finally fished out the key and got out. Xander eyed the hood of the car….

Xander sat for a full minute as Spike unchained the huge door and pushed it open, and then he decided to do something that he had always wanted to do. He rolled the window down and then pushed himself up and out the car window.

“What the hell?” Spike turned with a confused expression.

“Look out ‘cause here I come,” Taking a deep breath, Xander started running at the car, jumping at the last minute so that he butt-slid across the hood. His goal had been to slide to the other side, but he somehow got turned around so that his back was to Spike and his feet still trapped on the hood even as he started falling head first toward the ground. Just when Xander braced to hit, he felt hands at his shoulders scrambling to pull him away from the car so that he could get his legs under him so that he squatted with Spike still holding him under his arms.

“You bloody idiot,” Spike snarled, and Xander looked over with is best wide-eyed expression.

“It worked for Bo Duke…looked really cool when he went sliding over the hood, and I don’t remember ever seeing him fall on his ass, not that I actually fell, and thank you for that.”

“Bo Duke?” Xander felt Spike let him go, but he couldn’t catch his balance before he fell the foot or so to the ground and let his breath out in a gasp. Okay, that hurt. It hurt less than falling on his head would have, but still.

“Hey, not nice. And Bo Duke as in the Duke boys as in Bo and Luke Duke…Dukes of Hazzard. Don’t you have any culture?” Xander asked as he reached under and rubbed his sore butt.

“Never mind me, pet. The only things I know about culture I got from soddin’ Shakespeare and Victorian literature. Musta missed the Duke boys, but if I see them, remind me to eat them for puttin’ those thoughts in your head. Spike held out a hand and pulled Xander to his feet right before popping Xander on the back of the head.

“Hey!” Xander complained. “Just having fun,” he pointed out playfully as he walked into the warehouse leaving Spike to pull the car in. The inside was dark, and without any effort, Xander switched over to his red-tinted demon vision complete with yellow glowy eyes

The sharp detail of his vision showed him a large room with one wall lined in doorways. He went over and tried the first doorknob…storage. Empty storage, well except for the legions of mice that obviously called this place home. Xander wrinkled his nose in disgust since pulling up demon vision called up demon super-smell too. Behind him, the car pulled into the big open space and then shut off again as Spike parked. Xander ignored him in favor of continuing his exploration.

“Want the door closed?”

“Yeah, and use the padlock,” Spike said with his butt up in the air and his head down near the carpet in his search for CDs. Xander had a naughty thought that almost sent his demon into apoplexy. In fact, his demon was so scandalized at the idea of taking such liberties with sire’s body that his vision dropped back into the blurry grays of normal human vision.

“Traitor,” Xander whispered to himself as he went to lock the large double doors with the bags still slung over one shoulder. “Don’t tell me you haven’t at least considered it.” He pulled the door closed and padlocked it before slowly working his way blindly back towards the car. Luckily he knew the room was empty except for the car which should be right about….he kept moving forward into the darkness expecting to feel the car at any time….any time at all….

“Ya goin’ somewhere?” Spike voice came from behind him and to the right. Xander turned as he moved slowly in the direction of the voice. “What’s the matter with your eyes, pet?” Xander now spotted the two yellow beacons that gave away Spike’s location. He adjusted and moved more confidently toward his goal.

“Baby demon got all pissy and took his toys and went home,” Xander said, and he had to smile as he watched Spike’s eyes tilt slightly. God, no wonder they’d freaked out Cordelia in that dark theater…watching vampire eyes floating in the dark was a little creepy.

“Right, well I don’t want you breakin’ your neck so you can just get your demon vision back on line right now, childe of mine,” Spike ordered, and at the word childe, Xander felt his vision shift again. Suddenly Xander could see Spike clearly even if the colors had been washed out in favor of a crystal sharpness that made even a spider web in the farthest corner visible. Spike stood with the remainder of their stuff thrown over his shoulder in a ratty old bag and a handful of CD’s stuff under his arm.

“So, this is home.”

“This is the garage, ya ninny,” Spike said as he headed for one of the doors.

“So, telephone? Television? Playstation?” Xander asked as he followed Spike into a living area and dropped his own bags next to Spike’s. The room had a stale, sour smell that Xander hoped to god would clear out with some open windows. The windows were high enough to be on the second story of a house, but he would be able to reach them from the scaffolding that ran along the inside walls and across the width of the warehouse at several points

“Telephone right there, pet.” Spike said, and Xander turned in the direction of the nod.

“God, haven’t you ever heard of cordless?” Xander asked as he walked over to the 1960’s rotary phone that hung on the wall.

“Bloody things die too fast. When you live as long as we do, ya might leave a place empty for thirty years, and ya want to come back to machines that still bloody work.” Xander picked up the handset and listened to the dial tone for a minute before putting it back down.

“Do you really think I’ll live that long?” Xander asked curiously.

“If ya don’t, I’ll turn ya,” Spike said amicably. Xander froze. Sure, his demon loved the possessiveness, the neediness in those words. The demon wanted to be with his sire forever, but Xander wasn’t so sure he felt the same. Turn him, and he suspected that the demon would be left alone. He felt a twinge as the demon growled his unhappiness at that thought.

“Oi, ya got that look on your face, so spit it out,” Spike insisted as he began opening bags and randomly tossing items on either the floor or on a long table that dominated the space.


“Don’t ‘what’ me. Ya have that look like you and the demon aren’t agreein’ on something, so just bloody spit it out.” Spike paused with a handful of CD’s and Xander opened his mouth to protest seconds before his pile of country music got dropped to the floor. Xander stepped forward in shock and horror only to see the cases had safely landed on top of a mountain of his own clothes.

“Just considering the future…the fact that I really don’t want to go soulless and evil and my demon really doesn’t want me leaving the building even though I seem to really annoy him sometimes like most of the time when I don’t do the things his little vampire brain says I should do." Xander shrugged. "And does he have his own brain or share mine? I wonder if my brain works any better for him than it does for me.”

“Do I take it from that flood of words you’re askin’ me not to turn ya.”

“That’d be it,” Xander agreed as he stared at his own boots.

“Luv,” Xander almost jumped when a hand came down on his arm. “I told ya I won’t turn ya, and I won’t unless we don’t have any other choice, but if ya start aging, I’m not goin’ to just walk away and let ya die.”

“Yeah, I get that.” And Xander did. Dead was bad, and from Spike’s point of view, totally unnecessary. But Xander didn’t really want the whole soulless gig either because he knew full well that the only reason Spike didn’t snack on random civilians was because he didn’t want to drive Xander off the old sanity cliff. If Xander was all demony, no guilt, and no guilt meant no sanity cliff, and two vampires snacking on random civilians. Yeah, so not of the good. Xander realized he had a worried expression when Spike’s hand started making small soothing circles on his forearm. He looked up.

“Then get this, I want you… the Xander Harris with the taste in clothes so bad I won’t let him pick his own and a taste in music that makes me wish I was soddin’ deaf. If it comes to turnin’ ya, we’ll go to Peaches and try to find a way to stick your soul on a little tighter than his.” Xander looked into the yellowed eyes of his lover, his sire, his teacher, and the current center of his universe and knew he was telling the truth.

“Right, if you’re insane enough to want the one who….” Xander stopped when Spike growled and his own demon squirmed in an effort not to displease master. “Um, I guess this falls under not insulting the pet, huh?”

“Falls under not insulting the favored childe of William the Bloody. So, I’ve exceeded my nancy-boy supportive shite for the evening so are we goin’ to shag or unpack?

“I vote shag,” Xander said as Spike stepped nearer and a cool hand reached under his shirt to stroke along his stomach. Xander Jr. immediately joined the party, but then Xander reached down and put his own hand on Spike’s wrist. “After I call Willow,” he amended.

“Not the answer I’m lookin’ for, pet.”

“Yeah, well unless you want me to lie in bed thinking of Willow while you… and I’m just stopping there because I am so not doing, describing, or considering sexual acts while having Willow thoughtage. That’s just wrong. I mean, she can’t even play doctor right; Jesse and I had to finish the game without her.”

“That was a few years back. My guess is that she’s learned to play doctor, especially considering what the cheerleader told us about her wolf.”

“Yeah, well I still think of her as the little freshman who cried because she came in second in the science fair and who brought a stethoscope to play doctor when we were ten. So, Willow and sex should not be thought in the same sentence, and I really need to call her before I move on to the sex part of the evening,” Xander said as he slowly back away.

Most of the time Spike respected his space, but every once in a while Spike took his independence as a challenge to pin him to the nearest flat surface, not that he minded, but he really did want to call Willow. Maybe Spike could see that he wanted the time with his friend because his sire just threw him a salacious look before turning back to the table.

“Right, I’ll just be puttin’ my kit up. Bedroom’s through there,” Spike laughed, and Xander realized that he was lucky that Spike was used to insane lovers because giving up shagging time to call someone he hadn’t talked to in years actually did make him a little nuts.

And why was he suddenly afraid of calling? Okay, reason one was that Willow was friends with a vampire slayer, and that wasn’t really of the good considering he was sleeping with a vampire, sleeping with two vampires if you counted the one shoved in his head, but then again Willow had been friends with Angel and had even been supportive through the whole soulless sending the world to hell incident. Besides, this was Willow. How much could have changed in three years? What could go wrong considering they’d been friends for ten years?

Considering that he was standing on a literal Hellmouth, Xander bit his lip and reminded himself to not even think hypothetic questions like that.


Chapter 2

Xander reached into his pocket and pulled out the number Cordelia had given him. He watched the rotary dialer click counter-clockwise after every number, which gave him just about enough time to start panicking. He'd known Gunn for years, and he couldn't accept Xander. And Willow might date a werewolf, but Xander had his demon groove on more than three nights a month. He almost hung up when the other end started ringing.

“Hello?” a timid voice answered.

“Willow?” Xander asked hesitantly.

“No, just a minute,” offered the voice, and Xander waited.

“Hello?” Willow finally answered, or at least the voice sounded Willowish only deeper, and louder, and distinctly unWillowish.

“Willow?” Xander asked uncertainly.


“It’s Xander.”

“Xander? Xander Harris? Oh my goddess, Xander Harris. It’s Xander from Jr. High,” Willow practically squealed, and he assumed she was talking to the other person in her room because he really didn’t need reminding. Well, he didn’t need reminding most of the time, and really there wasn’t any way for her to know that he occasionally needed reminding about who he was unless she’d talked to Cordelia. And Cordy had pinky promised not to tell about the whole inner demon thing. And when had Jewish Willow Rosenberg started talking about goddesses? He didn’t think her rabbi would be amused.

“Yeah, it’s me,” he offered when the squeals had died down. He reined in his urge to nervous babble since he had lots of stuff he didn't want to babble about to her, and suddenly he wished they hadn't come to Sunnydale. He wasn't sure he even knew this person.

“Oh goddess, where have you been? I tried to call you back after that fight and your phone was disconnected and the letter I sent got returned and why can’t you just be on the Internet like normal people, and I so did not mean that to come out as bitchy as that just sounded because I am so happy to hear your voice, and I totally don’t want to make you disappear again.” Xander could hear soft voices in the background. He guessed that the other woman was talking to Willow, probably about the need to breathe.

“Wow, did Willow Rosenberg just say ‘bitch’? Isn’t that against your geek code or something?” Xander asked. “I thought I was the bad boy rebel in the group.”

“You can be any part of the group you want if you want, and I’m not talking well tonight…too many midterms and lattes I think. And how did you get my dorm number? Did you call my parents?” Willow’s voice suddenly took on a brittle edge and Xander wondered what the story was behind that, but considering his own parental history, he understood the desire to keep friends and parents separate. Separate rooms, preferably separate cities, if possible, separate continents. After Spike had responded to his own mother’s none too subtle hints about safe sex with a detailed description of a sexual act, yep, he got the whole separation of friends and parents idea.

“I ran into a certain cheerleader on stakage duty,” Xander said. He knew that she knew about vampires, but he didn’t know if she knew that he knew, and he really didn’t know if the other woman knew at all.

“You mean stagage as in her big acting career with the audience and the stage?” Willow asked suspiciously.

“Nope, stakage as in wooden pointy things. She’s taken up with Angel, or she’s taken over Angel, I’m not sure which.” Xander’s demon grumbled again in clear dislike for the woman, but Xander had to admire anyone who could so completely terrify full grown men and Master vampires.

“Angel? You know Angel? Wait, Cordelia’s working for Angel?” That was the same old confuzzled Willow voice; Xander could almost see her expression with wide eyes and a confused wrinkle between her eyes. Xander smiled as he found things hadn't changed all that much.

“Hey, two vampire hunters wandering around L.A.: we’re bound to run into each other sooner or later, and how could I forget Cordelia Chase although I might have let it slip that we had the whole ‘I hate Cordelia Chase’ club thing, so you might want to avoid talking to her for a while,” Xander confessed with a short laugh.

“Vampire hunter? Xander? Oh goddess, I’m confused.”

“Um, Willow, do you mean to be using the “v” word with someone else in the room?”

“What? Oh, Tara. It’s fine; she knows all about vampires. Tara and I live together…I mean roommates, like collegy type roommates what with the dorm.” Willow stopped suddenly and Xander swore he could hear her blush. It couldn’t be. Xander waited, unsure what to say in the face of a possible revelation, or not a revelation. Maybe everyone else knew and she was hiding it from him. Or maybe he was just trying to make the whole world gay after his own gay revelation. “Tara helps with the whole slayage thing; she has some magic. Actually, she has a lot of magic.”

“Like with the witchiness?" Xander tried to get his mind around Willow being down with the magic. Yeah, Cordelia had explained about Willow and the whole spell-gone-wrong that turned Angelus loose, but Xander had this image of 14-year-old Willow accidentally reading a spell out loud. Hanging with a witch made her seem, well, even un-Willowish.

"Um, yeah. You know she and I kinda met in the whole wiccan group, and most of the wiccans are more like Catholics only with the 'blessed be' instead of the… well, whatever Catholics say, but you know, into the ceremony. She and I are more into the magic."

"So you do the witchiness, too. Very cool. Now you have someone to practice spells with.” Xander had only meant to be supportive, but the sudden choking on the other end made him worry that he had just said exactly the wrong thing.

“Um, yeah, right. So, where are you calling from?” Xander heard her dismissal and knew that he wasn’t understanding something. He knew the science-nerd Willow, the Willow who had a crush on Rob Lowe and Albert Einstein, the Willow who played doctor with lab tests and stethoscopes. This Willow with her magic and her Tara….he didn’t know this Willow.

“I’m passing through town with a friend, and I thought we might touch base,” Xander offered, suddenly unsure about meeting.

“You’re in Sunnydale? At the hotel?” Willow’s voice back to bouncing.

“Um, actually staying with a friend of a friend kinda thing. We just pulled in and I’m totally exhausted.”

“Oh, so can you meet tomorrow?” Willow asked, and Xander couldn’t take the uncertainty in her voice. Right, no running without making at least one token visit. Then maybe he should consider Spike's suggestion they wander China.

“Of course, that’s why I’m calling you. I thought we might be able to get together after I catch some sleep. Maybe sevenish at the Bronze?” The silence reminded Xander that he didn’t know Willow the way he had because he couldn’t figure out why she was hesitating.

“Can we make it four?” Willow finally asked. Xander glanced toward the bedroom where Spike slept. He hadn’t been out of the lair alone since Spike had totally blown a gasket over his taking on a roomful of vampires. Honestly he hadn’t asked to go because he really didn’t want to hear Spike’s answer. If Spike said ‘no’ then he would have to deal with knowing that he wasn’t allowed out of the lair, and he wasn’t sure what his reaction would be. Realizing that he had let the silence go on too long, Xander tried his best to sound cheerful.

“I’m really tired and I have some work to do around the place…sorta my way of paying rent. Can we make it 5?” Xander knew that he might have to cancel what with 5 still being well before sunset, but maybe he could convince Spike to let him go.

“I’ll meet you out front; it can be so hard to find people inside,” Willow bubbled, but Xander could hear the strain.

“You think I’m a vampire,” Xander said even as the realization hit him.

“I didn’t say that. Xander I would never accuse you, and I really want us to catch up, just two old friends telling each other everything that’s happened in the past few years.” Xander didn’t miss the fact that she wasn’t denying it, just claiming that she would never be so rude as to say it.

Of course he was also kinda leaving out the part where he was part vampire, but really, it’s not like he was going to kill her fish or something. Xander nearly giggled at that story, and no it wasn’t funny. He just couldn’t get over a sadistic Master vampire like Angelus going after fish. Of course baby Aurelius was a little less amused with his comments on the master of the line, and Xander’s vision wavered between vampire and human.

“Fine, broad daylight it is. Feel free to bring your crucifixes and holy water because I know I keep mine handy. So, I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. And Xander?” Willow paused. “I’m really happy to hear from you. I’ve missed you.”

“Me too,” Xander agreed before they both said goodbye. Xander hung up the phone and stood with his hand resting on it. Why had he come here? He couldn’t make things go back to the way they were. He couldn’t get back the three Musketeers: one was dead, one had a baby vampire in him, and the third had grown very suspicious over the years.

Xander slowly turned and started walking back towards the bedroom. His sharp-eyed vision had stabilized was now drawn to a corner where a mouse trusted the darkness in the room to run the length of one wall and then stop and look around. Xander reached the table and picked up a heavy book as he considered the creature. The mouse, utterly secure in the knowledge that no human could see in the dark turned small eyes towards him, and Xander stood with the book in his hand before he finally put the book back down on the table with a sigh.

He wandered into the bedroom, and Spike lay sprawled face down in the middle of a four-poster bed, and Xander started shedding clothes as he crossed the large room. By the time he pulled the covers down revealing Spike’s body and started climbing in bed, he was naked and fully expected Spike to jump him.

Instead, Spike rolled to one side and reached around his waist, pulling him into an embrace. Xander found himself struggling to hold off tears that didn’t seem to make much sense, and Spike only pulled him closer, wrapping a leg around him.

“It’s stupid; I don’t know why I’m so upset,” Xander finally said as he pushed the tears back to a point that he didn’t have to worry about actually crying.

“It’s alright, pet. You lost the Willow that was yours; she disappeared under this stranger who sounds a mite bit more suspicious.”

“You heard.”

“Yeah, still evil pet. I don’t exactly feel bad about eavesdropping.” Xander would have gotten angry over the lack of privacy, but the fact is that he was just relieved to not have to explain it all.

“So, can I go?” Xander suddenly flashed on being five years old and asking permission to go visit Jesse.

“Yeah, as long as ya stay put until I come and get ya. Don’t want ya wander around the Hellmouth after dark. We’ll go visit the court after you see your friend.”

“Thanks.” Xander tried to keep the frustration out of his voice, but he knew he’d failed miserably when Spike’s arms gave a quick squeeze.

“Oi, what’s got your knickers in a twist, not that you’re wearin’ any knickers, mind you. You look good all knickerless.”


“Don’t lie, pet. Shouldn’t ever lie to your sire.” The arms gave another warning squeeze.

“Right,” Xander answered sarcastically, “like you never lie to Angel?”

“Angel’s not my soddin’ sire; he never did anything a sire does, except maybe make my unlife miserable on those occasions when we met. But enough about Angel, I asked ya a question, pet.” Xander lay in silence and tried to figure out his words before he started babbling and got himself in hot water. When he pissed off Spike, both Spike and his inner demon got all cranky, and having a cranky brainmate was not of the good.

“Okay, don’t take this the way my mother did when I was twelve and said this, but I really am too old to have to ask permission just to go out with friends.”

“We’re on a Hellmouth, luv. Don’t really want you wandering around after dark considering the kind of nasties you could run into.”

“Willow seems to be doing just fine,” Xander replied about two seconds before his brain pointed out that this exact argument hadn’t worked on his mother, either.

“She’s a witch, pet: a witch who works with a slayer.”

“And I’m half vampire.”

“With only half control of your bloody senses. Don’t want you out there when that demon of yours gets angry and stops workin’ for ya. If this were New York, and ya wanted to walk the park at night, I'd give ya a new knife and tell ya not to get the muggers' blood on your shirt, but this is Sunnyhell, pet. Now I’m a good deal older and a hell of a lot cannier than you, so ya won’t go out without tellin’ me where you’re going and ya won’t go outside after dark alone.”

“I’m not that young,” Xander complained.

“Compared to me, ya are. What’s more, you’re my childe.”

“And we're back to the squicky incest thing, so can we please not bring up anything else that leaves me with a lingering need for therapy?”

“Soddin’ human,” Spike guffawed in his ear, and Xander expected the naughty touching to commence. Instead Spike just shifted and pulled him closer before starting to purr. Xander heard the low rumbling sound and let himself sink into the demon’s contentment as his own purr began in response. Willow could wait, his frustration could wait because as long as he was curled in his sire’s arms, all was well with the world.


Xander woke to the sound of punk music being blasted out of a tiny radio obviously not up to the task. He winced when a particularly loud, high note made the speaker screech and whine.

“Oh my god, what are you trying to do, kill me?” Xander clutched his ears as he curled up and tried to block out the noise. The volume dropped and Xander opened his eyes to consider his smirking sire.

“Bloody bored waitin’ for you to wake up, haven’t you slept enough yet?” Spike asked.

“This is incontrovertible proof that you are evil,” Xander moaned as he started to roll out of bed.

“Never said I wasn’t pet. So, you ready to train?” Still naked, Xander started pulling doors open in search of a bathroom. After two closets and another room infested with mice he finally found it. It was a much smaller room than before, but most of the room was taken up by a claw foot bath that was a near replica of the one they’d left in L.A.

“Pee first, train later, and do you have some sort of bath fetish I don’t know about?” Xander asked as he stuck his head around the corner. Spike was dressed in just black jeans, the top button open and straddling a bench as he polished a sword. He looked up with those beautiful blue eyes and snorted. Xander pulled his head back and took his cock in hand in front of the toilet.

“You try growin’ up in a city full of factories during an age when bathin’ wasn't on the agenda for the working classes," Spike shouted over the sound of the Xander peeing. "No wonder Darla wanted ta hunt in the fancy homes. One time, Dru dragged me down to a poor section of town, trailing this sewing girl, and I don't know how Dru managed to feed with the stink. Whole sections of London stunk of factory grit and body odor, so I appreciate hot running water thank you very much ya git. So, you ready yet?”

“Still peeing, as you obviously know unless your horrible music has caused permanent hearing damage.” Xander yelled back. When his bladder finally emptied, he started the water running into the bath. Xander had no more than reached the open bathroom door when a movement out of the corner of his eye made him throw himself backwards moments before a heavy object swung through the air inches from his body.

Xander’s bare feet slipped on the floor, and he wind-milled his hands trying to regain his balance before catching the edge of the counter. Spike appeared in the doorway with a long wooden staff in his hand and a wicked smile on his face that made his cheekbones stand out in even more sharp lines.

“That the best ya got, pet?” Spike challenged him in a fierce voice.

“Spike?” Xander demanded in a girly squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Um, Spike… huh?” Xander stood in the bathroom with his heart pounding in his ears. His demon vision had fled the minute he saw Spike, but now it flickered in and out making a whole disco ball effect against the white tile. Spike stood leaning against the side of the open door with a hip thrown out casually and his bare chest thrown out and the staff held casually in one hand.

“Here’s the deal, pet. You get past me and you can visit your little friend. You lose and you’ll just have to wait until sundown so I can escort ya like a good little fledge.”


Chapter 3

Xander narrowed his eyes in challenge. “You already said I could go.”

“Yeah, and I’m evil. Don’t have to keep my word, do I?” Spike unexpectedly brought the bottom of the staff up so that Xander made a manly squeak as he danced backwards to avoid a hit on a part of his body he’d grown particularly fond of. Well, if Spike wanted to play, Xander’d play. He’d get his ass kicked, but he’d play.

Xander threw himself forward once the staff hit the olive green linoleum floor. He aimed a quick punch at Spike’s face: In and out just like Spike had taught him. When Spike pulled back, Xander brought his foot down on the staff hoping to either break the staff or force it out of Spike’s hand. Instead he ended up losing his balance as Spike brought the staff up and threw him to the side. In fact, he barely caught himself on the counter and now his vision had gone all red.

Right. Time to get out of the wet slippery bathroom. Xander threw himself forward so that he and Spike tumbled to the floor of the bedroom in one heap. Xander used his momentum to spring back up onto his feet, again, just like Spike had taught him, only Spike moved a little faster. By the time he got up, Spike was reaching for him.

Xander scurried to the side, his bare feet slapping across the cold concrete as he dashed out of the bedroom and into the more open dining room. Shit he was cold. Of course running around naked could do that, but he didn’t have too much time to worry about it as heavy boots followed him into the room. He scanned the room for weapons even as he continued fleeing *and* threw a tall chair behind him without looking.

From the snarled curses, he guessed that he had at least slowed Spike, but it wouldn’t stop him for long. Xander rounded the table and gave another chair a glance, but it was really too large and heavy for him to use as a weapon.

Pipe. That was more like it. Xander dashed over to the far side of the room and grabbed a three foot length of pipe before turning to face a game faced Spike. Xander’s weapon dipped for a moment in surprise, and before he knew it, Xander found himself hitting the floor with enough force to drive what little air he had in his lungs right out again.

Laying on the floor with his damp skin clammy against the cold concrete, Xander realized two things: he was not so good at taking care of himself and they really needed to buy some area rugs. He panted heavily, but Spike stood over him, pressing the end of his staff into Xander's flesh and looking completely composed. The pipe lay on the ground a couple of feet away, and Xander flinched when he realized he’d dropped his weapon.

“So, guess that means you’ll call your little friend and tell her you’ll be late,” Spike said. Xander glared up.

He expected a smug expression, maybe even a sneer. Instead he saw open relief, the kind his mother got when she’d showed up at the hospital to find him in one piece after getting jumped by three older kids at school. The kind Alonna got after he tried to save her and nearly ended up vamp food himself. The kind Gunn got when he’d found out Xander was still alive after being missing for a few days. For a moment he considered just laying there, but he hadn’t been willing to give up his life before, and he wasn’t going to do it now.

“Fine you welsher. Big old Indian giver,” Xander pouted as Spike looked down with a raised eyebrow.

“Got any more ethnic groups you’d like to insult then?” Spike asked as he moved the staff to rest on the floor and held out a hand.

“Just the stupid old English,” Xander said as he grabbed the hand and pulled down just as he swept Spike’s legs out from under him with a swift kick. Spike collapsed into a heap on Xander, and Xander pushed the vampire off his own body as he sprang for his pipe. Spike snarled but hadn’t made it to his feet when Xander landed square on Spike’s back, metal pipe on the back of Spike’s neck.

“Oi, that's cheatin’,” Spike hissed.

“Oh yeah, and I can’t figure out where I learned that,” Xander answered as he pushed the pipe against the back of his master’s neck. His baby demon was now totally withdrawn and whimpering in some corner of his mind, and the warehouse was dim with dust particles floating through pathetic rays of light coming from the few bulbs still working in the overhead lighting. “So, am I going to meet Willow?” Xander asked.

“Yeah, ya are. You earned it,” Spike said, and Xander looked down suspiciously. That seemed just too easy. He hadn’t figured out the angle Spike was playing before he felt a hand at his knee and suddenly he lost his balance as his one leg was pulled toward Spike’s head and Xander had to slap his hands palm down on the concrete to keep from putting his face down on it.

The minute he let go of his weapon, he knew he’d lost. Spike slipped out from under him and flipped him as easily as a dead fish and now Xander found himself under Spike, the vampire straddling him and his hands held in a supernaturally strong grip.

“Shit,” Xander swore. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll call Willow.” Xander felt a need to push Spike off and storm out of the warehouse even though he knew his chance of making it to the door was somewhere between zero and nada. Even worse, his demon now sent up distress signals at the thought of defying sire, and Xander closed his eyes as he tried to remind himself that he didn’t have to feel what his demon felt. He had a perfect right to be pissed as hell at Spike even if he wasn’t strong enough to do anything about it.


“I said I’ll call Willow—don’t push it right now Spike.”

“Pet, open your eyes.” Xander had opened his eyes before he even realized what he was doing.

“What?” Xander asked, his voice sounding brittle and sharp even to his own ears. Spike stared down at him and he stared right back for several minutes.

“You can go, but you take a full set of weapons and you watch your back.” Spike finally said quietly as he sat up. He now straddled Xander, but at least Xander’s hands were free so he could push himself up on his elbows.

“What?” he asked in a completely different tone of voice. Now he was just confused. He could go, he couldn’t go, he could go. God, it was like living with both his parents again.

“But I catch you outside the Bronze after dark and I’ll bloody strip the skin from your back,” Spike said in a far stronger tone, one that promised to carry through on that promise, and oh yes, this was the Spike he knew.

“Right. No wandering the Hellmouth after dark,” Xander agreed. Spike stood and held out his hand again, and this time Xander allowed Spike to help him up.

“Next time you go attacking me, do you think you could let me get dressed first?” Xander complained as he headed for the bedroom and thank god Spike wasn’t into having minions around.

“Need to learn to keep your guard up.”

“Hard to let it down with an insane roommate.” And there goes baby demon. Xander groaned when the demon squirmed even more at being called baby. This was a Hellmouth; certainly they had a psychiatrist who could handle demonic insanity. If not his two favorite demons were about to drive him crazy.

"Right, because you have the corner on sanity," Spike snorted.

"Oh please. I'm about as sane as that guy who made the singing cop show. That was really dumb—who wants to see cops break down and start singing in the middle of arresting the gang members?"

"You… what?" Spike asked, turning to stare.

"Once again, you need to watch more television, Spike."

"Oi, after hearing you talk, I'm thinking I need ta cut you off."

"Oh my god, you really are turning into my mother," Xander complained as he started grabbing clothes out of the closet. "And really, that statement is the biggest ew yet. No thinking mother thoughts when naked," Xander shivered.

"Thought ya wanted to avoid Willow thoughts when naked, pet."

"Stop, stop, stop. Willow, Mother, and Barney are all off the list of approved naked talk."

"Barney?" Spike asked, settling in on the bed as Xander pulled on black jeans.

"Only half dressed here, no non-approved naked talk." Xander jumped a little to get the jeans settled in place. Really he needed to either convince Spike to buy a larger size or lose weight. Spike might look good in jeans this tight, but he really didn't think the look did much on him, well much in the looking-good way. It definitely did a lot in the endangering his future chances of having children. Xander zipped the pants up and then tugged at the crotch to try and give Xander Jr. enough room to avoid permanent damage.

Xander glanced up, and lost his breath as Xander Jr. grew to a size not possible in the tight jeans. Spike lay naked on the bed with one leg bent and a hand idly playing with his balls. His nose flared and then he smirked, and Xander cursed vampire noses that made his lust even more embarrassing than it had been in eleventh grade when he got a stiffy every time Mrs. Reynolds had walked by him in her miniskirt. He'd spent most of math class with his book over his lap, but with Spike, books didn't exactly help.

"Sure you want to leave? Could just wait until dark and have a few hours to ourselves, pet," Spike offered. Spike’s face morphed into something approximating innocent and cheery, but Xander just laughed.

“Doesn’t work on me, I know full well you use that expression when you’re killing demons, so it’s a little less than comforting.”

"Let you take the driver's seat for a bit then. Let you play with sire."

Xander could feel his demon surge forward at the suggestion, and he closed his eyes as he had a little private war over who got custody of Xander Jr. and the rest of the limbs. Earlier, Xander's impromptu admiration for Spike's ass had sent Baby Aurelius into shock, but with sire offering, the demon just wanted to make sire feel good… please sire. Xander struggled as he fought back with his need to see Willow. He needed to be allowed out of the lair, and that meant being able to walk down the street without Spike, or some bouncer Spike had intimidated, two feet away.

"Spike, you're killing me here. I made plans with Willow, and I'm going to go meet her, but if you don't stop doing that, Xander Jr. is going to break, and then you won't have your favorite toy to play with."

"Havin' a problem, pet?" Xander cracked open one eye and Spike's hand had moved up to the shaft of his cock. Xander groaned.

"Nothing some ice and a stake wouldn't cure," Xander quipped. The surge of panic and fear that rolled through him made him put out a hand to brace himself on the door jam as he tried to not fall to his knees. Before he could catch his breath, strong hands caught him, Spike's arm sliding around his waist and taking his weight.

"Maybe you'd best stay in, luv, not lookin' so good."

"I'd look better if my silly sire wouldn't tease me into having every blood cell in my body abandon my brain," Xander pointed out as he felt his heart slowly regain its steady beat. "My brain struggles enough without the sudden blood loss when Xander Jr. hijacks the stuff at the pass."

"Let's just get you get you on the bed," Spike half carried, half guided, and Xander let himself be settled on the bed as he struggled to blink the world into focus.

"I'm still going," he complained.

"If ya can walk," Spike said sarcastically, but Xander felt cool hands brush the curls back out of his face as his body slowly settled into something that felt pretty close to normal, or at least as normal as he got these days.

"Oh, I'll walk. This is Willow we're talking about… the girl who I shared crayons with, the girl whose Barbies I stole, the one who used to give me the cookie out of her lunch. When things got weird over the phone, I thought she…" Xander stopped, trying to figure out a way to not sound too pathetic. "I just need to know she's still a friend," Xander finally whispered. Spike's hands stopped. Without answering, Spike went over to the closet and pulled out a shirt before handing it to him.

"Pet, ya have to understand something," Spike said seriously. Xander looked up from the deep green silk to the blue eyes of his lover. "If she hurts ya, I won't treat her any different from anyone else. Her bein' friends with the slayer makes things a little awkward, but if somethin' gets out of hand, you make sure that the witches and the slayer know what would happen if it came down to a fight."

Xander froze, his arm half in the shirt as the words sunk in. "Spike," he said softly.

"No," Spike held up his hand. "Promise me if somethin' happens, if the slayer shows up with a wild hair up her arse, you remember that your life means something, and you make sure they know the price of lettin' you get hurt."

"You think it’s a trap," Xander said softly.

"I think I've taken down my share of slayers. If Angel called—"

"He wouldn't do that," Xander hurried to say as he pulled the shirt on and started buttoning.

"Not ta get me staked, but I can see the wanker calling them just to let them know I'm in town and that he and I have a truce. But if he's talked to the slayer or the watcher, I'm not so sure they're going to want a truce."

"And you think they'd use me as bait." Xander hated the thought of Willow doing that to him, but even over the phone he could feel the changes. In all honesty, he didn't know her any more.

"If they grab you, just sit tight," Spike said seriously, and Xander could feel a knot in his stomach. "Not going to kill your little friend or do somethin' to make the Pouf's hair fall out," Spike promised as he reached out and played with a curl. "And I don't want you doin' anything to make things turn rough. If things go pear-shaped, you just nod and go along, and I'll get Peaches to sort it out."

"You'd call Angel?" Xander said as he looked up in surprise.

"To keep my childe safe, I'd even call Darla."

"You're only saying that because she's dust," Xander tried joking, but Spike didn't laugh, and Xander fell quiet in the deep silence. "Right, if I get taken as a hostage, be a good little hostage and wait for Angel," Xander nodded. "And suddenly I'm wondering why you're letting me go." Xander glanced up at Spike in confusion. "I mean, you'd walk me to work at Safari and deliver me to Carlos for babysitting."

"Different then, wasn't it?"

"Um, no."

Spike sighed as sat on the bed, his hand going to Xander's knee. "Back then, thought you were a pet, thought ya had a bit of demon in ya."

"And now you know I have a full demon for a brainmate."

"Well, yeah. You're a childe, got ta let you fight some of your own battles. But," Spike flashed into gameface and slipped a hand behind Xander's neck. "Ya keep your fightin' to just talking or I will be showing ya how cranky your sire can get."

Xander started laughing softly. "God, Spike, you're starting to sound like me. But I'll keep the fighting to talking, scout's honor."

"Right, get your arse in gear then, need ta unpack and accidentally drop your soddin' CD's into the sewers."

"Uh-huh," Xander nodded disbelievingly. "I'll see you after dark." He ignored Spike's threats against his country music greats as he stood up and grabbed his boots. Once he'd slipped those on, he added the various weapons that went everywhere with him now. Taking one last look at Spike who sat on the bed watching with yellow eyes, Xander turned and headed for the door. For the first time, he was going to be out there without a keeper two feet away. He just really, really hoped Spike was wrong about Willow, because otherwise Spike might not ever let him out of the lair alone again. Well, that and he would really be hurt that the girl who'd shared his crayons vamp-napped him.



Chapter 4

Spike slipped out of the sewers into the deep shade of the shadow behind the Bronze. A younger vampire growled briefly, and he flashed a bit of fang to shut the wanker up as he used a rag from one of his pockets to wipe some muck off his sleeve. A huge part of him wanted to charge into the club and grab his childe, but Spike clenched his teeth and forced himself to calmly leap to the first landing of the fire escape before climbing up the rattling metal ladder.

A vampire childe stayed at his sire's side for a decade or more, but Xander had human bits that Spike was a little too fond of, and those human bits meant he had to give his boy some room. Pushing in an upper window, Spike ignored the strange looks a few people gave him as he straightened his coat and wandered into the dark club.

Music throbbed through his bones, and a spidery feeling crawling up his back made him snarl at a couple of hunting vamps, warning them that the Big Bad wouldn't take any shite. For a second, a male held his gaze before lowering his eyes to the floor and a small blonde girl ducked her head and growled back before heading for the window Spike had just crawled in. Great. They really had to make nice with the Anointed One now that he'd been seen.

Another day, Spike might have followed the disrespectful female either to drain her for annoying him with her feeble challenge or to fuck her senselessly happy. Now he focused on the main floor below him, searching the dark corners he knew his childe would instinctively seek. When the tightening in his gut warned him of a slayer, Spike gripped the metal rail just to keep himself from vamping out and charging through the crowd toward his Xander who sat at a table in the middle of the room.

Three women sat with him, and Spike took only a second to identify the dark haired woman who kept looking around with sharp eyes. The slayer. Spike could feel the metal bend under his hands. Right. Pouf had warned him that the witch was tight with the slayer, so Spike had known she might turn up. Of course, that didn't make him any less homicidal at the sight of the slayer near his childe, but he did manage to keep himself from ripping the bint's neck out as he concentrated on the conversation.

"… looked about ninety and I raised my stake, but just then I started coughing and the stake slipped so that when the point hit the vamp's coat, the stake actually flew out of my hand and back behind me," Xander shrugged and made little self-deprecating noises. Spike rolled his eyes at Xander telling that particular story when the boy had dozens of others where he'd saved the day. 'Course, he did want to give the human side more chance to come forward, and Spike was definitely hearing the human side of Xander right now.

"First rule of slayin', hold on to the stake," the slayer, Faith, laughed. Spike growled and a goth girl who'd been sizing him up started sliding back away.

"Oh goddess, you could have been killed," the red-haired one gasped, and Spike identified the voice as Willow.

"Nah, Gunn and the guys were there," Xander shrugged, and Spike watched as the boy picked up a peanut and pulled the shell open with a thumbnail. Even from here, Spike could see the distress.

"Thought the big-A said you hung with a hunter named William," Faith said, her eyes now focused on Xander.

He shrugged. "Gunn and me… we kinda had a falling out. Like off a cliff without a parachute falling out. Or if we had a parachute, one of us forgot to pull the ripcord, and I'm thinking I've run out of steam with this particular metaphor."

"Steamage gone," Willow agreed.

"Hey, it's five-by-five. Those things happen," Faith reassured him, and Spike consciously loosened his grip on the guard rail. Faith shrugged and put out a hand that barely touched Xander's arm. Spike watched as Xander flinched away, but Faith didn't seem to notice. "If you want to hunt with us, you're more than welcome, but you better not try hunting the Hellmouth on your own."

"Trust me, solo hunting is not in the future. William is a little…" Xander struggled to find a word, "overprotective," he finally settled on.

"Well, duh," Willow said as she laid her hand on his arm. "Vampire hunting is dangerous, big with the biting and bleeding and dying, and overprotective is good."

"Even for big, bad witchy girls? So, do you twitch your noses? Or, hey, I would really love to see the whole broomstick trick," Xander teased.

"Xander," Willow complained with a mock punch that sent Spike to the top of the staircase. But then she turned away, silent. Faith stared at the table, and the blonde just kept fiddling with her fingers. Despite the loud music and various conversations, Spike could hear the silence over that table.

"Willow doesn't do much m-magic," the blonde whispered. Spike tilted his head. Angel had explained how Willow re-souled him, a feat that sent tendrils of fear down Spike's backbone and suggested the little witch had access to some big mojo, which added to little fear feet running up and down his backbone.

Spike turned his back to the table and cracked his back as he tried to force down the fear for both his own soulless and undusty state and for his childe. Normally, his reaction to fear was to kill, but he'd spent enough time with insane lovers. Besides, the human soul had chosen him, fought for him, even when the demon in him lusted after Cassidy. Spike smiled at the thought of someone fighting so hard for him, and the goth girl from earlier eyed him curiously from across the dark room. He ignored her as he concentrated on the conversation from below.

"I'm thinking I just opened mouth and inserted both my feet and possibly the foot of some random passer-byer who must be wondering where his foot is," Xander babbled.

"Nah, 'Lo just keeps it close to the vest. She don't want the world knowing just how fine her witchy self is."

Another silence fell, and Spike lowered his head and gave a wicked smile that made the goth girl slide closer. Her white hair had black tips, and dark eye makeup circled her eyes. Spike let the tip of his tongue appear from between his lips as he played with his prey. He wouldn't make a kill this close to a slayer, but at least the hunt satisfied his need to do something. Something other than charge down the steps and rip Xander away from the humans who…

Spike paused even in his own thoughts. Truth was, they were pulling out the human, babbling Xander who Spike feared he was losing. The goth girl shimmied her body, making her long black skirt slit up to her privates swirl, and the silver beads at her waist tinkle. Absent-mindedly luring the prey, Spike rippled his own body even as he listened to the conversation.

"I just mainly stick to the wicca with the non-magical type blessings. Sometimes I might do a simple spell with Tara or Giles, but—" Willow stopped. The noise of the club pressed in against their silence.

"And hey, how about those Oakland Chargers?" Xander asked with obviously false enthusiasm.

"Raiders," Faith said.

"What? Where?" Xander's voice had a hint of panic that made Spike spin around and search the floor for danger.

"Oakland Raiders. Hey, look, we don't need to get so strung out here. 'Lo just gets all weird and guilt-ridden about the magics. We all have our issues. I know I do this weird chicken dance when I get drunk, so let's just avoid the subjects of magic and chickens," the Slayer suggested sharply.

"Willow, I didn't mean,"

"No, Xander, it's okay. Let's not get all weird, and even though Faith is right about the disturbing drunk chicken dancing, I'm okay with the magic. I just know that I can't really do the big spells."

"Two words. De. Nile," Faith insisted, and silence fell again. Spike felt a warm hand run up the back of his coat, and he stood still as the prey stalked him.

"Has Willow told you the zoo story?" the third girl broke in.

"Zoos. I like zoos. I like the monkeys at the zoos, even if they do have a bad habit of throwing their own poo. Poo-throwage can provide some quality entertainment as long as I'm out of firing range," Xander quickly agreed.

"This is really embarrassing," Willow insisted, and even from his spot on the balcony, Spike could still see her blush. "There was this whole field trip, and Wendell and I saw some of the bullies chase this kid into the hyena house, so we went in there to play savior, and yeah, me and saving people is just not a good combination, because Wendell and I got zapped with these hyena spirits that made us dress really bad and so some serious therapy-worthy things."

"Wendell? Spider geek Wendell?" Xander demanded. "God, you had a crush on him in second grade when he did the book report on that huge book with no pictures."

"You remember that? Of course, I had an even bigger crush on you after you let Larry beat you up instead of letting me give him my lunch money."

Now Spike could see Xander blush. A heat gathered in Spike's stomach that had nothing to do with the warm hands caressing his back. The room tilted into the sharp edged vision of the demon, and he concentrated on Xander. If the girl made one move on his childe, Spike was dragging Xander to Latvia.

"That was a long time ago," he whispered. Spike watched as Willow nodded and reached out her hand for the third girl, the blonde, curling their fingers together.

Another awkward silence left everyone but Faith staring at the table. Spike forced his demon back under when her wary gaze traveled the crowds and the balconies. Spike turned and looked at his admirer, the way her long neck curved into a tiny face that would crack if Spike grabbed it. His demon sent up images of pulling her body to his and sinking his fangs so deeply into the flesh that skin popped and blood gushed. Despite the thrill of pleasure he took from just the fantasy, Spike slipped a hand around the prey's waist and avoided ripping and breaking her.

"So, when are we going to meet this William of yours?" Spike started moving to the music, swaying his body as he pulled the goth girl closer. The girl's arms wrapped around his arms, and Spike let his body continue on the familiar seductive hunt without actually paying the bint in his arms much actual attention.

"Um, well, I don't really, he's really busy—really, really busy with, um, stuff," Xander babbled. Spike let his eyes fall shut in frustration. Well, he wanted the human, and he'd just gotten the human side of Xander. If the girls weren't suspicious before, they'd have to be idiots to not see through that choice bit of blather.

"Xander?" Willow asked.

"It's just, hey, how about those Oakland Raiders?" he babbled.

"Not that I mind some sports talk, since any excuse for guys to slap each other on the ass is five-by-five with me, but why do I get the feeling you're hiding something?" Spike let his head rest on the goth-girl's shoulder as he tensed for a possible fight. Takin' out the slayer before making nice with the court would put certain people in a paddy, but he'd deal with that later… when he had Xander chained in the lair and the door cemented shut.

"Well, it's just…. Okay, honestly?" Xander paused, and Spike edged toward the top of the stairs, the girl's body still plastered to his own as they writhed in tandem. "My mom was sorta not okay with the gay thing, either that, or she was not okay with the S-William thing. Of course, he did tell Mom that she'd raised one hell of a pushy little bastard, so that might not have gotten them off on the right foot. And then her with the whole suggestion that he looked like one of those sad little boys who dressed up to look like their favorite rock star. Yeah, not of the good. So, any chance we can skip a repeat because William's a little hard to get to know, and he'd insult you, and you'd insult him back, and then there would be hard feelings and possibly hard concrete and concussions, and I'd rather skip that part."

Xander stopped to catch his breath, and Spike nearly laughed as he pulled the goth girl's body close with a hand at the small of her back. She gasped and smelled of pheromones so strongly that Spike was tempted to sneak in for a quick mouthful of blood.

"Hey, if you like man-meat, I got no problems, well, not unless you go humping on some guy I'm eyeing up."

"And I'm thinking 'no' on so many levels, the first being 'ew,' and the second being that William is the jealous sort," Xander hurried to promise the slayer, and Spike jerked the girl to him harder as he felt pride at his boy's ability to talk his way out of a meeting.

"Right, so I've got to go hunt down some vamps. Feelin' lucky tonight," Faith said, and Spike twirled his dance partner so he could watch over the girl's shoulder as Faith stood up.

She had all the right curves for a slayer, larger and more powerful looking than the first slayer he took, but her body had that same cat-like quality. Spike felt a desire to throw himself against her, to prove himself by drinking her blood and feeling her heart stutter to a stop under his hands. He thought of having his childe see his strength, and Spike shook himself free of the fantasy. Xander wouldn't appreciate that sort of display of strength, so Spike pushed the goth girl away even as his demon roared for her blood.

"Go play somewhere else, luv, and be more careful about who ya play with," he suggested with a shove.

"Hey, what's your problem?" she demanded, her hands on her hips and her shrill voice carrying far enough to catch the attention of several people around them.

"Got AIDS, now don't I? Shouldn't be so quick with the invite, luv," Spike said as he walked past her. The girl stood frozen in place, her heart pounding heavily as Spike started down the stairs. Faith had reached the door, disappearing out into the night despite the fact she had plenty of prey in the club. She was young enough that she didn't know her own body, couldn't feel the tingle of enemy crawlin' under her skin. Either that, or there were so many damn demons around, she got used to the feeling.

"Pet," Spike said as he walked up behind Xander.

"Hey," Xander said, his whole face shifting into a wide smile, and Spike smiled back, wondering if in his entire unlife anyone ever felt such happiness at seeing him. 'Course other master usually made childer long before a century, so Spike supposed his own loneliness came in part from his reluctance to take them for himself.

"Lonely?" Spike asked playfully as he came up to the side of Xander's chair.

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "William, this is Willow and Tara. Guys, this is William." Spike nodded at the girls even as he cursed the name. William had been weak, and Spike hated even the reminder of that part of his life.

"Hey," Willow said with a shy smile, and Spike gave her his best grin. She blushed and tightened her fingers around her girlfriend's hand.

"Tara, pleasure ta meet you," Spike offered in his most charming voice, the one that lured prey to his fangs. She looked at him for several seconds, ducking her head and looking up through her bangs before offering a shy smile back.

"Pet, got people to see and places ta go tonight."

"Um, if you're planning on h-u-n-t-i-n-g," Willow spelled out the word in hushed tones, "it's not really safe around here." Spike stared at her blankly for a moment, not even sure how to respond.

"Been k-i-l-l-i-n-g for a long time now, luv. Won't get into any trouble big enough to threaten Xander," Spike promised in the same hushed voice. Willow blushed, and Xander gave him a punch on the leg.

"No making fun of the friend," Xander hissed. Spike looked down, blinking for a second. Demons were much simpler to understand than humans, and he found himself having to sort through his human memories of being made fun of in order to translate Xander's comment.

"Not makin' fun of ya," Spike promised Willow. "Just trying to, you know, not brass you off the way I did his mum."

"His mom got frustrated kinda easy," Willow nodded, and Spike understood that as forgiveness.

"So, ya ready, pet?" he asked.

"Willow, I'm really glad we got to talk."

"Don't you have a phone number or an email address, email is really everywhere these days, and if you had an address you could check it from anywhere." Willow reached over and grabbed Xander's hand, holding on as Xander stood. When Xander turned large dark eyes to him, Spike felt his own determination to pull his childe away start to fade.

"We aren't leaving town right away, so maybe you could show Xander how ta set one up later?" Spike suggested. Willow immediately bounced in her seat, and through his hand on Xander's arm, Spike could feel a similar reaction.

"So then we'll see each other and I'll get the email and no more disappearing acts," Xander promised.

"Right and good. We still have things to do, so say goodbye before we're so late someone comes looking for us," Spike insisted as he pulled on Xander's arm. Xander babbled his farewells, and Spike headed for the door with his childe in tow. Instead of watching the boy talk to himself or fall into the silences where he could practically see the soul and demon fight for control, Spike watched a very human Xander babble about all the things that had happened in Sunnydale since he'd left.

As they walked the dark street, Spike watched humans stroll by clumps of vampires standing at the mouths of alleys and other human-looking demons walking in groups that stalked the street with more purpose than Spike really liked seeing. Demons normally did their own thing, each fighting for a piece of territory or food or resources. Minions might cluster up to sleep, but they hunted alone or in pairs.

"Hey, I'm trying to tell you about a mummy who came to life and tried to eat Wendell," Xander said, and Spike shook his head and pulled Xander closer to his side. A vampire leaning on a streetlamp tilted his head and growled.

"Pet, you notice anythin'?" Spike asked.

"Um, either Baby Aurelius has indigestion, or there are way too many vamps around. And I'm betting it's not indigestion."

"With a slayer in town, this isn't bloody right," Spike swore softly as they passed another clump of four vampires who wore respectable enough clothes to pass for humans. "Slayer or no slayer, they shouldn't be actin' like this," Spike snarled softly as a pair of lovesick humans wandered down the street without being bothered.

"Um, not to complain or anything, but shouldn't someone be eating them, not that eating is good, because it's not. Well, eating is good, but eating people is… stopping now," Xander finished. Spike just shook his head.

"Pet, vamps don't put off feeding unless something bigger and badder makes 'em."

"No offense Spike, but I've seen Gunn take down enough fledges that I'm not impressed by bigger and badder than a fledge."

"How about somethin' bigger and badder than all of 'em together?" Spike asked with a quirk of his eyebrow. That made his childe shut up and look just a little worried. "So, we're goin' to go to the Aurelius court and see if big and bad is sitting on the throne or if we have something new creeping around the tunnels of Sunnyhell." Spike tightened his hold on Xander, and while normally Xander would roll his eyes or have a moment of resistance, this time he moved closer without complaint.

An Ethros demon wandered by with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled down low over his grey skin, and Spike shifted so that he would be between Xander and the threat. The Ethros looked up briefly, nodded and then ducked his head back down. Oh something definitely smelled rotten in the state of Sunnyhell.


Chapter 5

By the time Spike and Xander reached the crypt with the hidden entrance to the Aurelius tunnels, a dozen minions trailed them, not even trying to hide their presence.

"Look. Dandelions. Did you know dandelions can have roots up to ten feet long?" Xander asked. Spike stopped and looked at his childe in confusion. Xander's brown eyes focused on the ground, and when Spike followed the gaze, a yellow mop-head flower stuck up from one of the graves.

"Pet?" Spike asked. He watched the various trailing minions scatter and lean against headstones and random trees. Not exactly a subtle lot, but then old Bat Face had always picked losers to turn, and the Hellmouth stunk of his scabby minions. After all, Batface had picked Darla, and that spoke volumes about the wanker's taste.

"I'm thinking this is not good in a Titanic or Custer's Last Stand kinda way. I'm going to say something monumentally stupid as opposed to just normal Xander levels of stupidity." Xander stared at his thumb for a moment before starting to chew a hangnail.

"Oi, just stay by my side and keep your gob closed," Spike said as he turned back toward the crypt. Xander grabbed Spike's arm and stopped him.

"Okay, you tried your best with my mom, and look how well that did not turn out. She barely kept herself from stabbing you to death with the cake server. It was like watching boy scouts build a bonfire in the middle of the Ice Capades and wondering which ice-skating cartoon character will fall through first."

Xander stopped to take a breath and Spike reached out, curling his hand around the back of Xander's head and pulling him close. Never before had Spike seen such open distress in those brown eyes. Hell, the boy's heart hadn't pounded so fast when Spike had first dragged him off the street in L.A.

"Pet," Spike kept his voice soft, both to calm Xander and to avoid the eavesdropping minions that circled. Spike used his hold on Xander's neck and his hip to herd Xander into the crypt over the entrance to the tunnels. Silently, Xander's body yielded, and that silence worried Spike more than all the babbling in the world.

Seeking some privacy from the minions still waiting outside, Spike urged Xander toward one of the two sarcophagus in the shadows. Under his hands, Xander's skin felt warm, and the smell of fear made Spike growl at nothing. Xander jumped, and the movement seemed to shake loose his words.

"I'm so going to fuck this up, only I think they're going to have something deadlier than my mother's cake server," Xander admitted in a strained whisper.

"Bloody hell, pet. You've gone up against whole lairs and courts and Master Angelus, what's got your knickers in a twist?" Spike could feel Xander nearly vibrate with manic energy, and he held the boy closer, slipping his second arm around Xander's waist and using his strength to hold Xander still as he leaned in, trapping Xander against the stone.

"Not as your childe, I haven't," Xander muttered, his words muffled as Xander buried his face in Spike's shoulder.

Spike pulled back and held Xander's shoulders, keeping him at arm's length. Despite the darkness, Xander's eyes remained large and brown, without even a trace of the demon's yellow. But obviously the demon was stirring up something that Xander couldn't even talk about without bloody idiotic comments about dandelions.

"Pet, how are ya feeling right now?" Spike asked softly. "Nervous?"

"Well, duh. Big with the nervousness which was the whole point of the Ice Capades metaphor with the fire and the melting ice and the potential for drowning ice-skating plushies, and I really think being around Willow is bad for my babble gene." Xander bit his lower lip.

"Pet, I'm not announcin' ya to the court." Spike watched the fear shake out of Xander with an exaggerated shiver. The boy was right to be nervous, or rather the boy's demon was. If the Annoyin' One threw around his power like Angel said he did, the boy-king would want a way to disgrace Spike. Spike definitely didn't want his childe—his souled, breathing, warm childe—getting in the middle of that.

"Not announcing?" Xander asked, but even in his confusion, his heart rate slowed and his breathing evened out. Spike tightened his grip, his fingers slipping under Xander's shirt and dancing over the warm skin as Spike felt the panic and confusion fade. Now the boy subtly writhed as his body reacted to the familiar fingers. Smiling, Spike scented the vulnerable neck, opening his mouth to taste the musk of lust. After placing a small kiss over the red claim mark, Spike slowly traced the oval mark with his tongue, holding even tighter when Xander groaned and twisted in need.

As much as Spike wished he could toss Xander up on the sarcophagus and take his childe over and over until the warm body lay sated and limp under him, he had to deal with the court and Xander's own insecurities about the court.

"Remember how I said we all carried part of the same demon?" Spike whispered quickly. They didn't have much time. Xander relaxed in the confines of Spike's embrace, his body fitting into Spike's curves so their bodies pressed close. He nodded, and Spike continued. "If we want our demon strong, we can't let little bits of it get corrupted with weakness. Minions, now they're just cannon-fodder, not much more than human pets, and they don't bloody count for piss-all. But childer and masters of a line have ta be strong. And if they aren't strong, the others will cut them off before they can corrupt the whole bloody line."

"They're killed," Xander's voice carried no emotion and the body went still. Spike inched back to consider his childe. Now the eyes that watched him were all yellow, their black pupils focused on Spike without revealing anything. In fact, even the lust scent of earlier had disappeared into nothing.

"You think they'd kill me." Even though Xander's voice was barely louder than a breath, Spike could hear each painfully slow syllable, spoken as though Xander were sounding out unfamiliar words.

Spike knew exactly what Xander thought, and he swore a silent oath to all the gods of evil vampires that one day he'd eat Xander's wanker of a father for making the boy so quick to assume the worst. He just had to deal with his childe first.

Spike captured the back of Xander's head, holding him in place while he leaned forward and stole a kiss. For a second, Xander stood stiff, and then he sighed, his lips opening so that Spike could take what he wanted. Xander tasted of sweetness and musk, and Spike nipped at a soft lip before releasing Xander's mouth. Now Xander had a slightly dopy expression, his eyes brown with yellow bits bobbing to the surface and then sinking again so fast that Xander's eyes seemed to almost shimmer.

"You're the first and favored childe of William the Bloody, slayer of soddin' slayers. You're the one who saved my arse from Cassidy, and ya refused to submit to either that arse wipe or even to Peaches. There's not a weak bone in your body and ya need to get that through your head before I bloody carve it into your back," he threatened. Spike could feel Xander's muscles flex and tremble in response, the musk returning to his scent.

"Sire," Xander breathed.

"Now, what do I always say 'bout the enemy?"

"Kill them before they kill me?" Xander answered uncertainly.

"Well, yeah," Spike admitted. "But also, ya never let them see enough of the truth that they can figure ya out."

"Like a secret weapon?" Immediately the yellow flecks disappeared as the demon retreated, hiding inside Xander's warm, living body. "But wait, aren't these vamps like family?" Xander asked.

"Oh, pet, no worse enemies in the world than your own family."

Xander's expression turned sour, as if he'd bitten into chocolate cake only to find spinach. "No joke." He paused for a second. "So, do I have to play good little pet?" The expression on his face showed both his disgust and his willingness to play the part.

"Bloody hell no," Spike quickly assured him as he turned to the hidden entrance to the tunnels. "You walk by my side, and cover my back. Let them think whatever they bloody well want to."

A quick pull on a cover revealed the mouth of the tunnel. When Spike ducked down into the tunnel, a warm hand found his back, resting there. Glancing over his shoulder, Spike saw Xander's blind eyes wandering the darkness even as he stepped confidently forward, relying on Spike's guidance. The court really might deny Xander's claim to the Aurelius line and even might want the boy dead, but Spike would rip every one of these court-bound vamps limb from limb before he'd give up his childe.

Turning back, Spike headed into the dark with Xander's warm hand on his back and Xander's heartbeat echoing off the brick walls.

After traveling down far enough that beads of moisture gathered on the stone, the tunnel widened into the cavern Spike vaguely remembered from the one time Darla had dragged him here. When she'd publicly turned her back on him and Dru, denying him acceptance into the clan as a full childe, Spike knew he had to escape the bitch or wake up to a stake in the back.

Spike slowed down and slid his hand around Xander's arm as they stepped into the dimly lit cavern populated with dozens of demons, and not all of them vampires. Now this really wasn't kosher. Way he remembered it, old Bat Face only let clan in the lair, and Spike had learned on the end of Angelus' whip that ya kept a lair secret from anyone outside the blood.

But now, two Lakshu demons, with their yellow skin and dinosaur-like ridge running up their bald heads, leaned against a far wall and a small cluster of B'lasha crouched over some sort of game... either that or they were crouching over the remains of some previous dinner, he couldn't tell which. Their heads crowded together so closely that their stubby horns almost touched. Three zombies even leaned against another entrance to the chamber, their dead flesh making the air smell heavy and oily. The normal vamps he expected hovered in twos and threes, their status determined by how far from the raised throne they stood.

"Spike." An old vampire growled his name without any title. Spike slowly turned toward the throne with the boy king and the old one standing behind. The Anointed One sat on Bat Face's seat, his angelic face watching curiously, and the older body guard stepped forward, cutting off Spike's view of the boy. With a snort of disgust at the gesture, Spike strode into the chamber, his hands pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his coat pocket.

"You're the one sired by the seer," the boy said in a soft voice, and his body guard, a vamp with dark hair and a long horse-like face, stepped to the side even as he continued to glare at Spike. Spike had an overwhelming desire to just step forward and snap the tiny vampire's neck. He could probably control the other vampires, at least after he killed the old one playing body guard; however, he couldn't predict how the other demons might react.

A Mohra with his forehead jewel shining in the dark waited on the far side of the chamber. Two more Ethros, who both looked exactly like the one Spike had seen on the street, watched with their eyes shining out from under their hoods. The B'lasha shifted nervously, their pointed ears twitching and rotating like aggravated cats. The sheer numbers and variety of demons made Spike want to growl, but he'd be buggered by Peaches in public before he'd show that kind of fear.

"Dru sired me," Spike agreed. He tightened his hand on Xander's arm, but he shouldn't have bothered; Xander pressed closer without any encouragement.

"Where's your sire?" the Annoying One asked.

Spike could feel the court shifting as the subtle fight for dominance started, but he wasn't a fledge who trembled at the threads of power twisting around the boy-king. Instead of answering, Spike tapped a cigarette out before stuffing the pack back in a packet. When he snapped his lighter, casting a yellow pool of light around him, several fledges flinched, their instinctive fear of fire driving them back. Spike smirked as he pulled at the cigarette and felt the warmth stuff his lungs. When Spike started pacing the chamber, circling the throne and studying the various supplicants, Xander followed.

"Made some changes 'round the old place," Spike observed without answering the boy's question. The body guard vamp growled, making Xander jump. Then again, most of the fledges in the room jumped at the murderous tone.

"Things change," the boy responded. Spike pulled deeply on the cigarette and then blew a warm cloud into the air as minions shifted nervously. Boy king lost points by answering. Spike tilted his head and considered the tiny vamp. Even with the power flowing through the demon, the demon still only had access to the boy's memories, and that meant that he didn't understand the verbal power games. Spike could feel a twitching need to throw himself against the boy, but he simply stopped in his pacing and cracked his neck first one way and then the other as he soaked in the heat of his Xander at his back and the cigarette between his fingers. The body guard vamp growled even louder, the rumbling threat echoing off the walls and the zombies inched forward, smiling with dead flesh… in one case, dead flesh that looked ready to fall off its face.

"Much like your line has changed--Darla and Dru dead, Angelus souled," the older vamp taunted him, verbally distracting the group from the boy king who had answered Spike without even demanding an answer to his own question.

"Seems like Angelus did well enough against you lot, even with his bloody soul," Spike offered after another drag of his cigarette. "But that's history... bloody borin' history. I prefer to live in the here and now." In his peripheral vision, he watched minions taking up position around him. Without even needing prompting, Xander separated from him, turning to take up a position covering Spike's back. Spike smiled darkly.

The Anointed One stood up, stepping down off the throne, and the very fact that Spike had to look down at the ankle-biter made him want to snap the little vampire's neck. "And in the here and now," the Anointed One commented, "you have no recognition as a childe or a master and no sire to speak for you. Are you worthy of our line?" The child's words made Spike painfully aware of the sheer numbers that surrounded him.

Spike took a slow drag on his cigarette. "Been a Master for long enough. Besides, seems like standards have dropped a bit around here, mate." Taking the half gone cigarette, Spike flicked it toward the zombies. A few fledges scattered away while others growled at the spark that arced through the air. Right, this wasn't going to plan at all. Spike tucked his hands into his waist and prayed that Xander recognized the signal.

After decades of painting Eastern Europe with the blood of innocents, Spike hadn't expected a challenge to himself. Yeah, the clan might be a little put out with one more souled demon joining the line, but unlike his childe, Spike wasn't souled. His own demon roared at the challenge, at the suggestion that he needed a sire's protection or that he wasn't worthy of the clan. Spike ignored the white-hot fury and focused on tracking his enemy. The zombies and fledges moved forward while the other demons faded back to the walls. Spike smirked. So, not everyone bought the party line and backed the boy-king then.

The boy-king turned his back, and at some signal that Spike didn't see, the fledges and zombies leapt forward. Spike snapped the knee of the first attacker, leaving him howling on the ground as he pulled his long knife. Sparing one glance for his childe, Spike watched the boy neatly stake the first reckless vamp to rush him. With his own demon screaming in pride, Spike concentrated on his end of the fight, determined not to let anyone get past him to attack Xander's back, and trusting Xander to do the same.

Three fledges attacked in a flurry that might have distracted a younger vamp, but Spike ignored their flailing and decapitated one with a sweeping cut before lodging the knife deep into the heart of a second. A quick twist and vicious yank, and he ripped the unbeating muscle out of the body. The fledge had time for one last incredulous look before turning to dust. The third vamp hit Spike's hand hard enough to send the knife flying, but Spike simply twisted his head off with his bare hands, feeling bones crack before the dust exploded all over him.

Snatching a stake out of his duster pocket, Spike spared Xander a quick glance, just in time to see the boy rip an arm off a zombie and use it as a club against a fledge. The fledge hadn't yet decided what to do with the rotting arm in his hands when Xander jammed the stake into its heart. Xander turned back to the attackers with the vamps ashes settling like snow over his dark curls.

If there hadn't been so many enemies, Spike would have stepped back an allowed Xander to fight while he reveled in his childe's ferociousness; however, one of the zombies crashed into him, sending him stumbling sideways before he could regain his balance. He ripped at the dead flesh, feeling it tear like rotting fruit under his fingers. Two more minions rushed into the fight, and Spike had to settle for crippling one with a roundhouse kick while he focused on the second minion, an older one who moved in more cautiously.

"Enough!" a tiny voice bellowed, and while the volume and girlish pitch might be easily dismissed, the threads of supernatural power backing the order sent the remaining vamps cringing back. A mist of fine ash floated through the air, slowly drifting toward the ground, and two of the three zombies lay in so many tatters that they would never rise again.

"Master Spike," the boy-king offered as he climbed back up to his throne and took a seat, "what brings you to the court?"

"Just passing through. Figure ta be here a few days, a week at most," Spike answered calmly as he brushed the dust from his coat. He'd made his point, and he trusted that he didn't need ta make it again. Scenting the air, he checked Xander, but all he could smell was his childe's excitement. Hell, boy looked ready to vibrate out of his own skin as he returned to Spike's side, his eyes still scanning the room.

Spike didn't bother looking at the others now that he had officially claimed his title. He focused on the miniature head of the line.

"And will you be staying with the court?"

"Wasn't plannin' to. Have a place already, something Angelus laid claim to back when the old Master still ruled and he'd come ta town from time to time," Spike casually answered. The court shifted at Angelus' name. The old vamp who played body guard just as Luke had once guarded the old Master stepped forward in full game-face.

"And do you take Angelus' side in things? You bring a human here; your line is corrupted with humanity. Darla often said that you stank of humanity and stupidity, and now you try claiming the title of a full Master."

"Not claimin' anything. Took it, didn't I? Left the dust of your soddin' minions scattered over the floor. I've tasted the blood of two slayers, and the title's mine!" Spike growled as he vamped out for the first time, his demon's fury pushing forward.

"Colin." The boy-king stopped the body guard with a single word. "Enough."

"Yeah, Colin, enough," Spike mocked the body guard. He hadn't liked Luke, and he didn't like this newer version any better. Colin growled, and then his eyes shifted to a spot behind Spike.

"Do not look at me, human," he snapped. His eyes returned to Spike. "Your pet seriously needs training."

"I know you're not talking about my Xander because I've never told ya he's a pet." Spike felt the warmth as Xander moved closer, and he reached back, urging Xander to step up beside him.

"What else would he be? He's human," Colin sneered.

"Ya hear that, luv? Wanker thinks you're a pet, that you're weak and helpless and not worthy of fighting by my side." Spike could feel Xander's anger gathering just under the surface, but the eyes that glared up at Colin remained brown even while Colin stood beside the Anointed One's throne and snarled. Spike reached up and gave a dusty curl a sharp jerk. Yellow flecks appeared before the demon emerged. Colin's eyes widened, and he gave a low, deep warning growl.

In return, Xander gave his own small growl in response, and Colin might never have even heard the small rumble except that Spike encouraged it with a growl of his own. Xander raised a lip and small fangs appeared as he growled louder, clearly still worked up over the fight. When Xander pressed forward, Spike tightened his grip to keep Xander beside him. They didn't need another fight.

"He's not human." The boy-king sounded more curious than anything else, but then for the head of a vampire line and a newly made vampire, the boy always seemed remarkably calm.

"Never said he was, mate. He's young and excitable, but he's not a soddin' human."

"What type of demon is he?" Now the Anointed One leaned forward.

"One that passes as human easy enough ta go places I can't. But don't mistake it, he's a demon who's fought by my side and proved himself, and he's mine."

Spike watched at the other demons considered Xander with a new interest. At the very least, he'd make them worry about Xander and take the boy off the menu if anyone had any more thoughts about challenging them.

"You offer an…" the Anointed One paused… "interesting diversion."

"Yeah, and you're plannin' something mighty interesting here. So, want ta let me in so that I don't muck up some plan you got brewin?" Spike pulled out another cigarette as he considered the remaining court.

Fewer vamps now, and only one zombie watched… the one Xander had ripped the arm off of. He sat cradling his severed limb and glaring. The B'lasha had in a dark recess, or maybe it was the mouth of another tunnel. They weren't fighters, and Spike dismissed them altogether. Instead, Spike focused on the Mohra who watched with narrowed eyes. Hard to kill those buggers, and they normally didn't work for vamps. Then again, the B'lasha normally avoided all violence, preferring the financial and moral corruption of humans over the blood lust.

"What makes you think I'm planning anything?" The Anointed One's false innocence made Spike's skin crawl. Colin retreated a step to his master's side where he glowered.

"Let's just say I'm followin' a trail of breadcrumbs here," Spike snorted as he waved a hand in the direction of the various demons. The two Lakshu demons nodded their agreement, but the Mohra crossed his arms over his chest and simply glared.

"We have plans," the boy-king nearly whispered.

"I'm not thick as pig shite, think I figured that out." Spike lit his second cigarette and wandered over to a pillar where he leaned his shoulder into the stone.

"If you are not going to stay, I would not ask you to get involved." The Anointed One leaned back, his hand dangling over the arm of the chair, and Colin sat. Slipping back into his human mask, he leaned against the chair and allowed the boy's fingers to play with his hair. Spike could hear a small gasp from Xander, but then the boy hadn't ever seen the courts where shows of dominance and submission were the norm, even between two full vampires. Bloody hell, if he were presenting the boy proper like as his childe, he'd throw him down and fuck Xander until Xander could only lay helplessly spent and sprawled all over the floor. 'Course, other demons weren't usually around to see it. Spike watched as the Mohra's face curled in disgust before a mask of indifference covered the expression.

"Just don't want to go stumblin' into some mess of your making," Spike shrugged as if it didn't matter to him, and it didn't. He just wanted to make sure Xander was safe, and if his childe wanted the witch safe, he'd fight for that too.

The Anointed One looked at him, his small head tilting as he considered. "Avoid the slayer and the Vahrall who have recently appeared and the humans who hunt for demons on the Hellmouth."

"Demon hunters?" Spike lowered his cigarette and looked at the boy-king in surprise. Those lot should have been hunted down and either killed or turned.

"Stay in groups and they are cowards who will not bother you, but they are useful in keeping others out of our plans." The boy leaned back, his fingers still playing with Colin's hair.

Spike would have asked a dozen other questions, but the scent of excitement from Xander was slowly souring into something weary, so time ta head for safety. Besides, for this many demons to come together, it really could only be one more attempt to open a bloody Hellmouth, like that stunt hadn't screwed every other Aurelius vamp who'd ever tried it. That's what got the Master trapped in this rat hole. Angelus had gotten his soul shoved back in him when he'd been so distracted with some soddin' statue that he forgot ta take care of his enemies. Even Darla had given up her jewels and silk to sit by scabby's side and dream of hell on Earth. It just got her a stake in the heart from her own favorite childe.

Well, let the little nipper try; he'd get his arse kicked, especially with a slayer in town. Spike could feel a thread of shame that one more of his line would go down, but ending the world wasn't high on his agenda. Now if country music ever took over the media, he might consider it, but he liked the world pretty much the way it was now, no gaping Hell mouth to bring in hoards of hungry demons.

Without a word, Spike turned and headed for the tunnel. The minions at the tunnel's entrance stiffened, but before Spike had covered half the distance to them, they retreated so that Spike and Xander could pass. This time when they walked the dark tunnels, Xander's demon eyes allowed him to follow, and Spike missed the warm touch. Smiling, he just planned on getting more warm touches once they got back to the lair.

Out in the cemetery, Spike waited while Xander closed the entrance to the tunnel and followed him out into the night air. A breeze stirred the treetops, and as dawn approached, the night had gone absolutely silent. An early bird sang a couple of hopeful notes and then went still.

"Well, that went… moderately better than I expected. Of course, anything short of me dead or in chains is actually better than I expected," Xander said with a shrug as he closed the heavy door to the crypt.

"Told ya. Nothin' to worry about," Spike answered as he picked a direction and started walking to where he'd left the car. Tomorrow he'd need to hunt early; the faint scent of human on the air reminded him of his own hunger, but they didn't have time to hunt down prey, and Spike didn't want to just grab some mother off the street, at least not with Xander right there.

Spike opened his mouth to ask Xander if he smelled the odd human scent on the breeze, an almost dull or masked smell. He hadn't even gotten the first word out when silver bits flew through the air. Spike wheeled, dodging out of the path of the first set, when a jolting pain ran up his back and driving him to his knees. Immediately, Xander turned toward him, and Xander's confusion turned to agony as his own body stiffened and collapsed. The last image Spike saw was a camouflaged leg step out of the bushes. Then nothing.


Chapter 6

"Where do we put this one?"

"Let's drop him off at emergency. Bastard's lucky we didn't find him two minutes later."

"Yeah. Sometimes I think the people around here deserve to get eaten; it's natural selection. If you're too dumb to realize what goes bump in the night actually does bump around here, you shouldn't be allowed to breed."

"Graham," a voice snapped.

"Just the truth," a third man offered.

Xander struggled to control his body, but the voices came from the far side of a tunnel, and he seemed paralyzed. Inside his mind, Baby Aurelius took the little seed of panic Xander felt and turned it into a whole fucking crop of hysteria with a side order of terror. With his mind whirling, the sudden sensation of his body moving without his permission left Xander with the nauseous feeling of falling.

"If that vamp had eaten him, it'd be one less civvy to worry about. This shit is fubar, and you're still trying to save every Tom, Dick, and Dumbshit Donna in this town, Riley."

"Forest, you are one word away from an insubordination charge," voice number two threatened.

"Chill, guys."

Fighting to gain control over anything—a pinky finger, an eyelid, anything—Xander finally had to admit his helplessness as someone dropped him onto something scratchy and hard. Something thumped next to him, and Xander could only pray it was Spike and that Spike wasn't dust on the ground back there.

The very thought of sire dead made Baby come screaming to the front, clawing at the invisible bonds that seemed to trap Xander inside his own body. Wonderful. Xander sank under the demon's fury realizing that not even Baby could get his limbs moving. Even knowing that Baby would snap the necks of whoever had captured them, Xander found himself hoping he'd wake up to dead humans and a live sire.

When Xander woke again, he could feel Baby demon slinking through the back of his mind like the creepy feeling you get when someone glares at the back of your head, only with glaring from the inside. The demon's resentment forced Xander into movement, his arms only twitching when he commanded them to move.

"Fuck," Xander breathed, his movement stopped by a familiar weight around his wrists. Cracking open an eye, he didn't see a familiar ceiling. Instead rectangles of white light blinded him. "Double fuck," Xander said a little louder.

"Mr. Harris?" a voice asked, and Xander tilted his head that direction without opening his eyes. "Mr. Harris, how are you feeling?"

That made Xander crack one eye open wide enough to glare at a tall nurse who stood a couple of feet away from his bed. In the history of stupid questions, Xander had never heard one quite that dumb, and he was a connoisseur of stupid questions. And what was up with the Mr. Harris stuff because he sure didn't see his father anywhere around. Xander only figured out that he was the mister in question when he spotted his billfold on the table next to the bed.

"Peachy," he managed to croak, his voice dry and cracked.

"I'll get the doctor," she said as she quickly backed out of the room. Xander tugged at the restraints that held him to the bed, and while he could shake the whole frame, he couldn't free himself. A definite feeling of 'told you so' floated up from Baby.

"Mr. Harris," an older woman said, and Xander cracked his eye open again to glare at her. She looked back with a disturbing curiosity that reminded Xander of how Willow's new bud Wendell used to stare at spiders. And Xander didn't like being on the spider's end.


"Good to see you coherent."

Before Xander had a chance to even question that, the doctor stabbed a light beam his eye. He flinched back, but strong fingers followed and pulled his eyelid open. Xander fisted his hands and focused on controlling Baby as the light swept back and forth over his eye.

"Hey, still recovering from getting... okay, what did happen?" Xander paused as he reviewed his memories. Court. Check. Spike going down. Check and a growl from Baby. Searing pain. Check and still feeling the ache. Weird guys talking. Sorta check. Xander blinked as the doctor released his one eye and moved to torturing the other one.

"What do you remember?" she asked as she repeated the flashing, stabbing ray of light right into his eye.

"Walking. Someone attacked me and my friend. Is my friend here? He's got bleached hair and an English accent and gets really cranky when you play country music."

The doctor stepped back and flicked her light off. "You were brought in alone; I'm sorry. You seemed to have some sort of seizure, and some serious eye damage. Do you remember anything splashing into your eyes?"

"No," Xander said slowly as he tried reaching for Baby's memories.

"Any congenital eye disorders?"

"No." Xander got a flash of panic and the memory of flailing out an arm, only half in control of a body that seemed to jerk into motion in stops and fits. The resentment of food holding him down, warm hands pinning him to the floor, flooded his mind. Oh yeah, Baby had definitely been a bad boy.

"Any history in your family of amblyopia, presbyopia, or astigmatism?" the doctor interrupted his search of his memories.

"I have a cousin with dyslexia, but that's about as close as we come." Xander tried patented stupid grin number six.

The doctor stopped and really looked at Xander for a moment before continuing. "Any history of seizures?" She pulled back the blanket, and Xander discovered the joy of knobbly knees with a short hospital gown. The doctor must not have minded because she started using strong fingers to poke at his legs.

"Okay, I'm getting a little cranky with the poking and prodding and lack of information here. And my cranky levels are even higher about being tied to a bed!" Xander bit his tongue before adding something stupid about not minding bondage from his gay, undead lover.

"How is your neck feeling?" the doctor asked as she abandoned Xander's legs in favor of searching the sides of his neck. Now he could see the name tag with "Dr. Goddard" in block letters. A short fingernail poked at his claim mark, and instead of the tingling lust he normally felt from the mark, Xander cringed in pain.
"Ow. Hey, didn't you take an oath to not go poking at people or something?" he demanded as he hunched his shoulder and tried to protect the tender skin. Baby flared up, projecting an image of Dr. Goddard ripped to bloody pieces, her grey hair laying in a clump on top of a disemboweled stomach, and Xander shivered in revulsion before he could push it back down.

"Mr. Harris, you're very lucky. You don't seem to have any after effects of your attack," Dr. Goddard said as she walked over to the window and pulled the blinds open. Xander narrowed his eyes at the bright light that spilled over his legs, ankle restraints holding him in place. Oh yeah, no way was that coincidence. He could only glare at the doctor as she came back to the bed and started unbuckling one of his feet.

"You had some sort of severe seizure last night. I can't tell you anything about who dropped you off at the emergency room, and I don't know what happened to your friend, but I will say that Sunnydale is not a safe town. You may want to go back to LA or go anywhere as long as you keep moving." At that bit of advice, Dr. Goddard stared at Xander with bright blue eyes behind wire glasses. Even knowing that she obviously wanted to help him, Xander still resented her telling him what to do, especially when the telling did not help him get sire back.

"I grew up in Sunnydale, so I know there's a seedy part of town, but I won't leave without William," Xander insisted. Her lips thinned, but she unbuckled his second foot.

"Your friend may be harder to find that you think," the doctor said sadly as she unbuckled a wrist. Xander pulled his hand free the moment the restraint loosened, and he went to work on the buckle that kept a leather strap over his chest while the doctor walked around to undo the last restraint.

"My friend is tougher than you think, and no way would any of the creepy crawlies around here get him," Xander said firmly as he sat up in bed and dangled his legs over the side. "So where are my clothes?"

Dr. Goddard sighed. "You had a number of items not allowed on hospital property."

"I wasn't planning on coming to the hospital. It was definitely an unplanned stop, and there aren't any laws against being prepared." Xander considered the eight-inch knife he'd had stuffed in his boot. "Okay, there might be laws, but like you said, Sunnydale's not a safe town." Xander corrected himself as he stalked over to a cupboard door. Shit--medical tubing and thingamabobbers.

Dr. Goddard opened a second cupboard and Xander's clothes hung on wire hangers. "You can get the weapons back from security on the first floor. You might want to apologize to the guys on your way out," she suggested. "You gave them a pretty hard time last night." With a last look and a shake of her head, the doctor left.

By the time Xander knocked on Willow's door, he had his clothing and his weapons back in place. Now he just needed to find his sire. The warehouse had been empty, and even going back to the court led to a few random growls without any useful information at all. Either they hadn't taken Spike or they were lying about taking Spike, and Xander wasn't really sure what to do in either case. Baby seemed in favor of just randomly attacking someone, but Xander didn't think that would actually help anything. It might make him feel better, but the whole getting killed end of things might not be of the good. Besides, if he got himself killed, Spike really would be cranky.

"Xander?" Willow asked, and Xander shook himself out of his day-nightmare and gave her his best goofy grin. "Oh goddess, what happened?" Willow immediately asked as she stepped back to allow him in without actually issuing an invitation.

"Still need to work on the poker face, huh?" Xander asked as he stepped inside the room.

"Definitely, but you wouldn't be my Xander-shaped friend if you had the lying down," she agreed. Xander dropped onto one of the twin beds, his knees not really up to holding his weight any more.

"I can't find William," Xander blurted, and her warm hand on his shoulder almost brought the tears of frustration to the surface.

"Oh goddess."

"We weren't even hunting. We were walking along and someone attacked us, and next thing I remember, I was in the hospital, except for this really weird part where these guys seemed to be saying that anyone who walked around Sunnydale at night deserved to get eaten, but I might have hallucinated that part."

"Oh goddess." Willow plopped down next to him on the bed.

"And I'm really wishing you had something more encouraging to say," Xander said as he glanced at her. Willow scrunched her face up.

"Kinda out of encouragement, but if you tell me what you want to hear, I'll say it," she offered softly. Xander pulled a comb out of his jacket, brilliant white hairs still clinging to its teeth.

"Say you'll find him," he said as he held it out. Willow's mouth became an 'o' as she took the comb with the precious hairs. Xander pulled a Sex Pistols CD out of another pocket, Spike's favorite, and a skull ring Spike had left next to the sink. Willow still sat staring at the comb in her hand, and Xander added the new items to the pile.

"You did the magic that gave Angel his happiness back, and while the whole going soulless was kinda of the bad, you couldn't have known about the clause in the curse. But the point is that if you're big enough with the mojo to give a vampire happiness and then shove the soul back in him, you're big enough with the mojo to find one lost person." Xander took a breath, and Willow turned to him with eyes bright with tears.

"Xander," she whispered, her voice small and tinny.

"You have to, Wills. Please. I can't--" Xander stopped before he started sobbing.

"Xander, I want to, really, I do. I just can't." Willow held out the precious pile toward him.

"You can. I can't, but you can. You've done bigger stuff than this." Xander insisted as he used the flat of his hand to push Willow's hand away. He needed her to keep Spike's personal item; he had run out of other options. "Please. I have to find William before something really bad happens to him."

"Xander, I just, I don't do that any more." Willow put the items down on her pink bedspread, scooting back away from them.

"Wills. I can't lose him. I know you can do this; it's a simple location spell." Xander could feel Baby pressing him to attack, to force Willow to help. Baby seemed to think that if she wasn't actively helping then she was an enemy. Xander gritted his teeth as he fought back against the rising fury and resentment.

"Xander, it's not. Not for me."

"Damn it. If you can put Angel's soul back in, you can--"

"Kill people. I can kill people. I can't find your friend," Willow blurted as if those sentences naturally fit together. Xander stared at his crying friend, open-mouthed, while he felt his demon pressing forward angrily. Seems that Baby didn't care if Willow wanted to kill the population of the entire campus as long as she found sire.

"Willow?" Xander asked gently, ignoring the rage as he reasoned that Willow would help him faster if he helped her first. Baby didn't like the logic, but at least he growled off to a dark corner of Xander's mind.

"Xander, I just can't use magic."

"I know you can, Wills," Xander countered, "and I really need help. William could be out there lost or hurt or waiting for me to save him, and he was big on the saving me thing when I got kidnapped, and I just can't walk away. Please, Willow, I'm not asking you to kill anyone, just to do a little spell. For me."

"I know, but you don't know what could happen if I use magic. I'm not well grounded, and last time I used magic, things didn't go exactly right."

"Angelus?" Xander guessed. Willow just snorted as if the answer amused her.

"Goddess, that was puppies and kittens compared to what I did to Wendell."

"Wendell you had the crush on? Spider Wendell?" Okay, Xander had definitely missed something.

Willow worked her fingers nervously, pulling at the hem of her blouse and twisting the fabric. Reaching over, Xander let his hand rest on Willow's restless fingers. She looked up at him with tear-brightened eyes.

"Spider Wendell," she agreed. "Wendell who I had a crush on and who told me it was okay for me to have a crush on Paula Abdul instead of the Backstreet Boys and who was brave enough to go to prom with Larry and who went to therapy with me when we accidentally ate the principal."

"He went to prom with Larry?" Xander practically yelped. It must have been the right thing to say because Willow made a strangled laughing sound.

"They were pretty handsome together," she agreed. "But then there was this whole ascension thing with the major and the Anointed One sent minions to break it up and we got in the middle and there was this box with all these really big spiderish demons and it broke open." She took a shuddering breath. "I only wanted to squish the spiders, honestly."

Now tears ran down Willow's face, and from the way she said 'squish,' Xander had a really gruesome idea of what had happened. He closed his fingers around Willow's hands, trying to take some of that pain.

He stared at her tiny hands for several minutes before he could find an answer. "I understand, I really do. Someone died because I made a mistake. But I'm not going to stop trying to do the right thing just because I fucked up, not even when I fucked up bad enough to get Frederick killed," he said quietly. He could feel oily guilt sliming up his spine, and he truly didn't want to manipulate her, but he needed his sire back.

"I'm sorry. Tara will be here soon," Willow apologized.

"How soon?"

"Um, a few hours?"

Xander tightened his hand as he felt his rage surge. Spike might not have hours; he might not even have minutes. "Willow." He poured all of his desperate need into that one word.

"Jenny. We could call Jenny and have her do the spell," Willow suddenly burst out. She popped up off the bed with the energy that only an over-caffeinated Willow could manage. Immediately, the pain and loss disappeared under the patented resolve face, and oh yeah, that wasn't even near mentally healthy land. Xander watched as Willow punched the numbers for this Jenny, and he could only hope she would help because Xander was quickly losing the battle to keep Baby calm and under control.



Chapter 7

"Are you sure this is a spell?" Xander asked as he looked at the computer screen. The dark-haired woman in front of the computer just smiled. Willow, however, seemed to be in high babble gear since leaving the dorm room.

"Jenny's a cyber-wicca. This one time a hunter was hunting Oz just because he does the whole werewolf thing, and Jenny created this computer program that tracked him using a satellite image connected to a tracking spell, and I bet she's doing something just like that now." Willow paced between the stairs leading up to the second floor and the kitchen door. Since Jenny had her computer set up on the dining room table, the path left Willow sort of circling them.

Xander leaned back against the window sill, feeling the warmth against his back even as Baby flinched away from the light. Right now, Xander appreciated anything that could force Baby into the recesses since he wasn't doing a great job staying in control. With his luck, he would go all glowy eyed in the home of a watcher and his cyber-wicca wife with a slayer upstairs. Xander flinched as he regretted even thinking that thought. Baby growled.

"This is similar," Jenny agreed. "I'm using a topographical map to indicate William's location, so it's a fairly standard spell only slightly modified for the computer."

"See? If Jenny can't find William, then no one... and I'm not going to finish that because that so does not need finishing. Maybe I should just stop now, you know, a closed mouth gathers no feet and all." Willow blushed deep red, and Xander was caught between terror that the worst might have happened and sympathy for Willow--the only person who could out-babble him. He ended up not saying anything as Willow sort of slid sideways though a swinging door, disappearing into a kitchen that appeared in flashes as the door clattered shut.

"She's upset," Jenny said as she typed so fast that the clicks seemed to become a chant of their own.

"Yeah, kinda getting that. I just wished..." Xander stopped. He didn't know what he wished. Part of him felt guilty for never calling her back and supporting her through the weirdness, but another part didn't really know this girl who had squished her best friend. And then add the demon's frustration and fear and almost unwilling respect for Willow's power into the mix and Xander had way too many parts going.

"Life is change," Jenny offered ambiguously. "Okay, here we go." She hit the 'enter' key with a flourish, and the whole computer screen glowed ominously red. Xander leaned forward to get a better look as the white lines of streets and shaded parks slowly faded back to a normal blue.


"Huh?" Willow asked as she stuck her head back out of the door. "What's huh?"

Xander just sat, his fingers gripping the window sill.

"Maybe it's a masking spell," Jenny commented, pushing her black hair back away from her face as she considered the unglowy screen. Her fingers danced over the keys.

"Shouldn't there be something glowing or flashing or doing some magicy?" Xander asked as the two witches considered the computer.

"Someone might be doing the anti-magic type magic, but Jenny is way ahead of them," Willow promised. Xander would have been more reassured if Willow hadn't had the funny wrinkle at the top of her nose.

"Okay, here we go." Jenny stood up and gathered three candles from a buffet against one wall, its carved doors reminding Xander of the Catholic Church back in his old neighborhood. Baby growled, but Xander just ignored the noise since not even he could tell whether impatience or just a general hatred for anything church-like had made Baby grouchy. Hell, he wanted to growl in frustration, but he could only watch as Jenny set the thick candles in the middle of the large oak table in a triangle around her computer.

"Will you help me with a opprimo spell?" Jenny asked, and Willow ducked her head for a moment, pausing before she stepped forward and took Jenny's hand. Xander just gritted his teeth and reminded himself that telling them to hurry wouldn't actually help. God knows he never took out the garbage faster when his mom bugged him.

The candles flared to life, and Xander jumped back, banging his head on the window in surprise. The girls just continued to chant, their voices pulling at him like little pricking pains as the computer glowed white.

Jenny shouted something that sounded like 'fat girl,' and the screen flared like the world's biggest flash bomb. When Xander finally pried his eyes open again, the Jenny and Willow stared at the still unglowy screen in dismay.

Xander didn't even want to ask. He stepped forward to the computer, the three candles now mounds of wax spreading over the wood.

"So, what's the next step?" he asked, refusing to even name the worry worm that inched through his brain.

"Xander," Willow sighed.

"I mean, Gunn and William were both the hit someone until they gave up information, so if the magic isn't going to work, we just need to find—"

Xander stopped when Jenny's warm hand rested on his forearm. Xander just tightened his arms around his own stomach as he slowly shook his head in denial.

"Are you sure the hair came from William?"

Xander couldn't stop shaking his head even though he was sure.

"God, I'm so sorry. Xander. I…" Willow stumbled to silence as she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him, resting her cheek on one of his arm. Xander just continued to shake his head.


"I know how hard it is to lose someone," Jenny offered gently.

"No. I haven't lost William. He can't just die," Xander snapped as he stepped back. Willow's hand flew to the table as she lost her balance.

"I know—"

"You don't know!" Xander yelled as Willow tried to step forward. He turned his back to the two women and grabbed the banister to the stairs.

"Problem?" another woman's voice asked from above. Baby rose with a roar, and Xander dropped to his knees as the world spun slightly counter-clockwise.

"Xander!" Willow gasped and warm hands touched his back. Xander shoved at the hands touching him and stumbled to his feet when he contacted warm skin that made his body shiver with revulsion. Slayer.

"Whoa there," Faith said, and strong fingers grabbed at him. Half-blind, Xander lurched back several steps, his shoulder finding the front door. Xander's hand closed around the door knob before he had even checked in with his body.

Yanking it open, Xander struggled through the shade of the porch, throwing himself into the closest patch of sunlight. Falling to his knees, he turned his face to the light and let the tears roll down his face.


Hours later, Xander couldn’t really bring himself to care about anything as he huddled on the end of the couch in the basement of the Watcher's house. His demon whined in pain, and Xander had nothing to use to comfort the soft wails in his mind. The whole ‘throwing himself in the sunlight’ plan hadn’t worked exactly the way the demon had intended, but Xander could appreciate the thought.

Life without Spike and he couldn’t seem to see a way out of it. Go home to his mother, yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. Find a normal job and just suffer this horrible gaping hole in his soul for the rest of his life, well he didn’t really see any other choice. Xander could hear voices, but he simply curled himself about his demon and tried to sleep, tried to reach some place where he could forget the pain.

Xander could feel Spike’s cool hand slipping around his waist as his sire pressed up against his back. He knew that it was a dream, but he didn’t want to leave this fantasy of happiness, the closest thing he would ever again have to true happiness. He felt ghostly lips breathe across his ear, whispering ‘childe’ in a possessive voice that made his spine tingle with expectation. He squirmed, faintly aware of the couch, but trying his best to throw himself into his dream of his lost sire.

“Xander,” a voice whispered, and he tried to pretend that he could hear an English accent, but the concerned tone of Willow’s voice broke through even as he struggled to ignore it. “Xander, you’re really worrying me,” she continued, and Xander’s dream sire shifted away into the smoke from which he had been formed, leaving Xander alone again. He whimpered and stirred slightly.

“Xander, you know, impersonating the dead isn’t exactly safe around here.” The friendly teasing didn't even stir Baby, and Xander just pulled into himself, struggling to not fully wake. However, a hand on his shoulder sent him flying off the couch and left him standing next to the wall. Faith sat on the edge of the couch, her hand still suspended in the air where Xander's shoulder had been milliseconds earlier. Willow stood next to the narrow stairs that led up to the main house, staring at him with wide, shocked eyes. For a moment, Xander just stared back, words not even forming in his mind even as he realized he had to cover for his own weirdness. Xander could hear Spike whispering about enemies and weakness.

He opened his mouth a second or two before he could find words that would make any sense at all. “God, don’t wake me up like that.” He tried for a laugh, but from the expressions on Faith and Willow's faces, he hadn't come even close.

“God, chill little man, everything’s five by five,” Faith said as she held her hands up in surrender, but Xander couldn’t escape the feeling of wrongness that he got every time he was around the slayer, and he couldn’t help but suspect that they could feel the wrongness in him.

“Yeah, not so okay with the ‘little man’ comments,” Xander complained, anxious to discuss anything other than the gaping hole in his heart and the demon that threatened to break free.

“Angel’s here, upstairs,” Willow said from the place near the basement stairs, and Xander knew he must have shown some sort of reaction because the two girls exchanged looks, but for the life of him, Xander really didn’t know what he was feeling.

His demon both railed against the thought of the older vampire because sire would disapprove and at the same time he wanted to be near him. For Xander’s part, he had nothing particular against Angel except of course for driving Dru insane and for abandoning Spike and the whole trying to take him away from Spike back in Los Angeles. Okay, so he didn’t hold much against him.

“I’ll go get him, just to be sure he still has that soul tacked on good and tight,” Faith said with a final look toward Willow. When the dark-haired Slayer had left, Xander returned to the couch and curled up again. Pathetic much? he asked himself as he realized what a sight he must make.

“Xander, I’m really sorry I couldn’t help you with William. When I called Angel, he said you two were really, really close.”

“Why’d you call him?” Xander asked dully, not really caring whether or not Willow approved of his relationships. He suspected that the whole sire/childe thing would probably shock her a whole lot more than the gay thing ever could.

“You called for him, remember?” Willow asked, and Xander looked over into her wide, concerned eyes and realized that she was telling the truth. Xander cast back into his memories, but he couldn’t remember calling out, and his demon didn’t fess up. “Do you want me to keep him away?” Willow asked. “’Cause he offered to come the minute I mentioned you. You never said you guys were that close.”

“We weren’t,” a deep voice from the stairs answered, and Xander shivered at the sound. His sire’s sire. Xander pushed himself up so that he sat on the couch and wrapped his arms around his stomach. An unbalanced queasiness in his stomach suggested laying down would be of the good, but Xander welcomed the nausea's ability to distract him just a little from the ripping pain. He kept looking down to see if some demon had slipped in and torn his belly open when he wasn't paying attention. Each time he saw the shirt Spike had picked for him, its buttons still in a neat little row down his middle, he was surprised. It didn't seem right to hurt this much without having huge gaping holes somewhere.

“Oh, you’re here. I thought Faith was going to keep you…I mean talk to you upstairs.”

“She talked, I listened.” Angel's voice carried no emotion as he stepped down the last few steps into the basement. Xander could feel Angel approach as though it were a high pressure front pressing against his skin.

“I’m not sure Xander’s really ready to talk,” Willow said as she stood up, placing herself between the two of them, and Xander looked up for the first time. He met Angel’s eyes, and at the intense stare, he dropped his own gaze. “He’s in a no talking kind of mood, which is kind of strange for Xander because talking was always his thing.” Willow continued.

“We’ll be fine, Willow. I just need some time alone with Xander.” Xander shivered again at the voice, and he could almost feel Willow’s doubt like a small animal circling the room.

“Xander, is that what you want?” Willow asked, and Xander looked up into her elfin face, amazed at how little it had changed in the years. He suddenly had no doubt that if he asked her, she would throw herself between them. Okay, she'd get neatly tossed to one side if push came to shove, but she'd try.

“It’s okay, Willow.” Xander whispered instead even though ‘okay’ didn’t begin to cover it. Willow lay her hand on his arm for just a minute before she left, disappearing up the stairs and leaving him alone with Angel.

God, Spike would stripe his back if he ever found out, but then that wasn’t likely to happen, was it? Xander closed his eyes as a new wave of grief tore through him, and he found himself wishing that death were as easy as throwing himself into the sunlight. Of course, tall and broody making with the silence wasn’t exactly helping. His demon had reached a near constant wail, and the headache threatened to make his head pop. He lowered his head to until he had hunched over and could rest his forehead on his knees. It was like his head had grown too heavy for his neck and might just fall off.

“Xander,” Angel finally said softly as he stepped closer. Xander forced himself to sit still when every instinct in him told himself to either run or throw himself at Angel’s feet. He didn’t think either option would win him any manly awards, so he just sat and shivered.

“I’m sorry,” Angel offered.

“We could try to excise the spirit,” Angel offered, but his tone was doubtful bordering on incredulous, so Xander didn’t bother to answer. They both knew that his demon wouldn’t be cast out by a spell designed for the weak, fraction of a demon inserted into a pet. Silence fell again.

Bent over, Xander could smell Spike lingering the pants, a faint trace of leather that made the jeans smell somehow warm. Normally Xander would love the scent, but now a pressure built in his chest until he couldn't breathe. He sat up and gulped air.

“Xander,” Angel stepped forward, and Xander threw himself off the couch for the second time in five minutes, only this time he allowed the demon to come up, the room sliding into the crystal sharpness of the demon’s vision and his teeth elongating even as he snarled.

Angel’s reaction was instantaneous as the larger vampire showed his own game face and stepped forward. “Enough, boy,” Angel snarled, and Xander backed away, snarling his own wordless reply. Xander made a break for the stairs, but a heavy body slammed him into the wall, and he found himself trapped, face first against the concrete even as he struggled to free himself.

“I said enough, boy,” Angel snapped and Xander felt an arm close around his neck, pulling him back into Angel’s body. “Willow told me you ran outside into the sun and just stared up. She didn’t know what it meant, but I do. Are you so determined to follow your sire, then?” Angel’s voice had become soft, almost lilting, but the arm remained firmly locked around his neck, no matter how he struggled.

“Let go,” Xander demanded.

“Why? So you can kill yourself? That is what you tried to do, isn’t it? Is the demon that much in control now?” Xander stopped struggling as he realized that he had no hope of freeing himself.

“Doesn’t matter,” he honestly replied.

“It does matter,” Angel insisted, and Xander felt himself pushed toward the couch. He caught himself on the sofa's arm and turned to face Angel, but he found the vampire inches from him, staring down at him, and he sat since that was the only way to get some physical distance between them.

“You aren’t the kind to give up, so why are you letting the demon rule you?” Angel asked as he hovered above, his hands away from his body in a clear fighting stance that let Xander know that he wasn’t going to be allowed off the couch.

Xander just shook his head and remained silent, keeping his pain and weakness to himself. Instead of the disgust he expected from Angel, he felt a hand on his head.

“Spike gave ye a taste for something and then left you to suffer,” Angel said in a lilting Irish voice that had even more accent than Doyle. Suddenly Angel knelt in front of him, his human face showing doubt and worry. “I’ll not have ye suffer.” Angel whispered and then morphed into his game face. Xander realized just a second too late what Angel meant, and he struggled to fling himself over the back of the couch, but a heavy body wrestled him back down. He planted an elbow in some body part soft enough to give, but he felt his arm pulled behind his back by a strength he couldn’t hope to counter.

As he writhed in panic, trying to buck the body off him, he could hear Angel’s soft voice. “Struggle if ye need to, but I won’t let the demon destroy you.” Xander brought up a leg, trying to get leverage, but the foot was kicked out from under him, and he found himself pinned face down on the couch. Angel’s full weight now fell on his back with his one arm still pinned to the small of his back, and he knew the fight was over.

The demon knew too and crowed for joy that it had been found worthy of taking. Xander backed off some and relaxed into the moment, knowing what the demon needed. He was going to be miserable no matter what happened, so the least he could do is give the demon a new sire, a new source of happiness that would make the beast within him happy even if he never would accept Angel as any sort of substitute.

He felt Angel press at his head, and he nearly panicked again at the thought of Angel destroying Spike’s claim mark. Pushing the nearly purring demon to the side, he forced his way up and wriggled until he could tilt his head in submission in the opposite direction, giving Angel a clear shot at his neck, but not to Spike’s own mark.

That small bit of defiance out of the way, he retired and waited for the strike, and Angel didn’t make him wait long. He felt Angel’s teeth tear into his neck, and his demon rejoiced at the strength of the bite, the depth of the claim. He let the demon sink into the feeling of acceptance as he found his own solace in the emptiness that would be his for the rest of his life. Angel might satisfy the demon, but he was Spike’s and nothing would ever replace that.

Angel drank several mouthfuls, and if Xander knew anything about vampire rituals, forced his own blood into the wound. Xander’s demon purred enthusiastically, both in his head and in the low rumbles of his chest, and prepared for sire to accept him fully, to use him. Xander just tried to shut off the surround sound live theater in his head so that the demon and Angel could finish up without him feeling like he had betrayed Spike. Angel pulled back.

Xander started mentally chanting as he waited for the clothes to start disappearing, but Angel stood there, his human face back in place and obviously done. Xander could feel his demon’s confusion, but he had to admit to a little relief on his part.

“You won’t kill yourself,” Angel ordered, and then he turned and walked upstairs.


Chapter 8

Where exactly would you find a listing for demon psychiatrists? Or maybe demonic psychiatrists. Except demonic psychiatrist sounded way too much like the tag line for some horror film where a psychiatrist ended up being some demon who sucked brains. Baby sent up his own opinions with bitter, sharp condemnation for the idea that they needed a psychiatrist. Xander was fairly sure that the stabbing stomach pains were Baby too.


Xander continued to stare at the white wall, refusing to even look at Willow. He followed a fairly interesting crack that wandered up the wall and split into three tributaries that flowed up the drywall to the ceiling.

"Xander? Angel said you might want to talk, and he's not really good with the whole talking part of relationships. He's more with the slightly stalkerish following you through the night and killing things for you, which is certainly a legitimate form of expressing friendship, but not always helpful."

The couch dipped as Willow sat down next to him, but Xander couldn't even come up with any words to answer her. His thoughts had become smoke, and every attempt to pin them down to a feeling or a word just sent little wisps of half-thoughts floating through his brain.

"Angel seems pretty upset," Willow offered after a second.

Xander couldn't even place the emotion that slammed through him, but it was definitely not of the good. 'Enormity.' The word floated up from some English class on a day when Xander hadn't been sleeping. Enormity: abomination, heinousness, horror, monstrosity. Xander just couldn't figure out whether the enormity was Angel being upset or the twisted emotions in his own head over the fact he had upset Angel. He wondered if his English teacher would be proud of him for remembering that word. Then again, it probably didn't make up for the fact that he couldn't remember any of those books they always read.

"Xander, you're kinda freaking me out here. I mean, I know how hard it is to lose someone because... well, you know." Willow's words trailed off miserably, and Xander glanced over. The perky Willow of his memory had been replaced with a wide-eyed young woman who looked on the verge of crying.

"I just need some time to deal. I'll be--" Xander tried to assure her that he'd be okay, but his voice cracked and he couldn't say it.

"Yeah, it kinda hurts like someone's ripping out your guts."

"Yeah," Xander whispered his agreement, his throat tight.

"So, come upstairs?" Willow asked as she stood up and held out her hand. Xander blinked at it for several seconds before reaching out to take it. Baby growled at the smell of the blood thumping just under her pale skin, and Xander closed his eyes in silent struggle for a second.

"Goddess!" Willow screeched just as Xander stood.

Before Xander could even open his mouth, the basement door flew open and Angel charged down the steps so fast that the pounding footsteps became a single rattling roar.

"Willow?" Angel asked, but his hand fell on Xander's arm, jerking Xander to his side. Part of Xander wanted to yank his arm away and stand on his own, but another part wanted to hide behind Angel as Willow stared at them in shock.

"Willow? Willow, what happened?" Jenny asked as she detoured around Xander and Angel to put her hand on Willow's shoulder.

"Angel bit him!" Willow nearly wailed. Xander put up his hand to touch the new claim bite, and the skin felt hot and sticky to the touch. He had an urge to suck at his fingers, but he didn't think that would erase the horrified expression from Willow's face.

"It isn't what you think. I can explain," Angel said as his fingers tightened on Xander's upper arm.

"Yes, do explain. Perhaps your explanation will convince me not to put a stake through your heart."

Xander spun around to see a strange man holding a crossbow aimed directly at Angel. Xander instantly twisted to get in front of Angel, but the iron hand on his arm thrust him back and out of the way. Fear crushed him as the man raised the crossbow an inch.

"Giles," Angel said softly.

"I thought I made it clear that I never wanted to see you again," the man answered. His slightly receding hairline had just enough curl to frame his face, and Xander could see in his eyes a desperate desire to turn Angel to dust. He tried again to move closer, only to have Angel's fingers dig into his flesh hard enough to make tears of pain blur his vision.

"Rupert, I told you I was calling him," Jenny stepped forward, putting herself between Giles and Angel.

"You told me he was going to pick someone up. You didn't mention that you were going to ask the blood-thirsty monster into our house."

Angel flinched.

"I've told you how sorry I am. I just came here for Xander, and we're going to head back for L.A. as soon as the sun sets tomorrow." Angel took a step forward so that he was standing just behind Jenny, and Xander got dragged along with him.

"Get away from her," Giles practically yelled as he charged down the last few steps in order to get a better shot.

"Rupert," Jenny said in a warning tone, and now Xander could smell a familiar scent drifting off the man. Even without Baby's sense of smell he knew that Giles had been drinking.

"You just can't stay out of my life, can you? If I see you again--"

"Giles!" Willow cried at the same time that Jenny stepped forward with a serious expression on her face.

"Rupert, do not finish that thought. You know as well as we do that Angel is not Angelus. He feels as badly about Kendra's death as the rest of us."

For a long second, Giles stared at Jenny with a blank expression that made Xander worry more than screaming or yelling or even threatening with pointy wooden objects. Growing up in his father's house, he'd learned to deal with the drunken anger with its random accusations and bitter jokes. He'd learned to deal with the manic glee that would make his father laugh and rip apart some part of the house in a half-assed attempt at home renovation. He'd learned to avoid those depressed moments when his father would sob and tell Xander how much better his life would have been if Jessica just hadn't gotten pregnant. He'd slur advice to Xander to pay for an abortion if he got some girl pregnant.

Alcohol set loose ugly emotions that slowly made Xander hate his father, even if he still loved the man, and again with the need for psychiatric help. However, after they moved to L.A. and things got really ugly, his father would reach these points where he didn't seem to have any emotion, and that's when he did things that Xander really didn't even like to think about. And Giles had the same look. Xander trembled with a need to get between Angel and that cross bow.

"I doubt that very much," Giles finally said. "And I don't really see that much of a difference between Angel and Angelus, especially since he has clearly just put a claim mark on a young man in my basement."

"Claim mark?" Jenny turned around an looked at Xander. Behind him, he could hear Willow gasp.

"It's not what it seems," Angel quickly said. He let go of Xander's arm, but Xander simply stepped closer.

"Pray tell, how is it different?" Giles' sarcasm made Angel's back go a little stiffer.

"He's carried a demon for years, but with William's death, he struggled to get control of it. I simply stepped in to help him."

"Of course. Your motives are always pure." Giles snapped back. Raising the crossbow another half-inch, Giles sidestepped to get a clear line of fire without having Jenny in the way. Immediately, Xander stepped forward, putting his own body between the two men.

Without warning, Angel used vampiric speed to move to the bottom of the stairs. Xander would have followed, but Angel held his hand up, palm forward. "You stay," he ordered. "Willow and Jenny, would you stay with him while Giles and I have a talk?"

Angel turned and climbed the stairs without another word. Inside, Xander could feel Baby curling into a tight ball of pain. Not childe. Not someone to keep close and rely on. Not even a fledge to protect. Irrelevant. Left behind with humans. Minion.

Xander lost his breath as Giles turned to follow Angel up the stairs, and part of him still wanted to throw himself at Giles since the thought of losing Angel ripped at him even if he didn't really like Angel, and even Angel was clearly not big with the Xander-love. Feeling a tightness around his chest that made breathing hard, Xander turned back to the couch with heavy steps, Baby twisting in a need to prove himself as worthy of more than minion even as Angel's orders left him trapped in the basement.

"Maybe I should," Jenny let her words drop off, but she gestured toward the stairs.

"Oh yeah, definitely," Willow agreed.

Xander pulled his knees up and wrapped his arms around them. His face felt funny, like the time when he hyperventilated at school and his skin felt all tingly and cold. Minion. The word rattled around in his head, making Baby growl with a desperate, painful need to prove otherwise.

He didn't move when Jenny followed the two men out of the basement.

"Giles won't do anything... well, nothing permanent," Willow assured him. She smelled nervous, and Xander glanced over toward her. She jumped and scuttled backwards a couple of feet.

"Okay, that's just weird. So this is... what... normal? This isn't looking normal, but then I'm the girl that went all grrrrr and ate a principal, so I don't really have much room to be talking normal."

Xander lay his cheek on his knee and listened to the bits of conversation he could hear from upstairs.

"Buffy?" Xander asked Willow. She glanced up at the ceiling for a second.

"You can hear them? So, it's not just skin-deep, the whole demon upgrade? So, does that make you a demi-demon? Okay, this conversation is getting weird, weirder even than most Sunnydale conversations."

"What's the whole story with Buffy?" Xander repeated his question. Willow watched him suspiciously, twisting her fingers and chewing on her lower lip. She looked like the little girl who, in third grade, nearly cried when she didn't have an answer.

"Buffy. Okay, I can answer that, but let's play that game we played as kids."

Xander stared at her for a second, his brain slow to pull out the memories of his childhood. "You mean the one we made up after me and Jesse refused to play doctor with you any more?" Xander asked.

Willow blushed. "Someone could have told me I was playing wrong," she said softly, but the tension drained from her body as she sagged down into the chair. Of course, she still stayed between him and the stairs, and that wasn't lost on Xander at all.

"We just got tired of you poking sticks in our mouths and using that flashlight to look into our ears," Xander shrugged.

"But that's what a doctor--. Never mind. So, your answer is that Buffy was two slayers before Faith. The Master drowned her, and Angel brought her back with CPR, but he must have been too late or pushed too hard or something because she went into a coma and never came out."

"I already knew that part. Why does Giles blame Angel?" Xander asked.

"Oh, maybe because he drinks a little too much and doesn't always go with the rational explanation. Well, he used to drink too much. And obviously has drunk too much today, but normally he's much better now. But anyway, when he drinks, he thinks Angel and the Master had some sort of deal or something."

Xander glanced up. If Spike was right, Angel did have a deal with the Master, but this might not be the time to bring it up. In fact, from the shouting, never would be a really good time for that discussion. He tried to comfort himself with the fact that Giles and Jenny seemed to be doing most of the actual yelling.

Baby circled and made little mewls of distress at being banished from trying to protect master.

"So, my turn. What's up with the whole demon face? I'm thinking I would have noticed if you were a demon, but then again, I was remarkably unnoticey until I met Buffy."

"I got attacked. A demon's blood mixed with mine and I sort of inherited Baby by mistake," Xander offered. Baby growled and threw himself against Xander's mind as he roared his displeasure. He wasn't a mistake. He wasn't a minion. Xander just closed his eyes and let himself ride out the pain.

"Okay. That's... Can't they get him out?"

"He's part of me, Willow, and that was your second question, so my turn. Who's Kendra?"

Willow paled. "She was Giles' second slayer." She shifted nervously and stared down at her feet.

"Faith is getting into this fight. I guess she's up now." Xander said as a new voice joined the fight. Willow made a funny noise.

"Xander, it's a little before midnight. You sat and did the staring thing for a really long time. We were ready to check to see if you had mold growing on you." Willow tried to make it a joke, but not even she could laugh. "You worried me," she whispered. She still smelled faintly of fear and sweat, but those smells faded under something warmer. Xander struggled to find a way to reach out to her, but he couldn't find the words that would tell her that he still loved her, even if he wasn't the same person she'd known before.

"So, what's up with Kendra?" he asked instead. Baby slowly circled and settled, and Xander felt a popping in his nose that made his eyes tear and his cheekbones ache. He reached up to rub away the soreness, and Willow visibly relaxed.

"Not that I don't like the new look, but I'm a kinda fond of the old look," Willow said. Before Xander could answer, she kept going. "Giles really loved her. Buffy was his slayer, but Kendra was more like a daughter. She worshipped the ground Giles walked on and she was this really neat girl, really neat." Willow stopped, and Xander could smell the salt. "That's my fault too. I wanted to make Angel happy. He would just sit by Buffy's bed with this expression like he was lost, and I wanted to show him that he didn't have to feel guilty all the time, and so I cast this happiness spell. Only he wasn't as much with the happiness as he was with the psychotic killing. Kendra died trying to protect me. Angelus killed her."

"And that's why Giles hates Angel." Xander didn't even say it as a question; he knew the answer from the fighting upstairs.

"Big with the hate. She had this really cool accent, and the first time we met her, I thought Wendell would swallow his tongue, which might have been embarrassing except that she blushed and started stammering and it was really love at first bumble." Willow's voice had a soft sadness to it even if she did smile. "After Kendra died, Wendell really was miserable. I think Larry asked him to prom just to cheer him up, but who knows, maybe he and Larry might have made it if I hadn't--" Willow stopped. And they were back to the squish story. Xander struggled to imagine Willow having to deal with so much pain and loss.

"You've had a hard time, huh?" Xander asked.

Willow shrugged. "Not so easy when demons pretty well run the town. Angel hung around as long as he could, but he was miserable about hurting Buffy, and Giles just drank more and more when he was around. Besides, Faith is holding her own and when we need extra help, Larry and Oz and even Devon will sometimes show up with a stake."

"You and Larry working together, huh? So not natural," Xander tried for a joke. Upstairs voices came through so loud that even Willow glanced up. He doubted she could hear the words, but he could. Angel hadn't wanted him. Angel had to take him or else the demon Xander carried might overwhelm him. Angel would do what he could to excise the demon.

Baby's presence faded as the demon retreated. Xander only realized he had gone into demon vision when it disappeared, leaving the basement dim and blurry. In the back of his mind, Xander could feel a cold acceptance, but he wasn't as ready to give up as Baby was.

"Xander?" Willow asked as Xander stood. Stairs were out. He definitely couldn't go up against Angel, not with his demon in full retreat. One wall of the basement had a row of high windows, short, fat windows that Xander could see grass on the other side of. Grabbing the coffee table, he dragged it to the wall.

"Xander, I don't think this is such a good idea. Um, I'm thinking this is really a very bad idea."

Xander ignored her. Standing on the coffee table, he fought with the rusty latch.

"Okay, I really don't want to have to tell on you, but I so will, mister."

Xander dismissed her threats as the window opened with a rusty groan and the sharp crack as the painted wood split.

"Mister, don't you dare."

Xander grabbed the sides of the window and pulled himself up until his belly rested on Giles' lawn. A nearly full moon cast cold light over the trees and bushes, making them look almost bluish. Hands grabbed his ankle, and Xander yanked his leg, squirming to get free of the basement.

When Willow screamed, he scrambled up. Giles' nice little home with its picket fence and white siding burst to life with shouts and a few particularly nasty curses. Xander ran for the trees


Hours later, Xander sat in a graveyard watching a few last fledges head for crypts as the first birds of dawn whistled. The sky was just as dark as when he'd fled Giles' house, but Xander could feel the dawn in Baby's rising discomfort. He'd wandered the town as he considered his options. The only one that made sense was staying in town and praying Jenny and Willow weren't as good as everyone seemed to think. After all, Willow had gotten that one wrong answer back in third grade.

Xander flinched at his own patheticness. The odds of Spike just showing up… not really going to happen. Fact is, his plan sucked turkey eggs, only it sucked less than any other plan he'd come up with.

Baby still voted on going to the court and prostrating himself in front of the Anointed One to try and earn a place there, but Xander wasn't big on the eating of random people and doing acts of random mayhem. Neither of them really wanted to go back to Angel, even if Baby did feel some perverse loyalty toward a master who wanted to cut him right out of Xander's mind.

Xander allowed his mind to wander back to Spike. Settling in on a headstone, he imagined his sire striding across the graveyard, his leather coat flapping open on each side making Spike look bigger than life. Spike would issue a random curse like 'bloody hell' or 'soddin' twit' and then pop him upside his head for even thinking Spike would leave him.

Feeling the tears, Xander just sat and let them fall. Spike hadn't abandoned him, but he still felt angry. Spike was supposed to be immortal. Spike wasn't supposed to leave him.

Xander heard a heartbeat and wiped the back of his hands over his eyes. He'd dodged Willow and Tara and Jenny and Angel and Faith a dozen times tonight, but he was just too damn tired to keep running. If they found him, maybe he wouldn't have to make a decision because they were all for making his decisions for him.

The pins and needles tingling started at the base of his spine—slayer.

Faith walked up to him, stopping nearby and leaning on the next headstone over. Xander waited.

"So, you worried people, buddy."

Xander just stared at Faith, feeling Baby circling darkly at the Slayer's sympathy. He didn't need sympathy from a slayer. Shaking off the sudden anger, Xander shrugged. The cemetery was so quiet that the leaves rustling made a backdrop for the songs of the morning birds.

"So, how ya doing?" Faith finally asked.

"Holding like the last stitch on a fat girls pants," he answered. He jumped when Faith slapped him on the arm hard enough to leave a bruise.

"You're five by five, babe. Or, at least you will be," she added after a second. Faith headed to the next aisle and plopped down on a grave stone, one boot hitting the front of stone with every restless kick of her leg.

"Sure." Xander didn't even bother trying to sound like he believed it. They sat in silence, the crickets chirping in the distance and something heavy dragging through the distant bushes. Xander glanced over to see if Faith would go do the slayer bit, but she just sat and continued swinging her legs. Thump. Thump. Thump.

"So, you're part vampire. That's... completely fucking freaky."

Xander huffed a burst of laughter. Then, the sound turned into a longer laugh, one that Xander couldn't seem to stop. He slid off the headstone and let himself sink into the damp ground, laughing until tears rolled down his face and his side ached in a cramp. Leaning forward, Xander struggled to catch his breath as he started getting light-headed. Finally, the laughter tapered off, even as he continued to feel hot tears rolling down his face. Faith still watched, only now her foot hung motionless.

"At least you say it. I got so tired of being told I wasn't acting like a 'normal' pet, that I told--" Xander stopped. He didn't want to say the name. He couldn't say the name. In the back of his mind, he could feel confusion war with pain, and funny enough, he didn't even know which part was him and which part was Baby.

"Angel's clueless. Big lunk says the most offensive shit, and then he gets all broody when people tell him he's an ass," Faith agreed.

"Angel's..." Xander thought for a moment about how to finish the thought. "He's okay," Xander finally finished. Baby sent a stab of frustration through him. Baby obviously thought Angel deserved better than okay. Angel was master. However, Xander retaliated with thought about Angel being a totally shitty master.

"He's five by five," Faith agreed.

"That doesn't actually make sense, five by five," Xander pointed out.

"Yeah, like you're one to talk about making sense. So, what's it like having a demon rattling around in there?" Faith asked as she stared off into the distance where the dragging noises had now stopped. The wind shook the leaves, rustling them overhead. Well, either than or a ulat demon had crawled up there. He remembered the story where an ulat made these tree branches shake, and two minions went over to investigate. They got snapped up before Spike could even-- Xander cut that thought off.

"Demon boy? You with me?" Faith asked. Xander shot her a disgusted look.

"It's like having a voice that sounds a whole lot like me, but it's urging me to do things I want to do when I know I shouldn't want them."

"And that's different from the rest of us, how?"

"Well, I'm pretty sure that before the demon I didn't have fantasies about ripping the limbs off people and beating them with the bleeding stumps," Xander pointed out. Faith jerked a little but didn't answer immediately. Instead the silence pushed in on them.

"I don't know," she said quietly. "Had a few of those fantasies. And someone took Spike away from you, so you're entitled."

"Aren't you supposed to be the slayer, the one girl in all the world who stops the demons from ripping off human arms?" Xander asked.

"Are you?" Her voice sounded suddenly serious.

"Am I what?"

"A demon?"

Xander stopped. Okay, he had called himself a demon, and in front of the slayer, which was a whole new level of stupid. Baby started to panic, pushing against the wall in his mind that separated them. Xander's heart started pounding right before his vision slid over into the edges and red tones of the demon. Suddenly, Faith appeared in sharp outline against the stone, a few mosquitos wandering in the air between them.

"That's one way to answer," Faith said. Xander could see her body tense so that her arms corded as lines of muscle appeared under the skin. Xander sat up, his heart so loud in his ears that he couldn't hear much besides his heart beat and hers.

"Was that a quiz? because I'm really bad on quizzes. I always give the wrong answer. Especially on pop quizzes, they're the worst. My English teacher told me I was a pop-quiz moron once, and I'm thinking he was right," Xander stammered as he pushed himself up from the cold ground. Faith just sat on the headstone, leaning forward a bit, and watching.

"Fuck, you and Willow really are buds. You sure you're not related to her?" Faith asked with tilt of her head.

"Related? Wha?"

"That babbling. I always assumed it was a Willow thing. Tara and Larry and Oz--not so much for babbling. But you have it down."

"It's a talent," Xander answered. He forced Baby back so the graveyard returned to the dusky blue of night.

"So, the eye thing. You could make slammin' money in a sideshow with that trick."

"You calling me a freak?" Xander asked with a weak laugh. He couldn't manage more since his tongue threatened to stick to his mouth it was so dry.

"Fuck, yeah. But seeing as how I'm the one slayer in the world, well, except for coma-girl, I don't have much room to criticize on the freak-front."

"So we're heading toward bonding and not slaying, right?" Xander asked. He could feel his own demon complain, a desire to fight twisting around his stomach in cold, slimy coils even if the demon was terrorized by the idea. Of course, maybe Baby wanted to fight *because* he was terrified. After all, any demon who learned about the world through him had to have a few loose screws.

"I could take you, but I'm not looking to slay," Faith agreed.

Xander could feel the coils around his stomach turn to resentment. "Please, you could not take me."

"Could, too."

"As if."

"You looking to prove something?" Faith demanded as she pushed off the headstone with a sly smile.

"Oh shit. Um, maybe?" Xander stumbled up, his feet refusing to cooperate as he considered that the slayer was looking at him like a cat considering a fluffy play toy with lots of pink feathers, and now Baby really complained. The world slid back into demon vision as Xander backed away from the slayer.

"Hey, five by five with me. I just have one ground rule," Faith said as she circled slowly. Xander watched her movements as her long legs covered the ground with a restrained grace. She moved like a predator, and Baby itched to throw himself at her.

"Ground rules are good," Xander nodded. He just hoped the ground rules involved no blood, pain, or death. Then again, death would be fine as long as blood and pain weren't involved. Death would actually solve a lot.

"Everyone walks away with limbs more or less in tact," she smiled. Xander didn't even have time to object before her foot slammed into his stomach, sending him flying backwards into headstone. The cold grass under his hands and the even colder stone behind his back made him leap up again, even with the ringing still in his ears.

"Bitch," Xander snapped without his mouth even checking with his brain first.

"And proud of it, babe. You got something to show me, or are you going to lay there all day?" Faith stepped up, and before Xander could even realize he was moving, he had taken a kick at Faith's lower leg, connecting with a jarring thump of flesh against flesh.

"Fuck," she cursed as she stumbled to one side, struggling to catch her balance. Xander leapt up in a moment, pressing his advantage. Still off-balance, Faith backed up to a tree where she caught herself by grabbing at a branch. Xander punched but found only air as Faith used her hold on the branch to twist out of the way.

Realizing his mistake, Xander tried to turn, but a sharp crack and Faith had the broken branch in her hand. Xander had only half turned when the solid wood slammed into his side, sending him flying into the truck of the tree. The tree at his back limited too many of his moves, so he danced sideways just as Faith sent a flying kick into the trunk.

"What's the matter? Don't want to dance with me?" she taunted as she followed him. Now Xander and Faith circled each other warily. Xander breathed deeply as the scent of sweat and dirt and car exhaust and musk and human sifted through to him. Human. Prey. Xander narrowed his eyes and watched Faith's feet as she moved over the uneven ground.

"You smell... interested in more than dancing," Xander pointed out as he identified the musk now floating through the air.

"Good fight gets the engine revving. Thought I'd take a test drive with you."

"But what--" Xander didn't finish, driving forward in the middle of his own comment, and catching Faith off guard. She turned and deflected his attack so that Xander got in a strike to her side, but he also got hit back. Baby roared happily.

Xander stood panting and Faith now held a hand to her ribs. Inside, Xander could feel Baby pressing him to attack the weakness, but Xander held back. She might be faking. He concentrated so much on preventing Baby from raging out of control that he missed the counter attack.

Faith slammed into him with her full weight, and with his feet badly positioned, Xander couldn't prevent a fall. Instead, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her down with him. She positioned herself so that she fell with a knee in the groin, but Xander ignored the pain and tossed her off to the side before straddling her.

So he looked down as she lay on the ground, his fists in her shirt and her dark hair spread across the grass. "Who's on top now, Slayer?" he growled.

"Oh, bottom can be fun, too," she practically purred, and Xander froze at the sudden image. Despite her open invitation, something smelled wrong. Baby growled his pleasure at the scent of fear, but Xander froze as he realized that her sultry words masked something darker. No. He didn't want that. He didn't want her. He opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, she bucked up and sent him toppling backwards. Xander scrambled back, but he didn't get far before Faith landed on top of him, pressing him down into the damp earth.

"Of course, steering around the curves is my usual position," Faith said, squeezing her legs on either side of Xander.

The attraction that Xander had felt before burned out as his fury rose. "Get off," he ordered quietly, not willing to fight when he felt so much hatred. She wasn't his sire; she wasn't even his master. He wouldn't submit to her any more than he'd submit to some poodle with a pink bow in its hair. He was Aurelian.

"I'm trying to get off, or hadn't you noticed?" Faith asked.

Xander felt the ache in his mouth and the cold tingles in his face as his fangs dropped, and then he bucked up, twisting his body so that Faith fell to the side. Instantly, she sprang up into a fighting crouch, and Xander, one knee still on the damp earth, growled as he adjusted his own weight.

"Damn, babe. If you still want to play, I'm up for it."

"I'm not playing. Back off," Xander snapped even as the sound of Faith's beating heart called him, pounding like the sirens he'd read about in The Odyssey, as if he would die if he couldn't reach it.

"Can't take the heat?" Faith asked sweetly. Xander launched himself.

His first attack ended when Faith tossed him into bushes that clawed his skin, leaving long, red, crisscrossing trails across his arms and face. Faith stood with an amused expression, one hand on a hip and completely unprepared as Xander leapt at her, keeping his attack low. He struck her knees, sending her crashing to the ground hard enough to elicit a breathy grunt.

Ignoring the increasingly faint objections about killing, Xander bared his teeth and landed on top of Faith, driving both his knees into her stomach. The sudden overwhelming scent of fear spiced the air as Xander pinned her hands to the ground.

"Get off," Faith snapped as she struggled below him. Xander smiled, showing his fangs as he slid his knees off her to either side, both trapping her and giving him the leverage he needed to keep her pinned.

"I'm trying to get off, or hadn't you noticed?" Xander mocked her. Faith's eyes went comically large, and Xander felt a brief flair of pride that he had put fear into a slayer. Then a hand grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back with such force that Xander ended up running backwards for several steps as he tried to catch his balance before falling on his ass.

He bounced back up, still growling, only to find himself faced with a game-faced Angel. Xander hesitated, and before he could say anything, Angel backhanded him with enough force to send him over one set of headstones and crashing into another. Shaking his head to try and clear his thoughts, Xander backed away as Angel closed the distance.


Chapter 9

Groaning his way into consciousness, Xander reached up to feel the sore, swollen flesh around his neck. The memory of Angel's fury came a little slower, but as his brain slowly woke up with the rest of him, Xander could feel the shame and fear nearly overwhelm him. Xander opened his eyes to see the exposed beams and pipes of a basement. Correction--a dirty basement. Xander watched a spider's web highlighted by the dim sun trickling in through a high window. Even Gunn had a nicer basement.

Closing his eyes against the head ache that threatened to pound out the back of his head, Xander rolled toward the side of the narrow bed. The sound of chains clinking came as a surprise.

"So, you're awake."

Xander jumped at the sound of Angel's voice, and the chain rattled as it pulled tight against his ankle. Turning, he saw the vampire sitting on a stool in the shadowed corner of the room. Immediately, Xander could feel the slippery panic of Baby circling in the back of his mind. Baby would have him throw himself on the ground and cringe and beg. However, Xander knew how well that worked.

He remembered being on the phone with his father, struggling to hold back tears as he begged Tony Harris to come to that first birthday after the divorce. Not only had his father not come, but the next time he talked to his father, the man had accused Xander of turning into a sissy. No matter what Baby wanted, Xander wasn't going to repeat that mistake.

"Angel," he said, fighting to keep his voice even as he got himself straightened up. The chain bolted to the wall didn't give him quite enough chain to put his one foot on the ground, and so he tucked his legs under him Indian style. Even after years of being the weak, vulnerable one, he found himself surprised at the depth of his fear as he faced Angel.

"You have control of yourself again?" Angel asked without moving out of the dark corner. Xander picked at an edge of the blanket, partially pulling it over his lap.

He hadn't been the one to beat Angel unconscious, so the whole 'who had self control issues' debate raged in his own mind. Luckily, he managed to avoid saying all the not-so-nice things he was thinking. His jeans had a long tear from the left knee down to the cuff from the fight which was closer to a smack-down, and he tucked an edge of the blanket into the rip, shrugging for an answer. Angel sighed.

"Hey, Gel-boy, I told you it wasn't his fault."

Xander jumped as Faith appeared in the open doorway at the top of the steps. Even though Xander only glared for a second, Angel growled, and Xander dropped his eyes down to the blanket. Right. He wasn't a favored childe. He wasn't even a childe. He was a minion whose existence depended on pleasing the master of the line.

Xander sneaked a glance toward Angel, but the older vampire watched Faith with a blank expression. He returned to picking at the blanket and tucking it into the rip. Tuck. Pick. Pick. Tuck.

"He would have fed on you," Angel said. Xander would have objected, but he didn't think anyone wanted his opinion. Besides, if he were honest, he just wanted to kill her, which probably wouldn't get him added to anyone's Christmas list.

"A fledge? Not even close," Faith dismissed with a snort. Pick. Tuck. Tuck.

"He looked like he was winning."

Xander ignored Baby's whine; the demon wanted Angel's approval, only the stupid demon didn't understand that Angel didn't approve. Hell, Angel would stake him if he tried it again. Xander suddenly knew that. Well, that would be one way to end it.

"We were just working out some aggression, playing a little," Faith argued. Xander would have disagreed, but his opinion didn't seem to matter right now.

"He's dangerous."

"Newsflash, vamp-man, most people are if you push them hard enough."

"Faith." Angel's voice was dark with warning.

"Angel," Faith snapped back with narrowed eyes. Oh yeah, this was going well. Pick. Tuck. Pick.

"Where were you going?" Angel barked, and Xander didn't respond until Angel strode toward him, fists clenched. Oh, that one was for him.

"No where!" Xander didn't mean to flinch back, but then he did lots of things he didn't mean to.

"To the court?" Angel asked darkly as he closed the distance, standing just at the edge of Xander's cot and glaring down. Xander struggled against terror that stole control of his limbs for a half second. Smiling sarcastically, he looked up.

"That's your thing, isn't it? Playing both sides?"

Angel flashed into game face, and Xander flinched back so far that he clocked himself on the concrete wall, his head making an appropriate hollow thump. Xander reached up to rub the sore spot as Faith stepped forward.

"Whoa, let's all back off a bit. Boy wasn't doing anything but staring at nothing and doing a mighty fine impression of you when you have a stick up your ass," Faith broke in. Somehow, hearing her take his side just made Xander feel—well—even worse. Yep, a slayer had to wade in and save him. When he had jerked, Xander had pulled the blanket out of the tear in his jeans, and now he focused on tucking it back in.

"You don't know what's going on here," Angel said through tightly clenched teeth.

"Yeah, and you're the all-knowing vamp. Look, Xan hasn't done anything to justify knocking his ass out or chaining him up."

"He tried to eat you."

"Yeah, like you *never* did that," Faith sneered so sarcastically that Xander felt a need to flinch for her. Angel took a step toward her, nearly vibrating with rage, but Faith just crossed her arms and stared back at him.

"Which is why I understand him. Having a demon always whispering, having these feelings rolling around in your gut just waiting for a chance to slip out, it's not an easy way to live," Angel's voice dropped into a soft plea that made Baby even grumpier. "It took me a hundred years to sort out ways to keep my demon from slipping out, and not everyone I met survived."

Angel turned his back on Faith and retreated to the far wall where he faced the grey cinderblock, his voice dull. "Who do you want him to lose control around? What happens when Willow cuts herself on a knife and the warm smell of blood overwhelms him? What if Tara does her yoga stretches and the sight of her curved neck makes him slip for just one second?" Angel turned around. "What do I do when he loses control and kills one of you, because I'm telling you right now that I don't have it in me to forgive him, or myself, if you underestimate just how much control the demon has.

Faith uncrossed her arms and shook her head slowly. "Xander and I just got out of hand, and I'm the one who started that boulder rolling downhill," she explained.

"Exactly. Things got out of control, and with the demon inside him, they always will." Angel pointed out. "I'll do my best to pull the demon out, and I know a few demons in L.A. who might have suggestions on freeing Xander from the beast, but this isn't a debate. Xander and I will be heading back to LA tonight."

As the two stared each other down, Xander reviewed the drive back to L.A. Maybe there was a nice tall bridge he could jump off between here and there… He certainly didn't want to live the rest of his life chained in Angel's basement. Hell, he could go his whole life without ever seeing Angel again, and he'd be happy. Baby circled uncomfortably, randomly growling at nothing and everything.

Faith remained silent for a long time, and Xander focused on picking at the thin blanket.

"Whatever, but I'll be down to visit, and the boy better still have all his parts attached," Faith warned.

Faith started heading for the stairs, and Xander watched her slowly leave, her eyes going from him to Angel even as she climbed.. Nice to know someone gave a damn, even if he really didn't get the whole reason why she gave a damn.

"Faith?" Xander called. Angel glowered at him, and Baby wailed unhappily at obviously pissing master off, but Xander didn't really have much to lose since he had a feeling he was going to do that a whole lot in the near future.

"Yeah?" Faith stopped and leaned over the railing.

"Things are going kinda wonky with the court," Xander warned her. "Spike," Xander paused, the name still ripping a big vampire sized hole in his gut, "he thought something was up."

"What did he say?" Angel demanded as he stepped forward. Xander fought to keep his eyes up and stare back.

"He was surprised… there were zombies and all sorts of demons, I think one might have been a Mohra. The Anointed One told him to steer clear of vampire hunters and someone named Vahrall."

"Vahrall demons?" For the first time, Angel didn't sound even remotely pissed. In fact, that might have been worry on his face as he exchanged looks with Faith. "And a Mohra."

"I'm suddenly thinking we might be fucked," Faith said seriously.

"Are you sure it was a Mohra?" Angel asked.

Xander felt a familiar frustration. Yeah, he never made honor roll or showed much common sense, but it'd be nice if someone didn't think he was completely stupid. Despite Baby's distress, Xander handled it the way he always handled being the geek, the nebbish, the dork with the wrong clothes—sarcasm.

"They're kinda unique, and Spike… he made me study," Xander yanked the corner of the blanket out of his jeans. "So, I have to pee. Are you going to let me use a bathroom or should I just pick a section of wall and aim?"

Angel now looked shocked. "I have the key," he finally answered and Xander stuck his chained leg out aggressively.

Angel paused. "But know this--you are not my childe, and I will stake you if you even think of attacking anyone again. Understand?" Angel leaned close until their noses almost touched. "And I don't just mean my friends--I mean anyone. You so much as growl at a grandmother on the street, and I will put this through your chest."

Xander froze, the sharp point of a stake Angel had pulled from his waist pressing into the flesh over Xander's heart.

"Understand?" Angel repeated, the stake in one hand and the key in the other. Xander nodded with a dry mouth.


Spike woke slowly, groaning as reality returned with painful clarity. Fucking hell. His head pounded like the whole drum section of one of those wretched concerts Darla had dragged him to so often as a fledge. Neither the memory nor the pain made him feel particularly better as he considered the while walls of his cell.

Humans in white coats wandered past the glass wall of the cell, clipboards in hand, and Spike growled as he considered the best way to make them pay for whatever pain he felt. A chain rattled, and Spike exploded into motion, ripping at the manacle that kept him chained, even in the cell.

His attempts to pull loose failed, and even worse, the soddin' idiots on the other side of the glass weren't even impressed with his efforts, which were damn impressive.

"Hostile 7," a human voice announced from the far side of the glass wall.

"Standard vampire?"

"Captured quadrant 5, east of the campus," the first answered. Spike growled at being called standard anything.

"Well, hopefully we'll get some results from this one, or we're going to join Dr. Walsh for a nice round of ice bowling in Antarctica." A white-coated doctor with eyes too far apart for his face wrote something on a clipboard

"I don't know how they expect us to work like this." An older man with gray, buzz-cut hair snorted his disgust. "Seven specimens, six of them from the same subgroup, and yet we're expected to have results."

Spike shook his head, forcing his demon face back as he stared out the glass wall. Right, so this was balls over tits. Spike watched with narrowed eyes as the two humans finished their notes and walked away, still complaining.

"Dr. Engelman," yelled a voice that sounded vaguely familiar, and a tall man came running by in soldier-boy clothes. "Graham, he's sick again."

The doctor with funky eyes stopped and shoved his clipboard at the grey-haired one before he started running down the hallway, the gray-haired man hurrying close behind.

As the sound of footsteps echoed away, Spike looked around. Whoever decorated had taken the minimalist concept way too far with white tiles on every surface.

"Hey, I'm Gary," a voice hissed from next door. Spike sniffed the air, annoyed by how the glass dulled his ability to scent his neighbor in the next cell.

"Sod off," Spike finally answered as he caught a whiff of something young… still stinking of grave and dead flesh young.

"Man, I know things. Like, they drug the blood to keep us calm, and some of the men who come through here… they stink of vampire rot."

Spike snarled at the idiot even as he appreciated the other vamp's stupidity. In cases like this, information meant everything.

"Yeah?" he said as he casually leaned against the white wall separating them. "What the hell would you know about vampire rot? You still stink of your grave?"

"Another vamp, Antonio, he told me," Gary assured him. Gary's voice came again, slightly louder. "Hey, Antonio, there's a new one, and he knows what vampire rot is too."

"Leave me alone." The voice sounded tired, but at least it had some authority behind it.

"Aw, come on," Gary pleaded, the sound giving Spike an urge to grind the younger vamp's face into the floor. He was weak. Git probably wouldn't survive one day in the court.

"If he knows what it is, bug him for stories for a while."

"Man, come on."

"Gary, if we ever get out of here, I'm going to rip your tongue out, you know this, yes?" Antonio answered, his Spanish accent thicker now.

Right, time to make his presence known. "Just wonderin' how soldier boys would develop vampire rot. Not like they're vampires starving for blood and slowly rotting to make their masters happy."

Gary and Antonio both fell silent, even the sounds of restless feet stopping as Spike used his sire's voice.

"No," Antonio answered slowly. "But they drink vampire blood."

"Enough to get rot?" Spike asked, surprised. Why the hell would someone willingly suffer the agony of rot? He remembered Angelus whipping his back open and then dangling some girl just out of range. Spike would twitch in agony as the unhealed flesh slowly turned from undead to dead as the lack of blood drained him of his power. Angelus would keep up the game for days, sometimes cutting his own wrist and nancy-boy prancing just out of range as Spike desperately lunged at him, sometimes letting prey loose in the same room so that Spike crawled toward the food, unable to catch up with it.

Eventually Darla would complain about the smell, and Angelus would bring him either some tied up beauty or a shriveled cleaning woman who still stunk of Borax and sweat. The best days would be when Spike ignored his pain long enough to time his attack just right to catch the prey and earn his own healing blood.

"Where the bloody hell are we, and what the bloody hell are these wankers up to?" Spike demanded.

"Welcome to the Initiative," Antonio offered. "And if anyone knows what they're up to, they'd be ahead of us. At this point, I'm not sure that even these pendejos know what they're doing."

"Great," Spike said as he sucked on his fangs in frustration. Get free, find his childe, and eat the pendejos. Worked for him.



Chapter 10

The humans wandered back through the white hall, and Spike pushed himself up from the floor, consciously putting on a mask of obsequiousness just like he wore a human face over his demon. Ducking his head submissively, he hunched his shoulders to make himself even smaller. As much as he hated playing the weak fool, the act had helped him survive Darla, and he wasn't letting any soddin' humans turn him to dust now. His demon growled, but the idea of getting out of the cage and eating the wankers gave Spike the strength to play his game.

"I didn't do anything," Spike whined as the humans went by. They ignored him.

"The treatments clearly aren't working. The tolerance increases each time, and the side effects..." the older doctor pled, his hand hovering over the younger doc's arm as though he wanted to grab it.

"And what other choice do we have? Once addicted, nothing but blood works."

"We should at least--"

"Shhh," the younger doc desperately hushed as a soldier stormed in through a door at the far end of the corridor.

"Dr. Engelman!" soldier boy snapped, his body screaming with a need to hit something, and for the first time, Spike truly considered the tall human. Boy had some aggression issues, which might be useful.

"Captain Riley, you are not needed here. Dr. Cruz, collect a quarter pint from number four. That should cure Graham."

"Cure?!' Riley's voice lowered to an outraged growl. "This doesn't feel like a cure. My men are getting sick more--"

"And this gives you the strength to--"

"It's unnatural!" Riley bellowed, and Dr. Engelman snapped his mouth closed, his body flinching back from the anger. Oh yeah, now this was more like it. Spike waited for the fists to start, but soldier boy just stood with his hands closed into tight fists that trembled with rage. The sounds of the other doc collecting blood faded into silence.

"Captain, we are all doing our best. You have your orders, and we have ours," Dr. Engelman said softly, his body still tense as though he would take off running any second. And Spike figured the git might have to make a run for it considering Riley's barely controlled fury. This one would make a lovely vampire... all rage and violence once he'd lost the conscience that kept his fists at his side.

"Won't work. Drinking the blood... it'll just make ya rot from the inside," Spike tried again, keeping his voice soft and subservient. In the next cell, Gary made a strange noise, and Spike willed the fledge to just keep his gob shut. He hated having the other vamps see him act like a weak, sniveling git, but he figured he could dust them once he got out of this soddin' madhouse.

"Shut up," Dr. Engelman ordered. Spike forced himself to flinch back from the voice just when he wanted to lunge forward and snap the moron's neck.

"It'll just hurt more. Humans can't digest it."

"My orders are clear, but you have to know this isn't working," Riley stepped closer to Dr. Engelman.

"It is working. The body just needs to adjust. The results have shown great promise."

Spike interrupted again, fighting to keep from growling his annoyance at being ignored. He couldn't very well put his plan in action if they didn't bloody listen to him. "I'm old enough ta know things. Know how the blood works. Know how to help your friend."

Spike watched as Riley's eyes jerked to him immediately.

"What?" Riley demanded as he stepped up to the glass. The way he moved reminded Spike of Angel... the way he used his large body to command attention. Even more than before, Spike felt a burning need to throw himself at the boy and prove his strength by draining the body and leaving it lying in an awkward pile of skewed arms and legs. Instead, he reminded himself that strength came in more than one form as he forced himself backwards away from the glass as he indulged in a bit of fantasy with all the humans mangled at his feet.

"The more ya give 'em, the more the pain's just going to come back. I'll trade information for my freedom, or maybe some nice fresh blood," Spike tried again, whining like the worst of the court fledges. Oh yeah, he would bloody kill every last wanker who saw him acting like some half-arsed minion.

"Don't listen--" Dr. Engelman started saying, but Riley cut him off.

"Your experiments are just making my men more and more sick."

"If ya keep drinking blood, the pain'll just get worse. I'm older. I know things." Spike did his best to imitate the irritating fledge Dru had turned in the twenties. Git had made it two whole weeks before Spike had torn off his head.

"The protocols have resulted in higher performance levels across the board, Captain Finn. Our experiments represent the best chance to develop a defense against the hostiles," the doctor insisted as he ignored Spike all together. Spike added the man to the torture before killing list.

"You are not Dr. Walsh. Your experiments have resulted in more men being in the infirmary than available for patrol." The boy was so angry that his body had gone stiff and still so that he looked like a cardboard cutout of a soldier.

"These are temporary setbacks."

"Been around a long time. I've never heard of a human surviving after drinking too much of that. Now lots of humans pay for a little extra," Spike whispered to the soldier, making up the plan as he went. Angelus never had liked his lack of planning, but then Angelus had never tried to deal with humans as nutter as these lack-brains. Fact was that a few mages used vampire blood in some spells and potions, but only idiots would drink the shite straight, at least not without trying to turn someone.

Captain Cardboard glanced at him again.

"I tell you, and you'll do right by me, yes?" Spike whispered as he glanced toward the doctor as though afraid. "You'll remember if I help ya?"

Spike could see the doubt in Riley's eyes. Before knowing Xander, Spike would have tried to bribe the boy with promises of power, but now he slid forward and made another offer. "Can cure your friend. It's an old trick. Works every time. It's a good way ta give human helpers a little extra protection, extra healing."

"What is it?" Riley asked, ignoring both Dr.Engelman's frown and the second doctor who now stood next to him, a bag of blood in hand.

"You'll do right by me?" Spike forced his shoulders to slump. "Yeah?"

Riley just crossed his arms and stared through the glass. Spike barely caught a growl from erupting.

"It's blood, but the body can't digest it. A little vampire blood over a cut... just enough ta let blood and blood mingle." Spike stilled. It all depended on them falling for that little piece of half-truth. Well, than and them using his blood for the little experiment.

"That's unacceptable. It could result in turning or some sort of half-vampire," Dr. Engelman immediately dismissed it.

Spike shook his head. "Have to drain someone ta turn 'em. But blood touching blood will give ya a bit of a boost. If I'm lying, I'm still here, chained ta the wall. Wouldn't do that."

"And if you're lying, I'll make it a personal goal to make you beg for death," Riley snarled as he slapped a bare palm against the glass wall. Spike flinched back, cowering in the corner even as he promised to bathe in their bloody entrails as soon as he got out.

"There's no way--"

"Do it." Riley said quietly.

"What?" Dr. Engelman was still shaking his head as he looked at Riley in shock.

"I'm not going to stand by while Graham and Forest and the others on your 'program' slowly die from this."

"Graham is far too weak for us to experiment. As soon as he has another dose of blood, he'll recover and we might consider some laboratory tests on his blood's reaction to direct contact with hostile blood."

"He doesn't have time." Riley turned his back and strode down the hall with sharp footsteps that echoed off the walls. For a moment, Spike thought he'd lost, but then the glass slid open. He watched as Riley returned, stepping into his cell and standing at the edge. Part of Spike wanted to throw everything into ripping the chain loose, but for once in his life, he needed to just follow through on a plan.

Riley held a thick knife out. "Give me your arm," he ordered.

Spike inched forward, shaking his head. "I'll heal too fast. You need to cut yourself first ta make sure the blood's still flowing," he said. For a second, Riley looked at him with cold eyes, and then he pulled the sharp edge against his forearm, opening a shallow cut across arm.

"Just remember, if you're lying, I will make you suffer like no creature on earth ever has," he warned as he pointed the tip of the knife in Spike's direction. Silently, Spike held out his arm. Riley grabbed his wrist and made a quick deep cut into the flesh. As Riley held his own wound under Spike's bleeding cut, Spike could feel his demon swell. For a second, he felt like a rubber band being slowly stretched, and then something snapped.

The world turned reddish as Spike flashed into game face. Riley stared back, seemingly unaffected, but Spike could hear his heart race. Spike could also smell the clear scent of demon now drifting under the soap and gunpowder odor of Riley. Now Spike just needed to figure out a way to use his newly made pet.


Spike paced uncomfortably as he waited for something to happen. A third doctor had come and taken blood from Gary, but nothing else had happened since Riley left with the two doctors nattering on about isolation and tests. The only thing he hated more than playing the moron was being bloody bored.

Spike reached the glass wall and the end of the chain again, and gave it one more yank just for good measure.

"Won't break," Gary offered.

"Shut the fuck up," Spike snapped back. Gary made another of his strange little noises and then fell silent as Spike paced the four steps to the back wall. Fuck the "make a pet" plan, he just should have tried to snap the soddin' chain when the wall was open. Besides, making a pet obey required a serious beating or sex. He doubted he'd have a chance to try either.

The image of Xander flashed across Spike's memory. Boy had followed without either. Of course, boy hadn't really been a pet. Spike shoved a rising nest of fear aside. He couldn't afford to think of his childe right now because if he did, he'd be lost. He remembered seeing Dru across the river, her clothes ripped by the sticks and pitchforks of the mob. A hundred voices had fused into one scream for her blood. Dru had snapped at one with her fangs, and then she had tilted her head in confusion, probably hearing some voice in her head.

Spike had finally waded into the dark, polluted water of the Vltava. His clothes sucked up the water and dragged at him, but he couldn't even think straight enough to shed them. Instead he plowed through the murky water as he struggled to reach her side, even if it had been just to turn to dust by her side. Instead, he hadn't even made it half way before he'd seen her shimmer into dust and then vanish in the light of the full moon. Spike had just stopped swimming, the current pulling him miles down river before he'd finally crawled out onto the rocky shore.

He'd been careless, leaving victims who could identify them. Of course, now he knew that Cassidy had turned the crowd on them, but he remembered the ash taste of guilt in his mouth. He tasted that again as he thought of his own arrogance at ignoring the shuffling sound of human footsteps in the dark. He'd dismissed these wankers, and now his childe was out there, on the Hellmouth, alone.

Spike's mind shifted to nightmare images of Xander broken or chained to the Anointed One's throne. Forcing those thoughts aside, Spike paced harder. No time for turning into a nancy-boy brooder like Peaches.

Spike yanked at the chain again. Stupid, nancy-boy plan. Angelus loved the complex plans with the thousand things that could, and usually did, go wrong. Spike was more the hands on sort, and he cursed himself for not just going for the ripping the chain free and smashing heads into walls plan. 'Course, the chain didn't seem to rip free all that easily.

The door whispered open at the far end of the corridor, and Spike froze. Even before the figure appeared, he could feel the slight twitches and pulls at his demon. Riley-pet then. Spike watched as the soldier came in and silently walked toward Spike's enclosure.

Spike leaned against the wall and considered soldier-boy. Without turning the human's emotions back on himself through fear or lust, he couldn't really control him properly, but obviously he could influence him. This time, when Riley came to the glass, he looked more confused than confrontational.

"Your friend okay, then?" Spike asked. Riley started nodding immediately, and then he stopped and shook his head like a dog coming out of the water.

"He's better. They used a small transfusion of five's blood." Spike glanced toward the wall where Gary and Antonio had their cells. Antonio might not be able to fully use the bond, he sounded a bit young yet, but if he understood what Spike had done, he might be able to influence the git through their connection.

"Why?" Riley sounded confused. Spike cocked his head as he wondered what the demon whispered into Riley's mind. Bloody stupid volunteering himself like that, but then, lately Spike had some experience with that kind of stupidity. If the boy was anything like his own childe, maybe soldier-boy felt something even stronger than lust or fear.

"Not all demons are out ta end the world, mate," Spike offered. With the demon in Riley, he wouldn't play weak any more, but he couldn't make the human feel threatened. For this to work, soldier-boy needed to take the demon's thoughts for his own. Otherwise, the wanker would just fight tooth and nail ta get free. Spike shrugged. "Take me, I like the world right where it is."

"You're evil," Riley shook his head.

"Maybe. Had a friend once told me that I'm no more evil than a leopard. Just want to go about my business."

Riley shivered, either in response to Spike's voice or his own demon's whispers. Xander had said he felt the demon as if it were some dark part of himself, so Spike just needed to make sure Captain Cardboard kept thinkin' that.

"Seems like experimenting on you lot is more evil that eating a few hairy-arsed idiots. Aren't they supposed to be on your side?"

Spike watched Riley's eyes narrow as he fought some internal battle.

"Hostiles threaten the country," he finally said.

"Bloody boring threatening a country, I'm more hands on," Spike joked. Riley's body tense, and Spike could feel the connection between them go taut as Riley obviously struggled. "'Sides, I don't really fight on the side of chaos anymore," Spike shifted his argument slightly. "Have a mate, a human friend, wouldn't want to make him all cranky."

"You...?" Riley was back to looking confused. If not for the cage and chain, Spike might have found the whole thing amusing. "You have a human friend?" Riley finished.

"Yeah. You lot tossed him in the van with me, but then ya tossed him out somewhere."

"The boy with dark hair."

"Yeah," Spike agreed.

"He's your friend?"

"Yeah, mate, he is. And he's a right white hat, savin' damsels in distress and all."

Now Riley shook his head as he obviously struggled with that idea. "No. You eat people. This town, it's being overrun with demons. They kill."

Again, Spike could feel his control slipping away as the soldier reasserted himself.

"Bloody right," he agreed, and Riley actually leaned forward, his hand slapping the glass, as though Spike's agreement had thrown him off balance both physically and mentally. "Powerful little git called The Anointed One is brewin' up some serious shite with a pack of demons that shouldn't even be in the same dimension together, much less a room. He's got Vahrall comin' in, and they're ending the world sorts, them. Now I don't really want the world endin', and I know my mate would be right put out seeing as how he's human. Problem is, these gits in green interrupted me before I could get any details."

Spike willed Riley to believe him. 'Course it was only half true, but if the boy's streak of protectiveness ran as deep as it seemed to, Spike might just be able to keep this plan from going tits up.

For the second time, Riley shook his head like a dog, as if he could physically rattle his thoughts back in order.

"No. It's not possible." Riley argued, but his words came out strained and soft.

"Oi, not lying. Tell ya what, I'll give you a bit of proof." Spike waited until Riley looked up at him. "But you have to make a promise."

"I'm not promising a hostile anything," Riley immediately answered, his voice stronger than before.

"Promise that if my Xander's at this place I tell you, that you won't bring these wankers down on him. You already saw he's human, and if I'm turning ta dust in this place, I at least want to know he's safe. Promise me you won't let Dr. Frankenstein touch him." Spike leaned forward, putting his palm on the glass. If he gave Riley the warehouse, he wouldn't have a bolt hole, and he might be putting Xander in danger, but he couldn't leave his childe alone, and it was the best proof Spike had.

"Xander? If he's human..." Riley's voice trailed off, and Spike could practically read the soldier's thoughts. Graham and his crew were human, yet the scientists had made guinea pigs of them.

"Promise me, and I'll take your word for it," Spike pressed. Riley paused and then nodded sharply, his mind clearly made up.

"He's safe. I won't give his name to anyone."

"Right, two-story warehouse at the northwest corner of Mill and 3rd. If I were evil, or if I were even cranky, I'd drain Xander for making me listen to his soddin' country music collection, but you'll see. The bloody music, and if the universe likes me just one little bit, Xander are both safe as houses. Not all vampires treat humans like walking happy meals. And I'm not out ta end the world, or even willing to sit back and let someone else end it, now am I?"

"Mill and 3rd." Riley repeated slowly. Spike could feel him balanced on the edge of believing and giving in to the demon voice.

"You go and see. Xander and me, we live together without me seein' him as a meal. And then we need ta figure out what to do about a runt of a Hellmouth Master who seems ta be trying to open a portal to hell right in the middle of California, yeah?"

Spike thought he might have pushed too far from the way Riley went still, his whole body pausing unnaturally with one hand half raised. It was as though the boy had been caught in time, and then, after three heartbeats, he finished his gesture and nodded.

"I'll start with the warehouse."


Chapter 11

The minute he climbed through the concrete tunnel into the night air, Spike took a deep breath and immediately started digging through duster pockets looking for his cigarettes. Stupid bloody buggers must have stolen them.

The other escapees, Gary with his long stringy hair cut in an 80's mullet and Antonio with his dark eyes and cropped hair, followed him out into the night. There weren't many people or vampires Spike could look down at--his new pet had a good six inches on him--but Antonio stood several inches shorter than Spike. Both vampires looked near starved. Finally Riley climbed out, his eyes scanning the dark trees on one side of the storm wash and the park-like clearing on the other. Only on the Hellmouth would a normal storm drain lead to a multi-million dollar secret government facility.

"You need to clear out of here before regular patrol," Riley muttered. Gary hissed, his long stringy hair sticking to his lips as he thrust his face aggressively toward the soldier. Without comment, Spike ripped off a low hanging branch and jabbed the jagged end into Gary's heart. Then he pulled it out so quickly that Gary didn't have time to do more than look confused before his body exploded into a shower of dust.

Riley leapt back, blinking either to clear them of dust or in surprise, Spike didn't know and frankly didn't care.


"Warned him, didn't I?" Spike answered before Riley could even gather his thoughts enough to ask. The demon obviously whispered in his mind because Riley tilted his head in confusion before shaking it like an oversize dog. If Dru had been around, Spike would have tied the boy up with a bow and given him to his dark plum. Problem was, Spike wasn't sure what to do now that soldier boy had broken them out, convinced he was helping save the world from both demons and mad scientist types.

Spike hadn't made a pet before, and now that he had, he was caught between frustration that he'd been forced to claim a soldier boy and a familiar feeling of possessiveness. He didn't want to leave Riley behind any more than he'd leave his duster. Spike considered that comparison for a moment, remembering the feeling of utter elation when he'd killed the slayer and earned his duster. Okay, he didn't want to leave Riley behind any more than he'd leave his lighter. On the other hand, boy wasn't fully broken, and the bit about saving the world probably wouldn't last long once Riley saw Spike snack on some human Happy Meal.

So, eat him, leave him, or fuck him into full submission. Spike postponed the decision for the moment, focusing instead on Riley's unspoken question about the now dusty Gary.

"If the git couldn't control his darker side, he had no business bein' in on this," Spike spun the truth like a silken spider web. "Vahrall demons are a dangerous lot, and we can't afford soddin' mistakes."

After not more than one of Riley's heartbeats, Antonio nodded, his dark crew-cut bobbing in the light from the nearly full moon. Maybe this one had enough sense to keep around. "If we wish to stop the Hellmouth from opening, we can afford no distractions," he agreed.

Riley shook his head again, and his hand rested on the butt of his tazer. "But he was one of you."

"Oi, not even. Can't say all people are on the same side, and I reckon it's the same with our lot," Spike objected, "and I don't bloody leave enemies alive... not even ta torture 'em and bleed 'em." Spike added the last part as he glared back toward the dark exit they'd just crawled out of. While he watched, a small light flickered unsteadily and then stablized to a dull, yellow glow.

"They've got the generator up, you have to go." Riley sounded desperate now.

"Right then, we're off," Spike agreed. Before he could even turn, something crashed through the bushes on the far side of the clearing, and Initiative soldiers in black charged across the lawn, flowing around the park bench with practiced ease.

"Fuck," Riley swore. Antonio froze for a scant second, but when Spike took off in the opposite direction, he followed with a growled of "Pendejos!"

Random curses colored the air as Spike dodged around tree trunks. A thwap sent him dodging left when the silver tangs from a tazer sank into the white trunk of a birch tree. Vines snatched at him, but Spike just powered through the growth, ripping green creepers from trees as he dashed over the uneven ground.

Behind him, human footsteps crashed though the bushes. He darted to the right, and faintly heard a curse behind him before he nearly collided with Antonio. The younger vampire fell back a half step, running just behind Spike. Worked for him seeing as how the soldier-boys would get Antonio first.

A brick wall appeared almost without warning, and Spike crouched and leapt, clearing the structure and landing on the manicured lawn of the college. Crowds. Wankers wouldn't dare chase them into a crowd... too much chance of random Happy Meals getting killed.

Behind him, Spike could hear the ungraceful charge of soldiers through the bushes as he dashed east... toward the faint vibrations of a thumping bass pounding out loud music. Part of Spike wanted to turn and face the soldiers head on. He wanted to growl his fury and rip through flesh like tissue paper. He wanted to drink them and feel them squirm and struggle in his grip until they slowed and finally submitted to him and to death. However, he couldn't bloody do it with a dozen of the wankers all carrying tazers. As Spike finally turned the corner and spotted the frat house on across the street, Spike simply promised himself that he would track them down later. Now, he just needed to lose them.

Spike slowed down as he strode across the street, one more punk party goer looking for some free beer and maybe a few drugs to send him flying. On the lawn stood a college student with pink hair; she smiled at him, and Spike winked back as he hopped up on the curb, heading for the brick house.

"Goin' in, luv?" Spike practically purred. Pink-hair girl looked at him out of the side of her eyes, arching her neck and shrugging her shoulders non-committally. Oh yeah, this one was already flying and putting out the invitations. Spike edged closer, checking behind him in a single glance. He spotted a dark crew-cut on a short, thin man on the other side of the street. Antonio turned and looked at him for a second before dropping his eyes back down, but he started across the street.

Spike smirked. Looked like he had one follower. He hadn't been sure whether Antonio could control the demon's urge to turn and fight or if he were old enough to take off on his own.

"You going in?" Pink-haired girl asked as she gestured toward the house and drifted closer.

"Figured I'd get a bit of something. Invite me in with ya, and I'll play escort," Spike offered, and he reached out, running a finger up her warm arm. The girl shivered.

"Nice accent."

"Not the nicest thing about me. If you ask right, maybe I can show ya what I'm really known for." Spike winked and slipped a hand around the girl's waist. She swayed a little and smiled at him. "So, how 'bout that invite?" Spike asked as he gave her a small push to get her moving toward the crowded house.

"Oh, you're definitely invited in," the girl nodded as Spike headed up the wide steps. A boy no older than his own Xander lay on his back, staring at the underside of the porch ceiling with a beer bottle in hand while a couple sitting on the railing caught a few awkward gropes.

"Right then, maybe we can find a nice corner to play," Spike suggested as they walked through the entrance. Seeing as how the soldiers and doctors treated Spike as if he were some rabid dog, they wouldn't believe him capable of hiding in the middle of all this flesh without tasting a bit. So, if Spike had played this right, they'd go running off looking for him and their little gadgets wouldn't do them any good in the middle of the mass of writhing, stoned human bodies moving in time to the music blasting from the stereo.

Pink girl shimmied up against him, and Spike slipped his hand into her waistband, letting his fingers trail south as she smiled widely, a tongue ring glinting in the dark of her mouth. Twisting and coiling his body invitingly, Spike pulled at the girl, drawing her into the middle of the crowd even as he slipped his fingers farther south. He let them trace the valley down until she shivered helplessly and pressed herself to him, her breasts crushed against his chest.

Spike leaned in and kissed her neck, smelling the scent of lust and drugs. Antonio wandered in the door, walking right in front of Riley who scanned the crowd with an earnest desperation that would surely catch someone's attention, even in this lot. Lifting his head, Spike nodded briefly at Antonio who then turned and whispered something to Riley. The minute Riley saw Spike, his body relaxed, the eyes that had darted wildly settled on watching Spike.

Spike went back to scenting the girl in his arms as he watched Riley move to a position next to the window, snagging an abandoned beer before leaning against the wall. To anyone else, he looked like one more partier tired out from the dancing, but Spike could see the way he scanned the grounds, watching for danger. At least, he watched the grounds when his eyes didn't dart back to Spike, watching his every move. Spike remembered some of Dru's pets doing the same thing, especially when they were new or when she'd bring home a second toy before eating the first.

The slavish need to see master fed Spike's ego, but it did make for another problem. He needed to feed, but his story wouldn't hold up if Riley saw him pull some girl into a closet. The girl shimmied, pressing even closer as her hands explored under his duster, wrapping around him and teasing him with the scent of warm willing blood.

"So cold. I'll have to warm you up," she muttered into Spike's shirt. Spike placed another kiss on her neck before sucking gently at the skin. She mmmmm'ed into his shirt, her fingers slipping under his silk to run nails lightly over his back. He hated partial feedings. He hated the fear that would crawl into his belly at the thought that he'd left a victim alive and able to point at him, point the mob toward them. His stomach crawled at the thought, but soldier boy still watched him with wary eyes, and he could turn Spike in even faster if Spike killed, and Spike couldn't keep fighting all the soldier-boys if he didn't have blood.

Bracing himself against the buzzing fears that stung him, Spike opened his mouth and ran dull teeth over the girl's neck. Pink girl clutched at his back, digging nails in as she made appreciative moans. Spike's body rippled with the music and he used the movement to get his knee between her legs.

"Should find some place more private," she suggested, digging her nails in deeper. Spike smiled without lifting his lips from her neck. Slowly, he pressed in, yanking her body closer.

She jerked once, and then, as he started sucking, her back arched as she gasped her desire. Fighting his own need to drink her down in huge swallows until her heart staggered to a stop, Spike timed his feeding to her heart, sucking out a mouthful with each beat. Pink girl started thrashing, her head thrown back and her pink hair flying as she gasped out a mantra of 'oh gods.'

Her body trembled, and Spike brought his knee up, forcing her legs apart as he pressed into her clit with his leg. Now she went wild, rubbing herself against him madly as her moans reached a crescendo. Spike started truly feeding now, drawing the blood out in satisfying gulps, and the girl cried out.

For a moment, Spike struggled against the instinct to finish her and the fear of leaving her alive. Every cell screamed at him to take her, to drink until she sagged in his arms and he possessed every bit of her. Instead he pulled out, licking the two tiny wounds until no more ruby drops appeared.

Now the girl leaned into him, her heart slowing as she smelled of a woman's completion.

"Fuck yeah," she finally muttered as she held on to him like a life preserver.

"Told ya I had parts nicer than my accent," Spike said smugly. He hadn't partially fed since Prague, but he obviously still had the talent. He started toward Riley, his arm around the girl to steady her. Soldier-boy looked vaguely panicked, and Spike needed to deal with him before he went and alerted the troops. No good denying himself the joy of feeding just to have Riley squeal anyway.

Weaving through the crowd, Spike finally reached Riley who immediately reached out for the girl's neck, either to check for a pulse or a bite. Spike didn't know which Riley expected, but he'd find both.

"Are you okay?" Riley asked as he bent down a bit to look the girl in the eye.

"You're just fine, aren't you, pet?" Spike prompted her.

"Oh fuck yeah," she breathed happily, a stupid smile over her whole face. "He should charge for that."

Spike sucked in his cheeks in amusement when Riley just looked slightly bewildered as his eyes went from the girl to Spike and back.

"You shouldn't just let some guy--" Riley started, the girl cut him off, shoving at him ineffectually with hands that flopped.

"Buddy, I don't need a lecture. You're ruining the whole post-orgasm bliss here."

When Riley didn't step back, she snorted her disgust and pulled out of Spike's arms, stumbling over to the stairs, where she collapsed on the second step, slipping her hand inside her own pants as she laid back. Spike watched the show for a few seconds: the girl's head rested on a higher step, leaving the front of her neck curved out deliciously, and either the drugs or an exhibitionist streak left her squirming on her own fingers while those dancers who weren't too stoned to care watched.

"She's okay?" Riley said uncertainly.

"Bloody hell, it's not like a vampire has to kill a human to feed," Spike rolled his eyes. "So, you were with those sadistic soldier boys up until a few minutes ago, what're they going to do now?" Spike asked as he leaned back against he wall.

Riley's body went stiff for a moment, his fists clenched as he fought some internal battle. "They're good men," he offered, which didn't even come close to answering Spike's question. Spike raised an eyebrow. "It's Engelman and his kind, not us soldiers. It hasn't been the same since Dr. Walsh left."

"You're not one of them anymore, mate," Spike pointed out, and Riley tightened his fists so tight that cords of muscle appeared in his arms.

"I should turn myself in. You're out, so you go do what you need to in order to keep the Hellmouth closed."

"No," Spike said simply. Antonio wandered closer, and his dark skin looked even darker. The vamp had fed without creating any screaming mob, which was one more point in his favor.

"I need to." Riley took a step toward the door, and Spike grabbed his arm in a vice-grip.

"No," he repeated. "Those wankers have bollocked up the whole mess. You'll stay with me until I tell ya different." Spike watched Riley's eyes dilate, the black swallowing the blue until only a ring of blue remained.

"I should..." Riley said weakly, his voice trailing off to nothing. Hadn't even taken fear or lust to bring the boy under control, and having a soldier, especially one with knowledge of tactics, might come in mighty handy. If Spike had time to wait a full day, he'd turn the soldier, but right now, finding Xander wouldn't wait a day.

"You should help me find my mate and then stop the Hellmouth from opening," Spike finished for him. "We're going under cover. You play the obedient servant, and I'll get us into places where you'll never get alone. We'll infiltrate demon central, we will," Spike tempted Riley. "You'll help save the world."

Riley remained transfixed for a second, and then he blinked and the blue had returned to his eyes, his pupils once again normal. For several minutes, he blinked owlishly, his face a mask of confusion. Then something settled into his skin and he nodded slowly.

"Right, so what does it mean to play your servant, and where are we going?"

"I figure the court'll know where Xander is and seeing as how it sits right on top of the Hellmouth with dozens of demons, that's the place to start," Spike answered. "So, tell me how the soldiers work and how we get from here over to the north end cemetery without getting shot."


"Still don't know why we don't just beat up a few guys over at Willie's and get the truth out of them. There are always a few vamps creeping around that place," Faith complained.

Xander kept his eyes on Angel's boots, but he had obviously missed something. They didn't need to go anywhere to find vamps, they'd passed at least two of them just walking to this cemetery. Xander could feel his demon growl at each who passed. Of course, growling at people was definitely not on the menu of things to do, well, unless that menu was titled ways to get killed. But then vamps weren't really people, so maybe growling at a vamp would just lead to more getting bitch slapped, which might actually be better than the whole ignore-the-minion thing Angel had going on.

Angel stopped, and Xander moved to the side and waited, looking off in the opposite direction from Angel and Faith.

"Those vamps aren't in the clan, they don't know anything," Angel answered after a minute.

"It'll still make me feel better," Faith answered. Something snapped, the sound echoing slightly off the huge stone mausoleum they stood in front of, and Xander could feel his demon's desperate need to look to see if Angel had a tree branch at his backside. He struggled to keep the demon facing away from the danger.

"Do you have the candle?"

"I don't mind saying that wandering around a cemetery waving a candle is not big with the making me feel better," she complained but a zipper opened.

Angel sighed heavily. Since Xander couldn't really annoy the big, broody one too much before getting pinned to the ground and growled at, he could at least enjoy Faith annoying the vamp. A shadow passed from one tree to another as a stray vampire ran along the inside wall of the cemetery.

A snick of a lighter, and the bones of the dark trees appeared faintly yellow.

"Noley me January, Umbrella listens sap ender man 'um sumper me 'effin dater," Angel chanted solemnly. Xander took a wild leap and guess that the vamp was chanting in something other than English... either that or Xander had finally lost the last of his marbles. The wind picked up, and clouds suddenly blocked the moon.

For a dark moment, Xander felt like something cold and huge brushed against his soul, and Baby cringed back, its first instinct to throw itself on the ground seeking Angel's protection. This time, Xander had to turn around. When he did, he fell back several steps away from the huge ghostly face that projected out from the door to the mausoleum.

The mouth opened, and Xander shivered in dread at its answer. "Illae res occultae sun tempature et locis obscure. Enuntiare illas chaos super orbem vivum terrarum ferat." Yep, definitely another language.

Angel babbled back at it, and the huge head drew up, anger etched into the smoke.

"Noli petere! Perturba nos non diutius!" the head yelled, and then the smoke sucked back into the stone like I Dream of Genie smoke, only that definitely wasn't Genie. Xander had plenty of late night rerun fantasies with Genie, but this thing was more of the nightmare producing variety.

"Well that went well," Faith said sarcastically. She had a stake gripped in her hand so tightly that her knuckles had turned a lighter color, but other than that, she was a picture of disinterest as she leaned back against a headstone.

"It was worth a try," Angel said tightly as he blew the candle out.

"Well, you and Giles are sometimes a little too much with the thinking. I have a simple approach to life. See. Slay. Go find someone to bump humps with after."

Angel made a strangled noise as he turned and headed back toward the exit.

"Like him. I'm thinking he knows something," Faith dashed between the headstones before Xander had even spotted yet another random vamp lurking along the inside wall toward the entrance to the Aurelius lair.

Angel hesitated, and Xander could feel a need to follow Faith even as he fidgeted and waited for Angel. When Faith had covered about half the ground, Angel took off after her, and Xander followed. Slaying vamps he knew how to do. For the first time, Baby felt a flare of hope at being able to impress master. Since master hunted other vamps, Baby could prove that he was a worthy fighter to battle beside master.

This wasn't a fledge; he dropped into a fighting stance and growled as Faith flew into him with her first attack. The kick drove the fledge back into the wall, but he tossed the slayer to the side, sending her rolling on the grass. She leapt right back up and dropped into a more cautious crouch.

"That the best you got? Come on, I wanta play," she taunted as she threw a punch. The vampire fell back away from that punch, and Xander crept forward a half inch. Angel's hand falling on his shoulder pulled him back.

"Slayer," the vampire hissed.

"Name's Faith," she corrected him, and a sharp in and out with her left, and then a half second later, the vamp exploded into dust.

"Too easy," she complained as she turned away.

"Faith," Angel said softly, stepping forward. Xander could feel his own heart race as he watched shadows detach from the trees, fangs flashing as a dozen vampires closed on them.

Faith turned to look. "Well, fuck." She cracked her neck first one way and then the other. "It's all five by five. Let's kick a little vampire ass."

Xander couldn't control the bounce in his legs as he watched the enemy close, and Angel finally let go of him to pull a stake out from under his coat. However, all Xander's excitement and blood lust vanished under confusion and shock when he spotted the white hair.


Chapter 12

Well, bugger plan number.... Spike couldn't remember which plan he was on right now, but Xander standing beside the great poofy one buggered it. A couple of the Anointed One's minions hesitated when he stopped, but then they surged forward, throwing themselves against the slayer as ordered. Only Antonio held back, watching Spike as he picked up on some signal that told him things had changed. And Riley just stood behind Spike, still shocked and silent, like he had pretty much been since he'd seen the court. Boy's world view obviously hadn't included demonic communities.

"It's all five by five. Let's kick a little vampire ass," the slayer said with a wiggle of her hips. Immediately, Spike was caught between wanting to applaud her attitude and wanting to drink her down. He did neither.

"Master?" Riley asked, the crash course on human behavior in court obviously still sticking.

"She's the slayer... one human given powers to stop evil and save the world and all that rot," Spike said absent-mindedly as he watched Angel take up a defensive position in front of Xander. The git obviously didn't plan on jumping to the slayer's rescue. Xander, on the other hand, looked nearly ready to vibrate out of his own skin as his eyes snapped from one attacker to another. He was clearly ready to throw himself at the nearest vamp.

"What is it?" Antonio asked as he took a step forward toward the fight, probably feeling the same burning need for violence that Spike felt. Riley just stared as the slayer took a hit and then popped back up with a wide smile. Her opponent turned to dust and she charged right through the cloud to attack two more. Once everyone had their eyes on the slayer's dance, Spike took his own stake and slammed it into Antonio's back, watching as the vamp turned to dust without ever turning around.

"New plan. Step one, get rid of the extra baggage," Spike muttered as he stepped through the Antonio cloud. He had one chance to impress the slayer with bein' on her side, and he couldn't bloody afford to squander it. So he grabbed one of the Anointed One's minions by the back of his neck. He slipped the stake in the fat vampire's back and then flinched away from the storm of dust created when he exploded.

"Are we..." Riley let his voice trail off, but his hand moved to his waist band where he had hidden the rough stake Spike had given him.

"Have at 'em, mate," Spike gave his permission just as the slayer sent two scrawny fledges flying through the air. Both landed on their backs just in front of Spike and Riley, and the gits obviously hadn't kept up with the change in plans because they just lay there like overturned bugs, not even trying to defend themselves against Riley and Spike. Buggers were so stupid, staking them was doin' the Anointed one a favor, not that Spike thought the pipsqueak would see it that way. Riley dropped down to his knees next to the first vamp, driving the stake in before rolling through the ash to stake the second one without missing a beat.

Almost immediately, Riley was on his feet and moving into the fight, stake forward. Oh yeah, this one would make a lovely minion--all grace and predatory instincts. Riley staked a third in the back as it snarled at the slayer, and the dark-haired girl gave Riley a salacious smile and wink before ducking an attack from the rear. The attacking vamp overshot and rammed into Riley, sending them both crashing to the ground.

Seeing another vampire bearing teeth at his pet, Spike's demon rose to the front and he charged forward, pulling the wanker off Riley and ripping his head from his body. On the ground, Riley looked up with wide, panicked eyes, and Spike held out a hand to help the human up. When time came, he'd decide to eat or turn his pet--no minion would get a fang in him.

Angel had stepped closer, and Xander stood behind him, yellow bleeding into those brown eyes, but the slayer still fought with the three strongest minions... the three who had enough control and common sense to wait until the others had worn her down. One darted in, backhanding the slayer, and she wasn't bouncing back nearly as quickly now. She staggered backwards, and Spike teetered between two courses.

A minion kicked at her leg, and she went down; however, when he fell on her to feed, he turned to dust. Once his dust cleared, Spike could see the stake the slayer had tucked in close to her body. Decision made, Spike sailed into the last two, dusting one with a short jab while shoving the other to the ground with his shoulder. The slayer wasted no time in dusting the one on the ground, and Spike backed away, his hands held up in surrender.

"Got no problem with you, slayer," he said even though his fangs itched to have at her. Now Angel stepped forward, flashing into game face. Before he had a chance to say anything, Xander spoke up, his voice a strained whisper.


"Pet," Spike answered, the last of the fear snake that had coiled in his guts evaporated.

"William, what are you doing here?" Angel asked, his voice low and dangerous. Spike froze. Bloody hell, he thought they'd made their peace in L.A. They might still call each other a few choice names, but he hadn't done anything to deserve the dark warning Angel now issued. He had even fought on the side of the slayer.

"William?!? Xander's William??" Faith stood, her mouth hanging open as she stared. "Xander was doing it with the undead?" She turned to Xander. "You're doing it with undead? And the cute undead... good job Z-dog." Okay, that wasn't the reaction Spike had expected from a slayer. Somehow he'd expected more of a welcome from his childe and sire and a little less enthusiasm from the girl who'd dedicated her life to killing vampires. Mind you, she seemed fine with Angel, even after seeing him go soulless, so obviously this slayer didn't take the job all that seriously

Spike kept a part of his attention on the slayer as he turned toward Xander who continued to stand by Angel, his body tense and his eyes on the ground. Bloody hell no. Spike sucked air in frustration as Angel inched sideways, getting between Spike and Xander.

"Xander, pet?" Spike called softly. Xander flinched back, and Spike's demon surged forward at the evidence. His pansy-arsed sire wasn't takin' his childe. He launched himself at Angel before his rational mind could even point out that his sire was older, larger, and more powerful.

Unlike a certain night at Angel Investigations when Angel had just defended his face, allowing Spike to pummel his body into a patchwork of bruises, this time Angel fought back, driving Spike into retreat with a blow to the side of his face that left Spike staggering back. Spike retaliated with a flurry of punches up and down Angel's body, dancing in and out as Angel impotently batted at him. Unfortunately, Angel caught him with a backhand that sent him reeling back.

"Whoa, whoa, hold on there. All of you, shove the testosterone back in the bottle and stop thinking with your dicks," Faith yelled as she jumped in between. Spike snarled, ready to take her on as well, but then Xander was there, standing between him and Angel, at Faith's side. Spike could smell the misery and fear rolling off his boy, and he backed up a step. Normally, he reveled in the smell of human terror, but now it made him want to find the fear and rip it out. He wanted his boy back, and his boy never smelled of fear, even when the git probably should.

"Spike?" a deeper voice asked, and Spike tilted his head toward Riley.

"What have you done?" Angel growled, stepping forward as he glared at Riley, but Faith held her ground, putting her hand on Angel's chest to stop him. Spike almost laughed at the irony. Here stood the great Angelus who'd made a career out of torturing human pets, leaving them cringing and kneeling at his feet, but he was going to get pissy over Spike taking one soldier-boy. Bloody hypocrite.

"Not even, big boy," she snapped at Angel as she held him back. "You just chill your ass out. And you," Faith turned and pointed a finger toward Spike, "start talking."

Spike growled as Xander slid back, silently taking a position behind Angel where he concentrated on staring down some random blade of grass. Angel pressed forward again, and now Faith turned toward him, pushing at him with both hands. The sight of Faith's back made Spike growl softly, but then Xander curled in on himself like a fallen pastry, his shoulders hunching up toward his ears.

Blinking back the demon, Spike struggled to get control before he did the stupid something he desperately wanted to do. He needed to get his childe back from Angel, and while Spike might not be able to win a fair fight, he didn't feel much need to fight fairly, especially considering how Xander was disappearing under the demon's cringing loyalty to Angel.

"Ya workin' on making a new Dru, there?" Spike taunted. Xander flinched back, and Spike soddin' hated hurting his childe, but he hated the weakness his childe showed even more. However, Angel's suddenly stiff posture made the jab worth the pain. At Angelus' knee, Spike had learned how psychological torture could break someone down, rip away their defenses until they begged for death. Angelus had tried to teach him to stalk his prey and find their hidden fears, their secret hopes. Spike hadn't been a particularly good student, but to earn back his childe, he'd play a game that would leave Angel broken and twitching.

"Spike?" Riley asked again, taking a defensive position next to his master.

"Thanks for the assist there, buff-boy," Faith offered with a nod. "Now, someone want to explain what the hell's going on for those of us who seemed to have slept through class?"

"The demons are trying to open a portal to hell," Riley injected after a long silence in which Spike and Angel glared at each other and Xander tried to sink into the earth.

Faith snorted, "Old news. Demons are always pulling that shit."

"Yeah, don't always have Vahrall workin' for 'em, now do they?" Spike added. "Course, maybe Peaches doesn't mind seeing as how he's gone back to playing dominate the human. Maybe your soul isn't stuck on quiet as tight as you'd like us all to think," Spike verbally poked at Angel, and then Angel narrowed his eyes in warning.

"And you are...." Faith let her words trail off as she waited for an answer.


The wind rattled the trees in the silence that followed.

"And?" Faith prompted

"And he's a cold-blooded vampire," Angel added.

"Your blood's just as cold, mate," Spike pointed out.

"I have a soul."

"Not much of one from what I can see. Ya still enjoy havin' a minion around ta make you feel like ya aren't a piss-arsed pansy."

"William," Angel warned. Xander glanced up, his eyes yellow under his curls, and for one moment, Spike could see the trembling struggle in the boy. But just as soon as he let himself hope that Xander would fight his way back to Spike's side, the boy dropped his gaze and inched closer to Angel.

"Wot? Not like you'll fight someone strong enough ta fight back, is it?" he pushed. If the slayer hadn't been in the middle, holding Angel back, the older vamp would have tackled Spike right there, or at least tried to. Spike smirked as Faith pushed Angel back with a small shove.

"Okay, patience is gone, and someone better start talking. Xander, since you're the only one not acting like a pissy two-year-old, you're up."

Xander looked up, panic dancing over his face as his eyes darted from Faith to Angel and back again. Angel simply stood with his arms over his chest, and Spike could smell the fear from Xander. Bloody hell, boy had stood up to Spike and yet Angel's silence left him trembling as he shifted from foot to foot. Spike curled his hands into fists, fighting back a desire to punch Angel right in the mouth. Wanker.

"The whole stuff with Cassidy and the pet demon thing is right, and Spike did rescue me from Cassidy but we might have not mentioned the whole him being a vampire." Xander shrugged and slid back behind Angel.

"Is anyone going to do something about the demons trying to open hell? The kid vampire is expecting his minions to come back with the slayer's head, so this might be a good time to attack, when he's expecting victory," Riley interjected.

"Bloody hell, wanker expected us ta get dusted by the slayer," Spike dismissed the concerns. "Not that a slayer could take me. By the way, does this one know you're the reason she got called ta duty?" Spike asked Angel, enjoying the stiffness in Angel's body. "I mean, you are the one who ate the last slayer, aren't ya? You're only a hundred years and one slayer behind me, mate."

Spike braced himself for an attack from either the slayer or Angel, but Faith continued to hold Angel back.

"Yeah, yeah, mortal enemies," she rolled her eyes, "only Willow had her werewolf and Buffy and Angel had the whole Romeo and Juliet bit going and my Watcher is married to a Gypsy witch, so I'm not really big with the whole council party line. I decide who I'm enemies with, and so far, I'm not seeing much reason to have at you with a stake."

"Faith, he's a killer. When he wants something, he's ruthless about getting it," Angel hissed, his eyes flashing between brown and yellow.

"Hate to break it to you, but that pretty much describes the two of us, too," she pointed out as she turned her back to Angel, so she didn't see the flinch from Angel. Stepping forward, she held out her hand to Spike. "Besides, if the Z-dog picked you, I'm willing to give a little credit."

Spike hesitated. He could take her as a hostage... she was tired. One strong yank, and he could have his hand around her neck, ready to snap the delicate bones. But his souled up grandsire hadn't fought at all, and Spike didn't think he could take him right here right now. On the other hand, if he had time to mentally torture Angel a bit, he ran a good chance of getting his childe back. Xander hadn't given up on him even when he'd lost, when he'd hung helpless in Cassidy's lair waiting for the strike that turned him to dust. He wasn't giving up on his boy now.

Spike took the outreached hand.

"Ta, luv. Fucking fine fighter, you are."

"A vamp who knows the way to a girl's heart," Faith laughed. "Just know that if you threaten my friends, I'll torture you before I kill you," she added in a more serious tone.

"If I want ta threaten ya, I'll do it to your face without goin' after your friends like some hyena pickin' the weak ones off in the dark," Spike promised Faith, but he kept his eyes focused on Angel. The older vamp didn't react, but Spike could see the tight muscles where Angel fought to keep himself under control. Let the wear himself out fighting himself; Spike would be there when he finally broke.

"Captain Riley Finn." Riley stepped forward, his own hand held out.

"Faith Lehane," she offered. "Captain? Haven't seen any captains around here except the pep squad snacks that keep wandering the parks at night, tempting all the little vampires. You don't look like a cheerleader."

"Marine, ma'am."

"Marine?" Faith raised her eyebrows.

"Trust me, luv, you don't want to know. Wankers are playing Dr. Frankenstein without knowing what they're messing with," Spike explained when Riley froze, clearly unwilling to tell about his comrades in green.

"In Sunnydale? Fuck, we have enough trouble with demons, we do not need this grief."

"If the doctors can't make some progress soon, it may not be an issue. The government is threatening to discontinue funding if they can't find a practical solution for combating or controlling hostiles. If that happens, this whole part of the state would be left unprotected."

Faith stared at the boy for a half second. "Unprotected my finely shaped ass. Slaying's my gig."

"But the demons, they're talking about opening a Hellmouth."

"They can talk all they want, but makin' it happen is something else. Watch and learn, Captain Cutie. You're about to find out how a slayer kicks demon ass."


Chapter 13

"Can we please get this over with before having to deal with *that* leaves me in need of a drink? Jenny poured the Scotch down the sink, and the local liquor store only carries cheap American swill." Giles pushed in the door to the Magic Box and went immediately to the counter where he dropped several huge rolls of heavy paper and a few thick books.

"Five by five here," Faith agreed. She followed him into the store and disappeared behind a counter. When she came up again, she held a vicious knife and a sharpening stone. She hopped up on the counter, sitting on the top and sharpening her knife with a whip-whorr of metal scraping over stone. Xander noticed all that, but he focused more on Angel, who had followed them into the store and then stood near a display of dried… okay, Xander wasn't going to look to closely at what those were. Beside, the way Angel pressed close to the wall, it he seemed as though he wanted to press into it and disappear. Baby hissed unhappily.

Xander understood what Angel was feeling. Xander had spent most of his high school career trying to find clothing that would blend into the graffiti stained walls of his L.A. high school, and unfortunately, he generally failed. A quick shove from bullies regularly sent him crashing into lockers had taught him to use that body language that screamed, 'not worth your time to hurt me.' It was a cross between looking so hurt already that any further bullying was a little pointless and looking pathetic enough that bullying him didn't earn cool points for the bullies. Angel had that same expression, and Baby growled at master's discomfort. The human made master unhappy. Baby had a very simple solution for what he considered the Giles problem. Xander focused on stopping the growl from actually growling since he didn't really doubt Angel's promise to kill him.

"I suppose it's hard workin' with the vampire who put one of your slayers in a coma and killed another," Spike mused as he passed them all and settled in leaning against a shelf on the other side of the room.

Outside, waiting for Giles to come and unlock the door, Xander had ignored the man beside Spike, but now he couldn't escape the smell the unfamiliar male. He smelled like gunpowder and musk, and Xander had a sudden hatred for all things gun powdery and musky. Looking down at the dull tile floor, Xander ignored Spike with his new pet and Angel's discomfort and his own growing hatred for more than one person in the room. Yeah, way too much stuff to keep track of at once, and Xander had that pop-quiz-coming feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"And you are?" At Giles' words, Xander furtively glanced up as the Watcher pulled off his glasses and polished them as he looked toward Spike.

"Name's Spike."

"Good lord." Xander didn't have time to blink before Giles had pulled a large cross from under his jacket. "William the Bloody. Faith, stake him," he ordered. No one moved.

"Chill out. We have a truce."

"A truce? With a blood-thirsty demon who would like nothing more than to drain us all? If you won't do something, I will." Giles started forward, and Faith jumped down, putting herself in Giles' path.

"He's Xander's William. He doesn't want the world to end any more than we do."

Giles stood, his fury clear even though he stood perfectly still. When he spoke again, he had the perfectly calm tone of absolute certainty. "Your naiveté is both astounding and stupid."

Faith stepped back, blinking in surprise, but she didn't move aside. Giles simply stared at her as she refused to yield.

"Slayer's right, I got no problem with you lot," Spike added, "and you're a little long in the tooth for me, mate. Might go for the little witch, but then Xander'd be put out, so I figure your whole lot is off the menu."

Xander felt a slight twinge of fear for Willow, silently thanking his not-so-lucky stars that she hadn't shown up yet. He could just imagine her hyperventilating at the idea of yet another vampire taking an interest in her. He'd heard the stories of Angelus after Willow used a spell to "cheer him up" and accidentally ripped his soul out. She really didn't need any more vampire admirers.

Spike hadn't even finished before Angel stepped forward. "Threaten her again and I'll dust you, Spike."

"Oi, I'm pointin' out why I wouldn't threaten her. Seems like you're the one who went and murdered her fish." The sarcastic tone made it perfectly clear how he felt about Angelus going after fish, and from his place behind Angel, Xander could see vamp's back twitch.

"Enough," Angel growled.

"Was that before or after ya killed her wolf?" Spike taunted. Angel took a single step forward, his jaw clenched in fury.

"I bet ya didn't even wait for full moon when he had a chance in hell. No, it'd be more your style ta trap him in some corner and—"

"Fuck, not this again," Faith practically yelled. "When I'm the most level-headed person in the room, there's a problem, people," Faith said as she backed up a little more to get between the two vampires while still watching Giles.

"Hey, perfectly responsible adult-type person here," Willow objected as she came in, Tara close behind. The bell over the door jingled merrily, and the suddenly cheerful sound gave Xander an urge to laugh hysterically… not so much with the cheer in this room.

"Jenny said it was full on F-team meeting," Willow said as she stepped up to the counter where Giles had dropped the papers before getting in a staring contest with Spike. She stopped, her eyes darting around the room as she picked up on the hate-vibes.

"Good, you're here. At least now the humans outnumber the vampires," Giles said with terse politeness

"Vampires?" Willow nearly squeaked, "other than Angel vampires?"

"And the G-man is exaggerating again. Only two vamps. The other two are..." Faith paused.

"Human," Angel said tightly. "They may carry a part of a demon, but they are human."

"Whoa, what do you mean part of a demon?" Spike's pet pushed forward, and Xander really looked at him for the first time. Spike had called him Riley, and even thinking the name made Xander want to bite someone. Riley. Big, handsome, stupid muscly-type type. Xander knew he deserved to get replaced, but he couldn't help feeling the cold hatred for the man deep in his stomach. He would have gone fangy and growled, but Baby chose that moment to show an utter lack of interest in growling.

"It's in the blood, mate," Spike answered his pet. "Blood touches blood, but that's not what has the Watcher's knickers in a twist. He's mostly browned off because Angel, the great poof who killed his slayer isn't dust."

"I have a demon?" Riley demanded weakly at the same time that Willow gasped, her fingers searching her purse for a stake, "Vampire?!?!"

"Spike, also known as William, and you'd be Xander's little friend. He says lots of nice things about ya, luv, and he isn't exactly overflowing with love for all things Hellmouth."

"William?" Willow sounded slightly hyperventilaty.

"And that's about it," Faith added. "Only he left out that Giles wanted to attack Spike and Spike has been verbally torturing Angel and Angel continues to growl at Spike and then there's the whole fact that no one is really focusing the demons who are about to open a portal to hell."

Giles coughed. "If the Anointed One is orchestrating this plan, I doubt the Vahrall have the same agenda as the vampire master. Vahrall demons believe self -sacrifice can open a portal to a hell world and return the world to its true master, the pure demons. I find it unbelievable that a vampire would support their activities since pure demons are no more fond of vampires than of humans," Giles backed away, glaring first at Spike and then at Angel for an awkward moment before turning his attention to the stack he'd dropped on the counter. He sorted various scrolls, unrolling them to reveal cramped, tiny writing interrupted by detailed images of various demons.

"Only the Annoyin' One has something up his tiny sleeve," Spike added. "He's got zombies and a Mohra down there. I'm guessing he's either playin' big with the mojo or makin' some pretty big promises." Spike took a step back and leaned against the wall. Xander wanted to just keep looking at him. He wanted to take these minutes to pretend that he hadn't ruined the only good thing in his life by turning to Angel. His mother always told him that he needed to suffer the consequences of his own action. She meant his science grade, but Xander hadn't truly understood suffering consequences until this moment.

He remembered the day he'd sparred with Spike in their basement. Spike had tossed him to the ground again, and then backed off and looked at him with that same intense expression. Part of Xander wanted to pretend Spike didn't have a new pet, pretend that he was still at Spike's side, but instead his eyes slid back to the floor.

He'd thought he felt pain when he thought Spike had died, but being in the same room was a special torture. He should be happy that Spike was still alive... or unalive... whatever, but instead all he could feel was the pain of both loss and rejection. Spike had a new pet, and Xander had Angel.

Xander snorted and Angel shot him a displeased look that made Baby go whimpering back. Oh yeah, once again everyone else sucked the sugary goodness of candy while life had handed him the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Only this time, it was fuzzy, dirty, and covered in cat hair.

Xander glanced sideways at the silently furious vampire beside him and wondered how much it would take to get the vamp homicidally angry. As often as Xander had made his father angry enough to resort to a fist, he should be able to provoke Angel twice as fast. After all, vamps didn't feel much loyalty toward minions. Spike had called them cannon fodder, sent out to die for their masters.

Baby whined and Xander felt himself pushed farther back. He was just so damn tired that he didn't even fight the pressure that forced him into the dim corners of his own mind. Baby came forward and dismissed his plans, his displeasure clear from the throbbing little pain settling in at the back of Xander's head. Baby had a master, and he would live or die to please his master. From a quiet corner of his own brain, Xander pointed out that while they might be able to die to please Angel, neither one of them had much luck pleasing him any other way.

"Whatever the Anointed One has planned, it is imperative that we intercept any attempt to open the Hellmouth," Giles said as he turned to the scrolls. "The scroll says that the demons will need the Word of Valios in order to open the Hellmouth. I simply cannot fathom why the vampires would support opening a portal between here and the Va'alli hell."

"Shortcut to avoid morning traffic?" Willow joked softly, but no one laughed.

"Who cares? We know what they want, so we get it first and then kick demon ass. Simple," Faith said with a shrug. She obviously decided that no one was in any immediate danger of attacking because she went back to the counter, hopping up and returning to sharpening her knife—a wickedly curved silver blade that reflected light from the florescent lights.

"If we knew where to find the Word of Valios, that might work. Since I have no idea where to find it, we start with research. Willow, you have the Tredecim and Attonbitus scrolls. Tara, take Libra Audacter. Faith, maybe you could help me go through the volumes of the Cassus Almus. Those not researching might wish to do something constructive like naffing off so the rest of us can complete our work," Giles finished without looking up from the scrolls.

"I'm not really one for the dusty duty. Why don't I just go along with the boys for some patrol?"

Faith had no sooner suggested it before Giles wheeled around, his eyes so cold and hard that even Baby started reevaluating just how "helpless" this human might truly be.

"I will not have you patrol with Angel *or* Spike. If we must work under some truce, then we will do so safely, which means you will not patrol with them or patrol alone."

"Whoa, chill—" Faith tried to interrupt,

"You have impressive skills, but no more so than Kendra, and Angelus has already shown his ruthlessness in taking advantage of any weakness. Hunting with him would be—" Giles stopped, obviously unable to come up with any words to explain his opinion on Faith hunting with Angel.

"I'm sorry," Angel nearly whispered.

Giles stalked past Faith and straight to Angel, his heavy cross in one hand, and a stake in the other. Baby wanted to both throw himself between master and danger in an attempt to impress master and cringe back in fear. Really, that was pretty lucky since it allowed Xander to keep himself still at Angel's side as the watcher got up in Angel's face.

"If you touch one hair on her head—" Giles didn't raise the stake, but he held the cross so close that Angel had to press back into the wall to avoid being burned.

"I'm here to help," Angel said quietly, and from his side of the room Spike gave a doubtful snort. Shooting a hateful glare in Spike's general direction, Angel started again. "Jenny called me."

That stopped Giles, but he still held the cross close enough that it pinned Angel to the wall. Xander started looking for escape paths, figuring if all else failed, he could just go right over the low shelving with the shrunken heads in bizarre rows.

"Jenny may have forgotten what you are capable of, but I certainly haven't. Kendra was—" Giles stopped, the words choked off into silence. For a long time, he continued to stand, his tweed jacket and glasses and grey hair doing nothing to hide the raw hatred and fury as he held the cross an inch from Angel's hand. Xander could only stand and watch, not even sure what he should do, even if he could get all his various Xander-and-Baby parts organized well enough to actually do anything.

"Giles," Faith called softly from the counter.

"You will take volume one of the Cassus Almus," Giles ordered her without turning around. And then he backed up, his hand still clutching the weapons as he moved back to the counter where he dropped the stake and used a shaking hand to steady himself on the countertop. Suddenly, the fury drained leaving just a sad, sagging man clutching the counter.

"No problem," Faith agreed quietly. Willow had found some interesting spot on the wall while Tara stared at the floor, but Spike watched his sire with an obvious glee that made Xander squirm. He remembered that expression of unmitigated joy from times they had sparred, especially when the sparring had led to pinning and sex. Now he glanced toward Riley who had silently stepped closer to Spike.

Xander gulped air, aware that he had forgotten to breathe until the sharp edges of unconsciousness poked at him, making him dizzy. Angel's hand fell on his shoulder, and Xander dropped his eyes to the floor, aware that he had been staring.

"Spike and I will do patrol," Angel said as he moved toward the door slowly. Xander flinched, reduced to someone not even worth mentioning, and he just wished Spike and his new pet hadn't seen that. Somehow, having Spike find out that he'd become a minion… yeah, so not good for the ego. Xander ducked his head as he followed his master back out into the night.



Chapter 14

Xander followed close behind as Angel stalked toward the nearest cemetery. He could hear the regular pounding of Spike's footsteps behind him. Normally, Spike could move through any territory without making a sound, but right now, his 150 pounds sounded more like 300.

"I don't know what is going on here, but I am not a hostile," Spike's pet announced into the awkward silence.

Angel snorted.

"I am a captain in the United States Marine Corps, and if you don't plan to take down the hostiles currently conspiring to open the Hellmouth, I need to find someone who will help me get the job done."

"They won't open the Hellmouth," Angel said, his voice tight with frustration. Xander could feel Baby echo his master's distress. And once again, Baby had just one suggestion for humans that bothered master.

"Yeah, 'cuz you've been so good 'bout stoppin' the wankers in the past," Spike growled, his voice dripping with sarcasm and heavy with accent.

Angel didn't answer as he kept walking down the dark street. Tension rolled off the older vampire, and Xander could feel himself slowly unwinding, like a ball of fraying yarn a cat kept batting around until it turned into a big tangled mess of… well… tangles. He felt like begging Spike to just stop before Angel snapped and went after Spike with whatever weapon he could grab while another part of him danced with anticipation at seeing master put Spike in his place. Xander was guessing that Baby was the one voting for an Angel-Spike showdown, either that or Xander had really lost his marbles. Again.

"Seems like you've been playin' both sides of the fence. The Annoyin' One certainly didn't chase ya out of town, and a slayer layin' in that hospital… she'd be an easy snack, only no one seems ta be snacking on her. Not unless you've been sneaking a fang into the coma-girl," Spike smirked. Angel didn't even pause before spinning around in game face. Shrinking back away from that fury, Xander pushed into the bushes lining the sidewalk just to get out of Angel's path.

"If you touch Buffy, I'll stake you myself," Angel snarled, closing the distance between them with a few long, furious strides.

"You're the one who goes for leftovers, these days," Spike said coldly. "Besides, I'm one slayer up on you old man. If I wanted ta take my third, I wouldn't go for the one you already put in a coma," Spike's smirked even wider as his barb sunk home. Angel stood, half in an island of light, his hands at his sides even as his fists trembled and flexed.

"I don't know what game you're playing…" he articulated each word carefully and slowly and dangerously, but Spike's new pet interrupted him.

"He said he was trying to stop the hostiles. What game are you two playing?" Riley, inserted himself between the two vampires, Angel in game face and Spike now leaning insolently against the lamp post, his hair shining in the florescent light. "And I want to know what the hell is going on with the blood reference. If I'm at risk, then so are my men. So someone is going to tell me what is going on."

"Your men?" Angel dropped back out of game face, looking at Riley in confusion. "How many men?"

"Why?" Riley asked suspiciously.

"William, what have you done?" Angel demanded. He stepped around Riley and backhanded Spike viciously. Spike twisted through the air, crashing into the bushes a couple of feet from Xander before he bounded back up onto his feet.

"That your best shot?" he asked as he touched a corner of his mouth where blood trickled.

Angel didn't have time to answer before Riley attacked from behind. The sight of the short wood stake aimed at Angel's back sent Xander flying forward, the world slipping into the demon reds as a burning fury rose like bile in his throat. Xander would have ripped Riley to shreds, only within seconds, the soldier was stomach-down on the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street. Xander barely pulled back before plowing into Angel's back, which wouldn't have won him any warm and fuzzy looks from the great cranky one.

"Enough," Angel roared as Riley continued to squirm and buck. Riley froze, his face still pressed to the damp grass.

"How many of your men?" Angel snarled. For a second, Riley stayed silent, and Xander half expected Angel to take Riley's arm, which he currently had wrenched up behind Riley's back, and rip the sucker off.

"Four, plus me."

"Spike made blood to blood contact with all of them." Angel sounded shocked.

"No, only Idid. The others used the two vampires Dr. Engelman held for testing. My men volunteered for Engelman's experiment in boosting strength and endurance, but if this has done something that might compromise them…"

Xander could almost feel sympathy for the man on the ground, or at least he would have except for the whole burning jealousy for stealing Spike and acidic hatred for threatening Angel.

"Bloody idiots were sufferin' from vampire rot. They'd taken to drinking our blood as a substitute for their morning protein shakes. They shoulda stuck to the seaweed and soy," Spike offered as he once again leaned against the street lamp. "But don't get your knickers in a twist, Peaches. I dusted the other vamps, and the soldier-boys won't even notice unless some other vamp slips a fang in their necks." He paused to search his pockets for a cigarette.

"What did you do to my men?" Riley sounded furious now, but Angel just put a knee in his back, pinning him helplessly.

"What game are you playing?" Angel demanded as he twisted around to face Spike.

"Not playin'. That was your business, mate. You liked your head games and your petty torments. I've always been a little more straightforward." Spike sucked on the cigarette and then blew a ring that slowly rose in the air.

"Then explain to me why you would suddenly start taking human pets."

"Wot? I should wait down there while those wankers cut me apart and experiment on my bits? I bloody like my bits where they are." Spike emphasized his words by reaching down and grabbing his own crotch. Xander felt a wistfulness that sent Baby roaring up to the forefront so that he could slide closer to Angel. Yep, Baby knew which vamp he preferred.

"So you risk them? I won't let you turn people into puppets," Angel flashed into game face again.

"You want that one? Fine. You take soldier boy, fuck him, turn him, eat him, use your fucking spell and set the git free, I don't soddin' care. But ya took what's mine, Angelus, and I won't bloody leave 'til I get him back." Spike dropped his cigarette to the ground and crushed it with the heel of his boot. Taking a step forward, he slipped into the sharp ridges of his vampiric face and bared his fangs.

"Leave Xander out of this," Angel warned, and Xander slipped backwards away from the street light. His head began to throb, and he sucked air in as he realized he'd forgotten to breathe, the thought of Angel and Spike doing the whole final showdown sending him pretty much into mental meltdown land.

"Thought that's what we were soddin' fightin' about." Spike stepped forward, planting one foot ahead of the other and holding his arms out, ready for an attack.

"You'll lose, William."

"Xander's the one who's already bloody lost. Havin' you as a sire-- not exactly enjoyable."

"He's human."

"No, he's bloody not. Wot's more, he's bloody less human every time I look at him," Spike snapped, and yellow eyes fixed on Xander who suddenly found some very interesting dirt on the sidewalk to stare at. He hated how those eyes saw more than they should. He hated it nearly as much as he hated not being seen at all.

"Enough, William," Angel bellowed, and Spike clenched his fists.

"Still thick as bog-mud, aren't ya? You'd rip him up as bad as ya ever ripped up Drusilla, only this time it's because you're a fucking thick-skulled mick, innit?"

"Don't push your luck." Angel abandoned Riley and moved so fast that he stood chest to chest with Spike before Xander could look back up. Riley lay on the grass holding his wrenched arm and looking a bit dazed. Xander knew the feeling. He also felt his soul shrivel at the thought of Spike fighting and dying for him.

"Spike, Angel? Um, demon hunting? Sound familar?" Xander interrupted the vampire-stare-o'thon. "You know, we told Faith and Giles we'd go out hunting some demons, and I'm fairly sure that he meant for us to hunt other demons," Spike flashed a smile in his direction, and Xander gave a small half-smile in return before Baby rose up and the world slid into demon-red again.

"Think I'm goin' to do just that Peaches. I think it's time I pushed my luck." Spike cocked his head and looked up at Angel.

"Last time in LA, I let you get your hits in. You start something now, and I will kill you rather than let you keep playing these games with human lives."

Xander could hear the certainty in Angel's voice, and he shivered in both horror and anticipation, and Baby really was a little too bloodthirsty for Xander's stomach.

Spike smirked again, his tongue tracing the inside of his lower lip as he slowly inched backwards. "Not going to bloody happen," Spike answered. Without warning, he followed up with a spinning kick that made Angel stumble to the side. Riley barely had time to scramble out of the way as Angel careened backwards, but the retreat didn't last long.

Angel lunged forward, leading with a right punch that Spike only partially ducked, catching the blow on his shoulder. Spike retaliated with a number of jabs while dancing out of the way of Angel's more powerful blows. Angel landed fewer hits, but each of his sent Spike stagger while Spike struck over and over again without driving Angel back at all.

One hard hit sent Spike crashing into a blue mail drop box which rang like a rusted bell before Spike hit the ground. Angel dived after him, but in a move that Xander couldn't quite see, Spike deflected Angel, shoving him headfirst into the metal box which crumpled under the force. Grabbing his chance, Spike twisted out from under Angel and pinned the larger vampire, sinking his fangs deep into Angel's forearm, ripping though coat and shirt until the blood soaked the fabric and dripped onto the grey concrete.

Roaring, Angel bucked and the finally threw himself to the side, pinning Spike between the battered mailbox and his own body. Spike let go with a muffed, "Bloody fuck." They lay tangled with each other, half on the curb and half in the empty street.

Now that they had their hands on each other, Xander could see Spike struggle. He twisted so that he could get leverage with his foot, forcing them to roll into the street where Spike got on top, his hands on Angel's neck in a grip that reminded Xander of the way Spike had ripped one fledge's head right off his neck. But before Spike had time to do anything, Angel used his brute strength to grab Spike's hair and slam his head down into the concrete.

Before Spike could recover, Angel had pinned him. Huge hands squeezed Spike's throat while Angel used his body to trap Spike against the cold concrete of the road.

"It's over, Spike. I don't know what you're hoping to do, but I'll give you one chance to get out of my territory and out of my sight before I hunt you down." With that, Angel physically lifted Spike by his neck and then slammed him back to the ground with a sickening crunch. Xander watched in horror while an amoeba shaped red stain grew under Spike's skull.

Angel stood up, but Spike still lay on the ground motionless. Even while Baby growled his pleasure, Xander could feel the cold horror sinking into his bones. Yeah, Spike obviously wasn't dead-dead what with the lack of dustiness, but he didn't look ready for any fights. The Anointed One's most pathetic minion could probably dust Spike as he lay on the ground, pale and motionless and staring up at the sliver moon.

Baby hissed contemptuously toward Spike, the loser, but Xander stood, unmoving, as he fought through a tangle of his own feelings.

“Xander, let’s go,” Angel said, and Xander looked at his demon’s master and then at his defeated sire. He could feel himself torn apart, but when the demon pushed for him to follow Angel, he rose up with all his strength, and pushed back. Hell, he shoved and rammed and drove forward until he could force the demon back.

“No,” he all but whispered.

“Xander.” Angel turned to face him. “Things have changed; Spike isn't your sire, and you don't need him,” Angel said as he took a step forward.

“Oi, that’s right, force him ta do what ya want, just like with every other pet ya ever had,” Spike said as he slowly picked himself up off the ground, blood smeared down one side of his face. “Go ahead and break him since he’s mine—that’s what ya do, innit? Break whatever’s mine?”

“Spike,” Angel growled, and Xander struggled to just stay standing, his need to hide in the corner nearly overwhelming him.

“So, you’ll threaten Spike and kidnap me?” Xander asked even though he knew that a pretty good sized part of him begged to go with Angel. He clenched his teeth to prevent the demon from following its master.

“I’m protecting you, Xander,” Angel offered in the tone of voice a person might use with a particularly stupid child. The vampire put a hand on his shoulder, and Xander could feel the tremors at Angel’s touch. Just please master; make him want us. He could hear Baby pleading, but he knew that no matter what he did, Angel would never want them, and he sent that thought back into his mind.

He flooded the demon with memories: Angel biting him and then leaving him on the couch, unclaimed as childe; Angel pressing a stake to his chest; Angel ripping him from Faith and choking him unconscious. He pummeled and pounded those memories, mixing in older memories. The time his father called him a child for begging his father to come to Christmas with them and the time his mother forgot him at school until after dark, leaving him wandering home alone when he wasn't tall enough to get into the rides at the summer carnival. He took all that rejection and failure and shoved it down the demon's throat until Baby choked on it, retreating under the pain. He stepped back away from Angel's touch.

“No, you’re taking away my choices; you’re doing what you wanted to do the first time you met me,” Xander said through gritted teeth. “You’re living out your little save the world fantasies with me.”

"You aren't thinking clearly right now. The demon—" Angel started. Xander could feel Baby squirming up, struggling to answer master's voice, but then Spike interrupted.

"You bloody arrogant bog-trotting wanker. Soul-no soul, you don't soddin' change." Spike wiped the blood from his face with the back of his hand. "Everyone has to do things the way you do them, or they're just bloody wrong. I've got fucking news for you, mate. You don't know everything."

"I never said..." Angel started, but Spike shook his head in disbelief and interrupted again.

"You don't have to say it, clear enough from the way you treat everyone else, innit? When you were soulless, you'd beat me bloody if I didn't do things the way you did 'em. You killed your folks, so I was supposed ta be overcome with hatred for mine. You like fuckin' with people's minds, so ya had to tell me what a failure I was for preferrin' an open fight. And now that you have the soul, it's the same damn out-of-tune song, innit? You're a soddin' souled demon, and you fight your own instincts every soddin' day, so you just treat Xander like he's the bloody same."

"You have no idea what..."

"No, but I know what Xander said. I know he and his demon had a truce until you came and mucked it up. Look at him!" Spike pointed, and Xander shrunk back as both vampires and Riley looked at him. Riley had retreated to the far side of a Volvo, but he still stood close.

"The mouthy git stole my CD's and gave them to you, mate. At the club, he went sailing into a fight against a gang of fledges to save his friends, and he bloody called you for help doing it. I soddin' near pulled my hair out with how much he never bloody listened to me, but that's what made him worthy of bein' a childe. He had his own soddin' brain and he used it. With you, he just cringes in your shadow." Spike stepped forward, but this time instead of glaring at Angel in open defiance, he looked to the side, his body tight but not in fighting stance. "And now that he makes a decision of his own, you're punishing him for it. You're bloody well destoyin' him." Spike looked up with fury carved into his face.

"I didn't—" This time Angel stopped on his own. Xander flinched back as Angel closed the distance between them, his hand landing on Xander's shoulder. "I'm trying to help you control the demon."

Xander closed his eyes as Baby struggled forward at the hint of master caring for them. He pulled up the memory of his father telling him how proud he was of Xander for graduating, and then, on the day of graduation, Xander had searched the crowd. He had made his mother stand by the south entrance for an hour, waiting for his father. His father hadn't come. They'd gotten home to an answering machine message with a slurred message about traffic, the sound a bar in the background. He couldn't do this again.

"I did control the demon until you tried to control him for me," Xander answered. Angel pulled his hand back.

"He bloody well did too. Bugger gave him fits when he had dirty little dreams of topping sire, but Xander controlled himself. He wasn't like you, and Baby's not Angelus, raging under that soul ready to rip the world apart if he can just get out." Spike stepped closer, and Xander clutched at control as Baby quailed in fear.

"Xander, I didn't—" Angel's words trailed off again.

"Spike, I'm sorry," Xander whispered. Spike stopped, his hand hovering above the arm Xander had crossed over his stomach, hugging himself.

"What ya sorry for, pet?" Spike asked softly. Xander trembled as Baby sent up a whole litany of sins. Some didn't make much sense, unless it was sense of the vampire kind, so Xander picked the one that he could understand best.

"I'm sorry I gave up on you."

"Bloody hell, I'm the one who bollocked that up. Sire's supposed to be the one who doesn't fuck up and get caught. I bet you tried to find me, yeah?"

Xander nodded. "But Baby…" he stopped. He couldn't put the vampire's feelings into words. He'd betrayed Spike; he'd liked Angel more; he'd thought Angel was stronger. Xander flinched at the realization that part of him still saw Angel as stronger. But he wasn't. Angel wasn't stronger, Xander thought back into his own mind.

"Baby's too young and too soddin' stupid to really know anything, pet. He can't tell who ta follow, so you have to guide him." Spike put his hand on Xander's arm, and Xander could feel the fear and longing and hope ripple through his mind. "Xander Harris is my childe, and he never bloody stopped bein' my childe. Baby's just goin' to have to earn his way back into my favor," Spike offered.

"Spike," Angel said softly.

"Don't bloody start with me, mate. I had enough years of your arrogant shite already. If you say one thing, I swear, if it takes the rest of my unlife, I'll skin ya alive."

Angel didn't answer, but Riley did. "I have a job to do… to protect this town from hostiles, particularly the group that's trying to open the Hellmouth."

Xander felt Spike's arm slip around his waist as Spike took a position at his side, and now Xander could look at Riley without the jealousy and hatred swirling through his mind. The soldier looked exhausted, dark circles under his eyes and dirt staining his knees and one shoulder. He pushed his blond hair back with an absent-minded gesture that made him look like a tired child struggling to stay awake.

"I'm not going to let the Anointed One open the Hellmouth," Angel said. "I had a truce to protect Buffy's life, but Buffy won't last long if that portal is open."

Angel turned and looked pointedly at Spike. Eventually Spike sighed heavily.

"Bloody hell, I don't want the Hellmouth open any more than you. I meant what I said about helping to keep the annoying little shit from doing something annoyingly stupid. Look, you save the world because it's what you do, having a soul and a mission and all. But just because I don't have some mission from the Powers that Be don't mean that I can't help out. I'm not bloody giving up my Passions or my fags or my music without a fight."

"Mission?" Riley stepped around the car, coming closer to the group, and Xander could practically see the strings pulling at the body. Riley had a bit of demon, and that bit of demon wanted a master. Xander just hoped that Angel's smack down meant that Riley's demon wanted Angel because Xander really wasn't a good enough person to share Spike.

"Angel went and got himself a soul and a mission to save all the innocents in the world. Wanker runs around with his nancy-boy hair savin' all the damsels in distress," Spike answered, and Riley edged closer to Angel.

"Spike," Angel said in a warning tone.

"Stop bein' such a twat, Peaches. After all, the boy's got a mission of his own to protect home and country and all that rot. Besides, you bein' all soul-having, I bet you have a plan to make sure his buddies are all safe as houses, don't you?" Spike asked, his arm tightening around Xander's waist.

"My men. If something is putting them at risk…"

"We'll make sure it doesn't," Angel answered, and Xander felt himself pulled away from the two men.

"Where are you going?" Angel asked. "We still have patrol and we need to find out what the others learned about the ceremony to open the Hellmouth."

"You two can handle that rot. Xander and me need to have a little conversation. We'll meet you at the Magic Shop tomorrow night," Spike answered. Xander let himself get pulled down the street away from Angel and Riley whose voices had faded to a distant mumbling he couldn't quite make out.


Chapter 15

When Xander pushed open the warehouse door, he could still feel Baby churning uncomfortably. He only realized how uncomfortable they were when Spike's hand landed on his shoulder, sending Xander leaping forwards. Xander ended up in the middle of the garage before he turned to see Spike watching him with one eyebrow raised.

"Problem, pet?"

Xander considered the answer to that, struggling to figure out the flood of emotions coming from Baby. He got so distracted he didn't notice Spike until a fingers curled around his arm.


"Yep, that's my name, don't wear it out," he joked awkwardly, but Spike's face remained serious. "And I'm not really sure on the whole problem front because the brain doesn't seem to be quite keeping up with the feelings, and as a man, I’m not supposed to be discussing feelings. It's in the man handbook."

"Oi, that's my Xander," Spike said with a shake of his head, and then he guided Xander through the door and into the main room. Everything looked the same, down to the dust on the table, but Xander could feel himself tense at every scritch of mouse feet across the concrete. He followed as Spike guided him to an old sofa that smelled like his Aunt Betty who wasn't really an aunt but the slightly strange neighbor who lived across from them at the first apartment in LA, the one with a dozen cats.

"Xander, I didn't ask about Baby, I asked if you have a problem."

"Do you think cats peed on this couch?" Xander asked as he stared down at the worn leather, following his own mental train to Aunt Bettysville.

"Maybe," Spike admitted slowly. Spike crouched down, his knees on the outside of Xander's knees, and Xander took a deep shuddering breath.

"Pet." When Xander didn't look up, long fingers flicked him in the nose.

"Ow, that hurt!" Xander complained, holding his face with his hands defensively as he finally looked up into Spike's blue eyes. Relief and shame and fear tugged at him.

"Pet, tell me what's bothering you," Spike said, strong hands resting on Xander's thighs. Xander shrugged.

"Oi," Spike exploded up, throwing himself across the room and toward the huge wooden table, and Xander shrank back. When Spike slapped his hands on the table top, leaning heavily with his head hanging between his arms, Xander felt the guilt and shame bits of him overshadow the rest. Pushing himself up, he slowly inched toward Spike.

He knew Spike could hear him, and yet the vampire remained leaning against the table with his back to Xander. With every step, Baby circled uncomfortably, but Xander ignored the feeling as he closed the distance and then sank to his knees on the cold concrete.

"Sire." Xander whispered the word that always brought Spike to his side, bending his head so that he could hide behind a curtain of curls. Fingers ran through his hair, and Xander reached up with trembling fingers to open his shirt. He tried to shrug the fabric off, but then Spike was there, kneeling in front of him, strong hands over his, holding him still.

"Xander, what are you doin'?"

Xander bit his lip and shrugged. Baby had stilled in a sort of silent panic.

"Right, up you go," Spike said, and hands under Xander's elbows lifted him. Xander followed without complaint as Spike led him into the bedroom. The stack of CD's had fallen over leaving a scattering of plastic across the floor and the someone had flipped up one side of the carpeting so that Xander almost tripped, Spike's hands keeping him steady.

"We're going to play twenty questions, and you're going to bloody answer every question, you understand?" Spike said and then Xander sat as strong hands pushed him toward the bed. He nodded silently.

"What did you do that you think you need punishin'?" Spike tugged the open shirt, and Xander slipped out of it, surrendering the clothes as he worked out the answer to that.

"I turned to Angel. You told me to stay away from him," Xander settled on. Spike sat on the bed.

"Ya like the broody one?"

"Not likely," Xander snorted.

"He does make it hard to like him what with the acting like a soddin' git," Spike agreed. "So, you didn't turn ta Angel, Baby did. Bloody awful judgment there seein' as how Angel only knows how to get bossed around by humans and ride roughshod over minions."

Xander nodded his agreement as he twisted his fingers aimlessly.

"Pet." Spike's hand landed on Xander's twisting fingers. "Baby's going to have to pay for that, but right now, I don't give a rat's arse about Baby. You're my first and favorite."

Xander could feel the Baby part of him draw back even farther. He took a deep breath and tried to sort the crush of emotion.

"Pet, tell me what you're thinking." Spike took his hand and turned Xander's head so that Xander had to make eye contact, gazing into blue eyes that he had convinced himself he would never see again. The shame washed through him again: he hadn't even tried to find Spike… he had just believed Willow and Jenny. Rage boiled up through the shame.

"They told me you were gone."

"S'not that easy to kill me."

"They told me." Xander could feel his anger press up against his throat and he pushed Spike's hands away as he dashed for the bathroom just seconds ahead of throwing up.

"Bloody inconvenient bodily functions." Spike's voice echoed over the tile walls, and Xander heaved again, the acid burning his mouth. Pressing the lever to flush away the mess, Xander leaned against the edge of the counter until a water glass appeared before him. He grabbed it.

"I would have looked for you," Xander said as he stared at the clear water. "They told me you were dead."

"I am, luv. Have been for a while now," Spike said softly as he came close and slipped an arm around Xander's stomach, stepping up so that he pressed to Xander's back, and as the words settled into Xander's brain, the heat rose to his face.

"Oh god. Oh god. I'm an idiot. Shit. How can you love a total idiot?" Xander gasped out. "I didn't tell them you were a vampire. You were dead. They told me you were dead, and I was too stupid to even put that one together. Oh shit." Xander let the glass down on the counter with a hard crack, and a trickle of water slipped out the bottom, making a small stream that meandered across the marble counter and into the side. "Oh fuck. Spike."

"Shhh, pet. Bloody hell, you'd been knocked on your ass, left to wander the Hell mouth alone, and in the middle of slayer central. Not surprising that you weren't thinking straight." Spike reached around and pried Xander's fingers off the slightly cracked glass and tipped the water into the sink. "Don't need ta take it out on the glassware."

"Dunder Harris at it again," Xander snorted as Spike took another glass and emptied out the liquor before rinsing the glass and filling it with water. Before Spike handed over the glass, he slapped Xander upside the back of the head hard enough to make Xander rock forward.

"Ow. Stop hitting me."

"Thought ya wanted me ta hit ya?" Spike handed over the glass and then he turned to lean back against the counter as Xander rinsed his mouth and drank the water.

Even after he'd finished, Xander had to stop and think about the answer to that one. "I just want it to be easy, like before," he finally answered.

"Easy?" Spike's face took on an amused expression, like when some gang member called him a fag right before becoming the evening dinner. "Easy like when I stripped the skin from your back, left ya in chains, and then went to find the wanker who let you go sailing into a fight with a gang of fledges?" Spike asked.

Xander thought back to that night when he'd been so sure Spike would kill Carlos because of a mistake Xander had made. He'd crouched on the floor cold and sore and feeling like the world's biggest loser. He shook his head.

"I want it simple like when you came back and everything was forgiven."

"Pet." Spike reached up and brushed curls back from Xander's face and Baby stirred to life again. "I'm not ready to forgive Baby yet." And there went Baby cringing back to a corner of Xander's mind.

"He thought you were dead," Xander said, desperate to have his inner demon okay with the world again, and until Spike said the big 'f' word—forgiven—he didn't think there was going to be much peace.

"Xander." Spike sounded almost tired as he led them back out to the bedrooom. Oh yeah, when Spike called him by his name, he knew he was in serious trouble. "Why did ya step back and let Baby make the decisions?"

"And I'm going back to 'I'm an idiot.'" This time Xander was ready for the hand that tried to bop him, and he ducked, covering the back of his head with one hand while he aimed an elbow at Spike.

"Brat," Spike complained as shoved Xander onto the bed. Xander bounced and sprawled, and before he had a chance to recover, Spike had landed on him. "So, why did you take back over?"

"Hello. In case you missed it, Baby was all ready to go with the great broody one." Xander rolled his eyes. For a second, he wondered what he would be doing if he'd stayed with Angel. He'd probably be chained in the basement again. Maybe Angel had chained Riley down there this time. Spike's finger pulling at a nipple brought him back to reality.

"So when you really wanted something, like me, you took control," Spike smirked and pulled harder at Xander's nipple. The heat made a line straight for Xander's recently neglected cock which began to swell with anticipation. Baby started stirring as well.

"Well, yeah."

"So, when Baby took over, it was because you were lettin' him." Spike turned his attention to the second nipple as he lowered himself and ran a tongue over his claim mark. Xander threw his head to the side and groaned in need.

"Yeah," he agreed. Of course, to keep Spike doing that, he would have agreed to almost anything.

"So, why give Baby the control?" Spike whispered in Xander's ear, tickling the little hairs all the way down. Xander shivered. When Spike stopped, Xander opened his eyes to find Spike staring straight down at him. "Why let Baby have control?" Spike repeated more slowly.

Xander squirmed with discomfort as Spike stared at him the way Mrs. Wilson in third grade had stared at him when she expected him to be able to do long division. "He seems to know what he's doing, and he never babbles, and he doesn't play with his shirt tails and look like a dork dressed up in his brother's clothes because the clothes you bought for me really aren't much like me."

"Bloody hell, you think the demon's… what? Cooler?" Spike pulled back, and oh yeah, Xander totally felt like he'd just announced to the class that 3 goes into 9 five times. He shrugged.

"I guess I hoped that the demon cool would rub off like osmosis or something only with a lack of dorkiness instead of water," he agreed. "Instead I'm just as dorky as ever only when Baby's up front, people aren't so much with the noticing me being a dork."

"Pet, why does the great broody one annoy the unlife out of me?" Spike asked.

"Okay, I'm obviously missing something because one-that's making sense of the not even variety and two-I thought we were talking about how fucked up I am."

"You are fucked up, pet, and so am I for that matter, but look at tonight. I would have staked the git if I could have."

"And that would be the whole stealing of me part, right?"

"Partly. Pet, why did you keep droppin' the stake when you tried to hunt with Gunn?" Spike tried, and Xander could feel the invisible dunce cap growing out of the top of his head.

"Because I'm a loser?" Since Spike had pinning him to the bed, Xander couldn't dodge the slap to the side of the head that time. "Ow!"

"Stop bein' so thick skulled," Spike snapped.

"Hey, I get hit when I call myself thick skulled," Xander pointed out the unfairness, but Spike ignored him.

"Baby wanted a master… why?"

"Demons are all about who's in charge and structure and clan," Xander answered, watching Spike suspiciously for any more sneak attacks.

"Exactly. And why does the great broody one leave me wanting to just rip him right off the family tree and drop him in a vat of holy water."

"Because he broods?"

"Bloody hell, the Master did that all the time. According to Darla, he'd spend months whining about how in the old days, a master could walk the alleys and pick off the best humans without having mobs on his tail. Angel can brood til his hair falls out for all I care, but he should act like a proper vampire. He's part of the Aurelius line, even if he is a git, but he won't act like it."

"Okay, and I should…" Xander waited for Spike to finish his sentence, but he just lay there, pinning Xander to the bed and silent. The pinning part was good, but the silent expectation was more than a little annoying. "You need to put the dots closer together for me, Spike."

"No, I bloody well don't. Figure it out, pet," Spike answered and then he leaned down and sucked on the claim mark so that Xander's entire brain switched off as all the blood headed south. Helplessly writhing, he clutched at fistfuls of Spike's coat and gasped. By the time Spike finally let go of his neck, he could feel his cock struggling against the fabric of his pants.

"Miss me?" Spike muttered against Xander's chest as he worked his way down with a series of small kisses.

"Fuck, yeah," Xander gathered enough brain cells to answer.

"Picked ya up a prezzie, pet. Somethin' ta make up for leavin' ya alone all that time." A mouth descended on Xander's nipple, sucking so hard that Xander arched his back up off the bed and threw his arms out for leverage. Sucking good. Sucking very good.

"Ya want to see?" Spike asked when he finally released the hardened, red flesh. Xander couldn't answer what with everything above the neck being so numb. Spike half sat up, pressing his ass into Xander's crotch, and the sharp edge of pleasurable pain drove Xander to thrust up into that pressure. When something silver floated into his vision, Xander had to struggle to focus on the silver ring, thick with grooves carved into a rough design on one side and a ball suspended between two points at the front.

"You like?" Spike asked.

"Um… yeah," Xander looked at the size and wondered if he could even fit it onto his pinky finger. He didn't have time to say anything else because Spike had gone back to working the same nipple, pulling and nibbling at it until Xander couldn't have formed the word fire even if the heat in his groin had spontaneously set the bed on fire.

The dull aching needy pain in his chest ended with a sharp pain that sidetracked Xander's penis, which was really surprising considering how into things his penis had gotten. And that would be the not-good side of pain.

"And again with the ow," Xander complained, but Spike just waggled his eyebrows.

"Not gonna say that in a minute," he promised. Xander gasped as Spike grabbed the abused nipple and stretched it. The red pain grew for a second, and then cold steel soothed the burn as Spike slipped the ring into the hole he'd made with his fang.

Lowering his head, Spike licked the abused skin, and Xander shivered as the ring sent exquisite shivers through his body. "Like that, pet?" Spike whispered as he moved down, trailing a fang over Xander's stomach, and the faint scent of blood brought Baby to the surface.

"Pet, your demon's showin'," Spike said as he sat up, his knees straddling Xander as he slipped off his coat and flung it to the floor.

"I… uh, what?" Xander finally managed. Spike unbuttoned his shirt before putting his hands on either side of Xander's head and bending over.

"Your demon's showin', and since your demon's been acting like a right git, you have two choices. If your demon's coming to the surface, we can get the punishment out of the way now, or you can put Baby back in his place until sire and sire's favorite finish playin'," Spike offered before licking the claim mark.

It took Xander a couple of seconds to realize Spike was threatening to stop with the sex, and another couple to catch his breath and force Baby back so far that the world blurred into the blues and greens of his normal human vision.

"Oh no, no stopping, stopping bad," Xander objected as Spike shimmied out of his red shirt. He reached up and touched one of Spike's nipples, rubbing his thumb over it until Spike hissed in pleasure.

"Fuck, yeah, Xan. Flip over," Spike ordered as he unbuttoned his jeans and pulled out his cock. Precum formed at the tip, and Xander could see the end already nudging the foreskin aside.

Xander ripped open his own jeans, arching his back as he struggled to get them down, but then Spike grabbed the belt loops and yanked them down with one pull that left Xander's hard cock to bob in the air.

"Miss me?" Spike asked salaciously, and Xander squirmed around, his face to the pillow, and suddenly Spike's use of 'pillow biter' actually did make sense.

"I thought I'd lost you." Xander pulled his knees up under his chest, spreading them to open himself up for Spike.

"Never goin' to happen, pet. You're mine, and I always come back for what's mine. I love seein' ya all spread out for me."

Xander shivered as a possessive hand ran over his ass and down a thigh. He pressed back and wiggled in invitation.

"Stay put," Spike ordered with a warm slap on the ass that just made Xander wiggle harder. His cock dangled in the air, and Xander reached down to stroke the neglected flesh. It'd been too long.

"Oi, someone's being naughty," Spike said as he slapped Xander's hand away and closed his own hand around the base of Xander's cock.

"Spike, please," Xander begged as he tried to thrust into the hand only to have Spike move with him, teasing and tormenting him to the point of near exploding.

"Seems like someone's forgotten who's in charge pet," Spike commented with an entirely too amused tone and then he disappeared from the bed. Xander could only kneel with his face to the pillow and his empty ass in the air as he waited for Spike to come back. Baby uncurled a bit of longing for sire, and Xander ruthlessly shoved it away, so not willing to have Spike stop now.

Just then something wrapped around his right ankle, and Xander partially raised himself to watch Spike tie a soft white rope around it with a double knot that would have made any sailor proud. When he finished, Spike put a hand on Xander's shoulder, pushing his face back down to the bed, and Xander obediently sank down, his ass still in the air. He'd tucked his arms around his head, but Spike took his right arm and pulled it to Xander's side. When Spike used the long end of the rope from Xander's right ankle to start tying Xander's right wrist, Xander could feel his breath catch as his cock thickened even more. Far beyond words, he could only moan.

Then Spike repeated the restraints on the other side, tying Xander's left ankle to his left wrist with about eight inches of rope between them. Xander was left with his cheek pressed to the pillow, his arms helpless at his side, and his knees bent at the perfect angle to leave his ass open and stuck up in the air.

"Such a pretty childe," Spike said, and now hands stroked his ass and traveled up over to his back.

"Spike, please," Xander found the words to beg.

"Goin' to enjoy my childe, aren't I. I'm sire, after all, and it's my bloody right," Spike answered without mercy, and Xander groaned as he pulled against the rope. He just succeeded in sliding his legs up the bed an inch, arching his back even more as Spike chuckled.

"Knowin' Angelus, the wanker probably bit the inside of his cheek off trying to keep himself from tying you to a bed and torturing you until you passed out from pleasure and pain," Spike said as he walked around the bed to the far side. Xander squirmed to raise his head and turn so that he could watch, but with his head sunk into a pillow, he couldn't even manage that. He had to just lay there as Spike rattled around the room with his jeans hanging open and his cock jutting out.

"Don't care. Sire, please let me…" Xander pleaded as he stared at the open bathroom door helplessly.

"Not goin' to let you do anything but lay there, so get used to it," Spike answered, and then something wet and warm touched his ass. Xander groaned as the feeling of warmth traveled up his spine and radiated into his body, damn near setting his cock on fire.

"Someone's tight," Spike commented and then a finger wiggled into Xander's ass. The feeling of sire again inside him… even if it wasn't quite the way he wanted sire inside him… made Xander grunt in pleasure and pain and need, but he couldn't do anything else. Spike pressed at his entrance and a second finger worked inside, now stretching him. His muscles loosened with a soft burn, and something bigger pressed inside. Xander awkwardly thrust backwards, impaling himself on something too small to be Spike, and a sharp slap on his ass sent him rocking forward again, his movement limited to the six inches of rocking back and forth.

"Impatient little bugger," Spike said, and then he slapped Xander's ass again, this time, the hand drove the object farther into Xander, triggering the prostate so that Xander could only grunt in pleasure and need so sharp it made his hanging cock ache. "Someone got told to just lay there." Spike slapped again, spreading the heat over Xander's ass.

Xander lost himself in the pattern of slaps, some feather soft, some hard enough to press his face into the pillow. Whatever toy Spike had put into him nudged into his prostate, and the growing heat in his ass radiated out to his whole body until he could only feel the fire and the pattern of blows and his hard cock hanging useless. Xander had almost lost himself when Spike pulled the toy out, leaving him cold and uncomfortable; however, the feeling didn't last long.

The bed tilted as Spike climbed up, and then Xander felt the pressure of Spike's thick cock pressing against his ass. Without even opening his eyes, he pressed back, groaning as the muscles stretched even more. Inch by inch, Spike slid in the first bit, and then strong hands grabbed Xander's hips. Xander exhaled and thought relaxing thoughts as Spike then drove in the rest of the way.

Gasping in both pleasure and pain, Xander fisted his hands and arched his back as Spike pulled out and then slammed in again. On the third thrust, Xander felt himself start, orgasm ripping through him as he fought the ropes, his muscles stiff and his whole body struggling to arch up. Spike paused for a second, and then as Xander's second and third wave hit, started thrusting again. Xander only half felt Spike finish as he sank down into a post-coital silence, like being wrapped in sheets too thick to fight out of.

Spike pulled out and dropped onto the bed next to Xander. Xander half opened one eye, still tied in position and his back starting to ache.

"Missed you, pet," Spike said.

"Missed you too, Spike," Xander answered before closing his eyes again. Fingers worked at his wrists and ankles until he could finally lay flat, so tired he couldn't even bother to open his eyes and watch Spike. Even when something warm and wide tightened around his wrist, Xander lay there one big limp sexed-out noodle. When both hands had been wrapped, the clink of chains finally inspired Xander to open his eyes and watch as Spike chained his wrists to a ring set into the wall. He had enough chain to get comfortable, but not enough to get off the bed, and Xander remembered when Spike had first captured him and kept him locked up while Xander fought a growing fondness for waking up chained.

"You aren't going to start on Baby tonight, are you?" Xander asked sleepily.

"No." Spike walked over and dropped the lock key on the dresser before padding back to bed and sliding in under the covers. "Just thought I'd remind you who you belong to, pet," Spike finished as he pressed to Xander's side, clever fingers playing with Xander's new nipple ring. Xander just smiled as he let himself drift to sleep.


Chapter 16

Xander stretched, the click of chains reminding him that things had changed a bit. Well, that and the comfortable bed and the fact that Baby curled in the back of his head instead of doing the whole large and in charge bit like when he'd tried to bite Faith. And oh god, he'd tried to bite Faith. Xander groaned.

"Mornin', pet." Spike said a second before the stereo speakers screamed with the wails of one of Spike's favorite CD's.

"Gahhh," Xander yelped as he clapped his hands over his ears and clocked himself with a length of chain at the same time.

"Problem there, pet?" Spike asked as he landed on the bed with a bounce, looking at Xander with a smirk.

"Not funny. I think I gave myself a concussion," Xander complained as he felt the bump on his head. Unfortunately, that left his ears undefended as a punk singer screamed through the speakers.

"Have Baby do somethin' about it then," Spike shrugged without much sympathy. Then he reached out and tweaked the nipple ring Xander had forgotten getting. A shiver traveled his whole body and Spike waggled an eyebrow. "Knew you'd like that. Thought of you the minute I saw it."

"Please tell me that's saw it as in 'spotting it the window of some kinky shop' and not saw it as in 'taking it off someone's body after having them for dinner,'" Xander said as the thought struck him. "Please?"

"Oi, like I'd get you some used bobble," Spike snorted. Xander noticed that Spike skipped the whole eating of people part as he rolled his eyes and then headed out into the main room, leaving Xander chained to the wall and listening to music that made his ears throb. Rubbing the sore spot on his forehead, Xander tried doing what Spike had said, calling Baby up the way he would call up his vision. His head started throbbing worse, and then it evened out, the swelling shrinking under Xander's fingers.

Xander could feel Baby's eagerness to do more, almost like an anxious puppy, and really that might not be such a bad comparison considering how the demon responded to encouragement, pressing forward.

"Yeah, yeah, like you've done a great job lately," Xander said sarcastically as he shoved at Baby. Rather than yielding, Baby growled and slid forward until Xander could feel the pressure like when he and Jesse used to dare each other to dive to the bottom of the deep end of the pool where the water pressed against them.

Pulling against the chain that kept him on the bed, Xander locked his jaw and fought until he could hear the blood thumping through his skull. Baby sent up thoughts of being strong and hunting with sire, feeding. The image of Baby sinking teeth into prey sent Xander off the bed, but with his wrists still chained to the wall, he ended up twisting around and falling so that he sat on the floor with his arms up in the air, the chain tight between his wrists and the wall.

"Not even," Xander said through gritted teeth as he pulled up memories of his own in their silent battle. He remembered the first time Gunn had taken him out hunting without Xander having to follow the guys into the night.

"You keep your head down and stay away from any fangs," Gunn had ordered as he passed over a stake. Xander remembered the feel of the warm wood as he followed the guys, Luther shooting him dirty looks the whole way. Gunn wasn't prey. Humans weren't prey.

Baby retaliated with thoughts of Riley, fantasies of flesh pulping under his hands and the feeling of bones snapping. Riley tried to take their place. Riley was rival.

Xander took a deep breath as he tried to find a way to fight that one since he did feel more than a little Riley-hatred. But he couldn't just kill humans who annoyed them. If he started down that path, his mother would be near the top of the list. He still flinched at the memory of his last birthday dinner. His mom had peppered Spike with questions that bordered on rude until she'd gone over into all-out rudeland with the whole question of protection.

"You seem old enough to know which side of a condom goes on the inside. I do hope you two are taking precautions," she had said, her fork gesturing in the air with a piece of chocolate cake impaled on the end. Xander had fairly well felt like he was the one impaled on the fork as his face blushed dark red.

"I'm always careful, missus," Spike had answered around the cake in his mouth, and Mrs. Harris had frowned unhappily.

"You don't strike me as the careful sort," his mom had started in again, but Spike interrupted her.

"I'm careful when it's important. I even make sure that when I tie him spread-eagle over the bed that I check the circulation in his hands and feet." His mother had dropped her fork, cake and all, and Xander choked so badly that he ran for the bathroom, leaving Spike looking slightly concerned and his mother in clear shock. Yep, if he was going to start killing people who annoyed him, his mother and Spike would both be high on that list, but he still loved them. He loved Spike charging into Cassidy's lair looking for him without any backup. He loved the way, back in his glorious days of unemployment, his mother used to slip a couple of dollars into his wallet at night when she thought he was asleep. They were annoying, but he loved them anyway.

"So, you ready for some breakfast?" Spike's voice interrupted, and Xander opened his eyes to find Baby had retreated. Now Spike stood in front of him with a key in hand.

"Food would be of the good, just as soon as I pee. You know humans with human needs," Xander answered as Spike came over and unlocked the chain from the leather cuffs buckled around his wrists.

By the time Xander wandered out to the main room, buttoning his jeans as he went, Baby circled in the back of his mind, nervous around Spike but no longer radiating fear. Spike sat on the table, his bare feet braced on the arms of a tall chair as he cleaned a handgun, various shining metal parts laying on the table next to him.

Xander glanced down at this own shining metal, touching the nipple ring and feeling the tingling down through the center of his body. "Thank you, Spike," he said as he dropped into a chair near his sire and grabbed the sack of food sitting in the middle of the table. He pulled the fries out first, shoving them in his mouth before they had a chance to get cold.

"Looks good on you, pet. So, are you and Baby sorted out then?" Spike slipped two parts back together with a click and then slid the new piece into the back of the gun.

"Uh, strangely yes. I think he's oddly okay with the whole dumping Angel plan," Xander said as the thought of Angel didn't cause more than a grumble.

"Not so strange, pet. I asked you last night if you'd figured out why I'd like to kick the great broody one off the Aurelius family tree, and last night, Baby was probably about as frustrated with you." Spike put the gun down and picked up a long knife, checking the blade as Xander unwrapped a cheeseburger. He wondered if Spike had some hidden minion who did the food run of if he'd just bribed some McDonald's worker. Xander looked at his sire suspiciously, but Spike just waited for his answer with that one eyebrow up expectant expression.

"The dots still are kind of dot-like instead of picture like," Xander shrugged as he bit into the burger. God he was hungry.

"In the morning, I can hear you pulling at those chains, making sure they're tight," Spike commented, and Xander swallowed quickly, a blush making his face hot as Spike turned to look at him. Yeah, Xander liked the chains plenty, but it wasn't something he exactly wanted to talk about.

"Hey, how about that Hellmouth," Xander tried distracting, but Spike just cocked his eyebrow up even higher. The vampire jumped down from the table and walked around to behind Xander, and Xander could feel his heart speed up when strong hands landed on his shoulders. Spike ran his hands down Xander's arms and then stopped at the leather cuffs still buckled around Xander's wrists.

"When I put things on you, I like that you don't take them off. If I want the cuffs or the ring off, I'll take them off." Spike reached up with one hand unbuttoned Xander's shirt, tracing a fingernail over the exposed skin before reaching in and flicking the nipple ring. "But I'm sire, and I make that decision for you," Spike said with a tug to the nipple ring, and Xander groaned. But just when he expected to get thrown stomach down on the table and taken, Spike stopped. The hands disappeared and Spike went back to his original spot, a malicious grin on his face.

"So not nice," Xander complained. And then the dots seemed suddenly closer. "And that would be the point. I—" Xander paused, blushing as he forced himself to ignore the embarrassment, "I like when you're in charge, and Baby wants me to be in charge, only I went and made him take over, so now he thinks he should be in charge, only he isn't because then I took over again."

Xander knew he was right from the smile, but one part still didn't make sense. "But what does that have to do with you being annoyed with the big broody one?"

Spike had been sharpening his knife and now he paused. "He was my sire," Spike started. "He had a right ta do what he wanted with me and Dru, just like I have a right ta do what I want with you." Spike stopped, but suddenly the dots were very pictury.

"But he left you alone," Xander finished. Spike started sharpening his knife again.

"Wouldn't even mind that as much except he comes in and plays sire. He turned up in China and again during one of the big wars. And then in L.A., he promises to help me get you back, and asks for my help takin' out Cassidy, and then he turns around and tries to shove me off. Can't rightly just call him a bastard and ignore him or submit to him, and I sure can't dominate him even though I did give it my best. Just feels wrong to have things so unsettled."

Xander watched Spike check the edge of the knife. A long red line appeared in his thumb and Spike licked it.

"And that's what I did to Baby," Xander said softly.

"Yeah, ya did, pet. However, that doesn't change the fact that Baby had a duty to me, and he wasn't strong enough to stand on his own and wait for me. You're both my childer even if you're my favorite. So, Baby and I will still need to come to some understanding," Spike added. Xander could feel Baby stir, but there wasn't the blind panic of earlier. "Right now, though, we have to go play nice with the slayer. Vahrall demons aren't the kind to play by the Annoyin' One's rules, and if that Hellmouth comes open, we're going to have to find ourselves some other dimension to set up shop."

"Another dimension?" Xander asked, panic sending his voice into frighteningly girly tones. "But what about my mom, and Willow, and Gunn, and Angel, and Aunt Betty who's not really my aunt but who does have a whole lot of cats?" Spike shot him another look bordering between confusion and concern.

"If we have time, we'll gather up your mum, but my first choice would be keeping that Hellmouth shut." Spike paused. "Considering the alternative is having your mum live with us, I'm willing to do what it takes to stop the Annoyin' One and his half-arsed plan for the Hellmouth." Spike shoved the sharpened knife into a sheath strapped to his leg before pulling the jeans over it.

"Living with us?" Xander considered the true horror of having his mother in the next room. As a teenager, he had to play sock puppet of love in the middle of the night to keep his mother from pounding on the door and asking if he needed more bran, and having her in the same house with his current sex life… Xander shuddered in horror.

"So, let's talk about the others," Spike said as he pulled on his boots. Xander shoved the last of his cheese burger into his mouth and looked at the table. The others. Okay, Angel thought he was out of control, Faith had to think he was a nut job, which was actually okay with him as long as she didn't try jumping him again. And Willow…. Oh yeah, she must think he'd slipped round the bend.

"Ya can't ask Baby to take charge, not when that means dealing with a slayer and a slightly off-bubble watcher and more stress than a new fledge can handle," Spike said as he pulled on his second boot. Xander swallowed and nodded unhappily.

"Out with it," Spike said as he jumped to the floor and picked up the gun, shoving it into the back of his waistband.

"Um, no, I can do this. Just… I don't know… stick me with an elbow or something if I start babbling."

"Just what?" Spike stopped, cocking his head at Xander in that adorable 'I don't know what the hell you're talking about' expression. Xander sighed.

"I babble."

"Yeah, I noticed, pet."

"But when I babble people tend to look at me, and normally this is good because I perfected the whole class clown act where I can be the center of attention and still not have anyone actually pay attention. I'm good at that. Normally." Xander stumbled to a stop, not sure how to explain.

"And you don't want people to look at ya?" Spike asked. "You're a treat to look at, and now that we got you out of those bloody awful clothes, you're going to catch some looks, pet."

"Yeah, but those looks are from people who don't know some of the things I've done, and Angel and Willow know that I'm different. Angel saw me try to bite Faith."

"Bloody hell, you tried to take a slayer?" Spike practically bounced forward, his eyebrows up in an expression of glee that made Baby growl his pride. "Get in a few good hits then?"

"I sat on her and almost bit her before Angel pulled me off and choked me into oblivion," Xander said, leaving out the part where Faith had offered to thrown him down and ride him around the curves. He really didn't want to see her end up Spike's next meal.

"Good on you!" Spike offered with a slap on the arm that left Baby ecstatic and Xander feeling a little pride, and then a little guilty at feeling proud of nearly biting someone.

"Okay, this is what I mean. You think this is great, but Faith and Willow and Angel, not so much with the cheering. And now they're going to give me the look for picking you over Angel and Willow is going to give me the disappointed face, which is nearly as bad as the resolve face, and I'm going to get all flustered and say something incredibly stupid," Xander blurted as he stared at the table. "I didn't let Baby up because he's smarter because really, not so much. Baby just babbles less than I do, and I really don't know how to even start some of the explanations they're all going to demand."

"Pet," Spike sighed, and Xander cringed.

"Yeah, Patheticsville. I know this Spike, but Willow's going to say something like, 'How could you,' and I'm going to say something incredibly stupid, and then Angel's going to give me that disappointed look, and… okay, I have no idea what to say to Angel, but that's the point. I don't know how to talk to these people, at least not without making myself sound like either a loon or someone in need of serious therapy. Of course, they may be right on the whole me needing therapy part."

"No one's suggested therapy yet, so I don't think you're ready ta be committed." Spike pointed out.

"See, inappropriate sharing of inner fears. Baby doesn't do that. He knows how to keep his mouth shut."

"And you will too, and without confusing the shite out of Baby by shoving him up front to try and deal with the slayer and Peaches."

Xander laughed as Spike headed for the other room. "Spike, I had teachers who would have paid good money to see you teach me how to not talk. I had two modes in high school. Either I sat in the back half asleep, or, when the back row was too scary for even me, I would sit up front and make inappropriate comments about Russian queens and rumors of horses. My history teacher almost had an aneurism, and sadly, I didn't even mean to blurt that piece of totally inappropriate material, although, I would like to say in my defense that the back row paid a lot more attention to history after—."

Xander froze mid-sentence when Spike reappeared. Okay, Spike didn't make him fall silent as much as the leather in Spike's hand. "And that can't be what I think it is," Xander whispered.

"Like I said before, you're my childe, and you'll submit to me, not to Baby or to any other demon on the soddin' planet. So, if you can't control yourself, I'll provide the control."

"I can't go out with that on. Willow would think I was…" Xander couldn't even find the word that would explain this. However, Spike kept coming even as Xander backed away.

"This is the Hellmouth pet, people around here have learned to ignore whatever doesn't fit into their narrow little worlds. Now either come here or I'll add in some punishment for you on top of what Baby's earned," Spike promised seriously. That was enough to stop Xander from backing away even if he couldn't get his legs to move him forward.

Spike quickly closed the distance and wrapped his hand around the back of Xander's neck, pulling him forward and he settled the straps in over Xander's head. Part of Xander said that he should make some form of protest, but at least this way he wouldn't be the one explaining anything, at least not without pantomime, and Xander suddenly had an image of himself babbling in pantomime. So not pretty.

Spike pressed something against his lips, and Xander opened his mouth. A cold metal piece slipped into his mouth, trapping his tongue in the bottom of his mouth as Spike tightened straps. Leather ran from the sides of the bit in his mouth over his cheeks and over the top of his head and down the back. Matching pieces ran from the side around the back of his head and then down and under his chin so that Xander found his mouth held firmly shut.

"There, babbling problem solved," Spike commented as he kissed Xander's closed lips, nibbling on the lower lip. With the bit, Xander couldn't really do much in return. "So, let's go see your little friends and get this world-savin' bit over before I lose all self-respect. Can't believe I'm helping the white hats save the world," Spike commented with a slap on Xander's hip.

Xander headed straight for the bathroom, ignoring sire and his own need to start pulling at buckles. In the mirror, he could see the upside down triangle of leather from the corners of his mouth over his temples and up to a strap around his forehead. Straps went over his head, and the bottom of the muzzle tucked under his chin before connecting to a piece that looked suspiciously collar-like, the soft brown leather dark against his skin and the blue of his shirt.

Xander turned and found Spike leaning against the door, smiling. "Ya look like a right treat, pet," Spike said softly as he came forward. His fingers played with Xander's curls, tugging them out from under the straps so that the leather slowly disappeared under the hair. But unless Xander planned on growing a pretty impressive beard in the next ten minutes, nothing would hide the muzzle around his mouth. Xander reached up and touched the rings at the corners of his mouth where the various straps all connected.

Spike pulled his hand back down and rested his chin on Xander's shoulder, invisible as Xander stared at himself in the mirror.

"Pet, ya let Baby muzzle you, and you nearly lost yourself. If you're that afraid of yourself, ya have to trust me to speak for you." Spike said, reaching up to Xander's still-open shirt and playing with the nipple ring. Xander looked up at the ceiling for a second, struggling with a various fears.

"If it bothers ya that much, we can just go dimension shopping. Mind you, Angel is a tough bastard, and I think he'll probably save the world without us."

Xander took a deep breath before looking around the room for something to write with. He found a big nothing. Slipping out of Spike's embrace, Xander headed for the bedroom and snagged a pen from the nightstand. On the palm of his hand, he wrote, "We'll help."

Spike smiled.


Chapter 17

"Oh goddess," Willow breathed as Xander followed Spike through the door to the Magic Box. Xander ducked his head as his face nearly caught fire from his blush.

"Red, Peaches, Slayer," Spike greeted the assembled group.

"Oh goddess. Oh goddess."

"William, what do you think you're doing?" Angel demanded. Xander could feel Baby stir, but he shoved back viciously. He'd never be anything other than a minion to Angel, a reminder of all the vampire bits Angel didn't want to feel. He was childe to Spike, and he'd stick with Spike. Baby backed off with a grumble, but Xander nearly walked into Spike's back. Instinctively, he tried to apologize, but he just managed to make himself blush even deeper when his attempt to talk tightened the straps around his head. Oh yeah, his brain wasn't running on all cylinders.

"Oh goddess, Xander, are you okay? Of course you're not okay with that… that…" Willow stopped, and Xander looked up in time to see Willow's hands fluttering like butterflies.

"Chill, 'Lo, boy doesn't seem like he's hurting any, although he does seem to be walking a little funny," Faith said as she came out of a back room, a tall man walking just a bit behind her. Xander glared at her because he was not walking funny. Okay, if he'd been all human, he totally would have been, but he wasn't and he could walk just fine.

"Tone down the glare. What, did the Z-dog wake up on the wrong side of his vampire this morning?" Faith stepped aside to let the man step forward. "Larry, this is Xander and his vamp, Spike. Xander and Spike, Larry."

"Hey," Larry said with a nod of his head. "Wait. Xander? Xander Harris? Oh god, I remember you from grade school. Man, I am really sorry about the whole lunch money thing. I just really didn't have my head screwed on straight, you know?" Larry offered with a smile, and Xander's eyes widened as he finally placed the face. Larry held up his hands in surrender, but he held an ax in one hand, which made him look a little not-so-harmless.

"Hey, no need to look so worried because I process my anger now. I just thought I'd show up and help swing an ax against the menace of the day," he said as he lifted the heavy black ax.

"Um, guys, Xander…" Willow stepped forward toward them, but then Angel sidestepped putting himself between Willow and Spike.

"William, take that thing off, now."

"Or wot?" Spike asked as he leaned against a shelf. "Seems like the boy made his choice, and it wasn't you, Peaches." And that would be Spike's smug voice.

"William," Angel growled. "Take it off or I will."

"Bloody hell, we came here to help with the Annoyin' One, but if you're going to act all high and mighty, we have places ta go, dimensions ta check out," Spike said in a voice dripping with accent before he turned back toward the door.

Xander froze, looking from Spike to the group gathered in the Magic Box. Riley stood near the counter with a number of weapons laid in front of him. Larry looked slightly dazed, Willow still had fluttery hands, and Tara just stood with wide eyes and a book clutched to her chest. Xander reached out and grabbed at Spike's arm. Spike stopped, his back to the group.

"He's mine, Peaches. If we stay, you don't get ta tell me what to do with my boy." Spike didn't even turn around, and Xander could feel the tension in the room as he clung to Spike's duster.

"If you think—" Angel started, but a voice from the far side of the store interrupted him.

"For heaven's sake. It's not like putting those contraptions on him is any more cruel than when you simply intimidated him into silence," Giles said. Xander turned to see the watcher stand up from behind a shelf with a large book in hand, and Angel flinched back, his fury gone under the more familiar guilt.

"Besides, the boy is not exactly human, so I suggest we continue with our plan so that I can get all four of you out of my shop and my life as quickly as possible. While I understand the necessity for cooperating with certain demons, I certainly don't like it."

"I am not a hostile," Riley said in a fair imitation of a growl, and from the tone, Xander guessed this wasn't the first time he'd made that particular announcement.

"Of course you aren't," Giles agreed in a tone that made it clear that he thought Riley was both demonic and slightly stupid.

"But Xander," Willow inched to the side, gazing around Angel's body, and Xander felt himself blush even redder. Okay, he could do this. Xander could feel his own fear and humiliation rising, and Baby pressed in on the tide. This time, Xander forced Baby back as he clenched his teeth over the bit in his mouth, determined to keep control. Baby slid back into the shadows of his mind.

"The boy's mine, witch. I take care of him, and that means if you don't stop staring and making him feel uncomfortable, I'll walk right out of here with him, and you'll never bloody see him again." Spike turned around and caught Willow in one of his patented, narrow-eyed glares of doom.


"Hey, how about you do your blessing thing on my ax? My ax could use some serious blessing, and as the official adjunct member of the F-team, I am due some extra Willow time. I never get to see you any more," Larry interrupted as he walked between Angel and Spike to pull Willow away.


"You want me to come explain the kinky birds and leather-bees?" Faith called from the counter, and Willow gave a strangled chirp sound while Larry practically shouted a "NO!" Hurrying, Larry pulled Willow into the back room, and Tara slowly put down her book.

"I should—" she ducked her head and waved toward the back room. Then she made a hasty exit, walking fast enough to make her skirts swirl and tangle around her ankles.

"Back off, Big-A. Seems like Xander could flash some signal if he needed saving, and I'm not in the business of getting involved in anyone's sex life. Least, not without a proper invite," she added as she gave Spike a wink.

"You don't know—" Angel started.

"We don't bloody know? I know you just about turned him as loony as Dru ever was. You soddin' well knew he wanted to be with me, and you still tried ripping him away. You tried back in L.A., and you tried here, but the boy picked me," Spike interrupted, now in game face.

"So that's what has you acting like this? You finally found a way to make yourself feel like you aren't second to me, boy?" Angel demanded as he stepped forward. Spike pressed forward himself so that now the two vampires stood chest to chest with matching yellow eyes glaring at each other. Xander could feel Baby's desire to press back into a dark corner, but to hell with that. Xander stepped forward and backhanded Spike across the arm, giving him a dirty look before pressing between the two vampires.

"Stay out of this, pet," Spike said, but Xander ignored him as he pressed his back into Spike's chest, struggling to push him away from the brewing fight. Luckily, Angel retreated several steps to avoid touching, so Xander could cross his arms and glare at the great broody one.

"Good lord, it's like watching demonic five year olds. Might I remind people that we need to figure out how the Vahrall plan to use the Word of Valios to open the Hellmouth?"

"It's usually a sacrifice. Kill a few virgins, toss something down a hole, chant a bit and the watch the world end. I vote for finding the Vahrall and guttin' them before the chanting and sacrificing start." Spike announced as he slipped an arm around Xander's stomach, and Xander relaxed back into the embrace.

"I'm voting for bleach-boy's plan," Faith added.

"Yes, hardly surprising," Giles answered as retreated behind the counter and started flipping through the pages of a dusty, yellowed volume. "But the Vahrall are immune to magic, including the locating spell Jenny has been trying for the last 24 hours straight, and we have no idea where to find them or their ceremony."

"I'm guessing the Hellmouth," Spike offered. Giles looked up, sighed, and then returned to flipping pages.

"Yes, thank you, I hadn't thought to look for a spell to open the Hellmouth to occur on the Hellmouth. If you would like to be of assistance, perhaps you can go sit in the ruins of the old high school until the Vahrall show up or until the sun rises and turns you to a pile of dust. While you're at it, take Angel with you."

Xander held his breath, waiting for some sort of explosion from Spike after that bit of disrespect, but Spike simply stood with his arms around Xander's waist. Surprisingly, Riley jumped in.

"I don't think this hostility is helping to—" Riley started, but Giles interrupted him before he could finish.

"Advice from the vampire's pet, how charming."

"I am not—"

"How silly of me to forget, you are not a hostile, a demon, a thrall, a demon's pet, or anything other than a United States Marine. Yes, yes, quite so."

Xander flinched at Giles' tone of voice, and he actually found himself feeling a little sympathy for the soldier who now clutched a rifle in his tight fists. Angel backed up a few more steps, taking a position next to Riley.

"He has a point," Angel said carefully. "We need to work together. If it would be easier, I could leave."

"Easier. Yes, it would be." Giles ripped his glasses from his face and polished them furiously as he stared at a spot just left of Angel. "Go harass Willie or some low-level demon. Go back to L.A. Go sunbathing or go take a bath in holy water or go throw yourself on a bed of stakes. All of those options would make working considerably easier." Giles slapped the shop counter with his open hand and then stood there, glasses dangling from his other hand as he stared down at the open book.

Angel nodded mutely as he started toward the door.

"Wait. I'll go with you. A couple of my men can be trusted to help us, and maybe the Initiative has a line on any new demons in town," Riley said as he put the rifle down and grabbed a hand gun, shoving it deep into a jacket pocket. Angel paused as Riley trotted to catch up and then they left, the door bell tinkling merrily after them.

"Of course the boy is not a pet. A pet would go running after his master eager to help him, and that's certainly not what Riley appears to be doing," Giles said to himself dryly as he put his glasses back on.

"Cut him some slack," Faith said. "So, Word of Valios. Anyone I can beat an answer out of for you?"

Giles sighed. "Unfortunately not. Willow, Tara and I searched these books and Jenny has had no luck with the spells. I hate to admit it, but at this point our best bet would be to watch the old high school from midnight to three when the stars are properly aligned for a sacrifice. According to the Yarg texts, the Vahrall will want to make the sacrifice on the surface so that the spirits of Ha'ur and La can witness. Unfortunately, without a clearer timeline, I just don't know when they might show."

"Stakeout, check."

"Except the presence of a Mohra does significantly change the odds." Giles added when Faith jumped down from the counter. "If the Anointed One has orchestrated this plan, he will certainly send his best warriors to either stop the Vahrall or defend them, depending on his ultimate plan, and that force will surely include the Mohra demon."

"Mohra, Schmora. It's a demon; I'll kill it," Faith answered with a shrug.

"Nice thought, luv, but those buggers are hard to kill. A hit to the jewel in their head will do it, but they know that too, so they tend to defend that spot. Hit 'em anywhere else and you just piss 'em off."

"And while I would normally take Spike's advice with more than a little suspicion, I can confirm that," Giles said, and even Xander could smell the distress in the air. He looked over his shoulder at Spike, but Spike could only shrug an answer. Xander looked back toward the man who smelled of fear and despair beyond anything Xander had smelled before, and that was surprising considering some of the dirty back alleys Spike picked for hunting.

"Look, I'm not some white hat, but I'll be damned if I let some Vahrall or Mohra or the sniveling Annoying One end the world. I like the world right where it is, so I'll go along and watch the slayer's back," Spike finally added. Giles looked up with a sharp glare.

"The last time a vampire gave me that speech, he turned around and killed one of my slayers."

"Peaches does have a way of going back on his word," Spike agreed.

"Oh, and I suppose you always tell the truth?"

"Bloody hell no. I lie with the best of them," Spike insisted in an insulted tone. "I told his mum I was joking about tying him to the bed," Spike said with a nod toward Xander. "Lied to soldier boy 'bout so many things I can't even keep track of what I told him, but I don't want that Hellmouth open, and as long as your needs and mine are the same, I figure I'm as good of an ally as any."

"Hardly inspiring confidence. I'm sure Tara and Willow will be willing to go along. Their magic is impressive, certainly strong enough to slow you down while Larry beheads you if you start anything," Giles commented as he gestured toward the door to the back room. Faith headed that way, Xander assumed to get the rest of the F-team.

"Fair enough," Spike answered with a nod. "Your clan isn't mine, and I'd kill them all if it meant keeping me and mine safe, so I figure you have a right to doubt my motives."

"At least you admit it." Giles leaned over and grabbed something out from under the counter. As soon as he twisted the top, Xander's nose twitched from the bitter scent of alcohol. Giles took a deep swig, stashing the bottle back under the counter when the others came in from the back room.

"Spike," Willow said softly, clutching something to her stomach, but her eyes remained on Xander, making him blush. "Do you think… well… oh goddess." Whatever she had intended to say disappeared under a shaky breath as tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. Xander flinched, and Spike's arm tightened around his stomach.

"Spike, would you mind if we asked Xander to write us answers so that we can talk to him?" Larry stepped up and took a pad of paper from Willow's hands, holding it out to Spike.

Xander looked at the paper, but just waited as he considered Larry. Xander remembered Larry through the filter of childhood terror, but now, as Spike reached out to take the pad, he could see someone else as Larry shot him a quick wink before backing up to Willow's side. And shouldn't Larry be more freaked? Xander knew he'd be freaked if someone showed up wearing a muzzle, and Larry seemed strangely not-freaked. Now Willow… she was freaked. Xander glanced toward her, and she reached up and wiped her eye as she stared into space.

"Right, so let's get to the Hellmouth." Spike said as he handed to pad to Xander. Xander took the paper and followed as Spike headed for the door in a swirl of leather.

"You heard him, let's go kick some demon ass… if we can find any," Faith said behind them.



Chapter 18

Xander sat on a chunk of fallen ceiling folding and unfolding the same corner of paper. The conversation seemed to have petered out after pages of "yes, I'm fine" and "where did you meet Tara?" and the whole "what happened here?" that had sent Willow on a crying jag. Tara still knelt beside her in the ruins with her arms wrapped around Willow who had gone from crying to just staring into space.

Xander reached up and itched a bit of cheek under a strap, silently blessing Spike for giving him an excuse to not talk because the awkward silence was babble-worthy. Heck, Willow totally would have been babbling if not for the whole crying, staring, lost in the depths of despair thing she had going on.

Larry reached over in the silence, plucking the pen from Xander's hand.

'Willow blew up the school,' Larry wrote in a scrawled hand. Okay, that surprised Xander, both Larry writing, obviously not wanting to say it in front of Willow and the whole Willow blowing up the school. Hell, if someone was going to blow up a school, Xander would have put himself much higher on the list of potential arsonists. He hated school, but the Willow he'd known would have hyperventilated if she ripped a page in a library book much less burned a library and the rest of the school along with it.

'???' Xander reached over to write. Something must have let Spike know that he was upset because the vampire stalked back toward them, still chain smoking so that a gray plume followed his head. Larry immediately tilted the pad of paper toward Spike while writing. Spike leaned against a beam near the other side of the room, his eyes flicking to the paper for a second before turning and watching Faith balance on a tilting beam that straddled an old desk. Xander rolled his eyes at Mr. Overprotectiveness.

Larry tilted the pad of paper back toward Xander so he could read. 'Jenny had magical pow powder for blowing up box. Big fight. Spiders came out of box. Willow blew up spider. Spider fire blew up pow powder. Powder blew up school and mayor.'

Xander nodded absent-mindedly, and then spiders plus explosions rang the memory bell. He took the pen back.

'Wendell?' he wrote, the sound of the pen scritching over the paper the only noise other than the faint creaking of the wood beam that Faith balanced on. Larry blinked several times, ignoring the pen Xander held out. After a second, Larry got up and walked away from the group, abandoning both the paper and his ax as he headed out a hole in the crumbled wall.

And fuck. Just a few seconds too late, Xander remember the part of his conversation with Willow where she talked about Wendell and Larry going to prom together, and yeah, even with his mouth gagged, Xander had a real ability to say the wrong thing. Xander could only watch and silently kick himself as he added one more person to the 'horribly offended' list.

Xander jumped when Spike's hand rested on his shoulder before the vamp dropped onto the wall next to Xander.

"Ya alright, pet?" he asked. Xander nodded and waved a hand absent-mindedly toward the gap where Larry had disappeared.

"Boy needs some space," Spike commented.

Xander grabbed the abandoned pad and scribbled, 'no duh.'

"Brat," Spike complained without actually sounding very complainy.

"I blew up Wendell when I blew up the school," Willow whispered from her place in the ruins. "I tried to blow up a spider, but I blew up Wendell and then the supplies we brought caught fire."

"It wasn't your fault," a deep voice said, and Xander turned to find Angel stepping in through the gap where Larry had just fled. Riley followed, dressed in army green, and two other men followed. One looked a lot like Riley with the whole military clean look, and the second one, an African American, had a real Gunn thing going on.

"I'm thinking it was my fault what with me doing the magical blowing," Willow said softly.

"The spider had already bitten him, he would have died in agony even if we had gotten him out," Angel insisted.

"Still, blowing up my best friend…" Willow stopped, her breath coming in ragged sobs.

"Still know how ta cheer up a room, don't ya?" Spike asked Angel as he stood up. Xander would have stood up next to his sire, but Spike's hand resting on his shoulder held him in place.

"Shut up, Spike."

"Oh yeah, clever come back, Peaches."

"Isn't that…?" the soldier behind Riley stopped as he brought his gun up.

"Hostile Seven, one of the escaped hostiles," the other soldier added.

"Stand down. Hostile Seven is helping with trying to shut down this demon conspiracy," Riley ordered. "Graham, Forest… this is Spike. The girls are Willow and Tara. These are Graham Miller and Forest Gates." Riley made quick introduction, but Xander noticed that he had been left conspicuously out despite the fact that both soldiers looked at him strangely, which was not so surprising considering the whole muzzle.

"Yeah, stand down," Spike suggested with a tone that promised a whole lot of bloodshed if guns didn't go down. Forrest raised his gun a little higher, but Riley reached out and pushed the end of the weapon down toward the ground.

"Stand down," Riley snapped. "We have readings for multiple hostiles in the area." Riley offered.

"Buddy, there are always multiple hostiles in this area. Welcome to the Hellmouth," Larry said as he climbed back in the gap, coming over to Xander to retrieve his ax. "Sorry I bailed on you there. Some things, just, you know," Larry offered with a half shrug. "So, do we have any bad guys in need of dismembering?" he asked the new arrivals.

"God, I hope so. I'm going to die of boredom if something slimy or horny doesn't walk through that door soon," Faith offered while still balancing on her board and gesturing toward the charred outline of cafeteria doors.

"Careful what you ask for on the Hellmouth, luv."

"Let's focus," Angel interrupted, causing Spike to roll his eyes. "We have rumors of a ceremony this week, and the Vahrall have been spotted near here. Whatever is going to happen will happen soon."

"Not soon enough, A. I'm dying here," Faith objected.

"You won't say that when you face the hostiles," Graham commented. Faith froze mid-balance and then started to laugh hard enough that she had to jump down.

"Babe, I've been facing 'hostiles' for the better part of a year, which puts me on the list of one of the more successful slayers. But I'm not big on hanging around waiting for someone to show up, so I'm hoping your plan includes some action. Otherwise, I'm going to go hit a graveyard or two to find a quick fight."

"I say we flush 'em out. Call the soldier boys' friends in and point them at the court," Spike suggested. "We could see what rats come crawling off the sinking ship."

"And how many humans would die?" Angel demanded.

"Don't soddin' care," Spike answered. Angel stood with his jaw flexing as he fought some internal battle, but Spike just pulled out another cigarette. "If you have a better idea, I'd love to hear it."

"Can I just say that getting in the middle with the court and the Initiative and the Vahrall is sounding kinda not good?" Willow said as she sat up. "Middle tends to be bad."

"We can't just stand around and hope the hostiles show up," Graham pointed out.

"We don't need to wait." Tara pointed toward the large opening where doors once hung. Striding toward them, three green demons growled.

"Bloody hell," Spike said. The blast of three automatic weapons opening fire made Xander fall backwards off his seat, but when he came up, he had pulled his largest knife. The soldiers had already abandoned their automatic weapons in favor of tazers, but Larry with his ax was actually faring better. The Vahrall simply ignored the tazers, and Forrest went down under a vicious punch.

One of the demons, his horns curving backwards like really bad helmet-hair, shook his head and chanted as the ground started to shake, but his words ended in a bubbly growl as a knife sunk into his throat. Xander lost track of what everyone else was doing as he threw himself at the nearest demon, which happened to be the one who had just knocked Larry to the floor.

Xander darted in, slicing the demon's arm and then ducking back as the demon took a swipe at him with a nasty looking claw. The world tilted red and Xander tasted blood as a fang caught his lip. On the floor, Larry scrambled out of the way while Xander dodged in again, this time scoring a hit on the demon's thigh. His knife stuck in the thick skin, and Xander moved a little too slow.

The demon caught him with a punch to his back that sent him to his knees, but Xander retaliated with a knife strike to the back of the creature's knee. First target, a head or anything that looks like a head; second target, joints. Xander mutely thanked Spike for that lesson as the Vahrall staggered to the side, giving Xander time to get to his feet.

The creature opened its mouth in a furious roar that made Xander want to growl his answer, but Larry appeared behind the demon. Larry sunk the ax into the creature, burying the steel so far into the demon's skull that Xander knew it was dead before it hit the ground. Xander twisted around, ready to take on the next demon, but the other two were already on the ground, reddish-purple blood oozing from multiple wounds and a few dismembered limbs scattered on the floor.

"Okay, as apocalypse go, that was a major disappointment," Faith said as she lifted her sword and let the blade rest on her shoulder. "Is anyone else disappointed?"

"I know I am," a child's voice offered from the open gap that had once been a set of doors. Xander felt Baby withdraw in fear as the Anointed one walked through the opening.

"Anointed One," Angel said respectfully as he took a step forward. Xander took about four steps back so that he stood next to Spike as other vampires filed into the room behind the child-sized Master Vampire. Colin stood at the Anointed One's back, sword ready while the minions scattered across the room. One tried to slide around their group to the back, and Spike snarled a warning that sent the fledge cringing back.

"Angelus. I am disappointed in your interference. I thought we had an arrangement." The child vampire stood looking around at the group, his disdain obvious.

"I won't let the Hellmouth open. Defending it is not a breech of our agreement."

Xander watched as Willow's mouth fell open as she stared at Angel. Oh yeah, the great broody one had definitely failed to mention having a deal with the current Master of the Hellmouth.

"But acting against me is a breech of our agreement," the Anointed One said softly. He took a step forward, and Colin moved to his side, fangs showing.

"I acted against the Vahrall. Certainly you have no wish to see our dimension pulled into theirs." Angel remained respectful, but he didn't back down. Instead, he stared at the Anointed One with yellowed eyes.

"But I told your childe that the Vahrall were part of my plan. Or perhaps Spike is no longer under your protection." The Anointed One looked toward Spike, and Xander could feel his sire's body stiffen at the challenge.

"I don't bloody need—"

"He's mine," Angel snarled as he interrupted Spike.

"He doesn't act like he's yours."

Xander looked from one vampire to the other, feeling the currents pulling at them as Angel vamped out and glared at Spike only to have Spike glare back.

"Can fight my own fights," Spike growled. Angel didn't bother to answer; he closed the distance in two strides and grabbed Spike by the back of the neck.

"You're mine, boy," Angel said loudly before dropping his voice, "and I won't let you throw yourself against him because I don't know how to feel about the fact that you'll always be mine," Angel whispered into Spike's ear as he yanked Spike close to him. "Just keep your head down and back me up, and for once in your unlife, follow orders."

Spike shoved back at Angel, making Angel take a small step backwards. "Got recognized as a Master without you, ya overgelled poof."

"William," Angel warned.

"Wot? Ya don't have the knackers to make me submit."

Xander was on the edge of hyperventilating-type panic when he saw Spike tilt his head slightly. And that was not a challenging look Spike gave Angel as the larger vampire blocked the Anointed One's view of their little exchange.

"Spike, don't," Angel said as he stepped into Spike's space. Spike tilted his head a fraction more.

"Or what? Soddin' souled up excuse—"

Spike didn't get a chance to say any more before Angel drove fangs deep into Spike, drinking his blood while jerking Spike's body into his own. The sounds of sucking stopped, but neither moved.

"Ya need more," Spike whispered, his words little more than a breath, but Angel pulled back, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Angel glanced over to Xander, bringing up a hand to rest on Xander's cheek for a second before giving the muzzle a sharp tug. As Angel turned to face the Anointed One again, Xander realized Angel had opened a buckle. Xander looked toward Spike for guidance, and Spike reached over and pulled another buckle free.

Getting the point, Xander unhooked the rest of the muzzle, and pulled Baby's strength up to the surface, feeling his mouth ache as fangs pushed out. He understood the silent message in Angel's act. If things went bad, Xander would need every advantage in fighting, and a vampire's fangs could be a deadly asset, one they couldn't afford to muzzle.

"Spike's mine, and he falls under my protection," Angel said as he stepped forward again. The girls and Larry had pushed closer to Spike and Xander, but all three soldiers stood their ground, spread out in a triangle shape and ready for a fight. Faith remained to the side, her sword held out in front while a couple of minions sneered at her.

"You have failed to open a portal," a deeper voice said as the Mohra stepped into the room, it's skull-like face turning to consider each creature in the ruins before turning to the Anointed One.

"I haven't failed. It will simply take a little longer," the small vampire answered, and much of the arrogance slipped away.

"You promised tonight."

"I will still succeed. I have the spells to control and direct the portal, and in time, I will find a way to open it. I will control the pathway between the worlds. I have the power; you have seen this," the Anointed One insisted. The Mohra considered him with snake eyes.

"Your power is insignificant." With that, the Mohra turned and left. Xander could feel the shockwave in the room as vampires shifted. As creatures sensitive to power and status, other vampires nervously glanced toward the Anointed One as some of his status melted under him, but the tiny Master continued to stand there, looking as unperturbed as ever.

"You have cost me considerably, Angelus. Our arrangement was that you would stay out of clan business."

"Our arrangement was that I wouldn't go after you," Angel corrected him as he took another step forward. Colin growled and stepped in front of his master.

"And now the head of the Aurelius line must be defended? Is that what the line has come to?" Angel asked with a sweet smile, but Xander could feel the shifting fears run through the minions. Their demons demanded that they follow the strongest, only they weren't as sure about who was strongest any more.

"And I would hate to think that you have violated that arrangement. Your slayer is so helpless lying in that bed. It would take the weakest minion only a moment to drain her."

"Yeah, well they'd have to go through me first," Faith threw out there as she squared off against the Anointed One.

"And our arrangement does not shield the current slayer, even if it does put your pets and childe under your protection."

"Faith." Angel barely breathed the word.

"No problem, Big-A. I don't need a shield because I can take this one out by myself. So, if you have some sort of deal with him for Buffy's life, I'm five-by-five with that. Just keep the minions off my back while I turn this one into dust."

Xander had no idea whether confidence or bravado inspired the words, but the minions shifted again, and Xander could feel Baby's growing contempt rattling around just below the surface. The little vampire failed. His plan failed. His allies called him weak and abandoned him. The slayer challenged him.

"Step back, Faith." Angel's voice carried no emotion.

"Not a chance."

Angel stepped forward and grabbed Faith by the back of her neck, pulling her off balance with that hand while he grabbed her sword arm with the other. "You will not challenge him because I will taste his blood, so step back or challenge me," Angel snarled, his game face now forward. Faith jerked in his grip, the scent of fear drifting through the room, and Xander growled in response. Spike's hand rested on his arm and anchored him.

"Slayer, ya don't want to go up against Angel, he's a right bastard when given a chance, and ya know that. So just come wait with the witches, alright?"

Faith's eyes flicked toward them, and then Angel gave her a shake and let her go. Xander held his breath as the slayer stood, sword in hand, and looked from Angel to Spike. And right about now, Xander really wished he had some cool power like telepathy because she was totally not getting it. She glanced toward Willow and then to him, and Xander mouthed the word 'please.'

Finally, she started backing away from Angel, her sword held up defensively as she put herself between Angel and the rest of her F-team. Angel didn't even glance at her as he stared down the Anointed One. Oh yeah, Angel with his back to a slayer, so confident of her submission, and that had an effect on the minions. And it didn't hurt that the girl who hadn't batted an eye at challenging the Anointed One now smelled of fear and uncertainty.

"You aren't worthy of challenge, souled one," Colin hissed as he moved forward. Before Xander could blink, Spike had darted past Angel, grabbing Colin while the vampire was still focused on Angel, and ripping his head from his neck in one vicious twist. Xander growled at the nearest minion, expecting the free for all to start at the Anointed One yelled for an attack.

Instead, only a few random minions darted toward them. Faith neatly decapitated one while Spike took out two in a furious attack and Riley staked another without moving out of position. Xander grabbed the one who flung himself in their general direction and tangled his fingers in the long, stringy hair, yanking the head to the side. The vampire hissed and clawed at Xander's legs, but Xander just drove his fangs deep into the soft flesh of the minion's neck and started drinking.

For a second, Xander found himself sliding under Baby's surge of triumph, the primal act of feeding on the enemy making Baby roar his power. Then Spike turned and looked at him, one eyebrow raised in question, and Xander forced Baby back, resorting to his own feelings of nausea as he considered that he was eating a sentient creature. Yeah, an evil, deserving to die vampire type creature, but eating of the walking, talking, thinking sort of enemy really didn't work well with his stomach. He let go.

"Ew," he said softly as the vampire slumped to the ground at Xander's feet.

"Seconding that," Larry said right before he drove a stake down into the vampire's heart. The minion exploded dust all over Xander and Larry, ash sliding down Xander's leather as he smiled sheepishly and shrugged at Larry's strange look.

Xander turned back to where the Anointed One now stepped forward toward Angel. Spike backed off some, growling at a couple of other minions who had edged forward until the Anointed One's followers pressed themselves to the sides of the room.

"Slayer, get yourself and the other humans out of here," Spike said softly as he took a position in front of Xander.


Spike snarled as he whipped around to face her. "Bloody hell, that gap only lets one through at a time, and there are seven of ya. If this comes down to a fight, we're not goin' to be able to all get out that gap, so get your bloody humans and get them the hell out of here."

"I won't leave," Riley said as he watched Angel and the Anointed One stare at each other in the cleared center of the room.

"Then you're a bloody fool because he wants ya out," Spike hissed. "He's made peace with the clan for three years, and he's challenging now just to save your sorry hides, so go on then, get yourself killed anyway so he has somethin' to brood about later."

Riley hesitated, his knife hand trembling slightly so that the metal twinkled in the dim light filtering down from the shattered roof.

"Come on, soldier boy. He who fights and runs away lives to kick serious demon ass another day," Faith said as she tugged at his arm. Riley finally yielded and let her pull him toward the gap in the wall where Willow was just now sliding out into the night.

Xander looked at Spike as the others fled. This was clan business, so it felt right for the others to leave, but Xander didn't know what he felt. Baby stirred uncomfortably, a cold wind circling the room even though most of the walls still stood.

"Sire?" he whispered, watching Spike's fists curl as Angel and the Anointed One started circling.

"We submit to whoever wins and hope like hell it's Peaches. We've done all we can," Spike answered the unspoken question just as Angel lunged forward into battle.


Chapter 19

From their sizes, Xander expected the fight between Angel and the Anointed One to last a whole five seconds, but every punch, every throw, every move the Anointed One made was too powerful for his size. It was as if the Anointed One had one of those cheat codes that gave him unlimited hit points, and that might have been cool except that Angel bled from a long gash on his skull and favored his left side.

Spike clenched his fists and jerked slightly as Angel landed another punch. The weight of the hit sent the Anointed One crashing against the wall, but he just stood up and launched himself at Angel again. Angel met the attack with a toss that sent the Anointed One off to the other side, but the tiny vampire rebounded and hit Angel's knee before Angel could react.

"Fuck," Spike swore as Angel stumbled to one knee. "Fucking stubborn bastard. Just submit," Spike hissed, but Angel didn't seem to hear as he lunged forward, grabbing the Anointed One and slamming his small forehead into the floor. The image looked just so wrong what with big, scary looking Angel attacking little tiny Anointed One, but the Anointed One wrenched himself free and didn't even have a mark where his skull had hit concrete. The kid moved a little slower, but whatever superpower juiced him up was some seriously scary shit.

The Anointed One laughed as Angel fought his way back up to his feet.

"Your soul slows you down, Angelus," the little vampire laughed, and Xander could feel entirely inappropriate admiration as Baby considered the Anointed One's strength. He was quickly beginning to suspect that demons were slightly on the fickle side when it came to loyalty. Or at least most were, Xander could feel Spike's quivering need to leap into the fight, and he didn't doubt that Spike would choose to fight for Angel, even if the broody one was going down.

"If you would like to submit now, I will certainly consider your surrender. The broken body of a slayer would be the proper gift to offer me after displeasing me so much."

Angel didn't answer, but instead he just glared as he tracked the Anointed One's circle around the perimeter of the room. Minions pressed forward slightly as he walked by them, quick to return to his side now that he had shown his superior strength.

"I will even let you decide which slayer to bring me."

With a growl, Angel threw himself at the Anointed One again. At first, Xander thought Angel had lost control in a wild attack with no hope of hitting any vital areas. Angel's fists flew with the unfocused rage of a fledge's attack, and the Anointed One easily deflected them while landing strike after strike at Angel's battered body. Angel fell to his knees at one point, only to get up and launch himself again, forcing the child-vampire back even as he took so much damage that his chances of winning dwindled to nothing. Xander didn't realize the strategy until the Anointed One's back pushed toward them.

Xander glanced at Spike, feeling his sire's need to act even as Baby cringed away. The masters fought. The masters had to show strength. Only the masters could fight for control of the clan. A hit sent the Anointed One stumbling backwards and before Xander could blink, Spike had grabbed the child and given his head the same vicious twist that had decapitated Colin.

A sickening crack proved that Spike had broken the boy's neck, but the Anointed One simply growled and went into game face for the first time in the fight. His head tilted awkwardly, half resting on one shoulder as though he had a phone tucked up to his ear, and the small vampire struck out, sending Spike crashing backwards into the beam that Faith had been balancing on earlier. He turned toward Angel again, his head held at a sickening angle, but he didn't turn quickly enough. Angel threw himself forward, but instead of punching the Anointed One, he grabbed the small body and sunk fangs into the exposed neck.

Xander gasped as the Anointed One's fist punched through Angel's side, cracking ribs while his fingers dug into the flesh. The air filled with the thick scent of blood. But slowly, the Anointed One's struggles weakened as Angel fed. The small hand pulled out of Angel's gaping side and ineffectually pushed against Angel's larger frame; however, the larger vamp just jerked the small vampire's body against his and kept feeding. Slowly, Angel's eyes closed in an expression of bliss.

"Right then, I think that settles who's in charge," Spike offered as he picked himself up off the ground. Angel lifted his head, his mouth red with blood, and now the Anointed One's broken neck flopped so that he looked like a big rag doll. Angel carried the limp body over to a ragged chunk of fallen ceiling where he raised the Anointed One over his head and then flung him down onto a chunk of ceiling beam. The wood impaled the body for a half second, and then the Anointed One exploded into a cloud of ash.

"William, ye challenged me," Angel now said as he turned toward Spike.

Spike cocked his head to the side and stepped to Xander's side.

"You challenged me and have generally annoyed the unlife out of me, childe."

"Yeah, well, ya deserve some annoying," Spike answered, but Xander could hear the uncertainty in his voice. He glanced toward the gap and then toward Spike, but Spike kept his eyes focused on Angel, and whatever was going on, it wasn't going to include running.

Angel moved forward, ignoring the minions and his own still-oozing wounds as he stepped into Spike's personal space. Spike smirked up, and for a second, Xander thought he was about to see round two, but then Angel shook his head, his game face disappearing as he looked around at the groveling minions that lined the room.

"Get out," he roared. For a moment, the room balanced in silence, and then vampires scrambled to race for the door, eager to get away from the very cranky new head of the Aurelius line.

"Peaches," Spike offered.

"I mean it Spike, get out," Angel said wearily as he limped toward the door. Spike watched for one second, and then Xander found himself pushed toward the gap in the wall behind them. Knowing that he had missed something, he allowed Spike to herd him out into the night.


Spike didn't speak again until they got back to the warehouse, and by then, the first pink rays of dawn were backlighting the buildings, making them appear black against the lightening sky. Baby sent up a random worry which Xander pushed quickly aside as he watched Spike slide the door shut and lock it.

"Spike?" he asked when his sire walked right past him and headed for the main room.

"It's late, get some nibbles and get to bed," Spike said. Xander stared at Spike's back as the vampire disappeared into the bedroom. Okay, this so wasn't right. Baby squirmed uncomfortably, sending up fear about not being in sire's favor. Xander had to put a hand on the counter just to keep his balance as Baby stirred so strongly that Xander got a bit motion sick, like when he was ten and his father tried taking them on a car trip to the Grand Canyon.


Xander opened his eyes to find Spike's hands on his arm, steadying him. Baby twisted, knowing he had done wrong again by making Xander ill and worrying sire.

"Xander, you alright?" Spike pulled at Xander, guiding him to a chair.

"I'm fine," Xander said as he shook his head. "It's just that Baby…" Xander stopped, and Spike narrowed his eyes.

"It's nothing," Xander hurried to assure him. "I'll just go get something to eat, like you said." He tried to push up from the chair, but Spike pushed him back down.

"Pet, what is going on in that head of yours?"

Xander looked up as he chewed his lip. Spike hadn't had the best night, and Xander really just wanted to go to bed. And some sex wouldn't be turned away, but given the cranky expression on Spike's face, he'd settle for bed.

"I'm just tired," Xander made his excuse with a shrug even as Baby stilled into a perfect silence.

"Oi, don't bloody start with this shite," Spike snapped. "Now, what the hell has got you so bloody worked up?"

Xander froze.

"Pet," Spike sighed after several seconds, "what has ya wound so tight that you can't even keep yourself upright?" Spike's fingers reached up and stroked a long curl.

Xander shrugged helplessly. "I just feel like…" okay, he was out of words. Spike crouched down in front of him and strong fingers gave his hair a little tug. He really needed to cut his hair. And that would be mental babbling showing up right on cue.

"Oi, now I know something's wrong, ya aren't talking."

"Ha ha, Spike."

"What are ya feeling, pet?" Spike asked, and this time the distracted annoyance of earlier was gone.

"I just don't want to bug you when you're already feeling so bugged," Xander said as he stared across the room at the open door to the bedroom. Hopefully Spike would take it as an invitation.

"So, you're bothered that the great poof has managed to annoy me again?" Spike asked with a frown.

"Kinda. I'm not sure," Xander finally admitted as he looked at Spike. "You're unhappy, and you unhappy just reminded Baby that you're not happy with him, and then he got all worried because his worry got me dizzy, and you're even more unhappy that his unhappiness is making me dizzy and there's just a whole circle of unhappy going on."

"Bloody hell, was that supposed ta make sense?" Spike asked, but he smiled, so Xander guessed he wasn't actually annoyed. He did bite his tongue to keep any more babble from spilling out, though.

"So, Baby wants the punishment out of the way so that things are right between us again, right?"

Xander nodded.

"If I were a right bastard like Angel, I'll let Baby stew in his own worry for a while, let him wonder if he was going to get a second chance or if I was just going to let him twist in my displeasure forever."

Xander's gaze snapped up to Spike's face, worried even as he felt Baby shrink back in despair.


"Oi, not that cruel, am I?" Spike relented as he stood up. "But I want Baby to the front for this. I know you can step back far enough ta let the vampire bits take over, and that's what I need you to do now, pet."

"Just make him give everything back after," Xander joked, and Spike's hands, which had been stroking his shoulders, stopped.

"You're strong enough to make him do that, pet. I can't do that for ya, so if you can't face this right now…"

"No, no, I'm facing it boy," Xander interrupted. "I just don't want to deal with any more of the sire's-pissed-with-me vibes from Baby. It was bad enough when I went and did the big stupid by flying into that fight with the fledges back at Safari, which, by the way, I would totally do again, but when you're pissed at Baby, he's just not very rational about it. Me? I've had lots of experience with disappointing people."

Xander held up his hand to stop Spike from answering that even as he pulled at Baby's edges, reluctance and shame flowing back into him. Rather than fight those feelings, Xander closed his eyes and allowed himself to sink into them. The pain washed through him, and Xander just focused on breathing, all his attention concentrated on that to prevent himself from countering with his own memories and feelings.

In. Out. In. Xander could feel himself sinking under, his vision sliding toward red as the world faded into the distance. Something brushed against his arm, and Xander only realized Spike had grabbed his arm when his body started moving, pulled along by Spike's grip.

The distraction brought the world into sharper focus, and Xander cleared his mind, focusing on the breathing as he struggled to slip into that small space inside his own mind where once he'd hidden as Cassidy ordered his body around the enemy lair, and there came the sharp edges of the world as that memory pushed Xander toward the surface, Baby retreating from the memory of trying to stake sire, at betraying sire with Cassidy before betraying sire with Angel.

In. Out. In. Out. Xander counted his breaths up to ten and then backwards to one and then up to ten until he had turned off his own mind enough to sink under Baby. And it didn't used to be this hard. And it didn't used to be this hard. Hell, in high school, he had the whole fazing out thing down to a science, some easy science that he actually knew how to do. For a second, Xander wondered if Baby ever surfaced back then, but he turned his mind to counting breaths in order to stay behind Baby.

"Count 'em, then," Spike's voice droned from far away, but Xander couldn't figure out what he meant until the line of fire across his back penetrated his darkness.

"One," Xander's voice called out while Xander still struggled to get the breathing back under control. The pain seemed to brighten the edges of his dim world, but it didn't pull him toward the surface. A flash of lightening and Xander's voice called, "Two." Baby's shame brightened with each hit. He had disappointed sire. A stripe fell lower than the other hits, catching Xander just below the butt and throwing him forward. "Three." Baby hadn't quite got his balance back before another hit. "Four." Oh yeah, Spike was pissed because that was definitely a whip.

Shame. Fear. A searing pain that Xander was only dimly aware of took his breath away again, and now Xander felt the ache as his shoulders bore his weight. He was hanging from chains. "Fifteen." And Xander realized he'd lost some time there, which would explain the ache from shoulders down to knee.

"Whose are you, childe?" Spike's voice echoed distantly.

"Yours, sire," Baby answered immediately, and Xander could taste the desperation. Baby would rather be dust than be alone or shamed by sire.

"And why did you turn to Angel?" Spike asked. Baby didn't have a good answer for that one, or a bad answer even.

"Childe, answer or we'll do another set." Xander could feel the panicked fear, not about the pain, but about sire's tone of voice and his disappointment and Baby's disgrace. Xander poked, and an answer popped out.

"He's strong," Baby blurted. Oh yeah, Baby had a whole lot more cool because even mired in self-loathing he managed to not babble or cry, and from the emotions rolling from Baby like low-lying fog, Xander knew he would have long ago broken out into both.

"Not bloody strong enough to see what he was doing to ya. Who should you have turned to, childe?" Spike asked, and Baby shivered as a hand stroked his abused back. "Who would do what I wanted ya to do? Who would have understood if you'd given him a chance to work through his pain a bit?"

"Xander," Baby finally sighed, relief washing through him as he understood the right answer to give.

Spike didn't answer, but the whip didn't return. For a still moment, Xander let himself sink into the calm that followed Baby's storm of emotion. His shoulders complained as he shifted, but Xander didn't realize why until the first fingers reached into him, stretching him.

Baby growled his pleasure and pressed back into the feeling just as Spike pulled out. "You're mine, childe. You and Xander are my childer and you always will be." Xander felt the pressure at his hole as Spike pushed in, but he felt it at a distance, a tickle against his skin. "Mine."

Baby roared his agreement as Spike then thrust in violently, his hands bracing Xander's hips as he pulled out and slammed in again. Baby writhed savagely in the chains, making them rattle as something started slowly trickling down the inside of Xander's legs.

"Mine," Spike growled again, and Baby dropped his head to the side in submission, baring his neck happily. Sire wanted him.

Xander had just figured out that he was bleeding from the rough coupling before twin knives seared his neck, Spike's fangs digging into the flesh of his neck so deeply that his front teeth cut crescent shapes into his skin.

"Sire!" Baby snarled, his own cock hard and neglected as sire took his pleasure, took his blood until Baby sagged weakly, his fears gone with his strength, his erection flagging without enough blood to feed it, but it didn't matter. Sire found him worthy enough to take, to drain.

"Xander, Baby needs you," Spike whispered in his ear, and Xander definitely questioned that comment. Baby didn't need much of anything else now that he had found sire's approval. The pain of the whip, the frustration of his unsatisfied cock, the fears and shame and insecurities all vanished under the sated feeling of being worthy. As Baby sank back, Xander let himself slide forward, the world focusing a millisecond before he gasped in pain, his body screaming at him from so many places that he couldn't even process it all, leaving one blinding white agony.

"Drink, Xander," Spike ordered, and for a second, Xander couldn't even process the words, distracted by the overwhelming suffering in his body. Then a smell penetrated, and something touched his lips. Suddenly something balanced the agony, offering as much pleasure as his backside radiated pain. Xander sucked, the heavenly taste strong in his mouth and warming him with each swallow.

"Heal, pet." Spike whispered, and Xander could feel the heat from his stomach radiating out to his torn back and ripped hole. He sucked harder, his cock aching so badly that Xander no longer even cared about his backside.

"Sire," Xander complained as the ambrosia pulled back. He blinked up to see Spike shrugging his shirt off, his neck still dripping ruby drops down his strong stomach. Eying the fat red trails, Xander whined unhappily. Then he shifted uncomfortably as his hard cock jutted out in front of him.

"Let me get you down," Spike promised as he reached up to the heavy metal shackles around Xander's wrists. Blood trickled from cuts, but the pain of just seconds ago faded into a dull ache that didn't matter nearly as much as the lithe body pressed to him as Spike stretched out to unhook the chains. With his first hand free, Xander reached up and trailed a finger over Spike's arm, tracing where the muscle curved and dipped toward the bone.

Spike smirked, giving him a wink before going to free Xander's other hand. "See somethin' ya like?" he asked salaciously.

"Oh yeah. Much with the liking," Xander agreed. He ran his hand up to Spike's shoulder, touching the twin punctures where Xander had driven fangs into Spike's neck. Spike shivered and then reached up and grabbed Xander's hand, pulling on it like a leash to pull Xander into his arms.

"Thought ya might like a little treat, tonight, childe. Ya fought like a champion. Ya fed on your enemies and still controlled the demon without lettin' the demon control you," Spike whispered as he allowed his hands to slide around to Xander's ass. The agony of just seconds earlier had become a dull aching heat that begged to be scratched, and Spike ran a sharp nail over a healing whip mark. Xander hissed and shivered as the warm pain made his whole body come alive.

Xander smiled, ducking his head in embarrassment even as Baby growled his pleasure. "I know what I'd like as a treat," Xander answered, following as Spike backed up toward the bed. "Your cock deep inside me would be a start," Xander finished, blushing at his first attempt at dirty talk, but at least he'd managed to say it without babbling, giggling or stuttering.

"Thought we might try that the other way 'round," Spike whispered back, and Xander found himself falling onto the bed before his brain could fully work out the meaning of that, but his cock had gotten the message alright and it throbbed in anticipation. Of course, his cock usually did get things faster than his brain.

"Oh fuck," Xander breathed as Spike shimmied out of his jeans, dropping them to the ground before cat crawling up Xander's body. "Fuckity fuck."

"I'm a bad influence on you, I am," Spike offered with a smile as he reached down and kissed Xander breathless. "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Spike asked when he finally pulled back.

"Oh no, no bringing up of mothers," Xander complained.

"Scoot up," Spike ordered with a laugh as he straddled Xander's waist, and Xander squirmed farther up on the bed as Spike reached over for the lube.

"Oh god," Xander swore as Spike reached back and slipped a finger into his own hole, twisting his body so that he could leer at Xander even while showing off that pucker where a second finger quickly followed. "Oh god."

"Close enough, pet," Spike agreed. "'Course I'd love to suck that cock of yours while I do this, sucking all that creamy filling while I opened myself, but I'll have ta do that another time since you look about ready to go. Some other day I'll suck you 'til you can't help but come and then I'll flip you over and drive into you, fill you so full of my cock that you can't help but get hard again, and then I'll slip down onto you and ride you til you forget your name," Spike promised. Xander felt his own cock bob in agreement as he balls drew up close.

"Already there," Xander muttered as he watched a third finger disappear into the depths of Spike's body.

"Just remember, don't bloody come until I say, even if ya need Baby's help ta get there," Spike warned as he shifted back until his hole lined up with Xander's cock, which was sitting up, begging, and very willing to do tricks.

"Oh fuck," Xander answered as Spike slowly lowered himself, the pressure on Xander's cockhead nearly making him come before even getting into Spike.

"Pet," Spike warned darkly. Xander gasped a deep breath, and Baby uncurled from his corner, lending his own fear of disappointing sire, and yeah, that pushed orgasm back far enough that Xander could start breathing again as Spike pushed down. And oh god, it was so tight and felt nothing like the various hands Xander had experienced.

Spike was almost down when Xander couldn't control himself any more, and he dug his heels into the mattress and bucked up, driving himself the rest of the way into that tight grip. Throwing his head back and fisting the sheets, Xander gasped as Spike pulled off, and then he drove himself up even higher, arching his back as he thrust into Spike's body.

Blind need overwhelmed him, and Xander drove up before Spike could even move again, throwing Spike in the air and then dropping to the mattress heavily before thrusting up again. Tears gathered in Xander's eyes as raw lust overwhelmed him, but he still couldn't reach the final release as he bucked wildly again and again.

"Come," Spike growled, and Xander felt the explosion that tightened every muscle and made him arch and hiss and claw the sheets until he finally sagged back down, his cock still twitching as it remained buried in Spike's ass.

Xander lay, sweating and panting as he watched Spike from half-opened eyes. Spike flopped down on the bed next to him.

"I'm so going to end up in the wet spot," Xander muttered as Spike pulled him close, strong arms wrapping around his waist.

"For a ride like that, it's worth a wet spot," Spike answered in an equally exhausted voice. And Xander would have answered, only sleep pulled him down into darkness.


Chapter 20

"Just promise that you'll actually stay in touch this time," Willow begged, her voice tinny over the phone. Xander sorted the CD's as he cradled the phone between his shoulder and ear.

"Promise, cross my heart, and I'm not saying the rest now that I know we're on a Hellmouth," Xander promised. "I'm just glad that you aren't freaked out about… you know."

"The whole not quite human thing that I know or the whole sleeping with a vampire part I know or the gay thing? Because I'm totally okay with the gay thing. Heck, me and Larry and Wendell all did the gay thing, so I'm almost ready to call gayness a requirement for being on the F-team, only that would be discrimination, which is not really of the good."

"Not sure Spike really wants me claiming membership in the slayer's fan club," Xander laughed. "He's still beating up on himself about helping a slayer, but he really wouldn't let the world end without trying to stop it because he's not evil." There was a long pause.

"Xander." Willow sounded distressed.

"He's not," Xander insisted. "He's a predator and he's dangerous, but he isn't into the evil torture thing, not even back when I was just some random human he ran into on the street."

"I used to think that about Angel, but when his soul came out…"

"Yeah, but Spike is just Spike, he doesn't have a soul changing who he is."

"No, he has you."

That made Xander stop and think since he hadn't known Spike before he knew Spike. "In that case, I have to make sure I stick with him." Xander stretched, feeling the newly healed skin of his back. "I'll stick with him for a good long time."

"I'll miss you. Do you know where you guys are going?"

"When Spike gets back from wherever he disappeared to, he mentioned China, but I don't know if that was mentioned as in seriously going to China or just freaking me out with the idea of going to the other side of the world."

"China? Goddess! China has some beautiful temples and wilderness areas."

"I don't think either would be on Spike's list of must-visits, but if we end up there, I'll nag him into taking me to a temple or two," Xander promised as he finally found Spike's favorite CD, the one with the screaming singer as opposed to all the others with the screaming singers. He popped open his C.W. McCall case and pulled out the CD, snapping Spike's CD in there before putting the McCall CD on top. He clicked the case shut with a smile even as Baby made a soft grumble about annoying sire.

'Yeah, but I'm annoying him, you aren't,' Xander thought to himself as Baby curled back up.

"Xander?" Willow's voice came through the phone sharply.


"What happened? You weren't answering."

"Spike's phone is at least twice as old as me. I'm surprised it works at all," Xander lied, feeling a twinge of guilt, but sometimes lies were so much kinder than the truth, and Willow so did not want to hear that he had been debating with his inner demon. "So, are Giles and Jenny and Larry and Tara and Faith still okay with the whole truce?"

"Giles is still cranky, but Jenny threatened to put Lipton in his good English tea if he didn't get a grip, and everyone else is fine. Larry says that he's sorry he never met you back in high school after he got his act together. He says you're cool in a slightly freakish kind of way."

"Okay, we have definitely reached an alternate universe because Larry Blaisdell calling me cool is more than slightly freakish," Xander laughed. "Gotta go, Spike's home," Xander cut off Willow's response as he pushed all the CD's back into one pile.

"You call, mister," she said, the tone far more threat than request.

"I will. Bye." Xander hung up without waiting for an answer.

"Mornin', pet." Spike commented as he came through the door from the garage.

"Evening, Spike," Xander answered. The sun had gone down a couple of hours ago, and from the green and fading bruise on Spike's cheek, he'd gotten into a fight not long after leaving.

"You packed?"

"Yep, just putting the CD's away now," Xander answered as he stacked piles of CD's into a small box. Spike looked at him with a raised eyebrow, and Xander smiled sweetly. Spike's eyebrows lowered into a suspicious frown. "So, have you decided where we're going?"

"Thought I told ya, we're heading to China. We just can't leave yet," Spike said, and the tone of voice made Xander abandon the CD box on the counter under the phone as he turned to face Spike. Long fingers played with a cigarette without lighting it.

"What's up?" Xander asked, and he could feel Baby uncurl and crouch, ready to respond to whatever threat had Spike twitchy.

"Peaches is goin' ta be here later," Spike announced nonchalantly.

"Oh shit," Xander breathed. "Um, why?"

"He's head of the line, innit he?"

"And he being head of the line means what exactly?" Xander moved closer to Spike, uneasiness settling in his gut.

"Means for ya to be a childe of the line, he's got to approve ya. I never did present you to the court."

Xander felt a cold panic, equal parts him and Baby, wash through him. Angel had already rejected them once, had refused to take them as childe, and then there were the threats and the choking unconscious and the pinning him to the ground.

"And suddenly I'm liking him even less than usual 'cause I'm thinking that he's never going to approve of me," Xander said quietly, the certainty of it like lead in his stomach.

"Not true. He'll approve of ya, pet."

"Okay, I'm remembering a certain vampire who shoved me out of his way and basically didn't want me around at all, so if he has a chance to reject me, he's going to do it." Xander turned around and headed for the bedroom, feeling a sudden need to be somewhere else… anywhere else.

"He never rejected ya," Spike objected as he followed.

"Oh, you didn't see how much he wanted to get rid of me."

"Bloody hell, Xan. He can't deal with his own demon, and he didn't treat you right because he ignored your demon. He thought that if he treated ya human you'd suddenly become human because that's what he wants for himself."

"He nearly destroyed me." Xander sank onto the bed, his knees weak, and Baby surged up, desperate to show strength when Angel came. Xander shoved him back again, and Baby relented, grumbling but retreating.

"Yeah, pet. He did. He always was a big soddin' clod, and gettin' a soul didn't really change that. He wants to be human, but he knows less 'bout humans than I do," Spike agreed as he sat next to Xander on the bed. Most of their belongings were in the three suitcases sitting near the door, and the sheets from the previous night were still on the bed, marked with blood and semen.

"So he's coming?"


"And I don't have a choice?"

"No, pet, you don't"

"And he's has the right to say yes or no to me being in the family?"


"And if he says no?"

"I'll bloody well stake him, then I'll be the head of the line," Spike snarled. Then he ran a hand over his hair. "Either that or we'll just leave and forget the git."

"And if he says yes?"

Then you're a full childe, minions made in our line'll recognize ya because they'll smell the head of the line on ya."

"And ewww. Do I really want strange vamps smelling me, and how exactly is Angel planning of making me smell, and do I even want to know?" Xander asked suspiciously as he looked over at Spike, and that sour expression on Spike's face didn't make him feel any better.

"If he accepts ya, he'll recognize my claim mark and drink from it, leaving his scent behind. After that, other masters and minions will recognize ya as a childe, and eventually as a master yourself."

"So I don't have to do anything?"

"Nothin' except keep your mouth shut."

"Keep my mouth shut? I can do that. I can totally do that...this is me keeping my mouth shut." Xander stayed quiet for about thirty seconds, a new record for him. "Does he have to bite me?" he asked.

"Oi, you're really not goin' to be able to do this, are ya?"

Xander thought about that for a minute before sighing. "Probably not. It's not that I don't understand the whole approval of the line stuff...or actually I don't understand, but I can see it's important to you, so I'm okay with it all. I just don't really want Angel anywhere near me after that whole mess." Xander stopped and thought about what he was really feeling. "Actually, I do want Angel near me because I really want to tell him what a thoughtless, heartless, thick-headed son of a bitch he can be."

"And he soddin' well deserves to hear it, but probably not tonight, pet," Spike said with a wry smile.

"Right, being quiet now." Silence had no more settled before a new thought occurred to Xander. "You know, someone should tell him off for what he did to you too. I mean, you helped him with the Anointed One and he didn't even say 'thank you,' which, if he's trying to be human, really is the polite thing."

Spike sighed, and Xander realized that he was being remarkably unquiet.

"Right, quiet," he said as he sat back on the bed.

"Pet, go get the muzzle out of the suitcase."

"What?" Xander felt a bubble of panic. "No, no I can be quiet, really." Spike reached over and ran a finger down his cheek. He closed his eyes and just enjoyed the touch, happy to once more feel whole and complete in his devotion to sire.

"It'll be easier for ya and maybe for Peaches too," Spike said and Xander felt himself nudged off the bed. He knew better than to argue when Spike had that expression, so he went and retrieved the tangle of leather and metal. When he came back and handed it to Spike, he could feel his hand tremble, and Spike must have noticed too.

"Talk to me, pet. Why does this bother ya?"

"Talk, don't talk, talk...make up your mind," Xander tried joking, but he could tell from Spike's expression that he wasn't going to get away with it. Spike sat silently waiting for a real answer. "I don't want Angel to see me like..." Xander gestured toward the contraption Spike held.

"Why not?"

"Okay, I think that's a little obvious, isn't it?"

"Maybe for someone with a soul, but not for me. As far as I'm concerned, you're my childe and I have the right to do what I like with ya. If I have ya naked and chained, it's because I want you naked and chained, and it's not your soddin’ choice.”

"And I'm very grateful that you don't want that," Xander said, hoping that Spike wouldn't decide on doing exactly that now that the thought had crossed his mind. Okay, actually, he hoped Spike did think that at one point, but just not with company coming.

"You bloody like knowing I'm sire and feeling the leather and steel, and I won't have ya hidin' yourself from Peaches. He thinks of ya as human because that's how ya act in front of him. You need to hit him over the head if ya expect him to notice somethin', and I plan on presenting ya as my childe, not as some human I'm playin' a game with."

Xander didn't respond as Spike stood up and stepped in front of him, running fingers through his hair. When Spike lifted the leather, he didn't move as the loose straps settled in over his head. Spike brought the metal bit up to his lips, and he opened without voicing his complaints, shivering as the cold steel settled in over his tongue before Spike fastened it at one side and then tightened the straps, pulling his chin closed over the bit and ensuring that he couldn't even open his mouth, much less say something stupid once Angel came. Once Spike had tightened the last buckle, the vampire pulled him into an embrace, and Xander allowed himself to relax into his sire's grip.

Now that Spike had taken the choice away, Xander sighed in relief. No matter how much he tried, he couldn't ever seem to control his mouth, saying things that probably should have gotten him killed. Lord knows he'd said things to Spike that a less controlled vamp would have killed him over. Xander snorted in laughter. Yep, most vampires took relatively little prompting to kill. Instead, Spike had forgiven him every stupid comment and every stupid move he'd made. Okay, so Spike had punished one or two. Xander flexed his back as he looked at sire.

Feeling Spike's strong hands around him and Spike's muzzle over his face, and feeling Baby's quiet acceptance of Xander's decisions, Xander finally understood Angel's sin. Spike commanded Xander and Baby, but Angel didn't command Spike or answer to Spike. Xander could relax knowing where he was in the clan, but Spike couldn't.

Xander felt a flash of sympathy, suddenly realizing what it meant when Spike had described taking Dru and running from Darla. Spike had been Dru's childe, but then he'd had to protect her, and he'd had no elders to impress with his kills and earn status. His demon had no place in the clan, and the very fact that the Anointed One made Spike fight for his title showed that other demons recognized it. Of course, he had fought for a place, and the Anointed One recognized him, but then again, the Anointed One was dead, so maybe he didn't. Okay, slightly confusing. Sharing his thoughts with Baby, Xander only got back an overwhelming feeling of despair and loss.

Xander ran his tongue along the now warmed metal, feeling the flat bit press into his lips and trap his tongue in the bottom of his mouth. Since he couldn't tell Spike what he felt, he slipped off the bed and onto his knees at Spike's feet. When Spike looked down in surprise, Xander pressed his face into the flesh on the inside of Spike's thigh, looking up as Spike cocked an eyebrow in surprise.

"So, you alright with it now, pet?" Denied of words, Xander nodded. When Spike reached down to play with the hair not trapped under the leather, Xander closed his eyes and leaned into the touch, enjoying his sire's attentions and enjoying the feeling of his own demon happily circling within.

"You're mine, pet. Angel or no Angel, you'll always be mine," Spike promised softly, and Xander could only moan at the words that made Xander Jr. stir to life. He guessed that Spike had noticed when the vampire chuckled.

"William," a dark voice came, and Xander turned on his knees, a panic momentarily causing his vision to slide into red before settling back into the normal color spectrum. He would have stood at the sight of Angel standing in the doorway, but Spike's firm grip on his shoulder warned him to stay down, so he settled in on his knees.

"Peaches," Spike replied, mimicking the warning tone.

"Take it off him," Angel ordered, and Xander started breathing faster through his nose as he realized that the anger was over him.

"He's my childe and I'll do as I please," Spike quickly shot back.

"He's a human being," Angel replied, and Spike only snorted.

"You nearly destroyed him thinkin' that the first time round. Thought ya learned your lesson there, Peaches."

"I made a bad judgment," Angel admitted cautiously, and Xander could feel Spike's leg muscle twitch. He wondered whether the younger vampire was surprised or amused or angry, but he really didn't have a chance to ask or even throw himself in the middle of the fight since his sire had chosen to muzzle him.

"Bad judgment," Spike snorted. "Bad judgment is that hair cut. What ya did to Xander was cruelty."

"And that thing on his head isn't cruel?"

"No, it isn't, and even if he didn't want it, he's my childe and I'll teach him to control himself the way I see fit. I won't bloody teach him control the way you taught me." Xander watched as the fight flowed out of Angel like a popped balloon.

"William," Angel said again, and this time Xander could sense the guilt as if it were painted on the vampire's face.

"Oi, enough. You're here to accept Xander as a childe of the line, and that's it. Rather go to Darla or even the Anointed One for this, but you're it now, so soddin' well do your job as head of the line." Angel was silent for several minutes, and then he started chuckling. Xander looked up to Spike, but he could see the confusion there too.

"Finally lost your mind then?" Spike asked when the quiet laughter continued.

"I'm trying to picture Darla's reaction to a half-human childe of the line," Angel confessed, and Xander watched as Spike expression wandered between annoyed and amused.

"He's as good as any childe of this line," Spike finally announced. Angel looked down, and Xander fought an urge to squirm under the gaze. Here he was, one time vampire hunter who brought down the mighty Cassidy and he was muzzled and kneeling at the feet of one master vampire waiting for another one to bite him. Life was funny.

"He's better than most," Angel said quietly, and Xander could feel his demon stir, creeping out of the corner into which it had retreated at the sight of Angel. His cock started stirring as well.

"So, you're goin' to accept him?" Spike asked, and for the first time Xander heard the uncertainty and the desire. How old had Spike been when his sire had abandoned him? Xander felt a flash of anger as he realized just how painful that must have been. Had Darla taken him on as a childe or treated him as a minion? When they'd run, had Dru been sane enough to ever play sire? When it came to being accepted into the line, Xander couldn't say he cared one way or the other because he knew that Spike would stay with him either way, but if Angel denied Spike this bit of respect, Xander was going to stake Angel himself. He must have made a noise because both vampires looked at him.

"And that'd be the reason for the muzzle," Spike said, and Xander felt slim fingers give his hair a little tug.

"Is this what he wants?" Angel asked, but Xander didn't even try to answer with a nod. He leaned back against his sire who had now started running hands down his chest. Xander put his own hands on Spike's legs, holding himself steady under that touch.

"Think he's happy enough," Spike pointed out as he thumbed open several buttons and put those talented hands to work inside Xander's shirt.

"I mean it Spike, let him talk and tell me this is what he wants."

"Is that the way it's done now, Peaches? These modern vampires givin' their childer a choice? 'Cause I have to say, I don't remember anyone askin' my opinion on the matter." Spike's hands had found his nipples, and Xander leaned back, feeling Spike's hard cock between his shoulder blades. He knew this game well enough to know not to touch back, so he closed his hands around Spike's thighs and tried not to squirm as Spike rolled a nipple between his finger and thumb.

"William," Angel said, but this time in such a strangled tone, Xander's eyes flew open in time to see Angel morph into his vampire face, the heavy brow and wider face making his demon features far more menacing than Spike's, although Xander was bright enough to never say that out loud, not that he had a choice at the moment he mused as he used his tongue to play with the bit in his mouth.

"You want to know whether he consents, use your bloody nose like a vampire," Spike said, his hands never stopping their travels across Xander's body. "Stop tryin' ta be a soddin' human and do what ya need to do, Peaches."

Spike pulled suddenly, and Xander felt the last couple of buttons pop as his sire pulled the shirt from his back. Xander would have yelped or cursed or asked what the hell Spike was doing, but with his current situation, all he could do was take a larger than normal breath through his nose before snorting it out and glaring at his sire who didn't seem bothered at all.

"Just because he wants you doesn't mean he want this," Angel waved his hand around in a wide sweep, and Xander had to assume Angel meant being part of the line. He would have had something rude to say back, but the muzzle kept his mouth closed, and Spike's hand creeping into his jeans distracted him to the point of forgetting his own name. Xander quickly found his button and zipper opened as Spike began playing in earnest. With a heavy groan, Xander thrust his hips forward as Spike's hand closed around his shaft, but a sharp slap on his thigh reminded him of the rules.

"Stay still," Spike ordered, and Xander dug his fingers into the flesh above Spike's knees as he struggled to do just that even as Spike used feather light touches that left him panting through his nose. Suddenly remembering their audience, Xander looked up to find Angel staring at them with open lust. Xander flinched at the expression, but the demon lunged forward, eager to show obedience, and his cock now began to leak.

For a moment, Xander panicked thinking that Baby was turning to Angel again, but he could feel Baby's unrelenting devotion to Spike even while it sought to tempt Spike's sire. Xander realized that his demon wanted Angel as the head of the line, wanted to be found worthy of being Spike's childe.

Assured that his demon was under control, Xander gave his lust free reign, throwing his head back onto Spike's stomach even as he tilted it to show his neck and his deep claim mark. Rubbing his cheek into Spike's abdomen like a giant cat, Xander raised himself up on his knees so that Spike could reach more easily. Of course this created even more need to thrust, but Xander fought to control the urge.

Slowly, his jeans slid down his legs leaving his cock sticking up and weeping even as he tried to ignore it, concentrating on his sire's naked stomach beneath his cheek and the feel of the leather muzzle straps between their flesh. Occasionally he couldn't control the urge to drive his hips forward, and each time Spike's hand would slap the same spot on his thigh, hard enough to sting and undoubtedly leave a red mark, but not hard enough to actually hurt. The slaps simply reminded him of his duty to remain still.

Xander heard a low menacing growl, and he felt his own demon issue a much smaller version which was even more muffled by the muzzle, but Spike's answering growl drowned out his own, and suddenly he felt himself pulled from his master's embrace and nearly tripped as his jeans settled around his ankles effectively hobbling him. He stood there with Angel's large hands immobilizing his arms for long seconds, waiting for the bite, for the rejection, for something.

"So ye think ye can come in here and tell me how to act?" Angel asked in lilting accent, and Xander lowered his brows in confusion until he realized that Angel was talking to Spike over his shoulder. He turned his head to look at Spike, but Angel came to life, shaking him as if he were a puppy, and Xander turned his attention back to the older vampire before his brain could rattle free.

"I'd ask that you accept my childer into the line of Aurelius," Spike said in a quiet, cultured tone that sounded more college professor that punk vampire.

"And have ye taught him to sit at yer feet?" Angel asked, and Xander now recognized the ceremonial tone of the exchange.

"Yeah, both of them." Spike answered, and Xander realized what Spike was truly asking for. Baby stilled to silence, fear of doing the wrong thing leaving him motionless in Xander's mind.

"And do ye take responsibility for their actions?" Angel asked, changing to the plural.


"And will ye teach them of the line?"

Spike ruined the somber mood with an amused snort. "Bloody hell no. Bein' that Xander's human, I don't think ya want him knowin' most of our line's sadistic history, and Baby probably doesn't really want to hear that we come from a soddin' insane lot. More insane that most vamps even." Xander felt the hands at his arms twitch and tighten until he winced, but he remained silent. And thankful...thankful that Spike had muzzled him because he very much wanted to add his two cents, and he knew this wasn't the time to point out that Angel didn't have to act like a cave man even if he did look like one. Angel remained silent, his hands spastically tightening and loosening on Xander's arms until he finally continued with the ceremony.

"And will ye teach them to hunt?"


"And will ye teach them to respect the elders of his line?"

Another snort of laughter from Spike. "Bloody hell mate, all that's left is you, me, and a bunch of soddin' minions left over from the Anointed One. And if ya think I'm goin' ta teach him to play respectful childe at your feet, you don't remember much about me, Peaches."

"If they stray from the line, do ye accept the duty to punish or kill?" Whoa, that one made Xander study Angel's face, the whole kill thing being a little out there, but Angel's face remained impassive.

"I'll punish them as I see fit, but I'll be dust before I let anyone kill either of 'em," Spike snarled, and that answer seemed to cause something in Angel to snap because the vampire dropped back into human face for just a second before the ridges returned and Angel continued as if nothing had happened.

"I accept your childer into the line of Aurelius as the childer of William who was made by Drusilla and sired by Angelus." Xander barely had time to register his relief at the words before Angel struck, driving his fangs into Spike's claim mark even while wrapping arms around Xander's torso. Xander stood there, unable to do anything else until Angel raised his head, his mouth still red.

Suddenly Xander felt Spike at his back as he was pressed between as Spike's mouth descended on his still tender mark, biting deeper than ever before, and Xander squirmed in the grip of both vampires. When Spike raised his mouth, the two vampires kissed over Xander's shoulder, and Xander breathed a sigh realizing that it had all ended without any dust and he and Baby had just been accepted into one very strange family consisting of a souled vampire, an outcast vampire, and a half-vampire. Sadly enough, it wasn't any stranger than his first family. Expecting Angel to leave now, he wasn't prepared for what came next.

"I've missed ye, boy," Angel whispered, and Xander could feel Spike shudder at the words. Spike's hand closed over his neck, and Xander felt himself being pulled toward a corner of the room. He struggled to step out of his jeans without tripping, and Spike snagged a pillow on their way past the bed. When Spike tossed the pillow on the floor in the corner, Xander looked at it in confusion until he felt the hand at his neck pressing him down. He quickly knelt, and Spike knelt in front of him, taking each of his wrists and pressing it to the small of his back before letting go. When Spike stood, Xander remained kneeling, holding his hands behind his back.

"Stay still," Spike whispered hoarsely and then turned his back before Xander could even nod in agreement.

"I never left, mate. Like I said earlier, actin' like a human git doesn't change who you are."

"Spike," Angel said with a helplessness.

"Oi, not again. The boy's a ruddy white knight, but he still feels his instincts, so don't even bloody tell me how you don't. You came to us in China; you sought out your sire."

"And she rejected me," Angel cut him off.

"Because she was a bloody cow," Spike snapped. Spike walked over to Angel who had stood unmoving.


"Just don't bloody ruin the one decent thing you've done since you got here," Spike asked, his voice low and then Xander watched as Spike's slender hands reached up to unbutton Angel's shirt. At first, Angel's hands twitched as though he would stop him, but then he remained standing as Spike undid another button and another. Xander had to grip his own wrists to keep from reaching out and touching the two vampires or himself.

Closing his eyes and groaning, Xander could smell the lust and need in the air. However, his closed eyes flew open at the sound of thick ominous growls, and Xander watched as Angel reached out and grabbed Spike's neck, only to have the younger, smaller vampire roll out of the embrace and jump back. Angel growled even louder and lunged forward, snatching at Spike's arm, but Spike laughed and dodged away. Xander had one moment of panic that something had gone wrong, and he half stood before noticing Spike's expression. At the sight of his sire's lust, he sank back down and clasped his hands at the small of his back again.

Spike sprinted for the door, but he couldn't get past Angel fast enough, and the larger vampire used his bulk to slam Spike into the wall so hard that Xander could feel the wall tremble from eight feet away in his corner. He could hear Spike hissing, but Angel closed an arm around Spike's neck and tossed him on the bed. Spike hit the bed and used the bounce to make a hasty exit on the far side.

"Ye won't win," Angel said, his lilting Irish accent still coloring his words, making Xander tremble in anticipation. He'd always thought the whole accents being sexy thing was pure crap, but obviously accents did it for him. Spike's voice always got him hard, and now this new Angel with his calculating grin and soft Irish accent was so much sexier than the Broodmeister.

"Bloody wanker, can't just walk in and take back your title as sire," Spike said, and Xander heard the pain and the hope. From the way Angel temporarily faltered in his stalking, he did as well. "Besides, you never liked playin' these games with me, remember?" Spike demanded as he crouched, and now Xander could see the determination in Spike's eyes. He wondered what had changed, but asking questions wasn't an option, so he would just have to wait and see.

"Won't deny I lost my mind for a while, but ye are my childe, and you'll remember yer place, even if ye have proved your worth as a master." This time Spike lost his concentration, coming out of the crouch and stepping back at that comment, and Angel took the opportunity to dive forward, grabbing Spike by the waist and forcing him to the wall.

Xander raised himself up on his knees, eager to see over the bed, and he saw his master pressed face first into the wall with Angel biting into his neck from behind. Spike’s struggles grew weak, and Xander wondered if it was because the lust was overcoming the anger or whether the blood loss had debilitated Spike. Either way, Angel took advantage by reaching around and ripping the jeans from Spike's body, tossing the younger vampire onto the bed as if he were no more than a doll.

Spike lay there, unmoving, and Xander settled back onto his heels, assuming the main portion of the evening’s entertainment was over as Angel slipped out of his own pants and boxers before kneeling at the foot of the bed, his knees straddling Spike's feet. However, Spike wasn't out of it yet, he sat up and got a fistful of Angel's hair, but instead of using it to push Angel away, he pulled him closer, and buried his own face in Angel's neck, biting it with blunt human teeth that Angel quickly pulled away by grabbing his own handful of hair.

"Now, now, boy. Ye haven't earned that yet," Angel chided, and Spike growled and abruptly the two became wrestlers, clutching at each other's limbs and throwing each other around with such force that Xander pressed himself into the wall. They started on the bed, but Spike, in an attempt to roll Angel off him, pushed both of them to the concrete floor with such force Xander suspected he would have broken bones in the maneuver.

Angel grabbed for Spike's cock, and Xander knew from experience that would have ended the wrestling match, but Spike turned his hips at the last minute, leaving Angel holding the less vulnerable leg. Angel then used his grip to force Spike's leg up into the air, pressing Spike's upper body to the ground, but Spike twisted his leg, taking a swipe at Angel's cock with his own heel, and Angel released him to avoid the hit.

Spike sprung to his feet, and Angel moved in again, slamming his child to the wall not two feet from where Xander knelt, and Xander watched as Angel reached down and worked a finger between Spike's cheeks, Spike bucking and growling as Angel forced his finger up inside Spike, and then continued until Spike stood on his toes, forced to use Angel's shoulders for balance as Angel slowly lifted him from the ground until Spike's legs dangled and Spike threw his head back and to the side.

Angel struck swiftly, biting Spike again, and now Spike's noises sounded less aggressive than needy, and Xander found himself moaning with his sire at the sight. When Spike's feet found ground again, Xander watched in fascination as Angel forced a second finger in with effort, and Spike widened his stance, allowing his face to fall to Angel's shoulder.

"Lube," Angel hissed, and Xander didn't realize that the comment had been for him until Angel's foot nudged him out of his daze. Realizing that Spike couldn't exactly move impaled as he was with Angel holding him tightly enough to force him onto his toes, Xander hurried to the nightstand and grabbed the tube before returning to the pair. Angel kept one hand on the back of Spike's neck, forcing Spike into his own chest as he held out the second hand and growled "A lot of it."

Xander quickly opened the tube and put a large amount on Angel's two fingers before going back to his kneeling position which gave him a unique view as Angel opened his sire. Angel used his now wet fingers to impale his childe again and then threw him to the bed.

This time instead of fighting, Spike rolled to his side and watched Angel with pure, undisguised lust, and Angel must have known he had won because he slowly approached the bed with the confidence of a victor, and Xander could only groan at the sight of a naked Angel closing in on a naked Spike, and here he was stuck in the corner, gripping his own wrists so hard that he feared he might draw blood and dripping pre-cum on the floor at regular intervals.

Meanwhile, Angel had reached the bed, and Xander watched his large hand run down the length of Spike's side and thigh, bypassing Spike's hard cock, and without further preamble, he flipped Spike onto his stomach and Spike arched like a cat as Angel arranged himself straddling Spike from the back and thrust in without further fuss, and Xander could hear the same strangled cry that he had heard so often when Spike rode him, and he nearly came at the sound, only Baby's desire to impress Sire and his own lack of permission kept him from turning into a regular fountain.

Angel thrust so powerfully that Spike traveled up the bed until he could brace himself on the headboard. Both vampires now made low growling noises as Angel lunged forward. Xander could see Spike struggle to his knees and once he had that leverage, he drove back into Angel so hard he could hear the larger vampire grunt with the impact as skin hit skin with a sharp slapping sound.

Xander closed his eyes in frustration, struggling to not come as he heard the sounds of the wild coupling continued on long past what a human could have endured. Finally, he heard an unfamiliar roar followed by Spike’s own cry of completion, and he opened his eyes to see Angel collapse on top of Spike.

Xander tried to stifle his whimper of frustration, but he knew he’d failed when gold eyes turned to consider him where he squirmed on the pillow, desperate to just reach around and give his cock the one or two pulls it would take to reach orgasm.

“Your childe seems to be having a problem,” Angel commented, the accent now almost gone under the tones of his everyday voice. Xander heard a muffled reply, but he couldn’t make out any words until Angel’s body arched up into the air slightly as the smaller body under him squirmed to work free.

“Move your soddin’ arse, Peaches,” Spike voice finally demanded, and Angel laughed right before Xander heard the unmistakable sound of hand hitting flesh. However, Angel did in fact shift over to the far side of Spike. Xander watched as Spike rose up and considered him. The blond flipped over onto his back and arranged the pillows under him so that he was reclining without being flat on his back.

Xander knew that Spike might want time with his own sire and send him away, and he knew that he’d have a hard time coming outside Spike’s presence, but he tried not to let his desperation shine through his eyes. Spike had waited a hundred years for Angel to pull his head out of his ass, and Xander wasn’t going to interfere with that. However, Spike didn’t even hesitate.

“Come here, pet,” he ordered, and Xander rose and went to Spike, standing by the side of the bed still dripping from his cock which now looked rather scary-purple.

"I should," Angel looked over at the door, but Spike reached up and pulled at one of Angel's nipples.

"You should bloody stay. You've got new childer to welcome to the family."

"I…" Angel glanced toward Xander, and Xander could feel Baby curl up tighter, burying himself in Xander's thoughts.

"You're a vampire, and if you want to be some do-gooding vampire like my pet, that's fine, but you won't change what you are."

"You're still as mouthy as ever," Angel said as he looked down at Spike.

"Not nearly as mouthy as Xander," Spike countered.

“He minds a good deal better than you ever did,” Angel said and Xander blushed as he realized that Angel was openly examining Xander’s naked and very aroused body.

“Yeah, but you should here him prattle on when he’s nervous. It’s enough to drive ya as batty as Dru.” Xander blushed even redder and looked down, realizing that Spike spoke the truth.

“He doesn’t seem very talkative to me,” Angel said, and Xander looked up as a large rough finger touched his cheek. Angel reached over Spike to initiate the touch, and Xander felt the finger slip under the leather strap running down his cheek. Angel’s finger forced the bit even deeper into his mouth as Angel pulled him onto the bed.

Xander followed that pull, climbing onto the bed with the two vampires, and thinking again how glad he was that he didn’t have to talk because nothing in his life had ever prepared him for this. ‘Hey, how ya doing’ seemed a little casual, but ‘wow, nice cock’ wouldn’t have won him any style points considering the other occupants of the bed had about three hundred and fifty years of sexual experience between them. Yep, pretty damn intimidating his brain concluded. His cock had other ideas as it continued to twitch and drip.

He felt Spike’s familiar hands on him, guiding him to lie on his back between his sire’s legs, his back resting against Spike’s chest. Angel now shifted so that he straddled four legs, and Xander could feel his urge to babble really hit high gear as he noticed how his own tanned and hairy legs contrasted with Spike’s pale and nearly hairless one. He shifted his feet uncomfortably as he tried to avoid eye contact with Angel, but a firm hand under his chin lifted his face so that he looked directly into Angel’s yellow eyes.

“A very pretty boy,” Angel decreed, and Xander started fidgeting even more, at least until Spike curled his legs so that his calves rested on Xander’s knees, pinning him down. Angel gave a smile that was less than reassuring before shifting first one knee and then the other to the inside of Xander and Spike’s tangled legs, Spike helping by using his own legs to pull Xander’s knees open. Angel’s hands reached up to rest on his chest, and Xander couldn’t take any more, he reached up and covered those large hands with his own, begging with his eyes for one of the vampire to take pity on him before he died of sexual frustration.

“Oi, control yourself, pet,” Spike said in a slightly aggravated tone before grabbing his wrists from behind and pulling his hands down to the bed on either side of his chest.

“Certain fledge I once knew would have come all over himself by now,” Angel said with a quiet laugh. “Come to think of it, a certain fledge I know did come all over himself when he got caught in a bed between his sire and his sire’s sire.” Xander snorted his amusement, the only sound he really could make, as he realized that the baby pictures his mother had pulled out over his nineteenth birthday dinner couldn’t compare with twenty years of embarrassing fledge stories that Angel probably had on Spike.

“Watch it pet. You’re the only bloody person I know who could be muzzled and still get himself in trouble with his mouth,” Spike warned with a nip at Xander’s ear, and Xander rolled his head to the side to give Spike better access.

“Not even a hint of fear,” Angel said with something like awe in his voice, and Xander turned toward Angel as the vampire sat up slightly, the ridges fading into human features before he put large hands back on Xander’s chest. This time Angel bent down and took a nipple in his mouth so suddenly that Xander bucked and tried to scream his lust, but Spike held him as Angel bit.

When Angel transferred to the other nipple, his nipple simply shone bright pink and stood out at attention, and his cock throbbed in time with his heartbeat. He bucked again as Angel repeated the procedure on the second nipple, but Spike had tightened his hold so he really couldn’t move much. Angel’s hands moved down to his hips as Angel moved up to nip at his claim mark, and Xander felt the familiar warmth he always felt when Spike touched that sensitive spot.

“Don’t come,” Spike warned, and Xander felt that feeling of impending release retreat. He groaned loudly, and Spike just laughed as Angel turned from nipping to licking the claim bite. “Told ya he’s vocal,” Spike said, and Xander could feel Angel chuckle as the large body pressed down into his rippled.

Angel drew back, and Xander found himself face to face with those deep brown eyes right before Angel kissed him, dull human teeth pulling out his lower lip and gnawing at it gently. Xander could only writhe caught between the pleasure of the act and the pain of his own delayed orgasm. Angel kissed him again before moving to his upper lip. Angel placed one last kiss on his closed lips before sliding down and running tongue over Xander’s hip, and Xander really would have come if Spike hadn’t tightened his grip and whispered “no” in his ear. Angel looked up and slid into game face before flaring his nostrils in an expression Xander recognized as the vampire’s attempt to smell his mood, his pheromones.

“No fear,” Angel whispered again, this time in game face before lowering his head and biting the inside of Xander’s thigh. Xander mewled pitifully behind the muzzle, now almost dying to come, but Spike had taken up a slow chant of “no” in his ear, and the desire to obey sire and the desire to just fucking come battled so fiercely that Xander shook his head in frustration, that being the only part of him not held motionless by Spike. He felt Spike twitch below him, and he looked down to see Angel now licking a wound on Spike’s calf.

“Flip him,” Angel said quietly, and Xander felt himself released and immediately grabbed by two vampires who turned him so that his head rested on Spike’s shoulder. Luckily the angle meant that his now painful cock was kept off the mattress by the position of Spike’s body below him. Unluckily, Spike once again tangled their limbs.

Xander could feel Spike’s feet braced at the back of his knees, his legs held wide open, which wasn’t actually a problem for him as long as someone did something soon to allow him to come. He didn’t fight when Spike once again grabbed his wrists, holding his arms slightly away from his body; he just rested his head on Spike’s shoulder and tried to concentrate on breathing and not having his cock explode because he really would miss that piece of anatomy.

The bed dipped again, and Xander felt movement on the inside of his thighs as Angel moved into position, but he closed his eyes and allowed himself to ride the waves of sensation. Large hands started at his shoulders, but the hands didn’t linger this time, they moved swiftly up his trembling back and then down to his butt where a cold wetness told him that they were near the final event now. He wiggled a little as the first finger entered, but the finger ignored the prostate, and Xander didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing, but no one asked him and he definitely didn’t have any control over the situation, so he relaxed into his sire’s body and concentrated on allowing the fingers to do their exploring.

He had lost track of fingers, time, and generally his own brain by the time he felt something larger than fingers pushing into him. He took a deep breath and breathed out as Angel pushed in, willing himself to relax. Where Angel had taken Spike hard, the vampire now moved so slow that Xander would have cursed him and begged him to do something if his mouth wasn’t occupied by steel and clamped shut with leather. When Angel finally pushed all the way in and he could feel the vampire pressed up against his ass, he waited for the action, but Angel pulled back so slowly and slid in again so slowly that Xander thought he’d lose his mind. He flexed his arm muscles, but Spike held him immobile as Angel continued his slow torture.

Xander mewled into his muzzle again, tossing his head, and maybe Angel got the hint because the next thrust came so hard that Xander felt himself pressed into Spike’s body, stars and black spot appearing in his vision as Angel pressed into his prostate. Another hard thrust and another and suddenly Xander was struggling just to breath as he felt his body warm and he struggled against the imprisonment. Angel went faster, and suddenly he could hear Spike whispering.

“Come, come now, pet. It’s all right, let go now.” As soon as Xander’s overtaxed brain processed those words, he felt his cock explode and he spasmed and jerked, Angel’s cock ramming into him suddenly seeming much larger as his muscles involuntarily tightened, and then he could feel Angel’s release. Angel draped himself over his back, the vampire pulling large unneeded gasps of air, and Xander could feel himself fading into the post release daze.

“Sleep, pet,” he heard a voice suggest from a very long distance away, and he allowed himself to sink into that darkness, so completely sated and relaxed that he couldn’t guarantee that his muscles hadn’t just been magically turned to jello.

Xander woke to the strangest morning he had yet experienced, and considering some of his mornings since hooking up with Spike, that was something. He was spread eagle on the bed, Spike below him and Angel above him, which wasn’t as strange as Angel still buried deep inside him, and Xander could feel his own cock respond instantly to the presence. He tried to yawn, only to discover that the muzzle was still in place, and when he went to raise his head, he found something hard and fuzzy pinning it to his sire’s chest. Xander moved an arm restlessly, not really sure what he could do with one free arm since the other seemed trapped under a weight, but then he felt fingers at the back of his neck.

“Shh, pet. Just relax, the big ox isn’t awake yet.” Ox was right, Xander thought as his attempts to move led to a dull ache in his backside where Angel’s still engorged member held him open. Damn vampire anatomy, he thought as he honestly tried to relax, wondering if Spike had any idea just how uncomfortable he was.

“Don’t bloody know how I ended up on the bottom since I’m the smallest one here. If I’d been human you two woulda soddin’ crushed the life outta me,” Spike complained quietly, but Xander felt Spike’s cock beginning to press up into his own body, so he suspected that Spike wasn’t suffering too much.

“Course it’s nice to wake up ta the quiet,” Spike teased as the hand moved to the cheek strap and gave it a tug. Xander just snorted his opinion of that and pressed up with his head which was pinned below Angel’s own head he realized. “Shh,” Spike repeated, and Xander stopped his little movements, allowing Angel’s weight to press his head back down firmly into Spike’s chest.

“Been a long time since I woke up with my sire in my bed, and havin’ a sire and a childe is about more than I can believe when I stop to think,” Spike said, and Xander used his one free hand to reach up and touch Spike’s cheek. Spike stopped stroking his neck and took the hand in his own grip, bringing it to his lips where he kissed it gently.

“Never told ya, pet. But I figured when I got the last of the wankers who took out Dru, I scheduled myself to watch a sunrise.” Xander had told himself to just be still and wait, but that statement made him jerk, frantic to see Spike’s face, but pinned in such a way he could only see Angel’s shoulder and the wall.

“Hush. Not goin’ to now, pet.” Spike murmured in his ear. “Had just lost everythin’ and thought I couldn’t get any of it back. My whole line had been destroyed by Peaches and his soul, but I couldn’t stop loving the bastard because he was still my sire, and I couldn’t stop bein’ angry that he left. When I couldn’t protect Dru, I just figured that this world didn’t have anything in it for me.” Xander could feel tears slide down his nose and drop onto Spike’s chest, the only way he had of telling his sire how he was feeling.

“No need for that,” Spike said more firmly. “Since I found you, life’s been lookin’ a little more fun. Got my sire back although I don’t really plan on having him around too much, and I got to mess with a slayer and have a bloody hell of a lot of fun kicking some demon arse.

"And now, for the first time I have a childe of my own, one I bloody well won’t ever leave.” Xander felt Spike’s hand move back to his neck, and he suddenly felt his demon rise up and start purring, the first time ever it had done so without Spike initiating it. Spike’s hand stopped for a minute before resuming, and now Xander could feel the purr below him. Xander wondered if Spike would have ever made such a confession if Xander had woken with his normal talkativeness, and he resolved to try to be a little quieter in the future. Didn’t expect to succeed, but he planned to try.

Above him, Angel remained motionless but started his own rumble, a rumble that traveled through the vampire’s entire body, including his cock, making Xander feel like he had a very large very gentle vibrating dildo pressed into him, which would normally be of the good, but after last night, his cock sent as many pain signals as pleasure signals. Oh yeah, two vampires plus one mostly human in the same bed led to one worn out human, Xander mused. Xander’s first indication that Angel was waking was the twitch buried deep in him. Figures, vamps wake up cock first, which is pretty appropriate for their lifestyles, Xander thought. He tried to relax, but the twitching and the rumbling purr and the slow beginning to wake movements in the body above him, combined with the evidence of Spike’s interest below him, soon had Xander Jr. up and begging despite a steady soreness.

Angel began making small thrusts even as he made the small sounds that usually accompanied waking. Xander groaned as the soreness competed with his prostate and his demon’s pleasure at being so completely taken. By the time Angel’s hands started making purposeful movements, his hips rocked back and forth, pressing Xander into his sire as Angel pulled out no more than an inch before pushing back in. As Angel started pushing himself up, lifting his head, and using his arms to hold his own weight, the thrusts grew longer.

At first, Xander panicked at the lack of lube since he could feel skin pulling skin, but the more Angel undulated the more he could feel the skin slide smoothly. Xander realized that Angel’s deposit from the previous evening was now the morning lube. Handy. Well, either that or gross, but he'd worry about that later.

Soon Angel’s thrusts had grown stronger than the previous evening, and Xander found himself grunting with every thrust, his cock hard as he started pushing back into it, Spike lying below without restraining him. As Xander felt Angel start coming, he pressed his forehead into the crook of Spike’s neck, and he felt his sire holding the back of his head as he struggled to hold his own orgasm. Spike hadn’t told him he couldn’t come, but he hadn’t said he could, and Xander decided to err on the side of caution. Suddenly Angel pulled out, and Xander felt strangely empty without that presence in his body. He wondered how long he had slept intimately attached to the other man. He really didn’t have time to think about it as Spike slid out from under him and took up his own position behind Xander.

Xander lowered his head to his arms, not knowing how long Spike would draw out this exquisite torture, but Spike just slid in smoothly and began to powerfully drive in almost immediately. Xander felt a hand reach around and grab the base of his cock even as Spike stopped. He knew this game. Xander drove himself back onto Spike before thrusting forward into that welcoming fist. Throwing himself forward and backwards, Xander didn’t have long to wait before Spike lost control and began pounding him. When Spike started coming, Xander released his own orgasm, his cock sending waves of both pleasure and pain.

When Spike withdrew, Xander sighed and rolled onto his side.

“Are you all right?” Angel asked from the far side of the room, and Xander could see the guilt rising up to high tide. He nodded, not really able to do more reassurance than that.

“He’s smellin’ a bit more than okay,” Spike pointed out as he held out a hand. Xander took the hand and stood up, feeling liquid running down the back of his thighs as his wiggled his ass trying to reduce the feeling of strangeness. Yes, he’d worn plugs at night before, but Angel was a good sight bigger than any plug.

“I shouldn’t have…” Angel started, and Spike snorted his disgust.

“Last night was the only time since you got to Sunnydale that ya haven’t cocked somethin’ up. Say you’re happy and make your way back to your own little humans,” Spike suggested.

“William,” Angel began before switching tactics. “Spike, I just need to know both the demon and the human are okay with what happened,” Angel asked so softly that Xander found himself wondering what it would be like to carry so much pain and guilt in one body. Spike snorted again, but Xander felt himself pulled toward Spike as clever fingers quickly undid the clasps that held the muzzle in place.

Once Spike loosened the straps, Xander opened his mouth and pushed the bit out of it, moving his tongue around to get the feel for it again. Spike tossed the contraption on the bed, and Xander was left just as speechless as when he’d worn the thing. What could he say to ease 250 years of guilt? Xander took a lesson from the previous evening and bypassed words all together.

Xander walked up to Angel and went up on his toes to reach up and truly kiss him without the muzzle keeping him from participating. He moved his lips against Angel’s slowly opening them in invitation, and Angel’s tongue took him up, as they kissed deeply. Xander felt himself unexpectedly pulled from Angel’s mouth as Angel tilted his neck and pulled Xander into the curve where neck and shoulder meet.

“Drink,” Angel said, and Xander felt the demon rise in near rapture. His vision went red and the familiar ache in his mouth told him that his own fangs had dropped as he sunk his teeth into the skin. The first taste nearly knocked him off his feet, and he hadn’t pulled but a few mouthfuls from Angel when he started to feel light headed, so he withdrew, unable to even keep his balance for a few seconds. Angel smiled at him and then tucked him under an arm.

“Childe,” Angel held out his hand and kept his head tilted, and Xander watched as Spike approached cautiously, almost as if expecting a trap. When he came close enough, Angel reached out and pulled the blonde head into his own neck, and Xander could feel a shudder go through the large frame as Spike bit in and drank significantly more that a few mouthfuls.

When Spike finally pulled back, he whispered the word “sire” and Angel touched his cheek once before snagging his clothes off the floor and walking out.

“Well I seriously hope he’s planning on putting those clothes on before he goes out on the street,” Xander said a few moments after Angel had disappeared.

“The muzzle’s still out, childe,” Spike said with a friendly cuff to the back of the head. “Let’s get breakfast.”

Xander suspected that the touchy feely portion of the program had ended. “Um, I’m thinking shower first because eww,” Xander said as he felt the trickle down the back of his legs.

“Not nice to call the remains of a passionate night ‘ew’,” Spike pointed out as he headed out into the main room.

“Yeah, say that when it’s running down your legs and getting on your carpet. Well, actually it is your carpet I’m dripping on here,” Xander pointed out and Spike reappeared in the room quickly enough.

“Ew,” Spike complained. “Get your arse in the shower.” Xander would have been more convinced if Spike hadn’t laughed the whole time.

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Thank you so much for sticking with me through this very long project... and now we have the end of the very first story I ever wrote!




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